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Blog: Introducing MoJ’s new toolkit that supports desistance from crime

Professor Rosie Meek, Alliance of Sport Trustee and author of the 2018 ‘Sporting Chance’ independent review of sport in prisons, introduces a new Ministry of Justice toolkit that measures the effectiveness of programmes that support individuals’ desistance from crime.

A few years ago, the Ministry of Justice commissioned a team including myself, Professor Mike Maguire of the University of South Wales, Mark Liddle of ARCS and Emma Disley of RAND, to help devise and test a new measurement tool for organisations who work in prisons, or with offenders outside prisons, with the aim of supporting their desistance from crime.

The toolkit was specifically designed to test the effectiveness of mentoring-based interventions and arts-based interventions, but there are strong parallels with sport-based interventions too (and of course many sports programmes that target reoffending feature a strong element of mentoring).

In commissioning the new toolkit, the MoJ recognised that the few existing measurement tools were not designed for prison populations. They also acknowledged that many voluntary-sector organisations were struggling to demonstrate their impact in a robust way.

Desistance from crime, after all, is not an easily-measurable, one-off event. More often, it is long-term process of fundamental change in self-identity, values and lifestyle, involving periods of abstention from offending and sometimes interrupted by relapses.

The effectiveness of services for offenders is usually judged on the basis of re-offending or reconviction rates. These outcomes are best measured over long periods and require access to reliable data about convictions or other measures of offending. This is not feasible for many short-term interventions delivered by organisations without the time and resources to undertake reoffending analysis. Also, some interventions aim to support the desistance process, rather than lead directly to an end to offending.

With this in mind, the new toolkit was designed and tested to measure ‘intermediate’ outcomes. These are changes in skills and thinking that are directly or indirectly associated with reductions in re-offending, which could indicate an offender is making positive changes towards an offence-free future, even if they have not yet successfully stopped offending. These outcomes might include improved problem-solving abilities, better time management and increased resilience.

We produced a theoretically-informed 29-item questionnaire (named the Intermediate Outcomes Measurement Instrument (IOMI)) which is straightforward to administer to programme participants by pen and paper.

We took steps to adapt the wording and readability to suit those in the prison population who may have lower literacy skills, looked at measurements across the eight dimensions we focused on (such as resilience, wellbeing and motivation), then did a series of factor analyses to refine the tool and check consistency and reliability in the responses those being tested gave us.

The IOMI now forms part of a user-friendly package that arts and mentoring project leads (and potentially sport interventions as well) can use to assess the impact of their own work in a relatively quick and straightforward way.

Alongside the toolkit, the package includes guidance for organisations on how to administer it and manage the resulting data, plus a data entry tool and costing tool. It is freely available for provider organisations and researchers to use.

We’re really keen to empower organisations to use this measurement tool themselves rather than having to invest in other people to do it for them. With that in mind, we’ve tried to make it as user-friendly as possible, while ensuring it’s robust and thoroughly tested.

Our next steps are to encourage people in the sector to use it and give us feedback on how easily they find they’re able to administer it. We would like to accumulate more data on the factors relating to desistance that the tool is measuring and we could also draw comparisons between the organisations who are using it. We also recognise that data generated by use of the tool should ultimately be mapped against re-offending outcomes to assess its value as a predictor of, or proxy for, re-offending.

Although requiring further long-term testing, preliminary results showed strong indications that the instrument has face validity, internal consistency, stability and the potential to reflect change across most of the intermediate outcomes that it measures.

To download the Ministry of Justice toolkit and use it for your organisation or research purposes, click here.

And feel free to send feedback to me at: r.meek@rhul.ac.uk

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