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Breaking reoffending cycles in the criminal justice system

Mapping causal factors, leverage points and funding flows

The criminal justice system is immensely complex. It encompasses many vast institutions and subsystems—the court system, the prison system, the probation system—and it interconnects with many other issues that the charity and voluntary sector seeks to tackle, such as homelessness and mental health. From our previous research, Beyond Bars 2019, we know that this complexity in the system, as well as policy turbulence and structural issues, can cause uncertainty for funders around how to use their resources effectively.

Our systems map and report

We have therefore created a systems map of the key factors that influence reoffending rates for people in the criminal justice system, with the aim of identifying places that practitioners and funders can intervene to bring about long-term change in the system. We’ve identified 20 ‘leverage points’ where changes would reduce reoffending. Onto this map, we have also layered an analysis of where, within this system, funding to charity sector organisations is going. Progress on reoffending depends on a greater understanding of how the criminal justice system works.

Our systems map and our funding analysis have enabled us to identify some key recommendations for funders and government. You can learn more about these recommendations and what our systems mapping uncovered in our accompanying report here. You can view and learn more about our systems map at the bottom of this page.

Our recommendations

The vast majority, 86% by our estimates, of funding for specialist criminal justice charities goes on community-based initiatives—patching up cracks in the system and supporting those it is letting down once they have served their sentence. Only a small minority of funding goes to ‘upstream’ initiatives: organisations focused on advocacy receive 1.6% of total funding for specialist criminal justice charities, those shaping public attitudes receive 0.4%, and 0.3% of funding goes to charities focused on the courts. Transitions between services, like the transition between prison and probation, are critical moments for individuals, yet only 0.6% of current funding for specialist criminal justice charities goes to initiatives focused on this.

To independent funders, we recommend collaborating to fund for systems change, targeting gaps and transitions in the system, and intervening at leverage points in the system. To government, we recommend using the upcoming royal commission to examine where investment is required to prevent reoffending, investing further in appropriate sentencing, and extending charity sector partnerships.


We are grateful to the Goldsmiths’ Company and Porticus UK for their support for this work. We would also like to thank Revolving Doors Agency.

The logos of the Goldsmiths' Compaby, Porticus UK and Revolving Doors Agency.

Beyond bars logo 2021

New seminar series

In a new series of seminars, Seth Reynolds, NPC’s Systems Change Principal, will be profiling some practical tools and frameworks from NPC’s upcoming field guide on how systems practice can help create social change. The next seminar is on 24 January 2023.


Systems Change: Systems practice for social change
System web

Our Beyond Bars research