Volunteers in prisons and probation

A summary of evidence relating to managing and supporting volunteers in prison and probation services to support rehabilitation.

The Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise sector (VCSE) has long played an important role in reducing reoffending and working with individuals who are in and outside prisons. People volunteer through the VCSE at local and national level, as well as through local community and religious groups and as individuals. The majority of VSCE staff are paid, although many organisations also employ volunteers.

There are particular issues that arise in working with criminal justice agencies. These include for example security clearance, information sharing, risk assessments, and record-keeping.

How prison and probation providers can enable a good volunteering service:

  • clearly define the role of the volunteer to clarify the organisation’s expectations and level of support that can be offered to the volunteer
  • recruit volunteers with skills and experience relevant for the role
  • deliver induction, role-specific training and provide ongoing support and supervision for volunteers
  • develop close partnerships with services in both custody and the community to enable effective work ‘through the gate’ services
  • establish monitoring and evaluation mechanisms that provide detailed information on inputs (time, money, resources to enable volunteering), outputs (activities, services and products that have been provided), and outcomes (changes, benefits, learning or other effects that happen as a result of the volunteer programme)
  • harness, support and develop enthusiasm, energy and skills of volunteers through stakeholder engagement and feedback

Volunteers should not be:

  • used in place of specialist, paid staff
  • over-relied upon
  • considered a cost-free resource

Further reading

Justice Data Lab gives organisations access to central reoffending data to help assess the impact of their work on reducing reoffending.

Justice Data Lab Data Analyses by Region Visualisation Tool provides a summary of significant findings, types of interventions analysed, and the number of public, voluntary and private sector providers.

Clinks is the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison & Probation Service funded sector infrastructure body supporting the role of the VCSE in prisons and probation:

Design and Delivery of volunteering in the Criminal Justice System report describes the results of a study conducted on volunteer management, recruitment, training and support practices within the Criminal Justice System in six European countries (including England & Wales).

Building Successful Partnerships Involving Volunteers in the Criminal Justice System final report of ‘Justice Involving Volunteers Europe’ (JIVE) project involving a partnership of 8 non-governmental organisations working within the Criminal Justice System across Europe, to exchange ideas and share good practice (Feb 2016).

The role and value of volunteers in the Criminal Justice System: a European study presents the findings of a European-wide survey on the current contribution and value of volunteers in the Criminal Justice Systems of Europe.

Tell us what you think of the Prison and probation evidence resource so we can improve it.

This page summarises the available evidence base and is informed by independent academic peer review. It does not represent Ministry of Justice or Government policy.

Published 15 May 2019