Since lockdown was first announced at the end of March, the rules and guidance on what restrictions are in place have changed and evolved, easing to varying degrees across society and in some cases being reinstated. During this time Clinks has conducted a number of surveys to keep pace with this shifting environment and the affect it has been having on the voluntary sector in criminal justice.
What we know so far
This blog will provide a summary of what we found from our latest survey about how voluntary organisations working in criminal justice and the people they support are faring. For our previous findings see here. We are also in the process of creating a full report on the impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary sector in criminal justice, which these results will inform.
The people our sector supports
The findings of this latest survey continue to give us a number of causes for concern about the impact that the pandemic is having on people in contact with the criminal justice system and their families. 68% strongly agree and a further 29% agree that the needs of the people they work to support have become greater during this time.
It is deeply troubling that across the sector and over a number of surveys, organisations have raised increasing concern about the severe mental health impact of Covid-19 and its associated restrictions on people in the criminal justice system. Organisations have also continued to raise concerns about having to provide increased crisis intervention as rising numbers accessing their services are experiencing homelessness and are in need of basic provisions such as food. People are struggling to access benefits, and emergency accommodation continues to be scarce for people in the criminal justice system and increasingly difficult to access. The impact of the pandemic is exacerbated by a lack of support to prepare people for release and the difficulty accessing statutory services in the community at this time.
“We have seen an increase in support needs around housing, mental health, domestic abuse & exploitation, benefits, basic needs (food, access to mobile phones).” – survey respondent
“Isolation, mental health, substance misuse, accommodation, debt issues have all been heightened for many clients facing these challenges.” – survey respondent
In this survey a number of respondents specifically spoke about the impact of lockdown on women. In particular, organisations mentioned the increased risk of domestic violence that women and girls face in lockdown and the difficulty they face in accessing support and safe spaces. Organisations that work to support women facing multiple disadvantage also highlighted that this has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“… Many more women disclosing abuse and exploitation & related difficulties in safeguarding due to lack of face to face contact/safe spaces to talk/ability to communicate ... Increase in need for housing for women, particularly those who are sofa surfing or hidden homeless and may have been kicked out of their accommodation but have never flagged up to services before.”
– survey respondent
We found that levels of service provision in the criminal justice voluntary sector have still not recovered and continue to be lower than they had been prior to the initial lockdown. 58% say that service provision has decreased as a result of the pandemic and a further 7% say they still have not been able to deliver any services.
However our latest findings also show that in the last month many organisations have begun to increase their provision again. 59% say that their service provision has increased in the last month. This is hopefully a promising sign that services are beginning to recover.
In our previous survey we found a lot of hesitancy and uncertainty amongst the sector about restarting face-to-face service delivery with limited numbers doing so. A month later we found that there has been an increase in the percentage of organisations that have restarted delivering services in-person, with 48% of services saying they have. Most of this is taken place in the community.
That said, there remains a sense of uncertainty about returning to face-to-face services amongst those who hadn’t yet done so. 68% say that they would not be starting face-face services in the next month or were still unsure about doing so.
There also continues to be confusion for those that have restarted services but are reliant on external partners such as prisons and probation. Feedback highlights that information flow from prisons and probation has often been poor with inconsistency across the prison estate in the way safety measures have been implemented and communicated.
This reinforces the information we’ve been getting from our wider engagement with the voluntary sector. Organisations feel kept in the dark about operational guidance and safety measures. This is making it all the more confusing and difficult for voluntary sector organisations to navigate the process of restarting service delivery and to feel that they can keep their staff and clients safe.
“Lack of information from prison what they want to do and how and what are the risk assessment measures in place.” – survey respondent
With so much to navigate and so many safeguarding considerations it is no wonder that the majority of organisations are not fully confident that they could restart in-person services safely in the context of Covid-19. 54% are only somewhat confident about restarting services safely. A further 15% are not so confident about doing so.
Emergency financial support
Throughout the pandemic, even as the government announced emergency funding to support charities, we have been concerned about voluntary sector organisations working in the criminal justice system being excluded from such support because of the similarly significant levels of need across the wider UK voluntary sector and the lack of specifically targeted resource for criminal justice organisations.
While the £300k emergency grant provided by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) fund was highly welcome, it was not enough to support everyone who needed it. This is perhaps in part why our results show that the voluntary sector has primarily turned to trusts and foundations for emergency support during this rather than the government. The majority (72%) of organisations applied for emergency grant funding as a result of the pandemic. Of those, 77% applied to trusts and foundations compared to 39% who said they applied to central government.
However concern continues to grow about the ongoing availability of funding from these important sources. Our results showed that organisations have continued to apply for funding to sustain and rebuild their services and maintain core activities that are not specifically related to the Covid-19 emergency response. However organisations have found this to be challenging as funds appear to have been redirected to the Covid-19 response with many organisations citing trusts and foundations not accepting applications at this time or pausing funding processes due to the crisis.
“We have ongoing funding needs for areas of work that are part of our normal service e.g staff we have in post who were needed to support families before the Covid-19 crisis and will be even more needed after. These needs do not 'fit' many of the Covid-19 Response Grant Programme criteria and we have therefore been unable to make as many applications as we would normally make to Trusts & Foundations who have put normal programmes on hold.” - survey respondent
Whilst the emergency support is welcome, this also has long term implications for how much future funding is available from trusts and foundations as they recover from this period. This concern in part drives worries about long-term sustainability. Whilst some organisations remain cautiously optimistic, 65% of respondents to the question (out of 88 respondents) say they are only somewhat confident about their long-term sustainability.
We will be providing a briefing of the survey findings to senior officials at the Ministry of Justice – which you can read here – and using the findings to inform our influencing work with officials, government select committees and funders. We will also use it to inform the support we provide the sector to help organisations navigate this challenging time. In addition to this we will also be using the findings in an upcoming report on the impact of Covid-19 on the voluntary sector in criminal justice.
If you have any questions about the survey’s findings, please contact Lauren Nickolls, Policy Officer.
Notes from the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) Special Interest Group on Covid-19
Latest on Twitter
It is imperative that government prioritises and resources the tackling of race inequality in the criminal justice system. It is crucial that voluntary orgs led by and focussed on racially minoritised people are listened to, taken seriously and consulted in these conversations. https://twitter.com/HMIProbation/status/1451073306791223296