UK prison has ambitions for inmates beyond its gates

Mon Feb 6, 2012 6:00am EST
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By Neil Maidment

DONCASTER, England (Reuters) - Shane has been in jail more times than he can remember.

Burglary at 15 earned him his first sentence and began a cycle of crime to fund a heroin addiction - a cycle he is now determined to end with the help of a pilot prison scheme.

"You used to come to jail and if you didn't have probation work when you got out of there you were on your own," Shane, now 32, told Reuters in an empty canteen at Doncaster prison in south Yorkshire, England.

"A lot of people were out the gate with 45 pounds, nowhere to live, and were back on the street spending it on class A drugs or drink. They'd be back inside in weeks or months."

Serving 20 weeks for an offence that caught up with him from 2009, Shane does not blame his wrongdoings on a bad upbringing or education, but on running with the wrong crowd.

Serial offenders serving short sentences cost Britain up to 13 billion pounds a year and make up a significant proportion of the prison population. In America, annual state and federal spending on corrections is a cool $52 billion.

The program at Doncaster - the latest in a long line of attempts to improve Britain's prison system - aims to fix that.

From its red brick buildings and grey wire fences to local communities and housing estates, Doncaster's officers are teaming up with voluntary and social enterprise partners to try to reduce reoffending rates that show almost half of adults who leave UK prisons are reconvicted within a year.   Continued...