Having lived experience of the criminal justice system is one thing, having organisations around like Revolving Doors who provide a platform for me to tap into my lived experience is priceless.
You see, for me, the campaign work I do is not just a passion, it is also part of my recovery and rehabilitation. It is what gives me purpose. A reason to live.
I begin each day trying to be a better person than I was the day before.
The impact on me personally of being able to share my experiences, my voice, and for it not only to be listened to but also valued and respected is immeasurable. I love what I do and because of what I do, I love the person I am and that can’t be measured.
What can be measured though is the impact I see the voices of others, and my own, having in the co-development of projects, practices, and policies such as the RECONNECT programme from the NHS, or an online resource from the Ministry of Justice, or the plans we co-produced at Revolving Doors with the recently reformed Probation Service, and many more.
The confidence and belief I have in myself, strengthened because of my involvement in the lived experienced team at Revolving Doors, empowers me to be involved elsewhere.
The reduction of reoffending is, indeed, an important goal and something which can be achieved through intervention. The earlier the better.
However, it is said ‘prevention is better than the cure’ and nowhere is prevention more needed than at the point of entry to the school to prison pipeline. School exclusions.
In 2013, the university of Edinburgh carried out research into the problem of prison overcrowding in Scotland. The following quote is from Professor Susan McVie, a co-director of the study, who said:
“The study findings show that one of the keys to tackling Scotland’s high imprisonment rates is to tackle school exclusion. If we could find more imaginative ways of retaining the most challenging children in mainstream education and ensuring that school is a positive experience for all Scotland’s young people, this would be a major step forward.”
In October, the BBC published a news report regarding schools in Glasgow where over the past ten years school exclusions have been reduced by 88%. In the same period youth crime has dropped by 50%.
In 2017, the Ministry of Justice disclosed that almost two-thirds of prisoners had been excluded from school.
As things stand, the future life-chances for children excluded from school are grim at best.
Through the Careers and Enterprise Company, I spend some of my time working as a volunteer Enterprise Adviser. I’m linked to a Pupil Referral Unit, Will Adams, which is in Gillingham, Kent.
“The Careers and Enterprise Company was set up by the government in 2015, their mission is to help every young person to find their best next step and are the national body for careers education in England, delivering support to schools and colleges to deliver modern, 21st century careers education.”
“Real world learning, knowledge, inspiration, and advice is gained through multiple employer and workplace engagements, exposure to further and higher education, as well as through the curriculum and in 1-2-1 personal guidance.”
Which coincidentally, is similar to what lived experience brings to the table.
At Will Adams, my role as an Enterprise Adviser comes with my lived experience of the school to prison pipeline, and therefore, my involvement is so much more than just connecting Will Adams to the relevant employers.
‘Inclusion not exclusion’ is relatable to our education and criminal justice systems. It is also relevant to the voices of people with lived experience.
Back to our criminal justice system, and especially the prison system. A system which is very much a part of society and therefore, it is in everyone’s interest to include the voices of people who are, or who have been, most impacted by the policies and practices. Of whichever system.
We say hindsight is a wonderful thing. I see lived experience as being that hindsight. We have, however, only experienced it from our own perspective, and for me that is exactly why we need as many different voices as possible. I also see the involvement of lived experience as being essential in the creation and development of research, service provision and most definitely in the creation and development of policies and practices. Of whichever system.
Basically, unless you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes don’t tell them how to tie their laces.