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Chickens and chats form basis of new prison life

May 07, 2012

from the entry on This is Cornwall:

...."It may sound gimmicky, because this is supposed to be a prison and a place of punishment, but the people I'm charged with looking after are some of the most troubled and troublesome members of society," he said. "Their individual backgrounds are horrendous in terms of not having a father figure, and a lack of education and the opportunities that you and I experienced."

Through treating prisoners with "decency" and giving back a sense of respect, staff are already seeing a drop in incidents of bullying and drug abuse. A large number of prisoners have volunteered to sign up to a scheme to donate a small weekly sum to the Victim Support Service.

....And that is the nub of Mr Corcoran's philosophy. As well as protecting the public, he emphasises reducing reoffending by treating the prison as a "small town", and creating environments where prisoners can learn new skills and a way of responding to the outside world which involves respect, not crime and violence.

...."It's all about a very robust risk assessment," he said. "It's about asking 'Has this person addressed their behaviour and reduced their risk?' What we won't do is knowingly put the public at risk." Mr Corcoran's approach has impressed watchdogs the Independent Monitoring Board, which described him as a "breath of fresh air" to the prison.

.... A key part of his method has been to change the punishment system, too. In the past, any wrongdoing inside prison would result in a judge who visited once a month imposing a sanction which effectively meant the offender spent longer in prison by having his good behaviour reduction slashed. But it meant a delay in the delivery of the punishment which created a disconnect between cause and effect.

"A lot of crime is impulsive, it's about the here and now: it's instant gratification," Mr Corcoran said. "My view was that we should turn it on its head and punish crime immediately. It isn't a soft option. I give solitary confinement and take away their privileges more readily than before."

The judge no longer visits, yet crime is down. "Anecdotal evidence is that prisoners don't like having their TV taken away, because it hits them immediately," he said.

....At Channings Wood, he has been able to implement a philosophy he cemented when he did a Masters at Cambridge in 2004, with a thesis on the subject of restorative justice, which can involve bringing victims face-to-face with perpetrators of the crime to promote understanding and reduce reoffending.

"It's about making good the harm someone's done," Mr Corcoran said.

On a low level, that is the purpose of the voluntary tax towards victim support. But the prison has also organised "powerful" meetings between inmates and the victims of their crimes, and quite regularly brings together two prisoners who have fought each other to talk through their problems to great effect.

So how much of this new approach came from Mr Corcoran's studies? "I think it showed me that there's no such thing as a panacea. What you need is a collaboration of interventions. There's no silver bullet. That's absolutely right, simply because of the complexities that we are as people."

Read the whole article.

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