Garden with graffiti of large teapot in the background with a clock face.

Research demonstrates need for more collaborative rehabilitative programmes

A multidisciplinary team of Coventry University researchers have looked at how charities and community organisations delivering rehabilitative programmes can impact the lives of men and women in prison and 'through the gate'.

Led by Dr Geraldine Brown from the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, the research has resulted in identifying good practice showing how land, community and faith-based interventions contributed to improving rehabilitative practice.

Dr Brown began with an evaluation of the Master Gardener programme (2013-15), which was developed by a Coventry charity called ‘Garden Organic’ and delivered at HMP Rye Hill. The focus of the programme was based on delivering a gardening intervention to substance misusing men in prison.

The research demonstrated that when prisoners engaged in purposeful activities, created therapeutic alliances, and were in touch with nature, this created significant health and wellbeing benefits. It highlighted the importance of encouraging shared learning and a sense of community to impact personal development and employability skills.

Dr Brown was also commissioned by the Conservation Foundation (a leading environmental charity) to carry out a study of their ‘Unlocking Nature’ programme, delivered at HMP Wandsworth. This aimed to increase skills, employability, and wellbeing through horticulture.

At a UK parliamentary debate on ‘Mental Health in Prisons’ in January 2018, MP Rebecca Pow used the research as evidence to advocate for ‘using gardening as a therapeutic intervention’ within the justice system.

Dr Brown's work has had extensive impacts, with the good practice being cited in the West Midlands Youth Violence Action Plan for the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner and a key report being used to underpin a successful application to establish the first West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit, which launched in October 2019.

She has worked with several charities and community organisations, and reviewed multiple rehabilitative interventions. Alongside her work with substance misusing men, she has worked on a programme focusing on sex working women, and one with black men who were identified as ‘gang’ involved. Studies found considerable health and wellbeing benefits to programmes that are collaborative, facilitate positive relationships and offer a safe space for engagement.

Members of the research team have also delivered training events to over 70 frontline workers on best practice interventions. Dr Brown’s research has had national reach and through working collaboratively with organisations, her work has impacted the lives of many prisoners providing a pathway to an alternative lifestyle that supports wellbeing, builds self-esteem, and creates hope.

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