Tackling inequality in the Criminal Justice System
This recent (May 2015) report from Clinks presents the findings from a voluntary sector seminar designed to share learning on how different groups have advocated the needs of offenders from equality and minority groups.
The seminar included five presentations on how to tackle inequality experienced by different groups in the CJS:
- Muslim young men
- Older people
- Gay and bisexual men
- People with learning disabilities
The presentations highlighted two series of learning points. The first for organisations advocating for equality and the second for those with responsibility for making policy and commissioning services in a way that tackles inequalities.
Learning points for advocates
Nine recommendations are highlighted in the report as successful approaches for organisations wishing to advocate on behalf of equality and/or minority groups who are discriminated against within the criminal justice system:
- Create partnerships between locally led community organisations and larger national organisations to create impact at the grassroots and policy levels.
- Influence public perception in order to tackle stigmatisation and negative stereotypes.
- Use creative activity and the arts to provide a space for people to explore complex issues and widen horizons.
- Use research and evidence to make the case for your service or activities – set up pilots in the first instance to demonstrate the value of your work.
- Demonstrate how your work can help statutory services fulfil their legal obligations under the Equality Act (2010).
- Make solutions easy for statutory services, especially prisons, to implement; fit in with their ways of working.
- Commitment and persistence is often necessary to communicate the importance and value of meeting the needs of equality and minority groups.
- Recognise the value and power of self advocacy – involve service users to ensure their voices are heard; they are the ‘experts by experience’.
- Use the information, knowledge and experience gained in delivering services to influence policy.
Policy and commissioning learning points
Learning points for policymakers and commissioners came from examining challenges and solutions at each stage of the commissioning process: needs assessment; service design; procurement; monitoring; and evaluation.
- Criminal justice staff should be trained to help them identify people who may have a protected characteristic or be from an equality or minority group.
- To improve identification and needs assessments, information disclosed by a service user about their membership of an equality and minority group to any professional working in the CJS (from either the statutory, voluntary or faith sectors) should, with the service users’ permission, be recorded to enable their needs to be met.
- The views and experiences of service users are critical to meaningful needs assessments.
- Commissioning streams and programmes should be designed specifically, or with flexibility so that they can be adapted, to meet the requirements of those who are discriminated against.
- Leadership and improved training is required throughout the CJS, at national policy level all the way down to operational establishments, in order to emphasise the importance of equality and diversity.
- Service users from equality and minority groups should be involved in the delivery of training so that their experiences and perspectives can be directly communicated to staff.
- Partnership working with voluntary organisations which work specifically with particular equality and minority groups, or delivering services through peer support, can help to ensure that those delivering services reflect the diversity of service users.
- More qualitative information that draws on service user and practitioner experiences is needed to give a full and complete understanding of the success of services and interventions in improving outcomes for equality and minority groups.
The value of this report is that it does not waste time and space rehearsing the depressing level of inequality within the criminal justice system, with which everyone is familiar.
Instead, it focuses on practical ways forward grounded in the real life work of a number of pioneering voluntary sector organisations.
If you have examples of successful approaches to tackle inequality at any point in the criminal justice system, for any group that is discriminated against, please share them via the comments section below.