At a seminar on prison reform held in London today, Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence, offered the following thoughts in a debate covering the raising of standards in Prisons and the future of integrated offender management:
Colleagues, Chair, in response to the Chair’s request for the speakers to be exciting, I am not sure that what I have to say will have you rolling in the aisles, but thanks for this opportunity which I hope will supplement the excellent contributions from other speakers.
Let me start with a positive, saying that in Napo's view the creation of HMPPS out of the ashes of NOMS ought to be the driver for the long awaited and desperately needed integration of the offender management system.
As we have heard, the advent of the General Election means that the current Prisons and Courts Bill goes back to the drafting board, but given the priority afforded to prison reform and the host of issues that Steve and Bob Neill have mentioned, one can only hope that the future government post 8th June, will move forward urgently with reform.
But let’s drill down into just some of the pressing issues that our members in the Probation service are facing in the context of managing the client base and some suggested solutions.
Firstly, on the stated intention to increase the number of probation staff in prison which has engendered some serious debate amongst our membership.
The Probation service is often the only consistency in a prisoner’s journey through the CJS. It is suggested on the one hand that this proposal would seriously disrupt this concept as offenders would see a change in their supervising officer every time they move between prisons, bringing further uncertainty in an already fragmented system which will only damage prisoner/probation relationships which we believe are the key to reducing re-offending.
Let’s face it, and its never popular to say this outside of this type of this engaged audience, but there are simply too many people ( and as we have heard earlier and too many unwelcome insect infestations) in the prison system, and I bet you won't hear many politicians echoing this fact in the upcoming hustings!
Prison should be a last resort for those who have caused or are liable to cause danger to our communities. So Napo believes that the MOJ should focus firstly on community interventions and prison based rehabilitation (for which there is clearly a compelling need). Second we must have skilled practitioners out there in the community to complete the whole project and break the cycle of recidivism.
And, as Bob Neill and others have said, Probation and Prisons must get the investment that is needed to focus on the priority of reducing re-offending and providing value for money to the taxpayer who speaking frankly have been taken for a ride.
Whilst we await the outcomes of the Probation System Review that has been trying to unravel the post-Transforming Rehabilitation problems, we believe that the new Government should take a firmer line with private probation providers who, as continual HMIP reports have indicated, (two more this week examining Working Links and Sodexo) are simply not delivering all that they were contracted to do.
So where necessary Napo believes that the MOJ should use its golden share option to take back control of failing CRCs.
But where CRC owners show a willingness to engage with us by treating their staff fairly and investing in training and working with us and others to develop a License to Practice, then Napo is prepared to match that commitment both within the National Probation service and the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies and that is what I said in my recent evidence to the Justice Select Committee and what I will again be saying to the next Secretary of State.
Finally, Progressive reform also means reducing the prison population by investing in probation, reviewing sentencing guidelines and restoring the confidence of sentencers, politicians and the public in the role of probation as an effective agent in the intervention process.
And I would say this wouldn't I? What’s also needed is a major Pay review for Probation to increase the recruitment and retention of staff.
It’s a long wish list I know, but we believe that with the right degree of commitment and political courage from our next Government, whatever its complexion, then these suggestions will make a major contribution to the social reforms that we have been considering and debating today.
Thank you for your time