A lived experience perspective on sentencing reform: Revolving Doors joins Justice Select Committee roundtable

Revolving Doors was recently invited to a Parliamentary roundtable hosted by the Justice Select Committee to discuss the Sentencing Council’s latest consultation on community and custodial sentences.

We are pleased that the Committee has now published a letter detailing the observations and suggestions drawn from the roundtable, including its agreement with points made by Revolving Doors about the value of community sentences and pre-sentence reports.

Lived experience member Gareth attended the roundtable alongside Policy Manager Kelly, adding vital lived experience perspectives to the discussion. In this latest blog, he shares his thoughts on the value of lived experience in policymaking, and how his journey out of the revolving door of crisis and crime has influenced his determination to ensure the criminal justice system supports those who most need it.

A few weeks ago, I represented Revolving Doors in the Houses of Parliament at a round table held by the Justice Select Committee on the Sentencing Council’s consultation around custodial and community sentences. 

I took part in the forum Revolving Doors did on this a while ago, and better sentencing is something I feel strongly about because of my experiences in the past.  But I was I was a bit surprised, to be honest, to be invited to the round table. I didn’t expect it and was intrigued about what it would be like. 

I was quite excited to go, as it’s always an honour to be asked to go to Parliament. Through Revolving Doors it’s the third time I’ve been there which is just amazing.  This time was different – I’ve not been the only lived experience member there before.

My own journey out of the revolving door began in May 2014 when I got my last prison sentence.  I knew something in my life needed to change as my addiction was beyond control, but then I was released on license in 2015 homeless with nowhere to go. Because of license conditions I couldn’t come back to my hometown and ended up relapsing and overdosed 2 nights after being out of prison. 

I got put on a Subutex script but was then placed in a hostel with other people suffering from addiction.  I lost the place there after a relapse and was living back on the streets using both heroin and crack cocaine, injecting into my groin because all my other veins had disappeared over the years of abuse. 

An abscess developed there that I didn’t notice and after injecting into it repeatedly I ended up bursting it, bleeding internally and externally during the night whilst I was asleep. I phoned the ambulance after I woke up in a pool of blood and that’s all I remember until I woke up two weeks later out of a coma, with tubes and wires everywhere. Both my lungs had filled with fluid and collapsed. I had to learn how to walk again, spending two months in hospital recovering. I went into rehab after that and have not touched drugs since.

Two MPs chaired the meeting, and the other people around the table included Crown Court judges, but my opinions were just as valid as theirs in that room. I thought I was going to feel a little bit out of place, but I didn’t. In places it was a bit hard to understand some of the words and jargon they were saying, but the knowledge that I’ve gained through doing the things I’ve done with Revolving Doors meant I didn’t feel nervous. Instead, I felt like I was as much of an expert as the other people around the table. 

The only thing I would change was that I was the only person with lived experience in the room.  I think there should have been more people there with lived experience, and it was a shame other organisations did not bring people too.  I think it brings more reality to what is spoken about.

However, what was really nice was that as we were leaving, many of the other people on the round table thanked me for coming, including the Crown Court judge. 

Thanks to Revolving Doors my future is really exciting. I thought I was going to die an addict, but now I get the opportunity to help others see there’s hope on the other side and that they should just keep trying.

If I can go from the streets to the Houses of Parliament anyone can.