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.
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.