Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Gloves Come Off

Once again I am indebted to the Justice of the Peace blog for alerting me to the front page interview in the Yorkshire Evening Post by Mark Siddall, Operations Director of the West Yorkshire Probation Trust. It seems that this is merely a curtain raiser to a week-long in-depth look at probation up there in West Yorkshire and he kicks things off with a spirited case for abolishing short-term prison sentences of six months or less.

I must admit I did wonder when probation was going to finally find its voice with Ken Clarkes Green Paper consultation period ending shortly, together with the House of Commons Select Committee currently taking evidence on the future of the Service. Of course probation chiefs are no longer civil servants and are once again free to speak out, and they don't have long to try and save the Service with privatisation looming. But with the Service having no national champion and the Probation Chiefs Association and Probation Association keeping quiet of late, I think we can nevertheless safely assume that Mr Siddall is on-message given that his boss, Sue Hall, chairs the former and their boss Stan Hardy is on the Board of the latter.

Oleaginous or not, it is obviously no mere coincidence that probations thoughts on short-term sentences might well find favour with Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. The trouble is it just might be seen as a barely disguised attempt to try and drum up business because of course probation is not currently funded to deal with adults who get less than 12 months anyway. That new work is destined to be farmed out to other organisations under Payment by Results initiatives, which the Probation Association are on record as stating they support. Indeed it's quite possible that some Probation Trusts might try bidding for that work in partnership with other organisations. In this fight for survival, I think we can expect further high profile statements from other Service chiefs in the coming weeks.

Stirring up a hornets nest like this is undoubtedly a bit risky in possibly aggravating sentencers as clearly there can be a place for a short custodial sentence in certain circumstances. But he's right to point out that they can also be damaging and counter-productive in trying to achieve changes in behaviour. This is why a full Pre Sentence Report rather than an FDR is important in helping to decide an appropriate disposal. Of course short custodial sentences do little or nothing to protect the public either.    

To sum up, I don't think this is really about highlighting short sentences and how they are an expensive waste of money with very little chance of encouraging rehabilitation. What I really think it's about is reminding Ken Clarke and whoever else is willing to listen, that the Probation Service is still here and is going to put up a fight in order to ensure it remains so for awhile longer. And I'm prepared to drink to that. 


  1. Jim,

    Lets hope that the local Probation 'Champions' have the kind of single minded & high visibility media savvy directness recently displayed by Jim Gamble ( CEOP)who was fighting to ensure that his agency remained free standing....the abscence of any National Champion is sadly indicative of Noms/MoJ/Ministers low regard for Probation..it is a give away that the PA Committee pans the MOJ for not being able to provide proper costings for its activties -see below.. by the way Scotland are introducing a presumption against short term prison sentences next month ( maybe a comparative piece for a future posting?)



  2. The only thing wrong with that idea is that it's stupid!

    £45k PA for incarceration! What a load of bollocks. The 'threat', and I use that term very loosely' is all that is left when we have someone who, despite out good intentions to help them, are more than content to refuse this and continue offending. I will presume that readers of this blog will be aware of the consequences this has on any victims.

    Lets have a debate about what would happen if this option was removed, and Johnny/Jane ASBO was running round YOUR neighbourhood. Likely that the Guardian reading vegetamentals who are in support of this do not and will not live in (or anywhere near) Mr & Mrs ASBO. If they did, I feel that they would take a different view if, every time they were arrested, it appeared that nothing was being done.

  3. Perhaps if contributors ,rather than stooping to crude caricatures that merely resort to tired ad hominen descriptors.. focussed on offering informed research findings we might have fewer victims and safer communities. if you spend between £7-£10 billion on the 60k prisoners serving under 12 mths with a resultant 60% re-offending rate-50% ASBO breaches ( NAO 2010) & moved away from the 'merry -go round' of short term incarceration to investing in preventative measures ( quote from that well known Guardinista -Edward Leigh MP Chair of the Public Accounts Committee) you may achieve better results for those in the most distressed communities .. something that the Gov Grn Paper appears to be striving for ?

  4. The conflation that simply serving under 12 months custody leads to an increase in crime is a very simplistic view. You forget that thoses serving custodial sentences have comitted some of the worst crimes, are repeat offenders and have likely had more Orders than a Anne Summers agent in Stockport.

    I wish to make clear that, for MANY, probation would be better than a short sentence; however, this does not mean that we should remove the option completely.





    Research and statistics: having had 14 years of Labour dictatorship, their policies also based on research, I cannot attach credibility to anything that is published; statistically, I have one ovary and one testicle; what does that tell you?