How resettlement of prisoners could be improved and lead to more effective reintegration on release

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This essay will give a brief developmental and historical overview of the history of prisons. As the main focus of the essay it will examine relevant literature with regards to resettlement and explore how prisoner’s reintegration into society can be more successful. This will include examining current issues within the Prison Service, Probation and relevant key agencies whom all play a part in terms of resettlement of prisoners. The roots of prison began in mercantilism and was promoted and elaborated by the task of enlightenment Matthews(1999).

Matthews (1999) explained that enlightenment thinkers believed that prison could reform individual offenders and help to improve society. Prison would also deprive offenders of their liberty and be a reminder to the rest of society of the consequences they may face if they did not conform. Modern prisons originated in workhouses, at this time prisons, asylums and hospitals were not distinct from one another. During the eighteenth century this began to change and deprivation of liberty appeared to be the best way of dealing with offenders.

Prisons were viewed as a way of training prisoners to conform and the idea of reforming prisoners in the community was dismissed. Those that were considered to be mad were viewed as sick and the concept of mental illness was firmly established by the nineteenth century. Medical certificates were now needed to place in institutions against their own will Giddens(1992). The goal Act of 1823 was imposed and male and female offenders were separated. In 1835 the Penal Servitude Act was imposed and males and females were now governed by the same rules and regulations.

In 1838 juveniles were now separated from adult offenders and Parkhurst prison for juveniles was opened Matthews (1999). All prisons were managed under central Government control in 1877 and penal institutions were now seen as a place of reform. By 1898 prisoners were separated into categories based upon their characteristics Matthews (1999). 1963 saw the end of the Prison Commission and the introduction of the prison service, in 1993 the prison service then became an executive agency of the Home Office.

Throughout time prisons have been linked with the aim of rehabilitating offenders and seen as a form of punishment and protecting the public. The primary aim of prison has been to improve the offender so that they are able to live law abiding lives within society. Much of the official interest in prisoners’ families has stemmed from the findings that prisoners without family support during their imprisonment are between two and six times more likely to offend in the first year after release than those who demonstrate or receive active family interest Ditchfield (1994).

Different research studies using different populations at different times have confirmed the relationship between strong family ties during imprisonment and better post-release outcomes Visher and Travis (2003). However it is crucial to acknowledge at the outset that not all families are a positive influence in the lives of prisoners. They may themselves engage in criminal activity or be the cause of the initial offending and in such cases are unlikely to promote a reduction in re-offending.

A study conducted by Leverentz(2006) found that for many female ex-offenders, relationships with men were at the core of their offending behaviour and many women chose to spend time without intimate relationships with men in order to maximize their chances of successfully maintaining a noncriminal lifestyle. If, as has been suggested by McNeill (2006), desistance is the key process that offender management exists to support, it would seem imperative for offender managers to maintain and strengthen the social capital that resides in family and other relationships Farrall (2004).

It could therefore be useful for offender managers to help strengthen or repair family ties where they have been weakened or damaged, whether by the offending behaviour, imprisonment or other factors. Although recent probation research literature has recognized the value of staff helping offenders to address their family and social problems, there has been some debate as to how this should best be done. Some, such as Rex (1999) and McCulloch (2005), have found that probationers do not expect direct action, but value the opportunity to discuss their problems and receive informal advice and guidance to help them understand and address them.

Farrall (2002, 2004), on the other hand, advocates more direct intervention to repair damaged family relationships and to help activate social capital, such as relationship counselling or officers acting as a link between offenders and family members to try and restore trust within families. There have been recent developments, both within and outside prisons which hope to address the resettlement needs of women offenders. It is recognised that problems in prisoners’ lives are often “complicated and inter-related” and therefore need a carefully coordinated response.

This it is hoped will be achieved via the replacement of the Probation Service with NOMS, which aims to bring together “prison and probation for more effective management of offenders” (Narey 2004). The objective is to provide ‘seamless sentencing’ (Burnett & Roberts 2004) with the re-introduction of end-to-end case work, whereby one officer is responsible for a particular case from start to finish so that support is provided during their prison sentence and in the transition phase between leaving custody and returning to the community.

The coordination of “work across departments and agencies” is also the aim of the ‘Women’s Offending Reduction Programme’ so that women’s needs remain at the forefront of policy-making Carlen (2002). These interventions however will be reliant upon professional multi-agency working, and hence could only work if the different agencies can overcome cultural differences and can establish equal partnership arrangements. My first experience of end to end case management was quite overwhelming.

In my previous office working as a PSO I held many resettlement cases; I was informed that it was good practice to write to my offenders in prison to introduce myself. I was overwhelmed by the response I received, I had numerous replies all with different queries and complaints, and some even requested visits. The general consensus was that they were not getting enough support in prison and had various problems such as drugs, housing, employment etc. Although I did my best to respond and address these problems it was very difficult due to time constraints and not being able to contact prison staff members.

Resettlement may also be affected by the stigma attached to female offending Nagel & Hagan (1983), cited Cavadino & Dignan (2002). Unlike males, whose criminality appears to be more socially accepted, women are considered ‘doubly deviant’ Ward, Scott & Lacy (2002), accused of breaking gender norms as well as criminal law. Therefore re-integration into the family may be difficult if their actions have shamed or disgraced the family. This is particularly true of Foreign National women offenders, whose cultural backgrounds often conflict with such behaviours and means they are often too afraid to admit the truth, or to return home Singh (2004).

Whilst men’s offending is often attributed to factors considered beyond their control, women are subjected to the idea of ‘responsibilisation’, whereby they are responsible for their actions, thus their needs may be disregarded. Available evidence (Bowling and Philips 2002; Chigwada, 1997) shows that imprisonment disproportionately affects ethnic minorities as they are likely to suffer from racism and lower likelihood of early release. On release black and Asian people have to deal with increased discrimination in finding employment due to their ethnicity and the stigma of being criminals.

Such experiences may result in re-offending which leads them back into the criminal justice system. This is supported by Bowling (2002). Chances are they would receive a custodial sentence with a longer term due to their previous convictions. However the prison Service has put a strategy in place, the Associate Race Equality Scheme which is an action plan by the service to improve race relation management HM Prison Service (2005). Although a third of prisons still do not have policies for foreign nationals some prisons now have foreign national’s orderlies who assess the needs of foreign nationals and provide needed support.

Undeniably there is evidence to suggest that programmes are effective in reducing offending despite the view that evidence is strongest amongst individuals with low deviancy Maguire (2002). Research suggests that offenders typically have weak life skills, often stemming from time in care as a child or time in other institutional settings. Many have poor basic skills due to truancy and exclusion from school. Offenders often come from the most socially excluded groups in society with associated problems such as negative social attitudes and poor self-control.

Offending behaviour programmes, which develop life skills, change attitudes and shape behaviour, can reduce reconviction rates by 14% (equating to around 21,000 crimes a year). However in many prisons there are long waiting lists to access programmes and attrition rates are high. Both the Prison and Probation Services already deliver a core curriculum of offending behaviour programmes. These programmes cover a range of areas including enhanced thinking skills, cognitive self change, controlling anger and sex offender treatment programmes.

However in 2002-2003, only 10% of the average daily prison population completed programmes, a fraction of the annual population turnover. Evidence suggests that to improve the resettlement process there is a need to develop accredited programme provision both in terms of quantity and quality. To ensure any learning in custody is not lost, there is a real need to reinforce learning on release to help ex-prisoners cope with the demands of resettlement London resettlement board (2005). Access to suitable housing on release from custody is a significant factor in preventing re-offending.

This provides the base from which offenders can take part in programmes of supervision, gain employment, training and reintegrate into community. Preventing homelessness and reducing barriers to housing such as rent arrears and other debts is therefore crucial London resettlement board (2005). Burnett and Maruna (2004) show that, however strong an offender’s ‘narrative’ for change, his or her motivation can be seriously undermined by, for example, persistent financial or accommodation problems.

Offenders with an established address allow Police and Probation Services to track offending behaviour and ensure the public is protected and that risk of re-offending is reduced. There is currently insufficient housing stock to accommodate all those in need and offenders are competing for limited resources with other priority groups. Relationship breakdowns, as a result of imprisonment, often add to the demand for housing. Without secure and appropriate accommodation it is more difficult for offenders to access services and tackle issues such as substance misuse, health problems and education, training and employment.

Statistics show that one in three prisoners do not have settled accommodation prior to custody, one third of prisoners in accommodation lose their housing on imprisonment, 20% of prisoners on release report having nowhere to stay and 10% of short-term prisoners have reported sleeping rough. Stable accommodation can reduce re-offending by up to 20% (Social Exclusion Unit 2002). I often have offenders on my caseload who have housing problems and I find it difficult to assist them.

Although we have a housing worker she only works with high risk offenders and her caseload is always full. Although I offer offenders the best advice I can, it is often difficult addressing their offending behaviour if they have other issues such as housing. From examining research evidence it appears that to improve resettlement and an offender’s reintegration housing issues should be acknowledged at the pre-sentence stage as housing needs can be identified too late in the sentence for steps to be taken to prevent rent arrears or eviction.

Many offenders lack the skills to manage the financial aspects of their housing tenancies and often lose their accommodation as a result. This shows that there is a need to improve basic money management skills during custody. I also feel that Local Authorities should assist more in addressing housing needs, it would be beneficial for them to know in advance when offenders are to be released and the specific housing needs offenders have. Research suggests that the likelihood of re-offending is reduced when ex-offenders enter employment following release from prison (Social exclusion report 2002). Farrington et al. , 1986), suggest that unemployment and offending are linked although the nature of this link is not clear. Many prisoners experience unemployment before imprisonment and lack the essential skills to secure employment after release. The 2001 Resettlement Survey found that two-thirds of prisoners were unemployed before they entered custody and that 12 per cent of prisoners aged over 17 years had never had a paid job Niven & Olagundoye(2002).

As a consequence of their lack of work experience and imprisonment, many prisoners have difficulty arranging employment on release. Those most adversely affected are prisoners serving shorter sentences of less than 12 months. Studies have shown that two- thirds of prisoners who were working before prison lost their pre – prison jobs whilst in custody Home Office (2001) and around two-thirds of prisoners left prison with no job or training to go to Niven & Olagundoye (2002).

Research has found that the likelihood of a prisoner finding employment on release is often tied in with other factors such as having stable accommodation, qualifications, not having a drug problem and receiving help and advice with finding work Niven & Olagundoye (2002). Basic skills are related to a number of other factors known to be associated with offending, for example, poor school experience, unemployment, social exclusion and various psychological or cognitive factors linked to self-concept and attitudes to offending Porporino & Robinson (1992).

Research has shown that many prisoners lack essential basic skills Niven & Olagundoye (2002). Over half (55%) of all prisoners were at or below level 1 in literacy (equivalent to GCSE grades D-G), over two-thirds were at or below level 1 in numeracy and over half (57%) of all prisoners entering custody had no qualifications Niven & Olagundoye (2002). I currently supervise an offender who is on licence; he informed me that he was not able to access educational courses whilst in custody. He stated that you had to be a favourite of the prison officers to have access to privileges such as training courses.

This is possible as prison officers have immense power and authority as their assessment determines the earned privileges and incentives received by inmates and thus the level of regime such inmates can enjoy Bryans and Jones (2001). However I find that in my Office we have a very good Education Training and Employment worker, I often make referrals to her and she is always able to offer appointments. She is very encouraging and supportive in terms of finding offenders employment and courses.

However more work is needed to link prisons with employers that can offer training inside prison and links to employment opportunities beyond. There is also a need to explore ways in which provisions both within prison and beyond might be extended to include, for example, further education establishments. Substance misuse is also associated with re-offending (SEU, 2002). In recent years, research has shown that drug users are prolific offenders and this has focused Policy-makers’ attention heavily on drug related offending rather than alcohol related offending.

Research on drug misuse suggests that many offenders who are sentenced to custody enter prison as recent users of drugs. In the Prison Criminality Survey of recently imprisoned male offenders carried out in 2000, around half had used heroin, cocaine or crack within the last year and nearly three-quarters of this sample reported that they had used drugs within the last year. Of these drug users, over half reported that their offending was linked with their drug use, primarily to finance their habits Liriano & Ramsay (2003).

The OASys pilot highlighted that 35 per cent of offenders considered their alcohol use to be a problem at the pre-sentence report (PSR) stage. The pilot also showed that 47 per cent of those who had reported they had a drinking problem further admitted that their violent behaviour was related to alcohol use and 38 per cent considered their alcohol use to be linked, in some way, to their current offence (Home Office unpublished data). Research also suggests that substance misuse has wider implications for offenders, for example it may affect their prospects of employment (SEU, 2002; Niven & Olagundoye, 2002).

To improve the resettlement of offenders the following points must be addressed that the London resettlement board 2002 have looked at. They state that many offenders do not receive the type of treatment that would best meet their needs. There are limited treatment options available to offenders in custody and treatment received tends to be based on availability rather than offender need Offenders may receive treatment in prison but then begin using drugs again on release. This is influenced by many factors but the lack of integration and consistency of care within prisons and then in community can be an influencing factor.

Although very few, there are prisons to some degree that provide a regime that supports the development of prisoners with the ultimate goal of reintegrating them back into society. An example is Blantyre House, a Category C prison that provides a resettlement function for longer term prisoners with a relatively open regime. Prisoners are allowed to develop and pursue personal career plans and are encouraged to be self reliant. Security is low and no violence, drugs or alcohol are allowed as this would result in instant transfer.

Reconviction rate is 8% after two years compared to the 57% reconviction rates from other prisons. (Cullen and Minchin, 2000 in Cavadino and Dignan 2002). To support reintegration into society it appears necessary that more establishments of this kind are built as research proves that it is working. However it is possible that financial constraints and security compromise is why there are not many prisons of these kinds however government should look further into this if they want to improve resettlement.

Maruna’s (2000) interview-based study of offenders in Liverpool suggested that personal resources are related to the way offenders understand and account for their situation and behaviour. He describes these understandings and accounts as different kinds of narrative, some of which support continued offending and some of which support desistance. For example, those who were continuing to offend saw themselves as victims of circumstances who had little choice, while those who were desisting from offending saw themselves as having taken control of their lives and determining their own futures.

Studies such as this lend some support to the idea that resettlement services should address both opportunities and thinking: they should aim to reinforce and support plausible ‘narratives of desistance’. There may even be dangers in an exclusive focus on problems of access to resources and opportunities, as if crime were nothing more than a response to environmental difficulties or restricted opportunities: this may run the risk of reinforcing recidivist ‘narratives’ in which offenders cast themselves as victims of circumstance.

Future research should at least address this possibility. This discourse has examined relevant literature to explore how resettlement of prisoners can be improved which in turn leads to effective reintegration into society. It has looked at various difficulties that prisoner’s may face and has given helpful suggestions as to how the Probation Service and other key agencies can help address these issue.

Although many agencies are working hard to address re-offending their effectiveness is undermined by other variables such as lack of communication between key agencies, funding, and lack of commitment from major service providers. The Probation Service also needs to ensure that there is continuity between prisons and probation interventions and early planning and preparation for a prisoner’s release. It is also necessary for the establishment of a close relationship with the offender while in prison and that there is more attention to an offenders thinking, attitudes and motivation.

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