The benefits of service-user involvement activities for people on probation

Gavin Wilkinson
Wednesday, 22 June 2022

This is the second of two articles, co-produced by Gavin Wilkinson and service users, looking at the benefits of social inclusion activities for people on probation.

Service-user involvement and social inclusion-based services are now seen as a useful part of service provision to assist people in the criminal justice system reintegrate back into society. The criminal justice system is starting to adopt the use of services that promote social inclusion, well-being, and consideration to skills acquisition for people in trauma informed environments.

Service-user involvement is defined as ensuring that mental health services, and policies are led and shaped by the people best placed to know what works.

People who use mental health services are considered to be experts by experience. Increasingly, meaningful involvement of people who use – or have used – services is being recognised as an indispensable part of mental health service delivery. When people are equipped and supported to help commission, deliver and check the services they and their peers use, those services improve and the people involved gain in confidence and skills.

People on probation who access service-user involvement activities say they do feel benefits to their wellbeing. Service-user involvement activities prevents people from being socially isolated and they can also learn new skills and access services that can help them live a more integrated community life.

In the case of the criminal justice services, service-user involvement activities can include sitting on service-user panels that take decisions about how criminal justice services are shaped. Some service users under probation supervision have taken on roles which attract payment and serve as employment opportunities to be trainers and researchers.

In some cases, service-users have acquired the required skills to help deliver therapeutic skills to people serving custodial sentences. Service-user involvement opportunities like this allow people who have spent a significant amount of time in the criminal justice system to pass on their experiences to those in custody.

The acquisition of new skills means that many of the people in the criminal justice system view engaging in service-user involvement activities is a constructive way of using probation supervision. Gaining paid and voluntary work opportunities also allows those under probation supervision to gain vocational skills that are transferable to the real world of work.

Gavin Wilkinson is a Forensic Psychologist in the NHS and has worked in criminal justice and mental health services for 20 years. He produced this article in collaboration with service users accessing service-user involvement and social inclusion activities.

Methodological note

Four male service-users under probation supervision and screening into to the Offender Personality Disorder (OPD) pathways initiative assisted an NHS and probation staff team in constructing this piece of work. The construction of these works included a group discussion with the men about what they thought should go into the article and how audience may benefit from reading an article about this of strand of the criminal justice system. In addition to the group discussion which initially focused on a plan for the article, a service-user went out into the field and conducted semi-structured interviews on other service-users. The aim of the semi structured qualitative interviews (using convenience sampling) was to ascertain from service-users how they think they benefit from social inclusion and service-user involvement activities. The service-user then submitted the obtained data from the interviews to an NHS psychologist who drafted an article based on this data and from the data based on the previous group discussion. A draft of the article was then submitted to the four service-users to proofread and suggest changes before the final draft was submitted. Overall, it seemed relatively straightforward to construct in that service-users and staff had a good set of ideas to contribute to the article. Conducting the semi-structured interviews with other service-users was more challenging as, finding the opportunity to get service-users to set time aside within their schedule for an interview was difficult.