We are now in 2021 following an unprecedented year. With the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing, further lockdowns in response and a number of major changes set to take place in the criminal justice system this year, Clinks wanted to take this opportunity to recap on our work in the run up to the new year to influence policy and practice and reflect on our priorities going forward.
Where did we get to and what’s next?
At the end of last year, Clinks launched a report on the impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary sector in criminal justice. The findings show how organisations have adapted to maintain services but also highlights the difficult choices they had to make and the significant financial pressures facing them.
The future extent and duration of Covid-19 restrictions remains uncertain and the impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary sector continues to develop. We will be taking forward the findings of our report to inform our future work on Covid-19, using it to influence and inform practice, policy makers and funders whilst monitoring further changes taking place in relation to the pandemic and its impact on the voluntary sector. Later this year we will launch our next State of the sector research, an annual project that monitors how the voluntary sector in criminal justice is faring.
Clinks has been working closely with Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to influence the probation reform programme. Our work in the run up to the end of the year was focused on raising issues the voluntary sector was experiencing with the Dynamic Framework. We also gave evidence to the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the future of the probation service.
Our concern is that the ability of the voluntary sector to engage in the programme has been significantly restricted by the way the competitions for procuring services have been structured and the complexity of the process. Contract values - alongside IT and estate requirements - have presented further challenges, with small organisations struggling to put together viable bids and larger organisations struggling to build partnerships with them. Ultimately this could all affect the quality of services delivered under these contracts.
As we move into 2021, with the first wave of competitions for day one services complete and the new probation model due to go live in June, probation will remain a key priority for us. In particular, we will be working to ensure that the lessons from commissioning the latest round of competitions are understood by officials and Regional Probation Directors as they look to commission services going forward. We will continue to support the voluntary sector through this transition process, raising the concerns organisations are experiencing and track the impact of the changes on the sector’s services, and the people it supports.
Facilitating expert advice to the government
The Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) – a voluntary sector advisory group to the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS that Clinks provides the chair and secretariat for – had its latest quarterly meeting in December. The group were updated on plans for taking forward commitments in the sentencing white paper on community sentences and discussed the Reducing Reoffending Strategy being developed.
Last year the RR3 also set up a special interest group on Covid-19 which met regularly (notes from its latest meeting available here) as well as one on probation reform. The latest probation meeting focused on mobilisation of contracts. Members discussed a range of issues and also recommended measures for encouraging collaboration between new providers to address the competitive environment in the current system. See here for more info on the meeting.
Both these groups will continue to meet to advise the government and highlight the voluntary sector’s experience.
Health and justice
Older people in prison
Towards the end of last year, the Ministry of Justice announced it would be developing a national strategy for older people in prison - a welcome development that Clinks and RECOOP had been working together to push for. For more detail about why this strategy is so important and the years of advocacy that led to this moment, see this guest blog by RECOOP’s Chief Executive Officer, Paul Grainge.
Going forward Clinks and RECOOP hope to be able to feed into the development of the strategy through the steering group that we are both members of. Clinks and RECOOP will also work to engage with older people in prison to understand their unique needs in relation to prison and resettlement.
Pregnancy and motherhood in the community
In 2020 – as part of our work as a member of the VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance - Clinks and Birth Companions came together to launch a research project aimed at addressing the gap in knowledge about the needs and experiences of pregnant women and new mothers in the community who are in contact with the criminal justice system.
To do this, we ran a survey for voluntary sector professionals and volunteers working with pregnant women and recent mothers in the community, and a survey for specialist midwives in this area. We also held a series of focus groups for voluntary sector professionals and women with lived experience.
This year, we’ll be turning that research into a report with a series of recommendations for key decision makers in health and justice and local partners to pave the way for better treatment for women in the justice system. Ultimately, we want to ensure that the knowledge and expertise of the voluntary sector can be utilised to ensure that statutory health and justice services as well as voluntary organisations are meeting the needs of pregnant women and recent mothers in contact with the criminal justice system in the community.
Female offender strategy
The Ministy of Justice (MoJ) will be piloting up to five Residential Women’s Centres (RWCs), as announced in the Female Offender Strategy. The RWCs are a community alternative to short-term custody that will each provide a residential site for up to 12 women and a community hub to access support services.
In December, we hosted a second event on behalf of MoJ to gather the views of the sector on the proposed model for the RWCs. The feedback will be published shortly and in the coming months we will get further information out to the voluntary sector as the department refines the RWC model.
Challenging racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system
In our role as a member of the HMPPS External Advice and Scrutiny Panel we have been providing feedback on the development of HMPPS’ Race Action Programme which will be replacing the Lammy Review implementation programme. The panel agreed that there needs to be a focus within this programme on clear action that will address the inequalities experienced by black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system. It is vital that this includes an ongoing review of actions - including the Lammy Review recommendations - to ensure that they are sufficiently addressing these issues.
We will also continue to use the evidence gathered during the pandemic by BAME-led voluntary sector organisations to inform our policy responses to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME people and have highlighted the findings with key stakeholders and decision makers.
As part of our ambition to become an anti-racist organisation we are reviewing our messaging, language and approach to race and racism to ensure we are clearly highlighting structural racism in the criminal justice system and its consequences. We will continue this work in partnership with members of Clinks’ forthcoming race and justice network.
Working to ensure the voluntary sector’s voice is heard
Refining our policy priorities and messages
Over the past few years we’ve had many different ministerial teams, shifts in policy making, major reforms to criminal justice, and of course the Covid-19 pandemic. All the while the needs of people in the criminal justice system have been growing more urgent and complex.
Following such a turbulent time and with such significant changes to the criminal justice landscape, Clinks has decided it’s time to revisit our policy priorities set out in Clinks Thinks to make sure they accurately reflect your experiences and the needs of the people you support.
We kicked off this process with a survey to consult the voluntary sector on their views of our current priorities. The survey closed at the end of last year and going forward, through our criminal justice forums and thematic networks, we will have further discussions with the sector to refine our priorities and messages.
This feedback will be used to launch a new Clinks Thinks publication this year which will underpin our future influencing activity.
Raising the sector’s collective voice to influence policy
Last year, we started our Stronger Voice Project – a project which aims to support the sector in strengthening its voice and influence. As part of this project, this year we are working on developing a training programme as well as running expert seminars on policy influencing. The aim is to support organisations to understand the process of policy influencing and help generate ideas for their own strategies for influencing policy change.
As well as focusing on the issues highlighted here, Clinks will continue to keep a keen eye on new developments in an ever changing policy landscape. This will enable us to determine opportunities for the voluntary sector to engage in policy debates and discussion and to keep you informed of changes and what to expect.
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Latest on Twitter
It is imperative that government prioritises and resources the tackling of race inequality in the criminal justice system. It is crucial that voluntary orgs led by and focussed on racially minoritised people are listened to, taken seriously and consulted in these conversations. https://twitter.com/HMIProbation/status/1451073306791223296