Podcast Episode: Discovering desistance
Category: Criminal justice
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
CL - Claire Lightowler
EW - Ewan
B - Beth
A - Archie
EL - Elizabeth
Claire Lightowler (Iriss) hosts a discussion at the second of two workshops held in Glasgow on 16 May 2012 as part of the Desistance Knowledge Exchange
CL Shall we start just going around the table and introduce yourselves a little bit?
EW I am Ewan
B I am Beth
A I am Archie
EL I am Elizabeth
CL Thank you very much, and I will start by just explaining a little bit about the process, so the session we held today was the second part of a two stage process, so in the first workshop we focused on what we call ‘Discovery’, which was about finding good examples of what’s working well in the criminal justice system around supporting a process we are calling ‘desistance’, so the process of stopping offending and keeping stopping is referred to by some people. So we started by looking at good examples of what was supporting that, then we went to a phase called ‘dreaming’, where we developed these statements, kind of mission statements about what the system should or could look like if it was actually working well to support desistance. So that’s how we ended the first workshop, and then today we have focused on two terribly named stages again, which is around ‘design’ and ‘destiny’. So today we have been working out, right we have got these mission statements for what we think the system should look like, what actually does this look like, how can we design it, what the practices and policies that need to be in place to support this, and then the ‘destiny’ phase is really about what actions do we need to take to make that happen. So that’s what we have been up today and we are all quite tired, but looking forward to sharing our ideas with you. So shall I just open it up to people to comment?
A I would like to kind of develop that further from my perspective, I mean I found the ‘dreaming’ stage very, very interesting because there was no barriers to that, there was no resources implications and you were able to focus on the ideal, and then we took that away from .. we left that at the last workshop and a lot of that came back today to look at in simple terms, how can we make this happen, and what kind of action points do we need to draw up and tease out. And we were divided into sub groups, quite divers groups with different people … people with different backgrounds and from that we pooled together various action points that will then be taken further, and that will become part of the overall kind of completion of this programme.
B There seems to be a general consensus coming out of that about the need for a sort of collaborative structure in terms of co-producing change, wasn’t there Archie, in terms of a range voices and resources going to support the systems at all different levels and I think that seems to be the general thrust that desistance isn’t owned by any one person, its not supported by any one person, its not done by any one person, but it requires a collaborative and supportive effort just to achieve it.
A Yes I think in terms of the co-production, you know, we looked at kind of untangling various kinds of systems that were in place at the moment as a task that would perhaps need to be done in order to clear a pathway for a more cohesive kind of forum and structure, which would include the voice of service users, their families, victims of crime and that kind of collective platform to look at staying away from further offending.
CL One of the issues we identified though in our group was around how we don’t know too much about different models of co-production, we don’t know what the evidence is, so they can be … and co-production can range from co-producing services at an individual level to co-producing whole models of systems of services of support in the criminal justice system potentially, and so there’s different mechanisms that can be in play but actually the evidence base is quite limited really about some of these, and some of the examples, some of the mechanisms of co-production we talked around were about the use of forums, personal budgets, voucher systems, giving people the opportunity to vote for different options around what services or support could be available, so we started talking about different mechanisms, but in general there was a sense that we didn’t know enough about them to really, you know sign up to one model or another.
B I think you are right Claire because nobody really knows the extent, although we think that co-production is inherently a good thing, nobody really knows what the evidence base is as to why its a good thing, and although there has been a lot of research on how co-production can build social capital, that link hasn’t been made particularly well with how it can actually support desistance over time or what types of social capital it supports and for who, so I do think there’s a platform for further learning there to come out of this in different directions.
CL What about your group Ewan, what did they …
EW Our group was focused most on looking at public perceptions about value for money and what criminal justice services do and how we should maybe try to influence that, and it was really interesting, one of the things that I thought was most difficult in our group, picking up the co-production side of it, was hearing the voices of kids that were present and I think we had two girls who were maybe aged about ten and 13, and we did get to hear their voices, lucky if it was like 2% of the time, but what they said was really helpful to hear from them, and I think that they were able to give a kind of perspective about people their age, how you can get a message across to them and its not going to be through some of the methods we would ordinarily use. And I kind of think there’s a … I don’t know, there’s a … this co-production, today is the first time I have heard the term, I didn’t make the first workshop, and I kind of feel that a lot of the partners you would think that should be there in that co-production, I think if we were all to sit around and maybe have forums together, some of us are so used to that, we would dictate the air space and there wouldn’t be enough air space for the young people that were here and maybe for service users and so on, so I think it would maybe need more from them. There’s a few themes coming across, I think one theme was that we may all have laudable values and good intentions but if we try and do something where we take the public with us, that’s a massive, massive challenge, and I think if we were to go through the normal processes that we discussed at the time, about you know, committees and so on, that that would be quite a laborious process and I am not really sure it would be that effective. And I think one of the things, for me the big things is that it seems to be inherent within our criminal justice system that punishment should be an integral part of what happens to people, and I am far from convinced that punishment is actually effective. So my understanding is that there are two central tenets to sentencing: 1, is people should be punished for the harm caused and 2, is there should be scope for rehabilitation. And the second one I can really sign up to, but the first one I just actually am not sure that that’s right, and I think the public have really bought into that and therefore they are constantly getting messages through the media about people should be punished for doing wrong, and so I think that part of any co-production, you would have to actually involve people from such a wide range but also people who are there at the top, you know the sheriffs and the judges and the people who make laws to say, should we have this at the heart of our sentencing process, because its driven all the way down to the readers of the tabloid who are basically saying, yes, punish them.
CL Is it maybe about redressing a balance between the punishment and the rehabilitation side of things rather than one is right or one is wrong?
EL No I personally don’t think that one is right and one is wrong, I think its maybe a different way to conceptualise it. I think you can set limits … I think what the public want is set limits on peoples access to the community if they pose a danger to the community. But I think … I am not quite sure, you know in societies where it comes from, why some societies are more bought into being punitive than others, but I think they are maybe too much influenced by America and not maybe influenced enough by Scandinavian values. An so I think you can have great scope for rehabilitation and you can have something else which is really what the public want, rather than punishment.
B I think you are right in many ways but I think its also about being clear about what we want punishment to achieve and what we mean by punishment, because punishment doesn’t have to be punitive and there has been a lot of research, including people from the public who, when people have engaged with them and explained to them the different outcomes and how it affects people to become less punitive. So I do think there’s learning from that about how we do communicating, engage with people and carry them with us, but of course engaging communities is a massive undertaking, isn’t it, its always going to be a challenge and it shouldn’t be one that’s minimised when we discuss it and not be the main, yes …
EL Yes, I think picking up from what was said at the end of today about whether this process will actually result in general principles that we can all agree to and to what degree it will boil down to maybe practical things that we can do. AndI think, I would hope that the latter also happened because I think there’s a great energy at the moment around what’s happening with this, but it may be there is a window that may last for so long and if you don’t grasp that moment while it’s there, it may be gone, but you know, I think going back to the public perception, you know, tabloid editors, they don’t seem to care at all about people being … you know they seem to have a massive need to stigmatise, it sells papers when you walk past the news stand and it says, you know, ‘scumbag gets this and so on’ and until things like that change, we will really be fighting an uphill battle.
A Can I add a bit to that Ewan because I don’t think its just tabloid newspapers, in terms of co-production, I think from the days of the hulk sacked and transportation, we have had a system within Britain and Scotland which has been very punitive and its constantly built prisons on punitive models, and its only very recently and I would say in the last 20, 25 years that we have had programmes going into prisons with responsibility and opportunity, custody and care, we have had kind of external placements working in the community where some good work has been seen and we have got models of good practice within the prison system where people have become quite famous or infamous if you want to use that term, as a result of developing skills and talents within prison. But we’re constantly in a position within criminal justice where that keeps changing and its only recently that we have changed from what is a social enquiry report, which clearly has a scope under probation order if it was granted, that that was not a punishment, that was an opportunity for change and you could create an action plan within that social enquiry report and agree it with the service user. That shifted to Community Payback Order. Even the language of that is quite powerful in the press, that is payback, that is punishment and we don’t have the same opportunities to create action plans, we have got super busy requirements that have to be built into that, and there will be a big focus by sentencers on the punitive part of unpaid work and that kind of unpaid work in many instances does not lead to rehabilitation or to any other longer term skills development on employment.
CL Let’s go back to the point about the press which was really, you know something that’s happened recently that actually surprised me which was about the recent report about women offenders, that’s come out of the Commission on Women Offenders. Actually the press coverage in Scotland was quite positive in terms of … some of the recommendations in that report were about you know really moving from a more punitive model and I suppose it surprised me actually, I expected a bit of a backlash to it that wasn’t there, and I am not sure we would have got that response maybe even five years ago. For me then it seems that perhaps something has changed or is changing in that perhaps women offenders is a different, you know, constituent of this, maybe it would be different if it were males, I don’t know.
EL I think you raised a really interesting point about this whole process that we are all going through in so far as, you know, we should also I suppose be looking at the strengths that are there in our society and how we make the most of them and make that grow as well as maybe thinking about the problems in how to stop some of that. Ans that may be one of the things that we have to do through this kind of positive emphasis, because I think there actually are a lot of people there with the right mindset, but I think their voices often aren’t heard and then we have to do something about making their voices heard, and that’s why in our one we were thinking a lot about how to influence the public and we feel in the current day, the TV series, it feels like a, you know there’s various … you know in Scotland we have had a series called ‘The Scheme’ that happened recently. You have various other programmes that really capture the imagination and it would be fantastic to have something that captures the imagination. I think if we have something that’s too high brow that would end up on somewhere like BBC4, it won’t reach the audience that we need and so I would love to see something that’s about these stories because I think the public are interested in stories and …
A Just to develop that story a wee bit further, we had Prince Charles in East Ayrshire last Friday, who visited ‘The Scheme’, and it was about promoting the positive things in it that had came out from that particular programme which did depict it in a pretty negative way …
A … can I move on a wee bit to the supervision part which I found very interesting, both from as an ex-service user but also as a practitioner, was that Ewan you touched on it, you made a positive empathy. I think that’s very important and I think that what we kind of spoke about in our group was that the respect and the values that we need to bring into the supervision process, but also what stops people from staying away from offending behaviour, and we looked at what those barriers were, but we looked at them slightly different than what normally do in kind of professional workshops. We looked at them with a view to adding solutions to them, and if we look at removing some of those barriers by giving clear solutions which would give people options and choices, then that might be, in terms of the supervision part, that might be a way forward.
CL Elizabeth you have not really said very much yet, so I wonder if you could tell us about some of the discussion in your group?
EL Sure, I mean I have really valued being part of the discussions, and particularly because I am very excited by the desistance knowledge, the literature, the kind of paradigm, but it’s how to make some practical applications of those, how to make it reality and that kind of rhetoric into reality because it’s a fantastic rhetoric and I am so enthused by it, I have got to make it into a reality, so I think the workshop has been really helpful, and I particularly liked the ‘Destiny’ phase where we think, okay how do we make this happen. So we focused in the group I was in, on supervision believe and reintegration, and we looked at kind of a few of the propositions under that that might be really important, so I mean I think in terms of some of the practical examples that were very helpful, we thought about the people who were in the group, the policy makers, the practitioners, the community social workers, we thought about how we can change our practice. So it might be about writing interventions that were much more inclusive, that worked with people with complex needs, because that’s about giving equality of access and equalising life chances for people as part of desistance, and we thought also about a real … everybody got kind of bought into the strengths based approach because previously we have had models which have been about focusing on people’s criminalgenic needs, on their deficits, and so we were really enthused by the idea that we can bring in work on people’s strengths and seeing what people bring to … what they bring from their life stories and experiences that will help them desist. And we know there are models out there that we began to grasp before and that we think we can use, like the Good Lives Model which kind of works nicely in all sorts of ways with desistance, so we were thinking … and we talked in our group about a new strengths based risk assessment model for sexual offenders for example called SAPROF, so we are realising that there are things there that it’s closer than we realise being able to actually apply in a very practical way. Yes so that probably gives a little bit of sense of where we are in our group, yes.
EW Yes I obviously didn’t get to take part in the discussions but I would agree with you, I think there are a number of things, some are recently established, some are actually much more well established which actually fit very well with these principles, and I think that we could take the best from these things and apply them to this whole desistance approach and actually get quite a lot. There’s maybe no reason to be that much that’s new, maybe what’s new is peoples awareness of it and a real kind of commitment to it and I think certainly some of the things I heard today were about things, you know, one the one hand the systemic levels, but I think probably when it drills down to practical things, its more about families and communities, you know the families and communities are things that seem to be least tapped into and I think that’s really exciting. A lot of it to me sounds very much it fits with solution focused approaches with positive psychology and all these types of things and it would be great to have some articulation or some pulling together that would also feel very common sense.
CL Well we could discuss this all day, indeed we have actually been discussing this all day, but I hope if you are interested in these issues, you will find a link to the blog underneath this recording and please join in the discussion there. Thank you very much.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License