Saturday, 17 August 2019

Class War

Just to keep things ticking over, here's a reminder from the Guardian of how the criminal justice system is unashamedly used for political ends:- 

Boris Johnson’s crackdown on crime is just the latest ruse in the Tories’ class war

Our so-called justice system exists to crack down on the misdemeanours of the poor, while ignoring the crimes committed by the rich. When Boris Johnson proposes a law-and-order clampdown – driven by cynical electioneering, rather than actual evidence – he’s talking about locking up the “people you step over in the street”, as Frances Crook, the CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform, puts it, not reckless bankers or white-collar fraudsters.

Lock ’em up, throw away the key: such demagoguery always has an innate emotional appeal, not least among a public enraged by increased violent crime, which is itself fuelled by a decade of slash-and-burn Tory economic policies. But further brutalising those already roughed up by a social order rigged in favour of yacht owners, financiers and the residents of Mayfair will satisfy the bloodlust of the Daily Mail and achieve little else.

The justice system has long been an instrument of class power. Under the “Bloody Code” of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, death sentences for property crimes proliferated: stealing sheep, thieving from a shipwreck, or pickpocketing could all lead to the gallows. Today, we tend to lock up mentally ill poor people, disproportionately from minority backgrounds, for non-violent offences.

According to the Prison Reform Trust, more than seven in 10 prisoners report mental health issues, a quarter of inmates are from a minority ethnic group, and more than one in five with sentences of less than six months are homeless. Nearly seven out of 10 languishing behind bars are there for non-violent offences.

If the government truly wanted less crime, it would reverse the cuts to youth services – slashed in real terms by 40% in the last three years alone – which a recent parliamentary report found had led to increased knife crime. It would clamp down on school exclusions: these have surged by 50% since 2016, partly to enable schools to climb league tables, driving some of the abandoned children into crime. It would entirely reverse the real-terms cuts to schools and the gutting of sixth forms. It would properly support a mental health service which turns away more than 100,000 children every year. It would confront a housing crisis which has left a generation without security or roots, and deal decisively with a squeeze in living standards that has particularly hurt younger people.

But the Tory party has spent a near-decade forcing the majority to pay the bill for the economic wreckage caused by its City of London donors: it is the custodian of a social order that robs humans of security and dignity.

If prison is a deterrent, why are nearly half of adults convicted of another offence within a year of release? There are already more people in Britain serving a life sentence than in Germany, France and Italy combined – but has it left us safer? Why has a report by the National Audit Office found no link between prison population numbers and the level of crime in different countries?

We leave prisoners locked up in squalid conditions for up to 23 hours a day, instead of focusing on education, training, exercise, and other means of rehabilitation – as called for by the Howard League – so why are we surprised that prison becomes a school of crime? There are few places worse for someone with mental health issues than prisons, rife as they are with violence and drug abuse, and shocking rates of suicide and self-injury.

Chris Grayling’s part-privatisation of probation has had a disastrous impact – and Johnson’s plans will undoubtedly prove a boon to profiteers such as Serco, which was fined millions for using taxpayers’ money to fraudulently tag non-existent people, and a calamity for the rest of us.

If the government had sense, it would learn from Norway, which has shorter sentences, fewer prisoners, humane prisons and an emphasis on rehabilitation: there, just 20% of convicts reoffend within two years, among the world’s lowest rates. It would learn from Portugal in decriminalising drugs and treating them as a public health issue: the country has the lowest drug mortality rate in western Europe, drug use is below Europe’s average, and the number of those incarcerated for drug offences has more than halved. But in the UK, no such sense is to be found.

While the justice system is a stick for the poor, it offers an abundance of carrots for Britain’s rich. Iceland managed to lock up dozens of bankers and CEOs for crimes committed in the run-up to the 2008 financial crash – but not one senior banking executive has been jailed in Britain or the US for their roles in unleashing misery that millions continue to suffer from.

The tax system is riddled with loopholes available only to the rich and big corporations, depriving the exchequer of billions of pounds at a time when we’re constantly told there isn’t enough money for basic services. Meanwhile, benefit fraudsters are sentenced for appropriating far smaller sums. Since 2011, UK prosecutions for financial crimes – supposed “white collar crime” – have collapsed by 26%, even though the number of offences has quadrupled. Nearly a decade ago, one leading judge declared that the justice system has an inbuilt bias favouring the wealthy; since then, the decimation of legal aid has left it rigged even more in favour of the rich.

The law continues to crash down on the backs of the poor – while pandering to the rich.

Johnson is seeking to turn a national crisis that has been stoked by his own party’s actions into an electoral problem for his opponents – and he will be aided and abetted by the rightwing press. But he is merely upholding a centuries-old tradition of protecting a social order rigged in favour of his own class.

If you are rich and destroy the economy, engage in white collar fraud, snort cocaine – you’re still likely to live unimpeded in affluence, continuing to be invited to mingle with the not-so-great-and-good of society. But if you are a black teenager in Hackney found in possession of cannabis by the police, your whole life could crash down around you. Whatever this is – it’s certainly not justice.

Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

PM Issues Orders!

We now know the criminal justice system will be part of the election campaign and the MoJ statement on Monday has set the ball rolling:-

Sentencing review to look at most dangerous and prolific offenders

The Ministry of Justice will conduct an urgent review ordered by the Prime Minister, to ensure the public are properly protected from the most dangerous criminals.

The work, which begins immediately, will focus on whether violent and sexual offenders are serving sentences that truly reflect the severity of their crimes.

It will consider whether changes in legislation are needed to lock criminals up for longer – by not letting them out automatically part-way through a sentence. It will also look at how to break the cycle of repeat offending.

It forms part of a government overhaul of the criminal justice system to further protect the public – by cracking down on crime, raising prison standards, rehabilitating offenders and cutting the vicious cycle of re-offending.

The government review team will report back directly to the Prime Minister with recommendations this autumn.

Specifically, the review will look at:
  • Sentencing for the most serious violent and sexual offenders;
  • The rules governing when and how these offenders are released; and
  • Sentencing of the most prolific offenders.
Today (12 August 2019) also sees a further £85 million awarded to the Crown Prosecution Service to build capacity and manage caseloads over the next 2 years.

Justice Secretary, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, said:

"Too often the public and victims feel that violent and sexual offenders are being released early and without a proper deterrent to stop their offending. We must ensure that there is confidence in the system, which is why my department will undertake an urgent review of how and when these offenders are released – to better protect the public and end the cycle of reoffending. This work is a priority for the Government and will report back to the Prime Minister with recommendations to ensure punishments properly reflect the severity of their crimes."

In addition, today the Prime Minister and Justice Secretary are meeting leaders from the police, probation and prison sectors to discuss how to cut crime and improve the criminal justice system.

It comes as an extra £2.5 billion investment has been announced to create 10,000 extra prison places, starting with the new Full Sutton prison.

This follows announcements to recruit 20,000 new police officers over the next three years and the Home Secretary’s confirmation that all 43 police forces in England and Wales can use enhanced stop and search powers.


This response from Napo:-

PM orders urgent review of Sentencing Policy

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s, call today for an urgent review of prison sentencing policy – which would see 10,000 extra prison places - has been all over the news today. Napo General Secretary, Ian Lawrence, spoke to Sky News’ lunchtime programme about the proposals.

Ian told Sky News that there were already too many people in prison; people who should not be there like those with mental health issues. What was really needed in terms of sentencing policy, he said, was a return to ‘what works’, and proper rehabilitative work from more, skilled, probation officers in the community.

Grayling’s TR reforms were an acknowledged disaster, he told the programme. The part-privatisation of the probation service had failed on all counts and resulted in the government U-turn and the return of ‘offender supervision’ into the National Probation Service. Napo welcomed this and was committed to working with the MoJ to deliver but, he told Sky, the proposed changes were not enough: we need all probation work brought back into under public accountability. He also said that we needed more resources and more skilled probation staff. There were currently over 1,000 vacancies across the country – HMPPS needed to motivate and recruit staff as a matter of urgency and the current, two-tier pay system that was the result of the TR system was not the way.

Was Boris Johnson listening? Ian said he hoped so. Napo had a good working relationship with Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, and we believe he understands the situation. But, Ian stressed, the way forward is properly resourced supervision in the community, to deliver rehabilitation and to keep communities safe: and this was only possible if probation was in the hands of skilled professional practitioners not private companies interested only in profit.


Here we have what the Secret Barrister thinks, and they're angry! 

Don’t fall for Boris Johnson’s criminal justice con tricks

Starting with the “new money”. Mr Johnson has announced that 20,000 new police officers will be recruited over the next three years. This is vital, certainly, but falls far short of what is required, given that that figure barely replaces the number of officers cut since 2010. Meanwhile, not only is crime increasing, but investigations are becoming ever-more complex, with digital evidence sucking resources and quadrupling the effort that would have been required a decade ago.

There’s £85m for the Crown Prosecution Service, which sounds like a healthy sum, until you realise that it’s a fixed payment over two years, and that the CPS budget for 2018/19 was a quarter of a billion pounds less in real terms than in 2009/10. The CPS has lost a quarter of its staff and a third of its lawyers since 2010. Two tranches of £42.5m will not begin to fix the problems that plague prosecutions up and down the country.

There’s a promise of 10,000 new prison places, when the previous promise of 10,000 places in 2015 fell short by 6,000, and another 9,000 places alone are required simply to address the present, longstanding overcrowding. There is £100m for technology to aid prison security, but no mention at all of the extra prison staff needed to safely manage the new offenders, given that even after a recruitment drive in 2017, numbers are 15 per cent down since 2010. There has been a huge drain of experience since 2010, as the most experienced officers were among the first to go when the government decided to slash prison staff by over a quarter, at a time when the prison population has climbed.

But the problem extends far beyond inadequate promises to redress chronic underfunding. The propaganda accompanying these announcements betrays not only the Prime Minister’s trademark opportunism and dearth of intellectual rigour but the sticky, putrid tar clogging the heart of the Johnson Crime Agenda.

Announcing his plans in a series of weekend puffs in tame newspapers, Boris Johnson declared, “Left wingers will howl. But it’s time to make criminals afraid – not the public.” Declaring his mission to ensure that criminals “get the sentence they deserve,” Johnson continued a theme begun in his Telegraph columns on the campaign trail, when he railed against “early release” from prison and inadequate prison sentences being passed. The solution to our criminal woes, the subtext screams, is to lock up more people for longer.

And let’s make no mistake, punishment is a legitimate and important part of criminal sentencing. It is one of the five purposes of sentencing listed in statute, alongside the reduction of crime (including by deterrence), reform and rehabilitation, protection of the public and making reparations to victims. Few if anybody involved in criminal justice would disagree with the notion that people who commit crime should be punished in a way that reflects their culpability and the harm they have caused, and that for some people, notably the most serious violent offenders, lengthy prison sentences are inevitable.

However, the notion that longer prison sentences by themselves make any of us any safer is a fantasy. The notion in particular that knife crime will be solved if we simply lock up young men for years on end is a hoax. The public may well be protected from that particular individual for the duration of their incarceration, but the idea underpinning this rotten philosophy – that longer sentences have a deterrent effect on crime – has been shown to be bogus. What does act as a deterrent is not severity of sentence, but certainty. The likelihood of being caught and dealt with swiftly, in other words.

But crime reduction and prevention is not achieved solely by deterrence. Rehabilitation is a vital part of protecting the public. This is why, when dealing with complex, multi-causal offending intractably rooted in social and cultural problems, the courts may take the view that more can be done to protect the public by keeping a young man on the cusp of custody out of the prison warehouse estate, and offering focussed intervention in the community. Sending someone to prison usually means ripping them away from all and any stabilising factors they may have. They lose their job, their social housing and their relationship, and exit prison with no support network other than the new friends they’ve made inside. This is why the evidence suggests that reoffending rates are lower when offenders are kept in the community.

But the evidence is of no concern to the Prime Minister. This is why he is forced into infantile ad hominems as a pre-emptive rebuttal against the people who have read and studied the evidence, and might be minded to offer some as a counter to his claims that our system is soft.

We already have the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe. Prison sentences have on average got longer year-on-year. We have more prisoners detained on indefinite and life sentences than all the other countries in the Council of Europe.

The notion that our courts routinely hand out “soft sentences” is simply not true. When we do see “soft justice” stories in the headlines, they will either be an aberration, usually corrected on appeal, or they will be the product of inaccurate or dishonest reporting, removing context or omitting facts.

Which brings us to Johnson’s public statements. Because at the centre of his musings on criminal justice is a rich stuffing of bullshit. He has lied and lied and lied. He lied when he claimed that “a convicted rapist out on early release” had raped again (the man in question was neither a convicted rapist nor out on early release). He lied when he suggested that the notion of allowing some prisoners to be released on temporary licence was “criminally stupid” (the government’s own evidence shows that reintegrating prisoners into the community in this way cuts reoffending). When he told the Mail this weekend that there are “thousands of “super prolifics” – criminals with more than 50 convictions to their name – who are being spared jail altogether”, he did not tell you that one of the reasons they were spared jail might be that they were being sentenced for non-imprisonable offences. He is lying to you when he tells you that the solution to crime is More Police, More Prisons.

He is lying so that he can turn the volume up to 11 on his remix of “Prison Works” to ensure the oldies at the back of the conference hall can hear in the run-up to the inevitable autumn general election.

And while Mr Johnson is lying to you, the rest of the criminal justice system rots.

Courts are being closed down and sold off all over the country. Half of all magistrates’ courts have been closed, meaning that defendants, victims and witnesses are forced to travel for hours on ineffective public transport to their “local” court.

Of those courts remaining standing, many are unfit for purpose. Decaying, crumbling buildings with no working lifts, holes in the roofs, sewage leaking into public areas, no air conditioning in summer and no heating in winter. In some, the public cannot even get a glass of water.

Of the courts that remain unsold, all are now run at artificially low capacity due to Ministry of Justice restrictions on “court sitting days”. We have, in many large city Crown Courts, the farce of full-time, salaried judges being forced to sit at home taking “reading days” – their perfectly serviceable courtrooms sitting locked and empty – while trials are fixed for Summer 2020 due to an alleged “lack of court time”.

We still have the abominable system of “floating trials” and “warned lists” – where defendants, witnesses and lawyers are expected to give up days or weeks of their lives just sitting around at court on the off-chance that a courtroom suddenly becomes free to take their trial. When, inevitably, no courtroom becomes free (because the MoJ won’t pay for the sitting day, ibid), their case is adjourned for months, and the cycle begins again.

The one thing that does act as a deterrent to criminals – certainty – is being eroded by ensuring that justice is doled out literally years after the event, because the government will not pay for the courts to process cases clogging the pipeline.

Meanwhile legal aid is being stripped away from citizens, forcing them to self-represent in cases in which their liberty is on the line.

This is why I am angry. Not because I’m a “lefty” inherently resistant to Boris Johnson’s white hot public service reforms. I’m angry because as a prosecutor I am still having to sit down with crying witnesses week after week and explain that their torment is being prolonged for another six months because the government refuses to pay to keep courtrooms open. I’m angry because the Innocence Tax – the policy that forces the wrongly accused to pay privately for their legal representation and then denies them their costs, bankrupting them, when they are acquitted – is not even in the political peripheral vision. I’m angry because our Prime Minister is a man who looks at the record rates of death, violence, suicide, overcrowding and self-harm in our prisons and whose first question is, “How do we get more people in there?” I’m angry because the notion that you “crack down on crime” by chucking a few more police officers onto the streets and shoving more and more people into our death-riven prisons is a con. It is a con to victims of crime, and it is a con to you, the public. I’m angry because we have the indignity of a dishonest, cowardly and exploitative Prime Minister fiddling with his Party’s g-spot while the criminal justice system burns.

Don’t fall for his con trick.

Secret Barrister

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Latest From Napo 193

For quite some time readers have been suggesting that Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) was another disaster in the making and this latest news from Napo would tend to confirm that view:-  

Napo and POA in dispute over OMiC as Johnson announces 10,000 more prison places

Today’s big story on sentencing reform, and the return of the Tories favourite old pre-election mantra of ‘lock em up and throw away the key,’ is symptomatic of the failure by successive Governments to properly understand the need for a balanced approach to prisons and rehabilitation.

I have just returned to HQ from the interview with Sky News earlier today where I tried to introduce a different perspective, and highlight a number of Napo’s campaigning priorities. Depressingly today’s debate has been dominated by the headline of 10,000 new prison places (and at least one new prison) to be financed by another huge windfall from that Magic Money Tree.

Same old, same old

There are a few reasons why the policy shift should be subject to major scrutiny. Firstly, because it represents a brutal ‘pitchforking’ of the reformist shoots previously planted by Messrs Gauke and Stewart on the need to abolish short term prison sentences which would have made a decent start in freeing up space across the HMP estate. Although by now we should know better than to expect a few facts to get in the way of the populist soundbites resurrected by Boris and his chums as they move inexorably towards a November general election.

Secondly, and in fairness to Secretary of State Robert Buckland, who at least acknowledged the need to take a holistic view of penal and rehabilitative policy on the early bulletins, it's yet again been all about Prison being the place where society’s ‘problems’ can be sent and sorted. Anyone with even half an idea about the justice system can tell you that this is a patently absurd mind-set, both from a financial and political standpoint. It's been tried tested and failed more times than many of us can remember and has seen the Prison population rise to bursting point across several decades.

OMiC dispute

Today, and perhaps very well-timed, your National Chair Katie Lomas and I have served notice on Sonia Crozier that Napo are now in dispute over the Offender Management in Custody strategy for a number of reasons as articulated in our letter. Our serious doubts about the practicalities of OMiC were raised a long time ago and have been again in light of the Governments U-turn on Probation, but it’s been an awfully long slog trying to get someone to take our concerns seriously. Today’s announcements should at least ring some more bells in this regard.

Fortunately it's not just us who are somewhat miffed at developments, and last week we met with our colleagues from the POA who also have serious issues in common cause around grading, qualification and workloads. We agreed to exchange notes going forward, maintain contact and seek joint meetings with senior HMPPS leaders and Ministers.

We will also be raising this subject as a matter of urgency at this weeks’ meeting of the NPS JNC and we will report further to members as soon as we can.

Ian Lawrence, General Secretary


Sonia Crozier, Chief Probation Officer and Executive Director Women 
HM Prison and Probation Service 

12th August 2019 

Dear Sonia, 

Dispute re OMiC 

During recent engagement with your Officials about OMiC, we have received information that causes such significant concern to our members that we have no option but to formally register a dispute. Our concerns are summarised here. 

Lack of Consultation 

At the last meeting on July 24th we were presented with (after around a year of asking) a Powerpoint presentation titled “OMiC Staffing Model”. The document was dated March 2019. This document includes changes to agreed workload timings and changes to work practices such as completion dates for OASys and the OASys review frequency that we have not been properly consulted about. These constitute a significant change for members as well as establishing a lower level of assessment and review than is currently in place for clients in custody. 

Broken assurances on staffing levels 

At the start of OMiC, we were assured that the Offender Management part of the project would not be rolled out until staffing levels are safe. It is now clear that this is not the case and many members are reporting that their division is pressing ahead despite the significant vacancy levels and unacceptably high workloads that exist. 

We have been informed that, in five prisons, there are serious staffing issues that are not likely to be resolved by the “go live” date. Our understanding was that in such a situation the “go live” would not proceed, but instead we have been informed that the Case Management Support model will be used instead. This will force Probation staff to take on dangerously high caseloads of high risk clients and will see prison staff who have not had the requisite training or acquired the qualification to carry out offender management tasks with those clients. Taking aside the reality that the Case Management Support model rarely affords the workload relief it promises in the custody part of the sentence, there is little work that can be usefully given to someone else in this way. Our members who are being forced to work in this way are at real risk from such excessive workloads and we know from tragic experience that working so far beyond capacity also prevents members from delivering the standard of work required from them. 

SPO workloads 

We have raised our concerns for some time about the prison SPO role after it was announced that the ratio of SPO: reportee would be 1:14 FTE rather than the 1:10 FTE in the community. The SPOs working in prisons will be supervising both probation and prison staff who are on different sets of terms and conditions. We already see SPOs in the community struggling with workloads, especially where there are a number of part time staff (far more likely in a predominantly female workforce) which often means there are far more than 10 staff to supervise. In Prisons, these difficulties will be exacerbated, as the SPO is expected to drive the rehabilitation culture in the OMU while referencing multiple management and support structures for the two sets of staff. Our representations on this issue up to now have been ignored. 

Change to agreement on the contracted out estate 

During the meeting on the 24th July, we were also informed that, contrary to the previous assurance that high-risk clients in the contracted-out estate would have an OM with a Probation Qualification, there was a plan to use the Case Management Support model here too. This again forces members to work with dangerously high caseloads and way beyond their safe capacity thus risking their health and safety as well as making it impossible for them to deliver the standard of work expected. 

Concerns about the model 

You are of course aware that right from the start, Napo have questioned the OMiC model because it builds in working practices that are not supportive of desistance including inconsistency of worker through the sentence. The change of Offender Manager during the preparation for a client’s release is particularly concerning; as the period immediately prior to and just after release are especially vulnerable points in the sentence. The blueprint for the change to Probation Services discusses how problematic these “handoffs” are, and this forms part of the basis for one of the most significant U-turns in policy we have seen in Probation. It is therefore astounding that the OMiC model is being forced through with the same flaws embedded. 

The announcements by the Prime Minister over the weekend of the intention to create 10,000 new Prison places, in itself means that urgent dialogue (and surely a further review) is now necessary on the whole OMiC strategy and the resourcing requirements that are going to be needed in Prisons and Probation. 

In addition, the OMiC model has been altered for the Women’s Estate to remove the Keyworker role for those women described in the documentation as “high complexity women”. We have made representations about the degrading language being used and suggested that “women with complex needs” would be more appropriate. We question the decision to remove the Keyworker role which has been described as providing more consistency. Using consistency of worker as a reasoning for any decision in this model is bizarre, given the representations we have made about the model overall, but in this case it doesn’t fit at all. The Keyworker role is one of the positive aspects of OMiC, providing an additional supportive member of the “team” in the prison. This should be used to enhance, not supplant the interaction with the Offender Manager. Instead of removing the Keyworker role we believe that the Keyworker should remain, but the Offender Manager should be allocated additional time to ensure that positive working relationships can be built. 

No consultation on job losses 

In addition to the practice concerns we have illustrated above, it is very clear that the OMiC model is simply seeking to resolve the acute and chronic staffing issues in the NPS by giving staff unacceptably high workloads and by giving 30% of the custody caseload to Prison staff to manage. Although no NPS staff will lose their employment (because of the high vacancy rate in the NPS and our ‘no redundancy’ agreement) this nevertheless represents a net loss of jobs which has also not been the subject of prior consultation with the unions. 

In view of the urgency of this issue, we are seeking its inclusion as an additional item at this weeks’ meeting of the NPS JNC. Meanwhile, Napo will be taking steps to consult with our sister trade unions and our members about how we should progress this dispute. 

Yours sincerely 

General Secretary

National Chair

Monday, 12 August 2019

Depressing Reading

To be perfectly frank this article in the Independent makes for particularly depressing reading for anyone in our line of business or thinking of starting their career in what was once an enlightened and honourable endeavour to help address some of the consequences of failed social policies:-

Dismay as Boris Johnson ‘ignores evidence’ with pledge to crack down on crime with thousands more prison places

Boris Johnson has been accused of ignoring evidence on the causes of crime with a vow to create thousands more prison places and “properly punish” offenders.

The prime minister is to announce his plans at a meeting with police chiefs, judges and prison officers on Monday.Downing Street officials said he wanted to “improve the criminal justice system and make sure criminals are serving the time they are sentenced to”, following controversies over the automatic release of prisoners including a grooming gang leader halfway through their sentences.

Robert Buckland QC, the new justice secretary, suggested new prisons could be built “so we can keep criminals behind bars”. The prime minister is putting prisons at the heart of our bold plan to create a justice system which cuts crime and protects law-abiding people,” he added. “More and better prison places means less reoffending and a lower burden on the taxpayer in the future. Boris’s vision for policing shows this government is serious about fighting crime. It is vital we have a world-leading prison estate to keep criminals off our streets and turn them into law-abiding citizens when they have paid their debt to society.”

The move will be seen as a push to shore up support for Mr Johnson’s new government following the announcement of 20,000 more police officers and funding for the NHS. There has been speculation that a snap general election could be called if MPs force a vote of no confidence in the prime minister over a no-deal Brexit. The Conservatives previously pledged to create 10,000 more places in several new jails but only one – HMP Berwyn – has been completed and construction did not start on a second prison until June.

There was no immediate comment from the Ministry of Justice, which just three weeks ago released research indicating that short prison sentences were driving up reoffending that costs the UK £18bn a year.

Days before losing his post as justice secretary, David Gauke appealed for the next prime minister to “follow the evidence” rather than appeal to populist rhetoric on crime and punishment. “I don’t want to see softer justice – I want to deliver smarter justice where offenders serve sentences that punish but also make them less likely to reoffend,” he said last month. Mr Gauke had called for “ineffective” prison sentences of under six months to be abolished in favour of community orders and substance misuse programmes that address the root causes of people’s offending.

The plans, which were welcomed by penal researchers and advocacy groups, are to be scrapped by Mr Johnson. During the Conservative leadership campaign, he called for offenders given prison sentences of 14 years or more to remain inside for the entire term, rather than being released on licence halfway through. The change would dramatically increase demand on prisons in England and Wales, which are currently filled to 95 per cent of their operational capacity.

An annual report released by HM chief inspector of prisons last month cited overcrowding and squalid conditions as one driver of rising violence and self-harm, but also called for an effective drug strategy, improved rehabilitation, better planning for release and purposeful activity for inmates. “At present ‘overcrowding’ in prisons is assessed by the prison service based on how many prisoners can be crammed into the available cells,” said HM chief inspector Peter Clarke. “Perhaps we should think about describing prisons as being overcrowded if, among other things, there are not enough meaningful education or work places for the prisoners being held in them.”

Downing Street acknowledged that prisons need a “greater emphasis on rehabilitation” and training but did not detail plans to provide it. The Prison Reform Trust warned that government had historically underestimated the difficulties in removing or replacing old prisons. Director Peter Dawson said:

“According to the prison service’s own figures it would take 9,000 new spaces just to eliminate overcrowding – not a single dilapidated prison could be taken out of use before that figure was reached. Current projections suggest a further 3,000 new spaces will be needed just to absorb sentences already passed, and we know the aggressive rhetoric of ‘prison works’ invariably drives up the use of imprisonment long before the capacity to deal with that has been created. Half-baked policy on prisons always runs up against inconvenient reality. Tough rhetoric is no substitute for understanding the evidence.”

Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform, called the construction of new prisons “an exercise in ego and reputation” and a “gross squandering of taxpayers’ money”. She said prison governors and officers described managing men on sentences longer than 20 years “an impossible challenge”, adding: “Sentence inflation is now out of control.”

Christina Marriott, chief executive of the Revolving Doors Agency, said short prison sentences “create more crime and more victims”. She added: “The prime minister says he wants to take tough action on crime, but for effective action, he must listen to the evidence including, that from the Ministry of Justice.”

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Yes It's More Prisons Folks!

According to this article from the Times yesterday, it might be summertime but we are now in full election mode and the 'nasty' party are reverting to type with 'tough on crime' featuring as one of three key campaign messages:- 

Boris Johnson to boost jails in law and order election pledge

Boris Johnson will unveil plans next week to increase the number of prison places in an effort to reclaim the Conservatives’ reputation as the party of law and order before a possible election.

The prime minister is expected to announce a renewed prison-building programme after concerns that previous plans to increase capacity by 10,000 places before 2020 have stalled. One of many expected moves on crime and justice, it will be seen as part of Mr Johnson’s efforts to prepare the Tories for a general election after Brexit.

Mr Johnson is expected to argue in a speech this week that overcrowded prisons in England and Wales are increasing violence and hampering efforts to rehabilitate offenders. Prosecutions for rape have fallen by a third in a year, to a record low, after rows about the disclosure of evidence.

Mr Johnson has already indicated that he will take a harder line than Theresa May’s government on crime and justice. Allies have said that he will scrap plans made by David Gauke, the former justice secretary, to abolish jail sentences of six months or less for all but the most serious criminals.

During the Tory leadership campaign Mr Johnson also committed to keeping serious sexual and violent offenders behind bars for longer, calling it wrong that they were routinely released after half of their sentence.

Britain’s prisons are operating at 97 per cent of capacity and there are fears that overcrowding is fuelling record violence. The number of assaults in prisons in the year to March, the most recent data available, reached 34,425, the highest recorded, and there were 10,311 assaults on staff.

The prison population is expected to grow from 83,007 at present to 86,400 by March 2023. In 2016 the Conservative Party announced plans to create 10,000 new “modern prison places” by the end of the decade. It subsequently planned six new prisons, of which only three have been approved. Construction work has begun on only one.

A government source told The Times: “Boris wants to put rocket boosters under the prison-building programme. He’s talking about a new mega-prison, he’s trying to release cash. Prisons are overcrowded. We need better facilities and a better environment where prisoners can do more purposeful activity. It’s all part of making prisons more purposeful.”

The Times has also been told that the Crown Prosecution Service will make an announcement about increasing the number of rape prosecutions, which have fallen to their lowest for more than five years. The number fell from 11,311 in 2017 to 7,594 last year despite a huge increase in recorded sex offences. Prosecutions for all offences have also hit a 50-year low despite rises in the crime rate.

The Home Office has announced a review of how rape cases are handled by police and prosecutors after warnings that victims’ privacy was being violated by intrusive disclosure practices.

Mr Johnson has promised to focus on three central themes in his domestic agenda: the NHS, crime and immigration. Several announcements on health were made last week, including measures to resolve the doctors’ pensions crisis and a £250 million investment in artificial intelligence for the NHS.

Labour is expected to table a confidence motion in Mr Johnson’s government when MPs return from recess in September in an attempt to stop a no-deal Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has written to Sir Mark Sedwill, head of the civil service, urging him to rule on whether Mr Johnson can force through a no-deal Brexit during a general election campaign.

If Mr Johnson loses a confidence vote and is forced into an early election, Downing Street is considering plans to schedule polling day after October 31 so that Britain will leave the EU regardless of the election outcome. In a letter to Sir Mark, Mr Corbyn said that this would be unprecedented and unconstitutional.

He said that the Cabinet Office’s purdah rules during elections made clear that policy decisions on which a new government “might be expected to want to take a different view” should be postponed until after polling day.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Hijacking of a Good Idea

During the whole painful probation privatisation process of the last few years a number of myths were promulgated in order to try and support the process, one being the suggestion that the private sector would 'innovate'. In reality the only 'innovation' has proved to be in cost-cutting and precious little service delivery improvement, confirmation having been provided by a succession of negative inspection reports.

On the contrary, those of us who have been around for some time are fully aware that the probation service has a long and distinguished history of innovation, much of which having influenced criminal justice policy world-wide, such as the pioneering of 'community service'. My attention has been drawn to this recently produced BBC programme:-   

How Britain pioneered an alternative to prison

In the 1970s the UK tried to reduce its growing prison population. An experimental new punishment was introduced for convicted criminals. It was called Community Service. The scheme was soon copied around the world. Witness History speaks to John Harding, a former Chief Probation Officer, who was in charge of the introduction of Community Service in one of the first pilot schemes.


Unfortunately politicians just can't stop themselves tinkering with criminal justice policy for political gain and John Harding wrote this for the Guardian in January 2013:-

Forty years of community service

How did a measure that required offenders to carry out socially beneficial work turn into a form of punishment?

The first community service order was made in Nottingham crown court 40 years ago this month for Peter, a cannabis supplier.

On 2 January 1973, Mr Justice James ordered Peter to undertake 120 hours of community service. As the senior probation officer responsible for initiating a Home Office community service order pilot scheme in Nottinghamshire, I was summoned to the judge's retiring room before the sentencing decision was announced. The judge wanted to know what the new measure involved, where the offender would be placed and how accountable the service would be if Peter failed to respond. I told him that Peter would be working for an old people's home run by Nottingham social services, assisting staff and residents. If he failed to turn up for community service, Peter would have been returned to court for being in breach of the order.

This revolution in community-based sanctions was the creation of a subcommittee of the Advisory Council on the Penal System (ACPS), set up in 1966 by the then Labour government to advise the home secretary on "matters relating to the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders". The ACPS non-custodial and semi-custodial penalties subcommittee was chaired by social reformer Lady Barbara Wootton.

Probation pilots

Following its recommendation, community service was piloted in six probation areas: Nottinghamshire, inner London, Kent, Durham, south-west Lancashire and Shropshire. Six senior probation officers/community service organisers were appointed by the pilot areas to negotiate a range of tasks with local public services and non-governmental organisations, set out criteria for the assessment and matching of offenders to work assignments, and prepare magistrates and judges for the new powers that, from January 1973, would be available to crown and magistrates courts.

I asked the only surviving member of ACPS, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, where the idea of community service came from. He said that, by chance, the committee's attention was drawn to a newspaper article about an experiment conducted by a criminal court judge in Darmstadt, Germany, in the 1950s. The judge exercised his discretion by ordering an offender, convicted of dangerous driving, to work for a certain period of time under nursing supervision in a local accident and emergency hospital. The knowledge that the judge, under German criminal law, could impose a legal requirement on a convicted offender to carry out such work provided the spur ACPS needed to develop their thinking of community service as a court sanction in its own right, Blom-Cooper explained. Yet, without Wootton's inspired chairmanship and forcefulness, community service would not have emerged as a distinct penal sanction, he added.

ACPS believed that community service should be a constructive penalty whereby the offender took on the burden of social responsibility towards others. They saw great merit in merging the majority of offenders with non-offender volunteers so that the offenders could be inspired by the volunteers.

When ACPS published its report on non-custodial penalties in 1970, it took the view that community service would appeal to the punitive-minded because it involved deprivation of leisure; to the retributive, because it would compel the offender to make some repayment to the community for the damage that he had done; and to others, mainly because it would be cheaper and probably a more hopeful alternative to a short period of imprisonment, or because it would make the punishment fit the crime.

The pilot areas were left with relative freedom to develop community service in appropriate ways. I was much influenced by the New Careers movement in the US, which was part of President Lyndon Johnson's anti-poverty programme. It used some offenders as a community resource in the belief that, instead of becoming recipients of help, they could become dispensers of service and, in doing so, gain status and approval. Within three months in Nottinghamshire, we had hundreds of potential tasks for offenders in the community, from helping at clubs for disabled people or young people and at old people's homes, to canal preservation and supporting A&E units of local hospitals.

When the two-year pilots ended in 1974, the Home Office research unit's final report was a superb illustration of official caution punctured by unfettered enthusiasm. The researchers said the scheme was viable and, despite their doubt about its overall impact on the size of the population, revealed that, at its best, community service was an exciting departure from traditional penal treatment.

By the end of 1977, community service was rolled out across England and Wales. And over the next 20 years, Europe, Australasia, parts of Asia and the US all adopted community service orders.

In the UK alone, millions of hours of community service have been carried out by thousands of offenders at a fraction of the cost of imprisonment. The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that community sentences outperform prison sentences for 18- to 24-year-olds by 13% in terms of reducing reoffending. Even when offenders of all ages are closely matched in terms of criminal history and offence type, the performance gap remains 8%.

Yet, in a retributive age, the image of community service has been ratcheted up by politicians to match penal populism. And a demand for tougher community penalties has been paralleled by the rebranding of community service to community punishment, then community payback, and now to unpaid work. Today's offenders wear fluorescent tabards over their clothes to indicate that they are offenders, easily recognisable by members of the public. In reality, I suspect, despite the hardening rhetoric, nothing much has changed in terms of nature of tasks undertaken, though the rigid enforcement of orders leaves little room for discretion.

Further, probation staff have handed over responsibility for unpaid work schemes to private companies such as Serco, which in October was awarded a four-year contract in London. The justification for this is to ensure a more efficient and cost-effective service. There are no evidential grounds for this degree of optimism. Serco promises to cut costs. The probation union, Napo, warns that this will be achieved by changing the employment conditions of existing supervisory staff and cutting salaries.

The MoJ intends to put out to tender £600m worth of probation services, about 60% of the entire budget. It is a far cry from the Wootton committee's founding principles that a private company should not make profits on the back of offenders while they are repaying their debt to society. Blom-Cooper, for one, is saddened that we have moved to an acceptance that profit, not a sense of public service, is the prime driver for certain parts of our criminal justice process. "Penal reform," he remarked drily, "is not necessarily penal progress."

In addition, the government proposes, in its crime and courts bill currently going through parliament, to introduce a mandatory punitive element to every community order. This could include a fine or a curfew, which penal campaigners are warning may undermine community sentences' success in reducing reoffending.

Whether the foundation stones of community service, laid down over the past 40 years, will survive under fragmentation and privatisation is open to question. Those of us fortunate enough to have been involved in its conception and present at its birth, believed that probation could make a difference in offenders' lives, provided that hard work, and clarity of purpose and vision underpinned all our efforts.

John Harding was pioneer senior probation officer/community service organiser for Nottinghamshire, 1972-74, and chief probation officer for inner London, 1993-2001

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Compare and Contrast

Seen on Twitter:-

Bronwen Elphick Great joint event with senior leadership teams today. #NorthForce in full flow. Lots of positive discussion around the next iteration of Probation Reform.

Nick Hall Great to start our journey towards a new probation system. Our approach will set the pace but more importantly it will ensure we shape the new system and not just transition to it. We will keep our focus on service users and staff at all times. #NorthForce 

Lynda Marginson CBE Positive and productive NPS NE and CRC senior leaders event today setting the direction for our joint approach to the transition into new probation model. #NorthForce

Seen on Facebook:-

The idea of Probation was simple. Instead of punishment and retribution those who committed crime were placed under the watchful eye of someone who would instead advise, assist and befriend them. This was found to work so well to rehabilitate those they worked with that our predecessors were asked to do more of it. Mind you caseloads were lower, bureaucracy almost non existent and there was no IT. Then bit by bit probation was corrupted and became more and more about compulsion, coercion and eventually punishment and control. When did it all go wrong? David Raho

From the CJA 91.

SNOP 1984. First of many attempts to impose centrally generated national objectives and priorities from the Home Office on a then locally integrated and community-focused service. This was still being hotly debated when I joined the service in 1987. Some liked more of a national structure whilst others like me wanted to remain closer to local authorities and independent of the central government. There was a fierce defence of localism and a resistance to the government telling the service what to do and disregarding local stakeholders but this was never really resolved satisfactorily as the service began to expand and from 1988 the management consultants arrived by the busload telling managers they weren't managing and people were wandering around like zombies asking each other where they had left their key output areas. 

In retrospect, I wish we had persisted in that resistance as our failure to unite and reject centralised control more effectively paved the way for the CJA 91 and then managerialism and bureaucracy gained traction biting chunks out of our core values and original purpose as a humanising force within the CJS. David Raho

We will always be a humanising force as long as we choose to be. Every day that we treat our clients with respect under the most difficult of circumstances, we are that force. They can rearrange our sinking deckchairs all they like, there will always be good people in the service doing a good job and making a difference.

I think we have to go back to basics and ask questions about what we are actually trying to achieve by our efforts and how we are going to achieve this in an ethical way that will make a positive difference both to the individual and to the community to which they belong. Making a positive difference means that they are better off as a result of having contact with us. At present the vast majority of persons coming into contact with probation, with the odd exception, arguably gain very little from the experience and some might be better off having none at all to achieve rehabilitation. 

Probation used to be about delicately balancing care and control with more of an emphasis on care whilst control as a result of working within a legal framework was there but there was room within this for rehabilitation. Care seems to have been placed on the back burner. If someone is working hard and doing a good job to meet targets in a broken system that isn’t very clear about what its purpose is then are they really doing a ‘good’ job or just the job they are expected to do or directed to do?

There are many jobs that contribute to an outcome that might be defined as not good in terms of humanity e.g. whaling, arms manufacture, military drone pilot etc although these jobs are no doubt done well by those who do them who are probably motivated in their own ways to make a difference and certainly don’t see themselves and what they are doing as necessarily bad or evil. Nevertheless I have seen many colleagues leave Probation because they can no longer bring themselves to do the job they are expected to do in the way they are expected to do it. 

These former colleagues often say that the job has changed so much that it is no longer the job that they signed up to do. One said to me recently that they were not a robot and wanted to do something good with their life that helped people and allowed them to express a greater range of human emotions. Some argue that we should consciously return to being social workers rather than continue to be enforcers and government agents propping up a morally bankrupt and unethical system designed by right wingers to punish and exact retribution on the poor and desperate in our society. Perhaps this is even more relevant given recent political developments. Do people now joining probation see themselves as social workers or something else? Perhaps they see themselves in tune with a government that couldn’t care less about the poor sick and disadvantaged? I hope not. 

Many of those we work with are both victims as well as perpetrators of crime. Many have had few opportunities and belong to communities that already suffer disproportionately from prejudice and discrimination. Do our organisations reflect and respond adequately to the demographic of the clients we work with who are overwhelmingly male and in urban areas in particular disproportionately from minority ethnic backgrounds? When I look around at the newest recruits they are often fresh faced predominantly white middle class straight out of university. Whereas in the past it is older people with life experience mostly gained outside probation (not in the CJS) who formed the backbone of the service and brought much to our work. In any case do we really work with those who commit the biggest and most antisocial and damaging crimes anymore? For instance, how many of us are supervising bankers who knowingly gambled with the future of so many people and lost, forcing the rest of society to bail them out to have another go without repercussions? 

Crime has changed and there are many now committing crimes involving the internet. I don’t see interventions geared to all the thousands involved in this. How many of us now work for corporations that have a shadowy past and are involved in or have been involved in dodgy things? Are we really part of the solution to make things better and more human in society or indeed the world or are we also part of the problem? There are for instance much more liberal criminal justice systems around in Europe or the Far East with probation services that are much more effective at bringing about rehabilitation in an apparently more humane way than ours, whereas we certainly rank near the top for punishment and enforcement (admired by much more controlled and less democratic or equitable societies) and aim to get more efficient at this because doing so will supposedly stop people reoffending. 

Our system seems to be based on a crude behaviourist theory that if you keep slapping someone harder and long enough every time they break a law whether just or not they will eventually become a law abiding ‘good‘ member of their community - a theory that has long been abandoned in the education system as ineffective. The force for and means of achieving rehabilitation in probation is arguably not as strong as it was having been attacked relentlessly over decades by the right wing media who have scapegoated those who care and care about the welfare of others. Those, for example, who suggest that skilled social work intervention might be a much better way of helping those we work with to desist from reoffending, as opposed to those methods and approaches that facilitate bureaucracy punishment and control, are often now viewed erroneously as eccentric. It would however require a strong vision and reaffirmation of probation as a distinctly rehabilitative activity, that is is distinct from the efforts and identity of other players in the criminal justice system, a service primarily concerned with welfare not punishment and retribution, if a real shift towards a less morally reprehensible system is to be achieved. I hope this occurs within my lifetime. David Raho

Advise, assist, befriend so much more effective than coerce and enforce. We know good parenting is all about positive reinforcement - negative enforcement does not work so why would it work with people who need to be encouraged to change.

Absolutely right. There is enough punishment, coercion and enforcement in the system that is often disproportionate to the crime that has been committed and pointless in terms of rehabilitating a person or encouraging them to make better choices or desisting from criminal behaviours. If we are about encouraging people on the path to desistance I also disagree with the view that punitive breach assists in any meaningful way. There is some evidence it can increase short term compliance but in many cases it does nothing to build a constructive relationship. 

It is my view that we should return to a more ethical morally defensible system where people give their informed consent to be supervised whether on a Probation Order or undertaking Community Work. In effect they enter into a contract with the court. If consent is not given to what should be seen as positive and constructive ways of dealing with the matter then the court should explain alternatives that may include a range of non consensual disposals that are short and structured. This would cater for all but the most high risk persons who commit crimes. I’d actually introduce a points system whereby once someone had completed particular short programmes, days of Community Work etc then they have completed their sentence. Each activity would have a value and they could follow their progress online or on an app. Idea I’ve been knocking about for a while. David Raho

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Picture Worth a Thousand Words

It looks as if our new Prime Minister is determined to use all the tricks in the book to ensure he wins the next Election, so we can expect prison numbers to rise and sentence length to increase. A long read even for a Sunday, but this recent forensic report from the Institute for Government has a number of charts that graphically demonstrate the effect of trying to save money on the Prison Service budget. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words:-  


Prisons have experienced large spending cuts and cuts to staff numbers since 2009/10. Despite promising signs in the early years of this period that this was manageable, in 2013/14 prison safety started to deteriorate sharply. Violence rates have risen, and prisoners appear to have less access to learning and development activities.
Spending has risen recently following an injection of extra cash at the 2016 Autumn Statement to tackle the decline in prison safety. The rate of deaths in prison has subsequently fallen, but the data does not yet show any discernible improvements in overall violence levels.

There are 122 prisons in England and Wales, of which the vast majority (108) are ‘public’ prisons, run directly by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). The other 14 (‘private’ prisons) are run by private companies. These tend to be of above-average size, and house 19% of the prison population – up from 15% in 2012/13.*

This chapter looks at all of these prisons, including eight young offender institutions. These young offender institutions accommodate males aged 15–21, although some adult prisons also have youth wings.

Spending on prisons is 16% lower in real terms than in 2009/10

Figure 4.14 Change in spending on prisons in England and Wales (real terms) (current), since 2009/10

Between 2009/10 and 2015/16 day-to-day spending on prisons fell sharply – by 21% in real terms – reflecting similarly deep cuts to the wider Ministry of Justice budget. However, extra money was pumped into the prisons budget at the 2016 Autumn Statement – £291 million (m) over three years – to try to tackle the deterioration of safety levels in prisons, most notably by increasing prison officer numbers by 2,500 by the end of 2018. Spending then rose in that year and in 2017/18, around £3 billion was spent on prisons, 16% less than in 2009/10.

Demand: prisoner numbers have remained broadly flat

The prison population has remained broadly flat since 2010, in contrast with rapid growth in the 1990s and 2000s. There were 82,773 prisoners in England and Wales on 30 June 2018 compared with 83,391 on 30 June 2009. This shift is in part due to reforms to sentencing in 2008 and a fall in the number of cases being received in the courts.The prison population has remained consistently around 95% male.

Figure 4.15 Prison population in England and Wales, as of 30 June, since 2009

The total number of prisoners in June 2018 includes 642 under-18s (all male), most of whom are held in young offender institutions.There has been a dramatic fall over recent years in the number of young people held in custody: between June 2010 and June 2018, the number of under-18s in young offender institutions more than halved (from 1,661 to 642).This reflects an apparent overall fall in youth crime – fewer young people are being cautioned or sentenced. However, there is evidence that the remaining population of young people in custody is becoming more challenging, with a growing proportion being held for violent offences.

Overall, the prison population is ageing: the proportion of the prison population aged under 30 has fallen since 2011 (from 46% to 35% in 2018), while the proportion aged 60 and over has grown (from 4% to 6% in 2018). Within this there has been a rise in the number of prisoners in the oldest age bracket – a 16% rise in the number of people aged 70 and over in prison over the past two years – which signals potential rising care needs in the prison population.

Data on the prevalence of mental illness in prisons is incomplete, but estimates range from 23% (of a sample of prisoners who reported previous contact with mental health services) to 37% (of prisoners surveyed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons – HMIP – in 2016/17 who reported having an emotional wellbeing or mental health problem).This indicates that the prevalence of mental health issues may be higher among prisoners than the general population (estimated in 2007 to be around 23%) – although we do not know how the prevalence of mental health problems in prisons has changed over time.

There are also signs that an influx of new types of drugs – called ‘new psychoactive substances’ – is putting new pressures on prisons. New psychoactive substances – such as ‘Spice’ – are synthetically produced drugs, originally designed to mimic the effects of illegal substances (although they are now themselves illegal). They can cause aggression, psychosis and intense depressive episodes. In 2016, the prison and probation ombudsman described them as a ‘game-changer’ for prison safety.

Screening for the use of new psychoactive substances in prisons was first introduced in 2016. Since then, one year of data has been published, showing that they are by far the most prevalently used drugs in prisons: in 2017/18, 10.1% of mandatory drug tests were positive for their use, compared with a 10.3% positive drug test for all other drugs.

Input: the number of prisons has fallen – but prison capacity remains the same

There are 122 prisons in England and Wales, down from 137 in 2009/10. Since 2009/10, 20 prisons have closed or merged, and five new prisons have opened. However, despite a fall in the number of prisons, the overall capacity of the prison system was roughly the same at the end of 2017/18 as at the end of 2009/10, due to the larger size of the new prisons.

Only one brand new prison has been initiated and built since 2009/10: Berwyn, in North Wales. Originally announced in 2013, it began to receive prisoners in February 2017.

Two of the prisons opened since 2009/10 are privately operated: one (Thameside in London) operates under a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract, meaning that it was both built and is now run by a private company; the other (Oakwood in Staffordshire) was built by the public sector but is run by G4S. Another of these new prisons (Northumberland) was originally opened as a public prison in 2011 but was taken over by G4S in 2013. At the same time, G4S also took over Birmingham prison – previously a publicly run prison.

Just one prison has reverted from private to public management during this period: Wolds prison in Yorkshire, which had been run by G4S from when it opened in 1991, but was brought under public management in 2013 (following a critical inspection report and G4S’s high-profile failure at the 2012 Olympics) when the previous PFI deal ran out.*

* Wolds was merged with publicly run Everthorpe prison to form Humber prison

Input: staff numbers in public prisons are starting to rise again, following deep cuts

Prisons’ main strategy for dealing with budget cuts has been to reduce staff numbers. Across the whole prison estate, around 40% of spending went on staff costs in 2016/17 – down from 48% in 2012/13 (the earliest year for which we have comparable data). That equates to a 21% real-terms decrease in spending on staff over that period.[

Below is an analysis of what has happened to the public prison workforce. No information is publicly available on what has happened to staffing levels in private prisons.

Figure 4.16 Change in the total number of core operational staff (Bands 3รข€“5) (full- time equivalent) in public prisons, as of 31 March, since 2009/10

Since March 2017, the number of prison officers has risen by 3,205 – a 17% increase. At the end of the 2017/18 financial year, there were 21,041 full-time equivalent (FTE) prison officers in public prisons in England and Wales – rising further to 21,608 in June 2018. This follows a large decline – of 26%, or 6,580 officers – between 2009/10 and 2013/14. This means that the Government has not only met its target (set at the end of 2016) of recruiting an extra 2,500 prison officers by the end of 2018, it has exceeded it.

This is the net increase – the actual level of recruitment into the prison service in 2016/17 was much higher. This has been key to meeting the Government’s recruitment target, as the retention rate for prison officers is low. In 2016/17, 4,933 new prison officers joined the prison service, while 2,088 left. If turnover continues at this rate – or worsens – HMPPS will be faced with the task of recruiting thousands of new prison officers every year, just to keep numbers steady.

This high turnover means that, even though there are now almost as many prison officers as there were five years ago, the composition of prison staff is different.

Experience levels have fallen. In June 2018 a third of prison officers had less than two years’ experience (compared with 7% in March 2010); 49% had experience of 10 years (down from 56% in 2009/10). While many of those individuals may well be competent and skilled, the overall decline in experience may have had a negative impact on the overall effectiveness of the workforce.** The Prison Service Pay Review Body has raised concern about the high levels of inexperience in the prison service, citing in particular the extra burden on longstanding officers to mentor new recruits.

Although the number of prison officers has started to grow, other parts of the prison workforce have continued to shrink. The number of prison managers has fallen consistently over the past eight years, from 1,434 in March 2010 to 905 in June 2018 (a 37% decrease).

** For example, HMIP concluded that the “inexperience of many staff” underpinned the problems it encountered at Nottingham prison in January 2018, where conditions were so poor that an ‘Urgent Notice’ was invoked, making the Secretary of State directly accountable for improving performance. See HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Report on an Unannounced Inspection of HMP and YOI Nottingham, HM Inspectorate of Prisons, May 2018. 

Output: prison safety has continued to decline

The essential activity of prisons is to hold prisoners in custody – to stop them escaping. On this count, performance has been good over the past eight years. Between 2009/10 and 2017/18 there were no more than two escapes a year (where a prisoner has to physically overcome some restraint or barrier to go out of the control of the staff) – except in 2016/17 when there were four. The number of absconders – prisoners who escaped from an open environment – fell steadily, from 269 in 2009/10 to 86 in 2016/17 (while the number of prisoners in open prisons rose). However, in 2017/18 the number rose again to 139.

But the work of prisons transcends just keeping people inside. We expect prisoners to be kept healthy and safe. It is also the Government’s stated intention that prisons should play a role in preparing prisoners for a life outside of prison – the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ hailed by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. However, the evidence suggests that prisons are struggling on all of those counts.

Output: prison violence continues to intensify...

Figure 4.17 Number of assaults in prisons in England and Wales, since 2009/10

Prisons have continued to become more dangerous for both staff and prisoners over the past year. In 2017/18 there were more than 9,000 assaults on prison staff (or 106 for every 1,000 prisoners). That means the frequency of assaults has almost tripled since 2009/10 – in both raw and per-prisoner terms. There was a 26% increase (from 7,159) in the past year alone. The frequency of serious assaults against staff has risen even faster – from 289 (or three for every 1,000 prisoners) in 2009/10 to 892 (or 10 for every 1,000 prisoners) in 2017/18.

Assaults on prisoners by other prisoners are much more frequent than assaults on staff. There were 22,374 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in 2017/18 – nearly double the number that took place in 2009/10. That works out as 262 assaults per 1,000 prisoners – up from 142 in 2009/10. Serious assaults against prisoners rose even more rapidly: from 1,087 to 3,081.

These figures are themselves likely to be an underestimation of the actual number of assaults: a government audit of data collection practices in prisons this year found that assaults were underreported by 10% last year. So the actual number of assaults was probably even higher.

A number of things could have caused this serious increase in prison violence. It could be directly related to the pace of prison staff reduction. In 2013/14 alone, prison officer numbers fell by 15% (or 3,250 officers) – equalling the reductions seen in total over the previous four years. It may be that those previous reductions were sustainable, but that the 2013/14 staff cuts went too far. There may have been a ‘lagged’ effect, with problems caused by earlier staff reductions taking a while to show up in the data. The presence of new psychoactive substances has also clearly been a factor: due to both the violent effects induced by the drugs themselves, and also to violence associated with dealing and supply. A recent evidence review commissioned by the Ministry of Justice found that “the crucial factor in maintaining order is the availability and the skills of unit staff”.

Rates of violence among youth offenders are far higher than among the adult population. Across the whole ‘youth estate’ – including all 15- to 17-year-olds, not just those in young offender institutions – there were 2.77 assaults per prisoner in 2017/18, up from 1.84 in 2012/13 (the earliest year with comparable data). This, of course, has happened at the same time as the size of the youth estate has shrunk rapidly.

…and prisoners are self-harming with increasing frequency

Figure 4.18 Number of self-harm incidents in England and Wales, since 2009/10

Prisoners are also harming themselves with increasing frequency. The number of self-harm incidents rose by 88% (from just under 25,000 to just under 47,000) between 2009/10 and 2017/18. These incidents were gendered: there were 2,244 self-harm incidents for every 1,000 female prisoners, compared with 467 for every 1,000 male prisoners. The gender differential was much smaller among assault incidents: there were 366 assaults for every 1,000 male prisoners in 2017/18 and 318 for every 1,000 female prisoners.

One indicator is improving, however. Self-inflicted deaths in prison fell in 2017/18 to their lowest levels since 2012/13, after a big increase in 2015/16 and 2016/17. However, that still amounted to 69 self-inflicted deaths in prison in 2017/18 (0.8 for every 1,000 prisoners).

Output: prisoners’ access to rehabilitative activity appears to be worsening

The evidence on what prisoners do with their time – and how much access they have to activities that might support their rehabilitation and wellbeing – is limited. The Ministry of Justice stopped publishing data on the number of hours that prisoners spent “engaged in purposeful activity” (such as education or training) in 2011/12 – although, up to that point, average hours were rising.

There are concerns that the issues outlined above – a shrinking workforce and a violent environment – are limiting prisoners’ opportunities to engage in meaningful activity, by increasing the time they spend locked in their cells. In its 2017/18 survey, HMIP found that only 16% of prisoners were unlocked for the recommended 10 hours a day. We have no consistent data on how this has changed over time.

What we do know is that fewer prisoners appear to be starting and completing accredited courses that may support them on their release from prison. The number of prisoners completing ‘accredited programmes’, largely designed to support behaviour change and improve thinking skills, has fallen by 22% since 2014/15 (from 6,994 to 5,479). We have excluded ‘accredited substance misuse programmes’ from this analysis because responsibility for funding and commissioning all substance misuse treatment in prison was transferred to the NHS in 2013. There may be other cases within our figures where other activity has replaced formally ‘accredited’ programmes, accounting for some of the decline.

Figure 4.19 Number of offenders achieving level 1 or 2 qualifications in English and maths, 2010/11 to 2016/17

But there have been no such changes in the definition of academic qualifications. Here we can observe a clear decline. In 2016/17, 6,750 prisoners achieved a level 1 or 2 (pre-GCSE and GCSE-level) qualification in English, down from 11,760 in 2010/11 (a 43% decline). Similarly, the number achieving a level 1 or 2 qualification in maths fell from 10,950 to 6,800 (a 38% decline).

Have prisons become more efficient and can that be maintained?

In 2010, former Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke accepted large cuts to his departmental budget. This was on the understanding that the Government would bring forward legislation to reform sentencing and reduce the size of the prison population.

However, plans to introduce sentencing ‘discounts’ for early guilty pleas were scrapped in 2011, in the midst of political controversy over their potential application to rapists. At a press conference to announce this change, of course, then-Prime Minister David Cameron said the gap would be made up instead through ‘greater efficiency’.

As with most other services examined in Performance Tracker, economies were made in prisons through the pay cap: pay was frozen between 2011/12 and 2012/13, and increases were subsequently capped at 1% a year. But prison officers were among the first public servants to see their pay cap broken. In September 2017, they received a 1.7% pay rise for the 2017/18 financial year – and have been awarded a 2.75% increase for 2018/19.

Pay has not apparently been a barrier to recruiting the extra prison officers needed for the Ministry of Justice to meet its 2016 target of increasing prison officer numbers by 2,500 by the end of 2018. However, it may have contributed to the growing retention problem. High turnover will not necessarily be disastrous for the service, if it can continue recruiting at the rate it has this year. But continually replacing staff is of course much less efficient than holding on to them.

Another high-profile attempt at making economies was through the outsourcing of the maintenance contract in public prisons to Carillion and Amey in 2014 – large private contractors that promised to deliver the service at a much reduced cost. However, since the collapse of Carillion at the start of 2018, it has become clear that the outsourcers had seriously underbid, underestimating the scale of the task involved. The National Audit Office has estimated that Carillion was operating at a loss of around £12m on these contracts in 2017. The Carillion contracts have now reverted to a new ‘government-owned company’, which is receiving an extra £15m a year to provide an adequate service.

Since 2015, the Government’s key set of efficiency reforms have focused on creating new prison places. The 2015 Spending Review promised 10,000 new prison places – and four new prisons – by 2020, with five new prisons due after that. Estimated savings were £80m a year. However, these savings will not yet have been released: planning permission has been granted for three new prisons, but construction has not yet begun.

There are likely to have been productivity gains in some parts of the prison service. As far as we can tell (the unseen numbers for private prisons may complicate this picture), fewer prison officers are overseeing more prisoners – at this basic level, prisons are achieving more ‘output’ for each unit of ‘input’. There are indications, too, that those prisoners are becoming more challenging to oversee – with the rise of new drugs of particular concern.

One clear example we have is the ‘send money to someone in prison’ online service, which went live in 2017/18. By halving transaction costs, this is projected to save £17m over five years. A handful of sites have acted as ‘digital prison’ pilots – giving prisoners in-cell access to online services allowing them to make their meal choices, or make orders from the prison shop. But these are small-scale – and we do not know what size of savings they may have made.

Our ability to make a clear judgement on efficiency gains in prisons is hampered by the lack of data on private prisons – specifically, the lack of staff data. It is also difficult to discern what has happened to non-staff prison spending, such as catering and maintenance. However, given the scale of the deterioration in quality in both public and private prisons over the past five years, we cannot conclude that the service has become more efficient overall. This is particularly true of the past year – when spending and staff numbers rose, but violence and self-harm incidents continued to increase in frequency.

Although spending on prisons has risen, it remains 16% below the level in 2009/10 – meaning that it remains important for the prison service to maintain any genuine productivity improvements it has managed to produce. However, the more important question will be whether that extra investment is successfully used to produce an acceptable level of performance, particularly with regard to prison safety.

Have efficiencies been enough to meet demand?

The Government has more power to control the demand on prisons than for many other services examined in this report – by legislating to change the length and types of sentences that different types of offence and offender attract. But while there have been changes to legislation and guidelines around sentencing over the period since 2009/10, most of them involve increasing the use of custodial sentences or lengthening them: for example, the minimum term of a life sentence for murder with a knife was raised from 15 to 25 years in 2010, while the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 restricted the use of cautions.

In the case of prisons, the answer to the question of whether efficiencies have been enough to meet demand is a straightforward ‘no’. Any efficiency improvements that may have been made in parts of the system have been swamped by other demands, leading to a decline in quality, indicated by rising violence. Whether or not new drugs have been the key driver of rising violence, their presence has clearly amplified the challenges the prison system has faced in managing within a tightened budget.

This is particularly true after 2012/13. Before that point, there is evidence that efficiency improvements may have made up for falling spending: spending fell by 17% while prisoner numbers fell by only 5% between 2009/10 and 2012/13, but levels of violence and self-harm remained broadly flat. After that point, however, violence and self-harm rates began to increase – a trend that continues.