"It seems working for MoJ/HMPPS/NPS has suddenly become a joyous, well-rewarded experience, or...... the civil service muzzles are a snug fit."
'Fair wind and following sea' for HMS Probation - extract from yesterday's speech by Admiral of the Fleet Buckland:-Now, something that is little known about our probation service is that it plays a role in how the system supports victims – explaining at parole hearings the impact of crimes upon them and making sure that licence conditions prevent offenders from intimidating or trying to contact them in any way.
Probation when you think about it is one of the most important ships in the justice fleet. It can be the difference between an offender allowing themselves to be swept back into a life of crime or navigating towards a law-abiding future on their release.
With over 80% of people who receive a caution or conviction now going on to reoffend, we have got to ensure that probation is ship shape and truly set up to turn offenders’ lives around for good, which is why this year and last year we have invested an extra £155m into probation services.
And we’ve also recruited record numbers of probation officers – more than a thousand trainees were employed last year, and we plan to bring in 1,500 more this year. Now, all this investment will ensure that we have the personnel to keep a closer eye on dangerous criminals and to create more opportunities to rehabilitate offenders, and working with police to swiftly get a grip of those who continue to commit crime
But in order to really get results we also needed to get the right structure in place, which is why last month we unified the Probation Service. This was the culmination of more than two years’ planning and I am hugely grateful to colleagues across probation for making it happen.
Now, by unifying the Probation Service, we are putting down a strong foundation for change, with twelve probation areas across England and Wales led by Regional Probation Directors who are now responsible for the delivery of the services with whom the courts, Police and Crime Commissioners, the police, and indeed all criminal justice partners can work.
We also want to be more joined-up across every agency of the state. Now, I have said many times that every department in government should be a criminal justice department – because policing, education, and health among many others have a role to play in preventing people from reoffending and offending in the first place. The new model for probation will I believe make it much easier for our response to be a seamless, all-encompassing one – to really help drive those results.
This bigger, better probation service will allow us to take a more consistent approach to supervising offenders at every level of risk and to drive good practice up and down the country. Again, leadership is going to be crucial to this, with the Regional Directors setting the strategic direction and making sure that the entire Probation Service collaborates to scale up what works.
Now, the new Probation Service is already making much more use of the technology that’s on offer to us today, like GPS and sobriety tagging. These innovations will drive better compliance with conditions placed upon offenders to help them to learn self-discipline and to empower them to avoid the kind of negative influences that can drag them back into criminality. And crucially they will enable us to act quickly if offenders are going off course, to respond appropriately to get them back on the right track and, if necessary, to put them back into custody to keep the public safe and to prevent crime.
Unpaid work will be the highly visible shopfront of our new Probation Service – because we want to make sure that justice in our country is done and seen to be done. There are literally millions of hours of unpaid work handed down to offenders as part of their sentence every year and we will make sure they are served more visibly – to help improve the environment in our towns, our cities, and our countryside. My hope is that this will not only clean up neighbourhoods but also act as a deterrent to would be criminals, making them fully aware that punishments will be served in the full gaze of their local communities.
The new Probation Service will also have a refreshed set of national standards – to ensure that there are more face-to-face meetings and more frequent supervision for offenders with the highest risk or most complex needs. And in addition, this new framework will strengthen probation staff’s role in tackling social and domestic issues – working in partnership with police and social services to protect children, to protect partners, and to protect others from domestic and sexual abuse.
Now, unification of the Probation Service has taken huge amounts of thought and planning over a long period of time. We want to make sure that the process continues to be a success as these new arrangements take hold. Over the summer, I therefore intend to publish a road map setting out the path for the next 18 months – to embed, to improve, and to foster innovation in the delivery of the Probation Service.
Now the record investment we’ve put into probation, not just in cash terms but in personnel as well, mean that it is better able than ever to cut crime in our country. And through the unification of services, we’re making sure that probation is more joined-up, better equipped, and more able than ever to ensure justice is done and seen to be done.
All this work will position probation as an integral part of our criminal justice fleet – to overhaul our response to crime and cut rates of offending in our country for generations to come.
Now, I would like to finish with prisons – without doubt the largest ship in the criminal justice fleet. As such, it makes sense that they need to be first rate and able to set the direction of travel.
There are about 65,000 sentenced offenders in our prisons today. By keeping this criminal minority out of our communities, prisons make sure they cannot do further harm to the law-abiding majority in our country.
But prisons are so much more than just mandatory boarding houses for criminals. In the course of a prisoner’s sentence, the prison service does vital rehabilitative work that can help us to address the amount of crime that now comes from reoffending, as well as its staggering estimated cost of over £18 billion per year. In fact, our most recent data suggests that around a third of sentenced prisoners have 15 or more previous cautions and convictions.
Now, like all of us, during the COVID-19 pandemic prisons were forced to do things differently – finding new ways to keep providing decent prison environments as well as their day-to-day rehabilitative work. I am enormously grateful to staff across the custodial estate for everything they have done to keep prisons working, despite the hugest challenges – they really are some of the hidden heroes of the pandemic. What has been a surprise for many is just what a success these changes have been, enabling regimes to deliver better services and to make prisons safer places.
In many ways, there will be no going back to how things were done before and the government is determined to seize the opportunity to build back a better prisons system – one that not only has better outcomes but also enables staff to keep better order and spot safety concerns much more easily. And this can support prisons to do both the short and longer-term work to keep the public safe and, ultimately, to cut crime in our country.
So, I can announce today our ambition to publish a Prisons White Paper – to set a new direction of reform as the prison estate adapts to recent legislative changes, transitions from COVID-19 and which begins to look to the future of criminal justice in England & Wales. I think that has to begin with capacity.
When this government was elected, it was on a promise to keep people safe by introducing tougher sentencing for the worst offenders and to end automatic release for the most serious crimes. Through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently making its way through Parliament, we are delivering on that promise.
In effect what this will mean is that many prisoners will spend more time in custody. And to meet the need for more space in our prisons, we have already started putting the foundations in place and committed more than £4 billion to deliver 18,000 prison places over the next six years – it’s the largest prison build programme in over a century. However, we must go further, and we hope that any forthcoming White Paper will include more information on our ten-year plan to create the next generation of prison places.
But it is also important that we invest in the estate as it exists today – to ensure that we maximise every asset we have. There are two important elements to this: firstly, making sure good influences from the outside world remain accessible to prisoners and secondly slamming the prison gates shut on the bad influences that can contribute to cycles of reoffending.
During the COVID-19 pandemic prison visits from friends and family were necessarily stopped to control the spread of the virus. Now this undoubtedly contributed to the national effort to protect the NHS and to save lives. But we know just how important these relationships are to prisoners’ wellbeing. They can play a huge part in how likely they are to engage with prison regimes and to keep positive about addressing the issues they need to overcome – and I know this from my own conversations with prisoners that I’ve started to have again now that conditions are safer. This was at the forefront of our thinking last year when we quickly rolled out video calling technology across the prison estate – to ensure prisoners could keep in contact with loved ones.
With suppliers unable to attend custodial settings, that very same technology enabled locked down prison regimes to carry on offering crucial education services. By giving offenders new interests and better skills – that might not have been accessible to them at home or in school – these services can be a shop window to a better life, demonstrating just what is possible with hard work and determination.
Any forthcoming White Paper should examine how it might be possible to make much better use of technology to safely facilitate both these forces for good – to keep prisoners upbeat about who is waiting for them beyond the prison gates, and to give them as clear a view as possible of the better future that could be waiting too.
Now at the opposite end of the scale, we know that there are also bad influences, which do huge damage to prisoners in their rehabilitation journeys – leading them away from the potential of a brighter tomorrow and back down the dark alley of crime.
And substance misuse so often plays a role in that – particularly for low level or repeat offenders and, though prisons should be able to insulate people from it, time and again we see drugs making their way through the prison gates, smuggled in by criminal gangs who make sure that vulnerable offenders rack up drug debts they might never be able to pay back.
We have made big strides in recent years on security with the new £100 million Security Investment Programme – to target Serious and Organised criminals’ attempts to smuggle drugs and contraband into our prisons, and we have introduced into the legislation new powers for prisons to make use of counter-drone technology.
And our intention is for the White Paper to look again at how we can strengthen our security response and potentially put in place a new drug strategy, so that we can keep these terrible influences out of our prisons. And amongst other things, we are already funding technology to block illicit mobile phones used by gangs to organise their operations, as well as rolling out x-ray body scanners across the entire male closed estate, and we have funded counter-drone technology to close off the delivery routes. Only last week I was looking at one in Lincoln Prison and officers told me what a difference it has made – keeping prisoners and staff safe from contraband.
As I mentioned earlier, we know that of those cautioned or convicted of a crime in our country, more than 80 per cent have at least one previous caution or conviction. That means more often than not that when offenders leave our prisons they go on to offend again. But we also know what works to prevent it – a job, a home, a healthy lifestyle. The evidence on this is clear, so it is imperative that the prison estate is set up to give offenders every opportunity to get their lives back on track.
And we want to look at how it might be possible to build on programmes like the COVID Emergency Accommodation Scheme, which many probation officers found to be invaluable. They reported that having a fixed abode improved communication with offenders and led to better engagement all round with rehabilitation. And at Leeds, Pentonville and Bristol, the Offender Accommodation Pilot gives up to two years support until offenders are settled back into the community.
Now one prisoner in that scheme had spent 8 years in and out of prison because of violence and drugs, but since being put into a managed tenancy his tests for substances have all come out negative and he completed his probation for the first time in August last year.
That’s the kind of crime-cutting success story we’ve got to replicate.
So, from this summer, we are introducing a new provision of temporary accommodation and support for up to 12 weeks post-release for prison-leavers at risk of homelessness, initially in 5 of our probation areas in England. And we are collaborating with 16 prisons to test new and innovative approaches to ensure offenders resettle back into the community and turn their backs on crime. This is being funded by the £50m investment in reducing reoffending announced at the start of this year.
Now, the Prisons White Paper should explore how it might be possible to put cross-agency and cross-government working at the heart of our response, so that we can make a difference to every factor that could contribute to rehabilitative success. We are currently building on our growing body of evidence on what works to reduce reoffending, and I am keen we explore what a ‘resettlement passport’ might look like to enable prisoners to get to that better future and make a positive contribution to society.
Now, our ambition would be for these passports to bring together everything offenders need to turn their backs on crime. Because the evidence shows us that if we get these things right, then prisoners are more likely to keep on the straight and the narrow post-release. Of course, it won’t be as simple as that in every case, but in so many it can be.
Now, we know that most women in prison have experienced trauma in their lives and this affects how they engage with rehabilitative services. Trauma is often at the root of the behaviour that drives their offending, so a trauma-informed environment can indeed help to address this.
We need to support women in prison to address their histories of trauma so they can turn their lives around. So, we need to become both trauma-informed and trauma-responsive in everything we do – and that means understanding what trauma is and how it impacts on individuals and then designing our services, buildings and systems to respond to it. Again, only a few weeks ago I was talking to some prison officers and this issue came out so powerfully.
Work has already commenced within the estate to help address women’s histories of trauma and we have started to see the positive impact this can have. The White Paper should build on that work, exploring ways to further test, evaluate and incorporate trauma-based methods in the women’s estate, to inform our wider approach to trauma across all cohorts of prisoners.
And finally, the White Paper should look at how we can invest in our most important asset in the prison estate – that’s our dedicated workforce. The CSJ’s award-winning report – Control, Order, Hope – set out just how vital the prison workforce is to preventing crime and protecting the public. Now, we want to take a fresh look at how we can retain talented staff and if there are ways in which they could better use improved technology
This could enable them to spend less time on administration, and more time on the afflictions that so plague our prison population. It could also allow the space for prison staff to develop their skills as rehabilitation professionals, so that they are better equipped for the enormous responsibility of their roles.
And having seen prisons as a minister but also in my professional career over 30 years, I think jail craft is so important and little understood. Prisons are not islands; they are part of our society, facing the same challenges. They must be fully linked up to community-based services if we are to effectively reduce crime. Now, our ambition for this White Paper is to capture the moment. As we transition back to normality after the global pandemic it could lay a path for the future of our prison system – one that takes advantage of the innovations that have demonstrated a different, better way of getting results.
My department is currently working hard to finalise these details, so that we can come forward with the best possible proposals. Now, making a success of the White Paper can and should mean protecting the public from the effects of crime in the short and longer term, protecting the law-abiding majority from the criminal minority, while at the same time giving those who want a second chance the opportunity to change their lives for good.
The criminal justice fleet in our country exists to protect the British public from harm. For it to do that as effectively as possible, we need to get each ship into formation towards a single destination. And that place, that destination is a safer, stronger Britain – where there is less crime and fewer victims.
We are already making progress, getting into position and making sure we’ve got the wind in our sails. On the way that victims are treated, so that they are better seen and heard by a criminal justice system that is truly on their side. And through a bigger probation service that has better practice and a more joined-up approach to get people’s lives on track.
But there remains more to do.
Prisons and the work done in them will need to lead the way and the government will soon bring forward proposals on how the prison estate can better cut crime both today and tomorrow – keeping dangerous criminals out of our communities, and giving those who want it a chance to re-join society as law-abiding members of it.
That’s how we will rebuild the criminal justice system in our country and that’s how I believe we’ll cut levels of crime for good. That’s how we’ll get to the safer Britain we can see ahead in the distance. This government is determined to see that journey through.