Omnishambles on track!

Jim Brown /   June 29, 2015 at 8:37 PM 1,430 views

As Napo delegates head off to the Welsh seaside resort of Llandudno for their AGM, there’s news that Chris Grayling’s TR omnishambles is progressing well on all fronts. First there’s a stark warning from the Prison Governor’s Association that a recent spike in prison numbers, coupled with prison closures, are putting the whole system in jeopardy. Alan Travis in the Guardian writes:- Prison governors have warned that a sudden rise in the jail population in England and Wales is threatening the stability of the system. The governors say the spike in the number of inmates, to 84,832, has led to some jails reaching their capacity just as the justice secretary,Chris Grayling, has ordered prison closures. Eoin Mclennan-Murray, the president of the Prison Governors Association (PGA), told the Guardian he was concerned that an increase of 635 in prisoner numbers had come over the past four weeks, when four prisons had just been earmarked for closure. He said that the usable capacity of the prison system in England and Wales stood at 86,058 places, but many spare cells were in young offenders’ institutions and women’s prisons, and were unsuitable for adult male prisoners. The most acute pressures were being felt in south-west England and the West Midlands. “This may well lead to prisons locking out [holding inmates elsewhere] and the requirement to use police cells,” said a PGA statement. “In some cases, this has already happened.” The prison governors, who are holding their annual conference, issued a statement saying they had “serious concerns” over the situation: “This spike in prison numbers present[s] a significant threat to the stability of the prison estate at a time of prison closures and reduced staffing numbers brought about by benchmarking and restructure. This is accompanied by a number of prisons reaching capacity.” The PGA president said the political decision to accelerate the closure of four prisons had made the situation particularly acute as their inmates had to be accommodated within the spare capacity elsewhere. Interestingly, it looks like we will not be able to learn the reasons why the closure of HMP Blundeston is necessary because the report will not be made public by MoJ/Noms. Then there’s the very thorough coverage by Russell Webster of how the MoJ Justice Data Lab just isn’t delivering the goods:- The purpose of the Justice Data Lab was to make it possible for small voluntary organisations to find out if their work with offenders made a difference to reoffending rates. It was launched as part of the Transforming Rehabilitation project as a way of government, commissioners and Prime providers having a way of comparing the impact of different providers delivering a range of interventions. Despite the strong publicity surrounding the launch of the Data Lab, with voluntary sector providers encouraged strongly to believe that participation would stand them in good stead to win business in the TR probation reforms, there were only 52 submissions in the first six months operation. Seven of these have been fully answered. Seven could not be answered because organisations were unable to provide the minimum criteria – (basically name, date of birth, gender, sentence type and date of sentence if possible). The rest are still being processed. Even with the seven requests which were answered, the MoJ struggled to match offenders in most cases. Offenders were matched in 799 out of 3335 cases – just under a quarter of cases. To be fair to the Data Lab, they have set the minimum data requirements very low and several organisations were unable to provide the basic information on a large proportion of the caseload. In other cases, it’s not possible to tell whether it was the voluntary sector organisation or the MoJ whose data were not properly recorded. But the biggest disappointment is that so far the Data Lab has been able to tell us very little about what works in reducing reoffending:

  • Being offered short-term, full-time employment by Blue Sky reduces reoffending by between 1 and 23 percentage points
  • Brighton’s Preventing Offender Accommodation Loss scheme reduces reoffending by between 1 and 38 percentage points
  • There is insufficient evidence to assess the impact on reoffending of entering a Koestler Award
  • There is insufficient evidence to assess the impact on reoffending of completing the Sycamore Tree Project
  • There is insufficient evidence to assess the impact on reoffending of the Family Man course run by Safe Ground
  • The reoffending rate for prisoners released from HMP Armley who saw the Shelter housing advice service was higher than the control group – but the control group wasn’t matched for homelessness/accommodation issues.
  • There is insufficient evidence to assess the impact on reoffending of the Swansea Community Chaplaincy project

Apparently various voluntary groups working with offenders seem to have difficulty with basic data such as name, gender, date of birth etc., and I love the MoJ explanation for this level of data ‘attrition’. It really just confirms that we really do have all the elements necessary for an omnishambles of truely epic proportions here:- When matching to administrative datasets, it is likely that not all individuals will be matched. This is called attrition, and may be due to a variety of reasons.The Justice Data Lab is a service providing a new use of administrative data, and it is clear that a reasonable level of attrition is occurring when matching between an organisation’s individual level data, and the administrative data held by the Ministry of Justice. Reasons for the attrition are given below:

  • The minimum criteria to match individuals has not been provided (name, date of birth, gender etc); 
  • The identifying information about the individual may not be the same as what is held on the administrative databases (name, date of birth,gender etc) meaning that we could not be confident about the match; 
  • There may be more than one individual with the same identifying information, and it is not possible to establish which identity is correct; 
  • Information about the sentence (including sentence type) does not match what is held on the administrative records to an extent where we cannot be confident that a re-offending follow up would be appropriate; 
  • Individuals who were targeted in custody may have still been in custody after 31st December 2010 – currently the last date in the Data Lab where re-offending data can be calculated from; 
  • The individuals cannot be matched to offenders with similar characteristics. 

By the way, this is what the omnishambles is supposed to look like when it’s finished:-

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During his appearance at the Justice affairs Committee yesterday, Chris Grayling was reminded what Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger had said only the day before in aspeech about cuts in criminal legal aid, and reported here in the Independent:- Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has been accused of having “no regard” for expert views after the UK’s most senior judge warned against proposed legal aid cuts. Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger said in a lecture that cutting legal aid will deprive the people who most need the protection of the courts or the ability to get legal representation. Confronted with the judge’s comments during a Justice Committee hearing, Mr Grayling said he would be surprised if Lord Neuberger thought the cutbacks were “a good thing”. After reading the judge’s comments, Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd said: “Have you no regard for experts in the field?” Mr Grayling replied: “I would be surprised if the president of the Supreme Court was saying legal aid cutbacks are a good thing. As this post on the public law for everyone blogsite makes clear, such an attack by a very senior judge indeed is very unusual, but politicians would do well to take note:- Ten years ago, when the Labour Government was on the verge of attempting to prevent judicial review of immigration and asylum decisions, Lord Woolf, in a lecture which I attended at the University of Cambridge, warned that if politicians persisted in failing to respect the proper role of the courts, they would succeed only in making the case for a written constitution that would prevent the improper marginalization of the judicial branch. Sensibly, the Blair Government heeded Lord Woolf’s warning and stepped back from the brink. The Coalition Government’s policies constitute a less explicit, but nonetheless real and insidious, threat to access to justice. Current Ministers would do well to heed Lord Neuberger’s warning, just as their predecessors heeded Lord Woolf’s. The so-called ‘consultation’ between staff and employers ordered by MoJ/Noms HQ has just about concluded and the general consensus is that it’s been a complete waste of time and effort due to lack of information and the documents being in draft form only. I see that Pat Waterman, Chair of Greater London Napo branch, has written to all members advising them of over 300 questions that have been put to the employers, but as yet there have been no answers…………. PS For further analysis of the Justice Data Lab statistics, see this blog post on the ‘aged member speaks’ site and the exciting announcement launching the Institute for the Study of Spurious Statistics (i3S).

Courtesy of Jim Brown at On Probation Blog

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