Alternative to prison for offenders

Small artisan craft workshops are able to offer courts an alternative to prison. Small numbers of offenders can learn traditional craft skills and gain qualifications. If enough of these small workshops were set up around the country, in towns and cities, then they could keep significant numbers of offenders who are not a danger to the public, out of custody.

Traditional crafts are based on patience, care, attention to detail and highest standards. These practises will improve the lives of those who take part in them, and common sense suggests could assist rehabilitation. Based in the community, offenders who were sentenced to serve time in the artisan workshops, could take part in unpaid labour, usually at one or two days a week on an agreed contract, that allowed them to live at home, support their families, keep their jobs etc. Where someone is unemployed then the sentence could be full-time. An offender who did not keep to normal work standards of behaviour, would be “sacked,” and returned back to the criminal justice system, where they would be directed to alternative work, or go to prison. This approach would ensure the wider community benefited from the ability of many non-violent offenders to maintain their usual employment and pay taxes.

How could this network of artisan workshops be funded? If the workshops were dedicated to making products at the high end of the market, then there will be a market for what they make. At Southbank Mosaics, the artists have identified mosaic paving stones as a craft skill that could be sold to local authorities to improve the character and legibility of the typical street. The mosaic paving stone may depict history: the origin of the name of the street, or famous events and people who lived there. It could also be signage and lead people to particular local attractions. Being embedded in paving, this will bring clarity to our increasingly sophisticated urban environment. To avoid becoming part of the clutter, mosaic paving stones should be limited to a few on each street. There are of course enough streets in our towns and cities for this to generate many jobs, as well as thousands of places for offenders to serve sentences.

Where the emphasis remains on the high standards, then there will be interest in the products made. There is also investment potential through education and accredited qualifications. Qualifications that lead to skills and understanding and a greater potential towards gainful employment. All things that help rehabilitation and decrease the likelihood of re-offending.

Other advantages of this approach include
 Job opportunities gained by learning craft skills
 Skills for life and developing hobbies and the ability for happiness
 Rehabilitation by mixing with artists and volunteers (rather than other prisoners in a cell)
 Learning delayed gratification – through careful design & making
 Bringing character to neighbourhoods
 Allowing participants to leave a positive legacy

Southbank Mosaics has operated this training and work experience since 2004. Based in the crypt of St Johns Church, at Waterloo, they are trialling a new approach to working with offenders, based on delivering accredited training and working on public realm commissions, which include art works for the local authority, transport and Heritage. We estimate that if 2000 offenders were kept out of prison each year, the saving would be at leaqst £80million.

And of course, the poor old victim, would not have to pay twice. Firstly by being the victim of the original crime, and secondly by having to fork out money for a very expensive system that gives the offender food, shelter and clothing, in return for expecting them to do nothing all day, while cooped up with hundreds of other offenders. Guess what they talk about doing when they come out?

Or, of course, you could send these people to prison – provide them with food, clothing, bedding, heating all at public expense (£900+ per week), and expect them to spend up to 23 hours a day sleeping or watching TV, meditating on idleness and talking with other offenders about the things you talk about when you’re locked up in a cell.

What makes more sense – paying-back or laying back?

Sign for Trains at Waterloo station made by artists at Southbank Mosaics, working with offenders