Support for ex-offenders Contents


1.The Government’s own assessment of the prison system is that it “fails to rehabilitate or make sure criminals are prevented from offending again”.1 This failure comes at a high cost to society; recidivism costs the taxpayer around £15 billion per year.2 On top of this is the cost in benefits and lost taxes as a result of ex-offenders being ready to work but unable to secure a job. Data published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2014 showed that 28% of Jobseeker’s Allowance claims were made by individuals who had been convicted or cautioned.3 As well as financial costs, there is the wider human cost to families and society. In 2015–16, 38% of adults convicted of an indictable offence already had a long criminal record.4

2.The prison system is going through a process of reform. In 2014, the Government launched Transforming Rehabilitation (TR): a programme designed to reform how prisoners in England and Wales are handled. The ambition of the reforms was simple— “to make progress in driving down reoffending rates.”5 Under these reforms the landscape for probation was restructured. 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), owned by eight different providers, were created by the Government to deliver services to low-risk and medium-risk offenders.6 A new National Probation Service (NPS) was set up in June 2014 to manage high-risk offenders and those subject to Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA).7 There are more reforms to come. In November 2016, the MoJ published a White Paper on Prison Safety and Reform.8 It set out a framework for prison reform, including greater freedoms for prison governors to control budgets and make decisions about the services in their prisons. The Government also intends to publish an employment strategy for ex-offenders in 2017.9

3.Preliminary reports into TR reforms have been critical but acknowledged that services are relatively new and rehabilitation is complicated. The NAO said that it will take two years before the prospects of success are clearer.10 Sam Gyimah MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation, told us

The services are in their infancy—they have been going for a couple of years now—and what they are expected to do is quite complicated for a complicated set of individuals. We cannot get away from that.11

He went on to say “we are in foothills of reform here so all ideas are welcome and should be considered.”12

4.The reforms are taking place against the backdrop of a strained prison service. Many individual prisons are working at capacity13 and the prison service overall is very close to its usable operation capacity.14 The latest Ministry of Justice figures on prison safety show an increase in the number of deaths, instances of self-harm and assaults in prisons.15 The number of assaults on prison staff has risen by 43%. On 15 November 2016, thousands of prison officers stopped work over claims of a surge of violence in jails and returned to work following a High Court injunction. The Justice Secretary has admitted that there are very serious violence issues in prisons, and said that more staff are being recruited.16

5.Members of this Committee have assisted constituents with first-hand experience of failures in rehabilitation; individuals leaving prison with no fixed accommodation, no financial support and no prospect of finding work. We decided to conduct an inquiry into the employment opportunities and benefits available for people leaving prison. Responsibility for the rehabilitation of ex-offenders cuts across a number of Government departments. We have been primarily interested in how the DWP works with MoJ to ensure successful rehabilitation for prison leavers. We would like to thank all those who gave evidence to this inquiry, particularly to those witnesses who told us about their personal experience of the prison and probation system. We would also like to thank the staff at HMP Featherstone who accommodated us on a visit.

6.The importance of secure accommodation for prisoners to go to on release has been recognised as key to reducing re-offending.17 The challenge of finding safe, affordable homes for ex-offenders is not new and, particularly for this group, employment and settled accommodation often go hand-in-hand. Without a fixed address, prison leavers struggle to set up a bank account, receive benefits and apply for jobs.18 Temporary accommodation can be expensive and ex-offenders may have to move at short notice.19 During this inquiry, uncertainties about the future and availability of supported housing were raised by many stakeholders.20 There are also questions about the impact of wider benefit changes on the ability of low-earners and vulnerable people to find affordable housing. These issues go beyond ex-offenders alone and we intend to hold a separate, joint inquiry with the Communities and Local Government Committee in 2017.

7.There is no silver bullet for reducing reoffending. Nacro, a charity that supports vulnerable people, told us that, whilst it is tempting to think about solutions in simple terms, such as securing a job or a home, the reality is often much more complicated.21 Employment however has been shown to significantly reduce the chances of reoffending.22 It can also lead to other positive outcomes that have been shown to reduce recidivism, such as financial security and finding a safe and permanent home.23 Employment can also help to change the way an ex-offender views themselves and increase their self-esteem. Tammy Moreton, an apprentice with Virgin Trains, told us

I am an ex-offender; I don’t like living that life, I’m not like that, I’m not about that life any more. I have changed myself to make myself a better person and it is all down to being given the help and the opportunity and the support that Virgin has given me.24

8.The prison and rehabilitation systems are in desperate need of reform. With such serious challenges around safety and capacity, we are concerned that rehabilitation may not be a priority for the prison service. However, the successful rehabilitation of offenders makes moral, social and economic sense. The financial cost of reoffending stands at around £15 billion per year. Added to this is the wider human cost to families and society.

9.We acknowledge that offender rehabilitation is complex and that there is no silver bullet solution. We welcome the Government’s commitment to reform. We are currently still in the foothills and much more needs to be done.

1 Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0033)

2 Q217 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

3 Experimental statistics from the 2013 MoJ/DWP/HMRC data share: linking data on offenders with benefit, employment and income data. Claims as at 1 December 2012. These statistics are experimental. As not all offenders were included in the matched data, these are likely to be under-estimates for the total number of individuals in the matched data claiming benefits on 1 December 2012.

4 Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly Update to March 2016. Long criminal record = 15 or more previous convictions or cautions.

6 CRCs were in public ownership until 1 February 2015, when they transferred to eight, mainly private sector, providers. CRCs sub-contract some services to other providers.

7 Prisoners assessed as being a higher risk to public safety

8 MoJ, Prison safety and reform, November 2016

9 Q155 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

11 Q162 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

12 Q178 (Minister Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

15 MoJ, Safety in Custody Statistics Bulletin, England and Wales, October 2016

17 MoJ, Prison Safety and Reform, November 2016

18 Unlock (SEO0029)

19 Crisis (SEO0044)

20 Rethink Mental Illness (SEO0055), National Housing Federation (SEO0054)

21 Nacro (SEO0051)

22 Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0033)

23 St Mungo’s (SEO0032)

24 Q40 (Tammy Moreton)

16 December 2016