Friday 31 March 2023

A Long Shopping List

The Napo bumper mailing to members was early this week and my policy has normally been to publish what I feel is particularly important or relevant and without comment, preferring instead to leave that to readers. However, not only is there far too much to be sensibly absorbed in one mailout, I can't help feeling all three unions are way too late to the party over One HMPPS and is it really sensible to lump all this together in one long shopping list? Isn't it a bit, well, deferential too? We'll cover the rest of the mailout tomorrow.   


Attached to this bulletin you will find the full text of a letter which the three unions have sent this week to HMPPS setting out why we are so opposed to ‘One HMPPS’. In summary we are against the proposals because: 
  • Probation does not need another change initiative 
  • Probation’s identity and independence is weaker now in HMPPS than at any time post TR, and both will decline further if the One HMPPS proposals are implemented. 
  • The creation of 6 HMPPS Mega Regions in England will damage Probation relationships with local statutory partners, take probation further away from service users and ride roughshod over devolution of services to local democratic control. 
  • The proposal to create an Area Executive Director role for each Mega Region will create an expensive and unnecessary layer of civil service bureaucracy at a time when the front line is screaming for more resources. 
  • The priority for Probation, its service users, our members and communities is the future of Probation, not the future of HMPPS. 

Instead of bringing the Probation Service into scope of One HMPPS, we are asking HMPPS to: 
  • Decouple the review of the cost and function of HMPPS as a non-delivery, non-frontline agency from the future of the Probation Service. 
  • Reinvest the savings at HMPPS HQ in the Probation front line 
  • Retain and strengthen a standalone Probation function within HMPPS 
  • Reinstate the Director General Probation role 
  • Reinstate line management of Regional Probation Directors by the Chief Probation Officer
  • Retain the current Probation Service Regional Structure 
  • Undertake a detailed demand management review of the work of probation to align function with available staffing capacity, including a review of the relevant legislation 
  • Guarantee the job security of all current Probation Service staff 
  • Review whether the existing Probation Service pay and conditions package is fit for purpose in light of the continued staffing crisis and failure to close the recruitment gap 

The unions have lodged a dispute with the Probation Service on the following grounds: 
  • The current system for claiming unsocial hours for periods of annual leave is overly onerous on staff and the required management oversight and sign off does not subject the claims to any checks or safeguards. 
  • There is no basis for the employer re-claiming the annualised Un-Social Hours payment from UPW staff for the period of April 2022 to October 2022, as consequence of implementing the recent three year pay award. We had reached agreement with the employer that guaranteed that affected members would not suffer such deductions, which the employer has reneged upon. We want a system which is easy for members to claim their unsocial hours. We will update members on the progress of the dispute. 

The unions have lodged a claim for geographical supplements to replace the market forces payments which were withdrawn by the Probation Service as part of the three-year pay award. The claim is for the following: 
  • The highest Geographical Supplement rate 1 - £4,045 per annum in 2023, to be applied to all staff working in the counties which border Greater London. These are Berkshire, Buckinghamshire (including Milton Keynes), Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey.
  • Geographical Supplement rate 2 - £1,910 per annum in 2023, to be applied to all staff working in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire, Suffolk and Sussex.
  • Geographical Supplement rate 3 - £ 955 per annum in 2023, to be applied to all staff working in Norfolk. Geographical supplements apply to all staff in the geographical areas concerned, not just certain staff as was the case with the market forces payments.

JTU09 -2023 

Jim Barton Executive 
Director HMPPS Change SRO 

(By e-mail) 29 March 2023

Dear Jim 


Thank you for your letter of 15 March concerning the above. The joint unions respond as follows. We do so in on the basis of the information given to us to date, and in the absence yet of any published business case for the One HMPPS proposals. We are implacably opposed to the One HMPPS proposals for the following main reasons: 

1. Probation does not need another change initiative. In 2014 the government embarked on the totally disastrous TR programme which, despite our warnings, was pursued to the point of near destruction of probation. Reunification in 2021 has not yet bedded in, and HMIP reports since that time have consistently told HMPPS leaders that the service is still on its knees. Probation needs a period of stability to put right the damage of TR, to resolve its workloads crisis and to get on with the day job. 

2. Probation’s identity and independence is weaker now in HMPPS than at any time post TR, and both will decline further if the One HMPPS proposals are implemented. TR began this process - successfully destroying the independent professional leadership of Probation by abolishing the role of Chief Probation Officer. This was followed by a creeping mission in NPS over recent years to remove key probation functions from probation line management. First Approved Premises and now Interventions have been taken out of the regional probation management line and re-designated as HQ Directorates. 

More recently, the senior line management of Probation has been effectively dismantled in the last few months, presumably to lay the ground for One HMPPS. We can see this in the following developments and proposals: 
a. The abolition of the separate DG Probation and DG Prison roles 
b. The removal of the line management responsibility of the Chief Probation Officer for the Regional Probation Directors 
c. The unilateral attempt at removal of the Chief Probation Officer as chair of the Joint Negotiating Committee 
d. The demotion of Regional Probation Directors, as Regional leaders, under the proposed role of Area Executive Director 
We objected to the abolition of the DG Probation, but to no avail. If One HMPPS goes ahead, there will in effect be no separate probation line management left at all. How would probation be able to assert its strategic and operational priorities under the One HMPPS model with no direct probation line management chain? 

We also object to the proposed removal of the Chief Probation Officer as chair of the JNC. This action is not within the gift of HMPPS, as we set out below. We ask that you rescind this proposal immediately. 

In the absence of any line management responsibilities for probation, or responsibility for leading for HMPPS at the JNC, it is unclear what impact or influence the diminished role of Chief Probation Officer will have within the proposed One HMPPS structure. We would be grateful if you could let us see the job description for the Chief Probation Officer going forward, as well as the original JD for the role when it was first established. 

3. The creation of 6 HMPPS Mega Regions will damage Probation relationships with local statutory partners, take probation further away from service users and ride roughshod over devolution of services to local democratic control. The proposal to compress the existing 11 Probation Regions and Wales, which are coherent in geographical and administrative terms, into 6 new HMPPS Mega Regions and Wales flies in the face of all logic. We can only assume that this is about saving money for HMMPS by cutting regional administrative and managerial roles and their costs from the probation budget. These roles are essential. As HMIP has pointed out, administrative and managerial staff are as much part of the front line as any other staff working in the Regions. 

Probation is a local service which depends on close working relationships with statutory partners: local government, YOTS, police forces, courts and the health service. TR began the dismantling of local partnership working and local accountability, and it looks like One HMPPS aims to complete the mission. This will be a disaster for probation, its service users and the communities which rely on probation to keep them safe. 

We will defer to Police and Crime Commissioners and elected Mayors in respect of their views of the Mega Region proposal, but how such huge regions facilitate the ability of local democratic leaders to influence the service is beyond us. 

4. The proposal to create an Area Executive Director role for each Mega Region will create an expensive and unnecessary layer of civil service bureaucracy at a time when the front line is screaming for more resources. What makes HMPPS think that these roles, which failed in previous reform attempts when they were called Regional Offender Managers (ROMS) and then later Directors of Offender Management (DOMS), are going to work this time? All the historical evidence tells you that this is a failed concept. If you have evidence to the contrary, we would be grateful if you could let us see it. We make the additional point that inserting another senior civil service managerial level will make it harder, rather than easier, to forge links with much more locally based statutory partners. 

5. The priority for Probation, its service users, our members and communities is the future of Probation, not the future of HMPPS. We recognise that HMPPS is under pressure to justify its existence and must reinvent itself to save the MOJ money. As a non-delivery, non-frontline agency we understand that you are under pressure. However, we do not believe that the removal of an independent probation function is a price worth paying to keep some form of HMPPS afloat. 

At a time when HMIP is regularly reporting the crisis in probation staffing and its impact on service delivery, the introspective work on One HMPPS is at best a distraction and at worst fiddling while Rome burns. 

Here is just one recent example of what His Majesty’s Chief Inspector for Probation said about the service in the recently published ‘Offender Management in Custody – Post Release (March 2023): 

Probation services face several challenges, including a significant shortage of staff. On average, probation regions have 30 per cent fewer practitioners than they require to carry out resettlement work with prison leavers. This situation is compounded by shortages of probation services officers and administrative staff. As a result, there is insufficient capacity to build relationships with prisoners before they are released, or to complete timely referrals for housing support. 

In February 2023, following an inspection of the East Midlands Region, HM Chief Inspector wrote to the Regional Probation Director in the following terms: 

'There is acknowledgement that staffing levels (18 per cent vacancies, according to SOP data, although, as noted previously, the region disputes this figure) are not able to deliver a service to required expectations consistently. There is also an acknowledgement that this brings risks to the outcomes from regional service delivery.’ 

‘The unease around the relationship between staffing levels and practice was shared by regional staff. Of those who responded to our survey, almost two thirds of them felt that the workload was unmanageable and only 12 per cent thought that staffing was sufficient.’

 ‘Particular gaps in staffing, such as within the quality team (78 per cent vacancy rate) and unpaid work team (45 per cent vacancy rate), also had a negative impact on corresponding activity during our PDU inspections.’ 

We could go on, with many more HMIP examples, but if these warnings are being heard in high places, One HMPPS is not the right response. 

Instead of putting time, energy and resources into the future of HMPPS, the government should be seeking to better address demand management and resourcing for the Probation Service. Our members are at breaking point over unsustainable workloads. We need action to address this to protect our both our members and community safety. The money which is being spent to deliver One HMPPS would be better spent on the probation front line.

6. Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) 

In your letter you claim that One HMPPS: ‘…will not change the existing JNC Framework and the collective bargaining agreements that are in place.’ 

However, HMPPS has already decided to unilaterally change the JNC chairing arrangements without the agreement of the unions. The JNC constitution is very clear that the committee will be chaired by the HMPPS Executive Director of the Probation Service; the role which subsequently became the Chief Probation Officer. 

Clause 14 of the JNC constitution sets out: 
This constitution will be kept under review by both sides. Any changes can only be made by mutual agreement at JNC level. 
We therefore expect the employer side chair to continue to be discharged by the Chief Probation Officer. Your proposals to remove the Chief Probation Officer as employer chair of the JNC further reinforces our strongly held belief that probation is being effectively written out of decision making and influence in One HMPPS. 

7. An Alternative Vision to One HMPPS 

As joint unions we warned that TR would not work. It went ahead. It failed. We warned that privatising AP double waking night cover would not work. It went ahead. It failed. We warned that OMIC would not work. It went ahead. It failed. There is a pattern here. 

This is our warning that One HMPPS will not work for probation. If you go ahead with it, it will not work to turn probation’s fortunes around. It may succeed in more limited terms to redefine the role/size of HMPPS and to justify its existence going forward, but there is nothing here to help probation, which is our priority. 

So instead of bringing the Probation Service into scope of One HMPPS, we ask you to do the following please: 
  • Decouple your review of the cost and function of HMPPS as a non-delivery, non-frontline agency from the future of the Probation Service. 
  • Reinvest the savings you are being asked to make at HMPPS HQ in the Probation front line 
  • Retain and strengthen a standalone Probation function within HMPPS 
  • Reinstate the DG Probation role 
  • Reinstate line management of Regional Probation Directors by the Chief Probation Officer 
  • Retain the current Probation Service Regional Structure 
  • Undertake a detailed demand management review of the work of probation to align function with available staffing capacity, including a review of the relevant legislation 
  • Guarantee the job security of all current Probation Service staff 
  • Review whether the existing Probation Service pay and conditions package is fit for purpose in light of the continued staffing crisis and failure to close the recruitment gap 
8. Information Requests 

We have asked for the following information to enable us to better understand the One HMPPS proposals: 
  • Existing operating costs of the Probation Service 
  • Existing operating costs of the Prison Service 
  • Existing operating costs of HMPPS HQ 
  • Proposed operating costs of the Probation Service under One HMPPS 
  • Proposed operating costs of the Prison Service under One HMPPS 
  • Proposed operating costs of the HMPPS HQ under One HMPPS 
  • Cost of the One HMPPS re-organisation programme, with external management consultant costs identified separately 
  • Business case for One HMPPS 
  • One HMPPS risk register 
The unions look forward to receiving this information, and to taking the matters raised in this letter forward in discussion with you and colleagues as a matter of urgency. 

Yours sincerely 

Ian Lawrence                   Ben Priestly         George Georgiou     
General Secretary           National Officer    National Officer
Napo                                Unison                 GMB/SCOOOP

Cc: Kim Thornden-Edwards, Chief Probation Officer 
Francis Stuart, HMPPS Head of Employee Relations

Wednesday 29 March 2023

Election Campaigning

Yet more depressing news as a disgraced government facing almost certain electoral defeat at the forthcoming general election continues to throw everything at stoking public ire and fear. This is not going to be good for the cause of rehabilitation or ultimately the protection of the public of course. This from the BBC website:-  

Ministers can veto prisoners' parole in Victims and Prisoners Bill

Ministers will be able to block the release of some prisoners and stop others getting married under new plans to overhaul the parole system. The idea is among measures in its Victims and Prisoners Bill, which is aimed at giving greater rights to victims of crime in England and Wales. 

Ministers promise to make it easier for crime victims to get justice. But critics fear efforts to improve life for victims will be lost in a bill which also combines parole reform. Some victims of crime, especially of rape and sexual assault, feel that the criminal justice system has let them down as investigations are slow, and information scarce. Many do not make it to court. Those that do face further delays. Now the government is promising new legislation to allow victims to be kept informed, and also to challenge decisions.

The plan for a ministers' veto on some parole decisions follows the releases of double child-killer Colin Pitchfork, who was recalled to prison within months of being released, and black cab rapist John Worboys, which the government says have shaken public confidence in the system. It will mean ministers can veto recommendations to release criminals including murderers, rapists and terrorists, the government said. Bids for freedom could be blocked on multiple occasions up until the end of a sentence.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs that public protection would be the "exclusive focus" of the Parole Board decision-making process under the reforms. The changes are in an effort to "stop a balancing exercise taking into account prisoners' rights", the Ministry of Justice said.

Mr Raab said: "Our reforms will improve the experience for victims from the first meeting with a police officer to the support they get in court. and we will refocus the parole system on its overriding duty to protect the public from violent and sexual criminals." 

He acknowledged that the Parole Board did not like the changes, but he said he wanted to take the parole process in "a different direction" with the emphasis on public safety. Those serving whole-life orders will be banned from marrying behind bars. These plans also follow an attempt by serial killer Levi Bellfield to marry in prison, and reportedly making a bid for legal aid to challenge the decision to block his marriage.

The 54-year-old is serving two whole-life orders for killing 13-year-old Milly Dowler, Marsha McDonnell and Amelie Delagrange, as well as the attempted murder of Kate Sheedy.

The bill will also:
  • give ministers the powers to demand more inspections of the police, probation and prosecutors if they aren't acting in the interest of victims
  • simplify the process for victims making formal complaints
  • boost the role of the victims' commissioner by requiring criminal justice agencies to publicly respond to their recommendations and set out the rationale for accepting or rejecting them
  • explicitly designate children born as a result of rape as victims in their own right, making clear that they are entitled to access support services and information on their case
  • create a new Independent Public Advocate which will work in the aftermath of major disasters like Hillsborough, the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire.
Labour said it had been eight years since the Conservatives first promised this bill, "and now they've had to combine it with parole reform". "Yet again, the Tories overpromise and underdeliver," said Labour's shadow victims minister Anna McMorrin. "Victims are now waiting years for a trial because of record court backlogs, with criminals getting off scot-free at a record rate. Rape victims are suffering on average for three years as they wait to hear their case in court."

Diana Fawcett, chief executive at Victim Support, said the charity welcomed many of the measures in the Bill "which will make a real and meaningful difference to the experience of victims". "But we are seriously worried that expanding its scope to include prisoners will be a distraction and delay it even further." 

The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) said women and girls' confidence in justice agencies was at an all-time low because of their "persistent failures towards victims and survivors of rape, sexual violence and domestic abuse", and said it was concerned the Bill "will not transform victims' experiences without significant changes". It said there was a "glaring absence of funding" in the bill and said it was concerned it was "creeping away from its intended aim of improving victims' experiences".

Director Andrea Simon said: "Recovery is an essential part of justice, and we need to ensure every survivor who needs help can access specialist support that is tailored to their needs" - but said we were a "long way from that being a reality".

A Parole Board spokesman said: "Public protection has always been, and will always be, at the heart of Parole Board decision-making, which is based on the evidence and the law. We are committed to working with the ministry and Parliament to ensure this important legislation receives the consideration that it richly deserves."


Victims placed at heart of justice system under radical shakeup

Victims’ experiences to be transformed through new Victims and Prisoners Bill.

Victims’ voices will be cemented at the heart of the justice system following an overhaul of legislation which will put the principles of the Victims’ Code on a statutory footing and toughen the parole system.

The Victims and Prisoners Bill introduced today (29 March 2023) will fundamentally transform victims’ experience of the criminal justice system. Legislation will enshrine the principles of the Victims’ Code in law, give ministers powers to direct the inspection of justice agencies that are failing victims, and create better oversight of those agencies.

The parole system will also be overhauled allowing ministers to block the release of the most dangerous offenders including murderers, rapists, and terrorists - putting public protection back as the overriding focus of the parole process. The bill will also legislate for a new release test for the Parole Board making it clear that public safety is the only priority when making release decisions – to stop a balancing exercise taking into account prisoners’ rights.

The new legislation will also stop prisoners serving whole-life orders from marrying or forming a civil partnership in prison. This will deny these criminals the important life events they stole from their victims while ensuring their horrific crimes are treated with the seriousness they deserve.

Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab MP, said:
Our reforms will improve the experience for victims from the first meeting with a police officer to the support they get in court. and we will refocus the parole system on its overriding duty to protect the public from violent and sexual criminals.
The Victims and Prisoners Bill will put the principles of the Victims’ Code on a statutory footing meaning that where appropriate victims will have a right to:
  • Challenge decisions which directly impact them, for example getting the CPS or police to review why their case has been dropped in the most serious cases like rape and domestic abuse
  • Receive information to help them understand the criminal justice process, such as on claiming compensation, how their case is progressing and its outcome
  • Access vital support services such as Independent Sexual Violence and Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors
  • Have the opportunity to make their views heard, for example being able to ask to read out their Victim Personal Statements in court
When victims are failed, the changes announced today will give ministers the power to get the criminal justice inspectorates to jointly inspect prisons, police forces, courts the CPS and probation to drive improvements in how they support victims. The process for victims making formal complaints will also be simplified by removing the requirement for them to go through their local MP before speaking to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

The bill also bolsters the role of the Victims’ Commissioner by requiring criminal justice agencies to publicly respond to their recommendations and set out the rationale for accepting or rejecting them

Children born as a result of rape will also be explicitly designated as victims in their own right making clear that they are entitled to access support services and information on their case.

Justice Minister, Edward Argar MP, said:
We want victims going through the justice system to feel listened to, supported, informed, and to be treated fairly, properly, and with dignity.

Taken together, these measures will mean victims always know the level of help they should receive and always have somewhere to turn.
The government’s overhaul of the parole system follows high-profile parole decisions in cases like John Worboys and Colin Pitchfork that have shaken public confidence in the system.

The bill includes measures to ensure dangerous offenders face the strictest scrutiny including:
  • Enshrining a new release test for the Parole Board into law, leaving no room for confusion over whether public safety should be the only priority when making release decisions
  • Creating a new tier of the most serious offenders including murderers, rapists and terrorists and giving the Justice Secretary the power to veto the release of those offenders in the interest of public safety. It will also be available in cases where the Parole Board cannot confidently decide the release test has been met.
  • Making it a legal requirement for ex-police officers and detectives to sit on parole panels for these ‘top-tier’ cases. Their first-hand experience of managing serious offenders and the risk they pose will help place an even greater focus on public protection in parole hearings.
Justice Minister, Damian Hinds MP, said:
It is vital the public has confidence that murderers, rapists and terrorists will be kept behind bars for as long as is necessary to keep the public safe.

Our new laws mean Ministers can block the release of the most dangerous offenders and will ensure public safety is always the primary factor in parole decisions.
The bill will also create a new Independent Public Advocate (IPA) which will work on behalf of families and provide dedicated support in the aftermath of major disasters like Hillsborough, the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire.

The government will continue to engage with the victims of these disasters, the bereaved families and Parliamentarians to make sure that the IPA works to deliver accountability and ensure nothing stops justice happening again.

The bill builds on the wider government work to improve support for victims and ensure offenders pay back to society. Last year the Victim Surcharge, a financial penalty given to offenders on conviction which goes directly towards support crucial victim services such as rape support centres, was increased by 20% – providing an additional £20 million a year by 2025.

At the same time the government has committed to more than quadrupling funding for victim support services by 2025 compared to 2010, increasing the number of Independent Sexual and Domestic Violence Advisors (ISVA and IDVA) by 43% over the next 3 years taking the total to over 1,000.

The full list of measures included in the Victims and Prisoner Bill:

Victims’ measures
  • Enshrines the overarching principles of the Victims’ Code in primary legislation – to ensure the criminal justice system consistently delivers the entitlements in the Victims’ Code
  • Place a duty on criminal justice bodies and non-territorial police forces to take reasonable steps to promote awareness of the Victims’ Code. Supporting guidance will underpin this and provide recommendations on how bodies may fulfil this duty
  • Give ministers the power to jointly direct HM Inspectorate of Prisons, HM Inspectorate of CPS (HMCPSI) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Service (HMICFRS, but only insofar as it relates to policing), and HM Inspectorate of Probation to inspect on victims’ issues to provide greater oversight and transparency over how victims are treated; and place a requirement on these inspectorates to consult the Victims’ Commissioner when planning their joint and individual inspections
  • Introduce a statutory duty on Police and Crime Commissioners, health and local authorities in England to work together when commissioning support services for victims of sexual violence, domestic abuse and serious violence
  • Introduce statutory guidance on Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) and Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) setting out minimum expectations and best practice, to increase awareness and consistency of these roles
  • Place a duty on criminal justice bodies and non-territorial police forces to review their compliance with the Victims’ Code and collect compliance data which is intended to include information from victims on how they are supported
  • Give PCCs a greater role in overseeing local compliance monitoring of the Victims’ Code with the Victims’ Commissioner retaining national oversight
  • Improving accountability of criminal justice agencies by introducing a requirement for them to respond to recommendations in reports published by the Victims’ Commissioner, including a requirement to explain why they are accepting or rejecting a recommendation
  • Make it easier for victims to make complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) by removing the need to go through an MP, where their complaint relates to their experiences as a victim of crime. The PHSO can handle complaints against public bodies including the Crown Prosecution Service, His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and His Majesty’s Prison Service but excludes judges, magistrates and the police
  • Creating a new Independent Public Advocate (IPA) which will provide dedicated support and work on behalf of families in the aftermath of major disasters like Hillsborough, the Manchester Arena bombing and the Grenfell Tower fire
Prisoner marriage measure

The new legislation will also stop prisoners serving whole-life orders from marrying or forming a civil partnership in prison

Parole Board measures
  • Enshrining in law the expectation that the Parole Board will take a more precautionary approach. The wording in legislation will leave no room for interpretation and make clear that the only priority is whether a prisoner is safe to release
  • Greater ministerial scrutiny on the release of the most dangerous offenders, (murderers, rapists, terrorists or those who have caused or allowed the death of a child), including a new power to block their release in the interests of public safety
  • Changing the law to increase the proportion of Parole Board members from policing backgrounds, and ensure they sit on hearings for the most dangerous offenders
Measures already introduced to reform the parole process
  • Tightening rules around open prison moves so all indeterminate sentence offenders – those who have committed the most serious crimes, including murder and rape – face much stricter criteria to move from close to open prison 
  • Allowing victims, the public and media to request a parole hearing be held in public, so they can attend hearings and better understand how decisions over whether to release prisoners are made. The first public parole hearing took place in December last year
  • Launching a period of testing in the South-West of England allowing victims to attend parole hearings as an observer, ahead of a national rollout, which will put victims front and centre of the process. Currently, victims are limited to a statement shared with the Board explaining how the crime impacted on their life
  • Launching a campaign to at least double the number of Parole Board members from law enforcement backgrounds

Sunday 26 March 2023

A Great Idea Screwed Up - Again

Here we go again then with Rishi Sunak announcing more bloody orange - jumpsuits this time not just tabards - in the drive to create the UK version of the chain gang in order to win votes. The original concept of Community Service - a 'constructive penalty' - was thoughtful and intelligent, as we discussed in 2019, but has all but lost any serious and beneficial purpose thanks to politicians of the left and right:-   

Unfortunately politicians just can't stop themselves tinkering with criminal justice policy for political gain and John Harding wrote this for the Guardian in January 2013:-

Forty years of community service

How did a measure that required offenders to carry out socially beneficial work turn into a form of punishment?

The first community service order was made in Nottingham crown court 40 years ago this month for Peter, a cannabis supplier.

On 2 January 1973, Mr Justice James ordered Peter to undertake 120 hours of community service. As the senior probation officer responsible for initiating a Home Office community service order pilot scheme in Nottinghamshire, I was summoned to the judge's retiring room before the sentencing decision was announced. The judge wanted to know what the new measure involved, where the offender would be placed and how accountable the service would be if Peter failed to respond. I told him that Peter would be working for an old people's home run by Nottingham social services, assisting staff and residents. If he failed to turn up for community service, Peter would have been returned to court for being in breach of the order.

This revolution in community-based sanctions was the creation of a subcommittee of the Advisory Council on the Penal System (ACPS), set up in 1966 by the then Labour government to advise the home secretary on "matters relating to the prevention of crime and the treatment of offenders". The ACPS non-custodial and semi-custodial penalties subcommittee was chaired by social reformer Lady Barbara Wootton.

Probation pilots

Following its recommendation, community service was piloted in six probation areas: Nottinghamshire, inner London, Kent, Durham, south-west Lancashire and Shropshire. Six senior probation officers/community service organisers were appointed by the pilot areas to negotiate a range of tasks with local public services and non-governmental organisations, set out criteria for the assessment and matching of offenders to work assignments, and prepare magistrates and judges for the new powers that, from January 1973, would be available to crown and magistrates courts.

I asked the only surviving member of ACPS, Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, where the idea of community service came from. He said that, by chance, the committee's attention was drawn to a newspaper article about an experiment conducted by a criminal court judge in Darmstadt, Germany, in the 1950s. The judge exercised his discretion by ordering an offender, convicted of dangerous driving, to work for a certain period of time under nursing supervision in a local accident and emergency hospital. The knowledge that the judge, under German criminal law, could impose a legal requirement on a convicted offender to carry out such work provided the spur ACPS needed to develop their thinking of community service as a court sanction in its own right, Blom-Cooper explained. Yet, without Wootton's inspired chairmanship and forcefulness, community service would not have emerged as a distinct penal sanction, he added.

ACPS believed that community service should be a constructive penalty whereby the offender took on the burden of social responsibility towards others. They saw great merit in merging the majority of offenders with non-offender volunteers so that the offenders could be inspired by the volunteers.

When ACPS published its report on non-custodial penalties in 1970, it took the view that community service would appeal to the punitive-minded because it involved deprivation of leisure; to the retributive, because it would compel the offender to make some repayment to the community for the damage that he had done; and to others, mainly because it would be cheaper and probably a more hopeful alternative to a short period of imprisonment, or because it would make the punishment fit the crime.

The pilot areas were left with relative freedom to develop community service in appropriate ways. I was much influenced by the New Careers movement in the US, which was part of President Lyndon Johnson's anti-poverty programme. It used some offenders as a community resource in the belief that, instead of becoming recipients of help, they could become dispensers of service and, in doing so, gain status and approval. Within three months in Nottinghamshire, we had hundreds of potential tasks for offenders in the community, from helping at clubs for disabled people or young people and at old people's homes, to canal preservation and supporting A&E units of local hospitals.

When the two-year pilots ended in 1974, the Home Office research unit's final report was a superb illustration of official caution punctured by unfettered enthusiasm. The researchers said the scheme was viable and, despite their doubt about its overall impact on the size of the population, revealed that, at its best, community service was an exciting departure from traditional penal treatment.

By the end of 1977, community service was rolled out across England and Wales. And over the next 20 years, Europe, Australasia, parts of Asia and the US all adopted community service orders.

In the UK alone, millions of hours of community service have been carried out by thousands of offenders at a fraction of the cost of imprisonment. The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) show that community sentences outperform prison sentences for 18- to 24-year-olds by 13% in terms of reducing reoffending. Even when offenders of all ages are closely matched in terms of criminal history and offence type, the performance gap remains 8%.

Yet, in a retributive age, the image of community service has been ratcheted up by politicians to match penal populism. And a demand for tougher community penalties has been paralleled by the rebranding of community service to community punishment, then community payback, and now to unpaid work. Today's offenders wear fluorescent tabards over their clothes to indicate that they are offenders, easily recognisable by members of the public. In reality, I suspect, despite the hardening rhetoric, nothing much has changed in terms of nature of tasks undertaken, though the rigid enforcement of orders leaves little room for discretion.

Further, probation staff have handed over responsibility for unpaid work schemes to private companies such as Serco, which in October was awarded a four-year contract in London. The justification for this is to ensure a more efficient and cost-effective service. There are no evidential grounds for this degree of optimism. Serco promises to cut costs. The probation union, Napo, warns that this will be achieved by changing the employment conditions of existing supervisory staff and cutting salaries.

The MoJ intends to put out to tender £600m worth of probation services, about 60% of the entire budget. It is a far cry from the Wootton committee's founding principles that a private company should not make profits on the back of offenders while they are repaying their debt to society. Blom-Cooper, for one, is saddened that we have moved to an acceptance that profit, not a sense of public service, is the prime driver for certain parts of our criminal justice process. "Penal reform," he remarked drily, "is not necessarily penal progress."

In addition, the government proposes, in its crime and courts bill currently going through parliament, to introduce a mandatory punitive element to every community order. This could include a fine or a curfew, which penal campaigners are warning may undermine community sentences' success in reducing reoffending.

Whether the foundation stones of community service, laid down over the past 40 years, will survive under fragmentation and privatisation is open to question. Those of us fortunate enough to have been involved in its conception and present at its birth, believed that probation could make a difference in offenders' lives, provided that hard work, and clarity of purpose and vision underpinned all our efforts.

John Harding was pioneer senior probation officer/community service organiser for Nottinghamshire, 1972-74, and chief probation officer for inner London, 1993-2001


The dreadful Louise Casey had stuck her oar in of course. This from 2008:-

Revolt grows over 'community payback' jackets

Offenders facing abuse, say probation officers Minister insists garments show justice is being done

Evidence is emerging of a growing boycott of the government's compulsory scheme for offenders to wear high-visibility orange jackets when they are carrying out unpaid work in the community.

Napo, the probation officers' union, will claim today that one Midlands probation service has suspended implementation of the scheme after churches and charities involved in 28 out of 32 work placements said no to the jackets.

The introduction of the compulsory "community payback" jackets on 1 December has provoked a row within the criminal justice system with the government's crime adviser, Louise Casey, citing probation service opposition as yet another example of its "institutional reluctance to put the public first".

The justice minister, David Hanson, fuelled the debate last night by saying he rejected the results of the Napo survey and expected all 42 probation areas to implement the introduction of the high-visibility clothing. "The public expects to see justice being done, and this is what the jackets achieve," he said.

The justice ministry has bought more than 10,000 vests or jackets with the "community payback" logo on them for use by offenders in England and Wales.

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said organisations, including churches and charities, that offer unpaid work placements for offenders had become wary of using the vests after incidents of offenders being abused by the public, including missiles being thrown at them. "Many of these organisations are faith-based groups who believe it is not their role to oversee humiliation," he said, adding that in one area a group of youths had chanted "nonces, smackheads, lowlifes" at one work group.

Fletcher said in one south Midlands probation area, organisations involved in 28 out of 32 placements said they did not want the vests, while in another area in the north-east 11 out of 20 rejected them. He added: "Most have said that unpaid work is punishment in itself and that the addition of the vests was humiliating and demeaning. About a third of placements involve working in charity shops and organisers there have said the wearing of vests would deter members of the public and affect their takings."

The Napo survey says there have been a number of incidents involving members of the public intimidating and abusing offenders wearing the orange jackets. It also cites two incidents involving firearms being discharged at offenders before the scheme went national this month.

More than 55,000 people a year are sentenced to carry out unpaid work in the community, with most placements involving environmental, decorating and cleaning works including litter picking and graffiti cleaning. One third involve individual placements working in charity shops, in day centres for the elderly and homeless people, and supporting adults with learning difficulties.

Hanson, however, has challenged the survey's findings. He said: "The violent incidents they refer to had nothing to do with the jackets. They happened before their introduction so the offenders in question weren't even wearing them."

He said hundreds of community-payback projects across the UK were complying with the requirement to ensure offenders wear their vests. "This survey appears to be based on a handful of deliberately selected cases," he said. "Early indications are that communities are pleased to see offenders giving something back."

Saturday 25 March 2023

Was There Ever a Golden Age?

I've been in deep reflecting mode since publishing last Saturday's Guest Blog 91 and was particularly struck by this:- 
We could pretend to believe the Probation Officer was once a professional elite. A silent pillar of the Criminal Justice System, neither social worker nor enforcement agent. An expert at resettling prisoners after long sentences, helping aggressive or prolific offenders to CALM or Think First, walking those with complex needs through drug, alcohol and mental health support, and being the link between the Court, prison, the community and their future. An advisor to the Court, Parole Board, Mental Health Tribunals and anyone else needing an expert witness, opinion, risk assessment or plan involving a supervised offender. It’s a nice memory for some, a rose-tinted nightmare for others.

Basically, I felt compelled to visit the attic and search the archives. Lets take a snapshot look at the past for some kind of comparison, say the period 1st March 1990 to 31st March 1991 because I have a staff appraisal for that year, together with work diaries and other stuff. My caseload was recorded as 31, comprising 15 Probation; 3 Parole; 4 YOI; 8 Imprisonment (Pre Parole) and 1 Matrimonial. Total SER's for the year was 117. This was the tail end of generic field team officers undertaking both Divorce Court Welfare work as well as criminal and before establishment of Cafcass. All officers had to have CQSW or equivalent and have a car for which an Essential User Allowance was paid monthly. 

"Mr Brown, together with his co-worker Mr Xxxxx covers the patch comprising Xxxxxx town and its environs. In a recent National Survey of deprivation Xxxxxx town came 146th out of 150 towns in England Scotland and Wales. The unemployment rate is 14%. There is a high incidence of domestic violence. The vast bulk of the housing stock is local authority owned. Mr Brown has a generic case load covering all aspects of Probation work other than Divorce Court Welfare."
We each had our own office and half an allocated clerical who was responsible for transcribing letters, records and reports from micro-cassettes recorded on personal Dictaphones. A photocopier had arrived, together with a fax machine and electric typewriters. Records were kept in personal filing cabinets and there was an extensive 'dead' file room and updated card index held in the combined general office and reception. The team comprised six main grade officers; an SPO; a PSA; a Senior Clerical and four reception/clerical staff. In addition there were two cleaners.

The town had a Magistrates Court and a County Court and each had to be staffed from within the team, with assistance from volunteers in the case of the Magistrates Court. Fieldwork was patch-based and it was routine for weekly reporting centres to be held away from the office. Each PO was expected to cover Office Duty for either a day or half day a week and Court Duty averaged at least once a fortnight. Team meetings were each Wednesday morning and included Case Allocation. 

Because my patch was the town centre, regular reporting was each Monday and my SER numbers were higher to compensate for not having to travel to outlying centres. Client bus fares could be reimbursed and all PO's were authorised to make discretionary payments to clients up to £10 from the Office Befriending Fund. This was often used to fund either emergency food or accommodation. There was a clothing store; provision of subsidised coach transport for family prison visits and access to charitable funds.

The office had a pool table and developed a drop-in facility staffed by volunteers. Tea and coffee were available and volunteers meetings were held monthly in the evening. There was regular contact with the local Magistrates and at least four meetings a year for updates on clients progress and sentencing exercises. The SPO attended weekly Cautioning Panel meetings with the local Police Inspector; SSD; and EWO and decisions made as to whether it was possible to avoid prosecutions. I often deputised for the SPO. 

All PO's were encouraged to pursue particular interests and in my case this included membership of the local management committees for CAB; Drug project; Youth club and Homeless Accommodation Forum. In addition my regular attendance was authorised for meetings of Psychiatric Interest Group; Addiction Unit; Family Therapy and Napo. During the year 1990/1 I note a two week residential training course was authorised in respect of 'Working with Psychiatric Offenders'; a three day Practice Teachers course, together with an in-house Advanced Counselling course. During the year I supervised an observation Youth and Community student for 10 weeks; several CQSW students on four week placements, together with three psychiatric students for one day observation placements. 

Other things of note at this time was my practice to attend in person at court hearings, either at Crown or Magistrates, in support of particular recommendations which I felt might benefit from either Bench or Judge having the opportunity of questioning the SER author. In my experience this practice often proved pivotal in sentencers having greater confidence in following particular courses of action suggested.
"Mr Brown's standard of report writing is good. During 1990 he was credited on computer with 86 SER's although the actual number was higher. Congruence was achieved in 34.4% cases. The recommendation was higher than sentence in only one case. Custodial sentences amounted to 13.76% . Probation totalled 11 or 9.6%, including 2 cases with mental health conditions. Community Service equals 16 or 13.76%."  
My diaries record regular prison visits for clients on remand locally and other visits, often by means of car-sharing, to further afield prisons of all categories either for Sentence Reviews, SER interviews, Parole Hearings or just to maintain contact. It occurs to me that at this time regular correspondence with prisoners was routine and particularly with 'lifers'. It should also be noted that it was felt good practice for officers to have a nominated 'pair' in respect of this group in order to ensure continuity and support.

Mention must be made of 'records', not least because maintaining them was a notoriously difficult task for many officers at this time, including myself:-
"I have seen 17 fully completed case records, but there were 19 cases where records were incomplete, or at least untyped. Mr Brown does not do himself justice here as among those records I have seen copious notes, including very detailed drink diaries which could have been typed up virtually as they were as Part 'B' summaries." 

To my astonishment, the archive contain copies of four 'papers' I felt motivated to pen during the year 1990/1 'What Am I doing and Where Am I Going'; 'Exactly What is Happening in Room 110?'; 'Suggested 3 Week Remands for SER's - Team Response' and 'Notes For a Meeting Concerning Xxxxx'. Apart from the SER paper, the topics are all concerned with various aspects to do with high dependency/welfare cases involving drink, drugs (solvent abuse), homelessness and psychiatric issues. 

In each instance it's noteworthy that the team as a whole were totally focused on how to try and address the issues directly, either professionally or by community action, and in each case with the full support and encouragement of senior management. Sadly, despite all the best and heroic endeavours of all the team over many months, it did not prove possible to save the life of one young man who tragically died in the office that year, poignantly only hours after finally getting him to a psychology assessment. 

That day's events had a profound and lasting effect on many of us, but I remain convinced that for me at least, it did indeed represent part of probation's 'Golden Age'.   

Friday 24 March 2023

Some Sound Advice

I notice the Quakers are offering the Labour Party some sound advice as we head towards a general election:- 

Quakers in Britain submission to Labour Policy Forum ‘Safe and secure communities’ consultation

Quakers in Britain is a national church of Quakers across England, Scotland and Wales. We are also a charity, working for positive change in areas such as peace and democracy. 

Affiliated to Quakers in Britain are Quakers in Criminal Justice, an informal network of Quakers with experience (including lived experience) and professional knowledge of many aspects of the criminal justice system. 

Quakers have worked for positive change in criminal justice since our emergence in the seventeenth century. Our testimonies to peace and equality lead to an emphasis on prevention, rehabilitation and restorative justice. We are passionate advocates of democracy, human rights and community peacebuilding. 

This consultation response reflects our faith perspective and our experience and expertise in building safe and secure communities. We recognise that both structural and personal changes are needed. 

1. How should Labour tackle anti-social behaviour and ensure people feel safe in their homes, workplaces and local communities? 

We welcome the Labour Policy Forum’s intention to address these complex and important issues. Our response focuses on local communities. “Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime” was a promising slogan but was not honoured in an even-handed way under the last Labour government: the response to crime was given more emphasis. Any new strategy must address causes. Many of the coercive and divisive “anti-social behaviour” strategies, pursued in isolation, proved counterproductive. In the austerity regimes that have prevailed since 2010, valuable preventive measures such as SureStart were undone, and the task of addressing causes has become harder. 

Most of the interventions that improve the feeling of security and reduce fear of crime, or build community cohesion, are to be found in non-criminal justice areas such as health (and especially mental health), housing, education and employment. 

Investment in programmes for young people, such as mentoring, especially in groups at a disproportionate risk of becoming involved in crime – such as young men not in education or employment – would be worthwhile. Of course, these approaches will only reduce crime, not eliminate it, and criminal justice agencies such as police, youth justice and probation will need to be involved. Where they are, close working with local partners is key, based on the smallest reasonable geography: local authority or police command unit, or smaller. Locally inspired solutions are the most effective and sustainable but this requires a commitment to devolving money and decision making, again, to the lowest decision making level or smallest geography. The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) published a report on Crime and Justice after Devolution in 2010. It spoke in favour of greater local identification of priorities and design of services and interventions. Labour could pursue and update the agenda developed here. 

Labour’s key message on anti-social behaviour must be that communities will not tolerate or harbour hate crime or discrimination of any sort. All public services and their staff must be encouraged to show this commitment through their work and engagement with the community. Successes should be publicised in a range of media: this is one small way of countering the punitive media rhetoric which denigrates and often undermines serious efforts at reform and improvement. 

Some community problems can only be addressed by nationally-initiated efforts. We think Labour should work for a humane and compassionate response to drug users and look at the experience of other jurisdictions in this regard. 

We welcome Labour’s emphasis on the safety of women and girls. On this too there needs to be a strong sense of national direction and prioritisation. Misogyny needs to be tackled in all institutions and agencies, including in the police itself, both in terms of restraints on its expression and education to challenge and undermine it. 

2. What resources and tools do the police and enforcement agencies need to keep our streets safe and to deal with neighbourhood crime? 

There is a clear need for immediate police responses to harmful anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood crime, but in the medium and longer term this is not an issue for police forces alone. Neighbourhood policing, in which officers on the ground have a chance to build up trusting relationships with residents and spot “signs of trouble” early have social value, even where they may not seem cost-efficient. Additional sensitivities are required in policing communities of colour, and to the appropriateness of placing police officers in schools. 

We encourage Labour to question how militarised British policing should become, and how transparently accountable armed officers should be after controversial shootings, which can rouse whole communities against the police. 

Most of the significant developments in effective practice in the last two or three decades have come from the advances in frontline, multidisciplinary working. Examples include the original 1997 youth offending team legislation, drugs work and the management of high-risk offenders through multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA). 

Without suggesting specific tools or resources, we feel it sensible that any policy should be assessed as to whether it can and should be delivered through a multiagency or multi-disciplinary approach, and where possible with some sort of pooled budget to ensure alignment and “buy-in”. 

For instance, despite some notable efforts on working with families, there has been an absence of any strategic priority to improve wrap-around service to families identified as having high needs or with children at risk of offending or dropping out of education. This priority should be restored. Support (not just classes) for parents or families experiencing separation could and should make a difference to the trajectory of young people, away from criminal justice. 

Much of police work involves dealing with people who show signs of mental distress. It therefore makes sense for mental health specialists to work closely alongside all police forces. Where homelessness is an issue, there needs to be close working with housing officials. The more efficiently people in need can be handed over to those trained and able to assist them, the less these burdens fall on the police. 

3. How can prevention and diversion schemes be improved to reduce crime and reoffending?

Prevention, at its best, is about far more than liaison and diversion schemes. It involves applying the research which shows us why and how people fall into crime in the first place. The following all play their part: adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), poverty, school exclusion, failure to provide for the needs of looked-after children, lack of drug and alcohol treatment centres, insufficient mental health services, closing of youth centres which has been linked to the growth of gang culture, and intergenerational limited opportunities. 

Given the massive costs of reoffending in England and Wales (estimated by the Ministry of Justice to be around £18 billion) together with the cost of housing a growing number of prisoners across the prison estate at £48,000 per person per year, a radical approach to prevention is called for. This would not only bring huge savings down the line but contribute to the well-being of society overall. 

Local, community-based responses to alcohol abuse and the crime associated with it can be made, but this really needs a national strategy which reaches all parts of the UK at local level. There are many aspects of local social policy that require overarching national or regional strategies before they can ever make a difference at neighbourhood level. There is always a danger of demanding or hoping that local communities solve their own problems when they no longer have the resources or morale to do so. 

4. What approach should the Labour Party take to improving justice? 

Court back-log 

It is clear that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. But this has been happening for a long time. When the heads of the four criminal justice inspectorates in England and Wales came before the Justice Committee (June 2020) to answer the question ‘what is the most serious issue we face?’ the answer was ‘the court back-log’, given as 40,000 in the crown court and 483,678 in the magistrates court. For the sake of victims, witnesses and defendants this must be tackled. Court services could be provided in accessible community settings with appointment times that are convenient for working people. 

Prison, probation and rehabilitation 

The longstanding crisis in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) has its roots in the long-term underfunding of both prison and probation services. Furthermore, staffing levels, recruitment, retention and morale in both areas have been deeply affected by poor policy choices in the recent past: the ‘Fair and Sustainable’ cull of prison staff and the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ exercise which part-privatised and effectively dismantled probation from 2014, leading, among other things, to a collapse of sentence confidence in community penalties. The newly unified statutory National Probation Service has not recovered from the damage that has been inflicted on it. The stresses under which often inexperienced officers with impossibly large caseloads (because of staff shortages) struggle cannot be underestimated. We support the ideal of trauma-informed practice for all service users who need, but recognise that it is a long way from being realised. 

There is a counterproductive trend towards ever-longer sentences, despite no evidence that this works as a deterrent. It is our experience, through the work of prison chaplains and visitors across the prison estate, that the system is unable to recognise when a prisoner has accepted guilt, started to turn their life around and is keen for the rehabilitation and resettlement work that over-crowded prisons are unable to provide. Parole hearings have long waiting times and are frequently postponed. Lord Ramsbotham, former Chief Prison Inspector, stated that ‘enforced idleness is not good for mental health’. In a retrograde step, the Secretary of State for Justice has recently limited recommendations that can be made to the Parole Board, strengthening the role of the department over those voices of professionals who have knowledge of the person under consideration. 

The current Justice Secretary has not accepted the main recommendations from the House of Commons Justice Committee on dealing with the legacy of the abolished sentence of Imprisonment of Public Protection (IPP) in England and Wales, created in 2003. The call for evidence produced the highest number of submissions that the committee had ever received, most of which were hugely critical of IPP, which was technically abolished in 2012. The findings must not be dismissed in this way. We call on any future Labour government to take forward the recommendations at the first opportunity, and to press for them while still in opposition. This includes developing a new IPP action plan with clear performance measures.

Evidence-based approaches 

Longstanding empirically-based answers are available to all of the questions on justice in this consultation document, in academic research and the reports of think tanks, working parties and committees of enquiry. We appreciate that such questions should be asked anew with new generations of voters, but we sincerely hope that Labour will respect established and unfolding truths about creating safe and secure communities. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We advocate the full implementation of a number of ground-breaking expert reports and reviews that have addressed a wide range of areas relevant to this consultation. These are: 2007 Corston (women offenders); 2009 Bradley (mental health); 2015 Taylor (under-18s); 2016 Coates (education and more); 2017 Lammy (BAME); 2017 Farmer (improving family ties); and the Neurodiversity Action Plan currently under consideration. 

The strategy of ‘justice reinvestment’ is relevant here. It usually means saving money on criminal justice interventions and investing it back into the poorest communities where crime and victimisation rates are highest, and that have the largest rates of resettling offenders returning to them from prison. It is undeniably a good idea, but no political party has taken it seriously since it first emerged in the 1990s. We encourage Labour to consider it. 

Labour must also give more strategic attention to restorative justice (RJ), and the variety of practical forms and legal and administrative contexts in which it can be applied. Much lip-service has been paid to it over the past 30 years, some progress has been made in its use with young offenders, but its potential as a means of addressing crime and anti-social behaviour, and its utility as a means of reducing conflict in communities, remains unrealised. There is a postcode lottery in availability. While RJ services should be victim-led, with victims having a right to information on it (as well as other relevant services), the proven value of its positive impact on offenders should be recognised. 

5. In what ways can devolution and constitutional reform empower people and bring our communities closer together? 

Cleaning up Westminster 

Quakers have engaged with political power since our earliest days. We are committed to democracy as the embodiment of our testimonies to equality, peace, truth and integrity. In recent years we have become concerned about the increasing amount of policy, legislation, rhetoric and behaviour that threaten both the structures and the culture of democracy. 

We are keen to ensure that if elected, Labour does not accept our weakened democracy as the status quo, and instead takes steps to strengthen it. We agree with the finding of the Commission on the UK’s Future that significant reform is needed to restore ethical standards and their safeguards, and therefore help improve trust in politicians and our political system. We would like Labour to prioritise truth and integrity as fundamental values underpinning our democracy. 

We ask the Labour Policy Forum to consider how the Commission on the UK’s Future’s proposals can be improved to ensure that the system does not still rely on the governing party to regulate itself. For example, the Commission report suggested that the Prime Minister or Parliament should decide whether to accept the proposed Integrity and Ethics Commission’s recommendation on how to deal with rule breaches by members of parliament. If the governing party has a strong majority in parliament, this leaves the power with that party. Similarly, the Commission on the UK’s Future report does not specify who will make sure the recommendations of the citizens’ jury are implemented, and whether this body will be independent or party-political. This risks leaving the system open to abuse by a governing party with a strong majority. 

Promoting human rights 

Quakers believe there is ‘that of God’ in everyone and that every human being should have the chance to flourish. Labour must do everything it can to ensure the Human Rights Act is protected. We welcome the Commission on the UK’s Future’s recommendations to entrench and expand some human rights in UK law. We would like environmental rights to be included in that list. 

The rights to freedom of assembly and expression have been undermined by recent changes in policy and legislation. These rights are key to a thriving democracy, ensuring that people can raise concerns when their voices aren’t being heard through other democratic channels such as voting. Protest has helped bring about many positive political changes in history, such as votes for women and the end of apartheid. We welcome the Labour leadership team’s emphasis on policing by consent. We ask Labour to ensure that peaceful protest is enabled, and the policing of protests is limited, proportionate, consistent, predictable and accountable. This includes repealing Part 3 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (PCSC Act) and scrapping the Public Order Bill. These could be replaced with legislation that enables peaceful protest. 

Nurturing civil society 

We believe civil society is fundamental to democracy and social change. Charities and other civil society organisations can bring a huge amount of knowledge, expertise and ideas to benefit policymaking at a national and local level. Civil society engagement results in better-designed policies, and ensures that essential services have a greater positive impact. It also helps the collective experiences and views of ordinary people to influence political and policy decisions, and enables people to participate in efforts to bring about social change. 

Yet civil society in the UK has had to contend with a challenging political and operating environment for years, including: 

• Legislation such as the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014 and Elections Act 2022 
• The politicisation of regulatory bodies such as the Electoral Commission 
• A dominant narrative that seeks to de-legitimise campaigning and other work on injustice and discrimination e.g. criticism of the National Trust for exploring its colonial history. 

We ask the Labour to take steps to improve the relationship between government and civil society. A cross-departmental engagement strategy is needed to set out how a Labour government would involve civil society organisations, and the people they work with, in all strategy and decision-making processes. This includes full consultation, pre-legislative scrutiny and equality impact assessments ahead of all planned new legislation, and meaningful engagement ahead of emergency legislation. The strategy must ensure that all engagement between civil society and government is meaningful, inclusive, and deliberative.

We think it would be helpful to appoint a standalone Minister for Civil Society who acts as a champion for civil society within government and beyond. They would be most effective if placed at heart of government in the Cabinet Office. The Civil Society Directorate should also be moved back to the Cabinet Office and given responsibility for setting strategy and targets on civil society across government. There must be clear accountability mechanisms so that it can hold other departments to account. 

Regulators exist to provide accountability. It is therefore crucial that they are independent from both government and party politics. This enables them to be effective, and credible in the eyes of the public. We ask Labour to protect the regulatory independence of the Electoral Commission, Charity Commission, Office of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies, and Equality and Human Rights Commission. Restoring the independence of the Electoral Commission will require amending or repealing Part 3 of the Elections Act 2022. 

Reform of the public appointments process is needed to increase the power of parliament, increase fair competition, and prevent the appointment of unqualified candidates. We ask Labour to give the House of Commons formal control of appointment processes, provide Select Committees with an effective power of veto at pre-appointment hearings, and ensure terms for the Chairs of regulatory bodies are non-renewable and fixed. 

6. What are the specific implications of policy proposals in this area for (a) women, (b) Black, Asian and minority ethnic people; (c) LGBT+ people, (d) disabled people and (e) all those with other protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010? 

People with protected characteristics have been disproportionately negatively affected by recent changes in policy and legislation around democracy and human rights. For example, Black people are disproportionately affected by stop and search, which has been expanded in England and Wales via the PCSC Act and Public Order Bill. The PCSC Act also put many Gypsies and Travellers at risk of criminalisation through creating new police powers and sentences around trespass. The introduction of voter ID in the Elections Act will disenfranchise many people from minoritised groups. We ask Labour to repeal parts 3 and 4 of the PCSC Act, scrap the Public Order Bill and reform electoral law so that everyone who is eligible to vote can participate fully in elections and can engage in public debate.

Thursday 23 March 2023

Operation Panic 2

Following on from the blog post 'Operation Panic' last week, I understand suitably qualified HQ staff will be hearing very soon of their urgent reassignment to the prison estate for OASys re-jigging. Sir Bob Neil has also had a reply to his letter from the MoJ regarding their questions about the prison capacity crisis. (I've corrected the spelling mistakes.)

Dear Sir Bob, 


Thank you for your letter of 7 March about our plans for HDC and current capacity constraints in prisons. You asked a number of questions which I deal with in turn below. 

Home Detention Curfew 

How the proposed changes will affect (a) the number of people who will be released on HDC and (b) the size of the prison population? 

The HDC population is determined by a combination of both how many offenders are released onto HDC and the length of time they spend on HDC. The Statutory Instrument we have laid seeks to extend the length of time people spend on HDC but it does not add to the cohort of offenders released – so would increase the HDC population, by 450 on its own. Alongside the legislation, we are reducing the cohort of offenders released by adding specified offences linked to domestic abuse – such as stalking, harassment and coercive control - to the list of offences that make someone presumed unsuitable for HDC. This changes will reduce releases and, on its own, would reduce the HDC population. 

While fewer offenders will be released on HDC going forwards, after a temporary increase immediately on implementation, the net result is that the HDC Population grows because those who are released remain on HDC for longer – and the increase in the HDC population caused by the longer time-period on HDC is greater than the reduction in HDC population caused by the reduced number of individuals released on HDC. The net result of both changes is that the HDC population will grow by 300, meaning the prison population will shrink by 300. 

Whether the changes are part of a wider policy to reduce the pressure on the prison estate?

We are protecting the public by excluding specified offenders and tightening the risk assessment, which will reduce the number of prisoners released on HDC. We are looking to make the best use of an existing scheme and the technology available to help improve reintegration and rehabilitation in the community. We have wanted to make this change since 2019 but the timing was not right as we were then focused on immediate measures to tackle serious sexual and violent offenders, including terrorists, and have since changed the law to ensure these offenders serve longer in prison. We again laid a similar SI in 2020 but withdrew it so we could concentrate on tackling the impact of Covid on prisons, staff and the NHS. 

What steps the Ministry of Justice is taking to ensure that probation services are sufficiently prepared to support the initial spike in releases on HDC? 

We estimate that the impact of the HDC measures planned is to add a total of 300 lower risk offenders to the overall caseload of offenders under Probation supervision in the community in England and Wales which, at 30 September 2022, stood at 172,253. While this is a relatively modest addition, each offender will need to be managed and the Probation Service is currently exploring the best way to absorb the additional caseload and the additional assessments that will be required during the implementation phase. Following implementation, the number of releases and, therefore, assessments will fall. 

Protecting the public will always be our primary concern, and to that end we have unified the Probation Service and greater focus on quality and outcomes has been placed at the centre of the unified Probation Service National Standards and performance framework. We have injected extra funding of more than £155 million a year to deliver more robust supervision, reduce caseloads and recruit thousands more staff to keep the public safer. We have recruited a record-breaking 2,500 trainee probation officers over the last two years, and we plan to recruit a further 1,500 by March 2023. 

Whether the Government remains committed to the original policy intention of the HDC scheme that most offenders eligible for the scheme should be released? 

Yes, we are. HDC is a targeted scheme, and it is right that we limit it to those who are suitable, but it allows the particular cohort of offenders who are eligible for scheme and suitable for release to benefit from a managed transition between prison and life in the community. We know that for certain offenders the experience of being monitored via an electronic tag in the community can help deal with the negative behaviours that lead to re-offending, allowing offenders to focus on getting into work and back on the straight and narrow. 

Prison Capacity 

How additional prisoners have been accommodated in prisons that exceeded capacity?

Prisons have not exceeded their operational capacity. Occasionally, for operational reasons, the reported prison population is slightly higher than the number of people physically housed in the prison (for example when prisoners are receiving overnight hospital treatment under escort in the community). At the end of January the published population for HMP Liverpool was 821 against an operational capacity of 820 (but with one authorised absence), and HMP Preston was 681 against an operational capacity of 680 (with two authorised absences). Neither therefore breached their operational capacity. 

We regularly assess ways to manage demand on prisons and continue to take action where needed. We have implemented a suite of measures to reduce the demand pressures on the system, including increasing (within safe limits) the number of prisoners held in the existing estate, and bringing non-critical maintenance cells back online. 

Normal operation of the estate involves a degree of cell-sharing, but we have increased this in response to capacity pressures. The maximum viable level has been determined through a robust ‘capacity challenge’ process, set and agreed through HMPPS governance, that identifies the maximum contingency spaces that can be delivered while maintaining levels of safety and decency. A Capacity Challenge Process was established in late 2021 to identify safe and sustainable opportunities to maximise use of the prison estate. Given that several of the factors involved are dynamic, the Capacity Challenge Process was then refreshed in December 2022 to provide an up-to-date position. 

Whether it is the case, as reported, that all non-essential maintenance of prison cells has been halted? 

We have paused all non-critical maintenance work but we are continuing to invest in critical maintenance, including our programme of essential fire safety improvements, to ensure that we can keep as much capacity as possible online without cells falling into disrepair. The safety and decency of our prisoners is paramount. We continually monitor prison conditions, and take places on and offline depending on safety, stability, staffing levels and maintenance needs. 

How many prisoners have been placed in police cells under Operation Safeguard to date? 

In total, we have used police cells on 531 occasions since Operation Safeguard was first used on 20th February 2023. Prisoners are held in operation safeguard cells for one night and prioritised for movement the next day (or Monday if they are held on a weekend). Therefore, nightly usage varies and on 15 March 2023, 15 cells were in use. 

Given delays in the prison building programme, what steps the Government is taking through Gold Command and other means to ensure demand on the prison estate does not outstrip available capacity while the outstanding new prisons are built? 

We are using every available contingency option within the limits of safety and security. We have taken action to provide immediate capacity in the existing prison estate, as set out above. Since the end of September 2022, we have provided an additional 1,400 adult male prison places and we are continuing to add places as part of our commitment to deliver 20,000 additional prison places. 

I trust the above is helpful and would be happy to address further questions Committee members might have. 

Damian Hinds 
Minister for Prisons and Probation