Saturday, 6 February 2016

Warm Words from Interserve

Many thanks to the reader for sending me the following missive of comfort from the new boss of West Yorkshire CRC:-

Hello Everyone,

I thought I'd write a quick summary of my initial thoughts and observations following my first week in West Yorkshire. Its been a busy week of meetings, looking at our processes and I've been able to meet around 50 people from different offices across all job roles.

You won't be surprised to hear I have consistently observed the same themes, with the main two being: 

1) people just want to do a good job
2) obviously people are concerned about the future, last weeks announcements of staff reductions are raw and sensitive, understandably people want to know about their own future 

What struck me, with pleasure, was that despite the potentially personal impact of change, the overriding priority is that of doing a good job, whether that be front facing with service users or corporate services assisting in the delivery of services. 

It is that passion and commitment that has always helped Probation stand apart from other sectors, and it is important we never loose that value, one which aligns very neatly with Interserve's own values 'do the right thing' and 'be proud'. 

I want to try and make it as easy as possible for us to deliver the best services we can. One quick way we can do this is to make it easier for you to access local performance data. Within a week or so you should be able to access that data within one or two clicks rather than the complex process you currently go through to find performance reports. Last quarter we failed to achieve a couple of measures, and this has resulted in a significant fine of £95k, this is something I know no one wants to happen again.

With regards to the second theme, we all understand the anxiety every staff member will be feeling and will seek to provide you with clarity of your personal position as soon as we are able. The unknown is never pleasant, but we will be open, transparent, and as fair as possible. We genuinely do want to find as many people jobs as possible, but the reality is the MoJ pays us significantly less than we received as a public body and as such, restructure was inevitable.

The staffing changes should not be confused with the Interchange Model though, of which I'm a huge fan. The Interchange Model gives us a real opportunity to work with service users in a way that we were unable to do under NOMS direction, and I'm genuinely excited by that. 

Well, I will finish there. Other than to say thank you for the warm welcome I've received so far, I really do feel privileged to be working alongside you all. 

Speak soon


Martin Davies
Chief Executive
The Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire
Community Rehabilitation Company Limited
8 Corporation Street
Lincoln LN2 1HN   


We learnt yesterday from the Napo General Secretary's blog that he'd signed up to a 'ground breaking operational procedures agreement' with Purple Futures, which raises a number of questions in my mind and that of this reader:-
What exactly is this 'ground breaking operational procedures agreement' signed with 'Purple Futures' - or, as they now seem to be known, 'Interserve', what with the supposed 'partners' - plainly no more than bid-candy – barely getting a mention these days? And when the GS says 'just' signed does he mean AFTER their announcement of 23% job cuts in Yorkshire alongside smaller but significant cuts in their other CRCs too? And their plans to decimate PO numbers and force qualified PO staff into PSO roles? And does he mean AFTER the presentation of their woeful desistance-lite, research-free, social work devoid, disaster in-the-making 'Interchange model' for transforming clients lives by being a bit more chipper and trying not to mention their crimes? I wonder if he might instead consider trying to help those of us under the purple cosh to fight to maintain some professionalism, some integrity and some jobs?

My name is Jasmine and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Greenwich studying Criminology and Criminal Psychology. I am currently undertaking a dissertation research project exploring the emotional impact associated with being a probation officer. The study would like to hear about the personal experiences of being in probation and how it has affected the probation officers. Officers will be asked a series of questions that will explore matters to do with caseloads, stress, interactions with clients and feelings towards the changes made under Transforming Rehabilitation. If you are a probation officer working anywhere in the UK and would like to take part in the study, or if you would like more information, please email me at Interviews can take place in person or over the phone and will last no longer than thirty minutes. Your contribution to the study would be much appreciated.     

Friday, 5 February 2016

Latest From Napo 97

Here we have this weeks blog from the Napo General Secretary:- 


Staff cuts are very much a source of major concern for members these days even among those who have yet to hear what their employers have in store for them as their respective CRC's now see the consequences of the flawed TR contracts that they were sold by Chris Grayling.

We have already seen how Sodexo made a 'dogs dinner' of the way that they handled their appalling staff reduction programme and the huge collateral damage that was caused to employee morale and the reputational opprobium that has followed their previous excursions into public services in the UK e.g Northumberland Prison and in other countries across the globe.

While we start to come to terms and obtain more information about the intention to reduce staffing profiles from other CRC employers, and try to develop as constructive a working relationship as possible with the likes of Staffordshire and West Midlands, and Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northampton and Rutland; and Purple Futures (with whom we have just signed a ground breaking operational procedures agreement), one would have hoped that other CRC owners might have been a bit more sensitive to the current climate of fear, uncertainty and understandable anger.

So one week after what has to be the most shambolic meeting I have ever attended with a private sector contractor anywhere in my career, which at times resembled a french farce with so many people coming in and out of doors desperately trying to fill the huge information gap that the employer had caused, its reasonable for me to relay the question that members within their three CRC's are positing through their local representatives which is: why are Working Links treating us like idiots?

Whilst we ought to be spending valuable time coming to terms with the rationale and detail behind the operating model on which they say they have predicated their staggering 42%c intended job cuts, we have one important problem, in that they seem to still be working out what that actually is. Add to this the heady mix of mass confusion that is being caused by ad-hoc and ill-timed releases of information to certain managers who themselves are then placed in an invidious position and you have a classic example of how not to undertake consultation and negotiation. Its no wonder that our local reps are trying to make sure that the blame for this rests in the right place and I support and applaud their efforts to provide some clarity to members.

Obviously we are making appropriate representations to the employers and are challenging the whole basis of this sorry story. We will also be advising NOMS commercial of our concerns about how this squares with Working Links contractual responsibilities and we will, as always, be guided by what our members want us to do in response. Its not too late for Working Links to bring some much needed order here, and as always we stand ready to engage.

Review of Racial Bias in the CJS

In what was a mixed bag of a week, with events that I will cover in another post, came a welcome announcement that David Lammy MP is being commissioned to lead a long overdue review to look at this issue.

As you would expect, I wrote soon after the announcement to offer Napo's input as our members across all the various strands of the criminal Justice System will have plenty to offer here.

2nd February 2016

Dear David,


I was delighted to hear the news that you have been appointed by the Prime Minister to lead this review. It was also massively encouraging to see that you have already been contacted by Probation Officers who care deeply about this important issue and who will provide valuable testimony on the issues at hand.

As you are aware, Napo, as the Trade Union and Professional Association for Probation and Family Court Workers, prides itself on its diversity. As one of the few senior trade union leaders to emerge from the BAME Community in recent years I am proud to be Napo's General Secretary and equally proud of our work alongside the Staff Associations within the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the fact that last year we were able to launch Napo's own Black Members Network.

Given our membership profile in the Probation and Family Court Service, and the fact that some joint research on the staffing division that took place prior to the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme that we carried out with the Staff Associations has been considered by Her Majesty's Inspector of Probation, I believe that Napo is as well placed as any of our contemporaries to offer a constructive view about the many issues that are likely to feature in the Review. I would be pleased to have the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how we may be able to work together and contribute to this long overdue, but nevertheless welcome, initiative.

I look forward to hearing from you and if you believe that a meeting would be beneficial I wonder if you might arrange for your office to establish contact with my Administrator Annoesjka Valent or Telephone: 020 7326 9982.

Meanwhile my best wishes to you as you get your preparations underway.
Yours sincerely,

General Secretary

Cc. Tania Bassett, National Official Press Parliament & Campaigns
​Ranjit Singh, National Official Equality and Diversity
Chris Winters and Yvonne Pattison National Co-Chairs

I will keep you posted.

NNC review

Some time ago Michael Spurr indicated that he wanted to review the National Negotiating Council machinery in light of the impact of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme.

The unions replied to the effect that we thought it to be premature to undertake changes especially given the huge transitional agenda that we were coping with. At Xmas we met again with Mr Spurr and his officials, and following this we were invited to offer some thoughts about how some possible reforms could be initiated which take account of the NPS and CRC landscape.

Napo's Probation Negotiating Committee will meet soon to consider our 'without prejudice' suggestions that we have decided to put forward with Unison and GMB as an alternative to NOMs doing something precipitate like pulling out and bringing the whole edifice tumbling down. At the same time we have been trying to engage with CRC owners to convince them that a place still exists for them within the NNC which firstly acknowledges their desire to have guarantees around commercial confidentiality and secondly, allows them an opportunity to share in the important professional and technical issues that itrespective of our views about TR and its aftermath will hopefully bring benefits to probation service clients everywhere.

All this is going to be a challenge to say the least, and I will report further just as soon as I can. Meanwhile, I am happy to say that any suggestion that Napo are contemplating withdrawal from the NNC or that we are prepared to see our CRC Members cut adrift from existing National Bargaining arrangements are definitely not on our agenda.

Enjoy the weekend

Political Corruption

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According to the latest edition of Private Eye, SEETEC is the latest of the probation privateers to be in special measures for failing an audit, but Home Secretary Theresa May has a cunning plan for probation - give it to PCC's to sort out.

Now those with long memories will recall that Police and Crime Commissoners was a concept floated a long time ago by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange to replace Police Authorities. It was an idea that had no public support and their election three years ago recorded the lowest ever turnout with hundreds of thousands of spolit ballot papers, a fact that the government and Theresa May has conveniently swept under the carpet. This comment from yesterday summed it up nicely I thought:-
Democracy all round, then, as probation services and the modern version of borstal schools are handed on a plate to politically sponsored individuals who, at best, were shoe-horned into something like £65,000 a year PCC roles on the back of 30% of the votes from an average 15% turnout by the electorate. I'm not a statistician, but doesn't that effectively mean these quango's are being run by one person on the basis of getting the nod from just 5% of the electorate?
Like much of government policy nowadays, it was cooked up on the back of several fag packets and during her speech yesterday, even she admitted that at one point she felt it had all been a ghastly mistake. But only three PCCs have so far significantly disgraced themselves, none of them Tories, so relief all round and in fact completely unbeknown to the public, the decision has been made to give these barely-elected officials even more power over the Fire Service. 

In a very sneaky move last month, departmental responsibility for the Fire Service moved quietly from the Department for Communities and Local Government, back to the Home Office in readiness for what will effectively become a merger of police and fire service functions under the joint control of PCCs. But clearly Theresa May feels suitably emboldened in her empire-building to now actively consider adding youth justice, probation and education to her portfolio:-
"But in the future, I would like to see the PCC role expanded even further still. Together with the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, I have been exploring what role PCCs could play in the wider criminal justice system. This is something that I have long believed in and which a number of PCCs have shown interest in. As they say, there is a reason that we included the words “and crime” in PCC’s titles.
So after the May elections, the Government will set out further proposals for police and crime commissioners. Because as a number of PCCs have argued, youth justice, probation and court services can have a significant impact on crime in their areas and there are real efficiencies to be had from better integration and information sharing. We have yet to decide the full extent of these proposals and the form they will take, but I am clear that there is significant opportunity here for PCCs to lead the same type of reform they have delivered in emergency services in the wider criminal justice system.  
And there are other opportunities too. As Adam Simmonds has argued, I believe the next set of PCCs should bring together the two great reforms of the last Parliament – police reform and school reform – to work with and possibly set up alternative provision free schools to support troubled children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.
And alongside the expansion of PCC responsibilities, the development of powerful directly elected mayors provides a fantastic opportunity, where there is local agreement and boundaries make sense, to bring together policing with local transport, infrastructure, housing and social care services under a single directly elected mayor. I know many PCCs have engaged with local proposals, and I would encourage them to continue to do so - because I am clear that PCCs’ consent is a prerequisite for the inclusion of policing in any mayoral deal."
Now there's another funny thing - mention of 'Elected Mayor's'. I seem to remember the public were not too keen on them either. When John Prescott floated the idea years ago up in Durham and the North East, it was roundly rejected in a referendum and similarly where I live, electors comprehensively gave it the thumbs down. So how is it we're getting one imposed on us by George Osborne and Central Government anyway? 

So lets get this right. The public didn't want PCCs, didn't turn out to vote for them and many that did, spolit their ballot papers. The public don't know who they are, what they do or who is standing for election because candidates do not qualify for a free mailout. During the election for PCCs there will be no mention of the proposed new powers, that will only be decided after they are get elected. 

What was the title of Theresa May's speech? Why, 'Putting People in Charge' of course! Oh how the English language has been utterly corrupted by politicians.    

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Sodexo Joins Wimpy

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We knew they were coming, well here's the first glimpse of what Sodexo's new 'Wimpy bar' style interview booths look like, but according to facebook and a lot of hard work by Andrew S. Hatton, the reaction has not been favourable:-  

OMG - we are going to talk about child protection issues in here, with a predator next door, or someone who would decide to do some vigilante action? Even just checking someones address? I would be embarrassed to talk, never mind a client. Confidentiality?

Sodexo have no interest in health and safety, confidentiality, or public protection. All that nonsense is far too expensive and would make a huge dent in their profit.

I really don't think these companies that have taken us over understand the type of people we deal with. This situation needs to be relooked at.

Or maybe Sodexo (and the government) don't believe they have the right to be treated with respect, and, therefore, don't actually care.

What immediately comes to mind is health and safety. As we know we deal with unpredictable behaviour from some of offenders we work with. How on earth could this be managed in this setting? The impact that could then have on others being interviewed in such close proximity doesn't bear thinking about. Unacceptable and intolerable.

I would love to see the research feeding into the engagement and health and safety policies for this 'American Diner' focus! Smacks of enabling concerned and informed Offender Managers to ask closed questions only, to ensure you spend as little a time as possible with Service Users!

Apparently Sodexo are solving the issue of conversations being overheard by applying for a music licence to drown out the chat from the booths.... 'Course thats going to work....NOT!

What about issues with gangs? All open and can be seen! Concerns about disclosure - imagine telling someone you are recalling or breaching them and their friends or family are sat in the next booth and over hear this.

I'm still in shock, no trust can be built up, that moment when you finally gain trust and get somewhere with them will be completely taken away. It will be nothing more than going through the motions with them. Everything probation stood for is being thrown away.

What about the male offenders who play up to the crowd and love an audience?! Taking them into a private room used to allow you to unpick that veneer.... Now they're gonna just play up to the audience in the waiting room! How do you calm them down with an audience?! This is dangerous.

How on earth can you have a private conversation about intimate and personal aspects of people's lives? Everything will be so superficial. Perhaps that's what they want? If you don't know about risk you can't be held responsible for risk?!

Welcome to Tory ideology. This is not about public protection, rehabilitation or staff welfare, it's about maximising profit for share holders at any cost. I wonder how many MP's or their friends and family are involved in these companies and waiting to reap the financial benefit? After 20 years involved in criminal justice I did not think things could get much worse, wrong.


Now, somewhat interestingly, the Probation Institute seems to be discovering its bark and it just so happens has very recently published the first of a series of position papers entitled 'Principles for office arrangements' and I quote (my highlighting):-

Principle No. 3:
In any office environment there must be private space for confidential and difficult conversations.

At the heart of engagement between probation and service users is the gaining of mutual respect to encourage the rehabilitative endeavour. This is not possible where arrangements are inadequate to deliver a secure and private space for such conversations. A current trend towards the use of pods with half height screens between them is inappropriate and cannot be condoned. Whilst the worker needs arrangements where they can be safe this has always been possible in conventional interview rooms and this should be the norm. Sufficient space must be available so that all such interviews can be conducted in the right therapeutic and safe environment. Workers are asking service users to be open and honest in their interactions this is simply not possible if their conversations can be overheard.

Principle No: 4:
Open plan arrangements must facilitate workers to develop good working practices with service users

Evidence suggests that open plan can cause stress and lower productivity, particularly for work that requires contemplation and thought. Noise, such as phones ringing or colleagues chatting, is a problem for concentration and distracts workers from tasks requiring concentration, complex processing and creative thinking. Few can work without interruption and many staff find it a major source of stress which is exacerbated when workload demands are high. Blueprints for change which may look convincing on paper are not worth the anticipated savings if not conducted with worker satisfaction in mind. Workers and service users should be consulted and their views taken on board when open plan arrangements are being introduced.

Principle No 5:
Open plan arrangements must ensure that there are no costs to the physical well being of their staff

Although introducing open-plan offices may appear cheaper in the short-term, providers must acknowledge the indirect costs to the wellbeing, performance and retention of staff. One piece of research reported that ‘people who work in open-plan offices are less healthy. They typically experience more headaches, fatigue and stress-related illness, and are at increased risk of infectious diseases’ (Kinman and Garfield, 2015) Probation’s productivity comes from its staff and such a finding should give rise for concern about introducing practices which would increase stress and dissatisfaction already experienced by the dislocation caused by the new spilt arrangements.


The PI is in favour of making the most of more modern arrangements for office accommodation but urges serious attention to the evidence base which challenges the conventional wisdom that open plan is the best and only solution. Staff understand the arrangements which enable them to work effectively and their views are crucial to the construction of workable arrangements. Service users can be unpredictable and care must be exercised to introduce arrangements which protect the security and well-being of staff, accessibility and inclusivity, adaptability, openness and interaction across workspaces as well as ecological sustainability.

Latest From Napo 96

Newsletter for Napo Working Links CRC members Feb 2016 Edition 2

As reported in Justice News (29th January), consultations with Working Links and the employers continued last Friday (29th Jan.) at a cross-CRC union meeting. From a union perspective, this meeting was far from satisfactory. As reported in Edition 1 of this newsletter, we had been promised detailed written proposals (a Consultation Document) early in the New Year. In the event, and this was not reported in Justice News, this documentation was only sent out to some of us, less than 48 hours before the meeting. Even then, it was incomplete and for a variety of reasons most if not all union reps at the meeting had not even had sight of the consultation pack before the meeting started. We were not therefore in any position to respond in a considered way to the information. This meeting could not be described as either timely or meaningful. The agenda for the meeting was set by Working Links, despite the fact that we had submitted agenda items – more on this later. 

The Working Links Way 
Thus it is only since the meeting that we have been able to digest the full impact and our worst fears are confirmed in respect of the implications of the ‘Working Links Way’ of operating into the future. Utilising the BRAG system, it will mean that low risk (Green rating) service users will receive little or no face to face contact with those staff actually managing their orders. They will be subject to a group induction and thereafter, the ‘channels of delivery’ will consist of a combination of remote interaction/media (? – we take this to mean phone conversations with staff in Operational Hubs), selfdelivery (? DIY?) and attendance at community hubs utilising the Working Links Directory of Services which we have not yet seen. In our view, there is a very significant risk that, in the long run, this model will prove counter-productive in terms of the throughput of work into the CRCs as the NPS and more importantly the courts come to understand that the level of service provided to low risk offenders involves little or no face to face contact with case managers. It is not clear how this model will impact on UPW requirements but here too remote case management is promoted and again we have concerns about how this will operate. 

We have previously reported that the worst case scenario would see nearly 600 staff across the three CRCs losing their livelihoods. On Friday, the employers reported that the anticipated loss of staff was now nearer 500. 

Enhanced voluntary redundancy terms 
There is nothing in the information pack to confirm that there is still an intention on the part of Working Links to offer the Enhanced Voluntary Redundancy terms to all staff at risk of redundancy through the four phases of implementation over 15 months to the Spring of 2017. This is disappointing in light of their previously reported intentions. The unions will be challenging WL over this, but the fear is that, certainly in the latter phases, these terms will no longer be offered. 

Early phases of implementation 
Corporate support staff are already subject to redundancy and the next part of this plan is the testing and roll-out of Operational Hubs. The first of these is already indicated in the latest Justice News. Through the somewhat oddly named ‘proof of concept’, WL are indicating that these will be piloted but there is little or no evidence that these pilots will be reviewed and analysed prior to roll-out. This will be linked to radical re-organisation of admin. staff as reported in our last edition. The promised briefing to staff to clarify the position (and apologise for mis-communication) before Christmas was never issued and the only reference that we can find is in Justice News (11 January) and the following statement: “ We are consulting with the unions about the proposed future changes and we have already adapted our approach in line with some of their feedback. In particular around the timelines for the proposed offer we had originally scheduled for VR for administrators, to allow us to share further information on our proposals.” Administrators may anticipate further communication from the three employers imminently. 

Organisational Change Policy 
Napo has tabled this draft policy with Working Links and we await their response. The intention is to bring a transparent and understandable structure to bear on the organisational changes and their impact on staff – redundancy, alternative employment, job matching etc.

Who is who and what is what? 
Again as reported in our last edition, we continue to be concerned about the lack of clarity as regards the identities particularly of the two SW CRCs (BGSW & DDC) and who works for which – in senior management. This problem does not afflict Wales CRC although across all three CRCs we are also exercised by the blurring of boundaries as between the CRCs (supposedly independent companies) and Working Links itself. Working Links and senior managers seem both reluctant to acknowledge that this is causing confusion and also reluctant to engage with the unions over our concerns. We tabled it as an agenda item last Friday – ignored. 

Missing information 
At our forum meeting on 15th December, as well as both prior to it and subsequently confirmed in writing, we requested a list of information (see last edition – items 1-14). Last Friday we received, for the first time, some more meaningful but still incomplete S.188 information. We await a full information set here together with information under items 3,4,5,6 & 14. We also await the WAV workshop. All was promised at our December meeting. 

Series of meetings 
Further consultation meetings with the employers were proposed on a monthly basis. This was towards the end of the Consultation Document with which we were presented on Friday and the item was never reached in our discussions. However the next meeting might be anticipated later this month. 

Commitment to meeting legal requirements over consultations 
Working Links and the three employers are indicating that they will meet the requirement under the Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Essentially this is around meaningful consultation and minimum periods for consultation. We imagine that the requirement over minimum periods will be met, but consultations need to get a whole lot more meaningful than last Friday. 
Members are asked to feed back to us on their thoughts over the innovative proposals from Working Links - The ‘Working Links Way’ – please respond via your local branch and staffside reps so we can in turn feed back collectively to Working Links on the views of our members. If you want to know more about the support and advice we provide to members go to, call Napo on 0207 223 4887 or email your link national official Mike McClelland –

Monday, 1 February 2016

Prison Realities

A new Chief Inspector of Prisons is now in post and it will be interesting to say the least to see what he makes of things. In the mean time, lets remind ourselves what the outgoing inspector thinks. Here's an edited version of Nick Hardwick's interview for the Guardian:-  

‘You shouldn’t do this job for long because you get used to things you shouldn’t’

The outgoing chief inspector of prisons is explaining why he is so keen to get out of the job. It’s not the budget fights Nick Hardwick had with the Ministry of Justice, nor the fact that he wasn’t actively encouraged to apply for another five-year stint. It’s not even the fact that the previous secretary of state for justice, Lord Grayling, “robustly” tried to influence him – as Hardwick revealed to a select committee last week.

No, he simply feared that he was becoming desensitised; that he was getting prison-horror fatigue. “You shouldn’t do this job for too long because you get used to things you shouldn’t get used to,” he says. “I’ll give you an example of something that is objectively shocking, but how do you keep the outrage going? Take the level of self-harm and suicide. On one level, one bit of your brain is thinking, ‘Oh well, they’ve only had two suicides since we were last here, good.’ On another level, that is appalling.”


If Hardwick has got compassion fatigue, he’s making a good job of hiding it. His outrage could not be more visceral. Throughout his five years as chief inspector, he has been an outspoken critic of the conditions he found in the prisons of England and Wales.

When Hardwick took up his post in 2010, the incoming coalition government promised a “rehabilitation revolution”. In his final annual report, in 2015, the chief inspector said he was “still waiting for this to happen”. The same report quoted an inspection at Wormwood Scrubs in which a guard urged him to look at cells the officer “wouldn’t keep a dog in” – broken windows, filthy, inadequately screened toilets and cockroaches everywhere.

But perhaps the most telling verdict on the system he leaves is the stream of reports on the young offender institutions he and his team visited towards the end of his tenure. To quote from his 2014 inspection of Glen Parva YOI, “this is a model of custody that does not work”. He said the same about virtually every YOI he inspected, citing rising levels of violence and self-harm; young men locked idle in their cells 23 hours a day; 30 minutes outdoor exercise the norm. The situation is so bad in the YOI estate that Hardwick took the decision to inspect them annually, instead of every three or four years, which is the norm across the penal estate.

While the outspoken Hardwick has had his critics, he has also had plenty of supporters. Surprisingly, justice minister Michael Gove appears to be one of them. This week he announced that Hardwick would be the new head of the Parole Board. It’s an interesting choice, given that Hardwick does not believe that many of those incarcerated in England and Wales for minor crimes should be there in the first place. But, he makes clear, the new job will largely be dealing with very different people – serious offenders, who should have been sent to prison.


Hardwick says there are so many problems with our prisons. For starters, they don’t prepare you to return to society. “What a good prison does is teach you to be a good prisoner, so it teaches you to be compliant, not to use your initiative, to do what you’re told, to rein in your emotions, and that isn’t necessarily what you need to do to be a good citizen, or a good parent.” Prisons are based on rigid rules, he says, and another problem is that most prisoners are no good at following rules – that’s why they ended up in prison in the first place.

And then there’s the issue of who is in there in the first place. The more time he spent in prison, the more he wondered whether many of those locked up should have been. “It is striking the number of people in prison who are obviously ill, who have either got mental health problems or substance-abuse issues.

“At one end of the spectrum, you have people who are clearly ill who definitely shouldn’t be in prison, and we need to find ways of diverting them out of the criminal justice system.” These are by no means the only prisoners he fears for. “Then there is a bigger group in the middle who may not be ill per se, but certainly struggle to cope. If we had better care in the community – not just in a sense delivered by the state, but actually if we all took a bit more care of each other – then some of those people could be managed much better in the community than prison.” He accepts such people can be difficult, that many are a “nuisance”, but he still insists that they should not be in prison for minor crimes.

Roughly how many of the 86,000 people locked up in England and Wales is he talking about? “I’m talking about a very large proportion of the prison population.”


He segues to another issue that has concerned him in his half-decade as chief inspector – asylum seekers detained in immigration removal centres. And here he is almost hissing with anger. Locking up asylum seekers is simply an abuse of power, he suggests. “These people haven’t been convicted of anything, and they’re detained on the say-so of a relatively junior civil servant. If you lock someone up in a detention centre, you are punishing them. Whether that’s your intention or not, you are. Right? Even if you’re trying not to run it like a prison. Even if you have the best staff in the world, right, it’s still a prison.” And the bottom line is, he says, most detained asylum seekers have not committed a crime. “It should be very exceptional that you lock someone up without going before a court, and at the moment, it’s simply not exceptional enough.” He returns to the junior civil servant. “It ought to be a huge decision to lock someone up, and the problem is that if you make a huge decision often enough, it becomes not such a huge decision; it becomes routine.”

Hardwick believes there are two major failings with policymakers – “lack of imagination and failure of empathy”. “Too many policymakers do not ask themselves the crucial question: ‘How would I react if I were in that situation, and why are people in prison in the first place?’”

For Hardwick, the most striking example is children. In fact, he says, if he had the clout to close down any institution and start again from scratch, he would do so with youth prisons. “If I could, I would bear down on the juvenile estate, because these are the buildings that are least fit for purpose. Children should be held in much smaller, more caring places, he says. He talks about the time he visited one institution and a boy asked him for help. “I said, ‘What can I do?’ and he said, ‘I want to go home to my mummy, and echhhhh … ’” He chokes up and can’t complete his sentence. “Then another boy in healthcare was just lying in his bed with his blanket pulled over his head. I went away thinking I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a call over the weekend saying any of those boys had hurt themselves.” He pauses, and drinks his coffee from a navy blue NYPD mug. “And that was not an uncaring place. But you think: oh God!”

He hates the way these kids are so often referred to as young people, as if to disguise the fact that they children. “I went on the warpath about the boy who wanted to go home to his mummy, and got him into a hospital.” Again, he pauses. “And they are boys – largely boys – and girls, they are not young people.”

We have the ultimate duty of care to the children we lock up, he says, and we are currently failing them. “The kids in custody are our most troubled children; school teachers, social workers, community workers, all these skilled professionals have not been able to get through to them, so what do we do? We put them in an institution with loads [of others] just like them. It’s bonkers, right? Bonkers. And we could afford to take these children and have them in smaller units with the skilled professional staff and staffing ratios to be able to make headway. There are not so many of them that it would break the bank.” You’re only talking about around 1,000 children, he says.

Again, he says, it goes back to empathy – or lack of it. “Once the state decides to take over the parental responsibility of a child, it has obligations to do all it can for them. If it was our own children in those places, or in that level of need, you would move heaven and earth to try to sort them out and help them. Well, these are our children; we should be moving heaven and earth to try to make a difference and we don’t.”

Last week, he told the justice select committee how his independence had been undermined. For starters, he had to have his budget cleared on a weekly basis for inspections, which resulted in him threatening to suspend all inspections. The solution to this “absurd” situation is simple, he says. “The inspectorate should not be sponsored by the department that has direct operational experience with the things that we inspect. Right?” He mentions a conversation he recently had with a team of Russian inspectors and laughs. “I was going on about how important it is to be independent, and they said, ‘Well, who appoints you?’ I said, the Ministry of Justice, and they asked, ‘Who sets your budget?’ Well, that’s the Ministry of Justice, I said. And they go, ‘Ah, you mean that kind of independence!’”

The most alarming thing he said to the select committee last week was that Grayling “robustly” tried to influence reports.But he never went into details. Actually, he says now, that’s a slight misquote. “I said we had some very robust conversations with Chris Grayling – that was often after reports had been produced.”

But yes, he says, there is one particular report that he did try to change. “The only time he tried to deliberately try to influence a report was an annual report where he said, ‘This is what I think should be in your annual report’, and I said, ‘That’s very interesting,’ and then went away and wrote my report.” What did he try to change? “It was the last one, published this July, and I can’t for the life of me remember what he said should be in it, because I wasn’t taking much notice.”

Was it an issue of substance? “He was telling me the points he hoped I would make that were positive, and I didn’t think it was his place to say that.”

Can he give a general indication of the positive points he wanted made?

“I can’t remember, I didn’t take a note of what he said.” Really? He ums and ahs, looks at his PA, then finally comes out with it. “His general concern was that I had said the lack of staff, overcrowding and some of the policy changes that he had introduced had contributed to poor outcomes in prisons. I was very clear about that, and he disagreed very strongly with that conclusion.”

What does Hardwick think he has achieved in the job? Well, he says, women’s prisons are better than they were, and now most inspections are unannounced, whereas previously only half were, but he’s struggling for positives.

“The other achievement is much more modest,” he finally says. “In the adult estate, the reality is [that] things have got worse, and I think they would have been even worse were it not for us.” He smiles. “That’s probably not a great claim to make, is it?”


It seems Nick Hardwick is quite a fan of the excellent Prison UK blog by Alex Cavendish, as indeed I am, and no doubt he was chuffed when Nick agreed to an interview. Here are some edited highlights, but the whole is remarkably candid and well worth reading in full:-

Prison UK: You have been in post as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons since 2010. What do you consider has been the most challenging aspect of the Inspectorate’s work during your term in office?

Nick H: My time as Chief Inspector has coincided with a deterioration in safety and conditions in prison and that is shown both by our inspection findings, but also by the data that NOMS [National Offender Management Service] and the Prison Service itself publishes, including the very concerning figures just published.

One of the challenges for us... one of the big debates we’ve had, is that we knew a lot of these issues were beyond the control of individual prisons. There's a point where you think criticising a prison for the fact it was overcrowded and understaffed seems to be a criticism of the prison and its management when these issues weren’t an individual prison’s fault.

It sometimes felt unfair, but on the other hand we decided that if we weren’t describing as honestly and fully what was happening, it would be assumed we were saying what was happening was all right, when it wasn’t. It was difficult to chart the decline, but that’s what we felt we had to do.

Prison UK: In recent years the prison population in England & Wales has hit a record high of over 86,000 and although numbers have now fallen slightly, most prisons are at - or over – their certified capacity. What practical impacts have you seen on the stability and safety of prisons?

Nick H: It’s not for the Chief Inspector of Prisons to say how many people should be in prison, but it is for me to say that the facilities need to match the size of the population. Which they don’t.

People – particularly politicians – see overcrowding purely in term of physical overcrowding: two men crammed in a cell designed for one. Now that’s not acceptable and you go into some of these places where you have a tiny cell with an unscreened toilet and people are locked in there 23 hours a day. They may not be dangerous to each other, but they may just not get on.

That is unacceptable, but beyond that, what overcrowding means also is that prisons don’t have the activities places, the number of telephones on the landings, space in the showers, offender supervisors. It’s more than just physical space. It means that the resources for the population are not adequate to meet their needs.

So when people say they want prisons to do all these things – from rehabilitation to more education, to keeping prisoners safer to dealing with extremism – there are too many prisoners and not enough staff to do it. It’s important that we look at overcrowding beyond simply how many people there are in a cell to what is the capacity of a prison over a whole range of activities.

Prison UK: I think it is fair to say that the relationship between HM Inspectorate and the Ministry of Justice has been strained in recent years. How has that tension affected the work of HMIP? Is the situation improving?

Nick H: It’s well known that I have had a pretty robust relationship with Chris Grayling and I think he’d say the same. If the relationship was strained, in some ways that’s as it should be. There should be a degree of tension between the Inspectorate and the Ministry.

We will sometimes be critical of things ministers are directly responsible for and they won’t like that. It’s fair enough for them to come back at us and say ‘we don’t agree with what you’re saying.’ For someone in my post, if you haven’t got the stomach for that, then you’re probably in the wrong job.

I’ve always thought it was important to preserve the independence of the Inspectorate. Sometimes it has been necessary to draw a line pretty firmly in the sand and that happened the other day in the Justice Committee. But I think that tensions and strains are a sign of things working themselves out… which is as it should be.

It is legitimate for an elected politician to want to ensure their view of the world is the one that is implemented. They are elected, I’m not. It is perfectly legitimate for me to say that there are certain standards below which you can’t fall and sometimes the way that gets worked out leads to a bit of a clash, but I don’t think that’s unhealthy. I think people should be worried if everything was sweetness and light the whole time.

We’ve had a stormy passage lately. A point of tension will come when the MOJ’s budgets are under threat, so they are looking at ours. I’ve made the point about our operational independence.

I hope people will see us as independent and when we are critical, we’re critical. But also when we are positive, that’s genuine and our independent view.

I think a lot of the things Michael Gove is talking about are absolutely right: more autonomy for governors; better focus on education; focus on decent conditions and looking at the juvenile estate. On one level it does feel like a new era. You listen sometimes to what he is saying and you think ‘crikey’. Now turning that into reality: that’s the big challenge to come, but the rhetoric matters. The tone at leadership level does filter through to what’s happening on the ground in prisons.

Even if there’s no policy changes and no strategic changes, if he is saying ‘that is what I want’ it will affect how staff behave. It empowers people.


Prison UK: At the time when your own appointment as Chief Inspector was coming up for renewal last year, you declined to reapply for your own post. You also commented publicly on why the MOJ role in the appointment process could involve a conflict of interest. How do you think this issue could be resolved?

Nick H: The issue here is we aren’t doing things for the Ministry of Justice; we are doing things to them. We are inspecting things for which they are operationally responsible. That’s what makes it inappropriate, in my view, for us to be sponsored by the MOJ.

Ministers have decided that position isn’t going to change… OK. In that case I think we need a much clearer protocol that sets out how that relationship is going to work. It should be published so people can see what it is. That’s what the Justice Committee in Parliament have asked for.

Prison UK: It was announced last week by Michael Gove that you have been appointed as the new Chair of the Parole Board for England & Wales. Given your recent candid comments concerning the MOJ and its attempts to interfere in the work of HMIP, do you think that your acceptance of this very senior appointment may puzzle some observers?

Nick H: I suppose it could do. This definitely didn’t come out of the blue. I applied for it. I think the issues are different. With the Parole Board it’s a different role. I’m not making decisions about the Ministry of Justice. The Inspectorate is making findings and judgments about things the MOJ has done. The Parole Board isn’t doing that. It’s making decisions on behalf of the department. So I don’t think the issues are the same.

There were a number of reasons I didn’t reapply for the Chief Inspector’s job. One is that I’ve done it for too long. You get used to things, so it’s important you get in some fresh blood and a new pair of eyes. It was time to move on.

Prison UK: Some critics might suggest – rather unkindly – that the Parole Board post is a convenient manoeuvre by Michael Gove to silence your criticism of what has been going wrong in our criminal justice system? How would you respond to such comments?

Nick H: I applied for the job myself. No-one asked me to apply, so that’s that point. I wouldn’t in any case get into my successor’s hair too much. Whatever I was doing, I wouldn’t comment in the same way as I would in this job. But also I’m going to have another role as a professor of criminal justice with Royal Holloway at the University of London, so on that basis I will be able to use the knowledge I have, both as having been Chief Inspector and from the Parole Board, to continue to improve the system. There was certainly no suggestion from Gove that I should apply [for the Probation post].

Prison UK: Unlike he did with telephoning Peter Clarke…

Nick H: Everybody says that, but I think people are being a bit fussy about it. Throughout my working life, sometimes when I have been recruiting people and I have a vacancy, I’ve said to people ‘we’ve got a vacancy coming up and I’d like to see an application. No promises though. Once you get there it will be whoever is best on the day.

I think people are getting over-fussed about that. I don’t personally have a problem with people being encouraged to apply for a job. I think that will happen in any walk of life. Once you get to the selection process itself, it should be a level playing field.

Prison UK: The Parole Board itself has been the subject of much criticism especially for delays in scheduling hearings for lifers and IPPs. Some reports suggest that the acknowledged delays of up to six months are actually closer to 18 months in some cases. Do you believe that these issues can be addressed without additional resources?

Nick H: It is too early for me to say yet. It is certainly important that the Parole Board clears its backlog. That’s in everybody’s interest. If there are people in prison who don’t need to be in prison, then that’s crazy. It needs to be able to get its backlog down and if that requires extra resources then that is what I’ll be saying, but it’s too early and I wouldn’t want to jump the gun that. Certainly, let’s see if we can get the backlog down. That’s the number one priority.

Prison UK: You have also recently accepted an appointment as Professor of Criminal Justice at Royal Holloway, University of London. What do you hope to contribute to the ongoing debate about criminal justice policy?

Nick H: There’s no doubt, when you look at the recent debate in Parliament about penal reform that there is a degree of consensus about the need for reform that I can’t remember before in my lifetime. There’s an opportunity now that I think is very rare. There are job opportunities for prisoners that weren’t around before, the employment market’s better. There are possibilities now that haven’t existed for a long time.

What I would hope to do is use my experience, both in this role and from roles I’ve had before, to support colleagues at Royal Holloway to make an academic contribution to that debate. I’m pleased that I’ve got a role that will enable me to play a part in that and I’m looking forward to it.

Prison UK: Will you have a teaching role?

Nick H: I’ll certainly do some teaching. It’s a new area, although I already do occasional lectures for students. The whole academic sphere is a different world that I’m not yet used to.

The thing about understanding prisons isn’t simply a question of knowledge. It’s also a question of empathy. If you want to try and understand how people behave, how you might influence those behaviours, then you have to get your head around what it feels like to be in prison. It’s very difficult to understand that if you’ve never been in prison.

When you arrive in reception – first of all you have to take off your top, then your bottoms… What’s going through your head when that goes on? How do you navigate the wing when you first arrive and work out what to do? How does all of that work?

If you can begin to imagine it just a bit, if you can empathise in that sense, then it’s much better for people who are going on to these professions or to do academic work. I think you need to start with empathy, what it’s really like. So I’d like to contribute some of that to students.

I'd also say that one of the great dangers for those people who are interested in prison reform is that is sometimes seems to be a different agenda to care about the victims of crime. I think it’s very important that we talk about the two things together. If we can reform and rehabilitate, then we’ll have fewer victims in the future, so these things are not opposites. This is in everybody’s interest. We want people to leave prison less likely to reoffend than when they went in.

Prison UK: If you had to give one piece of good advice to Peter Clarke, your successor as Chief Inspector, what would it be?

Nick H: It’s very striking that in his first week he went to two prisons and he spent three days in prisons out of the five. I would say keep doing that. My advice would be spend as much time in prison, talking to prisoners, as you possibly can to start with. If you want to know what is going on in prisons, ask prisoners. If you ask enough of them you will get a pretty accurate picture of what is happening. And that is exactly what Peter appears to be doing.

Prison UK: Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of the blog?

Nick H: While I’ve been doing this job, there have been lots of people who’ve spoken to me as I’ve been going round, both serving and former prisoners, as well as those who’ve written to me, who’ve messaged me via Twitter – the whole community – and I’ve had a lot of help from them. So I’d like to thank them all, if I may, through your blog.

Stop Press

Great to see that the Prison UK interview is getting national attention thanks to a piece by Ian Dunt on the website:- 
Parting shot: Prison inspector steps down with last blast at Grayling
The prison system is declining in safety and conditions with more threats on the horizon, the outgoing prisons inspector has warned. Nick Hardwick, who is stepping down later this year, issued a parting shot to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and, in particular, former justice secretary Chris Grayling in a series of media interviews over the weekend. Speaking to the influential blog Prison UK, Hardwick pinned the blame for overcrowded and deteriorating prisons directly on the MoJ. "My time as chief inspector has coincided with a deterioration in safety and conditions in prison," he said.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Serious Further Offence 3

Another unsettling report from the Plymouth Herald by their intrepid crime reporter Carl Eve:-

Report into authorities' treatment of Tanis Bhandari killer will not be made public

The Herald learned a Serious Further Offence review was carried out in the wake of Mr Bhandari's death on New Year’s Day, after it was found that one of his killers - Donald Pemberton - was arrested two weeks before the murder having been spotted on CCTV brandishing weapons the previous night.

Pemberton had only recently served two months of a four-month sentence – for having a sharp article in a public place – and had been released from prison in mid-November 2014.

Court records show Pemberton was listed to appear at Plymouth Magistrates Court on January 16, 2015 as a result of the December 15 incident, for failing to comply with the terms of his licence.

His licence terms stated he was “to be well behaved, not commit any offence and not do anything which could undermine the purpose of your supervision, which is to protect the public, prevent you from reoffending and help you to resettle successfully into the community”. The case was relisted for January 23 but the offence was then withdrawn “at the request of probation”.

The Herald made a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice to determine what – if any – action was taken by Pemberton’s probation officers between December 16 and New Year’s Eve, 2014 to modify his behaviour. Sources at Plymouth’s probation service told The Herald this could have included putting him before a magistrate for the breach of his licence within days of his arrest.

Pemberton was found guilty of murder following a trial and along with Ryan Williams, was last month jailed for life with a minimum tariff of 23 years.

The Ministry of Justice, passed the request to the National Offender Management Service who in term passed it to Working Links, a public-private-voluntary partnership which won the bid late in late 2014 to run probation services as a Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) in the South West.

Since the Probation Service was controversially part-privatised by the Government, debate has raged over how accountable and transparent the new system would be. At the time the probation union NAPO said it vehemently opposed the government’s plans, predicting chaos and risks to public safety.

Serious Further Offence reviews are not made public, but a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said families of victims were entitled to a summary of the review.

A spokesman for the Dorset, Devon & Cornwall (DDC) Probation CRC said the families of those attacked by Pemberton would first be contacted by the Witness Care Unit, based in Plymouth Crown Court and run by the Crown Prosecution Service and police. A Victim Summary Report of the Serious Further Offence review would be prepared – but only if it had been requested by the families of those affected by Pemberton’s actions.

The Herald has spoken to Steven Sharpe, the stepfather of Tanis Bhandari who revealed that the family had not at any stage been approached by the Witness Care Unit and were not made aware they were entitled to any kind of review of how probation officers dealt with Pemberton in the weeks leading up to their son’s murder. The Witness Care Unit has refused to respond to The Herald’s inquiries.

In response to requests about the decision making process following Pemberton’s arrest for affray and the subsequent murder two weeks later, a DDC CRC spokesman said: “We recognise the tragedy of this incident and our deepest sympathies are with the family.

“After being made aware of the arrest in December, processes were being followed to tackle the person’s behaviour. All decisions were made and supervised by fully-qualified and experienced probation workers. Public safety is our highest priority. It is our job to help people desist from crime but we will not be successful in every case. “We strive continuously to improve the effectiveness of our services so that fewer crimes are committed by offenders managed by us. But the person responsible for this crime is now convicted and serving his sentence.

“As we continuously look for improvement, we have rigorously reviewed the specific issues identified in the case and are implementing a plan of action. We have worked with the National Probation Service, police and other partners to review and enhance our robust processes. In particular, we have improved communication with partner agencies and we are working with the police to improve access to intelligence to help us monitor offenders better and further provide timely, relevant services tailored to their situation.

“In addition, as part of Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, our service delivery and subsequent results are now more transparent than ever, ensuring the government and taxpayers can hold us to account.”

The DDC CRC spokesman told The Herald that Working Links and the Community Rehabilitation Companies are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act and that Serious Further Offence reports were not “public documents”.

A successful petition was launched last year to ensure a full SFO review into the monitoring of David Braddon, of Caerphilly, South Wales was made public. Conner Marshall, aged 18 was murdered by Braddon in March 2015. At the time Braddon was under probation’s supervision for assaulting a police officer and drug offences.

The summary report released to Mr Marshall’s parents claimed that there was “nothing the offender manager could have done which would have predicted or prevented the offence”. Mr Marshall’s parents launched a petition to be allowed access to the full report and after thousands signed it, they were told by the Ministry of Justice the full report would be released to them.

The Herald has also learned that the Crown Prosecution Service were unaware Pemberton had been arrested for affray on December 16 – when he was seen with the two meat cleavers – until February 3, 2015 when a reviewing lawyer was asked to consider the murder charge. The paperwork for the December 16 2014 incident were sent later in February 2015 and a request for a charging decision on the affray matter was not made until February 26, 2015.

Devon and Cornwall Police have also launched their own internal investigation into the handling of Pemberton following his arrest on December 16, 2014. A spokesman said the force was “currently reviewing police involvement in this case and therefore are not able to advise further at this time.”


The last time I last looked, the story had generated the following comment:-

What is clear is that Working Links against its contract, has siphoned off Probation funding to support its other failing units.....An example here appertains to administration structures meant to be kept in place should Noms wish too reintegrate the CRC. Due to under estimating the cost of running bid to the tune of 40%, Working links is now shedding 600 posts. To find a privitised but government funded organisation to say they cannot respond to a FOI request is ludicrous meaning one way propaganda is appropriate in the Criminal Justice System. Trust me the place is a sham with bean counters with no OM experience running the DDC CRC into the ground.


I am aware the author and reporter Carl Eve reads this blog and has a keen interest in writing more about what exactly is going on in probation since privatisation.  

Stop Press 

This blog consistently warned the privateers that negative publicity would be a factor they would do well to take into account, that and the possibility of angry and disillusioned staff learning the art of spilling the beans, something professionally they have never considered before. Here we have an example from the Cambridge News concerning BeNCH:-     

Private probation service for Cambridge branded 'reckless' amid crime increase fears

The privatisation of Cambridge probation services has been branded "reckless" amid fears of increase in crime and offenders being jailed for breaching orders as they now have to travel to Huntingdon.

Offenders who once attended their probation appointments at Warkworth Lodge, Warkworth Street, near Parkside police station, must now travel to Huntingon sparking anger. About 45 staff were based at Warkworth Lodge and worked for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Probation Trust's at the main office in Cambridge.

Sodexo has been put in charge of probation services in Cambridgeshire under the most far-reaching privatisation in the criminal justice system.

Daniel Zeichner, Cambridge's MP, said: "I and many others warned that the changes made to the Probation Service were reckless and would cause real harm – and had Labour won the election we would have stopped them. We are now seeing the consequences of those foolish changes introduced by the Coalition Government. When people have to travel much further, out of their own community, we know that rehabilitation is more likely to fail. In recent weeks we have seen the disgraceful way G4S have been treating young offenders, and it is now very clear that there are substantial problems in the probation and justice system which the Government needs to address urgently."

A probation service insider in Cambridge, who did not wish to be named, said: "There is a lot of worry that because the low to mid-range offenders will now have to travel to Huntingdon to get support and to attend court ordered appointment there will be many more breaches of probation orders. Magistrates are handing out probation sentences but I don't know if they are aware the offender has to travel to Huntingdon now. There will be a lot more breaches and more people will end up in prison or will re-offend."

The contracts, worth £450 million handed over 70 per cent of the work of the public probation service to private and voluntary sector providers as part of Grayling's Transforming Rehabilitation programme. The public probation service retained control of services for high-risk offenders.

A Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Community (Bench) Rehabilitation Company spokesperson said: "We are moving out of our existing offices and into new buildings, as we are changing the way we deliver probation services.

"Part of our approach is to introduce new IT systems to support mobile working, where staff will have the flexibility to meet offenders in the community, in their home or out of locally-based buildings. It is not the intention to ask offenders to travel long distances, we will take the service to them. Our new approach aims to ensure the right resources are in place to reduce reoffending, protect the public and change lives."

Saturday, 30 January 2016

A Bumpy Road to Redemption

So, the end of another week sees Gove reverse yet another Grayling policy, this time on Legal Aid. According to the written announcement, the lawyers victory was as much down to the likely cost of the MoJ having to fight 99 law suits as anything, but no matter, they won, commonsense won and now it's just us left as we continue to suffer Grayling's TR omnishambles. 

Of course the extra good news is that it looks as if NOMS is earmarked to get the chop in order to pay for this particular policy reversal. In relation to this, I'm grateful to regular reader ML for drawing my attention to the following parliamentary evidence at EV 84 from Martin Narey in 2011. 

Although I'm not a particularly great fan of Narey, he was the first Director General of NOMS and has some absolutely fascinating things to say that shed some useful light on things subsequently. Given our current situation and that of the prison system with a staggering 85,000 plus incarcerated, I feel it's entirely appropriate to be reminded of what he said back in 2011, not just in the context of the likely demise of NOMS, but also in relation to the political and economic realities Gove faces with any prison reform.

I'm sorry it's long, but I feel it's important to be reminded of certain things as we consider how to get Gove to accept the urgent need to re-look at probation and how crap TR is and how it's definitely not fit for purpose. I've edited the exchanges remove 'chit chat'.  

Monday 23 May 2011 Justice Committee, Sir Alan Beith in the chair.

Q459 Chair: Mr Narey, welcome. We are very glad to have you with us..... I am going to start by asking you a few things about your past experience and then move on to where we are at now and what you think about how the system could be developed. Finally, there will be some discussion about evidence-based policy. You were the first Chief Executive of NOMS. This is not so much a personal question as an institutional question. To what extent do you think you were able to fulfil the purpose for which NOMS was created? 

Martin Narey: I didn’t, Sir Alan. Ultimately, I guess, that is why I resigned and moved on to do something else. I thought NOMS was a courageous venture but could have been delivered— 

Q460 Chair: Did you say, “This is courageous, Minister”? 

Martin Narey: No. I very much wanted to do it and we worked hard to achieve backing from No. 10, the Treasury and the Home Office all at once. But certain things happened. Ministers changed and the commitment changed. The absolute foundation for making NOMS a success was getting some handle on sentencing. When a change of Home Secretary led to the abandonment of that, I knew that NOMS couldn’t work. 

Q461 Elizabeth Truss: One of the issues that seems to have come up before the Committee when we have been looking at NOMS is the national nature of the structure and being quite siloed between the various services at a local level. What do you think was missing to prevent end-to-end offender management happening at a local level? 

Martin Narey: At the time that NOMS was created as part of a working group between the three Departments I have mentioned, the term “offender management” had barely been heard. What it was to me and what I wanted to do was give probation officers much more authority and influence over what happened to their offender when they were in prison, rather than the Prison Service, which I led for seven years, taking them over and doing what they thought was best. I thought that from the moment someone arrives in prison, unless they were a very long-term prisoner, the probation officer as the offender manager should be preparing for their release and making sure that the things that happen to that prisoner while inside, as far as the resources allow, contribute to a successful release. 

Q462 Elizabeth Truss: Why didn’t this happen at a local level? What were the barriers to that happening? Do you think the very existence of a national structure helped prevent that localism? 

Martin Narey: No, I don’t. I think difficult public services like Prison and Probation need some firm national direction. It is simply not remotely possible that any Home Secretary as was, Justice Secretary as now, would not want to direct the activities of those two very large services. They also needed driving and some reform. I inherited a Prison Service which was very much on the mend but had been in a mess. When I took over responsibility for the Probation Service I thought there were significant flaws in that service. We tried to drive improvements from the top while building up a great deal of autonomy at the local level. Probation chiefs, and indeed prison governors, continued to have very significant levels of autonomy to make the right decision for the offender in a particular case. 

Q463 Elizabeth Truss: Do you think having those existing structures, though, prevented the proper introduction of contestability—the fact you have existing bodies doing the commissioning who are already providers? 

Martin Narey: No, I don’t, Ms Truss. What happened with contestability was that, again, a change in Home Secretary and a lack of momentum in the process of establishing NOMS led to much less enthusiasm for contestability. I have been a public servant most of my life. There was a time, when I was a prison governor, when I was fiercely opposed to the use of the private sector in prisons. I was utterly wrong, and I am very proud of opening 10 of the 12 private sector prisons. They offered good value for money and, more importantly, they treated prisoners with decency and dignity. I wanted to introduce the role of the private sector much more widely in prisons and then in probation. The change of Home Secretary, when David Blunkett was succeeded by Charles Clarke, rather changed that. Charles was the Home Secretary, and, as was absolutely his right, he was persuaded by the TUC to take a gentler approach to contestability.

Q464 Elizabeth Truss: Do you think these two different cultures in the Prison Service and the Probation Service operating separately—and you have alluded earlier to having end-to-end offender management—could be restructured with the Probation Service being based out of prisons? How do you make it into a single end-to-end service, which hasn’t been done and you get different approaches, but ultimately the output should be the same? It should be to try and have people in the community who have been rehabilitated, regardless of whether that is in prison or in the community. 

Martin Narey: You are absolutely right about the cultures. Although there has been some merging of the cultures, they remain two very different services. The Probation Service is largely a graduate work force, and the Prison Service is largely prison officers, many of whom joined before there was even a requirement for five GCSEs. The cultures are very different......A big step into putting that right for me was to give greater influence to probation officers. When probation officers talked to me about when they were going into prisons that I was running, I was very struck about their sense that they weren’t treated with respect and that their opinion wasn’t taken seriously. I wanted to blitz through that and make sure that they were in charge of what happened to their offenders when they were in prison. 

Q465 Chair: You made a very interesting comment which would have been relevant to today’s discussions when you said that “for most of the people we incarcerated, the children and young people in particular, there was generally just too much poverty, too much disadvantage, too much educational failure and too much poor parenting for prisons to overcome”. 

Martin Narey: Yes; that is absolutely the case. I believe prisons can work. I worked in and out of prisons for 23 years and I regret not a day of it. In the right circumstances, prisons can make a dramatic difference. Relevant to the current debate, when people are just in prison for a handful of weeks and they don’t get any of the things that might address poor parenting and poor education, it is pretty much a waste of time, I am afraid. 

Q466 Mrs Grant: Do you think there are many similarities between the current Government’s plans and the original aspiration for NOMS? If you were the Chief Executive now, is there any particular advice that you would give the Government? 

Martin Narey: This might relate to your question, Chair, on evidence-led policy. The terrible problem with this issue is that you can have very intelligent and sound discussions within Ministries, and certainly historically within this Committee, but you get a very immature discussion in the media and the press. I think that the current Justice Secretary is absolutely right to try to get some measure of management over who goes to prison. He is absolutely right. It is something I believed in passionately, and that belief was the foundation of NOMS. What would have made NOMS a success was what was an historic agreement between David Blunkett, who was then Home Secretary, and Lord Chief Justice Woolf. They agreed that the prison population would not be allowed to rise above 80,000. It was about 76,000 at the time. We were on the verge of putting that into legislation. If that had happened, and through sentencing guidelines we had been able to manage the prison population a little better, then I am very clear that we could have found some of the resources to put into the probation side of NOMS to make offender management a success. 

Q467 Mrs Grant: How realistic is it to try or seek to reduce the cost of correctional facilities? 

Martin Narey: To reduce the cost? I am not close to correctional facilities now. I have been looking away for five years while I have been running Barnardo’s. I wouldn’t suggest that things can’t be done better and more efficiently. Greater use of competition will drive equality and costs in the provision of correctional services, but I don’t think correctional services are flush with cash. They are very hard-pressed because of the number of offenders that are going through the criminal justice system. 

Q468 Mrs Grant: What are the benefits and limitations of the recent decision to remove the regional tier of NOMS, in your opinion? 

Martin Narey: I have to say, Ms Grant, I am not very close to what is happening now. I couldn’t tell you what the current arrangements are. There has to be a balance between national direction and local autonomy. It is a nonsense to try to direct what happens to individual prisoners from the centre. If there is one line in the current Green Paper I disagree with very much, it is the suggestion that NOMS or prisons and probation have been dominated by a belief that Whitehall knows best. That is not the case at all. I think NOMS was built on very, very strong evidence about what was likely to work in dealing with offenders. In the very early years of NOMS, before it was overtaken by population problems, we did deliver for the first time statistically significant reductions in reoffending by prisoners. 

Q469 Chair: Can I put it to you that your model relies quite heavily on a degree of national management and you have tried to use national management opportunities that you have had to improve the service? But the climate might be changed much more dramatically if the same local or regional body was commissioning custodial provision as is commissioning non-custodial provision. At the moment, there is a provider which provides custody, whereas at local level a series of bodies have to find ways of providing not just probation and community payback but drug rehabilitation and all manner of other things. It is a completely separate process. If those two processes were brought together, would it not be more likely that you would see the kind of shift in resources that you would agree is necessary? 

Martin Narey: I think you would see that shift in resources if you could arrest the inexorable advance of the prison population. I am feeling a very old man these days. I can remember in my early years in the Prison Service working for a man called Alastair Papps.... We were horrified at that time at the prospect of a prison population which might reach 40,000. We now have a population of 85,000. There is no end to this. You only have to look at what is happening in California this week, where the courts are now directing the California legislature to reduce the prison population, because they are breaching any minimal sort of health regulations. You can’t feed the appetite of a media frenzy which suggests that more and more people need to be sent to prison. Until you can do that, I don’t believe you can get the rational redistribution of resources. I was an incredibly fortunate Director General of Prisons. I started in 1998. There was a lot of public spending. Jack Straw gave me a lot of money to pour into education and drug treatment, but the money I spent per prisoner barely increased at all over the seven years, because the number of prisoners rose just as fast as the money I was getting to educate them. I didn’t make the progress that I know I could have done with a reasonably static prison population. 

Q470 Mr Buckland: What you are saying is extremely interesting, but it would be wrong of us as a Committee not to challenge, perhaps, one of the assertions that you made, which was about the agreement reached between the then Lord Chief Justice and the then Home Secretary about putting a ceiling on prison numbers. Many people outside this room would say that putting targets and arbitrary numbers on the prison population masks the real problem here, which is the quality of the treatment of individual people within the criminal justice system, whether they be in prison or not, and the danger of imposing targets is that you then put an additional pressure on sentencers to take into account frankly inappropriate considerations when trying to assess the best outcome for the person they have in front of them. 

Martin Narey: I do understand that criticism. I stress that what was anticipated at the time between David Blunkett and the Lord Chief wasn’t a possibility that any judge would ever be told, “The prisons are full; you can’t use custody today.” The sentencing guidelines would be crafted in such a way as to influence the size of the prison population. It was open to the Lord Chief to come back to a future Home Secretary and say, “Look, we will need 81,000 places next year.” It didn’t mean that for all time the population wouldn’t have risen, but it would have locked down the population. I know people find that very difficult, but why are prisons alone a public service which we don’t ration? If I want some healthcare, if I am ill, I will have to wait in a queue. It is a much shorter queue than it once was, but I will have to wait in a queue for treatment. Today, no matter how many people are sent to prison, prison governors around the UK accept them all. 

Q471 Chair: That comes back to my earlier question of the judge or the magistrate sitting on the Bench with someone in front of them. If it is a custodial sentence, a van will roll up outside and take him away...If it is a drug treatment facility, he would have to inquire whether that is available and whether the resources are locally available for it. 

Martin Narey: That is right. One of the very small things you could do is delay the introduction of some custodial sentences. Prisons have a bit more space in summer and at Christmas. You could delay some sentences until space was available. 

Q473 Mr Buckland: This is totally off the brief, frankly, but this is an interesting exchange. You were certainly heavily involved at the time the custody plus proposals came forward. You remember the legislation was passed?... And everybody turned round and said, “How are we going to deliver this?” I just wondered whether you could very briefly talk us through your take on what is seen as a huge failure of both legislation and policy. Why did it fail? 

Martin Narey: It didn’t fail, because we didn’t try it. I was a great fan of custody plus. I spent a lot of my time running prisons and then moving to the Home Office to run prisons and probation. Unlike the current Chief Executive of NOMS, I was also the senior official advising on sentencing policy. The reason I thought custody plus was necessary was because I felt there were too many magistrates and judges who, for a given offence, could not swallow a community penalty, but they could if it was, say, seven days in Strangeways and then a community penalty. Every time I spoke to sentencers I was told over and over again that they could swallow a community penalty on that basis. I believe it was abandoned—I had resigned before it was abandoned—because it was considered that there would have been too much use of custody plus and there would have been a smaller use of straightforward community sentences. I am not sure how that opinion was arrived at. My view is that it could have been managed and it might have made quite a significant difference. The seven days would still have been pretty much a waste of time, but if that was the price to pay for getting people sentenced into the community, then I would have been very happy with it. I think it could have worked, and I still believe it could work. 

Q475 Mr Buckland: It would be particularly effective perhaps for first-time offenders, bearing in mind what we know about the disproportionate impact that even a short term of custody can have on a firsttime offender. 

Martin Narey: I hate to disagree, but I am not sure the evidence holds together for that. There are some very tempting statistics in this area. I remember once telling a previous Home Secretary, Jack Straw, that prison had a salutary effect on first-time offenders. Actually, I think I was wrong. The problem is that the sort of people who go to prison for their first offence have committed something pretty serious straight away, so they get more time in prison, they get more treatment and more rehabilitation. A lot of them have committed some offences which are not volume offences. This is not the young person repetitively committing criminal damage, burglary and theft. 

Q476 Mr Buckland: Perhaps I phrased it inelegantly. I should have said somebody who was facing custody for the first time, not necessarily somebody who had not been in the system. There will be people who build up to a position where suddenly they have committed an offence and the threshold is there. 

Martin Narey: Yes. 

Q477 Mr Buckland: Does the argument still hold water then, or do you think that perhaps this idea that you can make an impact in only a few days of custody and then go on to the custody plus option is overplayed? 

Martin Narey: It is very difficult. All that we know about deterrents is that, regrettably, prison is not a deterrent. Most of the offenders we are talking about here are young men, and you don’t have to spend very long with young offenders to realise that that is the case, because they never think through the consequences of their actions. The research shows that the thing that deters people from offending is the belief that they will get caught. Characteristically, a lot of the young men we lock up, no matter how inept their crime, somehow believe they won’t get caught. 

Chair: Can I draw you on to this business of the role of the Probation trust? 

Q478 Mr Buckland: Yes; that is a very interesting discussion. I want to come back to the commissioning issue. As a Committee, this is one of the issues that we have found is a potential problem, not for you but Probation trusts being providers, commissioners, cocommissioners all at once. How do you see that developing? 

Martin Narey: It is not ideal, but as a way of introducing some competition, I think it can be made to work. When I was Director General of Prisons— my job before taking over NOMS—I was running the public sector prison service but I was also a commissioner of the 12 private sector prisons. There are real problems with that, and sometimes private sector operators were worried whether they were going to get a fair deal from me. When I first returned a private prison back to the public sector, because the public sector had responded to the competition and really done well, the world pretty much fell around me with suggestions that there had been foul play. But, overall, it could be made to work, and it led to the private sector getting a very significant foothold in prisons. Private sector prisons, despite all the criticism of PFI, have continued to offer really good value relative to the public sector alternative. Prisons are hard to manage. The Prison Officers Association is an unreconstructed trade union. They survived all the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s almost unscathed. The world changed for me as Director General of Prisons when the POA understood I could go somewhere else and that I could find other people in terms of Serco and Group 4 to run jails. They started to reform as a trade union. The great benefit of privatisation in prisons was that we got a much better public sector work force. When we said to a prison, “You must dramatically improve in 12 months or we will put you on the market,” they invariably dramatically improved. 

Q479 Mr Buckland: Just developing that, some concern has been expressed by Probation trusts that making the provision of quite a proportion of their work subject to competition will fragment the service and may undermine the future viability of the trust themselves. Do you share that concern? 

Martin Narey: No. It is like saying that privatisation of telecoms fragmented the phone industry. We have all been massive beneficiaries of the fragmentation of that industry. Competition has made phones, which were once an expensive commodity, a very low cost indeed. There would need to be some management coordination. It is simply the case in my experience, and I felt exactly the same in the five years that I ran Barnardo’s, that services which are delivered without any form of competition are not likely to be wellrun services. Although the Probation Service is full of terrific, dedicated people, certainly when I was running it, I thought some things done by the Probation Service, such as the management of unpaid work or community punishment as it was, were done very badly and very expensively. I always suspected from my own observation that the statistics we read about the number of hours of unpaid work that are not completed were a significant underestimate. 

Q480 Ben Gummer: I appreciate your bracing honesty, especially after the few hours that we have spent in the Chamber. You make a very interesting parallel here with the phone industry. An economist will say that competition works best where you have common standards for information and transparency of information. In the phone industry you have GSM standards or whatever you choose to have, which allows everyone to work on a common platform. Yet my understanding of the way that prison and probation works now is that there is no commonality of information. So, from the police to the courts, the courts to prison, and prison to probation, let alone integration with education, if it is a youth offender, or social services, no one really exchanges much at all. That was a preface to saying, is it possible to create that interchange of information without a huge great Government IT project which won’t work, or is there another way of doing it? 

Martin Narey: Certainly as I left, and I doubt very much whether this has changed, there were some continuing problems with the so-called “level playing field”. I have observed that, for the last five years, in running a charity in local authority commissioning, Barnardo’s would compete for a lot of work that was previously delivered by local authorities, and sometimes I didn’t think local authorities got their costs right, and underestimated, for example, backroom and pension costs. That criticism could be aimed at the early privatisation that was taking place in prisons and probation. I think we still managed through that. The growth of the private sector in prisons, which has pretty much come to a halt in recent years, was a demonstration that there was a way of getting it right. Although competition might be imperfect, it was better than no competition at all. 

Q481 Ben Gummer: It can work reasonably well, therefore, in the absence of commonality of information. 

Martin Narey: Yes, it can. You could improve commonality of information. Whenever we held a competition for the running of a prison we tried to be as honest as we could, irrespective of who the provider was, about who was offering us the best value for money. Although there might have been flaws in that—and I would have to plead guilty to accepting that we didn’t understand public sector costs in as sophisticated a manner as we should—there was still sufficient purchase to attract the private sector and for them to come in and say, “We want to do this work.” They came in and they did it well. 

Q482 Ben Gummer: One of the things that has struck everyone on this Committee is how poor the evidence base is within the MoJ for assessing the efficacy of punishments and understanding reoffending. This doesn’t necessarily seem to be a British problem: it is a global one. I wondered whether you had any thoughts about how you would improve that evidence-gathering rigour of data. 

Martin Narey: I would suggest the evidence base is really quite good. If you look at the annals of the research and statistics department or whatever it is called now in the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, you will find no end of very significant and very high-quality peer-reviewed research. The problem is that it doesn’t tend to do very much to influence the political debate. 

Q483 Chair: Sometimes it has been more influential in other countries. We found that, when previous members of the Committee were in Germany, they were well aware of research material produced often in Cambridge or elsewhere in the UK, which the MoJ had, but they were making more use of it than the MoJ was. 

Martin Narey: The Institute of Criminology at Cambridge is an outstanding establishment. I digress. The only Bill that Rab Butler had, who was Home Secretary for six years, was to create the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge. It is outstanding. You are right; it probably has as much influence internationally as it has here. The debate about crime and justice is at a troublingly low level in the UK. Sometimes, when I would meet people running prison services and probation services in the rest of Europe, they just couldn’t understand why crime and punishment was always, always on the front page of newspapers in the UK, and it has been really for some years, but not always. I remind you that, when I was a very young prison governor, Douglas Hurd was a Home Secretary working for Margaret Thatcher, when he coined the famous phrase, “Prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse.” He talked down the prison population by 4,000, by 10%, from 43,000 back to around 39,000, and he was working for Margaret Thatcher. The level of debate was, I am afraid, significantly more mature. I was a Private Secretary to a Minister of State when the 1991 Criminal Justice Act went through. It was very much Douglas Hurd’s creation, but David Waddington was Home Secretary when it went through. I was working for a Lords Minister. I followed that Bill through 13 days in the House of Lords, but there was no party politicking at all. There was almost complete unanimity about the intellectual basis of a Bill which set out to move people from short-term prison sentences into community penalties.

Q484 Ben Gummer: It is a function of the centralisation of the service that, the more you do that, the more a Minister is responsible for the individual. Is that the core of the media problem, do you think, and what you ran up against? 

Martin Narey: It might be possible to do that. I have to say that, much as I loved my time there, trying to keep Ministers from getting involved in day-to-day happenings in individual prisons and probation services is pretty difficult. They invariably do. Part of the reason for that is, if something goes very wrong, then it is an issue in the House of Commons. I suspect only you, Chair, witnessed the time that Michael Howard was Home Secretary following the escape of some category A prisoners from a prison in Cambridgeshire, and then another group from a prison on the Isle of Wight. It very nearly cost him his job. Things that go wrong in prisons have an immediacy and a vulnerability for Ministers which makes it hard for them not to want to have some assurance that things are being done properly in every local place. When I became Director General, the rough deal with Jack Straw was that he would give me lots of money for education and drug treatment if I stopped escapes of category A prisoners and riots, because that is what brings Ministers down. 

Q485 Ben Gummer: Can I just ask one final question on that? It is on data. You talked about bringing reoffending rates down at the beginning of your period at NOMS. How easy is it to measure these things against general European trends? 

Martin Narey: There are two things that I wanted to say before I left the room today. I must have been saying this for 20 years now. The way we measure reoffending is almost completely useless. The reconviction measure is utterly useless. First of all, it measures reconvictions and not reoffending. Secondly, even if it is a proxy for reoffending, it measures no reoffending. What we need to know when we are looking at what we do with offenders is whether they offend less, both in terms of quantity and gravity of offending. If someone leaves a prison after a 10-year sentence for an armed robbery and is convicted within the next two years for a petty theft, that is seen as a failure, when actually that is probably a great success. The reconviction measure is almost useless. 

Q486 Claire Perry: .... Could I press a little bit on the failure of the reconviction and reoffending measure? One of the rather startling things we have heard, particularly from the Probation trusts—and it is not because they are bad people or don’t get it—is just how difficult it is to get almost any data on reoffending and also how unimportant that measure is in assessing what kind of job they do. Lots of people have criticised the current measure. Why is it so difficult to get people to focus on a simple measure of reoffending across the system, with all the flaws that you have raised with that simple measure? 

Martin Narey: It is very difficult for a number of reasons. One is that there is such a long time between somebody finishing a community penalty and leaving prison and getting involved again in reoffending, certainly before they get through the criminal justice system again and are reconvicted. In my view, it is sometimes very difficult to draw the causal link between the two events. That is why I was very much in favour of more straightforward proxies. Despite the flaws in the research, what the research tells us over and over again is that, if you get a prisoner, or someone on a community penalty, somewhere to live and into employment or training, they will offend much less, by about a half. There is lots of analysis to prove that. A valid measure of success for community penalties or for prisoners would be having somewhere to live and in a job after release. That would give you a dependable indication of the likelihood of someone not reoffending. It would be in the hands of the Probation trust or the prison to do those things. 

Q487 Claire Perry: I agree with you in terms of the causality, although I suppose it is a little bit more difficult to justify it if you are doing payment by results—to be paying for actions rather than results— but does the data exist in the system? I accept that it is complicated, but we are not Amazon; we are not trying to ship out 1 million parcels a day. We are trying to deal with the offending habits of effectively 250,000 people who are in the Probation Service at any one time. Why is it so difficult just to get the basic data in one place and track a person through their prison and probation journey? 

Martin Narey: I don’t think it is intellectually difficult, and it could be done. There are identifiers now on individual offenders and it is possible to track their time through the justice system, but there is such a long delay. If someone leaves a prison and gets straight down to reoffending again, as some do, it is going to be a long time before they reappear again on a reconviction statistic. Offenders are disarmingly honest about what they have done. Self-reported studies on offending are much more accurate as a way of telling you what people are doing after release. But I couldn’t stress too much the fact that the reconviction measure as a measure of offending or non-offending is virtually useless. 

Q488 Ben Gummer: On the back of that, because I think it is a fascinating point you are raising, as we are moving towards PbR, what outcomes is it appropriate to use for letting those contracts? Would you favour going for a single outcome on reoffending or reconviction, whichever you wish to use, or do you want to have a whole series? I know that Barnardo’s might be interested in this. 

Martin Narey: I have left Barnardo’s now so that wouldn’t matter. I don’t feel I know enough about the formulation of the current contracting process, but my view is that you need measures which are easy to obtain. If I were giving advice to Ministers now, I would advise them to look at some fairly straightforward proxies which are very easy to measure, such as having somewhere to live and in employment. I stress that it should not be the week after a sentence finishes but three months after a sentence has finished, for example. 

Q489 Ben Gummer: As well as the reconviction rate or reoffending rate. 

Martin Narey: I could put an argument together for abandoning the reconviction rate. 

Q490 Mr Buckland: What about the reconviction rate of sentences of equal or greater seriousness than the index offence? Isn’t that a valid measure? 

Martin Narey: Yes, it is a measure but we don’t have the reverse measure. It is a very important measure to see whether someone’s offending has escalated and is getting greater and probably greater in seriousness, but we don’t record the victory when it goes the other way. 

Q491 Chair: I am all in favour of raising the level of debate, but that wouldn’t convince me that I could persuade the public that somebody committing another rape was not a relevant piece of information when assessing what had happened since he left prison from the previous rape. 

Martin Narey: I would accept that entirely, for offences like that. I am not suggesting that you wouldn’t follow people’s individual criminality and watch what happens to them. As an overall measure of what happens to prisons, obviously I haven’t read the details of the debate you have been involved in today, but the bandying about of statistical shifts of 5% or 6% in a reconviction rate over time is in my view fairly useless. I have no confidence that there is any significant causal link which has made that difference. Even though I was pleased to have driven through the first significant statistical reduction in reoffending, I never pretended to any Secretary of State I worked for that I thought it was terribly important in the real world....If I may say, this Committee, when it was the Home Affairs Select Committee, did a really impressive piece of work looking at something called the drug testing and treatment order. That was largely abandoned, because reconviction rates were seen as high, and they were, because this was an order given to drug addicts. The Committee here did a fantastic piece of work which demonstrated that, although reconviction rates were high, the amount of offending done by people on that order was significantly lower than before the order. But it didn’t save it in the political world. 

Chair: Mr Narey, thank you very much indeed.... 


There's a fine example of the political reality of what Gove has to deal with here as fellow Tory MP Philip Davies expounds on Criminal dishonesty over jail sentences in the Yorkshire Post. The situation is put into further context on the Transform Justice website:-

Can Gove change the prison debate single handed?

“It is because I am a Conservative that I believe in the rule of law as the foundation stone of our civilisation; it is because I am a Conservative that I believe that evil must be punished; but it is also because I am a Conservative, and a Christian, that I believe in redemption, and I think that the purpose of our prison system and our criminal law is to keep people safe by making people better”.

This was Michael Gove’s riposte to MP Philip Davies’ accusation that he had “gone native”. The Lord Chancellor’s words are music to the ears of penal reformers and mark a sea-change from the rhetoric of Chris Grayling,and Jack Straw. But unfortunately Philip Davies echoes the views of many ordinary people in believing that the criminal justice system is too soft on criminals. Nearly half the population would like to bring back the death penalty, 70% think sentences are too soft, and over half think prison is an effective deterrent. These are deep rooted feelings, which one Lord Chancellor will find it hard to uproot.

There are also messages from other bits of government which reinforce the Philip Davies view. This week the Sentencing Council brought out new guidelines on how judges should deal with robbery. Nearly all the headlines suggested tougher sentences for street robbers. In fact the guidelines are not designed to increase sentences. The same day it was reported that the information commissioner felt staff who sell stolen data “must face jail”. A couple of weeks ago, the Attorney General’s office publicised that the number of appeals against “unduly lenient sentences” were going up. All these articles reinforce the public’s view that sentences need to be harsher, and that prison works.

Mood music matters. Government voices (as translated by the media) weekly reinforce people’s deeply held belief that long prison sentences are the best remedy for crime. Cumulatively, they undermine Gove’s message of redemption, and hamper efforts to reduce prison numbers. If the government is to persuade the Philip Davies’ of this world of a new penal direction, they need also to persuade every tentacle of government to be super careful in the words they use.