Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

The Voluntary and Community Sector: The Paradox of Becoming Centre-Stage in the Big Society

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

The Voluntary and Community Sector: The Paradox of Becoming Centre-Stage in the Big Society

Article excerpt

The 1990s saw the development of the voluntary sector as a key partner in the core business of crime reduction and crime prevention. The launch of the Peppermint Paper (Home Office, 1990) and then the Lavender Paper (Home Office, 1992), both given the same name, Partnership in Dealing with Offenders in the Community, stimulated debates about partnerships between the voluntary, private and public sectors. In the 1990s, the voluntary sector was being invited to expand and diversify from its philanthropic origins (see Carey & Walker in Bryans et al., 2002 for discussion of historical antecedents), and this gave rise to the term 'independent sector' (Nellis, 1995), expressive of that sense of distance from the formal publicly-run correctional systems. There was a clear implication in conveying the voluntary sector through this prefix 'independent' that their role would be seen as supplemental, additional and complementary to core public services. The term also blurred the distinctions between the voluntary and private sectors too who were both seen as offering energy and innovation in contrast to the allegedly more moribund public sector.

However, this augmentation was accompanied by growing questions surrounding public sector efficacy in offender rehabilitation provision, a questioning which had started with the 'nothing works' literature of the 1970s (Martinson, 1974; Brody, 1976) with the simple, if somewhat overstated, pronouncement of the 'death of rehabilitation'. This had continued with the more ideological Thatcherite attack on professionals in the person al social services in the 1980s and its re-directing of criminal justice policy towards a more 'law and order' formulation and the accompanying attacks on the role of the probation service. In this climate, a somewhat inflated potential for coming centre-stage was manufactured by both the voluntary and the even more fledging private sector not only to supplement but possibly to replace public provision and this first began to be taken seriously during the 1990s (Nellis, 1995). An over ambitious example at that time was the rumoured intentions of the wholesale takeover of the community service work of the probation service by Nacro. (1) This did seem to overplay the hand of the voluntary sector then and was dismissed as unrealistic but the voluntary sector was evidently up for partnership and was ready for growth and one piece of research (Cross, 1997) argued this fitted with a more locally sensitive orientation.

[S]hifting back to local communities that locus of political power and control over economic resources which has been usurped by the present administration in its obsession with market-place capitalism and restoring 19th century authoritarian values. (Cross, 1997: 78)

These arguments and claims have circulated in various forms since that time with the New Labour project of modernisation and the development of its 'mixed economy of provision' (Senior et al., 2007) at the heart of the expansionist objectives of this 'independent' sector. A change of government in May 2010 has not slackened the rhetoric and intentions of the policy-makers towards utilising local voluntary groups with its call for a return to civil society, encapsulated in the coalition government's formulation of its 'Big Society'. The UK prime minister puts it this way:

The Big Society is about a huge culture change, where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplace, don't always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face but instead feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities. (David Cameron quoted in Kisby, 2010)

The criminal justice voluntary sector (2) (CJVS) has effectively inserted itself into the heart of the delivery of services for crime reduction and crime prevention. The shifting sands of ideological commitment to localism and utilising locally-based community groups from the communitarianism of New Labour through to Burke's 'little platoons' in the Big Society accompanies a movement bringing centre-stage their role in ways well beyond the volunteering and more 'genteel' support given by numerous charitable bodies in the 19th and early 20th century. …

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