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Learning Points

This case study shows that receptivity for increased user engagement and empowerment within public services need not exclude areas such as the criminal justice system. Greater levels of co-production can be rolled out through most public service sectors.  

  • Participation in democratic fora can provide offenders with important social skills, reduce tension and likelihood of reoffending.
  • Staff need to be on board from the outset of a project to realise full potential.
  • Rehabilitation only happens when people are able to rehabilitate themselves.
  • Expectations need to be managed to prevent individuals from feeling alienated.
  • What seem to be small restrictions have a major impact on prisoners’ self-esteem and independence and create significant stress and frustration. Prisoner engagement and consultation allow early identification and tackling of small issues that may seem inconsequential outside of that community but which are crucial to inmates.
  • Despite a majority of support for the User Voice prison councils there was some mistrust. Evaluations suggested scepticism of the value of prison councils amongst staff, particularly prison officers. Some prison officers worried that councils would result in staff being managed by prisoners. Some also felt that prisoners were given more access to senior staff - creating resentment. Others viewed the project as an imposition from top-down, without benefits they could see. Some of the officers who felt this way said that if User Voice had been able to ‘market’ the project to more staff, highlighting the benefits to them, this may have been less of a problem. 
  • Another challenge to the User Voice model was presented by Camp Hill prison, where inmates have shorter sentences. There were positive outcomes in re-instating Open University support for prisoners, provision of a local guest house for visitors, deep cleaning in visitor areas, and suggestion boxes being installed in all wings. However, the high turnover of prisoners meant continuity was disrupted. Attempts to remedy this through involving more prisoners at meetings made conversations and decision-making harder. User Voice is seeking to adapt its model to overcome this problem.

Since the successful pilot project, the User Voice Council Model has been set up at HMP Maidstone and is now being established in HMP Rye Hill and HMP Wolds. The model is also being piloted in various community settings, including probation work, social work, drugs & alcohol abuse teams, mental health services and children’s services.

About this case study
Main Contact

Jeff Ogden

Engagement Officer

Tel: 020 3137 7471


Frankie Hine-Hughes, project manager of Governance International, compiled this case study on 9 August 2011.

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