Today 2 former prisoners, Barry and Fabien, spoke at the launch of a new report into volunteering in prison alongside Prisons Minister, Andrew Selous MP and in partnership with the charity Clinks.
This project, commissioned at the request of Andrew Selous MP, aimed to explore how we can increase the amount and scope of prison volunteering across England and Wales. One of the National Offender Management Service’s (NOMS) key priorities is supporting the use of volunteers in prisons.
User Voice, Clinks, NOMS, voluntary sector organisations and prisons have all been keen to identify good practice that can be used more widely to maximise the impact of volunteering and minimise any barriers that limit its use. This publication is intended to inform individuals and organisations involved with, or interested in, enhancing volunteering in prison.
User Voice facilitated five service user focus groups to consult service users about their perspective on volunteering; two groups in male prisons, two groups with people on probation, and one group who of people whose sentences had come to an end. They identified a number of key themes:
- There were not enough opportunities for prisoners to work with volunteers, and many stated the advertising of services within the prison could be improved.
- There was robust agreement amongst current and ex-service users about the important benefits for those who volunteer in prison; volunteering by current and ex-service users was seen as a vital opportunity to help others as well gain beneficial skills.
- It was identified that having volunteers with a lived experience of the criminal justice system was beneficial to both service-users and those who are volunteering because it improved communication and mutual understanding between people in very different circumstances.
- Issues surrounding security for ex-service user volunteers were found to be the greatest barrier to accessing volunteering opportunities in prison.
- Service users recognised that prison staff and volunteers need to work together in order to ensure that volunteers feel part of a team.
As a result there were a number of key actions identified to support effective volunteering:
- Clear roles should be identified for volunteers, and their work should be strategically integrated.
- Prisons and their partners should proactively recruit volunteers from as diverse a base as possible.
- Volunteering should receive a consistent level of coordination and support.