Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Inspectors Give Succour to Grayling’s Grand Folly

Whatever irritation Justice ministers may have felt about the weekend leaking of the risk report on their Transforming Rehabilitation changes , will have given way to delight with today’s inspection findings about the failures of offender management.  Why?  Because the findings can be used to make the case for the radical changes that they want to introduce to the prison and probation system. 

Yes, the findings cast doubt about the Prison Service’s capacity to implement their part of the new strategy designed to reduce reoffending rates, especially for short-term prisoners. But concluding that the National Offender Model is “more complex than many prisoners need and more costly to run than most prisons can afford” will be music to ministers’ ears. It will strengthen their resolve to cut costs and to roll back the frontiers of this little bit of the state. They will feel vindicated in replacing a failed national model with an assortment of arrangements paid for only if they succeed. It will be goodbye to an approach based on research findings and a desire to raise standards across the board. Welcome now to a black box approach in which government can withdraw its interest in finding out and implementing effective practice and leave that to the market instead.

The failings identified by the inspectors are real and need attention but the report does not make the case for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Prison staff may be insufficiently trained to do the work; there are too few rehabilitation programmes, poor recording and a limited integration of offender assessments into the wider prison experience. But these are capable of fixing through proper resourcing and good management.

The Inspectors may even be right to conclude that the current arrangements should be subject to fundamental review. Where they are wrong is to say that this should be taken forward as part of the strategy of implementing Transforming Rehabilitation.  The review is needed before the landscape of offender management is profoundly and irreversibly reconfigured, not when the bulldozers have moved in. 

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