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Evaluation of the SPS Throughcare Support Service



The full document can be viewed here.

Since April 2015, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has been providing a dedicated throughcare support service, with 42 Throughcare Support Officers (TSOs) in 11 prisons.

Throughcare involves taking a coordinated approach to the provision of support to people who serve short-term prison sentences (less than four years), from their imprisonment, throughout their sentence, and during their transition back to the community and initial settling-in period.

Reid-Howie Associates carried out an evaluation of the SPS throughcare support service between January and March 2017.

Background and Context

The Scottish Government’s Justice Strategy sets out priorities for all agencies working with those who commit offences. Four of these are particularly relevant to the work of the SPS:

  • Reducing crime, particularly violence and serious organised crime.
  • Reducing the harmful impacts of alcohol and drugs.
  • Preventing criminal behaviour by young people.
  • Reducing reoffending.

The Justice Strategy makes explicit the need to ensure that people released from short sentences are well-prepared for liberation, and provided with effective support following release.

In 2015, the Scottish Government published a review of evidence on “what works” to reduce reoffending and suggested a number of priorities for work to support desistance. These were:

  • Reduced or stabilised substance misuse.
  • The ability to access and sustain suitable accommodation.
  • Finding suitable employment.
  • Improvements in the attitudes or behaviour which lead to offending; greater acceptance of responsibility in managing their own behaviour; and understanding the impact of their offending on victims and their own families.
  • Maintained or improved relationships with families, peers and the community.
  • The ability to access and sustain community support.

The development of throughcare support in the SPS.

Over the last 15 years, the SPS has developed and extended the scope and complexity of its throughcare support activities. In the early 2000s, it began to introduce Link Centres, to deliver information and advice to men and women in the last six weeks of a sentence. Link Centres were progressively opened to external organisations, allowing specialist services to deliver advice on issues such as housing, health, benefits, employment and other matters.

The SPS throughcare support service

The SPS has been providing a specific throughcare support service since April 2015, taking a coordinated approach to supporting those who serve short-term sentences through the use of Throughcare Support Officers (TSOs).

A TSO’s role is to engage with service users prior to their release, and to continue to support them through release and in the early stages of re-integration, to help them make a successful transition to the community, and lead positive lives. This is done by: identifying their assets and making an individualised plan; advocating and enabling participants to engage with a range of key services and individuals; and encouraging change and desistance.

Participants in this evaluation identified three key objectives for the SPS throughcare support service. These were to:

  • Enable smooth transition to the community (to provide a “bridge” between prison and the community, to enable service users to settle into community life; and to help them take the first steps”).
  • Enable access to the range of support required by service users (to provide practical and emotional support; identify other relevant services; and assist individuals to engage with them)
  • Promote desistance and enable people to make changes to their lives and behaviour (to: reduce re-offending; prevent future crises; and show people pro-social alternatives)

Key Findings of the Evaluation

  • Increased awareness and shared understanding of throughcare (among Personal Officers; other services; TSOs; and service users).
  • Better engagement by service users with a range of support.
  • Progress on tackling a range of individual issues affecting service users at a strategic and operational level (e.g. benefits and finance; housing; substance misuse; physical and mental health; education and employability).
  • Improvements to self-efficacy and desistance. The evaluation also found clear evidence of a positive wider impact on prisons and on the SPS as a whole, as well as on other services (including promoting best practice and innovation).

The overall structure, processes and activities of the service were found to be appropriate, with the support provided being both relevant and very beneficial to service users.

Against the positive background, a small number of concerns and areas for development were identified, which were, in summary:

  • Some variation in local implementation of the model (e.g. in the means of identification of service users; coverage of the service; and TSOs’ approach).
  • Some gaps in provision of the service (e.g. geographical areas) and resources available to TSOs (e.g. access to: mobile phones in prison; laptops / tablets; and cars).
  • Gaps in the information recorded about the TSOs’ work, and difficulties in measuring unmet need and demand for the service.
  • Some remaining lack of awareness of, or resistance to throughcare among some SPS and other staff, and a lack of clarity of roles.
  • Constraints relating to aspects of broader policy and practice, in the SPS and other services (e.g. housing, health and benefits).

Suggestions – on the basis of these findings, the report suggests that the SPS should consider:

  • Suggestion 1: Continuing to provide and develop a throughcare support service to address the needs of people who serve short sentences.
  • Suggestion 2: Promoting a consistent approach to the implementation of the throughcare support service model across the Estate.
  • Suggestion 3: Continuing to develop the management of the service, to ensure clear arrangements for staff support, supervision and training.
  • Suggestion 4: Developing data collection and recording further, to ensure that there can be a full overview of: service provision; system and service areas for improvement; and unmet need and demand for support.
  • Suggestion 5: Identifying and clarifying the SPS role in throughcare support provision, and the boundaries of the SPS throughcare support service, taking account of the roles and boundaries of other relevant service providers.
  • Suggestion 6: Continuing the current activities and encouraging and considering suggestions for new developments.
  • Suggestion 7: Developing a clear, SPS-wide plan for raising awareness of desistance and throughcare, and promoting the throughcare support service.
  • Suggestion 8: Reviewing current resources and addressing any anomalies and gaps in provision.
  • Suggestion 9: Identifying and addressing aspects of wider policy and practice which can limit the effectiveness of throughcare support provision.


Those who participated in the evaluation provided suggestions for the way forward. They are participants’ detailed suggestions, and should be considered as one strand of the overall findings of the evaluation.

Overall Direction

Suggestions included to:

  • Continue to provide the service. (Participants of all types.)
  • Expand the service and increase the number of people in custody accessing support. (Participants of all types.)
  • View the service as “invest to save”. (TSOs.)