Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


368. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) stated in 2002 that "the three key factors to reducing re-offending are work, accommodation and family support".[300] Research conducted by Nacro suggests that ex-prisoners with accommodation are between 20% and 50% less likely to re-offend than homeless ex-prisoners[301] whilst a Home Office evaluation of prison work and training in found that employment on release reduces the risk of re-offending between a third and a half.[302] Yet the PAC reported that four out of ten prisoners were homeless on release, and that over 40% of prisoners lose contact with families or friends in the course of a prison sentence.[303] The Government's National Action Plan states that "only a third of prisoners return to some form of settled accommodation on release".[304] Statistics from our 'Prison Diary Project' completed in June 2004 paint the same negative picture, with 66.6% of prisoners having no job on release and only 19% of prisoners receiving advice or guidance about accommodation and even less (16%) receiving advice or guidance about finding a job. As the General Secretary of the Prison Officers' Association pointed out to us in oral evidence,

    "if you approach the rehabilitation of offenders purely from a prison perspective, … then I think it is a bit short-sighted … when people leave prison they need to be looked after, and need to continue the rehabilitative process. If that process ends, for whatever reason, if you go back into the same kind of social climate you have come out of which contributed or caused your criminal behaviour, if your mental health problems cease to be adjusted or corrected at the prison gate, if you cease to take medication for mental health problems, if you cease to get intervention with regard to your personality disorder, or if you go back into a community where hard drugs are normal then one should not be surprised, when you compare those people coming out of prison, that the re-offending rate is not as good as anyone would like."[305]

369. The statistics underline the importance of a resettlement planning as an integrated element of the prison rehabilitation strategy. The result of failure to provide an adequate level of support for prisoners preparing for release is the continuation of the cycle of re-offending.

370. Rule 5 of the Prison Rules 1999 requires that "from the beginning of a prisoner's sentence, consideration shall be given, in consultation with the appropriate after-care organisation, to the prisoner's future and the assistance to be given him on and after his release".[306] The Prison Service informed us that about 50 prisons now operate some form of housing advice and support service, and that it is developing a prison-based housing advice and support service, drawing on the experience of prison projects originally developed with the Rough Sleepers Unit.

371. In her Annual Report for 2001-02, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, commented that, more often than not, her inspectors noted the absence of a coherent and effective resettlement strategy. The Prison Service's "Measuring the Quality of Prison Life" audit in 2002 found that the area of resettlement produced the most wide ranging prisoner responses across establishments, with levels of facilities, help and support varying substantially from prison to prison. During our prison visits, we saw had experience of a number of models of good practice in relation to settlement programmes, with some prisons running small-scale advice and job centres. However, in the main such schemes are in their infancy.

372. The Resettlement Key Performance Indicator target for 2002-03 was for 28,200 prisoners to find employment, training or education places after release. The Home Office Annual Report 2004 states that 21,919 prisoners entered employment in 2003. However, this statistic is based upon employment, training or education outcomes which are defined as a full or part-time paid job, part-time training or education place on release (each scoring one point towards the target) or attendance at a booked interview at the prisoner's local JobCentre after release (scoring a ½ -point towards the target). This statistic included 14,173 unemployed prisoners who attended a FRESHSTART interview at their local Jobcentre on release.[307] The Prison Service has given no indication of the outcomes of these initial interviews. We do not find the Home Office's Resettlement Key Performance Indicator helpful. We suggest the adoption of an indicator which is a more accurate gauge of the employment levels of ex-prisoners.

373. The Prison Service's efforts to date regarding resettlement of prisoners have been very much ad hoc. The extent and nature of assistance provided to prisoners prior to release is uneven across the prison estate, reflecting the priorities of individual prison governors.

374. We regret that the Government's National Action Plan limits resettlement activities to the provision of housing advice and improving "accommodation outcomes". We recommend that the Government develops a more comprehensive resettlement model to be incorporated into its National Action Plan, with the aim of providing prisoners close to release with practical advice and support to address accommodation, employment and family matters.

375. Historically, when prisoners are released, social services and community support agencies are far from pro-active in identifying them, and indeed there is evidence that prisoners are actively deprioritised. Many ex-prisoners experience real obstacles to re-engaging in learning or drug programmes on release; but these pale into insignificance compared with the difficulties they encounter when trying to access housing and benefits.

376. We welcome the Government's initial attempts in its National Action Plan to address the issue of accommodation for ex-prisoners. We recommend that the resettlement of offenders become a cornerstone in the new approach to offender management envisaged by NOMS, with the development of comprehensive resettlement strategies as integrated parts of the Regional Rehabilitation Strategies.

377. We also recommend that Crime Reduction Partnerships should be actively involved in the resettlement of ex-prisoners. Resettlement strategies should be integrated into local crime reduction strategies so that health, education and housing agencies, together with social services, are committed to dealing with the resettlement of offenders.

378. We note the difficulties created by the current levels of overcrowding with regard to implementing the resettlement programme we have advocated. At present, and for some time to come, significant numbers of prisoners will not be released from a prison close to their home locality. Basic logistical problems can impact detrimentally on out-reach work attempting to link prisoners with local services, employers and accommodation agencies. We recommend that in the short-term, co-ordinated communication systems 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 with responsibility for the practical resettlement of prisoners to that region, identifying housing and training or employment opportunities within the region, as well as liaising with housing agencies, training providers and employers and arranging support for offenders from mentors.

379. In his report on Prison Disturbances in April 1990, Lord Woolf recommended the establishment of local community prisons on the grounds that (i) prisoners would maintain better links with their families if they were imprisoned locally; (ii) better links with families would in turn assist with ex-prisoners return to the community; (iii) local custody would also help with obtaining employment and accommodation on release as well as facilitating continuity in links with the probation service both before and after release.[308] The current Director General of HM Prison Service, Mr Phil Wheatley, has acknowledged that "the reason why we do not have community prisons is not because they are not a good idea, it is because the prison estate is where it is and it does not actually line up with where prisoners come from".[309]

380. In our view, to achieve the objective of reducing re-offending there are sound reasons in the long term to move from the regional to the local model of offender management, particularly in light in the shift towards community sentencing introduced by the Criminal Justice Act 2003. We recommend that the Government develop a long-term local community strategy in tandem with its implementation of regional offender management.

300   Committee of Public Accounts, Fifty-third Report of Session 2001-02, Reducing Prisoner Re-offending (HC 619), para 2 Back

301   Ev 197 (para 3) Back

302   Home Office, An evaluation of prison work and training (1996) Back

303   HC (2001-02) 619, para 31 Back

304   National Action Plan, p 9 Back

305   Q237 Back

306   S.I., 1999, No. 728 Back

307   Ev 141 (para 3.4.5) Back

308   Prison Disturbances, April 1990. Report of an Inquiry by the Rt Hon Lord Justice Woolf (Parts I and II) and His Honour Judge Tumim (Part II) Back

309   Q 273 Back

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