This is a guest post by Jason Morris, National Speicalist Lead at HMPPS Interventions Services. It provides an exposition of the authors’ views on co-producing technology that supports desistance. It is not intended to set out HMPPS policy on digital rehabilitative services nor co-production methods.
A 32-year old man “Colin” with a conviction for assaulting his male partner leans forward and speaks into a microphone:
“I don’t know what to say – it’s more about learning about myself and creating a person that isn’t me, but kind of is me because of his experiences….. [we] put them into scenarios to help other people in the future”.
Over a six-month period, I worked with Colin and colleagues on a project to co-produce rehabilitative digital media. The project was a discovery designed to shine a light on how we design services for people with Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) convictions. We found a place for technology in tailoring Offending Behaviour Programme (OBP) provision for a marginalised group in the Criminal Justice System (namely men who abuse their male partner or ex-partner).
When Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Doesn’t Fit the “Public Story”
Public policy in the UK has long been influenced by the idea that IPV is the product of the gender inequality that pervades our patriarchal society. This narrative promotes a “public story” of IPV in which abusive men commit offences against female victims. A consequence of this widely accepted set of ideas is that rehabilitation opportunities for people with IPV convictions are almost exclusively heteronormative (i.e., designed for violent men with female victims).
However, many people find that their intimate life sits outside of this public story: gay men for example. Moreover, research suggests that the prevalence of IPV in LGBT relationships is comparable to that in heterosexual ones. This is a longstanding and often overlooked challenge for domestic abuse policy-makers and providers of services to perpetrators and victims. In these austere times, how can we broaden the scope of services to meet the needs of different cohorts? In 2016, in line with our commitment to inclusion, HMPPS Interventions Services began developing a response to IPV that was more culturally appropriate for people who live outside of the heteronormative mainstream. Below I reflect on how we used an emerging evidence-base; stakeholder engagement responses; technological advancements; and, the lived experiences of service users to develop a more inclusive approach to working with men who commit IPV.
Understanding IPV in Same-Sex Relationships
Research indicates that IPV in both heterosexual and LGBT relationships can involve physical aggression (such as punching, slapping, choking, kicking, etc) and non-physical aggression (such as threatening, coercive, dishonest, isolating, humiliating behaviour towards victims). Furthermore, straight and LGBT IPV can both be driven by psychological factors such as difficulties in conflict resolution and attachment; alcohol use and alcohol-related problems; and, the experience of stress, anger or jealousy. Furthermore, the experience of childhood trauma (e.g., psychological, physical or sexual abuse) on personality development can have a profound effect on people and increases their likelihood of using IPV.
Whilst it seems unlikely that the key determinants of IPV are related to sexual orientation, there is growing evidence to suggest that the complex interplay between victim and perpetrator in LGBT IPV can be influenced by “sexual minority stress”. Stressors can be “externalised” (e.g., general sexual-orientation-related victimisation and the perception of prejudice or discrimination) or “internalised” (e.g., identity concealment and internalised homonegativity). Identity concealment can come into play when people who identify as LGB and/or T experience intense anxiety around being deliberately “outed” by their abuser (i.e., outing as a tactic of the abuse). The potential experience self-hate or low self-esteem as a result of being exposed to homonegativity (i.e., internalised homonegativity) has also been shown to be linked to IPV.
Discovering How to Develop Content for Marginalised Groups
Following a consultation with stakeholders, we had a number of questions about how culturally appropriate course content could be created to engage LGBT participants. In search of inspiration, a member of the design team (Charlie Gibbs) took to a well-known video-sharing platform, where she found a brief, basic animated clip for people “struggling with consent”. This clip had a clear spoken narrative that presented gender non-specific characters in different scenarios to deliver important and nuanced messages around sexual consent. We saw the value in this clip’s clarity, accessibility and apparent low cost – but we had no means to replicate the approach. A brief encounter with a Probation Service Officer called Jimmy Wong changed that. Jimmy had begun digitising OBP content using software available on the internet. He got me started with an internet-based animation package. This software gave us the creative control to develop our own media clips to deliver clear, accessible rehabilitative messages (on a zero-budget basis).
Complementary Digital Media
I’ve coined the phrase “Complementary Digital Media” (or CDM) to describe the videos, animations and infographics developed by HMPPS Interventions Services for use within OBPs. CDM clips put “user stories” at the heart of services. These stories help staff and participants appreciate the challenges linked to offending and how applying specific ideas and skills might help overcome these. CDM clips usually provide a step-by-step explanation of how a relatable character self-manages a relevant situation. Through a carefully managed co-production process, service users write scripts and perform voiceovers to help create CDM clips. In so doing, they have a genuine opportunity to benefit future OBP participants (and practitioners) by creating content that helps to get conversations started in face-to-face sessions. Participants can also consolidate this learning by accessing clips between therapy sessions and after they have completed an intervention.
The Emotional Labour and the Benefits of Co-Production
To co-create appropriate content, we partnered with Staffordshire West Midlands Community Rehabilitation Company (SWMCRC) who recruited “Colin”, our sole co-creator for the male same-sex variant of our new service. Colin’s lived experiences of sexual minority stress (SMS) came out in his descriptions of his relationship behaviour.
Developing CDM was an emotional process for Colin. He told us he had to overcome his fear of being judged about both his sexuality and his offending to get involved in the project. The semi-autobiographical nature of the process required him to revisit traumatic times from growing up and from relationships where he himself had been a victim. Although this process was difficult, the personal rewards for Colin were evident. For example, he told us that participating in the project made him feel he was “actually doing something with my life, I’m getting to know myself again”.
Co-producing CDM with Colin enabled us to filter desistance-promoting concepts from existing OBPs through his lived experiences of SMS and IPV to create new content that is better suited to gay men with IPV offences. Furthermore, Colin’s desire to promote equality in service provision resonated with us at a theoretical and strategic level. He told us that his purpose for getting involved in the project was to show people that “gay, straight, whatever you are, we are all the same… everyone is equal”.
We will continue to improve the content we co-created with Colin through feedback from future participants and stakeholders (including LGBT groups and the Correctional Services Advice and Accreditation Panel; CSAAP).
Power, Control and Co-Production
By having Colin’s voice and stories at the heart of our approach, we were intentionally taking the project away from the public narrative of IPV and the traditional theories that lay claim to it. As stated at the outset of this article, Colin aimed to put his experiences into scenarios to help other people in the future. He told us the best way to develop digital content for OBPs was to ensure that the end product reflects “real life”. By respecting his autonomy to tell his story, co-production empowered Colin to share real personal details in a way that has the potential to benefit his peers. Listening carefully to his stories (alongside research evidence) helped us attune new OBP content to a real pathway into IPV and the real personal strengths underpinning his current desistance. Whilst we explored times when he abused his power and control over his partner, we also focused heavily on his strengths. In one clip Colin tells the viewer: “to get through what I’ve had to get through, I’ve had to be a strong person. I’m not a weirdo, I’m a survivor. I was brought up to think that being gay wasn’t normal. I’ve realised that being myself if the most important thing I’ve got to do”.
Co-producing desistance-orientated services involves a partial transfer of control away from developers to people in the target group. Transferring this control over to service users requires faith in their capacity to connect in a meaningful and constructive way with future participants in similar circumstances. Empowering them as co-creators unlocks unique insights and allows them to derive real purpose from their engagement with CJS. Whilst it is critical that IPV services are informed by research evidence, the insights of service users (as well as other stakeholders) have an equally critical role in service development; a view shared by our volunteer:
If it wasn’t for us, you would have nothing, and I don’t mean that in a rude way, I’m saying it blatantly. If it wasn’t for me – and everybody else – you would have nothing.
The clip below aims to capture Colin’s experience of co-production.
A peer reviewed journal article about this project can be found here: https://doi.org/10.1177/2066220319871454.
Innovation posts sponsored by Socrates 360
The smart solution to communication, information, and education in secure settings and beyond.
Socrates Software is working with Probation Services, Prison Services and some of the UK’s premierprivate companies bringing innovation and life-changing improvements to the sector by providing a “mobile mentor” via tablets and smartphones for Prisons and the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme.
The Future of Resettlement
Socrates 360, mobile mentor, is a true Through-The-Gate solution for the prison/probation sector. For use by prisoners, probationers & staff.