Community Justice Files 37

Published 15/12/2015
Type Article
Author(s) Dr Nick Flynn, Ross Little
Corresponding Authors Dr Nick Flynn and Ross Little, De Montfort University

Spending Review and Autumn Statement on prisoner rehabilitation and the prison estate
On 9 November, 2015, the Chancellor George Osborne set out the priorities of the Spending Review and Autumn Statement. Stating that economic security, national security and opportunity are “intrinsically connected” to sound public finances, the Chancellor identified the Prison Service as being a service badly in need of reform. Two areas for improvement were focused upon in particular: rehabilitation, and the prison estate. On rehabilitation, the Statement read that:

When people are in prison, they are in the care of the state. We have their attention 24 hours a day; we dictate what they do and how they do it. It’s a chance to change their lives for the better. Yet, we hardly do anything. We lock them up, then let them out, and all too often they return to a life of crime.

Crucial to the reform of rehabilitation is the modernisation of the prison estate, described by the Chancellor as “soulless”, “bleak”, “squalid” and “overcrowded”. To this end, it was announced that:

We will start to close some of our old and outdated prisons in city centres, and sell the sites for housing. In their place, we will build nine new prisons – all of which are modern, suitable and support rehabilitation. Four will be completed by 2019-20, the rest soon after. These more efficient prisons will save us £80 million in running costs alone… I can confirm the first prison we will sell is Reading prison.

Criticisms of the proposals, as voiced by penal reform organisations, have focused on the need to invest savings from closing prisons in affordable housing for the public (the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies) or effective community sentences (the Prison Reform Trust) rather than new prisons and more prison places.

George Osborne’s speech setting out his priorities for the Spending Review:

Secure Training Centres in the News

Medway Secure Training Centre
A BBC Panorama programme, aired on the night of 11 January 2016, has revealed staff deliberately hurting and mistreating children at the G4S run Medway Secure Training Centre. Undercover footage showed a 14 year old boy being restrained by up to four male officers, and another teenager being restrained by squeezing his windpipe and using a fork to stab him in the leg. The programme also included footage of staff boasting about hurting youngsters; and presented evidence that such actions had deliberately been covered up and records falsified in order to avoid investigation. Following criticism by the shadow justice minister, Andy Slaughter, as well as several penal reform organisations, four employees have since been sacked and a further three suspended. In a statement, Paul Cook, managing director for G4S Children’s Services said he was shocked and appalled by the allegations and that “clearly this type of alleged behaviour has no place in any of our institutions”. However it has subsequently emerged that G4S wrote to the BBC to try to prevent the broadcast of the film arguing that the filming was ‘unauthorised’ and ‘illegal’.

The Panorama film is available to view on BBC iPlayer, available at:

Hassockfield Secure Training Centre
On Wednesday 21 October 2015, The Guardian reported that the Ministry of Justice had paid the private security company Serco £1.1m for running the Hassockfield Secure Training Centre for seven weeks while it was empty and had been closed down. The contract for running the Centre was extended until 9 January, 2016, although the Centre was closed on 20 November 2015 and the children transferred or released. Meg Hillier, chair of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee commented:

This is right out of Yes Minister. Even if some of the cost was for security of an empty building it suggests there was little planning by the MoJ about what to do once the last child had left.

In response, an MoJ spokesperson said: “The closure of Hassockfield Secure Training Centre was concluded efficiently…”

The Guardian article is available at:

Understanding desistance from sexual offending: A thematic review of research findings
Farmer et al. review research findings regarding desistance from sexual offending, about which relatively is known compared to the wider desistance literature. They interviewed 32 individuals, each of whom had at least one conviction for sexual offences against children. The paper explores the “structural and the cognitive changes associated with desistance from sexual offending against children” (p.322) with potentially important implications for policy and practice concerning sex offender risk assessment, treatment and management. The authors’ goal “…was to better understand how they were able to desist from re-offending, exploring both the social context of their post-conviction lives and, in particular, their cognitive framing of this context” (p.323).

The authors outline a number of emerging themes. Desistance for the sexual offenders in their study seemed to be rather different from patterns of desistance observed for non-sexual crime. Overall, they were not a group of people with significant histories of antisocial behaviour. In their narratives, they portrayed their offending and motivation for offending as situational and temporary. Unlike many non-sexual offenders, they did not portray their desistance as a result of ‘growing up’ or becoming more mature; instead, for the most part, desistance was portrayed as a self-initiated or rational choice about the pros and cons of what they were doing. Many said that the shock of their arrest contributed to the choice they made about continuing with their crime.

The research participants tended to speak positively about their experiences of structured rehabilitation programmes, including probation supervision and sex offender treatment programmes, attributing their ability to maintain desistance to this help. They also had optimistic plans for the future. Although employment and relationships were most important, these factors did not seem to be related to their desistance in the way these things are traditionally understood in desistance research. However, the level of neutralisations employed by the participants seemed to be related to shame about their offending and signalled their attachment to the perceived moral values and social goods of society. This is further demonstrated by the fact that, on the whole, apart from their sexual offending, most of the desisting participants seemed to live conventional (non-criminal) lifestyles involving, in particular, work and relationships.

The authors conclude that whilst most current practice has centred on ‘risk’ factors and examining why sex offenders re-offend, this study “inverted the risk paradigm” (p.332) by seeking to draw out why is it that they don’t. The findings tend to reinforce the importance and usefulness of rehabilitative programmes provided by probation and prison including accredited programme work in supporting narratives of change.

To read the article in full:
Farmer, M., McAlinden, A. and Maruna, S. (2015) ‘Understanding desistance from sexual offending: A thematic review of research findings’, Probation Journal, 62, pp.320-335.

Why Probation Matters
Sue Hall in the Howard Journal explains that probation matters because of its role in creating a humane justice system. Hall states that probation’s core values unite the profession and have been sustained through political change. She asserts that the changes brought about by the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ were politically driven, did not build on probation’s achievements and were not evidence led. The fragmentation of service provision and removal of the requirement of a unifying probation qualification framework pose serious threats to the profession. Hall suggests that The Probation Institute will be important in maintaining professional identity and standards. She also states that they may wish to consider that evidence from international experience demonstrates the negative impact of privatisation if values are secondary to profit.

To read the article:

HM Inspectorate Probation: Transforming Rehabilitation – Early Implementation
HM Inspectorate of Probation has published a fourth report on the early implementation of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme. The report, Transforming Rehabilitation – Early Implementation 4: an Independent Inspection of the Arrangements for Offender Supervision, relates to findings from inspections undertaken in July and August 2015. Inspectors focused on work undertaken at the point of sentence and allocation by the National Probation Service (NPS), work undertaken by the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the NPS to manage offenders, and the interfaces between the two organisations. This included work with those released on licence.

The report contains new recommendations, relative to earlier reports in the series, that the NPS should take action to improve the availability of information provided by other agencies to ensure as much of the Case Allocation System can be completed prior to allocation of the case. It recommends that CRCs should ensure that the first arranged appointment with people on an order takes place at the earliest opportunity, that there is sufficient focus on the achievement of behavioural changes required to reduce the likelihood of reoffending and that in all cases where required there is a sufficient review of the risk of harm assessment and management plan. Both the NPS and CRCs should ensure that in all relevant cases sufficient progress is made to reduce those factors making the offender more likely to reoffend.

Transforming Rehabilitation – Early Implementation 4: an Independent Inspection of the Arrangements for Offender Supervision can be read in full at:

Calls for Better Courts
A report by the Centre for Justice Innovation published in December, calls for greater use of specialist courts, including those focusing on domestic abuse. Based on existing examples of court practice, ‘Better Courts’ offers a vision for how courts can improve their contribution to cutting crime.

The publication argues that courts can be faster, fairer, more authoritative and more people focused. Following analysis of the international evidence base, and a 12-month investigation into innovative practice in the UK, the report highlights case studies of better court innovation and explores the lessons they have for the future reform of the courts of England and Wales. For example, the report identifies examples of courts that are:

  • Saving time by diverting low-level anti-social behaviour cases into community-led restorative justice panels;
  • Improving victims’ experiences and making more effective decisions by specialising in certain types of issue such as domestic violence or drug addiction;
  • Providing at-court support and advice services to help their users access support with issues like mental health, addiction debt or housing;
  • Making faster and more effective decisions by taking new approaches to pre-sentence assessments of offenders;
  • Expanding and improving their on-going supervision of offenders,
  • Delivering swift and certain enforcement of court orders.

To read the Better Courts report in full:

Locked Out – Children’s experiences of visiting a parent in prison
Locked Out, a report published in December 2015 by the children’s charity Barnardo’s, says 17,000 children a month visit a parent in prison. Each week, children make nearly 10,000 visits to public prisons. The report’s authors made four visits to three prisons – HMP Buckley Hall, HMP Erlestoke and HMP Guys Marsh – to observe visits, and heard the views of about 25 children and six mothers both individually and in small groups.

The report notes that the children and parents they spoke with seek relatively small changes to the system to help improve family life. The children wanted to gain more from the relationship that they have with the parent in prison.

Some prisons, for example HMP Parc in South Wales, approach family visits as a valuable resource in the resettlement of offenders. They view visits as a family intervention, rather than a security risk or a privilege that can be sanctioned. Barnardo’s encourages this ethos. As well as improving outcomes for offenders and benefiting the prison, it is more positive for children. Elsewhere, changes to the incentives and earned privileges (IEP) scheme mean that prison visits are being used as a way to enforce discipline.

To read Locked Out in full:

Digging into the data on crime and punishment
In a blog post for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay argues that community punishments and prison have something in common: neither of them have a significant impact on crime rates.

Using a large dataset on recorded crime in England and Wales over a 20 year period, they found some interesting patterns. First, apart from violence against the person, detection rates have a crime lowering effect for all crime categories; policing activity seems to matter.

However, in general, prison does not do much to reduce crime, though when one considers variations in sentencing length, there is some impact for longer sentences. It fares worst for young people in prison.

The results for non-custodial sentences were found to vary: for juveniles, non-custodial sentences also do not seem to work, but for adults they seem to be effective in reducing violence against the person and sexual offences. The analysis cannot answer questions such as how effective probation is for or how well supervised community punishments are. However, as it currently stands while non-custodial sentences do not have a huge impact on crime, neither does prison. This was found to be particularly true for younger people in conflict with the law.

The results around youth offending are of particular note and suggests we must move beyond debating the effectiveness of post-crime interventions. Bandyopadhyay argues that if being in contact with the criminal justice system increases criminal activity, we need to look at how to prevent youth from coming into such contact in the first place. The broad criminal justice model that criminalises youthful activity must be reconsidered, along with a more positive agenda that can help divert youth from pursing a criminal career.

To read the blog post Digging into the data on crime and punishment in full:

Annual youth justice statistics collated by the Youth Justice Board
The Youth Justice Board (YJB) published their annual statistics at the end of January. These look at the English and Welsh Youth Justice System (YJS) in 2013/14 in terms of the number of young people in the system, their offences, outcomes and the trends over time.

Latest available arrests data (for the 2012/13 financial year) shows that 10-17 year olds accounted for 126,809 arrests, or 11.8 per cent of the 1.07 million arrests for notifiable offences in England and Wales. The 10-17 year old age group comprises 10.5 per cent of the total population of England and Wales. The number of arrests of young people has fallen by 24 per cent between 2011/12 and 2012/13. This continues the downward trend seen since the peak in arrests in 2006/07.

The YJB’s statistics show similar reductions for the number of first time entrants (FTEs) to the Youth Justice System and to the number of young people sentenced in 2013/14.The number of young people sentenced to immediate custody fell by 21 per cent from 2,815 in 2012/13 to 2,226 in 2013/14. This number has fallen by 65 per cent since 2003/04, when there were 6,288 young people sentenced to immediate custody.

However, despite these reductions, the statistics also show that in the year ending March 2015 there were 1,315 recorded incidents of self-harm in custody. Although this is marginally fewer than the previous year when there were 1,318 cases, the fact that numbers of young people in custody have been falling mean that in 2014/15 there were 7.7 incidents per 100 young people each month in 2014/15 compared with 6.6 in 2013/14. In 2012/13 there were 5.2 incidents of self-harm per 100 young people each month.

In 2014/15 there were a total of 4,837 restraints – the equivalent of 28.2 each month per 100 young people in custody, similar to the previous year. In the year ending March 2015 a total of 106 incidents of restraint resulted in a reported injury requiring medical treatment. There were also five incidents where the injury was so serious that hospital treatment was required.

To access the Youth Justice Board’s Annual Youth Justice Statistics 2013/14 for England and Wales, published 29th January 2015 go to:

Inside Out: The role of the voluntary and private sector in providing opportunities for rehabilitation for people on temporary release
Clinks and Prison Reform Trust have jointly produced report on Release On Temporary Licence (ROTL), published in January 2016. The report is based on a survey of voluntary and private sector providers of ROTL placements in the community. It finds that recent changes to the ROTL policy have negatively impacted on the ability of voluntary and private organisations to provide work experience opportunities for people on temporary release. Ministry of Justice statistics reveal a significant fall in the use of ROTL since the review of the policy was announced (by then justice secretary, Chris Grayling) in 2013. Between April and June 2015, there were 83,019 releases on temporary licence from prisons in England and Wales, a decrease of 41% since July – September 2013. This has the potential to be a barrier to effective rehabilitation by reducing employment and resettlement opportunities for people being released from prison.

The report explains that for many people in prison, particularly those who are serving long sentences, the chance to experience ROTL is a key stage in the preparation for their safe release. It enables people to gain training and education, sort out jobs and housing and establish contact with their families, all of which helps them to reduce their risk of reoffending. The report also outlines the relatively very low risk associated with prisoners offending on ROTL: “Less than 1% of releases on temporary licence fail, and, of these, only 6.1% involve an arrestable offence. This is the equivalent of five arrests per 100,000 releases” (p.1).

Other key points listed in the report:

  • Respondents are confident that ROTL provides significant benefits both to people in prison and to the organisations that provide placements.
  • Almost two-thirds (65%) had seen a decrease in ROTL with some organisations reporting that their ROTL placements had “completely stopped” or become “almost impossible”.
  • Four fifths of respondents (79%) said that it now takes longer to get ROTL placements confirmed.
  • 68% said that prisoners reported difficulties getting their applications for ROTL approved.
  • More than half (51%) said that their experience of contact and liaison with prisons about ROTL placements had got worse.
  • 37% said that the changes to ROTL were not explained to them at all with a further 29% saying that the explanation was unclear.
  • Voluntary sector organisations were more likely than private companies to have seen a decrease in the number of ROTL placements and were more than twice as likely to report that their experience of contact and liaison with prisons had got worse.

The report concludes with recommendations for the future, as part of the governments’ review of ROTL. The recommendations include reversing the decline in the use of ROTL, reducing unnecessary obstacles and delays, improving communication and co-ordination between prisons and providers of ROTL placements, improve consistency in the application of the ROTL policy by prisons and support providers of ROTL placements more effectively.

The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has announced its intention to conduct a review of ROTL policy. The Secretary of State for Justice has indicated the scope for changes in the use of ROTL as part of the government’s review of education in prisons, conducted by Dame Sally Coates.

To read Inside Out in full:

Dangerous associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism
An analysis of the processes of criminalisation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies produced a Research Findings publication analysing the processes of criminalisation for black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals, authored by Patrick Williams and Becky Clarke. The report is a collaboration between Black Training and Enterprise Group (BTEG), the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) and Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association (JENGbA) and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Joint enterprise is a doctrine of common law that has been developed by the courts in cases where more than one person is to be prosecuted for the same offence. The report states that:

It has emerged as a prosecution tool for the collective punishment of groups where it can be proved that the suspects were ‘in it together’. Controversially, it applies even where the suspects may have played different roles and in many cases, where a suspect was not in the proximity of the offence committed. Intrinsic to the application of the doctrine is the principle of ‘common purpose’ where it is alleged individuals have conspired to commit a crime together. (p.7)

The report highlights three key themes which reflect the dangerous associations that can be formed between the doctrine of ‘joint enterprise’, the construction and racialisation of the ‘gang’, the ‘gang’ discourse and the notion of foresight that is central to joint enterprise prosecutions.

That concludes that:

…responding to serious youth violence through the ‘gang’ construct is deeply flawed and likely to be unsuccessful. The perpetration of violence is not aligned to ‘race’ or ethnicity in ways that are imagined by the current strategies deployed to identify, police and prosecute violent individuals. The findings point to a need to examine and respond to the drivers of violence and harm outside of the contemporary UK ‘gangs’ discourse.

To read Dangerous associations: Joint enterprise, gangs and racism in full:

Prime Minister’s speech on prison reform
On 8th February 2016 David Cameron became the first Prime Minister in over 20 years to make a speech focusing on prison reform. After setting out the need for prisons and punishment, the Prime Minister set out his strong belief that “we must offer chances to change” hope for those seeking to change and that “we should help those who’ve made mistakes to find their way back onto the right path”.

Cameron spoke of the failure of the current system with its high levels of re-offending, violence, self-harm and suicide. He stated that the “cycle of re-offending costs up to £13 billion a year” and that the system needs “wholesale reform”. He explained that the government had cut crime in the last five years whilst keeping the prison population largely flat.

He re-stated his commitment to deporting foreign national offenders and said that we need to record prisoners’ nationality earlier in the criminal justice process to aid this. He said that the government will now “legislate to give the police new powers to require foreign nationals to hand over their passports, and make them declare their nationality in court”.

Cameron outlined four general rules for reform:
1. Give much greater autonomy to the professionals who work in our public services, and allow new providers and new ideas to flourish.
2. Hold providers and professionals to account with real transparency over outcomes.
3. Intervene decisively and dramatically to deal with persistent failure, or to fix the underlying problems people may have.
4. Use the latest behavioural insights evidence and harness new technology to deliver better outcomes.

He announced £1.3 billion of government money to knock some “ageing, ineffective” prisons down and build nine new ones, including five during this Parliament.

He also focused on education provision and the (lack of) educational attainment by people in prison:

Over 50% of prisoners have the English and maths skills of a primary school child. Many have learning difficulties. But at the moment, governors have almost no control over who their education provider is, or what is taught. We have only four organisations nationally who provide education in prisons, and the way these services are organised is not producing anything like the results we need.

Other announcement in the speech included:

  • Full co-commissioning for governors and NHS England, to allow prison leaders to have more say in the kind of health services their prisoners receive. This will begin in reform prisons and, if successful, will apply nationwide from 2017, underpinned by new legislation in the Prisons Bill.
  • In the context of “tackling extremism”, a new prison-based programme for countering the “non-violent extremism” that can lead to terrorism, together with “mandatory de-radicalisation programmes” for the most serious cases.
  • ‘Swift and certain’ sentencing to deal with drug offenders.
  • A joint working group to examine how to deliver problem-solving courts in England and Wales.
  • Expanding the use of alcohol monitoring tags, which enforce drinking bans for those offenders convicted of alcohol-related crimes.
  • New pilots for satellite tracking tags later this year (especially for women), rolling out across the country before the end of the Parliament.
  • Advocating, a ‘ban the box’ approach to disclosure at application stage for people with criminal records who are applying for jobs. The Civil Service will be ‘banning the box’ for their initial recruitment stages.

The Prime Minister’s rhetoric on wanting “prisons to be places of care, not just punishment”; was generally well received. However, some questioned the ideology behind the words and where it would lead a prison system savaged by financial cuts in recent years. For example, Richard Garside, Director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

[The] proposed reforms are about the expansion and privatisation of criminal justice, rather than being a serious attempt to address the problems in our criminal justice system, or society more widely. They repeat many old mistakes, while adding some new ones.

The Prime Minister’s speech on prison reform can be read in full at:

Review of the Youth Justice System: Interim report of emerging findings
In September 2015, the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, ordered a review of the youth justice system. The review is being undertaken by Charlie Taylor and is due to be published this Summer.

Mr Taylor has published an interim report of emerging findings (9 February 2016). The main point is that the youth justice system would be more effective and better able to rehabilitate young people if education was at its heart. Taylor argues that young people in conflict with the law should serve their sentences in secure schools rather than youth prisons. Smaller, local, secure schools would draw on educational and behavioural expertise to rehabilitate children and given the skills they need to thrive on release.

  • Since 2006/07 the number of children in custody has declined by 64% to its lowest recorded level to around 1,000.
  • The result of this drop is that 12 establishments have been closed, but this has been done in a haphazard way with the result that many young people are now living a very long way from home.
  • Of those children who remain in custody, most of whom are “more persistent and troubled” offenders, too many – almost two thirds – reoffend within a year of release.
  • Around 40% of young people in under-18 Young Offender Institutions (YOIs) have not been to school since they were aged 14, and nearly nine out of 10 have been excluded from school at some point.
  • Children in YOIs are only receiving 17 hours of education every week against an expectation of 30 hours.

The report makes four key recommendations:
1. The youth custodial estate needs to be re-designed so that it can cater for a smaller, but more challenging, group of children in custody.
2. Education should be placed at the centre of youth custody, by drawing on the culture of aspiration and discipline which is evident in the best alternative provision schools.
3. Prisons for children should be replaced with smaller secure schools which help children achieve in vocational subjects as well as English and maths, in a more therapeutic environment.
4. Local areas should have greater say in the way children are managed by devolving responsibility, control and money from Whitehall.

The new ‘secure schools’ should be set up in a similar way to alternative provision free schools in England, and located in the regions that they serve. These schools would be inspected under the education framework and held to the same standards as other alternative provision schools. The report states that “rather than seeking to import education into youth prisons, we should create schools for young offenders in which we overlay the necessary security arrangements” (para. 18, p.6).

The report argues that integrating the youth offending service into the local authority’s wider youth services (like Surrey has) helps promote a more comprehensive response to young people who offend and increases the opportunity to divert young people from the youth justice system and into effective services, while allowing greater flexibility in the length and intensity of support provided.

The review of the youth justice system will next focus on the way young offenders are dealt with in court, the available sentences, how to prevent offending in the first place and how to reintegrate children back into the community following custody.

The interim report of the emerging findings can be read in full at:

The terms of reference for the review of the Youth Justice System can be read at: