By David Parks
The Skill Mill
The three dimensions of crime, punishment and rehabilitation are generally considered to be the sole preserve of statutory law enforcement agencies; i.e. police, probation, courts and prison services. Of course, over time and space, all three dimensions will change; whether it’s crime types, attitudes towards punishment and how and when to intervene and the balance to strike therein. It is clear that any debate about crime and punishment is complex and draws a broad spectrum of views. However, in terms of the rehabilitation of offenders, there is more of a consensus that the revolving doors of prisons are not acceptable.
Therefore, and particularly in the context of reducing public finances, it will not come as a surprise that rising prison populations and high reoffending rates suggest that the traditional approaches to supporting offenders do not work.
A new model of intervention is emerging – and that is the role that civic society can play and more specifically, Social Enterprise. Social Enterprise is increasingly rising to the challenge and responding innovatively to meet the needs of individuals and communities whilst at the same time performing an economic function. Like many of the today’s societal problems, offenders would seem an obvious group for Social Enterprises to help. However, there are very few examples and it’s easy to see why; employing offenders is still considered a risky business in the broadest sense. Offenders are a section of society for whom there is not overwhelming sympathy and support. The risk of further harm is, of course, a primary concern and requires significant expertise to assess and manage, but, by not doing it the status quo results in more damaged lives and increased costs to the state and more victims. Alternatively, the rewards are enormous.
I am in the privileged position of working both in statutory law enforcement and in a Social Enterprise so can see down both ends of the telescope. The Skill Mill Social Enterprise has boldly entered into this space and demonstrates that the challenges can be overcome. More than anything else the opportunity provided is one that the offenders value enormously and through relationship building identities are changed from one of ‘offender’ to one of ’employee’. It is truly transformative.
The example that The Skill Mill gives, along with other Social Enterprises employing offenders (they are out there), is vital to changing attitudes. At the vanguard of this work, we can prove that people with complex needs who exhibit high-risk behaviour and commit crime can be engaged positively in work. The ripple effect this has on individuals, families and communities can be profound.
The challenge therefore to others is that with ‘the bigger the risk the bigger the gain’, can more Social Entrepreneurs who are not risk-averse (and typically this is the defining feature of Social Entrepreneurs) bring more ex-offenders into the workforce? When we start to measure the fuller impact on society of reducing re-offending and shout about it, as this sector is very good at, I’m certain that increasingly we will improve society’s view of offenders as worthy beneficiaries and ultimately everyone wins.
Let’s use SEWF 2018 to take this one another step forward. “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment, 1866)
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