Criminal Justice and Peer Mentoring

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Employing with conviction: The experiences of employers who actively recruit criminalised people

Atherton, Peter; Buck, Gillian (2021)

In England and Wales, criminal reoffending costs £18 billion annually. Securing employment can support desistance from crime, but only 17% of ex-prisoners are employed a year after release. Understanding the motivations of employers who do recruit criminalised people therefore represents an important area of inquiry. This article draws upon qualitative interviews with twelve business leaders in England who proactively employ criminalised people. Findings reveal that inclusive recruitment can be (indirectly) encouraged by planning policies aimed to improve social and environmental well-being and that employers often work creatively to meet employees’ additional needs, resulting in commercial benefits and (re)settlement opportunities.

Mentoring and Peer Mentoring

Buck, Gillian (2021)

Mentoring and ‘peer’ mentoring are increasing features of probation and youth justice settings. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (2019) defines mentoring as ‘a one-to-one non-judgmental relationship in which an individual (mentor) gives time to support and encourage another (mentee)’. In the context of youth justice, it is a relationship between a young person and supportive adult, established to help the young person achieve their goals (Nellis, 2004). ‘Peer’ mentors are community members, often with lived experiences of criminal justice, who work or volunteer to help people in rehabilitative settings. It can be a diverse practice, encompassing one-to-one sessions, group work or more informal leisure activities (Buck, 2020). This Academic Insights paper outlines the potential of mentoring to assist individuals to leave crime behind, with a specific focus on mentors who draw upon their own lived experiences. It also considers some common problems encountered in the hope they can be avoided. Finally, the practicalities of undertaking (peer) mentoring within criminal justice contexts are explored, as these require specific consideration to develop and maintain safe and ethical practice.


Peer Mentoring in Criminal Justice

Buck, Gillian (2020)

Peer mentoring in criminal justice involves criminalised people and community members with an (often personal) interest in criminal justice working in helping relationships within the criminal justice system. This workbook briefly summarises the findings of a four-year study of peer mentoring in criminal justice (Buck, 2020). Each section briefly summarises a key finding. It then asks reflective questions which may be helpful to mentors working in this field to consider. The workbook is designed to help you reflect on the work you are doing and the additional support that you and/or your mentee might need. Write in this book and work on additional pages as required. You may find it helpful to work on some of these questions further in supervision.


Politicisation or professionalisation? Exploring divergent aims within the UK voluntary sector peer mentoring

Buck, Gillian (Wiley, 2019-09-04)

Meaningful ‘user involvement’ is an established aim of social work practice, and increasingly, an aspiration of criminal justice, yet there are unique challenges to participatory work within punitive contexts. Drawing upon a study of peer mentoring in the voluntary sector, this article unveils some core tensions related to (ex)service user involvement in criminal justice. Interviews with mentors, mentees, and key stakeholders, along with direct observations of practice, reveal that respondents often see their work as personal-political, emphasising the value of lived expertise and of collective action to address limiting social conditions. Simultaneously, however, mentoring is framed nationally and shaped locally by more established aims to correct, improve, and manage, individual ‘offenders’. There is, therefore, a fundamental tension between processes of politicisation, or coming together to assert a user voice and affect social change; and professionalisation, wherein mentors are co-opted into forms of practice they often critique.


The core conditions of peer mentoring

Buck, Gillian (SAGE, 2017-03-21)

Peer mentoring is an increasing feature of UK criminal justice, yet very little is known about the micro dynamics of this practice. Drawing upon an ethnographic study, this article identifies a number of ‘core conditions’ underpinning the practice, including caring, listening and encouraging small steps. Mentors and mentees highlight these conditions as antidotes to what they often perceive as disconnected, unhearing and technocratic criminal justice practices. Peer mentoring is claimed to release suffering, to unburden the self of grief and to explore new directions, given that mentors ‘genuinely care’ and are tolerant of slip-ups. Respondents offer valuable insight into the experience of being intervened upon and advocate for manageable shifts, which could meaningfully improve services for a range of vulnerable and stigmatized populations. However, the article also introduces tensions, including the expectation of emotional toil for little financial reward and the context of an increasingly results-driven criminal justice system.

I wanted to feel the way they did: Mimesis as a situational dynamic of peer mentoring by ex-offenders

Buck, Gillian (Taylor & Francis, 2016-10-10)

Despite growing enthusiasm for peer mentoring as a criminal justice intervention, very little is known about what actually happens within these relationships. Drawing on an ethnographic study of peer mentoring in the North of England this article will foreground the concept of inspiration” in these settings. It will argue that Rene Girard’s theory of mimesis offers a framework with which to analyze role modeling in mentoring relationships and that a Girardian reading also offers interesting insights into the unresolved problem of the origins of personal change.

“It’s a Tug of War Between the Person I Used To Be and the Person I Want To Be” The Terror, Complexity, and Limits of Leaving Crime Behind

Buck, Gillian (SAGE, 2016-12-20)

This article draws upon an ethnographic study of peer mentoring in the United Kingdom criminal justice system. It examines how people attempting to desist from criminal lifestyles often experience a period of crisis, characterized by unsettling practical and personal losses. Through interviews with peer mentors and mentees, and observations of mentoring practices, this study renders this sense of adversity visible. It also reveals the ways in which peer mentors may alleviate the weight of the crisis, by providing a blueprint of change, while appearing to be nonauthoritarian. These are important components given that mentees often feel untethered from known ways of being and describe their interactions with authority figures as embattled. An interesting secondary effect which emerges here is that peer mentors appear to shift the perceptions of external observers. This is a vital feature, given that sustained desistance from crime requires contexts conducive to such changes.

Mentoring: crossing boundaries with care?

Gosling, Helena, Buck, Gillian (2015)

There is growing enthusiasm for mentoring as a criminal justice intervention. Indeed, there is a stated policy aim to offer a mentor to every person leaving prison (Grayling, 2012). The idea is reminiscent of the abolitionist inspired radical community interventions of the 1970s (Dronfield, 1980). It is also appealing to policy makers concerned with austerity measures and opening up the justice ‘market to a diverse range of rehabilitation providers’, given that most mentors are volunteers (Ministry of Justice, 2014). Despite the enthusiasm, however, there is little empirical evidence documenting how these relationships develop in practice. This conversation piece, whilst not representative of mentoring more broadly, given its small sample size, is intended to illustrate some of the nuanced challenges that can exist within an evolving mentoring relationship. It is our hope that this will begin a discussion about the nature and evolution of mentoring relationships in this field.


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