logo for Caritas LeedsCaritas Leeds, an umbrella organisation to bring together existing charitable and social action groups across the Diocese of Leeds, was launched in September 2017 www.dioceseofleeds.org.uk/caritas/

Marking the ‘Third International Day of the Poor’ in November 2018, an open meeting was held and invited to consider issues relating to people living with disabilities, homelessness, families and young people, prisoners/ex-offenders, with the aim of following the attendees hearing the points presented to the larger group they then voted on the strength of the case presented. This strategy was carried out to identify two Diocesan priorities which Caritas Leeds would lead on.

The two priorities which carried the most votes were prisoners/ex-offenders and families and young people.

An open call-out together with a targeted approach was made to gather people who were interested in exploring the issue of prisoners and ex-offenders. A steering group was formed which then became a group of Commissioners who would formulate the strategy for the inquiry and then engage in the collection of evidence.

A group of peopleThe 15 commissioners bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience from within the criminal justice system and included two barristers, a former magistrate, a former MP and cabinet minister, an ex-assistant chief constable, an ex-forensic psychologist and prison visitor, a prison chaplain, a chief executive of a charity working with ex-offenders and others with a variety of voluntary roles and experiences from the third sector. . All Commissioners were formally approved by Bishop Marcus.

A briefing paper was developed and approved by the Bishop which included the following aims for the inquiry:

-Increase Catholics’ knowledge and understanding of the UK’s criminal justice system and the experiences of people in our Diocese who encounter it.

-Explore and reflect on different models of restorative justice

-Encourage Catholics to take more action to support people encountering the criminal justice system and address the injustices they may face.

– Make practical recommendations for change.

A press statement was developed with the Diocesan Communication Officer which was picked up by the Catholic Universe and the Yorkshire Evening Post. A designated section for this inquiry was set up within the Caritas Leeds website: www.dioceseofleeds.org.uk/caritas/criminal-justice-forum/

This briefing paper also identified a strategy for site visits and or themed roundtable discussions with key stakeholders engaged in the criminal justice system which included the courts (crown and magistrates) personnel working within the legal sector, local authorities and policy makers, enforcement and prisons, probation and employment, faith and third sector agencies and the media.

In order to achieve a degree of consistency to the inquiry a template was created for commissioners to use to gather evidence. This had broad areas covering purpose, experience, challenges and successes, and change. Each of these broad areas had specific questions to aid clarification. Each contributor to this inquiry was invited to check the record of the meeting for accuracy.

Commissioners had twice the opportunity to review the reports collected with the purpose of identifying where they perceived a gap in evidence or a deeper approach is required. It also offered an opportunity to cross-reference the evidence gathered.

A public hearing event took place in November 2019 offering the attendees the opportunity to listen to testimonies from a senior member from the probation service, two different charities working with ex-offenders focusing on rehabilitation and employment, a senior police officer engaged in supporting victims of crime.

The audience took part in a quiz about the criminal justice system and discussions about what came out from the testimonies they heard and offered some suggestions for this inquiry.

A second public hearing was scheduled to take place in May 2020 but had to be cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Caritas Leeds secured funding from the Diocese to employ a person to carry out a thematic analysis of the evidence collected, write a formal report, and produce on-line resources aligned to the aims of the inquiry, the four target groups (prisoners, ex-offender, families and victims of crime) and draw up a list of recommendations for action. This employment through Heather Tomlinson started on 20th. April 2020 of a 6 month part time basis (15 hours a week).

There is also a presence on Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/CaritasLeeds

Caritas Leeds will be holding a public event on Monday 19th. October 2020 between 2.00-4.00 with contributions from the Bishop of Leeds and the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner. 

For further information please contact Rev. Dr. Joseph D Cortis, Coordinator for Caritas Leeds on joseph.cortis@dioceseofleeds.org.uk