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Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Scathing report finds new probation services failing to improve re-offending rates

Written by Hayden Smith

A key plank of controversial probation reforms shows no sign of improving re-offending rates and could be ditched immediately with little impact being felt, a highly critical report concludes.

So-called Through the Gate services were introduced as part of a partial privatisation in 2015 to bridge the gap between prison and the community as criminals prepare for release.

But a scathing joint report by two official watchdogs found none of the early hopes for the measures have been realised.

Support for prisoners leaving jail was poor and bodies tasked with delivering the services are making little difference to convicts' prospects on release, the review warned.

It said community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) were focusing most of their efforts on meeting contractual targets, and called on ministers to look again at the arrangements.

The report by the Chief Inspectors of Probation and Prisons said: "If Through the Gate services were removed tomorrow, in our view the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible."

The findings are the latest in a line of critical assessments of a shake-up of the system for the management of offenders in the community in England and Wales.

Known as Transforming Rehabilitation, the overhaul launched in 2014 saw the creation of the National Probation Service to deal with high-risk individuals, while remaining work was assigned to 21 CRCs.

Previous reports have warned that the public has been left at greater risk of harm as officers manage dozens of cases at any one time and offenders are unseen for weeks or months.

The latest inspection by HM Inspectorates of Probation and Prisons focused on resettlement services for criminals serving sentences of at least 12 months.

Publishing the findings, Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said: "The gap between the Government's aspirations and reality is so great.

"There is no real prospect that these services as they are will reduce reoffending."

Through the Gate arrangements were set up to ease the transition for offenders preparing to re-enter society by helping them find accommodation, employment, training or education, as well as providing support managing finances, benefits and debt.

But the review, which examined the cases of 98 prisoners before and after release, found:

:: One in seven was released not knowing where they would sleep that night;

:: The impact of Through the Gate services on education, training and employment was minimal;

:: Assessment of prisoners' potential to cause harm was inadequate in too many cases, and too little was done to mitigate these risks;

:: The CRC contracts incentivise the completion of resettlement plans, not the improvement of offenders' situations;

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, described the report as "devastating", adding: "One of the first challenges for the new government is to sort out this mess."

Bringing down re-offending rates estimated to cost society £15 billion every year will be a priority for new Justice Secretary David Lidington.

Figures show that from July 2014 to June 2015 around 471,000 adult and juvenile offenders were cautioned, received a non-custodial conviction at court or released from custody.

Approximately 118,000 of these, or one in four, committed a new offence within a year.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "Public protection is our top priority and we will take all necessary action to make sure the probation system is reducing re-offending and preventing future victims.

"We have undertaken an overarching review of probation, looking at the standards we set for providers and how we hold them to account.

"Additionally, we have made changes to how Community Rehabilitation Companies are paid so they can focus on activities that will help cut crime.

"As part of the probation review, we have been looking at Through the Gate services and will be publishing our findings in due course."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Milligan / PA Wire.