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29th October 2015

A Room With a View

New Horizons for Prisoners

Hidden away in Part 11 of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act (SSWA), is another ‘game-changing’ measure. It proposes to address prisoner’s needs directly, link them up to community support and mitigate the corrosive effect that imprisonment can have on life-chances.

Background

For generations, prisoner welfare was the exclusive domain of the prison governor. Recent reforms have seen prison healthcare included within NHS arrangements, and now the SSWA and its English cousin (The Care Act 2014), will do the same for social care. Whilst we will always need prison to punish and segregate those deemed dangerous, we need to rethink the ‘warehousing’ of those who might receive better provision from custody which joins-up to community support.

New Measures

The SSWA will require that Local authorities (LA’s) with prisons located within their populations will now have to:

  • Include prisoners within their service planning and provision;
  • Actively engage with their prisons to better support prisoners;
  • Link to other LA’s when prisoners are planning their release;
  • Include accommodation planning as a priority;
  • Factor in the prisoner’s individual well-being goals;
  • Consider the following: Mental health , substance misuse, thinking and behaviour related to offending, training and job-coaching, benefits advice and ongoing support needs.

Why is this important? Because prisoners constitute one of the most poorly served groups within society and imprisonment worsens their already complex problems.

Despite official claims that services link-up effectively, the truth can be very different...

An ‘inside’ view...

“...in my view it’s a lot of XXXX! I’m told there’s a lot of support and facilities for ex-cons, but I don’t see it. They only get a probation officer if they do a 12 month stretch, there’s no housing and whose gonna employ a con?”

So I was told when I was conducting some prison-research by a long-serving prison officer. And the facts support his case. According to the Prison Reform trust nearly half of prisoners reoffend within the first year following release...so, what exactly makes giving up a life of crime so hard?

The Inspector’s view...

To quote HM Inspectorate (2007), many prisoners;

“Have complex and long-standing mental health needs...these needs are part of a more complex picture of multiple disadvantage and social exclusion, which may fall through the net of community health, social care, housing and drugs agencies.”

So the evidence shows that prisoners experience a ‘nexus’ of interconnected problems. The ‘problems’ and the ‘offending’ form a knot, which is difficult to unravel, even with a comprehensive range of services. Unfortunately the services and their coordination are too often lacking or inaccessible.

Time for a change?

Inclusion of prisoners within the new care legislation appears to recognise this dilemma. The intent to address prisoner’s well-being goals directly, is likely to offer the best chance of reducing re-offending and improving life-quality. The measures included in the legislation have the potential to support new, non-offending possibilities and opportunities, and move us closer to a criminal justice horizon focussed upon timely 21st century perspectives.

*All information is correct at the time of publishing

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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