Friday, 24 February 2017

RARs - A History Lesson

I was particularly struck by the following paragraph from the HMI thematic report into RARs:- 

"In Huddersfield the CRC had inherited a practice from the former Probation Trust where a unique arrangement with the local courts anticipated a similar arrangement to the RAR, where accredited programmes were ordered using a generic programme requirement and the Trust determined which programme would be delivered following a post-sentence assessment. There was now no clear plan or policy about whether accredited programmes were delivered under a RAR or accredited programme requirement. As a result, the CRC had been delivering accredited programmes using RARs, but their intention was to make sure as many as possible were delivered through accredited programme requirements in order to maximise income."

The mention of practice in Huddersfield jogged my memory and sent me rushing to the archives and to a document kindly sent to me by a reader some time ago. When the History of the Great TR Omnishambles comes to be written, lets never forget the part played by one Mark Siddall of West Yorkshire Probation Service who had a 'good idea'. 

No doubt in anticipated furtherance of his own career as anything else, and under the enthusiastic leadership of Sue Hall, he pushed what he thought was a brilliant wheeze and RARs were born, with the aspiration of WYPS earning a bob or two by franchising the idea out to other service's.

Here he is in rather self-congratulatory mode, spelling it out to staff and sentencers, and in the process, rather neatly laying one of the key foundation stones for probation's demise under TR. Of course, it was an absolute gift to the politicians who beat a path to Yorkshire, and the MoJ, who pounced on it immediately, and the rest is history, as they say:-  

All Change: an innovative approach to sentencing

1 January 2012 marks a significant date for criminal justice in West Yorkshire. It represents the start of an innovative approach to sentencing and the delivery of sentences that is unique to the area. Following agreement from senior Judges and with the Courts Service, the new approach will deliver reduced reoffending, more successful completions of court sentences, more same-day reports, fewer adjournments and fewer breaches. The benefits are compelling.

How will it work?  

Where courts are considering a Community Order as the most appropriate sentence (and where standalone unpaid work or curfew is not under consideration), sentencers will impose a Community Order with an Activity Requirement at one of three levels of intensity. The level of intensity will be set by the court, and will no doubt relate to the level of offence seriousness and punishment required.

This generic Activity Requirement replaces the current framework of 12 individual requirements that can be included as part of a Community Order. It is entirely aligned with research evidence that confirms that the closer the fit between the delivery of a sentence and an individual's specific circumstances, the better the outcome. Ingredients in the new Activity Requirement will include all the existing options West Yorkshire Probation currently delivers as accredited programmes and specified activities, plus new activities as they are developed in response to changing needs.

Post sentence, Probation staff will conduct a detailed assessment of offending-related factors and will determine the most effective means of addressing these, up to the maximum intensity level specified by the court, and will select the particular activities that most closely fit that individual's offending behaviour. In essence, it is no different from Probation Orders imposed for most of the last hundred years, where the court determined the length of the order and the Probation Officer decided how best to supervise the offender.

Referring to the table, where a court imposes an Activity Requirement of medium intensity, for example, the Probation practitioner will conduct a thorough individual assessment to determine how best to fill the 30 days of activity, according to the specific issues that need to be addressed by the particular offender.

The Activity Requirement, which will be imposed under section 201 (1) (a) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, ensures a flexible response to changes in circumstances. For example, where it becomes evident some days or weeks after sentence that a domestic abuse intervention is more appropriate than one to address anger management, Probation staff can make the necessary arrangements swiftly without the need to return to court. The new framework provides a much better vehicle to respond to the complex and fast-changing nature of some offenders' circumstances.

The main issue for a court that is considering imposing a community order will be to determine which of the three intensity levels is most appropriate, therefore the majority of reports can be provided on the same day and adjournments for reports will be substantially reduced. 

Courts will still be able to impose separate Drug Rehabilitation Requirements or Alcohol Treatment Requirements if they think that these are appropriate. There will also be separate arrangements for Intensive Community Order cases and reports for such cases will continue to be in the Standard Delivery Report format. 

We are working closely with the Courts Service to prepare briefing materials for sentencers. The new framework will be simpler than previous arrangements and will remove those factors that can distort the pre-sentence assessment process e.g. defendants concealing significant information pre-sentence, or, at the other extreme, defendants making unrealistic commitments that they are unable or unwilling to to meet once the sentence has been decided.

People respond differently to change, and these changes may evoke varied responses. But in today's climate, remaining exactly as we are is not a viable option. So, where West Yorkshire Probation can make improvements, we will. It is important to keep our eyes on our ultimate ambition: reduced reoffending, fewer victims, more completed sentences, more same-day reports, fewer adjournments and fewer breaches. In short, greater effectiveness and greater efficiency. 

Mark Siddall, Director of Operations    


I've written about this before and it was discussed at some length:- 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Post Sentence Assessment - Trojan Horse?

Yet again this blog throws up a fascinating discussion, this time on the West Yorkshire initiative called 'Post Sentence Assessment'. I first heard about this in 2012 and started to write about it, but it ended up languishing in a long-forgotten corner of the laptop, until today that is. This is what I was going to say about it back then:-

I was recently alerted to some discussion on the NAPO forum pages concerning an interesting sentencing initiative 'Post Sentence Assessment' up there in West Yorkshire. I'm told that the recent NAPO conference in York was treated to a workshop by their Director of Operations Mark Siddall who made a fleeting appearance at the tail end and thus was sadly unable to take a more active part in proceedings.

It seems that during a somewhat pedestrian powerpoint presentation he was nevertheless able to offer some fascinating insights into how he took on both the senior judges of Leeds and Bradford in a 'he who dares wins' encounter over dinner. Referring to 'eye watering' exchanges with the judges, he apparently quoted 'chapter and verse' when they suggested that what was being proposed might not be legal. If true, a particularly risky strategy at the best of times I would have thought. He reported that both the Ministry of Justice and NOMS had concerns also, but the scheme has been running since January and of course if it delivers as promised, shall we say it does nicely accord with government policy, whether it's strictly legal or not.

Well of course things have moved on considerably and clearly West Yorkshire felt they'd struck gold because I'm told they tried to sell their brilliant idea to other bemused Trusts, but with no success. By the way, even though Mark Siddall seems to be very happy taking all the credit for the wheeze, I'm also told that it wasn't his brainwave at all, but rather that of Sarah Jarvis who left for pastures new over the Pennines shortly afterwards.

Interestingly, another source tells me that when Jeremy Wright paid a visit to West Yorkshire he latched onto PSA straight away and could immediately see how it could be a key part of the TR omnishambles. So, well done West Yorks!

Anyway, I'm not going to say much more on a subject I know little about and will let the comment thread from yesterday take up the story:-

I'd just like to make a mention of what someone put as a comment on yesterday's blog. It is regarding West Yorkshire's Post Sentence Assessment. What I understand there is that instead of having a year's Supervision Requirement, say, they are proposing something like a 20 day Specified Activity Requirement and expecting offenders to attend 20 times within the 12 months of the Community Order.

The problem I have heard, loud and clear, is that most of these Orders are ended without the Days actually being completed. Indeed many Orders have very few 'Days' completed because people don't get on programmes or groups and aren't seen when they are on waiting lists, or just aren't suitable for working in groups, or don't turn up. An FOI request would be interesting to help clarify the evidence, but I hear that senior managers have as much as admitted this and blamed front line staff.

The problem for any privateers if working this way would be if they then tried to close the case on NDelius at the 12 month mark and took payment, they would be open to claims of fraud in the same way that Serco are now on tagging contracts. In fact, I think the way that PSA is structured makes this almost inevitable. If West Yorkshire's way becomes a cornerstone of TR through the creation of Rehabilitation Activity Requirements the future is perilous for private companies. Much better for them to have Supervision and Programme Requirements.

In my mind, any such contracted PSA system in private hands would lead to high levels of media scrutiny, reputational damage and possible criminal investigation. Let's face it, we can't currently end 200 hours of UPW when only 130 had been completed. To claim the 200 hours would be fraud, so the future of contracts looks very troubled indeed if government and companies go down this route.

But if WY aren't completing Orders, shouldn't we know how much or how many are being completed? This would give a baseline of what existing staff can provide and give contractors an idea of how much performance they would need to add to meet their contracts? Am I missing something here? Sounds like an FOI request to me.

You need to read up on the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement in the Offender Rehabilitation Bill. In effect this signals the end of court imposed specified activities, giving all the discretion to the CRC provider to determine the programme of supervision.

A successful completion will be getting to the end of the order, not completing the actual number of days which are simply set as a maximum. This does not affect unpaid work or treatment requirements. This is supposed to free up the new providers to do what works for rehabilitation.

The WY PSA model, was I think, an early attempt to shape CRC work. Community Orders for whatever period may have 15 activity days, 30, 50 or 60. Nothing in between. It is true that Supervision as a Requirement, is not actively sought in the majority of cases, generally reserved for Sexual Offenders and DV cases; who continue to get fairly long periods on a Community Order, coupled with interventions such as NSOG (60) or Building Better Relationships (50) both High Activity Requirements, or Safer Relationships (30).

The low/med risk cases complete their activity days, based on Post Sentence Assessment and may include; 8 x OB groupwork sessions (Action for Change) 2 x Victim Awareness Module, 6 x ETE sessions, 10 x sessions with a drug/alcohol support group/intervention, or Hate Crime Module, Drink Driving Group etc etc. I'm sure you get the idea. Once the sessions/activity days are complete you can terminate the case - it is done, as there is no supervision activity to continue for the full 12 months. SSSO, Curfews, AC's and UPW can stand alone.

There are however serious administration issues associated with the PSA which WY are trying to get sorted. The original idea was to reduce the number of 1-1 supervision orders, that is for sure. However, to monitor the system, you need to record, contacts etc under the right line in NDelius and this is easier said than done. You need a procedure, that everyone buys into and fully understands; and it assumes other partner organisations etc will give you information re: attendance etc.

A major problem of PSA, from my perspective is that there are not enough activities running in order to get clients through their court orders, quickly, whilst motivation remains high and if there is no supervision, you lose people. Long, very long waiting lists for Sex Offender Treatment, for instance means that more of what would be group work or interventions work, is having to be done by OM's and in my view being put onto 'pathways' to treatment, which are driven by numbers, as opposed to the appropriateness of the clients passage into treatment. For example, rather than do a core programme, OM's do the initial 4 sessions and the men, as they are men, are fast tracked into Better Lives, or Relapse Prevention, whatever you want to call it.

It is/was a brave attempt to focus attention, provide a wide variety of interventions and to retain the respect of the judiciary, but just because they have done away with National Standards in favour of professional judgement and desistence, the staff resources to run programmes, groups etc are just not there.

WYT are getting tough on staff, printing off charts to demonstrate failings in recording etc which may reflect badly on PSA, but in reality, the performance charts are artificial, as the monitoring system makes no allowances for things we cannot actually achieve, with the best will in the world and so all it does is demoralise staff.

Now if you fling all this into the mix of Crams to delius, new templates for everything, r-OASys, all of which are still throwing up all kinds of glitches, and TR on top....I am surprised WY staff have battled on, or maybe we are just ahead of the game, and things can hardly get any worse.

You put in a lot of detail in there, and I kind of followed it (some of it), and thanks for trying to explain it. But doesn't all the evidence suggest that it is one to one work and relationships that makes the difference? Not groups, activities and blunt interventions? That is my experience and I think it's the message of desistance research. Sounds like you are trying to get square pegs in round holes...that surely is a very expensive route to failure. Maybe a Freedom of Information request might prove or disprove that?.

Sounds reminiscent of a work fare type scenario whereby a schedule of tasks was presented to the claimant by the PbR agency to facilitate eligibility for benefits. The catch? It was never achievable. Not meeting the criteria led to sanction, whereas anyone claiming to have completed all the tasks was sanctioned (& in some cases referred for prosecution) for fraud. The financial benefit to the agency was its success in detecting fraudulent claims, a prized criteria worth more than being successful with the client.

The wiles of the cash hungry are beyond our wildest imaginations. And even holier-than-thou MPs like Blunkett take the shilling.

Maybe we pay a retainer to our most innovative clients in return for ideas as to how to maximise profit in the shark infested world of dodgy business?

I started the thread re WYPT and 'PSA'. I am guessing that anon at 20:57 is currently employed by the same Trust . .too much inside information to be an outsider. My aim was not to educate re 'Activity Requirements' . . you'll all get that soon enough! but more to highlight the extent to which senior management has colluded with MOJ in the whole process of TR.

Vast resources, both staff and finance, have been pumped into making sure PSA is up and running. Alongside this similar resources have been used to make a 'Mutual' bid for the CRC. 'PSA' had been in the planning for months before roll out and needed the authority from Judges in the WY area. Similarly specialist 'low risk' teams were created and PSO's were recruited on temporary contracts specifically to manage low risk service - users.

I sat in a briefing with Mark Siddall (ops director) as far back as Jan 2012 when he was actively promoting PSA/Activity Req's as the future . . .we would be experts in delivery....we should be careful as to whom we shared our knowledge . . .we would be needed to deliver the model to other areas . . .and yes . . .we would be able to sell our expertise.

I'm now getting to my point! How did he know all this so long ago? Given that this whole thing was his baby, recognition at Buck Palace etc; why, just when he could bathe in all its glory, does he decide to take early retirement? Why did Sue Hall accept a senior position with CRC only to pull out days later ?

Something doesn't add up. People know more than they are telling. Please will at least one CEO or the like, spill the beans. It will inevitably "come out in the wash" but timing could be crucial.

Just to finish . . .all this gratis TR preparation work in W.Yorks was done with the full knowledge of both NAPO and Unison. I was sat next to my Union rep in the very briefing I refer to above!

I read about WYPT with interest but can't help feeling you should be looking to Durham and Teesside Trust for the forerunner for the CRC model. All offenders complete the 10 session (but could take up to 16 with reviews) Citizenship Programme with the OM either PO or PSO grade dependent on ROH. They then pass onto a CSS officer (not Tier 4, MAPPA, CP or DV cases) who is a PSO grade and can hold 100 cases, there are examples of this. Supervision can then include using bulk reporting centres staffed by volunteers (yes truly).

I bet the MOJ have watched this model with interest. I hear practitioners were very concerned about the Citizenship Programme but it was imposed with a very tight fist by the exec team. No-one gets to know their offenders they are simply processed and then move on. When their Chief Exec also became Cumbria's Chief he tried to impose this model on them but as he was less influential there - not having appointed the exec team himself - it did not happen. This model has been running in Durham for three years so there is a lot of data on it available.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

RARs Not Working! - Shock

Continuing with the theme of Grayling's legacy, the latest thematic report from HM Chief Inspector of Probation on RARs is an absolute belter and well worth reading in full. We always knew it was mostly 'smoke and mirrors' when a 'day' could be 10 minutes and in the hands of the privateers, little sign of the 'rehabilitation' that was promised. The following gives a flavour of just what a shambles the whole thing has become:- 


In introducing rehabilitation activity requirements two years ago, the government wanted to ensure flexible and efficient sentencing aimed at reducing reoffending, and to encourage innovation. Rehabilitation activity requirements have now become a common feature of community sentence orders. They liberate probation services, enabling them to decide the best ways in which to rehabilitate each individual. There has been no review of the effectiveness of these orders so far. 

The problems that have beset other aspects of probation delivery of late were evident on this inspection, but here we have focused on matters particular to rehabilitation activity requirements. 

These orders can aid speedy justice, increasing the proportion of cases sentenced on the day. For sentencers to consider the full range of sentence options with confidence, however, they must be given sufficiently comprehensive information about the individual and all the sentence options available, and sound advice on what is most suitable and - where a rehabilitation activity requirement is recommended - the maximum number of days to specify. This is too often difficult or else impossible, in part because of other initiatives in the wider system (such as speedy justice, and Transforming Rehabilitation). We are reviewing probation reports to court in more detail in our thematic inspection of court work, now underway. 

Probation services must assess people thoroughly after sentence, plan activities most likely to reduce a person’s risk of reoffending and deliver them within the days available. If they do not do this well then sentencer confidence is undermined. We found significant shortcomings and a noticeable lack of impetus or direction in a good proportion of cases. In over one in ten, there had been no purposeful activity at all. We found early signs of a reduction in sentencer confidence.

There is an uncomfortable tension here, a symbiotic relationship between the making of the order and what is delivered, with the system leaving sentencers to assume services they are not fully confident about. We found a failure to enforce some orders when required, and sentencer confidence was affected by poor attendance in the cases that were returned to court. 

A good range of services should be available to cover diverse needs. We found a limited range of services actually available, and so decisions in cases were inevitably constrained, and often pragmatic. Financial constraints are holding back full implementation of some Community Rehabilitation Companies’ wider supply chains. That is understandable, but we found little to bridge the gap pending any change to be brought about by the government’s probation services review. 

I have commented before on the dated IT systems prevalent in probation services and do not wish to repeat myself unduly, but the problems are most exasperating here. Rehabilitation activity requirements are a new initiative and the systems struggle to support them in any reliable and consistent way. As a result, records are confused and usually inaccurate. 

These orders have great potential. Better IT, more certainty and stability for Community Rehabilitation Companies and more expansive supply chains will all help deliver that potential, but inherent tensions remain, as sentencers must be able to sentence with confidence – with sufficient information, and also sure that probation services will deliver competently in all relevant respects. Ultimately, unless probation services delivery improves materially, government’s policy aims will not be met.

Dame Glenys Stacey 
HM Chief Inspector of Probation

Introducing rehabilitation activity requirements 

When making a community or suspended sentence order, a court may include a rehabilitation activity requirement – that is, a requirement that the defendant participates in activity to reduce the prospect of reoffending. Rehabilitation activity requirements are commonly known as RARs. 

RARs were introduced in 2015. Formerly, court orders used to specify both the nature of an activity to be undertaken and the number of days, but now only the maximum number of days of activity need be specified. This allows for the precise activity to be determined following a more in-depth assessment after sentence and allocation to probation services, and amended subsequently if needs be. An activity day can be of any duration, from less than an hour up to one day, according to the length of the session. 

The considerations the court should take into account in deciding the maximum number of RAR days for any individual are not set out in legislation, but the enabling Act makes clear that the primary purpose of RARs is rehabilitation. The court should also take into account the nature of the offending, as RARs can have functions other than rehabilitation, and indeed the order can also include other punitive requirements (for example unpaid work). 

In legislating for RARs, the government aimed to ensure flexible and efficient use of sentencing so as to reduce reoffending, as it sought to encourage innovative work under new arrangements for delivering probation services, introduced at about the same time. 

RARs in practice 

RARs have taken centre stage in community sentencing for rehabilitation, and having superseded supervision and activity requirements, as intended, they are now the vehicle for most rehabilitative activity. Orders requiring specific programmes of intervention (known as accredited programmes, deemed to be effective in reducing the likelihood of reoffending) and also alcohol, drug and mental health treatments are much less common, as Table 1 shows.

Table 1: The Proportion of community and suspended sentence orders made in 2015/2016 with specific requirements included. 

Rehabilitation Activity 29% 
Accredited Programme 8% 
Alcohol/Drug/Mental Health Treatment 8%

RARs in context 

As RARs were introduced, established Probation Trusts were disbanded and new organisations – Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and a National Probation Service (NPS) – created to deliver probation services. The transition has been challenging, and performance so far is variable. In our routine inspections we are finding the quality of NPS work acceptable by and large (but there are notable exceptions and shortfalls) whereas CRCs are often struggling to deliver quality work consistently well. 

Generally, we are finding CRCs with high, variable or changing caseloads for some professional staff, and insufficient attention given so far to staff supervision and quality assurance. Other common shortcomings include inadequate assessment or subsequent management of the risk of harm to others, inadequate or inconsistent supervision of service users, and – of particular relevance here – insufficient purposeful intervention likely to reduce an individual’s likelihood of reoffending. 

The change to new arrangements has been very demanding, and to compound matters, workload shortfalls have led to financial constraints and uncertainties for CRCs and a reluctance to commit to the settled arrangements with other providers needed to support RAR and other delivery. Information is not collected on the distribution of RAR orders (as between CRCs and the NPS) but the CRCs carry the bulk of these cases. 

This is the context for our inspection of RARs.

Executive Summary

Sentencing of RARs – court liaison 

In most inspected cases the court received a pre-sentence report – as it should – before making a RAR. Only a small number were made without a report. The majority of reports were of sufficient quality to inform the court about the offending-related factors that need to be addressed. They did not, however, always include the information the court needed to decide whether a RAR was the best way to achieve this, or informed advice on the maximum number of RAR days to include, should the court decide to make a RAR. 

We found no simple correlation between seriousness of offending and the number of days ordered. Ideally the number of days should relate to the anticipated activity, but it was difficult for liaison staff to give the court an accurate estimate or guide. Court liaison staff were working without any rationale for the factors they should consider, and lacked clear guidance on how to decide the maximum number of days to propose. To compound matters, they were often unaware of the actual projects that could be used in a particular case, and so their time requirements. 

In practice, we found the maximum numbers of days being ordered slightly higher than that proposed, and in some cases both were considerably more than we considered were necessary. When the type of offending and the nature of the rehabilitative task were considered, in the majority of cases we inspected the number of RAR days was reasonable, and almost always sufficient to allow completion of the amount of work required. 

We found scope for the potential over-use of RARs in place of accredited programmes and treatment requirements. The increasing proportion of cases assessed and sentenced on the day coupled with workload pressures meant that staff did not always have time for the more detailed assessments necessary for some other requirements. As a result there may have been a tendency to propose RARs in preference. The reduction in availability of accredited programmes in some places was also likely to have led to an increase in RARs. 

Management of RARs – planning and delivery 

RARs require that detailed assessments will be undertaken after sentence and following allocation of the case to a CRC or the NPS. We found those assessments insufficient in too many cases. These are pivotal as they confirm the offending-related needs of the service user and determine a plan of activity and intervention to be delivered through the requirement. They are particularly necessary in those cases where only minimal information about the offender is received from the court liaison process. 

The nature of the service users’ offending and the reasons for it were mostly identified correctly, but decisions about the work to be done tended to be pragmatic and influenced more by the activities available rather than the factors most clearly linked to the offending, yet this was not the policy intention of government. Factors less related to offending were sometimes prioritised. On occasions no activity was planned to address the factors most directly related to the offending, and in the majority of cases insufficient progress had been made in addressing them. 

There was a need for greater attention to public protection issues in planning and delivery of RARs. Many of the cases we looked at had been sentenced for behaviour that was harmful, and often this received insufficient attention. 

Sentence plans completed in the relevant IT record (the Offender Assessment System) were often minimal and rarely included enough detail of offending-related factors, their relevant activity, and how many activity days would be used. This partly reflected the structure of the sentence planning function in the software, as it was not designed to provide the type of plan needed for delivering RARs. The best plans were those that were completed using stand-alone documents. 

When it came to delivery, there was a general lack of impetus and actual progress during the sentence, with arrangements and actual delivery much looser than anticipated by government as RARs were introduced. We found a lack of discipline in setting, reviewing and keeping to plans, insufficient access to required interventions, and poor management of the order. Taking into consideration the length of time since sentence in the cases we reviewed, more of the planned RAR activities should have been delivered, and more progress made towards the intended outcomes. In some cases, RAR activities were not likely to be delivered by the end of the sentence.

Provision of RARs – strategy and content 

RARs are being delivered in similar ways to previous supervision and activity requirements, in that we found more than half of the offending-related work delivered by responsible officers as part of their regular supervisory contact. Some of this was structured and purposeful and in places where this was the clearly anticipated model for delivery we found it was well organised. Elsewhere, few resources had been dedicated to developing group or one-to-one work packages to be delivered internally. This left the quality of work dependent on the skills and experience of the individual practitioner, with no library of individual work material readily available to draw upon. 

Some CRCs planned for most RAR services to be provided externally, but not all of these services were in place, and in any event these models still envisaged that some issues would be addressed on a more individual basis. Little attention had been given to interim alternatives, and staff were in need of a more supportive and systematic approach to delivering RARs. 

We found the range of external services overall narrower than we anticipated, in part due to partnership arrangements or contracts expiring before others were in place. Much of what was available was comparable to that in place in Probation Trusts. We did see examples of creative, well thought out and useful services, albeit they were driven by the external suppliers themselves, rather than CRCs. 

We found no specific quality control of activities used in RARs, or any current national activity to evaluate RAR effectiveness. 

Management of RARs – engagement, enforcement and recording 

Insufficient attention was paid to diversity factors and engagement with service users. 

Not enough RAR activity days had been delivered in the orders we looked at. An insufficient number of days were arranged, yet sentencer confidence can be undermined if the number of activity days attended is regularly and significantly lower than the maximum ordered. 

The response to missed appointments was wanting, with too much discretion exercised in relation to missed attendance and enforcement. This led to a lack of sufficient progress in delivering planned RAR activities and achieving intended outcomes, and had a negative impact on sentencer confidence about orders being properly enforced. 

Insufficient attention was given to effective offender management, in part due to changing staff caseloads and insufficient local guidance to responsible officers on how RARs should be delivered and recorded. The high level guidance issued by the National Offender Management Service and the National Probation Service was helpful, but the impact of this and any local guidance was often lost among other more important or immediate changes and pressures. 

We found much confusion about the management and recording of RARs, and this was diverting the time and effort of practitioners. The replacement of supervision and activity requirements with a single rehabilitation activity requirement embodying both functions has complicated the legal framework, at least insofar as it is understood by many service users and probation staff. The different categories of contact (RAR activity days and RAR appointments) do not map easily on to the realities of probation activity, and so do not lay the ground for more effective delivery of rehabilitative interventions. 

These problems are made worse by lack of functionality in the main case management system, nDelius. It predates RAR legislation and so is not designed to capture the new pattern of contacts. Modifications and improvements have been made but still more are required. Guidance has been issued, but it has not been effective in helping practitioners maintain accurate records.


5.7. Conclusions and implications 

The lack of sufficient progress in delivering the planned RAR activities and achievement of intended outcomes we found, along with insufficient levels of contact and too much discretion in relation to missed attendance and enforcement, was not caused by the availability or quality of RAR activities, but insufficient attention to effective offender management. This had the potential to undermine the confidence of sentencers. 

The lack of attention to offender management was caused in part by the disruption to staff roles and caseloads brought about by organisational change, and insufficient guidance to responsible officers on how RARs should be delivered and recorded. 

In particular there had been insufficient guidance for responsible officers as to how required case management activity that was not rehabilitative (such as the management of Child Protection risks or problems with attendance) should be carried out, albeit that the legislation provides the authority for a responsible officer to undertake such activity. 

There was confusion surrounding the management and recording of RARs, and this was clearly diverting the time and effort of some practitioners from more efficacious work.


Tune in to the next blog post on how we ended-up saddled with RARs.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

MoJ - Humiliation, Desperation and Rejection

Grayling's legacy just keeps on giving. Having got rid of all the most experienced prison officers to save money, we now have this confirmation that the cunning plan to entice them back into a Prison Reserve has spectacularly failed. I wonder why? 

Humiliation for government as just 10 ex-prison wardens join jail reserve scheme

A scheme to attract ex-prison officers back into jails has attracted just 10 people more than a year since it was set up, PoliticsHome can reveal.

The HMPS Reserve Scheme hoped to build a pool of 100 former officers employed on flexible contracts to help ease "operational pressures" in the system. Chris Grayling began recruiting for the scheme in 2014 when he was still Justice Secretary, but it failed to launch until November the following year. Ministers have now been forced to admit that it is a long way from meeting its goals.

Answering a written parliamentary question, Justice Minister Lord Keen said 

"As at 30 September 2016, the date of the most recent published figures, there were 10 prison officer reserves. They continue to be deployed on an on-going basis across the service in support of existing staff including after the riot in HMP Birmingham.”
Lib Dem peer Lord Beith, a former Justice Committee chair, branded the scheme “a failure and an embarrassment to Tory ministers”.

He said: 

"It is hardly surprising that retired officers have no wish to return to prisons with appalling levels of violence and severe staff shortages. A scheme which was planned to make hundreds of experienced officers available to help deal with the crisis has produced only 10 reserve officers. It is a hopeless failure. Justice Secretary Liz Truss needs to recognise that far more officers than the 2,500 she is talking about now need to be recruited and trained.”
Ms Truss made the pledge to recruit thousands of new prison officers in November - just a month before a string of major incidents hit English jails. Some 240 inmates were moved out of HMP Birmingham after what was dubbed the "worst prison riot since Strangeways". Another 60 prisoners took over a wing at HMP Swaleside on the Isle of Sheppey, while a jail in Hull was said to be “on the brink of a riot” in mid-December.

Meanwhile, the number of assaults in prisons in England and Wales reached a record high of 20,049 in the 12 months to September, up 5,995 on the year before. There were also 119 self-inflicted deaths in 2016, the highest number since records began in 1978.


In clear signs that the MoJ is desperate to do something, the decision was announced over the weekend to just throw money at the problem:-  

MoJ announce pay rise for prison officers at 31 jails

Thousands of prison officers are in line for a pay rise of between £3,000 and £5000 as ministers look to attract the “best talent” to work in England’s troubled jails.

Frontline staff at 31 jails in London and the South East will see their annual pay packets rise as part of a £12m package announced by Justice Secretary Liz Truss to boost falling prison officer numbers. The increase, which will be determined by how difficult it has been for each jail to recruit new personnel, means new starters could receive as much as £29,500 a year.

The Prison Officers Association welcomed the rise but said it was “papering over the cracks” following months of rising violence in prisons, dwindling staff levels and low morale. Prisons in London and the South East, including Wormwood Scrubs, Belmarsh and Pentonville, have been targeted as they find it harder to recruit new officers.

In November Ms Truss announced a fresh recruitment drive to employ an extra 2,500 prison officers by the end of 2018. This came on top of an extra 400 officers who will be in place by March. In a statement released last week the Ministry of Justice said it was “on track” to meet the target. Some 389 job offers have been made to new recruits. But it was revealed that the number of frontline staff fell by 347 to 17,888 in 2016.

Ms Truss said: "Prison officers do a challenging and demanding job day in and day out. I want front-line staff to know that their work, experience and loyal service is valued. We also want to attract the best new talent into the service, ensuring we recruit and retain the leaders of the future."

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA, claimed that “not a lot of thought” had gone into the announced pay increase, which he was informed of on Tuesday. "We welcome any new money," he said, "but we're a national service and this only applies to 31 prisons [out of more than 100 in England and Wales]. It doesn't apply to the operational support grades, so the lowest-paid people in the service are getting nothing. We pointed that out and there was a deathly silence."

He added: "The violence in prisons is out of control. The prisoners are in control, not the staff."


According to this in the Guardian though, it's not gone down too well with the POA:-

Prison officers' union dismisses pay rise as 'plaster over a wound'

A pay rise for prison officers unveiled by the justice secretary will not help a system that is in “meltdown” and is like “placing a plaster over a gaping wound”, according to the prison officers’ union.

Liz Truss announced that thousands of prison staff would receive a pay rise in a drive to increase staffing levels, as the government attempts to address the jail safety crisis. Frontline staff in London and the south-east will earn up to £5,000 more under a £12m package.

But the Prison Officers Association dismissed the initiative. “The latest attempt at placing a plaster over a gaping wound has been announced,” it said. “This decision will not solve the recruitment and retention issue, nor bring about operational stability in a prison system that is in meltdown.” In a statement it said it welcomed any additional pay for staff, but added: “The latest policy decision direct from the secretary of state sees another divisive decision on pay, which will enrage many who are left unaffected by this latest announcement.”

Speaking on the BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Truss acknowledged that there was a “very difficult situation in our prisons” but declined to describe it as a crisis.

“I don’t believe the people who say that things can’t get better or that we need to suddenly release half of all the people in prisons to deal with it. We do have a plan, we are recruiting more officers, and for the first time ever – and this is what we are going to be doing in the prisons and courts bill this week – we are going to be saying that the purpose of prisons is, of course, about punishing people but it also has to be about reforming them.”

The cash injection comes as ministers attempt to improve recruitment and retention of staff amid surging levels of violence and record levels of self-harm and suicide in prisons in England and Wales.

Union leaders have repeatedly warned of low morale across the service, while figures released earlier this week showed a further fall in officer numbers last year. The pay increases will vary depending on how acute the recruitment difficulties are at the jail in question.

Staff at 31 establishments including Pentonville, Wormwood Scrubs and Belmarsh in London will see their annual pay increase by £3,000-£5,000. New recruits will also receive higher starting salaries of up to £29,500 – a rise of £5,000 on the current level.

Announcing the extra cash, Truss said prison officers did “a challenging and demanding job day in and day out. I want frontline staff to know that their work, experience and loyal service is valued. We also want to attract the best new talent into the service, ensuring we recruit and retain the leaders of the future.”

The move comes weeks after the minister announced a national recruitment drive to add 2,500 officers as part of her wide-ranging agenda. Dwindling staffing levels have been highlighted as assaults, self-harm and suicides all soared to record levels, and there has been a spate of major disturbances in jails.

On Thursday official figures revealed the number of personnel in key operational roles in public sector prisons in England and Wales fell by more than 300 to 17,888 last year. The leaving rate – the percentage of staff with a permanent contract of employment who left for reasons other than voluntary early departure schemes and redundancy – has almost doubled since 2012-13.

As well as the announcement on pay, the Ministry of Justice said thousands of new learning and development opportunities would be made available to staff nationwide. They will also be given specialist training in mental health and self-harm prevention.


Meanwhile, in other prison news, the good people of Braintree could shortly be in for a bonanza:-

A new 'mega prison' could be built on Wethersfield MOD site in Braintree and Tendring

A freedom of information request has revealed Braintree could be home to a new “mega” prison. Information supplied in response to the request, submitted by Open University lecturer Dr David Scott on behalf of two campaign groups, was made public on Monday.

The data provides a list of 20 local authorities which submitted plans to the MOJ about suitable land for building a prison capable of holding 2,000 inmates last year, including Braintree Council and Tendring Council. Braintree Council has confirmed it put forward the Wethersfield MOD site.

As part of a public response, Dr Scott said: “It is significant the 20 local authorities are concentrated in certain regions. If we read between the lines we can perhaps assume the next three proposed mega prisons will be located in regions that correspond with the highest prison crowding rates.”

Wethersfield is one of 12 MOD sites to be disposed of as part of the department’s plan to reduce the size of its estate by 30 per cent and has previously been considered for housing.

Graham Butland, leader of Braintree Council, said: “My personal view was that it might be a reasonable place for a prison. It’s fairly remote and it’s a brownfield site. It would create 1,000 jobs, not including construction, and the new Wrexham prison is putting in about £20 million a year into the economy, but we never heard back from the MOD or the MOJ.”

Alan Bowers, vice chairman of Wethersfield Parish Council, said: “It will be hard to tell what people will think about it. I think it’s more about the capacity, I would have thought there would be less people coming in and out than if the site was used for housing. People that work there might be interested in buying houses and there would be some employment in that, but not a vast amount.”

The Prison Service stressed that no decisions have been made on new prisons. A spokesman said: “We are investing £1.3bn to modernise the estate. This will include closing older prisons that are not for purpose and creating in their place high-quality, modern establishments.”

A spokesman for Braintree Council said: “More than a year ago the Ministry of Justice contacted us while in the process of identifying suitable sites for new prisons asking us if we had any sites which met a certain criteria. We highlighted that the Wethersfield MOD site possibly met their criteria. There has been no further communication or involvement.”

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Boxes Ticked Says Simon Hughes!

The response to yesterday's post must be very disappointing to all the agencies still intent on pretending that TR is still 'bedding in' and that things are steadily improving. It must be very annoying to the MoJ that this blog consistently tells a different story. It all reminds me of the ancient proverb:-  
'There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See'
But what of the political architects of the omnishambles? Don't they ever reflect on the effects of their policies? We all know about Chris Grayling, but what about Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes? How can politicians get things so wrong? They must go through life completely oblivious to what's going on around them. 

Thanks go to Sally Lewis on twitter for recently highlighting a simply nauseating interview he gave to the Institute for Government in September 2015:- 

SH: Let’s think of the best example of unexpected events or crises. There were predictable difficulties always, as there always are in any department, such as if you have a bill which you know is going to go to the Lords and be in trouble in the Lords and so on. So the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill was one such bill. And particularly all the issues to do with judicial review where the Lords were going to defeat the Government and so on. So there was predictable uncertainty and a lot of negotiation to be done. And that required extra meetings and meetings with Oliver Letwin as the policy manager of the Government and the leader of our party in the Lords and the Leader of the House of Lords and so on. So the most intense and complicated cross-government issues were obviously to do with legislation, as is normally the case.

The most difficult issues which weren’t crises but where you suddenly discovered they were taking a lot of time and it was fairly intense was where we were negotiating over policy where there was significant disagreement between the two coalition parties, such as knife crime and the proposal for ‘two strikes and you’re out’ stuff which the Tories were very keen on. Another example was charging people who’d come through the criminal justice system for the cost of the Courts Service which was a new Conservative initiative, and making sure the formula for that was worked out as fairly as possible. So those were fairly intense conversations including on our side David Laws and then Oliver on the other side [both then Cabinet Office ministers].

Unexpected developments: because we met regularly and had a good relationship and communication was very good, I think most things we saw coming, we were always prepared for. So there weren’t great dramas and crises in that sense. Sometimes an illness of a colleague would require a bit of reorganisation of responsibilities; Shailesh [Vara, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State] was ill for a little while and ill suddenly. And so there was the normal consequence of people having to pick up this work.

The most difficult battles to fight, again they weren’t crises, but the most difficult battles to fight were obviously delivering Transforming Rehabilitation through the department, which obviously had much opposition from the Probation Service or many of them. And that really required a lot of work by the Civil Service and it was the biggest project we had in the department when I was there. And that had lots of obstacles on the way.

Legal Aid negotiations with the risk of barristers being on strike and solicitors being on strike: not my direct responsibility, but that was obviously difficult. And then there were individual difficult things like the new youth offenders’ centre in the East Midlands, which in the end didn’t get completely signed off by the election, because the Treasury sort of blocked it and which has been dropped since the election.

Interestingly I don’t think that internally in the department there were too many dramas and crises or changes of timetable. I think we managed ourselves well. We covered each other well. We could be fairly adept at doing that, including obviously covering for colleagues at Question Time and so on.

The bigger issues were often cross-government, cross-department things where as our person in the MoJ there needed to be a shared line between me and my colleague in the Home Office, whoever it was at the time, and things like immigration law changes and asylum, which related to MoJ business because it related to detention centres and so on.

So I’m afraid I can’t give you graphic and exciting examples of 1am crisis phone calls -which is good really. It actually meant I think in terms of organisation, it was a well-organised department and if people, as in any good workplace, needed to work late they would. Very, very rarely was there need for many people to come in at the weekends to sort things.

NH: On a slightly more positive note, what do you think was your greatest achievement? What is the thing you’re most proud of?

SH: Collectively, the biggest policy that I inherited and we delivered together was Transforming Rehabilitation. [It] was the biggest policy we collectively delivered in the department – which was to make sure every single offender when they come out of prison would have support, no matter how short their sentence, and which had never been done before.

NH: What was it you think that contributed to that success? What were the factors involved?

SH: Phenomenally good work by the Civil Service. I mean very high-quality work by the Civil Service – real commitment, real skill, real ability. There were technical issues, there were IT issues, there were personnel issues, [and] there were strategic policy issues of dealing with the external opposition. But it was very, very high-quality Civil Service support and commitment to the project. And when we had our thank you party, I was very impressed when I talked to lots of people who had been involved and I was amazed to discover how many said this is the most worthwhile bit of work they had ever done in their professional life. I mean it really engaged people because they saw the benefit of the policy if it could be delivered. They knew it had a deadline for delivery and so on. And it was delivered in time. So that was the biggest thing.

JG: And just on your role on that.

SH: Yeah.

JG: Specifically, what demands were placed on you?

SH: I mean it wasn’t my lead because probation reform had started before and it was led by the Secretary of State who took a personal interest and another Tory colleague. However, everything all the way, because it was so controversial and so on, required lots of agreed planning of the strategy, the strategy of how we dealt with the unions, [and the] strategy of exactly how it would be implemented and when. There was an issue to do with an apparent conflict of interest of the wife of the Head of the Probation Service who worked for one of the people who got the contracts. And there was all the secrecy around the contracts.

I was involved in the discussion of the process, the delivery in the sense of giving advice, making sure that I was comfortable all the time and able at all times to make suggestions. So I was very much part of the political team delivering it. I had to sell it to my party colleagues because some of my colleagues were quite uncomfortable about it. More of my colleagues were uncomfortable about it than Tory colleagues. So we had quite a big delivery exercise. So that was probably my biggest specific role – colleagues in the Commons, colleagues in the Lords, making sure they were briefed, up to date, informed, given the information to deal with constituents and lobbying and so on. So that was the biggest project.

I had three things that were more specifically mine, which I was very pleased about. I was able to complete the work to make sure we implemented one united family court, which had never been the case before. Family business used to be spread over three different types of court: magistrates’ court, county court, high court and all are [now] brought together in one new court. For the first time the family services were coordinated across the country and all sort of things flowed from that. And it was obviously happening at the same time as Legal Aid had been reduced so there were other issues. It meant putting in more support for litigants in person and mediation to take people away from disputes. So that was a big bit of work. And I think we did well. I think the family courts are working really well. And I think we’ve managed to alleviate some of the pressures that were caused by budgetary reduction.

The second was a little ring-fenced thing but really important – delivering legislation to change the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. It was the first time it had been done since the ’70s, meaning that you don’t now have to declare your relatively minor misdeeds committed when you were young for nearly as often or for as long time as used to be the case. And that hugely helps lots of people’s lives. So that was a very positive piece of legislation.

And the last was really delivering across the women’s prison estate what we called the objective of making every women’s prison a resettlement prison, so that there were the proper facilities there to prepare their release into the community. So it meant lots of new building outside the prison walls where women could meet with their families and have children and partners visit and prepare for work and do apprenticeships and training and so on. And that is in place now, physically in place, in lots of prisons, which it wasn’t when I started. And is in place in delivery terms and the rest.

So those were the three biggest things, not the most important things but the biggest things. And it was very good that when you were able to deliver things like that. People were clearly encouraged by them and positive: the prison governors were positive and the prison staff were positive and offenders were positive and even people from the Howard League who are not always government’s best fans were positive and parliamentary colleagues were positive across the House. Most people ended up saying yes that’s really worth doing. And you felt yes, good, tick the box.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The Hokey Cokey Internet

Last week saw publication of HMI Probation's latest report and this is how Russell Webster summarised the findings regarding the CRC:-
Manchester probation struggling to implement new model

Overall, inspectors found the quality of the Cheshire and Greater Manchester’s CRC’s work was mixed. The CRC (owned by Purple Futures) is applying the same innovative way of working in each of the five CRCs it owns, based on solid research into what makes people turn away from crime. Despite this, leaders were finding it hard to embed in practice. Public protection work was not good enough because policies and procedures, though commendable, were not being applied consistently enough by frontline staff to protect actual or potential victims from the risk of harm.

Sickness absence rates were high in the CRC and individual caseloads had been large in the months before the inspection. This led to cases moving from one Responsible Officer to another, making it difficult to keep hold of the meaningful relationships so central to good rehabilitative work and reducing reoffending. Extra staff had recently been recruited, which should improve the quality of work and staff morale.

The CRC was delivering impressive services for women, supported by additional funding from the Police and Crime Commissioner.

In common with other regions, the NPS had experienced less change and was more settled. Staff morale was relatively high and good core work to protect the public was carried out, though there was more to do on delivering rehabilitation work consistently.

Inspectors made recommendations which included the NPS accessing the range of accredited and non-accredited programmes and services on offer from the CRC to reduce reoffending, and the CRC providing all staff, and especially new staff, with regular supervision and training. The CRC should also improve the effectiveness of the management of unpaid work.

The main inspectors’ findings of the work of the CRC were:

  • The CRC had not made a sufficient contribution to protecting those at risk of harm. Public protection policies and procedures were robust but they were not being applied consistently, and so the impact of the work to protect actual and potential victims was limited.
  • The CRC was not sufficiently effective in delivering interventions to reduce reoffending. Progress in the delivery of interventions to support desistance had been made in too few of the cases. The quality of the work and its impact was not consistent. Assessments had largely been carried out well but planning for work to support desistance was weaker.
  • The CRC was generally effective in supporting service users to abide by their sentence. The frequency, quality, enforcement and the number of appointments offered was generally good and consequently, service users usually complied.


I currently work within CGM (owned by Interserve Justice/Purple Futures!). I was somewhat surprised at some of the content of the recent HMIP inspectorate report - it was rather weighted towards the views/opinions of senior management (oh quelle suprise I hear you shout) - apparently allocations between NPS and CRC is going well (couldn't be further from the truth) not sure if this is due to the PSC's (Professional Service Centres) who deal with allocations and enforcement - the powers that be told us that these centre's would free front line staff up to work more effectively with offenders. 

What happens here is that staff spend more time chasing up enforcement requests - breaches unable to be completed due to the poor quality of letters or letter not even being issued - UPW contacts not being updated with staff not having any idea if someone has actually attended (at the start of the new year they had a massive backlog of hours to be inputted). 10 day initial OASys are supposed to be inputted by the PSC's however staff end up chasing these up which results in staff being left with very little time to complete (like 10 days isn't bad enough).

We have IM's (formally SPO's) who have no formal Probation officer training/qualification (no longer required to be a manager) - they are now more like business performance managers who have to look after health and safety, estates management and imprest (that was always going to work NOT) they have no idea what they're doing so it's little wonder they're struggling to embed the interchange model!

Managers are constantly banging on about meeting targets and service delivery targets otherwise we'll loose money (back to being our fault again). We are constantly battling with the hokey cokey internet (one minute your in the next your out - may also have something to do with staff being in charge of setting up IT systems that have absolutely no experience or skills in doing so).

We have so many new staff that through no fault of their own been dropped from a great height into roles with no case management (some of these staff have been displaced from their previous roles when the initial changes took place - admin and UPW). There is a feeling of total despair from most staff, the environment is that of a dangerous one and yes we are not protecting the public but this is not down to damn hard work from front line staff, but that we are constantly hindered by rubbish systems and procedures. I could go on forever and as you can guess I missed the memo requesting I collect my rose tinted glasses.


And that's just the start of it. I too was disappointed at the report it certainly does not reflect the reality. Staff morale non existent, high case loads and sickness, staff leaving at some frightening rates. Those that are left behind can't cope and CGM are struggling to recruit especially PO's, no one wants to work for them. And this situation does not seem to be getting better, they have no answers to the mess and are flapping about like fish out of water. CGM needs to be handed back to the gov before anything serious happens either to the public or the staff.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Pounds Not People

An eerie silence seems to have descended. We appear to be treading water again and the blog may slip gently into a period of suspended animation, pending news of the next crisis of course. So, while we mark time, here's something I saw on Facebook recently to tide us over:- 

The latest from Noms!! We have to get evidence of housing quals and employment - we have to request this twice but no one is sure what happens when the majority of offenders don't provide this - then this has to be done for start and end of order release from prison, end licence end PSS. Any significant event such as change of job, and separate forms for each concurrent order - and it's related to CRCs being paid!! We were all gobsmacked!!

It's crap isn't it? We have endless emails about it in NPS about missing data. I've got too much to do so it's not at the top of my priority list.

Yep. We've been asked to do this for months.

It's total unnecessary bollox!!

The status is captured through a personal circumstance at the offender level so you shouldn't have to do a different form for concurrent orders?

Double/triple counting? Per Order rather than per person!

Yes per order!!

They are completely bonkers

We've been told we have to!! Also even if the licence period is a few days we still have to do a new one at start of PSS!!


We have been told we have to record the data even if it the same as what is already recorded, so at termination if the info is the same we still have to close down the line and then re-open with the same data! Absolutely crazy.

It's just too bureaucratic

We have been doing this for some time in the CRC, the q's are built into our new Induction Pack and the Service Users seem accept it when presented this way at the induction.

Ever get the feeling you've been conned? Quote John Lydon (Sex Pistols)
Certainly not the service I joined back in 1999

It's been in our induction pack for ages but this is a new version with new rules!

Its all about £'s not people.....

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Responses to That Speech

Here's Frances Crook writing on the Huffington Post:-

While Major Sentencing Reform Is A Political Step Too Far There Are Safe Ways To Reduce Prison Numbers

Liz Truss’s bark is worse than her bite. The trouble is that it is the bark that gets the attention and influences what happens.

The Secretary of State for Justice made a speech on Monday about her plans for prison reform that was widely trailed in the Sunday papers. The media salivated at her apparent toughness; but the speech was both more nuanced and more sensible.

Prison sentences have been subject to inflation due to political pressure throughout the Labour years and continued under the Coalition and this government. Liz Truss is right to point to the increase in men serving sentences, often long sentences, for sex crimes. Longer prison sentences have led to double the number of people, almost all men, in prison in the past twenty years. Labour built more prisons but that expansion of the estate encouraged even more people to be sent into the system. The lesson is that ‘talking up’ prison and talking tough leads to increases in the number of people sent to prison.

I don’t need to reiterate the dire state of prisons yet again. Everyone knows they are awash with violence, drugs, assaults and the result is more crime inside prisons and when people are released.

A speech by a secretary of state faced with such appalling challenges should point the way to greater safety, purpose and public confidence. I welcome the commitment to recruit more staff. I have visited two prisons in the last week where recruitment is being based on values as well as competency, which is an exciting development. I welcome the work being done with the Department of Health on improving mental health gatekeeping so that people can be diverted to appropriate services.

But, the elephant in the room is the one thing that she has refused to do and the one thing that will make a difference. It is the one thing that was used to hit the Sunday headlines. She has to reduce the number of prisoners. Prisons will not be safe and purposeful if they are grossly overcrowded. It will not work.

I recognise that major sentencing reform is probably a political step too far. Even Michael Gove balked at that. But there are, under the radar, changes that can ease the pressure and lead to a controlled and safe reduction in prison numbers.

The Howard League is urging smoother release on parole, end the merry-go-round of recalls to prison for administrative reasons, and, put a stop to adding extra days of imprisonment for breaking prison rules. None of this would solve the deep-seated problems, but it would give a breathing space and consequently save lives.

I hope that Liz Truss is true to her word and makes prisons safer and purposeful. I will keep pressing for prisons to work for the few who need to be there, but this can only be achieved when they are reserved for the few, not the many.

Frances Crook


Here's Rob Allen and an Unlocking Potential blog post:-   

The Speech Liz Truss Should Have Given......

I am glad to be at the Centre for Social Justice because our prison system is anything but socially just. The use of prison inevitably produces enormous financial, social and ethical costs. In what everyone can now agree were reckless efforts to rein in the first of these costs, the second and third have risen to unacceptable levels. As a former management accountant I am determined to do something about that.

In terms of the numbers of prisoners, it is shameful that we have the highest prison population rate in Western Europe and almost twice the rate of the Netherlands and Germany. And while prison numbers have at least not risen since 2010, they should really have fallen. The numbers sentenced by the courts for indictable and either way offences has fallen from 370,000 to 280,000 in the last six years. It’ s true that there has been a marked increase in convictions for sex offences and the public rightly expect the most serious cases to receive a proper level of punishment. But how, in a period of austerity, with prisons in crisis, are we to justify the fact that more than 27% of theft and burglary offences were punished with imprisonment last year compared to 22% in 2010? Or that the average sentence lengths for these crimes rose from 8.8 to 9.2 months? There’s a similar pattern to drug offences and fraud.

I would like to see prison reserved for the most serious offenders and sentence lengths brought into line with Western European norms. I am instructing the Sentencing Council to revise its guidelines to give effect to that. We should aim to reduce our prison population by ensuring that the upper limits of the revised sentencing guidelines are not exceeded by the courts and by encouraging alternative problem solving approaches and restorative justice wherever that is justified. In many cases this might involve a more lenient approach than some might like but we desperately need a more varied and effective approach to the complexity of crime so that victims, offenders and the public get better results.

In drawing up guidelines, the Council must look at the cost and effectiveness of sentences. I have to say on those criteria, I am not convinced that all of the people that currently go to prison need to be there, or be there so long. Of the 77,000 people sentenced to prison for the more serious offences last year, 28,000 were sentenced for theft and burglary. More than 30,000 of the 77,000 were sentenced to 6 months or less. I’m pleased that the number of short sentences has been falling but it has a long way to go. After my review of Probation reports next month, I will be looking at ways that the service can contribute to diverting many more of these short term offenders from jail. I am also interested in exploring how elements of a prison sentence can be converted into a community based sanction. If prisoners agree to undertake a period of unpaid work in the community for example they could be released earlier from custody than they otherwise might have been.

This will help with overcrowding which I now realise is the key problem that needs to be solved before we can regain control of our prisons and start to make them the rehabilitative institutions we have been promising. To provide immediate respite, there will be a presumption that all sentences of up to 2 years will be suspended. I am also taking executive action to release IPP prisoners who have now served longer than the maximum current sentence for their offence and for all post tariff cases, I will be taking to steps to ensure that prisoners only continue to be detained if there is evidence they remain a danger to the public.

I hope that these measures might give the prison system the breather it needs. I might be accused of a quick fix but I believe I am taking the necessary urgent action to address what is an emergency while laying the groundwork for a sustainable future. To inform longer term plans I have established a Justice Reinvestment Task Force which will report by the summer on how to establish direct financial incentives for local agencies to spend money in ways which would reduce prison numbers. I am not convinced that the costs of imprisonment should continue to be borne at national level. At the end of the day, prison is only a small part of the answer to crime.

Rob Allen