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Psychologically Informed Planned Environments (PIPEs) show promise
Psychologically Informed Planned Environments (PIPEs) show promise in prison settings but face obstacles in probation hostels.

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Psychologically Informed Planned Environments

Yesterday (13 October 2022) HMPPS published an Evaluation of Psychologically Informed Planned Environments (PIPEs). The evaluation, undertaken by a team from the Centre of Psychiatry, Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, assessed the first five years of PIPEs operation in both prison and approved premises (probation hostel) settings.

PIPEs are interventions offered as part of the wider HMPPS and NHS England Offender Personality Disorder (OPD) pathway – a programme for high risk, high harm offenders who are likely to have a personality disorder. They are designed to support the transition and progression of prisoners and people on probation at significant stages of their sentence and beyond. Staff who work in PIPEs are trained and supported to work in an evidence based psychologically informed way.

The aim of the study was to identify how prisoners, people on probation and staff experience PIPEs and aimed to identify indications of effectiveness, looking at the first 5 years of delivery. It looked at both quantitative and qualitative data, considering factors such as social climate and relational functioning.

What is a PIPE?

Psychologically Informed Planned Environments are services that aim to support the progression of offenders with complex needs and personality related difficulties as part of the OPD pathway. They are designed to have a particular focus on the environment in which they operate; actively recognising the importance and quality of relationships and interactions. Staff members have additional training to develop an increased psychological understanding of their work; this understanding enables them to create an enhanced safe and supportive environment, which can facilitate the development of those who live there. They aim to maximise ordinary situations and to approach these in a psychologically informed way, paying attention to interpersonal difficulties, for example those issues that might be linked to personality disorder. This is developed through six core components, including the development of an Enabling Environment, a combination of structured groups between staff and residents, focused PIPE keywork, socially creative sessions and training, supervision and reflective sessions for staff.

PIPEs are not treatment interventions although they have the potential for therapeutic impact. Within custody, there are three distinct prison PIPEs variants;:

  1. Preparation PIPEs, designed to motivate and engage prison residents to prepare for the next step of their pathway, which is often treatment; 
  2. Provision PIPEs that support prison residents as they participate in treatment programmes away from the PIPE base, for example, Offending Behaviour Programmes; 
  3. Progression PIPEs, for developing and practicing skills and behaviours learnt following successful completion of a high intensity intervention. 

Additionally, the PIPE model has been applied in community-based hostel settings known as Approved Premises PIPEs, supporting those just released from custody. At the time the evaluation took place, there were 20 PIPEs across prison and probation.


The research

This study was limited in scope; only three custody sites were evaluated, and the non-randomised approach means that key variables that could influence the results could not be controlled for. Two research streams were carried out to evaluate prison PIPEs and AP PIPEs respectively.

  1. The prison PIPE evaluation utilised a mixed-methods approach within a PIPE unit and comparator wing across three establishments, comprising quantitative psychometric measures at two time points, and in-depth qualitative interviews with staff and residents1 in PIPE units.
  2. AP PIPEs were evaluated using a small-scale qualitative approach, across two time points in one PIPE and comparator AP site.


The findings from both settings were quire different. 

Quantitative data from prison sites found residents in PIPEs reported better social and relational skills than comparator wings, with statistically significantly lower levels of problematic social problem solving and relating styles, particularly those related to ‘personality disorder’. Social climate data provided more of a mixed picture.
Qualitatively, staff and residents reported improved relationships. Residents engaged in pro-social behaviour, corroborated by staff, who felt they had reduced their use of force. Staff reported a sense of mattering in their role, noting that what they did was meaningful and that they felt particularly supported through supervision.

Within AP PIPE settings however, findings suggested difficulties in implementing the PIPE model due to wider reported NPS issues, including violence, drugs and staff restructuring. Residents indicated they had the support to make positive progression but did not relate success to AP PIPEs in particular.


The authors conclude that their research offers preliminary, indicative evidence that PIPEs can lead to the improvement of social and relational functioning within prison, associated with improving social climate and positive staff disposition. Due to implementation challenges across the AP estate, the research was unable to come to any proper judgment on their impact.

Overall the findings from this initial evaluation are described as “promising”.


Thanks to Tengyart for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.

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