The Ministry of Justice announced in early July 2013 that it is to open 70 new resettlement prisons. These are not actually new prisons but are, in effect, the re-rolling of existing prisons to fulfill this resettlement function (1).
The concept is welcome in that it is intended that all prisoners within three months of release will be placed in a prison near to their home area for preparation for release and, if effectively delivered, this would increase the possibility of effective resettlement in the community and reduce future criminal behaviour. And there's the rub. Would the re-designation of prisons used previously as local or medium category prisons, often overcrowded with increasingly challenging staffing levels, suddenly be able to provide effective resettlement facilities to achieve this goal if simply given this new title without additional resourcing?
So what is a resettlement prison? There are two currently designated resettlement prisons in the country. These have targeted regimes for prisoners serving more than three years where the planning of their sentence is focused on future resettlement. The current proposal would have 70 such prisons divided to fit into new arrangements for the delivery of community support into 21 areas and targeted on short-term prisoners who would become the subject of statutory supervision on release if the Offender Management Bill is passed through parliament in the Autumn Parliamentary sessions 2013.
The ambition is, of course, not new. This concept has been talked about since I began my career in probation in the 1970s--but it's a welcome aspiration nonetheless. Attempts to have prisoners housed locally to make family support easier and to provide opportunities for community probation to visit and plan release has been talked about and yearned for, for at least 40 years.
Since the turn of the twentieth century there has been increased interest in resettlement particularly of those sentenced to less than 12 months, the prolific so-called 'revolving door' offenders. Shortly after the 2003 Yorkshire and Humber Resettlement Strategy was launched, the prison authorities in the region initiated a project 'Closer to Home' designed to engineer the local prison estate to keep prisoners in their local area.
The research evidence is clear about the potential for successful resettlement of prolific and recidivist offenders back into their local communities. To reintegrate effectively there needs to be continuity of provision from the moment the individual is sentenced through the prison regime and back into the community, what is often referred to as 'through the gate' or 'end-to-end offender management' provision. Good co-ordinated delivery facilitates the access of a range of community professionals to support such reintegration. Resettlement is not just a criminal justice issue, it is a housing issue, an employment issue, a health issue, a drug misuse issue and therefore the cooperation of the full panoply of agencies will be needed to affect a successful programme of reintegration. Preparation in prison for release is also crucial. In the last few years the development of Integrated Offender Management (IOM) involving the cooperation of police, probation, prison, voluntary and welfare agencies has begun to demonstrate some success in supporting offenders and reducing reoffending. However if these newly designated prisons are to compliment such resources we have to understand the context within which these changes are taking place.
Austerity policies are impacting on all elements of government provision none more so than in the justice system where there is already the likelihood of cuts approaching 650million in the prison regime by 2015 and more promised thereafter.
Local prisons already deal with huge populations where the churn in the system i.e. the movement in and out of short sentence prisoners, can disrupt the regime and prevent the planning of support services inside prisons. …