Falling at the last hurdle

Things aren’t panning out too well at present.  I’ve supported my husband in the year since his release.  We’ve gone through horrible ups and downs, fought depression, debt collectors and all the stigma of either being an ex-offender or living with an ex-offender.  But now, so close to the business actually taking off, a curved ball has been thrown that is shedding doubt on the whole operation.

The ethos of the business is to introduce a new life for those guys who want to turn their backs on crime and to become law-abiding, tax-paying, family supporting citizens, WITH criminal records, but not defined by them.  It still can be done.  It must be done.

We’ve all come this far and it would be desperate at the point of breakthrough to give in.

Actions speak louder than words (tell that to the Government)

Out of deference to my husband, and strangely more so to his business partner who has no sway over my blogging, I have not detailed the tortuous machinations required when attempting to set up a business that involves our Government.

And I am beginning to regret that decision.

Brace yourself, this is going to be a long blog without pictures.  This is what, in brief, they are trying to do:

  • Offer training, funded by their company, to serving offenders, inside the prison estate.
  • Once training is successfully completed, offer employment to serving offenders once they are eligible to start working in the community but are still serving their sentence.
  • Once an offender has been released on licence, continue to offer employment to the offender.

What’s not to like?

Just in case you are thinking “why should criminals be offered special treatment” consider the following:

  • If an offender earns money whilst serving a sentence 40% of their earning goes into the Government’s “Victim’s Support” Fund.
  • If an offender leaves prison without a job, they are highly likely to re-offend to earn money.
  • If an offender returns to prison – WE – the taxpayer, get to fund the extra stay.
  • If an offender leaves without a job, but relies on State Benefits – WE – the taxpayer, get to fund their lives until they (a) find a job or (b) reoffend.

It’s a no brainer as they do say.

At the heart of the problem, I believe is the Government’s stance on what to do with those who break the law.  I’m am afraid to say I now believe that prison is there solely to punish, rehabilitation is down to the individual, or in rare cases, a handful of Prison Officer’s who genuinely want to help an offender turn their life around.

Why does the Government not want to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders?  Put simply, it’s a political hot potato.  What Government wants to be seen handing money over to Offenders?  Well, my husband and his partner had outside funding to support his business, so no embarrassment was on offer there.  They did (or, let’s try to be positive) “do” need written permission from the Government to operate inside prisons – and you’d think this a relatively easy piece of documentation to obtain.  It’s taken them 12 months and still they have nothing in writing from a Government Minister, however the following “words” have been said but “actions” are still lacking:

  • Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling) meeting in March 2013.  Following this meeting, the Conservative Member of Parliament for Braintree (Brooks Newmark)  advised that Mr G “liked” the idea but had suggested they needed to work via their Member of Parliament.
  • Conservative Member of Parliament for Shipley  (Phil Davies) confirmed, following a meeting,  that Mr G had told him “providing no state money was needed” he (Mr G) was “happy to see the scheme progress” and would see what practical help could be supplied by the Prisons Minister.  Mr Davies was impressed with the concept asking why it was not already in operation.  My husband pointed out that the lack of progression was purely down to Government bureaucracy and “red tape”.  This was back in July 2013.
  • Sir Richard Branson – extract from his blog “I would like to encourage more companies to proactively recruit ex-offenders. Our experience of this within Virgin has been wholly positive……”   Richard, my husband’s company would employ ex-offenders to work within the rail industry, something that should “tick” so many boxes we could run out of ticks.  So it is curious the company you operate to deal specifically with requests for business funding, has still to return my husband’s calls and emails.  All he wants is a simple response of “yes we are interested” or “no we are not interested”.  He first made contact in January 2013 and to this day still tries to get a response.
  • Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Oliver Letwin) briefly met after being invited to 9 Downing Street (“briefly” was approx 20 mins in which to discuss huge savings to the Government).   Again, after eventually understanding  the concept, the fledgling business was advised to send in drafts of three key documents  – a letter of intent (to confirm their funding), permission to access prison estates and most importantly, a letter confirming they were an official Government supplier and as such, were entitled to be part of the procurement list.  This meeting took place in July and after such enthusiasm it was deflating to suddenly hear that…..
  • Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright) requested to meet with Member of Parliament for the Sittingbourne and Sheppey constituency in Kent (Gordon Henderson) to discuss the project WITHOUT the two directors of the company.  The two people who had gestated and nurtured the idea.  I am still at a loss to understand why they were not invited to this meeting and can only draw my own conclusions.  The result of this, the latest in a long line of fatuous promises from Government is the offer of a letter of introduction to Prisons of their choice so they can enter and offer employment.  The concept and their requirements were not correctly put to the Minister by the Member of Parliament for Sittingbourne.

They need more than a letter of intent.  They already operated (since June 2011) a pilot scheme from inside HMP Standford Hill.  You might find what they actually need very interesting, I certainly did:

  • A letter of intent from the Government, to show to their potential backers to guarantee their private funding.
  • Permission to access prison estates – this has been “offered” by Jeremy Wright – however the Governor at HMP Sheppey Cluster is already in communication with them and is extremely keen for them to get in and get this project up and running.  This is not a brick wall for them.
  • A letter confirming they are an Official Government Supplier.

This last item is key.  They want  to offer Rail Track training.  Once they have qualified workers on their books, they can approach rail networks who, as they operate on contracts supplied by the Government have a duty to employ a percentage of workers that fit certain categories – one of those being people with high barriers to work – that’s the long term unemployed and ex-offenders.  A circle completed.

They are struggling on until December of this year.  They earn no money whilst trying to set this business up, they are not claiming any state benefits.   They are finding it increasingly difficult to attend meetings which are never in our neighbourhood.  I am currently funding my husband – willingly.  But I too am a taxpayer and would really appreciate the savings they would make to the Government by encouraging offenders to leave crime behind.  I don’t want to keep reading in newspapers how we are pandering to our criminals, I want the Government to do what they say “make criminals work”.  I desperately want this enterprise to succeed because if it does, they want to roll the idea out to be able to help female prisoners and eventually to assist in the employment of the ordinary long term unemployed.   Our brush with the law has changed us forever and it would be sad to lose this momentum, to give up and turn our backs on those that need more help than we do.  Sadder still though is our Government’s complete lack of action when presented with an innovative concept that would cost them nothing, but save them much, but more so would potentially save us from the blight of criminal activity.

“For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make thieves and then punish them.”
― Thomas MoreUtopia