Tory plans for devolving Prisons and Rehabilitation to Wales

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Tory plans for devolving Prisons and Rehabilitation to Wales

Post  MH on Thu 26 Mar 2009 - 1:06

Jonathan Aitkin has for good reason bowed out of elected politics, but that doesn't rule him out from being able to speak about the prison and rehabititation service. In fact it qualifies him to do so.

But nonetheless I am amazed at this story from the BBC:


Control prisons from Wales call

Former MP Jonathan Aitken has called for the Welsh assembly government to take over responsibility for prisons and rehabilitating offenders in Wales. Ex-prisoner Mr Aitken led the prison reform study for the Conservative think tank, the Centre for Social Justice.

He said the assembly government was "absolutely ready and capable" of running the services "much better". The report also recommends the building of new, small community jails, rather than so called 'Titan prisons'.

Mr Aitken told BBC Radio Wales the UK-wide National Offender Management Service was "trying to run this by remote control" and should be abolished with its functions decentralised.

"Wales should be one of the first areas to have its own CPRT - Community Prison and Rehabilitation Trust," he said.

"We'd like to see the Welsh Assembly Government in control of the prisons and the rehabilitation - joined up rehabilitation in communities. We think they'll do a better job and cut re-offending."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/wales_politics/7959326.stm
To put it bluntly, I couldn't agree more, at least in principle. His conversion has been a lot more radical than I'd imagined. So I think it's well worth looking at what he said in more detail since, continuing the religious theme, that's where the devil is.

People can read a little more about the report on this page of the Centre for Social Justice website, and download the actual reports themselves. Start with the executive summary, the full report is 273 pages long.

http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/default.asp?pageRef=37

Executive Summary
Full Report
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Re: Tory plans for devolving Prisons and Rehabilitation to Wales

Post  MH on Thu 26 Mar 2009 - 1:11

After reading through the report (I put the previous post on the WalesOnline forum on Monday) let me say what I think about it.

In essence, the Tories position is that the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) isn't working. The "national" is rather misleading, since it only covers England and Wales.

The Tories want to replace this with a number of what they call Community Prison Rehabilitation Trusts (CPRTs). In principle I have no objection to this decentralization. However I would note that NOMS has a single Wales region, and that what the Tories propose is also a single Wales CPRT, so there's no essential difference in scale so far as we are concerned, but the English situation would involve smaller units.

The document doesn't say much about Wales except right at the end in Appendix 1:


10.1 A CPRT for Wales

We recommend that Wales would be well-suited to a CPRT pilot for the following reasons:

• Wales is a nation with its own language.

• Aspects of government are already devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) and key services relevant to prisoners and ex-prisoners are already configured differently to those in England (health, education and training, substance misuse, housing, youth services, etc), responsibility for these services resting with the WAG.

• Wales is designated a region for National Offender Management (NOMS) purposes and has in place All-Wales policy frameworks and documents relevant to prisons organisation and resettlement planning.

• Although Wales currently has four police forces and probation areas, three of those are among the very smallest in terms of population covered and staff employed (albeit not in terms of geographical area) in England and Wales (Dyfed-Powys, Gwent and North Wales), complementing one (South Wales) which is among the largest.

• Wales currently has only four prisons (Cardiff, Parc, Swansea and Usk/Prscoed) which inadequately provide for prisoners committed by the Welsh courts (this is particularly the case regarding women and girls (for whom there is no provision in Wales) and children and young prisoners (for whom there is inadequate provision at Parc and one Secure Children’s Home in Swansea).

• For all these reasons we conclude that Wales, with its roughly three million people and prison population of under three thousand, should become a CPRT.

However, because Wales has the WAG, we recommend that the constitutional framework for the Wales CPRT should be different from that in the English regions. We recommend that the composition and budget of the Wales CPRT should be aligned with that of CPRTs in England, but we conclude that the WAG should be responsible for appointing members and administering the Wales CPRT. This will mean building the administrative capacity of the WAG, which currently has no responsibility for and limited expertise regarding custodial and resettlement arrangements. The Ministry of Justice should recognise this lack of administrative and policy capacity shortfall when funding the Wales CPRT.

Ideally prisoners committed by the courts in Wales should, as in the English regions, be housed in Wales. Slavish adherence to that aspiration and rule of thumb would not be sensible, however. Transport links between North and Mid Wales and South Wales are slow and difficult and because North and Mid Wales are relatively sparsely populated, and consequently generate few prisoners, it would generally do prisoners and their families from those areas a disservice were they to be accommodated near the South Wales coast where most of the penal accommodation currently lies. Equally, however, Welsh prisoners, particularly if Welsh-speaking or long-term residents with Welsh accents, are likely to feel culturally out of place if housed in prisons on Merseyside or the West Midlands. Pragmatic resolution of these conflicting considerations needs to be achieved by the Wales CPRT when commissioning new or existing penal provision and resettlement services.

http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/client/downloads/CSJLockedUpPotentialFULLrEPORT.pdf
I think there is a great deal of sense in this. And, following the announcement of a new prison just outside Caernarfon, the concerns raised in the last paragraph have been largely addressed. We just need to ensure that the new prison properly caters for the small numbers of women and youth offenders from North Wales as discussed here:

http://syniadau.forumotion.net/the-justice-system-f11/a-new-prison-in-north-wales-t47.htm

On that subject, Appendix 2 of the report addresses the design of new prisons. The Mitson Academy model they propose looks interesting, and might help inform the sort of prison that would be best for Caernarfon. We have no excuse for not taking the lead in transforming prison into a place that helps reduce reoffending.



Turning now to the wider constitutional position, the One Wales agreement between Labour and Plaid contained a commitment towards devolving the justice system to Wales, but precious little seems to have happened with Labour's bosses at Westminster. Maybe things are happening behind the scenes, but the pace is glacial.

However this proposal shows that the Tories are very bit, perhaps even more, committed to devolving responsibility for a part of the justice system from Westminster to the Assembly. That is surprising, but very welcome indeed.

Quotes like these are so good that they bear repeating:

He said the Assembly government was "absolutely ready and capable" of running the services "much better".

"We'd like to see the Welsh Assembly Government in control of the prisons and the rehabilitation - joined up rehabilitation in communities. We think they'll do a better job and cut re-offending."
Bear in mind that the Tories have never been part of any Welsh Government, nor are they particularly likely to be in 2011. In other words this proposal has been prompted more by concerns for good governance than for any narrow party political ends.

Bear in mind also that the Tories are almost certain to win the next Westminster election, and so will be in a position to turn this proposal into reality. I hope they do.
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