Russell Webster’s Blog Week in Justice 3rd June 2018
A sense of progress on prison reform and confidence in the current political leadership at Petty France was undermined again on Thursday when Prison Chief Inspector Peter Clarke issued his second “urgent notification” requiring the Justice Secretary to make rapid improvements to Exeter Prison where violence and easy access to drugs remained the norm despite a critical inspection 18 months ago and a substantial increase in staffing.
On a brighter note, there was a big step forward for Ban the Box campaigners with university applicants no longer required to disclose previous convictions.
As always, click on any tile for the full story.
Prison Chief Inspector issues 2nd urgent notification
Violence still a problem but evidence of improved conditions
Rob Allen’s analysis of the prison crisis
Let’s make work another | Eric Allison
Revolving Doors campaign picking up steam
Is the Government finally serious about prison reform?
Updated Corporate Plan 2018-2021
Mike Guilfoyle on CCJS
New MoJ research
We all know that people sentenced to community orders have lower reoffending rates than those given short prison sentences.
But what sorts of offenders do better on community orders or worse on short prison sentences? How do community orders and suspended sentences compare?
This is the sort of question that a new (17 May 2018) analytical summary from the MoJ sets out to answer. Joseph Hillier and Aidan Mews analysed a series of datasets from 2008-2011 on adult offenders released from custodial sentences of under 12 months or who started a court order in those four years. It is important to remember that people sentenced to short periods of custody at this time received no supervision on release.
The report examines whether impact on reoffending differs according to offenders’ age, ethnicity, gender, and mental health. It also provides further analysis on the reoffending impact of suspended sentence orders compared with similar cases where community orders were given, whether the impacts vary according to the number of previous offences, and the impacts of mental health and alcohol treatment requirements. They key findings were:
- Were greater for people with larger numbers of previous offences. For people with no previous offences, there was no statistically significant difference between the reoffending associated with short-term custody and that associated with court orders.
- Differed according to an offender’s age group, after controlling for the number of previous offences. The use of court orders was associated with relatively more benefit for those aged 18–20 and those over 50, and less benefit for those aged 21–29.
- Differed according to identification of mental health issues, after controlling for the number of previous offences. The use of court orders was associated with more benefit for offenders with ‘significant’ psychiatric problems and those with current or pending psychiatric treatment.
- Were similar across ethnic groups and for both males and females, after controlling for the number of previous offences.
- For those with identified mental health issues, mental health treatment requirements attached to court orders were associated with significant reductions in reoffending where they were used, compared with similar cases where they were not. The reoffending rate was around 3.5 percentage points lower over a one-year follow-up period.
- For those with identified alcohol use issues, alcohol treatment requirements were associated with similar or slightly lower reoffending where they were used compared with similar cases where they were not.
- Suspended sentence orders were associated with a reduced rate of reoffending (over a one year follow-up period) of around 4 percentage points compared with similar cases where community orders were given, with a smaller impact over longer follow-up periods. Suspended sentence orders were associated with more benefit in reducing reoffending as age increased and less benefit as the number of previous offences increased.
This analysis shows that court orders have more impact on reducing reoffending (compared to short prison sentences) on those with more previous offences. It is unclear why this is the case, but it may be about the diminishing returns of the potential ‘short shock’ deterrence associated with imprisonment as offenders become more acclimatised to the criminal justice system. This is supported by the finding that suspended sentence orders (which carry the threat of custody) were also relatively more effective in reducing reoffending, as the number of previous offences decreased compared to similar cases where community orders were used.
Interestingly, there was no significant effect of ethnicity or gender when comparing custody with community orders or community orders with suspended sentences. Age, however, did seem to make a difference: the youngest and oldest age groupings benefited particularly from the use of court orders compared to short-term custody. However, the impact of suspended sentence orders in reducing reoffending compared with community orders generally increased with age.
Differences in impact were also found on the basis of mental health – those assessed as having significant psychiatric problems or current or pending psychiatric treatment benefited particularly from the use of court orders compared to short-term custody after controlling for the number of previous offences.
The impact of alcohol treatment requirements on reoffending was less pronounced with ATRs associated with similar or slightly lower reoffending compared to prison.
In my view, these findings give plenty of food for thought and makes me wonder, yet again, why mental health treatment requirements are so rarely used.
Week in Justice 29 April 2018
Slightly oddly, the MoJ chose Saturday morning to publish the results of its important parole review which sets out plans for a more transparent way of working, rights of appeal and an improved victims’ service.
This week also featured the publication of a number of key statistics by which we judge the criminal justice system.
The crime figures for 2017 were published from which we found that while crime levels remain pretty stable, there were substantial increases in some sorts of offences – namely burglaries, robberies, vehicle thefts and violence involving knives and firearms.
The prison safety figures show that the prison crisis is deepening rather than improving. Although the number of suicides was down, self-harm and assaults on prisoners and staff reached unprecedented levels.
As usual, click on the tile to read the full story.
Week in Justice 22 April 2018
Most of the focus this week was on the probation service, especially on Tuesday 17th. On that day, HMI Probation published its thematic inspection into supply chains which formally confirmed that Transforming Rehabilitation’s aspiration to involve more voluntary sector organisations in work with offenders had completely failed to materialise, rather the sector had shrunk through lack of funding from cash-strapped CRCs.
On the same day both the probation and prison chief inspectors and Prisons and Probation Minister, Rory Stewart, gave evidence to the Justice Select Committee on Transforming Rehabilitation and how best to fix it.
In prison news, there was another critical inspection report and another disturbance.
As always, click on the tile to read the full story.
The Veteran performed by Luke Allen-Gale
A young veteran tells his story of leaving the Armed Forces. Veteran – Luke Allen-Gale Original Poem by John Bagnall
Freedom of Information
Freedom of Information requests are truly the gift that keeps on giving.
Below are some of the nuggets of information I’ve unearthed from the responses to FOIs that the Ministry of Justice published this March.
- Over a quarter (25.6%) of the 85,763 people given community sentences in 2016 had 11 or more previous convictions and/or cautions. 1,357 (1.6%) had 50 or more previous and 87 (0.1%) had 100 or more.
- 102,931 people received a police caution in 2016 – a drop of 22,681 or (18%) on the year before.
- 9,221 people with no previous convictions were sentenced to immediate custody in 2016.
- 210,055 people were given a caution for possession of cocaine over the last 10 years.
The parallel figure for cannabis was 416,363 and for heroin 76,969.
- Three hundred and forty five 10 or 11 year old were given cautions or convicted of a criminal offence in 2016.
- In the 12 year period 2005-2016, 790 people were given a life sentence with a tariff of between 20-24 years.
In the same time period, 469 were given a tariff of 25-29 years, 301 were told to serve a minimum of 30-34 years, 70 got tariffs of 35-40 years and 34 of 41 years or more.
- Between 2007 and 2016 a total of 27 people have been convicted of the offence of having sexual intercourse with an animal.
- 59 people were convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship in 2016 (an offence introduced by the Serious Crime Act 2015).
57 of these were men.
- The proportion of defendants sentenced to immediate custody in Magistrates’ Courts ranged from 0% (in 4 courts) to 14% in South Worcestershire and 33% in Harrogate and Skipton (where only 6 defendants were sentenced all year.)
The average was 3.8%.
- In 2016, 54 people were convicted of child sexual exploitation and 225 of sexual grooming.
Local systems can prioritise prevention
Justice devolution (sometimes known as justice reinvestment) has been an objective of many commentators, academics and Think Tanks for some years (check out these posts, for example).
The rationale is clear: many of the levers for reducing crime lie outside the CJS at a local level – with health, education, employment and housing and require engagement and better integration locally. A more localised system, where the criminal justice services are shaped around the local area’s needs rather than looking ‘upwards’ to Whitehall, is more likely to create a system which is
preventative, joined up, evidence-based and transparent.
If local areas are given justice budgets to invest as they see fit and are allowed to reinvest the savings from a more co-ordinated approach, then many see the potential of justice devolution.
The argument has gathered pace since the creation of Police and Crime Commissioners who are ideally placed to lead and design joined up local systems.
The momentum for justice devolution picked up pace over the last fortnight with the publication of two documents.
On 23 March 2018 Crest Advisory published their driving criminal justice devolution report which details work from four PCC areas: Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, Northumbria and North Yorkshire.
Three days later, the Mayor of London’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), the MoJ and London Councils jointly published a memorandum of understanding (MoU) entitled Working towards Justice Devolution to London.
Crest Advisory Report
Crest advances two core arguments for devolution.
Firstly, PCCs are accountable for police performance, but the crime in their communities – not to mention the social harms – cannot be solved by the police alone. To make real progress, PCCs have to make good on the ‘and Crime’ part of their job description, which means greater leverage over youth justice, prosecution, courts, probation and prisons.
Secondly, the big fiscal reality for the next decade and beyond makes devolution the best answer to some of these intractable problems of rising complex crime demands and shrinking budgets. We cannot continue to rely on national reform programmes and extra spending to improve performance, and budget reductions since 2010 have brought us to the limit of what government
departments can deliver in the way of easy savings. If we want to make justice swifter, reduce the numbers of female offenders in prison, and finally tackle our high rates of reoffending, we need a radical shift in power to the local level. This is where the solutions and the innovation will be found to improve services, not in Whitehall.
The report consists of various examples of work in the four PCC areas including:
- Commissioning through-the-gate services.
- Improving the performance of and renegotiating the contracts for the local Community Rehabilitation Company.
- Developing diversion/triage schemes for low level women offenders.
- Developing alternatives to short custodial sentences.
- Improving health interventions for offenders.
- Developing commissioning responsiblity for electronic tagging.
Crest concludes that although PCCs still lack formal powers over much of the criminal justice system,
as visible democratically elected figures, they have considerable ‘soft’ power, which they are increasingly able to wield.
These two reports combined with the devolution of criminal justice powers to the combined Manchester authorities in March 2016 and work by other Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales seem to indicate that the momentum towards justice devolution is starting to pick up speed.
However, to have real impact, we will need willingness by a Justice Secretary to let go of central powers. For this to happen, we probably need to keep the same person in post for a period of three years at least.
David Gauke seems to have his hands full at the moment with the critically poor performance of both prisons and probation and a radical overhaul of parole. It will be interesting to see whether he has the inclination, time and political will to set devolution as a realistic policy direction.
The Memorandum of Understanding is a first step in the devolution of justice services to the Capital. It creates a transparent framework for:
- Achieving co-design, co-investment and co-commissioning between MoJ, London Councils and MOPAC with respect to the management of offenders.
- Developing a plan to test devolution of agreed and specified justice responsibilities where the case is compelling.
It sets out the initial process for collaborative working which can happen immediately and identifies the areas for further development leading to implementation from March 2019. The MoU sets out seven initial shared priorities:
- Joining up services that support victims and witnesses of crime to create a newly integrated service, designed around the needs of victims and witnesses, rather than the requirement of different agencies;
- Pooling of criminal justice resources, enabling a shift in investment upstream from enforcement to prevention and early intervention;
- Developing robust community sentence options, which have the confidence of judges and the public and thus contribute to reducing incarceration for lower risk offenders;
- Moving justice and resettlement closer to home where possible;
- Ensuring the CJS connects people to employment, skills and learning and improving the continuity of care from custody into the community;
- Providing holistic services to young people at risk of offending, young offenders, and young adults in transition from the youth justice system to the adult service, that address the root causes of offending behaviour, whilst ensuring justice continues to be served;
- Addressing the disproportionate representation of certain groups (such as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups and care leavers) within the criminal justice system.
Reducing the use of short prison sentences
We need a smarter approach
Today’s post reproduces a new campaign from the Revolving Doors Agency to reduce the use of short prison sentences. It is based both on public opinion and the evidence base.
What’s the problem?
Currently 30,000 people each year go to prison on sentences of less than six months. This represents half of all people sent to prison to serve a sentence. The majority of people serving sentences of less than six months are in prison for non-violent offences. Some common offences that receive a short time in custody are theft and drug offences, linked to underlying problems such as poverty, addiction, homelessness and poor mental health. Indeed, the most common offence for which people are sentenced to prison is theft.
The public strongly oppose the use of prison for petty crime. A new poll commissioned by Revolving Doors found that:
- 80% of the public think that theft of daily essentials such as food, sanitary products and nappies does not warrant a prison sentence. This was true for voters across all the major parties.
- 74% of the public think people with drug or alcohol addictions belong in treatment programmes instead of prison.
- A majority of voters said they were likely to vote for an MP candidate that supported reducing prison populations and using the savings to invest in drug treatment and mental health programmes (only 16% said they were unlikely to do so). Each of the major parties had more people likely to support this policy than unlikely to do so.
These poll results are important findings given that at least a quarter of people entering prison on short sentences are there for theft. It is also clear that each of the major parties would have the support of their voters for a policy of prison population reduction, and of ensuring people are not sentenced to prison for offences such as theft where possible.
Why does it matter?
Short prison sentences are proven to be less effective at reducing reoffending than community sentences. We can find smarter ways of tackling persistent, petty crime. Short prison sentences are short-sighted because they disrupt family ties, housing, employment and treatment programmes for example, but they do not provide any meaningful rehabilitation.
These sentences contribute to prison ‘churn’ and volatility. At the same time, the use of community sentences, which can include requirements such as mental health treatment, alcohol misuse treatment and drug misuse treatment, has declined – substantially and rapidly.
People who have direct experience of the system can explain why short prison sentences often fail to break the cycle of offending, and why support in the community can make a difference.
What is the solution?
The government should introduce a presumption against the use of short custodial sentences of less than six months. This would allow such a sentence only when no other appropriate disposal is available. Where short prison sentences are imposed, courts would have to say why.
This approach does not remove the court’s discretion; it is a presumption not a ban. Therefore, under these proposals offences that are serious and/or risk harm, such as domestic violence, can be dealt with appropriately by the courts.
At the same time there is a need to strengthen community sentences so that they command public confidence and are able to deal effectively with some of the underlying causes of persistent, petty offending, including drug or alcohol misuse and mental health. However, there is no value in continuing with the failed policy of short sentences while we wait. Clear direction from government on the need to reduce inappropriate short sentences should be the welcome catalyst for action.
What change do we hope to see?
As a start we want to see the least harmful and least serious theft or drug offences dealt with differently. The least serious quarter of these cases represents 2,250 people or 4 people per parliamentary constituency. It is surely possible that there are 4 people in each constituency who could be safely given a community sentence rather than ineffective short prison sentence. To do otherwise is short-sighted.