In November 2018, we launched our sixth State of the sector report which shows how voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system are faring. This time we included a thematic focus on how voluntary organisations both identify and respond to the needs of people with protected characteristics. Protected characteristics are those identified in the Equality Act (2010) as needing protection from discrimination. They include age, disability, gender reassignment, sex, sexual orientation, race and religion.
As part of our research, we conducted 10 in-depth interviews with voluntary organisations. One of those was with Phanuel Mutumburi, Business and Operations Director at Ipswich and Suffolk Council for Racial Equality (ISCRE). He spoke about the work that ISCRE does, what protected characteristics mean for the organisation and the challenges they’ve experienced.
The insight Phanuel provided was invaluable and we are grateful that he has allowed us to share his input. This blog will highlight some of the issues discussed by Phanuel in his interview. We hope in doing so to prompt a wider discussion about how the voluntary sector can best meet the needs of people in the criminal justice system who have protected characteristics and what lessons can be learned from ISCRE’s experience.
What kind of work does ISCRE do in criminal justice?
“The work we do in criminal justice includes work in prisons and in the community with the police and young people at risk of offending. In prisons we have community diversity officers who work as independent advocates in prison. We deliver equality and cultural competency support to prison officers and we also look at fairness of decision making in prisons. If a prisoner feels they’ve been treated unfairly, we can independently adjudicate and provide advice for both prisoners and the prison service, whilst drawing learning from those cases to avoid reoccurrence in the future.
The majority of our work is with the prisoners themselves, especially but not exclusively those from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds who consistently experience negative outcomes. We help to advocate on their behalf whilst building their awareness and confidence to support themselves. We also offer self-change programmes which empower the men in prison to look at what they can do as individuals and to enable them to better engage with prison officers.
How does the experiences of people with protected characteristics shape your services?
As a race equality council, the majority of the people we work with come from BAME backgrounds. The work we do is informed by the communities who come to us because over the years we have built trust and credibility locally. We try to build and maintain lasting relationships with all the people that we interact with. Our service user groups are widening because we are expanding to support other protected characteristics, as we use the same tools and techniques to try and improve services for them.
We always look at the specific circumstances of the individuals we work with to tailor the interactions and services we provide to suit their specific needs and ensure that they are getting bespoke support from us. We continuously analyse trends in terms of who is coming to us and the issues they are bringing. This helps us to try and influence change on a much broader basis by providing staff training and advice on organisational policies and culture.
It is helpful that as an organisation, we are very diverse. Our staff, volunteers and Trustees are mainly people from BAME backgrounds. The advantage of this is people feel very comfortable discussing issues with us because we have experience of those issues and understand what they’re going through. We aim to tackle those issues equitably.
What challenges have you experienced?
Unfortunately there are negatives that come with the kind of tailored work that we do. We carry out intensive work with individuals or really small groups, but that means that we can’t see the kind of numbers that other organisations do. And so, when you’ve got commissioners and funders who mainly focus on those quantitative measures, it causes us the kind of challenges we are currently facing as an organisation.
We also get paid for services at less than what it actually costs us to deliver it. For our work with the police and in prisons over the last eight years, there hasn’t been any increase in the contract prices, whilst the demand for our interventions continues to increase. As the prisons and other statutory bodies lose more and more of their funding, they are demanding more from us without any change to the funding they provide.
As an organisation, our ethos is that we are always open to working with other partners because we recognise that our expertise is around working with people with protected characteristics, particularly BAME communities, and other organisations may have skills or capacity that we don’t. For example, we have been approached by an organisation on behalf of their disabled service users who are struggling to access mainstream services. We then help provide advocacy and support to develop service user-informed solutions, doing so alongside organisations already working with disabled people. We have also done quite a lot of work with the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans groups, Muslim and Gypsy, Roma, Traveller communities around their experiences of hate crime and what services need to be provided.
But partnerships have also been a challenge for us given our role as a campaigning organisation. We provide challenge where bodies are perceived to be treating people unfairly. Some partners find these relationships uncomfortable and we have alienated funders and supporters in some instances as a result.”
The voluntary sector collectively has an important role to play in meeting the needs of people with protected characteristics and in overcoming the barriers they face accessing services. Clinks will continue to advocate for vulnerable groups and support and represent the voluntary sector to enable them to deliver the best possible services to them.
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We are extremely disappointed that the JCVI advice on phase 2 of the COVID vaccination programme does not prioritise people in prison and those who work with them, including voluntary sector staff and volunteers https://gov.uk/government/publications/priority-groups-for-phase-2-of-the-coronavirus-covid-19-vaccination-programme-advice-from-the-jcvi/jcvi-interim-statement-on-phase-2-of-the-covid-19-vaccination-programme