Can we change the way offenders think?
A five-day programme for convicted offenders has been shown to be effective in increasing their levels of concern for their victims and motivation to change. The Supporting Offenders through Restoration Inside (SORI) programme, which has been piloted in seven prisons across the UK, is the subject of a study published in the journal Criminological and Legal Psychology today.
SORI aims to increase victim empathy in offenders and motivate them to change their offending behaviour and take responsibility for the harm they have caused. It consists of a one-day taster programme to help offenders decide whether they want to attend the full four-day victim awareness course, and introduces the principles of restorative justice.
The rest of the SORI course includes role-plays in group-work settings and individual exercises to encourage victim empathy in offenders. Prisoners who attend meet volunteers who have suffered similar crimes to those they committed themselves and individuals from the wider community. Towards the end of the course, each prisoner makes a public statement in which they take responsibility for their offence and commit themselves to specific tasks as a way of making amends.
The paper in Criminological and Legal Psychology is written by Professor Anthony Beech and Ms Jaymini Chauhan from the University of Birmingham. It describes how offenders completed psychometric questionnaires immediately before and after the programme had taken place. Data were data available for 131 participants on the Victim Concern Scale, 82 participants on the Locus of Control measure, and 96 participants on the Stages of Change Questionnaire.
The results showed that participants had enhanced concern for all types of victims, were more motivated to change their offending behaviours and were more willing to take responsibility for their actions, after completion of the course. No change was found in terms of participants seeing themselves as being more in control of their actions and environment.
Professor Beech says: “The results lend support to the notion that courses like SORI are effective in increasing offenders’ levels of concern for victims and their motivation to change, but don’t really impact on their level of ownership for their actions. Restorative justice interventions are victim centred, so future studies should aim to interview victims and community representatives who attend the SORI programme. This would help us see whether the victims and communities felt that the course was effective for them and helped them to find the answers they were searching for.”