A virtual internship: three months flew past

Author: | 30 Sep 2020

My time as an intern at the Criminal Justice Alliance by Jason Grant

It is a Friday afternoon on the last day of my internship with the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA). I have just finished a Zoom call with Director Nina Champion and Sarah, a new recruit and member of an expert group who use their experience and expertise to inform the CJA’s work to create a fair and effective criminal justice system. I can honestly say that my knowledge, skills and experience have been put to good use over the past three months and I am glad to have made the connection through the Longford Trust.

To rewind a little…

It all started back in March 2020, when COVID-19 was making its way through Europe and all my freelance work as a public speaker and trainer was being postponed or cancelled. I was looking for an opportunity and heard about the three-month internship with the CJA – which, in case you aren’t familiar with their work, is a coalition of 160 organisations working together to create a fairer and more effective criminal justice system. I had met Nina at a criminal justice event a couple of years ago and decided I would put myself forward. To give you a bit of background about me, I am a former scholar, graduating in 2016 with a Criminology Masters from Glasgow University and am now a trustee with the Longford Trust. I felt well positioned to make the most of the opportunity.

Initially, I had some trepidation about starting an internship during a pandemic, with all work being done remotely. A week before full lockdown, I went to London to visit the office and have a conversation with Nina about what I would be doing. I left the meeting with a good sense of the organisation and felt that I would be in good hands.

How did I work – virtually?

From the first team meeting -via Microsoft Teams- I was made to feel very welcome, and I quickly became an integral member of the team. My usual working day would begin with a catch-up call with the team member I was working with to discuss the plan for the day. I would then spend the day conducting research and writing, interviewing people, reading through transcripts and writing up my thoughts and findings. It was a well-thought out plan and I felt supported from the start.

On Mondays, I worked with Jamie, the Communications and Engagement Officer, to help produce a briefing on what makes good criminal justice reporting. I interviewed journalists, academics and campaigners to explore how the media can cover criminal justice in a more sensitive and constructive way, and how it can improve public understanding of complex criminal justice issues. The briefing will be published ahead of the CJA Media Awards later this year.

On Wednesdays I worked with Amal, the Policy Officer, to help produce a report looking at whether restorative practice (which brings those harmed by crime or conflict and those responsible for the harm into communication to repair the harm and find a positive way forward) can disrupt what is often called the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’. In other words, whether this kind of communication can slow the depressing path from school exclusion to prison sentence.

It’s a complex subject. I did lots of reading to gain a full understanding of the issue, though I had some knowledge from previous work I’d done with The Forgiveness Project. I then found and interviewed restorative practitioners working all over the country in schools and people working in alternative education provision and youth offending settings. Everyone was very generous with their time. The report will form part of the CJA’s Responding Restoratively Series, following the first report, Responding Restoratively to COVID-19.

On Fridays, I worked with the CJA Director Nina to develop a proposal for a leadership programme for people who have personal experience of the justice system. The idea of the programme is to enable people with first-hand expertise to gain more influence in the criminal justice system and to progress into leadership positions. I was tasked with pulling together ideas, researching potential partners and speaking with inspiring ‘lived experience’ leaders from across the country. I even had to present my findings to members of the CJA’s Lived Experience Expert Group, who had been involved in CJA’s Change from Within report. They asked some tough questions for me to go away and consider!

Saving the best until last….

The highlight of my internship was a global virtual meeting with fantastic practitioners from across Africa, Europe, Oceania, South America, North America and the Caribbean, through a worldwide prison reform movement Incarceration Nations Network. I had the opportunity to meet a former participant of a leadership programme and her colleagues at Project Rebound, which supports people leaving prison to go to university. Being a trustee at the Longford Trust, and former Longford scholar, I was really interested to hear about all the support they offer to their students in California.

Some of my low points were due to technology. This included the recording of an interview becoming corrupt and unusable, I can still feel the sinking feeling. And my Wi-Fi dropping out midway through calls. I suspect I am not the only one who has experienced such mishaps during the pandemic!

All in all, I had a great and wide-ranging experience – the three months flew past. Like all good things, the internship has come to an end, but I look forward to future opportunities to help out and I’m glad the CJA has hired another Longford scholar to help with this year’s CJA Awards.


Postscript from the seaside:

A week later, the CJA team hopped on a train to visit me at the seaside, where I live. We walked along the pebbled beach in bright sunshine, eating fish and chips, getting to know each other better – face-to-face. It is quite surreal meeting people who you have only ever seen through a computer screen. Impressively we managed not to discuss work too much. I was very touched that the team came to visit me, and I wish the CJA and its members the best of luck for the future.