Wednesday, 2 August 2017

MoJ Under Siege

Well those MoJ spin doctors certainly had their work cut out today. Wall-to-wall negative coverage of a department fast becoming 'unfit for purpose' and still no minister in sight.

Following on from serious prison disturbances at HMP The Mount and HMP Erlestoke, the day started in earnest with news of the Prison Governors Association putting the boot inas well as some assiduous behind-the-scenes work by Harry Fletcher, former Napo Assistant General Secretary, bearing some fruit and the media at last showing signs of joining some dots up about the link between SFOs and the TR omnishambles. This in the Guardian:-

Increase in serious crimes by offenders on probation, figures show

There has been an increase in serious crimes committed by offenders under supervision in the community since the controversial privatisation of the probation service, figures suggest. The number of offenders on probation charged with murder, manslaughter, rape and other serious violent or sexual crimes has risen by more than 25% since changes to the service in England and Wales.

Plaid Cymru, which obtained the figures, said the trend was “extremely worrying” and called for the government to renationalise the probation service. The party also found that offenders in many parts of England and Wales are reporting to the new private-sector community rehabilitation companies (CRC), which are responsible for supervising offenders judged to be of low or medium risk, via phone call rather than in person.

The government played down the figures, saying that since the reforms many more offenders are supervised in the community after leaving prison, which makes an accurate comparison of the before and after pictures impossible. It said reporting via phone was just one technique used by CRCs.

According to the figures, in 2012-13 – before privatisation – 409 serious further offence reviews were triggered. By 2016-17, the number of SFOs had increased to 517. The figures also show that between February 2015 and the end of 2016, 46 offenders were convicted of murder while subject to supervision by a CRC. This is likely to rise as a number of other cases are still going through the legal process.

Plaid Cymru’s justice spokesperson, the MP Liz Saville Roberts, said: “This is an extremely worrying rise in serious crime committed by people who are supposedly under supervision. These are offenders who, under the supervision of the probation service, committed murder, manslaughter, rape or another serious violent or sexual offence. That the number of instances of this kind has surged by 26% since the probation service was privatised is deeply worrying. The British government needs to admit it was wrong and commit to renationalising the probation service.”

The justice secretary, David Lidington, said last month that the privatised probation service had encountered “unforeseen challenges”.

Saville Roberts drew attention to leaked documents, first published by the Guardian in 2013, warning that there was a more than 80% risk that the proposals introduced by the then justice secretary, Chris Grayling, would lead to “an unacceptable drop in operational performance” triggering “delivery failures and reputational damage”.

She said: “It is astonishing that ministers are claiming the difficulties faced since privatisation were unforeseen when a leaked internal risk management document shows that they were warned.”

Harry Fletcher, a justice campaigner and former probation worker, said: “That the justice secretary claims that problems with the sell-off of the probation service were unforeseen is astonishing. The leaked risk assessment from 2013 was damning and warned about these problems but the British government ignored it.”

Under the changes to the service, the caseload was divided between the public sector National Probation Service – which took on higher-risk offenders – and 21 CRCs.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “In 2014, we reformed our approach to probation so that for the first time ever, all offenders given a custodial sentence receive probation support and supervision on release. It is therefore misleading to compare the number of Serious Further Offences prior to our reforms with subsequent figures, as the number of people on probation is now significantly higher than before. A thorough investigation is always carried out when someone commits a serious further offence to see whether anything could have been done differently.”


It should be noted that the best efforts by the MoJ spin doctors above have been thoroughly demolished here. Is it possible though that the senior staff are on holiday and the juniors are left running the show? "so that for the first time ever..."  No doubt those with long memories will recall we used to be called 'The Probation and After Care Service' .This seen on Facebook:-
"Surely the MoJ spokesperson contribution in this article is incorrect? It was John Major's Conservative Gov't that brought in the 1991 CJAct which removed probation support for short-term prisoners. As the then Xxxxxx ACPO responsible for throughcare, I implemented Xxxxxxx service level agreement with Xxxxxxxx to ensure that training and process was in place in order that our short-term prisoners received a service."
I understand Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary, was interviewed on LBC, but if his performance was anything like that on the Victoria Derbyshire tv programme, it's to be hoped the union can find a more able spokesperson in the not-too-distant future. Tune in at 49.26 and make your own mind up.


We'll round things off with this comment piece, again from the Guardian:-

Why are prisoners rioting? Serial ministerial incompetence

Our justice system is collapsing because key issues were never addressed by Chris Grayling and Michael Gove when they had the chance

Today is the second day of rioting at the Mount prison, and “disturbances” across the prison system in England and Wales are becoming increasingly frequent. Levels of violence and self-harm in our prisons are the highest they’ve been in decades. The president of the Prison Governors Association, Andrea Albutt, was right to express “grave concerns” and call for a stronger government response.

The basic reasons for the riots, violence and self-harm in prison are not complicated. There are 25% fewer operational staff, and the staff there are aren’t sufficiently skilled or experienced. Staff are hampered by poorly designed buildings. The dilapidated HMP Wandsworth is a prime example of a historically fascinating and eerily beautiful architecture – a perfect panopticon – but moving prisoners around its narrow corridors and steep stairways safely is far from easy. Overcrowding is acute across the estate – and contributes to a claustrophobic atmosphere. There’s little time for so-called “constructive activity” and inmates are trapped in their cells for ever-longer periods as governors try to reduce the chances of violence, but inevitably increase inmates’ frustration in doing so. Less is being done to rehabilitate prisoners in prison – and their chances are further undermined by the declining performance of probation services that were hastily outsourced by Chris Grayling, when justice secretary, in 2015.

The underlying reason for these obvious problems is an astounding level of political negligence and arrogance. Our problems today have been long in the making and must be seen through the stories of our rapidly changing cast of justice secretaries. We’ve had five of them since 2010 and they boast an average tenure of less than 18 months – barely enough time to understand the job, let alone do anything.

In 2010, Ken Clarke made it clear he supported the government’s goal of controlling public spending but he did give serious thought as to how this could be achieved sensibly. He realised tough choices were needed to reduce prison numbers, and former prime minister David Cameron and then-chancellor George Osborne promised to back him. Only they changed their minds and fired him in 2011 after the right of the party applied pressure and Clarke left himself politically exposed through a painfully misjudged interview.

Since then, every justice minister has felt obliged to pretend they could square the circle of cutting the Ministry of Justice’s budget by 25% over five years, while dealing with the same volume of prisoners. It might just have been possible, with careful attention to retaining the best prison staff, detailed work to improve the day-to-day management practices in prison, and work to pull in charitable funding and other sources of support for rehabilitation work. But then came Grayling. Proud of his outsourcing of employment services (despite its mixed results), he decided probation would work better if the private sector did it. And he ensured that his department focused almost exclusively on this programme rather than the mounting problems in prisons.

Then came Michael Gove. He was oddly heralded as a reformer, after setting up six “reform prisons” and saying lovely things about rehabilitation and the judges. But he ducked the need for more funds, agreeing to a 2015 budget settlement that promised more savings even as violence against staff doubled and suicides reached record highs. He also distracted the entire system when it should have been focused on the basics of recovering order in prisons – and when he must have known full well that he would be out of the job soon. As soon as he declared himself pro-leave before the EU referendum, he was a goner, destined to be promoted by Boris Johnson in the case of a leave victory, or sacked by Cameron in the case of a remain win. The fact he somehow managed to get fired after his side won is an alarming feat.

In 2016, the government finally promised it would recruit more officers. This was an achievement by Liz Truss, who replaced Gove, but a modest one. She, however, got the boot not because she was failing to manage the practicalities of the job but – reading between the lines – because she kept making enemies.

Cue 2017 and the arrival of David Lidington. So far, he has been virtually invisible, which is perhaps a reason for today’s salvo from the Prison Governors Association.

Who allowed this systematic irresponsibility? Civil servants could no doubt have been more robust in their advice. But the truth is that Grayling and Gove at least did not broach any challenge. Any senior officials that they felt were obstructing their plans or raising awkward questions were edged out. It’s tough to push back when your job is at stake.

No doubt some governors and prison officers could have done more to raise problems and find solutions – but most of them had crises to manage.

The only conclusion I can really draw is that the blame lies with the politicians. They cut prison budgets without having a good understanding of the likely impact, then carried on cutting long after those consequences were clear. They focused on pet projects rather than getting the basics right.

They were supported in doing so from the very top. Cameron and Osborne made the call that people didn’t much care about the condition of our prisons, and if budgets were to be cut this was a place to cut particularly deeply. They ignored signs that the system was creaking, and forgot that changing your justice secretary every 18 months is a sure-fire way to create problems. Most important, they forgot that there is no better symbol that government is out of control than riots within the facilities they are meant to run.

Tom Gash is an honorary senior lecturer at UCL’s Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science


  1. Whilst even cynical old me cannot find it in himself to laugh at the 'we told you so' of it all, I am glad that the debacle is at last getting the publicity it deserves. I have long since referred to TR as the slowest train crash in history and it is at last being seen for what it is. Whether those who engineered the farce are still anywhere near the debris is a moot point. The MoJ are finally being shown up for what they have become.

    1. No doubt Boris has already been briefed to go out and do or say something amazingly stupid tomorrow to turn to conversation back to Brexit just to ease the pressure on the MoJ.

  2. "Most important, they forgot that there is no better symbol that government is out of control than riots within the facilities they are meant to run".
    This says it all

    1. Bring the army in?

    2. A former prison governor says the government should consider calling in the Army to restore order in prisons. Speaking to BBC Newsnight, Ian Acheson admitted the suggestion was "radical" and "controversial" but said "the risks of doing nothing are simply too high". Mr Acheson said there was a danger a staff member could be murdered.

      Earlier, the president of the Prison Governors Association published a damning open letter on the state of prisons in England and Wales. There has been serious violence in prisons in Wiltshire and Hertfordshire in recent days - with riot-trained staff called into the latter earlier this week to restore order.

      "There is a systemic and widespread instability in prisons and unless it is tackled, I really do fear that we're going to see a member of staff killed on duty," Mr Acheson told BBC Newsnight.

      He said the justice secretary should consider an appeal to experienced staff who have recently left to return, creating a task force to "get back control" in the worst affected prisons. "If that isn't sufficient, I would suggest that you need extra resources sent into prisons simply to stabilise them short term, and you could consider, for example, using the Army for that. It's a very radical measure. It's a controversial measure and it does carry some risk. But the risks of doing nothing are simply too high, in my view, to not at least consider - exceptionally and for a short period of time - getting resources onto the landings to restore order and control."

      Mr Acheson, who last year led an independent review into Islamic extremism in prisons, lamented what he called the "normalisation of extreme violence". He said self-harm, suicide, and serious assaults - particularly against staff - are all rising and are at levels that would have been "completely inconceivable" in the past.

      Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures showed a rise in violence in prisons, with 26,643 assaults in the year to March 2017. Of these, a record 7,159 were attacks on staff - equivalent to 20 every day. The MoJ insists action had been taken to increase prison officer numbers, but Mr Acheson said this needs to accelerated and that current staffing levels mean staff are "harried, fearful and cannot function effectively".

      "There has to be some humility, frankly, from government to say, 'We made a catastrophic mistake here in reducing staff so far and so fast." He said staff "need help now - not in six months' time" and warned the "consequences would be unthinkable" of not providing this extra support.

      But the Director General of the National Offender Management Service and former Director General of HM Prison Service, Phil Wheatley, told Newsnight that sending in the Army would make things worse.
      "The prison's ability to handle disorder when it occurs and end that disorder without injury to either staff or prisoner is quite considerable," he said. "They're really skilled at doing it and they're succeeding in doing that. The army are not trained for that. To deploy them in that role would be folly."

  3. The politicians need to be held to account. Grayling has blood on his hands and I simply cannot believe he has been able to get away with this and allowed to now dismember the transport sector. He has a track record of this and why on earth is he allowed to get away with it. This is not a democracy we are living in but more a fascist regime dictated by capitalism where the rich get richer and the likes of you and me on the ground get sh*t on from a great height. Somewhere amongst all of this mess, are the needs of the most vulnerable in society who just need to be dealt a helping hand and not used as a bargaining tool for Grayling and his fat cat chums. I mean, how an earth have Allars and Spurr profited from all of this whilst we have not seen a pay rise in over 7 years when genuinely trying to ethically meet the needs face to face of those who need the help with no support from the top and trying to single handily with no resources whatsoever meet the needs of the offender. This in turn underpins our key role which is to protect the public. THIS IS BEYOND BELIEF AND I AM ASHAMED OF THIS COUNTRY. Fyodor Dostoyevsky who said: "The degree of civilisation in a society is revealed by entering its prisons." I think from the media alone, our current degree of civilisation has been answered. Nice one the Tory party. Brexit, NHS, social care, the list just goes on.

  4. N.I is part of the UK although devolved. I can't understand why this approach hasn't been adopted here by the MoJ as standard practice.


    1. More than 170 offenders convicted of crimes which normally attract jail terms of a year or less have chosen to serve their time outside prison.

      The enhanced combination order, which combines community service with strict supervision, was developed by the Probation Board. The aim is to deter those who end up in custody from reoffending.
      It has produced some positive results with a 40% reduction in the reoffending rate for those who complete the order. The orders cost around £6,000 - a tenth of what it costs to keep a prisoner in jail for a year.

      Martin Trimble recently completed one, instead of a short prison sentence, and said it had helped to turn his life around. "I was going to community service and once a week I had my appointments, my counselling, my probation officer," he said.
      "And yes, I was never able to belittle the crime, it was always there."

      All of the offenders on the order are required to undertake a mental health assessment. They are referred to the appropriate services if a professional decides that they require treatment. "I think when you get institutionalised your mental state deteriorates and you could do anything and you could make silly mistakes that you shouldn't have made," he said.

      "With the order, I think I had more of an opportunity to change my life in the future rather than maybe making the same mistakes," he said. "I don't know whether if I'd ended up in jail, I would have come out with remorse and regret and maybe learned from that mistake. I probably wouldn't have."

      There is a restorative justice element to the order as victims are asked whether they would like to be put in contact with the person who perpetrated the crime against them. Maddie O'Neill from Victim Support NI said victims can also suggest different types of community service. "Most people are saying that they want it to be something manual, that they want it to be something physical," she said.
      "But a lot of the time, it's not really for victims about what they do.

      "It's about their voices being heard. So getting the question asked and getting the chance to feed in and even being asked what would you like to see the person do, has a bit of a restorative effect for people."

      Nine out of ten people sent to prison in Northern Ireland are there for less than a year. Paul Doran, director of rehabilitation at the Probation Board, insists the order is no "soft-touch" approach, with offenders strictly monitored throughout their sentences. "Probation are keen to expand the scheme and, indeed, judges in the other court areas are very keen to have it," he said. "We will be talking to the Department of Justice in a problem-solving approach to crime, to try and identify resources to expand enhanced combination orders throughout Northern Ireland."

      The enhanced combination order pilot has recently been extended until March next year. The Probation Board's goal of expanding the order across Northern Ireland could depend on whether devolved government can be restored at Stormont.