Civil Society, the State and Criminal Justice - Civil Society and

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					     University of Keele: Conference on the Voluntary Sector in Criminal
                                   Justice –
                          16 and 17 September, 2008

                      Civil Society, the State and Criminal Justice

                                             David Faulkner

This is an important and perhaps critical moment in relationships between
the voluntary sector and government, and perhaps between the voluntary
sector and communities

The role of the voluntary sector is a now live issue, with much debate about
alliances and partnerships, commissioning and contracts, the future of the
Compact, the citizens’ voice in decision-making and empowerment of local
communities. It was the subject of Society Guardian last week1.

I would like to look behind that at what is going on, at what people are
trying to do. And I would like to talk about civil society more generally, as
well as that part which forms the VCS. Something quite significant now
seems to be happening in British society and politics - a shift in relations
between state and citizen, between government and civil society. It is not
just about the re-alignment of political parties or big or small government –
it is about the distribution of power and responsibility in a modern

The notion of civil society is quite old. For Plato and Aristotle it was what
made a city a civilised place to live in, where its citizens work together for
the common good and enjoy a good life. It was part of Athenian democracy
and of the ideal city state. Our own government seems to see it in the same
way when it makes the connection with Aristotle in its white paper on
Communities in Control.

The idea went quiet for a long time, but the philosophers of the
Enlightenment revived it after the upheavals across Europe in the
seventeenth century. They saw civil society rather differently. They saw it as
separate from the state, linked to it through a social contract but acting as a

    Society Guardian, 10th September, 2008

check on the state’s use or abuse of its power. The diggers and levellers had
been reaching for the same ideas, and the Quaker influence has been present
ever since. Marx saw the situation the other way round, with the state having
to restrain the selfish interests which he thought civil society would
otherwise promote.

That rather crude analysis might not stand up to close examination by
academic philosophers and historians. But the point I want to make is that
civil society matters. It is through civil society that citizens can articulate,
pursue and if necessary fight for the things they believe in and especially for
what they see as freedom, fairness and justice. Civil Society is part of what
makes Britain the kind of country it is, it shapes our national identity which
some people say we are at risk of losing. It helped to sustain the country in
times of trouble including two world wars and times of recession. It is
reflected in the courtesies of everyday life, and the responsibilities towards
one another which citizens may or may not take for granted2. It is part of the
tradition which inspired the penal reformers and philanthropists of the
eighteenth century and the social reformers of the nineteenth, including the
founders of the children’s charities and the Quaker industrialists. It is good
that of some those reformers are commemorated in the names given to
different parts of the Home Office and Ministry of Justice building in
Marsham Street.

That tradition, and that spirit of public duty and public service, were still
alive and active in my grandparents’ generation; it was still alive but
becoming less active in my parents’ generation. By the 1950s it was still to
be found in the so-called ‘public service ethic’ (not of course the exclusive
possession of civil or even public servants), but work which had previously
been done by charities had come to be seen more as the job of the state.
Professionals and other people looked down on amateurs, volunteers and do-
gooders and avoided them as far as possible. One of my early tasks in the
Home Office was to nationalise the arrangements for prison after-care,
taking it away from the voluntary discharged prisoners’ aid societies and the
Central After-Care Association and transferring it to the probation service. I
now think something was lost in the process, although Nacro rose from the

 See the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report (2008) ‘Duty and Obligation’ – the invisible glue in
services and support, available at

The 1970s brought the period which academics call ‘late modernity’. It was,
or is, a period marked by insecurity in employment and relationships,
preoccupation with risk, questioning of authority and tradition,
individualism and erosion of trust especially of professionals. It went with
the new public management, the rejection of liberal values and the public
service ethic, and suspicion of difference and ‘otherness’. In work with
offenders it brought a transition from an approach based on social work,
personal influence and individual discretion and judgement to one based on
systems, enforcement, processes and standardisation. Those attitudes
informed the policies of successive governments, especially after 1979. Civil
society responded with the remarkable growth which we had seen in the
number of voluntary organisations working with offenders and campaigning
for penal reform.

Just as there was a change of mood and direction at the end of the 1970s,
another change seems to taking place to-day. Political commentators write
about it in terms of personalities, the need for political parties to find a new
sense of direction, and the difficulty they have in finding one when the wind
is blowing from so many different directions. There also seems to be a sense
among the gossiping classes that the ‘Blair’ or ‘New Labour’ era, sometimes
bracketed with Thatcher era with which it shared the ‘market’ model of
government, has come to an end and the obsession with central direction,
micro-management and government hyperactivity has now had its day.

There also seems to be agreement, although perhaps not yet within
government, that the ‘systems’ approach to offenders needs to be
complemented by one which places a stronger emphasis on relationships and
motivation, and which pays greater attention to the increasing range of
academic studies of the human and situational factors that influence
offenders to stop offending3. The government’s scheme for ‘integrated
offender management’4, with the involvement of a wide range of local
agencies and also local communities, may begin to do that.

    Hough, M. (2008) Reducing Reoffending: Getting off the Treadmill, paper prepared for the National
Audit Office. London, Institute for Criminal Policy Research, Kings College, London. For studies of
desistence, see for example McNeill, F., Batchelor, S., Burnett, R. and Knox, J. (2005) 21st Century Social
Work: Reducing Re-offending: Key Practice Skills. Edinburgh: Scottish Executive; also McNeill, F. and
Weaver, B, (2007) Giving Up Crime: Directions for Policy. Glasgow: Scottish Centre for Crime and
Justice Research.
 Ministry of Justice (2008) ‘Government launches new approach to tackling re0offending in London’.
News release, 16th July, 2008, available at

The Government is talking about the ‘citizen’s voice’ and ‘empowering
communities’, and about the role of the voluntary sector in that process.
David Blunkett started the debate when he spoke about ‘civil renewal’ while
he was Home Secretary5, although I was never entirely clear what he meant
or what he was trying to do – moral revival, encouraging innovation and
creativity, or getting things done more cheaply. He was not much interested
in ideas about treating prisoners as citizens, which Frances and I together
with the Prison Reform Trust tried to promote a few years ago6, and of
which prisoners’ work with Citizens’ Advice7 is an example. He gave me the
impression that he was mainly interested in conscripting the VCS into the
service of the Government, demanding their political support and taking
political credit for their achievements. The more recent white paper on
Communities in Control 8 is more coherent, but is more about consultation
than it is about actual power or responsibility. David Cameron seems to want
to strike out in a new direction, but it is still not clear what that might be or
whether his party will follow him.

Someone said to me the other day that government tries to be like the private
sector, the voluntary sector tries to be like government and the private sector
tries to be like the voluntary sector. That cannot be good. The three are
different, have different roles and can do different things. They should not
imitate one another. The difference needs to be built on and respected. What
is special about civil society and voluntary organisations is that although
people’s involvement may sometimes be influenced by hope of profit or
power, it is usually founded on a vision of the kind of country and the kind
of society they want to live in, and a wish to do something about it. That
does not give them any moral superiority, and it certainly does not give them
a licence to be complacent or incompetent. There will certainly be questions
about accountability – to trustees, funders, beneficiaries, communities, the

 Blunkett, D. (2003) Civil Renewal: A New Agenda, the Edith Kahn Memorial Lecture, London, Home

    Faulkner, D. and Flaxington, F. (2004) ‘NOMS and Civil Renewal’, Vista, 9/2, 90-99.
 Burnett, R. and Maruna, S. (2004) Prisoners as Citizens’ Advisers: the OxCAB-Springhill Partnership
and its Wider Implications. London: Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.
 Department for Communities and Local Government (2008) Communities in Control: Real People, Real
Power, CM7427, London TSO.

Charity Commission – and that subject seems to me to need a good deal
more attention that it usually receives at present. But they can do things that
others cannot or will not. The vision will not be the same for everyone, and
diversity and eccentricity should be accommodated so long as they are
within a framework of competence and responsibility. Voluntary
organisations should be valued and enabled, not simply managed. The
question may not necessarily be about who should do what but how they
should do them.

It is difficult to be prescriptive about what the state or the voluntary sector
should always do or should never do. What was unthinkable 30 years ago is
often quite thinkable to-day, although that is not the same as saying it would
be a good thing and voluntary organisations should still not exercise powers
that properly belong only to the state. The most promising area and the most
urgent need for the voluntary sector to be more involved seems to me to be
juvenile justice, where voluntary organisations in partnership with local
authorities ought now to take over responsibility for secure institutions,
remove them from the criminal justice system, and run them as secure
schools. I am convinced of the case for that, although I do not have time to
argue it this afternoon.

Some concerns –

       People’s readiness to see crime and anti-social behaviour as matters
        for government and the police, and not to accept any responsibility of
        their own as citizens9.
       The continuing streak of suspicion and sometimes hostility which so
        many people feel for ‘criminals’, and sometimes for foreigners or
        Muslims. It is too often based on ignorance, and leads to calls for ever
        more severe punishment and unrealistic demands for ‘protection’
        which governments seem unable to resist.
       The fact that civil society and social capital are too often polarised
        along class lines, with the disadvantaged being excluded and
        minorities being organised around their own ethnic or faith groups and
        focusing on issues relating to those groups 10.

 See Reform (2008) The Lawful Society, available at
     Halpern, D (2005) ‘A Matter of Respect’, Prospect, July 2005, 40-44.

It is hard for government to challenge those things. It may be easier for
voluntary organisations. But they do need to be challenged more effectively
than seems to be happening at present.

Some messages for the voluntary sector -
   Don’t go after funding just because it’s there.
   Don’t compromise what you believe in, don’t take short cuts or accept
     second best for the sake of expediency or a short term benefit.
   Look after your accountabilities – trustees, funders, stakeholders,
     beneficiaries, communities, the Charity Commission.
   Have the courage to support unpopular or difficult causes – sex
     offenders, people with problems of mental health, perhaps most
     neglected of all, prisoners’ families.

For government and the statutory sector
    Don’t let yourselves be obsessed by bureaucracy and process.
    Recognise and respect civil society for what it is and for its difference
      from government.
    Use ordinary language, avoid official jargon and don’t talk down to
      people who know and care about what they’re doing.

And for both
   Break away from the dead hand of late modernity and managerialism.
   Encourage and enable people to do things, not just to express
      opinions, and don’t mind too much if what they want to do is not what
      you expect.
   Know yourself and be who you are.


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