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Justice Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 92
Taken before the Justice Committee
on Tuesday 5 March 2013
Sir Alan Beith (Chair)
Nick de Bois
Mr Elfyn Llwyd
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Liz Calderbank, HM Chief Inspector of Probation (Acting), Val Castell, Magistrates’ Association Sentencing Committee, and Liz Rijnenberg, Chief Executive, Wiltshire Probation Trust, and Probation Chiefs’ Association Lead for Women Offenders, gave evidence.
Chair: Welcome. We are very glad to have the help this morning of Liz Calderbank, the acting Chief Inspector of Probation, Val Castell from the Magistrates Association Sentencing Committee, and Liz Rijnenberg from the Probation Chiefs Association, who are here to help us with the work that we are doing on women offenders. I ask Mr Llwyd to open the questions.
Q193 Mr Llwyd: Good morning. Would you please give us your overall impression of the progress that has been made in implementing the recommendations of the landmark Corston report?
Val Castell: The word that I would use is variable. In some areas there has been considerable progress, and in other areas not very much at all. I use the word "areas" in two senses, because there have been differences geographically with what has been implemented, and there are also some parts of the Corston recommendations that have been implemented much more fully than other parts.
Geographically, there has been a lot of work on the part of NOMS to bring some existing women’s projects under the NOMS umbrella and to help other projects start. In some areas of the country, that has worked extremely well, but other areas of the country still do not have any specific women’s community sentence provision. The area where there has probably been very little progress has been in trying to bring about smaller custodial units for women.
Q194 Mr Llwyd: In your evidence to us, you refer to the Corston report’s highlighting of the fact that no fewer than 80% of women in prison have one or more mental health problems. There is a prevalence out in the community as well. Have you seen any evidence that something is being done to tackle that?
Val Castell: Yes. Certainly, in my area we have a much better provision these days; we have a mental health worker at the court. We still have a problem with borderline mental health cases, where the mental health worker says, "Well, actually there doesn’t seem to be any clinical problem." Of course, a lot of these things can be exacerbated by things like custodial sentences, so it may be that some of these problems would not become apparent until later on in the process. Yes, there have been improvements; and, yes, we do have a mental health worker in court. That does not necessarily mean that these problems show up at that stage, and I think that there is more still to be done.
Q195 Mr Llwyd: I take it that, overall, this is very patchy; it depends where you are. It is a postcode lottery almost, isn’t it?
Val Castell: Yes. Again, a lot of the women’s projects do work with mental health problems, but they are not everywhere. I know that when Baroness Corston gave you her evidence, she talked about Missing Link in Bristol. It does a lot of work with women who have mental health difficulties. It only works with the Bristol magistrates court; it does not work, for example, with our court, which is next door, in South Gloucestershire, so you have a clear difference in the assistance that women are getting in one area and in another.
Liz Calderbank: My overall impression would be to say that probation trusts have had difficulty in sustaining momentum following the publication of the Corston report. Certainly, what we saw at the time of the field work undertaken two years ago was considerable energy, particularly at a strategic level, in taking initiatives forward. That was led by the cross-government women’s group and a number of champions at national and local level.
At the time, the criticism that we made of this was that, although there was a lot of work happening strategically, it was only just beginning to cascade down to an operational level. You will recollect from the report that we were quite critical of some elements of practice that we saw. What we also saw, of course, was the growing emergence of women’s centres and the work that they were doing, and the various other initiatives that were coming along.
I would very much agree with Val’s description that it is patchy. It was patchy then, and it is still patchy as far as I can see. The difficulty of maintaining this momentum at a time of considerable organisational change, and the prospect of considerable organisational change, is really quite a challenge.
Liz Rijnenberg: There has been a huge impetus to improving awareness that women require a different and distinct approach. The development of women’s community projects has been far-reaching, in terms of providing a range of pathways for women in one single place.
The issue is that the funding for those projects is still fairly limited; and there are a few areas that still do not have a women’s community project. That said, NOMS has provided some money for 2013-14 to extend women’s community projects to a few areas, particularly in the south-west-to Wiltshire and Dorset. I think that the absence of the national women’s team in NOMS has led to a standstill in the development of the strategy. It would be really helpful if representatives in Departments across Government had a set of joined-up targets to ensure that all the needs of women are met.
One of the issues that causes me particular concern is the fact that we still do not have the resources necessary to support women and their children to prevent them from going into custody and to prevent those children being cared for by other people. Val mentioned the importance of residential alternatives for women, and this is something that we should try to drive forward as part of a wider strategy.
Q196 Mr Llwyd: In several pieces of evidence that we have received in connection with this inquiry, there has been concern that this problem is not recognised across various Departments, as you rightly highlight.
You have answered the question that I was going to ask about the lack of impetus and what should be done. That is one aspect. Would you agree with the notion that we should have a lead Minister, possibly within the MOJ, to draw all these things together and ensure that progress is made?
Liz Rijnenberg: That would be an excellent idea.
Q197 Mr Llwyd: That’s a pretty succinct answer.
Liz Rijnenberg: It’s not a complicated notion, is it?
Q198 Chair: It is also an interesting answer, because I think that Mrs Grant would say that she was the lead Minister.
Liz Rijnenberg: Well, yes.
Val Castell: I think that she would also benefit from being backed up by people with a clear duty to lead in the various different Government Departments.
Q199 Mr Llwyd: As a one-time practitioner myself, I am obviously interested in the sentencing process. May I ask, Ms Castell, whether there has been a difference of approach by magistrates in the way that they sentence women since Corston?
Val Castell: There has, in those areas that have had access to alternative sentences, especially in those areas that have had the intensive alternative to custody pilots running in them. I shall refer to IACs instead of trotting out the full name of intensive alternative to custody all the time.
Where you have had the IACs running, there has been a very clear lead from the probation service to make sure that magistrates know the implications of using custodial sentences as opposed to alternatives, where possible. There has been a great deal of very good work on putting together robust alternatives, and magistrates have had faith in those alternatives and have used them. Where you have not had IACs running, there has been some use of community sentences instead of custodial ones, but that has been limited by the fact that the community sentences have only been alternative community sentences for women; they have not been custodial alternatives.
We tend to approach sentencing in quite a linear way, and our sentencing guidelines tend to lead us down this route. It’s low-level risk; it’s final discharge; it’s medium-level; it’s community sentence; it’s over the custody threshold. If you have come to the point in the sentencing guidelines where it says, "This offence is so serious, you’re over the custody threshold," then, when looking for community alternatives, you tend to be looking for something that is more robust than a standard community option. By and large, even where women’s sentences exist, if all they are offering is a standard community option, that still does not really give us all the options that we need to look at custodial alternatives.
Q200 Mr Llwyd: Would I be right in thinking, for example-this is something that I have raised before in the House-that people who are drug addicted who go on a community sentence will breach, unless they are taken off drugs to begin with, because of their chaotic lifestyle. That is inevitable, is it not?
Val Castell: I would not say completely inevitable, but it is quite likely. If somebody breaches, it does not necessarily mean that they would automatically go into custody, because we look very carefully, when somebody comes into court for breach, at what probation is telling us on the breach report. If somebody is trying but finding it difficult, that is a very different story from somebody who is not trying at all. If somebody is trying and finding it difficult, we will look to see whether we can let the sentence run and whether we can get it completed, and to see whether there are ways that we can help with getting it completed. Custody very much tends to be a last ditch, if somebody really is not complying.
Q201 Nick de Bois: I would like to turn, if I may, to the current approach to women offenders. My question is directed first to Ms Calderbank-and to Ms Rijnenberg, if you wish to follow up on this.
Can you explain what sort of provision is made by trusts for women offenders serving community sentences in areas without a women’s centre? Is there a notable difference in levels of performance-or should I say outcome?-between areas that have gender-specific services and those that do not?
Liz Calderbank: The answer to that question is the same as the one before. It is actually very variable, as you would probably anticipate.
Q202 Nick de Bois: May I help? I was sensing that we were coming on to that ground. I suppose that the question is whether there is a discernible general shift between the two-where there are services or not. I suspect that you will point out that each area is very different. I suppose that I am looking for a pattern.
Liz Rijnenberg: I do not think that we have any statistical evidence of notable differences in areas that do not have women’s community centres. We have national data in relation to reoffending and short custodial sentences, but it is questionable whether that would be comparable across trusts. The important thing is the added value that you get from a women’s community centre, because you have a number of services all in one place, which is very important.
In areas where there are no community centres, the probation trusts and local partnerships have done what they can to provide the best possible service. For example, in Swindon in Wiltshire, where there is no women’s community project, Barnardo’s runs a service at one of the family centres, where women can go and be seen by their probation officer. Again, you do not have all of those resources geared towards women in one place, and they are not women-only environments.
Liz Calderbank: What we were seeing in terms of the inspection programme, and have seen since, is that, in those areas where there are no women’s community centres, some have responded very imaginatively and creatively in setting up, say, unpaid work projects exclusively for women, and with women supervisors. At the time of the inspection, we asked why that was not universal practice, because it seemed eminently sensible to us. We were told by some areas that it was because of the difficulty in recruiting women supervisors. I have to say that that seemed a very inadequate answer.
We have also seen some areas where the probation trusts themselves, although not setting up women’s centres, have set up significant provisions for women, which have worked very effectively. There are ways of addressing the same kind of needs.
Q203 Nick de Bois: I applaud the aims, but I suppose that I am pressing for whether there is any way in which we will be able to work out its effectiveness-for example, by reductions in reoffending or breaching. I do not think that many would disagree with the sense that this is the right thing to do, but I am looking for some evidence that it is working.
Liz Calderbank: That is quite thin on the ground, unless Liz can enlighten me. Certainly, at the time of the inspection, we were quite critical of the fact that, despite all the work that had been undertaken, little attention had been paid to what kind of performance measures you were going to have.
Q204 Nick de Bois: You would agree that we should try to do that.
Liz Calderbank: Yes, to see what was effective or not. As a result, although probation trusts were doing all this work, they were not sighted as to what was having the most impact. That has been a key issue in terms of its sustainability.
Q205 Nick de Bois: Let us leave that, if we may. That has been very helpful.
The gender equality duty has now been replaced by a broader equality duty. To what extent have statutory equality duties assisted in the development of services, to prevent women from offending, at a local level? To give you a broader remit, how visible is gender in local strategic discussions about offending? Can you give me a feel for that?
Liz Calderbank: They certainly help to concentrate the mind. Of course, the probation trusts and others working in the field are subject to a whole number of statutory duties, which can but generally don’t set up potentially conflicting priorities. That is where the importance of champions and leadership from the centre kicks in, particularly when you are looking at work that cuts across Government Departments.
Q206 Nick de Bois: Do you think that it drives people to pay attention, as opposed to it being done in a prescribed way?
Liz Calderbank: It is a way of holding them to account, to actually taking the work forward.
Q207 Nick de Bois: Did you want to add anything, Ms Rijnenberg?
Liz Rijnenberg: It would be useful if there were cross-departmental Government targets for outcomes for women offenders. The Equality Act could be used as a lever to ensure that needs are more prominent and that tangible outcomes are driven forward.
Val Castell: If it was not for that statutory duty, the numbers of women would be too small to encourage a lot of these provisions to be made. That has very much driven a lot of the work on that.
Liz Calderbank: That is a very important point. The existence of the gender duty is extremely significant.
Q208 Nick de Bois: It is not over-prescriptive, in the sense that it is there as a benchmark and drives work on the ground. As yet, we are not sure what evidence there is for outcomes, but we sense that it is going in the right direction. Is that a fair summary of what we have been exploring?
Liz Rijnenberg: It is an option within the joint strategic assessments that probation, with all the local partnerships, is able to raise women’s equality as an issue, along with the other protected characteristics of individuals.
Nick de Bois: Thank you very much.
Q209 Jeremy Corbyn: A lot has been said since Corston about reducing the number of custodial sentences for women, and indeed the length of them. Realistically, not an enormous amount has changed in terms of the number of women prisoners. What more do you think can be done-this is for all of you?
Liz Calderbank: May I start? The process needs to start further back. We are talking about women offenders, but we should be looking at adolescents and teenagers, and looking much more at preventing those problems from occurring. We should be focusing our efforts on looking at girls who are excluded from school aged 13 and 14, because by the time that they are 16 and 17, too often, they may have one or more children and be well on the way into pathways that will take them into offending and custodial sentences.
For me, the focus of this work needs to be pulled much further back. There is a particular issue for us about girls and young women in the criminal justice system. I was talking to colleagues at the university of Liverpool, in the psychology and health in society section, about work that they are doing on the increasing number of girls involved in violence and in under-age drinking. Of course, all of these are going to be pathways into custodial sentences. We have to pull our efforts further back, and start them sooner, if we are going to be effective.
Val Castell: I think that there will be a knock-on effect. If you can reduce the number of mothers going to prison, then the learned behaviour over generations will gradually improve as well.
Liz Rijnenberg: I agree very much with what has been said. We need to focus much more on children and young people, particularly young women. A huge number of young women who go into care subsequently end up in the prison system. We have heard already about the success of the intensive alternatives to custody. By the end of 2011, that project had been successful in reducing the women’s population, and it has been able to re-role one of the women’s prisons. We are at the point now where we need to be working on small residential units for women so that they can work on their substance misuse and mental health issues can be dealt with. Short prison sentences always mean that those issues don’t get addressed. Communities need to own and work with these women and their families. Unless we can provide the judiciary with viable alternatives that are robust, women will continue to be sent to prison, because it is felt that there is not sufficient protection in the community.
Q210 Jeremy Corbyn: A couple of things come from that. One is what is being done to engage young women before they get into the criminal justice system, and why we still have so many short sentences, which seem to be completely useless and probably counterproductive in every sense. Linked to that is what discussions you are able to have with magistrates and judges about sentencing policy. There is an indication that some magistrates excessively sentence women, whereas they would not excessively sentence men. I do not know. Is this your experience?
Liz Rijnenberg: Yes. Probation trusts at a local level have very good relationships with magistrates and will keep them regularly informed of new developments in terms of services for women offenders, such as bespoke interventions or specified activity requirements.
The impetus, the strategy for driving that, which came from the NOMS women’s team, and all the work that was going on with local criminal justice boards, has dissipated a bit. That needs to be driven forward at a strategic level. At the same time, it is important to have greater awareness within the Church and with local politicians, in terms of the needs of women being raised, because all that feeds into support for different sentencing and new ways of doing things.
Liz Calderbank: I am not able to support or deny, as you suggest, that magistrates excessively sentence women-that there is some kind of ideological process-but that was certainly one of the things that we were very alive to when we did the report. It was one of the hypotheses that we looked to test out.
I cannot say that it does not happen, but in all the cases that we looked at where we thought that the sentence appeared on the face of it to be somewhat harsh, when we explored the case back-we were able to do this because it was part of a joint inspection process-we found very good reasons for why the sentence had been imposed. I throw that into the mix, as it were. It may happen, and it may continue to happen, but we certainly did not find any evidence of that.
What we did find was evidence of women going into custody for short terms of imprisonment for breach of orders, for offences that would not of themselves have attracted a custodial sentence. If you look at the bulk of the women offenders subject to probation, although their level of breach is similar to that of their male counterparts, they will generally have committed a much lower level of offence than the men. You would not expect them to be receiving the same level of custodial sentence on breach or sentences being breached at the same rate.
Val Castell: I would add a couple of things. There are always some who will just not comply with the sentence that they are given. You have to have somewhere for them to go. When we are telling somebody that they have a community sentence, we say, "You must comply with the terms of the order. If you don’t comply, you will be brought back to court and sentenced in some other way, which may well include custody." We are holding that up as the ultimate if they do not comply with the terms of their order. When people come into court and we are told in the breach report, "We can’t tell you much because we’ve never seen them. They have not even arrived for the initial interview," there comes a point where you do not have anywhere much else to go. Bearing in mind what Liz said about looking at the individual cases, it may appear on the face of it that some things are harsh, but when you look at the individual cases it turns out to have been perhaps not the best sentence but the best available to the court at the time.
The amount of information that we get in court is very much dependent on what a woman is prepared to divulge to the probation service and the defence solicitor. Some find it very difficult to open up. It is another area where, if you have a women’s centre and they have been working with this woman beforehand, they will have been able to build a relationship with her and get her to divulge information that otherwise she would not. We can only sentence on the information that we have available to us. We cannot make assumptions: this is a woman, and therefore she is a mother, she is vulnerable, and all the rest. We know that that may be the case for the majority, but we cannot assume it. We have to work on the information that we have in court.
Q211 Rehman Chishti: We have touched on mental health. I have a few questions on mental health and accommodation. How do probation trusts currently seek to provide for the accommodation and mental health needs of women offenders?
Liz Rijnenberg: With great difficulty. We work in partnership, as far as we can. In London, there is the Together Women project, and across the country there are various mental health projects that work closely with women’s community centres. It is a really difficult issue. We are looking forward to seeing the diversion schemes come into place in the courts from 2014. We also have the personality disorder strategy under way. However, there are still huge gaps in supportive accommodation for women and, as a consequence, many end up going into custody because there is no alternative for them.
Liz Calderbank: A number of the women in the approved premises also have mental health problems. The work that they do is generally of a very high standard. The approved premises offer a good service, but they are right only for a certain proportion of women, not all. The gap is in the more general provision.
Liz Rijnenberg: Yes, it is in the more general provision. Liz is right. The six approved premises that we have for women obviously do a very good job, and most of them have mental health CPNs on site, but that is a very small number-probably catering for no more than 100 women.
Q212 Rehman Chishti: You also have organisations like Reunite that do some good work. In terms of the overall proportion of work that Reunite does, how extensive is that? Do a lot of women have access to housing through Reunite?
Val Castell: I do not have any particular information on that. I look to my colleagues.
Liz Calderbank: I guess that it will be organisations like Reunite and others working in the voluntary sector. There is the opportunity under the arrangements of "Transforming Rehabilitation" to bring those in, but a lot will depend on how the commissioning arrangements work out. Of course, this is work that is currently in progress. It is of key relevance that small minority sections are going to be dealt with.
Q213 Rehman Chishti: We all agree that they do a great job, but I am trying to get some understanding of how extensive their work is around the country. If you cannot say anything further, I shall move on to my next question.
Val Castell: I know that Missing Link, which I mentioned earlier, does the same sort of work; it deals with accommodation and mental health issues.
Liz Calderbank: One of the strengths of working with them is that there is a very wide range of different voluntary groups operating in different parts of the country that have grown up according to local need. That is very powerful.
Q214 Rehman Chishti: I move on to my next question. What specific gaps are there currently in the provision of accommodation and mental health care for women offenders and those at risk of offending?
Val Castell: Unfortunately, having just said that I do not know the extent to which Reunite is operating, I am afraid that I cannot answer that question either. I do not know what the current provision is, to be honest.
Liz Calderbank: It is not an area that we have come across to a huge amount. I would anticipate, however, that as well as the challenges of working with women with mental health problems and accommodation needs, those women will often have children. Again, it is looking at the range of provision that is suitable for their needs.
Q215 Rehman Chishti: I move on to my third question. How do you envisage local commissioning arrangements-for example, relating to health and housing- fitting alongside the proposed commissioning arrangements for probation and rehabilitative services? Could these new arrangements potentially plug the gaps?
Liz Calderbank: The question is where to start with this.
Q216 Rehman Chishti: Start wherever you want.
Liz Rijnenberg: We feel very much that national commissioning is not the way forward for women’s services. A lot of the things that we have talked about this morning have demonstrated and evidenced that the strength for women is in local commissioning, with lots of services coming together under the auspices of women’s community projects to ensure that all the gaps are closed, all those pathways are met and those services come together. It is hard to envisage our national commissioning model doing that. It would be very complicated to ensure, across all areas, that all the needs of different women were brought together under one national commissioning model.
Liz Calderbank: Within the commissioning arrangements, there will have to be a strong focus on the local elements. We have seen that all the way along, how it has grown. Local commissioning is looking across partnerships with what are effectively local organisations like local authorities and health services, and we will have to include them to be effective in dealing with all groups of offenders. Women probably highlight that.
If you look at it from the perspective of the voluntary and social care sector, it could be either a huge opportunity or a tremendous threat, and a lot of the outcome will depend on how the arrangements are taken forward, and on whether the commissioning arrangements take account of the demands of working with what are effectively minority groups within the criminal justice system and the need to resource those effectively and ensure that they are sustainable.
In doing this, we must also look at the groups themselves. I was talking last week to somebody from Asha, the women’s centre in Worcester. I was told that they have 16 different funding streams coming in. All those 16 funding streams will have 16 different arrangements for monitoring, data collection and so on. This is for an organisation whose strength is very much in the delivery of front-room work, not in the back-room practices of data collection and so on. If we are going to be commissioning services from those bodies, we have to be mindful of the demands that we place on them and resource them accordingly, otherwise we are going to crush them.
Liz Rijnenberg: One of the reasons that it does work at the moment is the role that probation has as a co-ordinator of all those services. We very much bring them together and work through local partnerships to make sure that everything is joined up. Under the "Transforming Rehabilitation" proposals, it is quite likely that all that will be fragmented.
Chair: We are moving into Mr Johnson’s territory. I have to say that you are giving us extremely valuable evidence, but we are under some time pressure because we have a second group of witnesses to see this morning.
Q217 Gareth Johnson: My questions arise out of information given in answer to Mr Chishti. You say that you do not really favour national commissioning-that you are more for local solutions. What success have you had in negotiating local agreements with providers? For example, have the police and crime commissioners got involved in local commissioning to provide services for women offenders?
Liz Rijnenberg: Yes. All probation trusts are working with local PCCs to ensure that there is input, through the joint needs assessment, in identifying what needs women have locally. Certainly, in my area and in adjoining areas in the south-west, we are working closely with PCCs to do that. It would be a very positive way forward for local commissioning to remain the responsibility of probation trusts, police and crime commissioners and local authorities. Together, through needs assessment locally, you can identify very clearly what is needed. It is different in different places, so that would be a very sensible approach.
Q218 Gareth Johnson: I am not clear why you feel that it would work at the local level but not nationally. You say that there are differences in different areas, but what would work in London that would not work in Liverpool, for example?
Liz Rijnenberg: London is a very different place from Liverpool, and London is a very different place from a small shire. It gets complicated when you commission nationally and then try to hold people to account at all sorts of different levels under all sorts of subcontracting arrangements. It seems sensible to hold that accountability at a local level. In any case, accountability would need to be local.
Liz Calderbank: Just to be clear, I didn’t intend to say that I don’t favour national commissioning, because I am aware of its impetus in terms of the cost-cutting issues behind it. However, I think very firmly that, whatever model we choose, if we go down the national route, it very much has to have a very strong local element, and it has to be informed by local commissioning for the reasons that Liz has given.
If you look at the development of services across the country, you have a number of national services, but within each of the different localities and areas, particularly within the voluntary sector, you get voluntary groups growing up in response to local need, plugging the gaps that they perceive in local authority and national services. The national commissioning model cuts across that, and cuts across police and crime commissioners, and the latter are probably still too early in post for us to have a distinct idea of how they will proceed.
Val Castell: The Magistrates Association has gone down a slightly different route. In our response to "Transforming Rehabilitation", we suggest that, as far as commissioning women’s services is concerned, it should be done nationally. The reason for that is because of the gaps that are there.
We think that a strong central steer is very important in making sure that you get a more consistent provision across the country. If you are not careful, what can happen with doing it too locally is that each local area becomes quite city-centric, and you end up again dealing with majority numbers. If you are not careful, you will be dealing with most of the women-those in the main cities-while the ones in the more rural areas tend to be left out, whereas, if you are looking at it on a national basis, you will be thinking that for the cities we need this sort of model and for the more rural areas we need that sort of model, and you would probably get a more consistent approach.
Q219 Gareth Johnson: Surely, it should be right to share best practice.
Val Castell: Oh, yes.
Liz Calderbank: Yes, yes.
Liz Rijnenberg: Yes.
Q220 Gareth Johnson: My next question follows on from what you said earlier about how the probation service can cater for minority groups among women offenders. To what extent are you able to cater for the specific needs of particular minority groups among women offenders? Is there anything that you specifically have to do, or anything that you are able to do, in order to satisfy the needs that are there?
Liz Rijnenberg: Yes, and I think that this is true for most probation trusts. We use information to identify the needs of women, and then we often work closely with local voluntary organisations to provide bespoke services for women with particular needs. We are quite successful in doing that. We have a range of different activity requirements that we use with women from different minority backgrounds. We have a range of different services that we can put in place for women with mental health problems, in terms of where we provide the resource and how we do it. We are quite good at that.
Liz Calderbank: Certainly, we saw that the women who posed a high risk of harm to others formed only a small proportion of the whole-probably only in the region of 1%. As Liz said, we have seen some very good and very detailed work in putting out bespoke programmes for these women and taking them forward. The difficulty, of course, comes once their the statutory involvement with the probation service ends, signposting these women to other services and getting them picked up and ensuring that there is that continuity of work. Again, that takes us back to the need for a cross-departmental approach.
Liz Rijnenberg: The value of community projects is in that continuity of service- because women come into them before they offend, and perhaps when they have offended and they have an order of the court, and they can carry on with that support afterwards.
Q221 Seema Malhotra: I want to focus on comments that you have already made on national commissioning and payment by results. The White Paper in January that envisaged national commissioning received quite a mixed reaction for the impact on women offenders, with some favouring national commissioning arrangements but being concerned about payment by results. What are the implications for the post-Corston agenda of the Government’s decision to shift the locus of commissioning for its rehabilitation revolution from local to national? What impact do you foresee the current proposals having-for example, on the existing probation inspection regime?
Liz Calderbank: I shall deal with the inspection regime first, and then turn to some of the comments on payment by results.
We have been anticipating these changes, although it has obviously not been possible to see their exact shape or form for some time. Our next inspection programme will start in April of this year and will roll out over the next four years, so we will actually cover the period of transition up to 2017. It has been specifically designed to be sufficiently flexible to take on other providers as they come on stream.
As you are aware, our role is very much to focus on the work that is being undertaken with the offender, and to look at the quality of that work regardless of the management and arrangement structures that are behind it and deliver it. We look at what is on the ground, what is happening with the individual. That is what we see as our particular contribution to this work. That will continue, and the inspection programme will pull on other providers as they come into the field. Our aim is to undertake this as seamlessly as possible.
We are very committed to any organisation that works with offenders being subject to the same independent scrutiny, with it being held to account for delivering the same standards of practice. That is what we will be looking for. We will not be looking for any kind of drop in performance during the period of the transition; we will be looking for performance to be maintained and improved. That will be our aim.
Q222 Seema Malhotra: The Magistrates Association has been quite critical. Is there anything that you would want to add?
Val Castell: Our problem is what you define as a result. We are very much aware that for some offenders a reduction in offending is actually a much bigger result than complete desistence is for others. It is not a purely numerical thing. You can be succeeding with somebody just by having reduced their offending slightly if there is somebody who has been offending persistently.
There is also a difficulty with what you define as offending. Are we only talking about the offenders that come to court? People can commit offences and be dealt with by way of out-of-court fines or cautions; other people commit offences and sometimes shops will not even prosecute shoplifters but go after them for money in a completely separate way. They have still offended, but that is not being counted. That is where our fears lie-in how you count the results.
Liz Calderbank: It goes back to what I was saying about payment by results. It could be both an opportunity and a threat. A lot of it depends, as Val has been saying, on how you define the results. It is an opportunity to focus attention on the result that you want.
One of them clearly must be a reduction in offending, but how do you get there in terms of people who are living very complex and chaotic lives? If you set the bar too high, it will have the impact of excluding them from the services and pushing them towards custody again. If you set it at a more incremental level, and you look at the different factors that we know work to address criminogenetic needs, factors that contribute towards offending, then you have an opportunity for focusing services on those.
A lot of it depends on how you actually set up the payment-by-results schemes. You also have to take into account the level of work required in resourcing them. I spoke to a voluntary group getting women who had offended back into work. The challenge was having to go through all the things that you would expect-of getting them a job, but once they had got the job of actually making sure that they turned up every day until they got into a pattern of doing it. That involved going and getting them every day, taking them to work and staying long enough to make sure that they had got over the initial thing of going in.
Val Castell: There is also a lot work being done on "pre-offenders", women who are at risk of offending. Of course, work that is done for that might not even show up in the stats, because they will not have committed offences yet, but if they are prevented from doing so that will reduce the overall offending rate. That, surely, is of merit.
Liz Calderbank: Ultimately, these things will save us all resources. They will save resources on criminal justice, mental health and across a whole range of things, but they are expensive.
Q223 Seema Malhotra: You talked about the opportunity of payment by results. Are there ways in which you could see payment by results possibly acting as a lever for gender-specific provision being made more rationally across the country?
Liz Calderbank: Yes. If it was written in that way, it could be.
Liz Rijnenberg: Improved accommodation, mental health-
Liz Calderbank: Yes, and pulling in services. Some of the women’s centres are very keen on the notion of payment by results because they are very confident in the services that they offer and see it as an opportunity of getting some regular sustained funding. Of course, that does depend on whether what they are offering is recognised within the scheme.
Liz Rijnenberg: A binary measure for women would not take account of improvements in their well-being, or their psychological and social factors, or give some consideration to the wider outcomes, such as that there could be fewer children in care and fewer young girls going into the criminal justice system. If PBR could be built around something wider, that would help.
Liz Calderbank: The threat is that, if it is just rebrokering the existing arrangements, it could end up excluding more than including. That is the threat.
Chair: We must make time for the second group of witnesses. If I may, I turn to Mr Stringer.
Q224 Graham Stringer: Given a blank piece of paper, how would you configure secure and community-based provision for women offenders?
Val Castell: Very quickly, there are probably not that many who need very secure accommodation. I would tend to concentrate on putting the high security in place only where it is really needed, and try to focus more on support and assistance for the others.
Liz Calderbank: I would put as much into prevention as possible, and use secure units, where necessary, as a specialist provision. I would put more on the prevention side, particularly in relation to schools.
Liz Rijnenberg: Yes, a strong focus on prevention, and ensuring that where there are families with existing offenders the children are supported. We want a dynamic approach to women when they are presenting with a difficulty. A range of resources surrounding them at any particular given moment when there is a difficulty would be the best way of solving some of the longer-term problems. Quite often, at that crucial point when they need help, they do not get it and things get worse. It is something about redesigning our approach to this particular group of women offenders.
Q225 Graham Stringer: Given those views, what different strategy for women offenders would it lead to, compared with the suggestions in the "Transforming Rehabilitation" paper?
Val Castell: It fits in quite nicely. What the "Transforming Rehabilitation" proposals are going to lead us towards is a bit more of a blurring between community and custodial outcomes. That could work two ways. It may mean that there will be less inclination to send somebody into custody because you will see that they are doing much more of the same sort of thing, and we will not have quite this linear approach that I spoke of earlier. However, it could go the other way: if you also have the rehabilitative element, it could lead people to say that there is not the harm in a custodial sentence because you have the other work going on as well. It could go either way.
Liz Calderbank: We need to be very careful about the proposals in relation to the under-12-months cases and support post-release. I totally applaud the notion of giving support post-release, but if it is part of statutory supervision, as we have seen before in the proposals for custody plus, the danger is that you end up increasing the prison population, as Val has been saying. The emphasis on custody and support can be very attractive, and you may see an increase there, but the other element of it is that people will be coming back for breach, again for offences that are of a relatively low level.
Val Castell: We feel very strongly that it should be up to the courts to decide whether there is a supervision period after short-term custody, especially where you have had somebody going into custody because of breach or something. Then they come out into a supervision period, then they breach that, and you have a yo-yo effect if you are not very careful. It is something that the courts would welcome having available to them, but we would like it as an option to be put in place when we feel that it is suitable.
Chair: Thank you very much. I am sorry to curtail you at this point, but you have given us a great deal to think about and to use in our report. Many thanks.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Nick Hardwick, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, and Eoin McLennan Murray, President, Prison Governors’ Association, gave evidence.
Chair: Mr Hardwick, welcome back to this Committee. It is nice to see you again in your capacity as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. Mr Murray, welcome to the Committee as President of the Prison Governors Association. Mr Llwyd will open our questions.
Q226 Mr Llwyd: Good morning, gentlemen. Mr Hardwick, in your written evidence, at paragraph 13, you refer to some improvements post-Corston. In particular, routine strip searching has gone, there is reception on the first night, and a range of physical health treatment and management of women with substance abuse problems. You then go on in paragraph 16 to list some very serious concerns, quite rightly, on a recent inspection. What is your overall impression of the progress in implementing the Corston report since it was published?
Nick Hardwick: As you say, there have been improvements that have made a significant difference to women in custody. The most striking bit of evidence in support of that is the reduction in incidents of self-harm. In the last year for which I have figures, there was a reduction of 8%. That is a significant factor. Self-harm among women now makes up 30% of all self-harm incidents, whereas it used to be 50%. The number of self-inflicted deaths last year was two, compared with four or five the year before.
These are real tangible improvements in the conditions for women in custody. However, when you go into a women’s prison, to me at any rate they appear as shocking now as when I first went in. The self-harm levels may be down to 30%, but that is still a strikingly high quantity of self-harm. If you are on one of the wings during association and talking to women, you see it-you see the scarring on their arms. In fact, with everyone you talk to you see the levels of mental health problems, and you hear about problems with distress caused by separation from their families, all of those sorts of things.
The fundamental things that Corston talked about, it seems to me, are that you have women in prison who probably should not be there in the first place, and that those who are there are in prisons that are too big and in the wrong place, and that is because there has not been the drive from the centre to sort that out. Those criticisms-those fundamental strategic criticisms-remain as valid now as when Baroness Corston made them a few years ago.
Eoin McLennan Murray: I do not disagree with what Nick has said. The female population in terms of numbers is under 5% of the total population, but the needs of women are obviously very different, and that was clearly recognised in the Corston report. The proposals, suggestions and recommendations made in the report were common sense, and the Prison Governors Association embraced many of those ideas. In terms of implementing many of the recommendations that fell within the remit of the governor, good progress has been made, but that progress is dwarfed by the magnitude of the changes needed to transform custody for women in this country.
Q227 Mr Llwyd: I realise that Mr Hardwick was here for the earlier evidence session, but none the less I would like to ask the question. Have you detected a lack of strategic impetus relating to women offenders since the NOMS women’s team was disbanded? What do you think should be done to re-energise the process?
Nick Hardwick: I do think that there has been a lack of impetus. In some things, notably, provision for women is lagging behind. For instance, the benchmarking standards to date have not made any distinction between women’s and men’s prisons. My understanding is that they are now developing benchmarking standards for women’s prisons. They are not in place yet, but you would think that that was something that they would want to do in parallel. There are other examples where there has been a lack of impetus.
It is a good thing, I think, that Helen Grant has been appointed as Minister with responsibility for women, but she needs behind her machinery with sufficient weight to make an impact not merely within the Ministry of Justice but at a cross-departmental level. I think that the dismantling of the women’s team, given the cross-departmental nature of its work, has been a significant problem.
Eoin McLennan Murray: We used to have an operational head in charge of women. It was like an area manager’s position, so all the governors from the women’s estate would have a clear operational head and there used to be regular meetings. We do not have that any more. NOMS has gone through a number of different facelifts with the budget cuts and the general reorganisation. The current temporary head of the women and equalities group, which it is now called, is a gentleman called Chris Barnett-Page, but he is not an operational person, so we still have no operational lead that can galvanise and basically lead the operation.1
Q228 Mr Llwyd: Interrupting you very rudely, if he is not an operational person, what on earth is he?
Eoin McLennan Murray: I am not suggesting that he is not good or anything like that, but he is not from the operational side of the business. He is from the policy and administrative side.
Q229 Chair: I had the same thought in my mind. It is about his background, not his function.
Eoin McLennan Murray: That is correct.
Q230 Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you for coming to give evidence today. The female prison estate as currently configured and resourced is barely adequate for the needs of women prisoners. How do you see it developing? Do you see more smaller prisons and smaller units, or do you see a continuation more or less of the current estate?
Eoin McLennan Murray: There is just about to be a review of the female estate by NOMS. Certainly, the Prison Governors Association would like to see the Corston recommendations put into effect. The population is so small and so dispersed over the country that visiting arrangements are obviously very difficult, and much more difficult for women than for men, so the effects of imprisonment on women are much harsher in that respect.
We would like to see smaller units. First, let me say that we do not need so many women in prison, bearing in mind that something like 52% of the serving population are serving less than six months, predominantly for non-violent offences. We feel that most women could be dealt with in the community. It would reduce the prison population significantly if that was adopted. Furthermore, because you would have a much smaller population, it would make no sense-
Q231 Jeremy Corbyn: I am sorry to interrupt you, but by how much could it be reduced? How much smaller could it be?
Eoin McLennan Murray: I made a note on that. It shows that 36% of women who are currently serving are for handling and theft and that 81% who are currently serving are for non-violent offences. We could be quite radical and say that we would reduce the population by something like 80% if you just put women who were a danger to society into custody. The others could be dealt with in a community setting.
Q232 Chair: Forgive me, Mr Corbyn, but is it not part of the problem that the courts want to demonstrate in some clear way that the handling and theft behaviour, which may be persistent if it has led to a sentence, is something that society is not going to accept? There is a problem about the courts being satisfied that they have an alternative to achieve that.
Eoin McLennan Murray: The question is, what do we mean by punishment? Do we not want to reduce the chances of women reoffending? Currently, 50% or just over reoffend within a year. If the aim of the Government is to reduce reoffending, they should be fairly pragmatic and follow what works. If you were to do that, you would not necessarily want to look at just punishing people. There are lots of ways to reduce reoffending without just punishing people. In fact, just punishment does not have much of an impact on reoffending.
Nick Hardwick: To add to that, it is not just a question of smaller units. That is feasible within the current estate, but it will not be enough in itself. It is also a question of who works there, and the training and competences and selection processes for those people. Even if you have smaller units, if you simply take staff out of the predominantly male estate and put them in women’s prisons and expect them to carry on in the way that they did, that would not have the desired effect.
Q233 Jeremy Corbyn: My next question was exactly that. What do you feel about the dominance of male staff and male working methods in women’s prisons? Do you think that there ought to be some better or changed training and benchmarking of staff arrangements in these prisons?
Nick Hardwick: I think the balance is wrong. That is something that we repeatedly raise in inspections. The gender balance of staff is wrong. It is really striking at a practical level. I remember being at a prison one evening and going to the mother and baby unit. They had one male operational support grade supervising the mother and baby unit. That simply was not appropriate. That has happened at two establishments. There is a variety of things like that.
My view is that one could draw up a list of competences or criteria so that you could accredit staff to work predominately in the women’s estate. It is important, particularly if what you are looking at is a model where you may have women held in a smaller unit that is attached in some way to a bigger male establishment, that you do not have staff simply shifting between the two, taking the attitudes and working practices of one to the other. It is not enough simply to develop smaller units. You also have to have a distinct staff cadre, who have the skills, competences and the sympathy or empathy to work with women prisoners.
Q234 Graham Stringer: What are the particular problems that women foreign nationals have in prison, and how could their situation be improved?
Nick Hardwick: To some extent, they are the same as for other women but exacerbated. The issue, for instance, of separation from family is a greater one for foreign national women. Often, in my experience, foreign national women-this is a generalisation-tend to have larger families, more children. If you do not have any other visits, you will, I think, be permitted one five-minute telephone call a month to your family. If you have a partner and a number of children, that is not particularly helpful. If you have a visitor, perhaps a relative here comes to visit, you do not get your free telephone call.
There is also an issue with trafficked women. What we find is that a significant number of women prisoners have been trafficked at one point, and there is not enough awareness among staff about referral to the appropriate mechanisms. There are issues about translation and interpretation services, where often people simply do not understand what is happening. It is not merely a language thing but that people may perhaps have very different expectations of what a prison environment will be like. There is a range of issues for foreign national women prisoners that makes their experience worse than for others.
Q235 Graham Stringer: Many of these women are potentially subject to deportation and need advice on how to appeal. That is partly what I was looking for in my question. Do you think that these women get the right level of advice and service, and how could it be improved?
Nick Hardwick: No, they do not get the right level of advice and service. They need that, and it would be a significant help. Some of them would be better going back to their own country.
What we find is that often some of that advice and support is provided by quite small voluntary organisations like Hibiscus, but their funding is under a lot of pressure. Those sorts of organisations are getting squeezed out by some of the new funding arrangements. There is a risk there, but, if what these organisations are doing is helping a woman to move successfully back to her own country, that is in everybody’s interests.
Q236 Seema Malhotra: I want some clarification. Did you say that all women prisoners, or was it just foreign nationals, get five minutes a month on the phone?
Nick Hardwick: Yes, you get one free five-minute telephone call per month. If you can pay, if you have money, you can make as many telephone calls as you want, although obviously the cost would be greater. If, for instance, you are here on your own and you have no family sending money to you in prison, you get one five-minute telephone call a month.
Q237 Seema Malhotra: Do you have any statistics on how many women use only that single five-minute free period and do not make any other calls?
Nick Hardwick: I do not have statistics on that, but it is certainly something that we regularly come across in our inspections.
Eoin McLennan Murray: May I add something on foreign nationals? On the male side, they have prisons that specialise and just hold foreign nationals, so the level of service tends to be better there because they have very good links with the Border Agency. On the female estate, two prisons are designated, one in the south and one in the north, that will take foreign nationals. Downview is in the south, but I cannot remember the name of the one in the north. There will probably be better provision there than in other prisons, where that specialism has not yet evolved, but you could make improvements to the female estate by doing more of what we see in the male estate, in terms of specialising so that you meet the needs of foreign nationals.
The other issue for foreign nationals is that many of them do not know where their final destination will be. Sometimes, they do not know whether or not they are going to be deported, which means that their resettlement plans can be in disarray. You can end up discharging people who stay in this country, for whom no arrangements whatsoever have been made. That is another dilemma.
Nick Hardwick: There is often the assumption that women will be deported at the end of their sentence, as with foreign national men, so no resettlement or rehabilitation work takes place. In fact, many are allowed to stay in the end, so they will be released back into the community sometimes without the support, supervision and preparation that other prisoners will have. Even if they are going back to their own country, some resettlement would be worth while in reducing the risk that they reoffend.
Q238 Chair: In general, it would make more sense for them not to be excluded from resettlement?
Nick Hardwick: Absolutely. I do not understand the logic behind excluding them. It is wishful thinking, it seems to me, and it does not work in practice.
Q239 Steve Brine: Mr Hardwick, you touched on this earlier when you talked about, for want of a better term, collocated provision on one site, so instead of smaller prisons or bigger prisons, having collocated prisons. What might a family-friendly female estate regime look like-a family-friendly estate, as families need fathers, too? What do you think a family-friendly female estate might look like?
Nick Hardwick: Leaving aside the questions of location and smaller units, there is a whole lot of work around enabling women to maintain contact with their families. At a practical level, those are the sorts of things that we have been talking about, like phone calls and stuff, and that is important.
There are also visit arrangements. We recently inspected Hydebank Wood prison in Northern Ireland, which had some problems. One of the things that they did well there was that some women were allowed six-hour visits with their families pretty much unsupervised. They have a little unit attached to the prison where the women can cook for their children, and can care for them and mother them in an ordinary kind of way. Those sorts of more imaginative visit arrangements would be important, but added to that is support for women in developing parenting skills if they have not had the opportunity to learn and develop them beforehand.
The other issue is around mother and baby units in prisons. The ones that we see that are run by voluntary groups or charities seem to work better than others. However, there is still an issue for most, with a preponderance of discipline officers in uniform providing supervision, which is not appropriate. It is also striking that mother and baby units are not fully occupied. There is a significant number of vacancies, and I do not understand the reason for that. I would have thought that there was demand, and I do not know whether the fact that there are so many unfilled places is an administrative problem or whether there really are not the women who could take up those places.
Q240 Steve Brine: Mr Murray, do you have anything to add?
Eoin McLennan Murray: It can be difficult to provide family-friendly visiting arrangements. It takes space and it takes resource and time, and obviously all these things are sometimes a scarcity in prison. You have to think of other ways of addressing it.
A more imaginative use of release on temporary licence, or ROTL, for women would be a very good way of ensuring that there could be pleasant contact in good surroundings. We have already said that women do not pose the same kind of risks that men do, so you could be far more imaginative. Historically, we used to be more imaginative with the use of temporary release for women. That would be one way of facilitating visits.
The other would be to utilise IT more. We live in a world of e-mail, and we can censor e-mail electronically. Why couldn’t we provide e-mail facilities or video conferencing facilities? Why couldn’t we make these technologies more accessible, particularly to women and to foreign nationals, so that they can maintain contact? It is not that expensive, and it is something that you can monitor very closely if you are concerned about security, but we seem to have an aversion to embracing some of these new technologies. They would offer cheaper and quicker solutions to some of these long-term problems.
Q241 Steve Brine: Skype, for instance.
Eoin McLennan Murray: Yes, Skype, absolutely. And it is free, as well.
Q242 Steve Brine: The hardware is not free, but-
Eoin McLennan Murray: We usually have the hardware in most prisons.
Q243 Steve Brine: As an adjunct to this, starting with Mr Hardwick, I want to ask you about the treatment of pregnant women-that is if you conclude that they should be anywhere near the secure estate in the first place.
Nick Hardwick: On your last comment, there is a big question about whether they should be anywhere near the secure estate in the first place, but, assuming that they are, there are three areas that I would touch upon. One is, in a sense, the appropriate level of professional antenatal care. From the health point of view, women should be getting care and supervision, in the sense of people being aware of what is happening to them and what their needs might be, and those needs should be being met in a sympathetic way.
Secondly, there is the more general question of support, that staff should be sympathetic to those women’s needs. A lot of these women may end up being separated from their children after the birth, and they will be anxious about what is going to happen. All of those sorts of support needs need to be met. There is a role sometimes for mentors, and you see other women prisoners providing that support. Thirdly, there are some practical things around clothing, the mattress on the bed and other practical things to make life easier for pregnant women that just get forgotten.
It is about professional care, antenatal care and providing the right sort of links with safeguarding out in the community. It is about more informal support for women who are anxious and upset, and it is about practical things and about how the prison operates.
Q244 Steve Brine: What is your experience, Mr Murray? How do we treat pregnant women in the secure estate?
Eoin McLennan Murray: They are generally treated the same as non-pregnant women-although I should qualify that, because the medical support that pregnant women receive is good. Pre-natal health care provision is good, and they are monitored, but in terms of regime facilities, there is not much difference between how pregnant women and non-pregnant women are treated.
Q245 Gareth Johnson: Mr Corbyn has covered some of the areas that I was going to speak about, including on small custodial units, but I have a couple of questions arising out of what you said earlier.
When the President of the Prison Governors Association says that 80% of women in custody should not be there, I tend to sit up and listen. Mr Hardwick, you also said that there are women prisoners in custody who should not be there. My question, arising from that, is that it is not really your role to say whether or not people should actually be in prison. Surely, your role in serving society is to ensure that our custodial units are effective and are run well, rather than actually saying, "These are the people who should be in prison; these are the people who should not." That is for judges, is it not?
Nick Hardwick: I am not saying who should or should not be in prison. I did not put a number on it. My view is that prisons need to be able to care for, and hold safely, securely and decently, the people that they have. At the moment, there are women in prison for whom the system does not seem able to provide appropriate treatment and conditions. To be helpful to the Committee, I would say that one of the reasons for that is that there are women in prison who could be better dealt with outside in the community. However, I have a different role from that of the PGA, and on the whole I steer clear of sentencing decisions. You are right, however, that we comment on the treatment and conditions of people once they are in prison.
Eoin McLennan Murray: You are right in what you say, from our perspective, from the practitioners’ perspective. We just see this revolving door and continual reoffending rates. What we are looking at is how to reduce reoffending and therefore prevent further victims. One of the things that we think is that, if you just put women in prison in the numbers that we are doing, you keep on exacerbating the problem.
We would like to see that problem resolved, and we believe that one of the ways of resolving it would be to have different disposals. I am not saying that they should not be dealt with by the courts, but just that what is meted out by the courts we believe should be more appropriate in terms of reducing future reoffending rates-and more effective in terms of changing the lives of these women.
Q246 Gareth Johnson: The reason why I raise that question is that prison governors have a crucial role in preventing reoffending, working with people while they are in custody. I understand that prison governors are frustrated at seeing the same faces coming back again and again. Surely, it is for prison governors to deal with the people whom they have and do what they can to improve their anti-reoffending programmes. It is not to say, "Well, four out of five of these people should not be here, and the courts have got it wrong."
Eoin McLennan Murray: Again, you are right. That is exactly what prison governors do. Regrettably, however, most of what we do is ineffective, partly because they are such short sentences and because of the resources required. There are resources, but you do not have the time to meet some of the needs of the women, and they could be met more appropriately elsewhere. There is a better solution to this. That is the point that we are making, but at the moment we seem to be fixed on locking people up, and we do not believe that that serves society.
Nick Hardwick: May I add one brief point? There is one group of women in prison now who definitely should not be, and that is at the more extreme end, with women who have the most acute mental health problems. It seems to me that they should be cared for in a hospital rather than in a custodial establishment. If you go to a place like the care unit at Styal, where the level of mental health distress is extreme, I defy anyone to come out of that and say that prison is an appropriate place for these people. They should be cared for in a hospital.
Gareth Johnson: We need to make that point, Mr Chairman.
Q247 Chair: What are the implications for the post-Corston agenda of the Government’s decision jointly to commission rehabilitative provision across prisons and probation?
Nick Hardwick: I have said on a number of occasions that there is a hole in the Government’s thinking more generally about rehabilitation, because what happens in prisons seems to be very much a second order priority in the proposals as a whole. The proposals neglect the role that prisons should play in preparing prisoners for release and reducing the risk that they reoffend. There is much to applaud in the proposals. The role that prisons will play, and how the community providers will link up with what happens in prisons generally, has not been properly thought through yet.
Things are more acute for women’s prisons. The reason is this. Because of the location of prisons as they are now, women prisoners are less likely to be released into the area in which they are held. If you are a woman offender who lives in the west midlands conurbation, there is no local prison in that area from which you can make the link between the prison establishment and the community. You are likely to have women going back to that area from a whole range of different establishments, and it is not clear from the proposals as they currently stand how that link will be made between the prisons and community provision. That is a problem for all prisons, but it is particularly acute for women’s prisons. If you ask the MOJ, they will say, "Yes, we recognise that that is an area where we still have to do more work." They will acknowledge the point, but I would say that they need to get on with it and solve that problem.
Q248 Chair: Is it not the reality that the proposals have been drawn up to create better links and more through-the-gates care for male prisoners but that, when applying it to the female estate, one immediately comes up against the fact that the female estate, in most people’s view, is wrongly configured?
Nick Hardwick: Precisely so. It will be difficult enough in the male estate. There is talk, which would be a good thing, about trying to organise prisons on a regional basis, but you are still going to have male prisoners held in prisons away from the areas to which they will relocate. Unless you radically change where women are held, the women’s estate, that problem is going to be more acute.
The whole business about prisons, and women’s prisons in particular, has almost been forgotten in some of the thinking, and there needs to be some catching-up on it. It goes back to the point about leadership. You feel that you are always having to remind people about this issue, rather than it being at the forefront of their minds.
Q249 Chair: Does that have any implications for the existing prison and criminal justice joint inspection regimes? You do quite a lot of joint inspections, do you not?
Nick Hardwick: We need to see the arrangements in detail, but we work very closely with the probation inspectorate at the moment and we go into prisons together. That is quite profitable, because, certainly when we are looking at rehabilitation, at the moment what we tend to look at is the process-they are doing the sorts of things, or not doing them, that ought to be improved. If we can link that up with what the probation inspectorate is doing in the community, we can come to a more definite conclusion, and that would be helpful. The relationships that we have at the moment can be developed to work in the new system. I am looking forward to that.
Chair: Mr Hardwick and Mr Murray, thank you very much indeed for your help this morning.
 Note by witness: Chris was an operational grade in the past but has never been a substantive governing governor. He has worked at Prison Service HQ in a non operational role for several years now and was recently appointed as Temporary Head of the Women and Equalities Group.