Offender Research, Learning the Lessons
Konnect Cornwall CIC was commissioned by SSC in 2014 to carry out research into pathways for Offenders, to go alongside research into Victim pathways.
This is designed to explore the needs and experiences of offenders, in terms of the support offered while in prison, and subsequent to their release, and identify gaps.
Interviews were carried out, and focus groups were held, with a total of 19 offenders recruited through Police, Probation Officers and Freshstart Supported Housing. Participants were initially asked questions about their experiences, background, health and addictions.
Of 19 participants, 16 had experienced addiction problems, (nine still current), 18 had been to prison, and all been subject to some combination of court order, fine, and probation. Thirteen had carried out acquisitive crimes, and nine, violent crimes. Nine considered themselves to have mental illness, and seven to be disabled.
Quality and relevance of support received
Eleven reported housing as a significant barrier to progress, with nine citing drugs / alcohol, and six their health, whether mental or physical. In terms of support that made a difference, ten reported drug / alcohol support, and six referred to housing support.
The factors which made the services ‘work’ in terms of helping offenders engage, and making a difference were strongly linked to the timing and expertise of the practitioner, their relationship with the offender, and the personal situation. Liaison between service providers seems to be good, though the transition from prison to the outside world is not handled well in many cases. Twelve-step programmes often carry over well, but mentoring support, and basic skills such as budgeting are missing.
Gaps in services
Participants suggested developments were needed in the areas of housing, transition planning, employment and training, in order to support them away from offending behaviour. Gaps currently exist in these areas.
Some offenders feel that they are discriminated against because of their drug history, and that their offending history prejudices potential employers against them, or causes the police to regard them as ‘an offender’ forever. A large majority have also been the victims of crime themselves, several experiencing a physical assault, often linked to drug use. Roughly half feel that they are accepted by their local communities, in some cases because their history was not known. And several feel they are making a contribution, being in education or employment, or volunteering.
When asked about whether they felt they had made amends for their offences, there seemed to be either a disregard for the impact on the victim, or some confusion about what it means to make amends, or how /if it can be done. There was a notable absence of any involvement with restorative justice.
Participants were asked about the relevance of self-assessment tools, and it was broadly felt that they were helpful, though their use was most effective when accompanied by the support of a key worker or mentor.
- Develop support pathways that can be tailored to the need and stage of each individual’s journey towards recovery and social and economic reintegration. To offer the offender choice within these pathways which allow for self-determination and encourage ownership. Pathways should have clear progression routes and identify pragmatic outcomes which are of value to the offender.
- Gain a better understanding of the type of rehabilitative work that is being conducted in prisons and understanding how this might inform what happens upon release. In turn, gain an understanding of how rehabilitative work on the outside could inform that which occurs in prisons.
- Research the potential development of supported work placement schemes. This could include identifying a bank of employers who are ready to employ motivated ex-offenders, with support being provided to both ex-offender and employee by an external agency. Prior employment and education training could be tailored to the needs of those employers participating.
- Conduct a review of the housing issue for ex-offenders in Cornwall. Part of this could be to understand how or if supported housing could be more effectively used as a first step from which to progress into employment. Gain more insight into the discrimination faced by ex-offenders from both Council Housing and private housing sector, to understand the needs and concerns of housing providers and better advocate on behalf of ex-offenders.
- Conduct a more thorough review into how restorative justice can be built into support pathways for offenders in Cornwall.
- Establish a bridging support and mentoring service that offers early engagement and development of a significant professional bond between offender and support worker. This engagement could begin prior to entering prison for those on short-term sentences, continue during the sentence and upon its completion, offer intensive support during the vulnerable transition process. Supervision and signposting could then continue in proportion to the needs of each (ex) offender as they move towards greater self-sufficiency. This continuity of support would offer the trusted and committed relationship that so many interviewees identified as a key component of their desistance.