10 SHORT-TERM PRISONERS
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. 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.
The Halliday Report acknowledged that many short-term prisoners
are persistent offenders and commit the majority of crimes that
impinge upon the community.
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".
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.
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
"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
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 prisonermale or femaleneeds
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."
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Q 470 Back
Halliday Report: Making punishments work: Report of a review of
the sentencing framework for England and Wales (2001) Back
Ev 209 (para 9) Back
Social Exclusion Unit Report, Reducing re-offending by ex-prisoners
(July 2002) Back
Q 54 Back
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