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Joni Reef: 'We’re prisoners of our own perspective'

One perspective, one cell, one outlook on life: what are we all prisoners of? That’s the question Vrij Nederland put to various experts, including Joni Reef, Assistant Professor and Research Fellow at the Department of Criminology.

'We’re prisoners of our own perspective', Reef answers in Vrij Nederland (in Dutch). From her expertise as a teacher and researcher, she sees, for example, how the reintegration process of ex-prisoners is hindered by a lack of perspective.

‘People who are in prison think: society’s happy to be rid of me. That's not surprising because in practice the whole criminal justice system is geared towards locking up people who do indeed need to be punished for their crimes, and temporarily cutting off their ties with society. Upon their release, they’re expected to reintegrate successfully into the same society that got rid of them – sometimes for years. There’s a huge gap between the world of prisoners and the world “outside”.’

It turns out to be quite a challenge for lawyers and policymakers to let go of the perspective of the 'criminal' or the 'guilty person'. Reef believes that encounters make people more open-minded. For that reason, she teaches a course at the University that students from Leiden and prisoners can take together. ‘In prison, because after all that’s where the imprisoned participants are.’

'Prisoners learn about the legal system and the ideas behind it, and students learn to see through the eyes of their “research subject”. But most of all, prisoners learn to see themselves as more than just a criminal' says Reef, 'and students learn to understand that a prisoner is also a human being.’

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