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Offender Management and Treatment - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:27 pm on 3rd October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone Conservative 1:27 pm, 3rd October 2019

Let me be the first most warmly to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on securing this debate and once again drawing attention to the need for enlightened and critical reforms across our criminal justice system. His tenacity in bringing these matters back over and again as a former Chief Inspector of Prisons and his extensive writing and speaking have made an enormous impact. Perhaps he will be a modern-day Elizabeth Fry or John Howard.

Personally, I agree with many of the noble Lord’s comments. My own credentials go back only 44 years, to when I became a juvenile magistrate in Brixton. I then became chairman of the court aged 32, at the time of the Brixton riots. That was a torrid, difficult and emotional time. What I felt time and again was that the young people in court were the people who had no stakeholders. They had no serious probation or supervision programme. They ended up in court because there was nowhere else for them to go.

I very much echo the noble Lord’s words about the lack of corporate memory in Whitehall. Every Minister has a new idea. Civil servants keep changing. Having a better corporate memory—I am allocating the noble Lord the role of being the corporate memory after his recital of all my noble friend Lord Baker’s policies—would be an excellent thing. We need a strategy, but above all we need an implementation plan that we hold to. I warmly endorse the noble Lord’s suggestion that responsibilities need to have named people who hold the policy dear.

There were enormous problems with transforming rehabilitation. The noble Lord has outlined how the effectively disastrous consequences of that policy came to light, with the part-privatisation of probation and 21 CRCs working alongside the probation service. Let us be clear: the probation service at that time needed reform and a complete shake-up. It had lost its way. It was old-style, bureaucratic and tired and had lost energy and ambition.

I applaud my right honourable friend in the other place, David Gauke, for having the courage to reverse the policy. It is very easy in government to feel you have to build on your predecessor’s policies and that otherwise you are being disloyal. He was considered and brave and took the view that the evidence was that the policy simply was not working. The noble Lord referred to the National Audit Office. Sir Amyas Morse—a public servant in whose debt we should all be because of his effect on the reform of many public services—said in his report that:

The Ministry set itself up to fail in how it approached probation reforms. Its rushed roll-out created significant risks that it was unable to manage. These have had far reaching consequences. Not only have these failings been extremely costly for taxpayers, but we have seen the number of people on short sentences recalled to prison skyrocket. It is welcome that the Ministry’s proposals address some of the issues that have caused problems, but risks remain. It needs to pause and think carefully about its next steps so that it can get things right this time and improve the quality of probation services”.

I salute that view and believe that our debate is part of that review of what has gone wrong in the past and how we can dedicate ourselves to improving services for the future.

I am delighted that the Government and Prime Minister were able to invest so generously in our criminal justice system with 20,000 police officers and additional resources for the Prison Service. But we are never going to have an effective probation service without the proper resources and respect. The parallel I would draw is the lessons from children’s services and mental health services. Enoch Powell derided the great institutions and asylums. It was a case of out of sight, out of mind—institutionalisation meant that psychiatric patients were in fact damaged by that process. We are familiar with that in the prison world, in spite of all the reforms and efforts that have been made.

You could never have effective care in the community until you had what was called “assertive outreach”. The difference between being in the community and being in an institution, with one telephone call every two weeks, is too great. Community programmes mean effective, tenacious and assertive programmes; that is the lesson we have learnt from psychiatric patients and from children in children’s homes. The alternative to being in a children’s home—as dangerous as that often was, as we now well know—was not just to have a social worker popping in once a month but to have a programme that involved health visitors, nursery schools, neighbours and so on. Our priority and our message must be to take this opportunity and to take all we have learnt and the comments of enough wise people—we do not need any more—and say that we need to make probation work.

We also need more community champions. I want to praise the police and crime commissioners, mayors and high sheriffs, who have become advocates in communities up and down the country for enlightened prison reform and responsible community services and, above all, drawing in the voluntary sector. All of us have referred on previous occasions to magnificent initiatives making a real impact. In my own former area, the Watts Gallery—founded by GF Watts, a prison reformer—now provides work in HMP Bronzefield, HMP Send and Feltham youth institution. Pimlico Opera, established by Wasfi Kani, has done similar for many years. The other day, the wonderful High Sheriff of Oxfordshire was talking about Fine Cell Work, of which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is a patron, and the wonderful charity Aspire—I will say no more about that, because I hope my noble kinsman, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, will comment on this vital area in great detail.

We know what we need to do, and we now have the energy, resources and determination successfully to deliver effective probation in the community.