The potential of rehabilitative cultures

Dr Jamie Bennett
Thursday, 27 June 2019

Dr Jamie Bennett introduces the latest edition of the Prison Service Journal concluding that support for rehabilitative cultures has emerged during the prison crisis

Eighteen months ago, the Prison Service Journal published an article by Dr Ruth Mann, Flora Fitzalan Howard and Jenny Tew, which focused on ‘rehabilitative culture’. During the intervening period interest has continued to grow and this edition attempts not only to take stock of the current state of play, but also to provide ideas,illustrations and advice that are deliberately intended to shape practice.

This edition opens with an article by Dr Ruth Mann, in which she describes a rehabilitative culture as ‘a culture with a purpose; that is, to support people in turning away from crime and toward a different life’. Her article goes on to highlight the seven features of rehabilitative cultures: relationships and interaction; giving hope; fair processes; physical environment; encourages identity change; builds social capital; and, rehabilitative leadership. The article illustrates these with a variety of examples from prisons.

The authors of the next article examine two examples of prisons that have cultivated more rehabilitative cultures. The first is HMP Springhill, an open prison, which became the first men’s prison to achieve whole prison accreditation as an Enabling Environment, through the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The previous Deputy Governor, Matt Tilt, and Governor, Jamie Bennett describe the journey the prison undertook, recovering from catastrophic failure and rebuilding the culture in a positive, progressive way. 

Dr Sarah Lewis, an independent academic, and Steve Robertson, Deputy Governor of HMP Guys Marsh, describe the Prison Growth Project at HMP Guys Marsh and its background, key features and impact. This was a project that originally started in a Norwegian prison, and fosters positive relationships and collaboration between those who live and work in prisons.

The sense of what is possible and what is achieved, will vary from prison to prison. This edition attempts to bring this to life through a series of interviews with those who live and work in prisons, covering the spectrum of adult male prisons from high security, to category C, to open prison. These interviews illustrate that the exact shape of rehabilitative practices, and the perception of them, alters significantly in different settings. This reflects a number of factors, including the depth and weight of custody, the stage of sentence each individual is at, and the organisational context.

The next article addresses the vital contribution of those who work in prisons. Catherine Vickers-Pinchbeck contributes a qualitative study the Five Minute Intervention – a training that has been an important element of the institutional support for nurturing rehabilitative cultures and has been rolled out nationally. This study offers grounds for cautious optimism. It shows that those who work in prisons generally support rehabilitative aims, and either have relevant skills or can be assisted through training to develop them. Making the most of the talents of prison staff can, however, be hampered by resources. Many people feel they do not have sufficient time and opportunity to maximise their impact. 

Two further sets of interviews give opportunity for prison staff to describe their contribution to rehabilitative cultures. These interviews were conducted in a category C prison, a young offenders institution, and at HMP Grendon. These interviews show the passion, imagination and talent of those working directly with people in prison.

The previous edition was on the theme of ‘The prison crisis’. It is no accident that this is now followed by a hopeful edition. Indeed, it is no accident that the support for rehabilitative cultures has emerged during such a challenging time. 

Crises are clearly a threat to institutions, including prisons, but they are also an opportunity to move in new directions, take different approaches and develop innovative practices. The potential of rehabilitative cultures is that in a period of crises, they offer what Mann, Fitzalan Howard and Tew described  in January 2018 as a ‘cultural revolution’ in penal practice.

Dr Jamie Bennett is Editor of the Prison Service Journal and Governor at HMP Long Lartin