Prison - criminal justice research

Justice Policy and Practice

Justice Policy and Practice: Progress through collaboration

The Justice Policy and Practice stream seeks to extend knowledge and understanding of the implications of current criminal justice policy and practice. In doing so, it provides an insight into the efficacy and inferences of the criminal justice system’s organisational structure and processes – both for those who work within it and those who engage with certain institutions and services. Much of this work involves collaborating with local and national partners to assist in the evolution and future design and delivery of criminal justice service provision. Recent work within this stream includes:

  • Evaluation of the Ex–Forces Action Network (EFAN)
  • Harmful Behaviours for the Veteran Population
  • Privacy
  • The Occupational Cultures of Probation Officers
  • Therapeutic communities
  • Through the Gate Resettlement Services
  • Violence Reduction Units
  • Youth justice policy

Find out more about some of these projects

Evaluation of the Ex–Forces Action Network (EFAN): A CommunityRehabilitation Initiative

Cheshire and Greater Manchester Community Rehabilitation Company approached four members of our team (Dr Rachael Steele, Dr Justin Moorhead, Dr Emma Murray, and Ester Ragonese) to provide an evaluation of the Ex-Forces Action Network (EFAN) project. The EFAN project was an initiative designed to better assess and meet the needs of ex-military personnel who found themselves moving through the criminal justice system. Dedicated caseworkers each with differing levels of military experience worked with ex-military personnel, directing them to services and organisations that could provide specific support.

Military personnel have been identified as a group with specific needs within the criminal justice system. Many individuals will have found their return to civilian life difficult, may lack employment skills or life skills, or may be suffering with after effects of combat and service such as PTSD. This project aimed to better identify these needs and meet them through a range of partnerships. The research team was asked to evaluate the perceived impact of the project across both service users and staff, in addition to developing a picture of how this project has impacted stakeholders and partners who work within the sector.

Service users interviewed by the research team said that the project had positive effects on them. They stated how important it was to be able to relate to someone with knowledge or experience of military life and that being able to share experiences with someone who understood their situation made communication much easier. One strong emerging theme was that of the service users’ identity – moving from a military identity through to civilian identity, and then to that of an ‘offender’. This transition from ‘hero to zero’ was extremely difficult for many and often led to a high level of frustration and anxiety trying to cope on ‘civvy street’. It was found that working with the EFAN team helped these individuals to cope better. The staff and partners they worked with understood this transition and began to help the service users see a way forward, forging connections that allowed them to cope with these changes. It was also found that working with charity and third sector partners that specifically worked with ex-military helped too. This allowed the service users to connect to those with similar experiences, and in many cases provided a route for them to offer their own services to the community – an effect that was mutually rewarding.

It transpired that staff working on the project felt as positive about the work being done as the service users did, something which was further echoed by stakeholders. Common themes throughout the evaluation were the excellent communication between all parties, the commitment of the staff to their client group and the trust built between each element of the project.

The research team made recommendations to the project centred on management of workload, use of IT, and management of business risk – but concluded that the general aims of the service were being met. The report also demonstrated statistically significant improvements in well being, living skills, and family, but did identify some areas for development. These included peer mentoring, resourcing, and theoretical alignment in order to make the project appeal to funders long term. Overall, the research demonstrated the positive effect of the project and reiterated that the model was working. 

Phoenix Futures

I have had a particular interest in the role of drug treatment in criminal justice settings ever since I visited a prison-based Therapeutic Community (TC) as a volunteer during my undergraduate degree. I distinctly remember how different the TC felt in comparison to other prisons that I had visited and how captivated I was by the relationships between those living and working on the unit. More than a decade later, now a Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice, I am still interested in TCs and how they work alongside an ever changing treatment population. But what exactly is a TC? In sum, TCs are a form of long-term residential treatment which provide a social psychological approach to addiction through the use of self-help and behaviour modification techniques that support individuals to address underlying issues and difficulties which surround their substance use. You can find out more about TCs 

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 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eIMsItQToo) 

My endeavour to learn more about these unique treatment settings led me to the work of Phoenix Futures – a charity and housing association who have been helping people overcome drug related problems for more than fifty years across residential, prison and community settings. Whilst I studied for my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees Phoenix Futures provided numerous opportunities, from access to their services to conduct research, to employment as a therapeutic worker in a residential TC. Since completing my PhD entitled ‘An invitation to change? An ethnographic study of a residential Therapeutic Community for substance use’ (https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/4519/). I have created a research partnership with the organisation to foster a more symbiotic relationship between research and practice; integrate emerging evidence and models of best practice into service delivery, and provide opportunities for practitioners and service users to inform future research projects.

As part of this partnership I have recently completed an evaluation of a prison-based TC in the north-west of England which provides a unique window of opportunity to learn from a programme that has been in operation for more than twenty years. In addition to the submission of official report to the charity and forthcoming book chapter, I worked alongside the organisation to deliver a nationwide seminar for drug treatment practitioners based within prison establishments. This seminar was recognised as an important aspect of practitioners continuing professional development and afforded an opportunity to launch a research and practice seminar series. More recently I have led (assisted by recent MA Criminal Justice graduate, Connie Pike) a longitudinal project across four residential TCs situated in England and Scotland to assess the impact of COVID-19 at the coal face of service delivery. A project of this size, undertaken during a global health pandemic, brought into sharp focus how important such partnerships are, as we were able to build on our pre-existing relationships to facilitate a robust piece of research during a time when gaining access to the field was particularly difficult. As such, I would like to extend my thanks to Phoenix Futures for their vision and commitment to the project.

If you would like to know more about this work, please contact Dr Helena Gosling via H.J.Gosling@ljmu.ac.uk. For recent publications which focus on her work within the field of TCs please see this piece (https://viewer.joomag.com/ddn-march-2021-march-2021/0498926001614592993/p13?short&) in Drink and Drug News and this article in The Therapeutic Communities journal.

Probation, change and occupational cultures

Dr Matthew Millings and Professor Lol Burke

The National Probation Service plays a key role in the criminal justice system providing public protection, managing risk, and supporting the rehabilitation of offenders. Probation services in England and Wales are responsible for supervising around 250,000 people who are serving community-based sentences or on licence following release from prison. But how probation and rehabilitation services are funded and organised has undergone significant change and reform in recent years and researchers from LJMU have been at the forefront of capturing the experiences and consequences of reform on managers, probation practitioners and the service users they engage.

In 2013 the Government, through the Transforming Rehabilitation Reform programme, took the decision to transfer or 'outsource' over half of the work (and workforce) of the Service to newly created private companies (CRCs), whilst retaining a smaller public sector National Probation Service (NPS), to supervise the highest risk offenders. ESRC funding allowed Matthew Millings, Lol Burke and Gwen Robinson (from the University of Sheffield) to conduct 20-months’ interview and observational based research between 2014-15 that examined the experiences of probation staff in one case study area as they transitioned from public to private sector employment when the Community Rehabilitation Companies were first established (ESRC award number ES/M000028/1). Through a series of publications and outputs, they have explored, amongst other things, the impact of the splitting of the service on the professional identities of probation practitioners, the development and characterisation of new and evolving occupational cultures in the sector, and of the leadership challenges involved in implementing and overseeing profound change in service delivery. The findings from the research contributed to a submission to the Justice Select Committee review of the Transforming Rehabilitation Agenda (2019) that would in time judge that the reform programme had failed and that recommended that probation services be (re)unified.

The summer of 2021 witnessed a second period of profound change within the sector as the unprecedented processes of ‘reunification’ and ‘renationalisation’ saw the dissolving of CRCs and the absorbing of their work (and workforce) within an expanded and renewed National Probation Service. Matthew Millings and Lol Burke, together with colleagues Gwen Robinson (University of Sheffield); Nicola Carr (University of Nottingham) and Harry Annison (University of Southampton) are working on a second ESRC funded project ‘Rehabilitating Probation: Rebuilding culture, identify and legitimacy in a reformed public service’ (award number ES/W001101/1) that is examining the experiences and consequences of this significant programme of public service reform. Starting at the point of reunification and stretched over a period of 36-months the research team are revisiting the original case study area as it is absorbed into one of 12 newly reconfigured probation regions in England and Wales and are broaden the focus to examine experiences and consequences of reform (a) at local, regional and national levels; and (b) from a range of perspectives, both internal and external to the probation service. The scale of organisational reform not only has major implications for how probation work is delivered, but also offers a unique opportunity to understand how public services adapt when 'outsourcing' policies fail; how individual and organisational identities are re- built after major organisational change; and how organisations seek to (re-)build the confidence of their staff and the organisations and stakeholders with whom they work (e.g. courts; police). The research will explore the impact of reform on the roles, identities and cultures of probation workers and observe how a newly reconfigured probation service seeks to (re-)build legitimacy with its external partners.

For further insights into Dr Millings and Professor Burke’s work, see these open access articles in the British Journal of CriminologyCriminology and Criminal Justice and the Probation Journal.

Through the Gate Resettlement Services

Four members of the Criminal Justice team (Professor Lol Burke, Dr Matthew Millings, Stuart Taylor and Ester Ragonese) collaborated with a local prison to carry out a study into resettlement services between 2016-2018. This involved conducting more than 150 interviews with professionals, prisoners and their families over an 18 month period. The research provided a unique insight into the Through the Gate initiative, which was launched by the Ministry of Justice in 2015. Forming part of the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme, the scheme was aimed at short-term prisoners sentenced to a year or less – helping them to devise a resettlement plan and assisting them with accommodation, finances and employment. Private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) were created to manage individual resettlement plans for each of the inmates, with specific prisons given resettlement status.

The study found that the relationships between prison staff, subcontracted staff (who delivered the service inside prison), and CRCs (who deliver the service outside prison) – have been fraught with difficulties. Confusion around boundaries of responsibility between public, private and third sector providers led to the duplication of work, difficulties in communication and a process of box-ticking rather than meaningful work to encourage prisoners to desist from crime. None of the prisoners interviewed could name an individual who was overseeing their resettlement plan. They also described being locked in their cells for 23 hours a day. Practical issues ranged from a lack of hot water to faulty lighting leaving cells in darkness, unhygienic conditions and cockroaches. Whilst the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms were intended to provide a seamless support service for prisoners reentering community, the process is best described as fragmented. It appears that instead of enhancing resettlement, it is in fact enhancing resentment. There were numerous reports of prisoners coming to the end of their sentences and not knowing whether they will have any accommodation or access to finances on release. They were therefore unable to make any plans when it came to returning to the community. This is of crucial importance, as we know that these factors are essential to individuals desisting from crime in the future.

Staff and prisoners interviewed during the study believed that positive steps had been made due to an increase in staff and resources, but there was still a vast amount of work to do to create a real rehabilitation revolution. The main recommendations from the study included urgent action to improve physical conditions, clearly identified support roles, a streamlined induction process with a shared IT database, and the establishment of a hub where partners could share information, updates and best practice. A rebranding of the resettlement process was also suggested to encourage inmates to view their sentence as a 'journey'. The study found that the resettlement process should be addressed in advance of the prisoner’s final weeks, with each person given a named individual to support them both within the prison and community. Stuart Taylor notes:

“The issues reported by prisoners are indicative of long-standing systematic issues within the prison system, which have been compounded by austerity measures and a radical reform programme which was ill-considered and hastily implemented. The majority of prisoners acknowledge that they have committed offences and are responsible for their own futures, but also speak of wanting someone to be there to listen, guide them and offer support. However many feel isolated and abandoned during their time in custody and anxious about their release, which is likely to fuel the cycle of crime”.

The study concluded that many of the problems needed to be addressed at a governmental level and urged ministers to hold a strategic consultation around the contractual obligations of the CRCs.

A central facet of this project was its collaborative approach. The research team produced briefing reports to share emergent findings, as well as workshop events which saw all partners come together to discuss future planning. This real-time dissemination of findings fed into the evolution of service provision, including the CRCs designing of new resettlement policy. Simultaneously, the researchers worked alongside the Effective Probation Practice – Performance Directorate to produce material to engage probation practitioners with the findings of the study. The research team submitted their findings to Justice Select Committee’s Transforming Rehabilitation Inquiry and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, which in turn fed into the government’s decision to partially renationalise probation services in England and Wales. The findings have also been disseminated at various national and international conferences, alongside peer-reviewed journal articles in the European Journal of Probation and the Probation Journal

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