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Integrated Through the Gate service unlocking prisoners’ potential

December 8, 2020

By Ian Ware, Deputy Director of Justice, Interserve

How to effectively support prisoners as they prepare for release back into the community has been a key area of discussion for the justice system for many years.

We all know that being released from a jail sentence with £47 in your pocket and a new world to face is a daunting prospect, and sadly the statistics show us that all too many service users get back into trouble very quickly on their release (1).

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) made changes to the probation system in 2015, partly to address this long-standing issue, and created the Through the Gate system to address the problem. For a variety of reasons, and perhaps unsurprisingly given the highly complex nature of offending, the initial attempt didn’t create the results we all wanted to see.

Interserve’s five Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) submitted a proposal for funding to the MoJ so that we could develop a new way to work with our service users – Integrated Through the Gate (ITTG) – and we rolled it out in April 2019.

The idea is simple: to provide a continuity of service to people preparing for release so their needs – such as housing, education and financial advice – are addressed before they exit the prison gates. The same team then works with them after they have been released to support their first few days in the community and the beginning of their period supervised by probation when on licence from prison.

Interserve recruited 120 resettlement workers to form the ITTG team and support the rehabilitation of offenders across 18 prisons. Under the new model, probation professionals working alongside Interserve’s commissioned providers – Shelter, St Giles and Catch 22 – support service users with:

  • learning new skills
  • behavioural deficits
  • drug misuse issues
  • improving health and wellbeing.

Interserve’s commissioned services in turn deliver support in their areas of expertise, such as providing:

  • accommodation advice and support
  • financial advice and help navigating universal credit
  • support and training aimed at securing employment.

The role of the High Intensity Transition Officer (HITO) is a unique addition to the ITTG team. The HITO works with ‘revolving door’ offenders to try to break their cycle of offending. Their work starts in custody with service users identified as meeting the criteria. The HITO works with a range of partner agencies to support the service user while in custody and also for the first three months post-release in the community, in order to deliver better resettlement outcomes.

I worked with colleagues, partner agencies and the MoJ to create ITTG.

Having joined probation more than 20-years-ago as a probation services officer based at HMP Hull, I knew from first-hand experience how important helping prisoners transition to the community is. At the time, I delivered a pilot service aimed at helping prisoners prepare for release and worked with them so that they would stop re-offending. It was clear to me then that we had to do more to stop the ‘revolving door’, so I was delighted when Through the Gate was first launched back in 2015.

We created the ITTG last year to drive improvements, as we learned more about working with prisoners serving short-term sentences to bring about lasting change. While this is a notoriously difficult group of people to support because of the complex nature of repeat offending, we are now seeing excellent results.

A total of 129,124 offenders across the CRCs have been supported by ITTG since May 2015; as a result, the reoffending rate in our resettlement prisons has reduced. Just one of the achievements has been that between April 2019 and March 2020, our teams helped 7,992 people released from prison to secure suitable accommodation within 24 hours of release; this is a key factor in supporting people to make positive steps because homelessness causes chaos and directly correlates to reoffending patterns.

ITTG’s success has been recognised by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation Service (HMIP), an independent organisation charged with assessing the effectiveness of the prison and probation service. Successive HMIP reports have praised Interserve’s CRCs, with three out of the four assessed so far receiving the top “outstanding” grade, with the other being rated as “good”.

Our ITTG strategic managers, alongside our partner agencies and frontline staff, have done a terrific job engaging with service users who are now going onto better things. This is because ITTG created a stronger connection between our staff and our service users, and this crucial relationship has supported their reintroduction to society and has linked them with support services in the community.

This is a fantastic achievement because it’s only by getting people the support they need on day one that we give them any chance of success.

We’ve also improved how we work with the prison regime, so that we are seen as a seamless service, and we’ve made sure service users get the interventions in custody that they need to help them make positive changes to their lives.

However you don’t just need to take my word for it. What really matters is the difference ITTG has made to people like Stuart, who was recently supported by the ITTG team in Bolton, part of our Cheshire & Greater Manchester CRC.

Stuart said: “When I’ve ended up being released before I’ve had nothing. I’ve had to move from house to house. Then people say ‘you’ve been inside, have a treat’ and offered me the drugs that got me in trouble in the first place.

“This time Dave (probation case manager) is making me keep to my appointments. Kim is great (ITTG resettlement worker). The housing people also make sure I don’t forget things and are helping me with my benefits.

“Prison is boring. It takes years out of your life. I want to change and for the first time I feel supported to try my hardest.”

If we can make such a positive contribution, like we have for Stuart, to the thousands of prisoners released each year, I am confident we can change their lives – and society – for the better.

(1) The proven reoffending rate for adult offenders released from custody was 46.8 per cent – latest stats 2018 data.