The probation service in England and Wales as well as the criminal justice system in Britain went through some fundamental reforms. At this critical point in time issues around race, disproportionality and the quality of criminal justice services that are being provided to Black and minority ethnic (BME) groups need to be looked at.
In 2012, IARS started a research and policy programme to build an evidence base for awareness raising and practical recommendations focusing on probation services and other criminal justice reforms. The project is directed by Dr. Theo Gavrielides (IARS Founder & Director). It is a timely and much needed programme with a great ambition. This work followed up our work on prisons (see "Restorative Justice and the Secure Estate"). The programme also linked with our EU project "Restorative Justice in Europe: Safeguarding Victims & Empowering Professionals" as well as the local work that we are doing on offender rehabilitation, gangs and riots with the Greater Manchester Probation Trust.
The programme started with a research and awareness raising project funded by the London Probation Trust (LPT). Through an independent review of the academic literature, evaluation of successful resettlement programmes, legal frameworks, LPT's activities (including pre-sentence reports and resettlement/ reintegration programmes,) the project produced evidence based advice on how LPT's services may be improved.
An event was held on 15 November 2012 to engage Probation staff in the debate. Speakers for the event included: Professor Theo Gavrielides, Professor Gus John, Dr. Richard Stone OBE (panel member of the McPherson Inquiry into Stephen Lawrence's death) and Dr. Margaret Greenfields (Director of IDRICS at Bucks New Univ). Click here for a press release on the event.
The project's findings were then launched at a public event on the 5th June 2013. The conference had a range of speakers from the academia and the third sector, including: Doreen Lawrence OBE, Founder of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust;Heather Munro, Chief Executive of LPT; Professor Gus John, Institute of Education and Chair of The Communities Empowerment Network; Professor Gavrielides, Founder and Director of IARS. The personal experience of two LPT users enriched the conference with insights from the service-user perspective. Click here for a press release on the event. The event culminated in the launch of the book "Race in Probation", the first piece of research completed on this issue in over fifteen years. To order the book "Race in Probation" reporting on the findings please click here. The responsible Minister responded to IARS' research through this letter.
IARS is now using the findings of the research to increase awareness of Probation Trusts and relevant stakeholders around Brtiain. For example, Dr. Gavrielides spoke at the Probation Chief Association (PCA) conference in Birmingham (14-15 March 13) as well as the Ministry of Justice Association of Black Probation Officers annual conference (12-14 Sept 13). To read his PCA presentation click here He also presented the findings to the Surrey & Sussex Probation Trust while he made an appearance at the NAPO annual conference in October. Furthermore, an article was published in the peer review Special Edition of the British Journal of Community Justice. To download the paper for free click here.
On the 15th October 2013, a close meeting was held by the Justice Minister Damian Green to discuss issues of race in the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. Representatives from the BME criminal justice sector shared their views and concerns. To read the minutes and agreements including the list of people who attended click here A copy of the Minister's letter can also be downloaded from here
In 2014, IARS followed up its findings with the intention of constructing a BME user-led, bottom up model for user involvement in the planning and delivery of probation services. Our intention was to help develop criminal justice services that respond to the real needs of BME offenders and victims giving them a voice in policy and the development of practices and services impacting on them. After involvement of BME users of probation as well as staff and key stakeholders we produced the Race in Probation Toolkit: BAME User Involvement in Probation Services This is now being presented to various probation trusts while working closely with the ABPO. IARS' Projects' Coordinator (Equalities) Dr. Paszkiewicz presented the Toolkit at various ABPO regional meetings as well as at the Keeping Race on the Agenda: Female Genital Mutilation – Developing Expertise and Practice. To read her presentation click here
The Race in Probation toolkit also features in the first edition of the Probation Institute's Journal, Probation Quarterly. The article calls for involving BME users in the design, delivery and evaluation of probation services. You can read part of the publication here
IARS Race in Probation toolkit can help probation providers to embed race equality in their work, and explores bottom up approaches in delivering resettlement services to BME offenders.
The starting point of our research acknowledges that despite progress, there is still a long way to go in achieving better outcomes for BME groups who come into contact with the criminal justice system including LPT.
Following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, emphasis was placed on collecting better, more thorough and more consistent data on ethnicity, particularly at key stages of the criminal justice system and beyond. However, there is evidence to suggest that a large number of public authorities approached this obligation as a procedural “box ticking” exercise without reflecting on the actual significance of these findings. Various other factors did not help materialise the intentions behind the Race Relations Act. In the hope of addressing persistent inequalities and bridging the gap that the Race Relations Act failed to address, the Equality Act shifted the emphasis from procedures to outcomes.
Moreover, the world economic crisis in combination with the 2010 change in government brought a number of institutional restructures and a shift in the philosophy on public spending. Under the slogan of “Punishment and Reform”, a number of public consultations were initiated including some that were focused on probation services. Criminal justice service provision is gradually becoming an open market space where competition and privatisation are encouraged. Within this context, the role of probation trusts is revisited. Given that over 50% of LPT service users come from black and minority ethnic communities, this particular piece of work focused on how probation services can be improved for this particular group. Issues around community engagement, mental health, substance abuse, foreign nationals, victims and resettlement are analysed, and recommendations are posited.
Presentations from the "Race in Probation" Conference & Reception organised by London Probation Trust and IARS (June 2013, London)
Presentations from IARS- London Probation Trust event on improving outcomes for BME service users (November 2012, London)
One of IARS' central beliefs is found within the concept of community engagement. Our evidence-based community-led solutions to crime help reposition the individual, moving citizens from the margins into the heart of problem solving. This is why this project is of great interest to us.
This project links in with the activities of London Youth Now, IARS' Big Lottery Funded project, which aims to improve local services that tackle hate crime and promote community cohesion. By establishing a comprehensive evidence base around the experiences of BME service users, this project seeks to influence decision makers and ensure that BME service users are able to positively experience all probation services.
The findings from this project will be based on evidence-based arguments from our desk based research and will enable us to influence London Probation Trust's policies and services to improve outcomes for BME service users.
This project is one of a number of IARS advisory projects. See also our project to help Greater Manchester Probation Trust set up a strategy for using restorative justice.