In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Voluntary Organizations and Crime Prevention

  • Introduction
  • General Overview of Privatizations and the Voluntary Sector
  • The Range of Services Run by Voluntary Organizations in the United States
  • Empirical Support of Voluntary Organizations
  • Evaluations of Programs Run by Voluntary Organizations
  • Implications of Relying on Non-State Voluntary Organizations

Criminology Voluntary Organizations and Crime Prevention
Tim Goddard, Christina Bellasalma
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0305


Voluntary, non-state and nonprofit organizations are commonplace in many regions as principal deliverers of services and programs to solve an array of social problems. From homelessness and poverty to human trafficking and youth and gang violence, voluntary organizations’ contribution is part of a broader ethos of “communities” and market-based solutions to urgent public problems. Often referred to as community-based organizations in the US-context, these voluntary agencies address people’s individual needs by developing services and increasing social, human, economic, and political capital (see “Community” in Oxford Bibliographies in Social Work). They consist of nongovernmental assemblages, foundations, charity groups, practitioners, and volunteers. A principal modality of community-based initiatives is to promote collective action against identified needs that replace, supplement, or extend functions of what had been the jurisdiction or obligation of the state. While serving this role, organizations often challenge, resist, or revise state policies, programs, or practices. In crime control and prevention, voluntary organizations are instrumental to justice system practices (see “Community-Based Justice Systems” in Oxford Bibliographies in Criminology). A frequent objective of voluntary organizations is preventing crime and delinquency (see “Delinquency and Crime Prevention” in Oxford Bibliographies in Criminology). Community-based groups work alongside or directly under government agencies through multi-agency partnerships, police-community collaborations, community courts, or several other collaborative ways. A feature of voluntary groups and organizations is that they are tailored to local conditions and local capacities. In some instances, they operate separately or in opposition to the state. Activists and those advocating for criminal justice reforms frequently work through or within voluntary organizations. Regardless of the political alignment, in this shift away from a moderately robust public sector to a nonprofit, nongovernmental, community-based voluntary sector, these organizations are where much of this occurs. As the state increasingly retreats from directly working against social problems, voluntary or community-based organizations have become vital to patching up the frayed social fabric of neglected neighborhoods in late modern neoliberal times.

General Overview of Privatizations and the Voluntary Sector

Neoliberalism in the 1980s generated a massive nonprofit sector to fill the gap left by the withdrawal of government-run service provisions. In the wake of neoliberal privatization, voluntary organizations are now a significant component of social provision. The decades of privatization have led to a proliferation of voluntary for-profit, nonprofit, and community-based organizations in nearly every US state and dozens of countries, such as Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Peru, South Africa, England, and Wales. For instance, Marshall 2018 analyzes voluntary organizations in Uganda working to reintegrate formerly incarcerated people. Focusing on the historical record in the United States, community-based projects have long been part of the administration of prevention, intervention, and reentry efforts. Known today as The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, in 1860, the first organization “provided wayward boys who roamed the streets a positive alternative.” In the 1930s, Clifford Shaw developed the Chicago Area Project, a forerunner of wide-scale community-based prevention and delinquency intervention partnerships (Krisberg and Austin 1993), which worked to lessen the attraction of delinquency for gang youth, even using formerly incarcerated people in the program. The mid-1960s saw the establishment of education and job skills projects, most notably the Mobilization for Youth and Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited, that explicitly targeted the social conditions that breed youth crime and violence. Based on the work of the social psychologist Kenneth Clark, the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited organization was a collection of voluntary organizations that formed an alternative to the conventional social-services approach to the problems of poverty-stricken marginalized young people. Currie, et al. 2015 reviews Clark’s work, the organizations’ principles and strategies, and explores their relevance to contemporary criminological scholarship. The bulk of voluntary organizations during the 20th century were outcomes of grassroots efforts and liberal ideals. However, with the emergence of neoliberalism in the 1980s, the promotion of “community” became much more politically contested. Conservative and right-wing efforts began to emphasize and underwrite community-based/voluntary approaches. Faith-based organizations proliferated in the first decade of the 21st century under an initiative advanced by the Bush administration. DeFilippis, et al. 2010 critically analyzes the contested nature of community under late modern capitalism. Berger 2003 systematically traces voluntary organizations’ emergence, situating them in their current religious and sociopolitical contexts. Whereas Kaufman 2015 details the range of nongovernmental organizations providing rehabilitative and reentry services. Although this bibliography struggles with a bias toward US-centric research and examples, it needs to highlight several essential works out of the United Kingdom. Hughes 2007 analyzes the community-based crime prevention turn under neoliberal governance. Along with the edited volume Albertson, et al. 2020 on the marketization of the voluntary sector in criminal justice, these works are indispensable entries into the topic. Equally essential, Tomczak 2017 explores the penal voluntary sector that undertakes probation, prison, and reentry service, which provides a compact overview of the field. In one of the more comprehensive “sociologies” of the (penal) voluntary sector, Tomczak and Buck 2019 offers a five-paradigm framework which maps the diversity of types and orientations of voluntary organizations.

  • Albertson, Kevin, Mary Corcoran, and Jake Phillips, eds. 2020. Marketisation and privatisation in criminal justice. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

    The edited volume considers the significance and outcomes of market-based privatized criminal justice in the United Kingdom. Illuminates this through case studies in a wide range of contexts, including police, probation, and prison, but also immigration detention, rehabilitation, and community centers for women.

  • Berger, Julia. 2003. Religious nongovernmental organizations: An exploratory analysis. Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations 14:15–39.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1022988804887

    Systematically analyzes religious nongovernmental organizations (RNGOs). Provides a historical description of their emergence. Discusses their role in shaping public policy at different levels and challenges faced due to their religious identity. Suggests an analytical framework for examining various dimensions of RNGOs.

  • Currie, Elliott, Tim Goddard, and Randolph R. Myers. 2015. The Dark Ghetto revisited: Kenneth B. Clark’s classic analysis as cutting-edge criminology. Theoretical Criminology 19.1: 5–22.

    DOI: 10.1177/1362480614553524

    Argues for criminological theories that center on and take the structural roots of crime seriously. Elucidates the assertion by revisiting Kenneth Clark’s 1965 book Dark Ghetto, which explicitly explores the relationship between structural conditions and crime. Shows how various voluntary organizations represent modern-day examples of Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited that resonate with Clark’s ideas.

  • DeFilippis, James, Robert Fisher, and Eric Shragge. 2010. Contesting community: The limits and potential of local organizing. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.36019/9780813549743

    Examines the historical evolution of “community” and community practice and demonstrates connections between local organizing efforts and nationwide social movement. Charts how community practices, and the politics that shape their actions in neoliberal times, impact the role of community organizing in advancing social justice and social transformation efforts.

  • Hughes, Gordon. 2007. The politics of crime and community. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-0-230-21411-8

    Introduces theorizing of comparative criminology of crime control and community safety. Critically reviews the “preventive turn” of policies and practices under the neoliberal community governance of crime and safety. The analysis highlights the “plural and contradictory” nature of local strategies in governing antisocial behavior and provides evidence of such variation. Argues against the tendency to overlook that the sub-national is encased, but not necessarily determined, by the macro-level agenda.

  • Kaufman, Nicole. 2015. Prisoner incorporation: The work of the state and nongovernmental organizations. Theoretical Criminology 19.4: 534–553.

    DOI: 10.1177/1362480614567172

    Introduces the idea of ‘prisoner incorporation’ in reference to how NGOs include ex-prisoners as citizens. Interviews NGOs from different religious and political backgrounds to compare how the implementation of such policies vary. Defines and analyzes “classic reentry” and “broader reentry.” Discusses the extent of NGOs’ ability to reform formerly incarcerated people.

  • Krisberg, Barry, and James F. Austin. 1993. Reinventing juvenile justice. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

    Provides a historical description of responses to young people who violate norms, rules, and laws to the current status of justice for young offenders. They conclude that juvenile offending and state responses are undergirded by “the evolution of the social structure.”

  • Marshall, Hannah Jane. 2018. “Once you support, you are supported”: Entrepreneurship and reintegration among ex-prisoners in Gulu, northern Uganda. Economic Anthropology 5:71–82.

    DOI: 10.1002/sea2.12103

    Examines how former inmates rebuild social ties through entrepreneurship compared to Mission Forward’s perspective of entrepreneurship. Mission Forward is a nongovernmental organization, funded by Europe but run by Uganda, that trains previously incarcerated individuals for entrepreneurship. Argues that entrepreneurship can be used as a rehabilitative tool to reestablish both social ties and personhood as ex-prisoners express their loss of the two after being labeled as a criminal by society.

  • Tomczak, Philippa. 2017. The penal voluntary sector. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

    Argues that the philanthropic has always been a part of the carceral state; however, neoliberal reforms have escalated this partnership through, in large part, a three-tier penal voluntary sector of organizations. Observes that voluntary organizations can net-widen and extend carceral control (for example, by increased monitoring) and help clients by expanding human and social capital (for example, providing psychological benefits and person-centered services).

  • Tomczak, Philippa, and Gillian Buck. 2019. The penal voluntary sector: A hybrid sociology. British Journal of Criminology 59.4: 898–918.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azy070

    Provides a five-paradigm framework that comprehensively covers the penal voluntary sector (PVS). Expands on both various types of service delivery and their vital campaign work. The framework presents model PVS programs and methods as well as their “range, fluidity, and hybridity.” Discusses the possible roles of brokers in managing activities and draws attention to hybrid service delivery and activism of the PVS.

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