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COMMENDEE 2019-20: Adrian’s Commendation is for his role, as a Prison Officer at HMP Magilligan, in pioneering and delivering the Victim Impact Programme, which is now used across the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
With Adrian due to retire, it was succession training that led Prisoner Development Unit officer Bronwyn Kernaghan to realise “the huge effort, time and energy that he has put into developing the Victim Impact Programme’s material content”, and this prompted her nomination “as a way of acknowledging Adrian’s excellent work.”
As Bronwyn explains, “The course covers ten main crime topics and so gives participants a range of crimes to consider along with their various implications. It is based on open and honest participant discussion and debate, and so ideas and opinions come from peers, rather than solely the facilitator, creating more ‘buy in’ and acceptance. A pre- and post-course questionnaire measures the change in victim understanding and empathy as a result of taking part.” Results are impressive, she notes:
“Adrian has kept track of recidivism statistics since introducing the course and, compared to an average re-offending rate of 42% identified within the Northern Ireland prison service as a whole, the course participant rate of re-offending is 19%. This provides compelling evidence to support the claim that participation in the course can be strongly linked to a decrease of re-offending.”
The amount of ‘behind the scenes’ work involved over the decade Adrian has run the scheme is significant, adds Bronwyn: “Course content includes collating newspaper and magazine extracts for case study use, these have been collected over the years and continually kept relevant and up to date. A detailed PowerPoint presentation has also been developed along with a participant manual, workbook, and a facilitator manual for each module of the course.”
Further, Adrian also “researches the law relating to each crime, along with victim and offender rights as well as keeping up to date with crime statistics over the last 9 years. Adrian presents these stats in graph and tables to inform inmates on changes in trends.” Bronwyn says that, “as a relative newcomer, I appreciate that this has taken an extreme amount of dedication and man hours and Adrian has done this single-handedly”. Almost fifty 13-week courses have been completed by some 450 inmates at Magilligan and, in recent years, the course has also been rolled to HMP Maghaberry and Hydebank Wood College, with Adrian providing training to new facilitators.
A key purpose of the Victim Impact Programme is to encourage offenders “to consider and reflect on the damage caused by their offence,” and during the final programme module “they consider the various ways that they could attempt to make amends for the harm that they have caused.” Adrian is currently exploring possibilities with Victim Support (Northern Ireland), including the use of letters of acknowledgment and apology written by inmates being offered to victims.
The Probation Board for Northern Ireland is also in discussions with Adrian, “and considering adopting the course as a replacement for the current victim impact work they do with inmates released on licence.” As Bronwyn notes, “this new collaborative working venture between the Department of Justice agencies would provide an improved ‘end to end’ service to the public.”
Butler Trust Local Champion and Day Manager Louise McCrudden adds some background: “Adrian served 25 years in the British Army before moving to Northern Ireland and joining the Northern Ireland Prison Service in 1994; where he has now completed 25 years continuous service and is due to retire next year.” She gives a moving example of the impact of Adrian’s work:
“A grieving mother whose daughter was killed as a result of drink-impaired driver describes how she felt ‘let down during the court case’. She describes how it was important for her to meet the driver who killed her daughter face to face as she couldn’t get the answers she needed from anyone else…‘When anyone loses someone there are questions to be asked and, if you don’t get answers you feel as if you are in limbo.’ Adrian’s role in this mediation was pivotal for the victim.”
She adds that “What Adrian has achieved is immense. It has brought victim consideration to the fore within the Northern Ireland Prison Service and has prompted true reflection in participants on the what implications of their crimes for others are in society. Although often understandably reluctant to attend a course focused on victim insight, offenders have mainly found participation in the programme to be enlightening finding it adds a new dimension to their understanding, often alleviating some of the anger they feel about their incarceration.”
Testimonials from colleagues concur. Officer Raymond Atkinson says: “Adrian has selflessly dedicated his time to enable the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the wider Justice agencies to have this highly recognised programme available to them.”
Another colleague, Hilary Dennison, is currently being mentored by Adrian to work on the programme, and writes: “I can only admire Adrian’s approach towards the inmates taking the course. I’ve witnessed first-hand how the inmates don’t want to be there in the beginning and how Adrian motivates everyone. He manages to bring everyone on board and makes them feel at ease which makes this a more enjoyable approach for everyone involved and ensures high rates of course completion.”
John McCormick of Hydebank Wood College and Young Offenders Centre, adds:
“Victims are the forgotten part of the Northern Ireland Prison Service’s involvement in the Criminal Justice System. The American Department of Justice Programme, which Adrian helped to adapt for the Northern Ireland Prison Service, has the victims at its centre. It allows the victims to tell their story via videos, newspaper articles and work booklets; and how they have been affected by crime. It gives the forgotten a voice and a chance to tell how they have been affected by crime. The programme does not exclude participants with low educational attainments and is delivered to both male and female inmates.”
Meanwhile, in quotes ‘drawn directly from course feedback forms’, a number of offenders responded to the work:
“Everyone could speak openly about their crimes with no judging”
“I’ll think before I act and the effect it has on everyone involved”
“It’s got me thinking about the units back in my cell and thinking about my crimes and consequences and thinking about my victims.”
“It’s got me thinking about an apology to my victims and how to go about it.”
“I’ve learned what a victim goes through and I never want to put someone through that. Respect all.”
Magilligan’s Governor, Richard Taylor, says:
“this work is ground breaking within our service. What also heartens me is that that with Adrian’s impending retirement, he is ensuring that the legacy of Victim Impact is passed on into the foreseeable future.”
Adrian himself explains the Victim Impact Programme: “It consists of 13 units, built around 10 core crime topics. Duration of the programme is 1 day a week for 13 weeks; each unit takes 5 hours to complete; divided into morning & afternoon sessions. Candidates prior to commencing the programme undergo a Pre-Programme Assessment providing an evidenced based level of awareness within the five designated constructs: Knowledge of Victim’s Rights, Knowledge of Victim-Related Facts, Sensitivity to Victim’s plight, Victim Blaming, and Accountability.” He explains that the programme culminates in the last unit, Making Amends, and that:
“The primary goal of the programme is to prevent further victimisation by helping offenders become aware of the impact of crime on victims and entire communities. It is important for participants to acknowledge their wrongdoing, confront themselves and make amends for the harm they have caused.”
With thanks to HMP Magilligan, especially to initial nominator and Prisoner Development Unit officer Bronwyn Kernaghan, Butler Trust Local Champion and Day Manager Louise McCrudden, Magilligan colleagues Officer Raymond Atkinson and Hillary Dennison, John McCormick of Hydebank Wood College and Young offenders Centre, offenders providing testimonials, and to Magilligan’s Governor Richard Taylor, for their contributions.