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Time Well Spent: A Practical Guide to Active Citizenship and Volunteering in Prison

NCJ Number
Kimmett Edgar; Jessica Jacobson; Kathy Biggar
Date Published
74 pages
Based on evidence derived from a survey of British prisons and interviews with inmates and staff involved in "active citizenship" schemes, this report documents the work that inmates are doing to improve prison life and make contributions to the wider community, including volunteering, peer support, charity work, and prisoner representative duties.
Prisoners are considered "active citizens" when they act responsibly by making positive contributions to prison life or the wider community. In British prisons, there are five types of "active citizenship" schemes. Peer support schemes involve inmates in helping and supporting fellow prisoners. Community support schemes involve inmates in working with or on behalf of people outside the prison. In restorative justice programs, inmates are encouraged to acknowledge the harm they have caused and to make amends. Democratic participation in prison life is another "active citizenship" activity. An example is serving as a member of prisoner councils or other forums. A fifth "active citizenship" scheme consists of arts and media projects, such as prison-based radio stations or newspapers, as well as performing arts programs. This study found that through such activities, inmate participants experience a sense of purpose to their time in prison, an opportunity to acquire new skills, an increase in their capacity for responsibility, earning the trust of others, giving something back to victims and the community, and a structure for being a contributor to society rather than a passive recipient. Although few of the inmate respondents explicitly made a connection between active citizenship and desistance from offending, many indicated they now believe they can change their lives for the better. Further expansion of active citizenship schemes in British prisons will require strong support and leadership from senior managers and policymakers who recognize its value. 17 notes