Every day, thousands of passionate and committed people give their time to engage and motivate people in the criminal justice system, working hard to turn their lives around. Volunteers add expertise, capacity and flexibility to services, working in a wide range of roles, People with lived experience also volunteer. They provide valuable advice on what works, and offer peer support. From our State of the sector research we estimate that, on average, there are nine members of staff for every twenty volunteers in voluntary organisations working in criminal justice.
Volunteering is not free. It requires ongoing investment to provide the management, coordination and training required to ensure volunteers provide quality services. When this is in place, volunteers are a hugely valuable asset for the voluntary sector. They provide increased capacity, expertise and experience to organisations. The fact that they are volunteers gives them a unique role because, for some people in the criminal justice system, volunteers are the first people who have listened to them who are not being paid to do so. This fact alone can have a considerable positive impact on individuals.
The voluntary sector has a long tradition of recruiting, training and managing committed and passionate local people as volunteers.
For over a century, volunteers have been supporting rehabilitation and resettlement in prisons, providing an important link between prisons and communities.
Our State of the sector research shows that volunteers provide essential support to organisations. On average, people volunteer for twelve hours a week. Volunteers undertake a variety of roles to support organisations, the majority of which involve providing direct support to people in the criminal justice system. 59% of organisations state their volunteers befriend or mentor people, whilst 52% say they give advice, information or counselling. The majority, 65%, of organisations say that their volunteers help them to run activities or events.
Are you looking for organisations involving volunteers? Browse our Directory.
Read Clinks case studies showcasing the innovative work of our members who involve volunteers.
We think volunteering should be championed by the Ministry of Justice, courts, probation services and prisons. They should work with the voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system to create a culture and operating environment that encourages and supports volunteers.
What Clinks is doing
Clinks provides good practice guides for involving and supporting volunteers.
Valuing volunteers in prison
Our valuing volunteers in prison project, commissioned at the request of the then Minister for Prisons and Probation Andrew Selous, explored how we can increase the amount and scope of prison volunteering across England and Wales. This has allowed Clinks to work with the Ministry of Justice and think about how we improve and expand volunteering in prison.
We surveyed 627 volunteers and 119 volunteer managers from across 121 prisons. We visited 12 prisons, interviewed 31 prison staff and 30 staff from voluntary organisations and collected 14 case studies of good practice in volunteer involvement. We worked with User Voice to capture the views of people with lived experience of the criminal justice system. They undertook a peer-led consultation to explore perceptions of volunteering in prison from the perspective of prisoners.
The findings clearly demonstrate that volunteering has tangible benefits. It is a rewarding and enriching experience for volunteers and brings an influx of new skills and outlooks to prison work. However, we also found barriers to successful volunteering in prisons. Conditions in some prisons make volunteers' work difficult.
To genuinely value volunteers:
- Clear roles should be identified
- Prisons and their partners should proactively recruit volunteers from as diverse a range of backgrounds as possible
- Volunteering should be properly coordinated to help support a positive rehabilitative culture.
Advising the Ministry of Justice
Clinks provides the chair and secretariat for an advisory group to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group’s (RR3) purpose is to build a strong and effective partnership between the voluntary sector and the MoJ.
An RR3 special interest group explored how to provide effective mentoring for men and women resettling in the community after a prison sentence. It considered the role and contribution of the voluntary sector in pioneering this approach, and the impact of the current commissioning and contracting arrangements and funding on the sector’s ability to deliver effective mentoring. It also looked at what is happening to mentoring through the prison gate, the challenges and barriers to effective delivery and consistent outcomes.
Read this group’s papers and meeting notes
Reflections on the Race and Justice Network
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DateTuesday 4 April
DateTuesday 11 April
Other sources of support
Your local volunteer centre may be able to help you connect with potential volunteers. Use this online tool from NCVO to find your nearest one.
Do-it is a national database for volunteers and volunteer opportunities.
Volunteering Matters develop and deliver high impact volunteer-led solutions across the UK in response to some of the most difficult challenges facing individuals and their communities today.
London Plus is the capital's volunteering and civil society charity. Its website includes a directory of London's councils for voluntary services (CVSs) and volunteer centres.
vinspired is a volunteering charity for 14 - 25 year olds.
The Association of Volunteer Managers is an independent membership body that supports, represents and champions people in volunteer management in the UK regardless of field, discipline or sector.