Sunday 28 May 2023

Latest From Napo 237

Here we have selected highlights from the Napo mailout to members on Friday:-  

Programmes and interventions

Many of our members working in Programmes and Interventions will have taken the opportunity to join one of the regular consultative meetings organised by Carole Doherty (National Vice-Chair) and Tania Bassett (National Official) over recent months. Here we have covered the position relating to the plans for the Target Operating Model and delivery of the ‘Next Generation.

In addition to the comprehensive updates that have been made available at these events, your National Executive Committee (NEC) members and elected National Officer Group, receive comprehensive reports of progress on our engagement with senior management. In addition we have also issued regular mail outs to our members, but if you know of a colleague who has not received these please ask them to contact: to confirm their preferred e-mail address, or to notify us of any change in their personal details.

Background to the current position

As you would expect, the Probation Unions (Napo, UNISON and GMB) take every opportunity to regularly relay the anger and frustration that has been made clear by our respective members directly to senior management. This is via a series of scheduled meetings with the Reducing Reoffending Directorate, but also during our fortnightly engagement with the Chief Probation Officer Kim Thornden-Edwards or HMPPS Executive Directors Amy Rees and Phil Copple.

This update brings you up to speed with the latest position in what has undoubtedly become a difficult and protracted issue; one that is causing massive uncertainty to the workforce, but which also has serious implications for public protection if the plans come to fruition.

Some months ago, Napo were alerted to a number of high-level documents which the employer had mistakenly published on the Intranet. These revealed plans to decimate the Divisional Sex Offender Units and downgrade the work of Facilitators delivering Programmes to Band 3.

Following the understandable level of anger and mistrust that this generated across all three unions, the consultation was paused. Napo, alongside Unison and GMB made it clear that there had been a complete breakdown in trust with the employer and their intentions, and we demanded written assurances before any further discussions could be held. This process took about 2 months with the unions responding to the employer’s submissions during this time. As a result of this, the consultation process has changed and there has also been a change on the employer’s side in who attends these talks.

Our current engagement strategy

Essentially, the unions have two choices before us. One is canvassing members for hard hitting industrial action over a prolonged period to try and shock the Government into changing these plans, but feedback from members so far indicates that we are not yet at this stage.

The second, is to maintain our engagement for as long as we can before entering a National Dispute under the Probation Joint National Council (JNC).

We are now at the stage where we are close to concluding formal consultation over the stated plans on which we regularly brief our political contacts. Once consultation is concluded we will enter into formal negotiations as the proposed changes will clearly impact on terms and conditions if they are enacted.

In addition, Napo has provided regular briefings to the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group, and the General Secretary has personally briefed Sir Bob Neil, the Chair of the Justice Select Committee on these seriously dangerous proposals. The Probation Unions will also be invited to give formal evidence to the Justice Committee over the summer, and as you would expect, this will cover a range of issues including the stated direction of travel on Programmes and Interventions which Carole and Tania continue to challenge on a daily basis. As well as this work, we are in regular contact with Labour’s Front Bench Team as they start to build their criminal justice policies for their general election manifesto. If Labour are elected to government, we already know that they will ditch these proposals.

Understandably, some members are asking why we continue to engage on these proposals, but the view of the Officer Group is that it would be a mistake to withdraw from the talks. Firstly, it would allow senior management a clear playing field when we have on numerous occasions, been able to prevent communications being issued or events taking place. Additionally, it would enable management to push through the Job Evaluation exercise on the role of Band 3 and 4 practitioners without our involvement. We simply cannot allow that to happen.

While we maintain pressure on management and make plans to step up our campaigning activities, we also have an obligation to try and find a negotiated solution to the impasse that we are facing, and Napo would be failing its members if it did not explore every possible avenue here.

The next steps

There is no room for doubt that we are in the midst of an attritional campaign, to which there are no easy solutions; but we hope that the foregoing will demonstrate that we are doing all we can in the absence of members willingness (at this moment), to support an industrial strategy. However, the consultation has made some progress and we have already achieved a number of concessions from the employer as a result of our strong position. We will continue to keep members up to date via regular briefings and mail outs to ensure that you remain clear about our position and our approach to future engagement, and that we will make sure that our members voices, views and concerns are clearly heard.


Further pause on final VLO Job Description

Members will be aware that the Victim Liaison Officer role job description is currently undergoing consultation and evaluation review as a result of changes made during E3 and changes in legislation and role requirements.

Tania Bassett National Official, Carole Doherty National Vice Chair and a number of VLO staff have met several times to discuss concerns about the JD and JDQ and agree proposed changes.

The current consultation period is due to end on 26th May. However, to allow time to revise the JD and JDQ, as a result of Trade Union and staff feedback, the consultation will be paused. Once the documentation has been amended, the consultation period will recommence for a further 28 days consultation with a provisional start date for 16th June.

Whilst the evaluation process for the VLO JD has been ongoing for a significant length of time and this has had an impact on members, it is important to take the time now to amend the documentation and engage in further consultation to ensure the process is thorough and fair. We believe that we have made really good progress and the employers side has listened to trade unions and VLO members and the JD and JDQ which be much improved as a result of extending this process by another month.

Monday 22 May 2023

Latest From Napo 236

Here we have highlights from the latest Napo mailout to members on Friday:-

Probation Trade Unions set to submit additional Pay Claim as inflation shows no sign of abating

Over the last few weeks the Probation Trade unions have been in dialogue about the worsening economic position and have recently served notice on the Probation Service that we intend to revisit the 3-year pay deal and submit a supplementary claim on behalf of our members. Of course, there is no guarantee as to what the employer’s response will be other than confirmation that they will engage in dialogue. If we are faced with a rejection of our claim then we will be consulting members as to the future direction that you want us to take. So please look out for more news and upcoming joint meetings alongside members of our sister unions.

Survey around Enforcement Officer proposals reveals anger

A joint Unison and and Napo survey has revealed significant anger around Enforcement Officer Proposals with 90% did not believe that their court team had the staffing or resources to take on this work

Many thanks go to those Napo members who took part in such impressive numbers in the recent Napo and UNISON survey of our respective members who work in courts. The purpose of the survey was to find out our members’ views of the employer’s proposal to require enforcement officers/court officers/court PSOs to prosecute contested breach trials.

The survey showed overwhelming opposition to the proposal on the following grounds from the members who responded. The key results are as follows:
  • Only 6% of respondents currently prosecute contested breach trials
  • Only 10% of respondents had undertaken the three-day training course to equip them to prosecute contested breach trials
  • 91% said that they would object to prosecuting contested breach trials without an increase in pay
  • 90% did not believe that their court team had the staffing or resources to take on this work
  • 51% said that their court team would be unable to cope with the associated increase in workload and pressure
  • 49% were not at all confident, and 41% were not very confident, that they would get the necessary management support to take on this work
  • 56% were not at all confident, and 36% were not very confident, that they would get the legal support to take on this work
  • 53% were not at all confident, and 36% were not very confident, that they would be competent to carry out this work after undertaking the three-day training course
  • 83% of respondents support the creation of a new Senior Enforcement Officer role at pay band 4 or above to take on this work in Regions.
In light of the survey outcome, we have formally written to the employer, pointing out that the proposals do not command the confidence of the staff who would be needed to deliver them effectively, and represent a real and present danger to public safety.

Further engagement is scheduled with the employer next week and we will try and bring members the latest news soon afterwards.

VLO Update 19 May 2023

We have met with the JES team to discuss the omissions from the job description and pleased to note it was a really constructive meeting in which they have clearly heard what has been further submitted by our VLO members and have included a lot into the draft version. They will now take it away to add in the new content and come back to us with a revised version for further comment. It is good to report back that the employer appears committed to getting this right so have pushed back the date for the completion of the annex A. More comms to follow.

Friday 19 May 2023

A Great Wrong

Here's an extraordinary thing. There's been reports, petitions, debates and calls from all quarters including the architects. Everyone agrees the situation with IPP prisoners is a disgrace which needs righting, and yet the politicians refuse to act. What a country we live in where our elected representatives prefer to put their own electoral interests ahead of doing the right thing. This from the Guardian yesterday:-    

The law is gone but they are still in jail: who will free Britain’s most wronged prisoners?

There are those of us who exist in a more or less free society. And there are those who, while also living within the borders of the United Kingdom, exist in a police state. If the rest of us knew these people existed and what was being done to them in our name, we would scarcely believe it.

No one, including Victoria Carter (an assumed name), would deny that her crimes warranted a significant prison sentence. She had come from a terrible place: a father who beat her up, an alcoholic mother whose friends sexually abused her, extreme poverty as all the money was spent on drink. As a young teenager, she ran away from home, after which she had more than 10 placements in foster care and care homes. She responded with anger, violence and self-destruction.

As a teenager, she was convicted of criminal damage and burglary. She tried to kidnap a man she believed had abused her younger sister. She then went through a phase of alcoholism, during which she had sex with two underage teenagers, leading to a conviction for sexual offences. In an alcoholic rage, she set light to photos of her mother, scorching the carpet of her lodgings and earning herself an arson conviction.

In 2007, in her early twenties, she was prosecuted for actual bodily harm, among other offences. Her lawyer told her to expect a sentence of up to four years. This, the judge remarked, was roughly what she would have got under different circumstances: three and a half years. But instead he handed down a sentence of “imprisonment for public protection” (IPP).

IPP sentences were introduced in England and Wales by the New Labour government as it sought to prove it was tough on law and order in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. If an offender had previously been convicted of one of 153 offences deemed to present a danger to the public, and had then committed another such crime, the courts had no choice but to impose either an IPP sentence or life imprisonment. IPP means indefinite detention.

The crimes that qualified were wide-ranging. One defendant received an IPP sentence with a minimum term of just 28 days, but extended indefinitely. Another was imprisoned with a tariff of two years for stealing a bicycle. He served 12 and is now in a mental health institution.

These sentences included a “tariff”: the period after which the prisoner could be assessed for release. Victoria’s was 21 months. But IPP sentences carry a presumption against parole. Rather than the Parole Board having to prove that a prisoner presents a danger to the public, the prisoner has to prove that they don’t. As the then justice secretary, Kenneth Clarke, said in 2011: “It is almost impossible for the prisoner to prove that, so … hardly any are released.”

Those who do manage to get out face a “life licence”, which cannot be reviewed for at least 10 years. The licence conditions are extremely strict. Released IPP prisoners can be sent back for infractions as petty as a missed probation appointment because their bus did not arrive, or even because the support service they were instructed to use no longer exists

In 2012, after widespread condemnation and a ruling by the European court of human rights that such sentences were “arbitrary and therefore unlawful”, IPP terms were abolished by the Conservative government. But the measure was not retrospective. As of the end of last year, 2,892 IPP prisoners remained behind bars. Almost 97% were more than two years beyond their tariff date; nearly half were 10 years beyond. Victoria was released at the beginning of this year, after serving more than 15 yearsof a 21-month tariff.

The former supreme court justice Lord Brown has called IPP sentences “the greatest single stain on the justice system”. When Michael Gove was justice secretary, he recommended “executive clemency” for IPP prisoners who had served terms much longer than their tariffs. But he didn’t act on it. David Blunkett, the Labour home secretary who introduced the sentences, regrets them, stating: “I got it wrong. The government now have the chance to get it right.”

But the government, always glancing at the media, refuses to take it. In February, it rejected the recommendation of the House of Commons justice committee that remaining IPP prisoners should be resentenced. Successive justice secretaries have failed to use the power they acquired in 2012 to introduce a presumption of release. So while people who committed far worse crimes come and go, IPP prisoners are forgotten, cast into a judicial oubliette from which some might never emerge.

The effects on their mental health of never knowing when or whether they might be released can be devastating. Rates of self-harm among these prisoners are more than twice as high as among prisoners serving life sentences.

In March 2008, when she began to understand what her sentence really meant, Victoria tried to kill herself, and very nearly succeeded. But then she became determined to sort herself out. She took every available course of psychotherapy and counselling, sat GCSE exams and started an Open University degree. She knew she wasn’t ready for parole when her tariff ended. Two years later, she didn’t qualify on the grounds that, through her own choice, she was still taking a psychotherapeutic course. But after a further two years, when she came up for parole again, she had turned her life around. Unfortunately, the standards of proof required for parole were impossible to meet.

Her application was refused and she spiralled into despair. She lost three and a half stone, started self-harming and taking drugs. She attempted suicide again. She became trapped in a vicious cycle. Being refused parole causes severe mental health problems for IPP prisoners, but mental illness is one of the criteria for the refusal of parole. So down they spiral. Instead of seeking help, some try to hide their problems from staff so as not to jeopardise their chances. Severe cuts have restricted the courses these prisoners can take, without which they have no hope of release.

Victoria is a remarkable woman: honest about what she was and what she did, acutely aware of the pain she caused, determined to lead a useful and purposeful life. But, close to 40, she is constantly confronted by the missing years. “I deserved to be punished,” she told me. “But did I deserve more than 15 years? No. I have days when I just sob in my bed. Just to get out some of the sadness of what I have lost.”

A great wrong has been done. Almost everyone in power accepts it is wrong. But none are prepared to address it.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Tuesday 16 May 2023

HMPPS Is Not Working

The content of the recent damning National Audit Office report on resettlement will come as no great surprise, but I wonder how much longer the politicians will need before concluding HMPPS is 'unfit for purpose' and probation must be set free. The NAO press release:-   

Improving resettlement support for prison leavers to reduce reoffending

The government is not consistently supporting prison leavers in resettling into the community and the quality of services has declined in recent years, a new report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

The NAO report, Improving resettlement support for prison leavers to reduce reoffending, also found that HM Inspectorate of Prisons did not rate any prisons as ‘good’ for rehabilitation and release planning in 2022-23, compared to 3% in the previous year and 30% in 2019-20.

The Ministry of Justice estimated in 2019 that the cost to society of reoffending by all adult offenders identified in 2016 was £16.7 billion (in 2017-18 prices). Official figures included in the report show that 38% of prisoners released from custody between April 2020 and March 2021 reoffended in the following 12 months.

A severe shortage of probation officers, combined with high caseloads means that HM Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) is not completing all the resettlement work it recognises is essential. For example, between April 2022 and January 2023, key handover meetings between prison and probation staff and prisoners did not happen as intended in around half of cases.

In December 2022, 29% of probation officer roles were vacant while 92% of probation sub-regions were operating at or above full caseload capacity in August 2022 This follows the NAO’s report on probation services in 2019, which found that severe shortages and high workloads in the former National Probation Service were hampering its effectiveness. Today’s report also sets out the challenges caused by HMPPS’s reorganisation of probation services and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on prisons and probation services.

The NAO found that important resettlement outcomes for prison leavers have been mixed. From April 2022 to January 2023, accommodation outcomes have remained stable, with 76% of prison leavers in settled accommodation after three months. Employment outcomes have improved in this period, with more than a quarter of prison leavers in work after six months, up from 17% in the previous year. However, substance misuse treatment outcomes have remained poor, with just 37% of prison leavers with a substance misuse treatment referral engaged in community-based treatment in 2021-22.

HMPPS does not know why different groups of prison leavers have very different resettlement outcomes. NAO analysis found that, in 2021-22, 8% of female prison leavers were employed after six months compared with 18% of male prison leavers, while 11% of black or black British prison leavers were in work compared with 18% of white prison leavers. HMPPS has not performed analysis to identify the causes of this variation.

The NAO identified several strengths or recent improvements in the service and welcomed steps that HMPPS has taken to address unmet need such as launching a new accommodation service in July 2021 for offenders at risk of homelessness. In interviews with staff, we observed a strong commitment among prison and probation staff to turning prison leavers’ lives around. HMPPS has also made good progress recruiting people to help prison leavers find a job. By March 2023 it introduced employment leads in 92 eligible prisons to support prison leavers into work, although it is too early to determine their impact.

With the prison population forecast to increase by as much as 25% between March 2023 and March 2027 – mainly due to an increase in police officers and longer sentences for serious offenders – the NAO urges HMPPS to plan how it will manage higher demand for resettlement services. The Probation Service may need to supervise around 5,900 more prison leavers by March 2025, an increase of around 10% compared with caseloads in September 2022.

Among its recommendations the NAO urged government bodies on the Cross Government Reducing Reoffending Board to publish a report in 2024 defining clear roles and responsibilities in the resettlement system. Better data is also required: HMPPS cannot currently demonstrate whether its Commissioned Rehabilitative Services contracts are making a positive difference to offenders, while its baseline audits of these contracts showed poor performance.
“One of the core purposes of prisons and probation services is to prepare prisoners for release effectively and ensure their smooth resettlement into the community. However, HMPPS and its partners across government do not do so consistently.

“While HMPPS has made some progress in recent years around issues such as accommodation it must ensure the basics are in place, including defining clear roles and responsibilities in the resettlement system.”
Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO


Background to the report

Prisons and probation services have two core purposes: to carry out the sentences given by the courts; and to rehabilitate people in their care and supervision to help them lead law-abiding and useful lives and to protect the public. In 2021-22, there were 58,915 releases from prison in total (including some people released more than once, see paragraph 1.2). Between April 2020 and March 2021, 38% of adults released from prison reoffended in the 12 months following their release (four percentage points lower than the previous year).

Reoffending has significant costs to society. This includes direct financial losses to victims and the costs that the criminal justice system must meet, from running police investigations and court hearings, to holding offenders in prisons and ensuring their effective supervision in the community. In 2019 the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) estimated that reoffending across all adult offenders identified in 2016 had cost society £16.7 billion (in 2017-18 prices).

Prison leavers are more likely to reoffend if they are not resettled into the community, for example if they have nowhere to live, no job or other income, and have poor continuity of healthcare. HMPPS and its partners aim to minimise the risk of this through their resettlement work.

While in custody, staff should regularly assess prisoners to understand their needs and risks throughout their sentences. Before someone leaves prison, there should be handovers between prison- and community-based staff. During and following a prisoner’s release, support should be available to help them address known barriers to successful resettlement.

Scope of the report

This report examines:
  • government’s effectiveness in resettling prison leavers
  • the factors affecting service performance
  • what needs to be addressed to improve resettlement services in the future
Our report examines resettlement arrangements for adult prison leavers in England and Wales with a focus on services relating to prison leavers’ accommodation, employment and substance misuse treatment outcomes. We did not examine the resettlement of children and young people and did not review support for offenders sentenced in the community in detail.

While we examine how HMPPS managed the transition of resettlement services to its new arrangements, we did not audit its overall approach to unifying probation services in detail. This report refers to both prison leavers and offenders as some of government’s services and initiatives are available to all offenders, including those sentenced in the community. Where data are not captured for prison leavers specifically, we have used data across all offender types.


One of the core purposes of prisons and probation services is to prepare prisoners for release effectively and ensure their smooth resettlement into the community. However, HMPPS and its partners across government do not do so consistently.

Within prisons, HMPPS does not provide sufficient activities to prepare prison leavers and those it does provide are not at the required standard. The Inspectorates have reported a significant deterioration in the quality of release planning and rehabilitation services in recent years. Moreover, HMPPS does not have good enough data on its CRS contracts to know whether they are making a positive difference.

We observed a strong commitment among prison and probation staff to turning prison leavers’ lives around, but performance has been hampered by staff shortages and high workloads. Accountability arrangements and dependencies between departments’ work are unclear. In addition, data collection and information-sharing on prisoners’ needs and outcomes, particularly on substance misuse treatment, is fragmented.

Thursday 11 May 2023

What About Probation John?

It looks like the Prison Reform Trust is on a roll at the moment and recently managed to bag a former prime minister to publicly admit their part in the parlous state we now find the Criminal Justice System in:- 

The former Prime Minister, Sir John Major delivered a speech at the Old Bailey on 9 May 2023, in which he set out his case for penal reform. Sir John acknowledged that the problems now being faced within the penal system have intensified over many governments, and that he, his predecessors and his successors should all share responsibility for this.

“We over-use prison and under value alternative sentences”

It’s a great privilege to be here this evening – and in such historic surroundings.

I’d like to thank Alistair King for making it possible – and Edward Garnier for encouraging me to enlarge publicly upon what I have said privately. Edward – apart from his legal and political career – is a Trustee of the Prison Reform Trust, now Chaired by James Timpson, whose actions match his family’s long concern for prisoner welfare. The Trust itself, until recently under the guidance of Peter Dawson and now, Pia Sinha has worked for reform with the same persistence as those early campaigners – John Howard and Elizabeth Fry.

I would like this evening, to add a few thoughts of my own. One of the virtues of age is having the time to reflect on what you have left undone with – no doubt – some regrets along the way. It is such reflections that have brought us together this evening. I am conscious that, where I criticise, many of the problems are long standing and I, together with predecessors and successors, must each take our share of the blame.

Let me begin with some reassuring news. Violent crime has been falling for nearly 30 years – although the extent of public interest when some horrific crime occurs makes this a deeply held secret for many people. Despite this long downward trend, legislators have been far more active in framing policy to punish crime than in action to minimise the cause of it.

Many citizens who have faced ‒ or fear facing ‒ serious or violent crime strongly approve. They are clear that they ‒ and their families ‒ are safer if criminals are taken out of society. And, in one sense, they are entirely right. And yet this instinctive ‒ very human ‒ response ignores the obverse of punishment, which must be rehabilitation.

Stern sentences for violent crimes are necessary, and the instinct to protect the public is laudable ‒ but we should beware that excessive zeal to be tough on crime does not lead us into unwise policy.

We are told “prison works” and – to the extent it holds the worst of criminals in custody, it does – but I do not believe our justice system is well served if it also imprisons those who could better be punished by non-custodial sentences. Even to use the word “rehabilitation” is taken by many as code for being “soft” on crime; for being gullible; a “do-gooder” who cares more for the villain than the victim. I certainly do not intend it in that sense. Indeed – as I shall argue shortly – I believe such an interpretation ignores the public interest.

When society sends people to prison we are, in reality, “shutting the door after the horse has bolted”: the crime has been committed. Retribution follows: but, upon release, it is surely in the wider interest of everyone that the crime is never repeated. That is the purpose of rehabilitation ‒ together with turning around the life of the released prisoner.

If we wish to live under a penal code of which we can be proud, then we must not only punish, but act to reform and re-educate offenders. I don’t claim that is easy. But I do say that it is sound policy to reduce the risk of re-offending upon release.

We send people to prison ‒ most of them, deservedly, but some not. Either which way, to prison they go. And, to many, that is the end of the matter. Justice is done and the victim has closure. But ‒ future victims do not have closure if the prisoner re-offends. Prison is at its best when it rehabilitates, and, at its worst if – instead of providing a route out of crime, it provides an education into it.


It is instructive to consider the overwhelming characteristics of adults committed to prison:
  • nearly two-thirds of them have used Class A drugs;
  • many are illiterate, or innumerate, or both;
  • almost half have no educational or vocational qualifications whatsoever;
  • the intellectual assessment of many prisoners equates to that of a primary school pupil.
Two-fifths of those in prison were either expelled or excluded from school; three fifths were frequent truants; many were taken into care as a child; or observed violence in the home; or suffered abuse; sometimes even all of the above. All of this is a truly wretched preparation for adult life. We cannot be ignorant of the fact that failures in the early years of life are a serious driver towards crime, and anti-social behaviour.

There is education and training in prison, but its availability ‒ and value ‒ is mixed. After the (Sally) Coates review in 2016 improvements were expected. Yet, seven years on they have not materialised. There are reasons. Poor education contracts; lack of funding; unsavoury prison conditions; and – of course – the impact of Covid, have all stood in the way. As has over-crowding, and the resultant churn of prisoners being moved from prison to prison. If we wish to attack the causes of crime, better education – in and out of prison – is an essential component.


Forty years ago, when Willie Whitelaw was Home Secretary, I was a humble Parliament Private Secretary to the two Ministers of State, Tim Renton and Patrick Mayhew. They were shocked ‒ Willie was apoplectic actually ‒ when the prison population reached 40,000. Today, it is more than double that.

A range of reasons contribute:
  • our national population has grown;
  • indeterminate sentences boosted prisoner numbers;
  • as has legislation increasing terms of imprisonment for many crimes; and
  • a greater range of misdemeanours may lead to prison.
Comparisons with overseas do not reflect well on our penal policy. The UK has the highest imprisonment rates in Western Europe ‒ and yet I find it hard to believe we British are uniquely criminal. So ‒ were our predecessors unduly lenient in sentencing ‒ or are we unduly harsh?

And why ‒ since our prisons are heavily over-crowded ‒ have suspended sentences been declining? In the year to June 2022, 43,000 people were sentenced to a term in prison. Of these, less than two in every five had committed a violent offence. Was prison the correct (or fair) sentence for all the 26,000 non-violent offenders? Some, perhaps … but all? I am not sure that it was.

The punishment of prison is to lose liberty, but the prisoner may lose much else besides: their job, their home, their relationships. That is a high cost ‒ not only for the prisoner, but for society as a whole. The full costs may not be justified. We might be wise to be more selective.

When prisoners have served their punishment we don’t wish them to be so alienated that ‒ through spleen or necessity ‒ they return to crime. That is in no one’s interest ‒ and especially not the public at large. Many prisoners ‒ far too many, I believe ‒ are sentenced to short-term imprisonment when other sentences would be preferable. In some cases, care and medical attention are called for rather than prison.

Should the mentally ill be imprisoned, or should they be treated in secure wings of mental hospitals? Surely the latter. More radically, should non-violent mentally ill prisoners even be the responsibility of the justice department: would not the Department of Health be more appropriate? I appreciate such a move would not be welcomed by the Health Department, but the Government’s responsibility is to provide the most effective and humane punishment.

Imprisoning people who may be incapable of self-control is simply wrong. They require care, not incarceration. Of course, mentally ill prisoners who are dangerous or violent must be held securely to protect the public, but they, too, require care as well as custody.

Moreover, should low-level drug offenders ‒ street dealers for example ‒ who are highly likely to be of limited intelligence as well as being addicts themselves – be sentenced to prison, or given an appropriate community sentence? To be blunt ‒ my suspicion is that many short sentences are pointless and that a non-custodial sentence would be more effective and, perhaps, more fair.


There are over 3,300 women in prison in England and Wales. More than half will serve less than six months. No doubt some are irredeemable, but I suspect most are not. Over two-thirds of women sent to prison have committed a non-violent crime: at present more are imprisoned for theft alone than for criminal damage, arson, drug offences, possession of weapons, robbery or sexual offences.

I do question whether prison for many of these women does not cause more problems than it solves. Some have mental problems, or histories of trauma or abuse. Some 50 babies a year are born to women in prison, and reports suggest women in prison are seven times more likely to suffer still birth. That statistic alone should make us question present policy: whatever the mother may have done, the baby is innocent.

I accept – male or female – we are all equal under the Law, but common sense and practicality suggests we should look very carefully at community sentence alternatives, before sending vulnerable women offenders to prison.


Reports by HM Inspectors on the state of our prisons do not make for happy reading. Time after time, the conditions of prisons are found to be unsatisfactory. In some they are intolerable. Many of the old Victorian prisons ‒ Wandsworth, Pentonville, Norwich, among others ‒ were built to hold one prisoner per cell. 150 years later, these cells may hold two – or even three – prisoners, sleeping on bunk beds and essentially ‒ forgive my putting it this way – living in a lavatory. To have inmates held in worse conditions than in Victorian times is an indictment of policy that is hard to ignore.

Last year, 301 prisoners died in custody ‒ 74 of them by their own hand. This rate of suicide is six times higher than among the general population. Many suicides are within the early days of custody. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the sheer shock of imprisonment ‒ which, I reiterate, may be for a non-violent crime ‒ is a principal cause of the desperation that leads to self-destruction.

Self-harm in prison has risen by two and a half times over the last decade ‒ most notably by women, but there is also a significant rise in the incidence of male self-harming. I would like to know ‒ why? I would suggest that prisoners who kill or maim themselves are people in despair – not hardened villains.

Of course, the Government knows all this. In 2015, the Government announced a new prison reform programme to build nine new prisons – and committed £1.3 billion to create 10,000 new prison places by 2020. This well-meaning plan ‒ let me put it kindly ‒ faltered. The Public Accounts Committee reported that, despite these pledges, only 206 new places were delivered with 3,500 places still underway.

Meanwhile, prisoners continued to be held in unsafe and over-crowded conditions. A revised plan followed in 2019 ‒ also to create a further 10,000 places. This was updated in 2020 when £4 billion was allocated to deliver a total of not 10,000 but 18,000 places ‒ in England and Wales – by the middle of this decade. 

The plans included the expansion of four prisons; the completion of building at two more; and refurbishment of the Prison Estate. Last month, a Parliamentary Question revealed that only 3,100 of that 18,000 target had yet been provided, and only one new prison had been opened in Wellingborough – although I believe a second, Fosse Way, is due to open this year. Progress? Yes. But 2025 is only two years away, and there is still a very long way to go to turn what was promised into reality.

Prison staffing is an allied and deep-rooted problem. The turnover of staff is a ruinous 15% a year – which delivers its own message about the job’s lack of appeal, and the toll it must take. Despite efforts to attract people to become prison officers, there are over 700 fewer officers than there were 12 months ago, and front line staff are 11% below the staffing level of 2010. This does not suggest a modern prison service is anywhere near delivery.


It is said that “Justice delayed is Justice denied”. And yet, the congestion in our Courts does delay justice. Consider the remand system. Remand may be used for accused people before their trial, or those convicted and awaiting a formal sentence for their offence. Within that bland reality lie many complexities, and some injustices.

At present ‒ partly as a result of Covid delays ‒ the number of people on remand is at its highest level for decades: around 14,500. Typically, two-thirds are awaiting trial, while the remainder are awaiting sentence after conviction. Of those awaiting trial, one in two are subsequently imprisoned – even though accused of non-violent offences. Although individual circumstances will differ, I do not believe the case can be made that they should all be jailed.

My belief is reinforced when I learn that – at their trials – one in ten remand prisoners are judged to be innocent of any crime, and a yet higher number are convicted – but sentenced only to a non-custodial sentence. The need for reform seems evident.

Other factors reinforce that judgement. Nearly one-third of remand prisoners are held longer than six months before trial, and an unlucky 5% for over two years. That is over 700 remand prisoners held for over two years, before quite possibly being found to be innocent. They not only lose their liberty but their reputation and their income too, which may well also punish their families. This cannot be acceptable. Nor is it the fact that, last year over one-third of suicides in custody were by people on remand. I do not think we can be proud of that.


Parole for prisoners found guilty of serious and violent crimes is inevitably contentious. In practice, the Parole Board deals only with a minority of prisoners ‒ less than 10% ‒ and decisions “for” or “against” their release or transfer to an “open” prison can be complex and controversial.

Thirty years ago, a House of Commons Select Committee advised that “release should be an entirely judicial decision ‒ independent of the Executive”. Although this was initially resisted, Parliament did subsequently accept that principle and ‒ in my view ‒ rightly so.

Prisoners also gained the right to present their case for parole to the Board. This ended years of parole decisions taken in secret as a result of evidence that was never challenged. That was an approach which honoured neither democracy nor equity, and was a blot on our system. The present more open system does ensure that decisions are taken after a proper presentation of arguments. This seems to have been effective.

One quarter of those considered for release by the Parole Board were successful. Of those, only 1 in every 200 prisoners released re-offended within the next three years. This would suggest that the Parole Board is not a bunch of gullible “softies”.

Over the years, the Parole Board has evolved from its modest beginnings in the 1960s: with only a handful of Board members, no hearings to consider evidence, and with the final decision being taken by the Home Secretary. Today, the Board ‒ nominally at least ‒ is independent of Government, and has amassed years of experience and expertise, enabling a level playing field for decisions upon release, without the hype and pressure that would be bound to accompany political involvement.

In the thousands of decisions to be made each year, there is no way that Ministers could possibly match the experience and knowledge of the 350 Parole Board Members. It is therefore surprising ‒ and worrying ‒ that, over the last year, recommendations by the Parole Board to transfer prisoners to an “open” prison have suddenly, and sharply, been rejected by the Justice Secretary.

In 2021-22 – 94% of the Parole Board recommendations were accepted but, thereafter, that fell to 11%. It is hard to believe that does not result from an unannounced change of policy that is instituting a harsher regime.


The victims of crime have long needed more support than they receive, and there are elements of the proposed Victims and Prisoners’ Bill that are eminently sensible – and long overdue. As I understand it, the Bill was originally intended to cover the interest of victims only, and the prisoners’ element is a late addition. I believe this addition is a political misjudgement that may put much needed reforms at risk, and will come to that in a moment.

I welcome the proposal to enshrine the Victims’ Code in Law, which should ensure that greater support is delivered. But, if theory is to become reality, funding will be needed for specialist support and, thus far, there is no evidence that this will be provided. I can only hope the Justice Secretary has secured agreement for funding from the Treasury, or the Bill will fail to meet its purpose.

I understand that the former Justice Secretary sought the power to veto decisions made by what is allegedly the independent Parole Board, to release prisoners convicted of serious crimes. The problem with this is that I do not see how (or why) the Justice Secretary would be able to reach a more just decision than the Parole Board.

Any single Government Minister – however able or well-meaning – would be far more vulnerable to public campaigns and, under pressure, to make a harsher decision to appease them. This is a very slippery slope. I do not think that any politician should have that power, and I hope the new Justice Secretary will reconsider or – if he does not – that Parliament will deny it.


There is one area of the penal code that is over-ripe for action to correct legitimate grievance. Until 2003, the only indeterminate sentence available to Judges was a life sentence, which was only for the gravest of offences. But, that year, the Government introduced a new concept: that of indeterminate imprisonment for public protection – so-called IPPs. It was intended for people considered “dangerous”, but whose offence did not justify a life sentence.

It passes a minimum tariff but offers no stated maximum. Release could only be authorised by the Parole Board. It seems that this scheme went wrong from the outset. It was applied far more widely than expected (or intended), with lower level offenders receiving this harsh sentence.

The number of IPP cases far outstripped expectations, and amendments to the legislation were approved by Parliament in 2008. But shortcomings remained, and the power to issue IPP sentences was abolished in 2012. But – and it is a BIG “but”: when it was abolished, no action was taken to determine a just ‒ and definitive ‒ sentence for the prisoners already serving for an indeterminate time. This was an extraordinary omission, which remains the case eleven years after abolition.

Nearly 3,000 offenders, still imprisoned – including those who have never been released and those recalled back to custody – were sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment, but not a maximum. They are all serving sentences that have extended years beyond their minimum tariff and – without Ministerial action – may never end. This is soul destroying for prisoners and their families, and is emphatically not justice.

I believe that, without any further delay, justice should be served by Government agreement to the Justice Committee’s recommendation of a re-sentencing exercise – backed by the establishment of an expert committee to guide on the practicalities – for everyone still serving an IPP sentence.

* * * * *
I was brought up to believe that we, in Britain had one of – if not the – most just and civilised penal codes in the world. Some of what I have learned in preparing this speech has truly shaken that belief. People who commit crimes have deservedly forfeited much but ‒ in our country ‒ not, I hope, the right to be treated fairly.

There are many good causes that attract support, and hundreds of thousands of activists plead the case they most care about. But it is not so easy, or attractive, to plead for people who have committed crimes, and are responsible for their own misfortune. They do not so easily attract sympathy.

Nor, very often, is it politically comfortable for “active” politicians to plead for convicted criminals. In the rough and tumble of politics, compassion and consideration can too easily be derided as “soft” or “weak” – terms which can define as well as defame. It has ever been thus.

In many ways, it is odd to plead for a more empathetic penal code on the site of Newgate – one of the most notorious prisons in our long national history. But views evolve. In pre-Christian days, prisons were not a place of lengthy incarceration but merely of safe custody until a more savage sentence than loss of liberty could be carried out. Those days, thankfully, have gone.

In Saxon times, prison was occasionally used as a means of punishment and – by the 13th Century – to facilitate a sentence of life imprisonment imposed by the Church, which was unable to pass a harsher punishment. It was when offenders defaulted in payment of a forfeit to the Crown that prison became a convenient inducement to pay ‒ and then became of wider use as a punishment.

I have argued that its use needs to evolve further if it is to become a better instrument to deliver justice and reduce crime. So, let me summarise my concerns:
  • We over-use prison and under value alternative sentences;
  • too many vulnerable people ‒ including the mentally-ill – are jailed;
  • education and rehabilitation in prison is inadequate;
  • much of the Prison Estate is out of date and unsuitable;
  • too many accused are remanded in prison pre-trial;
  • the Justice Secretary should not remove powers from the Parole Board;
  • IPP prisoners should be re-sentenced.
These practices, these problems have grown up over many governments. In my layman’s view, it is time they were addressed – and put right.

Sir John Major KG CH

Tuesday 9 May 2023

Optimistic For Change

We've featured the Prison Reform Trust quite a bit recently and their brilliant work in holding the dreadful former Justice Secretary Dominic Raab to account, but I hadn't realised they have a new Director. I think the following from InsideTime indicates that the good work is likely to continue and it's particularly interesting to hear the reasoning given for 'jumping ship' from a dream HMPPS post - if only Probation could break free.....   

‘Holder of hope’!

New Director of PRT puts optimism and hope at the centre of her new role – ‘lived experience’ invaluable

In 2017, HMP Liverpool was the subject of one of the most critical inspection reports in years by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons, which found there was an “abject failure” to provide suitable conditions. Described as one of the worst prisons in Europe, the prison, better known as Walton, was found to be ridden with litter, dirt, rats and cockroaches – and had huge problems with violence and drugs. Conditions were so poor, foreign judges feared it would be inhumane to send suspects back to the UK if there was a risk they would be held at HMP Liverpool.

Pia Sinha came to prominence as the troubleshooter who, along with a dedicated team, turned the prison around within three years to such an extent that the then Prisons Inspector Peter Clarke said the “squalor and filth” had gone and there was now a “culture of care” with a “real change in the quality of leadership”. She spent twenty-three years in the prison service before ‘jumping ship’ and joining one of the most prominent prison reform organisations as Director of the Prison Reform Trust. Describing her new role as, “Truly an honour and a privilege” Pia Sinha said, “Prison reform is in my DNA.”


Sinha had actually been the deputy governor of HMP Liverpool four years earlier. She says that then it was, “Alright, as far as local Victorian prisons go. There was a good governor and the two of us were able to do some good things and we’d had a fairly decent inspection. But to go back a mere four years later and to see how badly it had deteriorated was an absolute shock. I remember on my first day I thought … I’m just going to grip the rail and go around and have a look – what I saw actually brought me to tears. But I suppose when you are trying to fix places that are terrible you have to have some kind of emotional connection with them and I felt really emotionally connected with that prison. The odd thing was that once I started to make things better, it wasn’t that hard. It was bloody hard work but it wasn’t that hard because everyone wanted to do the same.”

Name clearing

How did she motivate her team? “What I did early on was have a full and frank conversation with the team that existed and to say look, this is going to be bloody hard work you know. So for the people that were already there, who had sort of presided over its decline – they were people who were really tired, fed up, negative – and I asked them, ‘Do you have the heart for this?’ Some of them said, ‘You know what, no, I don’t.’ The people that weren’t up for it, for legitimate reasons, we found them something else to do. And the ones that sat opposite me, saying, ‘Pia, I want to be part of this – I want to clear my name and make it better’, they worked so hard. Then I got some new people in – that combination was just magical.”

Ship jumping

Sinha worked for the prison service for twenty-three years, joining as a higher psychologist at HMP/YOI Holloway in 1999 – then worked as a senior psychologist at Wandsworth before taking up the post of head of safer prisons. Following that, she became head of reducing re-offending at Wormwood Scrubs. She then took up her first deputy governor role at Send, and subsequently at Downview and Liverpool. She took up her last post as Director of Women in November 2021, taking responsibility for the 10 public sector women’s prisons and oversight of the two private prisons. So why did she jump ship?

“I’ve done quite a lot of reflecting. I’d have to take it back to how the story unfolded. Eighteen months ago, when I got the role of Director of Women in prison post, I felt delighted; I felt it was my dream job. It was a rare privilege. But having gone on to become director of women I found that as a senior civil servant I was getting further and further removed from the front line and it felt that the proportion of the work I was doing was much more about managing upwards and trying to influence in a really awkward complicated non-direct way. And I was feeling frustrations. I also felt that the directorate was not adequately resourced for the complexity of the job. I think that within the women’s directorate there is so much risk, especially around the high levels of self-harm, suicide, pregnant women coming in, women with mental health issues. If things went wrong, and they did, they got immediately escalated to the press, immediately escalated to ministers – and it just felt like a really high risk part of the system. I didn’t think I could change things at the pace I wanted to.”

Excellent team

Does she think she can change things now heading up the PRT? “Well, I feel more optimistic about change. That wasn’t what led me to think ‘I’ll apply for this job’. I think part of this job, as a leader, is to maintain optimism about change and hope – and be the holder of hope.” So how does she plan to influence those in power to make the necessary changes? “I think that’s just one part of what PRT does,” she says, “Its one part of what they do very well. And I think you have to give Peter (Peter Dawson, former Director who retired), enormous credit for the steadfast way he did this. PRT’s reputation is the money in the bank. This reputation allows for us to have a really strong lobbying voice in the system. I think that work should and has to continue. We have excellent people in the team who really know their stuff. But something I’m intrigued about is to ask how do we harvest all of this amazing information that we are getting when we have got a very strong network of lived experience voice? It’s better than I’ve ever known it to be. We also have incredible research going on. I want to use the intel and the information that we are getting and directly be able to look at how we can generalise all of that towards the front line.”

Reacting to the resignation of former Justice Secretary Dominic Raab over bullying claims Sinha said: “The vital and complex work of the Ministry of Justice has been undermined by Dominic Raab’s reckless meddling and his inability to interact professionally with his senior officials. A new Justice Secretary is an opportunity for a reset on Dominic Raab’s damaging changes to the parole system. Changes to open conditions transfers have undermined the progression of prisoners and effective arrangements for public protection. A single view procedure forbidding state appointed officials – including forensic psychologists and prison and probation staff – from making recommendations for release or transfer to the Parole Board have been ruled unlawful by the High Court. The Victims and Prisoners Bill currently before Parliament undermines the independence and expertise of the Parole Board and raises wider constitutional concerns regarding judicial independence and U.K. compliance with human rights obligations. His successor should urgently review the Bill and Raab’s other changes to the parole system as a result and adopt a more measured approach.”

Erwin James