As part of our skills development programme we are now getting our students to develop Apps that will ex- offenders integrate into mainstream society.
The Digital Divide. Using ICT and the internet is a functional skill of increasing significance for communication, accessing public services, research, education, banking and employment. The digital divide between people in prison and in the community is rapidly widening and will make resettlement more difficult if these skills have not been developed. Managing risk and reducing reoffending. There is huge potential to use ICT and controlled internet access as a tool to improve prisoners’ rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. There are of course security risks which need to be managed. However, given the high cost to the tax payer and victims of reoffending, security risks need to be managed in a more proportionate way to enable ICT to become an effective tool for rehabilitation.
Our Apps will help those who have :
1 legal rights for those inthe care system
2 Data base of charities and organisations that can help with jobs and training
3 How to mange your finances
4 Anger management
It is based on the following research fromour students:
As an introduction, the young men were told that the purpose of the focus group would be to inform a major report on care leavers and the justice system that would make practical recommendations to reduce the high numbers of young people from care ending up in prison. The questions sought their views and opinions as young BAME people who had been through the care system. It was stressed that we didn’t want them to disclose any details they felt uncomfortable disclosing. The discussions and responses did highlight a range of themes:
- Negative stereotyping;
- Lack of role models;
- Poor relationships with social workers;
- The impact of successive moves;
- Poor educational and career guidance;
- Police harassment.
- The discussion
- Tell us about your experience in the care system?
Two members of the group gave tentative responses to the opening question
“I had a number of foster carers a lot of moves usually due to my behaviour. There would be an incident, and they’d just move me no consultation. I was in shared accommodation by the council before I ended up here in Feltham.”
“I hated being in care. I was moved about frequently never settled. I had a flat from the council but lost that when I came here”
“‘I didn’t get to see my family much and when I did it would be a brief visit because I would then have to travel back to Southend”
- Has your experience of being in the care system contributed to you being at HMP Feltham?
All the young men who responded to this question spoke of negative relationships with social workers. Central to this was a lack of any consultation on major decisions such as moves.
“They give you a £40 a week but no real support or guidance. I was getting into trouble fights and stuff. They moved me out of London to Southend. No black people out there felt really isolated lots of stops by the Police. The system set me up to fail”
“Lots of moves never an explanation or asking what I wanted or how I felt. I had seven moves between the ages 13-16. Social workers never supported me. They moved me from Harrow to Clacton Essex. That’s where I got into drugs. When I was in London I was involved in violent crime, fighting but moving to a different area I was involved in different types of crime mostly drug related”
“Because of the lack of financial support and I had to buy my own clothes, food and then travel to Colchester for college I would get in to lots of trouble because I would bump the fares and then get fined”
“No useful education support or careers advice. The relationships with my social workers were really poor they just wanted to tick the boxes. Never looked at me as an individual. Nobody cared!”
“The social workers would just put you on a course in college to tick a box, but it was never anything that I was interested in so then I would just leave and then that would lead me to get in to trouble on the streets”
- What more could have been done to have prevented you being at HMP Feltham?
The lack of positive influences was raised under this question as was the need for young people from their backgrounds to be shown different opportunities
“Financial education is crucial. You are on your own and no one has ever shown you how to manage money. “
“We should get better support from social workers. If they can’t, get people who can”
“Mentors who have been through what we have been through and actually care about us as individuals” and who will stick with us and show us different options to crime”
“More opportunities to experience different things that could inspire us”
“Being exposed to different routes in education and career options that interest us”
- Why do you think there is an over-representation of young men from black and minority ethnic backgrounds at HMP Feltham and in the youth justice system generally? What can be done to avoid this?
Harsher relationship[s with the police and discrimination and stereotyping were highlighted in response to this question.
“You are just not given a chance on the outside as a young black man- you are always judged negatively.”
“The Police – the unfair treatment is just normal if you’re black”
“Once you have been inside and come out the criminal record just stops any chance you have of going straight. So you get pulled back into crime. Its worse if you are black just harder to get that break”
“I feel from young the system has been training me to come here”
- Black and minority ethnic young people are over represented in the care system do you think they are treated fairly in the system and that their needs are met? What can be done to address this?
“Nobody wants to be taken in care. The decision to take me into care was devastating. The school was a big factor. I’d row with my mum. Come to school with bruises. They reported it. Then your family think you’re a snitch. All the professionals have a negative stereotypical view of black families. The professionals don’t understand our lives they don’t live in our areas they don’t know people like us. They hate us!”
“Social workers just don’t relate to us. I had a good relationship with one social worker and then they left, I don’t even know why, but that was the only social worker that I got on with and after that it was just downhill”
“Keeping us near to family, so that we can get family support”
- Should the youth justice system do more to support young people from the care system away from the youth justice system?
A clear message was the need for professionals to listen to young people and that race, due to negative stereotypes, can further inhibit that happening.
“We need better activities. The one service at the YOT that was really useful was a counselling service because they were interested in you and your side of the story. The YOT workers were terrible just interested in finding faults and telling you what to do. All judgemental and just ticking boxes”
“Relationships are crucial and being treated as an individual and with respect. Try to see things from both sides. Go beyond the stereotypes and see the individual.”
“I only had one professional that ever cared and went that bit extra.”
“To make me change you got to show me the alternatives!”
Clearly there was a lot of feedback from the young men that would, in all likelihood, be generic to the experience of all care leavers who end up in the justice system, regardless of their race or ethnicity. There was, however, a sense from their reality that race compounds the negative experience further, fuelled by stereotypes and institutional methodologies that value paper trails and policies more than the bedrock relationships that can steer young people onto different paths.
The notion of cultural competence wasn’t mentioned by the young men but there was a sense that professionals and institutions failed to have a sympathetic understanding of the lived experience of these boys as they were when in care. The lack of voice through their whole experience within the care system points to the need for independent mentors and advocates who can support them through the process and may provide the role models they needed. This would represent a major culture shift for Local Authorities but would provide the child with a source of independent advocacy and support.
The need expressed in the discussions for contact with others who share a similar cultural heritage should also be addressed. Undoubtedly more thought and care must be taken around moves, particularly when that involves weakening family ties (where those ties are appropriate.) Moving young BAME people to areas where there are small BAME communities really should be thought through and the views of the young person should be heard through the decision making process.
From the position of corporate policy and strategy the focus group also begged the question of how much attention Local Authorities are paying to the quantitative and qualitative issues around young BAME people in their care. One of the recommendations for the review from BTEG would be for councils to conduct regular equality analysis on the numbers of young BAME people in their care, there experience through the system in comparison to their white counterparts and, where poorer outcomes are recorded plans, put in place to address this.
The focus group clearly highlighted the need for a voice for young BAME people through both the care and youth justice systems.
Finally, we would to thank the young men for participating in the focus group and sharing their experiences.