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05th November 2015

Prisoners and New Statutory Duties of Local Authorities in England and Wales

The move towards incorporating prisoners within new social care legislation administered by local authorities (LA’s) (The Care Act, 2014. The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act, 2014) is a 'historic' departure in policy, which recognises the importance of locating individual prisoners within their own life-journey, social-context and individual support-plan. The legislation places a responsibility upon LA’s to assess and meet the social needs of prisoners, to promote well-being, and to cooperate with other LA's at the point of preparing for release. It marks a significant point of departure towards penal policy centred upon social reintegration, as opposed to reactively responding to problems arising from social exclusion compounded by the experience of mass imprisonment.

Mass Imprisonment but Poor Outcomes

The emergence of the 'industrial-prison complex' during the second-half of the 20th (and into the 21st) century saw imprisonment on a hitherto unprecedented scale. The policy of mass imprisonment served political contingency, but delivered catastrophic outcomes for offenders and victims alike. With current fiscal pressures in the UK precipitating cuts in public spending, central government may be driven by both economic and outcomes focussed imperatives to further review policy. This is likely to include impact assessment of community based alternatives to prison, full implementation of the new English and Welsh Acts and exploration of other measures to promote well-being as a means to reducing re-offending.

Realising the New Well-being Goal

Discharging this legislative intent, ambitious in scale, scope and individually focussed detail, will pose fundamental challenges to prisons and LA’s. The legislation is built upon realising a well-being concept requiring an active-involvement on the part of the service user (in this case the individual prisoner). Prisons are far more limited, however, than LA’s in their ability to offer and support choice in support planning and programmes. Prisoners are necessarily constrained in their ability to make active choices. Furthermore support plans will need to be highly specific to individual needs and goals and be supported by flexible and well resourced therapeutic, day care, education and training, employment support and link to multi-agency working and case management approaches - if they are to respond to the totality and complexity of need.

Given the constraints, according to the Local Government Association there are four important exceptions to how the legislation will work for prisoners.

  • Prisoners cannot receive direct payments, and will have less choice over how their care needs are met.
  • Adult Social Care departments will not be responsible for investigating safeguarding incidents in prisons.
  • Prisoners will not be able to express a preference for particular accommodation except when this is being arranged for after their release.
  • Local Authorities will not have to protect the property of adults in prison.

The full Local Authority Association briefing is available at:

*All information is correct at the time of publishing. Use of this material is subject to your acceptance of our terms and conditions.

Nic Bowler

Welsh Care and Social Services Inspectorate Specialist

Dr Nicholas Bowler is a researcher and consultant to government-level [Welsh Government Review of Secure Services, 2009] – specialising in QA/compliance focused projects. He has interests in clinically relevant training, service development and research. He enjoys working with clients to support them in identifying problems and initiating projects to improve practice.

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