Wednesday, 12 October 2016

MoJ Under Pressure

I notice that the PGA AGM have unanimously voted for a public inquiry into the rapidly deteriorating prison system. This from the BBC website:-  

Prison inquiry demanded by governors after 'unprecedented' rise in violence

The Prison Governors Association has called on the government to set up an independent public inquiry into the state of prisons in England and Wales. It follows what the association describes as an "unprecedented" rise in violence and suicides in prisons. The association's members voted unanimously for a public inquiry at the body's annual conference in Derby.

The association, which represents 1,021 governors across the UK, said that in the 12 months to June there were 105 self-inflicted deaths - almost double the number five years ago. Serious assaults on staff have increased by 146% in the same period and self-harm incidents increased by more than 10,000, it added.

The association said levels of safety in prisons had declined since the introduction of "benchmarking" - a programme to drive down costs by reducing staffing and simplifying the prison regime. It said it had a number of questions, including "why resources continued to be depleted when evidence showed that it was not working". The purpose of requesting a public inquiry was "not about apportioning blame but understanding what went wrong," it said. The association added: "Unless we understand what has contributed to the creation of this brutal environment that staff and prisoners are working and living in it is likely to continue. "The PGA believes an independent public inquiry is the only way we will get to the truth."

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said the justice secretary had been clear that safety in prisons was fundamental to the justice system working and to its reform. "We are fully committed to addressing the significant increase in violence, self-harm and self-inflicted deaths in our prisons," they said. The additional £14m in 10 of the most challenging prisons would increase staff levels by more than 400 prison officers and a white paper setting out plans for prison safety and reform was due to be published, they added.


Meanwhile, a fairly new American-influenced charity is trying to put pressure on Liz Truss and the MoJ with their problem-solving court idea. This from the Guardian:-

US-style problem solving courts plan losing momentum, says legal charity

Ten new US-style problem-solving courts – aimed at reducing reoffending – should be established across England and Wales as soon as possible, a legal charity has recommended. The initiative, which involves judges regularly reviewing whether those already convicted are turning around their lives, was championed by the last justice secretary, Michael Gove, but is in danger of losing momentum, according to the Centre for Justice Innovation.

Liz Truss, the current justice secretary, has so far gone no further than saying she wants to explore the use of the courts for tackling underlying difficulties in offenders’ lives, such as drug and alcohol addiction or mental illness. But plans for a pilot programme announced in May are in danger of stalling, the centre said. “There has been a lack of detailed plans for expected specialist court pilots,” it added

The organisation says it is publishing its report because of “the recent apparent slowing momentum for problem-solving court reform … despite the most senior family judge, Sir James Munby, last month saying there must be ‘no rowing back’ [from the scheme].”

Establishing and funding 10 problem-solving courts over the next four years would cost the Ministry of Justice about £2.6m, the centre estimates, but deliver significant savings through the rehabilitation of repeat offenders.

Phil Bowen, the director of the Centre for Justice Innovation, said: “There is a real opportunity to enable our criminal courts to contribute to cutting crime. The evidence for problem-solving courts is compelling – they work and are deliverable when set up in the right areas, with the right local judges and well-resourced treatment and rehabilitation services.

“It is essential they have proper support from government and the senior judiciary. With our courts under unprecedented strain, problem-solving courts aren’t a silver bullet but they offer a window of opportunity to cut crime, turn lives around and keep communities safer.”

Judge Michael Findlay Baker CBE QC, who founded the St Albans crown court project, said: “Problem-solving court projects … provide a rehabilitative programme as an alternative to custody. [They help] prolific acquisitive addicted offenders who badly want to change their way of life and who are prepared to admit all their offending, often measured in hundreds of burglaries.

“The benefits of these programmes and the lessons to be learned from them should be more widely shared, particularly with those seeking to set up new problem-solving courts.” A conference in London on Wednesday will examine the few courts operating similar schemes in the UK, such as the 12 family drug and alcohol courts and the Choices and Consequences programme in St Albans.

Last year Gove, who lost his cabinet post in the post-referendum reshuffle, met judges from New York who developed the concept of bringing offenders back before judges so that their progress on sentences that provide alternatives to custody can be monitored.

“Choices and Consequences problem-solving requires dedicated judicial time and can also require courts to reconfigure how cases are listed,” the centre’s report notes. “We are aware that there is considerable interest in the potential of problem- solving courts in many areas of the country. For example, a number of police and crime commissioners would be interested in supporting and funding new court-based problem-solving initiatives. Problem-solving courts may produce a small increase in the immediate caseloads of probation services, but this will likely be balanced out by savings in custody and post-custodial supervision. The time has come to set out an ambitious plan for the delivery of problem-solving courts, over the course of the current parliament.”

Sir Oliver Heald QC, the minister at the MoJ responsible for courts, said: “We will be taking forward problem-solving courts and are exploring opportunities with the judiciary.

“Through this work and by harnessing technology and innovation in our courts, we will ensure vulnerable offenders get the help they need to solve underlying problems and cut reoffending. This government is determined to break the cycle of reoffending and spare more people the misery of being a victim of crime.”


According to the Centre for Justice Innovation website:- 

OUR MISSION: We seek to build a justice system that is and feels fair, that holds people accountable and which address the underlying problems which bring people into contact with it.

FUNDING: The Centre for Justice Innovation is supported by core grants from the Hadley Trust and the Monument Trust. In addition, we receive restricted grants from a range of charitable and statutory organisations to support work in specific area. Our most recent set of audited accounts can be accessed here.

OUR HISTORY: The Centre is an initiative of the Center for Court Innovation, a not-for-profit in New York that has been at the vanguard of justice reform in the USA since 1995. In 2011, the Centre for Justice Innovation was launched and has led on advocating for and supporting justice reform with a special focus on criminal court and family courts, youth justice and practitioner-led innovation. In May 2013, the Centre was registered as a charity in England and Wales.


  1. The government like to blame the use of psychoactive drugs for all the ills of today's penal system. But that's just spin. They certainly impact on daily life in prisons, but staff shortages and the impact those shortages have on daily routine and facilities for prisoners is certainly a far greater driver for the growth of violence and disturbances in prisons then drugs.
    There are far too many people in prison in the first place, and increasingly it's becoming a place to house those with mental health problems as mental health services in the community continue to be cut back. The number of people walking the landings with serious mental health problems is a far more dangerous concern then psychoactive drugs.
    This from a whistleblower, also from BBC news.

    And as an aside, next Tuesdays C4 dispatches focuses on the reported success of the Troubled Families Programme. Might make an interesting watch.


    1. I agree, it's not the drugs, as the truism goes, it's the economy, stupid. The MoJ are going to provide a cash injection of 14m. In the last five years Noms have inflicited cuts of £1bn and the cuts to the public sector prisons were £334m. And they did it through fraudulent benchmarking which was the cover story for making the cuts. The reduction in prison officers and in particualr the loss of experienced staff is what has plunged prisons into crisis. It was said at the time that cuts would be dangerous to health & safety - the death and harm statistics, neglect of the mentally-ill, are now bearing out those predictions.

    2. Mentally ill prisoners left untreated says whistleblower

      Dozens of prison inmates with serious mental health problems are left untreated, a whistleblower has said. Anna Egginton-Murray, who quit Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust in September, said there was nobody with the expertise to treat serious cases in the prisons she worked in. She knew about 100 inmates with major problems who were "put on a list" of prisoners with "unmet needs".

      The trust denied the list's existence and said severe cases were treated. The Ministry of Justice declined to comment when contacted by the BBC.

      "It felt dangerous," said Ms Egginton-Murray, adding: "It felt unethical and it felt very sad."
      Her claims were backed in written statements to BBC Inside Out North West from other staff who worked at the trust. Cognitive behavioural therapist Ms Egginton-Murray treated prisoners with less serious conditions at Liverpool Prison and HMP Kennet, a prison for Category C inmates near Maghull. She said there was nobody with the experience or expertise to deal with inmates when it became apparent they needed more specialised treatment. Ms Egginton-Murray would discover a prisoner's deeper problems during her consultations and felt frustrated because there was nowhere she could refer them.

      One inmate had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to a childhood trauma and there was nothing she could do for him, she said. She added: "There was a list of prisoners that were listed as 'unmet need' because there was no service there to meet their needs." Ms Egginton-Murray, who left her post after 11 months, claimed there were almost 100 prisoners on that list, adding that her job "became very burdensome... very difficult. When you know there is nothing more you can do and you are faced with someone who is desperate for help and they're asking for help, it leaves you in a very difficult position."

      The Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust said: "Prisoners with more severe mental health needs would not be put on a waiting list unless they are waiting for a secure in-patient bed outside of the prison. In the meantime their needs are managed within the prison."

      Draft guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) state that people in prison "have the same rights of access to health care as the general population", but that "there is clear evidence that this is not the case".

    3. Article here by the PGA which shows fairly conclusively the link between cuts prison staff and the increase in a range of disturbing indicators.

    4. Must read article here.


    5. Thanks. Read it. Interesting, particularly as FT.

    6. UK probation deals are failing, say providers

      Companies say they were given misleading figures when bidding for £3.7bn contracts

      Almost every contract to provide probation services in England and Wales is lossmaking, according to the companies that bid for them two years ago when the system was privatised.

      The government part-privatised its probation service in 2014, awarding £3.7bn of contracts to companies including Sodexo of France, MTCnovo of the US, Ingeus of Australia and Staffline, Interserve and Working Links of the UK to oversee 200,000 medium and low-risk offenders.

      But the companies say the contracts are lossmaking and unsustainable because their bids were based on incorrect assumptions from the Ministry of Justice. The companies complain that the contracts overstated the number of offenders they would manage, suggesting their income would be higher.

      The number of community-based penalties declined from 40,805 between January and March 2014 to 35,892 in the same period in 2016.

      “If it is not fixed it will be a disaster,” one provider said. “It is fine for the big companies with strong balance sheets but some of the smaller players are really struggling.”

      Talks to renegotiate the terms between the companies and the ministry since January have stalled and at least one provider has threatened to pull out.

      “All our energy is going into working this out,” said one manager at a company providing probation services. “If you are 15 to 30 per cent down on business that will mean having to reduce staff and that will have a knock-on effect on our ability to reduce reoffending. To say it’s a cock-up is an understatement.”

      Several companies said they plan to cut jobs and close local offices, undermining the government’s promise that the privatisation would lead to a “rehabilitation revolution”.

      The ministry said it was working closely with providers to “understand the caseloads” and added: “There is no truth to the suggestion that caseload levels were guaranteed to providers — it was always expected that these would vary through the life of the contract.”

      A report by the HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons last week said some of the initiatives promised by the bidders have not been delivered and that the overall “strategic vision” has “not yet been realised”.

      The setbacks threaten government attempts to reduce stubbornly high reoffending rates, adding to the strain on overcrowded prisons. More than half of offenders in England and Wales go on to commit another crime within a year of release, costing the government more than £10bn a year.

      The service was extended to provide supervision and support such as help finding accommodation or work to all prisoners sentenced to a year or less for 12 months on release.

      Additional problems faced by the companies include a flawed IT system provided by the ministry, for which it has already had to pay £23m in compensation.

      Poor morale among employees, as well as sharp cuts to the ministry’s administrative budget, are also hampering progress, the providers say.

      Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, a research institute, said: “I am not surprised that some companies are experiencing buyer’s remorse over this botched privatisation. It is time now for the MoJ to draw a line under the mistakes of the past and establish a coherent and sustainable delivery model for probation services in England and Wales.”

      The privatisation in 2014 was bitterly opposed by unions and Labour MPs. Under the deal, the government outsourced the supervision of low and medium-risk offenders to privately owned community rehabilitation companies. Cases involving high-risk offenders remain within the National Probation Service, now part of the civil service.

      The providers declined to comment.

    7. From Public Accounts Committee Probation Landscape Review 2014:

      "Recommendation: The Ministry should set out how it intends to satisfy itself that the proposed payment mechanism is workable. As we recommended in our recent report on contracting out public services, the Ministry must include open book accounting arrangements and ensure that they are used effectively. We would also want the NAO to have full access to contractual information that is relevant to assuring Parliament that value for money is being served in these contracts.

      The Ministry told us that it expected to make savings by creating a new Probation Service. However, the Committee will wish to return to an examination of the new arrangements to ensure they haven’t resulted in more bureaucracy and additional demands on managing offenders."

    8. After her comments in 2014 the then PAC Chair, Margaret Hodge, is entitled to say "told you so!":

      "The Ministry intends to pay Community Rehabilitation Companies by a combination of payment by results and fee for service. This is complex, untested and remains subject to agreement with providers.

      The Ministry must ensure that the new contracts contain open-book accounting arrangements and allow the National Audit Office full access to contractual information, so that we can follow the taxpayers’ pound and be assured that value for money is being served and contractors are not gaming the system as has happened in the past.

      The supervision and management of offenders is an essential public service that must be maintained in the event of a supplier failing or withdrawing from the contract. The Ministry pointed to the existence of the National Probation Service as a provider of last resort, but could not provide details of its contingency plans as commercial negotiations are still in progress.

      The provision of rehabilitation services will be extended for the first time to those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody, an estimated 50,000 offenders. This represents a 22% increase on the 225,000 offenders managed by the probation service during 2012-13. However the Ministry could not tell us how this significant increase in the case load of probation staff would be managed."

    9. July 2016:

      "Sir Amyas Morse: I just wanted to ask something about the bidding process. Am I right in understanding that you must have given an indication of the likely volumes of people that the bidders could expect to have coming through the service? Am I not right that in fact the volumes are much lower than the bottom of the range you indicated? That is not their fault, is it? It is all right saying they should innovate, and find new ways of doing things, and that is great and I fully approve of that; but there are limits to that. So is it just their problem, or are you proposing to do something to help them with that?

      Ian Porée: It is clearly not just their problem. These services are core services of the Ministry of Justice. They are always our problem and we have statutory responsibility for ensuring the provision, as I do not think it can ever just be their problem. We were very transparent with providers about the historical data around the number of cases, the mix of offenders that come through the system. That has materially changed. It has changed in ways that have surprised us.

      We do have a contract that was designed to cope with variation in volumes, but of course, as you rightly say, there is a limit to where the relationship between your fixed and variable costs actually still works, once you are outside the range you were expecting. You would expect us, as we did, to test providers during the bidding as to ranges of changes of volume, so we could assure ourselves that they could cope with that, but we are outside those ranges, so we gave ourselves the contractual provision that if it was that far out, we would have the opportunity to reset some of those volumes based on the reality of what is happening.

      We are in the process of doing that with the organisations now. It was something we had planned to do a year into the contracts, and that has begun. So it is the case that we are in a territory that was not easily anticipated by either themselves or us; but we have a duty to behave in a way that is reasonable, and in good faith, and that is what we are doing. I reiterate, these are core services to us. They may have been outsourced, but this is still our business; and therefore we should manage that reasonably, in a good way."

    10. From this very blog in March 2014 following the PAC performance of Noms/MoJ staffers:

      "Anonymous12 March 2014 at 20:32 - Morsels from the webcast

      Dame Ursula Brennan, Permanent Secretary
      Antonia Romeo, Director General, Criminal Justice Group, Michael Spurr, Chief Executive, NOMS
      Sarah Payne, Director, National Offender Management Service, Wales, Ministry of Justice

      Hodge – what savings will this new programme produce?

      Brennan - This programme has never been designed to produce savings in and of itself… We want to protect spending around probation in order to extend it to u.12 months… not recovering savings in 2014/15

      Spurr – NPS is for those offenders for whom payment by results is not deemed appropriate… savings made by reducing 35 trusts to one management centre… driving down corporate back office costs… 21 companies only be paid by payment by results

      Romeo – 21 crc’s – substantial design work to prove its affordable – tested ourselves thoroughly in the market…

      Hodge – none of you have answered the question… how can you develop an entirely new system and appoint 21 new companies yet claim there’s no additional cost?

      Spurr – this is not a new process at all, it happens now…

      Hodge – are you assuring this committee there are no additional costs?

      Romeo - Majority is fee for service, the balance is pbr – answer not yet known – and an additional aspect is the service element, where we will put their profit at risk

      Committee - Overall budget roughly the same? Caseload to be increased by 20-25% but paid for within existing budget then?

      Brennan - Not all of the Under 12 months cases are as demanding, some won’t require any input, so no significant additional demand on the budget

      Romeo – number of offenders will go up, but a different model… services delivered in a different way, one of the policy aims of the programme

      Brennan – in order to extend provision the use of different providers is what enables you to develop new ideas and extend the service… the way the programme is designed is to make savings in a different way to pay for under 12 months

      Romeo – we’re adopting a phased approach, testing & shadowing with existing Trusts – the programme is on track to deliver pbr by 2015… contracts to be signed 2014 and implementation in 2015… pilots of the methodology have happened in Doncaster & Peterborough, but you’re right to say they are voluntary and the new programme isn’t. Government policy is to roll out pbr by 2015.

      Spurr – the system will need people to collaborate together… primary, secondary & tertiary level providers… looking to share good practice – sharing all evidence with crc’s because expectation is its for everyone’s good… crc’s will realise its in their own and everyone’s interests to share practice and information"

  2. Another knee jerk reaction? Problem solving courts would only work if all the relevant services are in place and can be accessed quickly! With offenders waiting months for counselling and scarce resources this will only flag up the deficiencies. What we need are better resourced services and more time with offenders. Magistrates are already sentencing without psr's in many cases! I could do so much more to support my caseload and still try to make some time to take vulnerable offenders to appointments they may otherwise often miss or advocate on their behalf regarding housing or mental health services but i am overstretched and this will only get worse with further cuts as part of so called transforming rehabilitation.

  3. I am so tired of the MoJ and Noms spoutting shite when confronted with any criticism. The PGA have it right and the Government need to respond, and quickly.

    I hear there was a good article in the financial times today, did you read it JB?

  4. Article from the howard league doing the rounds.the private companies whinging that they were misled and now they are losing money! Hey folks, this is not a game of monopoly. You gambled and were prepared to risk public safety for profit and now you are throwing your dummy out of the cot because moj is refusing to let you get away with it. End the contracts then and hand the keys back and do everyone a favour. Get on with what you do best. Selling brie, shoes or dodgy dealings in saudi arabia are much better suited to you than public protection. Stick with what you know and let the real professionals get back to work.

  5. I work as custody probation officer in a prison and whilst am extremely busy as we all are, I will say that OMU accross the disciplines are extremely stretched. Senior Prison officers who are supposed to be managing offenders sentences are always tasked out on the wings dealing with self harming, assaults on staff and offender on offender assaults, escorts to hospitals and covering staff shortages within the regime due to extreme staff shortages. This is not what they signed up too and in turn leaves administration staff to pick up work in their absence. Unfortunately, admin staff are briefed to request email as they won't know who they are talking to. If OM'S were able to get in with their contracted role, that line if communication would be possible and negate need for email request. As custody probation officer, I am in contact with all OM'S in community on my caseload so all know who to contact and deal with issues as they arise. That is because, although I am extremely busy, I am in the fortunate position to be on hand to deal with issues as they arise. The government led benchmarking exercise and fair and sustainable initiative was unrealistic and like TR and TTG has left absolute chaos within each establishment. Please don't think that requests via email are prisons being awkward but more a case of no resources. Prisons as are probation are in a right mess at the moment.