Points of View 20th February 2019

Open Government National Action Plan – What’s missing? A Commitment on Improving Prisoner Rehabilitation

by Guest

This commitment idea has been produced by User Voice. This action was part of the Open Government Pioneers Project. Check out more commitment ideas here.


People who make justice policy don’t understand the lived reality of crime, addiction, homelessness, mental health, poverty and all the other related issues. How can they? Yet we expect the policies they come up with and the services they design and impose on people in prison and on probation to change people’s behaviour.

Unsurprisingly they don’t. Levels of reoffending have remained stubbornly high over the past decade and prison numbers have generally increased to the highest levels in Western Europe.

Since User Voice, a charity led by ex-offenders committed to making the justice system work for everyone, was established 10 years ago there is greater recognition of the role that ex-offenders can play. Some are mentors, some work in rehabilitation services and others speak at conferences and events. But there is no requirement for this to happen and no benchmark of what success looks like when it does.

In the NHS there is a legal duty to involve patients and the public in commissioning under Section 13Q of the Health and Social Care Act 2006. As NHS England commissions all healthcare services in prisons this includes prisoners. Yet no such mechanism exists in justice.

That is not to say that it is always done well in health services. NHS England has recognised this and over the past few years worked to develop a guide to support commissioners on how best to involve prisoner patients through an Advisory Group chaired by User Voice.

But at least there is a requirement and, more importantly, funding for it to be done.

In the next Open Government Action Plan the Government can and must address this, by having a requirement in all prison and probation service contracts for feedback from prisoners and people on probation. Otherwise getting feedback from these people will always remain on the margins, as a nice to do but when push comes to shove the first thing that gets dropped.

If as a society we truly want ex-offenders to reintegrate back into society, to enable people to lead crime free live and to reduce levels of crime and reoffending, then we have to do something different. We have to open up justice to their insight about what works, what doesn’t and how things can be improved.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Yet that is what we continue to do when it comes to crime.

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