CJA Members Meeting: Complaints
September 13th, 2019 by Keisha Bhamra.
The CJA Members meeting, held at the Foundry, highlighted the issues that persist regarding scrutiny and accountability in the criminal justice system and reassured the audience with the steps that are being made to pave a way forward in this realm. Sue McAllister, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) and Jo Farrar, Chief Executive of HMPPS, presented their work on the matters that surfaced.
McAllister has a background of managerial roles, and with 25 years of experience working for HMPS and her involvement in the investigation of Colin Bell’s suicide in 2008, McAllister now oversees the investigation of deaths within prisons and the complaints in custody, as of October 2018.
McAllister opened her presentation with statistics regarding complaints within prisons over the past year, exposing the disparity between people of different identities. Out of 4,968 complaints made in the last year, 38% were from black and minority ethnic people, 38% from LTHSE, 2% from women and 2% from young people. The latter two percentages in particular are problematic, as the percentages for complaints received by women and young people are disproportionate to that of the rest of the complaints. McAllister emphasised how complaints are a constructive and insightful tool used to better the conditions within prisons and the criminal justice system in general. Therefore, the standpoint is that complaints should be encouraged to be made, making them commonplace in the system.
McAllister suggested potential explanations for the lack of complaints received for such groups. She indicated that this may be a result of a lack of publication of the PPO, that prisoners with a shorter sentence may not bother with a complaint, as they will soon be released, or that young people in particular, have little faith in the criminal justice system and so, feel that it would be aimless. Such an array of potential explanations indicates a grey area as to why women and young people tend not to complain. However, McAllister reassured that this is being investigated.
The issue with the percentage of complaints from black and minority ethnic people created a different cause for concern, as it suggests that issues regarding inequality and discrimination continue to prevail the criminal justice system. However, this is where Jo Farrar has been pushing for diversity and inclusion, in order to reduce discrimination and unnecessary distress of BAME prisoners. Furthermore, Farrar outlined details of a new BAME focussed coaching scheme that is being introduced, in an attempt to diversify the organisation.
After McAllister and Farrar delivered their respective talks, a discussion was had with a panel of experts: Dame Anne Owers, National Chair of the IMBs, Khatuna Tsintsadze, Prison Programme Director at the Zahid Mubarek Trust, Katie Kempen, Chief Executive of the Independent Custody Visiting Association and Natasha Plummer, Head of Engagement at MOPAC. The panel collaboratively addressed some of the issues that both McAllister and Farrar had revealed about the nature of scrutiny and accountability in the criminal justice system. The group combined their expertise to conclude that in order to improve data and conditions for prisoners, we must invest in the voluntary sector. This is depicted by aiming to achieve outcomes first locally, as focussing on individuals in the system, like local governments, is the most progressive way to make a difference. Furthermore, when local community work is difficult to attain, better training and guidance within prisons is advised. Essentially, what the panel deduced from McAllister’s and Farrar’s points is that a change in the ethos of the criminal justice system would be the most progressive headway – that a rehabilitative standpoint must be emphasised, whereby a detainee orientated approach is taken. Katie Kempen in particular advocated for this culture change, adding that it is important for people to feel comfortable about complaining.
Whilst the CJA members meeting provoked some frustration from the audience about the issues that surfaced and moderate progression from the last meeting, the speakers reassured that such issues are being investigated, highlighting that it can be a difficult and extensive process to communicate policy effectively into practice. However, it is encouraging to see the concern and passion that many other organisations have for what they are doing, striving to work for change.
Written by Abby Kramer