Monday, 29 April 2013

Co-production : what does it mean in the criminal justice system?

Daniel Hutt


User Voice sits on the National Co-production Critical Friends Group (more here), a group of national policymakers, academics and researchers which acts as a source of thinking, challenge, collaboration and networking in the area of co-production.

Co-production is becoming more accepted as a way of service providers and service users working together in the public sector. But what does it actually mean? There are lots of definitions around, so as a Group we tried to come up with something that encompassed them all:
"Co-production is a relationship where professionals and citizens share power to plan and deliver support together, recognising that both sides have vital contributions to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities."
We hope that this definition is a clear description of the concept for those who are new to the term. And key to it was that if you are thinking of taking on co-production yourself, we would recommend creating a local definition.

Co-production exists in various forms, to varying degrees in a range of settings from health and social care to housing. But what about the criminal justice system?

User Voice was founded in 2009 because co-production in this area was almost non-existent. Some might argue there is a moral argument that differentiates criminal justice from other areas. People have committed a crime and therefore relinquished the right to be involved in decision making processes.
But if we want to reduce re-offending – and surely everyone does – then it makes business sense to include people who know most about how to do this. If T-Mobile executives designed a new mobile phone in an office without working with its customers and expected it to be a success then they would be laughed out of the boardroom.

Yet this is exactly the approach taken in criminal justice.

What does co-production in this context actually mean? How can it work?

Prisons and probation are often places where things are done to, rather than done with, service users – prisoners and offenders. But there are examples, which we have promoted and developed, of service users being involved in the co-design and co-delivery of services.

There are examples of co-delivery especially around peer mentoring in its various forms. And there are a number of forums and committees for people to get involved in co-design, such as wing committees and race relations representatives in prisons. But these have limited degrees of power, a crucial element of co-production as stated in the definition above.

So what we have tried to do is facilitate a safe and credible model of co-production that works in the criminal justice system. We haven’t reinvented the wheel, but we’ve made it fit. We use a ‘council’ model, with elected representatives meeting with senior managers to put forward proposals for change within prisons, probation or other related services and acting as a sounding board for new ideas or changes to existing provision. It doesn’t sound ground breaking, but when you see it in action (you can see videos here) the results are incredible given the traditional power dynamics of the system.

We are not advocating that people don’t deserve to be in prison or on probation for a crime that they have committed. They do. And we are not saying that the ‘lunatics should run the asylum’ – a charge so often levelled against us. What we are saying is that as a society, if we truly want our criminal justice system to help people reform so that when they come out of prison, they are less likely to commit another crime, then we need to include them in finding the answer.

Failing to include people only leads to further exclusion and desperation, igniting rather than easing anti-social behaviour, violence and criminality. Only by involving these people in the decision making process, can we give them what they need to make it back into mainstream society.

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