Thursday, 15 February 2018

Women and Recall

Following on from our recent discussion about the failure of TTG and Post Sentence Supervision, here's an interesting blog post from the Prison Reform Trust highlighting how the situation for women is far worse:- 

Why Are More Women Being Returned To Prison Than Ever Before?

Last week’s findings from the HM Inspectorate of Probation reveal that private probation companies are failing to provide sufficient supervision and support to people released from prison. This is the latest in a long line of critical reports since the overhaul of probation in 2014.

Often it is the prison system that is left to pick up the pieces. In November 2016, the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) reported that more women than ever before in England and Wales were being recalled to prison following their release. Since that time, the number of women recalled to prison has continued to rise, and is now more than double the number it was before these reforms were introduced.

Over the same period there has also been a 17% increase in recall for men. Most return to prison for a matter of days causing significant disruption to their resettlement plans and to the prisons themselves. Why has the use of recall for women continued to increase when they are far less likely to commit serious offences, and why is the trend not slowing down as it did for men?

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) publish very little gender disaggregated data on recall, however, figures released to PRT under the Freedom of Information Act, following a judgement by the Information Commissioner, provide a clearer picture of current practice. This reveals that the rise in the women’s recall population has progressed through two discreet phases.

Phase 1

The initial spike in the number of women (and men) recalled to prison is almost certainly linked to the expansion of post-release supervision. The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 (ORA) extended mandatory supervision to all prisoners serving 12 months or less with the possibility of recall to custody if they breach the conditions of their release. As women generally commit non-violent and acquisitive crimes, they are more likely to serve sentences of this duration than men, and so have been disproportionately affected by the introduction of mandatory supervision.

Before these changes were introduced on 1 February 2015, no women serving 12 months or less were recalled to prison. Fast-forward one year and the majority of women recalled to prison were short sentence prisoners under the supervision of the newly created Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).

In this sense, the first phase of the recall story must be understood as the intended consequence of government policy. PRT, along with many other voluntary sector organisations, raised serious concerns before these changes were introduced, that if the new supervision regime was not implemented with care it would drive up the use of recall for the lowest risk individuals.

This is precisely what has happened, and raises serious questions about whether the Ministry of Justice is failing in its legal duty to ensure that the supervision and rehabilitation of offenders takes into account the distinct needs of women.

Phase 2

More concerning still, the number of women recalled to prison has continued to increase despite a levelling out of the CRCs’ caseload. This can be attributed to changes in recall practice, particularly amongst CRCs who, over time, appear to have become more risk averse.

Since July 2016, the number of women subject to post-release supervision has stabilised at around 4,000 cases per quarter. However, since that time the number of women recalled to prison has increased steadily from 336 to 420 cases per quarter.

Analysis of recall reasons can be extremely difficult but MOJ figures indicate that most women are recalled for administrative reasons. ‘Failure to keep in touch’ is by far the most common reason cited in recall cases, followed by ‘poor behaviour - non-compliance’. In less than a fifth of cases women were recalled for a ‘further charge’, raising fundamental questions about the circumstances in which the deprivation of liberty can be justified for administrative non-compliance.

More work is needed to understand the trigger points for recall from post-release supervision and PRT will shortly embark upon a new research project to better understand the circumstances in which women have been recalled to custody.

Suffice it to say here that the growth in post release supervision appears to be a classic case of net widening, where administrative changes result in many more people being kept under the control of the criminal justice system. A measure justified on rehabilitative grounds is now reinforcing the revolving door of prison, breach and recall back into custody and this has contributed to recent increases in the women’s prison population and prison population forecasts up to 2022.

There are however grounds for optimism. Our analysis indicates that the recent increases in recall are almost certainly the result of changes in practice and parity between men and women could be restored without further legislation.

National figures can obscure significant local variations in recall practice. Since the ORA came into effect, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire & Rutland CRC (DLNR) have reported an overall recall rate of 10% and Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC a recall rate of 9%. In contrast, large CRCs such as Wales and Staffordshire & West Midlands have recall rates in the region of 5% of their post-custody caseloads. There is no reason why similar rates could not be mirrored nationally.

It is apparent that current guidance on the use of recall is inadequate, particularly in relation to women released from short prison sentences. The thematic report by HM Inspectorate of Probation demonstrates yet again that there is still not adequate provision for women and this is often exacerbated by significant workload pressures, the complexity of cases and organisational upheaval which are undermining opportunities for rehabilitation.

The government should urgently look at differences in current local practice and encourage greater emphasis upon community interventions to stem the growing numbers of people ending up back behind bars. Until they do, the revolving door looks set to keep spinning.

Dr Thomas Guiney
Senior Programme Officer, Prison Reform Trust


  1. From Howard League report 2016

    Women’s centres, which provide a range of vital services to help guide women away from crime, are at risk of becoming “a thing of the past” unless immediate action is taken to secure their future, an influential panel of MPs and peers warns today (Tuesday 8 November).
    The All Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System (APPG) has found that the centres have been successful in reducing reoffending, but they are now under threat following the break-up of the probation service under the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme.
    The APPG has called on the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to take responsibility for women’s services away from private ‘community rehabilitation companies’ (CRCs), which were set up as part of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms.
    MPs and peers have found that women’s centres are struggling to get funding, while many of the new services for women provided by the CRCs are “a watered-down version of what went before”.

  2. The long-term solution is to abolish mandatory supervision for short-term prisoners. We know supervision is cursory, that there is little on offer in addition to the notorious £46, so it's no wonder there is disengagement. But while the state offers little by way of rehabilitation, it's quick to get probation to do the dirty work and punish those who do not engage with a hollow service. The fact that there is a postcode lottery element evident in disparate recall figures, makes the whole process arbitrary and even more worrying.

    1. Annon @10:53

      I couldn't agree more.
      If supervision for some boils down to a phone call every 6weeks, you have to question the merits of being on supervision at all, and consider how much that phone call every 6weeks is really costing the taxpayer.
      Maybe if those that don't really need supervision and those who will receive no benefit from being on supervision we're weeded out, then the resources that would be saved could be redeployed deducing redundancies and freeing up staff to spend more time and resource on those that actually need it.


  3. Scotland have, I think, abolished prison sentences of under 3 months. Not rocket science, could be done in England and Wales, but does require a smidge of political courage.

  4. Yes, Darren McGarvey (Scots) talked about this at the NAPO event at the Welsh Assembly last week. Probation integral to Social Services, Social Work training and values, and Government legislating away from short term custody in favour of community rehabilitation. I was thinking of moving to Scotland, then I thought I might just sit tight in Wales, where this sort of thinking seems to be catching on.

  5. Pre-TR, my Probation Trust had a fantastic relationship with a really excellent local womens organisation. It's reach wasn't as wide as the Trust's area. The Trust commissioned the organisation to do the work with ALL women offenders in the patch. It was great: the work was gender-specific, and at arms-length of the state. Then the whole competitive tendering for huge geographical patches came in, then TR, and all that progress, and healing, and rehabilitation, was dust.

  6. The new Justice Minister would do well not to try and fob the ex-copper off methinks:-

    Response by Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, to the Secretary of State’s letter responding to the issuing of the first Urgent Notification after the inspection of HMP Nottingham

    On 17 January 2018, Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, issued the first Urgent Notification letter under a new protocol which requires the Secretary of State for Justice to take public responsibility for improvements in a jail found to have serious and significant problems. Mr Clarke wrote to David Gauke demanding intervention to save lives and protect fearful prisoners in the “fundamentally unsafe” HMP Nottingham. The protocol gave the Secretary of State 28 days to respond.

    Inspectors who visited HMP Nottingham in January 2018 assessed safety as ‘poor’, the lowest HMI Prisons (HMIP) grading. This was the third consecutive inspection finding of poor safety. Between the 2016 and 2018 inspections, levels of self-harm had risen ‘very significantly’ and eight prisoners were believed to have taken their own lives (with some cases still subject to a coroner’s inquest). There was a further suspected self-inflicted death last week. Over two-thirds of men told HMIP they had felt unsafe in the prison at some time, and more than a third felt unsafe at the time of the 2018 inspection. There were high levels of drugs, violence and assaults and use of force by staff. The Urgent Notification letter, with an accompanying copy of the briefing to the prison governor, can be read here. (377.82 kB)

    On 13 February 2018, Mr Gauke wrote to Mr Clarke in response to the Urgent Notification letter. Mr Gauke’s letter has been published today (14 February) by the Ministry of Justice. An action plan has been published with the Secretary of State’s letter. The letter and action plan can be read here.

    HMIP will test the effectiveness of the measures outlined by Mr Gauke in a further inspection visit to HMP Nottingham. The date cannot be given at this stage. The vast majority of inspections are unannounced, though the 2016 and 2018 visits to Nottingham, when safety was assessed as poor for the second and third times, were announced.

    Mr Clarke said: ‘We welcome the Secretary of State’s response to the HMP Nottingham Urgent Notification. However, we see many action plans and we do not always find that they are delivered in practice. Given the scale of problems at HMP Nottingham, to achieve genuine improvements in safety and conditions will require vigorous, focused, regular and transparent monitoring of the progress of work by HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to deliver the action plan.’

  7. This is clear evidence that women are getting recalled for ridiculous reasons that have nothing to do with increased risk or committing further offences. When I raised the issue that women were being recalled for spurious reasons I was loudly shouted down by people stating that such things would never happen. Eat your words people cos the evidence is now in that this is exactly what is happening.

    1. Given the massive gender imbalance in probation, it's likely that in most cases a woman is being recalled by a woman. There is evidence suggesting women are more risk averse than men, so if the probation workforce was gender balanced, recalls may fall.

  8. More PR puff from the MoJ spin doctors today:-

    Government on track to hit target of 2,500 new prison officers ahead of schedule

    Almost 2,000 prison officers have been recruited since the launch of a campaign to bring in 2,500 additional officers by the end of this year, new figures released by Justice Secretary David Gauke have revealed today (15 February 2018).

    And a further 1,582 new recruitsghave been offered roles and are booked onto Prison Officer Training (POELT) courses, meaning the Government is on target to recruit the 2,500 officers nine months ahead of schedule.

    Figures released today show there was a net increase of 1,970 officers from October 2016 to December last year, up from 17,955 to 19,925. The boost in staffing numbers will help deliver our new Offender Management in Custody model which will provide prisoners with a keyworker to support them in custody.

    The recruitment efforts form part of a wider drive to ensure that all prisons are fully staffed so that they can deliver safe and decent regimes. Prison officer recruitment will continue over the coming months and new recruits, alongside existing staff, are being given improved Suicide and Self Harm (SASH) prevention training, with 14,300 staff members having now received it.

    Justice Secretary David Gauke said:

    "I want to commend our hard-working prison officers who do a vital job in protecting the public every day, often in very challenging, difficult and dangerous circumstances. These figures show we are on target to recruit 2,500 additional prison officers. I am determined to tackle the issues in our prisons head on and I am committed to getting the basics right so we can focus on making them safe and decent places to support rehabilitation. Staffing is the golden thread that links the solutions we need to put in place to drive improvement, so I am delighted our recruitment efforts are working."

    Today’s announcement shows that the government’s nationwide drive to recruit the best talent from around the country into the prison service – regardless of age or background – is working.

    Governors are being given greater flexibility over their local recruitment and encouraged to engage with new schemes and initiatives to attract the best and most committed talent.

    By having more staff on the ground, staff will be better supported to do the job they came into the prison service to do, and spend more time reforming offenders.

    1. and the percentage of them that will actually stay in the job is miniscule

  9. Payment by results. Jeff Fairburn, Persimmon boss, received £110 million pound bonus. Results fuelled by government's help to buy scheme which triggered a boom in house building and share prices of major players. You pay, they profit, time and time again.

    1. From City AM website:-

      Jeff Fairburn, the chief executive of housebuilder Persimmon, has said he will use his controversial £100m bonus to set up a charitable trust.

      Debate over Fairburn's bonus led to resignations by two of the company's board members last year, with chairman Nicholas Wrigley and Jonathan Davie, the head of its remuneration committee, stepping down after investors complained about its long-term incentive plan (LTIP), agreed five years ago.

      In December City A.M. reported bosses at the company were in line to collect £126m in bonuses, after its share price doubled in the 18 months after the Brexit vote. In January, Persimmon posted bumper annual revenues of £3.42bn.

      In a statement this morning, Fairburn said: “I recognise and profoundly regret that Persimmon’s strong performance over the last few years is being eclipsed by the controversy surrounding the 2012 LTIP award.

      “Persimmon’s success as a business and the uncapped nature of the scheme has meant that the value of these awards has become very large.

      "The introduction of the scheme pre-dates my appointment as chief executive and I would like to make it clear that I did not seek these levels of award nor do I consider it right to keep them entirely for myself.

      "Once it became apparent that our outperformance would lead to a very significant award for me, I made plans to use a substantial proportion of the total to support the charities that are particularly important to me and my family.

      "But, in what might be considered to be an old-fashioned approach, I believed that this was a personal matter and that I would be able to do this privately. It’s now clear that this belief was misplaced and so I am making my plans public and recognise that I should have done so sooner.

      “I am setting up a private charitable trust which I plan to use to benefit wider society over a sustained period of time by supporting, in a very meaningful way, my chosen charities."

  10. "The government should urgently look at differences in current local practice and encourage greater emphasis upon community interventions to stem the growing numbers of people ending up back behind bars."

    Which is yet another irrefutable argument for consistent practice, the key to the argument for a unified single service & NOT 21 crc's sending HMGovt monthly invoices with spreadsheets as proof that enough targets have been met; NOT sending £m's of taxpayer money into the pockets of, say, Fairburn, Green, Spurr etc.