I WAS a Criminal: Social Finance Saved Me!

Year after year, billions of people including myself continue to suffer in the hands of the capitalistic system that’s based on the “survival of the fittest” motto. Although it might seem like a fair deal, the truth is most people don’t start on an equal footing. The minority are born into well-off – or at least stable – families which gives them ample time and resources to explore and develop their interests and passion, while the majority barely get a chance to experience the crumbs of such a luxury. This inevitably results in batches of society resorting to unlawful means of surviving, such as online scamming, selling illegal substances and/or theft and robbery, as was the case for me.

The problem, however, doesn’t end there. A study done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the U.S. indicated that over 76.6% of prisoners arrested in 2005 were rearrested within 5 years of their release. The same study also pointed out that property related offenders, such as thieves, were the most likely amongst other types of felons to recommit the offence, even beyond those of drug addicts and violent offenders.[1] Besides the obvious high rate of recidivism I also drew from this research the fact that a lack of wealth is the primary cause for an individual to return to prison. Therefore, it goes without saying that financial stability – or rather the lack of it – is the leading factor that pushes individuals into breaking the law.

In order to address the elephant in the room, we need to ask ourselves the question: what is the primary reason that drives individuals, like me, towards such indecent activities? Is it a mere lust for wealth or is it perhaps a form of laziness to pursue the traditional 9 to 5 job? These 2 theories are possible explanations however a more sound and probable explanation would be a lack of education that renders people, like myself, ‘unqualified’ for decent jobs, and as a result forces us to resort to undignified methods of accumulating wealth, such as drug dealing, theft or robbery.

It is common knowledge that the crime rate is significantly lower in neighborhoods where children attend decent schools and parents are financially stable. Knowing this, we may begin to observe a strong inverse relationship between the level of education in a community and its crime rate; meaning to say, the higher the level of education is amongst members in a community, the lesser crimes you would hear of being orchestrated or reported on there.

In numerous parts of the world, programs have been introduced to cater to ex-convicts that are looking to start over again. For example in 2010, the English Ministry of Justice collaborated with an NGO named ‘Social Finance’ to raise funds that would help reintegrate ex-prisoners into society. The project succeeded in many ways. On one hand, it managed to raise £5 million from investors and charity organizations, and on the other it reduced the rate of recidivism by 8.4% and 7.5% for its first and second batch of prisoners respectively.

Another wonderful example would be the education initiative for juvenile inmates in the Kajang Prison introduced by Malaysia’s former Minister of Home Affairs in 2008.[2] The program, which is currently running, aims to prepare these underage offenders for the ‘Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination’, which is a fundamental requirement for most decent jobs in Malaysia.

There exist other similar initiatives in other countries, such as Denmark, Japan and the U.S. that have brought significant change to society. They’ve managed to introduce actual rehabilitation and reintegration curriculums that have made it, firstly, less of a challenge for ex-cons to either get employed or go back and continue pursuing a formal education and, secondly, less likely for them to return to prison[3].

It should be stressed that the subjects being taught in these prison programs should not be limited to religious teachings, but rather they should be comprehensive so as to include subjects related to economics & finance and others that would help inmates make a living for themselves rather than depend on others once they get out.

Therefore, State governments really ought to invest in such programs or at least encourage and allow organizations to run such programs by way of raising the necessary funds and hiring qualified personnel to educate the inmates. An online platform that has introduced such an initiative is mywaqf.com. The platform, founded by a Blockchain company called Finterra, strongly advocates and provides social finance by way of providing a platform for NGOs to create and promote their waqf-related causes and easily raise funds for them. To donate to such causes, individuals simply need to create an account on the platform and would thereafter be able to scroll through a wide scope of social causes aimed at aiding a segment of the community that interests them, such as prison programs, refugee initiatives or animal rescue projects.

All in all, governments need to remember that convicts currently serving sentences would one day be set free, but without having been equipped with the necessary educational tools to reintegrate into society we would be forced to go back to the life we once knew. Therefore, as members of the community we need to be more proactive rather than reactive and prompt our leaders and the general public through physical and online crowdfunding platforms, such as Finterra, to raise funds for these projects. The famous saying goes ‘knowledge is key’, so perhaps one day when I leave prison, I could fulfill my dream of teaching in a high school and showcasing to students that if I could make it, so could they!

[1] https://www.nij.gov/topics/corrections/recidivism/pages/welcome.aspx

[2] https://www.nst.com.my/news/2017/03/222024/msias-criminal-recidivism-rate-below-9-cent-dpm

[3] https://www.thestar.com.my/news/education/2017/07/09/classes-behind-bars/

[4] https://www.rand.org/blog/rand-review/2016/01/course-correction-the-case-for-correctional-education.html