Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Five Criminal Justice Innovations from my Year

Make justice accessible: Mobile courts in Abu Dhabi

Develop useful alternatives to prison that build skills and serve the public :
Community service offenders work on a fishpond  in Kenya

Put human rights at the heart of prisons: Mission of Uganda Prison service on wall at Mbale  

Turn outdated prisons into museums to educate: Crumlin Road Gaol Belfast

Or in the case of juvenile centres knock them down and use the bricks for art: 

Polk Correctional Facility  North Carolina 

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

2015 End of Term Criminal Justice Report: Some Signs of Promise but Must do Better

What should we make of 2015 as far as penal policy is concerned?  The new government has promised radical reforms at the heart of their agenda, but eye catching announcements like the closure of Holloway notwithstanding, we’ve yet to see much in the way of new policy or practice. As is always the case, there has been as much continuity as there has been change.

The controversial Transforming Rehabilitation reforms that placed 70% of probation work into the private sector got underway in earnest in February since when almost all prison sentences, however short, have been followed by a mandatory period of supervision after release. Inspection reports in May and November found the new arrangements presented a mixed picture noting continuing mistakes in allocating cases between the Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), and variation in the quality of offender assessments. December’s revelation of serious failures by South Yorkshire CRC run by Sodexo confirms the impossible position faced by Paul McDowell who quit as Chief Inspector in February after it  had become known that he is married to the head of the company’s criminal justice operation.

Paul’s permanent replacement Glenys Stacey is due to start in the New Year and may wish to revisit the Inspectorate’s plan to discontinue monitoring the implementation of TR after March 2016- particularly if Sodexo fail to take remedial action and lose their contract in South Yorkshire. The National Audit Office plan to publish a report on value for money in the spring of 2016 but this looks too soon to be informative.  Proper scrutiny will be  essential   for a programme which NOMS former Director of Competition has recently described as untried, over complex and highly risky: “It is like watching people doing their best to organise the perfect train crash” he wrote in his book "Competition for Prisons Public or private?".

April saw reports that Sodexo were planning to replace CRC staff with automated kiosks and December saw Working Links reported to be planning large scale job cuts in their CRC's  in Wales and the West country, in part because numbers of cases are lower than forecast. In the context of these commercial woes it seems particularly unwise for the Magistrates Association to be relying on Working Links to help fill a hole in their budget- a conflict of interest that first came to light in May.

On prisons, new Justice Secretary Michael Gove surprised many with an impressive series of speeches promising progressive reforms, with backing from the very top of the Government. So far outline plans have emerged to replace old prisons with new and give Governors more freedoms but much of the detail must wait until next year. Gove won plaudits from reformers for reversing a series of his predecessor’s policies including the ban on books for prisoners, the secure college for young offenders and the criminal courts charge as well as a proposed prison training project in Saudi Arabia.

But at year end, there are signs the honeymoon may be over. Gove rejected almost a third of the recommendations made in Lord Harris’s review of self-inflicted deaths of young adults and has established a series of further reviews – on education and youth justice- which may not report until the summer of 2016. Nor will the new for old prisons plan deliver speedy change. Speeches aside, the new MoJ has not exactly hit the ground running.

The need for urgent action was made clear when outgoing prison Inspector Nick Hardwick reported on the worst outcomes for 10 years and more recent data suggest prisons are continuing to struggle with safety, violence and drugs - most recently it has emerged that the deployment of the National Tactical Response Group (NTRG) to deal with disturbances, has risen by more than 50 per cent in a year.  The prison population is projected to rise slightly less sharply over the next five years than was estimated last year, and Gove appears to have ruled out further reductions in staff numbers. But genuinely increasing education and rehabilitation opportunities will surely require a fall in prisoner numbers. While increased use of electronic tagging, greater opportunities for earned release and more aggressive repatriation of foreign nationals have been floated as options an overall strategy – such as justice reinvestment- is still lacking.

On the personnel front, Gove has brought ex NOMS supremo Sir Martin Narey onto the MoJ board to advise on prisons along with Sir Michael Barber who ran Tony Blair’s delivery unit. Narey’s intervention following the damning  independent inspection report on Rainsbrook STC can best be described as unwise while Barber found the space in his memoirs a few years back  to decry as absurd magistrates who avoided making custodial sentences because of their concern about the size of the prison population. Former counter terrorism police chief Peter Clarke will fill Nick Hardwick’s shoes inspecting prisons.

Elsewhere the House of Commons Justice Committee chaired by Bob Neill has started an interesting portfolio of work on young adults, the courts and restorative justice. The Committee is showing a promising critical spirit, censuring Gove for tapping up the successful candidates for the independent prison and probation inspection posts and calling for the criminal courts charge to be scrapped; ironically Neill was part of the standing committee  which voted down Labour amendments on the charge in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill in the last parliament.

 Relatively little has been heard on criminal justice from Labour since the election but that is likely to change once Gove shows more of his hand. Whether they support constructive reforms or seek, as they did with Kenneth Clarke, to portray him as soft on crime will be one of the interesting political dimensions next year.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Why We Need a Rehabilitation Devolution

Among the wealth of information provided by the latest edition of the Prison Reform Trust’s excellent Bromley briefing, two findings stand out. First is the catalogue of troubles experienced by adults in prison compared with the general population. Prisoners are 12 times more likely to have been taken into care and regularly played truant as a child; almost two thirds have used Class A drugs compared to 13% of the general population while prisoners are over three times more likely to have no qualifications, never to have worked, or be homeless prior to imprisonment.16% show symptoms of psychosis compared to just 4% of adults outside.

A second notable fact is that the reduction in the use of custody for juveniles over the last five years has saved the Youth Justice Board more than £300 million. Taken together, these findings suggest a strong case for developing a strategy to shift resources away from imprisonment towards the kind of community based measures which can prevent people becoming involved in crime and meet their many health and social care needs if they do so.

Addressing many of those problems-mental health, education, addiction, and homelessness- are almost always matters for local agencies and organisations whether in the public, voluntary or private sector.  In a report out today published by Transform Justice, I show how giving local authorities and communities greater financial and organisational responsibility for preventing and treating crime in their area could both help to reduce it and to minimise the use of expensive and often ineffective national resources such as courts and prisons.

Drawing both on lessons from the USA and domestic pilot projects, Rehabilitation Devolution argues that if local agencies are made responsible for paying the costs of incarceration, they are more likely to take steps to reduce its use. Local authorities have shown they can use funds to lower the use of custody and making them pay for the costs of juveniles held on remand has contributed to a fall in numbers.  American states like Pennsylvania have established a formula that requires a percentage of cost savings achieved through reductions in prison numbers to be reinvested in public safety improvements while in North Carolina so called Justice Reinvestment initiatives have helped reduce prison numbers by 8%.
What does this suggest for England and Wales? The report proposes transferring responsibility for meeting the entire costs of custody for under 18's to local authorities and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC’s), work to identify the best ways of transferring that responsibility to a more local level for young adult and women offenders, and inviting PCC's to chair new Justice and Safety Partnerships( JSP).  Involving judges, probation, prison, local government and health, the JSP’s would introduce greater regional voice in the system and provide a body to which criminal justice budgets might be devolved over time. The report also argues that as a localisation agenda moves forward local commissioners would not simply buy what is currently provided but develop the kind of  responses better able to serve their community’s needs. So rather than paying for  Feltham YOI, local authorities might be able to commission a less damaging environment for their troublesome teenage boys .

While this may look like bureaucratic and possibly unwelcome organisational reform, its purpose is to incentivise the bodies best able to deal with crime and offending to do so creatively and cost effectively. George Osborne’s spending review may have included an eye catching plan to close Holloway but modernising the prison estate apart, the Spending Review looks much like business as usual. New for old prisons may well be necessary but it is not sufficient to address our problems of penal excess.

Reducing sentence lengths is the most direct but politically riskiest strategy for reducing prison numbers - although the risks might be mitigated by intensifying regimes so a prison sentence of a certain length in the future counts for more than it does now.

 Alongside this, aligning the systems for sanctioning offenders with the measures which can prevent crime and reduce offending could help bring down the numbers in court and custody.  By doing so we can end up not with a near 90,000 prison population forecast last week but something approaching the norm for Western Europe which might see it closer to 50,000.