Support for prisoners leaving jail after short sentences is poor, say inspectors

Support for short-sentenced prisoners leaving jail and moving back into the community was poor, according to the Chief Inspectors of Probation and Prison. The good intentions of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, which meant to bring about a step change in rehabilitation by extending support from probation services to this large group of prisoners who previously received no supervision on release, have not yet been realised. Today they published a report, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Short-Term Prisoners.

The report reflects the findings of HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons. Under the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, all prisoners sentenced to 12 months or less are now subject to 12 month’s supervision by probation services on release. This means that an extra 50,000 extra people are now supervised, an increase of around 25%. Reoffending rates are highest for those serving short prison sentences. Many have long records of convictions, complex needs and a history of not engaging with public services.

Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are now responsible for Through the Gate provision, helping prisoners to prepare for release and resettle in the community. This includes helping prisoners to find accommodation, employment or training, treatment for substance misuse and help with managing their finances. Through the Gate services had been in place for almost a year at the time of the inspection.

Inspectors found that overall, services were poor and there was little to commend. Too many prisoners reached their release date without their immediate resettlement needs having been met or even recognised. None of the prisoners in their sample (86 cases) had been helped into employment by Through the Gate services; too many prisoners were released without accommodation and not enough help was given to prisoners to resolve debts.

Some of the new services proposed in the bids for contracts had not been implemented and there was little evidence of the anticipated creativity or innovation in the new services being delivered by the CRCs.

Basic custody screenings, completed at the start of the sentence by prison staff interviewing prisoners, weren’t detailed enough to form the basis of planning for resettlement, and plans completed shortly afterwards by CRC staff did not robustly address the most urgent resettlement needs.

The risk of harm to others from prisoners was not always recognised, which meant victims were not always protected, particularly in cases of domestic abuse. The level of communication between staff in prisons and the community was poor and there was very little continuity between services in prison and the community. There were also concerning rates of reoffending and recall to prison, although the picture was more positive for women in the 24 cases sampled.

Among the reasons for this were that CRCs were not incentivised under their contracting arrangements to give this resettlement priority. Payment was triggered by completing tasks, rather than anything more meaningful. The work is difficult and requires partnership working with others locally, and relies on the effective early screening of prisoners.

Key recommendations made by inspectors include the Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service reviewing the contractual requirements so that CRCs have greater incentives to develop resettlement services for prisoners. Inspectors also recommend that the National Offender Management Service promotes closer working between CRCs, prison staff and NPS responsible officers to improve the continuity of resettlement support and aid effective public protection.

HM Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said, on behalf of both inspectorates:

“There were great hopes for Through the Gate and there is still the potential for change that government and others wish to see. But turning prisoners’ lives around is difficult, and success in individual cases is not guaranteed, even when everything possible is done, particular for those with mental illness or addictions. There is far more chance of success if those involved are determined and incentivised to do the best possible job and systems are designed to support them.”

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Notes to editors:

1. The report is available at from 4 October.
2. 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.
3. Her Majesty’s 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.
4. For further information please contact Jane Parsons at HMI Probation & HMI Prisons press office on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 787452.