What is the Covid-19 Special Interest Group?
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 the 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 the 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 the government.
This blog shares the key points that emerged from the fifth meeting of the group on 16th April 2020.
The group has now met five times in as many weeks, making many recommendations to government across a range of issues, all related to the questions of what voluntary organisations working in criminal justice need in order to deliver their services during this crisis, remain sustainable beyond the crisis, and to keep people safe. At this latest meeting, the group took stock of the work they have so far completed.
Many of the recommendations they have made to government over the past weeks remain urgent. For example, the group have made a recommendations on the additional measures needed to ensure people leaving prison have their basic needs met, including:
- The discharge grant should be immediately increased to the equivalent of 6 weeks’ benefits for the duration of the crisis to ensure people leaving prison have enough money to meet their basic needs
- The Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and Youth Custody Service (YCS) should establish with voluntary organisations and Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) a clear plan to coordinate the release of each child from a secure setting.
Numerous recommendations have been made about access to appropriate information to help voluntary organisations plan for meeting the needs of people leaving prison at this time, including:
- HMPPS should be removing restricted marking from all its operational guidance and should be sharing this widely and in a timely way with the voluntary sector, families, prisoners and those under supervision in the community
- MoJ and HMPPS should publish full information regarding the eligibility criteria for the early release scheme, projections for the numbers of people eligible in each area, the timelines for releases and the information that needs to be passed on to people in prison and their families.
There are also urgent recommendations that remain outstanding regarding the way in which the voluntary sector can support HMPPS delivery at this time, including:
- Charities 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.
- HMPPS should be more flexible in how it works with organisations who do not have an existing funding relationship with HMPPS but are offering to redirect their own resource to support HMPPS delivery, at no extra cost to the department.
Improving how we work with government
The group were joined for part of the meeting with HMPPS officials, who gave an update on their work in response to the recommendations that have been made. Like everyone working across criminal justice, HMPPS are under enormous pressure to respond to the crisis. They have had to completely adapt their operational model and face real challenges on staffing.
Members of the RR3 group expressed concern however that they had not received meaningful feedback on their work - even simply whether recommendations had been accepted or not. Some recommendations have been made repeatedly across the weeks and remain urgent and outstanding, but still no information has been forthcoming.
Clinks, as chair of the RR3, is coordinating with the group and government officials to establish better processes for response and feedback on the group’s work. This, of course, ties in more broadly with the need for voluntary organisations to have timely access to policy information and operational guidance coming from government, which is essential for organisations to deliver their services to people at this challenging time.
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 are running a survey every two weeks to help us track the impact on voluntary organisations working in criminal justice. Our surveys look at the impact on operational delivery; staff and volunteers; finances; and arts provision in prisons. See insights from the first survey here.
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.