Voluntary and Community Sector makes significant contribution to Criminal Justice System

A report by Criminal Justice Inspection on the input made by the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland to the criminal justice system has shown organisations operating in this area are making a significant contribution.

The report – which sought for the first time to assess the impact of voluntary and community sector organisations on the criminal justice system – showed that Northern Ireland had a well developed voluntary and community sector.
“The voluntary and community sector makes an important contribution to the criminal justice system,” said Kit Chivers, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“While CJI’s report identifies tensions that exist within the sector and between it and the official agencies and Inspectors heard many views as to how things might be done better, overall, the position in Northern Ireland compares favourably with elsewhere in the UK and Republic of Ireland,” he stated.
“The voluntary and community sector does extremely good work to support the criminal justices agencies by pioneering new approaches and helping official agencies relate to all parts of Northern Ireland’s community.
“It provides services to people visiting relatives in prison; provides support to people appearing as witnesses in court; assists victims of crime; works with offenders in the community and has undertaken responsibility for managing hostels for serious offenders,” he continued.
“The voluntary and community sector has also played a key role in developing diversionary schemes aimed at keeping young people from being drawn into crime and so minimising the number of young people who are imprisoned,” said Mr. Chivers.
However, the CJI report which was published today (Thursday 23 November) also recognised the funding changes impacting on the voluntary and community sector in Northern Ireland.
“Accountability requirements are becoming ever more difficult which is making the climate in which these organisations have to operate increasingly arduous. Many groups are becoming heavily dependent on Government funding and many do not have the financial reserves to tide them over during a lean period,” remarked the Chief Inspector.
Mr. Chivers also pointed out that some of the voluntary management boards involved in the voluntary and community sector struggled to provide the level of oversight now expected.
“Voluntary and community sector organisations attract many dedicated workers and they are contributing some very worthwhile services to the criminal justice system, but they will require support as the funding situation becomes increasingly tighter,” he said.
As a result of the review, CJI has urged the Government to engage in a more structured way with the voluntary and community sector. Funding agencies have also been encouraged to enter into long term agreements that would provide the security needed to allow such organisations to plan ahead.
This will become increasingly important in light of impending developments such as changes in local government structures, the establishment of a Charity Commission and the possible devolution of criminal justice.