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Pioneer’s scheme for prisoner village

PUBLISHED: 12:06 15 July 2010 | UPDATED: 18:06 25 August 2010

A JUSTICE campaigner is pioneering a radical £48million scheme where prisoners jailed for less than a year are housed and educated in a dedicated village community.

A JUSTICE campaigner is pioneering a radical £48million scheme where prisoners jailed for less than a year are housed and educated in a dedicated 'village' community.

Bobby Cummines, chief executive of UNLOCK, a charity which helps ex-offenders in south east London and north Kent, has worked on his 'Diamond Project' for six years.

Yesterday (Wednesday) he was due to hold talks with recently appointed Justice Secretary Ken Clarke over proposals for the scheme as the coalition government looks at ways to overhaul the criminal justice system.

The long standing and influential Tory politician says it costs up to £38,000 a year to keep a prisoner, more than sending a child to Eton. He made the comments after calling for a 'Rehabilitation Revolution'.

Mr Cummines also plans to speak to Mayor of London Boris Johnson about the proposal in a bid to create the first pilot project in south east London.

Inside today Mr Cummines, who once served time in Maidstone Prison for violent crime, writes exclusively for the Times to give a unique insight in to his plan.

He said: "Prison is not working, reconviction rates are too high and the prison population is at breaking point. This meeting shows the government is willing to listen to new ways of rehabilitating offenders. Locking them up is not good enough anymore. We are turning petty criminals in to hardened convicts with no future, who end up a burden on the taxpayer."

Mr Clarke is a staunch supporter of reforming the outdated prison system, pointing to the large cost of the rising jail population that hit a record high of 85, 201 in England and Wales in May.

A spokesperson for Boris Johnson confirmed meetings with his representatives had already taken place. She said: "Tackling crime and offering young Londoners a more constructive alternative is what the Mayor was largely elected to do and remains his top priority. He is particularly determined to make a difference to youth crime and violence, which is why he launched his Time for Action Plan. Tackling re-offending and rehabilitaton are key elements.

"The Mayor's Time for Action officers have met with a range of organisations and individuals, including Bobby Cummines, who are developing radical new schemes for addressing youth crime. They will reconsider the range of exciting and innovative ideas that have been proposed in developing our long term thinking on this."

Kenneth CLARKE MP was scathed for being honest when he said that short-term prison sentences were not having the desired results in rehabilitating offenders, pointing out they were very costly to the taxpayer and not reducing crime, writes Bobby Cummines.

My heart leapt with joy. Here was a politician brave enough not only to be honest but to talk about reducing prisoner numbers and getting low tariff offenders out of prison to serve their sentences within the community. I've long been waiting for a politician with a backbone who is willing to think '21st Century'.

Government hasn't historically been brave enough to ask for advice from those with practical experience and knowledge of the criminal justice system.

Ok, maybe the odd MP who grew up privileged but did a bit of bird, but what about people who grew up in the gang culture on our streets? Personally, I served 13 years in prison for serious offences including bank robbery but I started my criminal career as a low tariff offender when I was still a child.

My criminal career started in detention centres and ended in maximum security prisons, so I am talking from experience, not from theory. I always smile when I watch television and see these so-called experts on crime and youth offending. How would you react if someone read a book about some people 'like' you, then tried to tell you about your life?

Of course, there's a place for academics in understanding crime but what Ken was saying was really just common sense; reduce the prison population by emptying out of it the 'pests' of society, saving those prison beds for the dangerous in our society. As prison staff move from being just 'turn-keys' and 'big boys baby minders' towards delivering a professional service that will rehabilitate the offender in their care and protect members of the public, their efforts are being hampered by the sheer numbers they have to deal with.

Kenneth Clarke has seen this and wants to deal with this problem in sensible way that is cost effective. I totally support him in that. But what do we do with those in our society that commit low tariff crime, such as vandalism, stealing car radios and the like?

If we just put them on a tag, we know where they are at a certain time, but it does not stop them re-offending.

We need to deal with the causes of crime and not just the effects of crime but no other government has been brave enough to deal with that. The 'system' did many things to try to change me, but ultimately it was education that was my liberation.

It's easy to lock someone up and leave the next government to deal with the extra victims and soaring costs. Now we have a coalition government who seem prepared to deal with what others have shied away from. Their approach fits well with my own vision, the Diamond Project, a genuine community solution based on experience. Twenty-eight acres of land that benefits not only those who have committed offences but also the long term unemployed. It will train them in trades and deal with social problems such as drug addiction, alcohol abuse, anti-social behaviour and mental health. Diamond Projects can include community police stations, social services, probation services, drug action teams, mental health professionals, Job Centres, housing advisers, dentist and GPs. Alongside this, the community will benefit from leisure facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, football pitches, plus restaurants, shops and banks. Diamond Projects are mini villages created for the community by the community. They are also run by the community, creating jobs. This week I shall be meeting with the government to try to make this vision a reality, and I am sure with a coalition with vision it will happen. David Cameron said its time for change and he is right. We need to think 21st Century.

l WHAT DO YOU THINK?

E-mail - michael.adkins@archant.co.uk


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