Government plans to introduce prison mentors

30 January 2014

Under these plans every prisoner released in England and Wales would have their own mentor to help them rebuild their lives.  The plan would be coordinated by private and voluntary groups who would be paid if reoffending was reduced.

The mentors would assist the offenders with any housing problems and training opportunities and to potentially assist with rehabilitation from drug or alcohol issues.

The Probation Service has welcomed the idea but have expressed doubts that enough mentors could be found to make the scheme effective.

Almost half of adult prisoners released from a prison sentence are reconvicted within a year of release.  As with the previous Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, the current Justice Secretary, Christopher Grayling, has made tackling reoffending a priority.

Under the current system only those who are jailed for more than a year are given rehabilitation assistance, but the government hopes that all but a very small number of high risk prisoners would receive support by the end of 2015.

Mr Grayling believes that everyone has a vested interest in 'an enlightened approach to reducing reoffending' in an attempt to stop people continually reoffending and going in and out of the justice system.  His aim is to have prisoners being released 'met at the prison gate' and to have assistance with the perennial problems of accommodation, rehabilitation and training lined up for their release.

Harry Fletcher of the National Association of Probation Officers said that the idea of mentors was "excellent" but thought that it would never happen due to the sheer number of prisoners released each year.  87,000 were released in the 12 months from July 2011 to June 2012 which in Mr Fletcher's words would mean that "you would need an army of volunteers or employees of private companies to do it properly".

It is difficult to see how the planned 'payment by results' is to operate and how a reduction in reoffending is to be assessed.  Some offenders offend on a weekly basis, some on a monthly basis, some on a yearly basis.  Are all to be judged by the same means or is it going to require an additional 'army' of civil servants to quantify whether or not an individual's reoffending was reduced.  Or is it to be done on a statistical calculation of a reduction in general offending in certain areas over certain periods?

The previous problems in relation to providing the necessary rehabilitation for prisoners have always related to funding, and given the number of cuts being made to the budgets of all departments within the justice service one wonders where the funding is going to come from.

The above is not legal advice, it is intended to provide information of general interest in current legal issues.