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Home arrow Law arrow The Voluntary Sector in Prisons: Encouraging Personal and Institutional Change

ІІІ The Non-profit Sector and Prison Culture: Interactions, Boundaries, and Opportunities

The Involvement of Non-profit Organizations in Prisoner Reentry in the UK: Prisoner Awareness and Engagement

Rosie Meek, Dina Gojkovic, and Alice Mills


Discussions regarding the definition of nonprofit organizations in the UK have developed considerably over the past two decades. A wide range of terms have been used, including voluntary sector, nongovernmental sector, charitable sector, and community sector; all of which draw our attention to different attributes of the sector and draw intersector boundaries along slightly different lines (Buckingham, 2009; Halfpenny & Reid, 2002).

Originally published in Journal of Offender Rehabilitation, Vol. 52, No. 5, pp. 338-357.

R. Meek (H)

Royal Holloway University of London, London, UK D. Gojkovic

University of Southampton, Southampton, UK A. Mills

University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

L.S. Abrams et al. (eds.), The Voluntary Sector in Prisons, Palgrave Studies

in Prisons and Penology, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-54215-1_7

The term third sector was largely promoted by the British New Labour government as an inclusive term (Alcock & Kendall, 2010) but one that carries few assumptions about the characteristics of organizations or the origin of their funding sources. It is, therefore, considered appropriate to use this term to represent the variety of organizations that are involved in the criminal justice system (CJS), ranging from charities and social enterprises to nonprofit organizations, cooperatives, faith groups, and clubs.

Approximately 84,000 people are currently in prison in England and Wales: over 95 % of these are men, 25 % are from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities; 8 % are young adult offenders (between the ages of 18 and 21); and 1.5 % are juveniles1 (Ministry ofJustice [MOJ], 2013a). In 2012, over 86,000 offenders were discharged following a prison sentence[1] [2] (MOJ, 2013a), but latest estimates indicate that approximately half of all offenders released from custody will reoffend within a year[3] (2013b). In 2002, the Social Exclusion Unit’s (SEU) report, Reducing Re-Offending by Ex-Prisoners (SEU, 2002), concluded that prisons were failing to turn offenders away from crime, with reoffending costing the state at least ?11 billion per annum (for recorded crime). The report identified nine factors that influence reoffending, which were then transformed into the seven reducing reoffending pathways formulated by the Reducing Re-Offending National Action Plan (Home Office, 2004), which would guide reentry—or “resettlement”—service provision. These pathways are organized as accommodation; education, employment, and training; health; drugs and alcohol; finance, debt and benefit, children and families; and attitudes, thinking, and behavior. Offender managers were established by the National Offender Management Service to coordinate these pathways and provide “end-to-end” management of offenders for the duration of their sentence, with the aim of managing risk and addressing criminogenic needs to reduce reoffending. Offender managers in England and Wales work with 260,000 offenders every year who are either in one of the

137 prisons in England and Wales or are serving a community sentence in one of the 35 probation trusts.

However, British resettlement policy and the assumptions behind it have been criticized for a number of reasons. Firstly, resettlement (and a similar concept, reintegration) remains a contested term as it tends to assume that offenders were well settled or integrated in the community before prison, when they were often excluded from society (SEU, 2002), and fails to recognize that the communities in which they were settled or integrated may value criminal activity (Raynor, 2007). Secondly, the pathways approach risks compartmentalizing resettlement practice and commissioning, potentially creating barriers for more holistic services (Hucklesby & Hagley-Dickinson, 2007). Thirdly, resettlement policy has tended to focus on the provision of practical services to offenders to meet their social needs but the links between these and the actual reduction of reoffending is not clear. It is argued that more focus should be given to offenders’ mental processes and self-motivation to desist from crime, as any future offending is likely to be influenced by offenders’ thinking as well as their circumstances (Maguire & Raynor, 2006).

In order to tackle high rates of recidivism, the Reducing Re-Offending National Action Plan promoted partnership working with third-sector organizations (TSOs) as a means of achieving the best results. This has been supported by a myriad of further strategic documents (MOJ, 2008; MOJ/NOMS, 2008a, 2008b), reflecting the wider government agenda of increasing the involvement of the third sector in service planning and delivery. The role of TSOs in providing a range of services to offenders and their families, both in prisons and the community is historically well established, but their involvement has been placed on a more formal footing in the context of developments that mean they can be commissioned to provide services at a local and regional level. The numerous benefits of TSOs’ engagement with this population are well rehearsed in national and international literature (see Dodson, Cabage, & Klenowski, 2011; Meek, Gojkovic, & Mills, 2010), but research examining their efficacy, particularly in comparison to other providers, has been more limited. The evaluation of the resettlement pathfinders, which ran from 1999 to 2005, found that probation-led projects which included a cognitive-motivational program were more likely to produce higher levels of continuity of contact with offenders postrelease from prison and higher levels of positive change in attitudes and beliefs than the voluntary sector-led projects which did not include a cognitive-behavioral element but focused more on welfare needs and facilitating offenders’ access to services, and provided volunteer mentors (Lewis, Maguire, Raynor, Vanstone, & Vennard, 2007; Raynor, 2007). In two of the probation-led projects, both of which contained a cognitive-behavioral program, participants had significantly lower reconviction rates. However, prisoners attending voluntary-sector-led schemes who maintained postrelease contact with volunteer mentors had lower reconviction rates than any other group of prisoners analyzed and statistically significant lower rates than prisoners in a comparison group (Clancy et al., 2006). This suggests that ex-prisoners may benefit from contact with volunteers who have the time to be able to provide more personal and emotional support (Lewis et al., 2007).

Little formal data exists in terms of the extent of third-sector involvement in work with offenders in the UK. Previous attempts by the MOJ to measure the number of TSOs working with offenders have produced incomplete and varied data, partly due to the inconsistent ways that criminal justice agencies record TSO involvement. The work of TSOs may be commissioned or authorized by a variety of different actors in a prison or probation service area, and senior management may not be aware of who is working within their establishment/service, particularly in the case of smaller, volunteer-led TSOs. Seeking to measure the number of TSOs working with offenders, therefore, largely depends on three key factors: (a) which part(s) of the sector are measured (registered charities or other TSOs); (b) whether or not organizations consider offenders to be one of their main client groups; and (c) whether or not only the organizations whose primary area of work is the criminal justice system are included. The most comprehensive estimates to date have been generated by Gojkovic, Mills, and Meek (2011) who used two UK datasets, the ission (a nonministerial governmental body charged with the regulation of charities) dataset, and the 2008 National Survey of Third Sector Organizations (NSTSO), commissioned by the then Office of the Third Sector and carried out by Ipsos MORI (2009).

A preliminary search of some 200 TSOs known to work with offenders identified several keywords used to describe their activities: prison, “offen-” (root of words such as offense and offender), inmate, and legal restriction. Grant-awarding bodies and organizations specifically for prisoners of war were excluded from the analysis. Applying these in a keyword search to the aims and objectives, and published material on an organization’s work, client/service user/beneficiary groups, and total income led to the identification of 769 organizations from the Charity Commission dataset. A broader analysis of the NSTSO dataset revealed more varied estimates: 18,380 organizations identified offenders, exoffenders, and their families as one of their client groups, a more modest 4916 identified criminal justice as one of their areas of work, and 1744 indicated that offenders, ex-offenders, and their families represented one of their main client groups.

It is apparent that establishing the number of TSOs working with offenders in England and Wales is a complex and challenging task, leading to different figures depending on what constitutes “working with offenders.” Indeed, aside from analyses of existing datasets, very little is known about the levels of offender engagement with the TSOs that purport to work with them. As Maguire and Raynor noted, the resettlement pathways seem to assume that “offenders who are assessed as ‘needing’ services ... are also likely to want them, and hence that they largely share the goals of those assisting them: they want to attain a crime-free life” (2006, p. 27, emphasis in original). To this end, the current research aimed to investigate, predominantly through prisoner self-reports, the extent to which a national sample of prisoners were aware of, and reported engaging with, TSOs operating in the prison in which they were being held, alongside the reasons why they had chosen to engage with such organizations.

  • [1] As well as the 989 15- to 17-year-olds held in young offender institutions, there are currently 366 children as young as 10 years of age held in secure children’s homes and securetraining centers.
  • [2] This figure excludes discharges following recall after release on license, noncriminals,persons committed to custody for nonpayment of a fine, persons reclassified as adult prisoners, and deported prisoners.
  • [3] A proven reoffense is defined as any offence committed in a 1-year follow-up period andreceiving a court conviction, caution, reprimand, or warning in the 1-year follow-up or afurther 6-month waiting period. The data source is the extract of the Police NationalComputer held by the MOJ.
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