Criminal justice sector gearing up to embrace brave new world

The criminal justice sector needs to up its game in the creativity stakes and start looking towards successful tech start-ups for inspiration according to Anton Shelupanov – associate director for innovation and project development at the Centre for Justice Innovation.

Accelerators and Innovation Time Off are all familiar concepts in the world of technological innovation. Gmail and Dropbox were, in part, developed using these techniques. The waves of technological innovation that have swept tech start-ups over the past fifteen years have very often relied on this type of early stage support in order to get started. 

There are good reasons why these techniques have flourished –the start of the journey from concept to prototype is often the most difficult phase of innovation. Just like a child is at his or her most vulnerable at birth, so it has been long recognised that new technology requires support early on so it can eventually stand on its own two feet.

This emphasis on early stage support, as additional to or instead of early stage investment, has recently been making its mark in the area of social innovation. Social enterprises and even more forward looking NGOs have begun using some of these tools in recent years, having learnt the lessons from tech-start-ups. 

Some of these organisations are using technology products to improve social problems— for example, creating an app to better inform patient choice. But there are also organisations like Talentino, a social enterprise, who recently used a technique borrowed from tech start-ups, accelerator support, to develop their work to turn the traditional career guidance model on its head. 

One sector which has not embraced this brave new world has been criminal justice. In our recent book, ‘StreetCraft’, we found that there was no shortage of creative people, good ideas and capacity for innovation but that, given the sector’s risk-averseness and constant firefighting, the help and permission to start innovating is often simply not there. And, crucially, we identified that early-stage support was critical but largely absent for those criminal justice practitioners who seek to take their new ideas to the neighbourhoods where they work. 

That is hopefully about to change. At the Centre for Justice Innovation, we are trialling early stage support for new innovators in the sector. The StreetCraft Scholarship Programme is helping four criminal justice practitioners at that crucial early stage, as they try to develop their more creative approaches to reducing crime, increasing public safety and promoting prisoner resettlement. 

Two of the Scholars are being supported through the world-famous Young Foundation Accelerator, and two have been granted the opportunity to take use Innovation Time Off by their organisations to develop their ideas with support from the national charity, Clinks.

So can one of our Scholar’s new ideas transform criminal justice practice, the way the iPad has shaken up the world of personal computers? We don’t know, but we think it’s possible and worth exploring. This is why, in the true spirit of social innovation, we are giving it a shot. Watch this space.


Photo credit: Flickr