The Role of Release Planning in the Reintegration Experiences of High-Risk, Violent Offenders
High-risk offenders face a variety of challenges when reintegrating back into the community, such as difficulty finding stable accommodation, obtaining employment, and accessing positive support networks. These reintegration challenges are a contributing factor to the high recidivism rates of this offender group and therefore necessitate dedicated attention to helping prepare high-risk offenders for such challenges. One method of aiding the transition from prison into the community is release planning, which simply involves helping an offender to plan for the fundamentals of life in the community. Release plan quality has been found to predict recidivism, suggesting that release plans are an appropriate target for intervention. The aim of the current thesis is to explore how release plans aid the transition from prison into the community and result in reduced recidivism rates. Study one explored the assumption that good quality release plans help offenders to have better experiences in the community after release (the ‘external’ pathway). Whilst the results suggested that better quality plans are related to better external experiences in general, a strong plan in a particular area (e.g., for accommodation) did not always translate into a good experience in that area. Additionally, experiences on parole only partially mediated the relationship between release plans and recidivism. Study two explored an alternative possibility: that good quality release plans have a psychological effect, resulting in higher levels of motivation to desist, self-efficacy, and prosocial identity (the ‘internal’ pathway). The results indicated that motivation to desist was the only variable mediating the relationship between release plans and recidivism (again, only partially). Study three, therefore, explored together the relative contributions of the external and internal pathways and found support for the external pathway, with external experiences fully mediating the relationship between release plans and recidivism. These external experiences also predicted levels of motivation to desist in the community. Finally, Study three also explored the role that Self-Determination Theory (SDT) may play in the role of release planning, with the aim of identifying contextual factors that help to improve the quality of release plans. After developing two measures to assess the specific SDT variables in the context of release planning, I found that the more offenders endorsed items indicating that they felt autonomous during release planning, the more intrinsically motivated they felt to create release plans, and the better quality their release plans were. The three studies together indicate that good quality release plans are related to offenders having better external experiences in the community, which in turn are related to reduced rates of reoffending. These positive external experiences are related to increased levels of motivation to desist in the community. There were measurement issues with the internal factors, suggesting that further research is required to better understand the role of psychological factors in the role of release planning. SDT has utility in the release planning process; the context in which offenders make release plans impacts on the quality of their plans. This thesis provides a strong argument for additional assistance in release planning being provided for offenders coming up for release.