Evaluating a multi-agency approach to working with prolific offenders in the UK – providing a responsive approach in a ‘what works’ framework

An article by: Dr Emily Evans, University of Nottingham, UK. This research undertaken as part of doctoral research and was presented at the 10th Seminar of Probation and Social Work in Justice in Fribourg, November 2017.

This article outlines the findings of an evaluation of an Integrated Offender Management (IOM) approach in one English county. IOM brings together agencies to work more effectively with prolific, often acquisitive and drug-addicted offenders. The article shows how mechanisms identified as underpinning IOM allow it to provide a responsive approach through the skills of probation and other criminal justice professionals, to offenders in particular contexts.

Integrated Offender Management

IOM was launched by the UK government in 2009 (Home Office, Ministry of Justice, 2009) and consists of co-located teams of probation, police and other statutory and voluntary services. These teams utilise the expertise and resources of these different professionals to manage and support locally selected prolific offenders with the aim of reducing their reoffending. This typically consists of high levels of police monitoring and programmes of intensive probation supervision. This approach applies to offenders regardless of their position in the criminal justice system; whether subject to supervision or not.

IOM is a recent example of the ‘what works’ or risk-need-responsivity (RNR) approach to offender rehabilitation, concerned with effective and evidence-based approaches, but also with public protection and risk management (Raynor and Robinson, 2009; McGuire, 1995) and with “categories or aggregates” of offenders as opposed to individual clients (May and Annison, 1998, p. 163). Worrall and Mawby (2004) argue that whilst such approaches to prolific offenders have been well received by practitioners, evaluations have questioned their effect upon recidivism. Similarly IOM, like previous approaches, has struggled to demonstrate effectiveness

This research therefore employed a methodology concerned with exploring underlying causes or mechanisms which make an intervention “work” within a specific context; the realistic evaluation of Pawson and Tilley (1997). Three  mechanisms were uncovered in the research; the relationships established between offenders and IOM staff; the intensity and structure of IOM; and the effect of close inter-agency working. These are explored briefly in turn using the findings from the qualitative methods employed.

Underlying IOM Mechanisms

Firstly, the relationships established and the motivation these provide. That change is easier to undertake and more successful if supported by caring and trusting relationships is well understood in probation and desistance research; this includes relationships with a supervising officer (McNeill and Weaver, 2010; Raynor and Robinson, 2009), particularly if they move beyond monitoring compliance and demonstrate genuine care (Canton, 2013; Shapland et al., 2012).

Observations of IOM meetings and interviews with staff in this research demonstrated a similar emphasis on the importance of relationships and revealed attempts to maintain continuity of support. This is emphasised in this quote from a probation director interviewed:

‘I think that’s crucial that you’ve got a relationship with somebody who you think will care if you lapse… you have to have a sense of feeling that this person, as a human being, really does want me to do this. And that demands you know, a genuineness on the part of the worker about what they’re doing and how they approach it’ (Staff Interview – Probation Director).

Such relationships were supported by the second mechanism, the intensity and structure of the contact. The nature of IOM provides more opportunities for offenders to engage with services and receive a greater degree of personalised support than standard probation supervision. This too has been noted as important within desistance (McNeill, 2012) and ‘what works’ research (McGuire, 1995) and was reflected in this research. For example, offenders interviewed tended to recognise the difference with IOM supervision:

‘… other police are trying to drive information out of you all the time, do you know what I mean, like ‘who have you being hanging round with?’ and all that, you don’t get none of that, because these ones already knew it all do you know what I mean because they deal with us all the time don’t they’ (Offender 14)

The final mechanism identified was the effect of offenders understanding the close multi-agency working underpinning IOM. This increases the amount and timeliness of information available to all agencies and affects the way in which offenders are managed. For example a police inspector noted:

‘I think the key is that these individuals, many of them are very, very complex cases and so ultimately one agency alone couldn’t probably provide the response that they need to stop them reoffending. So actually we acknowledged that we’re better off working in partnership with others and sharing that information’ (Staff Interview – IOM Inspector).

This reduces the opportunity for offenders to disengage, or if they do increases the likelihood of an arrest or recall to prison, the somewhat controversial “win-win” aspect of these types of programmes (Worrall and Mawby, 2004, p. 270).

Mechanisms and Context

The three mechanisms outlined above show how an RNR or ‘what works’ approach, where offenders are selected on the basis of their risk of reoffending and assessed for their needs, can aid a focus on responsivity, due to close, frequent and bespoke work of the teams. This is especially the case when consideration is given to offender context, defined in this research as readiness, or when:

‘…the person is motivated (i.e. wants to, has the will to), is able to respond appropriately (i.e. perceives he or she can), finds it relevant and meaningful (i.e. can engage), and has the capacities (i.e. is able) to successfully enter the treatment programme’ (Day et al., 2010, p. 11).

The originators of the RNR approach note that responsivity is the relatively under-developed element of the approach, whilst detailed in the theory, it has been implemented to a lesser degree (Ogloff and Davis, 2004; McGuire, 2004) and the greatest challenge for RNR is transferring it into real world settings (Bonta and Andrews, 2010). This raises the importance of implementation and delivery, those aspects dependent upon the skills of practitioners responding to the readiness of individual offenders. This is can be supported by understanding the three mechanisms laid out here which can provide practitioners with a responsive intervention to prolific offenders. Interviews with practitioners showed that they are fully aware of the importance of offender readiness and also their ability to influence it:

‘… they’re the only ones that can do that but it’s about setting that seed in them in each time by using that motivational interviewing and mapping and goal-setting, just develop that discrepancy where they think, you know, they can see what they’re doing wrong and this is what they can achieve if they change it’ (Staff Interview – Drugs worker).

References
  • Bonta, J. and Andrews, D. (2010) ‘Viewing Offender Assessment and Rehabilitation through the lens of the Risk-Needs-Responsivity Model’ in McNeill, F., Raynor, P. and Trotter, C. (eds.) Offender Supervision: New Directions in Theory, Research and Practice, pp. 19-40. Abingdon: Willan.
  • Canton, R. (2013) ‘The Point of Probation: On Effectiveness, Human Rights and the Virtues of Obliquity’ Criminology & Criminal Justice, 13(5), pp. 577-593.
  • Day, A., Casey, S., Ward, T., Howells, K. and Vess, J. (2010) Transitions to Better Lives: Offender Readiness and Rehabilitation. Cullompton: Willan.
  • Home Office, Ministry of Justice. (2009) Integrated Offender Management: Government Policy Statement. London: Home Office, Ministry of Justice.
  • McGuire, J. (ed.) (1995) Offender Rehabilitation and Treatment: Effective Programmes and Policies to Reduce Re-offending. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.
  • McGuire, J. (2004) ‘Commentary: Promising Answers, and the Next Generation of Questions’, Psychology, Crime and Law, 10(3), pp. 335-345.
  • McNeill, F. (2012) ‘Counterblast: A Copernican Correction for Community Sentences?’, The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 51(1), pp. 94–99.
  • McNeill, F. and Weaver, B. (2010) Changing Lives? Desistance Research and Offender Management. Report 03/2010. Edinburgh: Scottish Centre for Crime and Criminal Justice.
  • May, T. and Annison, J. (1998) ‘The De-professionalization of Probation Officers’ in Abbott, P. and Meerabeau, L. (eds.) The Sociology of the Caring Professions, pp. 157-177. London: UCL Press.
  • Ogloff, J. R. P. and Davis, M. R. (2004) ‘Advances in Offender Assessment and Rehabilitation: Contributions of the Risk-Needs-Responsivity Approach’, Psychology, Crime and Law, 10(3), pp. 229-242.
  • Pawson, R. and Tilley, N. (1997) Realistic Evaluation. London: SAGE.
  • Raynor, P. and Robinson, G. (2009) Rehabilitation, Crime and Justice (Second Edition). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Shapland, J., Bottoms, A., Farrall, S., McNeill, F., Priede, C. and Robinson, G. (2012) The Quality of Probation Supervision: A literature review. Sheffield: Centre for Criminological Research University of Sheffield and University of Glasgow.
  • Worrall, A. and Mawby, R. C. (2004) ‘Intensive Projects for Prolific/Persistent Offenders’ in Bottoms, A., Rex, S., Robinson, G. (eds.) Alternatives to Prison: Options for an Insecure Society, pp. 268-289. Cullompton: Willan.

Stay updated! 

Do you always want to be the first one to see our latest news updates? Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

Selected Title

Evénements

Actualités

CEP Probation © 2015 Frontier Theme