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Third-sector support expanded for short-term prisoners leaving Scotland’s jails

Inside a prison - Image credit: Anthony Devlin/PA

Third-sector support expanded for short-term prisoners leaving Scotland’s jails

Two third-sector partnerships will extend the range of support they deliver for people leaving prison, following the Scottish Prison Service’s suspension of its throughcare support scheme.

The ‘New Routes’ and ‘Shine’ partnerships will make support available for more prisoners released from short-term sentences of up to four years, supporting male and female prisoners respectively.

New Routes is led by the Wise Group and delivered with third sector partners Sacro, Apex, Turning Point Scotland, Scottish Association for Mental Health and Families Outside.

It is the largest justice mentoring programme in Scotland and has provided long-term mentoring and guidance to nearly 4,000 men over the last six years.

New Routes provides wraparound support, guidance, and advocacy for up to 12 months, helping ex-offenders to adjust to life outside prison.

Sean Duffy, chief executive at the Wise Group, said: “New Routes has already had national success, proving to reduce reoffending among 18-25-year-old males.

“Just 9.7 per cent of young men on New Routes return to prison within a year of completing their mentoring journey, compared to a national reoffending rate of 34 per cent.

“As the Scottish justice system faces a significant national challenge, we know that expanding our proven, evidence-led mentoring service will support the Scottish Government’s smart justice agenda and support a move to more out and fewer in prison.”

Previously it was only offered to prisoners under 25, but the upper age limit has now been lifted to offer the support to all male prisoners serving a short-term prison sentence.

Shine, which is led by Sacro alongside third sector partners the Wise Group, Apex, Access to Industry, Turning Point Scotland, Barnardos, Circle and the Venture Trust, provides mentoring support to women leaving prison.

It has seen an improvement for 96 per cent of women who engaged with the service and has supported almost 5,000 women since 2012.

Sharon Stirrat, Sacro’s Director of Operations said the expansion means that the current support available to women is “essentially unchanged” by the suspension of the Scottish Prison Service throughcare support service.

The throughcare support scheme, which was launched in most Scottish prisons in 2015, helps short-term prisoners to make arrangements for housing, healthcare and benefits ahead of their release and supports them after they are back in the community.

It has been successful in reducing the number of prisoners returning to custody.

However, in July the Scottish Prison Service announced it was suspending the service because of pressures caused by the increasing prison population, with SPS staff seconded to the service returning to their former roles.

A spokesperson for the SPS told BBC News: “The increasing prisoner population together with the increasingly complex needs of those in our care means that our capacity and capability is stretched.

"To respond to these current and emerging challenges, we have to ensure that our frontline staff are deployed where they are needed most; at this time, this is in our prisons and that is why the SPS has taken the difficult decision to temporarily suspend our Throughcare service and deploy all throughcare staff to prison officer roles within establishments.”

Responding to the announcement of the expanded third-sector schemes, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Helping people to reintegrate into their communities – including providing practical help with everything from job applications to finding accommodation – is key to ensuring they do not get drawn back into a damaging cycle of offending.

“Following the Scottish Prison Service’s decision to suspend its throughcare services we worked closely with third sector partners to find an alternative.

“I’m pleased that the New Routes and Shine partnerships have been able to respond and this valuable support will remain available to prisoners who wish to access it.”

However, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson, James Kelly, questioned whether they would have the same capacity as the SPS service.

Kelly said: “Although the fact that third parties are going to provide throughcare support is welcome, it is unclear if the level of service offered previously is being reinstated.

“Previously, 42 officers supported this work and any new arrangement must not come with a diluted level of support.

He added: “Wise Group and Sacro are experienced and trusted partners, so it is good news that they have been brought on board.

“However, we need reassurances that the full capacity of the 42 officers is being covered and if not, that further solutions will need to be pursued.”

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