Nicholas Blagden, Co-Head Sexual Offences Crime and Misconduct Research Unit,
Lubkowski, Governor HMP Stafford, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service
men convicted of a sexual offence life in prison is not easy and can often be a
brutal experience. They are despised by all for what they have done. They may
have lost, or fear losing, the support of those who care for them. They will be
at the bottom of the prison hierarchy, living in constant fear of being identiﬁed
as a ‘sex offender’ and will often be the victim of physical and verbal
assaults (Schwaebe, 2005). The difﬁculties facing these men are innumerable.
Yet, despite all of these issues, we still expect these men to be
rehabilitated, to volunteer willingly for, and commit to, treatment where the intimate
details of their lives are laid bare (Ware & Blagden, 2016). Treatment must
seem like a frightening prospect on many levels. It is important to note that
while a populist response to this may be that such individuals ‘deserve’ to
feel that way, it does little to help rehabilitate individuals. The goal of
prison and prison rehabilitation for such individuals must be to prevent other victims
and to help men lead meaningful and pro-social lives, because this is what will
keep people leading offence-free lives. We know that harsh environments make
people worse and not better and negatively impact both staff and prisoners (Chen
& Shapiro, 2007).
despite the environment being highly adversarial for those convicted of sexual
offences, there is very little research considering the impact. The prison
climate and the attitudes of staff in that prison play an important role in
successful treatment and rehabilitation of offenders. In an era when the
treatment of men with sexual convictions is contested and even questioned,
there is a real need to take seriously the environment in which such
individuals reside and understand the opportunities within that environment to
help men flourish.
climate of prisons for men with sexual convictions
convicted of sexual offences represent around 18% of those serving a prison
sentence. This has brought challenges e.g. where to locate such individuals, as
many are separated onto ‘vulnerable prisoner units’, but still experience
threats and fear from others. One solution in England and Wales has been to
increase the number of prisons specifically for men with sexual convictions.
is some debate as to whether housing men with sexual convictions together is a
good idea. Some suggest that they may share deviant fantasies, groom others
including staff and create an overly sexualised environment. These are
important issues, but the incidence of such events happening is not as frequent
as we might think. Recent research (see e.g. Blagden & Wilson, 2019,
Blagden et al, 2016) has found incidences to be unexpectedly minor given the
sample. Instead in these research studies participants expressed that they were
experiencing the prison as a “different world”, one in which they were less
anxious and less fearful. This was helping men have the ‘headspace’ to
for men with sexual convictions with a good rehabilitate prison climate promote
constructive and meaningful relationships between prisoners and staff and
provide opportunities for meaningful experiences to allow men the possibility
to try out new identities. Relationships matter in prison, especially for this
client group, as they can be testing grounds for future relationships and
identities. An important aspect of meaningful relationships for this client
group (and others) is creating opportunities for reciprocal relationships i.e. those
that promote shared exchanges, shared learning and understanding. Two things
which have been important for creating reciprocity within prison are peer
support and active citizenship. Indeed, the reciprocal aspects of these
have been found to galvanise staff-prisoner and prisoner-prisoner
relationships, which is important as the relational properties of both are
linked to the ‘self-change’ process (Mead, Hilton, & Curtis 2001). HMP
Stafford is a prison that has an active citizenship focus. Active citizenship
at its heart is about creating a community and a shared sense of ownership of
the space they inhabit, it helps prisoners to engage more with the people and
the world around them, to reintegrate in the community (Edgar et al, 2011).
Finally, we will look as what active citizenship looks like in practice.
Climate in Action – Active citizenship
2016 HMP Stafford was rerolled to hold exclusively people convicted of sexual
offences (PSOCOs). This dramatic shift in population was closely followed by a
new focus on Rehabilitative Culture across the prison estate. Stafford’s
approach to these two new opportunities was Active Citizenship, a simple
concept of recognising, reinforcing, and recording acts seen to be doing good
for the community, environment, and others. Visually striking and simple
promotional materials were produced, and staff and resident champions appointed
to drive the concept forward.
the result was that residents strived to be in jobs linked to “citizenship”
such as carers, listeners, or resident’s council reps. Citizenship was regarded
as a position to be attained, and closely linked to employment or activity.
There were no financial rewards, nor was it directly linked to the Incentives
and Earned Privileges Scheme. The only tangible benefit was a badge, however
being recognised as an Active Citizen created a new identity for those willing
to do good, and built a momentum behind the idea of contributing to the prison
Active Citizenship embedded, it evolved. Residents looked for new opportunities
to contribute, and staff recognised and valued these small acts of kindness.
Citizenship became less linked to specific roles or activities, and more of a
way of life. Even the badges, albeit still worn proudly by those that received
them, became less significant. Contributing to helping others and making
Stafford a better place became a shared objective for staff and residents, the
act itself being the reward. This has led to a remarkable transformation in the
past 18 months. Trust has built between staff and residents, with a progressive
and innovative climate resulting in what at times seems like an avalanche of
new initiatives and opportunities. Many of these have been created and driven
by residents and front line staff, often in their own time and with little or
is now a place where residents are given a real opportunity to change and grow,
a community where people care for each other and where hope flourishes. We do
not shy away from the reality of what our residents did, or what difficulties
they will face after prison but Citizenship has created a climate where they
can rebuild and renew themselves. They feel valued and empowered, enabling them
to confront their previous life and wrongdoing and move forwards. We are still
on a journey, and there is more to do, but the foundations have been built allowing
us to build something truly remarkable.
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Climate of a Re-Rolled Sexual Offender Prison: A Qualitative Longitudinal
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offenders prison: Impact on prisoners and staff and implications for
treatment. International journal of offender therapy and comparative
criminology, 60(4), 371-396.
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recidivism? A discontinuity-based approach. American Law and Economics
Review, 9(1), 1-29.
K., Jacobson, J. and Biggar, K. (2011), “Time well spent: a practical guide to
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available at: www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/Portals/0/
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