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Social scientists have often had difficulty evaluating the impact of probation services, partly because expectations and political circumstances change and partly because appropriate methodologies have been slow to develop. This chapter outlines the history of evaluative research on probation. It describes the limitations of early probation research which led to erroneous conclusions that ‘nothing works’, and goes on to show how more recent research has been based on a fuller understanding of practitioner inputs through research on programmes, skills and implementation. This is starting to lead to a better understanding of which practices are effective (‘What Works’). The chapter advocates a mixed qualitative and quantitative methodology for evaluative research which combines understanding, measurement and comparison. Finally, it points to some risks to evidence-based policy which arise from current populism and post-truth politics.

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International research on supporting rehabilitation and desistance

How can evidence-based skills and practices reduce re-offending, support desistance, and encourage service user engagement during supervision in criminal justice settings? How can those who work with service users in these settings apply these skills and practices?

This book is the first to bring together international research on skills and practices in probation and youth justice, while exploring the wider contexts that affect their implementation in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Wide-ranging in scope, it also covers effective approaches to working with diverse groups such as ethnic minority service users, women and young people.

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The concept of ‘end-to-end offender management’ was fundamental to Patrick (now Lord) Carter’s argument for the creation of a new, single agency for the management of prison and community sentences (Home Office, 2003). Now operationalised in the form of the National Offender Management Model (NOMM), it constitutes one of the central planks of the whole ‘NOMS enterprise’. Ultimately, indeed, the success or failure of NOMS – in the eyes of practitioners and observers alike – is likely to be judged mainly by the extent to which the new model achieves in practice the key expectations of its designers: in particular, the aims of (a) creating a more holistic and productive experience of sentence management for individual offenders, and (b) contributing demonstrably towards a decrease in reconviction rates.

This chapter discusses elements of the NOMM, and of the organisational context within which it is being introduced, which appear likely to help or hinder the achievement of these aims. In doing so, we draw upon recent theory and research on processes of personal change and desistance from crime, and on effective practice to support such change, especially studies which highlight the importance of practitioner skills, personal relationships and continuity. The first half of the chapter is devoted mainly to discussion of relevant research and of key lessons for policy and practice that have emerged from it: this includes fundamental research on processes of change as well as descriptive and evaluative studies of case management in practice. We then ask to what extent the new arrangements are likely to foster improvements in these areas, concluding that, while the designers of the NOMM aspire to embed many of the principles associated with effective supervision, there are substantial risks that these aspirations will not be realized in practice.

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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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This chapter sets out the premise and aims of the book – bringing together international research on evidence-based skills for working with offenders in the criminal justice system. It explains the breadth and parameters of the books, including defining and contextualising the term ‘desistance’ for the purposes of the book. The chapter also explains the genesis of the book, arising from the international Collaboration of Researchers for the Effective Development of Offender Supervision network (CREDOS), and sets out the aims and work of CREDOS. Finally, the introduction summarises the structure and the chapters of the book.

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The editors draw on the key themes covered by the preceding chapters to summarise the international research on evidence-based skills in criminal justice. The chapter also locates the key themes within the contexts of the organisational factors, policy conditions, and other issues that affect the deployment of evidence-based skills. Finally, the chapter demonstrates the broad significance of evidence-based skills in criminal justice settings.

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This book explores how evidence-based skills and practices can reduce re-offending, support desistance, and encourage service user engagement during supervision in criminal justice settings; and how those who work with service users in these settings could apply these skills and practices to their work. This book is the first to bring together international research on skills and practices in probation and youth justice, while exploring the wider contexts that affect their implementation in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Wide-ranging in scope, it also covers effective approaches to working with diverse groups such as ethnic minority service users, women and young people. There are chapters on specific practice in England and Wales, the United States, Canada, Spain, Belgium, Romania and Australia.

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This book explores how evidence-based skills and practices can reduce re-offending, support desistance, and encourage service user engagement during supervision in criminal justice settings; and how those who work with service users in these settings could apply these skills and practices to their work. This book is the first to bring together international research on skills and practices in probation and youth justice, while exploring the wider contexts that affect their implementation in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Wide-ranging in scope, it also covers effective approaches to working with diverse groups such as ethnic minority service users, women and young people. There are chapters on specific practice in England and Wales, the United States, Canada, Spain, Belgium, Romania and Australia.

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This book explores how evidence-based skills and practices can reduce re-offending, support desistance, and encourage service user engagement during supervision in criminal justice settings; and how those who work with service users in these settings could apply these skills and practices to their work. This book is the first to bring together international research on skills and practices in probation and youth justice, while exploring the wider contexts that affect their implementation in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Wide-ranging in scope, it also covers effective approaches to working with diverse groups such as ethnic minority service users, women and young people. There are chapters on specific practice in England and Wales, the United States, Canada, Spain, Belgium, Romania and Australia.

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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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