The Government's Approach to Crime Prevention - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Annex A: Meeting with User Voice


User Voice is a national organisation led and delivered by ex-offenders which aims to reduce offending by presenting the voice of the most marginalised people in and around the criminal justice system to decision-makers.

On 8 February 2010 we met with seven former offenders aged 16-24 from different parts of England, all of whom had spent time in prison. We asked them to discuss, from their personal experiences and those of their peers, the reasons why young people are drawn into crime as well as their views of the interventions aimed at preventing young people from offending and re-offending. We summarise the main points they raised below.

Causes of crime

  • Many young people lack positive role models in their communities. They are exposed to the "fame" that a criminal lifestyle can bring without seeing the downsides, such as the realities of prison. More contact with individuals from their own communities who have "made it" could help young people appreciate the benefits of a more stable, non-criminal lifestyle.
  • User Voice representatives did not believe it was not possible to generalise too much about why people commit crime. For example, not all of the offenders came from broken homes or perceived themselves as having problems with their parents, although absent fathers were common. Not all had been unemployed at the time of offending, although in some cases employment provided an incentive to change behaviour. Not all did poorly at school.
  • Most of the former offenders first committed an offence or engaged in behaviour clearly leading to an offence in their early teens, although some admitted to behavioural problems under the age of ten. There was a clear escalation from playground fights to more serious violent offending.
  • From their experiences, offending begins to spiral out of control when individuals feel that they have no alternative options.
  • Poor self-esteem and a lack of resilience make it difficult for individuals to walk away from conflict.

Schools

  • User Voice representatives considered that children from deprived backgrounds are not ready emotionally to start academic learning at the age of five. The education system should focus more on conflict resolution and emotional development. Automatic exclusion does nothing to address the causes of behaviour.
  • The transition from primary to secondary school is very important in determining future behaviour. At-risk children would benefit from mentoring to help them through this process. Mentors should not be teachers but individuals who they can relate to, such as ex-offenders.
  • Better education about the realities of sentencing and prison would help to deter some young people from offending. There could be a role for ex-offenders in this process.

Communities

  • User Voice representatives had not come across any organisations mediating between street gangs. They considered there is a need for more community mediators. In some communities it can be very difficult for individuals to avoid involvement in gangs and still live an everyday life.
  • Youth clubs will not prevent offending. Participating in leisure activities feels good at the time, but does nothing to solve everyday problems.

The Criminal Justice System

  • It had taken a long time for offenders to receive a serious sentence and associated interventions—meaning they were not forced to challenge their own behaviour. In their view, criminal cases should be dealt with more efficiently.
  • Short-term jail sentences tended not to motivate offenders to change.
  • The former offenders considered that they had not been sufficiently consulted about the kinds of training course they were interested in or felt they would benefit from, which limited their rehabilitation and ability to learn new skills.
  • Prisoners are released into unsafe environments, such as hostels where they are surrounded by drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Probation services should be more focused on the first day of release and resettlement considerations should be dealt with further in advance of release.
  • The first few weeks after release feels like a fresh start but a lack of employment and support can lead ex-offenders to return to old habits.

Voice of the user in decision-making

  • User Voice representatives were shocked at what they perceive as the amount of money wasted on the criminal justice "industry". Decision-makers are not listening to the right people. Professional policy-makers have implemented schemes (such as anti-knife crime initiatives) which have no resonance with the target audience.
  • Many organisations claiming to be representing young offenders do not in fact represent their views.
  • User Voice would be interested in setting up a network of regional reference groups of former offenders for MPs to access.




 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2010
Prepared 23 March 2010