Resettlement after short prison sentences: What might work in England and Wales?

Published date01 December 2020
Date01 December 2020
AuthorPeter Raynor
Subject MatterArticles
PRB926580 326..339
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
Resettlement after
2020, Vol. 67(4) 326–339
ª The Author(s) 2020
short prison
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0264550520926580
sentences: What might
work in England and
Peter Raynor
Swansea University, UK
One of the advertised aims of the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ (TR) reforms in
England and Wales was to extend compulsory post-custody supervision to prisoners
serving short sentences who were outside the scope of existing resettlement provision.
It is now well established that the arrangements introduced by TR for this group of
prisoners have not been successful, having delivered high and often unmanageable
caseloads, little help to service users and a greatly increased chance of recall to prison.
The need which the reforms purported to meet remains unmet. There is little point in
poorly designed and delivered provision; on the other hand, resources for the fore-
seeable future are not likely to support large increases in expenditure when so many
parts of the criminal justice system require investment. This article draws on research
from the 1990s onwards on provision for this group of prisoners, and in particular, the
‘Pathfinder’ projects of 1999–2003, as examples of what can be achieved on a
voluntary basis. It is suggested that future provision for this group in England and
Wales should be based on a more selective and individualized provision, with less
coercion and more choice for service users.
resettlement, prisoners, voluntary after-care, Pathfinder research projects, transform-
ing rehabilitation
Corresponding Author:
Peter Raynor, Department of Criminology, School of Law, Swansea University, Swansea, SA2 8PP, UK.

Introduction: What went wrong with Transforming
Rehabilitation and what happened long before
When the Conservative-led coalition Government introduced its ‘Transforming
Rehabilitation’ (TR) changes to probation services in 2015, most discussion of the
new measures concentrated on the forced privatization of the majority of probation
work. Comment since then has continued to focus largely on this, including strong
condemnation of the ‘irredeemably flawed’ model by the former Chief Inspector of
Probation (HMIP, 2019b: 3), and in 2019, the Government announced that all
‘offender management’ work would be returned to the public sector, although
Community Punishment and ‘interventions’ would controversially remain with pri-
vate sector providers. This article is concerned with a less discussed but very
important aspect of TR, namely the provision made for resettlement and post-
sentence supervision of people released from prison sentences of less than 12
months. The introduction of 12 months of statutory supervision for this large group of
prisoners was intended to close a gap which had left without post-release super-
vision a group of prisoners who had many problems and a high reconviction rate. It
was expected to add about 40,000 new cases annually to the caseload, to be
supervised mainly by the private-sector Community Rehabilitation Companies
(CRCs). Superficially this looked like an improvement in services for a neglected
group in undeniable need, who were serving prison sentences usually too short to
offer any rehabilitative content but often long enough to lose accommodation or
jobs. However, as happened throughout TR, the provision in practice did not live up
to the advertisements. This article discusses what went wrong, and particularly what
might be done instead to meet this need under the new arrangements for probation
services. To throw some light on what might be possible, it reviews some past
research and past practice in resettlement services for this group, which was not in
fact consistently neglected in the past.
First, what went wrong? Leaving aside for the moment the question of pro-
portionality in a system which could face a prisoner with a whole year of supervision
after a few days’ imprisonment, the scheme was bedevilled with operational
problems which are laid out in two devastating independent reports (HMIP, 2016,
2019a). Its consequences included high caseloads and little actual help for most of
those subject to it; for many, it simply increased the risk of recall to prison for failure
to comply with supervision requirements, even if no further offences were commit-
ted. The contracts between the Ministry of Justice and the CRCs required resettle-
ment plans to be prepared for prisoners approaching release, but there was little
evidence that these plans were implemented, and there was little contact between
CRC ‘through-the-gate’ provision and resettlement teams in the prisons (HMIP,
2016); some supervision was carried out with minimal contact (e.g. six-weekly
telephone conversations: HMIP, 2019a), the voluntary sector was used much less
than was expected and promised by CRCs (HMIP, 2018), prisoners and supervisors
were confused by the system (Cracknell, 2019), and the level of recalls to prison
sharply increased. For example, of 38,617 people released under supervision from
October 2017 to September 2018, 8994 people were recalled to prison for failure

Probation Journal 67(4)
to comply (HMIP, 2019a). In the Justice Committee’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation:
Follow-Up’ report of July 2019, figures provided by the National Audit Office show
that the number of prisoners recalled for breaching licence conditions increased by
47% from January 2015 to September 2018 and that the proportion of recalled
prisoners who were there following short sentences increased from 3% to 36%. In
other words, almost the whole increase was attributable to the new supervision
arrangements for short-sentence prisoners (House of Commons Justice Committee,
2019a). The Committee also commented that this disproportionately affects women
as they are more likely to receive short prison sentences. Overall, the post-release
supervision of short-term offenders stands out as one of the least successful parts of
TR, but the shape and nature of future provision remains unclear, and many needs
remain unmet among a short-sentence prison population which typically reconvicts
at over 60% within a year of release. (The January to March 2017 cohort had a
64% reconviction rate, as reported in the work of HMIP, 2019a). These problems
are not unique to England and Wales: comparative studies in Europe, of which the
most recent is an edited compilation covering 20 countries (Du¨nkel et al., 2018),
show how many countries struggle to manage any continuity of services ‘through the
gate’ or to overcome the structural disadvantages of the social environments from
which many prisoners come. In Scotland, in spite of an approach to rehabilitation
which draws explicitly on social work traditions, there is no compulsory post-release
supervision for short-sentence prisoners, and rates of recall among other groups
have been rising (McIvor et al., 2018).
Attempts to address the needs of short-sentence prisoners are not new: in fact they
are older than the probation service. Local ‘Discharged Prisoners Aid Societies’
(DPAS) operated on a voluntary and charitable basis from the early 19th century,
and in 1879 the Liverpool Prison Gate Mission was offering a free breakfast to
released prisoners together with an opportunity to sign a pledge to abstain from
alcohol (Jarvis, 1972). Local DPAS were eventually brought together in a National
Association (NADPAS) which was the leading provider of prison after-care until this
work was taken over by the probation service in the mid-1960s following a report of
the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders (Home Office, 1963). NADPAS
in due course became the penal reform group NACRO, but service provision
remained a probation service responsibility.
Arrangements for after-care of short-sentence prisoners were covered by a gen-
eral provision for voluntary after-care. The Probation Officers’ Manual of 1974
explained that ‘All persons discharged from prison except those subject to com-
pulsory supervision’ (at that time, mainly parolees and young prisoners)
have a right to receive after-care from the probation and after-care service on a vol-
untary basis. This right carries no obligation on the part of the ex-prisoner. Whether he
exercises the right is a matter entirely for him to decide. Voluntary after-care carries no
sanctions as to recall. (Jarvis, 1974: 164)
This entitlement ended 12 months after release but could be extended. The
vocabulary is noteworthy, apart from the use of the male pronoun (women were

also eligible): the word ‘care’ appears frequently and was part of the title of what
was then the Probation and After-Care...

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