Change Grow Live’s commitment to supporting people caught up in the criminal justice system goes right back to our approach as an organisation that believes in people.
People who have been involved with the criminal justice system sometimes come from a place where they haven’t been afforded much belief. Many of them face the stigma of being labelled as offenders, and may come from backgrounds affected by social inequality and injustice.
Fortunately, we are at a point where we can make a difference and begin to turn this around. The government’s drug strategy and Dame Carol Black’s report both have criminal justice running right the way through them. We are well placed as an organisation to ensure that recovery and treatment play a crucial role.
Within the last year Change Grow Live has launched four new dependency and recovery services across the country that are at the forefront of our approach. In Kent, Surrey and Sussex, Hampshire, South Yorkshire and the West Midlands, we have formed partnerships with probation services to better help people receive support for substance misuse. People will be referred by probation to our services, where they’ll receive support and treatment in the same way as anyone else accessing our services.
For some of those people, the support we offer will be exactly what they need to achieve their goals and address the actions on their rehabilitation plan. For others with more complex needs, we can refer them on to the support services that are right for them and their situation. We can connect them with treatment and opportunities that they wouldn’t have had before.
This is part of a much wider approach to transforming and redesigning how we work with people involved with the criminal justice system. This is an approach that can cover everything from the services we provide, to the language we use. At our service in the Wirral, we relaunched our criminal justice approach with our community integration team, clearly defining the goals of the service. We made sure that people weren’t spoken to or treated like they were offenders – they were people who used our services like any others.
People previously involved with the criminal justice system have often had the least amount of support to change their situations, and the least amount of hope. Of course you can argue that there is no such thing as a victimless crime, but we believe it’s for us to invest in their futures and work in partnership to look at the assets and skills people have as we support and empower them to achieve positive goals.
The challenge within the sector is to make sure that people who have been involved with the criminal justice system receive support that is responsive to their needs. Roughly half of people leaving prison have drugs or alcohol flagged as a risk factor for reoffending or harm, but the level of knowledge and expertise in supporting them has been diluted over the years due to funding cuts and outside pressures.
Innovative approaches such as the one being taken by our dependency and recovery services are incredibly positive steps towards criminal justice work becoming an intrinsic part of service delivery for the sector. Expertise and specialist knowledge are crucial, but they can’t stand alone from the rest of the support we offer.
It all comes back to tackling the idea of stigma and of people being defined by their labels – the idea that someone can’t access the same treatment as everyone else because they’ve been caught up in the criminal justice system.
It’s tough enough as it is for some people to take that first step and engage with a service, worrying about the stigma they might face, without also worrying that they’ll be labelled as an offender as well. By changing the way we engage with people, and by offering specialist support as part of our service delivery, we can help people to take that step and break that cycle of stigma.
Andrew Cass is head of community criminal justice and probation services at Change Grow Live.