I mentioned a week or two ago that those nice folk at IRISS had locked me in a room by myself and recorded me talking to a computer about desistance for an hour. The result has just been published here: Supporting Desistance from Crime: Reconfiguring Penal Practice
I had a bad cold that day, so you’ll need to excuse the sniffles….
The talk was an earlier version of the one I gave at the ICPA (International Corrections and Prisons Association) conference last week in Singapore. It was a really interesting event — my first chance to talk to ‘corrections’ people from Asia and Africa. Desistance research has certainly reached Asia — indeed, the Singapore Prison Service is already (much like this project) trying to work out how to adapt its practices in the light of what we know about the process and how to support it. There was also an interesting presentation from a Hong Kong based professor (T. Wing Lo of City University) about his work research on desistance from gangs.
More generally, Singapore itself was a real surprise. Though Singapore retains what looks to Scottish eyes like a Draconian approach to punishment (most notably, Singapore retains the death penalty and, I think, executes more people per capita than any country except China), it also has a remarkable approach to reintegration. Last Wednesday was Singapore’s ‘Yellow Ribbon Day’, when the government encourages people to wear a yellow ribbon to signify support for and acceptance of the returning ex-prisoner (find out more at: http://www.yellowribbon.org.sg/news-events/2011.html).
The real surprise for me on Wednesday was to hear a talk from Mohamad Osman MP (admittedly an unusual one, being an ex-social worker and grassroots community activist) explaining how he personally writes to every constituent who is imprisoned offering volunteer support to the prisoner and his or her family. He also runs tele-visiting clinics from his constituency office and supports ex-prisoners into work post-release. Out of the 51 cases he has tracked so far, only 6 have re-offended — not a scientific study but a pretty promising result.
Now, it would be easy to be cynical here and say that populist punitivenss isn’t such a problem in a one-party state, but this was clearly a committed and values-driven individual taking a chance on supporting some of the most marginalised people in society. I wonder how many UK-based MPs would consider running such a scheme…?