Response: Scottish Parliament Justice Committee: Call for views: Draft Budget 2021 – 22

The Wise Group welcomes the opportunity to be share its views on the questions posed by the Justice Committee in advance of the pre-budget scrutiny on the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2021-22.

We believe that our work offers highly valuable insight into some of society’s most significant social and economic challenges, now more than ever.

The Wise Group is a leading social enterprise, working to lift people out of poverty. Every day we support our customers into jobs, work to lift people out of fuel poverty, and provide mentors for people coming out of prison to help build a better future. We collaborate with a range of partners across all sections of society to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of thousands of people and families every year.

  1. What is your view on the current trends in funding in the justice portfolio and the Scottish Government’s rationale for these? 

The longer term Smart Justice ambitions will remain at risk without a clear strategy which is appropriately targeted and funded. There is a clear need to move towards the creation of evidence led, needs based community justice services that support a change from custodial to non-custodial community based disposals and interventions. 

As an innovative, solutions focused service provider within the Justice Sector we are committed to support and contribute to the ongoing conversation and development of any future strategy.

We believe that using technology as an enabler, forming strategic partnerships and putting flexibility at the heart of programmes and procurement are core to recovery.

Specifically, funding needs should be prioritised within the following areas:

  • Backlog There is a need to address the backlog within the Justice System, particularly in respect of CPO’s and the resultant unpaid work hours and other activities which continue to accumulate.
  • Digital Exclusion Covid 19 has resulted in the vast majority of services and interventions being moved to remote and online delivery. As such there is a pressing need to secure funding to tackle digital exclusion. This will not only increase access to such services but will mitigate for any ongoing Social Distancing requirements and reduce costs associated with travel expenses, use of public transport and reduce carbon footprints. Moreover we believe that a ‘perception change’ is needed in order to realise and understand the value of equipping people with the right technology and equally the risk of not doing so.
  • Alternatives to custody When considering the continuing concerns around the prison population we believe it is vital to provide increased funding for effective non-custodial options as well as increased use of supervised and supported bail initiatives thereby significantly reducing the high remand population.
  • Data and Insight As a sector it is crucial that we engage with a rich body of data and insight towards prevention. Investment in robust data and insight will allow for prevention programmes to maintain a ‘person centred’ approach and enable programme leaders to build strategic alliances to augment their work. As such we would welcome further funding towards preventative spends in order that we can work upstream to reduce the number of people entering the justice system.
  1. What has been the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on the activities of your organisation and its spending requirements?
  • At the start of the national lockdown on 23rd March the Wise Group re-designed our service model overnight. We responded with pace and purpose by immediately moving to a “remote first” way of operating and transferred our service delivery to remote and online platforms to ensure the continuation of vital services to our customers and to protect the health and safety of customers and colleagues alike.
  • Access to prisons was halted, resulting in a loss of pre-release planning visits with prospective prison leavers. Vastly increased use of (and therefore increased costs) of the “Email a Prisoner” service allowed us to continue to reach out, connect and maintain service delivery at what was a worrying and stressful time for our customer group.
  • In order to smooth the transition for prison leavers we created “liberation packs” containing guidance, advice and contact details for mentors and other universal services and included vouchers to buy cheap mobile phones to help maintain contact and service engagement. Whilst proving successful, these also came with additional cost to our enterprise.
  • Having identified increased levels of anxiety and isolation, coupled with reduced access to universal services, the Wise Group designed and delivered Re-connect, a programme of online CBT to provide additional support to individuals across the social care and justice system. Accessible on a national basis, uptake was excellent and feed-back indicated that over 90% of participants found this to be a particularly valuable service. We believe this is a valuable addition to interventions in justice to support people address offending behaviour and reintegrate with their communities if appropriately funded as a preventive spend.
  • By necessity, collaboration and further improved partnership working with SPS, Scottish Government and Public Sector bodies was a welcome development from the unprecedented situation that all were trying to deal with and bodes well for future integration of complementary services.
  • With the move to home working, the health and wellbeing of our colleagues was a major concern and as a result we decided to put in place health, fitness and wellbeing packages for our teams. Again this came at additional cost to our business. It is also worth noting that despite the move to remote working for all colleagues, we still continue to carry the costs of upkeep and maintaining our premises throughout the crisis.
  1. What is the likely change to your needs in the financial year 2021/22 because of COVID-19 and more generally?
  • As court business starts to return to pre-Covid levels we anticipate higher volumes will result in increased demand for the national New Routes Mentoring service and other complimentary services provided by the Wise Group. This could have a serious impact on resources available to continue delivery of a high quality service.
  • With the continued uncertainty around social distancing and other restrictions we believe we will have to continue to utilise increased contact through “email a prisoner” with the relative increased costs that will involve is likely to continue. Our experience shows that crucial to effective engagement not only with our service but also with other vital services, is the face to face contact prior to prison release. To ensure best chances of reducing recidivism, we would suggest that funding be made available to create Covid safe meeting spaces within the prison estate to facilitate re-introduction of this vital element of successful throughcare.
  • The unprecedented required levels of Mental Health support being experienced at present are highly likely to increase, presenting our service with further challenges. One option to address this would be continuation and expansion of the Re-connect service referred to in question 2, delivered remotely, in a cost-effective way, at scale.
  1. How has your organisation adapted to working during the pandemic, what further changes are needed and what changes are you planning to retain after the pandemic has ended?
  • Except where local restrictions allow, we have switched our service delivery to remote and online platforms to support minimisation of the spread of the virus
  • With the default position of all colleagues working remotely, we have introduced well-being packages to support them.
  • We have used technology as an enabler to continue providing high quality support to our customers, however, we are cognisant that digital exclusion can be a major issue for people within the justice system and believe that this will have to be addressed to ensure that as we Recover, Renew and Transform, no one is left further behind in their journey away from crime
  • Although we will continue to utilise the “Email a prisoner” system, we believe that further efforts must be made to facilitate face to face contact with prisoners prior to release. This is crucial in ensuring continued and effective engagement with our services, resulting in improved outcomes.
  • We are keen to build the Re-Connect CBT programme as a valuable asset to support individuals dealing with Mental Health, Anxiety, Trauma and Isolation issues. Again we would re-iterate the value of this service as a preventive intervention.
  • Additional training for front line staff is likely to be a major requirement going forward particularly as they strive to support our customer base with many new and unexplored issues that the pandemic has spawned, particularly around mental health, addictions, trauma and loss.
  • We are keen that we do not lose any of the gains that have been made through lessons learned in response to Covid-19. In particular, the close collaboration, partnership working and can-do approach that has been brokered with SPS, Scottish Government, Justice Social Work, Local Authorities and other Universal Services. We will continue to build on these positives through and beyond the end of the current pandemic in a way that ensures better services and outcomes for all.
  1. What other matters and pressures on spending do you wish to bring to the attention of the Committee?
  • Whilst fully acknowledging the difficult economic decisions facing all governments due to Covid-19, we would urge the committee to consider the need for preventative spending within the draft budget for 2020 – 21. We believe there need to be higher levels of funding targeted towards non-custodial disposals where holistic wrap around support can be provided to help individuals deal with the issues that have brought them to the attention of the justice system in the first place such as trauma, poor mental health, ACEs, poverty and unemployment. Enhancing the support around CPOs (including “other activity”), Electronic Monitoring, and increasing the use of Supported Bail can all play a contributory part in reducing re-offending, reducing the prison population and creating safer communities and less victims of crime.
  • There is clearly a wider conversation to be had around future Justice Strategy and the rapidly developing Digital Justice Agenda. The Wise Group are well placed to support and contribute to that conversation, with many years of service delivery and innovation, and a direct connection to so many people who have been involved in the Justice System, are the experts in their own lives and know exactly what does and doesn’t work in treading the path to desistance.

To find out more about our work in justice, get in touch.