Third National Commission of Enquiry

Third National Commission of Enquiry

Last Tuesday we took our ‘Community or Custody’ panel of experts to visit the Leicester Drugs and Alcohol community sentence which is run by the Criminal Justice Drugs Team.  It is an excellent scheme providing a whole range of services to both men and women who have so far slipped through the criminal justice net.  As is so often the case, it is the offenders and staff on the ground who really tell the story.  Lives have been turned round, offending behaviour reduced and, critically, so many have gained a real insight into what their crimes have meant to their victims.  We had a fantastic and engaging audience.  For more information on the Criminal Justice Drugs Team please visit their website and, visit the Community or Custody website to read the evidence heard by the panel.

Majority think prison isn’t working

The Telegraph reports on a ‘major survey’ which reveals that the majority of people believe that prison isn’t working (Report, 3 April).  They are right.  Too often our prisons take low-level offenders and turn them into hardened criminals.  If we are to cut crime, we need to take action which works.  Effective alternatives to short prison sentences are no easy option as they can include tagging, facing their victim and intensive work programmes and a great deal more. This approach is evidenced as  tackling re-offending.  The danger is that the Government’s commitment to reducing prison numbers while cutting the funding from these successful community programmes will create the worst of both worlds.

Today’s Budget

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

There is a real risk that swingeing budget cuts will cause a rise in reoffending.  The Government’s plans to reduce prison numbers must be coupled with investment in robust community alternatives.  If offenders are not re-directed to effective community programmes there is a genuine risk that they will simply go on to reoffend.

StartHere – a ‘no-brainer organisation’

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

Very busy day on Wednesday attending the Revolving Doors Agency conference – excellent day which has helped MJW focus on its next enquiry in July, which is around mental health. Then went to a House of Common reception for StartHere. Anyone who doesn’t know what they do should check them out: www.starthere.org They are what I call a no-brainer organisation. The government just put money into this now because we badly need them. With all the cuts and resources being stretched, those most in need must be able to access services which continue to exist for them. StartHere will show them where to go.

Last week’s NAO report highly critical of short term prison sentences

Last week’s NAO report highly critical of short term prison sentences

The National Audit Office report “Managing offenders on short custodial sentences” quite clearly demonstrates the urgent need to consider the cost benefit and effectiveness of locking up offenders for short sentences. As the evidence mounts against short-term prison sentences the next prospective government should not shy away from addressing the issue and looking at more productive ways of dealing with low-level offenders. The harsh truth is that even the most effective rehabilitation given to those on short sentences really cannot work. It is inconceivable to expect these offenders – who are often repeat offenders with chaotic lifestyles and multiple needs – to turn their lives around in just a matter of weeks or a few months in prison only to be released back into the community. They would be released back to the same chaotic community from whence they came where there is very little or absolutely no post release service. Without properly funded programmes in the community to deal with the wide range of issues which compound continued offending behaviour, we can only expect this problem to continue to get worse.
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Beware ever thinking that change can be free

Beware ever thinking that change can be free

This weekend has seen a flurry of articles around the state of the Big Society.  Much criticism is being thrust at David Cameron’s flagship – is he threatening the entire basis of his big society by bringing in cuts too quickly before getting workable and sensibly funded programmes in place to make it happen?
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Don’t dismantle what works

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

The conversation everywhere is the green paper and payment by results. Never  before has it been so important for the voluntary sector, probation, police and  yes, the private sector to form sensible alliances so that not only do we reduce the number of those who will be damaged by the cuts but most important to show the policy makers and the public that solutions to crime already exist and work. We may need to shave costs but the message to government is: don’t dismantle what works but maintain a realistic investment in such programmes so that they can survive to live another day and continue to reducing offending.

Sentencing: one size does not fit all

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

Last week saw the publication by the Policy Exchange of their latest report, Reforming Community Sentences.  This resulted in my debut on the Today Programme on Thursday– a spot I shared with Blair Gibbs from the Policy Exchange.  This was followed by their launch and a debate around the report.  Undoubtedly the report has raised awareness around the need to improve community sentences but I would firmly caution against  a ‘one size fits all’ model.  Straight punishment may indeed be sufficient for some first time offenders, but a considerable number of those sentenced to community punishment will continue require a range of services to enable them to move away from their offending behaviour.

At last, consensus on all three fronts

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

With the party conferences behind us and a new leader of the labour party, it will be interesting to see if there emerges a genuine consensus in the arena of criminal justice.  Never before have we seen the potential for all three parties to sign up and agree that short term prison sentences do not work and that community alternatives are the way forward.

We have heard the rhetoric – let’s see if this turns into policy.

National Enquiry speeds ahead with a second session in Bradford

National Enquiry speeds ahead with a second session in Bradford

As part of our ongoing commission of enquiry, we visited the Together Women Programme in Bradford yesterday. Our panellists plus journalists were given the opportunity to spend time at the programme talking with the women involved and experiencing first hand the excellent work of this one stop shop. Over 60 guests came to listen to the evidence given to the panel about the challenges and successes of community sentencing in West Yorkshire. Lots of press coverage and many very important issues came to light which will go into an interim report for ministers very shortly.

The sad loss of a treasured ambassador

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

It was with great sadness that we learnt today of Lord Bingham’s death.  When Make Justice Work was established last year, we invited him to become one of our very first ambassadors.  His response was swift – the answer was yes.  This meant a great deal to us, as a new campaign, and there is absolutely no doubt that he will be hugely missed.  We are delighted that he was able to be with us, even for such a short period of time.

Our event a success at the LibDem Party Conference

Our event a success at the LibDem Party Conference

07.15 on a Monday morning is a strange time to be talking about prisons versus community sentences but I am delighted to say that our fringe event at the Lib Dem conference was really well attended and we were very pleased with the level of debate.
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Channel 4 documentary yet again highlights the poignant problem of drugs in our prisons

Channel 4 documentary yet again highlights the poignant problem of drugs in our prisons

Angus Macqueen’s “Our Drugs War” exposes many of the complex issues around the drugs trade. Well worth watching again if you can.
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National Enquiry Launch in Manchester Town Hall

National Enquiry Launch in Manchester Town Hall

Make Justice Work has just launched its National Commission of Enquiry in Manchester.  Our panel – Lord Ian Blair, Paul McDowell (CEO of Nacro), Owen Sharp (acting CEO of Victim Support), John Thornhill (Chair of the Magistrates Association) and Peter Oborne (the new political columnist for the Telegraph) – visited the Intensive Alternative to Custody programme in Manchester.
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Community payback is part of a bigger picture

Community payback is part of a bigger picture

Whilst shedding light on slack supervision of offenders on community payback, unsurprisingly the ITV programme  last night did nothing to provide a more balanced view and did nothing to explain the complexities of the types of community sentences delivered by probation, the private sector and the voluntary sector.
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Criminal justice is the hot topic for all parties this election

Criminal justice is the hot topic for all parties this election

As the political parties remove their boxing gloves, criminal justice joins the ring. The media this week has provided some interesting insights. The Liberal Democrats have shown some courage by expressing their rational and sensible views, particularly about the pointlessness of short prison sentences (with a typically classic response from the Sun and the Mail).
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When it comes to punishment, one size does not fit all

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

Well, the race has begun. How long will it take the parties to start playing the ‘let’s be tough’ on crime game? And it won’t be difficult to guess how some of the media will respond to the mantra.
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The public needs to understand what is really going on around criminal justice today

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

This has been a really interesting week starting with, rather bizarrely, sitting in the Empire, Leicester Square, watching the screening of the Fear Factory. Very decadent for a Monday morning. However, an interesting and challenging new documentary that exposes the history, mechanics and extent of fear mongering that has led to the UK’s criminal justice crisis. The film has given rise to a coalition of over 40 organisations, including Make Justice Work, which calls for an end to the political arms race on law and order.
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Effective rehabilitation lies beyond short term prison sentences

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

Just in case anyone should think going to prison for a couple of months is of more use than building bird boxes (see Bird-brained Justice, Daily Mail, 20th  February 2010), then they should think again. There is no evidence that a short time in prison has any rehabilitative effect on young offenders. Sadly, the reporting of the new Making Good programme failed to explain that it is the public who are invited to choose suitable programmes for these youngsters to pay back to their community for what they have done.  As we all know, young “criminals’ are notoriously difficult to steer away for yobbish behaviour but at least the public are now being given a chance to be involved with the type of punishment they see as appropriate and see the results of their involvement. In fact looking at the testimonials so far with this new programme, it looks pretty positive.
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Finally a welcome turn in criminal justice policy debate

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

This week marks a major shift in the real  reducing re-offending arena. Finally, the beginning of a more open debate around how to reduce crime without building more prison places. But let’s be clear – this is only the beginning. It is therefore crucial that every one of us, who believes  that rehabilitation for lower level offenders can  be successfully achieved by appropriate investment in community sentencing, resulting in safer communities, must continue to make our voices heard and that politicians and policy makers are held to account should there be any “slippage” in their intentions. Common sense and economic prudence must prevail – and justice ministers will need to be courageous and not allow some parts of the media to derail the potential for the most major criminal justice reform we have seen for decades.

Make Justice Work respond to HM Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales Annual Report

Make Justice Work: Criminal Justice - News . Opinion . Research

Press Statement: Government must heed warnings before it is too late

Following the publication of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Dame Anne Owers, annual report, Roma Hooper, Director of a new campaign organisation called Make Justice Works says:
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Make Justice Work respond to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee report into prison overcrowding

Make Justice Work respond to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee report into prison overcrowding

Press Statement: Titan prisons won’t work – Channel funds to alternatives that will
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