Tuesday, 25 July 2017


Today we have a couple of musings to reflect on; where we are and what could happen next. The first from Frances Crook of the Howard League:-  

Might it be time to hold ministers to account?

Most businesses and charities assess how effective they are being at delivering their objectives and they hold individuals to account. If staff do not deliver or do work that damages the business they are dismissed. Indeed, in public service, people can be held accountable many years after they have left – look at Hillsborough.

Ministers, however, often get away with it.

Too many ministers are dumped on a department with no expertise or experience in the issue. They are desperate to make a mark to further their career. Some more than others, admittedly. The ones in a hurry push policies through against advice and they can do huge damage to the life of the nation.

Take the Ministry of Justice. There have been five secretaries of state in the last seven years. Some have done lasting damage. One in particular forced through an upheaval to the probation service that is now failing on a scandalous scale. There was no evidence that the restructuring would improve public safety, indeed all experts and staff issued dire warnings that splitting probation would put the public at risk. The reports on the last years of the unified public probation service showed it doing well. HM Inspector of Probation said a couple of weeks ago that the private companies were universally failing so badly that it would make no difference if they weren’t there.

At the same time, this minister was closing prisons, cutting the number of prison officers and doing nothing to reduce the number of people in prison. This meant that more prisoners were crammed into fewer prisons with not enough staff. The consequences are a deteriorating prison system where someone takes their own life every three days, violent assaults are an everyday occurrence, drugs are rife and crime is spilling from prisons into communities.

Despite all this, the secretary of state in question has simply moved on to another department.

Might it be time to hold ministers to account? We could put in place a system for assessing the success or failure of their initiatives. If they cost a lot and hurt people, they would at least have to apologise. That might concentrate the minds of the rest of them. I don’t want to stifle innovation, but I do want to stop vanity projects that damage the fabric of the nation being foisted on us all.

Frances Crook


And here is Ian Lawrence writing several weeks ago on the Napo Website:-

Through the Gate but to where?

The report by HM Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey could not have made it any clearer. The much vaunted Through the Gate service (TTG) that Chris Grayling boasted would revolutionise the world of rehabilitation has been an abject failure.

Of 98 cases observed by inspectors only two prisoners were found accommodation via these services. Save for a few pockets of good practice, and from the feedback reaching us from some rightly exasperated Napo members working within Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) who have doubtless been doing their best to deliver the good intentions of the programme, probation providers are now facing the prospect of some serious directives from HMPPS to start delivering to an agreed standard.

Napo has moved swiftly in the wake of the HMI Probation report (https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/cjji/wpcontent/uploads/sites/2/2016/09/Through-the-Gate.pdf) to alert Parliamentarians to the fact that TTG resettlement services were introduced in 2015 to supposedly bridge the gap between prison and community, but that since then the services offered by CRCs across the whole probation landscape are making little tangible difference to the prospects of prisoners due for release.

As is now refreshingly the case since Dame Glenys Stacey took on responsibility for the inspectorate, the TTG report gets straight to the nub of the problem. It exposes the fact that the strategic priority of CRCs has been about ticking the boxes marked: contractual requirement, instead of sufficiently investing in what is needed to help clients step on to the road marked: recovery.

In a hugely damning indictment, the inspectorate found that prisoners upon release were no better served than eight months ago and worse still, that if Through the Gate services were removed tomorrow the impact would be negligible.

Staff are not to blame

Just after the publication of the report an Early Day Motion (EDM) was laid down by Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville, who is also the Chair of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group. This followed three highly critical reports from HMI Probation in the context of growing concerns that CRCs are not achieving the desired results expected under the Transforming Rehabilitation programme (TR).

There is a whole separate debate to be had regarding whose fault that actually is; but the ongoing wrangles between CRC owners and the MoJ over future funding arrangements speak volumes, especially in the context of what Napo has had to say about mis-sold contracts based on unreliable and hugely outdated statistics.

Despite the findings of the TTG report, the EDM does not criticise probation providers individually but calls for a review as to how TR has impacted on the delivery of services. In particular it reflects how Through the Gate has attracted widespread criticism and it also recognises that the whole TR programme has been badly implemented and has left both CRCs and the National Probation Service in an impossible position, which directly impacts on staff and clients.

What next?

Prior to the calling of the General Election, Napo had made promising headway through the Justice Select Committee for the whole TR programme to be reviewed, and there were reasonable grounds to suggest that it was likely that this would have happened.

Napo has been highly critical of the operational shortcomings of the TR programme and for that I make no apologies. Nevertheless, I have had a number of opportunities such as a recent seminar organised by the Public Policy Exchange where I have made it clear that politicians and senior management need to listen more carefully to what the experts (that’s our members) are saying about the post-TR world and how improvements to what is currently going on could still be achieved with the right level of investment and changes to the governance structure which would see failing CRCs revert back to a form of public ownership.

Make no mistake, Napo never had a problem with the concept of Through the Gate, but like many facets of TR, it was the failure to even pilot the programme or to even analyse the potential cost benefits which have led to the taxpayer unwittingly bankrolling a spectacular failure.

The evidence from the government’s own inspectors suggests that politicians need to have a serious rethink before wildly embarking on a prison-centric rehabilitation agenda that will leave massive gaps in community provision.

Through the Gate is as clear a sign as any that grandiose social experiments have a huge price for the public as well as those that they are meant to assist.

Ian Lawrence


  1. Frances Crook is right. Everyone else is held to account for failure, why aren't ministers? Indeed, that's actually where the buck should stop.
    Grayling was put in charge of the Justice system with a record of creating chaos whilst employment minister. After creating the total destruction of the CJS, not just prison and Probation, but courts, legal aid, judicial review, employment tribunals, and many many other areas, he's moved on to Transport. Predictably, he's causing chaos there. Dodgy deals, requesting to address Parliament at 10pm on HS2, and again in the news today with the whole of the North of England disgusted and outraged with his decision to cancel electrification of railways, but plough ahead with with his HS2 vanity projects for London.
    He has the most appauling record and the most skewed moral compass of any minister to ever sit in office. And I've deliberately not mentioned his expenses.
    But that said, the disastrous changes he inflicted on the Justice system were voted in by the rest of the Tories, and some collective responsibility should be shouldered by them all.
    I am continually amazed and outraged that government are not being held to account for what I believe is fastly becoming a humanatian crisis in our prisons. HMP Hewell and Aylesbury have hit the headlines this week, but the MoJ are getting very good at suppressing news. Askham Grange, a woman's open prison also saw a major disturbance last week.
    Today HMP Bristol, and Holme House are headlined with staff poisoned by spice and dozens having to go off sick or hospital. That 5 1/2k of drugs were found in one place within the prison is almost anecdotal.
    Probation has also been destroyed, and I think it may be helpful to revisit Hansard and remind everyone of the retrofit that was being peddled at the time, and compare it with the actuality is of the current state of the service.
    "it's not good enough to release prisoners with only £46 in their pocket" they argued, but that's really all you do get now, except your liability for court costs which puts you further in debt then your £46 starting point.
    No mentors? No housing? No assistance with addiction services because they don't want to touch you if your on licence, and a merry go round of useless appointments so everyone can skim a few quid off whatever particular pot they happen to be feeding from.
    And salt in the wounds! The same private company that's managing your supervision and resettlement needs, are dealing with your benefit claim with a totally different remit and focus to what's wanted from the other side of the company.
    It's all f***ed, and the architects need to be made more accountable, and Grayling should be the first in the dock!


  2. http://m.huffpost.com/uk/entry/uk_597611ade4b09e5f6cd0e632

    1. Ministry Of Justice Denies Conflict Of Interest Over Prisons Contract

      A company which has a former government adviser on its board won a £900,000 contract from the Ministry of Justice last year.

      Unilink, which lists ex-Barnardo’s chief executive and former Prison Service director general Sir Martin Narey as one of its non-executive members, was paid by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) to pilot ‘in-cell technology’ at 20 prisons across the country.

      Narey was also on the board of the Ministry of Justice at the time - a position which he later resigned.

      Unilink, which provides software for prisons and secure establishments, was also paid £500,000 in the 2015/16 for its services in the 2015/15 financial year, according to the annual NOMS report.

      A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Following an open and transparent tender, Unilink was awarded a contract to pilot in-cell technology at 20 prisons across the public sector.

      “All contract awards follow strict civil service procurement guidelines and are thoroughly scrutinised to ensure there is no conflict of interest during the procurement process.”

      Narey, a former adviser to Michael Gove, was appointed as an MoJ board member in August 2015, but resigned his position earlier than expected in June this year.

      He was the prison service boss between 1998 and 2003, during which time he was credited with “invoking moral principles rather than security concerns when articulating the service’s priorities”, before becoming the first ever chief executive of the NOMS itself.

      He was named in the 2013 New Year’s Honours list for “services to vulnerable people”.

  3. It's only a question of time before a prison officer is killed. What will be the governments response?
    Lessons learned, more to do, difficult times and we take these instances very seriously.