Select Committee on Home Affairs Third Report


Further supplementary notes by Mr David Fraser and Mr Peter Coad



  1.  It is important that we all have a common understanding of what the word "success" means; it has to be defined so that it can be understood by the general public. We suggest a definition from the Concise Oxford Dictionary which describes "success" in terms of human behaviour as "a person who does well". Clearly such a term cannot be applied to a criminal who continues offending and yet the Probation Service frequently describes probationers who continue committing crime as successful. It is a lie; it deceives the Home Office, sentencers, Probation Committees and the general public.

  2.  The only criteria to measure the success or failure of any form of community supervision are reconviction rates. These are published annually by the Home Office and are void of any ideological impediment. The majority of probationers are males under 30 years old. From Home Office Reconviction Statistics 6/97 published 24 March 1997, males under 21 have a reconviction rate of 77 per cent; 21-24 years 66 per cent and 25-29 years 60 per cent. Set against a background of a mere 4.9 per cent detection rate, it is not unreasonable to suggest a probable 90+ per cent reoffending rate. Surely this is incontrovertible evidence of the spectacular failure of the Probation Service to deliver effective supervision as promised.

  It is desperate straw-clutching to claim that a "less than predicted reconviction/re-offending rate" is evidence of success. If a criminal commits 45 crimes a year instead of a predicted 50, can any reasonable person deem that to be successful supervision? Unless an offender is observed 24 hours a day, reoffending rates cannot be determined. The anti-prison organisations never quote official reconviction rates for obvious reasons.

  3.  A common theme of the anti-prison organisations is their dishonest use of the basic administrative cost of a probation order compared with the cost of imprisonment. Such a comparison fails to take into account the cost to society of the vast numbers of crimes committed by those under supervision. In many cases the cost of the crimes to the public far exceeds the cost of incarceration. Surely they know that it is dishonest, but truth is so often sacrificed at the altar of ideology.

  4.  Prisons are often referred to as "universities of crime" by anti-prison organisations. For years they claimed that the evidence was that those discharged from prison had far higher reconviction rates than those supervised in the community. In recent years Home Office statistics have demonstrated that such a claim is unsustainable. In the previously quoted Home Office statistics, it suggests that there is no significant difference between reconviction rates for custody and all community penalties. However, if statistics are not adjusted for "pseudo reconvictions", the reconviction rate for community based penalties would be 4 per cent higher than for those having served a custodial sentence. It is interesting to note that the Home Office Statistical Bulletin 5/97 of 24 March 1997 stated, "The two-year reconviction rate for all prisoners discharged in 1993 fell from 58 per cent for those discharged from sentences of up to 12 months to 26 per cent for those whose sentences were between four and 10 years".

  Pseudo-Convictions.  The practice of applying the "pseudo-conviction" convention to inflate the "success" rate of community penalties has concerned us for some time. The convention allows for a 6 per cent reduction of reconviction rates on the basis that some crimes committed before a probation order was made were dealt with during the period of supervision. However, no such allowance is made for crimes committed during a period of probation but dealt with after the order has terminated. This cannot be fair or logical.

  Professor Ken Pease comments,

    "If reconviction rates are supposed to say anything about sentence effects, then clearly it is inconsistent to discount offences occurring before the sentence begins and processed during the sentence (pseudo-convictions) but not to discount offences committed during the sentence and processed after the sentence. The effect of this inconsistency is to reduce the rate of reconviction associated with a sentence spuriously.

    The cynic in me recognises that reconvictions are in fact systematic understatements of the amount of offending by those under the supervision of agents of criminal justice. The inconsistency noted above is a minor contributor to this. The major ones are:

1.  The failure to attribute any uncleared crime to offenders under supervision.

.2  The failure to include crime cleared otherwise than by conviction (tic's etc) among crime committed by those under supervision.

3.  The convention that reconviction is either there or not, ie that once reconvicted subsequent convictions while under supervision are simply not counted."

  We also agree with the opinion of Professor Pease that it is logical that the comparative reconviction rates should start from the date of sentences for community and custodial sentences. On that basis, the effectiveness of custodial sentences would be spectacular.

  Unfortunately on pages 16, 17, 18 of the written evidence presented by the Home Secretary, "pseudo-reconvictions" are used to support the case for community penalties.


  This Report was commissioned by Graham Smith, CBE, HM Chief Inspector of Probation. It was written by Tom Ellis of the Research and Statistics Directorate at the Home Office for work on the Evaluation Survey and Andrew Underdown, Assistant Chief Probation Officer, Greater Manchester Probation Service, Support and Information Services.

  Dr Ken Pease, OBE, Professor of Criminology and formerly Principal Research Officer, Home Office Research Unit, said that he has "skimmed" the Report but had read closely Chapter 2 (Evaluation Survey) and Chapter 9 (Evaluation and Evidence Base) and felt equipped to make the following comments.

  "I applaud any attempt by the Probation Service or anyone else to do what they do better. However, I think Andrew is admirably clear in showing how dire the level of programme evaluation is in probation. Consider the following:

    —  22 per cent of services did not notify Andrew of any evaluated schemes.

    —  Of the 210 schemes notified, only 109 claimed to include reconviction data.

    —  Of the 109 programmes claiming evaluation which included reconviction, 22 had in fact done no such evaluation, and in others the results of evaluation were not yet available, leaving only 50 apparently worth further scrutiny.

    —  Of these, 15 were excluded because of poor data or recency of programme start.

  Thus, of those initiatives which services had the confidence to submit (and which were presumably being touted locally as instances of successful evaluated practice) less than one in six survived as worthy of outcome scrutiny. Of the one in six deemed worthy:

    —  Only three used reconviction periods recommended by the Home Office. (This would not matter if more sophisticated approaches like survival analysis were used but there is no suggestion that they were.)

    —  20 of the programmes took the starting point of the risk period from the start of the programme element of the order, or later, thus excluding those given orders with the highest probability of offending, who are also reconvicted most swiftly.

    —  18 of the programmes gave no indication that they used reconviction statistics beyond those held by the Probation Service.

  Thus stated, only a handful of schemes merit serious consideration as evaluations. Of those which do, none seems, even at face value, to be remotely close to outperforming expectation to an extent which would offset the direct incapacitation effect of prison.

  Let me be clear that I wish the Probation Service every success in improving its programmes to the point at which its effect in securing public protection exceeds that of prison. However, that day is not close, and Andrew Underdown has done a service in showing how far from evaluative adequacy the showpiece programmes of the service fall short."

Comments by David Fraser and Peter Coad

  When Graham Smith, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, gave his evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, 21 April 1998, he presented the abbreviated "Management Summary" of the above Report. We have had the doubtful advantage of reading the full report; Professor Pease could not be more damning in his detailed criticisms of the two most important chapters, criticisms we fully support. When we read it we felt that it was a worthless exercise in psycho-sociological and management rhetoric combined with wishful thinking. There was considerable emphasis on various programmes with a cognitive therapy/behavioural training emphasis. What was omitted was the completed and carefully researched results of the Mid-Glamorgan cognitive "STOP" programme with a 70 per cent reconviction rate. Seen against a background of a 4.9 per cent detection rate, surely the re-offending rate must be 90+ per cent. In spite of this known disastrous reoffending rate, these highly fashionable programmes have been established throughout the country.

  Chapters 2 and 9, the ones commented on in detail by Professor Pease, were written jointly by Andrew Underdown and Tom Ellis. We do not know Mr Ellis but we do have some knowledge of Andrew Underdown who wrote most of the Report; he is an employee of the Greater Manchester Probation Service and not likely to be objective about Probation Service function; he is not famed for his clarity of communication. In a desperate effort to explain to the public what the Greater Manchester Probation Service meant by "success" he wrote the following.

    "83 per cent of probation orders achieved successful completion, mostly by the offender meeting these requirements and obligations but, including with this definition of success, those cases requiring enforcement action by the supervisor, where the court concludes that the purpose of the order can be sustained."

  Graham Smith's report is a desperate propaganda exercise to enhance the credibility of the Probation Service. In the "Foreword" to his report he says,

    "This is the most important foreword I have ever written. The evidence drawn on in this report, states at its simplest that "certain community programmes involving the same population significantly outperform custodial sentences in reducing offending. Further, we now know or at least have a beginning understanding of what makes those programmes so successful.

    The movement to achieve this is known as What Works. The report offers the Probation Service and its many valued partners an opportunity to renew and revitalise community penalties and in increasing their effectiveness, enhance public protection and reduce offending.

    The principles that underpin these strategies are presented in this report. They will not be easy to achieve and the implementation phase will require long-term commitment, endurance and dedication. But the rewards will be immense in terms of increased confidence and public belief in and support for community sanctions."

  In our judgement and, more importantly, in the judgement of Professor Pease, there is no substantial evidence to support Mr Smith's claims. The programmes described are void of rigorous testing, many are badly planned and poorly researched. In our opinion, it is a collection of programmes cobbled together to impress those void of the knowledge and experience to challenge them. It is a triumph of hope over reality and sophistry enshrined in obscurantism. The reform of persistent offenders is entirely dependent on their motivation which can be supported by a dedicated probation officer. The Probation Service must not target unmotivated offenders to supervise and expect success.

  On 28 April 1998, Graham Smith published a report, "Exercising Constant Vigilance: The Role of the Probation Service in Protecting the Public from Sex Offenders", which praises the excellent work of the Probation Service in general and their work with sex offenders in particular. We have not seen the research he mentions into the supervision of sex offenders but, considering Home Office statistics, how can he justify praising a Probation Service with such spectacular failure rates?


  ACOP was asked by the Select Committee to respond to our evidence which they did in their supplementary paper of 6 March 1998. [74]

  1.  In this paper under "Basic Facts" we have quoted official Home Office reconviction rates. A photocopy of these statistics can be seen in Annex "D"[75] of our primary evidence. Mr Hicks claims success rates of72 per cent for probation and 71 per cent for community service orders; he also makes a vague claim of 75 to 90 per cent for some unspecified supervision which he has refused to clarify. However, further research suggests he was referring to post-custody supervision for periods of as little as a few weeks and thus misleading. Research into CPO annual reports to the Home Office and Probation Committees shows an average claim of 83 per cent success for probation. Thus ACOP claims are a direct contradiction of official Home Office statistics.

  2.  The Probation Service targets persistent offenders for supervision resulting in reoffending rates that can be reasonably calculated at about 90 per cent. That surely is against the public interest. They have a self-imposed rule not to recommend custodial sentences. When a probation officer prepares a PSR, a Home Office computer program is used which accurately predicts the likelihood of an offender reoffending; it is known as OGRS (Offender Group Reconviction Study). Such sensitive information is denied to sentencers in case it might lead to more ideologically unacceptable custodial sentences. We have not specifically said that the Probation Service allows criminals to continue offending while being supervised in the community, but statistics show that the majority do. National Standards require contact with a probation officer for only about 18 hours over the two-year period of a basic probation order. It is therefore not surprising that offenders unmotivated to reform will continue to offend.

  We do advocate supervision for offenders motivated to reform; in the absence of such motivation they continue offending. It is the old horse and water problem. It is being realistic, not sentimental. There is no evidence of successful "motivational" programmes.

  Mr Hicks has publicly stated that he wants fewer people sent to prison in spite of a continuing fall in the crime rate as prison populations rise. Mr Hicks quotes misleading research which claims that it would require a 25 per cent increase in the prison population to reduce the crime rate by 1 per cent. He is wrong again; Home Office Statistical Bulletin published 7 April 1998 records a fall in the crime rate of 8.8 per cent for 1996-97 with a mere 17 per cent increase in the prison population. Thus the potential victims of 441,400 crimes have been protected.

  Mr Hicks et al has presented to the Select Committee downright lies, information to mislead and a refusal to acknowledge facts in conflict with their ideology. Most of their evidence should be discounted.


  We could criticise much of NAPO's evidence but we will confine ourselves to a selection from their contribution.

Their Written Evidence[76]

  Though they concede that probation and prison reconviction rates are about the same initially, later in their evidence they claim 1 or 2 per cent better rates for community supervision, contrary to the evidence. For many years Mr Fletcher has claimed an 80+ per cent success rate for probation; he now seems to make a rare concession to truth.

  They play down personal responsibility by blaming a variety of personal circumstances as reasons for offending. The vast majority of the unemployed, socially deprived, etc, etc, do not resort to crime.

  NAPO refers to Probation/Bail Hostels as having a "restrictive environment" and "secure conditions". We have researched hostel rules recently and discover that inmates are free to roam for 16 hours a day, unrestricted and unsupervised, thus free to offend at will. Perhaps Mr Fletcher is unaware that recent Home Office research reveals that 25 per cent of bailees commit at least one crime during their bail period.

  NAPO continue their long-standing dishonest comparison of the pure administrative cost of probation with the cost of a custodial sentence without taking into account the horrendous cost to society of persistent criminals offending while under supervision.

  NAPO again quotes the Kent research to bolster their ideology. Perhaps they have not noticed that this "five" year study was terminated after just over four years and the researcher admitted that he was unable to secure the necessary prison data to make vital comparisons. If we were Mr Fletcher, we would treat with caution researchers who are unable to count up to five.

  They refer to the Mid-Glamorgan "STOP" programme and claim that "reconviction rates fell by 7 per cent". That is a typical evasion of truth. What they do not mention is that this well researched programme produced a 70 per cent reconviction rate after two years. Similarly, they omitted to tell you the Hereford and Worcester programme produced a 68 per cent reconviction rate. The reconviction rates of these two experiments were published by the programme organisers; we have copies if the Select Committee wishes to receive them. It is this thoroughly dishonest practice of hiding the truth which makes all NAPO evidence so suspect.

Their Oral Evidence

  If NAPO is not anti-prison, why support the self-imposed rule never to recommend it? Why do they wish to deprive sentencers of vital OGRS (Offender Group Reconviction Study) which predict very accurately the likelihood of reoffending? They know, of course, if a sentencer is faced with the knowledge that there is an 80 per cent risk of a defendant reoffending, the likelihood of a prison sentence is greater. If Mr Fletcher claims that his priority is to protect the public by preventing reoffending, then the evidence that he fails is overwhelming.

  Mr Fletcher ridicules an article written by Mr Fraser and published in "Freedom Today". It seems that Mr Fletcher is unaware that the Central Statistical Office estimate the crime rate to be 15 million annually when including crimes reported and recorded, crimes reported but not recorded, and crimes not reported. Mr Fraser quite reasonably computed that if the 200,000 under the supervision of the Probation Service committed a ridiculously low average of 10 crimes a year, it would amount to two million crimes. If only 50 per cent of those under supervision committed the same amount of crime, it still adds up to one million. Statistics show that the majority of those under supervision are persistent offenders so the estimates are far from unrealistic.

  Again NAPO want us to believe that probation is not a soft option. National Standards lay down required contact; for a basic two-year probation order, that amounts to a total of 18 hours contact for the two years. Is Mr Fletcher seriously denying that it is not a soft option and does he really believe that persistent offenders can be reformed with such limited contact?


  We restrict this response mainly to issues not fully covered in papers we have already submitted. Inevitably there will be some duplication and variations of emphasis. We respond first to the oral evidence and summarise our comments on the written evidence.

Oral Evidence given by Professor Andrew Rutherford

  We are not surprised to hear Professor Rutherford praised Roy Jenkins, said by many to be the "father" of liberal penology.

  We were even less surprised to hear Douglas Hurd's period as Home Secretary described as a "reflective" one. It was Mr Hurd's administration that gave birth to the bizarre Criminal Justice Act 1991. The Act, inter alia, forbade judges from sentencing any criminal for more than one offence (in exceptional circumstances two) even if he had committed 100 crimes. For sentencing purposes, it prohibited courts from taking into account previous convictions or responses to previous sentences including previous supervision. These bizarre clauses and others were repealed by Kenneth Clarke in spite of a passionate and vociferous campaign by ACOP, NACRO, NAPO and their supporters to retain them. There can be no more compelling evidence of their anti-prison ideology and it strongly suggests a conspiracy.

  Professor Rutherford again repeated the misleading claim that we are "top of the European league" for sending people to prison. Special research conducted by Dr Ken Pease, Professor of Criminology, and Christopher Nuttall, Director of Research and Statistics at the Home Office, exploded that myth more than three years ago. In their written evidence, the Penal Affairs consortium also repeats that myth. They make the (deliberate) mistake of counting rates of imprisonment per 100,000 instead of the rate of crime. This myth is perpetuated for ideological reasons; without it a major plank in their anti-prison platform collapses. We question the claim by Professor Rutherford that juvenile crime is falling. If 95.1 per cent of crime is undetected, how can Professor Rutherford know the proportion of the undetected crime committed by juveniles and how much by adults? He goes on to claim that 70-80 per cent of those cautioned do not reoffend; how can he know the reoffending rates without 24 hours-a-day surveillance of each offender? Professor Rutherford maintains that community sentences "allow the finding of solutions". If that is true, how does he account for the devastatingly high reconviction rates for community supervision? He refers to the French custom of sending their young offenders on holiday. Chatting to an inhabitant of a lovely Wiltshire village about two years ago, she said that all were welcome in her village except French youths whom she described as "a gang of thieves".

Oral Evidence given by Paul Cavadino

  We were impressed that Mr Cavadino said, on a number of occasions, words to the effect that reconviction rates were too high and were disappointing. That is the first time we have heard him make such an admission in public. He also conceded that reconvictions must be central to the measurement of effective community supervision. We support his suggestion, also proposed by NACRO, that there should be a National Curriculum of credible alternative programmes as long as they are properly researched. However, we firmly retain the view that unmotivated persistent criminals cannot be programmed to reform. It is a matter of personal choice; the old adage, "you can take a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink" comes to mind.

  Mr Cavadino refers to "What Works" by James McGuire, a questionable piece of research fully appraised in Annex M[77] in our written evidence. Mr Cavadino advocates the teaching of behavioural skills, which is another name for the now very fashionable cognitive therapy. The first major cognitive therapy programme in the United Kingdom was set up in Mid-Glamorgan. Throughout the first two years it was constantly monitored, and it produced a reconviction rate of 70 per cent during that time; set against the 4.9 per cent detection rate, the reoffending rate must be about 90 per cent. In spite of the failure of this programme, similar versions are planned or are in operation in many parts of the country, wasting thousands of pounds.

  Although Mr Cavadino says that he wants Pre-Sentence Reports (PSR's) to give relevant information and sentence options, he is ideologically against the recommending of prison sentences; apart from his ideology, why not? We assume he would not be in favour of reconviction predictors being included in PSR's because he knows well that they could not be easily ignored by sentencers.

  Mr Cavadino said that the Probation Service no longer put the interest of the offender before the protection of the public. Frankly we doubt it. We have been saying this about the Probation Service for the past two decades at least and it has always been denied. However, if reconviction rates are any guide, the public is at serious risk from those serving community sentences. Mr Cavadino said that the reason that courts allowed so many who breached their probation to stay under supervision was not to "interfere with good work". We wonder what good work Mr Cavadino had in mind?

Oral Evidence given by Rob Allen

  Mr Allen said that employment was a major answer. We feel that this is an insult to the majority of those out of work who do not resort to crime. He also claimed that the fall in the crime rate was due to a fall in recorded crime; he is quite right of course. With the rise in the prison population the crime rate has fallen and, therefore, there is less crime to record.

  Mr Allen claims that in the long term community sentences are more effective than prison; we wonder where that evidence came from and how many members of the public are to be sacrificed in the process? We were concerned that Mr Allen claimed that NACRO started the first Victim Support Scheme. It is simply not true. Peter Coad was a member of the Bristol Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offender (BACRO, nothing to do with NACRO) when in 1974 we set up and funded the very first Victim Support Scheme. The first worker we appointed on a part-time basis, was Miss Dorothy Himsworth, MBE. The Chairman of BACRO was Chris Holtom who was awarded an OBE, presumably for establishing the first Victim Support Scheme. Colin Thomas, OBE, formerly Chief Inspector of Probation, was also a member of the BACRO committee at the time.

Their Written Evidence

  We will not respond to the written evidence in detail as much of the ground has already been covered by our own written and oral evidence. We particularly draw your attention to our Annexes M, O76, P76 and Q[78].

  Recorded crime peaked in 1992 following the liberal Criminal Justice Act 1991 and began to fall after its amendment in 1993. Since then it has fallen steadily; as prison populations rise the crime rate falls; the correlation between the two is surely obvious. To protect the public and to punish offenders is a moral obligation and a financial imperative. Compared with the 1950's, a criminal has an 80 per cent less chance of being sent to prison in the 1990's. The myth about pseudo-convictions features strongly to unfairly bolster up their pseudo-success rates. The Penal Affairs Consortium claims that 75 per cent of males under 21 leaving penal establishments are reconvicted within two years but omits to say that the reconviction rates for those under 21 on probation are even higher at 77 per cent. They claim an 89 per cent reconviction rate for those under 17 discharged from penal establishments. We cannot dispute that statistic because we are unaware of its source. We do know that under 17's on supervision orders have an 80 per cent reconviction rate and that makes no allowance for the 4.9 per cent detection rate. For both age groups the reconviction rates are disastrous but at least while serving a custodial sentence the public is protected. Such arguments by the anti-prison lobby are meaningless straw-clutching.

  The struggle by the apologists for persistent criminals to find programmes to make unmotivated offenders reform is relentless. The cost to the nation of these offenders financially and in terms of human misery is incalculable. Endless failed programmes have been inflicted on society without democratic acquiescence. If programmes had been devised that really worked, they would be replicated throughout the world. None works unless participants want it to work; it is basic human nature.

  The dreams of the anti-prison lobby are the nightmares of society. They seem to live in a world divorced from reality, objectivity and common sense. Qualifications for membership are an obsession with their ideology and the ability to abandon all critical faculties. They represent a serious threat to the inalienable right of citizens to be protected from the lawless. There can be no better example of their sophistry than an article by Vivien Stern CBE, former Director of NACRO, in the June 1993 edition of "The Magistrate". I quote: "Researchers have confirmed that those who become involved in NACRO's schemes are less likely to return to crime as a result: 88 per cent of adult ex-offenders and 80 per cent of young ex-offenders on NACRO's training schemes do not reoffend." Over the years we have had to battle against such outrageous propaganda. Whatever labels are applied to these organisations, Marxists, political revolutionaries or subversives, in the final analysis it is by their fruits they must be judged.

Footnote by Peter Coad

  I am aware that the Select Committee have visited many programmes in various parts of the country. I do hope I will not cause offence by pointing out that, from vast experience, most programmes are presented to visitors with enthusiasm and optimism often removed from reality. This is not always a deliberate attempt to deceive; staff supervising programmes dealing with difficult persistent offenders, survive only by unshakeable faith in a successful outcome. Sadly, ultimate disappointment is the norm. Such progammes should be judged only by their effectiveness in preventing further offending. That assessment must be the result of rigorous research conducted over a two-year period from the commencement of the programme.

  We are very conscious that much of our evidence has been in stark contrast to that of ACOP, NAPO and other anti-prison organisations with a vested interest. Not surprisingly, we are concerned that you will be unduly influenced by our opponents' ideologically based rhetoric at the expense of our rigidly factual contribution. We have no ideological or political axe to grind. David Fraser and I engage in this debate as a public duty and, frankly, because there are very few of us who have the specialist knowledge and willingness to do so. The cost in time for study and research is substantial; the financial cost does not bear thinking about. I have been battling against a tide of counterproductive criminal justice legislation and Probation Service policies since 1973 and fighting jointly with David Fraser since 1985.

  Three months ago Paul Cavadino agreed to the request of the Select Committee to respond to our evidence. It is of the greatest significance that he has not done so.

David Fraser

Peter Coad

May 1998

A DEDICATION TO OUR OPPONENTS from Edward Fitzgerald's "Polonius" (1858)

  "There are none so blind as those who won't seeA single effort of the will was sufficient to exclude from his view whatever he judged hostile to his immediate purpose."

74   See Appendix 3. Back

75   Not printed. Back

76   See Appendix 16. Back

77   Not printed. Back

78   Not printed. Back

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