Written evidence from Dr J M Parsons, Associate Professor in Sociology, University of Plymouth
- I am responding as a sociologist and social researcher with experience in the evaluation and qualitative analysis of data from of a prisoner resettlement scheme (LandWorks) in South Devon. LandWorks provides work-based training placements to serving prisoners through the Release on Temporary Licence scheme, as well as to those under the supervision of the National Probation Service (NPS) and the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) in the community. LandWorks has worked with over 100 people since it began in July 2013. Their employment rate for former trainees is c.90% and our overall one-year reoffending for former trainees is c.5%.
- Since September 2015 I have worked on a number of funded research projects that focus on the lived experience of people on placement at LandWorks. I have over 100 interview transcripts detailing some of the everyday experiences from prisoners (n24) and others on community sentences (n20). I run a Photographic-electronic Narrative (PeN) project website for trainees at LandWorks based on interviews documenting their time at the scheme (https://penprojectlandworks.org/). I also run a ‘Finishing Time’ project and have interviewed (n11) people who have graduated from LandWorks documenting their release into the community after punishment. I have also run a supporter’s survey which investigates the values and attitudes of the wider community (approx., 1200 registered supporters).
- The focus of my evidence is from the lived experience of prison and probation. The response is informed by interviews with, and experience of working with prisoners and those on community sentences from within the voluntary and statutory sectors. Alongside data from values and attitudes surveys from the wider community/general public over four years (2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020). I am only responding to the terms of reference that are most relevant to this.
Q1: What are you views on the decision to end the competition for Probation Delivery Partners, and bring those service back into NPS delivery?
- These changes are welcome. However, significant investment is needed in order to provide a service that can cater for the complex needs of the people it serves. Renationalisation is not enough to revitalise a service that focuses on risk and accountability at the expense of being alongside ‘offenders’ as they work to turn their lives around. One of the key findings from 5 years of research in this area is that ‘offenders’ are not an homogenous group, they are individuals with differing needs and requirements. The criminal justice system is not set up to cater for individuals, and whilst this is not a recommendation, providing individualised support packages prior to release and for those in the community is vital if reoffending is to be reduced and for successful resettlement into the community after punishment.
Q4: Does the new model address the issue of confidence in community sentence options?
- The confidence in community service options can only be increased if the general public believe that these options offer opportunities for ‘offenders’ to change. For example, those responding to the LandWorks’ supporters surveys are typically “more aware of what effect prison has on people, and how counterproductive our justice system can be. As a result, [they] have become more understanding towards offenders who are struggling to turn their lives around.” (2019, Q12). Moreover, with a more holistic approach to community interventions, “treating offenders with respect and robust compassion [will help] them find their strengths and give them a sense of belonging, which are all key to helping them rehabilitate” (2020, Open Comments). Generally, confidence in community sentences needs to address some of the wider social problems, “which in so many cases are the fore runner of criminal activity, [and these] must be tackled and the criminal justice system should not be relied on as a solution.” (2019, Open Comments).
Q5: The new model aims to strengthen integration between prisons and probation by integrating through-the-gate roles, processes and products with sentence management. What is your view on this? Do you anticipate any gaps/challenges?
- Through the gate provision has been woefully lacking and many of the people on placements at LandWorks have argued that they would have ended up back in prison without the support from LandWorks. For example, Jarvis comments “I didn’t even know my National Insurance number. We had to go and find it and all that sort of stuff. I was getting frustrated with that. It’s lucky I had Sue [LandWorks resettlement coordinator] around me that contacted people. I wouldn’t of had a clue how to do any of it. I’m so grateful that I’ve got that support because I don’t know how I would’ve managed on my own” Jarvis 26_10_17 (16_2).
- Indeed, on a practical level, many of those interviewed complained that the £46 discharge grant (unchanged since the 1990s) was insufficient and it was therefore understandable that for some reoffending became the only option, as Fred notes in a Finishing Time interview “I’ve known people that’s left and had nothing apart from the £46, no assistance. It’s you’ve done your time, bye. To me, I think it’s a massive failing because it seems to be just perpetuating this turnaround effect. It’s almost like a merry-go-round. You’re out the door, you run out of money and you fall back to what you know” (Fred, Finishing Time). This underlines the need for Universal Credit to be in place prior to release, rather than depending on prisoners to have easy access to mobile phones and computers. The lack of ID on release is also a barrier to accessing UC, as well as essential services such as health care.
- Doing a placement at LandWorks prior to release offers more than practical support with benefits, accommodation, work and family relationships, as one interviewee comments, “I’ve found it really useful to re-humanise myself and gain some skills that I can use when I get out. It’s a nice environment to meet people and it’s just nice to be here. It’s helping in the transition, actually, it’s helped quite a lot because it’s a bit of a shock when you get out. Just little things, like, it’s just silly little things, using a metal knife and fork and stuff like that” Tarquin_7_12_17(20). It is critical that through the gate provision is improved, including building trusting relationships with probation and/or offender managers.
- Establishing good working relationships with probation services is crucial, many trainees at LandWorks complained of being assigned different probation officers and changes in offender management in the run up to release and beyond. Fred for example says in a Finishing Time interview “I started having a good rapport with the girl down [Town], but then when I found out I was coming to [another area] I got a new one and then two weeks after that, I got another new one, and I’ve not met one of them yet. I’ve had a couple of phone calls.” (Fred, Finishing Time). However, as John says, “Probation’s fine. I’ve now got my new probation officer […] He was my offender supervisor for three and a half years in prison, so, he knows me really well […] I go in and see him once, every three months, now” (John FT project). This underlines the importance of establishing and maintaining relationships prior to release.
- Prisoners in the run up to release and beyond need integrated and joined up support, as one of the LandWorks supporters comments, since becoming interested in LandWorks they now have a “Better understanding of the huge challenges [prisoners] face when released and why poor resettlement is a huge factor in reoffending rates” (2018, Q12).
- Overall, the through the gate support offered at LandWorks underlines what is missing in the current prison/probation model, which often fails to provide suitable accommodation, enough money for basic needs and links to services. As Fred comments on his release plan “Nobody but nobody bothered asking what I was going to do for accommodation and I’m over 55. There is a duty of care there. I know there is, but they’re not applying it. It’s the quickest way for offenders to re-offend.” (Fred Finishing Time). However, LandWorks also demonstrates the need for establishing trusting relationships with people who have their interests at heart as a LandWorks supporter notes “When a group of 'offenders' become individual humans with problems, it is easier to empathise and wish to see a better future for them.” (2019, Open Comments)
Q19: Are there any other areas relating to the Probation Reform Programme that you would like to brief the Committee on, that are not already covered by the Terms of Reference above? (If yes, please provide information)
- The LandWorks approach to resettlement as the ongoing evaluation of the scheme has shown (since 2015) clearly demonstrates ‘what works’ in supporting offenders into the community after punishment. The National Lottery Community Fund have published the LandWorks Evaluation document from 2018 as an example of best practice.https://www.tnlcommunityfund.org.uk/media/insights/documents/LandWorks-Evaluation-Report-Final-August-2018.pdf?mtime=20190813113820&focal=none
- They also praised the PeN project as “important for offering insights into the ongoing work at LandWorks (https://penprojectlandworks.org/) and it is very interesting particularly around some of the challenges and complexities for the group in terms of capturing journeys factoring in the complex natures of those you work with” (Reaching Communities Funding Officer, July 2019).
- Overall, there is a need to consider how best to help those who want to change. LandWorks develops bespoke resettlement plans with individuals that cater for their needs. This are practically focussed on issues such as helping to secure appropriate ID, providing a resettlement pack (toiletries and basic foodstuffs) on release, securing appropriate accommodation, help and advice with benefits and health care and addiction issues, alongside developing skills and offering advice to help with employment. Importantly, this all happens in one place with a dedicated team of people. However, the most important thing for successful resettlement is for those who are looking to change their lives to be given a supportive environment in which to do this. For many, institutionalised by the system they appreciate the rehumanising effects of being amongst people in a non-judgemental environment and who aren’t part of the system. Until they spend time at LandWorks, as Ryan says, “I didn’t realise how strange I had become” (SHI, 2015) and Helen says, “I think this type of place is the true meaning of rehabilitation. I think this is what it should be about. That’s why I think it’s such a good project. I’m learning something every day and learning new skills” (Helen_3_5_18 (23)).
- I understand LandWorks are also providing written evidence to the committee and I would echo their key message that “it is critical that the opportunity provided by the new probation reforms is used to foster a system that genuinely provides joined up interventions that reflect the reality of people’s lives in order to reduce reoffending and better protect the public.”