Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Getting Round the Table

There's been an awful lot going on recently (don't forget Panorama tonight 7.30 BBC1)  and to be frank it's getting harder trying to keep tabs on everything. For example, the Probation Institute don't seem to have cropped up on our radar of late, but I have just noticed this from September on their website about those fascinating 'round table' discussions mentioned of late:-

Secretary of State Round Table Discussion on Prison Reform

The Probation Institute recently attended a round table discussion on prison reform with the Rt Hon David Lidington. We felt it worth sharing an account of the key points that were made to the Minister. Those also attending this session, one of a series, included CJ Alliance, CCJS, Maslaha, Unlocked Graduates, Transform Justice, Prison Reform Trust, Black Training and Enterprise, RSA, Howard League, Butler Trust and Barrow Cadbury Trust.

David Lidington acknowledged the crisis in the prisons in terms of numbers, violence, self-harm, mental ill health, substance misuse, low staff morale, constraints on constructive activity and lack of housing on release. He acknowledged some very innovative work in the prisons and felt that this was insufficiently recognised and celebrated. He expressed his commitment to tackling these serious challenges.

Key points made to the Minister included:

  • The importance of high quality and consistent training for the whole of the prison, probation and rehabilitation workforce including leadership 
  • The need for greater recognition of ongoing good work, such as the annual celebration of achievements through the Butler Trust Awards
  • Need for greater and more effective engagement with the needs of BAME prisoners who currently form 20% of the prison population and this disproportionate statistic is a central, critical issue not a peripheral matter. Governors need well researched pro-active community strategies to help them to reach out to organisations who can support BAME prisoners
  • Massive challenge of sentencing for both men and women; it is understood that sentence inflation has occurred in virtually all types of offence, making a major contribution to the present overcrowding. Recognition that no strategies can be effective until numbers are reduced
  • Proposals are being made by the Howard League to reduce extra days for adjudications, and recall
  • The Scottish new presumption against sentences under 12 months is of interest to all and will be reviewed; it seems no legislative change is achievable in England and Wales for the next 18 months however, due to Brexit. CCJS estimate that following the Scottish policy could reduce 20,000 receptions and 3000 prison places
  • The proposal to build five new women’s prisons was regretted by the group who felt that the funding should go to women’s centres for the 845 of women sentenced to non-violent offences 
  • Barrow Cadbury Trust regretted the long term structural changes made by MOJ in particular the increasing privatisation; it was explained that funding foundations have been moving away from concerns in the prisons in the last 5 years partly due to disappointment in the last 5 years partly due to the failure of sustainable funding to carry through the Corston recommendations and partly due to resistance to giving charitable funding to commercial organisations. Foundations have an interest in funding womens’ centres, work with 18 to 25 year olds and the anticipated recommendations of the Lammy Review 
  • The Black Training and Enterprise Group spoke about the particular vulnerability of black community organisations to the loss of funding following TR 
  • The Probation Institute drew attention to the impact of the reports of poor performance of CRCs by HMIP which, although essential reports at a time when retaining confidence in community interventions is absolutely essential. MOJ need to make clear statements as to how they will address the damaging impact of TR.
David Lidington described the meeting as the start of a regular dialogue and told the group he welcomes advice, suggestions, and invitations to look at projects. It’s hard to say if anything will result but the need and the urgency is understood.

Helen Schofield
September 2017

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