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Does new gang intervention work?

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First evaluation of new Identity Matters intervention for gang related offenders

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The MoJ has just published the first evaluation of a new intervention for group and gang related offenders used in custody and in the community. The small scale process study of the Identity Matters programme was conducted by Kiran Randhawa-Horne, Rachel Horan and Phil Sutcliffe.

The programme

The Identity Matters (IM) intervention focuses on identity as a key factor for an individual joining a gang and carrying out illegal activities as part of or for the gang. It seeks to engage ‘gang/group’ affiliated offenders in addressing their offending behaviour and develop a more positive sense of identity to enable them to move on and desist from group affiliated offending. The development of IM was informed by using multi-disciplinary evidence of effective approaches to gang related offending. It utilises both the empirical evidence from promising international studies and evidence and emerging evidence of approaches to gang related offending in the UK. It seeks to improve the health and safety of all individuals by addressing underlying risk factors that increase the likelihood that an individual will become a victim or a perpetrator of violence. The intervention is suitable for adults whose offending and harmful behaviour is motivated by their affiliation and identification with a gang and can be delivered in custody and the community.

IM is delivered across the prison estate in England and Wales for ‘group/gang’ affiliated offenders and has currently been delivered at a number of establishments ranging from High Security prisons to a Local Category C prison. The intervention at the time of the pilot study was delivered in either a group setting or 1:1, it is now only delivered 1:1. IM follows a structured and manualised format with 19 specific sessions, language and delivery being set out which practitioners follow after receiving training in its delivery. The schedule, focus and dosage of sessions are flexible in that facilitators can decide which sessions to deliver and when and which material to focus on for each individual. The session schedule selected by the facilitator is guided by a tailored assessment which identifies those sessions most relevant and responsive to target the risks, needs and circumstances of each participant.


Overall, the feedback from participants, facilitators and key stakeholders on IM was positive who considered it a suitable intervention to address group/gang related offending. The programme’s modules and sessions were considered to address the factors which motivated individuals to engage in offending and the attitudes, beliefs and perceptions that enabled them to offend. A number of sessions were noted as being particularly effective, especially the sessions related to “push” and “pull” factors in group offending. The structured and manualised format of IM was praised and considered by facilitators and stakeholders to be unique in the field.

Across all sites, the intervention was experienced by participants and facilitators more positively during the initial 1:1 sessions compared to the group sessions, with engagement and honesty being higher. Levels of motivation were reported to have an impact upon responsivity, with those who were more motivated to participate having a more positive experience. Participants who were less motivated also impacted upon the experience of other participants during group sessions. The timing of delivery was considered by the majority of respondents to be particularly important, with the perception being that IM in a prison setting had the greatest impact if delivered immediately prior to release. There was also consensus that IM would be most effective in the community once stability in participant’s circumstances, including accommodation, substance misuse and employment, had been gained.

© Andy Aitchison


Although the evaluation was predominantly a process study, the researchers also used pre- and post-intervention measures to explore short-term impact.

There were significant differences in the pre and post scale used to measure desistance suggesting that completion of IM could be associated with increased ability to stay crime free and an increase in perceived negative consequences of continuing with criminal activities. The therapeutic alliance between facilitator and participant was found to improve over the course of the intervention, particularly on the goal subscale, with participants moving to a greater agreement of intervention goals with the facilitators. However, the bond subscale of the working alliance did deteriorate over the course of the intervention. The working relationship or alliance between participant and facilitator has been established as an agent of change, and a significant predictor of outcomes. Overall the findings from the pre and post measures suggested some positive change albeit weak in some subscales. However, these findings from the short-term measures should be considered within the context of the small sample size and also in the absence of an available control group which limits the ability to attribute the findings to participation in IM.


The researchers are careful to emphasise that this study is not conclusive and was mainly designed to facilitate the development and implementation of the Identity Matters programme. 

The research made a number of recommendations including:

  • Using 1:1 sessions rather than group sessions; 
  • A session to introduce and define concept of a gang; 
  • The timing of delivery within an individual’s sentence; 
  • The continued use of pre and post programme measures to examine short-term change; and 
  • Longer term follow up of participants to explore the impact of the programme in promoting desistance and disengagement.

We must wait to see the results of a longer-term outcome study before making any definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of the programme.


Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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