A Policy Entrepreneur Within Government Criminology Essay

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This paper assesses the success of the Corston Independent Funders Coalition, through the lens of Kingdons theoretical framework. After setting the context for the funders' open letter to the Lord Chancellor in June 2008, subsequent sections deal with CIFC itself, both in its set-up and operating phases, which ran from that date to May 2011 (when the Advocate's employment came to an end).

Success is principally assessed on the basis of evidence for external impact on the experience of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system, taking into account informed observations made up to the present day. Therefore, the internal dynamics of the coalition will be considered less exhaustively.

Positive achievements are identified, but it will be argued that CIFC missed the opportunity to generate significant structural change. A couple of alternative approaches will therefore also be discussed.

Context of Corston Agenda

John Kingdon's book Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies (Kingdon 1995) introduced the idea of three streams flowing in parallel in the process of policy formulation - Problems, Policies and Politics. His insight was that policy change would only take place when these three streams came together in a policy window. He expected policy entrepreneurs to be willing to invest their resources to cause these streams to come together and hence bring about change.

Problem Stream

Kingdon's problem stream addresses the question of how a problem may come to receive attention by decision-makers. Indicators point to the scale or changed nature of a problem; focussing events or crises or budgets bring a particular problem to prominence. Policy entrepreneurs invest their time and energy to keep problems on the agenda, as they seek to convince policy makers about the possibility and need for action in relation to that particular problem rather than another. "Problems abound out there…and officials pay serious attention to only a fraction of them." (Kingdon 1995, p114)

The initial indicator in this case was an exceptional concurrence of 6 suicides at HMP Styal between Aug 2002 and Aug 2003, in each case within a month of the women being admitted. The resulting report from the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman focussed attention on a system in crisis, stating that "virtually everyone with whom I have spoken has argued that the current use of imprisonment for women offenders should be reduced" (Shaw 2005, page viii). The policy window opened and, as Kingdon had predicted (Kingdon 1995, p174) given that this originated in the problem stream, government looked into the policy stream for a potential solution.

Policy Stream

Kingdon's policy stream concerns the process of selecting particular alternatives. He considered how members of the policy community debate one another's ideas within the policy primeval soup and found that it was much more likely that an issue would gain prominence on the decision agenda if there were an appropriate policy solution available, a solution which had been developed in some detail, technically feasible and acceptable within the value frameworks of the day. "It is not enough that there is a problem, even quite a pressing problem. There also is generally a solution ready to go, already softened up, already worked out." (Kingdon 1995, p142)

Baroness Corston was asked to review the treatment of vulnerable women in the criminal justice system and her report was published in Mar 2007. She made a total of 43 recommendations, some related to treatment of women within prisons, but others focussed on measures to reduce the use of custody by alternative sanctions and the wider use of women's community centres, following the example of a small number of centres like Asha and Calderdale (Corston 2007).The policy solutions were technically feasible and relatively detailed, despite the report itself being produced quite quickly.

Political Stream

Kingdon's third stream is the political stream. He found evidence that the national mood promotes certain ideas and constrains others, that this mood can be perceived by actors involved in policy formulation and that it can change (especially with changes in government or key personnel). This perception may be influenced by organised political forces, especially by the creation of coalitions, which influence how decision-makers may regard the relative strength of support or opposition. Decision makers are understood to be making a calculation of the costs and benefits of following a particular course of action. "The political stream is an important promoter or inhibitor of high agenda status." (Kingdon 1995, p163)

If the problem and policy streams were coming together, by the summer of 2008 the political stream was still missing. Though the government had accepted 40 of 43 recommendations (at least in principle), the national mood was not conducive to this change. Corston knew this would be a risk: her report quotes Lord Phillips, Lord Chief Justice, lamenting what he regarded as highly unfair reporting in the tabloids, especially in relation to sentencing guidelines, despite higher than European-average prison numbers in England and Wales (Corston 2007, page 68). So appointments were made and new committees were put in place, but no new money was available and given the sheer number of recommendations, government could talk about 'implementing Corston' without having to be too specific about exactly what that meant. Five years on from the original suicides at HMP Styal, it is no surprise that the problem began to fade in the political consciousness, as Kingdon would have predicted. By summer 2008, the Corston Review was perceived to have been shelved, not least by the funders who would create CIFC.

CIFC at work

Kingdon describes policy windows as opportunities which arise when the three streams come together, usually only for relatively short periods of time. All three streams need to be present together and, in almost all the case studies he researched, he identified a particular person (or group) who played a central role, which he labelled a policy entrepreneur (Kingdon 1995, p180). In Kingdon's terms, the challenge in summer 2008 was for someone to create a receptive audience within the political stream for Baroness Corston's policy recommendations.

A Policy Entrepreneur within Government

Kingdon expects policy entrepreneurs to invest their resources in understanding problems in a particular way, drawing attention to problems and then keeping those problems on the agenda (Kingdon 1995, p115). Successful policy entrepreneurs are likely to exhibit particular qualities: a claim to a hearing (especially via particular expertise or decision-making authority), political connections and persistence (Kingdon 1995, p180-181).

Maria Eagle MP fulfils some of these characteristics, having been appointed as Ministerial Champion for Women and Criminal Justice. She responded immediately to the June 2008 letter and invited the funders to meet with her and subsequently with the cross-departmental Criminal Justice Women's Strategy Unit. In the summer of 2008, no new money was available but by early 2009, Eagle had secured £15.6m for the purpose of developing a national network of women's centres, having argued her case at least partly by reference to the funders' open letter (Kaufman 2011, page 11).

Eagle asked CIFC to help with the grant-making process (bringing skills and experience which Civil Servants lacked). However, her announcement that CIFC were match-funding (despite being immediately denied) reveals that a significant government motivation in collaborating with CIFC was financial. In fact, this is hardly surprising given how the June 2008 letter offers "to commit further funds", expresses concern "about whether sufficient resources have been allocated" and finishes by asking "in what way we can support" (Elwes et al. 2008). Therefore, it was easily read as an offer of financial assistance, even if that is not what was intended. Kaufman describes Eagle as a "tireless champion of change" (Kaufman 2011, p9), and one wonders (though no evidence has been found for this) if she were also the one within government who tipped off the voluntary organisations in summer 2008 about forthcoming announcements, as she tried to find a way of prising open the policy window.

Collaboration and Coalition

As described above, Kingdon believed that coalitions could be used to influence decision-makers as to the relative strength of support or opposition, not least by making a policy sound more popular. However, the funders took too long to create the coalition such that it was more than a year before their Advocate was appointed in Sept 2009. Of course, this was for good and understandable reasons - the desire to cooperate and to be democratic; the lack of experience of joint working; the need to define which organisations would provide funding and on what terms. In particular, the novelty of funder advocacy in the UK exacerbated this delay, as the funders sought to find a way of working which neither 'stepped on the toes' of other voluntary sector organisations nor relieved the government of its spending obligations. Without this approach, it is unlikely that the coalition could have been established.

However, while some of the interviewees described the process as having been "rather painful" (case description, p5), the more significant consequence of the bureaucracy was delay. Kingdon conceives of policy entrepreneurs lying in wait for problems to come along, to which they can couple their preferred policy solutions, like "surfers waiting for the next wave" (Kingdon 1995, p165). Hence, this aspect of his analysis is all about timing: policy entrepreneurs need to be ready to seize the opportunity. However, CIFC was not prepared and ready to capitalise on the opportunity when it came in summer 2008.

Creation of a Policy Entrepreneur outside Government

CIFC's appointment of Antonia Bance as the Advocate with effect from September 2009 may be understood as the deliberate creation of a policy entrepreneur. She fulfilled the qualities that Kingdon expected to see (Kingdon 1995, p180): she would speak on behalf of a significant portion of the voluntary sector with criminal justice expertise; she would be able to devote significant time and energy (on the basis of a full-time position, with further support from multiple others); and she came with political experience of advocacy (previously on behalf of Oxfam).

However, rather than being able to focus on addressing the 'national mood' in the political stream, she was almost immediately involved in negotiations around WDF1, both within CIFC and with government. Not only had it taken CIFC a full year to make the appointment, but the first months of the job were then invested in recovering the £1m underspend which had been identified and negotiating the match-funding from within the coalition.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that government highly appreciated dealing with a single named negotiating party and that Bance performed one of the key contributions of a policy entrepreneur by brokering a deal between the funders and government. Without her involvement, it seems rather unlikely that this budget would have been protected.

Match-funding

WDF 1 established an important precedent, leveraging a specific government budget and establishing a role for the voluntary organisations in grant-making. Without the experience of WDF 1, it is unlikely that WDF 2 would have made progress, when funding concerns emerged beyond March 2012. This set another important precedent, leveraging an additional £1.6m of 'new' money and extracting important policy commitments from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

Some consortium participants worried that they were relieving the government of its financial obligation to fund important work, so the decision to make finance available from the funders was controversial. However, it was precisely this step that leveraged additional government budget, so in purely pragmatic terms, this was money that would otherwise not have been forthcoming and for which CIFC should take credit. Existing budgets were protected and new money negotiated; the centres have remained open for longer than they otherwise might have done.

Government Change

By the time the CIFC strategic plan was eventually finalised and agreed in April 2010, a general election was imminent (May 2010). The immediate priority was to maintain progress with a new government minister, since change of government or key personnel is one of Kingdon's classic triggers for a policy window to close (Kingdon 1995, p153). Bance was able to meet with the Shadow Prisons Minister prior to the election and this transition was managed well, with little perceived change in the official government position.

Measures of Success

The stated goal of CIFC was to reduce the numbers of women in prison, by establishing politically-acceptable, well-funded community solutions for non-violent women offenders and ensuring that sentencers used them. This is a more narrowly focussed goal than the Corston report itself (with its 43 recommendations) and was clearly a highly ambitious target to set for such an intractable, one might even say 'wicked', problem. Nevertheless, despite this high bar, the self-imposed goal is taken as the starting point for assessment before turning to other achievements.

Lower Numbers of Women in Prison

The review by the CASS Centre for Charity Effectiveness found little progress to have been made in influencing sentencers, but avoided drawing conclusions on CIFC's impact on the women's prison population overall (Kaufman 2011). However, recent statements by other informed observers reveal a consensus that almost no progress has been made on this goal (for example, Allison 2012, Crook 2012, Morrison 2012). Hardwick (the current HM Inspector of Prisons) pays tribute to the efforts of CIFC but admits that the structural problems have not changed, with too many vulnerable women serving short, disruptive sentences (Hardwick 2012). The Ministry of Justice believes that the Corston report has been "mostly accepted and implemented" (Vallely 2012) but Baroness Corston herself disputes this claim, saying rather that "things are going backwards" (ibid).

New money (WDF 1 and 2)

Nevertheless, the agreements reached between CIFC and government should not be over-looked in relation to both WDF 1 and WDF 2. It is simply extraordinary that a consortium of voluntary sector organisations were able to be treated as an essentially 'equal' partner in these negotiations: CIFC established a platform together that would not credibly have been afforded to any individual organisation.

Changing Attitudes

CIFC was responsible for keeping the Corston reforms at least notionally on the political agenda for a longer period of time. As a result, official government policy, as measured by the NOMS Commissioning Intentions for 2013/14 (Ministry of Justice 2012, p17-18) continues to recognise women as a group of offenders which requires specific strategies.

However, it seems that CIFC did not succeed in changing underlying attitudes and government commitments remain fragile. HM Inspector of Prisons still warns that current budget cuts threaten the financial sustainability of the women's centres (Hardwick 2012). The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishing Offenders Bill (LASPO) has now been passed without reference to women offenders and disbands the cross-departmental criminal justice women's unit in Parliament, which Baroness Corston describes as "extraordinary" (Morrison 2012).

Learning to Collaborate

It has been argued above that the amount of time taken to create the CIFC consortium was detrimental to its ability to influence policy. However, the outcome of those discussions represents a potential blueprint for future joint working. When the need arises, in the next policy window, a future consortium could be in a position to act much more quickly on the basis of their prior experience in CIFC. In addition, many of the participants reported that they had benefitted from the experience, formed better networks and developed personal skills. These gains also represent success for the coalition.

What else could CIFC have done?

National mood

Kingdon observed that policy ideas tend to pick up momentum, both within both the policy and political streams (Kingdon 1995, p161). Especially in the political stream, there comes a time when the 'bandwagon' starts rolling, when participants become more willing to compromise (to avoid being left out of the game); once that 'tipping point' is reached, there is potential for consensus to build very quickly.

This paper has argued that CIFC did not bring about the tipping point that could have led to policy change on a significant scale because of a failure within the political stream. The relevant policy community of academics, practitioners and voluntary sector organisations concurred with the Corston Report agenda: to them, the need to address sentencing policy for vulnerable women was self-evident. However, this view was not established within broader public opinion. Referring to the many reports (including Corston's) that advocate a reduction in the use of punishment, Faulkner writes: "Some politicians will accept them in private, but others continue to dismiss them in public as unrealistic, liberal and elitist" (Faulkner 2010, p23-24). In the same vein, Saint-Germain and Calamia give a title of "Punishment as Good Politics" to their discussion of the political stream (Saint-Germain & Calamia 1996, p64). Public opinion expects an emphasis on punishment.

Yet despite that context, voluntary sector organisations in general (and CIFC in particular) have continued to invest their time with politicians and civil servants in Whitehall, rather than engaging in activities designed to shape public opinion. Though writing before CIFC was established, Ryan for example, cites the lack of support given to a public protest by Pauline Campbell outside HMP Styal in Feb 2008 in this respect (Ryan 2008, p26).

Budgets

With all government budgets under pressure in the current period of austerity cuts, CIFC's perceived offer of money made them attractive partners. Government was happy to encourage alternative provision of resources from the voluntary sector. However, looking forward, Faulkner expects austerity to imply that new money will increasingly not be available for central government policy initiatives (Faulkner 2010, p21).

This is clearly unwelcome news for those seeking to influence Whitehall to implement their favoured projects. However, it also represents an opportunity because Kingdon observes that budgets have a special place within the problem stream (Kingdon 1995, p106). Though most often a constraint, budgets can also act as a promoter of an issue when rising costs come to be regarded as the fundamental issue, implying that policies are reviewed against a single criterion: their potential to save money.

In the context of public opinion focussed on punishment, Evans and Walklate consider that tight budgets might indeed be the basis for a reconsideration of policy in relation to women offenders: "This turn… will not be generated from within the ethos of holism that featured so strongly in Corston, but will be driven instead by cost-effectiveness" (Evans & Walklate 2009, p11). CIFC could have advocated for the Corston reform agenda for its ability to deliver cost savings, rather than for its own inherent good.

Conclusion

CIFC did not succeed in 'changing the game' because the political stream was missing, but additional government money was leveraged and the Corston agenda continued to receive attention for longer than would otherwise have been the case. The funders learned lessons in how to operate a coalition and it is to be hoped that this learning will be put to good use in the future, so that a future coalition might be able to seize the opportunity. However, a future coalition will need to give more focus to public opinion and may benefit from recasting the issue in cost terms.

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