Last month the Criminal Justice Alliance published a new report “Change from Within” highlighting the urgent need for the criminal justice sector to provide greater opportunities for people with lived experience to move into paid employment, leadership and influencing positions in the sector. It makes a range of recommendations for government departments, commissioners, public bodies, employers, the Charity Commission, criminal justice funders, universities and the inspectorates.
The report is an exploratory piece and was based on conversations with employees with lived experience and some of their employers from the voluntary, public and private sector. Employees included those involved in frontline service delivery roles, middle management or supervisory roles, as well as senior managers, academics, consultants and trustees.
The CJA also spoke to senior leadership from six voluntary sector organisations (User Voice, St Giles Trust, The Forward Trust, Peer Power, Prison Reform Trust and Working Chance). These organisations were selected as they employ significant numbers of people with lived experience.
Their case studies are used to explore how these organisations have benefited and supported their staff. The CJA also convened an expert group of people representing organisations from the CJA membership that are either led by CEOs with lived experience or have a significant number of employees with lived experience. The purpose of the expert group was to advise and guide the direction of our inquiry.
The 10 key findings of the report are set out below.
- The criminal justice system currently faces systemic issues, from increasing levels of serious violence, to a crumbling courts system, overcrowded prisons and an uncertain future for probation services. More than ever, the system needs fresh, innovative and systemic solutions to make it fairer and more effective.
- The meaningful inclusion of people with lived experience in the criminal justice workforce, not just in voluntary and consultative roles, but as paid employees, influencers and leaders, is crucial to (re)build a system that learns from those with crucial insights into the challenges that undermine the system’s key objectives.
- People with lived experience can provide enormous benefit to organisations working in the criminal justice sector. Their involvement in designing, delivering and managing services, as well as influencing policy and practice remains an underexplored – and undervalued – area.
- If we want to tackle complex and systemic issues effectively, and lead by example on the value of employing people with convictions, there is an urgent need to better understand and support pathways into employment and progression routes for people with lived experience in the criminal justice sector.
- Policy makers, senior leaders, funders and commissioners, across public, private and voluntary sectors need to champion the employment of people with lived experience in the sector, recognising that to achieve such a culture change will require a shift in decision-making power.
- Without this shift, involving people with lived experience in consultation and volunteering – while remaining valuable – runs the risk of becoming tokenistic without clear pathways to paid employment and progression routes to leadership and influencing roles.
- People with lived experience often make resilient, highly motivated, empathetic and knowledgeable employees, managers and leaders who can effectively engage service users, make credible links with the communities organisations are serving, and provide fresh thinking, ideas and solutions.
- But people with lived experience face a range of structural, systemic and cultural barriers to employment in the criminal justice system, many of them unique to the sector. These range from practical barriers such as onerous and opaque vetting procedures, to workplace cultures and environments that do not effectively support them to achieve their full potential as key influencers and decision-makers.
- This requires a shift in thinking from a focus solely on risk, to strengths and assets and how to provide effective support, mentorship, access to higher education and professional development, pre-and post-employment, to help employees thrive and progress.
- A number of organisations – predominantly in the voluntary sector – are working to provide opportunities for people with lived experience to move beyond voluntary and consultative roles into paid employment, leadership and influencing positions and have benefited from the inclusion of their key insights and knowledge. However much more needs to be done to build this movement across the whole criminal justice sector, including public and private sector agencies, by recognising, celebrating and investing in people with lived experience.