On the 17th December 2013 HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the HM Inspectorate of Probation published a report on offender management in prisons. This, in conjunction with the Government's on-going 'Transforming Rehabilitation' reforms, has brought rehabilitation to the forefront of the public protection rhetoric used by politicians when discussing criminal justice.
The 'Transforming Rehabilitation' reforms, and the proposed nationwide 'through the gate' resettlement service, which will see offenders given continuous support from one provider from their time in custody through to release and resettlement in the community, has drawn the focus away from incapacitation as the sole method of protecting the public toward the realisation that rehabilitation, and the reduction of offending where possible, also serves to accomplish this aim.
The aforementioned report brings together findings from 21 prisons and casts doubt on whether the Prison Service is capable of meeting the required standards, whilst also questioning whether the service is equipped to deliver the reforms proposed by Government and other NOMS targets.
In a joint statement the chief inspectors said:
"We have come to the reluctant conclusion that the offender management model, however laudable its aspirations, is not working in prisons.
The majority of prison staff do not understand it and the community-based offender managers, who largely do, have neither the involvement in the process or the internal knowledge of the institutions to make it work.
It is more complex than many prisoners need and more costly to run than most prisons can afford.”
"We therefore believe that the current position is no longer sustainable and should be subject to fundamental review. [It] is dysfunctional.
It does not work and we don't see any sign in the future that it will work and it undermines the whole thrust of the government's rehabilitation plan.
It needs a fundamental rethink if transforming rehabilitation is going to stay on track and the public is to get the protection to which they are entitled."
The offender management programme, which has been used for the past 10 years, is said to allow prisoners to leave prison without having addressed their offending behaviour. The programme introduced the ‘end to end’ management of offenders by placing one community officer in charge of sentence planning, whilst also setting up Offender Management Units inside of prisons with the aim of making this the hub of activities for managing a prisoner’s sentence.
Aside from poor understanding of the roles, communication between departments was inadequate, along with a lack of information sharing. OASys was used ineffectively when progressing through the sentence plans, particularly when making decisions about where to invest and what programmes should be offered to prisoners, whilst there existed poor communication between the Offender Management Units and the Education Department so that neither knew of the other’s plans.
Prison officers were often not held to managerial account, resettlement was considered a separate function irrelevant to the sentence plans, offenders’ behaviour while in prison was considered a security issue and as such something which is not considered by the Offender Management Unit, and there is a general lack of programmes which address offending behaviour.
The offender management programme has clearly exhibited an almost systemic failure, although clearly a contributing factor, the problem is more substantial than a failure to sufficiently organise resources. The fact remains that the government is attempting to rehabilitate offenders in an environment which offers a captive audience as its only redeeming feature, whilst using staff who are not expert or properly supported to instil fundamental changes to prisoners’ behaviour.
If rehabilitation as a means of protecting the public is to be taken seriously then it must not be as an afterthought attached to current service provision. The task in many respects is too big to be accomplished; expert assistance may be required in some circumstances along with a willingness to embrace change on the part of the offender.
The social factors underpinning some prisoners’ offending behaviour is an area where progress may be made, ensuring that resettlement is achieved effectively, and educational measures are in place to promote skills which may assist in obtaining employment.
All of this requires a basic understanding of the underlying causes of each offender’s criminal behavior to provide targeted measures, such as education, which can reduce the chances of future offending behaviour. At present this basic organisation of information appears to be a step too far, while cuts in resources and the lack of programmes available to reduce offending behaviour highlight a lack of resources which compounds the former.
Given the stigma of a conviction, rehabilitating prisoners is arguably an even more difficult task than preventing people from offending in the first place. A simplified, targeted education and resettlement based programme may prove far more effective if adequate resources can be supplied to target the repeat offender whose sentences are not lengthy but frequently given.
Having spent the past few months (even years) using public protection as an excuse for increasingly punitive sanctions, the Government’s shift to rehabilitation to achieve the same end by reducing reoffending and reintegrating offenders into the community is a welcome change. Whether this can be delivered and the wide ranging reforms called for by the report will materialise, one has his doubts.