When a majority of the Lords voted last week in favour of Lord Ramsbotham’s amendment to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, they highlighted concerns not only about the speed of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms but also about their impact on the reducing reoffending and economic outcomes the government wants to tackle.
The risk identified by the Lords’ debate is that the current drive for efficiencies of scale and reductions in cost may simply become a contractual ‘race to the bottom’. Deeper understandings of offenders’ needs and of the desistance process itself could then be lost in a ‘one size fits all’ approach to offender supervision. No matter how welcome the intention to rehabilitate short sentence prisoners, if the only way of achieving that is to dilute the quality of work done with the whole offender population, the final outcomes may be less than positive.
This is not fundamentally an argument about which sector should come out on top in Contract Package Area competitions. It is and should be about what ‘good’ rehabilitation looks like, and how that understanding can be embedded in the reforms, in contract specifications, in supply chains, and in service delivery itself, irrespective of which agency is the lead provider.
In his speech to Civitas on 13 June, Chris Grayling set out the challenge for rehabilitation services very clearly. Many – if not most - offenders subject to community sentences are affected by a highly complex and daunting set of disadvantages, often dating back to their early childhood experiences, while others experience direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of their race, gender or disability. The statistics that he quoted from the latest Offender Management Community Cohort Study and from the known profile of adult prisoners and young offenders in custody are shocking, although probably not surprising to Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) organisations that work with offenders. These are just a few of the headlines, both from the speech and from the Community Cohort Study that it quoted:
- Sixty-five to seventy percent of young people in youth custody have experienced a traumatic brain injury; 51% have come from unsuitable accommodation; 43-57% have dyslexia ; 44% of young women and 30% of young men have been in care at some point; 34% are from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic group; 23-32% have a learning disability.
- Fifty-five percent of adult prisoners have a serious drug problem and nearly two thirds were using drugs in the month before entering prison; 41% have witnessed domestic violence in childhood and almost a third have themselves been abused; 37% will need help finding accommodation on release and 15% describe themselves as homeless; 24% were in care as a child.
- Fifty-one percent of the Community Cohort study sample of adults supervised in the community had a long term medical condition or disability; 46% of women and 40% of all those aged 40+ had a mental health condition, which affected 29% overall.
- Only 65% of the Community Cohort sample had been assessed using the OASys risk assessment tool (mainly those at higher risk of reoffending). Of these, 61% had relationship needs; 59% had employment and training needs; 38% had accommodation needs; 32% had needs related to drug misuse.
- Among the 35% who were not formally assessed using OASys, the study identified considerable levels of need; for instance, one-tenth were using crack or heroin and half were out of work and had no qualifications.
So, what does ‘good’ rehabilitation look like for people presenting with this array of complex needs? Clinks will be producing a longer paper on this topic in the coming weeks, but here are a few initial thoughts and questions that we would welcome your views on…
- What does ‘good’ resettlement planning mean for prisoners who will be moved to their local resettlement prison three months before release, or short term prisoners serving their sentences there? Does it mean having early and continuing contact with the person who will be coordinating and supervising them post-release, so that their needs and risk can be properly assessed and a high quality rehabilitation plan can be put in place? How can that be managed?
- And what about the rehabilitation needs of longer serving prisoners? How can they best be planned and addressed, and by which lead agency?
- Under the new arrangements, the extension of supervision and support to those serving sentences of less than 12 months is especially welcomed. However, the government’s reforms appear to use the terms ‘supervision’ and ‘peer mentoring’ interchangeably, as though they are the same. But surely they are very different. What distinguishes ‘good’ supervision from ‘good’ peer mentoring, and what role does each play in rehabilitation?
- In considering what range of needs supervision should address, the use of the OASys risk assessment tool provides a starting point for sentence planning, but is usually only used in higher risk cases. Yet ‘good’ rehabilitation surely begins with a ‘good’ assessment, and such assessments are needed as much by low as high risk offenders, given the pervasiveness of complex multiple needs across the offender population.
- This implies that, in addition to the use of OASys for higher risk offenders, it is important for the supervisor of any offender to be a skilled practitioner who has a ‘good’ understanding of all the pre-disposing factors underlying offending behaviour. What knowledge and skills are needed to undertake a ‘good’, high quality assessment of an individual’s criminogenic needs? What does this mean for staff training and development?
- Desistance research suggests that the quality of the supervisory relationship, attention to the offender’s specific needs, and the use of strengths based approaches to enable reintegration into the wider community are of critical importance to the longer term desistance outcome. How can a ‘good’, holistic assessment be translated into a ‘good’ package of diverse interventions, involving multiple agencies, tailored to the individual and delivered at the local level?
- What range of different services should be available across the local offender population, and what specific approaches and services are needed to provide ‘good’ rehabilitation for women, BAME offenders, and other groups with particular needs such as older offenders or those affected by disability?
- How can ‘good’ partnership working be preserved and further developed to support rehabilitation? What are the particular strengths of the Integrated Offender Management approach in providing wrap-around care and control for the most chaotic offenders? Or the joined up approaches adopted in the local Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM) pilots? Or the Transitions to Adulthood (T2A) work to achieve seamless progression from the youth to adult systems? How can these be replicated and sustained through the new arrangements?
- How can longer term reintegration into the community be supported beyond the term of the order or licence? Which local partners will it be important to involve, to provide that continuity of care?
- And, last but by no means least, how should all of this work be underpinned by ‘good’, meaningful user involvement, both in designing individual plans and in the commissioning and review of what ‘good’ rehabilitation services look like?
These are very difficult and challenging questions, and they suggest that ‘good’ rehabilitation will never come cheap. But let us keep reminding ourselves that it is less costly in every way than prison… and priceless in terms of its social value.
Please contribute your thoughts to our paper by letting us know what you think ‘good’ rehabilitation looks like, either by commenting below or emailing Lesley Frazer, Clinks’ Strategic Development Manager.
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.@hibiscuscharity have launched a report - funded by Clinks - which explores the complex issues faced by Black, minoritised and migrant women in contact with the CJS and the resulting impacts on their mental health.
Read the report here: https://hibiscusinitiatives.org.uk/media/2023/06/rmc-mental-health-report-document.pdf