User Voice - Only Offenders Can Stop Re-Offending

Excluded Youth Project ends in Parliament

What's Your Story

We have engaged around 1000 excluded young people about the reality of their experiences.

Over 600 have completed in-depth questionnaires with over 300 taking part in 22 discussion focus groups.

30 were voted in by their peers to speak to senior policy makers, politicians, business leaders and funders at an event on 2 December in Westminster recommending real solutions.

For further information, to download the report and watch the video click here.

We have officially launched!

On Wednesday 26th May in Portcullis House, Westminster and hosted by Keith Vaz MP and Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, User Voice held its official launch event!

In the last year User Voice has concentrated on piloting a number of innovative projects and so the aim of the event was to explain the work we have done in prisons, probations and youth justice. We also wanted to let everyone know of our future plans and how their support and involvement is needed.

There were a number of speakers on the night who all gave invaluable insight into the work of User Voice through various perspectives. Keith Vaz MP opened the event with an introduction to User Voice’s significance from a policy angle whilst Lord Patel spoke about the benefits and importance of user-led organisations such as User Voice from an academic standpoint. There was also an engaging and imperative speech by Michael Spurr, Director General of NOMS who supported the work of User Voice and spoke of the value of including offenders and ex-offenders in NOMS. Mark Johnson (founder) and Daniel Hutt (Head of Policy) then spoke in more detail about User Voice’s history and current projects.

Most importantly, four ex-offenders and User Voice volunteers each spoke about having a voice and what would have happened if they didn’t. They spoke about the value of someone listening to them but more importantly, that person being someone who has been in their shoes. A big thank you must be given to Tom Butler, Warren Goldie, Corey Campbell and Marina Mason for speaking and representing User Voice.

We had a fantastic turnout and a wide range of people attended including amongst others, senior representatives from prisons, probation, youth justice, policy makers, frontline delivery, media, Lords and MPs, funders, commissioners and academics. This was particularly interesting as it is rare, if ever, that an audience of such a wide spectrum and who have the collective power to solve the problems around re-offending should come together. It was the offenders that brought them together.

At the event we also gave out a draft report evaluating the work of User Voice’s Prison Council model. In true User Voice style the report was deliberately in draft form in order to gain consultation and feedback from the attendees. The final report has now been published and can be accessed here.

Prison Councils showcased as best practice in new report

The New Economics Foundation and Nesta published today their report on co-production, Public Services Inside Out.

It provides examples that represent a radical new approach to public services. They embody what has come to be known as ‘co-production’: public services that rest on an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and neighbours. They exist today not as promises in pamphlets or manifestos, but as real services serving real people more cheaply and more effectively than traditional approaches. This is public services inside out – innovation that overturns the conventional passive relationship between the ‘users’ of services and those who serve them.

As we enter a period in which cuts and savings will be made from on high, the report agues that these examples point to the possibility of a different approach: better, cheaper services created from the ground up by those who know public services the best.

The report recognises User Voice’s unique approach in criminal justice: “Engaging peer and personal networks alongside professionals [is] the best way of transferring knowledge and supporting change.”

Download the report here.

Young offenders give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee

The Home Affairs Committee, chaired by Keith Vaz MP, took evidence from seven young offenders through User Voice. Their contribution was highly valued and referred to around 20 times in their report assessing, and furthering, the policy development of government crime prevention strategies since Labour came to office in 1997.

Why User Voice?
User Voice was given this prestigious platform as one of its representatives challenged the Committee to look around them and take stock of the fact that young offenders, the group they were debating and intending to reach as a result of their consultation, were entirely absent from the consultation exercise, which instead focussed on policymakers and service providers.
Keith Vaz MP challenged User Voice to invite a group of young offenders to give evidence to the committee. A challenge User Voice was only too happy to take on!

Key Outcomes
One of the main difficulties expressed by the committee was the lack of availability of reliable evidence in this field. It therefore welcomed User Voice’s involvement and agreed with the importance of dialogue between policy makers and the “service users” themselves in making decisions about services.

The key messages from our ex-offenders were:
• their need for visible success stories to act as positive role models in communities,
• the ineffectiveness of the education system on children from deprived backgrounds,
• and the need for prisons to act less as areas for “storage people” by empowering detainees to change their lives once released.

As a consequence a Home Affairs Committee report was published, The Government’s Approach to Crime Prevention (Tenth Report of Session 2009-2010). The report highlights amongst other things, that despite the pressures on governments to be seen to act quickly, it is vital that the scoping, piloting and evaluation of programmes is undertaken in constant dialogue with young offenders, to make a positive impact on crime prevention. The report recommended that the Government should “...take account of the experiences of victims and offenders, such as the organisation User voice set up by former offenders for this precise purpose.”

For full report please follow this link

Cabinet Office report highlights User Voice

The Role of Third Sector Innovation: Personalisation of health and social care and services to reduce re-offending

By Cabinet Office Advisor on Third Sector Innovation, Rt. Hon. Anne McGuire MP

The Cabinet Office Advisor on Third Sector Innovation was appointed in November 2008 to advise the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office Ministers on the third sector’s potential contribution to the personalisation of public services.

The Advisor has made a series of recommendations to Cabinet Office Ministers and colleagues across Government. These recommendations focus on translating the potential of the third sector to personalise services into a reality, to help improve health and social care outcomes and reduce re-offending.

The report, published today, highlighted that: “The Advisor acknowledges that models of involvement and levels of service user control need to take into account the context in which the criminal justice system operates. However, there is scope to build on existing good practice to improve the way that offenders, ex-offenders, their families and victims of crime inform interventions and the Offender Management model. For example, User Voice is piloting Prison Councils in three prisons and providing a forum for discussion with prisoners on a wide range of issues.”

User Voice in RSA Report

The Learning Prison

Aim of the Report

For over 250 years the RSA has been a source of ideas, innovation, thought leadership and social engagement for civic society.

The Learning Prison evaluates the recent advances that have been made in prison learning and skills and also suggests modernisation of prisons that is consistent with other public services.

The report suggests key principles for reform and argues for greater user engagement. The report highlights the need for leadership and inspiration both from government and practitioners in order to transform policy and prison politics. It argues for a ‘more positive and powerful vision’ of prisons which should be centred on some essential codes of reform.

The Report Findings – Why User Voice?

Although the government has a strategy for public sector reform, the engagement of users has not been fully utilised in the criminal justice system.

This is because user engagement in the prison system is perceived as dangerous. The report highlighted a recent User Voice survey. It found that governors thought prisoner inclusion less important than security and staff competency in the successful running of prisons.

A strategy of modernisation is necessary; one which proactively incorporates the tools and thinking we have at our disposal. The report commends the use of User Voice Prison Councils and recommends a national review commissioned by the LSC. Prison Councils provides a catalyst for expanding user engagement in prisons. As the report says, it benefits staff/prisoner relationships “by breaking down barriers and enabling dialogue”. Therefore participation of users in the delivery and design of prison services can be highly effective.

The report also highlights User Voice’s work in developing a model of good practice in relation to prison councils.

For the full report please follow this link

NPC report promotes User Voice

Trial and Error: Children and Young People in Trouble with the Law
A Guide for Charities and Funders

Aim of the Report

New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) is a think tank that aims to help funders and charities gain greater impact.

The report explores some of the issues surrounding youth crime and emphasises the pioneering and insightful work that charities do to keep crime figures down. It is aimed at both charities and funders and studies the youth justice sector’s strengths and weaknesses and how investment can have the best impact.

The Report Findings - Why User Voice?

Whilst the majority of charities work on crime prevention, there is an important role for charities to act as an independent source of research and analysis and as policy changers.

Participation has been put into place in other public services yet there is reluctance to do so within the criminal justice system. It is important to put the voices of ex-offenders at the centre of policy change. User Voice is highlighted in the report as leading the way in criminal justice. The report commends User Voice’s work of consulting with offenders on behalf of government, through councils within prisons and in the community with the aim of involving services users in the evaluation of the criminal justice system.

The report also stresses User Voice as an opportunity for funders interested in ‘user participation’. It says User Voice would benefit from funding as it could “ for a forum, or a discrete piece of research or evaluation that would be valuable to the sector.”

It concludes that although the challenges may be great, funding charities such as User Voice will help move policy in the right direction.

For the full report please follow this link.