Rehabilitation a 'central purpose' of prisons

High Sheriff of Dorset, Hon Tim Palmer, with Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons

The UK's Chief Inspector of Prisons focuses on rehabilitation as a central theme of the 2011 High Sheriff of Dorset's annual lecture held at BU.

The misguided perception of UK prisons as ‘holiday camps’ was dispelled by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons during a public lecture at Bournemouth University.

Speaking on the subject ‘What are Prisons for?’ during the annual High Sheriff of Dorset’s Lecture, Nick Hardwick contended that prisons should not be deliberately designed to add to the punishment of being in custody.

Instead, he called for the UK’s justice system to focus on opportunities and resources to support rehabilitation. He also encouraged staff within the prison network to share the vision that it was a main purpose of their job to reduce the likelihood that prisoners would reoffend then they are released.

“It is not enough for prisons to punish and protect; they must rehabilitate as well,” said Mr Hardwick who assumed his role as Chief Inspector of Prisons in August last year. “There does now appear to be a political consensus that whatever your views on prisons’ role in punishing offenders and protecting the public, too often that is seen as the be all and end all; rehabilitation is seen as the poor relation.

“That must be seen as a central purpose and so there must be a better match between the numbers in prison and the purpose for which they are there and the resources to do better,” he continued. “The critical problem is that we talk about prison capacity as the number of prisoners you can squeeze into the available cells - not whether there is the space and resources to do anything sensible with them.”

As Chief Inspector, Mr Hardwick reports to the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, on the treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons in England and Wales including Dorchester, Winchester, The Verne, Portland YOI, Guys Marsh and Erlestoke in the South of England. His role also involves reporting to the Home Secretary on conditions and treatment in all places of immigration detention in the UK.

With the prison population in England and Wales standing at 85,342, Mr Hardwick admitted the enormity of the task faced by prison staff. But he insisted that if prisoners could take part in some level of forward-looking activity regardless of their period of incarceration - sessions to improve their literacy and numeracy, opportunities for drug or mental health counselling, or guidance in how to open a bank account or apply for jobs, for example - it would be far better than allowing them to “sleep their way through their sentence” as he had witnessed firsthand at one institution.

“It is common sense, surely, that if someone leaves prison with a roof over their head, a job or training place and the skills to hold it down, a fighting chance of decent relations with their family and help to do something about their drug habit, they must be less likely to offend than if they leave without these things,” Mr Hardwick contended. “Too often that is not the case.”

This year marked the third annual High Sheriff of Dorset’s annual lecture hosted by Bournemouth University with Mr Hardwick speaking to an audience of students, academics, lawyers and members of the judiciary as well as the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, Valerie Pitt-Rivers, and the High Sheriff of Somerset, Patricia Hunt.

The current High Sheriff of Dorset, the Honourable Tim Palmer, expressed his delight at hosting the event and being able to linking the most ancient office under the Crown with one of the newest and most dynamic universities in the country.

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