Over 1,700 voluntary organisations work in the criminal justice system.
Voluntary organisations provide support in a variety of ways. Often they have been set up in response to local need and driven by the belief that their work can make a difference to those they work with, their communities and society as a whole.
Organisations range from volunteer-led groups to large, multi million pound organisations with thousands of staff. Many have both paid staff and teams of volunteers. Some only work in their local community, whilst others serve larger areas, including the UK and beyond. Clinks has an online guide to the criminal justice system (forthcoming) - a guide to the context in which the voluntary sector in criminal justice is working, how it works and who is involved.
What does the sector do?
The sector plays a unique and valuable role in engaging with, and highlighting, the unmet needs of some of the most excluded communities and those suffering multiple disadvantages - those which mainstream services often fail to reach. Their work is conducted inside and out of prisons, with some doing both, ensuring continuity of support through the prison gate.
The voluntary sector works in three main ways. The first, and by far the largest area of work, is service delivery to support individuals in the criminal justice system and their families. The second – often in combination with the first - is campaigning and advocating in order to reform the criminal justice system. Finally, there are self help organisations, set up to share experiences and support amongst peers, which are usually local and volunteer run.
Service delivery varies greatly. Some specialise in meeting the needs of a particular group of people, for example women, older people or people from particular ethnic groups. Others focus on a particular issue, for example substance misuse, debt advice or housing. Some groups focus on a form of intervention, the arts, restorative justice and so on. These organisations have expertise, knowledge and experience that make them crucial partners in the design, as well as the delivery, of services.
The voluntary sector supports and empowers individuals. Organisations support rehabilitation, reduce reoffending and improve community safety and community cohesion. More people work for voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system than the prison and probation services combined.
As well as responding flexibly to address unmet and changing need, voluntary organisations also share intelligence and develop innovative ways to address need. This intelligence is useful to commissioners, policy makers and others. Strong partnership, cooperation and communication between commissioners and the voluntary sector improves commissioning, and leads to more effective outcomes.
Whatever the future holds, the voluntary sector has an important role to play.
Information on hundreds of voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system can be found in the Clinks’ Directory of offender services. Use the directory to find organisations working in the community or in custody, or by geographical location. You can search by the type of service, who it is aimed at or both.
What makes it different?
Voluntary sector organisations have a diverse range of assets that set them apart from other sectors. They are advocates, campaigners, sources of vital information on people’s needs, a critical eye on existing services and innovators that drive service change. The voluntary sector can often respond flexibly to changing needs, and through campaigning and advocacy, highlight issues with models of delivery to the government, as well as developing solutions.
Most voluntary sector organisations in criminal justice are locally run. The local connection, in addition to the commitment and independence of the sector, can give credibility with people in the criminal justice system who may believe that the state has failed them. These factors can help the sector to build and maintain trust with a group that can be difficult to engage with.
Individual volunteer involvement can also be important - sometimes this will be the first time someone spends time with an offender who isn’t being paid to do so. Peer mentoring schemes have proved particularly effective.
The sector can be innovative and responsive to the needs of people and their communities. Its focus on the individual allows it to meet complex needs in changing circumstances before, during and after sentencing.
The state of the sector
Clinks' annual State of the sector research explores how voluntary organisations working with people in contact with the criminal justice system are faring.
Our research finds that organisations are working relentlessly to meet the ever changing and complex needs of the people they support, as well as navigating the often challenging environment in which they work. They develop new services, or change existing ones in response to need and work in partnership to share knowledge and resources. Clinks is concerned that available funding is not keeping pace with the rise in numbers of people in the criminal justice system with more complex and urgent needs. This has been a consistent finding, year on year.
As well as giving us much to celebrate in the creativity and resilience of the voluntary sector in the criminal justice system, the results from our research highlight much to work on. We want to see voluntary organisations continue to make a huge impact on people’s lives, supporting them to achieve their ambitions as they move along their desistance journey. In order to do this, the challenges organisations are experiencing need to be overcome. Clinks will continue to advocate on behalf of the sector ─ and by extension those it is dedicated to supporting ─ to ensure it can continue to make an important and lasting difference to people’s lives.
The history of the sector
The voluntary sector has shaped and reformed the criminal justice system for over 200 years.
Throughout its rich history, the voluntary sector has used its knowledge and expertise as a driver for positive change. From early steps to reform prison conditions in the 1800s, to more recent developments pioneering distinct services for women in the criminal justice system, developing support services for families of prisoners and championing service user led approaches.
The voluntary sector often leads the way in identifying and meeting need. In the past, some services have been acknowledged by the government and incorporated into mainstream statutory services. More recently, we have seen a trend to outsource these services to private providers, indeed they sometimes come back to the voluntary sector.
For example, the probation service began life as a voluntary organisation in the 1870s, when the Church of England Temperance Society appointed two missionaries to the London courts. As a result, the London Police Courts Mission was formed, working with magistrates to release people on condition that they kept in touch with the missionary and accepted guidance. Legislation in the early 20th century gave these missionaries official status as officers of the court – later known as probation officers.
After the First World War, debates about the respective roles of national and local government and philanthropic organisations continued until, in 1938, the Home Office assumed control of the probation service. In 2013, under the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, probation services were put to market, and in all but one out of 21 contract areas, were won by private companies.
The wider voluntary sector
The voluntary sector includes charities and non-profit organisations that are not registered charities. People also talk about the third sector and civil society, which is a broader term, incorporating all those that are not statutory or private sector, including Housing Associations, Universities, and Trades Unions.
In January 2018, the Charity Commission reported that there were more than 168,000 charities with a collective income of £75 billion. NCVO’s 2018 Almanac states that, in 2015-6, there were between 390,000 and 900,000 civil society organisations, with a total income of £200.1 billion. There were an estimated 166,001 voluntary sector organisations with a combined income of £47.8 billion. The sector employed around 880,500 people, many highly trained and qualified professionals.
The sector also attracts an estimated 11.9 million regular volunteers. Some organisations have multi-million pound turnovers delivering services nationally, regionally and locally, while others operate from premises which aren’t permanent and with no paid staff.
The voluntary sector is funded through grants from charitable trusts and the statutory sector, which also commissions services from the voluntary sector. Organisations fundraise from individuals, run fundraising activities and raise income from selling goods and services.
Clinks members are part of a network of an estimated 1,750 organisations whose primary beneficiary group is people in the criminal justice system. This network can also been seen in the context of a wider network of 4916 organisations who say that criminal justice is one of their areas of work (Source: TSRC).
Thousands of voluntary sector organisations, by the nature of their work, include as beneficiaries people in the criminal justice system.