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Interview with RECOOP volunteer - Karen Bond

Karen Bond works as a Relief Project Worker with BCHA.  She is studying for a BSc in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies. Prior to this she worked for The Salvation Army, The Zone (Youth Enquiry Service) and other charities involved in working with people who are homeless and at risk. She has two adult children.

NLM: How did you come to be a volunteer with RECOOP?

KB: I’ve worked a lot with people who are on the edge of society, but mainly with younger people. Working with BCHA got me involved with a wider age range of people. Some of the people who use the service are sex offenders released on licence and I became interested in the problems they face when trying to get housing and resettle into the community. I chose that as my dissertation topic and the manager recommended me to RECOOP.

NLM: What drew you to take an interest in this group of people?

KB: They’re often very vulnerable when they come out of prison. Some of them have been inside for years and they’ve lost touch with the outside world.  Some have learning difficulties.  Most have little or no contact with their families and friends. They don’t know how to cope and the prison service doesn’t always prepare people well for release.  There’s an old saying, prison stops at the prison gate.  But it doesn’t.  They swap their prison cell for a room somewhere.  That’s if they can get one.  They can find it very difficult to get accommodation.  Some of the charities impose a blanket ban on sex offenders, regardless of who they are or what they need.  That can leave them literally with nothing but the clothes on their back.  Prison is also supposed to be about rehabilitation, but the system serves these men very badly.

NLM: What do you feel they need?

KB: Social isolation is problem that affects people in all sorts of ways. They’re scared to mix with other people, they think they’ll be victimised and so they become withdrawn.  They’re scared to find out what they need to know.  And resettling in the community is a very complex process.  People need help and advice that meets their own circumstances.  You have to make the information very clear and sometimes have to be prepared to tell people over and over again what they need to know.  Don’t forget, some people have known only the prison system for many years.  They’ve forgotten what it is like to live a normal life, that’s if they were coping in the first place.

NLM: How do you feel you have changed the way you work as a consequence of your experience with RECOOP?

KB: I think I’ve become even more committed to the cause of penal reform.  Prison isn’t a good place for some people or for society.  I accept that a custodial sentence is right in some cases, but there has to be a better way of helping people to lead some kind of worthwhile life once they’ve been released.  We need to pay a lot more attention to that.

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