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The University of Southampton
Institute of Criminal Justice Research

Critical Issues in Contemporary Penal Policy

Published: 20 October 2014
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On 22 October 2014, Southampton University’s Institute for Criminal Justice Research (ICJR) held its first annual one day conference. The event addressed key issues in contemporary penal policy, with the following sessions: The Imprisonment of Dangerous Offenders, The Future of Probation, Youth Justice Dr Harry Annison provides a summary.

Speakers included Sir David Calvert-Smith (Chair, Parole Board of England and Wales), Nick Hardwick (Chief Inspector of Prisons), Professor Paul Senior (Director, Hallam Centre for Community Justice), Paul McDowell (Chief Inspector of Probation), Frances Crook (Howard League for Penal Reform) and Darren Tierney (Director, Youth Justice and Foreign National Offenders, Ministry of Justice).

Held at the Royal Society in London, the conference was attended by a range of academics, policymakers, students and practitioners. The day was opened by Professor Jenny Fleming, Director of the ICJR; sessions were chaired by Harry Annison , Alisa Stevens and Mark Telford .

Image of audience at the Royal Society
Audience at Library, Royal Society

The first session, ‘Imprisonment of Dangerous Offenders’, set the tone for a day that was packed with excellent speakers, thoughtful questions and stimulating debate. Sir David Calvert-Smith began by setting out the difficulties currently faced by the Parole Board. Prisoners serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPPs) remain a source of concern, while the additional demand for oral hearings following Osborn v Parole Board (2014) has further strained the Parole Board’s limited resources. Questioned on the situation facing post-tariff IPP prisoners, while leaving policy to government, Sir David again expressed surprise at the government’s view that converting at least some IPP sentences into determinate or extended sentences would be an illegitimate interference with the decision of the original sentencing court. Speaking the day after the release of the Inspectorate’s Annual Report, Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick discussed a range of important developments, including creation of the Offender Personality Disorder Pathway (OPDP), the management of Life Sentences, Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) and Close Supervision Centres (CSC). Following recent horrific offences committed by prisoners released on temporary licence, Nick Hardwick suggested that significant changes were required to the ROTL but also noted that the vast majority of those released on temporary licence did not re-offend.

Professor Paul Senior (Sheffield Hallam) began the second session, ‘The Future of Probation’, with a pessimistic account of the destruction of an internationally acclaimed, innovative and evidence-led organization by the present Coalition government. Former Chief Inspector of Probation Andrew Bridges provided a ‘prescription for probation’ in a Transforming Rehabilitation landscape. Current Chief Inspector of Probation Paul McDowell spoke about the Inspectorate’s renewed focus on outcomes, rather than process. He expressed hope that there would be less ‘box-ticking’ and more focus on the impact achieved by particular activities and interventions.

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Youth Justice Panel

In the final session, ‘Youth Justice’, a key topic for discussion was the government’s proposals for the creation of Secure Colleges . Frances Crook (Howard League for Penal Reform) began by arguing that ‘youth justice’ itself was an unhelpful misnomer and that the proposed Secure Colleges were an extremely troubling development. Penelope Gibbs (Standing Committee for Youth Justice) argued that secure children’s homes may be very expensive, but for the very small number of children for whom they are required, they represent the ‘least bad’ option. Professor Roger Smith (Durham University) took the ‘long view’, arguing that policymakers should seek solutions from a review of evidence, experience and long-term pragmatic decision-making. While these three speakers addressed the Secure College proposals, each speaker also emphasized the substantial reductions in youth custody achieved over the past 5-6 years. In closing Darren Tierney (Ministry of Justice) explained the context behind the Ministry of Justice proposals, emphasizing the financial constraints in which the Ministry of Justice – alongside other unprotected departments – was now required to operate.

The Co-Directors of the Southampton ICJR, Professor Jenny Fleming and Phil Palmer, have been enthused by the overwhelmingly positive response to this initiative by the ICJR and the contributions made by all those who attended. Details regarding next year’s event will be published on the ICJR website in due course, where details regarding the Centre’s ongoing seminar series can also be found. For further information, or to express interest in the work of the ICJR, please contact icjr@soton.ac.uk

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