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21 Jun 2017

Howard League responds to “devastating” report on Through the Gate support for prisoners

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to a joint inspection report, An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Prisoners Serving 12 Months or More, published today (Wednesday 21 June).

The report, published jointly by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, studies the quality and impact of ‘Through the Gate’ services – the support provided to people as they leave prison and return to the community.

The inspectorates’ conclusions are damning – Through the Gate services have no real prospect of having any impact on reoffending, and if they were removed tomorrow it would not make much difference.

It is the latest in a series of critical reports published by inspectorates since the Ministry of Justice introduced its Transforming Rehabilitation programme – the part-privatisation of the probation service in England and Wales.

Under the reforms, a large part of the probation service was handed to 21 privately-run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), who are now responsible for preparing prisoners for release and helping them to resettle in the community. This includes helping prisoners to find accommodation, as well as employment, training or education, and help with managing their finances, benefits and debt.

Inspectors found that CRCs were focusing most of their efforts on meeting their contractual targets, to produce written resettlement plans, and not giving enough attention to responding to the needs of prisoners.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “This is a devastating report on a growing scandal.

“The break-up of the public probation service, with a large part of it handed to private companies, was supposed to turn lives around, reduce reoffending and make us all safer.

“Instead, successive inspection reports have shown that the risk to the public has increased, and now we learn that Through the Gate services are so useless that they could stop tomorrow and we would not notice the difference. People who are trying to lead crime-free lives are being let down.

“One of the first challenges for the new government is to sort out this mess. It is time to end the dangerous experiment of ‘community rehabilitation companies’ and return to the single, successful, probation service that we used to have.”

The report is based on inspections of nine resettlement prisons and 98 cases. Only two of the 98 prisoners were found accommodation thanks to the Through the Gate arrangements, and more than one in seven prisoners were released without knowing where they would sleep that night.

No prisoners were helped by Through the Gate services to get education, training or a job after release. Only one prisoner had received support through a mentor scheme introduced under Through the Gate.

Inspectors found that Through the Gate services had made a “minimal” contribution to addressing the needs of women who had been victims of abuse.

The report also raises problems caused by overcrowding and staff shortages in prisons. Because prisons are spread unevenly across England and Wales, and because of overcrowding in jails in London and the South East, prisoners were often some way from home during their resettlement period.

Inspectors were told that some prisons in the South East had been exempted from completing prisoner screenings due to staff shortages. They were producing blank screening documents, which provided no information for Through the Gate staff when they came to complete resettlement plans.

The report comes less than a fortnight after the Howard League published analysis showing how the number of people recalled to prison has spiralled out of control following the probation shake-up.

As recalls have soared, so pressure has grown on a prison system already failing to cope with overcrowding, a lack of resources and record levels of violence and self-injury.

The majority of people sent back to prison are recalled for technical reasons, such as failing to attend appointments with probation officers. These cases could be better dealt with in the community and are often linked to services failing to support people properly on release.

The total number of recalls for all types of sentences has grown sevenfold in 15 years. In the year 2000-01, there were 3,182 recalls to custody. By 2003-04, this number had risen to 11,268. It then rose steadily to 17,701 in 2014-15. In 2015-16 – the first full year after the Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme was introduced – overall recalls leapt to a record high of 22,412.

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. The Howard League’s analysis of recalls to custody can be found on the charity’s website.
  1. An Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Services for Prisoners Serving 12 Months or More can be read online.


Rob Preece
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