Probation Matters: Predicting the Future

Thursday, 30 January 2014 I notice that Russell Webster has today been looking at the MoJ's forecasts for the prison population 2013 - 2019. Basically it could go down a lot; it could go down a bit; or it could go up.

Actually it might not do any of these and reminds me of those useless financial health warnings you get when thinking of investing in a Unit Trust. You know the sort of thing, you'll get this much if the stock market goes up a lot; this much if it goes up a bit less and this much if it only goes up a tiny bit, oh and you could lose it all if the stock market goes down:- Even without these possible changes, the actual future prison population may not match any of the projected scenarios.

Changes to criminal justice processes could influence the numbers of offenders being brought to the point of sentence or the way that offenders are managed. Changes to sentencing behaviour may also be different from those modelled.

Finally, both sentencing behaviour and criminal justice processes, as well as policy decisions, can respond to a multitude of environmental factors which cannot be anticipated, such as high profile criminal cases, events like the August 2011 public disorder events, and public debate.

It strikes me as about as much use as a chocolate fire guard, but then I am cynical and as Russell points out, the last projections were spot-on, falling exactly at the mid-point between scenarios 1 of 83,000 and scenario 2 of 84,600 at 83,843. So, what do these very smart statisticians think will happen over the next five years? Well, they say it will either go down to 77,300 or down to 81,000 or go up to 86,000 by June 2019.

Of course the period under consideration will see the government's flagship Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles come into force and which many of us say will have the effect of significantly increasing the prison population. But given the following and no mention of TR, it's unclear whether the figures take it into account at all:- The projections do not reflect the impact of legislative, policy, operational or procedural change or guidance for which there is no definite timetable for implementation.

The projections therefore provide a set of "baseline" scenarios against which the impacts of future changes can be assessed. If we and the experts are proved right though and magistrates sentence greater numbers to short periods of custody, confident that statutory supervision will be provided, and a significant number breach the requirements and return to custody, TR will indeed be assured of its place in history as yet another major government policy disaster.

Original article:

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