New frontiers of criminal justice reform: Gary Monaghan

13 March 2015

In a resource constrained world the future of prison rehabilitation is of course mostly about working with others outside of the prison. However, I would like to summarise what prisons and NOMS (the National Offender Management Service) need to work on internally to improve rehabilitation. The first factor is an enabling environment for prison based rehabilitation. This means essentially that prisons operate decently, prisoners are treated with respect and staff expect offenders to rehabilitate. These are important factors in setting the right tone for rehabilitation to take place. Some examples are already being taken forward across the service such as the five minute intervention.

With a lot less front line staff as a result of efficiencies it is important that the existing staff are more skilled in taking forward their work with prisoners. This means that they have sufficient skill to be able to engage with offenders and adapt their style to the nuances and needs of individual offenders. NOMS has already identified that prison officers need to be better trained for their role and so in 2016 a lengthened national training course will be implemented. Many in the criminal justice system point to the Scandinavian model of officer training. This training takes two years to complete and staff are trained to diploma level at least. However there are dramatically different economic, cultural and social models at play in the Nordic countries. It is not simply about adopting the practice of another national system without considering or changing the wider context.

An enabling culture for managers is the next internal factor that would help the development of a rehabilitative culture. The old “cutting the red tape” mantra is one that really needs to be focused on public sector establishments. Procedures written as policy (how much of the civil service operates) is not written with efficiency paramount in its delivery. The result is a cumbersome bureaucracy that does not promote an outward looking, innovative or entrepreneurial culture. I think this cuts across many government departments but is certainly true for NOMS. Reform would allow managers and staff to start to develop an approach more akin to private sector delivery models. This would enable a more “through the gate” culture to operate in establishments supporting the wider developments of the criminal justice service. HM Treasury have a big role in supporting these changes.

Another area where there could be further development in prisons is to make them more personally enabling environments for offenders rather than the current culture of personal dependency. By this I mean that much personal responsibility is removed from prisoners as so many of the core functions of life are supported by the prison with little input from the offender. ICT enabled prison environments that make prisoners responsible for taking matters forward themselves through automated systems is an example supporting this cultural shift. This is in place in a few public sector prisons, but is more a feature of private sector establishments. Much as we have to interface with systems to manage our daily lives, we need to move prisoners towards this model and also develop their greater involvement in the running of the regime. Empowering rather than removing responsibility is more likely to make offenders transition to a crime free life upon release.

These are some practical internal reforms that prisons and NOMS could take forward to improve rehabilitation. Some are already being considered. Other areas are only on the starting blocks. Ultimately it is through working with a wide range of partners that success will be truly realised in rehabilitating our offenders back into their communities.

Gary Monaghan, Governor, HMP Wormwood Scrubs




14 March, 2015

Interesting article. Can you comment on the allegations made in this letter to inside time?