Unlocking Aspirations

By Mark Libby

Unlocking Aspirations, our latest report, is a great example of how we work hand-in-hand with amazing frontline organisations across the United Kingdom. This particular paper is a little different however and has been very special for me personally.

As many of our Alliance partners know, and a spoiler alert for those who don’t, I spent approximately a year of my life in custody. I share some perspectives here. And so, it has been a real privilege to play my part in this new paper seeking to increase education and employment outcomes for prisoners.

Last week I returned to my former prison. A powerful experience. I met a group of men eager for work on release, part of a local charity programme. I look around the room and wonder, will they be successful? The odds are 7 in 10 will not be. A sad and hard truth. Yet in that room all were excited for a new life, a new chance, eyes full of hope.

Courses such as this cannot be successful in isolation. Let’s not fool ourselves, the challenge is not the lack of people, nor their willingness; the challenge is the support, training, and opportunities we provide at this critical time. The experience of prison can be one of progress, and this is what Unlocking Aspiration is all about.

The full paper can be found here, with my personal comments on page 5.

This paper, like many from the CSJ, has been created in partnership with small organisations that are already working in the space of prisoner employment and training. It has been a privilege to connect with all of the amazing people and organisations delivering solutions to deep rooted problems, challenging the status quo and ultimately changing lives.

Within this paper there are 37 recommendations put to Government. All formed from the lived experience and best practice of organisations around the country like The Recruitment Junction in Newcastle, Tempus Novo in Leeds, and Breakthrough Social Enterprise in London (and many others). Without their willingness to share best practice, we could not provide such rich content. It is certainly my hope that many lives will benefit from this work. 

So far, the impact has been significant. The Times have picked this up (twice) including their front-page splash, and we are actively engaged with Damian Hinds, the Prisons Minister. A huge thank you to the Minister for his willingness to reform, and for all the great progress so far. However, there remains much work yet to be done. We are hopeful that through our partnerships with frontline charities real progress can be made toward positive outcomes. 

Without wanting to duplicate my words in the paper, Prison is a difficult environment to say the least. Many there have had complex and chaotic lives, many there have not had the structure so many of us take for granted. Yet currently we fail to intervene to provide people a platform on which to grow and develop, we fail to use this opportunity to repair lives. The recommendations are designed to fix this.

Working on this report has been an extraordinary chance for me to share a bit about my journey, a bit of my own lived experience. Although difficult to revisit, I am encouraged that my story can be of some use driving change, and I am grateful to the Government for taking this seriously.

And it’s a brilliant example of the CSJ Foundation’s mission in action: to find solutions to complex problems, not from policy wonks in Westminster, but by listening and learning from the experiences of those on the frontlines. Through this, we can drive change.

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