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Can probation hostels facilitate desistance & rehabilitation?
The potential of probation hostels to facilitate desistance and rehabilitation is mainly untapped.

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Approved Premises

The most recent Academic Insight published by the probation inspectorate just before Christmas (21 December 2023) looks at Realising the rehabilitative potential of approved premises. Written by Carla Reeves (Head of Department at the University of Huddersfield) and Peter Marston (Approved Premises manager), the report sets out the potential of approved premises (APs) to support desistance and rehabilitation whilst managing risks of harm to the public. Consideration is given to the optimum approach for APs at the system, community and individual establishment levels.

As the authors point out, probation hostels are one of the least visible and least well known components of the justice system. The 104 APs in England Wales (comprising around 2,200 bedspaces) are arguably the most expensive and most intrusive resource available to the probation service.

A wider network

The authors make the case for widening the supply of hostel services for people on probation, so that residential support is available to more people on probation than solely those who are designated high risk, typically on prison release. They also call for a more individualised service where location and length of placement is tailored to individual need rather than simple (lack of) availability. 

The authors acknowledge that many AP residents bitterly resent being released from prison only to have to comply with restrictive hostel regimes.  However, they argue that there are many hostel residents who, “grudgingly or otherwise, appreciate the respite and support given, particularly on re-entry from prison”.

Alongside more hostels with flexible regimes, they also call for smaller establishments which are closer to home to enable people to rebuild their family and community ties in less institutional settings.

They note how many APs are isolated from the communities in which they are based and that there is untapped potential to make them more part of local communities to the mutual benefit of local people and hostel residents. This sort of approach is championed by many of third sector providers who house vulnerable and stigmatised individuals, often reaching out to providing practical benefits for local residents at the same time giving those living in the premises the chance to feel part of a community in a real and concrete way.

The authors also champion the view that employment should be a cornerstone of APs, wanting to see:

“employment encouraged and supported within APs by the removal of the differential rates of service charge applied and by arrangements to alter and remove restrictive controls. Relationships should be developed with local employers where possible on similar lines to category D prisons and supporting investments could be made. For example, there are APs with sufficient space to support small businesses or community interest companies. For long-term prisoners, a pathway of prison training and work in a category D prison, followed by releases on temporary licence to work for an AP business, followed by a full placement may provide considerable desistance dividends.”

The authors acknowledge that most of these improvements cannot take place without system change (and the considerable investment of resources), they rightly point out the potential of APs (and of their residents) is mainly ignored by current policy and practice.

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