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Back from the edge

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Crime headlines may dominate the press, but less-publicised action is making a difference.

Give resettlement support

Prisoners are frequently moved from one overcrowded prison to another, which means that it can be difficult to keep track of likely reoffenders to give them help on their release.

In Tower Hamlets about 550 prisoners more than half of the offenders returning to the borough a year remain unknown to the support services that could stop them re-offending, for example by helping them claim benefits and find accommodation and work.

As part of its overall strategy for reducing reoffending, 10 months ago Tower Hamlets LBC created the Looking Out initiative, which has won a Beacon award for excellence, run by the Improvement & Development Agency. Key workers liaise with Pentonville, Holloway and Brixton prisons to identify men and women who require resettlement support when leaving custody. Case workers then meet offenders while they are in prison to assess their needs, and follow their progress as they move back into the community to ensure these needs are met, whether it is access to a GP or help with a housing application.

The authority also has a dedicated resettlement development officer, Paul Rickard, to lead the scheme and get services to work together. Mr Rickard says there are plans to develop the scheme so that it covers those returning to the borough from prisons outside London, an estimated 60% of former prisoners, by using the intelligence of agencies throughout London and the south-east.

One young woman’s plight is typical of a certain type of offender lost to the system. Sexually abused as a child at 12, she was a multiple reoffender during her teens. She later
became a victim of domestic violence and spent most of her adult life shoplifting to support her alcohol, heroin and crack addictions. Having been identified through the Look Out scheme, she went through drug rehabilitation and has now been reconciled with her family.

But with prison overcrowding on the increase, there is a danger that many more prolific offenders will be overlooked. “We’re still struggling with that challenge. It’s important to identify the key prisons and their resettlement staff, and to work closely with them to get them on board,” says Mr Rickard.

“If we don’t ensure services are available to ex-offenders we are consigning them to a lifetime of offending and I can’t think of anybody who gains from that.”

Support young people

Sunderland is claimed to be the safest city in the north, and now it can also boast a reduction in the rate of young people in custody something that runs against national trends.

Since 1999, the rate of young offenders in custody has dropped from 12% to 2.8%. Judith Hay, head of positive contribution and economic wellbeing at Sunderland City Council, says this is partly because the council’s schemes to help offenders have gained the confidence of magistrates.

“We gave them a range of programmes where they could see that young people on community orders were being supervised appropriately, that risks were being addressed and there were a range of interventions to reduce those risks, such as drug and alcohol work,” Ms Hay explains.

Using agencies like the police, probation services and schools to identify young people at risk, the service involves a “strong assessment” of the young person and their
parents to pinpoint what is going on in their life. Based on that assessment, a multi-agency plan is created, co-ordinated by a lead practitioner who works with the young person and their family.

If they reoffend or fail to comply with the programme, they must return to court to be resentenced.

As part of the programme, offenders may meet the victim to “put right what went wrong”. If the victim does not want to see them, the offender will be required to do
reparation work, such as gardening.

Tackling negative press about young offenders was a “huge challenge”, says Ms Hay.

“We told the media we’d give them lots of good case studies about young people and how their lives had improved. By getting out good stories rather than defending bad ones, we won the Youth Justice Board award for best media coverage of young people in the country.”

She recalls one young person who had persistently breached the requirements of the community programmes and was facing custody.

“He was given one last chance and after 25 hours of intensive work on a specialist programme, he not only stopped offending but is now employed. His mum says he’d be in prison now if it wasn’t for this programme.”

Share data on reoffending

To help ex-offenders rebuild their lives, Bolton MBC wanted to identify the triggers that make some individuals persistently reoffend.

The Prolific Offender Management Information & Evaluation System was developed to store data on repeat offenders from different service providers, including the police, fire service and health service. This database allows the council to pinpoint the risk factors likely to cause someone to reoffend and to develop ways of tackling their problems.

A team of analysts from the local authority offender management unit and the police produce information that gives a picture of what interventions different offenders need. They then receive a package of support which can include accommodation, training, employment and literacy and numeracy skills.

The support process begins while prisoners are in custody. After they are released back into the community they are supervised by the council’s probation service and offender management unit. To make the scheme work the council had to overcome reluctance from different organisations to share data, says Nick Maher, Bolton MBC’s community safety manager.

“To address this we got the chief officers and senior officers within the partner organisations to sign up to data sharing. All the multi-agency organisations involved work together from one office and we have bi-monthly meetings with representatives from the different partnerships,” he says.

Ex-offender interventions are now “more effective and offenders are managed in a more joined-up way,” he adds.

Individuals have a named offender manager a single point of contact with all the necessary data at their fingertips. This means they are better equipped to support ex-offenders and help them access the services they need.

One ex-offender had been experiencing problems with accommodation, employment and his relationship. The offender manager helped him to get accommodation, take part in a course to improve his basic skills and receive counselling. Now he has a job and is back living with his partner and children.

Mr Maher advises anyone considering setting up a similar scheme not to be deterred by the barriers they will face.

“It’s about being relentless and persevering. And it takes a lot of relationship building across the partnerships to persuade people that we’re all working towards the same
objective to turn people’s lives around.”

Use drug interventions

One of the main causes of prolific reoffending is drug abuse. As a result Leicester City Council, working with Leicestershire CC and borough councils, has set up a drug intervention programme to give drug users targeted support.

Once a person has been charged they are given a drugs test to identify drug users and ensure they receive the right provision. This support includes meeting health needs, such as methadone prescriptions, and using therapy to overcome drug dependency.

Repeat offenders can also visit the purpose-built Dawn Centre to receive the help they need to integrate them back into society, including access to accommodation and training services.

This focused approach has proved effective. Before going on the drug intervention programme in 2006-07, participants had committed offences costing£235,000. After taking part in the programme the overall cost offences had been reduced to£80,000, a significant reduction given the usual high levels of reoffending by drug users.

Daxa Pancholi, head of community safety and partnership manager at the city council, says it is vital to avoid duplication when setting up services.

“When you have an opportunity to bid for money you don’t want to be reinventing the wheel and repeating services, but strengthening what you’ve got,” she says.

“That’s why it’s important to have the right people around the table discussing the issues, looking at what is available and trying to identify where there’s a gap, so that the needs of individuals can be met.”

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