Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report



We have carried out an inquiry into the rehabilitation of offenders as law-abiding and useful members of the wider community. The best way of reducing re-offending is to ensure that prisoners on their release have the ability to get into work and a home to go to. We focus especially on ways of delivering these aims.

As a result of recent official reports and government initiatives, a basic policy framework is now largely in place which could make possible the more effective rehabilitation of offenders. However, implementation has been patchy. Progress has been made in developing more credible and effective sentencing, and in reviewing sentencing guidelines. The merger of the Prison and Probation Services to form a National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is a step towards 'end to end' management of prisoners from sentence to resettlement, but NOMS is still in its early stages and much remains to be done.

We welcome the Government's publication of a National Action Plan on reducing re-offending, but are disappointed at the elementary nature of many of its action points. We recommend that it should be reissued in a revised and more detailed form, and that the Home Office should report annually to Parliament on progress made in implementing the Plan.

Despite a welcome recent decrease in re-offending rates, the scale of the problem is massive—it remains the case that nearly three in five prisoners are reconvicted within two years of leaving prison.

We support the use of reconviction rates as a measure of re-offending, and therefore of the success or otherwise of rehabilitation, but we criticise the current 'two-year post-release snapshot' as a blunt measuring tool, and recommend the adoption of more sophisticated measures. We regret the decision by the Home Office to reclassify its PSA Target (of reducing re-offending by 5%) as a 'standard' (committing it not to allow re-offending rates to deteriorate), and call for the reinstatement of the target.

Overcrowding is having a hugely damaging impact on the delivery of rehabilitative regimes across the prison estate, both in terms of quality and quantity of appropriate interventions. We express scepticism about the Home Office's projection that the prison population will stabilise at about 80,000 by the end of the present decade, exactly matching estimated capacity. This projection depends on very large assumptions about the net effect of sentencing changes.

Regrettably, overcrowding is likely to remain a feature of our prison system for the foreseeable future. It should not be used as an excuse for ignoring the issue of rehabilitation and failing to follow examples of good practice.

The Prison Service has repeatedly failed to meet its target of providing an average of 24 hours' worth of purposeful activity for each prisoner per week. The situation may be even more serious than the official figures suggest. We carried out a 'Prison Diaries Project' which investigates prisoners' own experience of rehabilitative regimes. Data from this project suggests that disturbingly high proportions of prisoners are engaged in little or no purposeful activity. The consequences are too many hours 'banged up' in their cells, with harmful impacts on their mental and physical health. We criticise the dropping of the Key Performance Indicator for purposeful activity, and suspect this has been done to avoid embarrassment arising from the Prison Service's continuing failure to meet the target.

A consequence of overcrowding is the very high level of transfers of prisoners between prisons. This disrupts intervention programmes and damages rehabilitative work.

The first step in rehabilitation is accurate individual assessment of prisoners on admission to prison. A full assessment of needs and risk is as essential for a prisoner entering prison as for a patient entering hospital. Until recently the Prison Service has failed to take this essential first step. We welcome the introduction of the Offenders Assessment System (OASys), but criticise the slippage in its implementation timetable. We call for OASys to be extended to apply to remand and short-term prisoners.

We agree with the Prison Industries Internal Review that it is indefensible that the Prison Service cannot find enough work or purposeful activity for prisoners. While a maximum of 30% of prisoners may be involved in some form of work activity, only a third of those are placed in prison workshops, the type of work activity which most closely reflects real working life. This suggests that involving prisoners in work schemes remains a low priority for the Government.

We recommend that the prison regime should be reconstructed to support prisoners working a conventional 9 am to 5 pm working day, in education, vocational training or work programmes. This would foster the work ethic and encourage prisoners to obtain qualifications and marketable skills.

We also recommend that the Prison Service should run a small number of pilot schemes to assess the impact of paying prisoners market rates for their work, with appropriate deductions to cover the cost of accommodation, food, child support and—as a requirement—reparation for victims.

We were impressed by the work done by the National Grid Transco Foundation in training and resettling young offenders, and support a major extension of the Transco approach. This directly meets the employment needs of a private sector company, but also offers a higher quality of training than the vast majority of prison-based training.

Partnerships between the prison sector, companies and their supply chains should be established as a matter of priority to provide sustainable employment opportunities for offenders. Basic labour shortages and skills gaps in the external labour market should be identified and matched to vocational training and work programmes in prisons. Some of the labour shortages in the economy that are currently met through managed migration could be met by enhancing the employment potential of the prison population. A business case should be formulated for the creation of a specialist not-for-profit agency outside the Prison Service, to co-ordinate investment, marketing and supply for prison industries.

There should be much greater use of day release schemes on the German model to enable prisoners to experience work in the community prior to their release, and demonstrate their abilities and trustworthiness to employers.

The Prison Service has a good record in recent years in meeting its targets in relation to basic skills education. However, access to educational opportunities varies across the prison estate. The 'churn' of prisoners through an overcrowded system disrupts educational provision. We recommend that the DfES should impose minimum standards by way of key performance indicator targets. Every prisoner should have a personal record of achievement which they will take with them when transferred to a new prison. In the medium to long term, we consider that an overly narrow emphasis on basic education should not be encouraged. We make other recommendations in respect of prison education, and look forward to the forthcoming report from the Education and Skills Select Committee on this subject.

We share the Government's disappointment at the results of the most recent research into the impact of offending behaviour programmes. The priority given to these programmes should be reduced, and a more sophisticated selection process for the programmes be introduced.

We support the work of therapeutic communities such as those at HMP Grendon. The Government should maintain and if possible increase the present level of resourcing of such communities.

The expanding use of remand is a cause for concern. The Government should commission a comprehensive review of the role of remand in the criminal justice system. While respecting remand prisoners' status as (in most cases) unconvicted prisoners, measures should be put in place to ensure the time they spend in custody is used constructively.

The complacent thinking that nothing can be done to rehabilitate short-term prisoners has crippled the response to rehabilitative treatment of those prisoners. A radical rethink is required. This should comprise effective assessment, provision of work and training, and assistance with resettlement. Special intensive courses in basic education and drug treatment should be designed to be completed by short-term prisoners while in custody.

We recommend that every prisoner should receive health care screening, including mandatory drug testing, on admission to prison. We are critical of the limited number of places on prison drug treatment programmes and the restrictions on accessing those programmes. The number of places available should be substantially increased. The guaranteed quality of access to drug treatment for prisoners should never be less than that offered to offenders in the community. Care must be taken not to focus on the availability of treatment to those entering the criminal justice system at the expense of those with drug problems already in the prison system. In addition, an overall strategy should be developed for dealing with prisoner alcohol misuse or addiction.

The sharp rise in the number of women prisoners deserves particular attention. The vast majority of these women are in prison for non-violent offences and have never been a danger to the public. The Government should consider setting targets for reducing the numbers of women offenders sentenced to prison, and should develop a more focussed rehabilitation strategy for women prisoners. We recommend the appointment of accountable officers with responsibility for women prisoners at each establishment where women are held. The number of places for women in open prisons should be substantially increased. Except in the most serious cases, there should be a presumption that home leave is available for women prisoners. Rehabilitative programmes should be adapted to meet the specific needs of women prisoners. NOMS should take active steps to learn from models of good practice such as the Asha Centre.

We note that recent efforts to reform the prison regime for young prisoners have focussed on the juvenile estate, and that as a result 18 to 21 year old prisoners have been overlooked. Levels of constructive activity and intervention programmes for the young adult prison population are woefully inadequate. The Government should match the investment it has made in developing a rehabilitation strategy for juveniles by designing an equivalent tailored range of interventions for young adults.

We are deeply concerned at the over-representation of minority ethnic groups, particularly black men, across the criminal justice system. The absence of comprehensive ethnic and religious monitoring across the prison estate is much to be regretted. We make recommendations for the systematic collation of data in this field. We call on the Government's Criminal Justice System Race Unit to conduct an internal audit of the Prison Service's rehabilitative interventions to assess whether they comply with the needs of minority ethnic and religious groups.

The current system of prison provision for mental health care is failing in two ways. First, some individuals suffering mental illness are committing crimes, being convicted and sent to prison because of the failures of mental health care in the community. Second, prisoners who become severely mentally ill in prison are not being diverted out of the prison system to appropriate specialist secure units in the community. We deplore the delays in assessing prisoners' mental health care needs on admission to prison. More places should be made available in specialist secure units in the community. We recommend that the Healthcare Commission be given statutory authority to monitor and evaluate the adequacy of mental health care provision across the prison estate.

The resettlement of offenders should become a cornerstone in the new approach to offender management envisaged by NOMS. A more detailed resettlement model should be incorporated in the National Action Plan. Crime Reduction Partnerships should be actively involved in the resettlement of ex-prisoners. In the short term, co-ordinated communication systems should be established to enable prison staff and prisoners to make contact with key agencies in the local areas to which prisoners are returning. In the medium term, resettlement teams should be established in each of the ten NOMS regions.

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Prepared 7 January 2005