On the day of our conference and AGM I find myself pondering a central question, what does the voluntary sector do and what role does it play? I think the answer is heart-warming, but some of the context we operate in does provide challenges. If you want to see what Clinks did in 2015/16 to support the voluntary sector, visit our online annual review. I want to take this opportunity to speak out about the vital role of the voluntary sector and the effort it has made to in improve our justice system and the lives of those it impacts. We recently created a timeline of the voluntary sector’s achievements, and this brief history lesson tells us much of what we need to know. For example, Elizabeth Fry’s campaign for more humane prison conditions, the prison reform work of John Howard, Fredrick Rainer’s donation and the start of probation, the first ever youth court inspired by Geraldine Cadbury, recognising the need for through the gate support (and providing it) back in 1922, the abolition of the death penalty, the start of victim support, the end of ‘slopping out’ by 1996, Anne Peaker making the case for arts in our justice system, the effort by the sector to realise better services for women after Baroness Jean Corston’s report, the Transitions to Adulthood alliance striving for recognition that young adults need and deserve a distinct approach, and the Young Review highlighting the desperate need for us to tackle racism in the justice system and the poor outcomes for young black and/or Muslim men. That may be a long sentence, but for a good reason. These are only a smattering of the sector’s notable achievements, and without them our society would be far worse off. We should celebrate the voluntary sector, but we also need to protect and nurture it. The challenges ahead for voluntary organisations are mostly the result of significant change in the last few years. There have been budget reductions, and these have affected us all regardless of which sector we’re from. For many the disappearance of grant funding, replaced by larger and less attainable contracts has been a real blow. We have had to navigate significant changes to probation and the introduction of competition for probation services, creating a new ‘market’ that the sector has struggled to adapt to (or perhaps more accurately a market that has struggled to adapt to the voluntary sector). There is an emerging and much needed reform agenda for our prisons, but we need to make sure that services are not lost when prisons close, and equally that they will be there when new ones open. New prisons are being designed, but are we also making the most of the experience and knowledge held in the voluntary sector to design a better and more humane prison? The introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners has provided mixed fortunes, with real progress in some areas but less in others. And now the devolution of criminal justice matters to local areas, well, that sounds like an interesting opportunity for the sector but we’re still at the early stages and will need to make sure that the door is held open for voluntary organisations to have a full and proper role. Change can bring opportunities, but it can also be difficult when you’re trying to plan ahead in uncertain economic times. It can be even more difficult if you’re a smaller organisation, trying to plan for your future when your resources are already stretched. For these reasons, and more, we keep an eye on the sector’s health, hopes and fears. We do this through our state of the sector survey which has opened today! If you're a voluntary organisation supporting people in the Criminal Justice System I urge you to take 20 minutes and complete it. At Clinks’ conference we want to focus on the great things that the voluntary sector does without being blind to the challenges. We will showcase the best and latest innovations from the sector, but also keep the sector up to date with current policy such as the justice devolution deals in Manchester, making prisons safer, making better use of volunteers, learning how to influence policy more effectively, and tackling inequality in our system. We will talk about the viability and sustainability of the voluntary sector in criminal justice - thinking about what needs to happen if we are to protect the valued and valuable institutions that are charities.
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