Evaluation of the Beyond the Gate Magazine pilot at HMP Liverpool
by Liverpool John Moores University

Beyond the Gate Summary

Beyond the Gate is a magazine which aims to raise awareness of organisations/services that link into resettlement, whilst also publishing real resettlement experiences/stories to inspire individuals within prison. The idea for the magazine was generated by the editor whilst they themselves were serving a prison sentence. The editor noticed how there were not many resources for individuals within prison to gain help and so sought to change this.
The magazine was piloted at HMP Liverpool from 2020-early 2022. This prison was chosen as a pilot due to the ongoing support provided to the Team during the process of creating the magazine. The aspiration is that the magazine will be rolled out nationally to all prisons within England and Wales. The research team became involved in the evaluation process mid-2020 until the end of 2022. To evaluate the pilot, the research team aimed to gain an understanding of the process, levels of engagement and value of the magazine from the viewpoints of a variety of stakeholders involved in the process.

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The aims of the magazine (from the view of the Beyond the Gate Team) were to:

The research team used a mixed methods approach to the research. This means that both qualitative and quantitative methods of data collection and analysis were adopted to ensure a more holistic view of the magazine was captured.

Quantitative methods included questionnaires, administered to both individuals in prison and families in the visits centre. This questionnaire enabled the team to generate numerical data which allowed the findings surrounding the magazine to be shown in a clear and objective way. The questionnaires involved questions regarding the content, design, style, level of engagement and value of the magazine. The questionnaire for family members which was placed in the visiting centre, allowed for the family voice to be heard within the evaluation. 58 responses were collected through this method. The questionnaire for individuals in prison was firstly distributed in physical copy to every male in the prison (800 approximately); this process resulted in the research team only receiving 10 completed questionnaires. As a result, a decision in collaboration with staff at HMP Liverpool was made to utilise the internal digital system. This placement on the digital system ran until the end of analysis gathering, resulting in the research team receiving an additional 78 completed questionnaires, taking the total to 88 responses overall.

Qualitative methods adopted included a focus group (to help establish the important questions to ask within he research and ultimately frame the project) and interviews with individuals of varying roles within the prison. Qualitative methods were adopted as it enabled a deeper understanding of the magazine to be presented, with thoughts and feelings being clearly articulated by those interviewed. Participants were interviewed once by the research team with interviews lasting approximately 30 minutes. Questions in the interview were the same as questions from the questionnaire, with the interview aiming to elicit more detailed information regarding the questions asked. 6 staff members and 10 individuals in prison were interviewed in prison. A further 3 interviews with prison staff were conducted via Microsoft Teams, in addition to two interviews with the Beyond the Gate Team, which were conducted via Microsoft Teams also.

The research team were not able to measure the impact of the magazine on reducing re-offending due to the large nature of a project of this kind. A further research project would need to be conducted to capture this impact. However, the research did produce a number of key findings relating to the magazine.

The questionnaires revealed that individuals in prison rated the overall look and feel of the magazine as average, suggesting this may need to be revisited, however more importantly, 60% of men in HMP Liverpool stated that they would be likely to engage with services on their release from prison. This highlighted how there was an appetite for help from services upon release. Males within the prison commented how they would like to see more included in the magazine surrounding courses and work on ‘the outside’ but that the information provided was useful.

Family questionnaires revealed that family members were beyond pleased with the magazine, with the overwhelming majority of respondents (34) expressing how they would be very likely to take a copy of the magazine home. This showed how family members can benefit just as greatly from the magazine as those individuals within prison. 42 respondents stated that they would be extremely likely to recommend the services advertised to their loved ones, whilst a further 15 respondents stated that they would be likely to. This showed how supportive family members and visitors were of the magazine, with only positive views being expressed regarding the services included. This re-emphasises that the magazine may hold value to family members and possibly should be distributed to family members in addition to individuals within prison. Demonstrating the importance of the role that families and significant others have in the process of resettlement.

The interviews with prison staff and individuals in prison, generated 5 key themes. These were: Title and Purpose, Potential Benefits, Distribution, Format and Content.
Regarding ‘Title and Purpose’, the connotation was that the magazine title does not accurately reflect its content and does not suggest that information such as the prison regime and regulations is included, when it is. The title should be re-visited to try to capture the finding that the magazine is extremely helpful for inside the prison in addition to outside the prison. Individuals in prison found the information regarding HMP Liverpool in specific the most important section of the magazine. The purpose of the magazine was stated by both individuals in prison and prison workers alike as being to provide information regarding HMP Liverpool and prison life, with the magazine being seen as most useful for individuals who were new to the prison and needed guidance. Notably, no individual mentioned the idea of resettlement or reducing re-offending which the Beyond the Gate team state as the intended purpose of the magazine. This could imply that the purpose of the magazine is subjective, open to the interpretation of the audience and therefore could be viewed in a more flexible manner.

‘Potential benefits’ included: enhancing prison staffs’ engagement with individuals within prison, signposting individuals in prison to support available, reassuring individuals within prison and addressing feelings of isolation, helping family members and alleviating pressure on staff, whilst providing answers to individuals in prison.

Regarding ‘distribution’, interviewees stated how they believed the magazine being distributed as part of the first night package was a good idea overall, as it meant that individuals entering the prison had access to the magazine, regardless of whether they chose to read it or not. Individuals interviewed described how it was important to be occupied on the first night to distract from feelings of anxiety. Feelings of depression were also alluded to, emphasising how important methods of distraction are. Having the magazine and learning essential information for prison, was described as being a way to ease the anxiety of the first night and help the individual to understand the prison life they are about to enter. Some prison workers voiced concerns with the magazine being distributed at this point as individuals entering prison are having to deal with a lot at once and may be overwhelmed with information and items. The suggestion was that this be given further on in the Induction process when the individuals are settled in a cell on a wing as they will be in a better position to retain the information here. Finally, the main point regarding distribution was that it should be distributed to all individuals as 7/10 males answered that they had not previously seen the magazine.

‘Format’ and ‘Content’ generated positive comments from the interviewees, with the colour in particular being alluded to as really important and enticing. The colour made the magazine stand out from other publications and was praised for creating ‘hope’ in individuals within prison. Individuals in prison also liked the size of the magazine but voiced that they would have appreciated the writing style to be different as those who struggled with literacy found it hard to read the large sections of text and wording of the information. Focusing on the content, individuals in prison appreciated the real-life stories but alluded to the lack of realism regarding the stories and suggested that a wider variety of stories needs to be included in future, not just stories regarding ‘reformed addicts’. Individuals interviews also requested that less adverts be included in future, as they dominated the magazine.

A set of 17 recommendations were made to the editors of the magazine, based on the findings of the evaluation. These included: continuing the research into the Beyond the Gate initiative and using a larger sample and having a third-party intermediate with lived experience of the Criminal Justice System be involved, focusing research on the design of the magazine, making imagery representative of the prison population, ensuring the magazine is accessible to all (including neurodiverse individuals), ensuring ‘buy in’ from those that work within the prison and producing enough copies to allow for all individuals in prison to receive one. Although not the exhaustive list, these were the main recommendations. The editors of the magazine responded to these recommendations and noted the suggestions, provided proposed actions for the suggestions or refuted the suggestions, providing evidence for this.

It was acknowledged by prison workers that there would be challenges in funding the publication costs of the magazine and ensuring that the information contained within the magazine was constantly kept up to date. However, the benefits that the magazine could bring in terms of reducing the pressures on prison workers and enhancing support to individuals within prison was viewed by some as offsetting the costs involved in its production and distribution.

Therefore, despite the challenges faced, the Beyond the Gate magazine would be a beneficial resource to distribute within the prison estate.

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