Prisoner support 'lacks vision'

Prisoner in cell
Image caption Inspectors said many prisoners were unable to access social work services

Justice officials must urgently address a lack of strategy in delivering social work services in Scotland's jails, inspectors have warned.

The Social Work Inspection Agency raised concern over the lack of a "national vision" for the service.

Inspectors also said many prisoners were not able to access social work support.

Social work services are seen as key to breaking the cycle of re-offending, a key aim of the Scottish government.

The Scottish Prison Service said planned changes would come into force in April.

The report was published after inspections of social work services in Scotland's prisons and young offenders institutions.

Inspectors found more than half of prisons and councils had formal agreements on social work services, while the rest relied on informal arrangements.

The report concluded there was was "no national strategy or vision for the service overall".

Inspectors said that, while the Scottish Prison Service and councils were trying to standardise the arrangements, the process had been going on "for some years".

"There had been inconsistent leadership in concluding this matter and this needed to be addressed urgently," concluded the report.

'Good work'

Inspectors also found social workers spent more time with more serious offenders, but warned the approach meant "the vast majority of prisoners were not accessing social work support in prison".

"Many of these prisoners, who were not required by law to be supervised after release, were caught in the revolving door - going in and out of prison, often for very short periods and not having enough time to make use of any services in the prison, not just social work," concluded the report.

Chief social work inspector Alexis Jay, said: "Whilst there is good work being done by motivated social work professionals, there needs to be a strategy and vision for the service overall.

"We urge central and local government and the Scottish Prison Service to conclude this quickly."

Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker, said: "There are clearly failings in the current delivery of prison-based social work services and if we are to see the decrease in reoffending that we all want these failings must be addressed by the SNP government as a priority."

Community reintegration

A Scottish Prison Service spokesman said a strategy on the way ahead had been agreed with ministers, social work bosses and councils.

"The agreement sets out a clearly specified range and volume of core and local priorities for services in prison and it is hoped this strategic arrangement will be in place from April," said the spokesman.

The Scottish government has already brought in new laws to tackle reoffending, including a presumption against prison sentences of three months or less and tougher community sentences, under the Criminal Justice and Licensing Act.

A government spokesman said that, while long-term prisoners are subject to statutory social work support, those serving shorter sentences could ask for help on their release.

The spokesman added: "We accept the need for co-ordinated action to break the cycle of reoffending and we are tackling this through the multi-agency reducing reoffending programme.

"Part of that initiative is a community reintegration project that brings together groups such as the Scottish Prison Service, criminal justice social work and the third sector to help inmates bridge the gap between prison and the community."

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