Ed Humpherson to Sir Richard Heaton: Publication of statistics relating to COVID-19 in prisons in England and Wales

Dear Sir Richard Heaton

Publication of statistics relating to COVID-19 in prisons in England and Wales

I am writing to welcome the publication of new official statistics by Ministry of Justice (MOJ), which provide weekly data on COVID-19 in HM Prison and Probation Service in England and Wales.

In previous weeks, we have seen use of statistics relating to COVID-19 and the prison population by Government ministers and in the media. These statistics, which included the number of prisoners who have tested positive for COVID-19 in prisons, the number of prisoners suspected to have died from COVID-19, and the number of prisoners who have been released from prison early, as part of the effort to manage the pandemic in prisons, were not routinely published by MOJ at the time, and therefore were not easily accessible in the public domain. My team approached MOJ, and your colleagues confirmed they were working towards publishing official statistics relating to COVID-19 in prisons, which would make this information routinely available to all.

Following the UK Statistics Authority’s approach, MOJ published the first of a new weekly official statistics release on COVID-19 in HM Prison and Probation Service in England and Wales on 26 June.

Our expectation, set out in our public statement of 18 May, is that where unpublished data are used by Ministers in significant public statements, they should promptly be made available to all. By publishing these statistics, MOJ is acting in line with this principle and releasing statistics in an open and transparent manner, which will promote public confidence and enable informed public debate.

I am copying this letter to William Wragg MP, Chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, Sir Bob Neill MP, Chair of the Justice Committee, and David Blunt, Head of Profession for Statistics in MOJ.

Yours sincerely

Ed Humpherson

Director General for Regulation

Mark Pont to David Blunt: Proven re-offending and criminal justice system statistics

Dear David

PROVEN RE-OFFENDING AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM STATISTICS

As you are aware, we recently completed our short review of compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics of the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) Proven Reoffending and Criminal Justice Statistics. I am pleased to confirm that these statistics should continue to be designated as National Statistics.

We chose to review these statistics because of the continued policy and media focus on the justice system and, in particular, on the relationship between prison sentence lengths and reoffending. We reviewed the statistics against the standards set out in the three pillars of the Code – trustworthiness, quality and value. Following a constructive conversation about our findings with the MoJ statisticians who produce the statistics, this letter outlines the key strengths we identified and two areas that we would like you to consider as part of your ongoing development work.

We found many positive aspects in the way that MoJ produces and presents these statistics, which enhance their value and quality, including:

  • Your teams regularly engage with users of the statistics and their outputs are influenced by user needs. For example, the teams are in regular contact with several stakeholder groups, initially formed from the users with an interest in specific MoJ statistical publications, but who now feed in on a broad range of statistical topics. The teams also log all the Parliamentary Questions and Freedom of Information requests they receive and review them on a quarterly basis, with a view to proactively publishing new statistics to meet recurring or topical user needs: in February 2020, this led to statistics about assaults on emergency workers being included in the Criminal Justice statistics.
  • The presentation of the statistics is clear and insightful. For example, both statistical bulletins have a concise ‘Main points’ section, where key messages are pulled out and changes in the most recent data are put in the context of longer-term trends. Your teams told us that they are considering including a ‘Statistician’s comment’ at the beginning of each Criminal Justice statistics publication: we agree that clearly emphasising the ‘take-home’, overarching messages from the statistics helpful.
  • Our 2018 review of The Public Value of Justice Statistics highlighted the need for statistics that move from counting people as they interact with specific parts of the justice system to telling stories about the journeys people take. We were really pleased and excited to hear that MoJ is involved with several collaborative and innovative projects that will allow it and others to put data together to do this:
    • MoJ teams already collaborate with the Office for National Statistics (ONS), Home Office, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and other producers to enable the production of ONS statistical releases such as Child abuse and the criminal justice system and Modern slavery in the UK. These releases bring together data sources to tell more-coherent stories about individuals’ journeys through the justice system and provide insight into really important societal issues. We encourage the teams to publish links to these reports on the MoJ GOV.UK statistics pages.
    • The Criminal Justice team is in the process of developing a dashboard with ONS that will list and link to all the data outputs available across Government and other organisations related to specific offences (for example knife crime). This will improve the accessibility of data and the evidence base available to users of the statistics.
    • Work was undertaken by MoJ and the Home Office in 2019 to expand MoJ’s data extract from the Police National Computer to include additional information. This includes, for example, more detail on the method of the offence and offence location. Once the quality of these new data has been fully assessed, this upgrade will allow MoJ statisticians to broaden analysis related to topics of known user interest, such as knife crime.
    • In collaboration with Administrative Data Research UK, MoJ is undertaking an ambitious data linkage project called ‘Data First’. Data First will anonymously link data from across the family, civil and criminal courts in England and Wales, enabling sustainable research on how the justice system is used and enhancing the evidence base to understand ‘what works’ to help tackle social and justice policy issues.
  • Our review of MoJ Court statistics in 2019 identified the need for more published information about the quality of the statistics. It is clear from speaking with your teams that learning from this review has been shared across MoJ. The user guides for the two sets of statistics considered in this review provide lots of helpful, detailed information about the quality of the statistics, including how data are collected via administrative systems, how data are processed to produce the statistics, method changes over time and limitations of the data and statistics.

We identified two areas where we consider MoJ could provide more information that would be of value to users:

  • To further enhance the information about quality provided in the user guides for these statistics, we consider that the teams should include more information about how they assure themselves of the quality of the data. This should include how they communicate with data supply partners, as well as information about the quality assurance done by data providers and the MoJ teams. Your teams may find it helpful to refer to OSR Guidance on Quality Assurance of Administrative Data (QAAD), which provides guidance about how to assure the quality of data from administrative systems.
  • We understand that MoJ is in the process of identifying resource to publish its statistical work programme for publication. We encourage this: it will keep users informed of planned changes to MoJ statistics and innovative work and give them the opportunity to shape developments and to monitor progress.

At present, the situation regarding COVID-19 is ever-changing and we understand changes to way the courts run, and new police powers will affect the production of these statistics in the future. Your teams have already coded new crimes that will fall under the Coronavirus Act 2020 in their data collection systems and are considering how they can provide an up-to-date picture of reoffending for individuals released from prison earlier than planned. We look forward to seeing how this work develops.

Thank you to you and your teams for your positive engagement during this review. Our Crime and Security team will continue to engage with your team on progress in the coming months. Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you would like to discuss any aspects of this letter further.

I am copying this letter to Damon Wingfield, Nick Mavron and David Dawson, Ministry of Justice.

Yours sincerely

Mark Pont

Assessment Programme Lead

Response on MoJ Court Statistics (cont.)

Dear David

COURT STATISTICS 

Thank you for your recent letter regarding our review of the Ministry of Justice’s:

  • Criminal Court Statistics Quarterly
  • Family Court Statistics Quarterly
  • Civil Justice Statistics Quarterly

I would also like to thank you and your team, for your proactive engagement and for the steps you have already taken to improve and develop the statistics.

The plans you set out for the future development of the statistics will ensure that their value to users increases. We welcome your commitment to publishing more-open and transparent information about revisions; this will increase users’ trust and confidence in the statistics. The progress already being made with the QAAD, along with the update of the user guidance will enhance user confidence in the data and enrich the value of the statistics. We look forward to seeing the results of the of plans you have set out for addressing our other recommendations.

Thank you again for your positive engagement during this process. If you have any further questions regarding the future development of these statistics, please let me know. In addition, our domain lead for Crime and Justice statistics will continue to engage with you and your team as you take these actions forward.

Yours sincerely

Mark Pont
Assessment Programme Lead

 

Related Links:

David Blunt to Mark Pont (May 2019)

Compliance Check on Court Statistics (January 2019)

Response on MoJ Court Statistics

Dear Mark

COURT STATISTICS

Thank you for your recent review of three sets of Ministry of Justice’s statistics and data:

  • Criminal Court Statistics Quarterly;
  • Family Court Statistics Quarterly; and
  • Civil Justice Statistics Quarterly

and for confirming the publications’ ongoing compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics. The due diligence you provide forms the foundation of our work to continuously maintain and improve the standards of the National Statistics publications.

With regards to the potential developments and improvements your review has highlighted, we accept the potential value of your suggestions.  As discussed when we met with OSR colleagues in February, we have already taken steps to implement improvements in some areas, including:

  • Reviewing the content of the Statistical Policies and Procedures documents on gov.uk to bring them up to date and reflect the revised content of the Code of Practice for Statistics. Updated versions will be loaded onto gov.uk shortly.
  • Ensuring publications have clear and transparent advice on revisions and their impact (if any), as well as signposting to the Revisions Statement document.
  • Revising the user guide documentation that accompanies each bulletin to provide greater clarity on court processes and definitions of technical terms to increase public value and extend the reach of the statistics.
  • Where possible, we have extended commentary to give broader context to the statistics, particularly in relation to court processes and operations, and provided longer term trends alongside short-term changes.
  • Having carried out an initial assessment against the Quality Assurance of Administrative Data (QAAD), we have identified improvements to be made to our quality assurance procedures.

In order to address the remaining recommendations, we will ensure that further developments and improvements are incorporated into the work programmes for not only the bulletins within the scope of this review, but across all our statistical publications. In particular:

Transparency 

  • By March 2020, we will continue to extend our range of data visualisation tools with an aim of developing a tool to accompany the Civil Justice Statistics Quarterly bulletin. Feedback from users suggest that these are a welcome addition to our publication products which enable them to interrogate data at a lower level and produce bespoke analyses of specific interest to them. 
  • By June 2019, we will publish an updated, open and transparent Revisions Statement, both as part of our Statistics Policies and Procedures and within each statistical bulletin where handling of revisions may be specific to a publication or set of source data. 

Value 

  • We fully accept the need to ensure users are regularly consulted so that the information provided in the publication meets their needs. This activity takes place at regular intervals with internal stakeholders, which includes policy and operational colleagues, who provide robust challenge and useful additional context based on their knowledge of the business. We are now looking to expand this to the external community through a series of planned engagement events throughout the year.
  • We acknowledge the value in providing further context alongside existing commentary – we will continue to develop this in consultation with our stakeholders to ensure our statistics meet their and MOJ’s needs.

Quality

  • We will implement the improvements to our quality assurance procedures identified by the light touch QAAD assessment by March 2020.
  • We will develop a Statement of Quality to accompany each statistical bulletin – this will outline the processes we take to verify the quality of data, including work with data suppliers, i.e. HMCTS and others, to assess data quality at source. These will be clearly signposted within the body of the bulletin and on the relevant gov.uk landing page.  We aim for these to be completed for every bulletin by March 2020.
  • To ensure an increased focus on delivering quality, we will ensure all staff involved in the production of National and Official Statistics products undergo the Quality Statistics in Government course combined with the Quality Assurance of Administrative Data workshop training (initial training arranged in consultation with GSS Quality Centre in June for key staff members who will then disseminate).

I would like to thank you and your team again for the valuable assurance provided, and look forward to working with you in the future to enhance the content and perception of the statistical publications that we produce.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any further detail with regards to the response provided.

Yours sincerely

David Blunt
Deputy Director for Justice Statistics
Chief Statistician and Head of Profession for Statistics

 

Related Links:

Mark Pont to David Blunt (May 2019)

Compliance Check on Court Statistics (January 2019)

Response on Prison Population Projections

Dear Nick

PRISON POPULATION PROJECTIONS

Thank you for your recent letter regarding our review of the Ministry of Justice’s Prison Population Projections. I would also like to thank you and your team, for your proactive engagement around the issues we raised.

The plans you set out for the future development of the statistics will ensure that their value to users increases. We welcome your continued commitment to developing the technical approach and methodology, as this will increase users’ confidence in their quality, and we look forward to seeing the results of the actions you are taking to address our recommendations. Our domain lead for Crime and Justice statistics will continue to engage with you and your new statistical Head of Profession as you take forward these developments.

Thank you again for your positive engagement during this process. If you have any further questions regarding the future development of these statistics, please contact me.

Yours sincerely

Mark Pont
Assessment Programme Lead

 

Related Links:

Letter from John Marais, February 2019