Breaking the Cycle? Prison Visitation and Recidivism in the UK.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography, Earth & Env Sciences

Abstract

In the aftermath of the 2011 UK riots, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke described the rioters as a 'feral underclass, cut off from the mainstream', and blamed the riots on the 'broken penal system - one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful'. Reoffending or recidivism is key to the operation of the repetitive cycle of incarceration, re-entry, re-offending and re-incarceration, and represents a major policy challenge. In the UK, 75% of ex-inmates reoffend within nine years of release, and 39.3% within the first twelve months. Clarke's solution as set out in the government's "Breaking the Cycle" Green Paper is 'payment by results'; a 'radical and decentralising reform' with 'freedom to innovate' new interventions, opening 'the market to new providers from the private, voluntary and community sectors'. This project draws attention to prison visitation as an aspect of imprisonment which has already been demonstrated to improve the outcomes of released prisoners, but whose specific functionality is at present poorly understood. Through parallel methodologies, this project investigates the relationship between visitation and recidivism.

This interdisciplinary project provides a new perspective on prison visitation and its relationship to the highly topical issue of recidivism in the UK. Macro-level statistical analysis in parallel with innovative mixed-methods research into visiting facilities will identify the nature of this relationship and its socio-spatial context, informing policy towards visitation and the design of visiting spaces, and contributing to broader debates about prisoner rehabilitation and resettlement.

Research into studying recidivism finds that prison visitation is a significant factor in improving post-release outcomes; outcomes are in general much more positive for visited prisoners, and lower recidivism rates have been demonstrated across study populations and time periods. However, although the effect is widely observed, the causality is poorly understood. It is presumed that the maintenance of personal relationships and the feeling of 'connectedness' to home and community which may arise through visitation smooth reintegration after release, but this process has never been fully explored. The processes underlying persistent criminal careers remain a research gap, and very little is known about psychological change in relation to prison visits in terms of the psychological constructs which may mediate the relationship between visits and recidivism.

In order to analyse the relationship between visitation and recidivism in the UK, the project uses national level statistics from the Ministry of Justice and the Police National Computer, with analysis carried out in conjunction with Ministry of Justice Analytical Services, and also explores the experience of visitation 'on the ground' in a West Midlands prison, investigating the ways in which prisoners, visitors and prison personnel experience prison visits; specifically the psychological effects of visitation, and the ways in which spatial context affects the kind of contact which takes place between prisoners and visitors.

The project will uniquely generate both the most nuanced insights yet produced into the relationship between prison visitation and recidivism, and also critical insights into the socio-spatial context of prison visiting, to inform visitation policy and the design of more effective prison visiting spaces. It seizes an opportunity to influence policy and create impact, at a time when the the coalition government is consulting on policy reform, in particular in relation to recidivism. It represents convergence of cutting-edge debates in cognate disciplines of human geography, criminology, psychology and wider social theory, and resonates with policy development in individual prison institutions in the UK in the context of the 'Breaking the Cycle' initiative.

Planned Impact

The timely focus of this project on the highly topical issue of reoffending will make a demonstrable contribution to society and the economy. Coinciding with active government consultation on and development of policy towards reoffending, it will assist in increasing;

(1) the effectiveness of public services and policy, by improvement of the effectiveness and sustainability of public, private and third sector organisations around prisoner rehabilitation;

(2) enhancement of social welfare, social cohesion and quality of life, by reducing recidivism and therefore delivering the social benefits associated with fewer victims of crime;

(3) the economic competitiveness of the UK, by helping reduce the estimated £7-10billion annual cost of reoffending to the UK economy (through reduced demand on the criminal justice system, fewer court cases, reduced legal aid spending, fewer Community Orders, fewer Suspended Sentences and fewer Custodial Sentences; reductions in acquisitive crime which could benefit businesses; and reduced violent crime which could deliver financial savings to other government departments such as the Department of Health).

This economic and societal impact will be Instrumental (influencing the development of policy, practice and service provision and altering behaviour towards recidivism); and Conceptual (contributing to the understanding of policy issues and reframing current debates around this issue).

The research is timed to coincide with the development of relevant policy issues. The UK Coalition Government's Ministry of Justice published the Green Paper 'Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders' in December 2010, and the 'Breaking the Cycle: Government Response' to consultation in May 2011, and to complement the drive to identify effective interventions to reduce recidivism by the end of the Spending Review period 2014/15.

Beneficiaries will be the UK Ministry of Justice, National Offender Managment Service and HMP Hewell, as well as organisations working with prisoners' families and providing interventions aimed at reducing recidivism, such as 'Partners of Prisoners' and 'Action for Prisoners' Families' (members of which are part of an Advisory Group to the project). These organisations will be direct users of this research in developing their core areas of activity.
 
Description Through the research undertaken for this grant, we have improved understandings of the microscale experience of prison visitation, such that we have been able to advise on the ways in which prison visitation spaces might be designed with a view to improving the quality of visits interactions in support of the wellbeing of prisoners and their visitors.
Exploitation Route Findings from the research have been translated into advice about the redesign of prison visiting spaces - advice which has, in some instances, led directly to the redesign of these spaces.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Findings have been used to assist in informing the redesign of prison visitation spaces in the UK and overseas.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Provided evidence to Farmer Review October 2016
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
 
Description ESRC Impact Acceleration Account at the University of Birmingham
Amount £2,180 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 12/2014
 
Description ESRC Impact Accelerator Account at the University of Birmingham
Amount £19,924 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2015 
End 12/2015
 
Description Ministry of Justice Analytical Services 
Organisation Ministry of Justice
Department Ministry of Justice Analytical Services
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We are collaborating on data analysis.
Collaborator Contribution The MoJAS are providing access to secure data and to the Police National Computer for data analysis purposes.
Impact n/a
Start Year 2013
 
Description Northern Ireland Prison Service 
Organisation Government of Northern Ireland
Department Northern Ireland Prison Service
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution 1) the co-production of research to address the strategic priorities of the NIPS in relation to visitation and reoffending, i.e. qualitative work around prisoner/staff/visitor experiences of visitation at prison sites in Northern Ireland. 2) Provision of applied academic guidance on issues of policy and practice around visitation, to enhance the experience of visitation and its positive effect on reducing reoffending. 3) Support for the work of NIPS' statisticians through discussions about future data capture, in order to more effectively monitor the relationship between visitation and reoffending.
Collaborator Contribution Enabling research access to prisons in Northern Ireland, and to headquarters of the NIPS.
Impact to be determined
Start Year 2014
 
Description 'Prison Life: Inside and Out' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This event showcased multi-disciplinary research exploring aspects of prison life - ranging from prison visitation and recidivism, pathways to imprisonment, the impact of imprisonment on prisoners' families, and the difficulties prisoners face following release.
c95 people attended, lots of questions were raised, and many queries re the project received subsequently.

Contact was made with individuals in child psychology services at Birmingham City Council which has been followed up and is leading to collaboration.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/events/arts-and-science/ArtsScience2014/Talks2014/Prison-Life-Inside-and...
 
Description Carceral geography, prison visitation and recidivism, presentation to Prisons Research Centre, University of Cambridge 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other academic audiences (collaborators, peers etc.)
Results and Impact The talk stimulated discussion.

The talk stimulated discussion and prompted an application for a postdoc position from a PhD student in the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Disney paper at AAG 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Dr Tom Disney, Postdoctoral Research Associate, gave a paper "The Emotional and Affective Geography of Prison Visitation" at the 2016 Annual Conference of the American Association of Geographers. Speaking from the research project, in particular about situated fathering in prison visiting rooms, Tom discussed the experiences of imprisoned fathers in engaging with their visiting children. The presentation was well-received by the large audience in attendance, and feedback from the presentation contributed to the publication which arose from this research data.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Hutton paper at AAG 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Marie Hutton, former Postdoctoral Researcher on the project, gave a presentation "Prison visits: Breaking the bonds" at the 2016 Annual Conference of the American Association of Geographers. Speaking both from her prior PhD research and from the experience of the project research, she spoke about prison visitation and human rights. The presentation was well received by the large audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Participation in a panel at the ESC, Porto 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr Dominique Moran was invited to take part in a panel, entitled "A conversation: criminology and carceral geography"; at The Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology, Porto, 2-5th September. The panel stimulated discussion and wider interdisciplinary conversation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Presentation at the Troubling Institutions Conference and Workshop, University of Glasgow 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Dominique Moran presented a paper entitled 'Troubling Institutions: Prisons and the Design of Carceral Space' at the Troubling Institutions workshop, University of Glasgow, 11th Nov 2014. The paper was used to stimulate further questions and conversation in a workshop element of the proceedings.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Presentation to National Offender Management Service, (NOMS) at Royal Courts of Justice 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Dr Dominique Moran gave a presentation to the National Offender Management Service, (NOMS) on 20th October 2015 at Royal Courts of Justice, on prison design and therapeutic landscapes, including concern for visitation and family contact. The presentation was to members of NOMS, and Senior Management Team including the Governor-Designate of a new prison under construction in North Wales, and to members of MoJ Estates Directorate. The intention was to inform the operationalisation of the new prison post-handover in 2016, in relation to the internal environment and the engendering of a rehabilitative culture for the institution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015