Non-governmental and voluntary sector organisations in criminal justice and drug policy processes

Dr Natalie Thomas1, Dr Alice  Mills2, Professor Rosie Meek3, Dr  Mary  Corcoran4
1University Of New England, Armidale, Australia, 2University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand, 3Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, United Kingdom, 4Keele University, Keele, United Kingdom

Challenges to the participation of non-government organisations in drug policy processes

Natalie Thomas

Civil society participation in drug policy processes is an important part of international and domestic drug policy systems. Non-government and civil society organisations act as key service providers and policy actors and are recognised as such by governments at the local, state, and federal level in Australia – at least at the level of policy rhetoric. There are, however, a number of practical challenges to the realisation of the important role that non-government organisations could play in drug policy processes in the Australian context. This paper reports on research on Australian non-government organisations to explore some of the challenges to their participation and functioning in the Australian drug policy system. The findings highlight issues around funding, advocacy, power, voice and participation within the drug policy field.

Valued, independent organisations or ‘little fingers of the state’?: The position and influence of NGOs in criminal justice in New Zealand

Alice Mills

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in New Zealand have an enduring history of providing services for people leaving prison, and are the current providers of most post-release services. Since the ‘contract crunch’ (McCarthy 1995: 8) of the early 1990s and the widespread introduction of competitive purchase-of-service contracts, NGOs in New Zealand have largely been required to accept ‘government-specified standards and outputs’ (Tennant, 2007: 126). This has led to concerns that they have become the ‘little fingers of the state’ (Nyland, 1993) and considerable frustration amongst NGOs themselves with the state’s apparent reluctance to recognise their expertise, strengths and autonomy. Furthermore, NGOs in criminal justice have faced the additional challenge of operating in a climate that has been dominated by penal populism and has been hostile to groups involved in helping offenders. Drawing on several research projects, this paper will examine relationship between the NGO sector and the state in criminal justice in New Zealand, with a particular focus on organisations that provide post-release housing and support. It will further examine the political position of NGOs and consider the potential opportunities to strengthen their role and increase their influence in New Zealand society, given the current government’s desire to reduce both recidivism and the prison population.

The voluntary sector in prisons in England and Wales: Where are we and what lies ahead?

Rosie Meek

There is a strong history of voluntary sector involvement in British prisons, spanning involvement in a wide range of services, including prisoner education, healthcare, housing support and through-the-gate provision. Austerity measures of recent years have further strengthened the role that these diverse organisations play in the care and rehabilitation of our burgeoning prison population. This paper will outline the current context and set out some key challenges that lie ahead for the voluntary sector in prisons, with particular attention to the changing commissioning landscape and a raft of prison and probation reforms.

Working with, against or through neoliberal penality? Voluntary sector futures in criminal justice

Mary Corcoran

The profile of the voluntary/charitable sector’s work in criminal justice has become sharply magnified in recent years as ‘Anglophone’ capitalist countries turn towards mixed-market models in public services.  Austerity, welfare state shrinkage, marketisation and new public managerialism have, in their different ways, accelerated the trend towards ‘hybridised’ criminal justice.     The transition to contracted ‘partners’ in criminal justice provision (alongside the state and for-profits) poses fundamental questions about the power relations which inhere in these partnerships, the further blurring of their functions, and the extent to which private (non-state) agencies ought to be accountable as public entities.  Drawing on a national research project covering England & Wales, this contribution will share findings about the significant paradigms shifts that are taking place in the penal voluntary sector in Britain.


Dr Natalie Thomas is a Lecturer in Criminology in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales. She completed her PhD thesis in 2017 at Griffith University on the role of the non-government sector in the Australian drug policy field.

Dr Alice Mills is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Auckland. She has conducted several research projects examining the role and position of non-governmental organisations and on the importance of stable housing for people released from prison. She is currently leading a 3-year study into the role of stable housing in reducing reoffending, funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund. In 2018, she has held Visiting Fellowships at the Universities of Vermont, Birmingham and Turku.

Professor Rosie Meek is a psychologist in the School of Law, Royal Holloway University of London, UK. Her research (primarily with Dr Alice Mills) has explored a wide range of features of voluntary and community sector involvement in Criminal Justice, with a particular focus on prisoner rehabilitation. She is co-editor of the 2016 text ‘The Voluntary Sector in Prisons’ (Palgrave).

Mary Corcoran (Keele University UK)  is Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Keele University, UK.  She has published widely on women in criminal justice, the voluntary sector, marketisation, and is currently focusing on prisoner health and wellbeing.   Mary co-edited (with A. Hucklesby) (2015)  The Voluntary Sector and Criminal Justice,  and is currently working on a monograph (with Williams & Maguire): The Voluntary Sector in Criminal Justice: Adaptation, Capture and Resilience  (working title).  Mary is also Visiting Fellow at the Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales (Autumn 2018).

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