The User Voice of the Criminal Justice System

The User Voice of the Criminal Justice System

We have to be here, we have to tell them, so those who come after us have a chance.

This seminar organised by Mark Johnson in April 2008 and the resultant report were the first steps of our ongoing dialogue with those who have first hand experience of the criminal justice system. It was designed as a unique approach to criminal justice evaluation.

All 35 delegates were serving prisoners or ex-offenders, clocking up 200 years of incarceration between them. The event was run and organised entirely by the offenders themselves, including the design of the questions: neither the funder nor administrators, although present, took part in the discussions which helped increase levels of confidence and openness within the group.

It means a lot to hear my experiences played back to me and realise I am not alone.

The report’s impact on policy makers and service providers was so great that it provided the impetus to establish User Voice in order to refine and replicate a model for direct communication between service providers and service users within the criminal justice system.

The conclusions included the following:

  • Crime is most likely a secondary factor of other circumstances or pre-disposing conditions, which need to be addressed in a therapeutic environment from the beginning of a custodial sentence.

  • Prison programmes should be subjected to service user evaluations to enable more effective and cost-efficient delivery and to give offenders a voice in their own rehabilitation and resettlement.

  • Peer-to-peer support should be more widely available as it was often described as a key factor in the process of change.

  • Support services for prisoners need to be joined-up to enable easier access as current provisions are so fragmented that offenders often fall through the cracks.

  • More prison staff are needed, but appropriate training could give existing staff the right screening tools so that they could identify each individual’s needs, from drug treatment to employment.

  • The user voice should become a natural point of reference at all parts of the journey to rehabilitation; from prison councils to consultation exercises and forums post-release.