Jez Hall writes about how PB can push the limits of empowerment to the most unusual of suspects.
One of the amazing things about Participatory Budgeting(PB) is how it can push boundaries and break down walls. Even the walls around the criminal justice system? A step too far?
Whether its in empowering young people by challenging expectations of how young people can be and also have a say, or towards supporting recovery, or tackling Islamophobia, any community, however marginalised can become more engaged and find greater voice through PB.
An example I came across, small scale perhaps, shows how PB has been used as part of inmate reintegration programmes in Canada. Communitas Montreal carries a report on its PB process in its autumn 2018 newsletter, from which I have extracted the images below for ease of access.
There is an extensive write up on this case on the Participedia website too. Where its noted;
"In one case, a participant on his first outing from the penitentiary in decades had expressed at the outset that he felt quite unsure of himself; nonetheless, he fared well in group deliberations and seemed much more at ease in the subsequent session. In addition, the fact that many participants indicated a desire to use the process again with an even greater sum suggests a certain degree of added confidence as well".
"While some may doubt that those convicted of serious crimes are capable or interested in contributing to decision-making about the common good, this experiment adds further evidence to the contrary."
And this is not the only time the link between PB and prisoner reintegration has been made. Within the NYC PB process its been reported that in 2015 NY Council Member Mark Levine held the first targeted budget assembly for around 100 formerly incarcerated individuals at The Castle. Nearly all turned up to submit their ideas, that included erecting a statue of David Rothenberg, Broadway figure, LGBT activist and social justice campaigner.
“We’re a part of that community, we make that community safe, we are invested in that community. We should have a voice. The participatory budget process allows that to happen,” says Stanley Richards, who’s the first former inmate to join the New York City Board of Corrections. “For us, participating in the political process is about having access to full citizenship, both of New York and of the United States.”
More recently, in Italy, they have also been experimenting
Using PB as a tool for rehabilitation and re-integrate prisoners into society. As quoted on the DW news website the Idee in Fuga project started with consultations and assemblies where inmates could speak their minds and address their needs and ideas, which would then be put to a vote.
"To reintegrate it’s necessary to be honest with yourself and other inmates and the institutions," says inmate Biagio Aversano, who’s been in Bollate for over seven years. "I had the feeling that everyone wanted to participate, I saw people getting passionate and committed," he says.
Inmates came up with a list of 58 ideas that reflected their previous personal working experiences or their needs that have arisen as a result of being in jail. Someone proposed to create an edible snails farm or a small cheese factory to create jobs, others to build a magnetic energy generator and set up an intimate area for conjugal visits. "Idee in Fuga made it possible for us to believe that we should not be ashamed of our ideas," said Aversano.
Any budget can be more participatory. Its up to those holding the purse strings to have faith in the value of losing control and trusting the PB process. It takes bravery to try something new. But it is sometimes cheaper to invest than to incarcerate?
Jez Hall coordinates PB work for Shared Future CIC through their PB Partners project. He has been closely involved with PB since 2000, supports much of the work of this producing this website, and works across the UK and internationally on promoting best practice in community empowerment.