A practical tool for measuring intermediate outcomes to reduce reoffending

Young man drawing on canvas, photo by pressmaster/Adobe Stock

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For most people, desistance from crime is a process, rather an event. This project produced a user-friendly questionnaire that can be used by those working with offenders to capture ‘intermediate outcomes’ – indicators of positive changes which may signal progress towards an offence-free future.

Background

Research shows that, especially for offenders with deeply ingrained social and personal problems, desistance from crime is not a one-off event. More often, it is long-term process of fundamental change in self-identity, values and lifestyle, involving periods of abstention from offending interrupted by relapses.

The effectiveness of services for offenders is usually judged on the basis of reoffending or reconviction rates. However, these outcomes are best measured over long periods of time and require access to reliable data about convictions or other measures of offending. This is not feasible for many short-term interventions for offenders delivered by organisations without the time and resources to undertake reoffending analysis. Further, some interventions — such as arts programmes in prison or mentoring — aim to support the desistance process, rather than lead directly to an end to offending.

Goals

This study aimed to identify and develop a measurement tool for 'intermediate’ outcomes. These are changes in skills and thinking that are directly or indirectly associated with reductions in reoffending, which could indicate an offender is making positive changes towards an offence-free future, but has not yet successfully stopped offending. For example, intermediate outcomes might include improved problem solving abilities, better time management and increased resilience.

The focus of the project was to develop a measurement tool for use by those delivering mentoring and arts programmes for offenders. In particular, voluntary and community sector organisations.

Methodology

The project was based upon extensive collaboration and cooperation with a range of provider organisations delivering mentoring and arts programmes for offenders. Through an iterative process of literature searches, consultation, piloting, validity testing and analysis, the research team produced a theoretically informed 29-item questionnaire, named the Intermediate Outcomes Measurement Instrument (IOMI). Alongside IOMI, researchers also developed a costing tool, a guidance document and a data entry tool.

Findings

  • The IOMI measurement instrument and the other materials making up the toolkit provide a user-friendly package that can be used by providers of arts and mentoring projects (and potentially many other kinds of intervention) to assess the impact of their own work in a relatively quick and straightforward way. The toolkit is freely available on the Ministry of Justice website.
  • The IOMI is not a fully-validated instrument but preliminary testing showed strong indications that the instrument has face validity, internal consistency, stability and the potential to reflect change across most of the intermediate outcomes that it measures'.
  • The IOMI is theoretically informed and is anchored in careful reviews of evidence and extensive consultation with providers of mentoring and arts programmes

Policy and practice implications

Until further testing is done, any results based on the instrument should be treated with caution. That said, the instrument has considerable potential as a tool for a number of policy and practice related purposes. These include:

  • Alongside other evidence, helping bidders to make a case to commissioners for the effectiveness of particular interventions or practices.
  • Helping organisations improve their services by finding out more about the outcomes that they are producing for clients.
  • Offering an extra resource for research into what works in offender rehabilitation, especially into the effectiveness of small-scale and less mainstream interventions such as arts programmes.