Pigeonholing

Article 12 of the UNCRC states that nation states have a duty to listen to the views of young people, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or any other characteristic.
In this blog, Lizzie Coutts of Positive Prison? Positive Futures talks about her involvement in a project which aims to support young people with experience of the justice system to take part in civic society.

As a society, I think we do a wonderful job of pigeonholing people. We are all guilty of making value judgements based on things like how someone earns their living or imposing labels to help us categorise people by their race, gender or even intelligence. Unfortunately, it can often feel like an impossible task to shake society’s labels and this seems especially true for people with convictions.

I currently work as a Policy & Research Officer for an organisation called Positive Prison? Positive Futures and am trying to get a new project called ‘Amplifying the Voice of Young People’ off the ground. The aim of this project is to create a space for Scotland’s justice experienced young people (aged 16-25) to have their views, ambitions and dreams for the future of the system and services they have encountered, heard and acted upon. The intention is not to gather the views of these young people and share them with decision makers, it is to provide the necessary support for the young people to do it for themselves, in their own words and in their own way.

To kick-start this work, I have been trying to bring together a small group of people who fit the age criteria and are currently living with, or have had to overcome the difficulties of having a criminal conviction. I am passionate about this project and believe it is a great opportunity but as expected the recruitment process has been slow. Why do I think this is? Because the majority of people who meet the criteria for involvement, are what we call ‘a hidden population’. They don’t wear badges identifying themselves for our convenience.

I suspect most people would rather remain ‘hidden’ so that they can go about their daily lives without the rain cloud of societal labels hanging over their head and making things, such as finding employment, even more difficult than it already can be. Especially, when you throw issues surrounding disclosure into the mix.

If we are honest with ourselves, in many cases the reason we fall into the category of people with convictions or people without, probably just comes down to luck. Whether or not we were lucky enough not to get caught. Ask yourself this: have you ever taken drugs, sent a text whilst driving or watched BBC iPlayer without a television license? Just because you didn’t get caught, doesn’t mean it isn’t illegal.

Three years ago, one of my closest friends was charged with possession after being caught with half an ecstasy tablet in his pocket, he was 21. The outcome of his court appearance was a five year criminal record that would be expunged if no other criminal conviction was to occur within this time. He is now 25 and is very lucky that this hasn’t affected his ability to find work, but he does still feel the stigma attached to the label of ‘criminal conviction’. It is not a fact about himself that he shares lightly.

It is actually estimated that around one third of Scotland’s male population and nearly one tenth of the adult female population have a criminal record. I would therefore strongly agree with the Scottish Centre for Criminal Justice Research (SCCJR) when they conclude that criminal convictions are an issue for a considerable portion of the Scottish population. And if this is the case, then in my opinion an issue well worth talking about.

That is why we have launched the “Amplifying Voices of Young People” project. To empower Scotland’s justice experienced young people with information, advice and support to do just this. To talk about issues such as justice that have in the past, or continue to affect their lives and work to combat the stigma associated with labels such as ‘criminal conviction’.

I am fast approaching 26 and will soon lose my label of ‘young person’. Society will need to reclassify me and allocate me a new pigeonhole. However, for now, I can say that as one of Scotland’s young people, I see the value and power our voices can have. By getting involved in this programme of work and sharing their experience-based insights, I truly believe these young people can make a unique and invaluable contribution to the changes required at a national level to build fairer and safer communities in Scotland.

Let’s make change together.

If you would like to find out more about this initiative, or to get involved please contact avoyp@positiveprison.org or visit the website.

Amplifying the Voice of Young People are holding a `taster’ day at the Kinning Park complex in Glasgow on Thursday 9th August from  11am to 3pm. Come along and enjoy pizza, have some fun and learn more about what the project aims to do.


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