After yesterday’s reshuffle, the Rt. Hon. David Gauke MP has been appointed as the new Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor – the first solicitor, it is believed, ever to have held the post. This makes him the fifth Justice Secretary in less than two years, responsible for the important task of reforming prisons and probation. Will the new Justice Secretary bring new resolutions for people trapped in the revolving door of crisis and crime?
To achieve a real rehabilitation revolution, the Minister must recognise that the multiple and complex needs of many repeat offenders can only be addressed through effective, integrated and coordinated services in the community. Reforms should create clear statutory responsibility for drawing up and delivering a local strategy to tackle reoffending. This should bring together criminal justice agencies with local authorities, health and other partners to ensure that services work together to deliver coordinated services and integrated pathways. Without clear local accountability and joint strategic responsibility there is a danger of fragmentation of effort and a failure to address the underlying causes of reoffending.
We also maintain that the extension of support to short-sentence prisoners on release should not take place at the expense of promoting robust community sentences as a more effective alternative. The use of community sentences has been halved in the last decade and many sentencers blame a lack of faith in the performance of the community rehabilitation companies (CRCs). The 2017 HM Inspectorate of Probation review has found the overriding majority of Through the Gate services extremely poor. CRCs are not required by their contracts to provide the intensive support individuals need to break the cycle of crisis and crime. Instead, the minimum requirement is to complete and review resettlement plans for each prisoner, ahead of release. The Inspectorate found “plans are prepared but most are woefully inadequate; most reviews are cursory at best, and very few plans are followed through, to make any real difference.”
We ask the Justice Secretary to prioritise four key areas in his criminal justice portfolio:
Expand earlier identification and diversion into support for people facing mental health problems, extending coverage of mental health liaison and diversion services and expanding access to counselling and mental health services for the most excluded groups.
Invest in integrated and coordinated community-based rehabilitation and reparation for offenders with multiple and complex needs, including developing a distinct approach for key groups such as young adults (18-24) and women offenders.
Replace short term custodial sentences with more effective community sentences. The common feature of most people serving short prison sentences is the presence of a serious substance misuse and associated mental health problems. Given that half of new sentences were less than six months, there is very little opportunity to address the needs of short-term prisoners, who have limited access to mental health support, offending behavior programmes, education and work.
Improve infrastructure and opportunities for service user involvement, championing a greater role for the most excluded individuals in the commissioning, design, and delivery of the services that they use.
The task of reforming prisons and probation holds many challenges but we welcome the opportunity to work with the Minister towards our goal of ending the revolving door of crisis and crime. At the Revolving Doors Agency, we work in a uniquely collaborative way that brings our team’s hands-on knowledge of research and policy together with the perspective and insights of those who have lived experience of multiple and complex problems. Our lived experience forums, based in London, Birmingham and Manchester can offer the Justice Secretary first-hand accounts of prison and probation services and help him shape and deliver a real rehabilitation revolution.
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