Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Warm Words or Action?

Whilst 'probation' continues to be officially 'disappeared' by Messrs Gauke and Stewart, I notice Rob Allen is encouraged by the recent warm words regarding sentencing and imprisonment. I'm afraid I remain deeply sceptical, firstly by their joint refusal to acknowledge, let alone fix, the TR omnishambles. Secondly, like all politicians, they are tempted by the offer of a quick fix magic bullet, this time in the shape of satellite electronic monitoring. They're just buying some time so the MoJ can work it's legendary contract drafting magic and create a veritable tagging bonanza for the likes of G4S or Serco.  

Prison Reform: See it, Say it, Sorted?

Is the Government finally grasping the nettle on Prison Reform? If dynamic duo may not quite be the right description for Justice Secretary David Gauke and Prison Minister Rory Stewart, they are certainly adopting a bolder approach to criminal justice than their predecessors. In particular they are now openly recognising the desirability of getting prison numbers down. Their employment strategy launched this week included proposals for much more in the way of temporary release for prisoners serving sentences. Now Gauke’s told The Times he wants a concerted effort to drastically reduce the number of people who are being locked up every year.

Having seen the parlous state of the prisons and the ever more yawning gap between policy aspiration and day to day reality on the wings, the new ministerial team are certainly saying many of the right things. The question now is can they sort them?

When I read that Gauke wants to start a debate about what punishment means, I was reminded of the work of the Rethinking Crime and Punishment (RCP), a programme I directed for the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation in the 2000’s. The first recommendation in our 2004 report was that “political leadership should be exercised to emphasise the goal of reducing the prison population while promoting the value of alternatives to prison”. Gauke’s off to a promising start on that but how about the other ideas which emerged from the work we funded. We wanted to see business coordinators in every prison to maintain positive relationships with local employers; and more and better arts activity for prisoners. On both Gauke is on the same page. We argued for new approaches outside prison for women offenders and those with mental health problems; on this we’ll have to wait and see.

On alternatives to prison more broadly we wanted to see a major public education campaign about community penalties, and greater involvement of sentencers and the public in their implementation. We piloted these ideas in the Thames Valley, enabling judges and magistrates to visit and discuss community-based programmes and members of the public to propose unpaid work assignments. As RCP ended, we published a costed manifesto showing alternative uses for the £2.3 billion which had been allocated on new prison places. It would pay instead for higher quality community supervision, wider availability of restorative justice, women’s centres and link worker schemes for petty persistent offenders with mental health problems. Structured dialogue arrangements would keep judges and magistrates informed about what was available and how it was working.

The plan was politely received but no more. But it’s that kind of approach and investment that’s now needed, utilising some of the £1 billon in the MoJ’s new for old prison coffers. Along with encouragement for the Sentencing Council to do more to curb unnecessary imprisonment and development of models for more localised funding arrangements, there’s the chance not just of the tide turning, but of a sea change.

Rob Allen


  1. The push for alternatives to custody and a greater use of tagging has nothing to do with prison reform or a fix for the overall prison crisis. It's simply because they have almost run out of prison places and need to reduce the population urgently.


    The current population is almost unmanageable and almost impossible to predict. Apart from those being sent by the courts, more oeople are being recalled, and because of TR and the under 12mths, there's a lot more that can be recalled.
    There is also a vastly increased number of prisoners now being prosecuted for offences committed whilst serving a prison sentence. Taking a hardlline approach to phones, drones and drugs coupled with rising levels of violence and disturbances, prosecutions of serving prisoners must be at record levels..
    Whatever it is that brings people to prison, all that go there need a bed space, but there's not very many spaces left, and the need for a solution is urgent.


  2. Its simply the ongoing grotesque game of 3D chess played by the overpaid priveleged few with outsized egos, whilst the vast majority of the population are seen as pawns to be scarificed for political & personal gain.

  3. Increasing community sentences and alternatives to custody is hardly revolutionary thinking when looking for solutions to reducing the prison population.
    What is a revolution in thinking is putting more offenders into the community whilst OMIC will see more probation officers being placed within the prison system.
    That's such a clever thing to do it will undoubtly secure Michael Spurrs £20,000 bonus for next year.

    1. I'm surprised Spurr is still in a job . He should take a leaf from Arsene Wenger's book and step down .

  4. I thought TR was meant to solve the problem of reoffending by the short-sentenced. In addition to their £46 they would be helped to lead law-abiding lives courtesy of innovative resettlement. Has the revolution failed? as this all sounds like the usual tinkering.

  5. Like knife crime I am increasingly drawn to the crime as a public health model. Unless we address the underlying causes of crime and reoffending then we will not address the problem. That wld involve dealing with housing, employment, alcohol, drugs and mental health. It’s a structural issue that HO or MoJ are not able to solve in isolation. Therefore I expect the current initiatives to fail.

  6. Reported in Bradfords local paper this morning, this community payback storey is now being reported in the Nationals and picking up some steam.
    It won't increase sentencers confidence in community sentencing.


    1. Three criminals serving their punishment seem to have had a great time doing it, posting pictures drinking beer in the sun. One of the photos posted online had the caption: ‘Unpaid work time with the lads let the good times roll.’ Another read: ‘Might as well have a few on unpaid work.’ In all the photos the trio are wearing high-vis bibs labelled ‘Community payback’. The three men showed off their ‘tinnies’ in a sunny selfie during the unpaid work, formerly called ‘community service’, in Bradford, West Yorkshire. Can we join in? Sorry, I mean, no, this is terrible. West Yorkshire Police say they are now investigating after a picture appeared on social media of the men drinking cans of Carling.

      Community Payback, which is run by the West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company, is handed out as a punishment by the courts and offenders can carry out anything from 40 to 300 hours unpaid work. It is unknown why the men were serving the punishment, however, those who run the programme have vowed to investigate the circumstances fully. This could see the men being ordered to return to court and face further punishment. Martin Davies, chief executive of the West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company, said: ‘This behaviour is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. ‘We are conducting a thorough investigation of the incident and action will be taken to ensure there is no repetition.

      ‘Community Payback is a punishment made by the courts. We take pride in the way that we supervise people on their unpaid work orders, and this activity is not representative of the way we do the job. ‘All offenders are told at their induction that they are not allowed to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at probation. ‘In addition, they are also warned that mobile phones can only be used during their half-hour lunch break. ‘We cannot comment on individual cases, but when people are found to be breaking these rules, they will be breached for their activities and potentially re-sentenced at court.’ Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, added: ‘This behaviour is clearly not what we would want or expect to see from anyone completing Community Payback. ‘I will be getting in touch with the West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company to look into this incident.’

    2. Come on, we all can see what is happening with outsourcing contracts. Fewer staff and on the cheap as possible, fewer managers and whose focus is on targets at the expense of integrity, more temps on a sessional basis who are ill equipoed and trained meaning less experienced staff who know how to maintain order. No surprises here and standard executive statement which inspires little confidence.

    3. The UK reaps what it sows. Treat people like naughty children, they'll behave like naughty children. Meantime the deflection from the crimes of Establishment bullies, liars & cheats continues, e.g. stealing from the public purse with impunity. Just so happens that they don't crow about it on social media.

  7. why not do a piece on unpaid work and invite service users to post their experiences of things they have encountered.
    Now what could possibly go wrong?