A clue to government policy?
Yesterday (14 September 2017) the Centre for Social Justice (the Think Tank created by Iain Duncan Smith in 2004) launched a new, and possibly very significant, report:
What happened to the rehabilitation revolution? with two straplines:
- How sentencers can revive it
- How it can be helped by a hung Parliament
The report may be significant because the CSJ is, obviously, very close to the conservative party and may reflect discussions going on in the Ministry of Justice. Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah had tweeted his approval of the report before it was even published:
— Sam Gyimah MP (@SamGyimah) September 14, 2017
The report, authored by former Cabinet Minister and person with convictions Jonathan Aitken and retired judge John Samuels, starts by analysing the failure so far of the rehabilitation revolution which it attributes to the “myopic and almost exclusionary” focus on prison safety and the widespread erosion of morale across all areas of the criminal justice system as prison and probation staff struggle to do a proper job in under-funded services and judges and magistrates feel unappreciated by government and the general public.
A 10-point plan
The report announces a 10-point plan which the CSJ boldly promises will not only resuscitate the Rehabilitation Revolution but will potentially save £246 million per year. Here are the ten points:
- Defining in law the statutory purposes of imprisonment.
- Introducing a requirement for judicial monitoring by the sentencing court to review whether the custodial sentence might require
modification in the interests of the public.
- Addressing the problem of the 3,200 or so tariff-expired IPP prisoners.
- The introduction of Problem Solving Courts.
- Judicial supervision of recalls to prison.
- Application for early release or executive release.
- Enabling the judiciary to deem previous convictions as spent, facilitating sustainable employment for those successful in their rehabilitation.
- Improving the numbers, training, status, pay and conditions of prison officers focusing their work on rehabilitation “on both sides of the wall”.
- Only joint working between Probation and sentencers will achieve the intended transformation and deliver effective supervision.
- Enabling sentencers to play a full role in enabling desistance.
As you can see, many of these points are focused on reducing the prison population — accelerating the release of IPPs, reducing the number of recalls to prison, application for early release.
Other points were either favoured and ditched by recent Justice Secretaries (defining in law the purpose of prison, problem solving courts), are current policy (improving prison officer training and developing their rehabilitative role) or are starting to gain common support (declaring previous convictions spent, similar to the Lammy Review recommendation of sealing criminal records).
A newer theme which runs through the report and which, in my opinion, is both much more ambitious and much harder to implement is the involvement of sentencers much more in the long-term consequences of their decisions in a way that is much more common in the USA with its drug courts.
The report also makes two recommendations around increased sentencer involvement:
- That 21st century judges should sooner or later be required to play a modest supervisory role in the sentence plans of those they have sent to prison. This seems to be about involving the sentencer in the creation of the sentence plan and for them to maintain a “light touch” supervisory role — presumably to ensure that plans are carried out promptly — and to have the power to reduce prison terms and replace them with non-custodial penalties or supervision where progress is good.
- Enabling those sentencers who are interested in promoting desistance of those they sentence. This is a rather vague proposal with CSJ spending more time pointing out the difficulties than spelling out this initiative in detail which appears to be expanding the role of sentencers reviewing offenders’ progress in mainstream courts in the same way as they do in problem solving courts.
The report authors argue that a hung parliament can be a good context to achieve progress on criminal justice, especially since most of the key issues receive cross-party report.
However, there is no mention of how parliamentary time can be found for justice with the focus on Brexit and the Prisons and Courts Bill already abandoned.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how many of these 10 points make it into David Lidington’s speech to the upcoming Conservative Party conference or are included in official announcements from the Ministry of Justice.