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Unlock responds to the Prisons Strategy White Paper

Read a summary of our official response to the government consultation

The Ministry of Justice recently closed the consultation on its Prisons Strategy White Paper – you can read Unlock’s full submitted response here.

Building more prisons is not the answer

The government’s 2016 Prisons White Paper, stated that ‘Reform that focuses on fixing specific parts of the system, however well-chosen, is doomed to fail because it does not bring that system together to deliver the changes it seeks.’ And yet, five years later, the new white paper lacks any detail on what the government see as the purpose of prisons. Instead, the proposals are to simply build more, ‘better’ prisons.

The quality of prison estate is important, however, ploughing money into new prisons without a plan for closing old, unsafe prisons is not the answer. Instead, we should focus on safely reducing the prison population, improving the effectiveness and availability of non-custodial sentences and investing in services proven to prevent crime and reduce reoffending.

Building new prisons creates a self-fulling prophecy; prisons will have to be filled. Projections for a prison population are based on a presumption of more people serving longer sentences.

A growing prison population is an admission that prisons do not reduce crime.

Resettlement passports raise more questions than answers

The Resettlement Passport is described as:

‘a personalised document covering mental health, drugs, education, skills, work, accommodation and family ties, that organises, plans and records the information and services that prisoners, prison leavers and professionals working with them need access to, starting on entry into prison and continuing through to their resettlement into the community post-release..’

This is an ambitious plan and raises a number of fundamental questions:

  • Is it an electronic document, a paper document or a wallet? A set of documents?
  • How does it differ from the resettlement planning parts of OASys or pages on NOMIS, or other tools/protocols?
  • On what system will it sit and will it be easy for professionals to access?
  • How can a document ‘organise and plan’ information and services?
  • How does the passport benefit the prison leaver? How does it benefit professionals (who have access to all this information already, albeit not necessarily in one place)?
  • Who owns the document and how is access to it governed? How long will it remain active after licence completion?
  • Who has been/will be involved in development?
  • Is it mandatory?

We also have some concerns about the final ‘principle’ that will guide the development of the resettlement passport’.

‘We will expect prisoners and prison leavers to take personal responsibility for engaging with rehabilitative activity and resettlement support and in return for this improved support, there will be clear consequences if they fail to comply with conditions where appropriate. (p.49)

This seems to suggest that people who are not compliant will lose access to rehabilitative support. This raises ethical questions and creates a significant issue for organisations delivering services. Support services are not usually delivered in exchange for compliance but are based on an assessment of need.

People with mental ill health, substance misuse issues or learning difficulties are more likely to find compliance difficult – do they risk losing the support they need? And what type of support might be at risk – healthcare? Mentoring? Access to recovery services? Compliance with law and licence conditions is already expected and there are consequences for non-compliance. The Ministry’s own research has found that non-compliance was the primary reason for recall in 43% of cases.

Specialist support may be necessary to help people comply with conditions and meet other obligations. Creating additional forms of non-compliance could result in the unintended increase in recalls, which would undermine the resettlement ambitions in the white paper.

Resettlement passports are not a substitute for real resettlement support – people leaving prison need stable accommodation to go to, ID, a bank account and help to find work or make a Universal Credit claim before they are released.

If we want to ‘support prison leavers into work’, we must reform criminal record disclosure

We hear from people every day who say that, for them, leaving prison felt like the beginning of a whole new form of punishment. The ease with which potential employers can find out about someone’s criminal record remains a significant barrier to people moving on with their lives.

Unlock welcomes the planned reduction in disclosure periods, but these do not go far enough. The proposals exclude a wide range of offences from ever becoming spent – we think the stories of Ian and Amir show why a blanket exclusion is unfair.

The majority of sentences can become spent in time but the law, as it stands, provides no protection for people with spent convictions. Internet searches and unlawful DBS checks can reveal spent criminal records and our helpline hear regularly from people who have been rejected or even dismissed from employment because of a spent conviction that the employer should legally ignore.

If the government is serious about getting people back into work after prison, they need to be serious about reforming criminal record disclosure.

Read our full response

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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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