Tuesday, 19 November 2019

More Prison Wins More Votes?

Things haven't been going well for the Tories so far during this ridiculous Christmas election campaign, so they clearly feel it's time once again to resort to that tried and tested tactic of locking up offenders for longer. The under-whelming Justice Secretary has been speaking as reported here on the BBC website:- 

General election 2019: Tories back 'whole life orders' for child murder

Adults who murder children will face life in prison without parole if the Conservatives are elected in December. The party said it would bring in a new law to make "whole life orders" the starting point when sentencing over 21-year-olds for the premeditated murder of a child under 16. However, the final sentencing decision would remain with judges.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the policy would tackle "genuine concern" about sentencing. Similar plans were reported by the Sunday Telegraph in September and were expected to form part of the Queen's Speech after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered an urgent review into sentencing policy in August - but the policy was not announced.

The Conservatives' plan would see changes to Schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides the starting point for judges considering whole life orders for murderers in exceptionally grave cases. Currently, for a judge to grant such an order, the rules require the murder to be of multiple children, or to be sexually or sadistically motivated.


But here is Rob Allen explaining what happened last time the Tories tried this populist move:- 

The Lords of Mercy

What happened to the Government’s plans to increase the time in prison served by serious offenders? On 1st October, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told the Tory Conference that for the most serious violent and sexual offenders … this Conservative Government will abolish automatic early release at the halfway point”. Two weeks later the Queen’s Speech duly announced a Sentencing Bill which would change the automatic release point from halfway to the two-thirds point for adult offenders serving sentences of four years or more for serious violent or sexual offences, bringing this in line with the earliest release point for those considered to be dangerous. The Bill of course got nowhere before the election was called.

But on the same day as the Queen's speech, Buckland tabled in Parliament the Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2019. This Statutory Instrument (SI) would have brought the same change into force from April 2020 - much sooner than primary legislation would have allowed - but for prisoners sentenced to seven years or more, rather than four. Buckland explained the different thresholds to the Justice Committee on 16 October in terms of “trying to make sure that we create a system that is supported by the resources I need”.

Whatever length of sentence qualifies for the more restrictive arrangements, it’s surprising that secondary legislation can be used to introduce a measure which would so substantially increase levels of punishment, requiring 2,000 new prison places by 2030. But that’s what the Criminal Justice Act 2003 permits. At least the SI had to be laid under the affirmative procedure which means it must be actively approved by both Houses of Parliament.

The Commons Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments raised no concerns about it on 23 October but the following week the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee were less sanguine, drawing it to the special attention of the House “on the ground that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest” to it.

In particular, the Committee took the view that the Order “represents one piece of a large and complicated jigsaw and the House may wish to ask the Minister for more information about how the pieces fit together. In particular the House may wish to seek reassurance from the Minister that adequate resources will be available in good time to meet this expanded remit, both in relation to prison accommodation and prison service staff”. The dissolution of parliament meant there was no time for such reassurance to be sought so the law has not been changed.

Should the Conservatives form the next government, the policy will presumably return whether through primary or secondary legislation. Before it does, the Ministry of Justice should take a step back and conduct a proper review of sentencing unlike this summer’s charade.

The MoJ redeemed itself a bit by preparing a detailed impact assessment about the longer periods of imprisonment. These highlighted not only the financial costs of the policy but the possible effects on prisoners and their families, on stability in prisons and on the lengths of sentences imposed by courts. In the light of these broader concerns, the House of Lords declined to be steamrollered in the way that Mr Buckland presumably hoped. It performed a valuable service. 

Rob Allen

Monday, 18 November 2019

What's Going On in RRP? 2

Thanks go to the reader for forwarding the following:- 

Message for CRC members from NAPO national officials

Dear member,

As you will now be aware RRP has made the decision to run yet another redundancy programme. This time they are focusing on CSC staff and Community Payback across both of the CRC’s. The trade unions were initially informed briefly of the proposals on 5th November via teleconference. However it has since come to our attention that RRP chose to rush ahead with staff briefings, at risk notices and one to one meetings before any meaningful consultation with the trade unions had taken place. This is deeply disappointing and has caused additional stress to those affected as they were not able to access advice and support. I have reported this to the MOJ contract management team as a failure to engage or follow due process. We will consider the possibility of a joint dispute with Unison and keep you updated.

Your local reps and myself attended the first consultation meeting on 14th November where we received a full presentation of the proposals. We also challenged Adam Hart directly on the approach of the organisation and he has apologised. However, there is still concern that this process has been decided already and that we may not get meaningful consultation. As such we will do our best to keep you updated on progress made. It is never easy going through redundancies especially at this time of year. Please support your local reps and your colleagues that have been affected by this announcement.

The process in total will be carried out in three phases starting on 31st January. If you are at risk then please make yourself know to your local Branch Chairs; Ralph Coldrick or Dave Bellingham, so that they can direct you to the branch Reps who will advise and support you throughout. Please do not attend a meeting without a rep or be pressured into doing so. If you are then please contact your branch immediately. A more detailed update will be issued next week once I have received copies of the presentation.

Kind Regards

Tania Bassett 

Napo National Official Press, Parliament & Campaigns

Friday, 15 November 2019

An Impossible Task?

It's still early days in this most extraordinary of election campaigns where the Tories are trying to outbid Labour with lavish spending promises in order to win over Northerners and the working class generally. Not only is austerity over, but so is financial probity it would seem. 

With the NHS pretty much covered, it's surely only a matter of time before crime and criminals get the attention of an increasingly desperate Tory Party determined to hang on to power by whatever it takes. So, well done to star reader 'Getafix for spotting that our old friend David Fraser has put pen to paper for the benefit of the good Conservative Women of this parish thus:-  

Licence to kiIl, maim and rape again

In January 2003, PC Gerald ‘Ged’ Walker, a dog handler with the Nottingham Police, was killed by David Parfitt a criminal who had been released from prison a year earlier after serving two years for robbery. Under post-release supervision by the probation service, his behaviour soon made it clear he was not to be trusted and he should have been recalled to prison.

Despite the widespread publicity given to the death of PC Walker and the attention drawn to the hazards of supervisors allowing dangerous criminals to slip off their radar, numerous similar examples continued to surface. In 2008, for example, a vicious criminal called Dano Sonnex, on licence following his early release from jail, murdered two young French students. Again, the warning signs he exhibited prior to the killings were ignored, and in some instances not even noticed, by his probation supervisors.

A year later, a Home Office inspection across ten London boroughs found that in almost half of the 276 cases examined, probation officers had not learned the lessons highlighted by the previous killings carried out by supervised offenders. These included a failure to take breach action; failure to carry out home visits; supervising officer negligence; poor record-keeping; no risk assessment or supervision plan; failure by managers to manage effectively; lack of communication, and no cover for supervising officers when they were sick or on leave.

But whether probation officers are lax or follow all the rules associated with supervising violent offenders in the community is irrelevant. Such offenders are not monitored twenty-four hours a day, and if they were, even an alert probation supervisor could not stop a determined and violent criminal from striking again. Double killer David Cook was monitored by the probation service following his release from prison in 2009, having served 21 years for the murder of Sunday school teacher Beryl Maynard in 1987. In 2011, Cook’s probation team, assiduously following the rules, visited him at his home. The record of their visit said that Cook behaved perfectly normally, offered them coffee, was relaxed and happy to talk to them. Meanwhile the corpse of Cook’s neighbour, Leonard Hill, lay in the bedroom directly above where they were sitting. Cook had strangled him two days earlier.

The figures for the number of killings, rapes and woundings by offenders being monitored by the probation service are chilling, and provide compelling evidence that the examples referred to above cannot be dismissed as anecdotal. They are replicated by the hundreds every year and dash the myth that dangerous repeat offenders can be managed safely in the community.

The total for eight of the most serious violent crime categories (murder, attempted murder, rape, attempted rape, manslaughter, kidnap, arson and ‘other serious sex and violent crimes’) committed by supervised offenders for the period 1998-2014 computes to a yearly average of 281 or five per week. The comparable figure for the more recent period 2012-2016 is 457 or nine per week, a 63 per cent increase.

To take two categories, for the period 1998-2014 the average number of murders per year committed by supervised offenders was 13. For the period 2012-2016 it was 76. For rape, the comparable figures were 52 and 204.

A 2018 report showed that the problem is as serious as ever. In the twelve previous months it was necessary for the Probation Inspectorate to carry out 627 serious further offence reviews. These highlighted poor standard of oversight, with large numbers of dangerous offenders being supervised by telephone calls every six weeks instead of at face-to-face meetings.

We should not be mesmerised by these figures, and whether they are going up or down is not the main point. There should not be any such offences. All those trusted with early release on licence have been assessed as safe to let out, and therefore we should expect that they present no danger to the public. But the level of violence associated with prisoners released under supervision shows this to be a pipe dream. Despite reporting on it for at least the last 25 years, our justice officials have resolutely failed to bring this debacle to an end.

Instead they indulge in the dark arts of obfuscation to mask the scale of the problem. For example, in 2008 they decided not to include Section 18 Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH) offences in their count, even though this crime is regarded as the most serious form of violence next to murder. The impact of this statistical sleight of hand can be seen from the fact that when it was introduced, the number of reported offences in the category ‘other serious sex and violent crimes’ fell from 367 to 81.

The probation service has been given an impossible task, and the chief crime of its senior management is not to have had the courage or sense of public duty to say so. As a result, staff must pretend they can protect the public. The ethos of denial this has produced is illustrated by the report of one senior probation manager, following an inspection of work carried out by her staff, as follows:

‘In the four-month period under review, there have been nine serious further offences committed by criminals currently under our supervision. The investigations of these crimes have revealed that in none of these cases could we have done anything to prevent the crime. In all of them, the government’s national standards, governing how we should supervise the offender concerned, were followed to the letter. This is a good achievement.’

So it might be from the point of view of the blinkered probation bureaucracy, which first and foremost wants to avoid blame. But for the public in the real world, nine serious crimes such as murder and rape committed in the space of just four months, in just one small probation area, by criminals thought safe enough to be in the community, was anything but a good achievement. If this was a good result, what would a bad one be like?

In February 2013, the then Prime Minister David Cameron visited India and described the 1919 massacre of 379 demonstrators at  Amritsar by the British Army as ‘shameful’. This publicly expressed sensitivity is in stark contrast to his silence in relation to the 2,348 homicides committed in his own country between 2010, when he came into office, and 2013 when he made the Amritsar speech. Many of these were committed by criminals allowed to roam because of lenient sentencing endorsed by his government, despite the violent histories of the killers concerned.

Offenders who can be trusted to live in the community do not need supervision. Those who do need supervision, therefore, cannot be trusted, and should not be in the community.

David Fraser

(References have been omitted - Ed)

Thursday, 14 November 2019

What's Going On in RRP?

Ever since the government announced in May the decision to end the CRC contracts early there has been concern in a number of quarters as to what the reaction of the CRC companies would be. It's widely accepted that the Grayling TR probation privatisation has been an unmitigated disaster, not least in that the privateers have long shouted loudly regarding their inability to profit sufficiently from TR. 

We will all recall that as a result of vociferous collective bargaining and pleading by the CRCs the MoJ had to stump up a mountain of extra cash in the form of 'bungs' in order to try and keep the whole sorry mess afloat. Even so, Working Links collapsed and had to be bailed out. News is now coming in from a number of sources regarding possible redundancies in the areas run by the Reducing Reoffending Partnership in Staffordshire & West Midlands CRC and Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire & Rutland CRC. 

Apparently SWM & DLNR are looking for 40 plus redundancies from UPW and the Contact Centre, some by the end of December, some by the end of January and the remainder by the end of March. 
It would seem to be accepted that the Contact Centre system has failed and UPW is moving away from groups to placements, even though it is not possible for some clients to undertake placements. SPO grades, admin and supervisors are all said to be on 'at risk' notice.

There is a feeling in some quarters that RRP have never really understood UPW and its effective delivery with supervision groups regularly overloaded and attenders sent home if too many turn up, thus undermining staff trying to encourage people to complete their UPW hours. There is also a suspicion that this cost-saving decision might be connected to the ageing van fleet and the need for replacement.

It will be appreciated that this news is deeply upsetting for all involved, especially at this time of year, and there is growing concern regarding the handling of the process such as timely union notification and possible one-to-one meetings before proper consultation. It's understood that Union advice is that staff should not have one-to-one meetings or phone calls without Union representation. Staff are understandably shocked, upset and question their employers concern for their well-being. 

This news will undoubtedly bring back unpleasant memories of the original TR 'shafting' processes and the subsequent job losses and it's to be hoped this is not the start of something similar prior to NPS integration and the new outsourcing contracts for UPW and programmes.  


A view just in:-

"Not enough UPW orders? Or moving towards zero hours contracts? Or just too greedy? Perfect timing as ever - put staff under preXmas stress at a time of political hiatus with GE just around the corner. Prepare the shareholders & senior mgmt in case you need to do a smash'n'grab, e.g. a change of Govt."    

Saturday, 9 November 2019

A Recipe For Probation?

Thanks go to the reader for pointing me in the direction of a recently-published collection of essays 'Crime and Consequence : What should happen to people who commit criminal offences?' published by the Monument Fellowship. A cursory scan of the 419 pages confirms that there's much in this, the third volume, produced as part of a legacy project funded by the former Monument Trust, part of various Sainsbury endowments.

What particularly struck me is how 'probation' continues its seemingly inexorable slide into irrelevance and oblivion under the ever-tightening dead hand of Civil Service command and control, but look hard enough and the case for our being reinvented is just about discernible! Apologies to the respective authors, but I have quoted selectively in order to make the point. 


Ok, so what should we do with people who commit crimes? That question, in this third book from a series prompted by the Monument Trust, is not as simple as it looks, but whether you’re an abolitionist or a supporter of harsh punishment, it has to be answered. Contributors to this book recognise that getting it wrong can have unintended consequences. Some sentences make victims feel worse, some contribute to reoffending, some increase the possibility of intergenerational crime. Put simply the answer to the question must be fair, it must also be intelligent. Our contributors have addressed the question from a range of perspectives and standpoints. They’ve responded in different and creative ways, through essays, poetry, collective responses; there’s even a play. They’re writing from many places including a number from prisons.

Anne Fox and Alison Frater



What should we do with people who commit criminal offences? This age-old question has troubled theologians and philosophers for millennia and much ink has been spilled trying to answer it. I’m not going to try to summarise or analyse these literatures in this short paper – I suspect that those who have commissioned this book of essays are seeking practical answers rather than philosophical responses. 


So, my short answer to this complicated question is this. When people offend, we should listen to what they have to say about it. We should talk to them about what they have done, why they have done it and how we might best respond to the wrong. In these kinds of sensitive and challenging conversations, rather than assuming a position of entitlement and moral superiority, we should ourselves expect to be surprised, challenged and corrected. If the dialogue identifies a need for some kind of help to assist the person to function and flourish in the community, then we might explore rehabilitative options. If apology and reparation can be made, then we should also explore those possibilities with all of those concerned. And if we are met with silence or resistance or rejection or violence, perhaps we may need, with regret, to make some use of penal power to impose constraints to protect ourselves and others. But, even then, we should ask ourselves, what were the roots of this silence, resistance, rejection or violence, and have we been complicit somehow in generating it – either because of our response to the offence or because of some earlier wrong that we have neglected to repair.

Fergus McNeill




In recent decades criminal policy has suffered from ‘the politician’s fallacy’. This is the Whitehall logic first coined 30 years ago in the TV programme ‘Yes Prime Minister’, which argues: We must do something. This is something. Therefore, we must do this. 

More often than not, the ‘something’ has involved creating more and more criminal offences and responding more harshly those who commit them. To be fair, the aims of dealing with people who commit crime have long included reform, rehabilitation and reparation to victims. But these ‘Three R’s’ are all too often outranked by punishment, deterrence and the protection of the public. It’s these latter three purposes which usually take priority in decisions about individual cases, new policy developments or the allocation of resources. With public concern about crime at its highest level since 2011, there’s a risk that criminal justice in the 2020s will take a yet more punitive turn. 

There are many reasons to be concerned about that prospect: 
  • the ethical, social and financial costs of punishment; 
  • the way it bears disproportionately on the poorest and on racial minorities; 
  • and the basic fact that it does relatively little to reduce crime. 
That’s why we need to adopt a very different approach. 

Doing More 

There are some activities in the existing system which we need to do much more of. 

One is finding out why individuals commit the offences they do and what factors lie behind them. Decisions about how best to respond to a criminal offence need to be informed by a genuine process of social inquiry into the context of what’s happened and the best way of addressing it. Probation officers used to prepare detailed and comprehensive social inquiry reports. Today’s pre-sentence reports have often become rushed and superficial – seen as a bureaucratic hurdle, to be dispensed with if necessary in the interests of efficiency and speed. Instead, they should be key to enabling the court to identify the right measures to impose in an individual case. 

Second, we need to offer more opportunities for people who commit offences to put things right through restorative and reparative measures. There’s good evidence that Restorative Justice (RJ) has positive effects by giving victims the chance to tell offenders about the impact of their crime and get an apology. Yet, despite support from successive governments, the proportion of incidents where victims are given the chance to meet the offender halved between 2010 and 2017 to just 4% – this is in spite of the fact that in almost a quarter of incidents victims say they would have accepted an offer to meet the offender. We clearly need to invest more in timely and effective mechanisms for engaging the parties involved and organising restorative activities whether conferences or mediation sessions.

Third, people who persistently commit offences need a much wider range of assistance to change direction with the necessary treatment, help and support available on the required scale – both in custody and in the community. This isn’t about developing and accrediting complex new psychological programmes but taking simpler, but more wide ranging, steps – for example, to ensure that life inside prison resembles life outside, where possible, and that people serving jail terms are encouraged and inspired make changes to their lives and desist from crime. 

On the outside, if that’s to be a reality, they will often need: 
  • access to employment or some type of income, 
  • access to education, 
  • suitable housing accommodation, 
  • medical services and addiction treatment services, 
  • debt counselling 
  • and supportive relationships to be able to sustain a new way of life.
Rob Allen



As the movement of justice reform in the United States has gained traction in recent years at both local and national level, debates have swirled around everything from bail practices to charging decisions, risk assessment, sentencing reform, mass incarceration and more. But at its heart, much of the debate can be boiled down to one question: What should happen to people who commit criminal offences? For centuries, the traditional court system’s response has been fairly uniform – determine what happened (by plea or trial), consider the individual’s criminal history (if any), and calculate a corresponding sentence (of course, in some circumstances, the individual may be acquitted entirely). The more serious the charge and more substantial the person’s criminal history, the heftier the sentence. 

The flaw with such an approach is that it overlooks the most critical question of all: Why did this person commit this offence? Problem solving courts were developed to address precisely this question, because if we do not address the underlying issues that led someone to commit an offence, how can we expect to change their behavior? The traditional approach to justice has produced high rates of recidivism, lack of confidence in justice, bloated federal, state and local budgets and a trail of unsatisfied victims. The problem-solving approach, in contrast, seeks to identify those underlying issues – such as substance abuse, mental health issues, trauma, unemployment, and so forth – and, where appropriate, use the power of the court to empower the defendant to address those issues. 

Once the root causes of the behavior have been identified, the system is then positioned to craft a response to address those issues, while balancing the need for accountability and public safety. To be sure, this is no easy task; but there are principles and practices that have proven to be effective in reducing recidivism while simultaneously promoting confidence in that justice system. These are the same principles that form the foundation of problem-solving courts in our system, and they should inform both the process and the outcome of a case. 

Who is the accused as a person? 

Our courts have historically been built to process cases, rather than to help people. They often reduce people to a charge, allowing the mistakes they have made to define them and viewing defendants through an overly simplistic lens that strips them of their humanity, thereby making it easier to mete out punishment and turn a blind eye to the system’s failures. Problem-solving courts, in contrast, take a holistic view of the person, acknowledging them for who they are in totality – a father, a daughter, a caretaker, a friend, a mentor, and so on – rather than what they have done. We must start from the premise that anyone who commits an offence is more than that one act, more than a simple charge or docket number or a moment in time. They are a whole person, with a past, present and future; a past that has likely been marked by trauma and victimization, including many circumstances beyond their control; a present that exists outside of this case, where they are part of a community, with obligations to loved ones or employers, and where they may face enormous instability, pain and stress well beyond this case; and a future for which they have hopes and dreams, aspirations and fears. It is within this complex package that every individual arrives at the doorstep of the justice system and must therefore be viewed and treated as such.

Judge Alex Calabrese and Amanda Berman

Friday, 8 November 2019

A High Risk Strategy

Isn't it absolutely fascinating to watch the car crash idea of holding a General Election in December unfold? The hand of career psychopath Dominic Cummings all over the strategy with the wheels spectacularly coming off the Tory launch on day one with Andrew Neil ruthlessly highlighting typical Tory character traits. This from the Spectator:-  

Watch: Nadhim Zahawi’s disastrous Andrew Neil interview

Oh dear. It’s safe to say the Conservative party’s election campaign has not got off to the best start. On the day of the official launch, the Tories have had a cabinet minister resign and a row over who is to blame for the Grenfell fire drag on. Now, they can add to that list: a minister unsure whether Jeremy Corbyn would have wealthy people shot or not.

Appearing on the Andrew Neil show on Wednesday night, the Business Minister struggled when the BBC interviewer brought up Boris Johnson’s comments comparing Jeremy Corbyn to Stalin on the grounds that he and his supporters hates wealth and aspiration so much that they ‘point their fingers at individuals with a relish and a vindictiveness not seen since Stalin persecuted the kulaks’.

When Neil suggested that this comparison didn’t hold up to scrutiny given that Stalin had people shot, Zahawi was unsure. Pressed on whether Corbyn really wants to have wealthy people shot, Zahawi replied:

‘I don’t know, you will have to ask him that question’

Having been goading and demanding an election for weeks, it's fun watching the PM trying to row back saying it's not his fault that Christmas is being ruined. What a brilliant wheeze to try and win those working class Labour votes by promising to spend, spend, spend. It makes it rather difficult to repeat that old mantra about fiscal prudence and Labour being reckless with its spending plans! Oh, and good luck too with trying to cancel HS2 whilst trying to woo over the Labour North! 

What could possibly go wrong holding a General Election in December? This from the BBC:-

Nativity play school polling stations row deepens

Election officers have hit back angrily at calls from the education secretary for general election polling stations not to be placed in schools. Gavin Williamson wanted to avoid disruption to school nativity plays and Christmas concerts, which could clash with the 12 December election day. But election officers have written to the education secretary to express their "extreme disappointment". They say in many areas there are "no alternatives" to using schools.

This week Mr Williamson wrote to returning officers telling them that councils would be funded to find alternative venues for polling stations - and not to use schools as places to vote. 
He said he wanted to make sure that "long-planned and important events" in schools at Christmas, such as plays and carol concerts, would not have to be cancelled. But the announcement has prompted anger from the Association of Electoral Administrators, which is the professional body representing people who run elections.

In a stinging letter to Mr Williamson, they accuse him of a "complete lack of knowledge and understanding. We question why this letter was sent out so late, after most polling stations have already been booked," say the election officers, who warn that arranging a December election at short notice is already challenging enough.

They reject Mr Williamson's claim that "every community" will have alternative venues for voting, so that schools will not have to be used. "That is simply not the case. In many parts of the United Kingdom, including towns and cities but especially in rural areas, there are simply no alternatives to the venues designated as polling places," says the letter from the association.

Chief executive Peter Stanyon says the process of deciding where to locate polling stations has mostly taken place - and the data has been sent to printers for polling cards. He says schools are used as polling stations because they are well-known local venues and are likely to be accessible for people with disabilities - and often there are not any other practical options.

The move not to use schools for polling stations had been backed by head teachers' leader Geoff Barton. He said many schools would have Christmas events scheduled - and he questioned whether schools were really "suitable venues" for voting, particularly when elections had become more frequent.


Finally, here's a novel thought from yesterday:-

"And just a personal observation on our politics and the election. I wonder if Tory strategists paid any thought to the fact that calling an election in November would mean that the Tories, from activists to cabinet ministers and even the PM, would be campaigning wearing a red poppy on their lapels, which resembles very closely to my mind the red rosette of the Labour Party?"

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Prison Not the Answer

In the wake of a car-crash day one for the Tory election campaign, I find a modicum of encouragement that the celestial bodies might at last be aligning in terms of a shift in our political landscape. So, continuing with a bit of a theme on here, Narey gets some support when yesterday we were pointed in the direction of this comment piece from November 2016:-      

Prisons cannot be places of rehabilitation

There is a growing crisis in Britain's prisons. 2016 will see a record number of self-inflicted deaths as prisons become increasingly unsafe and violent. It is in this context that the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) last month published A matter of conviction: a blueprint for community based rehabilitations prisons.

At a time when prison’s crisis is increasingly becoming a crisis of legitimacy, the RSA's intervention offers a vision of the prison beyond its immediate crisis. As the report boldly states the RSA's blueprint is about ‘imagining a different future and a new “normal” ... in which the future prison would be a safe and secure environment for staff and prisoners’.

Such a vision, at a time of crisis, suggests that the systemic failure, pain, violence and abuse of the prison is both temporary and resolvable.

Prison failure = Prison Reform

Throughout the RSA report, it is the critique of the contemporary prison that is its strongest point. Prison is clearly failing and the evidence for this failure flows through the report. But how is this evidence of failure utilised? By a belief in the potential of a reformed prison.

For example, the report states that ‘prisons are not healthy places’, before utilising this as evidence to support its aspiration to create ‘the healthier prison’. Underlying this insistence that the answer to prison failure is prison reform is the assumption that those incarcerated need to be in prison.

Prison is a punishment, it is ultimately about the deliberate infliction of pain. The epidemic of self-harm and record levels of self-inflicted deaths being experienced in our prisons is clear evidence that imprisonment is experienced as pain.

For the prison to maintain legitimacy requires that its infliction of pain is seen as necessary and beneficial. Whilst the ideologies of retribution and deterrence routinely contribute to this, they are inadequate at times of crisis. The ideology of rehabilitation tends to be deployed to provide a justification that the pain is being inflicted for the benefit of its recipients.

Alongside many other examples of prison’s failure, the RSA highlights high reoffending rates. This, it argues, represents prison's failure to rehabilitate. To remedy this failure, it proposes that government ‘create a rehabilitation requirement’ and impose it on prisons.

If only it were that simple! From Fenner Brockway’s observation, in the 1920s, that ‘if reform is to become the principal object, the prison system must be scrapped altogether’, to Frances Crook's acknowledgement, in 2016, that ‘the idea that we can create a structure that rehabilitates people is flawed’, reformers have acknowledged that prison cannot rehabilitate.

The report offers no new theory of rehabilitation, or indeed practical proposals for achieving it. Ultimately, all it can offer is a belief in the prison system's ‘potential impact on reducing reoffending’, together with some isolated examples of current initiatives which suggest rehabilitative benefits.

These examples are generally on a small scale and generously resourced. Flowers do grow in the desert, particularly if well-watered, but that is no reason to believe deserts are appropriate places for the cultivation of flowers.

Prison Reform = Prison Legitimacy

What makes A Matter of Conviction particularly depressing is that the RSA is an influential organisation with access to significant resources. It is in a privileged position that allows it to make a difference. By refusing to look outside the criminal justice system, and committing itself so totally to the institution of the prison, its impact is likely to be harmful.

In his foreword, the RSA Chief Executive, Matthew Taylor, talks of the RSA’s ‘commitment to social inclusion’ and the ‘need to address the causes of social problems’. The focus in the report on prisons as the solution, and the refusal to examine who is imprisoned, means this initiative ultimately does exactly the opposite.

Prisons are designed to exclude and stigmatise and are used almost exclusively against the poorest, most marginalised and most socially excluded. The RSA initiative has two potential impacts. Firstly, it could improve the experience of some serving prisoners. Secondly, it will help legitimise the prison as an institution and its targeting of the socially excluded for state inflicted pain.

The history of prison reform does show that, on occasions, it can have an impact on the daily lives of prisoners. However, despite the humanitarian motivation of reformers, these impacts are not always beneficial. As former prisoners George Dendrickson and Frederick Thomas observed in the middle of the twentieth century,
"cruelty and good intentions often go hand in hand. So it is perhaps not very surprising that many of the least tolerable aspects of life in Dartmoor and other English prisons are the result of the godly and humanitarian zeal of past reformers"
Progressive reforms tend to be short-term. Despite often being acknowledged as successes they are inevitably subject to punitive clawback.

For nearly all the ‘flowers in the desert’ cited in the RSA report I could cite similar initiatives from the nineteenth century. The only reforms which were sustained were those that added to prisons’ punitive armoury. Solitary confinement may have been introduced by reformers keen to save the prisoner’s soul in the next life, but it was retained by gaolers who appreciated its capacity to inflict pain on their mind and body in this life.

Look beyond prison
It is the success of reforms in re-establishing the legitimacy of prison that explains their failure to be sustained. As the crisis abates, the reforms are no longer needed and however brightly they may have flowered they are left to die, only to be ‘discovered’ by a new generation of reformers when imprisonment faces another crisis of legitimacy. The crisis, reform, legitimacy, claw back and amnesia cycle continues.

If the RSA could have the imagination to look beyond prison and focus instead on how the community can contribute to the lives of ex-prisoners, it would have the opportunity of creating a lasting legacy. It is not prison that we should be seeking to legitimise but social inclusion and solutions to the causes of social problems. These can be found only outside the criminal justice system. That is where we should be focusing.

Dr JM Moore is Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Newman University, Birmingham

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Defining Rehabilitation

With the General Election now officially under way and the outcome pretty much impossible to predict, there's a real prospect of a change in direction on a whole number of fronts, such as our policy regarding prison and probation. Following on from the Narey speech, a reader sought to remind us of this yesterday:-  
Making rehabilitation work for ex-prisoners

Prison and probation services have traditionally focused on personal rehabilitation, but this focus cannot resolve problems that are social rather than individual. A new rehabilitation model includes three additional aspects beyond personal rehabilitation – expanding to relations in the wider society.

In 1991, there were 45,000 people locked up in England and Wales. Twenty years later this had soared to 85,000 – and despite some reduction more recently, the prison population remains at historically high levels, hovering at 92,500 for the UK as a whole. Prisons are full up, to the extent that Prisons minister Rory Stewart last year suggested we should have a "massive reduction" in the number of people sent to prison for 12 months or less.

Reducing re-offending is one obvious way of cutting down on the prison population. Fergus McNeill, Professor of Criminology and Social Work and part of the research team at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research, explores the mechanisms that support or hinder ex-offenders in their rehabilitation back into society. But what are the societal drivers for putting people into prison in the first place?

"Broadly speaking there are two main kinds of responses. We can take a 'retribution-based' approach, denouncing the wrongs people have done or, at the same time, trying to deter them and others from further similar acts. Alternatively, we might prefer a 'reparation-based' emphasis, where the person is invited to repair the harm done by making some contribution to the wellbeing of the victim or the community," says Professor McNeill.

In either case, rehabilitation is key – ultimately aiming to reintegrate the person into the community as a fully restored citizen. However, what rehabilitation actually entails (i.e., how it is defined) is still highly contested.

Professor McNeill has developed a model including four different aspects of rehabilitation that together can support 'desistance' (the process of ending offending) – going beyond rehabilitation for the individual and expanding to relations in the wider society. "These four forms of rehabilitation are inter-dependent, and influenced by social structures and cultural conditions," he points out.

The different aspects of rehabilitation – personal, judicial, moral/political, and social (figure)
  • Personal rehabilitation is focused on developing any aspect of the individual that will equip him or her for the journey to reintegration. This might mean the development of new or existing skills; the strengthening of motivation; the clarification of related beliefs and values; or support for positive shifts in personal identity.
  • Judicial rehabilitation is a process of formal, legal 'de-labelling' where the status of the citizen is reinstated. This is a duty that the punishing state owes to those citizens who have settled their debts; it signifies and secures the end of punishment.
  • Moral and political rehabilitation is more informal and focuses on the negotiation between citizen, civil society and state – a civic and civil conversation that looks back towards the offence, that explores harm, repair and renegotiation of reciprocities, and that looks forward to reintegration.
  • Social rehabilitation concerns the individual's social position and their social identity. It is about their connections and resources, their social capital; the help and welcome that they require along the path from other citizens.
While prison and probation services traditionally have focused on personal rehabilitation, the other three aspects of rehabilitation are also crucial parts of the picture and must be considered as well, argues Professor McNeill. Personal change cannot itself resolve problems that are social.

“If offending breaks relationships and tears at the social fabric, then both the tear and the repair must be relational – between the people directly involved; and between citizen, civil society and state,” he adds. “Criminal justice policymakers and practitioners can't duck these wider issues; it makes no sense to work on only 'one side of the tear'. If we want to build a safer and fairer society, we need to look beyond personal rehabilitation and include the other three forms.”

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Prison : Time to Change?

Once again thanks go to regular reader and contributor 'Getafix for unearthing the following discussion piece from Varsity, the independent student newspaper for the University of Cambridge:- 

Prison should be a place of rehabilitation, not reprimand

Olivia Millard discusses the benefits of pursuing rehabilitory reforms in correctional facilities, and the need for compassion in order to support a functioning, inclusive society.

Seventy percent of prisoners re-offend. This is, of course, for a multitude of reasons, but suggests that the prison system is not achieving what it was designed to do: prevent crime. During a prison sentence, parole seems like light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. But the reality is that it doesn’t get much lighter. People are being given sleeping bags upon their release from jail, so low are the chances that they will secure housing and employment. In 2010, only 12% of employers surveyed said that they had recently employed somebody with a criminal record.

This pattern is blindingly obvious on a worldwide scale. In 2018, 41% of American prisoners did not hold a high school diploma. These statistics show an undeniable link between the education system and prisoner population, suggesting that the necessary reforms in the prison system would mean uprooting a significant sector of society, which would of course take time.

By mainly focusing on punishment, the British penal system is only addressing the ‘effect’ element of a ‘cause and effect’ problem, and there begins the vicious cycle that is caused by reoffending. Prison is actively counterproductive for certain crimes, particularly those drug-related, and as prisoners’ mental and physical health is suffering because of funding cuts, with 83 self-inflicted deaths in 2018, it’s time to use the limited money available on rehabilitation and resettlement programmes.

Prior to governmental funding cuts, steps have been made towards improving the education opportunities prisons offer. In 2016, the RAND Corporation in America released a report showing that the pursual of educational programmes in jail reduced the likelihood of returning to prison by 43%. However, due to funding cuts, the number of people who have achieved A Level grades whilst in prison is now 10% of what it was 10 years ago.

Last year, as part of the Learning Together initiative, I, alongside a dozen first-year French students, visited HMP Whitemoor, a high-security male prison, to discuss French literature with a group of inmates. Founded by Drs Ruth Armstrong and Amy Ludlow, Learning Together is prison-based education in the sense of bringing students from outside and within prison together to learn together. Its motto is “Education as the practice of freedom,” and even if physical freedom isn’t on the cards, what is offered in terms of mental emancipation is invaluable.

The course was inspiring in ways that we’d never considered beforehand, with our course boosting not only the prisoners’ self-confidence, but also our own, which will hopefully open gateways to further education and creativity for both groups. HMP Whitemoor is a prison which focuses on settlement (helping the convicted make positive use of their sentences) and resettlement (reducing the risk of reoffending), but many of these opportunities are not offered at other prisons.

Despite the circumstantial differences between the two groups, which became most obvious to me when one Whitemoor student mentioned “I’ve never seen an iPhone before,” there was a sense of community was far more overpowering. One inmate referred to the “wider community outside prison” he now feels he belongs to, and talked of the hope “for a future where we will one day re-join the community.” A community represents a support network, vital to thriving on the outside. It is all too easy for inmates to become “institutionalized” during extended sentences which can only be detrimental to their return to society.

Speaking to many people about the course, words like “naïve” and “innocent” frequently come up, as I repeat how welcoming and open the atmosphere was inside, as people initially doubt how discussing medieval French verse with prisoners is beneficial. In my opinion, it is more naive to consider the concepts of crime and punishment in black and white: the latter does not necessarily prevent the recurrence of the former. Furthermore, it is important to question the dichotomy between perpetrator and victim: all too often those who have committed crimes are in fact victims themselves of poverty, abuse or addiction. Whilst I acknowledge that a lot of crimes meriting extended sentences do indeed deserve punishment, I maintain that prison is not the correct form of ‘punishment’ for many other crimes.

Horace Mann, an American educational reformer, once called education “the great equalizer,” but surely this concept only works if the most vulnerable members of society have access to it. Illiteracy is a serious barrier to re-entry into society. 50% of prisoners have the literacy age of an 11 year old. Limited phone credit and rare visits mean a lot of letter-writing to stay in contact, but not being able to read these letters means a stronger sense of isolation than ever. On a practical level, not being able to fill out menus or read notices detailing what happens on what day in prison hugely exacerbates the day-to-day trials of living in prison, and can also contribute significantly to mental health issues, like depression.

An important step towards understanding the current system is to acknowledge that prisons today are nothing like the media present them. With the combination of education and a more open societal mindset towards prison and resettlement within society, I believe that rates of re-offence would decrease enormously. Whitemoor is no Shawshank, and there is a definite gap between the way in which the media presents prisons and how prisoners experience them. Britain has the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe, and if it is not benefiting those it is designed to help, surely it is time to change.

Olivia Millard

Monday, 4 November 2019

Prison, Rehabilitation and Reoffending

Despite all the Parliamentary shenanigans distracting us, there's been a lot going on that concerns our probation world, like this from last week reported in the Guardian:-   

Prisoner rehabilitation does not work, says former prisons boss

A former director general of the Prison Service has said rehabilitation of offenders in jail does not work and should be scrapped.

Sir Martin Narey will say in a speech on Tuesday that research to establish a causal link between rehabilitation and reduced reoffending is lacking and short courses cannot fix problems caused by difficult childhoods.

“The things we did to prisoners, the courses we put them on, the involvement of charities, made little or no difference,” he will tell the International Corrections and Prisons Association conference in Buenos Aires.

Instead, the best the prison estate can offer prisoners is an environment where they are treated with “decency and dignity”, he will say. “Decent prisons in which prisoners are respected seem to provide a foundation for prisoner self-growth. Indecent, unsafe prisons allow no such growth and further damage those who have to survive there.”

He will add: “Stop fretting about rehabilitation. Politely discourage those who will urge you to believe that they have a six-week to six-month course which can undo the damage of a lifetime. The next time someone tells you they have a quick scheme which can transform lives – transform is the word of which you should be particularly suspicious – politely explain that life isn’t that simple.”


Rob Allen made a speedy response:-

Don't Forget Rehabilitation: Remember It in Everything A Prison Does

Sir Martin Narey’s call for prisons to “Forget Rehabilitation” was no doubt designed to provoke a reaction and in that the former head of the National Offender Management Service has succeeded. Canadian expert Frank Porporino found Narey’s presentation at the conference of the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA) in Buenos Aires saddening and puzzling because as Narey himself admitted he had, as prisons chief in England and Wales, overseen a big expansion of education and psychological programmes designed to help prisoners change their behaviour. The disappointing results of the latter have led Narey to conclude that “the real and moral challenge is to make imprisonment humane”.

Much of what Narey had to say was uncontroversial. Prisons should be clean, orderly and respectful institutions and ensuring decent everyday conditions and treatment should be given a higher priority than they often are. His warnings about the risks of jails descending into brutality and violence were powerfully made. But is he right that humane containment is the best that prison should strive to achieve?

International law makes clear “the penitentiary system shall comprise treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their reformation and social rehabilitation”, and while the reality of most prisons worldwide may be far removed from that lofty ideal, that’s no reason to dismiss it. There’s good evidence that education, vocational training and work in prison reduce recidivism and as a recent manual I drafted for the UN recommends, these need to be expanded not forgotten. It would be a disaster if Narey's headline deters the developing countries represented at ICPA from doing so.

Moreover, without a strong emphasis on rehabilitation, how will prisoners in any jurisdiction be able to prove to a Parole Board that they have made efforts to reduce their risks of re-offending? What conclusions will politicians concerned about violent crime draw about how to protect the public? And how will Prison Services be able to attract the optimistic and skilled staff to work with the people in their care?

Other presentations at ICPA have stressed the need for a more humane and hopeful philosophy and practice in prisons - not in opposition to rehabilitation but as the very foundation of it. A public health approach to incarceration in the US state of Oregon has seen dramatic improvements in wellbeing of prisoners and staff. There and in other states, new practice is informed by prisons in Norway where staff are trained not only as guards but as “facilitators for rehabilitation” and mentors. A similar initiative in Pennsylvania is having to overcome the hurdle of regulations prohibiting fraternisation between staff and prisoners. But good relationships between staff and prisoners is increasingly recognised as the key not only to safe prisons but ones where prisoners can use their time positively.

Shadd Maruna, in a magisterial lecture demolishing the false science of static risk assessment tools, encouraged instead an approach which takes a much fuller account of what has happened to prisoners in their lives - which in many cases includes the experience of trauma. This is not just a matter for psychologists and social workers but for everyone working in prison and making decisions about prisoners.

The emerging consensus is that prisons need both to treat prisoners with dignity and respect and to offer them opportunities to come to terms with what they have done and chart a new course for the future. In fact, you can’t have one without the other. As Debbie Kilroy, the Australian activist and former prisoner told the conference, it's only when prisoners are treated as people and not defined by the worst thing they have done, that they ill take up the opportunities to change.

So, while it may be right to forget the false promise that a short psychological course can repair deep seated problems of disadvantage, a rehabilitative culture should remain a central aim for prisons, alongside all that is required to make it a reality.

Rob Allen