Sunday, 20 January 2019

Lets Go Round the Circle Again

I guess it goes without saying that most of us who've been around some time get mightily fed up when the wheel seems to be continually re-invented and some very old tried and tested ideas are trumpeted as new and innovative. Who'd ever have thought that providing training for employment within prison would reduce reoffending rates? 

Here we have the CEO at City & Guilds getting a little excited at such a prospect, seemingly forgetting or choosing not to remember that much of what he proposes was very effectively dismantled only a few years ago due to the staffing cuts introduced under Chris Grayling's prison watch. You can't get prisoners gainfully involved in training if there isn't the staff to unlock and supervise them, can you? 

Passionate about Reducing Reoffending

Passionate might be an overused word, but it is simply the best way to articulate how I feel about giving ex-offenders the opportunity to turn their lives around. As something so close to me personally and to the City & Guilds Group, I was immensely proud to see data from the Ministry of Justice showing the impact City & Guilds qualifications have on reducing reoffending.

Paid employment can reduce the likelihood of re-offending by as much as 50% and two-thirds of prison leavers identify it as one of the key factors in preventing re-offending. However, currently just 27% of people leaving prison enter paid employment on their release.

We’ve worked with the MoJ to help address this major challenge for a long time, delivering qualifications in Maths, English, Hospitality, Catering and Construction to help prisoners gain skills that make them genuinely employable.

The latest MoJ research found that those who had registered for City & Guilds qualifications were less likely to reoffend, committed fewer re-offences, and took longer to re-offend than those who had not. This underscores our fundamental belief that learning gives people the power to make positive change, and we’re more motivated than ever to bring learning to more people so they can change for the better.

Qualifications are only part of the story. Yes, we want to educate people in skills to perform in-demand jobs (and that help fill some of the most critical skills gaps in organisations and our economy) and we work closely with probation officers to get people into work. But we also need to make a focused effort to keep offenders out of prison, giving them a pathway to further education and training that will help them move forward in their careers and lives. Investing in the communities and infrastructure that support offenders is therefore vital.

A few years ago City & Guilds Group set up a £5m investment fund, to support individuals who are at a disadvantage or hard to reach to develop the skills they need to get into a job, progress on a job, and onto the next job. One of the key areas we focused on is findings skills interventions that help prevent offending and reoffending, hence our work with St Giles Trust - a London-based charity helping severely disadvantaged people to find jobs and homes.

The St Giles ‘Employability Skills for Peer Advisors’ programme gives ex-offenders an easier and more rewarding route into employment. Former offenders are trained to an NVQ Level 3 Advice and Guidance qualification and offer peer support (everything from motivational skills alongside help with CVs, applications and job searches) to help other ex-offenders into employment. As ex-offenders themselves, the team have a direct insight into the barriers people face when looking for a job with a criminal conviction.

Independent research from Cranfield University, based on Home Office data, revealed that in the last year it trained and qualified 63 peer advisors, who went on to work with 105 ex-offenders. As a result, ex-offenders were shown to be three times more likely to be employed and thus less likely to re-offend. The estimated saving to the public purse as a result of these people having been reached through the programme is £6.5m over three years. We are hugely pleased to see that the programme has had such a substantial impact But there’s so much more we can do.

When I meet with the prisons minister next week we’ll be talking through the possibilities of creating programmes of activity that reach the wider prison population. With peer advice projects of the kind modelled by St Giles Trust there is a significant opportunity to scale this project and see two-fold benefits: giving ex-offenders meaningful employment as peer coaches, and developing the behaviours in offenders that will help them into long-term employment.

Coupled together, the MoJ results and Cranfield study make a compelling case for taking a multi-faceted approach to upskilling and employing offenders and ex-offenders. We need to look at the pathways into and out of prison, and identify the moments where an intervention is critical. This may be in prison through formal training, it may be on release through supportive advisory projects - it may be in later years through informal networks. Through an aligned, clear position about what we expect of prisoners and prisons, and getting processes in place that help each progress, we can create an environment that delivers nothing but value to individuals, businesses, and the economy as a whole.

We’re proud to support ex-offenders, and we’re proud to have banned the box earlier this year to help open up job opportunities for ex-offenders in the Group. But it has to be a collective effort. I have a vision where we can give all offenders the chance to learn and work, and become a valued member of our society.

Chris Jones
Group CEO City & Guilds Group & Chairman  

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Growing Digital Disquiet

Some time ago I was told by a well-respected source that the MoJ had a secret plan to close every court in England and Wales and move everything online. Only the Supreme Court and Old Bailey would remain, largely for ceremonial and historic reasons. 

As far as I know, this remarkable ambition has never been acknowledged, and yet its implementation marches inexorably onwards, despite the usual regular catastrophic IT and technology failures. Signs of disquiet are however gaining momentum, as outlined here on the BuzzNews website:- 

Leaked Report Says Moving Justice Online Could Lead To Innocent People Pleading Guilty

Exclusive: Magistrates Association says court reform proposals present “a very real risk of unfair or disproportionate outcomes for the most vulnerable people in our courts.”

Government plans to move more criminal justice cases online could lead to vulnerable innocent people pleading guilty, according to testimony from the Magistrates Association seen by BuzzFeed News. The association, which represents the volunteers who hear most criminal cases in England and Wales, raised many serious concerns about reforms in response to an internal survey from the senior judiciary. Submissions to the Judicial Ways of Working consultation were never intended to be made public. The scale of disquiet about the reforms is apparent immediately. In its introductory paragraph, the association writes: 


“The MA welcomes the underlying aims of the reform agenda to improve the efficiency of the justice system. However, we are alarmed by some of the proposals set out in the Judicial Ways of Working papers. We believe there is potential to erode judicial decision-making powers and undermine established democratic processes and the fundamental principles of the justice system. We also believe that if these proposals are implemented there is a very real risk of unfair or disproportionate outcomes for the most vulnerable people in our courts.”

The document adds to a growing body of evidence that there are serious concerns across the judiciary about the reforms. It is the latest in several leaked submissions, including a scorching assessment by district judges that the courts are “even more broken” following budget cuts and another warning witnesses could be coached off camera in video hearings. As part of its programme of court reform and closures, the Ministry of Justice is proposing to move more pleas online, so that people do not need to come to court to say if they will be pleading guilty or not guilty.

Magistrates usually hear pleas in court which means that even if someone does not have a lawyer, the magistrates or court legal adviser can remind them of the implications of a decision. They are concerned that if online pleas were introduced in all cases, “there is a risk that defendants will indicate a plea without getting appropriate legal advice, possibly without realising the seriousness of the case.”

They added: “An even more concerning outcome may be ill-considered pleas where an individual does not, for example, appreciate that they have a statutory defence or fails to understand the process. This would result in incorrect outcomes, where a defendant is found guilty of an offence of which they are innocent.”

The document, which was leaked to the charity Transform Justice, also showed magistrates concerns that by entering a plea on a computer there would be missed opportunities to identify if a defendant has vulnerabilities that might make it hard for them to understand how best to plea. Because many people facing criminal charges do not have a lawyer, magistrates are worried about vulnerable people’s ability to navigate online pleas and video hearings without advice. So far in proposals Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has described the process being completed by a lawyer but there do not appear to be any guarantees.

Magistrates said: 


“Where a plea is currently taken in person by a court, there is the opportunity to ensure they understand the law (for example relating to equivocal guilty pleas) as well as making sure they understand the consequences of a guilty plea if equivocal. Similarly, a not guilty plea could be entered in the mistaken belief that an individual has a defence, when it should actually be seen as mitigation rather than a defence.”

BuzzFeed News revealed in December 2017 that the number of people facing criminal charges without a lawyer in magistrates court was on the rise. A survey of magistrates found 30% of all criminal defendants they saw at their last session had no lawyer, up from 24% in 2014. The means test cut off for qualifying for legal aid in magistrates court has not kept pace with inflation, remaining unchanged since 2008. It was reintroduced for criminal cases by the Labour government in 2006.

Jon Collins, chief executive of the Magistrates Association, told BuzzFeed News “Of course we’re concerned the future of the court system… no one wants to stand in the way of much-needed modernisation of the courts system but it is a complicated programme and I think it’s important that at every step of the way we’re evaluating how it’s going and that it’s delivered in a way that prioritises access to justice and a fair system for all court users.”

The document also shows the level of disquiet about plans to close more courts and get rid of court staff. More than 250 courts across England and Wales have been closed since 2010, a move the government justifies by arguing it is part of a shift towards virtual justice. The department is also planning to axe more than 6,500 court and backroom jobs by 2022.

The association said magistrates were “very concerned about proposals to further reduce the court estate, as well as a very significant reduction in staff. Centralisation risks losing local justice and justice becoming remote from all parties as well as the public – which can only damage public trust and confidence in the system.”

Magistrates also expressed scepticism as to how often video hearings – a key part of the proposed reforms – will be practical or agreed to. The government’s own impact assessment showed that just 36% of people in all age groups use the internet to make calls or web chat. Magistrates said this figure “indicates the percentage of people who might be willing to use video-link technology to give evidence or otherwise engage with legal processes is likely to be low.”

The quality of existing technology is also worrying many in the judiciary. The association said of video-links already in use: “Magistrates report difficulties with establishing connections, as well as the fact that sound quality can be poor. Both of these could severely limit the effectiveness of using the technology.”

Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice, who was leaked the document, said: 


"Another consultation response, this time from the Magistrates' Association shows just how unhappy many judges are about plans to close courts and put cases online and on video. It looks as if staff in courts will be reduced by at least half and many more courts will be closed. The MA is understandably concerned that if the local justice is eroded, trust in the justice system may erode too. Magistrates worry that most criminal charges will in future be dealt with via the closed "single justice procedure" process. This means that defendants who plead guilty of the least serious offences will not see a magistrate or the inside of a court. Magistrates rightly question how a vulnerable defendant might be identified if they have only ever filled in an online form and how victims might see justice done in these cases."

"The MA identifies many potential problems with proposals to encourage defendants to plead guilty or not guilty to crimes online. Let's hope HMCTS has heeded the warnings of magistrates and lawyers who fear vulnerable innocent people may swipe right to plead guilty. In response HMCTS has indicated that only lawyers will be able enter pleas online for defendants accused of serious crimes. But what is serious? All convictions lead to criminal records. So I fear the scope of offences deemed suitable for online pleas by unrepresented defendants will only increase."

The reforms are becoming a concern to MPs of all parties. The Justice Select Committee launched an inquiry last week into the access to justice implications of court closures and the reform programme. Chair of the committee, Conservative MP Bob Neill, said following its announcement: 


“There is no doubt that the HMCTS reforms represent a significant change in the delivery of justice across all areas of the system. While we welcome the intention of modernising the courts and tribunals, the Public Accounts Committee has already raised concerns about the deliverability of the reforms. We are worried about the access to justice implications and will take this opportunity to put those at the heart of our inquiry.”

After reporting on other judicial opposition to the reform programme, the communications director of HMCTS suggested that BuzzFeed News should have mentioned an independent evaluation which showed “a high level of satisfaction” among users of video hearings. While he study included a total of 31 interviews with court staff, lawyers and users about phone and video hearings, he neglected to mention that the sample size of appellants actually interviewed after a video hearing was just two.

A HMCTS spokesperson said: 


“The judiciary and government are working collaboratively on a £1bn reform package to deliver a more accessible, flexible and efficient justice system that is fit for the 21st century. The use of fully video hearings will be carefully developed and tested before being rolled out. They will only ever be used in certain types of hearings, at the discretion of the judge when they consider that it is in the interests of justice to do so. The first pilot took place in the Tax Tribunal last year and was subject to an independent academic evaluation which recommended that the pilots “be expanded”. All court closures to date have been because they are underused, dilapidated or too close to another court, and only after a public consultation.”

Friday, 18 January 2019

NPS IT Failures



There have been extensive IT failures in NPS for over a week:-
No access to any IT since Friday. Staff being asked to work from home where possible and use their own wifi at home. No communication/apologies from anyone about this? What is Plan B?
Another IT meltdown. Now at Day 5. Just weeks after the last - this is shambles and frontline staff will still be blamed if targets missed.
Day 7 and 'fixes' yesterday now seem to have had no effect, no access to emails, Delius or OASYs this morning.
This from Napo today:-

Napo members are asked to help circulate this message urgently amongst colleagues and other staff

Many reports have reached us since the start of the year of catastrophic IT failures in the NPS with the worst incidents occurring over the last seven days. Many CRC members will be familiar with ongoing IT outages and our members in CAFCASS will remember the terrible consequences of an IT failure following the introduction of their paperless system.

At yesterday’s Trade Union Engagement Meeting, Napo made strong representations about the chaos with the employer. Fortunately they were able to confirm that there is no truth in the rumour of hacking or external attacks on the system, but that a major glitch has occurred as a result of a system upgrade affecting 45,000 users across the NPS and wider Civil Service. Whilst accepting the reassurances that everything possible is being done to rectify the fault (which is obviously taking a lot longer than anticipated with further problems being reported to us), we made it very clear that the failures are having a serious impact on staff in the NPS. We also understand that the problems have affected some CRC operations where members have advised us that important case data is not reaching end users.

Risk issues

As you would expect, we pointed out the serious risk issues in relation to no information being available about callers to offices, the inability to safely share information with other agencies and practitioners being unable to make informed risk assessments. We also pointed out the duty that all employers have under health and safety at work legislation to take action to mitigate these risks and for staff to protect themselves. We also highlighted the extreme pressure this will place on members already facing unacceptable workloads, where the failure of the basic tools can be the final straw.

We received assurances that messages will be coming to staff from the employer very soon to apologise for the situation and recognise the impact this is having on them. We have asked for pro-active measures to be taken to ensure that members are not held responsible for failing to meet targets during periods of IT failures. We have also secured an agreement that to support this, the central log of IT failures will be made available to line managers around the time that they will be expected to have meetings with staff for the SPDR process. 



We have also been assured that all business continuity planning will be reviewed to put into place contingency processes to protect staff and the public. Finally, we have been assured that there will be a high level discussion with the Director of Probation about how to manage the inevitable backlog of work and we expect more news soon about when this will take place.

Napo Advice in the event of IT failures

Meanwhile, we wanted to offer members some general advice on coping with IT failures, whatever your employer.

  • Keep a log of the issues to use if required to explain failures to meet targets at a later date
  • In the event of a total lack of access to client information union reps should hold an emergency health and safety meeting to ask local managers what steps are being taken to ensure the safety of staff, clients and the public
  • If you have a laptop and work at home or at another location to catch up with essential tasks, record all time spent working appropriately on your timesheet, even if out of usual working hours
  • If you work from an alternative location make sure that you protect your own health and safety. This includes making sure that you have an appropriate workspace, for some members it may not be possible to work from an alternative location due to their specific needs or specialist equipment. You will also need to ensure you can maintain data security and follow employer policies on this. If in doubt you should report to your line manager that you are unable to complete work and unable to follow the suggestion to work from home / an alternative location because of these concerns.
  • If you use your personal mobile phone (or other device) for data or calls be aware that this may incur a cost. Our advice is not to incur any personal costs unless you have written agreement that this will be reimbursed by the employer.
  • Where you face workload pressures due to IT failures follow the advice on workloads on our website here https://www.napo.org.uk/workloads You may need to fill in a foreseeability notice (also available on the same page) and a stress risk assessment (following your employer’s process).
  • Remember to raise the issue in supervision with your line manager and make sure it is recorded in the notes of the meeting. Remember that, while your manager is not responsible for the IT failure, it is their responsibility to work with you to identify what essential tasks need to be (or can be) completed and what tasks cannot be done. Any plan made should be recorded (handwritten if necessary).
Ian Lawrence General Secretary
Katie Lomas National Chair

--oo00oo--

Stop Press - tweet from Digital & Technology MoJ:-
"We have had major disruption to a number of our IT systems this week. Most systems are now improving. We would like to apologise to everyone who has been affected. We are continuing to work with our suppliers to rectify remaining issues as quickly as possible."

Trials and Tribulations of Probation Recruitment

With TR having driven out many highly-qualified probation staff, both POs and PSOs, there is now a critical shortage of staff across the board. For several years the situation has been masked by a massive increase in the use of agency staff - in many instances the very people who were driven out by TR of course - but this avenue is now becoming depleted.

With talk of reducing the use of prison and tendering for TR2 in progress, there's currently a desperate recruitment campaign in progress via social media with cynics suggesting a rather rosy picture of life in the NPS is being projected. Issues such as piss-poor IT and office accommodation spring to mind, but it's also interesting to see how Facebook provides the perfect platform for other issues to be raised by putative recruits:-  

The requirement for a level 5 qualification is ageist. Many people in their mid fifties never had the opportunity or inclination to go to higher education, as the employment requirements of the time were different. A much fairer way to recruit, would be for someone to demonstrate the relevant skills. For a position like that of probation officer, life skills and experience are of great benefit. I find it difficult to understand how I can be qualified to make decisions regarding someones eligibility for state benefits (former DWP EO), or their level of need for social housing (former local authorities housing officer), but cannot apply for a position where I can help someone turn their life around.

Totally agree with you! Life skills and experience should be top priority.

Because you will be assessing risk and managing high risk offenders. I have mentored many older people who have completed a level five diploma in their fifties. I've recently completed an additional one myself in leadership and management.

Couldn't of put it better myself. x

Totally agree. Obviously a good education is required however common sense, life skills and dealing with others is just as important. You could have every qualification going and what does that prove? You can sit in a room study and retain information!

There’s many people already in the service and can not progress to being qualified as they don’t have a level 5 and they have been doing the job 10 years! It is crazy.

I'm one module away from a level 5 but could never dream of getting into debt for £2800 on the off chance I was hired.... And I have loads of relevant qualifications plus experience plus life experience..But this is pie in the sky for me.

I'm studying my masters at the tender age of 47 ... no excuse go for it! Thing is probation service won't have me ironically because I made a criminal mistake at 18 .. have three degrees plus life skills but I'm NOT lily white ... good for showing how lives can be turned around but nope I'm not good enough.

Depends what the conviction was at 18 and given ur 47 that was a long time ago.

Totally and utterly agree!


That’s awful you would be the perfect example what a dumb rule !!! X

I don't have any desire to return to education. The point I was making, was many qualifications mean very little apart from proving that you can retain information. There are thousands of people with perfectly adequate educational backgrounds that are being ignored in the job market, simply because they didn't go to university. People with real life experience. It's the same with social work. These are careers where common sense and life experience, are much more useful than diplomas etc.

I did 15yrs in CJ. Didn't get through first time I applied. 2nd time YES got accepted. then 'the change' happened.... I went CRC - not my choice - and never got to start. I didn't have a level 5 then. I was overtaken by people never done the job before....but they had a degree. Now I have a level 5.... not in my area for PQiP.... yet...

It's time that the civil service and local government looked at the potential they are missing out on by sticking to these arbitrary rules.

You can apply to be a PSO without a Level 5 and if you have no inclination to do education then you wouldn’t be fit to do the programme as it’s doing a degree alongside working full time.

I did a career change .. to enable being able to help others trying to get a life instead of existing. I wrongly assumed that I would get into criminal rehab and support services because of my life experiences. I studied psychology and criminology to enable me to apply to real life, I'm now furthering to specialise in addiction only to find out that because of my childhood error they won't employ me due to having to work with vulnerable people .... does not make sense to me at all?

By the way ... graduates are also ignored in the job markets it does not guarantee obtaining a job any longer.

You are missing my point entirely. The point is a level 5 qualification means nothing more than you can retain information. I know people with degrees that struggle to string a sentence together, let alone prepare a report. By using arbitrary rules for recruitment, an extremely large talent pool is being missed. Unless you left school in the '60s or '70s it is hard to understand why someone didn't go on to higher education. It was a time when you could walk into almost any job you wanted.

I'm well aware. Just grateful I'm getting to the end of my working life and not just starting out.

I don't disagree they are vital. A good level of education is important. The job involves a considerable amount of legal report writing and chairing various multi-agency meetings.

Just curious as I also have a chequered past did you apply and was refused for criminal record....? Are you already working with vulnerable people?

I was a housing officer for years, then worked in senior positions in child protection and planning all due to my hard work and experience. The latest craze is for housing officers to be recruited directly from uni. Most totally clueless on the ground, no idea how to deal with real people, never seen a council estate in their lives.

Yep there was a number of young people on my bachelors .. intended on going into social work their opinions and outlook was horrendously immature and within the SS would be dangerous! Life experiences DO over rule academic knowledge BUT stupidly is not considered when making an application. I was advised that any role working with vulnerable people would be non existing BUT I am in process of application .. with an institution which works to educate ex offenders within prison and externally .. so fingers crossed for me .. the positions are out there but few and far between.

The fact that the role requires legal report writing and chairing multi agency meetings, shouldn't automatically mean that people without a level 5 qualification are disregarded. As a housing officer I prepared reports for court and chaired meetings with other agencies. The fact someone doesn't have a qualification, doesn't mean that they are not capable of performing to the same standards as someone with qualifications. Relevant experience should be sufficient to prove ones capabilities.

I absolutely agree n ur not alone I’m in CRC many of my colleagues are in that exact same situation. X

I think you can apply to have a conviction taken off record. I was reading about it. Can you get a 30 minute free solicitor chat to see if it's possible. There are some sites that might know.

I left school in the early 70's and yes jobs where two a penny. I did my degree as a mature student and am starting PQiP at the age of 61.

Trying to train some of those people who are straight out of uni was very challenging to say the least. Paper qualifications are worthless in that environment unless you have good people skills, empathy and the ability to be tough in equal measure.

Who advised you that? I worked in probation over 10 yrs and my past is far from perfect. Unless you have an offence against child or vulnerable adult they will not discriminate, look at the rehabilitation of offenders act.

I agree it’s quite a harsh level of qualification as you are more than experienced. x

Good for you. But I'm not discussing mature students, the requirement for a degree or similar is arbitrary.

There is a significant academic component to the PQiP qualification, under the supervision of a local University. Without previous evidence of studying to that level, it would be difficult for the NPS to take on candidates and potentially set them up to fail. I totally agree that life skills/ previous working experience are invaluable (often more so than academic ability/knowledge).

I agree.. 20 yrs experience but I can’t progress..

If someone has evidence that they have been successful in comparable roles, where legal and technology knowledge are key elements, I don't believe they would be set up to fail. Personally speaking, I have been a housing officer, a DWP decision maker and an adviser for ACAS, during my working life. All of these have required a deep understanding of relevant law and it's application, in the case of benefits decisions, a rapidly changing landscape, due to case law. I would argue that, someone with the ability to perform a similar role, would suggest they are capable of the study required for PQIP.

Really? It's well worth investigation thanks for heads up I'll check it out.

No my offences weren't of that nature far from it ... it was an adviser at the job centre to be honest he wasn't very good and told me I'd have a better chance of employment if I removed my degree from my CV! I haven't given up with this not at all! I will achieve my goal ...might be 70 with a beard living in a loft smoking a pipe but I'll get there hahah.

I have nothing against someone getting a degree, whatever age they are. I have an issue with employers not being able to think past pieces of paper and take someone's experience into account.

Nothing stopping you from getting a qualification now... age is nothing but a number.

Your conviction will be spent therefore no need to formally tell them. I would just have a quiet word - have a look at the unlock website it will give you the info there and more details.

Whilst I 100% get your point that the applications should be open to those with heaps of experience, the job pays well so it’s gonna be competitive so they’re gonna want people with a degree and the experience. The questions on the competency section focused on your personal experiences not what degree you’ve acquired.

Life skills get in the way for this job.

Doesn't matter. Any conviction is enough. Many probation officers like to act superior.

Criminal record is for life.

I agree with you.

May be spent, but civil service applicants are checked for any conviction, spent or current.
CRC are looking for people to go pqip. x

You usually need to be the relevant line of work before undertaking a level 5 qualification as you use your experience to write your assignments. I completed level 5 courses in my 50s. It’s much easier when you have experience and job knowledge.

Nonsense, it’s not about retaining information, the qualifications are usually portfolio based not end tested.

I left school in the very early 80s. At that point less than 4% of school leavers went on to university.

I totally agree. I cant afford to go back to education. Have over 25 years of life and work experience for social work but can't apply as I don't have the qualifications. Same with this position.

Fantastic response and so true! So many jobs I can’t apply for so I can never further my career!

I'll look into it. x

Where did you hear they wouldn’t have you because of a historical mistake? I work in the service and know that to be untrue. x

Train to be a Probation Officer Hi Xxxxx thanks for your comments, and interest in our Probation Officer roles. Please send us an inbox message, so we can give you more information about our Probation Services Officers opportunities. Thank you.

You seem like the ideal person as you have been there and turned your life around, things like that annoy me.

I am indeed interested .... how is it I haven't had an invite to message you directly? Is this due to my honesty with my chequered past?


Same here it is disappointing! I have supported many young people on different aspects homelessness, unemployment, pregnancies just as a friend, my children's friends seek me out to chat tell me 'I'm on the level' they accept my words they are now progressing.


Xxxxx has been invited to apply haha well done! 

Incidentally one of my 'friends' is now at college (he was stealing cars to make money) he is now on a pathway to learning mechanics ....

It was a careers adviser that informed me it was unlikely ... I am actually going to make an application. .. my other comments have been removed?

Thankyou I will do! Seems my career adviser is clueless

Train to be a Probation Officer  Hi Xxxx, we would be happy to give you more information via the inbox, too.

l have a record and I'm employed with vulnerable people.... Don't let it stop you.... Good luck xx

Brilliant! Thankyou so much! X

I haven't got a level 5 qualification either. I have 20 years experience running a business that specialises in dealing with anger, aggression and violence. I have also trained probation and CRC staff. Is there a chance that this might be considered?

I am in my 40's and I am just completing a level 6 degree. And studying any topic is proving a lot more than just the fact you can retain information! Also you can apply to be a PSO without having a level 5. But with you saying you have no interest in getting a qualification then sadly the pqip programme wouldn't be for you anyway as you will be studying that qualification and the level 6 in criminal justice at the same time as working.

I too agree. They then coming about skills shortages but make it so difficult for people trying to get into different professions.

I don’t meet the eligibility criteria, what is my route to becoming a Probation Officer?

If you already know you don't yet meet the requirements to apply for the PQiP, there are a number of routes to beginning your career in criminal justice.

You can apply to become a Probation Services Officer (PSO). PSOs perform a similar role to fully qualified Probation Officers. The main difference is you won’t work with the highest risk offenders that Probation Officers work with so you don’t need a qualification to apply. All new PSOs undertake a comprehensive induction, including the Gateway to Practice training course and, a Level 3 Vocational Qualification in Probation Practice.

If you already have the required experience and a relevant Level 3 vocational qualification, you will have an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to study at a higher level by undertaking a short Level 4 study programme, otherwise known as an access route. If you complete this successfully, you will be able to enrol on a bespoke Level 5 distance learning course with one of the approved universities. This normally takes a year to complete. 

Successful completion of which will provide eligibility to apply for the PQiP training programme.

I am currently in post. My colleague did not have level 5 so is currently being sponsored for modules (paid for) so she can apply for the training. You should apply for PSO (one band under working with medium risk cases) and go for sponsored route once you're in role. So there are other ways to do the training, and it's a fairer process now :)

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

MoJ Rewards Failure - Again!

As the MoJ gears up for the retendering of the failed CRC contracts, the current edition of Private Eye highlights yet another example of the very cosy 'revolving door' they operate for top executives:- 

The government department in charge of probation has hired the boss of a badly performing private probation company as an executive director.

In 2015 the government privatised the probation service - which aims to steer offenders away from crime and into jobs and housing - by handing services for all but the most dangerous criminals to regional "community rehabilitation companies". From 2015 to 2018, Helga Swidenbank was director of probation at the London Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC), the largest CRC and run by a consortium led by US private prison firm, MTC.

The government gives the MTC consortium more than £70m a year, but official inspection reports are grim. The latest, from 2018, describes the London company's performance as "unacceptably low". It "did not sufficiently support rehabilitation" of ex-prisoners; public protection was "not of an acceptable standard"; and the privatised probation service was "not treating child safeguarding work as a priority". 

Probation staff who contacted the Eye were shocked that Swidenbank left the CRC late last year to become an executive director of HM Prison and Probation Service - the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) executive agency which "oversees probation delivery" by the privatised CRCs. Though Swidenbank joined in September, her appointment was not announced and the department does not list her among directors on its website. 

The revolving door between the MoJ and its poorly performing contractors is doubly worrying because the CRCs will soon be bidding for new contracts. Justice secretary David Gauke is ending the private probation contracts two years early, in 2010, because of their dismal performance. He is intent on retendering the contracts - meaning one of the worst performing companies now has an ex-boss in a senior position in the government's probation department.

The MoJ would not comment on Swidenbank's appointment, but did say she was director for youth custody, so not directly responsible for probation. Meanwhile, Swidenbank's replacement at the London CRC, David Hood, was formerly director of contracted services at HM Prison and Probation Service (then known as the National Offender Management Service, or NOMS). In this previous role Hood was in charge of outsourced probation services for the government; he now works for the largest of those outsourced services.       

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Latest From Napo 185

Here we have the latest blog post, slightly edited, from Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence:- 

Could a ban on short term sentences help to repair Probation?

In terms of media coverage, the lead stories on BBC and Sky news on Saturday following Rory Stewart's suggestion that under six-month sentences could be a thing of the past, was a huge boost for our campaigns.

It’s the lot of a General Secretary to try and be available for media opportunities at some unearthly times, but receiving a call from the BBC whilst out shopping in dress down Saturday mode with 30 minutes notice of a Taxi, was a test in itself. Worse followed with said taxi being involved in a fortunately minor (and injury free) traffic accident on route. Anyway, having made the 4:00pm TV and Radio interviews at Broadcasting House by the skin of my teeth, I hope that my contributions helped give probation and the role of our members some significant profile at a very handy time.

Here is the link to the BBC news feature https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46852559

The key question from commentators was whether, if the plan came about, Probation would be ready to cope? It’s something that our members have proposed for years and if politicians have the courage to see it through, then it might just be a catalyst to help put the service back together again. The significant savings that would be realised could be reinvested into a range of activities and fund harmonised pay for our CRC members.

As you would expect, this issue will get top billing on our agenda for the meeting with the Secretary of State later this month.


Napo delivering our mandate to protect members in SFO cases

It was quite a weekend media wise, with a major article in the Observer focusing on the statistics showing a rise in Serious Further Offences over the last two years.

It put Grayling’s disastrous and divisive reforms under the spotlight yet again, and highlighted the correlation between these depressing statistics and the workloads of practitioners (in the NPS and CRC estate) which have gone through the roof since Transforming Rehabilitation was implemented. Read the Observer here.

Our members who have been involved in a SFO review often tell me how difficult it is to cope with the process and the conclusions arising from it. Over the last 12 months we have assisted a substantial number of members in the subsequent disciplinary proceedings that have been instigated.

I have written before about our zero tolerance policy against the ‘scapegoating’ of staff following the mandate that we were given at AGM 2018 which the Officer Group and HQ Team are actively pursuing. In response to what is now becoming a regular occurrence, we are currently providing assistance to several members who have been called to give evidence at Inquests, where the Coroner and the families of victims are understandably demanding answers to some uncomfortable questions. We are not prepared to see our members hung out to dry while those responsible for creating a fragmented service run to the hills.

One question that ought be asked is: why did so many senior people in the higher echelons of the former NOMS and MoJ testify in evidence to the High Court that TR would not have a significant impact on public safety? This despite the conclusions to the contrary in their own unpublished risk assessments.

Probation Alliance seeks supporters

As was also reported in that Observer piece. Napo and the probation unions have joined forces with a number of organisations who share our view that the plan to re-marketise probation should be halted.

The letter below suggests that, among other things, the timeframe for the award of new probation contracts is simply unrealistic (a view shared by a number of senior CRC managers whom I have been in touch with recently) and that there are considerable risks in pushing through a procurement exercise that will merely repeat the mistakes of the past. All the stakeholders to this correspondence are unanimous in their belief that whatever the future holds for the service, it must be returned to public ownership. Its another timely reminder to Ministers that I hope they will consider carefully.

https://www.napo.org.uk/joint-letter-david-gauke-11-jan-2019

Monday, 14 January 2019

Probation Profession Calls for TR2 Halt

These are indeed proving to be interesting times for Criminal Justice Policy because it transpires that at the very time Rory Stewart was flying his kite in the Telegraph on Saturday, the following two letters were already in the post from some very well-respected players:- 

11th January 2019 

Rory Stewart OBE MP
Under Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation,
Rehabilitation and Sentencing
Ministry of Justice 
102 Petty France
London SW1H 9AJ

Dear Minister of State

The Rt Hon David Gauke MP
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
102 Petty France
London SW1 9AJ

Dear Secretary of State

We write to express our collective concern regarding the proposal to re-let the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) contracts.

Even without making any presuppositions about the long-term future and viability of these contracts, we are very concerned over the short time frame that the government proposes during which it is intended to re-align and re-let these undertakings. Moreover, this project is set against the unprecedented political uncertainty to which we are all currently subject. This does not help, precluding, as it does, any prospect of supporting legislative amendments in the foreseeable future.

We hope you will agree that the implications of the making a further series of mistakes in the name of Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) are extremely serious for the probation services, for organisations working in partnership with probation – the courts, the prisons, the police service, local authorities and the voluntary sector, for many thousands of service users and for the public.

It is our view that these contracts should be taken back into public ownership as management operations as soon as possible and not later than 2020. This would then allow sufficient time to properly consider and plan for future organisational arrangements. There are a number of precedents for this type of arrangement. This arrangement would take the CRCs back into the public sector ownership which applied to them from their creation in June 2014 to their privatisation in February 2015. There would be no complex legal, legislative or employment changes required, as the CRCs would simply revert to the ownership model which applied when first created.

The currently proposed time-frame for re-letting the contracts is even shorter than that which attached to the original Transforming Rehabilitation project. It is now widely accepted that the TR procurement timetable was wholly unrealistic in terms of being able to establish efficient and effective arrangements for the provision of Probation services.

Some civil servants may hold the view that lessons have been learnt from TR which will inform TR2, and that the experiences of the last four years will make re-letting the contracts easier the second time around. We do not share this view and believe that these matters will be equally complicated under TR2.

These are some of the issues that still need to be addressed:
  • Examination of the payment and profit model is required, especially as the costs for strengthened specifications is likely to increase delivery costs significantly. 
  • Restructuring of the National Probation Service to align with proposed new CRCs 
  • “Re-unification” of Wales; governance and management of the new arrangement in Wales
  • More effective commissioning of third sector agencies
  • Professionalisation including the proposed Regulatory Body with Professional Register
  • Staffing issues including TUPE/Staff Transfer to new employers and related pension issues
  • Rules in respect of monopoly provision – particularly since the proposed contract areas will be much larger.
This list is not exhaustive. Ministers will by now have seen the Delivery Confidence Assessment rating and we believe this should be made available under the Major Project Portfolio transparent data provisions.

Some of us were directly involved in the consultations and negotiations that took place under the original TR project. The rating assessment (risk register) was never made officially available at the time. In the event, some of us did have sight of it and some very serious risks were highlighted which were apparently (at the time) met satisfactorily. We now know that these risks were not properly assessed. Had they been so then the confidence of the courts, HMI, and the public as a whole might have been preserved. In our view there is a very real danger that re-letting the contracts now without proper and thorough consideration of the issues will result in the terminal decline of the Probation Service.

We do not believe it is wise to countenance a repetition of the shortcomings and mistakes associated with that original project and yet there is a very real likelihood that this is exactly what will happen if the MoJ adheres to the current proposals and the current schedule. These risks could be averted if the project is re-set in a realistic timeframe.

Much of the criticism of the current arrangements for the provision of Probation services centres on the split between the NPS and CRCs in core offender management work. The Government has recognised this in the model that will be adopted in Wales. Yet there is no allowance in the timetable for any evaluation of the outcomes of this revised model in Wales prior to CRC contracts being re-let.

We very much hope that you will accede to our suggestion above. We would then feel more confident in offering you our assurances in respect of ongoing support and advice regarding the review of the contracts.

Yours sincerely

Helen Schofield
Acting Chief Executive Probation Institute on behalf of 

Ian Lawrence - General Secretary - Napo
Ben Priestley – National Officer for Police and Justice UNISON
Phil Bowen – Director – Centre for Justice Innovation
Richard Garside – Director – Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
Frances Crook – Chief Executive - Howard League
George Georgiou – National Pensions Organiser - GMB

Why Something Has to Happen

As we continue to absorb the intriguing possibility of a Conservative government trying to get their party faithful to accept the notion of locking up less people, here's a reminder from Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, why something has got to happen. This from Counsel Magazine:-

Prisons in crisis: hope for reform

There’s a very pragmatic reason why we should not extinguish hope in our jails, writes Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. It’s time to break the vicious circle of despair

In 1977 I walked through the gates of Hendon Police Training School with a cardboard suitcase, a pretty average law degree and a total ignorance as to what the next 30 years would hold for me. Nevertheless, I was optimistic and full of hope. As it turned out, I spent much of those 30 years doing my very best to put people into prison.

Asked why I thought it was a worthwhile thing to be doing, I would have talked about the need to protect the public, enforce the law, prevent more crimes – and victims.

I’m pretty sure I would never have said that it would be a good idea to hold people in conditions that would almost certainly guarantee they would emerge from prison more angry, more embittered, more violent, better schooled in the ways of crime, and more ravaged by drugs than if they had never been sent to prison in the first place.

Nor did I ever imagine that 41 years later I would be inspecting prisons and reporting, publicly and sometimes in very stark terms, but I hope in strict accordance with my statutory remit, that because of the treatment and conditions experienced by prisoners, all too often prisons are failing in one of their primary purposes – that of protecting the public.

After so many years working in law enforcement, in the inner city, international drug dealing, security and counter terrorism, I didn’t approach the role of Chief Inspector of Prisons as a dewy-eyed optimist. I do not labour under any illusion that some of the most difficult, dangerous and challenging people in our society will emerge at the end of sentences full of remorse; contrite and eager to repay their debt to society.

Nevertheless, I have always believed that prison should be a place where those who need to be there should be held safely, securely, and in decent conditions. Those who wish to do so should have the opportunity to mend their ways, learn new skills and attitudes, and those who don’t wish to do so should at least have some encouragement or incentive to change.

Sadly, my experience over the past three years has been that all too often, our prisons are failing in these basic aspirations. I have seen many prisoners who want to be better equipped to play a useful role in the community when they are released, but who are currently denied the opportunity to do so.

When the state chooses to take away a person’s liberty, it also accepts the incredibly serious responsibility for every part of that person’s life. We all, in our lives, however difficult or challenging, need hope. Prisoners more than most. Allowing them hope should be part of the state’s responsibility.

But far from giving hope, prisons are too often taking it away. Does this matter? Why should prisoners have hope for their futures, when all too often they have removed hope from their victims? Quite apart from the moral and ethical dimension of how we should treat fellow human beings, there is a very pragmatic reason why we should not extinguish hope in our jails. The things that snuff out hope in jails make it far more likely that prisoners will re-offend after their release.

I firmly believe there is an overriding public interest in holding prisoners in conditions that make it less likely they will commit more crimes. Throughout my years of trying to gather evidence that would put people into jail, I never did so with the intention that they should be held in squalid conditions, live in fear of their fellow prisoners, locked in their cells for 23 hours or more every day, with little or no access to any purposeful activity, and come out of prison with a drug habit they didn’t have when they went in. At the moment, too often, this is precisely what happens. The extraordinarily high re-offending rates speak for themselves.


Despair’s cause and effect

What is it about life in our prisons that has taken away hope? Quite simply, we are holding people in conditions that are indecent and degrading. Two or more people being held in tiny cells designed for one. Those cells, usually locked for much if not all the day, serve as the bedroom, lavatory and dining room for their occupants. I shall not describe in detail some of the more grotesque things I have seen in jails, but my recent letter to the Secretary of State invoking the so-called Urgent Notification protocol at Bedford prison, which described an inmate luring rats into his cell before killing them, actually during the course of an inspection, gives a flavour. I am very aware of the irony that Bedford prison was where John Howard started out on his journey of prison reform nearly 250 years ago. I fear he would have been as appalled as I was by what I saw there last month.

Sometimes as a cause of despair and sometimes as an effect of it, drugs are dominating life in many jails. They cause debt, bullying and violence. They are directly linked to dozens of deaths, suicides and cases of self-harm. At the prison I recently inspected, nearly a third of prisoners we surveyed said they had acquired a drug habit since entering the jail. This, sadly, is far from unique.

The violence means prisoners and staff alike live in fear. Some prisoners refuse to come out of their cells. Staff shortages mean that often they can’t be unlocked. The chance to reform or rehabilitate is lost.

I often see what feels like a vicious circle of despair. Totally unreasonable lengths of time locked in cells give rise to frustration, boredom and anger. In response, prisoners often turn to drugs – sometimes referred to as the ‘bird killer’. The drugs in turn give rise to debt, bullying and violence. Prisoners are then too afraid, or the wings too unsafe, to allow them to get training, education or employment – so they are left locked in their cells and the circle is complete. Breaking into that circle and re-injecting hope is vital. But how is that to be done? What can give hope?


Breaking the vicious circle

First, prisons above all are about people. Those who are held there and those who work there. In the past few years the numbers of staff dropped below the level at which they could offer decent, purposeful detention. Staff numbers are now rising again. What I find really encouraging is that enlightened governors see their new staff not as an inexperienced liability but as a huge opportunity: to get prisoners out of their cells, develop personal relationships, and to make jails safer.

Achieving the right balance between prisoner and staff numbers is vital. As Chief Inspector I don’t take a position on how many people should be in prison – that is a matter for policymakers – I just say that the balance between staff and prisoner numbers must be such as to allow for decent, purposeful detention.

Secondly, living conditions need to be improved, and the squalor we see all too often done away with. This will take time, but there is a growing realisation that degrading conditions are neither sensible nor inevitable.

Thirdly, the large number of prisoners suffering from one form or another of mental illness need to receive proper care – very often not available in a prison. Many should not be in prison at all – but the lack of alternatives has often left the courts with little or no choice.

Fourthly, we need to find a way of providing appropriate security and proper care for the rapidly growing population of older prisoners.

Fifthly, we must harness the goodwill, dedication and extraordinary generosity of spirit not only of prison staff but of the voluntary sector. The levels of commitment, care, courtesy and compassion that I see in prisons is often humbling. It is people who can forge the type of relationships that too many prisoners have never enjoyed. Many have never experienced another human being caring for them. It is people who can bring hope back to so many who thought they had none.

So, if 41 years ago today I was optimistic about policing, today I am cautiously optimistic about our prisons. Of course, there is much that is terribly wrong. Not all of our prisons are or have been in crisis. But many are still in a very dark place. I have seen things that I never thought I would see in institutions being run by the government for the public benefit. But I can just begin to see some shafts of light at the end of what has been a long, dark tunnel.

We need to keep hope alive in our prisons. Hope for prisoners that they will at least have the opportunity to turn their lives around. Hope for staff that they can achieve more than simply keeping the lid on a bubbling pot of despair and disorder. Hope that they can achieve what so many joined the prison service to achieve – to make a real and positive difference to the lives of prisoners. There is hope, I am sure. And I hope I am right.

Peter Clarke is HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. This article is based on an address to Temple Church, Sung Evensong on 10 October 2018.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

What Happens Now?

Well, to everyone's surprise, Brexit or not, the New Year has got off to a flying start with Rory Stewart's strong signal that six month and under prison terms will soon be history. The cynical of course have been quick to point out that leopards don't generally change their spots; the failing CRCs need more business; new CRC contracts are in the process of being drawn up; and the government would welcome a further reduction in the legal aid budget. But at least a criminal justice debate has been triggered and kicked some life into this platform:- 

Politics has become farcical, it risks being, some would argue has become, a soap opera that is a compelling yet disturbing reflection of general decline and inadequacy. My elders assure me it was ever thus. Watching the near absolute incompetence of politicians with regards to Criminal Justice matters and the generally untold misery that has ensued is a national disgrace. My advice to our leading Politicians would be to slow down, progress cautiously. The answers are not to be found in short term machinations, expedient for here today gone tomorrow leaders, but in longer term coherent, argued and evidenced, directions that garner general support.

******
The agents of the MoJ - and it seems anyone involved in this govt in general - are utterly without shame in their efforts to deny any responsibility for their hapless, reckless, dangerous decision-making. Take the comment from article above:

"A ministry of justice spokeswoman said the reforms “had extended probation supervision to around 40,000 extra offenders each year” and therefore “analysis of the number of offences does not provide a like-for-like comparison”.

Suddenly, in one stroke of a PR spinmeister's Apple 'pen', none of Grayling's "reforms" can be judged because there's no basis for comparison. And we, the austerity-burdened taxpayer, are paying handsome salaries for these fuckers' bullshit... £100-150k for many of the SPADs, i.e. the unelected shadowy 'special advisors' who prepare this shite then get handed humungus golden goodbyes & 'honours' for their subsequent silence.

******
As always, Rob Allen is well-worth reading and he's been quick to respond:- 

Six Months to Go

Last January, confronted with the disgusting conditions at HMP Liverpool, Prisons Minister Rory Stewart told MPs that the neglect of basics in prisons had resulted from too much talk “about grand issues of sentencing policy, reoffending and the policy context”. A year on, Stewart feels compelled to indulge in just that talk himself, telling the Telegraph he is “looking very carefully” at imposing a new legal presumption on English and Welsh courts against sentences under six months - and potentially longer.

Stewart has come round to the view expressed by the Council of Europe after their 2016 visit to the UK that prison reform will be unattainable without concrete steps to significantly reduce the current prison population. Also of course, many of the ten prisons on which his own ministerial performance will be judged in the summer have large numbers of short term prisoners. The case for dealing with most of them in the community has been very well made by the Revolving Doors Short Sighted campaign.

So what happens now? First, Stewart and boss David Gauke will have to persuade government colleagues to legislate for the necessary changes, and MPs to back them. In 2011, five newly elected Tory MPs wrote “It has been argued in the past that instead of short prison sentences, there should be a presumption against sending criminals to prison. We should take exactly the opposite approach and ensure that persistent offenders are imprisoned for prolonged periods of time”. All those expressing that view are current or former ministers. Stewart will have to win them over and hope for a following wind from Labour. It was Ed Miliband’s opportunistic attack on Ken Clarke’s progressive penal policy that killed of the last serious effort to reduce prison numbers eight years ago.

Second the Ministry of Justice will need to find the technical mechanisms to bring about the reduction of short sentences in practice. In Scotland, since February 2011 a court must not pass a sentence of imprisonment for a term of 3 months or less unless it considers that no other method of dealing with the person is appropriate. But five years on, in 2016/17, almost three and a half thousand people received such sentences including 750 for shoplifting and 689 for breach of the peace. That year, these very short sentences still accounted for 28% of prison sentences compared to 34% before the presumption against their use. The overall number of custodial sentences has fallen from about 15000 to 12000 but this reflects a fall in court cases. Yes, community sentences have risen, but many have probably replaced fines rather than custody. 

So Scotland may not provide the best model. The MoJ should look at other approaches too. One is to be more explicit about how serious an offence must be before courts can impose a prison term. There is no general definition of where the so-called custody threshold lies. While Sentencing Guidelines say that “the clear intention … is to reserve prison as a punishment for the most serious offences”, almost a thousand people were in prison at the end of March last year for shoplifting, 25 for theft of a bicycle and 11 for possession of cannabis. A higher hurdle is surely needed.

Another problem is that courts must regard an offence as more serious if committed by someone with relevant previous convictions. Modifying this requirement so that courts may – but do not have to – punish repeat offenders more harshly is another route to consider.

A further option would be to encourage more suspended sentences. Currently, if the court imposes a term of imprisonment of between 14 days and 2 years, it may suspend the sentence for between 6 months and 2 years. Perhaps replace “may” with “must” other than where the interests of justice require immediate custody?
I’d also like to see reinstated the principle that courts should take overcrowding and other painful realities of prison life into account when determining the punitive weight of a sentence.

A third task for the MoJ is to ensure that a wide range of properly resourced community-based measures are available and their availability communicated to courts. Problem- solving courts seem to have faded as a policy idea but if short sentences are to go, more, and more thorough, pre- sentence reports will be needed. So too perhaps a more systematic role for courts in reviewing the progress of sentences. The new probation contracts shortly to be let must take account of the MoJ' s new sentencing policy and provide resources to match it.

Earlier this week, the Chief Inspector of Probation wrote to the Justice Committee that “with Brexit and other uncertainties, the proposed transition to new probation arrangements is not necessarily certain”. Still less certain to be taken forward perhaps are Mr Stewart’s grand issues of sentencing. They deserve to be. As was pointed out last year “Prison can become a ripe place for criminal education, serious and organised crime, and radicalisation, rather than rehabilitation”. By whom? No less than the National Police Chief’s Council.

Rob Allen

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Rory Flies a Kite

In the well tried and tested way of politicians, Rory Stewart has decided to take the risk of being labelled 'soft' by running the idea of a ban on short prison sentences and see what the reaction is from the Tory faithful poring over their weekend Telegraph magazine. 

Of course it's precisely this political meddling in criminal justice policy for electoral advantage that got us into the present omnishambles. The idea completely ignores the fact that TR having all-but destroyed the previous gold standard Probation Service means that Magistrates and the public now have little confidence in community alternatives to prison - a situation created by his former party colleague Chris Grayling. This from the BBC website:- 

Ministers consider ending jail terms of six months or less

Ministers argue that short jail terms are less effective at cutting reoffending than community penalties. Prisons minister Rory Stewart told the Daily Telegraph that such sentences were "long enough to damage you and not long enough to heal you". If such jail sentences were to be scrapped it is thought it could free up thousands of prison places. Some burglars and most shoplifters are among those who could be spared jail terms under the proposals.

The Ministry of Justice is considering preventing courts from imposing prison terms of less than six months unless the sentence is for a violent crime or a sexual offence. The measure could reduce the prison population by around 3,500, although it would require legislation. In Scotland, a presumption against prison sentences of less than three months is already in place and is due to be extended to 12 months.

Arguing for the need for reform, Mr Stewart told the Daily Telegraph Magazine: 

"You bring somebody in for three or four weeks, they lose their house, their job, their family, their reputation. They come (into prison), they meet a lot of interesting characters (to put it politely) and then you whap them on to the streets again. The public are safer if we have a good community sentence... and it will relieve a lot of pressure on prisons."

Since they took up their posts last year, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Mr Stewart have both made it clear they want to reduce the use of short prison sentences. The prison population has doubled in England and Wales since the early 1990s, rising from around 40,000 to more than 80,000 in 2018, official figures show.

Almost two-thirds of prisoners released after sentences of less than 12 months reoffend within a year. More than half of the 86,275 offenders sentenced to immediate custody in England and Wales in 2017 were handed sentences of six months or less, according to a Parliamentary response from Mr Stewart to shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon last month.

Mr Stewart said he realised that the proposals could provoke a backlash against "soft justice" by people in his own party and the public, but said it was "a debate I have to win". In August last year he vowed to resign in a year if he was unable to reduce drug use and violence in 10 target jails in England.

The Prison Reform Trust, which has previously called for a presumption against short prison sentences, welcomed the new proposals. Peter Dawson, the charity's director, told the Telegraph: "Ministers should be congratulated for having the political courage to start the debate."

An MoJ spokesperson said: "As we have said previously, short sentences are too often ineffective, provide little opportunity to rehabilitate offenders and lead to unacceptably high rates of reoffending. That's why we are exploring potential alternatives, but this work is ongoing and we have reached no conclusions at this time."