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Three Principles work with Offenders

There's a growing buzz about Three Principles as an effective approach to help promote psychological wellbeing and it's proved effective with offenders at HMP Onley.

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Promoting wellbeing from the inside-out

Earlier this year, I published a blog post on a new systematic review highlighting the potential of mindfulness work with young offenders.

Today’s post looks at a related approach recently implemented in work with prisoners at a number of Midlands prisons: Three Principles.

The Three Principles (3P) model was established in 1973 by a Scot, Sydney Banks, and the model has been used to promote peace of mind, resilience and well-being to hundreds of thousands of people globally in many settings including prisons, schools and the workplace. The 3P model differs from many other approaches in one fundamental way: it focuses on teaching health rather than treating illness. The model is rooted in a belief that we all have inner mental good health and teaches individuals how to access and sustain this health.

The model states that we create our own psychological and emotional reality via our thoughts from the inside out, and that fresh thought is available in any given moment. This means we are constantly creating new realities although we may not be aware of it.  For people suffering with addictions, mental health issues or repeated unhealthy behaviours such as offending it means they are no longer under the control of powerful emotions associated with past events. Consequently, the programme is particularly effective with individuals with a history of trauma, a key unmet need of many offenders. 

Beyond Recovery

Beyond Recovery is a midlands-based social enterprise which delivers 3P interventions to prisoners and others. The programmes tackle those who with mental health and substance misuse issues in particular. One key advantage to the programme is its inclusivity; since the 3P approach has a core belief that all individuals have innate psychological resilience, the programme is happy to work with people with personality disorders and others who are often excluded from some behavioural programmes.


The 3P programme (10 x once weekly 3  hour sessions) delivered to prisoners at HMP Onley has been externally evaluated and published.

The evaluation found that the 53 adult offenders who did the programme showed improvements in their mental wellbeing (including reductions in anxiety and anger) and improved behaviour in prison with over a quarter being transferred to enhanced regimes as a result. The evaluation compared progress with a well-matched control group consisting of those of the programme waiting list.


Three Principles work is only just starting to take off in the UK and I’m not aware of other 3P organisations working with offenders. A recent article in the Journal of Public Health by Anthony Kessel and colleagues highlighted the potential of people taking more responsibility for their own mental health and resilience, noting that GPs struggle to give patients enough time and that very many people do not take their medication consistently and even fewer follow lifestyle prescriptions to eat healthily or exercise more.

They also sound a note of caution, pointing out that the evidence base for 3P remains under-developed, but conclude that the Three Principles approach could have considerable impact:

There is a common sense simplicity to the Three Principles, coupled with an intellectual credibility. And if – and it is quite a big “if” – the positive experiences of so many practitioners are validated through research, the potential for the approach to transform lives is substantial. After all, if people truly saw that they already possessed a superpower, it could lead to something quite extraordinary.

Transparency disclosure: Russell is currently providing consultancy advice and support to Beyond Recovery.

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