Change-Lanes Foundation has been engaged in the reintegration of people involved in criminal prosecution for over fifteen years. In the Erasmus+ project coordinated by the Foundation has now summarised its key findings and best practices. The uniqueness of their methodology lies in the fact that it can be used in various other fields, such as by organisations working with deviant, disadvantaged, homeless or unemployed people, inasmuch as their goal is to support the reintegration of these people into society.
The Hungarian foundation has operated since 2002, but its associates have worked with the target group of those involved in criminal prosecution since 1997. In the past fifteen years, they have implemented a number of projects focusing on social and labour market reintegration, even though besides convicts, their work also includes the integration of disadvantaged people or ones in a marginalised position. "We had had a lot of experience, not only in theory and in practice, but also in a written and summarised form. The project provided a great opportunity for us to put everything we knew into a well-conceived and structured system" – began Mercedes Mészáros, specialist head of the foundation.
She told us that their international partners also welcomed this kind of structured knowledge, since some of them had only had practical experience in this field. Otherwise, it was not incidental that they worked with Eastern European countries in the project. „It was an important aspect that the neighbouring countries had similar criminal policies. It meant certainty that we would understand each other and we would set similar goals"− added Mercedes Mészáros. At the beginning of the programme, they found their partner organisations partly through existing relations and partly through recommendations; due to a former project, they'd had good relations with the Polish partners, whereas they met the Czech partners at international events. These latter ones recommended the Slovak partners, whereas they found the Lithuanian partners on a dedicated search website.
Game and bibliotherapy as a methodological specialty
Since the topic is complex, it requires a holistic approach; for those working in the project it was clear that they didn't only deal with the actual target group, but also with their directly related circle. However, it's impossible to contact or reach employers as a group, since any member of the society can belong to this broad category. So they set general sensitisation as their goal, in order to affect as many people as possible. Of course, they primarily focused on those under detention, but they also tried to put more emphasis on ex-prisoners - the Czech organisation, for example, paid special attention to them.
"As a first step, we studied the criminal policies of all the five countries, as well as their training and education and what organisations were involved in law enforcement; thus, we got an overall image of each other's situations. Then came the compilation of the methodological repertoire, as a part of which we first presented the method of 'Change Fever - a game to prepare for release': it prepares prisoners for the challenges which await them in the first month after their release. The game reviews these challenges in a witty, still adequately didactic and easy-to-understand way. Thus, the majority society's system of values and norms becomes applicable in an easy and experiential manner. The other method of ours is called 'Literature Therapy - Preparation for Release"; the goal here is to enhance the skills of self-knowledge and self-esteem in detainees, as well as their reading comprehension and creative skills, and also their communication competency. And bibliotherapy is a great method for that" – Mercedes Mészáros explains.
Digital and adaptability skills are the key to progress
Not incidentally, 'Change Fever' was also produced in a digital version, because - as the specialist head of the foundation said - developing digital competencies was a key goal of the project, anyway, and that's because in the world of work, these skills are now indispensable. However, due to security reasons, prisons only offer limited opportunities to use computers. Interestingly, in the other Eastern European countries even stricter rules apply to convicts in this respect than in Hungary. The priority of security is clearly obvious; still, we can't overlook the fact that most convicts come from a social situation where they didn't have much chance to practice the activities required for this skill, either. So the associates of the foundation also want to demonstrate the benefits of digitalisation in everyday life, such as by using Skype to talk to visitors.
"The other extremely important area which we focused on was transversal competencies, which basically enable those to be released to adapt to the changes. For that purpose, we have also developed a set of exercises, which can be used not only with ex-prisoners but also with other target groups, such as disadvantaged people, deviant youths, unemployed or homeless people" – Mercedes Mészáros continued. She added: both these exercises and the sensitisation training for adults, developed under the project and ready for accreditation, are the joint products of the five organisations, but, although their foundations are the same, their practices differ, considering the peculiarities of the given countries.
Instead of figures, success lies in human fates
The summarising publication compiled within the programme also wishes to present programme ideas which approach labour market integration in an alternative manner. It was greatly helped by the experiences gained by the organisations of the five countries during the project meetings while visiting prisons and rehabilitation houses. "We visited, for example, a Polish halfway house, providing a transition between the prison and real life. For example, at the institution, located in Mienia near Warsaw, they grow and process goji berry plants. Besides, we also got an insight into a Lithuanian prison, where the inmates learnt carpentry within the framework of vocational training and courses in wood industry"– the specialist leader said.
"For us, the key indicators of success are not figures or statistics, since there are a lot of things that you can't express in numbers. When we want to determine the effectiveness of reintegration, we need to ask the question: what do we call 'successful reintegration' at all? When someone doesn't recidivate, doesn't go into prison again or finds long-term employment? We need to think in terms of small steps. Therefore, it's already a great achievement when we can see that someone is making a lot of effort to develop and learn inside the prison”– Mercedes Mészáros summarised the key message of the work of the foundation. "There are some with whom we just sit down to talk, and only after one or two years will they decide to move on. This is success, too, and the stronger methodology we have in our hands, the greater chance we have to achieve long-term results."
|More information about the Prison, Reintegration, Education – Trainings to support social and labour market (re)integration of people in or after detention project: www.preproject.hu, www.valtosav.hu|
Last modified: 05-08-2019