A Gaping HOLE in the WHOLE System Approach…?

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As anticipated in my previous post, the make up of the new Criminal Justice Board (CJB) is missing vital ingredients – anyone speaking for offender needs and perspectives.

After well over 20 years of working with young offenders, it’s clear to me that whilst some seem to be “hardened” and resistant to change, many would welcome more help to turn things around, put things right and get on track towards a crime-free life.

Even a cursory read of the various aims and mission statements of the organisations sitting on the CRB would reveal that their aims are exactly the same – to reduce offending, particularly re-offending.  So we’re all agreed: less crime is a good thing.

But this noble goal of cutting crime isn’t one of many. It’s not merely one of a list of priorities.  It is actually our raison d’etre.

If we think about it, other factors at stake in the system (delivering swift and fair justice on a limited budget; ensuring victims’ voices are heard; protection of the public…..) all hinge on the fact that crime occurs in the first place. Cutting crime will necessarily impact positively on all these other areas.

That the CJB is now taking a “whole system” approach can only be a good thing.  Drawing together the operational heads of the relevant agencies in order to iron out barriers to effective working, will surely help and should be applauded.  One even wonders why this hasn’t happened before…

That said, when I read the MoJ email update today, what struck me was the unspoken elephant in the room – no agency that speaks for offenders.  Clearly this is a massive hole in the whole system approach?  If we are to reduce offending, there must be an offender-based approach.

We know enough about crime to state with confidence that it generally doesn’t become an issue for those from loving and stable backgrounds.  The obvious implication, therefore, is that it does become an issue for those from less stable and neglectful homes. So whilst enforcement,  prosecution and political leadership are all key, none of these actually deals with putting these causal problems right.

So if the board is to take a genuinely whole system approach, it needs to look more closely at the  literature about the causes of crime and begin to mediate these issues in the lives of those who offend.

Before they become “offenders” these are people who are angry, distrustful and damaged; people who’ve been rejected, ignored and abused.  They are first and foremost people.  If we are to work with their own agenda to sort things out and move on from a life of crime, we must focus on the kinds of issues which we know aggravate their own efforts and can fuel offending.

For example:

  • Un-diagnosed &/or untreated health issues: learning difficulties, brain injury, dyslexia, memory problems, anxiety, depression/bipolar disorder, extreme stress, panic attacks, post traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive problems, hypervigilance…
  • Educational issues: illiteracy, innumeracy, social and relational skills deficits, receptive and/or expressive language problems…
  • Not to mention plain old loneliness, having no investment in a functioning society, no real financial prospects, fear of the future, shortened life expectancy, lack of hope – to mention but a few

So, if the CRB is to take a whole system approach, they would do well to consider how they can bolster their ranks with those who really know why offenders function as they do, as well as those who deal with the dysfunction when it emerges as criminal behaviour.

People who might be usefully help the CJB with this are:

  • Representatives from health (particularly those from psychiatry and psychology, as well as GPs) who can bring a developmental perspective as well as the usual primary care input
  • Specialist educational professionals with expertise in, for example, learning difficulties and attentional problems
  • Offender-orientated groups dealing with conditions in custody, penal reform, families of offenders, advocacy, housing, etc.

Whilst this clearly isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s clear already that there is a significant gap in the pantheon of voices contributing to the CJB.  I applaud the establishment of the Board, I have no doubt at all that those already in place are key to the effective working of the system…

We just need to plug this gaping hole in the whole system approach and re-focus on what really matters –  recovery and rehabilitation.

© Jonny Matthew 2013

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