Monday, 25 June 2018

A Remarkable Initiative

With the alarming rise in prison suicides, discussed here in January, I touched upon the groundbreaking work of a particular probation officer and with news of her passing I'm reminded of the many remarkable initiatives that have been spawned by our profession:-

I read with sadness the news of the passing of Kathy Baker (Biggar) - see Guardian obituary by Erwin Jones. I recall that my first encounter with Kathy was when she was working as a Senior Probation Officer in London in early 2000's. She had by then established a well earned reputation as an indefatigable advocate for better prisoner safety and improved suicide awareness through her Listener scheme. 

An ebullient and hard working colleague, whose management style could be brisk, her commitment to a more responsive and caring criminal justice system was always informed by humanity and warmth. I would often bump into her at outside conferences and lectures and she was always breathlessly engaged in her next project and her prescient outlook clearly foresaw some of the more damaging organisational changes that lay ahead for the Probation Service.

Mike Guilfoyle 

Kathy Baker obituary
Samaritans volunteer whose enduring legacy is the Listeners scheme to help prisoners in distress

A Samaritans volunteer for nearly 50 years, Kathy Baker, who has died aged 70, gave so much of her time to so many. But her enduring legacy will be the groundbreaking Samaritans Listener scheme which she founded in HMP Swansea in 1991 after a 15-year-old boy hanged himself in the prison.

The Listener scheme, whereby prisoners are trained to provide a patient and compassionate ear for fellow prisoners in distress, is one of the most innovative ventures introduced to the UK prison system and has saved countless lives. The governor of Swansea at the time, Jim Heyes, was a man of foresight who had been deeply affected by the death of the youngster and welcomed the Samaritans into his prison. He worked closely with Kathy to establish the Listeners as an integral part of his prison regime. Between them they created “a living organism”, as one governor described it, which has spread so that now every prison in the country is obliged to have such a scheme and to have a relationship with the Samaritans as part of their key performance indicators.

I first met Kathy when I was an early-years life prisoner. As deputy chair of Samaritans, she visited HMP Nottingham in 1992 to meet the new group of Listeners, of whom I was one. We were nervous, but she put us at ease and persuaded us that our voluntary roles would save lives. Fourteen years later and two years after my release, I met her again when I was asked to present her with the 2006 Perrie award, granted each year to the person who has done most to promote an understanding of the work of the Prison Service in England and Wales.

In 1994 Kathy was appointed MBE for services to prisoner welfare. As well as being a part of the service’s Safer Custody Group from the early 1990s, she was the suicide prevention adviser to high-security prisons from 2001 until 2007.

Born in Northwood, Middlesex, Kathy was the daughter of Frances (nee Weir) and Allan Biggar, who met during the second world war – her mother was in the Waaf, her father in the RAF. After the war, Frances became a full-time mother to Kathy and her sister Janet. Allan worked in the family publishing business, before going into journalism, writing for the Sporting Life and the annual Bloodstock Review.

Kathy was educated at Northwood college for girls. At 18 she went on an exchange trip to live with a French family for six months and during this time developed an interest in photography. On her return, she enrolled at Ealing School of Art, studying and qualifying in the subject and planning a photography career, which took her into the research department of Unilever. Soon afterwards she joined her local branch of Samaritans and became a stalwart of the Hillingdon branch throughout the 70s and 80s.

In the mid-70s Kathy was a co-founder of the festival branch – outreach tents at music festivals such as Knebworth and Reading – she and her colleagues arguing that the Samaritans were then seen as “too white and too middle-class” and that they needed to reach out to more diverse and younger people. Her colleague Phil Howes, another festival branch founder, remembered that “Kathy was like a mother hen and we were the chicks all running after her.”

Her Samaritan work at Hillingdon brought Kathy into contact with many prison leavers suffering mental health problems and other vulnerabilities and it was this experience that made her decide to change careers and join the Probation Service at Feltham in 1973. Several years later she became the prison probation officer in HMP Wandsworth. There she recruited prisoners who were coping well to “keep an eye” on those who were obviously not, and this was the starting point of what eventually became the Listeners. In 1991 Kathy was given the pivotal role of liaising between the Prison Service and Samaritans, travelling around the country persuading prison governors of the merits of the scheme.

Kathy met her future husband, Bill Baker, in the early 80s when he was a computer programmer for ICI and a fellow Samaritan. Bill also later became a probation officer and the couple were married in 2001, bringing Kathy three stepchildren. Following their retirement in 2007, Kathy and Bill decided to go on a world sightseeing trip which was cut short when Bill was taken ill and then diagnosed with cancer. Kathy nursed Bill until his death in 2009.

Kathy, now a Samaritan at the central London branch, kept up her involvement with the Listener scheme and other initiatives to reduce suicide in prison, even after she, too, was diagnosed with cancer early in 2016.

In 2017, the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody (IAP) undertook a collaboration with the national newspaper for prisoners and detainees, Inside Time, National Prison Radio and Samaritans to reach out to those in custody, seeking their ideas for keeping people safe in prison. They received more than 200 detailed letters from prisoners, one of whom wrote: “I’m just one of many who have been saved by the Listeners.” Kathy responded personally to every letter.

“Through her professionalism and humanity, Kathy not only saved countless lives, she enabled people in prison to see that they too could save lives and help fellow prisoners in extreme distress,’” said Juliet Lyon, chair of the IAP.

“She had presence,” said Berny, a former long-term prisoner and Listener who after her release became a close friend of Kathy. “Wherever Kathy was, there was a sense of incredible kindness, love and acceptance.”

Kathy rarely spoke about why she did what she did, although she once said: “Enabling people to talk about how they feel is a real gift.” People from all walks of life, and in particular people in custody, will be eternally grateful that she shared that gift.

She is survived by her sister and her mother.

Kathy Mabel Baker, probation officer and Samaritan, born 10 June 1947; died 7 June 2018

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Pick of the Week 53


I have said it before on here but I think that one of the catastrophic mistakes of the TR debacle was the almost instant removal of the entire top tier of management across Probation by which I mean CEOs, Board Chairs, ACOs and SPOs. What this did was to remove the corporate memory of generations of practitioners and managers who understood the complexities of working with offenders IN THE COMMUNITY. The Prison Service managers who appear to have been universally 'dropped in' to manage parts of the CRCs had no insight into the complex relationships between offender, agency, sentencers and the community. In short, they didn't understand the environment in which they were operating.

Any effort to regroup is going to be made that much more difficult by the fact that many of those managers have now retired and those who have not have moved on to other things. I know many former managers who would not go back for many reasons. Firstly, having been treated so badly once, they do not want to put themselves in harms way again. Secondly, and this is a real deal-breaker, the NPS will not allow a newly recruited employee start at anything other than the bottom of the scale. This means that a manager at the top of the scale in 2015 would be expected to start at the bottom of the scale. Having had the piss taken once, no-one is likely to want to allow it to happen a second time.

The damage Grayling, Spurr, Wheatley, Carter and all the other imposters have done is absolutely catastrophic because they have cut the head off the body. All the blood transfusions and organ replacements are going to fail because the head has been cut off. I think they are going to have to start again.

*****
Some got financially rewarded or knighthoods so would not want them back. They helped the TR process along.

*****
I was not a manager but had diligently developed a decade and a half of experience, know how and demonstrated good performance. I left a CRC, having become disillusioned with their incompetence and sliding values, and decided to focus my talents elsewhere. I cannot see that I will ever work for a CRC and neither will I take a slap in the face from NPS and be asked to start afresh on the pay scale or even below the point that I left. TR has been a near disaster on so many levels. I am glad I left and I am enjoying my new profession but dread the TR type revolution will follow me there. I see no let up from the Government's ideology of revolutionising important public services and detrimentally so in my experience.

*****
Of course there were those who were more heavily involved as things developed but senior management of trusts would have had no realistic option of not engaging at all with the process. I also know that many of them were as critical of TR in public as the unions were. The bulk of those of us who got financially 'rewarded' would have much preferred to stay put and continue with the careers they had loved and invested in for decades.

*****
Whilst I accept some staff at higher management level were excellent with strong sense of values I dispute that they represented such a crucial "head" of the Probation world. I think we were closer to the WW1 lions led by donkeys analogy. For years there was far too much passivity or acceptance of rubbish from NOMs and MoJ by ACOP etc. Not enough representation of what Probation [was] about but acceptance of others priorities. It's the staff that are key in this organism and thousands have been kicked out or left because they were made to feel unwelcome. We have lost huge talent, experience, creativity and passion for what Probation is truly about. Less about the pseudo-science of "risk management" and more about valuing people, understanding/interpreting what underlies angry voices, recognising strengths and helping people access them so as to move into non offending/re-integration etc. Losing that swell of grassroots energy and commitment is what is horrendous.

*****
Fascinating how this particular set of Tories have been overtly & roundly slated by all-party committees examining their 'flagship' policies, e.g. austerity, TR & Universal Credit. And yet... Liz Truss denies we've experienced austerity, just a "period of readjustment", IDS describes the NAO report as "shoddy" whilst the Govt's response to the JSC criticisms is "but 40,000 are receiving support who wouldn't have otherwise."

The deluded fantasists continue to wreck everything they touch - destroying the lives of millions with their vicious, spiteful, self-serving ideology whilst wasting £billions of taxpayer money. Grayling - & those who colluded with his stupidity - should be brought to book in a courtroom for the civil & fiscal crimes he's committed, e.g. lives lost, lives ruined, careers ended.

*****
It's rare for any politician to see accountability as a restraint on what they do – accountability is for the little people, the underlings. It is astonishing that the MoJ riposte to this TR report is that 40,000 are benefiting through the extension of supervision and support.

There is a knee-jerk rejection of returning probation to pubic ownership which basically worked well for a hundred years. Instead various interest groups want to improve TR – even though the sensible act would be to end this mad experiment. It is amazing how in such a short time the scorched earth policies of TR have eradicated probation infrastructure and got rid of experienced staff. I agree that nothing will change, probation will stagger on and things will get worse.

*****
Yes Grayling et al should be brought to book but for me the priority has to be the start of restoring probation to a workable model. If I were GS (and never will be) I would call a special NAPO conference to discuss a strategy on how we respond to this, an agreed roadmap of what we do, how and when. This is too important to leave to those numptees on the top table. It's an amazing opportunity to re-engage the membership.

*****
It's not enough. Rory Steward states 40k more offenders are now benefiting from probation services because of TR. I think he should be asked to explain just what those "benefits" are, and just how much is being paid to provide those "benefits". Unfortunately, today's report is covered by the Guardian and the Independent and has a mention on the BBC news website.

The whole issue will be buried under the June Brexit summit, Trumps State visit, and Boris dodging his vote on Heathrow runways on Monday. The issue needs to be kept alive and needs media attention or its yesterday's news already. Personally, I think that can only be achieved by hanging the whole mess around Graylings neck. He deserves it too. That gives rail unions ammunition for their own cause by raising the complete chaos caused in the probation service already by Grayling. Grayling is the man in the news right now, and I think he may be there for a while, and the opportunity that provides needs exploiting.

*****
I suspect CRC’s will now fold and the only option will be to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I wish this report had named all the Probation Chief Officers and CEO’s that helped implement TR and should be today hanging their heads in shame. This includes those that received OBE’s and MBE’s, those that received huge redundancy and retirement packages, those now employed by HMIP, the Parole Board and CRC’s, those now lecturing in university, and those the Probation Institute made Fellows.

*****
A summary analysis provided by Russell Webster (well worth signing up to his work, always a balanced and thoughtful writer on Criminal Justice matters).

'Perhaps the most important component of the Committee’s report is the demand for a review which looks at alternative models. The MoJ has been working on this for well over a year now and the latest rumours to reach me suggest an even more fragmented and complex system is being constructed out of the ashes of TR. While it seems clear that the role of private Community Rehabilitation Companies will diminish, it is far from clear where the responsibility for the offender management of low and medium risk offenders will sit. Whatever solution is proposed, surely the MoJ must seek to create a more coherent structure than we have now.'

*****
"The splitting of probation services between the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies has complicated the delivery of probation services and created a 'two-tier' system. Although we heard about joint working going on at a local and national level, problems in the relationship remain."

I've fucking had more than enough of this fence-sitting, equivocal don't-rock-the-boat bollocks. TR was a scam; a politically motivated scam which included the aim of eroding the social work ethic from probation, the last bastion of compassion in a penal system run by neo-fascist pseudo-religious bullies. The BlueLabour government had already opened all of the doors, answering the BlairWeasel's prayers, while the last 10 years of 21st Century Tories ("the nazti party") has hammered home the nails in the coffin of humanity. Every middle-class fuckwit has fallen for it; every xenophobe has voted for it; and every greedy pig has profited from it.

Grayling is without emotion or empathy, the perfect sledgehammer to crack the various tricky 'nuts' of benefits, justice & transport - with a side order of brexit.

It's been said already by many other commentators, including those whose lives have been more directly impacted than mine, that the costs of this travesty of a social experiment perpetrated by charlatans, fraudsters & other vile collaborators stretch far beyond the £BILLIONS of wasted public funds... those costs reach into our communities & include no more resources for women, children & families; they effected the endings of the careers of dedicated professionals; they led to the loss of lives in prisons, whether through abuse by others or self-harm; the loss of family members - of mums & dads & children & partners; the loss of a professional workforce with experience & knowledge of working with damaged, difficult & criminally active individuals; the loss of any meaningful interventions with people who wanted & valued that work... the list is boundless...

And all of these things were predicted in advance, were warned about - but were DISMISSED, RUBBISHED & IGNORED.

This wanton vandalism of public service has parallels with the arrogance, the ignorance & the greed that characterised Grenfell - when the informed warnings & fears of the residents were ignored by the smug, the brazen & the powerful. No-one is ever going to be brought to book. And the best the JSC can do is recommend a review by February 2019? Sorry, Bob. You did well, you & your colleagues fought hard, but this isn't good enough. Those responsible need to be held publicly accountable and punished for their deceitful, self-aggrandising actions in imposing TR.

*****
I am not following this in any length other than to thank you. A long time since we read a decent well written and response. You have captured it all and although the report is not looking to hang the idiots soon it has started the end. Sadly the moron at the top of the Union will not have the raw abilities to drive forwards what is needed to get the change right. Instead we will have to pay to watch them think they are there to help make a new service. Someone like you needs to stand for a place in office and I would vote for you on that statement. Great piece.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Attention Rory Stewart

So what was the official response to yesterday's damning Select Committee report?
Prisons and probation minister Rory Stewart said it was a "significant programme of reform". "For instance, an additional 40,000 people who would not previously have been monitored now receive support and supervision upon release," he said.
Oh dear Rory. Fancy falling for that very tired old MoJ fig leaf PR scam for TR. Don't believe this fantasy peddled by the MoJ spin doctors. It has always been a complete lie, never intended or included in the costings by the CRC privateers; a situation confirmed by successive damning HMI reports and even the government's own Open Justice website continues to say "Offenders sentenced to less than 12 months also serve the second half in the community but are not actively supervised by Probation." Now that's at least an honest statement of the position. I wonder how the MoJ spin doctors allowed that? 

--oo00oo--

I thought I'd pop this in as a reminder:-

This is interesting from the Institute for Government published 9th May 2013 

Probation reform: doing it all?


Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s probation reforms are ambitious and complex. How should the Ministry of Justice attempt to reduce the risks that accompany changing everything at once?

Chris Grayling is in parliament today explaining his complex set of probation reforms to MPs. Never one to shirk a challenge, Grayling plans to:
  • Outsource the bulk of probation services, predominantly to private sector organisations
  • Extend services to those who have served prison sentences of under 12 months, who previously were not monitored post-release
  • Introduce a new contractual payment mechanism, which will aim to pay providers more when those they are supervising offending either less or not at all
  • Change the conditions of supervision for ex-offenders (ideas floated include compulsory cannabis testing and GPS tagging)
  • Significantly reduce the amount spent on probation services ; all while changing the geographical basis on which these services are provided
Doing any one of these things would be difficult. Doing all of them makes this join the list of some of the most ambitious public service reforms currently being pursued – along with Universal Credit, NHS reform and schools reform. The Institute for Governments’ work shows that creating new ‘public service markets’ is difficult and rarely do government or new public service providers get things right first time.

Ambition increases the risks that things will go wrong – and a safer route would have been to carefully sequence changes. Grayling clearly feels he is up against an electoral deadline, however, so is going for the ‘big bang’.

In this context, the Ministry of Justice should be building in as much scope as possible to learn as they go and then adapt their outsourcing approach. The Institute’s research suggests that there are at least three obvious ways of doing this that will still allow Grayling to keep the same public aims for the programme.

First, contracts should not be let all in one go in summer 2014. Some should be held back until late 2014 or early 2015. This approach will both encourage new providers of probation services to get up to speed quickly so they can win future contracts and will allow the MoJ to improve the contracting model after its first go.

Second, the MoJ should ensure that it contracts with different types of organisation. Private sector providers will probably win the bulk of contracts but ensuring that some non-profit providers are involved will allow government to test whether a profit motivation has a positive impact on performance or simply creates an additional cost for government. Supporting a probation trust to ‘mutualise’ and provide services in one area on a non-profit basis is also desirable. And there is a strong case for saying that the MoJ should retain an in-house provider to ensure it keeps a good grasp on the costs of provision and understands how providers are responding to contractual incentives.

Third, MoJ should demand high levels of transparency from all providers. They should publish data not just on their key performance indicators (including reoffending rates) but also on the contracts they have let to specialist providers of services like drug treatment or mentoring support. This will help the MoJ and other large providers to spot those specialist service providers that appear to be doing a good job and will allow the MoJ to monitor the ‘health’ of the market. One risk of this programme is that smaller organisations are squeezed out, reducing levels of competition.

All these steps would reduce the risk of current reforms. And indeed there are myriad other ways of maximising learning and flexibility – perhaps too technical to enter into here.

There is a problem, however. Flexibility – while undoubtedly a good thing in managerial terms – is not necessarily what several actors in this reform programme really value. Many politicians talk in private about ‘locking-in’ their reforms, by which they mean making it impossible for subsequent governments to undo their work. Commercial organisations meanwhile like certainty about what they are doing and how much they are getting paid – as it reduces their costs of capital and makes it easier to plan financially. Flexibility therefore costs more in the short run – a premium that officials are often reluctant to pay even if it promises better long-term value for money. Success in a procurement career is, ironically, often tied not to ‘results’ but to the number of ‘big deals’ you’ve done and the ‘savings’ that you secured through the negotiation process – as shown by all those PFI deals that left the taxpayer paying for facilities they no longer needed.

In other words, flexibility is systematically undervalued in government reform programmes – even if it is precisely what is needed to ensure that reform programmes such as Grayling’s are to have even a chance of success.

Tom Gash

--oo00oo--

You can't just tinker with the contracts Rory - you really do have to go back to basics:-

"The Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms are not meeting the then Government’s aims. We are unconvinced that as things stand the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice should initiate a review into the long-term future and sustainability of delivering probation services under the models introduced by the TR reforms, including how performance under the TR system might compare to an alternative system for delivering probation. The Government should publish its review, in full, by 1 February 2019. Given the issues which have arisen due to the speedy implementation of the TR reforms and lack of piloting, any new model must be thoroughly planned and tested."

Justice Select Committee 22nd June 2018

Friday, 22 June 2018

TR Can Never Work - Shock!

So here we have the results of Bob Neill's forensic Select Committee inquiry into the probation omnishambles called 'Transforming Rehahabilitation', created upon a hunch by the hapless and charmless Chris Grayling and that has all-but destroyed a former gold standard public service and profession. 

The report is utterly damning and more than justifies every ounce of scorn and criticism heaped upon TR both by this blog and every probation professional since inception. Given the findings, which have been patently obvious to all with eyes willing to see, what I find particularly galling is the continued collective willingness of current senior management in both NPS and the CRCs to apply lipstick to what is plainly a pig - last nights grotesque HMPPS award ceremony being a particularly nauseating example.    

Summary

In 2014 and 2015 the Government introduced major structural reforms to the probation system, which included changes to who delivered probation services and what was delivered as part of probation. These reforms were known as Transforming Rehabilitation (TR). The TR reforms sought to:

  • Extend statutory rehabilitation to offenders serving custodial sentences of less than 12 months;
  • Introduce nationwide ‘Through the Gate’ resettlement services for those leaving prison;
  • Open up the market to new rehabilitation providers to get the best out of the public, voluntary and private sectors;
  • Introduce new payment incentives for market providers to focus relentlessly on reforming offenders;
  • Split the delivery of probation services between the National Probation Service (offenders at high risk of harm) and Community Rehabilitation Companies (low and medium risk offenders); and
  • Reduce reoffending.
In this Report we examine the many serious issues that have arisen as part of those reforms and propose some short and medium-term solutions. The scale of the issues facing the sector is of great concern to us given that evidence suggests that if probation services are delivered well they can have a positive impact on the prospects of someone receiving probation support and wider society.

Set out below are some of our main conclusions and recommendations.


Contracts

The National Audit Office identified in a Report in December 2017 that the Ministry of Justice had had to change the fixed-cost assumptions in their contracts with CRCs from 20% to 77%. In this Report we conclude that this raises serious questions about the Ministry of Justice’s reluctance to challenge overoptimistic bids and its ability to let contracts. We also call for there to be more transparency on the changes made to the Ministry’s contracts with CRCs and what the Ministry expects to get in return for additional funding negotiated by providers.

In this Report we criticise the Ministry’s constant renegotiation of CRC contracts but we welcome the Ministry being open to the idea of terminating contracts due to poor performance with CRCs before they are due to expire in 2022. If any contracts are terminated prior to 2022 we caution that transition plans must be in place which make sure that: offenders receive the support they require to be rehabilitated, and their risk of reoffending does not increase. The Ministry should undertake a public consultation on any further changes to ensure a wide range of views on contractual arrangements. This public consultation should consider the number of CRCs and the bodies eligible to bid for CRC contracts.


Provider performance

CRC performance in reducing reoffending, particularly the number of times an offender reoffends, has been disappointing. We conclude that we do not think that the payment by results mechanism provides sufficient incentives to providers to reduce reoffending, but we also do not believe that CRCs should carry full responsibility for poor performance in reducing reoffending. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice review the payment by results mechanism and set out where it should be amended.

The Ministry of Justice has not been applying the financial penalties (service credits) as envisaged in the contracts with CRCs and it remains unclear to us how the Ministry of Justice is tackling underperformance on a day-to-day basis. We call on the Ministry to set out what other steps it is taking to address underperformance.

NPS-CRC split

Under the TR reforms, offenders were split between the NPS and CRCs according to their risk of harm. This has complicated the delivery of probation services and created a “two-tier” system. There are co-ordination challenges and despite work going on at a local and national level to try and resolve these issues, problem remain. A swift resolution to these problems is needed. The Rate Card (the list of available specialist services and programmes that CRCs offer and which the NPS can purchase from the CRC) processes are cumbersome and create barriers for the NPS to use these services.

This split causes problems in the delivery of probation services as the risk of an offender can change throughout their time on probation. We call on the Government to ask HMI Probation to conduct a review of how offenders should be distributed between the NPS and CRCs, and to investigate the impact of changing offender risk and how the NPS and CRCs manage this matter.

The voluntary sector

We find in this Report that the Government have failed to open up the probation market, a key aim of the then Government when they introduced the TR reforms. The voluntary sector is less involved in probation than they were before the TR reforms were implemented. This is of deep concern to us given the real benefits that the voluntary sector, especially smaller organisations, can bring to probation. There is a lack of transparency on which voluntary sector organisations are involved in probation contracts. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice publishes more information on probation supply chains and considers what benefits might be gained from reintroducing targets for voluntary sector involvement. We also recommend that the Government should consider whether involving some of the smaller, more specialised voluntary sector organisations could be incentivised.

We also call on the Ministry of Justice to look at the contractual barriers to greater voluntary sector involvement, including those relating to sub-contracts.

Staff

Staff morale is at an “all-time low” and staff have high caseloads, in some instances they are handling cases for which they do not have adequate training, and they feel de-professionalised. This is the concerning evidence that we heard. We call on the Ministry of Justice to publish a probation workforce strategy, which covers staff in the NPS and CRCs, setting out the basics with regard to professional standards, training and maximum caseloads/workloads.

Short custodial sentences

We find it extremely worrying that sentencer confidence in community alternatives to short custodial sentences is so low, particularly as the latter have worse outcomes in terms of reoffending. We recommend that the Government should introduce a presumption against short custodial sentences, as the Scottish Government have indicated they will do.

Under the TR reforms compulsory 12-month post-sentence supervision was extended to short custodial offenders. We find that this one-size fits all approach lacks the flexibility to meet the varying needs of offenders. We call on the Government to consider getting rid of this requirement.

Through the Gate (TTG)

One of the key components of the TR reforms was that all offenders would receive an element of continuous support from custody into the community. The current TTG provision merely signposts offenders to other organisations and is wholly inadequate. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice reviews the purpose of TTG and the support it provides to offenders (including whether it should introduce a prisoner discharge pack, based on need). We also recommend that real consideration should be given to whether it is appropriate to release prisoners, with few family ties, from custody on a Friday because access to Government services can be difficult.

The TR reforms introduced a 12-week intervention point: 12 weeks prior to release, pre-release resettlement activity (such as arranging accommodation, dealing with finance, benefits and debts and support related to education, training and employment) commences. We find that this approach is too inflexible and does not reflect the varying, and often complex, needs of offenders. We propose that offenders should begin receiving pre-release resettlement activity no later than 12 weeks prior to release.

Types of activities and frequency of contact

There has been evidence following the TR reforms that some CRC providers supervise their offenders remotely, over the telephone. We conclude that kiosk meetings are never likely to be appropriate and that telephone supervision should only be used in exceptional circumstances and not in isolation. Further, delivery of probation services must be supported by credible evidence. The Ministry of Justice should set out its minimum expectations to providers on the balance between remote and face-to-face supervision and on where providers meet those they are supervising.

We were concerned that only one in two individuals are supervised by the same officer throughout their case given the strong evidence that continuity of support allows a trusting relationship to be developed. National guidance should be introduced.

We heard in our inquiry that some of the work offenders were required to do under unpaid work orders was meaningless. We recommend that, where possible, unpaid work should contribute to the local community and be linked to education and training.

Specific needs of offenders

The issues facing offenders on probation are not all within the gift of probation services to resolve, and therefore a cross-Government approach is needed and organisations need to work together.

There are strong links between homelessness and reoffending, therefore we find that it is unacceptable that any local council has been able to deem an individual who has served a custodial sentence as making themselves intentionally homeless. We call on the Government to amend its guidance for Local Authorities to make it explicit that an individual who is homeless because of having served a custodial sentence should be deemed vulnerable for the purposes of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017. We further recommend that the UK Government should work with the Welsh Government to ensure that their homelessness legislation takes due account of the risks of reoffending.

Currently offenders cannot apply for Universal Credit until they are released from custody. For many this can mean that they have the £46 discharge grant to live on for a number of weeks. We call on the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Work and Pensions to enable offenders serving custodial sentences to apply for Universal Credit (UC) prior to their release from custody so that they receive UC on the day of release. In the interim we recommend that the Ministry of Justice set up a transitional credit fund for those offenders who have insufficient funds to provide for the basics.

Longer-term future of Transforming Rehabilitation


On the longer-term future of the TR reforms we conclude that we are unconvinced that the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice initiate a review into the long-term future and sustainability of delivering probation services under the models introduced by the TR reforms, including how performance under the TR system might compare to an alternative system for delivering probation.

--oo00oo--

Is the current system salvageable?

193. We did not receive any evidence which took the view that the current system was without fault and did not require any changes in the short to medium-term. There was however no overall agreement over whether TR had a long-term future: several submissions indicated that the system was salvageable but a large number of witnesses also thought that it was not. In oral evidence Switchback, a London-based rehabilitation charity, acknowledged that there were problems with the current system but believed these could be fixed: some of the principles at the heart of TR “were good ones, which could be revisited”. Some witnesses, including Shelter, took the view that TR was still suffering from “implementation issues”.

194. HM Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, agreed in evidence to a question from the Committee that “the system [was] fundamentally flawed”. Unison told us that to date there had been a series of “stop-gap, sticking-plaster approaches” to the problems facing the sector, and “nothing other than a fundamental root and branch review and the reestablishment of a unified service will sort the problem out”. Other witnesses also agreed that returning to public ownership was the only option.

195. The Minister of State, Rory Stewart OBE MP, in oral evidence was more optimistic about the long-term future of the current system. He explained that the current probation system was “salvageable”. He also cautioned against another transformation:

Some of the problems that we are facing are problems of managing radical change. I can understand why people think that the current system has serious flaws, but I emphasise that there would be considerable costs in trying to reinvent the system yet again.
When should a review take place?

196. As we expressed earlier in this Report there has been a lack of transparency regarding previous reviews. The Ministry of Justice’s written submission appeared to indicate a preference for a piecemeal approach, rather than a wholesale review of the system. It explained that the Ministry was keeping the probation system under review and lessons learned would inform “the next generation of services”.

197. A number of witnesses, including Police and Crime Commissioners, a police officer, trade unions, academics and charities, called for an “immediate review” or for a review to start as soon as possible of the TR reforms. Unison surveyed its members to inform its submission: 78% of respondents supported a review taking place immediately. Several witnesses also called for a review within six to 12 months.

198. While some witnesses, including HMI Probation, stressed the importance of such a review taking place they also emphasised that the current contracts “cannot just be brought to a sudden halt”. Some witnesses, including David Chantler, a former Chief Probation Officer of West Mercia Probation, and Clinks, explained that commencing a review immediately would mean that a replacement to TR could be in place in time for the current contracts end date (expected to be 31 January 2022 although The Times reported on 14 June that the Government intended to terminate the contracts in 2020 and reduce the number of CRCs to 14 (from 21)). Others, particularly CRCs, called for “a period of calm” and “for sufficient time [to] pass so that [CRC] innovation and impact [could] be measured”. These providers varied in their views on when they thought a review of probation should take place, with some calling for a review now, others in two years’ time and other CRCs calling for a contract extension and a review after the seven-year contract.

199. Other witnesses, such as Business in the Community, a charity, stressed the importance of a review looking at the wider picture, including other areas of the criminal justice system and changes and challenges that they were facing. Shelter explained that the review also needed to ensure that lessons were learned from providers’ experience.

200. The Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms are not meeting the then Government’s aims. We are unconvinced that as things stand the TR model can ever deliver an effective or viable probation service. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice should initiate a review into the long-term future and sustainability of delivering probation services under the models introduced by the TR reforms, including how performance under the TR system might compare to an alternative system for delivering probation. The Government should publish its review, in full, by 1 February 2019. Given the issues which have arisen due to the speedy implementation of the TR reforms and lack of piloting, any new model must be thoroughly planned and tested.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Election Roundup

If history is anything to go by, most Napo members who intend to vote in the election for General Secretary will already have done so, but sadly the evidence is that the vast majority will not, either tearing up the ballot paper or leave it forgotten behind the clock. Turnout has been shockingly low for years - why is this? Apathy at best, anger and disillusionment at worst. What has the union done to address this? Nothing. 

"Members know about IL and I hope many hear about MR. Given the leadership and figurehead role of a general secretary of a union, it is weird that this election may pass under the radar of most members. Here was a golden opportunity to spark some debate between the candidates that may have provoked some member engagement. 

The incumbent must believe he has nothing to gain by setting out his vision for the next five years and as most incumbents also like to stand by their record of achievements, IL would know he'd be on a hiding to nothing. But the fault here does not lie with the candidates - it lies with the employing authority, the NEC, acting on behalf of the membership who fund the wages. Normally people like to know where their money goes and whether they are getting the best value. 

As turnout is likely to be low, it would seem members don't mind how their subscriptions are spent. The NEC should be hammering home the importance of voting and making it clear to members that they should not waste their money by not voting. Why does the NEC sit on its hands. Nothing stops the Co-Chairs from being proactive in getting the vote out."

The election for General Secretary is possibly the most important process for any union to undertake and it is the time for the membership to reflect on the past record and attributes of the incumbent candidate, together with those of any contender. It would be reasonable to expect an opportunity for ordinary members to be able to question each candidate, or at least have the opportunity of hearing a debate when issues of concern could be aired in order to assist with the important decision of how best to cast ones vote. 

"Whilst the incumbent makes comments behind Facebook firewalls and runs scared from debates. It's ironic that we know more in a few weeks about the political beliefs of a challenger than we do about an incumbent who has been around for years.

IL refuses to step out of his comfort zone to engage in debates. It's a lost opportunity that Napo News did not interview both candidates who could have set out their positions on a range of issues, possibly sparking a wider debate and promoting a bit more member engagement. One of the main purposes served by elections is to air the issues, compare policies and form a judgment about the candidates' relative merits. Instead it seems Napo HQ are behaving as though this election is an Assault on Precinct 13."


It might be a reasonable expectation, but as we know, the incumbent candidate has done all he can to frustrate such an opportunity, even taking leave in order not to be available for a proposed teleconference scheduled for today, Friday or Monday 25th. It's probably also worth noting that, leave not withstanding, it did not prevent him travelling north on Monday and posting out to members not once, but twice in an otherwise admirable demonstration of complete commitment to the job.

But of course for many members it's that concern over commitment to the job and indeed ability for the job that causes much concern. Who can fail to remember his somewhat lacklustre appearance before Bob Neill's Select Committee earlier this year, in stark contrast to that of his clearly well-prepared union colleague? When asked a direct question regarding salary scales, he couldn't answer. His body language and general demeanour gives every impression of someone merely going through the motions and 'winging it'. 

The concerns go back a long way and to the TR battle itself, at least one key Parliamentary meeting missed and others I was told where attendance was late. Despite many members having had their careers disgracefully terminated early, some are still around and with good memories:-

"I remember IL at an AGM saying the letter was in the post for the judicial review - received with whoops of joy. Yet 12 months later we find out it wasn't posted. That was tedious."

There have been the 'car crash' media interviews and I think we can all recall historic instances of the bellicose kind when our General Secretary seeks to impress with bluster and bullshit rather than reasoned, detailed argument. In response to the latest mail-out this reader expresses things rather well:-

"It looks like campaigning, but what could the general secretary do? 'A number of members had been in touch to ask about progress...' so it wasn't campaigning, it was a member-led response. We will never know if members were really clamouring for a response. The piece also includes a namecheck for his POA sponsor and he's able to tell us what prison officers have been telling him. It's nothing we didn't already know, but it's safe ground and there's nothing that he can be held responsible for.

The whole piece in fact is merely a rehash, with all the boilerplate warnings about H&S. IL likes everyone to know he knows what's happening. But he steers clear of action plans and anything against which he can be measured. His blogs are a bit like travelogues – patronising branches with his presence, but leaving no legacy of increased member engagement or participation.

The OMIC paper bemoans the futility of consultation because as he rightly points out the NPS can simply ignore any concerns that Napo raises about the impact on the terms and conditions of staff. These changes warrant negotiations not consultations, but Napo does not fight its corner on this point, it simply plays along with the consultation, adopts a fatalistic stance and tells members they can always raise H&S concerns if they feel individually compromised. And that has been the story since the inception of TR – you are on your own – but IL feels your pain."


We are all familiar with the sad demise of the once vibrant Napo Forum, ironically killed-off by over-zealous editing of contributions deemed to be too critical of the General Secretary. With this avenue for debate having been effectively neutered, it only left this blog as a possible platform for debate:- 

"The whole election is a shambles. If it weren’t for this blog I wouldn’t know there was an election. I haven’t received a ballot paper even though my contact details have not changed in years. I’ve not chased it up. Napo obviously don’t want my vote. It’s impossible to choose between useless and incapable."

"Agree. I have not received a ballot paper either and my details have not changed. No democracy in NAPO it is poisonous at the top table with corrupt process the norm. Things can only get better - new politics please before the demise of this Union. The elected General secretary whoever that is would do well to take the views expressed on this blog by the members seriously for the future of NAPO."

Regular readers will be aware that over the last few weeks I've endeavoured to provide a platform for discussion of the issues, merits and demerits of the two candidates and despite the refusal of the incumbent candidate to engage, many members have found it refreshing that the contender could not have been more willing to take part in debate. I'm sure this has proved alarming to our present General Secretary who has been somewhat unusually quick to respond to the news agenda of late, you know, like that 'Times' leak:-  

"Napo is not usually out of the blocks so quickly. Nor did I realise that it was in the verification business. IL says he wants to safeguard members from 'rising expectations' as though anyone out there was interpreting the Times story as the beginning of the end of privatisation. Nonetheless, he chooses to link the imagined rising expectations with the end of privatisation, knowing that to be a fallacy. 

He also writes about 'close connections' in the corridors of power, but these have not yielded anything of substance in the past five years. In effect he tells us nothing that was not already known, but our intrepid leader could not resist the temptation to put himself at the heart of a news story to flaunt his close connections. Pity he did not use his close connections before signing-up for the TR split and the various promises about no redundancies. That was when verification was truly needed. But, of course, at that time he wasn't running a re-election campaign."

Over the years I've been running this blog there's much I've been told, some of it necessarily in confidence and barely 50% has ever got into print for one reason or another. I try desperately to provide as accurate information as I can and I get very annoyed if I discover having been responsible for publishing anything that is misleading. 

When raising the extremely vexed issue of possible compensation being payable should the incumbent candidate fail to win a further term, I now understand a serious administrative error has recently come to light with a consequential failure to appreciate that certain commitments could follow. Whatever, I find it utterly astonishing that votes in an election for General Secretary could be influenced by a possible payout to a losing candidate.        

"After 10 years of being neglected, mistreated & packaged up for sale it seems Napo members would rather stick with what they've become accustomed to rather than vote for change. When the dodgy contract was signed - silence. No consultation. CRCs made swingeing cuts & rode roughshod over members' t&c's, EVR, etc - all we got for our subs was SILENCE, inaction, branch-blaming & abuse directed at staff making choices in an information vacuum.

When this blog facilitated valid criticisms & challenges - the Napo ostrich buried its collective head & still denies this blog's existence. It's time to de-select the Flat Earth Society. It's time to leave the abusive, controlling partner & build a new life for yourselves."


Many members have grown tired of the hand-wringing 'lets blame the membership' that the current General Secretary has got away with for the last 5 years. Astonishingly, I hear that when he was recently invited in to meet with the new minister Rory Stewart, in the context of TR and the future of probation, in answer to the question 'what do you want?', the response apparently was 'I've got an election to fight'

There has long been a suspicion that our General Secretary has been far too cosy with the MoJ and cynics will have noted the sudden desire of the government to start talks on pay. Could that possibly have anything at all to do with concerns at the highest levels of government that a change of personnel at the top of Napo could be imminent? 

"It always felt that MoJ/NOMS (now HMPPS) owned IL from the start of his tenure & that 'something' happened around the Ledger incident that left IL indebted to someone."

One thing is clear to me. Members have a duty to vote and it may sound harsh, but it's an unacceptable position to say 'but they're as bad as each other' and not vote. Yes, I hear the interviews did not go well and some have pointed out that neither candidate matches up entirely to the person and job spec. But as they say, we are where we are:-   

"What we should all do, I suggest, is to encourage as many members as we can to consider the issues: think about the two candidates, understand that you are being asked to vote because you are part of the collective paymaster. Take the trouble to participate in the ballot. We will never know for certain whether the weakness of Napo (weakness – lack of industrial muscle is assessed by levels of participation, ie solidarity), emboldened the MoJ and the private companies to behave disdainfully, but it's a good counter-factual to think that they would not have got away with so much if they had perceived a strong union ready to fight its corner. 

If members do not participate, at the very least by casting a vote, then Napo's slide towards extinction will become more assured. It's na├»ve to see a union as an 'insurance policy' like the AA in the event of a breakdown. Only a strong union can insure and protect you against unfair treatment and get you better wages – and a union can only be strong if it's members have backbone and collectively care about their destiny."

It has been put to me that Mike Rolfe is a 'disruptive' candidate and that might not be a good thing. On the other hand it might be just what is needed in order to shake much of the remaining membership out of its collective torpor. What is clear is that he has been dignified throughout this campaign, in stark contrast to the unsubstantiated and personal Facebook comments from the incumbent candidate that could possibly bring Napo into disrepute. 

There will shortly be an election for National Chair and it must be hoped that the person appointed will be rather more 'hands on' than of late and that the NEC can become much more effective in ensuring that any General Secretary is held adequately to account.

There is surely a strong case in saying that opting for 5 more years of the same will hardly be likely to tackle apathy? The union could just continue to slide into possible extinction or merger, and lets not forget a consequent very large payout to the General Secretary at the time, whoever that happens to be.    

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we are in a bloody mess. How we got here, who is to blame and how it can be fixed are all extraordinarily difficult issues to try and wrestle with, but I intend to carry on trying for as long as I have readers and for as long as we still have an independent union. That blog post last week concerning the end of TR has now attracted over 2,500 hits, thus demonstrating beyond doubt that under the right leadership there is still scope for a fight that sees probation return to being a proud and worthwhile endeavour once more.    

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

General Secretary Election 23

Now call me an old cynic, but the MoJ must be so worried about the chances of Mick Rolfe, late of the POA, winning the Napo election that they've suddenly decided to help the incumbent's campaign! This just published on Napo news:- 

HM Treasury agree that pay talks can get underway 

Following months of prevarication,and the disappointment of undelivered promises from Ministers, I have received news from HMPPS this afternoon to confirm that the Treasury has now authorised the commencement of formal negotiations with the unions on Probation pay reform.

NPS Pay Reform – letter from HMPPS

Whilst it is too early to forecast the prospects for a successful outcome to the formal talks with the NPS (which we will seek to get started as soon as possible), the fact that we will soon be back around the negotiating table once again represents some positive news.

It’s been a desperately frustrating time for our members in the Probation service over the last few years. In addition to the impact of privatisation through the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, the failure to honour the terms of the 2008 probation pay settlement combined with the public sector pay freeze has resulted in no consolidated pay rises for those members at the maximum of their pay bands and inadequate incremental progression for others, many of whom are stranded well below the pay point that they expected to be at by now.

Tough agenda ahead

Your pay team will now be prioritising dates so that maximum attention can be given to the pay reform negotiations. Make no mistake, we have a potentially testing agenda ahead of us. If an acceptable offer is secured it is likely to have a significant impact down the line for the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies whose owners and staff will also be taking a keen interest in what happens on NPS Pay.

Napo policy is to see a return to National Collective Bargaining, and while we no longer have that machinery in place because of the ill-judged decision to scrap it, I am able to confirm that Napo will be demanding that all of our CRC members must find themselves on an equal footing with their colleagues in the NPS following any pay settlement that may be reached. This means we will need to know soon whether the pay envelope will be of sufficient scope to match these aspirations, and whether it has kept pace with inflation and is big enough to allow for meaningful discussions to take place between the employer and the Probation Unions.

Remember, that our members will ultimately decide on whether a pay offer is acceptable or not.

Meanwhile, there are some other serious and still unresolved issues that will need to be addressed as part of the negotiations. These include trying to rectify potential discrimination in the pay system and the appalling way in which the Market Forces Supplement payments have been operated.

Next steps

I have made it clear to Ministers and senior HMPPS management that while Napo is prepared to find solutions to the above problems through negotiation, we will continue to plan for the possibility that legal action may be necessary in respect of equal pay claims.

Preparation is also underway to hold a Parliamentary event in September should that be necessary and consideration is being given to ways in which we can keep members informed of how the pay talks are progressing, whilst obviously maintaining our negotiating position.

Whilst we have a long road still ahead of us, the news that pay negotiations are to start again has come about as a result of the combined pressure that has been applied on politicians and senior HMPPS leaders by the Napo HQ Team and our wider membership.

We will need that unity going forward into these crucial negotiations more than ever before.

Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary

General Secretary Election 22

In the absence of any engagement in discussion or debate, I think we must take yesterday's extraordinarily wide-ranging blog post from the General Secretary and emailed to all Napo members as evidence of some campaigning:-
 
OMiC - What’s the real story?

A number of members have been in touch to ask about progress on the OMiC Review, expressing concerns about safety and the impact on work in the community. We have recently put together a comprehensive update following on from our analysis in March, and the full document can be seen here.

OMiC - Napo's View

Napo has been in consultation with the OMiC project team for several months. Consultation, where the employer shares their plans and the trade unions have an opportunity to make comments, is not one of my favourite communication forums, largely because my experience of such exchanges shows that no matter what the issue is the unions often warn against the gaps in planning in advance of implementation. It’s also the case that some divisional management teams then present matters as having been “agreed with the trade unions”, thus compounding the confusion.

So far our consultation has primarily been with the National Design Team, which is responsible for issuing instructions to Divisional Implementation Boards (DIBs) which are comprised of both prison and NPS staff. All of the information we have up to now relates to public sector prisons and while we are aware that discussions are ongoing with contracted out prisons we have not received the detail on this.

Is it safe?

There are still real concerns for members about safety following some well-publicised issues about prisons. The OMiC plans lack sufficient detail, leading members to the belief that this key issue it is not being considered by the employer. Assurances are being offered about the presence of alarm bells and radios but not a sophisticated understanding of the complexity of the individual work that is required with clients. In addition to the general considerations there are some members from BAME backgrounds who are currently not placed in certain offices due to concerns about their physical and emotional wellbeing. The employer must be able to demonstrate that they can meet their duty of care to staff when placing them in a custodial environment. This duty of care extends to emotional wellbeing and protection from abuse and discrimination as well as physical wellbeing.

What POA members tell me

If Ministers had any doubts about the so called Prison Reform Revolution they could well spend some time listening to prison officer practitioners who have told me of their worries, (despite the propaganda being issued by HMPPS high command fuelled by some over optimistic reporting by their Governors).

First up is the lack of “feet on the landings” as described to me in terms of insufficient numbers of staff. For despite the almost weekly claims by Ministers and their MoJ apparatchiks, meeting a prison officer recruitment target counts for diddly if the attrition rate remains high (be it from natural wastage, staff who simply cannot cope, or new trainees seeing the realities of the environment and deciding this is not going to be a very good idea).

Protecting themselves comes next, and as Steve Gillan, POA General Secretary, confirms, protecting their families as its becoming normal for prison officers to be the subject of intimidation by way of threats implied or actual against their loved ones. Throw in the elements of preventing self-harm of clients, keeping a keen eye on gang violence, the effects of radicalisation and the huge influx of Spice and other drugs or illicit material and it’s hard to see exactly how the initial rehabilitation process expected of them is actually going to work.


The paper from our officer practitioners sets out some serious issues beyond this summary and I highly commend it as source material for discussion in your workplace. Do let me have any views or questions, which I will ensure get to the right quarter without revealing identities.

AP members concerns over rotas and outsourcing

I am just returning to London having visited Napo members from Approved Premises in Merseyside today along with Napo Vice-Chair Katie Lomas. We covered a range of issues including concerns about the impact of the shift rotas on individuals and how the recently outsourced DWNC outsourcing is working out, against the expectations of the National Project leads in NPS.

Yet again, and just like the recent visit that Katie and I made to Sheffield to share members concerns about VISOR, I was hugely impressed with our members depth knowledge and total commitment to their important work. It was also clear that the issues from members, that we went there to listen to, included appreciation by them of the pressures that their managers often find themselves in when trying to respond to the demands of the new E3 driven duty rotas, and the impact of this government’s decision to press on regardless with their ridiculous decision to outsource Double Waking Night Cover to Sodexo (and OCS) - who seem to be still struggling to deliver what we were told they would.

We have given advice about how members (and that’s members everywhere by the way) should ensure that they comply with HSE Directives around shift work and how we want them to be involved in finding and disseminating best practice across the region. As always Napo stands ready to work with Divisional management towards a smooth transition to the new rota arrangements - but it takes two to tango.

Ian Lawrence 

Monday, 18 June 2018

NPS to Withdraw Circles Support

In an astonishingy short-sighted decision, NPS have decided to withdraw financial support from Circles UK. This on their website:-  

FALSE ECONOMY? 

WITHDRAWAL BY NATIONAL PROBATION SERVICE OF FUNDING FOR CIRCLES OF SUPPORT AND ACCOUNTABILITY 

I have been an admirer and a supporter from the side lines of the success of Circles of Support and Accountability (“Circles”), having been introduced to the concept as the judicial member of the Advisory Panel of Rethinking Crime and Punishment more than a dozen years ago. Before explaining my personal dismay at a funding decision which threatens the lifeblood of this vital initiative, it is timely to explain the concept; and why it is so effective in monitoring those sex offenders who have been released into the community for continued supervision by the Probation Service. 

In short, the name of the organisation accurately describes its function; and why it is so effective. Carefully selected and fully trained groups of 4 – 6 volunteers regularly meet with a released sex offender, prompting them with the active support they are likely to require, particularly after a lengthy period of imprisonment; but making it equally clear that the price of support is that the offender must be accountable to the Circle for their continued behaviour. Circles provide a range of support mechanisms to help these people form appropriate links to their community, access the services which they need, and thus help prevent further victims of sexual abuse. 

The unique strength of Circles has been its ability to harness the enthusiasm and commitment of its highly trained community volunteers; and the skills which they develop enable them effectively to manage the risk of potential harm posed by those who have once been assessed as high risk sex offenders. 

Not only was I a judge sitting in the Crown Court both part-time and full-time for 27 years, but I served my maximum 10 year term as a member of the Parole Board. In both capacities I had considerable experience not only of those whose sexual offending had caused significant harm, but of those who, following many years in custody, had been carefully assessed by professionals as presenting a sufficiently low risk to be properly managed in the community. 

The more than 600 active volunteers who form such Circles are, and for the past 10 years have been, managing former sex offenders who have hitherto been assessed as posing a high risk of harm. While objectively their risk has been sufficiently lowered to justify their release on licence if they had been serving indeterminate sentences, many such offenders are automatically released at the halfway point of a determinate sentence; and such persons are recognised to be among the most stigmatised and marginalised groups of former offenders. Those who are assigned to a Circle are often isolated, shunned by family and associates, who struggle to find accommodation or employment, and hence successfully to integrate back into the community. Circles assist not only with all these practical aspects, but in addition work with the offender permanently to change their former abusive behaviour. 

Circles provision has been fully and independently evaluated; and the evaluations have demonstrated significant benefits both to the recipients of a Circle, as well as to the volunteers and the community in general. Offenders who have taken part have demonstrated a proven reduction in their risk scores; the Circle has helped them to secure suitable accommodation and employment, and to improve their emotional well-being; to form appropriate and meaningful relationships; and to pursue constructive hobbies and activities. 

Local Circles Providers have been supported through a Service Level Agreement with the National Probation Service (NPS) totalling some £256,000 annually. This very modest provision, which enables oversight of the work of some 600 active volunteers, can be contrasted with the substantial value which NPS obtains from Circles. That body is of course statutorily responsible for the management of such persons on licence in the community. 

It is objectively all too clear that, but for the volunteer support which is available through Circles, the hard-pressed Probation Service would struggle to begin to provide the degree of supervision and support which these former offenders continue to require in the community to which they have been released. 

It is against this background that I learned with dismay bordering on incomprehension of the reported decision of NPS to discontinue the funding of Circles. I understand that the immediate consequences of this decision are stark. First, Circles provision in a number of Regions, such as Greater Manchester, where there has always been a waiting list for those seeking the support of a Circle, will have to cease. Most local Circles Providers operate as small charities; and without this regular support their long-term sustainability is under threat. Second, I understand that approximately 100 Circles which were due to start up may now have to be cancelled as a result of this withdrawal of funding. The emotional implications for a cohort of former sex offenders who are ready to start their Circles, and for which they may have prepared for months, and the consequential impact on their future risk, is immeasurable. 

So let us put this financial “saving” into context. It is said that the funding of £256,000 will be injected into “the purchase of accommodation provision”. If that means literally what is stated, it is unlikely to provide more than 5 hostel places per year, since £50,000 is the approximate annual cost of a hostel place. Contrast that with the current and planned provision of at least 170 Circles per year, keeping safe an equal number of former sex offenders in the community. The task of keeping them safe inevitably includes the sourcing and maintaining of secure accommodation. Hence this budget decision makes no sense at all. The exercise of judgment is not the exclusive preserve of the judge (or even the retired judge): it can and should equally be discharged by the Executive Director of Probation, who is the relevant budget-holder. 

John Samuels QC 

A retired Circuit Judge; former Chair of the Criminal Committee of the Council of Circuit Judges; President of Prisoners’ Education Trust; judicial member of the Ministry of Justice Working Group on problem-solving courts; former Chairman of the Criminal Justice Alliance; and Vice President and Patron of a number of other prison welfare charities.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

General Secretary Election 21

Hi Jim,

Just thought I should write in and clear up some mistruths and maybe misconceptions about me that I have read on the blog and have been posted on social media. Firstly it is important to always remember “A lie repeated and unchallenged becomes the truth” and I wouldn’t want your readers or those reading social media being misled either deliberately or by accident.

In relation to my political affiliations and views I have never been a member of the Socialist Workers party nor have I ever attended any of their meetings. I have given quotes to the press association in the past which were then reported in the Socialist jottings along with many other tabloid newspapers. 

To be clear I have only ever been a Labour party member and I only joined the party three years ago when I believed that there would be a change in leadership that would see the Labour party return to their roots following the defeat in 2015. Labour was promising what I can only describe as pale blue policies to make cuts but not at the level the Tories wanted to back in 2015 and before and I felt that I could not support the party during that time.

I was bought up in a very working class family with my mother working as a Secretary in London and my father a council worker for Greenwich council where he had started work as a labourer, laying paving slabs then steadily getting promoted into management roles before his premature death from Cancer at 57 years old. Both had been Labour voters most of their lives and I had developed a keen interest in following politics from a young age.

In May 2013 I stood in the Kent County Council elections as a TUSC candidate, at the time the party had been led and heavily influenced by senior trade union officials such as Bob Crow RMT with PCS, FBU, POA & NUT (now NEU) all being included as part of the National Steering committee. TUSC only required candidates to agree to a platform against all forms of cuts and anti-austerity and there were no conditions as to views on policy when out campaigning. This agreement suited me so that I could campaign freely although I was already concerned that TUSC had no real policy direction.

Soon after being elected as part of the POA NEC in August 2013 I was invited to attend the TUSC steering committee meetings at RMT HQ near Kings Cross. It soon occurred to me that TUSC was more of a campaign against cuts then it would ever be an alternative to the mainstream political parties and I began to raise my concerns. There was no real desire to come into conflict with any Labour candidate that stated that they would be anti-cuts and it seemed to me pointless to be promoting TUSC as an alternative party when they were not prepared to challenge each and every seat.

Then in 2014 whilst TUSC were making preparations for the General election in 2015, the Socialist Party offered to fund most of the TUSC candidates with in excess of £200,000 that they had made available and they wanted commitments in return for the cash. I disagreed with taking the money as it made TUSC as bad as any other political party i.e. beholden to those who fund it and I made my points to the TUSC leadership. The TUSC leadership decided to accept the money and I parted company there and then, not because I was anti the Socialist Party but because I did not agree with the politics behind the cash. I did not attend anymore steering committee meetings.

Whilst I have known some of NAPO’s current NEC a long time I have no-one “sponsoring” my campaign, writing my replies to this blog or else. I have chosen freely of my own accord to stand because I wanted to and I have campaigned on my own views, thoughts and beliefs. I guess in this case the description of being “Maverick” could then be considered accurate. I have always been one to speak out and challenge things rather than go with the crowd. Obviously this does bring me into conflict with others, especially those that have held court or power for a long time and do not like newbies entering the frame and unsettling the applecart. However once I have had my opportunity to state my case and fight for my views I can of course accept the consensus.

I would not accept that I am a ‘chancer’ though, more someone who is prepared to take a chance and fight for something worth doing rather than not bothering to fight in the first place. As I’m sure most of your readers have already established I will not take things lying down and I will always continue to state my case and argue my point, doesn’t matter how many people try to belittle me or attack my reputation I will always respond to mistruths and misconceptions.

In my experience far too many people make noise and then when elected they fall into the trap of following the consensus, this will never be for me and although I’m fully aware that this approach is littered with stress, frustration and sometimes disappointment it is the only way I know how to operate when it comes to tackling the big issues.

I hope that this clarifies some points with your readers Jim and thanks again for continuing to post my jottings.

Kind Regards

Mike Rolfe

Saturday, 16 June 2018

General Secretary Election 20

As we know, our current General Secretary doesn't acknowledge this blog so I'll take the following from Napo news published yesterday and circulated to all members by email as evidence of a bit of campaigning on his behalf:- 

That Times article – Are the CRC contracts going to be terminated early?

Members may be aware of an article published in 'The Times' newspaper yesterday in relation to the CRC contracts and the possibility that they may be terminated two years ahead of schedule by Ministers due to the ongoing failure of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. As you would expect, I was able to establish contact yesterday morning with the author of the article Richard Ford, to check out the degree of certainty behind the report.

At this stage, Napo is not able to verify a story that in some respects is encouraging, but which is also highly speculative. Napo has a responsibility to ascertain the facts before raising members’ expectations unreasonably. I aim to use our close connections in the MoJ and in CRCs to establish the full picture as we approach the summer Parliamentary recess.

What is clear is that this story not only reflects the fact that Napo members in the NPS and CRCs have suffered the abject failure of the whole TR project, but also highlights one of many options we ourselves have been campaigning for, in what we obviously all hope is the beginning of the end of privatisation.

I will update members as soon as we know more about whether what has been reported becomes a certainty. What I can confirm is that many CRC members have been in touch to say how some providers have been falling over themselves to publically deny the scenario in the Times article while it is common knowledge that they are engaged in critical talks with the MoJ!

Napo working in Parliament

Meanwhile Napo will continue the campaign in parliament. The following and somewhat timely questions have been tabled on our behalf by Liz Saville-Roberts MP Plaid Cymru for next week’s Justice Questions session.

Asked by Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) Asked on: 13 June 2018
Ministry of Justice : Community Rehabilitation Companies 153415
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what the timetable is for the next steps in his review of privatised probation services; and if he will make a statement.

Asked by Liz Saville Roberts (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) Asked on: 12 June 2018
Ministry of Justice : Community Rehabilitation Companies 152825
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what preparations he has made to safeguard essential services in the event of a Community Rehabilitation Company (a) running into financial difficulties, (b) going into administration and (c) wishing to terminate its contract.

As pressure mounts on CRCs and with the possibility of an early end to the contracts, Napo will be briefing parliamentarians and the Justice Unions and Family Court Parliamentary Group to put further pressure on the Government. I have already written to the Probation Minister, Rory Stewart, demanding to know what is going on behind the scenes and seeking an urgent meeting. We will also be re-establishing our contact with the senior leadership in the Labour Party and Richard Burgon’s Justice team, who have pledged to work with us and other partners in mapping out the new vision for Probation.

Members will not pay the price for TR

Most importantly, Napo will defend our members and their jobs, despite whatever may emerge from the current Probation System Review and the Justice Select Committee’s awaited report. It is our member’s (and that includes manager members) in the CRCs and the NPS who have worked so hard to maintain professional standards in the face of adversity and to keep Probation from collapsing entirely. That is why I am reminding NPS leaders daily that we must see a start to meaningful pay negotiations before we commence legal action over a pay system that is inherently gender discriminatory.

This union remains ready to work with everyone to rebuild the service and shape the future, but we will not hesitate to expose a deeply flawed social experiment. Napo will ensure that our members are not blamed or used as scapegoats for what is a systematic failure based on political ideology that has wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

Ian Lawrence
Napo General Secretary

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Meanwhile, we are well aware that our current General Secretary appears to have made a conscious and some would say cynical decision not to engage in discussion or debate and has sought to frustrate the efforts of the contender Mike Rolfe by not supplying dates for possible branch meetings. 

In addition, news now reaches me that several branches were hoping to organise a teleconference debate next week, but again the General Secretary has stated he is not available for any of the three suggested dates. I understand the contender signalled he could manage any of the dates, despite also having a full time job. 

In the circumstances I think it is a reasonable conclusion to draw that the incumbent candidate is seeking to stifle open discussion and debate and therefore members must take this into account when deciding how best to cast their vote. 

Interestingly, the following graph shows how there's renewed activity on the blog as a direct result of the Times story breaking on Thursday. Yesterday's blog post achieved over 1,000 hits, double the normal figure and for the second day running the daily total has been over 3,000. 

Graph of Blogger page views

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Footnote

Oh dear, looks like our General Secretary is so rattled he's resorting to personal abuse. Thanks to the reader for spotting this Facebook exchange:-