So Custody Plus is to be shelved
for the time being. By my reckoning this is the second time; it was supposed to be introduced in April this year, 12 months after most of the new provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 came into force, but was put off until November. We'd been given to understand that implementation was imminent, as there have been a series of 'Train the Trainer' events for members of staff who will then cascade information about CP down to the rest of us at local training sessions. As far as I know, these are still going on, but with no start date in sight, it's difficult to know what to make of this. Regardless, it's a decision that brings no small relief.
The Guardian's figures suggest it could have applied to 60,000 offenders who would previously have served a sentence of under 12 months. At the moment, the Probation Service only supervises those serving 12 months or more, as well as all young offenders (18-21 year olds), who automatically get three months on supervision after release, however short the actual period in custody. That's potentially an extra 60,000 cases to supervise, when there are something like 220,000 people on community sentences at the moment. The Telegraph
reckons there are 60,000 offenders being supervised in London alone at the moment, and only 800 probation officers to do the job - the system simply could not cope.
But it's not just the Probation Service that would have problems with Custody Plus; although it's portrayed as a more liberal scheme, and a recognition that prison does little to rehabilitate but probably makes things worse, my suspicion is that it would (will?) actually encourage greater use of custody. The temptation for magistrates, when faced with a case on the cusp between custody and a community sentence, will be to give the offender a quick 'taste' of prison to see how they like it, in the knowledge that a longer than usual period of supervision will follow. There will then be a greater pressure on prison resources, with a much quicker turnaround of places.
We're fast approaching 80,000 people in custody, and the prison estate is already creaking. The Times
reports that there are only 1,715 spaces free at the current time, and the population has been rising at 148 a week since May, leaving around three months before capacity is reached. Overcrowded prisons means staff have to spend more time on containment and less time on doing things that can reduce the risk of re-offending on release. St Giles Trust
is an organisation operating in a number of jails that trains long-term prisoners to assist short-term inmates to maintain their tenancies despite their incarceration. But when prisons get full and there aren't enough staff to cover, everything gets shut down and such programmes suffer. That's the future if numbers keep rising - and the current situation is such that anything to cut those figures is not politically feasible.
The premise behind Custody Plus is not a bad one. But it can't possibly work in an ever-more punitive environment, and without properly-resourced services to deal with the implications.
Labels: Custody Plus, prison, St Giles Trust