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My Calling in Life

Hazel wordle

I used to think waking up for lectures was the hardest thing in life. Little did I know that the 9am until 5pm isn’t a joke!

I graduated nearly 3 years ago now. Since then I have been trying to find my ‘calling’ in life. The world showed me it is not always easy finding this calling. If you want something you have to go and get it. Having a degree does not mean you will be successful. I had to start from the bottom and through trial and error; I can say I am starting to get there. Initially I was applying for any and every job possible. My first job was for an IT and Business training company and I was made redundant. That was difficult. Here I was thinking redundancy is for old people. Life had just started teaching its lessons.

After that I realised my passion was Criminology and I was determined in finding a job within this sector. So I started working for my County Court as clerk. I realised that I was definitely not cut out for the public sector. The frustration from the public because the court system is so slow (which I completely understood I would have been annoyed too). Don’t even get me started on the fact that I had to use dial up internet and buy my own teabags and milk! From that moment on I knew I had to get back into the private sector but still have a job in Criminology

I applied for a job as a Financial Crime Analyst for a bank and I was given the job without an interview! I knew I had found my ‘calling’. It is more Compliance based. I have had to start from the bottom. My senior managers appreciate the fact that I have a Criminology degree. But my colleagues make remarks like “Oh, you went to uni and we are still at the same level”. It is a slap in the face. But I am grateful for my degree. It has made me humble and look at people in a different light. When my colleagues are laughing at the crimes people commit such as an 80 year old man being involved in the drug trade or an 18 year old running a brothel. As a Criminologist I can ask questions such as “I wonder if this person is being coerced into this” or “I wonder if they have an drug problem or they did not grow up in a happy home”. I can empathise with these people and see beyond the information that is presented in front of me. I have been told I am too soft. But that is the life of a Criminologist and I would not change it for the world!

Graduation: the end of the beginning?

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Helen is an Associate Lecturer teaching on modules in years 1 and 3.

I joined the University of Northampton as an associate lecturer in 2009, teaching at first on the Offender Management foundation degree and then joining the Criminology team, although I had been a visiting lecturer in Criminology for a number of years prior to that. I am sorry that a prior commitment means that I am unable to join you for the Big Criminology Reunion, although the occasion has inspired me to reflect on the professional journey that starts with graduation.

Last week I received an e-mail from a former student in the 2010 Offender Management cohort. She is just about to qualify as a probation officer and she was asking for advice about giving evidence at Parole Board hearings. It was great to think back, to remember what a vibrant and enthusiastic student she was, and to project forwards; perhaps I’ll see her at an oral hearing soon. She will probably make an excellent probation officer, and the fact that she is asking for advice before she even starts is evidence of that. She will possibly be the first of our offender management students to become an offender manager!

A couple of years ago I was at a Parole Hearing at HMYOI Aylesbury where I was very impressed by the evidence of the trainee psychologist. She had prepared a clear, concise but thorough and analytical report on the prisoner and she gave her oral evidence confidently and thoughtfully. After the end of the hearing, she popped back in to tell me that she had been initially inspired to take up prison psychology after hearing my guest lecture on Manos’ Forensic Psychology module. I saw her again earlier this year and she’s still doing a great job!

For undergraduates, completing a degree, submitting a dissertation, putting the pen down at the end of the last exam and then graduating with friends, seems like the end of a long and arduous process. And of course it is! But as the stories above show, it is also just the beginning. Just the beginning of a professional journey which may or may not involve direct application of the subjects covered on the course. Not all our students become probation officers or prison psychologists or academic criminologists, but they will take something of what they learn out into the world with them. It may be a more critical way of digesting the news, a wider appreciation of the social forces that shape our world, a readiness to reflect and question and see the world from different perspectives. All of that will help them on their journey. I hope that you all have a great time at the reunion and that as you compare each other’s journeys you have fond memories of the degree course that seemed a marathon at the time but was really only the first step!

Justice on Trial

Witness for the Prosecution

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be treated to theatre tickets for Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution. The setting – London’s County Hall – was exquisite, the play sublime and the actors fabulous. An afternoon of sheer escapism, even for a die hard Christie fan like myself. Having read the short story/play many times is no replacement for seeing this on the stage. The theatre offers the opportunity to see the action from all perspectives; you can put yourself in the shoes of the defendant, the court actors and of course, the witnesses. Such a perspective vividly demonstrates the immense power of the State, not only through physical violence (although this is also evident) but through verbal dexterity.  To see the defendant – Leonard Vole – on trial; so small and defenceless against the majesty of the courtroom, is thought provoking. Furthermore, this environment is staffed by legal professionals, who unlike him, understand the world in which they operate. The cut and thrust of legalistic argument performed in the play (and in modern day courts daily) conceals the sheer ferocity of authority’s attack on the individual. Remember at the time the play was written, the death penalty was still in force, and Leonard Vole is on trial for the capital crime of murder. In essence, he is openly fighting for his very life, but subjected to the machinations and mediation of professionals who openly profess to be seeking justice. When he tries to speak, to argue, to cajole, he is silenced. There is no place for the defendant’s perspective unless it is expressed via the mandated professional who speaks on his (or her) behalf.

In the twenty-first century (and indeed, for the latter part of the twentieth century), capital punishment in the UK has not been a sentencing option. Whilst defendants may not be faced with a possible date with the hangman, the finality of sentencing and punishment is no laughing matter. Whilst there is no doubt that dramatic denouements have their place in the theatre, in the serious business of the criminal courts such antics seem out of place. If we look at the criminal court as a theatrical scene, we start to observe all manner of incongruity (cf. Carlen, 1976). For starters; the language used and the costumes worn. For anyone that has ever grappled to understand the works of Shakespeare or the Brontë’s, such reading requires patience and perseverance to understand the beauty of such writing.   In 2018, we would not request that our surgeons operate on us without the benefit of anaesthesia, neither would we want to be treated with procedures such as bloodletting or trepanning. Similarly, we don’t expect soldiers to carry muskets or form into schiltrons just because that’s how it used to be. Yet we accept and arguably, expect our courts to run as if they were stuck in time. What chance does the individual defendant have in this archaic, theatrical setting? After all, they are the star of the show, yet they have neither costume, nor the opportunity to learn their lines. It is hard to argue, that such practices are conducive to the pursuit of justice.

On the surface, going to the theatre appears to offer a pleasurable break from academia, yet the reality is it offers the opportunity to consider criminology from a novel perspective. Reading (and you all know how keen I am on reading!!) is only part of Criminology; talking, listening, thinking and exploring away from the classroom are equally important. My advice; get out, explore – the arts; theatre, cinema, literature, museums – and add this experiential knowledge to your academic studies. See things from a different perspective and unleash your Criminological Imagination (Young, 2011).

References:

Carlen, Pat, (1976), ‘The Staging of Magistrates’ Justice,’ The British Journal of Criminology, 16, 1: 48–55

Christie, Agatha, (2018), Witness for the Prosecution, Directed by Lucy Bailey. London County Hall, [11 February 2018]

Young, Jock, (2011), The Criminological Imagination, (London: Polity)

Thank f**k it’s Christmas!

Blog christmas image

Jessica is an Associate Lecturer teaching modules in the first year.

We have arrived at that time of the year once again: CHRISTMAS! ‘Tis’ the season to celebrate, party, give and receive gifts, catch up with friends and family, and most importantly… catch up on some much needed sleep. We have arrived at the end of the first term of the academic year, and all I can think is: Thank f**k it’s Christmas. The first term always feels the longest: whether you are first years beginning your academic journey, second and third years re-gathering yourselves after the long summer, or staff getting back into the swing of things and trying to locate and remember all the new and old names. But now is the time to kick back, relax and enjoy the festive season: ready to return to academic life fresh faced and eager come the New Year, ready to start it all over again. Well not quite…

According to Haar et al., (2014) work-life balance is something which is essential to all individuals, in order to ensure job satisfaction, life satisfaction and positive mental health. If Christmas is as needed as it feels; perhaps we are not managing a good work-life balance, and perhaps this is something we can use the Christmas break to re-consider. Work-life balance is subjective and relies on individual acceptance of the ‘balance’ between the commitments in our lives (Kossek et al., 2014). Therefore, over the Christmas break, perhaps it would be appropriate to re-address our time management skills, in order to ensure that Easter Break doesn’t feel as desperately needed as Christmas currently does.

Alongside an attempt to re-organise our time and work load, it is important that we remember to put ourselves first; whether this be through furthering our knowledge and understanding with our academic endeavours, or whether it is spending an extra 15 minutes a day with a novel in order to unwind. Work-life balance is something we are (potentially) all guilty of undermining, at the risk of our mental health (Carlson, et al., 2009). I am not suggesting that we all ignore our academic responsibilities and say ‘yes’ to every movie night, or night out that is offered our way. What I am suggesting, and the Christmas break seems like a good place to start, is that we put the effort in with ourselves to unwind, in order to ensure that we do not burn out.

Marking, reading, writing and planning all need to be done over the Christmas break; therefore it is illogical to suggest taking our feet off the pedals and leaving academia aside in order to have the well needed break we are craving. What I am suggesting, is that we put ourselves in neutral and coast through Christmas, without burning out: engaging with our assignments, marking and reading, therefore still moving forward. BUT, and it is a big but, we remember to breathe, have a lie in, go out and socialise with friends and family, and celebrate completing the first term of this academic year. And with this in mind, try to consider ways, come the new term, where you can maintain a satisfying work-life balance, so that when Easter comes, it doesn’t feel so desperately needed.

However, it is highly likely that this will still be the case: welcome to the joys and stresses of academia.
Merry Christmas everyone!

References:
Carlson, D.S., Grzywacz, J.G. and Zivnuska, S. (2009) ‘Is work family balance more than conflict and enrichment?’ Human Relations. 62(10): 1459-1486.
Haar, J.M., Russo, M., Sune, A. and Ollier- Malaterre, A. (2014) ‘Outcomes of work-life balance on job satisfaction, life satisfaction and mental health: A study across seven cultures’. Journal of Vocational Behaviour. 85: 361-373.
Kossek, E.E., Valcour, M. and Kirio, P. (2014) ‘The sustainable workforce: Organizational strategies for promoting work-life balance and well-being’. In: Cooper, C. and Chen, P. (Eds) Work and Well-being. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Pp:295-318.

Bibliography:
Ashurst, A. (2014) ‘How to… Manage time and resources effectively’. Nursing and Residential Care. 16(5): 296-297.
Kuhnel, J., Zacher, H., De Bloom, J and Bledow, R. (2017) ‘Take a Break! Benefits of sleep and short breaks for daily work engagement’. European Journal of Work and Organization Psychology. 26(4): 481-491.
Logan, J., Hughes, T. and Logan, B. (2016) ‘Overworked? An Observation of the relationship Between Student Employment and Academic Performance’. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice. 18(3): 250-262.
Lyness, K.S. and Judiesch, M.K. (2014) ‘Gender egalitarianism and work-life balance for managers: Multisource perspectives in 36 countries’. Applied Psychology. 63(1): 96-129.
Mona, S. (2017) ‘Work-life Balance: Slow down, move and think’. Journal of Psychological Nursing and Mental Health Services. 55(3):13-14.

 

Why Volunteer?

beth

Bethany is an Associate Lecturer teaching modules in the first year.

Before I started lecturing at the university, unsurprisingly, I also once attended university as a criminology student.  Very similar to the current university experience, I had deadlines, money stress and at times a lack of direction of what I wanted to do. Therefore, firstly, if you have experienced this or if you currently are, then you can find some comfort in knowing that you are not alone.

About 2 months into my first year, my seminar leader mentioned a volunteering opportunity for a mentor role at Milton Keynes Probation Office. I contemplated the idea for a couple of weeks; I was interested in the idea of volunteering, mainly because I had near enough zero work experience at all. I was however complacent in the idea of working for free, which is a common issue for students. However, when I took the plunge and put myself forward for it, it was honestly one of the best decisions and jobs I have ever had.

After getting out of my comfort zone in the first few weeks, In which I had some training about general health and safety and data protection. I suddenly found myself helping out in classes for English, maths, stress management, ICT and even a construction class! In these classes, there were ‘students’ who were issued to attend as part of a court order or had it suggested to them following a meeting with their probation officer.  It was very rewarding and made me understand a lot of what I was doing in my modules.

The most important points from this for me that I feel should be shown more to all students is that:

  1. Time: You can give as much time as you want: I started only helping out in 1 class which lasted less than 2 hours every other week. I increased this to every week when I started my second year and more so again in my third year.
  2. Money: No, you will not make money, you will however 99% of the time be able to claim your expenses from the company running the volunteer group. I was able to claim for all my train tickets and any lunch I had while volunteering. Also mimicking the above point on time, I was able to still do volunteering alongside university and a part-time
  3. Experience: This was not only a good experience because I was able to do both my 2nd-year criminology placement at the probation office, but I was also able to interview offenders for my dissertation. But also you have great hands-on experience in the criminal justice field and you might actually help someone who is vulnerable and needs your patience and support.

This post is therefore in no way to make people feel bad for not volunteering or to say its’ easy, as it has many challenges and we are not all in the same position to give up time. However, If you are considering volunteering, whether that be to build up your CV, prepare for placement or you just want to give back for an hour or so. Below are some places currently looking for volunteers and I am sure your criminology expertise will be of use:

SOVA: Probation Volunteering

https://www.sova.org.uk/search-roles

 

Victim Support

https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer

 

Safe Families For Children

https://www.safefamiliesforchildren.com/join-us/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIu-rz773V1wIVYRbTCh0cmwBZEAAYAiAAEgIkUfD_BwE

 

Step Together ( Supporting Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders)

http://www.step-together.org.uk/supporting-rehabilitation-ex-offenders?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI3PXPo77V1wIVgjgbCh2ghgBqEAAYASAAEgLWffD_BwE

 

Tattoos: deviance or individualism?

Tattoo

For my blog this week I thought I’d follow up on @charlottejdann’s blog on tattoos and add some personal experiences to the discussion. The media certainly have had their part to play in the negative connotations surrounding tattoos and the types of people with them, however I question the extent to which the media influence those perceptions today. Based purely on my own experience and opinion I believe that tattoos have become relatively common and as we saw in Charlotte’s blog the rise in tattoo studios would certainly seem to support this assumption. In fact, I think a process of normalisation has occurred whereby it is more surprising when someone hasn’t got a tattoo than when they have. Furthermore, the negative connotations and ‘expressed shock’ at the increase in tattooing is, in my humble opinion, typically associated to those of the older, more traditional generation for whom tattooing was a symbol of deviance, rebellion and/or disrepute.

I got my first tattoo when I was just 14; a small black panther discreetly placed on my thigh. My choice of phrase here is not accidental, being just 14 and below the age of legal consent the placement of this tattoo had to be discrete to hide it from my mother. The intentional law breaking and deception of this act would certainly look like deviance to an outside observer. Since then I added two more tattoos to my collection and have another one planned for the near future. Reflecting on this notion of deviance and my own motivation I arrive at a number of conclusions. My first tattoo was, without doubt, an act of rebellion against the expectations placed upon me by family and peers to be a ‘good girl’ and a ‘high achiever’. I don’t in any way regret that tattoo but I can recognise the reason for getting it. My second tattoo was more daringly placed on my upper arm and in hindsight was not thought through or carefully picked but at the same time it was not an act of rebellion. Those of you with tattoos may understand when I say that getting tattoos is like an addiction, you either love them or hate them but once you’ve got one, you want more. It was this ‘addiction’ so to speak that led to my second tattoo. My third tattoo which covers my foot and spreads up my ankle, symbolises the changing direction of my life after the birth of my first child and is by far my favourite to date. In short, the meaning or motivation for each tattoo has shifted over time reflecting my growth as a person and my life experiences.

At the point of my third tattoo I’d entered the world of academia and was establishing my professional identity; an identity that was in some ways at odds with my tattooed body. Wearing a professional suit and heels with a tattoo on my foot and ankle certainly led to some raised eyebrows and disapproving looks from older colleagues. This reaction was nothing compared to the openly disapproving judgements I later encountered from fellow magistrates; not only was I young to be a magistrate but I was also tattooed and had the audacity to display them in court! Linking this reaction back to my earlier statement about deviance, rebellion and disrepute, the simplest thing would be for me to wear a trouser suit in court and hide my tattoos, in essence, conforming to societies expectations of that position. However, my reasons for not doing so are twofold, firstly I am a bit of rebel at heart and secondly, I do not see my tattoos as an act of deviance but one of self-expression. In all other areas of life, I conform to the norms and values of society, I have a career and present myself as a professional, I’m trying to raise my children to be good law-abiding citizens, I pay my bills on time, I put out my rubbish when asked and I try to treat others with compassion and respect. In short, I’ve joined the collective, blended into society and accepted the expectations of me as a woman, a mother, a daughter and so forth. My tattoos therefore are a reflection of self-expression, my little rebellious side that says, “I’m more than one of the collective, I’m an individual”. Each tattoo reflects my journey, where I have come from, what I have experienced, who I am and where I am going. They tell the reader that I am more than just a number, I am an individual embracing self-expression through body art because to me tattoos are not just ink, they are pieces of art symbolising your life journey. For this reason, I agree with Charlotte’s argument that tattooed people cannot be stereotyped as a homogeneous group because tattoos by their very nature make us unique individuals.

Do you consent to read on?

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The more eagle-eyed amongst you may have spotted that @manosdaskalou and I are due to present during ‘I Heart Consent’ Week (still plenty of time to book a space!). The topic – ‘Consent in the Classroom’ is one that is close to our hearts and something we have discussed in different environments with different people. In this week’s entry I want to consider why the subject of consent is particularly  important for criminologists.

An obvious area to start is research; ethics are fundamental to all of the projects we do from undergraduate all the way through to seasoned academic. Discussions around ensuring participants are able to fully engage in the process of gaining informed consent are imperative. At times this may be viewed as procedural; simply going through the motions but given the sensitivity of much criminological research it has a primacy and an urgency necessary to avoid harm.

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of accusations directed at Hollywood’s “finest” (cf. Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Ed Westwick et al.) and government ministers and MPs (cf. Michael Fallon, Stephen Crabb, Kelvin Hopkins et al.). These often, light on factual evidence and heavy on prurient judgement, throw the spotlight once more on the issue of sexual consent.  These cases are concerning on many levels and it is apparent from much of the discussion which often ensues whether on television, radio, in the newspapers or on social media, that many people are confused around the very nature of consent. Attempts have been made to counteract these lack of knowledge, often in creative ways; for example ‘Consent: It’s as simple as tea’ but looking at many of the comments, there is still a great deal of work to do. There are also wider issues in relation to consent; the absence of the victims’ consent to have their information paraded to feed the public’s desire for detail Likewise, the nature of summary justice being dispensed (e.g. expulsion from organisations, cancellation of contracts and resignations) deprives suspects of their right to defend themselves in court; there is no option for those suspected to opt for a trial by media.

Notwithstanding, the imperative to understand sexual consent, for Criminology, there is a further complication. When much, if not all crime, criminality and criminal justice, is predicated on the absence of consent, the issue becomes even more tenacious. If we consider that victims don’t consent, offenders may not consent to what ensues; certainly the criminal justice system’s [CJS] apparatus deliberately and meticulously removes consent throughout the process. Even when it comes to the professionals who work within the CJS, they may not consent, rather they are obeying guidance/policy/instructions/orders (delete as appropriate). After all, it cannot be consent if derived at the barrel of a gun, or in a police interview suite or a prison cell or when the economic situation is so bleak you are terrified of losing your job. When there is no room for manoeuvre, there can be no consent. Institutions and individuals may decide that this is a necessary price to pay in respect of crime and punishment, but that decision should never be taken without reflection.

All of the above shows the importance of consent, not only between the sheets, but in all aspects of criminology. Whatever side of criminal justice you might find yourself on, an understanding of consent is essential.

 

The Criminology of the Future

metropolis

As we are gleefully coming towards the start of yet another academic year, we tend to go through a number of perpetual motions; reflect on the year past, prepare material for the upcoming year and make adjustments on current educational expectations.  Academics can be creatures of habit, even if their habit is to change things over.  Nonetheless, there are always milestones that we all observe no matter the institution or discipline.  The graduation, for example brings to an end the degree aspirations of a cohort, whilst Clearing and Welcome Week offer an opportunity of a new group of applicants to join a cohort and begin the process again.  Academia like a pendulum swings constantly, replenishing itself with new generations of learners who carry with them the imprint of their social circumstance.

It was in the hectic days at Clearing that my mind began to wonder about the future of education and more importantly about criminology.  A discipline that emerged at an unsettled time when urban life and modernity began to dominate the Western landscape.  Young people (both in age and/or in spirit) began to question traditional notions about the establishment and its significance.  The boundaries that protect the individual from the whim of the authorities was one of those fundamental concerns on criminological discourses.  A 19th century colleague questions the notion of policing as an established institution, thus challenging its authority and necessity.  An end of 20th century colleague may be involved in the training of those involved in policing.  Changing times, arguably.  Quite; but what is the implications for the discipline?

My random example can be challenged on many different fronts; the contested nature of a colleague as a singular entity that sees the world in a singular gaze; or the ability to diversify on the perspectives each discipline observes.  It does nonetheless, raises a key question: what expectations can we place on the discipline for the 21st century.

If we and our students are the participants of social change as it happens in our society then our impressions and experiences can help us formulate a projective perspective of the future.  Our knowledge of the past is key to supplying an understanding of what we have done before, so that we can comprehend the reality in a way that will allow us to give it the vocabulary it deserves.  A colleague recently posted on twitter her agony about “vehicles being the new terrorist weapon,” asking what is the answer.  The answer to violence is exactly the same; whether a person gets in a van, or goes home and uses a bread knife to harm their partner.  Everyday objects that can be utilised to harm.  A projection in the future could assert that this phenomenon is likely to continue.  The Romans called it Alea iacta est and it was the moment you decide to act.  In my heart this is precisely the debate about the future of criminology; is it crime with or without free will?

Surviving in a changing environment: the use of illicit drugs

Blog 'Cocaine Use'

Recent months have seen a rebirth in drug related news stories, often linked to the death of young people or babies or the dealing of drugs by youth and gangs. This led me to consider the place of drugs in British Society, not in terms of their distribution, production, cost, but the reasons why illicit drug use continues to be prominent in UK society. There is plenty of research on this topic and considerable political commentary on the problem, however is drug use really a problem or are we simply more aware of illicit drug use and more open to discussing it? There are certainly arguments for both sides but neither address the reason why drugs are in our society and this led me to consider the speculative argument that cocaine use is increasing, or at least shifting to a newer market.

Cocaine, historically the drug of choice for celebrities and the wealthy is now spreading across society to a wider social demographic by why? The main argument produced by the ACMD is that there is a two-tier market based on purity, the more pure and thus more expensive continues to be used by celebrities and the wealthy but a less pure, cheaper version is now available for those less affluent. I don’t doubt the validity of this argument but I think there is more to this than simply price and purity. Historically, drugs that are now illegal were widely available and staple part of people’s daily lives helping to mask the harshness of life or facilitate their functionality within working and social environments. Has much changed? The political drive to make us do more for less is certainly evident in modern society as is the harsh effects of poverty and deprivation, both of which can lead to drug use, albeit these once legal substances are now illegal.

In addition, developments in technology and globalisation have significantly increased the pace of life for most people; we work longer hours to survive or because it is demanded of us, we juggle more commitments than ever before, we are expected to absorb and process huge amounts of information instantaneously all of which has sped up our lives to the point of sensory overload but are our bodies and minds really designed to cope with this long-term? When I was at university I studied during the day and worked nights so the maximum amount of sleep I would get in any 24 hour period was about 4 hours and this was broken sleep, usually between 4pm and 8pm. At that time the drug of choice was pro plus and without it, I would not have been able to sustain this lifestyle for three years. I’d like to say this was just a small period in my life that such actions were needed to follow my dream but the reality is that as the work-life balance blurs and demands on our time increase, time to sleep erodes and our bodies are not designed to operate well on minimal sleep. This naturally leads to the inclusion of stimulants in our daily lives to help us to function, whether that be caffeine or cocaine is a personal choice but potentially a necessary evil if we wish to survive.

That is not say that I condone the use of illicit drugs but that does not mean that I can’t see the potential benefits of such substances. There are numerous documentaries highlighting the use of uppers to stay awake and downers to sleep amongst the celebrity population whose lifestyles can be chaotic. The question is, has this chaos now spread to wider society as the cost of living increases and the political momentum for us to ‘do more’ continues to grow? If it has, then illicit drugs will remain a staple part of societies coping mechanism, whether that be too dull the harshness of daily life or enable us to survive in a changing environment.

Sex Offender Treatment: A Waste of Time and Effort?

SOTP

Helen is an Associate Lecturer teaching modules in years 1 and 3.

Earlier this year, the Prison Service announced that the Core Sex Offender Treatment Programme and the Extended Sex Offender Treatment Programme would be withdrawn with immediate effect. Offenders in the middle of programmes would be able to complete, but no new programmes would start. No explanation was given. A new suite of programmes, focussed on building strengths for the future rather than analysing past offending, had already been developed but a gradual roll-out had been planned rather than a sudden switch. There were many murmurings among Parole Board members. Why the sudden withdrawal? How would sex offenders now be able to demonstrate that they had reduced their risk? Where was the evidence that the new programmes were any better? We suspected that there had been an unfavourable evaluation, but no one had seen the research.

The truth came to light via The Mail on Sunday on 25th June. There had, indeed, been an unfavourable evaluation of the Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP). When compared to matched offenders who had not completed treatment, those who had done so were more likely to re-offend. The Ministry of Justice had withdrawn the programme but had not published the research. They finally did so on 30th June.

The decision to sit on the research was not helpful. The first information we received about it was filtered through the eyes  of The Mail on Sunday. They claimed that “Prisoners who take the rehabilitation courses are at least 25% more likely to be convicted of further sex crimes that those who do not.” This is not true. Of the 2,562 treated sex offenders included in the study, 10% went on to commit another sexual offence. The figure for the matched untreated offenders was 8%. 90% of sex offenders, treated or untreated, did not reoffend within the follow-up period (average 8.2 years). But it is true that treatment made people worse. Two percentage points is a small difference, but with such a large sample size it is significant. The research is robust and well-designed. A randomised control trial would have been more robust, but the matched comparisons in this study were done thoroughly and every attempt was made to take account of possible confounding variables. You can read the study for yourself here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/impact-evaluation-of-the-prison-based-core-sex-offender-treatment-programme

and the Mail‘s interpretation of it here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4635876/amp/Scandal-100million-sex-crime-cure-hubs.html

So why did treatment make offenders more likely to reoffend? At this stage we really don’t know. The authors of the research make some suggestions but they are only speculating. Perhaps talking about sex offending in a group setting “normalises” offending. Perhaps groupwork provides offenders with opportunities to network. Perhaps these programmes promoted shame  in offenders which ultimately reduced self-esteem and self-efficacy and reduced the chances of building a positive and fulfilling future. The new programmes draw more from the desistance literature. They include much less offence analysis and are more focussed on building strengths for a positive future. They may be more likely to succeed but we will not know for several years until we have had the chance to evaluate them.

So where does that leave the offenders and staff who have worked hard on these programmes over the years? Sex offender treatment is expensive, tiring and takes a psychological toll on those delivering it. A prison officer once told me that delivering SOTP was the best and most fulfilling thing he had ever done, but also the most damaging. A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a former colleague who used to run SOTP and we reflected, “Was all of that effort for nothing?” We have to take the research seriously, learn the lessons and move on. There is no denying the findings. But perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. SOTP was based on the best research available at the time. It was modified and developed over the years in the light of emerging research. It might have “worked” for some participants, even if it made others worse. We assessed and came to understand a large number of sex offenders. As a result of that work and this evaluation, we now have a better understanding of what might work to reduce reoffending in the future. Of course, there is an argument that all attempts at rehabilitation are futile, that people choose to behave as they wish and we should not try to manipulate them to change. But perhaps that’s a subject for another blog!

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