Saturday, 13 February 2016

Prison Reform

The ripples from David Cameron's prison reform speech last week continue to be felt, not least as the many commentators try and unravel what it actually means, whether it's genuine and if the fine words have a snowball's chance in hell of being turned into action with the prison population still rising.

As always, the Howard League keep a close eye on such matters, including a league-table of the most over-crowded prisons:-
This week there are 85,679 people in prisons and young offender institutions in England and Wales. The male prison population is 81,861 and the female prison population is 3,818. There are 45 more people in prison than last week, and 226 more people compared to this time last year.

The child custody population at the end of December 2015 was 929. This is a decrease of 62 since the last month and a fall of 27 compared to the same point last year.  
The current CNA level is 77,139 meaning that 8,540 men and women are being held above this level. CNA (Certified Normal Accommodation) is the prison service’s own measure of how many prisoners can be held in decent and safe accommodation.  
I think it's fair to say that what unites commentators on the subject is that nothing will work unless the numbers incarcerated is reduced considerably. Polly Toynbee writing in the Guardian on Monday is as good a place as any to be reminded how and why we've got into the present intolerable situation:-
Successive home secretaries strove to outdo one another in populist punitive measures, with Howard followed by Labour’s draconian Jack Straw, David Blunkett and John Reid. Up and up went the overcrowded prison population. Briefly in 2010, it seemed Cameron wanted to follow in Hurd’s footsteps: appointing Kenneth Clarke as justice secretary was a good omen. But he was soon replaced with Chris Grayling. He will be remembered for banning books for prisoners, but worse were his legal aid cuts – and most destructive was a 30% cut to probation funding, and then privatising the service, now in ruins.
The Guardian's editorial was essentially sceptical about the Prime Minister's motives and commitment and highlighted the fact that on the same day Downing Street chose to manipulate the news agenda by raising the prospect of immigrant camps springing up in Kent if Britain left the EU. 
Still, at least Mr Cameron did give his prison reform speech. And, although it did not come entirely out of the blue – he said similar things back in 2012 and again in his party conference speech last autumn – he is now again on the record confessing that the British prison system doesn’t work and is a scandalous failure, insisting that prisoners should be treated as “assets to be harnessed” not as “liabilities to be managed” and promising the biggest shake-up of the system since Victorian times. It is a message that could and should have been proclaimed and acted on years and even decades ago. Mr Cameron nevertheless deserves credit for raising the standard of reform once more.
The fundamental reason for taking a new approach to prison is the consistent failure of the system to rehabilitate the offenders who are sent there. No one argues against prison for the most serious offences and most dangerous offenders. But sending too many people to prison for excessively long terms has helped to generate overcrowded prisons with all too few ensuing benefits to society once a prisoner is released. It does not help that, in a time of spending austerity, prison is an expensive way of doing something badly.
Mr Cameron's solutions, which include devolving control to governors, the building of six new model “reform prisons”, a new system of comparative performance league tables, more day release and tagging, and new ideas on prison education, are all worthwhile. It is important that they are all trialled and independently evaluated and that they are not allowed to become a new dogma unchallenged. Mr Cameron said little about prison officer training, which should also be reviewed. But the fundamental answer to the overcrowding that constrains so much prison reform is sentencing reform, which is in turn dependent on a properly financed system of alternatives to custody. Here, after years of reversal of the progressive thinking that Mr Cameron extolled on Monday, there is so far only talk, and not a lot of that.
So, it should be clear that for prison reform to have any chance, there has to be sentencing reform, along with effective and properly financed alternatives to custody. As we all know, Probation has always been a central player in this as gatekeepers on prison numbers and as gold-standard providers of effective rehabilitation work. But of course we're being airbrushed out of the picture and destroyed as an effective agency by Graylings split and TR.

It was good to see at least one former Chief come forward and speak up in a letter that didn't pull any punches:-

Polly Toynbee is right (If Cameron really cared he would cut prison numbers, 9 February) that the probation service is in ruins. Once a viable alternative to prison, probation has been systematically destroyed by successive governments over the last 20 years. For the first 15 of those years, governments attempted to rebrand the probation service as the tough new community agency, there to protect the public. This was done by removing the requirement in a probation order to “advise, assist and befriend” offenders, abandoning the requirement that probation officers hold a social work qualification and removing the service from local accountability.

This was bad enough, but the last five years have seen far worse. In what can only be seen as an ideological drive, government has split the probation service in two: 70% managed by private companies under 21 contracts; 30% centrally controlled by the Ministry of Justice. As well as incomprehensible reorganisation, budget cuts and job losses have drained the lifeblood from the service. There are staff left who continue to attempt to provide a decent service to courts, offenders and communities, in spite of overwhelming odds against them. But many are leaving, disillusioned and exhausted by what has been done.

The probation service in England and Wales was once a world leader. Now it lies in ruins. To achieve the reduction in the prison population that Toynbee rightly advocates, there will need to be a viable community-based organisation, in which courts, victims, offenders and the public can have confidence. Sadly, there is no such organisation at the present time.

Mike Worthington
Former Chief Probation Officer, Northumbria Probation Service

A lot has been written about the subject over the last few days, which must be a good thing, because prisons normally prove extremely easy for governments to forget about. The trouble is there is more than a suspicion that what this is actually all about is an opportunity for business chancers and other privateers to get a further step in the door. This from Clinks:- 
At the forefront of Clinks’ strategy will be how we ensure the voluntary sector has the ability to be strategically involved and operationally useful in these reforms. But we also want to help join the dots, supporting the Ministry of Justice and NOMS to think about: how David Lammy’s review into racial bias and the work of the Young Review can help address better outcomes for BAME people in prison; how we use what we know about good quality trauma-informed services for women; better approaches for young adults; supporting people with multiple needs including homelessness, mental ill-health and issues with addiction; how we can embed the role of arts in the rehabilitation of people in prison.

So there’s a big ask of the voluntary sector to get involved in another large-scale reform, a lot of unknowns, but potentially a significant opportunity to see some pro-active change which as always we’ll approach with an open mind. 
A thorough trot through the issues and well worth reading in full, but just like most commentators on the subject, astonishingly virtually no mention of probation at all, and we all know what a roaring success TR has been for the charity and voluntary sector.

Before this post becomes too long, I want to highlight a new-comer in the shape of a well-respected prison lawyer, Chair of their association indeed, Andrew Sperling and his first blog. It's extremely good and well worth reading in full and I've no doubt the promised part two will be just as worthwhile. Again, probation doesn't get a mention, but I'm assured it will at some point, along with TR:- 

Cameron has been consistent in his theme of 'breaking the cycle' of reoffending. It was the title of a Green Paper in 2010 and the same phrase is scattered throughout his recent speech.

There is another cycle that he will need to break if he is to make any meaningful progress. There is a repetitive dance which politicians and media have been doing for considerably more than twenty years which has resulted in year or year rises in the prison population. It has increased by over 100% in 20 years; from 41800 in 1993 to 86000 in 2013. It has remained relatively stable since, probably because there are no spaces left. During the same period the number of recalls has increased by over fifty-five times. There has been a ten percent increase in the number of prisoners serving indeterminate or life sentences; they now make up nearly 20% of the prison population.

The Labour years were marked by a determination by successive Home and Justice Secretaries to show that they were not soft on crime. They deliberately courted tabloid newspapers to establish their credentials as tough sentencers. In the first nine years of Tony Blair’s term as Prime Minister there were more than 3000 new criminal offences created. The scope of offences attracting indeterminate sentences was massively expanded by the implementation of the imprisonment for public protection sentence in 2005.

Politicians have been led by the punitive clamour of tabloid newspapers to ignore the very clear evidence that prison does not work to reduce reoffending for the majority of people who end up in prison. The most recent Ministry of Justice Summary of Evidence indicates that short term prison sentences are less effective than community penalties in reducing reoffending. The desire to keep the press on side has killed off meaningful prison reform for generations.

Cameron and Gove have both recognized that our reliance on incarceration is unsustainable and that something has to change:

“I think politicians from all sides of the political spectrum are starting to realise the diminishing returns from ever higher levels of incarceration. For a start, under this Government we’ve already cut crime by around twenty-five percent in the last five years while keeping the prison population largely flat. And the truth is that simply warehousing ever more prisoners is not financially sustainable, nor is it necessarily the most cost-effective way of cutting crime.”
The real test will come when the next high profile crime incident takes place. The response to individual dreadful acts has consistently been to call for more punitive sentences - not just for that individual perpetrator but across the board.

No politician wants to have to justify prison reform policies in the face of a public outcry over a terrible murder. But they may have to do so if the tide is really to turn.

This is what politicians are supposed to be for - to take measured, evidence-based decisions in the public interest. They have to lead. They have to be willing to challenge or ignore loud voices with different agendas. Gove and Cameron will need to be immune to these pressures if they are to make progress where others have floundered.

The goals which they have set themselves will fail unless the prison population is reduced significantly. There will not be an amnesty or a mass release of serving prisoners. Instead, sentencers will have to be supported and encouraged to stop sending people to prison who do not need to be detained to protect the public from harm. The level of recalls to prison needs to come down dramatically. Unsustainable numbers of prisoners are returned to prison for technical or non-dangerous licence breaches. The Parole Board need to develop more effective ways of getting through cases and releasing people who can be released safely.


  1. Having read some of the blog comments yesterday on Kid's Company, I watched the documentary and expected to come away with sentiments similar to those I had read. I did not experience the shattering of illusions. It ran out of money and the killer punch, or red herring as it turned out, was the allegations of sexual abuse.

    Kid's Company did not spend money 'wisely'. That is a sin they share with numerous government departments, who have spent billions unwisely on flawed IT contracts, ill-thought-out reorganisations and other innumerable projects. All these expenditures fall under the rubric 'mismanagement' which can sometimes boil down to a matter of opinion.

    But when it comes to heads rolling, it's a double standard of accountability. When the tagging companies were found to have actually fraudulently claimed money from the government, they are told to pay the money back and do a bit of corporate renewal and get back in the queue for further contracts.

  2. Prison population getting a bit high again? Expect the return End of Custody Licence and Intermittent Custody any time soon. Alternatively, if the population total is derived from the IT, rather than a head count, sorting out all the duplicated subject entries in P-NOMIS might help.

  3. An organisation that seems to have flown under the radar in terms of prison releases is the Parole board who seem to have become a major blockage especially for those serving long sentences or the dreaded IPP.....been to a lot of oral hearings over the last 12 months and have detected a reluctance to release, the solution could be to have probation officers sitting on panels in an advisory capacity rather than as witness when so often many of the questions asked are irrelevant ........

    1. It would be good to have PO's present at oral hearings and not down a bloody phone or video link.

      Sadly PO's have become much more risk-averse for a number of reasons, not least as a result of the crap OASys computer programme.

    2. In my experience it's the Parole Board who are increasingly risk averse and too reliant on psychologists! I'm sick of coming away from oral hearings deflated especially on IPP cases 7 years plus over tariff

    3. "It would be good to have PO's present at oral hearings and not down a bloody phone or video link."

      Absolutely. This is an example of technology distancing us from clients rather than improving our work. I can think of numerous examples where my working relationship with clients serving long sentences changed significantly for the better largely because I went to their hearing in person, where predecessors had merely been on the end of the phone.

    4. Yet just this week we are now to be encouraged to use technology to attend parole hearings rather than attend in person

    5. There is a massive disconnect between what we as practitioners know is good practice and the new control freaks in charge at NPS.

    6. I've attended parole hearings where there is clearly probation knowledge (perhaps even probation experience) from the chair and she has been very balanced and fair, doing everything to get IPP prisoners released IF safe to do so. I've been impressed. would be good to have more probation knowledge on the parole board.

  4. From Converse Prison News

    A review of radicalisation in jails in England and Wales may support putting all Islamist terrorists into one unit to stop them preying on weak inmates- a move which one prisons expert has said carried too many risks.

    The terrorists would be locked up together in one “jihadi jail”, but the move would reverse a 50-year policy in which dangerous inmates are dispersed around eight jails.

    The proposal to hold terrorists separately has been suggested in discussions as part of a review ordered by Michael Gove and carried out by Ian Acheson, a former prison governor.

    A Whitehall source said: “Michael Spurr [the head of the National Offender Management Service] is concerned that Acheson is going to come to the wrong conclusion”.

    The prospect of putting all 131 Islamist terrorists in one place and separating them from other inmates was hinted at by the prime minister this week.

    One prison source said: “If we could identify extremists spreading the wrong messages it would be a good idea to hold them separately to stop them having the opportunity of infecting other inmates with their views”.

    The source said that it would be better to hold them together in separate units or wings in existing jails but that the prison service must retain the capacity to move them around.

    A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The justice secretary has asked the department to review its approach to dealing with Islamist extremism in prisons. This is being supported by external expertise and sits alongside the cross-government work currently under way on developing de-radicalisation programmes.”

    Mark Leech, editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales, and Converse the national prisons newspaper, said he thought the risks far outweighed the benefits.

    Mr Leech said: “The Dispersal System has worked fine for half a century, concentration which is its polar opposite, has far too many risks both in terms of theory and practice.

    “Concentration in one unit such as that at Belmarsh, or one prison even, could provide a focal point for unrest and it will inevitably provoke allegations that it was a British Guantanamo – and where do you put them when you lose control of the unit; no one can say that would never happen, and we have to face the prospect of where we go with it if and when it does.

  5. I have an idea which I am sure some may dismiss out of hand, it is one I have been looking at for about a year now in conjunction with other issues, so I thought I would put it out there to this blog as it is the authority on probation and seemingly where all interested parties appear to gather. In the current changes to probation why not do a complete reversal and role re-definition? Instead of NPS offices in the community, why not base them inside prisons and make community probation officer a secondment as oppose to a prison deployment? Control sentence management, develop relationships of strength and real insight, Save Billions of pounds as community work can be done fron CRC offices as a secondment. Lifers etc can report to prisons for licence supervision meetings (BIG reminder = no slippage), implications are massive I know but revolutionary idea, in practice well you guys would know better, but please let me know as I value your service and some practitioners I have met have literally turned lives around for many offenders. Please dont dismiss this out of hand as it is a serious proposal and one which could take the probation forward in other peoples strategic planning/thinking.

  6. In my experience no reasoned ideas are ever dismissed out of hand on here and all are welcome to join in the debate.

    What should be clear to everyone is that TR is a complete disaster and we urgently need a plan B. I'll leave others to mull over the idea, but one major problem is that only NPS staff are allowed to write PSR's for court and supervise all high risk clients, whether in or out of custody.

    It's the split as much as anything that's landed us up in such a mess.

    1. The split as well as the utterly shameful failure of anyone in any senior position in NPS, CRCs or NOMS to acknowledge that the whole system is a shambles - see yet further evidence in the Telegraph today from Gove and Grayling, evidently firmly of the belief that "if we say it often enough that makes it true" .

    2. Edited highlights:-

      Michael Gove and Chris Grayling: We’re getting smart on crime, not going soft.

      In an article for the Telegraph, the Justice Secretary and his predecessor Chris Grayling, who is expected to campaign for Britain to leave the EU, join forces to promote the Government's work on prison reform.

      An effective criminal justice system must address the causes of crime. We know that prisoners come – disproportionately – from harsh and violent backgrounds. More than two fifths of prisoners observed domestic violence as a child, nearly a quarter were taken into care as children and 47 per cent have no school qualifications. Growing up in an environment where love is absent, violence is accepted and education is an afterthought is poor preparation for a stable, successful life.
      Of course, many people grow up in difficult circumstances and go on to lead successful lives. They deserve special admiration. But for those who have made mistakes, we should offer a chance to put things right. We have to rise to that challenge if we are to rescue offenders from lives of crime and, even more importantly, stop them creating more victims when eventually they are released.

      One of the biggest failings that we inherited was how we handled the roughly 45,000 offenders who leave prison each year after serving a sentence of less than 12 months. In the past they were released with £46 in their pockets, and left to walk the streets with little or no support. The majority reoffended within weeks. It was indefensible.

      This time last year we changed that with the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. We radically reformed the probation service so when offenders leave prison they are given the best possible support to return to society and start to rebuild their lives; making a contribution rather than going back to criminality.

      The service now provides support to those offenders who were falling through the gaps, and has driven greater innovation and efficiency from the private and voluntary sectors. For the first time, almost all offenders now receive targeted support on release, getting the help they need to turn away from crime.

      Major transitions in public services are always challenging, but performance figures published in January show month-on-month improvements at the newly formed Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) and within the National Probation Service. Innovation has been at the heart of these reforms, which combine the best of the public, private, voluntary and charitable sectors.

      As a result, there are pioneering projects taking place across the country to support offenders into employment and out of crime. From the Good Loaf bakery in Northampton – which offers cookery courses, work experience and community payback for women who have become entangled in the criminal justice system – to the 12-week programme commissioned in the South West, designed to help offenders before their release.

      The Ministry of Justice will do everything it can to support the professionals who are delivering these reforms. Probation staff have delivered a vital transformation of rehabilitation, and we are hugely grateful for their dedication, commitment and professionalism. But there is more to do – our reforms must now continue in our prisons. Unless offenders are kept safe and secure, in decent surroundings, free from violence, disorder and drugs, then we cannot begin to prepare them for a better, more moral, life on the outside.

      This country’s persistent past failure to reduce re-offending was shameful. That is why we are reforming prisons and probation – so they can fulfil their true purpose of keeping people safe by making people better.

      Michael Gove is the Justice Secretary and Chris Grayling is the Leader of the House of Commons

    3. What sickening spin served up in the Telegraph presumably in an attempt to counteract such as the letter from esteemed former probation practitioner Mike Worthington, whose name will be less well known to Conservative Party believers than the names of Gove and Grayling.

      That confirms that Gove is as lacking in integrity as Grayling and Cameron who appointed them both alongside Nick Clegg, Simon Hughes Lord McNally and the other Liberal Democrats hypocrites who helped wreck Probation as part of their grab for power.

      We have still not seen any consistent determined Opposition to such CRC nonsenses as the dangerous Sodexo Interview Booths from Corbyn's Labour folk, yet all three of their CJS spokespeople used Cameron's Prison Reform spiel as a vehicle to score party political 'points' over the Conservatives rather than as an opportunity to advance viable policy.

      I noticed that the week before last in the Opposition led debate on the CJS that Kenneth Clarke, former Secretary of State, used it as an opportunity to encourage Gove to take, determined if exceptional action to get the prison numbers down by some sort of scheme to release the over tariff IPP detainees, but that has thus far been ignored by those now in power & thousands of families suffer continued enforced separation for no good reason.

  7. How about putting every convicted terorist in solitary confinement??? Remember ' divide and conquer'? Never mind the practical complexities and the cost, their radicalisation of others is a crime in itself and deserves a few quid being spent on adapting prisons. Either that or bring back capital punishment, just for terrorists. But sadly, that could cause a huge revenge response from the terrorist club...

    Just a thought...

    1. Oh ML, too many ethical points raised there - don't forget - one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Not that I support terrorism in any form,you understand, but neither do I trust this Government one iota as they label and demonise groups in order to justify the introduction of draconian oppressive measures (refugees,anyone)?

    2. to 1744 - belatedly - I apologise for my mention of capital punishment - that was tongue in cheek -but I do believe that the powers that be, need not only to work on providing more appropriate accom for those who are likely to brain wash others into becoming terrorists themselves, but also to avoid herding like minds all together, enabling them to share ideas and info, and to plan and plot.

  8. Jim I'm getting well cheesed off with your anti TR propogabda. You no longer work in the service and you've no experience working in a CRC. TR is not a mess and a plan b is not needed. Only you think this along with a few others at the coal face resentful because you're not top brass. I may be wrong but that's how you come across... lighten up and embrace being part of history. Us at the coal face are!!!

    1. Agreed. Jim doesn't work in NPS as he didn't know about 3E til recently. He would also be the biggest hypocrite if he worked in a CRC. I think he is a NAPO or Unison Bod trying to cause mischief. It's working as my CRC masters are well scared of this blog according to my boss.

    2. Not sure where you are 18.14 but down south it's the same. Top table scared of the blog as personal and company reputations are on the line.

    3. Wahey, the jokers are back!!

    4. Obviously upsetting a few people.

    5. 'My CRC masters are well scared of this blog..'
      'Top table scared of the blog'
      Really? Well,so they should be.
      'The pen is mightier than the sword'.

    6. 'Top brass' are you ex-army? You're always going on about 'top brass' and I doubt you are at the 'coal face'.

  9. I do work in a CRC and it's an absolute shambles, dangerous practices, TR has been a joke and anyone trying to cover it up is either Sodexo, Purple Futures or any one of a dozen greedy corporation acolytes....

  10. This blog has had its day as all I see is the recycling of the same old garbage offering nothing evidence based or proven. I can't remember the last time we had a guest blog suggesting the 4000 hits daily are probably the same old disgruntled colleagues going on about the past. Time to move on guys. Like bereavement. Get over it and move on. TR can be a runaway success with you all on bored.

    1. We're being told SFOs have increased again. Runaway success it ain't. I'm tempted to run away though! By the way anon 19:31 why read the blog if it bothers you?

    2. "TR can be a runaway success with you all on bored."

      Clearly deluded, unable to contribute anything constructive, whilst still addicted to reading a blog that has had its day.....

    3. 19.31 how disrespectful.everyone is entitled to have a view and to express it. The blog provides an oportunity to do so and you are happy to avail you self of that opportunity!!


    1. A leaked report by a government taskforce has painted a devastating picture of Britain’s mental health services, revealing that the number of people killing themselves is soaring, that three-quarters of those with psychiatric conditions are not being helped, and that sick children are being sent “almost anywhere in the country” for treatment.

      Details of the damning assessment have come to light just as the prime minister is planning to herald a transformation of mental health services.

      The report, due to be published on Monday to coincide with an announcement by the prime minister on funding and new initiatives, lays bare a system that is routinely failing people from every walk of life.

      While the prime minister is expected to trumpet his focus on mental health – six years after he pledged to put mental wellbeing at the centre of his government – his own taskforce condemns years of underinvestment and lays a significant portion of the blame on the current administration.

  12. Thousands more children have been injured in custody through the use of controversial restraint techniques than the government had previously disclosed, new statistics show.

    This has prompted accusations that the true scale of harm in privately run jails has been suppressed. Figures reveal that the number of injuries to children caused by the use of restraint is more than three times higher than the total previously stated by the Youth Justice Board (YJB).

    It has emerged that, between 2010 and 2014, children who were restrained while in custody suffered 3,312 injuries that had not previously been declared to parliament or included in the government’s statistical bulletins.

    According to the YJB’s official statistics, 318 incidents occurred between 2010 and 2014 within secure training centres (STCs) where restraint led to either minor injuries that required medical treatment or serious injuries requiring hospital treatment. Yet Home Office minister Mike Penning said in a parliamentary answer last week that the actual number of injuries caused by restraint in secure training centres over that period was 1,506, almost five times as many. The comparable figure for young offender institutions was 631, compared with a “new” total of 2,755 – 4.3 times as many.

    The Ministry of Justice said that the increase was explained by the inclusion of a new category that included injuries that did not require medical or hospital treatment.

  13. Listen Again -

    Francis Crook CEO, Howard League and a Gove former underlying Conservative - speak about Prison Reform on Radio 4 15 and half minutes in.

    Probation not featured but Women's Centres are:-