A year ago this month Justice Secretary David Gauke delivered his first talk on prison reform. In his definition of the purpose of prison he listed three things:
Protection of the public. Punishment, and rehabilitation.
Last night former Premier League footballer Adam Johnson got released from HMP Moorland in Doncaster in the dead of night after three years imprisonment for child sex offences.
He has been dealt his punishment, the public have been protected, now what about his rehabilitation?
Words have been bandied about saying the former Sunderland and Man City man will be shunned from all league clubs on his release, which is as predictable as it is ridiculous.
As a Plymouth Argyle fan, this is a debate which has been had many times before, when goalkeeper Luke McCormick was released after four years in prison. He had been given a seven year and four month sentence after careering into another car on the motorway, that of Philip Peak, leaving him paralysed and killing his sons Arron and Ben.
On his release many fans vowed not to return to Home Park while the stopper was part of the squad, and many may have done, but where else is he meant to have gone?Embed from Getty Images
To be a footballer is a very privileged position, but at the end of the day it is a profession just like any other. If McCormick was a plumber, he would be able to go back to fixing sinks after being incarcerated, so why not stopping leaks in the Argyle backline?
Attending a number of games during his time back at the Pilgrims, he got abuse from opposing fans in the majority of them, years after his release. So it is not like a return to the game is an easy passage for anyone. There are thousands of people there baying for blood, they see any anomaly in the opposing lineup, they target it. Especially being a goalkeeper, a prone target, unmoved for 45 minutes, perfect for pelters from the public.
The same goes for Johnson, the man has served his time, paid for his sins, so why can’t he carry on a footballing career?
Dr Phillip Lee, the former Minister for Youth Justice, Victims, Female Offenders and Offender Health said last year: “For most offenders, sport is not an end in itself, it’s the first step in a virtuous path to rehabilitation.”
These words are more prominent than ever as Johnson makes his return to the outside world. Although football may be his career of choice, the sport can offer so much in return. Whatever club takes him on can use him as a positive example of sport rehabilitation; getting him to participate in schemes in the community, which will boost the image of the football club as well as giving Johnson a way of being reintroduced into society.Embed from Getty Images
To the common football fan, he will always be thought of as the winger who seduced a 15 year old child, and there is no escaping that fact. He will get abuse everywhere he goes, maybe even from his own fans, but there is no reason that someone coming out of prison should not be welcomed back into society.
On rehabilitation, Gauke said in the aforementioned speech: “For those offenders who see their time in prison as a genuine opportunity to reflect and take responsibility for their crime and to be rehabilitated, to build the skills and behaviour they need to re-join society, I want to create the incentives that will support and encourage them in that effort.”
And this is precisely why Johnson needs to be accepted back into the football sphere. If he doesn’t what is the point in the criminal justice system in this country? Does it just lead to a life of disdain for offenders, who can never be forgiven? This is more than just a sporting issue, it is one for all of society to consider.