Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


125. In this section of the report, we look at the current prison regime. We examine how the needs and offending behaviour of offenders is assessed to enable the most effective prison rehabilitation regime and post-sentence management to be identified, the contribution prison can make to assisting ex-offenders to return to employment, and the efforts that can be made to tackle factors such as poor literacy and numeracy which can reinforce social exclusion. We also assess the role of prison in tackling drug misuse and other behavioural problems that may lead to re-offending. Finally, we consider the particular problems faced by minority groups of prisoners, such as women, young people, minority ethnic and religious groups and those suffering from mental illness.


126. The first step in any rehabilitation regime is assessment of the individual prisoner. The investigation of the prisoner's background and needs is necessary to devise an individually tailored sentence plan which identifies at the beginning of the sentence a number of specific interventions to address the prisoner's offending behaviour and assist with his or her return to society.

127. Some years ago the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, drew an analogy between the need to assess patients when they arrive at a hospital and an equivalent need to assess prisoners on arrival at prison:

128. The Prison and Probation Services have jointly developed a new Offenders Assessment System, known as "OASys". This is designed to identify offending-related needs, such as lack of accommodation, poor educational and employment skills, substance misuse and attitudinal difficulties for offenders over 18 years of age. It also assesses the risk of harm offenders pose to themselves and others.[102] The objective is two-fold: (i) to devise individual sentence plans from these assessments which manage and reduce the risks and needs identified and target the appropriate types of intervention for each offender and (ii) to enable probation officers who will have access to an offender's OASys assessment and sentence plan prior to his release on licence, to make advance arrangements in relation to matters such as accommodation or post-release drug treatment—or public protection in cases where the prisoner presents a significant risk of harm.[103] OASys will not, however, cover all prisoners—in particular, prisoners serving terms of less than 12 months, and remand prisoners, will be excluded from the system.[104]

129. OASys is still in process of being introduced. The Prison Service and the Probation Service have adopted different approaches to its introduction. In 2001 the Probation Service decided to move to early implementation of OASys as a paper-based system, but the Prison Service decided not to implement it until an electronic system (OASys IT) was available.[105] Subsequent delay in the introduction of OASys were attributed to "project management issues".[106] The Probation Service is now replacing the paper-based system with the electronic system. All 42 probation areas were using OASys IT by June 2004, though usage in several areas was described as "still low". The Prison Service's version of OASys IT was piloted at HMP Preston and has now been introduced in all Prison Service areas with 124 establishments using the system. Full implementation of OASys IT for both services was scheduled for late 2004 but has been delayed till autumn 2005.[107]

130. A focus on thorough initial assessment of risks and needs reflects international good practice. In Sweden, for instance, one of the most important elements of the reception of a prisoner into the prison institution is the preparation of an individual treatment plan. In order to ensure effective implementation of the treatment plan, a Treatment Board geared towards preparing and executing the treatment plan is established within each prison establishment.

131. The Prison Service Director of Resettlement, Mr Peter Wrench, acknowledged to us that at present there is inadequate assessment of prisoners with a view to identifying how best to assist in the task of rehabilitation:

    "what we are not yet good enough at is analysing the characteristics of our population and deciding what interventions they need in what order at what time to give them the best possible chances."

He added that "OASys and other [new] approaches to sentence management … will help us to do that better". [108]

132. Accurate individual assessment of prisoners on admission to prison is vital as a means of identifying factors underlying criminal behaviour and individual problems, such as illiteracy or drug dependence. We note the admission by the Prison Service's Director of Resettlement that hitherto the Service has failed to take this essential first step in the rehabilitation process. We agree with Sir David Ramsbotham that a full assessment of needs and risk is as essential for a prisoner entering prison as for a patient entering hospital.

133. This assessment should inform sentence planning for each stage of the custodial process. It should assist in determining the selection of proportionate and appropriate targeted interventions to address criminogenic factors plus the prisoner's personal deficiencies. Resettlement objectives should be incorporated within needs assessment and sentence planning at the outset. The Prison Service should move away from viewing prisoners as passive objects to be managed and seek actively to engage prisoners, requiring them to take responsibility for themselves and their behaviour, and to play an active role in their own rehabilitation, from sentence planning through to resettlement.

134. Both needs assessment and the resulting rehabilitative regime must be based on all available relevant information about what has happened to the individual before admission. The details of required treatment, response to treatment, and information regarding future needs, must be passed on to those responsible for offender management both in prison and in the community.

135. We welcome the development of OASys and recognise its importance in offender management. The OASys model has the potential to become a building block in multi-agency information exchange, linking the various elements of the criminal justice system, including social support services and voluntary agencies, in order to achieve closer co-operation in meeting the needs of prisoners in custody as well as those serving community penalties.

136. We are concerned at the slippage in the OASys implementation timetable and emphasise the importance of implementing OASys across both the Prison and Probation Services as a matter of urgency. In particular, attention must be focused on ensuring that both Prison and Probation Services are running IT versions of OASys which are mutually compatible and freely able to exchange information electronically.

137. We recommend that the OASys assessment tool should be extended as soon as possible to apply to remand and short-term prisoners.

101   HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Young Prisoners: A Thematic Review (1997), preface Back

102   Ev 123 (section 2.2) Back

103   Ev 123 (paras 2.2.1-8) Back

104   Q 242 Back

105   Ev 123, para 2.2.5 Back

106   See Computer Weekly, 6 June 2002 Back

107   Ev 275 (section 15); Ev 309-11 Back

108   Q 311 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 7 January 2005