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Why we need to be braver when it comes to justice reform

BLOGS | 25th November 2020

As part of our Talking Justice blog series, Keith Gardner, Head of Analysis and Improvement at Community Justice Scotland, explains why we shouldn’t be afraid of change

POP QUIZ: Five of the top ten ‘fears’ we have are: arachnophobia, pteromerhanophobia, cynophobia, astraphobia, trypanophobia – do you know what they are? (Answers at the end of this).

Before you rush to the bottom to see how clever you are, take a moment to reflect on what they represent and ask yourself this: what are your fears? It is easy to see how people are (using a great Scottish word) ‘feart’ in these current Covidian times – a natural and necessary response to a dire situation that is different for each of us and motivates us to act in the way we do.  Humans have a range of ‘in-built’ fears like loneliness, dying, being good enough, etc. all of which, like the COVID responses, make us feel, think and act in ways that are too many to count.

Looking bigger and wider, what are the fears that inhabit and inhibit our working lives? Fear of failure, the ‘terror of error’, fear that my colleagues won’t like me, that I am not as good as they are (good old imposter syndrome) and, more importantly, are you aware of how they shape the things you do? An old papal quote says: “Fear is the root of all relationship problems” and given that justice is based on relationships, should this not give us cause to have that pauser moment?

In my most cynical moments of the justice world I think the word fear means “Fight Every Attempted Reform” and that, despite the very best of intentions, there is an over-riding and regressive effect where those silent, insidious but persistent fears hold us back and – as a result – the benefits to the people whose lives are significantly negatively impacted through contact with the justice system remain unfulfilled.

So should we all just be that bit braver when it comes to justice reform? Have we lost something over time about being brave or just lost that assumption of positive intent that makes effective relationships work?

Being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is about having that fear but finding a way through it.

Our way through this is to strengthen our bonds with each other, trust your partners and colleagues as we listen, hear AND act on all the voices across the justice spectrum. If you have a sense of danger about change then remember, that in the long run, those who are fearful are caught as many times as those who are bold.

Change means improvement but improvement needs change – people fear change but no-one fears improvement.

If we are to move forward in justice we need to re-define what our fear means and rely on the strength we bring as a collective, on the power of one accord and one voice and change our meaning of fear to Finding Every Avenue of Renewal and Transformation: FEART. So go out there and be feart, in fact, be as feart as you possibly can be!

Oh, and the answers are, in sequence, a fear of: spiders, flying, dogs, storms and needles. No fear…

Our Talking Justice blog series brings together reflections from across our society. We are committed to changing the conversation about justice, increasing understanding and support for what will make Scotland better for all of us. To that end, we have have created a resource that maps out the Scottish justice system. This has been developed into an interactive digital tool: Navigating Scotland’s Justice System.