The new Prime Minister and Cabinet have been appointed with a clear focus on Brexit, but with myriad other tough issues to face in service to the electorate. One of the more complicated and nuanced is criminal justice, a key priority for the Lloyds Bank Foundation and the charities we support.
In his final speech as justice secretary, David Gauke pointed out what those who work with offenders have known for years: "If all offenders who currently receive prison sentences of less than six months were given a community order instead, we estimate that there would be around 32,000 fewer proven re-offences a year."
As Robert Buckland takes up the mantle, let’s hope he doesn’t leave it until his last month to reach the same conclusions, given that Mr Gauke leaves office with historically high prison numbers at 92,000, twice that of 1990.
At the foundation we’re taking a more targeted, upstream approach to justice issues, including working with the Howard League to reduce the number of women arrested, as well as aiming to do more to influence the new probation system that is being developed.
The small charities we work with know the flaws and failings of Transforming Rehabilitation first hand: a venture condemned by the Justice Select Committee in 2018 as having "failed to open up the probation market", and for offering "through- the-gate" support that was inflexible and "merely signposting".
With so many small and local charities keen to revamp the system, it’s not enough to fund them to rehabilitate ex-offenders. It’s time to stem the cycle, to divert and reduce the number of people entering the system in the first place.
We’ve had a huge number of expressions of interest from charities to carry out specific work in this area. This reflects the hugely diverse nature of work across the sector, including a focus on specific communities that are over-represented among offenders – including BAME groups, care leavers, Gypsy and Roma communities – or on preventive work and alternative approaches such as restorative justice.
In a recent opinion piece from the Economic and Social Research Council, Professor Fergus McNeill argues for a better balance between retribution and reparation-based approaches to rehabilitation.
He notes the truth we see in the work we fund, which chimes with David Gauke’s comment that we should "look past the offence to the person and the complex needs that contribute to keeping them trapped in a cycles of crime", and that the "wrongdoings" that result in criminalisation are often associated with wrongs against perpetrators in their earlier lives.
One particularly stark observation is that people who were "looked after" by the state as children are 13 times more likely to end up in prison.
Seen in this light, the role of small charities such as Leicestershire Cares, which I visited and which works with both care leavers and ex-offenders, is critical to ensuring that people who leave both forms of institutional care get the support they need. Sometimes that’s support for the most simple but symbolic of things. One of the prisoners it had managed to secure employment for told me the thing that made the biggest difference to his life was being able to buy birthday presents for his grandchildren.
McNeill’s piece notes that, although offending itself breaks relationships and tears at our social fabric, the fabric itself is torn because it is already "weak and worn thin by these other wrongs".
With this in mind the repair, like the tear, must be relational. Small local charities such as Leicestershire Cares and the West Yorkshire Chaplaincy are best placed to understand this. Let’s hope the new justice secretary understands that too when he launches the reformed Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
Paul Streets is chief executive of the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales