Six ways to increase voluntary participation in justice programs
See how we used behavioural insights to engage people who are at high risk of reoffending to join voluntary behaviour change programs so they can stay out of prison.
People meeting with post it notes on white board
NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows 56% of adult ex-prisoners will be reconvicted of another crime within 10 years. Behaviour change programs and other support services are offered to people who are at high risk of reoffending. However, voluntary programs, especially new ones, tend to have low participation rates.
What we did
We visited five sites in Sydney and regional NSW and conducted 46 interviews with:
- 35 service providers from the justice and health sectors as well as Aboriginal-Community Controlled, and non-profit organisations
- two academic experts in reoffending and crime prevention
- nine clients participating in voluntary programs such as drug and alcohol rehabilitation, domestic and family violence counselling, and anger management.
What we found
The research identified six ways to increase engagement in voluntary programs.
1. Reduce complicated steps
Signing up for a voluntary program can be long and difficult for both clients and case workers. Behavioural insights shows that the smallest friction can prevent potential clients from enrolling in the service. Organisations can make sign up easier by using default settings, minimising appointments and reusing information already provided to the organisation.
2. Highlight personal benefits
From the clients’ perspective, many programs offer similar rehabilitation services. Providers can personalise delivery to give clients a unique service tailored to their needs.
3. Reduce cognitive load
There can be too many decisions to make when looking at a new service. This is called choice overload. Providers can motivate clients to make more informed choices about joining a programs by reducing the number of service options or structuring content into smaller blocks of information.
4. Keep communication simple
The way information is framed can have a profound result on the potential client participating in a program. This may include present information in language that is easy for clients to read and understand or giving them clear instructions on what they can do next. Clients might be averse to risks, so it’s important any risks are addressed upfront and the positive aspects of programs are highlighted.
5. Positive reinforcement
Clients can be discouraged from joining a new program because of negative past experiences. Clients often have lifelong negative experiences with services that impacted their self-esteem. Unfortunately, some program screening tools and assessments can reinforce such social stigma. Using motivational interviewing can strengthening a client’s self-worth. Celebrating minor achievements throughout their program can motivate the client to stay.
6. Timing of messages
Clients are often exhausted by their experience of the cycle of reimprisonment. Experts say the first 48 hours of being released into the community after an arrest is a pivotal time. The fresh start effect suggests people generally feel more motivated and excited at the beginning of something new. A path to reuniting with family (especially children and grandchildren), or making amends with important people, is an appealing reason for change. Specific Measurable Achievable Relevant Time-bound (SMART) goals can help engage clients during this period of reflection.
Read our report to find out more about how to increase engagement in voluntary programs.