Sunday, 17 September 2017

Rethink or Reboot?

Here we are in mid September and the political calendar dictates that it's party-political posturing time and we can shortly expect to be both entertained and possibly enlightened as to what our government have up their sleeves for us over the coming months. 

Of particular interest to us on here is what the hell the new Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister intends to do about the crisis in our criminal justice system and especially the prison and probation parts of it. Having said that, of course we are well-versed in knowing that the probation part will invariably be ignored for as long as possible. 

And so it comes to pass that last week the Tory thinktank Centre for Justice Policy published a report into CJS matters entitled What happened to the rehabilitation revolution? It's something we've been examining for some time and it should come as no surprise that this tory-inspired document spends a great deal of time on the prison part of the problem, but pretty much ignores the probation bit as too difficult without naming and shaming Chris Grayling as the undisputed architect of the present crisis. 

However worthy much of the report may be in both highlighting and suggesting ways forward in trying to sort the politically-motivated prison mess out, the tories just can't get their head around the fact that none of the grand plans can work because they fucked up the probation service and this aspect of things must be sorted asap, or the whole pack of cards will have no chance of standing up.

I've not bothered spending any time on the merits or otherwise of the report's suggestions for essentially trying to shrink the prison population because I'm too annoyed by the dismissive treatment of probation, which of course will serve as a strong hint of what's to come at the Tory Party conference in a few days. Chapter one sets the scene:-        

The recent history of disappointing progress

The Rehabilitation Revolution has been championed in one form or another by at least two former Home Secretaries, five past Secretaries of States for Justice and a previous Prime Minister. Yet for all the ministerial support for the basic thesis of offender rehabilitation the reality of this so-called revolution has been a disappointment. 

For more than a decade, informed opinion has broadly agreed that the rehabilitation of offenders needs to be at the heart of an effective criminal justice system. Embedding rehabilitation across the criminal justice system can provide the basis on which the root causes of offending can be tackled, helping to reduce the volume and severity of offending and ultimately improving lives and enabling a reduction in the size of the prison population.

The paradox of this consensus is that successive governments have failed to live up to the bold policy statements which so many have promised in the area of rehabilitative criminal justice reform. 

There has been no shortage of fine words: from the Labour Government’s White Paper A Five Year Strategy for Protecting the Public and Reducing Reoffending introduced in 2006 by Home Secretary Charles Clarke; through a compendium of speeches advocating offender rehabilitation from successive Conservative Justice Secretaries Kenneth Clarke (2010–12); Chris Grayling (2012–15); Michael Gove (2015–16) and Liz Truss (2016–17), to the speech given by David Cameron in February 2016. That was the first speech from a Prime Minister on prison and rehabilitative reform for some 20 years and yet there has been depressingly little in the way of tangible progress. 

Both the national reoffending rate and the size of the prison population have remained stubbornly high. While it is true that in recent years the custodial population has remained stable at just under 86,000, in April 2006 it was 77,000, and given recent increases it now approaches 90,000. This 12 percent rise has been accompanied by year-on-year falls in recorded crime. 

The prison estate itself has been changing – though arguably neither fast enough nor necessarily for the best. Her Majesty’s 136 prisons have now fallen to 117: cutting costs, but at the risk of exacerbating overcrowding. 

The recently opened HMP Berwyn, near Wrexham in North Wales, will offer modern facilities for more than 2,100 prisoners when completed – but the location and larger size of the prison means prisoners will be more distant from their families. For many this will make them inaccessible to their families and prove detrimental to effective rehabilitation, as highlighted in Lord Farmer’s recent and important review. 

In the prisons dangerous episodes have been getting worse. The latest statistics show that in the past year all records were broken in English and Welsh prisons by 40,161 selfharming incidents, 120 suicides, 224 other deaths in custody and 26,022 assaults of which 6,844 were on staff – 650 of them serious. 

So why have successive governments failed so consistently? Why has an apparent consensus stalled? It is worth recalling David Cameron’s speech in 2016 on prison and criminal justice reform, with the major commitments made in that address having mostly already been trailed in the speeches of the then Justice Secretary Michael Gove and some of his predecessors: 

1. Making sure that prisons are places of positivity and reform designed to maximise the chances of people going straight when they come out. 
2. Addressing prisoners’ illiteracy, addiction and mental health problems. 
3. Revolutionising the prison education system. 
4. Measuring the performance of individual prisons. 
5. Giving prison governors new powers to set up therapeutic communities, drug free wings and abstinence-based treatment programmes that prisoners need. 
6. Delivering Problem Solving Courts in England and Wales. 
7. Helping prisoners to find work on release. 
8. Delivering lower re-offending rates. 

Many of these commitments are themselves born out of policy recommendations made by the Centre for Social Justice in such seminal reports as Locked Up Potential (2009), Green Paper on Criminal Justice and Addiction (2010), Meaningful Mentoring (2014) and Drugs in Prison (2015). 

Although some small steps towards this “Rehabilitation Revolution” agenda have been started, there has been little significant progress, and the most recent reports from both Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Prisons and Probation paint a depressing picture. 

Last year’s changes in senior ministerial appointments, most notably the departures from office of both David Cameron as Prime Minister and Michael Gove as Justice Secretary, may have slowed these developments – as might the weakened minority government of Theresa May following the June 2017 general election. 

The Prime Minister and Justice Secretary – aside from the omission of the Prison and Courts Reform Bill from the most recent Queen’s Speech – have given no indication that offender rehabilitation should be dropped from the agenda of criminal justice reform. David Lidington, appointed by the Prime Minister as the new Justice Secretary in June 2017, published an open letter reiterating a commitment to reform and rehabilitation: 
The work to make our prisons true places of reform and rehabilitation is already under way – and it will continue unabated. 
Indeed the Prime Minister’s own continued references to social reform and tackling burning injustices speak to a desire to see a more equitable criminal justice system which will require the delivery of effective rehabilitation. 

That said, the revolutionary zeal for rehabilitation seems to have been replaced by an understandable, though myopic and almost exclusionary, emphasis on prison safety – understandable given the increases in prison suicide and assaults. 

While the current prison safety challenge may have taken the focus of Ministers and civil servants away from the underlying drive towards fundamental reform, the need for a Rehabilitation Revolution is as pressing today as it ever has been. The revolution is at risk of stalling before it has really begun – and the government must do more than recommit to the consensus that exists and think boldly on making rehabilitation a reality. 

One of the deeper causes of this failure is the widespread erosion of morale across all areas of the criminal justice system. Prison officers, probation officers and those working in the new CRCs have been adversely affected by the pressures that their respective organisations face. 

The morale issue is also being experienced in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS), and the judiciary. The numbers of lay magistrates have plummeted; court closures are widespread; and recruitment to the lay magistracy has slowed almost to a halt, as their previous workload has been diverted to automatic fixed penalties. Both the full-time judiciary and the lay magistracy feel widely unappreciated by the government and by the community to whom they should be serving. 

So there are deep seated problems felt by both the sentenced and the sentencers. It is therefore timely to ask what has happened to the Rehabilitation Revolution and how might the role of sentencers evolve to aid rehabilitation, improve lives and boost public safety.


This extremely limp section is pretty much all the report has to say on the probation end of things. I guess the researchers either got bored or their political masters know it's too hot to handle right now:-

4.9 Only joint working between probation and sentencers will achieve the intended transformation and deliver effective supervision 

The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 split responsibility for supervising those on licence or on probation between the National Probation Service (“NPS”) (high and very high risk offenders) and Community Rehabilitation Companies (“CRCs”) (medium and low risk offenders). The split of responsibility is at best artificial, since the risk of harm is dynamic – it can and does fluctuate over time, depending on the changing circumstances of those under supervision. 

Since the 2014 Act came into force, morale within both NPS and the CRCs has plummeted. As we note in Section 4.5, recalls to custody have risen dramatically over time, with up to 55 percent being solely limited to ‘non-compliance’. 

The merger of the Prison Service and the Probation Service, in substitution for the discredited NOMS, provides the ideal opportunity to introduce the reforms we outline in this paper. 

Since CRCs took over the supervision of medium to low risk offenders in 2014 the results have, in the words of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, been reported as “mixed, significantly lower than that formerly seen in the Probation Trusts, and in some respects poor”. 

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, has grown increasingly critical of the CRC regime. Reporting in December 2016, on the largest of the 21 CRCs in England and Wales, the London Community Rehabilitation Company, which supervises over 28,000 offenders, the Chief Inspector of Probation said: 
Due to the poor performance of [this CRC] … services are now well below what people rightly expect, and the city is more at risk as a result. 
Among the serious faults identified in the report were a 20 percent shortage of staff, a heavy reliance on inexperienced agency recruits, an impossible overload of casework on individual officers (some of whom are overseeing 900 cases) and a failure to prioritise those offenders who posed most risk of harm to the public. 

In remarks to the All Party Parliamentary Penal Affairs Group on 28 February 2017, Dame Glenys Stacey made it clear that similar failings had been found in CRCs all over England and Wales. 

She highlighted the problem of CRCs being notified of offenders being released from prison only the day before they came out of the gate. This means many cases received little or no meaningful support. The most recent joint Prisons and Probation Inspectorate report in June 2017 on the provision of Through the Gate (TTG) services has declared that the work of CRCs “was not making any difference”, with Dame Glenys commenting:
The gap between the government’s aspirations and reality is so great. There is no real prospect that these services as they are will reduce reoffending. Instead there needs to be a renewed focus and effort. 
Financial problems, staff shortage and workload problems, staff inexperience and a widespread absence of mentoring seem to be endemic within the new CRC system – a position echoed in the TTG inspection. 

Reports of HM Inspectorate of Probation, while accepting that the performance of NPS had satisfactorily monitored the most dangerous offenders, pointed to similar shortcomings across the board in relation to the rehabilitative support NPS is required to offer. 

So widespread a failure of the regime of supervision, which NPS and the CRCs were designed to undertake, can only lead to increased reoffending – that means more crime, more victims and more suffering. 

We reiterate in this paper that partnership working, spearheaded by judicial leadership, as exemplified in the PSC approach, between sentencers and all arms of probation will deliver the transformation which the proposed legislation is intended to achieve; and will provide an effective blueprint for helping to enable the rehabilitation of those who are supervised on licence or on community sentences.

Recommendation: Changes to the probation landscape as part of Transforming Rehabilitation have only increased the need for effective supervision and for greater collaboration between sentencers and all arms of probation. The growth of the progressive monitoring of those under probation supervision through the PSC approach which we propose will incrementally bring this about.


  1. If the Titanic had have been build on the same design as the large scale Privatisation of Probation Services it would not have sank. It would still be hitting icebergs though and increasingly abandoned with no sight of land likely.

  2. I am highly experienced and qualified to do my job but under the privatised system it is impossible to actually do a good job! We are firefighting and effectively hobbled. It amazes me every working day that someone has permitted things to get this bad. The wholes system from start to finish is dysfunctional. I have no support anymore from either managers or adminiatrative. Everything has been stripped away. I have to interview people in a so called pod which is as private as our open plan working environment. I have no privacy, sensitive calls overheard by colleages. Conversations with offenders overheard by other offenders in the next 'pod'. So I don't ask those sensitive questions anymore because someone is listening in. I cannot manage risk to the public anymore. I have no bolt hole to go after a difficult intetview and othet colleages struggling in the same situation and looking more stressed by the day. Agency staff come and go and just hang on until they can move on and do the next hob somewhere elae or have a break from it all. Offrnders are shunted about here there and everywhere. Some have had five different officers in a year. Most of my colleages of old have left, retired or are off sick. Sorry to sound so depressing but it is apparent that this government do not want people doing thisvjob who are committed and experienced. They seem to prefer people who just mindlessly accept the situation, sit at their computer all day 'meeting targets' and meanwhile the offenders are left to re-offend in many cases. Time to get out I suppose as no change is sight.Good artice Jim , at least someone knows the sorry truth and is prepared to speak out.

  3. PSC? Have I missed something? Or maybe I will have to read the whole damn thing, rather than what Jim has usefully extracted.

    1. Problem Solving Courts - one of the supposed new ideas being proposed.

  4. CJS including Probation in such a shambles now, it either tempts avoiding tackling it in any meaningful way or making radical changes. Taking Probation back to Trusts just isn't ever going to happen now, however much anyone (feasibly everyone) wishes it had never been tampered with in the first place.

  5. Time to get out. Am doing my CV right now. Hung on in through the split and have been shunted about to multiple office bases since then, plugging the gaps whenever staff leave or go off sick and explaining to bewildered service users why they haven't been seen for months. Then someone in their ivory tower complains that I have missed a target! Well I will be only too glad to tell you to stick your targets where the sun don't shine when I complete my exit statement! Arseholes!

  6. "The merger of the Prison Service and the Probation Service, in substitution for the discredited NOMS, provides the ideal opportunity to introduce the reforms we outline in this paper."

    Utter, utter bollocks & an outright lie. HMPPS is simply an expensive makeover, a cosmetic rebrand of NOMS - same staff, same leadership, same old shite.

    1. Evidence required? Okay...

      ... Justice Committee 12th Report, 2009:

      "4 National Offender Management Service

      The creation of NOMS

      169. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) was set up in 2004 in response to criticisms by Lord Carter of Coles of ineffective policy-making at the Home Office. Briefly, its aim was to ensure "end-to-end" offender management throughout the criminal justice system by bringing the Prison and Probation Services into one organisational structure. Its annual budget is £4.5 million."

      Why isn't NAPO all over this institutional bullshit? Why aren't they disassembling the barefaced lies of government and/or it's agents?

  7. So they want prison officers to do more of a PO role, swell the reach of the courts they've tried so hard to deplete and deplete, taking away our power to instigate recall and eroding the meaningful enforcement of licenses.

    As for the IPP's, as problematic as they've been, there are some very good reasons many of those people are still inside.

    1. Read it & weep!

  8. A bit of scraping around soon reveals the extent of corruption and dodgy dealing going on within the CRC's. For example Aurelius, a large German company that makes money from 'buying troubled companies, turning them around and selling them.on again' bought Working Links, who run 3 of the CRC's in South West and Wales. Presumably they will sell Working Links on again once they can get a good price, along with the CRC's. Basically making money from stocks and shares! So what ia the future of the CRC's? Being bought and sold to make money for bankers and shareholders! We can see where there priorities are. It is corrupt, dangerous and yes Mr Wiseman, it is 'disturbing' ..but what could we expect..that is what they do! The most 'disturbing' part for me is that the government allowed this and that the CRC directors are happy to tow the company line and complicit with this corruption.

    1. I'm given to understand that Aurelius take a significant chunk of everything Wonky Links receives from the government.

  9. From 2004/5 review:

    "100. NOMS was formally established on 1 June 2004. Its Chief Executive, Mr Martin Narey, has set out his five-year strategy. 81 He intends that NOMS will, over this period—
    i. Reduce re-offending and crime and provide genuine end-to-end management of offenders, whether in custody or the community, appropriately balancing the need for punishment and the protection of the public with helping offenders to address the causes of their offending.
    ii. Work with partners in other agencies, and service providers in the public, private and voluntary sectors, and offer sentencers and offenders a coherent and comprehensive range of support and interventions designed to reduce re- offending.
    iii. Engage with sentencers locally and nationally, and provide them with professional, appropriate and timely advice both in individual cases, and on the impact and outcomes of their collective sentencing decisions.
    101. It was originally intended that NOMS would have a regional structure. Ten Regional Management Boards (coterminous with the nine English regions and Wales) would have responsibility for commissioning, offender management and employing the staff involved in offender management. Each Board would be chaired by a Regional Offender Managers (line managed by the National Offender Manager), and would have responsibility for (i) specifying, procuring and commissioning the delivery of interventions (including custody places, accredited programmes and other interventions) from a range of providers, (ii) undertaking risk assessments, (iii) working with the courts and (iv) managing the offender throughout his or her whole sentence. The Regional Offender Managers would have responsibility to establish firm links with other structures, including local authorities, community and neighbourhood networks.82
    102. On 7 May 2004, Mr Narey sent a consultation letter to stakeholders focusing on the proposed new structure for NOMS. The responses to this consultation revealed widespread resentment at the speed of the changes and perceived inadequacies of the consultation process, uncertainty as to how the changes will affect the organisation of prison and probation staff, anxiety as to the possibility of redundancies, and concern over the failure hitherto to publish a detailed business case for the creation of NOMS.
    103. The National Association of Probation Officers (Napo), the trade union and professional association for family court and probation staff, has argued to us that the case for NOMS as the most appropriate vehicle to achieve the Government’s strategic objectives has still not been made out. Napo has criticised the Government for the speed with which the decision to introduce NOMS was taken, without prior consultation."

    1. Link to relevant Home Affairs document: