Clinks website

supporting voluntary organisations that work with offenders and their families

Supporting the voluntary sector in criminal justice

The voluntary sector has a long and rich history of supporting people to rehabilitate and resettle, supporting their families and communities, and at the same time questioning systems and advocating for positive reform. There is much to admire about what the sector does.

Clinks supports the voluntary sector working with people in the Criminal Justice System and their families. We have over 500 members across England and Wales, ranging from the sector’s largest organisations to its smallest.

Clinks is focused on supporting voluntary organisations who work alongside people in the Criminal Justice System, aiding their transformation, promoting rehabilitation, supporting families, working on the ground to resettle people back into communities, and learning from the lived experience of people who have been through the system.

Anne Fox

Clinks exists to support and promote the invaluable work of the voluntary sector with people in the Criminal Justice System and their families. We exist to support the positive change voluntary organisations bring to people’s lives, but also the positive change they can create in systems and institutions by shining a light on inequality, vulnerability, and inadequacy. This is about ‘what we do’ as a collective to improve society – writes ANNE FOX.

At Clinks we listen to our members and the wider voluntary sector, and because we do that we learn, but for that to be meaningful we also need to act in a relevant and meaningful way. So we’re changing.

We know that our offer of support doesn’t always reach everyone it needs to, so Clinks will develop more localised and devolved ways of working. We need to support voluntary sector collaboration, to create an environment that allows and enables people to change even when resources for services are limited. This does mean being on the ground, supporting organisations to get involved in developments around devolution, prison reform, changes to community services and championing ways to help the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our communities.

Clinks will keep speaking out for voluntary organisations, making sure they have strong voices with influence and independence. In our policy work, we listen to all sides of the debate and work constructively with partners to show the value of involving our sector as change-makers and solution-finders. This includes keeping a finger on the pulse of the voluntary sector and assessing its health. At the same time we will be pushing for the necessary involvement of the sector in emerging prison reforms and the improvements we want to see in our probation services. 

We will keep moving with the sector and working with government to promote change and advocate for good practice. We will keep doing our job by helping voluntary organisations to do their job.

There is much more that can and should be done to improve the Criminal Justice System and the voluntary sector is, as always, at the heart of the creative and positive change we all want to see.  

Anne Owers

We should celebrate what voluntary organisations do, and at the same time tackle the very real challenges they face - writes DAME ANNE OWERS, Chair of Clinks

The sector has played a key role in criminal justice, leading the way in innovative and service user focused practice. It continues to provide professional, specialist and forward-thinking solutions to deep-seated problems, linking criminal justice to social justice. That remains its core strength.

But it also faces challenges, in a rapidly-changing environment and diminishing resources. Policy initiatives do not always recognise the specific role and value of the sector. Small and medium organisations struggle to benefit from new commissioning structures, while other sources, such as local government funding, are drying up.

There is wide recognition of the value of the sector among government and others. That needs to be translated into effective support to allow the sector to survive and grow.  It should also lead to active listening: learning from the sector’s unique insights and the lived experience of its service users.







Pushing for progressive change

Clinks is a catalyst for reform from ministerial through to local level. We aim to create positive change for people in the Criminal Justice System by supporting a vibrant and resilient voluntary sector. Our work pushes for positive progress, working alongside experts in the voluntary sector to influence policy and practice across England and Wales.

Improving practice with young adults

Young adults are the most likely group to re-offend, but they are also the most likely group to desist from crime with the right support. Voluntary organisations devise specialist approaches that are proportionate to maturity and responsive to young adults’ specific needs. Our guide ‘Effective approaches with young adults’, produced in partnership with Transition to Adulthood Alliance (T2A), gives practitioners the tools they need to take a more effective approach with young adults and support their transformation and desistance from crime. We’ve held events reaching 150 practitioners from Community Rehabilitation Companies, the National Probation Service and Youth Offending Services to help them provide timely and effective interventions that are crucial to assist young adults to make a successful transition to a crime free adulthood. We will continue to be an active member of the T2A to improve the justice system’s approach to young adults.

Challenging discrimination and disproportionality

Over representation of certain people in the justice system, and their poor and/or unequal treatment by that system requires long-term and thoughtful action. The number of young Black, Asian and minority ethnic men in the Criminal Justice System has reached critical levels, women with distinct needs often don’t get the support they require, older people’s health needs are rarely considered, and strategies for supporting transgender people in prisons are inadequate. Clinks continues to prioritise the tackling of discrimination and inequality. We published a report that presents good practice in tackling the inequalities experienced by older people, gay and bisexual men, people with learning disabilities, and women.

We continue to represent the voluntary sector on the government’s Advisory Board for Female Offenders, and have advised HM Inspectorate of Probation on their review of women’s services. Much of our work has focussed on understanding the role of women’s services in new probation services, which will lead to several case studies and networking opportunities for the women’s sector to make their voice heard and create solutions together.

The voluntary sector has helped bring about a renewed focus from Government on racial bias in the Criminal Justice System. Since the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced a review into racial bias in the justice system we have worked with David Lammy MP and his team to ensure the voluntary sector’s voice is heard. We work with the Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG) to progress the Young Review’s recommendations, and have set up a new Independent Advisory Group of leading thinkers and practitioners. We continue to apply pressure on government with the aim of making real and lasting change, working with local organisations and services users to generate solutions.

Promoting the vital role of the arts

Arts have a long history of improving mental health, addressing drug and alcohol use, improving individuals’ ability to maintain strong relationships with families and children and reversing negative social attitudes. We know they have a vital role to play in criminal justice settings. The National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance champions 800 artists and arts organisations who provide arts and creative interventions to support improved wellbeing, awaken an interest in learning, develop employability skills and help people build new positive identities.

The Alliance worked closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure the arts in criminal justice got the government support that it deserves. It was recognised in the first white paper for culture in more than 50 years, highlighting the “many good examples of how cultural interventions can benefit prisoners, ex-offenders and people at risk of becoming involved in crime”. Clinks continues to support creative practice in criminal justice settings through the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, and we are committed to raising the profile of the arts and the positive impact it has on people in our justice system.

Playing an essential role in health and wellbeing

People in contact with the Criminal Justice System suffer from some of the starkest health inequalities in the country, with higher health needs and worse health outcomes than the general population. Addressing the health needs of this group can reduce re-offending and support people to lead healthier lives. The voluntary sector plays an essential role in addressing these health inequalities.

Clinks promotes the voluntary sector’s role in health through our strategic partnership with the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England. This year we have highlighted the importance of improving mental health services for people in prison with NHS England, Public Health England and NOMS, briefed the sector on the Care Act and shared the good practice of organisations working with people with disabilities. We have also worked with the Care Quality Commission to ensure the views and experiences of voluntary organisations are heard when they carry out their new duty to inspect health services in secure settings.

Championing service user involvement

People and families with lived experience of the Criminal Justice System are a vital source of intelligence on how to improve services. This is an area of work that voluntary organisations have championed, placing service users at the heart of the design and delivery of their services, and in senior roles that provide leadership and governance. However, we know that more can be done to increase their voice and improve the quality and consistency of their involvement.

Clinks is committed to promoting and building effective service user involvement. We have set up a new Service User Involvement Managers’ Network that brings together service user involvement experts from across the voluntary sector in England and Wales to share learning, challenges, and improve practice on the ground.

In order to improve practice we worked with Revolving Doors Agency to produce service user involvement and co-production guidance which we have publicised across our networks. We also published a good practice guide which features some of the best examples of service user involvement to encourage and inspire quality practice across the system.

Changing the system for people with multiple and complex needs

An estimated 58,000 people in England experience several problems at the same time, such as mental ill health, homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, and contact with the justice system. Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM), a coalition of Clinks, Homeless Link and Mind, represent over 1,300 frontline organisations, many of which provide long-term support including housing, drug treatment and help to manage people’s mental health problems. Together, the coalition aims to transform policy and services for the most vulnerable people in our society.

MEAM’s policy work, highlighted in the Voices from the Frontline project, has worked alongside people who had experienced multiple needs and the practitioners who support them to increase their voices in the policy debate at a local and national level.

This year we held workshops and interviews to capture those people’s experiences, published two policy reports as a result and wrote numerous responses to government consultations and calls for evidence. We organised meetings between MPs and people experiencing multiple needs, and we produced an influencing guide for local practitioners to help raise their voices to local decision makers. All of which aims to bring the voices of people with multiple needs to the table to create better and more joined up solutions.

Clinks’ local support in the North East and South West assists these areas to secure resources to develop a multi-agency approach for adults with multiple and complex needs. A more coordinated and flexible approach has a positive impact on service users and means value for money for statutory services. Clinks now chairs the newly re-launched North East Multiple Needs Forum which shares good practice and feeds in the views of frontline workers at a national level.

Listening to the sector and acting on its behalf

An independent impact assessment carried out between mid-February and March 2016 demonstrates the significant impact Clinks has within the Criminal Justice System - for its members, other stakeholders, funders and central government. It shows that Clinks is providing the right range of services and activities to meet its members’ needs, that these are having a positive impact and are of a good quality.

Members and key stakeholders value Clinks' information sharing, our work at local and regional levels, our briefings, policy papers and other publications, and there is universal praise for the staff team. The impact assessment shows that Clinks performs a crucial role in creating opportunities for members and others in the voluntary sector to have a sense of community, with shared values and vision. Clinks is keen to make changes to respond best to the sector’s needs. As a result of the report Clinks will make 10 pledges to inform our future work.

A separate independent review of voluntary sector infrastructure in the Criminal Justice System found the sector welcomes its role as a critical friend between the diverse interests of the voluntary sector and government. The report, Critical Friends, encourages the government to make the most of their relationship with infrastructure organisations like Clinks, recognising its independence and value as a conduit to a large and complicated voluntary sector that fundamentally underpins the effectiveness of rehabilitation and resettlement services.

Valuing an independent voluntary sector

Clinks provides a collective voice for the voluntary sector working in criminal justice. We aim to represent voluntary organisations, from the smallest to the largest. We do this by speaking out on their behalf, lobbying for an independent sector, bringing voluntary organisations together and having the right relationship with Government to make change possible.

At our conference in January 2016, we asked Clinks' members and stakeholders the question, "what does just and affordable rehabilitation look like?" Their answers focussed on supporting families and demonstrating impact, offender health and finding employment, tackling inequalities, holistic services for women, and the key role of the voluntary sector. Watch their interviews in these six videos...

Working together to inform policy

To advise and guide policy makers on the ‘grassroots’ impact of proposed reforms it is vital that the voluntary sector has an independent and credible voice.

Clinks provides the secretariat to the Ministry of Justice's Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3). This group builds a strong and effective partnership between the voluntary sector and the Ministry of Justice, guiding and informing the department’s policy. In February 2016, the Minister for Prisons and Probation met with the RR3 to discuss the group’s priorities and aspirations and how it can work with the Ministry of Justice to support improvements in the Criminal Justice System. We also convened meetings with specialist service delivery organisations, including those supporting families, women and people at risk of suicide and self-harm, to support the RR3 and allow their voices to be heard by government. 

We raised the voice of voluntary sector organisations working with young people. Clinks consulted with members across England and Wales to inform our submission to the Taylor Review of the youth justice system. We talked directly with young people aged 15-25 with lived experience of the youth justice system and also worked with partners to seek the views of organisations supporting young black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

Pioneering support for families

Families are often the main source of emotional, practical and financial support for prisoners, from the time of arrest to after release. Imprisonment has a profound impact on families and in particular on the children of imprisoned parents, who are at least twice as likely to experience mental health problems, be affected by poverty and become isolated and stigmatised.

The voluntary sector leads the way in supporting the families of prisoners, through prison visitor centres, delivering relationship education and supporting families affected by substance abuse. This year Clinks has helped to strengthen the evidence base for investing in good quality family support. We have showcased good and innovative practice both in prisons and the community, and have improved awareness and knowledge of the needs of families for organisations outside the justice system.

Through the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3), Clinks has established and chairs a Special Interest Group for the Ministry of Justice to feed into the commissioning of family services in prison. This group has brought together specialist families organisations from the voluntary sector with commissioners and policy makers to discuss what good family services look like and how they might be commissioned.

Volunteering is vital

Volunteers undertake a vast array of activity in our Criminal Justice System. Voluntary organisations tell us that they are involving volunteers more, supporting their services to respond to diverse needs. Even though retaining volunteers can be a challenge, their value is worth the investment in recruitment and training.

This year we have researched volunteering in our prison system. We surveyed 627 volunteers and 119 volunteer managers from across 121 prisons. We visited 12 prisons and interviewed 31 prison staff and 30 staff from voluntary organisations. We collected 14 case studies of good practice in volunteer involvement and worked with User Voice to capture the views of people with lived experience of the justice system.

This has allowed Clinks to work with the Ministry of Justice and think about how we improve and expand volunteering in prison. Volunteering has clear benefits and we will be promoting the good practice that we uncovered. But we also know there are barriers to volunteering, although we believe they can be easily overcome through a more flexible prison regime, clearer information on vetting procedures, and better understanding and support from prison staff. We also need to enable more people from different ages and communities to volunteer in our prisons so that volunteers reflect the diversity of the prison population.

Engaging local communities

The voluntary sector is rooted in local communities enabling it to reach the most marginalised people who are often defined as hard to reach. It has a track record of successfully engaging people from these communities and designing services that are locally appropriate and relevant.  Clinks’ Area Development Team work in partnership with local organisations and agencies to build strategic relationships, and represent voluntary organisations within local statutory structures.

Clinks’ local work in the North East, South West, London and Wales has been focussed on listening to local need and ensuring voluntary organisations have their voice heard in Government. The team provides support to, and information about, the voluntary sector working in criminal justice. They gather frontline intelligence that informs Clinks’ national policy work and strategic direction.

- In the North East we have worked with commissioners to positively engage the voluntary sector and worked towards strengthening the relationship between the sector and the seven North East prisons.

- In the South West we have supported voluntary organisations and criminal justice agencies to collaborate and develop partnerships.

- In London we have explored a shared evidence approach to measuring impact for services working with women in the Criminal Justice System and those at risk of being drawn into offending.

- In Wales we have worked with organisations in preparation for the opening of HMP Berwyn, worked with Barnardo’s on a social enterprise venture, and a pilot to create a volunteering pathway for people in prison and on probation.

Capturing local experience

We have a two-way, open and honest dialogue with our members, who regularly share with us their experiences and views. This means we understand a multitude of diverse local realities and we use that knowledge to make evidence-based recommendations for change. Because we are well informed by the voluntary sector we can respond quickly and confidently when we’re talking to government and other influential stakeholders.

Evidencing the state of our sector

Our state of the sector report consistently paints a picture of a diverse, resilient, creative, and inspirational voluntary sector that works hard to support people on their desistance journey. The results from our 2015 State of the Sector survey and interviews show that during another year of considerable change, the sector remains focused on delivering creative solutions to supporting the needs of their clients. We found that the sector is:

- Developing and delivering new services to respond to clients’ needs which have changed and become more severe

- Working in partnership, which continues to be important but can be challenging due to the policy and funding environment creating competition

- Supporting its service users in a funding environment in which they are unlikely to receive full cost recovery on contracts they deliver, and that many organisations are using their reserves to support their work.

Demonstrating the impact of Transforming Rehabilitation

Clinks has continued its excellent partnership with NCVO and Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC) to track the voluntary sector’s involvement in and experience of recent changes to probation and prison services under Transforming Rehabilitation.

We have received over 300 responses from voluntary sector organisations working alongside the new reforms. The sector remains vital to positive rehabilitation, with almost all those we talked to still taking referrals from probation and prison services despite not receiving funding from those sources. But this vital contribution could be lost, as many organisations tell us that their services are unsustainable and at risk of closure.

Although it is still early days in a significant reform programme, we have found that very few voluntary organisations have been involved and the minority that have are larger organisations. Many organisations are concerned about a reduction in the quality of services being commissioned, especially through the gate resettlement services from prison, and also specialist services such as provision for women on probation.

Clinks is taking forward our strong recommendations and pressing the Ministry of Justice, NOMS, Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service to significantly improve the involvement of the voluntary sector.

The voluntary sector can reform prisons

The voluntary sector has a long and rich history of working creatively with people in custody and through the gate to help people turn their lives around. Clinks welcomes a government focus on reforming the prison estate, at a time when there has been rising levels of self-harm and suicide, concerns about staff safety, poor conditions in prisons identified by the Inspectorate, a need for improved healthcare, and a lack of focus on rehabilitation leading to high re-offending rates. To truly make prisons places of positivity and reform, we believe that there must be meaningful engagement with the voluntary sector.

Clinks has worked in partnership with three prisons (HMPs Dartmoor, Exeter and Guys Marsh) in the South West to support better co-ordination of voluntary sector provision, enhance prisoner knowledge of and access to voluntary sector support, and develop the strategic role of the sector. We have also produced a guide for prison governors and staff with practical guidance on effective engagement. To contribute to the debate Clinks worked with voluntary organisations to publish a discussion paper on the ‘rehabilitative prison’ asking our members what ‘good’ looks like. This has been used to start a debate and provide an opportunity for the sector to put forward their views on the prison reforms.

Advocating for better education

Access to appropriate education is important for people in contact with the Criminal Justice System and can support the desistance process. The voluntary sector plays a vital role in the provision of a wide ranging curriculum including through the arts, sport and the involvement of families. Clinks and the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance gave evidence to the Coates review of prison education outlining the importance of the whole prison as a learning environment, the importance of the arts in engaging prisoners, and the need to coordinate education with other interventions across the state and through-the gate.

Thank you to our funders

  • National Offender Management Service
  • Ministry of Justice
  • The Monument Trust
  • Paul Hamlyn Foundation
  • Esmee Fairbairn Foundation
  • Department of Health
  • J Paul Getty Junior Charitable Trust
  • The Tudor Trust
  • Barrow Cadbury Trust
  • The Pilgrim Trust
  • Centre for Justice Innovation
  • Trust for London
  • Lankelly Chase Foundation
  • Garfield Weston Foundation
  • Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
  • Sunderland Council
  • Lifeline Sunderland