Welcome to the second blog in our ‘TR So Far’ series, which sets out some of our concerns about the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda. This blog examines whether TR is likely to support the desistance process and how this will be measured.
Desistance is a highly individualised process, experienced differently by different people and is very likely to involve an individual relapsing, before they stop offending altogether. Researchers often distinguish between primary desistance, which refers to any lull or gap in a person’s offending and secondary desistance, which refers to a more deep seated change in an individual where they develop an identity as a ‘non-offender.’
There are many different factors that can support the desistance process; see our Introducing Desistance: A Guide for Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector organisations.
Firstly, evidence suggests that the desistance process can be supported by the development of positive relationships between the service user and their worker. But it takes time as well as continuity for such relationships to develop.
Under the TR agenda, people serving long term sentences will be moved to a designated resettlement prison for the last three months of their sentence and will only receive resettlement support during the beginning and end of their sentence. Will this enable the service user to experience consistent support? And is three months’ resettlement support at the end of a sentence enough, after potentially many years in prison without it?
Developing a positive relationship between a service user and their family and/or peer group can also aid the desistance process. These relationships could be supported by the introduction of resettlement prisons, which will be located in the area an individual will be released to. There are, however, specific challenges that certain groups may experience in making the most of resettlement prisons, such as women offenders. We will examine this in a future TR So Far blog.
The TR reforms are also particularly ambitious regarding short term prisoners, who will now receive statutory support upon release. But it is important that the Government thinks creatively and flexibly about what is required to support short term prisoners and help them on their desistance journey. Services delivered by Tier 2 and 3 providers need to be tailored to meet the needs of the individual, rather than adopting a ‘one size fits all approach’ to ensure desistance can be fully supported.
Then, of course, we must look at how success in all of the above is actually measured. Although the payment mechanism is still being developed we do know that the new providers will primarily be judged according to whether they have reduced reoffending within a fixed timeframe. As desistance is likely to involve relapses, it is really important that intermediate outcomes are included as part of the new service landscape.
It is also key that Payment by Results (PbR) looks at both binary (the total percentage of reoffending in a cohort) and frequency measures (the number of reoffences per individual in the cohort). But how do we get the balance right between these two? At the moment, the mechanism includes a binary hurdle, meaning providers don’t get paid at all if they do not achieve a reduction on that measure. Does this risk skewing the priorities of Tier 1 providers towards short-term results, and away from those offenders who may take longer on their journey to desistance, but who may still reoffend less with the right interventions in place.
So, based on the above, what’s your assessment of the opportunities and barriers to effective desistance presented by TR?
· In what ways do you think the TR agenda will support the desistance process?
· How do you think the TR agenda can be implemented to ensure it fully supports desistance?
· How can intermediate outcomes be supported as well as reduced reoffending rates per se?