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Building social capital to support desistance
New HMI Probation research summary on building social capital to support the desistance process.

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Building social capital

Last week (18 June 2021), HMI Probation published the latest in its Academic Insights series. This report, written by Katherine Albertson, summarises the concept of social capital and how increases in the strength, range and quality of bonding, bridging and linking opportunities can be beneficial in supporting the desistance process. A six-stage social capital building process model is presented to aid the practical identification of a wide range of such opportunities. The model highlights the importance of working in close partnership with local communities, enabling practitioners to support the building of social capital in the wider community context.

Social capital is an extremely popular concept in desistance and recovery circles; in simple human terms it means that when we are connected to other people through a range of formal and informal social support networks, we are more likely to succeed in life.

Dr Albertson reviews the desistance evidence base which clearly shows that lack of access to pro-social capital resources is damaging to people’s efforts to move away from a life of crime. She summarises the work of a range of criminologists who highlight the social and relational arrangements from which probationers gain support for their desistance via the graphic below.

Social capital building model

The value of the Academic Insights series is that the evidence reviews are undertaken by subject experts. Dr Albertson shares a social capital building process model drawn from her evaluation of a project working with ex-service personnel with a history of criminal justice and substance misuse service contact. This theoretically informed process model represents a continuum – or catalogue – of social capital building opportunities. The author clarifies that any individual does not have to go through all these six stages to desist from crime. She also stresses that the different stages are not linear or sequential; rather they serve to distinguish between the kinds of social capital building opportunities available.



Dr Albertson concludes by drawing attention to the way many social networks have been disrupted by the pandemic, with some wilting and others re-energised as they move online. She reiterates the importance of probation staff assisting people in their desistance journeys by signposting them to opportunities to build their social capital in the wider community context, which largely sit outside of the criminal justice system. She also argues that:

There is real potential to augment social capital building opportunities through criminal justice policy makers working in closer partnerships with local communities, where access to the agency-actualising social and relational networks and the resources described to support desistance ‘exist before, behind and beyond interventions’.

Dr Albertson concludes with a plea for more strategic backing and investment from criminal justice policy makers and commissioners to provide support for and investment in wider community-based social capital building opportunities in local communities.


Thanks to Randy Fath for permission to use the header image originally published on Unsplash.

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