Promoting 'Good Lives': A New Framework for Offender Rehabilitation

Submitting Institution

Queen's University Belfast

Unit of Assessment


Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Human Society: Criminology
Psychology and Cognitive Sciences: Psychology

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Summary of the impact

Traditionally offender rehabilitation has been understood as a top-down process through which deficits are `corrected'. Maruna is the primary source of a `strengths-based' or `good lives' approach to rehabilitation. This is based on his research into how individuals successfully desist from crime of their own volition. The reach and significance of Maruna's research is demonstrated by surveys of those professionals involved in rehabilitation which suggest that this approach now underpins the practice of up to one quarter of treatment interventions internationally (McGrath et al 2010). The US Department of Justice (2011) has recently funded a $1.5 million pilot test of "desistance theory" explicitly "based on Maruna's trans-theoretical model" (see Section 5, below). This approach has also been widely adopted in England and Wales. As the Director responsible for commissioning all prison and probation services there comments: "I can with confidence say that research carried out by Shadd Maruna into desistance from crime has significantly impacted both policy and operational practice, ... and is shaping the culture and service delivery models of providers across all aspects of the offender services market" (Letter, Commissioning and Commercial Director NOMS, in QUB REF Archive, see Sect 5).

Underpinning research

Maruna was appointed as a Reader at QUB in 2005 and promoted to Professor in 2009. Maruna has pioneered the study of what is known as "desistance from crime". This is the study of how and why some individuals are able to move away from criminal behaviour after long patterns of criminality. This research differs from traditional rehabilitation research which asks "what works" in treatment programmes by comparing the recidivism outcomes between groups in treatment and control groups. Desistance research instead seeks to understand how the process of personal reform works by understanding the developmental pathways of individual lives in social and cultural context. Maruna's recent desistance research has included a 10-year longitudinal study of the life trajectories of a sample of recidivist property offenders beginning during their incarceration and including multiple waves of data collection post-release (e.g., LeBel, Burnett, Maruna & Bushway, 2008 — REF2). In this work, he has sought to better understand the cognitive changes that are related to desistance from crime and how these relate (or often contradict) the goals of correctional treatment delivered in the name of therapy (e.g., Maruna & Mann, 2006). He has also explored the "flip side" of reintegration, examining community attitudes to prisoner reintegration (and their beliefs in individual `redeemability' of some offenders) and seeking to understand how to better work with communities in this process (e.g., Maruna & King, 2009 — REF2). One key, recent strand of this research has explored the dynamics of rituals and ceremonies in recognising steps toward behavioural change and countering the stigma that ex-prisoners experience (e.g., Maruna, 2011). Through all of this work, Maruna and colleagues have developed a widely adopted model of offender rehabilitation practice (e.g., Maruna & LeBel, 2010; Ward & Maruna, 2007) that has challenged traditional "deficit-based" approaches to offender treatment (that focus on the assessment and targeting of risk factors) with an engagement-oriented "strengths-based" approach focused on promoting "good lives" based on reparation and "making good" (see House of Commons, 2012, Sect 5).

References to the research

Since 2008, Maruna's work has been cited over 3000 times (Google Scholar) making him one of the most cited criminologists currently working in the discipline. His research has been funded by several grants, including a Soros Justice Fellowship from the Open Society Institute ("Redemption Beliefs and Public Opinion," 2008-09, $75,000), and the ESRC ("Desistance Knowledge Exchange" RES-189-25-0258, £103,589.56, 2011-12). The latter involved hosting 8 regional workshops across the UK, involving over 250 senior practitioners and policy makers, and developing the training film "The Road from Crime" that has now been viewed by over 5000 practitioners online (free to download in six languages) or in dozens of public showings (e.g., Probation Chiefs Association, International Community Corrections Association).

Sample Publications [* denotes RAE 2008 submission; ** REF 2014 submission]

* Maruna, S. & Mann, R. (2006). Fundamental Attribution Errors? Re-thinking Cognitive Distortions. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 11, 155-177 [159 citations].


Ward, T. &Maruna, S. (2007). Rehabilitation: Beyond the Risk Paradigm. Routledge.[275 citations].


** LeBel, T., Burnett, R., Maruna, S., & Bushway, S. (2008). "The Chicken or the Egg of Subjective and Social Factors in Desistance". European Journal of Criminology, 5, 131-159.[89 citations]


** Maruna, S. & King, A. (2009). "Once a Criminal, Always a Criminal?: `Redeemability' and the Psychology of Punitive Public Attitudes." Euro Journ of Criminal Policy & Research, 15, 7-24.[33 cites since 2009].


Maruna, S. & LeBel, T. (2010). "The Desistance Paradigm in Correctional Practice: From Programmes to Lives" (pp. 65-89) In McNeill, et al (Eds.) Offender Supervision. Willan.[21 citations since 2010]

** Maruna, S. (2011). Reentry as a Rite of Passage. Punishment & Society, 13, 3-27.[45 Citations since 2011].


Details of the impact

Maruna's strategy for maximising the impact of his research has involved a) frequent high-level contributions to practice-oriented events, including the Annual Perrie Lecture for HM Prison Service (2010) and the 18th Annual Edith Kahn Memorial Lecture at the House of Lords (Lords Hansard, 692/100); b) the production of accessible materials and tools based on his research, such as a brief summary of desistance research, commissioned by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) for distribution throughout all prisons and probation trusts in England and Wales and across Europe by the Conference on European Probation; and, c) direct engagement with agencies, including appointments to the two UK bodies — the "Correctional Services Accreditation and Advice Panel" and the "Scottish Accreditation Panel for Offender Rehabilitation" — charged with assessing all new rehabilitative interventions across the UK.

The impact of Maruna's research has been the transformation of rehabilitation practice in the UK and beyond. The Director General of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS — with responsibility for every prison and probation area in England and Wales from 2005 to 2010) writes that as a result of Maruna's research "we changed the emphasis in both prison and probation to try and maximise the opportunities to encourage and sustain desistance from crime. The changes were to messaging, staff training and to prison regime design plus a major programme of change in probation called the Offender Engagement Programme" (Document on file). The Commissioning & Commercial Director at NOMS with responsibility for the NOMS Competition Programme currently competing over £2.5bn of services, writes: "Shadd's research sits on a very short list of key individuals who in the past decade have made the most significant impact on and have influenced and shaped the policies and practices for offender services in the UK." Indeed, Maruna's research featured strongly in the Ministry of Justice's 2011 Green Paper announcing the initial plans for the Coalition Government's "rehabilitation revolution" from 2011 (Sect 5).

Further, the NOMS Commissioning Intentions document which sets out the framework for the rehabilitative services it will fund, explicitly refers to the work pioneered by Maruna that supports desistance. The Head of Evidence and Offence Specialism at NOMS writes: "The evidence base for what services we commission for prisoners and probationers...has been particularly informed by the understanding of desistance from Shadd's work". The NOMS Guide for Working with Female Offenders also states explicitly that "Shadd Maruna's work (2010)... provides insights and strategies that are highly pertinent when working with women offenders" (Sect. 5). In The Probation Journal, Eleanor Fellowes of London Probation (2012) wrote: "The rolling out of new National Standards can be seen as an explicit adoption of the invaluable lessons of desistance research, indeed the file I received as part of my induction into the new model contained two articles on the subject by Shadd Maruna (2010), Fergus McNeill and Beth Weaver (2010)" (Sect. 5). The Governor of HM Grendon Prison, an internationally renowned therapeutic prison in England, writes: "Professor Maruna's work has been widely discussed in prisons... has permeated into the strategic development of prisons ... and enabled the maintenance and promotion of a humane and empathetic approach to prisoner management" (Letter in QUB REF Archive). Indeed, in 2011, Maruna was awarded the inaugural Howard League Research Medal for work that "makes an impact and changes penal policy and practice through high quality research."

One specific area of impact has been in the creation of formal rituals certifying steps toward behavioural change following Maruna's (2011) analysis. For example, in Durham probation departments, progression toward rehabilitation is "now formally recognised" drawing heavily on "Maruna's research on the importance of ritual and ceremony in desistance" (Document on file). Likewise, the Governor of HM Grendon Prison writes: "Having read an article Professor Maruna published regarding 'desistance reinforcing rituals'... led to the setting up of a group of residents and staff to review this and pilot a new approach. As a result a new process of 'graduation' was introduced where those completing therapy were presented with a certificate with an audience of their fellow community members ... family members or friends. ... This ... important enhancement to our therapeutic process and was directly inspired by Professor Maruna's work".

Maruna's research has also changed the focus of offender therapy from correcting cognitive deficits to promoting individual strengths. The Head of NOMS' Dangerous Offenders Section writes: "Maruna's research on cognitive distortions has also changed how facilitators of sexual offender treatment programmes approach and address the cognitive distortions of such offenders" (Letter in Archive). Likewise, the Head of Research and Offence Specialism at NOMS states: "Our new programmes are significantly more focused on positive targets such as social capital. ... This shift was directly caused by Shadd's work on ... strengths-based rehabilitation. We have also developed a new tool for monitoring the acute risk ... focused on monitoring men's strengths as much as their deficits. Again we chose to take this focus because of Shadd's work on strengths-based rehabilitation" (Letter in Archive).

This impact has also manifested itself directly in a number of new programmes for prisoners explicitly based on Maruna's research. His research was the primary basis for the development of a new rehabilitative intervention known as the "Belief in Change Programme" piloted at HMP Channings Wood. The Head of Dangerous Offenders Section for NOMS writes that "Maruna's work on desistance, reintegration rituals and strengths based approaches has been incorporated into the design and development of various interventions such as the Healthy Identity Intervention for extremist offenders" (Letter in Archive). HM High Down Prison in the East of England has declared itself a "Desistance Prison" and invited Maruna to conduct a "desistance audit" of all aspects of the prison in 2011. Avon Somerset Probation Trust (ASPT) has created a post of "Desistance Development Officer"; her report Supporting Desistance in Avon and Somerset Probation has 75 citations to Maruna's research (on file). Maruna's work is also explicitly cited as foundational for the Good Lives Programme for offenders in Scotland in both the programme and theory manuals (on file). The Chief Executive of the St. Giles Trust, London, argues that his highly successful organisation is the "living and breathing" embodiment of desistance theory: "Shadd Maruna is a pilgrim in making desistance theory not so much a theory but a mainstreamed practice. ... Fascinatingly the most enlightened civil servants in our field, and there are some with immense intellect and understanding, are all huge Shadd Maruna fans" (Letter in Archive). Maruna was named a patron of the ex-offender charity UNLOCK and has provided a strategic framework for that organisations policy advocacy strategy. In 2007, Maruna was commissioned, with Tim Chapman, to revise the National Outcomes and Standards for Criminal Justice Social Work Services for Scotland, and he also produced a substantial report for the Northern Ireland Office on "what works" in reducing offending in advance of the devolution of criminal justice in Northern Ireland. As a result of the latter, the NI Department of Justice has made desistance a central organizing concept for its Strategic Framework for Reducing Offending, citing Maruna's research prominently (Sect 5).

The impact of this research extends beyond the UK. In a survey of 1,379 offender treatment programmes across North America, The Safer Society Foundation found that around 28% of programmes said they were incorporating "good lives" approaches into their work (McGrath, 2010, below). The US Department of Justice, recently developed a $1.5 million pilot test of the desistance model explicitly "based on Maruna's (2010) trans-theoretical model." Maruna's findings were instrumental in the establishment of the first mutual aid organisation for ex-prisoners in Japan, the Pathway Prisoner Reintegration Programme in New Zealand, and a restoration ritual for individuals completing parole held in Hawaii's State Supreme Court. Maruna's research has been the central organising theory for a federally-funded network of community justice centres in the state of Vermont and a system of "halfway house" interventions in Connecticut. Maruna's research has also been influential in Singapore where the psychology unit for the prison service has adopted an explicitly "desistance-based" approach (Day and Casey 2012). Likewise, Maruna has been invited to consult in Chile, where his ideas are now part of core practices across several organisations. Paz Ciudadana have drawn directly upon Maruna's theoretical ideas in the drug treatment courts in Chile, and FASCO have designed the "first after-prison project that has been systematised and assessed in Chile" drawing explicitly on Professor Maruna's work.

Sources to corroborate the impact

Each of the following includes direct references to Maruna's recent published work (all on file):

Ministry of Justice (2011). Green Paper Evidence Report: Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders

U.S. Department of Justice (2011). Demonstration Field Experiment: Fostering Desistance through Effective Supervision.

Scottish Government, Justice Analytical Services (2011). What Works to Reduce Reoffending: A Summary of the Evidence

Department of Justice Northern Ireland (2012). Strategic Framework for Reducing Offending: Evidence Base.

House of Commons Library (2012). Reducing Re-offending: The `What Works' Debate.

National Offender Management Service (2011). A Guide to Working with Female Offenders: A Distinct Approach.

Other sources cited:
McGrath, R., et al, (2010). The Safer Society 2009 North American Survey, p. 128

Fellowes, E. (2012). Risk assessment, the professional judgement model and organizational anxiety: A practitioner response. Probation Journal, 59, 66-70.

Day, A & Casey, (2012). Interview with Timothy Leo, Chief Psychologist of the Singapore Prison Service. Trends in Corrections, CRC Press ISBN 9781439835784 (159-168).

Unpublished documents on file from Avon Somerset Probation Trust, Durham Probation Trust, Good Lives Programme Scotland, Director General National Offender Management Service.

Reference letters cited (in Archive):

National Offender Management Service (NOMS), Head of Evidence & Offence Specialism;

NOMS, Head of Dangerous Offenders;

NOMS, Commissioning & Commercial Director

Governor, HMP Grendon

Chief Executive, St. Giles Trust, London