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ESRC White Rose DTP Collaborative Studentship – Probation and Partnership-Working: Experiences of Desistance from Crime in Activity Hubs

University of Leeds - School of Law

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Leeds
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £18,622
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 16th February 2024
Closes: 15th March 2024

Session 2024-25 - Closing Date 17:00 (UK time) 15 March 2024

Awards provide fees and maintenance at standard UKRI Rates (£18,622 in Session 2023/24). 

In collaboration with HM Prison and Probation Service Creating Future Opportunities (CFO), this PhD is an original, ethnographic study of partnership-working in one of the Activity Hubs, which are non-authoritarian sites in which multiple agencies – substance use recovery, education, training, and employment, healthcare, etc. – are linked with probation. Services provided overlap with the needs of probationers, where healthcare issues are frequently accompanied by insecure housing, debt, and unemployment (Public Health England, 2020).

The study’s overarching aim is to examine how Activity Hubs can contribute to interdisciplinary understandings of desistance among people on probation and offer a meaningful, sustainable response to the service's ongoing crises. The failed part-privatisation of probation, in 2014, entrenched staff shortages and excessive workloads. These problems have persisted since the ‘unification’ (in essence, renationalisation) of probation in 2021 - such that performance ‘has, if anything, got worse’ (HMI Probation, 2023). The Chief Inspector of Probation recently advocated for closer relationships between probation, ‘local authority housing and social service departments; local mental health trusts; and local drug and alcohol services’ (HMI Probation, 2023) to improve services. However, the relentlessness of workload demands on staff have contributed to a ‘retention crisis’ (Tidmarsh, 2023) and a shortage of 1,771 probation officers.

Probation is under acute pressure to develop evidence-based policy, Activity Hubs can result in organisational capacity-building and enhance localism through partnership-working, providing opportunities for staff to learn from one another. Research on sites of co-location as spaces in which to facilitate desistance has demonstrated their promise (Phillips et al., 2020), but the current organisational context in which probation operates highlights the pressing need for further research on new ways of working.

This PhD will provide a qualitative, ethnographic exploration of partnership-working within an Activity Hub. Immersed in the Hub for six months, the researcher will undertake unstructured observations of crucial yet understudied elements of relational, partnership-based delivery models and conduct interviews with professionals and service users.

Research questions:

  1. How do people on probation experience provision within Activity Hubs? What challenges do individuals face and how do the services provided impact their wellbeing?
  2. To what extent do Activity Hubs address criminogenic needs (substance use, education, employment, criminal thinking patterns, etc.)?
  3. Can Activity Hubs enhance relationships between probation and partner agencies in ways that target such needs and enable desistance?

The successful applicant will be supervised by Dr Matt Tidmarsh, Professor Jose Pina-Sánchez (University of Leeds), Dr Jake Phillips (Sheffield Hallam University), and Marek Musiol (HMPPS CFO). They will work closely with CFO throughout the PhD, including during a 3-month Research in Practice placement.

Further information about how to apply, please contact the Admissions Team.

For more information on the project, please contact Matt Tidmarsh

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