Throughcare support scheme suspended by prison service
The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has suspended a scheme offering inmates extra support when leaving jail.
Earlier this month the Throughcare service was suspended and the prison officers on secondment to the scheme were sent back to their former roles.
The growing prison population and its increasingly complex needs means Throughcare officers are now required in prisons again.
The scheme will relaunch when it makes "operational sense", the SPS said.
BBC Scotland has learned the service stopped taking new referrals from 5 July, but those who were already taking part of the initiative would continue to be supported for the remainder of the 10-week period.
The suspension will take full effect from 13 September.
The scheme - which was rolled out across most Scottish prisons in 2015 - paired prisoners up with a Throughcare support officer (TSO) who helped them make arrangements for housing, medical provision and benefits. The TSOs would then continue to give guidance to those released from custody.
Forty-one TSOs and three Throughcare managers will return to working within prisons over the summer.
About 25% of short-term prisoners had engaged with the Throughcare service. Others were served by partner agencies.
A spokeswoman from the SPS said the prison service currently faced "significant challenges".
"The increasing prisoner population together with the increasingly complex needs of those in our care means that our capacity and capability is stretched", she said.
"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.
"The SPS's priority is, and always will be, to ensure the safety and decency of those in our care and the health and wellbeing of our staff."
She added that the arrangement was temporary, and would be under regular review.
"It is our intention to relaunch the service when it makes operational sense to do so," she added.
Alternative arrangements with partner agencies are being made to support prisoners to be reintegrated when they leave.
The Wise Group run a mentoring service similar to Throughcare, and the charity are currently supporting about 700 offenders, most of them in the west of Scotland.
Fewer than 10% of those they work with go on to reoffend within a year.
Malcolm is currently using their service. He was released from prison for the second time two weeks ago, and is currently sofa surfing and hoping to return to work.
He told BBC Scotland News: "If you get out with nothing to get out to, a lot of people just fall between the cracks without having somebody to... [give] them a bit of encouragement"
"It's very easy to start re-offending when you get out and you've got no one to turn to and no one to give you a bit of guidance.
"If you cant get out and help yourself find a job it's easy to go back to doing what you were doing before and that's what initially put you in prison."
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said it was a decision for the prison service, but urged: "We cannot continue with an increasing prison population.
"It puts real strain on our prison service. I understand the reason why SPS has taken those Throughcare support officers and put them back on to frontline duties - because we have a prison population that is the highest in western Europe.
"That is not an acceptable position. It's disappointing that this decision has had to be made but I completely understand why SPS would have to make that decision. It's not an easy environment to be working in."
He added that the safety of prisons was "paramount".
Urgent policy change needed
Tom Halpin, chief executive of Sacro, said the suspension was "really disappointing".
He continued: "This is a really important service that works alongside third sector partners... to deliver mentoring services to people leaving prison.
"These are really vulnerable people... the success of these services have been very well evaluated and the positives outcomes are fully understood.
"I do hope it is a suspension and that one day it will be reinvigorated because we need to look at support for people leaving prison - this is the crux of stopping people going into prison in the first place."
A spokeswoman for the Howard League Scotland said the decision to suspend Throughcare highlighted that the prison service "is being forced to concentrate on internal day to day operational issues at the expense of managing the effective transition of prisoners back into their local communities".
She added that the current incarceration rates were "unsustainable", and that they "signal an urgent need for significant policy change".