Desistance Knowledge Exchange Project (DesKE)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Social & Political Sciences


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Title The Road from Crime 
Description A film about how and why people stop offending, and how criminal justice can better support them to do so. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Has been used all over the world in staff training, in direct practice and in public education 
Description The DesKE project brought together academics, policy makers, practitioners, ex-offenders, service-users and their families/supporters to explore desistance from crime and how criminal justice policies, processes and practices could better support it. Project partners included the Community Justice Division (CJD) of the Scottish Government, the National Offender Management Service for England and Wales (NOMS) and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) and the Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence (ACE) at George Mason University in the USA.

We worked with stakeholders and with a film production company to develop ideas and identify content and contacts for a documentary film entitled 'The Road from Crime' ( We also created a project blog ( to facilitate ongoing dialogue throughout (and beyond) the project. The film and blog were conceived as innovative means of disseminating existing research and of representing a range of perspectives on desistance. The blog has had over 35,000 visits since its launch in August 2011; an evidence summary that we produced has been downloaded over 800 times; the film's webpage has been visited over 6,500 times, and the film has been watched online over 4,800 times.

The film and blog were primarily designed as a way of stimulating discussion in a series of 'Appreciative Inquiry' stakeholder workshops that were planned and delivered in Belfast, Glasgow and Sheffield. Due to demand from the field, independently funded workshops also took place in many other places, for example in Liverpool and London, in Adelaide and Sydney, and in Boston.

In each part of the project, DesKE modeled a process of 'co-production' between justice stakeholders in policy and practice development; in consequence, its impact was substantial both in changing how criminal justice decision-makers see the issues and in changing attitudes and approaches to policy and practice development - particularly in relation to the role of service users and 'ex-offender' engagement in these processes.

However, the impact of the project also extends beyond the adoption of many of the concrete policy proposals emerging from the project across and beyond the three jurisdictions involved (evidenced below). A wide range of project participants (and others) have discovered and used the film, the resources hosted on the blog, the workshop methodology and, more generally, desistance research in diverse and creative ways to support public education, higher education and professional training, as well as in direct penal practice; drawing people delivering and people subject to criminal justice sanctions into conversations about how they best support to desistance from offending and the reintegration of 'ex-offenders'.
Exploitation Route Desistance research explores the human and social processes through which people cease and refrain from offending. Scholars argue that criminal justice reform should be embedded in this body of explanatory evidence as much as in evidence from findings about 'what works?'. Rather than focusing on 'correctional' practices as putative producers of change, desistance perspectives critically examine how criminal justice practices support and/or impede wider processes of human development and legal and social reintegration.

DesKE was an innovative response to demands from policymakers and practitioners to better articulate the implications of desistance research for criminal justice. Rather than researchers designing a 'desistance programme', DesKE instead engaged stakeholders in co-producing proposals for criminal justice reform, informed by research and by other relevant forms of personal and professional experience.

DesKE's impact arises from its insistence on the co-productive process that it modeled; an approach based on promoting dialogue, engagement and relationships between different parties who share a common commitment to improving justice. The key challenges we faced were developing and sustaining these relationships on which impact depends. Our major advantages were our ability to use DesKE's resources to forge and deepen these enduring relationships. We also benefitted from additional investment from a range of parties to extend the work; e.g. ACE provided 20,000USD to finance filming in the USA, increasing the reach, quality and global appeal of the film.

The extent of the impact is reflected in the interest in and engagement with the project at the 2012 American and British Society of Criminology Conferences and at a wide range of policy and practice conferences in many countries (e.g. in Australia, in several European countries, and in the International Community Corrections Association Conference in Orlando). In England and Wales, Maruna addressed a NOMS expert meeting on "Desistance and 'What Works'" and subsequently produced an invited report on that topic. The Probation Chiefs' Association Conference intend to show the film at their 2013 conference (and have purchased over 200 copies of the DVD). London Probation Trust funded workshops and purchased 50 copies of the film for use in staff and service development. The film has been shown at several Probation Trust and third sector conferences. In Scotland, the film launch was addressed by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and screenings and/or workshops were requested by policy and analytical services colleagues in the Government, by the Parole Board of Scotland, and by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS). The film has also been discussed in recent evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Audit Committee and a screening has been arranged for the Justice Committee (February 2013). In Northern Ireland, screenings have been provided for the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) and for the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), as well as for the Youth Justice Agency (four showings across the different regions of Northern Ireland) and NIACRO (a leading third sector justice organisation).
Perhaps the key policy and practice impacts of DesKE have been (1) a step-change in the engagement of criminal justice service users and 'ex-offenders' in policy and practice development, delivery and evaluation, and (2) recognition of the role of wider social networks in promoting and supporting reintegration. These were not just two of our workshops' main proposals; DesKE itself actively demonstrated their value. More specifically:

• In England and Wales, the recently announced plans to offer ex-offender mentoring to all short-term ex-prisoners can be linked to DesKE, given the involvement of NOMS officials in the project. At the practice level, Merseyside Probation Trust funded workshops to assist them in piloting a desistance-based approach in one Local Delivery Unit. Avon and Somerset appointed a 'Desistance Development Worker' who has been working with local service users to inform service development and re-design and utilising the film in all of her work. HM Prison High Point has recently invited Maruna to participate in a 'desistance audit' of the prison and has declared itself to be the first 'desistance-focused' prison.
• The recent Crime Reduction Strategy drafted by the Department of Justice Northern Ireland contains an explicit focus on desistance and references the DesKE work. Staff training within NIPS is currently being re-developed to better integrate content on desistance.
• In Scotland, similar plans have been attributed directly to the DesKE project. McNeill was invited to join the Board of the SPS's ongoing Organisational Review, which is revising their operating philosophy to support the development of a desistance-based approach. He was invited to join the Programme Board of the Scottish Government's Reducing Reoffending Programme. He was appointed Chair of the Trustees of a 'Positive Prisons? Positive Futures', a new charity that has secured financial support from the CJD and SPS in order to bring 'user voice' to bear on policy and service development.
• Internationally, academics and trainers around the world are using 'The Road from Crime' in higher education, in professional education and in other knowledge exchange activities with research users, generating their own local impacts. Community and faith groups have used the film in public education as a stimulus for debate and discussion. Practitioners are using the film in direct practice to encourage engagement in rehabilitative processes.
As well as the instrumental impact on policy and practice listed above, there is clear evidence that DesKE has assisted policymakers and practitioners in reframing debates about rehabilitation (references to desistance research appear in most published policy/strategy papers in 2012-13, in contrast to the position two or three years ago). This work has also contributed to capacity-building in criminal justice, not least through the positive engagement of ex-offenders in the process.
Ultimately, the social value of all of this impact rests in its contribution to building a safer society by supporting desistance and reintegration, thus reducing the financial and social costs of crime and realising the benefits (financial and social) of restored and contributing citizens.
Sectors Education,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description Organisational Review of Scottish Prison Service
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact I advised the Scottish Prison Service in its organisational review, informing a new strategic direction for the service and a plan for organisational transformation.
Description ESRC Impact Acceleration Account (University of Glasgow)
Amount £11,500 (GBP)
Organisation Economic and Social Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2015 
End 08/2016
Title The Road from Crime (Film) 
Description We produced a documentary film which was used as the stimulus for workshops that developed propositions from criminal justice reform. The film was subsequently translated into several languages and has been used in education, training, direct practice and in raising public awareness. 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2012 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact See above. 
Title Desistance Knowledge Exchange Project (DesKE) 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Title The Road from Crime 
Description A documentary film about how and why people stop offending 
IP Reference  
Protection Copyrighted (e.g. software)
Year Protection Granted 2012
Licensed Yes
Impact The film has been used around the world in direct practice with offenders, in training of prison and probation officers and in raising public awareness.
Company Name Vox Liminis 
Description Vox Liminis is a charity and social enterprise set up to develop creative practice in criminal justice. Its founder and CEO was inspired by participation in the DesKE project, and the PI (Fergus McNeill) has been Chair of the Board of Trustees since the charity's inception. Annual turnover is now approaching £200,000. Collaboration between Vox and the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research has, over the last 2 years, secured about £60,000 from the University of Glasgow, the ESRC (Impact Acceleration Account) and the Scottish Prison Service for a project called Distant Voices which aims to explore punishment and reintegration through song. 
Year Established 2013 
Impact See annual report for 2013-14:
Description Scottish Prison Service Organisational Review 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The DesKE project's findings informed an organisational review of the Scottish Prison Service. The report of the review -- 'Unlocking Potential Transforming Lives' was published in 2013. I served on the review's reference group and have stayed closely involved with SPS in the development of its implementation plans -- for example, supporting the development of new staff training on desistance; helping organise international symposia to inform reforms.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2014,2015,2016