The Criminal Justice Alliance

Work with Offenders profiles a coalition of charities fighting for a fairer justice system.

The Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA) evolved from the Penal Affairs Consortium which was set up as a loose coalition of charities concerned about government plans to introduce harsher sentencing and more punitive prison regimes in the early 1990s. The CJA was founded in 2007 and became a charity in 2011. It has a membership of 160 organisations in the justice sector who work together with the aim of creating a fairer and more effective criminal justice system. Its membership includes campaigning charities, voluntary sector service providers, research institutions and staff associations.

The CJA provides its members with a forum to identify and promote solutions. The breadth of its membership means that individual organisations gain from a strong collective voice which provides a gateway for dialogue and influence with both policy makers and the media.

The CJA’s current strategy defines what its members mean by a fair and effective criminal justice system, highlighting five key characteristics which they feel should be central to a modern CJS:

  1. Safe - treats people humanely and protects their physical and mental well-being.
  2. Smart – supports cross sector solutions to significantly reduce the prison population and promotes prevention, diversion and rehabilitation.
  3. Person-centred – meets individual needs, offers hope and opportunities for positive life change and values lived experience.
  4. Restorative – addresses harm by supporting victims and people impacted by crime and focuses on reparation and re-connection to the community.
  5. Trusted – is transparent, open and accountable and promotes equality, diversity and inclusion.

The Criminal Justice Alliance works on a wide range of issues to help coordinate the work of the sector across its various silos of interest. It has a history of campaigning on issues relating to diversity, particularly racial disparity and a long-standing interest and body of work around restorative justice. Recently, the CJA has been one of a number of criminal justice organisations championing the importance of providing greater opportunities for people who have been in prison or on probation themselves to take up paid employment, leadership and influencing positions within the sector. A recent report “Change from Within” made a range of recommendations about the importance of people with “lived experience” in bringing about positive change in criminal justice.

The CJA is also known for its annual awards, now in its sixth year which celebrate outstanding individuals and organisations who have made a significant contribution towards creating a fair and effective criminal justice system. There are three categories for this year’s awards: Outstanding National Organisation, Outstanding Local/Regional Organisation and Outstanding Individual. If you are interested in entering your organisation, the deadline is 18 October and you can find all the details here.

The charity also runs an annual Media Award to celebrate journalism and digital media “that reports on criminal justice sensitively and constructively, and that has contributed to a better understanding of criminal justice in society”. Nominations may be made by individuals themselves or by CJA members, again you can find full details here.

The CJA is ably led by Nina Champion who took over the role of Director two years ago after several years as Head of Policy for the Prisoners’ Education Trust. The CJA has been particularly active this year, responding to the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has thrown up for the criminal justice system.

The charity has been one of the many charities campaigning to ensure that the unequal impact of COVID-19 on people from different ethnic backgrounds is fully recognised and addressed by the government and statutory agencies. It has also prepared detailed briefings on how different organisations across policing, courts, prisons, probation and resettlement, victims' services, mental health and drug and alcohol services have responded to the difficulties of providing services through lockdown. The CJA has also produced a number of reports making recommendations for policy makers, highlighting how they can build a better criminal justice system following the pandemic. In particular, the charity has highlighted the effectiveness of restorative approaches and has argued that these approaches could be key to address the harms and trauma caused by the pandemic, build a better criminal justice system and create a safer, more cohesive and resilient society.

You can find out more about the Criminal Justice Alliance from their website.