Once a week, we will post a selection of articles and resources that have emerged and are particularly relevant to those working in the criminal justice voluntary sector. Scroll down for previous updates. 

October

The Resilience Research team have been out and about this week.  Dr Kelly Prince headed south to London to attend the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies conference Criminal Justice since 2015: What happened? What happens next?  And Dr Mary Corcoran attended the conference on ‘Charity Reform: Implementing  Guidance on fundraising and governance’ in Manchester on October 19 2016. Click here to read our blog, Conference Round-up Oct 2016 (2)

July

Week ending 29 July 2016 - Double Edition

The Voluntary Sector
July 2016 has been scarred by the violent events in France, Germany, USA, the troubling suppression of educational and civic organisations in Turkey, as well as the continuing suffering of Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis and other peoples caught up in, and fleeing, conflict.  Although very different countries and circumstances, each of these spheres have a civil society dimension, whether it is NGOs supporting those affected by crisis or voluntary and community groups working with the victims of crime and violence in their societies.  We are reminded once again of the indispensable role played by NGOs and the voluntary sector.  It is all the more important, therefore, that global trends in the governance of charities do not spill over into the repression or restriction of civil society.    Debates about the proper conduct of charities and the appropriate regulation by law of their activities have become more urgent in the past year.  In its latest edition, the US publication The Nonprofit Quarterly considers the growing trend in Asia and Africa of restricting NGOs and Aid and Development organisations as ‘foreign parties’  interfering with domestic affairs. Equally, in the West, legislative measures to monitor and restrict the illegal use of charitable bodies to promote political or subversive agendas have snared several charities which are uninvolved in illegal affairs. See here for the full article.

The illegitimate use of charitable status by businesses as Special Purpose Vehicles (for tax avoidance purposes), has led to scandals in the Republic of Ireland. An Irish Times investigation has revealed a series of law firms with links to global financial institutions which have set up charities registered to “relieve poverty and distress” to help hedge funds and banks pay less tax on billions of euros in high-risk assets, such as weather “catastrophe bonds”.  The Central Bank of Ireland has reported that these structures, although not illegal under Irish law, pose destabilising risks to the Irish economy. 

These reports are inflaming an already embattled charitable sector in Ireland, which has faced growing tide of public criticism over poor performance audits by public bodies and reports of fraud by former directors of charities.   The backlash against the charitable sector in Britain has prompted debate about public trust in the sector in the light of recent, highly-publicised events such as the collapse of Kid’s Company and questionable fund-raising tactics by some charities (see previous posts).  Charitable governance is a highly sensitive and complex area; one can observe the heavy-handedness of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014.  Enacted on the pretext of cleaning up corruption and extending transparency in non-governmental organisations, it draws charities, trade unions, student unions, and campaigning groups into the orbit of legislation on the same basis as corporate lobbyists and orchestrated electoral fraud.  Equally, measures such as the ill-fated ‘anti-lobbying clause’ earlier this year quickly gained the appearance of political vindictiveness rather than genuinely protecting the use of public funds. 

Criminal Justice 
Russell Webster surveys the new ministerial appointments in PM Theresa May’s cabinet and concludes that they do not exactly present an experienced team of policy heavyweights. This apparent lack of background and experience in criminal justice will have implications for the bruising battles ahead if Transforming Rehabilitation and the prison reform initiatives are to be implemented. Click here for the full blog. 

Project Principal Investigator, Dr Mary Corcoran, has written an overview of the key points from the HM Prison Inspectorate's Annual Report for the voluntary sector - HM Prison Inspectorate Blog Mary writes "The appearance of the annual report on prisons is usually significant, but the first report under the recently appointed Chief Inspector for Prisons, Peter Clarke, is one of the most sobering and comprehensive annual reports of recent years."  

 

Week ending 8 July 2016

Following the referendum, NCVO have produced a short and informative overview of key considerations for the voluntary sector. You can find it here, along with a recorded webcast on the issue here. While we try to navigate “uncharted waters”, Stuart Etherington says the sector’s role in bringing divided communities together is increasingly important; “Outreach and inclusivity matters now more than ever.”

Check out the Prison Service Journal this month here for a special issue on young people in custody. The Howard League had some good news for us today, tweeting that the number of young people in custody had reached an all-time low at 870. However, they rightly pointed out the need for considerable concern considering 45% were BAME communities. See the latest government data on youth custody for more information. 

Paula Harriott of Revolving Doors Agency has written a blog for Clinks on the power of service user involvement. Paula writes “These people aren’t faceless statistics, they are experts by experience and that expertise needs to be harnessed so that the system flexes and changes in a responsive fashion to the needs of its users”. You can find the full blog here, which includes a link to three toolkits designed to guide organisations through new approaches to service user engagement, both in the community and in prison. 

It has emerged that prison officers have staged several unofficial walkouts in the past 5 months, the BBC reports. The Prison Officers Association, whose members are banned from going on strike, said the action was the result of staff concerns over their safety. Read the full story here. 

June

Week ending 23 June 2016

STOP PRESS! Have your say about your experiences under Transforming Rehabilitation via an inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee. The deadline for written submissions is on Tuesday 28 June at midday. Click here to submit.

On polling day, when we decide whether our future is in or out of Europe, we are giving you a whistle stop tour of some of the latest news in criminal justice and the voluntary sector. Let’s start with the NCVO’s discussion paper on the EU and the impact it has on charities – you can find that here.

Prisons

Under plans to close Cornton Vale with a capacity of 375, and replace it with units with a capacity of less than half, there are concerns for future overcrowding reports the BBC. While a reduction in the Scottish prison population is to be welcomed, ‘There are concerns that without changes to sentencing policy and alternatives to jail there could be a temptation for sheriffs to think that prison was a more attractive option.’

It was also reported this week that self-harm among prisoners serving indeterminate sentences was on the increase. The report from Prison Reform Trust highlights the continued suffering of those still serving the now abolished IPPs. Find out more here. 

Staffing levels were brought under the spotlight again this week as the Prison Officers Association reported that 130 prisoners had to be transferred from HMP Earlestoke after a disturbance in which two inmate escaped their cells. It is reported that ‘Relatives of inmates also got in touch with the BBC saying prisoners were kept locked in their cells for three days, without hot food, hot water and no prison officers on some wings.’

Stafford Prison was praised this week for its comparatively low levels of violence and good staff/inmate relationships. However, there was much concern over the lack of resettlement support on offer to those leaving prison, including high risk sex offenders, with the governor Peter Clarke, promising to work more closely with the NHS and other partners to address the issue. Caution must be taken, however, in placing blame wholly at the door of prisons for poor resettlement practice in light of the new through the gate role of community rehabilitation companies.

Offender health

Finally, check out this wonderfully comprehensive piece from Clinks on offender health; ‘People in contact with the Criminal Justice System generally have higher health needs and worse health outcomes than the general population.  Many in this group engage in high risk behaviour, do not access primary care services, and do not manage existing health issues effectively.  They are over-represented in emergency services, resulting in greater cost to the system and less positive outcomes.’ Find out more here. 

 

Week ending 10 June 2016

Probation training 
The Probation Institute has published a position paper on training and professional development in this new age of resettlement and rehabilitation under Transforming Rehabilitation. Following the separation of probation staff between the National Probation Service and the Community Rehabilitation Companies, there has been concern around the implications for the professional status of probation staff. Indeed, the Probation Institute was established in order to provide centralised, professional leadership to workers across the public, voluntary and private sectors now working in the field of resettlement and rehabilitation. In the position paper, the institute moves quickly to the crux of the matter; “As a society we expect those who exercise positions of authority to demonstrate formal, recognisable and consistent competence and progression.” In the current climate, it is unclear what the various sectors and organisations are planning, so the Probation Institute have developed several recommendations. These include the establishment an independent process to set and coordinate training and qualification requirements, the introduction of minimum recruitment requirements, as well as workplace capability and capacity reviews. Click here to see the full paper. 

Voluntary sector reputation
A new report by PWC in conjunction with the Institute of Fundraising and the Charity Finance Group suggests that the biggest concern of the sector is boosting its reputation following the bad press received in the wake of the Kids Company collapse and other recent scandals. 80% of respondents claimed that press and public scrutiny was the biggest challenge they faced, while in previous years, the primary concern had been around financial sustainability. 73% of respondents said they had been improving their fundraising practice over the past year.  While moves to improve less ethical processes of fundraising are always welcome, it is equally important for the sector to vociferously reject any notion that a very small number of incidents are proof of sector wide impropriety. Indeed, the examples of changes to fundraising practice cited in the Guardian coverage refer almost entirely to large and medium organisational practices; examples include the review of donation forms and communication preferences, increased training for fundraisers, and reviewing relationships with telesales agencies. It should not be forgotten that 83% of voluntary sector organisations have an income of less than £100,000, making teams of fundraisers and the commissioning of telesales wholly unaffordable. When we talk about fundraising scandals we should be very clear that we are talking about a tiny number of organisations, compared to the significantly higher number of organisations who are operating on a shoestring, doing excellent work, and struggling to survive. 

Prison work and stress
The Oxford Mail reports that stress-related illness among prison staff has hit a five-year high following major cuts to the workforce. The Press Association sought a Freedom of Information request which revealed that 54,519 days were lost due to stress during 2014-15, up from 53,290 in 2013-14 and 46,866 in 2012-13. Frances Crook from the Howard League for Penal Reform said reluctance amongst staff to report stress may mask a much higher figure. A spokesman for the Prison Service said: "These figures show exactly why prisons are so badly in need of reform. Dedicated prison staff work in an extremely challenging environment in which, on a daily basis, they face unique circumstances unlike most others in the public sector.”

May

Week ending 27 May 2016

Lifelong expats living in Australia deported to UK due to convictions
The number of Britons being deported from Australia following a criminal conviction is on the rise, despite the fact they may have spent their entire lives in Australia and consequently have no connections in the UK. According to Prisoners Abroad and other charities that work with prisoners overseas, the number of people who have had their residency rights cancelled has increased significantly in the past two years as a result of changes to Australia’s Migration Act (2015).  The act automatically cancels the visa of a person deemed to have a “substantial criminal record”. That is now defined as a crime carrying a prison sentence of 12 months, even if the time served is much lower. Find out more here.

Voluntary trust set up in Birmingham to take over Children's Services

Charities are to form part of a Trust which is taking responsibility for Children's Services in Birmingham after a series of criminal prosecutions and inquiries into child mistreatment cases. This follows precedents in other parts of England including Doncaster and Slough. They are usually composed of appointed experts, charities and high-performing local authorities to provide support. Birmingham City Council is stressing that this is a voluntary decision following discussions with Ofsted and the Department of Education. The decision comes after the appointment of Lord Warner as an external commissioner to oversee the running of children's services in the city in March 2014. Find out more here.

Prisons News

Yet another challenging week for Michael Gove. While a £10 million cash injection into the custody estate to target increasing violence and unrest might be welcomed, it is likely that the amount will only address the tip of the iceberg. Indeed Lord Falconer, the Shadow Justice Secretary, deemed the amount ‘risible’: he said “I welcome the announcement today of an extra £10m to spend on safety in prisons. In the face of the scale of the prison crisis the £10m looks risibly small. If the Lord Chancellor is serious about prison reform the first step he must take is to reduce the prison population.”  Gove has also announced this week that HMP Kennet in Merseyside is to close, having been deemed inefficient. However, the local MP says the decision has not been open to scrutiny, and staff at the prison had not been informed when the announcement was made. The week has ended with yet more bad press coverage for Gove, supported by the Public Accounts Committee which reported that the Criminal Justice System is at breaking point, "bedevilled by long-standing poor performance, including delays and inefficiencies".

For a more positive story about prisons, check out this article by Erwin James about HMP New Hall. There is the Rivendell Unity, a psychologically informed environment where women with complex mental health needs live alongside other prisoners who do not have mental health needs, but who volunteer to live in the unit as what James calls a “stable influence”. James highlights Rivendell as an example of good practice in rehabilitation, but it seems more like good practice in helping recovery. While mental health often overlaps and influences offending, the focus here seems to be on the well-being of the individual, not the offending, a hugely welcome approach in a system where recovery is rarely prioritised. 

 

Week ending 20 May 2016

Prison Reform

Phil Wheatley, former Director-General of the prison service, has warned that the prison reform agenda announced in the Queen’s Speech will fail unless increased funding is made available and prison numbers are decreased. The Guardian reports that, along with the six reform prisons where governors will be given more autonomy, there will also be a pilot scheme to use satellite tracking which will open the possibility of weekend only or evening only prison to enable people to keep their jobs. However, Wheatley argues “At the moment the prime minister’s unwillingness to reduce the size of the task by taking action to reduce the prison population and the chancellor’s inability to allocate additional funding because of his policy of continued austerity make it likely that this latest reform, like the many others before it, will fail and simply prove a distraction to the real business of running effective prisons”. The governors’ performance in the new reform prisons will be judged by league tables based on prison education, reoffending and employment on release.

Voluntary sector partnerships with statutory health providers

This is a link to the NCVO’s blog on the latest government report “based on the largest ever review of the voluntary sector's involvement in statutory health and social care”. NCVO writes “While there are many good examples of local partnerships between statutory and voluntary health providers, overly complex commissioning processes mean that the expertise of many charities is excluded from design and delivery of health services. The report recommends a 'simplest by default' approach to procurement practice, in an attempt to put an end to unduly complex and cumbersome contracting arrangements which are barriers to the involvement of smaller charities and social enterprises in particular…

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • funding for voluntary organisations should be transparent, long term and have a greater emphasis on social value
  • local strategic plans should be based on thorough engagement with local communities and VCSE organisations
  • statutory guidance for CCGs should be revised to emphasise the need for them to work with charities and social enterprises in order to meet duties under the Health and Social Care Act
  • future NHS transformation programmes should only be approved if they include plans to involve charities and social enterprises in strategic decision making and service delivery.”

Queen’s speech and what the voluntary sector needs to know

This week has been all about the Queen’s Speech. This is the link to Clinks blog on what it means for prison reform, and also the NCVO’s post which summarises the key messages for the sector, including the small donations scheme. 

 

Week ending 13 May 2016

The value of small charities

In our weekly round-ups, we like to include information not just about criminal justice, but about the voluntary sector as well. This is an old (15 Nov 2015) article tweeted by the Guardian today on the value of small charities, often overshadowed by the imagined professionalism of larger voluntary sector organisations. This article highlights the value of having a locally embedded, client-centred service where staff and volunteers are committed to organisational, and sector, mission and ethos.

Prison Issues

The rapid decline in prison safety continues to figure prominently in press coverage this week. The Justice Select Committee have heard from the Prison Officers Association that the prison service’s National Tactical Response Unit (what the Guardian refers to as the ‘riot squad’) has been called to respond to incidents between 30 and 40 times a month, across England and Wales, between March and November 2015. This is at an unprecedented level. Chronic staff shortages play an important role; last year, the prison service recruited an additional 2250 officers, but this led to a net gain of only 440 staff. Over-crowding has also been highlighted as an issue contributing to increased violence, and yet, the Scotsman reported this week that the newest prison in Scotland, opened in 2014, was operating with 75 beds empty; it has a capacity of 506, yet during an inspection last year, it housed only 431 offenders.  Michael Gove has said he will not ‘manage down’ the number of people in prison, however, Lord Ramsbotham (former Chief Inspector of Prisons), Bob Neill (Conservative chairman of the Justice Select Committee) and former Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, have said prison numbers need to be brought down as a matter of urgency. Speaking about Gove’s reform plans (to be announced this week during the Queen’s Speech), Lord Ramsbotham told a Radio 4 programme ‘He can’t possibly do it with the [prison] numbers as they are now.’ The BBC reports “The cross-bench peer said some prisoners on indeterminate sentences for public protection and those who are mentally ill should be let out, adding that he estimated 30% of inmates did not need to be in prison.” 

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Birmingham have found there needs to be a whole prison approach to reducing violence. Dr Kate Gooch and Dr James Treadwell have released a report on prison bullying and victimisation; they found that “only strong leadership, good staff-prisoner relationships and a ‘whole prison approach’ to ‘anti-victimisation’ can counter the rapidly evolving problems of bullying and violence in prisons.” 

Probation

This blog in the Guardian by David Monk provides an interesting perspective on the probation service, as the writer returns to the front-line work after 30 years away from holding a caseload. Monk finds that the core of probation, the wish to uncover the potential of ex-offenders, is still alive and well. He notes, however, that the complex fragmentation of probation (under Transforming Rehabilitation) has led to friction between CRC and NPS staff and to negative consequences for clients who must repeat their story time and again to different individuals. He also states that while caseloads have always been high, the new bureaucratic burden combined with labour intensive IT systems is ‘a more recent phenomenon’.  Monk also notes with sadness that newcomers are trained by employers, rather than universities, and ‘old links with the social work training I undertook are sadly long since severed.’ What comes across strongly is that probation work is hard; even Monk jumps ship to some degree by moving to front-line youth offending work. In fact, it seems that the work is harder than it has ever been in many respects, while resources available to draw upon are largely declining.  

 

Week ending 6 May 2016

Voluntary sector independence

Caroline Slocock, Director of Civil Exchange, makes a potent case in the Charity Times for a bruised voluntary sector to raise its collective voice in order to protect the sanctity of its independence (read the article here). An independent voluntary sector, free to raise concerns and offer alternatives, is fundamental in its service to democracy, society, and most importantly, to those who have the least amount of power to get their voices heard. See pages 18 and 19 for Caroline Slocock’s briefing, and pages 23-24 for further comment on the voice of the sector.

Slocock has recently lead research culminating in the report Independence in Question; she beautifully summarises the current status of the sector, and now perhaps what should grow from this is the opening of a discussion forum which considers how the sector, its supporters and stakeholders might come together and influence a progressive policy and practice agenda, with the benefit of our community as the central driver?

The community in this sense should be read as those people who access the services the voluntary sector provides, those who contribute their hearts and minds to the sector’s work and mission, as well as those critical friends and supporters who understand the need to have a healthy voluntary sector at the core of social policy development. 

Housing and employment for those leaving prison

Our project partner in the sector, Clinks, has worked with Homeless Link on a response to Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into housing and employment support for people on their release from prison. It highlights the need for work to commence at the earliest opportunity, for improved transparency in CRC and NPS commissioning, and the importance of continued investment. Find the report here

Difficult times for the MoJ as prisons become increasingly dangerous for both staff and inmates

Today it has emerged that staff at Wormwood Scrubs prison have walked off the job over fears for their safety. The dire conditions at The Scrubs has recently been highlighted by the Prison Inspectorate who reported a rat infestation, long periods of confinement, and severe over-crowding (see our round-up for week ending 22 April). In Belgium this week, a court order the state to compensate prisoners who had not received minimum service standards while prison staff were on strike. This comes in the same week as the Prison Officers Association reported that some of its members at High Down prison in Surrey have suffered broken bones and being knocked unconscious through increasing levels of violence.  The week has not ended well for the Ministry of Justice, with yesterday’s report that the failing Medway Secure Training Centre (STC), formally ran by G4S, will come under government control through NOMS, the first time the state has ever ran a STC. Medway is not the only STC to come under scrutiny; yesterday concerns were raised about restraint methods being used in Rainsbrook, another G4S ran centre, and indeed across the youth custody estate, where restraint methods have led to restricted breathing and loss of consciousness.

One thing seems to come into sharp focus; whether you’re staff or inmate, the custody estate is an increasingly risky and fearful place to be. It is not possible to read these stories outside of the context of the deep and wide cuts to funding with more worrying wounds appearing on a daily basis. Chronic staff shortages, over-crowding and poor conditions are having a real impact on the ground, in terms of safety and security across the custody estate.

 

 

April

Week ending 29 April 2016

Civil Society reports that the government is “pausing on implementation” of what has been called the anti-advocacy clause, which would prevent those in receipt of government grants from attempting to influence government, Parliament, or ‘legislative or regulatory action’. Last week the government suggested it would exempt researchers and academics, but not charities. Since then, NCVO and ACEVO put out a joint statement calling for the “full and immediate withdrawal of the policy”. Tommy Sheppard, an SNP MP, is quoted as saying “This government has succeeded in uniting the entirety of the British voluntary sector against it. Including household names like GirlGuides, Mencap and Oxfam.” A statement released by the Cabinet Office on Wednesday morning said that the government "is continuing to consider the comments of all interested parties, ahead of the introduction into grant agreements of the clause… We will review any representations and take a decision on the form of the clause following that." See the opinion piece below by the Resilience Project lead, Mary Corcoran for further commentary on the anti-lobying clause. 

It was reported this week that the government makes £5million from contracts using prison labour. Types of work included laundry services, printing press, and making poppies. Some argue that work in prison is positive because; it gives inmates an occupation, something “to do” which is better than nothing; it increases work readiness at the point of release; and it contributes to prisoner rehabilitation. Others suggest that private companies profiting from cheap and “disciplined” (or coerced) labour is exploitative and, that the type of labour available only serves to reinforce prisoners’ antipathy toward the low paid, low skilled jobs that await them on the outside. Perhaps most worryingly of all, unlike their inmate counterparts in the United States who called for a series of strikes in April this year to protest conditions including the use of forced labour, this study by Jenna Pandeli found that prisoners in the UK admired the private firms who used their labour; they saw exploitation as a necessary part of economic success.  This neoliberal commitment to ‘making money by whatever means necessary’ (Pandeli, 2015) may be seen as at odds with the low paid jobs which await them, but arguably legitimises their pursuit of much greater financial reward offered by criminalised pursuits. 

A study by the Prison Reform Trust on the use of solitary confinement, or segregation as it is known in the UK, has found that British penal policy differs from that of many of its European neighbours in using segregation to both isolate prisoners for reasons of law and order, and, to separate vulnerable prisoners who are at risk of self-harm or harm from others. “Prisoners’ complaints about their isolation are often couched in terms of mental torture” reports the Guardian. The average stay in a close supervision centre is 40 months; there is “little light and austere cages for exercise yards.” The average stay in more general segregation units is 14 days. Both are described as damaging to mental health and wellbeing. 

A familiar story of increasing violence and deteriorating conditions was reported, this time, in relation to HMP Leeds. The Yorkshire Post reports there are 32 assaults per month on prisoners and staff at HMP Leeds, with one in ten resulting in serious injury. While the problem of legal highs is also a recurring feature in explanations of increasing levels of violence, it is important to remember that prisons across England and Wales are extremely overcrowded. The inspection at Leeds also highlighted that the majority of cells were poorly equipped. Legal highs are only one aspect of increasing levels of violence; it should not obscure the more entrenched problems in the custody estate. 

 

Week ending 22 April 2016

Of the many interesting aspects of HMP Inspector of Prisons report on Wormwood Scrubs, our attention was drawn by Russell Webster to paragraph 4.35 which states: The proportion of prisoners recorded by the prison as having accommodation on discharge had fallen dramatically in recent months, from 95.3% in April 2015 to 59.4% in October 2015. There is some disagreement as to what this might mean; the Inspectorate report indicates that the prison itself is unlikely to account wholly for the fall. Russell Webster (here) suggests that responsibility should not fall substantially on the CRC and the apparent failure of through the gate support with respect to accommodation. However, Webster’s reasoning is a bit curious as he suggests that the majority of the Scrubs’ population are serving 12 months and less. This seems at odds with the prison’s category B status. Secondly, the same blog suggests that the initial high number of 95.3% may have been because prisons over-report their success in rehousing. If prisons are over-reporting, however, it surely cannot be said that CRCs are under-reporting their success. Whilst all commentators agree that a key obstacle to resettlement ins a lack of safe and secure accommodation, it is also widely known that the CRCs for the most part are not engaged in significant through-the-gate work. The Resilience Project is finding that housing providers are struggling more and more even to engage with the CRCs. In addition, the housing sector itself is undergoing seismic changes with respect to housing benefit, the bedroom tax, and the proposed Housing Bill. It seems that the enormous problems confronted by the prisons and through-the-gate providers is a microcosm of the wider hollowing out of our social and welfare economy. 

The Ministry of Justice is asking for an extra £427million extra funding above its designated departmental spends of £6.6billlion for 2015/16 (reported on Legal Futures website here). Lower than expected court fee income was put forward by Richard Heaton (Permanent Secretary to the MoJ) as one of the contributing factors. Another was an increase in detection and prosecution of serious offences ‘This increase in demand has put pressure on the prison population...’ Yet the Howard League reports based on MoJ statistics, that during the year ending June 2015, 42,464 people were given a sentence of less than 12 months, a significant number of arguably less serious offences.

Local councillors in Doncaster are planning to set up a team to work with HMP Hatfield to organise supervised community working activities for prisoners in order to support community integration prior to release, reports local media. What is happening to through-the-Gate services? A cornerstone of Transforming Rehabilitation, through the gate services should be falling under the remit of Community Rehabilitation Companies, should they not?

The Guardian has reported that G4S have been fined 100 times since 2010 for breaching prison contracts. The tally amounts of £2.7million, however, Labour MP Louise Haigh says “Despite this, the fines being paid by G4S are pitifully small and constitute nothing more than a slap on the wrist. At the Medway youth jail, where an undercover investigation revealed endemic child abuse, G4S only received a meagre £700 fine. It’s no surprise they’re so slow to get their act together.”

 

Stop Press! Check out this opinion piece by Resilience Project Principal Investigator, Mary Corcoran, entitled The anti-advocacy clause: governing or gagging?. In the wake of the anti-advocacy clause and government plans to outsource all public sector grant giving, she asks what future there is for the sector in speaking truth to power.   

 

Week ending 15 April 2016

The number of women leaving HMP Bronzefield in West London without accommodation has risen from 4.5% in 2014 to 16.3% in 2015. As a result, women with no fixed abode have been given tents and sleeping bags when leaving prison. A lack of social housing stock and the frequent downgrading of ex-offenders to low priority by local authority housing departments were cited as contributory factors in the report. While, overall, the Bronzefield report is described as very positive, the article highlights an important bone of contention which as yet remains unsolved. The Sodexo run prison’s director, Charolotte Pattison-Rideout states that the CRCs are now responsible for accommodating offenders on release. However, in the concluding sections of the article, the Ministry of Justice states that responsibility for accommodation lies with the local authority. Meanwhile, women and men released from prison with complex issues, not least of all a heightened risk of suicide and self-harm (see below), are being forced to sleep in tents. 

Described by HM Inspectorate of Prisons as one of the most critical reports published in recent years, details emerged this week of conditions in Wormwood Scrubs. However, The Guardian states that the report published under Inspectorate stewardship of Peter Clarke is an amended version of the one drafted by Nick Hardwick, the previous chief inspector who stepped down in January. Of most concern is the omission of data included in the draft which refers to 1 in 10 prisoners reporting they had been physically assaulted, and “too many prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm were held in the segregation unit without any explanation of the exceptional reasons required to justify it.” While Michael Spurr told the BBC that since the report, improvements have been made, perhaps we are left wondering why an infestation of rats, broken windows, and high levels of violence were not obvious issues in need of immediate redress well before Inspectors embarked on their announced visit in November 2015.

Those leaving prison are at a heightened risk of suicide, especially in the weeks immediately following release, a report published in the Lancet reveals.This heightened risk is approaching the same levels as that seen in discharged psychiatric patients. In a week when the practice of handing out tents to those leaving custody was (re)highlighted, and at a time when services are facing increasing demand with diminishing resources, we are reminded most profoundly of the need for user informed, robust, community based services for those affected by the criminal justice system. 

The Northern Echo reports that Durham and Tees Valley CRC have moved out of several offices in the North East in order to cut costs. This has resulted in workers having to meet ex-offenders in community centres and Salvation Army Halls “because there is nowhere else to go”. A source stated that risk assessments of community premises were not being completed, and “there are real concerns about privacy and safety.” The chief executive of the CRC, Bronwen Elphick, explained that a reduction in anticipated offender numbers had led to a reduction in funding and a process of rationalization, including a reduction in staff and in the number of premises leased by the CRC from the MoJ. She denied the accusation that risk assessments were not being completed, and told the Echo that staff were able to use central offices in Stockton and Durham if they needed to. 

Week ending 8 April 2016

98% of UK households access a charitable service, whether that is a religious institution, a museum, or a charity advice service online. The Guardian reports “The findings, based on a survey of 2,054 adults by polling company Populus and the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), showed that most popular services included buying goods in charity shops (88%), visiting charity-run museums and galleries (73%), visiting religious institutions with charitable status (51%) and getting advice from the charity or from a charity’s website (51%).” However, the Trussell Trust report that charities are now serving the basic needs of communities more than ever before, especially for young, low income families. 

The Howard League for Penal Reform has criticised prison conditions in the wake of National Offender Management Service statistics showing a sharp spike in collective protest by inmates in2015. According to NOMS statistics, there has been a threefold increase in incidents since 2012 when just 92 incidents occurred, compared with 2015 when 282 incidents occurred. Frances Crook from the Howard league argues that growing prisoner numbers, overcrowding and staff cuts are the cause of increasing unrest. Recently, the BBC reported a rooftop protest by an inmate at HMP Guys Marsh, yet the reason for the protest was never disclosed by prison authorities. The Birmingham Mail reported another incident at G4S ran HMP Birmingham, during which an employee at the prison received minor injuries. The Director of HMP Birmingham said, “There is no place for violent conduct at HMP Birmingham and we will always take action where prisoners do not engage positively with our regime and our staff.” However, no information regarding the reasons for the protest has been released. Those familiar with the Medway case may feel concerned that the voices of inmates are not being heard outside of prison walls; the events at Medway Secure Training Centre highlight a need for greater transparency in the treatment of prisoners, youth and adult alike.  

Local county jails in Louisiana are neglecting the needs of thousands of inmates by failing to provide adequate care for those with HIV, the Guardian reports. The organisation Human Rights Watch found that those held in local and county jails did not receive the services that were offered in state prisons. Louisiana has one of the highest rates of HIV diagnoses in the country (second only to Washington D.C.) and the highest incarceration rate at more than double the national average. When those living with HIV are unable to access medication, the effects on the body are profound; sickness, weight-loss, and within 40 days the body develops antiretroviral resistance. Human Rights Watch argues this is a potential breach of international human rights treaties. 

The Financial Times reports that Japanese elders are committing crime in order to access the relative security of prison. With most retirees having living expenses on average 25% higher than the state pension (780,000 yen, or just over £5000 per year), a report by Michael Newman suggests that those over 60 make up 25% of all arrests, up from just 3.6% in 1990. Prison offers food, accommodation, and health care in a much more reliable way than can be offered by an impoverished retirement outside of prison. You can get the full report here

A recent Select Committee report suggests that the Foreign Office is downgrading the importance of human rights work in its operations overseas. Crispin Blunt, Chair of the committee, said there is a perception that the Foreign Office has “become more hesitant in promoting and defending international human rights openly and robustly”. He went on to say “We recommend that the FCO is more mindful of the perceptions it creates at ministerial level, especially when other interests are engaged such as prosperity and security, as is the case with China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.” The Guardian reports that the Select Committee will be monitoring in particular the work carried out by the FCO to assist 11 political prisoners, as well as its human rights work in Egypt and Eritrea. Read the full Select Committee report here

March

Week ending 23 March 2016 

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies published their 5th UK Justice Policy Review this week. Richard Garside, one of the report’s authors, argues "During the five years to the 2015 General Election, the criminal justice systems in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland faced unprecedented structural change, growing demands on their resources and generally diminishing budgets. The decisions made in the next five years are going to be critical to the future health of the justice systems across the United Kingdom. If the wrong decisions are made, criminal justice agencies across the UK face a perfect storm of growing demand and shrinking budgets by the time of the next General Election." See the full report here.

The Scottish Government has announced a ring-fencing of over £1million for charities working with offenders and their families in Scotland. The money will be divided up between Sacro, Apex, Families Outside, and Positive Prison? Positive Futures. Michael Matheson, Scotland’s Justice Secretary, reports that reconviction rates are at their lowest for 16 years and recorded crime in Scotland is at a 41 year low. Matheson stated “we are committed to supporting a sustainable and innovative third sector to work with offenders.” The UK Justice Policy Review also notes that “Scotland is a partial exception, where increased expenditure funded stable or rising staff numbers in the police, prison and probation services.” It seems then that Scotland could provide some lessons for the more stricken system in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

Clinks have launched their State of the Sector 2016 report. Key findings suggest that the majority of organisations working in the criminal justice voluntary sector are small; they have less than 50 staff and a turnover of less than £1million. Service user needs are changing with 73% of organisations reporting that the variety of needs being presented is expanding, while 55% reported that the severity of their needs is increasing. However, the sector is responding to this by developing new services; 56% of organisations who reported delivering new services in the last financial year did so in response to service user need. Click here for the full report.  

Charity campaigning came under fire again this week, this time in relation to the images it uses in its fundraising activities. A group of pupils from a school in Croyden have started a campaign to end the use of images of suffering children in adverts by organisations such as Save the Children and NSPCC. The campaign raises issue over the dignity of the children being featured, and whether they are able to give full and informed consent for their images to be used. Read more about it here in this article from the Guardian. 

 

 

Week ending 18 March 2016

This week, Michael Gove has suggested that those prisons that perform poorly could be taken ‘under the wing’ of those which are more successful. The Independent reports that league tables, similar to those in education, would be set up with success measured by “the educational achievements of inmates behind the walls and the success of getting them into jobs rather than returning to crime”. He also talked about “dipstick measurements”, such as the number of hours inmates spent outside of their cell. Gove also suggested that groups of prisons could be led by an executive governor. The Howard League has suggested that while they welcome moves to give governors more power, these measures are tantamount to “moving deckchairs on the Titanic” unless there was also a concerted effort to reduce prison numbers. 

Manchester is to be granted power over aspects of criminal justice in a further test of regional devolution. Local Councillors will make decisions about offender management, education in prisons and work with youth offenders. They will also bring suggestions to the table on the location of the new prison in Manchester. Arif Ansari of the BBC writes; “The devolution of justice powers to Greater Manchester should give the police commissioner greater say over areas such as rehabilitation. But it sounds vague; Whitehall tends not to willingly give away powers.”

There are too many young people in Northern Irelands prison system, according to a report by the CJINI (Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland). The report calls on the Department of Justice “to put welfare at the heart of the criminal justice system; to maximise community involvement and increase exit points from the justice system; and develop the disposals available to the judiciary and reduce the use of custody to make it truly a measure of last resort”, writes the Irish Legal News. Find the full report here. 

Want to know how the budget 2016 will impact your organisation? Check out this blog by Michael Birtwistle of NCVO on the top four facts we in the voluntary and community sector need to be aware of. This includes £150 million ring-fenced to address homelessness, changes to business rates, and changes to disability Personal Independence Payments. Read the full budget policy paper here.

 

 

Week ending 11 March 2016

The Scottish Herald reported the success of the Public Social Partnership (PSP) in its work with offenders this week. Following a report by the Scottish Government, results indicated that the partnership between public and voluntary sector organisations had led to a significant decrease in reoffending and positive feedback from service users. There are 6 PSPs across Scotland, all of which were led by a voluntary sector organisation, designed to give the voluntary and community sector a primary role in the relationship. 

The United Nations News Centre reported this week that LGBTI people in prison suffer more acts of violence than do the general population. The report to the Human Rights Council looks at gender-based violence through the prism of the Convention against Torture, and highlights a tendency to regard violations against these groups as “ill-treatment” even where they would more appropriately be defined as “torture.” Find the full report here, Section III (B) being concerned with detention.

The Court of Appeal has over-ruled the immediate and compulsory ban on smoking in prisons this week. Government lawyers made the case that immediate implementation would have worrying consequences for prison discipline, as well as the safety of both staff and inmates. The MoJ said it would still impose restrictions, but this will be done in a phased and more controlled manner. 

The Irish Examiner reports that up to 60% of people imprisoned in Ireland were there as a result of unpaid court fines. According to the article, “nearly six out of 10 of the 17,200 prison committals in 2015, which comprised some 14,200 people — the highest number of people ever jailed.” Prison governors are hoping a new system of payment by instalment will dramatically reduce the numbers being jailed. 

This week brought another poor report from HM Inspectorate of Prisons. Doncaster Prison was reported as having high levels of violence, hostage taking and gang attacks. In addition, the Independent reports “Conditions at Doncaster prison – one of five run by the company which has a £3.5bn turnover – were so poor that inspectors spotted mice, cockroaches, missing window panes and exposed wires at the purpose-built prison.’ Read the full report here. HMP Doncaster was the site of the first Payment by Results pilot programme. For a summary of the evaluation of the Doncaster PbR pilot see this report.

 

Week ending 4 March 2016

Partnerships between the NHS Trusts and local voluntary sector organisations are necessary to reduce health inequalities. A recent report by the mental health task force highlighted that experiences of health care are still mediated by race, gender, sexuality, and disability. The article recognises the sometimes unique position of
voluntary sector organisations as coming from and responding to the communities in which they work.

The Howard League are campaigning for a change in the law whereby prisoners serving life sentences could apply for parole before the end of their minimum terms if they have made exceptional efforts to rehabilitate themselves. This would follow the Canadian system where it is referred to as the 'faint hope' law.

The Guardian reports that Michael Gove believes he can reform prisons without reducing the number of people in already overcrowded conditions. The prison population has almost doubled in the last 25 years, and despite cuts of 20% to the prison budget, Mr Gove is confident he can keep people safe, in decent conditions, spending more time out of their cell, learning and working.

Concerns have been raised over safety at HMYOI Werrington, which can hold up to 142 boys between the ages of 15 and 18. HM Inspectorate of Prisons reported high levels of violence and bullying, with a quarter of boys reporting they felt unsafe and half saying they had been victimised by other boys. The inspectors did report, however, that staff were receptive to inspection feedback and were confident they would take necessary steps to make the establishment safer.

February

Week ending 26 February 2016

As the voluntary sector in the UK contemplates the latest threat to it's campaigning functions, imposed by contractual restrictions in government funding agreements, the Guardian reports that civil society is suffering at the hand of governments around the world.

YouGov conducted research on what the public, MPs, and opinion formers think of charities; NCVO reported that while the sector should take comfort from the findings that 68% felt charities improve people's lives and are socially useful, there was considerable concern about the trustworthyness of large charities in particular.

It seems that bigger may not always be better when it comes to prisons. A report by Amelia Gentleman on Oakwood prison found G4S struggling with a lack of profit, inexperienced staff and suicidal inmates. 

 

Week ending 19 February 2016

This week, the Supreme Court declared that the law on joint enterprise, where someone may be convicted of murder as a result of 'assisting or encouraging' the crime, whether or not they committed the fatal act, has been incorrectly applied. Previously, the foresight of the accused that the principal attacker might kill or seriously harm the victim was deemed sufficient to prove guilt. The Supreme Court ruled that it was only sufficient to infer that he intended to assist or encourage, but that the jury must decide intent based on all of the evidence presented. This follows a highly critical report from the Commons Justice Select Committee in which they argued the threshold for establishing culpability under joint enterprise should be raised.

Cornton Vale women's prison in Scotland came under further scrutiny when the lack of independent access to toilets during the night was exposed as "the most significant breach to someone's human dignity." Find the original report by the Prison Inspectorate here.

In her new role as CEO of Clinks, the leading umbrella organisation for the criminal justice voluntary sector, Anne Fox conducted a tour of cities across the UK in order to find out what was keeping Clinks' members awake at night. Here is Anne's account of what she learned.

50% overcrowding, high levels of violence, 50% increase in self-harm, and more than half of inmates reporting they had felt unsafe - a bleak picture was painted of Leicester Prison this week by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. In December, prisoners had smashed through the walls of a segregation unit, a unit which the report deemed not fit for habitation and recommended it should be closed immediately. 

Fluctuation, volatility and uneven loss are met with diverse coping strategies within small and medium sized organisations, according to a report published this month by NCVO on financial trends for small and medium-sized charities. Find it here.

 

Week ending 12 February 2016

This week was marked by progressive signals on prison policy, laid out in a speech by PM David Cameron Prisons overhaul to be announced by David Cameron.

But there was less substance in his speech with regards to firm policy routes towards these goals, such as  sentence reform or justice reinvestment.  One typically cautious response from the sector came from Richard Garside, Director of CCJS (Centre of Crime & Justice Studies).  

If the language of the PM’s speech seemed to signal a break with ‘law and order politics’, the programme of penal reform to date still largely relies on mechanisms such as introducing ‘reform prisons’ in which governors will have ‘Academy-style’ freedoms to operate and contract out their establishment.  Performance (and funding) will be determined by league tables. Prisons which release most criminals who reoffend will be named and shamed, David Cameron pledges.

Just as controversially, but less progressively, were plans to introduce supplementary contract clauses to all charities who receive new or renewed government funding agreements.The proposal is that charities given government grants will not be able to use the money to try to change the law or increase spending, it has emerged, but they may continue to use ‘privately raised’ funds for lobbying. The Telegraph reported 'The exact phrase that will be inserted into all new and renewed grant agreements reads: “The following costs are not Eligible Expenditure:- Payments that support activity intended to influence or attempt to influence Parliament, Government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action”.' 

 Ostensibly, the measure is to “stop the farce of government lobbying government,” according to Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock.  The sector, embattled with government over fundraising and related regulatory matters, is almost unanimously critical. At the very least, the measure reveals a controversial view of the voluntary sector as ‘a branch of government’, as well as a perspective of parliamentary democracy in which all facets of ‘government’ should speak as one. 

Meanwhile, Home Secretary Theresa May proposed that police and crime commissioners should extend their remit into the education and social care of ‘at risk’ children. May wants police commissioners to set up free schools for 'troubled children.'

Ongoing concerns with prison conditions for women were highlighted by the death of Sarah Reed at HMP Holloway.  Reed, who had suffered with her mental health, had been transferred to Holloway from hospital, and was on remand awaiting trial for assault.  Four years previously, she had been a victim of assault in custody by a police officer, an event which came to public attention when the incident was captured on CCTV at the station.

This week, too, David Cameron "urges a rethink" over mothers with babies in prison; the review will consider whether mothers with babies can be dealt with through non-custodial sentences, but suggested that in some instances, mother and baby together in prison might be in the best interests of the child.

North of the border, meanwhile, the process of closing down Scotland’s women’s prison, Cornton Vale, is scheduled to start this summer. The Scottish policy is to replace imprisonment for women with community custodial units, a proposal first outlined in the Corston report.   

A combination of cuts in public spending and changes to local authority funding regimes were adversely affecting small and medium sized charities (those with turnover of between between £25k to £1 million), according to research published this week by the Lloyd’s Foundation. Compounding the problem, some of the poorest regions (the Midlands, North West and North East) had lost the highest proportion of their income. 

Analysis by the NCVO of the available data on public sector grant funding showed a dramatic decline from £6bn to £2.2bn between 2003-2013. Much of it accounted for by reductions in local authority grant giving and contracting. 

In response, the Directory for Social Change launched its ‘Grants for Good’ campaign to press for grant funding models to be maintained and raised.  Debra Allcock-Tyler, CEO, commented: ‘It’s high time to make the counter-argument and start campaigning for Grants for Good’.

It is to be hoped that ‘Grants for Good’ does not count as ‘farcical lobbying’ under the government’s new proposals. 

 

Week ending 4 February 2016

The cusp of January and February 2016 saw the publication of the House of Commons briefing paper on Contracting out probation services 2013-16’.  As with the publication of the three initial evaluation reports from HM Inspectorate of Probation on Transforming Rehabilitation the briefing paper is characterised by an equivocal, ‘wait and see’ approach.  The cautious verdict to date is that concerns about the pace of implementation and the lack of readiness within the CRCs to do business with the voluntary sector remain.  NOMS continues to encourage greater take up by the CRCs of voluntary sector providers, Information and contracting systems are not yet sufficiently in place to enable second and third tier contracting to take place on the scale originally promised under initial TR proposals.  

The reputational challenge to the charitable sector took another turn with the screening on Wednesday 3rd February BBC of a close-up documentary on the closure of Kid’s Company.  The following day, Steve Bubb CEO of ACEVO vigorously responded to the Sun’s report on the arrangement between the energy supplier EON and Age UK - see this write-up by Civil Society for more information. 

In an apparent timely response, the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act, 2016  completed its passage through parliament (in fact, it began life with the Hodgson Review of charitable regulation in 2012).  The act gives more stringent preventive powers to the Charity Commission, including:

  • Giving the commission a new power to issue a statutory, public warning to a charity where there is deemed to be mismanagement, misconduct or breach of trust or duty
  • Expanding the criteria that automatically disqualify a person from being a charity trustee to include convictions for money laundering, terrorism or sexual offences.

The latter power has raised concerns from criminal justice charities, such as Unlock, that people with historical and spent convictions will be unnecessarily disqualified from acting as charitable trustees. 

Meanwhile, the drive within NOMS to generate profit making enterprises took another dent when it transpired that Just Solutions International, which was awarded the contract to train Saudi prison officers before it was withdrawn by Michael Gove and closed with a loss of £1 million.

 This week too, the eleventh edition of the excellent World Prison Population List was  published by the Institute for Criminal  Policy Research, Birkbeck University. It reveals the onward rise in the global prisoner population to 10.35 million – an increase of 20% since the beginning of the century.  

In Ireland, supervised injecting rooms will be introduced  in Dublin in late 2016, and extended to other parts of the country in 2017.  The possession of small amounts of drugs, including heroin, cocaine and cannabis, for personal use will be decriminalised as part of a “radical cultural shift” in the approach to drug addiction. Less progressively, a special report from the Irish inspectorate of prisons found that staff are under “incessant pressure” to conform to behaviour which is “at best unprofessional and at worst misogynistic and even misanthropic. The inspector called for a formal code of ethics which would ensure “basic human rights principles” are implemented on a day-to-day basis. The Irish Government was also rebuked for its failure to allow prisons, Garda stations and other places of detention to be inspected by the United Nations has become a source of national embarrassment. Ireland’s failure to sign up to the UN’s anti-torture protocol (Opcat) was openly criticised, even by some countries in the developing world with very poor human rights records.

 

 

January

Week ending 29 January 2016


An independent body has been put in place to oversee the running of Medway Secure Training Centre by G4S, following the exposure of abuse by staff last week by BBC's Panorama. The facilitity, one of three run by G4S, accommodates children and young people from 12 to 17 years old. Read the Guardian article about it here

On Wednesday 27 January, Michael Gove addressed the issue of expanding release on temporary license in the fourth parliamentary debate on prisons and probation this week. Click here for the days proceedings - the debate begins at 16.13.

In the same debate, Gove spoke of his plans to increase the autonomy of prison governors, making a comparison with Principals of Academy Schools. He rejected the criticism that this was merely further expansion of the privatisation agenda, but instead was based on a desire to see governors given the autonomy needed to make "significant improvements for the better."
Read The herald's coverage of the issue here.

 

Week ending 22 January 2016

This week, Nick Hardwick stepped down as Chief Inspector of Prisons and had some sobering comments regarding the control and censorship of the Prison Inspectorate by the Ministry of Justice. He said - “When the department whose services we are inspecting starts to say precisely how I should carry out those inspections then I think we have an issue about our independence.” Read more here. 

The High Court has ruled against the Government’s Disclosure and Barring Scheme for criminal records, finding it contravenes Article 8 of the Human Rights Act. The DBS required all persons with more than one conviction, regardless of whether they were minor offences, or how long ago they took place, to disclose them for life when applying for certain types of work that involved standard or enhanced checks. Remedies have yet to be stipulated but Unlock, Liberty and Stephensons, the team who brought the case, are celebrating this ‘huge step forward’. Read more about it here.

 

Week ending 15 January 2016

As it’s our first round-up, we will start with an important one from back in December. The Independent reports the recent failure by Sodexo fronted South Yorkshire CRC to pass a Ministry of Justice audit. The MoJ report notes “a lack of contact with offenders, ineffective enforcement, and little or no evidence of any offence- or risk-focused work.” The report also states that if improvements stipulated under the remedial action-plan are not made by February, this is “likely to result in contract termination.” Find out more here.

G4S has featured significantly this week following the BBC Panorama’s exposure of violence and abuse committed against young people by staff at the Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent. During the week, several arrests of staff have been made, while others have called for those at the top of the chain of authority to be held accountable.  In this article, Frances Crook bristles with just criticism of a youth detention system which is failing young people on a catastrophic scale. 

The recent changes in policy in relation to Release on Temporary License (ROTL) has had significantly negative impact on the ability of voluntary sector organisations (as well as private firms) to offer volunteer and work experience to people released from prison on a temporary license. Following a survey of its members, Clinks reports that the effect of this is to seriously hamper efforts to offer effective rehabilitation. Read the full report here.