The Significance of Volunteering

Danielle Hackett, a second year student on the Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree, explains the significance of volunteering, how it has helped her course and how the course has helped her volunteering experiences.

I did not understand the significance of volunteering, until I became a volunteer. In my first year of Criminal Justice with Offender Management, I became a volunteer for a rehabilitation charity called CGL. Whilst volunteering for CGL, I was able to use my knowledge and skills from my university course whilst working with offenders and other sectors, and I was also able to use my experience from volunteering in my university course.

Through my volunteering, I have had the chance to work with a range of offenders from prisons all around Staffordshire and have been able to visit prisons such as HMP Dovegate, HMP Foston Hall, HMP Drake Hall and YOI Brinsford. It has provided me with a vast experience of the prison system, as well as the probation service and other important services around Staffordshire as we all work together in a partnership.

I recently applied for a job at CGL, the post is for a year as a volunteer co-ordinator, they oversee the Staffordshire volunteers. I was successful in my application and I am eager to soon start my new job and I believe that becoming a volunteer was a very imminent part of receiving this job. I also have a job as a student ambassador at Staffs University and the job allows me to earn money and gain experience at the same time, it is a perfect job for students as I can choose which hours I work. The job has allowed me to meet different people such as students and staff members, but also other academics and professionals. It has enabled me to develop even more skills such as interviewing people.

I have just spent three days at a Cat B male prison, training to become a key handler. The three days consisted of personal protection training, corruption training, suicide and self-harm prevention and security training. Therefore, I am now able to draw keys at this prison, which is another step in the door in the future, but I am also now able to hold meetings with the prisoners about CGL and what help we can provide them with when they are released. Attending university is important, however, I have learnt that volunteering in the industry is also very beneficial for my future and that it works hand in hand with my course.

Whilst volunteering for CGL, I was able to use my knowledge and skills from my university course whilst working with offenders and other sectors, and I was also able to use my experience from volunteering in my university course.

My First Year as a BA (Hons) Criminal Justice with Offender Management student

Debbie Ball is a Level Four student on our Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree. She has written a blog piece explaining why she chose to study with us and how the degree will help her career. 

In September 2019 I became a mature student of the Criminal Justice with Offender Management course (CJWOM). I have worked for several local agencies for over 10 years across the city. I have worked for many years for a drug treatment service and in the housing sector working to find suitable accommodation for newly released prisoners. I have been privileged to have worked closely with the local prisons, probation service and other third sector agencies in my professional career.

My decision to apply for the CJWOM course was influenced by a female probation officer that I worked closely with to house a vulnerable gentleman with complex needs. This proved to be a difficult task due to his criminal record and complex needs, unfortunately before we managed to find housing for the gentleman he sadly passed away. This experience had a profound effect on me, I felt that I wanted to be able to make a real difference and had a passion for rehabilitation and supporting people wanting an opportunity for change. Working in the public sector can be very rewarding but also very sad, the clients I have worked with have been my greatest teachers over the years but felt that it was now the right time to cement my experiences into academic knowledge.

The Course Leader, Louis Martin, spoke at the open day for the course about gaining experience in the criminal justice sector as he felt that this would help build skills and gain experience. Due to my working relationship with the female probation officer I had previously worked with, I contacted her regarding returning to university and she encouraged me to apply to work at the national probation service approved premises as a sessional worker.

A sessional residential worker is paid employment and you are required to cover shifts for sickness, annual leave or general staff absence. The role includes supporting people with every day requests, general admin and a close multi agency approach with the police, probation and PPU (Public Protection Unit) and more.
An approved premise is for high risk offenders who been assigned to live at an address owned by probation services as part of a licence agreement on their release from prison. Some residents can be released to the premises as part of a ROTL (release on temporary licence) short stay, an alternative to a recall to prison or a longer stay to ensure integration back into society. There are several approved premises located across the west midlands and by becoming a sessional worker I could choose my location, hours and days to fit around my university studies.

The application and clearance/vetting stages are both lengthy processes which I began in June 2019 and finally received my clearance in October 2019, the process includes a DBS and background check. I completed a number of shadow shifts as requested by the approved premises manager over a number of weeks for training purposes and to get a feel for how the AP operates before I was able to complete a shift as a full sessional worker.

I have been at the AP now for 3 months and really enjoy it, it can be challenging and complex at times and I am sure there are a lot of misconceptions regarding violence and the environment but in my own experience I have not found this to be the case. Working at the approved premises has given me a good insight to the probation service but I still have a lot to learn.

An international survey into the analysis and interpretation of microscopic hair evidence by forensic hair examiners

Congratulations to Dr Claire Gwinnett and Laura Wilkinson (PhD Researcher) who have had their paper published, ‘An international survey into the analysis and interpretation of microscopic hair evidence by forensic hair examiners’

“This investigated global approaches to forensic hair examinations in criminal casework – something that has not been done before in this manner and this sets the current scene in the perceptions and methods being used in forensic hair examinations by forensic hair experts. This comes post global scrutiny of such evidence and highlights still the need for change and better standardized objective methods for interpretation.”

Placement in Germany: Germany Evofinder Training

Symon Dowell, an MSci Forensic Science student, tells us about his exciting placement in Germany. 

In my final year of my Forensic Science MSci undergraduate degree it is a requirement to conduct a three-month placement. This can be in research, a work placement, or a mixture of the two, inside or outside of Staffordshire University. My placement, in ballistic imaging, is to develop a database for statistical modelling and forensic firearm identification. The placement will consist of using the ScannBi Evofinder to image fired test samples sent by firearm experts from all over the world.
In order to conduct my placement Dr Rachel Bolton-King and I travelled to Lübeck, Germany, to conduct training on the Evofinder, being taught by the company, ScannBi. A huge thank you to everyone at ScannBi but especially to Aleksandr Skvortsov for being an excellent trainer. The ScannBi Technology company was founded by a group of specialists in different fields to create an effective tool for ballistic expertise.

Miniaturised aerial view of Lübeck

The training started from the very basics of the Evofinder system teaching us how to use the system, and what every single icon does on the software and when we would need to use them. A cassette is used to hold the bullet or cartridge case in place and is inserted into the Evofinder. There are many different adaptors available to hold the samples in place and we were taught which component to use with different types of samples. We also got to have plenty of hands on practise with the Evofinder, imaging some samples which were in good condition with easily identifiable impressions to other samples with very little visible impressions or were just fragments of a bullet, which were interesting to image but required more skill with the equipment to image them properly.

This was my first experience of being taught outside the UK and working in a technology company environment. Although I was nervous, I was also very excited to learn about their technology and to be able to use it confidently and hopefully competently. It was very interesting listening and speaking to both the ScannBi owner, their employees and Rachel regarding ballistic examination around the world.
The training took place during normal working hours, 9am to 5pm, meaning all other time outside of this was ours. This allowed us to travel around the wonderfully colourful German Christmas markets, of which there were many, with a variety of different stalls, with the main theme of food, drink (some alcoholic of course!) or crafted objects, or a mixture of the three. Every lunchtime we would walk to the same café which served some amazing food, and, in the evenings, we would dine on food from the Christmas markets. Except, after the first day of training the ScannBi Company kindly invited us out for a very delicious meal.

Conducting this training has not only given me the skills to be able to use the Evofinder competently but has given me the confidence to be able to travel to a new environment and be taught by professionals, learning new information, developing existing and new skills.

‘The ScannBi Technology company was founded by a group of specialists in different fields to create an effective tool for ballistic expertise.’

I chose to apply for this work placement with Rachel because I wanted to do something that would be fun and interesting, and I did not have a clear idea as to what I want to do after my university degree. Therefore, I decided to go for an area where I have little experience in. The requirements for this placement were to have good attention to detail and to be able to carry out repetitive work sticking to operational guidelines, but it was not necessary to have a vast knowledge of ballistic examination.
The alternative option

for conducting this training would have been for Rachel to attend the training alone and to teach me at the start of my placement in January. This would have given me a free week back in December to go on holiday, relax and enjoy the start of the Christmas break not conducting any work. However, this was never an option for me, I wanted the experience of traveling to a new country and to learn new information. I am glad I went to Germany, as I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the trip and would recommend to anyone else in this situation to conduct the training first-hand instead of the alternative.

My advice to anyone who is currently on the Forensic Science/Investigation MSci course or anyone looking at changing to the MSci course or doing a placement year apply for something different, potentially out of your comfort zone as you may never of thought of doing that area in the future but after doing your placement that’s exactly what you could be doing. Also, like myself, you may get the chance to travel abroad and receive training, or conduct research, and add a new experience to your CV.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic

At the start of every academic year in September, final year students of LLB Law at Staffordshire University embark on training to become the latest additions to the Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC). Local solicitors’ firms come to the university to educate the students on matters including family law, domestic violence and mediation services. This is a term time service that offers confidential and free legal advice.

SULAC began this year at the Combined Court Centre in Hanley on Monday 7th October. Clients are interviewed by a team of two students under the supervision of a senior lecturer who is also a qualified solicitor. Once the interview is completed the students are tasked with researching the relevant areas of law and providing a letter of advice to the client within 14 days. SULAC can offer advice on most areas of civil law including: family, consumer, personal injury and housing. The service is unable to advise on criminal or immigration matters and does not offer debt counselling. Where SULAC cannot provide assistance, the students have the ability to refer the client to another organisation or agency that may help. Clinics are being held this year at the Combined Court Centre in Hanley, Signposts and House of Bread in Stafford; and until the dissolution of Parliament, Jeremy Lefroy’s office. The students will also be holding appointments at HMP Stafford, County Hospital, YMCA Hanley, a military base and the Royal Stoke University Hospital.

The clinic is aimed at providing students with a real-world application of the law they have been studying over the course of the three-year degree. In addition to this the service provides an opportunity for the university to give back to the local community, offering free advice services to members of the public who feel that they have no alternative but to seek support and guidance in matters that are affecting them.

The SULAC students have also enrolled on the LawWorks ‘Law School Challenge 2019-20’. Universities across the country have registered to hold charity events to raise funds in support of legal aid and pro-bono services. The LawWorks and Advocate Law School Challenge is a fundraising initiative designed to raise money for both charities as well as awareness of their work. LawWorks encourages the widespread involvement of law schools and their students in pro bono activity.

SULAC students travelled to the Law Society in London for the award ceremony

The 4th to 8th November 2019 was the 18th annual Pro Bono Week run by LawWorks to encourage and support lawyers and law students to volunteer to give legal help to those in need. Staffordshire University was shortlisted for ‘Best New Pro Bono Activity’ and ‘Best Contribution by a Pro Bono Clinic’ at the LawWorks Pro Bono Awards 2019. A selection of the SULAC students  travelled to the Law Society in London for the award ceremony which was attended by Lady Hale.

~Hannah Lewis, LLB (Hons) student.

SULAC didn’t win ‘Best New Pro Bono Activity’ and ‘Best Contribution by a Pro Bono Clinic, but it was a fantastic and well deserved achievement to be nominated.

Congratulations all for your hard work!

Supporting victims of domestic abuse this Christmas

Supporting victims of domestic abuse this Christmas – Adam Greenslade, Lecturer in Policing

Adam Greenslade – Lecturer in Policing

Tragically, over the course of 20 years operational policing experience I have learned that whilst the festive season is a time of good cheer, celebration and family unity for many, behind even the most brightly decorated front doors you can find the darker side of Christmas – Domestic Abuse.

Christmas is a season that brings with it increases in alcohol consumption and added financial strain, it can heighten existing family tensions or feelings of isolation for the elderly or perhaps those coping with a young family alone.

Sadly, all too often, these pressures can escalate, and we see a rise in domestic incidents over the holiday season.

There is no stereotypical victim of domestic abuse, it can affect anyone, regardless of wealth, gender, age, sexuality or ethnicity. It can occur between partners, it can occur between siblings, it can occur between parents and children or other family members, regardless of age. It takes many forms, emotional abuse, controlling behaviour, verbal insults, threats even outright physical violence or sexual assault.

Domestic abuse is a crime. Whatever guise it takes, it’s unacceptable at any time of the year but it’s important to recognise the festive season as well as bringing that rise in frequency, can also intensify the impact of these offences – not only for the victim concerned but also on others in that environment who perhaps witness or are in proximity to that behaviour.

I’m proud to be able to share my extensive professional experience of tackling domestic abuse as we train the police constables of the future here at Staffordshire University so that they can work to protect us, our community and those who need it most.

Whilst this training is important, sometimes the police need their communities, us, to alert them to abusive situations. We all have a role to play in stopping domestic abuse.

The holiday season is a time for celebration, but I feel it’s important to reflect for a moment and remind people who are either themselves the victim of domestic abuse or have a friend, neighbour, relative or loved one who may be affected that they do not have to suffer alone or stand by and watch others suffer in silence.

You can find an extensive list of national support services online at citizensadvice.org.uk. You can contact your local police in a non-emergency by calling 101, online via their website, or by visiting a police station in person.
But remember, if you are in danger, need help in an emergency, or you witness an incident that’s ongoing, call the police on 999.

Nobody deserves to be a victim. Let’s stop abuse in our community, together, and make 2020 the start of a better future.

UK Home Office found in breach of the Human Right of Liberty regarding detention practice of asylum seekers

On International Human Rights Day I want to briefly highlight a Human Right violation that has occurred in the UK for asylum seekers regarding the Right to Liberty ~ Sarah Page, Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Sociology

You might have seen recent press reports in the Guardian and Independent about the Home Office being found guilty of inappropriate detention of asylum seekers by the Supreme Court. 

Inappropriate detention of asylum seekers occurred between 1st January 2014 and 15th March 2017 due to ineffective policy implementation of Dublin III and those detained in this time frame are entitled to compensation. 

Here in the UK we typically use detention or imprisonment when there has been a crime, or the person is a significant security threat to the public, or briefer periods of detention when a case is being investigated.  

In my own research on asylum seekers in Stoke-on-Trent I found that many asylum seekers are in fear of being detained.  Professionals talked to me about how asylum seekers can be detained for administrative reasons, rather than due to them having committed a crime, or being a significant security threat to the public. 

Asylum seekers are typically nervous about complaining because they fear that complaining might impact upon their application to remain in the UK.  However, some brave asylum seekers have spoken out about their detention experiences and you can listen to an account of a woman detained on the BBC website. A locally based asylum seeker also talked about her experience to the Sentinel newspaper and describes detention as “inhumane”. 

Detention can cause significant deterioration of mental and physical well-being.  When you consider that many asylum seekers have mental health issues from the trauma of what led them to flee their country and the journey they have been on to escape.  Others have been victim to trafficking and exploitation.  It is inappropriate to incarcerate such people.    

Academics across the UK have highlighted that Asylum seeker policies in the UK are restrictive and lack compassion.  Despite media portrayal of the UK flooded with asylum seekers we host less than most European counterparts per population head. Those seeking asylum in the UK only get basic needs met, if that.  Often asylum seekers get insufficient resources to live off – significantly less than a UK citizen on benefits.  Such poverty issues raise Public Health concern.  Especially when asylum seekers become destitute and homeless when their applications are rejected, and they are appealing the process.  Professionals that I interviewed inferred that decision-making process and quality in the UK is poor.   

On this International Day of Human Rights I want to highlight the importance of the right to liberty and also the importance of a compassionate response to asylum seekers.  Asylum seeker policy in the UK needs to be reviewed and revised to ensure that Public Health and Human Rights concerns are addressed.

The research that I conducted was in association with students studying on our degree programmes.  I would like to say a thank you to Michael Dean, Sarah Carter, Val Ngock, Jack Whalley, Oliver Turner, Dana Wade and Sarah Johnson for your work on this project and also to Penny Vincent who was a staff member at the University and involved in the inception of the project. Our findings were shared with the Home Office to help inform future changes to policy and practice.  The research undertaken forms part of the Staffordshire University Crime and Society Research Group portfolio. 

No Extra Help From Human Rights Law For Eccentrically Named Armed Bank Robber

Every year, on the 10th of December, we observe Human Rights Day. Aidan Flynn, Senior Lecturer in Law, reflects on a 2019 Court of Appeal judgment in relation to the significance of the day. 

On the 11th of September, the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal gave its judgment in Lord Shane Romell v The Secretary of State for Justice [2019] EWCA Civ 1629. Romell’s effort to deploy provisions of the Human Rights Act 1998 in his application was always doomed to fail. It demonstrated, at best, a considerable degree of undue optimism.

Lord Shane Romell was previously Mr Shane Perry. He now chooses to be known as Lord Shane Romell and has a “long history of offending” with the offences including several robberies at banks and post offices. In 2015 he was sentenced to two terms of life imprisonment. This followed convictions after trial, at the Central Criminal Court, of an indictment charging robbery, possession of a firearm when committing an offence, and possession of ammunition.

Romell’s initial application for a writ of habeas corpus was heard in the High Court. He was represented in court by a McKenzie friend. The High Court judge refused Romell’s application as “totally without merit.” In an interesting aside, Mr Justice Supperstone observed that “the McKenzie friend did not appear to have any knowledge of matters relating to the present application.” Lord Romell needs to be more careful in his choice of “friends”. There has been a growth in the use of McKenzie friends in recent years. Their use is becoming a somewhat controversial issue and there have been calls this month for them to be banned.

Romell subsequently brought his renewed application for a writ of habeas corpus to the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) and the matter was dealt with there by Lord Justice Green and Lord Justice Floyd. Romell served a document entitled “Skeleton Argument.” Lord Justice Green surmised that it appeared to allege that “the judgment of Mr Justice Supperstone reflects breaches of Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998.” This Act, which came into force in 2000, incorporates most of the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. Section 6 of the Act is the best known of the sections to which Romell referred. Section 6(1) expressly provides that it is unlawful for a ‘public authority’ to act incompatibly with a Convention Right.

The “Skeleton Argument” document also referred to Magna Carta 1215 and the Fraud Act 2006. Romell appeared in the Court of Appeal in person (via videolink) and he “argued that the Central Criminal Court was not a proper court. It is a private corporation governed by contract and he, the applicant, is not a party to the contract.” As he continued, he scraped the bottom of the barrel (pardon the pun) by arguing that he was “sovereign flesh and blood” and as such he “could not be subject to the arbitrary power of a commercial body … no agent of the State or other person can deprive any person of liberty.”

Lord Justice Green had little difficulty in concluding that “this application lacks any semblance of merit” and noted that “the judges who sit at the Central Criminal Court are Crown Court and High Court judges who are authorised and empowered in law to conduct trials, such as that of the applicant.” Lord Justice Floyd agreed.

Romell has had his day in court but can hardly be surprised that his application here was unsuccessful. The case may have been moderately amusing for one Mr Nathan Roberts who acted for the Secretary of State for Justice. Mr Roberts will seldom have such an easily earned day’s pay as he had on Wednesday the 11th of September.

The judgment of the Court of Appeal is here.

Law Alumni Called to the Bar

Jake Edwards, who graduated from Staffordshire University with LLB (Hons) in 2018, has been Called to the Bar. Jake Edwards won a scholarship to complete the Bar Professional Training Course at Nottingham Trent University. Being called to the Bar means Jake now has the right to speak on behalf of someone in higher court, as he is now a qualified Barrister.

Jake Edwards – Called to the Bar

“I was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple on the 28th November 2019 as part of the Michaelmas Call Ceremony. To be eligible for call you must have completed the Bar Professional Training Course with at least a competent grade. In addition to this, you must complete 12 qualifying sessions before your call date. These sessions are hosted throughout the year and include activities such as advocacy weekends, dining sessions and lectures. Once you meet the requirements necessary to be called to the bar, you must pay a call fee to your Inn of Court.

You now need to book your gown and wig for the ceremony as it is a requirement that all callees must attend in full court dress. This includes your suit, tunic shirt, collar studs, windsor winged collar, bands, gown and wig. All can be bought in advance of your call date or hired from Ede & Ravenscroft for £36 and can be collected from the Treasury Building on the day.

Typically you can expect to bring 2 guests although there is an option to purchase extra tickets closer to the day depending on availability. On the day of call you will first head to the Middle Temple to collect your hired gown and wig and take any photographs with the professional photographers.

Once it is time for the ceremony to start, you proceed to Middle Temple Hall where the callees are filtered into a side room whilst all of the guests take their seats. You are then briefed on how the ceremony will be conducted to prevent any mishaps during the ceremony. Finally, the callees are moved into the hall to stand along the side of the room where you will be called to the bar in order of seniority with the Inn.

One by one, callees are presented to the Master Treasurer by Master Reader. As you are being presented, you approach the Master Treasurer and bow before he calls you to the degree of the utter bar. You then walk over to the table allegedly made from Sir Frances Drakes ship The Golden Hind to sign the Roll of Barristers. As you filter out of the hall, you are presented with your call certificate. Once all those in attendance have been called, this concludes the ceremony and you will have taken your place alongside the generations of barristers who preceded you, your Inn of Court is now your professional home and will remain as such throughout your career.”

Congratulations Jake!

First Year Student Gains Experience through Work and Research at HMP Stafford

Sinead Bowles is a first year student on the BA(Hons) Criminal justice with Offender Management degree. She is already gaining experience working for the deputy governor in HMP Stafford with level five and six students, and has written about her experiences.

Sinead Bowles is a first year student on the BA (Hons) Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree

The original building for HMP Stafford was built in 1793, and this was further expanded on as the population grew. The category C prison now holds around 750 offenders, who have committed sexual offences. Due to the origins of the buildings the site is astounding and fortunately me and two of my peers had the privilege of a guided tour with the deputy governor Claud Lofters, which was distinctly dissimilar to what would have been expected from such a prison.

NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH. NEW PARAGRAPH.

Claud was keen to explore why his employee’s appeared to be disconnected from the importance of their role, both in rehabilitation and support of those offenders kept in the prison.This is something which we will be conducting further research on. We intend to hold focus groups with staff, to highlight the amazing work they do every day and see what suggestions they may have which could create higher motivation and engagement. From this we aim to create a job description with a more holistic view of the role of a prison officer to help create a rehabilitative culture.

Our tour began, by being shown around one of the blocks. The number of doors, the landings, and the halls where overwhelming. One inmate kindly offered to show us his cell, which he shared with one other person, the rooms were well sized, had shower rooms and this inmate in particular had a TV and other bits such as speakers, suggesting he was a higher status based on behaviour. As we were talking to this gentleman, he started to explain how HMP Stafford has helped him and that in comparison to other institutions this was the best in terms of facilities and support.

Our tour then moved onto seeing the prisons goats and chickens. These are kept to help the inmates feel that they had the responsibility to help care for these animals, on this day families were coming to visit and as this was the school holidays it has been requested that the goats were taken up to the visitation room to meet some of the children. Me, Natalie, Molly and Claud were asked to help take the goats up. From personal experience I can confirm that getting the leads onto goats and getting them upstairs is not easy! But it was very warming to see the children excited and to see the inmates getting time with their families. It was also delightful to see the efforts which the prison officers, and staff will go to in order to help the inmates.

“Our tour then moved onto seeing the prisons goats and chickens”.

We were very lucky to be able to go into the senior area where the older prisoners can go in the day, some of the inmates were working on a project. This project involves making flowers out of different coloured papers which then go into a handmade box, and other inmates can purchase these at a low cost to gift to their visitors. Younger prisoners are able to learn different skills at HMP Stafford, the end of our tour was being shown these, which involve painting and decorating, the skills needed to be a barber, brick laying, and even a course which allows inmates to go onto work on train tracks which lasts ten weeks but outside of prison could take a few years, Claud explained they wish to offer inmates skills which could allow them to be self-employed due to their criminal background.

Our day at HMP Stafford was very informative and eye opening, our research team was very grateful for the opportunity to be shown around and are very excited for our ongoing work with the prison.