There is a strong misconception that remains across governments, policy makers and the public that volunteering is simply a free resource that can be used to fill gaps in provision. The voluntary sector wants to challenge this view, especially at a time of upheaval and change across European policy landscapes.
Volunteering is not an add-on or a free resource. It is not limitless. Instead it is ‘adding value’ and complementing existing services, but to do this there has to be appropriate investment. Our research has shown that volunteering only works when there is a high regard in the value of volunteers from ‘the top down’ and where there is buy-in from officials and statutory organisations alike. Volunteering plays a key role across the Criminal Justice System (CJS) not just here in the UK but more widely across Europe, however the extent of this contribution varies significantly from country to country, and from Western to Eastern member states.
The recent study conducted by the Justice Involving Volunteers in Europe (JIVE) project, led by Clinks, aims to plug a gap in the Policy Agenda for Volunteering in Europe (PAVE) recommendations produced at the end of the 2011 European Year of Volunteering where criminal justice failed to receive any recognition. Little research has been carried out in this area before and certainly not to this scale, so the results of the JIVE project’s study forms a ‘baseline’ and paints a valuable picture of the current value and contribution of volunteers and the organisations that involve them within the criminal justice systems across Europe.
The report, ‘The role and value of volunteers in the Criminal Justice System - A European study’, provides a broad definition of the term ‘voluntary work’ and defines it as ‘civic engagement without pay’. Volunteers operate in a wide variety of settings in the CJS, from courts to prisons, from the community to working with the voluntary sector. The nature of work carried out by volunteers varies even more where support is given directly to people in the CJS their families, and the victims of crime. The respondents came from a broad range of areas including prisons and ministries of justice, voluntary sector organisations, infrastructure/umbrella organisations, as well as research institutes. The rich data that has been gathered and presented in the report highlights what is currently working well and what is not. This will make member states more able to build a dialogue around volunteering, and lobby for positive change.
The study argues that only by expanding and encouraging involvement of volunteers, and capacity building volunteer involving organisations (VIOs) in the sector, can we begin to reform prisons and probation services, effectively rehabilitate (ex) offenders and guide them through their desistance journey by giving the necessary care and support to themselves and their families.
Overall, the data from the study indicates that VIOs are moving towards further improving standards in areas such as selection and training, quality management and motivation of volunteers. The key findings suggest that the role, practice and involvement of volunteers is gradually modernising but, interestingly, it also suggests that volunteering needs to be encouraged to ‘move towards becoming a key social networking activity grounded in a commitment to civic engagement’. The key findings have been divided into common issues and themes:
- Adapting training to meet needs
- Training and support
- Motivation and reward
You can view the Key Findings by downloading the main report
The study argues that for these issues and themes to be effective there needs to be better and stronger co-operation between parties; cooperation between the CJS and the voluntary sector, avoidance of working in silos, cooperation between volunteers and their organisation, and finally cooperation between volunteers and paid staff. These key findings have informed a series of recommendations that would sustain and enhance the services offered by the voluntary sector to the CJS. The recommendations for building a better and creative criminal justice system are:
- A European mandate to promote improved integration of justice with voluntary sector services.
- A European standard of accredited training to improve the response to complex target groups.
- Improve recruitment, training and support practices to reflect a demanding voluntary role.
- Volunteer programmes should be adequately resourced and volunteers’ value recognised.
- European investment in a culture of volunteering.
- European recognition of diversity.
- Reward, recognise, and motivate.
- Improve the quality of volunteer programme evaluation throughout Europe.
- Support volunteering to build healthy, resilient communities.
- Improve volunteer provision in Eastern European member states.
Volunteering is not an add-on or a free resource. Volunteering in the CJS requires sustainability, effective partnerships and investment for the future to support (ex) offenders on their desistance journey and support to their families and victims of crime.