Thursday, 17 March 2016

Prison Reform 2

We haven't touched much on prison reform recently and since the warm after-glow generated by David Cameron's speech highlighting the urgent need for change. I suppose like many I was sceptical and this feeling has been reinforced once we found out that Michael Gove thinks he can bring about reform essentially without reducing prison numbers.

This extraordinarily wrong-headed view from someone who takes pride in stating that evidence should inform decision-making has drawn widespread disdain and bewilderment from prison reformers. This from Rob Allen on Unlocking Potential:-

Narey joins Hardwick in Calling for Reduction in Prison Numbers

In his inaugural speech as Professor of Criminal Justice at Royal Holloway College this week, Nick Hardwick set out his views on what makes for a good prison. Recently released from his duty to catalogue the deteriorating state of the nation’s jails, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons turned his mind to what’s needed to turn into reality the government’s ambitious agenda to “lead the world with new rehabilitation techniques and smarter ways of managing prisoners”.

On one requirement he was clear; if the prison system cannot take on more personnel – and he seemed pretty sure the spending settlement will not permit that- then there will have to be a reduction in the numbers of prisoners. Many of the failings that Hardwick has documented since 2011 – in keeping prisoners safe, in providing purposeful activity and preparing them for release - boil down to inadequate staffing. Hardwick will, like many, be disappointed to read in a Guardian interview that the Justice Secretary has no intention of seeking to reduce the size of the prison population. Michael Gove appears to believe that you can improve the ability of a pint pot to accommodate a quart by letting the pot decide how to do it.


Despite the misgivings of experts, Gove made clear his view in this recent interview with the Guardian:-

Gove: I can reform prisons without cutting inmate numbers

It is possible to implement prison reform without reducing the number of prisoners, Michael Gove has insisted in an interview with the Guardian in which he said political tensions over his position on the EU will not derail his programme of reforms. The justice secretary said there was no need to “manage down the prison population” or to introduce an “artificial target” to reduce the number of prisoners, revealing that the Treasury had promised him sufficient funding to “keep prison numbers stable” despite wider pressures on the public finances.

The revelation sits uneasily with Gove’s new image as a champion of penal reform and will disappoint campaigners, who say a radical reduction in prisoner numbers – which have risen from 45,000 in 1990 to almost 86,000 today – must be central to reform. Until now, the justice secretary has avoided the politically sensitive question of the rising prison population in the handful of speeches he has made on reform. David Cameron also sidestepped the issue when he made a speech on the need for a “truly 21st-century prison system” last month.

But Gove rejected the “view that says it is only possible to rehabilitate if you dramatically reduce the prison population”. If you were to be seen to be artificially attempting to manage the population down, I think it would have a harmful effect on the criminal justice system overall,” he said in an interview with the Guardian after it published two reports about problems at the country’s biggest and most overcrowded prisons, Oakwood and Wandsworth.

Gove may be anxious to avoid the criticism faced by his predecessor but one, Kenneth Clarke, who described the prison population in 2010 as astonishing and made a commitment to reduce numbers by 3,000 in four years. He subsequently faced widespread attacks from rightwing newspapers (the Sun described him as “soft on the causers of crime”) and was moved out of his post in a reshuffle in 2012 before reductions were made.

Gove said: “I’m confident that we can keep people in safe and decent circumstances in prisons which are at or near capacity without needing to manage down the population.”

Reformers have called for a review of sentencing policy, hoping that Gove would curtail some of the longer mandatory sentences set down by governments over the past two decades, but he indicated this was not a priority. “Of course I would like fewer people in prison because that means fewer people are committing crime, but I don’t think that we should deliberately shape sentencing policy with the sole aim of reducing the prison population,” he said.

With cuts of more than 20% already made to the prison budget, leading to widespread staff cuts, reformers argue that the best way to reduce costs and improve the system is to reduce both the number of people sent to prison and the amount of time they spend there.

Rather than reducing numbers, Gove hopes to reform prison regimes, placing greater emphasis on education and meaningful activity, but he acknowledged that the sweeping changes he envisaged would take time to deliver, and that new initiatives such as “problem-solving courts” and “reform prisons” needed time to be tested before being rolled out widely.

“I would like to see a significant increase in the amount of time that prisoners spend out of their cells, working, learning – but we need to do so in a way that each individual institution is kept safe. I’m going to carry on pushing for these changes, but I’m realistic about the fact that we can’t always make all the changes that we’d like, at the pace I’d like,” he said.


Well, yesterday was budget day and we found out a bit more of what Gove's prescription entails. This from the Guardian:-

Michael Gove announces plans for 'reform prisons'

A new bill is to pave the way for “reform prisons” modelled on academy schools, with league tables and provision for failing jails to be taken over by more successful prisons, the justice secretary, Michael Gove, has told MPs. He also indicated that he was looking at the 50-year-old system of categorising prisoners, and considering introducing a Germany-style system of separate dedicated prisons for remand and convicted inmates so that inmates once sentenced could serve their term in a single jail.

Gove admitted that “we do have a problem with crowding in some jails” but insisted it was not extreme and pointed out that some prisons did well despite capacity problems. Appearing before the House of Commons justice select committee, Gove confirmed he had no intention of introducing “artificial” changes to sentencing policy to reduce the record 85,000 prison population in England and Wales. Instead, he expressed the hope that it could be brought down by reducing reoffending rates.

The justice secretary confirmed he would press ahead with the closure and sale of the sites of inner city Victorian jails but said he was unable to name any of the candidates at this stage beyond the already-announced closure of Holloway women’s prison in London this summer. The nine new jails to be built under this programme will be on sites outside city centres.

Gove, who visited Germany earlier this week, said he had been impressed by one new prison for sentenced prisoners he had seen outside Berlin in which every prisoner had their ownroom. He told MPs it would ideal if every prisoner had their own cell in prisons in England and Wales but conceded that “we are very far from that”.

A draft prison reform bill to be introduced in next month’s Queen’s speech on 18 May will set out the legal framework for new prisons with strong governors and a degree of autonomy over budgets and the deployment of staff. The bill will also include powers for “reform prisons” to take over nearby failing jails on the same model as the development of school academy chains.

The former education secretary said his experience in government had taught him that progress was rarely made without performance statistics and so he was developing a new system of league tables. He said he would consult governors shortly on the yardsticks to be used but one key “dipstick” measure would be the time spent by prisoners out of their cells, with targets such as reducing smuggled contraband included as well.

He suggested that if governors missed these targets they might be “managed out” or stronger jails could act as “improvement partners” and in some cases could be run by a stronger reform prison along the lines of chains of academy schools.


On the same day, Chancellor Osborne spelt out what the future is going to bring and it looks increasingly as if the Tory government are going to use the Manchester City Region as its test bed for their brave new devolved world where every town and city will eventually have to stand on their own two feet and without the benefit of central grants. Osborne announced yesterday that Manchester will become the first region that will be able too keep all the proceeds of their business rates, but in return will lose all central government funding.

It looks as if he's going to start going down the path of devolving elements of the Criminal Justice System as well. This from the Manchester Evening News:-

New jail planned for Greater Manchester as region set to take charge of its own prisons

A new prison could be built in Greater Manchester, the M.E.N. can reveal. The new jail is being planned as the Chancellor prepares to hand even more powers to the region in his Budget, this time over criminal justice. The latest in a series of ground-breaking devolution deals will give local leaders influence over youth offending, probation and prison services - including over the future of prison buildings and where they are located.

As part of that ministers will work with the police commissioner and council bosses on a potential new 'resettlement jail' for people from the local area who are nearing release. If built from scratch - rather than using an existing prison - it would be the first new jail the region has seen since Salford’s Forest Bank in the 1990s. No site has yet been identified but the government has been pushing Greater Manchester authorities since at least the start of February to come up with a possible site for a new jail.

Ministry of Justice officials have asked council leaders to identify sites that would be suitable, based on how easy they would be to develop, their size - at least 25 acres - and the quality of their transport links. Any resulting resettlement prison would hold people from Greater Manchester who are serving the last few months of their sentences to get them ready for life outside. Ministers ultimately want people with jail terms of less than a year to serve their whole sentence at such a jail.

In today's Budget George Osborne is expected to hand Greater Manchester leaders more control over prison, probation and youth offender services in the belief it will rehabilitate more people, get them back into work, save money and cut crime. Closer working with other public services - such as councils and the NHS - would be key to that as Greater Manchester takes control of more and more government spending, including in the NHS, economic investment and transport.

Former chief constable Sir Peter Fahy is among those to have previously called for criminal justice to be part of ‘Devo Manc’, arguing after he retired last year that it would allow greater local oversight and save public services money. In November he told the M.E.N. that prisons, courts and even the Crown Prosecution Service should be devolved to the region, although it appears the deal with ministers does not go that far.

Council leaders have already been running a Greater Manchester-wide pilot aimed at rehabilitating female prisoners by providing support and training in the community rather than sending them to prison.


On a completely seperate issue, I wouldn't want us to lose sight of this contribution that came in late yesterday, but got caught in the spam filter:-

"MTCnovo has issued a warning advising staff not to talk to the press. That's a shame because staff will be unable to say how they are losing 20% of their colleagues due to temporary workers being let go and managers are as keen as ever to flog staff to achieve targets. In the spirit of '84 my colleagues and I were advised to be careful what we were saying and not to repeat or discuss any of the 'utterly groundless' allegations being expressed by ill informed persons on social media and we were strongly warned that we could be in hot water if we took part. Sound familiar? 

Another worrying thing is that it is becoming a bit like Brave New World because if you are in the presence of anyone wearing a grey MTCnovo lanyard then anything they say is listened to and takes precedence over anything anyone else says whether or not they are talking utter crap or you are a Director or a whingeing PO telling it how it is. It is chilling to know that one whispered word from them and you might be hauled off and subjected to a corporate beating or worse because they are not bound by any rules."


  1. Not much about Probation in that lot - I have not listened to Gove's evidence to The House of Commons Justice Select Committee nor read any reports of it.

    I was canvassed in Colchester yesterday by the UKIP Police and Crime Commissioner candidate. He was in favour of being given responsibility for Fire Services as well as Police but not probation, which he does not think should be transferred to the PCCS (and presumably also away from the MOJ) but my irritation and intolerance of his knowitall presentation, resulted in the conversation ending before he revealed whether he did actually know anything about probation. According to my wife, he was nearly as arrogant as me!

    I do encourage canvassees to ask any PCCs how they see the management of probation fitting into their duties, I doubt they will be much worse than what I understand are the standards of current managers/owners as indicated above in the quote about MTCnovo.

    I read on Facebook, maybe here as well that the Greater London (It is a massive area taking in five former amalgamated area Probation Services) CRC boss is off to the USA soon for what I fear maybe some updating of her indoctrination.

  2. And Hardwick's voice is strengthened by being the new chair of the parole board.

  3. Are nps being mapped/matched from June '16? Intranet says separate organisations we seem to be following crc in what's happening to them rather than being the high risk organisation overlooking the private company managing risk.