Annual review


Supporting a resilient voluntary sector working in criminal justice


Clinks supports over 2000 voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system in England and Wales.
These resilient organisations, and their passionate staff and volunteers, enable people in the justice system to transform their lives.
Farmer Review launch, the House of Lords
Our 500+ members, which range from large organisations through to unstaffed community groups, work hard to rehabilitate and resettle people back into communities in a variety of ways—such as housing, help getting a job, drug and alcohol services, mentoring, advocacy, finance, benefit and debt support, mental health services and legal advice.

During 2016-17 Clinks has supported its members to rise to the challenges in our criminal justice system in the face of change and uncertainty. Voluntary organisations working in criminal justice are finding solutions, embracing change and bouncing back in the face of adversity. In a context of funding cuts, ongoing reform, and clients with increasingly complex needs, our members and their staff are responding with creativity, optimism and positivity. But the work is difficult and the challenges are significant.

More people are employed by voluntary organisations working in the criminal justice system than the prison and probation services combined. They are the backbone of our rehabilitation and resettlement services. At Clinks we continue to champion the role of voluntary organisations, arguing that they must be recognised and engaged as genuinely valued partners by local agencies and decision makers, so they can play their full role in criminal justice reform.


In 2016-17 Clinks faced many of the same challenges as those organisations we exist to support. Our impact assessment showed that our work was essential and well regarded by members and other key stakeholders. But we can’t be complacent – we know that the sector’s needs are changing and we have had to respond appropriately.

Members are juggling reduced or new funding streams, increasing client need, increasing demand for their services, and continued policy and service change. So in 2016-17 we invested in new staff to support our work on the ground with members, to increase our reach into the sector and grow our network, to run more events and training, and to increase our ability to respond to policy. We invested in our staff because they are the key to our success.

We have continued to work with a range of members and partners to maximise our impact. We work with the Young Review and Black Training and Enterprise Group to tackle racism and discrimination, we are members of the Making Every Adult Matter coalition to design better approaches for people with multiple needs, and we are active members of the Transition to Adulthood alliance. We are working with The Monument Trust, who have convened a new fellowship which will challenge the whole sector to think differently about criminal justice reform in years to come. We continue to work alongside key partners such as Agenda, Prison Reform Trust, Criminal Justice Alliance, Centre for Justice Innovation, National Council for Voluntary Organisations, our members across the country both large and small, a diverse range of charitable trusts and foundations, and many more. I would like to thank all our partners for the way they work with us and their commitment to improving the system and supporting the voluntary sector.

We will continue to support our members in good times and in the bad, so that they can do their much needed work and support people in the criminal justice system to turn their lives around.

"Our impact assessment showed that our work was essential and well regarded by members and other key stakeholders."

This has been a difficult year for the voluntary sector working in criminal justice, and for those they support. Issues in prisons are well known and shortfalls in the support that can be provided outside prison are becoming ever more apparent. Our members report that they are dealing with more people, with more complex and immediate needs, and with stretched resources.

Yet the voluntary sector continues to respond creatively to these challenges, focusing on the needs of service users and supporting them to change their lives. Clinks exists to support that work, promote real partnerships, and ensure that the voice of the sector and its users is fed into the thinking of government and statutory services.

These are challenging times – but challenges also carry opportunities to do things differently and better. That is why Clinks, drawing on the experience of its members, continues to put forward a blueprint for change. Our work, and that of the sector we support, has never been more important.

"The voluntary sector continues to respond creatively to these challenges, focusing on the needs of service users and supporting them to change their lives."

Clinks in numbers

Clinks voices

Anne Fox, Clinks CEO, introduces Clinks and what we do for the voluntary sector working in the criminal justice system.

In this series of short interviews, Clinks members give their views on what resilience means to them.

Clinks members, partners, funders and other stakeholders tell us what they value about Clinks and how we support the voluntary sector working in the criminal justice system.

In this series of short interviews, Clinks members give their views on what resilience means to them.

strengthening your voice

Clinks represents the views and experiences of the voluntary sector in criminal justice, working alongside them to influence and shape policy and practice.
We amplify the voice of our members to highlight the great work they do and to make sure their concerns are heard. We bring the expertise of voluntary organisations to the forefront of criminal justice reform.
Photo: Farmer Review launch, the House of Lords

Having the right relationship with government

At a time of ongoing change and reform, the voluntary sector’s knowledge and expertise should be at the heart of criminal justice policy making. Clinks continues to ensure the voices of voluntary organisations are heard by government.

Clinks chairs the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group (RR3) which comprises senior experts from the voluntary sector and meets regularly with government officials to build a strong and effective partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. Special interest groups focus on priority issues, such as effective care and support for people at risk of suicide and self-harm, and the quality of mentoring services for men and women being released from prison. Through the RR3, voluntary organisations have had the opportunity to provide guidance to the Ministry of Justice on a number of policy areas, including prison reform, commissioning processes and early intervention.


“I think [Clinks has] got the ability to join up a number of agencies and services that we don't otherwise have. That's one of the things that the Select Committee has been particularly interested in.”

- Bob Neill MP – Chair of the Justice Select Committee


Evidencing the effects of probation reform

We know that probation services need radical improvement, especially through the gate resettlement services, accommodation, specialist provision for women and services for people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

In May 2016, Clinks published Change and Challenge, our research into the voluntary sector’s experience of probation reforms. We committed to seven recommendations which we have been lobbying the government, Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service to adopt. We have provided evidence to various House of Commons and House of Lords select committees as well as directly to Ministers.

We know from our members and from official probation and prison inspectorate reports that services have deteriorated. We continue to make sure the voice of the voluntary sector is heard in this debate. We collected 132 survey responses and six in depth case studies which are being analysed by our partners and will be published in 2018. We will continue to call for better voluntary sector involvement and for improvements in our probation services. We want rehabilitation services to be community-based wherever possible, assisted by the skills and expertise of our members to give people the support they need to change their lives.


“Without Clinks there is no way we could have taken part in Transforming Rehabilitation.”

– Anonymous respondent to impact assessment


Revealing the state of our sector

Voluntary organisations shared their experiences of working with people in the criminal justice system through our State of the sector survey, shining a light on what support they need to thrive. We worked in partnership with the Learning and Work Institute, who supported us with the survey development and analysed the results. During another year of considerable change we found the voluntary sector remains focused on delivering creative solutions to supporting the needs of their clients.

Organisations told us that their clients’ needs have changed and become more severe, which has led them to develop and deliver new services in response. Partnership working remains important, but it can be challenging due to the policy and funding environment creating rivalry and competition. Grant funding is essential for many organisations, but we have seen an increasing reliance on contracts—although organisations are unlikely to receive full cost recovery on the contracts they are delivering. The information we gathered informed our priorities and the support we provide. We communicated what we have heard to government, key decision makers, and commissioners.

During late 2016 and early 2017 we changed our partner organisation for this work to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) to make best use of their Almanac approach whilst also improving our survey. This worked—we gathered financial data on 752 charities and 220 social enterprises or community interest companies. Furthermore our survey response rate more than doubled, meaning we heard from 224 voluntary organisations.

Speaking out for change at a local level

Local organisations are working hard to improve outcomes for people with the most complex needs, who are often caught in the revolving door of the criminal justice system. Ongoing reforms to probation services and prisons, including staff shortages and restructures, make it challenging for local organisations to keep abreast of the criminal justice landscape. In 2016-17 Clinks established regional criminal justice forums, which provide a regular opportunity for local members to come together, learn about new developments, and hear from key stakeholders. Our local events have brought voluntary organisations together with prison governors, representatives from Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service, Police and Crime Commissioners and local authorities.

In the South West, North East, North West and Wales, we’ve provided one to one support to members. As well as ensuring local organisations are kept up to speed with changes to our criminal justice system, we’ve assisted with volunteer recruitment, evaluation, fundraising and relationships with criminal justice agencies, among other issues. Through the Making Every Adult Matter coalition, we have provided specialist support to local projects on how to target people who are most in need, improving reporting systems and working towards system change.


“It’s important for the regions to have easy access to a national voice, national data and briefings etc. which can then be compared to local policy and practice.”

– Anonymous respondent to impact assessment


spotlight on priority groups

Clinks works together with its members to highlight the specific needs and issues facing priority groups of people in the criminal justice system.
We focus our resources to tackle inequality, champion the needs of groups who are seldom heard by policy makers, and constructively challenge the establishment to seek solutions.
Photo: 1625 Independent People

People with lived experience

Listening to and involving people with direct experience of services is widely recognised as an effective way to improve both policy and practice. The voluntary sector is a pioneer in this area, consistently leading the way in listening to the views of ‘experts by experience’ and involving them in the design and delivery of services. These approaches amplify people’s voices to make sure the criminal justice system benefits from their insights, and support people to build a new identity, skills and confidence.

Clinks is wholly committed to promoting effective service user involvement—equipping voluntary organisations with the tools needed to make true service user involvement a reality. Our resources have showcased current best practice examples from the voluntary sector. Our service user involvement managers’ network has supported members to share ideas, experiences, expertise and has inspired and enabled them to keep their service users right at the heart of all they do. The network has grown to almost 100 members and has commissioned training to meet their needs. We think our approach is working; according to our latest State of the sector research, 89% of organisations have some form of service user involvement in their work compared to just 35% the year before.

Women in the criminal justice system

Women in the criminal justice system have very different needs to men, requiring a distinct approach. A large majority have experienced trauma and many are primary carers for children. Some women suffer from mental ill-health, are engaged in street sex work and have chronic substance misuse problems. But women’s centres and other organisations providing gender-specific services continue to be affected by reforms to probation services. The closure of Holloway prison in 2016 has led to further questions about the future of the women’s prison estate as well as for Clinks members who work in prisons and through the gate. The government’s Prison Safety and Reform white paper announced the creation of five small community women’s prisons and a new strategy for women in custody and the community.

We have worked closely with members and partners who work with women and have set up the Women’s Networking Forum for voluntary sector organisations offering specialist services for women in the criminal justice system, working with Agenda, Women’s Breakout and Women’s Resource Centre. We have escalated issues raised by the forum to the government’s Advisory Board on Female Offenders, the Reducing Reoffending Third Sector Advisory Group, and supported the Ministry of Justice to run a roundtable with stakeholders including women’s organisations to represent their views on the development of the new community prisons.

The families of people in the criminal justice system

For people in the criminal justice system, the importance of maintaining family relationships and social ties cannot be overstated. Voluntary organisations have long recognised the important role families can play in our criminal justice system—Clinks members have developed and delivered services which utilise the benefits of family ties and provide the support people and their families really need when a family member goes to prison.

Lord Michael Farmer, working in partnership with Clinks, was commissioned to chair an independent review to investigate how supporting men in prison in England and Wales to engage with their families can reduce reoffending and assist in addressing intergenerational crime. Clinks, providing the secretariat and the Deputy Chair, gathered the views of over 1,000 men in prison and their families, voluntary organisations across England and Wales, prison staff and academics. The findings and recommendations of the Farmer Review (published in August 2017) emphasise the fundamental importance of family relationships. We look forward to working with Lord Farmer and the Ministry of Justice to encourage the change needed to ensure that positive relationships are placed at the heart of work to reduce re-offending and support people in prison.


“I have huge admiration for the work of the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and the report on the importance of family ties in prison reform that he and the excellent organisation Clinks produced. Congratulations.”

- Baroness Benjamin


People from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds

We need a better and more consistent response to tackle racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system to reduce the disproportionate number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people caught up in the system. We continue to be an active member of The Young Review Independent Advisory Group, alongside our partners Black Training and Enterprise Group, which brings together a vast range of expertise to scrutinise government action on this agenda.

Clinks has worked with national and local voluntary sector members, who are achieving positive outcomes for BAME people, to respond to David Lammy MP’s review of racial bias in the criminal justice system. We highlighted the importance of specialist BAME services and the lack of resources for organisations led by and based within BAME communities. The important role of the voluntary sector in tackling the unfair treatment of BAME people has since been reflected in David Lammy’s final report, which was published in September 2017. At the launch of his final report, David Lammy credited the Young Review as having paved the way for his review.

Clinks responded to the government’s Women and Equalities committee inquiry into tackling inequalities faced by Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities. Our response was informed by members working with service users from these communities in order to highlight the specific, and often overlooked, challenges they face within the criminal justice system.


"Can I also thank the work of the Young Review that very much paved the way for this broader review"

– David Lammy MP


Young people and children in the criminal justice system

All efforts should be made to divert children and young people away from the criminal justice system, but where they are held in custody their welfare and safety should be our primary concern.

Throughout the year we’ve used the expertise of members, and our voluntary sector partners, to respond to Charlie Taylor’s review of the youth justice system. Alongside our partners Nacro and Peer Power, we heard directly from 44 young people aged 15-25 with experience of the criminal justice system, who put a spotlight on the importance of underpinning reforms with a theory of change and on the need to focus on providing children with positive and consistent relationships. To highlight the over-representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children in the youth justice system, we’ve worked with our partners Black Training and Enterprise Group, and Partners of Prisoners (POPS), to hold consultation events with specialist voluntary organisations working with BAME children and young people.

There are an estimated 200,000 children affected by parental imprisonment per year, who often experience a range of negative outcomes including the financial impact on their family, isolation due to the stigma surrounding imprisonment and trauma stemming from separation, having witnessed their parent’s arrest or from attending frightening prison visits. Clinks brought voluntary organisations together with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to share their expertise on supporting the children of people in prison. Our response to the Children’s Commissioner’s consultation on her business plan for 2017-18 drew attention to the specific needs and experiences of looked after children, black, Asian and minority ethnic children, and children with imprisoned parents.

Young adults are the most likely group to re-offend, but also the most likely to desist from crime with the right support. We've continued to work as part of the Transition to Adulthood Alliance, making the case to policy makers and practitioners that they should take into account developmental maturity as opposed to chronological age when deciding on the best approach to offending by young adults.


“The expertise that Clinks has, both on the subject of young adults and the youth to adult transition, but also their ability to connect to service providers delivering services to that age group, has been invaluable.”

– Max Rutherford, Barrow Cadbury Trust


pioneering new approaches

Clinks supports voluntary organisations who have a rich history of pioneering new innovative approaches based on the individual needs of their service users.
We promote the transformative success of these approaches, support their development and guide their implementation.
Photo: Life Cycle UK

Championing voluntary sector work in prisons

Our prisons are in need of reform. The big challenges facing prisons are having a huge impact on prisoners, prison staff, voluntary sector employees and their volunteers. Problems such as inadequate levels of prison staff, the rise of new psychoactive substances, increasing levels of self-harm, violence and suicide, all make prisons some of the hardest places to work in England and Wales. The voluntary sector has a long history of providing essential services to the prison community. In a time of heightened need we must ensure that the sector can continue to, and is encouraged to, work in our prisons.

As part of our Good Prison project we produced a paper to facilitate discussion with the voluntary sector around what a ‘good prison’ would look like in a reformed prison estate. We also published practical guidance for prison governors and staff on effective engagement with voluntary organisations to support rehabilitation. In partnership with EDP Drug & Alcohol Services and Volunteer Centre Dorset, the project placed dedicated and skilled co-ordinators in HMP Dartmoor, HMP Exeter and HMP Guys Marsh, to support good engagement between the prisons and the voluntary sector. The project, which will conclude in 2017-18, has already resulted in better co-ordination of voluntary sector provision and greater awareness of the support the sector can offer. It has exceeded expectations and delivered significant benefits for all involved.

We’ve responded to a range of government inquiries and reviews in relation to prison reform, governor empowerment and prison performance, and prison inspections. Following publication of the government's Prison Safety and Reform white paper, Clinks responded to its proposals, drawing on all our work to build the sector's effective engagement with the prison reform programme. Our response presents an analysis of the proposals, what is welcomed, and which areas require more detailed development. It makes 18 offers from Clinks and our members to support the government as the reforms to prisons progress.


“The Clinks project has been a catalyst from which to open out the work beyond the defined remit, which is exactly what the voluntary sector is about and how it works”.

– Marie Waterman, Voluntary Sector Co-ordinator, HMP Guys Marsh


Encouraging creativity and inspiration

Arts and cultural activities have a long tradition of successfully empowering people in the criminal justice system to turn their lives around. Arts are practised in the justice system in a plethora of ways, such as music workshops, theatre productions, choir groups, and visual arts classes. They have the power to improve self-esteem, social skills, empathy, health and wellbeing, and personal development – all things that can lead to a more positive and aspirational outlook. During 2016-17, the Clinks-managed National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance has promoted access to arts and creative opportunities as a springboard to positive change for all those who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Alongside its 840 members it has promoted, developed and supported high quality arts practice - influencing and informing government, commissioners, providers and the public. Resources produced by the Arts Alliance have supported commissioners with clear information on the valuable role the arts can play in supporting education, health, wellbeing and reintegration. Arts organisations have benefitted from guidance on using the arts as a driver for equality in criminal justice settings to promote equality, inclusivity and diversity in their work.

We are delighted that the case for arts in criminal justice settings has received support from across government. In 2016 Dame Sally Coates’ review of education in prison outlined a holistic vision for prison education, which includes the provision of arts and music, to enable individuals to obtain the skills they need to unlock their potential, gain employment and become assets to their communities. The Culture White Paper published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport references the many good examples of how cultural interventions can benefit prisoners, ex-offenders and people at risk of becoming involved in crime by helping to improve self-esteem, social skills and wellbeing.


“There are also many good examples of how cultural interventions can benefit prisoners, ex-offenders and people at risk of becoming involved in crime.”

– Department for Culture Media & Sport, Culture White Paper 2016


Coordinating services for people with multiple needs

A lack of coordination between our public and voluntary services means that an estimated 58,000 people in England living with multiple needs don’t get the support they need. These people face a series of simultaneous challenges – they battle drug or alcohol addiction, experience mental health problems, sleep rough and are in frequent contact with the criminal justice system. Each issue compounds another, sending people’s lives on a downward spiral towards rock bottom.

We know a coordinated response works. Making Every Adult Matter, a coalition of Clinks, Homeless Link and Mind, has continued to support local areas to develop an effective, coordinated approach to increase the wellbeing and improve the lives of society’s most vulnerable people, whilst reducing costs to public services. In 27 local areas, including the 12 Fulfilling Lives partnerships supported by the Big Lottery Fund, the voluntary sector, local authorities and statutory services are working together, drawing on their shared experience and voluntary organisations’ close connections to their communities. They are changing the way that services work and transforming people’s lives.

To support voluntary organisations in this area, we have produced guidance on how back-to-work support can be improved for people experiencing multiple needs, explored the roll out of Universal Credit to draw attention to the impact this was having on people with multiple needs, and highlighted the opportunities devolution may bring for local areas. Responding to members’ feedback, we have worked in partnership with Homeless Link to raise the sector’s concerns around housing for people with multiple needs with the Department for Communities and Local Government and Department for Work and Pensions.

Improving health and care services

We know that, on average, people in contact with the criminal justice system have greater health needs and poorer health outcomes than in the population as a whole. Almost twice as many people in prison are estimated to have a disability. 15% of men and 25% of women in prison report symptoms of psychosis, compared to just 4% of the general public. Nearly a third have a learning disability or difficulty, and around 80% smoke compared to 24% of the general population. Despite these high levels of need, they are less likely to access mainstream health services, and when they do may have to overcome stigma and other barriers in order to access the care they need.

Voluntary organisations play a vital role in reducing these health inequalities. They work hand in hand with local health services to provide flexible, holistic support for people who face significant barriers to getting the health and care services they need. Over the past year Clinks, as a member of the Strategic Partnership Programme—a partnership between the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England working together with national voluntary sector organisations for better health and care—has worked to bring the voices of voluntary organisations providing essential health and care services for people in the justice system into national policy making.

Our ebulletins, blogs and videos have provided clear and concise information to members providing health and care services, and our case studies have promoted the role of the sector and highlighted examples of good practice to policy makers. We’ve ensured the views and experiences of people using health and care services in the criminal justice system are heard by the Care Quality Commission, who inspect health and care services in the community, in prisons and other secure settings. And we’ve ensured the expertise of voluntary organisations, and the important role they play, are recognised in a new NHS England Framework for patient and public participation in health and justice commissioning.

Advocating for effective volunteering

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. People with lived experience of the system give their time to provide practical advice and support, whilst volunteers from local communities add expertise, capacity and flexibility to services, working in a myriad of wide-ranging roles. From our State of the sector research, we estimate that on average there are two volunteers for every member of staff in voluntary organisations working in criminal justice.

Volunteers have been tirelessly supporting rehabilitation and resettlement in prisons for over a century, providing an important link between prisons and communities. Clinks was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice to explore how we can increase the amount and scope of prison volunteering across England and Wales. To do this, Clinks conducted 72 interviews with prison staff, surveyed over 800 volunteers and volunteer managers across 121 prisons, and wrote 14 in-depth case studies of local approaches. Alongside this, we asked User Voice to undertake a peer-led consultation to explore service user perceptions of prison volunteering.

The findings clearly demonstrate that volunteering has tangible benefits—it’s a rewarding and enriching experience for volunteers and brings an influx of new skills and outlooks to prison work. But we also found barriers to successful volunteering in prisons. Conditions in some prisons make volunteers' work difficult. To genuinely value our volunteers, clear roles should be identified for them, and their work should be strategically integrated into the prison system. Prisons and their partners should proactively recruit volunteers from as diverse a range of backgrounds as possible, and volunteering should be properly coordinated to help support a positive rehabilitative culture.


“The report helps to bring down many of the barriers that often prevent the voluntary sector from engaging with offenders, and, I think, encourages dialogue between all areas of the voluntary sector and the criminal justice sector.”

- Andrew Selous MP


Thank you to our funders

A huge thank you to our funders for their generous support.

  • National Offender Management Service
  • The Monument Trust
  • Paul Hamlyn Foundation
  • Esmee Fairbairn Foundation
  • Department of Health
  • The Tudor Trust
  • European Social Fund
  • Lankelly Chase Foundation
  • Garfield Weston Foundation
  • Big Lottery Fund
  • Lady Edwina Grosvenor