Elfyn Llwyd on probation

Thanks to one of David Cornock's tweets, I watched the recording of a debate on the probation service that was held at Westminster on Wednesday.

Elfyn Llwyd managed to secure the debate (which is in itself no mean feat) and it went a long way to highlight just how poorly resourced the service is, and the pressures on those who work in it. A major element in the debate was a thirty page document cataloging some the pressures on the service and in particular how little time officers are able to spend in contact with offenders, and that a far larger part of their time is tied up in administration.

The debate got rather pointed, for the government had been asked if such a document was available, and had said that it wasn't. It's quite "unparliamentary" to say that the government is untruthful, so the term settled on was that the government had "unintentionally misled" Parliament. Maria Eagle's body language at that point spoke far more eloquently than could ever be recorded in Hansard. But she was taking the hit for the government, she herself has only been prisons minister for a few months ... though that few months has co-incided with the government changing its mind about building a 750-or-so place prison in Caernarfon.


It was good to see Elfyn take a lead on this. As a barrister with a lot of experience in criminal cases, he is in a good position to know exactly what he is talking about. Prisons are overcrowded, so whenever the pressure on numbers grows the "safety valve" is to release those serving short terms and put them onto the hands of the probation service. But there is no such fallback for the service, so if they get overloaded the less serious cases have to get dropped completely.


This is a subject on which it's best not to make any party political points. People in every party are all too well aware of the problem, so it is not really a political policy problem, it is more of a structural problem. From my point of view the NOMS (National Offender Management Service) for England and Wales is much too big to be able to effectively link with the other services—social services, education, health—which need to work together in order to minimize the risk of re-offending. Those other services are administered at a more local level, so to my mind it would make sense for NOMS to be dismantled and re-constructed as smaller units.

A unit the size of Wales would be just right.

Update - 18:00

Or perhaps that should be backdate, since I don't know how I missed this interview. For those who don't want to listen to a one-and-a-half hour debate, this sums up what was eventually said quite nicely:


But it's still worth seeing Maria Eagle getting tetchy ... and what led to her finishing the debate by calling Elfyn an irritant. This was his reply:

The Minister's description of me as deeply irritating is probably the best compliment I have had in my political life, so I am grateful to her.

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