Scottish lawyers are urged to weigh the massive role childhood trauma plays in crime.
Leading attorney Iain Smith is calling for a new “smart justice” approach that moves away from a revolving door where criminals in prison are slammed without addressing the reasons for committing the crime – leading to more insults.
Smith has consulted with 500 aspiring Scottish lawyers, many of whom were unaware of massive evidence suggesting that events such as childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence and grief in later life can inevitably lead to drug addiction, mental health problems and crime.
He has teamed up with award-winning filmmaker Stephen Bennett, whose 2011 documentary Warriors will be screened at the Law Society of Scotland’s annual conference this Thursday.
In 2007 Warriors followed up on Bennett’s film The Boys Of Ballikinrain, which was shot in a nursing home. Later work found that all but one of the boys from the nursing home went to jail – which most led to the belief that the nursing home’s culture was what caused the crime.
Recent research and great advances by the Scottish Department of Violence Reduction has resulted in a solid understanding that future chaos was dictated by events in the years before boys entered care.
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Iain Smith, Scotland’s Attorney of the Year, said, “We are talking about what I call intelligent justice, as our ultimate goal should be to reduce crime through a better understanding of trauma.
“Our system is really about retaliation and punishment through the care system, justice system and prison system, and there is little understanding of the fundamentals of trauma.
“If we had that, we should focus on repair and rehabilitation, and help and things that lawyers are very uncomfortable about.
“As a system, we are very awkward when we talk about things like child sexual abuse, neglect, physical violence, grief and addiction and all the things that could have hit the people hard on the dock.”
Smith said he was very moved by the Warriors documentary and 2011 follow-up narrated by Bradley Noon, one of the original “stars”.
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He said, “If you watch Bradley in the movie realize that he’s not bad and he’s not bad, he comes to a real revelation.
“This strongly emphasized my belief that people are not necessarily bad, they just do bad things. We need to do more to understand why this is happening if we are to reduce crime and help people who are bearing the weight of these rather severe trauma.
“We accept, for example, that a very high percentage of the time people use heroin and alcohol to alleviate the pain of sexual abuse, and when we look under the hood of addiction we so often become the machinery of misery and addiction see.
“The reasonable answer should be compassion, and that’s a pretty difficult point, and a shift won’t happen overnight
“That’s why we’re targeting young lawyers who can get through, are open, progressive, willing to listen and have no cynical views.”
Smith communicated with 500 attorneys for over five weeks and claims the response has been huge. Many asked how they could help.
He said, “The immediate consequence of this is that people in our system will stop seeing people in court as neds, junkies and scum. You will see that the people we see are not necessarily bad people, but people who have done bad things. “
Smith added that he was “very aware” that serious crimes still need to be punished.
Bradley Noon, now a 27-year-old furniture maker with a five-year-old son, gave the 2011 Warriors documentary a poignant narrative.
But he now accepts that he was wrong, to simply blame nursing homes for shaping the criminal behavior of young people who end up there.
Bradley saw his mother’s boyfriend hit her with a hammer when she was four. He was born into a world of drug addiction and chaos that led him to homelessness and crime.
Bradley said, “When I met my partner Charlotte, I learned to be myself and to deal with all of the things from the past. To have someone who could understand and accept it was enormous for me.
“When I was in the nursing home, I had good-hearted people to take care of me, but it wasn’t like I had parents.
“The documentary drew my attention to the fact that I had buried much of the trauma I had previously suffered before the care system even touched me.
“My greatest hope now is that other people will realize that even if they did bad things, it doesn’t mean they are a bad person.
“When lawyers see people more than one client who has committed a crime and think about life experiences, the system works better.
“If people can be better understood, there is a far greater chance that they won’t just get lost in the system, make sentences, come out and insult again and turn over and over again.
Director Stephen Bennett said he was proud that his 2007 work could be so resonant today.
He said, “The Boys Of Ballikinrain, filmed when Bradley was 12, was a big deal to me because we spent a year getting access and a year filming.
“I remember looking at Bradley and the other boys in 2007 and thinking I could relate to them because I had a fair bit of anger when I was young.
“When I came back in 2011, I thought Bradley was correct in what he said, as statistics must show a causal link between nursing homes and prisons.
“I saw the movie again the other day, with the greater understanding that I know what is really going on these days, and I cried my eyes.
“I’m really proud that Bradley’s voice will be heard by influential people in 2021 with a real chance to drive real systemic change.”
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