It has been a tough year. Recovery from the pandemic and major changes to the criminal justice operating environment, including probation unification and proposed prison reforms, presented significant challenges. The Clinks annual conference 2022, therefore, created an opportunity for reflection and connectivity, showcasing strength in our sector despite the external climate and further establishing a joint commitment to our shared cause. For those of you who were unable to join us this blog summarises the keynote speeches, workshops and panel discussions.
Morning keynote speakers
Justin Russell, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation
Justin sought to give us ‘insight and reflection’ and he did not disappoint. He introduced his talk by reflecting on the historic origins of probation being firmly rooted in the voluntary sector. Importantly he underlined how supporting each other to thrive across the voluntary and statutory sectors will generate a positive impact on those we seek to serve.
Key takeaways from Justin’s talk:
- There are huge challenges in probation staffing and Justin does not shy away from this. This is also a source of anxiety for the voluntary sector and something we will collectively have to address and navigate in the upcoming year.
- There are equally huge challenges around probation delivery. Justin showed us the published Probation Delivery Unit inspection scores since Summer 2021, the RAG rated tabular dataset was largely red and amber, flagging huge areas of ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’ ratings. Alongside a bar chart showing ‘sufficiency of delivery against identified needs’, highlighting particularly poor support for those with drug or alcohol issues, this was compounded by the statistic only ‘56% of people on probation that need services have access to them’.
- Despite te challenges Justin believes in a "bright and productive future, where we can get [the relationship between probation and the voluntary sector] right’. You can read more in his blog here.
Kilvinder Vigurs, Regional Director for London Probation
Kilvinder was impassioned throughout her talk, drawing on examples to illustrate where the partnership between London probation and the voluntary sector had worked well and where there is a willingness and urgency to improve.
Key takeaways from Kilvinder’s talk:
- Kilvinder stressed her allegiance to the voluntary sector and how important the partnership was between the statutory and voluntary sectors was for creating meaningful impact.
- There is an impetus to make commissioning and grants easier, this was further discussed in questions from the audience, where the ongoing challenges to acheiving this were highlighted.
- The sector needs people who are vocal about their lived experience to help enact change.
Bridges from prison: working together to build the case for jobs and relationships - Facilitated by Frameworks
Oftentimes communications and framing can feel like a luxury subject when misunderstood but the options we choose when communicating about criminal justice can have far reaching impact beyond making us ‘sound better’. Sophie from the Frameworks Institute clearly and committedly set out a hard to refute case for understanding and adopting certain language and framing choices. Making a strong and evidenced connection between framing and influencing those around us, and importantly how that will move our cause forward, whilst bringing everyone with us. You can view their slides here.
Key takeaways from Frameworks:
- To make the case for employment opportunities and supporting relationships for people in and leaving prison, we need to shift focus from individuals to the systems that need to be improved. And we need to build understanding of what support for people leaving prison could look like and why it's needed.
- By mobilising around a story together, we can strengthen each other’s communications and have a greater impact. It’s not about everyone saying the same thing in the same way but using the same ideas to shift understanding in the same direction.
- You can now access a toolkit of practical tips and guidance for anyone communicating about people in and leaving prison, here: frameworksinstitute.org/publication/bridges-from-prison-toolkit
Progress and prejudice: Shifts in UK employer attitudes to hiring people with convictions - Facilitated by Working Chance
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown has facilitated a cultural shift in the way we work, alongside a tough time for business and industry, with a cost-of-living crisis and austerity on our doorstep. All of which have had an impact on employers’ mindsets. This attitude shift may signal an opportunity for employers and workforces to engage more positively with those with convictions. Working Chance mixed pragmatic advice with personal motivation to illustrate how we can utilise their learnings in the current climate to move forward. You can view their slides here.
Key takeaways from Working Chance:
- Employers’ attitudes towards people with convictions are improving, with more hiring managers stating they’d be open to the idea (45% in 2022, compared to 25% in 2010). However, there is still considerable stigma towards people with convictions and lots of work for us to do as a sector to dismantle these stereotypes and prevent discrimination from happening.
- People who have been through the justice system often show an interest in choosing it as their career: about a quarter of Working Chance clients go on to work for a criminal justice organisation. But people with convictions should be encouraged and supported to go and work in a range of sectors, and given a range of opportunities.
- To increase lived experience within our organisations, we must approach it within the framework of our broader Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategies: to analyse our workforce through an intersectional lens, and plan activities accordingly. These EDI journeys will look different for every organisation, as will their priorities.
- Working Chance polled the workshop audience on their experiences - you can view the results here.
Funding for the future
Ewan Hilton, Chief Executive Officer, Platfform / Angela Cairns, Chief Executive Officer, Unlock / Marie-Clare O’Brien, Chief Executive Officer, New Leaf Initiative / Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy, Communications and Research, Lloyds Bank Foundation Chaired by Chris Stacey, Director of Support and Development
The extremely tough environment for our sector (both voluntary and criminal justice) was never more pertinent than in this engaged and oftentimes frustrated panel. An important moment on the panel was when those on stage highlighted the cruelty of fate that beheld organisations who had spent years reacting to pleas to diversify, as this would lead to greater financial resilience, who were then diametrically the most financially impacted by lockdown and the precarious financial climate. The panel covered the highs and lows of statutory bidding and grant funding whilst also reflecting on personal stories that the sector should be proud of for making it through the past three years and that spelled optimism for the future.
Key takeaways from the panel:
- We need to remain compassionate, brave and curious, each panelist stressed that whilst it could be tempting to try and fund tried and tested project there was opportunity in innovation and a chance to be brave with new projects and ideas, even if it’s adding innovation in to previously funded projects.
- Speak to organisations that have previously benefited from a funder you are approaching previously, this can help you learn more about the way they work and what they are interested in.
- Ask for the accurate amount of funds, by trying to make your funding bid more attractive fiscally, you could be underselling yourself which can cause your project damage in the long run and then impact your relationship with the funder if you fail to deliver; “Don’t under-bid, you undersell yourself. Excite the funder and bid for the money you need”.
- Stretch your application to multi-year funding as opposed to a lump sum, this will give the relationship with that funder more longevity and support financial diversification.
Prioritising the wellbeing of our workforce – how can we ensure staff and volunteers feel valued?
Debra Allcock Tyler, Chief Executive Officer, Directory of Social Change / Julia Alexander, Chief Executive Officer, Trailblazers Mentoring / Chloé Geoghegan, Head of Programme for Women and the Criminal Justice System, The JABBS Foundation / Michele Burman CBE. FRSE. FAcSS., Professor of Criminology at the University of Glasgow and a Founding Co -Director of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR) – Chaired by Jess Mullen, Director of Influencing and Communications at Clinks
Wellbeing is a pertinent topic in the voluntary sector now, with increased staff turnover, risk of burnout, a need to be over-agile or over-cautious in the financial climate, the fast paced three years and importantly, a cohort of clients under serious pressure and oftentimes distress. The panel candidly discussed how they were supporting their staff and the actions they were taking to create a more wellbeing-led future.
Key takeaways from the panel:
- Staff and volunteer feedback, from surveys, for example, is a great way to assess staff wellbeing, however, it is important that "organisations act upon feedback and it doesn't just become a repository of information" – asking staff and volunteers to put time into feedback without a strategy to undertake responses can lead to people feeling deflated.
- There is a prominent feeling that the sector is underfunded, leading to low wages and although staff are driven by the injustices they see and shared beliefs, this is harming our workforce.
- The voluntary sector is propping up a collapsing system and our response to this can oftentimes undervalue the role the voluntary sector is playing in criminal justice, be sure to accurately account for staff time and effort in bids and grants to support this.
- Treat your staff like adults and be open and transparent with them - “Support staff, don’t protect them’.
Afternoon keynote speakers
Jim Barton, Executive Director of HMPPS Change
Jim Barton reflected on the impact of probation unifictaion and shared insight on the how the recent restructure and OneHMPPS programme would impact the operational environment in the future. He affirmed and consolidated a lot of the previously shared messages throughout the day; the need for a collaborative response to challenges and staffing pressures having consequences on the relationships between the two sectors.
Key takeaways from Jim's talk:
- Jim described the relationship between HMPPS and the voluntary sector as crucial including within the context of the One HMPPS programme which is focusing on core operational business, making sure probation and prison frontline staff have the right support to be able to deliver the best services. This includes a focus on closer regional working while not only keeping but maximising the distinct professional identities of both the services.
- There was refection on the fast pace of probation unification and how he was "fundamentally proud that we made the case to unify the (probation) service, but this does not mean we have overcome all of the challenges."
- He reiterated that staffing challenges were a major concern for the system and how that might impact the voluntary sector. “The recruitment of staff is still one of our largest challenges and in August 2022 we had the highest number of new starters in probation ever, but it is going to take us years to get sufficiently staffed and have those staff experienced.”
- He recognised there had been challenges in the operational environment over recent years, particularly in prisons, but hoped that green shoots showing the service is now on the right trajectory, are starting to appear.
Throughout the conference and after each keynote speaker Clinks hosted a question-and-answer session. Questions were submitted in person and also via Mentimetre (an electronic submission function). We have collated the questions asked and sought to have them answered post-event via those the questions related to. We are thankful for the effort that speakers have committed to supporting us in this. You can read the submitted questions here and the questions that have subsequently been answered, we are endeavouring to receive more responses in the close future.
Throughout the day we were also treated to powerful performances from Lady Unchained and Ashleigh Nugent, which reminded us of the power of creative expressions of the work of our sector and the experiences of the people we exist to support.
Thank you to everyone who contributed their time, effort, and opinions to Clinks annual conference 2022.