More evidence of how small test budgets can work for people in criminal justice

We’ve been working with Diversity Matters to help men involved with criminal justice to identify what they need to move on with their lives and how having a small test budget can make a difference. Here are some of their stories:

James lives in supported accommodation run by Crossreach in the east end of Glasgow. At the moment, he is looking forward to moving into his own home once permanent housing becomes available. James has always been passionate about music so he decided to spend his £200 on an electric guitar. He feels that being able to write songs and perform them for people helps him share how he is feeling and has improved his mental health. It’s also been a good way to make new friends and connections, by meeting people who share his passion for music and going out to gigs. Having the extra money to buy the guitar has opened up a new world for James and a way for him to express his talent!

Simon has serious mental health issues and suffers from anxiety. He has been living in a new area where he didn’t know anyone and felt very isolated. He is separated from his ex-partner and young son although he keeps in touch with his son regularly and sees him as often as he can.

His housing situation wasn’t great and was causing him to feel very low – he had no local connections or basic facilities, the flat had bare floorboards and only a single cooker so it didn’t feel like a warm and welcoming space to have family over. He decided to spend his money on a carpet, which would mean his son could come and stay over. Having the carpet has made a big difference not just to Simon, but to his relationship with his son.

He said “I am so grateful, I spoke to my son last night and he is so happy I got the carpet and he is able to come see me next month when he gets off school. I am so happy too, I wasn’t feeling too great the past few months but everything is looking brighter for me, I have been a lot more content”.

Liam is 20 and had previous convictions after selling on stolen goods to get money for bus fares. With help from his support worker at HMP Low Moss Prisoner Support Pathway Team, he signed up for a free gym membership. He used his £200 to buy weights and equipment, which has led to him getting more into fitness. This has given him a new, healthier focus and has led to him changing his diet and becoming interested in learning to become a chef. It has been really good for him to have something positive to work towards and his own equipment to do things at home too. While he is currently sofa surfing between his parents’ house, he is actively working towards obtaining his own tenancy with the help of his support worker.

What a difference a small budget makes …

We’ve been meeting with women from the 218 service in Glasgow to hear how having a relatively small amount of money (i.e. a test budget) can help people move forward with their lives. Here are their stories:

Anne is a woman in her fifties with two grown up daughters and several grandchildren. She has convictions for offences committed while under the influence of alcohol. Her younger daughter’s partner is violent and Anne has to avoid him (and her daughter) for fear of being arrested again for confronting him. Her daughter is about to enter the residential unit at Glasgow’s Drug Crisis Centre to deal with her heroin addiction. As a result, Anne’s thirteen year old grandson Stephen will be coming to live with her shortly.

Anne is hoping to move into a two bedroom house by Christmas with Stephen who has experienced bullying at school because of his mother’s drugs issues. However, he is doing well academically. She is also working with other agencies including Lifelinks which offers counselling, group work and stress reduction techniques and Families Addiction Support Service which supports families affected by drugs and alcohol. In particular, she has found cognitive behavioural therapy sessions offered at 218 to be beneficial in helping her process her anger in less harmful ways.

Anne will use her test budget to buy new bedroom furniture for her grandson’s room.  It will be a new start for her and for her grandson. She says that she doesn’t want to make the same mistakes that she made with her daughters and is determined to provide a stable, secure home life for her grandson.

Lisa is a young woman in her twenties with depression and anxiety who uses alcohol to help her cope with the psychological effects of a traumatic event in her past. She finds that exercise helps her to feel better mentally and physically. Initially she had thought about using her test budget for a gym membership but has now decided to get her teeth whitened and has agreed a payment plan with her dentist. At present, she feels that she is too embarrassed to smile and is uncomfortable talking to people in new social situations. In the past she would spend days in bed or drinking. Recently, her mother has noticed that she is taking better care of herself and is trying new activities and groups. Lisa has also said that feeling better about her teeth and appearance will motivate her to give up smoking, be more healthy and to take up volunteering opportunities.

Why having a good life matters

Recently, we spent time with women from the Tomorrow’s Women service in Glasgow looking at what MAKES a good life. Some of the things that people said were important to them were: having a home; having people to love who love you back; feeling able to be with people and work with them without having to be nasty to get what you want; having pets; having a job for independence, money and security and being healthy.

We also looked at what HELPS to make a good life and people suggested: having a routine; getting enough sleep; maintaining focus; eating healthy food; making a home comfortable and safe; feeling able to talk to people and resolve conflicts in positive ways; taking regular exercise and having goals.

When we asked people WHY having a good life mattered they said:

“For security and feeling more stable”.

“Your happiness affects the people who rely on you”.

“Being motivated means you’re more likely to stick to good habits”.

“It’s about making the most of having a second chance”.

“We deserve it like everyone else”.

Partner perspective – Outside the Box

The Moving Forward partnership involves Turning Point Scotland, Community Justice Glasgow and Outside the Box.

Outside the Box is a capacity building organisation that provides independent support to groups and people across Scotland who want to make a difference to their communities.

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.

How Glasgow’s Drug Court offers a ‘personalised’ approach

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.