Together we have been offering small flexible budgets to individuals to help make a difference to their lives. We are working with service users and staff from community justice organisations in Glasgow.
This week we held a workshop at the 218 project which works with women offenders to start thinking about what might help women to move forward in their lives. We decorated masks which led us to consider and discuss what people see when they look at us – what do we project, what assumptions do they make about us and how do we think we appear to the world? We also thought about the things that people don’t see, that we keep to ourselves or that people don’t know about us.
This helped us to think about what we might want from the future, what we want to do next and the things that are important to us in living active and and meaningful lives.
Some of the things the women chose to spend their budget on include gym membership and workout clothes to help with physical and mental health and wellbeing. Other ideas include help with purchasing decorating supplies in order to make a fresh start at home after the departure of an abusive partner.
At Glasgow’s Drug Court, we saw how receiving a community based rather than a custodial sentence can help drug users to access practical support and to change their lives.
The Drug Court was initially set up as pilot service in 2001 along with a similar court in Fife (disbanded in 2013). Its aim has always been to reduce drug misuse and the offending linked to drug misuse. Consequently, community based sentences such as a Drug Treatment and Testing Order (DTTO) are based around practical treatments, compulsory drug testing on a twice weekly basis and regular attendance at court for reviews. A DTTO of up to eighteen months is a period of intense rehabilitation in the community supported by a team of social workers and addictions workers and is an alternative – not a substitute – for prison.
The court is different from the traditional set up in that the Sheriff addresses individuals from the bench, commending them when they’re doing well but also reprimanding them when they fail to demonstrate appropriate commitment. The Sheriff will often enquire how the individual is doing in other areas of their life including family relationships, employment and general health. Parents, partners and other family members can attend court in support of their loved ones and often the Sheriff will consult them directly in court in order to establish how the individual is progressing. The process is supportive and quite different from most people’s experience of the legal system. For example, people who complete their orders can ‘graduate’ from the Drug Court so that their success in becoming drug free and reducing their offending is publicly acknowledged and rewarded. This can have a tremendous impact on the self-esteem of individuals, particularly those whose experience of ‘authority’ in the past has not been positive and for whom the negative stigma of being a long time drug user is more familiar.
We were privileged to hear several success stories over the course of the day. One young man has had five negative drugs tests in a row and continues to make progress with the support of his partner (with whom he recently reconciled) and their young son. Another person is volunteering locally with his partner who also has drug issues. He reported that they are able to ‘keep each other right’ but are also trying out new things independently of each other. One person has had eleven negative drugs test in a row and was congratulated by the Sheriff. He asked for his community order to be reduced and the Sheriff agreed to consider this request in due course. When people have relapses, the Sheriff considers these within the context of their overall progress rather than automatically sending them to prison. For example, one person admitted a couple of ‘blips’ while on an order in Glasgow. However, the Sheriff chose not to rescind his order given his otherwise good progress. The individual plans to move back in with his formerly estranged partner in Ayrshire and it was agreed that he would continue to be monitored by social workers there.
The Drug Court can also increase support arrangements when individuals are struggling to meet the conditions of an existing order. For example, a person can have their Structured Deferred Sentence ‘converted’ to a Drug Treatment and Testing Order in order to access more help.
It’s not all good news. Where individuals fail to keep to the requirements of an order or commit an offence, they are immediately jailed. However, the Glasgow Drug Court is a great example of how the judiciary and the legal system in general can offer a more holistic approach to offenders.
A Scottish government review found that the main strengths of the Glasgow Drug Court are that it fast-tracks offenders into the courtroom, has a dedicated team who offer practical help and regular drug testing and has an efficient review system for every individual.
At the Moving Forward learning event, we talked about the pilot project we are working on. It’s about offering small flexible budgets for individuals to help them achieve their goals and make a difference in their lives.
We have been testing out how this might work and have recruited some volunteers to help us. We are working with people and support workers from criminal justice organisation in Glasgow.
The volunteers start by participating in a workshop session to help identify what they want to do and how a small budget would help them.
The workshops are facilitated by Pat Black and Mark Traynor of Diversity Matters who talked about how they approach the sessions:
“People are anxious when they arrive. We try to build up trust by being open honest and straightforward. These are qualities we all respect.
Our approach is about talking and asking questions and getting people to identify what is important to them and what they would like to do.
We talk about what we are passionate about. What a good life looks like and the things that are important to us. We all share our thoughts and ideas – we all take part.”
Having a small budget is about moving things on for people. It can be a catalyst for change and can enhance relationships, enable individuals to share their interests and activities and it can lead to new conversations with different people.
There are conditions attached to the budget – the things you would expect like – the money can’t be used for anything illegal, to make a profit and does not constitute a benefit or welfare payment. It needs to be used to help people do things that are important to them and to help them achieve their goals.
So far volunteers have used the budget for various things including sports equipment, household items and things to help with work like theory driving test, forklift truck licence and passports.
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The following recommendations were recently announced by a Scottish government commissioned working group regarding how electronic monitoring or ‘tagging’ can move from being a solely punitive measure to a sentencing option that works in tandem with support organisations. There are four core recommendations:
GPS technology should be introduced to the electronic monitoring service in Scotland. Its use should be not be predicated by crime type. GPS technology is versatile and decisions on its use should be made as part of an individually tailored approach, including where it can aid public and victim safety and where it can be used to strengthen the monitored person’s desistance.
- Future Service Delivery
To be most effective, the future model of service delivery for electronic monitoring in Scotland must be more integrated than it has been previously. Stand alone orders will be suitable for some individuals and should therefore remain as a legitimate disposal. However, in the majority of cases, whether a court order, HDC or as a condition of parole licence, electronic monitoring – having been based on a risk assessment – must be tailored to reflect the personal circumstances of each individual. Where longer term desistance is the overarching goal, electronic monitoring should be part of a wider package of support, delivered locally by statutory bodies with Third Sector involvement. Its use should not be restricted to particular crimes and need not be restricted to being an alternative to custody. The future model will retain a nationally commissioned technology and monitoring service.
- A Goal Oriented and Person Centred Approach
For electronic monitoring to be used most effectively, its use should be considered in line with the overarching goals for each monitored person and tailored to reflect the needs, risk and circumstances of that individual. Where longer term desistance is the ultimate goal, electronic monitoring should be set within a wider package of support provided by statutory bodies with Third Sector involvement.
Ensuring that effective structures are criteria are in place to support compliance and manage non-compliance are crucial to contributing to a long term reduction in further offending, while maintaining electronic monitoring as a robust community sentence. For court orders, to strengthen Sheriffs’ confidence in electronic monitoring as a robust disposal, two reporting options (standard and intensive) for reporting non-compliance should be developed. For Home Detention Curfew, amendments should be made to streamline the current non-compliance criteria and should be accepted and used by all Scottish prison establishments.In partnership with individuals, agencies and organisations including the Judiciary, Police Scotland, Scottish Prison Service, Parole Board for Scotland, Criminal Justice Social Work, victims, the Third Sector and the service provider, response levels to non compliance should be defined, agreed and set out in a response framework.
A further four recommendations for the use of electronic monitoring in the future were made including wider use in the community (e.g. as an alternative to remand and support to pre-trial conditions or to short term prison sentences), by SPS within the custodial estate (e.g. for work placement, home leave, community access from closed establishments), legislative change to enable the above amendments to existing law and an invitation to statutory and non statutory organisations to present their statement of intent with regard to electronic monitoring.
Often, we hesitate to try something new because we imagine it’s too ‘risky’. Sometimes our fears are rooted in practical difficulties – How will we get there? How will we pay for it? In other situations, we may feel we don’t have enough information to make a choice. The idea of using an SDS approach in criminal justice can seem ‘risky’ when much of what needs to happen is court directed. Additionally, the prospect of offering greater flexibility to sometime chaotic individuals with multiple complex needs can be daunting.
Simon Humphreys runs a forensic residential service for men with learning disabilities who generally fall into one of three categories: individuals with learning disabilities who were in long stay institutions when offending took place; sex offenders whose offending is related to their learning disability; and sex offenders who have a learning disability. While this service does not specifically offer self-directed support it does involve managing risk in a community setting – rather than a long stay hospital – and requires flexibility and the explicit consent of the individuals who use it. As such, some lessons might be learned.
For example, Simon advises that it is vital to build a relationship of trust between individuals and staff and to accept that some ‘relapses’ and minor incidents will likely occur.
“You cannot control people entirely, they take the risk, you’re aware of the risk, you manage access to the risk and you have to educate and communicate with individuals about the consequences of their choices. If they have rights, then they also have responsibilities. What will happen if they offend? What do they stand to lose? Particularly where there is no legal compulsion, for example reaching an agreement that certain television and internet packages will be removed from an individual if they are judged to be inappropriate and likely to lead to reoffending”.
In addition, Simon describes the importance of facilitating access to activities that are meaningful and enjoyable to individuals. For example, the service has recently developed a social enterprise garden project that helps people develop better communication and new employment skills.
Simon emphasises the importance of communicating clearly with partner organisations who may have a different culture of risk and varying ideas around what constitutes risk.
Lastly, staff have to be trained appropriately so they can feel confident relating to individuals and having difficult conversations about what is or isn’t appropriate behaviour if necessary.
I recently attended an event organised by Glasgow Community Justice Authority to explore how electronic monitoring is being and could be used in Scotland. Great, I thought this will be my chance to learn about electronic monitoring. What was really useful about the event was that we heard from people with different experiences and perspectives, including Scottish Government, families, and practitioners. We also heard stories and examples from other places and countries.
What surprised me most was that all the speakers talked about electronic monitoring as a tool that can be used in a range of ways. I had just assumed monitoring was all about punishment and restricting people’s activities and movements.
One speaker gave an example of a man who volunteered to have electronic monitoring. He did so because he saw it as an opportunity to live in a different way and away from offending. It not only gave him a reason and excuse to do different things with new people but also have him proof to show to organisations like the police that he wasn’t involved in any unlawful activity.
In the Netherlands, electronic monitoring is being used to encourage and support people to live good and meaningful lives. There is also a requirement and support for individuals to participate in 26 hours a week of activity including working and volunteering.
If electronic monitoring is to be a tool to aid rehabilitation and integration then other things need to be in place alongside it to make it happen and this is where it gets more expensive and more complicated. For individuals to seek out and lead good lives they need skilled people to offer support, encouragement, direction and opportunity. They also need community based options for activities, volunteering, sport and jobs to actively participate in. When these things are in place then electronic monitoring will be a real tool for rehabilitation and integration.
Yesterday I went along to a Positive Prison? Positive Futures group meeting which brought together a diverse group of people with an involvement or interest in criminal justice. Group meetings are held regularly and are designed to be informal organic discussions with no agenda, no flip charts, no post-it notes and no feedback. All that is required of participants is that they share and learn.
There were brief presentations from several organisations including Families Outside, Youth Community Support Agency and Scottish Canals then we got down to the business of envisioning our ideal future for those involved or affected by criminal justice issues.
Each table was asked to come up with one idea that we could put into action immediately. I was sharing a table with staff from Paws for Progress, Mellow Parenting, Families Outside, Criminal Justice Voluntary Sector Forum and Edinburgh Book Festival.
A major theme of the day was how we can eliminate the stigma of being a ‘former offender’ since this often regarded as an obstacle to individuals being successful in obtaining employment. Anecdotally, people with convictions report that even when they are appropriately qualified and experienced enough to meet job criteria and gain an interview, their past means that they are rarely the ‘preferred candidate’ in an increasingly competitive job market.
Our group produced an idea for an awareness raising campaign around this issue to tie into Youth Community Support Agency’s Twitter campaign #justlikeyou which will be officially launched in November this year. Pooling our organisational expertise and considering our diverse resources, we proposed using common interests and life choices like owning a dog or having children to highlight the links (rather than the differences) between people in general everyday life.
The discussions were lively, informative and good fun and it was a good way of meeting like-minded people working in criminal justice. However we all agreed that there was still a way to go to win over the general public and the media at large who mostly take a judgemental attitude to ‘former offenders’.
On a recommendation from Debbie McColgan of Inspiring Scotland, I met with Pat Black of Diversity Matters, a voluntary sector organisation based in Edinburgh that builds capacity, facilitates project design, provides training and brings individuals and organisations together to examine ideas and find creative solutions to identified issues.
Diversity Matters work with individuals to identify what makes a good purposeful life for them and with organisations and agencies (e.g. social work departments) to investigate how to accommodate these elements within existing structures and processes.
Some innovative examples of individuals using a ‘personalised’ approach include a former addict who had retrained as a fitness instructor and wanted to cover up older unwanted tattoos that didn’t fit her new more positive body image. Another person needed oils and equipment to train as an acupuncturist and set up her own business. Subsequently she offered free sessions to other former drug users in exchange for the use of a treatment room in a recovery based organisation. One woman wanted to get a passport so she could go abroad for the first time in her life.
A number of small grants (e.g. £100-£200 per person) helped to make these things possible. Perhaps surprisingly, individuals did not ask for larger amounts of ‘free’ money and were keen to return any unspent monies. All recipients of support agreed that the money had helped them to achieve their goals but they also stated that the experience of being trusted was of greater value to them. Additionally, they had been inspired to think creatively about their own lives and had established positive relationships with support agencies for the future.
Diversity Matters works with mixed groups of service users and provider organisations. While it can be difficult for social care professionals to set aside a couple of days for any training or facilitated event, the majority of participants report that they enjoy the process and appreciate the opportunity to think in new and creative ways about their roles. Post event, innovative ways of keeping in touch are used including asking for feedback by text which has resulted in a rapid and high feedback rate, as opposed to traditional survey type questionnaires.