Quakers in Criminal Justice

Annual 2015 Newsletter Download PDF

A Bit About Quakers In Criminal Justice

QICJ was formed as a special interest group in the early eighties primarily as a support group for Friends involved either professionally or on a voluntary basis with the criminal justice system. It has also welcomed Friends who themselves or a family member have been involved in the justice system. Some members have come to Quakerism having been touched by Quakers working in prisons and others, like me, have come across this interest group through the newsletter usually on display at YMG, Friends House, Woodbrooke and member meeting houses. Each member brings their unique experiences, and their expertise is reflected in the regularly updated membership list as well as through newsletter contributions. The membership list, in itself, makes for interesting reading outlining the role and areas of interest of active members. We are an eclectic collection of people with backgrounds including probation offcers, therapists, youth justice workers, social workers, chaplains, restorative justice pioneers, advocats, experts and facilitators, circles of support volunteers, governors, prison psychologists, academics, CPS, magistrates, mental health professionals, solicitors, mediators, police as well as most members being actively involved in at least one, often more related charities including the Howard League, Prison Reform Trust, Phoenix Trust, IMB, Prison Visitors, AA, AVP, Prisoner Penpals, Families of Prisoners, IAGs, NAOPV. Lifelines, Overcoming Victimhood, to name but a few. In reality, the list is endless as individual members get involved in so many different areas.

Quakers have a long history in criminal justice and prison reform. QICJ encompass this special contribution by providing a network for members to be connected. We hold an annual conferences where members old and new are welcomed and can become energised through stimulating plenaries and workshops. At the conferences, I get a sense that I am supported in my prison visiting which can be quite an isolated although truly fulfilling volunteering activity.

Otherwise, we have a website, a committee and our newsletter which appear three times a year. I still consider myself a new member as I don't have a professional background in criminal justice and this is only my second year as editor. Adrian, my predecessor was editor for twenty two years.

I am tempted to say something along the lines of QICJ being a “like minded” network but that can be an erroneous thing to say anywhere but most especially amidst “individually minded” Quakers. But what motivated me to take on the role of editor was, what I perceived as a very compassionate attitude towards the offender as well as to the victim, a defiant recognition of “that of God” in all and a compelling instinct that a restorative approach to justice should prevail over a punitive approach.

Generally, amidst members there is a recognition of the important contribution of a committed “one to one” relationship with individuals caught up in the system either through mail, visits, therapy, mentoring, offender management, education or pastoral care and a sense of rehabilitation as being an appropriate (though sadly unfulfilled) purpose behind imprisonment. Furthermore, amidst reformers and academics as well as practitioners and volunteers, there is a sense that together we achieve more.

A Bit About The Newsletter

I gave up reading the newspaper many years ago, many would regard it as an ill-informed choice but my rationale was that newspapers are inevitably much the same day after day, week after week. The same reporters provide the same slant on the same stories and nothing much changes except the names, the dates, the places, the small details. Even the pictures are the same, now, my point here is that the QICJ newsletter is much the same – one edition after the next is filled with a compassionate attitude towards the oppressed (victim and offender alike), outrage at cost cutting at the point where it is most needed (probation, social services, rehabilitation), alternative approaches to justice (restorative justice, circles of support), initiatives that embrace reform (Intensive Fostering, Healing of Memories), reports from conferences, book and film reviews, members perspectives on their experiences as well as stories and poems from people within the system.

And, A Bit About This Annual

Since I started as the newsletter editor, there has been a long running debate as to whether the newsletter ought to be digital, sent by email or continue to be posted at great expense with Royal Mail and on whether it should be jazzed up in colour, or remain as it is in sombre but much loved black and white. The truth is that while these discussions come and go, there has been nobody with the know how, initiative and enthusiasm required to carry out such a transformation. But at the 2015 conference in Ammerdown, there was a new recruit, a delegate from Northern Ireland who had never actually seen the newsletter. I was excited at the thought of a potential new reader and I quickly thrust a copy into his hands. As he picked up the cherished publication and held it in his hands I could see him shake his head, a frown appeared on his face and the words “16th century printing press” tumbled from his lips. It was of course what I had always known but did not want to admit. The time and very luckily the resource to experiment with something new had arrived at QICJ. This compilation of articles plucked from recent past editions is the result – an experiment with a new format using material that is quite frankly just too good to be forgotten.

Carmel Schmid
Newsletter editor

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