Early release scheme welcomed but it creates difficulties
The Government's announcement on Saturday that up to 4000 prisoners will be considered for what it describes as early release, dominated the morning media headlines. The General Secretary received an earlier telephone call from the Justice Minister Lucy Frazer, which helped the Napo Comms team to swiftly prepare and issue a media release. From this, Napo took part in a live lunchtime interview on Sky News. Unfortunately, the ever changing C19 agenda meant that other issues became more prominent from that point on.
Whilst our members will generally welcome the announcement, which squares with Napo’s policy position that there are simply too many people in prison for too long; there will be many of you lamenting the fact that it took a Global Pandemic to trigger plans that really ought to have been in place before the C19 crisis.
The Minister also stated on Saturday that the early release cohort will comprise low risk service users, and that the vast majority will be subject to Electronic Monitoring. However, subsequent discussions between the National Chair and senior HMPPS leaders today have revealed that more work will be required on a number of fronts to make what is essentially an extended ROTL scheme become fit for purpose.
The Electronic Monitoring (EM) Exceptional Delivery Model (EDM) itself presents a cause for concern, as most of the ROTL cohort will have EM as a condition. The EDM allows providers to make a decision not to fit equipment if someone in a household has symptoms of C19, or the property will not enable social distancing. In these cases the EM provider will refer the situation back to probation for consideration of recall. We have challenged the need for extensive EM which looks like a bit of a presentational exercise, as the notion of sending people back to Prison due to circumstances beyond their control is simply ludicrous.
So far we understand that there will be no requirement for Probation staff to see someone face to face because those individuals released on a temporary licence (ROTL) are normally contacted by phone. But HMPPS have now realised that this creates an anomaly, as the person will transition from ROTL on the date of their ordinary release date and hence trigger the normal first appointment on release which the EDM indicates should be a face to face interview. More work is being undertaken to assess the impact on the probation service and avoid another problem at a time when we are urging less face to face contact.
Our understanding is that the enabling legislation (in the form of a statutory instrument) was to be laid today allowing for releases to happen at the end of the week, but Napo have been making high level representations about the need to avoid a large release of the cohort the day before a double bank holiday weekend during which they will have little or no access to statutory support in relation to accommodation, finances, substance misuse or mental health. Practitioners know very well that release on a Friday is often problematic and the long weekend coupled with the lockdown will only exacerbate the issues. Balanced against this of course is the push to get people out of prisons where they are more at risk of infection from the C19 virus.
Another major concern is around the homeless, and here we understand that new homeless prevention teams in NPS Divisions will be asked to support the process of accommodation sourcing and checks. We have also heard that the Department for Housing, Community and Local Government has released funding to support local authorities in making accommodation available. The NPS is in the process of setting up a hub in Birmingham to support the assessment process, and to liaise with the Divisional Homeless Prevention Teams.
Another positive move, notwithstanding Napo’s criticism of the inadequacies of the Universal Credit Scheme, is that the Department for Work and Pensions have agreed that applications for this benefit can now be made before the early release. Once again this will beg questions as to why this facility has not been in place all along, as it used to be before U.C. was imposed?
Updates on other issues under discussion
Napo and our sister unions continue to press for action on a number of fronts as previously reported in our earlier all member bulletins.
On PPE – the guidance is currently being reviewed by Public Health England and will be issued as soon as is possible.
Similarly, guidance on the use of cars for ‘doorstep’ visits is also being worked on and we expect feedback on that very soon.
OASys reviews have been a regular source of enquiries from members. The EDM issued by HMPPS demanded a review for each client. We have heard of reports from some NPS areas who are demanding that staff set a standard Supervision Plan objective to comply with social distancing (which is ridiculous).
There has also been a good deal of feedback from members on the workload issues associated with doing a review in each case. Many have told us that what practitioners should be doing is making a conscious decision on each case about whether a review is needed, and recording the decision on Delius, and then doing the review if it is necessary.
This has been taken back to the centre for a rethink, which further illustrates how Napo is getting action on issues that have been raised with us.
Stay safe and please continue to escalate your concerns to us via local reps.
Katie Lomas Ian Lawrence
National Chair General Secretary