Category Archives: Probation
The Coalition is sacking probation officers and paying former prisoners to take their place, Labour claimed today.
Shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter questioned the costs and merits of the Government’s new prisoner rehabilitation plans.
Outlining the proposals in the Commons, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the new policy would mean lower reoffending rates by ensuring prisoners were properly managed when they left jail by “for the first time creating continuity between custody and community”.
But Mr Slaughter said: “It’s not probation officers who will now undertake 70% of supervision – you place a great deal of faith in reformed old lags helping out but you admitted on the Today programme these will have to be paid.
“So, professional probation officers sacked and replaced by ex-offenders. Is this your brave new world?”
Mr Slaughter said it was “disappointing” it had taken the coalition “three wasted years” to reach the conclusion on the need to cut reoffending.
He said Labour in government made some progress on cutting reoffending and said Mr Grayling’s plans were “ambitious”.
“Unfortunately, it’s a programme based on fewer resources, untried and untested methods, and putting faith in exactly those private sector organisations that have failed to deliver other major public sector contracts,” he said.
Mr Slaughter asked if there would be more money available or if existing resources would be spread more thinly, and he questioned the cost of reorganising the prison system to create the Government’s proposed “resettlement prisons”.
The shadow minister said: “You know the prison estate is chronically overcrowded and understaffed, so do you seriously think a reorganisation can take place against such a backdrop?”
Mr Slaughter questioned whether ex-offenders would get priority for social housing during “the worst housing shortage for a generation”.
He added: “Reducing reoffending while maintaining public safety should be our twin priorities.
“A focus on reoffending is to be welcomed but the Government’s ill thought-out policies and total reliance on payment by results are putting the safety of communities up and down the country at risk.”
The changes will mean every offender leaving prison must serve a minimum of 12 months under supervision in the community.
Mr Grayling said all offenders who enter prison, even for just a few days, will be subject to new supervision and will be given support through housing, employment, training and substance abuse programmes.
The reforms, to be rolled out across England and Wales by 2015, will see around 65,000 offenders serving sentences of up to two years receive extended rehabilitation.
Responding to Mr Slaughter in the Commons, Mr Grayling said: “I don’t understand why you are coming up with this faux anger about what we are doing when the legislative foundations that enable us to push through these reforms were passed by the last Labour government.
“If they supported this concept then, why do they not support it now?”
He defended the plans to use former prisoners after it was demonstrated as effective in test schemes.
Mr Grayling said: “You need to go and look, not in the world of big business but in the voluntary sector, where some of our first-rate charities have got living examples today of former offenders who have gone straight and are now helping turn the lives around of a next generation of offenders.
“I want to capture those skills in helping bring down reoffending.”
The Justice Secretary said the coalition did not believe all problems would be solved by “throwing money” at them.
“Are we actually saying it is not possible to run the system more efficiently and deliver support where it is needed to the offenders most likely to reoffend when they leave prison?” he said.
“Again, the divide between us and them. They think it is just a question of spending more taxpayers’ money, higher taxes. We want to get better value for the taxes we already raise.”
Mr Grayling said the resettlement prisons would make the prison estate work better and stop the need for prisoners to be moved across the country.
He said the plans had been worked up in conjunction with governors and other experts.
He told MPs: “Short sentence offenders will almost always stay in one place and longer sentence offenders will come to a prison close to where they are going to be released so when they are released we can provide continuity of support through the prison gate.
“It’s the right thing to do, it should have been done years ago.”
Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales said it was little more than a charade.
“I passionately believe that successful ex-offenders have a role to play in helping others reform, but its a charade to think they can replace skilled and qualified probation officers.
“When the reoffending figures rise or refuse to fall what is the next big idea to be – handcuffing offenders to police officers perhaps?
“This Justice Secretary says he wants to get drugs off the streets – well it might be an idea if he first managed to keep them out of jails.”
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said breaking the cycle of crime means breaking the dependency on drugs.
The Labour MP said: “Can I ask him (Mr Grayling) to be very careful about choosing providers on drugs rehabilitation, like G4S, who may have expertise in tagging, and they are obviously very good at that; however, they don’t have the expertise as far as rehabilitation on drugs is concerned.”
Mr Grayling replied that the Government has to be “absolutely certain” that the organisations it recruits have got the necessary expertise.
“I have no intention whatever of contracting with organisations that cannot demonstrate that they have got real and genuine expertise in delivering the solutions we need, I give him that reassurance.”
Barrister Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough, Oadby and Wigston) also urged the minister to ensure that small groups, such as charities and individuals, had a chance alongside bigger contractors to “carry people from prison out into the community” so there is no gap between incarceration and going out into society.
He added that he wants reassurances that people in prison will leave jail being able to read, with the average inmate currently having the reading age of an 11-year-old.
Sir Edward said: “You cannot get a job if you cannot read.”
Mr Grayling said one of the elements of the new contracts will be to put together resettlement services in prisons and support out of prisons to create a “genuinely joined-up service”.
He added that there were examples of older, more experienced offenders who have gone through the prison system helping younger inmates.
Mr Grayling said he wants to see prisoners who can read teaching those who cannot.
Conservative Philip Davies (Shipley) questioned what weight is being put on longer prisonsentences as figures suggest these reduce rates of re-offending.
He said: “The figures from his department are perfectly clear that the longer people spend in prison the less likely they are to re-offend, largely because it gives them the time to do things like teach people to read whilst they are in prison before they are released.”
Mr Grayling said the length of time people had been spending in prison was increasing and he agreed they needed to take the opportunity to turn around the lives of people in jail.
But he added: “Those who are today saying short sentences don’t work, they shouldn’t happen, they always miss the point that 80% of people that arrive in our prisons have already been through a community sentence and it hasn’t worked.”
Concerns were raised in the Commons by Labour MPs about the opportunities for public sector organisations to bid for payment by results contracts.
Earlier in the questions, shadow minister for public health Diane Abbott, said: “How can it be a good thing to exclude some of the people with the most expertise and professional training in these matters?”
Mr Grayling said it was not correct to suggest the public sector would miss out and probation staff are being actively encouraged and supported to form their own mutual organisations to bid for contracts.
The Government is to shake up community sentences for women offenders in a bid to steer them away from jail.
Justice minister Helen Grant revealed plans for a new advisory board on female offenders, which will include looking at overhauling community sentences to offer a credible alternative to custody.
The move is part of a wider drive to tackle the unique struggles faced by female offenders and bring down the reoffending rate among women.
The Ministry of Justice said it costs £45,000 to keep a woman in prison for one year, while almost 45% of all women released from custody in 2010 reoffended within 12 months, committing more than 10,000 further offences.
Ms Grant said: “Many female offenders share the same depressingly familiar issues of abuse, drug and alcohol dependency and mental health problems.
“Women who commit crime should be punished, but we must not forget that a significant number have been victims during their lives, and need targeted support to break the cycle of offending.”
The department said up to 56% of women offenders have been in care and the proportion of female prisoners that report abuse in their lifetime is double that of males.
In addition, around 60% of women leave behind dependent children when entering prison.
The new advisory board will consider a range of issues, including use of community orders, backed by unpaid work and tagging, as well as locating female prisoners near to their families.
The approach comes as the Government moves ahead with its “rehabilitation revolution” proposals, which will see the majority of probation services contracted out to the private sector and charities.
Prison Reform Trust director Juliet Lyon broadly welcomed the Government’s stance but urged for legislation to be passed to provide for women in the criminal justice system.
She said: “History shows that, in the absence of specific legislation, commitments to address women’s different needs are often not realised, and momentum can be lost as ministers and officials come and go.”
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, welcomed the sentiments but criticised the statement for lacking detail.
He said: “It does, however, reflect the fact that community sentences are a far more appropriate way of dealing with the vast majority of women currently in prison, including all those who have committed non-violent crimes.”
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.”
Prisoners serving sentences under 12 months could be forced to undertake a period of rehabilitation upon release for the first time.
As part of a “rehabilitation revolution”, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said he intends to legislate so short custodial sentences will include a period of rehab in a bid to curb reoffending.
Inmates serving under 12 months only currently undertake rehab on a voluntary basis and are otherwise released into the community with no supervision or support.
Mr Grayling was today meeting with business leaders, voluntary and community sector providers and the public sector Probation Service to discuss the reforms.
He said: “Reoffending rates are too high with almost half of all prison-leavers reconvicted within a year.
“We need to reform the system and change the way we rehabilitate offenders. And we must give the right people the right tools to do it.”
The reforms will see an increased role in probation services for the private and voluntary sector, which will be paid by results to stop criminals reoffending.
Core probation services such as the supervision of criminals and the writing of pre-sentence reports could be put out to competition.
The Government will be launching a nationwide ‘Justice Data Lab’ to help rehab organisations access reoffending data.
The Government will also provide £500,000 to voluntary and community sector groups to ensure they are ready to begin bidding for services.
Probation union Napo has warned the privatisation of the probation service would be a move “bound to compromise public protection”.
Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners in England and Wales aid: “There is little point to this – probation officers are already massively overstretched supervising those who have served longer sentences and those given full supervision community sentences.
“That is where their focus needs to be concentrated, not on supervising low risk offenders for a couple of weeks for little more than political point scoring.”
Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “While greater supervision of short-sentenced prisoners is welcome, for people who have committed non-violent crimes, it would make more sense for them to receive intensive supervision in the community than serve short, unproductive and expensive spells behind bars.
“Community sentences are now outperforming short prison sentences and are over eight percentage points more effective in reducing reoffending rates.”
Plans for criminals to report to a machine instead of a probation officer in a bid to cut costs defy belief and risk increasing offending, a union warned today – but the editor of Converse, the national newspaper for prisoners and offenders in England and Wales, described the response of the Probation Officers trade Union NAPO as ‘scaremongering.’
The initiative, which is already being used in the United States, will reduce face-to-face contact between offenders and probation staff, with freed prisoners and those on community orders answering questions automatically posed by a machine.
The probation union Napo warned the scheme would damage public confidence in the supervision of offenders, but probation bosses said it could reduce bureaucracy and help staff make the best use of their time.
An internal policy document acknowledged the trial may have “some disadvantages”, including the danger that a machine will be unable to spot early warning signs of offenders posing an increased risk.
The lack of personal contact on the so-called biometric reporting scheme may also reduce the support offered to offenders, staff have been told.
The document added: “Removal of contact may remove the potential for an early warning of escalation of risk.”
Harry Fletcher, Napo’s assistant general secretary, said the proposal, initially dismissed by many staff as a hoax, was “extraordinary” and would damage public confidence in the probation service.
The pilot scheme, which will apply to all offenders including paedophiles, terrorists and killers, is expected to be trialled in the London boroughs of Bexley and Bromley later this year and may last up to six months, staff have been told.
Higher-risk offenders could be asked to use the machines, which are equipped with fingerprint readers, in addition to face-to-face interviews with probation officers.
According to the document, probation officers “will use their professional judgment to determine to what extent it forms part of an offender’s reporting requirements”.
It added that every offender will continue to have “an appropriate level of face-to-face supervision”.
The scheme will be designed to test whether the move would reduce the time spent by offenders waiting in probation offices and cut the need for staff cover during peak holiday periods and sickness.
It will also test whether using the machines reduces the risk of offenders arranging for someone else to take their place and report to probation for them.
But Napo said it was not aware of any widespread use of imposters.
The union added the machines cost £130,000 a year for each London borough, taking the annual cost across the capital to £4.16 million.
The machines will ask offenders a series of questions, including whether they have changed address or employment, if they have been arrested, or if they wish to speak to someone.
But Mr Fletcher said there was the risk that some offenders may be able to manipulate the system by lying and falsely suggesting they were complying with orders.
“When the idea of machines rather than face-to-face contact was first mooted, staff thought it was a hoax,” he said.
“Sadly it is now grim reality.
“The introduction of machines rather than people into the supervision of community orders made by the courts or of people on licence is extraordinary and defies belief.”
He added that the scheme “will lead to high breach rates and a lack of confidence in the supervisory process”.
“The vast majority of offenders have serious literacy problems, many are dyslexic, most have two or more mental illness and desperately need face-to-face contact and supervision,” he said.
He added the machines could also breach up to 18 Council of Europe rules on community sanctions but, according to the policy document, probation bosses have been given legal advice that offenders can be required to take part in the pilot.
Mark Leech, editor of Converse the national newspaper for prisoners and offenders in England and Wales said Harry Fletcher was simply ‘scaremongering’.
Mr Leech said: “Look you have to see these NAPO criticisms as those of a Trade Union representing its members – but Harry Fletcher and everyone in NAPO knows that to imply sex offenders and murderers are going to be turfed out on the streets without face to face assessment with a Probation Officer is simply ludicrous – it’s scaremongering.
“I was on probation and after a while, once I had settled down into a job and kept all appointments, my visits to the probation officer were a waste of both of our time – far from reducing supervision this actually increases the amount of supervision time that can be given to the most dangerous offenders.”
London Probation Trust said the initiative was a research project which would “explore the potential use of biometric technology within probation”.
The scheme will not replace the trust’s statutory responsibility to provide face-to-face meetings with offenders, officials said.
Heather Munro, the trust’s chief executive, added: “London Probation Trust intends to research biometric reporting of offenders to support our key aims of protecting the public and reducing reoffending.
“We believe reducing the bureaucracy probation officers have to deal with, in order to increase the time spent in face-to-face meetings, is an important step.
“We are looking at various ways of doing this, from increasing the number of probation officers to investigating the use of technology to improve our ability to monitor offenders – we want to use the time of professional practitioners where it is most needed.”