Evaluating effectiveness of open prison services within the OPD pathway: What drives success and failure in open prison services for high risk offende

Lead Research Organisation: Queen Mary, University of London
Department Name: Wolfson Institute


Personality disorder is a complex mental health condition
that can involve severe deficiencies in relationship skills,
identify dysfunction and, in extreme cases, a risk of physical
harm to others (1). Personality disorder is a prevalent
diagnosis in the UK (2). Estimates suggest between 4.4 and
13 percent of the general population could meet the criteria
for any personality disorder diagnosis (3). Within the criminal
justice system (CJS), personality disorder is overrepresented
with estimates suggesting 65% of male prisoners meeting
the criteria (4). Due to the prevalence, personality disorder is
a prominent issue with the CJS. Stemming from the
challenging and complex nature of personality disorder,
professionals are often unwilling to work with or experience
burnout through working with the population (5,6,7).
However, treatment and intervention with this population is
possible but research in the area is generally
methodologically poor (8,9).
The Offender Personality Disorder Pathway (OPD Pathway)
The Offender Personality Disorder Pathway (OPD Pathway) is
a joint initiative between the UK Ministry of Justice and NHS
England to provide psychologically informed services across
the CJS for high risk offenders who are likely to have a
diagnosis of 'personality disorder' (10). The pathway is based
on a whole systems approach, recognising the various
stages of an offender's journey from sentence through
prison and/or NHS detention to community-based
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supervision and re-settlement. The aims of the OPD Pathway
are to reduce re-offending, improve offender psychological
health and wellbeing as well as improve the confidence, skills
and attitudes of staff working with personality disordered
offenders (10).
The OPD pathway has a national coverage across probation
and adopts a formulation-based approach, as well as
specialist psychologically informed, intervention services
from Category A prisons through to the community for
example, democratic therapeutic communities and
Psychologically Informed Prison Environments (PIPEs) across
custody and community Approved Premises. The previous
Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder (DSPD)
government strategy was not cost-effective and so the
funding was redistributed to form the current OPD Pathway,
aiming to cover more of the needs of personality disordered
offenders (11).
There is currently only one OPD Pathway open prison (male),
at HMP Standford Hill. The service, known as Pathways
Enhanced Resettlement Service (PERS), has a focus on high
risk offenders who have a high likelihood of 'failing' in the
short-term, either reoffending or being returned to a secure
prison environment. The aim of the PERS service is to shift
psychological to practical hazards, modelling community
settings as much as possible. Service users can spend up to
two years in service with the aim of release into the
community. The OPD Pathway has been successful in
obtaining funding for an additional three open prison sites, in
accordance with the PERS model (two of which will take on
sex offenders) over a period of three years.
The Research Question
For my PhD research, I will undertake a mixed-method
evaluation, including advanced quantitative modelling,
across all four OPD pathway open prison services. The
research will aim to answer the overarching question; are
open prison (male) OPD services effective? There are four
specific research questions:
1) How do prisoners accepted into specialist open prison
services (SOPS) differ from a comparison group of offenders
transferred to standard open prisons?
2) What factors differentiate those who successfully progress
from SOPS from those who are returned to closed conditions
and/or reoffend?
3) What narratives do offenders use to account for:
a. Successful progression from SOPS?
b. Failure to progress?
4) How can we causally model the key drivers for outcomes
from SOPS


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2322775 Studentship ES/P000703/1 01/10/2019 30/09/2022 Georgina Mathlin