An American in London: my time with Khulisa

This May, I had the pleasure of working and learning from Khulisa in London. Along with 22 other Cal Poly Pomona students, I visited London to intern at different non-profits and having had previous exposure to Khulisa through my mentor, I was very keen to work there during my internship.

The passion of Khulisa’s team was evident from the first moment. Khulisa’s methodology is both highly effective and unconventional. The program director highlighted the variety of different methods they use to best serve individuals in the programme. For example, their facilitators use dramatherapy, and bring hypothetical scenarios to life by acting them out, using them to illuminate the pressing issues that their programme participants face in their daily lives. Khulisa uses outlets like these to channel the problems people face, and help them to find strength from within.

"What stood out for me was the importance of early intervention. Rather than focusing only on those who are already incarcerated, Khulisa works with young people at risk of offending."

Despite the efficacy of their programs, UK regulations and practice can make it hard for Khuilsa facilitators to enter  prisons to deliver their programmes. In particular, it was striking how difficult it is to get clearance in the UK. This is in stark contrast to the US where all you need is three forms and a passed TB test (tuberculosis) to gain clearance to volunteer in correctional facilities. Another interesting comparison between the US and the UK justice system is that non-profits in the UK seem not to get as much funding from the state as they do in the US. The more money there is available, the more participants you can help – and Khulisa’s small team has to work hard to secure the funding they need to sustain their work.

The ownership structure of the UK prison system is very different to that of the US, where correctional facilities are privately owned. Public opinion in the US is that this creates a perverse incentive across the prison system, as the more inmates in a prison, they more money that prison owner will make. In the UK, there are some instances of privately managed prisons, but these are in the minority. At a time where financial resources are scarce, there is a tension between creating an efficient system that also maintains the rights of the individuals it serves. I personally believe that we should not leave such complex services such as prisons, and the support of the vulnerable people within them, in the hands of private business. 

My time at Khulisa showed that both the US and the UK can use different aspects of their respective justice systems to best serve their people. Khulisa delivers amazing programmes that I hope can reach as many correctional facilities and schools as possible in London and beyond. 

Juliette Wander is a Political Science gradate from California Polytechnic Pomona University.

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