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Results of the prisoner Resettlement Pathfinders

Short-term prisoners have exceptionally high reconviction rates, fuelled by major social problems. Growing recognition of this, and of deficiencies in prison-probation coordination, has accelerated ‘resettlement’ of ex-prisoners up the penal agenda.

The ‘Resettlement Pathfinders’ tested several new partnership-based approaches. This report evaluates three probation-led projects which combined practical assistance with interventions to improve motivation and capacity to change. Their key feature was the delivery of a cognitive-motivational programme (’FOR - A Change’) specially designed for short-termers.

The study found this produced significant changes in attitude, as well as greater ‘continuity’ (voluntary post-release contact between offenders and project staff) than previous approaches. It also found evidence of association between continuity and reduced reconviction. Overall, the findings support resettlement strategies based on fostering and nurturing offenders’ motivation to change, facilitating access to services, and ‘through the gate’ contact with staff or volunteers with whom a relationship has already been built.

The research offers findings and insights of practical value to probation and prison officers, as well as staff of other agencies that work with prisoners and ex-prisoners. The report should also be read by penal policy-makers, criminology/criminal justice academics and students, and those engaged in staff training.

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In this chapter we explore staff and offender experiences of, and views about, the pre-release stage of the Resettlement Pathfinders, with particular attention to the FOR programme. This includes the experiences of treatment managers, programme tutors and prisoners. Post-release experiences will be discussed in Chapter 4.

In addition to frequent informal interaction with them, the evaluation team conducted a total of 24 formal interviews with all the treatment managers and tutors across the three sites. These included five staff members (four of them in Lewes) who were interviewed twice in order to get a clearer picture of progress over time. (A further 13 interviews were conducted with outside probation officers and others linked to FOR who were responsible for the community stage: their views are discussed in Chapter 4.) As well as exploring staff views about the programme in general and their experiences of delivering specific sessions, the semi-structured interview schedule was designed to elicit information relating to a range of practical, organisational and delivery issues. The programme staff were also asked about the nature of other pre-release work carried out with the prisoners and the integration of the FOR programme within the prison, with particular reference to linkage with in-house services.

The following discussion focuses mainly on staff experiences of delivering the programme and their views about its style and content. It is structured under the following headings:

  • Comparison with other treatment programmes.

  • Session content.

  • Programme applicability.

  • Workbooks.

  • Programme effectiveness and quality of delivery.

Staff with experience of other prison-based treatment programmes were asked how they thought FOR compared.

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In this chapter, the focus is upon post-release aspects of the resettlement process. The discussion is based on four main data sources: the interviews – already referred to in the previous chapter – with 71 ex-prisoners who had previously completed the FOR programme; interviews with 13 FOR ‘community links’ or ‘post-release tutors’; a postal questionnaire completed by 24 community-based service providers with links to the programme; and analysis of the post-release sections of the case management records (CMRs) kept on all FOR participants.

First, a brief summary is given of the extent of contact between offenders and FOR staff or community links: this issue is further discussed in Chapter 5, where post-release contact is examined as an interim indicator of resettlement outcomes. Second, an account is given of referrals made to local agencies and of subsequent levels of service uptake. Finally, views of the community link staff and ex-prisoners are presented.

It is important to reiterate that the evaluation of the Phase 1 Resettlement Pathfinders included only Automatic Unconditional Release (AUR) prisoners (for whom all post-release contact was voluntary), but that the eligibility criteria were expanded in Phase 2 to include Automatic Conditional Release (ACR) prisoners and young offenders (YOs), two groups that are subject to statutory post-release supervision. This complicated the post-release stages of the resettlement strategy, which were managed differently in each site.

As outlined in Chapter 1, the aim in Parc was to allocate all ACR participants to specially designated (and trained) FOR probation officers in a number of locations around South Wales: while this occurred in most cases, a substantial minority were in fact supervised by other members of throughcare teams.

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Conclusions about the impact on offenders of participation in the second stage Pathfinders are limited by the fact that the available resources did not permit us to collect similar data on a valid comparison group of non-participants. The only comparison groups used in the evaluation were constructed during Phase 1 in order to support a reconviction study, the first (one-year) results of which are presented briefly later in this chapter.

Nevertheless, some useful indications of the impact of the programme in Phase 2 can be obtained from the data collected on participants. In the first part of the chapter we focus on three ‘proxy’ measures of effectiveness. The first of these is ‘continuity of service’, which is defined as the proportion of participants who remained in contact with the FOR programme team (or its community links) beyond their day of release. This was chosen because a central concern of all resettlement services is to promote service uptake after release; this was also a key aim of all three projects. The second and third measures relate to changes in participants’ attitudes to crime and in their perceived ‘life problems’, as reflected in ‘before and after’ scores on the CRIME-PICS II questionnaire. All three sets of results are compared by site and where appropriate by prisoner category.

Next, although it is recognised that they are not robust enough to be used as outcome measures, some data are presented (a) on the accommodation and employment status of some of the FOR participants, comparing their situation before and after imprisonment, and (b) on their self-reported levels of substance misuse and re-offending.

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This penultimate chapter presents findings and raises issues arising from the organisational structures and arrangements surrounding the implementation of the Phase 2 Resettlement Pathfinders and the delivery of the FOR programme. It begins with a look at organisational issues, then outlines the main stages of prisoners’ progress, from recruitment and assessment to post-release follow-up. Throughout, particular attention will be paid to any obstacles to the effective delivery of the interventions.

Between 7 October 2002 and 31 July 2003, regular visits were made to each of the three sites to observe various FOR sessions. Interviews were undertaken with the treatment managers and tutors, designed to elicit information about staff training and supervision, recruitment and assessment procedures and interviewees’ experiences of delivering the programme. The questionnaires covered the following areas:

  • the nature of pre-release work carried out with the prisoners;

  • the integration of the FOR programme within the prison, with particular reference to linkage with in-house services;

  • the mechanisms for ensuring that the prisoners receive adequate post-release support following their release into the community.

In addition, systematic analysis was undertaken of all relevant documentation, including quarterly monitoring forms, case management records and OASys and CRIME-PICS II assessments.

We begin by briefly presenting the main findings on each of the following organisational issues:

  • management and staffing;

  • staff training;

  • facilities;

  • relationships with prison management;

  • relationships with prison staff; links with prison services;

  • recruitment of offenders to the programme.

A lack of permanent, dedicated FOR staff was a problem for both Lewes and Hull at various stages throughout the programme. While staffing problems were overcome

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This final chapter draws together the main findings from the research, focusing particularly on those which relate to issues of effectiveness, both in the delivery of services and (as far as can be determined) outcomes, and highlighting possible implications for the future development of resettlement services.

A detailed study of the quality and integrity of the delivery of the FOR programme yielded encouraging results for all three sites. Levels of integrity were high and the tutors delivered the programme well. The programme was assessed by the researchers who observed it in action as coherent and systematically focused on motivation, with a robust design capable of accommodating different styles of facilitation. The necessary element of directiveness to maintain the engagement of the participants is supported by the structure and sequence of the programme.

Some practical difficulties arose with session 13, which is meant to be delivered as a group session but close to release: this, however, was often impractical as group members had different release dates. Some facilitators changed it to an individual session.

The programme appeared to be successful in stimulating individual prisoners to work on specific personal goals and to identify potential obstacles, and it was for the most part enthusiastically received and well understood by participants.

Interviews with staff and prisoners about the programme found broadly positive attitudes in both groups, and prisoners’ comments about what they learned from the programme were mostly in line with its aims. These findings tend to support its wider use in supporting resettlement work.

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The Pathfinder programme was set up by the probation service in the latter part of 1999 to pilot and evaluate new models of working with offenders. It formed an integral part of the Service’s ‘What Works’ initiative and was originally funded under the Home Office Crime Reduction Programme.

The Resettlement Pathfinders were originally designed to test new approaches to the resettlement of adult prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months, who currently leave custody without supervision under the system of Automatic Unconditional Release (AUR). They were later extended to include young prisoners and some adults already subject to post-release supervision on licence, but the focus remained primarily on adult short-termers. This report presents an evaluation of the second (and final) phase of the Resettlement Pathfinders, based in three local prisons, in which 278 offenders voluntarily completed an innovative cognitive-motivational programme (‘FOR – A Change’), obtained direct access to services to address their needs and were offered continued contact with project staff, a probation officer or a volunteer ‘mentor’ after release.

The report is structured as follows. The remainder of this chapter briefly introduces the problems faced by short-termers on leaving custody and shows how this group of prisoners has been neglected in comparison with others, despite its exceptionally high reconviction rates. It also outlines the main elements of the Pathfinders, summarises the findings from Phase 1 and sets out the methodology used to evaluate Phase 2. Finally, it provides a brief description of each of the three sites, the structure of the project teams and the characteristics of prisoners joining the FOR programme.

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In this chapter and the next, we look more closely at the FOR programme and at the way in which it was delivered by the project staff and received by offenders. Particular attention is paid to the theoretical foundations of the programme and to the integrity with which the designers’ intentions were realised in practice. This chapter focuses on findings from observational research; Chapter 3 examines the programme (as well as other aspects of the project) through the eyes of staff and prisoners.

‘FOR – A Change’ (Fabiano and Porporino, 2002) is a 13-session programme1 based on the concept of motivational interviewing developed by Miller and Rollnick (1991). It derives from the programme authors’ conclusion that to date, while the ‘What Works’ movement has focused appropriately on, for instance, problem solving and thinking skills, it has not as yet concerned itself sufficiently with motivation.2 In their view, this leaves attempts to change offenders vulnerable to erosion, either because ambivalence about change has not been addressed or because newly acquired skills have not been reinforced. In this respect they echo the findings of other effectiveness research, which concludes that initial effect can be undermined by a lack of post-programme reinforcement (Raynor and Vanstone, 1996). The programme draws on the principle that ‘key “transitions” can interrupt life “trajectories” that have been consistently criminal and anti-social in character’ (Fabiano and Porporino, 2002, p 1) and that therefore interventions should motivate offenders towards goals that produce transitions. Its primary objective is to increase motivation so that programme participants establish their own agenda for change.

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