One of the things that we (that is Shadd, Fergus and I) have needed to do these past few weeks is to identify some of the people who we might want to speak to during the production of the film. The film, just to recap, is the first stage of the project, and will be shown to those working in the criminal justice system, voluntary sector, service users, families of those wanting to break away from crime.
With this in mind I spoke to a couple of people from the tracking project (the long term follow-up of probationers I’ve been running since the late 1990s) last night about their potential involvement. Both agreed, I’m delighted to say. It was really nice to speak to both of these guys and to find out briefly how their lives had moved on in the 15 or so months since I’d seen them last. Both are working in drugs rehabiliation and one of them whose employment was temporary last time we spoke was now working full time – a great turn of events for someone who spent the best part of 20 years as a service user.
But it also struck me that those following these blogs may wish to put themselves forward for the second stage of our project; the involvement in the discussions following the screening of the film. We’d like to hear from ‘ex-offenders’ (horrible term, my apologies), current service users (of, say, probation or drugs rehabilitation services) and those working in the criminal justice system interested in the desistance perspective. We’re also hoping to involvement family members in the discussions.
So, if you know anyone who fits the above – or if you fit the above yourself – please do drop one of us a line! We’re not limiting ourselves to just the UK, so please do let as many people as possible know about the project. Thanks!
Script off to the production company next week, so a very exciting time all round!
All the best,
I can’t keep up with Fergus’s travels and don’t have his (probably fake) Glaswegian accent (see podcast in the blog below), but I too was on the ‘air’ recently on blog radio yesterday. I hadn’t even realised there was such a thing as blog-radio but apparently there is (maybe that is the next step in all of this “knowledge exchange” stuff).
Anyhow, I was interviewed by a fascinating guy named Herb Blake who has a desistance story all of his own to tell. In fact, the interview would have been more interesting (and more natural for me, at least) if I were the one asking the questions and he was the one telling his story (which is far more interesting than mine). See:
http://herbblake.com/ for some of this story.
His blog radio show interviews a variety of fascinating folks involved in social and criminal justice work in one way or another. I listened to a couple of the shows — the RJ legend Mark Yantze is great as is my friend Lorenn Walker from Hawaii. All are really interesting (despite the awkward commercials at the beginning). I haven’t listened to the whole interview with me (would rather suffer a stomach flu to be honest), but he said he would edit our chat into something coherent and hopefully cut out all the usual stammering and stuttering. See (or hear) it at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/path2justice
I mentioned a week or two ago that those nice folk at IRISS had locked me in a room by myself and recorded me talking to a computer about desistance for an hour. The result has just been published here: Supporting Desistance from Crime: Reconfiguring Penal Practice
I had a bad cold that day, so you’ll need to excuse the sniffles….
Supporting Desistance from Crime: from iriss on Vimeo.
The talk was an earlier version of the one I gave at the ICPA (International Corrections and Prisons Association) conference last week in Singapore. It was a really interesting event — my first chance to talk to ‘corrections’ people from Asia and Africa. Desistance research has certainly reached Asia – indeed, the Singapore Prison Service is already (much like this project) trying to work out how to adapt its practices in the light of what we know about the process and how to support it. There was also an interesting presentation from a Hong Kong based professor (T. Wing Lo of City University) about his work research on desistance from gangs.
More generally, Singapore itself was a real surprise. Though Singapore retains what looks to Scottish eyes like a Draconian approach to punishment (most notably, Singapore retains the death penalty and, I think, executes more people per capita than any country except China), it also has a remarkable approach to reintegration. Last Wednesday was Singapore’s ‘Yellow Ribbon Day’, when the government encourages people to wear a yellow ribbon to signify support for and acceptance of the returning ex-prisoner (find out more at: http://www.yellowribbon.org.sg/news-events/2011.html).
The real surprise for me on Wednesday was to hear a talk from Mohamad Osman MP (admittedly an unusual one, being an ex-social worker and grassroots community activist) explaining how he personally writes to every constituent who is imprisoned offering volunteer support to the prisoner and his or her family. He also runs tele-visiting clinics from his constituency office and supports ex-prisoners into work post-release. Out of the 51 cases he has tracked so far, only 6 have re-offended — not a scientific study but a pretty promising result.
Now, it would be easy to be cynical here and say that populist punitivenss isn’t such a problem in a one-party state, but this was clearly a committed and values-driven individual taking a chance on supporting some of the most marginalised people in society. I wonder how many UK-based MPs would consider running such a scheme…?
None of the regular readers of this blog (are there regular readers of this blog??) will have missed yesterday’s comments from Ken Clarke about the role of the criminal justice system failures in the English riots…
Among the more interesting bits was where Clarke writes:
However, reform can’t stop at our penal system alone. The general recipe for a productive member of society is no secret. It has not changed since I was inner cities minister 25 years ago. It’s about having a job, a strong family, a decent education and, beneath it all, an attitude that shares in the values of mainstream society. What is different now is that a growing minority of people in our nation lack all of those things and, indeed, have substituted an inflated sense of expectation for a commitment to hard graft.
Sounds like someone has been reading his desistance literature or having it read for him. Actually, this isn’t really a joke — the original green paper laying out the blueprint for the still unfulfilled (by a long shot) ‘rehabilitation revolution’ uses the word desist twenty six times by my count and cites some of the the recent British research along these lines in its ‘Evidence Report’:
Of course, once this moves from the Guardian into the tabloids, we can expect another abrupt U-turn (if punishment is failing, then we need to punish more, and if that fails, we have to punish even more, and if that fails, we really step it up a notch). Who needs evidence, after all, when you’ve got healthy newspaper sales.
Bumbling around the kitchen yesterday as I fixed my kids’ their supper before they went into terminal meltdown, I half heard a snippet of a radio article on the new Ant and Dec TV programme. The latest winner had a previous conviction and had spent time in prison. Predictably, everyone was up in arms! “”Bad uns” winning money?!? Never!” they screamed. This was confirmed this morning:
Interestingly, the chap in question goes on to report that he is helping his family, now working and wants to use the money to start a new life. As someone who has interviewed numerous people who have stopped offending, this all sounds very familiar – albeit that few have the fortune (no pun intended) to win £1m. But again, we can’t see past a person’s past … hopefully we’ll start to make some inroads to that.
PS: first Project Advisory Group meeting today (via video link up) so more posts later.
Day two of the project and, despite a stinking cold, it got off to a great start. I met Pete White for a coffee in town — Pete and four others are in the process of setting up an ex-offender network in Scotland (with support from the Robertson Trust). They convened a really productive meeting in Edinburgh last week (which I showed up for exactly 24 hours late, but that’s another story). After his coffee with me, Pete went off to meet with staff in the Scottish Government, who are keen to engage with service user and ex-offender perspectives in the development of their ‘Reducing Reoffending’ programme. Pete and I agreed to keep on building these links — clearly the network could bring a lot of hard-earned experience to the Discovering Desistance project.
As if that wasn’t enough, this afternoon I’m off to IRISS (the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services) to record a podcast on ‘Supporting Desistance: Rethinking Penal Practice’. The idea is that this can be an open access free resource for organisations and practitioners to use to try to engage with desistance research and its implications for how they do their work. I’ll post a link once it’s ready.
The podcast is also hopefully a way of reducing my carbon footprint!… I’ve been doing alot of inputs to probation and prisons conferences lately (and for the last few years). Though that can be productive (and a lot of fun), it can also be frustrating — I have no way of gauging whether it has any real impact. So, lately, I’ve been thinking about developing a way of moving beyond ‘talking’ and into a more active engagement. Last week I spent a day with a group of managers and practitioners from Kent Probation Trust. Once we got the input out of the way, we spent most of the time trying to think through the implications for their strategy and their practice. It seemed a much more tangibly useful way to engage in knowledge exchange — at least in that they left with a clear plan of action for their Trust.
Finally, I’m just finishing off a paper on the role of arts projects in prisons in inspiring desistance. Since this is going to be published in a Dutch journal, I’ll try to get permission to post an English version here — so watch this space.
And I’ve been reviewing what the other guys have been doing on the film script. It’s shaping up very nicely — really exciting stuff.
We’ve our first ‘real live’ meeting for the project next week, with various people meeting up in Glasgow and others of us being ‘beamed in’ from Sheffield.
I’m really keen about the project, having never done anything like this before, and am hoping that the film can start to challenge many of the negative images of ‘offenders’/'ex-offenders’ which circulate in the media. Numerous of the people I’ve interviewed as part of my own research into why people stop offending go on to take on socially useful roles (plumbing, being someone’s ‘mummy’, being a drugs or alcohol counsellour or ‘just’ “working in an office”), but all too often the media provide us with images of something like recidivism. A hopeful future never seems to get a blook in; bad news sells, I guess. Lets hope we can start to chip away at that …