Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Reflections on the Serious Violence Strategy

Here we have Rob Allen's considered take on Monday's government response to the recent wave of violent criminal behaviour in London:-

Deja Vu : Can the serious violence strategy learn from the past?

Back in 2002, when I was member of the Youth Justice Board, then Chair Lord Warner opened one of our meetings by saying he expected we were all considering resigning. The Prime Minister had called for young offenders to be taken – it might have been swept-off the streets in order to tackle an upsurge in mobile phone robberies. Our advice hadn’t been sought and Tony Blair’s approach didn’t sit well with our efforts to reduce the use of custody for young people. Warner persuaded us not to resign - every crisis is an opportunity was the line I think. We were vindicated in part by the fact that the Street Crime Initiative - developed in a series of COBRA meetings normally reserved for national emergencies – turned out to include prevention and treatment measures alongside enforcement. But at the outset and at its heart, was tough on crime rather than on the causes. Even Lord Woolf, the normally liberal Chief Justice was moved to issue a draconian guideline judgement on street robbery in its wake. 

Perhaps my experience back then, accounts for an initially positive reaction on my part to Amber Rudd’s Serious Violence Strategy. Much of the analysis of the problem which has come into tragic focus in recent weeks is basically sound. The Home Office may be a graveyard of liberal thinking, but this Home Secretary agrees with academics that “big shifts in crime trends tend to be driven by factors outside of the police’s control – like drug trends and markets, changes in housing and vehicle security.” Her approach to serious violence “is not solely focused on law enforcement, very important as that is, but depends on partnerships across a number of sectors such as education, health, social services, housing, youth services, and victim services.” So far so good.

The strategy recognises that key areas for reducing violence include “socio-economic improvements, strengthening ties to family, school and non-violent norms.” And for young people, early interventions are effective in reducing violent behaviour and “punitive activity is less effective than preventative support”. In reducing re-offending for all ages “Interventions focused on the establishment of cognitive or character-based skills and/or non-violent norms seem to be more effective than punitive interventions.” The strategy confirms too that “changes in the level of stop and search have only minimal effects – at best – on trends in violent crime, even when measured at the local level”. All this seems sensible and consistent with evidence. Ms Rudd even plans to hold an International Violent Crime Symposium to hear from international experts (yes experts) if she’s on the right track.

Where the strategy stops short of course is in putting in place the measures needed to meet the problems it identifies.

Take drugs. The strategy points out that drugs can drive up serious violence “indirectly, either by fuelling robberies to service drug dependence, or through violent competition between drug sellers. Grievances in illicit drug markets cannot be settled through legal channels, so participants may settle them violently. This can lead to escalation as dealers seek to portray themselves as excessively violent, and carry weapons, so as not to be cheated in the market.” Is there the slightest hint of finding different ways of regulating at least some drugs so that at least some disputes might be more peacefully resolved? No.

As for the much praised early intervention, a series of small scale targeted funding schemes hardly begin to compensate for the under resourcing of mainstream provision – whether mental health treatment or youth clubs, inflicted in the name of austerity. The strategy promotes diversion of various kinds but to what? The small beer offered here will continue to leave thousands of young people at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of violence.

Police numbers are of course the strategy’s missing link. Like it or not the Street Crime Initiative did appear to show that “increased police resources do in fact lead to lower crime”. This strategy extols the virtues of hot spot policing but shifting onto PCCs responsibility for providing officers to do it, is simply bad faith.

On courts, probation and prisons, the strategy only goes so far. We can count ourselves fortunate that tougher sentencing for once takes a back seat. Given the state of the prison system, presumably the MoJ put their foot down about that. It’s good that violence in prison merits a place in the strategy and among the alphabet soup of initiatives to reduce it, the idea of trauma informed approaches looks a particularly good one.

But given that much serious violence is carried out by persistent offenders, why no mention of the cross-government group of senior Ministers, announced last month, which will work across all relevant departments to reduce re-offending. Presumably because it’s a MoJ rather than Home Office initiative. The latter will drive this strategy through a new Serious Violence Taskforce. But there will surely be benefits in David Gauke’s approach of targeting “prisoners and ex-offenders with the support they need to find a job, a home, to get help with debt, or to get treatment for a drug addiction or, a mental health issue”. Proper resettlement should be more central to what’s being proposed.

Rob Allen


  1. From the back benches my MP is asking CJS questions again - expect an article or several in the Daily mail in due course.

    "Priti Patel, Conservative, Witham,

    To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many convicted sex offenders who have breached the terms of their licence have been (a) recalled and (b) not recalled to prison in each of the last five years."

    "Rory Stewart, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

    The number of convicted sex offenders who have been recalled to prison following breach of licence in the last five years:



    We do not hold information centrally about the number of sex offenders in the community who may have breached their licence conditions and are not recalled to custody. To extract this data, would require a review of each separate case file to identify convicted sex offenders and then track their progress on licence.
    Public protection is our top priority. Sex offenders on licence are subject to ongoing robust risk assessment and to strict licence conditions to manage that risk. They are supervised under statutory Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA); under MAPPA the Police and Probation services are required to work together to manage the risks of known sexual offenders. Any offender who fails to comply with his licence conditions can be immediately returned to prison."

    1. This may be of interest to you Andrew.

    2. The Daily Express has learnt that Justice Minister Phillip Lee asked officials to look at ways of increasing the use of the medical treatment to stop sexual urges because international evidence suggests it is the best way to stop reoffending.

      It is understood that Dr Lee, a practising GP, has said that there needs to be “an evidence-based approach” to making offenders safe enough to release in society.

      The work by officials has come in the wake of the John Worboys scandal after the High Court overturned a decision by the parole board to release the former taxi driver and convicted rapist.

      Last month the Daily Express revealed that there are more than 1,000 other serious sex offenders who, like Worboys, were on indeterminate sentences and will be considered for parole in the coming months.

      There are fears within the MoJ that if these offenders cannot be released then the prison service will not have the space to accommodate them all because of the need for releasing criminals to make up room for people who have been freshly convicted.

      However, the Worboys case highlighted concerns that rapists and other sex offenders could be released even though they may still pose a threat to the community.

      There was also anger that victims were not consulted about Worboys’ potential release and were not asked about the conditions.

      It was revealed last year that chemical castration - the administration of regular medical treatment to suppress sexual urges - was introduced into six prisons last year.

      Currently around 120 serious sexual offenders are understood to be on the treatment voluntarily but department officials have said that it could be increased more than tenfold to 1,500.

      Criminal psychiatrist Professor Don Grubin has been conducting the national chemical treatment programme, along with the prison service and the Department of Health.

      Chemical castration was originally introduced in the UK in 2007 by former Home Secretary John Reid and has had limited use since.

      It is understood that Dr Lee asked for a rollout of the programme to more offenders amid concerns that rehabilitation courses run by psychologists are not effective.

      It has already been revealed that the course Worboys was on has been discontinued because of doubts over its effectiveness.

      Last year a Prison Service spokesman said that two of the eight courses had been discontinued.

      International evidence has shown that the use of regular medication to suppress sexual urges is the most effective way to prevent reoffending reducing it to under five percent.

      In the past, MoJ figures have said that 10 percent of sex offenders who attended courses reoffended.

      Meanwhile, previous figures have said that the general rate of reoffending is 13 per cent for paedophiles and 19 percent for rapists but other figures suggest that recidivism can be as high as 40 percent.

      A departmental source said: “Dr Lee knows this is controversial but the medication is voluntary although it can be linked to an increased chance of getting parole.

      “There is a debate over the effectiveness of the courses but very little doubt that chemical castration works.

      “Essentially, libido suppressing medications in tandem with psychological therapies are more effective than what is generally being attempted currently.”

      The source added: “It’s particularly important with paedophiles because it is like a disease and destroys lives. Often the victims themselves become abusers and it carried on spreading.”

      However, it is understood that for the chemical castration programme to be rolled out the department will need to find extra funding or divert it from other approaches.

      Evidence has come from the USA where Oklahoma this year looks set to become the seventh state to introduce widespread use of chemical castration. The treatment is also used in Sweden, Denmark, Canada and Australia.


    1. Interserve's 'cash burn' appears problematic and raising new cash to fund their operating costs on going appeared as a given. If they can raise more cash and resolve the burn against their costs then they may have a future albeit heavily leveraged and less able to invest in their future. As ever I question this model, competitive outsourcing, as a way to sustain important public services.

  3. I find it pretty amazing that Amber Rudd identifies drugs as being one of the main drivers for the creation of gangs and rising violent crime, and yet say nothing on how she intends to tackle that driver.
    Drugs are here, and they're not going to go away. Drugs create all kinds of problems and simply taking an ideological view that says "drugs are harmful so we won't tolerate them", is frankly to my mind idiotic and irresponsible.
    There will always be an illegal trade in drugs as there is with their legalised counterparts tobacco and alcohol, but the war on drugs is a war that dosent need to be fought.
    Take them out of the hands of criminals, take the huge revenues they generate and the potential business opportunities available and do good things for society.
    Be pragmatic about drugs, accept they're a problem thats not going away and manage that problem in the best way possible.
    This article arguees a good case.


    1. Just seen this article, it relates to drug use, but it's interesting also because it suggests that because of chaotic lifestyles, supervision in the community by probation is pointless for some people.


    2. A heavy spice user suffered a ‘fit’ in a probation service waiting area after ‘abusing deodorant’, a court heard.

      David Dickson, formerly of Bacup and Whitworth, started ‘foaming at the mouth and rolling around on the floor’ causing staff to press the panic alarm.

      Prosecutor Daniel Prowse told Burnley Crown Court that when CCTV footage was examined it ‘appeared that he was abusing deodorant as a means by which to get intoxicated and was fighting members of staff’.

      Dickson, 25, had been ordered to attend the probation service to help with his drug and alcohol problems as part of a community order issued by Burnley Crown Court.

      Mr Prowse said the probation service now had ‘serious concerns about whether there’s any future to this order’ because of his ‘level of motivation and myriad of problems’.

      The court heard how the dad-of-one failed to attend a probation service appointment on February 8 and when an officer spoke to him on the phone Dickson said he ‘managed to mix the date up’. Mr Prowse said the officer didn’t accept the explanation ‘on the back of so many previous failures’.

      Dickson, formerly of Whitworth and Deerplay Road in Bacup, then attended the probation service on February 15 and was sat in the waiting area while an officer spoke to his offender manager.

      The court heard that when the officer returned it ‘appeared like [Dickson] was having an epileptic fit’ after ‘abusing deodorant’.

      Mr Prowse said after the defendant ran off the staff were concerned for his safety and rang his parents. They were also concerned about Dickson’s attitude and ‘by the amount of spice he was using’, the court was told.

      Dickson then failed to attend another probation service appointment the next day and ‘by chance’ was seen near Burnley train station ‘heavily intoxicated’.

      Mr Prowse said Dickson ‘cannot be managed in the community’ by the probation service because his ‘lifestyle is becoming increasingly chaotic and he is misusing psychotic substances and alcohol’.

      Dickson pleaded guilty to breaching his community order and was jailed for seven days.

      Matthew Howarth, defending, said Dickson’s strongest mitigation was his early guilty plea. He told the court that he has ‘done his best to walk away’ from drugs and alcohol and ‘seeks to deal with it moving forward’.

    3. "an officer"? PO? PSO? CSO? Police?

      "his offender manager"?

      "the probation service"? CRC? NPS?

  4. "Calling Conservatives: New public appointments announced. Prisons and Probation Ombudsman – and more"

    1. Get your CVs out, boys & girls...

      Ministry of Justice – Prisons and Probation Ombudsman

      “The Ombudsman is responsible for: providing independent and effective investigation of complaints falling within the Ombudsman’s Terms of Reference; investigating all fatal incidents occurring in the services in remit, and producing a written report of every investigation; making recommendations to the services in remit and the appropriate Secretary of State; providing more general findings to the services in remit and the public at large; building effective working partnerships with other independent scrutiny bodies and other relevant agencies; leadership and management of the Ombudsman’s Office; producing an annual report, to be laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State for Justice; and responding to recommendations from the Harris Review into self-inflicted deaths in custody of 18-24 year olds.”

      Time: 37 hours per week.

      Remuneration: £100,000 per annum.

      Closes: 30 April

    2. But if you're more interested in ploughing your own furrow across this green & pleasant land...

      HS2 Ltd – Chair

      “The Chair of the HS2 Ltd Board will be responsible for shaping, challenging and directing the strategy for HS2 Ltd in delivering the requirement, and ensure that the Board, the executive and the organisation operate effectively and responsibly. He/she will lead the Board in holding the executive to account for the effective and efficient delivery of the programme, for building the organisation, and for the overall performance of HS2 Ltd, including: ensuring the Company has robust risk management, internal controls and assurance processes; ensuring efficient and effective use of staff and other resources…”

      Time: 3 days per week.

      Remuneration: £230-250,000 per annum.

      Closes: 23 April

    3. Five years ago, the TaxPayers’ Alliance reported that “in the last year, five times more Labour people were appointed to public bodies than Tories”.

      Since then, the figures have varied, and some Conservative members or supporters have been selected to fill important posts.

      Nonetheless, it remains the case that, since it took office in 2010, our Party has punched beneath its weight when it comes to public appointments. One of the reasons seems to be that Tories simply don’t apply in the same number as Labour supporters.

      To help remedy this, every week we put up links to some of the main public appointments vacancies, so that qualified Conservatives might be aware of the opportunities presented.

  5. Another Zen Crown Court sentence handed down this week:

    "a 48-week prison term suspended for two years. He must complete rehabilitation, a night-time curfew and “building better relationships” course."


    ???"He must complete rehabilitation..."???

    May as well have said:

    "He must not break the rice paper..."
    "He must whistle down the wind..."
    "He must finish a game of Monopoly..." (very achievable if subject to a night-time curfew)

  6. Cat lovers urged to help. A free app has been developed to enable cat lovers to report strays in their area, and over 20 groups and organisations, including probation services and a leading veterinary college, have got involved in the initiative.

    Read more at:

    1. And just to have a look at how the CJS was being portrayed by the media in the 70s.

    2. First broadcast in 1978 and never seen since on UK TV, this Law and Order sparked an outcry at the time it was first air, with complaints from the police, the prison service and the government for the way the police were portrayed. This is evidenced in the first episode which sees Derek Martin (now more famous for playing Charlie Slater in EastEnders) as a bent copper determined to nick villains, regardless of whether the people involved were guilty or not. Also stars Ken Campbell.

      Law and Order is on BBC Four at 22.00.

    3. I recall it first time around - but forget most of it -

      It can be watched here: -

      I had been working for three years by then at Derby Lane, Old Swan in Liverpool - I think the B Grade dispute was raging and I was seriously thinking about another career but not wanting to go into social services because the facilities were so poor -

      I recall going into the District 'H' SSD offices at Millbank and seeing about six social workers in one room with no personal clerical support and not even a phone each - so every time you answered the phone it was likely to be for someone else.