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Sharp decline in quality of prison resettlement support in recent years, PAC report finds

11 November 2023

  • Stark inequalities by race and gender exist in resettlement outcomes for prison leavers
  • Unprecedented prison population growth heaps pressure on strained resettlement services

Prisoners are still not consistently receiving the support they need to resettle into the community. In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warns of a sharp decline in the quality of support given to prisoners to help to reduce their likelihood of reoffending and prepare them for release into the community across England and Wales in recent years. The report also highlights serious concerns around inequalities for prison leavers, a lack of support for prisoners with substance misuse needs, and unprecedented pressures in prison capacity.

The PAC’s inquiry found that in 2022-23, no prisons were rated by HM Inspectorate of Prisons as “good” for their work on rehabilitation and release planning. As recently as 2019-20, 30% of prisons were rated as good. Prison leavers are more likely to reoffend if they have nowhere to live, no job or income, and have poor healthcare, with adult reoffending identified in 2016 costing society and estimated £16.7bn.

The report also highlights inequalities in resettlement outcomes in both race and gender for prison leavers. In 2021-22, 8% of female prison leavers were employed after six months compared with 18% of male prison leavers, while 11% of black or black British prison leavers were employed after six months compared with 18% of white prison leavers. The PAC is calling for an action plan from HM Prison & Probation Service for improved support for those who leave the prison system.

The PAC’s inquiry heard evidence of unprecedented pressures on the prison estate. At March 2023, the prison population was at around 99% (84,400) of safe capacity (85,500). The Government forecasts this could grow to approximately 93,100-106,300 by March 2027. The PAC’s inquiry heard that an ongoing lack of “headroom” is hampering much needed refurbishment across the prison estate, with prison population growth heaping pressure on already strained resettlement services within prisons and the community.

The report further warns of the impact of staff shortages and high caseloads. In 2021-22, 8% of probation officers left the service, the highest level in the last six years. While HMPPS told the inquiry of work to improve recruitment and retention, the PAC remains concerned that the workforce no longer has the balance of experience it needs to safely manage the probation caseload.

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“By serving their time, prison leavers are judged to have paid their debt to society, but if released without support are likely to reoffend. This undermines public safety and any hope of rehabilitation through the justice system, while costing the taxpayer billions of pounds. Shockingly, our report finds that around half of the work aimed at resettling prison leavers is not being routinely carried out. This makes even more critical the need for a long-term strategy to manage increased demand for resettlement services as the prison population continues to rise.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) told our inquiry that its drive to save 7.5% across its budget means it faces difficult choices, and that the easiest place for cuts to fall is in discretionary programmes, such as reducing reoffending. But it is these very areas that are likely to reap dividends long-term if protected. We hope in this challenging area that the recommendations in our report help guide the Government to take decisions based on that which works best, rather than what is easiest.”

Further information

Image: MoJ