Probation hostels protect the public, more are needed

Approved premises get inspectors’ approval

Probation hostels do a good job overall at protecting the public and preparing individuals to move back into the community once they have left prison.

That’s the headline finding of today’s inspection report, Probation Hostels’ (Approved Premises) Contribution to Public Protection, Rehabilitation and Resettlement.

 National capacity 2,200

Probation hostels, called approved premises, are located in the community and occupied by some of the riskiest individuals as they are released from prison. They act as a halfway house between prison and home and have two main roles: to help rehabilitate and resettle those people and to make sure that the public are protected in the offenders’ early months in the community. There are 101 hostels across England and Wales which vary in size and what they offer. Most hostel residents pose a high or very high risk of serious harm. There are some 2,200 beds available.

Findings

Inspectors found probation hostels are doing a good job overall. Their staff are exceptionally good at protecting the public and managing the risks posed by individuals, returning them to prison when necessary. The quality of resettlement and rehabilitation services was mixed, and was noticeably better for women than for men. Independent hostels providing services under contract also perform well.

Inspectors concluded that there are not enough hostels in the right places, and this reduces the chance that rehabilitation and resettlement work will be effective. Many residents are placed away from their home areas. There is a general shortage of places, leading to more people being sent to wherever a place is available. A number of residents have spent years in prison and their rehabilitation needs are complex, and in most cases better addressed in the community in which they intend to live. This is particularly true for women.

Performance measures focus on occupancy, but targets need to achieve an optimum balance of occupancy and effectiveness. Were extra beds and hostels to be provided, those places could easily be filled and this would also enable some prisoners to be released earlier. There are only six women’s hostels, with none in London or Wales, and a clear shortage of places for women.

It would aid policy and delivery if there were better management information available about the extent to which offenders get the right placements at the right time, get the right services and achieve the right results. Inspectors found that many residents do make progress towards their goals and a large number present complex patterns or risks and needs, making the progress yet more impressive.

The inspectors’ findings that as many as one in three residents of their sample were recalled to prison (with only one in ten committing further offences) fits into current concerns expressed by many, including the Parole Board and the National Probation Service about the growing prevalence of recalls.

Recommendations

Key recommendations made by inspectors include:

  1. The Ministry of Justice and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) should establish systems to measure take-up of hostel places, service quality and outcomes and use this information to improve the effectiveness of the estate.
  2. The Ministry of Justice should focus on the capacity, type and distribution of the probation hostel estate.
  3. The National Probation Service should ensure all probation hostels offer a programme of purposeful activities that both meets the need of residents and secures their participation and they should strengthen liaison between hostels and local strategic partners.

Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey summarised the report:

Probation hostels house some of the most dangerous offenders, as they leave prison. We found they are doing a good job overall. Local communities are well protected as residents are managed closely, and returned to prison when their behaviour warrants it. Individuals stay for just a few months, but some hostels – especially those for men and those in public ownership – could do more in that time to rehabilitate offenders and prepare them for their next steps.

Probation hostels are usually full. More places and well-run hostels where they are most needed would mean more of our most dangerous offenders could be released safely, and change their lives for the better.

HMIP have again produced an extremely useful accompanying infographic which summarises their main findings:

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