This guest blog is by Martin Blakebrough, CEO of Kaleidoscope, who was recently recruited onto the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3). The RR3 is a platform for leaders from the voluntary sector to engage with the Ministry of Justice, chaired by Clinks. A part of Martin’s role on the group is to represent the experience of voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system in Wales. This blog looks at Martin’s role in the RR3 and the context which voluntary organisations are working within in Wales.
Joining the RR3
Kaleidoscope provides drug and alcohol services across Wales, Shropshire and Kingston-upon-Thames. I was brought up in the organisation as a small boy, living in one of the hostels it provided, but have worked there for the past 25 years. By profession I am a Baptist Minister but over time I have developed my knowledge of social care culminating in my Masters in Community Care. I have served on the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs for the full three terms and I am currently a Trustee of the Building Community Trust, a Director of Developing a Caring Wales, and a Community Councillor.
I applied to be a member of the RR3 because of its commitment to work with the Ministry of Justice to reduce re-offending. In the substance misuse field we see many people caught up in the criminal justice system and I am passionate about ensuring people who want to make changes in their lives are given as many realistic opportunities as possible. Kaleidoscope, like many of our partners in Wales, does this by providing training opportunities, as well as looking for employment opportunities for people.
The other key reason I am delighted to be a member of the RR3 is to represent Welsh perspective. In Wales we do not have devolved powers for criminal justice but we do for policy areas such as health and education which have an important impact on people in contact with the criminal justice system. This brings a particular dynamic, with a need to join up not only across different departments but across governments too. So although I am a member of the RR3 as an individual, I also see my role as listening to Welsh partners and trying to ensure that their voice is heard, given the complexity in Wales.
The Welsh context
The Welsh context is driven by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. This requires public bodies to work in a way that improves the economic, social, environmental and cultural wellbeing of Wales through integrated services and seeks long-term solutions. In order to achieve this in criminal justice, the Welsh government and HM Prison and Probation Service jointly developed a five year framework to support positive change for those at risk of offending in Wales. The framework has six priority areas: reducing the number of women in the criminal justice system; challenging domestic abuse perpetrators; improving provision for ex-armed services personnel; providing support for young adults and care leavers; supporting the families of people in the criminal justice system; and prioritising the needs of black, Asian and minority ethnic people.
The Act established Public Service Boards to enable integrated working among public services. Statutory members include the local authority and local health board and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) and at least one body representing relevant voluntary sector organisations is also invited to participate.
The expectation in Wales is that there will be further devolution of powers as set out in the Silk Commission. This would mean devolving policing and youth justice to the Welsh government. The devolution of power in the realms of criminal justice is welcomed but the uncertainty as to when and how those powers will be used means the voluntary sector in Wales needs to be adaptable. The support of Clinks is therefore very important and the plan to have a local development officer based in Wales will be greatly welcomed by the voluntary sector.
As a small country, Wales has some innovative initiatives for supporting people leaving prison. For example, Invisible Walls is a partnership between G4S and Barnardo’s, which has been extremely successful at maintaining family links whilst a person is in prison and has had a significant impact on re-offending behaviour. Another exciting initiative is Cyfle Cymru – Peer Mentoring Service, which is part of the Welsh government’s Out of Work Service for people leaving prison, supported by the European Social Fund. This service is aimed at individuals who have been long-term unemployed or economically inactive and are in recovery from substance misuse and mental health conditions. The scheme has provided volunteering opportunities which has supported six people into full time work with Kaleidoscope who came to us from HMP Prescoed, a local open prison.
As in England, in Wales prison is recognised as a last resort. The Well-being of Future Generations Act promotes rehabilitation and ensuring the social environment is one where people can plan for a positive future for themselves and the communities they are part of. Well-run community programmes addressing the underlying problems a person is experiencing, such as mental health issues, would produce better outcomes and be more humane - the costs of placing people in prison are high.
One key issue in Wales is: whether there is there a need for a women’s prison? A women’s prison in Wales would mean women could be incarcerated closer to home in a language and culture they can understand. The problem, however, is that many women in prison should not be there. Imprisonment has bad outcomes for a person’s mental health and, not only impacts on the woman herself, but also the family she is a part of. Community sentences would be more suitable to the types of offences that women are often imprisoned for. I am pleased to see that the Ministry of Justice’s Female Offender Strategy pledges to work to develop plans for five residential women’s centres, rather than announcing the building of five new community prisons as announced in the 2016 white paper. There is also concern by organisations in the sector about the building of another prison at Port Talbot.
Continuing the conversation
I am really interested to hear about how any new powers the Welsh Government receives should be best implemented. I am also interested in your views about the prison system and how we can better support people in our communities, as well as how we can work with the Welsh government to deliver the aims of the Well-being and Future Generations Act.
I am always keen to hear new ways of working and I also want to ensure the Welsh experience is factored into any deliberation so I can be contacted by email firstname.lastname@example.org or you can share news with me on Twitter @mblakebrough62.