The benefits of social inclusion activities for people on probation

Gavin Wilkinson
Wednesday, 15 June 2022

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

Social inclusion can be defined as having a sense of belonging, and participating in roles in the community which have value. When people experience some or all of these conditions in their life, they are more likely to be happier and healthier. Overall, social inclusion is seen as an important determinant of health. Social inclusion also involves the participation in community activities that are based on people’s personal preferences. Without inclusion, people are more likely to experience poor physical and mental health, loneliness, isolation and poor self-esteem.

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.

Those under the supervision of the probation service who have personality and mental health related problems often face social isolation. Offending history and difficulties relating to other people, and access to opportunities in the mainstream can leave some on the margins.

Attending designated social inclusion spaces can help people on probation who lack a social network and provides opportunities for social interactions with peers and staff members in informal settings.

Informal, secure social interactions with peers and staff are helpful to those in the criminal justice system with mental health and personality related difficulties. Forming and maintaining relationships with other people and authority figures is something which many people under probation supervision traditionally struggle with. The informality, and the well-being focus of social inclusion spaces provide an environment in which conversations with authority figures about experiencing difficulties can become mainstream.

Whilst in attendance at a designated social inclusion space, people say that they feel like a normal member of the public and not like someone in the criminal justice system. This normalising effect is partly responsible for maintaining and developing social skills as well a healthy level of mental well-being.

The availability of outside agencies at designated social inclusion spaces that can assist people on probation with addressing core needs such as housing, employment and training is also key. Workshops devoted to open conversations about current affairs, equality and diversity, health and wellbeing matters, and managing stress allows people have conversations they may not normally have.

Help and support with the basics of life such as using a mobile phone, a struggle for some after custody, is welcomed by those under probation supervision who may have nowhere else to turn to. Arts and crafts activities at the social space provide opportunities for service users to be creative and learn new skills.

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.