Monday, 5 March 2018

Learning From New Zealand

Last week Frances Crook of the Howard League was writing in the Guardian and cited a change in policy towards imprisonment by New Zealand that would do well to be heeded nearer home:-  

Prison reform is long overdue. Let's invest in communities instead

The number of people sent to prison in England and Wales has more than doubled at a terrible cost to taxpayers and society

The proposal by New Zealand’s minister of justice, Andrew Little, to reject tough-on-crime politics has been hailed by some as the boldest political move since the death penalty was abolished there in 1961. It’s another country turning away from an excessive use of prison, with Little pointing out that 30 years of locking people up for longer has only led to incidences of violent crime increasing.

A change of approach is beginning to work in the US, where many states have admitted that their high use of incarceration is too expensive – in monetary and human terms – to continue. Between 2008 and 2016, 35 of the 50 states reduced their imprisonment rates and saw their crime numbers fall.

Closer to home, Scotland is planning to invest more in community sentence programmes and drastically reduce the use of custody. Justice secretary Michael Matheson plans to phase out most prison terms of less than 12 months, which he says does little to rehabilitate offenders or reduce the likelihood of reoffending. It’s a call supported by Scotland’s chief inspector of prisons and an enhancement of the commitment against imposing prison sentences of three months or less, that’s been in place since 2010.

But amid the changes afoot across the globe and north of the border, there’s no sign yet of similar movement in England and Wales.

The number of men, women and children in prison when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister was as low as 40,000. Today England and Wales has 84,235 prisoners, some of whom are locked in filthy, vermin-infested cells with nothing to do but watch daytime TV. Under the Ministry of Justice’s own standards, the prison estate should not hold more than 75,858 people. A recent analysis by The Observer found a staggering 68% of prisons are providing unsatisfactory standards in at least one respect, with two in five deemed to be unsafe.

The reoffending rate for prisoners has remained consistent, proving our high use of custody is feeding crime rather than reducing it.Sentence inflation is now out of control: our report (pdf) highlights the Ministry of Justice’s own figures, which show that “longer sentences and increased recall account for up to 85% of the increase in the prison population since 1993”. The shambles in the privatised community sentence sector has also meant the courts have no confidence in using them, resulting in a fall in non-custodial sentencing.

In 2015, Michael Gove provided a glimmer of hope when he was the minister of justice by outlining his vision of a tough but fair penal system, which gives offenders a second chance and turns them into productive members of society. David Cameron also said a “great transformation” of prisons would be one of the goals of his second term as prime minister. Neither had the time to do anything about it, and indeed Gove back-pedalled a year later, saying he could reform prisons without cutting prisoner numbers.

The subsequent three justice secretaries in 18 months have been limited to firefighting as prisons deteriorate. Two major issues that require urgent attention are the disastrous part-privatisation of probation and the detrimental impact of cuts to legal aid. As the Observer has reported, the vast majority of private probation companies set up to tackle reoffending have failed to meet their targets. And after cuts to legal aid for prisoners were introduced in December 2013, suicide, self-injury and violence rose to record high levels in prison and calls to our legal advice line soared by 62%. The cuts were successfully challenged in the courts by us and the Prisoners’ Advice Service, with legal aid reinstated last week for three key areas of prison law.

It doesn’t help that the shambles at the heart of government on Brexit is stymying progress on all issues. A major prison reform bill, for instance, was announced in the Queen’s Speech in May 2016 but was put on hold four months later and then dropped.

It’s disappointing the new team at the Ministry of Justice, headed since January 2018 by David Gauke, has so far indicated that it will concentrate on cleaning up jails and will not even consider system change. A coat of paint and bigger dustbins will not reduce reoffending or make prison safer. The country needs a brave, radical policy shift, similar to what is happening in New Zealand and Scotland.

Long prison sentences remove any hope of redemption. The prison system we have today blights lives, costs the taxpayers a fortune, fails staff, and creates even more victims. It is only by investing in the community that we’ll succeed in reducing crime.

Frances Crook is the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.


Here is that article from New Zealand:-

Andrew Little: 'Longer sentences, more prisoners - it doesn't work and it has to stop'

Minister of Justice Andrew Little has laid out a vision for criminal justice reform which sees sentencing law relaxed and a rejection of "tough on crime"-style politics. His comments during an interview with the NZ Herald have been likened by one leading academic as the boldest political move in criminal justice since former Minister of Justice Ralph Hanan, who saw the death penalty abolished in 1961.

Little said "so-called law-and-order" policies have been a 30-year failure and locking up more people with longer sentences hasn't made New Zealand safer. "New Zealand needs to completely change the way criminal justice works," he said. "It is a big challenge we are facing. It's not an issue that's been a short time in the making.

He said the rapid rise in prison numbers "follows 30 years of public policy-making, public discourse, that says we need tougher sentences, need more sentencing, need people serving longer sentences and I think, frankly, criminalising more behaviour.

"One of the major challenges is to turn around public attitudes - to say that what we have been doing for the last 30 years in criminal justice reform actually isn't working. Our violent criminal offending is going up."

The comments follow an open letter from 32 leading academics in criminal justice calling on the Government to reject the building of a mega prison in Waikato designed to hold up to 3000 inmates. Those academics today welcomed the comments and one leading researcher equated the import of Little's intent with the abolition of the death penalty by Minister of Justice Ralph Hanan in 1961.

The proposed upgrade of Waikeria Prison is due to be decided next months by Cabinet and poses a huge challenge when it came in promising to reduce prison numbers by 30 per cent in 15 years. The promised reduction comes at a time when the Department of Corrections is bursting at the seams with 10,695 prisoners and room only for another 300.

Little said: "We just had this rapid increase in the last few years that cannot be explained by anything other than penal policy that frankly has got out of control." He said he wanted a "national conversation" which sought out the best ideas but also led to a better informed nation that understood "tough-on-crime" policies were leaving a legacy of failure.

He planned to hold a criminal justice summit - similar to the "jobs summit" held by former Prime Minister Sir John Key - which would seek out a range of views and inform the public. He laid out a vision of a therapeutic approach to issues which drove criminal offending. "We know the majority of those in prisons have issues other than they are nasty people. They have health issues and other problems and if we actually spent a bit of time on those things we can stop their offending. That's where the attention has got to go."

He said other possible changes being considered were to the Parole Act 2002 and the Bail Amendment Act 2013 - considered two of the main drivers behind the prison population boom. Changes to bail laws rapidly inflated the prison population by locking more people up to await trial, while the parole changes 15 years ago kept people inside longer.

'Case for a change'

"We have to look at it and in my view, there is a case for change. The case was that by doing these things we will get more criminals off our streets and we will all feel safer, we will all be safer. If we thought by doing those things it was going to reduce criminal offending and make us all safer - actually, that's not happening." He described the changes - which were made at the time in response to public upset over specific incidents - as changes "no one will really notice and it might have an effect".

"Our big challenge is to draw to all New Zealanders attention what has actually been happening and to win a social licence to say we have to do things differently." Little said there would again be "isolated examples" which would prompt some to say "we need to revert back to the more draconian measures" which could have a political impact. That requires leadership to say no system is perfect. You just have to batten down the hatches and carry on."

Little said the Government faced three large issues - the question of Waikeria, criminal justice reform and the promised new 1800 police officers. He said there was a risk with more police they would "arrest more people which puts more pressure on prisons". He said the three issues needed to be consistent with reducing the prison population.
'Waste of money, waste of lives'

Dropping the numbers of prisoners would symbolise a criminal justice system that was "more humane and more effective" because it targeted the causes of criminal offending "for those for whom those causes can actually be fixed. What a waste of taxpayer money, what a waste of human lives, when we know many of those people with a bit of effort and a bit of help addressing those underlying problems could actually be helped."

Little also said he believed prisoners should again have the right to vote, although qualified the comment at this stage to those serving three years or less. ​"They are prisoners who at some point will come back into society and they will have as legitimate a right or stake in what the politicians of the day do, and they should not be deprived on that right."

Instead, it was time to stop treating prisoners as less than human, to give them a vote and a role in our society. And, in an extraordinary statement for a Minister of Justice, he said the imbalance of Maori in prison - 52 per cent of the 10,695 prison population - revealed systemic problems in the criminal justice system, "There is a built in systemic bias or prejudice and we've got to understand that. We've got to something about it."​

Little said regardless of the decision about the expansion of Waikeria Prison, the current facility needed replacing. He said the existing prison was "not humane" and incredibly old-fashioned. "Antediluvian," he said.

"The bits that are occupied by prisoners are, frankly, frightful. The whole environment is not one where you are going to feel, 'this is a time and a place where I can get to grips with myself and turn my life around'. He said the training room at Waikeria was "literally a concrete box. "It's not an environment where you can learn. There's nothing therapeutic about it at all."

'Greater humanity'

University of Canterbury criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert likened Little's rejection of "knee jerk" policymaking with National Party minister Hanan's success in ridding New Zealand of the death penalty and embarking on a programme of reform. The Labour Party had suspended the death penalty and National had pledged to reintroduce it but Hanan - as Minister of Justice - convinced his colleagues to abolish it.

Gilbert said Hanan then led an agenda that "put New Zealand at the forefront of attempts to curb crime" and a radical programme that showed "greater humanity". "The death penalty decision was important because it reflected the fact he wasn't scared to do what was right in the face of opposition."

Gilbert said Little would need to convince a "highly sceptical public" he was on the right track. "None of the solutions are easy but we're at a tipping point where a bold approach in necessary. After years of policy not based on best evidence but the loudest voices, it's time we took a more sober look."

University of Auckland's Professor of Indigenous Studies Tracey McIntosh said she was "heartened" by Little's comments. "We're seeing a very significant shift that could have some significant outcomes. I have always thought New Zealand could be a global leader in decarceration."

Victoria University criminologist Elizabeth Stanley welcomed the opportunity for a criminal justice summit. She said there had never been an opportunity for a proper conversation about penal reform. "We haven't sat down and worked these things out and to try and think of alternatives."


  1. BBC website 4 hours ago:-

    Staff without security clearance monitor offenders

    Staff without security clearance are being allowed to monitor high-risk offenders living in approved premises - commonly known as bail hostels or probation hostels - the BBC has learnt.

    Earlier this month, two private firms, Sodexo and OCS, began providing overnight staff cover at the hostels as part of a new government contract. The government has confirmed that some of these staff will not be vetted. The union Unison has accused ministers of "gambling with public safety".

    The Ministry of Justice has said any staff without security clearance would work alongside "fully-vetted" members of the National Probation Service. In a letter to union leaders, Justice Secretary David Gauke said there would be a "60-day grace period" to allow contractors to complete criminal record checks and get licences from the security industry authority.

    There are about 90 approved premises across England and Wales that provide 2,200 places for released prisoners - the majority of whom have served long sentences for violent or sexual offences. Offenders are sent to live in the hostels as a condition of their release from prison or if the court believes they need a higher level of supervision in order to protect the public and to reduce the level of reoffending.

    1. Shameful! So now its possible to have untrained and unvetted private security guards monitoring high risk offenders.
      Tell me, what are the chances that you will have a profession to moan about in the not too distant? After all PO's are extremely expensive when compared with staff from OCS or Inter-fail.

    2. It's been going on for years, well before TR.

    3. Revisionists'R'Us

      By Tom Whitehead, Home Affairs Editor
      7:00AM BST
      08 Jul 2009

      Rules governing night time cover for bail and probation hostels have been relaxed to allow one member of staff to be asleep, just five years after the practice was banned.

      The move means a private security guard or untrained probation officer can be on duty so long as a qualified probation officer is on the premises.

      The Conservatives warned the change will put the public at risk and claimed it was due to probation services being under increasing pressure to save money.

      Dominic Grieve, the shadow Justice Secretary, said: "This is yet another u-turn from Gordon Brown and one that will further dilute public protection. Labour's cuts to front-line services increase the risk to the public from sex offenders and dangerous criminals.

      "Ministers need to explain why officers employed to protect the public are being encouraged to sleep on the job."

      Sleeping cover was stopped in 2004 amid concerns that it did not meet national standards but has now been revived fresh guidance issued to probation officers.

      The relaxation is being introduced as local probation boards face cuts of £29 million, according to the Tories.

      But the Ministry of Justice denied it as due to budget cuts.

      A spokesman said: "It is not true that the rules on waking night cover have been changed because of budget cuts. In the last 10 years there has been a 70 per cent increase in probation funding and there are 7,000 more probation staff than in 1997.

      "There is no one size fits all approach to staffing in Approved Premises during the day or night.

      "Double waking night cover will remain the expected norm. Alternatives may be acceptable but only if they provide equivalent levels of public protection and staff safety.

      "For example, in certain Approved Premises where there is single waking night cover, one member of staff may rest but only after all offenders are securely back in the premises by 11pm. However, they remain available to deal with operational issues at all times, should the need arise."

      You've just got to love the brass neck of all politicians who seem to think that what happened yesterday is somehow no longer applicable today, and tomorrow is yet another chance to re-write today.

      "The Conservatives warned the change will put the public at risk"

      "Labour's cuts to front-line services increase the risk to the public from sex offenders and dangerous criminals."

      Lying wankers, the lot of 'em.

    4. Here's another one - Blunkett - from 2001:

      "We have a unique opportunity to revolutionise what is possible not only in preventing re -offending, but in ensuring rehabilitation. At the same time, we must continue to deliver the historic aim of public protection, appropriate punishment and the recent agenda of
      reparation. And the National Probation Service has a vital role to play.

      The recent configuration of probation – with the creation of the National Probation Service and new arrangements for its governance embedded in new legislation – is central to our crime reduction strategies.

      The Service must now be shown to provide a discernible reduction in re-offending with greater levels of public protection. The New Choreography is unequivocal about where improvements can be made.

      Communities and victims depend on probation staff to do their jobs well and I believe that the objectives within this new integrated strategy will produce a clearly led, national service with a growing professional capacity.

      The NPS must be capable not only of providing evidence of the outcome of its work, but must be able to mirror public concern about crime, risk, the protection of victims and the rehabilitation of offenders."

      It ought to be available on audio book read by Gary Oldman over the original Magic Roundabout music.

  2. So whilst they're constantly cutting corners at the front line, making professionals unemployed & gambling with peoples' lives - Spurr's remuneration as head of NOMS/HMPPS has risen from approx £145,000 in 2010/11 to approx £190,000 in 2016/17 - an increase of more than 30%.