Supporting Conversations About Criminal Justice

Supporting Conversations About Criminal Justice

One of the challenges that came with the Covid-19 pandemic, has been the bar on people travelling and connecting internationally. This hit many people in different fields of work, who would normally travel for meetings, networking and engaging in the sharing of their knowledge, typically in conferences and symposia. We’ve all had to adapt and adjust our expectations of what’s possible over the last two years, because international travel became impossible for long periods of time.

The solution, though, has been to shift to online collaborative working, and so we’ve seen a massive increase in teleconferencing and remote working – using Zoom, Teams, Google Doc, and the myriad of connecting technology that allows people to collaborate online without travelling. This is perhaps the unintended benefit of the pandemic. Reducing our carbon footprint, while facilitating discussion and meetings more easily using the digital platforms. These platforms and service providers have themselves made rapid improvements to these platforms, driven by the need to facilitate communication and collaborative working during the lockdowns.

The global lockdown was no less acute, then, for people who work in and support the development of criminal justice practices around the world. Over the last two years, I’ve been fortunate to help and provide support for the development of the International Network for Criminal Justice (IN-CJ). The aim of the network, and something that was dramatically accelerated by the pandemic, is to foster an interactive association that supports the interconnection of people who advocate and work towards the advancement of innovative criminal justice practices.

I’ve been fortunate to be associated with an astute team based at De Montfort University, working with Professors David Ward, Robert Canton and John Scott,  and now extending to over ten other university ‘hubs’ around the world.  The IN-CJ is an excellent example of how information and communication technology can be used to bring many different people together, from many different professional arenas and cultural backgrounds, to share their expertise, insight and ideas of how to improve and support the better understanding of criminal justice practice.

As I don’t come from a criminal justice scholarship or working tradition, it’s been a fascinating journey for me. A journey in which I’ve learnt much about the needs and concerns of different practitioners around the world, who are striving to make improvements to the criminal justice services that they support and sustain. There is a recognition by IN-CJ allies that we can only foster lasting change when the drivers of that change are aligned with, and grounded in, a shared and mutual understanding of our social needs and challenges. Hopefully, the approach we take in developing the network allows us to do this as a living and breathing – though dispersed – community.

The question that I am learning to ask now as a result of my participation in the development of IN-CJ, is what drives and makes justice a reality? A reality not just for the professionals involved, but for the victims of crime, the perpetrators of crime, and therefore the government agencies and NGOs that protect the public and reform offenders. The situations and context in which criminal justice is operated is new to me, either as a set of institutional practices, or as a set of working practices, or as a lived experience as related in the stories of people affected by crime.

If we think of criminal justice as a meaningful experience for everyone affected by crime, and are mindful of the need to reform society in a way that lessens the incidences of crime and criminal behaviour, then I believe we are compelled to ask questions about how these practices emerge from the conditions that make these experiences meaningful, or as Carl Jung points out, the conditions that constitute disorder. Experiences of crime and dealing with crime are manifested in so many different ways around the world, but are there common threads that we can recognise between them when we share and give voice to our experiences?

What I hope I’ve been able to bring to IN-CJ is the ability to use media and collaborative information and communication practices that supports a reflexive ‘community feel’ in the life of the network. For me, this is about fostering conversations and deliberation in which learning and intercultural understanding takes place. Which then enables and empowers people to share their stories and their experiences. Because the network is practitioner-focussed, and revolves around the need to support meaningful development practices, then we’ve been able to engage with many different people who are expert in their practice, their lived-experiences, and who bring forward their embedded knowledge as they have been affected in different ways by the needs of the justice process.

We’ve done this by taking a community media approach that uses media as a development tool for community engagement itself. Rather than seeing media as purely a transactional and systemic communications process, we are learning how to foster relationships, a sense of belonging, a sense of identity and a sense of mutual support that helps to embed social capital in the network in a meaningful way. There is a lot more work to be done in developing this approach, but I’m glad that I’m continuing to be involved, and helping to move this way of working forward.

Rob Watson