Director’s update April 2020: Working with members through challenging times

Nina Champion, CJA Director - 8 April 2020

A lot has happened since our last Members Meeting in November which has put incredible pressure on the criminal justice systemThere was the tragic incident at Fishmongers Hall, a general election, a cabinet reshuffle and, of course, the outbreak of COVID-19. Throughout all these changes and challenges we aim to keep members informed and to use your expertise and ideas to influence policy and share good practice.  

I am delighted to welcome two new staff members to help us do this: Jamie Morrell, Communications and Engagement Officer and Amal Ali, Policy Officer. Here is my regular update from the CJA outlining progress on our ‘Connecting for Change’ strategy and our plans for the coming months: 

Responding to the COVID-19 outbreak  

When the significant impact of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system first became apparent over three weeks ago, we worked with some of our members to establish pragmatic recommendations, which we communicated privately to government and officials. Many of our members have also been calling for swift and sensible action to be taken by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) on a range of issues. However, despite welcome moves to release pregnant women and some people at the end of their sentences, progress remains frustratingland dangerously slow, and ten prisoners and two officers have sadly died from COVID-19. The CJA has sent key recommendations to the Justice Select Committee, ahead of their evidence session with Robert Buckland, aimed at easing the burden on the criminal justice system and saving lives. You can read the full briefing here. 

We are also currently speaking to members who are impacted by changes in policing as a result of COVID-19, and we are working with the Standing Committee for Youth Justice to communicate issues and ideas to the Home Office. We are liaising with members to promote restorative practices in response to current challenges, such as supporting people being released from prison and their families, to more restorative approaches to policing. We are also speaking to members with expertise in equalities to inform a response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry into COVID-19.  

If you want to contribute, please contact our new Policy Officer: amal.ali@criminaljusticealliance.org.uk. 

Effective Scrutiny and Accountability 

The publication of the new College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice on community engagement and community scrutiny, which drew heavily on our Stop & Scrutinise report, has been delayed. We are currently chasing for this to published.  We are also analysing Freedom of Information requests we made on the use of Section 60 suspicion-less stop & searches, although the current crisis has delayed responses from some forces. Following a meeting of our expert group on scrutiny and accountability, we have been in contact with the MoJ, Independent Monitoring Board, Independent Custody Visitors Association, Lay Observers and HMI Probation regarding improving the monitoring of equality issues. We are also calling for the government to better support community monitoring of custody at this vital time 

A Restorative Criminal Justice System 

We were delighted to secure funding from the Lloyds Bank Foundation for this work stream. We held an expert group to discuss the Victims Code consultation and ways to promote restorative practices and approaches across the criminal justice system.  We hope to hold summer showcase event on 2 July. We have had meetings with the Ministry of Justice Victims Policy lead and the new HMPPS Re:Hub Unit about the Victims Code, and support for victims in light of COVID-19. We have been in contact with the Race Disparity Team to press for the publication of PCC guidance on supporting BAME victims, which was produced following the CJA / MoJ roundtable last year.   

A Fit for Purpose and Diverse Workforce 

Following the successful launch of our ‘Change from Within’ report at our last members meeting in November, we have been pursuing the implementation of the recommendations with the MoJ, New Futures Network, HMPPS Service User Advisory Group and Going Forward into Employment Cabinet Office scheme. The CJA Lived Experience Expert group is due to meet shortly to discuss what a pathway from prison/probation to paid work in the sector should look like, to inform MoJ plans. To help us, we are delighted to welcome two new members to that expert group from Working Chance and Offploy CIC.   

A seminar at the Ministry of Justicon increasing racial diversity in the criminal justice workforce had been planned for April with guest speakers including Tola Munro from the National Black Police Officers Association and Tanya Robinson, the HMPPS Equalities lead. Due to COVID-19, the event has now been postponed. We recently spoke with David Lammy MP, now Shadow Justice Secretary, who is keen to support this work.  

Positive Pathways from Prison Project: We are delighted to have been awarded funding to influence change around employment after prison and support for prisoners’ families, to help ensure the recommendations of the Farmer Review and Coates Review are implemented. We look forward to working with members and setting up expert groups to gather expertise in due course.  

Remand in custody: We have held a second meeting of our expert group on this issue, discussing opportunities to reduce the overuse of custodial remand. Following our Directors paper to the Ministerial Advisory Board on Female Offenders last year, the MoJ is now carrying out userfocused research on women and remand.  

Police & Crime Commissioner Election: We have begun work to influence PCC candidates using the briefing we published in September 2019 for the party conferences.  The elections have now been delayed until May 2021 but we will continue to promote the key messages with current and prospective candidates over the coming year.  

Crime and Justice Learning Fair 2020: Unfortunately, this planned event co-hosted with the Manchester Metropolitan University Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU), and featuring a performance by Clean Break, has been postponed due to COVID-19. 

CJA AwardsAfter our last Members Meeting we celebrated our annual award ceremony. The Hadley Trust has very generously agreed to support the CJA Awards again this year. We are delighted to introduce new categories of Outstanding Local and National Organisations, as well as adding an additional Media Award category of Outstanding Documentary. We havalso started discussions with the National Union of Journalists about co-producing guidance on criminal justice reporting.  

Communication strategyFollowing a member survey we have developed and began implementing a new communications strategy, which will improve our bulletin, social media and website.  

New members: We are happy to welcome new CJA members: The Longford Trust, the Sentencing Academy and the Design Against Crime Research Centre. Due to the current situation we have frozen membership fees for 2020/21. 

If you have any questions about the CJA’s work, or you would like to get involved with our expert groups, please do contact me on nina.champion@criminaljusticeallaince.org.uk.