Improving outcomes for stigmatised groups via social cohesion

Lead Research Organisation: University of Greenwich
Department Name: ILD, School of Human Sciences, FEHHS


Recidivism is one of the greatest socio-economic burdens the UK currently faces. At an estimated total cost of £18.1 billion a year, prison re-entry places a substantial burden on the national economy. This exacerbates reoffending's associated societal costs, including deviance, unstable communities and displacement. There is a 48% chance that an offender will go on to re-offend within a 12-month period, worsening the current prison overcrowding crisis, which is associated with severe mental health issues and a spread in infectious diseases. Re-offending rates are currently stable in the UK, providing an ideal time to conduct research into reducing them and the burden they place on the economy and wider civil society.

Powerful group identities lead people to enact extraordinary behaviours for their groups - from hardcore football fans travelling the globe for a game only to vandalise the local area, to gang members committing atrocities against their rivals. Can this problem be turned on its head and provide a solution: can this group passion be harnessed for the social good? At the same time, how can we foster positive social identities that are powerful enough to transcend values and expectations, helping stigmatised populations, such as prison leavers, receiving communities, or people with mental health issues?

The proposed research hinges around the social cure; the power of groups and identities to connect us to positive values and behaviours. The research is ground-breaking in its truly national scale, encompassing men and women in over 70 British prisons, and leveraging collaborations across four continents. I will develop and apply the theoretical framework of 'identity fusion' - an intense, lasting form of social bonding - to these hard-to-reach populations. Across objectives, this will lead to interventions that are participant-focused, tailored to individual needs, and have lasting impact on individuals' social connectivity and the groups they are bonded to.

The research tackles a portfolio of linked projects, ultimately championing social connections for people in prison and prison-leavers in the UK by investigating at reoffending data in 2026 and 2027 from my prison cohorts recruited in years 1-4 (Objective 1). As well as committing to societally acceptable behaviour, prison leavers also need welcoming communities; the renewal will support me to navigate receiving communities' attitudes to formerly incarcerated people and other stigmatised groups via a suite of experiments and surveys, including the use of comparative psychology to understand group cohesion via synchrony and ultimate, phylogenetic explanations of group barriers (Objective 2). Capitalising on the success of applying the social identity model in justice, this project re-applies the approach to improve the success of psychedelic-assisted therapies by conducting research in naturalised settings that promote lasting feelings of belonging, an area currently lacking in medical models (Objective 3).

The research project crosses disciplines and methodologies, and has secured support from major non-academic partners to address these questions, including the Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service and the Twinning Project - a nationwide intervention that pairs major football clubs with prisons and gives football-industry training and sustainable social identities to prisoners. Primarily informed by anthropology, psychology and criminology, the project will create novel tools using cross-cultural practices, which can be applied nationwide to affect positive, viable societal change. This research is further supported by a postdoctoral researcher with two years' experience with the sensitive data we work with, and a core team of carefully selected collaborators and mentors.


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