Russell Webster - Work with Offenders
Work with offenders looks at a new joint briefing from the Centre for Justice Innovation and the Criminal Justice Alliance
With the third set of elections for Police and Crime Commissioners less than three weeks away, criminal justice stakeholders have been lobbying for their goals and ideas to be adopted by the different prospective post-holders.
The Centre for Justice Innovation and the Criminal Justice Alliance have jointly published a new briefing document today. Entitled “Public Safety, Public Trust. Innovative Ideas for Police and Crime Commissioners in 2021: Partnership working with the community and voluntary sector”, the document highlights some of the main challenges currently facing the criminal justice system and provides practical innovative solutions that PCCs could include in their plans upon taking office.
The headline proposals include:
The common theme running through the briefing is that all these key issues can be most effectively tackled when PCCs work together with community and voluntary sector organisations. The document argues that PCCs have a unique role in their ability to bring together a wide range of statutory, voluntary and community sector partners to deliver joined-up solutions to local problems.
The document is essentially a list of case studies where existing PCCs have piloted successful initiatives in the key areas listed above. A good example is the document’s focus on how the criminal justice system can achieve a full recovery from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recovering from the pandemic
COVID-19 has caused considerable strain on the criminal justice system and the briefing lists some of the main pressure points with examples of how PCCs have or could respond to them:
The suspension of jury trials and the sporadic closure of courts in response to the pandemic has exacerbated an already sizeable backlog of court cases in England and Wales.
Through supporting and investing in the implementation of Out of Court Disposals (also known as diversion schemes) in their area, PCCs are able to reduce both reoffending and pressures on the criminal justice system.
The pandemic has seen a significant spike in cases of domestic violence, resulting from lockdown measures trapping victims inside with their abuser, as well as restricting access to family and friends, and support services.
PCCs will have a central role in responding to the long-term impact of domestic abuse after lockdown restrictions have eased, including ensuring that specialist services supporting Black, Asian and minority ethnic victims can continue providing much needed culturally specific support.
Mental health provision has been under greater strain during the pandemic. Higher levels of anxiety and stress have been reported to affect a larger number of people suffering from economic uncertainty and social isolation, combined with reduced access to usual pathways of support.
PCCs can support preventative measures that aim to stop mental health demand from escalating, ensuring that those in crisis are given the most appropriate care at the earliest opportunity. Diverting people whose primary problem is their mental health from the criminal justice system will also help further over-loading prisons.
The pandemic has seen people in prison locked in their cells for up to 23 and a half hours a day without access to rehabilitation and resettlement support, resulting in increased concerns about their mental health. Families have not been able to visit their family members in prison for over a year, putting additional pressure on partners and children.
PCCs can work with community and voluntary organisations to provide valuable support to improve well-being, maintain family ties and support successful resettlement from prison to the community.
The two charities highlight two case studies where PCCs have set out to help combat the negative effects of the pandemic:
The PCC in Warwickshire set up a fund for initiatives in the community to aid recovery from Covid-19. One organisation which was funded is the Benn Partnership, which delivers a community project in Rugby that supports members of the Black community with challenges that have disproportionality affected this group during the pandemic. Another organisation, Aspire in Arts, used the funding to enable qualified youth workers to do community outreach work in places where young people were gathering.
The PCC in Sussex awarded a grant to Sussex Prisoners’ Families from the Community Safety Fund to provide a part-time community outreach worker to support families with a relative facing arrest, court or prison. The charity said ‘research shows that if prisoners have a supportive family, they are less likely to reoffend, so supporting families makes communities safer’.
Readers who are interested can download the full report here.