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Posts Tagged ‘justice’

Prisons and the supersize solutions

Friday, March 24th, 2017

“We try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime”

News this week of plans to build four new “supersized” prisons in England and Wales contrasts miserably with progress in the Netherlands where nineteen prisons have closed in recent years, five in the last year alone.

Jan Roelof van der Spoel, deputy governor of Norgerhaven, a high-security prison in the north-east of the Netherlands offers this explanation for the difference.

“In the Dutch service we look at the individual …If somebody has a drug problem we treat their addiction, if they are aggressive we provide anger management, if they have got money problems we give them debt counselling. We try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime. The inmate himself or herself must be willing to change but our method has been very effective. Over the last 10 years, our work has improved more and more.”

Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, justified her expansion plans with this analysis: “We cannot hope to reduce reoffending until we build prisons that are places of reform where hard work and self-improvement flourish”. Is she really saying that the only way to close prisons is to first build more?

It is certainly never too late to “try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime” but the prevention of first time offending is even better than preventing reoffending. It can be done and it should be: Speaking about creating an  “early action culture” in the police service at our Insight event last year  Andy Rhodes of the Lancashire Constabulary told us that “to prevent crime”, not to arrest more, is the first “Peelian principle”, it should be a police officer’s  primary goal.

Andy embarked on a mission to shift the emphasis after reading our Triple Dividend  report in 2011. Now he says early action is part of our language, it’s referenced on the crime plan, it’s in our recruitment, promotion and Learning and Development with a masters in Early Action at UCLAN and tons of frontline toolkits.”

At the start of his quest Andy was the deputy chief constable and there were a lot of sceptics. Now, not everyone gets it but we are getting there” and Andy is the new Chief Constable , promoted just last week to the top job in the Lancashire Constabulary.

And if Andy is right and we can reduce crime, what might become of our prisons? Again the Netherlands are setting us a shining example: Part of Amsterdam’s Bijlmerbajes prison has become a cultural hub called Lola Lik and part of it is now the Wenckebachweg refugee centre. Here activities for up to 1,000 refugees are aimed at “accelerated integration” – the so called “Amsterdam approach”. The Refugee Company is launching a coffee shop on the site, there’ll be a solar-powered cinema, and The Startup Kitchen, will host food start-ups from around the world.

It’s a remarkable transformation and vivid testimony to the idea that supersizing prevention is altogether better for us all than supersizing prisons.

A Question of Growth

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016

This blog is written by Professor Anne Power, Head of LSE Housing and Communities, and is the fourth in our “A Question of Growth” series. Over the next few weeks we will be posting a new piece every Tuesday and Thursday. You can read all of the previous blogs in this series here.


Growth takes many forms and we can see evidence of growth all around us. Population growth shows up in migration streams from countries with fast growing populations, devastating environmental pressures and extreme low incomes. This growth challenges governments whilst simultaneously bringing new opportunities for growth.

The explosive growth of technology threatens many existing but it can also help solve some of our most challenging problems, for example by helping save energy through smart grids, advanced battery storage and many other high-tech devices.

Traffic growth is a clear example of hard-to-manage and climate change-inducing growth, turning congestion, air pollution, health hazards, noise impact and even travel itself into serious threats to our survival. Yet without mobility the modern economy of cities simply wouldn’t function.

There are other examples. Almost all plant growth is good as it absorbs carbon dioxide, provides the world with oxygen, top soil, fuel, building materials and is 100% renewable. Growth can help.

At the same time, growth in resources which we need to tackle serious social problems no longer seems likely, partly because of slower economic growth. We often misunderstand the link between economic growth and resources to tackle problems. We need growth in order to raise taxes to fund more benign activity, more long-term investment. In other words, early action to prevent problems depends on growth and is itself a growth generator.

Early action confronts problems before they become chronic or even intractable. Crime prevention instead of prison and recidivism is a good example. But funds are being cut for youth work, adventure playgrounds, holiday programmes, and further education for those left behind at school. All of these early action investments help to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour. So we need the kind of growth that favours a long-term early action view of problem solving – help a young person now and for the next ten years and they are more likely to find work, create a stable family, and fend for themselves. This is a great investment in long-term growth through early action. The Harlem Children’s Zone works because it helps from cradle through college to parenting and onwards.

Many economists, social thinkers, environmentalists, religious leaders and politicians have applied their minds to the growth dilemma, balancing longer-term against shorter-term, prevention or cure. Will Hutton, in his recent book on how to secure growth that is benign, argues for a longer-term, more “stakeholder” approach to business investment and growth to balance our social and environmental needs with economic growth. Beneficial growth cannot be measured in profit and Gross Value Added alone nor are they the best drivers of human progress, though they have their place. We need a more shared and longer-term stake in the future. It is the longer term that motivates investors and businesses to work for a wider goal than maximising personal worth.

Catholic social teaching has become strangely fashionable in debates about business, growth and profit. A radical view of the sharing economy emerged from the blatant injustices of the Industrial Revolution and the exploitation of workers and their families for naked profit. The idea of a just wage, of workers having a stake in the enterprise they work for through unions, , of enterprises doing good while making money, is now deeply embedded in the economic structures of many organisations throughout Europe. Nationwide Building Society, a mutually owned big bank, and John Lewis Partnership, effectively a worker-owned company, are two examples. This idea is not anti-growth but pro-beneficial growth.

Nicholas Stern, one of our most influential environmental economists, argues that:
a) The risk of serious climate change with potentially catastrophic consequences for poorer communities around the globe is so significant that not taking early action is little short of reckless;
b) The economic cost of inaction is vastly greater than the cost of converting our whole economy to sustainable investment in renewable energy and energy saving to replace fossil fuels;
c) Continuing on our current path raises the serious danger of “lock-in” i.e. it’ll become harder and more costly to escape climate change calamaties resulting from urbanisation, land use and energy consumption growth;
d) Only by addressing both poverty and climate change together can we create the beneficial outcome we need if we are to survive. All of this requires strong economic activity – more jobs, more investment, more recycling, more investment – more growth.

Nick Stern concludes that if we take early action starting now, we will create a much more benign social environment, with more shared interests, better social conditions, better health, greener cities and lower costs – more jobs, more resources, and more beneficial growth.

Some argue, like Tim Jackson, that growth is inevitably damaging and that “prosperity is possible without growth”. In practise, Tim recognises that we need rapid growth in benign, non-harming activities in order to shift from a resource-hungry economy to a circular economy. Converting to a circular economy of low resource waste, low consumption requires a very different kind of growth.

For several decades now, economists such as William Rees have proposed the value of a circular economy – that extracts only what can be replaced or recycled, that operates on zero waste, that puts back or regrows what it takes out, and that directs economic activity towards meeting needs rather than fuelling wants. There are signs of this happening in the most unlikely places.

Europe’s former industrial cities have been forced through the collapse and withdrawal of major industries – coal, iron, steel, textiles, machinery, engines, vehicles, weapons – into a new economy. Starting with government-backed reinvestment in their infrastructure – civic buildings, transport, factories and warehouses, canals and rivers, neighbourhoods and communities – they are piecing together a new future. The financial crash of 2008 followed by the Euro crisis suddenly cut public resources and forced them towards a “resource-constrained” and therefore circular economy. Thus we have live experiments all over Europe in a new kind of growth, that links the environment with social conditions – tackling climate change and energy shortages, over-crowding and international migration, austerity, and a new kind of growth.

Nick Stern’s conclusion that tackling poverty and averting climate change are intrinsically linked is close to Pope Francis’ plea for us to “care for our common home”, the planet, its people and its natural environment. We must care for the poor and the planet to avoid collapse. This requires a less greedy, more socially just, more equitable and more environmentally sensitive approach to growth.



Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive. Viking (Penguin Group): New York.

Hutton, Will. (2015). How Good Can We Be: Ending the mercenary society and building a great country. Little, Brown Book Group: London.

Jackson, Tim. (2011). Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a finite planet. Routledge: New York.

Pope Leo XIII. (1891). Rerum Novarum Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labour.

Pope Francis. (2015). Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ of Holy Father Francis on Care For Our Common Home. 

Power, Anne. (2016). Cities For a Small Continent: International handbook of city recovery. Policy Press: Bristol.

Rees. William E. ‘Achieving Sustainability: Reform or Transformation?’ in Satterthwaite, David. (ed.) (1999) Sustainable Cities. Earthscan: London.

Stern, Nicholas. (2015). Why Are We Waiting? The logic, urgency and promise of tackling climate change. MIT: Cambridge; London.



Anne Power is Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and chair of the National Communities Resource Centre. She was a member of the government’s Sustainable Development Commission between 2000 and 2009. Her recent book, Cities for a Small Continent is about the need for a new and more sustainable kind of growth.

Sending out an SOS: how early action can break the cycle of reoffending

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

The Early Action Task Force is currently building on its latest report, ‘A Rough Guide to Early Action’, by creating an early action case study online gallery. Below is a sneak peek into one of our new case studies, the St Giles Trust SOS Project… 

 photo Junior Smart SOS_zpsceddixxz.jpg

Junior Smart, Founder of SOS Project. (Image by Emmanuelle Purdon.)

St Giles Trust’s SOS project was founded by Junior Smart in 2006, an ex-offender working for the trust who had experienced the destructive cycle of gangs, violence and crime. The project is designed to help vulnerable young people caught up in criminal lifestyles – often gang related – to enable them to realise their aspirations in education, training or employment and ultimately reduce violent and weapons crime.

 Why is this early action?

According to the National Audit Office it costs nearly £250 million each year to detain young offenders, with 73% of them re-offending within a year. Gang crime is also hugely costly, both in terms of destroying the lives of gang members, their family members, and their victims, and of policing, prosecuting, and incarcerating offenders. The Government estimates that 50% of shootings and 22% of violent crime in London are perpetrated by gang members.

Preventing violent crime by breaking people’s involvement allows them to contribute to society, improves their family’s prospects, and makes their communities safer by reducing the likelihood that their peers are drawn into crime. SOS does so through an emphasis on shared experience and building relationships, training ex-offenders as caseworkers to work with gang members providing one-to-one holistic support tailored to the individual’s needs.

 How does it work?

Initially piloted in Southwark, SOS is now the largest gang exit service in London, operating in 14 boroughs and funded by local authorities, corporates, philanthropists, and charitable trusts. It operates through St. Giles Trust’s Peer Advisor model, using ex-offenders as frontline caseworkers and training them whilst in prison to give high-level advice and guidance. Not only is this experience powerful in breaking down barriers with gang members, it also provides caseworkers with a meaningful qualification to find well paid employment upon release.

SOS develops one-to-one relationships that are available 24/7 to build trust and encourage individuals to turn their lives around. Caseworkers provide support in family mediation, finding solutions to housing needs, enabling them to break ties with destructive friendships and move towards education or employment. SOS is about implementing pragmatic solutions that lead to behaviour change.

SOS also works in schools through SOS+, using ex-offenders to inform at risk young people about the dangers of gang involvement, de-glamorising the lifestyle, and raising awareness about how they can stay safe. One-to-one support is given to particularly vulnerable young people. SOS is also delivered through Expect Respect which works exclusively with young women, offering one-to-one support to those at risk of sexual and violent exploitation associated with gang involvement.

What has it achieved?

SOS ultimately aims to prevent gang crime by helping clients end gang involvement and getting them into work and decent housing. An evaluation by The Social Innovation Partnership found that 87% of SOS clients interviewed changed their attitude to offending. Over 75% of clients move into employment or training, and 75% into decent housing. Mainly, though, it was clients’ relationship with caseworkers that had the greatest effect in changing behaviour as caseworkers’ experience allowed them to challenge clients whilst ultimately giving support.

According to a cost benefit analysis of its work with high risk prison leavers, St. Giles Trust reduces reoffending by an additional 40% compared to the national average. It’s testament to St. Giles Trust’s transformative effect, not just among its clients but staff as well; of 23 SOS caseworkers who left school without any qualifications, eight now hold degrees. It demonstrates St. Giles Trust’s ethos of not dismissing individual’s capabilities because of their past, and caseworkers’ great determination to improve their clients’ lives, as well as their own.

 What can we learn?

The intensive, empathetic and 1:1 relation-building between caseworkers and clients is key to SOS’s success. 75% of clients said that their caseworker being an ex-offender was crucial in making them want to change their lives. Having a team of caseworkers who’ve experienced the hardships their clients face makes them particularly determined to persist in maintaining the relationship for as long as it takes, whilst also showing clients that they have to want to change for themselves. What’s significant about the SOS project and St. Giles Trust’s work more generally is in showing that changing behaviours of the most entrenched, challenging and complex clients only works through relation-building because people who are disengaged from all other services need a consistent, flexible and personal source of support.


Find out more

Further information on SOS can be found here.

Watch a film about the SOS Project here.