Q&A with Ross Reis

To mark the launch of the book, Life Beyond Crime: What do those at risk of offending, prisoners and ex-offenders need to learn? We have conducted a series of Q&As.

Ross Reis is a coordinator for Highbury Magistrates’ Court Community Advice, has been with the RCJ Advice / Islington Citizens Advice for 6 years.

Reis is originally from Brazil; holds a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Law from Kingston University and has been working in the advice sector for over 23 years.  Previously, Reis served as manager at Wandsworth Citizens Advice, Hounslow Age UK and worked as a specialist advisor at Miscarriage of Justice Support Service.

Reis’s bi-cultural background, experience as a gay man, and physical disability gives an insight into the needs of marginalised people and how we can be negatively affected by society.

What is one thing you wish people who come to your court for the first time all knew before they arrived?

A better understanding of the court process and criminal justice system to ensure they are more aware of the procedures and their legal rights.

When someone comes to see you at the advice service, what do you hope they will achieve as a result of talking with you and your service?

  • To be aware of the services available to them in relation to their personal circumstances which could aid them in preventing potential reoffending.
  • Better understanding of the process of resolving their issue.
  • To feel empowered and able to resolve their own issues and encourage others to seek help.
  • Be more aware of organisations within their community that will be able to provide them with more support and guidance.
  • Achieve a sense of empowerment and the ability to challenge potential marginalisation and alienation.

Volunteers are important in running the service. What do you hope they will learn by the time they have finished their time with the advice service?

  • An understanding of the complexity of social issues and how they impact both individuals and communities in negative ways.
  • Knowledge on how to make a positive impact to communities by helping to empower the vulnerable by giving them hope, and the tools necessary to help them to resolve their own issues.
  • An understanding of the systemic influences that have an impact on people’s lives.
    Updating their skills and knowledge in regards the English system in order to able to pursue career prospects.

Do you think Highbury Community Advice has helped change court professionals attitudes?

Yes. The attitudes of court professionals have become more compassionate to the needs of the client.

Court professionals have become more aware of the issues related to the incident that may have contributed to the offence committed. This in turn, enables them to look at the wider aspects of service user’s life as opposed to just highlighting their criminal record.

Court professionals have taken note of Community Advice’s ability to obtain deeper and more sensitive information around the client’s circumstance and thus often approach our services to gain information in order to enhance their representation of their client in court.

What is the most important thing you have learnt from justice-involved clients?

Justice-involved clients tend to have complex underlining issues such as alcohol, drugs, mental health, homelessness, debt, physical health, education needs that led to them committing an offence. Justice-involved clients are also willing to change their lives when the help provided is focused on addressing their underlining issues in order to improve their well-being and prevent re-offending.

The court sees a diverse range of individuals and families coming into contact with the criminal justice system, as opposed to people’s perceptions that it only involves a fraction of people within society. It includes all races, religions, ages, genders, sexuality and cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

Life Beyond Crime

Life Beyond Crime brings together in an insightful and passionate debate, through prose, poems and pictures the assembled first-hand experience and wisdom of more than 60 contributors responding to the question What do those at risk of offending, prisoners and ex-offenders need to learn? Contributors include current and former prisoners including the work of artists and poets who have been recognised by Koestler awards; criminal justice practitioners; educators and academics; as well writers from the voluntary and arts worlds including theatre director Phyllida Lloyd, lyricist Sir Richard Stilgoe and sculptor Sir Antony Gormley. Learning and understanding are discussed in their widest sense, covering not just formal learning and learning skills, but also – and most importantly – learning about yourself, your past and future identity, your family life and your aspirations and role in society. These types of understanding are explored in the contexts of diversion from crime, young people, adults in prison, and returning to the community.

You can buy the book online from the Koestler Trust