Delphine Strauss’s excellent report “Ex-offenders help plug skills gap” (October 12) lifted the debate above the usual negative rhetoric about offenders, providing valuable insight into the life dynamics of those who through their criminal activity are marginalised by society. Most of all it challenges the all too fond prejudices held by the many about the benefits of punishment.
Prison has little to offer those incarcerated, as offenders emerge from their sentences with an even greater sense of alienation. As a young probation officer in the Potteries at the end of the 1960s I soon learnt that work was therapeutic for offenders. Most had failed in education and developed deep prejudices about authority, which had been carefully reinforced by periods of incarceration in institutions that did not have sufficient emphasis on rehabilitation. They were angry and all too often indulged behaviours that were self-defeating. Trying to influence them and to provide a different focus in their lives was difficult.
Fortunately, in the Potteries there were some enlightened and sympathetic employers who were willing to take a chance and give offenders jobs. Work provided income and status, hitherto missing. Most importantly they became part of a workforce culture that exposed them to different influences, values and routines, which helped instil different behavioural norms through the subtle process of becoming a member of a legitimate part of society.
We pay a high price for retribution. It would be better if our criminal justice system could be geared towards rehabilitation, with job opportunities an absolutely essential element of this. Offenders are a potential resource as solid citizens, and providing them with education and training into jobs makes sound economic sense.
Wass, N Yorks, UK
Former chief probation officer, Teesside
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