Research Updates

Evaluating the impact of social reintegration pathways for prisoners under sentence

The questions

To attain a satisfactory level of public safety, the rehabilitation of convicts and their reintegration into society must constitute a fundamental objective of penal systems. This is now an internationally recognized principle. In a similar vein, the United Nations has issued the so-called Mandela Rules, which establish the minimum criteria for the treatment of inmates. Moreover, these rules affirm that the main objectives of imprisonment, and any other measures that deprive people of their freedom, must be to protect society from crime and to reduce the risk of relapse into criminal behavior.  To this end, specific activities or treatments for the purpose of rehabilitation are required for the duration of prisoners’ sentences.  


Indeed, multiple studies highlight how the traditional prison model, characterized by supervision and sanctions, leads to a negligible decline in recidivism and, in some cases, may even have the opposite effect. In contrast, on average the impact on recidivism rates reported in studies evaluating treatment activities is positive and relatively broad. To ensure positive results on an even wider scale, these initiatives must be prioritized and disseminated, and more investments must be made in both time and resources. 


In light of the above, the Lombardy Region has tasked Bocconi University with a research project to develop a framework that can be used to evaluate the impact of specific interventions designed to foster inclusion in society and in the workplace for persons under sentencing by the Courts. Said initiatives have been promoted within the framework of the Regional Operational Program 2014-2020, and co-financed with the European Social Fund. 


With Regional Law 25/2017 and even before that with Regional Law 8/2005, a collaboration was established between the regional administration and the institutions of justice and criminal enforcement in Lombardy, with the aim of developing, supporting, and promoting a set of complementary and integrated interventions. These measures were intended to rehabilitate and reintegrate adults and minors into society who were under sentence by the Court. The ongoing research mentioned above focuses on interventions carried out between 2016 and 2021 which made possible thanks to financing for 100 projects (33 in 2016, 32 in 2019, and 35 in 2021), of which 61 involved adults and 39 minors. The 35 projects deployed in 2021 saw the participation of 312 partners, including third sector organizations, public bodies and agencies accredited for training and employment. Overall, during the five-year period, these projects have impacted more than 15,000 inmates, together with their families, with noteworthy engagement by the local community; the total investment amounted to approximately €28 million. 


Research focused on three dimensions of analysis:  


  1. The impact of the interventions on the beneficiaries, with the aim of pinpointing assessment criteria to measure to the effectiveness of the projects for social inclusion.  
  1. Models for managing the interventions, to verify the quality of the collaborative processes among the actors involved in the projects, and to draw up guidelines for designing interventions that foster social inclusion. 
  1. Sustainability of funding recipients who deploy the interventions, to assess the status and functionality of the inclusion system in Lombardy.  


The first dimension of analysis concerns the interventions activated from 2021 to 2022. Specifically, these involved internships, temporary housing, educational interventions for minors, volunteering, theater workshops and professional training. The project leaders are doing surveys on individual beneficiaries regarding their situations before the interventions (for example whether they had served their sentence, their level of vulnerability, the activities they carried out in the past), during (if they took advantage of more than one intervention, if they completed or interrupted the process) and in the first few months after the intervention. Impact reports were recovered for observations on 484 adults and 566 minors. 


For the second dimension, focus groups and thematic workshops on collaborative management were conducted to explore the dynamics of partnerships. What emerged is the observation that partnerships share the same peculiarities as the networks. In other words, both are characterized by interdependence, the absence of rigid hierarchies, and interaction among members. Based on these considerations, a questionnaire was used to evaluate the quality of collaboration between the institutions. The level of participation was positive: the questionnaire was completed by 135 partners and by all the project leaders, with a total coverage rate of 49%. 


For the third dimension, a questionnaire was drawn up sourcing management literature with regard to the economic value generated by the inclusion system from 2017 to 2022, the characteristics of human capital, the propensity to collaborate with partners, and service innovation. The participation rate is in line with the first questionnaire. 

Looking Ahead

Impact assessment constitutes a challenge in the social reintegration policies of detainees. Filling this knowledge gap through scientific measurement offers numerous advantages. First of all, in order to analyze intervention impact, there must be synergistic collaboration between funding bodies, implementers and the judicial system. This synergy is essential to achieve efficient resource allocation. What’s more, this process can lead to the creation of a broader evaluation model, which recognizes in a tangible way the invaluable contribution of the institutions operating in this context.  


Secondly, looking at intervention management models, we can see that networks constitute the starting point for tackling complex challenges. Moreover, there are key elements that require monitoring to ensure their quality and performance. Finally, looking at the third dimension of analysis, what becomes clear is that an orientation towards sustainability influences the organization’s ability to balance the objective of generating social impact with the need to cover internal costs. This gives rise to essential insights that will serve to design more effective future interventions. 


Evaluating the impact of social reintegration interventions represents the link connecting the three dimensions of analysis: we need to factor in the social, economic, and political challenges that make this problem as complex as it is crucial to face.