‘We are “free range” prison officers’, the experiences of Scottish Prison Service throughcare support officers working in custody and the community

Published date01 December 2020
AuthorKenny McGuckin,Katrina Morrison,Matthew Maycock
Date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
PRB954898 358..374
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
‘We are “free range”
2020, Vol. 67(4) 358–374
ª The Author(s) 2020
prison officers’, the
Article reuse guidelines:
experiences of
DOI: 10.1177/0264550520954898
Scottish Prison Service
throughcare support
officers working
in custody and
the community
Matthew Maycock
Scottish Prison Service College, Scotland
Kenny McGuckin
Scottish Prison Service College, Scotland
Katrina Morrison
Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland
Between 2015 and 2019, 41 throughcare support officers (TSOs) supported people
serving short sentences leaving custody across 11 Scottish Prison Service establish-
ments. The role of prison officers in the provision of throughcare in the community was
an innovation in Scotland and represents a new approach to the long-standing
challenges around supporting reintegration from custody. Drawing on data from
semi-structured interviews with 20 TSOs, this article examines their reflections on their
role, bringing attention for the first time to the front-line perspectives of those involved
in this novel approach to throughcare. TSO’s reflections revealed their growing
Corresponding Author:
Matthew Maycock, School of Education and Social Work, University of Dundee, Nethergate Dundee DD1
4HN, Scotland, UK.
Email: matthewmaycock@hotmail.com

Maycock et al.
awareness of the ‘pains of desistance’ and the challenges around reintegration,
insights which had not been apparent to them in their prior work as officers working
only in prison. The community ‘place’ of the TSO work also enabled a renewed
awareness of the limits of rehabilitation within a prison and their own institutionali-
zation after years of working in the custodial environment.
throughcare, prison, rehabilitation, reintegration, Scotland
Prison officer work is conventionally shaped by the prison context (Coyle, 1986;
Crawley, 2004a, 2004b; Crawley and Crawley, 2008; Liebling, 2000, 2011;
Liebling et al., 2011; Scott, 2006; Sim, 2008; Tait, 2011), more specifically
through material manifestations of the role such as the uniform (Ash, 2010), the
physical prison environment and working with diverse and often vulnerable people
in custody. Prison officers are synonymous with the prison environment, the concept
of a ‘total institution’ suggesting that the staff can become institutionalized as well as
those who live in custody (Goffman, 1961). We initially used Goffman’s ‘total
institution’ to theoretically frame the study and analyse the implications of prison as
a distinct social space with particular meanings for those living and working within
then. However, in the light of a number of critiques of the theory (Davies, 1989;
Moran, 2013), as we progressed through the analysis of the data this became less
influential as a theoretical frame for this project, consequently we focus more on
other research questions in this article, exploring the tensions between moving
between custody and community. In this study, we examine the implications of place
for prison officers whose work is largely located in the community, something nor-
mally quite rare for prison officers. It is through the reflections of these prison officers
into this new type of throughcare, that unique insights are outlined into the multiple
difficulties of resettlement and reintegration of those leaving custody. In this article,
we argue that the Throughcare Support Officer (TSO) role sheds new light on the
challenges that those leaving custody face in terms of rehabilitation and reinte-
gration in Scotland. This is creating more understanding and giving a new per-
spective on the prison officer occupation.
The 2013 Scottish Prison Service (SPS) organizational review (Unlocking
Potential, Transforming Lives) focused on desistance as its theoretical underpinning
(McNeill, 2016). It is within the SPS that desistance theories have had particular
impact (McNeill, 2016), with the key areas of desistance theory reflected in
organizational vision and values and key policy documents (SPS, 2013, 2016).
Although McNeill (2016) has criticized this approach as being overly, individua-
lized and responsibilising pointing to the challenges of operationalizing desistance
theory into meaningful rehabilitation. Within the Scottish context, ‘desistance’
rather than ‘rehabilitation’ is often referred to as the aspiration of key parts of the
justice (Sapouna et al., 2011, 2015).

Probation Journal 67(4)
In Scotland, criminal justice social work provides mandatory support for those
released to the community who have served a long-term sentence or four years or
more. Throughcare support was developed in this context as the SPS felt there were
disconnections between those leaving its care and services in the community fol-
lowing release and wider issues with a lack of support for short-term prisoners
reintegrating back into the community. As a consequence of these disconnections,
the desistance journeys of those leaving custody were more challenging, particu-
larly for those serving short sentences (four years or less).
There is a notable distinction in the services available after release to those with
long-term sentences (greater than four years) and short-term sentences (less than four
years) in Scotland. There is no compulsory supervision following release for most of
those serving short-term sentences (with the exception of short-term sentences for
sexual crimes, for whom it remains compulsory). Nonetheless, those released from
short-term sentences are entitled to request such support while in prison and for a
12-month period following release. However, the uptake of this voluntary support
remains limited and has dropped consistently in recent years from over 2400 in
2012/2013 to only 1700 individuals receiving this support in 2018/2019
(Scottish Government, 2020). This lack of support is even more important in the
context of those typically serving short sentences, whose needs are among the most
acute (Cracknell, 2018), who typically lead ‘chaotic lifestyles’, and whose risk of
reoffending is the greatest (Audit Scotland, 2012). Furthermore, those serving short-
term sentences receive fewer rehabilitative interventions in prison, yet their sentence
is long-enough for their relationships, employment, financial stability, and housing
to be disrupted (Armstrong and Weaver, 2013).
Within this context, the SPS introduced the TSO role to provide advocacy and
support to those people serving short-term sentences in the transition between cus-
tody and community. One of the key responsibilities of TSOs was to facilitate access
to key services (benefits, housing, etc.) as well support their motivation and rela-
tionships in the community. Given the non-statutory nature of this provision, the
support they provided is on a voluntary basis, thus if those they are supporting
choses to terminate with their services, they are free so do to do. TSOs spend most
(around 75%) of their working time in the community as opposed to custody. Cri-
tically, for the purposes of our arguments, while these prison staff remain prison
officers, they do not wear uniform and their work is based largely in the community.
After an evaluation report (Cochrane, 2014), the SPS appointed 41 TSOs and 3
throughcare support managers across 11 sites (with the exception of the Open
Estate and a prison for long-term prisoners). Five years later, in 2019, due to
operational pressures within the SPS (an overcrowded prison estate, combined with
increasing levels of staff absences), the delivery of throughcare support by the SPS
was paused, with the Wise Group (a social enterprise) winning the contract to
deliver this service across Scotland. While the SPS and the Scottish Government
have always claimed that the intention is to resurrect the TSO role within SPS when
this pressure eases (Diamond, 2019), this role was never regarded as a core
function of the SPS’s responsibilities and, as such, was always likely to remain
vulnerable in a service under considerable pressure.

Maycock et al.
Ultimately, prison officers embody the prison regime, therefore the contradictions
within imprisonment as a social institution are reflected in their work. The repetitive
nature of the regime is important in relation to the performance of prison officer
identities, Feldman (2003) has explored this in other contexts. Prison officers
often view the provision of safety in the prison environment as a central part of
their role, which is achieved through a continual monitoring and maintenance
of static and dynamic security (Arnold, 2016; Liebling, 2000, 2011; Liebling
et al., 2011; Scott, 2006; Tait, 2011). However, prison officers are also
required to promote desistance and to ‘rehabilitate’, through prosocial model-
ling, building personal and social assets, and the fostering of hope and a crime-
free identity (SPS, 2016). The contradiction of these aspirations within an
environment, which can also fracture community relationships and re-enforce a
criminal identity, is an ever-present tension within imprisonment and prison
officer work (McNeil and Schinkel, 2016). This study explores the ‘place’ of
prison to prison officers’ working identities and understanding of their role, as
well as the potential contribution to reintegration that prison staff can make
outside of the prison walls. In so doing, this article brings to attention this
innovative approach to throughcare delivery, which has relevance for all...

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