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Offender management and rehabilitation

The importance and necessity of trust as an intervention

Curved bookshelves filled with books stand in a library. Overlaid is text which reads "Justice literature reviews - commissioned rehabilitative services".

This paper was written by Niki Kir from Middlesex University, and Joe Treacy and Jody Audley from Catch22.



Trust can be understood as a reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of something between two parties, based on the openness to risk whilst forming that relationship (Robbins, 2016). It is formed when a person believes that the other party is reliable, honest, provides a safe environment, and is someone that will be available for support. Trust in the context of the criminal justice system is crucial in supporting the needs and certain rights of victims of crime (e.g. to make a victim personal statement) and perpetrators (e.g. right to counsel and mental health support) and will influence how these rights are exercised and met accordingly.

Catch22 is a third sector organisation that provides services across England to build resilience and aspirations in a wide array of people and communities. The area of focus for this review is Catch22’s Justice Directorate, which supports victims of crime as well as ex-offenders.

Within this workstream, men on probation can be supported by Catch22’s Personal Wellbeing service through undertaking one-to-one and group interventions created by our Commissioned Rehabilitative Services’ (CRS) interventions team. At the end of 2023, Catch22’s CRS interventions team rolled out a new intervention on ‘trust’.

A shared principle of all contracts in Catch22 is working with the same caseworkers to build rapport and develop trust over the extended period of their engagement with Catch22. This is a principle embedded from many models of support which stipulate the importance of rapport building, such as positive psychology and trauma-informed care (Leach, 2005). Therefore, implementing interventions addressing trust, that are grounded in relevant evidence, will help service users form positive social relationships and improve their wellbeing.

The following literature review will introduce types of trust, models and factors influencing trust, and explain why trust is relevant in the criminal justice system. It will then go on to demonstrate the need for trust to exist as an independent intervention to be delivered to the cohorts often referred to Catch22’s services.

Types of trust

There are many approaches to describing trust, and many different areas of trust. Research most often recognises three different forms of trust: calculus-based trust, knowledge-based trust, and identification-based trust (Lewicki & Bunker, 1996). These three distinct dimensions of trust were identified in a study examining interpersonal relationships and the processes by which trust relationships emerge and evolve over time (Ibid., 1996). It has been suggested that these forms of trust are most relative to personal, professional, and situational relationships (Holste & Fields, 2010).

Calculus-based trust

Calculus-based trust is built upon assumptions about the benefits or costs to one another on betraying this trust, and is more typical of professional and situational relationships which essentially signify casual, undefined, and commitment-free relationships (McAllister, Lewicki & Chaturvedi, 2006). Research shows that calculus-based trust can be built by engaging in predictable, constant, and reliable ways (McAllister & Lewicki, 2006). For example, imagine you are in a busy open space, and a stranger walks by. You do not interact with or look at this stranger, yet you might feel very safe regardless. As you have done nothing to upset this stranger, and it is not usually to the benefit of strangers to harm random civilians nearby, you trust that they will not interact with you. Calculus-based trust develops from utilising experience to trust the situations you find yourself in everyday, even if those situations involve unknown places or people.

Knowledge-based trust

Knowledge-based trust is the most common definition of trust used when someone is asked what they think trust is (Rutten, Blaas-Franken, & Martin, 2016). We build knowledge-based trust from familiarity of each other’s actions. As we spend more time with one another, we start to have a “script” of previous actions to work off and use these to anticipate future ones. Knowledge-based trust can develop from several smaller actions, or individual and significant actions. It can be easy to erase this kind of trust if a significant event occurs which places a heavy negative weight on the scale. What this significant event entails is subjective to each individual and their situation. Whilst calculus-based trust and knowledge-based trust derive from past experiences, the latter is specific to individual people or situations you are familiar with.

Identification-based trust

Identification-based trust is built by understanding someone on a deeper level, sharing similar moral ideologies and desires and, in doing so, being able to trust them to act in accordance with those desires (Schaubroeck, Peng & Hannah, 2013). According to research, identification-based trust relies on the parties’ mutual understanding and affinity, and is more typical of personal relationships such as friendship (Lewicki & Wiethoff, 2006). This form of trust has a strong emotional component and can be fostered if the parties take time to develop their common interests, values, perceptions, motives, and goals. For example, if you and a friend both find it deeply invasive when a person looks through your phone without permission, you are far more likely to both be comfortable leaving your phone with each other. When we have identification trust, we are much more likely to be able to feel a sense of belonging with someone who shares our values.

Based on the above explanations of diverse forms of trust, it is important to consider elements of different knowledge input between parties, identification of similarities and values, and calculus-thinking and decision-making across engagement with different people and diverse settings. By breaking down different areas of trust, it can be easier to understand formations of trust across different relationships and situations, with the underpinning of certain models and theories of trust.

Models and theories of trust

We have explored how theory has differentiated forms of trust, but what are some of the theories and models that explicate the development and processes of trust?

Computational model of trust

One principal model is the computational model of trust, which predicts the degree of trust a person has toward the other party and is based on cooperative interaction (Nowak & Sigmund 2005). This model considers trust as a mechanism for social relationships, whereby frequent interactions between parties and memories of previous interactions will accumulate for positive or negative relationships, and leads to relationships strengthening or declining if they are not maintained by social interaction (Castelfranchi & Falcone, 2010).

This model has been widely applied to trust formations across different relationships; it was discovered that trust and cooperation between strangers can evolve following the process of the computational model (Macy & Skvoretz, 1998). Yet, the computational model of trust formation is particularly linked to personal, more developed relationships such as friendship (Sutcliffe & Wang, 2012). People calculate the potential costs of trust, the risks associated with trusting a person, and the perceived usefulness of the interaction with another person using past experiences, and essentially ‘compute’ a trustworthiness score. As this model of trust relates to more developed relationships, this model can be mapped onto identification-based trust.

Social learning theory

Another leading theory of trust development, maintenance, and breakdown is social learning theory: trust is a dynamic process that occurs through social interaction at various levels (Reed et al., 2010). We learn from our family and friends in our formative years what kinds of interactions we should expect, and this is steadily modified over time as we experience life. This mental ‘script’ denotes how we expect interactions to unfold and enables us to separate good interactions from bad. When someone behaves in a way that is “off-script” and produces negative outcomes, we may change our script and deem that person less trustworthy. This model of trust is very formative in nature and relies very much on the idea that trust is ‘learnt’ and can be considered an extension of the model of knowledge-based trust, which is simply factored into human calculus that will contribute to decision making. Essentially, trust is one of the features that shapes social learning processes.

Situational trust model

Lastly, there is the situational trust model which is responsible for determining actions or behaviours at any time, emerging from experience. Based on this model, trust changes because of individuals comparing, finding again, and designating the situational cues received (Rehak, Gregor & Pechoucek, 2006). In this model, trust is therefore a product of ongoing interaction and discussion over time between individuals. The time required to establish situational trust between the individuals will depend both on disposition to trust from every party involved (a function of dispositional trust), the history of the relationship (a function of learnt trust), and the nature of the situation (Schultz, 2006).

Factors that influence trust

Distinct factors can profoundly affect trust in people across different contexts. Besides the positive aspects of trust, there can also be some negative effects regarding when trust needs to be established, maintained, or repaired. This can at times be challenging, specifically for more vulnerable groups such as young people, people with disabilities, and elderly people who all need support, open-mindedness, commitment, and empathy from others (Arias, Pham-Kanter, Gonzalez & Campbell, 2015). This also applies to the offending population due to their rehabilitative needs in prison and their stigmatisation in the community inhibiting their development of trust with society.

It is therefore important to understand and consider intrapersonal aspects of trust and external factors that are beyond the control of an individual. The psychology behind internal influences is that they stem from within the person – feelings, emotions, and thoughts (Kwasnicka, Dombrowski, White & Sniehotta 2016). Depending on individual’s feelings (happiness, warmth, frustration, sadness), manner of thinking (rational, irrational, positive, and negative) and emotional state (fear, hostility, anxiety, grief, or hope, joy, and excitement), trust can be formed across different lengths of time and in certain situations.

These internal processes can further develop motivational factors such as autonomy, openness, respect, recognition, teamwork, and communication – which have been found to be linked with trust in a systematic review exploring the influence of trusting relationships on motivation in the health sector (Okello & Gilson, 2015). An individual is therefore in control of these psychological processes through distinctive styles of communication, decision making, problem solving, or perspective taking, and will act according to their own values and attitudes when forming a trusting relationship (Buchan, 2009). Recent research has found that psychological need satisfaction (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) impacts distinct levels of trust in the work domain in terms of positive attitude, engagement, and motivation (Heyns & Rothmann, 2021).

Fear is an example of an internal influence on trust. Fear is a common human emotion that can lead someone to determine the level of trust based on what has been experienced before – it can thus negatively impact decision-making. It can provoke limited thinking in terms of negative beliefs about oneself (‘If I am being honest and open to someone, I will get hurt’). Based on this thinking process, social barriers are established that work as a defence mechanism in trusting someone, to prevent disappointment, guilt, rejection, and pain (Glińska-Neweś, Barabasz, Escher & Fu 2022). In the event of such outcomes, anxiety and stress can also develop and impact an individual both mentally and physically.

Most of the external factors that influence trust stem from social, environmental, and cultural aspects that are beyond the control of an individual. Cultural influence on the trust development process can be understood based on micro-level (collectivism and individualism) and macro-level dimensions – organisations, networks, media, the law, and the government. In this way culture affects people in terms of its subjectiveness (for example, society’s characteristic way of perceiving its social environment) and materialistic nature (food, properties, type of clothing, tech tools and machines). Therefore, the expectation of how people should behave and live with each other, as well as language, economic, educational, legal, and religious systems – will all define trust in people differently (Buchan, 2009).

Social influences of trust stem from personality, interpersonal relationships, and group behaviour (Bierhoff & Vornefeld, 2004). This can be seen in expectations from family, friends, work colleagues, and peers, and in the formation of relationships across educational and employment stages. This continues to determine cooperation among individuals that is facilitated by the perception of different attitudes and personality traits – leading to formation of trusting relationships. A study using psychological and neuroscientific methods discovered that individuals are likely to conform to the opinions and behaviours of their peers in a trust game (Wei et al., 2019). This research also highlights that people often change their behaviour against their personal preference based on other opinions to receive social approval, improve chances of making a correct choice, and keep a positive self-concept – consequently manifesting trust over time because a person will establish a closer and personal connection to people who act as role models in the sense of leadership, initiative, and success.

Lastly, one’s habitual environment can directly affect the ability of defining, understanding, forming, and maintaining trusting relationships. One of the most important deciding factors is childhood upbringing (especially adverse childhood experiences) and family relations, since children initially learn by observation, and develop according to the way in which they are exposed to or thought about e.g., behaviour and values from a family member when young will impact their level of trust in adult years. Research has provided direct evidence that people with strong family ties have a lower level of trust in strangers than people with weak family ties; meaning it is not necessarily the case that trust stems from strong family relationships. In fact, the study suggests that the decline in family connections can encourage people to take risks and seek trust in others in the community (Ermisch & Gambetta, 2010).

Furthermore, facial evaluation trustworthiness (judging someone’s trustworthiness based on appearance) has been found to be driven by personal experience that is shaped uniquely by a persons’ environment such as the community, school, a job, hobbies, friends, and family (Sutherland et al., 2020). Based on this finding, unique social encounters shape individual associations between facial cues and associated traits. Therefore, different facial features are likely to drive trustworthiness variation for different people, depending on their personal experiences (for example, one person may rely heavily on emotional expression to judge trustworthiness, whereas another person relies on gender).

Trust and the criminal justice system

So, why is trust important to consider in the context of criminal justice? The most important needs for victims of crime are regular updates from the police, comfort that the crime is being fully investigated, being treated fairly and with respect by the police, and that the perpetrator is charged with the crime. According to a victim survey conducted by the Victims’ Commissioner (2021), this is not achieved regularly enough, and these issues can leave a lasting negative imprint on the person that will contribute to the lack of trust and belief in the CJS in the future (ibid., 2021).

It is simultaneously important to consider trust of those involved in the CJS on the offending side, in that it can be difficult for these individuals to believe that they will be treated fairly (Frazer, 2007). Statistics indicate that trust is especially low for ethnic minority defendants due to evident racial disparity in sentencing (Clow, Lant & Butler, 2013). Perceptions of unfair treatment within the court process and lack of trust can even increase the chance of recidivism – this is especially relative to offenders with mental health issues and learning difficulties who need increased support that they do not receive (Jones & Talbot, 2010; Hean et al., 2015).

Furthermore, upon release from prison, many individuals may receive little social support due to unwillingness from others to extend trust. Simonds, Reisig, Trinker and Holtfreter (2021) surveyed 493 undergraduate students by presenting them with a hypothetical vignette that had two experimental conditions – one of which was a scenario where an individual was incarcerated. It was discovered that participants’ provision of social support was higher when the individual returning home from prison was their family member (but not extending to friends). This finding is consistent with extant literature stipulating that families may feel a sense of responsibility to support kin during re-entry (Grieb et al., 2014). Consequently, the difficulty in establishing prosocial relationships due to a lack of trust or support can contribute to further recidivism, and the trust in the CJS can be even lower than before because people feel unsupported based on prior experience.

Findings from the crime survey for England and Wales found that levels of trust and confidence in the CJS vary between adults depending on their offence; those who have committed theft, vandalism, or violence since the age of 16 were less likely to have confidence in the CJS, and this has also applied to those who perceived higher levels of crime and antisocial behaviour (Jansson, 2015). It is also important to emphasise that there are distinct differences in levels of trust between police, courts, and corrections – initial trust opportunity can be diminished when firstly in contact with the police if a person is not treated according to their rights, and this lack of trust will continue through other CJS stages. Despite stemming from one system, there are also different practices and policies applied across the different criminal justice services, so individuals involved in the CJS will have different experiences and perceptions of the systems’ effectiveness as they move through the different stages. Many services, such as those at Catch22, recognise this and utilise approaches that can combat the challenges around trust, such as adopting a holistic, person-centred approach to support a service user, and by adopting a trauma informed practice when addressing a service user’s negative experiences whilst engaged with the CJS.

Historically, research has shown that younger members of the community are less likely to trust and cooperate with police officers than older members of the community (Hurst & Frank, 2000). The most common reasons for this, as reported by youth, are lack of understanding of their circumstances by the police, and excessive use of force and escalation (Foster, Jones, & Pierce, 2022). Juveniles’ negative attitudes toward the police increase the tension between the two groups, provoking confrontational encounters (Bittner, 1990, Herz, 2002). Previous research has examined the relationship between youths’ trust in the police and their attitudes, beliefs, experiences, behaviours, and background characteristics; it was discovered that young men and women showed no differences on the predictors of trust. Trust in the police was found to be a multidimensional construct, whereby seeing other youths stopped and treated disrespectfully by the police were highly significant predictors of trust in authority (Flexon, Lurigio, & Greenleaf, 2009). School exclusion/self-removal was also found to be highly correlated with negative opinions of the police and delinquency. This evidences that negative consequences implemented by authority at a young age can have a knock-on effect, and young people maintain that lack of trust later in life.

The effectiveness of addressing trust in interventions

So far, we have delved into what trust is, and the models and theories behind how trust functions. We have also identified internal and external influences on trust, before homing in on why trust is relevant in the context of the Criminal Justice System. It is important now to reflect on how trust has been effectively implemented in interventions for people within the criminal justice system.

In terms of theory, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, 1943, as cited by McLeod, 2007) and the Good Lives Model (GLM) (Willis, Prescott & Yates, 2013) propose the importance of building meaningful relationships. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests the necessity of relationships as being fundamental to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. The GLM operates specifically in the context of offender rehabilitation, and stipulates 11 “Classes of Primary Good”, two of which are “relatedness, including intimate, romantic and familial relationships” and “community: connection to wider social groups”. In 2013, Willis, Prescott and Yates evaluated preliminary evidence into the effectiveness of the GLM and identified that it is highly successful in reinforcing desistance processes in an autonomous format – they recognise the importance of ex-offenders needing to set their own goals and discover their unique pathway to preventing re-offending. They homed in on the need for taking control of the situation regarding relationships also: the ex-offender needs to implement their own plan to address trust.

However, is there evidence that improving trust in ex-offenders has led to better outcomes? Calhoun, Bartolomucci and McLean (2005) hosted relational group work sessions for female offenders and found that developing trust through these group sessions encouraged the offenders to have the confidence to rebuild damaged relationships, as building trust subsequently improved feelings of confidence and self-worth. This in turn reduced recidivism rates and improved wellbeing of the participants.

How to develop a trust intervention

The research and models heretofore mentioned highlight the importance of autonomy in the improvement of trust amongst ex-offenders. They highlighted that trust is best improved not from telling someone how to improve trust, but by enabling them to determine for themselves that they need to improve their trust and thus provide them with the skills they require to action this. With this in mind, how can trust be best incorporated into an intervention?

Early interception

At Catch22, we advocate for prevention rather than cure. This is supported by theories such as the “Children First, Offender Second” model of Youth Justice (Byrne & Case, 2016) which underscores that treating young offenders as children before defining them by their crime improves their trust in professionals, increases their engagement, and therefore encourages more positive outcomes and behaviours from those children by not defining them by their offence. Research spanning over the past 50 years has identified that children are highly influenced by adults in their lives (Cummings, Iannotti & Zahn-Waxler, 1985), so if adults characterise children and young people by their offence and treat them as such, they will grow up to also characterise themselves as their offence. This is not productive in breaking the recidivism cycle, emphasising that Catch22 intervenes early to equip the young person with the skills to regard themselves as more than their offence and thus prevent any offending or re-offending.

Protective factors

Catch22 also implements a person-centred approach in their service delivery. In other words, the service users are at the forefront of determining the needs and outcomes they want to address, and the subsequent interventions they will participate in. This person-centred approach promotes the utilisation of protective factors to the benefit of the service user: identifying the strengths the service user already has, and identifying together how these strengths can be used to avoid re-offending. This extends from the previous point by implicating that the best way to build trust is to tap into the characteristics someone already has and enable them to nurture this.

Holistic interventions

Catch22 provides holistic interventions as they do not just empower someone to build trust back, but they also equip someone with the skills to handle mistrust better in a “strengths-based approach”. Whilst someone may learn to become more trusting, this trust could be easily broken if someone betrays them again, leading to them falling back into old habits. It is important to be realistic when delivering trust interventions: this trust may be broken again. So, to promote the best outcomes for someone, an intervention on trust must teach to handle betrayal of trust as well as to trust again.

Trauma-informed approach

Another approach firmly embedded in Catch22’s intervention delivery is a trauma-informed approach. This outlines the deliverance of our interventions in a format that prevents re-traumatisation as much as possible. In the context of trust, we adopt a trauma-informed approach by utilising allocated practitioners that the service user works with for their entire time with Catch22. This promotes developing a rapport and subsequently building trust.

Catch22 also utilises positive psychology when creating and mobilising interventions: we implement interventions that are forward-thinking, and solution-focused. For example, in our Personal Wellbeing intervention, “Shame, Guilt and Embarrassment”, there is little focus on the situations that caused these feelings and emotions. Instead, this intervention delves immediately into understanding these feelings and developing techniques to overcome them and, more generally, feel better about oneself. Subsequently, this could be incorporated into a trust intervention by focusing on understanding trust and developing techniques to build this trust, focusing only on what happened to break down the trust if the service user wants to address this and if it would be conducive to do so.

Subject matter experts

Finally, Catch22 does not work alone. We believe in tapping into subject matter experts so that we are delivering the best service we can. Whilst Catch22 delivers a very comprehensive service, we cannot be the master of all. Consequently, Catch22 has developed referral pathways with many other organisations that deliver services not included in our contracts. This involves bike mechanic courses, drama and theatre writing classes, and many others.

We also use subject matter experts to support us with our intervention curation. Some of Catch22’s interventions were developed from content from Big Life Solutions, an organisation that provides courses, coaching and resources to a wide range of not only individuals but companies. Their ethos is “to help people uncover, unlock, and unleash their potential, and step into their real life”. We recognised the importance of utilising subject matter experts to deliver the best interventions we can, and we can continue to work with other subject matter experts were we to develop a trust intervention.


This literature review has explored what trust is, how it can impact relationships, what role it plays in the criminal justice system, and how it can be best incorporated in interventions.

Everyone requires social support and needs to feel that they can trust someone in their life, in both personal and professional relationships. It is part of human’s fundamental nature and links society together, and by developing a trust intervention based on the above theories, models, social and cultural aspects of trust, service users and staff of Catch22 will be able to build rapport easier and more effectively.

This foundation of trust and support will enable service users to establish and maintain prosocial attitude, contribute to their motivation for finding employment, and engage in social activities by consolidating honest, safe, and caring relationships.

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