The verdict on Enhanced Through The Gate

Official evaluation finds extra resources have improved through-the-gate but short term prisoners still missing out.

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Enhanced specification an improvement

Last week (1 October 2020), the Ministry of Justice published A Process Evaluation of the Enhanced Through the Gate specification, authored by Katriona Fahy and Ahmet Enginsoy.

In 2019, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, after longstanding criticisms by the probation inspectorate, the Audit Office and various select committees, invested £22m per year in an improved resettlement offer for people leaving prison with the Enhanced Through the Gate (ETTG) specification. This enhanced resettlement offer includes tiered levels of support for service users, and it focuses on meeting service user needs in the areas of accommodation; employment, training and education; finance benefits and debt, and personal, relationships and community. 

This report summarises the findings of a qualitative process evaluation commissioned to: 

  • describe the changes associated with the enhanced specification, 
  • explore the limitations of the service, 
  • understand what the challenges have been and what is working well, and 
  • explore the perspectives of stakeholders on what the effectiveness of this improved service has been.

The headline findings of the report are:

  • Overall, interviewees felt that the enhanced specification had delivered positive change.
  • The most cited change with ETTG was the increase in resources, specifically the number of staff. Interviewees generally felt that the benefits of more staff included more manageable caseloads, creating more time for multi-agency working and one-to-one time with service users. This, in turn, improved service delivery.
  • Remaining challenges include: working with individuals serving short sentences, improving the communication between TTG and NPS staff, and easing the transition from prison to the community.
  • Co-location of TTG teams with other teams (i.e. Offender Management teams) was found to improve communication.
  • The ability to offer service users access to mentoring after release was praised by TTG teams.
  • TTG staff reported that some cohorts (e.g. Home Detention Curfew and other early releases, prisoners on short-term sentences) remain disadvantaged in the provision of ETTG services due to their short time in custody.

The evaluation

Fieldwork for the evaluation took place from November 2019 to March 2020, six months after the transition. 165 interviews were conducted with Through the Gate (TTG) teams, prison staff, and National Probation Service (NPS) staff in 20 prisons.

Specific pathway findings

The report also details findings relating to the specific pathways for which support is offered:

  • According to respondents, accommodation has seen the most notable improvement due to ETTG, with TTG staff not only referring service users to housing organisations but also actively chasing results. Interviewees stated that there were a lack of suitable accommodation options for people leaving custody.
  • Staff felt that employment options remained limited for service users. Often, TTG staff supported service users’ education, training, and employment (ETE) needs by signposting to the education department, or by helping with CV and disclosure letter writing.
  • TTG teams in this sample reported having knowledgeable staff dealing with finance, benefits, and debt (FBD) needs. Providing a service to open bank accounts was demonstrated in 14 of the 20 prisons visited, and support for obtaining proper identification was demonstrated in eight prisons.
  • The personal, relationships, and community (PRC) pathway was reported to be too broad to address diverse service user needs, including substance misuse issues, healthcare needs, family problems and reintegration into society. TTG staff instead often referred service users to specialist services available in custody and community for their PRC needs, as specified in the ETTG contract.

Conclusions

The report found that, in addition to additional resources, improvements were made because More services were delivered in-house rather than relying on signposting. Where referrals were used, TTG staff took ownership of the process and chased results.  The evaluators also found that more time allowed the development of good practices inside the prison and with stakeholders in the community, although the gap between provision in custody and in the community remains. The report also flags up several areas which still require improvement:

However, despite clear positive changes, service provision remains variable from prison to prison. Although ETTG services should be accessible to all, certain cohorts are disadvantaged by the timeframe of ETTG services (12 weeks before release). There is also a divide between the access to ETTG service users can obtain in resettlement and non-resettlement prisons, due to the non-statutory intervention (NSI) referral process, creating further service user inequality. Due to the multiple recording and information systems in use, effective data sharing is also an issue.

 

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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