Paul Marsden 8.11am
On Tuesday, Ken Clarke said that the riots make the case stronger for penal reform, with three-quarters of those aged over 18 taking part in the riots being re-offenders. In his final extract from a revolutionary set of policies, former MP Paul Marsden writes why penal reform must be part of Renovation Zones.
The transformation required in the Renovation Zones must be reflected in our prisons. Criminals serving sentences must appreciate that they are being punished for crimes that they have committed. Ahead of that, however, must be a culture of transforming lives.
Instead of languishing in a cell for up to 23 hours a day, prisoners should be learning and exercising for up to 18 hours a day. All activities should be focused on acquiring new skills and identifying future careers.
The fact is that many criminals in prison will, when released, be returning to the types of areas that are candidates for becoming Renovation Zones. These ex-convicts should become positive role models for these areas rather than sources of aggravation, competition and tension.
Re-offending rates range from 26 per cent to 74 per cent for some prisons and when surveyed, 68 per cent of prisoners said that the single most important factor on returning to a community is having a job.
In order to bring down those re-offending rates rapidly, into single figures if possible, we must strive to have work available for prisoners on their release. Rather than wait six months before becoming eligible for work placements, in a Renovation Zone ex-prisoners would be required to join work programmes on the day of their release.
Simple and dynamic change is needed in the communities worst affected by high crime, high unemployment and extreme deprivation. Renovation Zones would cover the priority areas in need of renewal.
It will call for tough ‘Street Leaders’ who are given the full support of communities and local authorities. Their focus will be on new skills and work, work, work.
Young people need opportunities geared towards real world skills. They must be given the chance to articulate their views in their own way.
Ex-prisoners must be dovetailed into the RZ work programme to reduce rates of re-offending.
A culture of fresh ideas must dominate and failure or only partial success accepted as part of the process of renewal.
A revived local pride must be engendered and linked to a stronger national pride. Improving the environment should be inherent to RZs so that people appreciate the world in which we live.
It will be difficult, the road will be long but the days of dead-end neighbourhoods punctuated with police sirens and shattered dreams must end. Through radical renovation, we can build buzzing, vibrant, respectful and happy communities.