Delivering cognitive skills programmes in Prison: a qualitative study

Alan Clarke, Rosemary Simmonds, Sarah Wydall

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Recent evaluations of the effectiveness of prison-based cognitive skills training programmes in reducing reconvictions have produced mixed results. The present study adopts a qualitative evaluation methodology in order to explore what constitutes effective programme implementation, impact and outcomes. This approach is based on the assertion that the nature and context in which a programme is delivered can affect treatment quality and ultimately influence treatment success. Thus, understanding how programmes are delivered and received can help us to interpret findings from reconviction studies by providing an insight into how factors such as the institutional context in which programmes operate can have an impact on treatment success. The current study aims to enhance our understanding of the issues around the implementation and delivery of cognitive skills programmes in a prison context and to identify any non-reconviction treatment benefits. The research was undertaken in six male prisons and a total of 113 interviews were conducted with prisoners, programme tutors and other prison staff. A further five interviews were held with ex-prisoners on licence in the community. The report notes that many interviewees reported short-term benefits associated with programme participation. These included increased self-confidence, the development of interpersonal skills and improved prisoner behaviour. Furthermore, it is argued that the nature of prisoners’ motivations for participating in cognitive skills training is a key factor when it comes to assessing the effectiveness of such interventions. From an institutional perspective, where there is a lack of support for programmes at an operational and/or cultural level this can affect programme delivery and have a negative impact on treatment efficacy.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherHome Office
Commissioning bodyBritish Home Office
Number of pages44
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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