The probation inspectorate has today (14 March 2023) published the second part of its thematic inspection into the Offender Management in Custody (OMIC) model. The first part, published in November jointly with the prison inspectorate, focused on work pre-release and found that the model was not working as intended and recommended a fundamental review of current practice.
In this follow-up inspection, inspectors tracked the same 100 prisoners whose cases were reviewed in prison on their resettlement journeys into the community, for up to nine months after release, to examine how well the resettlement and rehabilitation aims of the model are being achieved.
The headline findings are disappointing. Only four out of every 10 prisoners in the inspectorates’ case sample went into settled accommodation on release from custody, and just eight per cent of those available for work went into employment. Recall rates were high, with 30 per cent on average being returned to custody – four in 10 of these within 28 days of release. In some probation regions almost half were recalled to prison.
Supervising people on release is a large part of the probation workload with 8,137 Prisoners handed over from prison offender managers (POM) to community offender managers (COM) between August 2021 and May 2022. The report highlights the significant staff shortages which leads to high workloads for many probation practitioners, saying this has a direct impact on the quality of work practitioners lacking the capacity to undertake structured offence-focused work with prison leavers.
Needs analysis is carried out at a regional level to inform the commissioning of services to meet the needs of people on probation. Inspectors found that there was a mismatch between the services needed and those that were provided. For example, accommodation services were oversubscribed, leading to long waiting lists, while other services, such as personal wellbeing, were undersubscribed.
Many practitioners found referral processes to be complex. Newly established digital processes, such as ‘refer and monitor’, were not well understood. Practitioners and service providers often made different assessments of the complexity level of the person on probation’s needs and the outcomes required from the service intervention.
The importance of the relationship between the practitioner and person on probation was highlighted by the lived experience consultants who talked to people on probation about their experiences of being supported on release.
People on probation experienced probation induction following release on licence as ‘one way’. As with pre-release work, they felt that sentence management was ‘done to’ them, rather than ‘done with’ them. All too often, practitioners had not been able to establish a good working relationship with the person on probation, and then had to deliver unwelcome news about the licence restrictions that were now required. The reasons for these restrictions were often not fully explained to the person on probation, or well understood by them.
Overall, inspectors found good levels of engagement with people on probation. Many COMs took a supportive approach, cemented by regular, and often weekly, contact. They took enforcement action appropriately when licence conditions were not being adhered to. Examples included issuing managers’ warning letters, and these often worked well to re-engage the person on probation and to secure compliance with their licence.
However, not enough improvements were made in the factors most related to reoffending (see the chart above). In only one in four cases was sufficient progress made regarding family and relationships, lifestyle and associates, attitudes towards offending and substance misuse.
Improvements in the key factors related to managing the risks of harm to other people were made in only half of cases.
Inspectors also expressed concern that there was a significant shortfall in the information received from other agencies, such as police intelligence, and in domestic abuse and child safeguarding checks, to keep other people safe. Practitioners experienced difficulties in getting responses to their requests for this information, and in some cases had stopped trying.
Some practitioners lacked the professional curiosity to fully understand the person on probation’s personal circumstances. This meant that they did not always know who was of risk of harm. Inspectors found some cases where the practitioner had underestimated the level of risk or reduced it too quickly following the person on probation’s release from custody.
Recall rates were high, with 30 per cent of the case sample recalled to custody within nine months following their release. The main reasons for recall were non-compliance with licence conditions, and this stemmed mainly from homelessness and/or relapse into substance misuse. There was a lack of continuity of care before and after release, which led to prison leavers not being able to access the right levels of support to sustain their resettlement.
Only four in 10 of the prison leavers in the case sample entered settled accommodation on release, and just eight per cent went into full-time employment. Some improvement was made in the first few months on licence, though, at the point of inspection, four in 10 prison leavers were in temporary accommodation, and four in 10 were unemployed.
The availability of new community accommodation services (CAS3) currently being rolled out across the country was seen as a very positive development, although it should be noted that the temporary supported accommodation available under this scheme only lasts for a maximum of 12 weeks.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.