Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Reform Has The Answer

Those with long memories of C-Nomis and the wasted £234million might find the following naively-gushing endorsement of the digital age by Reform generates more than a wry smile:-   

To cut reoffending, give prisons better information about their inmates

Only then will more rehabilitation take place

When it comes to protecting the public, information matters. In the decade to 2015, 505 prisoners were released from prison in error. One prisoner, Martynas Kupstys, was on remand but later convicted of murder in 2015. In another case, a prisoner was released after a mix-up with another inmate with the same surname.

These are extreme examples of how poor information can undermine prisons’ ability to keep the public safe. According to Ian Mulholland, former Director of Public Sector Prisons at the National Offender Management Service, “very often prison governors know almost nothing of the person remanded in custody.”

This month, David Gauke, Secretary of State for Justice, called for prisons to be “a route to a better life” through rehabilitation. The government estimates reoffending to cost the economy £15bn a year. Better information could help prisons and probation services, which work to integrate prisoners back in to society after custody, reduce this.

The first step is to understand offenders’ needs. Prisoners often face complex social, health and educational challenges which affect behaviour. According to Reform think tank research, prisoners are 130 times more likely to receive treatment for drug or alcohol abuse than the public, 3.5 times more likely to have a learning disability and 1.5 times more likely to suffer from mental ill health.

Access to information can enable prisons and probation services to tailor rehabilitation services to different offenders. For example, a rehabilitation pilot in Peterborough in 2010 used data to identify patterns that led to reoffending. For one offender, who had been imprisoned 150 times and displayed anti-social behaviour on the anniversary of his wife’s death, increased support around that date helped keep him out of prison. The pilot drew on 10 different services, such as employment services, mental health services and behavioural change support, to offer tailored rehabilitation.

Not only should this information be “relevant and recent,” in the words of Russ Trent, Governor of HMP Berwyn, but also easily accessible. Today, this means digital. As Katy Bourne, Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex, argued last year: “We all depend on 21st century digital technology to communicate, shop and conduct everyday business, so why does the criminal justice system appear to be stuck in the 19th century?”

A new IT framework, with easy but secure access to relevant and recent information, could provide this, according to research by Reform. Elsewhere in the criminal justice system, the Crown Prosecution Service is working with police forces, the courts and judiciary to build a “Common Platform,” which includes a digital case-file system through which information and evidence is shared. The government could extend the information sharing element to prisons to provide governors with a better understanding of the needs of prisoners.

Basic information could help avoid the types of mistakes that have led to prisoners being released in error. Digital databases can be tied to research and evidence as to what works for reducing reoffending, enabling prison staff to link best practice to the characteristics of prisoners. In healthcare, IBM’s Watson, which can read 40m medical documents in 15 seconds and provide up-to-date medical knowledge to practitioners, offers a model that prisons could follow.

This would be a radically different prison environment. It would be one well-placed to meet Gauke’s aims to rehabilitate offenders. This could reduce the reoffending bill, but, most importantly, help protect the public from crime. Yesterday’s poor data sharing could be replaced by tomorrow’s rehabilitation revolution.

Reform’s Report, Crime and information: using data and technology to transform criminal-justice services, is available at www.reform.uk


  1. That knife crime strategy announcement didn't go too well. This from the Guardian:-

    Amber Rudd commits a serious crime – of gross incompetence

    Amber Rudd could clearly picture the briefing document that had been left on her desk in February. Perhaps she ought to have taken a quick peek at it after all. But back then the home secretary hadn’t been entirely sure she had the necessary clearance to read something stamped “official – sensitive” and she had been awfully busy working on other things. So she had just left it in the pile marked “embarrassing documents to be leaked to the Guardian”.

    That decision clearly haunted Rudd as she took the platform at a central London community centre to launch her serious violence strategy. This was meant to be her big day out. Her chance to dominate the news agenda for the day and show that the government meant business in tackling the rise in violent crime.

    Instead it had all gone pear-shaped long before the start. Only the previous day she had gone on TV to assert that the 14% fall in police numbers since 2010 was entirely coincidental, but now it had emerged that the policy wonks in her own department had come to precisely the opposite conclusion. Somehow she was going to have to try and muddle her way through.

    Even on her better days, the home secretary can frequently sound if she has been dosed with large quantities of valium, her delivery a deadened monotone and her expression disengaged. This most definitely was not one of her good days. Rudd looked and sounded as if someone had increased her medication. If she couldn’t physically remove herself from the torment of the ordeal, she could at least remove herself from any of the feelings associated with the experience.

    She began by reading out a list of people who had been killed in recent weeks. Names to which she couldn’t put a face as she hadn’t made the time to meet a single victim’s family. “People are asking ‘Why? Why? Why?’,” she said. “And as home secretary, I have been searching for an answer.” Though not so hard as to actually bother to read all the evidence that her researchers had made the effort to compile for her.

    Rather, after highlighting some other key social issues, she chose to press on by doubling down on her insistence that there was no correlation between violent crime and police numbers. “We can’t be distracted by political tit for tat,” she mumbled. “I want to hear solutions from other parties, not just cries of ‘cuts, cuts, cuts’.” By now Rudd was so lost she was unable to make the connection that reversing cuts both to police and social care budgets might go some way to making the situation a little better.

    In little more than 10 minutes – or 12 seconds for each person who had been knifed to death in London this year – the home secretary had faltered to a close. A hint of panic crossed her face as she invited questions. Inevitably, the first one was on police numbers. How come she had not read the documents, and how come there was no mention of the police in her entire 140-page strategy document?

    It was like this, she said unconvincingly. She wasn’t at all sure that the document she hadn’t got round to reading had even been a Home Office document. It could have just been a rogue piece of disinformation slipped in to the department by Russian sleeper agents. Besides which, she wanted her strategy to be be informed by evidence not anecdote. At this half the audience did a double-take. They could have sworn the document she hadn’t read and they had was called “Violent Crime: Latest Evidence of its Drivers”.

    1. Now the home secretary went for broke. There weren’t actually more crimes taking place. All that had happened was that more crimes were being reported as previously no one had ever bothered to count the bodies. So we were all actually a lot safer than we had been because we just hadn’t known how much danger we were in. And as this had all happened through a reduction in police numbers it made sense to try to abolish the police force entirely.

      Rudd wisely chose not to take any more questions from the media and scuttled off as quickly as indecently possible. In the time she had been standing, the crime figures had just gone up by one. Though this had been more of a white-collar crime. A crime of gross incompetence.

    2. A man who attempted to smuggle mobile phones and £23,000 worth of drugs over the perimeter wall at HMP Pentonville has been jailed for a total of 27 months.
      Joshua Lewis, 25 (7.02.93) of Cornwall Road, Hornsey was sentenced on Monday, 9 April at Blackfriars Crown Court for the following offences:

      – Section 40A Prisons Act 1952 ‘MDMA’
      – Section 40A Prisons Act 1952 ‘cocaine’
      – Section 40A Prisons Act 1952 ‘cannabis’
      – Section 40B Prisons Act 1952 ‘phones’
      – Section 40CB Prisons Act 1952 ‘psychoactive substances’
      He pleaded guilty to the offences at the same court.
      On 13 August 2016, officers from Met’s Caledonian Neighbourhoods Policing Team and the Met’s Special Constabulary were proactively patrolling around HMP Pentonville to catch and deter people from conveying prohibited items into the prison.
      Whilst on patrol, officers spotted a string line coming down from within the prison and set up their operation to watch the location.
      At around 02:30hrs, officers saw Lewis walking up to the string. Officers moved in to stop him but he managed to escape after a five minute foot chase. During the chase, Lewis dropped two bags containing contraband items and his personal mobile phone.
      The bags contained 19 mobile phones, 405.78g of psychoactive substances, 17 MDMA tablets, a total of 86.291g of cannabis and 0.258g of cocaine.
      Lewis was identified after DNA was found on his phone and arrest inquiries ensued.
      On 28 January 2017, Lewis was arrested in Hackney and subsequently charged with the above offences. He was remanded in custody to appear at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court the following day.

      He was later remanded in custody to appear at Blackfriars Crown Court on 26 February 2017.
      Islington’s Neighbourhoods Inspector Steve Murfin, said: “This individual was found to be carrying a substantial amount of controlled drugs and phones. Due to the vigilance of officers, it was prevented from entering the prison. We work closely with the Prison Service to gather intelligence in order to carry out proactive operations to arrest and prosecute those who commit this crime. This was an excellent piece of prolonged problem solving by the officer in this case PC Adam Crossan.”
      Prisons Minister Rory Stewart, said: “I am determined to stop drugs being smuggled into our prisons. They are illegal, they fuel violence, undermine our programs of education, and ultimately threaten public safety.
      “This is a great example of how we can begin to tackle this problem – good detective work by the Metropolitan Police leading to a major seizure of cocaine, illegal phones and psychoactive drugs.
      “We owe the police a great debt of thanks and we will continue to crack down on any attempts to get drugs into prison by any methods. This is a top priority for me as Prisons Minister.”

    3. “This is a great example of how we can begin to tackle this problem – good detective work by the Metropolitan Police leading to a major seizure of cocaine, illegal phones and psychoactive drugs.
      “We owe the police a great debt of thanks"

  2. Radio 4 Today suggested yesterday morning that the violence was all down to nasty modern music: drill to be precise. DJ Bempah put up a good counter argument, but top points to Prof Treadwell "Its Nihilistic, self interested, about money and materialism but then the top of society is as well, is it not: its easy to turn to the young men on the street and say 'look at how their values are but those are the same values of many of those in the political class and in the banker class" Exactly

  3. I'm sure prison officers on the landings, already struggling with understaffing, violence, drugs, and concerned for their safety, will really appreciate trips back and forward to the office to input data in real time.
    Where does all this data end up?

  4. There isn't a lack of information, there's a lack of rehabilitation. Reform must be music in the ears of IT consultants. It's the old mantra of doing the same things all over again and expecting a different result. Bring in Cambridge Analytica - they know a thing or two about influencing people.

  5. A realistic quantity of quality time in contact with clientele is absolute bottom line for rehabilitation. Then by all means angst about definitions and achievement of "quality". Then fart-arse about with technology if you must. Sigh

  6. Amber Rudds announcements have also kick started a row in Manchester where part of the recent hike in council tax is to pay for 50 extra front line police officer to help combat a 61% rise in violent crime.
    And meanwhile in Hampshire the PCC wants to recruit someone on a £60,000 salary for two years to 'advise' him on what he should be doing.


    Now the money tree has been found its been shaken pretty violently, and this week it's only policing, but next week it will be the lawyers and the legal aid budget that will be shaking a few million off as more and more Chambers are now refusing to take on any new work.


  7. From Wikipedia "Reform is a British think tank based in London, whose declared mission is to set out a better way to deliver public services and economic prosperity. Reform describes itself as independent and non-partisan with an aim "to produce research of outstanding quality on the core issues of the economy, health, education and law and order and on the right balance between government and individual." The Reform Research Trust is a charitable company limited by guarantee founded in 2001 by Nick Herbert (now a Conservative MP) and Andrew Haldenby."

    It remains very much a right-leaning organisation - *wondering if there are IT companies funding the research?*

    1. Remember this?


  8. Ah yes Reform, the independent charity known as a Think Tank or aka Conservative Party thinking. The same Think Tank who in 2016, probably recognising that the Thunk on TR was tunking urged complete privatisation of probation with local devolution of offender management to Police and Crime Commissioners. I am cynical about the type of IT system they are proposing in light of their former thunking. Computer says rehabilitate, CRC says thanks for the cash!!!

  9. I'm sure if all this data inputting and algorithm based assessment was considered to have any real value, there would be one for Brexit, one for the Irish border, and there would be one that would have worked out without doubt if Russia was really responsible for the nerve agent attack in Cheltenham.

  10. Letting victims down? Yes, why not ask Nadine Marshall about being let down? Nadine, whose son Conner was brutally murdered by a perpetrator who was in the wrong place at the wrong time because the standards of supervision introduced by a private probation provider were, in her own publicly stated words, just not good enough. Nadine doesn't blame the staff just the system that failed to protect her son. Sadly, its not the only example of a serious offence taking place under an untried and untested operational model and there are many more just like it elsewhere, but I don’t see high level resignations being announced by people who claimed that Transforming Rehabilitation ‘was safe’ or those who won contracts by lying about their ability to deliver whilst continuing to coin it from the taxpayer whilst treating their staff like dirt. You know who you are of course; and yes, we know that you were ‘just following orders’ blah, blah, etc

    You are talking about Working Links Ian Lawrence of Napo Working Links Deniers liars Working Links!

    1. Wasn't there also a similar incident in Plymouth under Working Links watch?

  11. Looks like the Police Federation are not impressed with Amber Rudd's analysis:-

    Response to Amber Rudd's statement on police cuts

    Ahead of the unveiling of a new Government strategy to tackle serious violence, Home Secretary Amber Rudd today stated that "falling police numbers are not to blame for rising violence".

    Calum Macleod, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: "We strongly disagree with the Home Secretary’s statement, even the Police Minister Nick Hurd admitted this morning that the police are overstretched.

    "The fact is a simple one, this government has recklessly cut police numbers and funding and we now have significant increases in violent crime, you do the maths. The public understand this, the police know this, so how come the Home Secretary can’t see this? Why are the Metropolitan Police having to cancel officer rest days, to put an additional 300 police officers out every day of this weekend, to deal with the epidemic facing the capital? The issue here is that this conservative government cannot admit they got it wrong and its costing lives.

    "You only have to look at our demand, capacity and welfare survey results to see that officers are being stretched far too thinly, which is supported by the latest HMICFRS PEEL report which states a quarter of forces are struggling to cope with the demand they face which is resulting in call backlogs, delays in attending incidents including those involving vulnerable people.

    "So our evidence clearly shows that officers are under immense pressure and the reduction in officer numbers is impacting on the ability to respond to rising crime. All our previous warnings are now coming to light as we see an increase in violent crime and victims of crime not getting the service they deserve and expect.

    "All of our research shows a police service struggling under the pressure of increased crime and reduced resources and unless the Government address these issues and provide the police service with the funding it needs we will continue to see the impact this has on the public and our country."

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