Image credit: “Main gate to the HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs” by Chmee2 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
The Public Accounts Committee has published a report that raises concerns in relation to the level of support given to prisoners on their release.
Reoffending causes harm to victims and costs the criminal justice system and wider society dearly. In 2019, the Ministry of Justice estimated that reoffending across all adult offenders identified in 2016 cost society £16.7 billion.
Prison leavers are more likely to reoffend if they are not resettled into the community, particularly if they have nowhere to live, no job or other income and have poor continuity of healthcare.
The government provides a range of services to help prison leavers settle back into the community as part of its efforts to reduce reoffending. However, there has been a decline in the quality of resettlement services in recent years across England and Wales.
For the 30 inspections taking place in 2022–23, and for which details had been published by 12 April 2023, HMI Prisons rated no prisons as “good” for their work on rehabilitation and release planning. As recently as 2019–20, 30% of prisons were rated good.
The Probation Service has struggled to recruit and retain key staff, which has seriously affected the level and quality of support provided to prisoners. Many case officers have excessive caseloads as a result, which reduces the support they can provide to individuals.
For example, essential handover meetings between prison and probation staff only happened in around 50% of cases from April 2022 to January 2023.
As recently as December 2022, 29% of probation officer roles were vacant. HM Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) told the Committee that it has made some recent progress on recruitment, with 2,000 more staff in the probation service than this time last year. However, it takes a long time for new recruits to be fully trained and the Committee remains concerned that the workforce no longer has the balance of experience it needs to safely manage the probation caseload.
The prison estate is also facing unprecedented pressure to safely meet the current demands on capacity, which will in turn increase demand for HMPPS’ already strained resettlement services.
The Committee has written to the government and set out six detailed recommendations. It remains to be seen whether or not the government is committed enough to provide further resources in order to give prisoners a proper chance to turn their backs on past offending behaviour.
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