Higher Education and Desistance from Offending

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

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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.’

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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.

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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

Co-ordinating a research project in 6 continents

We live in a world where we can communicate with someone across the oceans with a single click and this facilitated research on sexual harassment and sexual assault in transit environments.

The challenge and joy of coordinating a research project in 6 continents in the era of the internet

Vania Ceccato

 

Vania Ceccato is a researcher at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. She is also a BSC International Ambassador.

 

This story is about the challenges and potentialities of doing collaborative work in Criminology using your own computer, with no funding, but supported by a ‘gaggle’ of a highly motivated researchers, ready to work.  Back in early 2016 I was teaching undergraduates how to put together a graduation thesis and teaching them how to apply a survey to general population. I incentivized my students to explore their own mobile phones and digital devices to make the data collection. Through this I taught them how to carry out an online survey and later critically analyze the collected data. I had long wished to question Metro passengers about their safety perceptions; so I handed my students questions on sexual violence and sexual harassment in transit in particular.

That did not work very well. Students were, overall, reluctant to ask such questions and passengers were unwilling to answer them. However, I do not attribute this failure to the students or passengers.  At that time, most of us did not feel comfortable talking openly about sexual harassment, at least when compared to recent years. Therefore, it was no surprise that my students were fairly reluctant to ask transit riders about their experiences of sexual harassment while using transit. Just a year later, the appearance of the #MeToo! Movement on the internet and outside cyberspace made it easier to get information about these problematic daily-life experiences. I decided then to have another go with the survey but this time asking my own students about sexual harassment.

Things went much better—the survey was answered by more than 1500 university students in the Stockholm region. Additionally, it later gained answers from 13,323 students worldwide, in 18 cities (as shown in map below)!

Ceccato Globe

What prompted this sudden change? This project originally began with the suggestion from a colleague in USA. She thought we should extend the original survey, apply it in our respective universities, and write a comparative paper. So we did. In the process, I mentioned our ideas with colleagues in a global user-list and suddenly, we were 14 universities engaged in this global project: researchers wanted to take part and apply the survey in their own universities, from Lagos- Nigeria to Vancouver-Canada, from Tokyo-Japan to Bogota-Colombia, 3 others came along during the process. It was amazing to see so many people, determined to see this project succeed. We did not have any funding to offer and I thought it would be a big of waste of everybody’s time if people would give up along the process … but it was worth it the risk.

I was lucky in having my colleague and mentor Prof Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris at UCLA coordinating this research enterprise with me. She was equally engaged and very interested in getting an overall picture on sexual violence/harassment in transit environments. Apart from the time difference (when she was waking up in Los Angeles, I was ready to go home from work!), it was lovely to have Anastasia to discuss ideas, worries, share instructions and support anyone in the group.

Of course, in a project of such global scope, there will always be incongruences and challenges when collecting and analyzing the data. This study was no exception, we faced a number of challenges: particularly when communicating over email and using various online sharing-platforms. Interestingly enough, most of the challenges we faced had nothing to do with technology or limited funding.

One of the earliest problems was the need to obtain approval from the university and/or from a special Ethical Review Board before approaching the students with the questionnaire. This process turned out to be longer than we expected and varied from country to country (taking around one to four months). I thought some of my colleagues would give up along the way, but thankfully they persevered!

Then came translation. In order to make comparisons with other cities possible, questions were later translated into seven languages (English, Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese and Chinese) using Google Docs. This sharing platform ended up working very well and greatly simplified the process.

More complicated, were the differences in local and cultural norms. It was impossible to standardize all questions. In some cities the ‘race’ question in the USA (‘ethnic background’ in Sweden) was substituted with “country of birth/origin question”. In certain cases, the race/ethnicity question had to be omitted because in cities, the law does not allow asking questions on race, ethnicity or religious beliefs. Similarly in some cities, it is not considered appropriate to ask about someone’s sexual orientation in surveys, and our colleagues had to omit such questions.

We exchanged information mostly by email, and during the process of data collection and analysis, we split ourselves into smaller groups. Many of our meetings were performed over Skype or the similar communication platforms. Remote meetings did not always work but ultimately, we were able to put together a schedule of tasks to accommodate time differences between Manila, Stockholm and Los Angeles.

In all but two cases, the researchers were able to gather the minimum requested sample size of 300 students (some got more than 1000 students). To do so, they often had to follow different strategies such as adding an additional university, having a raffle with small rewards of “lucky money”. The questionnaire was distributed in different ways. For the large majority of cases, the survey was distributed electronically, either using a web platform, (for example, WordPress, Google Docs, etc.) email lists, or university pages with links to social media and to external electronic questionnaires. In a few cases, researchers distributed hard copies combined with an electronic version while in two cases, the link to the survey was posted on social media. 18 cities in 6 continents resulted in 13,323 students worldwide.

With data in hand, we provided instructions to all researchers to follow a particular set of research questions. Out of 18 case studies, 10 researchers presented their preliminary results in the Conference Crime and Fear in Public Places in Stockholm in October 2018, when a proposal for an edited book was suggested (the book proposal was later approved in early 2019). In order to homogenize the analysis and presentation processes, we created a framework of analysis and shared this via email with our colleagues. They were later invited to write essays of 2,500 words discussing their findings and contextual facts about their city. Using Skype or other communication platforms, they also worked in groups in four chapters putting together data, forming statistical analysis together and then writing.

However, our broad analysis brought with it some problems. For example, why did city A have 35% while city B had 78% in a particular question? Did they understand the instructions of analysis? This process was not always straightforward. It took months until we could agree upon a minimum set of questions and answers that were the same for everyone. Together with my co-coordinator in the USA, we combined statistics, compared results, checked and double-checked numbers and references. During that time we sent hundreds of emails, back and forth, before finally writing the final chapters, often with help from my colleagues. By August 2019, the edited volume was nearly complete. Yet, it took more than a month or so for us to get all permissions and high resolution pictures into one place before we finally submitted the book. There were many complications but eventually we did it!

So what can we take away from this research? The survey showed, without any doubt, that sexual violence/harassment in transit environments is unfortunately a common occurrence globally. However, the extent of harassment, ranges considerably from one city to the other. Additionally, the omnipresence of the potential for harassment in transit settings, leads to the adoption of certain behaviors on the transit riders behalf. Avoidance strategies prompt transit riders to avoid particular times, travel routes, and settings that are deemed as, particularly risky, or even avoid using transit completely, opting for other transportation options. This, of course, demands changes in the way transit systems are built, but also long term changes in society’s values and attitudes towards mobility and safety—both being highly gendered. We finalized this research by critically drawing from the results of the empirical work and proposing recommendations on how to respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault in transit environments.

So what can be learnt from the experience of doing research over emails and communication platforms?

We live in a world where we can communicate with someone across the oceans with a single click! This opens a door to a new world of possibilities, whether it be contacting a family member, friend, or doing research with colleagues.  It was a long and bumpy journey, but a worthwhile one. Our experience shows that it is possible to carry out a Global study like this one.  If you want to try to do something similar in the future, make sure you have three things before you start:

  1. Clear aim and objectives and some pretty good ideas how to achieve them
  2. A computer, internet and some ‘basic internet knowledge’
  3. (Most importantly) A great motivated group of researchers you can rely on to ensure that things are done on time, ethically, and with good care for the research process and quality of data. You might want to share the research coordination with someone senior, more experienced researcher in the area.

A book summarizes this joint efforts (Transit Crime and Sexual Violence in Cities: International Evidence and Prevention) and is coming out soon from Routledge. Country reports might be available on requestA special issue of International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice will be available in March 2020. On behalf of my colleague Prof Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris at UCLA, USA, I would like to thank everybody that took part in this project, and in particular, a friend from the UK who directly contributed to the original survey applied in Stockholm in 2016. Thanks!

 

Contact

Vania Ceccato, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Email: vania.ceccato@abe.kth.se

 

Images: courtesy of the author

 

Working remotely: Criminology in a time of Covid-19

Pace yourself and prioritise. It is too easy to work beyond healthy work limits. Begin to create daily rituals that include breaks.

Dr Charlotte Harris and Dr Helen Jones

How is the BSC – a Society of members with shared interests but geographically disparate –  working during the COVID-19 pandemic? Like you, our sense of normality has changed enormously over the past week. Our sense of ontological security has been rocked.

Many of you will have experience of working from home. It has been part of a working pattern for academics almost since time began. But for most, shared experience was grounded in being present with students through teaching and with colleagues through research activities.  Now, this has  become a more distant set of activities.  And working from home may be even less routine for those who work as criminologists outside academia.   Life has changed perhaps less for us, the paid staff of the BSC, as we routinely work from home and, we wanted to share our experiences – and those of other criminologists – to suggest ideas that might help as we negotiate this isolated and potentially isolating landscape.

Creating a Workspace

As an academic, you might have lots of experience of working from home, or you might have done this infrequently. You might need long-term or short-term ‘fixes’ to help you work remotely. Try to get clarity from your institution of what they are providing. Will your employer pay for your internet costs, pay for an ergonomically suitable workstation (including desk, chair, lighting, webcam, headset). If you need these things immediately, it might be worth buying them now, keeping the receipts and trying to claim the cost back later. But ask first if possible.

You may not have a separate room at home that you can work in. A room divider might be useful to not only give you a blank space behind you when you are on the webcam, but also to pin things to and to screen off your workspace when you are done for the day. Creating a sense of work/home separation is vital to your mental health.

Pace yourself and prioritise. It is too easy to work beyond healthy work limits. Begin to create daily rituals that include breaks. You might be self-isolating but you can still do some stretches in front of a window, brew some tea, set a timer for regular breaks

Sharing a workspace

One thing has changed even for some of us at the BSC office – you will probably not be the only person working from home.  You may have to share workspace with family members, some of them children.  And it won’t be just the children who might struggle to differentiate work and leisure time and contact.  Have set times to take a break, make coffee, establish  a timetable for the ‘oncall’ parent but try and be flexible to spontaneity and the joyous interruption.

Keep a work journal

You might already do this: many people who work remotely do. It is easy to lose track of what you have been doing. At work our day is punctuated by teaching, visiting the library, having a meeting (that is likely to be minuted), or having a coffee with colleague. You do not get this at home, so make a note for yourself of what you have done, what you need to do (and tick those things off your list as you do them) and document decisions taken. Do this and your work doesn’t become invisible.

Communication

Communication is central of effective remote working. You will need ways of clarifying immediate questions, coupled with regular scheduled meetings.  There are a range of tools and your university is responsible for organising this. It might be Slack, Hangout Chats, Skype, Teams or some other communication tool but you shouldn’t have to figure this out for yourself. There has to be an organisational strategy underpinning communication, even in these quickly evolving times.

Your institutional IT protocols should allow you to access all necessary resources remotely.  However, this might take time to arrange and can seem insurmountable if you are not very technologically-minded, and have never had to be.   Don’t panic, most will be sortable.

It might help you (and other people) feel less isolated if you have webcam on. We are visual creatures and it helps to visually connect with others. But if a camera does not work for you, do not feel pressurised to have the camera on. Don’t give in to pressure.

Managing emails

How can we avoid the perils of endless emails? In the era of ‘reply all’ it can feel that every email needs to be responded to, and now. Well they do not. Practice what you want other people to do. If an email is for information only, put those recipients into the C.C. panel and make it clear that they do not have to reply. Just check emails twice a day and also let people know. This allows more reflection time, and you will notice that some of the ‘Urgent’ emails have already been answered. It is about managing expectations, so be clear about what you can and cannot do.

Being human

Even in these pressured and quickly changing (and challenging) days, being present to your colleagues is a good thing. A quick message (entitled ‘Good Morning’), that people know is non-urgent and they do not have to reply to can go a long way to creating a sense of camaraderie. A paragraph of what you did yesterday and what you plan to do today would suffice. Maybe something funny or a small win (‘I got what I needed from the supermarket!’): it doesn’t have to be work related.

Your message may be as small as ‘I’m here’ when you start work, but it helps to create a sense of presence and awareness that we are still here and we still matter. If you feel isolated reach out, to a colleague, to your Faculty head, to us here at the BSC (because we are human too and we have been working remotely for many, many years).

Words of Wisdom from our colleagues

Emma Milne, University of Plymouth – As much as is possible, separate work and home – don’t work on your sofa or bed, work at a table and (ideally) in a spare room. So work stays work and home stays home.

Tim Newburn, LSE – On the issue of extended periods at home trying to write etc, I think the greatest dangers of remote working relate to the absence of (a) structure, and (b) human contact. I try (and often fail, but still try) to have a sense of the shape of the day. It is easier to keep going, ironically, if one has regular breaks. So, dividing the day into chunks tends to help. Then, regular checking in with others is crucial (another thing I’m only too good at letting slide). I think in the coming weeks and months we’ll discover that Skype/Zoom/FaceTime etc and going to be essential tools for keeping in touch with colleagues as well as friends and for looking after our own, and others, mental health. Other than that, I recommend both listening to lots of music and reading lots of fiction. Both are extraordinarily good for the soul.

Vicky Canning, University of Bristol – Time: the amount of time which goes into effective – quality – online teaching should not be underestimated and will shift the current workload model. Online teaching also opens up issues on both the delivery of sensitive materials and copyright with regard to use of online materials and images. Online institutions generally have legal teams to consider potentially libellous claims (such as when discussing corporate crime). This puts individuals at serious risk (I have 3 colleagues taken through court for this) so this should be considered. Also, from a worker rights perspective, we differ from other countries in that our institution owns copyright to our work. Whilst replay actually legally requires our permission to be reused under performance rights (so universities can own it, but not play it without our explicit permission) however this is not the case for lecture slides. As such, it would be good to have a formal agreement in kind from the University that we can delete our materials at the end of term so we are not at risk of writing ourselves out of jobs.

James Treadwell, Staffordshire University –  Firstly, this is not something to fear, and my big lesson is, regardless of your mode of delivery, that a real passion for subject of criminology and a love of debate and teaching cuts across all forms of delivery. I really do believe that. Secondly in the early days it is easy to get concerned about how people react to you when you can’t see them, and that for me is often the big change between in person and online. In my experience many engage with webcams off in live sessions. Do not be too phased by it. Also, do not let recorded sessions make you try and adopt a style that is not you. After a while it becomes second nature. I really like the live online forum because it can actually help to be even more topical, post articles, news stories and things in the message board and be contemporary and you will not have too much to fear about the shift to online.  But as you spend more time delivering in these new ways, find time to do the simple things too, stretch your muscles, do some exercise, spend half hour with a book in the sun in the garden to make up for the time you would walking to and from lectures. It is still important you enjoy your job, but it is a job and it is now coming into a different part of your world. But it is a job. Now more than ever it is vital you do not let it take over that home world.

Emma Williams, Canterbury Christchurch University – Make a call to a colleague every day and talk.

Marian Duggan, University of Kent – Make a (realistic) schedule of the day / week where possible. I have this on a whiteboard, broken into hourly chunks. It is a helpful frame of reference for what I should be doing and when. I also use the Pomodoro Technique (time allocation system) to keep tasks to their allocated time. Info about this is available online. For people (like me) who are unable to keep their working space separate from their general living space, try to get in a routine of setting up and packing away your work stuff to mentally break between ‘work’ and ‘home’.

Lizzie Seal, University of Sussex – Don’t have a 5 year old.

Do you have any other tip that you can share?   Tweet us @BritSocCrim and use the hashtag #WorkingFromHome

 

Copyright free image courtesy of: https://www.lostandfoundinedtech.org/