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Collaborating to change the criminal justice system

The role of charities in thought leadership


By Anne Fox 19 December 2019 7 minute read

Last month the first book I’ve ever edited (along with Alison Frater) was published. Crime & Consequence is a collection of essays, poems, a play, three interviews and art. All pieces address the same question “What should happen to people who commit criminal offences?”. Those who provided answers in the various formats included people currently in prison, people who have previously been in contact with the criminal justice system and their children, academics, practitioners and researchers working in the criminal justice voluntary sector.

There is a surprising level of variation in what their contributions address and propose but there are two striking commonalities. Firstly, nobody feels the criminal justice system we currently have works. Secondly, all of these submissions came from the vast network which a collaboration of charities and a charitable funder has access to.

Those who set the question work together collectively as The Monument Fellowship and this is the third question we’ve asked to be answered in a collective volume in this way. The Fellowship was formed as The Monument Trust prepared to close. The Trust has an impressive track record of funding criminal justice charities and some of the innovations it funded over the years have become have become highly regarded and mainstream support services that people in the justice system can access. Its Trustees chose to fund a number of charities and social enterprises who they’d worked with over the years to both support the continuation of their work into the future and also to enable collaborative working on thought leadership so that the Trust’s legacy is ensured and there can continue to be a strong voice for change.

As Mark Woodruff of the Monument Trust explains in the book “The Fellowship begins with community resilience and reducing violence (Khulisa UK) and leads on to restorative justice work in the hands of problem-solving police (Restorative Solutions CIC), to support around the courts for tailoring sentences and alternatives to custody that are known to be conducive to rehabilitation and that can assure victims of crime that offending will stop (Centre for Justice Innovation), to the development of prison regimes tuned to desistance and resettlement (The Good Prison, by Lemos & Crane, and the educational child-nurture approach of Diagrama UK for young offenders), to the use of arts as a means of motivating involvement in education and resettlement programmes through creativity (Koestler Arts and National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance), and the wide network of all the organisations and services working with those in custody and the community to prevent people’s offending and promote their reintegration into a resilient society beyond the damage of crime (Clinks).”

For me, the beauty of the Fellowship is that we’re not all the same and we’re not all doing the same things. We each have very different approaches and work in different ways. By coming together in the Fellowship we make a conscious commitment to hold one another up and support one another’s work and to actively look for ways to collaborate. We’ve done this in different ways but the most meaningful I feel is our thought leadership work through our annual questions. We decided that we wanted to form a fellowship not just of us, but a movement for change in the criminal justice system – which reaches across organisational, sector and geographical boundaries. The fellowship which questions the status quo – our criminal justice system does not prevent people from entering it, people who could have their needs better addressed elsewhere, and which does not rehabilitate people who enter it. We want a fellowship that everyone who wants to reform the criminal justice system felt they had a place in. So every year we ask a question to encourage discussion and debate – to get the issue talked about, and we collate some of the answers into a book. This year we’ve also collaborated with Prison Reading Group who have provided a guide to discussing the issues in the book and with the Prison Radio Association to produce a podcast so that we can reach a wider audience to engage in the discussion and debate.

“What should happen to people who commit criminal offences?” is a broad question and attracted a lot of interest. The book is the biggest of the three volumes to date. The first book Life Beyond Crime, curated by Lemos & Crane, asked the question “What do those at risk of re-offending, prisoners and ex-offenders need to learn?. The second book, Curing Violence, curated by the Centre for Justice Innovation asked “How can we become a less violent society”. The fourth book, yet to be titled, will be curated by Khulisa and asks “What role do kindness, hope and compassion play in the Criminal Justice System?”.

In our questions we aim to be current as well as not tied to the dominant political or policy lens of the current time – not least as these are currently changing so much, especially in the field of criminal justice. Some of the issues we are trying to challenge are pervasive and long-lasting in the system. In our collections we also have – by virtue of who we are and who we know and network with – a range of contributors, but within these a high number of thought leaders from the charity sector. We aim to showcase the quality of this thought leadership and to show how it continues to be as important as ever for charities to project their value and evidence base and the rationale for why they do what they do to as wide an audience as possible.

As NPC’s own work on criminal justice charities showed, the system in which we work can challenge us and can present a lot of barriers to effective partnerships and collaboration.

However, as a member of the Monument Fellowship, I am constantly reminded that we need to lift our heads up from the detail and the many challenges, especially in delivering services to people in prison and under probation supervision and keep advocating for the change we know is needed. It is part of our purpose and one of the parts we must hold dear to if we are to do any good.

Hard copies of all three books can be purchased through the Koestler Arts charity website.

Crime & Consequence can be downloaded free from Clinks.

The Crime & Consequence podcast is available from most podcast providers.


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