Higher Education and Desistance from Offending

The authors discuss the role of Higher Education in facilitating desistance from offending.

Authors image

Debbie Jones is an Associate Professor of Criminology and Director for Undergraduate Studies, Swansea University. Mark Jones was an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Adult and Continuing Education at Swansea University at the time of the research. Our lead partner in this research is The hub in Swansea.

It is often the case that those entrenched in patterns of offending find it difficult to stop due to stigma, discrimination and other structural issues limiting opportunities to bolster aspiration (Ministry of Justice; Shapland & Bottoms). Several studies have concluded that studying within Higher Education (HE) can be a significant ‘hook for change’ offering development of personal agency and widening positive social networks, key factors towards desistance   (Lockwood et al., 2012; Runnell, 2017).

Yet, despite widening access to HE being a global endeavour (Evans et al., 2017), the Prison Education Trust highlight that HE can feel unwelcoming for those with a criminal record. Evans et al (2017) found that despite a drive to widen participation and access to HE in Wales, the internal culture and narrative can become ‘entangled’ re-enforcing the status quo at the expense of developing non-traditional student participation such as adult learners. Evans et al (ibid) conclude more needs to be done to assure greater equality across all demographics of society. We were therefore interested in how HE might be considered a useful public criminology approach for crime avoidance and support marginalised groups to reach their full potential.

This Blog shares our research carried out in Swansea, Wales which was funded by the Society for Research into Higher Education. The project explored the aspirations, barriers, and challenges for those at risk of offending to study in HE and considered what might be needed to support the desire to desist from offending within the context of a HE setting.  The project brought together academics, third sector and statutory agencies and most importantly we worked with those at risk of (re)offending as partners by carrying out research through ‘doing with’ rather than, ‘researching on’.

The data collection phase consisted of two engagement events. One for those that had offended or were at risk of offending and were members of our partner and host organisation ‘The Hub’ (n = 16) and the other with practitioners who worked with people at risk including two participants who were also studying at Higher Education and had offended (n = 10).

We adopted a Pictorial Narrative Approach as a data collection tool and community engagement activity which captures participant’s narratives in a visual manner using drawings, words and symbols and offered immediate triangulation and increased trustworthiness of the findings (Glaw, et al., 2017) through a focus group format.  The research produced interesting data with common themes across both groups.

Aspirations varied but everyone wanted to be happy and ‘get back on track.’ A common desire was to ‘sort my head out’ and have better mental health and well-being which was seen as a ‘daily struggle.’

Pictorial image

Pictorial imageSeveral people stated getting back on track in life meant getting a job with some wanting to use their own experiences to help others. The two most dominant aspirations related to positive family ties and relationships, and employment and these were often offered together. Getting back on track related to feeling secure and notions of home, family, health, employment and money. Such aspirations are key drivers to desistance (McNeill) and might be the necessary pre-requisites before any consideration can be given to embarking on HE. However, one of the more concerning factors that came through in the data was the haunting experiences of previous education.

Pictorial image

Indeed, 12 of the 16 participants in the first focus group reported negative experiences, and like a ‘lost soul swimming in a fish bowl’ with loneliness and isolation a difficult past experiences to overcome. Many also recounted the negative learning experiences within the classroom related to ‘getting the answers wrong’ and being ‘told off’ and ‘sent to the back of the class.’ This left many feeling publicly embarrassed, intimidated, seen as a problem and not wanting to engage in future learning. All participants stated that they felt they had not been given a fair chance.

Jones image 4

Ten participants identified learning difficulties as a barrier to education and that their behaviour led to exclusion. A common theme was bullying experiences within education from both teachers and peers. Ultimately this meant that most had feelings of alienation and resentment towards primary and secondary school and that it didn’t meet their needs.

Most participants had experiences of child and teenage abuse (neglect, physical and ‘dark’ stuff) and had been within the care and or criminal justice system during primary and secondary education and that due to all of this they were not ready for education.

However, for participants who had been to prison, it was often ‘the beginning of their education’ where they found hope and aspiration. Prison education was viewed as offering opportunity to develop basic skills such as reading and writing and for one participant it offered the chance to pursue a higher level of educational attainment which they pursued at University on release from prison.

Jones image 5Most participants identified university as marketing itself as a vehicle for gaining employment but really ‘just wanted the money.’ Three of the participants in the first group had attended university and felt the level of debt acquired during a degree was excessive and there were no guarantees that it would lead to a job.

One participant who studied Drama at university, said he had been promised the degree would lead to future opportunities but the course kept changing throughout and he felt let down by the institution.

There was a general mistrust of university and people that worked there and that the university was out for itself and getting money and that it viewed people like them in negative ways and didn’t always support future employment.

There was recognition however that university could help people gain confidence and improve their well-being. One participant reported, ‘I applied for university but they rejected me because of my conviction, only drink related offences mind you, but they rejected me anyway but even when I walk across the campus now I feel proud and it makes me walk with my head heal high – the university has a good vibe about it’.

Pictorial imageParticipants felt that universities need to develop inclusive environments that widen access and offer opportunities to those with a criminal past.

Barriers reported by the participants focused on funding, judgment, mental health and stigma due to their previous criminal conviction(s).

All participants from the first group were claiming benefits and felt university was completely out of reach and that the debt associated with going to university wasn’t worth it. Many of group do not have access to transport so simply paying public transport fares was viewed as out of their reach most of the time.

The participants reported that they felt their convictions would prevent them from going to university. One participant reported that he had been told that he needed to be ‘clean from drugs for two years before I can start doing courses, it’s really fucking hard’. Another participant articulated the views of the group when he said, ‘if you have the money they’ll take you but not if you have a conviction’.

The expression of isolation and stigma associated with a criminal conviction was overwhelming for this group and that university ‘didn’t want someone like me’ due to this. The group did want to access HE but the thought of entering into an institution was overwhelming. The words used included ‘scary’ ‘intimidating’ ‘big.’

Pictorial imagePictorial image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They expressed a desire for a new type of HE which focused on delivery to them in their community setting, supported by workers who understood their background and specific needs.

A few participants felt that if they were not treated appropriately in respect of their background and needs, they would likely get angry, frustrated and harm their confidence.

So what does this mean and what can HE do to actually be more supportive of potential students with offending backgrounds and really be a widening access environment? We believe that there are some very clear opportunities that HE could offer to support people who have offended, or are at risk of offending, and these include:

  1. Higher Education based within the ‘community’ setting to remove fear of HE campus and potential stigma and judgement
  2. Introductory and ‘hook’ HE opportunities to remove fear and stigma and build confidence and trust with HE
  3. Specialist trained student services to meet needs of those students with a criminal record or risk of offending
  4. Free HE opportunities to support motivations and aspirations of HE
  5. Better outreach and marketing of HE and student loan system to those at risk of offending
  6. Higher Education opportunities within prisons that support transition to community setting upon release

We are working on developing such initiatives in Swansea as well as applying for more funding to research this exciting and emerging area on desistance and HE.

 

References

  1. Evans, C., Rees, G., Taylor, C., & Wright, C. (2017). ‘Widening Access’ to higher education: The reproduction of university hierarchies through policy enactment. Journal of Education Policy, 34(1), 101-116.
  2. Glaw, X., Inder, K., Kable, A, and Hazelton, M.(2017), ‘Visual Methodologies in Qualitative Research: Autophotography and Photo Elicitation Applied to Mental Health Research’. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 16, 1-8
  3. Lockwood, S., Nally, J., Ho, T., & Knutson, K., (2012). ‘The Effect of Correctional Education on Postrelease Employment and Recidivism: A 5-Year Follow-Up Study in the State of Indiana’. Crime and Delinquency, 58(3), 380-396.
  4. McNeill, F. (2019) Rehabilitation, Corrections and Society. Retrieved July 01, 2019, from http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/159625/7/159625.pdf
  5. Ministry of Justice (2010) Understanding Desistance from Crime. Available at: http://www.safeground.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Desistance-Fact-Sheet.pdf
  1. Prison Education Trust (2017). To be truly inclusive, universities must help prisoners feel they belong. Available at:https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2017/aug/16/to-be-truly-inclusive-universities-must-help-prisoners-feel-they-belong
  1. Runell, L. (2017). Identifying Desistance Pathways in a Higher Education Program for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 61(8), 894-918.
  2. Shapland, J., & Bottoms, A. (2011). Reflections on social values, offending and desistance among young adult recidivists. Punishment & Society, 13(3), 256–282. https://doi.org/10.1177/1462474511404334

 

Contact

Debbie Jones, Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law, Swansea University Deborah.a.jones@swansea.ac.uk

Twitter name – @debjonesccjc

Mark Jones, Director at Higher Plain Research & Education

Markjones1977@yahoo.co.uk

Twitter name @A_HigherPlain

 

Images: courtesy of the authors

When Police Racism is Denied, Does it Go Away?

The Macpherson Report remains a touchstone in and a flashpoint for debates on institutional racism within the London Metropolitan Police. Twenty years after its publication, how well does the capital’s police force fare today in the face of accusations and denials of racism? This article casts a critical look at the evidence to expose how institutional racism within the “Met” remains an uncomfortable reality that cannot be denied without denying the facts, ignoring the truth, or remaining willfully blind to it.

25LF

Dr. Lambros Fatsis is currently Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at the University of Southampton and the winner of the British Society of Criminology’s ‘Blogger of the Year Award’. In September 2019, he will join the University of Brighton as a Lecturer in Criminology.

 

Amid a plethora of Home Affairs Committees, events, debates, and impassioned commentaries that interrogate the legacy of the Macpherson report and muse on the current state of the London Metropolitan Police, as far as institutional racism is concerned, recent statements by the Met Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, do much to spark further interest in and controversies around the issue. During a Home Affairs Committee session on the Met’s progress in implementing the recommendations of the Macpherson Report, including steps taken to address that report’s findings on institutional racism in the police, Cressida Dick reportedly said that the Metropolitan Police is no longer ‘institutionally racist’ and stressed that the label itself is ‘toxic’ and ‘unhelpful’. Insisting that the force has been ‘utterly transformed’ since Macpherson’s time, the Met Police chief added that: ‘The label now does more harm than good, it is something that is immediately interpreted by anyone who hears it as not institutional but racist – full of racists full stop, which we are not. It is a label that puts people off from engaging with the police. It stops people wanting to give us intelligence, evidence, come and join us, work with us’.

The Met Police Commissioner, therefore, seems confident that: (a) institutional racism in today’s Met is a thing of the past, (b) that it harms the reputation of the force, and that (c) when the term is used we hear the word “racist” louder than the word “institutional”; thereby thinking that the police is populated by racists. She then reassuringly claims that not only is the Met not ‘full of racists’ but that this misperception damages the relationship between the public and the police and undermines citizens’ confidence and trust in the force, while also discouraging potential recruits to join. As a result, institutional racism is suddenly pronounced dead, the definition and meaning of the term becomes misunderstood, and we are left to consider the reputational damage of institutional racism on the Met, instead of worrying about its impact on those who suffer from its consequences. On all three counts, this is a deeply unsettling statement which denies the facts, distorts what words mean, and prioritises the public image of a civil force of the state over its accountability to the public that it ostensibly serves and protects.

Starting with the premature obituary of institutional racism within the Met, it should be read against the latest evidence which clearly points to its existence today. Relevant research findings unambiguously demonstrate racial disparities and disproportionality in the use of stop-and-search, the Gangs Matrix, or the policing tactics used to tackle knife crime and clamp down Black music genres like grime and drill. Last year alone, an influential report for Stopwatch and Release by LSE academic Michael Shiner and his colleagues did much to demonstrate the discriminatory effects of stop and search, echoing earlier evidence from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, a Criminal Justice Alliance briefing, and other oft-quoted academic research (here, here, and here). The Met’s gang database (the Gangs Matrix) fares just as badly with two damming reports by Amnesty International and Stopwatch exposing its racist logic, as did the Information Commissioner’s Office which noted ‘the potential to cause damage and distress to the disproportionate number of young, black men on the Matrix’. Buttressing claims of the effectiveness of stop-and-search as a vital tool for fighting knife crime, a report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies condemned the overall approach as ineffective, unjust and damaging to the people that it (cl)aims to protect, as did the Youth Violence Commission which advocates for a public health alternative. As for the policing of UK grime and drill music, my own research demonstrates how the discriminatory policing of both genres serves as a unique case study of institutional racism within the Met today.

Were this not enough, on her visit to the UK last year the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, appeared ‘shocked by the criminalisation of young people from ethnic minorities, especially young black men. They are over-represented in police stop and searches, more likely to face prosecution under the country’s joint enterprise provisions, and are over-represented in the prison system’. None of this is secret knowledge and even a cursory glance at the government’s Race Disparity Unit ‘ethnicity facts and figures’ on stop-and-search and arrests would suffice to convince anyone of the discriminatory treatment of Black people by the police and other UK criminal justice system institutions.

Factual evidence aside, the Met Police Commissioner’s comments are also striking for the way they misrepresent what institutional racism actually means. In Macpherson’s famous formulation, institutional racism ‘consists of the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people’. The institutional origins of racist behaviour and discriminatory outcomes are not separated in Macpherson’s definition, as they are in Cressida Dick’s interpretation of the term. Yet, she argues that people somehow mentally uncouple the two when the term is used, while also claiming that the term implies that the Met is ‘full of racists’ instead of pointing to a collective failure of an organisation whose processes and attitudes are to blame. The difference between Macpherson and Cressida Dick is that the former points to racism as a feature of the institutional structure and collective mentality of the Met, whereas the latter misunderstands racism as individual prejudice alone. In so doing, a structural characteristic of an entire organisation is denied, and attributed instead to a few individuals who independently act out their own prejudicial attitudes as individuals. Individual officers therefore appear unaffected by their socialisation into an institutionally racist mindset, nor do they act as a team in line with that institution’s logic and unwritten rules. Since racism, according to the Met Commissioner, is an individual trait it has nothing to do with the institutional make-up of the organisation, and since it does not characterise the entire force it cannot exist. The term institutional racism, however, refers to racist attitudes that are built into organisations by design, with the assumption being that individuals take on the prejudices of an organisation and do not act independently of it, especially when they work in groups.

What makes all the above so difficult to stomach is not a logical fallacy, which mistakes something structural and systemic for something individual or (co)incidental, but a dangerous argument which shows little regard for the casualties of such structural arrangements. To perceive institutional, structural, systemic racism merely as a ‘toxic label’ is to deny how toxic the reality of it is for the people and communities that are disproportionately affected by it. Worse still, it reveals a denialist logic which refuses to admit the existence of institutional racism, thereby discounting the relevant evidence. Such a stubborn stance contradicts the Met’s self-understanding as a professional police force which acts on the basis of evidence in order to oversee public safety. On the contrary, such statements give the impression that the Met chooses to defend itself instead of protecting the public to whom it is accountable, and that it chooses to tackle crime by strangling the facts that should guide its mission, its ethos, and its conduct.

Pretending that institutional racism is a thing of the past, is to fail to see how and why it is present today. Yet, the Met chief seems either unable to see all this or willfully blind to it all. If it is the former, she could be dismissed as inadequate. If it is the latter, she might be suspected of being dangerous. Either way, she seems disconcertingly vulnerable to the siren call of hawkish policing and deaf to the evidence that renders it illegitimate. Her pledge to ‘relentlessly’ pursue gangs through increased stop and search doesn’t simply clash with evidence that this police power is ineffective, discriminatory and unjust, but also jars with the lack of concrete evidence to link knife crime and gang membership. Such a stance does chime well, however, with the government’s recent promise to increase stop and search powers and relax rules of conduct to make criminals ‘literally feel terror’. Similarly, the Met chief’s refusal to acknowledge institutional racism as a reality within the force that she leads, eerily echoes statements by the new head of No. 10’s Policy Unit, who famously dismissed institutional racism as a ‘myth’ and decried the establishment of the Race Disparity Audit as serving a ‘phoney race war’ that is ‘dangerous and divisive’.

Twenty years after Macpherson diagnosed the Met with institutional racism steadfast refusals to see it, point to a reluctance to see what is evident through facts. We should, therefore, be reminded that when ‘racism is how the world is seen’, as Sara Ahmed brilliantly put it, ‘it remains possible for racism not to be seen’.

This article gives the views of the author, not the position of the institution he works for.

 

Contact

Lambros Fatsis, University of Southampton

Twitter: @lfatsis

Copyright free image courtesy of Pexels

 

 

 

Critical Conversations on Criminology and Gender: Innovations in Research

Reflections on dynamic and innovative contemporary research methods in criminology and gender studies

duggan-marian

 

Dr Marian Duggan is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Kent and the new Chair of the British Society of Criminology Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network.

 

 

British Society of Criminology Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network’s 3rd Annual Event.

Inspired by burgeoning developments in creative and innovative methodologies in criminology, 2019’s annual WCCJ ‘critical conversations’ event showcased an array of innovative ways of doing and communicating criminological research via visual methods, arts and multi-media methods, documents and the positioning of the researcher. While we fore-fronted methodological innovations, the conference reflected a rich feminist tradition of attending to critical issues of power and politics in research. As well as offering opportunities to share knowledge and experiences of using innovative methodologies, we intended that the day also offer opportunities for networking. As the incoming Chair of the BSC’s Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network I am delighted to share my reflections on the day’s events with you in this blog.

Approximately 65 attendees congregated at City, University of London, in April 2019. Speakers were invited to step outside of the confines of PowerPoint and were given around 15 minutes to share their research. We were delighted that all accepted the challenge, bringing along films, photos and art-works connected to ongoing projects. Our invited speakers included a mix of committed criminologists and those working in cognate disciplines, as well as a mix of established and early career researchers.

The day was divided into four thematic panels: 1) Film and photo, 2) Arts and multi-media, 3) Words and documents, and 4) Researchers and selves, before finishing up with a critical insight from our Keynote Listener, Dr Emma Wincup (University of Leeds). The day’s events were tweeted out (with presenters’ permission) under the #wccj2019 hashtag to @bsc_wccjn followers. Using these and others’ tweets (particularly those by Stigmatised Sexualities & Sexual Harm Research, @SSSH_research), we bring you this round-up of the day.

In the first panel (film and photo), Dr Wendy Fitzgibbon (University of Leicester) and Dr Camille Stengel (University of Greenwich) shared photos and discussed their use of Photovoice as a research methodology in their respective research projects. The synergies between their studies led them to co-author a journal article which was awarded the WCCJ 2018 Best Paper Prize, so a great start to the day indeed. Photovoice is the method of choice in the project currently being undertaken by Dr Tara Young (Kent) and Dr Susie Hulley (Cambridge) into how joint enterprise is affecting young people. The audience learnt how this creative method was shown to give voice to individuals while increasing their self-worth, proving to be transformative for participants and others who see similar experiences represented in the images. We were also guided on how best to employ the method, with advice including limiting the number of images per participant (to around 10) and having them think carefully when composing the photos. The ethics of such innovations were also covered by speakers, particularly in terms of representation, ownership and respecting anonymity. The final presentation was by Dr Shona Minson (Oxford) who has produced a series of excellent video resources on the impact on children whose mothers are sentenced to prison. Demonstrating how film offers instant communication with target audiences, the presentation was interwoven with snippets from one of the film to indicate how, where, when and why particular strategies had been employed throughout. Ethical considerations were as relevant here too, with issues of power, politics and positionality (of both the researcher and researched) discussed in some depth throughout. Shona highlighted the importance of having ‘buy in’ from participants, particularly those with significant status and authority, to elicit the maximum impact in disseminating the message.

Continuing with the interactive theme, Panel 2 (arts and multi-media) began with Dr Jo Deakin (Manchester) outlining the classroom dynamics of her arts-based research with young people and their thoughts on the Prevent Agenda. This method involved employing poetry writing, drawing, drama and physical games with school-aged young people to gain their trust and foster more open means of communication. Jo showcased several of the drawings produced by participants alongside the narratives they provided before signposting attendees to the online resource: Extremely Safe Radical Preventions. Next up was Dr Magali Peyrefitte (Middlesex) who reflected on her work using objects to open up narratives about migration, belonging and identity. Drawing out the importance of intimacy to her method, Magali described the story circle format she employed and participated in, while also providing pictures of some of the objects which featured in the research. Finally, Dr Fay Dennis (Goldsmiths) provided an interactive presentation whereby she played audio clips of her research participants alongside the pictures they had drawn to explain their experiences of drug taking. This powerful representation of emotion and sensation using image and colour excellently illustrated the additional understanding that can be gleaned beyond text.

After a delicious lunch, Panel 3 (words and documents) began with Dr Alpa Parmer (Oxford) and Dr Coretta Phillips (LSE) outlining their use of oral life history methods to explore race in relation to culture, structure and agency. Important points of note were being aware of what information stays with the researcher once the interview is done, and how sensory experiences can shed greater light on the data being gathered. Next was Dr Tanya Serisier (Birkbeck) who drew on her recently published book about feminism, rape and narrative politics to highlight the prevalence of fairy-tales in published rape memoirs. Finally, Dr Jennifer Fleetwood (Goldsmiths) introduced the audience to innovative research using podcasts, in particular My Favourite Murder, to explore routine, repetition and meaning in women’s first person narratives.

Presenters in panel 4 (researchers and selves) adopted a different approach, reflecting on their positionality in relation to their research and chosen methods. Dr Hannah Mason-Bish (Sussex) drew her recently published paper in which she outlined methodological issues relating to elitism, power and identity in what she termed the ‘elite delusion’. Returning to the earlier discussion of researching with people in positions of authority, Hannah reflected on the insider/outsider dichotomy and how this shapes the research according to how one’s status is interpreted by participants. Discussions of status and transitions in and out of identities and spaces were also key theme in Dr Ross McGarry’s (Liverpool) work on militarised identities and the meaning given to key sites that formed part of the celebrations of Armed Forces Day. The use of public space was also relevant to Dr Alex Fanghanel’s (Greenwich) presentation, which drew on her recently published book into the use of the sexualised female activist body in women’s and animal rights protests. Alex’s reflection on her own ethnographic participation in the research invoked questions about gender, rape culture and positionality. Finally, Rachel Stuart (Kent) ended on a similarly feminist note by discussing her research into webcammers and the access issues that come with researching stigmatised communities.

Dr Emma Wincup accepted our request to close the conference as our Keynote Listener. Emma is a long-standing network member and an expert in qualitative methods and feminist methods. She artfully drew together some of the latent themes and questions of the day, challenging us to think critically about the use of innovative methodologies for doing and communicating research. She reminded us that feminist research approaches, research on women and methodological innovation haven’t always been valued in criminology. Emma especially thanked our presenters for their candid accounts of their work, and sharing what happens when things don’t quite go to plan, as well as the personal commitments, and emotional impacts of doing criminological research. She made two observations about the potential of innovative methods in particular: firstly, their usefulness in ‘making the familiar strange’, both to respondents and ourselves, and secondly, their capacity to open up the seemingly banal or mundane for analysis. Emma concluded by reflecting on some pragmatic considerations in innovative methodologies – these are time consuming modes of data collection and communicating research, demanding new skills, training and collaboration. Furthermore, ethical issues become magnified and more complex. But, as the day’s presentations demonstrate, the kinds of data that can be generated have the capacity to communicate critical issues in novel and important ways.

This event was made possible thanks to the British Society of Criminology’s annual funding of the women’s network and a significant sponsorship from City, University of London’s Centre for Crime and Justice Research. Planning is already under-way for next year’s events. If you would like to join the Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Network, please email our Membership Secretary Dr Emma Milne on e.milne@mdx.ac.uk and provide your details (including up to five research interests) to be added to the WCCJ network database (overseen by Dr Gemma Birkett). Alternatively, to stay in touch and hear news from WCCJ and our members, join the Jisc-mail list. Finally, do take the time to visit our website.

Contact

Dr Marian Duggan,  University of Kent

Email: m.c.duggan@kent.ac.uk

Twitter: @marian_duggan

Images: courtesy of the author