Friday, 22 February 2013

People Lie Behind Numbers

With impeccable timing, Liz Calderbank HM Chief Inspector of Probation has just published her report on the Service over the last 3 years. As consultation closes today on the government's plans for privatising most of the Probation Service, the verdict of the Inspectorate is broadly that  things are 'generally good.' No Service was felt to be failing, although there was a considerable range of performance from the worst to the best:- 

"The report reflects on much good work currently being undertaken with those who 
offend. It also reveals that some probation trusts are achieving a higher standard of 
work than others. Although the overall findings from the inspection were generally 
good, some aspects of work continue to require improvement. Further attention, for 
example, needs to be given to managing risk of harm to potential victims by all trusts 
and to those cases with child safeguarding concerns.

We were, however, particularly pleased to note that those subject to supervision had 
complied with their order and that interventions had been delivered in accordance 
with the requirements of the sentence in the large majority of cases. These results 
are indicative of the growing awareness now seen across probation trusts of the 
importance of engaging offenders in the supervision process. We will continue to 
explore the factors known to be associated with desistance in our next inspection 
programme as central to reducing reoffending."

I don't want to quote loads of figures, they are all in the report, but I thought it would be of interest to quote some case studies that both illustrate good practice and give a flavour of the diverse nature of our work:-

"Craig received a sentence of imprisonment for an offence of robbery. He had 
learning disabilities and following concerns about his mental health was ordered to 
stay in a secure hospital. His offender manager worked closely with health 
professionals to coordinate the work undertaken by each agency. She undertook 
regular hospital visits, including attendance at some ward rounds. In turn, hospital 
staff escorted Craig to his probation appointments where work was undertaken to 
tackle his offending. This approach meant that both his health needs and risk of 
harm to others were attended to, in a coordinated and complementary way. Craig 
was making good progress and there had been no further offending to date."

"Michael was undertaking a community order for an offence of damage to property. 
During meetings with his offender manager, Michael disclosed information that led 
his offender manager to believe that further offending against vulnerable adults may 
be taking place. His offender manager took swift action, including referring the case 
to MAPPA and taking Michael’s order back to court. The court added a requirement 
to the community order to include residence at approved premises in order to 
manage the risk of harm he posed. Whilst there, Michael was subject to additional 
restrictions on his activities, such as regular reporting to the approved premises staff 
every few hours during the day to reduce any opportunity to reoffend. This was a 
good example of the offender manager responding well to potential changes in the 
nature of risk of harm and of approved premises being used appropriately to control 
that harm."

"Sam was sentenced to a community order with a requirement to undertake an SOTP. 
During the PSR stage, he minimised his sexual offending. The offender manager 
ensured that he started the programme within five weeks of sentence. She 
developed a positive and supportive relationship with Sam and, as a consequence, 
he gradually disclosed the true nature of his behaviour in terms of his offence. Sam 
accepted full responsibility for his actions and engaged with specific one-to-one work 
where his offending behaviour was dissected and challenged. As a consequence, 
further disclosures were made about his sexual urges and impulses. Sam was 
reclassified as posing a very high risk of serious harm to others and procedures were
put in place to manage his risk."

There are many more examples in the report and it's refreshing to focus on real stories rather than just statistics. Unfortunately the same can't be said for yet another report from a right wing pressure group with a particular axe to grind. The Centre for Crime Prevention have recently published a report entitled 'The Failure of Revolving door Sentencing' which tries to make the case for locking up thousands more people than we already do. It's that tired old political mantra about prison working, so lets have loads more of it. 

There are pages and pages of figures in this report, but sadly little coherent sense. Thank goodness guys like this don't actually run anything important, but of course it's designed to whip up a storm in certain sections of the press, as here in the good old Daily Mail. Despite the dodgy arguments, politicians feel they have to respond to stuff like this and typically announce 'tougher' sentences. Criminal justice policy continues to be a game of political football, but at least the Probation Association have had a stab it rebutting it:-  

"Contrary to the Centre for Crime Prevention report, community sentences are cutting crime and preventing victims. Community sentences outperform short-term prison sentences and are 8.3% more effective in reducing one year proven re-offending ratesThe statistics the Centre for Crime Prevention use may look dramatic but in reality they do not make a lot of sense. They show a lack of understanding of the role of sentences, prisons and probation. You cannot compare medium to long prison tariffs with community orders as sentencing guidelines wouldn’t allow them to be interchangeable sentences. It would also be extremely costly to the taxpayer if we sent all 240,000 people, of whom around 160,000 do not go on to re-offend, to prison for at least four years as their report suggests. A four year prison sentence would amount to £88,000, ten times the cost of a community sentence. What the public and victims really want to see is crime stop. Community sentences tackle the causes such as drug and alcohol addiction that lead to crime, and are effective with re-offending rates falling by an equivalent of 10 per cent since 2000."

For a thorough fresh look at the old community sentence versus prison argument I would recommend a new report by three academics on behalf of the Howard League. Entitled 'Intelligent Justice : Balancing the effects of community sentences and custody' it makes a refreshing and thoughtful read in stark contrast to some right-wing stuff of late:- 

"This paper begins by examining the perennial arguments around the efficacy of 
community sentencing over short spells in custody. An even-handed analysis 
concedes that the picture is not a simple one, and that indeed it is the very 
complexity of the problem that necessitates a value-based approach to penal policy.  
It suggests that any cost-benefit analysis must take into account the long term 
impact of dramatic increases in imprisonment, which bring with them increases in 
a number of social problems that themselves sow the seeds for future crime: be it 
family breakdown, drug and alcohol addiction or poor physical and mental health. 
In the United States for example, this has seen the creation of a system “that feeds 
upon itself” and which has left many individual states near bankruptcy."

"The authors conclude by asking for a new emphasis on not simply the prevention 
of reoffending through deterrence or incapacitation, but on constructing a penal 
system which seeks to encourage compliance with the law. This idea that people 
respond best when buying into behaviour such as abiding by the law, rather than 
being constantly compelled or cajoled into doing so, has powerful implications 
for future policymaking. It suggests, for example, that a narrow focus on paying 
providers by their results using the limited picture of reconviction rates may not 
be the best way to structure prisons and probation. It also suggests that an 
overweening focus on containing risk, essentially basing a system on a fear of 
failure, precludes redemptive narratives that promise more success in changing lives 
and reducing crime. Is the penal system to be based on unaffordable expansion 
and a fear of failure, or shall it live within its means and celebrate success? This is a 
question that must be answered sooner rather than later."

The No 10 petition can be signed here. 

PS Since posting I see that the CCP figures have been looked at by Factcheck here.

No comments:

Post a Comment