Conference visit – “Redesigning Justice: Promoting civil rights, trust and fairness conference”

Unlocked Graduate Mollie blogs about a recent academic conference she attended:

I was given the opportunity by Unlocked Graduates to attend a recent conference organised by the Howard League for Penal Reform – “Redesigning Justice: Promoting civil rights, trust and fairness conference” – on the 21-22 March 2018 in Oxford.

It very quickly became clear that I was the only person out of the many, many people at the conference who did NOT have a PhD or 20+ years of experience in a field. Despite this being intimidating, it was very inspirational for me to meet numerous people who have achieved a lot and contributed so much to the world that I am only just entering.

The two-day conference was packed full of interesting talks from numerous academics and professionals, who were presenting their research on a wide range of aspects of criminal justice issues. Being able to see the research that many different academics were conducting inspired me to think of what research I could do whilst working as a prison officer; all Unlocked Graduates write a policy paper as part of our two-year course, so the conference gave me some ideas for this and also for the future.

I did find that as someone who works directly in a prison, many of the academics do not have this frontline experience. This is something that I, as a prison officer, could offer to future research. From my experience I was able to offer suggestions to the academics presenting their work.

One stand-out moment for myself was a conversation over dinner with Gerry Marshall, a trustee for the Howard League, who had previously been the Chief Executive of Thames Valley Probation and also a vice-chair for the charity Circles UK, which I have previously volunteered for. He had many questions for me, as did I for him. I was very proud of the way I was able to discuss so many issues with him. My main concern prior to attending the conference was that I am nowhere near as intelligent as most people attending, but I definitely proved myself wrong! I was able to share knowledge from my experience as a prison officer, and also from my undergraduate and Master’s degree to answer some difficult questions that he put to me.

I left the conference with numerous ideas for my future dissertation, future research, future policy, and for future job roles. How can we restore trust in the criminal justice system? How can we give those who feel defeated by the criminal justice system hope? And how can I, as a prison officer, encourage policy changes that support those who find themselves within that system? I am now sure that I will in the near future be able to offer answers to these difficult questions.