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The state of the criminal justice voluntary sector
Clinks regular State of the Sector reports provide a valuable barometer of the latest trends in voluntary sector work with offenders.

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State of the Sector

Yesterday (11 April 2022) Clinks published its eighth State of the Sector report and its first since November 2019. Understandably, last year Clinks focused on the impact of the pandemic and did a special report on how COVID-19 had affected the criminal justice voluntary sector. The report shows how the CJ voluntary sector fared in the 2020/21 financial year and is based on 132 responses to an online survey and 11 in-depth interviews.

Key findings

Unsurprisingly, the research finds that voluntary organisations faced an extraordinarily challenging year. Long-term problems of increasing levels of need amongst service users, underfunded contracts, and complex procurement, all continued with the added weight of the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused most organisations to radically overhaul their delivery models. While the availability of emergency funding during the year helped organisations continue their vital work, there is a degree of uncertainty and concern for the future. There are eight headline findings from the report:

  1. People accessing voluntary sector services had higher levels of need. Over 80% of respondents said that the level, complexity and urgency of need of their service users had increased, as the long-term effects of a housing crisis, austerity and welfare reform were compounded by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  2. Voluntary sector services responded with flexibility and innovation to continue supporting people in the criminal justice system. In response to the pandemic, 74% of organisations changed to remote delivery and over half of organisations developed new services to respond to greater need.
  3. Inconsistent information from statutory services prevented voluntary organisations from supporting the emergency response to Covid-19. Organisations didn’t know how they could support HMPPS to respond to the crisis in prisons, access to information was highly variable across the estate and there was often a disjoint between central policy directives and local practice.
  4. The voluntary sector in criminal justice is leading the way in lived-experience involvement. 97% of organisations involved people with lived experience in the design or delivery of their services and the majority recruited people with lived experience as staff and volunteers.
  5. Volunteer numbers fell as services responded to the pandemic. 47% of organisations reported a decrease in volunteer numbers and the majority reported recruiting fewer volunteers in 2020/21 than the previous year. This appeared to be down to specific circumstances arising from Covid-19 and we hope to see numbers increase next year.
  6. Voluntary organisations are underpaid for their contracted work. Only 26% of organisations achieved full cost recovery across all their contracts, an even smaller number than in 2019. Organisations subsidised the shortfall in contracts using their own reserves or other funding sources (see graphic below).
  7. Emergency grant funding helped organisations to adapt their services and plug gaps in income. 70% of survey respondents applied for emergency grants, predominantly from charitable trusts and foundations and statutory bodies. Almost all organisations who applied were successful in securing at least one grant.
  8. Organisations fear that the availability of emergency funding will reduce in subsequent years. Interview participants expressed major concern that the pandemic would mean charitable trusts and foundations would not be able to afford long-term strategic grant programmes and that statutory funders would face cuts.

Arts in the justice sector

This year’s edition of the State of the Sector report also contains a section dedicated to voluntary sector arts organisations working in the CJS. It is disappointing to read that arts organisations were also twice as likely to report that they closed or reduced some services during Covid-19 (29%) than the wider sector (14%). This is probably because arts activity is often delivered in groups, and so harder to deliver in a Covid-safe way or to adapt to remote delivery.

The future

My overall feeling from reading the report is a sense of uncertainty about the future. The criminal justice voluntary sector is trying to work out (like the rest of us) what the long term impacts of the pandemic will be, both in terms of delivery models and in terms of the availability of funding. I am left with a number of key questions to which I just don’t know the answer:

  • To what extent can the sector rely on charitable trusts, many of whom invested huge sums in keeping charities afloat during the pandemic?
  • Will government commissioning systems ever be accessible to smaller voluntary organisations?
  • Will business invest more as part of its corporate social responsibility mission?

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