Policy & Research

The purpose of SERIF is to create a virtuous circle between policy and research so that each influences the other, thus academic and action research responds to the needs of policy makers and policy makers’ decisions are informed by rigorous evidence.

As well as carrying out original research, SERIF actively promotes knowledge transfer within and between academia, the public sector and the civil sector. Our aim is to be an international hub for the capture and distribution of evidence about the contribution of all forms of social enterprises to the reduction of offending. This site is a depository of knowledge and a virtual meeting place for researchers, policy makers and practitioners alike. In addition, we offer a rolling programme of symposia, seminars and workshops designed to stimulate debate, create new ideas and foster partnerships for research or delivery.


In spite of the growing number of (social enterprise) programmes working within the criminal justice sector, there is to date limited knowledge and evidence of their impact, both in terms of recidivism and their potential social impact on local communities.” — Cosgrove (2011)

One of the principal drivers for the founding of SERIF was the lack of rigorous evidence about the economic and social impact of social enterprises working with serving and ex-offenders in prisons and the community. The Foundation therefore seeks to raise funding for new research and to promote evaluation of existing rehabilitative services that measure economic and social value.

Founding member Durham University’s School of Applied Social Sciences guides the research programme, providing a route to other academics working in the field and assuring the quality of any research carried out on behalf of SERIF. Research priorities for SERIF are set on the basis of discussions between the steering group members representing social enterprises, higher education and NOMS and also from the results of a survey carried out by SERIF for its launch. Research completed by SERIF is available free of charge to share here. We provide references and, where available, links to relevant existing research carried out by others and will keep adding links as new material is produced.

ESRC Project to consider the social value added of social enterprise activity within public sector prisons in the North East of England

The research method comprised a high level review of published literature, a conference event at Durham University, interviews with prison staff at HMP Kirklevington Grange and a pilot social audit study at HMP Kirklevington Grange.

Philip’s Report for NOMS

Note – this page is in the process of being up-dated to reflect more recent reports and publications

Research and Reviews of Research

  • Boyle, D. and Harris, M. (2009) — ‘The Challenge of Co-Production: How Equal Partnerships between Professionals and the Public are Crucial to Improving Public Services’, London: NESTA. The Challenge of Co-Production
  • Cosgrove, F. (2011) — ‘Can Social Enterprise Reduce Reoffending’, Durham University SASS Research Briefing 4.  The Impact of Social Enterprise on Reducing Re-offending
  • Crook, F. (2007) — ‘Counterblast: Real Work in Prisons?’ Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, Vol.46 No.3. July 2007, 303–306.
    Farrall, S. (2004) — ‘Social Capital and Offender Reintegration: making probation desistance focused’.
    In Maruna, S. and Immarigeon, R. (eds.) — ‘After Crime and Punishment: Ex-Offender Reintegration and Desistance from Crime’,
    Cullompton, Devon: Willan.
    McEvoy, K. (2008) — ‘Enhancing Employability in Prison and Beyond: A Literature Review’. Belfast: Queens University. Enhancing employablity in prison and beyond

Evaluation or reports on practice

  • Concilium, (2009) — ‘Reducing Re-offending Through Social Enterprise Social enterprises working with prisons and Probation services — a mapping exercise for National Offender Management Service’Concilium report
  • Disley, E, Rubin, J., Scraggs, E, Burrowes, N and Culley, D. (2011) — ‘Lessons Learned from the planning and early implementation of the Social Impact Bond at HMP Peterborough, Ministry of Justice’Social impact bond HMP Peterborough
  • Gojkovic, D., Mills, A. and Meek, R. (2011) — ‘Scoping the involvement of third sector organisations in the seven resettlement pathways for offenders’, Third Sector Research Centre Working Paper 57. Third sector and resettlement pathways
  • Gojkovic, D., Mills, A. and Meek, R. (2011) ‘Offender engagement with third sector organisations: a national prison-based survey’, Third Sector Research Centre Working Paper 61. Offender engagement with third sector
  • Meek, R, Gojkovic D. and Mills, A. (2010) ‘The Role of the Third Sector in Work with Offenders: the Perceptions of Criminal Justice and Third Sector Stakeholders’. Third Sector Research Centre Paper 34. Third sector working with offenders
  • Howard League (2008) — ‘Prison Work and Social Enterprise: The Story of Barbed’Barbed report
  • Howard League (2010) — ‘Real work in prison — the Howard League Model’, Howard League for Penal Reform.
  • Nicholson, D. (2011) — ‘Co-operating Out of Crime’, Centre Forum. Cooperating out of crime


For the last decade, the Government has placed increasing importance on the need for evidence based policy making, with the consequence that pressure has been placed on academia to produce research that, where relevant, influences policy. The need to design and redesign policies based on evidence from pure and applied research is particularly important as the funding crisis in the public sector starts to hit delivery of services. Policy makers and commissioners are under increasing stress to ensure that money is spent on the most efficient and effective interventions possible.

The policy map for the encouragement of social enterprises working to reduce reoffending is complicated. Many different areas of policy are involved, for which several different central government departments take responsibility (e.g. Health, Local Government, Home Office and Work and Pensions), and many of these policies are under review or subject to emerging strategies. In addition, delivery of policy is often out of the hands of the departments making policy thus weakening the thread between the two.

A significant driver for the creation of SERIF is our belief that policy makers and commissioners can best be served by producing rigorous evidence about delivery at the point when it is needed most. This requires on-going dialogue between researchers and policy makers before during and after the research, which we encourage through providing information on this site and proactively through our events.

Government Policy

The Government does not have a policy or strategy specifically relating to the role of social enterprise in contributing to economic growth and regeneration, delivery of statutory services, or social inclusion and improving communities.

Nor does the Ministry of Justice or National Offender Management Service have specific policies or strategies relating to the role of social enterprise in reducing reoffending. Clues and references to the Government’s intentions therefore have to be sought in a range of consultation documents, white papers, strategies and speeches.

Creating Sustainable Social Enterprises in the Criminal Justice System — NOMS Co-financing Update. View here (external link)…

Government’s Policy for commissioning services

Under the previous administration, significant moves had been made to ‘modernise’ the commissioning and delivery of public services. The current Government is building upon these changes to speed up and radicalise the process of change. In particular, emphasis is being placed on ways to economise on expenditure for delivery of services and improve the efficacy of those services. The Government is challenging the public sector to prove its value by opening up competition with the private sector and charity, voluntary, community and social enterprise sector (VCSE).

The Government issued a Green Paper in December 2010 consulting on plans for commissioning that would aid the participation of civil society organisations – ‘Modernising Commissioning: Increasing the role of charities, social enterprises, mutuals and cooperatives in public service delivery’. Cabinet Office, 2010). Modernising commissioning Green paper

Comments from the consultation were fed into The Open Public Services White Paper issued in July 2011, which sets out the Government’s rationale and strategy for commissioning services. Open Public Services – WhitePaper

The most radical aspects of the White Paper lie in the proposals to open up to competition extensive areas of service delivery, previously considered the exclusive regime of the public sector; and to actively encourage internal public sector bids for the creation of mutual enterprises. Funds and support are being made available to help staff wishing to remove delivery from the public sector by starting a mutual business or social enterprise, including a £10 million fund and the setting up of an Enterprise Incubator unit in the Cabinet Office.

National Offender Management Service’s Policy for commissioning services

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has produced its own competition strategy for delivery of services for those with custodial sentences, ‘The Competition Strategy for Offender Services’, and a strategy relating specifically to probation is expected in Autumn 2011.

The strategy explains the Government’s intent to increase the role of the private and voluntary sectors in rehabilitation of prisoners and states that no new services will be delivered without first being market tested. The nature of the contracts to be awarded is shifting towards outcome-based funding whereby providers are only paid if they deliver long term benefits such as a reduction in the level of reoffending. Competition strategy offender services

A Rehabilitation Revolution

The Government’s desire to create a ‘rehabilitation revolution’, outlined in the Coalition Agreement and then heralded by the public statements of Secretary of State Kenneth Clarke, underpins many of the reforms being introduced by the CJS. One in particular that has been heavily promoted personally by Mr Clarke is the concept of the working prison. This was the key theme of his most recent speech at the Conservative Party Conference (4 October, 2011):

I (have) called for regime change, regime change in our prisons. To turn them from places of idleness, into places of hard work and reform. Prisons with a purpose – straight from the manifesto. The idea is to provide hard work in prison so that prisoners would be doing something productive, instead of doing nothing. Plotting a more honest future, instead of plotting their next crime. Earning money to pay back to victims, instead of creating new victims. … But this is not something Government can do alone. No: We need the private sector on board.”

Many of the reforms were laid out in the Government’s consultation green paper ‘Breaking the Cycle: Effective Punishment, Rehabilitation and Sentencing of Offenders’ and their response to the consultation. Breaking the cycle

A Breaking the Cycle implementation plan is due to be published, it is difficult to judge just how much easier it will be for social enterprises to thrive alongside prison and probations services until the plans are seen. In line with the plans for a working prison, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in collaboration with the MoJ has published a review of offender learning entitled ‘Making Prisons Work: Skills For Rehabilitation’ — BIS (2011). Making prisons work skills for rehabilitation

Health and Reoffending

Special provisions for diverting those with serious mental health problems away from prisons are to be introduced by the Department of Health and MoJ. Where people with mental health problems require additional support in prison or the community, the specialist providers in the social sector often provides crucial services to complement and enhance the service provided by the public sector. The Bradley Report on mental health of offenders found that:

The independent and voluntary sector has shown that it can make an important contribution to increasing capacity, patient choice and service innovation. Third sector partners (from national and local charities to community and local voluntary groups) have a crucial role in helping to shape services that people value, as well as delivering them directly.” (Lord Bradley’s ‘Review Of People With Mental Health Problems Or Learning Disabilities In The Criminal Justice System’ — Dept. of Health (2009), p.26. Bradley report

Many community services are aimed at helping those addicted to drugs or alcohol and already, directly or indirectly, provide services to serving and ex-offenders in prisons and the community. The Patel Report, ‘Reducing Drug-Related Crime and Rehabilitating Offenders Recovery and rehabilitation for drug users in prison and on release: recommendations for action’ — Dept. of Health (2010), commissioned jointly by the Department of Health and the MoJ, was critical of drug rehabilitation services in prison and particularly the lack of continuity in treatment when prisoners are transferred or released back to the community. The report recommended that more emphasis should be placed on helping offenders desist from drug use rather than stabilisation. It also noted that drug rehabilitation treatment alone would not necessarily reduce reoffending but that the original causes of drug use (e.g. lack of employment, poor housing and low social capital) would need to be tackled simultaneously. The report therefore proposed an integrated, holistic approach to commissioning services. The Patel report

The role of voluntary, charity and social enterprise sector

With no specific strategy for the role of social enterprise in delivering public services published, the Government’s attitude must be assessed from its references to social enterprise in more general documents and particularly those related to the Big Society agenda.

Two of the documents published to date that are most helpful in revealing the direction of travel for future policy for social enterprise are:

Together, the documents set out the Government’s desire to see the role of the social sector expand to provide local leadership and deliver local services, and an acknowledgement that reducing public funding means that CSOs will have to raise finance through other means if they are to meet the Government’s objectives. The concentration on the creation of a thriving social investment market reflects the Government’s position that a stock of organisations exists with the capacity and capability to adopt more commercial approaches to the way they carry out their operations.

At the same time, the Government is not blind to the need to help other organisations (especially smaller charities, community groups and social enterprises that have been reliant on government grants and contracts) adapt to the new environment. In July 2011, it announced a £50m fund to help infrastructure organisations support frontline service deliverers.