Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 279)



Mr Corbett

  260. Might not that have been too late, in some senses?
  (Mr Fraser) Personally, I do not think victims should be encouraged to even think about doing it, they have probably had enough and that is the last person they want to see. True reform, true remorse, if it is inside the offender, will come without that, that should not have to be provoked by being confronted by the person that they have injured. But, even if they are, my experience, and I am able to speak with a great deal of experience on this particular subject, is that it does not work with persistent, hardened offenders, they do not care. That is why they are there.


  261. Just coming back very briefly to community service, which you also think, on the whole, does not work, I think I got you right, did I not? I can recall, for example, it is only anecdotal, visiting such a scheme in my constituency, where some fairly hardened criminals, who had spent a lot of time in prison and it clearly had not worked in their case, were helping disabled children, and it clearly was having an impact on them. Do you not recognise there are occasions when community service can work?
  (Mr Fraser) Yes, well, again, if I go back to my seven years experience, this kind of activity was also carried out with these young teenage offenders, and groups of handicapped children were sometimes brought onto the premises in certain circumstances and the boys encouraged to interact with them and help them in various sports activities, this kind of thing, and also to go outside and supervise fairs and play days for them. And what one noticed was that for some of the young offenders they clearly did enjoy it, it was something they had not done before and they quite enjoyed the interaction with these children, but their enjoyment and the positive way that they interacted with these children was one thing, but their propensity to go on reoffending when they were released was quite another.

  262. It is a very depressing scenario you paint; so there is nothing except prison, is there, and even that does not work because they all reoffend when they get out, do they not?
  (Mr Fraser) I want to protest and say "It's not my fault", but, however.

  263. It is not your fault, you are giving us the benefit of your experience, which we value, but that is what you are saying, is it not?
  (Mr Fraser) Yes. It is a depressing picture, it is a very unwelcome picture, I agree. It is very difficult, whatever one's audience, to keep saying that, probation and community service, the reconviction rates are horrendous and they are simply giving people a licence to offend, and victimising millions and millions of innocent people, which they do. But, we come back yet again, it does not have to be this way, it does not have to be this way. If the Probation Service, which already exists, changed its focus and changed its ideology and said, "Right, we're going to help the courts separate out those who are motivated to change and those who are not, and those who are motivated to change we are going to recommend to them probation", whatever it is, the situation would change. Now the difficult nettle to grasp, and I do appreciate, we all appreciate this, is that the result of that is that, yes, and we are not sure how many it would be, but there would have to be more people in prison. But one cannot ponder even that question, one should not ponder that question, in isolation of the other question that is related to it, which is how many victims are we prepared to put up with. There are at least 18 million a year.

Mr Malins

  264. On this point of community service, you appeared to agree with me 20 minutes ago and then said something different a moment ago, when I suggested that, in relation to community service, there is some evidence that the rate of reconviction, within a year or so of a completed order, is lower than in relation to a straightforward probation order; now that is the evidence. Now just pause a minute. We are talking about reconviction rates, and I am not speculating on whether people are committing crimes every week when they finish their community service on a Saturday afternoon, I am talking about reconviction rates. And there is some evidence, is there not, and my instinct tells me, that there is some plus factor in community service, in relation not just to reconviction rates but general well-being, etc., compared with a straightforward reporting probation order? If I can be simple, is that a straightforward proposition which you will accept?
  (Mr Fraser) Yes; and I would grasp at the positive bit in that by saying this, that it may well be that for motivated, well-intended offenders, who want to reform, that, for them, for many of them, it may well be easier for them to put their motivation into practice by doing something practical, they may actually find that easier than going to a probation officer and talking to him every week. So, yes, I would think that there may be some mileage in that, if they are motivated. But the way you started the question was to draw attention to the fact that there was some difference between the reconviction rates, and, you are right, they are slightly less, but we are talking of just a chink of daylight here, nothing, and, as far as the general problem is concerned, it is of no consequence, they are victimising people at the same rate.

Mr Allan

  265. There are a couple of points. The first is on the issue of who we are actually talking about, and I think we have been slightly distracted by the very persistent, hardened offenders. I was very interested in Professor Pease's comment that by changing sentencing policy we could achieve a reduction in crime, and I suspect that the vast majority of the persistent, hardened offenders are already in the institutions, the sort of people you were talking about working with. Would you accept that those persistent, hardened offenders are mostly already going to prison, or do you think a huge number of them are on inappropriate community sentences?
  (Mr Fraser) The latter.

  266. You think a huge number of those persistent, hardened ones are?
  (Mr Fraser) Yes.

  267. So you do not think you are subject to the same ignorance that the British Crime Survey revealed about the general public, you think people are not being sentenced to imprisonment when they actually are?
  (Mr Fraser) No. We have a lot of contacts in the Probation Service in different areas of the country, and the picture they provide makes it very, very clear that large numbers of offenders who are not motivated to change, somehow or other, are being placed on probation.

  268. That is a different question. What I am saying though is are people who have been convicted, young people, for example, who have been convicted of a whole string of serious burglaries, do you think they are actually under probation supervision at the moment?
  (Mr Fraser) Many of them.

  269. So you think people, serious, repeat offenders, of the sort you meet in the young offenders institution, their equivalent are out—
  (Mr Fraser) Are outside in the community, there is no doubt about it.

  270. And the second one, briefly, was on the issue of motivation. The evidence given to us by the Probation Service is clearly that they see a lot of their work as being about creating the motivation to change, in other words, they do not expect people to come to them necessarily motivated, the person with a drug habit, who has got no educational achievement, who is unemployed and unemployable, is not coming to them motivated but their work is about creating it. Do you accept that?
  (Mr Fraser) This is their counter-argument. And, well, our answer to that is, they have had plenty of opportunity to put that into practice, because the people we are talking about have been given several loops round the alternative sentencing strategy, they will have been on probation, on community service, they will have been on various programmes where the thing that you are talking about, where the Probation Service will have had plenty of opportunity to instigate, if that is going to happen, a spark of motivation in them, they have had plenty of opportunity to do that. We are talking about the people who have had four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, yet more chances of programmes where this kind of thing is carried out, and it has not happened.

  Chairman: I am just a little bit worried that we are turning around the same territory again, and I think we have covered that point, and there are a lot of other areas that we want to cover. Mr Winnick: perceptions of the Probation Service, insofar as they have not already been dealt with.

Mr Winnick

  271. Yes. Can I just get clear, how long did you serve in the Probation Service, Mr Coad?
  (Mr Coad) Nearly 30 years, wanting a few months.

  272. Yes; and Mr Fraser?
  (Mr Fraser) Twenty-six, yes.

  273. Would it be right to say that having been in the Probation Service for some time you became increasingly disillusioned; I think we can take it for granted, from your papers?
  (Mr Fraser) We were never, ever, disillusioned with the probation ethic, we were never disillusioned with the probation ethic of offering somebody a second or third or fourth chance, because it is human to err, and all that. What we became disillusioned with was when the policies were turned on their head, and instead of, as was the case, without any shadow of a doubt, helping magistrates and judges isolate people who were motivated to reform and recommending them for probation the policies were turned on their head, and the Probation Service deliberately went out of its way to target for community supervision those offenders who were most at risk of further offending, and they still do that.

  274. Did you ever consider resigning?
  (Mr Fraser) No.
  (Mr Coad) Resigning; perhaps not resigning because I am too full of self-interest. I wanted to get out with a pension and money and enhancement, so I voluntarily left. I let it be known that if I was allowed enhancement I would not be difficult to persuade. But we had reached a crisis, David and Fraser and I, when in 1984 or 1985 we wrote a paper called Licence to Offend, which was published in the Justice of the Peace, followed about a year later by Licence to Offend Continued, and last year Licence to Offend Vindicated. That opened the debate within the Probation Service of the efficacy of their current policies and whether or not they should be looked at again. For our sins we were formally banned by the Avon Probation Service, not only to not distribute our paper but we were not to talk about our views to any of our colleagues, with the threat of disciplinary procedure being taken against us. You will have read the contribution from the anonymous probation officer, which we believe is a true revelation of what it is like in the Probation Service today; that officer dare not open his mouth in public, he tries to do his best within the Service that he is serving. Can I give you an example of the sort of madness that is in the Probation Service today; from that officer, says he, desperately trying not to even identify his sex, we had some information that his area was going to engage on a cognitive therapy approach to the rehabilitation of offenders. I will remind you that last week you heard of cognitive therapy and it was spoken of in very positive terms. We sent that officer the research on cognitive therapy. The place it was practised first in this country was Mid-Glamorgan Probation Service, and throughout the whole of the country there were little whispers of, you know, "There is something wonderful happening in Mid-Glamorgan" referring to cognitive therapy. We have the first 12 months of research showing reconviction rates were 44 per cent; in the second year it had panned out a little bit and the reconviction rates were 65 per cent. Again placing this against the 4.9 per cent detection rate, you can imagine that the actual reoffending rate was high. We sent this research to this particular probation officer, a senior probation officer, who discussed it with his Assistant Chief Probation Officer, because the area is going into top gear about introducing this form of programme—the Assistant Chief Probation Officer said, "Ah, yes, well, that may be true, but, you know, it's really an up-to-date way of dealing with reoffending." The fact that it was a total catastrophe was totally irrelevant, it was a matter of fashion.

  275. Mr Coad, I sometimes ask lengthy questions, so I am told, from time to time, but if I keep my questions relatively short and if you can keep your answers short perhaps we will make progress. I must put it to you, Mr Coad, that despite being disillusioned with the Probation Service you continued for many years, out of what you frankly and honestly described as your own self-interest; that is so, is it not?
  (Mr Coad) Yes.

  276. Would it not be right to say you have a grudge against the Probation Service?
  (Mr Coad) No, because I hold the concept of probation in the very highest esteem. I want the Probation Service to be effective. I have got no grudge against the Probation Service. I have a few, would you believe it, friends still left in the Probation Service, including Chief Probation Officers, who, you may be interested to know, the week before last, in discussing this paper about Punishment in the Community, said, "You know, one of your problems, Peter, is that you're too rational" and I was glad to have that said of me.

  277. Your perception of the Probation Service, however, is that it is dominated by an organisation, the National Association of Probation Officers, NAPO, who are Marxist-led, Marxist-indoctrinated, and, would it be right to say, trying to subvert the rule of law?
  (Mr Coad) I think some of them would, some of them; but, you see, the majority of probation officers are not really aware of the subtle infiltration of this type of ideology, they just go along with what is being said to them in a vociferous way.

  278. But you are saying, in effect, that these are naive people, clearly, in your view, but behind it all is a Marxist-led NAPO who clearly have ulterior motives and who string along these naive people who do not realise they are being strung along: is that a fair summary?
  (Mr Coad) I do think it is a crude interpretation.

  279. No, but it is more or less that, but a little more sophisticated perhaps?
  (Mr Coad) Yes, in some respects, that is what they did. Sensible people were not actually allowed at NAPO conferences to speak; if they got up and said something contrary to the ideology they were literally shrieked and howled down; they were not allowed to speak.

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