ECSL - Napo's position

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The Ministerial announcements on Prison capacity are in the news regularly. From the outset we want to make it clear that Napo’s starting point for any discussion on prison overcrowding is that it is a tragedy.
Too often the focus is on one part of the unfolding crisis, but we believe it’s important to first acknowledge the sheer scale of what is happening. This is beyond even the terrible and degrading conditions individuals are imprisoned in while being denied the opportunity of rehabilitation, the impact on victims denied what they believed justice would be, as well as being placed at risk by this policy and the unbearable anxiety caused to the families of both prisoner and victim.
It's about something greater than the increased risks of physical violence to Prison staff or the levels of psychological harm caused to Probation staff pushed too far by the excessive workload they are subjected to by an employer that consistently fails us on even the most basic of their responsibilities – to not harm its workforce by their actions or inactions. And it’s also more than the evaporation of what little confidence members of the public must have in the criminal justice system, contributed to in no small part in this crisis as the reputational damage to the Probation and Prison Services that Politicians, through senior leaders in HMPPS inflict with each mis-step they take on this, as with so many other matters.
Time for a completely new approach to the problem
The crisis of prison overcrowding is one that’s been decades in the making, and for which previous Tory, Tory/Lib-Dem Coalition and Labour Governments all bear some level of responsibility. For too long, politicians have traded in simplistic arguments that misled the public, and not challenging the lies perpetrated by the media and have sought a quick fix to deeply complex problems. The failure of so many of the political class of one of the richest countries in the world over all this time to demonstrate sufficient courage and leadership to commit adequate resources to Probation and Prison Services over decade after decade has been truly shameful to witness.
Unfortunately, the most recent comments of the current Shadow Justice Secretary announcing an intention to attempt to ‘prison-build’ their way out of this abhorrent mess suggests that honest political leadership, evidence-based (or even reality-based) policymaking and a commitment to make generational changes for the good of the country aren’t seemingly going to be a feature of a likely incoming new Government, at least in terms of this policy.
Napo’s efforts to influence Early Release Schemes
The End of Custody Supervised Licence (ECSL) was introduced in October 2023. It has been apparent to us from the outset that the Government has chosen to prioritise the crisis of prison overcrowding over that of excessive Probation workloads. Nothing that has been done by HMPPS since that time has caused us to change our view. As it was a legislative change being driven forward by an elected Government our role has been limited to one of consultation rather than any form of negotiation with HMPPS. It is fair to reflect, and we’ve made these points clearly at every opportunity, that HMPPS have not consulted as often or in as sufficient detail as we would have expected. Through all this we’ve been informed and guided by the experiences of practitioners across a range of Probation work which is impacted by the ECSL scheme, and we want to take this opportunity to thank all the members who have raised this in their Branches or to Napo HQ for their contributions to this point. At the end of this message, we’ll say more on how we see this moving forward from this point.
Napo have been consistent in representing member’s interests and Probation’s identity by repeatedly raising concerns over the increased workload, assault on professional judgement and the obvious increased risks to the public, and individuals (including some of the most vulnerable in our society), that the ECSL scheme represents. We’ve done this in numerous face-to-face meetings with HMPPS senior leaders as well as written communications. Our view remains that in too many cases it is simply neither feasible or safe to bring forward many of the Risk Management Plans that will be in place – and will have been for some time – for the individuals involved at such short notice.
The problems around ECSL
Napo have set out a range of practical issues faced by you as practitioners when forced to do this which, by way of only a few illustrative examples, include: a lack of Approved Premises bed spaces, or other accommodation, available for the revised release date; an inability to rearrange substance misuse, health (especially mental health) and other appointments (e.g. state benefits) previously arranged for day of release; the increased likelihood that a supervising officer will be unavailable to conduct the post-release induction appointment due to other pre-existing work commitment on the revised release date; an inability to make alternative arrangements for transport between releasing prisons and the home area, meaning more risky modes of transport are required on the revised release date than would have been used otherwise. Napo have made clear the ultimate responsibility which HMPPS hold for this scheme, including the consequences that they obviously failed to anticipate, such as: where the demand for rapid action to release an individual increases the likelihood of HMPPS breaching the part of the Victim’s Code relating to pre-release notification of information to some victims.
Napo have also pressed HMPPS to produce evidence for the feasibility and safety of this policy while stressing our member’s opposition to it. For example, we’ve asked for data on the amounts of ECSL releases to each Region and Probation Delivery Unit or on the numbers of recalls, Serious Further Offences and deaths of people subject to ECSL as well as a range of information on applications for exemptions made by practitioners. HMPPS initially denied holding such data but have since claimed that what they might have is subject to a lengthy verification process which would mean that information would be released much later, potentially annually (i.e., October 2024). Napo understands this was in line with an earlier comment made by a Minister in Parliament. Very recently we have received information that at least some of this data has in fact been shared with senior regional leaders and we will be following this up urgently with HMPPS to request access to this, using data protection legislation if needed.
Media activity
In addition to the internal work Napo has undertaken, we’ve also sought to publicise the flawed ECSL scheme in the media, and it’s clear that over the last three weeks this has seen significantly increased interest. A number of interviews for various media outlets – television, print, radio and online – have been undertaken by Napo Officials to follow up on our earlier contacts with journalists where our position on this scheme, and our range of concerns, have been shared. While we cannot control the decisions of media outlets to then run these interviews, or publish articles, we’ve also been active on social media to stress our opposition to ECSL and the reasons for this.
In Parliament
Napo also work particularly closely with a cross-party group of politicians who form the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group (Justice Unions Parliamentary Group (@JusticeUnions) / X ( and we’d encourage members to view their work to see the results of this collaboration. Here is an example of some of the exchanges that took place this week: these following the Lord Chancellors Written Statement
In our close working with the JUPG, Napo can make significant contributions on how the Government is held to account in Parliament, putting forward issues for public debate on the criminal justice system and promoting the interests of members. As you would expect, we’ve been sharing our concerns about ECSL with the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group since October 2023 and our work with them has only increased as the scheme has been expanded.
Other developments around ‘early release’
In terms of other ‘early release’ matters, members can be assured that Napo have also made clear to HMPPS our concerns about the impact on both members as well as the public from the imminent introduction of an expansion to eligibility for the Home Detention Curfew (HDC) scheme and the increased use of Fixed Term Recalls for those people serving custodial sentences of less than 12 months. Following a similar approach as ECSL we’ve set out how these changes will negatively impact on practitioners and your ability to do your jobs effectively (providing examples of this to support our arguments); requested data such as forecasts and equality assessments of the proposals; and offered practical suggestions as to how the full force of this additional work on members could be mitigated, for instance by suspending ESCL for periods of time in those Regions where an increased number of people are being released on HDC.
Operation Protect
Napo also want to stress that the months long work we have been completing with HMPPS in relation to the joint union’s workload campaign – Operation Protect – should be about to produce the first results in terms of what HMPPS are referring to as a ‘Probation Reset’. Discussions remain ongoing and more information will follow from us very soon, but we want to make clear that, for us as well as our sister trade unions, this is only the beginning of the substantive workload relief we hope to see for workers in many roles across the Probation Service.
How members can help
As we continue our work on your behalf on ECSL, as well as the other ‘early release’ schemes, we continue to need your support and contributions to inform our response to HMPPS. For that reason, and to attempt to provide a single point of contact for any experiences you might wish to share, can members please contact your Link Officials or use the following email address if they want to share any of these with us as your trade union representatives
You may also want to make clear in the subject line of your email that this relates to ‘ECSL’, ‘HDC’ or Fixed Term Recall’ (or a combination of these). Members should share their specific experiences of these schemes, and how this has impacted on them and others, do not include the personal details, or identifiers, of any of those you are working with. We hope, after ensuring all are properly anonymised and cannot be traced to a particular individual or location, to use these experiences in discussions with the employer and others to better publicise the huge challenges faced by many of our members.
We need to stress that members must not, under any circumstances, breach the rules issued by the employer on data protection, confidentiality or information sharing.
Please look out for further news on the key issues being faced by our members. Meanwhile, thank you for taking the time to read this detailed commentary on our work so far on ECSL.
Ian Lawrence            Ben Cockburn
General Secretary    Acting National Chair
13th March 2024