Context matters: How we worked with the producers of Crime and Punishment to highlight the ‘revolving door’ experience

In this guest blog, Burcu Borysik, the policy manager at Revolving Doors Agency shares her experience working with a production company to put a spotlight on the 'revolving door' experience of the criminal justice system. 

In this guest blog, Burcu Borysik, policy manager at Revolving Doors Agency shares her experience working with a production company to put a spotlight on the ‘revolving door’ experience of the criminal justice system. 

Let’s be honest about our relationship with telly

These days, the majority of television is made up of overly simplified storylines of police chasing criminals, crime and forensic teams using the highest tech to solve mysteries and legal dramas that usually end with big speeches that possibly turn the Secret Barrister red in frustration. There appears to be no – or very little- space for understanding the all too frequent experiences that those of us in the voluntary sector gets to hear every day.

You might of course be like the majority of people I got to know in the public and voluntary sector and never watch television – perhaps with the exception of evening news. But perhaps we are missing a huge opportunity to tell our own stories and engage with audiences who do not ordinarily engage with issues/experiences that matter to us. And we know this can make a huge difference: A high profile domestic abuse storyline on the Archers in 2015 encouraged many other victims to seek help.

Crime and Punishment

I work as the policy manager at Revolving Doors Agency, overseeing prevention workstream and leading on partnerships with police services and Police and Crime Commissioners. In October last year, 72 films approached Revolving Doors Agency about a 6-part series on the criminal justice system they have been filming in Hampshire for Channel 4. Crime and Punishment, in case you haven’t seen it yet, is a powerful series about the criminal justice system. Rather than focusing on the work of any single agency, the series explores how the system works as a whole, from the point of view of those working in it and those going through it.

Revolving door pattern – we know that.

While filming, they noticed a distinct group of people who are in repeat contact with the criminal justice system, from police to courts, to prison and probation. They heard others describing them as the ‘revolving door’ cohort, cycling in and out of the criminal justice system, because of addiction, mental ill health and homelessness.

Coincidentally, we happened to share our research on shocking increase in the known rates of rough sleeping upon prison release among people serving short prison sentences – just as the producers were looking for experts in ‘revolving doors’ experience to feed into one episode focusing on ‘reoffending’.

We had an initial phone chat and met to discuss the policy decisions that have been taken over recent years to attempt to address the causes of ‘revolving door’ so that they can place the individual case studies they have been filming in a wider context.

Context matters…and so does letting go.

Our comms plan, like many other charities of our size, includes activities such as public speeches at sector events and party conferences, regularly commenting on policy updates, and proactively pitching new research/data to news agencies. We are not in a position to commission television series. But what we did was to grab an opportunity to strengthen the narratives that were already there by providing advice and context to one of the episodes in a documentary series. Research shows people’s reactions to communications about criminal justice are guided by a set of strong beliefs about why people commit crime and how to reduce crime. And this is why providing context mattered to us.

I can’t emphasise enough that we did not have any control of what was filmed, how much of our comments will be taken on board, and the next episode will be as much of a surprise to us as to you. But we embraced that risk – and we did that by looking at the 72 films track record including the brilliant series The Mighty Redcar and trusted them they will do their best to represent the context fairly.

This is a small snapshot of what we do. We find bringing people with lived experience together with journalists outside the pressure of story can be helpful in building understanding on both sides, and also improves the chances of influencing the content of future productions.

There is a real and acute need to recognise individuals with lived experience as key drivers for social change. Putting these stories right at the centre of debate has the potential to change the tone and content of public debate. Television and media have a huge role to play in extending the reach of ‘too frequent’ lived experience to people who have never heard, seen or witnessed it. And we will continue to do this in support of our mission to break the cycle of crisis and crime.

About the author

Burcu Borysik is the policy manager at Revolving Doors Agency. She oversees prevention workstream and leads on partnerships with police services and Police and Crime Commissioners. Prior to joining Revolving Doors, Burcu spent a decade evaluating and supporting the implementation of government funded projects and provided training for local commissioners and service providers across private and public sectors. She tweets about criminal justice, homelessness and mental health from @BurcuBorysik and admits to a “slight” social media addiction.

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