Transforming re-offender rehabilitation with research

Our pioneering research into how offenders move away from crime is transforming the practice of offender rehabilitation globally.

Nearly 60 per cent of released prisoners re-offend within two years of their release, but what makes the other 40 per cent stop offending?

Professor Stephen Farrall, from the Centre for Criminological Research in our School of Law, was part of the Desistance Knowledge Exchange (DesKE) project - a collaborative project aiming to share knowledge and improve understanding about why people stop offending, known as desisting.

DesKE, which also includes academics from the University of Glasgow and Queen's University Belfast, is widely acknowledged to have shaped thinking on how criminals can leave crime behind.

The project involved:

Prison

  • using common threads from individual rehabilitation stories to compile a framework about why people stop offending
  • producing a documentary film exploring the issues related to desistance
  • holding a series of workshops for criminal justice system professionals to examine the issues raised in the documentary
  • and exploring the implications of their research for criminal justice systems and developing ideas about how to better support people to help them stop offending

The documentary film called Road from Crime (above) outlines key research findings and practical applications and has increased understanding of why people stop offending among practitioners and policy-makers.

The film uses interviews with current and former prisoners, probation staff and academic experts in the UK and the USA to highlight how the process of desistance unfolds and how the criminal justice system could be moulded to assist these processes.

Through the medium of a film about how people desist, the research has helped both to reinvigorate criminal justice systems and to develop training programmes with an emphasis on helping people to stop offending in place of the previous dominant focus on enforcement

Professor Stephen Farrall

The desistance framework drawn up by the team is now a widely respected conceptual model within various criminal justice systems. It has, for example, made a substantial impact in countries across the globe including Scotland, Northern Ireland, Chile, Singapore and the United States.

The US Department of Justice has recently funded a large-scale pilot test of the desistance model and the Scottish Prison Service has transformed its approach, reframing the service's core task as Unlocking Potential, Transforming Lives.

The collaborative project also landed Professor Farrall and his team an Economic and Social Sciences Research Council prize for Outstanding Impact in Public Policy,

Professor Stephen Farrall said: "Through the medium of a film about how people desist, the research has helped both to reinvigorate criminal justice systems and to develop training programmes with an emphasis on helping people to stop offending in place of the previous dominant focus on enforcement."

Ian Poree, Director of the Rehabilitation Programme at the UK Ministry of Justice, said: "I can say with confidence that research into desistance from crime has significantly impacted on both policy and operational practice, and is shaping the culture and service delivery models of providers across all aspects of offender services."