User Voice - Only Offenders Can Stop Re-Offending

AUGUST DISTURBANCES: YJB commission User Voice to run consultation with Young People

Much has already been said about the people involved and the underlying causes of the disturbances across the UK in August this year. This is not surprising: the events were frightening and resulted in five deaths, at least 16 injuries, the loss of people’s homes and businesses and damage totalling millions.

Police and court statistics provide some information about age breakdown and geographical spread. However many wider assumptions have been made – about previous criminality, the role of gang culture, race relations, policing, poverty and inequality – without detailed knowledge or talking to those involved.

It is in this context that the Youth Justice Board has asked User Voice to undertake a consultation with some of the young people who were involved in the August disturbances and who have since been sentenced to a community sentence or to custody for their role.

In addition the Youth Justice Board has asked User Voice to undertake consultation with young people who have a similar profile who did not get involved in areas which face similar pressures to those where disturbances occurred.

The Youth Justice Board’s purpose in doing this project is to:

• Bring the voice and experiences of these young people into the public debate;
• Provide evidence about the different characteristics and motivations of those young people who got involved;
• Explore whether there are identifiable reasons why trouble did not escalate elsewhere where similar issues and characteristics were present; and
• Inform the Youth Justice Board’s work going forward and the broader policy debate.

Taken as a whole, the project aims to provide information about:

• The young people’s thoughts on the disturbances in general;
• Details of the young people's involvement, including why they got involved, and who with;
• Contextual information (views and experience of family, education, training, employment, etc).

User Voice will work in partnership with Durham University, which will provide methodological advice and guidance. This area of the partnership working from the university side will be led by Professor Graham Towl, Deputy Warden at Durham University.

    What's Your Story RE-LAUNCHED for 2011

      It's BIGGER than last year!

      What’s Your Story? 2011 is a new and inspirational young offender engagement project designed by User Voice, at the invitation of the Youth Justice Board.

      Between now and the Annual Youth Justice Convention in November, User Voice will be working across England & Wales with 600 young people who have experience of the youth justice system.

      50 of these young people, selected by their peers, will attend the Convention to discuss their issues and experiences with 50 leading representatives of the system.

      Nothing like this has ever been done before on this scale!

      See our dedicated MICROSITE for further information.

      Alternatively email

        or call 020 3137 7471.

          London Probation Trust Service User Council Pilot

          Our latest project is something never tried before!

          It is an amazing and unique opportunity for users of probation services to have their voices heard.

          London Probation Trust (LPT) has commissioned User Voice to develop service user councils in four London boroughs:
          1. Greenwich
          2. Haringey
          3. Kingston & Richmond
          4. Tower Hamlets

          So if you are on Probation in one of these boroughs, click here for further information!

          YOU are needed to help improve services!

            HMP Maidstone Scores High in MQPL Survey

            The objective of the Measuring the Quality of Prison Life Survey conducted by the National Offender Management Service is to explore prisoner perceptions of their quality of life.

            The questionnaire consists of 128 statements such as
            'This is a decent prison' or
            'We spend too much time locked up'

            and participants are given the following options:
            1. Strongly disagree
            2. Disagree
            3. Neither agree nor disagree
            4. Agree
            5. Strongly agree

            The statements are divided into 21 themes.

            Relative to other prisons, HMP Maidstone recorded a high score for the Personal Autonomy theme.

            Extracts from the Findings in Context section from the draft report:

            “The Governor explained that in conjunction with the charity organisation User Voice, substantial efforts had been made to introduce a democratically elected prisoner council which was in operation at the time of the survey and which afforded prisoners an avenue to air their views and to take part in identifying problems, suggesting solutions and thus being involved in the running of the prison.

            “He described this as a successful exercise which directly involved a substantial proportion of the population, enabled staff and prisoners to work collaboratively, and addressed issues that affected all prisoners.

            “Hence, he suggested, this was one of the significant explanations for prisoners at Maidstone having more positive than average perceptions of Personal Autonomy, referring to aspects such as
            'I have no control over my day-to-day life here' and
            'The regime in this prison allows me opportunities for me to think for myself'
            (prisoners were relatively even more positive in response to 'You can keep your personality in this prison').

            “He also suggested that this work was a major contribution to the high score for the Harmony dimensions, and if this were true for Personal Autonomy and Harmony then it could perhaps also apply to aspects of other dimensions such as Bureaucratic Legitimacy and Personal Development.”

              User Voice keeps getting BIGGER....

              User Voice are pleased to announce that our front-line team has expanded to keep pace with an increased demand for our services, including:

            • contracts to establish Prison Councils for G4S at HMP Rye Hill and HMP Wolds;

            • What's Your Story? 2011 involving 600 young people across the country; and

            • a contract from London Probation Trust to pilot our Council Model in a community setting.

            • We have therefore recruited 4 ex-offenders to help us deliver our current projects:

            • 1 full-time Programme Manager based in Birmingham; and

            • 3 part-time Assistant Programme Managers based in London.

            • Exciting times ahead....

                User Voice has moved to a NEW OFFICE...

                As a result of recent successful projects and an increasing demand for our services, User Voice is expanding.

                Our continued growth means we need more office space and we have therefore relocated to Kennington.

                Our new address is:

                20 Newburn Street
                SE11 5PJ

                Click here for a map.

                We also have a new number:

                020 3137 7471

                  Mark Johnson interviews NOMS chief executive on Green Paper

                  Mark Johnson was invited by the National Offender Management Service, which runs prisons and probation services nationwide, to talk with their chief executive, Michael Spurr about the government's Green Paper proposals for rehabilitation and sentencing reform.

                  Click here to see the article published in the Ministry of Justice magazine, Insight.

                    Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt MP and Mark Johnson to speak at conference

                    Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt MP and User Voice's Mark Johnson will be speaking at a conference in Durham on Thursday 19th May 2011.

                    The conference, organised by the charity Necpacs, will discuss how family ties can be reinforced and family needs met, during and after imprisonment of a family member.

                    Carole Payne, Head of Early Intervention and Partnerships at Durham County Council, who will also be speaking at the conference, said: "Children of prisoners are a particularly vulnerable group, and it is important that all agencies work together to support them properly."

                    See last week's article in The Northern Echo here.

                      Final What's Your Story? report published

                      What’s Your Story? is the final report of a major consultation with 582 excluded young people between the age of 12 and 27 undertaken by User Voice.

                      It sets out their recommendations including the proposal for a new organisation led and staffed by ex-offenders aimed at helping young offenders into work. The final report came out of discussions that took place in December 2010 between 30 of the young people – nominated by their peers – and 25 policy makers, including MPs and representatives from the Ministry of Justice, National Offender Management Service, the Youth Justice Board, prisons, probation trusts and private contractors currently managing prisons.

                      The project was our biggest to date – so big it needed its own website, which includes:

                      • The final report and summary.

                      • Trailer for a documentary fronted by Mercury Music Prize winning rapper Speech Debelle.

                      • Video of the whole project.

                      • Photos from the conference.

                      • Music written and performed by the young people.

                        Call for ban on painful restraint for children

                        A new report published today by the Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC), and based on research conducted by User Voice, highlights young people's experience of restraint in secure juvenile settings.

                        The report says international standards must be used as a benchmark for the safe use of restraint in the secure juvenile estate when required as a measure of last resort. The use of sanctioned pain to control children must therefore be abolished.

                        The publication of the report has received extensive coverage in the media.

                        A copy of the report can be downloaded here.

                        New microsite launched

                        User Voice has today launched a new microsite dedicated to the Excluded Youth project.

                        This nationwide engagement project reached nearly 600 young people in 6 months ending in a final event with senior policy makers in Parliament. There was too much information gathered to include in the final report, including videos, music, pictures and case studies, that we have decided to put it all online and accessible to all.

                        The site also includes comments from the young people who participated, a link to the Facebook page with nearly 800 users, updates on taking the recommendations forward and the opportunity for anyone to have their say.

                        Access the microsite here.

                        Ministry of Justice Green Paper consultation with offenders

                        Today User Voice submitted the response to the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ) Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle, from two focus groups held with young people and adults with personal experience of the criminal justice system. The consultations were sponsored by The Ministry of Justice, who recognised the importance of consulting with people with personal experience of the system and the unique ability of User Voice to gain insight from this group.

                        Participants were asked to respond to a number of questions contained in the Green Paper that were of direct relevance to their own personal experience, categorised under the following headings: punishment and payback, sentencing, working with communities to reduce crime and rehabilitating offenders to reduce crime.

                        The two focus groups included people from a range of ages, ethnicities, from different areas of the country and from academics and professionals, to those just out of prison and others who are currently on orders.

                        The submission can be downloaded here.

                        Youth Justice Board commits to improve practice in response to children and young people’s views

                        In new research and action plan launched today, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) has made a series of commitments to improve the safeguarding practice of their service providers.

                        The YJB and Office of the Children's Commission (OCC) commissioned User Voice to consult gather the views of children and young people in Young Offender Institutions, Secure Training Centres, Secure Children’s Homes and those under the supervision of Youth Offending Services in England.

                        This action plan comes as a direct result of the partnership between the OCC and the YJB listening to the powerful insights of young people about full searches, separation, complaints procedures and help lines in the secure estate. The action plan builds on operational reforms planned by the YJB.

                        The routine use of full searches will stop across the secure estate; there will be a review of the criteria used to separate young people in custody to manage problems that arise; complaints will be handled more fairly and effectively and; work will be undertaken with the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the Samaritans to improve the young people’s access to helpline services.

                        The safeguarding concerns raised by the young people will now be addressed by the YJB in a series of commitments including:
                        • Working with NOMS and consulting with young people to redesign the information available to them about the complaints system and delivering training and guidance to improve the quality of staff responses to complaints
                        • Re-affirming the commitment to only undertake full searches on a risk-led, rather than routine basis
                        • Providing gowns for the young people in STCs during any necessary full searches
                        • Working towards phasing out in YOIs the use of separation as a punishment or merely for the use of control.

                        Download the report, view the press release and joint statement from the YJB, OCC and User Voice here.

                        Maidstone Prison Council election results

                        On 8 February staff and prisoners had the opportunity to vote for one of the 4 parties in their new Prison Council.

                        After months of training for prospective Council members and canvassing staff and prisoners, including the party spokesmen delivering speeches to the full staff meeting, it all came down to election day.

                        During the morning staff and prisoners voted in the Chapel in an authentic election process with ballot boxes and voting boths provided by the local Council's Democratic Services Team. After a tense wait for the votes to be counted the Chief Executive of the Council delivered the all important results.

                        60% of prisoners and 26% of staff voted. There are 20 seats on the Prison Council and the results were as follows:

                        • Diversity & Equality – 9 Seats
                        • Resettlement – 7 seats
                        • Training & Education – 2 seats
                        • Community & Environment – 2 Seats

                        Further details are available here.