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From prison to work

A new frontier for Individual Placement and Support

Authors: Graham Durcan, Jonathan Allan and Ian S. Hamilton

72,000 people were released from prison in the UK last year, and roughly 90% will have some form of mental health or substance abuse need. Everyone leaving prison, and especially someone with additional needs, requires support to re-integrate into wider society.

A key aspect of integration is employment; yet only 6% of people leaving prison receive support to find competitive work. This project sought to address these gaps in provision by trialling an Individual Placement and Support (IPS) supported employment programme over three years with people leaving prison. Funded by J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, The Henry Smith Charity, and Garfield Weston Foundation, the project worked with prison leavers from eight West Midland prisons.

Key findings

In total, the project supported 21 people into competitive employment (I.E. 39% of those meeting the project inclusion criteria¹). It also provided a range of ad hoc support with securing accommodation, seeking mental health support and applying for benefits. Whilst this success rate is lower than that of IPS in its trials within secondary mental health services, it still signifies a dramatic increase in employment success when compared to people who received no support.

We also found that there was a scarcity of support services for people leaving prison. This is despite the significant and complex needs in this population, the challenges faced in re-integrating into community after prison, and the high likelihood of reoffending without timely support. For many of those we worked with, this programme was the only support they received on leaving prison.

This project unwittingly launched just as the largest reform of probation services in Britain began. The upheaval caused had a significant impact on the project’s progress, and it is yet unclear whether the changes have had a positive impact on reducing reoffending.

Implementation and challenges

To evaluate the effectiveness of IPS among prison leavers, we worked with people with mental health problems leaving eight prisons across the West Midlands. Through a range of referrers such as Offender Management Units, charities and Work Programme providers, 128 people were referred to the project, 54 of whom actively engaged. These participants received support from an Employment Specialist trained in Individual Placement and Support, who focused on understanding their goals for employment, finding them a paid role and then providing support to help them maintain the role.