A lack of evidence
Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service recently (5 July 2018) published a rapid evidence assessment into the effectiveness of rehabilitative services for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people.
It’s important to state at the outset that the REA does not reveal much beyond the lack of empirical evidence about the impact of rehabilitative interventions on people from a non-white background. This is a much neglected area.
The review focused on a range of populations both in prison and in the community. The target population included men, women, young adults (including those under the age of 18) and populations of any ethnic background or grouping. It is important to note that defining BAME in this way results in a large, indiscriminate and heterogeneous group, which makes it challenging to draw any meaningful conclusions about improving the responsivity of correctional programming. However, it was necessary to include the diverse population range given the lack of evidence about specific populations, and this highlights the need for much more and better quality research to achieve a more nuanced understanding of what works, with whom and under what conditions.
Despite broadening the search to international literature, the authors (Jo Shingler and Laura Pope) were only able to identify eleven studies of sufficient relevance and methodological rigour for inclusion.
The main conclusion was that there is still insufficient evidence relevant to understanding how to improve outcomes for individuals from a BAME background. However, the research reviewed points to some tentative but promising approaches for increasing the responsivity of correctional programmes to people who are BAME.
These approaches are discussed below.
First, the evidence suggests that the content of ‘standard’ correctional programmes can be experienced as relevant to BAME participants, and that BAME participants can benefit from such programmes. However, some studies suggest that treatment that is: culturally aware, sensitive and inclusive; that is delivered by culturally aware and sensitive staff; and delivered by staff from similar ethnic backgrounds to their clients is preferred, and is more likely to reduce the chances that potential BAME participants will experience any fear or resistance associated with feeling isolated or misunderstood.
Second, there are some barriers to effective treatment for BAME clients that may interfere with them starting, completing or engaging in treatment. Such barriers could include experiences or fear of racism or discrimination, and the perception and possible reality that the intervention will not be culturally relevant. There is early evidence that a strong sense of cultural identity and pride is associated with greater reductions in substance misuse among juveniles. Explicitly recognising and encouraging cultural identity could be a promising approach to facilitating greater responsivity of correctional programmes for people who are BAME.
The research is in its infancy, and further work is required to understand and draw firm conclusions about how to improve participation and engagement in, and retention and reoffending outcomes, of BAME individuals in prison and on probation. However, the research reviewed points to some promising approaches which could help achieve this aim:
Efforts could be made to make correctional interventions more relevant to BAME groups. Work is needed to increase the number of BAME clients taking up interventions; increase the number of BAME staff members working within interventions; ensure treatment materials are relevant to BAME groups; and doing more to actively engage with and respect cultural experiences and differences. BAME clients need to be facilitated to express their cultural identity free from fear of being stereotyped or discriminated against.
Results from the REA indicate that the idea that therapy, or ‘treatment’, is a predominantly white construct, in some cases with no cultural equivalent. The lack of understanding, recognition or acceptance of this amongst some cultural groups suggests further work is needed. This may usefully include engaging with and raising awareness among some BAME participants and their families about notions of treatment.
Clearly further research is needed with the authors highlighting the need for larger scale research to increase understanding about the barriers to interventions for BAME individuals in prison and on probation, in order to learn how to make correctional interventions more responsive and appealing to individuals from different ethnic groups.