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Shared Experience In Justice Reform

Part of

Nothing about us without us

MA 2023
Justice, Youth, Neurodiversity, Social and Emotional development, Mentorship

Our proposition for incorporating the role of a "Shared-Experience Mentor" (SEM) within the staffing structure of Oasis Restore is a crucial step towards implementing effective justice reform.

The plan carefully outlines the guidelines for hiring SEMs, their responsibilities, and the tools that will be provided to the children in the facility. By providing these children with a mentor who understands them and can build positive relationships with them, we believe that we can significantly decrease the likelihood of reoffending. 


The creation of the role of a "Shared-Experience Mentor" (SEM) was a collaborative effort between our team and Oasis Restore Secure School, a fourth element of custodial placements for youth offenders under the Youth Justice System. Over the course of two months, we worked closely with the Oasis team, as well as vulnerable and excluded children, educators, and child psychologists to gather insights and develop a strategy for achieving the school's ultimate goal of positively transforming the lives of the children in their care. 


Our research approach involved speaking with a diverse range of stakeholders, including representatives from the justice system, educators, and subject matter experts as well as conducting desk research. Our key findings were:

  1. Despite having an overwhelmingly sizeable neurodivergent population in prison, the Justice System does not understand neurodiversity and doesn’t consider it in its policies.
  2. Children in the justice system have been made to feel like they had no future academically because of their poor performance (or undiagnosed neurological condition), and therefore associate themselves with a life of degeneration, though they have other strengths.
  3. Children that end up within the justice system come from a long history of trauma and deprivation. Still, the justice system takes on a behavioural lens to enact change rather than an empathetic one.


Therefore, it is essential that we as a society, including authoritative bodies, shift our perspective when interpreting the behaviour of children in the justice system. Rather than viewing their actions as inherently antisocial, aggressive, or erratic, we must recognize that these behaviours may stem from a lack of positive nurturing relationships, struggles with impulse control, or unique learning needs.

Our research has led us to identify three key areas that can aid in the development and well-being of these children: Positive Relationships, Identity, and Voice.

First and foremost, children need positive relationships with adults who can model appropriate behaviour, provide guidance and support during difficult times, and actively listen to their needs and concerns. Additionally, children often emulate the behaviour of those with whom they have close relationships.

Secondly, it is crucial for children to have a positive sense of self-identity. If they have been consistently told negative things about themselves, they may begin to associate themselves with a life of crime. Thus, it is important to challenge and change these negative perceptions.

Finally, giving children a voice and the ability to advocate for themselves is essential to prepare them for life outside the facility. They must have the ability to express themselves and their needs effectively.



The behaviour of children in the justice system is often viewed as criminal and punished without understanding the underlying causes of their actions.


The introduction of a new role, the SEM, provides students with positive role models who nurture healthy relationships with them, helping them to develop self-awareness and guide them towards positive pathways for their future.


By providing students with understanding and support, they are given hope for a better future, different from their unstable past, and reducing the chance of re-offending.


To optimise the support provided to students within the secure school system, we proposed implementing a new role, the “Shared-Experience Mentor” (SEM). This individual would serve as a friend, confidant, and advocate for the students, while also acting as a mediator between the students and staff during escalated situations. The SEM would possess a common experience with the students that they could significantly identify with, and would be part of the Oasis ecosystem but not necessarily within it, allowing them to maintain an outside perspective on the school's operations.

We also developed a suite of tools to aid the SEM in their role:

Mentor Role, Relationship Map, Ikigai Map, Strength Cards, Progress Map, Incident Map, and Cost analysis for role.

We then turned these tools into prototypes to test with staff and children.


The SEM is a compassionate link, bringing together Oasis's caring efforts and the child's openness to growth and healing. Many children who come to Oasis have experienced significant trauma, such as neglect or abuse, and may have difficulty trusting adults and authority figures. The SEM will work closely with each child to provide the individualised attention and care they may not have received in their families. Through building trust and connecting, the SEM will help the child work through past traumas and feel more secure in their new environment.



We tested these prototypes at Belmont Park School and K-Sports.

After conducting our workshop, we observed that the relationship mapping and strength card exercises were well received by the children. Still, the Ikigai map proved to be more challenging for them. The children appeared more comfortable discussing their current states rather than hypothetical futures. This exercise would be more appropriate for older students.

Although we were provided with positive feedback on our intervention, our team acknowledged that the counsellor’s natural rapport and ability to connect with children was a more significant factor in the success of the workshop than our prototypes. As a result, our research shifted towards refining the hiring process for mentors rather than solely improving the usability of the tools.


In the future, we envision a whole network of people who leave the secure school and come together to form one body. 

When students graduate from Oasis, they will be activists, not offenders. They would become the voice of others like them, with the goal of influencing change within the justice system; making it fairer and more effective for the next generation. Oasis will give them back control of their narrative, now it is up to them to write the next chapter. 


Throughout the project, our team was committed to approaching the design process with an empathetic, sensitive, and inclusive mindset. We made sure to involve the perspectives of those who would be directly impacted by our design intervention.

Our tutor, Judah Armani, played a vital role in guiding and challenging our thinking at every step of the process, his support and guidance greatly enhanced the meaning and value of our work. 

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