Friday, March 9, 2012

What Works?

This was a wonderful idea unveiled by the worst Tory to have his hands on the prison estate in the 1990's, Michael Howard. The idea was, the activities of prison should focus resources upon those activities which could be shown to reduce re-offending. Not a completely mad idea on the face of it.
What Works? quickly became What Works. The loss of the question mark signalled the end of any genuine inquiry or thought and the idea became extremely prescriptive and dogmatic. No one was looking for What Works?; but everyone was being told by HQ What Works. End of discussion.
A part of this broad programme are the services provided to substance abusers. As so many prisoners can find the roots of their criminality in drugs or drink then such a focus should be one taken extremely seriously.
A service, known by the acronym CARATS, swept the country. Each nick has CARATS, counsellors of various types dedicated to weaning us off our chemical crutches. But here is the baffling thing. Having cost some 150 million GPB, there has never been any research to explore whether CARATS has any effect on reoffending.
150 million quid is not loose change, least of all in a time of austerity. If the government is going to spend that sort of money on a service then it is wholly reasonable to ask if they are getting any return on their money. Sorry- your money! And the answer may prompt the reintroduction of the question mark to What Works. We'd all benefit from knowing.
CARATS: Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice, and Throughcare 


  1. Isn't it funny, how just one little question mark, can totally change something into a "Jackboot"!
    This is like when I was confronted with a question in the past. "You were seen with this person"! My reply to that, "I didn't recognize them"! In a court, that would be the end of that! But if a real dodgy character added the word "immediately", in his statement. This changes the whole thing, doesn't it, even though I never said it?

  2. AS always I am struck by the value of your blog, this time in calling attention to the lack of evaluation of programmes. The mantra of "what works" has solidified into dogma. Much the same here in NSW. What worries me is the demise of educational programmes at the expense of risk- related offence specific programmes, as they are not well integrated into the sentence, often occurring near the end of the sentence..

  3. Maggie, it is disappointing to know that the dogma has spread to NSW. Here, education provision has been gradually reduced until it now only comprises the most basic levels of literacy and numeracy. Another false saving. Ben.


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