Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


381. The recent series of Government reports, taken together, provides a reasonably coherent and sensible framework for sentencing, prison regime and resettlement. However, implementation has been patchy. Progress has been made in developing more credible and effective sentencing, and in reviewing sentencing guidelines. The creation of NOMS contains at least the potential for integrating the day-to-day work of the prison and probation services and providing 'end to end' management of prisoners from sentence to resettlement. NOMS is in its early stages and we will be monitoring closely how the new organisation develops.

382. There has, however, been markedly uneven achievement in regard to the prison regime and resettlement. Progress has undoubtedly been made on drug treatment and provision of basic education. However, the ability of prisoners to return to work—or find work for the first time—is an essential part of rehabilitation. We found little evidence that serious efforts are being made within the Prison Service to prepare prisoners for the world of work. Much other provision for rehabilitation and resettlement continues to be inadequate—as previous chapters of this report illustrate graphically. We are particularly concerned about the failure to make appropriate provision for vulnerable groups: women, young prisoners, mentally ill prisoners and those from minority ethnic backgrounds. Too few attempts are made, either, to provide rehabilitative services to short-term or remand prisoners.

383. In previous chapters we have made recommendations aimed at tackling these specific problems. In the remainder of this report we set out general principles which we think should govern rehabilitation policy. We believe these can be integrated within the framework the Government has already set up, and will help to turn the Government's aspirations into reality.

An effective rehabilitation strategy

384. We agree with the Government that the core purpose and measure of rehabilitation must be to reduce re-offending. However, a reduction in re-offending can only be achieved through a rehabilitative strategy which reintegrates offenders into society by giving them the opportunity and assistance needed to reform.

385. An effective prison rehabilitation strategy must look not only at the offending criminal behaviour but also at the individual prisoner himself or herself. A prison rehabilitation regime must, where appropriate, challenge a prisoner's chaotic and deprived lifestyle by—

Further, the rehabilitation regime must be designed to deal with the different needs of different types of prisoner and the different factors affecting the re-offending of certain groups—in particular, women, young adults, black and minority ethnic groups, remand prisoners and short-term prisoners.

386. Wherever possible, offenders should be actively engaged in their own rehabilitation, and encouraged to take responsibility for themselves and their behaviour, from sentence planning through to resettlement.

387. The objectives we have set out in the previous paragraphs can only be achieved if there are significant changes in the regime within prisons. We have set out specific proposals earlier in this report. To summarise, the changes that are needed are (in order of priority):

    (i)  a major drive to provide work and work-like regimes and training within prisons;

    (ii)  an extension of this provision and other rehabilitative interventions to short-term and remand prisoners;

    (iii)  significant improvements to drug and alcohol treatment;

    (iv)  independent inspection of mental health provision; and

    (v)  specific provision to address the needs of minority and vulnerable groups.

388. Prison rehabilitation initiatives should aim to link offenders into resources existing in the community. Through this 'community provision' approach, the prison rehabilitation regime can successfully align the identified needs of the individual prisoner with the portfolio of interventions available both within the prison system and within the community. This is the model operated in Sweden under the principle of "normalisation". This means that the Prison and Probation Service should not provide services which are available in the community. Rather, the task of the Prison and Probation Service should be to make sure that the offender has access to the community services that he needs. In our view, this approach is imperative as a method of normalising the prison experience, (i.e. maintaining close ties between the inside and the outside, through links to social support services, voluntary organisations, church organisations and family members). Further, resources are invested in building up and sustaining adequate community provision rather than spending ever increasing sums on ever increasing numbers of prison places and wasting resources building a second—arguably substandard—tier of treatment within the prison estate.

389. This community approach to prisons has been advocated as long ago as the early 1990s. In his report on Prison Disturbances, Lord Woolf recommended the establishment of community prisons on the grounds that prisoners would maintain better links with their families if they were imprisoned locally, better links with families would in turn assist with ex-prisoners return to the community, and 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.

390. A major impediment to rehabilitation within the existing system is that too many prisoners are held in prisons that are geographically remote from their homes, families and communities. This is partly a legacy of past decisions about where prisons should be built and how large they should be. The Director General of the Prison Service, Mr Phil Wheatley, told us 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".[310] This situation is exacerbated by over-crowding and the consequent high level of transfers of prisoners across the country as places become available. We recommend that, in future, rehabilitative needs should be taken into account when decisions are taken on the locations of new prisons. New prisons should be built with the right facilities to deliver a rehabilitative regime that meets the needs of the local prison population. The Prison Service should focus on developing a variety of types of prisons across a region. It is particularly important that a network of local community prisons be built up to benefit short-term prisoners and prisoners close to the end of their sentence.

391. Overcrowding is undoubtedly causing severe problems within the prison system. However, overcrowding should not be used as an excuse for poor management. We are not convinced that every effort is currently being made to minimise transfers between prisons where these impede the work of rehabilitation.

392. Historically, in England and Wales, the focus of prison rehabilitation regimes within individual prison establishments has depended more upon the views of the governor than on any overarching Prison Service strategy. As we have seen in many different contexts earlier in this report, the result has been a wide divergence from prison to prison in what is provided by way of education, training, work activities and offending behaviour programmes.

393. The current situation means that it is something of a lottery as to whether a particular prisoner actually benefits from rehabilitative interventions appropriate to his or her needs. We believe that this is unfair to the individuals concerned. We recommend that the Prison Service should move towards ensuring greater consistency of provision across the prison estate, by means of common standards and, where appropriate, ring-fenced funding for particular rehabilitative provisions. We accept that this will inevitably entail some loss of prison governors' present autonomy, but consider that this would be a price worth paying.

310   Q 273 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