Bank aid will give prisoners new start

A Co-operative scheme is helping to reduce re-offending.

Sending bank managers to prison may simply sound like justice but a scheme by the Co-operative Bank doing just that is helping rehabilitate prisoners and reduce re-offending rates.

In fact, a study by Liverpool John Moores University showed that the Co-operative Bank's "accounts for prisoners" scheme has helped reduce re-offending rates by around a third.

The study analysed the behaviour of a group of 107 prisoners who opened an account with the bank before being released from HMP Forest Bank prison in Salford in October 2007. Only 39 per cent of those who opened a bank account have re-offended: the national re-offending rate of prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months is 59.9 per cent.

"Bank accounts are not the panacea for reducing re-offending rates but as this research shows, it can have a positive impact," says Paul Jones of Liverpool John Moores University. "It is clear that bank accounts are an important element in enabling ex-prisoners to become valuable members of society and other banks should consider following the pioneering work carried out by the Co-operative Bank."

How does the Co-op's scheme work? It's simple. The bank sends staff into prisons to help prisoners set up a bank account and get a cash card before they are released.

The Co-op set up the scheme in 2006 in conjunction with Kalyx, which manages the Forest Bank prison. Since then, the scheme has been extended to 30 prisons across the country.

Giving prisoners access to a bank account before they leave prison is crucial. It helps them get a job and somewhere to live, as Justice Minister Maria Eagle MP points out. "Prisoners' ability to open and run an account to manage their finances can prove key to their resettlement in society once they are released, and access to a bank account is a core component of this.

"Without access to an account, finding a job or accommodation is often much harder for prisoners. In offering bank accounts to prisoners in nearly 30 prisons, the Co-operative Bank scheme is helping the National Offender Management Service make a significant contribution to prisoner resettlement and to reduce re-offending rates," says Eagle.

It's not just about helping them with financial management; having a bank account also helps them psychologically by giving them a big step back into normal society, rather than leaving them outside the mainstream.

"These bank accounts play a huge part in helping to reduce re-offending," says Steve Taylor, Kalyx's deputy director at HMP Forest Bank. "By aiding social inclusion, prisoners are enabled to feel part of the wider community, therefore minimising the chance of them returning to crime."

As our case study, former prisoner James, notes (above, right), "It's amazing how much of a difference getting a bank account makes. It's allowed me to feel part of society again."

Prisoners are offered basic bank accounts under the scheme. These are the accounts launched by the Government some five years ago to reduce social exclusion. They are simple accounts with a cash card but no overdraft. They allow people to set up direct debits and standing orders but they don't allow you to go into the red.

As such, they are great for people not terribly good at managing their money, as there is no temptation to overspend or get into financial trouble. Most major banks offer the accounts but, generally, people have to seek them out. The main banks don't promote basic accounts as there is no profit to be made from them.

The Co-op is, as far as I can find out, the only bank actively to go out and seek suitable customers for basic bank accounts. More than 3,500 prisoners have opened a basic bank account under the "accounts for prisoners" scheme since it was launched three years ago. And now the bank wants its rivals to join in and help more prisoners across the country.

"We cannot tackle this important issue alone," says Neville Richardson, chief executive of the Co-operative Financial Services. "Therefore, I would encourage other banks to play their part in providing accounts for prisoners so all inmates can have this opportunity."

No other current-account provider has yet signed up for the scheme. When questioned about what it could do for prisoners with no job or home – usual requirements when opening an account – the Nationwide says it may open accounts for prisoners who have a letter from a probation officer or social worker to prove their identity.

It also says that using a prison as a place of residence may not mean that a prisoner is turned down for an account. "We recognise that some prisoners may find it hard to prove their permanent place of residence," says a spokesman. "Where an application does not immediately fulfil our identification criteria, we will assess it on its own merits."

The spokesman points out that the Nationwide supports six charities which help young offenders and the families of prisoners through its charitable foundation.

Similar questions put to the high-street banks prompted puzzlement. "I haven't been asked such a question before," one told me. However, all said that they wouldn't treat prisoners any differently from anyone else when it comes to opening an account.

However, Barclays has launched a pilot project with the UK National Association of Reformed Offenders in three prisons in the east of England. Since November 2008 it has opened 154 accounts for prisoners.

The Co-operative's scheme is to be applauded, but it would be simple for others to join in and offer similar account-opening facilities at other prisons. It could help countless prisoners get a foot back into normal society, which could be a big step towards rehabilitation.

But it could also go some way towards repairing the banks' tarnished reputation. Taking positive action towards helping disadvantaged members of our society rather than squeezing every last penny out of them would be a start. Let's hope the banks are listening.

Set up and go: A former prisoner's life-changing account

James [not his real name] was released last year from Forest Bank prison, and now has a full-time job and lives with his partner and first child. He says opening a bank account before his release helped him make a fresh start.

The 34-year-old had two spells in prison for minor offences, but now says he won't be going back. "Getting a bank account from the Co-operative has given me a sense of self-respect and allowed me to feel part of society again. Every time I go into a shop and use a debit transaction I feel good about myself. It is amazing how much of a difference it makes."

He really noticed that recently when returning to a store he'd previously been caught shoplifting in. "A shop assistant was following me around, probably because I'd shoplifted there in the past. But this time I wasn't and when I went up with my card and paid, I had a smug look on my face. It's funny but it is a benefit of the card; I got a buzz from it."

His troubles began almost a decade ago when he lost his job. He ran up debts, couldn't repay his mortgage and lost his home. James explains: "It was a disaster, really, once I lost the job and the house."

For James, getting the bank account meant becoming part of society and achieving financial security. Used to handling cash, he says the account has helped him to manage his money. "In the past, money burnt a hole in my pocket. Now I quite like managing the account properly. I only earned the minimum wage but it feels good to be able to pay bills – in many respects, I am no different to anyone else now, and that is a good feeling."

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Life and Style
tech
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Reach Volunteering: Trustee – PR& Marketing, Social Care, Commercial skills

    Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Age Concern Slough a...

    Reach Volunteering: Charity Treasurer

    Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Crossroads Care is s...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Soho

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000: SThree: We consistently strive to be ...

    Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CADIS) Developer

    £50000 - £90000 per annum + benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Markit EDM (CA...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines