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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

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

Will the new resettlement prisons work?

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One of the least controversial aspects of Transforming Rehabilitation, the Ministry of Justice's project to reform the probation service, is the establishment of 71 resettlement prisons. These resettlement prisons are linked with one or more Contract Package Areas and the aim is for all prisoners to spend the last three months of their sentence in their local resettlement prison so that release plans can be properly developed. The MoJ target is to ensure that at least 80% adult male offenders will be released from these resettlement prisons. But is this target achievable...? This post examines the challenges facing resettlement prisons.

Settling the argument

One of the least controversial aspects of Transforming Rehabilitation, the Ministry of Justice’s project to reform the probation service, is the establishment of resettlement prisons.

Under TR, every offender released from custody will receive statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community.

In order to give this supervision and support the best chance of succeeding, the MoJ has nominated 71 establishments as resettlement prisons.

These resettlement prisons are linked with one or more Contract Package Areas and the aim is for all prisoners to spend the last three months of their sentence in their local resettlement prison so that release plans can be properly developed.

The MoJ target is to ensure that at least 80% adult male offenders will be released from these resettlement prisons (this figure can be found on page 29 of the Target Operating Model).

This post examines the challenges facing resettlement prisons.

Settling down

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to getting resettlement prisons to work is to ensure that prison governors are fully engaged in the TR project and that they are required and encouraged to participate and move prisoners accordingly.

Prison Governors like to have as much control as possible over their prison’s population and to be able to move troublesome prisoners elsewhere.

However, there are a number of practical difficulties.

Firstly, there needs to be spare capacity in the prison system to facilitate large numbers of prisoners being re-located as they come towards the end of their sentence.

The prison population figures issued by the MoJ last Friday (17 October 2013) revealed that the prison population increased by 155 to 84,987 compared to the previous week while “usable operational capacity” fell to 85,828.

This means there are now 841 places unfilled – last week there were 1,226 spare prison spots. (See this detailed BBC News report.)

Although the prison population has fallen by 1,306 over the last 12 month period, the number of prison places has dropped at four times the speed – by 5,246.

Secondly, the MoJ has embarked on a prison closure programme (while at the same time building new super-size Titan prisons).

On 4 September the MoJ announced that Reading, Dorchester, Blundeston and Northallerton prisons would close by March 2014.

Thirdly, there is the apparent confusion at the MoJ around prison policy.

The resettlement prisons were announced on 13th August and included HMP Dorchester in the list.

Three weeks later, it was announced that Dorchester would be closed.

Building work at Wrexham isn’t scheduled to start until summer 2014, and then only if the project is approved.

Settling for second best?

The MoJ could allay concerns about the feasibility of delivering the resettlement prisons project on time by setting out a clear road map and more detailed targets,

It would be perfectly acceptable for only 60% prisoners to be in the resettlement prisons on time by April 2015, provided there was a clear strategy to get to 80% or higher in the next few years.

 

I’d be very interested in the views of prison governors on the resettlement prisons initiative.

Please use the comments section below.

 

 

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4 Responses

  1. The role of individual Governors is not key here. A very small proportion of prisoner moves are initiated by governors. In terms of volume, the key role is with NOMS central population management, which will (for example) allocate places in training prisons for local prisons to send to (for example by telling local prison X to send 20 prisoners to raining prison Y).

    As to the practical difficulties, only the first point above is directly relevant. There needs to be space in the system, not to facilitate large numbers of moves – quite the opposite. There needs to be sufficient operating margin to prevent large numbers of moves. When the system runs close to capacity, as it is now,the only way to make it work is to move prisoners to wherever there are spaces. And that might mean, say, moving men from Surrey to Lincolnshire. There needs to be capacity to allow planned, purposeful moves, rather than a sate of constant capacity maximisation.

    The second point only matters insofar as it reduces the operating margin , otherwise we ought to be glad that old prisons, in the wrong places, are closing.

    On the third point, although there is a degree of inconsistency, closing Dorchester isnt, in the scheme of things, massively important as far as resettlement prisons are concerned. Does it signal confusion about prison policy? Probably not – although it may signal that some policy objectives are more important than others and that the need to save money trumps most of them.

    1. Kevin says that the closure of Dorchester “…is not massively important as far as resettlement prisons are concerned”. What about the critical churn of Dorchester which revolved around short term, persistant offenders from Bournmouth,(high risk of reoffending/complex needs/requiring community based support solutions)? These offenders will presumably now go to either Winchester,(in a different CPA), or Exeter, the only remaining local within the Devon and Cornwall CPA?Its not difficult to imagine the logistical and relational difficulties in designing a throughcare pathway from Exeter to Bournmouth and associated risk management challenges.

      1. Rob – my comment was in response to Russell’s suggestion that the closure of Dorchester signaled confusion about the MoJ’s policy, not an observation on whether Dorchester delivers a valuable role. I have, in fact, argued elsewhere for prisoners from Bournemouth and Poole to go to Winchester. It’s as easy to get to as Dorchester and equally as suitable. As you say, Exeter would pose some difficult challenges. I’m not sure that it matters that it is in a different CPA. That doesnt seem to be an issue for the Mount, for example.

  2. We mentor ex offenders ‘through the gate’ and returning to Dorset. Having a resettlement prison in Dorset, given that we have two prisons (Portland and Guys Marsh), both in Dorset, designated as Resettlement Prisons, it surely makes sense that males returning to Dorset should complete their sentences in one of those prisons. Doing ‘through the gate’ resettlement work, which is what we are experienced in doing, is much more effective, the more local it can be delivered to the town/area to which someone is returning. HMP Exeter is a long way from Bournemouth area and will make it virtually impossible for volunteers to engage with mentees prior to their release. I think that it is essential that Dorset prisoners are resettled in a prison based in Dorset.

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