Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Prisoners as Citizens: 'Big Society' and the 'Rehabilitation Revolution'-Truly Revolutionary?

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Prisoners as Citizens: 'Big Society' and the 'Rehabilitation Revolution'-Truly Revolutionary?

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 2002, the British Journal of Community Justice published the paper 'Prisoners as Citizens' by David Faulkner. The article appeared against conditions of heightened interest in the right of prisoners to vote, which took place within the political context(s) of a New Labour government drawing on conceptualisations of rights and responsibilities of society and 'communities' embodied in 'Third Way' ideology (see Giddens, 1998; Crawford, 1999; 2001; and on responsibilisation see Garland, 2002). Nearly a decade on and against the backdrop of 'Big Society' and the proclaimed 'Rehabilitation Revolution', the coalition government has seen a re-opening of the debate regarding the rights of prisoners. Once again, consideration of the legal and, moreover, civic status of prisoners echoes a continuation of the rights and responsibilities agenda associated with 'modernisation' and the previous 'New Labour' government (for a prediction of this see Senior, Crowther-Dowey & Long, 2007; also Newman, Raine & Skelcher, 2001; Newman, 2002; Newman & McKee, 2005, Newman, 2007).

The aim of this article is to demonstrate the extent to which prisoners have a (political) 'voice', which may be used as an indicator of citizen status. Furthermore, to demonstrate the extent to which prisoners can influence the shaping of services and provision they receive. The complex and negotiated terrain of imprisonment which is reflected on in the writings of Ben Crewe (2005; 2006; 2007) and Bosworth & Carrabine (2001) highlights a prison's social anatomy as a place where, in certain places and spaces, prisoners may not feel 'safe'. Thus, possibilities for self-expression may be limited. We posit that if a prisoner does not feel able to voice their opinions and views, how far can the rhetoric of citizenship, responsibility and, indeed, the reducing re-offending agenda go?

This article builds principally on the work of Faulkner & Crewe to provide a framework for our understanding of prisoner citizenship. We draw predominantly on our experiences of empirical contract research to explore the potential of the arts, media and innovative projects in prison to enable collective or an individual mediated 'voice' for prisoner engagement in debates about rehabilitation. A central tenet of the Green Paper is a government commitment to adopting new and innovative approaches to improve opportunities for rehabilitation by making punishments more effective to reduce re-offending (Ministry of Justice, 2011). Minister Crispin Blunt has claimed that by addressing this overriding objective, 'a safer, more responsible society' (Blunt, 2011) will result. He also highlighted past failures in this regard, underlining the commitment to it being 'time for a new direction to be taken' (ibid). Chapters Two and Six of the Green Paper are particularly pertinent with regard to the discussions set out in this paper as they outline the current government's plans to rehabilitate 'offenders' and work with communities to address crime reduction.

This is not to say that there is not a continuation of some of the rhetoric and practice associated with prior governments. We have indeed seen attempted reform of the management of offenders, stemming from Lord Carter's review (Carter, 2003; the government's response, Blunkett, 2004), which called for a more holistic approach based on individual need and resulted in the creation of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) as a 'strategic integrator' (Williams, 2010: 10). The coalition government has introduced a new Chief Executive of NOMS and a new leadership team, whose key aim is to achieve a 'Rehabilitation Revolution' utilising a mixed economy model to address it's main principles of reducing re-offending and providing value for money (ibid; Ministry of Justice, 2011). In the custodial sector, we have seen the introduction of individually tailored sentence plans, viewed as the beginning of a more 'offender centric' system (Williams, 2010: 31). …

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