All of our projects have been designed to:
- be consistent with the idea of trauma-informed practice and focussed on developing personal strengths and skills
- strengthen the connections that people involved in the justice system have with themselves, their families, their cultures, and their communities.
- be compassionate
- support people to desist from crime
- be informed by the knowledge of those who have lived experience of the justice system.
The Magnolia Project is entirely independent of government and is funded solely by donations and subscriptions.
Trauma-informed practice. The concept of ‘trauma-informed’ first emerged in 2001 with the work of Maxine Harris and Roger Fallot. Trauma-informed practice is not about ‘treating’ trauma; that is the purpose of ‘trauma-focused’ practice (which aims to resolve the impacts of trauma and promote recovery and healing). Rather, trauma-informed practice requires service providers at all levels of an organisation to be aware of the impact of trauma on a person’s behaviour and functioning and to promote service environments which are conducive to recovery and which avoid further traumatisation. Thus, to be trauma-informed is to understand the potential ongoing, and complex effects of potentially traumatic events on an individual’s ability to function and interact with the world around them.
Strengthening connection. Connections are important. The work of the Healing Foundation, although not developed in the context of the criminal justice system, tells us – from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspective – how significant the idea of connection is to any personal change. Whether this be connection to country, connection to spirituality, connection to culture, or connection to body – it tells us how important it is to support people to maintain strong connections. Family is particularly important – connection to family and kinship systems is central to the functioning of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies and important determinants of wellbeing in all people. People in prison are separated from their families – ands a result, relationships often fracture and end during their time in custody. The children of people in prison are deprived of the opportunity to form a close relationship with their parent and parents unable to fulfil their responsibilities as carers. This in turn can trigger their own memories of maltreatment and adversity and causes many people to simply lose hope and give up on their efforts to lead a law abiding life.
Being compassionate. The healing properties of compassion have been written about for centuries. As the Dalai Lama often stresses – if you want others to be happy – focus on compassion; if you want to be happy yourself – focus on compassion! Paul Gilbert’s compassion-focused work in forensic settings emerged from an awareness that people with high levels of shame and self-criticism can have enormous difficulty in being kind to themselves, feeling self-warmth and/or being self-compassionate. These problems are often rooted in histories of abuse, bullying, high expressed emotion in the family, neglect and/or lack of affection and those who have these early experiences can become highly sensitive to threats of rejection or criticism from the outside world. A key element of compassion-focused work is understanding that many people find it very difficult to generate feelings of contentment, safeness, or warmth in their relationships with others and themselves.
Supporting efforts to desist from crime. Although there is no set pathway to success for those in the criminal justice system, several key elements do seem to be common to good desistance journeys. It has been proposed, for example, that desistance has primary, secondary, and tertiary dimensions. In an ideal scenario, these will work in concert to ‘produce’ a health, happy, and law-abiding member of the community. At its simplest, ‘primary desistance’ refers to the physical cessation of crime but something more than the short or more prolonged absence of an event is also required. The concept of ‘secondary desistance’ speaks to the changes in self-orientation that some people experience – either within or beyond prison – which can then help turn a crime-free period of life into something that is more enduring and actively accomplished. The process of delabelling (e.g., ‘I no longer think of myself as an offender’) and re-labelling (e.g., ‘I think of myself as a good father or as a trusted worker’) is essential for people to build a credible sense of self-worth. Finally, ‘tertiary desistance’ identifies the importance of factors beyond (but which are connected to) the individual which bear heavily on the success or otherwise of desistance efforts. Put simply, to be resilient to external threats and for desistance to endure across many years, the efforts and progress of those embarking on a desistance pathway must be reinforced by esteemed others and certified/validated in both official and informal ways.
Informed by lived experience. While the involvement of experts by lived experience researchers is increasingly common in health-related projects, examples of working alongside those who have lived experience of the criminal justice system are still uncommon. The most successful projects are likely to be those that are jointly owned with experts by lived experience who work together to achieve a joint understanding of what is needed and what is possible.