Saturday, 6 August 2022

Probation to Disappear

Call me a cynic, but the Napo leadership must have woken up to the fact that the Eastbourne AGM is fast approaching and the membership will be eagerly expecting some rousing contributions from the top table. This from Friday's mailout to all members:-

Your Friday News from Napo HQ

‘One HMPPS’ – even more reason for Probation to be moved out from the department

Katie Lomas and Ian Lawrence write..

In yet another display of bad faith by senior HMPPS management, communications were issued earlier than had been agreed with the unions about the launch of the so called ‘one HMPPS’ programme.

What is it?

Members will recall the appalling message from the Prime Minister earlier this summer, which talked about reducing the ‘size of the state’ and cutting Civil Service numbers to 2016 levels. Following this, ‘One HMPPS’ is purportedly being launched to ensure closer regional alignment between Prisons and Probation in terms of high level operational matters and localised administrative functions.

Why we oppose it

Napo’s view is clear: this further major restructuring is being presented as a mask for future staff cuts across HQ functions in Prison and Probation despite the thin assurances that staff below Regional Probation Director level will be unaffected. This will not fool our members, who are seeing the daily populist tirade against public sector workers and their trade unions from both of the contenders for the Conservative Party leadership.

The General Secretary has sent a withering critique of the ‘One HMPPS’ programme to senior Probation leaders. Among other things this sets out our serious concerns about the stripping away of any semblance of separate support systems for Probation and the further de-professionalisation of the work carried out by our members.

We also reflect on recent history and how privatisation had such an egregious impact on the Probation Service.

The constant attempts to introduce more and more unwanted initiatives that are designed to instil a prison-centric culture into Probation and the regular insulting suggestions of the need to ‘professionalise’ Probation staff are unacceptable.

Probation is different and must always be

The letter also reminds management that we warned how the move into HMPPS many years ago was a risk to the profession and the threats posed by the needs of our larger and more costly partner in the prisons.

Finally, we say that if the Civil Service headcount needs to be reduced, then Napo have the perfect solution which is ‘oven ready’. Move the Probation Service out of the Civil Service into a non-departmental government body. In the public sector but freed from prison and removed from the Civil Service. Give Probation professionals the freedom to practice, give senior leaders the freedom to truly lead. Make the Probation Service locally accountable, enabling partnership working while retaining its unique culture and values.

Napo will be ramping up our campaign against this project in and outside of Parliament.

Calling all Napo members (Probation England and Wales) - your chance to hear about what Napo is trying to do on your behalf

Discussions on a number of major issues which directly impact on members have been taking place over the summer and are still ongoing. That’s why you are being invited to take part in the following meetings below. Come and listen to your National Officers and Officials about updates on Pay and Professional issues.

There will be 2 sessions on each of the following dates and we very much hope that members will be able to work one of these into your schedules. The First online meeting is: Tuesday 6 September at 12.30pm to 13.30pm and 3.30pm to 4.30pm. The Second online meeting is: Friday 30 September, again at 12.30pm to 13.30pm and 3.30pm to 4.30pm.

--oo00oo--

That 'withering critique' in full:-

Jim Barton
Director
Probation Reform Programme

By E-mail only
4th August 2022

Dear Jim,

Napo response to ‘One HMPPS’ announcement

While Napo intends to issue a report to our members this Monday to align with the release of the employers communications, I did indicate that Napo would offer our perspective on the ‘One HMPPS’ initiative.

Before doing so, I thought it would be helpful to reflect on some recent history to explain the basis of Napo’s antipathy to this project which, as you will see, we believe to have grave consequences for the Probation Service.

As a result of the disastrous Transforming Rehabilitation Programme in 2014, That part of Probation which was not subject to privatisation was brought into the Civil Service as the National Probation Service. This shadow of its former self was markedly different to the Service that existed before, with the Probation Trusts being abolished despite all having performance assessed as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and many having externally assessed marks of excellence.

The cancellation of the CRC contracts in 2021 moved the final elements of Probation work into the Civil Service and now all of the Probation System exists either as a direct provider, or in small regionally managed contracts for specialist support services. While reunification was obviously welcomed, the centralisation into a Civil Service culture has been a disaster for the profession.

The move away from Trusts that valued and supported the professionalism of their staff into the top-down command and control mechanisms of the Civil Service has stifled Professionalism so much that there is now a move, (led as ever by Senior MoJ and HMPPS Leaders) to introduce even more unwanted initiatives, purported to ‘professionalise’ Probation staff. As Napo has continually stated, this is an insulting term to highly skilled and committed professionals who have struggled to deliver a service in the face of cuts to budgets and staffing, following the previous disastrous and dangerous split in the system under TR, and its long term damage simply cannot be under estimated. It is unlikely that the decision makers in the Ministry of Justice will ever hear the true voice of the profession however, as they are so far removed from Probation, a tiny but hugely important part of the bigger machine that delivers Justice across England and Wales.

Now we are told that, in response to the announcement made by the outgoing Prime Minister about Civil Service Job Cuts, Probation will be subsumed into HMPPS and no longer exist with a separate framework to support it. Early versions of the communications about this move promised that decisions would be based on evidence and data which we have yet to see. It is not clear if this information will even make it into the final cut after Napo pointed out that this is the latest in a string of harmful decisions made on the basis of political whim with no appreciation of the facts.

Probation is different and must always be

The Probation System is markedly different to the Prison System. That does not mean that either one is better or worse, they are fundamentally different. The Prison system works on strict rules, security and hierarchy. These are necessary for the safety of staff and those in prison. The Probation system works on transparency, constantly questioning everything including instructions and rules. Probation training encourages the professional to question the system in which they, and their client, exist and to seek to understand and explore issues relating to power and control in their working relationships. This inevitably affects the way that those professionals respond to their own working relationships in their own supervision and management arrangements. Probation professionals should be expected to ask for evidence and data, to scrutinise the motivation for instructions and policy changes and, above all, to have an active voice in their own management.

For many years Napo has been warning that the move into HMPPS was a risk to the profession; the ‘One HMPPS’ programme is likely to realise these fears.

Probation as a profession will be under threat due to the needs of our larger and more costly partner in the prisons. Senior leaders will continue to struggle to make the voice of Probation heard and, in order to survive, will adopt more of a command and control approach, discouraging questioning and becoming more remote. The mantra of: ‘that’s not how Civil Service/HMPPS/Prisons do it’ will continue to be the stock response when those who retain Probation values and approaches try to be heard. It is important to note that in all the work done since 2014 to rebuild Probation in the Civil Service you never hear anyone say ‘that’s how Probation do it’. It is a great shame, there is much that our colleagues in the wider HMPPS and Civil Service could learn from the former Probation Trusts, especially those who were outstanding performers with externally verified excellence standards.

If the Civil Service headcount needs to be reduced, then Napo have the perfect solution which is ‘oven ready’. Move the Probation Service out of the Civil Service into a non-departmental government body. In the public sector but freed from prison and removed from the Civil Service. Give Probation professionals the freedom to practice, give senior leaders the freedom to truly lead. Make the Probation Service locally accountable, enabling partnership working while retaining its unique culture and values.

As previously stated, and for the formal record in all our future discussions about ‘One HMPPS’, Napo is implacably opposed to what we believe to be a direct threat to the profession, it’s staff and it’s vital role in the justice system and wider society.

In light of the foregoing you will not be surprised to hear that Napo will vigorously campaign in and outside of Parliament to achieve the aims outlined above.

Yours sincerely

Ian Lawrence
General Secretary

--oo00oo--

From the HMPPS job advert, April 2022:-

The HMPPS vision is based on working together to protect the public and help people lead law-abiding and positive lives. Whether staff work in prisons, probation, youth custody or HQ, we share the same vocational commitment to change lives. We are ‘One HMPPS’. 

The outcome of the Spending Review gives us clarity on the scale of investment to be made in improving the service we can offer. That certainty allows us to think afresh about how we operate to best deliver on our strategic priorities by enabling more effective ways of working.

To do this thinking, we are setting up a One HMPPS Programme. The programme will work with staff across the agency to develop proposals for a new service delivery model that: 
  • Allows for a “whole sentence” approach to the way we deliver our services, ensuring offender management services are better joined up across the whole of the offender journey; 
  • Empowers decision making at a regional level, enabling our leaders to ensure that the services they offer are tailored to the needs of and improve outcomes for users of our services; and 
  • Supports the sharing of resources, knowledge, information and skills through a new organisational structure that enables better outcomes and provides value for money.
We believe successful delivery of these objectives is critical in supporting the agency to meet the department’s key strategic priorities - to improve public protection and to reduce reoffending. 

This is an exciting opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a fast moving and far-reaching new programme that will offer ample opportunity to work across boundaries to design and implement change, and gain a unique insight into how large government agencies operate. 

I look forward to working with you! 

Amy Rees Programme Sponsor
Director General for Probation and Women, 
HMPPS.

Thursday, 4 August 2022

A Smart Future

Never mind all this 'Probation Day' nonsense, here's the big HMPPS news, a lovely new, high tech, carbon neutral, job-creating, local economy-boosting prison

Prison-build revolution continues with construction of new Yorkshire jail

Building work on Britain’s newest ‘smart’ prison will start this autumn – delivering over 1,400 modern places to get more offenders into jobs and away from crime.

The date has been set in stone as a result of a new £400m contract signed today with construction firm Kier, who will build the cutting-edge jail in East Yorkshire in time for it to open in 2025.

Following close on the heels of HMP Five Wells in Wellingborough which opened in February this year, the new Category C prison will be designed from top-to-bottom with the latest smart technology to cut crime and protect the public.

The jail will include an unprecedented array of workshops and classrooms, so prisoners spend their time behind bars learning new skills to find work on release – factors known to significantly reduce reoffending.

It will also be the first new prison to operate as zero-carbon in the future, with an all-electric design, solar panels, heat pumps and more efficient lighting systems to reduce energy demand significantly.

In a boost for the local economy, the new prison will create hundreds of jobs in construction, and a further 600 once the establishment opens.

And at least 50 construction roles will be earmarked for ex-offenders - giving them the opportunity to rebuild their lives, gain new skills and get back on the straight and narrow.

The new jail is the latest major step in our commitment to building 20,000 new prison places and in turn protecting the public.

Prisons Minister, Stuart Andrew, said:
"I am delighted work can begin on yet another modern, innovative prison that will skill-up untold numbers of offenders to live a crime-free life while making our streets safer.  The new prison at Full Sutton will also support hundreds of jobs, in construction and afterwards, representing a major boost to Yorkshire’s economy."
Group Managing Director of Kier Construction, Liam Cummins, said:
"Delivery of the new prison at Full Sutton represents over a decade of Kier operating as a successful partner to the Ministry of Justice and highlights our ongoing commitment to the New Prisons’ Programme. This project will create hundreds of jobs as well as providing opportunities for prisoners on release, and we’re proud to give people the opportunity to work with us to deliver a best-in-class facility built on modern methods of construction and engineering excellence."
The new buildings will sit opposite the existing HMP Full Sutton and will be the third of six prisons to be completed as part of the New Prisons Programme, following HMP Five Wells and HMP Fosse Way in Glen Parva, which is due to open next year.

Locations for the remaining three are being finalised, and of the four final builds, one will be run by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and three by private operators.

The process of naming the new prison will be confirmed in due course and as with Five Wells and Fosse Way, will involve close consultation with the local community.

Around £4 billion of investment will create thousands of jobs for local communities and see millions invested in local roads and infrastructure while rehabilitating thousands of offenders and keeping the public safe.

Notes to editors:

Work to build the new prison at Full Sutton will commence in the coming months, with a firm date to be confirmed. Like Five Wells and Fosse Way, the new prison will include a range of cutting-edge technology. At its peak, the construction phase will employ as many as 1,000 workers, with many employed from the local community. Making Ground is Kier’s prison engagement and employment programme, designed to support serving prisoners and prison leavers into sustainable employment in the construction industry.

Monday, 1 August 2022

Bread and Circuses

Given the current staffing crisis, I'm not at all sure how this will go down amongst the ranks, but since when was senior management known for being conscious of 'tone deafness'? Thanks go to the reader for forwarding the following:-

Celebrating Probation Day on 21 August


I can appreciate that for many it is difficult to think about celebrating Probation Day when everyone is working in such challenging circumstances not only due to workloads, but with the added emotional demands of the job and additionally, the current cost of living crisis. Yet despite this, I ask that teams do find time on 21 August to reflect on the life-changing work you do, be that giving someone an opportunity to change their lives for the better or making a decision to protect a victim. A toolkit has been prepared by our national colleagues providing ideas and information on how you can celebrate Probation Day; you will find this attached. When I go out to visit teams or read the Reward and Recognition nominations for all grades and roles, I am uplifted and feel truly grateful for the work you do that makes our communities better.

Most join Probation as a vocation and this is not just about our sentence management or intervention practitioners, but includes our amazing business support and administrators who are often the hidden heroes.

There remain issues regarding pay and retention and whilst they are not in our control, I continue to raise the on-going impact on service delivery with central colleagues.

As an organisation, our goal is to provide people with an opportunity for change. We continue to collaborate with our many partners and often act as the conductor bringing all the component parts together. There is so much to be proud of.

On Probation Day, I would like you to think of a community without the Probation Service. We are an organisation that deserves more recognition, especially at this time given the exceptional challenges we face. Perhaps you can arrange a partnership event with local organisations to celebrate the work you do.

I have been fortunate in working nationally and also in Europe and I recognise that we can easily take things for granted. This is not about accepting the status quo, but appreciating what we achieve and how we continue to strive for further improvement.

Celebrations and ceremonies are important, especially when many feel battle-fatigued. When new colleagues join us we will be able to distribute the work to reduce the demands you carry. The recruitment pipeline is strong as we are able to advertise more widely using different paid-for platforms. Remember, Probation Day is about celebrating the amazing work the Probation Service has done in the past, what we do now and what we will do in the future.

Last year, the Probation Service staff voted to select a flower to represent us – the foxglove stands for protection and healing.

Most of you know I always have a song in my mind that links in with my thinking... today, I have two songs for you: Redemption Song (Bob Marley and the Wailers, particularly the point about ‘emancipating ourselves from mental slavery’) and the other Don’t Give Up (Kate Bush/Peter Gabriel), and they remind us that we are not alone.

Finally, major congratulations to the England Women’s team for their incredible victory against Germany on Sunday. It really was a wonderful thing to see – not that any of us doubted!

Kilvinder Vigurs
Regional Probation Director

--oo00oo--

Welcome

This toolkit is your “one-stop shop” for all things #ProbationDay

So, what is Probation Day?

Probation Day is an annual opportunity for staff & partner agencies, to celebrate the work we do and share why we have pride working in the Probation Service. Probation Day celebrates the past, present and future of Probation. We chose the date of the 21st of August, as it coincides with the Royal Assent of the Probation of Offenders Act in 1907, so it is in effect the birthday of the Probation Service! This is the 2nd year of Probation Day. Get involved using the hashtag #ProbationDay

More about our flower emblem

You may have seen the use of a foxglove flower (digitalis) when people have mentioned Probation Day. This is because - in our inaugural year we ran a competition to choose a flower, whose symbolism, would be an emblem for Probation. The digitalis won, for its symbolism of protection and healing. You have the option to adopt this in any way you see fit.

Theme of Probation Day 2022

Now that you know a bit more about the commemoration, we’ll explain the theme for this year. This Probation Day we want you to swap as much screen time for real-life reunions, where possible. We want you & your teams to focus on the theme of belonging and talk about all the positive motivation, for why we continue to choose to work for the Probation Service. We want Probation Day to be an annual reminder of the heart & soul of Probation.

Activity Ideas

As Probation Day falls on a Sunday this year, feel free to hold activities either on Friday 19th August or Monday 22nd August. Centrally we’ll hold Launch Event on Friday 19th August from 10am – 11am. You’ll receive details on this soon. If you need some inspiration for local activities, to commemorate the day, then look no further…Pick an idea or two, or even go for them all, to participate with your team. Please feel free to adapt the activities to your needs.

Guess who

How well do you know your team? Could you guess who is who from their baby photos? This short team bonding activity is bound to get everyone talking whilst providing the ‘building blocks’ to gain a sense of belonging of one another and glimpse into baby outfits. Materials needed: Pen, paper, baby photos. Setup: Either virtual or face to face. Arrange your photos so everyone gets a chance to see the photo & devise a system to track guesses. Participants: Ideally no more than 20 people and do allow time for participants to discuss and confer. Estimated time: 30-60 minutes. Top tip: Try not to use original prints if you’re doing this in person, scan or take a photo of the picture.

Two truths, One lie

Another chance to get to know your team but this time through a conversation game. Tell two outlandish facts about yourself and then one plausible lie, without letting on which one is which. Your group must guess which one of your responses is a lie. Try to be creative in your storytelling without out compromising your believability. Materials needed: Pen, paper. Setup: Either virtual or face to face. One member gives their response to the group and the group get discuss on the which response is a lie. You have the option to keep score if you want to add in a bit of competition. Participants: Ideally no more than 10 people. Estimated time: 30-60 minutes.

Show & Tell

Show a memorable probation item and share the probation memory that comes with it. Use this as an opportunity to reminisce on a positive memory of working in probation and the team’s you’ve been part of. This item could be in the form of ‘teddy bear’ mascot, an award or even a song. Share those items & memories with your immediate, as a chance to showcase the positive motivation we all have when continuing to choose to work for the Probation Service. Materials needed: Memorable item. Setup: Either virtual or face to face. Participants take turns to show their item to the group and share their memory. Make sure you leave enough time to discuss & reminisce. Participants: Ideally no more than 10 people. Estimated time: 30-60 minutes.

Reflect on the good stuff

A reflective activity to focus on the good stuff and share a couple thoughts, with your team. Take some time to think about answers to the following prompts; Something I worked hard to achieve. Something going well for me. Two people I can always count on at work. Something I’m looking forward to at work. Take some time to reflect individually and share your positive motivation with your team. Materials needed: Pen, paper. Setup: Either virtual or face to face. Give your team time to reflect on the prompts and come back as a group to share your thoughts. Participants: Ideally no more than 10 people. Estimated time: 10-15 minutes.

Appreciation tree

A chance to show your appreciation to your team in an anonymous way. Draw a tree with bare branches in a suitable area in your communal space and use post-it notes (or something similar) to anonymously post your appreciation for all the small & big things, as the leaves of a tree. Sow the seeds in Probation Day and watch how the tree grows over time. Materials needed: Pen, post-it notes (or something similar). Setup: Face to face, allocating some space in a communal place at work. Draw a tree with bare branches. Place the anonymous post-it as the leaves of a tree. Feel free to come up with any other suitable arrangement. Participants: As many as needed. Estimated time: 5-10 minutes.

Brew at 2(pm) or Tea at 3(pm)

Another reason to make yourself a cuppa’ and importantly catch-up with one another. Use this time to talk through anything on your minds as it’s a chance to build a sense of belonging with one another. If you feel particularly inclined, you could also invite individuals you don’t speak to regularly or partner agencies you may want to get know more. Materials needed: A suitable refreshment. Setup: Either virtual or face to face. Organise a time, send invites and meetup. Participants: Ideally no more than 10 people. Estimated time: 30 minutes.

Team photo

Take a team photo and create a lasting memory for years to come. Feel free to dress up or down or even decide to have a fancy dress theme. If you’re doing this in person, to get the best photo quality make sure you take your photo with good lighting & capture your image in landscape orientation to get everyone into the frame. Materials needed: Camera or screen recording software. Setup: Either virtual or face to face. Organise a time, send invites and meetup. Decide on the theme to be either formal, informal or both. Participants: As many as needed. Estimated time: 10-20 minutes. Top tip: For anyone who is absent why not print out their picture, so they can still be included.

Great Probation Bake Off

Bake a difference and create some tasty treats for you and the team. Whether you decide to bake it yourself or purchase it from a boulangerie, this activity will create that positive motivation for Probation that all the team can participate in. Feel free to create categories, raise money for a charity, hand out ribbons or even give out a ‘Paul Hollywood handshake’. Materials needed: Baked goods, with a place to store and serve them. Setup: Best done face to face. Organise a time, send invites and meetup. Create categories and rules if wanted. Remember to include all allergy advice in anything you bake or purchase. Participants: As many as needed. Estimated time: 30 minutes.

Share what you get up to

We’d love for you to share what you get up to whether it’s through one of the suggested activities or something completely different. Please use the following MS Teams Form or scan the QR code, to share your images, videos and audio clips. In addition, you can also share a favourite memory of yours from Probation. We want to create a ‘memory bank’ for them, to share with one another. Once we’ve collated these we hope to display & share the best submissions on our internal digital communication channels. The deadline to do this is by the close of 24th August 2022. Top tip: Be as descriptive as possible when submitting your files, to help decipher what you’ve been up to.

Sunday, 31 July 2022

An Existential Battle

If you work in probation you will be very familiar with the court process and almost certainly the legal profession in the shape of solicitors and barristers. Many of us with some service under our belts will be aware of significant changes in process over the years and in particular cuts in Legal Aid and court closures. 

Things have come to a head in recent weeks with barristers withdrawing their labour. Just as with probation, the press, public and politicians don't understand, or choose not to understand, what's going on and the truth of the situation.

This set of tweets from @edwardhenry1 yesterday sets things out in stark detail and we should all be concerned, not least because it will affect us all, and clients especially. (I have made adjustments to aid clarity).  

The Criminal Bar facing oblivion.

Max J L Hardy wrote perceptively that the public would get a distorted impression of our justice system because of the #WAGATHA trial. Criminal justice is in crisis. And @jimrobottom suggested the same for the mass of civil litigation.

The Tabloids don’t want to run this narrative. Clich├ęs work. People, without wealth or financial resilience are far more likely to get dragged into a Criminal Court, a Family Court, or an Employment Tribunal.

Then, they’re not likely to encounter a ‘fat cat lawyer’ but a junior barrister and/or a high street solicitor, from a small to medium size practice. We’re not talking Baroness Shackleton or Lady Ward.

I’m not qualified to speak about family or employment but imagine that family law practitioners who do not deal with ‘Big Money’ cases are in the same position, or soon will be, as the criminal bar.

Advocates practising in crime are an odd bunch, but likeable. As a rule they like their clients, and care deeply about them. Strange as it may seem, some have been accused of caring for their clients more than their families.

It’s not hype, but reflects a brutally demanding job, which can prove to be obsessional. Like Captain Ahab pursuing Moby Dick, some advocates relentlessly chase after that tantalising fact, or issue that might turn a case. Holidays are sacrificed, as are children’s childhoods.

You are told, as I have been, that you aren’t present, even when you’re actually there, because your mind churns that case or question over & over.

You’d have to be mad to practise in crime. I tried, from 2004 onwards to discourage my pupils from continuing in it, and to transfer. Not one did. Well done btw @MaxJLHardy

My first pupil, the wonderful Jake Hallam QC, started in practice in 1998. I could see then that the GFS [Graduated Fee Scheme for legal aid] would impoverish criminal practitioners as so much was left unpaid. The rates then set never kept up with cost of living & if we aren’t 40% down from 1997 I’d be surprised.

I had more success dissuading my adult sons from following me into the Law. They saw, all too sadly, the toll it took on their childhood, their parents’ marriage & the precarious financial fortunes of a self employed individual or sole trader.

I adore my job, and have deep affection and genuine respect for my colleagues. Every pupil who disregarded my advice and went on to greatness at the Criminal Bar - and those few who sadly did not in spite of their courage, determination and flair, I deeply admire and love.

Because I know what it’s cost them. The price you have to pay whether you succeed or fail (& chance plays a part in that.) So when a Politician derides what we do, I don’t care. I know my value, & part of that is what I’m worth; & I know my colleagues’ treasured value too.

The destruction of a profession, of an Art that can be traced to the prophet Daniel, through the Graeco-Roman era to our own time is shameful. If politicians don’t want to preserve an Independent Bar, incompetence & corruption will follow. Who benefits?

Back to that odd bunch of advocates. They’ll include the brief, hot on detail with an eidetic neuro-diverse mastery of regulations, those who can recite the codes of practice, and those who can hyper focus to a microscopic degree. Then there are those who trust nothing

Not because they are conspiracy theorists, but because they’ve been told “nothing to disclose” too often when there is. Those who venerate Marx & those who espouse anarcho-libertarianism meet as one. It’s a broad church. The link? They believe in Justice & the Rule of Law.

That’s ultimately what compels them to defend, whatever the personal cost, to keep the stream pure, to hold the prosecution to account. A word here about prosecution counsel.

A very considerable proportion of Barristers prosecute & defend. That’s why the Independent Bar is of incalculable value. It’s not partisan. I no longer prosecute but I grew up in the preeminent prosecution set, renowned for its fairness.

Pros Counsel are atrociously paid, & not enough is said about it. You can prepare a case & not get paid if it’s tried at a time you can’t do. The Government’s long term strategy is a mystery. Public Defenders & Pros cost tons more than the Bar. They’re just happy exploiting us.

But it will eventually come to an end. Even altruists will be deterred. The Criminal Bar shall die. No mistake. Then what will those in the other branches of the Bar say? What a pity? Such a shame? It’s time for the Inns and the whole Bar to come to the aid of CBA [Criminal Bar Association].

The Bar Council, paradoxically, might have put on a better show, but there are always those dependable in a tight corner, & others who (despite the best of intentions) are not.
@Ed_LeveyQC has always supported the Criminal Bar & @seanjonesqc is a legend. But we need more.

This is an existential battle. If we are really one Bar, kind words about how much the Criminal Bar is admired, with wistful regrets intimated of envying what we do, will be pure guff unless the whole Bar bends its efforts & potent influence on our behalf.

The leaders of the SBAs [Specialist Bar Associations] and others of titanic reputation & standing in other fields might like to reflect on what we’re all about to lose.

Edward Henry QC

Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Predictable, Populist, Confused

Does this sound familiar?
"But the solutions proposed are politically driven catchphrase-based policy making"

It's a statement that could be applied to any number of probation-related issues over the last few years and it's regarding a topic we've not covered for some time : drugs. Of course it's a well known fact politicians talk nonsense on the subject and the latest headline-grabbing government initiative is no different. I can't be bothered to read it, but I notice Transform have and the quote is from their recently published analysis:-  

REVIEWING THE GOVERNMENT’S NEW ‘TOUGH’ CONSEQUENCES FOR DRUG POSSESSION

The Home Office has set out its plans to reduce the current levels of recreational drug use across the UK in its new White Paper Swift, Certain, Tough: new consequences for drug possession. The paper follows on from the Government’s most recent drug strategy; it was promised at the time to address the objective of ‘demand reduction’- reducing use - which the drug strategy mostly overlooked in its focus on service provision.

The White Paper’s demand reduction strategy for ‘so-called recreational users’ proposes a model for public consultation (to be piloted in three locations) for how drug possession offences would be dealt with, summarised in this graphic:

Some elements of the proposals appear relatively promising. At first glance, there seems to be a desire to try and avoid the tens of thousands of people caught committing minor possession offences from being drawn into the criminal justice system. Implicit is an acknowledgement that criminalisation of minor possession is both expensive and counterproductive; there is no evidence that blanket punitive sanctions are an effective deterrent and there is substantive evidence that they fuel stigma, create obstacles to proven public health interventions, and undermine the life chances, particularly of people from socially and economically marginalised communities.

This is why ending criminalisation of people who use drugs is recommended best practice from the Government’s own expert advisers (the ACMD), all 31 lead agencies of the UN including The World Health Organisation and UN Office on Drugs and Crime, as well as the Royal College of Physicians, the UK Faculty of Public health, the Royal Society for Public Health - and many other authoritative voices.

Moves in this direction are already underway in 14 police authorities - a range of ‘drug diversion schemes’ where people caught in possession are ‘diverted’ into health interventions rather than the criminal justice system and prosecution. While the law criminalising the act remains in place (often lurking as a threat behind some of the diversion programs), perhaps the best we can say is that diversion represents a form of partial or de facto decriminalisation. Transform has a dedicated page of information and resources about these initiatives.

Notably, the schemes have been lauded by the Drugs Minister, Kit Malthouse, recommended by the Government’s own recent expert review from Dame Carol Black, and are prominently flagged in last year’s new Government drug strategy. So the idea in principle is not a new one.

The White Paper, however, makes no mention of either decriminalisation or diversion schemes (although it does refer to ‘diversionary cautions’, see below). Instead, it promotes language around ‘swift certain and tough’ consequences - proposing the escalating tiers of sanctions described above. The first tier looks a lot like many existing diversion programmes but, worryingly, with a series of financial penalties as well as an offender-paid drug awareness course, which most diversion schemes do not implement. Tiers 2 and 3 move increasingly far away from emerging best practice and, indeed, the entire underlying conceptual thinking around diversion/decriminalisation relating to avoidance of harmful engagement with the criminal justice system, criminal records, stigma, and so on.

Before critiquing some of the details (where the devil inevitably resides), it is worth noting that we can all agree that there should not be a ‘postcode lottery’ for how police deal with drug offences. Currently, you can get very different treatment responses to possession offences depending on where you are caught - ranging from a life-impacting prosecution, to an informal telling-off. This variation is obviously problematic; equality before the law is a fundamental part of the rule of law and the aspiration in the White Paper to address this problem is welcome.

But the White Paper proposals, even acknowledging the vague nod towards diversionary pragmatism, are a step backwards from the best practice lessons emerging around the country. We should not pursue national consistency at the cost of entrenching bad practices more widely and undermining the positive work already being done throughout the UK. Equality should be about equally good policy, not equally bad. If rolled out these proposals would, in many areas, represent a form of levelling down (the proposals have already been rejected by the Scottish Drugs Minister - as a regressive step backwards from their existing diversion program).

We are all too familiar with problems created by drug prohibition - such as the empowerment of organised crime and related violence and exploitation - being blamed on the drugs or people who use them. These problems of punitive enforcement are then routinely used to justify even more punitive enforcement. But with this White Paper, the Government seems to be tacitly acknowledging the harms of criminalisation and the benefits of reform - but showing a pathological inability to make the case for such reforms, show leadership, and call them what they are. It is so invested in the drug war narratives that it seems unable to perceive reform as anything other than weakness or surrender. The result is this strange and confused mess of proposals.

A key problem of the White Paper is that it confuses, or deliberately conflates, issues relating to people who use drugs recreationally with issues relating to people with drug dependencies or problematic use. The paper, including its prominent ‘Swift, Certain, Tough’ title, draws heavily on the US literature on 'swift, certain and fair’ (SCF) sanctions. But while this scholarship on SCF has explored maintaining abstinence amongst drug-dependent offenders (enforced with drug testing - and sanctions, such as 48 hours of immediate custody, for positive results) the focus of the White Paper is specifically on ‘so-called recreational users’ who are not the focus of the SCF literature. Hawaii’s HOPE programme is referenced twice and appears to have been a big influence, but it is a programme for people with histories of dependence in probation-mandated treatment having left prison. None of that is relevant to recreational users - most of whom will not have criminal records, and none of whom, by definition, need treatment.

The White Paper has also pointedly replaced the ‘fair’ element of ‘swift, certain and fair’, with ‘tough’ - a reframing symptomatic of the performative ‘tough on drugs’ populism that runs through the whole paper and its accompanying media messaging. Even for the drug awareness courses mandated in Tier 1 (not dissimilar to the diversion programme in place in Avon and Somerset for example), there is a proposal to not just make the offenders pay for the course but for them to pay more than the cost of the course - an overtly punitive element thrown in for good measure.

The second tier, for those caught in possession a second time, includes what is called a ‘diversionary caution’. This is a formal police record that would appear on certain forms of background checks - in other words, a criminal record. It also involves random drug testing (presumably supervised urine samples - with all the indignities and human rights issues this entails) over a three-month period. A formal charge will be brought in the event of a positive test. So, far from progressive reform, this would de facto criminalise ‘internal possession’ and use (i.e. a positive test) in a way that only a small number of countries, such as Sweden, do at present.

Seemingly drawing on the disastrous and discredited ‘three strikes you’re out’ US policy from the 90s, third-time offenders would not only be automatically charged and receive a criminal record but would additionally be subject to a range of new, non-coincidentally headline-grabbing, punitive sanctions that include:
  • Exclusion orders - Preventing access to certain ‘night time economy’ venues. The paper acknowledges there’s no evidence these would work, and it’s not clear how they would be enforced.
  • Drug tagging - Remote monitoring of drug use with technology that they concede does not exist yet.
  • Passport and driving licence confiscation - Ideas seemingly borrowed from some EU countries (such as Italy - which is unable to show they were effective), these seem particularly disproportionate, having the potential to devastate someone’s life or career - for a possession offence as minor as being caught smoking a joint.
And who is likely to move beyond tier 1, be criminalised, urine-tested, and subject to an additional raft of draconian new punishments? It is not going to be the ‘middle-class drug users’ that the Government seems so keen to single out, but whose drug use tends to take place with the protection that private space and privilege offers. In reality, it will be people who are already most exposed to drug policing and the glaring disproportionality in stop and search; those from economically and socially marginalised communities, and urban black youth in particular. These are also people less able to pay punitive fines or course fees, and therefore more likely to default and end up with a criminal record regardless, even from tier 1. It will be regressive in its impact on the poor and institutionalise the criminalisation of poverty. Yet more levelling down.

It is appropriate to welcome some elements of this White Paper - the acknowledgement of rising use and some of the problems with criminalisation and postcode lotteries, and the commitments to support problematic users. But the solutions proposed are politically driven catchphrase-based policy making, which ignore existing best practice. The proven diversion/decriminalisation approaches that the paper seems to want to benefit from, by their nature require a paradigm shift away from punitive enforcement. That’s the whole point. But the Government's obsession with maintaining its ‘tough on drugs’ posturing has perversely led to proposals that will be incredibly expensive, and are likely to lead to increased criminalisation and harms for the most vulnerable in society - with few, if any, corollary benefits.

Transform will be submitting a more detailed response to the consultation, and we encourage others with relevant personal or professional experience to do the same.

Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Madness 7

That letter reported by the Guardian on Saturday:-

Dominic Raab
Secretary of State for Justice
By E-mail

19th July 2022

Dear Secretary of State

Single Secretary of State’s View

We are writing to you as the three recognised Probation Service trade unions to share our significant concerns over your recent decision to prevent Probation staff from making recommendations, in written reports and oral evidence, to the Parole Board under any circumstances. The ability to do so has long been a vital and valued part of the parole process, as reflected in the various reviews and surveys of those involved in the system over many years.

Your decision – taken without any consultation with relevant stakeholders in the months after the publication of the ‘Root and Branch Review of the Parole System’ in March 2022 – fatally undermines the Government’s own stated plans to pursue a “professionalisation agenda” for the Probation Service. At the same time removing at a stroke the ability of Probation staff to offer crucial expert opinion in the arena of public protection, which they currently do on thousands of occasions each year.

The decision you have taken to prohibit Probation staff from offering recommendations on prisoner’s progression and release severely endangers the ability of the Probation Service to protect victims of the most serious offences, and indeed the wider public, from the risk of serious harm posed by many individuals involved in the parole system. We offer the following as one of the starkest examples of the clear dangers your decision will unleash on the communities we serve in England and Wales.

Under the catastrophic change you have chosen to proceed with, only a small minority of cases each year will have recommendations presented to the Parole Board by a Secretary of State’s Representative. What you do not appear to have comprehended is that the consequence of your decision is that in thousands of cases annually no recommendation will be offered to the Parole Board, unless it is from an individual commissioned by the prisoner’s legal representative. At an ill-conceived and haphazardly executed stroke you have prohibited Probation staff from being able to explicitly argue the case against progression to ‘open conditions’ and/or release on licence in the multitude of cases where it is the expert opinion of Probation staff that the risks posed by these individuals cannot be managed in such settings. Unfortunately, the clearly foreseeable consequences of this is that the number of prisoners absconding from open conditions, being returned to closed conditions, being recalled to custody and reoffending (including committing Serious Further Offences) will increase as a direct consequence of your decision in this regard. In addition to creating more victims this will also weaken the confidence which the public have in the criminal justice system and increase both public expenditure and the workload of various workers and agencies involved.

This is a truly momentous and dangerous shift in the field of Probation practice, one which brings with it a huge range of easily foreseeable harms such as the increased risk to previous victims as well as others in our communities, the destruction of public confidence in this part of the criminal justice system, increased Government expenditure, potential legal liabilities and significant staff demoralisation (leading to an exacerbation of the employer’s current problems in recruiting and retaining Probation staff). The communications we have been provided with so far by HMPPS – such as they are currently available given the manner they have had to be rushed out and the lack of substantial detail available, both further consequences of your failure to engage in proper consultation on this substantive issue – are riven through with such a variety of contradictions and flaws that our fear is that, if introduced as planned, the parole system in England and Wales will be plunged into abject chaos. We would ask that lessons are learnt from the previous tragedy of the so-called ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms, where a predecessor of yours failed to listen to those with a wealth of knowledge and experience urging caution in that regard with all too disastrous consequences.

Given the significant concerns we have outlined here we again ask that these plans – such as they are currently constituted – are halted at this stage pending a meaningful period of consultation and engagement with the trade unions, as well as other relevant stakeholders.

We look forward to hearing from you, and as always would be pleased to meet with you at the earliest opportunity.

Ian Lawrence, General Secretary Napo,
Ben Priestley National Officer UNISON
George Georgiou National Officer GMB/SCOOP

Cc: Amy Rees Director General Probation
Sonia Flynn Chief Probation Officer

Friday, 22 July 2022

Madness 6

I notice that the Prison Reform Trust is engaging robustly with the new minister over the parole changes:-

The Rt Hon Stuart Andrew MP 
Minister of State for Justice Ministry of Justice 
102 Petty France 
London SW1H 9AJ 

21 July 2022

Dear Minister, 

Eligibility for Open Conditions 

Thank you for your letter of 16 July in response to my letter to your predecessor dated 16 June. It was good of you to respond so soon after taking up your new role. 

Your letter clarified some of the issues that I had raised, in particular the fact that the new test for transfer to open conditions does not apply retrospectively. It also made clear that there was no consultation outside the department before the change was implemented and that the evidence considered was restricted to the circumstances of “several” recent absconds. It made clear that detailed reasons must be given for a ministerial decision not to accept a recommendation for transfer to open conditions but that the only avenue of appeal against such a decision will be by way of judicial review. 

Your letter also makes clear that the policy change was subject to a safety impact assessment, which concluded that there was no reason to believe that the future safety of those serving indeterminate sentences will be significantly affected. Given what we know about the disproportionate rates of self-harm and suicide amongst prisoners serving the IPP sentence in particular, that seems an optimistic conclusion. I hope it proves to be correct. I’ve also now had the opportunity to study the updated policy framework on the generic parole process, published today. That helpfully sets out the time limits within which ministers have guaranteed to operate (or officials acting on their behalf). Given that that framework has now been published, I would be grateful if we could be given a copy of the equalities analysis that your letter indicated would be completed. 

However, I’m sorry to say that the letter you were given to sign overlooked many of the questions in my original letter, and the revised policy framework sheds no light on them either. Given that the new criteria have been in operation since 6 June, I’m afraid I see no alternative but to ask again for the detail which is currently being denied to the people whose lives are so hugely affected by this change. The questions in my previous letter to which answers remain outstanding are these: 
• Whether any prisoners have had pre-tariff reviews cancelled or postponed because of the new criteria; (I’m distinguishing this from the decisions on hearings that occurred prior to 6 June because we have had heard from some people that consideration of pre-tariff sifts was postponed following remarks made by the Secretary of State in November last year). 
• What guidance about the new criteria has been issued to: 
- Prison staff 
- Probation staff 
- Specialist report writers, including psychologists 
- The Parole Board 
- Civil servants charged with advising ministers on individual cases affected by the change 
- Prisoners 
- Prisoners’ families (I note the intention to update the guide for families on Gov.uk, but that has not yet been done despite the new criteria having been in place since 6 June). 

I should explain that the updated policy framework contains no guidance about how the new tests should be interpreted or what evidence might be relevant in satisfying them. Both the requirement that a move to open conditions should be “essential” and the public confidence test are novel and the manner in which they are interpreted could vary dramatically. Simply repeating the wording of the new criteria does not seem to me to qualify as guidance. 
• Whether prisoners who meet the criteria of low risk of abscond will be denied the opportunity to benefit from open conditions on the grounds that it is considered as beneficial rather than essential to their resettlement; 
• Which minister will be charged with undertaking the scrutiny required by the new procedure; 
• What criteria will determine which cases are personally considered by that minister; your letter appears to imply that all cases in the so-called “top tier” based on offence, and in addition any “high profile” case, will be considered personally by a minister rather than an official. The policy framework does not contain this undertaking but instead makes clear that any case can be considered under delegated authority. Even if it is intended that every “top tier” case will be considered personally by a minister, the question of how officials will decide what represents a “high profile case which may impact public confidence” remains unresolved. On what basis will officials make this judgement, bearing in mind that it has very serious ramifications both for the individual concerned and potentially for the victim of the original offence or their loved ones.
 • What documentation the minister will receive and consider in order to reach a decision in the cases they decide personally; Your letter uses the phrase “full evidence”, with which I confess I am unfamiliar. The Parole Board panel will have considered the parole dossier, typically running to hundreds of pages and evidence given to a hearing if there has been one. Will you? 
• What evidence officials and the minister will take into account in considering the risk to public confidence element of the new criteria; 
• What training officials charged with advising the minister in these cases will receive in risk assessment; we have assumed that officials in the public protection casework section will be responsible for advising ministers on these cases, but we are not aware that all of those officials are probation practitioners. It would be helpful to be clear about who is doing what. 
• What specialist opinion, if any, will be made available to officials and the responsible minister; Your letter says that probation practitioners will consider the first two parts of the test and that you will have access to that advice. But it is not clear if that refers to the reports given to the Parole Board panel or whether there is to be a further assessment by probation practitioners that takes into account the Parole Board panel’s reasoning post-hearing; 
• Whether the ministerial decision-making process will be open to any form of public scrutiny, in line with the government’s approach to the parole process more generally; 
• Whether the Secretary of State will provide the Parole Board with a view on suitability for progression to open conditions at the original consideration of the case; I have written separately about the issue of a “single view” and it may be that you will choose to answer this question in the context of that letter. 
• What estimate has been made of the consequences of these changes for: 
- the casework capacity within the ministry to provide advice 
- the progression of ISPs and the consequential impact on prison capacity 

Given that the new criteria have been in operation since 6 June, it would be helpful to know how they are operating in practice. So I would be grateful if you could indicate: 

- How many pre-tariff sifts have been considered under the new criteria, and with what outcome 

- How many recommendations from the Parole Board have been considered under the new criteria, and of those: 
• How many have been considered solely by officials in the department, with what outcome and on what grounds; 
• How many have been personally considered by which minister, with what outcome and on what grounds;  
• How many in each category have involved a prisoner with one or more protected characteristics and what the breakdown in terms of characteristic and outcome has been; 
• How many have been decided within the timescales laid out by the policy framework for the generic parole process. 
I look forward to your response and the opportunity to clarify these issues for the many people who contact us about them. 

Yours sincerely, 

Peter Dawson 
Director Prison Reform Trust

Thursday, 21 July 2022

Madness 5

 The happy pair at the MoJ yesterday:-


Antonia Romeo writes on Twitter:- 

"Final all-staff of the parly term. Brilliant to hear the DPM & Justice Secretary @DominicRaab thank @MoJGovUK colleagues. Huge amount achieved to support victims, reduce reoffending, support the justice system & protect the public. Thank you to the best team in Whitehall!"

Meanwhile a staff member writes:-
"With a few parole board hearing pending I’ve written a note to self on the front of the dossiers the line I’ll be consistently repeating, “due to new rules I’m unable to answer your question”.

It’s only a matter of time before the parole board, the offenders and legal representatives alike challenge the new rules. Currently Probation attends parole board hearings on behalf of Secretary of State. Until 15th July 2022 Probation made recommendations on behalf of the Secretary of State.

Probation no longer make recommendations in case this conflicts with recommendations of the Secretary of State. Probation is therefore no longer representing the Secretary of State at parole board hearings. There is really no point in us being there. Solution: Secretary of State completes his own Oasys and Parom and attends parole board hearings instead of Probation."

Russell Webster publishes interim research results:-

What Do Staff Think About The (Re-)Unified Probation Service?

In June 2021, probation in England and Wales was unified, bringing the part-privatisation of services through the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms to an end after just seven years. For the last few months, I have been researching professional identity, culture, and practice in probation since the collapse of TR. I’ve interviewed 38 members of staff from across the probation estate, and what follows presents some preliminary findings from this project.

Feelings on unification are mostly mixed: staff are happy that TR has come to an end but frustrated that so much money was wasted on ideological indulgences. Unfortunately, the ‘two-tier’ nature of TR, in which Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and their staff were viewed as inferior, persists: legacy CRC staff in many regions reported on a perceived ‘second class’ status within the new arrangements. However, many staff also commented on how unification has restored a sense of professional identity, as ‘we’re all one service now’.

Despite general happiness that services are, once again, delivered under the banner of a single, public sector organisation, the sense that probation is not a good fit with the Civil Service is widespread. With TR, there was an obvious ‘bogeyman’ – Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary when the reforms were implemented – on whom to pin frustrations. In the absence of such a figure since unification, a grey, faceless ‘Civil Service bureaucracy’ has come to (partially) occupy this role. Interestingly, many legacy CRC staff argued that they missed the ‘flexibility’ and ‘dynamism’ of working in the private sector.

Pay, though, is the biggest concern for staff. Probation has not had a meaningful pay rise for a decade. There is a fundamental imbalance between the level of remuneration and the social responsibility involved in keeping the public safe. As such, maingrade practitioners often compared themselves to other public sector professionals (police, nurses, etc.); they argued that they were ‘hidden heroes’ who worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, only without recognition from the public or in terms of pay. Staff feel overworked, with many expressing the view that it is bad for clients and dangerous for the public. These pressures make both recruitment and retention difficult. Senior management are aware of this issue and are working to fill vacancies, but they cannot ‘magic probation officers out of thin air’.

Quite a few, often more experienced, staff expressed concerns about newer recruits into the service, along with the quality of the PQiP, although these reservations were not shared by Trainee Probation Officers nor Practice Tutor Assessors. This was tied into calls for a greater diversity of life experience in the service. This includes hiring people with lived experience of the criminal justice system – something that is made more difficult by stringent Civil Service vetting procedures – along with more people from minority ethnic backgrounds. Staff of all genders, length of experience, and pay grades reflected on how the service is too white and too female.

The feminisation of probation in recent decades is an interesting and underexplored phenomenon. On why the service has struggled to recruit men, responses can be separated into three: pay, the demography of (social science) courses from which many are recruited, and the ‘caring’ nature of the role. To be clear, I’m not saying that women are prepared to work for less than men; that they’re more suited to probation because ‘caring is a woman’s work’; nor even that feminisation is necessarily a problem. Rather, the need to have an ‘appropriate’ degree for the PQiP has meant a pipeline has been established between it and social sciences courses (like criminology) dominated by women. This, added to poor pay in the service, has meant far more women enter the profession than men.

Professional development beyond the PQiP, however, is not fit for purpose. Mandatory e-learning does not adequately reflect the different learning styles of staff – ironically, something the service prides itself on in its work with people on probation. That said, there was significant evidence of the persistence of ‘probation values’. This is to say that staff continue to be attracted into the profession because of a desire to work with people; to believe that clients can change and help them desist from crime.

The last point should give hope for the future. Many of these issues will take time to fix – one senior manager suggested 3-5 years – but there is a sense among staff, and particularly among senior leaders, that the service is once again moving in the right direction. With yet more political change on the horizon, it is my hope that the uptick in investment in probation we have seen in last couple of years continues and begins to be felt by staff. The people that work in the service are, after all, its most valuable asset.

This is a guest post by Matt Tidmarsh (@matt_tidmarsh), sharing preliminary findings from his research with probation staff.

Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Madness 4

Here's some helpful tips from the HMPPS Guidance document on how to avoid any awkward moments in front of the Parole Board:-

Language guidance for reports and attendance at oral hearings

We understand that, following the introduction of this new policy, staff will be uncertain about what they can and cannot include in both reports and as witnesses in oral hearings If HMPPS staff tell the Parole Board that in their professional assessment, the prisoner’s risks are / are not manageable in the community, we appear to be telling the Parole Board in terms that the prisoner should remain in custody, in order for protection of the public. This would be providing a view on whether the release test is met, which we are no longer allowed to do. We cannot provide an assessment on whether the RMP would protect the public or say whether we think it is sufficient to manage the risks. It appears we must provide the evidence neutrally without providing an assessment of whether we consider release to be safe.

The following examples are suggested ways of expressing professional assessments about risk and are acceptable under the new policy:
  • ‘I have concerns about whether / I do not assess that Mr/Ms X would be likely to comply with the risk management plan on release because…’
  • ‘There is little evidence that that Mr/Ms X has addressed the following areas of risk…. Therefore, it is my assessment that the following work remains on the sentence plan for completion.’
  • 'Identifying where specific assessed risks are / are not likely to be managed by the plan without explicitly stating this e.g. ‘Risk X requires A, B and C in order to be managed. The RMP provides A and B’.
  • ‘The following risk reduction work in closed has been completed / remains outstanding
  • ‘There is [some/significant] evidence that Mr/Ms X has addressed outstanding risks and must now develop their resettlement plans as follows’
  • ‘My assessment is that it in order to reduce these risks ….. that Mr/Ms X complete ‘prison only intervention’ which is only available in custody’
If you are asked the following, or similar questions, in the oral hearing:

Q: ‘Do you consider the risks posed by Mr/Ms X to be manageable in the community?’ OR ‘Do you consider that this risk management plan is sufficient to protect the public?’

You should respond:

“That is a judgment for the Parole Board to make. The risk management plan I have prepared is my proposal as to how to manage the prisoner’s risk, should the Panel conclude that the statutory release test is met.”

If you are asked whether any risk reduction work remains outstanding, you can answer this question.

If you are asked any questions either by the panel or the legal representative, and you consider that you are being asked to provide a view or recommendation about suitability for release or for a move to open conditions, you should respond:
  • ‘It is not my role to provide a view on the suitability of [prisoner name] release or open conditions, but I am able to answer any questions you may have otherwise’
  • I / the Probation Service / Prison Service cannot provide a view/recommendation on whether or not to release / a move to open conditions
  • Where appropriate and relevant: A single view has been provided by the Secretary of State in this case and I refer you to it
  • I cannot provide a view / recommendation on that I’m afraid, but I can provide my assessment of risk and my plan to manage that risk should release be directed
The language below would constitute a ‘view or recommendation about suitability for release or open conditions’ and must be avoided:
  • ‘My assessment is that Case X should / shouldn’t be released’
  • ‘My view is that further time in open conditions is required prior to release’
  • ‘I recommend that Case X is released’
  • 'My assessment is that risk is / is not manageable in the community'
  • 'My assessment is that custody is / is not required to protect the public
  • 'My assessment is that the current risk management plan is / is not sufficient in this case to manage the risks posed by Mr/Ms X'
  • ‘My assessment of the likely outcome should Mr/Ms X be released is’
  • ‘If you directed release / recommended open conditions for Mr/Ms X, this is what in my view would be essential to manage their risk …..and this is what is currently available in this setting …..’

Sunday, 17 July 2022

Madness 3

As probation officers continue to struggle with the absurdity of the recently introduced parole changes, the following contribution being typical of the issues being raised, I thought it would be useful to publish the Q+A section from the official HMPPS guidance document.  

So what an earth is the point of a risk management plan/risk assessment then. If Mr X poses a high risk of serious harm, but the presented risk management plan is the "best case" scenario in terms of managing those risks, if we can't then comment on how likely that plan would manage the stated risks, then it would be impossible for the parole board to know if the person is safe to release if the very people designing and implementing said plan can't comment on its effectiveness. 

This is the problem with rushed delivery and poorly thought out statutory instruments that haven't had scrutiny, debate and proper implementation. As another commentator said, this will either lead to the report writers losing incentive to produce well thought out reports and plans, or will lead to confusion about whether the author's stated purpose in putting forward the plan was that they felt it would be effective or not. This will either lead to a reduction in releases, or the parole board assuming that stated plans are always effective and releasing inappropriately. 

What I can't work out is what is supposed to be achieved by this, what the purpose of the changes are and the lack of transparency is what is causing the anger and confusion. For an organisation that says it is "honest", "transparent" and "works with integrity", it seems to be wholly failing on all counts.

Frequently Asked Questions – Recommendation Changes

Q: Why is this change happening?

Following the Root and Branch Review of the Parole System which concluded in March this year, the Deputy Prime Minister decided to change the way in which recommendations are made to the Parole Board – that HMPPS report writers would not provide a view or recommendation in any cases where the Parole Board are asked to consider release or to recommend a move to open conditions. In certain cases, a single Secretary of State view will be provided to the Parole Board which will take into account the full evidence and risk assessments provided by report writers. This is to ensure that staff providing evidence on behalf of the Secretary of State do not offer an alternative view of a prisoner’s suitability for release or progression to open conditions.

Q: What happens if I submit a report with a recommendation in after 14 July?

Any reports that include a view or recommendation submitted on or after 14 July will be rejected by the Parole Board and will need to be rewritten. Where this happens, PPCS will request that the report writer amends the report and resubmits it to PPCS so that the case can be referred again to the Parole Board.

Q: What about the open test? Do I still have to provide a recommendation?

From 14 July onwards, you must not provide a view or recommendation about the suitability of a move to open conditions. However, staff can still provide the information and evidence in respect of all three criteria of the test in order that the Parole Board or Secretary of State can reach a decision on whether open conditions are suitable.

Q: I am worried that because I am no longer allowed to say whether I assess someone as being unsafe to be released, that people who otherwise would have been kept in custody will now be released. What should I do?

If you are concerned that release has been directed for someone who presents a public protection risk, and you believe that the Parole Board’s decision was irrational, in that there was no evidence presented to support the decision, or it was procedurally unfair, a request for reconsideration can be made.(Reconsideration Mechanism Guidance - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)). This enables the Secretary of State to ask the Parole Board to reconsider the decision in certain circumstances. If you think this may apply to your case, or you have significant concerns about the possibility of release and think we may need to use this mechanism, please speak to ppcs.policy@justice.gov.uk as soon as possible.

Q: Does this have anything to do with the ‘Johnson’ judgement?

No. Separate communications will come to staff about that judgement, and staff do not need to do anything differently in relation to the Johnson judgement.

Q: Are HMPPS staff allowed to express a view about suitability for release outside of the report and oral hearing – for example, are we allowed to express a view in a MAPPA meeting?

Yes. There is nothing preventing you from discussing your professional assessment and views outside of the parole reports or oral hearings, including in any kind of professionals meeting and including in conversation with the prisoner. Having an honest and transparent relationship with the individuals we supervise is crucial to assessing and managing risk and enabling people to change.

One of the concerns staff may have is that if they express their view about the suitability of release to the prisoner, this could be repeated by the prisoner in the hearing and staff could be questioned whether this was the case. If this happens, staff should respond by explaining that they are no longer allowed to provide a view or recommendation in the hearing.

As part of preparation for the hearing, HMPPS staff should discuss the process with the prisoner; it will also be important for staff to explain these changes to prisoners. This could include explaining that in their evidence, staff will advise whether risks have reduced, what the sentence and risk management plan is and what, if any, further measures are required to reduce risk. Staff should explain that they won’t be able to express a view or recommendation about suitability for release, and that if questioned about their view, they will have to politely decline to answer. Staff should tailor their approach to each individual they work with in order to establish what would be helpful to explain and how.

Q: What should I tell the prisoner?

It will be important as part of your ongoing conversations with the prisoner to discuss this change. We are planning to ensure that information provided to the prisoner about parole and recall reports includes information about these changes. It may be that we are not able to produce these new leaflets prior to 14 July. You can and should talk about release and have a full and frank conversation as you normally would. It would be helpful to reassure prisoners that any progress they have made in custody will be properly reflected in the reports and hearings. You may wish to consider whether they would benefit from any additional support and what the impact of these changes will be on their wellbeing.

Q: What does this mean for executive release?

This is one of the issues that the central policy team are looking at urgently. We will be able to update staff in due course. We will be updating this document so please save the link.

Q: I sent my report off before the 14 July – why am I being asked for it to be re-written without a recommendation?

PPCS are not able to refer your report to the Parole Board unless other mandatory documents are also able to be sent. Where these mandatory documents are outstanding, this may prevent PPCS from sending the dossier, including your report, to the Parole Board prior to 21 July. In these cases, PPCS will contact the Probation Practitioner and request that the report is amended to remove the recommendation.

Q: Where can I find the new reports?

The new Part B and C templates will be on NDelius where you would usually find them. The On/Post tariff PAROM1 templates and addendums will no longer be on the digital platform, but will be available in a Microsoft word IWP template linked to NDelius. The location for the pre-tariff PAROM1s and addendums will not change, but they will be replaced with new templates to reflect the changes. All the new templates are on nDelius here: Parole (justice.gov.uk)

Q: What is the Parole Board doing about recommendations from previous parole reviews in dossiers?

The Parole Board are aware of the changes and have agreed that previous recommendations will not be removed from dossiers. The Board will make their decision based on all of the evidence before them. Specifically, it will not be necessary to remove the recommendations from the reports, and report writers can expect Panels to question them on their recommendations. If your report was submitted prior to July 14 with a recommendation, it is fine to continue as normal and discuss your recommendation.

Q: What if a Parole Board panel member or solicitor / barrister asks me for my view on suitability for release during the oral hearing?

The Parole Board is aware of these changes. It is very likely that Panel Members and the prisoner’s legal representative will ask you whether you assess the risk to be manageable in the community, whether your risk management plan is considered sufficient to protect the public, whether the prisoner is safe to be released or is suitable for transfer to open conditions. You cannot answer as it would constitute a view on suitability for release/open and instead should politely tell the Panel Members and/or the prisoner’s legal representative that your role is not to provide the Panel with a recommendation but rather your assessment of the prisoner’s risks. If this does happen, you may wish to speak to your line manager following the hearing.

Q: Are lawyers allowed to ask our opinion about release in an oral hearing?

The Parole Board rule changes do not bind legal representatives for the prisoner in the same way that they do HMPPS and Parole Board panels, so yes, they could ask this question in a hearing. As stated above, and in the same way that other inappropriate questions to witnesses that are beyond their professional remit are handled, you will need to respond by politely declining to answer. You should explain that you cannot provide a view on suitability for release and that you are able to answer other questions within your remit.

Q: What language would constitute a ‘view or recommendation about suitability for release or open conditions?’. How can I check whether what is in a report is allowed?

We have set out some examples of language above but we recognise that there may be uncertainty as this policy is embedded. If you are a report writer, you can ask your manager to have oversight of the language. You can review your reports in line the Parole Quality Assurance Framework tool when it is published, check with your line manager if you are a report writer or check with the ppcs.policy@justice.gov.uk who can help check whether the language in the report is within the policy.

Q: How will I know if my case is a ‘noteworthy’ case where a single Secretary of State view is being provided?

PPCS have a list and will inform those staff involved. For those cases due to be heard imminently, the staff involved have already been told. PPCS will provide additional support to these staff in what we anticipate will be a very small number of cases.

Q: What are the consequences if it is judged that a practitioner has provided a ‘view or recommendation’ to the Parole Board?

It is possible that the decision by the Parole Board could be reconsidered, set aside or legally challenged and possibly changed. During this transition period try not to worry as it is going to be difficult to balance all the changes. Prepare for each case and be ready for what you can/cannot comment on. We know all staff will make every effort to implement this change at short notice, but we also appreciate that there may be cases where a recommendation has been provided in error. If staff think this may be the case, they should discuss this with their line manager and let the PPCS Case Manager know.

Q: Should practitioners be providing information to PPCS prior to writing a parole report or Part B / C to inform decision-making about cases being ‘top tier’ or ‘Single Secretary of State view’ cases?

PPCS work with the Secretary of State to initially identify cases considered to be noteworthy. If circumstances arise where practitioners think a case should be considered for a ‘Secretary of State view’ process, they should contact PPCS immediately. We anticipate that there will be very few cases in this category.

Q: Will there be recommendations about suitability for release or open conditions in psychology reports?

Where psychology reports are written by HMPPS staff or external staff commissioned by HMPPS, they will no longer contain recommendations about suitability for release or a move to open conditions from 14 July onwards. Psychology staff and Probation Practitioners can discuss and record in case notes their professional views about suitability, but these views must not be provided to the Parole Board.

Q: Does anything need to change about the rest of the report now that a recommendation about suitability for release or a move to open conditions is no longer allowed?

Not necessarily. The rest of the report should remain the same. The analysis of risk and what is best required to reduce risk, factual information as well as analysis about offending behaviour patterns, information and analysis about risk management and sentence planning should all remain the same. We do need to be confident that we are providing all of the evidence that would enable the Parole Board / Secretary of State to assess whether the release / open test is met. It will be important to be as specific as we can about what the risks are and how best we intend to manage them in various scenarios. We will need to adopt a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach whereby our analysis can inform decision-makers in the absence of us being explicit about our own conclusions.

Q: Will the rest of the oral hearing be any different?

Yes. Witnesses should expect Panels to question them even more closely on their risk assessment. Prepare in your usual way and seek support from your line manager if you need to.

Q: Does the Parole Board know about these changes?

Yes, and HMPPS staff have been working closely with them to ensure that we can continue to deliver our service without disruption.

Q: Will other witnesses be able to provide a view?

Yes, for example psychology reports commissioned by the legal team of the prisoner, or witnesses attending from outside of HMPPS. We must not comment on an external recommendation. We are not able to say whether we agree or disagree.

Q: Do the legal representatives of the prisoner know about these changes?

Yes, communications are being sent to legal representatives outlining these changes.

Q: I have started my report in the template in NDelius that has the recommendation section. Do I need to move everything on to a new template?

Report writers should use the new templates for all parole reports, Part B and Part C reports for all reports due for submission on or after 14 July. If you previously began these reports on the old template, you need to move the content over to the new report in order to submit it on or after 14 July. In the rest of the report, you must not provide a view or recommendation about the suitability of release or a move to open conditions.

Q: Is the Parole Quality Assurance Framework changing?

There will be changes to the questions in the quality development tool. The tool was due to be refreshed in the next couple of months with changes relating to the EPF2 tool, the new open test and questions relating to mental capacity now included. We are now bringing forward the publication of the latest version to coincide with these changes in order to include a new question relating to changes to recommendations.

The process whereby practitioners no longer require the tool applied to their reports following 3 successive ‘Good’ ratings is not changing. With all parole reports, the SPO is expected to have a Touch Points Model conversation with the Probation Practitioner. This should now always include a check by the SPO for any language in the report which could be considered a ‘view or recommendation about suitability for release’.

Q: Am I allowed to include in the report any views from the prisoner on release?

This would mainly be the remit of the prisoner or their representative rather than for HMPPS to provide. Report writers can include information about whether a prisoner has expressed intentions regarding compliance with a release plan, or other information and analysis pertinent to risk and how it might be managed. This might include assertions by the prisoner that they are worried they would go on to commit an offence upon release for example, or they have expressed concerns that they will not cope in an approved premises.

Q: If an addendum parole report is due after 14 July, can it refer to what the recommendation was in the original report that was submitted prior to 14 July?

No. You cannot make any reference in an addendum report to a view or recommendation about suitability for release that you made in the PAROM1.

Q: If I’ve submitted a parole or recall report previously with a recommendation, but the oral hearing is after 21 July, can I repeat the recommendation I have already given in the hearing?

Yes. If the report was submitted before July 14 and contained a recommendation, you can discuss it. See the transitional arrangements for more advice.

Q: Recall cases – for determinate cases that go to oral hearing, is the practitioner allowed to repeat the recommendation they make in the part B / C?

Yes. If you have written the report and submitted it before 14 July, you can repeat that view or recommendation in hearings on and after 21 July. Reports submitted on and after 14 July should not contain a recommendation about the suitability for release or move to open conditions.

Q: If the POM and COM have different views about risk and progress etc, will that be allowed, or will there still be a requirement to align your views prior to writing a parole report, if there is no clear recommendation?

There is still a requirement for reports by POMs and COMs to align.

Q: If I am in an oral hearing for a case where there is a single Secretary of State view provided, and I am asked whether I agree with the SoS view, what do I say if, in my professional assessment, I disagree?

You should say politely that it is not within your remit to answer and that you can answer questions about your own assessment.

Q: How will it be possible for the panel or the legal representative to challenge my professional views in an oral hearing if I can no longer provide a recommendation?

The responses from the witness can always begin ‘I cannot provide a view on suitability for release, but in respect of that question about risk…..’. A witness can always ask for the question to be repeated, or to check the understanding of the question again by asking for further clarification.

It is right that legal representatives and the panel can challenge professional assessments in hearings. As always, witnesses will need to be prepared to evidence their assessments, but this will no longer involve them expressing a view about the suitability of release.

It is possible that Panel Members and, very likely that the prisoner’s representative, will ask report writers for their view as to whether the prisoner is safe to be released or suitable for transfer to open conditions. When answering these questions, report writers should tell the Panel Members and/or the prisoner’s legal representative that their role is not to provide the Panel with a recommendation but rather their assessment of the prisoner’s risks.

Q: Will there be a change to ability to request fixed term/standard recalls?

No, this process will remain the same.

Q: Will the Parole Board still set targets for prisoners within their decision letters?

Yes, nothing about the decision letters will change for now.

Q: Can I recommend a fixed or standard term recall in a Part A recall report still?

Yes. There are no changes to Part A recall reports. This is because Part A reports do not go before the Parole Board for a decision to be made. The changes in this document only affect those decisions relating to the Parole Board.

Q: What will this mean for Victim Liaison Officers (VLOs) who won't be able to advise victims of recommendations being made?

The way VLOs communicate the parole and recall processes to victims will change and the victims' team are issuing specialist guidance separately to VLOs. It will continue to be important for POMs and COMs to liaise regularly with VLOs at all key points in the sentence.

Q: Can we confirm whether or not our risk management plan is robust enough to manage a prisoner on release?

No, this is not allowed.

Q: What do I need to do if a panel member wants me to answer a question that is now outside my remit?

You must reaffirm that you cannot provide a view or recommendation about suitability for release or a move to open conditions. If you feel you were put under undue pressure to answer a question outside of your remit, you may then wish to inform your line manager of the incident, following the hearing.

Frequently Asked Questions – Open Test

Q: I thought we’re not supposed to talk about the third criteria for the open test anymore?

Decisions about whether the third element of the new test applies in individual cases will now be a matter solely for the Secretary of State or his delegated official. However, HMPPS must still provide information and evidence, where available, to enable that decision to be made. This could include information about media interest, impact on the local community or other information relevant to the issue. What HMPPS staff and the Parole Board are no longer required to do is assess or analyse whether a move to open conditions would undermine public confidence.

Q: When discussing the open conditions test could witnesses be asked to provide a yes or no response as to whether the prisoner is, for example, at low risk of abscond? Will this mean that the witness is providing a view about the suitability for a move to open conditions?

The witness could be asked a question like that, yes. We do not consider responding truthfully to that question to constitute ‘providing a view’. The witness is providing their professional assessment to an issue of risk and how it is managed and not stating whether they think the prisoner ought to move to open conditions.

Q: What about reports that have already been written without reference to the new open test?

There is no requirement for the Prison or Probation Service to provide a further report, where one has already been submitted, unless it is directed by the Parole Board or requested by PPCS.

Where an oral hearing is underway and reports have been submitted, practitioners should be mindful that they may be asked about the case in the context of the new test at the oral hearing, particularly where the Parole Board is considering recommending a move to open conditions. Where the Parole Board directs an update, this must be provided.

Q: Is there still a presumption that Terrorist and Terrorist Connected Prisoners are unsuitable for open conditions?

Yes. Terrorist and Terrorist Connected Prisoners are presumed to be unsuitable for open conditions unless exceptional circumstances can be evidenced. Alternative options should be considered e.g., a Progression Regime. It is for PPCS to determine whether the circumstances are exceptional.

Q: How do I apply the new open test?

We no longer apply the test and instead provide evidence and information to allow others to assess whether the test has been met. This is a professional judgement and will depend on the specifics of the case.

Q: Do I need to evidence whether the prisoner meets the new open test?

You must provide the evidence and information about the criteria to allow the Parole Board / Secretary of State to assess whether the new open test criteria have been met.

Q: How much evidence does the Parole Board need to establish whether someone is a low risk of abscond?

The new open test has not changed the process for assessing a prisoner’s risk of abscond, and the assessment remains one based on professional judgement. This should continue to be completed by prisons in the normal way. In terms of the amount of evidence the Parole Board will require, this will be different depending on the nature of the case.

Q: I have a high-profile case where there was a significant impact on the community. Am I allowed to put this in the report?

Yes. When analysing the impact of the offending behaviour or providing analysis on the risk management plan, including issues relating to the local community, you should provide this information as part of the report. You are no longer required to specifically assess whether a move to open conditions would undermine public confidence.

Q: What criteria will the Parole Board apply when considering whether a prisoner should move to open conditions?

From 28 June 2022, the Parole Board will only be deciding whether the first two aspects of the new open test criteria have been met. The Secretary of State Directions to the Parole Board have been updated to confirm this. A copy of these is available via this link: Secretary of State's Directions to the Parole Board - Transfer of ISPs to open conditions.

Q: How will the third criteria of the open test be applied by the Secretary of State?

The third part of the open test is to evidence that ‘a transfer to open conditions would not undermine public confidence in the criminal justice system’. Where the Parole Board recommends a move to open conditions, the Secretary of State is responsible for deciding whether to accept or reject this recommendation. As part of this, the Secretary of State will consider whether all three parts of the new test have been met.

Q: Do I need to automatically move an ISP currently in open conditions back to closed based on the new test?

No. The new test should not be used as a reason for a prisoner’s removal to closed conditions where an adverse development has NOT occurred. If an open prison considers that prisoners no longer meet the new criteria, this cannot be used as a reason to remove them to closed conditions. Where an adverse development has occurred, the new test should be applied when completing a LISP4 i.e. they have absconded, assaulted someone etc. or there are changes in behaviour which the prison assesses results in the ISP’s risk being unmanageable in open conditions.

Q: Should I apply the new test for a move to open conditions when completing the LISP4 for an adverse development?

Yes. As part of the recommendations within the LISP 4 to PPCS, practitioners should now only consider the first two aspects of the new test for open conditions. PPCS remain responsible for reviewing the case and deciding whether the prisoner should be issued with a warning letter, remain in closed until the next scheduled parole review or refer the case to the Parole Board for advice on their continued suitability for open conditions/refer the new information to the Parole Board where there is an ongoing parole review underway.

REMEMBER: When considering whether to raise an adverse development and move a prisoner back to the closed estate, prisons should consider whether the behaviour displayed by the prisoner can be managed within open conditions i.e., does not present an escalation of risk, and should be dealt with in line with local prison processes. In these cases, the LISP 4 does not need to be submitted to PPCS.

The new test should not be the reason for an ISP’s removal to closed conditions, but it should be taken into consideration as part of the LISP 4 where removal to closed has happened and continued suitability is being considered.