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18 April 2013

Adult social care can cut crime and save taxpayers money

Adult social care services have a vital, and often overlooked, role in supporting the large number of people with multiple needs who offend to desist from crime, according to a new joint briefing by the Prison Reform Trust, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), the Centre for Mental Health and Revolving Doors Agency.

While resources are currently constrained in adult social care departments, coordinated effective support for people at risk of offending and for offenders with multiple needs could result in substantial savings for the taxpayer, the briefing indicates. Better coordination between local services would enable people to lead independent, fulfilling lives in their communities.

The briefing paper for directors of adult social services and lead members, which includes a foreword by the President of ADASS Sarah Pickup, will be launched at the ADASS Spring Seminar on 18 April. It reveals high rates of multiple need – including mental health problems; learning disabilities; substance misuse and homelessness – among adults in contact with the criminal justice system:

  • 39% of adult offenders under supervision in one probation area had a current mental illness; 49% had a history of mental health problems.
  • 75% of adult prisoners have a dual diagnosis of mental health problems and substance misuse.
  • 7% of adult prisoners have an IQ below 70 and a further 25% have an IQ in the range 70-79; it is generally acknowledged that between 5 and 10% of the offender population has a learning disability.
  • 15% of newly sentenced prisoners reported being homeless before custody; 37% said they would need help finding somewhere to live when released; 60% said that having a place to live would help them stop reoffending.
  • People who reported being homeless before custody were more likely to be reconvicted upon release than prisoners who didn’t report being homeless – 79% compared to 47% in the first year after release.

Lord Bradley’s review of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system was clear that social care is pivotal in improving justice. It says: “What is apparent is the interconnectedness between improving health and social care outcomes for those in contact with the criminal justice system and other government priorities, particularly reducing reoffending” (Bradley, 2009).

The Ministry of Justice recognises that social care has a key role in reducing offending and reoffending. It has a major contribution to make in each of the ‘seven resettlement pathways for offenders’ including housing, finance, benefits and debt, and the children and families of offenders.

Despite this, peoples’ needs are not always clearly identified or met by public services. For example, when personal needs are assessed separately for different services, individuals often fall below eligibility thresholds for each service, even though their total need is high. This can result in vulnerable people slipping through the health and welfare net into the criminal justice system.

Recent developments in health and social care policy have emphasised the need for early intervention, supporting recovery and choice, promoting independence and strengthening local partnerships across public services, including criminal justice. For instance, the draft Care and Support Bill includes a duty for social care services to co-operate with criminal justice agencies and encourages a greater focus for adult social care on early intervention and promoting independence. Department of Health statutory guidance on Joint Strategic Needs Assessments (JSNAs) says that local JSNAs need to consider vulnerable groups, including those with complex and multiple needs, offenders and ex-offenders.

By influencing local strategies, forming partnerships and offering personalised social care support, directors of adult social services and lead members can be the cornerstones of improved support to people with multiple needs in, or on the edge of, the criminal justice system.

Commenting in the foreword to the briefing, Sarah Pickup, President of ADASS, said:

“Every community is affected by crime and the harm it causes. Many of the people who offend most frequently are also some of the most vulnerable people in our communities who need support from a number of different local agencies.

“The role of adult social care in supporting these individuals has been little recognised. Yet as directors and lead members of adult social care services we are in a unique position to offer leadership to local efforts to improve the lives of our most vulnerable citizens and their families.

“Our role goes beyond that of commissioning and providing social care. We can help to build partnerships between local services, creating coherence where currently there is duplication and confusion. We can bring people together to identify where our local services are doing well and where improvement is needed. And we can lead the way in preventing offending and reoffending by improving people’s life chances, their hopes for the future and their place in our communities.”

Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“Far too often vulnerable people slip through the health and welfare net and end up in custody. Closer work between local services would save money and wasted lives.”


Dominic Williamson, Chief Executive Officer of the Revolving Doors Agency, said:

“One of the key ways to reduce reoffending is to improve service responses to vulnerable people with multiple needs who are in contact with the criminal justice system. This can best be done through local partnerships working together to improve service pathways. This briefing should help local leaders with this crucial and often overlooked task.”

Andy Bell, Deputy Chief Executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said:

“Adult social care has a key leadership role in bringing together the range of services that might help people with multiple needs to lead independent and productive lives. Social care has a unique role in linking services together around people’s needs and wishes, in building independence and in supporting recovery. By intervening early and offering effective support to young adults before their needs escalate, local authorities can make a difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities while also making more efficient use of limited resources.”