Category Archives: News

A Prison System in Crisis

A prison system in crisis

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Last week (24 July 2018), the Prison Reform Trust published its most recent “Bromley Briefing” – an up-to-date compendium of facts that give an accurate, if depressing account of the state of our prison system.

If you ever need the latest, official information on anything to do with the penal system, the most recent briefing is always your best source.

Below are ten headline facts from the latest edition; for regular readers I’ve tried to pick the less well-known ones.

1: Recalls continue to rise

Anyone leaving custody who has served two days or more is now required to serve a minimum of 12 months under supervision in the community. As a result, the number of people recalled back to custody has increased, particularly amongst women. 8,825 people serving a sentence of less than 12 months were recalled to prison in
the year to December 2017.

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2: The cost of prison slashed

The cost of a prison place has reduced by nearly a quarter (23%) between 2009–10 and 2016–17. The average annual overall cost of a prison place in England and Wales is now £38,042.

3: Racism on remand

Black men are 26%, and mixed ethnicity men 22% more likely to be remanded in custody at the Crown court than white men.

4: Sex offences and older prisoners

One in six people (16%) in prison are aged 50 or over—13,559 people. Of these, 3,278 are in their 60s and a further 1,665 people are 70 or older. 45% of men in prison aged over 50 have been convicted of sex offences. The next highest offence category is violence against the person (23%) followed by drug offences (9%).

5: Learning disability/difficulty

Nearly a third of people assessed in prison in 2016–17 reported that they had a learning disability or difficulty. Prisoners with learning disabilities or difficulties are more likely than other prisoners to have broken
a prison rule; they are five times as likely to have been subject to control and restraint, and around three times as likely to report having spent time in segregation

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6: Foreign national prisoners

Foreign nationals (non-UK passport holders) currently make up 11% of the prison population in England and Wales. On 31 March 2018 there were 9,318 foreign nationals in prison. Foreign national prisoners come from 162 countries—but over half are from nine countries (Poland, Albania, Ireland, Romania, Jamaica, Lithuania, Pakistan, Somalia and Portugal).

7: Women still imprisoned for non-dangerous offences

More women were sent to prison to serve a sentence for theft than for violence against the person, robbery, sexual offences, fraud, drugs, and motoring offences combined.

8: Young offender education very poor

Time spent in education and training in young offender institutions remains limited. Last year children spent less than 14 hours a week on average in education in publicly run institutions. Those held at the only private institution, Parc, had over 24 hours a week on average in education and vocational training.

9: Temporary release works

There were just 17 failures as a result of alleged further offending out of nearly 333,000 instances of ROTL in 2016.

10: Resettlement

Nearly everyone in prison will be released at some point. 71,495 people were released in 2017 although only 27% had a job to go to.

Article written by Russell Webster

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How to start reducing the prison population

An Eight Point Plan

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Anew (16 July 2018) briefing from the Criminal Justice Alliance sets out eight pragmatic and incremental ways the government could begin to reduce the prison population without impacting public safety. The CJA estimates that these measures could reduce the population by 12,000 places over the lifetime of this parliament, reducing the pressure on the system, making it safer and freeing up over £900 million.

I summarise the CJA’s eight recommendations below.

1: IPP sentences

The CJA recommends that the MoJ consider legislative intervention to convert post-tariff IPP sentences to determinate sentences – a simple solution providing firm release dates. As a minimum starting point, the 459 IPP prisoners serving tariffs of less than two years could have their sentences converted, expanding to the 1,176 IPP prisoners with tariffs of less than four years, then scaled up appropriately. A ‘sunset’ provision could also provide a release date for some or all post-tariff IPP prisoners by a particular year or by a number of years post-tariff.

2: Recall

The CJA notes the ever-growing rate of prison recalls and argues that the MoJ should review both the standard and extra licence conditions that Offender Managers can impose, as well as the mechanism for recalling a person following breach, emphasising that recall should be preserved for those presenting a serious risk to the public or genuinely failing to progress towards reintegration. It also argues that urgent action needs to be taken to improve post-sentence supervision so that released prisoners receive effective rehabilitative support.

3: Remand

Those on remand – 9,200 people – now represent over ten per cent of the prison populationeven though one in seven – nearly 1,400 – go on to receive non-custodial sentences. The CJA argues that the provision in the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to ensure that nobody should be remanded in custody when there was ‘no real prospect’ of them receiving a custodial sentence should be rigorously implemented.

4: Sentence creep

Average sentence length for prisoners held for indictable offences is 30 per cent higher than ten years ago, up from 15.2 months to 20. There is no firm evidence that this ‘sentence creep’ has had any deterrent effect.
Change in this area will need to be incremental and the effects are unlikely to be seen immediately (unless changes are applied retrospectively to those already serving inflated sentences, such as an early release to electronic monitoring for low-risk prisoners). But without changes to sentencing practices, there seems little prospect of the vast bulk of the prison population reducing. The CJA argues for more scrutiny of the Sentencing Council suggesting, for instance, that sentencers might be encouraged to sentence more creatively, restricting the requirements to use the upper limits of guidelines and allowing them to sentence below the lower limit.

5: Short sentences

At March 2018, 5,340 prisoners in England and Wales were serving sentences of less than 12 months. Short sentences are demonstrably less effective than community sentences at reducing recidivism (and more costly). Justice Secretary David Gauke has recently recognised this, stating that short sentences should be a last resort. Short-Sighted, a campaign by Revolving Doors, highlights that half of all people sentenced to custody are serving sentences of less than 6 months. Scotland introduced a presumption against custodial sentences of three months or less in 2010, and last September announced plans to extend this presumption to sentences of less than 12 months. Other countries with similar provisions include Belgium and Germany. There may be certain instances for which this presumption against a custodial sentence would not be deemed appropriate given the interests of, and risks to, the victim and wider community. But if reductions occurred at a similar rate as in Scotland, there would be 2,000 fewer people in prison. Introducing a presumption against short sentences of less than 12 months could save £57m annually.

6: Mental health

The 2009 Bradley Review found an estimated 2,000 prison places per year could properly be saved if individuals who receive short custodial sentences and who may be experiencing mental health problems were instead given a community sentence. This would save £57m. For many people with mental health issues, a community order with a Mental Health Treatment Requirement (MHTR) would be transformative and the prison estate, in any case, is all too often entirely inadequately equipped either to treat them or address their offending behaviour. The CJA recommends strengthening sentencing guidelines on MHTRs and providing sentencers with more training on them.

7: Women

At the end of March 2018, 1,250 women were in prison for non-violent offences – either theft, fraud or drug offences. Serious concerns have properly been raised about the necessity of custodial sentences for such women, when the vast majority could serve a sentence in the community without posing a threat to public safety. The CJA recommends alternatives to custody and proper funding for women’s centres.

8: BAME People

The CJA’s final recommendation relates to the implementation of the recommendations in the Lammy review. If the demographic of the prison population reflected that of England and Wales, there would be 9,000 fewer BAME people imprisoned, the equivalent of 12 average-sized prisons. If just ten per cent of these were diverted, this would save 900 prison places with (net) savings of £25.7m.

The CJA summarises its recommendations and their potential impact in the graphic below (click to see a larger version or right click and save it to your computer to peruse).

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Article written by Russell Webster

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Week in Justice 3rd of June 2018

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.

SAFETY AT EXETER PRISON “UNEQUIVOCALLY POOR”

Prison Chief Inspector issues 2nd urgent notification

HMP LEICESTER INSPECTION

Violence still a problem but evidence of improved conditions

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Rob Allen’s analysis of the prison crisis

EDUCATION IS ONE WAY OUT OF PRISON.

Let’s make work another | Eric Allison

STOP SHORT – SIGHTED SHORT SENTENCES

Revolving Doors campaign picking up steam

PRISON REFORM: SEE IT, SAY IT, SORTED?

Is the Government finally serious about prison reform?

HM INSPECTORATE OF PROBATION

Updated Corporate Plan 2018-2021

PROBATION PRACTICE BLOG SERIES

Mike Guilfoyle on CCJS

Article written by Russell Webster

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New MoJ research

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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.

Key findings

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:

Reductions in reoffending were associated with the use of court orders as compared with short-term custody. These effects:
  • 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.
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Conclusions

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.

Article written by Russell Webster

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Week in Justice 29 April 2018

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.

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HOW WILL THE NEW PAROLE SYSTEM WORK?
MoJ publishes parole review

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ROBBERY, VIOLENCE & BURGLARY ALL UP
Crime figures for 2017 published

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PRISON VIOLENCE HITS RECORD LEVELS
Assaults & self-harm up, suicides down.

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DEATHS AT HMP BIRMINGHAM
5 inmates die in 7 weeks at G4S jail

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CAFE HELPING FORMER PRISONERS ‘TRANSFORM’
The Mess only employs former prisoners

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STOP MAKING SUSPENDED SENTENCES
Sentencing Council letter

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COUNCIL OF DESPAIR ?
All’s not well at the Sentencing Council…

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FIRST JOINT ENTERPRISE CONVICTION QUASHED
John Crilly successfully appealed his murder conviction

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LOSS OF EXPERIENCED STAFF LEAVING PRISONS UNSAFE
1 in 3 officers has < 3 years’ experience

Article written by Russell Webster

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Week In Justice 22 April 2018

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.

PROBATION SUPPLY CHAINS
Voluntary sector less involved than ever

A PERSONAL APPROACH TO REDUCING RE-OFFENDING
Co-produced rehabilitation model

PRISON PHOTOCOPIES MAIL TO TACKLE DRUGS
Invasion of privacy or smart strategy?

HMP HUMBER INSPECTION
Very high levels of mental health problems

Article written by Russell Webster

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