An individual hidden from the real world, incarcerated because of a crime they have committed, whether a petty crime or the most serious crime imaginable. Currently there are 85,453 individual’s incarcerated in England and Wales, labelled as criminals, losing all freedom, choices and outside responsibilities. They are now living a parallel life, structured by routine, anger and frustration; however, the outside world isn’t so different. It has routine, rules and regulations; but we are lead to believe we have more freedom, freedom created by the choices we are provided with. The majority of society sees no link between themselves and those individuals in prison, creating a ‘them’ and ‘us’ culture, completely oblivious to the possibility that we all have the potential to one day become a ‘criminal’.
New Bridge Volunteers are creating that link between the community and prisoners. A New Bridge Volunteer will write to a prisoner, visit them, befriend them and give them external support to help them through their sentence. Letters are an opportunity to seek some advice and to hear what’s going on in the outside world.
This link between the prisoner and the outside world can give the individual the support they need, not everyone in prison has someone to rely on, or someone to talk to. With New Bridge, prisoners can talk to people who aren’t going to judge them, label them as ‘criminals’ or push them into a different category of people in the world. Prisoners are people, people with a past, with feelings or issues that might not be being addressed within prison. These letters and visits can help diminish the Pains of Imprisonment proposed by Sykes (1958), by reducing the negative psychological effects of prison. This link can make them once again feel part of society, which can ease reintegration back into the community; this could be through seeking advice about life after prison or even simply knowing that they have someone out there to talk to. The more real links between prisoners and the community outside, the easier it is for those once labelled criminals to succeed.
As well as linking the prisoner to the community, I believe that there needs to be a change in how the community is linked to the prisoner. The perception of prisoners and prison itself need to change. Rather than judging prisoners for their actions, we should be offering help and support, like that offered by New Bridge. But I see this on a bigger scale; we should be changing how the media portrays prisoners and more importantly educating the public about why crimes are committed, such as situational crime, or crime committed by individuals with personality disorders. Thus, rather than stigmatising prison and those within it, alters perceptions to see them as the people they are, that are no different to everyone in the wider society.
If people know more about why crimes are committed then they will be able to see how the situation can be helped, thus potentially removing the stigma attached to prison. As a result this can ease the reintegration of prisoners, ease the pains of imprisonment and reduce offending, and more importantly reoffending rates. Prisoners need to be given the chance to succeed, rather than being pushed aside. There are charities out there which offer these services, but if the community as a whole did this and stopped putting all the blame on the prisoner, we would start to realise that we all play a part in crime, including the unjust world we live in. If these percep- tions in society change, maybe then we could all have a chance at succeeding in life. Changing that unseen link between the community and prisoners could make all the difference.
The sooner people start to see that link between prisoners and the community, the better, as a whole we need to realise we are not so different to those in prison. The community outside needs to put themselves in their shoes, feel how they feel, or imagine living the life they have. Maybe then the link between the two would become more helpful, supportive and useful. If there is more support, more advice and fewer stigmas attached to prison, then the reintegration prisoner’s face as they go back into society might be less stressful, making it easier for them to succeed. Society created prison and created laws, so perhaps we should be creating more links to help increase the positive effects of prison and decrease the amount of laws broken.
– Evie Pardoe