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February 2013 — Prisons, Probation And The Rehabilitation Revolution

Minutes of the All-Party Penal Affairs Parliamentary Group, held on
5 February 2013 at 5.00 pm in Committee Room 6, House of Commons

Michael Spurr, Chief Executive Officer, National Offender Management Service

Lord Ramsbotham, in the chair
Lord Davies of Oldham
Paul Goggins MP
Lord Grocott
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
Baroness Howe
Lord Hylton
Lord Judd
Baroness Linklater
Earl of Listowel
The Bishop of Liverpool
Elfyn Llwyd MP
Lord Rosser
Baroness Stern

Lord Ramsbotham went on to introduce the speaker for the evening, Michael Spurr. He observed that anyone surveying the penal affairs landscape since the Coalition Government took over could be forgiven for feeling confused. Ken Clarke, as Minister of Justice, had announced his intention of bringing about a rehabilitation revolution, and consulting on his green paper, ‘Breaking the Cycle’, but before he had achieved it he was succeeded by Chris Grayling, who had announced another rehabilitation revolution, also accompanied by a green paper ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’.  When questioned on the difference, Chris Grayling had said that he intended to bring about his revolution more quickly. Lord Ramsbotham, drawing on his years of military experience, had attempted to impress on Ministers that nothing would change unless those doing the work knew what they had to do, and to whom they were responsible. Those working in NOMS must have been thankful that they had throughout remained accountable to the same chief executive, whom he remembered having met seventeen years ago, as an outstanding Governor of HMP Wayland. It was no surprise that he had gone on to greater things. Thus it was as proven practitioner, as well as NOMS Chief Executive, that he welcomed the speaker.

Michael Spurr began by thanking Lord Ramsbotham for his kind introduction.  He said he would start by explaining what the Ministry of Justice was trying to achieve in terms of prisons, probation and rehabilitation.  He continued: ‘I do think there is a coherence about what we are trying to do and that’s not always well understood. You have just made the point about the green paper, Breaking the Cycle, and then another consultation document. I want to go through the key things that bring those together. When the Coalition came together, I thought it was a good thing that, right from the outset, there was a commitment to rehabilitation. I keep reminding staff throughout probation and prisons that that is something we should welcome. Staff do want to do something more than just deliver the sentence of the court. They do want to do things with people to help them to change their lives. The strapline across the agency is ‘Preventing victims by changing lives.’  Throughout all the changes in structures and finance we have been running something called the Changing Lives campaign. We have been asking staff to say what they have done to change somebody’s life. I felt a bit sceptical about launching this campaign, but it has really grabbed people. Because in the midst of change, what matters to most people in their daily job is what they are doing with the people they are working with.  If you go into our headquarters, which you are all welcome to do at some point, we’ve got TV screens, which flash up people who have sent us messages about the things they personally do to change lives.

So rehabilitation being explicitly referenced in the Coalition agreement was important. The Breaking the Cycle green paper, which set out how the government was going to take this forward was also really important. There were a whole host of things in that document about how the cycle could be broken. The reality is that we are still pursuing the vast majority of proposals that were in the Breaking the Cycle paper as agreed government policy. The change of Secretary of State has not changed that. This includes for example the changes to remand and it includes developing more active and working prisons. There was of course a focus on one aspect of the proposals, around early guilty pleas, and that is something that was not pursued. But the paper was much wider and the main aspects to deliver improved rehabilitation are still being actively pursued.

Coalition agreement also set out a commitment to what is now widely known as the Public Service Reform agenda. That makes clear that public services will be delivered differently with a focus on ensuring the best outcomes for the public and with no guarantee that all services will continue to be delivered by directly employed public servants. We have been working through what that means for our sector in prisons and probation. There has already for some years been competition in prisons, and to a lesser extent in community provision, largely in electronic monitoring. The Public Service Reform agenda remains important and I would argue that, over the last few months, we have developed a much clearer vision and coherence about how  services across prisons and probation will be delivered in the future.

On the prison side, there is clarity that we will have a smaller public sector  but there will still be a retained, viable public sector provision delivering prison services. There will be other providers running some prisons, but also delivering other services to prisons, to a much greater extent than was previously the case. We have got a very clear agenda about what we want to do in prisons, which is to focus on rehabilitation. We have to run prisons at a much lower cost. Because of the financial climate that we are in, I would be foolish not to acknowledge that that is a critical objective for us and for all parts of public service at the moment. Our aim is to reduce the unit cost of prisons, whilst still retaining active regimes, and we believe that we can increase the amount of structured activity available to prisoners whilst making those changes. That’s a challenge, and it will be difficult to achieve, but we do believe that if we plan carefully and properly we can do it.

On the probation side, there was a consultation document in the summer which Lord Ramsbotham referred to.  This did set out a direction for probation.  Following consideration of the responses to that consultation the current Secretary of State has changed our approach. But the aim remains the same. That is to deliver more effective rehabilitation. And, very similarly to prisons, the delivery of those services in the community, which are largely delivered at the moment by public servants, will also be changed. There will still be a strong viable public probation service to guard public interest, to provide advice to courts, to deal with the highest risk offenders, and to ensure that the system operates effectively. But in the future there will be a much greater diversity of provision. And that will involve private and voluntary sector direct delivery of services and interventions for the majority of medium and low risk offenders with contracts including a Payment by Results element and central commissioning of services.  It also proposes an extension of supervision and support to offenders serving short prison sentences.  That is a significant change, on which we are now consulting further.

When the current Secretary of State said that he wanted to go faster, what he meant by that was that he wanted to introduce these changes within the next two years, and go to scale on a mechanism for payment which will include some payment for success by results. We are proposing to develop a model which will include a service delivery charge to those who are contracted to provide core sentence requirements – the punishment elements and the specified court orders – but a proportion of what we will pay to companies and voluntary sector organisations will be linked to whether or not the people they work with do not reoffend. They will receive some funding for delivering services, but will only gain the maximum fee possible if there is a reduction in reoffending.

Payment by Results is, of course, a model that has been operating within the DWP, and is being looked at in terms of drugs services. It is a model that can potentially drive innovation. But the most exciting thing about this, which is worth really understanding, is that it has the potential to do more for that hardest-to-reach group of offenders, those who are doing short prison sentences. Over the last ten years, prisons and probation have improved performance tremendously.  So they should, you might say, because all of us who work in the public services should be looking to improve what we do. If you go to a hospital today, you expect it to be much better than it was ten years ago, and quite properly so. And that is demonstrably the case in prisons, which are much better than they were ten years ago, and that is also true in probation. If anyone would like to check that against any form of measure, I am happy to give those to you, and demonstrate clearly that that is the case.

It is also the case that over the past ten years, reoffending has reduced. Nobody mentioned when the crime figures came out recently that that this might have contributed to less crime. I happen to think it did.  Overall, since 2000, there has been a 3.7 percentage point reduction in overall reoffending for adults receiving court orders. That has not been achieved by accident. It has been by targeting resources more effectively in the community and in prisons.   However, the group that has not been affected at all in that period consists of those serving prison sentences of less than 12 months. For those serving community sentences, reoffending has gone down by 3.4 percentage points; those sent to prison for twelve months to four years, down 9.3 percentage points.  But if you look at those sent to prison for very short sentences, their reoffending rate has actually gone up by around 3 percentage points over the last ten years.  That was recognised by the last government, who were looking to find a way to tackle it, by for example introducing the Custody Plus arrangements. But for affordability reasons, and given the pressure on prison places it was not possible to pursue and implement this. The community model that we are consulting on at the moment proposes statutory license conditions for people who are serving shorter sentences.   They will receive support  on release under those statutory conditions, and this will form part of the contracts that we will let that will be delivered by the private or voluntary sectors.  Part of the payment they receive for this will be dependent on their success in rehabilitating those offenders.  That is significant.  And what the Secretary of State was talking about was going to scale to achieve this, encompassing all offenders at a much faster pace. That was not part of what the previous consultation had proposed. But we should welcome the change. There is a whole host of detail to be determined about how this will be delivered, and I do not hide from the difficulty of doing it. But the potential for doing more for those people who get short sentences has got to be something we all welcome.

From a probation perspective, as we go through the consultation, there is obvious concern about what this means for staff working in the probation service. I addressed a group of them last week. And, rightly, people said ‘Actually we have been successful over recent years.’ Indeed they have.  We should not deny that: we should congratulate them.  They also said ‘We are not responsible for those serving less than twelve months.’ They are not, indeed. But as I explained to them this is a system- wide reform that requires a completely different approach to tackle a critical issue that has a huge impact on reoffending rates. It is worth remembering that there are very few people who get a short prison sentence who have not been through a community sentence before. The average number of previous offences for somebody receiving a short prison sentence is six. The issue isn’t about whether prison is the right sentence or whether community punishment is the right sentence. The reality is that this is a hard-to-work-with group, whether in prison or in the community. And the question is what can we do collectively across the system to make that better?

For me that’s the drive and rationale for this new approach. I have argued and I believe there is a coherence for this new approach which encompasses the whole system of prison and probation. Significantly, resettlement work that is currently done in prisons will form part of the contracts that are let in the community. I think that that is the right way round.  Rehabilitating the people serving short prison sentences shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of those who are working in prison. Responsibility is better based in the community where people will return. There is an exciting opportunity for us to take forward a new approach to transform outcomes for short sentenced prisoners as part of the reforms.

I am happy to take questions on anything around the system. But I just wanted to acknowledge that this is a massively challenging reform programme across both prisons and probation over the next few years. The prison population has remained stable, and actually has declined over the last few years.   There was a 3% reduction over the last twelve months up to December. That is again good news. The remand population is 12% lower than it was twelve months ago. That’s good news. And this, along with the fact that we have opened new accommodation at places such as Thameside and Oakwood means that we have been able to close some smaller uneconomical expensive prisons.  I do want to stress that these decisions are not about the quality of work going on in those prisons or by their staff, because much of that work is very, very good. But they are small, and in terms of the financial position that we are in, we cannot afford to run very expensive places in small establishments which have generally poor quality accommodation.  For example, a place in Shrewsbury, which in fact is a prison of only one wing and a half, and is totally overcrowded, costs £53,000 – those are very expensive places in poor conditions, despite all the good work that staff do there. So we have closed seven prisons, (counting Camp Hill) and closed places in two others

We are going through a major programme in prisons to reduce costs, applying the benchmark from competition and introducing new ways of working that will allow us to operate regimes more efficiently, to provide more activity for prisoners, but reduce overall staffing numbers. We are aiming to implement new models across the estate over the next twelve months or so. That’s going to be highly challenging, as people must learn to work in different ways. We are deliberately saying this is not just about changing structures or reducing staff but also about changing culture.  We are not just reducing staff and expecting them to do what they did before. There are key principles we will apply as we change systems.  For example, when prisoners are out of their cells our aim is to get them into structured activity, and staff will follow them into structured activity. We will be much more consistent in how we operate the regime, and we will operate the same principles consistently throughout the estate. We will continue to focus on and emphasise the importance of individuals which I referred to at the start of my talk. ‘Every contact matters’ is our mantra now.  If we have fewer staff it is even more important that each contact with an individual prisoner is meaningful.  Each one matters.

On the probation side, once the consultation phase has concluded, there will be major change across the whole of the probation estate. Of course that creates significant risk particularly where people may be feeling disaffected.   There will be understandable concerns.  ‘What is happening to me, in this major change?’ But it is manageable, and potentially the prize will be a system that, yes, will still be focused on rehabilitation, can improve further on the gains we have made over the past ten years, and critically can encompass all offenders across the system including those hard-to-reach short sentence cases.

The improvements since 2000 are real.  I often get frustrated that people don’t recognise how hard it is to get improvements in public service. But the ambition to go further is right and proper. Because nobody could say that a 58% reoffending rate for short sentence prisoners is anything other than unacceptable. So that’s what our aim is. I do believe there is a coherence about what we are trying to do. I don’t underestimate how difficult it is going to be. I do recognise, and reemphasise that through it all we are managing people, and they must remain at the heart of what we do. That’s why our Changing Lives campaign, and our ‘Preventing victims by changing lives’ mantra, will remain at the centre of what we do over the next few years. I’ll stop now and answer any questions.’

Lord Ramsbotham thanked the speaker, and opened the floor to questions, apologising for some comings and goings because of the division bells.