Category Archives: Probation in Prisons
Newly released prisoners face being banned from moving around the country when they leave jail to ensure they attend rehabilitation programmes, the Justice Secretary told MPs today.
Chris Grayling told the House of Commons Justice Committee that he did not want offenders to lose the support of probation services if they “travel 200 miles up the road for no particular reason”.
Mr Grayling was giving evidence on his far-reaching overhaul of rehabilitation services, which will see services tendered out to private firms and charities who will be partially rewarded on a payment by results basis.
The Justice Secretary said he wanted to make sure offenders were held in prisons in the same area in to which they would be released.
He said: “Actually I want to put in place some tougher conditionality around just moving house and moving round the country.
“What I don’t want is for you to be released into the care of a local organisation and then be able to travel 200 miles up the road for no particular reason and we lose the continuity of support post-prison.”
Mr Grayling said he would have to create geographic areas which were aligned with police force areas, work programmes and the location of prisons.
He added: “I’ve got all these bits of a jigsaw around which we’ve got to find the best optimum geographic spread.”
Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said he understood the desire to ensure people stayed in one place to complete their offending behaviour work, but feared that it could massively backfire.
Mr Leech said: “The rhetoric is all very well, but you still have to confront reality.
“What are you going to do when an offender as a result of personal pressures, family illness, bereavement or simply wishing to escape from an area riddled with drugs simply up sticks and moves anyway?
“If you really want to deliver offending behaviour courses to offenders when they are all in one area, when they cannot go somewhere else, then the solution is blindingly obvious – deliver these courses when they are in custody.”
Under Mr Grayling’s proposals, prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months will also be forced to undertake a period of rehabilitation upon release for the first time.
The Justice Secretary previously said the overhaul was necessary as reoffending had been “too high for too long”.
But the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) and Unison hit out at the proposed reforms, warning they are a threat to public safety.
The consultation closed on Friday and Mr Grayling told the committee that he expects to report back in May.
Committee member and Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd told Mr Grayling that private firms were already attempting to poach public sector staff for potential future contracts.
He said: “Is there not an irony in the fact that several senior probation officers whom I know are being approached by potential private providers and being offered high salaries in order to join them? It’s a rather ghastly merry-go-round, isn’t it?”
Mr Grayling replied: “I would not for a moment say that we don’t have good professionals in the Probation Service doing a good job.
“But the fact that you have got really good individuals doing a really good job and you’ve got people who have got good ideas doesn’t necessarily mean the system always releases them to do that.”
He added: “I think there’s really good expertise in the Probation Service, there’s really good expertise in the voluntary sector and there’s really good expertise in the private sector and if we can leverage the best of all of them we can bring down the reoffending rates.”
Elsewhere in the hearing, he suggested that Probation Service providers, including charities, could consider forming “mini-housing associations” to improve reoffending rates.
He said areas like housing were “extremely important because having somewhere stable to live is a factor in determining whether someone reoffends or not”.
He went on: “Given the fact these people are on housing benefit when they come out of prison, I would personally be doing deals with landlords or even investing in hostels so when I was supervising offenders I actually had somewhere to live.”
A prison governor has ordered all probation staff off the premises after the local probation trust teamed up with a private security firm to try to take over the running of his jail.
Bob Mullen, the governor of Lindholme prison, told South Yorkshire Probation Trust that he was excluding all its staff to protect the commercial confidentiality of the rival public sector bid.
Mark Leech, editor of the national prisoners newspaper Converse said Mullen was known as ‘a maverick’ prison governor.
“Among prison staff he is known as a ‘Screws Governor’, meaning he always supports his staff, whatever they do, he was awarded the OBE in 2010 for his 30 years service, but he is also known as a maverick and this is an example of that kind of behaviour – his jail is one of eight that the Justice Secretary last year called ‘failing prisons’ which he put out to private tender.”
An internal probation service email published in The Guardian said: “The probation staff in the public sector prisons were effectively marched off the premises and had their identity badges and keys taken away and were effectively locked out of their place of work.”
The jail is among eight run by the public sector, along with one by private security firm G4S, which were put out for competition by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke last year.
But the deal is believed to be the first where the probation trust would run the prisons alongside G4S, rather than simply as a subcontractor.
The internal memos seen by the newspaper said the governor’s decision had come as a “complete surprise” and was seen by probation staff as a “direct consequence of the decision by South Yorkshire Probation Trust (PT) to jump into bed with G4S”.
But a G4S spokeswoman said: “G4S and South Yorkshire Probation Trust have formed a strategic partnership to reduce reoffending in South Yorkshire.
“By teaming up with South Yorkshire PT as well as the respected voluntary sector organisation St Giles’ Trust, G4S is confident it can deliver a better approach to reducing reoffending, one which recognises the importance of community and prison working together to deliver improved outcomes for offenders and society, and the best possible value for money.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Arrangements are in place to ensure that probation staff are able to undertake their duties and we are confident that the situation will be resolved swiftly.
“There is no risk to the public.
“The decision was taken locally and was not made centrally by Noms (the National Offender Management Service).”
He went on: “Competition should be widely applied, with public sector providers allowed to bid where we are competing local services.
“We are working with existing and new providers from the public, private and voluntary sectors, with contracts awarded on the basis of whoever is best placed to deliver our objectives.
“South Yorkshire Probation Trust (SYPT) has been funded to deliver probation services and the trust is fully delivering the required services.
“SYPT has not received additional funding for business development work, though the trust will have some capacity locally to work with others to develop innovative and efficient ways of working which meet local need.”
The governor’s ruling on South Yorkshire Probation Trust staff also applies to Moorland and Hatfield jails near Doncaster.
It is understood the reason South Yorkshire probation chiefs teamed up with G4S was because they thought the firm’s bid better reflected probation values than the public sector bid.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the probation union Napo, said: “If this is true it’s an extraordinary insult to the ethos of the public sector.”