Generating applied insights into criminal justice through HMP Grendon

Submitting Institution

Birmingham City University

Unit of Assessment

Social Work and Social Policy

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Criminology, Social Work

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Summary of the impact

The case study refers to research conducted by the Centre for Applied Criminology (CAC), which has focused on HMP Grendon. This document evidences the following impacts:

* Effects on and changes and benefits to policy and practice within and beyond HMP Grendon.

* Reduction or prevention of harm / negative effects upon staff and prisoners at HMP Grendon.

* Effects on awareness and understanding of needs specific groups of prisoners at HMP Grendon.

* Changes and benefits to opportunities available for HMP Grendon prisoners and applicants.

* Benefits in terms of awareness of penal issues amongst audiences of specific media.

Underpinning research

CAC has a particularly strong tradition of research relating to the penal system, which has grown from a long-standing relationship with HMP Grendon. This prison wholly operates as a therapeutic community — a unique facility for prisoners who have demonstrated a genuine desire to change. Prisoners must be serving sentences that allow for a stay of at least 24 months at HMP Grendon and during their time there, they engage in group-based therapy underpinned by collaborative, democratic, humane and participative principles.

The research developed from 1997, building upon the initial work of Professor Wilson, who was able to draw upon his access to the long-term prisoners to launch a successful programme of enquiry and which has resulted in his Chairing the charity The Grendon Friends Trust — the first and only charity in the UK to support an individual prison. CAC's partnership with the prison was formalised in 2009 through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The subsequent research has been strongly needs-led and strategically informed by a commitment to `application', both within and beyond the Grendon community. A portfolio of HMP Grendon-based research has evolved around a central theme of `understanding and responding to diverse offenders and prisoners', contributing to CAC's strategic aim — to generate applied research that recognises and responds to the needs of stakeholders in and around the CJS, and three strategic objectives — to promote a better public understanding of the CJS; improve the operation of the CJS within specific agencies and institutions; and enable offenders to tackle barriers to desistance. A summary of underpinning research is provided below, which has provided the foundation for the impact detailed in section 4.

CAC's critical analysis of the English and Welsh prison estate, drawing upon HMP Grendon as an exemplar of good practice, is detailed in our earliest research, an authored book, What Everyone in Britain should know about Crime and Punishment, which ran to two editions, with Blackstone Press in 1998 and Oxford University Press in 2001. Professor Wilson's subsequent work generated general insights into the prisoner perspective on the therapeutic process (Wilson & McCabe, 2002). This has been continued jointly with Visiting Professor Brookes, who draws upon his professional perspective as Director of Therapeutic Communities at HMP Grendon (Brookes 2010a, 2010b).

CAC's research has shed light upon the nature of specific groups of offenders at HMP Grendon and their needs whilst incarcerated, particularly paedophiles and Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) prisoners. With regards to the former, research has investigated how the fantasy lives of paedophiles relates to their index offences (Wilson & Jones, 2008) and how to manage paedophiles within custody and after release (Silverman & Wilson, 2002). In terms of the latter, Brookes and Wilson, with Glynn — a former PhD student funded by CAC (2010-2013), researched how therapeutic communities should understand and accommodate needs specific to prisoners from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds (Brookes, Glynn & Wilson, 2011). In addition, CAC research led by Dr Caulfield evaluated particular initiatives at HMP Grendon, notably the Artist in Residence, and explored the experiences of women prison officers working with male offenders.

Key researchers
Brookes. M. Visiting Professor (2009-ongoing)
Caulfield, L. Senior Lecturer in Psychology (2007-2013)
Wilson, D. Professor of Criminology and Founding Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology (1997-ongoing)

References to the research

Brookes, M. (2010a). `Putting principles into practice: The therapeutic community regime at HMP Grendon and its relationship with the "Good Lives" model'. In R. Shuker & E. Sullivan (Eds.). Grendon and the emergence of therapeutic communities: Developments in research and practice (pp. 99-113). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.


Brookes, M. (2010b). `The impact of Grendon on changing lives: Prisoner perspectives'. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 49(5), pp. 478-490.


Brookes, M., Glynn, M. & Wilson, D. (2012). `Black Men, Therapeutic Communities and HMP Grendon', International Journal of Therapeutic Communities, 33(1), pp. 16-26.


Silverman, J. & Wilson, D. (2002) Innocence Betrayed: Paedophilia, the Media and Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Wilson, D. & Jones, T. (2008). `"In My Own World": A Case Study of a Paedophile's Thinking and Doing and His Use of the Internet', The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 47(2), pp. 107-120.


Wilson, D. & McCabe, S. (2002). `How HMP Grendon "works" in the words of those undergoing therapy. Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 41(2), 279-291.


The quality of the research can be evidenced by the fact that firstly, all of the outputs cited above have been subject to rigorous peer review processes. In addition, Silverman & Wilson (2002) received over 140 citations as well as the following reviews from authoritative sources:

We fear it and loathe it but if we want to protect our children we must understand it too. The authors use formidable research to put paedophilia in context. This book is uncomfortable reading — but essential. (John Humphrys, 'Today', BBC Radio 4).

No one has previously put the case so well for having an adult, rational debate about how we should respond to paedophilia. Nor have the counterproductive dangers of outing, naming and shaming with responses like Megan's Law been so clearly discussed. A thoroughly researched and well-argued study. (Rod Morgan, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of the Probation Service for England and Wales 2001-2004).

Silverman and Wilson manage to achieve what many of us aspire to — a book that will appeal both to a specialised and lay audience. In the emotionally charged atmosphere of considering the threat posed by predatory paedophiles ... it is important that we have a text that is thoughtful and measured, while also recognising the deep emotions that the topic raises among the populace. ...[T]his is a well-written book that can be recommended to the interested layperson ... while, for the specialist, it draws the threads together of the recent painful scenario where the News of the World has largely orchestrated the terms of the debate. (The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice).

Details of the impact

CAC's relationship with HMP Grendon is characterised by a culture of exchange, in which both parties benefit from the applied knowledge generated through research. The research cited has both reach and significance and can be demonstrated in a number of ways for the different audiences who have used the research:

Dr Caulfield's 2011 evaluation of the Artist in Residence, commissioned by the Marie-Louise von Motesiczky (MLVM) Charitable Trust, resulted in the residency being extended for a further two years (2012 and 2013), demonstrating effects on and benefits to practice within the prison and benefits to opportunities available to Grendon prisoners. The recreational art group built around the Artist in Residence currently has places for 15 prisoners and resulted in 107 entries being made to the Koestler Trust Exhibition in 2013 — the highest number of entries from the prison in its history. Of note, the work of the artist and the prisoners with whom she worked will be exhibited at the offices of the Guardian in March 2014. The Chair of the MLVM Charitable Trust stated, "The evaluation demonstrated the impact of the artist in residence programme to date. This is turn was the basis for the MLVM Charitable Trust's decision to fund the programme for a further two-year phase".

CAC research with BME prisoners has resulted in the prison improving its cultural sensitivity when applying core values of decency, respect, equality and diversity. The research was presented as evidence during an inspection of the prison, is cited in the publicly available inspection report (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2011) and as such, is indicative of the wider reach of the research. The proportion of BME prisoners at HMP Grendon has increased as a result of the research. This evidences effects on, changes to and benefits to policy and practice within and beyond Grendon, effects on, awareness and understanding of group-specific needs and reduction or prevention of harm / negative effects upon staff and prisoners. Evidence of this impact is provided in the testimony of the Governor of HMP Grendon and Springhill, who stated that the research "was part of our project to better understand the experience of BME people before and during treatment at Grendon. This helped to revise our recruitment processes and the internal environment. The BME population has now increased to 27%". It is further stated, "This research was an important element in a wider programme of engaging with diversity of race and ethnicity. Historically BME people have been under-represented in treatment services and this had been the experience at Grendon (16% compared to 25% of the prison population as a whole)". In addition, the publicly available inspection report (HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, 2011, p. 18) notes the contribution of the research to achieving key performance indicators, "2.28. The race impact assessment on treatment delivery and other relevant assessments should be informed by consultation with black and minority ethnic prisoners. (3.50) Achieved. Equality impact assessments demonstrated some good quality consultation with black and minority ethnic prisoners. Birmingham City University had been commissioned to undertake a consultation with black and minority ethnic prisoners about the therapeutic regime and the results were being applied in a review of these prisoners' experience of the therapeutic regime. The report of the consultation had been made available to prisoners on the residential units and a series of meetings planned to discuss the findings and agree actions to improve the situation".

Professor Wilson is the Chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform's Policy Committee and in this capacity, Chaired the Commission on English Prisons in 2009. Professor Wilson's research was among that cited in the publicly available report of the Commission, entitled Do Better; Do Less: The Report of the Commission on English Prisons Today. The research undertaken by Professor Wilson at HMP Grendon played a significant role in his selection as Chair of the Commission. This demonstrates impact in terms of effects on awareness and understanding of public and policy audiences regarding contemporary issues in the CJS. The Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform stated, "David Wilson's invitation to Chair the Commission came about through his reputation as a leading criminologist in his field, having been a high-profile prison governor and based on the research that he had undertaken into the therapeutic community at HMP Grendon. David led discussions with ministers, officials, NGOs and the media on publication of the report so that the findings influenced UK government policy embedding concepts of justice reinvestment, penal moderation and restorative justice. The Coalition Government championed restorative justice and ministers introduced justice reinvestment pilots, particularly for youth justice, into local authorities across the country".

HMP Grendon and CAC remain committed to an annual debate between the prison and final year students at BCU, evidencing benefits to the opportunities available to HMP Grendon prisoners. Around 40-50 prisoners participate in the debate each year.

Insights into the offending behaviours of the prisoner groups specified above has resulted in West Midlands Police commissioning CAC to jointly host four training seminars at the University between 2010 and 2012 to better train Senior Investigating Officers during murder investigations. Therefore, CAC's underpinning research around understanding and responding to diverse offenders demonstrates effects on practice in policing and criminal investigation.

Evidence of impact is also demonstrated in terms of the continuous and extensive media presence of the work of CAC members, demonstrating benefits in terms of awareness of penal issues amongst audiences. `Reach' is considerable as reporting has taken place locally, nationally and internationally. Professor Wilson is frequently quoted in mainstream media items about HMP Grendon (see for example McClatchey, 2011). Items relating to CAC's expertise in `understanding and responding to diverse prisoners' has been widely disseminated through these media, particularly relating to sex offending, murder and serial killing. These latter three themes are underpinned by knowledge directly developed through the Grendon relationship. `Significance' can also be evidenced here in that Professor Wilson has been identified in published, peer reviewed research (Groombridge, 2007) and the higher education press (Corbyn, 2009) as a leading, frequently quoted criminologist in the media.

Sources to corroborate the impact

  1. Corroborating Statement, Governor, HMP Grendon and Springhill. (Participant in process of impact delivery)
  2. Corroborating Statement, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform. (Reporter on the process of impact delivery)
  3. Corroborating Contact, Treasurer, The Friends of Grendon. (Reporter on the process of impact delivery)
  4. Corbyn, Z. (2009). CSI: Crime Story Interpreters. Times Higher Education, 23rd July. Retrieved from:
  5. Groombridge, N. (2007). `Criminologists Say: An analysis of UK national press coverage of criminology and criminologists and a contribution to the debate on "public criminology"', Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 46(5), pp. 459-475.
  6. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons (2011). Report on an unannounced short follow-up visit of HMP Grendon. 15th-17th August 2011. Paragraph 2.28:
  7. McClatchey, C. (2011). HMP Grendon: Therapy for Dangerous Prisoners. BBC News UK. 16th November. Retrieved from: