Supreme Court rules against children who suffered alleged abuse – but reinstated an important legal right

The Supreme Court, London.

Two brothers who claim they suffered harassment and abuse from neighbours have lost a landmark Supreme Court bid for compensation from their local council – but the Court reinstated the potential for children and young people to bring negligence claims against local authorities who have failed to protect them from harm.

The pair, identified only as CN and GN, alleged Poole Borough Council negligently failed to protect them from harm between 2006 and 2011, when they were aged under 10.

Part of their case was that they should have been taken into care for their protection.

But a panel of five justices ruled that their claim could not go ahead because the local authority had not assumed responsibility for their safety and did not owe them a duty of care.

The judges said there were “simply no grounds” for the council to take them into care, because the alleged harm they suffered was from their neighbours and not from a lack of parental care.

Lord Reed, giving the lead ruling, said: “Although the court does not have before it all the evidence which may emerge at a trial, there is no reason to believe that the claimants could overcome these fundamental problems as to the legal basis of their claim.

“That being so, it is to the advantage of all concerned that the claim should not proceed to what would be a costly but inevitably fruitless trial.”

CN, who is severely disabled, and his brother GN claimed the council knew they were at foreseeable risk when they were housed next door to a family who engaged in persistently anti-social behaviour.

The pair were said to have suffered significant physical and psychological harm as a result of attacks, threats of violence, verbal abuse and vandalism, and GN attempted suicide at the age of 12.

They brought claims against the council for breach of a common law duty of care derived from statutory duties under the Children Act 1989 but, in 2017, the Court of Appeal ruled against them.

The Supreme Court justices agreed with the Court of Appeal’s decision that CN and GN’s case should not proceed, but came to a different conclusion on the effect of previous rulings.

Lord Reed said that, although it did not apply in this case, there are circumstances in which a local authority can be held accountable for failing to protect vulnerable children.

The case was supported by charities including Article 39, which fights for the rights of children and young people who live in children’s homes, prisons and other institutions, and the Care Leavers’ Association, which supports care leavers of all ages.

Lawyers from Simpson Millar, which represented the charities, welcomed the ruling, saying it offered clarification on the law and meant other claims – which had been on hold following the Court of Appeal decision – could now go ahead.

Peter Garsden, a partner at the law firm, said: “This decision affects some of the most vulnerable members of our society and we are delighted that those affected will continue to have access to the justice that they deserve in instances where they are let down by those they have put their faith in.”

Carolyne Willow, director at Article 39, said: “We are incredibly relieved that the Supreme Court has reinstated the potential for children and young people to bring negligence claims against local authorities who have failed to protect them from harm.”

David Graham, national director of the Care Leavers’ Association, said: “A court ruling that a local authority had a duty of care and acted negligently can give care leavers a real sense of justice and vindication, as well as financial compensation for harm that should never have happened.

“We hope the courts will now quickly deal with the backlog of cases from adults who were failed as children.”

David Gauke admits he was Tagged

Justice Secretary David Gauke was urged to follow the Scottish model of a presumption against handing out custodial sentences as he discussed scrapping jail terms of less than six months – and admitted he had been ankle-tagged.

The SNP’s Joanna Cherry said the move could cut the prison population by several thousand if it was introduced south of the border.

But Mr Gauke said his plan to ban short sentences was “not about reducing prison populations”, saying “the big prize to be gained” was in cutting reoffending.

He also agreed that the use of more sophisticated ankle tags could be used to shift more offenders onto community sentences rather than being put in jail.

Speaking during Justice Questions in the Commons, Ms Cherry said “a system that pushes offenders through a revolving door of short prison sentences simply doesn’t work”, saying that the Government and the Justice Committee “have recognised that the system in Scotland is working”.

She told MPs a recent report recommended the whole of the UK “follows Scotland’s approach of presumption against short sentences”, and asked the minister to commit to this.

Mr Gauke said it is already the case that custodial measures are something “that should only be pursued as a last resort”, but said his department is “seeing if we can go further than that”.

He added that he hopes to expand on his proposals “in the very near future”.

He was also asked about recent technological advances in ankle tags, which use GPS to monitor the exact movements of offenders, rather than just if they stray into or away from a designated area.

Conservative MP Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) said they were “a powerful tool for courts to punish offenders in the community while keeping victims safe as an alternative to short sentences”.

Mr Gauke said he “very much agreed”, and revealed he wore one of the tags to test their effectiveness, adding: “Thankfully I had not been up to no good.

“But it was demonstration of how accurate they could be and how effective these GPS tags could be and the considerable potential of reassuring the public of community sentences.”

HMYOI Feltham Children’s Unit: Deterioration in Safety and Care after Period of Drift

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Safety and care in the children’s unit at HMYOI Feltham A in west London were found in 2019 to have deteriorated over the year since the previous inspection.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the young offender institution appeared to have suffered some “drift” during a period without a governor.

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Mr Clarke said that in 2018 inspectors “reported on a much-improved institution where good leadership had resulted in outcomes across three of our healthy prison tests – safety, care and resettlement – being reasonably good.

“More needed to be done to improve purposeful activity and we cautioned that any loss of leadership focus could expose the fragilities, which at the time we felt characterised some of the improvements we had observed. In light of the clear warning in our last report, it was disappointing to be told that… there had been an interregnum when Feltham had been left without a governor for a period of five months.

“A new governor was now in post and beginning to stabilise the establishment, but it was evident to us that there had been a degree of drift resulting in deteriorating outcomes, notably in safety and care.”

Feltham A was now not safe enough. There was a significant increase in the number of children self-harming. “The care experienced by those in need was also reasonably good, although it would have been better if such children were not locked up, often alone, for extended periods.”

In the inspection survey, some 13% of children said they currently felt unsafe and levels of violence had increased significantly since 2018. In the six months to the 2019 inspection there were 230 incidents of violence, a return to the high levels reported in 2017. Initiatives to reduce violence existed, but needed to be applied with more rigour and coordination, Mr Clarke said. Inspectors noted that not enough had been done to identify the reasons behind the increase in violence.

“Similarly, a comprehensive behaviour management strategy had been formulated, but it was applied inconsistently.” Operational staff “were neither setting ambitious standards nor sufficiently challenging antisocial behaviour.”

The application of ‘keep-apart protocols’, designed to separate individuals or gangs who were perceived as a threat to one another, had become all-consuming, inspectors found. “We understood the over-riding need to keep children safe from one another, but such arrangements were having an impact on all aspects of the regime, limiting opportunities for children to make any progress. The prison needed to rethink this approach and develop new strategies for conflict resolution.”

Nearly two-thirds of children said they had been physically restrained and the use of force by staff had increased. Mr Clarke added: “Oversight and scrutiny were, however, lacking and we found evidence of poor practice, including the use of pain-inducing techniques, that had not been accounted for.”

Too few children felt respected by staff and many suggested they felt victimised. Inspectors saw patient and caring encounters, but found that many staff were too preoccupied with keeping children apart to be able to develop trusting relationships. Nearly half of children said they had no one to turn to for help. “The residential environment had deteriorated and we could best describe many cells as spartan,” Mr Clarke added. Inspectors found 26% of children locked in their cells during the working day, a situation that was worse than last year and overall very poor. Only around a third of children could shower every day.

However, there was evidence of real improvements to the education and training curriculum and to the management of teachers. Public protection arrangements were managed well, but offending behaviour interventions had been limited by staff shortages and by the imposition of the ‘keep-apart’ requirements.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “Feltham is a high profile and challenging institution, and the decline in standards since the last inspection was disappointing. However, we were impressed by the new governor’s commitment to the institution and her grasp of the issues that need attention.”

The Chief Inspector added: “Because of our findings in the January 2019 inspection of Feltham A – and further concerns based on information from a number of sources – we have informed HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) that we will return to Feltham in the week commencing 8 July 2019 to carry out a survey, which will be followed by a full inspection starting on 15 July. This full, announced inspection will cover the whole establishment – both the Feltham A children’s unit and Feltham B, holding 18-21-year-olds. This is an unusual step, but I have come to the conclusion that in all the circumstances it is a necessary and appropriate course of action.”

Dr Jo Farrar, Chief Executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, said: “HMYOI Feltham A is a complex and challenging place, and we are pleased that inspectors have recognised the work of the new governor and her commitment to driving forward improvements at the prison. We are taking urgent action to address the concerns raised – this includes opening a specialist unit to provide interventions and support for the most challenging young people, and providing each offender with a dedicated officer to better help their rehabilitation. We have also recruited an extra 90 prison officers across Feltham since the last inspection and are training more than 50 Youth Justice Specialist Officers. We know that there is a lot more to do and that significant change is needed which is why the governor and her staff will continue to work hard ahead of the return of the inspectors in July.”

Read the Report 

A prisoner who died at HMP Nottingham had a history of self-harm

A prisoner who died at HMP Nottingham had a history of self-harm and had already attempted to take his own life in police custody, an inquest has heard.

Shane Stroughton, who was the first of five inmates to die at the jail in the space of a month, was found hanged in his cell in September 2017 despite having “frequent” contact with medical professionals.

The 29-year-old, who was originally jailed for assault at the age of 19, was recalled to prison for breaching a curfew after being released on licence three months before his death.

An inquest jury at Nottingham Coroner’s Court heard that an ambulance was called to the jail and CPR was administered but Mr Stroughton could not be resuscitated.

The category B prison, which has a capacity of 1,060, was found to be “fundamentally unsafe” following an inspection in January last year – prompting the first use of the “urgent notification” system.

Introducing the case to the jury, Assistant Coroner Ivan Cartwright said: “At prison, he was accommodated in a number of different cells.

“During his time in prison, Mr Stroughton had frequent contact with healthcare and medical staff.”

Mr Cartwright told the jury that the inmate had a history of self-harm.

He said: “Mr Stroughton made an attempt to hang himself in police custody.

“He made a number of different attempts to harm himself.

“On September 13 2017, a prison officer was unlocking cell doors for prisoners to collect their evening meals. They found Mr Stroughton hanging.”

The inquest, expected to last seven days, continues.

HMP The Mount: improvements in activity and rehabilitation and prison beginning to address violence and drugs

HMP The Mount, a training and resettlement prison in Hertfordshire holding up to 1,000 prisoners, was assessed in April 2019 to be improving from a troubling inspection a year before.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the full inspection in April and May 2018 had shown a “prison that had deteriorated substantially in many areas.” There were high levels of violence, drug use and use of force by staff and inspectors concluded that The Mount was “clearly failing in its fundamental mission to provide constructive activity, training and rehabilitation.”

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However, in an Independent Review of Progress (IRP) in 2019, Mr Clarke said, “we noted that the prison appeared to be on an upward trajectory, albeit from a very low base.

“Managers told us of many improvements expected within the next few months…We were pleased to find that there was some substance to these plans. There was evidence of greater clarity of vision around training and rehabilitation, something that we had urged in 2018.”

Work to improve safety outcomes for prisoners was less advanced than would have been expected, Mr Clarke noted. Violence and use of force had risen, and the governance of use of force and segregation was still weak. Drugs remained a problem. However, there was a comprehensive, though as yet only partially implemented, strategy to address violence. More body-worn cameras were available and they were used more often. In recent months there had been evidence of steadily reducing drug use in the prison.

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Cleanliness had improved substantially, and a programme of redecoration and refurbishment was well under way, supported by a prisoner ‘handyman’ scheme. Staffing had greatly improved, with around 80 new officers, and staff sickness levels were now very low.

Inspectors identified the use of prisoner ‘culture representatives’ – whose experience helped the management understand whether policies designed to create a more respectful environment were having an impact – as good practice.

There was reasonably good progress in purposeful activity. While far too many prisoners were unemployed and locked up during roll checks (around 40%), time out of cell had improved substantially since 2018. A full regime was now available to most men, with some advanced plans to create more activity places.

The most impressive area of progress was in rehabilitation and release planning, Mr Clarke said. There were still insufficient interventions – for example, to address the needs of prisoners with domestic violence histories. “However, the prison now had a much more coherent and joined up approach to offender management and reducing reoffending.”

Overall, Mr Clarke said:

“This was an encouraging review. While a great deal of work was still needed to ensure that momentum was not lost, improvement and progress were evident. The two worst areas identified at the last inspection – purposeful activity, and rehabilitation and release planning – had both seen significant improvements. There was a sense of purpose and management drive at the prison, and the contribution that prisoners themselves could make to positive change was being recognised. It would be a disappointment – and a surprise – if the areas of insufficient progress… were not addressed with vigour before we return to The Mount.”

– End –

Notes to editors

  1. A copy of the full Independent Review of Progress report, published on 31 May 2019, can be found on the HM Inspectorate of Prisons website at: www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons
  2. HM Inspectorate of Prisons is an independent inspectorate, inspecting places of detention to report on conditions and treatment, and promote positive outcomes for those detained and the public.
  3. HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire is a category C training and resettlement prison with capacity for about 1,000 prisoners. Opened in the late 1980s, it is a relatively modern prison holding convicted prisoners, most of whom are serving long sentences for serious offences.
  4. Read the full 2018 inspection report – https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2018/09/HMP-The-Mount-Web-2018.pdf

 

  1. Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs) are a new type of prison visit, which began in April 2019. They were developed because Ministers wanted an independent assessment of how far prisons had implemented HMI Prisons’ recommendations following particularly concerning prison inspections. IRPs are not inspections and do not result in new judgements against our healthy prison tests. Rather they judge progress being made against the key recommendations made at the previous inspection. The visits are announced and happen eight to 12 months after the original inspection. They last 2.5 days and involve a comparatively small team. Reports are published within 25 working days of the end of the visit. We conduct 15 to 20 IRPs each year. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons selects sites for IRPs based on previous healthy prison test assessments and a range of other factors. For more on IRPs please see – https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprisons/about-hmi-prisons/independent-reviews-of-progress-irps/

 

  1. This IRP visit took place between 23 – 25  April 2018. At this IRP visit, we followed up 13 of the 69 recommendations made at our most recent inspection and made judgements about the degree of progress achieved to date. We judged that there was good progress in five recommendations, reasonable progress in two recommendations and insufficient progress in six. There were no areas of no meaningful progress

 

  1. Please contact John Steele at HM Inspectorate of Prisons on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at john.steele@justice.gov.uk, if you would like more information.

Please contact the Ministry of Justice Newsdesk – 020 3334 3536 – for a comment on the report.

 

 

HMP Stocken – Improved safety but purposeful activity has declined

Inspectors found a mixed picture of progress in HMP Stocken, a training prison in a rural setting in Rutland, since it was last inspected in 2015.

Safety had improved and conditions for more than 800 men in the prison remained reasonably good. However, the prison had deteriorated in terms of purposeful activity, including training and education, and in rehabilitation and release planning.

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Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said it was clear that the leadership of the prison was fully committed to maintaining and improving performance. “A very obvious sign of success is that the rating we awarded for safety, so often a challenge for prisons in recent times, had risen from not sufficiently good at the last inspection to reasonably good on this occasion.

“This is a very real achievement. Levels of violence had not increased, and were lower than at similar prisons. HMP Stocken had managed to defy the national trend of year-on-year increases in violence.”

Mr Clarke added, however, that HMP Stocken needed to review and develop its drugs strategy, particularly focusing on new psychoactive substances (NPS). “Nevertheless, there had been some good work carried out, and although the mandatory drug testing positive results were high for the previous six months at around 26%, there were some encouraging signs of improvement.”

Relationships between staff and prisoners were generally positive though there had been insufficient attention paid to equalities since the last inspection. Inspectors were concerned by some serious weaknesses in health care.

It was disappointing, both for the Inspectorate and the prison, Mr Clarke said, “to find that performance in the area of purposeful activity had fallen away. At the previous inspection we had awarded our highest grade of ‘good’, but this had now declined to ‘not sufficiently good’.

“Broadly speaking, there were enough activity places and those that attended generally achieved well. However, we found that only 60% of prisoners actually left their wings to attend activities, and a further 16% were wing workers who for much of the time were not gainfully employed. Our assessment was that only around three-quarters of prisoners were engaged in genuinely purposeful activity. For those who did get to their allocated activities, punctuality was often poor and they frequently failed to settle into work promptly.”

Inspectors also had a major concern about the risks to public protection potentially posed by the small number of prisoners, around eight each month, released from Stocken into the community. Stocken is not designated as a resettlement prison, and as such does not receive services from a Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). Most prisoners were transferred to a resettlement prison prior to release, but a small number were not. This created potentially serious risks, given the profile of the prisoner population at Stocken, which were compounded by weaknesses in the internal assessment of risk.

Overall, Mr Clarke said: “Some of (our) judgements were finely balanced, but the main concerns we have identified will, I hope, give a clear steer for where the undoubted energy and commitment of the leadership and staff at Stocken can best be focused.”

Tomorrow is Election Day and Prisoners should be allowed to vote because….

By Mark Leech
Editor: The Prisons Handbook
for England and Wales

Although the UK should have left the European Union a couple of months ago, tomorrow the UK will take part in the European Parliamentary Elections – well some will, according to the latest offender management statistics the 73,000-sentenced prison population in England and Wales won’t be voting (apart from those lucky enough to be released on temporary licence tomorrow: ROTL)), but the 9,000 remanded in custody should still be able to do so.

Four years ago the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said it made him “physically ill” to be forced to give prisoners the vote; in doing so he revealed a shocking disregard of democracy, human rights and put quite simply, justice itself.

Following his remarks, I was invited onto various news programmes and asked to explain why it was that I thought David Cameron was so wrong.

“Are you suggesting Mark that the likes of Ian Huntley should be given the vote” asked one interviewer?

“Rapists and paedophiles should really be able to vote too then should they” asked another?

A third laughed at my suggestion that in all honesty the public were actually more interested in why prisoners shouldn’t vote, than prisoners were as to why they should; but it was true nonetheless – largely speaking most prisoners couldn’t give a toss about voting, they became disengaged from politics and its various scandals years ago, and since then the public have increasingly followed suit.

And to come straight to the point: yes ‘the likes of’ Ian Huntley should be allowed to vote – and for the record so too should the likes of paedophiles, rapists, murders, robbers, drug addicts and thieves.

Why?

That’s easy.

For the very simple reason that we live in a democracy and the one thing that marks out a democracy, from a dictatorship, is that in a democracy everybody counts; black, white, tall, small, fat, thin, gay, straight, good, bad and yes even very bad too – everybody, every single person, ‘counts’.

I am not saying that every prisoner should be allowed to vote, only that where we remove the right to vote it has to be based on reason not rhetoric. If we are seriously saying that every convicted prisoner is banned from voting, just because they’re in prison, whether they are serving seven days or seventy years, then my point is that there has to be some connection between the crime they committed and the sentence imposed.

A man goes out on Friday night, gets drunks, gets involved in an argument that descends into a fight, is arrested for assault and appears in court on Monday morning – when I asked the politicians I appeared with on those news programmes whether that man should lose his driving licence, every single one said ‘No’ of course not, ‘he hadn’t committed a motoring offence’.

Quite so.

So why do we remove the right to vote from prisoners who have not been convicted of any electoral offence?

Where someone has been convicted of electoral fraud then removal of the right to participate in elections for a fixed period should be a sentence open to the courts – not a stick wielded by politicians for ulterior and irrational motives.

And there is another basic objection that I have to removing the prisoners’ right to vote – and this has nothing to do with crime, indeed it is much more fundamental than that – it is that politicians have a vested interest in this subject; their career, livelihood, salary and future depend on votes, they are the last one’s who should be able to pick who can mark their homework.

I don’t object at all to the question as to whether prisoners should be able to vote actually being asked, or debated, on the contrary I welcome transparency – I simply say that politicians are not the ones who should answer such fundamental civil rights questions – that should be one for society as a whole, ideally enshrined in a written Constitution and delivered by the Courts.

And it is not as if Cameron’s view of prisoner voting has widespread support in other countries; it doesn’t.

Many nations, including Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, have no form of electoral ban for imprisoned offenders at all. In others, however, severe restrictions make it very difficult in practice for offenders to vote. In Cyprus, for example, an inmate must happen to be out of prison on the day of the elections (the position now in England and Wales too), and in Slovakia, prisoners can legally vote but no provision is made to allow them to do so.

The Republic of Ireland lifted its ban in 2006, passing legislation enabling all prisoners to vote by post in the constituency where they would ordinarily live – and the first thing they did in South Africa after the release of Nelson Mandela was to give every single prisoner the right to vote because they had spent too long living with apartheid to allow it to continue to infect their electoral system; and electoral apartheid is what we have in the UK as long as we say one section of the community – prisoners – cannot vote.

In 13 European countries, electoral disqualification depends on the crime committed or the length of the sentence. Italy, Malta and Poland, for example, ban those deemed to have committed serious crimes. In Greece, anyone sentenced to life receives a permanent voting ban.

Germany’s law actually urges prisons to encourage their inmates to vote, although it does ban those whose crimes undermine “democratic order”, such as political insurgents. You see Germany, with its chequered human rights history (like that of South Africa) ‘gets it’ where Cameron doesn’t.

Germany ’gets it’ that there is a risk that by excluding people from taking part in the very essence of a democratic process by voting, they will accept that exclusion and not only become disengaged, but then they’ll stick two fingers up to your society by starting their own way of doing things which results in gang culture, crime and lawlessness.

Germany is not alone.

Until 2005, Austria banned all those sentenced to more than one year. However, a convicted murderer challenged that and won, meaning that Austria now allows the vote in all cases except where the offence is particularly relevant – such as electoral fraud.

Other than the UK, the only other European countries with an outright ban on prisoners voting are Russia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Luxembourg and Romania; hardly countries leading the way in political thinking.

However, until a legal challenge is brought in those countries, Europe will not seek to force a change in their domestic legislation.

The European Convention on Human Rights is not some ‘a la carte’ menu in a restaurant, where you can pick and choose what rights you want to enforce and those you wish to ignore, all the rights protected by the Convention are enforceable – and let us not forget the UK signed up to this Convention well over half a century ago.

The UK led the way in post-war Europe and drove this historical treaty forward – if anything should make politicians ’physically sick’ it is not the prospect of giving prisoners the vote, but the shameful way they seek to walk over hard-won rights and freedoms that our ancestors considered so vital to any democracy they laid down their lives fighting for them.

Mark Leech FRSA ©

UPDATE: Just out: Miller v UK Court finds ban on prisoner voting breaches Article 3

Read:  Summary of European Case Law on Prisoner Voting

Extended probation for short-term prisoners fails to cut reoffending rates

Changes to the probation system have locked offenders in “an expensive merry-go-round” and have led to “no tangible reduction to reoffending”, according to a new report.

Last year, more than 38,000 people were released from prison after serving sentences of less than 12 months. Many of these individuals are prolific perpetrators of crime, with chaotic lifestyles and complex needs.

The government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme extended the probation period for short-term prisoners. Now, all offenders who are sentenced to more than one day and less than two years in prison are supervised for 12 months. Private probation providers – known as Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) – are responsible for supervising around three-quarters of short-term prisoners after release.

Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said: “The government introduced this change with the aim of reducing reoffending. In the cases we inspected, we found no tangible reduction in reoffending. National reoffending statistics show no material change in reoffending either; moreover, almost one in four are recalled to prison.

“This ‘one size fits all’ approach is unhelpful. Many individuals who receive short sentences need intensive support; conversely, just under a quarter of inspected cases were lower-risk so supervision periods could have potentially been shortened or suspended. In my opinion, we need a more tailored approach to probation supervision for short-term prisoners and to direct resources to where they are most needed.”

Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of short-term prisoners go on to reoffend, committing crime worth an estimated £7-10bn per year. By comparison, the reoffending rate is 28 per cent for those who have served longer sentences.

The 12-month probation period for short-term prisoners is made up of a combination of time on licence, when individuals must abide by certain conditions, and post-sentence supervision. The Ministry of Justice collects data about individuals on licence, for example if they breach conditions and are recalled to prison, but inspectors found no mechanisms in place to evaluate post-sentence supervision. Therefore, it is impossible to say what – if any – impact this supervision has on the rehabilitation of short-term prisoners.

Inspectors found inconsistencies in the way prisoners are prepared for release. Of the CRCs inspected so far this year, the Inspectorate has rated ‘Through the Gate’ services as ‘Good’ in four CRCs, ‘Requires improvement’ in seven CRCs, and ‘Inadequate’ in three CRCs. Inspectors were “shocked” to find pre-sentence reports had been completed in less than a quarter of inspected cases and prisoners’ needs had not been identified prior to release in almost a third of inspected cases.

Dame Glenys said: “The lack of pre-sentence reports is a national problem. It is plainly unacceptable for magistrates and judges to sentence a person to custody without the benefit of essential information and advice on why they offended, their current circumstances and any alternative sentence options. Prisons and probation services are also left without vital information to manage the individual’s case after they are sentenced.

“It is regrettable that the work done by prison-based resettlement teams is not more effective. Our inspection found almost one in three people are released from prison with no fixed abode. Individuals can only apply for Universal Credit after release; the application process is challenging for those without a permanent address, documentation and the IT skills to apply for benefits online. The lack of accommodation and money make the first days following release particularly difficult. Those leaving custody after a short sentence are very likely to need early help and are likely to return to prison promptly without it.”

Inspectors found the quality of post-release supervision for short-term prisoners was variable. In too many cases, CRCs focussed on staying in contact with individuals, rather than supporting and challenging them to address their offending behaviour. Inspectors found probation staff adequately assessed why individuals offended, what could stop them from offending again, and their personal circumstances. However, probation staff should have paid greater attention to public safety and the individual’s welfare and wellbeing in just under a third of inspected cases.

The inspection found CRCs supervise short-term prisoners in much the same way as other types of offenders. There is no contractual obligation to take a different tack, but inspectors concluded this approach “hardly scratches the surface” with this group. Inspectors found probation staff did not keep pace with the rapid changes that can affect individuals leaving prison. Issues, such as moving in and out of temporary accommodation or stopping treatment for drug addictions, can heighten the risk of reoffending and should be reflected in supervision plans.

The report concludes with 11 recommendations to improve the quality of probation supervision of short-term prisoners as they resettle in the community.

Dame Glenys said: “Many of these individuals do not have supportive networks of family and friends, so the relationship between the probation professional and individual can be pivotal. We recommend CRCs deliver tailored probation supervision and ensure the continuity of relationships as far as possible.

“We want to see greater leadership and grip on national issues: a strategy to tackle the lack of accommodation, continued efforts to address barriers to claiming Universal Credit, and better access to mental health and substance misuse services. If a prison sentence is being considered, we recommend comprehensive pre-sentence reports are prepared.

“At present, there is a lack of reliable data about short-term prisoners. We recommend this is addressed so we can gain a better understanding of this group and how they fare when they return to the community.

“The government has signalled its intention to move away from short sentences, but this is unlikely to be effective without other changes. All under probation supervision should be supervised to a good standard, of course, but intensive and holistic rehabilitative supervision will be required for this group to meet the government’s aims. In my view, a system-wide approach as well as much more purposeful probation supervision is needed. Without it, individuals are locked in an expensive merry-go-round of criminal justice processes and the public are left at undue risk.”

Read the Report

HMP Guys Marsh – “tangible progress for the first time in many years”

Guys Marsh, a training and resettlement jail in Dorset assessed as ‘out of control’ five years ago, showed substantial improvement in the most recent inspection.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the Inspectorate had considered the prison, near Shaftesbury, to be high risk for a number of years. “When we inspected in 2014 we found a prison we described as being out of control. Our subsequent inspection in 2016 saw only marginal improvements…

“It is therefore pleasing to report that, following this inspection (in December 2018 and January 2019) we found a prison where improvement was both substantial and significant.”

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Considerable concerns about safety remained, including high levels of violence driven by drugs and debt, and the frequent use of force by staff. Despite this, Guys Marsh was assessed as a safer prison “and our overall impression was of a calmer, more settled institution.”

The prison had been slow to formulate strategies to reduce the violence but more recently had established a firmer grip. Mr Clarke added: “We saw evidence of several useful initiatives to better understand and confront violence as well as improve support for more isolated individuals.” Staff and prisoners sought solutions to the violence in a ‘violence summit.’

Security was applied proportionately at the prison, with attention to combating illicit drug use. However, many initiatives were new and untested and with the mandatory positive drug testing rate at 27%, the evidence suggested a still considerable problem.

“There had been one self-inflicted death since we last inspected and a further four where evidence pointed to a connection to the use of illegal drugs. Recommendations following Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) investigations had been implemented but there remained a problem with increased self-harm among prisoners.” However, there was a significant amount of work being done to try to improve the situation and support for those in crisis seemed good.

Inspectors found that staff supervision and visibility were reasonable – with senior managers particularly prominent. Staff-prisoner relationships were mostly good and the key worker scheme seemed to be helping greatly. The fabric of the prison needed renewal, though this work had begun. The prison was cleaner than before and access to facilities and amenities was much improved, though there was still some overcrowding in cramped cells.

Daily routines in the prison were no longer as restricted as at previous inspections and were now far more predictable. Despite this, a quarter of prisoners were still locked in cells during the working day. Ofsted inspectors assessed the overall effectiveness of education, skills and work as ‘requires improvement’. In contrast, the management of rehabilitation was much improved and robust.

Mr Clarke said:

“This inspection of Guys Marsh evidenced tangible progress for the first time in many years. There was still much to correct and improve but managers were visible and there was good leadership, as well as commitment and enthusiasm among those who worked there. The prison was far more settled and there was an underpinning commitment to promoting well-being among all those held.”

Phil Copple, HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Director General of Prisons, said:

“We placed the prison in special measures in 2017 and I’m pleased the Chief Inspector has recognised the significant improvements it has made since then. It is a commendable achievement by the prison’s staff and management and while there is clearly more to do, the rollout of the key worker scheme, further refurbishments and a new CCTV system to boost security have led to further progress since the inspection.”

Read the Report Here

First of the new HMI ‘Independent Review of Progress’ Reports shows “Too Little Too Late” at HMP Exeter

“A thoroughly depressing report”
Mark Leech, Editor:  The Prisons Handbook
for England and Wales

Work to address key failings at HMP Exeter, a troubled prison found last year to suffer high levels of drug-fuelled violence, has lacked urgency, according to HM Inspectorate of Prisons.

In the first of its new ‘Independent Reviews of Progress’ (IRPs) – in Exeter in April 2019 – HMIP tested progress against key recommendations from a full inspection in May last year. Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, was so concerned by the conditions in Exeter at that time that he issued a rarely-used ‘Urgent Notification’ requiring the Secretary of State to respond with plans for improvement within 28 days.

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The IRP visit presented a mixed picture. One of the most troubling findings was ‘no meaningful progress’ in understanding the factors underlying high levels of illicit drug use.

Mr Clarke said that while there had been progress on some aspects, “the lack of progress in over half the 13 recommendations that we reviewed could be characterised by the statement ‘too little too late’.

“The purpose of the Urgent Notification Protocol, which is only used where I have serious concerns about the treatment of and conditions for prisoners, is to initiate immediate remedial action.

“At Exeter, in too many critical areas, this simply had not happened. It was not clear whether this was as a result of a conscious decision not to prioritise our recommendations, bureaucratic inertia, or whether managers were simply overwhelmed or uncertain as to how to set about making the much-needed improvements. 

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“Whatever the reason, there had not been a sufficient sense of urgency in the prison’s response to a number of key recommendations.”

In the May 2018 inspection, inspectors found there had been six self-inflicted deaths between 2016 and 2018 and self-harm had risen by 40%. Despite these levels of vulnerability, self-harm and suicide, cell call bells were routinely ignored by staff. The rate of assaults between prisoners was then the highest inspectors had seen in a local prison in recent years.

In April 2019, the IRP found that overall levels of violence had decreased, though they remained higher than in similar prisons. Mr Clarke said: “A number of actions had been taken to reduce violence and the strategy to reduce violence further in the future was promising.” The use of unregulated segregation had been eradicated, and governance of the use of force by staff was improving.

“However, despite a rise in the already high use of illicit drugs in the establishment, there had been an inexplicable failure to develop a comprehensive drug strategy which, if properly implemented, would certainly contribute to a reduction in violence. A draft strategy was being put together and it is essential that this is now treated as a priority.”

Relationships between staff and prisoners were found to be improving and improvement processes were in place to monitor cell bell responses. There was progress on prisoner applications and complaints, though equality and diversity work had not been prioritised at all. Similarly, attendance at education and work, some of which remained mundane, had not been prioritised.

Mr Clarke said that after the Urgent Notification the prison was required to produce an action plan for the Secretary of State but a number of the deadlines in this plan had not been met on time.

“Nevertheless, there had been a proactive response to some recommendations in critical areas and there are now credible plans to make further improvements in the future. It is unfortunate that the prison had not devised and implemented some of these plans earlier as they would no doubt have led to a more positive assessment at this review of progress.”

Mark Leech, Editor of The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales called the report ‘thoroughly depressing’.

Mr Leech said: “We all had high hopes that the Urgent Notification process would lead to real and lasting improvements in those prisons which have been subject to it – HMP Exeter was the first such prison to benefit from a post Urgent Notification IRP and this review of progress is a thoroughly depressing report that demonstrates that not even the Justice Secretary’s public undertakings of progress can be relied upon.”

The report is available here: https://www.prisons.org.uk/Exeter-HMI-IRP-052019.pdf