Case Studies

Peter Garrett and Jane Ball


Introduction: Prison Dialogue is a unique organisation founded in 1993 as a not-for-profit Charity to propagate the use of Dialogue to humanise prisons and the Criminal Justice Sector.  Dialogue involves a particular kind of group-work where participants learn from each other through direct engagement.  Attention is given to the way people talk, think and behave, and the impact that this has on other participants present in the Dialogue.  The results have been consistently positive, ‘re-humanising’ rather than de-humanising, and leading to better relationships, mutual understanding and respect between participants.

Prison Dialogue now has a history of more than 20 years of innovative work learning how to introduce Dialogue into a wide range of situations in the Criminal Justice System.  Early work centred on prisoners in high-security conditions and included front-line staff in UK prisons.  Over time this extended to lower security prisons in the UK, and then into the wider community as prisoners were released and attempted to resettle there.  Dialogue with staff-only groupings in prisons began to explore how improved engagement and communication enables a better management of resources and more effective support to those in their care.  This in turn led to working with whole prisons in the UK, and to working with state-wide prison systems in the US.

Research Data: Throughout its existence, Prison Dialogue has maintained comprehensive records and documentation of all the different activities in which it has participated.  The records include detailed accounts – derived from notes taken during the sessions - of individual dialogues conducted, including listings of attendees, comments made and feedback provided.  In addition, regular reports were also produced on the different initiatives, reflecting on the issues emerging as they progressed and the outcomes arising.  These reports were generally validated by the participants in the various dialogues before being circulated further.  Other records give details of the context surrounding the different dialogues and initiatives, and the circumstances prevailing at the time they took place.  In certain cases, Prison Dialogue also provided access to independent researchers to participate in and produce a report on the activities undertaken.

This body of material provides a solid intellectual, analytical basis for the work of Prison Dialogue, its core philosophy and approach, and the concepts and techniques it employs in its activities.  Moreover, it provides what would appear to be a unique repository of information and data on prisons and the Criminal Justice System, and in particular the different perspectives of the various participants and groups within them.  Given this, and with a view to illustrating what can be achieved, and inspiringothers to take the initiative to develop similar work themselves, Prison Dialogue has captured this remarkable story in a set of 42 Case Studies, summaries of which we are now publishing on our website.  Additional research reports and case studies about the work carried out by Prison Dialogue since 1993 that are not yet on the website are available on request from

Consultation: To ensure that they represent a fair and accurate description of events, draft versions of the summaries were previewed at the 20th Anniversary Celebrations of Prison Dialogue in Oxford in 2013 by participants directly involved in the various pieces of work.  However, if you believe that a case study with which you are familiar contains any inaccuracies or misinterpretations, please do not hesitate to contact Prison Dialogue so that appropriate amendments can be made.  All other feedback is of course also welcome.

Support in developing Dialogue work in prisons and in the community is provided through Associate Membership of Prison Dialogue.