Ian Lawrence is the General Secretary of NAPO, the Probation and Family Courts union. He is the fourth contributor in a new guest blog series setting out the top three priorities for the new Justice Secretary. You can follow @IlawrenceL on Twitter.
Whilst the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) contracts have now been awarded, signed and mobilised there is still significant concern about the new Probation providers ability to deliver on their contractual requirements, and even more so on their capacity to deliver a service that can match the quality of that previously delivered by Probation Trusts. It is therefore imperative that these contracts are reviewed in detail. Not just to ensure that providers are meeting requirements but also to ensure that they are implementing safe operational models that will protect the public, staff and service users.
The contract package areas were awarded on the basis of offering value for money to the taxpayer and that means that the quality of service delivery must at the very least meet the standards set by previous Probation trusts. If there was an opportunity under the ‘golden share’ provision to terminate contracts that are not delivering, then this would be one of my first tasks, working closely with stakeholders, practitioners and providers to develop an integrated probation service.
The justice system needs to be transparent so all providers of probation services must be made accountable through FOI’s and government scrutiny.
The National Probation Service (NPS) is not sustainable in its current form. The TR operational model has failed to recognise the dynamic nature of risk and I would predict that the NPS will begin to implode as more and more complex cases are pushed up from the CRC’s to avoid financial losses or investment in interventions. As this is a one-way street with no mechanism for the NPS to send cases back down to the CRC’s, it is only a matter of time before the public sector exceeds its capacity, resulting in the most dangerous offenders being supervised and managed by an overstretched and under resourced department. This poses a direct a risk of harm to the public and to staff who will inevitably face burn out under the new system.
Since LASPO was first introduced to civil legal aid two years ago we have seen a significant decline in legal representation for family court cases, with a commensurate increase in litigants in person. Despite the Government’s assurances that victims of domestic violence will be exempt from the restrictions, the criteria to meet this is so high that many people, (mainly women) are being forced to represent themselves and to be cross examined in a court by their abuser. This is wholly inappropriate and not only further damages the victim but also places children at risk of harm. Family cases, particularly those involving adoption, are taking longer, are less focused on the needs of the child and could result in children living in abusive environments. The state has a duty of care to protect children and the draconian cuts to legal aid for family law are failing to do that.
Rehabilitation in Prison
Depending on which report or media outlet you listen to, the level of rehabilitation in prisons varies greatly. Unlike the view of the current Justice Secretary, I firmly believe that there is a crisis in our prisons. You cannot have effective rehabilitation and access to services if you don’t have the staff to provide it. The HMI Prisons has repeatedly found that there is a lack of provision of offending behaviour programmes across the prison estate with IPP prisoners seemingly disproportionately affected.
Not only does this prevent people from changing their lives, but it comes at a huge cost to the taxpayer if we are unable to release prisoners because we have failed to provide them with any rehabilitation. There needs to be a basic level of provision for education and training in all prisons, prisoners should have access to rehabilitation programmes to enable them to complete their sentence plan, and there has to be sufficient staffing to enable prisoners to access this. The increase in suicides and self-harm is deeply concerning and I would order an inquiry into the causes of this as a matter of urgency, followed by the implementation of any recommendations such as mental health provision and increases in staff and training.
As Justice Secretary I would also order a full independent inquiry into rape and sexual abuse in custody. Chris Grayling’s complacency with his “there will be no sex on my watch” statement, demonstrates a stunning level of naivety that one would not expect from a Minister. Denying there is sexual abuse doesn’t make it go away; and the devastating impact it has on victims will in turn have a wider societal impact if we do not deal with this issue.
National Offender Management Service
My final policy for the day would be to commission a review of NOMS. Ever since its inception it has been criticised as a bureaucratic, expensive and unnecessary arm of the MOJ. I would be asking senior NOMS managers some difficult questions such as: what does it actually offer? Why do we need it? And if we do, then how can we make it more diverse, more affordable, more accountable to public scrutiny and more efficient?
In terms of Transforming Rehabilitation, I would want to know how senior civil servants reached their conclusions in relation to safety tests and their decision to ‘sign off’ the CRC contracts.
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