Space for Reflections on Sheffield Seminar


Knowing my capabilities with technology (“v. poor”), thi smight not work, but given that we’ve no formal discussion space it occurred to me that if people who attended the Sheffield seminars wished to make comments on the film or the day in general, then replying to this post ought to kick start a discussion.

Well, thats that plan …

I’ll set one up for London too.






Change or Control? Why risk is risky

If I sort out the technology, you should find here…

…or on the Useful Resources page, the audio recording and powerpoint from a short talk I gave this morning at event organised by the irrepressible Beth Weaver, for the Centre for Law, Crime and Justice, at the Risk Management Authority in Paisley. The event was a chance for people involved with MAPPA (Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements) in London and Scotland to get together and compare notes about how they do their work.itle — Change or Control? — reflects a dialogue that Beth and I have been having with London Probation Trust about public protection work. This dates back about 18 months now, and has centred on trying to workout together how to connect develop MAPPA practices and systems in ways that support change rather than just managing risks.

The first twenty minutes of the talk is basically a resume of the recently published IRISS Insight (which you can find on the Useful Resources page) in which Claire, Shadd, Steve and I summarise evidence about desistance and its implications for CJ practices and systems. If you have already heard or read that, you might want to start at about 22 minutes where I start to discuss the tensions between desistance-based and risk-based practices. Here, I’m drawing on some of my own research, but more on Shadd’s, on Alison Liebling’s and on Leon Digard’s — all of whom in different ways have highlight the tensions between developing the kind of trusting relationships that can support change, and being a risk manager.

Very interested to hear comments on this…

Michelle Alexander: New Frontiers in Race and Criminal Justice

Following on from Reuben Miller’s brilliant recent post on ‘Carceral Politics are Local too: Racial geography and prisoner reentry in the USA’, I wanted to draw people’s attention to an equally excellent podcast from NYU Law School, which features Michelle Alexander’s keynote address to a recent conference there:

This is definitely worth a watch. It covers a lot of issues, and contains a fair bit of personal and professional self-examination and reflection, explaining how a civil rights lawyer ended up feeling compelled to research and write a book about the racial politics of mass incarceration in the USA. Most relevant to readers of this blog however, are her comments on how the mass criminalisation and penalisation of urban African American men has created a new ‘undercaste’. Not an underclass, she argues, but a permanently disenfranchised and marginalised ethnic minority – a group against whom racial discrimination is ‘justified’ on the grounds of their status as criminals, despite the fact that that status itself is the product of racism and exclusion.

Please listen to the end. There is a rallying cry there that we all need to hear.

Book Series on Desistance and Rehabilitation

The book series below (which also has Ros Burnett, Fergus and Shadd on the Editorial Board, alongside a few others) is starting to build up a head of steam, with two books out, another two out very soon and a fifth (by Sam King) being commissioned:

Alisa’s book will be of interest to anyone interested in therapeutic communities, whilst Adam’s deals with desistance amongst ethnic minorities – both make fascinating reads.



Rodney King


An interesting little article here about Rodney King (yes, THAT Rodney King). At one point the author (Rory Carroll) writes that

“LA, to an extent, has also been redeemed. Racial tensions have ebbed, crime has tumbled, the police have reformed and there is a growing black middle class. It would be nice to leave it there. But the city, like King, is ambivalent, full of light and shade. Poverty and unemployment still plague a black underclass. Inequalities are widening, not narrowing. Parts of south central LA remain covered in rubble and weeds from the riots”.

King’s life since his encounter with LAPD is a mixture of “light and shade” too.


All in all a thought-provoking article.





Evidence to Home Affairs Committee


Russel Brand has just finished giving evidence on drugs (based on his own past usage and rehabilitation) to the Home Affairs Committee:

At various points he echoes many of the sorts of sentiments I hold;

Q: Is addiction self-induced? And does it involve victims?

Brand says the victims of drug-related crimes need to be taken care of. He says he met a senior police officer recently who argued that addiction should be seen as an illness. Brand says he committed crimes when he was an addict. Chip Somers was an armed robber.

Q: So does there need to be a carrot and a stick?

Brand says there is no need for a carrot or a stick. Addicts need love and compassion.


Evidence like this from someone like Brand may help to shift attitudes towards ‘softer’ attitudes about those using drugs. Lets hope so.







Carceral Politics are Local too: Racial geography and prisoner reentry in the USA

This guest post comes from Reuben Jonathan Miller, who is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at Loyola University Chicago. He studies the prisoner reentry experiences of Black and Latino men in the U.S. His work is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the American Society of Criminology.

Some scholarly attention has been given to the historic increase in the U.S. prison population, the selective targeting of poor Black (and Latino) men, and the historic prison expansion project, with more prisons being built in the last three decades than in the entire history of the country. Scholars and activists alike have long attributed this “race to incarcerate” to backlash from the civil rights movement, “law and order” politics, and the unlikely agreement of policy makers and  academics that rehabilitation has been “utterly abandoned.” These “truths” about mass (or hyper) incarceration have been taken for granted for nearly two decades. I argue, however, that there’s more to this story. Rehabilitation did not die in the U.S., the U.S. has simply changed the way it rehabilitates, increasing the already long reach of the penal state into the lives of the urban poor.

Rehabilitation, like all social services, has been privatized and outsourced, moving outside prison walls and into the church basements and therapy rooms of the nonprofit, prisoner reentry organizations that operate within low income inner city neighborhoods. Put differently, the criminal justice system now contracts rehabilitation to publicly funded, private, nonprofit organizations operating within the very inner city neighborhoods from which poor Black and Latino residents are over policed, over arrested, and to which they overwhelmingly return, by the droves. While there has been a deluge of impact studies measuring the efficacy of these organizations, we don’t know much about how these programs operate, or the role they play in the communities they serve. What we do know is that both mass incarceration and prisoner rehabilitation have a distinctly racial geography.

Take Chicago, IL as a case study. Illinois has a 1:1 ratio of inmates admitted and discharged each year, over half (54% of the over 35,000 discharged annually) return to just six of 77 Chicago community areas; all six are racially segregated with poverty, crime, and unemployment rates triple the national average. Unsurprisingly, just four of these neighborhoods, each with African Americans representing 60 to 80 percent of their total populations, house 2/3 of all known reentry organizations in the city.

This decidedly racial geography becomes even more important when considering what reentry organizations do. Prior to the rise of the “what works movement,” and the full throated press of law and order policies, rehabilitation, at least in theory, focused on the needs of prisoners, and attempted to address the risks they would encounter in their attempts to desist from crime. Although resources were scarce, some prisoners could access vocational training, work release programs, substance abuse treatment and education, all of which were considered uncontroversial. In recent years these individually tailored programs and efforts by the state to formally connect prisoners to the worlds of work have been replaced by “treatment groups” led by social service workers and “work readiness training,” alternately called “workforce development; a series of services designed to foster the “soft skills” and “life skills” necessary to secure employment. This seems innocuous and even helpful on its surface.  Criminologists and policy makers, following a vigorous debate around the “urban underclass” designed programs based on the assumption that former prisoners lack the social and emotional skills needed to care for themselves. In response, education, job training and individualized substance abuse counseling have been replaced by deficits based self help groups. This shift in programmatic offering is curious considering it occurs at the same time the prison “blackened.” In just under 30 years the U.S. prison population went from being nearly 2/3 white to 2/3 nonwhite.

So what does it mean for policing, incarceration, and even prisoner rehabilitation to overwhelmingly take place in low income communities of color? What’s really at stake when rehabilitative services focus on the psychological and emotional dispositions of former prisoners, envisioned as Black and Latino men in need of motivation and higher self esteem? Does any of it matter if former prisoners can’t get jobs?  I think these questions are important. It is my firm belief that it’s not enough to follow the evidence base in practice without ever questioning the evidence base. By doing so, perhaps we can begin a new conversation about prisoner rehabilitation.