A report has branded it “disappointing” that the prison and probation service has not worked harder to understand why black prison leavers and women are less likely to find a job in the months after their release.
Overall, around half of the work aimed at resettling prison leavers is not being routinely carried out, a committee of MPs looking into the issue across England and Wales found.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said just 8% of female prison leavers were employed after six months compared with 18% of male prison leavers in 2021-22, while only 11% of black or black British prison leavers were employed in that period compared with 18% of white prison leavers.
The PAC said His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) had not analysed why these differences are happening and demanded it set out an action plan within six months on how support for prison leavers will be improved.
The report stated: “It is disappointing that HM Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) has not done more to understand why some prison leavers have better outcomes than others, such as for what reasons black prison leavers are less likely than white prison leavers to secure a job post release.”
The MPs said prisons and probation services have a key function to rehabilitate people in their care “to help them lead law-abiding and useful lives”, as they warned of the “significant costs” reoffending has to society.
The Ministry of Justice has previously estimated that reoffending across all adult offenders identified in 2016 cost society £16.7 billion.
The report warned of “unprecedented pressures on the prison estate” which it said threaten the quality of resettlement services now and in the future. At the end of March 2023, the prison population was at 99% of what is considered safe capacity.
The PAC said that a growing prison population “will inevitably add pressure to already strained resettlement services within prisons and the community” and noted that HMPPS “does not currently have a long-term strategy to manage the anticipated increase in demand for resettlement services”.
The report, published on Saturday, said prisoners are “still not consistently receiving the support they need to resettle into the community”, saying that in 2022–23 HMPPS identified that “about half of key resettlement activities were still not routinely happening”.
The PAC said essential handover meetings between prison and probation staff did not happen as intended in 50% of cases between April 2022 and January 2023.
The prisons inspectorate had also concluded that there has been a decline in outcomes for prisoners in recent years, the PAC said.
MPs also said the Government is not doing enough to support prisoners with substance misuse needs before their release, adding that HMPPS and NHS England “have been slow to improve the collection and sharing of prison leavers’ data, limiting their ability to provide appropriate support and monitor outcomes”.
The PAC said the lack of progress “puts the successful resettlement of offenders with substance misuse needs at risk”.
Staff shortages and high caseloads are also negatively affecting resettlement support for prison leavers, the report said, as it insisted HMPPS must set out what steps it will take to “retain and incentivise” experienced probation staff in the next 12 to 18 months.
Dame Meg Hillier, committee chair, said: “By serving their time, prison leavers are judged to have paid their debt to society, but if released without support are likely to reoffend.
“This undermines public safety and any hope of rehabilitation through the justice system, while costing the taxpayer billions of pounds. Shockingly, our report finds that around half of the work aimed at resettling prison leavers is not being routinely carried out.
“This makes even more critical the need for a long-term strategy to manage increased demand for resettlement services as the prison population continues to rise.
“The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) told our inquiry that its drive to save 7.5% across its budget means it faces difficult choices, and that the easiest place for cuts to fall is in discretionary programmes, such as reducing reoffending.
“But it is these very areas that are likely to reap dividends long term if protected.
“We hope in this challenging area that the recommendations in our report help guide the Government to take decisions based on that which works best, rather than what is easiest.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said “Reoffending rates have fallen from 31% to 24% since 2010 and this report highlights that more ex-offenders are getting into work and stable housing on release – key factors in cutting crime and keeping the public safe.
“We are investing an extra £155 million into the Probation Service to recruit more staff, reduce caseloads and better support prison leavers, including an expansion of the rehabilitation programmes available to female and ethnic minority offenders”.
Published: by Radio NewsHub