On 19 January 2016 I attended an exciting workshop as part of the Justice Matters initiative, run by Will McMahon and Rebecca Roberts over at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Launched in 2013 and motivated by the belief that 'the United Kingdom’s over-reliance on policing, prosecution and punishment is socially harmful, economically wasteful, and prevents us from tackling the complex problems our society faces in a sustainable and socially just manner,' the Justice Matters initiative aims to 'promote radical alternatives to criminal justice'.
At first, I was a little daunted by the enormous wealth of experience in the room – from practitioners to researchers and advocates – but the people I met there were warm, friendly, and motivated by a sincere commitment to eradicating the social harms which our Victorian criminal justice system not only fails to address, but all too often exacerbates.
After identifying four priority areas, we broke out into smaller groups in order to brainstorm strategic alternatives to current criminal justice approaches. The four areas we focused on were: violence against women and girls; the over-policing of BAME communities; alcohol-related violence; and the criminalisation of children and young people.
The session seemed as if it was over before it had even started, though we had already begun to have important and fruitful conversations about how we might build alternatives to the current system of crime and punishment.
What was clear to me was that there are nascent alternatives already, and in many instances it might be a simple case of upscaling existing schemes. It was also clear that there is a huge amount of expertise, knowledge, and enthusiasm waiting to be tapped into.
Of course, different schemes have different time frames, and it is important to acknowledge the limitations imposed on abolitionists by the current austerity agenda. However, the workshop did give me some hope. In bringing together intelligent, sensitive, and dedicated individuals, committed to a future free from failed systems of retribution and punishment, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies is contributing to the vital work of opening up what Angela Davis called ‘new terrains of justice.’
Theo Scheiner is a recent MA Sociology graduate and prison activist. This article was originally published on his blog which covers criminal justice issues.
Click here for more information about the Justice Matters initiative and the workshop.