To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps he is taking to ensure the changes to the contracts for probation services that took place on 26 June 2021 do not result in increasing risks of (a) homelessness, (b) destitution and (c) non-continuation of medical treatment including substance misuse treatment for vulnerable women prison leavers.
Ensuring a safe, stable transition to the new unified probation model has been our key priority as contracts with Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) come to an end. We have worked to support that through our overall approach to transition, which has meant transferring staff, caseloads and ways of working to the new Probation Service as is, to support continuity in how offenders are supervised and supported.
From 26 June 2021, new contracts for specialist women’s services are in place across the 12 probation regions in England and Wales. To prevent gaps in delivery of services, we have sought to ensure that planned work delivered by previous suppliers was completed before 26 June, and that, where the same provider is delivering the service pre and post-26 June, the women receiving those services experience continuity of delivery. We have also made referrals well in advance of the first day of new contracts for women who presented a high risk of harm, in order to enable new suppliers to prioritise these cases for early appointments. For women who require accommodation support pre-release and who have 14 days or less to serve when the referral is made, the new suppliers are required to make an initial response within 24 hours of receiving the referral.
Alongside this, HMPPS is continuing to fund Homelessness Prevention Teams (HPTs) to help find accommodation for offenders upon release, which were originally established as part of the response to COVID-19. These teams have been very successful in securing temporary accommodation outcomes, including short-term rented accommodation and building new local partnerships with local authorities and housing partners. The HPTs continue to operate as part of the unified model.
Probation and Prison Service pre-release staff working in prisons will continue to provide finance benefits and debt support for women before release, including being able to address the issue of identification. The majority of former ‘Through the Gate’ staff who delivered this support to people in prison are now part of the Probation Service to enable this service to be continued. The commissioned services now in place to support women include provision for finance, benefit and debt support where needs remain outstanding after release. In the longer term, probation practitioners will be responsible for assessing needs pre-release enabling more time to make plans to address the needs a person leaving prison has as part of this transition.
Health care teams within prisons continue to have responsibility for ensuring there is a continuity of care either side of release, including that people in prison are registered with a GP. Staff based in the prison can continue to support people in prison to access primary health care. Where there are outstanding needs coming up to release, women’s services commissioned by probation regions are able to support women after release to engage with support services including primary health care and counselling.