Employment is key to the Government’s ambition for rehabilitation. For people with a history of offending, one of the most effective ways of preventing reoffending and improving their chances of leading a better life is to find and keep a job.
Reoffending costs the economy somewhere in the region of £11 billion. But only 25% of men leave prison into some form of employment and the statistic for women is even lower at 20%. There is an emerging body of evidence that additional support, particularly that which follows them through the prison gate, is more likely to help ex-prisoners.
The levels of poor mental wellbeing in prisons are significant, with some 90% of prisoners having a drug/alcohol problem, personality disorder or other mental health problem. People with mental health problems in the system are routinely excluded from vocational rehabilitation programmes.
Testing IPS for offenders leaving prison
The Centre worked on a three-year research project to implement IPS in completely new settings, to learn how the model should be adapted to achieve successful outcomes for offenders with mental health problems. Thanks to funding from Garfield Weston, Henry Smith Charity and John Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, we tested IPS at eight prisons across the West Midlands.
Three employment specialists trained in IPS worked with the prison mental health teams but also in prison resettlement departments. They engaged prisoners before their release, offering through-the-gate support. Post-release, the specialists continued to work with the released person, as well as (where available) the receiving community mental health service and employers. This project also included mentoring support for some of the people, to gauge its added value to the resettlement process.
- The project supported 21 people into competitive employment (39% of those meeting the project inclusion criteria). It also provided a range of ad hoc support with seeking accommodation, mental health support and benefits. Whilst this success rate is lower than that of IPS in its trials within secondary mental health services, it still signifies a dramatic increase in employment success when compared to people who received no support.
- There was scarcity in support for people leaving prison, despite how vital support at this stage is in reducing the risk of reoffending. For many of those we worked with, this programme was the only support they received on leaving prison.
- A key principle of IPS is that employment support works in the context of a community mental health team. However, almost all of our participants received no such support, despite having accessed similar services in prison.
- The project unwittingly launched at the same time that probation services (a critical partner) underwent huge reforms. This undoubtedly had an impact on the project's work. Probation services (in particular those offered by Community Rehabilitation Companies) often appeared remote from the person being released, with examples of little or no contact with themg. On the whole, these people needed a higher level of support to successfully transition back into their communities than this project could provide.
What you can do - in practice
We worked with partner organisations that support offenders and ex-offenders into employment to analyse the elements of effective practice:
- Employers should play an instrumental role in creating and developing opportunities for paid work for offenders.
- Recruitment needs to be pragmatic: on the basis of attitude and 'character' rather than qualifications or health status.
- Support should be offered to employees and their managers for as long as they need it.
- Opportunities for 'pre-employment' and 'in work' skills development should be linked to realistic employment opportunities: not training for its own sake.
- Criminal justice and other statutory agencies should facilitate effective pathways and access to real work and appropriate skills development while offenders are in the criminal justice system.