Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


254. There is currently no prison rehabilitation regime specifically designed to meet the needs of short-term prisoners. The claimed justification for this is that prisoners serving short sentences are not inside long enough for rehabilitation programmes to make a difference. However, it has been argued that the lack of attention paid to short-term prisoners during their stay in prison, combined with the lack of resettlement services or social support following their release, helps to create a 'revolving doors' pattern of those prisoners re-offending and returning to prison within a short space of time after release.

255. Short-term prisoners are defined as prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months in prison. They constitute the majority of those sentenced to imprisonment each year: in 2003, 64% of all adult males sent to prison were sentenced to less than 12 months.[204] In 2002, 95,000 people in total were sentenced to prison and of those, 53,000 were sentenced to six months or less. Short-term prisoners have higher reconviction rates than other offenders.[205] The Halliday Report acknowledged that many short-term prisoners are persistent offenders and commit the majority of crimes that impinge upon the community.[206]

256. Short-term prisoners constitute one of the biggest challenges to a prison rehabilitation strategy. They have a wide range of offending motivators, most critically in relation to accommodation, employment, alcohol or drug dependency. The majority will also have significant educational and behavioural needs and deficiencies. However, like remand prisoners, the majority of short-term prisoners spend their time in local prisons, which are the most overcrowded and provide the most basic prison regime. As HM Chief Inspector of Prisons has commented, because of the 'churn' of prisoners through the system, local prisons achieve little more than 'humane containment': "the prisons where they are held are struggling to provide the basics of decency and safety, let alone purposeful activity and rehabilitation".[207]

257. Thus traditionally there has been very little rehabilitative work done with short-term prisoners. The Social Exclusion Unit report in 2002 found that the "majority of prisoners, particularly those serving short-term sentences, receive little practical support, before release or afterwards". There has been a tendency to justify this lack of attention to the rehabilitative needs of short-term prisoners on the ground that nothing effective can be done within such a short timeframe. [208]

258. It has been argued that significant work needs to be done with this high-profile, high-problem group as a matter of priority. The Director of Nacro, Mr Paul Cavadino, told us that:

    "You can assess people's educational needs; you can assess their training and employment needs; you can assess their health needs, their needs for help with addiction to drugs or alcohol, for example. You can assess a range of things which, even if you cannot then meet them in prison, you can do some emergency first aid … to stop them getting worse and make arrangements by liaison with community agencies that can help with those problems if the person is going to be released within a short time. I think we need to be very much more systematic about this.

Mr Cavadino added that the following interventions should take place in the case of each short-term prisoner:

    Every prisoner—male or female—needs to have a team of people with the specific responsibility of taking the immediate steps that are needed to stop matters from getting worse, to retain accommodation, to retain employment (because a third of people going to prison do have a job) and where it is possible to remain in contact with the employer and arrange for that to happen. Also, then to set up practical resettlement plan for the prisoner's release."[209]

259. An example of good practice in relation to the rehabilitation of short-term prisoners is provided by the Kent and Medway Short-term Prisoner Project. This is a voluntary project which has operated since 2002 with the aim of breaking the re-offending cycle of short-term prisoners released in the Margate area. Offenders serving between three and 12 months with previous convictions "demonstrating a sustained pattern of offending" are asked whether they wish to take part in the project. If they agree, they receive assessment and are subject to multi-agency interventions before and after release, and to supervision for a limited period. An external evaluation of the project was positive, showing significant reductions in re-offending. Fuller details of the project are given in the box below.

The Kent and Medway Short-Term Prisoner Project

The Kent and Medway Short-Term Prisoner Project is part of a wider Resettlement Programme aimed at facilitating the effective resettlement of both short-term prisoners and those released on licence from three Kent prisons (HMPs Canterbury, Elmley and Standford Hill). The project is supported by the local employment services, benefits agencies, health authorities, district councils and voluntary organisations, and has been operating since April 2002. It was piloted by HMP Canterbury, Kent Probation Area and Thanet police.

When an offender serving between three and 12 months with a persistent criminal history enters prison, he is asked whether he would like to participate in the project. If he agrees, he is required to sign a compact giving consent for personal information to be shared with a variety of agencies. He is then asked to complete a self-assessment form and a benefits questionnaire. The prison authorities use this to design a custodial strategy, comprising an individual programme of interventions (drug counselling/treatment, education classes, mentoring). As the prisoner approaches the end of his sentence, a multi-agency casework review takes place to identify a release strategy: an agreed action plan to prepare for the prisoner's release and the nature of the external support he will need to assist his resettlement. A number of housing agencies endeavour to find suitable accommodation and if the prisoner is judged suitable, employment interviews are arranged with the employment centre. On release, the prisoner is subject to targeted interventions by participating agencies. He is also subject to supervision by police and volunteer mentors for a limited period.

An external evaluation of the project in 2002 was positive. It found that 17% of project participants re-offended within eight weeks of release, compared to 31% of prisoners from a control group. In addition, in cases where ex-prisoners re-offended, there was a discernible difference in the overall seriousness of the new offences between the group of prisoners who had taken part in the project and the control group who had not: 25% of those who re-offended after participating in the project committed a less serious offence than their original offence, and only 6.8% committed a more serious offence. The comparable figures for the control group were 5.1% and 28.8%. [Source: L Berriman, The role of social support with the Short-Term Prisoner Project designed to address resettlement and recidivism (University of Kent, 2002).]


260. A radical rethink about the treatment of short-term prisoners is urgently required. The complacent thinking that nothing effective can be done to rehabilitate short-term prisoners has crippled the response to regime provision for short-term prisoners. Inaction towards and neglect of this majority group of prisoners can no longer be justified.

261. We welcome the Government's attempts, through the introduction of the new sentencing framework in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (for which, see paragraph 71 above), to rebalance the criminal justice system and enhance the use of robust community penalties such as Custody Plus as a effective alternative to imprisonment. We hope these measures will have a significant impact on reducing the number of prisoners who serve a short prison term with no supervision post-release.

262. However, we are critical of the failure to include in the Government's National Action Plan strategies for the short to medium term to improve the prison rehabilitation regime for short-term prisoners. We recommend that this omission be remedied as a matter of priority.

263. In addition, it is not yet clear how many prisoners even after the introduction of Custody Plus will continue to serve relatively short-term sentences. We recommend that the Home Office should publish their estimates of how many prisoners will, after the introduction of the new sentencing framework, serve custodial sentences of between six months and two years. The introduction of the new community penalties will not eliminate the need for a fundamental overhaul of the Prison Service's attitude to short-term prisoners, which is currently dominated by the view that nothing constructive can be done.

264. The Kent and Medway Short-Term Prisoner Project provides evidence that a tailored rehabilitative regime for short term prisoners which directly challenges their re-offending motivators and addresses the particular risks and needs of this prolific and persistent group of re-offenders can positively impact on re-offending rates. We need to stop looking at short-term prison sentences as individual episodes of an offender going to prison and being released and start seeing the majority of short term offenders as prisoners who come back time and again and are, as it were, serving a long sentence episodically. Then the justification for investing significant resources into this prisoner group becomes clear.

265. We recommend that the Prison Service should introduce a properly structured approach to the treatment of short-term offenders. This should comprise effective assessment (possibly using a variant of OASys, which does not at present extend to short-term prisoners), provision of work and training, and assistance with resettlement.

266. We recommend that special intensive courses in basic education and drug treatment be designed which can be completed by short-term prisoners whilst in custody. Building on these, short-term prisoners should have the opportunity to commence longer-term education, vocational and treatment programmes in prison which are directly linked with programmes available in the local community. This will allow them to continue the programmes after release.

267. A substantial body of research supports the Kent and Medway Short Term Prison Project evaluation's finding that supervision of ex-prisoners after release makes their adjusting back into society easier.[210] The introduction of Custody Plus, one of the new sentencing options available under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, will go some way to addressing the current lack of supervision and community support for short-term prisoners but alternatives should be investigated and evaluated at an early stage to discern any value they may add. We commend the key elements of the Kent and Medway Short Term Prison Project, in particular its use of continuing targeted intervention and police and volunteer supervision. We recommend that this be developed nationally and taken forward by NOMS.

204   HMP Canterbury briefing note to the Committee, April 2004 (not printed) Back

205   Q 470 Back

206   Halliday Report: Making punishments work: Report of a review of the sentencing framework for England and Wales (2001) Back

207   Ev 209 (para 9) Back

208   Social Exclusion Unit Report, Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners (July 2002) Back

209   Q 54 Back

210   Alexander K, Blocking the fast track from prison to rough sleeping. London Research Centre (2000). Alexander interviewed 71 prisoners at HMP Brixton and HMP Wandsworth and found that prisoners who had been in prison several times had frequently experienced the same problems regarding accommodation, employment, debt and substance abuse each time they were released. Back

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