Do They Really Care?

This little tale starts off with a couple of extracts from a Northern Ireland Department of Justice “published” report.

DEVELOPING A PERSON-CENTRED APPROACH TO DESISTANCE
Newforge Country Club
13th May 2014.

EVENT REPORT

The following are excerpts – just to prove a point.

P.3 OVERVIEW

The Department of Justice (DOJ) hosted a stakeholder engagement event – Developing a person-centred approach to desistance – on 13 May 2014 at Newforge Country Club.

The event brought together representatives from the statutory and third sectors, alongside other key stakeholders, to discuss the barriers faced by service users in accessing support, to consider any gaps in the system and to identify what our priorities should be moving forward to improve outcomes for those in contact with the criminal justice system with the goal of reducing reoffending and creating a safer Northern Ireland.

What was the purpose of the event?

Desistance is a key principle of the Strategic Framework for Reducing Offending, and an important component of the Prison Reform Programme. The aim of the event was to share with stakeholders our current approach to desistance, to test our understanding of the issues relating to desistance (based on intensive work over the past few months) and to begin to identify priorities to support the development of an action plan.

Who attended?

The event was attended by 52 people including representatives from the statutory sector and voluntary and community sector partners.

P. 4 What did people tell us?

The event generated a large amount of feedback, which we will use to inform the next stage of work. A summary of key messages is provided overleaf, accompanied by collated notes of the four discussion groups.

What happens next?

The information and comments provided at the event, and summarised within this report, will be used alongside the research papers to develop an action plan to support a desistance based approach to rehabilitation.

P.6 Some practical ideas also emerged during discussion groups including:

Further engagement with service users including considering the role of ex-offenders; and

Promote opportunity for a service-user led event to capture what matters and what works for people that have come through the Northern Ireland criminal justice system.

End of quotes.

So, after much negotiation as to who is going to organise this “service-user led event to capture what matters…” It is suggested by several interested parties (service users) that I get together with a guy from Queens who has just submitted his PhD. The idea being that we are fresh and new and want to bring a perspective that doesn’t involve old dogs fighting over the same bone. New blood and bottom up. That sort of thing.

We do not want to speak at the event or even get involved with the workshops. We simply want to organise it and let the participants do the talking. Let them own their own voices for a change. Thereafter, we get busy with a formal proposal based on the findings of the previous event at Newforge. In short we want a two day event at Stormont or Castle Building – DOJ turf in order to legitimise and demonstrate to the participants that this is a big deal and that people ‘up there’ really want to hear what they have to say. The event is to be held over two days first day 30-50 people who have been to prison and are now citizens of Northern Ireland to go to the hallowed grounds of their political representatives and hold morning and afternoon workshops. These workshops to be chaired by people who are academics from outside of Northern Ireland and who have no interest in the political shenanigans of our fair isle. These fellows then collate and gather the information produced, select two guys from each group who will then deliver the findings to the day two event.

The day two event also to be held at Stormont would invite ‘all’ the people who attended the first event at Newforge. MLA’s and other interested stakeholders. This is done in order to prove that the authorities are serious and when the findings are published in a report in February that there is evidence. Further supporting how the voice of those who have been inside criminal justice processes is crucial to the development of said institution in Northern Ireland.

My fellow organiser and I do not get paid for this. We do not get expenses nor do we want them but what we do manage is to gather funding for flights and accommodation for the academics, transport for people who have been to prison (citizens) to and from the venue and further support for the cost of lunch; stuff like that.

Yesterday, afternoon we get a very flat response which suggests that due to the present financial difficulties within the DOJ they are unable to finance our proposal for venue but will be very interested in hearing about our future work and wish us all the very best in the future.

Now! Here comes the fucking rant… No, i’ll spare you and keep it dignified. I’ve been awake from the early hours. Tossing this round in my head and got myself into that old mindset of don’t upset the apple cart. That was until I saw a tweet by Dominick Bryant – @bryantdjbryant stating “Does a Prison Officer have to die before things change? I genuinely fear that is what will be required to change things #FailingGrayling”
Myself and Dominick are normally on the same page and we always voice our opinions where, sometimes, others fear to tread. What might be surprising for some of you is that Dominick is a former prison officer. I suggested we form an alliance of sort and bring the voice of phenomenology to the science of ballix that is criminal justice allegedly delivered on our behalf by civil servants and Government.

In fact, what I didn’t mention in my previous blog about my visit to Magilligan was the haggard hackneyed faces of the staff, including the passive dog. These men and women are broken. I’m always the first to jump on staff who abuse prisoners and this is something I would love not to be in a position to do, but the cold hard facts are there. Prison officers are under as much scrutiny as the prisoners. They are afraid to be pro active or voice concerns as this could result in ostracisation and or unemployment.

The people who are not under so much scrutiny are the civil servants. I know they mean well and I so want to believe them but how can I after what has just happened. The average spell in a civil service position is four to five years (I think) and due to the nature of the civil service it takes about four to five years to get something done. The trouble is there are those in the background who have been in and around the same position for years on end. They are known as the Denis Irwin’s of criminal justice. You never really feel or see them but they are always there in the background, working feverishly behind the scenes to maintain the status quo.

Then there is a current of paranoia creeping through me. Has this been denied because of me; my previous? Or, has some bright spark realised that the papers will have a field day if they realise that 30-50 ex cons are up at Stormont. Some might say there already are. But, what they won’t say or see is that 30-50 citizens of Northern Ireland who have crucial lived experiences of criminal justice cannot get a room at the inn.

I’m not done yet. It’s never over till it’s over and I will be spending the weekend writing letters. I’ve had to resort to writing letters because my email has suddenly been blocked by the DOJ server. And they call me paranoid.

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About micsirwin

I'm a Postgraduate student at Queens studying Criminology, writer, poet and lover of integrity, dignity, respect and morality
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