Confidence, Basic Skills, and Young Offenders

Cooking With Confidence

Cooking With Confidence


A few years back I was lucky enough to visit a prison to see how offenders were able to improve their basic skills and confidence.  The approach was very simple.  It started with an egg.


There were a few others ingredients too, however cookery classes made it possible to deliver literacy, numeracy and social skills all at the same time.  I guess there is a quiet sense of satisfaction to be had from working through a recipe, measuring ingredients and cooperating with the instructor to produce a good quality result.


It is naïve to think greater confidence in itself reduces re-offending rates, but it may play an important part in opening offenders’ eyes to possibilities, beyond their familiar offending behaviour.


I got to thinking about the relationship between confidence, basic skills, and people who are in custody as a result of the latest report from the Centre for Social Justice   The CSJ believes that the English justice system is failing to educate young offenders.  Edward Boyd, the Centre’s deputy policy director says:


“The youth justice system is being treated as a dumping ground for youngsters that no one knows how to help.  Education is one of the best ways of reducing reoffending – but Youth Offenders’ Institutions are failing to do this”.


Hopefully reports on the CSJ’s findings will shine the spotlight on the role of Secure College’s.  More effective learning there will help young offenders make wiser life choices.  That in turn will give them greater scope to identify what it is they legitimately want, and what constructive actions they will take to take to get it.  Which may just be good news, for the young people, and for the rest of society.

Sign Of The Times

self-esteem, groups and hate

self-esteem, groups and hate (Photo credit: Will Lion)

Blogging about personal development in a time of austerity is highlighting some powerful contrasts and connections.

On one hand there are young – and not so young – people who are motivated high achievers (like the former Olympian Rebecca Adlington or footballer Robbie Rogers I have recently blogged about) who are confident of their own ability to make choices which allow for self-development.

On the other hand there are people not in education employment or training (the so called Neets) or offenders like those documented by commercial television living in Her Majesty’s Prison Aylesbury.


Their lives and those of youth not (yet) involved in the criminal justice system are seemingly defined by low self- esteem, disengagement with / alienation from society, and perhaps adverse mental health outcomes.

Either cohort could be supported to develop better outcomes for themselves and those their lives touch.  The question is who should have the majority interest in providing that support?


Should it be central government policy which highlights the need to resource those people, and which provides such support directly (so young people’s energies are channelled into social rather than anti-social activity)?


Or should local communities come together, to make the most of central government Big Society funds, using their skills to deliver change in the lives of the least fortunate neighbourhoods?


I have led a Community First panel for 12 months and I will be reflecting on my Big Society experience in coming posts.  Meanwhile I am aware of the pressures on the potential pool of volunteers for those sort of projects (people with the skills, confidence and desire to help make change happen).


Proposed cutbacks on numbers of civil servants in the Education department seem counterproductive too.  After all, they and their peers in other departments are part of the pool of potential volunteers for Big Society activity.

Obviously there are major questions about the best route by which to reduce the fiscal deficit and balance national spending.  However there’s a question mark against the wisdom of leaving some under supported people entirely to the operation of volunteerism (where individuals delivering those outcomes may be under pressure to produce high level outcomes while being a little under prepared to so).


Maybe there is work to be done to increase the capacity of the voluntary sector to deliver better quality outcomes.  Doing that first may reduce the potential for further drains on health, welfare, education, and criminal justice resources further down the line.

Folsom Prison Blues

Johnny Cash 2209720084

Johnny Cash 2209720084 (Photo credit: Heinrich Klaffs)

Johnny Cash died nearly ten years ago (the exact anniversary is September 12).  I knew a little about his music – for instance his reinterpretation on Trent Reznor’s song ‘Hurt’ is achingly intense

Despite my interest in the criminal justice system I did not know about the role Johnny Cash took in US prison reform.  The BBC has filled in the blanks, in recent coverage of his activism from the 1950s onwards.

Apparently he used his growing profile as a musician from the late 1950s to draw attention to the unnecessary harshness of the penal system.  His faith-based view was that prisoners could be redeemed.  Speaking about Johnny’s prison work his brother Tommy says:

“He identified with the prisoners because many of them had served their sentences and had been rehabilitated in some cases, but were still kept there the rest of their lives. He felt a great empathy with those people”.

Seemingly the US recidivism rate means more than four out of ten offenders return to prison within four years.  As I posted on 24 November last year (see Inside Out) in the UK six out of ten offenders return to crime within nine years.

There was an interesting radio documentary recently about faith-based interventions to help disaffected youth, and people on the margins of society, linked to David Wilkerson’s work as a street pastor.  The book ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’ says more about how that got started.

In the final analysis, maybe the UK needs more community outreach towards people on the margins.  Perhaps it also needs an advocate with the persistence and credibility of Johnny Cash to start the conversation about the potential for the criminal justice system to change peoples’ lives?

Inside Out

According to government research, quoted by the Daily Mail recently, six out of ten offenders dealt with by the justice system return to crime within nine years.
Daily Mail coverage about tackling reoffending by mentoring

That must have a major impact on public finances (which bear the costs of policing and punishment); and peoples’ lives (both victims of crime and perpetrators).

No wonder then that acting for the government, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is encouraging the growth of effective mentoring programmes, intended to keep ex-offenders from re-offending.  The Guardian newspaper documents the early stages of such a mentoring relationship. License: PublicDomain Keywords: people Author: AbiClipart Title: Magnifying Glass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe that significant value could be added by skilled volunteers meeting the offender a year before their sentence ends and supporting them through establishing a coaching relationship.

The key would be the coach helping them look closely at the reality of their lives to date; identify positive future goals (in the same way that readers of Brian Tracy, Steven Covey, John Whitmore or Laura Berman-Fortgang would recognise); select the viable options they can pursue to attain them; develop the will take the first steps toward their future.

Undertaking that journey would establish strong foundations on which mentors and other positive external influencers could build, after release.

Hopefully mentoring is only one of the strategies which the government is going to support, to help offenders better manage the transition from life inside to their future beyond crime.