Between 2000 and 2004 ICPS developed the Restorative Prison Project which set out to discover the extent to which restorative principles could be used in the prison setting as a means of assisting prisoners to resettle into their communities after release. The project, which was funded by the Northern Rock Foundation, was overseen by an advisory group chaired by Sir Graham Melmoth, then CEO of the Co-operative Wholesale Society.
The project identified four key elements which might be used to assist the process of resettlement:
· Linking the prison with its community: the prison explaining itself to the community and
inviting the community to become involved with it.
· Encouraging prisoners to do work for the benefit of others in a way which is public and is publicly recognised
· Stimulating more involvement of victims’ groups and raising awareness of the suffering of victims of crime.
· Creating a new approach to resolving disputes in prison using mediation and reconciliation.
In the first year of the project a programme of practical and policy-focussed work was carried out in connection with the project. This was regularly reported in a series of newsletters, which were widely distributed in the Prison Service and beyond along with a series of discussion papers. With the co-operation of the Prison Service of England & Wales the project began work in three prisons in the north east of England, one a large prison holding remand and convicted prisoners, one a young offenders institution, and the third a low security prison which specialised in preparing long sentence prisoners for return to the community at the end of their sentences. Prison staff from throughout the region attended a series of workshops and ICPS hosted an international seminar to consider ways of evaluating qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, measurements of success in the prison setting.
An innovative partnership was developed with a local authority in the north east of England which enabled prisoners at the three pilot prisons to become involved in doing work of direct benefit to the community. In its initial stages this focussed on the refurbishment of a large public park in the town of Middlesbrough. The local authority ensured that the prisoners’ contributions to the renovation of the park were fully and publicly acknowledged as part of the process of recognising and restoring their links with local communities. In an important development, staff of Middlesbrough Council began to use the local government network to inform other local authorities about what was happening and similar schemes were developed in other parts of the country.
Throughout the project there was a clear understanding of the need to evaluate its outcomes. In the course of 2003 the School of Social Sciences and Law in the University of Teesside was contracted to provide an independent evaluation of the project activities in Albert Park. This evaluation set out to measure the effects of the project on prisoners, prison staff and members of the public who use the park. The findings were substantially positive. All groups of respondents saw merit in the involvement of prisoners in high-profile work for the community. The prisoners themselves felt the work was worthwhile. It gave them a sense of pride and ownership. They were motivated by the idea that the public, and for some their own families, would benefit from what they were doing.
During the final months of the project the majority of prisons in the north east of England were actively engaged in enabling serving prisoners to do work for the benefit of the community. Most of this work was undertaken in workshops at the institutions but for a number of prisoners it meant having an opportunity to work outside in the community prior to release as part of their resettlement plans. This led to the creation of the North East Restorative Community Partnership, which included local prisons, local authorities and a wide variety of voluntary groups involved in education, youth and sports activities.
In the course of the project ICPS produced three reports: “We don’t waste prisoners’ time and we don’t waste bicycles”: The impact of restorative work in prisons; Measuring the impact of imprisonment: Papers from a roundtable held in London in November 2001 and Building relationships between prisons and local government: papers from a conference held in Middlesbrough in July 2003. It also published a final report by Senior Research Fellow Vivien Stern in 2005: Prisons and their communities: testing a new approach.
All the reports can be downloaded above.