Thursday 30 April 2020

Coronavirus and Criminal Justice

We all know coronavirus is changing everything and yesterday the Institute for Government published a report on what they think might be the effect on the criminal justice system. As with so much other high-level thinking, I'm always amazed how probation hardly gets a mention. How can this be? 

The criminal justice system
How government reforms and coronavirus will affect policing, courts and prisons

The UK criminal justice system is facing unprecedented court case backlogs and record prisoner numbers.

These joint pressures will be the result of delays to court hearings caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and the government’s plan to recruit an extra 20,000 police officers leading to an increase in the number of people facing criminal charges.

Published in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, this report calculates that the prison population could rise to up to 90,000 – its highest-ever level – and possibly over 95,000 by 2023/24.

Prisons in England and Wales are already close to capacity, with cases of violence and self-harm increasing sharply over the last decade. The government’s pledge to provide 10,000 additional prison places is unlikely to be ready to meet the predicted rise in prisoner numbers, while an extra £250m a year of spending would be required just to maintain current levels of performance in prisons.

At the same time, the coronavirus lockdown has seen courtrooms closed for all but a small number of priority cases and jury trials are suspended altogether. This research shows that waiting times to hear cases could increase by more than 70% in the event of a six-month lockdown, with many defendants and victims forced to wait more than half a year for trials in the crown court.

This would result in the highest average waiting time ever recorded. To resolve this case backlog, the report calculates that the government would need to spend an extra £55m–110m a year for two years to run the necessary extra trials.


The police, criminal courts and prisons have been subject to deep spending cuts over the last 10 years and some aspects of performance have subsequently declined. The Boris Johnson government has promised more money, but its plan to increase the number of police officers by 20,000 will put pressure on other criminal justice services: more officers will likely require the courts to process more cases, and the almost-full prisons of England and Wales to house more criminals. 

On top of this, the criminal justice system will now have to manage the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Some prisoners are being released early and guidance on police charging decisions has already been updated. Most starkly though, the crisis had led to an unprecedented restriction on the courts’ ability to process cases. Without subsequent additional spending, there will be bigger case backlogs – and therefore delayed justice – indefinitely. 

The spending review planned for this year has been delayed. But when it comes, policy commitments such as more police officers, combined with the effects of coronavirus, mean the government will need to provide substantial extra spending for courts and prisons if it wishes to deliver on its manifesto promise of ‘world class public services’. 

The impact of planned government policy on courts and prisons 

The government’s criminal justice reforms, most significantly the plan to increase the number of police officers by 20,000, will place substantial pressure on the rest of the criminal justice system. 

The scale of the impact will depend on how this increase in police officers affects the number of cases charged by police. Over the last few years, the number of charges per officer has fallen. This fall has been attributed to an increase in the volume and complexity of digital evidence; an increase in the severity of crimes; a fall in the capacity of the Crown Prosecution Service, which makes charging decisions alongside the police; and an increase in ‘non-crime’ demands on police time, such as mental health incidents.
In this report we model three scenarios for how police charging will evolve over the next few years, each of which has different implications for courts and prisons. Our main findings are: 
  • In our ‘low demand’ scenario, charges per officer continue to fall at the same rate as they have since 2010. Under this scenario, the additional police officers would create little additional work for the courts and prisons – overall charges, and therefore court cases and the prison population, would be stable over the next four years. However, this would likely mean public and government disappointment at police performance, given the money spent. 
  • In our ‘central demand’ and ‘high demand’ scenarios (in which charges per officer are stable and rise again, respectively), charges would increase. Both these scenarios imply a bigger impact for the crown court than for magistrates’ courts. The number of cases received each year by the crown court would – by 2023/24 – surpass 2016/17 levels under our central scenario. In our high demand scenario, cases received would rise close to their highest level since the turn of century.* 
  • In both our ‘central demand’ and ‘high demand’ scenarios, the prison population would increase to its highest ever level – reaching over 95,000 by 2023/24 in the high demand scenario – and well beyond planned prison capacity. In both scenarios, a higher proportion of prisoners would be short term (that is, serving sentences of less than 12 months). Prisoners are more burdensome to look after when they first enter prison, so this would increase pressure on prison officers even further. 
The impact of coronavirus 

On top of existing government policies such as the 20,000 extra police officers pledge, the criminal justice system must now also handle the impact of coronavirus. 

It is already having an impact. The volume of recorded crime has fallen due to coronavirus and officers’ time has been partially diverted from investigating crimes to enforcing the government’s lockdown. The police workforce has also been diminished due to large numbers of officers taking sick leave or having to self-isolate. As a result, the number of crimes charged could fall substantially. But the ability of courts to hear cases is likely to fall even more dramatically as courtrooms are closed for all but a small number of priority cases, and jury trials have been suspended altogether. 

In this report we model alternative scenarios for the impact of coronavirus on the police and courts, to show how the criminal justice system could be affected: 
  • Police – charging volumes fall by 0%, 20% or 40% for three or six months. 
  • Magistrates’ courts – the volume of less serious, easy-to-process cases** falls by 25%, and other cases fall by 50%, 65% or 80% for three or six months.
  • The crown court – the volume of jury trials falls by 100% in April, and then by 70%, 85% or 100%, and non-jury trial cases fall by the same rate as magistrates’ cases, for three or six months. 
Our scenarios show that coronavirus could create a major backlog of cases. If the shutdown of courts lasts for six months, our central projection is that waiting times would increase by 60% in the crown court (from an average of 18 weeks to 29 weeks) and stay that long indefinitely without further action. 

The government could try to conduct more hearings via video or over the phone. However, there are concerns that virtual courts, where defendants are not in the same room as the magistrates, judges and juries presiding over their cases, could result in unfair treatment. Justice delayed is preferable to justice denied, and the government should instead focus on reducing the backlog once the coronavirus crisis is over. If the government provided additional funding to enable the criminal courts to increase the number of cases processed back towards levels seen in 2015, waiting times could be cut back to pre-crisis levels within two years of the crisis ending. 

The pressure on prisons from coronavirus is quite different. A fall in court cases will lead to the prison population being smaller in the short term (by around 15% if the court shutdown lasts for six months), implying spare capacity. But there is also a high risk of the virus spreading in prisons, and prisons are under pressure as up to 25% of staff are on sick leave or self-isolating. As a result, the government is taking steps to further reduce the density of the prison population by releasing prisoners early. As the turnover of the prison population is quite high, any reduction in prison population will not last for long, especially if the courts take action to remedy the backlog. 

Implications for government spending 

Our analysis shows that the government will need to spend more on courts and prisons if it wishes to maintain their performance in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, and as the impact of policy changes such as additional police officers is felt. 

The pandemic has meant that the government’s spending review, which was due to set out government spending plans for the next three years, has been delayed. When the spending review happens, perhaps in 2021, the government needs to set out a plan for the criminal justice system as a whole – recognising the knock-on effects of each part of the system on the rest. 

It will also need to account for the impact of the decisions taken over the last 10 years, when spending on the police, criminal courts and prisons was cut faster than demand for any of these services fell. In the courts, an initial increase in backlogs and waiting times has been reversed in the last few years. 

But in prisons, levels of violence, poor prisoner behaviour and self-harm have increased rapidly. This means that the criminal justice system is entering this next phase in a weak position – even maintaining existing service standards will be difficult.

The spending envelope for public services that was set out by the chancellor Rishi Sunak at the budget in March 2020 implied much more generous spending settlements over the next few years for unprotected services – that is, those outside of health, schools, defence and overseas aid – than they have received since 2010. Based on those figures, we would expect spending on courts and prisons to increase by 10.5% in real terms between 2019/20 and 2023/24. 

Taking into account increases in demand and cost pressures from wage increases over the next few years, these settlements might just be enough (in the medium term) to maintain the performance of courts and prisons in our central demand scenario, if small efficiencies are made. However, in our high demand scenario, we estimate that the government would need to devote an additional £372m a year to the criminal courts and prisons by 2023/24 to avoid standards slipping. 

The government must also pay attention to the physical and human assets of the criminal justice system. Additional investment is needed in prisons to ensure there are enough places for growing numbers of prisoners. The government has pledged to build 10,000 additional prison places, but these are unlikely to be ready quickly enough to house the expected numbers of new prisoners – and previous governments have struggled to build prisons as quickly as planned. Recruiting enough police officers, judges, court staff and prison officers may also prove difficult, especially as the police and prisons may be fishing in a similar pool of applicants. 

Finally, to address the court backlog that will be generated during the coronavirus crisis, we estimate that the government will need to devote additional spending to the criminal courts for up to two years after the crisis: £55m–£110m per year for two years would be sufficient to clear the backlog in our central scenario and return waiting times to 2019/20 levels. This funding would need to be agreed outside of the spending review process if the government wishes to start reducing the backlog in this financial year.

The whole report can be found here.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Guest Blog 77

The 'War of Position' in defence of probation values - resistance and counter-culture

Professor Roger Hood is the criminologist who sparked my interest in wanting to enter the world of probation. In 1982 I read a book in which he authored a chapter about the tripartite model of victim, offender and the public which opened my eyes to the relevance of criminal justice to me, then a lay person. In this model, the criminal courts act on behalf of the victim. And it is a priority for witnesses to the 'crime' to have access to the court result, not only "to encourage the others", but more importantly, to avoid the corrosive effects in civil society of seeing injustice being committed with impunity. In a nutshell this triangular framework has informed my probation practice throughout my time as a probation practitioner. This framework of justice conceptualises the court case as a resetting of a disrupted relationship between the offender and society as well as the victim; simplistic and negating the underlying causes of crime, undoubtedly - but it nevertheless captured the imagination of a newbie who up until then knew nothing about probation and crime. This model has been the bedrock of my practice ever since and has always highlighted the importance to me that the local magistrates' court is our key professional setting where we can have a sphere of influence; a place where we can thrive or wither on the vine.

Cultural Resistance - pre-qualifying training

PQiP trainees are not just blank pieces of paper to be imprinted with the current prevailing probation ethos.Some trainees have invaluable insights from personal experiences eg a prior career, adverse childhood experiences which they have overcome, life experiences very different to the mainstream white middle classes which typically populate the civil servant class. Academic teachers and practice assessors have the power to transmit the positive values of the profession (and also of course the contrary!) The window for change in pre-qualifying training has narrowed with the move from an emphasis on the reflective practitioner to mechanically evidencing change (the tyranny of the dreaded and deadening NVQ portfolio ). However there is still space for the trainee to resist by continually challenging and questioning the status quo of current probation policy and practice.

Cultural Resistance - post-qualifying practice

Here the window for change is currently obscured almost to the point of invisibility (or so it seems); with the unassailable power of the HMPPS juggernaut; the policy wonks in the MoJ; the co-option of a large cohort of probation chiefs; and the retreat of Napo, at least on the national stage. However the individual practitioner has power, albeit, often atomised in the absence of collective power. Effective probation practice, in my opinion, is still mainly centred in the interview room. In the interaction with the service user, as much as the Sir Humphreys continue to squeeze out creativity and professional discretion in our work; and overload us with bureaucratic processes to evidence our compliance with their egregious and wearisome managerial policies (or risk being placed on capability measures).

In this adverse professional environment we can still use our training and skills to shape the daily encounters in the probation interview room. By being authentic we can give people the confidence to open up to us. What do I mean by professional authenticity?

Novice practitioners are sometimes fearful of speaking truth in the probation interview room for fear it may cause offence and have the effect of closing down discussion instead of opening it up. The experienced practitioner knows how and when to challenge to promote positive change to convey the message that they respect the other person enough not to accept the lies and half-truths that have often led them to being on probation. The main purpose however of getting the other person to talk, is not to gather the information necessary for a 'robust' assessment but to give a pointer to the best way to promote desistance. What is the point of compiling a defensible assessment if you don't bring the other person with you? We might as well shut up shop and go home. My closest colleague says, "people are motivated mainly by influential characters in their lives. Characters (practitioners) that instill so much authentic trust, moral force and belief that the people they engage with are motivated to summon the moral strength to change; almost to the point of being compelled." (hyperbole? perhaps but with more than a kernel of truth). My colleague continues, "The probation powers-that-be need to decide if we are genuinely authentic instigators of change or probation case administrators daily polishing our case records and sign-posting our cases to be 'rehabilitated' by other agencies."

Another point of cultural resistance are the sometimes dreaded set-pieces familiar throughout the probation world - the Supervision session with the Senior Probation Officer; and the regular Team Meeting. My advice to novice practitioners is to always ask awkward questions. There is a temptation to "play dumb" to bring the all too often dispiriting double-talk to a merciful end as quickly as possible. However this temptation should be resisted lest your silence be misread as tacit approval for the negative probation policies spouted. Cherish those SPOs who in supervision demonstrate their practitioner skills to support you with difficult cases where you are stuck; who can enhance your skills of professional reflection in order to develop your practice. This is because, in the main, managers today are paid to say the emperor is fully dressed . Whilst we practitioners are encumbered with a professional responsibility to point out when he has no clothes!

With thanks to the late Paul Senior who inspired today's blog.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Government Fails the NHS

Last night the BBC and the Panorama team did their job in calling-out the government over it's scandalous failure to provide adequate PPE for NHS and social care staff. This forensic examination of the issue cuts right through all the government news manipulation bullshit about logistics and gets to something approaching the truth of the matter and the tragedy of so many front-line staff dying through want of proper protection.

As with so much in politics and especially associated with successive Tory government's who of course really deep down despise the NHS, it's all a ghastly game a la Cummings-style of narrative manipulation. The Thursday national clap-along for the NHS, so cynically encouraged by the very same government, helps divert attention from their negligence whilst serving to highlight individual heroic martyrdom. I find it obscenely grotesque, particularly when we know at the same time there are continuing back-door attempts to push blame on to the NHS in a variety of ways ranging from lack of preparedness to wasteful PPE use.  

The virus is horrid enough, but I find the developing political shenanigans over the blame game is very likely to be every bit as ghastly because it could and should bring down a government if any of them had a shred of decency between them. But they are Tories and haven't, especially where the NHS is concerned and therefore all decent-minded folk must be alert and prepared to protect our NHS over the coming months from what will be further insidious attacks. Do not be fooled and succumb to the temptation to believe the leopard has changed its spots and a now-grateful and humbled Covid-recovered prime minister has seen the light and our wonderful health service is safe in his hands.  

This from the BBC website, but if you haven't already, watch the Panorama programme and be prepared to be truly shocked at our duplicitous government:-   

Coronavirus: UK failed to stockpile crucial PPE

The government failed to buy crucial protective equipment to cope with a pandemic, a BBC investigation has found. There were no gowns, visors, swabs or body bags in the government's pandemic stockpile when Covid-19 reached the UK. NHS staff say they are being put at risk because of the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

The government said it has taken the right steps and is doing everything it can to increase stocks.

The investigation by BBC Panorama found that vital items were left out of the stockpile when it was set up in 2009 and that the government subsequently ignored a warning from its own advisers to buy missing equipment. The expert committee that advises the government on pandemics, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), recommended the purchase of gowns last June. Gowns are currently one of the items in shortest supply in the UK and they are now difficult to source because of the global shortage of PPE.

Doctors and nurses have complained that there are also shortages of the life-saving FFP3 respirator masks. Panorama has discovered that millions of FFP3 respirator masks are unaccounted for. There were 33 million on the original 2009 procurement list for the stockpile, but only 12 million have been handed out. The government refuses to explain where the other masks have gone. A government spokesperson said there was "limited demand" for the masks coming through the Supply Disruption Line, "which is one reason why they haven't all been distributed". They added that gowns were a recent recommendation from the advisory group and would be procured for the "future stockpile build up alongside all other necessary equipment".

Panorama has spoken to a number of NHS insiders about PPE who wish to remain anonymous. "There is a complete lack of transparency from the government. They are creating panic, as we don't know if they can supply us so we are scrambling to get it elsewhere," a head of procurement told the programme. The government also failed to stockpile visors, the swabs needed for testing and the body bags needed for the dead.

Professor John Ashton, a public health expert and long-standing critic of the government, told the programme the lack of preparation was breathtaking. "The consequence of not planning; not ordering kit; not having stockpiles is that we are sending into the front line doctors, nurses, other health workers and social care workers without the equipment to keep them safe," he said.

A government spokesperson said the stockpile was designed for a flu pandemic and that Covid-19 is a different disease with a higher hospitalisation rate. They said swabs and body bags were not recommended by Nervtag historically, but eye protection was, so the stockpile contains safety glasses.

Panorama also investigated changes to the government guidance on what PPE NHS staff should wear. In January this year, Covid-19 was officially designated a High Consequence Infectious Disease (HCID). The decision was made in consultation with a group of British experts. A Health and Safety Executive evaluation of PPE published in 2019 had already recommended that all healthcare workers should wear a gown, FFP3 respirator mask and visor when dealing with HCIDs. Those recommendations were in line with existing UK guidance.

But on 13 March this year, the government downgraded its guidance on PPE and told NHS staff they were safe to wear less protective aprons and basic surgical masks in all but the most high risk circumstances. Panorama understands that on the same day, the government took steps to remove Covid-19 from the list of HCIDs. But the experts who had recommended the coronavirus be put on the list in the first place were not consulted. Instead, the government asked its Advisory Committee on Dangerous Pathogens (ACDP).

Panorama has discovered that the ACDP was only asked to consider the matter on the morning of its 13 March meeting. It was added to the committee's agenda under "any other business". The committee backed the decision to remove Covid-19 from the HCID list, but sources on that committee have told Panorama that it had to be, in part, a pragmatic decision based on the availability of PPE. It was another six days before Public Health England announced that the coronavirus was no longer considered an HCID.

A government spokesperson said Covid-19 was taken off the list because it has a low overall mortality rate and there is now greater clinical awareness and a specific laboratory test for the virus. They added the committee's advice that Covid-19 no longer be considered an HCID was based entirely on scientific considerations. "The HCID classification is used for serious infections where there are limited numbers of cases requiring specialist input and facilities," the spokesperson said.

"This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice. The government has been working day and night to battle against coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed at all times to protect our NHS and save lives."

You can watch the full Panorama programme, Has the Government Failed the NHS? on iPlayer here.

Monday 27 April 2020

Charity is Big Business

It's just possible that long-time readers from the dark days of TR might recall the blog spending a bit of time poking fun at Stephen Bubb, at that time cheer-leader of the trade union for charity CEO's. As such he was a fervent supporter of probation privatisation and championed it as being very much a rewarding opportunity for the 'third' sector. Given his background as a Trade Unionist and Labour councillor this might seem surprising, but as his entry on Wikipedia confirms, he's always been able to ride a variety of horses:-

Sir Stephen John Limrick Bubb JP FRSA (born 5 November 1952) is Director of Charity Futures, and the Acting Director of the Oxford Institute of Charity. He was Chief Executive of the UK charity leaders representative body Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) from 2000 to 2016. He received a knighthood in 2011 for his services to the voluntary sector. From March 2011 to June 2011, Bubb was seconded to the Department of Health, as part of the team leading Andrew Lansley's National Health Service (NHS) "listening exercise".

Bubb is regarded as influential within the Labour and Conservative Parties, with his longstanding advocacy of charities replacing public services chiming with both parties' policy of promoting competition and choice in areas such as healthcare. He has described criticisms of competition as belonging in the "last century".


Another profile can be found here:-

Sir Stephen Bubb is founder-director of Charity Futures. He was formerly Chief Executive of ACEVO (Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations) until 2016. In this role he was highly influential in determining government policy on the third sector, particularly for its part delivering public services. He launched Charity Futures in July 2016.

For 10 years he also chaired the Social Investment Business, the UK’s largest social investor, and is a trustee of Helen and Douglas House Hospice, the world’s first children’s hospice. He is a public appointments assessor.

Stephen’s recent national roles have included reporting on choice and competition in the NHS for the Prime Minister in 2011, and writing a major report for the UK government in 2014, ‘Winterbourne View – time for action’, which called for radical reform in the way we care for people with learning disabilities in the twenty-first century.

He has been in national roles at TGWU, NUT and AMA, and was the Founding Personnel Director of the National Lottery Charities Board. He was a Councillor in Lambeth and an active member of the health authorities for Guys and St Thomas’ hospitals over two decades.


Anyway, I was pondering the other day what on earth had happened to the ambitious and ever upwardly-mobile Bubb since his heady days at ACEVO and having the ear of government. Had he achieved ermine yet or was he involved in some other project to further the cause of charities taking over public services? Well, he obviously had a plan and quickly set up a 'think tank' called Charity Futures in 2016, but its website is at pains to point out it's definitely not a charity:-

About Us - Organisation

Charity Futures is a community interest company, not a charity, which aims to promote discussion on how to safeguard and bolster the long-term prospects of the charitable sector. It is not itself a charity in order to promote that wider policy discussion. We do not and will not raise funds from the general public. We are known as Charity Futures and are registered as Third Sector Futures CIC, Company Number: 10730231


General Progress: Since our launch in July 2017, we have been busy trying to get as rounded a view as possible as to the long-term challenges facing the charitable sector, and diverse approaches for surmounting them. We have held roundtable consultations with chief executives and chairs from charities large and small, with sector experts and think tank researches, with functions and philanthropists, charity academics and journalists, training providers, and umbrella bodies. In an effort to avoid being stuck in the London bubble, we have travelled to Exeter, Edinburgh, Sheffield, Oxford, Norfolk and Manchester to meet sector leaders. We have had more roundtables in Belfast, Cardiff, Newcastle and Bradford.

In addition, we ran a survey of charity trustees in collaboration with nfpSynergy and Third Sector magazine. The results are published here, an we held a seminar to discuss the governance learning points the exercise indicated in November. Sir Stephen continues to blog on his thoughts and experiences as we move through the process; some intermediate conclusions can be found here in our written submission to the House of Lords select committee on charities.

Throughout 2018 and 2019, we are undertaking a research consultation alongside Giving Evidence. Through hosting focus groups in London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Bradford, and also online surveys, we will find out what charities and donors wish to see researched to help them in their vital work. The findings will be published in mid-2019.


This article from the thirdsector website in November 2017 gives a few more details:-

Sir Stephen Bubb sets sights on Institute for Philanthropy and Charity

Sir Stephen Bubb is in negotiations with the University of Oxford about setting up an Institute for Philanthropy and Charity.

Bubb, who last year set up Charity Futures, an initiative that is considering how the sector can be supported in the long term, said he was working with the charity the Oxford Centre for the Study of Philanthropy to finalise plans for the creation of an institute. He said he hoped to win the approval of the University of Oxford before the end of the year.

Bubb, an Oxford graduate, led the charity chief executives body Acevo for 15 years before leaving in 2016 to become chief executive of Charity Futures. Bubb revealed the plan for the institute at a conference in London last Thursday. Bubb told Third Sector: 

"There are quite a few institutes of philanthropy, particularly in the US, but they’re largely about donors, as opposed to how do you philanthropy better. This will be research-based and will develop a digital laboratory and publications. We have big plans, but we’re still in discussions with the university."

Charity Futures is a community interest company funded through a £400,000 grant from the fund management firm Woodford Investment Management, but Bubb said the ambition was to build a dedicated centre in Oxford that would require millions of pounds from a range of sources. He said he hoped the building would open in 2021.

Bubb said that Charity Futures was also working in partnership with three sector organisations. He said it was developing an online tool for trustees in conjunction with the Clore Social Leadership programme and was undertaking a scoping exercise, with the Charity Finance Group, on collaboration and back-office sharing in the sector.

Charity Futures will also work with the Behavioural Insights Team, the Cabinet Office-backed behavioural science initiative, on core costs and why many funders refuse to pay them. "It will ask what behavioural change we can instigate to pay core costs," said Bubb.


Eventually grand plans were announced with this from Civil Society News:-

Sir Stephen Bubb announces plans to build an Oxford Institute of Charity  

Sir Stephen Bubb has announced plans to build an Oxford Institute of Charity after three years of discussions with the university. Charity Futures, the think tank set up by Bubb when he left Acevo, and New College, Oxford will collaborate on the new institute, which plans to open in the summer of 2022 once a new building has been constructed. The Oxford Institute for Charity is also seeking a single global endowment of £30m to deliver a sustainable income for the new body.

Its objectives will be to: 

  • deliver high calibre academic research to be used by the global charity community
  • promote the importance of research and study of charity, both at post-graduate and undergraduate level, in universities more generally
  • develop networks and foster links internationally
  • digitise charity records to assist with wider research and study
  • organise conferences and summer schools for UK and global academics, philanthropists, corporate donors and leaders of civil society
‘Highest intellectual order’

Bubb will continue in his role at Charity Futures, but also become acting director at the Oxford Institute for Charity. In this role he will commission the fundraising strategy, raise awareness of the body and work with the college to appoint an academic director.

Plans for a new academic hub were first mooted by Bubb when he set up Charity Futures. The think tank had begun working with the Oxford Centre for the Study of Philanthropy, but the two bodies parted ways last year. The Oxford Centre for the Study of Philanthropy has since filed an application to strike the organisation off of the register of companies.

Bubb said: “The research and study of charity will be of the highest intellectual order but aims to promote better, more sustainable, and effective performance of charity in the world. OIC will also serve as an authoritative source for views on the sector with government and the media, and in the development of policy generally.

“My role is to give the Institute a solid foundation from which it can thrive and prosper long into the future. In practical terms this means establishing a firm financial base and securing an inspirational academic leader. The institute will make a major contribution to the sector I love and have worked in for some three decades.”

Miles Young, warden of New College, said: “Charity’s important role in our society is often undervalued, and I believe that one cause of that is that it is surprisingly little studied in universities. What particularly attracts us is the opportunity to apply interdisciplinary scholarship to the subject, and in a way which reinforces our own – and Oxford’s expertise – in subjects as diverse as history and philosophy, politics and economics, law and government.” 


Professor Michael Earl, Chair and Co-Founder of the Oxford Centre for the Study of Philanthropy introduced the new centre here in a podcast, but then there appeared to be a falling out with this reported by Civil Society News in May 2019:-

Charity Futures ends association with Oxford Centre for the Study of Philanthropy

Charity Futures, the think tank established by former Acevo chief executive Sir Stephen Bubb, has parted ways with the Oxford Centre for the Study of Philanthropy. Bubb, who co-founded Charity Futures in 2015 with Jonathan Smith, the head of corporate social responsibility at Woodford Investment Management, had previously announced that his organisation would be working to create a new research institute focused on philanthropy at the University of Oxford. 

Speaking in November 2017, a month after he and Smith had joined OCSP as directors and trustees, Bubb said that a building had already been identified to host the institute, as well as an academic to lead its research. However, the most recent OCSP annual report announced that both men had resigned their positions. 

Writing in the introduction to the report, Professor Michael Earl, the OCSP chairman, said: 

“At 30 June 2017 we were engaged with serious discussions with a potential benefactor, and with Charity Futures, a policy-oriented organisation working on charity governance, with an intention to merge and be placed at a particular Oxford College. A completion date of March 2018 for finalising these arrangements was envisioned originally. 

“To help in planning and preparing for these new arrangements, Sir Stephen Bubb and Mr Jonathan Smith became directors and trustees on 23 October 2017. I regret to record that on 12 April 2018 Sir Stephen and Mr Smith resigned, withdrawing their support for the intended merger preferring to concentrate on charity governance and management, but hopefully still located at the aforementioned Oxford College.” 

In May 2018 Charity Futures began a consultation to discover the sector's research priorities in partnership with consultancy Giving Evidence. Neither Charity Futures nor OCSP responded to requests for comment.


The story was reported in the Times:-

New Oxford institute to study and strengthen charities

The world’s first academic institute to study charity is to be established in a new £2.5million 72ft high tower at the University of Oxford.

Plans for the Oxford Institute of Charity were prompted by the collapse in 2015 of the children’s charity Kids Company amid claims of mismanagement and questions about its performance. It will look at ways in which the leadership, governance and impact of charities can be strengthened. It will seek to become a global centre of research into charity and promote the study of charities at undergraduate and postgraduate level, both at Oxford and other universities. The institute will be housed in a modern stone tower within a quad at New College making it a striking addition to Oxford’s skyline.


This from the Oxford Institute of Charity website:-

Charities today face greater challenge and more scrutiny. Yet despite their crucial role in society and the challenges they face, the academic study of charity, to date, has not been strong. The Oxford Institute of Charity is being established to address this problem. The Oxford Institute of Charity will work with others across the UK and internationally to strengthen understanding of the challenges that face the Third Sector, and the possible solutions that will help ensure charity remains a vivid and vital part of our society.


The Oxford Institute of Charity, a collaboration between New College Oxford and Charity Futures, has been established to:

  • Provide high calibre, independent, contemporary research whose findings will be of practical use to the global charity community and policy-makers
  • Establish a forum where foundations, not-for-profit leaders, academics and charity practitioners, can share insights and develop common agendas for research and action
  • Engage students and academics in charity as an increasingly important area for study and scholarship, supporting the sustainability of the charity sector. Such study will be interdisciplinary, drawing on perspectives from history, law, philosophy, economics, psychology and business, amongst others
  • Promote the importance of research and study of charity across Universities
  • Develop networks and foster links internationally
  • Offer learning opportunities through conferences and summer schools for UK and global academics, philanthropists, corporate donors and leaders of civil society


So what ever happened to Bubb's former suitor, the Oxford Centre for the Study of Philanthropy? An internet search brings up no explanation as to the obvious rift, but takes us to:-
The Centre for the Study of Philanthropy & Public Good and Scotland’s first research centre dedicated to the growing field of philanthropy studies. School of Management, University of St Andrews
Organisation profile

Scotland’s first research centre dedicated to the growing field of philanthropy studies. The Centre for the Study of Philanthropy & Public Good’s aim is to strengthen, enhance and challenge theory, practice and policy relating to philanthropy and its relationship to public good through high-quality, internationally recognised research and scholarship.

Aim & Objectives
The Centre for the Study of Philanthropy & Public Good’s aim is to strengthen, enhance and challenge theory, practice and policy relating to philanthropy and its relationship to public good through high-quality, internationally recognised research and scholarship.
To achieve this, our work has three objectives:

To carry out relevant, impactful, research that contributes to both theoretical understanding and applied knowledge on philanthropy and the public good, and that contributes to the growing field of philanthropy studies.

To convene and serve as the intellectual forum for policy and practice thinking on philanthropy and the public good nationally, in Scotland and the UK, and internationally, by working with relevant individual and organisational stakeholders, and by providing an informed platform for the development and discussion of new ideas and thinking in the field.

To provide demonstrable societal benefits through sharing and exchanging knowledge and know how with academic and non-academic audiences, acting in advisory capacities, and generating awareness of issues relating to philanthropy and the public good.


As with Bubb's Oxford outfit, judging by the illustrious benefactors wishing to be associated with charitable endeavour, charity is clearly big business indeed.  

Sunday 26 April 2020


Now we've settled into a world of lockdown and made suitable adjustments to many aspects of life, it's becoming a bit of a challenge deciding how to fill the pages and indeed what there might be an appetite to discuss. The prison release saga, PPE, TR2, workload, morale, training, IT, Shared Services, pay and conditions etc have all been 'done to death' and seem somewhat sterile, especially in the current situation. 

I still live in hope of more imaginative and incisive guest blogs emerging, but in the mean time I'd like to remind ourselves of a figure from our heyday, not least in the hope it might serve to inspire newer recruits lest they accept without question the further drift towards civil service bureaucratisation. The following is contained in the current edition of the Probation Journal.           

In memory of Paul Senior 

Paul Senior, who died on 22nd June 2019, was born in Barnsley in 1952, moved with his family to Suffolk, where he did his secondary schooling, returning to Yorkshire as a student at the University of York in 1971, and remaining in the county for the rest of his career. He had initially intended to become a secondary school history teacher, but decided against this, moving via volunteer youth work into social work, and gaining his Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (CQSW) between 1975 and 1977. Some of the thinkers he encountered in teacher training, not only practical educators like AS Neil and Maria Montessori but also Karl Marx, Antonio Gramsci, George Orwell, Ivan Illich, and Paulo Freire, were lasting influences on his multifaceted career in and around the probation service. Gramsci and Freire, in particular, were socialist intellectuals for whom producing knowledge was always about serving the political and practical interests of disadvantaged people and critically supporting the efforts of those who worked with and for them. They informed the outlook that Paul used to appraise and judge probation practice and probation training and, later, probation policymaking. He consistently understood that the probation ideal, like the National Health Service (NHS) ideal, had devious political enemies hell-bent on obliterating it, and that canny political action was as – often more – important as rational argument and empirical evidence in upholding and extending it.

Paul worked as a front-line probation officer in the South Yorkshire probation service for six years, and conceded that his ‘intellectual curiosity was not always seen as helpful by my colleagues’. Temperamentally combative, and always politically astute, he was a natural activist within National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) – particularly its radical Action Group: he spoke regularly at its conferences and spent eight years on its Probation Practice Committee, producing ‘a huge number of policy papers whilst we were still at the strategic table with the Home Office’. Furious debates on the future of the probation service, some with a socialist inflection, occurred within and without it in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There was no consensus on the theories that could or should inform practice, or on the acceptable level of official restraints on the service’s professional autonomy.

In 1982, Paul became a senior probation officer (training) in South Yorkshire probation service and a senior lecturer in Sheffield Polytechnic (as Sheffield Hallam University then was), a demanding joint appointment which he fashioned into a position of considerable influence, locally and nationally. He served as the probation columnist in the magazine Social Work Today and published his first article in the Probation Journal in 1984, the beginning of a steady stream of articles and book chapters that lasted to the end of his career, eventually augmented by blogging and tweeting. He enjoyed some deep conversations with Bill McWilliams, then a pioneering research officer in the Sheffield probation service: generations apart politically, he and Bill were nonetheless kindred spirits in their intellectual passion for probation. In post, he worked locally with students, practitioners, and managers on the changes entailed by ever more frequent criminal justice legislation and policy directives and, later on, on the creation of post-qualifying training arrangements in the South Yorkshire and Northeast Midlands region. As a member of Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) Council (1986–1989) he cautiously championed the development of distinct Probation Streams on a new generic social work qualification; he and others hoped at the time that this concession to specialised probation interests would dampen Home Office inclinations to split probation training from social work. For a while, at least, it did.

The eponymously named Jarvis, the venerable and prestigious probation practice manual which no post-war probation desk would have been without is not much remembered now (and only geeks of a certain generation will have noticed that Marvel superhero Iron Man has a ‘digital assistant’ called Jarvis who also, as it happens, knows everything he needs to know). It says much about Paul’s accumulating prestige in 1992 that, along with a Sheffield colleague, Alan Sanders, he was commissioned to create an updated fifth edition of it. Given the accelerating pace of legislative and policy change in the 1990s, only a loose-leaf volume, or even an online version, to which constant alterations could be made, would have been a viable replacement for the compact book it had originally been, each edition of it assured of a reasonable shelf life in less frenetic times. Plans for a fifth edition foundered when the Home Office, mindful, no doubt, of the way Jarvis epitomised the service’s control over its own mission and knowledge base, deemed its continued production unnecessary.

Ever the happy warrior, Paul was never too daunted by the tightening of Home Office control over the service, never without a move to make. His insouciance served him well when, during a period of freelance consulting (1994–1998, although still with ties to Sheffield Hallam), he won the contract to devise a new qualifying framework for probation training, which the Home Office had finally placed outwith social work, while retaining it in higher education. Many of his peers in probation training saw this as a retrograde development, a poisoned chalice, not to be colluded with. Paul was not happy with it either but, reasonably enough, feared something worse if a confident probation insider like himself did not try to shape it. The resulting Diploma in Probation Studies (DIPS), a two-year degree with a professional National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) attached, was not to everyone’s taste – master’s level training courses were abandoned, agencies (notionally) had too much control over the academic curriculum. Nonetheless it is generally agreed now that within New Labour’s very tight political parameters Paul salvaged far more space for informed reflection on theory and practice than diehard supporters of a social work connection had thought possible.

Of all his achievements, this was perhaps his most consequential. In practice, the nine original DIPS courses did deliver better, more focused and often more critically criminological training than most generic social work courses had had time or inclination to do. True, the model was short-lived, barely lasting a decade, losing out in the step-by-step dismantling of professionalised probation to an agency-based vocational training with minimal academic input, but it is almost certain that an unreflective vocationalism would have prevailed much sooner if Paul had not engaged so shrewdly with the Home Office, and pushed at the limits of what New Labour were prepared to permit.

Sheffield Hallam appointed Paul Professor of Probation Studies – the first chair with this name – in 1996 and he returned there full-time in 1998, to develop a suite of criminology courses and to coordinate criminological research, always, in his case, with a view to serving the interests of the probation service and its practitioners, but now within the broader field of ‘community justice’ (a useful term he was among the first to use in Britain). A former colleague, Kevin Wong, now Reader at Manchester Metropolitan University, sums up the significance of what was achieved in this period.

Paul’s drive, energy and imagination put Sheffield Hallam University on the criminal justice map. He established the Criminology subject group which went on to become the Department of Community Justice and Criminology. He won the first Probation training contract for the university, which Sheffield Hallam has continued to deliver to this day. He established the Hallam Centre for Community Justice in 2003 and was its Director until his retirement in April 2016. At its busiest, the Centre had eight full-time staff and also drew in departmental colleagues. Under Paul’s leadership, the Centre made significant UK policy contributions, evaluating important justice innovations: the South West Accommodation Gateway; Integrated Offender Management; and Intensive Alternatives to Custody. Cementing the centre’s national reputation, in one year, by a whisker, the centre just missed out on securing £1m worth of research income, something Paul was always hopeful of rectifying one day.

These developments were augmented by the creation in 2002 of the Community Justice Portal, an online information exchange for the sector, and the inauguration of an annual Community Justice lecture, the first of which was given by Sir Martin Narey, progressive Director General of the Prison Service and alumnus of Sheffield Polytechnic. The British Journal of Community Justice, which Paul launched jointly with De Montfort University in 2002, with the late Brian Williams and himself as co-editors, brought together theorists, practitioners, and researchers to engage in critical reflection. Paul and Brian persuaded anybody and everybody with a stake in community justice to write for it, from senior civil servants to probation trainees and ex-offenders, and their own editorials were invariably astute and timely comments on the current turn of events. While making clear there was no case in evidence or principle for privatising probation, Paul’s Bill McWilliams Memorial Lecture in 2013 was nonetheless kinder about its prospects and possibilities than his peers might have wished. This testifies, I think, not to an unholy compromise with commerce but to a temperamentally stubborn hope that the old probation ideal could never be entirely extinguished, no matter the institutional setting. And catastrophic as privatisation has largely been, it wasn’t.

Some of the contracts and consultancies undertaken by the Hallam Centre came from abroad – Europe, Singapore, New Zealand, and Hong Kong, giving Paul’s career a new, international dimension. Between 2006 and 2015, he had a working relationship with City University of Hong Kong, flying out three times a year to teach a packed schedule of social policy and criminal justice modules on several undergraduate and postgraduate courses, invariably staying in the Eaton Hotel on Nathan Road, where he felt well looked after. He encountered 1500 students over this period, and regularly participated in graduation ceremonies. Unsurprisingly, he also formed good relationships with Hong Kong’s probation, welfare, and correctional services; heads of NGOs; and judges and magistrates, frequently running training workshops and trading ideas over informal lunches and dinners. He would have liked university support for a Doctoral Degree in Criminal Justice to extend the education of existing practitioners, but that was not to be. He was much appreciated by students and colleagues in Hong Kong as a teacher and mentor but is also remembered as a connoisseur of Chinese dim sum, and could, say former colleagues, have become ‘a tourist guide to Hong Kong’s wonderful restaurants’.

In a professional-autobiographical essay he wrote towards the end of his career, it is clear Paul had no serious regrets beyond the one common to all his peers and co-contributors to the Politics and Probation book in which the essay appeared: those of us who began in probation and youth justice in the 1970s did so with a spirit-of-the-times optimism that never anticipated the scale on which our hopes, after 1989, would be dashed. Paul was arguably sharper than most in understanding that a Gramscian ‘war of position’ in civil society (to defend probation and its place in the post-war welfare state) was a better strategy than direct attacks, from a position of weakness, on a hegemonic opponent, and if even he underestimated how effectively neoliberalism would co-opt and deplete opposition, well, there were more who were far more naive. With good reason, he personally never felt defeated: he had firm moral-political principles, and he knew what he was doing, right to the end, in his post-retirement work for the Probation Institute.

Passionate as he was about probation, this was not all there was to him. For all he had a work rate that made indefatigable seem like a weak adjective, Paul also had a hinterland in which he was liked, loved, and admired for quite different reasons – a successful single parent; a stoic and sardonic bearer of protracted illness; a spiky and competitive friend; a bit of a gourmet chef; and a committed if erratic cricketer, even finding time to write a commemorative history of Tickhill Cricket Club:150 not out, the South Yorkshire club where his wake was held earlier in July last year. It was abundantly clear there that a lot of people had been very proud to know him, and if Gramsci and Freire could have made it, they would have been too.

I am grateful to Dr Kevin Wong, Paul’s former colleague and the current co-editor, with Jean Hine, of the British Journal of Community Justice, for assistance with this obituary.

Mike Nellis
Emeritus Professor of Criminal and Community Justice
University of Strathclyde, UK

Friday 24 April 2020

A Dynamic Future?

Readers will be aware that some weeks ago Russell Webster offered to co-ordinate questions on the future design of probation and submit them to HMPPS. The answers eventually came through and it's probably as well we had a look at them:-

Thank you for inviting us to answer questions from your readers. Firstly, I just want to say something about the extreme and unsettling circumstances we are experiencing with the coronavirus. Reforming probation remains one of our top strategic priorities for the Criminal Justice System and the current issues we are facing don’t take away the need to stabilise and improve how probation protects the public and reduces reoffending.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of our dedicated probation staff for their ongoing professionalism and commitment.

Jane Browne, Head of Strategy | Comms, Engagement, Marketing HMPPS Probation Reform & Workforce

The unified model

How will the new model encourage local engagement generally and with sentencers?

Partnerships will have a single organisation to contact in their region about an offender. This will particularly improve the information-sharing between, for example: the police, judiciary, social care, health and probation services and allow them to work closer together on initiatives such as Integrated Offender Management (IOM), Restorative Justice (RJ) as well as co-produce new services where there are gaps in services.

We are improving national and local liaison arrangements to increase sentencers’ confidence in the range of interventions that will be made available. We are doing this by improving the quality of court assessments and court recommendations. We will be providing better recommendation processes for accredited programmes, to reduce the need to return unworkable orders to court. There will also be local sentencing options relevant to local needs and risks, provided by the Probation Delivery Partner and the Dynamic Framework. We will also ensure comprehensive risk and needs assessments are carried out, so we match individuals to appropriate interventions which best addresses their needs, improving the likelihood of compliance and rehabilitation. An important part of this will be sourcing appropriate local services through the Dynamic Framework, which will help us maintain existing relationships and build new ones with local charities and services.
How will you ensure partnerships are developed with other government departments, particularly in relation to health, education, skills, employment and housing?

There is a tremendous amount of work going on in the “gaps” between government departments now – that’s where Government knows real gains can be made. For example, over the last couple of years we’ve been working with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England to promote the use of Mental Health Treatment, Alcohol Treatment and Drug Rehabilitation requirements, diverting offenders away from custody and into community services that help sort the underlying causes of their criminality.

We are also currently exploring co-commissioning opportunities with other public bodies for services to be delivered through the Dynamic Framework. That might mean developing a peer mentor service for individuals on probation and supporting women’s centres. The funding mechanisms and new probation regions are deliberately geared to encourage greater working between partners and support smaller local organisations to get involved.


What is being done to ensure a level playing field for small and specialist voluntary organisations in the commissioning of resettlement and rehabilitative services?

One of the things that clearly didn’t work previously was how small and specialist organisations, voluntary or otherwise, could get involved. The issues are well-documented but we’ve had this in mind throughout when designing the new model.

We know that some individuals will require specific, tailored support and so within the model, we have developed the Dynamic Framework. This will allow us to use more local organisations in the delivery of tailored resettlement and rehabilitation interventions/services. For example, staff will have a far greater ability to select interventions from a range of organisations and the Dynamic Framework will give us the ability to maintain and enhance those local relationships. Our current intention is to commission all services on the framework at Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC) level which will also help us to align and strengthen local relationships.


Where will Through-The-Gate sit in the new model: will it be prison-or community-based? Given the success of some of the new ETTG schemes, will these be preserved? Will current TTG staff have a role in the future model?

The new resettlement model takes the best of both worlds by embedding assessments for resettlement into sentence management and by using a range of different providers to deliver pre-and-post release interventions. There is some excellent work being done by some incredibly dedicated and hardworking teams in Through-the-Gate and we will want those staff to be part of our future resettlement model.


Tell us about how you are incorporating findings of the Lammy Review

The Government accepted the recommendations of the Lammy Review and work has been going on across the criminal justice system to implement these over the last two years.

For the probation reform programme, this has included ensuring we have plans in place to add rigour to our data collection, monitoring and analysis, by looking at introducing, for example, an ‘equalities monitoring tool’ to assess the treatment of Black, Asian and ethnic minority offenders who are being managed on a community sentence or licence.

We also recognise that a greater proportion of Black and Asian people and people of other minority ethnic groups receive custodial sentences, with these groups markedly over-represented in the custodial population. They also receive a disproportionately high referral rate of Unpaid Work and a disproportionately low referral rate for Accredited Programmes. We are actively building in safeguards to ensure the advice we give sentencers in no way reflects biased or negative stereotypes associated with an individual’s ethnic background. And as with any major change, we’re in the process of completing an equality impact assessment which has shone a light on areas we need to improve further.

Substance Misuse

Will there be sufficient capacity and resources for management in the new model to work meaningfully with key stakeholders in substance misuse?

We know that many of our offenders’ experience dependency with drink or drugs and for some this can also trigger mental and physical health concerns. As well as working with our statutory and third sector partnerships on substance misuse, our Draft Target Operating Model, for example, supports the use of Mental Health Treatment, Alcohol Treatment Requirements (ATRs), Drug Rehabilitation Requirements (DRRs) and Reconnect case workers.


How will HMPPS be addressing areas around its workforce?

We know that workload for many probation officers is too high. We have more than 800 new probation officers currently in training who will make a real difference as they qualify. We are also working on a new plan to ensure we recruit sufficient staff, diversify the workforce, deliver more effective training, raise professional standards and properly recognise probation qualifications.

Our staff are the greatest asset to the probation system, and vital in ensuring that we keep the public safe and help turn around the lives of offenders. But we recognise the challenges facing those working within the system.

As well as ramping up our efforts to fill vacancies and meet future demand through recruitment, we will have a real focus on making sure our staff are supported to maintain their specialist skillset and progress their careers through a world-class and evidence-based learning and development offer. We also want to raise the profile of our dedicated workforce, ensuring that staff are recognised for the crucial and skilled work they undertake, while also rolling out a series of initiatives focusing on enhancing their wellbeing.


How will CRC and NPS offender managers be brought back together?

The 12 Probation Regions have been designed around our partnerships. Primarily this means mirroring police force boundaries. Each region has a director – all 12 have been in post from 1 April (some are existing NPS regional directors). They have responsibility for the transition in their region. We’ve set up a board in each region to oversee the transition and appointed specific people in the programme to manage the transition in each area. Their jobs will be to ensure that we integrate CRCs and NPS where identified as seamlessly as possible. We are also working on the many practical elements that this involves, such as estates, IT and pay and conditions for staff.

We know that the integration of NPS and CRC offender management teams will not happen overnight. The experience in Wales (where offender management was integrated in December 2019) has evidenced the importance of giving space and time before we start to blend caseloads. We are looking at what training and support we can provide to both NPS and CRC offender managers before the transition in June 2021 to address any gaps in experience caused by the current division of work.


Will data about offenders in employment, training and education be extended to people supervised on prison release as well as those on community supervision?

Yes, our plan is to increase our use of data and improve our recording of data to best support the probation and prison workforce and those under our supervision or on licence.

What steps are being taken to improve the computer systems and data sharing?

Investing, upgrading and improving our systems is an integral part of the plans for our future Probation System. We need to provide our staff with smarter ways of working. We believe this will support both our workforce and those who are in our supervision. We do not under-estimate the importance of effective communication and the smart use of data gathering and sharing across the Probation System.

We have made a strenuous effort to learn from what has and hasn’t worked to date, listening to the concerns and suggestions from our practitioners and stakeholders.

The new model will ensure the delivery of sentence management by a single organisation. The 12 new probation regions will work with partners to deliver effective and innovative rehabilitation services, modernise out estate and technology to bring positive change and support our people in being their best.

We’ll continue to update people with updates on our website as we head towards the transition and those interested in reading more about the new model can read the Draft Target Operating Model.

Thursday 23 April 2020

What About Prisons? 2

The subject of prison and responding to the threat posed by Covid-19 has been much-debated on here of late and remains unresolved. Given that the UK government seems to be lagging behind much of Europe in relation to many aspects of the Covid-19 response, it doesn't really come as much of a surprise, but something has to happen. This from Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies in the Guardian on Tuesday:-

'The UK is lagging behind Europe on coronavirus in prisons'

The director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies says our government’s approach is putting prisoners and the public at risk.

“Inaction by government on Covid-19 in UK prisons is putting not just prisoners’ lives at risk but also prison staff, and the general public,” says Richard Garside, director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, which has just launched a Europe-wide project to collate and compare the measures taken by different governments and prison systems. “If you set out to create an institution with the express intent of concentrating and transmitting Covid-19, it would probably look much like a prison,” he adds, especially one as overcrowded as many in the UK.

Richard Coker, a leading epidemiologist and emeritus professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, agrees. He describes prisons as “epidemiological pumps”. To deal with overcrowding, prisons have been told to “cohort” – quarantine sick prisoners together. “But without proper testing,” Garside points out, “this will be putting people with ordinary colds and flu in with Covid-19 cases and risking lives.”

Cells may also be treated as households, so if one inmate develops symptoms, all occupants of that cell have to isolate together. “And some cells do not even have the facilities to wash your hands,” he adds. “Even a short sentence for a minor crime is potentially a death sentence, puts staff at ongoing risk and provides a pool of reinfection for the wider community.”

Covid-19 is certainly spreading in jails. Official Ministry of Justice figures on Monday 20 April reported infection in more than half of jails in England and Wales, with 278 prisoners having tested positive, as well as 194 staff and eight staff from Prisoner Escorting and Custody Services. But real figures will be higher. Since tests are only done on admission to hospital, and hospitalisations are a fraction of cases, the actual numbers of inmates with Covid-19 in prisons are likely to be multiples of these figures.

Moreover, confirmed deaths from coronavirus stand at 15 prisoners and one member of prison staff with two more suspected. Again, the MoJ admits these figures lag well behind reality. “The government has not approached this crisis with anything like the seriousness – or the speed – it required,” says Garside. “To have any hope of controlling Covid-19 in prisons you have to have one to a cell, and to achieve that we need to remove at least 10,000 to 15,000 prisoners from the system.”

The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, estimates that around 1,800 prisoners are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, and had they been in the community would have been told to isolate and shield themselves for three months. “Shielding is pretty much impossible in prison but nothing is being done to prioritise their release,” says Garside.

The MoJ has begun temporarily releasing pregnant prisoners, and those in mother and baby units who do not pose a high risk of harm. But only 17 out of a potential 70 women have been released since the government announced the emergency measure three weeks ago, Buckland told MPs and peers this week. On 4 April the MoJ announced a plan to release 4,000 prisoners early on licence who were due for release in the next two months. Ten days later, just 14 prisoners had been released and after six men were released prematurely the scheme was suspended. It is expected to restart later this week.

“The whole thing suspended for a handful of minor errors. Could this make any clearer the government’s total lack of understanding of the urgency of this situation?” asks Garside. As in other essential sectors, lack of personal protective equipment has been an issue in prisons. Garside has received reports of staff having to take prisoners suspected of having Covid-19 to hospital while handcuffed to them.

About a quarter of prison staff are off sick or self-isolating, putting further pressure on the system. Justice minister, Lucy Frazer QC, told the justice select committee last week that testing of staff began over the Easter weekend and should soon become routine.

Meanwhile, visits to prisons have been halted, movement of prisoners reduced and collective activities stopped, but Garside says courts are still sending people to prison, even for relatively minor crimes like careless driving and petty drug offences.

The MoJ announced just before Easter that it is to create 500 temporary cells in the grounds of six prisons. Yet, according to Garside, this will have “almost no impact on transmission – the vast majority of prisoners will still be in overcrowded conditions”.

Some other European countries have reacted more proactively than this country to reducing the spread of Covid-19 in prisons. Hence the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies’ project to create a “knowledge base” of European responses on which all can draw. At least 12 countries are already involved and data will be released on a rolling basis from next later this week, with collation and analysis to follow. “It won’t exactly reveal best practice; nobody is doing it brilliantly. But at least better practice,” says Garside.

Austria, for instance, is deferring prison sentences shorter than three years for non-dangerous offenders, as are parts of Germany. Finland is doing the same for sentences of less than six months (and it sends far fewer people to prison to start with). Italy, which has already seen prison riots, has reduced its prison population by 6,000 in six weeks, and France by 10,000 in the last month, and Ireland has doubled temporary releases since the start of March.

“Our government must do more,” he concludes. “Drastic measures are being taken across the world with enormous consequences for liberty and economies. Millions of British citizens are in lockdown, yet our government seems unable to take some fairly modest steps to stop Covid-19 rampaging through the prison system. The justice secretary needs to demonstrate that he is up to the challenge of making these decisions. If he’s not, maybe he needs to make way for someone who is.”

Garside has worked in the field of criminal justice reform for more than 20 years. He started because he believed that criminal justice was one of the most problematic areas of society. “It is expected to deal with deep societal problems when at best it can only manage rather than resolve them, and at worst it entrenches them. Prisons are a particular interest because the conditions are so awful and so many are held unnecessarily,” he says. He has stayed in the field because “there is so much left to be done”.

So does he think this crisis will lead to positive changes in our prison service? He says he fears not, “but I hope it will show up the terrible – overcrowded, unsafe, unsanitary - conditions in our prisons”.

He adds: “And if we can release thousands of prisoners in an expedited way and the sky doesn’t fall in, then we could think about who we imprison and why, and consider different ways to sanction people. Some will always need to be contained, but prisons at the moment are a 19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem.”