New focus on what works
Perhaps the best outcome from the MoJ Transforming Rehabilitation project is the renewed interest in and focus on the whole area of tackling re-offending. The MoJ case is that reoffending rates have, in most areas, plateaued and that new approaches are needed.
We do have some key principles about effective supervision and have a growing understanding of the process of desistance from crime. But we’re not so well informed about what sorts of interventions are effective in tackling re-offending.
The MoJ has been very busy in trying to improve the state of our knowledge in this area. It launched the Justice Data Lab to encourage voluntary organisations to find out the impact of their interventions. The first set of published results was disappointing, but I’m hopeful that the next set will be more informative and it’s hard not to be positive about a move that promotes transparency about effective interventions.
Then it published a summary of the evidence base around what works in tackling re-offending.
Recently, it published four rapid evidence assessment reports on intermediate outcomes and reoffending.
What does that piece of research jargon mean?
Well, rapid evidence assessments are a form of shortened, systematic review of the research literature.
Intermediate outcomes are outcomes that can be directly or indirectly associated with reductions in reoffending; such as reducing drug use or improving family relationships.
The four reports focused on these key areas:
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- Arts Projects
- Family and intimate relationship interventions
- Peer relationships interventions
What have we learnt?
These rapid evidence assessments represent the first stage in a wider project funded by NOMS to develop a framework for outcome measurement with the aim that the framework is adopted by organisations working in the four areas.
There is limited learning from these reports but they set a clear future direction for further work.
Here are the highlights:
There is a lack of good quality research evidence that explores the impact of arts projects with offenders so it’s not possible to conclude whether arts projects do have a measurable impact on reoffending.
However, the best available evidence indicates that arts projects:
- Are effective at improving in-prison behaviour
- Do help with individual psychological factors such as depression and a sense of purpose
- May be effective at improving educational outcomes
- May enhance the effectiveness of offending behaviour programmes
Family and intimate relationship interventions
The importance of family is well-established both in terms of the creation of social bonds as key to desistance and family support as material and emotional help in the transition from custody to community. The quality of the evidence was “fairly limited”.
However, the best available evidence found:
- A wide range of intermediate outcomes including improved communication and problem solving skills
- These skills may be useful to addressing resettlment needs that contribute to reducing reoffending
- Interventions may help towards reoffending – although the evidence for this was mainly related to family visits and home leave.
There are many different kinds of mentoring. The variety of approaches made it difficult to generalise about effectiveness and good practice. There remains a lack of good quality research evidence about the impact of mentoring projects with offenders.
However, the best available evidence found that mentoring:
- May influence reoffending through acting as a bridge to other services and providing continuity of support through the gate.
- May be associated with helping mentees find work
- May be associated with helping mentees find housing
Peer relationship interventions
The importance of peer relationships in juvenile offending is well-established but this subject has been explored to a much lesser degree with adult offenders. Only ten studies were reviewed and the quality of the evidence was generally “very weak.”
Therefore, no real conclusions could be drawn although this category of intervention did appear to be related to the following intermediate outcomes:
- Changing social capital
- Influencing attachment
- Improving peer relationships
- Reconsidering life choices
Obviously, the conclusions from this first stage of the work are limited. However, these four rapid evidence assessments set a clear direction for more extensive exploration of what works in reducing reoffending.
If you work on a project in any of these four areas, I’d be very keen to hear whether these studies have been of any help in developing your work.
Please use the comments section below.