Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘rehabilitation

A Smarter Approach to Sentencing: the Government’s White Paper, 2020

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Devising effective sentencing policy is hard. Ministers are often under great political pressures to deal with matters of public concern, which leads to frequent changes in sentencing law. This in turn can make the law hard to find and apply. The Sentencing Act 2020 is about to get the Royal Assent. Once in force it will provide a Code – an uptodate framework available online – within which new policies and changes to the law can be set.

Even before the ink has dried on the new Code, changes are in the pipeline. The Counter Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2020 is well on its way through the Parliament ary process. (See https://martinpartington.com/2020/07/22/counter-terrorism-and-sentencing-bill-2020/)

More radical change is now promised by the White Paper on Sentencing, A Smarter Approach to Sentencing, published in September 2020.

It is a substantial document – reflecting a number of commitments made by the Conservative party in its election manifesto 2019 – on which the Government will be consulting over the next 12 months. A Bill is not anticipated until 2021.

The White Paper states that it is seeking to address three issues of public concern:

  1. Automatic Release: Sentences passed by judges and magistrates in the courts are criticised, often not for their overall length, but for the shortness of the time offenders actually spend in custody. The blanket use of automatic early release has, in the Government’s view, undermined confidence in the system. Too many serious and dangerous offenders are still released too early from custody; this risks public safety, and means the time spent in prison does not always properly fit the crime. The Counter-Terrorism Bill mentioned above deals with some of the issues; the White Paper argues for a more general policy to apply to all dangerous offenders, not just terrorists.
  2. Improving Confidence: Confidence in non-custodial sentencing options is low. The Government wants to gain greater confidence in the delivery of community sentencing. This is essential to reduce the prison population. Sentencers and the public need to be sure that there are effective non-custodial options, particularly for low-level offenders. The Government also wants to ensure that a wider range of non-custodial sentencing options are available to the courts, by capitalising fully on Electronic Monitoring technology, alongside enhanced community supervision delivered by a reformed National Probation Service and an expanded use of existing non-custodial conditions.
  3. Addressing the Causes of Offending: The Government wants to do more to address the causes of offending, particularly where it is driven by drug and alcohol misuse. In 2018/19, 28% of men and 42% of women entering prison reported having a drug problem. These issues are associated with offending, particularly low-level, repeat offending. Whilst there have been routes available to help treat and manage these needs in the justice system, as well as mental health needs, there have been too few options available to sentencers, and not enough confidence in the quality of these services.

The changes proposed in the White Paper are numerous. They include:

1. Introducing whole life orders for child killers, as well as allowing judges to hand out this maximum punishment to 18-20-year olds in exceptional cases to reflect the gravity of a crime. For example, acts of terrorism which lead to mass loss of life.

2. Introducing new powers to halt the automatic release of offenders who pose a terrorist threat or are a danger to the public.

3. Reducing the opportunities for over 18s who committed murder as a child, to have their minimum term reviewed – ensuring they cannot game the system and torment victims’ families further.

4. Ending the halfway release of offenders sentenced to between four and seven years in prison for serious crimes such as rape, manslaughter and GBH with intent. The Government proposes that they should have to spend two-thirds of their time behind bars.

5. Increasing the starting point for determining sentences for 15-17 year olds who commit murder from a minimum of 12 years to two thirds of the equivalent starting point for adults.This would ensure that the seriousness of the offence is taken into account and there is less of a gap between older children and young adults.

6. Longer tariffs for discretionary life sentences. Increasing the minimum period that must be spent in prison by requiring judges to base their calculation of the tariff on what two-thirds of an equivalent determinate sentence would be, rather than half as they do now. This will mean life sentence prisoners serve longer in prison before they can be considered for release by the Parole Board.

7. Raising the threshold for passing a sentence below the minimum term for repeat offenders, including key serious offences such as “third strike” burglary which carries a minimum three-year custodial sentence and “two strike” knife possession which has a minimum six-month sentence for adults. The should make it less likely that a court will depart from these minimum terms.

8. Piloting Problem Solving Court models in up to five courts, targeted at repeat offenders who would otherwise have been sent to custody.

9. Making full use of tagging technologies to create a tough restrictive order in the community. To support rehabilitation, courts and probation staff will have greater flexibility to impose curfew orders.

10. Piloting new ways of delivering timely and high-quality Pre-Sentence Reports.

11. Introducing new legislation to create the possibility of life sentences for drivers who kill.

12. Doubling the maximum sentence for assaulting an emergency worker from 12 months to 2 years.

The White Paper also proposes reforming criminal records disclosure to reduce the time period in which offenders have to declare offences to employers.

The full details of the White Paper are at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-smarter-approach-to-sentencing

This entry is adapted from the Government Press Release: at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/radical-sentencing-overhaul-to-cut-crime

Written by lwtmp

October 9, 2020 at 5:08 pm

Problem solving courts – next steps

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One of the really interesting ideas under consideration in government and the judicary is that of ‘problem solving’ courts. The concept has been floating around for some time but has recently been given new impetus.

The idea is that offender behaviour change might be enhanced through a model of judicially supervised rehabilitative programmes. These would be designed to encourage
innovation in the use of judicial disposals and improve compliance with the orders of the court; and to deliver a swifter and more certain response to crime and to reduce
reoffending.
In February 2016, the government  announced the terms of reference for a working group – reporting to the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice.
The working group will advise on:
  • existing models of problem-solving courts nationally and internationally, and their applicability to England and Wales;
  • the feasibility of options for pilot models including practical, legislative and constitutional issues, and judicial leadership;
  • the support needed from within and without the criminal justice system, including the development, or improvement, of pathways in to rehabilitative and behaviour change interventions
  • the key criteria for a future suite of pilots of problem-solving courts, including the lessons from previous pilots and the required statutory provisions for taking forward any new pilots.
The working group will need to take account of domestic and international evidence of what works well in engendering behaviour change through a problem-solving court approach. This includes the scope, quality and effectiveness of past and current models, in particular theUSA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.The group should also consider the reasons why previous attempts at setting up Problem Solving Courts have been unsuccessful and take account of lessons learnt.
No date is given for the completion of the group’s work but I guess it won’t appear before the end of 2016.
It obviously is designed to fit with recent announcements about changes to the ways in which prisons are run – and the need to ensure that few people are actually sent to prison so that – om their different ways – both courts and the prison service will be working on offender education and rehabilitation.
The text of the announcement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/499465/tor-problem-solving-courts.pdf

Written by lwtmp

February 19, 2016 at 5:41 pm

The treasure in the heart of man – making prisons work

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The new Lord Chancellor, Michael Gove, is turning out to be a very interesting appointment. Following his speech on his vision for the justice system, (see this blog 23 June 2015), he has now given a truly remarkable lecture on how prisons might be made to work more effectively in helping to rehabilitate offenders and leading them to play a constructive role in society.

Taking his inspiration from Winston Churchill, who once said ‘There is a treasure, if only you can find it, in the heart of every man’ he has noted that education must be at the heart of the prison experience.

To be fair, his predecessor said something very similar; but then went on to ban books being available to prisoners, which seemed, at the least, to be counter-productive.

Michael Gove, pursuing interested he had as Secretary of State for Education, has returned to the same theme.

At present, Gove noted

45% of adult prisoners re-offend within one year of release. For those prisoners serving shorter sentences – those of less than twelve months – the figure rises to 58%. And, saddest of all, more than two-thirds of offenders under the age of 18 re-offend within twelve months of release.

Referring to the characteristics of those in prison, he said:

Prisoners come – disproportionately – from backgrounds where they were deprived of proper parenting, where the home they first grew up in was violent, where they spent time in care, where they experienced disrupted and difficult schooling, where they failed to get the qualifications necessary to succeed in life and where they got drawn into drug-taking.

Three quarters of young offenders had an absent father, one third had an absent mother, two-fifths have been on the child protection register because they were at risk of abuse and neglect.

  • 41% of prisoners observed domestic violence as a child
  • 24% of prisoners were taken into care as children. That compares with just 2% of the general population
  • 42% of those leaving prison had been expelled from school when children compared to 2% of general population
  • 47% have no school qualifications at all – not one single GCSE – this compares to 15% of the working age general population
  • Between 20 and 30% of prisoners have learning difficulties or disabilities and 64% have used Class A drugs

His answer to this is to try to ensure that there is much more ‘purposeful activity’ in prisons so that prisoners are helped to fill in some of the gaps in their education and upbringing.

Gove continued:

In prisons there is a – literally – captive population whose inability to read properly or master basic mathematics makes them prime candidates for re-offending. Ensuring those offenders become literate and numerate makes them employable and thus contributors to society, not a problem for our communities. Getting poorly-educated adults to a basic level of literacy and numeracy is straightforward, if tried and tested teaching models are followed, as the armed forces have demonstrated. So the failure to teach our prisoners a proper lesson is indefensible.

In this context, Gove proposes that prisoners should be required to earn early release from prison by showing they have participated in and learned from appropriate educational opportunities. He want to down play, even abolish, the automatic release of prisoners halfway through their sentences – a practice which he says means that sentences imposed by judges hardly ever mean what they purport to say.

It is not clear how far detailed policy work has been undertaken to bring this vision into effect – it seems likely that it would be a policy that would require significant additional resources, even if in the long run savings could be made through the reduction It may therefore be easier said than done. But as a goal for the prison system to aim for, it makes a lot of sense.

To read the whole speech go to https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the-treasure-in-the-heart-of-man-making-prisons-work

Written by lwtmp

August 3, 2015 at 9:55 am