The ESRC intends to fund a new research project entitled ‘Breaking the Cycle? Prison Visitation and Recidivism in the UK’, to be undertaken by carceral geographer Dominique Moran and criminological psychologist Louise Dixon, both at the University of Birmingham, UK.
This 3-year interdisciplinary project will provide a new perspective on prison visitation and its relationship to the highly topical issue of recidivism. Macro-level statistical analysis in parallel with innovative mixed-methods research into visiting facilities will identify the nature of this relationship and its socio-spatial context, informing policy towards visitation and the design of visiting spaces, and contributing to broader debates about prisoner rehabilitation and resettlement.
In the aftermath of the 2011 UK riots, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke described the rioters as a ‘feral underclass, cut off from the mainstream’, and blamed the riots on the ‘broken penal system – one whose record in preventing reoffending has been straightforwardly dreadful’. Reoffending or recidivism is key to the operation of the repetitive cycle of incarceration, re-entry, re-offending and re-incarceration, and represents a major policy challenge. In the UK, 75% of ex-inmates reoffend within nine years of release, and 39.3% within the first twelve months. Clarke’s solution as set out in the government’s “Breaking the Cycle” Green Paper is ‘payment by results’; a ‘radical and decentralising reform’ with ‘freedom to innovate’ new interventions, opening ‘the market to new providers from the private, voluntary and community sectors’. This project draws attention to prison visitation as an aspect of imprisonment which has already been demonstrated to improve the outcomes of released prisoners, but whose specific functionality is at present poorly understood. Through parallel methodologies, this project investigates the relationship between visitation and recidivism.
Research into recidivism finds that prison visitation is a significant factor in improving post-release outcomes; outcomes are in general much more positive for visited prisoners, and lower recidivism rates have been demonstrated across study populations and time periods. However, although the effect is widely observed, the causality is poorly understood. It is presumed that the maintenance of personal relationships and the feeling of ‘connectedness’ to home and community which may arise through visitation smooth reintegration after release, but this process has never been fully explored. The processes underlying persistent criminal careers remain a research gap, and very little is known about psychological change in relation to prison visits in terms of the psychological constructs which may mediate the relationship between visits and recidivism.
The project will generate both nuanced insights into the relationship between prison visitation and recidivism, and also critical insights into the socio-spatial context of prison visiting, to inform visitation policy and the design of more effective prison visiting spaces. It seizes an opportunity to influence policy and create impact, at a time when the the coalition government is consulting on policy reform, in particular in relation to recidivism. It represents convergence of cutting-edge debates in cognate disciplines of human geography, criminology, psychology and wider social theory, and resonates with policy development in individual prison institutions in the UK in the context of the ‘Breaking the Cycle’ initiative.
There will be a 2.5-year Post-Doctoral Research Assistant position created at the University of Birmingham in connection with this grant; post to be advertised in due course. For any further information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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