Matt Randle, Catch22’s Director of Justice, reflects on some of the findings of the National Audit Office’s review into the current resettlement landscape.
The National Audit Office (NAO), whose job is to scrutinise the cost-effectiveness of public spending, has recently published its report, “Improving resettlement support for prison leavers to reduce reoffending.” The review found that the government is not consistently supporting prison leavers in resettling into the community, stating:
“One of the core purposes of prisons and probation services is to prepare prisoners for release effectively and ensure their smooth resettlement into the community. However, HMPPS and its partners across government do not do so consistently.”
This finding is indeed supported by some stark statistics:
- Only 37% of prison leavers with a substance misuse treatment referral engage in community-based treatment in 2021-2022.
It’s not just the above numbers, but also the stories of lived experience that we frequently witness across our Justice services at Catch22, that demonstrate a resettlement system that is nearing its breaking point.
Catch22 has a long history of delivering custodial rehabilitative services, and now delivers a variety of services including 12 Commissioned Rehabilitative Services (CRS) supporting People on Probation to address their resettlement needs. We have worked in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) through its various iterations, including its transition away from the Through the Gate (TTG) model in 2021. We therefore have a good insight as to what has and hasn’t worked well across the different commissioning and delivery models in the last decade. Organisationally, we were enthused when we saw that the CRS model for Personal Wellbeing included a Social Inclusion pathway that sought to provide tailored support for prison leavers both on build up to and after their release. This set-up, which supports relational continuity from custody to community, is what we think works best.
With years of delivery in the sector under our belt, we share many of the frustrations highlighted in the NAO report. More importantly, however, we also have a deep understanding of the solutions to the problems raised, and how the system’s key barriers to effective resettlement can be overcome, which this blog will explore.
A struggling Probation service
As reported by the NAO, a severe shortage of probation officers, combined with high caseloads, means that His Majesty’s Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) is not completing all the resettlement work it recognises is essential. Between April 2022 and January 2023, key handover meetings between prison and probation staff and prisoners did not happen as intended in around half of cases. Despite efforts to recruit, in December 2022, 29% of probation officer roles were vacant while 92% of probation sub-regions were operating at or above full caseload capacity.
Commissioned Rehabilitative Services, like Catch22’s Personal Wellbeing, Substance Misuse and Finance, Benefit and Debt services, have a high dependency on receiving referrals through community based probation services. We see first-hand the demand for our CRS services, but the stretched probation service means that People on Probation cannot be processed efficiently enough. Furthermore, feedback from probation practitioners is that they find referrals into pathways such as Personal Wellbeing overly complex and clunky. The result is less timely support reaching those who need it the most to break their cycle of crime. Our view is that, to maximise the uptake on such CRS services, there must be a simplified referral route for probation practitioners and a real push, including financial investment, to reinstate probation to full complement
Lack of custodial rehabilitative support
The resourcing issue seen in community-based Probation is also being mirrored in custodial pre-release teams, meaning prisoner resettlement needs are not always identified prior to release. In the year 2022-23, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) did not rate any prisons as ‘good’ for rehabilitation and release planning, compared to 3% in the previous year and 30% in 2019-20. As a result, people are emerging from prison unprepared and unqualified to navigate the world outside, into a probation service that doesn’t have the capacity to support.
All too often, we hear stories of People on Probation who were never supported to understand their license conditions, never formally introduced to their probation officer or given the opportunity to apply for employment, education or training from within prison. Of course, this makes the complex maze of resettlement all the more challenging and increases the likelihood of reoffending.
Instead, there should be dedicated and well-resourced custodial based resettlement teams in every prison, with resettlement planning beginning from the prisoner’s first day in custody, helping to ensure a smooth transition out of custody and a continuity of care.
An inclination towards custody
Finally, our justice system tends to prioritise custody over rehabilitative alternatives. Despite violent crime falling in England for nearly 30 years, as well as stacking evidence that indicates the benefits of a rehabilitative approach to crime, our incarceration rate is higher than the Europe-wide average.
At Catch22, we recognised this as an issue and set about trying to address it by launching our ACE (Achieving Compliance and Engagement) service. ACE acts to support those who are at high risk of a Fixed Term Recall (FTR) for non-compliance with their license conditions, whereby they are returned to custody for a 14- or 28- day period. The current lack of coordinated in-custody resettlement support means that FTRs lack any rehabilitative function and create a revolving door cohort of individuals being repeatedly recalled, increasing the potential of an escalation in crime and costing the state a huge amount of money. ACE worked to target this cohort, ensuring they had the support they needed to limit the chance of a recall to prison.
Furthermore, the UK’s ever-increasing remand population highlights the system’s preference to put people behind bars, disregarding the cost that this has on both the individual and the state. The number of defendants being held in custodial remand whilst awaiting trial is currently the highest it has been for at least 50 years, at 14,500, with only half of these subsequently being given a prison sentence. Despite facing many of the same challenges, remand prisoners do not automatically receive the same level of support as the sentenced prison population, both in prison and upon leaving. The result is that their prison sentence ends up inflicting an array of mental health issues, trauma and resentment towards the system. As such, we welcome HMPPS’s move to begin varying some of its CRS contracts to improve support for remand prisoners.
To conclude, it is clear the system has change fatigue. However, given the resourcing pressures that HMPPS face are likely to be medium-term, the system must, in the meantime, find room for some give. The intention behind having dedicated CRS provision to offer tailored rehabilitative support to People on Probation is welcomed, though it’s becoming clear that tweaks must be made to maximise their impact and value. To deliver the resettlement support that the system is crying out for, we must, beyond rapidly addressing the bottleneck being seen in probation, look to further embed the CRS offering into the custodial estate: enabling timely resettlement preparations and a continuity of care. Only then can we expect prison leavers to have a fair chance at successful rehabilitation.