Reduced re-offending by 25% by 2017
Project Manager, Service Development, Department of Corrections
Acting Principal Adviser, Chief Probation Officer’s Team, Department of Corrections
Senior Practice Adviser, Chief Probation Officer’s Team, Department of Corrections
David Lewis is a project manager in the Service Development Team. He joined the Department of Corrections in April 2014 and has worked on a variety of different projects including public protection orders and enhanced extended supervision orders.
Kerry Consedine has worked in the department for nine years and is currently the Acting Principal Adviser in the Chief Probation Officer’s Team. She has held previous roles at National Office in Corrections Services and also in the Community Partnerships Team. Prior to joining National Office Kerry was a probation officer and then probation service manager in Wellington.
Janice Hickey is a senior practice adviser with the Chief Probation Officer’s Team at the Department of Corrections. She has previous experience as an operations adviser, project adviser and probation officer.
The Government’s Better Public Services target, announced in June 2012, includes a results action plan for reducing crime and re-offending. This is a justice sector-wide plan to reduce the crime rate. This action plan is important because less crime means fewer victims and safer communities. As part of the action plan the Department of Corrections (Corrections) committed to achieving a 25% reduction in re-offending by 2017 (RR25%).
From the outset Corrections recognised that international experience suggested that a 25% reduction in the re-offending rate was a very challenging target. Between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013 Western Australia recidivism rates saw a downward trend in the rate of return to Corrective Services within two years, decreasing 10.5 percentage points. Australia as a whole demonstrated an upward movement in this category, increasing 2.4 percentage points (Correction Services of Western Australia, October 2014.). Whilst in the United Kingdom between July 2011 and June 2012, a small drop of 0.6 percentage points compared to the previous 12 months was recorded in the overall proven re-offending rate, which equated to a slight fall of 1.6 percentage points since 2000 (UK Ministry of Justice, April 2014).
In order to meet the 25% target, Corrections identified that innovative approaches, finding local solutions to local problems and engaging its entire staff would be essential. Over the past three years Corrections, with support from other agencies, has made significant progress towards the target by focusing on preparing offenders for employment, expanding rehabilitation programmes, tackling alcohol and other drug abuse, strengthening reintegration services and otherwise working with offenders to do all they can to help them turn their lives around.
These efforts have produced measurable results. By February 2014, a 12.6 percent reduction in the re-offending rate had been achieved. However, in recent months progress has dropped back to a reduction of 8.3 percent (at June 2015) in the re-offending rate.
Corrections identified new approaches to ‘boost’ the reduction in re-offending in order to get closer to the RR25% target.
RR25% Boost is Corrections strategic programme of work to intensify efforts to reduce re-offending. Under RR25% Boost, Corrections will increase programme delivery by re-focusing existing resources from high intensity, low volume interventions to lower intensity, higher volume interventions. Corrections will also update and introduce practice changes for probation through provision of advice to court assessments, brief interventions and work and living skills.
Increase programme delivery to short serving and community sentenced offenders
At the outset of RR25% Boost planning, short serving and some community sentences had the highest recidivism rate and offenders serving these sentences received little or no rehabilitative intervention. This presented a significant opportunity for Corrections to have a positive impact on the lives of these offenders, and in turn reduce the rate of re-offending. Corrections has focused RR25% Boost on providing these cohorts of offenders with access to ‘packages’ of short duration, lower intensity rehabilitative programmes. This approach will result in a significant increase in programme delivery during the 2015/2016 financial year. A quality framework is being developed to ensure that this increase in activity does not compromise programme integrity, and that the effectiveness of programme delivery is maintained.
The first step is to ensure that offenders are placed on suitable programmes. In the Northern region a collaborative approach between probation officers and principal facilitators is being taken. This approach will ensure that all offenders are considered for programmes, and that any barriers to participation are addressed. A particular focus is placed on offenders declined for programmes, and doing everything possible to enable participation.
Principal facilitators are encouraged to attend 15 minutes of a provision of advice to court interview conducted by probation officers, and probation officers are encouraged to attend 15 minutes of a programmes assessment conducted by facilitators. This collaborative approach is designed to get a ‘stronger push’ from probation officers to get offenders onto programmes and a ‘stronger pull’ from programme facilitators to do the same. Responsivity and motivational barriers are not reasons for ineligibility, but targets to be addressed during treatment.
Increase programme delivery
to short-serving prisoners
Nationally, a new ‘opt-out’ process is being implemented to automatically enrol all new short serving prisoners onto alcohol and other drug and family violence programmes. Corrections estimates that up to 80 percent of offenders have an alcohol or other drug dependence and up to 60 percent have a family violence prevention need.
Accordingly, wait-listing all prisoners for these programmes and employing the ‘opt out’ process will significantly increase this opportunity. The case manager completes a file review and meets with the offender as part of the induction process into prison. The case manager confirms the need for alcohol and other drug and/or family violence prevention and creates the offender management plan to reflect this. If no alcohol and other drug or family violence prevention need is identified then the prisoner is removed from the waitlist.
Increasing rehabilitation effectiveness
To increase the effectiveness of rehabilitative interventions, programmes are sequenced together to address an offender’s priority needs. With education, motivational and alcohol and other drug interventions as the ‘gateway’ services, an offender will then go on to complete either a family violence programme or a more generic offending behaviour programme.
Innovative approaches are taken to try to maximise the number, and range, of interventions available to offenders. Having identified that short serving offenders are largely missing out on opportunities to participate in treatment due to their sentence length, Central region has established a new programme, which has been running at Waikeria Prison since the start of August 2015, called Ka Üpane. Ka Üpane refers to climbing from a place of darkness into a place of light, and is an eight week programme that includes both group and individual intervention that is aimed at providing high-risk, short-serving violent offenders with the skills and knowledge required to live a pro-social life.
Ka Üpane follows the model of skills training from the Tai Aroha treatment programme based in Hamilton. It is a skills group, which teaches skills such as mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation and distress tolerance.
Although Ka Üpane has only been running for a short length of time there has been a very positive response from participants. However, we are ensuring that its effectiveness is monitored to see if it holds promise for wider use.
Brief interventions refresher
Brief interventions were introduced to probation practice as part of the programme to achieve the Department of Correction’s goal of reducing re-offending by 25%. Under RR25% Boost, the brief interventions work stream was tasked with designing a one day practice development session for all probation officers and senior practitioners to enhance brief intervention practice.
A brief intervention is a short, purposeful, non-confrontational, personalised interaction with an offender that focuses on an identified issue(s) relating to their offending (for example drug and alcohol misuse). The purpose is to support the offender to think about their offending related behaviours and assist them to make a connection between their behaviour and any associated risks and harms and, in so doing, assist them to change.
The brief interventions apply concepts related to the ‘Risk Need Responsivity’ principles as outlined by the work of Andrews and Bonta (2010) in the Psychology of Criminal Conduct. All of the techniques used in the delivery of brief interventions rely on staff utilising motivational interviewing skills in their practice. To further support this approach, probation staff are encouraged to use practice tools (available in the Probation Officer’s Toolkit) to target specific risk factors or enhance protective factors that are identified using the risk assessment tool DRAOR (Dynamic Risk Assessment Offender Re-entry), designed for use with community based offenders.
As part of this practice development session, the probation officer practice tools are being refreshed and a new desk tool has been designed to support the delivery of brief interventions and support the current RR25% Boost Programme.
Getting the provision of advice to court back on track
Probation officers are responsible for writing approximately 25,000 pre-sentence reports every year for the courts. These reports are referred to as provision of advice to court reports.
Critical to the success of reducing re-offending is enhancing probation practice when completing provision of advice to court reports. The provision of advice to court interview is often the first point of contact offenders have with Corrections and the probation officer’s assessment and recommendations will have a significant impact on the offender’s journey to becoming offence free.
Probation officers have a complex task of analysing the information they gather through their provision of advice to court enquiries to inform their assessment of the offender’s risk, needs and potential responsivity issues. This information not only helps judges when sentencing offenders but also assists other Corrections staff when managing the offender in the community or in custody.
The ‘provision of advice to court on track’ practice development session for probation staff has been developed to support the RR25% Boost programme to reduce re-offending by 2017. The practice development session is designed for probation officers, senior practitioners, practice leaders and service managers and encourages staff to challenge their current practice and place greater emphasis on the quality of their report writing. “It is important staff are aware of the direct co-relation between their provision of advice to court reports and supporting offenders with desisting from crime. Enhancing the quality of provision of advice to court practice is important because it sets up the offender’s pathway and our future interaction with them,” says Chief Probation Officer, Darius Fagan.
The practice development session focuses on enhancing the assessment process in order to support probation officers to make appropriate and effective sentencing recommendations. It is based on research and literature about ‘what works’ in supporting successful rehabilitation whilst holding offenders to account (Andrews and Bonta, 2010) and desistance from crime (McNeill, Farrall, Lightowler, and Maruna, 2012).
The practice development session reminds staff about sentences and interventions that have a positive impact on reducing re-offending. The session includes an emphasis on the benefits of electronically monitored sentences in enabling offenders to remain in the community, to participate in rehabilitative programmes and to stay connected with family, pro-social support and activities (such as employment, education, parenting). The impacts of a short sentence of imprisonment are reviewed including the detrimental impact imprisonment can have on the offender’s pathway towards desistance from crime.
Work and living skills
‘Work and living skills’ are a series of short modules that provide offenders with the skills they need for job seeking as well as life skills such as budgeting. Offenders on community work sentences who receive over 80 hours community work are able to commute up to 20% of their hours to receive work and living skills support. The high throughput of offenders on this sentence and the high recidivism rate provides the opportunity to increase work and living skills services to more offenders.
As a result of the RR25% Boost initiative, offenders will receive greater access to a package of skills and psycho-educative interventions that will increase their motivation to tackle the causes of their offending and aid their reintegration into their communities. Work and living skills practice is being developed on three fronts to assist in desistance from re-offending; at induction, through expo events in seven key districts, and ensuring national consistency of stand-alone work and living skills activities.
A community work health and safety module is being developed for delivery to offenders at induction. The design of the health and safety module will be flexible so that it can be utilised one-on-one, in groups and to offenders with literacy issues. A health and safety module is the most practical module to deliver during an induction period and will contribute to the strategic focus on health and safety in the community work space. Whilst the health and safety module covers essential work and living skills, it also provides an opportunity to engage with offenders right at the outset of their community work sentence. This can be the catalyst for further discussion and engagement around what other options and initiatives are available to them during their sentence.
In order to better support desistance from re-offending, Corrections identified that every eligible community work offender across seven key districts could be provided with short work and living skills modules through work and living skills expo events. The seven districts prioritised to run expo events are Waitemata, Auckland, Manukau, Wellington, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Canterbury.
Each district will design their own expo to meet the needs of their offenders. Expos will vary in duration from daily operational sessions through to a full week. A standardised menu of scheduled activities will be provided to offenders to, among other things, increase their employability, help them to set goals and make better choices, provide greater awareness of health issues, and anger management. Expo events will be delivered to offenders at least once a month, and consist of a minimum of two modules per day. Each module must also have a clear pathway to treatment.
Offenders are also provided with stand-alone work and living skills activities that meet their needs. By achieving a nationally consistent approach to the work and living skills modules, Corrections can ensure more offenders get targeted access to programmes and interventions that work, and that less time is spent procuring services in isolation. The following six work and living skill activities are being targeted for national consistency and national contracts for delivery will be set up.
- Road Safety – Focused on expanding brief drink-driving initiatives, and introducing a subsidy for driver interlock licences.
Driver Licencing – Focused on reducing the volume of driving-related offending by:
- Engaging literacy and numeracy providers to support preparation for driver licence tests.
- Rolling out a driver licence programme across the seven key districts.
- Providing more opportunities for offenders to obtain their licence through facilitating the booking and funding of tests.
- Alcohol and Other Drug – Introduction of a brief alcohol and other drug module that can either be used as part of an expo event or a stand alone session. This module will provide a pathway to further assessment or motivation for treatment.
- Finance and Resourcing – Focused on identifying and establishing pre-existing budgeting programmes or initiatives, and education around accessing financial entitlements. An Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority training session has been approved that focuses on energy conservation and the health benefits of insulation. This training session also provides a pathway for participants to apply for the financial support to insulate their homes.
- Education and Employment – Focused on improving engagement with tertiary education organisations to expand literacy and numeracy activity, job preparation such as CV writing, interview skills, and presentation at interview. Job Club activities create a stronger link between work and living skills activities such as trade training, health and safety and first aid certificates
- Health and Well Being – Focused on health care assessments, immunisation, and mental health assessments/suicide awareness and education. Health and safety providers are also being identified to deliver work place health and safety training in any districts that do not already have a provider.
Progress to date to reach the RR25% target matches the upper end of achievements in other jurisdictions. However, more can be done to provide offenders with the best opportunity to live a life free of crime and deliver safer communities.
The re-direction and refreshment of the initiatives in the RR25% Boost programme are expected to further reduce the rate of re-offending and get Corrections closer to the target of reducing re-offending by 25% by 2017. The impact of RR25% Boost initiatives will only start to be seen in 12 months’ time, with the full impact available in two years.
Despite the time lag before the results can be quantified, the practice changes required to better align offender need with scheduled interventions can already be seen. RR25% Boost initiatives are beginning to create the innovation and the necessary change in behaviour required to achieve the RR25% target in the future over the medium term. More importantly, RR25% Boost is ensuring that all staff groups come together to ensure that offenders get the targeted engagement they need.
Andrews and Bonta (2010) Rehabilitating Criminal Justice Policy and Practice. Psychology, Public Policy and Law 2010, Vol 16, No. 1, 39-55.
McNeill, Farrall, Lightowler, and Maruna (2012) How and why people stop offending: discovering desistance. Institute for research and Innovation in Social Services, University of Glasgow.