Evaluation of the Community Reintegration Project

This is an evaluation of the Community Reintegration Project (CRP), which formed part of the Scottish Government’s wider Reducing Reoffending Programme (RRP) and focused on addressing the needs of offenders serving prison sentences between six months and less than four years.

8 Conclusions

8.1 The CRP formed part of a much wider response to the problem of reoffending in Scotland and focused specifically on a long-neglected issue - namely, the resettlement needs of short-term offenders. By means of a structured process of engagement with such offenders in custody and a conscious attempt to link them to community-based CJSW and external services, it was hoped to improve service use, reduce offending and increase their chances of reintegration.

8.2 The overall aim of the evaluation was to assess how the CRP was working in practice, to consider progress to date regarding (short and medium term) outcomes, and to identify lessons for future policy development. Broadly speaking, those themes structure our concluding comments.

Was the CRP implemented as intended?

8.3 The evaluation has shown that the CRP process was implemented broadly as intended across the four prisons and two social work areas involved in the project. In that sense, it could be said that it achieved a reasonably high degree of fidelity in relation to the activities and mechanisms outlined in the logic model. That said, within the broad parameters of the model, there was considerable scope for variation in exactly how the CRP was implemented and the process itself evolved significantly in response to on the ground experience, local circumstances and needs. In that sense, it was less a single model than a broadly consistent process implemented in a variety of different ways.

8.4 It should also be pointed out that the level of activity was lower than might perhaps have been expected, especially in the women's prisons where the very limited scale of the project made it difficult to establish a clear presence and identity in the eyes of both staff and offenders. In relation to both male and female offenders, this was compounded by attrition across the various stages, meaning that only a small minority of eligible offenders were still engaged with the project at the point of release.

8.5 Insofar as it was possible to examine the characteristics of service users, it appears that overall engagement with the project was slightly higher among female than male offenders. Otherwise, the absence of comprehensive and accurate monitoring data means that it has been impossible to determine whether particular types of offenders were especially likely to engage with the project (let alone benefit from it).

Did the CRP achieve its intended outcomes?

8.6 For the reasons explained in Chapter 1, the evaluation was not intended (or able) to provide definitive evidence of whether CRP achieved its ultimate, long-term goals of a reduction in reoffending and increase in offender reintegration. It was, however, able to generate some - largely qualitative - evidence of whether the CRP was delivering its intended short and medium-term outcomes.

8.7 While there have clearly been issues in the way that CRP has been implemented, and contextual factors that may have limited its effectiveness in specific settings, overall, the evaluation also found plenty of evidence that a structured and staged approach to offender engagement, coupled with the strengthening of links between SPS, CJSW and external agencies has the potential to lead to improvements in pre-release planning and a higher level of contact with services in the community. In that sense, the underlying theory of change - which explains why the particular activities associated with the CRP might be expected to lead to a reduction in reoffending and an increase in reintegration - remains broadly plausible and intact. For it to achieve such impacts on any significant scale, however, throughput would need to be increased and attrition reduced; and adequately resourced, evidence-based services would need to be available within community settings.

What does the experience of the CRP suggest about the future of throughcare for short-term offenders in Scotland?

8.8 Throughout the fieldwork for this project - and across different settings - we found strong support for the principle of improving support for short-term offenders and enhancing provision of and access to throughcare. The research found evidence of good practice across the CRP sites, amongst SPS and CJSW staff. There were a range of examples of how staff both on the frontline and in more strategic positions were working hard to deliver support to short term offenders. This provides a strong basis for moving forward.

8.9 Ultimately, the challenge is to establish a clear process for linking offenders to voluntary throughcare as a coherent and established part of the prison environment, which is both familiar and available to all offenders as a background resource that can help them to make a successful transition back into the community. How might that be achieved?

8.10 Given the conclusions above, a roll-out of a suitably modified and improved CRP is one possibility, and Chapter 7 presented a number of lessons from experience to date about how the specific processes might be optimised. In our view, however, there is more to be gained by incorporating those lessons into the development of a system-wide, coherent and consistent approach to voluntary throughcare and related support services. Such an approach would require a high-level strategic commitment from across different partner agencies and government, and a willingness and ability to bring greater coherence to the plethora of related services operating both inside and outside prisons. In other words, it would require the ambition to start to act back upon one of the key contextual factors within which it operates, rather than simply be shaped or constrained by it.

8.11 In terms of resources, the experience of CRP suggests that a more systematic approach to voluntary throughcare for short-term offenders would not necessarily result in hugely increased demands on SPS staff time. Although there were clearly issues to do with the ability of staff to attend all meetings or complete the necessary paperwork, and some concern at how staff would cope with the increase in numbers of CRP participants, it was also recognised that the activities associated with CRP were broadly consistent with the work of prison staff in general. There are, however, important considerations in relation to other types of resources, such as the availability of appropriate spaces within halls or elsewhere for offenders to meet with their PO, CJSW or staff from other agencies.

8.12 The direct resource implications of CRP (or a similar model) are undoubtedly greater in the community - not only in terms of CJSW staffing in the face of an increased caseload and if providing services such as gate pick-ups and ongoing/intensive support in the community - but also the provision of services that are known to be key to successful reintegration (such as drug and alcohol counselling and, especially, housing). Looking ahead, this prompts questions - posed by CJSW staff themselves - about how the service might be developed in such circumstances, with the option of focusing on 'signposting' clients to other services rather than providing hands-on support themselves.

8.13 Whatever approach is adopted to local service provision upon release, enhanced voluntary throughcare for short-term offenders will require additional expenditure; and, indeed, will fail if such services are not provided as offenders are likely to disengage if they feel their needs are not being met upon release. This signals the need for this issue to be seen as not belonging simply to SPS or CJSW but as being integral to the wider preventative spend agenda and debate around public service reform. It is perhaps in that context - rather than as simply a small-scale 'pilot' project - that the potential of the CRP should be understood.


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