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.