Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Prison Reform 3

On the eve of the government's plans for prison reform, the Probation Institute publishes their thoughts in a position paper:-

Penal Reform 


The Prime Minister has stated that prison reform is a priority for his administration. He wishes to reduce reoffending rates of prisoners and has suggested that one of the means to achieve this may be to give prison governors more autonomy over their institutions. The Secretary of State for Justice has expressed similar ambitions and has set up reviews looking specifically at women’s imprisonment and the overrepresentation of minority ethnic people in the criminal justice system. 

The Probation Institute welcomes a renewed focus on penal reform. There were indications from the previous government of a move in this direction. The P.I. hopes that effective action will follow the more recent announcements. This position paper sets out what the P.I. considers the key issues that must be addressed if reforms are to have a material impact on reducing re-offending.

Key Points 

1. The Prison population is unsustainably high 
  • By all recognised measures the volume of crime has been falling consistently for nearly two decades. This is the case, not just in England and Wales, but in most jurisdictions in the developed world. Yet during these two decades the prison population in England and Wales has more than doubled. Many of those imprisoned have not committed offences of violence and do not present a danger to others. Many have significant issues with addiction and/or poor mental health.
  • Imprisoning people who are not a risk to others for relatively short periods of time is always likely to result in high re-offending rates. Factors that are most likely to facilitate desistance from offending are stable accommodation, stable employment, stable and positive relationships, access to local services that can address underlying issues such as addiction. All of these are adversely impacted by a custodial sentence. 
  • Some of this adverse impact may be mitigated by regular day release and by provision of high quality programmes in prisons. This mitigation is likely to be limited however: the prison estate is not configured to allow the majority of prisoners to be day released or attend treatment programmes in the area to which they will be released. 
  • Many prisons are currently overcrowded. Overcrowding makes the provision of effective services to serving prisoners extremely difficult and also impacts upon rational allocation policies at the heart of resettlement prisons. 
  • Imprisoning fewer people – restricting imprisonment to those who present an ongoing risk to others – would facilitate provision of genuinely rehabilitative regimes. This suggests that any reform strategy must also include sentencing reform to ensure only those that need a prison sentence for public protection are prioritised and that community services support and manage more people in the community
2. Governor autonomy on its own is not enough to reduce reoffending rates 
  • There has undoubtedly been an increase in central control driven partly by ministerial dictate and partly by NOMS bureaucracy. Many in-prison services are now centrally contracted. Relaxing this is likely to enable governors to operate more effective prisons and respond to the particular environment of their own prison. 
  • In itself however, governor autonomy is not likely to have a dramatic impact because: 
  • Population management of an overcrowded system has to be centrally or at least regionally controlled. As a result, governors will never have control over the type or number of inmates in their prisons. 
  • Prison based services need to be informed by detailed knowledge of the local community into which their inmates will be released. It is difficult for governors and their staff to acquire this. 
  • The shortcomings of tying performance on re-offending rates to prison based services has already been demonstrated by the Doncaster and Peterborough Payment by Results pilot. (MoJ, 2014a, 2014b)
  • The disconnect between delivery of services within prison and in the community has been a longterm issue for the penal system. It has resulted in some prisoners having to undergo multiple referral processes to different organisations with little coherent oversight. Others have fallen through the cracks and needs have been left unaddressed.
  • Commissioning of services “through the gate” is a cornerstone of the contracts let last year by the MoJ to the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies. Whilst the early indications of effectiveness may be patchy, the principle of a “through the gate” service is critical to improving rehabilitation. Governor autonomy would need to be applied in a way that protected this principle. Attempts to reverse out of this element of the contract with CRCs would inevitably be fraught with difficulty and probably very expensive. 
3. Justice Reinvestment is required to achieve reductions in re-offending 
  • Re-investing the resources currently deployed to manage an unnecessarily high prison population into better resourced and targeted community-based programmes and preventative measures is the over-arching strategy most likely to achieve sustained reductions in re-offending. The strategy is being pursued in other jurisdictions including U.S. states across the spectrum of political leadership. 
  • Adequate resourcing for staff within prisons must be an immediate priority to support regimes which can deliver more effectively on its rehabilitative goals. 
  • Re-offending rates of those supervised in the community are consistently lower than those for custody. The difference widens when applied to those serving sentences of 12 months and under. The differences are evident in groups with matching criminal histories. 
  • Reinvesting in community sanctions that are demonstrated to reduce re-offending is likely to bring re-offending rates down further, faster and more cost-effectively. Further research into effectiveness will always be welcome but in essence the evidence is clear about what kind of approaches are most likely to be effective with most people. (MoJ, 2013) Rather than searching for a “magic bullet” that will transform re-offending rates, consistent investment in what research already tells us works, and in the training and recruitment of staff to apply this, is likely to bring sustainable results. 
  • Prison reform, including governor autonomy and regimes focused on rehabilitation, can make a contribution to a wider strategy to reduce re-offending. Without this wider strategy however - one that reduces the numbers in prison and re-invests in the resources thus released in community-based sanctions and preventative measures – the effect is likely to be minimal and any reductions achieved unlikely to be sustainable. 
  • The justice community has known for at least 20 years what the evidence says about what needs to be done. And yet policy that is in line with the evidence on reducing reoffending seems very difficult to implement. We would urge government to pay heed to the evidence and act accordingly.

From the BBC website:-

In the bill to be announced later, the governors of six jails will be given control over budgets, decide which rehabilitation and education services to use and be able to change the prison regime and the rules over family visits. The prisons will be able to enter into contracts and to generate and retain income, the government said, adding that governors would be held accountable by "a new regime of transparency". By the end of the year, 5,000 prisoners will be held in the first six "autonomous" prisons, which will be:

Wandsworth in south London
Holme House, Stockton-on-Tees
Ranby, Nottinghamshire
Coldingley, Woking
Kirklevington Grange, Cleveland
High Down, Sutton

Inspectors have warned that Ranby prison is at risk of being overwhelmed by the supply of so-called legal highs, and last month a prisoner was murdered at Coldingley.

The PM first outlined plans to give prison governors "complete control" over their prisons in February, saying it would reduce reoffending and allow prisoners to be treated as "potential assets to be harnessed". At the time, the Prison Reform Trust said the measures were "only part of the equation", while the Howard League for Penal Reform said measures were needed to tackle the "profligate use of prison".

Mr Cameron said: "For too long, we have left our prisons to fester. Not only does that reinforce the cycle of crime, increasing the bills of social failure that taxpayers must pick up. It writes off thousands of people. So today, we start the long overdue, long-needed change that our prisons need. No longer will they be warehouses for criminals; they will now be places where lives are changed."

The government will also publish a review of education in prisons and announce pilot areas chosen for satellite tracking of offenders. In February a contract to develop the system was cancelled after the government had already spent £21m on the project.


  1. Probation Officer18 May 2016 at 07:56

    Pile of tosh from the Probation Institute. No mention of the Probation Service, the skills of Probation Officers or their place in "what works" and "end to end offender management". 100+ years of probation supporting offenders in prisons and communities and we don't get a single mention by our own so called institute. Instead this is a nod from the PI to private companies and their perverse roles in CRC's and TTG even though the evidence is showing they're a dud and should be no part of "community services". I have no respect for the PI which is part of the MoJ's whitewashing of probation history, and it is time NAPO condemns it.

    1. What did you expect from the PI ???
      Come on, after nearly 2 years of being split no-one is supporting us anymore and as for NAPO I,m sorry but they couldn't condemn a washing machine let alone stand up for its members. Private v Public no one cares anymore its all changed. Cost cutting exercise it might be but some of us are still here working are asses off and why, because we care! If we didnt we would walk away and pay our bills in other areas of the employment industry.
      As for the prisons I whole heartedly respect everyone who works in them. These are dangerous places at the minute and if anyone wants to really see what working in a dangerous and frightening environment is put in a request to move to one. It might even open your eyes to what the staff have to compete with and that's before any work has been undertaken. Prisons are a tough job and not for the feeble and whinging moaners so can we have respect to staff in there regardless of sector please.

    2. Who's criticising prison staff, or probation staff who work in prisons?! I don't see any of this above, either in the comment or the original post.


    1. Prisoners should be able to use iPads in their cells and stay in touch with friends and family via Skype, a major study commissioned by the justice secretary, Michael Gove, is expected to conclude.

      The review into prison education by Dame Sally Coates advocates the increased use of “in-cell technology, such as iPads, so prisoners can learn independently”, according to extracts from a draft of the report seen by the Guardian.

      The findings will be published alongside the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, which will include legislation that ministers say represents the biggest shakeup in prisons since Victorian times.

      The prisons bill will pave the way for satellite tracking that will allow some offenders to spend just weekends in jail, introduce league tables on reoffending, employment rates, violence and self harm, and give the governors at six major prisons unprecedented freedoms. Prisons will be able to determine how their budgets are spent and opt out of national contracts.

      The legislation will be a centrepiece of the government’s Queen’s speech, which David Cameron wants to be centred around improving the life chances of the most disadvantaged individuals in the country.

      It will come alongside a children and social work bill, designed to improve the opportunities for those in care, a universities bill, which aims to boost the chances of students from minority backgrounds, and a local growth and jobs bill.

      The government is also expected to push ahead with controversial plans to tear up the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British bill of rights, in a move that is likely to face fierce resistance. There will also be a digital economy bill.

      But the prime minister is hoping to focus on the life-chances legislation, which follows a series of speeches aimed at building a legacy that goes beyond the government’s austerity drive.

      A life-chances strategy, which will focus on supporting children during the early years and improving parenting, is also due to be published in the summer, later than originally planned.

      Cameron said his government was preparing to present a “One Nation Queen’s speech from a One Nation government”.

      “For too long, we have left our prisons to fester. Not only does that reinforce the cycle of crime, increasing the bills of social failure that taxpayers must pick up. It writes off thousands of people,” he said.

      Gove said: “Prisons must do more to rehabilitate offenders. We will put governors in charge, giving them the autonomy they need to run prisons in the way they think best.

      “By trusting governors to get on with the job, we can make sure prisons are places of education, work and purposeful activity. These reforms will reduce reoffending, cut crime and improve public safety.”

      A Conservative source claimed that none of the reforms should be seen as “soft on crime”, pointing out that the vast majority of prisoners end up back on the streets, so rehabilitation is critical.

      As well as promising massive freedoms for prisons, starting with sites in the east Midlands, the north-east and London, including HMP Wandsworth, the government will welcome the findings of Coates into how to improve education inside prisons.

      She will call for a Teach First-style programme in prisons but will also criticise blanket security practices that effectively ban internet use in jails. She will also recommend trialling the use of technology such as Skype to communicate with loved ones face to face, claiming: “Keeping in touch with friends and family is a key factor in maintaining an individual’s wellbeing and has been shown to reduce reoffending.”

      Rod Clark, chief executive of the Prisoners’ Education Trust, said he welcomed the far-reaching review “and particularly [Coates’s] call for a commonsense approach to the use of technology in prisons”.

      Clark added: “For too long, jails in England and Wales have languished in a pre-internet dark age, with prisoners struggling to find a computer to type on, let alone gain internet access.”

    2. Not too sure about the lack of IT access Rod, there's no shortage of prisoners using IT to intimidate their ex-partners and/or run their drug supply businesses from the comfort of their flowery dells. What irks me is the quality of their IT compared to mine.

  3. Just heard Chris being interviewed on the Today programme (8:10am slot). Apparently his banning of books in prison was a complete myth and never happened, and all the current issues in prison are the fault of legal highs, which have now been made illegal, so thAt's alright then. Phew!.

    1. Yes and Boris Johnson was 'misquoted' and 'probation had been successfully reformed and 50,000 released prisoners now getting support'. Maybe pigs do fly after all.

    2. As someone working in CRC i can assure Mr Grayling that released prisoners are not getting any support in any shape or form. What a fool.

    3. A tweet from the Secret Barrister seems to sum things up nicely:-

      "God Chris Grayling is odious. A foul, mendacious, self-serving, amoral, intellectually-bereft embodiment of all wrong with politics"

    4. Grayling is right, albeit disingenuously so: there was no 'ban' on books but his policy imposed severe restrictions – a policy, deemed unlawful, though he spent £72,000 of taxpayers' money on seeking to defend it.

      'The Justice Secretary spent £72,000 of taxpayers’ money in an attempt to maintain his ban on inmates receiving books in prison from visitors.

      Last month the High Court ruled Chris Grayling’s prison book ban “unlawful” and Mr Justin Collins said he could see “no good reason” for the Government’s stance and said their defence was “misleading”.

  4. Frances Crook
    If people are safe to go home & work during the week, what's the point locking them in prison at weekend when very few staff #QueensSpeech

  5. Who can take anything the PI says seriously. They blow with the wind.....

  6. Did I miss something or the Pi never mentioned probation?????????

  7. This all sound remarkably like custody plus and custody minus. Great idea but was expensive to implement and it relies on prisoners being near home and not miles away in the middle of no-where (which is where most prisons seem to be) which is why it never got off the ground in the first place!

  8. League tables of prisons, oh goody! Creating competition for its own sake has worked just brilliantly in our education and health systems, hasn't it? No danger of prison governors focussing all their attention on the things being measured to the exclusion of all else, no matter how irrelevant the factor may be or the dodginess of the data...

  9. Grayling is, and always has been, an ass; his post-Justice Sec role as cheerleader for Boris the Fascist seals his fate. Gove, another Leavista, is probably more of a donkey than an ass.

    The prison officer on BBC news tonight (Andy Topping?) deserves our respect & support. Poor fucker looked right on the edge.

    After selling off all of the services and assets to overseas profiteers, excusing all and sundry for utter incompetence, rewarding abusive & dishonest behaviour with gongs & bonuses, this country is totally fucked up.

  10. I remember dear Chris saying that the only impact of overcrowding was that there were two people in a cell designed for one.Oh how we laughed.
    Anon ex SPO no 2

    1. Perhaps sometimes Chris Grayling lies: