By Christopher Stacey, Chief Executive of Prisoners Abroad

In the first few weeks after joining Prisoners Abroad last year, I was pleased to see “Develop an EDI action plan” on our internal operational plan. Our current strategy includes a commitment to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion are the bedrock at Prisoners Abroad, so it gave me the opportunity to ask questions about what we’d done so far and where we thought we were as a charity.

Fast-forward nearly a year in post, I wanted to share some reflections as chief executive on equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Making a clear commitment

We understand EDI through the lens and context in which Prisoners Abroad is operating in. As a charity that supports people in and affected by imprisonment around the world, it is important to recognise that the system of imprisonment itself disproportionately impacts people from the global majority. Global majority is a collective term that refers to people who are Black, Asian, Brown, dual-heritage, indigenous to the global south, and who have been racialised as 'ethnic minorities'. Globally, these groups currently represent approximately eighty per cent (80%) of the world's population.

For Prisoners Abroad, that means we need to have a particular focus on increasing the proportion of our people that are from the global majority, as well as those who have lived experience of prison.

We encounter racism, stigmatisation, discrimination and unfairness in our daily work, particularly given society’s attitude towards those who are in or who have been to prison, and a significant part of our work tries to counteract the impact of this on the people we support.

As chief executive, I am proud to commit to the eight principles published by ACEVO (the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) on addressing the diversity deficit in charity leadership. These principles are part of the Racial Diversity in the Charity Sector report, done in collaboration with the Institute of Fundraising.

Reflecting on my role as chief executive, in relation to each of the racial diversity principles:

  1. I am personally committed to working to change the problem that the charity sector has with racial diversity. This blog, Prisoners Abroad’s published EDI commitment and our internal action plan are examples of this.
  2. I recognise as a leader the importance in modelling positive behaviour and taking action – so for me, this includes me taking the lead within our leadership team for EDI.
  3. I am always looking to increase my learning and understanding, including how racial bias impacts leadership decisions.
  4. The Prisoners Abroad EDI commitment and action plan makes commitments, and we will regularly update on our progress.
  5. A newly established EDI employee resource group is helping Prisoners Abroad as a staff team to learn, share and develop.
  6. We are committed to increasing the diversity of our workforce, including increasing the proportion of our workforce from the global majority.
  7. We have reviewed our approach to recruitment. We are a Ban the Box employer, and are a #NonGraduatesWelcome organisation.
  8. We have committed to increasing the proportion of our workforce with lived experience of the criminal justice system and overseas imprisonment.

Understanding the diversity of our workforce

To help us meet our aims and commitments around equality, equity, diversity and inclusion, we carried out a voluntary and anonymous survey of the staff team in December 2023, we did the same with our trustee board in early 2024.

In analysing the data, we compared where we are now with (a) where we were in 2021 (although given the changes made to the survey since the last time it was done, it is not always possible to make comparisons), and (b) where we are against the wider charity sector, drawing on the UK Civil Society Almanac for 2023.  

In doing the analysis, we need to be clear on its purpose – it is to help us understand and focus on establishing our commitments for the future.

The staff team showed tremendous trust in this process, demonstrated by a 100% response rate. Given the small size of our staff team, it is important that we ensure people do not feel like a statistic. We want to acknowledge and celebrate our diversity, ensure that everyone feels welcome, and given our size, one person can make big difference.

We want to increase our diversity, particularly increasing the proportion of our people that are from the global majority, as well as those who have lived experience of prison. For a number of years our trustee board has had diversity targets on gender, ethnicity and lived experience, and these have been helpful in driving progress. It would be foolish to think that setting arbitrary staff targets is the way to get there, however in our EDI commitment we provide commitments to our direction of travel. In addition, diversity and inclusivity is achieved in more ways than just direct representation in the staff team.

Prisoners Abroad needs to do more – as a service provider, a voice and an employer. We will strive to be open to challenge and feedback. I know that we will make some mistakes along the way and that’s okay – what’s most important is that we set ourselves a direction of travel, are transparent about our progress, and continue to listen, reflect, learn and improve. As chief executive, that is my personal commitment to our team, our supporters and most importantly, to the people we exist to serve – those affected by overseas imprisonment.

We have published our commitment on EDI on our website here.