Monday, 27 February 2017

Prisons and Courts Bill

Some would say neither historic nor landmark, but we'd better cover this from last week that will attempt to shift the blame for what goes on in our prisons to the Governor:- 

Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss unveils landmark Prisons and Courts Bill

The Prisons and Courts Bill paves the way for the biggest overhaul of prisons in a generation and delivery of a world-class court system.
  • Historic Prisons and Courts Bill will transform the lives of offenders and put victims at the heart of the justice system, helping to create a safer and better society. 
  • New legislation underpins measures outlined in the ground-breaking Prison Safety and Reform White Paper, which will transform how our prisons operate.
  • Modernisation of our courts will improve access to justice, better protect the vulnerable and further enhance our status as a world-leading centre for dispute resolution.
Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss today (23 February 2017) unveiled the historic Prisons and Courts Bill, paving the way for the biggest overhaul of prisons in a generation and the delivery of a world-class court system.

This key piece of legislation will underpin measures in the recently published Prison Safety and Reform White Paper, and will help transform how our prisons are run. Prisons will punish people who break the law and give offenders the skills they need to turn their lives around, driving down the £15 billion annual cost to society of reoffending.

It sets in law for the first time that a key purpose of prisons is to reform offenders, as well as punish them for the crimes they have committed.

Victims and vulnerable witnesses are also central to the Prisons and Courts Bill, with a range of measures that will bolster their protection in court.

The government is giving courts the power to put an end to domestic violence victims being quizzed by their attackers in the family courts, calling time on what the Justice Secretary has described as a “humiliating and appalling” practice. This follows an urgent review she commissioned last month.

Car insurance premiums will also be cut by around £40 a year, with new fixed tariffs capping whiplash compensation pay-outs and a ban on claims without medical evidence, helping to crack down on the compensation culture epidemic.

Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss said:

"Prison is about punishing people who have committed heinous crimes, but it should be a place where offenders are given the opportunity to turn their lives around. I want our prisons to be places of discipline, hard work and self-improvement, where staff are empowered to get people off drugs, improve their English and maths and get a job on release. Our courts should be places where victims get the justice they deserve, and where our outstanding independent judiciary can flourish and focus on the cases that matter."
Changes announced today build on and underpin measures contained in the Prison Safety Reform White Paper, which highlights how the government will drive reform in our prisons.

Governors will take control of budgets for education, employment and health and they will be held to account for getting people off drugs, into jobs and learning English and maths. Data for league tables detailing how prisons are performing in these areas will be publicly available from October 2017.

Across the country, more than 2,000 new senior positions are being created for our valued and experienced officers to be promoted into. These posts, which include specialist mental health training, will have a salary of up to £30,000.

Prisons and Courts Bill measures relating to courts underline the government’s commitment to victims and the most vulnerable, as well as improving the system for those who use it every day. We are making our courts more open and modern to help cement our place as a world-leader.

Key measures within the legislation will make our courts swifter, more accessible and easier to use for everyone. They will be efficient and fit-for-purpose, with facilities across the entire estate that are modern, user-friendly, and work in favour of our dedicated judges and magistrates.

The use of virtual hearings will be extended, allowing victims to take part without running the risk of coming face-to-face with their assailant. Many hearings, such as bail applications, will be resolved via video or telephone conferencing, allowing justice to be delivered more swiftly.

Offenders charged with some less serious criminal offences, such as failure to produce a ticket for travel on a train, will be able to

  • plead guilty online
  • accept a conviction
  • be issued a penalty and
  • pay that penalty there and then.
And businesses will be able to recover money much more easily, with digital services that allow them to issue and pursue their cases quickly. This will give them vital confidence to do business here, and will enable our world leading justice system to remain the international destination of choice for dispute resolution.

Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald said:

"Britain has the best justice system in the world, but it should also be the most modern, because we have a vision for a justice system that truly works for everyone. Victims and the most vulnerable are at the centre of our changes, which will help deliver swifter and more certain justice for all. We want courts that are efficient and fit-for-purpose, with facilities across the entire estate that are modern, user-friendly, and work in favour of our hard-working and dedicated judges and magistrates. The Prisons and Courts Bill underpins this vision – building on the good progress we have already made in improving the experience of all users and cementing our reputation for global legal excellence so we can go on attracting business to the United Kingdom."

This is what the RSA had to say about it:- 

In October last year, the RSA’s Future Prison Project stated that prisons’ ability to change people’s lives and keep prisoners, staff and communities safe has been undermined by short-term, reactive decision-making and over centralisation. We argued that tackling this would require political courage and a shared clear purpose to all those working and living in and around prisons.

Saying anything positive about prison reform may seem to run counter to what most of us read and watch every day; we face constant reminders of the risks facing many of the people who live and work inside our prisons. Despite these very real challenges, the Prisons and Courts Bill does signify a historical shift in thinking about the purpose of prisons and how they are run.

The RSA has long argued that putting a commitment to rehabilitation at the core of our prison system – on top of tackling over population and under resourcing – is the best way to tackle risk, reduce reoffending and protect community safety. By including a statutory duty in the Bill, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss, has accepted the need for a fundamental shift in thinking about what prisons are for. While the precise impact of this will not be known for some time, as we have argued, such a focus should drive progress from how governors run their establishments, to how staff are trained and – ultimately – whether prisons become places where people can progress.

However stark things are, the new duty, alongside greater freedoms for governors and a stronger role for the prisons inspectorate and ombudsman should be welcomed. The latter raises an interesting question; if the Secretary of State now has a statutory duty to support rehabilitation, with the prisons inspectorate charged with assessing this, then surely there is a logical and ethical argument for Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons to be appointed independently?

In the short term, the service is not just struggling to recruit new staff but also to retain existing officers. The current acute pressures facing many of those working and living in prisons will not change overnight; this is a problem that has been years in the making and some responsibility lies with all political parties for this. The reforms set out in the Bill and the wider changes being made that do not require statutory provision, could be quickly undermined should the worst happen in the coming weeks and months. However tempting it is for opposition parties to focus entirely on what has not been done – sentencing reform and population reduction, being the most obvious – they would be advised to look to their own history and support the longer term changes that are so desperately needed. 

The challenge for the Ministry of Justice and the new restructured NOMS (Her Majesty’s Prisons and Probation Service) will be to balance the need for frontline staff now, with a clearer idea about who these should be, how they should be supported and what they are charged with doing in this landscape. Together they will need to ensure that they enable prison governors to lead the way. This means striking the right balance between freedom and accountability, the right resources, structures and capabilities needed inside to create environments that support rehabilitation. Critically, this needs to be supported by an integrated approach when people are released. Tackling the current problems facing probation services, in particular, community rehabilitation companies will be critical to this.

Ultimately, rehabilitation is not a process; it is something that can or cannot emerge through providing people with the environments, opportunities and support to change.

With this in mind the RSA is helping to design and develop the New Futures Network. In the long term this aims to be a practical resource for prison leaders as they adapt to this new landscape. Rather than being a provider of services, or representing any particular group, the primary objective of the Network will be to help prisons and their partners to secure better rehabilitative outcomes for prisoners and their communities by:
  • Acting as an informed and honest broker between prisons and all potential partners, local and national, in the private, public and voluntary sector;
  • Driving new approaches to prison leadership and innovation;
  • Providing a bridge between practice development and policy; 
  • Improving the mechanisms for sharing evidence, experience and success across justice services.

Not surprisingly, the Prison Governors' Association is not too impressed:-  

The Prison Governors’ Association continues to welcome the investment the Justice Secretary is making in prisons and her commitment to prison reform. However, with the worst recorded figures on violence and deaths in prisons in modern times, security and safety must be this government’s paramount focus. Unless prisons are stabilised, these ambitious goals will be unobtainable. 

The volume and rate of the changes being introduced are a cause of serious concern to prison governors. Governors are being asked to sign up to agreements, which will become effective in just five weeks, with insufficient detail on what they will be held to account for. The risk is that the prison reform bill will become the prison blame bill – a mechanism by which Governors are criticised or removed from post for matters beyond their control. Assurances have been provided by the Justice Secretary that this will not happen but these assurances lack satisfactory detail. Prisons have had 500 prison governors and 7,000 officers stripped out in the last five years whilst the population has remained stubbornly high. A commitment to recruit 2,500 officers is welcomed but they are not in place now, and this is still significantly less than the number already lost. Also, there are no plans to replace the governors which have been lost during the same period. Consequently, the previous advice the PGA gave to our members not to sign the agreements until further discussions can take place still stands. 

The government’s inflexibility with regards to introducing league tables is also a concern. Despite warnings that they will not achieve anything other than to risk demoralising staff and of unfairly judging the senior management team the government is still going ahead. 

Making the rehabilitation of prisoners a mandatory requirement is not new. The prison service has for many years had as a core aim the rehabilitation of prisoners by helping them lead law abiding lives in custody and on release and metrics on which this is judged. Giving new powers to the chief inspector of prisons is welcomed provided it also holds the Ministry of Justice to account which controls the budgets governors are provided with, which have been reduced year on year. Governors cannot rehabilitate prisoners who are living and working in squalid conditions with insufficient staff and resources. 

The principles set out in the Prison Safety and Reform White Paper, which introduced more autonomy for governors remain, by and large, welcomed. However, unless the core issues of safety and violence are tackled first, these are unlikely to be achieved.


  1. ah league tables: always worth the paper they are written on

  2. Successive governments have systematically removed virtually all rehabilitative intervention from prisons. To announce this like it's something innovative is a joke.

  3. Just sums up the whole TR agenda - get rid of expereinced staff ,change the name of something , employ more managers , introduce a " name and blame " system and then attempt to tell front line staff that it's a " innovative " way of working - really does make you so ill that they think that we are as stupid as they are corrupt !!!

  4. If the focus will be on education, employment, health and discipline its only a matter of time before the prison OMU's are disbanded and probation staff/teams are thrown out of prisons.

    1. Prisons and governors are rarely friends of probation and even they have no idea what we do. Probation will be high priority on the "get rid of" list.

  5. Obviously there is a reason why the Prisons and Courts Bill leaves out the less buxom half of Her Majesty's Paps!

  6. Didn't Liz Truss say insurance premiums would fall under the new bill?

    Well she was wrong!

    "Average car insurance premiums could increase by up to £75 a year as a result of a government ruling, industry experts have said."

    Now if we apply the same dose of reality to her crap that prisons are going to improve!!

    1. Average car insurance premiums could increase by up to £75 a year as a result of a government ruling, industry experts have said. A new formula for calculating compensation payments for those who suffer long-term injuries has been announced by the Ministry of Justice.

      But the Association of British Insurers (ABI) called the decision "crazy". The Ministry of Justice said it had no choice under the current law, and said it would consult on possible changes.

      Shares in insurance companies fell, with some saying that profits would be hit by millions of pounds. The change is due to take effect from 20 March.

  7. Truss, May, Grayling, Cameron, Blair, Straw, etc, etc - all of them are compulsive, barefaced liars. Never a true word will ever fall from their lips. But lo, the sweeties that are the British electorate continue to swallow their vile deceptions & vote the narcissistic psychopaths into power whilst pinning their real hopes on bagging the next lottery jackpot so they can join the disgustingly filthy rich overseas.

  8. I think Liz Truss is in for a bruising battle with prison staff, and it won't be helped by the decision by the DPPs decision to prosecute a prison officer at HMP Woodhill with manslaughter following the suicide of an inmate.