Written evidence from UNLOCK

About Unlock

 

Unlock is a national independent advocacy charity for people facing obstacles, stigma and discrimination because of their criminal record. Every year we hear from thousands of people who are unnecessarily held back in life because of their criminal record. We work at policy level to address systemic and structural issues. We listen to and consult with people with criminal records, undertake research and produce evidence-based reports to inform policy makers and the public.

 

About this response

 

We have a track record of constructive engagement with government, including probation and CRCs, and have provided evidence to the Justice Committee on the impact of Covid and lockdown restrictions on people with criminal records. Unlock welcomes the opportunity to provide a response to the Justice Committee’s call for evidence on the future of probation. This response sets out our answers to the questions that touch on our areas of expertise – namely, the criminal record disclosure regime and the ongoing difficulties faced by people with convictions. Our responses provide evidence and recommendations in relation to the future of probation.

 

Responses to questions

 

The Model

 

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?

  1. Unlock provides training to a range of providers of advice/support in criminal record disclosure, and the question of accountability for providing disclosure often comes up. Delivery arrangements tend to rely on regional and local working arrangements which are often inconsistent with other areas, and this results in gaps, confusion and poor service. The changes to support as a result of the Transforming Rehabilitation have added to the confusion (which existed before those reforms) about who is responsible for providing support to people in the community. A person preparing for release and wondering “who can support me with employment?” will often struggle to find the answer. We regularly receive calls to our helpline from people who have been referred to Unlock by their probation officer or jobcentre advisor for help finding work with a criminal record. As Unlock does not take formal referrals from these agencies, our role in these situations is to advise where we can and then signpost appropriately, but it is often impossible for us to know precisely where we can point them to as there is a lack of transparency. As we understand it, some services will continue to be contracted out to specialist suppliers, meaning transparency about roles and accountability remains vital.

 

  1. Everyone serving a sentence in the community, whether a community order or on licence from prison, should know what to expect from those supervising them and should have access to services tailored to their needs and protected characteristics where appropriate. For those serving a prison sentence, some of this work should take place in preparation for release.

 

  1. This should include help with opening a bank account, obtaining ID, buying insurance where necessary and understanding other ways an unspent conviction may affect everyday life. It should also include specialist support finding employment and to understand

 

 

  1. We repeat our earlier recommendation that every probation office should have a specialist worker trained in dealing with criminal record and disclosure matters. All advisors should have a basic awareness and be able to make internal referrals to the specialist where appropriate.

 

Commissioning: Dynamic Framework

 

Q9: What is the anticipated effect of procuring resettlement and rehabilitative services using a dynamic framework?

 

  1. Where advice and guidance on disclosure is contracted out, suppliers should:

 

Covid-19

 

Q17: What impact has Covid-19 had on the probation service?

 

Q18: What lessons have been learnt from this period of Exceptional Delivery, that should be taken forward into the new model of probation delivery?

 

  1. As identified in our earlier submission to the Justice Committee, callers to our helpline have experienced inconsistencies in the way that probation have delivered services over the lockdown period. This caused concern for individuals trying to adhere to licence conditions and reporting requirements and avoid a potential recall to prison. The inconsistency is, in part, due to the lack of centralised guidance for people under CRC supervision. People under supervision may be socially isolated as a result of social distancing measures and difficulties accessing support services.

 

  1. Unlock ran a survey between May and June 2020. We asked those under NPS/CRC supervision to tell us about changes to their reporting arrangements. Of those who previously had face-to-face supervision, 47% said this was now carried out by telephone. 23% said supervision now took place at the doorstep or through a window. Some were supervised by a mixture of the two. 1 person remained on face-to face supervision although it was now carried out through a window. One person who had recently been released from prison had been on doorstep/telephone supervision from the outset. 24% of people reported that they were in more frequent contact with their supervisor than when they had met face-to-face. 18% reported that frequency remained the same. Only one person reported that supervision took place less frequently.

 

Some respondents reported already being very isolated and that restrictions on social contact had exacerbated it. Others were experiencing isolation for the first time – not being able to see friends or family as before. Being or feeling unable to join in local support groups or social media created feelings of isolation but also of standing out. For some, isolation prevented activities that were done to prevent ‘relapse into offending’. One person described ‘socially distancing because of my conviction for over three years now’ and that the impact had therefore been minimal.

 

The long-term need for virus control measures is not yet entirely clear but the impact on service users should be considered. Not only in terms of reporting arrangements but the potential loss of support from family and friends as well as services, and the consequent impact on engagement and motivation.

 

Some respondents to the survey were positive about the change to remote supervision and support in particular, as well as the use of video technology in prisons to communicate with service providers, apply for jobs and maintain contact with family and friends and other supporters. The specific needs of people on the SOR in relation to home working was also mentioned – high security standards meant this was not possible for everyone. The wider prevalence of home working could present an opportunity for improved employment prospects for people with convictions.

 

In addition, we have received a number of calls from prisoners approaching who have been unable to contact their Offender Manager (due to limited access to the PIN telephone) and have been told resettlement is either closed or so scaled back assistance is not being given. The main concern for these callers is accommodation – one caller was due to be released under MAPPA and had been told that no approved premises placement could be found and he would have to find his own accommodation.

 

Other

 

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)

 

There is a growing recognition of the importance of lived experience as an effective way of engaging with people in the criminal justice system. As a charity that was set up and is led by people with criminal records, we are a strong believer that this should be echoed throughout the formal justice system. Unfortunately, although many third-sector providers proactively encourage this, we continue to hear of stories where people with criminal records have been unnecessarily held back from jobs in the NPS, CRC’s and even third-sector providers where the role requires prison clearance. This problem is mirrored in the prison system (although outside of the scope of this consultation).

 

September 2020