Director’s update: Connecting for change during COVID-19

Nina Champion, Director - 17 July 2020

Dear Members,

As society eases out of lockdown, prisons, probation and the courts have set out plans on how they will ease restrictions and increase activity. Since our last Members Meeting, the CJA has held virtual meetings with members working across the criminal justice system from policing to prisons, courts to victims’ service. We have heard how our members have adapted at speed to meet the needs of people across the justice system, and what they will need to recover in the coming months, which we will put to policy makers in our upcoming influencing work. Here is my regular update from the CJA outlining progress on our ‘Connecting for Change’ strategy:

Responding to the COVID-19 outbreak

I have been attending weekly online meetings as part of the RR3 (Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group) Special Interest Group on COVID-19. As part of the RR3, we collected a range of case studies from members of prison leavers struggling to survive during lockdown, and wrote to the Ministry of Justice calling for an increase in the discharge grant and more resettlement support. Subsequently, the Secretary of State for Justice recently stated that he will review the prison discharge grant.

During June and July we have held 12 online ‘virtual cuppa’ meetings with our members. We will shortly be publishing a full summary of the issues, good practice and recommendations that emerged. We have already used these to inform our Select Committee responses and in contributing to an RR3 briefing on COVID-19.

In the last three months we have submitted three briefings to the Justice Select Committee, two to the Home Affairs Select Committee and one to the Women and Equalities Select Committee relating to COVID-19. We have written to the Secretary of State for Justice, Policing Minister, Prisons Minister, Lord Chief Justice, the Sentencing Council and the Ministry of Justice Victims’ Policy Lead on a range of issues. We have seen some positive outcomes as a result. For example:

  • The Sentencing Council published an update for judges highlighting the need for consideration of the ‘heavier impact’ of custodial sentences during this time.
  • The Policing Minister indicated the Home Office will be setting up a national scrutiny mechanism relating to police powers and COVID-19.
  • The Ministry of Justice are looking at our suggestions on using the voluntary sector and people with lived experience in the new Bail Information Services to reduce the number of people on remand.
  • Specific funding is now going to be provided to small, specialist charities working with black, Asian and minority ethnic victims organisations.

Effective Scrutiny and Accountability

When the Coronavirus Act came into force, giving the police authority to arrest and fine people for breach of its provisions, we raised concerns that these new powers could be used disproportionately against black, Asian and minority ethnic people. Recent evidence confirmed our concerns and we have provided written evidence to a new Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into policing. We are continuing to analyse Freedom of Information requests relating to s.60 searches and will be publishing a briefing on the issue shortly.

Following fruitful meetings with the Independent Custody Visitors Association (ICVA) and the Chair of the Independent Monitoring Boards (IMB) regarding community scrutiny, we are developing exciting projects to look at improving monitoring of equalities issues, with a particular focus on race and gender, over the coming months. I have also recently contributed to a virtual roundtable organised by HMI Prisons to discuss the methodology and framework for future short scrutiny inspections.

A Restorative Criminal Justice System

In June we submitted a response to the Victims’ Code consultation. We raised concerns that black, Asian and minority ethnic victims would be disproportionality impacted if the right to be referred to a Restorative Justice service is removed from the Code, drawing on evidence from the Equality Impact Assessment. We recently met with the Victims’ Commissioner to discuss these concerns. Harnessing the expertise of our Restorative Expert Group, Amal (our new Policy Officer) has been working on a briefing entitled ‘Responding Restoratively to COVID-19’ which will be published shortly. This will be the first of a series of briefings on restorative practices and approaches across the CJS. Our Policy Intern Jason has been working on a second briefing: ‘Responding Restoratively to the School to Prison Pipeline’. Our Lived Experience Expert Group also contributed to a letter regarding the Prime Minister’s ‘Hidden Harms’ Summit, focusing on issues around criminal exploitation and domestic violence.

A Fit for Purpose and Diverse Workforce

In June we held a webinar on building a diverse criminal justice workforce. The event was opened by the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, followed by a panel discussion. Around 150 people attended from organisations across the criminal justice system. We have also held four online workshops to hear insights and good practice on recruitment, retention, progression and measuring impact. We will use these insights to write a report and make timely recommendations.

‘This is a golden opportunity to improve representation in policing and across the criminal justice sector.’ Tola Munro, Chair, National Black Police Association.

‘So many of our challenges are collective and I do hope we can continue to learn from and support each other in finding the solutions. Hauwa Shehu, CPS Muslim Staff Network

I continue to support the HMPPS Service User Advisory Group and have helped establish a sub-working group on employment of people with lived experience in the criminal justice workforce to help implement the recommendations of our ‘Change from Within’ report. I also recently chaired a webinar as part of HMPPS Insights20, featuring three people with lived experience who work in prison and probation settings:

It was such a good event, I am sharing learning throughout the inspectorate as we aim to increase our service user involvement.’ HMI Probation

‘I’m a Probation officer with lived experience. It was so inspirational to know HMPPS are now listening. I am going to speak to our volunteer co-ordinator about what more we can do to provide progression routes for our peer volunteers to become paid employees.’ Probation officer

CJA Awards

Thanks to the generous support of The Hadley Trust, the CJA Awards 2020 will be going ahead and nominations will be accepted from the end of July onwards. Due to restrictions on large gatherings we will have an online ceremony, but hope to hold a follow up event when restrictions are lifted to celebrate with the shortlisted individuals, organisations, journalists and digital champions in person. To coincide with the Media Awards, we are producing a briefing on what makes good criminal justice reporting. The briefing will highlight the experiences of organisations and individuals with lived experience who have worked with the media, as well as featuring good practice from journalists

Communication strategy

Communications Officer Jamie has increased our output on social media, refreshed our bulletin, and recently launched the #MeetTheMember blog series. We also look forward to launching a new website in the coming months.

‘One of my favourite things about being a CJA member is the quality of communications and information, which is solid, meaty and informative.’ Clean Sheet

New members

We are delighted to welcome three new CJA members: Fair Trials International, University of Westminster Prison University Partnerships and Policy & Evaluation Research Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University.

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