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Can you spot a criminal?

When I first studied Criminology I remember lectures on Lombroso where he clearly thought that you could spot a criminal by the shape of his face and the debate of nature or nurture rested in the nature group.


Recently I was asked to give a talk on working in prison. About 30 people were there arranged in groups at tables. I started by giving them some background to who I was and where I worked and the various hats I wear. I then gave each table a couple of sheets with photos of a variety of people including famous faces, friends and family including my husband! I asked them to study the photos carefully and write beside them if they knew their name and give each one a tick if they thought they had been convicted of a crime and been sentenced to prison. What an interesting session, I gave them about 15 minutes to complete the task.

I first gave this task to students in my cohort to see if they agreed/disagreed with Lombroso. I’m sure we have all said at one time or another “he looks dodgy” or “I wouldn’t trust them”. We are all guilty of making assumptions based on first impressions. One student asked to keep the photo of Colin Firth!

Back to this group, we discussed each photo; even though some were unfamiliar I wanted them to give each a tick who they thought had been an offender. They managed to identify the obvious such as Jeffrey Archer but struggled with others such as  the suffragette, Lady Constance Lytton. It was an excellent time discussing how some had been integrated back into society yet others hadn’t and how we treated prisoners and how punitive a society we lived in. We were left with two photos where they couldn’t decide if  either one of them was my husband. I found it hilarious that the two photos were of my husband and a friend Jonathan Robinson an author and prison reformer (IN_IT_THE_BOOK). Although it might seem that this was just an amusing game to get people relaxed and open to hear what I had to say, it was actually an important part of the talk. There is no set person who offends, and why do we label someone who has offended and released from prison as an ex-offender?

The group was keen to encourage reintegration back into society to those that had offended but yet again I found that they didn’t want it to happen in their society. It was the NIMBY problem again.

I have friends that have been to prison.

I visit prisons regularly.

I work in a prison.

I hope that the misguided opinions I hear don’t rub off

I often say that I want justice to restore and not just criminalize!

I will continue with the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) to make sure that prisoners are treated fairly.

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