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Service user involvement with offenders

Revolving Doors Agency toolkit provides detailed advice on how to involve service users in shaping your probation service.

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This is the second post on the recent series of toolkits recently (30 June 2016) published by the Revolving Doors Agency  on service user involvement for staff working in the Criminal Justice System.

Service user involvement with offenders in the community

Service user involvement is an essential part of running an effective probation service. Giving service SUI offenders RDA cover users the opportunity to give their views and contribute to areas such as service design and monitoring has many benefits. It ensures your service is responsive to service users’ needs, it gives service users a voice and develops their skills. Playing an active role in their community and taking on a measure of responsibility can assist in the journey away from crime.

The toolkit, entitled  “Service user involvement with offenders in the community” is designed for managers and staff of any probation service provider that wants to involve their service users in the management, design and delivery of their probation services.

The toolkit is organised in a straightforward fashion. It provides a comprehensive view of the subject and takes readers through three main steps:

1: Introduction

This section defines service user involvement and  sets out the rationale for involving people on probation,

The introduction looks at what areas and issues service users can be involved in:

RDA SUI areas

Finally, it highlights the key issues for CRCs in implementing effective service user involvement in probation services including staff being afraid or uncomfortable about the prospect of giving power to service users and service users being uninterested or feeling unprepared.

2: Developing effective service user involvement

This section looks at one of the key issues of service user involvement — getting people on board — before providing detailed guidance for the reviewing and planning process.

It ends by looking at how to embed service user involvement in the way you run your probation service.

The toolkit covers both how to get staff and service users involved and gives detailed practical guidance about such key issues as developing a communication strategy, ensuring that staff feel listened to, expense payments for service users and managing risk.

The toolkit gives examples of different types of service user involvement including peer research (covered in more detail by a separate Revolving Doors toolkit) and an ongoing service user group. Different service user involvement activities generate different benefits:

RDA benefits SUI

3: Consultation methods

Section 3 explores three different approaches to consulting with service users and provides detailed guidance of how and in what circumstances to use:

  • Open space — a method that brings a group of people together to discuss a specific topic of interest to them and allows them to create and manage their own agenda
  • World Cafe — a consultation event that brings people together to facilitate discussion and come up with ideas for solutions for specific issues
  • Focus Groups — small (5-10 people) groups to explore a range and diversity of views around a key them or particular issues

The toolkit is also backed up by a very useful resource section which includes everything you might need for implementing service user involvement from running a workshop to get staff on board to sample recruitment posters and times for running effective service user group meetings.


Many probation trusts had integrated service user involvement into their way of operating, sometimes using their own approaches, sometimes with the help and expertise of User Voice.

If you’ve been thinking about enhancing the service user involvement in your Community Rehabilitation Company of area of the National Probation Service, this is an excellent resource to guide you through the process and is based on actual service user involvement work in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

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With over 20 years’ experience in the criminal justice sector, Unilink is a world leader in probation and community corrections software applications, as well as prisoner self-service, prisoner/case management and prisoner communications. Unilink’s integrated suite of products provide a complete digital solution enabling efficient running of prisons and probation. Underpinned by biometrics it integrates seamlessly to deliver security, efficiency and value – while being proven to help rehabilitate prisoners.

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