I attended the Policy-UK Forum’s conference, ‘Young People in the Justice System Delivering a Positive Outcome: Early Intervention, Education and Reducing Reoffending’ on 13 September 2016.  The day was packed with a range of guest speakers, with the main objective of learning how we can work together to improve outcomes for young offenders in the UK.

Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, Lead Officer for Children and Young People, National Police Chiefs Council spoke about the role the police can play in avoiding unnecessary criminalisation of young people. She highlighted that a young person should be seen as a child first, and arresting a young person should always be the last resort. The police are wrestling with new offences, as we’re witnessing new behaviour including cyberbullying and sexting from our young people. She was clear that the police need to record all crime but they need be able to use their discretion when appropriate.

Anna Henry, Director of Child Rights, Office of the Children’s Commissioner, outlined the changes needed to improve outcomes for young people in the criminal justice system. The priority should be achieving a child centred justice system, not a cost centred justice system. For example, the voice of the child isn’t heard enough and a rights-based approach might improve the balance . Children in care are a group tending to have high and complex needs, calling for a focus on recovery over punishment-based approaches. The need for partnership working was emphasised and encouraged.

The secure care home model had been found effective and it was recommended we build on this model. This is aligned with the findings of the Narey Review, an independent review of children’s residential care in England. It was found that secure care has the capacity to keep children safe, and the evidence highlighted secure homes achieve both educational and health outcomes for children. Normandie Wragg, CEO of Nugent commented in our response to the Narey Review stated, “the review tackles many of the misconceptions relating to secure care. I strongly support Narey’s judgement that secure care has the capacity to keep children safe and the evidence highlights secure homes achieve both educational and health outcomes for children”.

It’s clear that we require the buy-in and support of prison officers to effect any change, as we know the reality is that some young people will end up in the criminal justice system. Ralph Valerio, National Vice Chairman, Prison Officers’ Association outlined 4 areas of focus:

  • Education and Employment
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Service Users’ Participation
  • Prison Officers

He passionately spoke about the mental health challenges many offenders struggle with and the importance of fully integrating drug and alcohol programmes. Relating to employment, he called for major companies to form partnerships with prison governors throughout the country.

It was great to hear the amazing work being done by the Prisoners’ Education Trust presented by their CEO, Rod Clark. He spoke about the current 30-hour education target for young offenders which isn’t being met. However, the risk of having a weekly target is that it becomes the goal and thereby reduces focus on specific outcomes for young people. To help improve the educational outcomes of young offenders, he first asserted we need to understand the importance of relationships for children who have experienced abuse, injury and family breakdown. Secondly, there is a need to establish a learning journey that all parties are committed to. Agencies should also be working together to expand the provision of distance learning.

Overall, it was a very insightful day. I left feeling very enthused with the number and range of individuals and organisations that possess the skills and expertise and the willingness to achieve positive outcomes for young offenders.

Read our full review to the Narey Review here

Find out more about Policy UK’s future events here

How do you think we can better help young offenders?

Porsha Nunes-Brown
Network & Communications Officer

Porsha Nunes-Brown, Network Development Officer, attended the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre, which celebrates women and girls, and assesses the obstacles that stop them from achieving their potential. She attended a panel discussion on domestic violence and what changes need to be made to ensure the protection of women and young girls in the UK.

Why doesn’t she just leave if the abuse is that bad?

Domestic violence only occurs in poorer families.

Domestic violence only entails physical abuse.

Above are just a few of the many misconceptions regarding domestic violence. The common belief that a woman is able to safely leave an abusive relationship, is completely false. Research shows that leaving an abusive partner is the most unsafe time for a victim.

Despite there being a wealth of evidence that domestic violence is a common tragedy experienced by women throughout this country, there remains a lack of investment and political will to affect any substantial change to make this country a safer place for women and young girls.

Sarah Ricca, Solicitor at Deighton Pierce Glynn, outlined how the commonly known statistic, that two women a week are killed due to domestic violence, has remained the same for a number of years with little progress being made to decrease deaths. There is an outrageous statistic, that on average when a woman has contacted the police concerning domestic violence, she has been a victim of domestic violence 35 times.

The appalling level of support women eventually receive after they have mustered up the courage to come forward, is disturbing. Research highlights that 85% of women have to request help on five separate occasions before they access the support they require. This cannot be right, that as we encourage women to come forward and be open about their abuse, that there isn’t a sufficient support structure in place to provide the necessary care and support.

Alison Saunders, Director of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), stated conviction rates for domestic violence are growing, having increased 13% over the last ten years. It is hoped this will give victims more confidence to come forward. The Serious Crime Act (2015), was heralded as a great mark of progress, with legislation explicitly criminalising coercive or controlling behaviour perpetrated against an intimate partner or family member.

Coercive control is at the heart of domestic violence and it enables domestic violence to occur. With the introduction of the Serious Crime Act, this needs to be partnered with investment into the education of judges, magistrates, health and social care professionals, also the police on coercive control and how to enact the law to better support individuals affected by domestic violence.

Nevertheless, the amount of domestic violence cases are increasing but we must remember we are still at the tip of the iceberg, with under-reporting and low conviction rates being key barriers to justice. The CPS is working towards victims of domestic violence not having to provide evidence in court, which can be an emotionally distressing experience for those who have experience of it.

The change in law is welcomed, but it is necessary to highlight the law is only the beginning stages of creating a society, where women and young girls do not have to live in fear of violence, in many cases from their loved ones.

Whilst all women experiencing domestic violence undergo considerable stress and trauma, there are special support needs for women over 50. Research shows a quarter of women over 50 have lived with abuse for over 25 years also the experience of disabled and Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) women was raised as key issues that need addressing.

It was made clear that domestic violence is about gender and the unequal power balances between men and women. Despite it being acknowledged that some men are affected by domestic violence, the statistics demonstrate that domestic violence overwhelmingly affects women and young girls.

Ban Ki-Moon stated at an UN event on Women’s Access to Justice, “Justice for women takes more than new laws and funding. Ultimately, we need new mind-sets.” 

CSAN member Women@thewell support women affected by domestic violence, please read about how they carry out their valuable work.

Porsha Nunes-Brown, Network Development Officer, attended the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre, which celebrates women and girls, and assesses the obstacles that stop them from achieving their potential. She attended a panel discussion on the closure of HMP Holloway and the broader issue of women in the criminal justice system in the UK.

HMP Holloway, the biggest women’s prison in Western Europe, is set to close this summer. This serves as a fitting time to discuss what a prison system that works for women should look like.

The panel speakers included:

  • Juliet Lyon CBE – Director of the Prison Reform Trust
  • Maureen Mansfield – Mental Health Inclusion Project Coordinator, Women in Prison
  • Vicky Pryce – Economist, past civil servant and having served time in Holloway and an open prison

Juliet Lyon CBE, passionately articulated, that as a nation we’re imprisoning too many women, many whom are mothers, for minor non-violent offences. Annually over 18,000 children are separated from their mothers due to imprisonment. A Prison Reform Trust study found that 42 women held in HMP Holloway had no idea who was looking after their children and that 19 children under the age of 16 were looking after themselves. The effects of parental imprisonment are far-reaching. CSAN network member PACT launched the campaign ‘Hear my Voice’, aimed at raising awareness and improving practice for children affected by familial imprisonment.

Women offenders have experienced great distress and trauma, with 46% of women in prison having attempted suicide at some point of their life, which is more than double the figure for men. Almost half of women in prison have suffered domestic violence. It’s evident that the overwhelming majority of women in the criminal justice system are vulnerable and require holistic and tailored support. The question was raised, why do we lock up our most vulnerable women in the bleakest places? 

The panel was in unanimous agreement concerning the limited effectiveness of prison, pertaining to the rehabilitation of women offenders. Women in prison would be better served with alternatives to custody.

The issue of staff cuts within prisons is a critical issue, which is tied into the service and care provided to women within the criminal justice system. The prevalence of self-harm, assaults on staff and self-inflicted deaths has been attributed to the significant cuts to prison staff.

CSAN member, Anawim was mentioned as a centre of excellence through the provision of holistic and tailored support for women leaving the criminal justice system.

Maureen Mansfield from Women in Prisons, articulated despite the negative connotations associated with Holloway, it’s a place of security for many women.

Vicky Pryce, economist and former civil servant spoke about her experience in Holloway and how it shaped her view on the criminal justice system. She cited the shocking statistic, that women only account for 5% of the prison population, but a third of all self-harm incidents. She optimistically stated that the closure of Holloway could lead to better solutions for women which would result in less women being imprisoned.

The ever present tensions between punishment and rehabilitation were also discussed, in regards to the severe abuse and distress suffered by imprisoned women. Which leads to the question, can the psychological work that needs to be done to effectively help women offenders, be delivered within the criminal justice setting?

The closure of Holloway will move women further away from their families with women being moved being moved to HMP Downview in Surrey. This will result in higher travel costs and longer journey times for the families that do intend to visit. We need to capture the momentum from the closure of Holloway and seize the opportunity to rethink how women engage with the criminal justice system in the UK.

Visit Anawim’s website to find out more about their work on this issue and visit PACT’s website to support their ‘Hear Our Voice’ campaign.

The issue of immigration detention is particularly important to CSAN, which works with the Detention Forum, due to the values Catholic Social Teaching shows us. The two most fundamental principles are Human Dignity, which is an integral tenet of CSAN’s values and the Common Good.

What this means is that we are all equal in the eyes of God and we share the world and therefore share the responsibility for protecting our brothers and sisters in detention. It is this focus on the human side of this issue which pervades our work, where we see those who migrate to the UK as created in God’s image just like you and I. At an address at the Harmondsworth Detention Centre, Emeritus Archbishop Kevin McDonald described this concept as such, “we are closely bound up with one another and we are all closely bound up with the people who are living in Harmondsworth Detention Centre”.

In this way, we see that currently immigration removal centres (IRC) do not respect the fundamental human dignity of those indefinitely detained, especially those with mental health issues and those who have been tortured. Indefinite detention causes severe anxiety and distress, exacerbating the suffering of individuals who have fled their country. Furthermore, the uncertainty of not knowing when detainees will be released enforces unjust conditions which harbour lack of respect and dignity. The International Detention Coalition has found migrants are far more likely to accept and comply with negative immigration decisions if the decision-making process is seen as fair.

Detention Centre rule 35 requires detention centre doctors to report to the Home Office ‘any detained person whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued detention or any conditions of detention’.  It is in place to protect vulnerable detainees whose health is likely to be affected, those with suicidal thoughts or someone who’s been the victim of torture. However it’s not effective or cognisant of the fact that unnecessary detention exacerbates mental health conditions. The Jesuit Refugee Service, one of our member organisations, visits people with mental health conditions in detention centres every week. They recognise these people should simply not be detained. JRS serves refugees by advocating on behalf of detainees at Harmondsworth and Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre.

On a recent trip to Calais, a delegation from CSAN met a young Afghan boy who was detained shortly after arriving in the UK. Whilst in detention, he learnt his mother and father had been killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan and being in detention only made his grief worse. As a result, he now suffers from acute mental health issues and was noticeably distant when members of CSAN talked to him about his experience.

Some questions we should be asking ourselves, in the words of Archbishop Kevin McDonald: why do we have a proprietorial and territorial mind-set regarding the privileged lives a lot of us are able to experience in the UK? And how can a system such as ours, where people are indefinitely detained (the only country in the EU with this practice) exist in a so-called civilised British society? Both issues warrant a greater response than the conditions the government is currently imposing.

Importantly, the human cost of indefinite detention far outweighs the financial cost (approx. £36,000) which is more than the costs involved in housing people in the community. As Catholics, we are morally compelled to preoccupy ourselves with the indignities faced by people in detention and to address the injustices faced by thousands whose only ‘crime’ is taking the chance to live a happy, safe and dignified life.

The problem of food poverty and hunger in the UK is a long standing one, exacerbated in recent years. CSAN and its member charities have highlighted a number of factors which contribute to this reality in recommendations to the recent ‘Feeding Britain’ report published last Thursday.

The primary root cause of the growing reliance on food banks by thousands of people daily to meet their basic needs. An All Party Parliamentary Group inquiry into Food Poverty and Hunger called ‘Feeding Britain was created in April 2014, made up of a consortium of over 100 NGOs, community, faith and civil society groups, is the result of this broad consensus to achieve zero poverty in the UK.

The recommendations we made affect vulnerable children and adults alike and centre on addressing complex difficulties within the system, which lead to service users and clients in our network to often go without food. However the problem which affects children is most startling and is often hidden.

3.9 million children live in income poverty (defined as 60% below the average income) according to Magic Breakfast. And 1 in 4 children have one hot meal a day – their school lunch, according to research by Child Poverty Action Group.

A child’s education is affected by the impacts of child food poverty and hunger.

Catholic Children’s Society conducted research into hunger in primary school children and all head teachers reported there were children in their schools whose educational attainment was affected by hunger.

Catholic Children’s Society Westminster set up a crisis fund so that any teacher can apply to finance extra school meals, which priests can also apply for if a child suffering from food poverty is known to them.

Debt, lack of financial management, benefit issues (sanctions, delays, incorrect payments) and chaotic home lives, or a combination of all, can mean parents struggle to provide three healthy meals a day for children.

Unfortunately it is difficult to know how many children suffer in this way, as it’s not currently tracked and often parents are reluctant to admit to their child going hungry due to fear that social services will take their child or children away.

CSAN recommended to ‘Feeding Britain’ that projects should be explored, based in primary schools which often act as community hubs, to provide meals at least once a day during school holidays.

These hubs could also offer wrap around services which help address the root causes of food poverty and hunger. This is because Catholic Children’s Society Westminster also tell us that simply delivering food parcels is not the only way to address the problems of food poverty and hunger.

We therefore warmly welcome the report’s recommendation for a national programme targeted at eliminating child hunger during the school holidays and hope the Government act to tackle this crisis.

This recent report marks a positive development in challenging food poverty and hunger. The people our members work with have the support of Feeding Britain behind them to review progress of the recommendations, so that families don’t have to face the reality of going hungry.

Dr Philip McCarthy is the new CEO of CSAN who took up his post on 1 December

The concept of home and identity is particularly important at Christmas and yet there are still thousands of refugees and migrants risking the journey to Europe, especially as the weather gets worse, to reduce the cost paid to people smugglers.

CSAN has been working on immigration for a number of years. Most recently we sent a delegation to the ‘Jungle’ in Calais in September. The aim of the visit was to meet the people living in terrible conditions on a small strip of land near the French coast, and to hear their stories.

A 42 year old Afghan man named Ahmed fed our delegation with food from a restaurant he set up in the camp and refused to take money for it. This was typical of the generosity shown to CSAN throughout the visit. We hope we showed solidarity with him and the others gathered by sharing food, an act that makes us all equal.

We saw the camp through the eyes of our partners in France, Secours Catholique, who work every day to help make life a little bit more safe and dignified for more than 6,000 people who live in the camp. For instance, there were recent reports that asbestos has been discovered in the ‘Jungle’, used as building materials and surfaces to eat food from. With Doctors of the World, Secours Catholique have since successfully lobbied the French government to install standpipes for water, toilets and to arrange rubbish collections in the ‘Jungle’.

The stories we heard and lives we saw have laid the basis for our policy work on migration. Our advocacy work has centred on writing submissions to the Immigration Bill, which will be discussed in the House of Lords on 22 December.

At the recommendation of Seeking Sanctuary (a new charity working in Kent and headed by our member Ben Bano together with J&P Kent) and Caritas France, we’ve raised £7,000 which helped buy a new van to safely transport women and children and goods in the camp.

The Church values everyone’s right to live free from persecution and lead a productive life. Cardinal Vincent Nichols recently spoke out about the UK government’s response to the refugee crisis by saying “progress is slow, but the plight of refugees cannot wait.”

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) views the family as the basic cell of society and speaks of its sanctity. As Christmas approaches, it is significant to remember how Pope Benedict spoke of the Family of Nazareth in his 2007 address on ‘The Migrant Family’ and see the parallels with the fragility of the contemporary migrant family.

We look to CST to argue that asylum claims should be managed based on the human dignity of the migrant during the process of having a claim heard and in seeking integration into a new community. CST suggests a right and duty to enable migrants to have access to full social, economic, civic, political participation.

Immigration detention for purely administrative purposes and without time limit also frustrates human dignity through isolating the human person from the basic network of relationships (family, legal, work-based, spiritual) necessary for fostering basic human dignity. Pope Francis has made repeated visits to sites of detention to highlight his solidarity with those detained and to make these facilities more visible.

So, this International Migrants Day, let’s value the dignity and sanctity of the migrant family and welcome those who journey to our communities with open arms.

I was pleased to be at the well-attended event, ‘The definitive picture of poverty in the UK’ early on Monday morning at Central Hall Westminster where the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and New Policy Institute’s report ‘Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion’ was discussed. It seemed there’s a pattern of poverty running from childhood right through to supposed home buying age and that the lack of affordable homes is the main problem. Tom Mac Innes, Research Director at the New Policy Institute, gave a good overview of the top-line findings. Average incomes are only 2% higher than a decade ago; 21% of people are living in poverty this year after housing costs; and there are more under 25s in poverty than over 65s.

Tom also discussed how the term ‘in-work poverty’ has become well recognised and 21% of children are at risk of poverty in this category, even though unemployment is down to 2008 levels. Furthermore, children from families living in temporary accommodation will have their education affected by not getting at least five good GCSEs.

The problem doesn’t improve as young people reach working age as youth unemployment is also long-term problem which isn’t taken into account in recent employment figures. The trajectory of poverty continues after the first job you get says Julia Unwin, CEO of Joseph Rowntree Foundation. If you start working on a low wage, you’re more likely to stay in that bracket, especially if you work in a certain sector such as hospitality which doesn’t always pay employees the Living Wage. Shiv Malik, Investigative Correspondent for The Guardian, spoke about changing our strategy on asset building as under 45s won’t be able to buy homes like our parents did. Peter Kenway, Director of the New Policy Institute, added that people born after 1983/1984 are more likely to follow their great-grandparents who most likely didn’t own their homes either. That means I’m not likely to be able to afford my own home anytime soon!

Mark Littlewood, Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, told the audience about how some families spend up to 50% of their income on rent or a mortgage.  His most memorable quote was about how the UK’s cities are some of the most unaffordable cities to live in and that it’s “more affordable to live in Seattle than Swansea”. He continued that people need to go to foodbanks because of the knock on effects of the high cost of housing.

Dr Peter Kenway highlighted the social effects of poverty not captured in the report such as the stigma of simply being poor. As such, we live in a world where you’re expected to work your way out of poverty yourself. What’s more there’s an assumption in the government that if you work hard, you won’t be poor and can buy your own house. Unfortunately, the report highlights the levels of in-work poverty and the increasing number of people who cannot afford a mortgage.

One of the solutions Mark Littlewood points to is to liberalise the use of green-belt land, including who currently owns it, as there’s enough in the vicinity of tube and Overground stations in London to build one million new homes according to a report by the IEA. Shiv Malik said “to rent here is like being a third class citizen”, referring to the fact that after six  months of living in a private rented property in the UK, the landlord can throw you out, even if you haven’t committed a fault. He suggested turning current legislation on its head by creating private rental contracts which could not be broken if the tenant does not cause fault, for example by not paying the rent. He also pointed to building on new tracts of land to create new cities so “people don’t have to be poor and pay through the nose for Victorian housing”. Mark Littlewood added the impacts of the cost of living such as the tax on low-cost alcohol should be taken into account in government policy.

The discussion was so interesting we ran over time and I know I could have sat and listened to the panel and interesting questions raised for much longer. For tweets and comments from the day, use #MPSEUK15 on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

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