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Reducing reoffending will make us all safer

This week Alison talks about Pathfinder, the Local Criminal Justice Board and how preventing reoffending benefits our communities.

I have spoken previously in my blog about one of the ways we are working together to reduce reoffending.

An example of this is our new Pathfinder diversion scheme which is a form of early intervention to break the cycle of offending when people are just entering the criminal justice system. One of the biggest challenges we face is how to prevent people from re-offending when they have a long offending history and have been sentenced to prison.  

In Devon and Cornwall we have three prisons, which have an overall capacity of around 1930. Some prisoners may have been sentenced to serve a number of years but many are on short sentences, which notoriously leads to poor results in preventing re-offending.

You may be surprised to learn that according to national statistics, adults released from custodial sentences of less than 12 months had a proven re-offending rate of 63.8%. Many of those reoffending will end up back in prison as a result, creating a perpetual cycle of criminality and time spent in prison.  

The reasons for reoffending are varied and complex but one of the things that partners in Devon and Cornwall are working on together is to reduce the risk of reoffending by making sure that prior to release prisoners can access the help and services they  need when they re-join their community; things like access to employment, benefits, housing and healthcare.

On their day of release from prison individuals need to visit a range of services and sadly in too many cases they do not make it to these appointments. Evidence suggests that engagement with these services will deliver a reduction in reoffending, helping to keep us all safe by helping the offender to settle effectively in the community. 

So the question is, is there anything we can do to tackle this?

The Local Criminal Justice Board (LCJB), which I chair, has been working with a wide range of partner agencies and third sector organisations to design a pilot to improve the rehabilitation and resettlement of prisoners leaving prison. 

Our new pilot will start at HMP Exeter. Currently on their day of release, prisoners are taken from their cells in the morning, given any medication for the day that they may require, have their licence conditions explained and are told where to report. They are then released into the community, often with a clear plastic bag full of their belongings, a £42 discharge grant, a flat mobile phone and a list of appointments (often in excess of 4) that they need to attend, usually all on their first day of release.

Our aspiration is to help prisoners successfully navigate that first day back into the community. Two weeks before release, their needs will be identified and addressed at what has been called the ‘check in’ then, on the morning of release a ‘departure lounge’ will be set up to ensure their needs have been met and to enable them to:

- Finalise any benefit claims if employment or skilled development activities have not been found
- Meet with their Offender Manager (Probation Officer)
- Contact the housing teams for a homeless application if accommodation has not already been secured
- Talk to Health Care staff and access a GP
- Get support from a mentor or volunteer
- Charge their mobile phone
- Be provided with a bag and civilian clothing (often the clothing they came to prison in is not suitable for the time of year or no longer fits)

Our intention is that by providing this service, prisoners will be able to exit the prison more prepared and have less challenges to overcome which can be overwhelming. This new pilot will be run by a co-ordinator and volunteers through EDP Drug and Alcohol Service but we hope that other agencies and businesses will help create a pool of volunteers from a range of services.  In time, we hope to see the pilot extend to HMP Channings Wood and HMP Dartmoor.

The potential benefits for our communities are considerable. Through this new partnership approach we want to help break the perpetual cycle of release, re-offend and return to prison.

It helps offenders to make a new start and move forward with a crime free lifestyle. It helps the community by reducing the risk of crime. It helps agencies – by reducing the pressure on our CPS, Courts, prisons and probation services.

Last week I met with Councillor Pete Edwards, the leader of Exeter City Council and I am delighted that he - like me – can see real potential here for the city.

While the initial pilot is at HMP Exeter the impact will be felt across the area as those leaving Exeter Prison may well be on their way to other parts of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

The solutions in this area of business are not simple and cannot be achieved by just one organisation.

Partnership – across the public sector and with dedicated professionals working in the third sector is the only way we will succeed in breaking the cycle of offending.

I sense a real appetite across the two counties to work together on this issue and am delighted that through our new LCJB Reducing Offending Board we are helping to capitalise on this, identify areas for improvement and investment and drive forward change.

For more information on the LCJB please contact LCJB2@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk or follow @DcLcjb on Twitter

Alison Hernandez