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Libraries change lives and HMP Edinburgh: Fergus McNeil

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Libraries change lives and HMP Edinburgh: Fergus McNeil

  1. 1. ‘Researchon sentencing,communitysanctionsand ex offenderreintegration’ –ProfessorFergus McNeil,ProfessorofCriminologyand Social Work ProfessorMcNeil beganby discussingthe conceptsof liminality,transitioning anddesistance from criminality.He usedaquote fromJimmyBoyle toexplainliminality: “I am torn betweentwoworlds –alienatedfromthe oldone anda strangerinthisnew one” The challenge thatpeople face whendesistingfromcriminalityisthattheymustdiscardtheir criminal self andfindanew identityandnew wayof livingbyre-labellingthemselves. This transitional periodcanalsobe calleda“liminal”period. He alsotalkedaboutthe importance of literacyandthe role librarieshave inthe creationof anew non-criminal identityforex-offenders.Transitioningcanbe a verydifficultandisolatingprocessand librariescanbe usedas placesof escape as well ashelpingpeople throughliminal periodsbothin prisonandout. He describedtwo different“scripts”thatpeople see themselvesashavingwhengoingthrough desistance fromcriminality.Firstlya“condemnationscript”:offendersseetheirlife scriptsashaving beenwrittenforthemalongtime ago. Theysee themselvesaspassive,beingsweptalongbyevents rather thanmakingactive decisions. Secondlyhe describeda“redemptionscript”:the offender,withthe helpof anoutside force,isable to steerthroughand dothe thingsthathe/she always“meanttodo”. ProfessorMcNeil thendemonstratedGiordano’s“processof change”,whichisasfollows: General cognitive opennesstochange | Exposure andreactionto “hooksforchange” | Availabilityof anappealingconventionalself (losingthe criminal identityandassuminga new conceptof self) | Transformationinattitudestodeviantbehaviour
  2. 2. He wentonto describe the variationsindesistence thatmen fromdifferentethnicitiesexperience: Bangladeshi desisters:have familiesandcommunitieswaitingforthem.Forgivenessand religiosityallowsthemtoreintegrate.Islamoffersthema“life script”toadopt,takingon the rolesof beinga goodMuslimand a goodfather.A space is heldopenforthem. Indiandesisters:likewise have familiesandcommunitieswaiting.Theyalsohave aspirational valuesandemployment.Oftenfamilygroupswill havefabricatedamythtoexplaintheir absence,egtheyhave beenona religiouspilgrimage.The social stigmaof beinganex- offenderistherefore lessened. Black anddual heritage:Have individual andisolatedpathways.Nospace asfatheras familiesmayhave movedon.Performakindof “self-incarceration”byjoiningagym, staying inside andkeepingoff the streets.Itwassuggestedthatwhite workingclassdesistersmay followthissame path. ProfessorMcNeil proceededtodescribe the processof desistance. He saidthatthere isa lotof ambivalence andvacillation:people tendtozig-zag,beingmotivatedone dayandfallingbackinto oldpatternsthe next.There isa needfor: “Re-biography”, i.e. changingidentities/narratives, andfor outside people toacceptthat newbiography.Thiscanbe promptedbylife events –e.g. marriage or the birthof a child – but dependsonwhat meaning these eventshold forthe individual.Theseeventsare therefore subjective,individualisedandsensitivetodifferenceanddiversity. Hope,causedby someone believinginthe offender.Librariescanbe a space for hope. Active processes:the discoveryof agency;takingcontrol of one’sownnarrative Certification/acknowledgementthroughredemption/restoration.Givingsomethingback and findingpurpose ingenerative activities(“constructive reparation”).Providinghelpto others,notjustreceivingit.Knowingthatone haschangedthroughone’sactions. He thenwentonto discusslibrariesandliteracyand theirimportance indesistance.Forpersistent offenders,desistence isabout“re-storying”one’sself.Literacyandthe supportthatlibrariesprovide are therefore critical tothe processof rewritingone’sstory,notonly aboutthe pastbutabout the presentandfuture too.Equally,illiteracylimitsprogrammesthatare designedtodevelopcognitive and problemsolvingskills,damagingthe offender’schancesuponrelease. ProfessorMcNeil alsoraisedthe issue that“writersneedreaders”,i.e.the “re-storying”of the self needsareceptive audience andthatthe writerneedstotell the storyof how theyhave changed. He questionedwhere these “readers”wouldcome from. Kate Kinglaterrespondedtothis issue by sayingthat librarystaff canact as receptive listenersandare oftenvital forthiskindof support.She and Nigel Ironsidealsogave the example of the VPP (Violence PreventionProgramme), anintensive six monthcourse designedto give offendersthe chance totell theirstoriestopeers,governorsand families.
  3. 3. Finally,ProfessorMcNeil identifiedfourtypesof reintegration: Judicial Reintegration:legallyallowsoffendertoleave pastbehind,e.g.inGermany,aperson can have theircriminal recordsealedafteracertainperiodof time. Social Reintegration:De-labelling;informal,social recognitionof reformedstatues.Libraries can be an importantpartof thisprocess:offenderisa readeramongotherreaders,no difference betweenthem. Psychological Reintegration:Developmentof personal capacity,personalityand reintegrationof the self. Moral ReintegrationProvidingevidence of developmentof characterthroughconduct. Making good;payingback. He stressedthatall fourtypeswere neededforfull reintegration. ProfessorMcNeil concludedbystatingthat desistencewasaprocessrather thanan event,thatit was a pathwayto integrationandcitizenshipratherthanan endinitself andthatwe needto look beyondthe individual tofamilies,communitiesandthe state.

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