Agenda for Global Action: Rehabilitative Communities and Volunteers



Once every five years, the “world’s largest and most diverse gathering of policy-makers, practitioners, academia, intergovernmental organizations and civil society in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice” comes together at the United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.

Held this year from March 7th to 12th in Kyoto, Japan, the event has taken place since 1955. This year’s event, postponed from 2020 due to the world-wide pandemic, was held for the first time in hybrid format. 5,000 participants joined from all over world: 152 Member States were represented, together with 37 intergovernmental organizations, 114 non-governmental organizations, 600 individual experts, and several UN entities and institutes.

The Congress is a highly significant event, a forum for the global exchange of views, experience and research and identification of trends and issues. The Congress Declaration (a key output of every Congress) sets an agenda for global action – in this case by 2030, a date which coincides with the broader universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity enshrined in the United Nations SDGs (the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) – 17 integrated goals including peace, justice and strong institutions.

The Congress featured four major “formal” plenary and corresponding workshops series and a larger number of less formal workshops. The latter are open to applications to present from governments, academics, practitioners, NGOs, networks and others; note the opportunity to present in 2025!

Congress themes and actions

By adopting the Declaration, “governments agree concrete actions to advance responses addressing crime prevention, strengthening criminal justice and promoting the rule of law and international cooperation, including against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The CEP was pleased to contribute to preparation and delivery of two important Congress events – the formal workshop on reducing reoffending, and the first ever World Congress on Community Volunteers in probation work. Both events are reviewed here, together with links to relevant papers.

But first a note on the “overarching” Kyoto Declaration…

The Kyoto Declaration

Previous Declarations have made a considerable impact in the field of crime prevention and criminal justice and influenced national and international policies and professional practices.

The draft Kyoto Declaration is available here in full.

Whilst the whole document is of interest and importance, an underpinning approach is evident in the language of the opening agenda; the Declaration speaks of comprehensive strategies for crime prevention and development, multi-dimensional approaches including justice for all and inclusive institutions, and international cooperation. This integrative approach reflects a need to pull together at every level: from locally, all sections and sectors of communities working together to support rehabilitation and reintegration; to globally, sharing of views, experience, research, and common action.

Several sections of the Declaration bear especially directly on our work. Paragraphs 21 – 30 address crime prevention, including mainstreaming a gender perspective (27 – 28), and children and youth (29 – 30). Paragraphs 31 onwards concern “advancing the criminal justice system”. Issues include alternatives and reducing reoffending through rehabilitation and reintegration; paragraph 37 concerns promoting a rehabilitative environment in correctional facilities. Rehabilitation in the community (paragraph 38) follows:

“Promote a rehabilitative environment in the community to facilitate the social reintegration of offenders with the active involvement of local communities, giving due regard to the need to protect society and individuals and the rights of victims and offenders.”

The role and contribution of volunteers is emphasised, as are restorative approaches and victims’ perspectives.
Paragraphs 60 onwards promote “international cooperation and technical assistance to prevent and address all forms of crime”. Progress should be supported through capacity building and through regional and cross-regional cooperation networks.

“Reducing re-offending: identifying risks and developing solutions”

Preparations for the formal workshop were led by UNAFEI. The  Concept Note for Workshop 2; Reducing Reoffending: Identifying Risks and Developing Solutions  was prepared by the secretariat and can be downloaded here. The Background Paper for the workshop was also prepared by the Congress Secretariat and can be downloaded here.

Underscoring the vital importance of the active involvement of communities, speakers, several of whom were from Europe (including from Croatia, Sweden and the United Kingdom) and others from around the world (including Thailand, the Philippines, Kenya, Argentina, the United States, Canada, and the host nation Japan) offered a wide range of contributions. The focus embraced reducing custody pre-trial and as a sentence, imprisonment as a “last resort”, alternative mechanisms and restorative practices, avoiding mass supervision, evidence-informed and proportionate sentencing and practice, women-centred policy and practice, building probation capacity, and rehabilitative prisons and the rehabilitative community, including mechanisms to support reintegration such as through multi-stakeholder approaches involving civil society organisations, employers, the public as a whole, and the role of volunteers including peers.

World Congress on Community Volunteers

Preparations for the first ever “World Congress on Community Volunteers Supporting Offender Reintegration” were led by the Rehabilitation Bureau of the Ministry of Justice . Many readers will be aware of the long-standing and impressive work undertaken by Japanese volunteers (known in Japan as Volunteer Probation Officers – or VPOs). Their number exceeds the number of professional officers quite considerably. The latter support and supervise volunteers, arrange training, and directly supervise more complex or higher risk cases. Amongst the many benefits are direct community support to rehabilitation and reintegration and a “demystification” of probation work.

Speakers, again drawn from across the world, offered an impressive picture of volunteering today and its potential. Contributions included the Philippines (where “volunteer probation assistants” are members of local communities or “Barangays”), Canada (including National Associations Active in Criminal Justice – a coalition of 22 not-for-profit national organizations in Canada, National and Regional Citizen Advisory Committees, and Circles of Support and Accountability), and Kenya (where Community Probation Volunteers work in urban and rural areas and help to support the Service’s work including specific women-centred approaches).

As CEP Ambassador I was honoured to be invited to offer a European contribution. Opening with the significance of volunteers in Council of Europe guidance, models of engaging volunteers were presented including through civil society organisations. Examples of the huge and varied work undertaken by volunteers in Europe includes support of resettlement and reintegration, work with young people, families, female offenders, to support specific needs such as literacy, diversion, restorative approaches, and the role of peer mentors. Informed by the 2015 Jive Project Report, issues and challenges in working effectively with volunteers were addressed, including the need for enhanced attention to training, support and evaluation: “Volunteering is freely given, but not cost free – it needs and deserves targeted support from all stakeholders”. Click here for the presentation at the Kyoto World Congress by Stephen Pitts

Another contribution, offered by Dr Frank Porporino, considered the evidence base for volunteer work. Steering offenders towards desistance requires more than a focus on personal change: social acceptance, legal rehabilitation (eliminating the stigmatising and exclusionary effects of conviction) and moral rehabilitation (reparation and earning redemption as a citizen of good character) matter too. Dr Porporino reflected on his experience of volunteers in Japan, including their unforced and relational style, time to listen, connect and establish trust, a flexible coaching (task or performance focussed) and mentoring (person focussed and future orientated) approach, engendering of hope, motivation and self-efficacy coupled with practical assistance. Offenders need to be heard with respectful and genuine interest; they may experience a genuine and caring other, perhaps for the first time in their lives. VPOs’ role as community advocates helps communities to see offenders as a part of the community, and to promote a “joint responsibility”. Dr Porporino ended with an unequivocal endorsement: the “VPO model in Japan has been embedded as an innovative and evidence-based component of community corrections that should be applauded and emulated as much as possible everywhere!”

The first World Congress on Community Volunteers Supporting Offender Reintegration concluded with adoption of a specific Declaration on probation volunteers. Recognising the principle of “No one will be left behind” encapsulated in the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, the Declaration calls for the CCPCJ to build an international network of community volunteers, to provide technical assistance, and to urge member states to raise awareness among the public and establish systems of community volunteers. Furthermore, the Declaration invites the CCPCJ to formulate a model strategy for reducing reoffending, to encourage volunteers in this field, and to establish an International Day for Community Volunteers supporting Offender Reintegration.

This is an important, ambitious and potentially far-reaching programme of action! The active involvement of volunteers is a powerful tool in achieving the aims of probation. Building on tradition and practice in European countries, and contributing to the newly established global initiative, will feature without doubt on the CEP agenda!

The “Kyoto Declaration on Community Volunteers Supporting Offender Reintegration” (Kyoto Hogoshi Declaration) can be downloaded here.

To access the presentation on “Strategies to Reduce Reoffending: The Outcome of Workshop 2 of the 14th Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice” click here.


Report Prepared by:
Steve Pitts
CEP Ambassador

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