Co-producing Desistance is a research project examining the use of social co-operative structures of employment as a mechanism for supporting the resettlement of prisoners and enabling longer term processes of desistance. This project is run by Beth Weaver at the University of Strathclyde and will run from January 2015-2018.

Across the UK, and indeed further afield, increasing political, professional and public concern has been expressed about the economic, social and human costs of the increasing use of imprisonment and of reoffending following release. Consequently, there is now growing interest in developing innovative and sustainable practices that can facilitate the social integration and desistance of former prisoners. Research on why and how people stop offending (desistance) has incrementally refocused attention on the kinds of conditions and supports that variously enable or constrain social integration and desistance. However, despite the identified correlations between participation in employment and desistance, this is an area that has received limited attention in policy, practice and research. Yet most serving and former prisoners want to work and see this as critical to their efforts to give up crime on release but they face particular challenges to accessing employment because of criminal records, employer attitudes and discrimination, which can pose a threat to their longer-term prospects for desistance.

Responding to this gap in research, policy and practice, this study will examine the potential of a recent innovation in the use of social cooperatives in the UK. In particular, this research uses case studies of more established through-the-prison-gate social cooperatives in Italy and Sweden to inform emerging cooperative structures of employment in the criminal justice system in the UK in order to consider what social cooperatives might contribute to the integration and desistance of former prisoners; to consider how this learning can translate into improvements for policy design and service delivery in a criminal justice context; and crucially, to inform new ways of working to support social integration and desistance.

Research Objectives

This research will represent the first empirical project to systematically explore co-productive possibilities and innovations in criminal justice. The broader significance of this research rests in its focus on the intersection between processes of change and the co-production of services aimed to support such change: it reaches across jurisdictions, academic disciplines, multiple areas of public policy and many professional fields. The proposed research seeks to specifically examine the ways in which social cooperative structures of employment, as a manifestation of co-production, can support desistance from crime and social integration.

To this end, the project’s objectives are:

  1. to map the theoretical and empirical terrain for an analytical framework through a review of the literature on desistance, social cooperatives and co-production;
  2. to develop a theoretical and conceptual analytical framework through which the individual, relational and systemic contributions of social cooperatives to the social reintegration of their members will be analysed;
  3. to analyse the development, operation, dynamics, experiences and effects of participation in a social cooperative from the perspectives of different stakeholders and members of four social cooperative case studies in two different penal jurisdictions, namely the UK and Italy;
  4. to identify the individual, relational and systemic aspects of social cooperatives that enable or constrain the social reintegration and desistance of their members;
  5. to identify the tensions and challenges in developing social cooperative structures of employment in a criminal justice context in the UK and Italy;
  6. to inform the development of future social cooperative structures of employment in a criminal justice context in the UK.

Research Design

The four phases of the research involve firstly, synthesising current research and policy literatures on co-production, desistance and social cooperatives prior to developing, in the second phase, a conceptual analytical framework through which to analyse the data generated in phases three to four. The third phase involves a qualitative analysis of three established Italian ‘through-the-prison-gate’ social cooperative structures of employment and one Swedish consortia of social cooperatives. the learning from phase three will be applied to two UK based social cooperatives over phase four, using multi-modal research methods, to examine over a period of 17 months the process through which the relevant stakeholders implemented these structures and examine the impacts, outputs and outcomes from the vantage point of the stakeholders and objectives of each social cooperative.