Lack of impact
Support for prisoners leaving jail and moving back into the community was poor and the work of most Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) was not making any difference.
This verdict from Dame Glenys Stacey and Peter Clarke, the Chief Inspectors of Probation and Prisons, is the headline finding from today’s (21 June 2017) report, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Prisoners Serving 12 Months or More.
Although the main focus of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms was to improve rehabilitation, the new system has not been effective and the general position has not improved in the eight months since HMI Probation’s last inspection of Through the Gate services.
Overall picture “bleak”
Through the Gate resettlement services were introduced in 2015 to bridge the gap between prison and the community. The government’s hope was that the newly formed Community Rehabilitation Companies would resettle prisoners successfully and so reduce reoffending. The inspectorates published a report in October 2016 on the poor-quality services for prisoners serving short sentences. This more recent report looks at services for prisoners serving longer sentences. It found that CRCs are making little difference to prisoners’ prospects on release and the overall picture was bleak.
CRCs are now responsible for helping prisoners to prepare for release and to resettle in the community. This includes helping prisoners to find accommodation, as well as employment, training or education, and help with managing their finances, benefits and debt. These services had previously existed in prisons but in a fragmented way. Inspectors found that CRCs were focusing most of their efforts on meeting their contractual targets, to produce written resettlement plans, and not giving enough attention to responding to the needs of prisoners.
Through the Gate services are not well enough integrated into prisons and CRCs alone cannot reduce reoffending. Prisons need to do more to support resettlement, including properly screening for prisoners’ needs, assessing the risks a prisoner might pose and planning and delivering rehabilitative work where needed. Wider problems with the prison system mean prisoners rarely receive effective rehabilitation while detained.
Problems with continuity of care
Many prisoners have enduring problems including mental illness and addiction and links between treatment in custody and the community were not always easy. Affordable accommodation is hard to source and claims to state benefits take time to process so some prisoners are released with nowhere to live and may face weeks without any income. The impact of Through the Gate services on education, training and employment was minimal and those prisoners who did get jobs quickly after release had either started work while in an open prison or had made their own arrangements.
Except for some prisons setting up bank accounts for offenders, work on finance, benefits and debt was not being delivered to any great extent, and the use of mentors had not been developed as anticipated. Through the Gate services are poorly integrated into mainstream prison systems and no clear guidance has been given on how greater integration should be achieved. The incompatibilities of the IT systems used by different staff in preparing prisoners for release were major obstacles.
Key recommendations made by inspectors include:
The Ministry of Justice and Department for Communities and Local Government in England and the Welsh Government Department for Communities and Children working together to recognise homeless released prisoners as a priority need for housing.
The Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) should consider whether CRC contracts are the best way to deliver effective resettlement services and make sure every prison provides services to meet the needs of prisoners in respect of education, training and employment, finance, benefit and debt and support for victims of domestic abuse and sex workers.
The fact that the findings of this report were widely expected make it no less disappointing. Although HMI Probation reports on individual probation areas have been mainly critical, there have at least been promising signs of improvements or potentially positive new models.
There is little evidence of such “green shoots” in the current report which contains just three examples of good practice (and one of poor practice). The scale of the problem facing released prisoners and those charged to help them is illustrated by one of these good practice examples which involved giving a man a tent and sleeping bad on his first day of freedom:
HM Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey is typically trenchant in her summary which was issued on behalf of both inspectorates:
There were great hopes for Through the Gate, but none of these have been realised. Staff working for Through the Gate services in prisons are keen and committed, but they are making little real difference to people’s life chances as they leave prison. The gap between the government’s aspirations and reality is so great. There is no real prospect that these services as they are will reduce reoffending. Instead there needs to be a renewed focus and effort.
To be sure of success, the government and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) need to look again at the contractual arrangements with CRCs. They must also make big improvements to IT systems, and make sure processes and targets are aligned and joined up between prisons, CRCs and the National Probation Service so that effective work gets done.”
The Inspectorates have also produced an infographic summarising these findings: