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The School of Law, Policing and Forensics at Staffordshire University offers the LLB, LPC and LLM; degrees in Policing and Criminal Investigation, Professional Policing, Criminology, Criminal Justice with Offender Management, Forensic Science and Forensic Investigation. With over fifty staff members we have expertise in rape testing, prevention and prosecution, ballistic testing, fibre analysis, soil analysis, Family Law and Employment Law among others. We offer BA and BSc, MSci and MSCs along with a Masters by Applied Research in a range of areas, including Forensic Archaeology.

On this blog you will find news from the different areas of the School. You can follow us on twitter at:

@StaffsUniLPF

@StaffsCJF_Dept

@StaffsUniLaw

My Experiences of Microsoft Teams on the Criminal Justice with Offender Management Course

With the move to remote working, due to the Covid-19 virus, our teaching methods have also moved online. Staffordshire University are doing their best to ensure students do not miss out on their learning. Sinead Bowles, a student on the BA Criminal Justice with Offender Management course, takes us through how Microsoft Teams is helping her studies, as well as her own teaching experiences using the programme.

Microsoft Teams is a fairly new platform which can be used in a variety of work or educational settings. Teams is a Microsoft 365 app, which allows members to form teams, broadcast messages, hold video conferences and to communicate with other individuals on a professional basis. As a first-year student at Staffordshire University, I was initially introduced to Teams on the Criminal Justice with Offender Management Degree as this platform was used to convey lecture and workshop materials. As this platform allows for several teams to be formed, I had one for each module including numerous channels for a week by week breakdown of content which made it easy to follow. The messaging function on Teams meant that it was trouble-free to contact lecturers or other students; as a result, it made the introduction to university work extremely streamlined and simple.

As I progressed through my course, I was invited to deliver some teaching about criminal justice to prison officer recruits at HMP Dovegate. Serco had already transitioned over to using Teams as their main platform and this proved to be advantageous to the presenters from Staffordshire University. We created a Team with the training staff at HMP Dovegate, so teaching materials could be created on Microsoft Teams simultaneously by all of the team members. I delivered a session on report writing skills using Teams on a large monitor in the prison’s Training Centre.

“Microsoft Teams has meant that students learning has not been compromised at this unprecedented time”

Teams is available on a comprehensive selection of mobile devices, allowing us to easily keep in contact and access files. Technology has proven to be an issue in the past when teaching at prisons; however, using Teams we were able to provide a problem-free teaching package.

The learners were required to submit essays on a chosen topic, which would then be marked and count towards their apprenticeship, it was decided that this would be done through Teams. The team found that marking the assignments online was more effective and less time consuming as the Word document can be opened in Teams, marked in collaboration and saved automatically. The prison training manager opened up the documents and saw the progress of marking and got an idea of the level of engagement by the officers before the work had been returned back to them. Teams made the teaching and marking experience effective, organised and effortless.

Sinead Bowles using Teams to teach at HMP Dovegate earlier this year

With the recent developments of Coronavirus and the United Kingdom lockdown, Microsoft Teams is more vital than ever. Tutors at Staffordshire University have been holding online lectures through Teams, by using the meeting function lecturers are able to lecture the class live through video call and present the slides which are mirrored onto student’s devices. Whilst using the meeting function, Microsoft Teams can still be used as normal as the meeting is minimised; consequently, workshop exercises can still be completed individually, with the support from the lecturer. Students are able to use their microphone to ask questions, or answer questions, therefore interactive learning is not lost. Microsoft Teams has meant that students learning has not been compromised at this unprecedented time.

Offender Management Experience at HMP Dovegate

Katrina Robinson, a level 4 student on the Criminal Justice with Offender Management degree, and students from the School of Law, Policing and Forensics went on an educational trip to Dovegate Prison last month, with Course Leader Louis Martin and lecturer Dave Simmonds. 

I didn’t know what to expect when walking into the prison, as it was my first time being inside a male Cat B prison.  I was aware of the variety of sentences being served by the prisoners, being high security and I kept an open mind.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by Custodial Manager Brendan, and Prison Custody officer, gym instructor and staff trainer Simon. We all gathered in the reception waiting area where it was explained to us the itinerary for the day. [We then] proceeded to the training room, where current prison officers were undertaking their annual training programme and continued to the security check area where we were all searched before entering the prison grounds.

Once on the grounds, I was surprised to see how big the area was, and the prison itself was set out in different buildings rather than one big building.  We followed the walkway around the buildings and was told to stand aside as an alarm was set off and many prison officers ran towards the alarm. Brendan, after checking on the situation, explained that prisoners inside the visiting area had set the alarm off by accident.

The first building we entered was the gym where it was recorded 45 prisoners were there all using the gym equipment, some of which had use of the facilities 4 times a week due to their being on enhanced level of Incentive and Earned Privileges. 

Once we left the gym, we carried on the walk past the Vulnerable Persons Wing, which we weren’t allowed to enter due to the severity of the risk involved and headed towards the Offender Management Unit.  Within the Offender Management Unit O9MU), it reminded me of a standard office setting, with Multi agency staff all working together.  Here we were met by the Manager of the department who talked us through the daily running’s and what the OMU’s staff responsibilities were, such as sentence plans and rehabilitation plans.

After leaving the OMU, we headed towards the Therapeutic Centre (TC), also known as a prison within a prison which had a completely different feel from the main block. Brendan and Simon explained that we were going to meet and talk to 6 prisoners serving a range of different sentences.  Brenden advised us to ask as many questions as we would like, due to the prisoners being in therapy, anything they talk about they are open and willing to do so.

Here, we learned the reasons why the prisoners committed the crime and their childhood experiences; [they] all showed immense remorse for their actions, and the one thing that was great to see was their attitude towards life and looking forward to their future once released.  All the prisoners that we spoke to all agreed that the therapy that they were having has helped them massively to move forward and towards being a better person.  The conversations were accompanied with lunch that was put on for us all. [It] was a relaxed and calm atmosphere and I felt very safe.

We were then shown the wing in which they live and were lucky enough to see inside one of the cells. The TC wing was segregated from the main block, which I feel was a good choice, as the prisoners at the TC chose to enter therapy and not to get mixed up in any trouble that may occur within the main block.

After leaving the prison and back on the coach, I had time to reflect on the events of the day. I was so happy to have been able to go to Dovegate.  It was a fantastic opportunity for us all, which we’d never have the chance to experience without Louis, Dave, Simon and Brendan for which I’m extremely grateful.

 

 

 

Preparation for Parental Leave

Lauren Evans (student)

Employees are entitled to shared parental leave (“SPL”) and statutory shared parental pay (“SHPP”) if they have a baby or adopt a child. Employees can start SPL if they are eligible. Parents are able to decide between them how much time they choose, and who will take it, however in a recent Yougov survey 78% of HR professionals felt that there were problems offering it in their organisation so it appears that there remains a stigma attached to taking this leave.

As societal norms are changing more fathers should feel able to ask for time off or assert their right to participate in childcare. Law Firm Winckworth Sherwood suggests ‘organisations should be preparing for more staff taking shared parental leave, as attitudes towards caring responsibilities begin to shift and more employers decide to enhance pay for parents taking the entitlement’.

More parents are opting to take this, although there are barriers. It is a complex statutory scheme and it is ‘relatively low paid’. Fathers are calling for the pay to match the extended maternity pay. If this happens, or employers agree to this voluntarily, it is expected there will be a major change in shared parental leave.

HR decision- makers told researchers for its’ “Shifting attitudes to flexible working and childcare for working parents’ report that they had seen an increase in requests for SPL and working hours being adapted to assist two working parents.

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic ( SULAC) we offer free legal advice on employment matters for members of the public. SULAC is currently open and offers appointments in Stoke on Trent and Stafford. For more information or to book an appointment please contact SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call 01782 294 800.

 

 

The Government Delay Full Roll Out of Universal Credit

Chelsea Leonard (Student)

The principle of universal credit was introduced by the conservative government, in 2010. It was intended to simplify the benefit system, merging all benefits into one. These include income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance, income-related employment and support allowance, housing benefit, child tax credit, and working tax credit.

Despite the intentions, universal credit has been controversial from the time it was introduced; there have also been concerns over how long new claimants must wait before receiving their first benefit.

There have been many reports of claimants having to wait at least five weeks for the payments to start, consequently people are falling into debt and having to resort to food banks. Some claimants have had to get an advance on their first instalment of the benefit; but this is treated as a loan, so subsequent payments are reduced to pay off the advance.

The new system was meant to be slowly introduced and claimants were expected to report any changes of circumstance and therefore be transferred to the new benefit. Officials say not enough people are moving to the benefit as they are “scared” about falling into debt. The system was meant to be fully live by April 2017, but the new delay will push it back to September 2024.

A BBC news team have recorded a series titled ‘Universal Credit: Inside the Welfare State’; the program shows a mother struggling to feed her family on just over £500 for a month, because of deductions made to pay off the advance she had to take out during the five-week wait.

Paula, like many others, has had to resort to a food bank, telling the debt counsellor “I have just got myself into one big mess and I have lost control over everything’, “I am in debt up to my eyeballs and it’s not going to go away.”

The counsellor tells her: “If you don’t have money saved up already or you don’t have backup of family who can support you, you will fall into taking an advance payment.” She added that benefit deductions to pay off the advance, leave people “constantly trying to catch up”.

Neil Couling, the senior civil servant in charge of the rollout of ‘universal credit’ expressed his concern about the small amount of people transferring to the new benefit system. He said “It’s a potentially serious issue for us, in terms of completing the project by December 2023, but I’m urging people not to panic.” However, in September 2019 he decided to delay full rollout of the new system until September 2024.This extension has added an extra £500 million on the bill.

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, has called for the new system to be scrapped calling the news ‘hugely embarrassing” for the government.

Despite these problems, Mr. Couling still believes that once universal credit is fully implemented it will be successful. “I have to keep going to the destination or you have to set me a different destination, because there’s 2.6 million people, and if we get something wrong, we could disrupt their lives and they’ve got no alternative. There’s no alternative bank they can go to get help. We are the payer of last resort.”

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free legal advice on all financial matters such as debt, and employment to members of the public. SULAC is currently offering appointments at Stoke County Court and Various locations around Stafford including Signpost Centre and House of Bread. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call on 01782 294800.

Too Young to Make a will?

Curtis Dunkley (Student)

When you turn 18 you can legally create a will. You may think that you are too young to be making a will, however this is often not the case. More than half of us are in full time employment by the time we turn 19. If you are employed then you will have more money, especially if you are still living with your parents. You may start to acquire more possessions of value like a car. You may have started saving for a house of your own or something else. Regardless, these are all things that you can leave to your loved ones in a will.

By the time that we are 27 most of us will be living with a partner. If you die before you have made a will, your partner will not inherit any of your belongings, regardless of your wishes unless you are married. There is currently no such thing as a ‘common law spouse’. If you want to ensure that your partner is looked after when you pass, you will need to create a will and put that intention into effect whilst you are still alive.

As a society, we are having children younger. When you have children, you will need to think about what will happen to them if you die. It is not just about choosing someone to look after their inheritance until they old enough to access it, you also need to appoint a guardian to raise your children. The need to create a valid will once you have children cannot be stressed enough – if your wishes are not known when you pass away, your children may be in between arguments with your family and friends at an already stressful time for them.

If you created a will and married after making it your will may be deemed invalid, unless it contained a clause in it stating that you intend for it to remain valid after your marriage. If you make a will that includes your spouse as a beneficiary and then get divorced, your ex-spouse will not be entitled to any inheritance that you left to them. In either scenario, your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy.

At the Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC), law students offer free legal advice on probate matters and a number of other issues to members of the public. SULAC is currently open and you can visit us at Stoke Combined Courts, and at various locations around Stafford. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call 01782 294800.

 

 

Paid Bereavement Leave

Lauren Evans (Student)

New legislation named ‘Jack’s Law’ will be coming into force on the 6th April 2020 to help support bereaved parents in the workplace.

What is Jack’s Law?

Jack’s law protects all employed parents after the loss of a child under the age of 18 or those who have suffered a stillbirth after 24 weeks pregnancy. It allows those with parental responsibility to take two weeks statutory bereavement leave (“SPBL”) irrespective of how long they have worked for their employer. For parents who have worked for 6 months this will be paid leave. Before Jacks Law this wasn’t permitted. Lucy Herd lost her son, Jack Herd, in 2010. She has tirelessly campaigned for Jack’s Law which will now be implemented this year as mandatory leave for grieving parents. Lucy said that she ‘couldn’t believe there was no statutory rights for such a desperate and difficult time’.

Who does Jack’s Law apply to?

Jack’s Law covers all employed parents and adults with ‘parental responsibility’. This can include foster parents, adopters, guardians, or close relatives or friends who have assumed the responsibility for the care of the child in the absence of the parents.

How can Leave be taken?

The leave can be taken in a single block, or two blocks of one week within a year of the child’s death.

The Significance of Jacks Law

Prior to Jack’s Law Lucy Herd’s husband discovered he could only take three days paid leave, and any additional time off had to be taken as part of his sick leave or holiday.

The United Kingdom is the only country who will have two weeks statutory leave for bereaved parents. It is estimated that the new law will support around 10,000 parents a year.

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on both Employment and Family related matters. SULAC is currently open and offers appointments in both Stoke on Trent and Stafford. If you wish to book an appointment with us call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

WHAT IS DOMESTIC ABUSE?

Beatriz Simpson (student)

Domestic abuse or domestic violence is any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of their gender or sexuality.

Domestic abuse can be psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or emotional.

The fact that it is in a domestic environment is an aggravating factor because of the abuse of trust involved. Some of these crimes include:

Violence

Controlling or coercive behaviour

“Honour based” abuse and forced marriage

Female genital mutilation

Stalking and harassment

WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY?

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 covers not just physical abuse, but psychological and emotional treatment and coercive and controlling behaviour, where abusers isolate their victim from their friends and relatives or control their finances. Campaigners suggest that domestic violence kills 15 times more people than terrorism in the UK, most of the victims are women but not all. Campaigners said that it is estimated that 400 victims of domestic violence take their own lives every year.

Domestic-abuse related cases referred to prosecutors for consideration for charge fell 11% last year despite an increase in matters being reported to the police.

Legal aid may be available to assist victims who need an injunction, even if the CPS do not bring criminal charges.

Here at Staffordshire University Legal advice Clinic we can advise on family-related issues. If we cannot help, we will be able to refer you to another organisation who may be able to assist, please call 01782 294800 for an appointment.

 

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.”