Jim Brown’s On Probation blog has served as a rallying point for probation staff opposed to Transforming Rehabilitation. Jim describes his blog as “a thorn in the side of the MoJ and Napo” (the probation union). He is the second contributor in the current series setting out the top three priorities for the new Justice Secretary. You can follow @JimBrownBlog on Twitter.
A Royal Commission on Criminal Justice
If I were Justice Secretary, I would seek to do something both novel and popular in my first year; remove party politics from the whole of the Criminal Justice System. Only by setting up a wide-ranging Royal Commission with cross-party support can we ever hope to try and build a decent and fair system of sentencing and punishment that is both efficient, and enjoys wide support and public confidence.
It’s patently obvious that the present system has suffered immeasurably from political interference of all shades, not with a view to better outcomes, but rather the elusive search for short-term political advantage. It’s been an unmitigated disaster and left us with both a rising prison population housed in ever-worsening conditions and one with little hope of effective rehabilitation. The situation has been further compounded by the splitting and privatising of 70% of the Probation Service for ideological reasons and with absolutely no evidential basis.
Politicians are most definitely not the best qualified to make decisions on such matters without the benefit of sound research and expert advice and that can only come from a thorough examination of world-wide best practice and thinking. Of course the cynics would say that a Royal Commission is a classic way of kicking hard decisions into the long grass, but the potential goal of cross-party agreement with public support for something so important is worth aiming for and the rewards could prove immeasurable both in terms of better outcomes and cost savings.
Safe and decent prisons
Whilst a Royal Commission obviously takes time, fortunately all new Ministers are allowed a honeymoon period and I would use the opportunity to signal a fundamental change in culture, especially within the prison system. In times of austerity it becomes more important than ever to acknowledge that safe and decent prisons only come about by listening to staff and inmates. I would seek to dismantle the present MoJ command and control structure and return to a position where Governors have authority to innovate and find local solutions that can improve each regime as they see fit.
Independent monitoring boards
Every prison is fortunate to have the benefit of an Independent Monitoring Board, but sadly they have all-too-often been ignored. As a matter of urgency, I would ensure that their role and influence is expanded so as to be able to speedily highlight issues and concerns and assist both local management and Noms HQ provide the resources necessary to improve regimes. We all know that prisons by their nature tend to be secretive and therefore IMB’s are vital in being able to shine a light on such closed institutions and it behoves all those in authority to take serious heed of their findings.
It would be naive to believe that any new government would not feel compelled to carry on trying to find ways of reducing public expenditure, but I believe any future cost savings could be borne by significant reductions in the MoJ headcount and as a direct consequence of a move towards greater local prison autonomy.
The purpose of this blog series is to stimulate a debate about where our criminal justice system should be heading. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the justice priorities should be. Please use the comments section below or follow the conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #nextGrayling