Quakers in Criminal Justice

Quakers in Criminal Justice Conference 2022
Trauma, Dysfunction and Criminality

The conference was held on the 25th to the 27th of February at Ammerdown against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Keynote speakers focused on the key topic of Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Sue Penna – Rock Pool Community Interest Company

Sue Penna of Penzance Meeting and Rock Pool CIC works with people who have experienced psychological trauma as a result of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

The statistics she presented were very sobering: 67% of the population has at least one ACE. However, having four or more ACEs results in being:

We heard that if early brain wiring is based upon fear, because of the effects of abuse and neglect, the individual lives with a high sense of threat and may well respond aggressively, suffer turn to substance abuse, delinquency and be sexually promiscuous. They find it hard to form relationships and may well be labelled ‘un-cooperative’ or ‘failing to engage’.

Sue's comprehensive presentation covering PTSD and complex trauma spoke also of Benevolent Childhood Experiences (BCEs) which can counter the effects of more than four ACEs.

The personality traits of Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger had important starring roles in the work that Sue shared with us, along with a video made by women who had benefitted from trauma-informed support.

Caroline Mellon – Bristol & South Glos Youth Offending Team

The work carried out by Caroline Mellon, an Enhanced Case Management (ECM) practitioner with a Youth Offending Team, illustrates a change in approach to troubled young people, advocating ‘connection before correction’.

Caroline is seconded to North Somerset Youth Offending Team where a pilot of ECM, a new trauma-informed approach to working with young people in the youth justice system, is making real improvements in the lives of young people found to have Adverse Childhood Experiences. Once the various happenings in their lives had been pieced together along a timeline, it becomes apparent how repeated traumas have impacted on their behaviour.

One of the powerpoint slides illustrates a Model of Redeemability, beginning with introducing stability and leading eventually, through relationship-building to working through trauma, gaining insight and planning for the future. Negative role models are replaced by positive ones. Positive affirmation, empathy and promoting ‘play’ help build effective relationships leading to the regulation of emotions. It was evident to all present that this model should be introduced across the criminal justice system.

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Hugh McMichael – retired consultant gastroenterologist and volunteer chaplain in a high security prison

Hugh spoke about how bad childhood experiences can also have a damaging effect on our health. In the workshop he discussed the perplexity around the causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and the very high ratio of women suffering with this condition who also scored more than four ACEs. Hugh recognises the impact of multiple ACEs not only on the gut but on the whole quality of life. As a prison chaplain he sees the effects of childhood abuse and poverty very clearly.

Sunday reflections: Tim Newell – ex-governor of a therapeutic prison, founder of Escaping Victimhood

Tim's closing thoughts on Sunday morning covered a range of reflections. Amongst these were aspects of Ammerdown and the relevance of John Donne's poem ‘No Man is an Island’ in relation to current world events; he invited us to think particularly about Ukraine. He could not speak too highly of the Quaker leaflet ‘Faith in our Future’ which he feels serves us as a good anchor. He mentioned various organisations with which to work and collaborate, acknowledging that many of us already do so. One issue that we might work on is seeking to establish restorative principles within the judicial process for adults, in the same way that impressively had become normal for young offenders.

Tim also reflected on Amanda Gorman's poem ‘The Hill we Climb’ which was read at President Biden’s inauguration ceremony. After witnessing the dark events of the storming of the Capitol building in January 2021 she was inspired to write a vision of the future where we can come together and heal together ourselves and our communities.

One quotation, from Desmond Tutu, will stay with us all:
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in.”