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The role of the voluntary sector in the criminal justice system

Minutes of the Meeting of the All-Party Group on Penal Affairs, held on 16 January 2018

Speakers 

Anne Fox, Chief Executive Officer, Clinks
James Noble, Impact Management Lead, New Philanthropy Capital
Sally Taylor, Chief Executive, Koestler Trust

Present

Lord Ramsbotham (in the Chair)
Earl Attlee
Lord Bradley
Kate Green MP
Viscount Hailsham QC
Baroness Healy of Primrose Hill
Bishop James Langstaff
Baroness Masham of Ilton
Lord McNally
Victoria Prentis MP


Lord Ramsbotham welcomed everyone to the meeting. He said that the decision to hold a meeting on this topic had been taken because the voluntary sector did so much good work within prisons and probation, but was frequently ignored by policy makers. At a seminar some three years ago, the civil servants were talking about ‘ownership’ to describe their relationship with voluntary organisations with whom they were contracting. But they did not own the voluntary sector, although the sector was responsible for at least 50% of the rehabilitation work within prisons.

Three organisations had been invited to speak, starting with Clinks. Clinks had done a marvellous job of coordinating the voluntary organisations working across the justice system, first under its pioneer director Clive Martin, and now under Anne Fox, who had moved from the Communications Trust. It also acted as a conduit between the sector and the Ministry of Justice, and the Prisons and Probation Service. He was delighted to welcome Anne Fox to speak.

Anne Fox: I’m delighted to be here to talk to you all this evening on the current state and role of the voluntary sector in criminal justice. It’s great to see the work of the sector being discussed by this group and I know sector organisations and we at Clinks as the national infrastructure charity for the voluntary sector in criminal justice in England and Wales are very grateful for the support of the members of the APPG on penal affairs over many years. Although organisations in criminal justice do lots of things and I’ll try and represent the range, broadly speaking I see there as being three main roles – advocacy, service provision and partnership.

Voluntary organisations at their heart believe in the dignity and rights of people in the justice system and their families and work to challenge and change policy and services. Some do this overtly and it’s a major feature of their work, others less so. A fine example is the Prison Reform Trust which provides an excellent secretariat to this group. Advocating for and on behalf of people in the system is an essential role for the sector especially given prevailing negative attitudes towards those who have committed a crime and a lack of understanding of the underlying reasons and the possible solutions to high reoffending rates and poor rehabilitative outcomes from current service and policy responses.

The vast majority of voluntary organisations provide direct services to people in the criminal justice system and or their families. Services include befriending and mentoring, structured programmes and interventions , advice and information in relation to a range of issues exacerbated by and more likely faced by people with experience of the criminal justice system, accommodation provision and support, services specifically for certain groups of people including women, BAME people, young people and young adults, training and education, support for and engaging with families, interventions and services to support desistance through engagement in the arts or sports and a range of interventions and services to support mental health and recovery from addiction.

An increasing role, due to both policy factors and an increasing population of people facing multiple and complex needs is partnership. Most criminal justice specific organisations are by nature small. They may well provide services to a distinct group of people, geographically or sharing a common need or other features (eg women, families of people in prison or those with convictions for sexual offences deemed at high risk of harm to the public). It is a positive that more organisations are able to be involved in delivering services to their intended beneficiaries through partnerships but it is important to understand and advocate for the best conditions that enable true partnerships which will best deliver the right outcomes.

I wanted to use the rest of the time if I may to talk about the state of the sector, how it’s currently faring and that’s because the situation is not entirely positive and there is a need for this to be tackled. The information I’m drawing on is in our annual state of the sector report available on www.clinks.org

The positives are there and it’s important that we see the continued work and potential of the sector. It’s in that context in which I want to set out the challenges, as there are solutions to the problems facing voluntary organisations at this time.

A few characteristics are probably useful to help an understanding of the current state of the sector and its impact. There are over 1,500 charities, social enterprises and voluntary organisations in England and Wales whose main clients are offenders, ex-offenders and their families as well as over 14,000 voluntary organisations who work in some way with offenders as part of their wider remit. 43% deliver their services locally; 34% regionally; 36% nationally; 55% work both in the community and in prison; and 13% only work in prison.

Organisations are supporting more people than ever before, with 57% of organisations saying they have supported more people, 80% of organisations saying needs have become more complex and 79% saying they have become more urgent. We see three factors causing this. As statutory organisations are pulling back and reducing their services, voluntary organisations are under increasing pressure to step in and fill those gaps. The conditions in prisons are not only having a negative impact on the needs of the people in prison and their families, they are preventing some voluntary organisations from getting in to deliver their services. And thirdly, policy changes; welfare reform, and the roll-out of universal credit, is having a negative impact on their clients. For the first time in our twenty year history our members are saying that people come to them hungry, cold, and with nowhere to live.

For such a diverse range of services and types of organisations the funding profile is remarkably similar. Income from individuals is low in this sector overall but specialist organisations are less likely to receive donations but more likely to receive earned income and we are seeing organisations involved more in developing social enterprises or trading activities to diversify their income sources and support their sustainability, though this can be very time consuming as well as expose organisations to a whole new set of challenges involved in running a commercial activity on top of running a not for profit. Voluntary organisations in criminal justice are incredibly dependent for their income on grants and of these, more so on charitable trusts and foundations than the decreasing levels of statutory grants. This is especially true for small and specialist organisations, whereas some larger organisations are funded to a degree through contracts. Contracting however is not without its challenges and the full cost recovery rates of contacts are minimal.

The role of local government funding has reduced dramatically in recent years, especially for small and specialist organisations for whom accessing national government funding may be more challenging. Grant funding from government has significantly declined for specialist organisations while contract funding has increased and, as I’ve mentioned, organisations struggle to achieve full cost recovery on the contracts they are delivering.

I’ve focussed a bit on money because this situation has resulted from policy and service design led by central government and it is important to see its impact. Organisations are reeling from the effects of austerity as well as the deliberate move to contracting and contracting out of services to a wider mixed provider market. The best and also worst example of this in recent years is the Transforming Rehabilitation programme which changed the nature of probation services and created two systems, neither of which is working effectively with the sector. This is having a negative impact on the quality of services for people in the criminal justice system and on the ability of the voluntary sector to provide sustainable high quality services.

Other factors impacting on the ability of the sector to do what it’s for include a failure in policy terms to address the reliance on imprisonment over community services and a continued policy approach which limits rather than expands the role of the sector to distinct provision of prescribed services at a set price, as well as pressure on their ability to advocate and give voice to their beneficiaries through anti advocacy and gagging clauses.

The good news is that we are seeing a resilient sector, battered yes but not broken, and a sector which is established, has a legacy of over 300 years, and is adapting. The call we would make on national policy makers is to take the opportunity to transform the lives of people in the justice system and their families with real partnership with and engagement of the voluntary sector. Thank you very much’

Lord Ramsbotham thanked Anne Fox and introduced James Noble from New Philanthropy Capital (NPC). He said that when it was founded, NPC had produced a number of very good reports on the voluntary sector to inform potential donors. Amongst other areas, it had produced an overview of the criminal justice sector, listing which organisations were worth supporting. Since then, NPC had changed approach somewhat, but last year it had produced a report titled ‘Beyond Bars: maximising the voluntary sector’s contribution in criminal justice’. James had been one of the authors of that report.

James Noble: ‘NPC is an organisation that supports and promotes the voluntary sector, and I’ve been asked to talk about how charities in criminal justice can show their impact. Charities use resources. They use funding from foundations and commissioners; they use volunteer time and energy. Prisoners themselves give their time. And we rely on the efforts of prison and probation staff to enable their work.

So, asking whether it’s worthwhile, and makes a difference, is a legitimate question. The problem is that it’s difficult to answer. The obvious measure of success is to prevent offending or reoffending. But this is not something that happens right away. In a prison, you might work with someone who’ll not be released for years. In the community, keeping track of what happens to people is a huge practical problem.

Irrespective of this, charities will often say that preventing reoffending is not their primary goal. That given the complexity of peoples’ needs, it’s better to focus on more immediate, but less measurable, things like attitudes and behaviours that could contribute to long-term change - we call these intermediate outcomes. Also, it’s very rare for a single intervention to be the thing that turns someone’s life around - rather it is the cumulative effect of lots of things. All of which makes it difficult to be definitive about what any individual organisation is achieving.

I’ve begun by outlining these challenges so we can be realistic. But we shouldn’t be despondent. There are ways for voluntary sector organisations to test the value of their work. Firstly, I think they need to be clear about their model; who they trying to work with, what they are trying to achieve and how they will go about it. This might sound obvious, but a lot of work is still based on rather tacit thinking about what might be effective. And we would like to see academia and charities working together more, so that insights from research contribute to the design of programmes.

Once organisations are clear about their model, they should consider which questions they really need to answer. Broadly there are three, which should be tackled in sequence. Firstly, does the organisation deliver well? Does it reach and engage the right people? Is it a high quality service? Secondly, are there early signs of it working - the intermediate outcomes? And thirdly, is there impact? Do people commit less crime? Are there other positive results like employment and better health.

Unfortunately, there’s often not enough clarity about which of these question is important. For Government, the third impact question is critical, but local commissioners often focus on the first question – about delivery. Prisons also want organisations that can work efficiently and reduce pressure on themselves. Hence, when NPC surveyed charities about what kind of evaluation support they most wanted, the top answer was clarity about funders’ expectations.

To collect data, charities need to do a range of qualitative and quantitative research. To make this easier we should work towards standardised approaches; help people make better use of digital technology; and encourage organisations to think about sampling, ie not collecting data from everyone.

I also wanted to talk about something which is unique in the world, that NPC lobbied for, and which is tremendous step forward. And that’s the Ministry of Justice’s Data Lab (JDL). Since 2014, organisations can get a report on the reoffending rates of the people they’ve worked with, alongside the reoffending rate for a statistically matched control group. For example, the Prisoners’ Education Trust, which provides hobby and educational materials, found that 19% of their service users reoffended, compared to 26% in the control group. Now, this does not prove that their service will always make a difference - like any research it’s a one-off. But it does give us a valuable piece of information that would otherwise be nearly impossible to get. And, alongside other research, it offers a good assessment of their impact.

The potential of the data lab will be seen over time - as more analyses are done. NPC has reviewed the first 100 reports and found that the median effect size is two percentage points; so a typical project might reduce reoffending from 34% to 32%. This might not sound like a lot, but it does show how difficult rehabilitation work is, and when grossed-up, still represents a lot less crime. As the Data Lab continues we can start looking at which types of programmes are more effective for different types of people. Sadly, even though it’s free, not enough charities have used the Data Lab. So I would encourage you all to spread the word.

In conclusion, demonstrating impact is a thorny issue. But at NPC we think it’s possible for charities to take a realistic and effective approach. And through the Data Lab, we have an opportunity to learn a lot more’.

Lord Ramsbotham thanked James Noble very much, and introduced the last speaker, Sally Taylor of the Koestler Trust. As many would know, the Trust had produced a large exhibition of offenders’ art, for the last few years on the South Bank, with a great number of different kinds of work displayed. This year the exhibition was curated by Antony Gormley, representing what he thought imprisonment meant to the artists. When Lord Ramsbotham was Chair of the Trust he realised that there were many arts based charities working in isolation inside prisons. Therefore the trust formed the Arts Alliance, to act as a conduit between the charities and the ministries concerned. Subsequently the Arts Forum was created, which provided an opportunity for regular formal meetings between the Arts Council, the ministries and the sector.

Sally Taylor thanked the meeting for its invitation. ‘The Koestler Trust, founded by Arthur Koestler in 1962, with the blessing of Rab Butler, has always had a very close relationship with the Ministry of Justice, and previously the Home Office. We have always invited the person running the Prison Service at the time to open our show, and only two of them have ever refused. Happily we have had this long term relationship with those responsible for running our prisons, which has worked very much in our favour in terms of the work that we do. It now means that we have 7,000 entries every year, from over 3,500 people inside establishments, across 53 different categories. The exhibition that David referred to is the culmination of all of that. Everybody who enters gets a certificate of participation. They may win an award. They get feedback from our well known judges. I will just name a few. Louis Theroux judged the life story this year. Emma Bridgewater judged the ceramics. A combination called Hot Chip judged the computer generated music. I am sure you are all well aware of their work.

Anne has set out very clearly the context within which we are all working. Our turn-over is something like £700,000 a year. I have always thought of us as a medium sized charity, but since Kids Company the reporting requirements are such that we are now a large charity. So we have to report on the same basis as Macmillan, Cancer Research, Oxfam and so on. Anne is quite right that fundraising is something we spend a lot of time doing. Approaches to trusts and foundations – and I am sure a lot of other organisations represented here are finding the same – are very squeezed. The impact of what we do, as James has discussed, is absolutely vital in making one’s ask to trusts and foundations. Like most people we have produced an impact report to show what it is that we do, and how we do it, and the impact that it has on our beneficiaries, and also hopefully our audiences. Because our second charitable objective is to change the way that people think about offenders.

I’ll give you an example of how we do that and its impact. If you come to our exhibition on the South Bank, which will open again in September this year, you will find that we have ex-offender hosts. We recruit about six or eight ex-offender hosts each year. We have to fundraise for that. They are there to greet our visitors, give them tours, and talk to them, and we hope we get them jobs at the end of it. We have, on that project over the last few years, an eight per cent re-offending rate. Now why have we not put this through the Justice Data Lab? Because the sample size is not high enough. That is one of the difficulties charities have in using the Data Lab. Are we going to collaborate? But does anyone else run a host programme? I’m afraid they don’t. There are organisations like Pro Bono Economics that might be able to do something for you, but that is one of the issues that we have.

At this point a member of the audience queried the reoffending rate. Sally Taylor confirmed this was indeed eight per cent, and that it was remarkable. It meant she was in a much better position to approach funders for the following year’s host programme.

Similarly on the back of the Prisoners Education Trust (PET) work James was talking about, we are hoping to collaborate with them over the awards going forward, so we will send specific entry forms out to people who have received hobby materials from them and we can follow them through. Hopefully there will be a piece of research that can be done there. We have done research into our mentoring scheme, led by the LSE, and we are currently working closely with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) on a piece of work called Our Impact Inside. This is one of the things that is very hard to get researched. Currently it is held up in the Ethics Committee of the MoJ, but it will happen. What we know of course, anecdotally, is that the impact of working with the arts inside is a very long-term one, in terms of one’s self-esteem, one’s self-confidence, the ability to work in teams, and the ability to manage your way through your sentence. We know this anecdotally: we don’t have the evidence which we hope that Kevin Wong and the team from MMU will give us’.

At this point Victoria Prentis MP asked about the current project to hang women prisoners’ art in MPs offices.

Sally Taylor said she was delighted to talk about this project, about which a press release was shortly to go out. ‘Funded by Barrow Cadbury, we have a project running this year, the centenary of women’s suffrage, to commemorate the fact that so many women went to prison for their beliefs. It is called ‘A Hundred Years On’. We will have a hundred pieces of work by women in prison today in key public places round the country, the House here, the Supreme Court, the Old Bailey, the Royal Courts of Justice, Birmingham Library, Liverpool Cunard building, the Police Commissioners in Durham, High Sheriffs’ Offices, MPs ‘ offices, the Lords. We are launching here, courtesy of the Speaker and courtesy of Lord Ramsbotham. That will last all this year, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to say how intensely proud of it we are. Only 5% of the current prison population are women, while 10% of current entries for the awards are from women.

I hope I have given you a brief snapshot of some of the things we are doing.’

Lord Ramsbotham thanked Sally Taylor, and all the speakers, for their presentations, and invited questions.

Lord Mcally enquired whether voluntary sector organisations experienced any resistance to the work they were doing, from prison authorities, for example on ROTL (release on temporary license).

Anne Fox replied that there was sometimes resistance, depending on what was going on. Sometimes it was a matter of not having a good understanding of the work, but more often it was the result of conflicting demands on time and resources within the prison. Our prisons face a crisis, and sometimes governors might feel that they had to prioritise work devoted to keeping prisoners safe. There was a specific difficulty around vetting currently, with uniformed officers taking precedence over volunteers, and long queues building with fewer staff available to do the vetting. Clinks had undertaken a study last year for the MoJ on volunteering in prisons, and the situation was probably worse now than then. ROTL was a national policy issue. The rules had been tightened, following a few unfortunate incidents. She had been in her job 27 months and was on her fourth Secretary of State, so it was difficult to have a sustained conversation. At present, prison governors were unsure what they could or could not do.

Bishop James Langstaff, Bishop to Prisons, asked whether it was clear what the factors were, determining the very different attitudes to the involvement of volunteers amongst the prisons he had visited. Was it the governor, the capacity of the prison to engage, or what?

Anne Fox responded that a lot was to do with the capacity of the receiving prison. The survey she had mentioned was commissioned by Andrew Selous who had been keen on increasing the numbers of volunteers. Clinks had been founded to coordinate the work of the voluntary sector within the five London prisons, and coordination remained a major problem. Volunteers went in via different routes (eg the chaplaincy) and the governor may not know who was there. Another issue was that most volunteers could not walk through the prison unaccompanied, so that meant involving a member of uniformed staff. Benchmarking had put an end to most of the flexibility there.

Sally Taylor endorsed Anne Fox’s remarks. The reduction of staffing by 30% over the past four or five years had had a major impact. The Trust had noticed a large increase in work done in-cell. People were not getting to the education department or art department, if it still existed. Frequently the art tutor had been cut anyway. The Trust had worked on other ways of getting information about the awards out by other means, through the chaplaincy, librarians, the canteen, prison radio. There was also a group of about 1500 long-term entrants for the awards who they mailed directly, and who advertised the opportunity to enter work to fellow prisoners.

Lord Ramsbotham said that he had always thought it would be helpful if the minimum time a voluntary organisation could be contracted to work in a prison was five years. That would give a degree of permanence and investment to what the organisation could do. Maybe the new Secretary of State could assist.

Baroness Masham recalled her time at a Young Offender Institution some years ago. A young man had given her a painting which she still possessed. On another occasion a prisoner had given her the certificate he had been given for coming off drugs. On a third occasion, in a camp where prisoners assisted participants with disabilities, she had again witnessed the desire to give something back.

Sally Taylor added that when she visited a prison art room, she was used to prisoners calling her over to show off a fellow prisoner’s work. She found that very moving. She also mentioned the far-sighted governor of Leicester Prison who, following a poor HMI report, had decided that more art would assist. She would be interested to see the next HMI report.

Baroness Masham agreed that so much depended on good leadership. Prisoners felt safer with volunteers.

Martin Kettle noted that HMI had published new expectations last September which for the first time stated that creative activity would be one of the things inspected. On the matter of the Justice Data Lab he said that both the high sample size and the rigorous standards of statistical significance were a problem for some organisations. An inconclusive result could lead to reputational damage. Was there a way in which intermediate outcomes could be credibly measured?

James Noble said that they could certainly be measured, if the data was collected consistently across the system. The minimum sample size and the issue of statistical significance were related. The reason the MoJ would not analyse a sample size of less than 60, going down to 30 on attrition, was because the margin of error would be too great. He did not think an inconclusive result should result in reputational damage, although he understood it would be disappointing. Some organisations had persisted and submitted additional cases, and this had led to statistically significant results. He also thought there was more scope for collaboration amongst organisations doing similar work.

Anne Fox mentioned the collaboration of the Women’s Centres. They had come out of the JDL process with a strong positive result for their interventions, but it still had not unlocked the money. It seemed that strong evidence was not always enough. She added that the MoJ had invested a few years ago in an Intermediate Outcomes Measurement Indicator (IOMI), but they still had not published, and so no one, including the organisations involved, could use its findings. The JDL worked for some, but not for all.

James Noble agreed that the JDL was not a magic bullet, but was still very useful.

Lord Ramsbotham noted that Arthur Koestler had believed that the arts developed self-esteem, so that people could go on to tackle things that were more measurable. Involvement in the arts was a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Sally Taylor hoped it could sometimes be seen as an end in itself. She mentioned that, thanks to the Arts Alliance and the Arts Forum, the Department of Culture had started to take an interest in the arts in prison. Ed Vaizey had become closely involved, and John Glen, the most recent Arts Minister, had also been interested. The DCMS had put it in the White Paper, which Ministers would receive. There had already been one Round Table, involving Andrew Selous and Ed Vaizey, and this was encouraging.

Earl Atlee introduced himself as a new-comer to this area. It was apparent that art had a role to play for prisoners, but what about the prison officers?

Sally Taylor recalled that her first involvement with prison work was in putting on a production of West Side Story in HMP Wandsworth in the 90s. The prison officers went on strike on the first night. The Governor called all the prisons in London to get it staffed, and it went ahead. By the third night, the Wandsworth officers could see the influence this production had had on the men on the wings, and they came back to work. That had always been her experience.

Anne Fox agreed that in a well-resourced, well-run prison, the voluntary sector and the uniformed staff worked well together. They were all engaged in the same task, to get people to desist from crime. Where there were conflicting priorities, and too much pressure on resources, things worked less well. The prisons in the North East had traditionally been good at this. Clinks had just completed a three year project called The Good Prison, looking at voluntary sector coordination, and where it was clear what the voluntary sector’s role was, staff were better able to engage. A clear strategic partnership would always lead to better outcomes.

Earl Atlee asked how many prisoners, of a prison of say 400, might become interested in art for the first time. Eight per cent? Ten or Fifteen?

Sally Taylor replied that it depended on many things, for example whether an art tutor was employed. But she received letters all the time from prisoners who said they had never previously been interested in art, but for whom involvement in the Koestler Awards had proved a turning point.

Lord McNally asked whether the Koestler Trust got involved in career development.

Sally Taylor responded that the Trust had a mentoring programme through the gate. Some of the mentoring started during the last few months inside. Some entrants had gone on to great things.

Lord Ramsbotham added that some of the winners of creative writing awards had been taken on by the Guardian as journalists. One artist had been taken on by an art dealer and sent to college in Italy.

Lord Hailsham observed that anyone who had been involved in prisons, as he had, was aware that there were great deficiencies in the prison system. He wondered about the extent to which it was either possible or proper for charities to try to fill the gaps not addressed by the public sector.

Anne Fox responded that in her view it was possible, proper, and a good idea, to get involved in this way. Long term partnerships were one of the problems. When there was money for such partnerships they were often quite short-lived. Clinks was about to convene a round table for organisations who received funding to work with the early adopter reform prisons. They received funds for about nine months, at a time of great change. She thought she already knew some of the learning she would get. There needed to be a longer term strategy for prisons and what we wanted in them. The sector missed Michael Gove, and that level of vision. There was a role for voluntary organisations, not to deliver the punishment of the court, but to ameliorate its impact, and to help a person at that teachable moment. But we needed a proper conversation about what prison was for.

Ben Summerskill of the Criminal Justice Alliance said that many in the charity sector were hoping the government would subject the sector in which Carillion operated, worth several billion pounds, to the same level of scrutiny as that to which the charity sector had been subjected following the collapse of Kids Company, involving only twenty million pounds of public money. He knew that many of the 130 or so organisations working with offenders were still waiting to hear from the Ministry of Justice whether their contracts would be renewed in April. This necessarily built short-termism into the system. He hoped that the inefficiencies caused by that method of contracting would be recognised and addressed.

Lord McNally observed that the short-termism started with the Treasury. Departments were kept on a short rein, and this impacted on contracting.

Lord Ramsbotham closed the meeting by thanking all the speakers. He hoped it was clear that the voluntary sector fulfilled a vital role in prisons, and he hoped members of both Houses would tackle ministers on some of the issues raised.

The next meeting of the group would take place on 6th March, and would begin with the presentation of the annual Robin Corbett award. David Lidington was to have been the speaker. He had now invited David Gauke and had yet to receive a reply.