Community Justice Files 39

Published 15/06/2016
Type Review
Author(s) Ross Little
Corresponding Authors

New justice secretary
Following the cabinet reshuffle by the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, Liz Truss has been appointed as the new justice secretary and Lord Chancellor. There has been speculation in the press about what type of Justice Secretary she will be, following the divergent approaches of her two immediate predecessors, Michael Gove and Chris Grayling.

A search of her voting record reveals that on the vast majority of issues she votes the same way as other Conservative MPs (the exception being hereditary peers in the House of Lords). Liz Truss has, for example, previously voted for ending financial support for some 16-19 year olds in training and further education, for merging police and fire services under Police and Crime Commissioners, for mass surveillance of people’s communications and activities, for a stricter asylum system and for restricting the scope of legal aid (They Work for You, accessed 31st August 2016).

It has been reported that Truss will “press ahead ‘at pace’ with her predecessor Michael Gove’s radical prison reform programme” (Alan Travis, The Guardian, 19/7/2016). However, more recently her commitment to a key element of Gove’s planned policy implementation – problem solving courts – has been questioned.

Problem solving courts: An evidence review
In December 2015, the then Justice Secretary Michael Gove announced the creation of a working group on problem-solving courts. This working group was to ‘examine models of problem-solving courts and advise on the feasibility of possible pilot models to be taken forward in England and Wales in 2016/17’.

An evidence review of problem solving courts has been produced by the Centre for Justice Innovation (24 August 2016). Problem-solving courts aim to bring together the authority of the court and the services designed to reduce reoffending and improve outcomes. The best known example of this approach in England, the Community Justice Court in North Liverpool, was closed by the Ministry of Justice in 2014.

In summary, the report suggests there is strong evidence that adult drug courts reduce substance misuse and are particularly effective with offenders who are presenting a higher risk of reoffending. Family drug and alcohol courts appear to help reduce parental substance misuse and reduce the number of children permanently removed from their families.

Evidence on the ability of domestic violence courts to reduce the frequency of a perpetrator is ‘promising’. International evidence suggests community courts can improve compliance with court orders.

There is also ‘promising’ evidence to support the application of key features of problem-solving courts to female offenders at risk of custody and young adults, groups for whom multiple and complex needs have been identified.

The report acknowledges practical problems, such as inadvertently drawing more people into the court system (‘net widening’) and inappropriate interventions. It also acknowledges that problem-solving courts do not constitute magical solutions.

However, the review concludes: “Across a range of outcomes, problem-solving courts have demonstrated their ability to make a difference, with the strongest evidence being on drug courts but encouraging evidence elsewhere, notably on mental health and domestic violence.”

A reason why problem solving courts are thought to work is to do with procedural fairness: the idea that people involved in the system perceive it as fairer and therefore tend to comply better with court orders.

To read Problem Solving Courts: An evidence review by the Centre for Justice Innovation:

HMIP Chief Inspector of Prison, Annual Report
The new Chief Prison Inspector, Peter Clarke, has produced his first annual inspection report (19 July 2016). The report refers to inspections undertaken during the period of his predecessor, Nick Hardwick.

Clarke introduces the report by stating he has found “that the grim situation referred to by Hardwick in his report last year has not improved, and in some key areas it has, if anything, become even worse”. He highlights a number of indicators of the worsening situation inside our prisons.

• Assaults increased by 27%
• Self-harm rose by 25%
• The impact of the rise in New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) cannot be under-estimated
• Too many prisoners with serious mental health problems end up in segregation units
• The majority of young offender institutions are unsafe
• Conditions in immigration detention centres are sometimes shocking

Finally, he concludes that the inspectorate needs more ‘teeth’. Clarke argues that individual establishments and government departments should both be placed under an obligation either to accept inspectors’ recommendations or to set out clearly why recommendations will not or cannot be implemented. He recommends that any such explanations should then be open to public and Parliamentary scrutiny.

To read the Annual Report of the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, 2015-16:

Chair of the Parole Board on Indeterminate sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP)
Professor Nick Hardwick, previously Chief Inspector of Prisons and now Chair of the Parole Board, published his plan at the end of July to address the injustice associated with Indeterminate sentences of Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP). Approximately 4,000 prisoners remain in prison despite the sentence being abolished in 2012.

Some of his official statement is reproduced here:

“The IPP prisoners must serve a tariff, the period of imprisonment set by the sentencing judge as the punishment part of the sentence, but can only then be released if the Parole Board is satisfied it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that they remain in custody. In effect that means they can only be released when they can prove they are no longer a risk rather than the Parole Board having to prove that they are a risk.

Concerns that IPP sentences were being used more extensively than intended led to its abolition in 2012 but this was not applied retrospectively to those already serving an IPP sentence. About 4,000 of these prisoners remain in custody today.

The previous Justice Secretary asked me to examine ways in which more of these prisoners could be quickly and safely released. I have not yet had an opportunity to discuss options with his successor and look forward to doing so.

Any changes need to be made carefully. Some IPP prisoners are clearly high risk and likely to remain so for a long time. Prisoners who present a very real risk to the public should not be released. Others present a very low level of risk and should be able to be released as quickly as their cases can be heard under the current arrangements. There is a middle group that it might be possible to release if effective arrangements are made to reduce their risk and manage them in the community.

The Parole Board can make progress on this issue without intervention by government by reducing delays in holding hearings and by working closely with the prison and probation services to ensure arrangements for preparing and managing the release of prisoners is improved.

We think that in this way we could reduce the number of IPP prisoners in prison to about 1,500 by 2020.”

The statement goes on to outline legislative or policy changes that would be required if ministers wish to progress further or faster than this deadline.
To read the statement from the Parole Board in full:

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons report: ‘Life in prison – contact with family and friends’
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons produced a report at the end of August exploring prisoners’ contact with families and friends. It is part of a series which focuses on daily life in prisons and young offender institutions (YOIs). It summarises literature concerning the importance of prisoners maintaining relationships with the outside world and, in particular, with their family and friends.

The inspectorate’s report concludes with eight recommendations:

1. All prisons should have staff with a specific family support role and this should be overseen by a senior governor.
2. The rollout of in-cell telephones to existing prisons should continue as resources permit and all new prisons should incorporate in-cell telephones.
3. Prisoners should be allowed to receive incoming calls from their children or their carers on a risk-assessed basis.
4. A pilot should be undertaken allowing risk-assessed and supervised prisoners to have family contact through social media and/or Skype. The findings should be evaluated and the results published.
5. Restricted or limited family contact and/or support should not be used as a punishment for activities or behaviour unrelated to visits and/or family access.
6. Prisons should consult with visitors regarding visiting arrangements in order to improve the visiting experience.
7. Prisons should develop a strategy to help prisoners maintain and enhance their support networks.
8. Administrative delays in admission to visits caused by prisons’ own procedures and processes should not impact upon the time length of the visits.

To read the report in full:

Recent probation statistics
At the end of July, the Ministry of Justice published the latest quarterly Proven Re-offending Statistics for adult and juvenile offenders. The figures include people released from custody and people who received a community sentence between October 2013 and September 2014. They relate to the time period before the split of the probation service in the Transforming Rehabilitation initiative.

In terms of overall findings, in October 2013 to September 2014 around 496,000 adult and juvenile offenders were cautioned, received a non-custodial conviction at court or released from custody. Around 128,000 of these offenders committed a proven re-offence within a year. This gives an overall proven reoffending rate of 25.7%, a decrease of 0.7% percentage points compared to the previous 12 months and a fall of 2.7% percentage points since 2003. The rate has remained fairly stable, fluctuating between around 26% and 28% since 2003.

Around 403,000 proven re-offences were committed over the one year follow-up period, with those that reoffended committing, on average, 3.16 reoffences each.

The highest reoffending rate by age group is 39.5%, for offenders aged 10 to 14, the number of offenders in this cohort has fallen by 81% since 2003. The reoffending rate for offenders aged 15 to 17 is second highest, at 37.3%. Less than 1% of all proven re-offences committed over the one-year follow-up period were indictable only a small fall from 2003.

Adult offenders had a proven reoffending rate of 24.7%, representing a small decrease of 0.7 percentage points compared to the previous 12 months and a fall of 2.2 percentage points since 2003. This rate has been fairly flat since 2004 fluctuating between 24.5% and 25.5%.

Around 356,000 proven reoffences were committed by adults over the one year follow-up period. Those that reoffended committed on average 3.16 reoffences each.

Adult offenders with 11 or more previous offences have a higher reoffending rate than those with no previous offences – 45.6% compared to 7.6%.

The proven reoffending rate for adult offenders starting a court order (Community sentence or Suspended Sentence Order) was 33.2%, a fall of 6.7 percentage points since 2003, and a decrease of 1.0 percentage points compared to the previous 12 months.

To read the quarterly Proven Re-offending Statistics published by the Ministry of Justice:

Prison and probation staffing
The latest NOMS workforce statistics bulletin (4 August 2016) shows that, as at 30 June 2016 , civil service employment in NOMS was 43,210 staff in post on a full time equivalent (FTE) basis. This comprises:
• 31,091 FTE in Public Sector Prisons (72% of NOMS Staff)
• 8,756 FTE in National Probation Service (20% of NOMS Staff)
• 3,364 FTE in NOMS HQ and Area Services (8% NOMS Staff)

Overall, there was a reduction of 319 FTE staff in post compared to March 2016 (0.7% reduction).
Regarding prison staff, the bulletin reports that across all prisons there is a shortfall to Benchmark staffing levels of 746 (4.0%) amongst band 3 to 5 Officers and of 554 (10.4%) among Operational Support Grades.

Regarding probation services staff, the number of probation officers in the National Probation Service increased by 101 (3.1%) on the quarter and 153 (4.7%) over the last 12 months to a total of 3,372. NOMS does not record the number of probation staff employed by private Community Rehabilitation Companies.

Interpreting the figures needs to be done in the context of the large decrease in NOMS staff in recent years. Since 31 March 2010, there has been a 23% fall in the number of staff employed by NOMS (equivalent to 10,321 individuals). This figure does not include staff transferred out of NOMS into the 21 CRCs.

To read the latest NOMS workforce statistics bulletin (4 August 2016):

Restorative justice
The House of Commons Justice Committee published a new report entitled ‘Restorative Justice’ at the beginning of September. The report was produced following an inquiry that commenced in November 2015 and which heard from 17 people and received 52 pieces of written evidence.

The inquiry considered the effectiveness of restorative justice (RJ) provision across the criminal justice system, focusing on the services currently available to victims.

The inquiry examined the evidence base for the effectiveness of restorative justice, concluding that there are benefits in both reductions in reoffending and in providing tangible benefits to victims.

The Committee’s main recommendations and conclusions are:

• Restorative justice is well embedded in the youth justice system, although there is further work to be done, particularly in improving victim engagement. They
recommend the Ministry of Justice looks to the example of youth conferencing used in Northern Ireland.
• Problems in data sharing have presented a somewhat intractable obstacle to the development of restorative justice. They recommend the creation and dissemination of a national data sharing template to help speed up the agreement of data sharing protocols.
• There is evidence of mixed compliance with the requirement under the Victims’ Code to make victims aware of restorative justice, and we recommend the introduction of a system to improve compliance.
• The entitlements under the Victims’ Code should be rationalised so they no longer vary based on the age of the offender.
• The Ministry should consult with Police and Crime Commissioners and stakeholders to ensure there is sufficient capacity to feasibly introduce an entitlement to restorative justice under the Victims’ Code.

It is too soon to introduce a legislative right to access restorative justice services but such a goal is laudable and should be actively worked towards. They believe a right to access such services should be included in the Victims’ Law but that provision should only be commenced once the Minister has demonstrated to Parliament that the system has sufficient capacity.

To read the Restorative Justice report in full:

Youth justice review
The Taylor review of youth justice had been due for publication in July, but has been delayed. Justice Secretary Liz Truss has told the Justice Select Committee that she needs time to think before responding to Charlie Taylor’s review of youth justice. An article in Children and Young People Now magazine quotes a “senior figure in the youth justice sector” as claiming that the Taylor Report is being “rewritten so that it will no longer focus on secure schools”.

To read the Children and Young People Now article in full:

Review of Islamist Extremism in prisons, probation and youth justice
In September 2015 the then Secretary of State for Justice commissioned a departmental review to:

• assess the threat which Islamist Extremism (IE) poses to prisons and probation services; and
• assess the capability of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) to manage that threat.

The main findings of the review have been summarised in a document published by the Ministry of Justice and NOMS. The review states that IE is a growing problem within prisons, and a central, comprehensive and coordinated strategy is required to monitor and counter it. It recommended that the present system under which TACT (Terrorism Act, 2000) and IE prisoners are dispersed across prisons should be reviewed, and consideration given to containment of known extremists within dedicated specialist units.

The report makes eleven ‘principal recommendations’. To read the Summary of the main findings of the review of Islamist extremism in prisons, probation and youth justice:

HMIP Report on homeless children and young people
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) have published Accommodation of homeless 16- and 17-year-old children working with youth offending teams.

The critical report states that one third of homeless 16- and 17-year-old children who were working with youth offending teams had been placed in unsafe or unsuitable accommodation. Inspectors were particularly concerned about the risks those sharing hostel or bed and breakfast accommodation with adult strangers were exposed to. The responsibilities on local authorities are clear due to the landmark ‘Southwark judgement’ in the House of Lords in 2009.

The Southwark judgement clarified the responsibilities of children’s social care services for providing accommodation and support to homeless 16- and 17-year-olds. It led to local authorities and others reviewing their procedures and improved the prospects for those children. This inspection suggests that, seven years on, significant work remains to improve the accommodation provided to some of the most vulnerable children in society. HM Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey said:

“…Support for these children needs to be more consistent, effective and in line with the expectations set by the courts, so that they can successfully become independent adults.”

To read the full report by HMIP:

Crime and Social Work Bill
The Children and Social Work Bill is currently being considered by Parliament. The legislation was proposed as a way of implementing a range of additional safeguards. However, there are a number of ‘exemption clauses’ that would allow local authorities to seek permission to disapply a wide range of legal duties. Some legal professionals and campaigning organisations, amongst others, are concerned that vital legal safeguards could be lost under the banner of ‘innovation’.
To follow the progress of the Children and Social Work Bill: