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.

6 Key Contextual Factors Shaping the Implementation, Operation and Outcomes of the CRP

6.1 In the discussion so far, we have identified a number of features of the CRP process itself that affected its implementation, operation and early outcomes. In this chapter, we set those in the context of three wider factors that shaped the project during its period of operation and which would need to be taken account of in any future roll-out). Indeed, while it would be possible to address many of the specific issues identified with the current CRP process (e.g. the design of the forms), it will be just as important to consider how any refined process will operate within its given context if throughcare for short-term offenders is to be optimised. These factors are:

  • the 'crowded landscape' of existing interventions and practices aimed at offender reintegration and rehabilitation;
  • the evolving organisational context of SPS and the role of the PO within that; and
  • the constraints of implementing a multi-agency project within a prison setting.

6.2 We argue that these contextual factors are key to understanding the experience of the CRP to date and provide important pointers in terms of how the existing CRP process might be optimised and the wider lessons for the future of voluntary throughcare more generally (dual themes which provide the focus of Chapter 7).

The 'crowded landscape' of service provision

6.3 Although, as noted in Chapter 1, the logic model presents the CRP as a discrete intervention, in practice it sits alongside a host of related interventions, initiatives and routine practices. Specific initiatives in the prisons and CJSW areas involved in the CRP, for example, included the following:

  • The Shine mentoring programme for women
  • New Routes mentoring programme for young male offenders (under 26)
  • Routes out of Prison
  • The Throughcare Support Officer (TSO) pilot at HMP Greenock
  • The Tayside Intensive Support Service, recently extended to Dundee
  • SPAN (a joint Shelter/SACRO initiative) in HMP Perth

6.4 In many cases, offenders eligible for the CRP would also be eligible for support from one or more of these other programmes or services, dependent on their geographical location, age, gender, etc. All of these programmes have the same overarching aim of reducing reoffending by tackling the needs of individuals, but all also have their own specific focus (e.g. geographic area, age, gender) and/or approach (e.g. the Greenock TSO pilot offers support for six weeks pre- and post-release). And, although there is scope for them to work effectively together - and evidence of them doing so - there was some concern that, in the context of limited resourcing, they are also sometimes effectively competing with each other for users. There was also concern that new initiatives and short-term funding arrangements often resulted in a changing landscape of organisations making it difficult for existing staff to keep abreast of current providers.

6.5 In addition, of course, much of the overarching framework of standard sentence/case management within SPS (such as the Core Screen, ICM, and the CIP) is also geared towards rehabilitative and reintegrative ends. The CRP effectively operates alongside these existing systems and, as such, was both facilitated and constrained by them.

6.6 Although the practicalities of how the CRP sat alongside these existing initiatives and practices are important, equally significant are the consequences of this 'crowded landscape' for the identity, profile and understanding of the project among both offenders and staff.

6.7 It was apparent from the interviews that offenders, in particular, had only limited awareness of the CRP - they were largely unfamiliar with the name and, while conscious of having had referrals or meetings with SPS and CJSW staff, did not generally see these as being part of a coherent 'process'. The extent to which this matters may be arguable, but the interviews suggested that word of mouth is a key form of awareness-raising within prisons about service use, with offenders often seeking out or taking up offers of services on the recommendation of their peers, or in response to benefits they saw others gaining. For example, one offender had heard of the possibility of getting picked up at the gate on release in this way; another was pursuing a referral to Circle (a family support project working with those with addictions) on the same basis. As another put it: "You never really know what is going on; it's just through other prisoners that you find things out" (OP23).

6.8 This lack of a clear identity for the CRP was also an issue for SPS staff, not only in terms of their own understanding but also their willingness and ability to promote the CRP and the link to CJSW throughcare effectively. They contrasted this with other services, such as Shine, which had a higher profile within the prison (this was also apparent in the interviews with offenders who referred to such services by name). Although, in the following extract, the prison officer attributes this to the presence that Shine has in the prison, it is also likely to reflect the fact that Shine has been operating for longer and has a generally clearer identity among staff and offenders.

"…but the one good thing with Shine is they come into the establishment maybe twice a week. So if I was in trying to deliver something and the prisoner asked me something I couldn't give them an answer for, I could, if I knew that Shine would be coming in this week, I could phone over and ask them, which CRP lacks, 'cause there's nothing coming into the jail." SPS1

6.9 Although not directly observed by the evaluation, the Link Centre presence at HMP Perth may offer the potential to build a profile in the same way. However, there were also reports of external agencies giving presentations at prisons and this sort of activity may also contribute to awareness amongst staff, and may be something that CJSW teams could consider.

6.10 The ongoing TSO initiative at Greenock also had a clear profile and attracted a high level of positive comment from interviewees. By contrast, there was some confusion within the same prison about whether the CRP was in fact still a 'live' process, with some staff apparently not realising that the pilot period had been extended beyond the initial one year period. Other SPS staff and offenders did not differentiate between CRP and TSO input and talked about them as interchangeable initiatives.

6.11 In such a context - and particularly in HMP Edinburgh and Greenock where the numbers of offenders associated with the project were very low - the CRP clearly struggled to establish a clear or distinctive identity. This situation was probably exacerbated by a lack of feedback, to both staff and offenders, about successful outcomes for individuals. Several interviewees suggested that this would be the real catalyst to raising the profile of the project, differentiating it from other initiatives and increasing uptake:

"I think if people are getting a good service and getting the support and the help…and there's no coercion and no pressure on them…it'll be fed back." CJSW3

"I would be interested to know exactly what difference this process makes to a prisoner regarding throughcare as opposed to somebody who's not on the project because if we know what the difference is, that's something we can emphasise with prisoners…" SPS16

6.12 However, the key issue here remains the potential for confusion or conflation of different services and the difficulty of establishing the CRP as a visible and central part of the throughcare landscape. We return to the question of how this might be done in the following chapter.

SPS in transition: organisational strategy, culture change and the role of the PO

6.13 Not all wider contextual factors should be seen as potential barriers or difficulties for the CRP. Indeed, perhaps the most significant enabler has been the clear shift in strategic focus and culture within the SPS as a whole towards highly proactive engagement with offenders and partner organisations and an explicit recognition of the role and responsibilities of the service 'beyond the prison gate'. The CRP can be seen as clearly aligned to this vision, along with a range of other initiatives being pursued in this area, and as forming part of this wider commitment to the reducing reoffending agenda. Many SPS interviewees agreed with the officer who described this type of work as "absolutely what we should be doing" (SPS16). Within this broad shift in culture and focus, the role of the PO is being positioned as critical and, again, is consistent with many of the key features of the CRP.

6.14 The CRP is, then, clearly in tune with the direction of travel within SPS as a whole, with the priorities of local managers and the aspirations and motivations of many staff. Offenders certainly offered a range of positive accounts of interaction and engagement with prison officers, although the extent to which these were associated directly with the CRP is not clear:

"She would like come over and talk to you and that when she was working…she'd come like that, eh, do you want to speak about anything, is everything ok, and she'd always be there…she was really good…" OC2

"If I was needing to speak to anybody or that, my personal officer's brilliant, to be honest with you." OP14

"…there is one thing I can say about my PO...I've opened up quite a lot and...before that he would come into my cell every week, is there anything I can do for you? Do I need to contact mental health? Do I need to do this, or is there anybody that's not contacted you back...he was always asking … and going look has this happened? No! I'll get on the phone, he went out of his way and that's my opinion of mine, my PO...he pushed for things to get done for us." OP20

6.15 However, as with any significant organisational change, the redefinition (or restatement, as some suggested) of the role of the PO was not universally welcomed, and the challenge of achieving the sort of cultural change required to underpin CRP was recognised by SPS interviewees:

"The biggest challenge is getting staff attitudes changed, but we have done that, we have done that before [with the introduction of ICM]." SPS14

"What we, as an organisation, have to work on is changing the culture where every professional prisoner officer sees their core role as being at the centre of the prisoner's journey through custody and thereafter. That's something that's gonna take a bit of time because there's been an element of deskilling the workforce." SPS16

6.16 Although the traditional role of the prison officer was felt to involve a high degree of contact and interaction with individual offenders - and a corresponding focus on needs both within the prison and upon release - it was also suggested that this had been eroded in recent decades by the emergence of more specialist roles. As a result, it was felt by some (as indicated by the officer above) that there had been a degree of deskilling resulting in the emergence of a cohort of residential staff not used to regarding such work as a core part of their role.

6.17 The time taken to achieve the sort of cultural change sought will inevitably lead to variable practice on the ground, and the experience of offenders bore this out with examples amongst the interviewees of people not knowing who if they had a PO, or who their PO was, or having what might be described as a more distant relationship:

"Personal officers in here change all the time; I think I've had about five or six since I've been in ["Q: And the one that you've got just now] "Well, she's lovely. She does everything for you; if you ask her she, she does it." OP11

"I don't know who he is this time. Last time, I knew who he was, but not this time." OP17

"To be truthful with you, it doesn't help anyone. I've never had anything, nothing's changed through getting a PO to work with." OP23

6.18 More generally, there were examples of offenders not knowing how referrals had come about: "It just sort of happened" (OP11), or saying they "[didn't] know who to ask" (OP21) in relation to getting support for issues they perceived themselves, suggesting personal officers are not always taking a proactive role in dealing with the offenders they have responsibility for.

6.19 Nevertheless, while there are challenges as a result of a service in transition, there are also indications that the process could capitalise on the resources in the current staffing body.

Effective multi-agency work with individual offenders within the constraints of the prison environment

6.20 A third powerful contextual factor relates to the challenge of multi-agency working within a local and highly varied prison environment. We have seen that effective engagement between SPS and CJSW of the kind envisaged by the CRP requires a number of elements, including the development of strong and consistent relationships; regular face-to-face contact; clarity of roles and responsibilities; the right 'cast list' at key moments (e.g. at pre-release meetings); and good communication and information flows. It also requires offenders to acquire a degree of familiarity and ease with community-based social work staff, and awareness and knowledge of the service.

6.21 The prison environment itself presents a number of significant challenges in these respects, including the physical environment; offender movement within and between prisons; sentencing and custodial arrangements; and staffing arrangements.

The physical environment

6.22 Staff highlighted that the physical layout of prisons often impacted on the opportunities for interaction with individual offenders, as a result of the design of different blocks, units and landings - staff may be allocated to one area, while their allocated offenders were housed in another area. Other staff, however, did not feel this was insurmountable, indicating that it was usually possible to move between areas or to speak to offenders during meal and other communal periods This was discussed alongside the issue of staff ratios: staff explained that it was not easy for a single officer responsible for a landing or other area to carry out one-to-one meetings or related CRP administrative tasks.

6.23 The availability and accessibility of appropriate spaces to hold meetings was also a concern. In particular, prison staff indicated a lack of private space in residential halls for carrying out CRP meetings and reviews. Although the Link Centre generally offered space for meetings involving external agencies, this meant that offenders had to leave the residential area and this was seen by some as a factor which deterred attendance.

6.24 The option of carrying out meetings in residential areas, where space allowed, was seen as having both advantages and disadvantages. Hall meetings allowed for increased familiarity and informal engagement between prison staff and external agencies (including CJSW), and between external agencies and offenders. They also allowed for some fluidity, with examples of offenders who had been persuaded to return to meetings being held in the hall - something that would have been less likely on an escorted visit to the Link Centre once the offender had returned to the hall. One prison was exploring the possibility of using an interview suite within the residential hall area for CJSW meetings. It was noted, however, that this arrangement would potentially reduce contact between CJSW staff and other agencies operating from the Link Centre, something which they found beneficial in facilitating wider communication and coordination.

Offender movement

6.25 Transfers between prisons and between different halls and blocks within prisons both posed challenges for the CRP, in terms of continuity of the PO-offender relationship and maintaining involvement in the project more generally.

6.26 For SPS staff, there was some uncertainty about how to respond to offenders being transferred in from other establishments: the practice generally seemed to be to start the CRP process again, although with a somewhat condensed timescale (as they would not be dealing with all of the issues that would have arisen for a new arrival settling in to the prison environment). In this context, it was felt that a process for flagging up existing CRP involvement on transfer would be helpful.

6.27 Offender transfers had also caused some problems for CJSW in dealing with women offenders: on occasion, CJSW staff had arrived for a pre-arranged appointment to find that the individual involved had been moved to another prison.

Staff arrangements

6.28 Working patterns and staff movement also impacted on the CRP process in a number of ways. Shift patterns meant that POs were not always available to attend pre-release meetings, which was felt to impact on the effectiveness of this part of the process. In such situations, meetings were often attended by another member of staff - a practice that was queried by CJSW colleagues who felt that the quality of SPS input suffered as a result. However, there were also reports of staff taking ownership of the process and, for example, arranging meetings to fit around shift patterns and making arrangements to come in during off-duty periods to attend meetings. It was noted that the fixed CJSW prison days at Perth was another factor which could inhibit the availability of SPS staff for meetings.

6.29 Staff turnover also impacted on the CRP, with promotions and transfer of duties affecting not only the continuity of involvement in individual cases but the extent to which knowledge and experience of the CRP process as a whole had built up within a prison. As noted elsewhere, such impacts tended to be exacerbated by the limited scale of the pilot within most of the participating institutions.


6.30 We have argued that three broad contextual factors have shaped the implementation, outcomes and operation of the CRP. While these are not simple 'barriers' or 'enablers' that can be easily addressed, they need to be factored in to thinking about why the project has operated in the way that it has and how it might be developed in the future.

6.31 Perhaps the most significant is the challenge of carving out a distinctive role and identity for the project within a 'crowded landscape' of overlapping and sometimes competing service provision. The current lack of profile makes it difficult to explain CRP to SPS staff and other practitioners, and also - even more importantly - to offenders, for whom word of mouth is a critical means of learning and making decisions about service use.

6.32 An important enabling factor has been the general direction of travel within SPS, which has led to a renewed emphasis on constructive work with offenders, a recognition of the importance of partnership working 'beyond the prison gate' and a restatement of the importance of the PO role. While there may be pockets of resistance to aspects of this shift in organisational priorities and culture, it is also clear that there is a strong base of support - at various levels - for many of the underlying principles (and overarching objectives) of the CRP.

6.33 A further set of important contextual factors relate to the character of the local prison environments within which the CRP was implemented. The highly diverse built environment within the participating establishments greatly shaped the nature and extent of inter-agency contact - and also the opportunities for offenders and staff (from SPS and other agencies) to interact in informal and productive ways. The inevitable flux associated with offender movement, staff changes and flexible working patterns also posed significant challenges in terms of maintaining individual relationships and awareness and understanding of the project more generally.


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