Maslaha Presenting Work on Young Offenders at 'Unusual Suspects' Festival
by Latifa Akay
Disparity in both treatment and outcome for young African, Caribbean, mixed origin and Muslim men at every stage of the Criminal Justice System has long been notorious, yet the issue has persistently failed to receive effective responses.
As part of the international Unusual Suspects festival in September, exploring unlikely connections on social change, Maslaha will be running a session on how existing community assets can be strengthened to tackle issues facing young people at risk of entering the criminal justice system.
The session will showcase a report following a year of work with young Muslim men from disadvantaged communities in East London in activities which will tackle some of the root causes connected with youth offending and re-offending.
A lot of programmes in the UK focus on the mentoring of ex-offenders or on ‘rehabilitation’ after they leave prison. Far less work however focuses on preventative measures and the ‘root causes’ of offending and re-offending, which are strongly connected with a number of overlapping and interlinked social needs.
This project has sought to address some of these issues, which underline the urgent need for support, access to resources and skills development and activities which resonate with the needs of young people at risk of offending. In the words of one participant:
"People who are legit and with money don’t come and talk to you. People who are on the streets in their Ferraris come and talk to you. The drug dealer is always wearing fresh clothes, fresh trainers, this is something I want too."
The session at the festival will explore a variety of themes, including employment, education, family, identity and the wider community, in partnership with a number of men who have experienced the criminal justice system. The themes will also be explored through film, spoken word and a joint creative production which challenges the way these young men are seen in the public imagination.
Central to this project is our belief that failure to consider the complexity of variables involved when thinking through possible solutions, will lead to non-sustainable interventions.
True to the ‘unusual suspects’ theme of the festival, run by the Social Innovation Exchange, those of you who know our work will be aware that Maslaha has always been about those ‘unlikely connections.’
In all of our projects, be these related to health, gender, arts or education, the unexpected and diverse mix of people involved is frequently our most valuable asset and has led to unexpected and innovative ways of addressing long-standing problems.
In our work exploring Islam and feminism (www.islamandfeminism.org) for example, we brought together faith groups, artists, journalists, grass-roots activists, mainstream feminist groups and academics. Bridging gaps in areas where a disconnect has been noted, in this instance between grassroots action and academia for example, can be of considerable importance in ensuring that the language and approach of debates connect with the communities that need them.
The current project is no different and has involved working with families, policy makers, schools and local employers alongside our primary focus group of young Muslim men. We have had sessions with social entrepreneurs, recruiters, probation officers, artists and ‘boys who made it’ from the area.
Our festival session will touch upon some of the most critical issues facing young people from ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK today – misunderstanding, identity, unemployment, disenfranchisement and barriers to civic participation.
We will demonstrate how it is possible to create a practical intervention in tackling some of these complex issues with a diverse range of stakeholders and a multi-disciplinary approach.
We will also show how it is possible to create a local intervention that has the potential to be rolled out on a larger scale, an approach we aim for in all of our projects.
Join us on September 4th, to discuss how strengthening existing and perhaps overlooked community assets could better support those young people at risk of entering the Criminal Justice System.
With thanks to The Pears Foundation and Trust for London for generously funding this project!