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Criminal justice voluntary sector under threat

NPCThinks finds that the many voluntary sector organisations working with offenders are at risk of closing as a result of Transforming Rehabilitation.

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Cultural change

A new report from New Philanthropy Capital has concluded that there is a window of opportunity for cultural change in the criminal justice system.

Beyond Bars (published on 28 March 2017)  is based on a literature review, interviews with 20 key stakeholders and an expert roundtable and is focused on the tole of charities working to reduce reoffending in prison and the community.

The report is written for a more general audience and rehearses most of the main issues well-known to readers:

  • The prison and probation systems are under unprecedented strain
  • The voluntary sector has long been a key provider of services to offenders, particularly those with complex needs and is particularly important at a local level where community links have been established over years and often decades.
  • The wheels have come off justice funding for the voluntary sector, particularly those who work in the probation sector.
  • Many organisations are now predominantly funded on a contract basis with many new contracts not meeting the full costs of the contracted services.

Transforming Rehabilitation

The report identifies eight priority concerns for the voluntary sector working in the justice system, reproduced in the graphic below:

It focuses particularly on the impact of Transforming Rehabilitation, the new split public/private probation system, identifying four major problems:

  1. Independent funders are now cautious of investing in the area;
  2. Small local charities have lost key contracts with probation organisations and are at risk of failing (indeed several have);
  3. Contract management has been confusing (and continues to change frequently); and
  4. Payment by Results has disincentivised all organisations from working with those who are hardest to rehabilitate.

The report makes a direct plea to funders and philanthropists not to abandon charities in the justice sector; pointing out both that service users’ needs are greater than ever and that many organisations will go to the wall without additional sources of funding (beyond statutory contracts.)

The report makes a similar plea to government and police and probation commissioners; recommending that they:

  1. Pay the full price for quality impact: Don’t expect charities to use independent funding to subsidise government contracts. Make decisions based on what impact can be delivered and pay the full price for the quality that is needed.
  2. Acknowledge the value of local: Think consciously about how small, local organisations with specialist knowledge can be engaged in procurement processes. Co-design services and contracts with them.
  3. Recognise that desistance takes a long time and will often include some reoffending: Reward providers that can demonstrate that they move people along the desistance journey, rather than making payments dependent on the long-term outcome of reduced reoffending. The 7 pathways provide a good framework and working model for helping people move away from crime.
  4. Clarify Transforming Rehabilitation’s past and future: Through the current inquiry into TR, ensure more greater transparency on TR contracts and reward CRCs that engage with the voluntary sector. We support the recent recommendations made by Track TR, such as monitoring the quality of services and supporting the sustainability of services.


NPC points out that the criminal justice system is extremely reliant on the work charities do daily to reduce crime and rehabilitate offenders and that current funding structures are not sufficient to sustain the sector.

With the Ministry of Justice probation review due to report this month, it will be interesting to see if ministers have sought to address these key issues.


Blog posts in the Criminal Justice category are kindly sponsored by Get the Data which provides Social Impact Analytics to enable organisations to demonstrate their impact on society. GtD has no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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