Prevention is Better than the Cure: why any programme of prison reform should start with youth work

February 15, 2017

This week, Justice Minister Liz Truss made a speech about the state of the

British prison system, condemning supposed ‘quick fix’ solutions to

overcrowding and poor sentencing. This speech was made in response to

BBC footage from earlier this week, which showed the chaotic state of the

British prison system, with an undercover officer at HMP Northumberland

secretly filming his discoveries. Whilst undercover, the BBC’s reporter

discovered cases of widespread drug use, door alarms that didn’t work, holes

in security fences and an evident lack of control on the part of the prison

officers. It is clear that the poorly constructed building blocks of our prison

system are crumbling, and that we are ultimately failing to successfully

rehabilitate our criminals.


One of the main purposes of the prison system is rehabilitation, with an

intention that criminals who enter into the criminal justice system are

eventually released and never reoffend. However, as Ms Truss reminded us

yesterday, reoffending rates have soared in recent years and prisons

themselves have become remarkably more violent. Though we may assume

criminals to be the most violent members of society, that prisons – the very

institution meant to house their rehabilitation – are violent themselves seems

to go against all logic. For a criminal, prison doesn’t seem like such a bad

place to be right now.


It is in light of these problems that Truss has presented us with her thoughts

on the matter. The main points of her speech focussed on incorporating a

more severe prison inspectorate, improving rehabilitation programmes,

offering more help to drug offenders and maintaining the rules around

indeterminate sentences. However, the point made by Truss that I found most

interesting was her comment that "too often people end up in prison

because our interventions to tackle problems like drug addiction or mental health issues don't work as well as they should.” Here, I think Truss taps in to a very important, and often neglected, notion: that prevention is easier (and better) than the cure.


Clearly, the British prison system is in disarray, at which point we should not

hesitate to turn our attention to preventative measures, so as to ensure that

fewer people commit the crimes that mean they end up in prison in the first

place. At BIGKID Foundation, prevention is our focus in our work with young people in Lambeth. We understand that once a young person is in a gang, it is much harder to get them out of it than it would have been to deter them from joining. Helping a child to take the positive steps required to stay in school is easier than helping them to find a new school once they have

already been excluded. As we are currently fail