Saturday, 30 August 2014

Probation - A New Future?

So, what to do, Probation, a new future? -  by Joe Kuipers

PROBATION
the justice ligament


This is to be a forward-looking blog. Will it make a difference? That is up to others, especially our politicians. This is not a short read, but if you are serious about the future of probation then a short read is not what you should expect at this critical time. And the 'ligament' reference becomes clear later on.

Here I set out a possible future for a probation service that serves victims, communities, courts, the parole board and offenders in a coherent, effective and affordable way. It will not pretend to have all the answers but it does paint a workable solution to ensure future effective services - not one with which all will agree but one that should serve as a discussion starter. The TR cacophony of sound or fanfare (depending on your point of view) will cease at some point and when that music stops, where will we be? Oh, and TR as proposed by the government can work - everything can work - a field hospital in Gaza can work but not as well as it ought and it is not one I would wish to be brought to. It is undoubtedly true that TR as envisaged will increase risks to the public and will fail to deliver the proposed benefits and savings. TR is an untried, untested, uncosted, unevidenced ideological experiment at a time when serious questions are being asked about the degree to which public services should be outsourced and about the competence of the MoJ in a contracting environment.

The future of probation is now fully a political matter, or rather one that lies in the hands of politicians and their senior advisers. I can only hope that enough politicians read this and that it helps to shape their thinking. Probation commentary has all but stopped from those within the profession, certainly from its current leaders so, other than intelligent discourse about the future from those now on the outside, politicians face the prospect of wearying spin and unrealistic reassurances from the MoJ. I can't blame officials for this - it is their job to do the will of their political masters. But a while ago I was asked (by a senior official) how I might construct a solution should the speeding TR train hit the buffers.

My central message to politicians is crystal clear and this blog sets out why: think very very carefully about the hasty share sale of the Community Rehabilitation Companies to new owners and do what you can to enable a full consideration of the implications of this final part of the TR process which will make any row-back almost impossible. If this is allowed to proceed (a timetable driven purely by the next general election) those with power and influence will only be able to look back with regret and wonder how they failed to appreciate the consequences of TR. The time to stop and think is now whilst both the NPS and CRCs are still in the public domain.

Let me be clear about my position at the outset. The proposals here are not a question of turning back the clock or of saving jobs. I start from the position that the cards are up in the air coupled with something I have said from the outset in previous blogs - this is about ensuring effective and safe probation services delivered to our communities in partnership between the public, private and community sectors, each with real and distinct parts to play.


What do we want probation to achieve?

Simple and pretty obvious really, and not controversial?
  • fewer victims;
  • less crime;
  • less reoffending;
  • fewer serious further offences by those being supervised (improved public protection);
  • ex offenders as better citizens better equipped to make their contributions to their communities;
  • demonstrable value-for-money outcomes.
What should be some basic underpinning business requirements and principles?

Again, not complicated, but possibly more controversial and building up from the service delivery end:
  1. a holistic, coherent and consistent system of offender management (that is the assessment, sentence planning, risk review, court and parole board advice, etc) that enables the offender, service and partners to be clear as to who is responsible and accountable for what;
  2. differentiated, efficient and effective offender interventions that take account of the needs and profiles of different offender groups (e.g. women) and ages, paying proper regard to equalities and applying the principles and practices of restorative justice, desistance theory and 'what works';
  3. service delivery organised around the existing Local Delivery Unit structures;
  4. a cohesive, intelligent and well-trained workforce with staff equipped to understand and influence (change) human behaviour in a complex social environment and able to communicate effectively;
  5. sufficient middle managers to support and guide service delivery staff, and similarly for corporate and support services;
  6. a cost-effective and lean senior management structure, and corporate services working to this senior management structure;
  7. IT that works;
  8. simple governance arrangements to separate service delivery responsibilities from policy making to avoid any conflicts of interest or undue influence in the delivery systems and that enable financial and business transparency fully open to public scrutiny;
  9. understanding that the probation service is a community based operation with the key strategic and operational community partners being the courts, the parole board, the police, local authorities other community providers and that there needs to be an 'offender management relationship' with the prisons;
  10. adherence to the 7 principles of public life. 
Probation was already demonstrating its effectiveness before TR, but no doubt can do better. This coupled with meeting the underpinning business requirements and principles should lead to:
  • the confidence of those paying for probation services; and
  • the confidence of victims, our communities, probation partners, the courts and parole board.
And now for the detail, and I guess, the devil.

To do this I propose to follow the format of the 10 business requirements and principles above.

1. A holistic, coherent and consistent system of offender management (that is the assessment, sentence planning, risk review, court and parole board advice, etc) that enables the offender, service and partners to be clear as to who is responsible and accountable for what.

I have argued, as have many others, that the fundamental flaw with TR is what I have called the disaggregation of offender management (and as a consequence the splitting of the staff into two groups), now located in two distinct organisations, each with differing responsibilities and functions. Offenders are routed through the NPS, either to remain with the NPS if they are 'risky enough' or to be allocated to the CRC if they are 'not risky enough'. Transfers between the two are based on risk changes, or the need for further assessments (i.e back from the CRC to the NPS for court reports, recalls to prisons, etc). In short TR has at a stroke created a fractured, incoherent and inconsistent system of offender management and introduced complex and unclear lines of responsibility and accountability. It is what I have called the 'fault line' in the TR proposals.

At the moment at least both organisations remain within the public domain, but the picture will change - potentially irrevocably - once the CRCs are 'sold' to the new commercial owners. This will mean new and even more complicated arrangements between the 7 NPS 'divisions' and the 21 commercially owned CRCs. The communication, responsibility and accountability permutations are going to be unavoidably difficult both to untangle and understand and will come to head when 'things go wrong' as they are bound to. They went wrong from time to time in the more coherent previous arrangements, and there will be further serious offences by supervised offenders. Communication, accountability and responsibility confusions are the last things needed when dealing with such serious matters.

So, what to do?
  • bring the offender management function back under 'one roof' and retain it fully within the public sector to avoid the real dangers that further fragmentation are certain to create;
  • do not proceed with the CRC share sale.
2. Differentiated, efficient and effective offender interventions that take account of the needs and profiles of different offender groups (e.g. women) and ages, paying proper regard to equalities and applying the principles and practices of restorative justice, desistance theory and 'what works'.

In a previous life, when with HMI Probation, I advocated strongly the need for the delivery of probation interventions to take place within partnership arrangements. My observation, even then, that probation did not have a divine right, regardless, to deliver all probation services given at a NAPO conference was not well received, and I was not asked back. For too long probation thought it could do it all and despite establishing 'contracting out targets' probation failed to respond adequately. This failure was in part the driver for the Offender Management Act that enabled services to be contracted out by the Secretary of State. At the time of the legislation it was anticipated that such contracting out would be for two main purposes: to enable proper competition for intervention services (i.e. the delivery of programmes, and specific services for specific offender groups, properly differentiated); and, as a mechanism to deal with a 'failing probation trust'.

I have never been protectionist, but neither have I sat aside as the unevidenced destruction of an increasingly successful probation service was taking place. As I have already said, and as I said to staff in our probation trust, it was not my job to save jobs but rather to enable the delivery of safe and effective services.

Looking at equalities, I am not fully versed in the implications of the equality responsibilities of commercial enterprises and the application of equalities legislation. However, it is my understanding that public and private sector equality duties are not the same, with there being a lesser duty on the private sector. Do we really want this?

Electronic monitoring (EM). How do I see the future? Regrettably I foresee a significant rise in EM at the cost of more human and productive interventions. EM is very useful, but generally as part of a programme of community supervision, rather than as a replacement for it.

Part of the differentiated services would include services to those sentenced to less than 12 months imprisonment, the part of TR all agreed on (but for the mechanism). There really is no need to place all those prisoners onto statutory supervision as about 50% do not reoffend. Why waste resources on those who do not need them? And a differentiated approach would include peer mentoring, within a properly supervised and accountable system of offender management. One of the greatest casualties of TR has been the effective dismantling of integrated offender management schemes (IOM) delivered in partnership with the police and others.

So, what to do?
  • probation interventions should be included in a programme of market testing to enable those best able to deliver such services (on macro and micro levels) at the best price to do so. Fair competition must include the opportunity for the public sector to participate (as happens in HM prison Service);
  • the delivery of differentiated services that endorse and reflect the spirit of equality duties must remain a priority;
  • consider carefully the use of EM remembering that the profiles of most offenders include either thinking or behaviour deficits that cannot be fixed by EM;
  • roll out IOM more fully and target support and supervision for those sentenced to less than 12 months on those who present the greatest risks of harm and committing further crimes. 
And, what about Unpaid Work? What is it? Well, in my view it is a combination of offender management (with the order being held and managed by the public sector), visible punishment in the community with, where possible, reparative intervention. There are many aspects of Unpaid Work that could be competed when looking at its component logistic and intervention parts, understanding that there is a core element of offender management.

3. Service delivery organised around the existing Local Delivery Unit structures.

This is about the only sensible and intelligent proposal to come out of an expensive consultancy probation review some years ago that preceded the creation of probation trusts. That review was the result of an earlier 'review' by Patrick Carter, if you like, the originator of the current tangled web.

It makes perfect sense for service delivery to continue to be based on the LDU structures, bringing it, as it does, within police and local authority boundaries. In the future this is the organisational building block for contesting localised services, recognising that some must be competed and commissioned at a much larger scale.

So, what to do?
  • nothing, leave it as it is, but understand that the management structure that sits above the LDU can incorporate a number of LDUs. It remains critical that LDUs with the core function of a coherent and consistent offender management function must have quality senior leadership.
4. Cohesive, intelligent and well-trained workforce with staff equipped to understand and influence (change) human behaviour in a complex social environment and able to communicate effectively.

It is the function of probation staff supervising offenders to try to challenge and change the behaviour and thinking of offenders, to improve their life skills, and always with a focus on the victims and public protection. Probation is the controlled implementation of a supportive punishment; whilst it is a punishment it is not the role of probation staff to be punitive.

Managing offenders in the community and assessing their risks and needs are skilled tasks calling for careful judgement and understanding the offender as a whole person when reaching what could be major decisions. The fragmentation of offender management as already discussed does not assist this. Neither will a variably trained and qualified workforce. It may have gone unnoticed but the training requirements for staff eventually working in commercially owned CRCs are undefined. I have previously expressed concerns about this as the erosion of a consistent theoretical approach to changing offender behaviour presents our communities with serious risks.

So, what to do?
  • retaining offender managers within one overall organisation mitigates the risk of divergent practice but it must be supported by suitable training for all offender managers with a recognised portable qualification;
  • without being elitist, there must be sufficient entry requirements that ensure offender managers and other staff working in probation have the intellectual, emotional and communication capacities for the work which is demanding.
5. Sufficient middle managers to support and guide service delivery staff, and similarly for corporate and support services.

Quite simply, too much is expected of middle managers, made worse by the misinformed review referred to above. Those closest to the quality of the work, be that direct offender supervision or corporate services, are those doing it and their immediate line managers. What I know to be the case is that immediate line managers have been expected to have too great a span of control. They need space to 'enable and ensure' that what their staff are doing makes good sense. What I see to be the case is that somehow the 'enabling' function has slipped off the radar (generally) and that simple 'ensuring' is the order of the day. This resonates, it seems, with the shocking revelations coming out of Rotherham - managers preoccupied with systems (and self) rather than thoughtful reflection with practitioners about practice, be that offender or support focused.

So, what to do?
  • a proper review of the middle manager role and function to ensure a sufficiency of managerial oversight of and support for practitioner staff allowing for proper staff supervision and appraisal.
6. A cost-effective and lean senior management structure with corporate services working to this structure.

I have already alluded to the LDU basis for service delivery and a lean structure above that. Some years ago I proposed the amalgamation of probation services into a regional structure (at a time when geographic regions were recognised as sensible), thereby realising cashable HQ premises, corporate services and senior management savings. It goes without saying that this proposal was not welcomed, especially by the then probation boards and senior managers. Also, at that time, I predicted that if probation boards did not rise up to this challenge then it would be financial pressures in the future that would drive them to this position in any case. It was a classic case of being right at the wrong time, and probably in the wrong way - meaning that it was as good as being wrong.

That said, part of that problem has been addressed by TR, and the structural changes made can now be developed and used to advantage. As I understand it we now have 7 NPS divisions (Wales, London + 5) and 21 CRCs, the NPS divisions with a deputy director (to the NPS national director and his team) and 21 CRC CEOs. This still makes for a total of 28 senior managers for a fairly small business. Now, I am fairly confident that our ex CEO for ASPT could have managed (very effectively) all the LDUs in the South West, as an example. Such a structure could be further enhanced by the Offender Management CEOs (perhaps a total of no more than 9) being supported by a deputy, and each OM division having its corporate services structure. In addition such an approach would immediately reduce the number of HQ premises.

So, what to do?
  • use the TR structural changes as a staging post to a more radical reduction in senior management posts with a primary focus on about 9 offender management 'divisions'.
  • realise the cashable savings from HQ and such staff reductions;
  • align corporate services with this structure.
7. IT that works.

Where to start? Probation has been saddled with inadequate (putting it kindly) and morale sapping IT since I recall the introduction of CRAMS back in the 90's. All I read about (well, mainly) is the endless failure of N-Delius and its repeated 'fixes' and 'work-arounds'. You know you are in trouble when an IT system needs endless 'work-arounds'. The whole system is set to get more complex with the transfer of ownership of the CRCs to commercial enterprises, who will not be bound by N-Delius. On one level this is a good thing as it is such a poor system, but on another we then face the prospect of a plethora of different systems (after a long struggle to get one system for probation) which will inevitably fail to talk to each other. Do not be taken in by reassurances from the MoJ about this - just check the track record. A fragmented IT system can only be even worse.

So, what to do?
  • Just get some people in who actually understand probation and data security issues to design a national probation IT system. Do not allow a fragmented IT system.
8. Simple governance arrangements to separate service delivery responsibilities from policy making to avoid any conflicts of interest or undue influence in the delivery systems and that enable financial and business transparency fully open to public scrutiny.

This is not the time to return to what was. As suggested above, moving to 9 offender management / probation divisions will require 9 governance arrangements. It is wholly inappropriate for the government policy arm to have such a service delivery responsibility (and this applies to HM Prison service also - look how freedom of speech has been restricted and how hidden the current issues in prisons are). There must be some clear blue water between those who have policy responsibilities and the delivery executive. The NDPB structure makes sense in that it enables a degree of independence (regrettably not exercised by most probation trust boards in the implementation of TR). It is both improper and dangerous for policy and executive powers to be in the same hands as political interference is a serious risk (the right argument used by the judiciary). Let's face it, TR is the perfect example of the dangers of implementing unquestionably dangerous political dogma. At a front line level it is questionable whether civil servants (the NPS), bound to do the bidding of politicians, should be giving sentencing advice to the courts. The concept and potentially the practice of 'sufficient independence' is compromised in such an arrangement.

There has been debate about the degree of transparency commercial enterprises should be subject to when delivering public services. Again it is a matter of regret that parliament has decided that the freedom of information act should not apply to the business sector (as I understand it), thereby restricting transparency. All in the name of commercial confidentiality. Is this what we really want - a probation service part of which (the NPS) is effectively gagged and subject to serious risk of political interference and the other (the CRCs) hidden behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality?

So, what to do?
  • a degree of independence must be included in the governance arrangements for probation delivery. Whilst not a fan of 'boards' the proposed offender management / probation divisions need the support of an NDPB structure;
  • the transfer of the CRCs to the commercial sector will inevitably lead to significantly reduced business transparency; another reason to reject this part of the TR process.
9. Understanding that the probation service is a community based operation with the key strategic and operational community partners being the courts, the parole board, the police, local authorities other community providers and that there needs to be an 'offender management relationship' with the prisons.

The 'close association' between probation and prisons has been an unmitigated disaster for probation. This is exactly as predicted by Sir Graham Smith when he was alive, one of the most thoughtful probation leaders we were lucky to have. When NOMS was first established prison leaders refused to 'play ball' as NOMS was led by probation leadership, quickly outmanoeuvred. It was only once prison leaders bullied their way into leading NOMS that they started to at least pay lip service to its establishment. Let's face it, it has been nothing other than a prison take over of probation and, whilst some of the leadership has tried to understand probation all the evidence demonstrates that these attempts have failed. What we now see is the transformation of part of probation (NPS) into a prison service clone, and I don't really think the current political and policy leadership cares too much as to the future of the CRCs.

A relationship between prisons and probation is needed to enable a degree of continuity of service and supervision of released prisoners. But, this does not mean probation and prisons needing to be joined at the hip. As an aside I would not have probation staff located in prisons, but that is another story. Probation is very clearly a community based business, and its primary delivery partners are the police, health and local authorities.

So, what to do?
  • probation needs its own policy leadership, and own minister who would not be hijacked by prison service demands and priorities;
  • the 9 probation divisional directors would be accountable, through their boards, via the probation policy leadership to their minister;
  • a question remains as to the proper departmental location of probation - I could argue it should be in the Home Office as its primary objectives are public protection and reducing crime and reoffending and its close association with the work of the police;
  • the metrics for probation should include crime reduction.
10. Adherence to the 7 principles of public life.

Our probation trust was proud to reference these standards. I repeat them here as they are worthy of a reminder:

Selflessness: Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands it.
Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

********************************************************
Probation is very much like the poorly understood ligament in the body. It joins muscle and bone, has a bad blood supply, is difficult to see with x-rays or ultra-sound and, if ruptured, takes years to repair, about 7 to be exact. A final total rupture can still be avoided.

So, will this make a difference? That is now up to others. And, remember, the truth cannot offend. Oh, and a justice secretary who lives up to the title could be good?

Joe Kuipers, 29 August 2014

Friday, 29 August 2014

Omnishambles Update 65

As I sit in front of a blank screen desperately trying to think of some way to fill it, I can't help noticing that an eerie stillness has descended, and I'm not the only one:- 

Crikey. NAPO conference upcoming, the fight for Probation in a dark hour, and you can see the tumbleweed blowing through this blog, NAPO's homepages too. Jeez. What to do? I am still up for doing whatever it is.

Anyway, in such circumstances we can always resort to kicking Serco, as here in the Independent:- 
Overcharging by outsourcing giant Serco costs NHS millions
Outsourcing giant Serco is embroiled in a fresh misuse of public funds scandal after a company it set up overcharged NHS hospitals millions of pounds, The Independent can reveal.
Internal documents leaked to Corporate Watch indicate Britain’s biggest pathology services provider, which was established by Serco in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals, overcharged the NHS for diagnostic tests.
The venture - first called GSTS and now trading under the name Viapath - has also been dogged by allegations of cost-cutting and clinical failings. Internal documents show increasing concern amongst senior consultants who claimed that staff cuts and a lack of investment since privatisation left some laboratories close to disaster. In internal emails clinicians said the company had an “inherent inability… to understand that you cannot cut corners and put cost saving above quality.” The trust and Viapath say the problems have now been resolved. But this only happened after the intervention of senior medical staff and changes to the structure of the joint venture that reduced Serco’s role.
A 2013 internal audit by the trust into three of the 15 laboratories run by Viapath found its invoicing and billing systems were “unreliable” and contained “material inaccuracies”, amounting to an overcharge of £283,561 over a sample three month period. The auditors found invoices included double-counting of tests charged to the hospitals, with both samples and patients included in bills, and that the Trust had been “indirectly providing a free pathology service” to other NHS bodies by being billed for outside work done. They estimated this could represent approximately £1 million in 2012 alone.
The full scale of the over-charging is not known because a full audit has never been conducted.
It's sobering to be reminded that the crime figures appear to be largely a work of fiction, as discussed here in the Daily Mail:-

Why crime is really UP 50%: Upbeat official figures ignore slew of offences, from card fraud to murder
Millions of card fraud cases are left out of official figures, making a ‘mockery’ of Government figures that crime is falling, it was claimed yesterday.

Damning research shows up to 3.8million bank and credit card frauds are left out of the Crime Survey for England and Wales, distorting the true scale of offending. If they were included, the number of annual offences would rise by 50 per cent, from the record low of 7.3million to 11million a year. It means seven people are defrauded every minute.
For the annual survey, the Office for National Statistics conducts face-to-face interviews with 40,000 people to glean their experiences of crime. But as well as many frauds, it excludes murder and manslaughter because the victim is dead, figures about rape and other sex offences which are calculated differently due to their sensitive nature, and crimes such as drug possession that are considered victimless.
The ONS was criticised last night after it revealed the 3.8million frauds were not in its survey. Card frauds alone were said to be worth £450million last year. It was accused of failing to follow new trends as criminals turn to online fraud and other cyber crimes – such as credit card fraud, bogus online auctions and online dating scams – that often carry softer punishments.
But ONS statisticians said it was difficult to be confident about the scale of plastic card fraud because victims often do not report it, or it is counted twice or more by different bodies such as banks and insurers. The estimate of the scale of card and banking fraud, which would make it the second biggest area of crime after theft, was slipped out last month.
Professor Marion FitzGerald, a criminologist at the University of Kent, said: ‘Ministers were readily persuaded that the Crime Survey represented a gold standard for measuring crime when it started to show a continuous fall from the time Labour took office in 1997. Yet here we have an admission from its own results that crime is 50 per cent higher than the figure it claims.’
I don't know about anyone else, but the shocking news emerging from Rotherham concerning sexual exploitation of children makes me want to hear what Probation has to say about it. Even though many hundreds of referrals must have been made by probation officers to SSD over the time frame involved, and the Probation Service is a statutory agency involved with every Safeguarding Children Board, I've not heard a peep from anyone. As an agency, does Probation come out of all this squeeky clean? This from the Guardian:-
Blatant failures of political and police leadership contributed to the sexual exploitation of 1,400 children in Rotherham over a 16-year period, according to an uncompromising report published in the aftermath of allegations of gang rape and trafficking in the South Yorkshire town.
Written by Prof Alexis Jay, a former chief inspector of social work, the investigation concluded that the council knew as far back as 2005 of sexual exploitation being committed on a wide scale by mostly Asian men, yet failed to act.
This is the fourth report clearly identifying the problem of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham. The first, commissioned by the Home Office back in 2002, contained "severe criticisms" of the police and local council for their indifference to what was happening under their noses. But instead of tackling the issue, senior police and council officers claimed the data in the report had been "fabricated or exaggerated", and subjected the report's author to "personal hostility," leading to "suspicions of collusion and cover up", said Jay.
Council and other officials sometimes thought youth workers were exaggerating the exploitation problem. Sometimes they were afraid of being accused of racism if they talked openly about the perpetrators in the town mostly being Pakistani taxi drivers. 
Roger Stone, Rotherham's Labour council leader since 2003, said that he had stepped down with immediate effect following the publication of the Jay inquiry. "I believe it is only right that I, as leader, take responsibility on behalf of the council for the historic failings that are described so clearly in the report and it is my intention to do so," he said.
Jahangir Akhtar, the former deputy leader of the council, is accused in the report of naivety and potentially "ignoring a politically inconvenient truth" by insisting there was not a deep-rooted problem of Pakistani-heritage perpetrators targeting young white girls. Police told the inquiry that some influential Pakistani councillors in Rotherham acted as barriers to communication on grooming issues.
On a number of occasions, victims of sexual abuse were criminalised – arrested for being drunk – while their abusers continued to act with impunity. Vital evidence was ignored, Jay said, with police apparently trying to manipulate their figures for child sexual exploitation by removing from their monitoring process girls who were pregnant or had given birth, plus all looked after children in care.
Jay concluded that from 1997-2013, Rotherham's most vulnerable girls, some as young as 11, were raped by large numbers of men. Others were trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated, with some children doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight if they told anyone what had happened.
No case involving Rotherham men came to court until November 2010 when five "sexual predators" were convicted of grooming three girls, two aged 13 and one 15, all under children's social care supervision, before using them for sex. In the past 12 months, 15 people have been prosecuted or charged with child sexual exploitation offences in Rotherham.
Meanwhile this story amply demonstrates the dangers of speaking up and daring to contradict Chris Grayling's assertion that there is no crisis in the prison system:-

Prison officer facing action for speaking out about Lewes Prison
A serving prison officer is being investigated by her bosses for speaking out about conditions inside Lewes Prison. Kim Lennon, 47, from Lewes, revealed problems with overcrowding and staff shortages to The Argus earlier this month. Four days later she received a letter from the prison governor Nigel Foote telling her he had ordered an investigation due to allegations she had “failed to meet the required standards of behaviour expected of staff”. He has asked investigators to look into allegations Ms Lennon “has potentially discredited the Prison Service by disclosing official information”.
Ms Lennon, currently signed off work sick due to stress, said she does not regret speaking out. She said: “I have told the truth. If I get fired for that I think that would be unjust. “The staff are behind me but a lot have not been brave enough to speak out. “I am a good officer and I am sick to death of the way prisoners and staff have been treated.
Ms Lennon, who has worked at Lewes for ten years, told The Argus staff were demoralised, overworked, up to 20 were off sick and drugs use was “rife” inside the male-only prison. “I will defend my job because I love my job, but at the moment I am taking it one day at a time.” She spoke to The Argus on the same day that chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick revealed a rapid rise in prisoner suicide rates were due to overcrowding and staff shortages. A Prison Service spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate to comment during an ongoing disciplinary process."
Finally, we know there is effectively an MoJ news clampdown on anything going on in prison at the moment, so we have to resort to reports such as this from interested parties:-
I followed an ambulance into work today. During 1st movement to work a prisoner was stabbed in the head. The talk is that the police are treating it as Attempted Murder. Too early to say what actually happened because the prison is reluctant to share any information with staff. There are so few staff actually able to supervise movement this will always be a potential flash point. A Parole Board Panel was in today so they too know that there was an incident. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Napo Special

I notice that Napo have just published the Notice of Motions for the AGM in Scarborough and apart from the unsurprising number that relate to the TR omnishambles, there's absolutely nothing that will frighten the horses. Nothing that seeks to deal with Napo's internal dysfunctional management and leadership, and nothing about there being no Judicial Review. The General Secretary must be very pleased with himself indeed, but of course there's plenty of time for amendments up until 25th September.

This motion caught my eye, but I'm mystified by 'Probation Service - A Future that Works'. Is it a book, a report, a campaign or an aspiration?
Since probation was split on 1 June 2014 the service has been in utter chaos. Napo knows things will get worse as long as the service remains split, even if we are successful in fighting off proposed privatisation ahead of the General Election. It is therefore important that, whilst continuing to oppose privatisation and pointing out what is wrong with the current structures, we now present strong arguments for a better alternative model.

Napo believes that there is an alternative model: “Probation Service – A future that works” and resolves to take the following actions:
• to actively promote “Probation Service – A future that works”. This includes to politicians, the media, the public, other unions and stakeholders (including potential bidders), up to, including and beyond the General Election in May 2015;
• continue to highlight the crisis that has arisen from the split and Grayling’s pursuit of the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation Agenda’, including risks to the safety of staff, the public and taxpayers’ resources; 
• continue to work with TUC ‘Speak up for Justice’ to raise awareness of the meltdown of the justice system and to promote a workable, affordable alternative; 
• continue to oppose the threatened sale of CRC contracts, whilst continuing to call for an independent review and evidence based change (incorporating analysis of pilots) as outlined in the TUC report ‘Justice For Sale – the privatisation of offender management services’.
Proposer: Chris Pearson
Seconder: Megan Elliott
The Lobby of Parliament is less than a week away and I see we have Mike Rayfield to thank via Facebook for the running order:-
Room 14 John McDonnell Chair Sadiq Khan 2.10 Katie Lomas 2.20 David Chantler 2.25 Sarah Champion 2.30 Mike Rayfield 2.35 Ian Lawrence 2.40 Contributions from the floor From 2.50
Room 11 Elfyn Llwyd Chair Jenny Chapman 2.10 Tracey Worth 2.20 Joe Kuipers 2.25 Ian Lavery 2.30 Jamie Overland 2.35 Tania Bassett 2.40 Contributions from the floor From 2.50

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Prison in Crisis 4

Contrary to what Chris Grayling might say about there being no crisis in the prison system, here's Rob Allen on his Unlocking Potential blog with a round-up from numerous Independent Monitoring Boards, pretty much all saying there most certainly is:-
Chris Grayling Must Accept Whats Happening in Prisons 
One imagines the election can’t come quickly enough for Chris Grayling. Whatever the outcome, he’ll be freed from responsibility for a prison system that is rapidly deteriorating in front, if not of his eyes, then those of almost all who work in and visit jails.

While he may not think so, as a society we are indeed lucky that the Prison Inspectorate (HMIP) and local monitoring boards (IMB’s) can catalogue for us the impact of the cuts which he and his predecessor have imposed on the service; and to signal the dangers they pose to security, control and justice in prisons. As Zola put it, "if you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way".
Much has been made of the stinging criticisms in Nick Hardwick’s recent reports. But the annual reports of IMB’s - the local people who visit prisons week in week out are to some extent more telling. IMB’s sometimes have a reputation of being too close to the prison management and too much part of the local establishment – I met an IMB chair last year who had first been appointed by Roy Jenkins. But the reports they send to the Justice department each year are born of familiarity with the day to day life of the prison which HMIP cannot easily capture.
What is striking about recent reports is the concern about the impact of the benchmarking process which has been used to determine adequate staffing numbers.
Take two very different prisons both given reasonably positive reports last year by HMIP and both rated a 3 - meeting the majority of their targets- in the latest NOMS performance table. At Liverpool, a large local jail, the IMB reported that members, when performing their duties on the wings, “have noted with considerable concern, the low ratio between Prison Officers and prisoners. If staffing levels were reduced further, the Board feels that the capability of prison staff to contain any incident that may take place would seriously compromise staff.” At Erlestoke, a small Training prison “the Board continues to be concerned about the staff to offender ratios, particularly on the residential wings. There are times during the day when only one officer is on duty, responsible for over approximately 50 offenders. The Board considers this to be unsafe for the officer and for offenders”.
At Nottingham, the IMB reported that the reduced staffing levels which came into effect in September 2013 as a result of the nationally imposed benchmarking operation, have severely stretched the prison’s resources, resulting in frequent cancellation of education, library, work, exercise sessions and gym sessions together with the virtual collapse of an effective Personal Officer scheme. At Norwich, officials from the Department of Work and Pensions do not consider the reduced staffing levels provide enough safety for them to visit prisoners in the activities block. At Portland, the IMB questioned whether the prison could continue to function humanely and efficiently at even the most basic level, if there are further financial cuts.
Other Boards describe some of the impacts of those cuts and of overcrowding, whether it is prisoners forced to urinate on the floor of vans outside Norwich prison, cells measuring less than 6.5 square metres being used for two prisoners at Lewes or lack of sufficient prisoner clothing at Lincoln. Some of this treatment, including the growing incidence of abuse of prisoners by cell mates and other prisoners - could easily be found inhuman and degrading were it brought before the European Court of Human Rights .
While he is likely to be dismissive of any such findings, it is difficult to see how Grayling can simply continue to ignore the findings of the Boards or the Inspectors. Both the HMIP and IMB’s form part of an internationally authorised body aimed at preventing ill treatment in places of detention in the UK - the so called National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). Under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the UK government has agreed (at article 22) to examine the recommendations of the NPM“ and enter into a dialogue with it on possible implementation measures.”
Such a dialogue is therefore not simply an urgent practical necessity but a legal requirement. Grayling will surely wish to comply with the Ministerial Code which places (at 1.2) an overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations.
This article in the Independent last week addresses the basis Grayling uses for denying there is any crisis:- 
Mr Grayling’s disputed claims focus on three main areas:
Violence
Mr Grayling carefully selected his statistics to claim – correctly – that the number of prisoner fights and assaults was lower compared with five years ago and two years ago. But not compared with the other three most recent years that he chose to ignore. Attacks have increased in the last year, and the most serious of them were higher in 2013-14 than in any of the last five. The number of assaults on staff is also at its highest since 2007. Other figures point to simmering violence within the prison estate. The prison service’s riot squad was called out more than 200 times last year, a near 60 per cent rise compared with the previous 12 months.
Prison numbers
The minister claimed that the two per cent increase in prison numbers was to a “significant extent” down to the jailing of more sex offenders. There has been a rise of sex offenders of 652 to 11,150 in the year to March 31 but his department’s own figures show a greater cause for the rise is the number of prisoners who are waiting longer to go on trial or to be sentenced after conviction.

Courts have been unable to cope with the extra demands. That has led to an 11 per cent increase in remand prisoners, equating to more than 1,200 prisoners – nearly double that of sex offenders. And while the Government has trumpeted falling crime, stiffer sentences have kept the prison population rising.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The rise in convictions of people for historical sex offences is a relatively small driver behind the increase in the prison population. More significant are the facts that remand is being overused and ‘tough-on-crime’ political rhetoric is influencing sentencers’ behaviour.”
Staff shortages
The Howard League has calculated that prison officer numbers have dropped by 30 per cent between 2010 and 2013 during austerity cuts. It said that staffing cuts had led to a dangerous situation with inmates being locked up for longer in their cells, and library visits being cancelled. Mr Grayling said, “We are meeting those challenges; we are recruiting more staff”. 
Especially at the MoJ, incompetence can play its part, and here's a story on the BBC website:-
The Ministry of Justice has been fined £180,000 for "serious failings" in the handling of confidential data.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said the penalty was related to the loss of a hard drive containing the details of almost 3,000 prisoners at Erlestoke prison in Wiltshire. The disk was not encrypted. The records, lost in 2013, included material on organised crime, prisoners' health and drug misuse, and information about inmates' victims and visitors.
After a similar incident in 2011, in which the details of 16,000 prisoners was lost on a disk that was not protected, the Ministry of Justice issued the Prison Service with new back-up hard drives that could be encrypted. However, the government body failed to explain to employees that the encryption option had to be switched on manually. As a result, the data lost was unprotected, and could be accessed by the finder of the hard drive. The ICO head of enforcement, Stephen Eckersley, said: 
"The fact that a government department with security oversight for prisons can supply equipment to 75 prisons throughout England and Wales without properly understanding, let alone telling them, how to use it, beggars belief. The result was that highly sensitive information about prisoners and vulnerable members of the public, including victims, was insecurely handled for over a year." He added: "We hope this penalty sends a clear message that organisations must not only have the right equipment available to keep people's information secure, but must understand how to use it."
A standard, predictable response from the MoJ spin doctors:- 
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "We take data protection issues very seriously and have made significant and robust improvements to our data security measures. "These hard drives have now been replaced with a secure centralised system." She added: "Incidents like this are extremely rare and there is no evidence to suggest that any personal data got into the public domain."
All ok now then, it would seem.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Omnishambles Update 64

Whilst half asleep and listening to the radio at the weekend, I'm sure I heard something about Universal Credit creating lots of debt for claimants and how the DWP was having to 'step in' and offer help. 

The official spokesperson said 'this was the reason the government was running a pilot in Warrington so as to discover if there were any problems'. I remember thinking it's a bloody shame the government didn't think the same before rolling out TR, but the trouble is I can't find the damned report anywhere. I did find this though in the Guardian:-
Spending watchdog accuses DWP of hiding universal credit's failings
Parliament's public spending watchdog has today accused ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions of hiding the failings of the coalition's troubled universal credit scheme. The public accounts committee said the decision to devise a new category of "resetting" projects could have been a way of preventing scrutiny and obscuring problems.
Universal credit is the £2.4bn centrepiece of Iain Duncan Smith's reform programme and involves merging six different benefits, with the claimant receiving a single monthly household payment. Ministers started implementing it three years ago, but have been criticised by successive watchdogs for failing to come clean about the problems the DWP has experienced with the technology.
The assessment comes in a report by MPs on the Major Projects Authority, the government watchdog responsible for assessing the scheme's implementation. According to the report, the DWP, in consultation with the MPA, published their delivery confidence assessment of the universal credit project as "reset" in September 2013. It was a new term that appeared to have been devised specifically for the the new programme, committee members said.
"We are particularly concerned that the decision to award a 'reset' rating to the universal credit project was an attempt to keep information secret and prevent scrutiny," the report said.
There are many similarities between the Universal Credit programme and TR and of course the formers introduction is going to seriously affect the lives of many probation clients and make any rehabilitation that much more difficult. Just as a reminder, this is why it's also going to fail as outlined as far back as January by the New Statesman:- 
Five reasons Universal Credit will fail - even if they sort out the IT
Another week, another government blunder on Universal Credit. Most attacks on Iain Duncan Smith have been about the administrative shambles at the top. But there are problems just as serious on the ground - and eight million unemployed and low income claimants will suffer the consequences. Here are five key problem areas we can expect to hear more about as a larger number of claimants are transferred to the new benefit. 
1. Claimants have to manage benefits online
Under the new system, all benefit claimants will ultimately have to apply for and manage their benefits online. Many will be unable to do this. Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) research released last month suggests two-thirds of their clients will fail without significant help. For some, it's a lack of digital skills and confidence. The government promises support - but it's hard to imagine austerity-obsessed ministers laying on tailored training sessions for several million claimants. Cash-strapped charities and councils are not likely to plug the gap either. It's also not enough to be digitally literate. Computers and the internet are expensive, particularly on £71.70 a week. Libraries are not the obvious solution they may first seem - 1,000 will have closed by 2016, travel is costly and even impossible in rural areas, and public computers are often time-limited and oversubscribed. 
2. Tenants pay their landlords directly
Universal Credit rolls housing, unemployment and other benefits into one. Currently, around a quarter of housing benefit claimants have their money paid to their landlord directly, because they are seen as "vulnerable" or have previously missed payments. The government wants them to take responsibility for paying rent themselves, and will transfer the money into their bank accounts for them to do so.

Landlords recently warned this may stop them letting to Universal Credit claimants as they fear tenants will be unwilling or unable to pay their rent. Arrears rose from around £20,000 to £140,000 among council tenants in Torfaen, Wales, just seven months after a pilot of the new system began. Housing associations in some trial areas have had to hire new staff to chase up residents in arrears. Part of the problem lies in access to banking. Nearly half of the CAB's clients were unable to pay priority bills using a bank account:

Some need help understanding how they can use direct debits and standing orders. Others do not feel comfortable using services that seemingly undermine their ability to control the money that comes out of their pocket. Money may be tight, or they may fear becoming overdrawn and incurring charges. But much of the problem is linked to the challenges of budgeting on a low income, something not helped by a further part of the Universal Credit reforms - monthly payments. 
3. Claimants receive the benefit monthly
Paying out Universal Credit in a single monthly sum makes budgeting far more difficult as money has to be made to last a far longer period. Claimants currently receive different benefits across the month. According to the CAB, many will struggle to "adapt existing patterns of managing their money to spread their costs". Paying housing benefit to claimants only makes the challenge harder. It will be the first time some have had thousands of pounds lining their accounts.
"If you have more money, it is tempting to use it to cover other, more immediate pressures," said Richard Goodman, a CAB manager in Hammersmith, where Universal Credit has already been rolled out. Keeping warm, getting three meals a day and replacing children's school shoes are often greater priorities than rent. Some CAB clients also lacked basic budgeting skills. As with IT, there are fears that government funding for support will be inadequate. Goodman, whose branch currently offer budgeting lessons to those requesting it, says: "We're worried we won't be able to satisfy demand." 
4. Officials are unprepared for difficult cases
So far Universal Credit has only been piloted and rolled out in a handful of areas for several thousand claimants. Only the simplest cases - single, first-time claimants without dependents - have been included in the trials and phased launch. Goodman suggested this initial group is likely to be mainly young people, and to pose fewer problems than other claimant types. One can only assume Duncan Smith is more interested in a smooth rollout that appears "successful" than in learning from the harder cases - the long-term unemployed, immigrants, single parents, large families, the sick and the disabled. As Goodman put it:

It’s a soft launch. It doesn’t stress-test the system. For instance, claimants will probably have greater digital literacy than others with more complicated circumstances. If they’re dogmatic about the 2017 deadline, they’ll squeeze a lot of people onto universal credit without fully testing it. And that means systems crashing, people not being paid and lots of hardship and misery. 
5. The cost of living has not been addressed
Budgeting to the last penny is tough on any income, let alone incomes under sustained attack. Half a million people have been forced to turn to food banks, and there is little to suggest the queues will shorten any time soon. With energy firms hiking prices, landlords increasing rents and affordable housebuilding slowing to a trickle, the rising cost of living means every penny has to go further for unemployed and low-income families. 
Four in five new jobs pay under £8 an hour, and are often precarious. 2.4 million people are unemployed, chasing 0.8 million vacancies. Benefits have been slashed, capped, frozen and abolished across the board, their recipients stigmatised and sanctioned with ever greater ferocity. All in all, shoving eight million people onto a botched new benefit in such circumstances is a toxic recipe for debt, arrears, eviction, poverty and distress. Will the Prime Minister evict Iain Duncan Smith, too, in a reshuffle before 2015? Sadly, even if he gets the chop, there seems little prospect of millionaire IDS having to sign on to universal credit for a taste of his own medicine.
Of course the real reason for the changes was revealed back in September last year on The Void blogsite:-
For over two years now Iain Duncan Smith has been pretending that his brutal and bodged welfare reforms have been about encouraging people back to work and making that work pay.
Throughout this period it has often been suggested that a more brutal social security system is really intended to increase competition for jobs and allow employers to force down wages and working conditions for everyone. Vastly increased benefit conditionality has led to hundreds of thousands of benefit claims being stopped or sanctioned. With workfare or destitution the only option left for those unable to find a job, exploitative employers have free reign to treat workers like shit, knowing full well if they leave, or are sacked, they will face increasingly desperate poverty.
Few have been cynical enough to suggest that Universal Credit will also make it easier for employers to casualise their existing workforce and make it easier to cut worker’s hours in times of ‘business troughs’. Yet just released DWP guidance for employers explaining Universal Credit suggests that this – along with increasing competition for jobs – is the real thinking behind the new benefit regime.
From the DWP’s own website (PDF): 
"How does it affect my business?
Universal Credit will have a positive effect on your business as you will:
  • find it easier to fill any job as more jobseekers will be willing to consider short term or irregular work  
  • be able to identify opportunities for flexible working using your existing part time employees to meet business peaks and troughs, without the overheads associated with recruiting and training new staff  
  • have access to a wider pool of applicants for your jobs, many of whom are registered on our Universal Jobmatch service, to help you fill your job vacancies quicker.
At least the DWP are telling the truth for once.
Talking of massive government IT failures, I was interested to see that Dame Ursula Brennan has been sitting on a government Taskforce looking into the whole sorry affair. Well-versed in the MoJ IT failures, she would appear to be highly qualified for such a role. They have just published a report:-
Government IT offers many challenges but, it seems, few solutions that satisfy everyone. There is a well-documented history of too many high-profile and costly failures. This is rarely the fault of the underpinning technology: policy complexity, late additions to already-long lists of requirements; inadequate change management processes; and a failure to bring users fully in to the picture, all play their part. As with many organisations, there remains a critical dependence on legacy systems for large transaction processing, with the consequent need to deal with interoperability between systems. These issues haven’t suffered from a lack of analysis: the National Audit Office; the Public Accounts Committee; and many other commentators all have opinions and viewpoints on what needs to be done to put matters right. However, the plain fact is that problems continue, despite forceful recommendations from powerful groups about how to improve the process so that government does better.  
This letter in the Guardian outlines the situation with education in prison, again not helping with rehabilitation one jot:-
Prison education is imperilled by cuts 
The news that A4e is terminating its contract to deliver education at 12 London prisons because it cannot make a profit (Report13 August) will hit those teaching in the sector hard. In our report Prison Educators: Professionalism Against the Odds, written with the University and College Union, we discovered that the small group of teachers in prisons are older than the average for further education, better qualified but less well paid, with fewer holidays. They are positive about the benefits of education in prison, highly motivated and enthusiastic.
But the view given by those teachers is that prison education is no longer a viable career and is losing its potential to play a positive part in the rehabilitative process. Teachers’ most frequent complaint is about the pressures of constant retendering. As one put it: “Changing employer every three years is not beneficial to a department. It can take up to two years to get properly acquainted and set up smoothly with a new employer. Changing so often is unsettling for staff and does not allow continuity of systems for learners.” Quite possibly this respondent will soon have another employer to notch up.
Education in prisons remains one of the few ways available to change a prisoner’s life trajectory. Yet the process of outsourcing, with its cycle of retendering, budget cuts and ever-greater exhortations to “efficiency”, has led to a regime where prisoners spend ever-greater amounts of time in their cells doing nothing that will help move them on.
Short-contract outsourcing of education for the prison sector has failed to deliver a service that prisoners, prison educators and the public have a right to expect. Prison education is dying a death by a thousand cuts. The prison population is just under 85,000; we send a greater proportion of our population to prison than any other country in Europe and they spend longer incarcerated than in other European countries. Rehabilitation must be the overriding aim of the service, not simply the narrow focus on job skills. 
Prof Jane Hurry, Prof Greg Brooks, Margaret Simonot, Anita Wilson, Brian CreeseCentre for education in the criminal justice system, Institute of Education
There's an excellent comment piece on tagging by Frances Crook and Mike Nellis on the politics.co.uk website:-
Secret plans to GPS tag 75,000 people show privatisation is out of control
We understand the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been planning to put 75,000 men and women on GPS tracking under new outsourcing contracts. It is currently unclear who these people will be, why they would be tagged and how much it will cost. This is an ideological use of justice money. Planning to place them on GPS tracking represents a sea change in the way we supervise people in the community. It's a crazy, unworkable plan, but even to come up with it suggests something transformational is going on in criminal justice - especially as it coincides with the untested and risky privatisation of the probation service.
The plan needs far more open discussion than it has had and the MoJ should have been much more honest about the projected numbers, the time scale and the people who will be targeted. The GPS tracking scheme will start in 2015, yet the plan has, in effect, been secret.
How was the figure of 75,000 arrived at? Does it include prisoners released on temporary licence? It seems to - but how many? Release on temporary licence mostly works well as it is. Only a few prisoners might warrant GPS. Is there any serious penal basis for it? Or is the figure market-driven - a minimum or optimum number necessary to persuade potential contractors to submit a tender?
There are a limited number of useful ways in which GPS tracking could be used - none of which get anywhere near a figure of 75,000. France, the Netherlands and Germany all use GPS tracking on some high risk sexual and violent offenders, but mostly we are talking low hundreds - and often less than a 100.
Some police forces have experimented with the use of GPS tracking on a voluntary basis with "persistent and priority offenders" but the numbers are very small and the tracking is part of a holistic package that includes housing and intensive personal support.
These projects are working with people who want to desist from crime and the tracking is a positive way that they can prove their commitment to it. Their tracks show whether or not they are at crime scenes. These voluntary schemes aimed at helping people out of a life of crime are the opposite of the government's new plan to place tens of thousands of people under surveillance in order to boost the profits of the private security companies.
The numbers being proposed are baffling and it looks like the MoJ itself is, yet again, in a muddle. Last week, the MoJ confirmed the figure of 75,000 people on GPS, then it backtracked and showered a senior financial journalist investigating the story with other figures to explain its 'plan'. The MoJ appears to be confused and it is impossible to get a coherent explanation. Probably it has gone into overdrive to kill the story.
The MoJ is being very secretive about GPS and doesn't want to let anyone know what its plans are. Those plans may well be a mess rather than a conspiracy. Seventy-five-thousand per day was never a plausible or realistic goal, even though that is what they asked would-be contractors to aspire to in 2012. It's possible the ministry has realised that now.
But whichever explanation turns out to be true, the secrecy surrounding the transformation of the justice system is unacceptable.
Prison
Back to the subject of prison, I've been meaning to highlight a fairly recent blog Prison UK : An Insider's View:- 
This is a new Blog and is intended to serve as a source of useful information for people who may face being sent to prison in the UK and who need factual advice or guidance. It is also intended as a forum in which to answer questions from family and friends of people serving prison sentences, as well as members of the general public or media who are curious about life inside British prisons. It doesn't claim to have all the answers, but it will try to provide information, advice and personal opinions. It will also aim to dispel some of the more common myths about prisons and prisoners.

The author was until recently a serving prisoner who has had a lot of experience as an Insider, a prisoner who has the job of supporting and advising other prisoners, particularly those who are new to the prison system. He also trained as a peer mentor and worked extensively in prison education departments to help other prisoners improve their literacy skills. He served his sentence in B-cats, C-cats and a D-cat (open prison).
It's extremely good, very well-written and I'm hugely envious of the author's attention to detail with the layout and number of illustrations. I think it's one of the best blogs around on the topic and I highly recommend it.

Finally, I find this twitter quote from Prof David Wilson, Professor of Criminology Birmingham City University; Vice Chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform; Editor of the Howard Journal, extremely disturbing:-
Sources say President of PGA - Eion Mclennan-Murray threatened by MoJ about making further comments re "crisis" in prisons. Disgraceful.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Minister Explains

20th June 2014
Dear Sarah
Early day Motion 111
There are two bidders left in Cornwall for the sorry remains of Probation, (your governments line is that there should be three bidders for this to be a legal and competitive process) and rumours abound that the discredited US based company “Sentinel” is to be allowed into the ring. When I met Mr Grayling and yourself earlier this month he justified this whole TR fiasco with the claim that this would bring about the supervision of short term offenders. Not to happen “any time soon” it transpires.
What follows is a pro forma letter which has been sent to members of NAPO with a view to having these sent on to local MPs. I am most grateful for your continuing concern and your positive response to my many communications with you. Please PLEASE support this EDM. I have broken ranks to highlight the chaos that is unfolding... it was the right thing to do, but it was a major decision for me to put my loyalty to my leadership lower than my loyalty to my profession, my sense of justice, and my duty to the public. Now is the time for you to make the same ethical calculations. 
Yours sincerely,
Su McConnel

19/8/14
Dear Su,
I enclose the further response I have now received from Chris Grayling MP, Secretary of State for Justice, in reply to my recent letter on your behalf.
I hope the information contained in the Secretary of State’s response is helpful to you in further outlining the current Government stance on the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. As ever do let me know if I can provide further assistance to you and your colleagues in this time of change.
I remain grateful for your input.
Yours sincerely
Mrs Sarah Newton MP

12/8/14
Dear Sarah
TRANSFORMING REHABILITATION
Thank you for your letter of 17 July, forwarding on correspondence from your constituent Mrs Su McConnel, concerning our Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. I am replying as the Secretary of State for Justice.
Let me begin by reassuring you and Mrs McConnel that we understand the importance of rolling out these reforms in a measured, orderly way while ensuring that public safety is maintained. We are therefore taking a staged approach to implementation which will enable us to make sure the system works. This is why we have first restructured the existing Probation Service. This means that providers, at the end of the competition, can take on viable going concerns. As you are aware, transition to the new probation structures took place on 1 June and the National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) are now live. Thorough, externally assured business and systems readiness testing was constructed to review key activities that had to be completed prior to transition on 1 June. We remain satisfied that the business was ready to make that transition and we will conduct further testing as we head towards contract signature. The period from 1 June up to contract signature, when the CRCs and NPS are both in public ownership, provides the opportunity for the new operational processes to be further embedded and to ensure the system is stable prior to contract signature.
Your constituent wrote about EDM111, which raised concerns about the ICT supporting the reformed system. The Programme Team has carried out robust testing of the ICT changes, both centrally and across a number of Probation Trusts. Results of the tests informed the final preparation work for the ICT changes to ensure that there was minimal impact on business operations as a consequence of these changes. The tests are also informing how the new processes will operate once implemented. We will use the time while the entire system remains in public ownership to embed and stabilise these changes.
Furthermore, the data reconciliation work carried out after the migration confirmed that cases had been successfully moved across and that none had been lost. Under the new structures, staff have new roles which require them to have access to different information. It is possible that some staff believe that records have disappeared simply because they no longer have access to them. In some cases the Role Based Access Controls permissions meant that some probation staff had difficulty accessing some files but we have been working to deal with this issue. This is being resolved locally using guidance provided from the programme which can be resolved by local ICT managers.
In addition to the issues raised in the EDM, Mrs McConnel also expressed concerns about the range of bidders in the competition, and the Government's commitment to introduce support for short sentenced offenders. I would like to reassure Mrs McConnel that we have a robust and diverse market. The list of bidders who passed the first stage of the competition to win the regional rehabilitation contracts included a mix of private and voluntary sector partnerships with more than 50 organisations represented. Bids were received at the end of June and we have a healthy competition in all areas. The process to award the CRC contracts is ongoing and the details of which bidders remain in the competition are commercially sensitive information, which it would not be right to make public at this stage.
Additionally, I can confirm that we firmly believe that support for short-sentenced offenders is critical to reducing reoffending. We introduced the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 to make changes to the sentencing and release framework for offenders and, in particular, to extend release on licence to offenders released from custodial sentences of less than 12 months, and to create an additional supervision period after licence for offenders released from sentences of less than two years. We plan to commence the relevant provisions of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 at the point when ownership of the new CRCs transfers to successful bidders.
I enclose a copy of this letter for you to share with Mrs McConnel, should you wish to do so.
With best wishes
Chris Grayling