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News Archives: Index

October 7, 2010: Probation Set For Industrial Action

October 5, 2010: Turning Prisoners Into Taxpayers

October 4, 2010: Murder Changes Now In Force

September 20, 2010: Probation Programmes Face Cuts

August 24, 2010: Victorian Poor Law Records Online

August 10, 2010: Justice Job Cuts

July 28, 2010: Prison Violence Growing

July 22, 2010: Police Numbers: Latest Figures

July 22, 2010: New Jurisdiction Rules

July 16, 2010: CCJS On Prison And Probation Spending Under Labour

July 15, 2010: Latest Statistics On Violent And Sexual Crime

July 15, 2010: Latest National Crime Figures

July 15, 2010: New Chief Prisons Inspector

July 14, 2010: Hard Times Ahead For Prisons: Anne Owers

July 14, 2010: Prison Does Not Work: Ken Clarke

July 13, 2010: Criminal Justice Reform: Sentencing and Rehabilitation

July 13, 2010: Criminal Justice Reform Priorities

July 12, 2010: What Price Public Protection, Asks Probation Chief Inspector

July 12, 2010: NOMS has failed, says Napo

July 10, 2010: IPCC To Investigate Death of Raoul Moat

July 9, 2010: Women In Prison: New Report

July 9, 2009: Unjust Deserts: Imprisonment for Public Protection

July 8, 2010: Police Search Powers Change

July 7, 2010: Make 'Legal High' Illegal, Says ACMD

July 2, 2010: Failing Children In Prison

July 2, 2010: Police Buried Under a Blizzard of Guidance: HMIC

July 1, 2010: Freedom To Change The Law?

June 30, 2010: A New Outlook On Penal Reform?

June 30, 2010: Revolving Door Of Offending Must Stop, Says Clarke

June 30, 2010: Ken Clarke: Speech on Criminal Justice Reform

June 29, 2010: No More Police Targets

June 26, 2010: Family Intervention Projects Questioned

June 25, 2010: Cutting Criminal Justice

June 24, 2010: Napo on Sex Offenders Report

June 23, 2010: Closing Courts: The Cuts Begin

June 23, 2010: Strategy To Tackle Gangs

June 15, 2010: Courts and Mentally Disordered Offenders

June 8, 2010: Working With Muslims in Prison

June 1, 2010: Your Chance To Nominate a QC

March 13, 2007: Napo Speaks Out On Prison Overcrowding

Probation union Napo has commented on prison overcrowding by addressing the Home Secretary’s recent statement on dealing with prison overcrowding through a commitment to provide 2,500 additional places by the end of the year.

The plan was to involve the opening of a 300-bed prison on the Ashworth site and finding 900 places in temporary accommodation. It was thought that the remaining places would be a mix of converting military barracks and bringing wings which are out of commission for various reasons back into use. However, many believe the figure of 2,500 is optimistic and cannot be achieved.

Napo has learnt that the temporary accommodation will be customised sea container units normally used for transporting heavy goods across the sea. The units will be fairly large and each one would take 30 prisoners. They are currently being built to specification by a company in China that supplies sea containers. The Prison Service is then intending to bolt 2 of the units together to provide 60-bed units. The Service is therefore in the process of commissioning up to 15 units. An official has been seconded in from the DPW to oversee the programme.

Napo understands that each 60-bed unit is costing £3.5 million. The overall cost, therefore, will be just over £50 million. No decisions has yet been made on regime activities or on staffing the units. It is thought that all the funds would have to come from existing budgets. There is, therefore, a huge hole in Prison Service finances.

Up to a third of the units would be for young offenders. The senior officials and staff are currently examining the prison estate with urgency to determine where the units will be placed. It seems almost certain that the units will be used for short-term prisoners because there clearly will be physical restraints on what activities they can pursue in the customised sea containers.

Exercise will also be constrained as the containers will take up room in the prison grounds and yards. Each unit will be divided into 15 two-bed units, each with a ‘wet room’. All units will have a portal window with an anti-suicide device. Each unit will be of a uniform size, the same as a large sea container. Similar units are being used as temporary accommodation for soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Napo further understands that, despite the urgency, planning permission has not yet been obtained for the temporary placing of the units. Currently the open estate is running at 86% capacity, following criticism of inappropriate referrals.

The Home Office is, therefore, considering, as a matter of priority, fencing Wealstun Open Jail in order to provide 400 additional secure places. The prisoners in the West Yorkshire jail would be redistributed round the rest of the open estate. The Home Office is also looking again at opening the barracks in Dover.

If the crisis continues, and the prison population could reach 83,000, then an administrative decision will be taken by the Prison Service in June to release on temporary licence (ROTL) all prisoners who are with two weeks of their release date. Excluded from this scheme would be anyone convicted of a violent offence or considered as a risk to the public. But this would free up at a stroke 2,500 places.

Napo also understands that a separate unit has been looking into the possibility of building new prisons and as a consequence closing down the Victorians prisons such as Brixton, Leicester, Birmingham and Wormwood Scrubs. It is thought that these lucrative inner city sites could be used for commercial development.

However, Napo understands that the scheme has run into problems because the Prison Service has not got the funds to build the new prisons first before shutting down the existing stock. The idea therefore has been sidelined.

The Government’s situation is exacerbated by the fact that prisoners are spending longer in jail than hitherto. Napo has been told that the numbers being received into prison is not increasing, but that sentence lengths have increased over the last 5 or 6 years by around 5% to 10%. In addition fewer prisoners are being granted parole because of a reaction to the Monckton case.

The Parole Board has been more cautious and the Home Secretary is overruling more decisions than ever before, indeed the number of positive decisions has been halved. There has also been a threefold to fourfold increase in the number of prisoners recalled because it is alleged that they have failed to keep to their licence conditions.

This has happened because probation officers’ discretion on whether to recall has been drastically reduced, and as a consequence there has been a large increase in people recalled for technical reasons. The number recalled has increased from 200 a month in 2001 to over 800 a month in 2006. This accounts for the majority of new admissions to custody each month.

Late last year the Home Secretary was asked to consider either executive release or changing the percentage of time actually served before parole was considered. Both of these options were rejected.

A further problem for the Government is that the number of prisoners on Home Detention Curfew has also fallen. The peak was around 3,400 last year on any given day; it is now about 2,700. The reasons for this are that Governors have become more cautious and also because fewer prisoners appear to fulfil the eligibility rules; that is serving less than 4 years for an offence not involving sex, violence or drugs.

The Government’s options, therefore, are drastically reduced. Insiders predict that prison numbers will hit total crisis point in June and that a once off release of all prisoners on ROTL who have 14 days to go will happen. Whether to use the 14 day early release on a continuous basis is also under consideration. Last year around 90,000 prisoners were discharged, which equates to about 1,700 a week. Over a fortnight, therefore, there will be 3,400 and it is estimated about 2,500 of those would not have been sentenced for a sexual, violent or drugs related offence.

Harry Fletcher, Assistant General Secretary of Napo, the Probation Union, commented:

“Release on temporary rary licence is an act of desperation. But the Prison Service is in a desperate state. Using sea containers to house prisoners, even for short periods of time, is extraordinary. There are clearly health and safety and environmental issues which would have to be addressed. The units are likely to be cramped so there will not be much room for activities such as education. No decisions appears to have been made on staffing and it is unclear where the money will be coming from."

"The Home Office has a massive problem. The only remedy is to advise the courts that they should not be sending short-term prisoners into custody. If all prisoners serving less than 12 months were diverted to community penalties or fines this would free up 10,000 prison places on a daily basis.”

The decision to create a Ministry of Justice, based on the transfer of Prisons, Probation and public protection work to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, appears to have been put on hold. It was thought that all the difficult parts of the Home Office would be transferred out, leaving the Home Secretary with Home Land Security. There appears to be a difference of opinion on whether this should be announced pre or post Tony Blair.