A joint inspection led by HM Inspectorate of Probation, with HM Inspectorate of Prisons, and published today has found Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) is falling well short of expected standards. The inspectors were so disappointed with OMiC that they went to the unusual step of calling for the model to be overhauled.
OMiC was introduced by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) in 2018 to improve the support offered prisoners as they leave custody and are reintegrated back into the local community, so as to reduce their risk of reoffending.
But the inspection found root-to-branch issues with the model citing a number of key criticisms:
- It is too complex and inflexible,
- There is a lack of understanding and implementation,
- Ineffective communication, and
- Poor outcomes for prisoners.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell did not mince his words:
“The Offender Management in Custody model was an ambitious idea to better support prisoners back into the community. But however admirable its intentions, it is simply not working. We found staffing levels at crisis point in some prisons and probation regions, and levels of pre-release contact with prisoners that was sufficient to reduce re-offending in only a third of the cases we inspected. The model must be reviewed, and overhauled, at the earliest opportunity.”
The main finding from this inspection was that OMiC is a lengthy and complex process, which neither prison nor probation officers or prisoners themselves fully understand how to implement. Furthermore, it is a fixed model that cannot be changed to adapt to different types of prisons, and this is especially difficult for local establishments where they have a high turnover of prisoners.
On a more positive note, the inspection did find that the transfer of Senior Probation Officers into prisons has helped to boost communication and develop rehabilitative cultures. However, regular meetings between keyworkers and prisoners took place in only 34 per cent of the cases we inspected, with only a slightly higher number (36 per cent) deemed to be supervised effectively by their prison-based probation officer.
Shockingly, but probably unsurprisingly to most practitioners, communication between prison and probation staff was adequate in just 13 per cent of cases.
The key finding were:
- Shortfalls in public protection work, information sharing, and relationship building between prison staff, probation workers and prisoners.
- A distinct culture of two organisations, one prison and one probation, and joint working at a strategic and operational level is hampered by prison groups and probation regions being based in different geographical areas.
- Some keyworkers are providing valuable support, but the needs of prisoners in different types of establishment are not always catered for, and this causes problems on their release from prison.
- Some prisoners were being released without resettlement services being in place, made worse by probation unification and Covid-19.
- Successful implementation of OMiC requires a ‘rehabilitative culture’ in prisons, where there is space on prison wings for one-to-one interventions with prisoners to promote their rehabilitation, and this is not the norm.
- Staff shortages are high in some regions, and this undermines the delivery of a high-quality service and keywork does not join up with offender management often enough.
Mr Russell summarised the findings from a probation perspective:
“We spoke to prison and probation staff, and many told us they are trying to make OMiC work, but it is over-engineered and not fit for purpose. It is a model that may have worked in theory but is proving almost impossible to put into practice. It is understandable that there are tensions between services, and no surprise they are struggling to communicate with each other, and prisoners, and that the basics of the model are not being delivered. It is down to HMPPS to put this right.”
Chief Inspector of Prisons, Charlie Taylor, makes it clear that the model is just not working:
“This extremely concerning reports shows the extent that OMiC is failing to achieve the aims for which it was designed. Services for prisoners remain fractured and sentence progression is often hampered by a lack of staff in Offender Management Units while the key work scheme, that was meant to be an integral part of OMiC, is not providing anything like the support that was envisaged, with officers being diverted to more general wing work.”
“The removal of Covid-19 restrictions provides an opportunity to look at this again and strengthen the way prisons and probation work together to help individuals to transform their lives and to better protect the public. We have made several recommendations, including a fundamental review of the role of probation Prison Offender Managers, that, if followed, I hope will help both prisons and probation to better achieve this aim.”
I am afraid that this report has confirmed what many people in the prisons and probation sector have known for a while, that OMiC is an ideal which is just not achievable in reality in most prisons and probation areas at the moment. It’s not surprising that in the majority of prisons who are yet to restore a full regime, the supportive prison officer role integral to OMiC is, essentially, a fiction. Similarly, probation staff in the community are just too overworked for most of them to do any pre-release work until the last week or two of a sentence.
My personal experience of evaluating a range of resettlement schemes over the last thirty years is that both in-reach and outreach models can be successful but I have yet to see a successful example of through-the-gate work where different organisations provide the service in custody and in the community.