Role of the Prison Officer - Justice Committee Contents

4  National Offender Management Service

The creation of NOMS

169.  The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) was set up in 2004 in response to criticisms by Lord Carter of Coles of ineffective policy-making at the Home Office. Briefly, its aim was to ensure "end-to-end" offender management throughout the criminal justice system by bringing the Prison and Probation Services into one organisational structure. Its annual budget is £4.5 million.

170.  Cordell Pillay, of Napo, the probation officers union, endorsed the idea behind the creation of NOMS but was critical of the practice:

From the outset there was not a clear structure or framework for NOMS, so there is no clarity from the probation perspective and no clarity from the prison perspective. …There was no serious planning in relation to it. There was no real consultation. …We do not know who had overall responsibility for probation, who had overall responsibility for prisons. It tended to change from day to day, and that is at the top level. If you think about it lower down, probation officers and prison officers would say that they have seen very little change in terms of seamless sentencing or even in relation to working together….I think we have missed the opportunity to look at the best practices within prison and the best practices within probation, and bring them together in terms of working within a prison setting...[185]

171.  The Prison Reform Trust submitted that NOMS had, to date, failed sufficiently to break down the barriers between the different criminal justice services or reduce the insular nature of the prison environment.[186] Peter Olech of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents non-prison officer staff of all grades, was more positive, although believed NOMS was too novel to truly assess:

I think it is early days for NOMS, but, I think, from our union's point of view, the move into the Ministry of Justice was beneficial, it makes sense and we are starting to see some projects where it makes sense, for example the creation of a single MoJ procurement division, a single MoJ IT division that have efficiencies and economies and commonsense attached to them… think NOMS is early doors in terms of assessing, but we support the principle [of end to end offender management] and it has got to be worked through.[187]

172.  We have seen no evidence that the creation of the National Offender Management Service has achieved the seamless end-to-end management of prisoners that was intended. We believe this may be due, in part, to the wider lack of clarity over the aim of imprisonment. We continue to be concerned about the absence of clarity of purpose in regard to the criminal justice system generally and this creates particular problems for the Prison Service.


173.  As a consequence of the introduction of the offender management system some prison officers have become 'offender supervisors.' Offender supervisors are assigned to all prisoners who "come within the Offender Management Model" which includes prisoners serving an indeterminate sentence for public protection, offenders who pose a high risk of harm, prolific offenders and some others. The offender supervisor's role is to assist the prisoner in carrying out the sentence plan of offending behaviour work set by the prisoner's probation officer or offender manager. In written evidence the Ministry of Justice commented on the model as follows:

The [Offender Management] model enhances the role of prison officers by adding a new dimension to their traditional residential and security role; involving them in work to address offending behaviour and preparation for release.

The role of Offender Supervisor in custody uses the skills of the prison officer to engage and motivate offenders towards achieving their sentence plan objectives and to liaise with other prison, probation and Third Sector staff to ensure compliance with the sentence plan. During the middle phase of longer periods in custody, the Offender Supervisor becomes central, acting as the agent for the Offender Manager [probation officer overseeing the offender].[188]

The submission went on to say: those officers who are appointed to the role of Offender Supervisors receive formal training in the role and the use of risk and needs assessment tools. In addition they form part of a multi-disciplinary team and through joint working gain a greater understanding of evidence based decision making and risk management.[189]

174.  The offender supervisor role is not an innovation. The Ministry of Justice's submission notes that the role is already known by a number of names including case supervisor, case worker, mentor and personal officer. Personal officer schemes usually see a named officer assigned either on arrival or shortly after arrival at the prison. A personal officer is the first port of call for a prisoner and is expected to help with anything from sentence planning to food requirements to bereavements. The innovative aspects are the formalisation of relationships between a named prison officer and a named probation officer (who oversees an offender's entire sentence, in custody and in the community) and the targeting of the role at a specific group of prisoners.

175.  The Chief Inspector of Prisons wrote:

Inspections of [the end-to-end offender management model]…in prisons, jointly with the Inspectorate of Probation, have revealed a mixed picture. In some prisons, [the offender supervisors' tasks are]…exclusively provided by seconded probation staff; in others, prison staff lack the training to carry out the motivational interviewing essential to the role, or to carry out assessments of risk. Neither is likely to ensure that offender management is both effective and embedded in the work of the prison.[190]

176.  A number of contributors to the e-consultation complained about the lack of time offender supervisors or personal officers (personal officer is still the usual term amongst those living or working in the criminal justice system) had to spend with the prisoners in their charge, and the risk that this can reduce the role to a 'box ticking' exercise:

To have the ability to help rehabilitate prisoners officers need the skills and the time to do so. The whole culture within our prisons has turned into a "tickbox" exercise where the most important thing for governors and managers is that targets are met because if it says on paper that things are all well and good then they must be mustn't they??... The point I'm trying to make is stop tying our hands with pointless targets, mountains of pointless paperwork, and stop taking away resources from the frontline as it were.[191]

177.  Another contributor, who described him or herself as a prison officer, felt disengaged:

What is…very clear is that NOMS only plays lip-service to rehabilitation in prisons- there is no investment, there is no time.[192]

178.  Bobby Cummines, of UNLOCK, also told us that personal officer schemes had to be given sufficient priority and noted the potential gravity of the consequences when the role was undervalued as in the murder of Zahid Mubarek, a prisoner in HMYOI Feltham, who was murder by his racist cellmate. Mr Cummines told us that the inquiry had found that prisoners in Feltham had been assigned personal officers but "it was in name only, it was not really happening in the prison, but they were ticking the boxes that it was."[193]

179.  One witness, Danny Afzal, spoke of the personal impact upon him of a personal officer failing properly to complete paperwork while otherwise engaging and working with him during his custodial sentence:

I remember having a personal officer and when it came to my parole hearing and they opened the basic statement, which is the history of my behaviour in the prison, there was nothing in it at all. I felt hard done-by that even though officers did engage me on a personal level no reports were written, and I got refused parole. Sometimes prison officers need to have a set amount of work to do.[194]

180.  Mr Afzal's comments on what he perceived as an unprofessional attitude to the role of personal officer (plus criticism of a "no trouble, no report" approach) were supported by Charlie Ryder, an ex-prisoner, in his endorsement of an article by prisoner Paul Sullivan writing in a newspaper for prisoners 'Inside Times':

I would have an officer warder who would act as a personal officer to up to 20 inmates. This would be at least 50% of his or her allotted time and inviolate time as every job would be audited and have a job description (not fitted in as and when). It would be the officer warder's job and responsibility. Too often failures by warders are blamed on inmates. The personal officer would be the only uniformed staff to write reports on his or her inmates. To cover other areas (workshop, education) he or she would liaise and then write a balanced report. At present, most writing is based on ignorance and prejudice, but by professionalising the system, by ensuring more self-reflection and accountability, and updating skills with relevant qualifications…we begin to professionalise the system.[195]

181.  The offender supervisor role has the potential to become the "key figure" in a prisoner's rehabilitation. Yet, if an officer is responsible for too many prisoners, this will destroy an excellent opportunity for engagement and make the role a box-ticking exercise. The Ministry of Justice must commit resources to training officers in the offender supervisor role and limiting their responsibilities to a small number of prisoners. Otherwise this welcome development will be a waste of time and resources.

182.   The undermining of the offender supervisor role has not improved relationships between prison officers and management. We regret this. The Ministry of Justice should aim to allot offender supervisors, or personal officers, to all prisoners serving over two years.

185   Q 243 Back

186   Ev 151 Back

187   Q 118 Back

188   Ev 120 Back

189   Ev 121 Back

190   Ev 72 Back

191   25 March 2009 Back

192   26 March 2009 Back

193   Q 192 Back

194   Q 208 Back

195   Q 187 Back

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