a police high vis jacket

Partners in crime?

By Guest contributor 15 December 2016

Opportunities for collaboration between charities and PCCs.

There is a lack of engagement from central government with criminal justice charities

A quick word search of the Ministry of Justice’s November white paper, Prison safety and reform is very revealing. The words ‘voluntary sector,’ ‘charity’ and ‘third sector’ appear not once in the 61 page, 27,765 word report. This is curious, given that the Secretary of State for Justice Liz Truss MP’s foreword starts by quoting the philanthropist and prison reformer Elizabeth Fry.

During our ongoing programme of work researching the voluntary sector in criminal justice, it has been clear from interviews that the relationship with the state is seen as a significant threat to the voluntary sector’s contribution to progress in the criminal justice sector. And this White Paper gives little to suggest any interest in the voluntary sector going forward.

But devolution provides a new opportunity for these charities to advance their mission

There is hope, as we found at a roundtable we convened in partnership with The Police Foundation last month, to discuss the opportunities for collaboration with Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs)—you can find the full write-up here. Devolution and its emerging new structures provide an opportunity to work directly with statutory services at a local level. We learnt that there is great potential for charities to get upstream in their mission by collaborating with PCCs.

So what are PCCs (and why should charities care)?

Democratically elected, PCCs have more accountability for social failure than their predecessors. ‘They are responsible for the totality of policing … aim[ing] to cut crime and deliver an effective and efficient police service within their force area’, according to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. It is thought that the first cohort of PCCs—elected in 2012—have increased transparency, public engagement, and innovation.

Reaching out to PCCs, to make the case for why their intervention works, can help charities working in this area to achieve their mission. And PCCs should want to listen in return.

Policing and crime is changing, and charities have an important contribution to make

Crime and policing has changed since the 90s, and as a result there is more potential to involve the charity sector. There has been a shift away from public realm crimes such as burglary, anti-social behaviour and graffiti, to a focus on crimes committed in the private realm, such as domestic abuse, sexual assault and radicalisation—which we might call ‘hidden harms.’

So there now exists a gap between what police do and what the public thinks police do and that can bring tensions. When reflecting on the typical view of policing as ‘protecting the public’ by being ‘tough on crime,’ it’s important to ask: who exactly do you mean by ‘the public’ and doesn’t it include offenders too? Something charities know very well is that criminals and victims aren’t some kind of separate species—they are deeply overlapping communities. A joined up, multi-agency approach that involves experts is therefore vital to tackling and preventing crime.

Those experts are often charities. The voluntary sector is in a strong position to reduce ‘hidden harm’ crimes—having pioneered on reducing sex offences by working with high risk sex offenders, for instance. Partnerships between statutory and voluntary services to reduce sex offences is exemplified by the Safer Living Foundation, an innovative collaboration between HMP Whatton, National Probation Trust (East Midlands), Nottingham Police, Nottingham Trent University, Age UK and Circles UK, designed to protect victims and rehabilitate offenders.

Collaboration is needed, and both parties stand to gain

Devolution is a chance to do things differently, and the charity sector’s unique position in society should be part of that change. Greater collaboration between charities and PCCs offers a brilliant opportunity to tackle deeply complex issues, and those specific to a local area. Find out more about why this is in needed and where the opportunities are.

Download the full event write-up.

Keep an eye out for more work from NPC on criminal justice charities in 2017.