PRISON warders should chaperone former inmates into the outside world, taking them to housing meetings and job interviews, the outgoing prisons inspector has said.
Brigadier Hugh Monro believes better “through-care”, as it is known, is key to reducing reoffending.
He points to offenders being picked up outside the gates by “a mate in a Subaru with a boot full of Buckfast” as the weak link in the rehabilitation chain.
Brigadier Monro said: “There is no way of measuring how well liberated offenders do in the community, except through reoffending figures.
“You could argue that we need to see prison officers delivering prisoners back into society, during their initial interviews with welfare, job centres and health services.
“That means the prison service going into the community with the product of the prison.”
Brig Monro admitted it would be difficult and costly to provide such a scheme for every prisoner, with thousands being released each year.
But a pilot programme could initially focus on younger offenders and those deemed most likely to need support.
Brig Monro believes giving prison officers a more public role would also lead to increased respect for the service they provide. “Prisons are holding the most dangerous and challenging people in the country,” he said. “This needs real professional care and attention and, by and large, the prison service tries to do this in a good way.
“We should be as proud of our prison service as we are of our police force and soldiers.”
Prison officers chaperoning inmates after release is supported by both the Prison Officers Association (POA) and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS), which is piloting a project in Greenock.
An SPS spokeswoman said: “It is widely recognised that offenders frequently find it difficult to successfully return to their communities and avoid reoffending when released from prison.
“The Scottish Prison Service is exploring ways to additionally support prisoners after their liberation, for the benefit of both offenders and the communities which they return to.
“HMP Greenock has recently embarked on a pilot project which has seen the employment of two through-care support officers, whose purpose is to support former prisoners in the community after liberation.”
She added: “The goal of the initiative is to sustain the unique relationship that evolves between a prison officer and prisoner whilst the individual is in custody and to attempt to build on this in the community to ensure the individual has in place arrangements to access appropriate services such as housing, benefits and addiction support.”
Phil Fairlie, Scottish chairman of the POA, said: “This is something we have pushed for in the last two to three years. We’ve spoken to previous prison service chief executives and [justice secretary] Kenny MacAskill, saying we would like to see the role of the prison officer expanded. It’s quite obvious the skills and experience that prison officers have got could be usefully expanded, and they could take that step with them back into the community.”
The Scottish Government said it was also keen on better through-care. A spokeswoman said: “It is vitally important that we continue to support offenders beyond the prison gates.”