Margaret WilsonResearch Associate
Margaret's PhD examined and reported on the experience of conducting a multi-site, Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) in eight English prisons for adult men. She found that the conditions inherent in these prisons, such as prisoner transfers, made conducting this kind of research extremely challenging. Additionally, a risk-averse ethos meant that, despite the best efforts of individuals within the ‘system’, recruiting participants took much longer than anticipated. However, practitioners at the ‘front-line’ enthusiastically supported the work overcoming many barriers in the process. High-level support was also forthcoming as more people within Her Majesty's Prison Service appreciate the value of research findings to their own work with prisoners. In a nutshell, people within the system will overcome the system for you once they believe in what you aim to achieve.
The RCT was designed to evaluate the Sycamore Tree Programme (STP). The STP is based on teaching restorative justice (RJ) and the wider impact of crime to any imprisoned person who admits their crime (excluding sex-offenders). It takes place over six sessions loosely following the constituents of an RJ conference where victims and offenders meet each other and discuss the events surrounding the crime. Conferences usually take place in a closed room with both victim and offender supported by people close to them such as family, social workers, or friends. The STP involves an unrelated victim of crime attending two sessions; the first is to tell the story of what happened to them and the effect it had, the second to see and hear the prisoners make their symbolic act of reparation. Members of the public invited by the course presenters usually attend the final session (reparation). They represent the wider community and the 'supporters' who would attend an RJ conference.
Since we now have evidence that RJ conferences have reduced reoffending in some cases, programmes such as the STP offer the potential to increase the availability of restorative practices if they, too, are found to reduce recidivism. Many victims and offenders do not have the opportunity to have their own RJ conference and Margaret is interested to see whether this type of pseudo conference has any effect on recidivism. Furthermore, some practitioners view the STP as a prelude for prisoners to meet their own victim. Final analyses will be possible when her research participants have been out of prison for at least two years (due in December 2017). All analyses will be conducted on an intention-to-treat basis so that they will evaluate the STP under normal, operational conditions rather than ideal, full-dose settings. A multi-site design effectively allowed for independent RCTs at each prison. This, in turn, provides for a meta-analysis of the overall results. Interim results, using before/after questionnaires (Crime Pics II) for a small portion of the study, demonstrated significant improvements in attitudes towards victims and crime as a lifestyle. Margaret is keen to see whether attitudes translate into actions.