Prison support program helps reduce re-offending rates, UNSW research finds

16 Mar 2017

A program that provides community-based support to former detainees after they leave prison has helped decrease the likelihood of them re-offending while improving their capacity to live independently, research from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) has found.

Researchers from UNSW’s Social Policy Research Centre (SPRC) found that while the ACT’s Extended Throughcare Pilot Program is voluntary, there has been almost universal uptake by offenders on release.

The SPRC was commissioned by ACT Corrective Services to evaluate the program, which provides community-based support to ex-detainees at the end of their custodial sentence at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC), the ACT’s only adult correctional facility.

Among the main findings:

  • Most interview participants felt that the program had helped decrease their likelihood of re-offending. The data supports this, indicating return to custody for those in the program was reduced by 23% compared with the three years before it was introduced.
  • Many clients received support from the program to secure housing after their release or to maintain existing housing. Research shows the importance of appropriate and stable housing for detainees on release.
  • Several clients said the support had increased their capacity to live independently, usually as a result of assistance with small day-to-day matters. Some said their overall quality of life or ability to achieve goals had increased as a result of the support.
  • Staff from the program and associated organisations said that providing support during the crucial immediate post-release period, the program length, encouraging clients to engage with services, and helping clients access stable accommodation were the areas where the program had the greatest impact.

Overall, it was found that the program had been very effective in terms of positive outcomes for participants, and that the funding costs were substantially offset by estimated cost savings.

This evaluation provides strong evidence of the financial and social benefits of a client needs-focused, case managed, integrated and long-term approach to supporting people after they are released from prison.

UNSW Professor of Criminology Eileen Baldry, who was part of the evaluation team, said: “Despite every Australian state and territory having a throughcare policy, there has been little independent evaluation of throughcare initiatives to date.

“This evaluation provides strong evidence of the financial and social benefits of a client needs-focused, case managed, integrated and long-term approach to supporting people after they are released from prison.”

The Extended Throughcare Pilot Program was launched in June 2013 and was the first of its kind in Australia to provide community-based support for former detainees for up to 12 months after release, linking them to coordinated support services in areas including housing, employment, transport, health services, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

ACT Minister for Corrections Shane Rattenbury said the ThroughCare program provided crucial support to detainees to successfully reintegrate into the community, break cycles of previous behaviours, build greater confidence and reconnect with family.

"Today’s report suggests that the return to custody for some detainees has reduced by up to as much as 23%, and those returning to custody are remaining in the community crime free for longer periods on average. Other detainees reported that counselling also helped to reduce the likelihood that they would re-offend," he said.  

He added: “We know these clients face multiple disadvantages, mental health issues, substance abuse issues, low levels of literacy and numeracy, sporadic employment history as well as high level of homelessness. Today’s report finds Extended Throughcare is helping to overcome these disadvantages, and that clients are reporting improved quality of life, greater independence and improved connections with family and friends.”

The evaluation of the program, conducted in partnership with Époque Consulting, involved face-to-face interviews with people who had used the program, their families, service providers and ACT Corrective Services staff. The researchers also analysed administrative data to determine the program’s impact on recidivism, and whether it had been cost effective.

The full report is available here (PDF)