I hope you’ll forgive me a few minutes of serious reflection concerning the way we treat offenders in England. It’s a subject I have some firm views on, particularly after the attempted robbery.
We had some experience of this on the farm as we had both individuals and groups doing community service. I didn’t write about it at the time because there are questions of confidentiality to consider.
It was the normal farm mix-up. The farmer wanted to be seen doing good things, he wanted money and he wanted free labour. As usual, the government wanted something for nothing and so he had to do without the cash.
Lesson Number One is that if you want to provide a decent service you have to put money into it.
Lesson Number Two is that even if they had paid they would have been provided with the same second class service they got for free.
Quite clearly it’s not enough to throw money at the problem, as if that was ever going to happen…
The individuals who came often complained there was no meaningful work to do, which was true as no effort was actually put into providing anything. On the other hand, they weren’t meant to be there as a reward. Several of them were very bad at time-keeping and should by rights have been reported for it. They weren’t, because the member of staff keeping the time sheets couldn’t be bothered. He also allowed them to count the lunch hour towards their total. I think the word “shambles” fits the bill here. Eating lunch is not community service, though it could be cruel and unusual punishment, depending on who made it.
The groups were mixed, often depending on the quality of supervisor. One was great, and his people were lucky to have him (though they may not always have appreciated this). Others were not so good, just going through the motions and flouting the on-site smoking ban.
At one time they did a lot of work to hedges and woodland, but ended up doing paths around the centre and building a patio and barbecue. They also did some gardening but it was usually a case of trying to limit the damage they did rather than gaining any benefit.
The problem was that most of them just weren’t interested, and many of them refused to see that taking drugs, drink driving and hitting people were wrong. We tried to give them some useful skills, but it mostly didn’t happen. Several of them approached us on the side to ask about polytunnels and hydroponics. I will not speculate on the reasons for their curiosity.
One was less coy and asked one of our volunteers (we will call him “X”) if he would be interested in running a cannabis farm for him. “X” made his excuses and left.
On the other hand, several of them did use the experience to move on to better things. The “good” supervisor got several back into education and a couple got decent jobs – we were happy to help with advice and references and the farmer, to be fair to him, did find one of the jobs and take a couple on work experience.
Towards the end things took a turn for the worse when the service was put in the hands of a private business.
I’m not sure how many lessons there are in all that, and am now regretting starting to number them.
One is that you can’t help unless you have funding and a group of workers who are interested in doing a good job.
Another is that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped.
I suppose it’s also true to say that we need to do some creative thinking to engage more of the offenders in their rehabilitation.
And if they still don’t take advantage of the opportunities they are offered maybe we could examine the concept of the chain gang.
I’ll leave it here. I’m not really political by nature, and this could develop into a rant.