Evaluation of the Community Reintegration Project

This is an evaluation of the Community Reintegration Project (CRP), which formed part of the Scottish Government’s wider Reducing Reoffending Programme (RRP) and focused on addressing the needs of offenders serving prison sentences between six months and less than four years.

1 Introduction

1.1 This report presents the findings of an evaluation of the Community Reintegration Project (CRP). The CRP forms part of the Scottish Government's wider Reducing Reoffending Programme (RRP) and focuses on addressing the needs of short-term offenders (i.e. those serving between six months and less than four years). Launched in March 2012, the CRP involved a process for the identification and ongoing review of needs of offenders in custody; referrals to appropriate agencies and services; and effective transition to local community criminal justice social work teams on release.

1.2 The evaluation was commissioned by the Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services and carried out by ScotCen Social Research, a not-for-profit independent research agency. It was broadly structured around the 'logic model' for the CRP - an explanation of how the project was intended to achieve its long-term outcomes. As such, this report looks at whether the CRP was implemented as planned, and at whether or not the available evidence of short and medium-term outcomes lends plausibility to the basic ideas (or 'theory of change') underlying the project.

1.3 In doing so, the report also examines the way in which the operation of the CRP has been shaped by the specific context in which it was implemented and - in the final chapters - considers the implications of the evaluation for the future of the project and for voluntary throughcare for short-term offenders in Scotland more generally.

Policy context

1.4 Although there has been a slight fall in reconviction rates in Scotland in recent years, reoffending remains a serious problem. In 2010/11, over 44,000 people were convicted of an offence and 28% of those were convicted again within one year.[1]

1.5 One of the key predictors of recidivism is sentence type. According to international evidence relating to Scotland and comparable jurisdictions[2], reconviction rates are higher for those leaving prison than for those serving community sentences, even once other differences between the two groups are controlled for. Despite this, and the fact that recorded crime overall has been falling for some years[3], the Scottish prison population has increased substantially over the past decade and currently sits at around 8,000 on any particular day[4], making it among the highest per head of population in any Western European country.[5]

1.6 The costs associated with recidivism and attempts to address it are, of course, considerable. The Scottish Government, Community Justice Authorities and Scottish Prison Service (SPS) estimated that in 2010/11 they spent £128m specifically on services and activities aimed at reducing reoffending - roughly half the amount spent on reducing the liberty of offenders. But both these figures are dwarfed by the total social and economic costs of reoffending in Scotland, estimated to be around £3bn per year[6].

1.7 Against this backdrop, and following the report of the Scottish Prisons (McLeish) Commission, the RRP was launched by the Scottish Government in 2009. This is a wide-ranging policy initiative looking across the whole criminal justice system involving a range of stakeholders - including Community Justice Authorities, voluntary sector organisations, the SPS, the Association of Directors of Social Work (ADSW) and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) - which puts improved support for offenders at the centre of the strategy for reducing reoffending. The initial phase of the programme, which was completed in 2011, introduced the Community Payback Order and the Whole System Approach for young people who offend, along with other changes. The second phase of the programme - of which the CRP forms one part - was launched in 2012.

1.8 Alongside the Scottish Government's system-wide work under the Reducing Reoffending banner, relevant work has also been ongoing within specific partner agencies. In relation to the CRP, the current work within the SPS is of key relevance. The SPS is a government agency and clearly aligns itself with the Scottish Government's strategic objective of achieving a safer Scotland and highlights reducing reoffending as one of its key aims. There has, though, been a recognition of the need for change if the service is to maximise its contribution to the achievement of these objectives. The SPS report, Unlocking Potential, Transforming Lives[7], published in January 2014, presents the results of an organisational review, and provides a vision for the future with renewed emphasis on rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders, with this to be achieved through organisational and cultural change, staff development and partnership working.

1.9 Those entering prisons often do so from difficult circumstances - an analysis conducted by the SPS in March 2012 (and cited by Audit Scotland[8]) showed that 40% of offenders in prison came from the most deprived areas of Scotland, while 44% were under the influence of drugs at the time of their offence. According to Scotland's Choice - the report of the Scottish Prisons Commission[9] those in prison are also much more likely than the population more generally to:

  • have been looked after (by a local authority) as a child;
  • been a regular truant from school;
  • be unemployed;
  • have the reading, writing and numeracy skills typical of an 11 year old;
  • have suffered from at least two mental disorders;
  • have previously attempted suicide.

1.10 Whilst programmes in prison may help offenders to address some of these problems, the experience of imprisonment may exacerbate others (such as family breakdown), and a recent review of international evidence[10] suggests that prison-based interventions will have greater impact if stable accommodation and employment opportunities are available and there is continuity in service provision or support upon release (hence an emphasis on services such as 'throughcare', 'transitional care' or 'aftercare'[11]). Indeed, the review reported that 'Reductions in reoffending appear to be directly related to the availability of support following release, with international evidence suggesting that after-care may be as important as the provision of interventions during the period of custody.' The review highlighted specific service features such as early contact between workers and offenders, continuity and flexibility of service, multi-agency working and support at the point of release (at the prison gate) as being linked to successful outcomes.

1.11 Local authorities in Scotland have a statutory obligation (under Section 71 of the Criminal Justice Scotland Act 2003) to provide throughcare to offenders sentenced to four years or more, serving extended sentences or subject to supervised release. Proactive throughcare arrangements are well established in relation to this group, via a multi-agency plan for each offender to address needs and access services in a sequenced and coordinated manner. The arrangements for offenders serving shorter sentences (i.e. less than four years) are, however, less comprehensive - despite the fact that this group is far more numerous. Short-term offenders are not subject to statutory throughcare but are entitled to advice, guidance and assistance from their local authority in the twelve months following their release from prison and whilst in custody if requested.

Overview of the Community Reintegration Project

1.12 The CRP represents an attempt to increase the provision and take-up of throughcare services for short-term offenders in Scotland and thus address their needs by means of structured engagement with offenders during their sentence and an attempt to improve their connection to services upon release.

1.13 Recent years have seen a variety of calls to improve service continuity and provision for offenders serving short-term sentences - for example, from Audit Scotland in its (2011) report on Reducing Reoffending and from the Social Work Inspection Agency in its (2011) review of Social Work Services in Scotland's Prisons. Against this backdrop, as part of Phase Two of the Reducing Reoffending Programme, the Throughcare Services Project is reviewing throughcare services and interventions for offenders serving short-term sentences and aims to promote more effective engagement by universal services with the offender population. The CRP formed part of this strand of work.

1.14 Launched in March 2012, the CRP was intended to test new approaches to needs screening for short-term offenders and was jointly developed by representatives from the Scottish Government, SPS and ADSW, reflecting the importance attached to collaborative working, and the recognition that no agency could single-handedly deliver reductions in reoffending.

1.15 The CRP involved the piloting of a single business process for the effective and tailored needs screening of short-term offenders, the provision of appropriate services and support whilst in prison, referral to the relevant community criminal justice social work team, and continuing support on transition to the community.

1.16 The process involved an initial interview between the offender and a prison officer to ascertain immediate needs, followed by a more in-depth interview (the Comprehensive Screen) utilising the Criminal Justice Social Work Report (CJSW report) as a starting point for discussion. The specific circumstances that led to the offence would be discussed and the offender encouraged to address their offending behaviour. Referrals to relevant services would then be made, and the individual also referred to the relevant CJSW team. There would then be monthly reviews between the offender and their Personal Officer, meetings with a criminal justice support worker and representatives of other relevant agencies, and a pre-liberation meeting involving relevant partners in order to assess the individual's needs and how these will continue to be addressed in the community. The CJSW team would provide ongoing support in the community through appropriate case management which might include visits, meetings and phone calls, and liaison with appropriate services.

1.17 The CRP was offered to short-term offenders on a voluntary basis. They were able to disengage at any point whilst in custody and following their return to the community.

1.18 The CRP was launched in March 2012 for an initial 12 month pilot period. The pilot was then extended for a further 12 month period until March 2014, with the pilot extension benefitting from the funding of additional SPS/SG project management resources.

1.19 During its pilot period the CRP focused on the following groups of offenders:

  • Male offenders with home addresses in the Dundee serving short-term sentences (six months to less than four years) in HMP Perth
  • Female offenders with home addresses in the Dundee or Lanarkshire (North and South) serving short-term sentences in HMP Cornton Vale, Edinburgh or Greenock.

1.20 Thus, the CRP operated in a single prison and corresponding local authority area for male offenders but multiple prisons and local authority areas for women offenders. This differential approach was intended to ensure sufficient throughput of female participants, given the lower numbers of female offenders and the much smaller female prison population[12].

1.21 The project was overseen by a Steering Group made up of representatives of key stakeholder organisations, and an Operational Group made up of representatives from each of the organisations/sites involved in delivering the project.

The evaluation

The CRP logic model

1.22 The CRP was underpinned by a theory of change and an accompanying logic model (see Fig 1.1). The theory of change in this case suggested that (low level) criminal behaviour is associated with factors present in the lives of the offenders (addictions, mental health issues, low educational levels, homelessness etc.) and that a more structured approach to identifying and addressing those needs would help individuals to reduce their offending behaviour. The logic model shows the relationships between the resources that are invested (e.g. prison, CJSW staff and other practical resources), the planned activities (the various stages of the CRP process), and the anticipated benefits or changes in terms of staff and offender attitudes and behaviour (in both the short/medium and longer-term).

1.23 The logic model was developed as part of the planning and implementation of the CRP, but it has also been used to structure and focus the evaluation. In particular, the evaluation has sought to determine the extent to which the underlying theory of change is recognised and shared by key actors; whether the activities and outputs have occurred as planned; and whether there is evidence of short, medium and longer-term outcomes - in other words, whether the 'causal chain' identified in the model remains plausible.

1.24 It should be noted, however, that the logic model itself has some limitations in that it presents a generic set of mechanisms and outcomes and does not specify underlying assumptions or key contextual factors. With this in mind, towards the end of the report, we step outside the model as outlined here to try to describe and incorporate some of the contextual factors that shaped the operation of the CRP in practice and would need to be taken into account in any planning for future roll-out or wider work around voluntary throughcare for short-term offenders.

Aims and research questions

1.25 The formal aims of the evaluation were, then, to:

  • examine the CRP process and assess how it is working in practice
  • explore short and medium-term outcomes (see para 1.33 below for an explanation of why long-term outcomes were considered out of scope)
  • consider lessons for any future roll-out of throughcare for short-term offenders.

1.26 Specifically, this involved considering questions such as the following:

  • To what extent did the activities, as outlined in the logic model, take place as planned? In particular:
    • What were the characteristics of service users, and the throughput and attrition rate of the services?
    • Was there sufficient communication and coordination between partners, and with offenders, to support referral, screening and planning?
  • Was needs assessment enhanced? Was there better release planning, were services matched to their needs/risk levels?
  • What resources were required and what was the impact on wider services?
  • Have there been barriers to implementation? If so what were they, what was their impact, and how were or will they be addressed?
  • To what extent were short and medium-term outcomes realised during the project?
  • What are the key lessons learned from the project? What impact have such changes had on the service provided? What is the feasibility of and key recommendations for the possible roll-out across the prison estate?

1.27 These questions informed the overall evaluation and are further addressed in the concluding chapters of the report.

Figure 1.1: Logic model for the Community Reintegration Project

Figure 1.1: Logic model for the Community Reintegration Project


1.28 The evaluation involved analysis of available monitoring data and in-depth interviews with (1) practitioners involved in the delivery of CRP and (2) offenders eligible to take part in CRP. A total of 69 interviews were undertaken with the following groups:

  • SPS staff at the four participating prisons (n=19 interviews)
  • SPS staff at the Open Estate (n=1)
  • CJSW staff in the two participating local authority areas (Dundee and Lanarkshire) (n=11, including one joint interview)
  • Staff at the four sheriff courts in the relevant local authority areas (Dundee, Airdrie, Hamilton and Lanark) (n=2 - one individual and one group interview involving representatives from each of the courts)
  • Representatives of local agencies delivering support services to CRP participants (n=9, including one joint interview)
  • Offenders in custody who are participating in/have been eligible for the CRP (n=22)
  • Offenders in the community who are participating in/have been eligible for the CRP (n=5).

1.29 See Table A.1 in Annex A for further details of the interviews undertaken.

1.30 The final stage of the evaluation involved a validation event at which preliminary findings were presented to an invited audience of policymakers and practitioners. This provided the opportunity for attendees to reflect on and respond to emerging findings, and provide feedback to the research team to inform the drafting of this report.

1.31 The evaluation was carried out over a six month period between December 2013 and May 2014, with fieldwork carried out in February and March 2014.

1.32 Further details of the research methods used can be found in Annex A.

Scope and limitations

1.33 This was a small-scale evaluation, conducted over a relatively short time period. As such, it is important to be clear about its scope and limitations.

1.34 Perhaps the most significant thing to note is that assessing the long-term outcomes (or overall purpose) of the CRP - namely a reduction in offending and increase in effective reintegration to the community - were beyond the scope of this exercise. In order to demonstrate such impacts, one would need - at minimum - a longer time frame, longitudinal data on the progress of individual offenders, and an experimental or control group design that would allow one to arrive at conclusions about the 'counterfactual' (i.e. what would have happened in the absence of the intervention).

1.35 As such, the evaluation was necessarily focused on the earlier stages of the logic model - on questions of process (how the CRP was implemented and the extent to which that matches the original intentions), outputs (the activities and throughput associated with the project) and indicators of early outcomes.

1.36 A number of other limitations are also worth bearing in mind:

  • Much of the evidence about early outcomes is based on individual views and experiences. As such, it is relatively 'soft' in character. Individuals may be mistaken in their understanding of particular issues or hold views that are atypical in other respects. That said, across the full range of interviews conducted for the study we would expect such variation to be largely accounted for.
  • As will be seen in Chapter 2, the CRP has taken a different form in each of the specific institutional settings, and this has limited the extent to which it can be regarded - and evaluated - as a clearly defined, single approach.
  • This variation in how the CRP has been implemented is, of course, partly a reflection of the very different contexts in which it has been operating. As noted earlier, within each of those settings, the CRP has been implemented alongside other services and interventions aimed at achieving broadly similar outcomes. This can make it difficult to identify and isolate the CRP as a distinct set of activities, outputs and outcomes - not only for the evaluation team but also for staff and, especially, offenders, for whom there can be a blurring of different kinds of service provision.
  • Although the evaluation as a whole canvassed the views and experiences of relatively large numbers of people, the numbers interviewed within specific sites were limited, restricting the scope for detailed 'within site' analysis.
  • Those who did take part - both staff and offenders - may not have been wholly representative of the population from which they were drawn, in part because availability and motivation to take part in a research interview may be related to participation or involvement in the CRP itself. This may mean that less positive views may have been under-represented. Within the timescales and resources available, in particular, it was not easy to recruit offenders who had declined to participate in the CRP or who had participated initially and then disengaged - especially once back in a community setting. To some extent, therefore, we have been dependent on interviews with CRP participants and staff for explanations of why individuals may choose not to take part or to disengage.
  • There was considerable variation in the accuracy and completeness of the monitoring data across the different CRP sites (see page 21) and an absence of unit-level data on the characteristics of CRP participants. This has limited the scope for detailed quantitative analysis, although it has been possible to conduct basic analyses of throughput and attrition.
  • Finally, the fact that the CRP was a pilot project - with a relatively low profile and limited resources, and focusing on a subset of offenders in each site - will have shaped the way in which it was implemented and operated. This has important implications in terms of the potential lessons for any large-scale or national roll-out.

1.37 Despite these caveats and limitations, the evaluation has offered the opportunity for external and independent scrutiny of the project and for an examination of whether the theory of change outlined in the original logic model can be recognised - and remains plausible - in the specific contexts in which the CRP was piloted.

The structure of the report

1.38 Chapter 2 describes how the CRP was implemented across the four prison sites - focusing, in particular, on whether the project was implemented as intended, on how the participating prisons set about delivering the core CRP processes, and the number of participants reaching each stage.

1.39 Chapter 3 considers practitioners' views and experiences of specific aspects of the CRP process, and their reactions to the training and resources associated with the project.

1.40 Chapters 4 and 5 move on from questions of activities, outputs and process to consider whether there is evidence that the CRP actually achieved its short and medium-term outcomes and, by extension, whether it remains plausible that it might achieve its dual longer-term objectives of a reduction in reoffending and increase in offender reintegration into the community. Chapter 4 focuses on organisational and staff outcomes, while Chapter 5 looks at outcomes associated with offenders.

1.41 Chapter 6 discusses some of the contextual factors that have shaped the implementation and effectiveness of the CRP, identifying both barriers to and enablers of success.

1.42 Chapter 7 considers changes that would help to optimise the existing CRP model and suggests some wider lessons for the future of voluntary throughcare for short-term offenders more generally.

1.43 Chapter 8 considers the findings as a whole and presents some overall concluding comments.

1.44 The report also contains appendices providing a detailed account of the evaluation methods, a chart summarising the CRP process and a glossary of key terms.

Approach to anonymisation

1.45 The report presents supporting evidence from the interviews carried out. These have been anonymised and use the following identifier system:

  • Prison staff: SPS1, SPS2 etc
  • CJSW staff: CJSW1, CJSW2 etc
  • Court staff: CS1, CS2 etc
  • Community support agency A1, A2 etc
  • Offenders in prison: OP1, OP2 etc
  • Offenders in the community OC1, OC2 etc

1.46 We have referred to prisons by name in descriptive material where it is pertinent to the issue under consideration.


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