Thursday, 17 November 2016
Secretary of State and Permanent Secretary Atrium event highlights transcript
Monday 7 November & Tuesday 8 November 2016
I’m Emily Tofield, I’m the new Director of Communications and Information here. I started in September, and what a time to start. What an incredibly interesting time to join the Ministry of Justice.
SECRETARY OF STATE
We have an awful lot going on, and I think the way that the department has been in the news media demonstrates the vital importance of what we do to the overall debate in this country. I think it is a very exciting time to be Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, and I think it’s a very exciting time for this department.
Last week we unveiled the biggest prison reforms for a generation. We also secured additional money from the Treasury, to be able to increase the number of staff in our prisons, and I think it’s absolutely vital. We have a real issue at the moment with prison violence unfortunately. What I want to see is safe prisons where we can actually turn offenders lives around and we can reduce the £15bn bill of reoffending, by getting offenders into jobs, getting them the English and maths that often they don’t have when they enter our prison system, but also getting them off drugs, dealing with mental health problems. I want to use that approach more widely in areas like youth justice, women’s justice and probation reform.
I think our independent impartial judiciary is one of the great features of this nation, it’s the cornerstone of the rule of law, and it’s vitally important to our constitution and a free society. I am absolutely determined to defend that, I’m doing that across government and I’m doing that in public. What we also need to make sure is that our judiciary reflect the society we live in, and reflect all of the talents in the society. Without them, without a free press which is also important, and without proper democracy, we would not be a free society.
The other thing I wanted to mention is court reform, where we have made major progress in modernising our courts. One thing I am very proud of is that we are going to make sure that vulnerable and intimidated witnesses no longer have to be cross-examined in open court, we will be able to do that beforehand. We have a huge amount to do in this department. Every day I come into work and it’s exciting, but it also feels like quite a big task. What I know working with you over the past four months is that you are there working with me, as is the Permanent Secretary, Richard, to make this happen.
Secretary of State you’ve set a cracking pace for us, a very clear political vision. It’s been an absolute pleasure, a challenging pleasure to respond, and it’s going to be fantastic to see through some of these reforms that we’ve been announcing. I’m really aware of the full range of work that you’re all doing to push the department forward, and our agenda. Thank you very much. We came into this spending period with a big spending challenge, a 50% spending challenge as a department, and that is one of the reasons why we set about transforming the department.
We are trying to produce a better department, better connected amongst its different parts, clearer purpose, certainly cheaper, but more effective and a greater place to work. Maybe the first most visible chapter of it was the VEDS scheme. We saw 600 of our colleagues leaving the department over the last few months, and they were 600 valued, experienced and talented colleagues, and there are several things I think we need to do in order to move forward with a smaller workforce. We have to become smarter, better, better techniques, better capability. 60% of the ideas that you put forward when we asked for your ideas, have now been incorporated into MoJ Transformation.
We are a clear department with a very clear focus. As the Secretary of State said we have four key priorities, they are: prisons reform, courts reform, transforming the department, and creating a human rights settlement, which may happen this year or may happen in a year or so time who knows.
The next chapter in MoJ Transformation, the next period, will be what we’ve called functional leadership. It’s about building functions that are more resilient, offer a greater career path for professionals in them, rather than creating simply big monolithic functions at the centre.
It’s also about creating a department that feels more joined up and more connected. A single department. We value the front-line, we value our agencies, but sometimes I think we’ve missed the opportunity to think of ourselves as being a single department, a justice family that has a single overarching mission. I feel that this department is on the threshold of becoming the best department in Whitehall. I am incredibly proud to be your Permanent Secretary, we have a cracking agenda set by the Secretary of State and I look forward to seeing it through.
If you want to get more diversity into the judiciary does it help that one of the judges involved in the Article 50 case was talked about as being gay?
SECRETARY OF STATE
I don’t like everything that is written in the press, and I do not like homophobic comments in the press, but I think it would be wrong for a government minister to start saying this headline is acceptable or this headline is unacceptable. What I am absolutely clear though, is that we must defend the independence of the judiciary, which is why I stepped in today and said what I did about Lord Thomas because I think judges swear an oath that should be respected.
I’d like to know what the Secretary of State wishes to do in the very short-term to tackle the increasing levels of serious violence in prisons against prison officers.
SECRETARY OF STATE
What we have done is we’ve identified ten of the most challenging prisons, where we’re bringing in the staff as early as possible, because I do recognise it is very difficult for those on the front-line, whilst we are building up those numbers.
We are promoting work across a whole range of areas, data and insight into why these things happen, why violence happens, what are the predictive causes is a really useful tool and I don’t think we do enough of that. We need a national violence reduction strategy of course, but I would expect every governor in every prison to have a local violence reduction strategy as well, using local initiative, and local intelligence. We are absolutely on it. We will not relax until those numbers come back down to an acceptable level.
How easy once they have this education, how easy will it be for them to get a job, having a criminal background?
SECRETARY OF STATE
What I want to see is more employers coming forward, prepared to take on ex-offenders. We are having some success with companies like Land Securities who’ve got a lot of vacancies because we are doing a lot of construction. Actually taking on offenders and employing them and training them up while they are still in prison. What the White Paper reforms will do is they’ll enable prison governors to have much more say over what happens in their prison so they can bring employers in from the outside.
I’m pleased to say that we, the department, the Ministry of Justice is employing our first offenders in our warehousing facilities. I think it is exactly as the Secretary of State says, it is a cultural change.
What role do you see digital, data and technology playing in helping us to deliver those reforms?
SECRETARY OF STATE
I think it’s incredibly important. First of all what data and digital can do is it can make sure our prison officers, who are incredibly brave and hardworking individuals, it can help them spend more of their time in high value activities reforming offenders. I’ve been in prisons with good digital systems and it makes a massive difference.
I also think that using data much better can help us deal with issues like violence. So it can help us analyse problems and get solutions much better too. So far we’ve had lots of evidence based on looking at individual programmes, but what I think we need to get better at is looking at all the data we collect about offenders and about the criminal justice system, to analyse the big data and say, well this is something that works, this is something that doesn’t work, if we tweak it in this way this is the impact it’s going to have.
Letting that data flow through the system better because lots of things that go wrong are because an arresting officer doesn’t know about an offenders antecedents, or the prison service doesn’t know about a risk assessment that happened in the police service. So letting data flow through the system better.
This is one of the first of a series of these events that will be happening, and we will be holding more of these soon. We are looking for your feedback, there will be a form sent around soon so please do fill it in and that will help us to shape these events for the future. Thank you again.
Meanwhile, here's the Daily Telegraph reporting on what the previous minister Michael Gove thinks:-
Prison works? Gove calls for inmates to be released less than half way into sentences
Criminals should not be sent to prison unless there is no alternative and many of those already inside could be released after only a fraction of their sentence, Michael Gove the former Justice Secretary, has insisted. Abandoning the traditional Tory line that “prison works”, Mr Gove insisted both that there are too many people being sent to jail and that they are being kept there for too long.
In his first major intervention on policy since being sacked by Theresa May in the wake of the Conservative leadership contest, Mr Gove said aspects of the justice system, from prisons to the state of the legal profession, were themselves “practically criminal”. He described prison as an “expensive, anti-social, inefficient” and “potentially brutalising” response which often made crime more likely rather than less.
His intervention came as he delivered the annual Longford Lecture, in memory of Lord Longford, the former cabinet minister and passionate campaigner for often unpopular causes, in Westminster.
He called for sweeping reforms of the prison system modelled on his own overhaul of education, with jails becoming similar to academies or free schools – even being taken over by charities or other specialist groups to raise standards. He suggested allowing prisoners to work in normal jobs by day, permitting governors to strike commercial deals with local firms to employ them and bring in top businessmen and women or successful school heads to run jails.
Among his most controversial recommendations are a call for inmates who succeed in courses or work hard to be released even earlier than is already possible.
“I’d like to see it made possible to release prisoners before the current half-way point in their sentence at which release on license normally occurs – if they’ve demonstrated by their conduct and commitment to working and learning that they are ready for re-integration into society,” he insisted.
“Of course there are some offenders, and some sentences, not suitable for such a scheme but the knowledge that offenders could earn early release though the right behaviour and attitudes would be a powerful tool in helping to inject hope into prisoners’ lives, improving behaviour and security in jails, and in making sure that when they are released offenders have the right attitudes to succeed in society.”
Many people in the criminal justice system are, he said, products of troubled childhoods and have mental health problems or serious addictions who would respond better to the “embrace” of therapy than incarceration.
“That is why the idea of problem-solving courts - where the presiding judge takes a personal interest in the fate and future of the offender and is prepared to spare an individual from custody if they accept a course of treatment, submit to certain conditions or commit to particular conduct - is so promising,” he added.
“It creates a culture - and a presumption - of remorse and rehabilitation without the need for expensive, and potentially brutalising, imprisonment.” He went on: “It is an inconvenient truth - which I swerved to an extent while in office - that we send too many people to prison. “And of those who deserve to be in custody, many, but certainly not all, are sent there for too long.”
In the case of those with mental health problems, he said it was “no answer to their illness” to send them to the “cacophonous, chaotic, violent and disordered environment” of many prisons.
“But as well as improving mental health provision, we also need to be much more imaginative in providing alternatives to custody for all offenders,” he said. “Prison is expensive, anti-social, inefficient and often de-humanising. But prison also has the potential to be redemptive and rehabilitative.”