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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Short term prisoners pushed out the gate

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Prison & Probation Inspectors find that Through-the-gate support for short term prisoners is poor one year into new initiative.

Through-the-gate

A new (4 October 2016) joint inspection report from HMIs Probation and Prison found that resettlement work with short term prisoners was poor:

None of the CRCs we visited were able to provide us with any information on the outcomes they had achieved for prisoners receiving Through the Gate services. Our sample showed concerning rates of reoffending and recall to prison and unsatisfactory initial outcomes for basic needs such as being in settled accommodation.

Transforming Rehabilitation

Providing supervision and support for short term prisoners (serving less than 12 months) on their release was the flagship of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. Reoffending rates are highest for those serving short prison sentences. Many have long records of convictions, complex needs and a history of not engaging with public services. Targeting this group makes sense if we want to try to reduce reoffending.

The new (almost all) private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) were made responsible for what is known as “Through the Gate” provision, helping prisoners to prepare for release and resettle in the community. This includes helping prisoners to find accommodation, employment or training, treatment for substance misuse and help with managing their finances.

Through the Gate services had supposed to have been in place for almost a year at the time of the inspection.

Key facts

  • 40,059 prisoners started a short custodial sentence in 2015 – 58% of all prisoners.
  • At any one time approximately 9% of the prison population is serving a short sentence (not including those on remand or recall)
  • 60% of short-term prisoners reoffend within 12 months – compared with 30% of those who receive a sentence of 12 months or longer.

ttg-employment

Findings

Inspectors found that overall, services were poor and there was little to commend. The litany of criticisms is a long one:

  • Too many prisoners reached their release date without their immediate resettlement needs having been met or even recognised.
  • None of the prisoners in their sample (86 cases) had been helped into employment by Through the Gate services; too many prisoners were released without accommodation and not enough help was given to prisoners to resolve debts.
  • Some of the new services proposed in the bids for contracts had not been implemented and there was little evidence of the anticipated creativity or innovation in the new services being delivered by the CRCs.
  • Basic custody screenings, completed at the start of the sentence by prison staff interviewing prisoners, weren’t detailed enough to form the basis of planning for resettlement, and plans completed shortly afterwards by CRC staff did not robustly address the most urgent resettlement needs.
  • The risk of harm to others from prisoners was not always recognised, which meant victims were not always protected, particularly in cases of domestic abuse.
  • The level of communication between staff in prisons and the community was poor and there was very little continuity between services in prison and the community.
  • There were also concerning rates of reoffending and recall to prison, although the picture was more positive for women in the 24 cases sampled.

Analysis

The inspectors identified a key reason for these failigns the fact that CRCs were not incentivised under their contracting arrangements to give this resettlement priority. Payment was triggered by completing tasks, rather than anything more meaningful. The work is difficult and requires partnership working with others locally, and relies on the effective early screening of prisoners.

Although a proportion of CRCs’ income is dependent on them reducing reoffending rates under a payment by results arrangement, the proportion of PbR is low and sceptics are wondering whether the current NOMS review of Transforming Rehabilitation will recommend the further dilution of outcome-based payments.

Recomendations

Key recommendations made by inspectors include:

  • The MoJ and NOMS reviewing the contractual requirements so that CRCs have greater incentives to develop resettlement services for prisoners; this could be done on a Fee for Service basis and include quality measures, rather than waiting for reducing reoffending outcomes under the PbR mechanism.
  • NOMS promoting closer working between CRCs, prison staff and National Probation Service (NPS) responsible officers to improve the continuity of resettlement support and aid effective public protection; including a whole system approach which introduces common resettlement targets for prisons, CRCs and the NPS.
  • NOMS undertaking a fundamental review of the basic custody screening so that it provides an assessment of both the needs of the prisoner and any risk of harm that they present to others.

HM Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey concluded the accompanying press release on behalf of both inspectorates:

There were great hopes for Through the Gate and there is still the potential for change that government and others wish to see. But turning prisoners’ lives around is difficult, and success in individual cases is not guaranteed, even when everything possible is done, particular for those with mental illness or addictions. There is far more chance of success if those involved are determined and incentivised to do the best possible job and systems are designed to support them.

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