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. 

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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