The Mechanics of Reform: Implementing Correctional Programmes in English Prisons

Publication Date01 March 2018
The Howard Journal Vol57 No 1. March 2018 DOI: 10.1111/hojo.12232
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 3–20
The Mechanics of Reform:
Implementing Correctional
Programmes in English Prisons
Karen Bullock is Professor of Criminology, Annie Bunce and Charlotte Dodds
are Doctoral Students, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey
Abstract: Delivering correctional programmes in the prison environment has proved
challenging, and desired outcomes have not always been achieved. Drawing on interview
data, this article considers the mechanics through which programmes are introduced into
English prisons and how the environment shapes what is accomplished. Weargue that the
operation of programmes is influenced by institutional features (such as values, priorities
and resources), situational features (such as the challenges posed by operating in the
secure environment), and interactional factors (such as the attitudes of prison staff and
the nature of programme-prison staff relations).
Keywords: correctional programmes; implementation; rehabilitation; prison
While well-designed programmes can reduce reoffending, introducing
them into the prison environment has not been straightforward, and out-
comes have often fallen short of what was anticipated (Bernfeld, Farring-
ton and Leschied 2001; Gendreau and Goggin 2006; Harper and Chitty
2005; Mews, Di Bella and Purver 2017). As legislation, policies or pro-
grammes move from a set of principles to a set of practices, they are
shaped by numerous organisational, technical, behavioural, and contextual
factors which fundamentally influence what is achieved (Hill and Hupe
2002). That the mode of delivery is important is certainly understood
within correctional programming; however, research has rarely consid-
ered the implementation of programmes into prison settings (Andrews and
Dowden 2005; Lin 2002). This article, then, is concerned with the mechan-
ics of reform. That is, with exploring the mechanisms through which pro-
grammes are introduced into English prisons and how the environment
shapes what is accomplished.
2017 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK
The Howard Journal Vol57 No 1. March 2018
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 3–20
Understanding Implementation
Implementation – that activity which occurs between policy expectations
and (perceived) policy outcomes (Hill and Hupe 2002) – has been under-
stood in somewhat different ways. ‘Top-down’ approaches are oriented
around what programme designers are trying to achieve, and look for
deviation between what was intended and what was realised in prac-
tice (for example, Hogwood and Gunn 1984; Hood 1976; Pressman and
Wildavsky 1973). Though a degree of deviation is seen as inevitable, in
order to minimise it, the role of establishing clear project theory, setting
objectives, providing guidelines, and establishing systems of accountabil-
ity, has been stressed (Hogwood and Gunn 1984; Pressman and Wildavsky
1973). ‘Bottom up’ analysts criticise the view that policy makers or man-
agers can, or indeed should, control the political, organisational, and tech-
nological processes that influence implementation on the ground (Hill and
Hupe 2002). In orienting analysis around the activities of those who imple-
ment policy, rather than those who design it, practitioner routines, values,
interaction, and conflict, are all highlighted (for example, Lipsky 1980).
In so far as the implementation of programmes has been considered,
focus has been on ensuring that they are delivered as programme design-
ers intended, through providing structured manuals and guidelines and
establishing quality control mechanisms (Farabee et al. 1999; Goggin and
Gendreau 2006; McGuire 2002). In other words, analysis has taken some-
thing of a top-down approach. While this focus is understandable, and we
return to why shortly, it leads to a partial understanding of the implemen-
tation of programmes. In particular, it underplays the potential for wider
features of the prison environment, often unrelated to, and not considered
by programme designers to, influence delivery.
Adopting a bottom-up approach, we argue that the implementation of
programmes is a dynamic process, varying between prisons and chang-
ing over time. Following Lin (2002, p.6), we contend that understanding
what programmes achieve involves considering how the organisational
context of individual prisons interacts with the written policies and provi-
sions that govern programmes. This article, then, will go beyond top-down
programme features (such as programme theory, objective setting, and
monitoring of staff activity). It will examine how bottom-up features (such
as the degree of correspondence between institutional and programme
values and needs, the attitudes of custodial staff, and the nature of the
relationships between custodial and programme staff) of the institutional
environment may influence delivery. In what follows, we review the posi-
tion of programmes in prison, before setting out the results of an analysis
of the implementation of a programme in four English prisons.
Literature Review
From ‘Nothing Works’ to ‘What Works’ to ‘What Works, Where and With Whom’?
The latter part of the 20th Century witnessed a roller coaster of ap-
proaches to offender rehabilitation. The rehabilitation model, based
2017 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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