Related Content

Reviewing rehabilitation

Minutes of the Meeting of the All-Party Group on Penal Affairs, held on 28 February 2017 in Conference Room E, 7 Millbank

Speakers

Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation
Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons
Lady Corbett

Present

Lord Ramsbotham (in the Chair)
Kate Green MP
Dominic Grieve QC MP
Lord Grocott
Lord Hailsham
Lord Hodgson
Lord Hylton
Lord Ponsonby


Lord Ramsbotham welcomed everybody to the meeting.  He introduced Lady Corbett, widow of his predecessor as Chairman of this group, Robin Corbett, who would be presenting this year’s Robin Corbett Awards, as she did every year.  After Lord Corbett’s death, a prize had been set up in his memory, for people doing great work in the rehabilitation of offenders.  As a member of the judging panel he commended this year’s very worthy winners.

Lady Corbett began by thanking Lord Ramsbotham, chair of the judges, the Prison Reform Trust, who administered the awards, and the Worshipful Company of Weavers who generously sponsored the administration, so that all donations went to the award prizes. She began by talking about her husband, the man behind the awards.  Last week had seen the fifth anniversary of his death.  What she missed most was the laughter.  She described how they had first met, when they worked together on a magazine. He had offered his opinion on her new dress, which did not go down well.

He was a principled politician. Prison reform was not popular, and he was passionate about giving ex-offenders a chance to get back into society.  When he was very ill he insisted she drove him to The House of Lords so that he could vote on the motion that prisoners should be allowed the vote. His favourite joke was contained in a letter from a sitting MP in 1774 to his constituents, who wanted him to oppose the Excise Law (he told them he could not think why they were concerned: he had bought them, they had proved most unsatisfactory, and so he was proposing to sell them again).  However her favourite was about a hopeful candidate for Parliament, who asked the agent for the deceased MP if he could perhaps take his place.  Whereupon the agent said he would have to ask the undertaker.

She was delighted to announce that the winner of the First Prize was Lifecycle UK. This was for the Bikeback scheme in HMP Bristol, which had created a working bike shop in a prison.  Experienced mechanics and skilled volunteers taught the skills to refurbish broken bicycles donated by members of the community.  She was dismayed that the general public did not know about schemes like this, which were doing such excellent work.  This scheme had enabled over 200 prisoners to acquire the skills and qualifications to improve employability.  75% of prisoners obtained a qualification, and 77% wanted to gain further training after release.  The BBC had recorded them in action.  She presented the awards to Tamar Thompson, Bikeback Project Manager, John Russell, Bikeback instructor, Poppy Brett, CEO of Life Cycle UK, and Lorna Slack, Head of Reducing Reoffending at HMP Bristol.

The winners of the Highly Commended Award were Bounceback, working in Brixton Prison, bridging the gap between prison and employment.  It was vital for ex-offenders to get jobs. In the 18-24 age group, 65% reoffended and returned to prison.  That figure fell to 19% for those in work. Bounceback provided opportunities to learn a range of construction skills, and help with finding a job on release. Since 2011 the scheme had supported over 600 prisoners, 87% of whom had obtained qualifications, with 55% going into work or further training after prison. The reoffending rate was just 12%. Receiving the award were Francesca Findlater, Chief Executive, and Weldeab Ghebremedhin (Dabs) of Bounceback.

Lady Corbett said how proud she was of this award.  All men died but some lived on.  Through this award, Robin lived on, and she was very pleased and honoured that he did so.  She mentioned the book that she had written about Robin.  She was not allowed to fundraise in Parliament, but if members of the meeting wished to buy a copy, she would be pleased to sign it, for a £10 donation to the award fund.

Lord Ramsbotham thanked Lady Corbett for making the awards, and introduced the evening’s main speakers, the Inspectors of Probation and Prisons.  Transforming Rehabilitation had had something of a rocky press recently, not least from the Public Accounts Committee.  He welcomed first Dame Glenys Stacey, Chief Inspector of Probation for a year now, who had recently published some detailed and devastating reports

Dame Glenys Stacey began by thanking the group for its invitation.  She continued: ‘Lord Ramsbotham is right - I was appointed last year and today is the anniversary of my appointment: one year down and two to go.  Peter Clarke was appointed just before me, so we are both relatively new, looking at things with fresh eyes maybe.  I have been asked to talk to you today about a subject of deep interest to all of us in the room I am sure: rehabilitation.  Just to confirm first of all the basis of what I have to say: we at HMI Probation have published five reports in a series on Transforming Rehabilitation (TR).  They were published from the commencement of that initiative until the spring of last year, and then by the end of this business year, the end of March, we will have undertaken another eleven individual inspections of probation services that are being delivered by the National Probation Service and CRCs. We are doing those inspections in specific police and crime commission areas.  Then we have done another half dozen or so thematic inspections, looking at specific topics within the system, and some of those have been directly relevant to our subject today.  Our Through the Gate report last October, for example, looked at those services provided to those serving short sentences and about to be released from prison, and in a more recent report we looked at rehabilitation activity requirements – they are now a common feature of community sentence orders, and some of you have a handout summarising what we found in that report.  I will come to that in a minute. So what I have to say is drawn from our inspections and reports, all of which are available on our website.

We inspect probation services and we expect them to meet what I call the enduring expectations of probation: that is to protect the public from the risk of harm; to reduce reoffending, and to rehabilitate; and to ensure that the sentence of the court is served.  We are looking at those three things – they are at the heart of our inspections.  I know that this evening you want to focus on one of those things, rehabilitation, so I will focus my comments on that, and on the work done by probation providers to reduce reoffending.  In the time I have got with you I want to focus on three things:  firstly, sentencing, and the particular sentencing provision, that is rehabilitation activity requirements; secondly I will speak about Through the Gate services as they are so important; and then, in case I risk you leaving completely dispirited, I will just touch on some quietly positive things that we have been finding happening – to leave you with a spring in your step as you leave today.  

To start at the point of sentence, we are finding court reports better than they were.  They were of varying quality when we started looking, after the implementing of TR, but, in the court thematic that we are running at the moment, we are finding that court reports are getting better, and they are generally now giving the court good advice on sentencing.  They are not complete in the sense of the assessment of risk – that’s another matter – but they are good for sentencers, and that’s comforting because sentencers need to be sufficiently well advised to sentence well and with the prospect of reducing reoffending in mind: so a good improvement there. 

As to the sentence itself, a fine remains the most popular non-custodial sentence, but rehabilitation activity requirements are becoming increasingly common, with around a third of community or suspended sentence orders – 72,000 last year – containing one of these provisions.  Can you put your hand up if you know what it is?  Not many people. It came in at the time that TR came in.  The court can order that any individual before them is given a maximum number of days of rehabilitation activity – say up to 40 days. You are handed over, generally to your CRC, and they will do what they think is best for you.  It is very liberal.  It frees up probation providers to do what they think is best with that individual.  But you don’t have to do the maximum.  40 could be 4.  A day isn’t a day: ten minutes can count as a day. And the activity can be anything or nothing.   The philosophy prevailing at the time was that 1,000 flowers would bloom, that innovation would be encouraged, and that new ways would be found in order to best promote a reduction in reoffending.

So what are we finding as we inspect these orders? Well in practice we have found a dispiriting picture. Probation services should be assessing people thoroughly after sentence, planning activities most likely to reduce the person’s risk of reoffending, and then delivering them within the days available. If they don’t do this often enough or well enough then sentencer confidence in this type of order is undermined.  It can be a bit of a vicious circle.  We have found significant short comings and a noticeable lack of impetus and direction in a good proportion of cases.  To put it simply, not enough is going on.  In over one in ten cases that we have looked at, there has been no purposeful activity at all.  It is not surprising, then, that we begin to see a reduction in sentencer confidence in these orders, when a good range of services should be available to cover diverse needs. We found a limited range of services actually available, and often decisions about what to do with an individual were desperately pragmatic, constrained by what was not on offer.   

We know that financial constraints are holding back some CRCs as they try to develop their wider supply chains.  They hesitate to get into arrangements with voluntary providers or others because they don’t have sufficient certainty over their future income.  That is all quite understandable but we found little to bridge the gap between some future certainty and the present.  We know that the Government has a probation service review under way, but meanwhile sentences are happening. These orders have great potential. Better IT, more certainty and stability for the CRCs, and more expansive supply chains, could all help deliver that potential.  But at the moment it is a rather dispiriting picture.  Unless probation service delivery improves here, then Government’s policy aims for these orders are simply not going to be met. That’s one big area of concern, if you are looking at what can be done to rehabilitate well.

I turn now to those subject to probation supervision upon release from prison. You will know that the TR programme extended probation supervision to short sentence offenders, those with sentences of less that twelve months.  That is about 40,000 extra people a year getting probation supervision. These services are to be delivered by the local CRC – local to that prison.  They are to help prisoners to maintain or find accommodation; to provide assistance with finance, benefits and debt; and to support them to enter education, training and employment.   These services as you know had existed in prisons previously but in a more fragmented way.  The aim of Through the Gate (TtG) was to provide a seamless transition between prison and the community, with the CRC reaching through the prison gate to help, six weeks prior to release.  But in practice these arrangements are not being delivered as hoped.  Many of you will know that many prisoners need substantial help before they are released.  Finding somewhere to live is such a common problem, along with finding work or making a benefits claim, or getting assistance with substance misuse or mental health problems.  We found that many of these needs are not recognised when prisoners first go into custody. So problems that should have been identified, should have been obvious to prison staff, are not identified when they should be.  And when they are eventually picked up they are not well recorded.  The IT systems predate all of this so they don’t do it.  So not enough TtG staff have the right information to make a good plan when they pick this prisoner up six weeks before release. 

 If urgent issues are identified at the start of a sentence, there is another issue: the speed and the number of times people are transferred to other prisons means that they are unlikely to receive that early help, for example with debt management, or to maintain accommodation they might be able to hang on to.  If it’s not picked up at the start, there’s a time delay, so things might lie dormant.

CRCs are getting in through the gate, and many prisoners do have plans drawn up for them before release.  But those plans are often inadequate.  They often consist of no more than referring a prisoner on to other services, with little or no follow up.  A common thing we find is that to provide assistance with accommodation the CRC will send an email to the local authority.  But we know the answer is going to be No, and nothing else is done.  Too many prisoners are released still not knowing where they will sleep on the night of their release. Often the work that could and should be done by the TtG services in prison is left to the very last minute, and the CRC worker out in the community on the day of release is trying to pick it all up.  That obviously increases the anxiety of the prisoners and it places a heavy burden on the staff in the community, trying to make those arrangements for something fundamental like housing on the day of release.

The impact of TtG services on education, training and employment is minimal at the moment.  That is unfortunate given how important it is, although many of these prisoners are not ready yet for employment.  More promisingly, almost all the prisons that we have visited are able to set bank accounts up for prisoners, which is great, but even where that service is available some prisons are still releasing their prisoners without bank accounts.  Any other work on finance, benefits and debt is not being delivered to anywhere near the extent that it should be.  One other thing to mention: when TtG was introduced, there was a lot of talk about the use of mentors.  They can be so powerful in providing intensive support to prisoners around the time of release.  But again the use of mentors has not been developed as anticipated.

So I am sorry to say that, in short, TtG services are just not delivering anywhere near as intended, and there is a lot still to be done to ensure that they do.  If you speak to CRCs they will tell you that one of the main reasons for this is that they are delivering them at a loss.  The incentives within the contracts are not right. There is work under way in Government to have a look again at the payment mechanisms in these contracts, to try and get them in a position where they are rewarding the right things.

Let me end now with a few quietly positive signs, as I said I would. First of all, we are seeing some CRCs making specific arrangements for women offenders.  Things are beginning to happen there, and they are often working with others to ensure the best possible rehabilitative arrangements for women, and of course we welcome that.  CRC performance generally varies across the country, and yes we have seen some poor performance.  But we have also had one or two examples of well performing CRCs.  In Kent for example: we saw a breath of fresh air there.  CRCs are making much needed investments in IT, both hardware and software, with new case management systems which, if they function well, hold great promise for the future. Those of you who know the systems in probation and prisons will know just how welcome those investments are. Some CRCs are working in new ways: for example delivering services from community hubs.  These models do hold promise if you get the detail right.  It’s all in the detail with these hubs: in the right place, at the right hours, with the right support, and so on.

Offenders that are assessed as high risk of harm to the public remain in the arms of the state, with the National Probation Service.  Although there are exceptions, as there always are, we are finding the NPS generally working to an acceptable standard, and some good risk of harm work as well.  So let’s not forget that.  A couple more things to mention: what gets measured gets done, doesn’t it?  Government is looking again at what gets measured under these CRC contracts.  So many of the current measures are task-orientated : ‘produce a plan’, rather than ‘produce a good plan then deliver what you say you will deliver’.  We very much welcome the Government’s intention to move to more strategic measures.  This could make a significant difference for example to TtG work, where one might argue that expectations could be specified so much more clearly.  For example, not just ‘provide assistance with accommodation’ but ‘achieve sustainable accommodation in a measurable way’.

A couple of other things: CRCs are being paid less than anticipated – a lot less for some of them.  As I have said, they are not developing their supply chains, and they are seeing their staffing levels tightening.  Government is reviewing the funding mechanisms, and plans to improve funding.  Giving CRCs certain and sufficient funding should make a material difference.

We at HMI Probation will continue to inspect and to report what we find.  We have made proposals to Government to make a bigger contribution by inspecting probation providers more regularly, on an annual programme of inspection, and rating and grading probation providers on the quality of their work, whatever the task.  That could really drive improvement where it is needed.  So I have great hopes that with a rating and grading system; annual inspection; better performance measures for CRCs; and a more secure underpinning financial model we might have a happier picture to report in a couple of years’ time.  Thank you very much.’

Lord Ramsbotham thanked Dame Glenys Stacey for her comprehensive overview, and welcomed Peter Clarke, Chief Inspector of Prisons, who had published his report on Featherstone prison that day.

Peter Clarke said he would be approaching the subject in a slightly different way.  ‘I will talk about the context within which rehabilitation may or may not be taking place, and I will look at that context in two ways. One is prisons themselves, because clearly that is a key part.  Is there something happening in prisons which is getting in the way of effective rehabilitation?  I will also be talking from the perspective of the Inspectorate; because I would like the Inspectorate of Prisons to make a very positive contribution, through its work, to rehabilitation.  In order to do that, of course, we have to be an Inspectorate that has impact, and of whom people take notice.  I will reflect if I may, briefly, about the developments around the Inspectorate and what the Prisons Bill may or may not hold for us.

To start with the context in prisons: As Lord Ramsbotham has suggested, it is a pretty gloomy picture at the moment, as we all know.  The fact is that overall we, the Inspectorate, are seeing a decline in our gradings of prisons, particularly in the area of safety.  I have to say that in recent weeks there have been some very concerning inspections in this respect, although I can’t go into detail because they are unpublished reports.  There has been a decline as well in terms of the number of our recommendations that are being implemented and achieved by prisons.  Put all that together, and it is pretty gloomy.

I don’t want to be unremittingly gloomy, because as we heard earlier in the Robin Corbett Awards, there is some marvellous work going on in our prisons.   But unfortunately there is a real issue which is affecting the ability, I believe, of prisons to deliver, all too often, the level of rehabilitative activity that they should be.  We all know the problems but I will just categorise them under five key headings: drugs; violence; the number of people in prison who are suffering from various forms of mental illness; the ageing prison population; and the estate itself, which is not capable of holding in decent conditions the numbers of people who are being held.  Put those things together and what do you end up with?   A bit of a toxic mix, where all too often, because of the safety issues, prisoners are not able to get to training, to education, and to the activities which should lead them towards the path of resettlement and rehabilitation.  So the question I pose for all of us is: will the prison reform programme deliver in terms of enabling rehabilitative activity to take place, whilst those strategic threats I have mentioned exist?  Will the devolvement of autonomy to governors help deliver and enable prisons to become safer places? I don’t know. 

I think some of the challenges will be striking a balance between local autonomy and those centrally set controls that have to happen; for instance setting standards and other centrally controlled things such as population management.  What is the balance between localism and what has to be delivered centrally in what is a national service?

Executive Governors, Regional Directors, Cluster Directors, Cluster Governors: whatever we call them, and whatever the future holds in the new structure, will they be in a position to line manage and supervise what is going on in prisons more effectively than has been the case to date?  I say this just based upon my personal observations, and I will give a couple of quick examples.  All too often I have given feedback at the end of an inspection to the governing team and sometimes that has been quite harsh feedback about what is going on in the prison.  And oftentimes I have had a deputy director of custody coming up to me and saying ‘Yes you’re absolutely right.  Things are not right here’.  And I am left thinking to myself – well hang on: you are supposed to be presiding over this. You are in some form of line management.  And yet you are telling me that I am absolutely right and that this place is in a terrible state, and that proper services are not being delivered.  So there is something that is not happening there in terms of line management and supervision, and driving improvement in prisons. 

The second point I’ll draw from today’s report on Featherstone: that was one of the prisons that has declined quite dramatically.  Certainly under the provisions that are being put into the Prisons Bill it might well be one of those prisons where I would give serious consideration to raising significant concern with the Secretary of State to trigger intervention by her.  At the moment this is done in a much more informal way, where I speak to senior management at NOMS and say: look I think you ought to be aware that we have just inspected a prison, it’s not good, and there are some things which need urgent attention.  That’s the way it has worked for many years.  In the case of Featherstone, a prison which has dramatically declined in three years, when I went to the senior management at NOMS, I was met with surprise and disappointment.  But how is it, I have been asking myself ever since then, when a prison has been failing in some really significant aspects, that the centre can not know what is happening?  There is something not happening in terms of upwards and downwards communication.  I would suggest that, while that is not happening, it is going to be extraordinarily difficult to address some of the issues that are getting in the way of effective rehabilitation.

So to move on to the Inspectorate itself: since I have been in this post I have been disappointed, to put it politely, by the response to some of our recommendations.  Again to go back to Featherstone, the last time we inspected, three years ago, we made 68 recommendations.  When we inspected again last autumn, 16 of those had been achieved. Of those 68 recommendations, 20 had been in the area of safety.  You would think that would have been pretty crucial stuff wouldn’t you?  Two of those recommendations had been achieved.  And I am afraid that that is by no means an unusual occurrence.  Far too many of the places inspected in the last year have put those inspection reports on the shelf and left them to gather dust. So it is hardly surprising that they don’t show improvement.

So, how should we improve this? My overall objective since I took up this post has been to increase and improve the impact of the Inspectorate.  How are we going to do that? First of all I think there needs to be an effective reassertion of our independence.  I don’t think we should be drawn into shifting regulatory measurements against ever-moving metrics.  That’s a polite way of saying we are not a regulator.  We are an independent inspectorate, inspecting against independent standards.  That I think is absolutely crucial. 

What have we done in practical terms? We are about to sign a protocol with the MoJ which for the first time actually says: yes you are independent. You will set your own performance criteria, and so on and so forth.  The Prisons Bill: so far I am very heartened by what has happened there.  We put in a submission some time ago to the Justice Select Committee saying what we would like to see in any future legislation around our role and powers, and virtually everything that we have asked for is in the Bill.  So for the first time, although the Chief Inspector of Prisons has existed as an entity since 1952, the Bill says there will be something called Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons.  There will be powers of entry, powers to interview people in prisons.  All this happens anyway, but it will be put on a statutory footing.

There are two or three absolutely key areas.  First of all there will be a statutory requirement for the Secretary of State to respond to our recommendations in a published form. So for the first time there will be real transparent public and parliamentary accountability for responding to our recommendations.  If there is a prison which gives me significant concern about the treatment of prisoners or the conditions in which they are being held, I can write to the Secretary of State and she will be obliged to intervene, and there is a timeframe set for that. 

Perhaps the most important thing, which will pass quite few people by because it may not mean too much to them, is that there is a provision there which says that everything the inspectorate does will be in accordance with OPCAT.  Many of you will know what OPCAT is.  That is the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture which is setting out the UK’s obligations under the United Nations convention.  The key bit about that is that we have an obligation to have an independent body inspecting prisons and places of detention regularly.  So for the first time in UK law there will be a recognition that the Inspectorate of Prisons is independent.  I think that is a huge step forward.  We have had to press very hard to get this into legislation.  The lawyers among you will understand this better than I do.  There is some issue about this being merely declaratory, as opposed to a change of some sort. Despite that, thank goodness it is in the Bill and I hope it stays there.  Lord Ramsbotham, thank you.

We have also undergone a revision of our own methodology during the year, or we have a programme to look at it.  We inspect against international human rights standards.  We draw what we call our expectations from those.  I wanted to have a complete review of them because the last time we did so was four or five years ago, and of course times change and things like the Mandela Rules come in. We have to make sure that our standards remain absolutely linked to those international human rights standards because that is the key to our independence.  We are not saying to the Secretary of State that we think that x number of prisoners per cell as a Prison Service policy is correct.  We are saying what we are finding when set against international objective standards.  So we have gone through this process of revision, and we are deepening our linkage to those human right standards.  We are going to have explicit cross references in the final document and we have actually carried out a mapping exercise to make sure that what we are developing is completely up to date and linked in to the latest human rights objectives and standards.

Challenges: we have to be very careful about being drawn too far into measuring variable metrics.  We have statutory purposes for prison set out in the Prisons Bill. The measurements for whether prisons are meeting those statutory purposes will obviously be set by Government.  The Bill does say that we must ‘have regard to’ those statutory purposes when we report. Now what ‘have regard to’ means is open for discussion still.  But what we won’t be doing is a complete audit of whether prisons are meeting those statutory purposes. At the moment I would have to say they are not, because they are not safe.  Very few prisons that we have inspected recently would be able to meet the very first statutory purpose of providing a safe environment.  It’s as simple as that.  This is all for debate and discussion as we move on.

There also is some discussion about whether we as an inspectorate should behave a little more like OFSTED, and produce an overarching judgement on a prison: to say a prison is ‘outstanding’; or ‘inadequate ‘; or ‘requires improvement’.   I remain to be convinced that this proposal has merit.  We inspect against four different heads from our so-called Healthy Prisons tests.  We look to see whether a prison is safe; whether it is respectful; whether it provides purposeful activity; and whether it resettles prisoners.  Sometimes you find very variable measurements.  My fear, if we have an over-arching judgement, is the smoothing effect.  We could very easily lose focus on some absolutely key issues.  If for instance a prison is unsafe, but actually is doing some pretty effective resettlement work, what do you say? Do you say it is good, or inadequate? It doesn’t make sense to me.  But anyway that is a debate which is doing the rounds in the Whitehall village at the moment.

Finally, and I would say this wouldn’t I? We are a very small inspectorate with a very large task.  We will have more tasks assigned to us, by legislation, if the Bill passes, and if we are going to maintain our impact, and increase our impact, we will need to be properly resourced.  I will leave it at that, and thank you very much for your attention’.

Lord Ramsbotham thanked both speakers for their presentations and invited questions.

Lord Hailsham wondered whether the Prisons Inspectorate could make more use of Independent Monitoring Boards.

Peter Clarke agreed.  He said that there was no reason why an IMB should not be a ‘force multiplier’ (in military terms).  Their different function and working methods should be taken into account, but members of the IMB might be in a prison every day, whilst the Inspectorate might only visit every three years. So there was much merit in that suggestion.

Jonathan Aitken noted the gloomy tenor of both presentations. He recalled a parliamentary question from Lord Ramsbotham some time ago concerning the amount of time a probation officer spent on direct contact with a client.  The answer was that only 26% of the officer’s time was spent on such contact then.  Had things improved with the new CRCs?

Dame Glenys Stacey said nowadays that data was not collected. She struggled with the dearth of data in the probation field, compared with her previous experience in education. In a recent inspection in Gwent she had noted that the average caseload for a National Probation Service officer was 25, which was manageable.  However the CRC caseload of medium risk cases was 60-70 cases per officer. That was less manageable, in terms of meaningful and regular contact. In that model, too, low risk offenders were not seen at all: they were contacted every 6-8 weeks by phone.  That was insufficient.

John Harding, speaking as a retired Chief Probation Officer, asked about CRCs. At the outset, the redundancies of skilled and experienced probation officers had alarmed him. Secondly, no responsibility had been placed on CRCs in legislation to provide qualified training for officers. Thirdly when he had left the Inner London Probation Service there had been a 2% vacancy rate. He estimated that it was 15-20% now.  There had been a tremendous leakage. That had to be addressed.

Dame Glenys Stacey agreed that professional staff numbers were a grave concern.  More redundancies were on-going.  There were differences between the CRCs and the NPS. Workloads had increased in the NPS, and staff numbers had increased further, so things had become a bit easier. In the CRCs there was quite a variation: staff numbers were between 6% and 36% less than expected. So the payments were less. But the actual work had increased. The Inspectorate was collecting data on staff ratios and workloads.  CRCs were having to square their books.  On vacancy rates, CRCs were commonly relying on temporary staff.  There were high staff sickness rates.  An 18% sickness rate, and an 18%-20% vacancy rate, was not unusual. That led to frequent changes of responsible officer, which was undesirable.  She had met with the Minister to relay these findings. On staff training, the Inspectorate was constantly reporting that CRCs were not doing enough on this or on quality assurance. She had been speaking to the Director of the NPS about a register of staff: these things were not there, and needed to be there for the profession to be nurtured.

Lord Ramsbotham and co-chair Dominic Grieve had to leave the meeting at this point.  Lord Ponsonby took the chair in their absence.  He asked a question from the point of view of an Inner London magistrate.  He had noticed that there had been a decline in the numbers of offenders on community sentences coming back to court for breaching the terms of their licenses. Was there a financial incentive for the CRCs not to breach?

Dame Glenys Stacey said that the Inspectorate was finding that generally the CRCs were breaching when they should, but that there was some difference of view on what counted as ‘acceptable absence.’  Also she knew that many magistrates said they were not seeing enough enforcement.  The Inspectorate had therefore decided to conduct an in-depth thematic review of enforcement and recall, reporting in the autumn.

Jonathan Robinson spoke as an independent campaigner for prison reform.  He mentioned a prison which had just had an OFSTED inspection, which had found that not enough prisoners were getting qualifications because of churn. He had information from another prison about a First Aid course which could be completed in five days.  Why was there so little sharing of good practice amongst prisons?

Peter Clarke responded that he too had been looking for an answer to this question since he had taken up his role.  He had just come from a meeting with a Director General in the MoJ, during which they had discussed how his recommendations, including the identification of good practice, could be taken up within the new organisation, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. He was also hopeful that good practice recommendations could feature on the Inspectorate’s new website.

Giles Ridley from the Weavers’ Company, a grant-giver for prison-related charities, commented that they were now receiving an overwhelming number of applications for mentoring schemes.  He wondered how effective the mentoring formula was, in current circumstances.

Dame Glenys Stacey said that there was no contractual requirement for CRCs to feature mentoring, so it was unsurprising that we were seeing few schemes.  Contracts drove behaviour, so CRCs were focusing on what they had to do.  Because of the financial uncertainties, many of them were not committing to voluntary organisations.  She knew that many organisations were finding that extremely difficult. There was a stalemate until financial arrangements became more certain.

Lord Ponsonby drew the meeting to a close, saying that these questions would continue to run and run. He thanked both speakers for coming, and for their informative presentations.