“If they hear us, then maybe they can do something about the way we suffer.”
“We have to be here, we have to tell them, so those who come after us have a chance.”
Report and key findings of a seminar for serving and ex-offenders designed to give users of the criminal justice system a voice in prison services
- The criminal justice system is in crisis
- In the UK, 75 per cent of young offenders re-offend within two years of release from custody
- Offenders and ex-offenders say why
In April 2008, a seminar was organised to listen to the voice of current and former offenders.
The event was a unique approach to criminal justice evaluation; debate was restricted to users of the criminal justice system. All 35 delegates were serving or ex-offenders, clocking up 200 years of incarceration between them.
The seminar was co-organised and funded by The Aldridge Foundation and was the brainchild of ex-offender and policy adviser Mark Johnson. The event was run and organised entirely by offenders themselves, including the design of the questions: neither the funder nor administrators, although present, took part in the discussions which helped increase levels of confidence and openness within the groups.
Predominately delegates were people who have already made a decision to change their lives and against the odds succeeded in doing so. Many have gained degrees or professional qualifications, most now work in jobs which help others, a few have gone on to gain national recognition for their work.
But the seminar also included delegates currently on the methadone programme (controlled heroin withdrawal), tagged offenders and a serving offender (Released on Temporary Licence). Crimes committed varied from gang, violent and drug-related crimes to armed robbery and crimes which carry life sentences.
Empowering prisoners has been regarded as morally questionable and politically dangerous. But Rod Aldridge and Mark Johnson believe that, when given a chance to speak, the voice of the user of the criminal justice system can add insight, value and answers to many of the system’s current problems and failings.
And as such, the Foundation provides core funding and office space for User Voice, a charity run by Mark. Their core aim is to work with young people themselves to give them a chance to improve their life chances, thereby reducing the likelihood of offending or reoffending. They do this through giving young people the opportunity – as the service users - to be heard, and all the work User Voice has done suggests offenders want to talk to people who have ‘walked in their shoes’, which is why all their frontline staff are ex-offenders. Their work consists of three key strands: User Voice Councils that can be developed for use within prisons or in the community for probation, youth offending teams and other related services; bespoke consultancy where User Voice works with clients to design projects aimed at accessing, hearing and acting upon the insights of those who are hardest to reach, including prisoners, ex-offenders and those at risk of crime (these projects include staff and user consultations, workshops and research); and advocacy work aimed at engaging the media, the public, practitioners and policy-makers.
For more information on the work of User Voice, visit www.uservoice.org.
In addition, two copies of a special edition of Wasted were placed in all 136 prisons and YOIs as part of the programme, through a collection by Rod Aldridge for his 60th birthday, with match-funding from The Prince's Trust.
- Read the findings of the seminar here
- Read article by Rod Aldridge in Local Government Chronicle