How to increase voluntary participation in justice programs

11 Jul 2018

In 2015, the New South Wales Government announced a State Priority to reduce adult reoffending by five percent by 2019 (NSW Government, 2015). More recently sentencing reforms coming into effect in September 2018 will give courts more flexibility to impose community-based sentences and require an offender to submit to supervision, participate in behaviour change programs and access other support services as conditions of the sentence (Department of Justice NSW, 2017). As such, there is an increased focus on preventative options to address criminogenic patterns affecting recidivism. Yet non-mandatory programs can often have low participation rates, particularly when programs are new.

In late 2015, the Department of Justice NSW (DoJ) approached the Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) to find ways of encouraging more high-risk reoffenders to participate in voluntary programs that address criminogenic issues, which aimed to reduce recidivism. From 2016 to 2018, we carried out various research and fieldwork activities to understand the social context affecting voluntary participation in justice programs and used that to provide advice and ongoing findings to DoJ.

Our project involved three stages of fieldwork, which included: 46 interviews with service providers (35 interviewees representing 18 organisations); two experts on recidivism; nine interviews with clients; and site visits to five sites across metro and regional NSW. Our findings will inform behavioural changes to increase voluntary participation in programs.

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