What is the Covid-19 Special Interest Group?
The voluntary sector working in the criminal justice system face unprecedented challenges in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, both in terms of safeguarding service users and staff in the short term, and ensuring the long-term existence and sustainability of our vital organisations.
The Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) has set up a Special Interest Group (SIG) on Covid-19, in order to formally channel policy suggestions to government on how they can protect people in contact with the criminal justice system and their families, and ensure the future of the voluntary sector working in criminal justice.
The RR3 is a formal voluntary sector advisory group to government, consisting of 16 senior voluntary sector leaders, which is chaired and coordinated by Clinks. The Covid-19 SIG is sponsored by Peter Dawson, Prison Reform Trust and Nicky Park, St Giles and consists of RR3 members, plus additional experts co-opted for their specialist expertise. The group meets weekly to make recommendations to government. This blog shares the key points that emerged from the latest meeting on 25th March 2020.
Key points from the latest meeting of the Covid-19 Special Interest Group
The meeting first discussed the support voluntary organisations will need in order to exist and be sustainable beyond this crisis. They made a number of recommendations to government including:
- Voluntary organisations working under any public sector contract or sub contract need clear assurances that their funding is guaranteed over the duration of this crisis, that sensible and proportionate contract management in these extreme circumstances will be exercised and underspend on contracted activities over this period is not clawed back by commissioners and prime contractors.
- Voluntary organisations need urgent financial support to bridge losses incurred in earned income during this crisis.
- Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) should consider suspending all tendering processes scheduled in the coming months. They should establish a clear plan to coordinate across the criminal justice system when services will be retendered following the crisis, to prevent both gaps in provision and an immediate flood of tenders after the crisis has passed.
The meeting then turned to how best to protect people in the criminal justice system and support their families amidst this crisis. They made a number of recommendations to government including:
- People leaving prison must be given a smart phone with internet access in order to access virtual services and maintain contact during isolation. Some people may need financial or practical assistance to maintain internet or phone access for the purposes of both support and complying with supervision requirements.
- During this crisis, there should be a temporary suspension of short custodial sentences under six months, restrained use of recall and safe alternatives to remand used where possible.
- MoJ and HMPPS should establish an accommodation guarantee for people leaving prison, by establishing new accommodation in hotel or other settings. MoJ and HMPPS should engage with charities on how best to implement this as soon as possible.
- The discharge grant should be immediately increased to the equivalent of six weeks’ benefits for the duration of the crisis to ensure people leaving prison have enough money to meet their basic needs.
What else Clinks is doing
This is an unsettling time for everyone and we know there is a lot of fast-changing information which can be overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Clinks and the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance have therefore produced a webpage which provides sector-specific information, signposts to helpful information from the wider voluntary sector, and answers some frequently asked questions. We'll also continue to provide updates as needed in our ebulletins, including Light Lunch, and on our Twitter accounts @Clinks_Tweets and @ArtsCJS.
We also have a mailbox - firstname.lastname@example.org - for voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system who have concerns or questions regarding how Covid-19 will affect their operations or the information they should provide to service users. Organisations should direct queries to their local contact or contract managers where possible, and submit specific questions to the mailbox if you’re struggling to get them answered.
Tell us about the current impact Covid-19 is having on your voluntary organisation working in criminal justice - fill out our 5 minute survey by Tuesday 31st March here