Rethinking punishment and reintegration

hands with sunlight beam

The research

Professor Fergus McNeill and Dr Marguerite Schinkel’s research finds that penal systems and practices have become too narrowly focused on managing reoffending risk via standardised tools and behaviour programmes.

Their work on the ‘four forms of rehabilitation’ argues that a narrow focus on supporting ‘correctional rehabilitation’ risks neglecting the importance of restoring the status as citizens of those who had been punished; of moral reparation between offender, victim and community; and of the social reintegration of the returning citizen.

The research argues that all four forms of rehabilitation and reintegration are inter-dependent. It follows that laws, policies and practices must recognise this to avoid wasting resources and undermining positive changes secured in one area by neglect of another.

The impact

McNeill and Schinkel’s research is well-known across Europe where they have developed strong and sustained relationships with policymakers and practitioners.

The research has been used to re-design policy and practice so that new forms of support for desistance and reintegration have developed, for example, in Scotland, England, Wales, Belgium and the Netherlands.

In England and Wales, senior practitioners attest that the research influenced Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service to make offending behaviour programmes less formulaic; introducing a greater focus on the co-production of change and emphasising the importance of helping people to find their own unique strengths and talents.

The research also influenced legislative changes in Scotland, including amendments to ensure that all long-term prisoners are released no later than six months before full sentence expiry and with support and supervision.

Most recently, the research helped shape the UN’s Kyoto Declaration (2021), which puts greater emphasis on the need for social support for reintegration.

Evidence is now emerging of how these ‘desistance-informed’ developments are contributing to safer societies through more effective approaches to criminal justice.

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First published: 2 June 2021