Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEES 2012-13: Multidisciplinary team: for contributions to the “Positive Futures” programme aimed at tackling offending among short term prisoners.
[Debbie Addleston gives her account of the work for which she won her Commendation]
Positive Futures- Breaking the Cycle is designed as a dynamic project, based at HMP Leeds, that targets under 12 month serving prisoners returning to the Leeds area on release. The intention is to reduce reoffending and protect the public with the added benefit of significantly reducing the cost to the public purse.
The vision of the project is to plug the gap in support for the under 12 month serving prisoners with the development of strategies and interventions that will ensure that this group of prisoners will be sufficiently motivated to make positive life changes and break the cycle of offending. Our aim is to produce an individually tailored multi agency support package for each person. We work in a holistic manner with the “Think Family” approach central to every area of concern.
I was responsible for designing and setting up the project and then managing it. My job title is Senior Probation Officer.
It was vitally important at the start of the process that we had the support of the Prison and that the Governors shared our goals. We gained this investment by developing a strategy board that included key partners such as HMP Leeds, West Yorkshire Police, Safer Leeds (Leeds City Council) and the ROM (Regional Offender Manager, this post has since become defunct). The strategy group identified the need for a team to work pro actively with this particular group of prisoners and ratified the inception of Positive Futures. The financial support was originally provided by the ROM. This financed one year of the project the cost since that time has been sourced from the Leeds Probation Budget. It was as a direct result of the fact that the project was deemed to be so successful that attracted the further funding.
I was given the task of designing, developing and integrating the project into existing services. My first assignment after compiling a comprehensive mission statement was to ensure that I had the right staff in post. I needed staff who were highly motivated, willing to work hard, be challenging, innovative and charismatic. They needed to grasp the sensitivities of working within the walls of a partnership agency and appreciate that the role was multi faceted. The role was a new concept in West Yorkshire, in that there is an expectation that staff must work through the gate into the community, working with the prisoners after release despite this not being a statutory requirement. The staff therefore are required to link the needs of the prisoners through out this transitional phase and be able to work flexibly and reactively. They needed to ensure that they didn’t duplicate existing services but utilise those services for the benefit of the prisoner. The staff were requested to follow the principles of desistance theory and tailor individual support plans for each prisoner.
I wrote job descriptions, advertised, interviewed and appointed 3 excellent candidates. Two of the staff are Probation Service Officers (PSO’s) and one support staff. Once in post one of our first tasks was to ensure that each staff member was provided with a mobile phone so they could be contactable. I was also very keen that Positive Future staff should stand out from the rest of the flock of staff that work daily in HMP Leeds and be instantly recognisable both within and outside the prison walls, so I designed Positive Futures clothing, shirts and fleeces that prominently display the Positive Futures logo. I originally tasked the staff to seek out and build links with any agency in Leeds that we could usefully work with and build up a directory of services that were available to our client group. We also designed our promotional leaflets and posters, advertising our service, that we liberally distributed within the prison, probation buildings and partnership agencies. The PSO’s actually took the photographs for the promotional material.
Just to make sure that we were on the right track I contacted similar schemes in England to determine whether I had made any glaring omissions in our processes. I discovered that there were 4 other schemes working with this group of prisoners. There was a social enterprise project in Peterborough, an employment project at Doncaster Prison, a project at HMP Manchester that worked mainly through the gate with a limited period beyond and the most similar to ours was a project at HMP Hull (the Minerva Project) that had been healthily financed by Hull City Council. In reality each project was very different and we were heartened that Positive Futures had already been designed taking the best from the other projects and had gone one step further in maintaining contact with the prisoners for as long as required after release.
We launched the project with an event at HMP Leeds where we invited local dignitaries, head of services, crucial partnership staff and members of prison staff. This was an excellent event that gave the project the recognition and buy in that we required.
Positive outcomes are secured by ensuring that several dominant criminogenic factors are recognised. Any barriers need to be removed prior to release. This can only be achieved by the personal investment of the prisoner themselves and by the building of crucial multi agency relationships that can help pave the way for the prisoner. It is vitally important that Positive Futures staff can in the first instance recognise through a thorough assessment what needs the prisoner has and then they must simultaneously and skilfully motivate the prisoner to look at a successful reintegration into the community that avoids future offending. We developed our own assessment tool that links with Probation OASys (Offender Assessment System). It was crucial that we tracked the interventions that took place therefore a tracking tool was also devised from the very beginning that collated as much information that we possibly could. We are very keen to prove the effectiveness (or not) of the scheme.
There are several key areas that would hamper a prisoners successful reintegration into society. They are :-
It is essential that the prisoners have a safe place to stay. The most successful placements are back with families particularly if the family members are supportive however permanent safe accommodation is crucial to successful reintegration into the community. We work in close proximity to several housing providers should there be a need for independent accommodation. We are proud to say that no prisoner in our cohort leaves HMP Leeds homeless. The team have also become an essential component of the HDC and ROTL boards ensuring that reintegration is woven through the prisoner’s sentence planning. The staff advise the boards on suitability and timeliness issues.
It is important that prisoners leave the prison feeling secure and confident that they know where they will sleep that night and that any urgent matters are dealt with effectively and in a timely way. Therefore Positive Futures staff have a policy of ensuring that all prisoners are met at the gate and escorted to at least their first appointment whether it is to the doctors, the benefits office or home. Various agencies and support systems are galvanised into help support the prisoner with this task whether it is WYCCP (West Yorkshire Community Chaplaincy Project, who operate from the prison) DIP or a volunteer.
Positive Futures staff have made clear links with drugs, alcohol, mental health and health professionals to enable clear pathways for the prisoners. These links start within the prison walls and then extend outside following release. This ensures a smooth transition and helps the prisoner from having to start from scratch following release. There are particularly good relationships with these agencies and DIP in particular where staff share joint care plans for the prisoner ensuring a clear focus that avoids duplication.
Education, training and employment is a further crucial element required for a successful reintegration into the community. The Positive Futures staff have forged valuable links with a myriad of agencies that can help the project ensure that every single man leaves the prison with something set up, whether it is secure employment or a training course. We are particularly fortunate to have our support officer who has a particular interest in people with learning and communication needs. She has become involved with several prisoners identifying what their barriers are. This is essential in the correct placement of the prisoners and enabling others to understand their shortcomings.
I designed an offshoot to Positive Futures called Positive Families – The missing link. This side project was set up in conjunction with the Jigsaw project (family visitors centre at HMP Leeds). This involves a Positive Futures staff member working alongside a Jigsaw worker who jointly work with the partner and family of the prisoner. The aim is to challenge misconceptions within their relationships and break down barriers. This provides “ the missing link” in breaking the cycle of offending to ensure a smooth return to the family home. This whole family approach has meetings with the family outside the prison walls and then within the prison environment. An excellent outcome for the family was the fact that the prison agreed that family members could have escorted visits to the prisoners cell so they would have a good understanding of their living conditions. Links have also been established with local children services, Homestart (agency that work with families with children under 5 years old) and children centres.
I designed a further offshoot of Positive Futures by including a further aspect to our work calling this part of the project Positive Justice- Repairing the Damage. I feel that it is important that the prisoners recognised the right of the victims of their offending and that they begin to look at making amends. I arranged for one of the PSOs to be trained in restorative justice.
Finally the project became a central cog in the VCS led initiative at HMP Leeds that was named the 6th Hub. This is a multi agency team involving the Police, VCS, Prison, DIP (Drug Intervention Project) and Housing. The staff focus is to share information and work within an Integrated Offender Management (IOM) model.
A costing exercise was completed and it has been determined that as a direct result of Positive Futures intervention we have saved the tax payer in excess of £1.4 million between November 2010 and January 2012.
[The following article appeared in issue 5 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]
Also commended were the multidisciplinary team at West Yorkshire Probation Trust – Debbie Addlestone, Michelle Costello, Kim Day and Sukbinder Rai – for their contribution to the Positive Futures programme, aimed at tackling high reoffending rates among short-term prisoners.
Debbie worked to develop the concept and sell it both internally and externally, while key workers Michelle and Sukbinder engaged and supported prisoners inside and outside HMP Leeds, with Kim providing invaluable administration work in monitoring services and outcomes.
The multiagency scheme starts with interventions inside the prison, with Michelle and Sukbinder approaching prisoners and carrying out individual motivational work, and the team has a very visible presence on the institution’s resettlement wing. They have also developed ‘discharge boards’ where family members agree plans with the prisoner, and not a single Positive Futures client has been released from prison without somewhere to go.
Part of the team’s strength comes from its ability to sell the project at every level internally as well as to a range of partner organisations. It engages with more than 70 prisoners a month at different levels of intensity depending on need, with reconviction rates showing a decrease of 45 per cent within the first year of the programme alone.
‘They told me about it when I was in prison, and I said yes straight away,’ said one participant. ‘I don’t want to be back inside. I wanted help to get myself sorted, and I was pleased that someone was going to talk through my problems and help me.’