Category Archives: News

New standards for probation

New standards for probation

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What difference does

We at HMI Probation have been thinking for a while about why and how we inspect. That may sound a bit odd, but it is not quite as daft as it sounds.
To inspect is to examine closely or to inquire carefully. Over time, an agreed view of what good inspection should achieve has developed. I first saw it set out in a paper in the Modern Law Review: inspection of any public service should focus on its conformity to standards; the quality of service it delivers and the quality of its management arrangements. The author, Professor Stephen Shute also argued that it should cover the organisation’s efficiency and value for money, but today I want to focus on the first three requirements.


Shining a light

Professor Shute argued that by shining a light on these things, inspection provides those carrying political or executive responsibility, as well as the general public with an independent way of holding agencies to account and testing whether the services they offer are being delivered appropriately. He also argued that inspection can drive up quality in the criminal justice system. Done well, it shines a light, holds people to account and – critically – it should improve services, over time.

Most rational people would agree that inspection should show whether the body being inspected is conforming to standards, but of course, standards in probation have waxed and waned in recent years. With Transforming Rehabilitation, probation providers were freed up to a large extent from established standards, and encouraged to innovate and find new ways of rehabilitating offenders.

Inspection can drive improvement

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the new found freedoms are not yet working as intended, but that is not my focus today. Instead I am speaking of inspection, good inspection. Where there are no clear, agreed, published standards to show what good quality work looks like, then inspecting is less effective than it can be. Those inspected are not always sure what is expected of them, how their service might be judged, and how and where to focus so as to improve. That is a hole we want to fill.

As HMI Probation, we can produce inspection standards, to show what we are looking for when we inspect. But for standards to do more – to drive improvement in services – then they should be built by consensus. Inspection alone cannot improve quality. Instead it requires the combined efforts of providers, professionals and staff, commissioners and funders, and inspectors, all working towards a single vision of high-quality probation services, informed by listening to those receiving those services. It is that single view, single vision that is so important for us all.

It is essential then that those who will be inspected against standards are involved in their development. We have been working with the NPS, CRCs and others in workshops across England and Wales to develop and refine a new set of standards for probation services delivered by the NPS and CRCs. We think we have a good set of draft standards as a result, and now we want to see if others agree.

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Our prisons keep getting more violent

Our prisons keep getting more violent


Highest number of assaults on record

Thursday’s (26 October 2017) Safety in Custody Statistics make for predictably grim reading with self harm and assaults reaching record highs.

The only glimmer of hope is that HMPPS focus on suicides has seen a drop in the number of prisoners killing themselves. Tragically, there were still 77 suicides last year (compared to 110 the previous year).

The latest figures cover deaths for the year to September 2017 and assaults and self harm for the year to June 2017.

Here are the main points:


Deaths in prison

In the 12 months to September 2017 there were 300 deaths in prison custody, a decrease of 7% from 324 in the previous year, at a rate of 3.5 deaths per 1,000 prisoners. The most recent quarter saw the lowest number of total deaths since the three months to December 2015. Quarterly death figures should be considered with caution due to greater volatility and the potential for seasonal effects.

There were 77 apparent self-inflicted deaths, down 30% from 110 in the previous year.



In the 12 months to June 2017, there were 41,103 reported incidents of self-harm (a rate of 482 per 1,000 prisoners), up 12% on the previous year. The number of self-harm incidents requiring hospital attendance increased by 9% on the previous year to 2,833 while the proportion of incidents that required hospital attendance remained broadly similar at 6.9%. The number of self-harm incidents and those requiring hospital attendance are both the highest ever recorded.



In the 12 months to June 2017, there were 27,193 assault incidents (a staggering rate of 319 incidents per 1,000 prisoners), an increase of 14% on the previous year, and the highest level in the time series. In the latest quarter, there were 7,115 assaults, up 6% from the three months to March 2017.

There were 19,678 prisoner-on-prisoner assaults in the 12 months to June 2017 (a rate of 231 per 1,000 prisoners), up 10% on the previous year, and a record high. The latest quarter also saw a 7% increase in the number of incidents, reaching a record high of 5,155.

Assaults on staff reached a record high of 7,437 in the 12 months to June 2017 (a rate of 87 per 1,000 prisoners), and are up 25% on the previous year. In the most recent quarter, assaults on staff rose by 9%, reaching a record high of 2,011 incidents.



Not only are these figures shocking in themselves, they remain (in my opinion) the best barometer of the overall state of our prison system. Only when we see a prolonged trend in the fall of self-harm and assaults will we be able to feel confident that our prisons are beginning to become a more acceptable place for prisoners to live and staff to work.

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Trauma-informed work key to protecting the public

Trauma-informed work key to protecting the public

Do YOTs protect the public?

The public can be better protected from dangerous and violent young offenders if adults working with them are trained to understand the often extreme trauma in their childhoods.


That’s the headline finding from a new report published by HMI Probation today (26 October 2017): Addressing childhood trauma of young offenders and understanding social media use in crimes can reduce offending.

At first glance it seems slightly odd that an inspection report addresses two such distinct issues: trauma-informed desistance work and the use of social media. However, it transpires that the inspection was actually an examination of the work done by Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) with young people convicted of violent and other serious offences and that these were the two key issues which emerged.

Overall findings

Overall, inspectors found we found YOTs doing a good job with this group of serious offenders. They found that almost all the staff they interviewed in six different YOTs were competent and committed. YOTs were found to be using new assessment and planning materials effectively, although they could do more to incorporate the views of young people in their plans, and to develop robust intervention plans.

YOTs were also found to be working well to protect victims, if necessary by setting exclusion or curfew conditions, and taking enforcement action when needed to keep people safe.

Traumatic pasts

Inspectors examined the case files of 115 young people who had committed violent, sexual and/or other offences where there were potential public protection issues. Where information was available, they found that more than three in four had experienced emotional trauma or other deeply distressing or disturbing things in their lives.

Research tells us that these experiences will affect a young person’s current behaviour, making it more likely that they will offend and reducing their ability to work with adults trying to help them.

The spectrum of experiences was remarkably wide (and are described in an Appendix to the report) and included separation and estrangement from parents, the death of a parent or main carer, sexual abuse, severe physical chastisement, serial domestic abuse and parental substance misuse.

For some young people their experiences of trauma were both multiple and severe. Domestic abuse was prevalent: one-third had grown up in a household where there was a formal record of domestic abuse. Almost half of our sample were in local authority care, often placed some way from home.

Inspectors recommend that all YOTs should be able to identify and respond effectively to emotional trauma and other adverse events in young people’s lives, and apply the strategies available for tailoring services to take account of trauma. There is evidence, for example, that the young person’s relationship with the case manager is important and also that interventions should be kept as simple as possible.

Inspectors found YOT staff accounting for some of these issues in their work with young people, but doing so intuitively rather than within a clear policy or practice framework. We found that the models of youth justice intervention that respond to trauma have been implemented in only a handful of YOTs.

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Relentless: The impact of working with high-risk offenders

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Relentless: The impact of working with high-risk offenders

Probation has been much more in the news recently.

Michael Spurr, the Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service acknowledged that through-the-gate support wasn’t working.

The Justice Select Committee has announced an inquiry into Transforming Rehabilitation, the name given to the government’s privatisation and split of the probation service.

Increased media coverage is likely to follow an upcoming Panorama on the poor performance of private probation companies known as Community Rehabilitation Companies.

However, almost all the attention is focused on the private sector part of probation with the National Probation Service (which is normally found to be performing reasonably well by inspectors) mainly ignored.

Today’s post, however, is solely concerned with the NPS, sharing the findings of a study published in a new virtual special issue of the Probation Journal focused on TR. As most readers know, the NPS works with offenders assessed as presenting a high risk of harm and the study:

“It’s relentless”: the impact of working primarily with high-risk offenders by Jake Phillips, Chalen Westaby & Andrew Fowler of Sheffield Hallam University.

examines the impact on NPS staff, most of whom now work almost exclusively with this group of offenders.

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Prison Conditions in 2017

Prison Conditions in 2017


The Chief Inspector of Prisons and his team are acutely aware that people may be getting increasingly desensitised to inspection reports many of which describe very similar situations — increased violence; drug use; poor conditions and prisoners spending far too much time locked in their cells.

For this reason, they have published today (10 October 2017) a new report: Life in Prison — Living Conditions. Here’s the first two paragraphs of the introduction reproduced in full:

Some people may feel a sense of déjà vu or world-weariness when they hear repeated accounts of poor conditions in our prisons. Many reports from HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMI Prisons) have pointed out that, all too often, prisoners are held in conditions that fall short of what most members of the public would consider as reasonable or decent.

I would urge readers not to assume this paper is simply another account of some dilapidated prisons, but to look at the details of what we describe, and then ask themselves whether it is acceptable for prisoners to be held in these conditions in the United Kingdom in 2017.

It is, of course, right to point out that not every prison holds its prisoners in poor conditions. On the whole, high security prisons, women’s prisons and open prisons provide decent conditions and some good facilities. However, in many of the local prisons and training prisons, the picture is bleak.

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Principles for the criminal justice voluntary sector


Principles for the criminal justice voluntary sector

Clinks Thinks

Clinks, the national infrastructure organisation supporting voluntary sector organisations in the criminal justice system, has just published a revised version of its Clinks Thinks document which  sets out  core principles and recommendations that reflect the key policy issues raised by Clinks members, and the main issues on which Clinks advocates for change.

Here are its main points


Clinks thinks the voluntary sector’s role as a forward-thinking designer and provider of services needs to be recognised. Voluntary organisations should be pro-actively engaged as a valued partner by policy makers and service providers throughout the criminal justice system at a local, regional and national level.


Clinks thinks the voluntary sector’s role as a campaigner should be protected, allowing it to speak freely on behalf of allowing it to speak freely on behalf of service users and communities.


Clinks thinks the Government and local services should do more to put people in the criminal justice system at the heart of policy making and service delivery. Policy and practice should be person-centred, acknowledge that people need long-term support, and that relapse can sometimes be part of the journey to rehabilitation.


Clinks thinks the Ministry of Justice should develop a clear strategy for reducing the number of people in prison by increasing investment in preventative services, diverting people away from the criminal justice system and expanding the use of alternatives to custody.


Clinks thinks a cross-departmental strategy for women and girls, led by the Ministry of Justice, should ensure that women are diverted away from the criminal justice system at the earliest opportunity. To do this we need to increase the use of gender-specific community sentences and make sure we invest in specialist voluntary organisations including women’s centres.


Clinks thinks all sectors working in criminal justice must work to tackle racism and discrimination by ensuring that they are using evidence and examples of good practice to meet the needs of BAME people. Government should have a comprehensive strategy which gives race equality a central place in all policy making and should have ambitious aims for reducing the inequality across the system.


Clinks thinks the youth justice system needs to remain focussed on reducing the use of custody, increasing the use of early intervention and diversion, and provide a locally-owned and multi-agency approach to all services. A national strategy needs to be produced and published to both address the causes of over-representation of black, Asian and minority ethnic young people in the youth justice system, and address the reasons why reducing a youth custody approach has failed this group.

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Unlocking Potential: A Matter of Judgement

Unlocking Potential: A Matter of Judgement

Earlier this week, Labour peer Lord Adonis shifted his fire from university bosses to judges. Both are often considered (and consider themselves) to be world class; but Adonis tried to use the large increase in the prison population since the 1990’s to claim that the judiciary were far from that. In a series of provocative tweets, he accused them of sins of commission – pushing up the going rate for offences – and omission- failing to stand up to illiberal government criminal justice proposals and the punitive tabloids.

Various legal tweeters rushed to the judges’ defence pointing out that it was New Labour’s criminal justice legislation which had driven up prison numbers while judges simply and faithfully applied the law as they must. As often on twitter, an interesting debate quickly descended into ridicule and abuse, albeit modest by the standards that prevail. I even got caught up in it myself. Having suggested to Adonis that the Sentencing Council – whose president and chair are senior judges-could have done more to limit prison growth since 2010, I retweeted his take that the Council “has followed the Daily Mail out of fear”. I was told by an Oxford academic that my retweet was fostering misunderstanding and I had an obligation to make clear that Adonis’s juvenile view was manifestly wrong.

Adonis may have been unfair on the Council, although it is arguable that of the matters to which they must have regard when producing guidelines, more attention has been paid to the need to promote public confidence than to the costs and effectiveness of sentences. Indeed I have argued this in a report for Transform Justice. But leaving to one side Adonis’s combative and somewhat disdainful approach, what of his wider point. How culpable have the judiciary been in the matter of the spiralling prison population in England and Wales?

Mike Hough and colleagues’ detailed study of the 71% rise in the adult prison population from 36,000 in 1991 to 62,000 in 2003 found that tougher sentencing – longer prison sentences for serious crimes and more short prison sentences instead of community penalties -came about through the interplay of an increasingly punitive climate of political and media debate about punishment; legislative changes and new guideline judgements; and sentencers’ perceptions of changes in patterns of offending. So everyone’s to blame.

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Lidington: Putting security and rehabilitation at the heart of prison reform

Lidington: Putting security and rehabilitation at the heart of prison reform

David Lidington, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, speaking today at Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, said:

“Yesterday morning, as Lord Chancellor, I joined our country’s senior judges and lawyers in Westminster Abbey to mark the opening of the new legal year. Then we processed together across Parliament Square to Westminster Hall – the heart of our democracy.

It was a great occasion, a celebration of the long history and ancient traditions of our legal system.

But at heart, what was being honoured was not wigs and robes, nor ritual and protocol, but the living constitutional principles which that ceremony affirmed.

The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary underpin our democracy and lie at the heart of our way of life. They are the very cornerstone of our freedoms.

No individual, no organization, no government is above the law.

That is why the refusal by the leadership of today’s Labour Party to rule out supporting illegal strikes is a shameful abdication of responsibility from a party seeking to govern.

I believe, this party believes, in the rule of law, and in our system of justice that protects the innocent, punishes the guilty, and gives voice to victims.

And after seven years of Conservatives in office, crime is down by a third. More victims of serious crimes – particularly sexual offences – are coming forward, no longer silenced by fear of stigma or mistrust.

Of course there is always more to be done. That’s why, together with Amber Rudd, I am developing a comprehensive strategy to tackle domestic violence and abuse, a pernicious crime that has been in the shadows for too long in our country.

I pay tribute to our Prime Minister, Theresa May, who has been unwavering in the fight against injustice throughout her time at the Home Office and in Downing Street.

I also want to thank my outstanding ministerial team – Dominic Raab, Sam Gyimah, Phillip Lee and Richard Keen, our whips Mike Freer and Charlotte Vere and our PPSs Lucy Frazer and Alan Mak. They all work incredibly hard for our party and for our country.

They deserve our thanks.

The greatest challenge facing our criminal justice system is in our prisons.

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Russell Webster – Unlocked Graduates

Russell Webster – Unlocked Graduates

We are looking for enthusiastic, motivated and well-organised individuals to work with us on a temporary basis as assessors at our assessment centres from November 2017 to February 2018. Your role as an assessor will be key in selecting the best candidates to join Unlocked Graduates and make an impact as prison officers over the course of the two-year programme.

Unlocked runs a number of assessment centres to recruit participants for the programme. As part of the assessment process, candidates are interviewed by a prison officer and an ex-prisoner. We are looking, in particular, for ex-prisoners to join our assessment team who are available to work at a minimum of three assessment centres. You will be paid £200 per day.

We are looking for people who are passionate about what we are working to achieve, have good time management and organisational skills and can effectively judge candidates. This is a great opportunity to gain experience and develop skills in recruitment.

For further details and information on how to apply, please download the job description.

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The Rehabilitation Revolution – Take 2

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The Rehabilitation Revolution – Take 2

A clue to government policy?

Yesterday (14 September 2017) the Centre for Social Justice (the Think Tank created by Iain Duncan Smith in 2004) launched a new, and possibly very significant, report:

What happened to the rehabilitation revolution? with two straplines:

  • How sentencers can revive it
  • How it can be helped by a hung Parliament

The report may be significant because the CSJ is, obviously, very close to the conservative party and may reflect discussions going on in the Ministry of Justice.

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