Tuesday, 14 February 2017

No Quick Fix Says Truss

I think it's fair to say we've been mightily unimpressed with Liz Truss since she was appointed Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, but she has at her disposal some skilfull speech writers and clever people to guide her on policy. I've selected the following section from her speech yesterday and to be honest, if the situation wasn't as dire as it is, you could be forgiven for thinking it all sounds so sensible. Probation hardly gets a mention of course, but that's just routine now. 

A speech on criminal justice reform by the Secretary of State for Justice

So while Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service focuses on reform, it will be the Secretary of State’s duty to hold the Service to account for the progress offenders make on getting off drugs and getting the education and skills they need to get a job on the outside. I am also beefing up the powers of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons so that they have the teeth when a prison isn’t working to intervene and make the Secretary of State act.

As I have said before, a prisoner’s family is the most effective resettlement agency. Thanks to the evidence collected by Lord Farmer’s Review, Governors will have access to comprehensive data to help them decide what works best to bolster positive family ties. I also want to congratulate the Centre for Social Justice for highlighting the importance of the role of fathers. I think we must always remember that as we look at the justice system because the involvement of fathers is vital.

It will take time to bed in but once we have our reforms in place we will be able to measure progress, learn from the best and, when necessary, intervene to turn around failing prisons.

This change will not happen in weeks or months, it will take time and determination to deliver but as a society we simply cannot afford to put this off any longer. All of the people in this room are vital to this change. I am grateful for your work.

Profound changes in our prison population make the need for reform even tougher and even more critical. We have a challenging time ahead, but an incredibly important time ahead too and I am proud to be leading the Ministry of Justice at this time.

I am equally determined to address the factors that fuel prolific offending for other crimes, like theft and shoplifting, that can all too often put offenders on the path to a prison sentence.

Reforming the criminal justice system does not begin and end with reforming the prison estate and our probation services, though that is the critical place to start.

We also need to intervene earlier by giving our courts the right tools for reform. There can never be an excuse for committing crime but too often people end up in prison because our interventions to tackle problems like drug addiction or mental health issues don’t work as well as they should.

The number of first time offenders in the system has fallen by 57 per cent since 2006, whereas our reoffending rates have stayed flat.

That means police, prison officers and probation staff see the same faces over and over again.

And it means communities end up being blighted by the same people. Any MP will tell you that one of the most frequent complaints in surgery is from law abiding residents who can’t understand why such a small number of people can be allowed to wreak so much havoc in their neighbourhood.

So, just as we are giving prison and probation staff more power to reform offenders, our courts should also be able to play a frontline role in reforming criminals and getting them to quit crime for good.

Ministry of Justice research shows that community sentences are most effective when they tackle the problems that contribute to the offender’s crime. Mental Health Treatment Requirements are some our most effective measures that can really help get someone’s life back on track.

But if I tell you in 2015 mental health treatment requirements accounted for fewer than 1% of all treatment commenced as part of a community sentence you will see where the problem lies.

We need a more systematic, nationally consistent approach that provides quicker and more certain access to mental health treatment for offenders who need it. That will stop them getting into a position which leads to a custodial sentence.

I am working closely with the Health Secretary who is extremely committed to this and NHS England to develop a new mental health protocol. This will ensure timely access to mental health services where the courts impose a mental health treatment requirement as part of a sentence.

I am also working with the Judiciary and the Health Secretary to make sure courts have better access to psychologists to diagnose and oversee treatment of offenders.

We have already got great work taking place in Newcastle where a dedicated mental health team produces reports for sentencers. This means that cases conclude more swiftly as fewer are adjourned because a costly expert report needs to be prepared and sentencers get better information.

And in Milton Keynes a bespoke service has dramatically increased the number of sentences involving mental health treatment. I want to see that approach adopted throughout the country.

We also need to do more to tackle the scourge of drink and drugs. 62% of prisoners who reported using drugs in the four weeks before custody reoffended in the year after release. But in 2015 drug treatment orders accounted for only 5% of treatments attached to community sentences.

In its pioneering report, Ambitious for Recovery, the CSJ called for greater use of drug courts with rigid compliance. Evidence from Australia suggests those who adhere to their drug treatment order are 37 per cent less likely to offend.

Early intervention by our courts is vitally important in stopping women offenders from ending up in prison. We will be announcing our strategy for women later this year and have already announced a new director for women in custody and the community – Sonia Crozier. I believe it is the first time ever that the agency responsible for prisons and probation have a single person responsible for women across community and custody.

Family drugs and alcohol courts, like the one I visited in Maidstone, will play a vital role in this. I believe that judges are as important in reforming people as any prison or probation officer.

Working with local authorities, judges closely oversee compliance with treatment programmes. I’ve watched it in action – I know that it works. Over 26 weeks, those taking part have to comply with drug testing and therapy sessions to stay clean.

This sort of consistent supervision and support, overseen by one judge over a long time period, is helping women beat the addictions that can fuel crime, and making it more likely that they will be able to regain custody of their children.

Let me provide one example among many. One woman, I’ll give her the name Jenny, has transformed from a drug dependent 25-year-old with a five-year-old daughter to a woman determined to do right by her child.

Without this intervention Jenny would have continued to steal to feed her habit. Jenny now has a chance at a better life. Her daughter does too.

There are people who would dismiss this as soft justice. I would call it decency and common sense because without this court ordered intervention, Jenny’s path was almost certainly leading to prison.

How many more victims of crime would there be before that happened? How many more working people would have returned home to find their back window smashed and their treasured possessions gone?

And what about the children of offenders?

All the evidence shows that children whose parents end up in prison are much more likely to end up there too. Two thirds of boys separated from imprisoned parents go on to offend themselves.

Chances are that they would grow up to rob and steal to feed a habit. Generation upon generation of blighted lives and blighted communities.

Early intervention is not a ‘nice to have’ added extra to the justice system, it is vital if we are ever to break the cycle of crime, punishment and more crime.

I want now to address the final point – that we need to better at managing the prison population we have. We are making progress but there is more we can do.

Everyone, including David Blunkett who introduced them, regrets the effects of indeterminate sentences of imprisonment for public protection. It is to the credit of Ken Clarke that he abolished them.

We need to be realistic that these prisoners on these sentences have committed serious crimes and that some are dangerous people. But there are others that have long served their minimum term and are committed to proving that they are safe for release.

Of course, public protection must be the number one priority. But it seems unjust that someone sentenced in 2010 can remain in prison for years when - if sentenced today - they might have an automatic release date.

That’s why it’s important we tackle the backlog of these cases that are waiting for a Parole Board hearing. We are making progress. There are currently 3,683 of these prisoners in our jails. And last year we released a record 553.

But I know there is more to do. That is why I have set up a dedicated unit within the Ministry of Justice to ensure these cases are dealt with as efficiently as possible, while ensuring that people are only released when it is safe to do so.

I also want to ensure the system of recall works better, and that we remain focused on making sure that more foreign criminals are sent home every year.

In 2016 a record 5,810 foreign offenders were sent back to their countries and I want to build on that. We all agree it is desirable to have a lower prison population but it has to be for the right reasons.

Public protection is paramount which means managing the prison population in a safe and sustainable way. I want to see the prison population go down because Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service has got better at reforming offenders. I want to see it go down because we have got better at intervening earlier. I want to see it go down because we have got better at managing the population inside our jails.

Reductions by cap or quota, or by sweeping sentencing cuts are not a magic bullet, they are a dangerous attempt at a quick fix.

We need to do the hard work of improving community sentences, dealing with problems like drink and drugs and making our prisons work better.

This will not be fixed in weeks or months – but if we are resolute – we will see our society become safer and our prison population will reduce.


Of course the speech was delivered on the day the BBC aired its shocking undercover footage of HMP Northumberland. Here we have what the Guardian thinks:-

The Guardian view on Britain’s prison crisis: quick fixes solve nothing

Panorama’s investigation at HMP Northumberland shows a system that is failing to achieve even the most basic of penal goals

Even after the recent prison disturbances in Birmingham and elsewhere, there are some who still pretend that talk of crisis in Britain’s prisons is so much liberal hand-wringing. No one who watching tonight’s BBC Panorama investigation into conditions in one of the country’s biggest jails can possibly take refuge in that lazy claim any longer.

The programme’s undercover reporter spent two months in HMP Northumberland, which houses almost 1,350 male inmates. He discovered widespread drug use, poor regimes, door alarms not working and a hole in a security fence. These failings reflected the inability of staff to exert sufficient control in the prison, a consequence in part of lack of staff, generating growing uncertainty and danger. Instead of the rehabilitation programmes it is supposed to offer, the prison was effectively compelled to focus solely on risk management.

If that isn’t a crisis, it is hard to know what the word means. No one believes that Northumberland is untypical or unrelated to wider trends. And no one can pretend that rehabilitation, training and education are possible in any but the most perfunctory manner in such drug-driven disorderly circumstances, if they are possible at all.

The justice secretary, Liz Truss, actually admitted as much in her speech on criminal justice reform at the Centre for Social Justice on Monday, although it was not the main message she tried to convey. Ms Truss spent much of her speech trying to argue that sentence inflation is not the penal problem that many claim, and defending the importance of stiffer sentences for violence against children and women. Yet woven into these defiant arguments were some stark admissions about Britain’s prisons: our prisons are “too violent”; unruliness and self-harm are at “unacceptable levels”; drink and drugs in prison are a “scourge”. All that, and much more about dysfunctional prison regimes that she simply left unsaid, is true. And it is not acceptable.

The plain fact is that Britain’s prisons are struggling more than ever to do the job they have been given. There is not one unique sign or cause of this multilayered problem. Nor is there one magic bullet solution. To pretend that the prisons are the sole cause of the problems that have been exposed repeatedly over the years is ridiculous. But it is no more ridiculous to pretend that the prisons are not part of the problem as well as part of the solution. If prisons become incubators of crime and of drug use that feeds crime, or pressure cookers for rising suicide levels, then they are failing, not succeeding.

All these things are happening, and not just in Northumberland. The answers include more money, better-trained staff, drone controls, drug treatment orders and facilities, better regimes, including alternatives, and changes in sentencing guidelines. None of this will be addressed in a quick fix or easily – as Ms Truss knows. But only the government can grip it, no one else. Cuts and policy swings are absolutely the wrong place to start.


  1. I notice David Raho has commented on the BBC footage over on Facebook:-

    Damning undercover Panorama report reveals chaos in Sodexo run private prison

    The Panorama report provides strong evidence to support the case for private prisons to be taken back into public ownership with immediate effect and the whole system properly resourced and managed and brought back up to standard.

    It has to be recognised that the prison privatisation experiment has totally failed as has the disastrous probation privatisation experiment. Liz Truss must act decisively and take back control of prisons and probation and restore them to public ownership or face the political consequences of carrying on the ridiculous pretence of being the Secretary of State for Justice when the justice system is in meltdown and she is failing to act.

    The marketisation of prison and probation services has proven to be an unmitigated disaster as have several other privatisations of essential criminal justice services. Creeping privatisation of the criminal justice system needs to be reversed. It needs to be recognised as a threat to services and the public good and not portrayed as some kind of cure all for intractable and expensive problems.

    It was clearly naive to believe that by creating an artificial justice market with diminishing resources in return for the achievement of pie in the sky results would work. It was also naive to believe that suddenly solutions would materialise when experts warned of what was actually likely to happen i.e. the complete and utter chaos we are now seeing.

    Privatisation across the criminal justice system has demonstrably not delivered savings, innovation or increased quality but instead served to erode service provision, encouraged poor quality, and created disjointed, aberrant, dangerously unstable institutions/organisations that are neither resilient, robust, nor sustainable or otherwise fit for purpose in the real world. The criminal justice system needs to be properly resourced and organised and above all must treat all those subject to it consistently and fairly.

    The UK may soon be able to claim that it has some of the worst run prisons and the poorest quality probation services in Europe presided over by an appallingly incompetent ministry of justice whose ministers boast of ignoring expert opinion appearing instead to be in the thrall of multinational corporations and their shareholders who, in return for a slice of tax payers money, fill the Tory party coffers brimful with cash.

    David Raho

  2. To paraphrase a past Tory PM, you need to 'go back to basics'. Oi, Truss - don't waste your breath & carefully crafted words unless you're prepared to look at the past, learn from mistakes and buck the trend of serial stupidity & crass populist penal policy imposed by virtually every Home/Justice Sec since David Waddington.

    "Ministry of Justice research shows that community sentences are most effective when they tackle the problems that contribute to the offender’s crime."

    Any primary school pupil could write that but those community sentences have to be properly funded, designed & delivered by skilled professionals with access to relevant & properly resourced services NOT cheapskate superficial pseudo-interventions processed by corporate keyboard drones.

    "... if I tell you in 2015 mental health treatment requirements accounted for fewer than 1% of all treatment commenced as part of a community sentence you will see where the problem lies."

    Again, no professional input, won't/can't happen. No thorough assessment pre-sentence by trained, skilled probation AND mental health professionals means no MHTR; no time for an adjournment or availability of funds for a suitable psychiatric/psychological assessment, no MHTR.

    The blame for increased criminality must lie squarely with the culture of selfishness & greed engendered by modern capitalist values. It lies with the feelings of powerlessness those values reinforce in many individuals. It lies with the eagerness of those with power & authority to punish, remove or make examples of those who don't fit into their world. And it lies with the powerful media who manipulate the attitudes of the electorate in tandem with whoever is in power encouraging fear & hatred.

    So do what noone has done before, kick venal political ideology into touch & turn your words into a new reality of a fair & effective criminal justice system.

  3. I couldn't get past the first few lines of Truss' speech. What a load of rubbish. I'm already tired of hearing about Her Majesty' Paps.

  4. And why are we constantly hearing about Sonia Crozier being a 'women's champion' when there are existing widespread problems in the CJS of racism, suffering with mental health, and males (the vast majority) tend to get a pretty shitty deal too!!!

  5. Complaints about the same people reoffending!!! My Integrated Offender Manager team did a great job until the private company that became our owners decided they were too expensive and largely disbanded the team. Where are the opposition scriptwriters, they should be making pulp out of speeches from a government that has degraded Prisons and Probation to the extent that they have.

  6. I'm afraid I think Liz Truss is an even worse SOS then Grayling. All sound bites, party politics, and no understanding of the CJS, how it operates, and what's needed to get it functioning, and I mean just functioning again.
    You can't fix prisons and the problems they're experiencing without fundamental changes to social policy, drug laws, homelessness, and employment.
    I watched Panorama last night, and think the majority of the population that watched it would have been shocked. Unfortunately I think it allowed Truss to blame the whole sorry state of the CJS on 'spice' and that's just not the case.
    I think the SOS for justice should not be one person from one political party directing police, but an amalgamation on cross party individuals selected for their knowledge and experience. Justice is impartial isn't it? So why direct policy from a party political view?
    Unfortunately things will only get worse.


  7. I saw a speech from truss on Monday - I think it was the one commented on by 826, who comments that 'any primary school pupil could write that.' Indeed, it looked like it was a primary pupil reading it, holding the paper, with head down most of the time as she read what had clearly been written for her. She was emotionless, stiff, awkward, no passion or conviction that she believed or even understood what she was saying. In fact I have seen better from 7 year olds at my grandson's school. Just about the worst orator I have seen in Parliament.

    1. She was much more emotional about opening new pork markets. Shame she changed her job. ..

    2. Truss delivers a speech to a rightwing thinktank. She is not going to stick her neck out to champion an enlightened penal policy; she will want to move on at the earliest opportunity. Her shock horror at the low numbers of mental health treatment conditions is pathetic given the cuts to mental health services and the courts obsession with same day reports. She rants on about public protection being the priority and yet celebrates the increased numbers of IPPs being released who were imprisoned in the first place on the back of Blunkett's (whose on the thinktank's board) hysterical obsession with public protection – which he now regrets. Truss is all expediency and she would never have had the political courage shown by Kenneth Clarke when he abolished IPPs. The sooner she is gone the better.

  8. Successive Governments have said for the past 30 years that a solution to the on going jail crisis was a programme aimed at reducing re-offending but each in turn has undermined the Probation Service!

    1. Why? Because since the politicisation of the Probation Service via CJA'92 those successive Governments have only had eyes for their own longevity & public acclaim, NOT for the benefits provided by reducing re-offending or any meaningful programme of rehabilitative interventions. As has already been stated on this blog & elsewhere in the last few days they've been driven by their own hunger for power & the riches & status they feel should accompany power. The blinkered bullies have simply argued that the Probation Service represents weakness and consequently have sacrificed an entire profession at the altar of ignorance; replaced compassion with judgement; and brought UK politics into disrepute, lathering our parliamentary procedures with shame & disgrace.

  9. I would just like to add that we should never ever be deceived into assuming the tory party are simply 'naive'. THEY ARE NOT NAIVE, they know exactly what they are doing & what the consequences of their reforms will. They want to see yhe working class on their knees so they have total control and thus power over the 'peasants'. The disastrous consequences are not naive they know exactly what they are doing. We need to Unite as one or there be no turning back from these evil reforms. This needs solidarity and unity, not reading the daily mirror and believing the propaganda from media abuse. It is in the media's best interest to boost the ego's of evil tories. The tories have barely started their intended changes and consequences won't fully emerge until it's too late to reverse them. READ BETWEEN THE LINES it is there but well hidden amongst all the propaganda. Read George Orwell 'Animal Farm' & '1984' and get insight into the potential consequences as they umfold.