Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

14.  Memorandum submitted by The Howard League for Penal Reform

  1.  The Howard League for Penal Reform is pleased to have the opportunity to provide evidence to the Home Affairs Committee's inquiry into effective sentencing.

  2.  Our evidence is framed by our values and beliefs, namely:

    —  We work for a society where there are fewer victims.

    —  Offenders must make amends for what they have done and change their lives.

    —  Community sentences make a person take responsibility and live a law-abiding life in the community.

  3.  The Howard League for Penal Reform welcomes the Home Affairs Committee's emphasis on the need to look at what practically makes a difference, its emphasis on sentences in the community and the needs of adults who offend.

  4.  The Howard League for Penal Reform has grave misgivings about the continuous stream of legislation. We believe that this has lead to increasingly complicated sentencing arrangements, which have gone hand in hand with a public loss of confidence in the criminal justice system. Indeed rather than addressing public concern, the deluge of sentencing legislation has deepened public confusion and distrust.


  5.  The Howard League for Penal Reform believes that in order effectively to address offending behaviour and protect the public the criminal justice system needs to refocus on the role and opportunities provided by robust and well resourced community sentences.

  6. We believe that every effort must be put into endorsing, promoting and supporting the probation service and youth offending teams. Strong local links and local accountability are the imperative if community sentences are to meet the needs of people who offend and thereby enhance outcomes and public confidence.

  7. This is particularly important now that the Offender Management bill is completing its Parliamentary stages that will, in effect, abolish the probation service as it has existed for the past one hundred years. New arrangements must be based on a solid value system that recognises the citizenship of those being managed, aims to heal the damage inflicted by crime, and encourage people to make amends.

  8. For the past two years the Howard League for Penal Reform has run a national award scheme for the most creative and effective community programmes. We believe the criteria against which we judge these awards provides the basis upon which robust and effective community sentences should be developed. The award looks for programmes that:

    —  are part of a community sentence;

    —  are rehabilitative and help to prevent future offending;

    —  are realistic and positive;

    —  recognise the individual circumstances of offenders;

    —  offer a programme tailored to individual needs;

    —  meet the needs of specific client groups eg women, young people or ethnic minorities;

    —  involve users in planning and evaluation;

    —  are based on restorative principles;

    —  encourage offenders to think about the consequences of their crime;

    —  are cost effective;

    —  encourage offenders into employment or education; and

    —  work collaboratively with the local community.

  9.  Our community programmes awards celebrate good local practice and initiative. Our aim is to promote the winning schemes locally while teasing out the principles guiding them to encourage the development of similar programmes elsewhere. The ability for community schemes to meet local needs is imperative. We do not believe that there ever can be a one size fits all approach to community programmes. Whilst we recognise the need for national strategic direction in sentencing for community penalties, there must be room for local flexibility and creativity. The theory of simultaneous loose/tight structures is discussed in many management texts and refers to the requirement to demand conformity to essential values or core tasks and at the same time to allow as complete autonomy as possible in order to develop creativity and responsiveness to changing environments. To this end, we believe that a national directorate should set guidelines and principles within which framework local services can operate challenging programmes appropriate to the community.

  10.  Over the last two years, the Howard League for Penal Reform Community Programme Award has identified 17 winners. The following Award winners demonstrate some core principles:

  11.  Community programmes can work effectively with people whose offending may be regarded as high risk while still protecting the public.

A.  Circles of Support, Thames Valley Partnership—Howard League for Penal Reform, Programme of Special Merit, 2006

  Circles of Support work specifically with high-risk men and women who have committed sexual offences. A core of paid professionals guide the work but the face to face work with offenders is delivered by trained volunteers. This community programme is currently funded by NOMS.

  Circles of Support provide a structured restorative approach. Within each circle there is a core member (offender), volunteers (representing local communities) and professionals (attending when appropriate). Sometimes volunteers have been survivors of sexual abuse. Circles address the needs of the victim, the offender and the community.

  Circles of Support volunteers receive specialist training prior to joining a circle and ongoing training throughout their time in a circle. Volunteers work as part of a team, never in isolation, to form a structured support network. The commitment of volunteers who are able to provide support and monitoring on a long-term basis is the key to the success of the programme.

  Information from the programme shows that no new sexual offences have been committed by any core circle member in the past five years. The reconviction rate for a person convicted of this type of offence is generally 60%.

B.  Staffordshire Probation Service and Heantun Housing Association's Intensive Floating Support Scheme—Howard League for Penal Reform, Programme of Special Merit, 2005

  The scheme works with high risk and prolific offenders by challenging their behaviour, providing accommodation in an approved premises hostel and providing an enhanced level of support. It is funded by a Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Supporting People Grant. The strength of the scheme is its ability to respond to its client's individual circumstances. Specific support is given with housing advice and intensive housing management support; life and social skills development; employment and education assistance.

  Forty-one clients have been on the scheme since 2002 and only one has been re-convicted (and then only after moving from the area and the scheme's support). All other cases have maintained accommodation the community.

  The direct costs are £70,000 per year plus £2,500 associated costs to the probation service.

  The scheme is currently considering using volunteers to provide additional, out of hours support based on the Circles of Support model.

  12.  Community programmes should focus on alcohol related offending. The Howard League for Penal Reform's own research (Out for Good, 2006) showed that much emphasis is placed on providing drug related programmes yet when asking young people what directly influenced their offending behaviour, alcohol was often a more prominent factor.

A.  Sacro Alcohol Education Programme, Edinburgh—Howard League for Penal Reform, Programme of Special Merit, 2006

  This community programme is for people whose offending behaviour is alcohol related. It can be used as part of a probation sentence or prior to sentencing. It tackles alcohol issues from the perspective of offending behaviour and specifically uses group work methods to explore and tackle alcohol linked offending behaviour. It helps individuals to develop and adopt more positive and law-abiding lifestyles. It is a programme that adds to existing probation work. It is delivered via an eight-week group work or pairs programme.

  It can be delivered in single gender sessions in order to address the issues facing women and men in relation to both alcohol use and offending. Very few organisations provide such a service and although the groups are small the programme provides a safe and friendly service for women. In-house evaluation of the service carried out from 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2005, showed that of the 11 women who started the programme in this period, 10 successfully completed, where the high completion rate suggests that the programme responds well to the needs of women.

  More generally results also show that 71% of those who completed the programme had no further convictions after one year, compared to 56% among those who failed to complete; and after two years 64% of those completing the programme had no further convictions.

  13.  Using restorative justice and mediation with adult offenders:

A.  Remedi, Restorative Justice and Mediation Initiatives, South Yorkshire—Howard League for Penal Reform, Programme of Special Merit, 2005

  Remedi provides high quality restorative justice interventions, quality support and training for all restorative justice practitioners. It delivers restorative justice interventions locally but it is recognised for its specialism at a national level. Within a wide range of services, Remedi regards it's adult mediation work as its flagship service.

  Victims are central to the process. Both victims and offenders using the scheme are given the chance to resolve issues, feel empowered, have an opportunity to have a say, move on and have a sense of satisfaction. The scheme works well due to the professionalism and clarity of purpose of the staff team and their commitment to providing a true restorative justice service. This professionalism is also extended to their volunteers. Their proof as a credible and professional agency is reflected in their training being accredited and recognised nationally under NVQ in Restorative Justice.

  Funding is currently provided by the local probation service, YOT, the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

  14.  Effective community pay back. Although the scheme outlined below works with young people, we believe the model that is used has principles that can be applied to adults.

A.  Sunderland Youth Offending Service Restorative Justice Scheme—Howard League for Penal Reform, Outstanding Programme 2005

  Consultation with victims of crime has led to a majority of requests for young people to be placed on community payback under this scheme. Sunderland YOS' Restorative Justice Scheme currently has over 22 payback schemes providing meaningful and valuable unpaid work.

  Local communities have been asked to identity programmes of community payback that maximise the benefit to all concerned. The scheme operates six days a week, 50 weeks a year, with young people involved in over 400 sessions a year.

  Sunderland YOS states that the total cost including salaries is less than £90,000 per year. It is also supported by local businesses which donate paint and other materials. This approach of working collaboratively with the community has been particularly effective in ensuring young people begin to consider the needs of others—often those less fortunate themselves—and to appreciate the principle of equal opportunity for all.

  15.  Working with disparate and entrenched communities in partnership, using a three-teir intervention programme, which can be replicated with adult offenders.

A.  Inclusive Model of Partnership Against Car Crime (IMPACT), Belfast—Howard League for Penal Reform, Programme of Special Merit 2005

  Co-operation at a local level is crucial for effective practice within this scheme. The various agencies involved work together through joint funding, staff secondment, and delivering their core practice of intervention, diversionary and preventative work.

  The project works with young people involved in car crime; undertakes diversionary work with those on the margins and preventative work with those vulnerable to involvement. In practice this means work can be carried out in environments ranging from prisons, juvenile justice centres, youth centres, probation offices, primary and secondary schools, IMPACT's own premises, community based premises and street locations in detached methods of work.

  The IMPACT Project is based on a partnership model and is built upon two fundamental premises. Firstly, it adopts an inclusive approach. Despite the political sensitivities that exist in West Belfast, IMPACT has resolved this by developing two bodies to direct its work. There is an advisory committee, which includes the PSNI and other statutory agencies to advise on the role and scope of the project. The project is also managed by a steering committee made up of equal representatives from the local community sector and the range of statutory partners contributing resources to the project. The second premise guiding the project is that the operational team is drawn from a range of different backgrounds reflecting partner agency interests and remits.

  This project is a truly multi-agency and partnership scheme, incorporating health, education and the criminal justice systems. The project itself was set up as the community felt there was a need and has been involved with the management and direction of the project.

  16.  Community programmes need to be well resourced and cannot afford to lose the dedication and expertise of staff within them. The Y-Pac programme works with young people, but it does highlight the importance of high quality and charismatic staff to deliver effective programmes.

A.  Y-PAC (Young People Affected by Crime/Confidence), Newham Youth Offending Team—Howard League for Penal Reform, Outstanding Programme 2006

  This is an eight week programme of cognitive behavioural activities that are delivered using fun interactive exercises, role-plays, discussions and artwork. It is effective due to the blend of skilled practitioners and a programme that helps young people to explore past experiences as a tool to enable them to develop new strategies to strive for a better quality of life.

  17.The Howard League for Penal Reform is producing a handbook of positive practice in community programmes which will be published at the end 2007. It will provide a practical guidance and a set of principles applicable to all community sentences.

  18.  Community sentences have real potential for enhancing public confidence in the criminal justice system. Local accountability and visibility foster such confidence. The Howard League for Penal Reform suggests that rather than abolishing local probation boards they should be strengthened and could include sub-committees of local people to oversee, for example, unpaid work.

  19. Certain new sentences have encouraged public confidence through rigorous and transparent continuing supervision. The Drug Treatment and Testing Order is a good example as this order has a focused target group, which is supported and scrutinised throughout the period of the order. This order enables the work of the probation service to be supported by the sentencer who both invests in and monitors the progress of the individual.

  20.  The ability to match the needs of the individual and the community throughout the period of the sentence gives an opportunity for the criminal justice system to be both expedient in the use of its scarce resources as well as increasing the potential effectiveness of the order. The Howard League for Penal Reform believes that the way in which these orders are structured provides a model, which may have much to offer.

  21.  We believe that there is a strong case for enhancing judicial accountability for the sentences they impose through long-term involvement with the sentences they impose. This practice would be beneficial to both parities. The recipient of the sentence would be aware that the sentencer was monitoring their progress and could act as a further stimulus for compliance. The sentencer would be aware of how the sentence they impose is being delivered and its impact thereby increasing the sentencer's knowledge and awareness of community programmes delivered in their area.

  22.  We are aware that probation boards currently involve the judiciary and magistracy, yet new proposals for committees do not due to the perceived problems with conflict of interest. We believe that the emphasis of these new committees on including business people "buying in" sentences is a retrograde step. Sentencer awareness of the range of community programmes in their area and their potential is extremely important.


  23. The Howard League for Penal Reform believes that more not less attention ought to be paid to pre-sentence reports. They help provide information to the courts about the needs and issues facing the individual who is before them. Pre-sentence reports are a resource for sentencers in determining what intervention is appropriate; for those delivering the sentence whether in the court of the community; and also a tool by through which the reality of the proposed supervision can be outlined to both the courts and the public. Investment in pre-sentence reports and those charged with preparing them should be a priority.


  24.  The Howard League for Penal Reform has long been an advocate of unit fines. We believe that any move to increase the use of fines by courts can only be introduced with an equitable and workable system for imposing fines. The virtual demise of the fine, in its current form, is to be deplored. It is a useful response in appropriate circumstances, but it must be appropriate to financial circumstances as well as proportionate to the offence. In the past, the Howard League for Penal Reform has suggested that the monies raised through fines should be put back into work with and for the victims of crime.


  25.  The Howard League for Penal Reform is concerned about the inflexibility and automatic nature of breach of community orders often for seemingly minor infringements. In recent months there has been an explosion in the number of breaches. This results in significant numbers of people being received into prison unnecessarily.


  26.  The Howard League for Penal Reform has advocated improved information for courts and from courts, and the concomitant attention given to that information. We do not believe that courts can be exempt from the financial and economic constraints on the use of resources (The Howard League for Penal Reform, The Dynamics of Justice, 1996) and believe that the link between sentencers' decisions the costs of criminal justice need to be established. In order that courts can achieve greater consistency and effectiveness in sentencing there should be better information about sentencers' own activity in terms of costs and outcomes. This would increase the accountability for both the social and financial costs of courts decisions. The Howard League for Penal Reform has suggested that every court should publish an annual report (The Howard League for Penal Reform, Sentencing for Success, 2001).

  I hope you find these comments useful, please do not hesitate to contact me should require any further information.

Frances Crook


15 March 2007

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