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The User Voice of the Criminal Justice System

The User Voice of the Criminal Justice System

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11/14/2013

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The
User
Voice
of the

Criminal
Justice System

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.

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

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 con\ufb01dence 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 quali\ufb01cations, most now work in jobs which
help others and 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\u2019s current problems and failings.

2|The user voice of the criminal justice system

\u201cIf they hear
us, then maybe
they can do
something
about the way
we suffer.\u201d

\u201cWe have to be
here, we have
to tell them,
so those who
come after us
have a chance.\u201d

A change in approach \u2013
the user voice

Listening to users to improve public services is not a new concept; in fact, it is commonplace. Yet marginalised groups are almost entirely missing from user engagement strategies; this is particularly true of offenders and ex-offenders.

Why should we listen?
This previously untapped voice exposes the reality of the situation in
the criminal justice system and represents the only group that, from
their own life experiences, can:
\u00b8
a
nalyse the causes of crime;
\u00b8identify the turning points where lives can change;
\u00b8
s
uggest ways to add value to our failing prison
s
ystem; and,
\u00b8provide ideas for successful resettlement.

Not only do offenders, who have been rehabilitated
and integrated back into society, have the right to be
heard, but society bene\ufb01ts when these experiences are

d

iscussed and lessons learned from them. This group
represents the most quali\ufb01ed to evaluate current policies
and programmes. We all gain when criminal justice
programmes actually provide justice and rehabilitation.

C
onsider the impact on the following:
\u00b8Average annual cost per prisoner place \u2212 \u00a337,5001
\u00b8
C
ost of a single new prison place \u2212 \u00a3152,000
2
\u00b8
C
ost of NOMS \u2212 \u00a34.464bn3
\u00b8Annual cost of re-offending \u2212 \u00a311bn4

Serving offenders have the right to be heard too and the criminal
justice system will see drastic improvements from their observations
on the successes or failures of our prisons. However, this group
is usually hard to reach because they may be habitually secretive,
they might have unchecked illness causing paranoia and sociability
problems and previous experiences with councils or the government
may have been discouraging or intimidating.

The seminar was designed to begin the process of bridging this gap.
The user voice of the criminal justice system|3
1. Lord Carter\u2019s Review of
Prisons, December 2007

2. Hansard, House of
Commons written answers,
15 January 2008

3. NOMS, NOMS costs:
brie\ufb01ng for staff and
stakeholders, December
2007

4. Social Exclusion Unit,
\u2018Reducing re-offending by
ex-prisoners\u2019, July 2002

\u201cIt means a
lot to hear
my experiences
played back to
me and realise
I am not
alone.\u201d

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