Switchback’s Experts by Experience Board discussing the White Paper, January 2022.
Throughout the pandemic, Switchback has highlighted that a lack of access to basic essentials on release – housing, finance and technology – is driving reoffending, poverty and unemployment. The message from Switchback Trainees and our frontline experience is clear: people leaving prison need the basic essentials to survive, and skilled support to thrive.
We are glad, therefore, that the government’s new Prisons Strategy White Paper commits to boosting ‘targeted resettlement support’ for prison leavers and ensuring ‘the basics are in place’ including ID, bank accounts and accommodation through a so-called ‘resettlement passport’. We urge the government to work with the voluntary sector and prison leavers to fill in the gaps in this plan and offer a clear timeline for delivery.
”If you get put in a job without dealing with your problems, you just explode and don’t go back to the job. I wouldn’t expect anyone to hold [a job] down to be honest, without something like Switchback and the [training] café in between."Switchback Trainee
Switchback’s response to the White Paper consultation, developed in collaboration with our Experts by Experience Board, also outlines our concern that the central ambition of the Strategy – to cut crime and protect the public – will not be achieved without further action in five key areas:
1. Put skilled, supportive relationships at the heart of the system. The strategy’s commitment to promote “positive staff-prisoner relationships” is vital, but won’t be possible without action to tackle overcrowding, radically reduce staff caseload sizes and improve staff training and support.
2. Boost involvement of local, specialist charities. Small voluntary sector organisations play a transformative role supporting prison leavers, but are excluded from the system and sadly ignored in this new strategy.
3. Create a National Resettlement Plan. The strategy has a number of positive ideas around resettlement support, but without a cohesive cross-government plan to join up these fragmented initiatives, people will remain unable to get the support they need.
4. Reduce the prison population. The strategy’s aim to cut crime and protect the public risks being undermined by the plans to radically expand the prison system; an alternative, evidence-based approach is needed
5. Tackle racial disparities in the justice system. The strategy’s lack of focus on tackling racial inequalities (which are worse in the UK than the US) is an alarming omission, particularly given the government’s previous commitments following the Lammy Review.
”The most important thing is to give someone the option to change their life. Rather than spending money on new prisons, they should spend some of it on making sure every area has local charities and youth workers because at the moment there’s no one to tell you that you’re doing wrong".Switchback Trainee
Read more detail about these in our full response here. Given the very short timeframe available for responses, we also urge the Ministry of Justice to offer a full 12+ week consultation period in future, in line with the Cabinet Office’s Code of Practice for government departments, so that smaller organisations in particular have proper time to consult the people they support.