‘Doing time’ with prison-linked time banking

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Time banks are well known as community-building tools, but in Castlemilk, a district just south of Glasgow, one of the UK’s largest time banks is pushing this definition further – by including local prisoners among their time bank members.

Castlemilk Timebank has over 200 members who make an average of  11 to 12 exchanges per month. These exchanges typically request DIY jobs or gardening: Castlemilk say that their strangest request was help with “turning a mattress.” However, unlike most other time banks, Castlemilk’s central pot of banked hours includes those accrued by prisoners from three Scottish prisons: HMP Shotts, Barlinie and Low Moss.

“On average, we work with about ten prisoners in each of the three prisons,” says Gloria Murray, Castlemilk Timebank coordinator. Most of Castlemilk’s participating prisoners ‘bank’ hours by volunteering for the Listener Scheme, an initiative run by the Samaritans charity, which trains selected prisoners to offer emotional support to their peers. In return for volunteering their time, the hours earned by the prisoners are turned into time bank credits that their family, friends or community can then exchange for other services outside the prison

“We currently have four families who are benefiting from the hours earned by their relatives in prison,” says Murray. “We work directly with the prisons so that the prisoners have ownership of the project – they say where they want the hours to go. At the moment they have asked that the hours go into a central pot and we distribute them among our time bank community.”

In February last year, Stirling University student Agne Tamaliunaite was asked by Stirlingshire Voluntary Enterprise (SVE) and HMP Young Offender Institution Cornton Vale to investigate whether a scheme similar to Castlemilk Timebank might work at the women-only prison Cornton Vale. Although the pilot was ultimately cancelled, Tamaliunaite’s research started to explore interesting potential links between timebanking and lower rates of recidivism.

However, Tamaliunaite also reported that prisoners were increasingly being paid for the work that they did in prison, and that when given the choice between getting paid or earning voluntary credits, the prisoners were far more likely to go for cash. Her research also includes several examples of prison-linked time banks that had failed to get off the ground, due to changes in staffing or a lack of funding.

Although ensuring continuity is a perennial problem for time banks, those setting up a prison-linked time bank face a very different set of logistical challenges. The coordinators of the time banks must not know any personal information relating to the prisoners, such as their names, age, or the reasons for their imprisonment. Similarly, the prisoner is responsible for giving details of the time bank to those they wish to benefit from the hours they have earned.

“The prisoner has got to tell the family, or whoever it is, that if they want help from the time bank, then they have to be the ones to approach us,” says Murray. “You get a lot of politics with families!”

As with many such initiatives, a critical mass of people is needed. “I think it would be better to concentrate on getting more time banks up and running in Scotland,” says Tamaliunaite. “At the moment, it would be a long shot to allow prisoners’ families to use their time bank credits – because there might not be a timebank in their area.”

Image credit: © Dingopup / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

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