Sunday, 1 March 2015

Bleak Futures Week 9

This blog makes interesting reading when we see practitioners experiences post TR, take for example ISPs. This is a target for both CRCs and NPS and more importantly starts the supervision process by defining what work will be done to address identified issues and also is the baseline risk assessment.

Given CRCs are now up and running as separate entities, we could perhaps expect some divergence of practice so eg the targets date for ISPs may vary in different CRCs. What is really concerning is that the NPS, one unified organisation, seems to have very different target dates for staff to complete ISPs varying between 5 and 15 days - how can that be? Does that means staff in the 5 day area could be placed in capability for missing a target which is 15 days somewhere else in that one organisation? It is absolute nonsense.

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No account is taken of pending prison releases when Community cases are allocated - but then N-Delius do not show prison cases due for release - another flaw in an overall piss-poor IT system.

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It is my understanding that ALL CRCs have same targets and for ISPs it is 10 days - some like my CRC are imposing 8 day as a safeguard since missing a target costs money. In relation to NPS - is it not 5 day for high risk and 15 for those in CRC which are deemed medium risk but due to nature of offence, RSR score or whatever the reason are in NPS? Just a thought - if NAPO is going to investigate it has to be across the board - they represent both sections of this ideological divide.

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The writing's on the wall. Each week it's getting bleaker and bleaker and the blogs are getting longer, staff are leaving gaping holes that remaining staff simply cannot fill. I cant see Sodemexo or Burple Futures bringing anything to the table that will reverse the mess we are in.

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I am NPS in the South West and our target is for terminations, so they get prioritised over ISPs, start custody OASys. I've got ISPs still waiting to be done as I've also had parole reports addendum, part B and C to all do at the same time. Casenotes written needing to be typed up. Been over WMT since Oct and when management retiered to be in line with rest of NPS, WMT went up to 48% over. Now the WMT is London model not so easy to see. Yet management looking at sample of my cases to see where I am at as if it is totally my fault (it feels like).

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My reading is that community ISP's for the NPS are 15 days. The 5 day ISP is for custody cases; the OM has to get into prison and complete this within 5 days. I have a feeling that whoever is stupid enough to apply for TTG will get the honour of seeing all of the new receptions and completing the ISP. This will be between sorting out accommodation/licences and the 1001 other issues that new receptionists in prison AND those leaving will have.

Looking at the work that needs doing in the reception/discharge prisons, I have a feeling that most of the CRC will need to be in the prison to cope. My own view is that I would have absolutely nothing to do with TTG, and if you are directed just claim you have claustrophobia and cannot work in such an environment! It's for them to prove otherwise and they would not have a leg to stand on if they subsequently directed you and then you went immediately on the sick! As you will no longer have a caseload by this time, you might as well take the whole six month off on full pay.

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I work in Wales and I can assure you that the 5 day target is for all cases in the community whether they have attended or not (we are pretending custody are still done the old fashioned way until directed otherwise). Other priority targets are terminations, parole, part B and C's and home visits. Of course reviews and recording contacts are suffering and there are rumbles of steps being taken to rectify this.

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How can there be such confusion in NPS, the national organisation? Most areas within NPS do not appear to be doing the same thing....surely it defeats the whole object of being the NATIONAL NPS??

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A Plea. I have just returned to work after 5 months sickness absence and have to tell you it was the worst period of my life and sometimes, in the response of managers, staff and yes, occasionally on this blog I have been made to feel a sense of shame. We really need to have care when making statements that imply colleagues who are certified as unfit for work by their GP and Occupational Health (in my case) are somehow not honestly too ill to work.

When colleagues, perhaps tongue in cheek, refer to "going sick" and "you might as well take the whole six months off on full pay" they clearly have no experience of how ill you have to be to be signed off for so long. It is not something to be spoken of lightly and it is devastating to think that some think of 'the long term sick' as avoiding work. I was ill not dishonest. So please don't suggest colleagues could do this to cause disruption to TR, it just feeds the very worst attitudes of some HR and some Managers.

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I'm the author of that comment. It was not an implication of anything, rather an instruction, albeit tongue in cheek. I hope you are feeling much better though and welcome back into the (significantly changed) fold.

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Sick leave a doddle hey. Threatening meetings with the overtones of being sacked. Being off ill is no joke. Come on colleagues where has your humility gone......

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This rings true with me - I was a nervous wreck at work due to the manager taking a dislike to me and ended up going off and almost every week there was a phonecall trying to entice me back with reduced caseload etc etc. Being off was just as stressful but in a different way to actually being in work.

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Because of the current crap and job uncertainty I have decided to sell my house, I do not want to be jobless with a mortgage and face the inevitable re-possession. I will rent somewhere so if I go off sick or sleepwalk into a mistake that could lead to disciplinary I do not have to worry about finding somewhere to live. I have a few debts but all under 1k and will be paid off as soon as possible. Hopefully this will improve my approach to work - at the moment I work over and above cos I'm terrified about the house, but once my plans are in place I can see my mood lifting and feeling much better.

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How sad am I? To get myself to work I have written my daily salary in my diary and when it all gets too much I look at it and tell myself that's why I have to stay for another day. Honestly, I used to love my job.

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Well at least you got phone calls. I was off for 10 weeks, not one phone call, one letter, nothing. Not until I called in and said I was coming back to work. Then they asked me for a back to work meeting. At the meeting I was to be on phased return. Only to find because they are short staffed I was full time on my third day back. It felt no different, nothing has changed for me. They totally ignored why I was off. I said I nearly had a breakdown with the work, their reply, 'lucky you caught it in time'. What the hell does that mean?

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I'm in a prison and there is a review by NOMS of the OMU process. Do I stay or do I go because as we stand no one has the foggiest what's going to happen in the next twelve months.

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Stay in HMP. The field is a NIGHTMARE.

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I am fortunate in that being over 60 I have made the decision to take early retirement & leave at the end of March (PO in a CRC) - I just felt I no longer have the mental energy to take on board all the new changes ie not only the split but also ORA & TTG. Interestingly, just 2 days after I sent my email requesting early retirement, my SPO (a thoroughly nice & decent chap by the way) came to me following a senior management meeting saying would I consider returning after the end of March as agency staff on £24 per hour! I am not interested in this, it wasn't about the money for me, but it makes you wonder how much is sloshing around to pay for agency staff? Best wishes to all.

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At a Staff Roadshow for London CRC, MTCNovo said they made their bid for the contract with no knowledge of exactly what state the office buildings were in or what were the terms and conditions of the leases. This is why the "transition period" from 01/02/15 to 30/04/15 will allow due diligence to be carried out so that they know exactly what they have bought!

Reminds me of that TV programme "Storage Wars" where professional buyers bid in an auction for the contents of a storage locker that has been requisitioned when 3 months rent is owing. The buyers only have 5 minutes to peek at the contents and most of the content is kept under cover so he buyer needs to trust their judgement and experience. So now I understand why it it currently "business as usual" in London CRC.

This would definitely not happen in the takeover of a private business. Any take over without due diligence would be regarded as reckless. Why is it thought acceptable when bidding for London CRC? Clearly London CRC is so big and inefficient that any economies of scale will be well rewarded. I agree though that some of the smaller CRC areas will fail but I can see MTCNovo hoovering those CRC areas up - for a price of course! Welcome to Grayling's brave new world!

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Comment overheard today in CRC. "Our job should be reducing reoffending rates, not dealing with all the regions f***ing social problems". Methinks reality is dawning.

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As another many, many years in, I too have worked through many types of change and up to this point have always been able to find a way through whilst carrying on without really changing the core. However, this is the biggest and worst mess of them all. The abusive way the so called management are prepared to behave whilst deluding themselves, their sycophants and those 'above' them that they are actually achieving anything is slick/slimy management speak and the ability to present the Emperors New Clothes seems to be their only skill. 

They achieve nothing. Their job is to resource and manage the worker to produce. They do neither. They produce nothing. They do not protect the public, reduce crime or victims. Yet they have the gall to sit around in meetings, oh so important, best frocks and suits and think they can come up with processes, solutions, when they could not, had no interest in or did not, do the job of protecting the public by reducing crime, they now seem able to persuade those who know no better that they actually know what they are talking about.

Consult they say, utter rubbish they wouldn't and don't know how to consult. No wonder it's a mess, cobbled together, ridiculously lengthy and ineffective...they don't even have the decency to proof read the stuff, amendment after amendment. Now, having given themselves plenty of time to get their dishonest self affirming, haven't I done well, stuff to send up the line. What manager tells their manager they are actually hopeless at their job? They forgot all about the 'bottom up' appraisal process conveniently and quickly didn't they! Now they reckon we have had enough time to have been able to work through their mire and let's pretend the months since June just didn't happen.

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I consider myself lucky to have a job I love and a reasonable income, although no pay rises anymore as I've been in a while, however a colleague pointed out, no payrise is actually a reduction in my pension. So for anyone who begrudges us payment, it's not all its cracked up to be especially as I now have to work until I'm 67! I've never been scared of hard work and will keep going, although I will do so with the same attitude expressed by today's guest blogger!

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I have tried to close my ears and eyes to all the bull shit speak that people seem to think they need to spew to sound as though they have something to say: "driving the..." "mobilisation..." "reconfiguration..." I try to remember why I chose to do this work, but I notice that, increasingly, those who come before the courts, are utterly irrelevant to the new and unnecessarily complex systems and processes dumped on us.

CG has set out to destroy the CJS - and the notion of 'justice seen to be done' - by replacing it with a production line set at such a pace we will all be too busy with our faces stuck in yet another shitty IT tool that doesn't work to notice exactly who is passing through the doors of the court. Once an error has occurred, it tends to be compounded as it travels along what is now an increasingly bureaucratic journey. The excellent reviews coming out of Hanson & White and others, all now counts for nothing, because all that matters now is the market, the volume, and process. I mourn the simplicity and efficiency of what has been destroyed.

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Everything that has ever come out of any serious case review has been completely ignored and abolished. Lets remember this when the Serious Case Reviews start pouring out in the future - and when they do lets bombard the MOJ and the media with the reasons for the failings, reminding them how we repeatedly said what would happen. The more pipes you put into a system, the greater the risk of leaks - that's the only thing I remember being said by a previous ACO - the very one who as a CEO was known for the 'JFDI' quote.

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Had to do a double take reading this, I could have written today's guest blog myself, and wondered if I'd been sleep blogging. I'm one of the people in line to be directed to a new LDU so have decided to volunteer in the vague hope I might get a little bit of a say in where I go. There will be no time to handover any of my existing clients. I don't know what will happen to them, some will be moving to their third PO in less than 9 months. The new LDU is in an area I am unfamiliar with. I don't know what services are available, who the partnership agencies are or even how to get around. I'm supposed to hit the ground running, it feels more like I'm hurtling to earth without a parachute.

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This just can't go on, and I sense a further split in the service around the corner. One where there will be those who do all the paper work, inputting, collection of information, referrals, recalls etc etc, and never see a client, and allocate cases to officers who's job will be 'only' to see clients all day and pass information back to those chained to their desk to update and take action.

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I am so glad I got VR. I could see, normally unflappable, colleagues starting to unravel with the atrophying effect of TR last year. There are few worse sensations than starting a new job, feeling completely overawed. You know though, it will soon start to ease off as you settle in and your new workmates rally as they don't want you to fail. When you've been there years and you spend every other day doing conference calls where the only crumb of comfort is that your managers and 'The Centre' or 'The Hub' are just as fucking clueless as you, you know that knot in your stomach is not going away any time soon.

I remember one of those calls where 2 admin managers reported experienced staff crying at the pace of the changes. The ACO listening in said that it was important that management had that kind of feedback to feed upwards. I suppose he had to say something but we all knew it was whistling in the dark. What a complete fuck up. Great blog today despite the subject matter, thanks for sharing.

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Really enjoyed today's blog - like somebody else said, it could have been written by any casemanager. We all seem to be experiencing the same problems up and down the country. The loss of staff is the most mindboggling of all - I've spoken to someone today who'd have stayed till 65 as they love their job and have no personal commitments per see but TR has put paid to that and they are going in the coming months aged 61 - that will be the 5th PO left from that office in the last 12 months.

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It's all gobbledegook - I've no idea what the NPS newsletter is saying. It seems we're getting processes for processes and guides to tell us when we're too stressed to read them. Nobody reads or uses process maps, audits and databases are of no benefit to probation officers, and IT upgrades are pointless when the IT is shite. My view can be summed up as Believe It Or Not I DON'T Care.

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We are all getting ridiculous numbers of briefings on updates on our email. If they get opened at all, they usually get discarded after reading the first paragraph, or more likely two sentences. Yesterday we got an urgent update on a briefing paper that no-one remembered or ever opened. It was written in a language no-one could understand. The next update might include a dictionary that no-one will ever look at! The fact that a 'Deputy Director' or whatever she is, could seriously think that this communication would be welcomed is unreal. The disconnect is now staggering. We need things that matter and make sense.

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Where are the offenders in this management speak, the people NPS are supposed to be working with to rehabilitate or protect the community from? This is someone who know nothing but wants to pretend what they are doing is important. Its a case of read and weep or laugh.

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I agree, it took same dep director 15 minutes to mention clients at recent engagement shots! Its all bollocks!

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Probation officers (and some clients too) are generally pretty good at stringing words together as evidenced by the posts on this blog. I agree there must be a course where managers are trained how to forget this and instead adopt this new business speak - a way of masking content that doesn't amount to much it seems to me. They are also given delusional pills that make them think everything is OK bar a few hiccoughs. I try to read stuff, I really do, but I get 'brain fail' (see today's guardian) when I try. I have however created a nice file in 'My Documents' where I'm dumping all of this garbage.

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"While Aegis is a good system, it doesn't fully meet all of our business requirements. There are also some technical limitations to it as a system which mean we need to plan now to put in place a more strategic solution. The NPS has therefore commissioned the development of a full set of business requirements. This is the first step towards creating a new victims database."

So it's not that good after all? Or maybe, just maybe, there is another opportunity to line the pockets of friends and old school pals, whilst continuing to sit around doing nothing of any use to anyone.

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Good-Christing-Hell. I don't know what terrifies me more: The fact that not only does this twaddle pass muster at High Command, or that someone thought it just the thing to pep up an already demoralised workforce. Want to know something really scary? This represents the best plan they've got for hammering a square peg into a round hole. Charts. Systems. Whisper on the grapevine has it that phone scripts are being considered to ensure continuity of supervision as workloads rotate around staff. This, to be fair, wasn't Grayling's big idea behind restructuring Probation - it's just one of the real world consequences of it. The Cocktrumpet.

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A direct result of TR in our area is that high risk (or schedule 15 offences) DRR/OMU cases come to NPS and get less intensive supervision than before the split. Whose bright idea was that then?..also..ooops - a significant number of people I supervise have come out of prison with a drug problem they didn't have before they went in.

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I am not as bleak as some about the future because I was always unhappy with being a slave to NOMS and its ridiculous need for control. I have taken the opportunity to drop some hours and am trying to fill the gap with my own creative ideas as to how to make things better. But I am clear that I need to be mercenary to a degree - no giving my ideas to my employers or other parties. It's not been an easy thing to do and so far there has been little reward.

Having a young family means there are risks, but there are risks involved in not taking the risks - risks of regret and a low level depression of staying and sticking to a routine, risks of not being a good example to my children. Under full-on NOMS control, as the Trusts were, there was a risk of just rusting away in front of a computer. For those in the NPS there is a risk of becoming moribund under ridiculous bureaucracy and terrible Civil Service speak - it seems that yesterday's blog shows how our new directors are already lapsing or fully immersing themselves in this. In my office people have left to start businesses and follow dreams. If you have a dream or an unfulfilled ambition outside of Probation, then this is as good a time as any to follow it.

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The wheels have already come off... it just remains to see how long before the momentum of the combined NOMS & CRC mass eventually grinds to a disastrous halt. There will always be some sort of service provision for those sentenced to supervision or released from prison - because that's what probation staff do, regardless of allocation. The courts won't stop making sentences. What is likely is that something terrible will happen and it will be evident that the disruption per the TR agenda was the cause. However... the disconnect of the MoJ/NOMS/CRC management structures from the reality of day-to-day practice is palpable; I would submit the argument that it is evident that they are making themselves ultra-distant from practitioners in order to distance themselves from any imminent disaster.

The CRC decision was made to enable profit for global enterprise - hence the budget & recruitment freeze & the apparent lack of CRC ownership activity (they ain't stoopid). The NPS decision was a Tory General Election smokescreen regarding high risk offenders & sentencing. Sad to say I fear that it will be NPS who fall foul of something dreadful first...and I suspect CRCs are hoping for this, so they can dodge any bullets & respond with some clever PR of their own. But some poor bastard somewhere is going to have to be the unnecessary victim in all of this.

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Lots and lots of overtime is going to be announced soon as they realise that OASys completions are up the Swanee and emergency measures will have to be put in place to give the impression that everything is all going well. The train is so huge that it has now left the rails and is careering into the public that have gathered to see what all the fuss is about. It might not have ground to a halt but it has certainly caused damage and those that can't see it are either on the outside looking in, on the inside with their eyes shut hoping it's not them that gets the 4am knock, apologists for TR (well it's happened now lets just get on with quietly slitting our own throats), or the three or four who really believe that TR will bring them great opportunities...usually CEOs and ACEs....

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Oasys means nothing, whats the problem? Just fudge them quickly, they'll be just as useful as before.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Schadenfreude

It's Saturday, the guest blog cupboard is bare and I'm getting increasingly fed up with the whole probation train crash. I suppose it could be described as conflict fatigue, and I can sense it on the blog. It's time for another diversion and an attempt to try and bring together a number of things that have been bothering me of late. As usual, I think I know where I'm going to start, but have no idea where it will end.

A couple of weeks ago this was left by a contributor:-

Devastating example of impact of LASPO on civil legal aid given by Dave Emerson to Justice Committee:

"I was sitting as a judge yesterday in a family case, in a London family court, where a young woman came before me. She was physically disabled. She had to come into court with crutches so it was not easy for her to carry her papers. Attached to her application was her refusal of exceptional funding from the Legal Aid Agency. She had modest learning difficulties and her father with her. She was making an application to see her child who was in care. There was an order that she sees her child three times a year and she was looking to increase that. The special guardian who was in court, who was ironically funded by the local authority, was there with a social worker, and they were seeking to decrease the amount of contact she had. She started by making representations that she had written down, so she was able to explain what her case was. But it was abundantly clear, once the lawyer from the other side had started making representations, that she could not deal with them at all. She did not understand the nuances of the case against her and could not adjust to deal with it. It is absolutely appalling that this woman, who now faces possibly not seeing her child again, should not get representation.

The form itself is almost 30 pages long and you need a doctorate in law to complete it. In informal discussions—Resolution and the Legal Aid Agency—they have almost agreed that, if a litigant in person is able to complete that form, they are almost able to show that they are able to represent themselves, so it is self‑defeating. In the statistics, you will see that there is only a handful of applications from people themselves rather than through lawyers. There is no funding to make the application."


It got me quite depressed and pondering on what sort of society we are becoming, all in the name of 'reforms' and austerity? For the first time ever I found myself asking if I really wanted to be part of a society where prison suicides are rising? The poor are sanctioned? The ill punished? The low-paid go hungry? etc etc., and all at the same time as the Tories seem able to claim their fiscal measures have been a huge success and entitle them to believe they can win a majority in the General Election.

We've had evidence of the MoJ trying to hide the truth about what's happening in jails by refusing visits from journalists, an attempt to silence an academic from linking suicides to staff shortages, the Church of England top brass saying things are getting bad, and the Church of Rome voicing concerns, but it all seems to make no impression. 

With the opposition so feeble and disorganised, as far as I can see the only cause for hope has been provided by the vagaries of lady luck in the shape of superbly timed 'events'. The HSBC banking scandal completely scuppered the carefully stage-managed political election posturing by all the main parties and instead got us all focused on fat cat tax cheats - brilliant!

Ever since Tony Blair and his Prince of Darkness were able to demonstrate the ease with which the news agenda could be 'managed', and democracy took another turn for the worst, our only hope of getting any real political debate going has been via leaks or whistle blowing. Don't you just love it when politicians prove their credentials as self-serving bastards when they so easily succumb to the classic honey trap, provided in this case by flattery from a young Chinese woman offering loadsa money? 

Oh how sweet to see that arse Jack Straw finally having his political career terminated. It very neatly scuppered another weeks-worth of stage-managed crap from our political leaders and firmly put back on the agenda exactly what value we get out of this bunch elected on our behalf. I wonder what's coming next week?

It's all been pure political gold in my view, getting Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind on the record having the bare-faced to cheek saying he's 'self-employed', doesn't get a salary and has 'lots of spare time'. Another political career terminated in just a few 'misjudged' words and one can only imagine David Cameron's fury in response. With the House of Lords already embarrassingly full to bursting, it's no ermine for either me thinks!  
Having indulged in a little Schadenfreude, I think I'll stop here and end with something I saw on twitter that seems to sum things up nicely.   

Friday, 27 February 2015

Probation Institute

It's been some time since I've dared mention the Probation Institute on here because the subject tends to arouse some strong emotions, but then some readers have recently been suggesting the blog might be disconnected from the reality of life in CRCs and NPS. We may never know for sure of course and I suspect a blog can only ever be one reality and not the reality. So it is that, despite waves of opposition on here, we are told membership has now reached 1000. This from the CEO's blog:- 

"In January 2015 our membership passed the 1000 milestone, and is growing day by day! This represents a significant achievement in a short time. More than that it demonstrates the commitment of many of those who work in probation in the future, as a concept and in the professional practice and ethical value base that supports it.

I anticipate that the next six months will be even busier for the Institute. Members will have received notification of the new governance arrangements following a period of consultation at the end of last year. We will be introducing these from February to April, electing a Representative Council and a new Board to take forward the leadership of the Institute from May. This is realising a key objective: the Institute should be member led. It is vital that Institute members take up this challenge and opportunity. So do think about coming forward for election to the Representative Council. And if you aren’t already a member, join!"


Now before there's a chorus of 'well most have been dragooned and signed up free by CRCs', I'll say you may well be correct, but the thing is still quietly motoring along and on Sunday evening will have concluded on-line voting for the 'Representative Council', so lets take a look at some of the candidates. Interest doesn't seem too great in the North West where the one candidate is assured of election, but in the South West and South Central region, competition is very keen with five candidates and they include some fascinating names like:- 

ANDREW BRIDGES “Please don’t vote for me if you want a representative who is driven by a particular sectional ideology....I offer something different from that: well-informed fair-mindedness. My aim is to help probation be successful, whoever is doing it, and if this approach appeals to you, please vote for me."

MIKE MCCLELLAND “I have been involved with the Probation Institute since its inception and have been a member of the Steering Group since it was formed. I would welcome the opportunity to continue my involvement as an active member. There is much to be done in terms of the development of a training framework and the transfer of responsibility of practitioners from NOMS to the Institute."

MAXINE MYATT “I am putting myself forward because I want to contribute as much as I can to maintaining the standards of probation practice, defending professionalism and ensuring our knowledge base continues to develop during the churn generated by the TR programme and beyond. I have lived and breathed probation for all my working life. At this crossroads in its history I seek to do everything I can to use my skills and experience to support the Institute achieve its twin ambitions of providing professional leadership and becoming a centre of excellence.”
    

In the West Midlands we have three candidates including:-

KEITH STOKELD “A vote for my nomination would allow me to follow the following objectives as part of the representative council ensuring that: • The consultation with members continues to sustain the kind of governance arrangements that remain robust and achieve members’ objectives • Membership categories are inclusive, reflecting the make-up of the Probation Service • Committees within the Governance arrangements remain representative of the membership and provide an appropriate balance of power with the partner forum • To ensure the PI becomes the recognised and respected body to promote probation practice • Ensure the institute carries the objectives of the members in a way that commands the respect of all connected with the Probation Service. • The Probation Institute shapes the agenda for a future of a service that overcomes the ravages of the divide.”

There are four candidates standing in Humberside, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire including a very good friend of probation:-

PAUL SENIOR “I would represent staff in the region with passion and commitment and believe that probation plays a vital role in the rehabilitation process. This is a formative time for the Institute and the role of the Representative Council will be vital to maintaining the right direction as the Institute develops. I will use my knowledge and skills of probation to pursue these goals. It is a difficult time for the future of probation and it is important that we work together, listening and supporting each other to maintain the world of probation. I believe I understand these issues and can make a singular contribution to the development of the Institute.”

But possibly most surprising of all, in the East Region the four candidates includes:-

NEIL MOLONEY “I firmly believe that one of the leadership functions of any CRC CEO is to promote the stability and integration of the wider Probation system. Advocacy for, and support of, a strong, independent and representative Probation Institute is a key means of achieving this stability and integration at a time when there is a significant risk of fragmentation and fracture. If elected I will use my influence and authority to promote the work of the Institute amongst fellow CRC CEO’s. I would also use my position within Sodexo to encourage our new owners to support the Institute and its aims and values - a task which I have already begun.”

With this whole dogs breakfast that probation is rapidly becoming, I don't think I'm surprised by anything any more, not least what Napo's position is on all this. Seeing as they were one of the 'founding' organisations, they've been remarkably quiet on the subject of late, possibly confirming that the readership of this blog may not be as out of touch with reality as has been recently suggested. There have been repeated calls for Napo to pull out of the Institute and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the subject is re-visited, either within the NEC or on the floor of the next AGM.    

PS - I notice the subject got no mention in todays increasingly pedestrian blog by Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence.  

Worth a Second Look

The keen-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I've been taking a 'back seat' of late and allowed the blog to coast along, sustained mostly with 'guest blogs'. I think without exception they've been great, injected some variety and differing perspectives and allowed me to have a bit of a rest. The viewing figures tell me they're hugely popular and I sincerely hope others may be in the pipeline. 

But it's not just the 'guest' pieces that provide added interest and stimulation - I find many of the 'comment' contributions are brilliant, but don't always get the attention they deserve due to the alarming speed the blog moves at. So, in order to help rectify this, here's a selection of stuff that particularly caught my eye recently and deserve a second look in my view:-      

I've been in the service over 30 years but take away the drugs and offending and the views expressed could have come from my mouth.

I read an article once about a Doctor who advocated prescribing drugs (heroin) for those that needed them. They were no longer allowed to practice in this way and our (now privatised) local drug agency is focusing increasingly on reduction. One of my 60yrs + clients, a long-term user (although rarely illegally these days,) is very worried at his dose being reduced - his demons are too deep-seated for him to contemplate a completely drug free life. Luckily he has a great GP who agrees.

This job has made me hate drugs. So many articulate, intelligent, thoughtful people with lives wasted because of them. Seems to me though that people don't set out to become addicted to anything so wouldn't choose addiction as a lifestyle - it's an unwelcome byproduct. The real damage is done by the economic pressures drug addiction causes for those without a mega income. To prescribe drugs to those who needed them would reduce this tenfold, but even some of my colleagues look askance at me when I say this.

I don’t agree that social work trained vs those who joined later are necessarily so different. There have always been those who took a more punitive view but I do think the role of a PO has been ‘sold’ differently in latter years and maybe this has attracted more of those who don’t question the issues so much.

I have always felt that Probation has never proclaimed or publicly been lauded for the things it was best at. Always the rhetoric has been to 'sex up' the 'tough' side. This has been true throughout my career except that the 'toughening' language has increased proportionately to appease successive governments. 'Breach them', 'recall' them, 'demanding' programmes', 'national standards', 'robust' approaches to protect the public. I've been guilty myself when writing reports to persuade courts to seek non custodial sentences for someone. '..this will restrict his liberty x times per week..' etc. 


Underneath, I really believe that valuing someone, providing a bit of a shoulder sometimes, showing a interest, being a bit of a champion, the odd befriending fund payment at a well timed juncture, sometimes plain old ‘damage limitation’ is just as effective a way of helping and preventing victims.

******
This blog is NOT "full of personal abuse", it raises many diverse topics and is a vehicle for (mainly, but not exclusively) practitioners having a voice. It is clear for many years but emphatically with TR, that staff have been removed from any right to comment and effectively, silenced. I came from the private sector and couldn't believe the culture of dislike of management but then realised I had got this wrong. Management in probation do not like the staff and once you realise this you can spot this on a daily basis. Strange word to use 'like' but it is a simple word from which words such as respect, esteem and positivity flow.


So, what you read here is those without a voice, in a culture where it is now difficult to have one, expressing their views. Managers appear to be there not to lead but to functionally impose a system which is undeveloped by research and practice and fundamentally, they do not believe in.

I was appalled to learn that the former Chief Executive of DTV Trust, and then some of his Directors regularly spoke to the managers with "JFDI". It is an abusive term with bullying overtones and wholly unacceptable in the management of people. Yet, did any managers raise this? No. So what attitudes do you think those managers displayed to their staff? Of course, never voicing "JFDI" literally, but modelling it's sentiments, it would be impossible not to when that is the standard they were managed to. Any managers reading this ask yourself honestly, when did you last genuinely say something positive to your team or individual staff?

The biggest overhead of the probation business is staff and they are simply, at all levels, not managed well. Look at the cost of staff sickness and how often this is due to inadequate management. The culture of policies and procedures has overridden managers developing, or God forbid using, soft skills. Indeed look at the selection of managers and how soft skills simply are not rated. Any problem? Use the policy.... is it a grievance or code of conduct.... lets hide behind the bureaucracy of what we have written down....then we do not have to get involved.....

There is something rotten in the culture of this organisation and opinion, when from staff, is not "personal attack". It may be written in frustration and out of the need to 'get it out' but I often find what is posted here interesting and sometimes funny. Occasionally overstepping the mark yes, but then, also self policed by Jim or later contributors.

******
Can I just try to clarify for myself how things have developed since last July 2014 - apologies if this is a painful & dumb process for some, but I really am struggling here...

Trusts are dispensed with, and operational staff are transferred wholesale to either the CRC or NPS on random criteria, e.g. what name came out of the hat, did your face fit, were you off sick, were you on secondment, etc. Appeals are regarded as staff handing in their notice to quit - i.e. do what you're told or walk.

Those referred to as "HQ staff", e.g. directors, executives, Board Members, HR, finance, IT - they were all (or mostly) offered the chance of EVR because the Trusts were being dissolved and their roles no longer existed. Am I right in thinking that those staff were also offered the opportunity to defer their EVR so they could assist with the transition arrangements? 


So, as far as I am aware many (but not all) of those "HQ" staff seem to have reappeared in either NPS or CRC roles. For example, a Chief of an area is awarded EVR and is then successful in being appointed CEO of a CRC on a similar salary. S/he then remains in post (having the privilege of "suck-it-and-see" period) until shortly before the EVR deferment deadline, gives notice & walks away with EVR... perhaps to become a consultant on healthy daily rates? Or perhaps S/he has already taken their 67 weeks' money and (on a CEO salary that's a few pennies to play with) has been actively working with CRCs to ensure the 'new order'?

Similar could perhaps be applied to a Finance Director, or HR Manager. These were people in privileged positions within the Trusts who not only knew in advance what was happening, they were potentially involved in the attempts to set up staff mutuals, involved in the "commercially sensitive" negotiations & information coming from MoJ, who had access to information not permitted to be shared with the frontline cannon-fodder.

In many areas (as ever, with the exception of admin staff) the "HQ" roles were always well remunerated roles. So (and again this does not apply to all) they have had handsome payouts (or at least those payouts are in the pipeline) and slotted into new roles in the newly created organisations which they were involved in creating, i.e. the CRCs.

Their roles could, and perhaps there is a case for SHOULD, have been transferred across in the same way that PO, PSO, UPW and admin staff were "TUPE'd" over. Those frontline operational staff are equally in the same jobs but in new organisations - why were they excluded from EVR?

It seems very much, looking from afar, that many probation staff have been more severely abused than perhaps they had already imagined, whilst others have profited handsomely. And this on top of the fact (as predicted but now being widely realised) that the CRC bidders haven't a clue what they are supposed to be doing and they won't staff their organisations to an appropriate level because staff are the most expensive commodity - which means reduced profits.

So, as raised by many, many others - the promises to provide are falling by the wayside already. MoJ insisted they could rush this through, but its now evident that was at the expense of rigorous checks, public safety, staff morale and the loss of what was a world-class service.

Grayling, Spurr, Maiden, Allars and ALL those involved in forcing through the omnishambles that is TR and all it encompasses should be utterly ashamed of their actions and of blood money they've extracted from the public purse. The TR structural disaster is here - Now. Sad to say, its only a matter of time before the human disasters created by TR start to hit the headlines.

******
A review of John Seddons new book The Whitehall Effect noted the following “governments have continuously tried to improve standards in public services while reducing costs but the claims for actual improvements are often “doubtful” while costly catastrophes have become commonplace. To deal with rising demand, governments have tried outsourcing, setting targets, increasing competition and choice, publishing league tables, using large-scale IT systems, and seeking economies of scale, to name but a few of the much-vaunted reforms. Most of the time, according to Seddon, this has resulted in higher overall costs, less efficiency, lower staff morale, an expanding public sector, and poorer quality of services”.

******
My first encounter wit prison was in 1977. As a remand prisoner I could have a visit every day. My visitors could bring me up to 200 ciggies, a can and a half of beer or half a bottle of table wine, any amount of treats such as crisps, chocolate or fruit, and I could even have my dinner cooked at home and handed in.

The staff were typically ex service men (there were no women then), and they worked 12 to 14 hours a day because after so many hours overtime was paid at time and a half, rising to double time after so many hours again. Staff weren't recruited locally, they were allocated a prison after finishing training, and they worked from hand written lists because there was no computers. There were good 'screws' and there was bad ones.

By 1987 there was no beer or wine allowed, and treats, ciggies and your dinner was also off the menu. Staff were recruited locally, sat behind a computer on the desk, and worked far fewer hours as overtime had been exchanged for time in lieu. Promotion processes had also changed, and climbing the ladder had become more accessible for those on the shop floor. There were good 'screws' and there was bad ones.

Those joining the service in 1987, found themselves in a very different place than those that were there in 1977, still prison officers, still making assessments and managing a population of imprisoned people with all the challenges that brings. Things were very different, but they only knew the job as it was when they came to it, and I imagine the thought of a prisoner being allowed to have his Sunday dinner and a bottle of wine handed in on a visit must have been a very strange concept indeed.

All still prison officers, but some boarding the train at a later stop. Different terrain, different landscape, and not knowing the landscape the train had already travelled. That too is true of probation. Those that's been there longer will remember a longer journey and seen much more of the landscape. Those newer to the service will only know the job they came. You start your journey from what ever stop you get on.

So for me as an outsider all this PO-SPO stuff is rather futile and unproductive. It's not come about as a consequence of TR, rather TR has created a platform for long held beliefs and ideals to be voiced. I think it would be more productive and cause less division in the ranks, if everyone accepted that they all just got on at different stops, and however the landscape changes from the last stop, your all on the same journey.

******
I'm not sure how to explain this thought clearly but... There seems to be a general malaise that's swept the nation whereby those with significant roles & responsibility display crass stupidity, myopic decision-making & a total lack of wanting to face reality. It's as widespread as the Triffids & affects all aspects of our lives including politics, NHS, police, probation, child protection, cricket, football... Anything!

Not a single person, or group of people, want to accept any responsibility for fucking up. They all want eye-watering sums of cash, they all want to be seen to be shiny & kool & "made", but none seem to understand what it is they're supposed to actually doing. And when it all goes tits up? They try to cover their arses by blaming anyone & everyone else or they invent yet another farcical game of "pass the parcel", where some poor schmuck ends up carrying the can.

TTG? Volunteer & be subjected to rigorous checks, have NOMS rummaging in your bank accounts, your private life & peering up your back passage looking for a reason to hang you out to dry? Child abuse in Parliamentary circles? They're long gone. They packed their bags, burned the house down & left the planet. MPs expenses? The new rules cover their arses so completely we'll never have chance to complain ever again. Note that they haven't amended their grasping, greedy behaviour - they've just closed the curtains so we can't see who's ripping us off.

Tax? Probation? NHS? Education? Etc etc etc. Shocking, shameful & shit. And the cricket didn't go too well either.

******
TR and the Refuseniks

There was a comment on the Guest Blog 25 suggesting that the blog commentariat was too negative in criticising the presentation methods at a venue. How it would have been more helpful if constructive suggestions on improving the presentation had been made.

I thought, well, would the feedback on the event have been less negative if there had been 3D wall-to-wall Powerpoints with surround sound; if instead of no biscuits, there had been caviar and champagne at break time; if all the presenters has been RADA trained and so on. Now, all this would have put lipstick on the pig, but no one would have been fooled that it was still a pig.

There may be those who believe that presentation and propaganda are all that matters – that the medium is the message. That as long as the sales technique is slick you can sell anything, including bad ideas. But I don't think this is true. The problem that the TR advocates face in the workforce is that TR is an idea that many fundamentally reject – they reject the idea of contracting out the delivery of probation services to the private sector, they believe that it is immoral to make a profit in this way. No matter how well they perform in their job they will never be satisfied with the notion that that performance is making a profit for shareholders, they believe it's in the public good for probation services to be delivered by the public sector. They hate Bleak Futures and despise Missing Links.

Now this may frustrate managers, who want everyone to embrace the corporate message and speak positively about it. Managers have to be on-message with TR, as they would not last long if they were known to be criticising policy, This even includes middle managers who have to be seen to be mouthing support of TR. But practitioners don't have to mouth support, that's not their job. Their job is, as we well know: JFDI. And most will have to JFDI because they need to pay mortgages.

They will miss out on some job satisfaction, because fundamentally they are doing a job in a way that clashes with their sense of right and wrong. They will not feel positive about working in a split service and they know that they have been forced into a situation that was ideologically imposed and in defiance of all the sound evidence on how best to deliver probation services.

So even the most perfectly managed event will fail if one objective is to get the workforce enthused with, and enthusiastic about, TR. It will fail because TR is not just seen as bad in an operational sense, but is morally rejected by many in the workforce. And no surprise that TR feedback is critical. To embrace it would require not just selling your body to the corporation, but your soul as well – and that ain't going to happen.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Guest Blog 28

Responding to Jim's request for contributions and generous offer to make space on his blog for pieces from guests I decided it was about time to get the keyboard out and put something together again. After over 3 decades in the Probation Service, going from Ancillary Worker (what PSOs used to be called) to SPO I handed my notice in and moved onto another job. Being over 60 I could have gone for retirement but I decided I did not want the likes of Grayling to decide when and how I stopped work. A little self determination was required.

Being a NAPO rep locally I suppose I saw earlier than many what the potential damage to the service TR represents. Of the four reps who were round the table at the beginning only one is now still involved in Probation work. That speaks volumes. When I first heard about TR my initial thought was that both the employers and the union should start to help staff get CVs together, think about alternative careers etc. Obviously, that was naive as both the unions and the employers wanted staff to stay where they were, for entirely their own ends. The damage done to the Service by TR and the effect on staff has been aired on this blog by people much more in the know than I am now. I still visit Jim's blog daily - you can take the person out of the Probation Service but not the Probation Service out of the person - and keep in contact with colleagues in both the NPS and CRC.

I suppose I left because there was a dawning realisation, whilst the apparent damage that TR was going to cause was being unveiled, that I could no longer stay and hold onto the tension that was increasing between my private views and what was expected of me as a team manager. As a union rep my opposition to TR was evident but I often felt poorly informed by NAPO HQ and could barely keep up with the reading, re reading and reading between the lines of all that was being spewed out by the Ministry of Justice - it was truly Double Speak Plus Good. So I made the decision to go. Turning your back on a job you have held for over 30 years is not easy - if I had retired I think it would have been seen as more acceptable but I did the seemingly unforgivable thing of getting myself a new job.

So, how has it been? The challenge of new processes, IT, language, new knowledge, training etc. has been tiring and, at times, worrying. My brain is not as flexible as it used to be but I am recognised as bringing with me the skills all Probation workers have in spades - those skills are being able to get on with people from all walks of life, digging for information, making assessments, writing it up in a legible manner, working under pressure, thinking on your feet, assessing risk, working with complex systems/situations and understanding how institutions work - all relevant to what I am doing now. 


Eighteen months ago I was considering retiring so I have done what I tried to persuade countless clients to do over the years – take some control back. Yes, I am getting paid less but I am not a manager any more. I have lost a few days leave but I go home at a reasonable time most days. Swings and roundabouts.

It is hard to say how I would be managing if I had stayed. I had been sifted (aka shafted) into the CRC so the turmoil being experienced by former colleagues is well known. Although it has been very, very hard, it is with utmost regret to say that I believe I made the right decision. I am sure many will disagree with me and I await your responses.

Anon Ex SPO No 2

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Disconnected

Just by way of demonstrating how far the language of probation is changing on a daily basis, I thought it might be worth publishing a few snippets from the latest NPS staff newsletter. I don't know about you, but I'm finding it hard to believe the authors were ever probation officers. The disconnect is vast and the first paragraph makes me want to weep:- 

"We have recently launched an exciting project which I am convinced is going to make a huge difference for probation staff in their work with offenders."

NPS News Issue 29 19 February 2015

Deputy Director’s message


We have recently launched an exciting project which I am convinced is going to make a huge difference for probation staff in their work with offenders.

EQuiP is the new process management system for the NPS and we will be mapping all
operational processes. This will mean that staff will have up to date and accurate processes on their desk top, complete with the appropriate forms and guidance attached.

Our jobs involve lots of procedures and paperwork and we want to reduce the time it takes to search for these forms or looking back in past editions of NPS News for the relevant information. Offender managers are there to do just that: manage offenders and EQuiP will give everyone more time to be able to do that.

As a National Probation Service we need to have consistency of process but there needs to some room for local application because we know our partners and the courts work in different ways. EQuiP should benefit offenders because they will receive the same service even if they move around during their supervision period.

I have experience of developing and implementing this kind of system in two previous Trusts so I am confident of its value in our service delivery.

Each NPS Deputy Director has a national portfolio and EQuiP will be structured in the same way. We are appointing Process Owners for each process and Process Managers for each sub-process. For example, my portfolio is public protection which includes, sex offenders, domestic abuse, and Approved Premises.

It can get quite complex and in due course there will be around 200 process maps - all mapped by subject experts within the NPS. The aspiration is that the creation of EQuiP is built by staff for staff – this isn’t about people sitting in a central office somewhere and not involving those who do the job on a daily basis. Anyone across the country can be a Process Manager for a process in which they have a keen interest.

All the Process Owners in the NPS have linked up with the relevant NOMS policy leads which, for the first time, gives us a real opportunity to influence national policy. Our priority is to map our operational processes which we expect to take a year but then we want to map Shared Services and Corporate Services processes.

Lynda Marginson, Deputy Director NPS North East

E3 Programme update

Following the launch of the E3 Programme in the first issue of NPS News, this fortnight we look at the programme in more detail.

The aim of E3 is to build an efficient, effective and excellent NPS. We will do this by achieving the following outcomes:
  • To fully establish the identity and character of the NPS as a national organisation operating from seven divisions, not as the legacy parts of 35 former Probation Trusts. Critically, this includes identifying a more consistent approach to delivery of services.
  • To deliver a service that is further underpinned by evidence-based practice and which delivers through partnership to protect the public through reducing reoffending, harm and number of victims
  • To embed continuous improvement as the way that we do business - creating a culture that encourages new ideas and ways of working 
  • Continuing to invest in our staff and ensuring that we have the right people with the right skills in the right place doing the right things in the right way
  • To provide an improved ICT infrastructure, including enhancements to Delius 
What are the key milestones?

There are three planned phases to the E3 work:

Between now and summer 2015 we will assess current practice and design any improvements to practice.

Through the second half of this year we will implement priority changes to address key pressures. A second wave of implementation will then follow in 2016.

What’s happened so far?

The E3 Programme Board, chaired by Colin Allars, meets monthly to manage overall delivery and to set the direction for E3, which including agreeing priorities, timescales, budget and approach.

To ensure there is sufficient trade union (TU) engagement with the programme, it has been agreed that the programme will also look to establish an E3 TU group as a separate branch to the Probation Consultative Forum (PCF).

The E3 Programme has already acknowledged that there are inconsistencies in roles and responsibilities across the NPS. E3 will look to address these inconsistencies with the aim of ensuring fairness and consistency in job roles across the NPS in consultation with the TU group as well as core staffing groups.

How can I engage with E3?

Staff engagement is central to E3, and all staff will be encouraged to take an active role. Starting with three NPS senior leaders events scheduled for March, there will be an E3 focus at staff engagement events from now on.

And all staff can engage with E3 starting now by contacting the programme’s new functional mailbox - E3@probation.gsi.gov.uk – with any questions or suggestions.

Wellbeing 2015

This year, we are focusing on supporting staff in recovery and prevention of illness. We know that the reasons behind staff absence are often complex, so in order to address this challenge; we have produced a range of material that provide support to staff and managers.

We have created 20 guides covering everything from mental and physical wellbeing, to offering support to a colleague through bereavement. They have been divided by topic so that you can quickly and easily access the relevant information you need.  

Three guides have been created specifically with our employees in mind, with the remaining 17 guides designed to help managers support their staff, but we would encourage you to become familiar with all of the topics so you understand your rights and responsibilities. Don’t forget, further advice and support is always available on the Employee Assistance Programme Help.

We have also produced a video for managers, to help remind them of the core elements of our attendance processes. Videos are being sent out to every LDU cluster along with a letter of guidance for their use.

In addition to this, keep an eye out for attendance and well-being focused articles throughout the year. Each month we’ll feature an individual or organisation which has overcome a significant challenge. We’ll be examining best practice, and highlighting the support available for those facing similar challenges. 

Business Support Applications Update 

Significant work has been undertaken during the TR Programme to identify the locally
developed Business Support Applications that the NPS still needs to support delivery.
Our first priority has been to ensure that all such applications are moved under the control of the NPS so that the staff who rely on them on a day to day basis can continue to access the systems with which they are familiar. But where possible we have also looked at opportunities to harmonise from lots of local systems doing similar things to a single national system.

There are currently 90 different Victims Databases in operation. All of these systems, whether they are still in use or just contain legacy information, will be brought into the NPS. We will then start the gradual roll out of Aegis (a system developed by Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust) across the NPS. Aegis has gone through rigorous testing and is now ready to deploy across the NPS.

Before we do this there are some improvements to its functionality that we want to make. We expect to start migrating some databases onto Aegis from during the second quarter of 2015. However, before we decide to migrate any database we will work with Victim Liaison Officers (VLOs) and the relevant middle and senior managers in the Division to assess the impact of moving to Aegis.

While Aegis is a good system, it doesn't fully meet all of our business requirements. There are also some technical limitations to it as a system which mean we need to plan now to put in place a more strategic solution. The NPS has therefore commissioned the development of a full set of business requirements. This is the first step towards creating a new victims database.

VLOs, managers and other practitioners will be invited to take part in that work. It’s too early to set an exact date by which this system will be in use. But we're aiming for delivery in 2016. More detailed briefing on this plan has been provided in due course.

The MAPPA databases used locally are also being migrated to the NPS Shared Drive and will continue to be available to local users. Longer term we will look at what options there are to harmonise to a standardised national MAPPA database. This will include reviewing the outcome of current pilots of a more web-based system and exploring the potential to integrate MAPPA with other systems.

The email to text messaging systems will continue to be available to the NPS. But we will move to a new supplier from April 2015 to bring us into line with the provision elsewhere in the MoJ. The functionality available under this contract will be equivalent to that currently available. Further details will follow as we near roll out. 

A number of corporate support applications have also been adopted for use within the NPS. The most significant of these is Unicorn which will provide a directory of all staff in the NPS and structured mail groups to make communications easier to direct at those with a clear interest. There is some data entry work still to do, but we expect to start to roll Unicorn out to parts of the NPS later this month.

CRCs continue to provide support in some areas to the NPS in terms of access to legacy applications. A final audit is being undertaken at the moment to ensure all of those applications have been identified and decisions made as to whether they need to be migrated.

Jim Barton, Deputy Director NPS Development & Business Change

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Guest Blog 27

Hi

Hope you are well. Just thought I'd drop you a quick update. 


Well, as you know, a lot of POs have bailed out and gone back to NPS. It would seem there are now PO shortages in Xxxxxxxxxx, and Xxxxxxx LDU has been identified as having the capacity to send POs across to plug gaps. If no-one volunteers, people will be directed. How stressful! Not only have we been booted out of our service, we could now be booted out of our LDUs as well! Morale is really low. I don't know how offices will survive. For example, Xxxxxxx only has 4 x POs and if two are directed, that would only leave 2 plus 3 PSOs. 

Anyone who is directed will be walking into a whole new caseload of unknowns and will probably - as ever - be expected to hit the ground running. Those in offices where the POs are directed from will have to pick up all of the cases they leave behind. The workload weighting tool means nothing - it doesn't take account of the extra time it takes to do everything these days, the fact that Positive Pathways has to be done with every case not subject to an accredited programme, etc, etc. NAPO doesn't seem to care what's going on - the feeling in CRCs is that they seem more focused on NPS (it says something that most of our Union reps applied to go back to NPS, doesn't it?).

Since the introduction of the Offender Rehabilitation Act on 1st Feb, it would seem that even solicitors don't know what they are doing. One solicitor - mentioning no names but you would know him - was recently heard to comment, "Thank goodness the offence was committed before 1 Feb...." You may know that the ORA is the Act that introduces supervision for all offenders post custody, including those sentenced to under 12 mths. The way it works is, for example, if someone is given a 6 mths custodial sentence, they'd do 3 mths in prison, 3 mths on licence and a further 9 mths under supervision with probation. There's supposed to be a sentence plan in place before everyone is released. Well, we'll see......

NPS are responsible for reviewing all offenders and then allocating them to either NPS or CRS to be managed. They have to do a request transfer on Delius if they are allocated to a CRC. We found that we were getting transfer requests for those offenders who are sentenced to under 12 mths custody but whose offences were committed before 1 Feb. They said we might like to work with these people on a voluntary basis. Well, I think not - we don't need the extra work and there's no money in that, is there? I think that NPS staff simply don't know what they are doing and are just requesting to transfer everyone so that the CRC staff can determine later whether they should be supervised, or not. Our admin staff have been instructed not to accept requests for transfer on such cases, so they will bounce back to NPS and they'll have to start looking at cases properly.

Courts are not putting results onto Delius correctly. For example, an offender committing an offence of Drink Driving in December was sentenced and court staff put one of the Order Requirements on the system as "Specified Local Activity - Alcohol" (correct for post 1 Feb offences, incorrect for pre 1st Feb offences). It should have been put on the system as DIDs - a request had to be made to court staff to rectify this. It's happening a lot.

PSRs are still rubbish. I just got allocated a young man who had kicked the door when his partner locked him out. Its his first time with probation. Yes, there had been police call outs previously re arguments between him and his partner, but no charges. He is now subject to an order with supervision, UPW and domestic violence programme. He self harmed last week because he felt overwhelmed and depressed. So this guy now has a sick note and his GP has said he isn't fit for work or to be in group situations at present. So this is going to be complicated..

I absolutely dread making any kind of application to court - eg for removal of a requirement or for breach, as the NPS Enforcement Team seem to knock everything back. Here's an example - offender working on a temporary basis so referral to programme delayed as his work hours prevented attendance. He was then offered permanent employment and it's now too late for him to do a programme as he has maintained this. Application was made for removal of programme requirement. NPS knocked it back - they want a letter from his employer confirming his hours (even though payslips submitted for evidence). Also, despite having a signed copy of consent from the offender to this course of action, NPS staff want him to go to court for the hearing. He'll have to ask for time off and will lose a day's pay (he only gets just over £200 pw). He might even lose his job. Madness.


I had a first breach knocked back because I had asked that it be dealt with by way of imposition of the ReEngagement Programme - I had said UPW etc wasn't appropriate, but I hadn't spoke about a curfew. (He already has a residence requirement). So, if someone isn't coming in for appointments, let's curfew him and keep him at home? Mad. Of course, all this to-ing and fro-ing of paperwork takes time and adds to the stress and creates bad feeling. For every breach we have to go through all options in our report, like we would in a PSR. If an Order is revoked and resentenced then we fail one of our targets so we daren't ask for that.....

The other mad thing is that we aren't going to get a copy of the Order in future. I have had many examples where requirements have been missed on Delius or put on incorrectly. Or where things have been missed off the Order and it's had to be re-issued. Well, it'll be difficult to check now, won't it? Also, when doing breach, the court used to reject paperwork if the offences listed on your paperwork didn't correspond to those detailed on the copy of the Order. You may have had examples yourself where the PSR has dealt with 3 or 4 matters and only one or two are shown on the Order. I don't know how this is going to work - we are going to have to trust that court staff put things on properly (as in the example above, we already have instances of things not being put on correctly).

Well, that's enough for now, I think!

Best wishes.


PS

Hi again. Management are making decisions this week on who should move office - I will def be in the frame as I have been here for years, and have never put myself forward for promotional moves because of famlly care responsibilities near to work and because I felt I couldn't take on any more and didn't need the stress. I'm now thinking I might as well have applied to NPS if I'm going to be moved anyway. Don't know how it's going to pan out but not good for anyone. I hear now that PSO's are going to be moved into the prisons - likely to be those living nearest. Of course then we'll be left with the problem of having to move staff about to plug the gaps that they leave. It just gets worse.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Guest Blog 26

Advise, Assist and Befriend.

I've seen a lot of changes in probation over the years. When I started working in probation most of my colleagues tended to have 20+ year service records, while managers had been in post for like forever. The success of qualification as a Probation Officer was a real achievement, particularly when working alongside such long serving staff, some with previous careers in professions including mining, finance, teaching and the military. In those days you had to be qualified for at least two years to supervise a dangerous offender or lifer, you wouldn't be allocated a Parole Report unless you had already proved your worth in both report writing and through-care, and you needed an arms length of quality service to become a manager and a lifetime of service to become a senior manager or Chief Officer. Nowadays the new recruits can be allocated a caseload of high risk offenders on the first day and management is an escape route for those that have the least understanding of probation work. Pay increases were on an annual basis and I'm sure pay bands used to be a lot higher too.

There were always unique characters in probation offices, such as the good-natured colleague that supervised all the lifers and was always visiting prisons, the colleague that was an expert on mental health and seemed in need of the service too, the rebellious Union colleagues that management revered, you know the ones that were eventually seconded off to the local prison (the elephants graveyard for burnt out probation officers), the colleague that would bring in token presents for the most isolated clients at Xmas and allegedly on occasion would invite the most needy to dinner at Xmas and Easter (to which management turned a blind eye), the colleagues that awoke the office with Reggae tunes first thing every morning (if you were in early enough to hear), the colleague that seemed to have mastered the art of avoiding all unnecessary meetings in place of fag and coffee breaks, the colleague that was always trying to bend and reinterpret legislation and sentencing guidelines (sometimes summoned to appear before Crown Court Judges to explain their proposals), the colleague that wrote Pre Sentence Reports so lengthy that the rest of us went into hiding at gate keeping time, and the colleague whose Pre Sentence Reports were so short they could fit on two sides of A4. What united us all was the value of being probation officers and the desire to help our clients to change and improve their lives

I think I joined up when Probation had just about clawed back its status as a worthwhile profession after Michael Howard had tried to kill it off, but since qualification it's been downhill all the way. Unfortunately much of our good work seems to have been eroded and this has escalated under recent governments and the introduction of TR. Pay freezes and 1% pay rises are now an expectation, sickness and stress levels have risen even for the most experienced staff, probation management (particularly those recently retired CEO's) sold us down the river and told us to say "thank you", and we've lost a disproportionate amount of experienced staff to CRC's to be replaced by probation (PQF) trainees fresh out of university, some of which don't really seem to know what probation work actually is, or don't really care. Sad but true.

I joined probation a few years after leaving university too. I had the experience of youth work and being employed with various non-statutory rehabilitation agencies, and before that manual labour was my thing and long before that I was a delinquent and subsequently a prisoner, that's the experience I brought. On the last point (now that I have your attention), probation believed in me and in turn I've believed in every client I've supervised. I've once known a client return to probation as an employee, and I've counted amongst my probation officer friends over the years a few former football hooligans, two reformed prostitutes, numerous recovered drug addicts and alcoholics (some in relapse if the Xmas party is anything to go by) and a few convicted of the more minor indiscretions. 


So I'm not at risk of being accused of glorifying offending or bringing probation into disrepute. I add that over the years my undesirable bunch of probation officer friends has also included a range of identities and top notch exemplary characters from the lowest classes to the borderline upper class, and even two 'new money' lottery winners still actually coming to work. I've also been lucky enough to work with some of the best probation managers, and thankfully my current manager is 'old skool' and and falls into this category.

What binds us together in probation is the contribution we make to society in supporting probation clients. We hold a basic set of values believing every person can change, given adequate support, motivation and opportunity, and this can shines through for many no matter whether they qualified with DipSW or DipPS. Ever since the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 provided the statutory foundation for the probation service we've been 'advising, assisting and befriending' those under our supervision. A few weeks ago when prepping for a parole hearing I came across documentation from what was then the Probation and Aftercare Service and I thought to myself, "even though it's hard to see amidst the MoJ limescale and gloss, we still are that service". 


Despite all the changes, the IT failures, the TR omnishambles and the combined impact of the ideas of Michael Howard, Chris Grayling and all the other probation-haters, we will always be probation officers doing probation work. I won't pretend that probation officers are not overworked or are sometimes too preoccupied with assessing risk, MAPPA and "protecting the public". And we know when we attend hearings with barristers and psychologists that we're evidently not lettered enough to earn anything more than £27 per hour in providing our opinions. However, for whom the Courts think fit to be placed under our supervision every colleague I know takes their duty seriously in helping probation clients to improve their quality of life, which is what probation work has been about for over 100 years.

The reason for this now rambling post was to respond to the comments on this blog from probation clients, the ones that have unfortunately had a negative experience of probation. I occasionally comment here as 'Probation Officer' and I used to Tweet as 'SaveProbation', so this is an addition to my previous two-pence worth. A while back I fell out with my probation bosses over too many outspoken views and so moved on to pastures new, but I returned a while later because of my love for probation work, albeit less active in the campaign against TR (which has now been lost). The disclosure about my own background and that of some of my colleagues is to highlight that probation officers come from all walks of life as do the clients we work with. 


I cringe at the implementation of too many conduct policies, vetting procedures and the now forced adherence to the Civil Service Code, which I think has become partly responsible for some of the rigid probation practices that undermine 'best practice'. This is unfortunate as our gift is that we're real people with real experiences and we use this in our work. Saying that, we do need forms of appropriate regulation and this is not an excuse for the discontent towards probation supervision, but if recruitment does not allow for variation and diversity then we may as well buy a bunch of robot probation officers like they have in the USA (probably coming to a CRC near you soon). Sometimes we don't have the time to bend over backwards for clients, we can't provide flats in Mayfair or jobs with the Bank of England, and yes sometimes we do have to refuse a release from prison or return clients to custody. We can't please all of the people all of the time.

I understand the frustrations of both supervising and of being supervised, and I have in the past come across probation officers that wrongly believed that probation clients should not be anxious or angry about having to come to probation and should even welcome their supervision. I've witnessed probation clients wrongly breached for arriving 10 minutes late and even learned of clients recalled to prison for trying to 'chat up' their probation officer or expressing a few profanities during supervision. I remember when 'supervision' wrongly began to take a back seat to CBT programmes and the activities on offer from outside organisations became increasingly more important, and when Community Service worryingly became a way to generate an income and create photo opportunities for local politicians and Police and Crime Commissioners. 


What I'm saying is that we all know that there has been problems in probation for some time, made worse by TR, but I've also seen all of the good work. Some say they took away probation's social work roots and others say they turned probation into an enforcement agency, but they did not. Every probation office I enter has the same old mix of varied staff all trying to work towards the greater good. The age and experience of new entrants to probation officer training seems to be ever decreasing with the latest recruits fresh out of university, but I still don't think the ethos of probation work can ever be removed because by the time the 'nodding dogs' have escaped to management roles the rest would have already begun evolving into "poxy social work types" (as I was recently referred to).

The government is constantly banging on about reoffending rates but what's usually omitted is the fantastic news that the majority of people on probation do not reoffend. I know my own work has aided these figures and this is a summary just from today for those wanting an insight into probation work. After dropping the kids off at school I arrived at work, fighting the traffic to arrive at my usual time. I checked my emails and picked up a file and on to visit a local'ish prison. The visit was to discuss release plans for a man soon to be released after serving a very long sentence. He has no home to go to and no family to support him, but I've got him a place in a probation hostel and he's happy with that. We finished with a bit of a chat about Morgan Freeman's parole speech in the Shawshank Redemption, one of his favourite movies. 


Two hours later I was back at my desk going through emails ranging from concerns about a young offender to gripes about what may be lurking in the office fridge. I tend to pick up the phone to respond to emails it's faster and I don't need to evidence everything I do with an email. As I was on my way to join colleagues for a team lunch I bumped into a client on his way in to see me unplanned. He wanted to use the phone to call the Benefits Agency so I put my coat back inside and sat with him while he made the call. He's not very articulate (and "where's my effing money" never works) so I explained the situation to the person on the other end of the line to get the ball rolling. 40 minutes later and after listening to his reflection on his recent melt down over Xmas, job done and I managed to grab a sandwich to eat at my desk. 

Over the next few hours there was the usual steady stream of emails, telephone calls and clients in my direction. At the same time I was working on a Pre-Sentence Report due in Court in a few days time. The person in question is suitable for a community sentence and that's what I'm recommending. I try to keep people out of prison wherever possible, and I try to emphasise rehabilitation over punishment. My to-do list also includes a Parole Report, a recall review report, a few risk assessments and supervision plans, and I'm usually running a bit behind in updating the contact logs with details of every phone call and email and every visit from a probation client. 

It had already turned dark outside and was nearing the end of the day. The last client through the door is young and headstrong so I always try to spend a bit more time with him. He's really started to do well since being released from prison and we have a chat about his future plans to keep him focused. He failed his driving test in the past week so we talked about that too and I gave him a few tips for his retest. In return he let me hear his lyrics in his latest Youtube video, which thankfully only lasted a few minutes. 

The last part of my day is usually spent updating the contact logs, and then finishing outstanding prices of work. I managed to complete a recall review report ready to be countersigned and sent to the recall unit. The client in question has outstanding offences so I'm recommending that he's not released from prison just yet. His solicitor had been constantly phoning me about this decision and doesn't seem to understand legal processes so I'm no longer taking their calls until my report had been submitted. 

Just as I was having a chat with colleagues and about to switch off the computer an email came through with confirmation that a prisoner due to be released will not be detained by the immigration section. I rang his parents with the good news and my working day ended on a positive note. It was a long day but a good day, as are most days in probation. There were no crisis situations, I wasn't called a "cunt", nobody turned up homeless, and there wasn't a fire drill so it was all good.

Its probably a good point to get back to the point of the article, which is to remind probation clients that we are here to help and we are darn good at it. I'm not interested in claiming to protect the public, provide a service to victims or to enforce 'proper' punishments. My job as a Probation Officer, not an Offender Manager which is an awful term, is to advise, assist, befriend, help, support, motivate and rehabilitate. Anybody can be an 'Offender Manager' (whatever that is) and in my book impersonating a Probation Officer should become a criminal offence. 

The Government meddling and the introduction of TR will not change my ethos and nor will the business plans of the new owners of private probation companies. As the news of the cost cutting strategies of the new private probation companies begin to emerge it is quickly becoming apparent that they may have bitten off more than they can chew. The Offender Rehabilitation Act is built on too much controversy, TTG to be delivered by privateers and charities is already a looming failure, and only an idiot would introduce a Post Sentence Supervision strategy that is abbreviated and referred to as PSS.

Probation work cannot be properly costed because if it were we'd be getting a lot more than £27 per hour. Nor can our work be time restricted or dictated by government whims, that's if rehabilitation is to remain an achievable outcome. When probation services are in tatters, when a new Justice Secretary is in post and when all those probation Chief Officers and management types that aided and abetting the sale of probation are forced to lower their heads in shame, we will continue to say "We told you so" and we'll carry on with advising, assisting and befriending.

Probation Officer
(10-20 years to retire!)