Support for ex-offenders Contents

2Transition into the community

The challenge of transition

44.The move from prison back into society can be difficult for ex-offenders, regardless of the length of their sentence. They move from a life with daily regimes, structured learning and closed conditions to some form of independent living.83 HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons said the minimum requirements for resettlement were:

45.There are risks in transition associated with a higher propensity to reoffend. We heard that, if the minimum requirements set out by the Inspectorates are not met, the “temptation to fall back into crime can be significant”.85 Tammy Moreton explained that homelessness and a lack of self-belief are both major challenges:

Some people, if they are not that strong in themselves or do not believe in themselves, if they have been knocked down once, and they try again and get knocked down again, that’s where they turn. They go back to reoffending because they know they’ve got the prison system to rely on. It’s not a good thing, but they know that if they can’t get anything out here they’ve got somewhere. Especially if they’ve been released and have nowhere to go, they will reoffend just to make sure they’ve got somewhere to get their head down.86

The problem may be particularly acute for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) ex-offenders. A report by Baroness Lola Young found that BAME ex-offenders:

often come from communities that are concentrated in areas of crime, ill health and general deprivation. This poses challenges for those who have committed crimes and wish to leave offending behaviour behind, yet wish to return ‘home’.87

If ex-offenders can successfully resettle, however, they are more likely to take steps that will reduce the chances of them reoffending.88

Through the Gate services

46.In order to facilitate transitions, the Government introduced Through the Gate (TTG) provision in May 2015. TTG services are provided by the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). As part of the reforms, CRCs should be provided with the Basic Custody Screening Assessment (BCSA) for a prisoner (see paragraph 22) within three days of the individual entering prison. They should then develop the BCSA into a resettlement plan.89 CRCs are expected to provide a resettlement service for all prisoners, focussing on the beginning and the end of the custodial period, or throughout the sentence for prisoners with short sentences. Resettlement services include support with finding employment, securing accommodation, finance and debt advice and help for victims of domestic abuse.90 The Government said that under TTG reforms:

In most cases the same provider will support induction of an offender into custody, provide them with resettlement services before release, meet them at the prison gates and continue work in the community.91

TTG provision was designed to deliver a “seamless service from the beginning to the end of the sentence”92 and then “give continuous support from custody into the community.”93

47.Early reports on TTG services have been critical. A joint Inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HIMP) found that the strategic vision for TTG services had not been realised and that many responsible officers “conveyed a lack of hope and an almost fatalistic acceptance of the likelihood of failure.”94 The joint inspection covered all aspects of resettlement services, including employment. Remarkably, it found that not a single prisoner in the inspection had been assisted into employment or training by TTG services.95

48.HMIP also found that CRCs did not promote links to local colleges and education providers, or handover to specialist education, employment and training staff in the community:

Most prisoners were involved in work or education as part of their prison day. As a minimum, we hoped that CRC staff would find out what work or education the prisoner had been doing during their sentence, and share that with the responsible officer so that these could be developed on release. We did not find that being done.96

A report by the National Audit Office on Transforming Rehabilitation found that CRCs delivering resettlement provision were:

focussed on commencing services and meeting contractual measures based on completing processes, rather than on service quality.97

49.The Government said that TTG services were still in their infancy but acknowledged that they required improvement.98 Gita Sisupalan, Deputy Director for Prison Reform Policy, Ministry of Justice, said

We share some of the concerns about how the CRCs are operating. That is why the Minister has asked us to conduct a comprehensive review of probation services [ … ] Although both the NAO report and the Inspectorate reports have been critical, they did accept that the transition had been well managed and services continued to be delivered.99

The nature of resettlement support

50.We heard that the binary nature of resettlement—the help provided in prison and that provided outside—can create a lack of continuity and gaps in support. The ex-offenders we spoke to told us there was often very little help beyond the prison gate.100 The problem appeared to be particularly acute for short sentence prisoners. The joint HMIP report noted that, for those serving short sentences, “CRC responsible officers in the community appeared to give very little thought to prisoners until they were on the brink of release”.101 Matt John told us that for prisoners under MAPPA arrangements there was a lot of support but “for people who are in for less serious offences, the Prison Service and the Probation Service are quite happy for people to be released with very little money and perhaps nowhere to go.”102 Tammy Moreton told us

from my personal experience, once you’ve been released, at first there’s not much help and support that people in prisons are made aware of [ … ] sometimes once they’ve been released they just get left. They are not aware of the extra help and support that can be there upon release.103

We were told of instances where prison leavers were “left at the prison gates with only a sleeping bag and tent” or to “fend for themselves”.104

51.Damian Hinds admitted that the nature of support changed on release:

We are working to improve data sharing and all these other aspects to try to make that journey and transition as smooth as possible, but there is a difference. There is a slightly binary thing between being in prison and being at liberty.105

52.The best practice we have seen is where those outside prisons, such as JCP, employers and mentors, work jointly with those inside prisons to provide seamless support (Box 1). Finding a job or being able to access the right benefits will not, alone, solve the challenges of transition. These factors, however, can help to meet some of those key minimum requirements for resettlement: access to enough money for basic needs and a sense of hope for the future.

Box 1: Examples of smooth transitions

Job Centre Plus: forum respondent

The provision in prison for ensuring I was supported upon my release was excellent. Because I was serving a short sentence (4.5 months), I had fortnightly meetings with the Job Centre, beginning immediately, who ensured that all the paperwork was completed and set up an appointment at my local Job Centre Plus for the day after my release. I was quickly sent to a local Maximus centre which I continued to attend for a couple of months, until I found a job.

Employment: Darren Burns, Timpson

I will form a relationship with a prison governor or a resettlement manager in the prison. We will have a chat. I will give them the criteria of the people we take.

The prison will then do a pre-screen. They will get together 10 or 12 men or women for me to come in and interview. Interviews are very informal. They are five to 10-minute chats. We will give opportunities to the ones who I feel will be suitable for our businesses, and it is as simple as that.

The prison staff will then draw up a licence and the people will be released out into the community to work in our branches. We pay national living wage for everyone who works for us on ROTL.

When these guys eventually get released, we meet them at the gate, we give them their uniform and introduce them to the colleagues who they will be working with, wherever it is they will be released to in the country. We put them to work and we have huge success.

Source: Oral evidence, HC 58-I and Unlock online forum responses

53.A good resettlement is one that minimises the impact of moving from support in prison to support in the community. The Government has recognised the importance of smooth transitions but early reports on Through the Gate services paint a disappointing picture. In their research, HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons did not encounter a single prisoner who had been helped into employment by Through the Gate provision. All too often prisoners face a cliff edge in support once they reach the prison gate. In this chapter we consider the ways in which resettlement could be improved. Our recommendations focus on financial security, employment support provided by JCP, and measuring transitions.

Financial security

54.Most prisoners receive a discharge grant of £46 when they leave custody and all discharged prisoners receive a travel warrant or fares to their initial destination.106 The grant has been fixed at £46 since 1995.107 The Government acknowledged that this was not a lot of money but said it was:

not intended to provide for all the prisoner’s needs after release, but rather to assist them in the first few days, before they might reasonably be able to get a job or begin to access state benefits.108

55.A joint report by the Prison Reform Trust and Unlock found that the “first few weeks after release from custody are critical, and personal finances can be both stretched and a cause of anxiety.”109 The Prison Reform Trust told us:

No money for basic necessities can quickly cause desperation. This might result in informal borrowing and increases the risk of reoffending. [ … ] For some offenders, a return to prison comes to be seen as the solution to their multiple difficulties rather than something they are anxious to avoid.110

Matt John said:

I am aware of individuals who have got out who have found themselves with no money and have had to resort to crime to secure finances. That is simply because of the discharge grant, which I don’t think has changed in years.111

56.For prisoners who are ready to work but do not have a job to go to on release, Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claims can be started in prison and activated by DWP on day one of a prisoner leaving custody.112 This policy was introduced to coincide with day one mandation of prison leavers to contracted-out welfare-to-work support on the Work Programme (see paragraph 65). For those prisoners who are not able or ready to work, the discharge grant may need to last until their first Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payment comes through, which can take weeks.113 ESA claimants normally wait at least 13 weeks for the full entitlement to be paid.114 The Government said that Work Coaches in prisons could support and advise prison leavers on how to claim ESA on release but that it had no plans to extend the day one payment facility to this benefit.115

57.The joint inspection by HMIP noted that ESA and Universal Credit (UC) claims could not be started in prison and, as a consequence, some prisoners would be reliant on family and friends or charity on release.116 Nacro said the time taken to be assessed and access ESA had a “wide-reaching impact on individuals who have complex health problems”.117 Women in Prison, a charity that supports female offenders, said that the delay between leaving prison and receiving an ESA payment “can have potentially devastating consequences for those with no other source of income”.118

58.We asked DWP what barriers there were to allowing ESA claims to be paid on day one of release.119 The Department did not set out any obstacles to doing so but said that the move to UC would see prison leavers with health conditions applying for benefit through UC. The rollout of UC has been delayed a number of times and on 20 July 2016, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announced that the full service would not be available for all new claimants until September 2018.120 He also announced that the migration of existing claims not be completed until 2022.

59.Claims for Universal Credit are also not paid from the day of release. Unlike JSA, UC claims are made online. The Government said that a “strategic solution will ultimately put in place the facility for prisoners to complete the application in prison”.121 DWP set out an “interim process” which includes prison Work Coaches ensuring a prisoner has a bank account and arranging an appointment for them at the Jobcentre on the day they leave prison.

60.DWP said that prison leavers are exempt from the seven waiting days in UC claims,122 and that measures put in place will see prison leavers receive a first payment as soon as “the first day(s) following release.”123 This first payment however refers to a Benefit Advance, not the first month’s payment of UC. The Advance is a loan and is repaid by subsequent deductions to a prisoner’s UC payments. The Department said that data on the number of UC Benefit Advances and Short Term Benefit Advances (for legacy benefits) applied for and received by prison leavers was not available.124 However, Damien Hinds told us:

We designed Universal Credit without waiting days for prisoners and you can get an advance. [ … ]Ex-offenders coming out of prison do not come out with a lot of money in [their] pocket. I would expect this to have an extremely high rate of usage.125

61.The discharge grant for prisoners has remained fixed for 21 years. Individuals who leave prison with no home, no job and no support may have to live for several weeks on the discharge grant alone. This may encourage them to return to crime. We considered the case for increasing the grant. It is, however, only intended to meet a prisoner’s immediate needs on release. After this, if a prisoner is entitled to benefit support it is preferable for those benefits to be paid promptly rather than increasing the grant. Timely payment of a prisoner’s correct benefit entitlement can help to alleviate financial pressure. The move to allow payment of JSA on day one of a prisoner’s release is welcome.

62.We recommend that, for those prisoners who cannot work, claims for ESA be made in prison and paid on day one of release. We have seen no evidence to suggest there are barriers to doing this. Universal Credit will eventually replace ESA but the timetable for UC continues to be pushed back and in the meantime delays in payment cause avoidable hardship.

63.We welcome the Government’s decision to exempt prisoner leavers from UC waiting days. DWP envisages a large number of prisoners requiring a Benefit Advance. A better approach would be to make the first month’s entitlement to UC available on the day of release.

64.Work coaches based in prisons should assess a prisoner’s financial circumstances prior to their release and work with Community Rehabilitation Companies to put the appropriate support in place. DWP should regularly review the data Work Coaches have gathered on prisoner’s financial challenges on release, in order to better understand ex-offenders’ needs.

Jobcentre Plus and the Work Programme

65.Since 2012, prison leavers who claim JSA have been mandated to join the Work Programme from day one of release. Employment and Benefit Advisors,126 were placed in prisons to process and activate JSA claims for this purpose. The DWP’s rationale for day one mandation was that the link between employment and a reduction in reoffending rates was well documented.127 In addition, a 2014 DWP report stated that prison leavers spent “much longer on benefits than the average claimant of JSA” and that there were “historic difficulties of engaging with prison leavers at an early stage of release”.128 The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) said that 19,500 ex-offenders had been helped into work by the Work Programme.129

66.Opinions about the success of the Work Programme for ex-offenders were mixed. The ERSA said “this is a challenging group to support, but the Work Programme has had a demonstrable impact in getting them into employment.”130 The Prison Reform Trust told us that the move was “positive in principle”.131 Matt John told us about his positive experience of the Work Programme when he left prison:

The agency that is delivering the Work Programme in the area where I am from was really supportive. [ … ] That particular programme did put me in touch with an agency that exclusively works with ex-offenders to find them employment, and there was the opportunity of work through that agency, realistic opportunities, so that referral by that Work Programme scheme was positive.132

67.Other witnesses suggested that, because there were relatively few prisoners on the Programme, generalist support providers were not experienced in meeting their needs.133 Paul Anders, Policy Manager at Revolving Doors, told us that the Work Programme had failed to “bring in the type of specialist support that people will need on release from prison”.134 Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock, said that Work Programme providers did not know how to advise ex-offenders about disclosing their conviction when applying for a job:

They do not have a clue what they are talking about when it comes to questions like, “How long do I have to disclose?” and, “Do I have to disclose?”—the rights and responsibilities around that. That is, to some extent, why people have problems later down the line with employers because things have gone wrong.135

DWP’s own evaluation of the programme said

Providers also reported low referral numbers for this group. Some providers said that the low numbers meant that it was difficult to focus on this group in terms of differentiating performance or designing specific provision.136

68.In 2017, the Work and Health Programme will replace the Work Programme and more support will be provided in-house by JCP. The Government told us that DWP was “currently developing eligibility criteria for the new Programme”.137 It is unclear how many ex-offenders will be able to join the new Work and Health Programme and what criteria they will have to meet. Damian Hinds told us that the Programme was still being designed in consultation with stakeholders,138 and that access for individuals would be at the discretion of their Work Coach.139 When asked how Work Coaches would decide on which individuals would have priority the Minister said

In life’s great Venn diagram, there may be some overlap between those groups. You may be both an ex-offender and have a mental health barrier. You may also have a history of substance abuse. You may have family issues. You may have financial capability issues. We do not think we see the world in a binary way, prisoners or ex-prisoners and not ex-prisoners.140

He added that Work Coaches would have a range of interventions and programmes open to them and that DWP wanted to move away from a “one size fits all approach”.141

69.Stakeholders suggested that, whilst ex-offenders needed tailored support, this did not require a specialist programme. Cristopher Stacey told us

There is a risk, if you are looking ahead to what could change with the Work Programme, of thinking that there needs to be specialist ex-offender specific or prison release specific services. I would not go so far as to say that is the answer.142

He highlighted the specialist support offered by charitable groups but added that “they are not part of the Jobcentre.”143 Paul Andres concurred:

I am never entirely convinced of the merits of specific narrow programmes for people with backgrounds of offending, substance misuse or homelessness, and there have been programmes like that in the past, because you may be attaching a warning sign to people that you are working with. What we do need to find a way of doing is ensuring that that specialist support, which draws in support from health, and the social support that people need, is provided more effectively and more consistently.144

70.We heard concerns, however, that this kind of specialist support was not being provided by JCP. Witnesses told us that Work Coaches did not have the right training and expertise to help ex-offenders to find work, particularly when it came to advice on disclosing convictions. Work Coaches will be expected to advise and support people with a range of complex needs such as mental health, physical and mental disabilities, learning difficulties and in-work support, as well as ex-offenders. Nathan Dick said that Work Coaches were “being asked to take on really complex and challenging cases but are not being provided with the training and expertise”.145 Jocelyn Hillman told us

We do know from our experience with the JCP inside and outside prison, that they do not have the experience and expertise. Some of our candidates have come to us and said they had been told to lie by their JCP—“Go to an employer and lie; don’t tell them you’ve got a criminal conviction”—and that is a terrible thing because if you are on licence and you lie then you can be sent back into closed conditions.146

Damian Hinds said that the rules on disclosing convictions were “not the simplest thing in the world” and that it was “absolutely our aim that nobody advises somebody to lie.”147

71.Some ex-offenders reported a reluctance from JCP staff to engage with them. Tammy Moreton told us that the Jobcentre did not offer her any help with finding work even though she had told them about her conviction:

I was on jobseekers’ allowance, but I didn’t feel like I got much help or support with them to help me get into employment. [ … ] I felt that as long as I was looking for jobs, they were happy. They didn’t want to give me any extra support. I asked about some courses, but I didn’t get anywhere with them. [ … ] Half the time with the jobcentres, when I was going, they just called me up, sat me down, made me sign the piece of paper and let me on my way. They didn’t even speak to me.148

We held an online forum with Unlock to ask ex-offenders about their experiences of finding employment after leaving prison. Some respondents had a positive experience of JCP, however most reported that they had received little support. One respondent told us

The Jobcentre made no effort to help or offer specialised advice for an ex-offender. If anything, there was a distinct reluctance to assist with job seeking for someone in my position.149

Another respondent said “I don’t think I got any different treatment to non-offenders. The people were very pleasant and supportive but they just had nothing for me.”150

72.It is unacceptable for ex-offenders who are job-ready and keen to work to be dismissed by JCP as hard cases. We have seen some evidence of good practice but the quality of JCP support should not depend on which branch an ex-offender walks into. Following the end of day one mandation to the Work Programme, an increasing number of prison leavers will rely on JCP for support.

73.All Jobcentres should have a specified person who specialises in helping ex-offenders into employment. This person may be from the third sector or be a JCP employee but they must have expertise on matters such as disclosure of convictions. Ideally the specialist should have experience of the prison system themselves.

74.For some ex-offenders, the Work and Health Programme may be the most appropriate form of support. We recommend that ex-offenders who are ready to work should have access to the Work and Health Programme on a voluntary basis.

Measuring successful transitions

75.Throughout our inquiry, stakeholders told us about the absence of data on ex-offenders. City Guilds, a vocational education organisation that works in prisons, told us that data on ex-offender employment was “severely lacking” and that the data gap was “one of the most pressing and obvious areas” for improvement.151 In October, our Chair tabled a Parliamentary Question, asking about employment and reoffending rates for each prison:

Box 2: Prisoners’ release: written question


To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, (a) how many and (b) what proportion of people released from each prison in England and Wales (i) reoffended and (ii) went into employment within six months of their release in each of the last five years.


Mr Sam Gyimah:

Information on the employment status of prisoners beyond the point of release is not available centrally and can only be obtained at a disproportionate cost.

All other information requested can be found on GOV.UK.

Source: Written Questions and Answers and Written Statements - 46986

76.The lack of data on ex-offender employment rates means that those providing education and employment support cannot know what works. Novus told us:

Across the board there is very little data-based links that can trace positive job outcomes back to causes. The availability of such information would be extremely useful for a number of purposes, including continual improvement by providers.152

On our visit to HMP Featherstone, we heard that it can be difficult for prisons to measure the success of different workshops and courses because they do not have appropriate employment data after a prisoner is released. Similarly, Ministers acknowledged that they did not know enough about employment rates for prison leavers.153 Damian Hinds said “there is no pretence from either of us that we know all there is to know. Absolutely no way.”154 Sam Gyimah told us

The data we have, which is self-reported by prisoners, is that something like 25% of prisoners are in employment. That data is not data that I hang a lot on but there is some data.155

77.Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are not required to provide data on the number of ex-offenders they have helped into work. CRC performance is measured against 17 Service Levels and 7 Assurance Metrics. None of these levels or metrics are on helping ex-offenders find employment or on measuring employment rates.156 The joint Inspectorate report on Through the Gate services stated:

None of the CRCs we visited were able to provide us with any information on the outcomes they had achieved for prisoners receiving Through the Gate services. We hoped they would have been using this information to improve their services but they told us it was too early to be able to do that. Prison managers commented that they were not routinely given information about outcomes for prisoners.157

78.The Government has outlined plans to “measure the rate of prisoners in employment on release compared to before they entered custody”.158 This measure will be included in prison performance agreements and will be the responsibility of prison governors. Whilst this is a welcome move, as it stands this measure will only capture data on prisoners going straight into work on release. Many prisoners will not, however, go straight into employment on release and will need assistance from their CRC.

79.Information is fundamental to good policy. The Government should be seeking to ensure as many ex-offenders as possible get jobs. We are astonished by the current lack of data on employment for prison leavers. Community Rehabilitation Companies should be required to track the outcomes of the prisoners they resettle, including whether they have helped them into work. This data should then be used to inform Government decisions about employment and education interventions.

83 Those prisoners subject to subject to MAPPA have more structured transitions due to the higher risk to public safety

85 Crisis (SEO0044)

86 Q46 (Tammy Moreton)

89 Ibid

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

92 Ibid

94 An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Short-Term Prisoners: A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, October 2016. The report looked at resettlement services for short-term prisoners. The report is part of a phased piece of work - the first focussing on short-term prisoners due to high rates of reoffending in this group.

95 The inspection covered four resettlement prisons and sampled up to 20 cases for each prison. It also spoke to responsible officers and, where possible, prisoners once they had been released.

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

99 Q166 (Gita Sisupalan)

100 Q46 (Tammy Moreton)

101 An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Short-Term Prisoners: A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, October 2016. Responsible officers were previously referred to as ‘Offender managers’. They may be Probation Officers (POs) or Probation Service Officers (PSOs).

102 Q82 (Matt John)

103 Q46 (Tammy Moreton)

104 Working Chance (SEO0024), St Giles Trust (SEO0010)

105 Q159 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

106 The grant is available to all prisoners who are 18 and over and who have served more than 14 days in custody.

107 Prison Service Instruction to Governors IG 71/1995, Standing Order 1l and Circular Instruction 7/1980 and 19/1988. These instructions were revoked when two rates (for prisoners aged 18-24 and aged 25 and over) were combined into a single rate for prisoners over 18 from 1 March 2005  in Prison Service Instruction 2005/003

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

109 Prison Reform Trust & Unlock, Time is Money: financial responsibility after prison, 2010

110 Prison Reform Trust (SEO0023)

111 Q80 (Matt John)

112 Supplementary written evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0063)

113 Women in Prison (SEO0042)

115 Ibid

117 Nacro (SEO0051)

118 Women in Prison (SEO0042)

119 Supplementary written evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0063)

121 Supplementary written evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0063)

122 Claims for Universal Credit are not paid for the first seven days unless the claimant falls into one of the exempted groups.

123 Supplementary written evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice (SEO0063)

124 Ibid

125 Q196 and Q197 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

126 Now referred to as Work Coaches

129 ERSA, Work Programme Performance Report, Sep 2016. Figures up to June 2016

130 Ibid

131 Prison Reform Trust (SEO0023)

132 Q62 and Q63 (Matt John)

133 See, Revolving Doors Agency (SEO0043)

134 Q84 (Paul Anders)

135 Q86 (Christopher Stacey)

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

138 Q188 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

139 Q186 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

140 Q189 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

141 Q186 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

142 Q86 (Christopher Stacey)

143 Ibid

144 Q97 (Paul Anders)

145 Q145 (Nathan Dick)

146 Q115 (Jocelyn Hillman

147 Q195 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

148 Q5 and Q7 (Tammy Moreton)

150 Ibid

151 City Guilds (SEO0022)

152 Novus (SEO0038)

153 Q182 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

154 Q183 (Damian Hinds, Minister for Employment)

155 Q181 (Sam Gyimah, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation)

158 MoJ, Prison Safety and Reform, November 2016

16 December 2016