Lack of innovation in justice sector deemed criminal

How can innovation flourish in a sector where risk management is paramount? Deputy director of the Centre for Justice Innovation Anton Shelupanov is determined to find the answer and shake things up in the criminal justice sector.

Health, education, ageing and city management are good examples of public services which have been good at improving the way things are done through applying the principles of social innovation. They are involving users and social designers in the devising of services and utilising techniques such as incubators, accelerators, Innovation Time Off and venture capital.

A year ago we wanted to test out some of these techniques in the criminal justice sector too. Traditionally, the justice sector has been slow to endorse social innovation, partly due to the fact that one of its primary tasks is risk management, but also because of its historically quasi-military nature. In writing the book StreetCraft: Stories from the Frontline of Justice Innovation we spoke with dozens of creative and inventive justice practitioners, who had the drive, imagination and inventiveness to affect change in their sector, although they may have lacked some of the tools and support structures necessary in order to express their creativity.

Enter the StreetCraft Scholarship – a three-month intensive training and mentoring programme where participants learn from experts and leaders in the field on how to set up, develop, scale and sustain criminal justice ideas. We wanted to see whether, through intensive support to frontline justice workers with new ideas, social innovation in the justice sector could take hold.

Innovation in action

Four projects were supported.

  1. Alex Crisp, at the time a serving police officer, wanted to develop a Crisis Intervention Training model to help reduce unnecessary and costly detentions of people in mental health related distress. He was already working on a different approach to mental health related incidents, pioneering a triage response car containing both a mental health and a police officer. Training all police staff to respond appropriately was the next logical but bold step.
  2. Leroy Johnson, a music entrepreneur, wanted to use his business to help justice involved young people steer a course away from crime. Basing his approach on his own experience of being in prison he wanted to add a social enterprise element to his for profit DJ booking agency and internet radio station.
  3. Lisa Rowles of the violence reduction charity Khulisa focused on developing a prison regime based on restorative principles. Her idea was the most ambitious. Khulisa’s whole community restorative approach has been tested elsewhere, but prison was a potentially challenging new setting.
  4. Roger Blackman needed to develop his social enterprise the Reasons Why Foundation offering an in depth understanding of the circumstances of young people’s offending alongside a highly intensive mentoring programme. He already had a sound structure, but few contacts with commissioners and other stakeholders at that stage.

We utilised two specific modes of support. Two of the scholars (Lisa and Alex) had consent from the heads of their respective organisations to spend 10% of their time pursuing their project, which was not core to the main business at this stage. This is known in the tech world as ITO and its outcomes include such famous innovations as Gmail. They also received development support supplied by the criminal justice infrastructure charity Clinks.

Leroy and Roger both won places on the Young Foundation’s Social Enterprise Accelerator – a four-month programme intended to propel and rapidly accelerate small but successful social enterprises, through tutoring, business support and social investment. The Centre for Justice Innovation also provided wider support in terms of understanding the policy landscape.

The scholars have now completed the programme. Did it work? All four scholars got to a point where, at the very least, they had prepared business cases to initiate conversations with commissioners. They perfected their theories of change, acquired a better understanding of the policy and commissioning contexts locally and nationally, became more strongly embedded in the ecology of social innovation, and were exposed to new methodologies such as crowdfunding. As a result, all four are much closer to implementing, embedding or expanding their projects.

So the early evidence suggests that this approach works, and that giving individual innovators within the justice sectors tools, platforms and support can place them on a level playing field with their peers in other sectors. But at present we only have one data point, promising though it is.

We are inviting applications from justice innovators to join the second cohort of StreetCraft Scholars, to commence their work in October 2015. We hope to continue to test out the two approaches (the Accelerator and Innovation Time Off), but we also hope to enhance the programme with other techniques. We will definitely focus more on developing theories of change, measuring impact and creating wider connections for the scholars. To send in your thoughts on what other techniques may prove beneficial, click here


Photo credit: Holly Victoria Norval