Saturday, 3 October 2015

Penal Reforms

I'll start this off with a snippet from today's Times and an interview with Michael Gove. It has to be just a taster I'm afraid due to the pesky paywall, but hopefully a kind reader might supply a bit more. Basically the new Justice Secretary is beginning to firm up the ideas he first floated in July in his widely-welcomed speech on prisons, The treasure in the heart of man - making prisons work. This from today:-  

Michael Gove is to free prisons from Whitehall control in the biggest reorganisation of the penal system in a generation. The justice secretary will give governors new powers over budgets, education and even the perks offered to prisoners for good behaviour. In his first interview since becoming justice secretary, Mr Gove has revealed that he is also looking at extending the scheme under which inmates are allowed out of jail on licence in preparation for their release. He also confirmed that he was looking at selling inner-city Victorian prisons on lucrative land ripe for housing development. Mr Gove disclosed that a new criminal justice board had been set up to ensure that justice was speeded up after he was horrified to discover that the average time it took to complete a…

I might point out here that the idea of giving greater autonomy to prison governors was floated in the piece I penned for Russell Webster back in March and in his series If I were Justice Secretary:- 


Whilst a Royal Commission obviously takes time, fortunately all new Ministers are allowed a honeymoon period and I would use the opportunity to signal a fundamental change in culture, especially within the prison system. In times of austerity it becomes more important than ever to acknowledge that safe and decent prisons only come about by listening to staff and inmates. I would seek to dismantle the present MoJ command and control structure and return to a position where Governors have authority to innovate and find local solutions that can improve each regime as they see fit.

Of course if NOMS and the MoJ begin to loosen their command and control function over prisons, one begins to wonder what purpose is being served by having such a bloated department down there in London?


Now the hot summer is history and the anticipated widespread trouble in prisons due to over-crowding didn't materialise, the government clearly feel more confident in finally getting to grips with the vexed question of smoking:- 

Smoking in prisons

Letter from Prisons Minister Andrew Selous to Robert Neill MP, Chairman of the Justice Select Committee regarding smoking in prisons.

I am writing to inform you of my department’s intention to implement a full smoke free policy in all prisons in Wales from January 2016 and at 4 early adopter sites in England (HMPs Exeter, Channings Wood, Dartmoor and Erlestoke) from March. This announcement will be confirmed through a Written Ministerial Statement following recess.

Since the introduction of smoking legislation in 2007, our desire has been to move towards smoke free prisons but, given the high prevalence of smoking and the unique environment of prisons, you will appreciate that implementing smoke free prisons is a difficult thing to do.

National policy currently allows prisoners to smoke in their cells but not in communal areas. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has continued to keep this issue under review and introduced measures to reduce the risk of exposure to second hand smoke while ensuring order and control is maintained. This requires a careful and phased approach as we move towards fulfilling our long standing goal of smoke free prisons.

Our steps to date include the recent and highly successful roll out of electronic cigarettes to all prisons. These are available in every prison shop and offer a comparable alternative to traditional tobacco products in cost terms. From next month, prisoners in open prisons will not be able to smoke indoors and will only be able to smoke in designated outdoor areas. Plans are also underway to provide voluntary smoke free areas in all prisons from early next year.

However, we need to do more. Two recent academic studies commissioned by NOMS have identified that high levels of second hand smoke in some communal areas are still prevalent in some prisons. These will be published on GOV.UK on 29 September 2015.

The findings of these studies have reinforced our commitment to move towards smoke free prisons as soon as possible in a safe and controlled way.

In developing our plans for smoke free prisons, we have learnt from a number of other jurisdictions who have already successfully implemented a smoke free policy across their prison estate. Canada has been smoke-free since 2008, New Zealand since 2011, and parts of Australia since 2013. Broadmoor Secure Hospital also went smoke free in 2007. We have used the lessons from their experiences to inform our strategy, including a long, phased implementation period, in order to move to smoke free safely.

Following these preparations, we are now ready to move forward with these plans in a controlled and careful way. In partnership with the Welsh Government we will begin to implement a smoke free policy in all prisons in Wales (HMPs Cardiff, Parc, Swansea and Usk/Prescoed) from January 2016, and at 4 prisons in England (HMPs Exeter, Channings Wood, Dartmoor and Erlestoke) from March 2016. From now until the smoke free implementation date these prisons will be encouraging and supporting prisoners to stop smoking through a range of smoking cessation support and advice, including nicotine replacement therapy. We will continue to take a sensible and considered approach, using the experience of the first prisons to go smoke free to inform the speed at which we move to smoke free across our remaining prisons.

We have no plans to move to smoke free prisons overnight and will only do so in a phased way that takes into account operational resilience and readiness of each prison. The operational safety and security of our prisons will always be our top priority.


Not connected to prisons, but a reminder that the consultation period on further court closures is due to end shortly. The following extracts from a council report in the north west is a typical example of the significant geographical realities they just don't seem to understand down there in London:-


At the Executive meeting held on 4 August 2015, the proposed closure of West Cumbria Magistrates and County Courts was discussed and a decision was taken to refer this to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to look at the implications of the closure to the residents of the Borough and to look at other options available. This meeting of Executive is the last scheduled in order to achieve the deadline of 8 October 2015 for responses to be received by the Ministry of Justice.


The OSC supports the Executive in objecting to the proposal to close the West Cumbria Courts in Workington and strongly urges the Department of Justice to reconsider for the following reasons: 
  • Copeland is unique in that being located on the extreme west coast of Cumbria, with little or NO public transport or infrastructure traveling to the far north or south of the county is almost impossible. 
  • Copeland is one of the most deprived districts in England and the impact on those with the lowest incomes, should the proposals go ahead and the courts be relocated, is unacceptable. 
  • The only road linking the north and south of the borough to Carlisle is the A595, which has been described in a recent Police report to Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner as ‘the most dangerous road in the county’. 
  • During periods of extreme weather, journey times would be very much increased, if not impossible. 
  • OSC believes the court usage figures quoted in the Department of Justice proposal are not accurate and do not include the Family Court and Tribunals. 
  • In some cases, only one train or bus is available to arrive at court on time, which could result in all parties (prosecution and defence) travelling together. The OSC is therefore concerned regarding the ‘Safe Conduct of Witnesses’. 
  • OSC has explored the alternatives to meet the needs of our community but the provision of court facilities by Copeland Borough Council within its current property portfolio is not feasible. 
  • The use of digital technology was considered, but due to the lack of reliable internet or mobile phone reception, particularly in the remote rural areas, this suggestion was discounted. 
  • With construction of the new Nuclear Power Station at Moorside due to start in the near future, the population of Copeland will increase by more than 10,000. This could bring with it a proportional increase in demand for court services. 
  • 2015 sees the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta bringing access to ‘Justice for All’, Overview and Scrutiny Committee strongly objects to the proposal to close West Cumbria courts thus removing access to Justice from the residents of Copeland.

I notice that with the departure of Chris Grayling, relations between the Howard League and Justice Secretary have thankfully returned to normal with Michael Gove agreeing to address their AGM next month:-

Michael Gove to speak at Howard League event

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, will be the guest speaker at our next AGM and Public Meeting.

Mr Gove will speak at the King’s Fund, London, on Wednesday 4 November 2015 from 7pm. Members of the public are welcome to attend.


  1. I've not seen one comment mourning the passing of Chris Grayling in any publication. He must be furious that his footnote in history will paint him (accurately) as THE worst SSJ in recorded history

    1. in Michael Gove's speech he states 'thanks to my predecessor Chris Grayling, we now have new organisations who are working to improve probation.' Unless that was tongue in cheek, it sounds like praise to me...

    2. 15 11 continued - And a criticism of probation as it was.

      It is still almost impossible to hear any mention of probation and TR in the news or newspapers; nothing from Jeremy Corbyn or Lord Faulkner etc, and no empathy from Gove. The prisons and courts are the top kiddies, and the successes and principals and expertise of probation as it was, appear to have been air-brushed from history already. Gove's report above referred to the prisons not just having governors and (prison) officers, they have such as artists, cooks etc. Not one mention of a probation officer. (I found this speech by clicking onto the link word 'speech' near the end of the first paragraph of this blog)

    3. Oh well, they seem to believe that education will solve everything, it certainly will help, but some people have got Level 1 and 2 in Maths etc several times now, because of serving several sentences ,,it's not just about education or being production lined through TSP or similar either.
      It seems that the move to do away with all that was probation is just getting stronger and stronger

    4. 1732 you must be a real fool . Enlightenment through education. Whatever level inmates are at the institution of class education will develop inmates learning. Reading and writing. Thinking and not acting out. Had many people had these basics and the intermediary levels long ago there would be a lot less offending. Gove has education at base level jail right and you in probation can shove you nonsense probation has no place in a jail on risk so lets educate and while they are in jail your stupidity wont touch them.

  2. Prisons to be sold in Gove’s new revolution

    Alice Thomson, Rachel Sylvester and Richard Ford

    Last updated at 12:01AM, October 3 2015

    Michael Gove is to free prisons from Whitehall control in the biggest reorganisation of the penal system in a generation.

    The justice secretary will give governors new powers over budgets, education and even the perks offered to prisoners for good behaviour.

    In his first interview since becoming justice secretary, Mr Gove has revealed that he is also looking at extending the scheme under which inmates are allowed out of jail on licence in preparation for their release. He also confirmed that he was looking at selling inner-city Victorian prisons on lucrative land ripe for housing development.

    Mr Gove disclosed that a new criminal justice board had been set up to ensure that justice was speeded up after he was horrified to discover that the average time it took to complete a rape case was more than 600 days.

    The justice secretary has focused on the need for prison reform in his first four months in office. He has visited Belmarsh, Wandsworth and Coldingley prisons. The worst thing he found was the “lack of purposeful” activity among the present total of 85,900 inmates.

    1. The new system is modelled on academy schools, started by Tony Blair but accelerated by Mr Gove when he was education secretary. Under the system, head teachers are given autonomy to run schools.

      A recent report by the chief inspector of prisons said that too many of the 126 jails in England and Wales were “places of violence, squalor and idleness”.

      Mr Gove said: “We are responsible for these people. We can determine what they do, who they see, what happens to them 24 hours a day and we don’t devote nearly enough time to educating them, to making sure that when they are being educated that they are getting the proper qualifications and providing them with the skills that they need in order to succeed in the world of work. One of the things I think is central to this job is making sure that people are less likely to commit crime after they leave prison.”

      Reoffending rates are stubbornly high, with 45 per cent of adult offenders convicted of a further offence within a year of being released, rising to 66.5 per cent for juveniles.

      The justice secretary’s plan is for a new generation of “reform prisons” which, like foundation hospitals or academy schools would have far greater independence from Whitehall. “At the root of it is giving governors more control over the institution they run,” he said.

      “If you are a head teacher or an NHS manager, you have considerable freedom. The whole thrust of public service reform has been about giving more power to people at the front line and then holding them accountable for outcomes. The prison system is behind the curve. A great deal of what a prison governor does is constrained by very tight central regulation.”

      He also believes giving governors more powers will encourage them to innovate, including bringing in more private companies to train inmates for jobs on their release. “We should definitely have more businesses going into prisons — you could have businesses running in prisons. Timpson in some cases train in prisons, in another prison I visited they have a call centre. Some are conducting market research or answering queries,” he said.

      Mr Gove and his team are still talking to governors and former governors about how to strike a balance between devolving powers to individual prison bosses and the need for some central powers.

      “We have to get the balance right, in the same way that in an NHS hospital you have Nice [National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] guidelines and national pay structures, so in a prison there will always be certain principles in the way in which you pay and reward people and in the security requirements. If the worst comes to the worst and something desperately bad happens — like a prison riot — there must be a national response.”

      Discussions are still taking place over whether the changes will be introduced in one go or tested in a few prisons before being extended throughout England and Wales An announcement is expected within weeks. Mr Gove has made no decision on whether the top-security prisons such as Whitemoor and Long Lartin will be included in the reforms.

      © Times Newspapers Limited 2015

    2. Thanks! This could of course pave the way for these 'new look' devolved prisons being privatised......

  3. A prisoner who was sent to Cardiff prison for 28 days for breach of a restriction order said he spent 22 hrs a day in his cell.

  4. I've got a bloke found not guilty after trial however he's been given 2 weeks custody for breaching court bail due to the death of a parent which now means he's got 11mths of supervision.

    I'm also seeing a lot of sentences where co-defendants are all given similar sentences despite playing much minor roles and even having had Basis of Pleas accepted. It's very frustrating.

  5. The CJS is in good shape. I joined a year ago all seems to be working like clock word. My crc team mates are happy at work and nps is helpful. My boss always huffs and puffs about targets and runs a tight ship not authorising any funds for anything but apart from that everything is ok

    1. I think TR is a brilliant idea :>]

    2. Your comedians tonight were...

  6. Jim, are the rumours that nobody, including elected reps and chairs is going to the AGM true. I'm appalled if this is true as people have no right to represent members if they cannot be bothered to attend the most important meeting of the year. Union officials are given relief time from work duties and should respect their position. Is it just an avenue to skive and get paid for it. Another scandal from NAPO officials and reps taking money for nothing. The hypocrisy is sick

    1. This is a bizarre rumour. If you want to check accuracy of such statements you can (a)speak to your own Branch Chair & ask how many from yr Branch are going (are you?) and (b)ring Napo HQ in London & ask if "no-one is going". I think you'lol be pleasantly surprised!

  7. Let me assist you Anon 20:54 because I have been a NAPO rep for years and am having to take a break because I am exhausted. I worked many evening and weekends (my own time you will note) because that was the only way I could do a decent job for my members. Facility time was given to me but only to attend the actual meetings where I was repping. No NAPO rep is given time to attend the AGM, that is something done be taking to put it plainly, you are simply wrong.
    In my opinion the work horses of the union are the reps....

    1. Exhausted doing what exactly? Running round looking important but actually achieving little..

    2. What utter utter nonsense from Anon 23:28 and ignorance from Anon at 20:54 - such rubbish makes real debate impossible

    3. Sadly unions have no real power. I have colleagues working for a partnership agency who this month are earning 7k less than they did this time last yr. They either signed the new contract or were out of work. They wrote 'signed under duress' on the contract and were told to remove it. Their union is/was Unison who could do nothing.

    4. Yes - I fear that Anon at 23:45 is right - poor engagement and too little united action from probation employees has made it more easy for determined Governments - Labour as well as Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to disregard them, in ways that the London Tube workers are not disregarded.

  8. I agree that if reps don't attend AGM they are hypocrites, especially if their members do, simple

    1. I wont go you just cannot support the top table they are a crock. Lawrence is appalling and the reason we have lost credibility. He got control of the union and yet has no real history of any achievement. The failure he blames on us members yet he never had any strategy or appropriate action taken. If no one is going to AGM its a vote of no confidence and less to do with time off. NPS are left parked with lack of local supports from Napo as they are all being restricted while the CRC union members are virtually off the reservation now. Napo is split opinion is divided the checkoff might hopefully see them checkout.