Key findings

  • Positive relationships between staff and residents are important to rehabilitation. This can be either helped or hindered by seemingly innocuous practices such as open or closed staff office door policies. A balance needs to be struck between facilitating these relationships and keeping both staff and residents safe.
  • Those convicted of sexual offences have a tendency to form groups which are separate from other residents. While this can provide a support network, it can also reinforce negative, criminal identities.
  • While all approved premises are expected to achieve the Enabling Environment Award, a number of challenges have been highlighted.
  • Working with residents who have personality disorders can be challenging. Those approved premises which are Psychologically Informed Planned Environments allow staff to understand and manage the behaviour of residents with personality disorders in a more appropriate manner.


Approved premises (APs) offer an enhanced level of public protection in the community and are used primarily for high and very high risk of serious harm individuals released on licence from custody. This is typically following serious violence and/or sexual offences. APs thus act as a half-way house between prison and home, and have two main roles:

  • to support the resettlement and rehabilitation of individuals who have committed serious offences
  • to support the safety of other people in individuals’ early months in the community.

APs are staffed 24 hours a day and impose various constraints on residents’ freedoms. During their stay, AP residents are required to:

  • engage in a minimum number of hours per week of purposeful activity
  • work on their offending-based behaviours and attitudes
  • attend relevant treatment or intervention programmes.

These activities are determined locally by responsible officers and AP staff.

Summary of evidence

Relationships between staff and residents

Desistance from offending has been found to be influenced by the quality of supervisory relationships and the help, personal advice, and practical support that these can provide. As such, policies and practices in APs that may at first glance appear relatively innocuous can play a pivotal role in influencing the quality of rehabilitative regimes, facilitating or hindering constructive supervisory relationships, and ultimately, supporting successful transitions from prisons to the community.

For example, the use of an open-door policy, which removes the boundary between staff and residents’ areas, can allow for informal interactions and may enhance trust. Where a more distinct separation is set up between staff and residents’ areas, this can potentially damage relationships, creating an atmosphere for residents of ‘us versus them’.

Care does need to be taken when operating more open-door policies that staff do not become overly involved with residents and respond unhelpfully to crises. In addition, due to the risk of burnout from staff, it is important that they have some time and space away from residents.

Residents who have committed sexual offences

Due to the fact that APs cater mainly for individuals presenting higher risks of serious harm, a large number of residents have committed sexual offences. This group can prove a challenge due to the stigma generally attached to crimes of this nature. Sexual offender reintegration and resettlement work is precipitated on supporting individuals to construct themselves as both ex-offenders and non-sexual offenders. Hostel accommodation may therefore not always be appropriate – this is due to the possible negative effects of accommodating these individuals in a communal space that may facilitate social networking with those who have committed similar crimes while inhibiting wider social integration. This can result in extending both institutionalism and social isolation.

Sharp divides are often seen in APs between the spaces occupied and claimed by residents who have committed sexual offences and those sentenced for other types of crimes. Even where sexual offenders may be reluctant to form a distinct group, this can result from the need for social support in response to the negative attitudes which others have toward them. Staff should take care in the language used to describe these residents and avoid using value-laden judgements which further reinforce negative group identify.

Enabling Environments

Enabling Environments are places where there is a focus on creating a positive and effective social environment and where healthy relationships are seen as key. The Royal College of Psychiatrists assess Enabling Environments through standards based on ten values.

Enabling Environments Standards
Diagram displays interlocking puzzle pieces which read 'belonging, safety, involvement, communication, structure, empowerment, development, leadership, boundaries and openness'.

While all APs are expected to attain the Enabling Environments Award (EEA), it is likely that reaching and then retaining the award will be an ongoing challenge. The EEA process requires high levels of engagement with residents and excellent evidencing of the creation and maintenance of constructive, supportive and tailored regimes. This can be a considerable challenge, particularly due to the transient population typical to APs, with a requirement to achieve and record progress very quickly before each placement ends.

Psychologically Informed Planned Environments

Psychologically Informed Planned Environments (PIPEs) offer expert psychological input from NHS clinicians to help APs better manage service users with a suspected personality disorder (PD) and are intended to support effective movement through a clear pathway of psychologically informed provision. Enabling features of PIPEs include:

  • establishing and maintaining safe and supportive relationships between staff and residents, with residents highlighting the importance of staff availability and respectful day-to-day interaction
  • providing formal support mechanisms for residents through regular personal key worker sessions, structured groups, creative sessions, and informal activities
  • recruiting appropriately skilled staff to fulfil these roles.

Inconsistent approaches and variable commitment by staff can undermine helpful interactions with residents.

Inspection data

A 2017 inspection was undertaken entitled Probation Hostels’ (Approved Premises) contribution to public protection, rehabilitation, and resettlement. The overall findings for the work undertaken within APs were positive. More detailed findings from the inspection included the following:

  • APs were deemed to be performing exceptionally in protecting the public, with individuals returned to prison when appropriate
  • the quality of resettlement and rehabilitation services was more variable, and was noticeably better for women than for men
  • many residents present complex and entrenched patterns of risk and needs associated with offending, and the progress achieved by AP residents suggest that the structured and contained environments offered by APs promote effective work by professionals and residents
  • a major limitation with PIPEs was the lack of suitable interventions to address PDs, which had eroded the morale and motivation of both staff and service users
  • APs were found to have high occupancy and be oversubscribed, with an estimated shortfall of 25 per cent
  • staff feedback highlighted the need to ensure that responsible officers and key workers had access to good-quality training and support to undertake their complex range of duties.

I did not initially want to go to the AP [hostel], I had been in prison a long time and suffer from depression and anxiety and don’t like change. Since I have been here it has been the trust in my key worker and responsible officer that has made the difference. My responsible officer is wicked, he has been understanding and has given me a chance. My outlook on people has changed, I now give people a chance and this has rekindled my faith in people. I see myself progressing in the future, I have achieved much in a short period time.

Key references

Bettles, S., Rich, B. and Bourne, R. (2016). ‘Managing challenging residents: putting the Knowledge and Understanding Framework (KUF) into practice in Approved Premises’, Probation Journal, 63(4), pp. 425-432.

Davies, J., Pitt, C. and O’Meara, A. (2018). ‘Learning lessons from implementing Enabling Environments within Prison and Probation: Separating standards from process’, International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 63(2), pp. 218-231.

Irwin-Rogers, K. (2017). ‘Staff-resident relationships in Approved Premises: What a difference a door makes’, Probation Journal, 64(4), pp. 388-404.

Reeves, C.L. (2013). ‘The Others’: Sex Offenders’ social identities in Probation Approved Premises’, The Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, 52(4), pp. 383-398.

Turley, C., Payne, C. and Webster, S. (2013). Enabling features of Psychologically Informed Planned Environments. London: National Offender Management Service.

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Last updated: 17 May 2021