In this guest blog, Phil Bowen, Director of the Centre for Justice Innovation, considers Clinks’ role in highlighting issues to the decision-making powers in the criminal justice system from the frontline experiences of voluntary organisations, acting as their collective voice.
If it thinks about it all, when the general public thinks of the criminal justice system it tends to visualise police on the beat and maybe the walls and bars of a prison. Those with a more legal bent may think of our fine courthouses and our judges. Very few would think of charities and the voluntary sector. In my old job as a civil servant seeking to improve the criminal justice system, I confess guiltily that I don’t remember thinking awfully hard about the contribution the voluntary sector made.
Yet data suggests that over 60,000 people work in the voluntary sector to make the criminal justice system more effective and fairer. They help support victims of domestic abuse, they provide counselling support for young people at risk of offending, they help people get off drugs. As a nation, over £3bn is invested every year in our criminal justice system through the voluntary sector.
As a former gamekeeper turned poacher, I spend some of my time in the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster, trying to persuade Ministers, officials and Parliamentarians that we can have a better and fairer justice system if we could just harness more of the energy and evidence-based innovation of frontline practitioners.
Very often, I do so with Clinks by my side, highlighting the contribution that the voluntary sector makes. Though it is very far from all that Clinks does, it is a vital role in showing people in power that there is a better way. Not a better way in theory but out there in practice, making a difference every day. The role Clinks plays in providing a collective voice for all the effort and activity of the voluntary sector is crucial in the wider efforts of many people in society to make our justice system more effective and more humane.
As anyone working in criminal justice knows, the problems are large and the challenges mighty. Too many of our citizens’ lives are impacted by crime. There are too many victims, there are too many people in the criminal justice system. Recent policy changes may have driven ‘necessary’ efficiencies but, at times, warped the relationship between the voluntary sector, public services and the private sector. The cost-driven jargon of commissioning stands sometimes guilty of crowding out the values of humanity, decency and compassion. With a workforce under pressure - public, private and voluntary - and budgets shrinking while demand on those services continues to go up, it is ever more crucial that an organisation like Clinks is there to stick up for and fight for the voluntary sector.
On this its birthday, Clinks' purpose is as vital today as it was 20 years ago.