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Preparing prisoners for release

A photo of Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

As more prisoners are being released from prison earlier in their sentences in order to free space in the crowded prison estate, Charlie Taylor reflects on ongoing challenges to preparing prisoners for release.

The highly-concerning recent report from the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about resettlement support for prison leavers makes many of the same observations as our joint inspection report back in 2022 with our colleagues at HM Inspectorate of Probation. Of particular concern, the Committee found that HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) is not clear about what works and that, too often, contracts are overly focused on process rather than on outcomes.

A photo of Charlie Taylor
Many prisoners we come across are caught up in a pattern of crime and prison that has lasted for many years, this is often compounded by drug addiction, mental health difficulties and homelessness
Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of prisons

Many prisoners we come across are caught up in a pattern of crime and prison that has lasted for many years, this is often compounded by drug addiction, mental health difficulties and homelessness. To break this cycle can be difficult and it requires prisons and probation services working together to help prisoners to make changes to their habits and lifestyle, and to give them the skills they need to get work on release.

Reports from the Inspectorate of Prisons have for many years criticised the lack of purposeful activity in our jails. It has always been the lowest scoring of our healthy prison tests, but it is now worse than ever with just one men’s prison in our last annual reporting year 2022-23 rated good or reasonably good. The norm in most jails has become prisoners locked in their cells for many hours during the day or hanging round on wings with not enough to do. Ofsted reports that the standards of education in prison are very poor, attendance is appalling and there are not enough courses or work experience available to prepare prisoners for their eventual release. The idea that pushing a mop around a wing for an hour and then hanging round with nothing to do for the rest of the day is any sort of preparation for getting a job is fanciful, but for many prisoners this is as close as they get to anything approaching work.

Purposeful activity outcomes in prisons holding adult and young adult men, 2022-23

In 2018 the Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) model was introduced by HMPPS. The aim was to improve the connection between prison and community services so that there was a seamless handover of responsibility. This would, in theory, mean that prisoners were properly supported on release and reduce their risk of reoffending. Every prisoner was supposed to have a key worker with whom they would meet regularly and plan their progression through their sentence. It was a laudable idea that was meant to provide long-term and consistent support. Prison officers were trained as prison offender managers (POMs) who would work together with community offender managers (COMs) to plan for prisoners’ eventual release.

The reality has been a huge disappointment. I can count on one hand the prisons where inspectors have found effective key work and there are rarely enough POMs. Often, they are cross deployed to other duties and the staff shortages that continue to affect probation services also apply to those working in prisons. What we often find is insufficient numbers in these teams to do anything more than the bare minimum to make sure that statutory deadlines for release planning are met.

Many prisoners have the completion of an accredited programme attached to their sentence plans. These are supposed to be evidence-based courses that will reduce prisoners’ risk of further offending. At parole hearings completion of these programmes is viewed as a way for prisoners to demonstrate that they are less likely to reoffend on release. In many jails, these programmes are either not available at all, or access is so limited that prisoners often have to wait for months or years before they can join. The problem is particularly acute for people convicted of sexual offences who are held in prisons with a mixed function where suitable programmes are simply not available. This can mean that when they come up for parole, these prisoners are turned down through no fault of their own.

Prison population pressures are further exacerbating issues with resettlement services. We often report on a shortage of activity spaces – for example at HMP/YOI Brinsford and HMP Stocken there were only enough full-time activity spaces for one-third of the population. Population pressures are also negatively impacting the ability of prisons to transfers prisoners elsewhere to complete relevant programmes.  At HMP & YOI Stoke Heath, HMP Long Lartin and HMP & YOI Moorland we reported on prison transfers being harder to achieve due to limited spare places across the estate and a lack of escort vehicles. As PAC rightly point out, overall pressure on resettlement services is only set to increase and yet no long-term strategy is in place to address this.

The changing make-up of the population of some prisons also has implications for resettlement. Although not covered in the PAC report, we continue to be very concerned about provision for people on remand. At HMP Birmingham we found that offender management and resettlement provision no longer met the needs of what had become a mostly unsentenced population and at HMP Preston nearly two-thirds of prisoners were now remanded or unsentenced and were unable to receive help with matters such as accommodation or debt. Given the record high numbers of individuals on remand, resettlement support for this cohort is critical.

We continue to be very concerned about provision for people on remand… Given the record high numbers of individuals on remand, resettlement support for this cohort is critical.
Charlie Taylor, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons

With proven reoffending rates stubbornly high at 66.7% for juvenile offenders released from custody and 37.1% for adult offenders released from custody[1] (and these figures only apply to those who have actually been caught) the prison and probation services are failing to rehabilitate far too many prisoners. This data is not just a series of dry statistics, each new offence creates another victim and more fear and pain in our communities. The PAC report has starkly highlighted the failure to deliver intended resettlement services effectively. Given the recent announcement to release certain prisoners early to help ease existing pressures, this is even more of a concern. Taxpayers continue to be burdened with huge bills to keep prisoners locked up, with the prison and probation service failing to do enough to make it less likely that they will come back in the future.

Positive practice

While there are many challenges, our inspections have also identified some recent examples of notable positive practice associated with Preparation for Release, and an example of a prison delivering high-quality keywork:

HMP Dartmoor (Male Cat C Trainer)

Peer supervision sessions, where POMs met as a group, without managers, were a good initiative. They discussed individual practice as well as how to improve systems and processes in the department. The meetings were recorded and used to inform managers. The POMs valued this time and gave several accounts of positive change arising from this forum.

HMP Leicester (Male Cat B Reception and Resettlement)

After they were discharged, prisoners could attend an excellent departure lounge activity centre in the city run by the Shaw Trust. This offered a comfortable space to relax, have a hot drink and food, and engage with a range of community support services. The service was open to all prisoners on licence who were unemployed with a right to work in the UK.

HMP & YOI Askham Grange (Women’s Open Resettlement)

Key work was a real strength and was among the best we have seen. It was meaningful, engaging and supported sentence progression. A high number of key work sessions were delivered, and contact was generally every two weeks, which was good. Records reflected evidence of information sharing with other departments and of appropriate challenge, support and praise. In our survey, 89% of women who had a key worker said they were helpful.

[1] PRSQ_Bulletin_October_to_December_2021.pdf ( (782 kB)