In this guest blog Emma Wells, National Secretary at Community Chaplaincy Association and freelance Safeguarding and Equality and Diversity trainer, talks about her reasons for recently joining the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) and what she hopes it can achieve. The RR3 is a platform for leaders from the voluntary sector to engage with the Ministry of Justice, chaired by Clinks. Emma has experience and expertise in working with small voluntary organisations, having worked both in prisons and in the community with prisoners and their families, and brings this to her role on the RR3.
Joining the RR3
The RR3 is a unique opportunity to speak truth to power and my role in the group is an opportunity to fulfil my obligation to represent those in prison and suffering in the community, whilst amplifying the voices of those I seek to help. It is an ideal opportunity to push for changes to make the system fairer and kinder, as well more cost effective, especially due to current funding pressures in the criminal justice system.
Small organisations, like many members of the Community Chaplaincy Association, have struggled in the past few years despite delivering high quality services and many have not survived the combination of policy reforms such as Transforming Rehabilitation and wider austerity. I have seen first-hand the value of local, genuine support delivered by small voluntary organisations and do not want their contribution to be lost.
We’re all on the same team
I consider all practitioners working in criminal justice to be part of the same team working in collaboration. Working in partnership with people with lived experience of the system and the Ministry of Justice, HM Prison and Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) is essential to achieving our aims. We have seen profit agendas in conflict with service provision in prison resettlement but, in my experience, it is always possible to find common ground and build from there.
I understand the need for diplomacy as the voluntary sector is dealing with unprecedented strain. But we also need to advocate on behalf of our clients in prison who are in increasingly difficult circumstances. Change is often brought about by asking the right questions at the right time and creating space for reflection. Influence is not always instantly apparent, but a cumulative effect of demonstrating integrity and purpose.
Issues facing small charities
As the statutory sector shrinks, voluntary and faith-based groups are filling the breach. Community chaplaincies work with some of the most difficult and complex cases: men who have been rejected by all other avenues of support find safety and belonging in chaplaincy. They find they are wanted, loved and important. Recent research from Cambridge University looking at the work of community chaplaincies acknowledges the role of relationships in desistance. Leaving prison is hard – you make plans, you count the days to freedom and then you hit the reality of a society and system that doesn’t always make resettlement easy. It’s hard not to give up and even harder to find people who won’t give up on you.
However, small but effective voluntary sector organisations have largely not been included in the Transforming Rehabilitation contracts. They can struggle with capacity to complete lengthy funding applications while the system demands more of them. When an organisation consists of one or two volunteers, it does not have extra managers to send to meetings or to draw up the reports that tier one CRCs demand of those they subcontract. The choice is between sitting with a real person who has come out of prison that day or going to a meeting. Consequently the contract goes to another organisation but in reality it is often small voluntary organisations, such as the community chaplaincy, that pick up the pieces and provide the intensive, personalised support that person needs despite someone else being paid for it. Clinks’ TrackTR report and the Justice Select Committee’s Transforming Rehabilitation report demonstrate these issues. Through the RR3 I hope to be involved in supporting the Ministry of Justice to implement both reports’ recommendations.
The expertise I bring to the RR3
Through my experience of working with community chaplaincies I am familiar with operational issues shared by small voluntary sector organisations across the country. I have experience of transforming Ministry of Justice (MoJ) policy into practice operationally - understanding what will actually work on the ground.
I am also knowledgeable about the wider issues of marginalisation which affect our clients and the childhood journeys many of them will have made (at my first Integrated Offender Management meeting I recognised the majority of client names from my work in primary school special needs and school exclusion).
I have extensive research experience in both my own academic pursuits and in service improvement contexts. I understand and apply desistance theory and have seen how community support increases the desistance process. I am passionate about the need for effective and compassionate resettlement support from a financial, social justice and faith perspective.
Continuing the conversation
Operational staff contact me regularly to update on individual cases and wider issues. I travel throughout the country which helps me to keep in touch. It’s tremendously helpful to have up-to-date feedback from the voluntary sector and powerful to present real examples to decision makers who are often far from the front line. I especially welcome contact if you think I’ve missed something out – I‘m always looking to learn.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org