Criminologists from Keele took part in a research exchange workshop on the theme of ‘Desistance from Crime’ at the Kuopio Welfare Research Centre, University of Eastern Finland last week. The visit was organised by Mari Suonio, of the Department of Social Work at Kuopio University – herself a former Visiting Research Fellow at Keele University.
Dr Mary Corcoran (Criminology), Dr Kelly Prince (Research Institute for the Social Sciences, Keele) and Dr Gillian Buck (University of Chester) shared findings from their research with academics, probation and prison staff and voluntary sector practitioners. Mary spoke about her ongoing research project on ‘voluntary sector adaptation to criminal justice markets’. England and Wales is now the most privatised criminal justice system in Western Europe, which is exerting deep effects on the ethos, practices and sustainability of voluntary sector organisations. By contrast, Finnish probation and prison services are owned and directed by public statutory and voluntary sector organisations. The work of probation and prisons in Finland is jointly conducted by a single Criminal Sanctions Agency. All employees are trained social workers. Through-the-gate work is very successfully coordinated by prisons, the voluntary sector and local authorities. The Finnish reoffending rate is half that of ours and their prison population has been falling.
Gill, who obtained her PhD at Keele last year, spoke about the research on peer mentoring by ex-offenders. Her findings were that much of the ‘core work’ of mentoring is made up of elementary, under-the-radar support in building ex-offenders’ confidence and self-esteem. Activities such as listening, caring and trust-building are difficult to define as ‘work’, and as a consequence are often overlooked as crucial building blocks towards desistance.
Kelly discussed her work on the emotional labour involved in working with trafficked people. That research was conducted for her doctoral thesis on the role of the voluntary sector in working with people who have been exploited through trafficking. Kelly was an undergraduate and postgraduate student at Keele. Kelly spoke about the ’emotional toll’ experienced by volunteers and staff who work with survivors of trafficking. On the one hand, the problem of burn-out is widely recognised in the voluntary sector, but volunteers and staff are not adequately supported. There are significant hidden costs to ’emotion work’ in the voluntary sector which need to be addressed.
The group were also taken to visit a prison in the region and met with employees of the Criminal Sanctions Agency. They also visited two voluntary sector projects working in housing and employment training for former prisoners.