A criminal justice system in crisis
The criminal justice system - both in our prisons and in probation - is at breaking point. This became evident when the Secretary of State for Justice announced new measures in October, outlining plans to tackle the overcrowding crisis across the prison estate, alongside a proposal to rent foreign prison places to mitigate current capacity issues (which is being implemented through the new Criminal Justice Bill). It didn’t have to be this way. The voluntary sector has been sounding the alarm for years, highlighting overcrowded and dilapidated prisons and an ongoing staffing crisis, and calling for evidence-based interventions that could stem the flow of people into the system.
Alongside the decline in conditions and staffing, an increasingly punitive approach to sentencing policy – under successive governments – has meant that imprisonment rates remain stubbornly high in England and Wales, begging the question: is more prison really the answer? Steps in the right direction are being taken, including through a proposed presumption against short custodial sentences in a new Sentencing Bill, something the voluntary sector has been calling for, for a number of years. Meanwhile, the voluntary sector - already operating under unprecedented demands, delivering essential services to support people - tells us that the people they work with increasingly have complex and multiple needs, and recent measures, though welcome, will place an even greater strain on the sector without the provision of additional resources.
Through Clinks Thinks and the invaluable contribution from members, we are urging the government to acknowledge that there is another way. As we have set out in our launch blog, Clinks Thinks outlines our key principles, ambitions and recommendations – rooted in evidence and expertise – developed in consultation with voluntary sector organisations. Instead of a rhetorical arms race between the two main parties on who can be tougher on crime, this work is a call to pursue an alternative approach. An approach which will reduce the size of the prison population, highlight more effective approaches to women in the criminal justice system, seek to tackle racial disparities and, together, contribute towards a system geared towards rehabilitation and not simply retribution and punishment. To achieve success, there must be a recognition of the role that the voluntary sector plays in supporting people in the criminal justice system to realise their potential, while ensuring that the voluntary sector remains sustainable in the long term.
With the next general election fast approaching, Clinks Thinks has been developed in consultation with the voluntary sector to represent their expertise and experience, while presenting an ambitious vision of a better criminal justice system. Clinks Thinks will platform the incredible work of voluntary organisations across the system – from initial contact at the police station or courts to support on release from prison and in the community. By leveraging the expertise of the voluntary sector and scaling up demonstrably effective programmes, we can work towards a better criminal justice system. To start with, as the women’s prison population grows, we will be looking at how we can implement an effective approach for women.
Launch focus & beyond
We have spent the past few months meeting with voluntary organisations and listening to the changes they want to see in the criminal justice sector.
Now, over the next few months and beyond, we will continue to home in on specific areas of the system - with a focus on our ambitions - providing policymakers with evidence on what works and what can be done to build an effective system. A system that works for the people within it.
Clinks Thinks is launching with an initial focus on 'implementing an effective approach for women', followed by looking at the steps needed to reduce the size of the prison population. See our first video on 'early intervention for women' here.
In the New Year, we will be exploring how the voluntary sector can help tackle racial disparities across the criminal justice system. Stay tuned as Clinks Thinks evolves and get in touch to contribute and with any questions!
Keep an eye on Clinks' comms channels for further video interviews where we will hear more from the sector.