As Clinks’ Local Development Team leader I am personally motivated to keep thinking about where the next interesting development will be. What’s happening that is different, what’s going to change prison life, what does a transformed rehabilitation service look like, who are we failing to help, and why. Most importantly, my team and I are always considering how we make the most of the valuable community asset that is the voluntary sector. This blog is the start of a series that I will be writing to highlight criminal justice innovations, pointing to new ideas, interesting practice and the lessons learned from either success, or failure.
There’s plenty of positive ideas and energy across all sectors, with brilliant staff who have enthusiasm for change and an eye for how to do it. But you also come across stagnant practice, stale ideas and barriers to change. You would also be hard pressed at the moment to find anyone that isn’t a little bit cynical about the potential for change and innovation in a competitive market place, with increasing pressure to succeed through new payment by results contracts.
Despite the pressure of the economic climate, an increase in large scale commissioning and some dramatic reform of the criminal justice system we should continue to ask, what does good look like, and what sparks positive change? Perhaps one of those sparks will come from the new StreetCraft project. We have recently joined forces with the Centre for Justice Innovation and the Young Foundation to support a small number of StreetCraft scholarships that support so called innovators, or people at the forefront of designing and delivering new services, or even the same services in different ways. For me, this small programme is a breath of fresh air, casting light into dark corners and making us question the status quo. I’m looking forward to reading the applications and seeing how Clinks can help, perhaps you would like to apply? Go have a look here.
This isn’t the only area where I find cause to be optimistic. Clinks have been working hard to identify and support inspirational and aspirational ideas. We have done this through our local support of new Making Every Adult Matter test-areas that are striving to transform local services for the most complex and isolated people in their communities. People who are homeless, have substance misuse issues, where poor mental health is a factor, as well as frequent contact with the police, courts, prisons, probation, and various other agencies. The need for coordination and service re-design to support this chaotic client group is no small task, and requires an appetite for systems change on a scale that is rarely attempted or achieved. These test-areas are looking to improve services within existing budgets, re-organising, de-commissioning, or commissioning to different specifications. It will be interesting to see the contrast between these MEAM areas and the new BIG Lottery funded tackling multiple and complex needs areas that have received between £5 and £10million over the next eight years to tackle a similar issue but on a larger scale. Alongside the other MEAM coalition partners we’ll be providing support for these BIG funded areas and I expect we’ll learn a lot along the way.
As a member of the Transition to Adulthood alliance we have worked alongside charities and probation trusts to develop strategies that better support young adults, who represent 10% of the population at large, but over 30% of people throughout the criminal justice process. A sad fact that needs addressing, and a sign that we need a different approach for a client group with differing needs and aspirations to adult offenders (even though we often, wrongly, label them as adults). We are supporting the Integrated Offender Management Cymru strategy to better address the needs of young adults, which is less about a specific IOM service and more about mutli-agency wrap around approach that permeates how we approach offender management and crime reduction. The desire for IOM Cymru to make genuine significant change in the way criminal justice works continues to be fascinating. We’re also supporting the upscale of Greater Manchester Probation Trust’s Intensive Community Order (previously known as the IAC), which diverts young adults from custody and into a flexible and specifically designed community order. They should be applauded for their vision in expanding such a successful and innovative approach to offender management, as well as genuinely involving external agencies such as family support (delivered by POPS) and employment support (through Work Solutions) on a commissioned basis. Making the effort to focus on a client group in a way that recognises the unique issues they face and re-designs services to fit their needs shows that even within statutorily mandated services there is space for flexibility and creativity.
Further still, we have worked with organisations such as the Care Leavers Association to better identify and support care leavers who are grotesquely over-represented in our criminal justice system, and supported RECOOP in their efforts to address the needs of an ageing prison population. Both of these projects have been funded by the NOMS voluntary sector grants programme, showing that our statutory sector partners are also invested (literally) in the value of innovation and the need to keep testing out new ideas. I should also give special mention to the great work that Clinks’ policy team has undertaken in keeping race and ethnicity on the agenda with leadership from Baroness Lola Young and support from the Ministry of Justice. You might also be interested to read a recent Clinks blog by Louise Clark on the resilience and creativity of women’s services in what are incredibly challenging times for the women they support – read the blog here.
Finally, we’ve given out a host of small grants to spur on innovation, within the BAME community, around other areas of diversity, to promote restorative justice, to develop mental health services, to address hate crime, and much more.
We aren’t short of new ideas in criminal justice, and we mustn’t forget that. The critical question at the moment, and arguably for the foreseeable future, is can we prove that it’s effective? We may have some way to go in that regard, but I hope that we don’t lose the appetite to try new things. The problem with innovation isn’t that we’re running out of ideas, or that we’ve become stuck in our thinking. The genuine dilemma, as I see it, is how we support innovation in a risk averse climate that is driven by rigid contracts and payment by results. The answer to this is unclear, but I know that we have to leave space for creativity and failure in the development of services, and we need to make sure we learn from our mistakes as much as we learn from success.
We normally sign off with a question to spark debate, but I want you to respond to this by telling us about the things you’ve done recently that you think are innovative. Why not shout about it a little.