Offenders not 'properly risk-assessed' before release

Prison cell The review was carried out by probation and prison inspectors

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Some of the most dangerous prisoners in England and Wales are not being properly risk-assessed before they are freed, a report has found.

Probation and prison inspectors said two-thirds of the plans they examined to manage the release of those serving life sentences were inadequate.

They were "shocked" by the "lack of clarity" and "confusion" over the assessments.

The justice minister said offender management was being reformed.

The report focused on the preparations for release for some of the 13,000 offenders serving life and indeterminate sentences. In both cases a court sets the minimum term of imprisonment an offender must serve before becoming eligible apply for parole.

Life sentences can be handed to offenders for a range of offences including murder, manslaughter and rape.

Lifers are moved to an open prison towards the end of their sentences and it is then that prison governors use risk assessments to make a decision as to whether to allow them out on day release.

The report was most critical of the information available about the offenders at this stage.

Further risk assessments are seen by the parole board later in an offenders' sentence, when a decision is made about whether to release them on licence.


Lifers are the most dangerous prisoners - murderers, rapists and violent repeat offenders.

But for most of them a life sentence isn't a rest-of-life sentence. On average they can expect to spend 16 years in prison before being released, under certain conditions.

First, they need to be assessed for the risk they pose to the public, and this is where the report says the system is inadequate.

When they are released it's on licence - this means that at any point for the rest of their lives they can be returned to prison without trial.

Their release from prison should also be gradual - for example from high security to an open prison, through to day release and halfway houses.

And it's the job of probation officers to supervise them.

Chief Inspector of Probation Liz Calderbank said "quite basic elements" were often missing.

"Assessments in many instances weren't being thorough enough and weren't being completed adequately," she said.

"We were shocked at the fact there was a lack of clarity and confusion about who was responsible for completing risk assessments when in custody."

Inspectors found many assessments were "little more than a summary of the prisoner's account".

"Our main concern with this approach was that an over-reliance on the prisoner's account could lead to the assessor losing touch with the motivation and triggers for the original offence, or failing to focus on the impact on victims," the report found.

The report focused on "key transitional phases" in a life sentence - the transfer into open prison and from there into the community.

"Despite the time it took to reach the point of transfer to open prison, life sentence prisoners were not well prepared for this significant transition," the report said.

It said many prisoners suffered a "culture shock" on their arrival.

Ms Calderbank told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There is no point in leaving people in prison so long that they become so institutionalised that they then can't respond properly to open conditions, because they reoffend - and that's not safe release."

Inspectors found preparation for release relied heavily on the use of release on temporary licence, which can range from a few hours for a wedding to spending time overnight in a location the prisoners intend to live in.

Inspectors concluded this "was not always well planned or underpinned by robust risk assessment".

One unidentified prison changed its paperwork for releasing life sentence prisoners on temporary licence so the section dealing with risk of harm to others was removed to "simplify the process".

'Drift' in the system

Some decisions to grant temporary leave had been based on "out of date" and "poorly completed paperwork".

"In one case, the absence of both purpose and funding for the temporary absence from prison led to the prisoner being arrested for begging at the local train station," the report said.

Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said there was a sense of "drift" in the system.

"There are people who, on the whole, they're going to be compliant and they've learned how to be good prisoners," he said.

"What you're not testing is whether they're going to be a good prisoner, you're testing whether they're going to be a good citizen and those are two different things."

The general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, Ian Lawrence, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was "not surprised" by the report.

"I'm not surprised either at the reaction of the Ministry of Justice... that seeks yet again to lay the blame at my members for the shortcomings of the system," he said.

"Our members work hard to rigorously assess lifers or anyone else coming our of prison for that matter.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of NAPO: "The parole system is a very rigorous system"

"But that's against a backdrop of lack of resources, ridiculous timetables by parole boards and doing links by video - which is something we've been opposed to forever."

Despite the problems, reoffending rates for prisoners released after a life or indeterminate sentence remain relatively low, at between two and five per cent, compared to 46.9% of the overall prison population.

"The vast majority of those on life licence formed positive relationships with their offender managers, did not reoffend and, despite the stigma of the life sentence, were able to lead useful and productive lives after release," the inspectors said.

Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said: "Though this is about a small group of offenders, it is essential we get it right to protect the public.

"This government is introducing significant reforms to offender management, including setting up a new National Probation Service staffed by experts and dedicated to risk assessing and supervising our most serious offenders.

"We are also reviewing the way we carry out releases on temporary licence to learn lessons and see what changes are necessary."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Liz Calderbank and her superiors at the Ministry of Justice, have over the last five years invested tens of millions of tax payer's money in a new Offender Assessment System 'OASys' to address this issue.

    If that IT system is not fit for purpose, then they are responsible and should carry the can for it. Sack the useless 'dead wood' and hire people who are up to the job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    In many cases the assessments on offenders are not robust, but it is not the fault of the offenders. Reports are often written by outsiders using out of date information and with little or no contact with the person they are reporting on. The probation service has too few resources to do the job properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Remind me again WHAT DO WE PAY THESE PEOPLE FOR ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    The people who sign a person off as being 'safe' to be in society, should be held accountable for that. If the person they say is safe for release then goes on to reoffend, then whatever sentence the offender gets, the signer should get half.
    They'd soon ensure people were genuinely safe to release then.

  • Comment number 56.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    The majority of 'lifers' do not want to be released because they know life is far cushier inside than out. Everything provided, coloured tv's, gyms, libraries, courses, and in some cases swimming pools, all at the tax payers expense, why can't they be made to do unpaid work for their keep.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    So there is no justice for the victim. At least the lifer gets to live where as the innocent life they took can't be replaced, The family that has been torn apart, can't be rebuilt. so have they really been punished , paid their price, have they been rehabilitated? There needs to be a complete overhaul of the judicial system, Judges must be more accountable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Society only fails these people by making excuses for their behavior.

    These criminals need to stop feeling sorry for themselves and realise they get out of life what they put into it. Only they are responsible for their actions and only they can achieve what they want in life.

    However, this will put a legion of liberals out of a job, so it won't be happening any time soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    LOL, will it get better when G4S take over much from probation.

    Experience counts & is a vital part of ensuring stability, compliance & competence.

    NHS, prisons/police/military etc evolve via experience, red tape is correction of previous mistakes, attrocious events, red tape costs £

    Changes & retiring of experienced personel to save costs create an experience vacumm = repeating mistakes

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Government policy is shutting down Prisons, so they can afford to build Super prisons, then give them up to the private sector, so they can be manned by staff on National Minimum Wage. Result prisoners let out early, what would expect?

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    My ex husband is serving life for my attempted murder. He has been in prison 7 years and served his minimum tarriff but has made no attempt to be rehabilitated inside. Thank you to the parole board who turned him down again this year ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Why on earth do we persist in this goal of re-integrating lifers back into society? I think most people would quite happily see their taxes pay for keeping them in prison for life.
    Yes, it would cost more, but we'd need less probation officers and require less police time when they re-offend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    ""including setting up a new National Probation Service staffed by experts"
    Do you mean it is not already staffed by experts? Who's fault is that, Minister?"

    No, no, no. You misunderstand. 70%, or thereabouts, of it is to be run by experts from *private* companies. Much more efficient than that boring old state run stuff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Cronkist; those freed from prison are not found homes and jobs. AS someone who recently retired from the Probation Service I think this myth needs to be addressed. If only there was accommodation, many would not re-offend. Earlier this week there was an article on Maslow's Hierachy of need. These people often don't manager the first layer.

  • Comment number 46.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    39."There might be as few as 10 people in this country so criminally damaged they can never rejoin us."
    Bit overoptimistic there, Jack. The figure is much higher, and those guys should of course be locked up, but as you say, keeping the elderly in prison is pointless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    The QUESTION here is. What does the bible say about this so it guides us as we seem lost folks?

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    A society that failed them? (Greggers), as though society must somehow accommodate a desire to do serious crime? Though 'liberals' go out of their way to accommodate criminality, so called 'lifers' go on to kill again after leaving prison, so perhaps murder should be life and 'life' mean 'life'

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Doubtless it is cheaper to have a few people be killed by murderers than to properly risk assess. have people not worked out how the CON party operate yet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    It's not just" not properly risk assessed" that's the issue it's the quality,quantity,effectiveness,and length of the monitoring after they are released!?
    Like most things in life,there will be much debate and recommendation's to fill the airwaves and the media in general but the answer will be directly and indirectly related to ££££


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