'Nothing works' used to be a saying in probation, but our academic colleagues eventually brought us the 'What Works' agenda. However there's a new term sweeping through our work and that is 'Desistance'. One of the significant academics researching and writing about the theory is Fergus McNeill, Professor of Criminology and Social Work at the University of Glasgow. By the way note the title because of course in Scotland work with offenders is still the responsibility of Social Work departments.
In addition to writing extensively on desistance theory, Fergus has been largely responsible for obtaining funding for a documentary film entitled 'The Road from Crime' by Allan Weaver, a Scottish ex-offender turned probation officer and author of 'So You Think You Know Me?' The film seeks to answer a simple question. 'What can we learn from those former prisoners who have successfully 'desisted' from criminal behaviour and gone straight?' Amongst others, the film features Bobby Cummines OBE, founder of UNLOCK the National Association of Reformed Offenders. In the film he explains the starting point for his desistance process:-
"I was lucky. I had a good probation officer and a good education officer in prison who said to me 'You're worth more than that' and gave me a bit of belief in myself. And also, in a way being banged up all that time, and seeing people that was kind to me, and there was prison officers as well, and people when I came out that were really supportive of me, and they were just decent people. And I saw the beauty of society, and the beauty of those people in society, 'cause my world was an ugly world. we didn't trust no-one, we injured each other - it was a violent and terrible dark place I was in and life meant nothing. But to see these people that was really there for no other reason than they was nice people - I saw the beauty of society, and I wanted to be part of that beauty. I wanted to be part of that society, not the society I was in."
For any one interested in the subject, the film is well worth watching. As the blurb says:-
"Allan finds a fascinating world of ex-prisoner-led mutual aid and activist groups championing a new model of criminal justice practice. Like Allan, many of the ex-prisoners find meaning and purpose in their lives by helping others to avoid the mistakes they made. They might have the answer for tackling the enduring problem of criminal recidivism."
The full film appears to be available for download here, or alternatively I notice that a free public showing is being organised at Sheffield University on 28th September.