Tag Archives: Young Offenders

Why I Don’t Love My Job (Sometimes)

In my last post, I talked about restorative justice, how incredible it is and how much I love working in restorative justice at a Youth Offending Service. But I do more than facilitate RJ mtgs – I also organise and supervise young people’s reparation work and manage one or two young people on their court orders.

One of the difficulties of working with young offenders is that it is sometimes difficult to remember that not all young people are ‘offenders’. We happen to work with the small percentage of young people who are convicted of offences, but it can taint your view of young people in general. Furthermore, it can be hard to start work with an individual and take them on face-value alone, not the ideas you have formed about them already from the offence details and court information.

However, since my last post our team had a case review day where we all looked in detail at three cases, to discuss and analyse the young people’s circumstances, review how we as a team have worked with them and to look at possible ways of working with them in future.  The overwhelming feeling that I came away with was a sense of sadness for just how messy and tragic the lives of a lot of the young people we work with are. It was quite easy to find myself questioning what the hell we are doing punishing some of these young people who have had the most awful childhoods. It’s not that this was a new discovery for me; just that we were analysing real cases, of people I had worked with, as opposed to just looking a statistics.

When we unpicked the childhood backgrounds for some of these young people there were horrific events, broken relationships, violences, and more pain than anybody should have to bear – never mind children. It was hard to imagine myself going through what these young people had gone through and being any better myself. It was also hard to accept the realisation that these young people weren’t the only ones to have gone through those kinds of childhoods. A huge number of children will suffer those experiences without ever resorting to offending. This realisation: that for many, many children their childhood is, quite frankly, shit – has stayed with me ever since that day.

Then, last week, we had some training around ‘human traficking’. If you don’t know much about this issue, then please, please take a minute to visit Stop the Traffik, as this issue needs more awareness. Without going into great detail about trafficking – I was stunned to learn the extent of the problem. For example: worldwide, traffickers are earning twice as much profit as Coca Cola earns. And I was disgusted to hear of how many people worldwide are still being bought, sold or forced into being nothing more than commodities.  The problem is huge in the UK and even in my town. We were being trained to recognise whether the young people we work with are being trafficked or groomed for potential trafficking. This problem is real and it is a threat to young people as well as adults. The stories were heard were heartbreaking and terrifying. I spent a lot of the training thinking about my little daughter, and how I just want to keep her in the house forever to keep her safe.

So, the last couple of weeks have been tough because I have a tendency to dwell on these things and worry. I often catch the bus home, and standing at the bus stop on several occasions I have found myself people watching and having a heightened awareness of just how many people are drunk, high,  aggressive or anti-social in the town centre during the day. But I have also been more aware of how people talk to children. How many people seem alone. How many people seem like they are carrying pain. And it’s very easy to start to despise society, to see the bad rather than the good, to worry about what kind of a world I brought my daughter into, to wonder whether I/we can really make a difference.

However, it is often little things that snap me out of this thinking. I recently worked with a young man on reparation. He was so impressive in his work and so respectful and polite, particularly towards a lady we were working with. And there was just one moment, where he insisted that he do a difficult job instead of her – a little moment of chivalry(?) – that hit me and reminded me that essentially, people are good. Yes, many of our young people are damaged, and yes, the world is often crap for them, but – nearly always – the good still shines through. Even the young people with severe offences can be lovely to work with and have so much to give. The young people we discussed in  the case review day were all young people I had worked with, and whom I had enjoyed working with. In fact, it is extremely rare that I work with a young person that I don’t like. It’s just that often, I have to remember to look for the good.

Whilst writing this, I thought about when I was standing at the bus stop recently, looking at all the problems around me. It just dawned on me that I did see a young lad insist that an elderly couple get on the bus before him, but I hadn’t dwelt on that. I was sat next to a young couple with baby twins who looked so happy and content, but I was more concerned with the angry drunk over the road. And I had forgotten to consider why he was drunk and why he was angry.

This is why I do my job. Because I believe that people are inherently good. Many/most are damaged but they are still good. Take a ten pound note and scribble on it, tear it, stamp on it, screw it up – it’s still worth ten pounds.* Surely those that traffick humans need to somehow reduce them to commodities to be able to traffick them. If they truly saw them as human beings, I struggle to believe that they could continue in their trade. And I struggle to do my job if I only see the young people I work with as offenders, or fail to remember why they ended up offending, because I can’t then relate to them. In fact, I would be doing a bad job because I would be perpetuating the crap that they have gone through and reinforcing their criminality.

A big part of our work is to show young people that they are inherently good, that they can contribute to society, that they can overcome their situations. And RJ is brilliant for helping this to take place, which is why I love my job -most of the time!

[*This was taken from a talk given by the father of a murdered young man to some of our young people. I think it was the main point that most of the young people had taken away with them]



Why I Love My Job

On the left side of the stage sits a middle-aged lady who, when she speaks, looks like she is holding back a torrent of emotion. Each sentence is carefully considered before she can speak it, and when she speaks her eyes roll upwards like she’s trying not to cry.  On the right hand of the stage is a small, older lady who seems unusually comfortable with being there. She is holding her head up, looking around at the audience whilst the first lady speaks. When she speaks later, she speaks clearly and eloquently. In between them both sits a tall, young man. He looks successful, smart – might work with computers. When the ladies speak, he keeps his head down and looks like he is feeling their emotions with them.

Yesterday, I attended a conference about Restorative Justice. It was opened by Crispin Blunt MP, then we had talks by academics and big players in criminal/restorative justice circles. All great stuff. But then, halfway through the day, these three people were brought to the stage.

The lady on the left explains how a male had attacked and assaulted this lady’s husband on their doorstep.  She described the trauma this incident had put their entire family through, and how they had been denied their ‘day in court’ because of a late guilty plea. The system is so poor that they only then found out the case result via the local press, along with a string of horror stories about the offender. She told us about the day she met with the offender, on her own because her family were not supportive of Restorative Justice. She told us about how it had enabled her to ask questions, to hold the person to account, to be able to let them know just how it felt, and to be able to start to put it behind her. She also talked about how it had completely shifted her thinking about the offender and the offence, and that she had needed to ‘repackage’ them for her family. Her families views about the offender were driven by the press stories, but she had now met the offender and seen them as a person.

The man in the middle was asked to talk next. He talked about an incident in a nightclub, where he ended up in a row with a group of males. Fearing he might be about to receive a beating, he lashed out at one of the males in the group and then left the area. Presumably, he had done some damage to the guy. He was arrested the very next day and immediately admitted the offence, deeply ashamed of what he had done. As part of his order, he requested to meet the victim, (and the victim’s mum), to say sorry. He described the meeting as the toughest thing he had ever done. He had been late to the meeting because he was stood outside for 15 minutes, trying to rack up the courage to face this man’s mother. He raised his hands to show how even now, he gets sweaty palms thinking about it.

The lady on the right was actually a retired magistrate. She had been burgled and requested to meet ‘her offender’ in prison. She described ‘tearing into him’ about the massive impact his offence had on her, but also relayed the sad fact that he had been so addicted to drugs and such a prolific offender that he barely remembered burgling her house. Following their meeting, she has remained in contact with him and supports him.

The man in the middle spoke again and said that he had been shown such acceptance by his victim’s mother that it had spurred him on. He has since set up his own business, and changed his life around. He stated that having been shown affirmation and forgiveness, he could shake off the identity of a criminal and be confident in himself. He said that he had been restored.

And I love Restorative Justice because of this.  It is not a soft option – for most offenders it is a terrifying prospect and it has more impact than probably any other work we could do with young offenders. And yet, it can have so many benefits for both victims and offenders. Time and time again, in meetings I have facilitated, I have seen hostility and hurt turn into remorse and compassion. But the thing that gets me every time I see it, is the moment that nearly always comes where both sides let their guards down and we can get rid of the idea of ‘victim’ and ‘offender’. Instead, we begin to talk about an incident, and it’s effects, and what needs to happen to put that right. Sometimes all that requires is for the offender to show understanding. Sometimes that involves some physical act of reparation. But this seems to me to be the point at which restoration begins, for both parties.

At the end of their presentation, these three people were given a spontaneous and lengthy round of applause. And then came my favourite moment of the day – almost a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment. During our clapping,  lady on the left reached over, grabbed man in the middle’s arm and gave it a squeeze and a rub. He looked at her and she smiled at him like she was proud of him and was willing him on.

Just brilliant.