Families vital for prisoner rehabilitation

The role families and friends play in the rehabilitation of prisoners on release is crucial and must not be overlooked, according to independent inspectors. Today they published the report of a joint inspection into resettlement provision for adult offenders and called for work on family relationships provided by the prison to be integrated with work done by resettlement service providers.

The report, Resettlement provision for adult offenders: accommodation and education, training and employment, reflects the findings of HM Inspectorate of Prisons, HM Inspectorate of Probation and Ofsted. In April 2015, changes will be introduced to ‘transform’ the way that offenders are rehabilitated and to reduce the risk that they reoffend. Offenders serving sentences of less than one year will be subject to statutory supervision. Support and supervision of low- and medium-risk offenders will pass from the probation service to Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). Higher-risk offenders will be supervised by a new national probation service. Offenders serving short sentences and those with less than three months to serve should be held in ‘resettlement prisons’, linked to the area in which they will be released.

This report aims to inform the development of these new services at a crucial time by providing new evidence about the effectiveness of existing arrangements to help offenders obtain suitable and sustainable accommodation and education, training and employment (ETE) on release. It follows a cohort of 80 offenders from prison through the gate into the community and identifies their accommodation and occupation status shortly before release, on release and one and six months later. Many previous studies have highlighted the importance of accommodation and ETE to reduce reoffending.

Findings include:

  • more than half the offenders returned home or moved in with family and friends on release;
  • the few who had a job on release had mainly arranged this with the help of previous employers, family or friends;
  • relationships with family and friends were too often viewed purely as a matter of visits which could be reduced or increased according to an offender’s behaviour;
  • too little account was taken of whether initial arrangements for living with a family on release were sustainable and what continuing support might be needed;
  • sentence planning and oversight were weak and resettlement work in prisons was insufficiently informed;
  • although many had ETE appointments arranged, only 16% of the sample had a known job or training place on release, and six months after their release, half of the sample still did not have ETE in place;
  • information-sharing in prisons was poor overall but better in open prisons and those preparing long-term offenders for release;
  • shortages of affordable rental accommodation, references, a lack of resources to pay deposits and rent in advance and the practical problems of arranging accommodation from inside prison meant that rented accommodation in the private or social housing sectors was not an option for any of the offenders in this cohort;
  • young adults who had been in care as ‘looked after children’ and women offenders who were sole carers for their children had entitlements to housing that needed to be identified and met; and
  • although none of the offenders in this cohort used the vocational skills or training they had received in prison for employment after release, the employability skills they had gained – reliability, trustworthiness, and good customer services – were important.

The findings support the broad thrust of many of the transforming rehabilitation reforms and make clear how the key themes of offender management, work with families, accommodation and ETE are inter-related and need to be addressed as part of a whole prison approach to resettlement. The risk is that they are all provided under different management and organisational arrangements and evaluated in different ways. Furthermore, however effective the new arrangements are, they will be undermined if offenders cannot access stable accommodation when they leave prison.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said on behalf of all inspectorates:

“The findings of this report are striking. It absolutely confirms the central importance of an offender’s family and friends to their successful rehabilitation. Sometimes an offender’s family may be the victims of their crime and sometimes they may be a negative influence. However, overwhelmingly, this inspection confirmed our view that an offender’s family are the most effective resettlement agency.

“Where possible resettlement work should include helping the offender and his or her family maintain or rebuild relationships, an assessment of the support a family is able and willing to provide and, where appropriate, involvement of the family in plans for release. It is important that work on family relationships provided by the prison is integrated with work done by resettlement service providers.”

Notes to Editors:

  1. A copy of the full report can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website from 16 September 2014 at http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation is an independent inspectorate, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, and reporting directly to the Secretary of State on the effectiveness of work with individual adults, children and young people who offend, aimed at reducing reoffending and protecting the public.
  4. Ofsted regulates and inspects to achieve excellence in the care of children and young people, and in education and skills for learners of all ages. It regulates and inspects childcare and children’s social care, and inspects the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), schools, colleges, initial teacher training, work-based learning and skills training, adult and community learning, and education and training in prisons and other secure establishments. It assesses council children’s services, and inspects services for looked after children, safeguarding and child protection.
  5. Fieldwork was conducted at eight prisons holding sentenced adult offenders in January and February 2013. These comprised: five training prisons, two open prisons and one resettlement prison. Two were women’s prisons (a training and an open prison) and one was a young offender institution (YOI) holding sentenced young adults aged 18-21. They were clustered within four areas – the East Midlands, South-East, South-West and North-East – to ensure the number of probation trusts included in the community fieldwork was more manageable.

Please contact Jane Parsons on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452 if you would like more information or to request an interview.