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Starting at the CJA: a blog by the CJA’s new Policy Manager

I am delighted to be joining the team at the Criminal Justice Alliance, an organisation I have known and respected for many years. But beyond its reputation, and that of its members, I was struck through the interview process about its commitment to ‘system-change’ across the Criminal Justice System.

I am no expert on management approaches, but the essence of System Change theory is that change can never be implemented partially, it must be delivered holistically to have any chance of making a significant, sustainable impact. This coupled with its ethos of ‘elevating’ lived experience, the principle that prevention is much better than cure and recognising the pervasive impact of inequality and discrimination and its centrality to the reform of the Criminal Justice System (CJS), really made this an enticing offer for me personally.

I have spent the past few years over the pandemic carrying out my own journey through the Criminal Justice System. Between 2020-22 I worked in the prison system as a consultant at two establishments supporting the delivery of recommendations from the Lammy Review to improve outcomes for Black, Muslim and Gypsy, Romany, Traveller people in prison. This was particularly fascinating as I was involved in the 2015 Young Review on improving outcomes for Black, Muslim and GRT young men in the prison system. The realities of delivering improvements for these groups was made manifestly clear delivering this work on the ground in two prisons.

I have also been working in Camden over the past two years supporting Police/Community consultation through its Safer Neighbourhood Board and its Stop and Search Monitoring Group. Having been involved in  number of policy level attempts to reform policing over the past two decades it was certainly a huge insight into the challenges of making police/community consultation more effective and representative. Particularly amid the biggest crisis facing the Metropolitan Police and policing generally for a generation.

What’s clear is that CJS reform is desperately needed but the conventional routes to the kind of system change that CJA advocates for seem more closed that at any point I can remember over the past 30 years.  This could be a cause for pessimism, but on the contrary, I see it as an opportunity for the CJA’s membership including the voluntary and community sector (VCS) and academics working in this space to realign its approaches in terms of influencing, partnership/coalition building, research, campaigning, policy development and even legal action.

I have seen aspects of this at CJA prior to my arrival attending the recent conference on CJA’s work around the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). Their toolkit to empower civil society organisations to be more assertive in utilising legislation and building partnerships with relevant lawyers to hold public bodies to account is a valuable and timely contribution.   That approach has been part of the culture of non-profit organisations in the USA, but not so much here. It was empowering to hear about VCS organisations in England and Wales asserting their positions through using the law as a tool to fight their causes with public bodies and the government.

On a personal level I am looking forward to writing a regular blog as part of my journey. To conclude below are a couple of recommendations that I have recently heard or read. Very Bad People is the inspiring story of Global Witness the Human Rights and anti-corruption NGO from its founder Patrick Alley. A tale that demonstrates how a few determined individuals can make a big difference on huge problems. The Hustle of Kim Foxx is a podcast focused on the first year in office of Chicago’s first Black female public prosecutor. Kim Foxx stood on a progressive ticket for CJS reform in a city with a history of high levels of violence, police brutality and embedded racism. It’s a great insight on an attempt to reform the system in a major US city.

I look forward to meeting more CJA members over the coming weeks and months either in person or online. The CJA has an ambitious strategy to ‘re-imagine, re-design, and re-build’ criminal justice system and I can’t wait to work with you to take this important work forward.


All the best.

Mark Blake, Policy Manager