Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Woof Woof!



Justice Secretary Liz Truss suggests barking dogs could stop drones flying drugs into prisons

Justice Secretary Liz Truss left MPs baffled after claiming that barking dogs could be used to stop drones flying drugs into prisons.The gaffe-prone Cabinet minister raised eyebrows with her unlikely solution to the growing problem of the small radio controlled aircraft delivering banned items to prisoners.

One Labour MP, during justice questions in the Commons, shouted out: "It's the minister who is barking.” And Ms Truss’s deputy, prisons minister Sam Gyimah, could be seen smirking on the Government bench behind his boss. 

(Pic nicked from Twitter - Rest from Independent.)

--oo00oo--
This from the Guardian:-

Liz Truss calls for rapid completion of probation privatisation review

The justice secretary, Liz Truss, has ordered the rapid completion of an official review into the failing performance of the government’s privatisation of the probation service.

Truss told MPs that the review into the privatised probation companies’ performance introduced by her predecessor Chris Grayling would be completed by April and would include a major overhaul as well as measures to improve the service.

The announcement comes after highly critical reports by the chief inspector of probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, that found companies were struggling to deliver the supervision of 250,000 offenders a year.

Tory MP Bob Neill, who chairs the justice select committee, has said probation service “risks heading for a car crash” and the 21 community rehabilitation companies have reported they are making a loss on almost all their seven-year contracts worth £3.7bn.

Truss told the House of Commons on Tuesday: “Our probation officers do a vital job in turning offenders’ lives around. The prisons and probation minister is conducting a comprehensive review of the probation system focused on improving the quality of our probation services.

“As with our plans for prisons we want a simpler, clearer system with specific outcome measures such as getting offenders off drugs, improving educational standards and getting offenders into apprenticeships and work.

“We also want to see closer working with the prison service. We will set out our more detailed plans after our review is completed in April.”

A joint review by the chief inspectors of probation and prisons into the performance of the part-privatisation of the probation service in June identified multiple failings in “through the gate” services, including the release from prison of one in three offenders without anywhere to live and no one in a sample of 86 offenders being given help in training, education or employment.

The probation service was split in 2014 into 21 community rehabilitation companies, supervising medium- to low-risk offenders, and a public National Probation Service (NPS), supervising high-risk offenders.

The “transforming rehabilitation” revolution, as it was dubbed, was introduced by Grayling when he was justice secretary. It included a pledge to provide supervision for the first first time for 50,000 short-term prisoners on their release without any significant extra funding.

Stacey said last month that while the caseloads for the NPS were climbing, the companies’ caseloads were much lower than anticipated and they were supervising between 6% and 36% fewer offenders with a consequential loss of income. Many companies were considering whether they could continue to afford their current staffing levels. Very little innovative work was going on.

The justice secretary also confirmed she was considering a new specific offence of prison corruption after the disclosure of Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures that showed a sharp increase in the number of staff working for prison contractors excluded for alleged smuggling.

The figures, released after a freedom of information request this year, showed the number of prison officers convicted, cautioned or dismissed for corruption over the last five years had remained relatively stable at 40 to 50 a year.

But at the same time the number of other staff, mainly contractors, excluded from jail in connection with corruption allegations, such as smuggling drugs or other contraband, had risen from 40 in 2010 to 110 in 2015.

A joint Metropolitan police and prison service investigation in 2006 suggested as many as 1,000 prison officers at that time were involved in corruption that ranged from accepting cash bribes to drug smuggling. At the same time, a corruption investigation into Pentonville prison in London led to the suspension of 14 staff.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “The vast majority of our prison staff are hard-working and honest, but we remain vigilant to the threat posed by corruption. We take swift action against the small minority who involve themselves in corruption, and those who put fellow members of prison staff in harm’s way will face the full force of the law.

“We have set out a range of measures in the recent prison safety and reform white paper to bolster our response to tackling this issue. These include closer working with the police, investing £3m in a new intelligence unit and developing a new corruption strategy in the new year. We are also considering options for the creation of a prison-specific offence of corruption.”

Need For Welsh Solutions

Former probation officer and Leader of Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood makes the case for running things differently in Wales. This from the Huffington Post:-

Prison Suicides: Emerging Crisis Shows Need For Welsh Solutions

While we are buying presents and planning family Christmas holidays, for most of us, our minds couldn’t be further away from those who are suffering or who find themselves in troubled situations. That includes all of those people who will be spending these holidays behind bars.

What happens in our prisons impacts on us all. People in prison, no matter what crime they have committed, are human beings. The vast majority of today’s prisoners will at some point be released and will return to our communities. It is in everyone’s interests that they are able to integrate back into society after release so that they don’t get stuck in a revolving door of re-offending. But that is only relevant to those who survive their sentences.

Thanks to the Howard League for Penal Reform, a hidden crisis is now being brought to light in our prisons. A record high level of suicide should shock us all. It should force politicians into action. The Welsh prison system is bundled up with England as part of a single criminal justice system.

For ‘England and Wales’, prison suicides are at an all-time high in 2016, with 102 prisoners taking their own lives during the year so far. The Wales-only figure is also shockingly high. There were 6 suicides in Wales during 2016, compared to 2 last year. There have been 3 suicides at Parc prison, 1 at Cardiff, and 2 at Swansea.

The work of the Howard League, Inquest and other organisations paints a picture of overwhelmed staff in a climate of continued cutbacks from the Westminster government. I’ve personally been contacted by prisoners and prison officers who describe a prison system that is in crisis.

The crisis is affecting both women and men prisoners. And with a large new super-prison set to open near Wrexham, this is a critical issue for us here Wales, that can no longer be ignored. HMP Berwyn will be a £200m+ Category C facility serving the north of Wales and parts of north-west England.

There has been a long-running campaign to secure a prison for the north of Wales to service people from the surrounding communities. I’ve supported that as a solution to the current situation whereby people are imprisoned too far away from their families and little consideration is given to those whose first language is Welsh. What is coming to Wrexham is not that solution. I am not convinced that a prison of that size will be able to meet the needs of the surrounding communities in the way we need it to. This new prison raises the need for greater examination and scrutiny of what goes on prisons and of wider criminal justice policy in Wales.

Prisons in Wales are run from the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison Office in London. That is not the case in Scotland. The Conservative party at both UK and Wales level has worked to ensure that criminal justice is kept out of the hands of Welsh democracy. However, many of the costs associated with this new prison will be devolved. Healthcare, housing support, education and other public services will be provided to the new prison by the Welsh Government through our devolved NHS, housing associations and local authorities. 

None of this is set to change with the Wales bill currently going through the UK parliament and so it will inevitably have to be looked at again. In the light of these latest suicide figures, Plaid Cymru contends that that debate should start immediately. Our “at-risk prisoners” can ill afford to wait for the difference that could be made from having Welsh prisons under Wales’s control.

I used to work as a Probation Officer. Drawing on my experience in that role, I authored a paper back in 2007 entitled “Make Our Communities Safer”. For me, creating safer communities should be one of the chief aims of criminal justice policy. It shouldn’t just be about punishment. It should also be about making sure our citizens are less likely to be the victims of crime. There could and should be much more focus on the prevention of offending and re-offending. What happens in the courts, in prisons or in youth justice system, affects what happens on our streets.

In last May’s Welsh elections, Plaid Cymru contested the Police and Crime Commissioner seats for the first time, winning two out of the four available positions in Wales.

Police and Crime Commissioners don’t control operational matters, but can raise important issues. Arfon Jones, North Wales PCC has opened up a debate about dealing with the harm caused to communities from open outdoor class A drug use and discarded needles through the provision of “safe rooms”. Both he and our PCC for Dyfed Powys, Dafydd Llewelyn support the devolution of criminal justice, tackling domestic abuse and other hate crimes like racism, and they want to have a clear aim to reduce re-offending.

Plaid Cymru elected Police Commissioners provide a glimpse of what kind of forward-thinking policies we would see in Wales if we had more of a say over our own criminal justice policy.

Paul Silk, chair of the Silk Commission into the Welsh constitution said he wanted to see “a Welsh government empowered...to diverge from the rather vindictive criminal justice policies that have seen prisoner numbers increase in England and Wales from under 40,000 in 1985 to almost 90,000 at the latest count”. Plaid Cymru agrees. We are convinced we could do a better job of taking decisions over Welsh criminal justice matters than Westminster can.

My vision for this country includes a prison system where people are not pushed to kill themselves, where fewer people become victims of crime, and where all people with mental health problems get the treatment they need. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for, do you?

Leanne Wood

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Minister Ignored Warnings

It's probably time we returned to the vexed issue of prisons and an interesting contribution that appeared in the Guardian a week or two back concerning the riot at HMP Bedford and the role of Independent Monitoring Boards. This from the former chair of the National Association:-

We warned that the prisoners could riot. But the minister didn’t listen

I serve on the independent monitoring board at Bedford jail where prisoners rioted this month. For the past eight years I have visited the prison about once a week. Every prison in England and Wales has an IMB of ordinary citizens, appointed by the justice secretary in much the same way as are magistrates. Their voluntary job is to monitor whether prisons do what they say on the tin – provide a safe and secure environment within which to help prisoners lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after they are released. Members visit their prison unaccompanied and unannounced, and have unfettered access to it.

In August, the IMB was so concerned for the safety of prisoners and staff that it took the unprecedented step of writing to the prisons minister, Sam Gyimah, asking for his urgent help.

HMP Bedford is a small, busy jail that holds about 500 prisoners, both remanded from the courts in neighbouring towns and others whose sentence plans are still being worked out prior to their dispersal elsewhere. It is located in the town centre, with excellent communications for staff and prisoners’ families, a location that allows, in principle, for extensive partnerships and engagements with local communities. But the antiquated buildings and facilities are desperately in need of renovation to make them fit-for-purpose (typically two grown men living, sleeping, eating and relieving themselves in cells built ungenerously in 1850 for one man, now with an unscreened WC and basin in place of two tin buckets).

The IMB’s last two annual reports – to the end of June 2015 and June 2016 – warned that the jail was in need of infrastructural investment, overcrowded by as much as 50%, and perilously under-staffed.

Within prisons drugs, violence and merciless bullying are endemic. The mix is toxic and threatening, a damaging punishment over and above the deprivation of liberty, autonomy and contact with your roots. Surely no judge intended such suffering when passing sentence?

Some lessons were learned a decade before I started visiting prisons: individuals need to be treated with decency, both because they are individual human beings and because rehabilitative efforts were shown to be futile in the absence of respect. Prisons can furthermore only be run economically by consent – an implicit pact between prisoners and staff, which depends upon the prisoners perceiving the prison management’s use of authority as having legitimacy. Decency thus has a crucial central place, in lock-step with rehabilitation, in securing cost-effectiveness.

The decency agenda has raised standards, but it requires continual attention which it has been often impossible to sustain in recent years as ”‘austerity” has swept through the prison estate. A series of savings-driven restructuring programmes have lowered salaries, changed terms of employment, drastically reduced staffing levels and deskilled officers. Capital and maintenance budgets have been slashed. Governors’ autonomy has been progressively eroded, not least by a long series of expensive and quite possibly ill-judged outsourcing contracts. The impacts have been devastating, and form the backdrop to the riots at HMP Bedford.

For prisons to deliver rehabilitation, on top of secure containment, there needs to be: a decent, structured, calm and uncrowded environment; sufficient numbers of committed staff who have the skill to go way beyond the (already very difficult) running of a safe jail, by working individually with every prisoner; ample opportunities for prisoners to use their time constructively (remedial and more ambitious education, training, work); and consistently superlative leadership and dedication to purpose throughout the system. By August this year, the cost-cutting programmes of the last few years had bitten hard into HMP Bedford. Many experienced staff members had left the service for better-respected and remunerated employment, necessitating the deployment of inexperienced officers. Recruitment and retention difficulties, (uncompetitive salaries set against the difficulty of the job) and long-term sickness were so serious that it was no longer possible to deliver the full range of required out-of-cell activities (opportunites to socialise with other prisoners, shower, make telephone calls, exercise, education, work etc) safely.

Opportunities for prisoners to be involved in any constructive employment were already drastically reduced and were fast vanishing. Instead, prisoners locked in their cells – often for up to 23 hours a day. These unplanned and unannounced “bang-ups” unsettled the prisoners as well as reinforcing their boredom. Staff shortages and rotations had become so severe that officers had insufficient time even to get to know the prisoners in their charge, let alone attend to their needs. The use of drugs had spiralled, and with that trade, the bullying of the weak and vulnerable. The incidence of self-harm and of violent assaults, both prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff, was rising alarmingly.

There was increasing rumour of prisoner unrest. The IMB was hearing accounts from officers that they were becoming afraid to work on the prison’s largest wing. The IMB letter to the minister warned that staff shortages were “beyond crisis point” and of the “alarming rise in prisoners attempting to hang themselves”. In the 10 weeks between the posting of the letter and the minister’s response, two prisoners were found hanged.

Gyimah’s reply, dated 27 October, however, was written very much in the register adopted for the minister’s acknowledgement of the IMB’s annual report. It gave airy explanations of how the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) agency, the National Offender Management Service (Noms), and the senior prison officers were coping with the IMB’s concerns, while conveying nothing more urgent in intention than a pat on the head. In effect, he was saying: “This is a prison! If you can’t stand the heat, keep out of the kitchen. Sorry to hear that it has made you anxious.” Less than two weeks later, on Sunday 6 November, the prison erupted in a widely reported riot involving more than 200 men from two wings. The incident of “concerted indiscipline” stopped short of catastrophe because: the officers on duty read the seriousness of the situation in time to withdraw, by degrees, and deprive the rioters both of hostages and keys; because of the sang-froid of the governor, as she took charge of the incident in the “command suite”; and because the prisoners were intent more on making a protest than on blood. This last may be a surprise to many, but I believe it to have been the case. Two residential wings and the central office and observation area were comprehensively trashed, nonetheless.

Surveying the devastation a couple of days later, an IMB colleague and I were approached by two experienced officers, who were plainly deeply affected by the riot. They wanted us to see the graffiti – versions of “If you treat us like animals, we will eventually behave like animals”, which implied that, at that moment, the prisoners and officers saw the prison in the same light. These officers were acutely aware that the extreme working environment they had experienced for months was paralleled by the stress they had imposed on the desperate prisoners. Behind their emotion lay the cataclysmic loss of trust. When this collapses, then all that you have worked to achieve seems to have failed. The officers were devastated.

The prisoners involved in the riot have been sent, in small batches, to prisons across the country. When they return, as many surely will (they are essentially local men) after the wings have been refurbished and the staffing problems have been resolved, I expect to hear similar deeply felt stories of betrayed trust from them, because there is never only one side to a story.

The inner turmoil experienced by the staff members on duty at the time of the riot has been debilitating. They had to take the awful decision to withdraw, abandoning the prison and vulnerable prisoners. The senior management team are racked with guilt that things came to this pass under their command.

Many rioters will only have participated for fear of violent reprisals if they abstained, creating fear at the time and complicated long-term consequences for them in the future. Even the instigators merit understanding – of their circumstances, if not of their actions. They may have been more hot-headed than others, but the prisoners had collectively been driven to desperation by the poverty and randomness of the regime. Nonetheless, prisoners and staff connived, in a sense, to bring the insurrection under control before any mortal damage was done. It is interesting that they left the library untouched.

It would be easy to attribute blame for the riot to the local actors, but that would represent a profound injustice and a failure to understand the horrors and complexities of prison. The staff at all levels at HMP Bedford have awed me by their consistent courage, loyalty, resilience, ready sense of decency and professionalism in the face of increasingly overwhelming odds. This was evidenced over months of difficulty and in spades on the day of the riot when prisoners, having stoically endured a seemingly endlessly deteriorating and irregular regime, lost faith in the prison management’s use of authority as having legitimacy, abandoned the implicit pact, and “kicked off”. They had cried for help, as had the IMB, the officers, and the governor to her superiors – but no one at the top of the tree heard their pleas. Who, then, was blameworthy?

I arrive at the following conclusions. The cost-cutting demanded of Noms, and, by extension, of individual prisons, has taken on the dimensions of an extreme human experiment, which in the social sciences these days would be blocked on ethical grounds. . There was no attempt to introduce these reforms gradually at a national level, or on a pilot basis, and then learn from the experience. There was no “evidence base” for these reforms. and no attempt to collect any. They were thus driven purely by ideology and finance. In general, the prison system seems reluctant to set up mechanisms whereby it can learn from its mistakes. The trial has failed also because the premise upon which it was based is misconceived. Prisons are being asked to achieve the unachievable.

Successive ministers have cut costs in the face of insistent warnings from many quarters, including the prison officers’ and the prison governors’ associations, the chief inspector of prisons, the IMBs and the many prison reform lobbying organisations. The only response has been about readjusting budgets over an extended period. Even though the new justice secretary, Liz Truss, has acknowledged (in her recent white paper) that cost-cutting has driven prisons to an extreme where they are not even able to operate safely, no proportionate or urgent action has been taken by the politicians and top civil servants in the MoJ who are responsible for the crisis in prisons. This is a devastating failure of accountability. They must acknowledge responsibility for the damage done.

The recent prison riots are testimony to a slow-burn build-up of misery and conflict that has blighted the lives of the prison’s many communities. I would particularly highlight the intolerable burdens that have been placed on officers and managers, as this is seldom sufficiently recognised. At last, it is being acknowledged that prisons cannot be reformed without high-quality, motivated staff – and this is not simply about having the money to pay them a decent salary (although that is a necessary precondition).

Staff members have to be assured that their contribution is valued and that they will be trained and supported to do a difficult job in a meaningful way, especially when they are in the early stages of their career. Most prison officers do not go into the service to bang people up, but to help people change. Making the job so mechanical that it loses its meaning has led to a situation where it is as difficult to retain staff as it is to recruit them.

Criminal justice is a political playground, leading to endless changes in emphasis and policy. Prison budgets have not been ringfenced during “austerity”. In consequence, we have massively overcrowded and under-staffed older prisons, some of which are truly shocking, and that is unworthy of a nation that instinctively tends to assume it is a moral model for the rest of the world. Across the country, our prisons have failed to deliver against their social contract to “reform” offenders – so systematically that it is unclear that prisons (especially large ones) can ever deliver this while the political climate remains as it is.

A new vision is needed with an emphasis on integrating and accessing the insight contained within the system. One such vision comprises three principal departures from current thinking. First, sentencing guidance would change radically to substitute community penalties for imprisonment for the vast majority of offences. for which research has shown that incarceration does not generally reduce reoffending. Second, there would be a properly resourced community sentence and probation service centre (CSPSC) in every major town to provide offenders with support, advice, help with housing and employment, remedial education and vocational training, alongside traditional probation service functions. Third, integrated into these centres would be small and local prisons so that all but the few prisoners who need high security jails more security and with intensive support to live safely, remain close to their roots. These new integrated centres would work most effectively if they formed a thriving and well-connected part of local life.

And what of the future for HMP Bedford? Its accessibility is such a huge asset that it merits the necessary investment, as long as the prison population is reduced to a level that allows it to offer personal attention, in a safe and calm environment overseen by an adequate number of experienced staff. Only then can a rehabilitative ethos have a chance to be effective.

It could even take part in the pilot roll-out of my proposed CSPSCs.

Christopher Padfield is a member of IMB at HMP Bedford and former chair of the national Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards. The views expressed here are his own. To join the IMB for a prison near you go to imb.org.uk

Monday, 5 December 2016

CRC Dispute Latest 15

2nd December 2016

ACAS TALKS IN BALANCE AS SUBSTANTIVE REPLIES ARE AWAITED ON A RANGE OF ISSUES - MEMBERS MEETINGS BEING ORGANISED

Union representatives meet in Bristol today to review the latest position in respect of the dispute between Napo, UNISON, GMB and Aurelius/Working Links.

The position so far

Since the interim directive from the NNC Joint Secretaries that the parties should invite the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service (ACAS) to facilitate ongoing dialogue, there have been a series of meetings in London and Bristol, one of which has included a claimed representative from Aurelius, the German based company who are the owners of Working Links.

The nature of the discussions held under the auspices of ACAS are necessarily confidential and this has prevented us from issuing detailed updates as quickly as we would like. The position that we have reached is that at the time of writing the trade unions are awaiting a substantive response to correspondence which has been sent to the employers side via ACAS. Our expectation is that we would receive a reply to a comprehensive letter that we issued on the 13th November and a number of key issues that we have raised immediately following the last joint exchanges which took place at the ACAS offices in Bristol.

The unions have informed the ACAS Conciliators that we are prepared to continue to meet to take part in an urgent review of the operational model, but that we have reached a critical stage in the proceedings and need to see signs that the employers side are taking our concerns seriously.

While we consider what may be left of value at the ACAS table we wanted to take this opportunity to say how hard your team of local reps have worked to further your interests during the unions campaign to save jobs, secure information for the purposes of collective bargaining and call the proposed operational model that Aurelius/Working Links are seeking to impose across their three CRC's to account.

The next steps

Irrespective of developments through ACAS (whose efforts are very much appreciated by the unions), we have told the NNC Joint Secretaries that we want the parties to be called in to report back on the current situation, and that we feel that a representative from NOMS Contract and Commercial Directorate should also be available given what we have discovered over the period of the dispute.

We are also seeking a legal view about some of the options open to us in the event that dialogue through ACAS fails to produce a breakthrough.

The unions also believe that we need to meet with our members as soon as we practicably can to hear what you have to say, and plans are being made to set up consultative meetings, so please look out for further details.

What you can do

There are a number of things that employees working in the 3 Aurelius/Working Links CRC's can do. Firstly if you are not a member of a trade union, then please join one! A legally recognised trade union is the only means by which your employment rights can be protected within the collective agreements that are enshrined as part of your terms and conditions.

Secondly, you can provide your union reps with feedback about the impact of the operational model on you as an individual, or as a team. All information which should be sent from your private address or e mail and will be treated in confidence.

You can also ensure that your line manager is aware of any difficulties or health issues that you may be facing as a result of excessive caseloads or a working environment that you believe is unsafe. Please keep a record of such exchanges.

Depending on developments either side of this weekend, it is likely that we will know fairly soon if the ACAS talks are to continue, and the unions will be issuing more news just as soon as we can.

Meanwhile our appreciation to all our members for your continuing support at this difficult time.

IAN LAWRENCE 
General Secretary Napo
GLYN JONES Regional Organiser UNISON
DAVID WALTON National Secretary GMB/SCOOP

Sunday, 4 December 2016

News From Probation Institute 5

Mention has been made previously of Bob Neill MP and the Justice Committee having recently held a private session on probation privatisation. Held under 'Chatham House Rules', strictly-speaking we're not supposed to know who attended or what was said, but both Ian Lawrence from Napo and Prof Paul Senior from the Probation Institute have publicly mentioned being present. 

As we all know, the PI has come under considerable criticism from contributors to this blog for failing to speak openly and plainly about the realities of TR, so it's particularly interesting to have insight into what might have been said in private from publication of a one page briefing document from the day:- 
   
Presented by Professor Paul Senior Emeritus Professor of Probation Studies, Chair, Probation Institute 21 Oct 2016

ANALYSING THE EXPERIENCE OF TRANSFORMING REHABILITATION 2014-2016 

Predicted and predictable 

Speed - to seek to implement an entire system at one go with an unseemly rush and no trials or piloting was always high risk and unnecessary. 

Resourcing - to implement a new element of provision - compulsory post-prison supervision - previously absent for short sentence prisoners - with no additional resources always fraught with risk 

De-professionalization - the need to save money would trump the need for quality services. Tasks previously done by highly trained staff would be dumbed down to cheaper, less trained staff. 

--//--

Pattern of concerns emerging from official reports (The Audit Office, HMI Probation, HMI Prisons, Clinks, Public Accounts Committee), extensive media coverage and emergent research 

Bifurcation - the fracturing of delivery has caused additional problems for providing joined up justice. IT systems not talking, separation of office spaces, demarcation of roles, confusion for other agencies 

Accountability - increasing complexity and overlapping roles in this plurality of delivery modes makes coordination and joined up practices more difficult and accountability less certain 

Public Safety - with practice under such pressure and diffusion of responsibilities there are heightened risks regarding the management of Serious Offence Reviews and the consequences for staff of high caseloads of those supervising entirely high risk cases and agencies struggling to meet demands 

Management of risk - the splitting of risk levels between agencies seen as a pragmatic rather than a practice-driven benefit. all staff need to be aware of the dynamics of risk as it changes over time and circumstances 

Distorted decision making - evidence emerging that decision to breach on such as community payback or non-attendance at supervision driven by Payment by Results concerns not the demands of the case Severe financial pressures driving the business - changes in resource allocation due to changes in number distributions leading to staff uncertainty, redundancies and planning blight 

Hemorrhaging of staff - stress, redundancy and disillusionment leading to experienced staff exited both NPS and CRCs leaving the agencies with inexperienced and often new staff not equipped to deliver a complex business 

--//--

Future directions 

Maintain professional services via regulation - staff increasingly uncertain of role and struggling to meet the demands of the new systems. their professional status is undermined by the problems identified above by organizational changes and uncertainties. 

Case for a Regulatory Body - founded on the need for consistent, coherent and agreed standards and qualifications to which all practitioners and managers, in all agencies, can adhere; to be a profession. This case is underpinned by the need for appropriate staff to manage risk; treat individuals with respect and dignity; and develop staff to improve practice outcomes. 

More funding across the criminal justice system - The whole system has been subject to cutbacks which impact both on individual services e.g. prisons, policing and probation and therefore on shared systems of intervention e.g. Through the Gate provision, Integrated Offender Management, joint MAPPA arrangements

--oo00oo--

Dear Members

November has been a busy and productive month at the Probation Institute

1. The Probation-Sentencer Liaison Network (PSLN), a joint initiative with the Magistrates Association, launched at Middlesex University and Manchester Magistrates Court addressed by Dame Glenys Stacey. The two launch events demonstrated the urgency of improving communication between all probation services and sentencers. Key issues and discussion points from the two events will be posted on the PSLN Pages on the PI website which is open for Registrations at http://probation-institute.org/probation-sentencer-liaison-network-on-line-forum


Our thanks to Dame Glenys for her informative and very accessible presentation and to our hosts for the two launches. Some important areas of good practice were shared, also thinking about justice devolution and problem solving courts, including the Women's Court in Manchester.

2. The PI was represented at a Round Table Seminar on Community Sentences as part of the Lammy Review of Racial Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System and we now look forward to a one to one meeting.

3. We were also represented at the Electronic Monitoring Action Group (EMAG) and will keep a close watching brief on the GPS Monitoring Pilots launched by MOJ this month as we propose Probation Institute Policy on Electronic Monitoring.

4. The application to develop a Trailblazer Apprenticeship for the role of Rehabilitation Practitioner, submitted to DfE by the Probation Institute on behalf of CRCs led by Seetec, and voluntary organisations, has been accepted. The employer development group will get back to work on this important project before Christmas, working with key representative groups.

5. De Montfort University have kindly agreed to host the Probation Trainees Conference 2017 which will take place on Wednesday 5th April for all trainees.

6. The Probation Institute Research Committee met on 24th November and with the Griffins Research Society we have proposed joint actions to implement three areas of research into aspects of probation practice with women, previously posted on this site and available at http://probation-institute.org/network-dashboard/women-and-justice-network

The Research Committee will now also take forward actions towards becoming a Centre of Excellence within our proposals, gathering increasing support, for a Regulatory Body for Probation, Rehabilitation and Resettlement.

7. The Westminster Legal Policy Forum on the Future of Probation on 22nd November proved an interesting discussion. We heard from HMIP, the Audit Commission, the NPS Director of Probation, NOMS Operational Assurance, a CRC, Napo, voluntary sector agencies, and a software solutions company on data sharing infrastructure. The quote "meeting the target but missing the point" (the point being effectiveness and quality) seemed to resonate throughout the debate, recognising that the implementation of TR, at the very least, was insufficiently understood and planned, and that action to address increasing gaps in quality and actual provision is critical. Sonia Crozier spoke of the importance of bridging NPS and CRCs and of her commitment to prioritising quality in NPS. It was clear from this event that more open, robust discussions are needed about the future of probation, the sustainability of the present arrangements and the role of probation in relieving the prisons crisis. Some bold local initiatives within CRCs and the voluntary sector also need to be encouraged, made more visible and shared.

8. The Sir Graham Smith Awards applications close on 31st December, and would be a great way to learn more about local initiatives, apply here http://probation-institute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/information-sheet-for-2017-GSA-applicants.docx

9. And finally we are commencing a review of the Probation Institute Code of Ethics and we will soon be inviting comments on this important topic.

We hope you enjoy the lead up to the holidays and please let us know - is this information helpful to you?

Kind regards

Helen Schofield
Acting Chief Executive
Probation Institute

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Crunch Time

Since this blog went into campaign mode in response to Chris Grayling's utterly flawed TR plans, the initial contacts from TV script writers and authors dried up, only to be replaced by those from journalists. The following is the latest:- 

"I make investigative films for TV, all my research is completely confidential and for background initially at this stage so I can get an insight into what is really going on. I'm trying to find out more about allegations of gaming PbR.

Here are some questions:-

1. The Inspector of Probation in a report in May this year referred to CRC officers being encouraged by management to not recommend that offenders be resentenced or licences revoked if they breached their probation terms. Have you also heard these type of allegations? If so can you tell me about them? Do you know anyone who would discuss them with me, off the record?

2. I have also been told anecdotally that some CRC's are cherry picking cases, not dealing with ones that involve more complex interventions as it is not worth the 3% contract bonus for reducing reoffending. Have you heard that this is the case, if so can you tell me more details?

3. Do you think that Transforming Rehabilitation is having an impact on SFO's?

I would really appreciate your help with these issues and any suggestions of people I could speak to off the record. From my viewpoint I find it much easier to speak to people directly because I can react to their answers with further questions and particularly in a complex area like probation I can check that I am understanding the issues properly. I will completely guarantee their confidentiality.

I have a company who is interested in making a film on this area, although of course that is no guarantee that it will happen, but I would be really grateful if you would come back to me as soon as possible."

--oo00oo--

Having been supplied with an impressive list of credits, I have every reason to believe that this journalist could make a damned good programme, but obviously requires material

For all those who love this profession and have high regard for what we attempt to do, I would venture to suggest that the time has come for colleagues to have a long think about what they know is happening and the responsibility we all share to act in the interests of the public good. It's a very hard call because probation staff have a long and proud history of maintaining confidentiality - a shared professional ethos of giving the highest priority to this aspect of our work and in the best interests of our clients, no matter who they are or what they've done. Sadly we know the same cannot be said of some police officers or prison officers. 

Of course the government were fully aware of our ability to keep our mouths shut when they cynically introduced TR, knowing full well that there would be the greatest reticence on the part of anyone to speak out, a situation strengthened with gagging clauses in contracts agreed with departing senior managers. In terms of further down the ranks, fear and threats have generally been successful in stifling public criticism and comment, this blog being a notable exception of course because it's all anonymous. But that makes it very easy to officially ignore and all the major players, Napo, Noms, CRC's, NPS, HMI, PI, MP's do just that on a regular basis.

For a long time the media were ignoring us too, but there are signs they are beginning to show an interest with journalists wanting to understand both the complexities and nuances of the work we do, its importance to society, that it's an essential part of any prison and sentencing reforms and that it's being systematically destroyed.  There's been the recent BBC File on Four radio documentary, the current Guardian request for information and now this serious approach by a TV documentary film maker. 

The recent dismissive response from Bob Neill MP to suggestions for an inquiry into the probation crisis, together with reluctance from the PI to cause offence by examining TR in any detail and Napo HQ's ineffectiveness, all lead me to believe that in the continued absence of a high-profile and authoritative probation champion, our only chance of saving anything lies with the media and what in effect is 'whistleblowing'.

Lets have a discussion about it. My contact details are on the profile page, write anonymously if you wish, but share information privately first and lets see if we have the evidence to take to this journalist. I'm convinced there is a public duty to do so.            

Friday, 2 December 2016

Latest From Napo 127

Edited highlights from the General Secretary's latest blog post:-

Guardian responds positively to Napo Concerns

It was great news to see the initiative by the Guardian this week in seeking the views of the public as to their opinions on the current state of the probation service. We constantly send them our media releases and other information and it was good to see that they feel it’s an important enough subject to add to their online survey features.

We have separately mailed the link out to members to try and give it maximum promotion, and it is hoped that it can be recycled via social media links to wherever and whomever you can.

Meanwhile, we await more news from the Probation System Review which is taking an in depth look at the state of play in terms of operational performance within the CRC estate. At this stage it’s just speculation about what may emerge from the review but it seems likely that it will, like all these things, need to go through a number of hoops including final Ministerial sign off before we see something tangible appear in the public arena.

It’s an easy guess to say that it will have to start to address the lamentable track record of ‘Through the Gate’ provision; and the fact that the project managers were asked to obtain additional data to better inform their interim report to Sam Gyimah is significant, in that it looks as if the issue about the payment mechanisms being out of kilter with actual activity has been taken seriously at last.

But It’s doubtful that this will result in a miraculous cash injection for the CRCs, although it might mean them being asked to do things differently and maybe free up the availability of some of the resources that have already been set aside for payment by results which was not due to kick in until late 2017.

We will monitor progress and report further when we can.

I was at the House of Lords yesterday afternoon for a reception organised by the POA on safety in Prisons and hosted by the indefatigable Lord David Ramsbotham, who continues to be the scourge of officialdom, and who I had the pleasure of renewing acquaintance with at a keynote legal seminar on probation that I addressed alongside him just over a week ago.

It was clear after having spoken to a number of cross party politicians, members of the Justice Select Committee and the new Labour Shadow Secretary for Justice Yasmin Qureshi, that they have a pretty dim view of the great Transforming Rehabilitation experiment. We will be using all avenues to keep up the pressure against this background, and just a few minutes spent in completing the Guardian survey and/or contacting your constituency MP will certainly not be wasted.


Your NEC is back in business

A really positive and quorate meeting of Napo’s National Executive Committee took place earlier this week, where consideration was given to a host of big ticket issues including the sale (subject to contract) of Chivalry Road, our temporary relocation to new premises at nearby Falcon Road, Napo’s estimated budget for 2017, our developing recruitment strategy and a range of negotiating issues such as the future of the NNC, pay system reform, our operational plan for next year and the development of a strategy with other stakeholders to secure a Licence to Practice for Probation practitioners.

The NEC asked that I arrange to issue a more detailed note of what was discussed and I will be happy to do as soon as current pressures allow.

It is well worth mentioning how appreciative the Officers and Officials were of the collectivism and support shown by the NEC, and the seriousness with which they treated these and other issues.

It portends well, and it was another demonstration of the synergy and enthusiasm that has continued since we all came away from that fabulous AGM in Cardiff.

--oo00oo--

In other news, thanks to regular contributor 'getafix' for spotting this:-
Rise CIC Rising Star of the Year

RISE CIC has developed a culture of regular employee communications and consultation, establishing working groups as well as offering financial benefits and employee development to help employees in their role or gain promotion within the company as it grows. In its first 18 months the mutual, which delivers a range of programmes designed to facilitate change in behaviour for prisoners, has seen rapid growth which looks set to continue.

RISE Mutual CIC awarded Rising Star of the Year in UK EO awards

RISE Mutual Community Interest Company, headquartered in Camden is one of five winner at the UK Employee Ownership Awards 2016

RISE Mutual CIC awarded the title of Rising Star of the Year at last night’s UK Employee Ownership Awards. The awards, delivered by the Employee Ownership Association (EOA), celebrate the success of the employee ownership sector, and in 2016 are sponsored by leading EOA member, Baxendale.

Presented as part of the EOA Annual Conference, the award recognises the achievements of businesses that have recently made the transition to the employee ownership model, and are already celebrating the success of the structure.

The award, endorsed by the championed retail giant, the John Lewis Partnership, recognises the success of an organisation that has become employee owned no more than 3 years ago. The judges recognised that, even these first three years, RISE is thriving within its sector, and has engendered a strong, successful culture of employee ownership.

Deb Oxley, Chief Executive of the EOA said

“I’m delighted to declare RISE the winners of this year’s Rising Star Award. It is fantastic to see the immediate and significant benefits that RISE are experiencing through the new company structure. They are an excellent example of the better business that can be achieved through employee ownership, even in the early days of adopting the model.”
RISE is proud to own the status of the first employee owned mutual in the UK delivering probation services, and has seen a 3% increase in operating profit, retained and increased its staff by 43 employees with 7% progressing into more senior roles since making the transition to employee owned. The company has won 65% of the contracts that it has bid for, and gained an 85% satisfaction rate on the programmes it runs.

Kuljit Sandhu of RISE Mutual CIC said: 
“We’re just thrilled because this has been two years in the making and is a testament to the hard work of all our staff, we can’t wait to go back and tell them. It’s a really challenging environment working in criminal justice so this is great recognition of our team’s achievements, which will encourage them to find new and innovative ways of working.”
Ewan Hall, Director of Legal, Baxendale, said: 
“Congratulations to Rising Star of the Year, Rise Mutual CIC, which celebrates its drive to engage its staff and harness their knowledge to innovate services for the rehabilitation of prisoners. Employee ownership is at the core of what we do so we’re proud to sponsor the UK Employee Ownership Awards, run by the EOA, for a second year and delighted to celebrate the stories of success. The awards hold a special significance as the successor to the Philip Baxendale Awards, which grew over 10 years from our internal celebration of success into a national celebration of the UK’s employee owned sector.”

The Contract Police

Whilst the march of TR continues to wreck havoc on the probation service and many experienced practitioners are dispensed with, here we have a fascinating insight into the complicated and bureaucratic regional structure needed by Noms in order to try and police the privateers:- 

Presentation on theme: "Transforming Rehabilitation Derek Quinn - Service Manager NOMS Staffordshire and West Midlands."— Presentation transcript:

1 Transforming Rehabilitation Derek Quinn - Service Manager NOMS Staffordshire and West Midlands

2 Transforming Rehabilitation Transforming Rehabilitation launched in 2013 and has introduced a new system for the management and rehabilitation of offenders in the community across England and Wales. – Created a new National Probation Service (NPS) – Opened up the market by creating 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies to deliver to low and medium risk offenders – Extended supervision for the under 12 months on release – Creation of a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement – A Through the Gate Resettlement Service – Freedom for CRCs to design services they see as the most effective way to reduce reoffending – Incentive by a Payment by Results mechanism – Contracts went live in February 2015

3 The Integrated Contract Management Team 21 Contracts nationally with 8 providers Contracts are manage by the National Offender Management Service. Each Contract is managed separately Reducing Reoffending Partnership – Staffordshire and West Midlands and Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland EOS - Warwickshire and West Mercia.  Each contract is managed by an Integrated Contract Management Teams (CMT) comprising Operational Contract Management (OCM) and Commercial Contract Management (CCM). Supported by a multi functional team - Operational Assurance, Legal, Estates, ICT and Finance

4 Staffordshire and West Midlands (SWM) Contract Management Team Xxxxx Xxxxx - Deputy Director South West and Midlands Xxxxx Xxxxx - Senior Contract Manager (SWM) Xxxxxx Xxxxx - Service Manager (SWM) Xxxxx Xxxxx - Service Manager (SWM) Xxxxx Xxxxx - Contract Support Officer (SWM)

5 The CMT Role Ensure Contract Compliance Day to day assurance on CRC operations Monitor performance Foster a partnership approach with the CRC Develop positive relationships with key stakeholders Facilitate dispute resolution Manage Contract Change

6 Ensuring Compliance Regular dip testing of data and case records Regular meetings with CRC contract managers Building a relationship with the NPS and Prisons Visiting the delivery sites, observing the operations and collecting feedback Assure the monthly data as part of the payment mechanism Overseeing the mitigation of risk at the CRC level. Building a detailed understanding of the contractual arrangements between the contractor and each of its Subcontractors Building a relationship with key external stakeholders and commissioners Robust governance structure Feed into the Operational Assurance Team - undertake in depth assurance

7 Governance Service Management Group (SMG) Day-to-day management of the relationship between the CRC and the SCM. Service Integration Group (SIG) Management of the interfaces between the CRC, the SCM, the NPS and the resettlement prisons to enable the CRC to efficiently and effectively deliver its services. Relationship Management Group (RMG) Responsible for contract management and overseeing the overall success of the relationship between the CRC and the RSCM. Change Protocol Group (CPG) – Local and National This group will discuss changes which are referred by the SMG. Once the changes are agreed the CPG will provide an overview of them to the RMG.

8 Performance Management 17 Service Levels - the levers to effective offender management and reducing reoffending. 4 Assurance Metrics - Ensuring quality in key areas. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/community-performance-quarterly-management-information-release Contractual outcomes, obligations and timelines - to ensure an effective service is delivered. Reoffending Rates


9 Progress to Date CRC Contracts delivered by new owners from 1st February 2015 Rehabilitation Activity Requirement and Post Sentence Supervision now being delivered Through the Gate Services went live on 1st May 2015 Phased development and implementation of the Target Operating Model Governance Structures in place and working well

10 Measuring Reducing Reoffending This will depend on four elements; Cohorts Measures and Baselines Timings

11 Eligible Cohorts Quarterly cohorts by CPA Offenders can only start once in a cohort Offenders eligible by risk, location, timing Information from PNC and nDelius will be used. Offenders from nDelius on the PNC Offences from nDelius on the PNC. Date from prison release or sentence date start

12 Measures and baselines Binary # reoffenders divided by # offenders Frequency # reoffences divided by # reoffenders OGRS4/G - estimation of binary measure. These equations will determine the baseline and measure in each CPA.

13 Timings 1st Oct 15 1st Sep 17 1st Jul 17 1st Jan 17 Dec 17 1st Jan 16 Cohort period Analysis PNC update Waiting time Follow up period Index date

14 Timings 1st Cohort Period - 1st Oct st Jan 2016 Follow-up period - One year counted from index date 1st Jan st Jan Waiting time - 6 months after follow-up period to allow reconvictions to go through courts. Reoffence - Offence in the follow-up period. Convictions in follow-up period + waiting time. 1st Jan Dec 2015.

15 Contact Details NOMS 1st Floor, The Citedal 190 Corporation Street, Birmingham B46QD 


(Material taken from a slide presentation, so doesn't read easily in parts, but you get the gist hopefully - Ed)   

Thursday, 1 December 2016

CRC Dispute - Latest 14

Branch Correspondence SSW BRANCH

24 11 16
Dear members,

Many of you will have seen the letter from the Chief Officer last week on the situation regarding the DDC Redundancy Policy. Please be assured nothing that has been said by the management is accepted by the unions on this matter, and any decision on the merits and rights of the policy would be discussed via the current dispute and/or by the NNC Joint Secretaries, or failing this by a legal test case when, or if breaches of the dismissal process occur. Keep in mind however that the current dispute remains in force, though at present in our view we have very little signs of movement from the Management who appear locked in a process in the wrong direction. A further Branch Report, 17 has been prepared which would have dealt with the key points of this aspect of the dispute but has been put on hold at the request of the GS as the joint unions are agreed that updates on this matter will come through Ian Lawrence NAPO GS for circulation. These will be out to you either later today and look for news in his blog. This is because we were in attendance at ACAS on Wednesday with the employers Aurelius trading as representatives of Working Links and many members will have my views on that issue already.

Members, please continue to send us your experiences of risk, SFO matters, and the recent rounds of putting targets above public protection issues. Breach issues especially, featured heavily in the fantastic response we received to our last request for information. Thank you for this it has been invaluable in our drive to ensure all health and safety process are to be followed. 


There is a sense amongst the unions that Working links have still to convince anyone that they have any working model formally in print that should be thoroughly tested under health and safety legislation (which is there to protect your rights). Oddly it appears that it only exists in the form of a series of presentations of differing component parts from some staff. More on this from Ian Lawrence in his communication to come. Several serious themes came up many times from your feedback to our survey and we were overwhelmed at the expressions of despair that many members have shared, and how you are feeling about the treatment that you are receiving. What became apparent yesterday is that the issues that concern DDC are also relevant to BGSW and Wales - we are all in this so don't be fooled by any attempts of divide and rule by Management. We would urge you to put any concerns regarding workload, risk issues etc to your Line Managers in writing if you are able to in order for the matter to be recorded. Our policies are there to protect you however we are aware that this is hard to believe at this point, given the current
situation.

By the same token we in Napo are hearing some awful stories that have yet to be verified, on your terms and conditions being abused - Pay docking in sickness absence matters, and threats to the idea that these terms are being changed. We have no official notice of an intention to attack these terms yet. These entitlements in service are automatic and expressed terms and conditions of your employment . If members are aware of such a deviation from normal terms will you inform us and provide any evidence for any changes that impact on you immediately?

We will keep you posted as things develop.

Dino Peros SSW Branch Chair 
JNCC Napo Rep
Denice James JNCC Rep

--oo00oo--

(It would be good if someone could kindly supply a copy, text or screen photo of the letter referred to from the Chief Officer - thanks Ed.)

--oo00oo--

Finally, here's a golden opportunity to 'tell it how it is' courtesy of the Guardian:-

Tell us about the state of UK probation services

Last year 8,600 probation staff were outsourced as part of the privatisation of more than half of the probation service in England and Wales.

In 2014, seven-year-long contracts for rehabilitation services worth £3.7bn were awarded to companies such as Staffline, Sodexo and MTCnovo to supervise low and medium-risk offenders. Those who are deemed high-risk are still supervised by the National Probation Service.

If you work in probation services we’d like to hear from you. What do you think of their current state, and how have you been affected?

You can share your experiences with us by filling in the form below - anonymously if you wish. All information will be kept confidential and we will feature some of the submissions in our coverage.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

News Roundup 8

This article in the Guardian reveals the magistrates are not happy:-

Magistrates quitting in 'considerable' numbers over court closures

Magistrates are resigning in “considerable” numbers, the head of their national body has said, after scores of court closures and swingeing government cuts. Forty-seven magistrates courts have shut this year, one-tenth of courts in England and Wales, with significant numbers of judges resigning early from the unpaid position.

Malcolm Richardson, the chairman of the Magistrates Association, said: “Magistrates deal with more than 90% of the criminal cases that come to court and they cost 1% of the HM Courts and Tribunal Service budget. But we’re getting a bit tired of being treated like the 1% and not the 90%.”

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) would not disclose the number of magistrates who had resigned this year, but the association said the figure was considerable. It comes after at least 75 magistrates resigned last year over the controversial criminal courts charge, which caused outrage among law groups before it was scrapped by Michael Gove.

The mass resignations and court closures have left the magistracy stretched, Richardson said, adding that “nobody [in government] seems to have a plan” for the future of the volunteer judges.

“There is no evidence of a strategy for the use of magistrates. What are we for in the 21st century? What are we for in the brave new world, which is starting to be revealed under the courts reform programme?” he said. “Magistrates feel they are not, and have not been, engaged with in the determination of what that future looks like … The consequences of that for some magistrates, particularly those who are getting towards retirement, is to say ‘why am I carrying on?’ It’s a difficult question to answer.”

Three magistrates who have resigned or retired since September told the Guardian morale was at rock bottom among the judges, who are only paid expenses. They said magistrates felt ignored and unappreciated as a result of cost cutting, ranging from court closures to buildings falling into disrepair. More trivial money-saving measures, such as cutting back on coffee and newspapers in the judges’ quarters, and using cheaper, thinner paper, had also irritated the magistracy, they said.

Janet Alcock, a Conservative councillor in Clitheroe, Lancashire, said she “resigned in despair” in September after 20 years as a magistrate. The role has been reduced to a “soul-destroying production line” of speeding fines and licence fee evasions, Alcock said, adding that she gave up encouraging people to become magistrates a long time ago.

Alcock said she had become “extremely frustrated” at having to issue fines to defendants who would never be able to pay, and the victim surcharge, which “just seems to be another way of dressing up that they’re taking more money off them”.

“You know, realistically, from the point of view of collecting the fines, you’re not going to get it, which makes it extremely frustrating,” she said. “Everybody’s always calling me ‘the hanging judge’ because I’m saying things like instead of fining people who can’t afford it, send them out working … Political correctness wouldn’t allow you to do anything like that.

“But that would be far more satisfying to the public, I think, than for people to appear six months later owing even more than they did at the beginning. It’s just frustrating for everybody.”

Myra Robinson, who retired last month as a bench chairman of Newcastle magistrates, said fining those who could not afford to pay was morally wrong, but there was little that magistrates could do about it. “It’s just ticking boxes and following down – if someone did this then that’s the punishment. There’s no flexibility,” she said.

“I’d worked all my career with young offenders and kids with problems. I felt I knew a lot of the families with problems in Newcastle, and I could see behind what they’d just done and think what would be an appropriate way of dealing with it. My hands have been tied for many years now. People can’t afford fines.”

A third recently resigned magistrate, who did not want to be named, said the court closures meant “losing local justice for local people”. In some cases, proposed closures meant it would be impossible for defendants or witnesses travelling by public transport to get to a court for 10am.

“I was constantly getting emails or texts or phone calls to say that we urgently need magistrates to sit in places like Scarborough. That would imply there is a shortage,” said the magistrate, who was based nearly 90 miles (145km) away in Halifax, West Yorkshire.

Forty-seven magistrates courts closed their doors between March and September under government proposals to reduce the £500m annual cost of the courts estate. A further 45 are due to shut by September 2017, meaning one-fifth of all courts in England and Wales will have disappeared in 19 months.

An MoJ spokeswoman said: “The magistracy remains at the heart of our justice system. We are investing £1bn to reform and digitise our courts to deliver swifter justice, and we are working closely with the judiciary to encourage the recruitment of underrepresented groups.

“Closing underused and dilapidated court buildings will allow us to reinvest in the justice system and make the best use of technology, improving the experience for all court users, in particular vulnerable victims and witnesses.”

--oo00oo--

The reports on prisons are getting worse. This from the Guardian:-

Regime at HMP Hindley one of worst ever seen, say prison inspectors

The regime at the category C Hindley jail near Wigan is “one of the worst and possibly one of the very worst that inspectors had ever seen in this type of prison”, an official watchdog report has said. The chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, said the Hindley regime includes regular shutdowns when inmates, including young adults, are locked in their cells for more than 24 hours at a time.

His report published on Tuesday also highlights poor food, including mouldy bread, filthy cells, and a high level of violence with 126 assaults in just six months, including 35 fights. Half the prisoners told inspectors it was easy to get hold of illegal drugs, which were more accessible than clean clothes, sheets or books from the library.

Peter Dawson, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said although they were used to dreadful inspection reports about dilapidated, overcrowded Victorian prisons, HMP Hindley “is none of these things, and this damning verdict is all the more troubling as a result”.

The latest critical inspection report comes after peers in the House of Lords cited the record level of prison suicides so far this year. Justice ministers responded by acknowledging the seriousness of the crisis and highlighting their plans to recruit 2,500 more prison officers, including 400 immediately for the 10 most challenged prisons.

Hindley in Greater Manchester opened in 1961 as a borstal and in 2015 was converted from a youth jail into a category C prison for young offenders and adult males serving sentences of up to four years. The inspection was carried out in July, when the jail held 515 inmates and was within its operational capacity.

But the inspectors found a “totally inadequate regime” in which more than two-thirds of prisoners said they received less than six hours a day out of their cells and many experienced less than that on a daily basis.

“The inadequate regime was made worse by significant slippage and regular shutdowns, which meant that most prisoners regularly experienced being locked in their cells for more than 24 hours. As a result, prisoners were often not unlocked to attend work or education, and were denied daily access to showers and telephones,” the report said. Residential wings and landings were dirty, with inspectors finding mould and fungus, while single cells were small and poorly ventilated, and many were filthy.

“The regime at Hindley was one of the worst, and possibly the very worst, that inspectors had ever seen in this type of prison,” said Clarke. “The length of time for which young adults and adults alike were locked up was, in our considered view, unnecessary, unjustifiable and counterproductive. Almost every aspect of prison life was adversely affected by the regime.”

He cited the problem of the staff association opposing a move to put microwaves on the wings as “symptomatic of what seemed to have gone wrong at Hindley”. He said many prisoners locked up all day only received a hot meal at 4pm and were given an inadequate breakfast pack to see them through to lunchtime the next day. A move to install microwaves would have been an improvement but “good intentions were not being translated into action on the wings”.

He added: “To make progress, there needs to be a very clear recognition of what is good at Hindley, and also where there needs to be fundamental change. Many examples of good practice could be found in the chaplaincy, education and healthcare. The same could not be said for residential areas. There needs to be an honest appraisal of the culture that predominates among some staff in these areas.”

Michael Spurr, the chief executive of the National Offender Management Service, said since the inspection a detailed improvement plan had been developed to address the weaknesses identified by inspectors.

“Progress has been made to improve safety and purposeful activity with more prisoners engaged in high-quality work and training opportunities,” said Spurr. “Additional staff have been transferred into the prison to support the improvements required and the governor is working closely with Greater Manchester police to tackle gang behaviour and violence in the prison.”


--oo00oo--

Finally, this from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies reminds us how politicians of all hues have done much to create the mess we now find ourselves in:-

Tough talk costs lives

The endless calls for tough community sentences do more harm than good, argues Richard Garside

Michael Gove is the latest politician to accept that we lock up too many people in prison. 'It is an inconvenient truth – which I swerved to an extent while in office – that we send too many people to prison', he told an audience in London last week. 'Prison is expensive, anti-social, inefficient and often de-humanising', he added.

Mr Gove's 'swerve' while Justice Secretary unfortunately took in the distracting irrelevance of 'reform prisons'. He would have done better to take on the far more important task of reforming prisons. Key to this task, as Mr Gove now appears to recognise, is a reduction in the number of prisoners needlessly locked up.

Appearing before the House of Commons Justice Committee earlier this week, Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, said that with the prison population being 'very, very high at the moment', there was a strong case for 'really tough, and I do mean tough, community penalties'. Such is the state of the debate about alternatives to imprisonment that the most senior judge in the land is reduced to emphasising just how tough he wants to be.

The problem here is that no community sentence is ever likely to be as 'tough' as six months in Pentonville prison. David Cameron appeared to understand this when, in a speech in February this year, he called for 'a new approach' to prisons policy, one that did not 'trap us into often false choices between so-called tough or soft approaches'. In the same speech, and with no sense of irony, Mr Cameron promised to 'dramatically toughen up community sentences'.

Last year, Michael Gove, told the Justice Committee

'I do believe that there is the possibility through electronic monitoring, tagging, to find ways of making sure there are some offenders in the future who can have genuinely tough and effective community sentences'. 
In March 2013 the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government promised 'tough and effective' community sentences for women. The previous October, Mr Gove's predecessor as Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, wrote in a Foreword to a consultation response that 'tougher community sentences may give more options to sentencers who currently feel that prison is the only robust choice'. Ken Clarke, another former Justice Secretary, announced in March 2012 that the government was 'overhauling community sentences to ensure they are tough, credible and robust'.

Jack Straw, Justice Secretary during the last Labour government, said in February 2008:

Prison is the right place for the most serious and violent offenders but there are currently people in prison who would be better rehabilitated and therefore less likely to reoffend elsewhere... so we must ensure that courts have tough community sentences at their disposal to deal with less serious, non-violent offenders.
The government was 'bringing in tough new community sentences', the former Labour government's strategic plan for criminal justicestated in July 2004. The Halliday review of sentencing, published in July 2001, found evidence of a 'toughening up of sentencing', including 'increased numbers of the more intensive of community sentences'.

Where has all this tough talk got us? In 2001, when Halliday was being published, the prison population stood at around 65,000. When Lord Thomas was speaking of 'really tough' community sentences earlier this week, it stood at over 85,000.

Far from acting as 'alternatives' to prison, community sentences tend towards widening the net of punishment and coercion, as research by the Centre some years ago, as well as more recently, has shown. Tough talk on community sentences merely feeds this particular beast. This year's 'tough' community penalty becomes next year's 'soft' one. And so it goes on.

The collateral damage of all this rhetoric can be found in the high levels of suicide and self-harm among prisoners; of stressful working conditions for prison staff and living conditions for prisoners; and of deteriorating buildings and infrastructure. Tough talk really does cost lives. It is time for it to stop.


Richard Garside