Welcome to the fifth blog in our TR so Far series- and the final one before the next stage of the competition! In this blog we are asking whether the reform programme will enable members of the community and those with personal experience of the Criminal Justice System (CJS) to be involved in the planning and delivery of services.
Volunteering in the CJS
There is a long tradition of volunteering in the CJS, with many Clinks Members using volunteers to support the services they deliver. Volunteering is a key way for communities to be involved in services that support offenders and their families and can include a whole range of roles, from giving advice at a prison visiting centre to providing peer support to someone on probation. Clinks has published a number of volunteering guides that give more detailed information on how organisations work with volunteers.
The new Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) which will be set up to deliver services for low-medium risk offenders are likely to be run by bidders from the private sector. It is important that volunteers are not seen as a free resource, since they need extensive support and training. What’s more, volunteers and community groups may be less motivated to engage with CRCs and the organisations in their supply chain, if they feel they are being used as a free resource for private companies. Clinks believes that bids made by potential Tier 1 providers should explicitly state how they will ensure volunteers are retained and supported.
When the initial TR reforms were announced, the Government were specifically keen to introduce peer support through providing a mentor for those leaving prison having served a short sentence. In our Volunteer Peer Support guide, we define peer support as being ‘when people with the same shared experience provide knowledge, experience, or emotional, social or practical help to each other.’ Mentoring projects are likely to be delivered by Tier 2 and/or Tier 3 organisations within the new contracts, and very likely through the use of volunteers.
Peer support can help with the desistance process, as it allows service users to recognise that others in a similar position to themselves have successfully achieved secondary desistance. Primary desistance refers to any lull or gap in a person’s offending, whereas secondary desistance refers to a more deep-seated change in an individual where they develop an identity as a ‘non-offender’. But the concepts of peer support and mentoring, their benefits for the desistance process and, crucially, that they are different to supervision, will need to be properly understood and articulated by Government, as well as by the new providers.
Providing peer support, either on a voluntary basis or through paid employment, is also one way people with previous experience of the CJS can be involved in the delivery of services. Another way is through service user involvement, which, as defined within research carried out by Clinks in 2011 refers to ‘ the process by which people using a service become involved in the planning, development and delivery of that service to make changes and improvements.’
Clinks, in partnership with Revolving Doors Agency, published a guide to service user involvement in 2010, which details the many different ways people with direct experience of a service can support its design and delivery. Examples include peer review or monitoring, creating forums or panels where service users can discuss a specific topic or policy and governance arrangements which allow service users to sit on an organisation’s trustee board or management committee.
There are many benefits of service user involvement. These include giving those who are often marginalised a voice and opportunity to vent their views in a constructive way, empowering an individual to make decisions and choices, and building confidence and self-esteem. There is evidence to suggest that taking part in service user involvement can help to support the desistance process. This is outlined in our guide to desistance.
So, where does service user involvement fit in the new TR agenda? Clinks would like to see would-be providers demonstrate how they are incorporating the voice of people with personal experience of the CJS in the design, delivery and continuous review of their services, and will review whether this is likely to happen once we know more about who the Tier 1s are likely to be and what they are offering.
If you have any views about how service user involvement and volunteering will work under the new TR reforms, we want to hear from you!
Also, please do not forget to read the other blogs in our TR so Far series:
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The RR3 special interest group on Covid-19 will today convene voluntary sector leaders to discuss what is needed to mitigate the impacts of the virus on CJS voluntary organisations and the service users they support. We'll publish the key points from the discussion in a blog.