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How to conduct research into prison projects

Alliance of Sport members who want to conduct research or evaluation into prison-based sport projects must apply through the HMPPS’s National Research Committee (NRC).

The NRC acts as a ‘gatekeeper’, deciding which research projects into any topic should be granted access to prisons and probation to conduct evaluations and collect data.

The NRC assess the scale, feasibility, methodology, value and ethical implications of each application they receive. Some are passed, some lead to further discussion and others are rejected.

The committee deals with around 150 applications per year, plus around the same number of smaller-scale proposals (those that only need to research at one prison, for example) that go through a ‘lighter touch’ process. If submitted before the end of the month, applications take between four and six weeks to process.

Anna Upson (left), senior member of the NRC, explained: “Every time someone wants to go into a prison to interview prisoners there’s quite a logistical effort that goes into making that happen.

“It takes up staff time to escort them around and we need to ensure any research we allow that uses up valuable resource in that way is going to be something the department will definitely benefit from, is filling gaps in the evidence base and has implications for policy and practice that we can operationalise, so we’re getting something from it.”

Anna admits that applications relating to sport projects are currently small in number, with research more frequently focusing on topics such as sex offenders or those convicted of extremism offences.

“People who are delivering interventions, including those using sport, should undertake research that demonstrates the value of what they’re doing, or partner with academics if they’re not a researcher themselves,” added Anna.

“It’s important to get evaluations and research done to demonstrate the good work people are doing. It’s also important simply to learn from their experience so far and how to hone it to deliver better impact. It’s not always about showing how good we are, it’s about learning from experiences and improving as we go along.”

Details of how to apply to the NRC to conduct research and evaluations of prison or probation interventions, including dos and don’ts and example application forms, are available here.

The NRC also has a central mailbox for general enquiries: national.research@noms.gsi.gov.uk

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