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.

7 Key Lessons and Implications

7.1 Building on earlier conclusions about the specifics of the CRP process and evidence of outcomes to date, and on the account in Chapter 6 of the wider contextual factors that have shaped the operation of the project as a whole, in this chapter we discuss a number of key lessons and implications for the future. This discussion has four main strands:

  • We consider how the existing CRP process might be optimised or improved, optimisation with a view to continuation of the project or roll-out across a wider geographic area;
  • We examine the potential resource implications of such a development;
  • We identify a number of broader implications for the potential ethos and approach of throughcare for short-term offenders;
  • We revisit the contextual factors identified in Chapter 6 and ask how voluntary throughcare for short-term offenders might be developed more effectively with these in mind.

7.2 In doing so, the chapter draws both on practitioner views about what should now happen in relation to the CRP, and also on our own reflections - as external evaluators - on the implications of the evidence presented in the earlier chapters.

Optimising the CRP

7.3 Most of the practitioners we spoke to were in favour of extending CRP, or some version of it - albeit with a range of caveats. This was in line with the 'in principle' support for throughcare documented elsewhere in the report, and a consensus that addressing the needs of short-term offenders is crucial to reducing reoffending. However, there were also practical arguments for putting a national scheme put in place, which could be seen as a response to the limitations of operating in 'pilot mode'.

7.4 For those working in prisons, and women's prisons in particular, the postcode basis of the project (and small number of eligible offenders that resulted) made it difficult to embed processes and build up staff knowledge and expertise. This undoubtedly compounded some of the issues identified in the evaluation - e.g. lack of familiarity with the process (amongst staff and offenders); issues with inter-agency communication; and the extent to which staff were able to 'sell' the project to offenders effectively. National roll-out the CRP (or a similar scheme) would clearly help to address this problem. Staff also commented on the apparently anomalous situation of some offenders getting access to support which was not available to others within the same prison - another issue that would be addressed through a national scheme.

7.5 Beyond this 'in principle' support, interviewees also identified priorities for ensuring any development of the existing project was fit for purpose and operated effectively. Not surprisingly, these mesh closely with our own conclusions about the limitations of the project as implemented to date, and can also be seen to tie in with existing evidence on 'what works' in relation to developing effective throughcare services, as outlined in Chapter 1. Building on the discussion about specific aspects of the process in Chapter 3, these can be grouped under five broad themes of information and training, management and supervision, paperwork and information recording, coordination and partnership working, and working with offenders - as discussed below.

Improving staff training and awareness

7.6 This is partly a question of ensuring familiarity with the technical aspects of the process (e.g. expectations in relation to completing the CRP forms and generating monitoring data, using PR2 to make referrals), but also ensuring that staff properly understand the process as a whole, its objectives and their role within it, and how different agencies contribute to the process. This was seen as fundamental by SPS staff, in particular, if POs are to fully buy in to the process and be properly equipped to motivate offenders to engage.

7.7 Ad hoc local initiatives to provide awareness sessions and offer support were identified by the research and appear to represent good practice. However, it is evident that training needs to be planned for and provided on an ongoing basis, in order to take account of staff shift patterns, non-availability for other reasons and changes over time. There are also implications for the wider recruitment and training of SPS staff insofar as the effective identification of individual offender needs and promotion of voluntary throughcare arrangements would need to be a core part of the PO role - a role that will require a combination of skills, aptitude and outlook that may not be present throughout the existing staff cohort.

7.8 It is also clear that while formal courses are important, a flexible approach involving on-the-job training and easily accessible guidance - including, for example, a checklist or chart to help staff navigate the process - would help to overcome some of the limitations of the existing project. While the main training need appears to be within SPS, training resources should also be made available to other agencies.

Management and supervision

7.9 It is clear that managers and supervisors at different levels need to take an active role in promoting the project, monitoring frontline activity, and ensuring that resources and processes are in place to allow the project to operate effectively. Current local mechanisms - such as using administrative staff to oversee CRP activity at different stages, or giving hall managers clear responsibilities in relation to compliance and quality of engagement - provide useful lessons which might be developed more widely. There is also scope to make greater use of (improved) monitoring data to track and encourage progress within particular establishments.

Paperwork and information recording

7.10 We saw earlier that there was significant dissatisfaction with the CRP paperwork and recording systems and evidence that this had impacted on staff support for - and hence the success of - the project as a whole. This issue would need to be addressed for the scheme to become successfully embedded in the work of the prison service. The move away from using the CRP forms at Greenock usefully highlights the limitations of the existing CRP forms. However, it is difficult to see how an embedded and recognisable national process can be achieved without consistent paperwork and information recording processes which are adhered to at all sites. It will, therefore, be important to listen to staff feedback in this area, and to develop processes which are easy for staff to complete, are more closely aligned with existing SPS systems (such as PR2 and ICM) and more clearly support individuals' work as POs. In relation to this last point, it seems that staff would value richer, narrative-based information that could give greater insight into the needs of individual offenders.

7.11 However, it is also important that any process be supported by the collection of appropriate information for monitoring purposes. As far as possible this should be derived from operational information and the collection of specific data for monitoring purposes should be kept to a minimum - as a basic rule, it is better to collect a few key measures accurately and comprehensively than to maintain a much more complex and demanding system (which is likely to result in less useable data). Only with such a dataset in place will it be possible to monitor throughput and attrition effectively and to produce a clearer picture than has been possible to date of the difference that a project like the CRP makes to the work of agencies and the lives of offenders.

7.12 In relation to both operational and monitoring data, it is also clear that effective integration with a fully-featured management information system would make a huge difference in terms of the demands on staff, the scope for information sharing across agencies and to access and use relevant information at key stages in the process. While the current PR2 system may have limitations, arrangements for monitoring and managing voluntary throughcare should clearly form part of any review of information management requirements within SPS more generally. Ideally, individual involvement with the CRP would be flagged on a centralised and widely accessible information system. This would not only facilitate better case management; it would also potentially allow for cohort-based analysis of rates of reconviction and readmission to prison.

Communication/links/partnership working

7.13 The experience of both SPS staff and their CJSW counterparts highlights the importance of establishing good working relationships and clear protocols and channels of communication; and ensuring staff are fully informed about the work of other agencies. Specific suggestions from practitioners here included revision of the protocols for ensuring that CJSW reports are available; taking steps to ensure that pre-release meetings are arranged; ensuring that the most appropriate mix of staff are invited and can attend cross-agency meetings; and establishing effective protocols for communication and coordination between external agencies.

7.14 There did not appear to be a great deal of ongoing case-level communication or sharing of information, and this was commented on by interviewees in a number of contexts. The potential for increasing this may be worth exploring further. It is worth noting that the CRP process does not involve the recording of CJSW case management information on PR2 or sharing of CJSW information in any other way. A formal process for recording CJSW activity and progress as part of the CRP recording process might be something that would enhance the approach to needs assessment and contribute to a greater sense of joined-up working.

Engaging and motivating offenders

7.15 The scope to increase offender engagement is clear from both the monitoring data and the interviews with practitioners and offenders themselves. A key element in this is undoubtedly a further strengthening of the PO role in encouraging initial and ongoing engagement, and ensuring that that this is further enhanced through training and appropriate management support. It is also critical that those working in the community have sufficient opportunities at the pre-release stage to engage directly with offenders. This would facilitate ongoing engagement following release, as would evidence of being able to provide the necessary level of practical support - e.g. through gate pick-ups, accompaniment to meetings in the community, etc.

7.16 The evaluation identified a different pattern of engagement among male and female offenders. While initial engagement was apparently higher among men, so too was the level of subsequent attrition, and CJSW experience indicated a higher level of post-release engagement for female offenders. The more hands-on proactive approach currently provided by the women's CJSW teams may provide lessons here, but would come with resource implications if this model were to be replicated for male offenders.

Resource implications of the extension of CRP

7.17 Although the evaluation did not collect detailed quantitative information about the current resource involved in carrying out CRP-related work, interviews with staff (SPS, CJSW and SCS) did address this issue, gathering information about the types of staff involved, the time demands of CRP, and the impact that CRP duties had on their job. In this context, practitioners also offered views about the likely resource implications of extending the CRP.

Resource implications for SPS

7.18 In reflecting on the possibility of a national CRP scheme involving all short-term offenders, staff within SPS offered opposing views: some felt that the frontline activities would simply be absorbed into the existing work of SPS and the work of POs in particular; others felt that a roll-out of the scheme would present challenges, not just in terms of staff time, but at a more practical level in terms of accessing computers to update PR2, and the limited availability of suitable meeting spaces to meet with offenders.

7.19 Prison staff also pointed out the potential implications of providing accommodation for CJSW meetings and/or office space for CJSW teams if dealing with multiple local authority areas. In addition to the perceived impact within prisons, there was also some scepticism among SPS staff about the ability of local authorities to deliver voluntary throughcare on a national basis within existing resource constraints.

Resource implications for CJSW

7.20 CJSW staff foresaw potential resource implications associated with any uptake of the service among client groups already participating in the project, an extension to male offenders (in the case of Lanarkshire), and a potential increase in the demand for intensive, hands-on support and behavioural/therapeutic services in the community. There was also a sense of the potential 'problems of success': in other words, that any increased emphasis on intensive support might create increased demand for the service if offenders were to identify it as a positive outcome and talk positively about it with their peers.

7.21 While some from the men's CJSW team were keen to do more hands-on work if resources allowed, an alternative option discussed in this context was for CJSW to take on more of a coordinating or signposting role - this is explored further below.

7.22 Staff in the two CJSW areas were positive about the level of importance attached to voluntary throughcare by their local authorities, but also indicated that a national scheme might demand something of a change of priority in other parts of the country - in particular, in terms of the relative priority given to statutory as opposed to voluntary cases.

Resource implications for SCS

7.23 The third partner in the CRP process, SCS, has a limited role in forwarding the CJSW report to the prison for eligible offenders on sentence. While there were undoubtedly teething problems with the process (see Chapter 3), the current impact on SCS staff resources in absolute terms was felt to be limited. In Dundee, the focus on male offenders meant a far higher number of relevant cases coming through, but even here the task was described as 'now part and parcel of daily court life'.

Resources in the community

7.24 To date there was little indication that the project had generated any significant resource implications or increase in demand for external services, and most practitioners in such settings were confident that they would be able to respond and adapt to any increase in demand.

7.25 However, the most significant resource issue identified across all sectors was the availability of suitable accommodation for offenders leaving prison - an issue seen as critical to the reintegration of offenders and the drive to reduce reoffending, and something that would have to be addressed if a scheme such as the CRP were to achieve its long-term outcomes.

"Housing is a huge thing. Unfortunately it's something we've got very little control over and there isn't enough suitable hostel, homeless accommodation, I think that's the big issue. There's not enough suitable homeless accommodation. If somebody is serious about trying to move away from their previous chaotic lifestyle and they're going into hostels and they're having to associate with other residents there who are still using. I mean if you're paying 90% of your benefits to stay there, which includes your meals, and you're not gonna get fed unless you go down to eat at meal times which means you're sitting in the communal dining area or you're sitting in the communal lounge area, you're shared bathrooms, the chances of you moving away from your previous life style is really, really hard." CJSW7

7.26 Staff also recognised that housing ex-offenders would not always be seen as a priority, given the other pressures on social housing. This was also something that SPS highlighted as being outwith their control; as one SPS manager said, "things outside need to change obviously, not just in here", and where the importance of cross-sector working was highlighted. However, one offender outcome manager talked about the option of SPS investing in suitable resettlement accommodation as a possible response to this problem.

7.27 Apart from housing, CJSW interviewees identified resource implications associated with any increase in demand for behavioural or therapeutic services in the community in order to tackle offender behaviour or provide ongoing support to those dealing with addictions - all of which would be necessary if criminogenic needs were to be fully addressed.

Wider considerations in developing the approach to throughcare

7.28 Alongside the discussion of how CRP might be optimised it is worth noting a number of other issues which were raised by interviewees. These do not necessarily have direct implications for the development of the core CRP process, but do have potential implications for the overall character and ethos of the service that might be delivered.

Alternative approaches to CJSW case management

7.29 CJSW case management currently takes various forms, including providing hands-on intensive support, working alongside others providing such support, taking the lead in co-coordinating the input from other agencies, and arms-length involvement where other agencies take the lead. While the hands-on approach seems to be a more prominent feature of working with women offenders, there appears to be an appetite among the Dundee CJSW support workers to develop their work with male offenders in this area.

7.30 An alternative approach would be to position the CJSW team as a coordinating and signposting service, linking offenders to other agencies who would then provide direct services and support, including gate pick-ups and mentoring. The CJSW team would be the key link in the prison and community for all clients and services, maintaining oversight by reviewing needs and coordinating services on an ongoing basis in any multi-agency response. In terms of advantages, such an approach would give the team capacity to deal with an increased caseload; help address issues of inter-agency coordination and communication; facilitate cross-referrals between agencies and allow flexibility to tailor packages to the needs of the individual. It may, for example, provide a structure in which people could work with agencies other than social work. In terms of disadvantages, it might reduce the scope for CJSW staff themselves to build relationships with individual offenders, something identified elsewhere (Chapter 5) as important to outcomes.

7.31 The value of - and need for - a strong coordinating function was picked up by a number of interviewees. While reflecting the same principles, there was an alternative suggestion that such a function might be provided by SPS. The key aspiration appears to be for a well-coordinated service that ensures the needs of offenders are met in an effective way.

An opt in or opt out service?

7.32 The status of the CRP/throughcare for short-term offenders as a voluntary service has both advantages and disadvantages. There was some concern amongst CJSW staff that offenders were 'over-encouraged' to engage with the process, creating difficulties for staff in dealing with unwilling participants. This is not only potentially self-defeating, but might change the nature of the service.

7.33 That said, such an approach might also lead to some offenders getting help who would otherwise have been missed. Consequently, some staff were willing to cautiously consider a greater degree of compulsion or incentivisation indicating that this might be justified if it allowed people to better benefit from the service.

7.34 One potential compromise here would be to move from what is essentially an opt-in model to one that requires offenders to opt out. This would maintain the essentially voluntary character of the service, but almost certainly result in higher levels of initial engagement.

Responding to behavioural as well as practical needs

7.35 The evaluation also raises important questions about the appropriate balance between responding to practical and more behavioural needs. There was a general consensus that the current emphasis on responding to practical needs, while important, is insufficient to address offending behaviour. This was a potential issue in prisons and the community where behavioural programmes were not always designed with the needs of short-term offenders in mind, or where capacity may not be available to cater for increased demand. Further, for women offenders, only Cornton Vale offered a full range of programmes. It was also suggested that the nature of very short sentences did not allow the time to address offending behaviour in any significant way. Those working in the community suggested that there was a gap in what they were able to offer offenders. On both the community and prison sides, this was something that interviewees felt needs to be addressed within the wider framework of and planning for throughcare for this group.

Working with or for offenders?

7.36 Many of the practitioners interviewed recognised the risk of creating a dependency culture and the importance of an approach which emphasises work with offenders to develop their skills and support them to act on their own behalf - even if this involves intensive initial practical support. There were suggestions as to how such an approach could be promoted with a greater emphasis on a two-way process which emphasised roles and responsibilities for both parties (offenders and agencies): one CJSW interviewee, for example, proposed that the outcome of the pre-release meeting should be positioned as a contract between both parties to reinforce the responsibilities of the offender in adhering to the plan.

An integrated approach

7.37 A number of interviewees argued for a process which worked in concert with other aspects of the judicial and custodial system. One CJSW staff member suggested that currently some offenders may be deterred from participating in CRP because they were concerned that admitting to needs might harm their chances of qualifying for HDC. Others discussed how CRP and HDC might be aligned, either by making participation in CRP a condition of HDC, or by creating a system whereby CRP participation could be taken into account in assessing applications for HDC. This chimed with the approach being taken by the newly established TISS team in Dundee where they hoped to use participation in the TISS initiative to argue for non-custodial sentences which would allow ongoing support in the community.

7.38 There was also interest in exploring how greater use of the Open Estate regime in conjunction with CRP throughcare might address the needs of short-term offenders in making the transition back to the community in a managed way. At the other end of the spectrum there were calls to look at how support might be offered to those on very short sentences (less than three months) or those on remand. It was acknowledged that there were circumstances whereby people could spend a significant amount of time in prison while never actually meeting the CRP condition of a minimum six month convicted sentence, and that a flexible approach - as already operated in one locality - might be helpful here.

Developing support for short-term offenders in the wider context

7.39 Chapter 6 identified three external factors which provide the context for any prison-based intervention: the organisational and cultural changes underway in SPS; the existing range of individual programmes and initiatives in relation to responding to the needs of offenders; the prison environment. In the remainder of this chapter, we consider how any expansion of the CRP, or of throughcare for short-term offenders more generally, might adapt to or operate more effectively within this context.

Bringing coherence to the crowded landscape

7.40 The evaluation highlighted the existence of a range of overlapping and sometimes competing initiatives in this area, and the need to take a more strategic approach to streamlining service provision in this area was raised by a range of interviewees across different organisations and sectors. Alongside this, we found that CRP as currently operating had failed to establish a clear identity for itself amongst staff or offenders. In this context, there is perhaps scope for the CRP to be developed as an overarching framework which could bring greater coherence to this landscape by channelling various different types of activities and services.

7.41 Achieving such coherence would require not only an overarching framework but a clear identity. This would mean that SPS staff would have a clearer understanding of the purpose of the project and how it is related to other activities and initiatives, allowing them to promote it more effectively to offenders. It is clear that the identity and narratives around particular programmes (what might be thought of as a brand in other contexts) play a very important role in mobilising interest and engagement among offenders. To some extent, this might be driven by targeted information and awareness campaigns within the prison system. However, engagement is likely to be driven at least as much by informal narratives of success - in other words, offenders hearing directly from others about how throughcare has helped them or others. By capturing and publicising some of those stories, it might be possible to connect the formal and informal ways in which the profile of such a service might be built.

Building on organisational and cultural change underway in SPS

7.42 The evaluation found strong support for the principle of enhanced voluntary throughcare for short-term offenders. Amongst SPS staff, this was seen as consistent not only with prison officers' aspirations and understanding of their role, but also with the direction of travel within the organisation more generally, as evident in the publication of the recent SPS strategy document, Unlocking Potential, Transforming Lives. In this sense, then, it appears that there are strong foundations in place to further develop the role of SPS and prison officers in supporting offenders and helping them access throughcare service. In moving forward it will be important that responding to the needs of offenders and working with other agencies in supporting the reintegration process is developed as integral to the role of the PO, and that time and resources are provided to allow this work to be undertaken.

Dealing with the constraints of the prison environment

7.43 In reality, whatever approach is adopted has to take account of and work within the prison environment. This means recognising the impact of shift patterns, staff movements and operational issues such as offender transfers and ensuring that any system is robust enough to accommodate such issues through embedded processes, established protocols and good information recording.

7.44 It also means working creatively in considering how each prison can accommodate CJSW and other agency staff on an ad hoc or ongoing basis with a view to promoting visibility and familiarity between different staff groups as well as with offenders. While there appears to be much to recommend the 'embedded' model, for a variety of reasons - including differences in physical facilities and regimes - it will not be the most appropriate approach in all settings. Nevertheless, individual establishments may find it helpful to be given examples of different arrangements and to have the potential advantages and disadvantages highlighted in advance.


7.45 From accounts of what worked well and less well about CRP - and by asking practitioners to reflect directly on the question of what should happen next - we identified a number of specific lessons for potential roll-out of the process and some wider considerations about the future of voluntary throughcare more generally.

7.46 The most obvious is that a pilot intervention of this kind will always struggle to generate the critical mass necessary to establish familiarity and understanding among both staff and offenders, and effective working relationships with external partners.

7.47 Training needs to be more compelling and comprehensive than has been the case to date, particularly for staff in prisons. It needs to provide details not only of the process but also of the underlying objectives of the project and roles of key stakeholders within it. And it needs to be ongoing, so that knowledge and awareness are not disrupted by staff turnover or absence.

7.48 While much of the attrition across the various stages of the CRP process will be a result of offender disengagement, it is also likely that there are failures to monitor and progress meetings and referrals from the staff side. More effective mechanisms - and clearer responsibilities - for doing this would help to maximise engagement at each stage.

7.49 The paperwork associated with the project needs to be streamlined and integrated with existing systems, so that it is not seen as burdensome by staff. At the same time, there should be greater scope to include narrative information that is likely to help POs and others to work effectively with individual offenders.

7.50 The CRP is built around the principle of partnership working and yet it is clear that inter-agency relationships are often still under-developed and over-reliant on personal links between individual staff. This should be addressed through the development of clearer statements of respective roles and responsibilities, greater attention to attendance at cross-agency meetings, and improved communication channels more generally.

7.51 The resource implications of expanding provision for voluntary throughcare - although not insignificant within SPS and SCS - appear to be greatest in relation to CJSW, where there was concern, in particular, about the ability to meet increased demand for intensive support. More generally, and across practitioner groups, there was concern about the availability of suitable accommodation for offenders leaving prison and the critical role that this plays in the resettlement process.

7.52 Wider considerations raised by the evaluation in relation to the overall character and ethos of an expanded voluntary throughcare service include: the question of whether CJSW should be delivering services directly or primarily signposting and coordinating; the issue of whether throughcare for short-term offenders should operate on an opt-in or opt-out basis; and the need for greater integration with other aspects of the custodial system (such as HDC).

7.53 In terms of key contextual factors, there is a need to bring greater coherence to the service landscape in this area and to build a distinctive 'brand' identity for voluntary throughcare. Recent strategic and cultural shifts within SPS mean the organisational context is potentially conducive to such a development. However, a genuinely multi-agency approach will require creative responses to the physical and administrative constraints of the prison environment.


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