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In pursuit of interagency collaboration in the prison system

Researchers have developed a CO-LAB Change Laboratory Model of workplace transformation in the criminal justice context.

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Preparing offenders for reintegration into society and a life free from crime is complex, involving many actors such as health/welfare and criminal justice services. Effective collaboration between these actors, including offenders, is necessary to navigate this system effectively, and to help ensure prisoner well-being. However, there are challenges to achieving this such as the lack of contact between agencies. “The Change Laboratory Model (CLM), a model of workplace transformation, was identified as a potential tool promoting interagency collaborative working and innovation. However, the CLM, highly successful internationally and in other practice contexts, is new to service development in the criminal justice context and required validation in this setting before implementation,” explains Sarah Hean, CO-LAB project coordinator. “In this context, the EU-funded CO-LAB project, with the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, aimed to explore the adaptations that would be needed to maximise the likelihood of CLM success, if implemented in this new environment in the future,” notes Hean.

Developing a CLM-based model

CO-LAB work has led to various various results. To start with, project activity has created an understanding of the challenges facing interagency collaborative practice in the criminal justice system, capturing the front line professional and offender perspective previously poorly understood. “We have also developed a CLM-based model that includes the dimensions of boundary crossing laboratories, cross self-confrontation and co-design inspired approaches. The prisoners’ voice has been emphasised in the CO-LAB CLM model,” highlights Hean. In parallel to the CLM CO-LAB model, the project has developed other interventions and assessment tools. “This includes the prison application of the early recognition method of risk assessment tool and multiagency use of Perception of Interprofessional Collaboration Model, PINCOM, and the Historical Clinical Risk Management 20, HCR-20, risk assessment tools,” adds Hean. The model has utility in other marginalised groups other than prisoners. “It has also been shown to be useful in the management of co-creation activity within research consortia such as CO-LAB. This has implications for the leadership and implementation of other large international inter-sector consortia across Europe,” Hean outlines. The project’s results are also discussed in the Better Together podcast series.

Impacting on collaborative and innovation practices

“We believe the CO-LAB project will have an impact on several stakeholders. Closest to home, we know CO-LAB has impacted on the participating organisations and staff,” confirms Hean. This is via developing staff cultural competence and competencies in evidence-based practice, amongst other actions. Project work has also led to new working procedures in practice organisations. For instance, a third sector prisoner/ex-prisoner mentorship organisation that is part of the CO-LAB consortium reported the development of new training and procedures. ”The impact of the project on offenders’ lives was evident in the inclusion of a peer member onto the third sector organisation´s management board,” adds Hean. This is in addition to the inclusion of the offender voice into their service ongoing development processes. In the longer term, the project expects to have an impact on collaborative and innovation practices in organisations in the criminal justice and related organisations outside of the CO-LAB consortium, and thereby, on the lives of ex-prisoners and people in contact with the criminal justice system. “We hope to promote an innovation culture in the criminal justice field and enhance current models of interagency integration, interprofessional collaboration and organisational learning/development,” concludes Hean.


CO-LAB, Change Laboratory Model, CO-LAB CLM modal, collaboration, prison system, offenders, health/welfare, criminal justice services

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