Sounding Out evaluation by the Institute of Community Research & Development, University of Wolverhampton

We are delighted to present the findings of a new evaluation of our Sounding Out ex-prisoner programme from 2016-18, undertaken by Dr Rachel Massie, Andrew Jolly and Professor Laura Caulfield from the Institute of Community Research and Development, University of Wolverhampton.

The report builds on past evaluation of the pilot cohort in 2012, reviewing the impact of the programme for cohorts of ex-prisoners engaging with Sounding Out between 2016 and 2018, and makes key recommendations for the future of the programme for the Irene Taylor Trust, the criminal justice sector and funders.

The executive summary, key findings and recommendations are presented below and also available to read in this document.

The evaluation is available to read in its entirety here.

Executive Summary

An evaluation of The Irene Taylor Trust’s Sounding Out Programme


The Irene Taylor Trust runs a music traineeship (Sounding Out) providing ex-prisoners with longer-term rehabilitative opportunities upon their release to bridge the gap between life inside and outside of prison. Through music creation, performance, training and work placements, the programme aims to develop transferable team working and communication skills, instil discipline, increase self-confidence, self-esteem and self-motivation, improve social skills and develop mentoring skills.

The Institute for Community Research and Development was commissioned to undertake an independent evaluation of the programme. The evaluation took a qualitative approach to explore the views and experiences of participants, staff and family members to understand if and how  Sounding Out is successful, identifying any barriers to success and making evidence-based recommendations for improvements.

Key findings

Involvement in a carefully designed programme of music creation, skills development and work placements can have a significant impact on the rehabilitation and re-integration of people seeking resettlement from prison. Consistent with a, now extensive, body of authoritative research, Sounding Out demonstrated benefits in:

  1. the development of personal and social skills associated with desistance from crime
  2. identifying focus and direction towards employment and away from reoffending
  3. building practical skills, improved musical ability, patience to work with others, and empathy through team working.

Sounding Out has benefits for an individual’s readiness for continued involvement in music. There are also benefits for the professional musicians involved and for prison and probation staff. Findings from detailed qualitative analysis identify the following as key to making Sounding Out successful:

  1. Participant engagement in Sounding Out imparts a passion for music directly associated with the quality and professionalism of delivery of the programme, the salience of timing in line with an individual’s motivation to change and paid placements
  2. The need to manage expectations, enabling individuals to set personal goals for attainment of musical skills, including for performance, within a realistic framework, particularly for the end of the programme
  3. The unequivocal value for participants in developing meaningful and respectful relationships with staff, musicians and peers
  4. The development of partnerships with and between prison and probation staff, organisations and individuals delivering the programme, families and participants, venues hosting the programme and performances, and the public.


The findings presented in this report clearly demonstrate that Sounding Out is functioning very successfully and has a positive impact on beneficiaries. Elements of the programme that are particularly important to the success of the programme, and are important to maintain, include:

  • The high quality of the provision, including working with professional musicians and working in excellent venues, and the length of the programme
  • How valued beneficiaries feel. This stems from the respectful relationships developed with staff, but also includes the value placed on the quality of the provision provided
  • The ‘wraparound’ support available from the Personal Development Coordinator and other staff
  • Engagement with Sounding Out was enabled – in practical terms – by the relationships that the Irene Taylor Trust staff developed with criminal justice system staff
  • The development of trust, in supporting beneficiaries in the move from prison into the community. The work in the prison, and by Musicians in Residence, is crucial to underpin the later work through Sounding Out

Recommendations for The Irene Taylor Trust

  • Ensure that the aims and expectations about Sounding Out are clear to potential participants
  • Consider working towards a rolling participant recruitment cycle, whereby participants can commence the programme upon release without waiting for a full cohort to be released and start at the same time
  • Build on those attributes of the programme shown to be most effective, especially the Personal Development Coordinator role and function
  • Further develop the referral procedure to increase referrals and promote advocates in prison staff teams
  • Ensure that appropriate training and support is available for project staff and musicians to manage boundaries with participants
  • Explore opportunities for ongoing roles for former Sounding Out participants
  • That follow up interviews with participants be undertaken after one year to assess long lasting impact
  • Continued evaluation through audit and feedback will improve the precision of the logic model and theory of change, in order to enhance the benefits of the programme
  • In future funding bids consider seeking investment in new technology, which may be of particular interest to younger participants
  • Disseminate findings from Sounding Out via the networks of trustees and advocates of the Irene Taylor Trust to increase access to the programme and funding for it
  • Use all means possible, including press and media, to share these findings and recommendations
  • Cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate the benefits to criminal justice system and funders.


The findings presented in this report highlight the impact of Sounding Out on prisoner reintegration.  Sounding Out provides continuation of relationships, continuity of support, positive activity and focus, which aid resettlement and rehabilitation. The data presented in this report suggest that Sounding Out is a valuable tool in helping former prisoners develop the skills and confidence needed to live crime-free lives.

We recommend that:

  • Criminal justice policy makers and leaders advocate the value of programmes like Sounding Out in supporting prisoner reintegration and rehabilitation. We recommend this takes the form of policy briefings, and active guidance to criminal justice staff on making the most of the offer from the voluntary sector.
  • When changes of leadership occur in prison, governors formally recommend continued support for programmes like Sounding Out. The benefits Sounding Out can bring to prisoner reintegration are clear, and prison governors can play an important part in advocating and facilitating continued relationships between prisons and organisations.
  • Relevant funding streams are identified through existing mechanisms such as education commissioning or new funding streams for bespoke programmes.
  • Metrics monitoring equity of access for people likely to benefit from the programme are included to secure delivery of Sounding out and related programmes. Metrics in line with those used for activities such as education and employment would be beneficial.
  • That criminal justice staff continue to work to facilitate beneficiary access to programmes like Sounding Out. The practical examples presented in this report – Release On Temporary License and varying bail conditions – highlight the important part criminal justice staff play in ensuring beneficiaries can fully engage with programmes.
  • Prisons identify a named member of staff to work with the Irene Taylor Trust to identify participants for Sounding Out. Sounding Out works with prisons and probation to support resettlement and aid rehabilitation. Prisons could make the most of the opportunity by working more closely with Irene Taylor Trust staff and Musicians in Residence.

Recommendations for FUNDERS

The recommendations below are aimed at aiding funders to make decisions that most effectively support organisations like the Irene Taylor Trust, and allow them to flourish.

  • Recognise the value of Sounding Out in delivering outcomes for individuals and the potential for cutting the costs of crime to families and communities.
  • Appreciate the importance of investment in relationship building programmes like Sounding Out. Relationship development is fundamental to the success of Sounding Out, but also very time intensive.
  • Be receptive to requests for longer-term support, either for whole projects or elements of projects.
  • Encourage organisations working in the criminal justice system to seek funding for capacity building. The significant challenges of working with the criminal justice system, as highlighted in this report, requires investment in organisations that goes beyond the remit of individual projects.
  • Provide a level of flexibility in funding arrangements to enable organisations to be responsive to changes in the criminal justice system. This might include where considerable time has been spent on vital relationship building, only for prison staff to change.

Read the executive summary document here.

Read the full evaluation here.

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