Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Too Good To Be True?

I've recently become aware via Twitter of a 'new kid on the block' called 'Renovare' offering various services to those leaving prison:-

Renovare is here to help you during all aspects of your return to public life. Whether you need a bank account to save your money and invest, a mobile phone to contact employers, help to find work or something as simple as a discounted haircut, you need to look no further than Renovare. Getting back on your feet can be difficult. Let Renovare be your helping hand.

Renovare will provide you with a bespoke bank account, debit card and full banking solution to fit your needs. A mobile phone and contract will be provided, allowing you to maintain contact with friends, family, and future employers. Renovare will also assist with finding jobs, job applications, CVs, and interviews to make sure you find work quickly. Counselling for all members of Renovare will be available to make sure you confidently flourish in your life after prison. Clothing retailers, restaurants, entertainment and more all provide special offers or vouchers to help you get back on your feet.

We are currently inviting applications on behalf of current offenders, (through family members), ex-offenders who need our service and those connected with prisoners in any way who wish to help them with their day to day needs they so desperately want to get on with. You may know someone, or you may need this for yourself. Either way, Renovare is here for you.

By pre-registering now in this innovative incentive, you will be securing membership for when we go live on 16th August 2019 for £7.99 per month.

Renovare's initiative will be supported by MOJ, HMP and Probation. In conjunction with our banking provider, our service will provide stable banking facilities, mobile phone with contract and many other financial incentives and benefits for members taking their first step back in to society.


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This all sounds very encouraging, but unfortunately the website is not very enlightening or forthcoming, a situation that is somewhat alarming given the invitation to subscribe £7.99 a month. Rather worryingly, the company does not seem to have any official endorsement as claimed and the MoJ say they have 'never heard of Renovare.' This from the JC website in June:-

High-profile convicted criminals insist new financial venture is not a scam

Two high-profile convicted criminals have insisted their new financial venture — designed, they claim, to help newly-released offenders reintegrate into society — is not a scam.

David Bright and Claire Silverstone, who was formerly known as Claire Mann, were jailed for perverting the course of justice in 2016. Silverstone was also jailed for sending a bomb hoax to a synagogue. The pair are preparing to launch a new company, Renovare, which says it will to provide a range of services for ex-offenders. These include a bank account, debit card and mobile phone contract — all of which are typically difficult to acquire without proof of permanent address and identification.

On Tuesday, a claim of endorsement from the Hardman Trust, which works to reintegrate ex-prisoners, was removed from Renovare’s website. Although the new company and the charity had been in contact, the Hardman Trust has not endorsed the company. Bright admitted the claim had been “overzealous”.

Renovare also claimed it “will be supported by the Ministry of Justice, the Prison Service and the Probation Service”. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said they had never heard of Renovare and there were no arrangements in place with the company.

Renovare says that Prepaid Financial Services (PFS) has agreed to open accounts for ex-prisoners using the licence they are given upon their release as temporary proof of address for up to 12 weeks. PFS confirmed that it had “agreed to assist” Renovare but declined to offer more detail.

Bright and Silverstone said clients will pay a basic rate of £7.99 per month for Renovare’s service. Silverstone told the JC: “It’s a temporary provision of ID. During those 12 weeks someone is getting back on their feet with our help, and should be able to get themselves either a driving licence, a renewed passport or a citizen card, so they can then use that as ID. "We are helping them to help themselves.”

The pair’s convictions for perverting the course of justice centred on a false psychological report submitted by Bright during a family case. They were working as ‘McKenzie friend’ legal advisers at the time for Bright’s company, the Parents’ Voice. Silverstone, who pleaded guilty to two counts of perverting the course of justice, dishonestly claimed to be a qualified psychologist.

Bright denied perverting the course of justice but was found guilty. He was released from prison in January 2017 and Silverstone was released the following December. Bright told the JC: “We’ve done our homework — we spent a year doing our homework on it. We didn’t just suddenly come up with this idea to screw people out of money.” Renovare will also provide jobs advice and training, a counselling and support service and a scheme for “vouchers and special offers”. The pair are not listed as company directors. According to Companies House, the directors are Dion Perry Mailich and Lauren Mailich.

Lord Jeremy Beecham, a shadow Justice spokesman and an advocate of offender rehabilitation, has pulled out of a House of Lords reception on Monday he was due to hold for the firm. Lord Beecham said: "I met recently with representatives of what I understood to be a new company supporting such work. In doing so, I took in good faith that they had undertaken some limited work within the Prison Service and agreed to host a working lunch and event. “Following new information received in the past two days, I have become increasingly concerned about the company. I have since withdrawn my support for the event.”

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This from Jewish News also in June:-

‘Jewish community turned its back on me after I left prison’

A woman jailed in connection with a hoax shul bomb threat has called on the Jewish community to do more to rehabilitate ex-offenders. Claire Silverstone, formerly known as Claire Mann, originally from Newcastle, is helping launch a banking platform which seeks to help ex-offenders get back on their feet.

Renovare will equip ex-offenders with a debit card and Android phone contract, both of which can be difficult to acquire without a permanent address or credit history. The company proposes to do so via an app, set to go live in July, at a monthly rate of £7.99, and claims it has received hundreds of registrations from ex-offenders.

“If with Renovare, we are able to support […] one person, a hundred people, 10,000 people, just get that one bit of dignity, lose one bit of stigma from being an ex-offender, to start their journey, break the cycle of re offending, then, not that the journey has been worthwhile, but the journey had value,” she said.

Silverstone was inspired to help rehabilitate ex-offenders after she was sentenced in October 2016 to three years in prison for two counts of intending to pervert the course of justice and was released from prison just over a year later. She attracted media coverage for making a hoax bomb threat to Finchley United Synagogue and carrying out a harassment campaign against a mother at her daughter’s school over a row about a birthday party invitation. The prosecutor in Silverstone’s trial noted the “significant alarm and distress” caused by her hoax.

The second count relates to a separate claim at the Family Court, where Silverstone falsely represented herself as a qualified psychologist in a court hearing document. Her ex-partner and current colleague at Renovare, David Bright served three months in prison over his involvement in The Parents’ Voice, a firm which acted as McKenzies’ Friends, which are paid but unqualified legal advisers. He denied perverting the course of justice but was found guilty for submitting Silverstone’s fraudulent psychologist’s letter to a court hearing.

While in prison, Silverstone pursued a professional qualification from the Institute of Counselling in Glasgow. “I undertook to repair, if you like, what I had done,” she said. While serving time, Silverstone said, she facilitated courses on healing trauma and was involved in the KeepOut programme which informs potential young offenders.

“Although it was the most negative situation that I could be in, away from my family, away from my friends, I was able to draw strength from what I was able to do for people,” she said. “I made a pledge to myself and those who supported me that when I came out that is exactly what I was going to do.”

Silverstone said that she received support from Jewish organisations while in prison, but encountered stigma within the community since her release in 2017. “I was supported wonderfully during my time in prison, by family and friends. I had a chaplain from the United Synagogue who would visit regularly and another rabbi from a local shul. What was shocking on leaving was how that support turned.”

“It is fair to say that for the most part organisations will not look beyond a criminal conviction and that’s in terms of you being a member of a shul or you being part of their charity or you volunteering their time,” she added.

An event promoting the work of Renovare at the House of Lords on Monday, hosted by Lord Beecham, was cancelled following adverse media coverage. Lord Beecham told the press in a statement: “I met recently with representatives of what I understood to be a new company supporting such work. In doing so, I took in good faith that they had undertaken some limited work within the Prison Service and agreed to host a working lunch and event. “Following new information received in the past two days, I have become increasingly concerned about the company. I have since withdrawn my support for the event.”

Bright criticised media coverage of the event, saying: “In their own ignorance, some people choose to stigmatise people when they have served their time, don’t accept that the punishment they served has been done and continue to punish people after the facts.” He added: “The Jewish community, as small as it is, as politically-democratic as it is, with the difficulties that we’re facing at the moment, needs to finds something better to do than to worry about the history of something that happened 25 years ago or three years ago.”

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Latest From Napo 192

Here we have what is promised as "the start of a series of articles expanding on Napo's demands" 

Napo's demands for the future of Probation

When even the potential bidders for new contracts are concerned (as featured in a report by Danny Shaw to the Today Programme on 29th July) about the viability it is ever more important to be clear about what would make a difference in the Probation System. Here are Napo’s four key demands for the future of Probation.

In re-designing Probation it is vital that lessons are learned from the profound failure of “Transforming Rehabilitation” (TR). Simply re-drawing the line between the public and private provision is not enough to repair all of the damage done.

Fully integrated service provision

In all of the varied criticisms of TR the split in service provision was universally acknowledged as a cause for poor service provision, increased bureaucracy, duplication of work and communication issues. We demand a fully integrated and unified service, with all core functions, including unpaid work and interventions, delivered from a single organisation in an integrated way. This doesn’t preclude the involvement of specialist provision by the third sector in a partnership arrangement but ensures that the management and delivery of core services is done in a joined up way.

In the public sector and never for profit but out of the civil service and released from prison

No one should profit from crime and so no one should profit from the delivery of Justice as a result of those crimes. The delivery of Probation Services belongs in the public sector however the move to the Civil Service as a result of TR has meant that the National Probation Service is now overly bureaucratic and follows a top down “command and control” culture. This means that the responsivity to local priorities that was once a key feature of Probation has been lost and innovation is reserved to those promoted to senior positions rather than open to all. Probation Officers are, as part of their training, encouraged to think critically about the work that they are doing and the systems in which they are doing it. This is almost impossible from within the Civil Service where criticism of the establishment is forbidden.

For many years Probation has struggled for recognition and focus against the forced partnership with the Prison Service. Although we recognise the advantages of working closely with our colleagues in the Prison Service we are not an adjunct to that service and while there are many areas where our work and ways of working, align there are also many areas where they do not. While the senior roles in HMPPS are predominantly held by those with a background in the Prison Service and while the second ‘P’ in HMPPS is generally silent it is difficult for the Probation Service to focus on developing its own culture and values.

Our demand is for Probation Services to exist outside of the Civil Service but in the public sector, as a non-departmental government body in the same way as organisations like CAFCASS and many others. This would allow for a degree of consistency through a national structure but would enable the development of culture and values that support Probation Practice.

Built on evidence based practice


There is a wealth of evidence about how to support people to desist from offending. Research into desistance and risk assessment and management is abundant. Little of this knowledge is being employed in redesigning Probation Services. Much of the pressure that staff leaving the service describe is about being asked to work in ways which they feel are not good practice at best or dangerous at worst. There is no sign of these lessons being learned. In addition there have been attempts to silence those who raise concerns about practice and the evidence of a need for change has been suppressed for example in the case of the report detailing concerns about SOTP in prisons.

At the same time as the feted reintegration of offender management work following TR the other big project is the Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) project. OMiC builds in multiple changes of Offender Manager despite the fact that such changes were criticised so much in the TR model that it caused a significant change of policy and move to the reintegration.

All Probation Practice should be based on evidence and changes should be made to ways of working when indicated by research and evidence. Best practice should be modelled on this research and evidence, not the convenience of the organisation or the needs of a contract.

Rooted in the local community and partnering with local specialist providers

Probation is about people and people exist in communities. The link to the community is vital and must be prioritised. What works in one village, town or city might not work elsewhere. There must be a facility to respond to local needs and priorities and to shape service delivery to suit. Frontline practitioners must be empowered to work in a way that meets the needs of both their client and their community rather than to an agenda set centrally.

There are many third sector providers working in response to local needs that might be excellent partners for Probation Services, either as a contractor or in other arrangements. Sadly many of these very local services were simply frozen out of the system due to TR but where they exist they should be involved in the delivery of services in an appropriate way. Large contracts are not the way to deliver such innovative and responsive partnerships as smaller third sector organisations cannot compete with large companies better able to offer cash guarantees and present artificially low bids. There should never be a separation between Probation Services and other services but working together in a joined up way is often impossible when there is no local control of the system.

Katie Lomas
Napo National Chair

Monday, 29 July 2019

Chaos on top of Chaos

This morning's piece by the BBC's Danny Shaw and carried on the 'Today' Programme at 8.35am rather neatly serves to highlight the latest set of problems probation faces. Firstly there's the age-old problem of no one really being clear what we do. Danny Shaw obviously knows, but Martha Kearney introduced the subject incorrectly as being about release from prison when actually it's about all aspects of probation supervision. 

Then there's the complete absence of any word from NPS, obviously, because that has all disappeared behind a solid wall of silence imposed by the command and control ethos dictated by the nature of Civil Service bureaucracy. Rather conveniently for politicians, we won't be hearing of any problems from the likes of NPS management - why everything's just hunky dory according to their Twitter feeds!

So it's left to the disgruntled CRC's that are about to be dispensed with, such as Seetec, to stir up a bit of a story with their concerns and we hear from former London CRC Chief Yvonne Thomas warn of greater bureaucracy, together with current Deputy Director Aveen Gardiner who summed the situation up basically as likely to heap 'more chaos on top of chaos'.  

It was good to hear from recently retired HM Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey, even if she started off saying she felt the proposed changes were to be welcomed. The longer she spoke and got into her stride and realising no longer subject of MoJ influence, it became clear she felt the proposed changes will be different, but likely to be just as bad and especially if not properly funded. 

For those who know anything about the plight of probation and it's near-destruction by Chris Grayling and TR, the days of the old 'Trusts', however flawed, were far preferable - a situation confirmed by Clinks, the voice of the Third Sector, bemoaning the demise of the old-style grant system of funding for local services and demanding their return.  

Basically a confusing piece, seemingly out of nowhere, but at least it was something especially as the 'silly season' is obviously cancelled this year, what with all the real silly stuff going on.            

Friday, 26 July 2019

The Developing Criminal Justice Landscape

Having carefully watched our new Prime Minister's barn-storming theatrical performance at the dispatch box yesterday, by promising everything to everyone, it's quite apparent we are now definitely in General Election mode and as such about to enter a new punitive criminal justice era. This is how Rob Allen sees the developing landscape:-   

Swift but not yet Certain. New Government Policy on Prison

There was some relief yesterday when the new Prime Minister placed the Justice brief in the experienced and relatively liberal hands of Robert Buckland. Yes, as Solicitor General he had appeared to relish appealing unduly lenient sentences, but his policy instincts are not necessarily punitive. As a back bencher, he spent a good deal of time on the Justice Committee and was a member of the Independent Parliamentarians’ Inquiry into the Youth Court which backed a more problem-solving approach to children who offend.

More importantly perhaps, Buckland's admittedly brief ministerial exposure to the prison and probation services will have alerted him to their current fragility - forcefully confirmed in the case of prisons by the latest set of performance ratings in which a record 14% establishments are of serious concern. Buckland’s predecessor as Justice Secretary was perhaps suffering a touch of gate fever himself when he informed the Justice Committee nine days ago that that he felt “we have made good progress in addressing some of the challenges that prisons face right now - on safety, security, decency, and the estate in general”. That assessment rather flies in the face of the evidence.

Today as expected, PM Johnson told MPs that he had “tasked officials to draw up proposals to ensure that in future those found guilty of the most serious sexual and violent offences are required to serve a custodial sentence that truly reflects the severity of their offence and policy measures that will see a reduction in the number of prolific offenders”. Whatever else they might achieve, these priorities for government will almost certainly place yet more pressure on the prison service. So too of course will pumping funds into the police.

Average sentence lengths for sexual and violent offences have risen sharply since 2010- from 49 to 61 months for sex and 20.8 to 23.5 months for violence. England and Wales have more life sentence prisoners than the rest of Europe, with average tariffs almost twice as high as they were in 2003. So, what’s Johnson's thinking?

Tories have long been uncomfortable with automatic release of most determinate sentenced offenders at the half way point. Back in 2008 they pledged to “introduce honesty in sentencing so courts set a minimum and a maximum period, with no possibility of parole until the minimum has been served." Grayling and Gove mulled an earned release system. Maybe we are in for one or both of these options. Expect too, further extensions to the scope of the unduly lenient sentence scheme.

Johnson will be alive to the electoral appeal of these kind of changes. His views may also have been shaped by his partner Carrie Symond's awful experience - as a 19 year old - as one of the many victims of John Worboys. She certainly felt that “the justice system and the Parole Board let us down", helping to fund raise for the Judicial Review of the latter's decision that Worboys should be freed. Can we expect further reform of the Board?

On prolific offenders, the 2015 Tory manifesto promised “a new semi-custodial sentence …allowing for a short, sharp spell in custody to change behaviour”. Briefings afterwards revealed that so called flash incarceration will mean “persistent vandals, shoplifters and drug addicts will spend two nights in a police cell under Conservative plans”. Despite it's impracticality, is this "swift and certain punishment" back on the cards? Or can we hope for something more measured building on the public health approach?

Think tanks Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Justice are each likely to claim the role of midwives for any policy of “swift and certain" with Crest Advisory currently working on proposals. The first two as least have extolled the virtues of Hope Probation, a tough love programme piloted in Hawaii which involves probation supervision accompanied by frequent drug testing. Failures lead to immediate but short terms of detention. Research has found impressive outcomes in terms of reduced drug use and jail time. Because of its success, the short terms of detention imposed on programme failures require fewer prison beds in Hawaii than do the longer sentences served by those who fail normal probation supervision.

Despite the research, I have been a bit sceptical about the wisdom of importing the approach in the UK. Some observers at least, while acknowledging the impact that Hope has had in Hawaii, question whether that is enough to justify its “correctional popularity” Frank Cullen and colleagues at the University of Cincinnati point to “uncritical acceptance and importation of the programme to the U.S. mainland” and argue that several uncertainties about the programme may potentially compromise its effectiveness in other jurisdictions, thus offering false hope as a new paradigm.

Whatever happens it’s hard to see David Gauke’s consultation paper on limiting short prison sentences seeing the light of day. In a worst case, we'll see more short sentences for petty prolific offenders and more long ones for serious offences. Let's hope Buckland can find a way to prevent that outcome.

Rob Allen

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Early Message to New Justice Secretary

I notice Bob Neill and his Justice Select Committee have been busy during the recent period of parliamentary paralysis and are extremely quick with a message to the new Justice Secretary Robert Buckland in their desire to ensure TR2 does not repeat the disaster of TR1:- 

Summary

In May 2019, the Government announced changes to the model for delivering probation, including ending contracts with Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and moving all offender management to the National Probation Service.

We support these changes, which are well overdue. In June 2018, we found that Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms to probation, including the establishment of CRCs, had created many serious problems. We were unconvinced that the TR model could ever deliver an effective or viable probation service.

Since last Summer, other reports—for example, from, the Chief Inspector of Probation, National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee—consistently supported our conclusions. The system was described as irredeemably flawed, underfunded, fragile, and lacking the confidence of the courts. Three CRCs went into administration. Yet the Government took nearly one year to address the fundamental problems that we and others reported.

What is important now is that there is a smooth transition from the current model to the next. Hard-working probation staff have suffered enough change—now we want them to be able to get on with their jobs.

This brief follow-up report makes recommendations related to staffing, the voluntary sector, Through the Gate (provision for resettling offenders on release from custody), post-release supervision and costs. We call for greater transparency of funding, so we can see where funding is going and what impact it is having. It is our view that if the Government addresses these recommendations, it is more likely that the new probation system will deliver better outcomes for offenders, victims, professionals and the public.

Transforming Rehabilitation: Follow-up

7.In May 2019, the Public Accounts Committee found “In its haste to rush through its reforms at breakneck speed the Ministry of Justice not only failed to deliver its ‘rehabilitation revolution’ but left probation services underfunded, fragile, and lacking the confidence of the courts.” We concur with this assessment.

8.We therefore welcome the move to a new probation structure from 2020 in Wales and 2021 in England. When we met informally with prison governors in June 2019, they told us that they, too, welcomed recently announced reforms to probation “as things could hardly get any worse”.

9.But the necessary reforms, especially coming so quickly after the previous restructure in 2014–15, will not be simple. The then Prisons and Probation Minister Rory Stewart MP told us in April 2018: 

“I emphasise that there would be considerable costs in trying to reinvent the system yet again, in terms of staff morale, certainty, offenders and the public.” We agree: the transition between models is an inherently risky and costly exercise. Probation relies on secure ongoing relationships between service users and staff, and it is therefore vital to minimise disruption. Hard-working probation staff have suffered enough change and must be able to get on with their jobs.
10.This report makes recommendations about: staffing, the voluntary sector, Through the Gate provision and post-release supervision. We conclude by expressing serious concerns about the transparency of funding of the existing system, and we urge the Government to be clearer about costs in future.

Probation staff

11.We pay tribute to the dedicated hard work of the probation profession over the past few years. As we said in June 2018, probation officers and other case managers perform an important public duty. We were concerned to find last year that staff had high caseloads and felt de-professionalised, while morale was at an “all-time low”.

12.This year, Dame Glenys Stacey, then HM Chief Inspector of Probation, told us that “Probation professionals have, in the main, made heroic efforts to do their level best over a very difficult period”. She spoke of a “national shortage of probation professionals”, while Sonia Crozier, Chief Probation Officer, HMPPS, said “one of the key lessons we learned from TR is the cost of breaking the probation pipeline in terms of qualified officers coming through”.

13.We recommended that the MOJ should produce a probation workforce strategy, which should set out the Ministry’s expectations with regard to professional standards, training, and maximum caseloads/workloads for probation staff. The Government told us in May 2019 that it did not accept our recommendation. This was particularly disappointing, as in the interim response a few months earlier we were told that the MOJ was “currently developing a workforce strategy”. The Chief Inspector of Probation had also called for a national workforce strategy. The Government has also rejected our recommendation that workforce data—including information on recruitment and retention—be published, telling us that CRCs own the information and that it is commercially sensitive.

14.The responsible Minister, Robert Buckland QC MP, sought to reassure us, telling us about an active recruitment campaign to recruit more probation officers, with a more mixed caseload. He offered to write to the Committee to explain this.

15.We welcome the Minister’s offer to write to explain his plans to recruit and retain more probation officers, including current, planned and achieved numbers. This should include information about grade, development, training and caseload allocation.

16.In May 2019, the MOJ announced that it plans to introduce “an independent statutory register for probation professionals” in order to support “ongoing continuous professional development and recognition”. The announcement is welcome but contained little detail—for example, which body will own it, how it will work and when it will come into force. The Minister appeared to acknowledge that the plan is not yet fully worked out, telling us that “we will develop the detail of the plans when we come to the legislative stage”. When the Department may be in a position to propose legislation is also not clear.

17.Dame Glenys Stacey told us that she supported an independent professional body to regulate the profession, to bring it into line with most other professions such as doctors, social workers and teachers:

A profession should, in my view, have three key tenets. First of all, there should be a requirement for registration; who is and is not in the profession is important. Secondly, there should be a requirement for continuing professional development… Thirdly, a professional body generally self-regulates. It has fitness to practise panels and its own way of identifying its bad eggs, and dealing fairly and proportionately with them, with the interests of the public at heart. Those things are missing from this profession and the profession is the poorer for it.
18.Napo (the trade union, professional association and campaigning organisation for probation and Family Court staff), also support a national professional register, stating last year: “Napo passed the motion to call on the MOJ for such a register some 4 years ago and it is frustrating that more progress has not been made. A register would protect the MOJ and providers by enabling them to employ the right people for the right job.”

19.We support the principle of an independent statutory register for probation professionals, since it is important to raise thestatus of the probation profession. It is important to consult widely on this, including with the unions, and we look forward to scrutinising the detailed proposals. We recommend that the necessary legislation to introduce a statutory register for probation professionals be introduced as soon as possible, and certainly within the next Queen’s Speech at the very latest.


Voluntary sector

20.In June 2018, we were concerned that the voluntary sector had been hit by the reforms. We found that “the decreased involvement of the voluntary sector, especially that of smaller local organisations, is deeply regrettable and reduces the quality and array of services available to individuals on probation.”

21.Earlier this year, the NAO reinforced our concerns, reporting that, “at October 2018, just 11% (159) of VSOs [voluntary sector organisations] working in the criminal justice sector were providing services directly to CRCs”. The NAO concluded that CRCs had “not developed supply chains as intended, primarily due to financial pressures.”

22.Dame Glenys Stacey also expressed concern about the dwindling role of voluntary sector organisations in probation, especially the smaller local organisations who are “disproportionately affected by the nature of the contractual provisions that they would have to enter.” She agreed that she was particularly concerned about bodies specialising in offenders with protected characteristics (such as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals, women). Witnesses to our Prison Population 2022 inquiry told us about the impact of TR on the voluntary sector: for example, one said that the TR reforms were “absolutely devastating” for the funding of voluntary sector women’s services.

23.It has been difficult to understand the precise funding implications of the TR reforms on the voluntary sector, as details of CRC supply chains are not published, despite our recommendation that the MOJ should do so. The Government told us that this was because of commercial confidentiality.

24.Robert Buckland QC MP did acknowledge, in evidence to us in June 2019, that the involvement of the voluntary sector “was lost in the mix when it came to previous provision”. Jim Barton, Senior Responsible Owner for the Probation Reform Programme, HMPPS, said that research by Clinks, the body which supports the voluntary sector in the criminal justice system, “gave some evidence that we are on a declining trajectory. It is getting worse and harder for the [voluntary] sector as a whole, and we acknowledge that.”

25.Clinks told the MOJ last year:

The underfunding of probation services was leading to a lack of investment in rehabilitation and resettlement services with half the voluntary led services funded by CRCs telling us that they are unsustainable, and one third subsidised by charitable reserves or other funding sources. Given this, there is real concern amongst the sector that the ambition to better engage with and involve the voluntary sector in the delivery of probation services cannot be achieved within current financial constraints.
26.The Government has sought to assure us the new model will address the way in which the voluntary sector has been pushed out. The Minister told us that the new model will have “room for smaller localised organisations, whether it is the third sector or other types of organisation, to provide localised tailored support.” HMPPS added that they were “consciously designed the shape of the new market in a way that reduces barriers to entry for the voluntary sector.”

27.It is vital that the new system should be organised and funded in such a way that the involvement of the voluntary sector is protected and encouraged. We should be able to measure this. The Government should develop a detailed evaluation strategy to ensure that it measures the impact of its new probation policy on the voluntary sector from 2020 in Wales and 2021 in England. This should include establishing the current baseline, to order to measure change. From the start of 2022, the Government should publish transparent figures setting out how much probation funding flows to the voluntary and private sector (including through sub-contracting), and to whom.


Through the Gate

28.One of the key components of the TR reforms was that all offenders would, on leaving prison, receive an element of continuous support from custody into the community. But we found that this Through the Gate (TTG) provision was wholly inadequate, frequently merely signposting offenders to other organisations.

29.We have continued to receive worrying evidence on the state of resettlement services. Dame Glenys Stacey reported that her inspections found “a wide variation of Through the Gate services, but they are mainly on the poor side”. Prison Governors told us informally in June 2019 that Through the Gate was “a mess”, although they acknowledged that new funding had come on board and it was “early days”.

30.The Minister told us that he had agreed an additional £43 million with CRCs to deliver an enhanced Through the Gate specification to the end of 2020. HMPPS explained “that service is now live in all bar four resettlement prisons, with 500 additional staff in post delivering improved support for offenders pre-release.”

31.We acknowledge that it is still, in the words of the Minister, “fairly early days”, but we will want to see that this additional TTG funding makes a real difference. The MOJ should provide us with an evaluation of TTG by the end of 2020, setting out how the funding has delivered improved support and better outcomes for offenders leaving custody and returning to the community.


Accommodation

32.Dame Glenys Stacey told us that one in five people leaving custody do not have somewhere to sleep on the night they leave prison, rising to one in three in her most recent inspection of short sentence release. This is a shocking figure. We have previously noted the close relationship between homelessness and reoffending.

33.We asked the Minister directly what he was doing about the critical problems with accommodation. The Minister described a pilot led by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) of £4.6 million to target the rough sleeping in certain pilot areas. Chief Probation Officer Sonia Crozier told us “We have set up a national working group around the Homelessness Act. We are actively engaged with [MHCLG] to track the new referrals system, whereby we have a duty to make referrals to local authorities of individuals who are homeless and under our supervision… It is early days, but we have the systems in place to monitor it.”

34.In our report on Prison Population 2022, we recommended that “for genuine cross-departmental progress to be made in ensuring access to housing for those leaving prison, a basic requirement to generating stable and crime-free lives, Government must urgently publish an accommodation strategy and action plan.” The Government rejected this recommendation, instead telling us that it is “concentrating resources into a more strategic, cross-Whitehall approach… we are now actively feeding in to the MHCLG-owned Rough Sleeping Strategy and Delivery plan”.

35.We are disappointed that the Government rejected our recommendation to publish an accommodation strategy and action plan for prisoners on release, given the serious problems we have identified. Ex-prisoners are a distinct group, and it is vital that their specific needs are not lost in the MHCLG-owned Rough Sleeping Strategy and Delivery plan. In addition, ex-prisoner accommodation needs go much wider than rough sleeping alone: there is a diverse range of needs in the ex-prisoner cohort, including people with mental health and social care needs, as well as offenders convicted of sexual offences. The MOJ should update us by December 2019 on their work to address the accommodation needs of prisoners on release, including the national working group around the Homelessness Act. This update should set out both actions taken and outcomes.

36.The new HM Inspector of Probation plans to start a thematic review relating to accommodation in 2019–20. We welcome this and look forward to its publication.


Reducing Reoffending

37.In March 2019, the NAO found that TR had failed to meet the MOJ’s targets to reduce reoffending, with a 22% increase in the number of reoffences per reoffender. We wrote to the Government about reoffending in July 2018, and received a response from the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Rt Hon David Lidington MP. He described the Reducing Reoffending Board which he chairs:

The Board will meet quarterly, and has been convened to support cross government work to tackle some of the main causes of reoffending including employment, health and accommodation… I’m committed to ensuring that the Board develops deliverable and measurable proposals that will result in public announcements … . My officials are responsible for tracking the actions agreed, and for collating and analysing the data to hold departments to account for tackling this problem and to measure progress.
38.We welcome the establishment of the cross-cutting Reducing Reoffending Board, but we have not seen the promised public announcements of its work. The Minister for the Cabinet Office should update us in September 2019 on progress made by the Reducing Reoffending Board since his July 2018 letter. This update should set out how many times the Board has met since July 2018, the deliverable and measurable proposals agreed by the Board, how actions are being tracked and data collected to measure progress, and what specific and measurable outcomes have been achieved to date.

Post-release supervision

39.TR reforms introduced legislative provision for 12 months of compulsory post-sentence supervision for offenders who had served short custodial sentences, adding around 40,000 more offenders to be supervised by probation services.

40.Last year, we found that available supervision was not sufficiently flexible to meet the diverse needs of this group, and we recommended that the Government consider repealing Section 2 of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014. The Government rejected our recommendation.

41.This is regrettable. Since we published our report, the evidence has become even clearer that post-release supervision for that cohort is not working. The NAO found that the extension had led to significant increases in the number of people being recalled to prison during their license period: “Between January 2015 and September 2018, the number of offenders recalled to prison for breaching their license conditions increased from 4,240 to 6,240 (47%). Over the same period, the percentage of offenders recalled to prison who had received short sentences of less than 12 months increased from 3% to 36%.” Women are disproportionately affected, as they are much more likely than men to be serving short custodial sentences.

42.In May 2019, the then HM Inspector of Probation reported that changes to the probation system have led to “no tangible reduction to reoffending”: rather individuals were “locked in an expensive merry-go-round of criminal justice processes” and the public left “at undue risk”. She found, as we found in our June 2018 report, that the “one size fits all” approach is unhelpful:

Many individuals who receive short sentences need intensive support; conversely, just under a quarter of inspected cases were lower-risk so supervision periods could have potentially been shortened or suspended. In my opinion, we need a more tailored approach to probation supervision for short-term prisoners and to direct resources to where they are most needed.
43.The Minister said, while he did not agree with the Committee that he should consider whether Section 2 should be abolished, “we can do better”. The Government response stated that MOJ is “continuing to consider ways of improving post-sentence supervision, in order to clarify expectations for its delivery and ensure a focus on rehabilitation.”

44.It is also essential that this work is adequately funded: we received evidence from the incoming Chief Inspector of Probation (formerly Director General for Justice Analysis and Offender Management, MOJ) that “As everyone knows, [TR] has brought 40,000 more people into the case load, people on short prison sentences who then require follow-up support, but without the additional money to deliver that.”

45.The MOJ should write to us by October 2019 to tell us how it is improving post-sentence supervision in order to meet our concerns, and those of the previous HM Inspector of Probation, that it is insufficiently flexible to meet the individual needs of offenders.


Sentencing policy

46.In the medium-to-longer term, we welcome Government’s stated intention to move away from short custodial sentences. This was a key recommendation in our report on Transforming Rehabilitation, as well as our report on Prison Population 2022. We believe that short periods in custody have worse outcomes in terms of reoffending, compared to community sentences, and so should be a last resort.

47.The MOJ has told us that “There is a strong case to abolish sentences of six months or less, with some exceptions”. The Minister said that he was unable to give a precise date, but that he would like to put proposals out to consultation by the Summer recess.

48.These proposals will require a strong and confident probation service to oversee alternatives to custody. In the words of the Minister, “the most effective answer to the problem of the ineffectiveness of short custodial sentences is to get community sentences right.”

49.But the evidence does not suggest that TR has helped to “get community sentences right”: rather, it points in the opposite direction. In June 2018, we expressed our concern that sentencer confidence in community alternatives to short custodial sentences had waned to such an extent that sentencers appeared to be reluctant in some cases to order community sentences rather than short periods in custody.

50.In the last year, our follow-up inquiry into the role of the magistracy found further evidence to support these concerns. For example, in November 2018, Jo King JP, Co-Chair of the Magistrates’ Engagement Group, observed that there had been a drop-off in confidence in community sentences under the TR regime, not helped by the “one-step removal of the Community Rehabilitation Companies from magistrates [as the CRCs do not attend court and do not provide pre-sentence reports, which are the responsibility of the NPS]”.

51.She added: “We need to … make sure that magistrates are confident when they impose a community sentence that it is a robust sentence, which meets the objectives that they identified for that particular sentence, and that we get adequate feedback from the CRCs and the National Probation Service on how an individual is performing on that order so that we can use them appropriately.”

52.The Magistrates Association also told us that “it will be important to tackle a lack of sentencer confidence in community sentences”. One suggested way to do this is “ensuring that good quality community provision that can meet the needs of offenders is available in every area of the country and that magistrates have a full understanding of what is available in their area. This should include ensuring the consistent availability of treatment options.” The Association also called for “bespoke community options for specific cohorts, such as women and repeat offenders”.

53.Dame Glenys Stacey had also observed that magistrates’ “confidence in community sentences has reduced over the period that TR has been running. It is not satisfactory”. She warned that many people who were given short custodial sentences were prolific offenders, often with a chaotic lifestyle and mental health/ substance misuse problems:

For judges and magistrates to have confidence that prison is not the right option, you need an effective alternative, and it is difficult to see that standard supervision could do it, given the nature of a good number of those people.
54.We asked HMPPS whether the probation service will be sufficiently strong to oversee the alternatives to custodial sentences and received reassurances that the planned new model for probation “is absolutely the right platform for us to move forward”.

55.We very much welcome Government’s stated intention to move away from short custodial sentences and look forward to scrutinising their proposals when these are brought forward. Proposals on short custodial sentences should set out the intensive rehabilitative approaches which will be put in place as an alternative to deal with prolific offenders, as well as how sentencer confidence will be increased.


Funding: transition to the new model

56.In June 2018, we recommended “If [CRC] contracts are to be terminated the Ministry of Justice needs to ensure that transition plans are put in place which make sure that offenders receive the support they require to be rehabilitated and their risk of reoffending does not increase.”

57.The Department told us in response that it was “developing a transition strategy to ensure a smooth handover”. We look forward to scrutinising that strategy, especially given the ambitious timescales involved. We also support the MOJ’s intention to learn lessons from the integration of offender management delivery in Wales, which it plans to deliver by the end of this year.

58.There are pressing concerns about the next few months. The NAO reported in March 2019 that: “The Ministry expects CRCs to take ‘drastic’ steps to limit their losses to contract termination. CRCs have begun to submit disinvestment plans to the Ministry, indicating where they propose to withdraw services to limit their losses. The Ministry is still to decide the extent to which it will step in to fund the continuity of some services. The possibility of multiple provider failures is a live risk.” The NAO came to this conclusion when the MOJ was maintaining the line that CRC contracts would run to 2020 and then be re-tendered.

59.The MOJ accepted our recommendation to monitor closely the financial position of all CRCs to ensure that no CRC is suddenly unable to deliver probation services. They told us “while the Department expects all CRCs to continue delivering services throughout the remaining life of the contracts, we have extensive contingency plans in place should any provider be unable to deliver their contractual requirements.”

60.We asked whether there is a risk of any further bail-outs for CRCs for the rest of the contract terms. Amy Rees, Director General for Probation, HMPPS, told us: “we believe, from the best knowledge that we have, that [the injection of an additional £467m] will be enough to stabilise as we go forward.” She added: “There are lots of changing numbers, and multiple parts and frequencies, which mean that it is difficult to say, when you take all of that, that there is no risk at all, but we believe we have taken steps to eliminate the risk as far as we can.”

61.We also queried how the MOJ would incentivise the CRC companies to keep up the work as their now non-renewable contracts wind down. HMPPS referred us to the contractual terms, which “are very clear about what they [CRCs] are obliged to do.” HMPPS also noted stabilisation measures, such as adjustments to contracts, and referred to close working with CRCs and trade unions on transition.

62.The risk of provider disinvestment will inevitably increase with the news that there will not be new CRC tenders in the pipeline. We note the priority which the MOJ is placing on close contract management of the remaining term of the CRC contracts, and we will be deeply concerned about the value for money for the taxpayer of any future bail-out of such contracts. HMPPS must pay close attention to what the new HMI Probation reports about the health of probation provision during the transition to the replacement system.

63.Under the new model, substantial funds will be reserved to the private or charitable sector. The National Probation Service will be expressly required to buy all interventions from the market, spending up to an estimated £280m a year.

64.We agree with the NAO’s assessment that the commissioning of TR commissioning was rushed and over-optimistic. The MOJ, HMPPS and NPS must learn from the experience of the failed and hurried introduction of the CRC/NPS split of services, if future commissioning is to prove more effective.

Funding: The cost of TR

65.In March 2019, the NAO found that the “payment by results model was inappropriate”, and that as a result of a shortfall in funding “CRCs have underinvested in probation services, which have suffered as a result.”

66.In the same month, the incoming HM Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell, told us that the probation system “is in a bad way and there are some very serious flaws with the way TR was set up”. He identified in particular a “big hole in the funding… it will be a critical issue for spending [decisions].”

67.We asked the Minister about the spend on TR. He told us that

the projected overall spend on the [CRC] contracts was going to be £3.7 billion. By ending them, we spend only £2.3 billion. You then add on the £470 million I have talked about [adjustments to contracts] … There are other rounding figures that mean an overall £800 million underspend.
68.This tells us nothing about what the Government will have purchased for that £2.9 billion, the value for money of the programme or whether it has been a good deal. It does not reassure us to hear that the MOJ has spent less than planned: rather, it points to an underfunded service. This was summed up by Justin Russell who told us that CRCs “are really struggling… the funding is not adequate to provide a quality service.” He explained:
In the original business case that the Treasury approved when TR was first implemented, the assumption was that this year we would be spending over £500 million per year on CRC contracts. We [MOJ] are actually spending less than £400 million per year. That is a £100 million gap. It is not, therefore, surprising that the quality of services has declined.
69.In our report in June 2018, we complained that there was ambiguity about the nature of the changes made to the contracts with CRCs and what the Ministry got from the CRCs in return for the increased funding. We were concerned that, as a result, it was difficult to scrutinise public spending decisions. We remain concerned.

70.The MOJ’s answer to us that it “complies with applicable transparency requirements, such as publishing Modification Notices in the Official Journal of the European Union” is not enough. The Department has rejected our recommendation to publish CRC and NPS supply chain information, including the monetary value of the sub-contracts, citing commercial sensitivity. The Permanent Secretary also told us that he could not, at this time, release the MOJ’s initial assessment of exit costs for current CRC contracts, since releasing these figures may compromise negotiations with providers. He did however, provide a breakdown of costs for 2018–19 associated with each CRC, as we requested.

71.There is an unacceptable lack of transparency about the reasons for individual spending decisions. For example, when he appeared in front of us, the Minister was not able to explain the Ministerial Direction, made four weeks before, to make payments to CRC subcontractors, against the advice of the MOJ Permanent Secretary in his role as departmental Accounting Officer. Ministerial Directions are rare—it was nine years since the Secretary of State for Justice last issued one.

72.When the period with the current CRCs has been finalised and completed, the MOJ should publish a cost analysis, setting out the spend on CRCs and the changes for the lifetime of the CRC contracts. We also note that HMPPS publishes a cost per prisoner per year; the MOJ should consider publishing per-head costs of offender probation support, broken down by CRCs and the NPS.


Conclusion

73.The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State told us that: “Clearly, it [Transforming Rehabilitation] has not delivered in the way we wanted.” We agree. The Government has done the right thing, finally, by making changes to the probation system. This report has set out areas which the Government must address if it is to get probation back on track.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Guest Blog 75

A Plea

I’m currently a PSO looking to attend the Napo conference this October. Despite being in the service for a number of years, along with countless others, I’ve never seen an increase in my salary. Therefore I nearly fell off my perch when faced with the £50 cost.

I'd like to point out the ever-widening chasm in pay between Probation staff who are current Napo members that seems to go largely unrecognised by this blanket charge to attend conference.

As a union who prides themselves on equality of opportunity, isn’t it about time Napo considered that £50 is quite a lot of money to those of us at the bottom of the pile? Especially those of us who are currently on the bottom rung of a career ladder that’s just been snapped off and face being sold off - yet again - down the privatisation river ....

As a PSO in Programmes I face the possibility of quite literally never catching up with my once equal peers in the land of Offender Management, despite 9 years service, two degrees, a Level 3 Diploma in Probation and an ongoing Masters in Criminal Justice.

With all this talk of Public Sector pay rises and vacancies for OM PSOs advertising pay scales of up to £27,300 whilst those of us who are qualified PSOs see so-called Intervention Facilitator posts advertised at a static £22,039 with no such rising scale.

My question to Napo is thus : can they please consider a sliding scale of charges in the future for conference? As a single parent on a PSO wage that will never increase (unless I finally see sense and leave the service) £50 is a daunting prospect in comparison to a household with two wages that includes a PO paid in excess of £12,000 more than I am. Can they really expect us all to pay the same amount to attend?

And what of TR2? Once the poorer Intervention cousins in UPW and Programmes are sold off yet again will we even be entitled to call ourselves Probation Staff, attend conference and remain Napo members? So many uncertainties to be faced yet again!!!


Anon

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Crime is Big Business

It's getting hot, many of us are tired, weary and completely disillusioned. Our politics are completely broken and professionally we're all at sea again. So much seems to be going wrong domestically with public institutions and organisations that appeared to function pretty well now showing signs of failing. Public money is short, but wasted everywhere. Huge profits are made at public expense. Wrong decisions are taken, experience ignored but lessons are seemingly learned. There's fake news, misinformation, spin and dodgy statistics everywhere - and then along comes this from the MoJ - 'Economic and social costs of reoffending' :-

Executive summary 


The appraisal and evaluation of policies and interventions is a key part of the decision-making process in government. Assessing the costs and benefits of these allows evidence-based decisions that enable the government to use its limited budgets to best effect and to ensure interventions deliver value for money. 

This report therefore fills a key evidence gap by estimating the economic and social costs of reoffending in England & Wales. It can be used by policy makers to assess the value for money of interventions that aim to reduce reoffending. Furthermore, the analyses by reoffence group and index disposal provides a level of granularity which enables a firmer understanding of the potential impacts of policy decisions and the feasibility of future options compared to previous estimates. 

In 2018, the Home Office (HO) published an updated version of the economic and social costs of crime which has provided a valuable starting point to estimate the costs of reoffending. 

Cost estimates are based on a cohort of offenders that had either been released from custody or had received a caution or non-custodial conviction between January to December 2016, and who then went on to reoffend over a 12-month follow-up period, as defined in the proven reoffending official statistics.

These proven reoffences are counted from a cohort which spans offenders released from custody or who received a caution or non-custodial conviction (hereafter, known as the index disposal) in 2016. Reoffences, as counted in this report, could therefore take place from January 2016 to December 2017 but are only counted if they take place within a 12-month follow-up period from the index disposal. This is used to approximate the number of reoffences over a 12-month period. Therefore, it does not capture reoffending where reoffences occur over a longer period after the index disposal.

Estimates have subsequently been uplifted to 2017/18 prices by using a Gross Domestic Product deflator. 

Assumptions and limitations outlined in Section 3 of the report should be considered when interpreting the results. In particular, total costs of reoffending presented will be underestimates given that figures associated with certain offence groups represent partial costs only. Furthermore, the estimates do not capture reoffending where reoffences occur over a longer period after the index disposal. 

Main results, which are based on a cohort of offenders identified in 2016 who subsequently went on to reoffend over a 12-month follow-up period, show that: 
  • The total estimated economic and social cost of reoffending was £18.1 billion. 
  • The estimated economic and social cost of reoffending by adults was £16.7 billion. 
  • Theft reoffences made up most of the estimated costs for adults compared to other offence groups, at £9.3 billion, followed by violence against the person reoffences, at £4.2 billion. 
  • In terms of index disposal type, adult offenders who had previously received a court order7 or custodial sentence accounted for the largest portion of estimated costs, at £6.5 billion and £6.0 billion respectively. 
  • The cost of reoffending by children and young people (i.e. those under the age of 18 at the time of entry into the cohort) was £1.5 billion, with theft comprising the largest portion compared to other offence groups, at £532 million. 
  • Reoffences committed by children and young people who had previously received youth rehabilitation orders or first tier penalties as their index disposal type incurred most of the costs, at £510 million and £468 million respectively. 
  • The cost of reoffences committed by adults who had previously received a custodial sentence of less than 12 months was £5.0 billion whilst those who had served a sentence of 12 months or more cost £1.0 billion. The cost difference is primarily driven by the greater number of offenders receiving shorter sentences compared to those receiving a longer sentence. The equivalent costs for reoffending by children and young people were £52 million and £22 million respectively.

Monday, 22 July 2019

'Window For Reform Closed'

This from the Justice Gap website as we contemplate the prospect of a new Cabinet comprising the likes of Angela Leadsom, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Liz Truss, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab:-

Proof magazine launch: ‘Why are we obsessed with locking people up?’


The UK has an ‘obsession with imprisonment’ and needed a more considered discussion about prison reform, according to Paula Harriott of the Prison Reform Trust. As reported recently on the Justice Gap, England and Wales has the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe with more than 140,000 admissions last year.

The former prisoner and head of prisoner involvement at the group was speaking last week at the launch of the latest edition of the Justice Gap’s Proof hosted where campaigners expressed concerns over a Boris Johnson government clampdown on ‘soft justice’.

The event was part of the Byline Times News Club and took place at the National Union of Journalists. Other speakers included ex prison governor John Podmore, Frances Crook of the Howard League, former prisons inspector Nick Hardwick and (in a separate panel discussion) the artist Patrick Maguire and veteran crime correspondent Duncan Campbell.

Paula Harriott argued that the current prison system wasn’t fit for purpose, and the government needed to reconsider its ‘morality and humanity’ in developing a system that prevented people from re-offending. According to the Prison Reform Trust, almost half of adults (48%) are reconvicted of another offence within one year of release.

Flagging up the seemingly inevitable appointment of Boris Johnson as prime minister, Nick Hardwick, now Professor of Criminal Justice at Royal Holloway, suggested that the ‘window of opportunity’ for serious criminal justice reform had closed. Hardwick was effectively sacked as chair of Parole Board following the furore over the decision to release the Worboys.

In his column for the Daily Telegraph, the Tory MP attacked ‘the Leftist culture of so much of the criminal justice establishment’ and, in particular, slammed parole boards for being ‘slaves to political correctness’. Hardwick told the audience he had taken Boris Johnson’s attacks on liberals personally. ‘I am liberal, I don’t find that an insult,’ he added.

Rather than the evidence-based policies suggested by the panel, he predicted a ‘lurch (back) to penal populism’. One idea that Johnson floated in a recent interview in which he attacked ‘Britain’s soft justice’ was a new requirement for all those sentenced to 14 years or more to serve their full sentence.

Such a policy would mean ‘another 4,000 people a year in prison’, predicted Hardwick. ‘The consequences of that is not merely the 4,000 people who will be directly affected, but the effect that will have on sentence inflation,’ he continued. ‘It will pull sentences longer across the board and that will push up the prison population. Do you think they’re going to pay for that increase in the prison population and pump in more staff to cope with it? I don’t think so.’

Not only are too many people going into prison but their exit ramp was blocked off, argued John Podmore. He flagged the chaos over the failed part-privatisation of probation which took place after ‘key senior people were sidelined’, giving the government the opportunity, with limited resistance, to ‘nail the coffin lid down’ on the probation services.

Frances Crook, chief exec of the Howard League for Penal Reform, proposed a ten step plan aimed at reducing the number of people going into prisons, and maximising the number coming out. She pointed approvingly to Scotland’s recent abolition of short-term prison sentences, where prison sentences have been abolished for periods of under a year. Not only would this bring parity to sentencing policy across the whole of the UK, it would ‘save money’ and take ‘women out of the system completely’.

Crook echoed Podmore’s suggestion that we need to focus on community responses to crime, which have become ‘too long’ and are ‘poorly delivered’, with community sentences needing to be made ‘short, simple and effective’. She argued that ‘punishing’offenders didn’t work and the justice system needed to refocus so that those who have committed crimes ‘make amends’. A better system would be one that required an offender to take actions to ‘say sorry for what they have done’, focussing on compensation and apology rather than punishment.

Paula Harriott said that society had ignored the fact that ‘imprisoning people doesn’t work’ and that it had been a ‘total failure’. She argued for a shift of focus to the causes of crime, rather than on the people who commit crime, saying that society has ‘individualised crime’ in such a way that it allows us all to avoid looking at ‘our collusion and culpability on why people are on a pipeline to prison’.

This individualisation has meant that we don’t properly focus on the fact that four out of 10 prisoners are from a black and minority ethnic background, or consider how to redress the inequality within the social, economic and political arenas that underpins offending and re-offending.

Paula Harriott argued that the ‘othering’ of prisoners means that most prison reform charities (with the exception of the Howard League) failed to become properly involved in the political conversation, ‘holding back’ and choosing to ‘hide behind the Lobbying Act’ (which has been accused of stifling campaigners).

Instead of this timidity, Harriott called for reform groups to be ‘courageous’, to ‘talk about the causes of crime as a way of preventing the pipeline’ and to ‘involve prisoners in the debate’. The ‘discrimination in the sector’ means that even those supportive of prison reform are reluctant to call upon prisoners to speak for themselves, concerned that they may ‘disrupt and disturb the narrative’ which the organisations have established. More prisoner voices would emphasise their humanity and add persuasive force to the arguments for reform

Flagging up the prospect of a Boris Johnson-led government with a sustained attacked on ‘soft justice’, Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform charity, also added ominously: ‘Be afraid, be very afraid.’

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Longer or Shorter Sentences?

As always, Rob Allen proves helpful when trying to make sense of where exactly criminal justice policy might be heading:-   

Short Changed?

Soon to be ex Justice Secretary David Gauke rightly told us in a farewell speech last week that a short spell in prison doesn’t protect the public, doesn’t serve as much of a deterrent and exacerbates those already deep-rooted difficulties an individual faces. Sadly, his own 18-month spell as Justice Secretary hasn’t proved long enough for him to do much about the problem. He should really have started tackling the issue much sooner. He seems to have listened to his deputy’s Rory Stewart’s foolish view that there had been too much talk “about grand issues of sentencing policy,reoffending and the policy context.” In reality there hasn’t been enough.

David Gauke has done what he can to encourage his successor to take forward his progressive reforms to sentencing. He’s bequeathed them a Single Departmental Plan for the MoJ that aims to protect the public from harm caused by offenders through building confidence in an effective probation system, reducing the use of prison and increasing the use of community and alternative sentences. And he’s got his department to produce a sheaf of research showing an £18 billion cost of reoffending, very high level of needs experienced by people who commit crime and the fact that sentencing them to short term custody- even with supervision after release- is associated with higher proven reoffending than if they'd instead got community or suspended sentence orders. But will all this be enough to keep a policy of reducing prison numbers in place?

A somewhat different view has been put forward by new Tory think tank Onward who argue that a greater number of persistent offenders should go to prison for longer periods. Disappointingly, on penal policy, Onward's “new ideas for the next generation" turn out to be Michael Howard's Prison Works vision from the last one. Onward seem to want “three strikes and you’re out” mandatory minimum prison terms, arguing that “super prolific offenders” account for more crime and get fewer prison terms that in the past. They also want more prisons to be built. (Their Director Will Tanner used to work for G4S).

The statistics Onward deploy seem arguable. With fewer crimes being cleared up, it’s not surprising if “the usual suspects” loom larger in the population of those who are brought to justice. It would also be odd if the calamitous decline in prison performance and debacle of probation privatisation have not had negative impacts on the unfortunate people who have experienced them as service users.

Dealing with petty persistent offenders raises some fundamental questions of sentencing philosophy in particular about the weight that should be attached by courts to previous convictions. On one view, anything but a very limited weight can amount to a kind of double- or more- jeopardy in which you can end up being punished in perpetuity for past misdeeds.

The short-lived 1991 Criminal Justice Act controversially provided that an offence should not be regarded as more serious because of any previous convictions of the offender or any failure of his to respond to previous sentences.

On another view, repeat offenders deserve to be dealt with more harshly, because spurning a chance to go straight and continuing to flout authority make bad behaviour worse and elevate the need to protect the public above concerns about reform and rehabilitation. For the last 25 years, courts have been required to find recidivist offenders more culpable; and many of those who end up getting short prison sentences are likely to have simply exhausted the patience of the magistrates and judges.

Whatever Onward might think about the feebleness of the courts, the fact remains that since 2010 for the more serious types of cases , the proportion of offenders going to prison has gone up along with the length of their sentences. They are right to call for a review of Sentencing Guidelines, but if the Sentencing Council were to do its job and properly have regard to the cost of different sentences and to their relative effectiveness in preventing re-offending, the conclusions would be very different from Onward’s dismal prescription.

Unfortunately, evidence may struggle to prevail in the forthcoming government. Back in 2011, several up and coming Tories argued the need to reverse the tide of soft justice, “not ashamed to say that prisons should be tough unpleasant and uncomfortable places”. Liz Truss, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and others who now expect jobs from Johnson, argued that what was to become Gauke’s policy of a presumption against short prison sentences is the wrong approach and that we should be doing exactly the opposite - ensuring that persistent offenders are imprisoned for longer periods. “When the law is broken, our condemnation should be unequivocal. The primary purpose of our justice system is to protect our society, not to act as a welfare service for convicted criminals.”

Such a forlorn view may bring an end to short prison sentences – but only by replacing them with longer ones.

Rob Allen

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According to former Telegraph editor Max Hastings, we might be about to get lumbered with a very tasteless joke as Prime Minister, but the Tories are clearly re-grouping:-

About Onward

Onward is a powerful ideas factory for centre-right thinkers and leaders. We exist to make Britain fairer, more prosperous and more united, by generating a new wave of modernising ideas and a fresh kind of politics that reaches out to new groups of people.

We believe in a mainstream conservatism – one that recognises the value of markets and supports the good that government can do, is unapologetic about standing up to vested interests, and assiduous in supporting the hardworking, aspirational and those left behind. Our goal is to address the needs of the whole country: young as well as old; urban as well as rural; and for all parts of the UK – particularly places that feel neglected or ignored in Westminster.

We will achieve this by developing practical policies that work. Our team has worked both at a high level in government and for successful thinktanks. We know how to produce big ideas that resonate with policymakers, the media and the public. We will engage ordinary people across the country and work with them to make our ideas a reality.

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This from The Cambridge Student, TCS November 2018:-

Will Tanner – Top Adviser to Theresa May

You may not have heard of him, but Will Tanner has been at the heart of British politics for the past five years. From 2013 to 2017 he was a close adviser to Theresa May in the Home Office, before becoming the deputy head of Number 10’s policy unit when she became Prime Minister. Now he is the director of the think-tank Onward, a centre-leaning forum for generating policies in line with “mainstream conservatism”. He was recently hosted by Trinity College’s Politics Society, where he answered audience questions surrounding his role in drafting the Conservative Party’s controversial 2017 general election manifesto, Theresa May’s vision for Britain, and, of course, Brexit.

I was able to ask the first question, and decided to raise the issue of the negative reaction to Universal Credit, the government’s amalgamation of six pre-existing welfare payments into one. This heated debate has been felt in Cambridge – CUSU Disabled Students’ officer Emrys Travis was recently reported in Varsity as calling the system: “the epitome of a litany of government cuts and incompetence”. Will began by acknowledging that the implementation has been far from smooth. “Universal Credit is one of those very well-intentioned reforms that is absolutely right in principle, but has been delivered very badly in practise […] The big issue politically is as a result of the 2015 budget changes, which have cut the work allowances and introduced extra waiting days, and basically took a lot of money out of the system which means that, instead of everyone benefitting […] there are quite a large number of families – millions of families – who will lose out.” Yet, he argued that there is a “very good reason” why welfare spending has taken a hit over the past few years. A key problem with the system, he tells me, has been the centralised approach to its roll-out. “Unfortunately, Universal Credit will be fixed through 1000 small little bitty things that no-one really understands, rather than big expansive changes that politicians have been arguing for. And I think there’s a really, really big danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Universal Credit is a good thing, we just need to make it work properly, rather than what Labour are arguing for which is chucking the whole thing, without any reasonable alternative – they literally have no alternative […] We need to depoliticise the issue.”

Will has been at the centre of Conservative policy formulation under Theresa May, and this was the theme of many of the questions he went on to answer. “The proudest thing I ever did in government was something you will never have heard of […] we created something called Alternative Places of Safety. It was £15 million, so in the scheme of government nothing, literally change down the back of the sofa for the NHS, and we created health-led safe spaces for people with mental health problems, so that they don’t get taken to a police cell when they are in crisis.” The results of this system have been remarkable. As he explained, through the operation of the “12 or 15” of these centres up and down the country, “we reduced the number of people with mental health problems being taken to police cells by something like 85% in the last 4 years.”

Nevertheless, Will must be painfully aware that it is not the successful policies that make the headline news. Famously, the Conservative’s 2017 manifesto contained a new plan for funding social care costs by making everyone with combined assets of more that £100,000 pay for their care. The scheme – dubbed a ‘dementia tax’ by pundits – was widely panned, and eventually dropped. Will was personally involved in the decision to keep the plan in the manifesto, and was quick to defend it. “At the heart of it was a progressive principle that if you have more wealth, then you should probably contribute more […] We set the floor deliberately high – £100,000 for a property, so that something like half of the population would be insulated from paying for their care costs.” He admits that, because the election was called so quickly, not all the details were fully prepared. “When journalists started asking difficult questions we didn’t have very good answers […] In hindsight I think the U-turn – [May’s] ‘nothing has changed’ speech – was bad, because it undermined her brand [as someone who] told the hard truth. The thing about that manifesto was that it told a lot of hard truths. We had the triple lock on pensions going, we had free school meals being cut to just means tested […] we had the education budget being at not quite real-terms levels. All these are things that people had deliberately not touched for three or four elections because they knew that they would be very difficult. There’s that old saying ‘campaign in poetry, govern in prose’. It’s true. Don’t load too many difficult hard truths into your manifesto.”

Overall, he believes that the 2017 election was called for the right reasons. “The gamble was that we could afford to lose a few points in order to give ourselves a mandate to do all the things the country should have done years and years ago. That’s a really noble intention – we were na├»ve perhaps. Also, Labour, in contrast with other elections, basically went full tilt at socialism and they were unabashed […] With Jeremy Corbyn you had somebody who was quite literally promising the world and not thinking he was ever going to have to deliver.”

Finally, an audience member brought up Brexit, the cloud hanging over any discussion of contemporary British politics. “I had a conversation with quite senior people in government recently who said that Brexit takes up between 85 and 90 per cent of government’s time. It will be a hell of a lot worse if we enter into ‘no deal’ territory in the next few months.” He laments the fact that “Government doesn’t have the bandwidth do new policy thinking anymore […] I personally think, and when I was in Downing Street I was arguing this, that the only way to do Brexit properly is to treat it as one side of the coin. You have to do the domestic vision alongside. The difficulty is that politics has become so bound up in the individual nuances of people’s individual Brexit position. That psychodrama is taking all of the oxygen out of politics.”

Will Tanner is of a political class that is becoming steadily rarer in today’s world – the moderates. Although many will disagree with what he says, it makes a change from the increasingly polarised tenor of contemporary debate.