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5 tips for working with those in the Criminal Justice System

In recent years, Red Snapper Managed Services (RSMS) have expanded their services from providing digital interventions to including face-to-face programmes for Young People and adults. We have developed the following five tips for professionals working with people in the Criminal Justice System.

Be Collaborative

Within the Criminal Justice System, those that have offended will be very familiar with the experience of being ‘done to’. This is to say individuals may have been arrested, processed, sentenced, and directed to attend interventions, all of which are events they have little control over. This may be truer for young people who require appropriate adults to advocate on their behalf. The key to positive change is engagement and motivation, and one important part of achieving these two elements is including the participant in mapping their own change journey and goals. 

What does this look like and how do we do it? 

Firstly, is it important to remember that the service user is the expert when it comes to their own thinking and behaviour so a set of impersonal prescribed goals will likely not have much impact or meaning? SMART goals are a good place to start, we can only set SMART goals with the participant’s input, as they will know what is achievable for them. It is also an easy way to involve them in a variety of different activities such as sentence planning, intervention outcomes and wider lifestyle changes. 

Strength-Based Approach  

There is a growing body of evidence to suggest Strength-Based approaches such as the Good Lives Model (Ward, 2010) improve self-esteem, motivation and engagement with regards to developing a positive identity. At their core, such approaches advocate recognition for the challenges individuals have faced, highlighting and building on personal qualities and strengths, and developing positive community links and support networks that provide resilience and encourage societal integration. The benefits of Strength-Based approaches are that in building individual confidence and self-esteem, pro-social goals are more likely to be achieved and the risk of harm is reduced as a by-product. How do we do it? Making small changes to our language and how we ask questions can make a huge difference. Instead of asking ‘who are the people that influence you positively or negatively’ try asking ‘Who are the people that you can rely on? Who has made you feel understood, supported, or encouraged?  Instead of asking ‘why do things go wrong for you’ try askingWhen things were going well in life, what was different? What point in your history would you like to relive, capture, or recreate?’ (Saleeby 1996)

Multi-agency working

Effective multi-agency working is vital for effective risk management and rehabilitation. Firstly it is important to identify all those agencies that are involved with the participant and also those that should be involved (examples might be YOS, Police, Probation, Integrated Support Services, Social Services, Housing, Substance Misuse Services). So what does good multi-agency working look like and what are the benefits?:

Information sharing; this should include regular (both formal and informal) meetings with other involved organisations including statutory agencies. This enables professionals to respond to unexpected incidents, assess the appropriate level of resources to be allocated, identify and respond to individual treatment needs and protect victims from further harm. Information might include police call-out incidents, comments made by the individual while undertaking interventions or just changes in demeanour that may be of concern.

Accountability; implementing a multi-agency approach means that all organisations have accountability for their area of expertise and that all involved understand who needs to do what, and by when. It is also important to record all information, decisions and actions on your case management system as soon as is practicable as well as communicate these to key agencies. Accountability involves being able to justify actions at all times, not only when things go wrong.

Holistic Planning; In communicating with other agencies you will be able to develop the best action plan which may involve staggering interventions and measures depending on which needs are a priority. Holistic planning is only possible when good information-sharing practices are in place. The participant will benefit from a plan that identifies all aspects of their risk, with an appropriate balance of ‘change’ and ‘control’ measures. With good communication, professionals can also be responsive to changing dynamics and amend the plan flexibly according to risk and need.

Reflective Practice 

Treat every day like a school day, there is no room for ‘professional arrogance’ when it comes to working with people. It takes years to master the skills of Motivational Interviewing, CBT, techniques such as Socratic Questioning and Pro-Social Modelling. Even highly experienced professionals will stumble across challenging behaviour that they are not sure how to respond to or will struggle with their own biases and assumptions from time to time. This is why at RSMS we advocate regular reflective practice and continuous professional development regardless of experience. Formal monthly meetings allow practitioners to discuss their challenges and take on board the ideas and learning of others in order to identify the best way forward. A couple of questions you might want to ask yourself in order to reflect on your practice and remain fair and consistent in your approach are 1) Do I have any biases (conscious or unconscious) in relation to this individual and how might these impact on my attitude and practice 2) What can I do to ensure I remain fair and non-judgemental in my practice?. For more insight on this subject, look up the Betari Box Model.

Know your audience, know your subject matter

This may seem like a very obvious and simple point but in order to develop an effective working relationship with individuals and to meet their needs, you need to be flexible and willing to adapt your approach. For example, understanding individual learning styles, any implications of an individuals’ neuro-diversity, history of trauma (including ACE’s), contextual circumstances, age and gender are a few among many factors which should be considered. When working with Young People, as standard it is important to consider when you engage them and length of session (e.g. around school, how will this impact on attention span and ability to concentrate?), the language you use and allowing more time to explain certain concepts, accepting that developmentally Young People often struggle with empathy, consequential thinking and empathy. Knowing the subject matter is also extremely important as each problematic area of thinking and behaviour brings its own challenges to overcome. For example, if delivering Hate Crime interventions, understanding the different typologies of perpetrators will be key to understanding the underlying motivations of that individual. Furthermore, use of language and labelling an individual as ‘racist’ can evoke an overwhelming feeling of shame which often leads to defensiveness or resentment and can result in a lack of engagement or

positive progress. A key barrier to openness when dealing with Adolescent Parental Violence (APV) for example can be stigma for parents who may feel that they have failed in their responsibility as a parent. Therefore there is a need to reassure them that this is a common feeling and it is a complex issue that does not have one sole cause.

For further information on the services offered by RSMS contact: jonathan.hussey@rsg.ltd  

Credit to Kira Day who wrote the article 


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