Tuesday, 9 February 2016

"Offenders are Assets"

Palace of Westminster 2016, two Gentlemen, let’s call them David and Michael, are having a conversation.

David: Those fellows running our Community Rehabilitation Companies have come to me complaining that they aren’t making enough money.
Michael: Can’t they get rid of more staff?
David: They say they have done that already, what they really want are more offenders to look after.
Michael: They can’t cope with the ones they currently have.
David: That’s not the point, we can’t have our friends not making enough money can we?
Michael: So they want more offenders then, where do you imagine they come from?
David: How about making being poor a criminal offence, there’s lots of them about now we have cut their benefits and taxed their bedrooms.
Michael: Good idea, but remember the austerity agenda, creating more offenders will cost money especially now I have rolled back Chris’s plans on Legal Aid, George will not be impressed.
David: So where do we get more offenders from?
Michael: We have about 80,000 in prison right now.
David: I know that but the CRCs can’t make money off them whilst they are in there.
Michael: If we released more early or avoided sending them to prison in the first place then the CRC’s can pick them up.
David: Ah but what about our friends in the press, they get awfully wound up about being ‘soft’ on crime.
Michael: The left wing press will lap this up and the right wing press are too distracted with the EU referendum to be bothered with this. An outrageous statement about the consequences of leaving the EU should keep them distracted.
David: You means like the comment I made about a ‘bunch of migrants’ to distract everyone from how little Google paid in tax.
Michael: Exactly.
David: Okay, so we have a plan, how about the details, how do we justify the reforms?
Michael: How about the high re-offending rate for short sentenced prisoners.
David: Didn’t we use that one when we reformed probation?
Michael: Yes, but I doubt anyone will notice, and if anyone does they will be too dumbfounded by how liberal we are being to argue. I think we need something stronger though.
David: What about saying how our prisons are full of drugs and violence and we want to fix them.
Michael: Good but using that as an argument could be tricky as it is our fault the prisons are in such a mess.
David: What do you mean?
Michael: I mean, we drastically cut staffing to match the private sector prisons so now we have thousands of offenders with few skills or mental health issues, sat in their cells for 23 hours a day with nothing to do but smoke ‘spice’ and wait for their release date.
David: Didn’t you say earlier that people will be too amazed to notice details like that.
Michael: I did.
David: Great we can dress this up using that idea you had for greater autonomy for Prison Governors; we can also demonstrate how sensible we are by announcing that we are going to pilot the changes too.
Michael: Err… the last time we used the re-offending stat as justification for breaking up probation. Didn’t we also say we couldn’t wait and didn’t need to pilot the reforms as gut instinct was all we needed?
David: Look, that was Chris’s gut and that worked out really well didn’t it. Besides we aren’t 18 months from a General Election we didn’t expect to win are we?
Michael: Agreed, so we have a plan, how’s about a catchy strap line for this announcement.
David: How about “Offenders are assets”
Michael: They most certainly are.


(author unknown)

Monday, 8 February 2016

Scandalous!

From the official government website:-
The Prime Minister is expected to slam the ‘scandalous failure’ of the prisons sector later today as he outlines his vision for a modern, more effective, truly twenty-first century prison system.
Yes isn't it utterly scandalous for a Prime Minister, not only to arrange for the decimation of public services that ex-offenders rely on in order to live crime-free lives, but also appoint a psychopathic moron to set about destroying much of the Criminal Justice System, in the process creating the worst prison crisis in living memory and then have the cheek to make a big speech telling us what a mess it's all in, how the new guy is much better and that they've both got a great idea about how to fix it? 

I do indeed call that a scandal, but that's all water under the bridge in political terms and the prison-reformers are getting all dewey-eyed again. How was today's big speech spun by special advisers? "The first major speech on prison reform by a Prime Minister in 20 years". As Rob Allen was quick to point out, what about this one by David Cameron from October 2012:-
David Cameron: We must make prisons work for offenders
There is no alternative to making "prisons work", David Cameron has said, insisting criminals can be punished and rehabilitated at the same time. In a speech in London, he said the debate on crime and punishment had become too "black or white". Serious offenders must be imprisoned, but jails must have a "positive impact" on inmates, he argued.
But that's politicians for you isn't it? The priority at the moment is to keep the current Justice Secretary Michael Gove on board because he's quite likely to be rather vocal on certain European matters. As always, Ian Dunt writing on the politics.co.uk website, puts it all nicely into context:-  

Prison crisis: Cameron brands his own record 'shameful' 
It’s hard to get your head around David Cameron's speech on prisons today. After ignoring prisons for years, he will admit that they are "scandalous" and should "shame us all". It's as if someone else had been in charge of them. It must have escaped Cameron's notice, but he has been prime minister since 2010, during which the prison system has undergone an almost unparallelled period of deterioration. So if we must all be ashamed, perhaps he should be most ashamed of all.

Last year's outcomes in prisons were the worst for a decade. "You were more likely to die in prison than five years ago," the prison inspector wrote in his 2015 report. "More prisoners were murdered, killed themselves, self-harmed and were victims of assaults than five years ago." Suicides fell slightly, from 88 to 76, but they were still 40% higher than in 2010. Self-harm among male prisoners was a third higher than 2010.

Back in those early sunny days of the Coalition, Cameron put Ken Clarke in charge of the Ministry of Justice. He proceeded to do some very sensible things. He warned that the prison population could not keep on growing indefinitely as it had under Labour and that it made no sense to continue locking up illiterate non-violent offenders.

The traditional attack came, from the right-wing tabloids and Tory backbenchers. Cameron did not protect him. Instead, he backed down in the face of backbench demands and installed Chris Grayling, who ran a mind-bogglingly wrong-headed penal policy. Grayling paid no attention to experts and overruled prison governors themselves by putting in place a tough new disciplinary system from Whitehall while overseeing deep departmental cuts. It was exactly the disaster the experts predicted it would be.

Throughout this period I was repeatedly told by those close to No10 that Cameron just wasn't interested in prisons. To be fair, prime ministers rarely are. This is the first speech by one of them in 20 years. He seemed completely unmoved by the appalling deterioration in standards under Grayling's watch. Now, apparently, he has had a change of heart. Who knows how this came about? Is he worried about fulfilling the message of his progressive conference speech? Has Michael Gove successfully lobbied for change? In all likelihood, it's both. The reasons why don't really matter, but the proposals do.

Cameron's chief solution is to devolve decision-making powers to prison governors, with six 'reform prisons' to get the power to run themselves and set their budgets by the end of the year and a roll-out to half of all the institutions by 2020. They'll also publish league tables with performance data on measures like reoffending. Lib Dem David Laws will chair a new social enterprise on getting top graduates into prison education. The prison education budget of £130 million will be protected, although it's not clear if that means the Treasury is reducing the level of Ministry of Justice cuts or whether the department will simply be told to find the savings elsewhere.

This is all good, but insufficient. The devolution idea is a fine one. Governors know more about what works in prison than secretaries of state. The punishment regime installed by Grayling was irritating at best to governors, who had to enforce a meaningless and demoralising disciplinary system so the secretary of state could win a favourable review in the Daily Mail. Devolution will allow them to scrap all that and make other small but significant changes, like on the phone system.


We know from studies going back four decades that maintaining relationships is key to reducing reoffending, but phone calls from prison are made prohibitively expensive. "It's heart wrenching," a former prisoner told me recently. "You need to talk. You've got a cold-hearted environment inside. You need communication with the outside and you're denied that. And for what? For the sake of reducing costs."

But even with these sensible ideas, Cameron will not be able to enact his reform of prisons unless he is prepared to undertake at least one of two unpalatable ideas. Firstly, fewer people need to go to jail and, secondly, the budget cuts need to stop. The MoJ has been told to reduce its administrative budget by 50% within five years, with 15% cuts in the prison and court budgets specifically. It's the deepest cut of any Whitehall department with over £5 billion annual budgets. And that comes on top of existing harsh savings. The number of full-time public sector prison staff fell by 29% between March 2010 and December 2014.

At the same time, the prison population continues to skyrocket. When the chief inspector of prisons analyses the ever-increasing levels of violence, it is this disconnect between rising inmate numbers and falling budgets which he singles out for blame.

--oo00oo--

Judging by their press release, the Prison Governor's Association wern't too impressed:-

The PGA was surprised with the statement made by the Prime Minister, David Cameron MP, in regards to the so-called “scandalous failure of prisons”. It is not often that the government confesses on such a public stage to its own failures and even less common to hear it from a Prime Minister. The assertion that there is a lack of talented leadership in our prisons is untrue. The stripping out of resources, including severe staffing reductions, has been the policy of the Government and of the senior management within the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) for many years now. 

Almost every function within our prisons has been centralised, from choosing who provides education and health to who changes the lights. The number of staff, including governors, has been drastically reduced yet at the same time the prisoner population has increased. This has led to an increase in the workloads of all staff, increasing stress levels and sickness rates, which has further exacerbated the problem. There has also been an increase, beyond acceptable levels, in violence, self-harm, self-inflicted deaths and the loss of good order. However, these failures cannot be laid at the doorstep of hardworking and overstretched staff who are doing their best to maintain an effective service.

Prison Governors will, of course, welcome an increase in autonomy subject to knowing what that actually entails. The PGA will continue to work constructively with the Ministry of Justice and NOMS’s senior management but will robustly defend the hard work, commitment and dedication of those governors who have made astonishing progress with chronically diminishing resources.

--oo00oo--

It's quite clear that David Cameron has pleased his right-wing Tory hosts Policy Exchange though and put a smile on the CBI's face at the prospect of more contracts for privateers:-
The Confederation of British Industry is encouraged by prime minister David Cameron's acknowledgement of the role business and charities can play in prison reforms. CBI public services director Neil Carberry said: "Transformation is necessary to run high quality, affordable public services, so we are encouraged by the Prime Minister’s acknowledgement of the role business and charities can play in prison reforms. 
"External investment and innovation will be vital in helping the Government achieve its ambitious target of building five new prisons, and tackling reoffending rates, which costs the taxpayer around GBP13bn each year. "Giving greater autonomy to governors will help them to expand their supplier base, increasing competition and driving up quality – and in-depth conversations with businesses before tendering will ensure future contracts demonstrate the very best value for money."
but there's always the likes of the Daily Mail and Daily Express for a Tory prime minister to deal with. This from the latter:-
 
Weekend prison: Soft justice fears as David Cameron plans to free thousands of lags

The Prime Minister's sweeping changes would see lags near the end of their prison sentence only behind bars at the weekend. This is just one of the prime minister's raft plans to reform the penal system, which he has described as a "scandalous failure".

His speech - considered as the first such initiative solely focusing on prison reforms in nearly two decades - will push for inmates to be treated as potential assets rather than liabilities. However the speech is likely to concern Conservative MPs who worry the Tory prime minister is creating a soft justice system.


--oo00oo--

As Harry Fletcher has tirelessly sought to remind us, it's always been part of the Tory plan (and that of the CBI) to tag thousands more offenders, not just as a way of lowering the prison population, but also as being extremely good for business. Unfortunately though the MoJ completely ballsed-up the contract procurement process by splitting it three ways between hardware, software and telecoms provider, thus adding further delays to an already flawed system. This from the Guardian last year:- 

GPS tracking of offenders delayed by further 12 months
The introduction of the next generation of GPS tracking of offenders, including convicted paedophiles, has been delayed for at least another 12 months, the Ministry of Justice has announced. The prisons minister, Andrew Selous, said there had been significant problems with the project which meant it was impossible to meet the deadline for the £265m six-year contract to begin. The previous justice secretary, Chris Grayling, promised parliament that the first satellite tracking tags, which allow for dangerous and repeat offenders to be monitored around the clock, would come into use by the end of last year.
Napo's resident expert on tracking, David Raho, had this to say on Facebook yesterday:- 

Quite puzzled by an article in The Sunday Times today with the headline

'Prisoners on parole to be fitted with alcohol detector tags'

This is certainly news to me and quite possibly to the rest of the electronic monitoring community.

The article starts off stating that 'Criminals will be banned from drinking alcohol when they are released from prison'. However, the article neglects to say how this will be accomplished. Present legislation has allowed Transdermal Alcohol Monitoring tags (TAMs) to be piloted in London by the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime. These are not GPS enabled as the article suggests nor are they currently authorised for use as part of parole supervision or indeed as part of supervision for those serving sentences of less than 12 months.

We do know that the government plans to expand the use of electronic monitoring in a bid to reduce the prison population but largely due to incompetence and changing the goal posts/obligations for suppliers etc the roll out of the long awaited GPS tags has been delayed and delayed. We may still have to wait until much later in the year until anyone other than MoJ staff are actually fitted with one.

The article suggests that tomorrow UK PM David Cameron will announce the authorisation of something that does not currently exist ie a GPS enabled alcohol monitoring tag to be used with groups of offenders ie Parolees for which legislation does not currently exist to make wearing these tags a condition of their licence. It therefore beggars belief that this is what Cameron will do and if he does announce this it is highly unlikely he will be able to deliver it anytime soon.

Even if everything was in place to roll out a system that as the article suggests would mean that 'Thousands of prisoners will be fitted with tags and told to stay away from drink as part of the terms of parole' how is that even remotely practical to enforce? Even monitoring 111 people through an 18 month pilot took a large number of dedicated people putting in some very hard work indeed to produce 'proof of concept'. A small scale pilot to produce proof of concept is a long way from a national roll out and expansion to totally different groups of offenders.

Such a measure would not be about treatment or rehabilitation but be about restriction of liberty and punishment. It would impact disproportionately on the poor and persons with particular lifestyles whether or not alcohol had featured in their offending. The alcohol monitoring tags are larger and hence more visible than standard RFID tags and, for instance, you would have difficulty wearing work boots (or for women in particular to wear work boots or calf length boots) and you cannot take a bath with one on. This may well make getting a job and even undertaking work safely such as labouring or indeed getting clean afterwards a lot more challenging.

During the pilot suitability for the tags was carefully assessed and most of those found suitable were people who had committed drink drive offences. They are not suitable for those who are alcohol dependent.

There is also mention in the same article of 'Smart Tags' that are lauded as a means to 'reduce the number of babies born and raised behind bars'. I am at a loss to know how this will be achieved. Are male and female offenders to be tracked like tagged wild animals in a breeding project and somehow kept apart to prevent sexual relations taking place?

--oo00oo--

Frances Crook of the Howard League, writing in the New Statesman, is cautiously optimistic but put her finger on a number of the problems in the rhetoric:- 
David Cameron's prisons speech could be the start of something good
Chris Grayling closed 18 prisons and wings, reallocating the population into the shrunk estate. He cut prison staff by more than a third in each prison. The result was overcrowded, understaffed, violent prisons full of drugs and very disaffected staff trying to control frustrated prisoners on restricted regimes.

I was expecting some thinking on who we send to prison and what we do with them when they are incarcerated to create the conditions for radical reform. I was disappointed as the proposals were oddly reminiscent of things that Labour tried and contributed to this mess in the first place.
Labour was very proud of building lots of new prisons, hoping that they would build their way out of an overcrowding crisis. What happened of course was that new prisons were filled even before they were completed so the old prisons couldn’t be closed. Today we hear that £1.3 billion will be spent on building ‘reform prisons’ that will pilot new ways of working. My worry is that they will become warehouses unless the sheer number of prisoners is restricted and resources are allocated to allow for just the sort of flexibility being proposed.
Giving governors more autonomy sounds good, and I support it in principle, but they always used to have their own budgets with discretion to choose how to spend it, including commissioning education and other services. It is no good having increased autonomy if they are constantly firefighting an overcrowding crisis and not given the resources, including well trained prison staff, to implement new ideas.
We already have league tables for prisons. Every few months assessments of how prisons are performing are published, along with regular inspections and independent boards monitor conditions. Reoffending rates are published but this information is less robust as prisoners tend to move round the system so how can one establishment be accountable.
Oh, in case you were wondering, the airbrushing of probation out of existence shamefully continues. 

Turks vs Dinosaurs

We've been here many times before with some lively discourse between the old and new guard in probation, so on the day we're led to believe the Tories are finally going to tear up all that old mantra about prison 'working', I think these contributions from yesterday rather neatly encapsulate some key issues as far as we are concerned:-   

So instead of moaning, what about offering some solutions? Pisses me off. Everyone moaning and not taking responsibility for anything.

******
Take responsibility for what exactly? There have been countless solutions offered from pre to post TR. Nobody wanted/wants to listen because Probation is a commodity that has been sold. It's a sign of a professional and committed workforce when staff begin highlighting the glaring problems. There are many that continue to stand up for what probation should be. Unfortunately the buyers, CEO's, directors and justice ministers are only interested in how best to strip the carcass. Probation staff are increasingly unnecessary expenses and where they cannot be paid to leave, they'll be made to leave.


*******
I think I am with you, although can sympathise with the 'stripped carcass' brigade - but mainly because I think they are sadly entrenched in their own set-in-stone old ways, and unable to see past the end of their own dependency of the 'old' rather ineffectively managed, and sometimes lackadaisical approach which had been allowed to proliferate over the past decade or so. 


Good, but ambitious Probation Officers (with that original 'social work' ethic) were promoted up into management positions, and from there on it ... all went pear shaped. Good and effective respected management is a skill in itself - which seems to have been completely missed, and by default very damaging, in my view, to the overall culture and workforce of Probation. But the world moves on; changes WERE necessary in Probation! (I personally wouldn't have done it like THIS), but some of the new TR initiatives are undoubtedly, the way to go, even - dare I say it - the Kiosks.

It's sad that more people aren't prepared to, can't, or won't, adapt their attitude, and embrace some of the new working model ideas going forward, rather than just moaning and being negative all the time. Essentially it is the same people/workers (POs and PSOs) who are still 'Probation'- if they haven't already jumped ship or taken the money and run; or sadly been made redundant - when what they really WANTED was to remain and take part in the new probation of the future (and I wonder how many of them there are!)? After all new probation, it is about the future of the service users, and their rehabilitation, not a bunch of old dinosaurs who are afraid of change. 

*******
The fact is that a pre-TR probation service was hitting all its targets and reoffending was steadily decreasing. There is no "new probation" and the unanimous feeling towards what's now a shadow of its former self has nothing to do with "old dinosaurs afraid of change". Probation officers have dealt with and adapted to ongoing change over the past 25 years and those past and present, and old and new do not support TR. Kiosks, Cohorts, Skype, PbR, Catering companies, deprofessionalisation, removing degree training, ending local partnerships, closing probation offices, more for less, I'd say nobody supports any of this apart from the reckless idiots at the MoJ, NPS HQ and Sodexo Links CRC.

*******
Your knowledge of probation history is extremely poor. Until probation was viewed as a business, the majority of CPOs, DCPOs and ACPOs had started as POs. So to state that things began to go wrong because former POs became managers is an historically incorrect analysis.

*******
Goodness. Where to start..? I’m probably one of the ‘old dinosaurs’ you refer to but I didn’t get to be an old dinosaur in probation by being afraid of change. From as far back as I can remember the job has been constantly changing. New CJ acts with new sentences to adapt to, new interventions, programmes, latest research etc. The sort of things that made you THINK about what you were doing and how to do it better. However a common theme from all the research has pretty much concluded that the quality of the relationship between the supervisor and supervisee has contributed to the best outcomes, especially when set against working with good partnerships, good communications etc, all with a broadly similar aim. (Which has been support and rehabilitation – and therefore the route to a reduction in re-offending - rather than profit as a main priority.)

I’m interested to know which part of TR you see as being ‘..about the future of the service users, and their rehabilitation..’ and whether, given your apparent support for kiosks (for example) what you see as the basic components of such rehabilitation? Indeed what value is placed on ‘rehabilitation’ where this (as I think it must ) is also a drain on those lovely profits? Effective rehabilitation will never be cheap and in my view we shouldn’t be trying to do it on the cheap. It's an insult to service users, victims and the public.

There seems to be many people (do they see themselves as the ‘Young Turks’ as opposed to the Dinosaurs?) commenting who apparently think that assessing and managing risk is just about completing an OASys form in so many days and whose views about what constitutes ‘rehabilitation’ seem pretty superficial to me. It's been my experience that the best and innovative probation officers will always be those that have used their brains and questioned and challenged, not tugged the forelock and counted the beans.

Perhaps it's hoped that when the ‘dinosaurs’ die out those who are left will never have experienced anything better and believe that kiosks are the norm..(‘ hurrah..more time to prioritise those ‘targets’) but how can anyone work well with our client group and not question the wisdom of what this government has done?

Yes a lot of original staff with sound values remain, but between the stuff of TR , the ‘austerity’ agenda - which hits the poor the hardest and in many cases service users hardest of all (eg. try coming out of prison still with just £46 in your pocket and a several week wait for benefits albeit with an appt with the homeless section set up by TTG) then it seems to me we have had most of the tools we needed to do a good job taken away from us. We can struggle through and make the best of a bad job, but, sorry, I will never believe the service will ever be as good as it was again.


*******
'Young Turk' back here - and first, let me address this point (about senior management), which confirms exactly my point. They were great PO's but not necessarily managers. It was way back then, when the service was managed by probation officers who were not management trained and weren't particularly good at managing a large public service organisation (at CEO and director levels), that the 'rot' (overly harsh word, but illustrates my point), set in. 

I agree, and am aware that there have been many 'political' changes over the decades, the varying of sentencing and approaches. Some came and went, and others rightly, in my opinion, stayed. However those were procedural changes - and certainly required probation officers and PSO's to 'step up to the plate' - which on the whole they did well. But such changes are not the same as 'cultural' changes, which led to the immediately pre-TR situation that had been reached in Probation. 

I strongly believe that probation should have remained a public service. And, should not have been split. But to be in denial that it needed - let's say, recalibrating, I feel amounts to looking the other way. It may have been 'meeting it's targets' - but offending was not reducing overall, and there was an increasing culture of control, punishment, monitoring, and breaching, rather than to my mind, the preferable holistic effective rehabilitation work I hope most probation workers would agree would be the better alternative (where safe)? So, the idea of the ORA I feel, was a sound improvement, meaning that Probation staff had the real and actual say in what, which and even how rehabilitation activities could be carried out - rather than magistrates. 

No one working in probation, in their right mind, is going to think that a positive and constructive relationship with a service user isn't 'king' in this 'business'. But, surely the objective for all people coming through the doors of probation is to help them to help themselves, and ultimately leave (probation) at the end of their sentence, living a better more fulfilling life, without further offending behaviour.

And, coming back to my attitude towards kiosk technology, I cannot see that, towards the end of the process, it isn't both positive and practical for service users, AND probation staff, if they are able to move to remote (kiosk) contact. Especially as many people are now very used to living life through a mobile phone, and dealing with remote communications. The kiosk, at the right time, leaves the probation 'professionals' to concentrate their time and skills on the new people coming through the doors, and leaves the service users with a way of complying, and accessing help and contact should they need it, in the latter stages of an order. I personally think that makes a lot of sense.

And finally, just to pick up on the point about diminishing qualifications for probation workers - I don't know details what the new plans are there? Are people saying they think newly qualified Probation Officers are (going to be) in some way sub-standard? I hear that the PSO role is being required to train to a higher level than previously. But at the end of the day, whilst the training is of course KEY and vital to ensuring a professional probation workforce, I still believe THE most important element are the people themselves, who decide they wish to work with fellow human beings who have offended. Their motivations, skills and talents - complemented of course by the necessary training - to work with people in a planned, and effective way, which hopefully reduces and ultimately halts offending behaviour for good.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Warm Words from Interserve

Many thanks to the reader for sending me the following missive of comfort from the new boss of West Yorkshire CRC:-

Hello Everyone,

I thought I'd write a quick summary of my initial thoughts and observations following my first week in West Yorkshire. Its been a busy week of meetings, looking at our processes and I've been able to meet around 50 people from different offices across all job roles.

You won't be surprised to hear I have consistently observed the same themes, with the main two being: 

1) people just want to do a good job
2) obviously people are concerned about the future, last weeks announcements of staff reductions are raw and sensitive, understandably people want to know about their own future 

What struck me, with pleasure, was that despite the potentially personal impact of change, the overriding priority is that of doing a good job, whether that be front facing with service users or corporate services assisting in the delivery of services. 

It is that passion and commitment that has always helped Probation stand apart from other sectors, and it is important we never loose that value, one which aligns very neatly with Interserve's own values 'do the right thing' and 'be proud'. 

I want to try and make it as easy as possible for us to deliver the best services we can. One quick way we can do this is to make it easier for you to access local performance data. Within a week or so you should be able to access that data within one or two clicks rather than the complex process you currently go through to find performance reports. Last quarter we failed to achieve a couple of measures, and this has resulted in a significant fine of £95k, this is something I know no one wants to happen again.

With regards to the second theme, we all understand the anxiety every staff member will be feeling and will seek to provide you with clarity of your personal position as soon as we are able. The unknown is never pleasant, but we will be open, transparent, and as fair as possible. We genuinely do want to find as many people jobs as possible, but the reality is the MoJ pays us significantly less than we received as a public body and as such, restructure was inevitable.

The staffing changes should not be confused with the Interchange Model though, of which I'm a huge fan. The Interchange Model gives us a real opportunity to work with service users in a way that we were unable to do under NOMS direction, and I'm genuinely excited by that. 

Well, I will finish there. Other than to say thank you for the warm welcome I've received so far, I really do feel privileged to be working alongside you all. 

Speak soon

Martin

Martin Davies
Chief Executive
The Humberside, Lincolnshire and North Yorkshire
Community Rehabilitation Company Limited
8 Corporation Street
Lincoln LN2 1HN   

--oo00oo--

We learnt yesterday from the Napo General Secretary's blog that he'd signed up to a 'ground breaking operational procedures agreement' with Purple Futures, which raises a number of questions in my mind and that of this reader:-
What exactly is this 'ground breaking operational procedures agreement' signed with 'Purple Futures' - or, as they now seem to be known, 'Interserve', what with the supposed 'partners' - plainly no more than bid-candy – barely getting a mention these days? And when the GS says 'just' signed does he mean AFTER their announcement of 23% job cuts in Yorkshire alongside smaller but significant cuts in their other CRCs too? And their plans to decimate PO numbers and force qualified PO staff into PSO roles? And does he mean AFTER the presentation of their woeful desistance-lite, research-free, social work devoid, disaster in-the-making 'Interchange model' for transforming clients lives by being a bit more chipper and trying not to mention their crimes? I wonder if he might instead consider trying to help those of us under the purple cosh to fight to maintain some professionalism, some integrity and some jobs?
--oo00oo--

My name is Jasmine and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Greenwich studying Criminology and Criminal Psychology. I am currently undertaking a dissertation research project exploring the emotional impact associated with being a probation officer. The study would like to hear about the personal experiences of being in probation and how it has affected the probation officers. Officers will be asked a series of questions that will explore matters to do with caseloads, stress, interactions with clients and feelings towards the changes made under Transforming Rehabilitation. If you are a probation officer working anywhere in the UK and would like to take part in the study, or if you would like more information, please email me at bj430@greenwich.ac.uk. Interviews can take place in person or over the phone and will last no longer than thirty minutes. Your contribution to the study would be much appreciated.     

Friday, 5 February 2016

Latest From Napo 97

Here we have this weeks blog from the Napo General Secretary:- 

WORKING LINKS CRC MEMBERS ASK:CON OR CHAOS?

Staff cuts are very much a source of major concern for members these days even among those who have yet to hear what their employers have in store for them as their respective CRC's now see the consequences of the flawed TR contracts that they were sold by Chris Grayling.

We have already seen how Sodexo made a 'dogs dinner' of the way that they handled their appalling staff reduction programme and the huge collateral damage that was caused to employee morale and the reputational opprobium that has followed their previous excursions into public services in the UK e.g Northumberland Prison and in other countries across the globe.

While we start to come to terms and obtain more information about the intention to reduce staffing profiles from other CRC employers, and try to develop as constructive a working relationship as possible with the likes of Staffordshire and West Midlands, and Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northampton and Rutland; and Purple Futures (with whom we have just signed a ground breaking operational procedures agreement), one would have hoped that other CRC owners might have been a bit more sensitive to the current climate of fear, uncertainty and understandable anger.

So one week after what has to be the most shambolic meeting I have ever attended with a private sector contractor anywhere in my career, which at times resembled a french farce with so many people coming in and out of doors desperately trying to fill the huge information gap that the employer had caused, its reasonable for me to relay the question that members within their three CRC's are positing through their local representatives which is: why are Working Links treating us like idiots?

Whilst we ought to be spending valuable time coming to terms with the rationale and detail behind the operating model on which they say they have predicated their staggering 42%c intended job cuts, we have one important problem, in that they seem to still be working out what that actually is. Add to this the heady mix of mass confusion that is being caused by ad-hoc and ill-timed releases of information to certain managers who themselves are then placed in an invidious position and you have a classic example of how not to undertake consultation and negotiation. Its no wonder that our local reps are trying to make sure that the blame for this rests in the right place and I support and applaud their efforts to provide some clarity to members.

Obviously we are making appropriate representations to the employers and are challenging the whole basis of this sorry story. We will also be advising NOMS commercial of our concerns about how this squares with Working Links contractual responsibilities and we will, as always, be guided by what our members want us to do in response. Its not too late for Working Links to bring some much needed order here, and as always we stand ready to engage.

Review of Racial Bias in the CJS

In what was a mixed bag of a week, with events that I will cover in another post, came a welcome announcement that David Lammy MP is being commissioned to lead a long overdue review to look at this issue.

As you would expect, I wrote soon after the announcement to offer Napo's input as our members across all the various strands of the criminal Justice System will have plenty to offer here.

2nd February 2016

Dear David,

REVIEW OF RACIAL BIAS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

I was delighted to hear the news that you have been appointed by the Prime Minister to lead this review. It was also massively encouraging to see that you have already been contacted by Probation Officers who care deeply about this important issue and who will provide valuable testimony on the issues at hand.

As you are aware, Napo, as the Trade Union and Professional Association for Probation and Family Court Workers, prides itself on its diversity. As one of the few senior trade union leaders to emerge from the BAME Community in recent years I am proud to be Napo's General Secretary and equally proud of our work alongside the Staff Associations within the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the fact that last year we were able to launch Napo's own Black Members Network.

Given our membership profile in the Probation and Family Court Service, and the fact that some joint research on the staffing division that took place prior to the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme that we carried out with the Staff Associations has been considered by Her Majesty's Inspector of Probation, I believe that Napo is as well placed as any of our contemporaries to offer a constructive view about the many issues that are likely to feature in the Review. I would be pleased to have the opportunity to meet with you to discuss how we may be able to work together and contribute to this long overdue, but nevertheless welcome, initiative.

I look forward to hearing from you and if you believe that a meeting would be beneficial I wonder if you might arrange for your office to establish contact with my Administrator Annoesjka Valent avalent@napo.org.uk or Telephone: 020 7326 9982.

Meanwhile my best wishes to you as you get your preparations underway.
Yours sincerely,

IAN LAWRENCE
General Secretary

Cc. Tania Bassett, National Official Press Parliament & Campaigns
​Ranjit Singh, National Official Equality and Diversity
Chris Winters and Yvonne Pattison National Co-Chairs

I will keep you posted.

NNC review

Some time ago Michael Spurr indicated that he wanted to review the National Negotiating Council machinery in light of the impact of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme.

The unions replied to the effect that we thought it to be premature to undertake changes especially given the huge transitional agenda that we were coping with. At Xmas we met again with Mr Spurr and his officials, and following this we were invited to offer some thoughts about how some possible reforms could be initiated which take account of the NPS and CRC landscape.

Napo's Probation Negotiating Committee will meet soon to consider our 'without prejudice' suggestions that we have decided to put forward with Unison and GMB as an alternative to NOMs doing something precipitate like pulling out and bringing the whole edifice tumbling down. At the same time we have been trying to engage with CRC owners to convince them that a place still exists for them within the NNC which firstly acknowledges their desire to have guarantees around commercial confidentiality and secondly, allows them an opportunity to share in the important professional and technical issues that itrespective of our views about TR and its aftermath will hopefully bring benefits to probation service clients everywhere.

All this is going to be a challenge to say the least, and I will report further just as soon as I can. Meanwhile, I am happy to say that any suggestion that Napo are contemplating withdrawal from the NNC or that we are prepared to see our CRC Members cut adrift from existing National Bargaining arrangements are definitely not on our agenda.

Enjoy the weekend

Political Corruption

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According to the latest edition of Private Eye, SEETEC is the latest of the probation privateers to be in special measures for failing an audit, but Home Secretary Theresa May has a cunning plan for probation - give it to PCC's to sort out.

Now those with long memories will recall that Police and Crime Commissoners was a concept floated a long time ago by the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange to replace Police Authorities. It was an idea that had no public support and their election three years ago recorded the lowest ever turnout with hundreds of thousands of spolit ballot papers, a fact that the government and Theresa May has conveniently swept under the carpet. This comment from yesterday summed it up nicely I thought:-
Democracy all round, then, as probation services and the modern version of borstal schools are handed on a plate to politically sponsored individuals who, at best, were shoe-horned into something like £65,000 a year PCC roles on the back of 30% of the votes from an average 15% turnout by the electorate. I'm not a statistician, but doesn't that effectively mean these quango's are being run by one person on the basis of getting the nod from just 5% of the electorate?
Like much of government policy nowadays, it was cooked up on the back of several fag packets and during her speech yesterday, even she admitted that at one point she felt it had all been a ghastly mistake. But only three PCCs have so far significantly disgraced themselves, none of them Tories, so relief all round and in fact completely unbeknown to the public, the decision has been made to give these barely-elected officials even more power over the Fire Service. 

In a very sneaky move last month, departmental responsibility for the Fire Service moved quietly from the Department for Communities and Local Government, back to the Home Office in readiness for what will effectively become a merger of police and fire service functions under the joint control of PCCs. But clearly Theresa May feels suitably emboldened in her empire-building to now actively consider adding youth justice, probation and education to her portfolio:-
"But in the future, I would like to see the PCC role expanded even further still. Together with the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, I have been exploring what role PCCs could play in the wider criminal justice system. This is something that I have long believed in and which a number of PCCs have shown interest in. As they say, there is a reason that we included the words “and crime” in PCC’s titles.
So after the May elections, the Government will set out further proposals for police and crime commissioners. Because as a number of PCCs have argued, youth justice, probation and court services can have a significant impact on crime in their areas and there are real efficiencies to be had from better integration and information sharing. We have yet to decide the full extent of these proposals and the form they will take, but I am clear that there is significant opportunity here for PCCs to lead the same type of reform they have delivered in emergency services in the wider criminal justice system.  
And there are other opportunities too. As Adam Simmonds has argued, I believe the next set of PCCs should bring together the two great reforms of the last Parliament – police reform and school reform – to work with and possibly set up alternative provision free schools to support troubled children and prevent them from falling into a life of crime.
And alongside the expansion of PCC responsibilities, the development of powerful directly elected mayors provides a fantastic opportunity, where there is local agreement and boundaries make sense, to bring together policing with local transport, infrastructure, housing and social care services under a single directly elected mayor. I know many PCCs have engaged with local proposals, and I would encourage them to continue to do so - because I am clear that PCCs’ consent is a prerequisite for the inclusion of policing in any mayoral deal."
Now there's another funny thing - mention of 'Elected Mayor's'. I seem to remember the public were not too keen on them either. When John Prescott floated the idea years ago up in Durham and the North East, it was roundly rejected in a referendum and similarly where I live, electors comprehensively gave it the thumbs down. So how is it we're getting one imposed on us by George Osborne and Central Government anyway? 

So lets get this right. The public didn't want PCCs, didn't turn out to vote for them and many that did, spolit their ballot papers. The public don't know who they are, what they do or who is standing for election because candidates do not qualify for a free mailout. During the election for PCCs there will be no mention of the proposed new powers, that will only be decided after they are get elected. 

What was the title of Theresa May's speech? Why, 'Putting People in Charge' of course! Oh how the English language has been utterly corrupted by politicians.    

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Sodexo Joins Wimpy

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We knew they were coming, well here's the first glimpse of what Sodexo's new 'Wimpy bar' style interview booths look like, but according to facebook and a lot of hard work by Andrew S. Hatton, the reaction has not been favourable:-  


OMG - we are going to talk about child protection issues in here, with a predator next door, or someone who would decide to do some vigilante action? Even just checking someones address? I would be embarrassed to talk, never mind a client. Confidentiality?

Sodexo have no interest in health and safety, confidentiality, or public protection. All that nonsense is far too expensive and would make a huge dent in their profit.

I really don't think these companies that have taken us over understand the type of people we deal with. This situation needs to be relooked at.

Or maybe Sodexo (and the government) don't believe they have the right to be treated with respect, and, therefore, don't actually care.

What immediately comes to mind is health and safety. As we know we deal with unpredictable behaviour from some of offenders we work with. How on earth could this be managed in this setting? The impact that could then have on others being interviewed in such close proximity doesn't bear thinking about. Unacceptable and intolerable.

I would love to see the research feeding into the engagement and health and safety policies for this 'American Diner' focus! Smacks of enabling concerned and informed Offender Managers to ask closed questions only, to ensure you spend as little a time as possible with Service Users!

Apparently Sodexo are solving the issue of conversations being overheard by applying for a music licence to drown out the chat from the booths.... 'Course thats going to work....NOT!

What about issues with gangs? All open and can be seen! Concerns about disclosure - imagine telling someone you are recalling or breaching them and their friends or family are sat in the next booth and over hear this.

I'm still in shock, no trust can be built up, that moment when you finally gain trust and get somewhere with them will be completely taken away. It will be nothing more than going through the motions with them. Everything probation stood for is being thrown away.

What about the male offenders who play up to the crowd and love an audience?! Taking them into a private room used to allow you to unpick that veneer.... Now they're gonna just play up to the audience in the waiting room! How do you calm them down with an audience?! This is dangerous.

How on earth can you have a private conversation about intimate and personal aspects of people's lives? Everything will be so superficial. Perhaps that's what they want? If you don't know about risk you can't be held responsible for risk?!


Welcome to Tory ideology. This is not about public protection, rehabilitation or staff welfare, it's about maximising profit for share holders at any cost. I wonder how many MP's or their friends and family are involved in these companies and waiting to reap the financial benefit? After 20 years involved in criminal justice I did not think things could get much worse, wrong.

--oo00oo--

Now, somewhat interestingly, the Probation Institute seems to be discovering its bark and it just so happens has very recently published the first of a series of position papers entitled 'Principles for office arrangements' and I quote (my highlighting):-

Principle No. 3:
In any office environment there must be private space for confidential and difficult conversations.


At the heart of engagement between probation and service users is the gaining of mutual respect to encourage the rehabilitative endeavour. This is not possible where arrangements are inadequate to deliver a secure and private space for such conversations. A current trend towards the use of pods with half height screens between them is inappropriate and cannot be condoned. Whilst the worker needs arrangements where they can be safe this has always been possible in conventional interview rooms and this should be the norm. Sufficient space must be available so that all such interviews can be conducted in the right therapeutic and safe environment. Workers are asking service users to be open and honest in their interactions this is simply not possible if their conversations can be overheard.

Principle No: 4:
Open plan arrangements must facilitate workers to develop good working practices with service users


Evidence suggests that open plan can cause stress and lower productivity, particularly for work that requires contemplation and thought. Noise, such as phones ringing or colleagues chatting, is a problem for concentration and distracts workers from tasks requiring concentration, complex processing and creative thinking. Few can work without interruption and many staff find it a major source of stress which is exacerbated when workload demands are high. Blueprints for change which may look convincing on paper are not worth the anticipated savings if not conducted with worker satisfaction in mind. Workers and service users should be consulted and their views taken on board when open plan arrangements are being introduced.

Principle No 5:
Open plan arrangements must ensure that there are no costs to the physical well being of their staff


Although introducing open-plan offices may appear cheaper in the short-term, providers must acknowledge the indirect costs to the wellbeing, performance and retention of staff. One piece of research reported that ‘people who work in open-plan offices are less healthy. They typically experience more headaches, fatigue and stress-related illness, and are at increased risk of infectious diseases’ (Kinman and Garfield, 2015) Probation’s productivity comes from its staff and such a finding should give rise for concern about introducing practices which would increase stress and dissatisfaction already experienced by the dislocation caused by the new spilt arrangements.


Conclusion

The PI is in favour of making the most of more modern arrangements for office accommodation but urges serious attention to the evidence base which challenges the conventional wisdom that open plan is the best and only solution. Staff understand the arrangements which enable them to work effectively and their views are crucial to the construction of workable arrangements. Service users can be unpredictable and care must be exercised to introduce arrangements which protect the security and well-being of staff, accessibility and inclusivity, adaptability, openness and interaction across workspaces as well as ecological sustainability.

Latest From Napo 96

Newsletter for Napo Working Links CRC members Feb 2016 Edition 2

As reported in Justice News (29th January), consultations with Working Links and the employers continued last Friday (29th Jan.) at a cross-CRC union meeting. From a union perspective, this meeting was far from satisfactory. As reported in Edition 1 of this newsletter, we had been promised detailed written proposals (a Consultation Document) early in the New Year. In the event, and this was not reported in Justice News, this documentation was only sent out to some of us, less than 48 hours before the meeting. Even then, it was incomplete and for a variety of reasons most if not all union reps at the meeting had not even had sight of the consultation pack before the meeting started. We were not therefore in any position to respond in a considered way to the information. This meeting could not be described as either timely or meaningful. The agenda for the meeting was set by Working Links, despite the fact that we had submitted agenda items – more on this later. 

The Working Links Way 
Thus it is only since the meeting that we have been able to digest the full impact and our worst fears are confirmed in respect of the implications of the ‘Working Links Way’ of operating into the future. Utilising the BRAG system, it will mean that low risk (Green rating) service users will receive little or no face to face contact with those staff actually managing their orders. They will be subject to a group induction and thereafter, the ‘channels of delivery’ will consist of a combination of remote interaction/media (? – we take this to mean phone conversations with staff in Operational Hubs), selfdelivery (? DIY?) and attendance at community hubs utilising the Working Links Directory of Services which we have not yet seen. In our view, there is a very significant risk that, in the long run, this model will prove counter-productive in terms of the throughput of work into the CRCs as the NPS and more importantly the courts come to understand that the level of service provided to low risk offenders involves little or no face to face contact with case managers. It is not clear how this model will impact on UPW requirements but here too remote case management is promoted and again we have concerns about how this will operate. 

Numbers 
We have previously reported that the worst case scenario would see nearly 600 staff across the three CRCs losing their livelihoods. On Friday, the employers reported that the anticipated loss of staff was now nearer 500. 

Enhanced voluntary redundancy terms 
There is nothing in the information pack to confirm that there is still an intention on the part of Working Links to offer the Enhanced Voluntary Redundancy terms to all staff at risk of redundancy through the four phases of implementation over 15 months to the Spring of 2017. This is disappointing in light of their previously reported intentions. The unions will be challenging WL over this, but the fear is that, certainly in the latter phases, these terms will no longer be offered. 

Early phases of implementation 
Corporate support staff are already subject to redundancy and the next part of this plan is the testing and roll-out of Operational Hubs. The first of these is already indicated in the latest Justice News. Through the somewhat oddly named ‘proof of concept’, WL are indicating that these will be piloted but there is little or no evidence that these pilots will be reviewed and analysed prior to roll-out. This will be linked to radical re-organisation of admin. staff as reported in our last edition. The promised briefing to staff to clarify the position (and apologise for mis-communication) before Christmas was never issued and the only reference that we can find is in Justice News (11 January) and the following statement: “ We are consulting with the unions about the proposed future changes and we have already adapted our approach in line with some of their feedback. In particular around the timelines for the proposed offer we had originally scheduled for VR for administrators, to allow us to share further information on our proposals.” Administrators may anticipate further communication from the three employers imminently. 

Organisational Change Policy 
Napo has tabled this draft policy with Working Links and we await their response. The intention is to bring a transparent and understandable structure to bear on the organisational changes and their impact on staff – redundancy, alternative employment, job matching etc.

Who is who and what is what? 
Again as reported in our last edition, we continue to be concerned about the lack of clarity as regards the identities particularly of the two SW CRCs (BGSW & DDC) and who works for which – in senior management. This problem does not afflict Wales CRC although across all three CRCs we are also exercised by the blurring of boundaries as between the CRCs (supposedly independent companies) and Working Links itself. Working Links and senior managers seem both reluctant to acknowledge that this is causing confusion and also reluctant to engage with the unions over our concerns. We tabled it as an agenda item last Friday – ignored. 

Missing information 
At our forum meeting on 15th December, as well as both prior to it and subsequently confirmed in writing, we requested a list of information (see last edition – items 1-14). Last Friday we received, for the first time, some more meaningful but still incomplete S.188 information. We await a full information set here together with information under items 3,4,5,6 & 14. We also await the WAV workshop. All was promised at our December meeting. 

Series of meetings 
Further consultation meetings with the employers were proposed on a monthly basis. This was towards the end of the Consultation Document with which we were presented on Friday and the item was never reached in our discussions. However the next meeting might be anticipated later this month. 

Commitment to meeting legal requirements over consultations 
Working Links and the three employers are indicating that they will meet the requirement under the Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. Essentially this is around meaningful consultation and minimum periods for consultation. We imagine that the requirement over minimum periods will be met, but consultations need to get a whole lot more meaningful than last Friday. 
--- 
Members are asked to feed back to us on their thoughts over the innovative proposals from Working Links - The ‘Working Links Way’ – please respond via your local branch and staffside reps so we can in turn feed back collectively to Working Links on the views of our members. If you want to know more about the support and advice we provide to members go to www.napo.org.uk, call Napo on 0207 223 4887 or email your link national official Mike McClelland – mmcclelland@napo.org.uk

Monday, 1 February 2016

Prison Realities

A new Chief Inspector of Prisons is now in post and it will be interesting to say the least to see what he makes of things. In the mean time, lets remind ourselves what the outgoing inspector thinks. Here's an edited version of Nick Hardwick's interview for the Guardian:-  

‘You shouldn’t do this job for long because you get used to things you shouldn’t’

The outgoing chief inspector of prisons is explaining why he is so keen to get out of the job. It’s not the budget fights Nick Hardwick had with the Ministry of Justice, nor the fact that he wasn’t actively encouraged to apply for another five-year stint. It’s not even the fact that the previous secretary of state for justice, Lord Grayling, “robustly” tried to influence him – as Hardwick revealed to a select committee last week.

No, he simply feared that he was becoming desensitised; that he was getting prison-horror fatigue. “You shouldn’t do this job for too long because you get used to things you shouldn’t get used to,” he says. “I’ll give you an example of something that is objectively shocking, but how do you keep the outrage going? Take the level of self-harm and suicide. On one level, one bit of your brain is thinking, ‘Oh well, they’ve only had two suicides since we were last here, good.’ On another level, that is appalling.”


--o0o--

If Hardwick has got compassion fatigue, he’s making a good job of hiding it. His outrage could not be more visceral. Throughout his five years as chief inspector, he has been an outspoken critic of the conditions he found in the prisons of England and Wales.

When Hardwick took up his post in 2010, the incoming coalition government promised a “rehabilitation revolution”. In his final annual report, in 2015, the chief inspector said he was “still waiting for this to happen”. The same report quoted an inspection at Wormwood Scrubs in which a guard urged him to look at cells the officer “wouldn’t keep a dog in” – broken windows, filthy, inadequately screened toilets and cockroaches everywhere.

But perhaps the most telling verdict on the system he leaves is the stream of reports on the young offender institutions he and his team visited towards the end of his tenure. To quote from his 2014 inspection of Glen Parva YOI, “this is a model of custody that does not work”. He said the same about virtually every YOI he inspected, citing rising levels of violence and self-harm; young men locked idle in their cells 23 hours a day; 30 minutes outdoor exercise the norm. The situation is so bad in the YOI estate that Hardwick took the decision to inspect them annually, instead of every three or four years, which is the norm across the penal estate.

While the outspoken Hardwick has had his critics, he has also had plenty of supporters. Surprisingly, justice minister Michael Gove appears to be one of them. This week he announced that Hardwick would be the new head of the Parole Board. It’s an interesting choice, given that Hardwick does not believe that many of those incarcerated in England and Wales for minor crimes should be there in the first place. But, he makes clear, the new job will largely be dealing with very different people – serious offenders, who should have been sent to prison.

--o0o--

Hardwick says there are so many problems with our prisons. For starters, they don’t prepare you to return to society. “What a good prison does is teach you to be a good prisoner, so it teaches you to be compliant, not to use your initiative, to do what you’re told, to rein in your emotions, and that isn’t necessarily what you need to do to be a good citizen, or a good parent.” Prisons are based on rigid rules, he says, and another problem is that most prisoners are no good at following rules – that’s why they ended up in prison in the first place.

And then there’s the issue of who is in there in the first place. The more time he spent in prison, the more he wondered whether many of those locked up should have been. “It is striking the number of people in prison who are obviously ill, who have either got mental health problems or substance-abuse issues.

“At one end of the spectrum, you have people who are clearly ill who definitely shouldn’t be in prison, and we need to find ways of diverting them out of the criminal justice system.” These are by no means the only prisoners he fears for. “Then there is a bigger group in the middle who may not be ill per se, but certainly struggle to cope. If we had better care in the community – not just in a sense delivered by the state, but actually if we all took a bit more care of each other – then some of those people could be managed much better in the community than prison.” He accepts such people can be difficult, that many are a “nuisance”, but he still insists that they should not be in prison for minor crimes.

Roughly how many of the 86,000 people locked up in England and Wales is he talking about? “I’m talking about a very large proportion of the prison population.”

--o0o--

He segues to another issue that has concerned him in his half-decade as chief inspector – asylum seekers detained in immigration removal centres. And here he is almost hissing with anger. Locking up asylum seekers is simply an abuse of power, he suggests. “These people haven’t been convicted of anything, and they’re detained on the say-so of a relatively junior civil servant. If you lock someone up in a detention centre, you are punishing them. Whether that’s your intention or not, you are. Right? Even if you’re trying not to run it like a prison. Even if you have the best staff in the world, right, it’s still a prison.” And the bottom line is, he says, most detained asylum seekers have not committed a crime. “It should be very exceptional that you lock someone up without going before a court, and at the moment, it’s simply not exceptional enough.” He returns to the junior civil servant. “It ought to be a huge decision to lock someone up, and the problem is that if you make a huge decision often enough, it becomes not such a huge decision; it becomes routine.”

Hardwick believes there are two major failings with policymakers – “lack of imagination and failure of empathy”. “Too many policymakers do not ask themselves the crucial question: ‘How would I react if I were in that situation, and why are people in prison in the first place?’”

For Hardwick, the most striking example is children. In fact, he says, if he had the clout to close down any institution and start again from scratch, he would do so with youth prisons. “If I could, I would bear down on the juvenile estate, because these are the buildings that are least fit for purpose. Children should be held in much smaller, more caring places, he says. He talks about the time he visited one institution and a boy asked him for help. “I said, ‘What can I do?’ and he said, ‘I want to go home to my mummy, and echhhhh … ’” He chokes up and can’t complete his sentence. “Then another boy in healthcare was just lying in his bed with his blanket pulled over his head. I went away thinking I wouldn’t be surprised if I got a call over the weekend saying any of those boys had hurt themselves.” He pauses, and drinks his coffee from a navy blue NYPD mug. “And that was not an uncaring place. But you think: oh God!”

He hates the way these kids are so often referred to as young people, as if to disguise the fact that they children. “I went on the warpath about the boy who wanted to go home to his mummy, and got him into a hospital.” Again, he pauses. “And they are boys – largely boys – and girls, they are not young people.”

We have the ultimate duty of care to the children we lock up, he says, and we are currently failing them. “The kids in custody are our most troubled children; school teachers, social workers, community workers, all these skilled professionals have not been able to get through to them, so what do we do? We put them in an institution with loads [of others] just like them. It’s bonkers, right? Bonkers. And we could afford to take these children and have them in smaller units with the skilled professional staff and staffing ratios to be able to make headway. There are not so many of them that it would break the bank.” You’re only talking about around 1,000 children, he says.

Again, he says, it goes back to empathy – or lack of it. “Once the state decides to take over the parental responsibility of a child, it has obligations to do all it can for them. If it was our own children in those places, or in that level of need, you would move heaven and earth to try to sort them out and help them. Well, these are our children; we should be moving heaven and earth to try to make a difference and we don’t.”

Last week, he told the justice select committee how his independence had been undermined. For starters, he had to have his budget cleared on a weekly basis for inspections, which resulted in him threatening to suspend all inspections. The solution to this “absurd” situation is simple, he says. “The inspectorate should not be sponsored by the department that has direct operational experience with the things that we inspect. Right?” He mentions a conversation he recently had with a team of Russian inspectors and laughs. “I was going on about how important it is to be independent, and they said, ‘Well, who appoints you?’ I said, the Ministry of Justice, and they asked, ‘Who sets your budget?’ Well, that’s the Ministry of Justice, I said. And they go, ‘Ah, you mean that kind of independence!’”

The most alarming thing he said to the select committee last week was that Grayling “robustly” tried to influence reports.But he never went into details. Actually, he says now, that’s a slight misquote. “I said we had some very robust conversations with Chris Grayling – that was often after reports had been produced.”

But yes, he says, there is one particular report that he did try to change. “The only time he tried to deliberately try to influence a report was an annual report where he said, ‘This is what I think should be in your annual report’, and I said, ‘That’s very interesting,’ and then went away and wrote my report.” What did he try to change? “It was the last one, published this July, and I can’t for the life of me remember what he said should be in it, because I wasn’t taking much notice.”

Was it an issue of substance? “He was telling me the points he hoped I would make that were positive, and I didn’t think it was his place to say that.”

Can he give a general indication of the positive points he wanted made?

“I can’t remember, I didn’t take a note of what he said.” Really? He ums and ahs, looks at his PA, then finally comes out with it. “His general concern was that I had said the lack of staff, overcrowding and some of the policy changes that he had introduced had contributed to poor outcomes in prisons. I was very clear about that, and he disagreed very strongly with that conclusion.”

What does Hardwick think he has achieved in the job? Well, he says, women’s prisons are better than they were, and now most inspections are unannounced, whereas previously only half were, but he’s struggling for positives.

“The other achievement is much more modest,” he finally says. “In the adult estate, the reality is [that] things have got worse, and I think they would have been even worse were it not for us.” He smiles. “That’s probably not a great claim to make, is it?”

--oo00oo--

It seems Nick Hardwick is quite a fan of the excellent Prison UK blog by Alex Cavendish, as indeed I am, and no doubt he was chuffed when Nick agreed to an interview. Here are some edited highlights, but the whole is remarkably candid and well worth reading in full:-

Prison UK: You have been in post as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons since 2010. What do you consider has been the most challenging aspect of the Inspectorate’s work during your term in office?

Nick H: My time as Chief Inspector has coincided with a deterioration in safety and conditions in prison and that is shown both by our inspection findings, but also by the data that NOMS [National Offender Management Service] and the Prison Service itself publishes, including the very concerning figures just published.

One of the challenges for us... one of the big debates we’ve had, is that we knew a lot of these issues were beyond the control of individual prisons. There's a point where you think criticising a prison for the fact it was overcrowded and understaffed seems to be a criticism of the prison and its management when these issues weren’t an individual prison’s fault.

It sometimes felt unfair, but on the other hand we decided that if we weren’t describing as honestly and fully what was happening, it would be assumed we were saying what was happening was all right, when it wasn’t. It was difficult to chart the decline, but that’s what we felt we had to do.

Prison UK: In recent years the prison population in England & Wales has hit a record high of over 86,000 and although numbers have now fallen slightly, most prisons are at - or over – their certified capacity. What practical impacts have you seen on the stability and safety of prisons?

Nick H: It’s not for the Chief Inspector of Prisons to say how many people should be in prison, but it is for me to say that the facilities need to match the size of the population. Which they don’t.

People – particularly politicians – see overcrowding purely in term of physical overcrowding: two men crammed in a cell designed for one. Now that’s not acceptable and you go into some of these places where you have a tiny cell with an unscreened toilet and people are locked in there 23 hours a day. They may not be dangerous to each other, but they may just not get on.

That is unacceptable, but beyond that, what overcrowding means also is that prisons don’t have the activities places, the number of telephones on the landings, space in the showers, offender supervisors. It’s more than just physical space. It means that the resources for the population are not adequate to meet their needs.

So when people say they want prisons to do all these things – from rehabilitation to more education, to keeping prisoners safer to dealing with extremism – there are too many prisoners and not enough staff to do it. It’s important that we look at overcrowding beyond simply how many people there are in a cell to what is the capacity of a prison over a whole range of activities.

Prison UK: I think it is fair to say that the relationship between HM Inspectorate and the Ministry of Justice has been strained in recent years. How has that tension affected the work of HMIP? Is the situation improving?

Nick H: It’s well known that I have had a pretty robust relationship with Chris Grayling and I think he’d say the same. If the relationship was strained, in some ways that’s as it should be. There should be a degree of tension between the Inspectorate and the Ministry.

We will sometimes be critical of things ministers are directly responsible for and they won’t like that. It’s fair enough for them to come back at us and say ‘we don’t agree with what you’re saying.’ For someone in my post, if you haven’t got the stomach for that, then you’re probably in the wrong job.

I’ve always thought it was important to preserve the independence of the Inspectorate. Sometimes it has been necessary to draw a line pretty firmly in the sand and that happened the other day in the Justice Committee. But I think that tensions and strains are a sign of things working themselves out… which is as it should be.

It is legitimate for an elected politician to want to ensure their view of the world is the one that is implemented. They are elected, I’m not. It is perfectly legitimate for me to say that there are certain standards below which you can’t fall and sometimes the way that gets worked out leads to a bit of a clash, but I don’t think that’s unhealthy. I think people should be worried if everything was sweetness and light the whole time.

We’ve had a stormy passage lately. A point of tension will come when the MOJ’s budgets are under threat, so they are looking at ours. I’ve made the point about our operational independence.

I hope people will see us as independent and when we are critical, we’re critical. But also when we are positive, that’s genuine and our independent view.

I think a lot of the things Michael Gove is talking about are absolutely right: more autonomy for governors; better focus on education; focus on decent conditions and looking at the juvenile estate. On one level it does feel like a new era. You listen sometimes to what he is saying and you think ‘crikey’. Now turning that into reality: that’s the big challenge to come, but the rhetoric matters. The tone at leadership level does filter through to what’s happening on the ground in prisons.

Even if there’s no policy changes and no strategic changes, if he is saying ‘that is what I want’ it will affect how staff behave. It empowers people.

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Prison UK: At the time when your own appointment as Chief Inspector was coming up for renewal last year, you declined to reapply for your own post. You also commented publicly on why the MOJ role in the appointment process could involve a conflict of interest. How do you think this issue could be resolved?

Nick H: The issue here is we aren’t doing things for the Ministry of Justice; we are doing things to them. We are inspecting things for which they are operationally responsible. That’s what makes it inappropriate, in my view, for us to be sponsored by the MOJ.

Ministers have decided that position isn’t going to change… OK. In that case I think we need a much clearer protocol that sets out how that relationship is going to work. It should be published so people can see what it is. That’s what the Justice Committee in Parliament have asked for.

Prison UK: It was announced last week by Michael Gove that you have been appointed as the new Chair of the Parole Board for England & Wales. Given your recent candid comments concerning the MOJ and its attempts to interfere in the work of HMIP, do you think that your acceptance of this very senior appointment may puzzle some observers?

Nick H: I suppose it could do. This definitely didn’t come out of the blue. I applied for it. I think the issues are different. With the Parole Board it’s a different role. I’m not making decisions about the Ministry of Justice. The Inspectorate is making findings and judgments about things the MOJ has done. The Parole Board isn’t doing that. It’s making decisions on behalf of the department. So I don’t think the issues are the same.

There were a number of reasons I didn’t reapply for the Chief Inspector’s job. One is that I’ve done it for too long. You get used to things, so it’s important you get in some fresh blood and a new pair of eyes. It was time to move on.

Prison UK: Some critics might suggest – rather unkindly – that the Parole Board post is a convenient manoeuvre by Michael Gove to silence your criticism of what has been going wrong in our criminal justice system? How would you respond to such comments?

Nick H: I applied for the job myself. No-one asked me to apply, so that’s that point. I wouldn’t in any case get into my successor’s hair too much. Whatever I was doing, I wouldn’t comment in the same way as I would in this job. But also I’m going to have another role as a professor of criminal justice with Royal Holloway at the University of London, so on that basis I will be able to use the knowledge I have, both as having been Chief Inspector and from the Parole Board, to continue to improve the system. There was certainly no suggestion from Gove that I should apply [for the Probation post].

Prison UK: Unlike he did with telephoning Peter Clarke…

Nick H: Everybody says that, but I think people are being a bit fussy about it. Throughout my working life, sometimes when I have been recruiting people and I have a vacancy, I’ve said to people ‘we’ve got a vacancy coming up and I’d like to see an application. No promises though. Once you get there it will be whoever is best on the day.

I think people are getting over-fussed about that. I don’t personally have a problem with people being encouraged to apply for a job. I think that will happen in any walk of life. Once you get to the selection process itself, it should be a level playing field.

Prison UK: The Parole Board itself has been the subject of much criticism especially for delays in scheduling hearings for lifers and IPPs. Some reports suggest that the acknowledged delays of up to six months are actually closer to 18 months in some cases. Do you believe that these issues can be addressed without additional resources?

Nick H: It is too early for me to say yet. It is certainly important that the Parole Board clears its backlog. That’s in everybody’s interest. If there are people in prison who don’t need to be in prison, then that’s crazy. It needs to be able to get its backlog down and if that requires extra resources then that is what I’ll be saying, but it’s too early and I wouldn’t want to jump the gun that. Certainly, let’s see if we can get the backlog down. That’s the number one priority.

Prison UK: You have also recently accepted an appointment as Professor of Criminal Justice at Royal Holloway, University of London. What do you hope to contribute to the ongoing debate about criminal justice policy?

Nick H: There’s no doubt, when you look at the recent debate in Parliament about penal reform that there is a degree of consensus about the need for reform that I can’t remember before in my lifetime. There’s an opportunity now that I think is very rare. There are job opportunities for prisoners that weren’t around before, the employment market’s better. There are possibilities now that haven’t existed for a long time.

What I would hope to do is use my experience, both in this role and from roles I’ve had before, to support colleagues at Royal Holloway to make an academic contribution to that debate. I’m pleased that I’ve got a role that will enable me to play a part in that and I’m looking forward to it.

Prison UK: Will you have a teaching role?

Nick H: I’ll certainly do some teaching. It’s a new area, although I already do occasional lectures for students. The whole academic sphere is a different world that I’m not yet used to.

The thing about understanding prisons isn’t simply a question of knowledge. It’s also a question of empathy. If you want to try and understand how people behave, how you might influence those behaviours, then you have to get your head around what it feels like to be in prison. It’s very difficult to understand that if you’ve never been in prison.

When you arrive in reception – first of all you have to take off your top, then your bottoms… What’s going through your head when that goes on? How do you navigate the wing when you first arrive and work out what to do? How does all of that work?

If you can begin to imagine it just a bit, if you can empathise in that sense, then it’s much better for people who are going on to these professions or to do academic work. I think you need to start with empathy, what it’s really like. So I’d like to contribute some of that to students.

I'd also say that one of the great dangers for those people who are interested in prison reform is that is sometimes seems to be a different agenda to care about the victims of crime. I think it’s very important that we talk about the two things together. If we can reform and rehabilitate, then we’ll have fewer victims in the future, so these things are not opposites. This is in everybody’s interest. We want people to leave prison less likely to reoffend than when they went in.

Prison UK: If you had to give one piece of good advice to Peter Clarke, your successor as Chief Inspector, what would it be?

Nick H: It’s very striking that in his first week he went to two prisons and he spent three days in prisons out of the five. I would say keep doing that. My advice would be spend as much time in prison, talking to prisoners, as you possibly can to start with. If you want to know what is going on in prisons, ask prisoners. If you ask enough of them you will get a pretty accurate picture of what is happening. And that is exactly what Peter appears to be doing.

Prison UK: Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of the blog?

Nick H: While I’ve been doing this job, there have been lots of people who’ve spoken to me as I’ve been going round, both serving and former prisoners, as well as those who’ve written to me, who’ve messaged me via Twitter – the whole community – and I’ve had a lot of help from them. So I’d like to thank them all, if I may, through your blog.


Stop Press

Great to see that the Prison UK interview is getting national attention thanks to a piece by Ian Dunt on the Politics.co.uk website:- 
Parting shot: Prison inspector steps down with last blast at Grayling
The prison system is declining in safety and conditions with more threats on the horizon, the outgoing prisons inspector has warned. Nick Hardwick, who is stepping down later this year, issued a parting shot to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and, in particular, former justice secretary Chris Grayling in a series of media interviews over the weekend. Speaking to the influential blog Prison UK, Hardwick pinned the blame for overcrowded and deteriorating prisons directly on the MoJ. "My time as chief inspector has coincided with a deterioration in safety and conditions in prison," he said.