What makes a concept great?

A worthy question for isolation Day Three.

There are so many influential factors but the first and perhaps most obvious is does it or will it add value to a market or industry sector.

That may seem a rather off piste way to start this particular conversation today, on a blog dedicated to making a positive contribution to or reflections of the justice sector in Scotland, but I find myself travelling back in time to explore life experience when I am asked to consider or evaluate not only concepts which are already in existence but also concepts which perhaps struggle at times to communicate their message effectively to the very people who need to hear it.

Having been involved in concept creation for too long to remember I have a confession to make this morning.

A year ago almost to the day I found myself falling – hook, line and sinker -for the concept of Community Justice and what I perceived the ideals of Community Justice to be.  

Why did it resonate so heavily with me? I’ll come back to that later if I may. Although at the same time perhaps I should reflect on why it was new to me.

Can I ask you today –  as a private individual exercise –  to ask yourselves a few simple questions but perhaps with more difficulty answer them entirely honestly for yourself. Why?

Because it is my contention that many are consciously or otherwise disconnected from their role in Justice as a result of personal perception or institutionalised practice which leads to a mentality which inhibits rather than encourages growth for yourself and those around you.

This First Time Inside journey was formed by asking why have we never considered that individuals and their families may need support from the point of colliding with justice to entering prison? Why did that service or provision not already exist when we are a society and sector brimming with intelligence and compassion?

If I was to ask you to consider that there but for the grace of your God go you, in a justice context, what is your honest, natural response. My contention again is that a sufficient percentage of those blessed with the position to care for those we find colliding with justice do not believe that to be the case and that presents an enormous barrier to progress. A humanity inhibitor or message blocker if you like.

Anyway, back to those questions and I must apologise if there are triggers within these for some readers.

Can you imagine being treated like a second class citizen?

I don’t mean being kept waiting for the table you have booked at your favourite restaurant or seeing your Amazon Prime delivery arrive a day later than scheduled despite you paying for the service but more being told you have to stand at the back of the queue because you – as a person – have no right to stand near the front?

Could you imagine being accepting of that?

Reaching a point where you believe it’s ok for someone to treat you in line with their own embedded preconceptions and prejudices. Allowing someone else to tell you that your value to society is less than theirs.

And perhaps most important. Could imagine standing aside and allowing a member of your family, a loved one or someone you care for being treated in such a repugnant manner?

How would you feel if I suggested that we as a community allow that to happen every day to other peoples loved ones, their partners, their families and those that they care about?

When a lawyer’s advice prior to a client going to prison amounts to “keep your head down and your nose clean”, when an appointed CJSW treated someone with a stunning lack of common decency and prison staff were intentionally degrading all were representative of a system which had become lazy and devoid of compassion.

Why did I fall in love with the concept or product that is Community Justice?

Perhaps because it flew in the face of my own personal experience of our Justice system but perhaps more importantly because it seemed to be borne out of a spirit which positively reeks of humanity, kindness and relentlessly doing the right thing.

Because of my background I am puzzled when I hear that the concept fails to connect with those it needs to reach and I instinctively feel energised to help address that issue because after all if education and awareness are the only barriers to success then what are we waiting for?

Community Justice should be a conversation at every dinner table in Scotland I believe it’s that important. This concept saves lives people and we cannot afford to let another life be lost to laziness, or to a Victorian mindset and a compassion gap so glaring it is an affront to humanity.

It’s true there have been time’s, over the course of the past year, in this justice sector I have felt as welcome as a hole in a lifeboat but when you witness that the fear of deviating from guidelines and worn out practices appears greater than the fear of failing the people we are all supposed to serve I am not minded to step aside.

Last week I was privileged to be asked to present on my own concept of Prehabilitation at the relaunch of Community Justice in Renfrewshire. Inviting those in attendance to engage was initially nerve wracking but ultimately rewarding.

Prehabilitation and the idea of adopting a Prehabilitative lens has I believe the potential to influence and support change, to support Community Justice indeed.

Prehabilitation is not a new word, it’s quite commonly used in a medical context – it refers to preparing a patient for a forthcoming procedure – but in my head it was a word which explained to me where the focus had to be on the justice continuum.

My thinking was simply that, if we fail to help people prepare for their journey then we are effectively contributing to their failure to overcome their next challenge, we, in point of fact become complicit in their likely failure.

Adopting a mindset and lens of Prehabilitation means engaging with kindness and compassion, treating others as you’d have them treat you not how you think they should be treated based on a preconceived view of their circumstances and how they arrived there at any given time. Envision how you would like to be treated and reflect that in your contact with others. For me Prehabilitation is prevention on steroids.

The feedback from those in Renfrewshire and also from those at East Dunbartonshire where I presented later in the same week was massively encouraging. It suggested that compassion is rife and easily engaged.

Those in Scotland tasked with delivering Community Justice have a big job – little understatement there I suspect – but they should feel some comfort knowing that many of us are 100% behind their aims. We may identify different methods of achieving our collective stretch aims but we all have similar visions of success and how that looks to us.

First Time Inside is a fully signed up conscript to the prevention army which Karyn McCluskey of Community Justice Scotland says we need. Feel free to join in, let’s educate from Sheriff to dinner table, let’s drive the compassion into homes and workplaces. Don’t allow intellectual snobbery to get in the way, the product (Community Justice) is magnificent but remember people buy people – we can’t just tell them it’s brilliant and expect them to engage, we need to show them in a way they connect with and we need to think in terms of a means to an end as opposed to how we personally think it should be done.

Remember engaging with kindness and compassion requires courage but the rewards for that display of bravery could be life changing for some and game changing for Scotland. That makes it worth the effort?

We all need to do better because without leaning into hyperbole lives are stake as the short account so kindly shared with us today by Linda Allan, highlights powerfully, the mother of a young girl who tragically lost her life in one of our prisons.

These are Linda’s own thoughts and words, my thanks to her for demonstrating unimaginable courage to share them on this platform.

“How can I sum up what happened to Katie in a few paragraphs? I don’t need paragraphs, just a few short sentences is enough.

Katie was so badly let down by the so called justice system in Scotland, she died. That is what happened – in a nutshell.

Where do I begin to list all those who played their part in our nightmare? Probably I should start with Katie, after all she broke the law. Katie was the one who said ‘yes’ when she should have said ‘no’ to the ‘so called’ friend who asked for a lift home.

Yet Katie, who have never even received a speeding ticket, immediately admitted her guilt. As soon as she was interviewed by the police, terrified, without a solicitor, she admitted guilt and voiced her only concern – for the young man she had injured.

Other than Katie, who played their part? There was the court appointed lawyer. Overworked, over friendly, minimising the seriousness of the charges, all but dismissing the possibility of custody, in fact dismissing it with a wave of her hand.

Then a Sheriff who chose to ignore the criminal justice social work report recommendations, the character references, the victim’s family, the numerous reports and guidelines on female offending and Katie’s own impeccable record.

He had a choice and opted that the way to deal with a terrified young woman was to sentence her to 16 months in custody. Perhaps he thought Katie required rehabilitation? Or perhaps he felt she was a danger to the public? I really don’t think either, but to this day I have no idea what the purpose of such a sentence was?

There was of course the inevitable appeal, which took months and a small fortune, only for a QC to advise us that it was better for Katie to serve the few weeks left in prison than to risk a negative appeal outcome. I wonder if she still agrees with her advice today?

But perhaps the main character in this story was the Scottish prison service, who despite saying on numerous occasions ‘your daughter shouldn’t be here’, ultimately led Katie to her death. Strip searching, cell searches, having ‘too many books’, denying access to medical help, offering no mental health treatment and ignoring the endless days and nights of torment from other prisoners. Then simply locking up a highly distressed young woman who was at the end of all she could bear and walked away. Leaving Katie with a mind in deep distress, a dressing gown belt and to a hook on the wall. Leaving Katie to die alone, in a cell.

You would be forgiven for thinking that would be the end of our tragic story. It has not been. 2 years after her sentencing, and almost 2 years following Katie’s death, the trauma is relentless. There has been no end to the trauma inflicted by Scotland’s justice system.

We have yet to meet the Crown’s family liaison officer. Beyond the words ‘ everything will take a very long time’ and ‘ here is a copy of your daughters post mortem report’ we have heard nothing. Yes, we have met with a deputy advocate, at a meeting where we explained the latest evidence on self inflicted deaths, the prevalence of deaths in custody and the countless inspection reports highlighting themes of excessive control, isolation and bullying.

And a meeting with the SPS Governor, who put her head in her hands and said ‘don’t tell me anymore’ as I listed Katie’s experiences in her establishment, before handing me 4 bags of Katie’s belongings.

A chief inspector from HMIPS who on national TV said that the place where our daughter died was a ‘ leading edge institution that Scotland can be proud of’.

Yes the trauma continues.

In our search to uncover all that happened to Katie and continues to happen to us, and to somehow understand the extent of the INJUSTICE of it all, we have discovered what we have described as a ‘hidden massacre’ of deaths in custody. We do not apologise for this. Scotland is far from a so called civilised society. A civilised society does not lock up a 20 year old young woman and leave her to die. Nor does it take a 16 year old boy off observations and leave him to die. Nor leave a young mentally ill man screaming for help, or taunt yet another young man with falsified reports of his crime that cause him to take his own life.

Community justice? Katie wasn’t given a choice. Justice? No, this was not justice. Katie was denied justice. She was not and is not alone.”

Thanks as always to everyone who takes the time to read this First Time Inside blog and as always please do feel free to contact us with any comment after doing so.

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The world is in a strange and scary place right now, stay safe folks @firsttimeinside out.

Another blog on Hidden Voices coming soon.

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