Coproduction, participation and empowerment: A participatory evaluation of a young care leavers project in prison

AuthorDawn Simpson,Christopher Hartworth,Helen Attewell
Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterPractice Notes
PRB984243 107..115
Practice Notes
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
2021, Vol. 68(1) 107–115
ª The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0264550520984243
and empowerment:
A participatory evaluation
of a young care leavers
project in prison
Christopher Hartworth
Barefoot Research, UK
Dawn Simpson and Helen Attewell
Nepacs, UK
This practice note presents the results of a participatory evaluation of a coproduced
project for care leavers at two young offenders institutions in the North East of Eng-
land. The project has been delivered by Nepacs, a North East charity that provides
family support to those affected by imprisonment and evaluated by Barefoot Research,
a social research organisation. We think reporting on our experiences is worthy of
sharing because both coproduction and participatory evaluation are unusual in
criminal justice settings, particularly custodial ones. Our practice note shows that both
approaches have yielded interesting findings relating to the development of young
people’s own intrinsic capabilities, their ability to access their entitlements and their
feelings of empowerment.
participatory evaluation, co-production, care leavers, prison
Corresponding Author:
Christopher Hartworth, Barefoot Research, 33 Forest Avenue, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE12 9AH, UK.

Probation Journal 68(1)
In this practice note, we present the experience of conducting a participatory eva-
luation of a coproduced training resource created by young care leavers inside
prison. We think this is worthy of sharing because it is unusual to coproduce anything
in prison and arguably more unusual to have the participants lead an evaluation. The
work has been carried out by a partnership of a voluntary sector provider, Nepacs,
and a social research sector specialist, Barefoot Research, continuing the innovation
in family support in the criminal justice system in the North East of England (explored
in this journal by Hartworth et al., 2017).
The ‘Paving the Way’ project was developed and led by Nepacs, a charity
based in the North East of England established as the Durham Discharged Prisoners’
Aid Society in 1882, working to support positive futures for prisoners and their
families. Nepacs has always sought to promote connections between custody and
community through the services it delivers. Over the past decade, Nepacs has
grown and diversified, seeking to meet the needs of families at each stage of the
criminal justice system – from courts into custody, throughout a prison sentence, and
then ‘Through the Gate’ into the community. As new services have been established
and matured, the charity has been struck by the inequalities and potential unfairness
that those who already have established community contact are supported to rein-
force and sustain those links, whereas those who are socially isolated in the com-
munity become even more so when in custody. Although Nepacs is concerned
about isolated prisoners of all ages and categories, the focus of the ‘Paving the
Way’ project on 18 to 25 year olds was to ensure investment in those people who
potentially have the longest and most damaging prospects for serial re-offending.
Thus, the project developed from an intention to deliver equitable family support
services to all those affected by imprisonment, and not just those who grew up in
standard family situations.
The context
Not everyone receives visitors in prison, and not everyone gets the support they
need, both during and after their sentence, to enable them to turn their lives around.
One particularly isolated group is care leavers, who are over-represented in prison
(an average of 27% of all prisoners were in care as a child compared to 2% in the
general population (HMPPS, 2019). There are many negative outcomes associated
with growing up in care including a greater likelihood of contact with the criminal
justice system (children in care were five times more likely to be sanctioned for an
offence than children in the general population) (Department for Education, 2017).
The reasons for this are numerous although in some cases may be related to insecure
attachment (see: Bowlby, 1969). The additional barriers experienced by care
leavers have been identified by both...

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