Delegates from 22 countries, 28 presentations and a conference that started at the ground floor and ended at the top of the 19-stories building. These are just a few data from the final event of the European funded project Strengthening Transnational Approaches to Reducing Re-offending (STARR), held from 8th – 10th June in Sofia, Bulgaria. “It was a very rich conference”, summarizes Steve Pitts (photo), leader of strategy for the STARR Project. “Bringing together the learning of the project in Sofia did more than produce answers to the key questions which were asked at the beginning of the project: we also achieved some other unexpected, yet highly valuable outcomes.”
STARR started in late 2008 with the aim of improving the understanding of ‘What Works’ in Reducing Re-offending in the EU, across a range of offence types. There had previously been no EU-wide understanding of what interventions are most effective in working with offenders or those at risk. Subsequently a prime aim of this project was to offer an EU-wide perspective to inform and develop models of promising practice. The project has focused on three priority areas: Young Offenders age 16-25 (including issues of Race & Faith Hate Crime, Serious Group Offending and Radicalisation); Domestic Violence; and Drugs & Alcohol.
“We have now a much clearer picture of evidenced good practice across Europe thanks to the work by Cambridge University, project partners and many other contributors”, says Steve Pitts. “On the basis of project research and presentations two main conclusions could be drawn. One is that much money is spent on work with offenders across Europe, but remarkably little money is spent on the evaluation of this work. As such it is very difficult to know whether money has been spent wisely. At the conference it became clear that there is a wide acceptance throughout European countries of the desirability of more evaluation and the readiness to cooperate to achieve a more consistent and coordinated approach. Such an approach would make it easier to learn from each other about how to evaluate, and to share the results of evaluations. We may therefore expect to see an accelerated increase of learning about what is effective and, by implication, what work with offenders represents good investment.”
The other conclusion can be drawn from the many best practices that were presented at the conference. “We have heard some very inventive approaches to tackling domestic violence that involve a range of methods and organizations working together effectively across communities”, illustrates Steve Pitts. “We also heard some state of the art developments in addressing gang or serious group offending. And in the field of drugs misuse we were all very impressed by the Italian example of supporting drug users via imaginative interventions in the community. If there is a common thread it is the value of linking good quality work with individual offenders to work in and with the communities from which they come. Perhaps surprisingly, very often these best practices are not even known about in the country where they are practiced. Therefore I think we have found a much greater need for communications, nationally and internationally, than we had first imagined. In this work, CEP has a central role to play.”
Another remarkable outcome of the conference stems from the debate between several academic speakers . “Traditionally the Risk/Needs/Responsivity school and the school of Desistance are often considered to be very different – perhaps even opposed – paradigms towards reducing reoffending, ” Steve Pitts explains. “At the conference however, presentations from Prof. Friedrich Lösel from the Criminological Institute of the University of Cambridge and Prof. Fergus McNeill of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research stimulated debate on sentence purpose and whether a comprehensive view of “what works” embraces both approaches. The opportunities to look where there is compatibility between them and develop approaches which are a synthesis of the best, and to share learning between prisons and probation, have now been crystallized in part as a result of the conference. I think it will be a challenge to continue this discussion; who knows, we may be able to take this further in a follow-up project to STARR.”
The outcomes and the conclusion of the conference will be published in a conference report.