Cutting crime and protecting the public
When I summarised the government’s Prison Strategy White Paper at the start of last month, I promised to dig further into the detail in a series of posts. This is the third of that series and summarises Chapter Three which is titled “The Role of Prisons and Probation in Cutting Crime and Protecting the Public.” I’m guessing it is a first for the probation service to be featured in a chapter title in a Prisons strategy and that alone provides a glimmer of hope.
The strategy says that the government wants to tackle the factors which lead to criminal behaviour by enhancing rehabilitation and resettlement provision both in custody and after release, and strengthening the supervision of prison leavers in the community to protect the public. It sets out six priority areas, promising to:
- Improve drug testing and deliver access to a full range of drug and mental health treatment, including abstinence-based drug treatment options;
- Strengthen continuity of drug treatment on release, so prisoners with drug misuse problems continue to make progress towards meaningful recovery;
- Deliver a Prisoner Education Service which equips prisoners with the numeracy, literacy, skills and qualifications they need to get jobs or apprenticeships after they leave custody;
- Transform the opportunities for work in prisons and on Release on Temporary License (ROTL) to increase job prospects for prison leavers;
- Scale up specialist roles tested in our Accelerator Prisons project to support work to reduce reoffending; and
- Introduce new Resettlement Passports, bringing together the essentials that prison leavers need to lead crime-free lives on release into one place.
The chapter is divided into five sections which tackle the prison/resettlement journey chronologically and which I summarise briefly below.
Early days in custody
The strategy pledges better and earlier assessment of needs with recording at reception of substance misuse issues, learning difficulties or disabilities or other health issues; educational qualifications; levels of literacy and numeracy; and the basics, such as ID and a bank account with the objective of ensuring all these needs are addressed prior to release. There is a commitment to deliver an initial health assessment in the first 24 hours after reception and a comprehensive screening within the first week.
The strategy highlights an improved response to drugs with a promise that all prisoners will have access to a full range of high-quality treatment, including abstinence-based treatment options, immediately on arrival in custody. Quite how the Key Performance Indicator which will “ensure that the focus is recovery” will be constructed will be of interest. Drug testing is also to be ramped up “across custodial and community settings”. An improved mental health service is also scheduled for roll-out from April next year (2023).
There is also the promise of a “transformed” Prisoner Education Service with an initial commitment to:
- Provide Governors with expert support to work with education providers and employers to design a curriculum focused on work. This includes hiring new Education, Work and Skills Specialists to review and improve the prison education offer and expand learning beyond the classroom into workshops and digital platforms, and Support Managers for prisoners with conditions such as learning disabilities, autism, acquired brain injury or ADHD;
- Establish an Employability Innovation Fund to enable Governors to work with more employers and training providers to repurpose workshops, deliver sector specific skills training to meet the changing needs of the economy and smooth the path from prison to employment;
- Start market engagement with a range of providers to encourage more to work with us to deliver education, work and employment services when current contracts end;
- Establish a ‘Literacy Innovation Scheme’ to challenge potential providers to trial literacy improvement programmes;
- Develop new digital content and expand the use of secure laptops so that more prisoners can study from their cells; and
- Invest in staff training to build a prison culture that values education and learning across the prison and increase the quality of teaching and training.
There are similar commitments to improve work opportunities and to record data on prisoners’ family circumstances and caring responsibilities or the first time.
Leaving prison with a firm foundation
Similar promises are made for improving the transition from custody to community with promises of better continuity of care for mental health and drug and alcohol treatment as well as ensuring that everyone leaves with ID although new approaches to make it viable to claim Universal Credit on release will not be rolled out until 2024. There is also a promise to increase the number of housing specialists to 48 with staff based in the 12 probation regions.
There is also mention of the Friday release problem (with a disproportionate number of people released on a Friday when access to helping services can be severely limited) with the MoJ saying it will “explore allowing prisoners who are at risk of reoffending to be discharged one or two days earlier at governor discretion where a Friday release can be demonstrated to be detrimental to an individual’s resettlement”.
The strategy promises the introduction of a “Resettlement Passport, which will bring together the key information and services to support prison leavers to address their drivers of repeat offending and ensure a smooth transition into the community”. The strategy sets out five principles for these new passports:
- Clarity over who is accountable for providing every resettlement service.
- Individualised released plans.
- Better access to accommodation, ETE, healthcare and substance misuse services.
- Improving and co-ordinating sentence and release planning.
- A compact between the prison leaver and wider society – prison leavers are expected to engage with help “and in return for this improved support, there will be clear consequences if they fail to comply with conditions where appropriate”.
In the community
In contrast to the pledges to improve the resettlement offer set out in the four previous sections, this final “in the community” section focuses more on enforcement with a beefed up IOM service, and much more electronic tagging including with GPS and alcohol abstinence monitoring.
It is hard to quibble with most of the contents of this section of the White Paper although there still seems to be a very long way to travel between where we are now and the extremely ambitious outcomes cited in the strategy such as “the majority of prisoners leaving custody and walking straight into employment on release from prison”. As always, the proof will be in the pudding, and, in particular, the level of investment provided.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here