What is it like for a young person in the criminal justice system? What is it like for a young person from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background in the criminal justice system? Do you know?
These are some of the questions that we at Youth Community Support Agency (YCSA) have explored with a number of BME young men who were able to give their first hand experience of the criminal justice system. They have shared with us the highs, the lows, the challenges and most importantly over coming these challenges. The young men that worked on this project had received support from staff members from YCSA whilst serving a sentence and continued to work with us post-liberation. For some it was a challenge to revisit their past, for others they were keen to get a message out to other young people who are displaying risky behaviours which may lead them down a destructive path.
We looked at different ways to encourage them to do this and ended up with a whole bank of amazing contributions such as photography, poems, raps, stories and interview footage which has all been collated into a booklet and an accompanying DVD*. Now for the challenging part; finding a title. We needed something that reflected the understanding that everyone has a different story yet we all face struggles, triumphs and tough decisions in our past, present and future. The young men felt it was important to focus on the similarities rather than the differences amongst us so from this Just Like You emerged.
Just Like You invites you to experience the journey of these young men from remand, through sentencing and re-entering the community. During this journey we have encouraged these young men to recognise negatives in their life and make a change. This is what we want this project to do, make a change. We want Just Like You to be a platform for the young men to have their stories heard, for it to be used as a resource to show other young people what prison is really like and for people to recognise that change is possible on whatever scale. This can be individual change or it can be used to affect change in support organisations, in the prison service or at the root of decision making which will go on to affect these young men and their future.
For those who took part in the making of the booklet and DVD we at YCSA offer our thanks and appreciation. The courage to speak honestly of their experiences and to do so in front of a camera without practice or preparation is what gives the film its power. This is why you should listen to what these young men have to say. They are the best people to answer the question “What is it like for a young person from a black and minority ethnic (BME) background in the criminal justice system?”
Lousie Downie is a development worker with YCSA with a particular responsibility for working with young men in YOI Polmont.
*Enclosed free with print copies of the June 2016 issue of Scottish Justice Matters. Here’s a preview of the Just Like You DVD on YouTube.
For more information on this project or YCSA contact us on 0141 420 6600 or firstname.lastname@example.org