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CJA Inaugural Academic Symposium 3 March 2023  

Earlier this month the CJA, along with its partner University of Westminster, held its first academic symposium on the theme of improving trust in the criminal justice system and research. Over 100 delegates were in attendance, including academics, voluntary sector practitioners, statutory bodies, campaigners, people with lived experience and students from across the UK. 

CJA Director Nina Champion opened the event highlighting one of the CJA’s strategic objectives to facilitate system-change through hosting spaces that break down silos and encourage collaboration. These silos exist across the criminal justice system: between policy, practice, research and lived experience; between the voluntary and statutory sectors; and between people in different geographical regions.  

This blog summarises some of the key themes which arose throughout the day.  We welcomed ten speakers to address questions and pose provocations around the topics of trust in the criminal justice system as well as confidence and trust in academic research.

Trusted research

‘How do we gain trust? At Goldsmiths Open Book for the Zahid Mubarek Inquiry, we had focus groups run by our Open Book students, who reflected the histories of the participants. This lessened the mistrust from the outset, but of course not totally. The problem we’ve got however, those with the backgrounds we are talking about, are still massively underrepresented in our universities.’

Joe Baden OBE, the Founder of The Open Book Project at Goldsmiths University

Joe spoke of the need for researchers to be authentic and address the power imbalance between researchers and participants; the responsibility to use research to affect change and the importance of widening access to academia. 

Paula Harriott (Prison Reform Trust) gave a passionate talk on the need to involve people with lived experience in any process to rebuild trust in the criminal justice system. She asked:

‘How is knowledge produced? Who controls knowledge production? Whose knowledge matters? Who controls who hears our knowledge? Who writes about prisoners? Who designs research? Do other people view us through their own lens of power, privilege, moral values, frameworks, perspectives?’

She spoke how the feeling of being ‘participant A’ in research, like a ‘lab rat’ being investigated for their vulnerabilities and trauma. Paula argued that to build trust in research there needs to be knowledge equity, a focus on researching issues that matter to people who have been directly impacted and an emphasis on researching their strengths and the conditions needed to drive systemic change. The research must also be used to drive change and improve outcomes, not merely as an academic piece (such as a PhD). She asked academics to consider the key question:

‘What is the purpose of your research and how will you use it to drive systemic and cultural change?’ 


Dr Tamar Dinisman from Victim Support outlined why a broken system in relation to victims can result in a lack of trust.  In particular, she highlighted a lack of trust in reporting rape:

‘Would you advise a friend to report a rape to the police? Only 40% of crimes are reported and one reason is lack of trust in criminal justice system. Overall justice outcomes of reported crimes are 7%. If we look at rape, only 1.7% of all reported rapes reached a justice outcome last year. Half of victims of rape who reported it decided not to go ahead with process.’ 

She also detailed other ways in which trust is broken, including poor police treatment of victims; the lack of firewall for victims with insecure immigration status and lack of language support meaning victims do not receive the entitlements under the Victims Code, and the long wait for justice with some victims waiting up to five years for a court hearing:

‘Good treatment is first to be believed and second to be treated with respect, and that their experience will be validated. However, we know victims of domestic abuse and rape do not get this kind of treatment and victims from minority communities and minority groups don’t get this kind of treatment. In the victim’s code, there is a set of entitlements, however we know many victims do not receive this level of support.’


Donna Murray-Turner, who sits on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s Turnaround Board, shared her experiences advocating for Black communities around policing in South London. She posed the question ‘why should we trust the criminal justice system?’ and detailed the reasons for the ‘endemic lack of trust’. 

She described the recent focus on policing and misogyny hitting the headlines as it is now impacting white women:

‘On behalf of Black people, we are relieved. The things we have been calling out as mistreatment within the CJS have all of a sudden meant everyone is agreeing because they have experienced it. It’s not just us talking about stop and search and use of force on us, it’s now affecting middle class white women who just want to go about their business.’

She went on to describe how this is compounded by the lack of social support structures and services which mean communities are essentially supporting themselves, adding to the lack of trust:

‘We have to stay in the communities where our trauma is reoccurring. The system does not work for us. So, if it is not working for us, then let’s talk about how we break it down and turn it around, so women everywhere won’t take five years to get justice over a rape. So that people of colour can get the same justice as their white counterparts, so that Black children feel safe approaching a police officer without the fear that they will be profiled and treated, not as a victim, but as a perpetrator.’

Dr Ben Bradford described one definition growing in popularity: ‘to make yourself willingly vulnerable to that institution under conditions of trust.’ He explained that we call the police because we have positive expectations and evaluations of what they will do to help/support. We believe that they will be well intentioned and competent. However certain groups in society have different expectations and evaluations due to their experiences and therefore they will perceive it to be riskier to make themselves vulnerable. If you have low levels of trust, you are less likely to call the police.

He argued that we need to see trust as a process, a continuum, a spectrum. He also identified the difference between trusting individuals and trusting institutions and the interplay between them, as well as the role of vicarious trust, i.e. through hearing the experiences of friends and family or through the media. This means that you might trust a particular neighborhood officer, but not trust the police as an institution:

‘That is why recent scandals from the top and centre are so destructive. We need to trust the institution of the police. The solution to build trust is often seen as being down to individuals and neighbourhood policing, but we need to think about building trust in the centre.’


Professor Nick Hardwick (former Chief Inspector of Prisons) detailed the emerging ‘car crash’ facing the Prison Service- with estimated prison numbers over the coming years expected to outstrip prison places, combined with a system unwilling or unable to wean itself off the notion that harsher sentencing will make our society safer.

‘The long-term prison projection by 2027 is 94K and at top end of scale is 103k. There is absolutely no way that they can recruit the staff to provide the services that are necessary to manage that size of population, so there is a car crash coming. [..] What’s driving that increase? First an increase in police numbers, also the fact of giving longer and longer sentences for more serious offences. What is driving that demand to give longer sentences? I would argue it is a lack of trust. It is a lack of trust in the system. If we don’t trust the system to join up, if we don’t trust the system to treat people with respect, then you are left to fall back on lock ‘em up for longer and longer.’

Prof. Hardwick went on to propose that this ‘catastrophic, but understandable break down of trust in the CJS has created the conditions for the injustice and penal populism, which is driving the increase in the prison population, that will actually make us less safe.’

Hindpal Singh shared the results of HM Inspectorate of Prisons research into the experience of Black people in prison. The research found that Black people have far lower levels of trust in the system than White people.  He queried ‘Is it ever possible to have trust in a prison environment?’. He further explained the added complexities involved in measuring and building trust in custody, given officers must be alert to, identify and calibrate risks, but also must show trust in order to support rehabilitation. Staff have various tools to help them measure risk and trust – from assessment tools like Oasys, to personal intuition and instinct. The research shows that a more creative and different approach is needed going forward to build trust between staff and Black people in prison.

Young adults and language

‘From a young age my first experience of police was them kicking down the door, dragging my brother down the stairs, my mum screaming and them telling her shut up. It builds resentment. You think these people aren’t here to help. It builds mistrust.’

Nadine Smith and Karene Taylor from Leaders Unlocked called for the CJS to take a 360 perspective of young adults and to treat them as a distinct group. They shared their childhood experiences of witnessing police raids on their homes and the impact of trauma, which in turn led to mistrust, especially as this trauma wasn’t acknowledged or addressed.

They also highlighted that racial disparities in sentencing (‘same crime, different time’), which they experienced and witnessed, destroys trust.

They called for children and young adults who witness violence at home or are neglected or exploited, to been first seen as victims. They also described the importance of language and treating people as humans: 

‘I’m hearing the term prisoner – what about person in prison? I’m hearing offender – you mean person, human being. Once we start humanising and seeing people as individuals, they will be more receptive. Treating and talking about people as humans, whether it is researchers, or staff in prisons or probation, would help build trust.’

Lastly, they called for recommendations about how to fix the broken criminal justice system to be implemented, as lack of action and accountability breaks down trust: 

‘Imagine the CJS is a car. Would you keep driving a car that keeps breaking down all the time? If the system is broken and there are recommendations to make it better, then fix it. There are so many reports, but how many recommendations are actually done?’


The afternoon saw a host of different workshops and a system-mapping session. Attendees got into Blue Peter mode with post its, pritt stick and pens to collaborate and discuss where in the system trust was being broken, where it was being built and visualise what a re-imagined trusted criminal justice system would look like.  

Next steps

We are collating our discussions and findings from the day, including producing a designed version of the coproduced system-map. A compendium will be published and recommendations made for change to improve trust in our criminal justice system and confidence in research.

Next year we will hold our second symposium on the theme of a Safe criminal justice system, outside London. If you/ your academic institution are keen to host the symposium, please contact our Policy Manager

You can be a member of CJA- either as an organisation (charity, CIC, social enterprise) or as an individual academic member. Find out more: Becoming a Member | Criminal Justice Alliance