Blog – ‘Through the gate’ services are failing to support people leaving prison into employment

‘Through the gate’ services are failing to support people into employment. That’s one of the conclusions in a report published last week by HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons into the ‘through the gate resettlement services’ that were introduced in 2015 and run by newly formed ‘Community Rehabilitation Companies’ (CRCs).

Right from the start of the government’s ‘transforming rehabilitation’ programme, there were a number of concerns about the problems that would arise. For me, there are three key things I took away from the report last week:

1. Too much focus on contracts

As the report found last week:

“There is much more CRCs should be doing to make a difference to the lives of those they are meant to be helping, but we found them focusing most of their efforts on meeting their contractual targets, to produce written resettlement plans. Responding to the needs of prisoners received much less attention, but meaningful expectations are not specified clearly in CRC contracts, and good, persistent work is not incentivised or rewarded sufficiently.”

This has been clear to me in the training I’ve delivered to practitioners working in (and for) CRCs. The training I deliver looks at criminal record and disclosure rules, and how best to deal with that in terms of employment. Generally, despite a real willingness to want to help their clients, the staff simply do not have the time or resources, and instead they’ve had to focus on the “must-do” parts of the contract.

The review of probation that the Ministry of Justice has been working on needs to respond to these issues. Things are clearly not working as they are.

2. Lack of support into employment

Of the 98 individuals looked at in the report, none were helped by ‘through the gate’ services to enter education, training or employment after release. This is a damning indictment:

“The impact of Through the Gate services on education, training and employment was minimal. No prisoners were helped by Through the Gate services to enter education, training or employment after release.”

 

“We did not see any cases where Through the Gate services had assisted a prisoner to get employment after release. We did not find CRCs promoting links to local colleges or education providers for the prisoners where this would have been appropriate. There were some examples, however, of handover to specialist ETE staff in the CRC in the community for them to make onward referrals.”

Sadly, none of this is surprising. I highlighted many of these issues last year to the Work and Pensions Committee’s as part of their “support for ex-offenders” inquiry. I’d urge the government to implement the recommendations of that inquiry. In particular, the government needs to state clearly who has ultimately responsibility for helping prison leavers into work. CRCs should be required to track the outcomes of the people they help, including whether they have helped them into work. This should be a key measure by which CRCs are deemed successful.

3. Not enough being done to help open bank accounts before release

This problem is well-known to Unlock. A basic bank account is a fundamental necessity in modern society, particularly when seeking employment. That was the case over 10 years ago when we first started to look at this.

I led a project for many years to persuade banks to open their doors to applications from people in prison who were near to their release. Once we’d managed that, we then worked with both prisons and banks to implement safe and effective systems. To cut a long story short, it was very successful – by the end of the project in 2014 we had set up 74 prison-bank partnerships, and overall 114 prisons had links with high-street banks. The job wasn’t finished completely – which is why we made a number of recommendations (particularly to NOMS, as it was then) to act upon.

Unfortunately, the end of this project was closely followed by the ‘transforming rehabilitation’ changes. Again, to cut a long story short, it seems that things have been going downhill ever since.

In the executive summary of the report, it states:

“All except one of the prisons we visited were able to set bank accounts up for prisoners, but even where this service was available, some prisoners were still released without bank accounts. Other work on finance, benefits and debt was not being delivered to any great extent.”

In the main body of the report, it states:

“Some prisoners do not have their own bank accounts, and this can cause lengthy delays in claiming benefits. We expected that all the prisons we visited would be able to arrange bank accounts where needed. We saw some cases where this was recognised and assistance was given, but in others this need was recognised too late or overlooked completely.”

This has all the hallmarks of operational issues in the prisons. That wouldn’t be a surprise, give many of the changes in the last few years. Although it’s part of the contract of CRCs to help people open a bank account before release, what last week’s report clearly highlighted is how, generally, the ‘through the gate’ element to their work is not working well enough.

That’s why today I’ve written to the Prisons and Probation Minister, Sam Gyimah, to raise my concerns. I’ve recommended that he launch an immediate review into the provision of opening basic bank accounts for people in prison before they’re released. It’s clear that, operationally, the arrangements in prisons to open basic bank are not working as well as they should be. Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service need to get a grip of this, understand what the problems are, and find solutions to them.

 

Written by Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock

 

More information

  1. The report published last week is available to download.
  2. We’re working on improving the support to people with convictions into employment
  3. We continue to encourage the implementation of the recommendations we made around opening basic bank accounts for people before release from when we finished our project in 2014.
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