Blog: Understanding recalls – time to shift the focus
At the Prison Reform Trust, we hear over and over again that the support for IPP prisoners on release doesn’t match up to the huge challenge of re-establishing a normal life in the community.
In this blog PRT director Peter Dawson explains why a forthcoming review by HM Chief Inspector of Probation provides an opportunity to examine not just the quality of decisions to recall people back to prison, but the quality of support that could prevent the need for such a decision even to be considered.
One of the very few apparently positive elements in the government’s response to the Justice Committee report on the IPP sentence in February this year was the announcement that the chief inspector of probation would be asked to carry out a thematic review of IPP recalls.
Following this announcement we wrote to the minister for prisons and probation, Damian Hinds, to ask that the terms of reference for that review should make sure that it could look not just at the quality of decisions to recall, but at the quality of support that could prevent the need for such a decision even to be considered.
What we hear over and over again is that the support for IPP prisoners on release doesn’t match up to the huge challenge of re-establishing a normal life in the community when you have spent so long in prison on an unjust sentence. There’s little point only looking at what happens when things have gone wrong if you don’t also look at what could have been done to prevent that.
What we hear over and over again is that the support for IPP prisoners on release doesn’t match up to the huge challenge of re-establishing a normal life in the community when you have spent so long in prison on an unjust sentence.
We’ve had a response from the minister. It’s neither good nor bad news, because the terms of reference for the review still haven’t been set. But the minister does at least acknowledge the point we’re making.
He could hardly not after the publication earlier this month of a scathing report by the probation inspectorate on how offender management in the community is working for people released from a prison sentence. The chief inspector highlighted the growth in recalls, at a time when prisons are already desperately overcrowded. He said:
“Most recalls to prison were for non-compliance with licence conditions, resulting from homelessness, relapse into substance misuse, and a lack of continuity of care between pre- and post-release service provision.”Justin Russell, HM Chief Inspector of Probation
In other words, people were not being recalled after committing further offences. In fact, the issues leading to recall were very often about the adequacy of the practical support they received and poor communication between prison and probation services.
We published a report on this issue — specifically how it affected people serving the IPP sentence — in December 2020, called No life, no freedom, no future, drawing on the testimony of people who had been through the soul-destroying experience of recall. We highlighted good and bad practice, and made a short list of recommendations that we thought could improve the situation.
Back in 2018, our report Broken Trust had found many similar facts about the circumstances leading to women being recalled to custody. There is plenty of evidence for the chief inspector to draw on, and he has added to it in his thorough recent publication.
People were not being recalled after committing further offences. In fact, the issues leading to recall were very often about the adequacy of the practical support they received and poor communication between prison and probation services
We expect a revised action plan on IPPs to be published by the end of this month, and have argued strongly that it should pay close attention to how to keep people out of prison once they have finally managed to achieve release. Failing to do everything that might make that possible is a terrible betrayal of the individual concerned. But it’s also a failure to protect the public.
What people in prison have consistently told us is that recall doesn’t just come as a crushing blow to motivation and hope, but that it also damages the trust between someone under supervision and their probation officer. And without that trust, successful resettlement is very much harder to achieve.
Probation’s motto used to be “advise, assist and befriend”. All of those things are actually about protecting the public in the best possible way, by helping someone rebuild their life after prison. Let’s hope the chief inspector of probation is asked to look at how the service could do more of that and, as a result, recall fewer people to prison.
Letter to Damian Hinds
Read our letter to prisons minister Damian Hinds about the terms of reference for the HM Inspectorate of Probation thematic review of IPP recalls
Reply from Damian Hinds
Read the full response from the prisons minister to PRT director Peter Dawson