Last week, HMPPS published an evaluation of ‘rehabilitative adjudications’ piloted in 4 English prisons.The report’s authors are Flora Fitzalan Howard and Helen Wakeling. Rehabilitative adjudications explicitly integrate rehabilitative skills and procedural justice principles into disciplinary hearings. The impact of this approach on prisoner perceptions of procedural justice, intention to comply with rules and cooperate with staff, self-reported learning, and their subsequent conduct in prison was tested. Additionally, the experience of staff delivering rehabilitative adjudications was investigated.
Responding effectively to rule-breaking in prison is critical for maintaining safety, stability and order. Prisons in England and Wales use the Prisoner Discipline Procedures (Adjudications) to manage and respond to prisoner rule-breaking. This study explored possible differences between traditional adjudications and rehabilitative adjudications (RAs). The concept of RAs takes the traditional adjudications process, the same policy, paperwork and decision options, but explicitly integrates two evidence-based practices within the hearings.
The first practice is ‘rehabilitative skills’, which are a group of skills that, when used by prison and probation staff, help people to reflect on, learn from and change their behaviour. Examples include the active use of pro-social or anti-criminal modelling, effective reinforcement, structured skill building and problem-solving.
The second practice is ‘procedural justice (PJ) principles’, which evidence shows help to foster respect for authority and willing cooperation and compliance with rules. These principles include demonstrating trustworthy motives, making neutral and unbiased decisions with a clear rationale and explanation, treating people with respect, and ensuring they have a voice in the process.
Four prisons, three for men and one holding women, in the North West of England took part in the pilot. The study looked for possible differences between traditional adjudications and RAs on procedural justice perceptions, intent to comply with prison rules, cooperate with staff and engage in rehabilitative activity, self-reported learning, and custodial conduct for prisoners who experienced adjudications over a six-month period. During the first three months, traditional disciplinary adjudications were delivered, and in the second three months RAs were delivered. Adjudicators at the four prisons received a day of training in RAs at the middle point, and outcomes were compared between the two phases of the pilot.
Statistically significant improvements in prisoner perceptions of procedural justice, and intention to comply with rules and regulations, were observed during the RA phase compared with the traditional adjudication phase. The free-text responses from prisoners similarly showed an increase in their commitment to comply, and a reduction in the proportion of negative perceptions of the process and wider regime during RAs, in comparison to traditional adjudications. For the most part no significant difference in proven adjudications was observed between the two phases of the pilot. This may be because rule-breaking behaviour is complex and so the impact of one process/event may not be sufficient to alter this on its own, especially as the adjudication process is typically used for more serious types of rule-breaking, and people who behave this way may therefore require more intensive intervention to set a different course.
The experiences of the ten interviewed adjudicators revealed commitment to RAs within the context of developing and supporting a rehabilitative prison culture. RAs were perceived to be more constructive, productive and meaningful, although to have varying in degrees of effect at varying times, as would be expected. Even when not witnessing meaningful engagement, reflection or learning by prisoners as a result of the RA approach, the adoption of this method was perceived by adjudicators to be worthwhile as it modelled a commitment to rehabilitation and fairness by the prison and the senior management staff, and this event may, when used alongside other rehabilitative processes in prison, contribute to better relationships, conduct and outcomes in the longer-term.
The authors conclude that improvements in PJ perceptions and intent to comply with rules and regulations associated with RAs is reason to continue with this approach. Including greater focus on the use and value of rehabilitative skills and PJ principles in training and policy for disciplinary adjudications is recommended. Whilst RAs may not on their own be sufficient to divert or decrease more serious rule-breaking behaviour, such an approach forms one part of a wider culture and organisational response to misconduct, that is aiming to use evidence to bring about better outcomes.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.