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Systems Change

Lived Experience

The importance of lived experience in building a better criminal justice system

The criminal justice system faces a range of systemic issues, and more than ever we need fresh, innovative solutions. People with lived experience – such as those who have been stopped and search, spent time in prison or been the victim of a crime – have unique insight into what works and what doesn’t in the criminal justice system. Our Change from Within report in 2019 found that people with lived experience bring enormous benefit to organisations working in the criminal justice sector. However, they face a range of barriers, from onerous and opaque vetting procedures to workplace cultures and environments that do not effectively support them to achieve their full potential as key influencers and decision-makers.

Lived experience is at the heart of our work and runs through everything we do. We regularly employ people with lived experience of the criminal justice system; we co-produce our work with people who have been directly affected by the issues we’re tackling; and we advocate for the meaningful inclusion of people with lived experience in the criminal justice workforce, including in senior decision-making roles.

Our work:

Lived experience leadership programme

Launched in 2022, the ELEVATE CJS programme aims to help emerging lived experience leaders progress into rewarding careers where they can influence change in the criminal justice system or other social justice areas. ELEVATE CJS (Elevating Lived Experience Voices Advocacy Training and Expertise in the Criminal Justice System) will also work with government and sector employers to remove barriers and develop progression routes into senior positions for lived experience leaders.

The ELEVATE CJS programme was informed by two years of peer research and was co-designed with members of our Lived Experience Expert group, chaired by CJA trustee CJ Burge. The programme was inspired by international models such as Just Leadership USA, which was researched by CJA Director Nina Champion as part of her Churchill Fellowship.

Find out more

Paid internships

We work in partnership with the Longford Trust — a charity which helps people rebuild their lives after prison through higher education — to provide paid internships for people with lived experience. Our interns have provided expertise on a range of projects, including helping to deliver our annual CJA Awards, conducting research on media reporting of criminal justice and assisting with policy work on race and gender equality in prison.

Lived Experience Expert Group

Our Lived Experience Expert Group is made up of individuals either leading or working for our member organisations who have personal experience of the criminal justice system. They inform our work on increasing the representation of people with lived experience across the sector and into leadership roles. The group is chaired by CJA trustee CJ Burge.

Contact us to find out more about the group and how you can get involved.

Change from Within

Our Change from Within report looked at the range of benefits people with lived experience bring to the criminal justice workforce; the barriers they face to working in the sector; and how they can be supported to progress. We contribute to the HMPPS Lived Experience Engagement Network (LEEN) to promote and support actions to increase the involvement and employment of people with lived experience in the criminal justice system.

Read the report