Most of the people from the college who have collaborated with the Fashion Education in Prison project say it opened their eyes to the complexity of the criminal justice system. Working with the offenders as individuals has changed attitudes; we have developed our knowledge of the circumstances which lead to people committing crimes, and deepened our understanding of the concerns, hopes and aspirations of offenders. Now we want to see them better educated and given a chance to become independent individuals with self worth, to contribute to society in a positive way.
Erwin James, an ex-offender who writes for the Guardian, makes the point that as we spend £40k per prisoner and have a re-conviction rate of 70%. we are ultimately investing in failure as we release offenders back into society simply to re-offend. As we continue to fail victims, society and even offenders, perhaps what is needed is an honest debate about what we, society, want from our prison service.
In many of the discussions about developing the Fashion Education in Prison project further, it is clear that there are many in the service who are dedicated to improving the life chances of offenders. There are many charitable organisations who support these types of projects throughput the country, companies also want to support LCF by introducing some manufacturing of their goods into the system to support training and skills development. Because of some of the existing assumptions around prisoners, ex-offenders and the Prison Service itself, there are numerous barriers; companies are concerned that their customers might either see their involvement as bonded labour. What is needed is a radical shift in our culture and our way of thinking about the prison service and what it’s purpose is.
Education is a key factor in the rehabilitation process and keeping people out of prison.
We all need to be better educated about the complexities and difficulties surrounding crime and punishment, as one way or another we are all affected by it.