Sunday, 9 April 2017

Prison Reform 4

I notice the Justice Committee are not overly-impressed with Liz Truss's prison reforms:-  
Prison governor empowerment: greater clarity needed

The Government's reforms relating to prison performance and empowerment of prison governors, many of which are due to come into effect in April, are to be welcomed in principle, but require greater clarity and risk mitigation, says the Justice Committee report.

Read the report summary
Read the report conclusions and recommendations
Read the full report: Prison reform: governor empowerment and prison performance

Chair's Comments

Justice Committee Chair Bob Neill MP said:

"Governor empowerment and changes to prison performance are central to the Government's prison reform programme, which it describes as "the biggest overhaul in a generation" – but the lack of clarity about how some of these reforms will work in practice remains a cause for concern.

Without support from the people who are operating prisons the reforms are unlikely to be effective. The Government must seek productive engagement with prison staff and governors through regular meetings, enabling their concerns and ideas to feed into the implementation of the reforms."

Policy and operations

From 1 April, the Ministry of Justice has been responsible for prisons commissioning and policy, with the new HM Prison and Probation Service responsible for operational management. The Committee heard concerns that this separation could result in governors and the Secretary of State receiving conflicting advice. The report notes that this lack of clarity could make it harder to see what is going wrong in prisons and why, and confusion about responsibilities could make prisons less safe and effective. The Committee seeks clarification from the Government about how this will work in practice.
Performance agreements

Under the new reforms, Governors will be accountable through three year performance agreements they sign with the Secretary of State. These are based on four new performance standards which reflect the purpose of prisons included in the Prisons and Courts Bill; public protection; safety and order; reform; and preparing for life after prison.

The Committee supports the principle of transparency about what constitutes good performance: Governors should know the standards by which they will be judged and the public should know what constitutes a successful prison.

However, the report notes that it is not clear how the proposed interventions in cases of poor performance differ from current actions taken, and how they will operate in future – including whether public prisons could be privatised or vice versa , and it remains unclear what processes exist to identify poor performance at an early stage.

Performance agreements were supposed to be put in place in a third of prisons from April 2017, but the Prison Governors Association advised its members against signing them.

The report seeks information from the Government in its response on how many agreements have been signed, and how it will proceed if they are not signed.

The Ministry of Justice will publish official statistics on prison performance against the new performance standards, and the report recommends that the Ministry should use these data to understand more fully the factors underpinning poor and high performance, to inform practice across the estate.

Governor empowerment

The Committee is generally supportive of the principle of greater governor empowerment but has not seen any evidence that it will lead to better outcomes for prisoners, and notes that the first six reform prisons, which began operating in July 2016, will only be evaluated after the reforms take effect across the prison estate.

Issues raised in the report include:

  • Risk of increased prisoner complaints if greater autonomy and deregulation is not balanced with a need for consistently applied minimum standards;
  • Availability of support and development opportunities for governors before the reforms take effect;
  • Need to co-ordinate contributions of agencies involved in providing services relating to rehabilitation at a local level, including prisons and probation.
The Committee also noted considerable uncertainty around how the Government’s plans will apply to the privately managed prison estate and how the new offender management model, with one key worker overseeing the casework of six prisoners, will work in practice.


The Committee also welcomes the principle of giving governors greater involvement in commissioning goods and services, as this could encourage innovation and lead to better outcomes for prisoners.

However, this must be evidence based and rigorously evaluated, and procurement processes as well as performance agreements must be designed to facilitate innovation.

The Committee recognises that devolution of responsibility for commissioning to governors is likely to lead to differences in service provision, and it could also lead to an increase in overall costs as economies of scale could be lost.

The report concludes that there is a need for central oversight, and recommends that the MoJ put measures in place to ensure that education, family services and offending behaviour programmes are aligned across the estate to enable prisoners to progress through their sentence and to ensure these programmes meet minimum quality standards; and that the appropriate level to commission goods and services should be decided on a case by case basis.

Finally, low morale among prison staff and governors could affect implementation. The Prison Officers’ Association and the Prison Governors’ Association (PGA) have both recently taken actions suggestive of discontent among prison staff and governors, including staff protests in November and an attempted strike in March, as well as a call on governors not to sign the new performance agreement.

The PGA told the Committee that engagement with the MoJ had been “very poor”, with very little consultation about the reforms; the POA reported that their members feel disenfranchised, do not trust Government and senior managers, and that there had not been positive engagement with the MoJ and NOMS. Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah told the Committee that he had had regular meetings with the PGA and POA but admitted that more could be done.


This shows the Telegraph aren't impressed either:-

New blow to Justice Secretary Liz Truss as MPs say: scrap plans for prison league tables

Liz Truss, the Justice Secretary, has suffered a fresh blow to her authority after a Commons report said her plans for prison league tables should be dropped. The Justice Committee said league tables were “not a useful means” to assess prison performance and would “mask” problems within jails.

Ms Truss is already facing calls to be stripped of her second role as Lord Chancellor after concerns about the performance of her department. In recent weeks she has also been accused by the Lord Chief Justice of “misleading” the public over rape trials, while the President of Supreme Court said she had failed in a duty to defend the judiciary.

The latest criticism came in a parliamentary report that reviewed Government proposals for improving prison performance. The idea of league tables for prisons was first mooted by the then prime minister David Cameron in a speech more than a year ago, before being adopted as policy by Ms Truss in a white paper in November.

She said at the time: "We will publish league tables to show which prisons are making real progress in getting offenders off drugs and developing the education and skills they need to get work." Changes which include giving prison governors far greater autonomy - some of which come into force this month - are intended to address surging levels of violence and self-harm behind bars.

In its report, the committee said it encountered "mixed views" about the plans among witnesses who gave evidence to it. It said: “In particular, there was some scepticism about the purpose of this approach in a prison context, where there is no consumer; about their value in driving governor performance, and about the meaning that can be attached to a single measure of performance.”

MPs concluded that league tables, as they were conceived in the white paper, are "not a useful means to compare prison performance or drive improvement". The report said: "A single overarching assessment of prison performance will mask many aspects of performance. In our view it is more important that the Ministry seeks to understand more fully the factors underpinning poor and high performance and uses the learning to devise lessons to improve practice which are disseminated transparently across the estate."

The MPs said they would prefer to see the Ministry publish performance data rather than league tables. The committee also said that low morale among prison staff and governors could threaten the success of the programme.

Conservative MP Bob Neill, chairman of the committee, said: "Governor empowerment and changes to prison performance are central to the Government's prison reform programme, which it describes as the biggest overhaul in a generation - but the lack of clarity about how some of these reforms will work in practice remains a cause for concern."

From this month, the Ministry of Justice takes responsibility for prisons commissioning and policy, while the new HM Prison and Probation Service is responsible for the operational management of prisons. The committee said: “It is not clear to us what will happen in cases of poor performance, and how accountability will be attributed.”

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "We welcome this report which supports governor empowerment. We recognise that all prisons are different and that is why we are continuing to work closely with governors and staff to ensure clarity on expected standards and provide ongoing advice. These changes, along with our work to boost safety in prisons by employing 2,500 new prison officers, will help deliver our reforms, which will cut crime and create safer communities."

A Ministry of Justice source said that league tables would give "transparency" but that improvement would be driven by three-year contracts with individual governors that set out what they were expected to achieve.


  1. Goooood Morning Jim Brown! Up before the birds then! I've got blackbirds, starling, sparrows, curlew, thrush & a variety of finches accompanying the sweet song of JSC criticism of Lizzy Dripping & her motley crew, e.g. "the lack of clarity remains a cause for concern... low morale amongst prison staff & governors... scepticism about this approach where there is no consumer."

  2. Morning fellow blogees and what a great weekend to reflect on the failures of the prison and probation 'reforms'. I am sure most of us would agree that 'reform'is just a pseudonym for enormous financial cuts in this time of austerity. There is no actual reform is there..nothing that could be described as an actual improvement to services. Here is a snapshot of 'reform' to the management of offenders in the community over the past 25 years from someone who has recently taken early retirement.
    Remove our professional qualification and take social work out of probation. Let's face it the certificate of qualification in social work was more reprasentative of our job which incorporates many aspects of social work, working with mental health, drugs and alchohol, domestic violence, child protection...bread and butter of social workers. Concentrating on only criminology or even psychology is missing the major environmental factors that are in need of change. Society v individual as the cause of crime. This government would prefer to blame the individual rather than focus on failings of society.
    Creation of pso's as opposed to fully qualified po only. Ok I know this is contentous. I actually think there IS a role for pso's and have worked with many in my time but it is a bit like teaching assistants in schools. Until they are accredited fully and have years of experience begind them they need close supervision and support. They should not be employed and then immmediately given large caseload of low to medium risk offenders which is what happens now. It is similar to the news recently with large numbers of classroom assistants left in charge of classes. Gradual erosion of professional standards is not good for anyone. Just because you don't need a professional qualification to be an MP it doesn't mean other professions don't or do we want to go back to the days of asking the barber to stitch a wound or pull teeth!
    Loss of community reporting offices and day centres. Gone are the days when you knew your local area and everyone operating services there. Some staff were running services voluntarily such as football groups or groups for women on probation. It wasn't cute n cuddly social work , it was a lifeline for some people who have told me years later in the street how much it meant to them! Now service users have to travel miles to get to a central office or 'hub'which seems to be the new fangled word!
    Groupwork: groupwork rose to prominance but never replaced one to one work entirely. 2 years ago there were about 8 different groups in my area but post privatisitation they have shrunk to about 4 and I am told even lower now as staff running them have left and need to train people up. Doesn't sound like progress to me.
    RAR days! magistrates really know what a RAR day is I wonder. Surely this is just basic one to one supervision or a group which is what we were doing anyway when we had the time. A trip to the jobcentre? Come on! People would be doing that anyway.. just a renaming if you ask me!
    Management. What was wrong with having one spo managing one office! Worked for me but now TR means running around like a headless chicken supervising staff at 2 or even 3 offices and failing miserably.
    Training. If it's free book staff on, if it costs forget it! No more in house training unit. So who is doing the basics such as managing risk, working with sex offenders? Ok, CRC don't work with sex offenders! Except when it is historical! Dodgy that!
    Could go on for ever here!
    Anyway I'm off to mow the lawn on this sunny day and ponder the meaning of life. Back to work on Monday, early retirement doesn't mean you can't get another job but you can hopefully choose to do something a whole less stressful.

  3. "Supervision" rolled far more easily off the tongue in court, rather than "rehabilitation activity requirement", and far more straightforward to explain in terms of the Act and its practical application. I sometimes wonder whether these ridiculous changes are intended to fudge and confuse, all the easier to create an impression of something being done. What is a RAR day? I still don't know. How long does it last. If one is missed, does it require making up? Is there some mystical corner of ND that I've (easily) so far missed that shows how many RAR days have been completed on an ongoing order?

    1. What is a RAR day? Same goes for Post Sentence Supervision. Poorly defined concepts, poorly integrated and in consequence practitioners, managers and so called businesses alike confused and uncertain. Justice Committee sensibly asks for clarity on Prison Reform lest it be the dog's breakfast that is TR.

  4. To 08:31 absolutely share the above frustration. There is a way of counting RAR days on ND not that I could explain it coherently but think it involves specifying on search that it is the RAR bit you are looking for. I always end up asking Admin Officer to remind me how to find it but there does lurk a "total outstanding" figure on there somewhere!

  5. Rar count.
    Contacts have to be entered under the RAR activity.

    A contact such as "office visit planned" will then have a RAR yes/no drop down before the notes box ... Tick yes and your RAR day is counted.

    To check total:
    Click the event, choose the RAR requirement and there should appear, a summary of the total number of days completed.
    Shame finding an signposted activity which fits your objectives on an OasYs SP which can be verified ain't.

  6. RAR days = professionals running around like headless chickens ticking boxes and (forced to make some up if not enough are ticked), delivering meaningless interventions all so that the paymasters can get paid. Maybe this should be put in all PSRs when judges and magistrates ask for explanations as to what we do on RAR days.

  7. I think league tables are a good idea in the penal system - for secretaries of state. After all these are the ones who impose reforms to reduce reoffending and improve the effectiveness of prisons.

    1. Reforms to the justice system happens far more frequently then new model smart phones or I phones are released nowadays.
      Infact, all that seems to be happening is that reforms are being reformed and not the justice system itself.
      The fundamental reform required that may have some success, is the removal of politics from the system.

  8. Go with the flow . The government will be back in a couple of years.

  9. What government?

  10. This 21stC life is so easy if you have a brass neck, big cahonas, no scruples & a PR team. Trump - a man who says he has oodles of money, who has accumulated parasites aplenty, who has no shame & a level of self-delusion fit for psychiatric assessment. CRC owners - groups of bullies with pretensions of wealth, plenty of parasites, no sense of shame & utterly deluded as to what they can achieve.

    But they won't go away.

    1. I wish they would.

  11. Pay wall unfortunately, but perhaps someone can help?
    UK outsourcing deals extended because civil servants are too busy with Brexit to have time to focus on tenders!


    1. And there's bound to be a new problem for Liz Truss with these statistics on domestic violence prosecutions.

    2. One procurement adviser to the government said more than 250 contracts were either close to expiring or had already expired in 2016-17. These are in a wide range of services, from health and justice to back-office processes such as pensions payments.

      “You can go through department by department and they all have huge, expiring contracts,” the adviser said. “Brexit has pushed them down the list of priorities so there are lots of extensions and re-extensions of existing deals.”

      He added that this was the only way civil servants could prioritise the huge increase in Brexit-related work since the referendum. Many departments have had to second staff onto Brexit duties, while austerity measures since the financial crisis have also taken their toll: according to a recent National Audit Office report, in the past decade the number of civil servants has been cut by 26 per cent.

      The decision to roll over the contracts could prove expensive for taxpayers because it limits competition and undermines government efforts to improve procurement. The management of private sector contracts has come in for heavy criticism after several blunders, from the repeatedly delayed bidding for the West Coast railway franchise to the referral of G4S and Serco to the Serious Fraud Office for overcharging on electronic monitoring deals.

    3. High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our T&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email to buy additional rights.

      According to the NAO, the Crown Commercial Service, which was established in 2014 to improve state procurement, has extended 54 per cent of its contracts that were due to expire in 2015-16.

      As examples of rolled-over contracts, in February the Ministry of Justice extended by a year a £57m deal with Stonham Home Group for providing accommodation and support services for people on bail. The five-year contract, which started in 2010, had already been extended by two years.

      The Department for Work and Pensions has extended Capita’s contract to provide eligibility assessments for the personal independent payment allowance, support for people with long-term ill health or disability, by two years until July 2019.

      The number of contracts coming up for re-tender is particularly large this year because many were awarded on successive 10-year deals since they were first outsourced to the private sector during both Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1986 and again under Labour in 2007.

      The extensions are expected to generate large profits for the contractors. Contracts tend to be more profitable towards the end of their terms once start-up costs have been absorbed and other savings made.

    4. There's more, but can't find a way around the pay wall again,but you should be able to get access at least once if you use you're smart phone instead of your desk top device.


  12. Just had a bizarre dream series where CRCs had been forced to hand contracts over to Citizens Advice Bureaux, and "community rehabilitation" was being delivered in libraries & train station cafes by freelance "advisors" who were paid in cash after downloading their contact details via a laptop into a CAB mobile server mounted in the boot of a white Volvo V70.