Evaluation of Detention Action Community Support Programme

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Detention Action has launched an alternative to detention project for young migrant ex-offenders at risk of indefinite immigration detention. The Community Support Project is the first alternative to detention specifically to address the needs of migrant ex-offenders, who frequently experience the longest periods of immigration detention. It is also the first alternative to detention to focus on migrants’ active community participation.

The project addresses the risks of absconding and reoffending relied on by the Home Office to justify extreme long-term detention. It aims to demonstrate that, with reintegration support, ex-offender migrants rarely abscond or reoffend, and therefore that the long-term detention of ex-offenders with barriers to removal is unnecessary.  

Detention Action will provide intensive case management support to 30 young (aged under 30) migrants per year, over the period of 3 years. Participants will receive both one-to-one support and training in life skills, and will also join the ‘Freed Voices’ self-advocacy group to speak out about their experiences as part of Detention Action’s campaign against indefinite detention.   

From 2015, Detention Action will be working with migrants in detention to seek their release onto the project. Migrants applying for release will be able to present their reintegration plan to the Home Office or the courts, setting out the community support in place and the absconding and reoffending rates of the project to date.  

In the future, it is hoped that the evidence and learning from the project will influence the development of wider alternatives to detention by both government and civil society, as well as enabling a shift in policy away from indefinite detention.

IARS evaluation of Community Support Project 

IARS has significant evaluation and research expertise in this area and is already running several evaluation programmes on offender rehabilitation, social action and user involvement. 

Our approach is grounded in the Theory of Change whereby the impartment of meaningful knowledge and understanding informs attitude change, which can then lead on to personal development and empowerment as well as further insights. Our evaluation tools fall primarily within the category of qualitative research methods, and includes observations and and in-depth interviews. 

We assess the impact that the Community Support Project has on each of the areas hypothesised by the theory (i.e. attitude/knowledge/personal development). In order to deliver both formative and summative evaluations, our research methods are applicable to varying stages of the project (i.e. assessing attitudes/ knowledge/personal qualities before/during/immediately after programme end/in the longer term). 

Our evaluation focuses on assessing the following:

  • the reintegration outcomes of participants, considered against Home Office risk assessments (e.g. imminence of removal; risk of absconding; risk of harm to the public)
  • the impacts of case management and training on skills, confidence and participation levels of 90 young migrants;  
  • the strengths and weaknesses of the programme delivery method.  

Conceptual framework

The Home Office’s default position is to identify factors that justify detention rather than consider each case in accordance with its policy which presumes release, and in line with assessments published by the National Offender Management Service. 

Offender rehabilitation has traditionally focused on all that is wrong with the offender (psychologically, socially, biologically etc.) by trying to minimise risk through treatment programmes. This is also called the Risk Need Responsivity (RNR) model of rehabilitation. Its focus is on reducing and managing risk as well as on studying the process of relapse. Pathology-focused research and intervention have consequently been developed as tools for RNR based approaches to rehabilitation. Concentrating on criminogenic needs to reduce risk factors may be necessary, but not a sufficient condition for effective correctional intervention. The Good Lives Model (GLM) was recently developed as an alternative approach focusing on nurturing the offender’s personal strengths and goals. While our Quantitative Design will look at desistance and the other variables forming part of the Risk Need Responsivity Model, our qualitative design will look at the positive factors used to make reintegration possible. It is important that the life stories of our sample are put in context so that their journey is understood without assumptions. 

IARS Evaluation Report Year 1 

Based on the evidence that we have collected, it is our expert and independent view that the Community Support Project is meeting its intended objectives. It is a unique project that responds to complex needs of young migrant ex-offenders who experienced often very long term immigration detention in the UK. Our recommendations for year 2 and 3 are mainly about capacity building, and refer to a need for more signposting and a more robust referral system for clients. The last recommendation, namely that participants would like to be involved in more sessions, preferably delivered in person is actually an indicator of a success of the project. We acknowledge that the geographical scope of the programme (South East, i.e. London and the surrounding areas, and North East, including Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough) poses a challenge; local capacity building in the form of volunteer peer mentoring could be a solution to this problem in the future. 

You can access IARS evaluation report covering the first year of the project, from June 2014 to May 2015 here