Here we have disgraced former Liberal Democrat minister David Laws talking to the FT and failing completely to strike the right tone in relation to prison reform:-
Prison service seeks top graduates with ‘SAS-style mindset’
A government-backed scheme to recruit top graduates directly into the prison service will begin operating in the new year, in an effort to ease the crisis in UK jails by attempting to raise the calibre of prison officers and boost staff numbers across the sector.
The programme, set up by the charity Unlocked, will allow participants to complete a masters degree over two years while working on the frontline under the mentorship of experienced prison officers.
But this is not a scheme for the faint-hearted. David Laws, the former Lib Dem minister who chairs Unlocked, said the charity would be looking for applicants with both a good academic record and an “SAS-style mindset” to enter one of the toughest careers in the public sector, combining the skills of counsellors, teachers, police officers and social workers.
“We need people who have got an appetite for challenge and strong sense of social responsibility,” he said. “Let’s face it: they will need to step up to the plate because the prison estate is a difficult place to work at the moment.”
In evidence to the Commons justice committee last month, Mr Gyimah acknowledged that across the country, prisons had become a “less desirable environment” to work in as attacks on staff have become more frequent. He cited the penchant of some offenders for “potting”, or throwing excrement at officers.
A report this summer into HMP Birmingham warned that the increased accessibility of psychoactive drugs meant staff were “concerned for their personal safety as well as for the safety of the prisoners”.
Mr Laws said despite stories such as these, the Unlocked programme had still received around 200 expressions of interest ahead of applications formally opening in January. He added that the scheme — which will start with 45 graduates in its first cohort next summer — will seek to raise the status of prison staff. “This isn’t about the cliché of a big, burly prison officer spending all their time on control and locking people up,” he said. “We know that we are never going to create a rehabilitation revolution unless we change the whole culture of prisons, including on the wings.”
After two years, participants will be given the choice of either continuing in the prison service or using their experience to join other organisations such as the Civil Service Fast Stream, Ernst & Young and PwC, all of which have lent their support. However, justice campaigners say the government needs to take more radical action if working in jails to be seen as a higher-status role.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said while it was great having “a few people coming into prisons with classics degrees”, requirements for education and training should be raised across the whole estate. “I have always argued that prison officers, like nurses, should have to do vocational degree courses,” she said. “It’s a very complex job which needs professional-level skills.”
Meanwhile, there's some interesting advice on offer for London Mayor Sadiq Khan on how to sort probation out on his patch. This from the CityMetric website:-
The core challenge for the mayor is that the current structure of the probation service leaves him with few direct powers to improve the quality of provision. Oversight, budgets, and commissioning powers for the most part lie with central government.
This is all the more problematic because it is clear that the issue with probation largely stems from the current nationally established structures. Dame Glenys Stacey, the Chief Inspector of Probation, was last week particularly damning of the work carried out by the London Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), one of the new privately owned probation providers recently introduced by the government to rehabilitate low and medium risk offenders.
As many argued when the government was considering its reorganisation of probation, the new structures are proving wildly ineffective at reducing reoffending. The changes have added further complexity to an already fragmented system, by splitting probation into a National Probation Service for high-risk offenders and CRCs for low and medium risk offenders.
The current system is also too centralised: CRCs are nationally commissioned, so have little incentive to work together with other local services, many of whom hold key policy levers to reduce reoffending. Add to that problems with staffing, uncontrollable caseloads, and poor oversight, and it’s no wonder that the system is under strain.
As IPPR argue in our new report, the priority for Sadiq is therefore clear: he needs a deal with the Ministry of Justice to be granted new probation and prison powers from central government.
The obvious ideal solution would be for the mayor to be granted full commissioning powers over probation services, as he has suggested himself. But in the short term this is unlikely: the CRC contracts have only recently begun and last for a total of seven years. Short of an early termination of the London CRC contract by the government (which after this week’s inspection is not as far-fetched as it might sound), there is little hope of securing significant new probation powers before the end of this parliament.
But there is still plenty that can be done now. For inspiration, Sadiq should look to Greater Manchester, where there is considerable momentum towards a more devolved, innovative system. In particular, there are three things he can focus on in the short term.
First, as in Manchester, Sadiq can bid for the control of custody budgets for certain cohorts of offenders in London – particularly young and short-sentence offenders, given they have such high reoffending rates. While the mayor does not currently have control over probation, he does have a number of other policy levers to help reduce demand on the prison system – particularly as he sets London’s policing and crime priorities. Controlling these new budgets would allow any savings made from reduced demand to be reinvested in other ways to bring down offending rates, such as preventative service and alternatives to custody. He would also need to secure some upfront "transformation funding" to make sure there is some extra initial money to play with for these services, rather than just relying on savings to be made down the line.
Second, the mayor can argue for more powers over the youth justice system. The mayor should make the case to central government to break up Feltham Young Offender Institution into a range of smaller "secure schools" – a new type of secure accommodation for young offenders that puts education at the centre of provision. He should then bid for powers to commission places at secure schools for young offenders within London. This would allow for a far more joined-up approach at the local level between youth custody and probation (which is already devolved to local authorities).
Third, Sadiq should prioritise reform for women offenders. Women are significantly more likely to self-harm and develop mental health issues in prison, and many have dependent children. In many cases, custodial sentences cause more harm than good.
The closure of Holloway women’s prison in North London therefore provides an opportunity to rethink women offender provision, reduce the use of custody, and invest in more effective alternatives. Sadiq should make the case for some of the substantial savings from the closure of Holloway to be passed to City Hall, for them to be reinvested in a new women’s centre and a new approach to women offenders in London.
He can take a leaf out of Greater Manchester’s book: their "whole system approach" to female offenders has created an alliance between nine women’s centres for female referrals and has helped to share best practice, streamline reporting processes and facilitate closer partnership working.
But the mayor should not be limited to these three ideas: he should explore with the Ministry of Justice a range of options for London to be granted greater control over budgets and commissioning. This week’s report highlights the need for immediate action. There should be plenty of scope for London to secure a more locally driven, innovative, and joined-up approach to prisons and probation in the coming year.