Today the government has published their response to the review led by Lord Harris of Haringey into self-inflicted deaths in custody of 18-24 year olds.
The review’s report, Changing Prisons, Saving Lives: Report of the Independent Review into Self-inflicted Deaths in Custody of 18-24 year olds, and recommendations were extensive covering a wide range of issues which are policy priorities for Clinks. We will publish a full briefing on the government’s response early in the New Year, but in the meantime wanted to highlight some of the key headlines.
A quick tally of the response shows that the government:
· agrees with 44 of Lord Harris’ recommendations;
· agrees, in principle, with 7 recommendations;
· agrees, in part, with 10 recommendations;
· rejects 32 recommendations;
· and will deal with a further 12 of the recommendations as part of broader reforms.
In addition, there are a number of recommendations which the Ministry of Justice believes are directed at other bodies and which it does not think it can appropriately comment on. Of the recommendations that the government has accepted some important points stand out.
A prison system in need of reform
One of the foremost messages in the government’s response is that the primary purpose of prison should be rehabilitation and as such the prison system is in need of reform. The Ministry of Justice will set out bold reform proposals in the New Year based on the principles of “ensuring prisoners can maintain strong family ties, participate in work and education, and look to the future with ambition whilst giving more freedom to governors”.
A range of recommendations including those around the Incentive and Earned Privileges Scheme, whether young adults should be held in separate or mixed institutions and improving contact with families using internet based video services will be considered as part of these wider reforms.
Progress on race
The governments’ response recognises the disproportionate number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people in the Criminal Justice System and the work of the Young Review. It points to the launch of the National offender Management Service equalities strategy in October, a key recommendation of the Young Review, and commits to continue to work with the Young Review’s Advisory Group to progress its other recommendations.
On a less positive note, there were some of the key recommendations from the Harris review which chime with changes the voluntary sector has also called for and which have been rejected by government.
No legal recognition for the concept of ‘maturity’
For some time Clinks as part of the Transitions to Adulthood Alliance has made the case for the need for maturity to be taken into consideration, alongside chronological age, when making decisions relating to 18-24 in the Criminal Justice System. Lord Harris also recognised this and called for a legal recognition of the concept of maturity. Although government has recognised the distinct needs of this group and committed to introducing revised guidance in spring of next year stating that all pre-sentence reports for this age group must consider maturity, it does not agree that legislation could currently be introduced around this. Read the Transition to Adulthood response on these issues here.
No increase in support for bereaved families
While the response acknowledges the importance of family support it rejects some of the key recommendations around supporting families whose loved ones are at risk or die in custody. It rejects the recommendation that the Secretary of State should be responsible for contacting the bereaved family; rejects the recommendation for a 24 hour telephone line for families to raise concerns about their loved ones in custody; and rejects the recommendation that families of the deceased should have a right to non-means tested public funding for legal representation at an inquest.
A lack of substantial change to prison staff roles and training
The Harris Review recommended the introduction of a specialist Custody and Rehabilitation Officer, qualified as a social worker or professional youth worker, to work specifically with young adults. However the government have responded that instead they believe training and effort should be focused on equipping existing staff. From January 2016 a new 10 week Prison Officer Entry Level Training course will be introduced representing a 25% increase in the length of initial prison officer training. However an increase from 8 weeks to 10 weeks still seems substantially short in the face of some of the complex issues the report raises and which prison officers have to respond to.
So a somewhat mixed response but with some clear positives which Clinks strongly welcomes. This blog has only been able to summarise a few of the key points and we will publish a briefing with further analysis around these issues and on what the response says about women in prison, care leavers, youth justice, prison officer roles and training and other issues early in January 2016.