Criminal justice charities are subsidising government contracts

Work with Offenders explores the latest State of the Sector report from Clinks

Clinks has published its seventh annual edition of its State of the Sector report, highlighting key trends for voluntary sector organisations working in the criminal justice system.

Clinks is the national infrastructure organisation for the Third Sector in the criminal justice field – what we used to call an umbrella body. The State of the Sector reports are an invaluable read for all of us working in criminal justice for three main reasons:

Firstly, it’s authoritative and representative. I like to think I’ve got a decent handle on most of the latest developments in criminal justice, but, inevitably, my knowledge is disproportionally based on the half a dozen organisations that I’m working directly with at any one time.

The current State of the Sector report, is based on information provided by no less than 245 organisations working with offenders and their families. These organisations range from national powerhouses with thousands of staff to small local operations with just one paid worker. They are based all over the country, facing the different challenges thrown up by inner cities, rural communities and seaside towns, so many of which are now beset by County Lines drug dealing operations.

Secondly, the reports dig deep and provide detailed and nuanced information about the latest developments in the sector. Clinks has really upped its presentational game over recent years and good quality infographics provide a quick and easy way to get an instinctual grip on, for example, funding trends in the sector.

Thirdly, because the reports are produced every year, they are excellent for spotting trends. Recent additions have made it lamentably easy for all to see just what impact both austerity and the redesign of probation on the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) have had. As regular Work with offenders readers will know, the probation service is currently going through yet another remodelling. As with the first version of TR, the Ministry of Justice has announced its intention of involving many more small and medium-sized voluntary sector organisations in the support of offenders. Future State of the Sector editions will be able to tell us whether they have been successful.

So, what does the 2019 report tell us about current trends in the criminal justice voluntary sector?

Here are some of the headline findings:

  • Organisations are supporting increasing numbers of people
  • Organisations set up specifically to provide tailored support to, or have a tailored service for, people with protected characteristics are more likely to say service user numbers have risen
  • For the third year in a row, Clinks found that service user need is becoming more complex and more urgent
  • Over a third of organisations continue to report that staff are having to take on larger caseloads to meet growing service user need
  • Organisations are increasing partnership work with other voluntary organisations to meet the growing complexity and urgency of service user need
  • Organisations continue to prioritise the involvement of service users in the design and delivery of services.

Perhaps some of the most important findings of those about the funding of the sector. Specialist criminal justice organisations are, on the whole, smaller than charities in other sectors. Overall, the sector relies mainly on government contracts, with the smaller organisations more likely to receive grants.

The report found that the smaller the organisation, the more reliant they are getting money from charitable trusts and foundations. Perhaps the most critical finding, for the third successive year, is that most charities in the criminal justice sector are subsidising government contracts because they cannot deliver a good quality service with the level of funding they receive.

This trend is putting incredible stress on the whole sector and charities in the criminal justice sector have less reserves on average than the UK voluntary sector as a whole.

In a very real sense, the charitable sector is keeping the rehabilitative and resettlement parts of the criminal justice system afloat despite almost a decade of austerity. If whichever government wins the general election does not support the sector properly, next year’s State of the Sector report may well be telling a story of long-standing charities shutting down from lack of funds.

The latest Clinks report is at: