Thursday, 30 March 2017

Prisons and Courts Bill 4

In a roundup of prison reform news, here is Grace Wyld of the New Philanthropy Capital complaining in the Guardian that, just like probation, the third sector is being sidelined by the MoJ:-  

Privatising prisons won't stop reoffending. Charities will

Last Monday, the prison and courts bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons. Under the proposed reforms, prisons will have a statutory duty to rehabilitate offenders. You might be surprised this isn’t already the case; it is a reform long overdue.

But the justice secretary Liz Truss will struggle to realise this ambition to put rehabilitation at the heart of prisons without better involving the voluntary sector.

Truss told the House of Commons: “I am determined that we will do what we can to protect innovative schemes such as Storybook Dads, a charity that works to maintain ties between prisoners and their children.” Storybook Dads do fantastic work helping parents in prison to make bedtime story CDs and DVDs for their kids, but Truss’s statement raises two concerns.

Firstly, this is a prime example of paying lip service to the sector. The words “charity”, “voluntary sector” and “third sector” appear not once in the 65-page white paper, published last November, which forms the basis of the Prison and Courts bill. This is curious, since Truss opens the report by quoting the nineteenth-century reformer and philanthropist Elizabeth Fry. It is another friendly, nostalgic and frankly dismissive wave to the sector. It’s all too easy to signal good intentions by referring to historical figures, rather than actually acknowledging how much charities do to sustain the prison service today.

The sector has learned from experience that supportive statements from politicians don’t lead to any actual support on the ground. In 2014 the probation system was overhauled and restructured into “transforming rehabilitation” contracts. These contracts essentially outsource probation to the private and voluntary sectors in huge contracts which could last up to 10 years, with payment by results. Although the then justice secretary, Chris Grayling, encouraged charities to bid for these contracts, their time and money was largely wasted: not a single charity who bid to lead a contract was successful. One charity that was named in nine of the 11 winning bids was never actually approached to do a day’s work. They were clearly “bid candy” to strengthen a private sector company’s bid.

“I’m not sure if this is the Titanic or the iceberg, but it is one of the two,” one national charity that has been working to rehabilitate prisoners for almost 30 years told us. Many grassroots organisations are being exploited by contract winners for their local knowledge without being paid. Meanwhile, some independent funders are withdrawing funding from criminal justice entirely, concerned that they might be subsidising state and private sector profits.

My second frustration with Truss’s passing comment is that “innovation” has become something of a fetish. Government and funders constantly want the new and shiny, even though it is well evidenced that some traditional approaches — like peer support — just work. Innovation for innovation’s sake can be harmful.

At New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), we have been researching the role of charities in criminal justice, and our report, published today, demonstrates how charities are fundamental to the effective functioning of our justice system. Charities are able to form a distinct relationship with people involved in crime, one built on trust and made possible in part because of their independence from the state or corporate interests. And they stick around for as long as it takes; charities are not driven by profits or meeting short-term targets.

As part of NPC’s research I visited a prison with one such charity, User Voice, to see their prison council elections in action. It is a simple programme, designed to help prisoners feel they have a voice and increase their involvement in the prison community. I spoke to prisoners campaigning for parties they had themselves shaped, on issues such as safety, time spent in cells, education and even the state of the toilets. And they were encouraging prison officers – who would later be turning the key on their cells – to vote too.

You could feel the environment becoming a more conducive one for reform and rehabilitation. These elections were designed in the first instance by the charity, but the organisation and ownership of the scheme was quickly passed down to the residents, staff and volunteers who made it happen. Prisoners were empowered and trusted to take responsibility for their community. As far as I know, initiatives like this are unique to the charity sector.

Later in the afternoon a town crier announced the results while residents listened from their cells. Many reacted with thunderous applause by banging on the heavy metal doors: over 70% of the prison population had cast a vote.

One of the greatest assets of a charity working on the frontline is their service users: experts by experience, they should be front and centre of rehabilitation programmes. In fact, the majority of employees at User Voice are ex-offenders themselves. Shutting charities out of contracts designed to reduce reoffending is an enormous missed opportunity.

Certainly, charities must try to evaluate their impact, not least by using the Justice Data Lab to learn more about their effect on reoffending. And commissioners should choose services based on evidence of impact rather than the lowest possible cost. But government must also provide more data on the charitable activity that is actually happening on the ground in prisons and in communities across the country. They have been asked repeatedly for more transparency on this.

It is not often that a government bill offers such a clear opportunity for the charity sector. Now Truss must back up her rhetoric with action. If she does not, it cannot be taken for granted that charities will always be there to pick up the slack.

Grace Wyld is a researcher at New Philanthropy Capital, whose new report on voluntary sector organisations in criminal justice can be read here.


Again in the Guardian, we learn that plans for 'reform' prisons are not going smoothly:-

HMP Wandsworth governor leaves after failure of idea to give duties to prisoners

The governor of Britain’s biggest prison has left his job after the failure of radical plans to allocate some officers’ duties to prisoners, the Guardian has learned.

Ian Bickers had been the governor of Wandsworth prison, one of six to be selected by then justice secretary Michael Gove last summer for “reform prison” status. Three months ago Bickers told MPs about his plans to allow prisoners to be trained to deal with low-level administration work, leaving officers free for more important functions.

However, prison sources say that most of the “peer advisors” have been kept locked in their cells, and trainers from the charity St Giles Trust have been left sitting in empty classrooms as a result.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson confirmed Bickers’s departure from the prison but said he was being appointed to a “more senior position” within HM Prison and Probation Service and congratulated him on his new role. The spokesperson denied that his departure was to do with the fate of the planned changes.

Of the 50 prisoners recruited to be peer advisors – nicknamed “the purple army” after their purple tops – just 15 have been partially trained since September. Wandsworth staff say the problem is due to staff shortages in an overcrowded jail. St Giles Trust acknowledged that so far it had encountered difficulties in gaining access to trainees. Chief executive Malcolm Walker described the situation as “challenging, with the focus on those prisoners we can access”.

Prison sources say the prisoners could not be brought for training because they were mostly located on the five main wings at Wandsworth, which are on virtual lockdown for most of the day. Dave Todd, a member of the Prison Officers’ Association national executive committee for London and Kent, said staff were sometimes forced to curtail prisoner activities but only do so for safety reasons. He said Wandsworth was particularly affected by staff shortages and unavailability of existing staff through sickness.

“We need increased recruitment and retention of staff before we can properly deliver the service the prison system and the public deserve,” he said.

The staffing situation at Wandsworth has wider consequences for prisoners there. Documents seen by the Guardian show that the numbers of new prisoners at Wandsworth completing basic induction processes – including tests for basic maths and English – are falling dramatically, with the proportion completing the process dropping from 49% to 21% between last June and November, and further falls expected.

The prisoner-on-prisoner listener scheme, facilitated by Samaritans, is also affected, with many of the trained listeners located on the main wings where movement is strictly curtailed.


Finally, Guardian readers vent their feelings:-

Justice secretary shows contempt for prison experts

Yet again, we have a justice secretary demonstrating contempt for both experts and any other commentators who know what they are talking about over prisons and prison policy (Truss to announce four new supersized jails, 22 March). Titan prisons, first so dubbed by then justice secretary Jack Straw (no party political point, this), are the very reverse of the way forward.

Alan Travis rightly cites Lord Woolf in his seminal 1990 report and Peter Dawson of the Prison Reform Trust. This time even the Labour opposition has it right: shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon identified the blindingly obvious truth that larger prisons alone merely demonstrate an ever-greater capacity to shrug off the crying need for a drastic reduction in prison numbers. Locking up ever more of our on the whole non-violent, inadequate, disturbed and disadvantaged population is a non-policy of “out of sight, out of mind”. The damage to the very fabric of our society stares us practitioners in the face every single day.

The sole beneficiaries of this further overdosing on the wrong medicine would be the profit-hungry mega-companies to which the construction, containment and other services entailed would assuredly be outsourced should this justice secretary get her way. Over this issue if no other, come back, ex-justice secretary Michael Gove: all is forgiven.

Malcolm Fowler Solicitor and former chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee
Tipton, West Midlands

The government also claims that the four new mega-prisons – ostensibly justified as a way to modernise the penal estate and reduce prison over-crowding – will generate financial investment and increase security for the surrounding communities. There is little evidence for this latter claim, but plenty indicating that a new prison is likely to be harmful to local people.

Prisons are warehouses for people with mental health problems. Problematic drug usage is reportedly at epidemic levels in prisons. A new prison increases demands on the NHS, so inevitably leads to a deterioration in existing health services for local people. A new prison also results in more children left without fathers or mothers, more elders left without carers, and other members of the family, such as partners, suffering financial hardships. And, rather than reducing fear of crime locally, prisons increase the public’s sense of insecurity.

Given the historic failings of prison to meet its rehabilitation goals, the current tightening of government budgets, and the fact that England and Wales now have the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe, the most rational solution to overcrowded prisons is to radically reduce the prison population.

Instead of building new mega-prisons, the government should be aiming to deliver social security by ensuring that all people in our society have access to decent healthcare, housing, education and jobs.

Dr David Scott, 
Bury, Greater Manchester

The news that this government plans to create 5,000 new prison places should bury any pretence that Elizabeth Truss is concerned to introduce positive prison reforms. The prisons and courts bill abandons the commitment in the Prison Act 1952 and Prison Rules 1999 that the aim of prison is to “encourage and assist” prisoners to “lead a good and useful life”, and replaces it with a duty to “prepare prisoners for a life outside prison”.

It is not to imply that prisons ever succeeded in this to suggest that the function is considerably reduced rather than expanded in the wording of the bill. Prisoners will be “skilled” to work in a low-wage, zero-hours and zero-rights economy and governers, given control over their budgets, will be audited on their success. Out will go any pretence of arts or education as an end in itself for prisoners. What governor would be brave enough to replicate the arts programme of the special unit of HMP Barlinnie in the 1970s, when their success will be measured, as Liz Truss states, on developing “education and training to match the skills and qualifications prisoners need in the local labour market”?

It’s easy enough to see what would actually be required to help most of the people doing jail time to turn their lives around – decent jobs, decent housing and decent rehab facilities would help most of the people doing jail time to turn their lives around. That they are not available is a product of coherent design, not unhappy accident. Our jails are full because the most vulnerable have been left as flotsam on the tide that’s carried the rich to new highs. All the proposed “reforms” offer is greater numbers banged up, with a McJob as a measure of their rehabilitation.

Nick Moss, London


  1. Day in day out I now see the negative impact of breaking up the service, it is embarassing and scary. There is also a creeping culture from the CRCs of service users picking and choosing which elements of their Order they can be bothered to comply with, if at all, because nothing happens if they don't. Sentencing is losing credibility. I predict the Rehabilitation statutory duty on prisons is nothing more than the final wiping from history of the Probation Service. Business doesn't want what works, it wants what pays.

  2. Apologies, but I need to comment on Rob Allen's piece yesterday and I want him to provide evidence to support the 'ray of light' coming from DTV CRC, particularly the high level of staff morale. He shouldn't believe the myth peddled by senior management to NOMs and our board of directors, that the operational model was developed by staff, I took part in a workstream and although some of the suggestions and solutions were carried forward, this was mainly a patronising exercise for the benefit of the NOMS commissioning team. The Trust introduced community hubs in 2011, our clients reported there when they were deemed ready to do so. Due to a refusal to recruit and an agenda to undermine staff, the hubs were virtually run by volunteers with a checklist and did not deliver the one-stop service which was planned. As a result of TR, the CRC withdrew from all of the offices almost immediately and all of our clients report to hubs, whatever the need or risk. They are based in churches and community centres, some are OK, but the fundamental basis of rehabilitation assisted by the one to one relationship that is supported in desistence theory, is not possible. Conversations are restricted, when you are sat a couple of feet away from another client. The HMIP report last August indicated serious concerns about the effectiveness of the model and the lack of supervision of staff due to the reduction in line managers, only four for the whole area. Morale was thought to be high, but staff were briefed well and only a small number were spoken to. We are managed by self-serving directors and staff stay at home and work on their laptops, teams are fragmented and line managers are struggling to cope. Fear has been engendered by the underhand way managers who care about staff and the service we deliver are being gradually picked off. Worryingly, factual evidence from the NPS court team, reports embarrassing moments in court when they have to try and explain to magistrates why there is no record of attendance for months and they cannot get hold of the OMs. Why is this not being picked up by managers, staff are clearly struggling or perhaps have given up.
    We have a 'fun committee' and you can measure exactly how high staff morale is when you consider that an event organised for the summer was abandoned due to lack of interest. A recent event was threatened by cancellation until it was opened up to partners. Very few staff apart from those under pressure, actually attended. How do you justify an expensive event with wine on the table, where did the money come from, when we are allegedly 'cash-strapped'. Our plight is no worse than other areas, what we do has changed beyond recognition, our service has been destroyed, staff try their best to deliver effective interventions in difficult circumstances, those who still care, support each other. Tell me Rob Allen where your evidence comes from, you have clearly believed the hype our highly paid directors are pushing to anyone who will listen, perhaps to save their own necks.

    1. Anon 10:01 - thanks for helping to put the record straight - it's only when people on the ground speak out that we can really know what's going on in each of the CRCs.

    2. The whole Justice Committee enquiry into TR was just a "look at the wallpaper" job and lets not peel any layers off - even then by interviewing ONLY bosses and not practitioners the dangers and disasters were evident.

      Had they been serious, as others have also said the enquiry would have included informal unannounced visits to the places where probation workers practice, courts, offices, prisons and some of these community hubs - but they didn't.

      Parliament as a whole, especially the House of Commons is letting the nation down and it is coming back to bite us all, eventually; at least those who are younger.

    3. We too are telling the courts how it is. People not being seen for months.

  3. I make a distinction with charity and third sector organisations.
    They were used as bid candy for TR, but they allowed themselves to be used. They too were seduced by the smell of money. Too many 'third sector' organisations have 'directors' that claim very large salaries, and rely on the charitable persuasion of volunteers.
    I don't mean to imply that there aren't great people out there doing great things, but I feel very strongly that it's not always about philanthropy, behind the good work someone's getting substantial reward. (Am I right Bubb?)
    The people doing the good work get very little reward except of course gratification for their achievements.
    But there is a lot that makes sense in the narratives of today's post. Prison isn't an alternative society, it's part of the whole, and needs to be considered in terms of the whole when change and reform are being considered, and the focus should be on 'how do we get rid of the need for prisons', and not always looking to see how we can 'make them better places and more productive'.
    I was touched by this article from the BBC earlier this morning, though it's quite long.


    1. The number of women who died in prison in England and Wales reached a record high of 22 last year, and more than half of them took their own lives, Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Nigel Newcomen reported this week.

      "Behind the statistics are stories of avoidable tragedy," says Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest.

      Most women who end up in prison have experienced a range of problems, such as addiction, mental illness, abusive relationships or homelessness - and if these problems had been addressed, Coles argues, things might have turned out differently. cont...

      (As you say 'Getafix - a long read but well worth it - will possibly use in a future post.)

    2. Sorry for coming back so soon but..
      I suggested on this blog some time ago that the real estate value of London prisons and the difficulties in staffing and servicing them because of low wage and high cost economy may mean that before long there would be no prisons in London at all.
      My comment raised a bit of a giggle, and I really don't mind that at all. But I've just seen this and...


    3. Well spotted! This from yesterday's Evening Standard:-

      Inmates at some of London’s most infamous prisons may not think much of their cells, but they could soon be turned into luxury flats, it emerged on Wednesday.

      FTSE 250 agent Savills has won a “significant” contract with the Ministry of Justice to study parts of its UK estate, the Standard can reveal.

      Sites it will look at include Brixton, Pentonville and Feltham.

      Options to keep buildings open will be examined, as will alternative uses, including housing.

      Residential experts estimate a sale of the three London jails being looked at could generate around £300 million and pave the way for more than 1,000 homes.

      The MoJ said: "We are evaluating a number of sites across the prison estate as part of our £1.3bn transformation programme.”

      A spokesman added: "Following a tendering process, Savills have been appointed as our property consultants to assist with this review."

      The Government first mooted plans in 2015 to sell some land and create new prisons to replace old establishments.

    4. Maybe there is some merit in Georgie Porgy getting the editor's job?

  4. I see that the Guardian have now introduced (probably some while ago) a facility for people to submit information confidentially and also anonymously

  5. Dear working links,
    Please may we cordially request that you get your shit together! You have got rid of 40% of staff and even more have left since, of their own accord with no pay out because of shambolic mis-management. If you can't keep young, fairly newly qualified PO's then something is going badly wrong! You appear to be cutting staffing to the bone by playing a game of 'let's see how much they can tolerate of our crap before they quit'. Soon it will be like the prisons, with only the offenders left in charge. You have moved us all from office to office and now continue to move to wherever you can get as cheap a rent as possible, frequently in places that are not fit for purpose and that exclude staff who have or may develop mobility issues..we are walking out into dark alleyways in dangerous areas because there is no longer allocated parking. I.T is crap and can't even do the basics. One office in S.W has no working computers or phones and staff need to find another broom cupboard to work from in a hurry.offenders don't know who is supervising them because staff keep leaving or going off sick. JW Director has the cheek to reprimand us for going to the press and says there is a perfectly good system in place for reporting concerns! Bollocks...that is a blatant lie. Staff only do this when they have no where else to turn. The system is groaning and creaking at the seams as we struggle to cope. We get no encouragement or thanks for the work we do, no acknowledgement that we are trying our best in the most challenging situation our profession has ever faced. Offenders are dying in prison and dying in the community because services are overstretched. We have become the dumping ground for the poor wretches that Society doesn't want..Victorian language for Victorian times. We are scraping the bottom of the barrel to find the last flea infested pit to house someone in because housing is in crisis. Most of our cases have significant mental health problems and complex issues such as being survivors of abuse. We are in way above our heads now and need support from our managers and someone to steer the ship yet there is no one to be seen, just the spectre of working links with their carrot and stick approach..or maybe just the stick as I can't think what the carrot is!
    Please get your shit together working links and save yourselves a massive fine!
    Yours Truly
    'Your People'LOL

    1. It made me very sad to read your post, what has our profession come to. And as I have written before on this blog it was a cruel twist of fate for those that got shafted into the CRC's, WORKING CONDITIONS ARE APPAULING FOR ALL THOSE IN THE CRC'S. They must be in breach of employment law, unsuitable premises working conditions and high case loads, contact ACAS and see if wonky winks could be taken to task.


    1. ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ was a mantra of the Blair government, as it has been for politicians of all hues when seeking votes.

      The reality is much more complex with many of those involved in the criminal justice system experiencing significant levels of trauma, mental health problems and addictions, as well as complex life histories of abuse, looked-after care and homelessness.

      As one leading academic has argued: “Essentially societies that do not believe that offenders can change will get offenders who do not believe that they can change”. At Sheffield Hallam University, the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice (HKC) has been established to help address the needs of this and other vulnerable groups.

      The promotion of ‘social justice’ is key for the HKC. Our central values are those of widening access to justice and education, the promotion of human rights, ethics in legal practice, equality and a respect for human dignity in overcoming social injustice.

      From April 3-7, the HKC and the Sheffield Institute of Policy Studies (SIPS) will host our third Social Justice Week. Events will include women’s access to justice; public policing and policing the future; a discussion on the effectiveness of European protection of human rights; the impact of researching marginalised communities; and an international conference on how to support desistance from offending and recovery from substance problems.

      A public event (on Wednesday April 5) will discuss citizenship. The fundamental premise for the event is that the successful rehabilitation of offenders (particularly those with substance misusing problems) is a contract in which communities and professionals play a central role.

      We get what we pay for, and if we choose to exclude stigmatise and punish offenders and make aspects of these punishments irreversible, then we create an excluded group who have little choice but to revert to illegal means of filling their time and their bellies.

      While individuals require significant motivation and commitment to overcome both their adverse experiences and the stigma and negative labels associated with offending and substance use, they can only go so far. Access to opportunities, hope, connections and the ability to shed ‘spoiled identities’ require communities that care and will re-engage.

      We know that some of the strongest predictors of reintegration are homes that are safe, opportunities for meaningful employment that affords a sense of pride as well as a living wage and connections to family and community. Yet punitive policies around disclosure means that for many people who have offended in their youth, access to such everyday opportunity is blocked, and we as a community effectively prevent the application of what the evidence-base tells us.

      However, these blocks occur not only at the level of institutions but also in neighbourhoods and communities.

    2. Our own research suggests that professionals and the general public have limited belief in the extent to which alcoholics, addicts and offenders can be genuinely rehabilitated and they act accordingly by distancing themselves from people they believe are mired in their drug use and offending. The effect is the same at the local level - exclusion, stigmatisation and frustrated attempts at reintegration.

      Social justice is about not only tackling inequalities and discrimination - it has a much more positive purpose and function that is about promoting citizenship and openness in institutions and in communities.

      The work we are doing around Social Justice Week and more generally in the Helena Kennedy Centre and SIPS is our commitment to raising awareness, improving our communities and creating meaningful pathways to reintegration. Why? Because societies and cities where that happens are not only fairer and more equal, they are better, safer and happier places for all of us to live.

      The aim of all of the events in Social Justice Week will be to initiate discussion between academics, policy makers, practitioners and the general public. There are no ivory towers for this event and the aim is that through this process we will create engagement and activism.

      Ultimately, we can challenge stigma, inequality and exclusion through the power of human connection and each of the events we are hosting has that ultimate objective.

      We know that contact reduces discrimination and that connection improves wellbeing - and Sheffield is at the centre of a range of activities that are championing connection and belonging as pathways to health for individuals and wellbeing for the city.

      Social Justice Week (April 3-7) is a week of free public events across Sheffield that seeks to engage local communities in understanding the challenges and barriers to achieving social justice, tackling tough issues such as human trafficking, recovering from drug addiction and policing.


      Read more at:


    1. Sleepy criminals will be dragged to court before breakfast under controversial plans to begin hearings at the crack of dawn.

      Furious lawyers facing round-the-clock shifts have threatened to boycott Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court if a deal on working conditions can’t be reached.

      The pilot would see magistrates’ court hearings start at 8am, or end the day at 8.30pm. Either way, courts would sit for nine hours, instead of the six they do at the moment. That’s not including any paperwork or time lawyers spend actually working with their clients.

      It would also mean drug dealers, drink drivers and thieves being forced to get out of bed well before 7am, which one critic said was a plan “obviously devised by someone who has never seen a magistrates’ court in action”.

      Criminal lawyer Greg Foxsmith, who regularly works at Highbury Corner, said it would be particularly hard on the many single parents in the legal system whose existing shifts mean they can take their kids to school first. Most courts begin at 10am and finish by 5pm.

      He said: “This half-baked proposal is the kind of idiotic nonsense you get when the justice system is left to the bean-counters and a bunch of swivel-eyed special advisers trying to justify their jobs.

      “Nobody ever asked for this or suggested it was a good idea. It’s hardcore for lawyers, defendants and court staff. What about single mums doing the school run and then going to court?”

      The bombshell was delivered in an email from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) to advocates this week. The HMCTS wants to roll out the six-month pilot at Highbury Corner, as well as Sheffield, from May. The proposal would also see two crown courts, including Blackfriars, and two civil courts working extended hours.

      Greg, a former president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) – which represents 90 per cent of London’s criminal lawyers – said there had been no engagement with the group at all.

      He added: “We are trying to find out more about it. We don’t know if it’s any extra pay, or if employers are going to make employees work these shifts [without more money].

      “Remember they are closing courts across London so people are having to travel further.”

      Another LCCSA lawyer said the plans should be “resisted outright”.

      Greg said the group would be canvassing members’ opinions and if the majority oppose the plans they will look at what action can be taken, including a potential boycott.

      A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “We are investing over £1bn to reform our courts to deliver swifter justice that is modern, more accessible and better meets the needs of all court users.

      “We are exploring flexible operating hours in six pilot courts to test how we can improve access to justice for everyone by making the service more convenient for working people.

      “These pilots will help us understand how flexible hours affect all court users and will be fully evaluated before any decision is taken on rollout.”