132.In this Chapter we explore short custodial sentences and we also focus on support for offenders and what changes should be made in the short to medium-term, including in relation to Through the Gate services, the types of activities and the frequency of the contact that offenders receive, accommodation, housing, benefits and bank cards. Should the Government move away from the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, our conclusions and recommendations indicate the minimum standards a new system should meet and areas of best practice.
133.In the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government for 2017–18, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, announced on 5 September 2017, that the Scottish Government would “extend the presumption against short-term sentences from sentences of under three months to sentences of under 12 months”.246 This proposal to extend the presumption to short sentences of less than 12 months has not yet been implemented in Scotland; nonetheless we questioned witnesses on how they thought such a proposal could work in England and Wales.
134.The Centre for Justice Innovation explained in a 2017 Report that since the beginning of the decade “community and suspended sentences have fallen from 16% of all sentences in England and Wales […] to only 12% today”. They acknowledged that this trend pre-dated TR, but argued that TR had “failed to arrest this decline”. They explained, for example, that the NPS-CRC split had “contributed to an increasing disconnection from the work of probation” and pre-sentence reports were now less specific on activities that an offender would receive.247
135.The average annual cost of prison per prisoner for 2016–17 was £35,371, or £38,042 per prison place (average cost for the available places across the prison estate).248 While no figure is available for the cost of community sentences in 2016–17, data released by the Ministry of Justice for 2011–12 (a pre-TR period) showed that the average cost per Community Order/Suspended Sentence Order was £4,135.249 For the purpose of comparison the average cost per prison place in 2011–12 was £27,851 or £25,722 per prisoner.250 Further, Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, explained that there were “cost benefits to Community Orders as opposed to short prison sentences”.251 The Centre for Justice Innovation, a research organisation, explained that even the “most expensive intensive community sentences cost just over one tenth of the cost of a prison place per year”.252 The Howard Legal for Penal Reform also explained that reducing the number of short custodial sentenced offenders would help to alleviate the pressures on the prison system.253
136.We heard that not only were community sentences more cost-efficient, they were more effective. YSS Ltd. explained in oral evidence that there had been a “chronic overuse of short sentences” and this resulted in people, especially those who were vulnerable, coming out of prison “with even more issues than when they went in”.254 Other witnesses, including HM Chief Inspector of Probation, Clinks, The Prison Reform Trust and MTCnovo, agreed that community sentences were usually more effective in aiding the rehabilitation of offenders.255 Nonetheless, research undertaken by Ministry of Justice officials, which was released in May 2018, found that community alternatives to short-term custodial sentences were more effective for second, third etc, offences: “the impact of court orders in reducing reoffending compared with short-term custody (with no supervision on release) increases with the number of previous offences”.256 However, this research needs to be heavily caveated: the Ministry’s research compared offenders from before the TR reforms and therefore those receiving short custodial sentences did not receive any support on their release.
137.Some witnesses, while supportive of a move towards a presumption against short custodial sentences, advocated for there to be restrictions. For example, in oral evidence Sodexo, a CRC parent company, stated that “for some, it [was] appropriate that short [prison] sentences are handed out by the courts”, although they did not expand on these circumstances.257 In follow-up evidence to the Committee, HM Chief Inspector of Probation explained that in Scotland there had been discussion on which sorts of offences (such as domestic abuse) would not be eligible for a presumption against a short custodial sentence, and advocated that such an approach be taken in England and Wales.258
138.A barrier to introducing a system which favoured community sentences over short custodial sentences was sentencer confidence in custodial alternatives, an issue we talked about in the previous Chapter. For example, the Magistrates’ Association told us that its members were not confident that offenders would get the help they needed on a community sentence for specific mental health and learning disabilities: “35% were not very confident and 12% were not at all confident”.259 It is also worth noting that a move to a presumption against short custodial sentences might have an impact on sentencing by Magistrates’ Courts, as they can only impose custodial sentences of up to six months for a single offence and a term of up to 12 months for two or more separate offences.260 A presumption against sentences of 12 months or less would therefore mean that the Magistrates Courts would rarely be sentencing offenders for custodial sentences—although for ‘either way’ offences they could still commit a case to the Crown Court for sentencing.261
139.One of the Secretary of State’s priorities for 2018–19 is to “ensure a sustainable prison population by exploring options for, and building confidence in, non-custodial sentences and by tackling reoffending though a cross-government approach”.262 An answer from the Minister of State to a written parliamentary question also highlighted that the Ministry had identified the positives associated with non-custodial sentences: “community orders have a more positive impact on reoffending than short custodial sentences (3 percentage points lower over a one year follow-up period)”.263 On 26 May 2018, the Secretary of State for Justice told The Sunday Times that “criminals should be given jail sentences of less than a year only as a “last resort” because they fail to stop re-offending”. However, he stopped short of advocating a wholesale presumption against short custodial sentences as “he questioned what the courts would do with a persistent offender”.264
140.It is extremely worrying that sentencer confidence in community alternatives to short custodial sentences has waned to such an extent that sentencers appear to be reluctant in some cases to order community sentences rather than short periods in custody, particularly as the latter have the worse outcomes in terms of reoffending. We welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement that short custodial sentences (12 months or less) should be a “last resort”. We recommend that the UK Government should introduce a presumption against short custodial sentences. The Government should carry out an assessment of the potential impacts that such a policy might have, including on the prison population, both the male and female estate, and the allocation of cases to different courts.
141.Section 2 of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 extended compulsory post-custodial supervision to offenders serving sentences of 12 months or less (background information on Through the Gate was provided at Box 1).265 It required a post-sentence supervision period of 12 months. Post-sentence supervision has been criticised, for example, the Howard League for Penal Reform, argued that:
The introduction of 12 months’ supervision under the TR programme has had a deleterious impact on women, dramatically and disproportionately extending the restrictions on their liberty and subjecting them to the possibility of recall for 12 months.266
Similarly, YSS Ltd. explained that a voluntary rather than a mandatory approach might work better as the former was setting offenders “up to fail when we are not providing the relevant support”. YSS Ltd. had also delivered a voluntary TTG-style scheme, prior to TR, that it said had worked well.267 The Prison Reform Trust also advocated that there should be a move away from a compulsory 12-month post-sentence supervision period.268 Some of those working on the frontline agreed: a CRC Unison member, for example, queried whether all short-sentenced offenders should have to have mandatory 12 months of post-sentence supervision, as “some people don’t need 12 months post sentence supervision, but have to have contact every week for 12 weeks”.269
142.In oral evidence Nacro cautioned against a move away from compulsory post-sentence supervision for those serving short custodial sentences. Nacro thought offenders might “not realise that they might benefit from that help”, although they accepted that the current arrangements needed improvement.270 Pact, among other witnesses, noted that offenders could be recalled to prison for missing an appointment which would be classified as a breach and might not have reoffended—this was not proportionate.271
143.In oral evidence Shelter advocated that it might be best to move to an outcome-based approach: “Once they have achieved certain outcomes [as agreed at the resettlement planning stage] and are happy with what has been achieved, there is no reason why it should remain compulsory for that period of time”.272 Sonia Crozier of the National Probation Service, however, explained that having a compulsory scheme meant there was “some consistency” across the country on what was delivered.
144.HM Chief Inspector of Probation explained in follow-up evidence that she was behind the principle of post-sentence supervision but thought the 12-month supervision period was not “sufficiently flexible or appropriate”.273 Dame Glenys suggested a few options for ways in which post-sentence supervision could be changed:
A mirrored approach
Match supervision to sentence. A prison sentence of 3 months would require a supervision period in the community of the same length.
Easy to understand; appears proportionate.
Can limit the available intervention time unduly, most especially in very short sentence cases.
A split approach
A prisoner serving less than 12 months is normally released halfway through their prison sentence. This can be affected by behaviour in prison, the parole board is not involved. The remaining period of the sentence could then be subject to community supervision.
Does not extend the sentence length.
Reflects the approach in the youth system.
Limits the available intervention time.
An assessment based approach
The supervision period would be no longer than 12 months. The length of time under supervision would be determined by assessment and be needs led, with a focus on supporting resettlement and rehabilitation.
Responsive to needs and changing circumstances.
Focused on achieving resettlement and rehabilitation.
More complicated to Understand.
Could extend supervision periods.
Not all assessments are high-quality or regular.
145.We welcome the intention of the then Government’s policy to improve consistency of post-sentence supervision provided to offenders, especially those receiving short custodial sentences. However, the current one-size fits all approach lacks the flexibility to meet the varying needs of offenders. If short custodial sentences continue to be used, within 12 months the Government should consider repealing Section 2 of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014. Before repealing the Section 2 provisions the Ministry should assess what policy or legislative measures should replace those provisions.
146.Under the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms all custodial offenders receive ‘Through the Gate’ (TTG) support (see Box 1 for a description of Through the Gate services). CRCs are required to:
TTG extended post-sentence supervision to over 40,000 additional offenders. HM Chief Inspectors have produced two very critical Reports on TTG services: one for prisoners serving prison sentences of 12 months or more, and the second on short-term prisoners.275 Many of the criticisms we received in evidence, oral and written, related to TTG.
147.The joint inspection report on TTG resettlement services for short-term prisoners labelled the “CRCs’ efforts pedestrian at best” and explained that “in too many cases, resettlement planning consisted of no more than referrals to other agencies, recorded as completed once an e-mail had been sent”.276 We heard from probation users that “through the gate [was] non-existent”, and they advocated a move to a peer-led system.277 Napo told our predecessor Committee that following the TTG changes, on release offenders got “£46 and a leaflet now, as opposed to 46 quid before”.278
148.The Probation and Prisons Inspectorates stated that the minimum requirements for resettlement should be:
149.Shelter recommended that one way to enhance the TTG provision would be the introduction of a Prisoner Discharge Pack, which would include “information about local services, basic necessities, toiletries, food vouchers, travel pass and basic mobile phone”.280 Other witnesses welcomed the proposal, although Pact advocated that the pack “should be based on need”.281
150.In its written submission, the Ministry of Justice explained that the picture was not wholly negative and that some CRCs had “developed innovative schemes, including one-stop-shops outside the prison gates”.282 Pact also told us in oral evidence about a mentoring TTG service that they offered, which had a positive impact on offenders.283 HMI Prisons’ submission to our inquiry highlighted that where such a service was offered “there were more positive long-term outcomes”.284
151.The Minister conceded in oral evidence that there had been a lack of clarity in communications relating to TTG on its purpose. This had led to a misunderstanding about what it would offer. Minister Stewart explained: “We probably were not clear enough about communicating what the intention of the contracts was. The intention of the contracts was always not to provide accommodation or employment services but to signpost”.285
152.A Through the Gate service which merely signposts offenders to other organisations is wholly inadequate. Following the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, there is a risk that offenders now receive a £46 discharge grant and a leaflet rather than just £46. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice should review the purpose of Through the Gate and the support that it provides offenders. As part of this review the Ministry should consider introducing a prisoner discharge pack, based on need, and minimum expectations on resettlement services offered and how offenders’ knowledge of accessing Government services through digital portals can be improved. Real consideration should be given to whether it is appropriate to release prisoners with few family ties, from custody on a Friday, when access to Government services can be difficult.
153.At present Community Rehabilitation Companies are required to devise a resettlement plan within five days of the Basic Custody Screening Tool (BCST) being completed at the beginning of an offender’s time in custody.286 12 weeks prior to release, pre-release resettlement activity (such as arranging accommodation, dealing with finance, benefits and debts, and support related to education, training and employment) to prepare an offender for life in the community commences.287
154.Evidence we received criticised the lack of flexibility with the 12-week intervention period. For example, Interserve, a CRC parent company, explained that they were prohibited “from doing anything substantive to address resettlement needs other than in the 12-week period immediately before the prisoner [was] released, even if a longer engagement with a prisoner would [have been] beneficial”.288 Shelter explained that issues, such as those to do with debt and housing “could have been prevented had intervention taken place mid-sentence”.289 CRCs were also critical of the rigidity of the intervention point and explained that it did not always meet the needs of the individual.290 For example, Suki Binning, a CRC Chief Executive, explained in evidence that some individuals had more complex needs so needed “a longer lead-in time”.291
155.HM Chief Inspector of Probation also described the current arrangements as “inflexible”, and noted that different interventions would be needed at different times:
Some issues, such as addiction, mental health issues, family support, debt and finance, education and training, should not be left unmanaged or unaddressed until 12-weeks prior to release. Other issues such as housing or employment may need to be addressed towards the latter part of a sentence, and can be difficult or impossible to secure well in advance of release.292
Similarly, Sodexo, a CRC parent company described the different needs of offenders:
Putting in well-intentioned arrangements is not always the most appropriate way of delivering it. It is not always the case that someone needs a resettlement plan within a short period of time of landing in prison, if they are sentenced to a lengthy period of time in custody. For others, it should start immediately and the momentum should be kept going all the way through.293
In oral evidence the Minister acknowledged that there was possibly too much rigidity in the system and “12 weeks [did] not necessarily work for everybody”.294
156.The current system of having a 12-week point at which pre-release resettlement activity commences is too inflexible and does not reflect the varying, and often complex, needs of offenders. We recommend that offenders should begin receiving pre-release resettlement activity no later than 12 weeks prior to release. When an offender requires pre-release support before the 12-week pre-release point that should be provided and CRCs should be appropriately remunerated.
157.Witnesses have criticised how probation support is delivered to offenders. The Probation Institute described a situation in some areas where organisations had resorted “to supervision by telephone or text”. They also explained how meetings between probation staff and offenders were taking place in non-confidential, open spaces: “Open booths in an open office setting are never appropriate and should be banned”.295 HM Inspectorate of Probation told us that meetings in such places were an example of good probation work being inhibited.296
158.Similarly, the Napo Four Shires Branch explained in their submission that “evidence [was] required to demonstrate kiosk reporting, telephone reporting and interview booths aid rehabilitation”.297 Napo termed telephone reporting an “unsafe” method of supervision.298 The Inspectorate also explained in its Annual Report and in oral evidence to the Committee that there was a lack of evidence to support telephone reporting:
We know of no evidence base to suggest that remote supervision works on its own to reduce reoffending or manage the risk of harm effectively, although research conducted to examine substance misuse treatment and recovery resources found that the use of online resources could work well when supplemented with offline face-to-face contact.299
159.We took oral evidence from a small number of users of probation as part of this inquiry. They told us that they had always been met in an appropriate place, which was private.300 They also explained that there were benefits to telephone reporting, especially when they were on courses.301
160.Sodexo, one of the CRCs criticised for using telephone reporting by the Inspectorate, explained in oral evidence that telephone supervision “[was] never used in isolation” and was supported by international studies.302 They also explained that remote supervision was beneficial for those living in rural communities, and for offenders who needed to balance probation with work and family life.303 Sodexo also viewed telephone contact as a reward: “there is some evidence that it is helpful and has a positive benefit as you start to release people from face-to-face intensive supervision and place more trust in them”.304 Dame Glenys Stacey claimed in oral evidence that on paper Sodexo’s model had “many laudable features”, but “it [was] not what [was] implemented”.305
161.We agree with HM Chief Inspector of Probation that telephone reporting should not be used as the only means by which an offender is supervised. We consider that kiosk meetings are never likely to be appropriate and that telephone supervision should only be used in exceptional circumstances and not in isolation. Delivery of probation services must be supported by credible evidence. The Ministry of Justice should set out its minimum expectations to providers on the balance between remote and face-to-face supervision, and on the location of meetings between an offender and their Probation Officer.
162.In its Annual Report for 2017 the Inspectorate found that: “only one in two individuals [was] supervised by the same officer throughout their case. In 5% of cases there had been three or more officers”.306 The Inspectorate explained that “research findings emphasise[d] how building trusting personal relationships [could] be a powerful vehicle for change” and criticised changes in offenders’ probation officer.307 YSS Ltd. made similar points on trust in oral evidence: “ Sometimes they just want someone to speak to because something has kicked off […]. It is about having someone they trust and can speak to, who gives them support at a time when they need it”.308
163.We heard first-hand about the issue of trust and how this built up over time when we took evidence from probation users. One former user spoke positively about his relationship with his Probation Officer and how it encouraged him to not reoffend:
She seemed to see the good in me and she was consistent, as I said, so I wanted to engage with her. She gave me the desire, because there was trust there, to change. Every week I would go in, and because I knew she was going to be there I would go in to tell the truth, I would go in to continue my path. That is the best thing that ever happened to me.309
Another user told us: “if you have consistency and you build a relationship, you are recognising somebody who has some positivity for you”.310
164.We are concerned that only one in two individuals are supervised by the same officer throughout their case. Providers must do more to ensure that an individual’s Probation Officer or case manager is the same throughout their time on probation so that a trusting relationship can be developed between the individual and their Probation Officer or case manager. The Ministry of Justice should introduce national guidance on best practice relating to changes to an individual’s Probation Officer or case manager.
165.Offenders can be ordered by the court to complete unpaid work orders, including Community Payback Schemes. The Ministry’s service specification document stipulates that the key outcomes of unpaid work orders and community payback are:
166.On our visit to probation services in Gloucestershire we spoke to those on a Community Payback Scheme. They told us about their experiences. We heard that sometimes they were “stood down” at late notice and were then only credited with one hour’s worth of unpaid leave as per national guidelines (see paragraph 168 for further detail). This was particularly problematic for those who were in employment as it meant they would have booked leave from work when not required. We also heard that some of the work was “meaningless”: moving piles of mud from one pile to another in graveyards, for example.
167.Napo told us in oral evidence that stand downs for unpaid work orders were not good for offenders or staff.312 HM Chief Inspector of Probation told us about similar issues:
In 2016, we found that more people were being mustered than could get on the bus in some areas. It is like double listing in courts, but it is a cruder affair in a muster station. More recently in some areas—West Mercia is an exception—we have found that people are turning up and there is no one there to collect them. This is unacceptable.313
168.Ministry of Justice guidance from July 2017, covers the issue of unpaid work orders and stand downs. Output 3 of Service element 6 provides that:
If it is necessary to stand down offenders as a result of operational difficulties, before work commences, 1 hour should be credited towards the sentence. If an offender is stood down from a work site as a result of operational difficulties, adverse weather conditions, or for disciplinary reasons, time should be credited up to the point at which the stand down occurs.314
169.We do not think that it is proportionate for offenders to be credited with only one hour’s worth of unpaid work when they have been stood down at the last minute and for factors which are outside their control. When the Ministry of Justice responds to our Report it should have undertaken a review of output 3 of service element 6 of its guidance on unpaid work orders. It should set out in response to this Report any changes it will implement.
170.Dame Glenys Stacey also implied that some of the work offenders were being asked to do was not meaningful: “so often [unpaid work was] seen as distinct from and an adjunct to good probation services”.315 She went on to call for unpaid work orders to be seen as meaningful and explained that there could be a greater link with employment and training: “it is possible for people to do some of their days as training or education at a college of further education, but it is not often taken up”. Dame Glenys also explained that making unpaid work orders more meaningful might increase sentencer confidence: “if magistrates knew that that was possible, and was done, it might encourage unpaid work and faith in the orders”.316 An answer to a written parliamentary question in March 2018 on whether picking litter could be counted as unpaid work activity suggested that the Ministry sought to maximise the value of unpaid work. The MoJ spokesman in the Lords explained that unpaid work requirements had to meet certain criteria, including:
171.Suki Binning, Chief Executive of Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC, told us that offenders say that “a community order is tougher than prison”.318 However, she explained that there was a public relations issue as the public often thought an unpaid work order was an easy option. In her area they had been getting the local community involved to “vote for a project” for Community Payback.319
172.We agree with HM Chief Inspector of Probation that unpaid work orders should follow probation best practice. We recommend that, where possible, unpaid work should contribute to the local community and be linked to education and training.
173.The issues facing offenders on probation are not all within the gift of probation services and therefore a cross-Government approach is needed and organisations need to work together.320
174.A place to live is crucial for those who have offended. Without an address an offender cannot have a National Insurance number, open a bank account, claim benefits etc. Joint inspections by HM Inspectorates of Probation and Prisons on Through the Gate services for prisoners serving 12 months or more, and short-term prisoners, demonstrate the scale of the help that prisoners require:
175.The Criminal Justice Alliance summarised the link between housing and reoffending:
The provision of safe and affordable housing for people leaving prison remains a critical problem for probation services. Repeated studies have shown that securing suitable housing for ex-offenders has a positive impact on the likelihood of re-offending.322
Sussex Pathways, an independent charity working in Lewes prison, made this point vividly:
Being released on a cold December Friday, with no family, no accommodation, no job, and £46 release grant in cash in the pocket the easy option is always going to be to blot out the cold and misery, with a bottle of alcohol or drugs, which often causes the cycle of reoffending and arrest almost immediately.323
User Voice, an ex-offender charity, shared a personal story of one of its service users who had said that they would have been better off staying in prison.324
176.HMI Probation’s Annual Report for 2017 explained that for many prisoners finding somewhere to live on their release was their “greatest worry”.325 The Inspectorate found that:
about one in seven [c. 14%] short-term prisoners and one in ten [10%] longer-term prisoners walked out of the prison gate not knowing where they were going to sleep that night, and only a small number found suitable accommodation on the day of release.
The Minister told us in evidence on 24 January 2018, relating to another piece of work, that he would have been successful in his role if offenders had “a house […] to go to when they leave the prison”.326
177.Shelter recommended that homelessness applications should be “assessed prior to release to reduce the number of offenders/clients going out with no fixed abode”.327 But Shelter and others, including Nacro, made the point in evidence that there was “a national housing crisis or shortage” so some of the issues relating to housing were not probation specific.328
178.We heard from a number of witnesses, including Nacro, that in some areas offenders who served custodial sentences were deemed by the Local Authority to have made themselves deliberately homeless, as the:
local authority interprets the offence as a deliberate act and therefore no longer owes them a duty to house. Indeed, some local authorities will not process a homelessness application from a person leaving prison. One local authority states that “A fresh application may be submitted after 12 months provided the applicant can provide satisfactory evidence to demonstrate that they have modified their behaviour”.329
In follow-up evidence Nacro and Shelter described this as a “widespread issue”, but explained that it could not provide the number of councils who took this approach.330 Pact also told us that there was an “incentive” within the system for local authorities to not rehouse an offender as it was “one client and one problem gone”.331
179.The Minister told us that this was not acceptable and the Government were “challenging directly any local authority that trie[d] to treat people as intentionally homeless”.332
180.Parts of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which applies to England only, came into force in April 2018 and provided additional safeguards. Section 10 of the Act, which is due to come into force in October 2018, places a duty on public authorities, including prison and probation services, to refer (with consent) individuals they are working with who appear to be homeless or threatened with homelessness, to the local Housing Authority.333
181.In February 2018, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, published Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities.334 That guidance stated that “a person has a priority need for accommodation if they are vulnerable as a result of […] having been in custody”. The guidance explained that whether a person was deemed to be vulnerable for such a reason was “a matter of evaluative judgement whether the applicant’s circumstances make them vulnerable”. It also stated that “the housing authority should determine whether, if homeless, the applicant would be significantly more vulnerable than an ordinary person would be if they became homeless”.
182.There are strong links between homelessness and reoffending. It is unacceptable that any local council has been able to deem an individual who has served a custodial sentence as making themselves intentionally homeless. This practice needs to be stopped given the links between homelessness and reoffending. We welcome the Minister’s commitment to challenge local councils who take such an approach. We recommend that the Government should amend the Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, to make it explicit that an individual who is homeless because of having served a custodial sentence should be deemed vulnerable for the purposes of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. We further recommend that the UK Government should work with the Welsh Government to ensure that their homelessness legislation takes due account of the risks of reoffending.
183.We had intended to comment in detail in this Report on changes that should be made to employment and education support, including Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL), for offenders. However, since we concluded taking evidence, the Ministry has published its Education and Employment Strategy on 24 May 2018.335 We will closely follow the implementation and execution of this strategy and may choose to comment on it in future work. In this Report we do not set out the evidence that we heard on education and employment.
184.During our inquiry we have not identified specific data on the proportion of offenders who claim benefits on release but evidence suggested that it was widespread. The report by the Inspectorates on short-sentenced prisoners identified that “the majority of prisoners would be making claims for benefits after their release”.336 LandWorks noted the financial difficulties that offenders face because they cannot receive benefits on their release:
A recurring issue is that benefits are not in place at the point of release and, therefore, there is usually a 2-3 week period where the individual has only his £46 discharge grant on which to live.337
Shelter told us in oral evidence that people leaving custody were often without any form of income for six weeks, “because of the way universal credit works, and not being able to make applications until the day of release”.338 Switchback told us that access to benefits in prison would make a “big difference” to offenders.339
185.In its submission to our inquiry the Ministry of Justice explained that “for offenders who do not have an income, timely access to benefits is vital to reducing the risk of reoffending”. They also explained which benefits offenders could access and at what point in their sentence they could apply and start receiving these:
Prisoners are able to make advance claims for Job Seekers Allowance and, since January 2017, those released into a Universal Credit Full Service area are offered support by their Prison Work Coach to prepare to make a claim on release. Universal Credit claimants who are in financial need can apply to receive up to 50% of their first month’s entitlement, interest-free, in advance, and prison-leavers, as a vulnerable group, are exempt from ‘waiting days’ before the Universal Credit assessment period begins.340
HM Chief Inspector of Probation also explained that JobCentre Plus staff were available in prisons to help offenders who needed to apply for benefits on release. However, she noted that “benefit claims cannot be started in custody [and] potential claimants faced the dispiriting prospect of waiting a lengthy time for payment after release”. Dame Glenys Stacey concluded that “ensuring benefits can be paid on release from prison is a pragmatic goal, and in everyone’s interest”.341
186.On 6 March 2018 the Secretary of State indicated a positive response to the proposal that offenders should be able to apply for Universal Credit prior to release from custody. Mr Gauke explained that he was keen “to facilitate prisoners in applying for universal credit before they [were] released, so that they [could] receive the support of jobcentre and other staff immediately on release to move into paid work as quickly as possible”.342 In oral evidence HMPPS described solving this issue as one of the “long-standing problems”.343 When challenged by us in oral evidence about why the Government had not made more progress on this matter the Minister accepted “we [the Government] need to succeed in doing it, and, so far, that is a failure on our part”.344
187.We recommend that the Ministry of Justice should work with the Department for Work and Pensions to enable offenders serving custodial sentences to apply for Universal Credit (UC) prior to their release from custody so that they receive UC on the day of release. As an interim measure, and until offenders can receive UC upon release, the Government should set up a transitional credit fund for those offenders who have insufficient funds to provide for the basics, such as travel, a roof over their heads and food, in recognition that £46 is wholly inadequate to cover these.
188.A bank account and ID are critical for offenders to be able to find a place to live, to claim benefits and to enter employment. HMI Probation’s Annual Report explained that:
Prisoners without bank accounts can face lengthy delays in claiming benefits. We expected that all prisons we visited would be able to arrange bank accounts where needed. We saw some cases where assistance was given, but in others this need was recognised too late, or else overlooked completely.345
We have also heard from a number of witnesses, including voluntary sector organisations and those working on the probation frontline, that ID was crucial.346 Issues were raised with us by service users on our visit to probation services in Gloucestershire in March 2018.
189.Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 44/2011 “provides instructions on how to provide prisoners with the identification required to open a bank account”.347 Specifically, the PSI requires:
Governors and Directors [to] ensure that the Personal Identification Document […] is used to provide prisoners with the necessary identification to open a bank account. The form provides identity details and a discharge address to the bank, if no discharge address is known, or changes, the bank must be informed and the discharge address must correspond with that at final discharge.
The Minister confirmed to us in follow-up evidence that this PSI was still in operation and a pre-release programme was run in prisons with six banks and one building society “to give offenders who are soon to be released from custody the opportunity to apply for a basic bank account”.348 The Ministry explained that “approximately 6,600 accounts were opened under the programme in 2017, a 60% increase on the previous year”.349
190.We are pleased that the Minister confirmed to us that schemes run in prisons to assist offenders in opening a bank account. The Government should consider how offenders who are being released to an unknown or non-fixed address can be supported in having access to a bank account, so that an absence of such an account does not prohibit the offender from getting a job, claiming benefits or securing a place to live.
246 A presumption against custodial sentences of three months or less is currently in place. Official Report of the Scottish Parliament, 5 September 2017, col 20
248 Ministry of Justice, Costs per place and costs per prisoner by individual prison: HM Prison & Probation Service Annual Report and Accounts 2016–17 Management Information Addendum, 26 October 2017
249 Ministry of Justice, Probation Trust Unit Costs Financial Year 2011–12 (revised), 28 November 2012
250 Ministry of Justice, Costs per place and costs per prisoner by individual prison: National Offender Management Service Annual Report and Accounts 2011–12 Management Information Addendum, 25 October 2012
255 See, for example, Q210, Diocese of Worcester Criminal Justice Affairs Group (TRH0019), Clinks (TRH0060), Prison Reform Trust (TRH0063), MTCnovo (TRH0067), and HM Inspectorate of Probation (TRH0115)
256 Ministry of Justice, Analytical Summary 2018: Do offender characteristics affect the impact of short custodial sentences and court orders on reoffending?, May 2018
260 Section 154 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 has not yet been commenced. It provided for the ordinary maximum custodial sentence that could be imposed by the magistrates’ court to be increased to 12 months for one offence (15 months for two or more offences).
261 An either way offence is a crime that may be tried either as an indictable offence (trial by jury) or a summary offence (can be heard by a magistrate sitting alone).
262 Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Justice single departmental plan, 23 May 2018
264 “Under a year in jail must be last resort, says justice Chief David Gauke”, The Times, 26 May 2018
274 Cited in Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Short-Term Prisoners, October 2016, p12
275 Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Short-Term Prisoners, October 2016 and Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Prisoners Serving 12 Months or More, June 2017
276 Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Short-Term Prisoners, October 2016, p7
278 £46 refers to the discharge grant that prisoners receive on release from custody. Oral evidence taken before the Justice Committee on 28 March 2017, HC (2016–17) 1018 Q171
279 Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Short-Term Prisoners, October 2016, p13
286 National Offender Management Service, Early days in custody—reception in, first night in custody, and induction to custody, PSI 07/2015/PI 06/2015, 1 February 2015
292 HM Inspectorate of Probation (TRH0115). See also oral evidence from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons who made similar points: Q331.
299 HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2017 Annual Report, 14 December 2017, p84. See also Q317
306 HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2017 Annual Report, 14 December 2017, p85
311 Ministry of Justice, Service Specification for Unpaid Work/Community Payback: Service Specification Document, 26 October 2017
314 National Offender Management Service, Unpaid Work, PI 20/2016, December 2017, Annex A
320 See for example Q123 , ERSA (TRH0047), Nacro (TRH0078), Dr Rebecca Marples, Professor Charlie Brooker and Dr Coral Sirdifield (TRH0095), and HM Inspectorate of Prisons (TRH0117).
321 Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Short-Term Prisoners, October 2016 and Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Prisoners Serving 12 Months or More, June 2017
325 HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2017 Annual Report, 14 December 2017, p59. See also Revolving Doors Agency (TRH0087).
329 Nacro (TRH0078). See also Q47, Qq136–141, Centre for Community, Gender and Social Justice (TRH0024) and Shelter and Nacro (TRH0107).
333 Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, section 10
334 Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities, February 2018
335 Ministry of Justice, Education and Employment Strategy, Cm 9621, May 2018
336 Criminal Justice Joint Inspection, A joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Short-Term Prisoners, October 2016, p24
345 HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2017 Annual Report, 14 December 2017, p60
346 See for example, Anawim (TRH0007), UNISON (TRH0045), LandWorks (TRH0081), Shelter (TRH0106) and HM Inspectorate of Probation (TRH0115).
347 Ministry of Justice National Offender Management Service, Identity (ID) for Bank Account Applications for all prisoners, PSI 44/2011, 22 July 2011
Published: 22 June 2018