Editorial (Volume 15, Issue 2)
As my co-editor Jean Hine observed in a past issue of our journal: ‘The Criminal Justice System, along with many public services, is in a state of flux, with numerous proposals, white papers and legislation in various stages of implementation’ (Hine 2012:1).
Certainly in England and Wales, one might be tempted to suggest that over the last decade or more the criminal justice system has been in a permanent state of flux. The part-renationalisation of probation continues in England and Wales (MoJ 2019) in the wake of the lamentable implementation of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms (MoJ 2013) which were widely criticised by, amongst others, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP 2019). All of us with a stake in the system and with a commitment to one that adequately serves the moral as well as functional needs of all stakeholders, from practitioners to people with convictions to society more generally, can only wait to see how the changes will unfold.
As we go to press, general election campaigning in the United Kingdom is underway. No doubt criminal justice policy will feature, as it frequently does. A wearily familiar, populist punitivism has already had a public airing, since Boris Johnson’s succession (in the summer) as Prime Minister, with calculated announcements about more police officers, more prison places and prisoners serving longer sentences (BBC 2019). Recent polling suggests that after Brexit and health, crime, immigration and the economy remain important issues (Curtice, 2019).
In the meantime, we aim to provide an alternative, much more considered examination of criminal justice policy and practice. Following our re-launch earlier this year, on behalf of the Editorial Board I am pleased to present the next issue of our journal. It includes papers that span the range of criminal justice activity, from policing through to prisons, drawing on experiences from the United Kingdom and from the Republic of Ireland. If there is a theme which runs through these papers, it is perhaps that austerity and the frequent changes in the criminal justice system have led to an increasingly homogenised view of all participants – people with convictions, staff and victims – which is leading to some of the problems highlighted in these articles. The papers in their different ways remind us of the need to adequately acknowledge and work with individuality across all these stakeholder groups.
Our first paper, the inaugural lecture by Sir Martin Narey – the former director of the Prison Service, then chief executive of the National Offender Management Service in England and Wales – as visiting professor at the Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) at Manchester Metropolitan University, reflects on his long career in public service and for a moment takes us back to the state of prisons in 1981. Just before he joined the Prison Service, Martin recounts being ‘hooked on a BBC documentary, made by a brilliant filmmaker called Rex Bloomstein, about life in Strangeways, Manchester’s notorious Victorian prison’. Then he goes on to doubt that any government would allow such a film to be made today, given its candour, showing a prison ‘in which men lived in filthy conditions, where there was little or no opportunity to improve their life chances, and the harshness of the prison and its regime appeared to be a matter of pride’.
Almost forty years later, the film’s director, Rex Bloomstein, is still making socially committed documentaries. His most recent feature, supported by the Timpson Group – A Second Chance – is an uplifting account of the transformative power of work for both serving and ex-prisoners struggling to turn their lives around. It forms part of a closing double bill at next year’s 2020 Manchester Crime and Justice Film Festival, and you can sign up for programme details here.
For our second paper we return to the substantive theme of our journal, in fact, its raison d’être: community justice, specifically the development of community courts in Ireland alongside that of restorative justice services. Paul Gavin and Muna Sabbagh’s paper advocates for the continued slow but steady development of community courts in Ireland, arguing that they should contain an element of restorative justice; and for the continued national rollout of restorative justice across the Irish criminal justice system.
Our third paper, by Coral Sirdifield, David Denney, Rebecca Marples and Charlie Brooker, reflects on their experience of conducting research on the availability of healthcare for probation clients. Their insightful paper demonstrate that challenges still arise, ‘even when the rationale for a research project is based on organisational or governmental policy, key stakeholders (including staff and service users) have been engaged at the project design stage, and some gatekeepers are supportive at the data collection stage’. They then go on to recommend helpful strategies that might improve engagement with research in the future.
Next, Wendy Laverick and Peter Joyce’s paper on the menopause and the female police workforce raises important questions relevant to police forces in the UK and other jurisdictions about the services’ compliance with the legal obligations of public sector general equality duties. These require organisations to consider how they can advance equality and remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by people due to their protected characteristics.
Rebecca Woolford and Julia Wardhaugh’s article reports on a promising approach to working with domestic abuse perpetrators. Drawing on the experiences of practitioners, the HELP programme was viewed positively, the flexibility of the programme being a key benefit, and was regarded as being aligned with current thinking on desistance. However, they also report that programme efficacy was limited by perpetrator attendance, attrition and behaviour.
Finally, we complete this issue by continuing the discourse on women in the criminal justice system, which was explored in our re-launch thematic issue published earlier this year. It also brings us back to the post-Transforming Rehabilitation landscape of probation in England and Wales and learning from the last five years of tumultuous change. Highlighting the common humanity exhibited by practitioners in spite of the delivery challenges wrought by the Transforming Rehabilitation changes, Rachel Goldhill’s article on gender responsivity in probation work for women service users points to the ‘small-scale acts of kindness within the practitioner/probationer relationship’ as the main mitigators of the harmful effects of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms (MoJ 2013).
BBC. (2019) ‘Crime: what has Boris Johnson promised on law and order?’ BBC News [Online] 14th October [Accessed on 8th November 2019] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49318400
Curtice, J. (2019) ‘General election 2019: Will this be a Brexit election?’ BBC News [Online] 7th November [Accessed on 10th November 2019] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-50303512
Hine, J. (2012) ‘Editorial.’ British Journal of Community Justice, 10(1) pp. 1-4.
HMIP. (2019) Report of the Chief Inspector of Probation. March. Manchester: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation.
MoJ. (2013) Transforming Rehabilitation – a strategy for reform. Cm 8619. London: Ministry of Justice.
MoJ. (2019) Strengthening probation, building confidence: response to consultation, CP93, May. London: Ministry of Justice.