|Revolving doors... here we go again|
As one B-cat I became accustomed to seeing the same old faces again and again. As they came up from Reception the news would go round the wing like wildfire: “So and so is back in again!” We’d all shake our heads.
I got to know one young lad - homeless, drugs and alcohol dependent - and characterised as a ‘prolific offender’. By 2010 he’d amassed over 115 convictions for pretty theft. Inside the nick, where he at least had a warm bed, he’d spend his entire free time working the wings, borrowing burn (rolling tobacco), trading items of food. He was a born survivor. He had to be. I won’t go into his background, beyond observing that the depths of abuse he’d endured as a young child should shame this nation. After his latest release I heard that he was living in a shed. He was back in court again this week.
The Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) own statistics (most recently issued in July 2013) make dismal reading. Figures for reoffending within one year among prisoners serving short custodial sentences of less than 12 months are around 62 percent. Compare that to the results from community sentences where reoffending is 6 percent lower. Certainly the MOJ’s own figures indicate that locking someone up for a few months and then kicking them out into the street with a discharge grant of £46.00 (for prisoners over 25, £37.00 for younger inmates) and a travel warrant really isn’t working to reduce re-offending.
So why do these men, young and old, repeatedly make their way back through the revolving door into custody? Can any intervention break this seemingly endless cycle of petty offending and short jail sentences?
The issues are very complex and, certainly in the UK justice system, there is insufficient focus on addressing the root causes of offending and re-offending despite each prison having an Offender Management Unit (OMU) that is supposed to work with each inmate. Until very recently, the vast majority of short-termers – in for the proverbial “shit and a shave” sentence of a couple of months, a few weeks or even days – were rarely interviewed by an ‘offender supervisor’ from the OMU, let alone subject to any type of sentence planning or referral for professional support.
Perhaps inevitably, one of the main reasons for this is a lack of resources, although the current lack of clear public policy objectives on prisons among coalition partners in the government hardly helps. OMUs are generally under-staffed and over-burdened with administration.
I can only imagine what has happened to the average caseload since the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Osborn, Booth & Reilly in October 2013. This judgment has led to predictions that the Parole Board – which makes recommendations concerning the re-categorisation or release of lifers, IPPs and release on licence of some determinate sentenced prisoners – will now have to deal with an annual increase in oral hearings from 4,500 to 14,000. There are already delays in listing cases, so against this background I really think it is unlikely that OMUs will have the resources to deal with the needs of prisoners serving short sentences.
|It's all about resources|
While most UK prisons have provision for a limited amount of drug/alcohol work with prisoners, the easy availability of substances inside prisons tends to undermine its effectiveness. Generally speaking, prison is not a conducive place for addiction management and recovery. Some nicks have established ‘drug-free’ wings or units where residence is based on voluntary testing and the signing of compacts, but that just goes to show how easily available illicit substances must be across the rest of the jail!
Mental health provision in prison - as I've observed previously in comments on this blog - is often effectively non-existent. In some establishments, inmates only seem to be able to get a mental health service referral if they actually self-harm or attempt suicide first. This is, again, a resource-based crisis that isn't being managed.
Moreover, when it comes to providing support for prisoners who are living with the impact of various types of trauma - including a significant number of ex-armed service personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a consequence of their past active service deployments and adults who have suffered horrific abuse throughout their childhoods - there is next to nothing available in most prisons.
The 'revolving door' syndrome that results in re-offending and recalls to prison due to breach of licence is very often linked to an ongoing failure to address the under-lying causes of much offending behaviour, particularly when it is related to the abuse of drugs and alcohol, or to the replication of abusive behaviours learned in childhood. Not addressing these issues while prisoners are in custody is an entirely false economy and will prove far more costly to the taxpayer given that the average annual cost of incarcerating each prisoner is £40,000. This is a very basic equation that most vocal 'punishment freaks' of the Daily Mail-reading variety - including Chris Grayling and his team - simply seem unable to grasp.