Monday, 28 January 2013

'User Voice'


It is quite rare that you find a genuine passion and enthusiasm comes across on an interview on television, such as on BBC. Often you might find people tend to try and be more 'professional' and reserved. Which is precisely why I was hooked listening to Mark Johnson (Founder of 'User Voice' charity) speaking about the issues regarding the rehabilitation of prisoners, and his thoughts in relation to the announcements that seven prisons are to close and two more will be partially shut in England. The BBC reported that the government have plans to build a new 'super prison' which can hold 2,000 places.

Johnson was on the BBC last week, speaking about how he disagrees with the proposals to create one 'super prison' and instead believes that placing prisoners in smaller prisons would be far more beneficial to the success of their rehabilitation. He explains that this is because smaller prisons, which feel more like a living environment, rather that a 'warehouse of people', gives individuals more opportunity to be open and honest to communicate with the rehabilitation programmes, to get to the route of why it is they commit crimes, and what the solution is to prevent them from re-offending.

Johnson also raised a very interesting note about the rehabilitation programmes which are currently in place. He shares with the viewers that the programmes are all focused and driven towards regaining employment. However, as he identifies - the majority of people who are engaging in these programmes hold offences relating to drink driving, substance misuse, or other issues which employers will inevitably find undesirable. He explains that during his time in prison, he was taught the skills of a baker, yet he returned to a life of crime when he left prison. The statistics show that over 50% of individuals in prison re-offend within the first year alone, which suggests that the current system of rehabilitation is not working.

So what does Johnson propose? He has the philosophy that prisoners should be given a voice about the decisions which are made about the services they receive, and the flagship program for giving prison users voice is Prison Council. The rates of prisoner participation in the councils now surpass 50 percent. Johnson explains that these examples of improved engagement with the community and with social processes, indicate a personal level of responsibility-taking—the first step to real social rehabilitation.
 So from an O.T perspective, the professionals role within the prison service may be addressing the issue of occupational deprivation, and have a focus on rehabilitation to promote reintegration into the community. Promoting service user choice and voices is something which occupational therapists have always had in the heart of their practise, and recognise that an appropriate environment is essential to enable successful outcomes.  Anyway, just to point you in the direction of this very interesting man, and to see all the inspirational work he does. A role emerging placement perhaps?! 

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