Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Prison Reform - Two Views

As famous former prisoner Ben Gunn tweeted the other day, it's amazing how many experts on prison have suddenly emerged since the PM's speech on Monday. He also made the rather telling point that the voice of prisoners is conspicuously absent in the on-going debate. Before everything dies down and the political caravan moves on, I've chosen these two views from two very different newspapers, first the Independent and second the Daily Telegraph.  

Cameron’s right to tackle prisons, but his answer is wrong

One problem with the debate is the simplistic juxtaposition of tough versus soft. In challenging this, Cameron is breaking new ground

In the final phase of his leadership, David Cameron dares to highlight one of the great scandals of our times: what happens in prisons and, equally important, what happens when prisoners are released.

The context in which Cameron made his speech to the Policy Exchange think tank could not be darker. The prison population has doubled since Margaret Thatcher was in power, and she was not known for being “soft”. Now there are around 100,000 prisoners crammed into cells.

While the prisoners are incarcerated, the prisons float freely in a chaotic structure. How typical of modern Britain that there has been a political appetite for decades to lock up as many people as possible and yet no desire to address the wider anarchic context in which prisons are supposed to function. How typical of Cameron that he bravely and admirably breaks a taboo by insisting that the approach to prisoners must change, but does not fully address the issues of how prisons should be organised and resourced.

As Cameron notes, part of the scandal is that nearly half of prisoners reoffend when they are released. This is a mind-boggling statistic. All that taxpayers’ money putting offenders in cells and then they return to another crammed prison before very long. What is even more horrific is that the statistic has been known for a very long time. The scandal is both hidden, in that few live to see the inside of prisons, and at the same time right in front of our eyes if we choose to look. Some former Home Secretaries and chief inspectors of prisons have been trying to shine a light for decades.

In 2003, former chief inspector of prisons David Ramsbotham wrote a shocking book, Prisongate. Based on Ramsbotham’s own direct experiences, it highlighted forensically and vividly the nature of the scandal, the causes and the consequences. In some ways the most alarming section of his book relates to his discovery that there were no connections in the system, from the Home Office to the cell. During a visit to Holloway Prison, the women’s prison in north London, he was appalled at the filth, the poor quality of management, the presence of a large number of mentally disordered people and the shortage of staff. Subsequently, when he asked to see the director for women at the Home Office, he was told that the post did not exist and that no one on the Prisons Board had worked with women in prison.

Ramsbotham had been an army officer and was struck by the contrast between the clear lines of accountability in the army compared with the anarchy of the prisons. As I argued last week, in relation to the collapse of Kids Company, if the question is asked “Who is responsible to whom?” and the answer is “Well... it’s all a bit complicated” there is trouble ahead. Ramsbotham concludes: “There is an absence of responsibility and accountability. There is no director of women’s prisons, no director for children’s prisons, no director for ‘lifers’, no director for sex offenders. In short, no one in charge of ensuring the most modern management of very different categories of prisoners.”

Cameron’s answer is to give more autonomy to prison governors. Taken alone, this is a risky move and fails to address the wider structural issues. Because of the current anarchy, governors have inadvertent autonomy now – which is fine if they are good and disastrous if they are not up to the immense challenges. But Cameron adds some other good proposals that amount to forms of accountability based on the relatively successful introduction of school academies. He suggests league tables of prison performance, schemes to encourage graduate high-fliers to work in prisons and innovative ways to deter reoffending. Out-of-sight prisons could be badly run without anyone noticing. He envisages much greater transparency, a form of accountability.

Cameron deserves praise for making a speech in which he argues that prisoners must be seen as “potential assets to be harnessed”. This is subtler than the usual demand that virtually everyone should be locked up. No Labour Prime Minister or Home Secretary would have made the case in the New Labour era, paralysed by the fear of appearing “soft” on crime.

Part of the problem with the debate around crime is the simplistic juxtaposition of tough versus soft. In seeking to even challenge these assumptions a little, Cameron is breaking new political ground as a Prime Minister, even if more enlightened former Tory Home Secretaries like Douglas Hurd have been making this case for a long time. He also echoes an excellent speech on the issue from the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, soon after the election.

But breaking new political ground is not necessarily the same as sweeping policy changes. Prison budgets have been cut when regional groups of prisons are needed to keep prisoners in local areas and to continue education after release, as well as work training and medical or substance abuse treatment. Such an overhaul was recognised by the then Home Secretary, Kenneth Baker, who proposed clusters of prisons in a White Paper, in 1991. Nothing happened.

Will action follow now? Evidently a determined Prime Minister and a resolute Justice Secretary are potentially a powerful force within Government. But Cameron is moving towards the final phase of his leadership and successors might feel obliged to show how “tough” they are on crime. For Cameron, time is running out and he proposes mainly incremental change. But he did not have to address this highly sensitive policy area. In highlighting the scale of the scandal he at least creates the space for a change of approach even if he is not the one implementing urgently needed new policies, structures and attitudes. A Conservative Prime Minister has made clear that, as currently run, prisons do not work. Given the reactionary nature of the debate on prisons, that is a lot of space to create.

Established as one of the most influential political commentators in the country, Steve Richards became The Independent’s chief political commentator in 2000 having been political editor of the New Statesman. He presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.


From the Daily Telegraph:-

Reforming British prisons can be the great progressive cause of our time

Our prison system is a conveyor belt producing hardened criminals at enormous public expense. How can we allow it to go on?

Not so long ago a recently retired prison officer told me of a former colleague who used to keep a single word stitched onto the inside of his hat. Whenever he was approached by a prisoner with some request or other he would take off his cap and, before the hapless petitioner could finish his sentence, present his answer: “No”.

As recently as the 1990s the then chief inspector of prisons, General Lord Ramsbotham, told of his experience walking out of HMP Holloway after his first inspection, having discovered female inmates kept in chains whilst giving birth.

It is therefore testament to how far we have come when a Conservative prime minister can take to the airwaves to describe prisoners not as “liabilities to be managed” but as “potential assets to be harnessed”, while announcing his intention to make prison reform “one of the great progressive causes” of British politics.

On Monday, the Prime Minister set out his latest proposals for reform, amongst them an overhaul of the prison education system and protection of its £130 million annual budget, as well as the introduction of "reform prisons", in which governors will be given full control over how they operate and spend their budget.

But the government minister really driving this agenda is the justice secretary Michael Gove, who has set to the task with an almost puritanical zeal. From reversing the ludicrous cap imposed by his predecessor on the number of books inmates are allowed to read, to genuinely radical proposals such as the introduction of weekend prison terms to enable prisoners to stay in work during the week, all his reforms have one thing in common, namely a sincerely held belief in the necessity of prisoner rehabilitation as not only a practical but also a moral public good.

Mr Gove is deliberately seeking to recast the whole debate on prisons away from one in which the need for rehabilitation is set in opposition to the need for justice and punishment, and in which any initiative to give offenders a second chance is perceived as being "soft on crime".

“I’m not sure that members on the opposite benches would agree that I’ve become a sandal wearing, muesli munching, vegan vapester,” Mr Gove informed the House of Commons on 26 January, responding to just such a critique from one of his Conservative colleagues.

"It’s because I’m a Conservative that I believe in the rule of law as the foundation stone of our civilisation. It’s because I’m a Conservative that I believe that evil must be punished. But it’s also because I’m a Conservative, and a Christian, that I believe in redemption. And I think the purpose of our prison system is to keep people safe by making people better.”

It was on a visit to Pentonville prison last November that I witnessed a striking example of this new philosophy in action, in the form of a jolly-looking fellow in a bright red cape and a large tricorn hat, ringing a bell and yelling at the top of his voice.

This gentleman, it transpired, was the Islington town crier announcing the results of the first official democratic election to have been held in a British prison, complete with oversight from the Electoral Commission. Prisoners had been permitted to organise into different parties, each on their own platform, with a representative from the winning party given a direct line into the prison management to advance that agenda, along with other issues or grievances inmates may have. Appropriately, perhaps, the party that won did so on an education platform.

This is not to pretend that British prisons are all now places of industry, harmony and genuine reform. The impact of £900 million in cuts to the prisons budget since 2010 have been keenly felt, not least in the reduction in prison staff by a third. When the chief inspector of prisons describes too many jails as places of “violence, squalor and idleness”, his words must be urgently heeded. What is encouraging is that the government, together with those involved in managing prisons more broadly, do now appear to be heeding those words, and with some urgency.

Above all what is needed are efforts to reduce the scandalously high rates of reoffending, with 45 per cent of offenders currently reconvicted within a year of release, rising to 58 per cent for those who served sentences of 12 months or less. The cost of this reoffending to the public purse is estimated at anywhere between £9.5 billion and £13 billion every year. And these are just the economic costs of crime.

Amongst the most innovative new actors in this particular space is Tempus Novo, a small Yorkshire-based charity founded in 2014 by two prison officers based at HMP Leeds. The charity exists with the explicit purpose of moving offenders out of crime and into employment. Drawing on their intimate knowledge of both the prison system and prisoners themselves, Steve Freer and Val Wawrosz identify and then mentor serving and ex-offenders genuinely committed to turning their lives around.

In its first year of operations, Tempus Novo has succeeded in helping 44 of the 65 offenders on its books secure job interviews, of whom 39 made it to interview and 37 got the job. And these are not just the soft options. Between them, this group had no fewer than 750 prior convictions and 1,288 arrests. Since joining Tempus Novo, the reoffending rate amongst them has dropped by almost 95 per cent.

Some may argue that in these straightened financial times, public and indeed private money could be better spent than on helping the life chances of those who have deliberately sought to do others harm. Yet for society to take this approach, as it has done in the past, is merely to cut off its nose to spite its face. Consider that you can educate a boy at Eton College for less than it costs to house a single inmate for a year, and that there are now some 95,000 inmates in prisons across the UK.

The inescapable fact of the matter is that economically, socially and indeed morally, reform of our nation’s prisons is the right thing not just for those on the inside, but for all the rest of us living on the outside as well.

George Grant is a Trustee of Tempus Novo and the former Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Bradford West


  1. "Offenders are assets": to be exploited for profit by big business by being paid slave wages to work at jobs no one else wants to do.

    "How typical of Cameron that he bravely and admirably breaks a taboo by insisting that the approach to prisoners must change, but does not fully address the issues of how prisons should be organised and resourced.": Nope its all about saving ££ so George can balance the books and become the next PM.

    "Cameron’s answer is to give more autonomy to prison governors. Taken alone, this is a risky move and fails to address the wider structural issues. Because of the current anarchy, governors have inadvertent autonomy now – which is fine if they are good and disastrous if they are not up to the immense challenges.": unfortunately there are far too many really bad governors in the system and giving them autonomy without close oversight will mean far more problems in the system. Killick at Holloway, Burke wherever he is now at various others need to be weeded out of the system completely

  2. No mention of probation then!

  3. You can imagine Cameron in his autobiography and in all the other biographies, being described as a 'prison reformer'. But we should not hold our breath for the rhetoric to become reality.

    'Legend has it that, while preparing Richard Nixon for his historic visit to China in 1972, Henry Kissinger mentioned that Chinese Prime Minister Chou En-Lai was an avid student of French history. During his trip, Nixon met with Chou En-Lai in the walled garden of the Forbidden City. As they walked slowly around the lily ponds, Nixon remembered Kissinger's comment. To break the ice, he asked Chou what he thought had been the impact of the French revolution on western civilization. Chou En-Lai considered the question for a few moments. Finally, he turned to Nixon and replied, "The impact of the French revolution on western civilization -- too early to tell."

    1. The tale is told that when Ghandi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization, he replied that he thought it would be a very good idea...

    2. Some hold the view that Chou was talking about the Paris summer of 1968 rather than the revolution of 1789. Guess we'll never know.

  4. Letter in today's Daily Telegraph:-

    SIR – It is most welcome news that David Cameron is to make prison reform one of the great progressive causes.
    For many of us, however, this news is received with a great sense of irony, since Michael Gove’s predecessor in the position of Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, effectively eradicated the organisation that could have made a huge contribution to this process.
    The probation service was, until last year, a body of more than 15,000 men and women dedicated to reducing reoffending and protecting the public. These were professional public-sector employees with the expertise and experience to provide community alternatives to imprisonment.
    The very organisation best placed to help reduce the prison population and to assist with the rehabilitation of offenders is now largely divided and disbanded. Is it too late?

    Tony Knivett
    Titchmarsh, Northamptonshire

    1. Another:-

      SIR – Any attempt to reduce reconviction rates by reforming prisons will fail unless equal attention is given to post-release supervision and support.
      Offenders’ problems increase at the point of release, and the current regime of privatised aftercare has both emasculated the probation service and further disfranchised prisoners.
      It is unfortunately the case that offenders can be seen by the health, local authority and education services as a criminal justice problem rather than a shared concern. Securing access to mainstream services can be close to impossible when the prevailing mindset is that resources should be allocated to more “deserving” cases.
      An approach that integrates the services provided by local authorities, health trusts and colleges of education with the police, prison and probation services, and targets them on the most prolific offenders, is a model that has previously succeeded in reducing crime and improving access to services. Under this model, all the services shared their information so that a properly co-ordinated intervention plan was developed.
      Lapses in behaviour were quickly identified and – depending on their gravity and the offender's commitment to change – would lead to either a warning or rearrest. It quickly became apparent that offenders committed to changing could do so, while those who were committed to crime knew the inevitable consequences.

      Rob Wakefield
      Former Director, Integrated Offender Management
      Nailsea, Somerset

  5. Slightly off topic but wonder whether any light could be shed on this: why would a CRC terminate orders on the system and state 'completed' when this is not the case whatsoever? As the event turns red (terminated) rather than green (live) what are the implications for NPS court staff giving accurate information to the court concerning a Defendant's compliance with specific orders? Would court staff need to examine each terminated case to ensure that the justice system isn't inadvertently misled? What impact for victims if they knew sentence had not been implemented as the court requires it to be? On what basis does a private company decide they do not have to bother ensuring compliance with the sentence of a court? What legislation or judicial principal do they rely on for that? Do the CRCs think they own orders to enforce or not at their whim? What would the response of Judges and magistrates be if this is happening? What does an individual think when he or she is not instructed on a court order? What will happen when they tell their mates they got off with it? Why are CRCs not breaching or applying for revocation of court orders? How accurate or misleading will statistics be that show CRCs as an amazing success?

    1. AND is the CRC doing it one of those the Minister of Justice said has an "Action Plan" in place - or not - whatever THAT may mean

      " Bridget Phillipson Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South

      To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, pursuant to the Answer of 18 January 2016 to Question 22251, which (a) community rehabilitation companies have been issued with informal remedial action plans and (b) companies contracted to run probation services have failed an audit in each year since 2010; and what remedial action was required in each such case.
      Hansard source

      Andrew Selous Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

      We hold providers rigorously to account for their performance and take action wherever they are falling short.

      Following operational assurance audits by the MoJ, seven CRCs have developed action plans. We will continue to monitor CRC performance closely. No CRC has been put on a formal Remedial Plan.

      Our probation reforms are designed to make sure that almost all offenders receive support on release, including, for the first time, those sentenced to less than 12 months. "

    2. I have seen a terminated order where order has not been done and system shows 'completed'

  6. Why are you not taking this up with your SPO who could then escalate it to the powers that be in the crc.

    1. Or the police? Could be argued that this is fraud...

  7. 17.29 is a lying sack of shit. Disgrace!

    1. You have to be specific. Which part?

  8. This problem is widespread. CO with upw requirement for example, once the upw is completed perhaps in a matter of weeks - the Order is then terminated in the belief the requirement is finished. In fact the Order is still live and needs servicing throughout the time term usually 12m. So you are correct to suggest the organisation is acting unlawfully to terminate such a case.Lets hope there is not a FOI request to see how many cases are terminated prematurely!

  9. I think this is more about orders with upw terminating at 12 months with upw outstanding. I've seen this too.

    1. This is not something CRCs have brought to the table, If I was a journalist wanting to have a good pop at Probation I would seek a FOI with the central question being how many SSOs with an UPW requiremnet have been terminated with substantial hours outstanding, and no record of judicial process. I would want to see the last 3 years. As we speak,NOMS contract Managers are all over CRCs and are finding some pretty awful practices. We got away with it when we were under the Probation Boards and then trusts because no one was interested, UPW was the bad smell no one wanted, now they are looking under stones and don't like what they are seeing.

  10. I'm tired of ill informed idiots with no clue. Check LASPO legislation. ORA has not succeeded this. LASPO says once the reqs are complete so is the order. So once 60 upw hours are complete, so is the CO even if it's completed within 6 months say of a 12 months order!

    1. This isn't about completed orders prior to 12 month point. That would be a legitimate termination. This is about orders not being completed but being terminated anyway to avoid failing targets.

    2. You are wrong. UPW orders remain in force until sentence end date even when hours are completed. If the hours are completed the sentence remains in force so should not be terminated

    3. I should add that there is provision to end the sentence early once the hours are complete - via a return to court for revocation.

      Where the hours are not complete by sentence end date, in fact the sentence remains live and enforceable. These cases should not be terminated with hours outstanding other than by a return to court for revocation and resentence.

      I know that the practice of closing UPW cases at 12 months has been widespread and longstanding. It has been brought into the light since privatisation, and I think that the majority of CRCs have now got their house in order.

    4. @19.30 I think it is you that is ill informed. In fact LASPO confirms that it is sentence end date not when the UPW hours are complete.

      'Subject to section 200(3) (duration of community order imposing unpaid work requirement), a community order ceases to be in force on the end date'

      If you are still in doubt have a look at the latest PI on UPW which confirms

    5. I'm just ill...

    6. Nice try 00.28. You missed off the rest if the sentence which says "end date of the upw hours".

    7. PI 03/2016 is pretty clear on this point... "2.12. For standalone UPW cases, where the UPW is completed early, the order must not be terminated on Delius until sentence expiry date or the date on which the court revoked the order on the grounds of good progress. Where the requirement is complete and the order is not revoked, under the duties of the Responsible Officer, the offender is still required to keep in touch in accordance with instructions from their RO and seek permission before changing their address from either their RO or a court."

      Not sure how widely-known this is, though. A bit of a ball-ache for CRCs to have to maintain oversight of cases that have long completed their hours, and perhaps something of a disincentive for clients to get their heads down and get on with it?

  11. This is good from The Howard league and Twitter

    " The Howard League ‏@TheHowardLeague

    Grayling tells @epsomguardian that Cameron's #prisonreform speech "builds on what I was already doing". … "

  12. The Blog is increasingly tedious. It may act as a discussion forum but I doubt whether it has saved one job or in any small way stalled the tide of change. What's the point of bitching about the present if all it does is to bolster a few contributors' delicate egos?

    1. Don't feel like you have to stick around, if that's how you feel. I'm sure we won't miss you.


    This is the link to the latest PI for UPW, it s clear extensions over 12 months have to be applied for through the Courts, and that the order cannot be terminated in delerious until stipulated length of CO is completed

  14. Straying away from upw & terminations, today brings a number of interesting developments for this new brave world in which we live: NHS & the Little Hunt now imposing his pointless will upon the junior doctors; Hulk Hogan-Howe giving backword over police responses to victims' complaints about high profile sex offenders then immediately receiving a 12 month extension to his employment from the Home Sec; and charities being put under the microscope for their dodgy partnerships & deals with businesses, e.g. the elderly & their heating bills. Many other issues are being rushed through & addressed in both houses of parliament under cover of the NHS & EU smokescreens, e.g. further neutering of union powers. Just check the order of business for any given day. This is exactly how the probation service was disappeared by this Tory Junta.

    Rufus posts a useful link - but CRCs aren't interested in such technicalities as the law, they just want their figures to add up to the right amount so they can cash their cheques. A northern CRC decided that once the hours were done then their involvement was complete, close the case. They made it clear that in their view any reason for the Court to re-examine the case such as reoffending (post completion of UPW but pre termination date) was the Court's responsibility to address. NPS could ask CRC for info & they'd say "hours completed, we've met our target, nothing to add." And staff were clearly told to terminate once hours were completed, or once any other requirements were completed, e.g. alcohol, drug, driving, mental health (assuming supervision didn't last the whole period). Maybe the PI brings a two-tier sentence into being, i.e. the PI applies to NPS but not CRC???

    1. The technical legal issue is clear, but I think there is a moral argument to be made in favour of that CRC's approach: if a client has finished the specific requirements of his or her Order, as set out by the court at the point of sentence, why should the state (or its wonderful private sector commissioned providers) remain involved in his or her life?

    2. Erm...maybe becuase that is the law? Or maybe because it is a mandated instruction, which means they breach their contract if they don't. Not sure the moral argument is going to carry much weight...

    3. If the purpose of a community order is punishment and rehabilitation, and if the client has completed the punitive and rehabilitative requirements and achieved what was set out by the order in the first place, then what purpose is served by leaving them subject to a petty restriction like having to request permission to change address? It's unjust, represents a bad use of resources, and is basically just bad law.

      Uncritically saying, as you appear to be, that the state should be involved in someone's life simply because that's what the law says is a very dangerous point to start from.

    4. I actually agree with you, but would say the CRC should therefore arrange for the early revocation of the sentence. Unless they do so, they are duty bound to supervise the sentence that remains in force. My point is that it is not appropriate for staff to make up their own rules becuase they think it is morally the right thing to do. The job is to uphold the law, which includes sticking to the rules. In reality this could be very light touch, but what I advocate is that these cases should be returned for revocation for good progress. That way the Courts get some good news!