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Jul 18, 2016

Improving the wellbeing of offenders in prison

  • Portfolio total project costs: £2,708,388
  • Total funding received from BIG: £2,708,388
  • Total number of beneficiaries: 24,046


The Target: Wellbeing portfolio supported the delivery of 34 projects working across the three Wellbeing 2 programme themes: physical activity, health eating and mental wellbeing. This included the GOOP (Greener on the Outside of Prison) project, which developed innovative approaches to improve the wellbeing of offenders in prison. The GOOP project is well embedded in all of the publicly funded prisons in the North West. The offender management project is linked to probation and community sites using horticulture and other land-based environmental activities to work with offenders. Activities were designed to enhance mental wellbeing and reduce self harm. The project also promoted physical activity and awareness of healthier eating. This was designed to support the prison agenda around reducing reoffending and strengthening desistance from crime.

Participant/community impacts and sustainability

The Target: Wellbeing portfolio reported good outcomes in relation to the three core themes of the programme. For example, in relation to mental wellbeing, the portfolio reported that 14,696 people in the North West (compared to a target of 2,360 people) and 2,335 people in the North East (compared to a target of 576 people) felt more confident in managing their everyday lives. The GOOP project evaluation reinforced this finding, highlighting the positive impact of the GOOP project on the mental wellbeing of prisoners. The GOOP evaluation report stated that 89% of participants felt more confident to manage their everyday lives, 94% of participants reported increased opportunities for social interaction, and 81% had gained new skills or knowledge. The GOOP project evaluation also noted that participating prisons reported the positive impact of GOOP on both the behaviour of prisoners and the prison environment.

The Target: Wellbeing portfolio reported positive outcomes around healthy eating: 10,821 people in the North West (compared to a target of 564 people) and 10,821 people in the North East (compared to a target of 564 people) and 10,821 people in the North East (compared to a target of 578 people) increased their knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating. The GOOP project also reported positive outcomes on the healthy eating theme. 74% of participants stated they had increased access to healthy food choices, developed new skills around growing or cooking nutritional food and increased their knowledge around nutrition and healthy eating.

The Target: Wellbeing portfolio also reported positive outcomes around physical activity levels. 11,114 people in the North West (compared to a target of 3,041) and 1,697 people in the North East (compared to a target of 730 people) increased their physical activity levels in their daily lives by participating in the project. Positive outcomes on the physical activity theme were also evident for the GOOP project specifically, with 95% of participants reporting an increased awareness and understanding of the benefits of physical activity and 64% of participants reporting reduced barriers to exercise or having taken up a new activity.

The project lead explained the participant impacts brought about by the GOOP project:

“Its been really exciting working in a setting where the idea of empowerment is quite alien… The gardening projects have taken an empowerment model to prisoners and we’ve seen quite a number of people’s lives being transformed and turned around…We had feedback from our prison governors around reduced self harm and improved behavioural patterns around calmness and mental health. That has been really exciting and the sense of pride we’ve seen people have in nurturing and growing things.”

(GOOP project manager and Professor in Health and Sustainability / Director of Healthy Settings Unit at University of Central Lancashire).

The participants also learnt relationship skills such as working together, which will help them gain and retain employment in the future, which is known to be a key underlying determinant of health and wellbeing. Developing these skills in the prison setting helped increase participants’ resilience to mental ill-health and reduce their tendency to self-harm.

The GOOP project also produced positive impacts on prisons at an organisational level. The portfolio engaged with NHS health care delivery staff to demonstrate the benefits of project activities in providing sustainable, cost-effective services that produce a positive impact on participants’ mental health and reduce self harming amongst participants. Discussions have taken place around continuation funding linked to those outcomes.

In terms of sustainability, at the end of the grant, GOOP was being delivered in all the publicly run prisons in the North West and one Approved Premises as well as being championed by the Regional Director for Custodial Sentences (who is the national lead for the Decency agenda). The project lead confirmed that Groundwork was also exploring opportunities to role out the model to prisons in other regions. At the time of the research, the project had secured a further year of funding from the NHS and National Offender Management Service. This will fund the programme coordinator to continue engaging with prisons, and strengthen the links between horticulture activities and promoting mental wellbeing and reducing alcohol and substance misuse. The coordinator will also support the outside network which brings together prison managers from across the North West.

Case study written by Dr Michelle Baybutt

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