Locked gates and bolting horses?

The predictable furore following the abscondment of a life prisoner from an open prison is still at full flow this morning as politicians and pundits queue up to say how appalling it is that such a thing can happen.

Sky News are running large with this this as I write, and have invited us for a view which we are hoping they will broadcast live later on. Meanwhile, Chris Grayling says that that the 580 similar cases that have reportedly occurred between 2010 and 2013 are still a small percentage of the total number of those serving life sentences who move through the system prior to release.

The beleaguered Minister is claiming that his probation and tagging reforms will sort out the problem and pointed a finger at the parole board even before the enquiry into this particular case has started. That said, the Secretary of State could not be faulted over his admission that every situation (although unacceptable) is different and that he, probably like most people, failed to understand what possible advantage the individual involved in this case hoped to gain given the fact that they were in an open prison precisely because it was a precursor to their release. Perhaps there are underlying personal issues involved here, but given the pressures within the justice system and the prison estate who are trying to juggle too many balls when it comes to placing offenders in the right place, should we really be surprised at this incident and those that have happened before?

What was not said of course is that the new NPS is already looking like a very unhappy place with predictions of massive workloads which will mean that there is every chance of a weaker assessment regime than before, and that tagging has palpably failed to deliver despite costing the taxpayer untold millions. So why should anyone have faith in the new technology that Grayling claims will come on stream in the autumn? I can just imagine that the phones have been hot between the MoJ and the tagging provider this morning, with desperate demands over why the system is not up and running already.

Of course we already know that if the probation service had been given just a fraction of the massive investment made by successive governments into tagging, we could have contributed to a more effective parole system by way of increased face to face contact with service users and more time and resources to interact with other agencies.

One Alex Cameron

The latest development in the save legal aid campaign took another turn for the better last week (or worse depending on your point of view) when the Prime Ministers brother weighed in to the debate following the collapse of the high profile fraud trial in London.

What struck me most was the response by Alex's brother when he confirmed his support for a judiciary which makes independent decisions without fear of vested interests. Could not be put better Prime Minister, so why have you and the LibDems allowed the justice system, prisons, probation and legal aid to be at their most critical point at any time in their history? It's a point that we and our comrades in the Justice Alliance are continually making to politicians across the spectrum.

There surely cannot have been any Justice Secretary before this one who would have survived in the face of such calamity, but it would appear that our favourite 'panto villain' has the luck of Jove or has yet to use up all of his nine lives.

The National Executive Committee  

The NEC met last week and it was an extremely productive event. Tom and I will be mailing out a report of some the highlights in the next couple of days, and it was probably the last NEC prior to the new elections (of which more details will follow). It's a fact that the last 12 months have been a test for everyone who has served and the range of issues under consideration has been unlike anything that has gone before.

So I wanted to record my appreciation for the way in which those attending rallied round at another difficult time for Napo. Our debates about the future campaign strategy, the quest for Judicial Review (which is going to take up the best part of the next three days) and the way in which the analysis of the most recent industrial action was conducted, spoke volumes for the NEC and the wider Napo membership.

Blog type: 
General Secretary's Blog