Every time I put pen to paper to reflect on the political and policy environment over the last two years, I feel that I’ve said something along the lines of “it has been a very changeable time” or “there has been a lot of political upheaval”. But the last few months have felt particularly turbulent, especially following the election of Boris Johnson as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister in July 2019, which saw one of the biggest cabinet reshuffles in recent history. We wrote a blog to update our members about this and have written seven letters to ministers to detail the role of the sector and advocate on our members’ behalf. These changes to the cabinet were swiftly followed by a raft of announcements which signalled a radical change in policy direction as criminal justice issues were prioritised by number 10.
All of this change and upheaval has a direct impact on our work at Clinks, as well as that of our members, as we try and determine the detail of any potential policy change, what impact it is likely to have and if the voice and expertise of voluntary organisations and the people they support will be garnered during these processes.
Although much has changed, much has remained the same. This blog aims to give an outline of our policy priorities and key areas of work, what we’ve been doing to influence national policy, as well as what we know is on the horizon.
What is the state of the sector?
We conduct our state of the sector research annually and have been doing so for the last seven years. The research presents the most detailed and robust information we have on voluntary organisations working in criminal justice and also serves as a useful barometer of organisations’ experiences year on year.
Our research has two parts to it: a survey and an analysis of the financial information organisations submit to the charity commission which is conducted by the National Council of Voluntary Organisations. We are really pleased to report that over 245 of you took our important survey, which is – yet again – an increase in the number of responses since last year’s survey. This is exciting as the more organisations we hear from the better picture we have on the challenges and experiences of the sector. We are busily analysing the results and will publish our findings in the autumn. Our preliminary analysis shows that many of the challenges organisations have experienced in previous years remain, but the way they are responding is changing, demonstrating the flexible and responsive nature of voluntary organisations
Influencing probation reform
Since the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) announced it would be ending Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) contracts early and consulting on the future model of probation, we have been working to ensure the knowledge and expertise of the voluntary sector informs these plans. Last week we published a set of commissioning principles - submitted to the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) - which we believe would best enable the voluntary sector to deliver services in the future probation model.
We advocate for greater utilisation of grants to ensure that voluntary sector organisations (especially small and specialist ones) can play a proper role in working alongside probation services. We also recommend there should be an overarching National Probation Service (NPS) commissioning strategy, to be used as a template to co-produce commissioning strategies with the voluntary sector and service users in each NPS area.
Responding on your behalf
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of a review of sentencing policy for people who commit serious and prolific offences, we have participated in a telephone interview to feed into the rapid internal review that the Ministry of Justice is undertaking on behalf of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice.
During the interview, we highlighted that the primary purpose of sentencing should be to support the desistance process (which in turn ensures public protection); the risk that this proposed sentencing reform will impact disproportionately on black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people, women and young adults; and that multiple disadvantage often underlies a significant amount of prolific offending. We also raised the well-evidenced community alternatives, often provided by the voluntary sector, for a diverse range of offence types and the challenges the voluntary sector has in delivering interventions in prison. We’ll publish a blog soon which gives more detail of the issues we raised, look out for that in our weekly Light Lunch ebulletin.
We are also working on responses to four consultations, all of which are due for submission in September and October. I have included the deadline for responses below as I would encourage Clinks members to respond to the inquiries on behalf of their own organisations:
- Justice Select Committee’s inquiry into children and young people in custody: We are responding in partnership with EQUAL and the Barrow Cadbury Trust, and will focus specifically on the overrepresentation and experience of BAME children and young people in custody. Our response will be informed by the views and experiences of BAME-led voluntary organisations, and those working with children who came together for our consultation event. The deadline for responses is 1st October.
- Justice Select Committee inquiry into the ageing prison population: We are working in partnership with Recoop to respond to this consultation and will raise the need for a national strategy for older people in contact with the criminal justice system to be developed. Deadline for responses is 1st October.
- HM Inspectorate of Prisons consultation on expectations for the women’s estate: Clinks will submit a response based on the insights gained from two consultation events held with voluntary organisations. If you want to submit your own response, contact Darren Wilkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submissions is 14th October 2019.
- Arts Council England’s draft 10 year strategy: This will set out the organisation’s vision, outcomes and principles for investment in arts and culture in 2020-2030. Clinks and the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance will respond focussing on how organisations working with people in contact with the criminal justice system can support Arts Council England to truly reach its vision of a country where the creativity of all is valued and given the chance to flourish. The deadline for responses is 23rd September.
We are also contributing criminal justice specific information to Homeless Link’s response to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consultation on the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. The Act created an obligation on prison and probation services to refer people, with their consent, to the local authority if they are at risk of homelessness. We are interested to hear how this has been implemented. To submit information please contact Nicola Drinkwater at Nicola.email@example.com by Monday 23rd September.
Our monthly policy briefing ebulletin gives regular updates on our work at Clinks, as well as key government announcements and publications. To receive this monthly in your inbox, join Clinks here. If you would like to contact us about anything raised in this blog please email Nicola Drinkwater, Policy Manager at Nicola.firstname.lastname@example.org