Naturally focused as we are on TR and our fight for survival, it's easy to miss other stuff going on, such as this from Frances Crook in her latest blog at the Howard League. It seems Chris Grayling and the MoJ have another cunning plan up their sleeve, this time involving those recalled to prison:-
Our concerns about new Ministry of Justice measures to handle prisoners on their recall into custody
Thousands of people released from prison on fixed term licences are returned to prison each year at the request of their probation officers. The system allows for standard and emergency recalls straight back to prison with no consideration by a court. The reason for this is to ensure that the public can be protected. Nobody can object to that. But, nor, is it right or cost effective that people should be detained a moment longer than necessary or released at the end of their sentence without any supervision because nobody is able to make the judgement call that they are safe to be released again.
For the past forty years, a huge proportion of these cases have been reviewed by the Parole Board and many are re-released safely on licence. It is not unusual for a person to have been recalled following an arrest for a further offence which turns out to lead nowhere or on the strength of an unfounded allegation.
It was therefore a surprise to discover that three working days before it was due to be debated in the House of Lords, the government laid amendments to Part 1 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill introducing a whole new scheme for fixed term recalls to prison. They provide for the use of ‘recall adjudicators’ in determinate recall cases – any case where a prisoner serving a fixed term sentence is recalled to custody and falls to be considered for re-release on licence.
As Lord Faulks admitted in the House on 20 October 2014, there remains ‘unknown detail about the precise operation, impact and cost of the new model’. Nothing is known about this scheme other than that recall adjudicators will have ‘significant criminal justice experience’. There is nothing in the proposed amendments to say whether recall adjudicators would be impartial or independent, trained professionals or lay people; whether hearings would be ‘on the papers’ or oral, what powers recall adjudicators would have to require evidence and information or whether legal aid would be available for prisoners subject to it.
Yet it is quite clear that if passed, the amendments will enable the Secretary of State to hive off a section of work currently completed by the Parole Board and will provide the Secretary of State a wide discretion to set up a new scheme without further debate or discussion in parliament. The provisions are widely drafted and raise a number of concerns.
There is no provision for the process to be judicial and no provision for legal aid. Without safeguards, there is a real risk that these changes could see a vast increase in the prison population.
The work itself is not disappearing and on the government’s own analysis may well increase considerably as it rolls out its Transforming Rehabilitation programme and as a result of further aspects the Bill that will lower the test for recall to release from the risk of harm to the public to non-compliance with licence conditions. While the proposal provides the option for the parole board not to have to complete this work, there is nothing in this proposal that will result in a reduction in recalls. If the parole board does undertake the work, there is no point in introducing the scheme on the basis that it would lessen the burden on the parole board. If the parole board does not undertake this work, there will be the increased cost of recruiting and training new adjudicators and devising a new scheme.
Most frightening of all is the sheer disregard for the Parliamentary process demonstrated by the decision to present a scheme to peers for endorsement without any detail as to what it will involve or the consequences just three working days before report stage. At best, recall adjudicators will require all the financial and administrative costs of a new scheme. At worst they could result in the need for thousands more prison places in a system bursting at the seams.