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A few weeks back, we published an article on our website by Whitney Iles, Khatuna Tsintsadze and Charlie Weinberg, the latest in the ‘critical care’ series they have been writing for us.
In the article, they criticised what they called “performance activism”, a tendency in the voluntary sector towards lots of activity, but “very little change on the ground”. While we don't really achieve anything, they argued, we are left “feeling good about our efforts”.
One of the things I have been wondering in the last few weeks is whether, in criminal justice, performance activism is itself a symptom of a frustration with the inertia of current criminal justice policy-making, its ‘stuckness’.
The prison system appears mired in almost permanent crisis. The police face a major crisis of trust. The court system is wresling with an enormous backlog of cases. Injustices such as unfair joint enterprise convictions, the Imprisonment for Public Protection sentence, or racism throughout the justice system, are sometimes acknowledged. But nothing seems to change. Months may pass; the same issues, the same basic problems, remain.
Unsurprisingly, many of us probably feel trapped by the monotony of repeated criminal justice failure, unsure how, or if, we will ever escape it. A flurry of activity, even if it achieves little, can feel better than no activity at all.
I and colleagues at the Centre work are currently working on a new organisational strategy, to help guide the direction of our work through to our 100th anniversary in 2031. As part of that, I've been thinking about the problems of performance activism, and what might be behind it.
I've written this short piece to start bottoming out these issues. I'd be interested in any thoughts or reactions.
We currently run two regular monthly webinar programmes:
- Last month in criminal justice: our panel discussion on the first Wednesday of each month, looking at all the key criminal justice developments over the previous month.
- Lunch with...: our mid-month conversation with interesting and inspiring campaigners, practitioners and thinkers.
For our next Lunch with… programme, on Wednesday 16 March, we'll be joined by Gloria Morrison and Jan Cunliffe, founders of JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association). They will be talking about the long campaign for justice for those subjected to joint enterprise prosecutions.
Gloria and Jan are two of the most effective criminal justice campaigners around, working on one of the most conspicuous injustices of the current justice system. They will be in discussion with Helen Mills, Head of Programmes at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies.
Helen is one of the authors of a new report, due out in April, examining the impact of the 2016 Supreme Court ruling that the laws on joint enterprise had been wrongly applied for three decades. The research found no discernible impact of the Supreme Court ruling, pointing to some of the difficulties of criminal justice inertia Richard discusses above.
On 6 April, in our latest Last month in criminal justice programme, Richard will be joined by criminal justice expert Rob Allen and other guests. Items up for discussion include why defendants are waiting so long on remand awaiting trial; why the prisons inspectorate wants to stop making recommendations; and whether girls who have suffered abuse and violence are being retraumatised by the youth justice system.
You can find out about all our events and programmes on our events page.
Last month, we had Lunch with Shirley Debono and Donna Mooney from UNGRIPP. We discussed the Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentence, which has become symbolic of the injustices and arbitrariness of some criminal justice practices. Given the subject, it was a tough discussion in places. You can watch it here.
In the March edition of Last month in criminal justice, Richard was joined by Charlotte Henry of JENGbA, Whitney Iles of Project 507, and our colleague Roger Grimshaw, to discuss, among other things, crisis in the police, joint enterprise convictions, and whether misogyny should be a hate crime. Catch-up with the full programme here.
Commentary and analysis
“Would anyone really want to know about such a blighted life, hidden away from the hurly-burly of media or public interest... aside from her estranged family, or a distractedly busy probation officer, out on the patch?”.
Read Mike Guilfoyle's latest article on life as a probation officer.
Prison Service Journal
Two years after the country, and much of the wider world, went into lockdown, the latest edition of Prison Service Journal explores the simultaneous challenges faced by the prison system in both living with, and recovering from, the coronavirus pandemic.
There are some great articles, including from former and current Chief Inspectors of Prison, public health professionals, leading researchers, prison officers and practitioners.
It's all available, free to view and download, here.
Eye on criminal justice
In an interesting move, the Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, Charlie Taylor, announced plans to stop making recommendations in his inspection reports, replacing them with up to 15 "concerns". The art of leadership, when it comes to improving or transforming an institution, he wrote in a post on the Inspectorate website, "is not trying to do too much at once".
A report from Agenda and Alliance for Youth Justice shows that up to 90 per cent of girls in contact with the youth justice system have experienced abuse from a family member or someone they trusted, and that 63 per cent of girls and young women serving community sentences have experienced rape or domestic abuse. The report, part of their Young Women's Justice Project, also argues that young female violence survivors face being retraumatised by the youth justice system.
The House of Commons Justice Committee has launched a new inquiry into the system of holding defendants on remand in prison as they await trial. According to the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the remand population grew by nearly a quarter in the six months between March and September 2020, reaching its highest level in six years. One in every seven adult prisoner is there on remand. The deadline for submissions is 22 April.
The deadline for submissions to the separate Home Affairs Committee inquiry into drugs is 24 March.
We'll be discussing these, and other criminal justice developments, on our next Last month in criminal justice programme on 6 April.
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