CJ, who leads our work on SOS+ helping to prevent young people drifting into crime and negative lifestyles, gave a TEDX Talk last month in HMP Leicester on how ROTL and employment opportunities through St Giles Trust helped her make a success of her life after prison. In this blog piece, she argues why the system needs to trust prisoners and give them the same opportunities she had.
“In prison, I changed because of the opportunities of ROTL and employment. ROTL – or Release on Temporary Licence to give it its full name – is when a prisoner is allowed out into the community during the day when they start to reach the end of their custodial sentence. It is usually to undertake education, volunteering or sometimes the opportunity of a paid job. It is one of the most effective ways to give a prisoner skills and employment opportunities.
I would argue it should be part of every prisoner’s sentence plan. Out of the 85,000 people in our prison population, only 56 will never be released. We have a moral duty to prepare people for it.
Sadly, this is not the case at present as for every 15 prisoners who are released, 7 will return to prison. Imagine a hospital where nearly half of the patients return after care. It would be rightly shut down. What is going wrong with the prison system?
Is it down to prejudice? Do we believe that people won’t change? I can vouch personally that with the right guidance and support people can change their lives around.
In Norway, there is a re-offending rate of 27%. This is because their system gives prisoners the right support and opportunities.
Compare that to our own system which sees 73% of prisoners released without a job. I would argue this is because we squander the opportunity to train and upskill individuals. Stable employment is one of the most protective factors against re-offending.
If we are serious about making society safer, let’s look at ROTL – that set period of time that a prisoner is released into the community to build employment skills and maintain family ties. In 2013, numbers of ROTL dropped by nearly a third. This is a crying shame and it is this period of testing the waters in the community that is so essential for someone’s re-integration into society.
When I was released, I met a homeless man who himself had been released without a home or a job. He had been turned away from his local authority for housing as he was not deemed in priority need. Before prison he had a home and a job but had lost everything. He was ashamed and said he felt like stealing something so he could go back to prison to have a roof over his head and food on the table.
He had no chances – he was not given the opportunity to become self-sufficient.
ROTL is not a soft option. Prison is punishment. It strips you of your dignity and self-esteem. It is tough psychologically, emotionally and physically – yet we are warehousing some of society most vulnerable individuals in prison and stigmatising them when they come out into society. This is no way to effect sustainable rehabilitation.
ROTL works as it empowers individuals. It encourages growth, good behaviour and gives people the chance to assimilate back into society. I was so appreciative of ROTL that I diligently followed every rule and did not want to squander it. ROTL allowed me to shed the skin of disappointment and failure and gave me back my confidence.
If it wasn’t for ROTL, I wouldn’t have got the job I love doing now. I’m leading our SOS+ project to help alert young people to the dangers of becoming groomed and manipulated into carrying out criminal acts for older criminals who will sadly exploit them in every way they can.
ROTL has allowed me to provide for my family, pay my bills and taxes – all with a smile upon my face. It has allowed me to be more than just a prisoner.
Release from prison is difficult. Prisoners worry, “Will I still have a home? Will I get a job? Will I have a family who still love me?” I think the system is failing because it doesn’t give people the adequate chance to prepare for release.
ROTL works. And employment gets rid of offending. So my call to action is to have the opportunity for ROTL and employment for everyone who is due to be released from prison.
CJ, Team Leader, SOS+, St Giles Trust
Watch CJ’s TEDX Talk here