Re-imagining the criminal justice system

Re-imagining the criminal justice system

You wouldn’t make policy about health care without involving patients. You wouldn’t make policy about gender equality without speaking to women. So why do we make policy about criminal justice so often without involving people with direct experience of the justice system?

"It gives me great hope when I look at this next generation of leaders in our sector who will help re-imagine, re-build and re-design our justice system. They are thoughtful, reflective, resilient, creative and passionate."
Nina Champion

Multiple reports about policing, prisons, courts and victim services show the criminal justice system is broken. We urgently need more diversity of thought and experience in positions of power and influence to make the changes needed for a fairer and more effective system.

As one of the organisations I met as part of Churchill Fellowship, JustLeadership USA, says ‘those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but furthest away from power and resources.’ I was inspired by the incredible leaders I met in the United States who had been directly impacted by the justice system and were now changing laws, running non-profit organisations and influencing policy and practice.

Here in England and Wales, many people with lived experience [VM1] working in the criminal justice sector face personal, practical and systemic barriers to career progression. They might get work as peer mentors but are often pigeon-holed and do not receive support to move into leadership roles. The vetting for working in custody is often onerous and opaque, putting people off a process which can be re-traumatising and frustrating. Imposter Syndrome and lack of confidence can also get in the way of people applying.

Five years ago, I started as Director of the Criminal Justice Alliance (CJA), two years after I had completed my Churchill Fellowship. I wanted to help break this glass ceiling and develop a lived experience leadership programme inspired by my travels and learnings. Fast forward to January this year and our first cohort of 16 leaders started on their journey with ELEVATE CJS!

ELEVATE CJS is a London-based, comprehensive programme with online and in-person workshops, residentials, coaching, clinical supervision, shadow boards, senior level work placements and action research projects supervised by academics. The leaders have embraced the programme and are already seeing the results. Some have secured promotions or new jobs, gained places doing a Masters or PhD, won awards, spoken to big audiences and even given evidence to a select committee in parliament.

It gives me great hope when I look at this next generation of leaders in our sector who will help re-imagine, re-build and re-design our justice system. They are thoughtful, reflective, resilient, creative and passionate. I am truly privileged to spend time with them and learn so much.

Alongside my wonderful CJA colleagues, we have been fortunate to work in collaboration with many fantastic organisations delivering the programme including the University of Westminster, Spark Inside, The Forgiveness Project, Open Book Project at Goldsmiths University, The Longford Trust, Liberty, University of Greenwich and Lady Unchained. We have also had the invaluable advice, expertise and support of the trailblazing lived experience leaders on our advisory group who helped co-design the programme.

I am also grateful to the funders who have supporting this new and exciting project including Trust for London, the Lloyds Bank Foundation and the Churchill Fellowship’s Activate Fund.

The programme is also continuing the international connections. It was very special to have one of the alumni of Just Leadership USA, who I met on my Fellowship travels, Romarilyn Ralston, come to our first residential. Not only did she share her inspirational journey, she got us all up dancing to ‘California Love’ - one of the highlights of the weekend!

We were also honoured to have the Vice President of JLUSA, Ronald Simpson-Bey, also an alumnus of the programme, join us at the launch event. And the ELEVATE CJS Project Manager also recently went to South Africa as part of the Global Freedom Fellowship – a world-wide movement of lived experience leaders initiated by the Incarceration Nations Network.

We are currently looking for organisations in the criminal or social justice sectors to offer one-week senior level work placements to our ELEVATE CJS leaders. If you want to be part of the change, look here for more information and visit @ninachampioncja.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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