It is important that the successes in operating during the pandemic are learnt from and the new tools and ideas that emerged continue to be used. However, the need to improve society goes beyond the pandemic-related issues.
Even during the days of lockdown, the murder of George Floyd and the resulting increased prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement gave a stark reminder of one of these areas that needs to improve – racial equality.
Clearly this is an issue that goes beyond the charity sector, however it undoubtedly has its part to play.
Belong: Making Justice Happen, a charity that works in custodial and community settings to reduce crime and the harm that it causes, faced up to issues around this topic and how coronavirus restrictions in prisons impacted on the fight to implement change.
“Further, in May 2020, just as news was emerging about the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people from Black, Asian and Minority backgrounds in prison, George Floyd was tragically killed in the US,” the charity’s submission to the Rathbones Covid-19 Award, part of the Charity Awards 2021, said.
“Belong staff and volunteers experienced first-hand the response of prisoners to the unfolding events of Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. Overwhelmingly, our team reported that these events had provoked discussions amongst service users in prisons. However, in many instances prisoners were reporting frustration at being unable engage in activities such as signing petitions, peaceful protests, debates and conversations, or to be meaningfully involved in change.
“As a result, Belong secured funding to collaborate with people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds in prison, in order to further explore their experiences during the pandemic, what they need to move forward, and how they can play a central part in initiating change for the future. The project was co-designed to leave a lasting legacy within the criminal justice sector, and to directly involve people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds in driving change forward.”
And the charity is already looking at its work beyond the pandemic.
“These consultations are the start of a vital, longer-term project,” it said. “How we react as a sector to the findings of this report and to the many others that are emerging is central to the legacy of the past year. If we let the Black Lives Matter movement disappear with the pandemic, we are doing a disservice to George Floyd and the many other Black men and women who have experienced racism in the criminal justice system, and to the thousands of people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Backgrounds who have died from Coronavirus, many providing vital frontline services. We are in a unique position to continue this collaborative response and continue to work with this demographic.”
Its work in the pandemic, including offering remote support, has allowed Belong to “develop and strengthen relationships with stakeholders and other organisations” such as the National Probation Service. It has also developed new relationships with local Pupil Referral Units and Youth Offending Teams.
All of this undoubtedly will help the charity continue its work as we emerge from lockdown.