Let’s say you are a prisoner who has been convicted of sexual offences. You have done all that you can to change your behaviour. You are waiting for a Parole Board Review.
You find out that there is a 33% chance that your risk assessment was wrong or incomplete; that in 40% of cases the National Probation Service is not doing any work to address sexual offending behaviour and that much of the work delivered with sexual offenders in prison is assessed as ‘poor quality’ by the Joint Inspectorates of Probation and Prison.
You might think that the chances of you getting a fair and effective parole review are not good.
Remarkably, this is the finding of the Inspectorate Report from HM Prison and Probation Inspectors. It concluded that significant improvements are needed to ensure that sexual offenders are managed effectively in prison and the community.
The Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey said that... “despite evidence that we can reduce the risk of (sex offenders) reoffending, little if any meaningful work is being done in prison.” The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, added that... “we found too many cases in prison where little if anything was being done to reduce the likelihood of reoffending. This is serving neither the public interest nor that of those prisoners who need help to change their behaviour before being released back into the community.”
As of 30th June 2018, the proportion of the sentenced prison population serving a custodial sentence for a sexual offence is 19%. This amounts to 13,580 individuals. It is not one that can be ignored. It is essential that fair, appropriate and effective assessment and treatment processes can be provided for this group of prisoners in order for them to be considered for progression or release.
Given the finding that a third of assessments of prisoners were not good enough, it would not be unreasonable that such assessments need to be challenged by prisoners and perhaps viewed with caution by the independent Parole Board, which is tasked with reaching its own assessment of risk of serious harm.
When embarking upon any such challenges, prisoners need to do this with care and require sound advice. It will help to have a lawyer with good knowledge of the Inspection and assessment processes.
Whilst such a high percentage of risk assessments were evaluated as not being up to the desired standard, this does not mean that they are all useless.
The Inspectorate finding that prisoners struggle to access the appropriate accredited programmes in prison is a systemic issue and one that can only be addressed by the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS.
Pressure needs to come from others within the system, so that prisoners have fair access to interventions that enable them to achieve and evidence risk reduction and fair risk assessments. Moving prisoners to specialist sex offender prisons that have neither access to programmes nor individual ‘one to one’ work is not an effective solution to this challenge.
The Inspectorates note that there are many staff in prisons and the community who are trying as hard as they can to provide both an effective public protection service and also one that is capable of being fair to prisoners, to offer them the opportunity to demonstrate risk reduction and rehabilitation so that they will not reoffend.
Prisoners need to work with such staff to find the most effective and fairest way to achieve both personal rehabilitation and to contribute to overall improved public protection.
The Parole Board will have noted the findings of the Joint Inspectorates and it is likely that they will wish to work with all witnesses to reach its own effective independent assessment of risk.
Many prisoners will know that the range of treatment programmes available to address sexual offending have changed and been reduced in the main to ‘Horizon’ and ‘Kaizen’.
The Inspectorates report that “too many men had not had the opportunity to reduce their risk of sexual offending or to explore the factors in their life that were more likely to prevent them from offending in the future”.
There are reported benefits in the new suite of sex offender programmes. They enable prisoners ‘in denial’ to participate and they are intended to be ‘strengths based’, focussing on the future rather than just the behaviour of the past. However, the Inspectorates noted that “many (programmes staff) had reservations about the programme material, and in our view, would benefit from further input on the approach”.
The Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, says HMPPS have indicated that it intends to “give this work priority”.
In the meantime, it will be vital for individual prisoners and their lawyers to make relevant and skilled representations to ensure that they have a fair review of their case by the Parole Board, which is informed by accurate risk assessments.
Alongside this, prisoners need a fair opportunity to access the means to show that their risk has reduced. This is a difficult task and has been made harder by cuts to legal aid which makes it harder for prisoners to access expert advice. It is a serious problem which does not help to keep the public safe. It also keeps some prisoners in custody for longer than they might need to be. It is time for this to change.