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How do we create change in criminal justice?

Featured ArticleHow do we create change in criminal justice?

Is change, indeed, even possible? Or are we reduced to eking out small victories and minor concessions, while the penal juggernaut careers on?

As we approach the next General Election, the political debate risks becoming ever more toxic.

Earlier this month, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, accused Labour-run councils of failing to act on “gangs of rapists” grooming “vulnerable white girls” for sexual abuse. Labour responded with an advertising campaign claiming, among other things, that the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, opposed imprisonment for adults who sexually assaulted children.

Last week in parliament, Sunak and the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, traded blows on prison and punishment. Convicted criminals were “walking free” from court, said Starmer, thanks to government incompetence. The government was “putting more people behind bars”, said Sunak, no thanks to “Sir Softie” Starmer, countered Sunak.

“No one any the wiser”, wrote John Crace in The Guardian, “as they clashed over who had sent more people to prison. Who could lock up crims the longest”.

Criminal justice policy-making also appears stuck.

The careful and cautious recommendations by the House of Commons Justice Committee, to reform the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence, have been met by government stonewalling.

Despite a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2016, which found that the rules on joint enterprise prosecutions had been wrongly applied for more than three decades, the number of prosecutions continues to grow.

Earlier this month, a man fell to his death from a balcony in south London, after a police officer fired a Taser stun gun at him. His death is but one in a long line of deaths in police custody, or following contact with the police: 1,854 since 1990, according to the charity, Inquest.

The injustices of the IPP sentence, of joint enterprise prosecutions, and of deaths at the hands of the police are particular examples of a more general malaise. But it is hard to see a way forward when political debate degenerates, and policy-making is stuck in a complacent consensus.

At the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, we believe that a creative, energetic and optimistic challenge is the antidote to the entrenched monotony of repeated policy failure. Grounded in principles of solidarity and the practices of collaboration, we think such a challenge can open up new possibilities for transformational change.

At our ‘Hope and Change: Campaigning for a Better Future’ event on the evening of 15 May, we will be discussing how we keep hope alive, for the possibility of change. Led by a panel of amazing and experienced campaigners, it promises to be an energising occasion.

Thank you to those who have already registered to attend. More information below if you haven’t had a chance to register yet.

Richard Garside

Upcoming Events

As part of our commitment to collaboration and transformational change in the justice landscape, we’re excited to be joined by three campaigners in our upcoming event ‘Hope and Change: Campaigning for a Better Future’.

Gloria Morrison (JENGbA), Sara Ramsden (UNGRIPP) and Marcia Rigg (UFFC) will join our Chair of Trustees and expert facilitator, Charlie Weinberg, to share their experiences of how to ‘keep on keeping on’ when campaigning for meaningful change in criminal justice.

The event will be online, with limited spaces for in-person attendees. To attend the online event, register here. To request an in-person space here at the CCJS offices, e-mail us.

In Parliament
Is that it? Read our critical reply to the government’s response to the widely-praised Justice Committee report on the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP). Many have spent years of their lives campaigning to end the injustices of the IPP sentence and will continue to do so, despite the somewhat flippant, late and obfuscatory response from the government.

As we go to press, MPs are debating the Justice Committee report on the IPP sentence. The debate, initiated by the Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill, is a chance for MPs to challenge the government on its disappointing – devastating to many affected by the sentence – reply to the Committee’s report. We have written a briefing for MPs to support the debate, which you can read here. On the opportunity provided by the debate, our director, Richard Garside said:

With the departure of Dominic Raab as Justice Secretary, the government has the opportunity for a reset moment in its approach to the awful IPP sentence.

Brick by brick: The long road to addressing the injustice of joint enterprise looks set to progress, if only a small step at a time, with the welcome announcement from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) of their new pilot scheme to record data on age, race, sex and disability of those prosecuted under joint enterprise doctrine. You can read our analysis on the new scheme here, by Helen Mills.

On our website
What do vulnerable women need? Hint: It’s not imprisonment. Read Rona Epstein on why expanding the number of prison places for women is woefully flawed. It may well line some pockets, but is not in the interests of women, their families and society.

Catch up on not one, nor two, but three blogs from Mike Guilfoyle, looking back on his experiences working in probation.

A long time coming: In the wake of a long-expected new policy on the housing of male prisoners in women’s prisons, Kim Thomas of Woman’s Place UK calls on the Ministry of Justice to make strictly women-only prisons the start of a wholesale reform of the way women in the criminal justice system are treated.

Why are there men in women’s prisons anyway? If you’d like some context to Kim Thomas’ article, read Professor Jo Phoenix on the historical background to the creation of mixed-sex prisons, in terms of both workforce and prisoners. Why did the requirement for single-sex prisons, as enshrined in the 1823 Gaols Act, disappear between then and now?

The Radzinowicz Prize is a prestigious award given by the Editors of the British Journal of Criminology to the article they consider has contributed most to knowledge of criminal justice and criminology. This year’s prize has been awarded to Emma Buxton-Namisynk for her article on ‘Domestic violence policing of First Nations women in Australia’.

What we break, we can also repair: Rona Epstein compares German prisons to their American and UK counterparts and finds we have a lot to learn over here, about dignity and respect for the humanity of those in prison.

For democratic accountability, the preservation of judicial independence, and probably the Parole Board, Dominic Raab’s resignation didn’t come soon enough for many. Read Andrew Sperling’s article on Raab’s attempt to prohibit expert witnesses from providing recommendations to the Parole Board.

Something for the weekend
Download the latest editions of Prison Service Journal, thematically arranged around:

The 50th anniversary of the Parole System for England and Wales
A reflection on the importance of families, well-being on prisoners and staff, prison rape and how to operate effective prison complaint systems
An edition edited by Tomas Max Martin and Andrew M. Jefferson on scrutiny, transparency and learning about, and knowing prisons.
Support our work
In the last 12 months, around one pound in every ten we received in income came from individual donations. We are so appreciative of the vital support we receive from our donors and supporters.

If you like what we do, and can afford to make a donation to support our important work, we would be very grateful.

You can also spread the word about our work by forwarding on this bulletin to others and encouraging them to sign up.

By Richard Garside, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies


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