Western Mail Profiles: Dr Pamela Ugwudike

‘Research to look at the way trends in reconviction rates can be discouraged’

Dr Pamela Ugwudike is a lecturer in Criminology in the School of Law at Swansea University.

Pamela Ugwudike looks at what criminal justice professionals can do to reverse the discouraging trend in reconviction rates

CRIMINAL statistics consistently reveal that many people who have served court sentences – in prison or in the community – go on to re-offend within a few years of the end of their sentence.

Is there anything criminal justice professionals – like prison, probation and youth justice workers – can do to reverse this trend?

In the light of recent criminal statistics on reconviction rates, at first glance it may appear that the answer is a resounding no. But before we reach this conclusion perhaps we should take a closer look at insights from recent studies which reveal that there are innovative skills and practices that can help reduce reoffending rates.

Such is the weight of concern about high reoffending rates that the current government has made “reducing reoffending” a central prong of its plans for a “rehabilitation revolution”.

The prison and probation services will in future have to contend with a funding regime in which the funding they receive will be closely tied to their performance in rehabilitating offenders.

With the aim of reducing reoffending, the Government describes this as “payment by results”. In the light of historical and recent official reconviction statistics, we may be forgiven for thinking that both services will struggle to secure much-needed funding.

Fortunately, there is hope on the horizon. Studies are beginning to show that there are indeed things criminal justice professionals can do to help reduce reconviction. This is very welcome news in the current penal policy climate. North American researchers have identified certain skills that prison, probation and youth justice workers can use to help reduce reconviction. These skills include demonstrating acceptable behaviour and showing approval when offenders exhibit acceptable behaviour. The skills also include showing disapproval when offenders exhibit unacceptable behaviour and helping offenders learn how to solve the problems that contribute to their offending. Another important skill is knowing how and when to refer offenders to the agencies that can help them address problems like drug use, alcohol use and other problems.

At Swansea University we have also developed a checklist that can be used to look more closely at how workers interact with offenders during supervision interviews. The checklist is based on what many research studies tell us about the interviewing and other skills that can help reduce reconviction.

It assesses many aspects of supervision interviews. For example, it can assess whether the workers effectively communicate with offenders by: being attentive; maintaining adequate eye contact; being optimistic that the offender can change his or her behaviour and demonstrating other effective communication skills.

I have had the opportunity to pilot the checklist with Professor Peter Raynor and Professor Maurice Vanstone, who are internationally renowned researchers in the field of probation policy and practice.

We piloted the checklist in the Jersey Probation and Aftercare Service (JPACS) and we found that, just as the existing studies suggest, there appears to be a significant link between the way workers interact with offenders during supervision interviews and the rate at which the offenders are re-convicted.

We now plan to train workers on how to use the JPACS checklist for self-evaluation, that is, for evaluating and enhancing their interactions with the offenders they supervise.

Although it is early days, we now know that it is premature (and indeed inaccurate) to conclude that there is very little criminal justice professionals can do to reverse the discouraging trend in reconviction rates.

To contact Pamela please email p.ugwudike@swansea.ac.uk

This article first  appeared in the Western Mail‘s Health Wales supplement on 1st October, 2012, as part of the Welsh Crucible series of research profiles.