Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Young men 'are victims of jail cycle'

Research shows need for training and detox to stop pattern of re-offending.

Men in their late teens are the most neglected section of the prison population despite being the most prolific re-offenders in the country, a new study will reveal tomorrow.

In 2004 around 19,000 18-to-20-year-olds went to prison at a cost of $35,000 each per year. Many receive sentences of a year or less which, in practice, means only a few months served in jail. Seven out of 10 are back in prison within two years. According to the report, Out for Good, written by Finola Farrant for the Howard League for Penal Reform, these brief periods of incarceration mean that young offenders lose jobs, apprenticeships, girlfriends, family contacts, children and often a place to live. Inside, they are offered little in the way of effective detox programes or constructive help with education, training, social skills and anger management.

'Prison is a place of aggression in which a young adult learns even more about selfishness and violence as forms of survival,' said Farrant. 'Instead of reflecting on the impact on their victims and communities, many come to blame their victims for their incarceration. Prison infantilises these 18-to-20-year-olds at a crucial moment in their development. A vital opportunity to recast themselves as men with a non-criminal future is lost.'

Farrant interviewed 86 young offenders, aged between 18 and 20, over two years. They were re-interviewed just prior to release and seen again after release. Three-quarters of their offending was related to alcohol or drug misuse (some spending between $80 and $1,500 per day on drugs); 60 per cent had previous experience of custody; 30 per cent were fathers or about to become fathers; 24 per cent had been in care; and 20 per cent had been homeless at the point of imprisonment.

Lee, 19, said: 'I went into care when I was nine years old. My mom was drinking... my brother got adopted out. I started drinking right heavy. My dad was violent... Had my daughter when I was 16 but I haven't seen her for months. My mom died while I were inside and they wouldn't even let me go to the funeral.'

A number of reports have dwelt on recurring patterns in the prison population - illiteracy, self-harm, chaotic childhoods, mental ill-health, racism and physical and emotional abuse all figure prominently. The need for training, education, housing and employment to help with resettlement has been made repeatedly. Out for Good argues that practical help for 18-to-20-year-olds is lacking but, unique among recent reports, it also says that more needs to be done to show young offenders that 'being a man' does not have to involve living a life of crime. The government has set a target of reducing re-offending by 10 per cent by 2010.

Farrant said: 'They [young offenders] explain involvement in crime as a way of gaining respect. Yet, in interviews, many also expressed a desire for something better - one said "I know I'd stay out of trouble if I was up in the morning and going to work, that would be the thing".' None of the young men in the final interviews had been encouraged to apply for employment or training while in prison.

Under the new National Offenders Management Service (NOMS) more is on offer for this group, but many in the penal service say that similar promises have been made in the past with few results.

Farrant said improved training for prison and probation officers was needed. She also called for the creation of advocates to offer sustained support. An advocate, for instance, might have helped Darren, aged 20 and illiterate. At 14, he was introduced to heroin by his uncle. He wants to go on a detox programme, but he said:

'In prison I don't get to see no one so it's got to be when I get out, but I can't write so I can't even make an application...' In frustration, he added, summing up the feeling of many of the young offenders in the study: 'You can't fucking change your life in a couple of months.'

The report makes a number of other recommendations, including greater use of community sentences; family mediation to help mend ruptured relationships; improved access to detox programes; a statutory duty on local authorities to house homeless prisoners on release; and job training inside jail and after release.


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  2. I have to agree with every word, my brother was in and out of the system starting at the age of fourteen years old. The state ends up letting prisoners out on a ridiculous amount of supervised probation.
    (Thinking to free up space in the prisons and hand out a severe punishment at the same time? Then wonder why they return? ) Which includes counseling, drug programs, drug tests sometimes two or more times every week. Which almost always costs money for all of those things right? Well say the charge was a felony, or multiple felonies? Well it’s nearly impossible to find a job that will hire a felon (where I live anyway). I feel probation is set up basically to almost always fail. Standards set for some way to high maybe for you and I would be considered “the norm,” but to a prisoner are set high. Either ex –cons get discouraged because lack of education needed to live life on the so called “Outside" or they give up trying the strait and narrow road because nobody gives them a darn break in life or a so called “second chance.” It’s as if past convictions are held against them, even after the punishment has already been served or considered ongoing. Possible employers, some probation officers, even some families tend to doubt there will ever be a change. (After they were returned to prison for what? a simple probation violation, like a dirty drug test.) So they end up right back into same old habits because not only is it familiar it’s quite easy to return also. Yes it is a choice they make! We also neglected to go through the rehabilitation process from start to finish .Instead tried to skip a few Major steps, like maybe job training skills or education opportunities to begin with. Then maybe helping find programs or services that will give them a fair chance at life before we just throw them back behind bars. I’m sure there are some who will fail on the first try even if we had such a program. However with the right set up for each individual based on specific needs, and to investigate what exactly is keeping them from being successful?, whose to say positively that the outcome won’t change?
    My brother never was given the chance at such a program or service. Had he been given the right recourses, referrals, education, programs, and assistance? I am confident that he would have looked at his situation in a different light and possibly he would still be here with us today.
    Sorry to say that barley getting released from jail the very next day ( finally off paper, probation and parole )He was judged based on his looks and mistaken for a gang member ( not the first time this had happened) except this time they ended up having a gun ,shooting multiple shots and he died on the scene. He was barley forty years old, with him was his seventeen year old male cousin (who also was shot but the bullets went strait through) his niece age fourteen, niece age eighteen, (whom he was picking up at the time because they were visiting from another state) his cousins boyfriend and his two brothers. (Ages fourteen through nineteen) all were planning on eating pazole and spending a special family day together.
    Now, as a result we lost our loved one forever leaving his family this time with no return, no letters and no visits. Four gang members who I’m thinking also have their own families they will be leaving themselves at the (three age 19 and one age 20) for murder. They too will now be in the state system, and the cycle will repeat itself. Next option, we build an additional prison to fit all the prisoners, or once again we let convicted criminals/felons out on standards impossible to complete. Maybe even let out someone who is a real danger to our society ?Only to make more room at the moment yet in the future they will most likely all return for one reason or another.

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