Mark’s story embodies the transformative change which User Voice strives to achieve. Mark’s direct contact with the criminal justice system, and later as an employer of ex-offenders and consultant for government and other charities, left him convinced of the urgent need to create a model of service user engagement that is fair for all involved. His principal aim was to foster dialogue between service providers and service users that is mutually beneficial, aiding rehabilitation and recovery and results in better and more cost-effective services.
User Voice was established in 2009 and received its charitable status in 2010.
At User Voice we know that the criminal justice system needs to be improved. We are optimistic that change is possible and we know that we have the experience and insight to contribute to making it better.
Rehabilitation is possible, and people with convictions can turn their lives into an active force for good in society. Rehabilitation is the goal of all our work, a process which goes deeper than reducing offending, although that is an outcome.
At User Voice we build the structures that enable productive collaboration between service users and service providers. We are able to do this because our work is led and delivered by ex-offenders. This gives us the special ability to gain the trust of, access to, and insight from people within the criminal justice system.
Society feels frustrated with those who re-offend repeating cycles of behaviour and not engaging with rehabilitation services. Yet people with convictions feel marginalised by society, with rehabilitation services which are often inaccessible and unhelpful and a system that doesn’t value their input.
Whatever the truth, we won’t reduce crime unless we deal with this division. User Voice’s core belief is that rehabilitation only happens when everyone in the criminal justice system shares responsibility for transforming the ‘us vs. them’ division into real collaboration.
Our work is led and delivered by ex-offenders who consistently foster dialogue between users and providers of services within the criminal justice system.
We work to provide ways that enable unheard voices; to make a difference, to urge policy-makers and people with power who make decisions to listen.
Offenders need to take responsibility for their actions, especially so when they have resulted in direct harm to others. This is important because although there are structural inequalities that may restrict or diminish personal choices, choices can be made at particular points in time and acted on and behaviour can be changed. This is where User Voice is particularly well placed – in enabling prisoners to find a way through some of these structural and personal challenges.
Reducing re‑offending works best if offenders are motivated to want to break clear of crime and given practical help to assist them to be successful. Those working with offenders therefore need to really understand the lives of offenders and the problems that face them. Organisations like User Voice, drawing on ex‑offenders who have been successful in giving up crime, can help staff to understand offenders better and ex‑offenders can successfully draw on their own experience to help others.
Prisons are full of individuals who want to change but think they can’t, or lack the courage or skills to try. Enabling those individuals, who are lost in the system, meet past offenders who have changed successfully is one of the most effective and inspiring things I have ever seen in prison. User Voice has provided a unique model of inclusion which has had a profound impact on a wide number of offenders looking for a way out.
To be true to what we stand for and good at what we do, User Voice will always be majority staffed and led by people who have experienced the criminal justice system. From our executive board to every level of staffing, former service users serve an integral part of User Voice’s success, values, and culture. This guiding principle makes us a unique provider in the sector. Our work is underpinned by innovative methods of engagement and research that proves the effectiveness of our approach.
All our staff that work directly with service users have a history of offending themselves. This is crucial in giving us the insight, credibility and access to do our job well.