Yesterday we attended an exceptional conference organised by Restorative Practices Ireland and Restorative Justice Forum (NI) entitled – “Restorative Connections: Developing a Roadmap across the Island of Ireland”. It was a revelation to discover such palpable dedication and commitment from everyone involved including stakeholders, organisers, speakers, presenters, guests, participants and attendees in general. The conference was cleverly planned and organised to both educate attendees and learn from attendees.
Our main aim was to learn about the restorative practices in use – in particular we wanted to find out what services were either in place or planned for prisons and young offender institutions, for improving language and literacy for the high percentage of interned offenders that have language and / or literacy problems.
Although all the workshops and sessions that we were able to attend were most informative and very well presented, the following are worthy of a mention:
The “Working in Schools” workshop run by Michelle Stowe and Claire Mathews was excellent covering restorative practice approaches to establish a structured framework for teaching and learning and the development of positive relationships, to cultivate a sense of community within schools.
The “Participant and Practitioner Experiences” workshop explored the potential for new restorative approaches:
(i) the establishment of “Hydebank Wood College” – formerly a Young Offenders Institution (run by Amanda Wood)
(ii) the Restorative Justice in the Community Project (run by Emily Sheary)
These two workshops are positively reframing how restorative practices can be utilised within a custodial (or deferred custodial) setting as part of the process for community engagement and reintegration into society.
Looking at the chart above which came from the BETT Conference 2012, it’s not hard to work out that language and / or literacy problems start in the early school years and if they aren’t picked up and remediated quickly, a high percentage of those with difficulties underachieve at school with many falling down the slippery slope from truanting, committing offences, leading to more serious crimes and ending up with a custodial sentence. A high percentage of prisoners and young offenders are dyslexic or have a specific learning difficulty that has affected them all the way through their school years. There is a stigma attached to illiteracy and having language deficits only compounds their problem, if they don’t understand what is being asked or said or if they can’t explain themselves properly.
On reflection, after listening and speaking to many of the experts at the conference yesterday, there seems to be a glaring opportunity on the horizon to create a new restorative practice that would allow a consenting inmate to significantly improve their literacy competency within the timeframe of their custodial (or deferred) sentence. It would take advantage of their time in custody to remediate what would otherwise be a lifelong problem. Being literate would also help in the process of community engagement and reintegration into society and in all probability it could reduce the potential for re-offending.
Our WordsWorthLearning online literacy programme would be a perfect fit for such a project, it is an online version of a speech & language literacy programme that has been proven to work over the last 30 years, it is available on PC and Tablet, it is easy to use, it works quickly and it is affordable.
We fully intend to reconnect with some of the people we met at the conference yesterday with a view to discussing this opportunity further. It could become a very significant Restorative Practice for Ireland, that might also be adopted on a larger scale.
David Ross and Rita Treacy