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Social Care in prison

Monday, August 7th 2017 - Ryan Harman

Provisions for people in prison under The Care Act 2014 came into force in England in 2015. It made clear what duties prisons and local authorities have for people with social care needs in custody. It means that local councils have a responsibility to assess possible social care needs of people in prison and approved premise in their area. They should also ‘provide information and advice to aid well-being, and services such as aids to daily living that will prevent, reduce or delay increased care needs developing’.

From April 6th 2016 the Social Services and Well-being Act 2014 in Wales also came into force. Like the Care Act in England, it means that local authorities have a responsibility to prevent the escalation of care and support needs and to provide assessments and care and support services for adults in prisons and approved premises in their area.

PSI 03/2016 Adult Social Care gives more details on responsibilities of prisons under the legislation. If prison staff believe that someone who has arrived in prison may have social care needs they should contact the local council and let them know so that an assessment can be arranged. They should also let the council know if someone develops a possible social care need whilst they are in custody. This referral will trigger the council’s responsibility to assess you and see if there is support you should get.

Sadly, we still hear from people for whom this has not happened. In some cases, this suggests a need for training to help prison staff identify more hidden forms of disability. In other cases, however, people have reported having very clear disabilities which have still been overlooked.

The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) produced a series of reports in 2015 and 2016 which looked at how the Care Act had been implemented. The final report found that 8 prisons had generated 50 or more assessments by the of end March 2016 compared to 43 prisons that had only generated 5 or less -  including some who had made no referrals at all. Clearly there is inconsistency in the way the Care Act is being implemented and a need for improvement.

Despite this, we do see good practice in this area. On a recent visit to HMP Exeter, we met with a social worker and an occupational therapist from Devon County Council who are based in the prison five days per week, as well as regularly visiting HMP Channings Wood and HMP Dartmoor. Having social care staff based on site means they have a good understanding of the challenges faced in prison and the professional relationships to increase effective identification and response to social care needs.

In Exeter, part of the support available is the Buddy Support Worker scheme provided by RECOOP. Buddy Support Workers are currently serving prisoners who are trained to actively support people who have social care needs. We met with a couple of the Buddy Support Workers as well as the people they were supporting and they were all enthusiastic about the value of the scheme and the difference it could make to those involved.

Support may also mean making reasonable adjustments to accommodation. Whilst small changes to accommodation, for example fitting handrails for people with mobility issues, can make a huge difference to peoples’ lives in prison, our advice and information service often hear from people having to wait for significant lengths of time for changes to be made by maintenance staff. If you are in this situation it may be worth making a complaint to the prison to make sure that the relevant people are aware of the delay and the impact it is having on you.

If you think you have a social care need and have not been assessed you should speak to staff in the prison and ask them to refer you. You can also make a referral yourself. The process may be different depending upon the prison and the local authority. There should be clear information available at the prison about how to do this – if you are not sure ask a member of staff or write to the local authority.

RECOOP also produce some helpful Easy Read guides to the Care Act, copies of which can be downloaded from the Members' section of this website.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 3.30-5.30. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin. Please note, the above article focusses on prisons in England and Wales and may not apply elsewhere.


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