Gaining and maintaining access
Doing research in prisons/NOMS:
The National Research Committee
It is the responsibility of the National Research Committee to:
Quality assure and approve/ reject internal and external research
Identify gaps in the current/planned research programme to inform
future research prioritisation.
Improve the quality and utility of research produced across NOMS.
“Research is encouraged whenever it has the potential to increase
the effectiveness of operational policy/delivery (either in the short
or longer term), maximising the use of NOMS limited resources.
As a consequence of the sheer volume of requests, NOMS must
be selective when considering proposals.”
The scope of the NRC
The NRC processes apply to research that has been commissioned and funded
both internally and externally. It applies to research across the prison service and
probation providers. This includes research in Young Offenders’ Institutions (YOIs),
but excludes research in Secure Training Centres, Secure Children’s Homes or with
Youth Offending Teams (YJB contact: [email protected]).
The processes apply to all studies and evaluations which apply recognisable
research methods to generate quantitative and/or qualitative information in order to
address specific research questions.
From January to October 2012, 104 research applications were considered by the
full NRC. Of these, 58 (56%) have so far been approved and 29 (28%) declined. i.e.
have a back-up plan.
Contact details: [email protected]/[email protected]
The NRC process: how does it work?
Research proposal submitted to NOMS Research Mailbox
Research commissioned by NOMS
HQ or research relating to extremism
or research across more than one
Application considered by NRC
Non-HQ commissioned research and
non-extremism research in one
Application considered by individual
establishment/trust, with NRC
notified of decision
The decision to grant access to prison establishments or probation trusts
ultimately lies with the Governing Governor or Contract Manager of the
establishment/trust concerned. The decision to grant access to existing
data lies with the Information Asset Owners for each data source.
Skills /
NRC approval
protection /
NRC application questions
Aims and objectives
 Aim of the research - use bullet-points - keep it clear and simple
 Primary research questions – no more than three or four questions
 Potential benefits to NOMS – draw directly on NOMS strategic priorities
 Potential benefits to academic knowledge – i.e. brief literature review
 Previous research in this area – fine to use references
 Main limitations – be honest; show awareness, don’t over-claim
Proposed methodology:
 Proposed design and methodology (incl sampling/sample sizes)
 Methods of analysis – be specific i.e. which statistical tests/coding methods
 Resource implications (demands on staff time, office space, etc) – be
realistic; don’t ask for keys [initially]
 Main methodological and/or operational risks and how these will be
NRC application questions contd
Access to establishments/trusts
Details on what access is required, with opportunity to nominate – include detail
of why
Equipment you wish to use – e.g. digital voice recorder; laptop
Data Protection
Use, storage, retention and disposal of personal data, including ‘anonymity’ take this very seriously – secure storage and transportation etc
Research Ethics
Ethical considerations/ strategies; consideration by other ethics committees –
NB will need information sheet and consent form; information sheet should be
detailed [see next slide]
Be clear about the limits to confidentiality:
 Serious harm to self or others
 Risk to the prison’s security
 Disclosure of an unknown offence
Contents of information sheet
 Who you are (university, stage of study etc)
 The aims and methods of the study
 Who is funding/ sponsoring the research
 Duration of research participation
 Explanation of terms of confidentiality and anonymity
 Explanation of likely uses of the data (thesis, publication?)
 Explanation of any potential risks and benefits
 Right to withdraw own data at end of session (or up to a particular
 Request for participation, noting that research is voluntary and the right
to withdraw at any point
 Information on how to contact the senior researcher
 Indication of whether participants will be given copy of the research etc
Key tips – seeking access
Be aware of the concerns of your gatekeepers
Forensic psychologists
The service as a whole
(a) Key concerns: resources, data protection, ethics, relevance
Try to identify sympathetic governors
Take advantage of networks, reputation, and previous experience
Try to demonstrate that you are trustworthy and have integrity
Read the rubric: NOMS PSO 7035
Be politically smart
Key tips – after initial rejection
 NB you have only one shot at resubmission
 Make use of the NRC itself / speak in person
 Try not to be defensive
Key tips – maintaining access/ once you’re in
 Print out your letter of clearance
 Be flexible
 Be assertively pragmatic
 Once you’re in, you’re in…
There is no direct or necessary relationship between ethics committee
approval of a research project and what actually happens when the
research is undertaken. The committee does not have direct control over
what the researcher actually does. Ultimately, responsibility falls back to
the researchers themselves – they are the ones on whom the conduct of
ethical research depends
(Guillemim and Gillan, 2004: 269)

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