Lord Laming, colleagues,
Firstly, thanks for the opportunity to make a contribution to this section of the agenda and express my appreciation for the important role of the WLPF in stimulating vital debate in what are incredibly testing times for anyone involved in the delivery of probation services, and I say that early on to make it absolutely clear that I am not here to simply cynically lay the blame for the problems identified by Lawrence Burkes research on providers be they public or private, (and Jim Barton and I often have some full and frank exchanges about the landscape and the efficacy of the two pilots that were referenced a few minutes ago which if I had time I would definitely have something to say about). But also to acknowledge that good practice exists, but to set out some additional commentary that I hope will bring context to some of the issues that the panel have been asked to cover in terms of managing the client base, reviewing governance and funding and setting out some possible solutions.
Firstly, on the policy to increase the number of probation staff in prison, it’s a fact that the probation service is often the only consistency in a prisoner’s journey through the criminal justice system. We now face the OMU review, within a fragmented environment which risks undermining the critical relationship between clients and practitioners which are key to reducing reoffending.
Which brings the challenges of bringing two staffing cultures together into the HM Prison estate, managing complex line management arrangements
And against this the capacity of Prison Officer practitioners to play a meaningful part in the rehabilitative process, given the exponential rise in substance fuelled violence and disruption and, as we have seen in numerous exposes through the media, serious levels of radicalisation and a lack of attention to diversity. The latter also featuring among the many issues in the recent report by David Lammy into racial bias in the Criminal Justice System.
And the lack of physical capacity within the HMP Estate to co-locate hundreds more staff supported by ICT Systems that are still not up to scratch.
And it’s never popular to say this, outside of this type of engaged audience, but there are simply too many people in the prison system - and too many female prisoners, and we need a Government that will get to grips with this problem once and for all .
As we have heard, the central tenet of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms in 2014 was to see improvements in community intervention to reduce recidivism, but evidence clearly shows that this great social experiment has not delivered what it said it would on the tin, most notably the much vaunted ‘Through the Gate’ rehabilitation service which features later today. And aside from pockets of good practice has consistently been shown in successive reports by the Probation Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey to be short of the mark.
Napo also has major concerns about the still high levels of Domestic Violence and the depressing statistic that sees an average of two victims usually Women killed by their partners or former partners each week in the UK and believes that the capability of some of the private providers to monitor the DV client base has been stretched dangerously thin, and again that’s not always their fault as I believe they bought in to contracts that failed to take account of the changing world of rehabilitation. Once again I readily accept that there are good examples of local initiatives that are having a degree of success as evidenced by some HMI Probation reports and we stand ready to promulgate the messages here just as we will in highlighting failure. This Government also needs to focus on this critical issue.
So whats to be done? Prisons should be the last resort for those who have caused or are liable to cause danger to our communities, we have no issue with that. Nevertheless, Napo believes that the Ministry of Justice should focus firstly on community interventions, and prison based rehabilitation, for which there is clearly a compelling need, should come a close second.
We also need nationally recognised professional standards as in a licence to practice which we believe will at last bring some consistency towards breaking the cycle of recidivism. And, as the Chair of the Justice Select Committee Bob Neil and others have recently said, probation and prisons must get the investment and protection against further cuts, to allow for a greater focus on the priorities of reducing reoffending, defending our communities, and providing value for money to the taxpayer, who speaking frankly, and in the opinion of Napo’s members has been taken for a bit of a ride.
So while I am not going to blame all the owners of CRC’s for all of the failures, (though we have serious issues where some of the operational models that they are running are in our members view, below acceptable standards) Napo believes that where necessary, the MOJ should use its golden share option to wrest back control of failing CRCs; and/or adopt an alternative strategy such as considering oversight being vested with Police and Crime Commissioners and metropolitan Mayors and the Mayor of London, seeing failing CRC’s revert to public control with opportunities being given to providers, public and private, to deliver high quality commissioned services. In such a scenario we will work with all providers especially those who are committed to develop a licence to practice across prisons and probation for example.
And finally, the question of reform also means investing properly in probation, making it a real part of HMPPS and not just an add on; as you can’t have one without the other, reviewing sentencing guidelines, restoring the confidence of the judiciary in the sentences they decide upon, and highlighting the vital role of probation in the intervention process to politicians and the public (and I would say this wouldn’t I - because I can), what’s also needed is a major pay review for probation staff one that results in decent national standards which is what I told the Probation and Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah just the other week.
So in summary Chair, this may seem to be part of a long wish list, these are among the issues that I will asking the Justice Select Committee to focus on when I hope to present Napo’s evidence to them very soon.
But I agree with those who also make the case for renewed strategic planning, the need to restore the confidence of the judiciary in the sentences they can issue, but crucially a much higher degree of commitment and political courage from Government, whatever its complexion, so that the probation service and its part in prison reform will make a major contribution to the wider social changes that everyone here desperately wants to see.
Thank you so much for your time and attention.