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Prisoner mentors could be more use elsewhere

The Government is proposing that people released from prison will have mentors to help them get back to a normal, law abiding life.  This is great news, except that I kind of thought that was what probation was supposed to be doing as part of the supervision that is part of most ex-prisoners licence.  Admittedly probation won't get involved with very short term prisoners, but then again if there are in for such a short time will they have a chance to build up a relationship with their mentor prior to release, which I understand is the whole point?

I'm going to let you into a little secret, which is that the majority of petty crime is committed by people who grew up in poor and dysfunctional homes - at least that's what my experience tells me.  I can name one man who became alcoholic thief despite coming from a very wealthy family, attending private school, university and having all the privileges you could want in life.  But, he sticks in my mind because he is so unusual.  To be honest, the regular punters merge into one because they all have similar stories to tell, which often involves a broken home at the very least, frequently drug and/or alcohol abuse by their parents, often neglect as children but sometimes worse.  I had a prolific car thief who in one spell stole 7 cars in 7 days.  He was about 15.  He ended up in prison; it turned out that he was being regularly raped by his father!  The courts had no power to help him in any significant way and it may have been a mercy for him to go into custody... he certainly did not complain or attempt to avoid that outcome.  He wouldn't make a formal complaint so the police were never interested.

I attended a police station at the start of this week for a 14 year old who had been arrested for a serious offence.  His mother showed up reluctantly after leaving her son in the cells overnight because she did not want to come to the police station.  I understand some arm twisting by the police took place to get her there.  She arrived and spent most of the time I saw her slowly eating her way through the contents of her bag and not paying attention to the very serious position her young son was in.

I could sit here giving examples of parents who simply haven't cared about their children, or who have actively harmed them, all day and all night.

One thing that won't surprise you is that these children all end up in police cells and later prison because their parents have failed utterly to teach them any respect for authority or even how to behave in normal civilised society, which is why so many in this group think it is acceptable to rob and steal, shout abuse at others and so on.  Many also grow up with a notion that benefits are their right and working is for mugs... but that's a whole other story.

The other outcome is that the children become victims of crime.  We've seen graphically how this can happen in the north recently where young girls, who were often in care homes, have been abused.  One thing that rings out from many of the stories is of girls who literally had nobody to turn to.  Yes, there were some who came from "normal" families, but most seem to have come from the same sort of broken family backgrounds that create the petty criminals.

The plan to mentor prisoners after release is rather like the stable owner who bolts the stable door after the horse has bolted.  It also shows a tacit acknowledgement that the probation service is unable to carry out its job effectively - which I suspect is because the government won't fund it properly.  Of course, there's a good reason the government want to focus on prisoners because it is easier to make the connexion in the electorates mind between reducing crime and government activities when you can use words like "ex-offender" or "ex-prisoner" than when you use words like "child".

I've read time and time again about children being turfed out of local authority homes when they turn 16 into their own flat with no support and no idea how to run or manage their lives.  Why not use this mentoring scheme to help children both in care and in dysfunctional families?  Help them build a relationship with a strong adult figure who can guide them and help them?  Such a scheme would cut crime in two important ways.  First, it would help potential criminals avoid a life of crime and secondly, it would help potential victims avoid becoming victims.

Barnardo's already run mentoring schemes to help families and children in just the sort of situations I'm talking about in this blog post.  They help families from when children are young right through to young people at the start of their adult lives.  Imagine what schemes like this could do if they were properly funded by government rather than relying solely on charity!

You can read about Barnardo's work with young kids right through to young adults by following this link... you can even donate if you feel the urge.  Click on the links at the top of the page to see what they do at different ages.


  1. It is a little bit frustrating that the system does not want to tackle the problem before it is a problem, Why try to fix something after it is broken when you can just prevent it from breaking in the first place. It would be nice to see more gov funding on this - what they are proposing is just a wast of time and money -

    1. Ed (not Bystander)22 November 2012 at 16:29

      when you can just prevent it from breaking in the first place

      Brilliant!! Let's do this!

      By the way... exactly how?

    2. As I said in the blog, by intervening earlier and providing proper support for children before they turn to crime (or become victims of it).

      I'm pretty sure some genuine developmental psychologists could provide a few interesting ideas as well.

    3. Ed (not Bystander)6 December 2012 at 17:19

      "Proper support". Thanks for being so specific. Are you proposing to remove children from toxic homes where the parents are bad? What do you propose to do with them after that?


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