The recent ‘Living it: children, young people and justice’ event bought together Ministers, MSPS, practitioners and young people to the Scottish Parliament to address questions raised in the Scottish Justice Matters magazine issue of the same title.
This themed issue features first-hand contributions from young people with involvement in the criminal justice system, alongside expert and academic comment.
The event focused on the contributions of five young people, who gave courageous and inspirational insights into their experiences of the criminal justice system, and made valid suggestions for how things can be improved for Scotland’s children and young people.
Kim, a young woman who is determined to move beyond a troubled childhood to give her son the opportunities she never had, urged guests to “use your knowledge and power because if we fail today, what chance do our kids have for tomorrow?”
Shaun talked about the importance of role models for children and young people, whilst Brian discussed the importance of employment – “my self-esteem has gone up so much since I started working” – and called for more funding support for the organisations that helped him turn his life around.
Amie’s account of a childhood overshadowed by her brother’s prison sentence and the impact it had on her family was particularly moving. “I was only 13, scared and confused…all I understood was that something had gone drastically wrong.” She thanked the audience for being present: “Just by listening, you yourselves are breaking the stigma of criminality.”
Final speaker Susie spoke out about the trauma of being a child witness to a crime against herself, and how the lack of support she received led her life to go from “bad to worse”. She stressed the importance of change for female prisoners: “Women do not have the same opportunities as male inmates…we’re in a minority but have the majority of the issues.”
Music was provided by Glasgow-based arts project Vox Liminis, which harnesses the power of music-making to assist the reintegration of ‘offenders’ within Scotland. Professor Lesley McAra, Chair of Penology at the University of Edinburgh and co-director of the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, also spoke on the importance of taking a ‘maximum diversion, minimum intervention’ approach.
The event, which was jointly organised by the Centre for Youth & Criminal Justice (CYCJ), the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice, and Venture Trust, was hosted by Mr Kenny MacAskill MSP, who stepped down as Cabinet Secretary for Justice in 2014. Mr MacAskill warmly thanked the young people: “It’s one thing to get a briefing, it’s quite another to hear direct dialect and testimonies…you get so much more out of hearing it directly than you could ever from an official memorandum.”
Claire Lightowler is Director of CYCJ, which is funded by the Scottish Government and hosted by the University of Strathclyde. She said:
“This was an exceptional event. Young people whose lives are affected by the policies that are made at Parliament got to speak directly to the policy makers and share the reality of their lives. We are extremely proud of Kim, Shaun, Amie, Brian and Susie for their bravery in sharing what were often painful memories. Their hope for the future is humbling and inspirational. We have heard their call for change and now we must work with them and other children and young people as partners in this, with a determination to improve things with them and for the next generation.”