A Therapeutic Jurisprudence approach is multidisciplinary.  It invites us to draw from other disciplines — such as social work, psychology and criminology — to improve the wellbeing of people who are in contact with the legal system.

In this blog we hear about a new project based on the ground breaking Churchill Fellowship research of Claire Seppings that does just that…

About Claire Seppings’ Churchill Fellowship research

Claire’s Churchill Fellowship research showed that, in overseas jurisdictions, ex-prisoners who have reformed contribute to reducing re-offending by mentoring newly released prisoners and advising on improvements to service systems that enable people to live a crime free life.

IMG_3447 (2) (2)Photo: Claire Seppings (far right) with the team from Community Led Initiatives, Manchester

Claire researched many peer mentoring schemes in a range of different countries. Her report details the role that peer mentors can play in supporting people who have offended to integrate back into community.

Claire’s report provides an important summary of the current state of knowledge and practice in this field. She details a range of evaluations that have shown the positive benefits of peer mentoring (see below).

Claire’s report explores the criminological theory of desistance.  As McNeill, Farrall, Lightowler & Maruna write in “How and why people stop offending: Discovering desistance”:

Recently evidence has also been emerging about the importance of self-identity in the desistance process. Maruna (2001: 8) aimed to ‘identify the common psychosocial structure underlying [ex-offender’s] self-stories’. He identified that ‘to desist from crime, ex-offenders need to develop a coherent, pro-social identity for themselves’ (2001: 7). This draws on his finding that individuals who were able to desist from crime had high levels of self-efficacy, meaning that they saw themselves in control of their futures and had a clear sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. They also found a way to ‘make sense’ out of their past lives and even find some redeeming value in lives that had often been spent in and out of prisons and jails. The desisting ex-prisoners he interviewed often said they wanted to put these experiences ‘to good use’ by helping others (usually young people in similar circumstances to their own) avoid the mistakes they made.

And further:

Giordano and colleagues draw on evidence about the relationship between individual agency and social structures (eg Farrall and Bowling, 1999) to argue that ‘the actor creatively and selectively draws upon elements of the environment in order to affect significant life changes’ (2002:1003). In this way, they work towards a model of desistance which draws evidence about both individual agency and social structures together (see also Maruna and Farrall, 2004).

In regard to desistance Claire Seppings writes:

The evidence about desistance suggests rethinking criminal justice processes and institutions themselves, including sentencing, probation and prisons. Desistance is about more than criminal justice. Desistance requires engagement with families, communities, civil society and the state itself. All of these parties must be involved if rehabilitation in all of its forms (judicial, social, psychological and moral) is to be possible. By focusing on positive human change and development, research about desistance also resists the negative labelling of people based on their past behaviours and the unintended consequences that such labelling can produce. Desistance can only be understood within the context of human relationships; not just relationships between workers and offenders (though these matter a great deal) but also between offenders and those who matter to them.  Although the focus is often on offenders’ risks and needs, they also have strengths and resources that they can use to overcome obstacles to desistance – both personal strengths and resources, and strengths and resources in their social networks.

Desistance theory can be seen at work the peer mentoring relationships that provide a supportive social structure and support a person’s shift in identity.  As Claire reports:

The reality is that in most Western societies, ex-prisoners are thus restricted and socially excluded, based on the nature of their life histories. Having been incarcerated devalues an actor’s social identity (Goffman, 1963) and prisoners therefore are often disqualified from full social acceptance. Having a mentor to access social capital on the ex-prisoner’s behalf reduces the impact of such stigma and circumvents at least some of the barriers faced by this particular socially excluded group.

And as one peer mentoring agency described, peer mentoring can build capacity for people who have offended to begin their desistance journey and overcome obstacles to desistance (p.70):

Our work leads us to recognise that offenders like to relate to those who have ‘walked in their shoes’, those who have the lived experience of criminal justice. We believe that the ex- offender community has an important role to play in resettlement and rehabilitation, supporting others at the beginning on of their personal journey. We believe that it is essential for the offender community to develop its capacity to lead itself out of crime and developing and extending peer support networks is a way of doing this.

Great news!

Philanthropic trusts have granted Deakin University funds to develop and trial a peer-led mentoring program to break the cycle of crime and imprisonment in Geelong (Victoria, Australia).

The project is based on Claire Seppings’ Churchill Fellowship research

This partnership project is between Deakin University and the Department of Justice and Regulation will design and test a model of peer mentorship for the Australian context.

Many thanks to these Philanthropic Trusts for enabling this to happen.

Stay tuned!

For further information, please contact: Claire Seppings, Project Coordinator, Deakin University on (03) 9246 8318 or via email claire.seppings@deakin.edu.au   

Peer Mentoring Evaluations
Batty, E. & Fletcher, D.R. (2012). ‘Offender Peer Interventions: What do we know?’ Sheffield Hallam University, Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University.
Carmichael, C, (2015) ‘Merseyside Offender Mentoring Project, Project Evaluation’. Sefton Council for Voluntary Service (CVS).
Clarke, R. & Fox, C. Sefton, M. (2014) ‘Mentoring Evaluation London Probation Trust’ Manchester Metropolitan University.
Clarke, B. (2015) ‘Community Led Initiatives: An evaluation of the Community Led Initiatives Mentoring Service within Manchester City Integrated Offender Management’ Manchester Metropolitan University.
Criminal Justice Social Work Development Centre for Scotland, University of Edinburgh, 2011. ‘Evaluation of Routes Out of Prison’.
SAMHSA’s GAINS Center for technical assistance purposes for the Adult Treatment Court Collaborative ‘Involving Peers in Criminal Justice & Problem-Solving Collaboratives’. (2012)
Sturm, Susan and Tae, Haran: ‘Leading with Conviction, the Transformative Role of Formerly Incarcerated Leaders in Reducing Mass Incarceration’, 2016: Center for Institutional and Social Change, Columbia Law School and JustLeadershipUSA.


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