Who takes the risk in criminal justice?

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.