Guided Release: A graduated pathway enabling safe and successful reintegration for long-serving prisoners
Acting Principal Adviser, Department of Corrections
Anita joined the Department of Corrections in 2005 as a probation officer. Since then she has undertaken the roles of senior probation officer and practice leader. Her current substantive role is senior practice adviser in the team of the director case management.
The successful reintegration of prisoners into the community is an essential step in reducing re-offending and therefore requires planning and consideration throughout a prisoner’s time in custody. Department of Corrections case managers are responsible for initiating release planning, and work with the prisoner, community service providers, community probation and, most importantly, the prisoner’s family, to achieve a successful release.
The Guided Release initiative has been developed by Corrections in response to an identified gap in the current reintegration process. Currently, reintegration services available to long-serving prisoners offer support options that are generally available only after they have been released. There are limited options for prisoners to start making the transition from prison to the community in gradual steps and be able to take part in reintegration activities prior to release, especially when they do not have an appropriate community sponsor.
The Guided Release initiative provides case management teams in all departmental prisons with case managers dedicated to the initiative, who form an integral part of the release planning process for long-serving prisoners. Guided Release case managers are experienced staff, and work closely with prisoners to identify, plan and carry out meaningful reintegration activities in preparation for the prisoners’ return to the community.
This paper explains the concept and design behind Guided Release, and the expected benefits of the initiative.
Where is the real need?
Long-serving prisoners often have complex needs due to the length of time they have been removed from the wider community. Long-term imprisonment impacts on everyday life, including basic living skills, understanding of new technology, and the ability to gain and sustain employment and/or accommodation.
Lack of support in the community and from family/whänau can also be a barrier. The longer a person is imprisoned, the harder it can be to maintain prosocial and supportive relationships. While Corrections attempts to locate prisoners near their families, prisoners still may be located in regions away from their family, which can impact on the level of support family and community members can provide. The stresses of trying to maintain regular contact can add further strain to already fragile relationships and frequently leads to their breakdown and loss of regular contact. Lynch and Sabol (2001) acknowledge the difficulty offenders can come up against in maintaining positive attachments during long periods of imprisonment and recognise how they often turn to antisocial peers for support upon release.
Temporary release is the release of a prisoner from the custody of the Department while the prisoner is still serving a prison sentence. It is primarily used to support and enable a prisoner’s reintegration into the community. However, under the current temporary release process, prisoners can only be considered if they have an external sponsor who meets all the criteria. This means that a large population of long-serving prisoners, who are without appropriate community support, can be disadvantaged when it comes to opportunities in addressing reintegrative needs prior to their final release. It impacts on their ability to produce a realistic and supportive release plan as well as impacting the potential to be considered for an earlier release on parole.
As Dickson and Polascheck (2015) found, prisoners with better quality plans for life after release face fewer barriers (unstable accommodation, unemployment, limited prosocial support) and are less likely to re-offend. Therefore, by offering more long-serving prisoners the opportunity to complete meaningful reintegration activities, and start to build more specific, confirmed and prosocial release plans, Guided Release aims to increase the number of positive experiences prisoners will have on parole and upon their return to the community.
Guided Release process
Guided Release is underpinned by the temporary release legislation. Eligible prisoners are long servers, who have an identified reintegrative need and meet the criteria for temporary release specified in Regulation 26* of the Corrections Regulations 2005. These prisoners are:
- minimum security prisoners who are serving a sentence of more than 24 months and have reached their parole eligibility date; or were sentenced to imprisonment prior to 1 July 2002 for a serious violent offence and are within 12 months of their sentence end date,
- low and low-medium security prisoners who have a release date set by the New Zealand Parole Board.
Case managers dedicated to Guided Release identify eligible prisoners and work with them to highlight reintegrative needs that would benefit from further support and could be addressed by a Guided Release activity in the community. While the actual activity is only able to take place after the prisoner has reached their parole eligibility date (PED), planning can take place before this. In fact, it is recommended that case managers start the Guided Release planning process in conjunction with the Parole Assessment Report, providing evidence to the New Zealand Parole Board that the prisoner is taking the appropriate steps in their release planning.
Every Guided Release application goes through an approval process headed by the prison director who receives advice from a multi-disciplinary advisory panel. The panels were established across all prison sites in February 2015 and consider any application that involves releases and employment options outside the prison. The panels are made up of internal staff including community probation, psychological services, case management, industries, and intelligence, and external representatives including the Ministry of Social Development, and New Zealand Police. The prison director is also supported by a Temporary Release Decision Making framework. This framework, and the advice from the panel, ensures that prison directors’ decisions are consistent and have public safety as a priority.
The ability for case managers to undertake the role of a sponsor on Guided Release activities gives case managers insight into how prisoners will respond to different community situations. It also enables case managers to identify any outstanding areas that require further support prior to the prisoner’s final release.
While the majority of oversight provided on Guided Release activities is from the Department’s case managers, Guided Release does not dismiss the role of the family and community members to act as sponsors. In fact, the initiative hopes to bring family into the release planning process at an earlier stage so they are aware of the prisoner’s needs, risks and future sentence requirements. It is expected community support will increase as family members will be briefed and supported by Corrections staff throughout the Guided Release process.
Reintegration activities will vary depending on the individual prisoner’s need and suitability, but activities must be meaningful and linked to a reintegration need. Activities should also be reasonably short in duration and it is essential that the prisoner cannot achieve the same result from an activity inside the prison.
Dickson and Polascheck (2015) note that offenders cannot fully concentrate on living a more prosocial life until their basic needs in the community are met. Guided Release aims to provide long-serving prisoners with increased opportunities to address their basic reintegrative needs prior to release, prepare intensive release plans and overall better equip them for their final release.
Guided Release also allows the Department to communicate to the New Zealand Parole Board a more realistic assessment of the prisoner’s release plan and their ability to cope with community life. With these steps in place, it is envisaged that more long-serving prisoners will be considered suitable for an earlier release on parole and will have access to better community support. This will contribute to the government’s commitment to public safety and reduced re-offending by increasing the opportunities for long-serving prisoners to successfully and safely reintegrate into the community.
* Regulation 26 relates to the class of prisoner who may be temporarily released under the Corrections Act 2004.
Lynch, J.P, & Sabol, W.J (2001). Prisoner re-entry in perspective. Crime Policy Report, Urban Institute, Justice Policy Centre
Dickson, S.R., & Polaschek D.L.L., (2015). The role of release planning in the reintegration experiences of high-risk offenders. Practice, The New Zealand Corrections Journal, Vol 3, Issue 1, April 2015.