Friday, 24 October 2014

Latest From Napo 41

Dear members

Judicial Review Update

This message is going to Napo members via your preferred e-mail address. It is to advise you that in light of the response received by Napo today from the Treasury Solicitor (on behalf of the Secretary of State), a very short further period of time is being given for the Secretary of State to respond to our substantive points. The Officers and myself have taken Counsel’s advice before reaching this decision.

The Secretary of State has however now confirmed that no CRC contracts will be signed for the sale of CRCs before 24 November 2014.

Napo will obviously do all that it can to ensure that members are kept up to date with developments and it is anticipated that another members’ mail out will follow on Tuesday of next week.

Ian Lawrence General Secretary and the Napo Officers Group

Taking Stock

I thought it was high time to have a bit of a reflection on things as it's been a manic couple of weeks, and likely to get more so as we lead up to the long-awaited announcement as to who has won the poisoned chalice that the former gold cup world-class probation service has become.

As I write this, we are now well into week 21 of the TR omnishambles and regular readers will know that each Sunday I publish a compendium of the most astonishing examples of how Chris Grayling has managed to destroy a 100 year-old proud, professional and well-functioning public service that was the envy of other nations. 

Belying the MoJ spin and bullshit that these are just 'teething problems', astonishing comments like these are routine:-
TR has turned Probation into a bloody shambles. I have never, in all of my days, seen an organisation destroyed by institutionalised incompetence the scale of that displayed by the MoJ during the last six months. I am ashamed to be associated with this farce. Deeply ashamed. I am surrounded by capable and experienced professionals who have been totally compromised by half-wits and fools. This is dangerous. This is stupidity on a national scale. A joke perpetuated by charlatans.
I'm with you. Ashamed, embarrassed, depressed and powerless. Actively looking for a different job. I do not want my name or reputation associated with this horror story. Two colleagues in tears today. These are professional, capable people. Reduced to this.
There are 20 weeks-worth of stuff like this, but every single one is anonymous. They have to be because draconian warnings are regularly issued by the MoJ and their CRC CEO puppets about any member of staff found to have been saying anything negative about this whole bloody mess. It's clear that if anyone is caught they will face disciplinary action and possible dismissal, just for posting something deemed as negative on any social media site. 

The MoJ has its sad bunch of minders tasked with trawling the internet on a daily basis, down in the dimly-lit Petty France bunker, looking for anything that might 'bring the service into disrepute'. Quite ironic when you think about it, as it's their boss Chris Grayling who has managed that all on his own. 

It's not just sad, it should be worrying to anyone who cares about our democracy that the government is able to get away with this, not least because the media in all its forms routinely seems to show zero interest in anything that comes from anonymous sources. In the absence of a martyr stepping forward as a sacrificial lamb, it looks like we can keep cataloguing mountains of this evidence 'til we're blue in the face - it simply doesn't get effectively reported. One of the biggest disasters to ever befall one of our key public services goes almost unnoticed because no names can be attached to the information coming in daily. I think that in itself is a bloody story!

Of course it's just a matter of time before some horrible disaster unfolds as a result of this mad and dangerous TR plan and there's still plenty of scope for 'whistleblowing', especially when or if the privateers are unwise enough to get involved in a line of business they know absolutely nothing about. I'm told the MoJ has been been blown away by the scale of the ignorance displayed by some of the bidders, and yet the whole mad scheme is still being 'spun' as a good news story. Bidders need to have in mind the recent example of Tesco and what has happened to the share price when a single 'whistleblower' told the truth about dodgy practices just in adding numbers up.    

Then there's been our little local difficulty with the union. It took a mammoth kick to get any bloody movement on a legal challenge, but at long last things are in train and despite the fear deliberately fostered by the MoJ, fortunately plenty of colleagues have been willing to come forward and give evidence as to the true horror of TR. 

Given the strength of feeling, Napo dare not dither any longer in relation to a legal challenge, or the union is history. I'm sure this message has finally registered with both the MoJ and bidders as well. We all owe a special vote of thanks to Joanna Hughes and colleagues for their ongoing intrepid and tenacious work behind the scenes in trying to make sure this fight is prosecuted with the utmost vigour. I have to put it in these terms because we continually hear plaintive messages such as this on twitter from our continuing ally Harry Fletcher:-
MOJ aiming to sign off in next 2/3 weeks, maybe less. MPs desperately need evidence of chaos to argue the speed is unsafe.
The question surely needs to be asked, why are MPs desperately needing evidence of chaos to argue the speed is unsafe, when Napo has an officer supposedly tasked with this very job? Why don't we hear more questions in Parliament about this whole sorry saga? Dame Ursula Brennan is appearing before the Justice Affairs Committee next Tuesday 28th October. Can we safely assume members of this key committee have been adequately briefed? 

We know the announcement regarding preferred bidders is due very soon, appropriately timed for Halloween week and 'trick or treat'. When it comes, we need to make sure there's a cacophony of noise lest anyone think we've 'got over' the split and are resigned to just playing along and quietly seeing this omnishambles through, destroying as it does our profession. It might be worth noting this, also from Harry, indicating there's likely to be a propaganda war being cunningly planned for next week:-
MoJ thought be be compiling list of influential twitters ie reality and truth. So twitters beware!!
Time to move things up a gear me thinks. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Countdown to Save a Profession

Mark Leftly writing in today's Independent:-
Probation service sell-off faces legal challenge from unions

Exclusive: Napo is hoping to block the MoJ’s plans, partly because the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling did not pilot the reforms
Government efforts to part-privatise the probation service may end up in the courts, unless the Ministry of Justice reveals a raft of confidential information, including the results of safety tests into the new structure.

The FTSE 100 giant Capita, rail-to-social housing group Amey, and French caterer Sodexo are among those companies waiting to see if they have won the right to run 70 per cent of the service, in deals worth at least £5bn over 10 years. The MoJ is expected to name preferred bidders to run 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), which will oversee all but the most dangerous offenders, by the end of this month.

However, the service has suffered a series of acute problems since June, when it was reorganised from 35 Probation Trusts into 21 CRCs and a National Probation Service, which remains government-run and monitors the most risky offenders. IT systems have failed, case files have been lost and there have been numerous warnings of threats to public safety.

In letter a threatening the MoJ with a judicial review, the Napo probation union’s lawyer, Slater & Gordon, has gathered examples of how the public and officers have come into danger as, allegedly, the result of the confusion caused by the reforms.

These include members of two rival gangs being invited into a probation building at the same time, and a murderer being invited to join a programme to rehabilitate a group of domestic violence offenders.

Napo is hoping to block the MoJ’s plans, partly because the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling did not pilot the reforms. Mr Grayling believes that private sector management will make the service more efficient, but Slater & Gordon has given him until 4pm on Friday to disclose information to prove his argument.

The lawyers intend to force an injunction for breach of duty of care and a judicial review if the MoJ doesn’t respond. If it does, Slater & Gordon has asked for a 21-day pause in the bid process while lawyers look over the documents.

A spokeswoman for the MoJ said: “We have received correspondence from Napo and will respond in due course. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Prison in Crisis 6

Nick Hardwick, HMI Chief Inspector of Prisons, published his annual report yesterday and it doesn't make for happy reading as reported here in the Guardian:-   
Rise in prison suicides in England and Wales blamed on staff shortages
Shortages of experienced staff and resources combined with a growing prison population are to blame for the rapid rise in suicides, according to the chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales. Nick Hardwick’s annual report warns that there has been a “significant and concerning increase in deaths in custody”, reversing improvements made over the past decade.
Self-inflicted deaths among inmates rose by 69% in 2013-14 – a total of 88 lives lost and the highest level for 10 years. That increase was ”the most unacceptable” aspect of the mutiple pressures on the prison service, he said. The Ministry of Justice, however, immediately denied that staffing cuts or “crowding levels” are responsible for the surge in suicides.
As many as 22 prisons are currently on restricted regimes where normal activities and resettlement programmes are suspended in order to focus on allowing prisoners out to have exercise.
Asked whether the service had been fortunate to avoid serious riots, Hardwick said: “Managers nationally and locally have been very effective at spinning a lot of plates. ... One of the reasons why things have not been as bad as we might expect has been down to the work on the ground.”  
Another indicator of the problems, he explained, was the “worrying” growth of so-called “incidents at height” where prisoners climb up on to netting between wings to stage protests. There were about 700 in the year ending March 2013 but 1,300 the following year. “It’s individuals refusing to comply. We don’t want it to go from individuals to groups. Overall staff have been effective in keeping a lid on that.” Improvements have been made, Hardwick acknowledged, but the reaction to some problems had been too slow.
The report criticised “gaps in the identification of risks for new prisoners at a time when they were most vulnerable.” Too many inmates “in crisis” were found to be “segregated and living in poor conditions”, the document added.

Hardwick said: “Increases in self-inflicted deaths, self-harm and violence cannot be attributed to a single cause. They reflect some deep-seated trends and affect prisons in both the public and private sector.
“In my view, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the conjunction of resource, population and policy pressures … was a very significant factor for the rapid deterioration in safety.”
The total prison population rose from 84,083 in April 2013 to 85,252 in March 2014 – which was 99% of the system’s operational capacity. More cell places have become available since then but, Hardwick warned, there will be further finanical pressures.
“We have to be careful about managing the pressures and resources we make available over the next year. It’s not my job to say how many people should be in prison but we need to match the population to the resources available.” A further sign of difficulties inside jails was the 14% increase in assaults involving adult male prisoners. “Some prisons were insufficiently focused on tackling violence,” the report said.
Drugs were also a problem. “The increased availability in prisons of new psychoactive substances, often known as legal highs, was a source of debt and associated bullying and a threat to health,” the report said. Normal testing methods cannot detect legal highs that rapidly change their chemical formulation. Prices inside are said to be 10 times higher than on the street. If taken by those already on medication, Hardwick warned, they can be very dangerous.
There was also a “significant loss of more experienced staff” due to old prisons closing and planned staff savings. There were savings last year of £84m in public sector prison running costs and a further £88m as a result of closing older prisons. Where old prisons closed experienced staff were lost while new prisons opening in other areas could not immediately attract experienced officers.
Asked about complaints that prison staff who raised concerns with their MPs were being disciplined, Hardwick said he had always been able to talk to officers openly but added: “People need to be free to raise concerns.”
Here's former Prison Governor John Podmore writing about the situation, also in the Guardian:-
Prison suicides: the disgrace that Chris Grayling doesn’t get
There is no crisis in the prison system, the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, repeatedly asserts – even as the prison and probation ombudsman, Nigel Newcomen, says he is “troubled” and “appalled” by the rising rates of prison suicide; the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, expresses concern about prisoners spending “too long in their cells with nothing constructive to do”; and Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform calls plans for a super-jail for children a “recipe for child abuse”.
Their concerns are all based on official figures or findings, but the secretary of state continues to insist that there is no crisis. Yet the evidence that all is far from well is underlined by this weekend’s Guardian investigation revealing that as many as six people a month are taking their own lives in prison.
The factors contributing to this disgrace are not mysterious if you understand that properly run prisons rely on good relationships and cooperation between staff and prisoners. Unfortunately the justice secretary does not appear to get that. He has presided over the worst deterioration in relationships between staff and prisoners since we started building jails. There have always been and continue to be common themes underpinning suicide in jails: remand prisoners are more vulnerable and we know segregation makes more people vulnerable. 
Going back to 2009, the Bradley report into the treatment of mentally ill prisoners came up with the blindingly obvious conclusion that we should divert those with a mental health problem away from prison. The Corston report more than seven years ago came up with equally good recommendations about keeping vulnerable women away from custody. Problems and solutions are identified but, beyond a few pilot programmes, actions are scarce.
Prisons don’t run on reports and recommendations, they run on relationships and cooperation. Get it right and rehabilitation and safer communities follow. Good relationships inside prison can help to prevent suicides. They are hard to measure and are eschewed as liberal concepts that don’t fit the “tough on crime” agenda. They are difficult in a prison setting and rely on a culture of discussion and conversation based on good leadership. The process takes time, continuity of management, training and support from above.
We ask of prison staff more than almost any other public servants. The job has its dangers and the environment is complex. We expect a lot for negligible entry requirements and six weeks’ generic training, which is among the worst in the world. And in those six weeks they get almost no mental health awareness training. In Norway it is two years to degree level. Such limited training makes it difficult for officers to engage positively with well-adjusted prisoners, let alone difficult, damaged, chaotic and disordered individuals.
The deteriorating situation is frequently referred to by commentators to this blog, such as these from yesterday:-

I worry about sending young men into prison. I recently recalled a young man with learning difficulties, who prior to committing à further offence had been to hospital 2 days running with psychosis. He was supposed to be reassessed by community health team. I requested he be admitted to health care to be reassessed, that never happened. Since then I have struggled to get any info from the prison. He will go to Crown Court and the likelihood is that whoever writes the report will not even bother to liaise with me.

Not just young men - I'm working with a client in his 30s on a community order, who was recently imprisoned for 4 weeks for possession of a craft knife - though they let his order carry on. He was sent to our B Cat local and has told me that the wing was run by the prisoners, with the two - and sometimes one or none - staff more or less shut in their office for safety. On his first day he was set on by eight prisoners and carried to a cell at the end of the landing, where he had a spoon inserted in his rectum to see if he was carrying any drugs. He heard the same thing happening to other new arrivals later in his stay. He is hardly a newcomer to prison life, but this has traumatised him - he said conditions have never been so bad.

Yes I have been told about prisoners running the wings and spoons being inserted to search for drugs. Wonder if it is the same prison or if it is happening many places. What can we do? Where do we report this?

Before the recent cutbacks in prison, I made a great effort to work with and support men with learning difficulties because back then they could be left to rot, now they definitely will be left to rot. Currently I spend all my time tied to the bloody computer writing parole reports and addendum after addendum or preparing for what seems an exponential growth in Oral Hearings. I can now only fire fight which means seeing those I'm told to see, or those I must see to write reports. The quiet ones who are often the ones with learning difficulties get pushed to the back. It's dangerous in prison for staff and inmates alike but its bloody tragic for the most needy.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Prison in Crisis 5

While we wait for news regarding a legal challenge to TR, we would do well to keep an eye on the growing crisis in prison, starting with the very sobering news as to how the situation is leading to a dramatic rise in the suicide rate, outlined here in the Guardian:-  
Inmate suicide figures expose human toll of prison crisis
The human toll of the crisis gripping prisons in England and Wales is exposed with new figures obtained by the Guardian revealing that 125 prisoners have killed themselves in 20 months – an average of more than six a month.

For the first time the Guardian has identified the individuals behind the statistics that show suicide is at its highest rate in prisons for nine years, and there is no sign that the scale of the tragedy is being checked. The investigation, which examined all suicides between January 2013 and 28 August 2014, found four women and 121 men, aged between 18 and 74, killed themselves in the adult prison system. Since then and up to 2 October another nine men, aged between 21 and 46, killed themselves, bringing the total number of self-inflicted deaths since January 2013 to 134. Three people killed themselves on one day, 1 September 2014.
The Prison Service ombudsman, Nigel Newcomen, described the deaths as “utterly unacceptable” in a modern age and said they reflected the “rising tide of despair” across the prison system. He said his recommendations to save future lives were being ignored. “There is no question the Prison Service is more challenged now than [it has been] in a generation,” Newcomen said. “My job is to draw lessons from these individual human tragedies and I don’t think that adequate heed has been taken of them.” He said the “appalling upsurge in suicides” meant there was a need to review the approach within prisons, including “more resources being applied”.
Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, has repeatedly claimed that there is no pattern to the rise in suicides in the last 20 months. But the Guardian has identified distinct themes in many of the deaths, after examining reports from inquests, speaking to family lawyers and relatives, and analysing the investigations by the Prison Service ombudsman.
These include: failures in the assessment of risk in the face of obvious warning signs, lack of training for prison staff, inadequate monitoring once risk was identified, and insufficient communication with families, particularly in the case of vulnerable young inmates. Many of those who took their own lives had mental health problems.
The growing prison crisis is examined in detail from a former prisoner's perspective on the excellent blog by Alex Cavendish:-
Chris Grayling: Cooking Up a Prison Crisis
As regular readers of this blog will be aware, I refer in many posts to the ongoing crisis in our prisons. In my view this is attributable to three key factors: substantial budget reductions, serious overcrowding in many establishments and shortages of frontline staff. This sad state of affairs is, of course, denied by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). They prefer to use the weasel word ‘challenging’ and pretend that all is well in our nicks.

Whichever way you choose to look at the problem, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny the facts. We have too many people in prison (many of them non-violent offenders or unconvicted people held on remand) and too few staff to manage them. This dangerous combination of factors is creating a highly toxic mix.

According to the latest report prepared by the Howard League for Penal Reform, using the MOJ’s own figures, the number of prison officers at public-sector prisons has been cut by 41 percent in under four years (see here).

These statistics reveal that there were just 14,170 officer grades at the end of June 2014, compared to more than 24,000 at the end of August 2010. According to the report, a total of 1,375 frontline staff posts went as a result of the closure of 15 public-sector prisons. However, if you are going to make a real humdinger of a prison crisis that will by talked about for years, then these are the sort of reductions that will be essential. Remember, crushing staff morale is absolutely essential in your prison crisis recipe.

When you have your overcrowded, highly volatile cons on one side and your demoralised, understaffed screws on the other, the next phase is to mix the two together and stir vigorously. A great way to get cons to kick off is to introduce a revised and politically-motivated Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) system that even most prison governors reckon is unfair and undermines respect. Confiscating a con’s personal possessions that they have saved up for over many months or even years is a really great way to ratchet up the tensions.
The Guardian highlights the concern over whistleblowing as tension rises:-
Prison whistleblowers being threatened with dismissal
Whistleblowers in the Prison Service are being threatened with dismissal for raising serious concerns about their ability to keep inmates safe and their fears over soaring levels of violence. The attempts to silence staff have been condemned by a Conservative member of parliament, who was approached in confidence by a number of officers working at a prison in his constituency during the summer with details of how staffing shortages were causing concerns over safety.

The MP, Gavin Williamson, said the “arrogant, high-handed” attitude to those raising legitimate concerns risked creating another scandal in the public sector on the scale of the Mid Staffordshire affair in the NHS. After the MP was approached an officer was singled out by the prison service and has been served a disciplinary notice which could end with his dismissal. Williamson told the Guardian: “It’s a totally disgraceful situation and goes against everything that we want to be seeing within the public sector, where whistleblowing needs to be encouraged when the concerns of those working within the system are not being addressed internally.”

Officers are facing dismissal after raising concerns about the high levels of violence within prisons, their fears for their own safety and that of inmates, and predicting that short staffing will lead to more rioting. In HMP Lewes Kim Lennon is fighting for her job after raising her worries about the safety of her and her colleagues in the local newspaper in August. Allegations of a crackdown on whistleblowers follow an investigation by the Guardian which revealed that a distinct patterns of failings was contributing to more than six suicides of prisoners a month on average. Between January last year and 2 October this year, 134 inmates took their own lives – three on one day in September 2014.

The shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, has urged ministers to launch an urgent inquiry into the rising rate of suicides in prisons. “Time and again the chief inspector has warned that staff shortages and overcrowding are the underlying causes of violence and deaths. Yet ministers have their fingers in their ears, and carry on denying there’s a prisons crisis,” he said.

The allegations come ahead of the chief inspector of prisons’ annual report. The report, due out on Tuesday, will give a detailed examination of the state of prisons in England and Wales. Williamson said he was approached by prison officers from HMP Featherstone in his constituency of South Staffordshire who brought their concerns about the rising levels of violence, their anger that inmates were not being brought to justice for attacks against staff and how short staffing was affecting safety.

Monday, 20 October 2014

AGM 2014 Speeches 2

AGM Scarborough 2014 Motion  

A Parting Shot -The Questions remain!

This AGM views with considerable interest the valedictory report from the Probation Association (PA) ‘A Parting Shot -The Questions Remain’ published in July 2014. Colleagues will note that although the report offers a critical timeframe of the progress of the Ministry of Justice's Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme. The PA, with few honourable exceptions, offered little effective opposition to the unwarranted privatisation and abolition of a public probation service and maintained throughout this period a shameful collusive silence to TR, best captured in this tell tale quotation from page 7 of the NOMS Annual Report 2013/14: “progress could not have been achieved without the positive engagement and support we have received from Probation Trusts."

However, the report does pose some vital unanswered questions for the continuing viability of TR, in particular with the run-up to the 2015 election, which Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, cannot evade (even with his record of dissembling!) which include the following:

By how much have the reforms reduced re-offending?

Has the CRC bidding process proved successful in funding the provision of services, across all of England and Wales, to those with sentences of less than 12 months leaving prison?

How significant is Payment by Results in the new arrangements, or are the contracts really block payments with a bit of a reward added on?

In addition to the declared costs, how much have the reforms really cost across the piece to implement?

Are the CRCs any more liberated than Trusts could have been and wanted to be?

Has the NPS been able to sustain managing the exclusively high risk caseload?

What has been the effect on staff professionalism, morale and motivation in the longer term? 

This union will, of course, continue to campaign vigorously against TR in the run-up to the 2015 election and press for definitive answers to the above questions (and many more). This AGM therefore calls upon the national officers’ group, when making contacts with all MPs standing for election in 2015, as part of its anti-TR campaigning strategy, to continue to press the MoJ strongly for answers to the above questions, expose Grayling's TR plans as unworkable and dangerous, and publish every response received from those MPs canvassed.

Proposer: Mike Guilfoyle
Seconder: Christopher Hignett

Chair, Conference - Mike Guilfoyle, Professional Associate Member, Greater London Branch. 

Colleagues, just before I left Probation in 2010, a Senior Manager described my relationship with the service as akin to a 'marriage that had broken down due to irreconcilable differences'. My retort was that it was more like an 'enforced separation occasioned by unreasonable behavior'. A politically driven and bewilderingly stupid bureaucratic target mania meant that processes trumped people. What now of the totemic achievement of Trust Status, ostensibly set up to liberate probation from the suffocating prison-centric carapace of Noms? An association that has since proved to be, as this union knows all too well, a truly unmitigated disaster for probation. Although in spite of these enforced changes and NOMS bullying culture, probation still performed!

My late mother used to say 'I know that something's amiss in probation when I see one of Michael's letters in the papers'. Indeed former General Secretary Judy McKnight once paid me the accolade of being an 'indefatigable letter writer' intent as I was in rebutting in letters and debate some of the lattice of half-lies and MoJ speak that has so soured the probation landscape. And I take some wry satisfaction from the belief that at the MoJ there is a fusty sub-office entitled 'replies to Mike Guilfoyle'. At one MoJ presentation a civil servant in an audible whisper to a former Justice Minister and with weary familiarity noted after I had asked a pointed question on TR, 'it's that bloke from Napo again'..

Conference, I arrived late for AGM yesterday (missing Ian's Keynote Address) as I was being sworn-in as a newly appointed Magistrate. Greater London colleagues please note that I will be sitting on the SE London bench. Due notice having been shared, but I can promise you that I will continue to unashamedly champion probation at every available opportunity. 

At the reception following the swearing-in ceremony, a magistrate colleague asked 'who is speaking up for probation these days?' I hesitated for a moment, 'of course this union with its many parliamentary, academic and high profile supporters'. The now defunct Probation Association in its valedictory report 'A Parting Shot' provides a grim timeline leading up to its own, dare I say it predictable, demise. Aside from a snide reference to Napo, and some self-serving, supine observations noting without a hint of irony the positive engagement of probation trusts in securing thus far an almost unruffled passage for a politically driven TR timetable. 

It is important to acknowledge the principled and fearless contributions from a handful of PA members in the fight to save the Probation Service. How could such an untried, untested and uncosted and unevidenced ideological experiment pass with such little vocal dissent? I note the MoJ's Stalinist gagging clause, but what a truly shameful collusive silence in the destruction of the service has shrouded the PA's dismal epitaph. The paper does however provide a tally sheet of pivotal questions which should send out a clear message to politicians to think again before rushing into a hasty CRC share sale. If this is allowed to proceed will those with the power and influence look back and recoil when they fully appreciate the true consequences of TR? Will these reforms reduce reoffending? Has the CRC bidding process enabled funding to be released for those serving under 12 months? Is the Payment by Results mechanism now just a specious loss leader? How much have these reforms 'really' cost?  What has been the lasting effect on staff professionalism, engagement, morale and motivation?

Colleagues - you are now at the sharp end of this pernicious TR process. The service and union are at an existential moment. We know that Chris Grayling has nothing but withering contempt for all those who he sees as a hindrance to his dismantling not only of an internationally recognised Probation Service but a decent, accessible and humane Criminal Justice System with a veritable origami of private providers perched to feed off the carcass of an already fragmented service. With a contract culture displacing any semblance of public accountability, just how many Judicial Review's can he afford to lose before he bows out? If ever the designation of defender of justice was so poorly served in one office holder. And as for Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes stating at his party's Conference 'Day in, day out we are holding Ministers feet to the fire on justice issues' - seems TR has yet to flame up!

With the run-in to the 2015 election now months away and the prospect of further targeted draconian public sector cuts in store, whatever the political stripe of the party in power, this union, in spite of its recent travails, remains a bulwark and bastion in defence of a publicly owned and accountable Probation Service. 

With the planned share sale now in December it will need to summons together its most resolute fighting strategies to challenge and defeat TR, raise a deafening cacophony of noise to resist the potentially irrevocable sale of CRC's to new (read single contractor dominant) commercial providers, cloaked by confidentiality and seemingly immune to public scrutiny, with profit the only driver, with rehabilitation being downgraded, a significant rise in Electronic Monitoring at the cost of more human interventions, and warehousing and processing becoming the name of the game?

This motion aligns itself with what Napo is already doing, it simply seeks to reaffirm and reinforce the need to critically question, challenge, call to account and record all responses from those politicians supporting the implementation of TR in the forthcoming election that it remains ideologically unworkable dangerous dogma  and also serve to remind those now unthinkingly doing the bidding of politicians in the MoJ of the undoubted risks that when you decimate a professional probation service, things start to go wrong and this whole sorry TR mess crashes. The confidence of victims, communities, probation staff and partners, courts and users will take a very long time to repair. 

Colleagues, it's that bloke from Napo again this time saying,

Conference, I move....

Sunday, 19 October 2014

TR Week Twenty

I've never had so many offenders who I have seen so little of. Caseload currently 76 with 15 inside. PSOs now only induct people on a fortnightly rota and it's all group inductions. All officers see their new cases for appointment one immediately after the induction which is used in general as a full FDR interview because the FDR from court is so bare with not much to inform an ISP.

In the midlands area they are warning about posting anything that will put probation/sell off in a bad light.


What? Like the Target Operating Model?


Target Operating Model!!!! Oh yeh......has anyone told the bidders that TOM failed some time ago and now we're just making it up as we go along. Certainly our IT departments are. They're working with an entire crock of shite. Unstable and dangerous, that's where we are at. 

One thing I do like about the current situation is that it has set us back to twenty years or so ago, when everyone just did their own thing. Working it out as we go along. I'm sure there was some theoretical underpinning back then, whereas now it's just a means of muddling through.


Walking around my office today, I have heard seven, yes SEVEN separate colleagues in unrelated conversations say (exact words) 'this doesn't work'. It includes a director, an SPO, an offender manager, TVP facilitator, MAPPA Manager, Restorative Justice Officer and Partnership agency worker. The issues relate primarily to having to make decisions based on limited, inadequate or unsubstantiated information. I have heard the term 'dangerous' used three times, each relating not to the offender but to the SYSTEM. It is palpable. Probation has been rendered ineffective by the MoJ and by t he Justice Secretary and practitioners far and wide, at all grades are fully aware of it.


Yesterday allocated a female case who if I hadn't received information from the Mental Health worker at Court could have put other Service Users at risk. I was unable to access the report or any information on her from Delius to assist me in my group induction today! I am so tired of having to chase information that previously was at my fingertips!


Public Protection by accident! That'll work!


Inspectors were in our office today. I made a point of telling him that we are in meltdown and total chaos. He said I know. No proper breach process. Offenders turning up without any paperwork or information. Most of us in crc with numerous oasys outstanding. An offender on a SOPO not allocated been seen twice by CRC staff. It is not only lack of proper processes and increased bureaucracy but a lack of goodwill that the probation service was so dependant on.


Spoke to an NPS PO yesterday. Just had her first supervision since June. I also know of another TVP facilitator who has still not had supervision since 1/6/14. Never see their manager. Apparently, they have been offered a date in November. And that is the HIGHEST RISK WORK WE DO!!


One of my colleagues facing an SFO. She is feeling really bad because she had not completed an initial Oasys. Working on 120+ per cent. This could have been one of my cases or any of my colleagues. Not able to manage offenders effectively with the relentless chaos in CRC.


Please, please (a)reassure your colleague the responsibility for the offence lies with the client (b)the relevance of an Oasys having been completed or not to SFO commission is very limited - the point of Oasys is evidencing an analysis of issues and risk and hence a plan but (c)what is arguably more important is, what did she and, if there was one, PSR author identify as key issues to work on in supervision especially if linked to reoffending and what did she and client actually work on thru supervision? ie accounting for what one was able or not to do (which is linked to resources) Also, see if can get local Napo rep to accompany; we have no right to this but some areas have agreement that members can be accompanied in meetings for support.


Re the SFO, I would be interested to know what risk the offender was assessed as presenting - my experience is that most SFOs come from medium ROSH cases - and therefore CRC under the TR split.

Look at recent information from this blog, how CRCs are managing cases by telephone reporting and mass reporting centres and many cases transferred without handovers..... NONE OF WHICH IS WHAT PRACTITIONERS WANT. The capacity for significant increase in SFOs is just growing and growing....


My tasks are SLOWER and LESS efficient as a result of the contracts of the NEW policies and systems. Everything was so much more logical and efficient before Grayling threw his tantrum and stamped all over probation. I am hanging on to the fact that I enjoy my role but despise and detest those who are being paid out of hard working tax payers money to do nothing but arse lick and dribble bullshit wherever they go.


Here's an example from today - Paperwork from the prison was sent to one of the offices in another area, asking that an address be identified for someone they wanted to release on HDC. They sent it to NPS (this area), who sent it to another office (CRC) - I guess because this prisoner's last known address - which he was unable to return to - had been in our area.

Anyway, the prisoner is not current to any office, being sentenced to only 11 mths custody - as you know, we don't YET work with the under 12mths.  We told the prison that if they wanted to identify an address, then they should do it.  As the prisoner has no address - why were they considering release on HDC?  He should simply be released at the usual half way point and told to report as homeless on release, to Access to Housing teams - it's not like he's going to be supervised on licence.

Another example of the confusion is that prison staff rang our office one Wednesday requesting licence conditions and reporting instructions for someone they were releasing on the Friday of that same week. This man had been sentenced only the week before, after being RIC for around 9 mths, and he'd been sentenced without reports. Obviously there wasn't any OASys and so no assessment of risk was available.  He'd last been in the system 2 yrs previously.  He didn't report on release. Contact was made with the prison, who confirmed he'd been released. On checking the release address he'd given, it wasn't in our catchment area. The prison had obviously gone off the address on the system from 2 yrs previously!  

A warning letter was sent to the correct address with reporting instructions for the correct office.  However, when the service user rang following receipt of the letter, he said he now had a different address - which, when checked, was in the area covered by the Exclusion Zone requested as part of his licence!  He was promptly advised to move back to the previous address!

Prisons are instructed to complete an initial assessment (Start Custody) and sentence plan for all prisoners sentenced to 12 months or more who will be allocated to a CRC.  In this particular instance, HMP didn't bother to do this at all - perhaps they didn't have a clue where to begin as the prisoner had been sentenced without reports, perhaps due to the prisoner's release being so soon after sentence (due to time spent on remand), or maybe its a resource issue?  Nevertheless, it remains that this mandatory action had not been completed by the prison and so it's now left to probation to do what is effectively a full PSR interview, assessment of risk and sentence plan - which will be recorded as a "Start Licence"  assessment on OASys - which of course knocks the chronology of the event out of sync on that system. 

Another thing I heard today was that hard pressed (NPS) court staff are not completing the RSR tool correctly.  When it is done incorrectly, the system will err on the side of caution and allocate the case to NPS.  This is happening now in our area - IOM staff have already highlighted this.  Also, of course, it means that NPS could at some future point, effectively starve CRCs of work.

I am really, really aggrieved that PSOs and trainee Probation Officers in NPS are able to do the job I am fully qualified to do, but no longer allowed to do. I hear that NPS trainees will be given placements in CRCs as they can't get the breadth of experience they require within NPS - well, I hope they don't ask me for any help, advice or support - I'll simply refer them to their own managers. 

What are they looking for? We have it all just let us know what. Perhaps case studies on the offenders CRCs are working with so the public are aware of the man with extreme violence in his past who is hearing voices telling him to hurt people or the sex offender with no acknowledgement of his own risk, or the prolific offender with a long history of knife crime, or the arsonist with mental health issues. The public might want to know that these are the 'low and medium' risk cases private companies will be making money out of.

Across BeNCH CRC average sickness levels have increased from 17 days in August to 23 days in September. Apparently this is 'of concern' to the CEO and Directors.

This makes for gloomy and depressing reading. This is the fight of your lives, for your life. Courts being unable to impose conditions such as unpaid work or drug treatment? So are we moving to generic sentences - every sentence fits...? That process of appropriate individualised recommendations defines the Probation Service's expertise in assessment of every individual. So what will happen to the excellent programmes if this is to be another nail in the coffin?

Sentences will soon be 'Joe/Jane Bloggs must attend for x amount of sessions'. We've already been told that if we 'discover' early on that they do not need as many sessions (read support)then to take them straight back to Court for early revocation......although I'm not sure that the grounds of 'good progress' after 5 sessions is going to cut much mustard with the Courts!!!


TR in crisis already BUT there is more to come! Please remember the consequence of the Osborne decision (Osborn (Appellant) v The Parole Board (Respondent) and recent comments that the Parole Board are not releasing enough prisoners (ref this Blog two days ago).

Sir David Calvert-Smith ( Chair) "In July, the board had 780 cases against the usual 400-500. In due course, if the delays get any longer or a delay in a particular case gets longer we will have to pay damages," he says. "Even though it's not our fault, we owe them a hearing and we haven't given them one." 

The consequence of this is additional work for Probation (and Prison) staff at a time when we have no capacity at all. So undoubtedly our workloads are set to increase again. This will have a massive impact on probation, more pre release assessments, referrals and reports and of course cases to supervise in the community given the presumption is for release.


The crisis for STAFF now must not be lost in all this discussion. I do not know a single member of staff who is not adversely impacted ranging from dissatisfaction through anguish to full blown stress (which has serious health implications). In my(many years)of probation work I have never seen such fractured working conditions. If staff deluged by processes (and trying to even figure them out, yes it is that chaotic) and have no time to even consider the needs of our service users, all really is lost. Points are valid about who is to blame over time, but the crisis now needs to be dealt with in its immediacy.

As an SPO, I am now being asked to provide explanations for performance 'failures' in the past 5 months in relation to 'missed' OASys terminations. The first of these was a 'miss' in mid-June at a time when, you may recall, the split was in full flow, case records and assessments were disappearing into the ether, staff were anxious and angry, colleagues who had sat next to you for years had disappeared to 'the other side' and the whole service was in chaos.

Can we start to get information out here about the specifics of what each area is actually doing eg reporting centres, what types of buildings are being used? I know of a church hall without panic alarms (yet obligatory in former public sector probation offices). Staff travelling long distances to serve several offices, lone working of necessity when there are not enough staff of your own "brand" available to ensure your goes on and on......

In response to the suggestion that TR had no satisfactory framework and requirement on CRCs for good training and continuous professional development, Grayling responded that "there was NAPO and the PI".

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Omnishambles Update 72

A few more bits and pieces to tide us over this agonising waiting period while Napo and others decide on a legal challenge to TR, and the MoJ hunker-down and tighten the screws in case there's any leak of information.    


It feels like we're all in trenches, and yet the propaganda says we've accepted the changes and are working hard on making the whole pile of TR shite function. Well, that's what Michael Spurr says in the latest edition of 'Getting Started' :-
Chief Executive’s message 
I’m very conscious of how hard Probation colleagues have been working over the last few months as we’ve moved to new structures, implemented new case allocation processes and moved to new working arrangements both in the NPS and in CRCs.

The change process has been intense – and whilst I recognise there are real and genuine pressures across the system the fact that the change has been managed so effectively is a tribute to the professionalism and vocational commitment of staff across Probation.

I’ve managed to visit a number of offices and courts over the last few months both in large city areas (such as Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds and Croydon) but also in towns (such as Aylesbury, Chelmsford, Bedford, Maidstone, Halifax and York) where the issues and pressures present different challenges. I use these visits to talk to colleagues at all levels to get a better understanding of how things are actually working ‘on the ground’.

As the NOMS CEO, I am responsible for making the whole Offender Management system work effectively – and I will remain responsible for the ‘whole system’ after CRCs have transitioned to new providers later this year. My focus is on how things are actually working – and what more we need to do to develop and improve our systems, processes and professional practice to better support the new structures and to deliver the best service we can for the courts, for our offenders and for the public we serve.

I know that for many colleagues the structural changes have been difficult and painful and that the new processes have been challenging and created additional work and pressure. But I have been encouraged, heartened and impressed by the way colleagues have responded, are adapting to the new arrangements, and are working collaboratively to solve problems and improve our performance.

The Solutions in Partnership Team has been set up specifically to harness this approach and bring practitioners from across the NPS and CRCs together to develop practical solutions to improve processes and to tackle and address common issues and problems.

I recognise that there has been particular pressure on court staff following the introduction of the RSR/CAS process. That’s why additional administration staff have been recruited for courts facing particular pressures and why the Solutions in Partnership Team, working with colleagues from the North West Division, have prioritised the RSR/CAS processes for early review; looking to streamline arrangements wherever we can.

IT issues continue to be a frustration whenever I talk to staff in the field. It’s important to remember that the roll out of Delius as the single national casework system was only completed last October and it then had to be adapted to run the new case allocation processes required for the TR reforms.

The reconfigured system is now generally working as planned but some ‘work-arounds’ remain and it’s slower and less ‘user friendly’ than any of us would want. We know that we need to improve overall performance and ‘user experience’ and have plans in place to do this – but these improvements cannot take place until we have delivered the final reconfiguration of the system to incorporate the changes resulting from the new Offender Management and Rehabilitation Act (OMR). I know this is hugely frustrating but IT colleagues are working hard to ensure that the OMR changes can be incorporated successfully – and we will then concentrate on significantly improving the way the system operates from a ‘user’ standpoint.

Finally, I want to say something about ‘morale’ and the future. I know that the pace of change has created anxiety and concern for many colleagues – but as we develop the new structures I’m increasingly convinced that there will be a positive and exciting future for staff in both the NPS and in CRCs.

The aim of these reforms is to reduce reoffending and to extend service provision to 50,000 offenders who currently receive no statutory support in the community. The NPS and CRCs need to adapt to meet the requirements of the Offender Management Rehabilitation Act – this is challenging but looking forward, the extension of service provision means that there will be lots of opportunities for staff to develop their careers – both within the NPS and in CRCs.

I am committed to maintaining public service values at the heart of the work we do – and providers who are bidding for CRC contracts are required to abide by public service values and demonstrate a strong ethical commitment both in their bids but also in the way they deliver their services.

I am equally committed to promoting staff professionalism and professional development. We are currently looking to refresh and retender the Professional Qualification Framework – and I am passionate about providing opportunities for staff across Probation to develop professional skills.

I was involved in establishing the PQF in 2008 and am a committed advocate of providing opportunities for PSOs and other Probation staff to develop skills and progress their careers within the Service. Time constraints mean that we are currently only recruiting graduate learners for the final cohort of the current PQF contract.

This will ensure that we will be able to fill vacancies and manage the anticipated natural turnover of staff over the next 12 months – but I want to reinforce my commitment to providing opportunities for PSOs and administrative staff to become Probation Officers in future and to professional development more generally.

This will be a key priority for the NPS. In addition we have required all prospective CRC providers to set out clearly how they will develop and maintain a professional skilled workforce to deliver the services we require from them in the future.

As I’ve said to colleagues many times on my visits – the work we do is challenging and complex – all prospective providers realise this. Their success will depend on the quality of the staff theyemploy and for that reason I have no doubt that their structures and staffing arrangements will reflect this and that this will provide genuine and exciting opportunities for colleagues in CRCs over the next few years.

Thank you again for everything you are doing and for all your hard work and commitment. Despite the pressures, we are continuing to deliver a crucial service for the public professionally and extraordinarily well and whilst that often goes unrecognised in the media it is very much appreciated.

Michael Spurr
NOMS Chief Executive Officer
I've mentioned the excellent blog 'Prison UK : An Insider's View' before and I hope the author doesn't mind me quoting this revealing excerpt from a recent post:-
When I was still a con, I once had a very lengthy and remarkably honest discussion with a deputy governor about the problems the Prison Service was facing in the Team Grayling era. This governor was, in my opinion, a very decent bloke who truly despaired of the increasing politicisation of the British penal system, as well as the imposition of ideologically-motivated punitive regulations that bore little or no relation to evidence-based prison practices – for example, the forcing of many prisoners back into prison-issue clothing, which was proving costly and causing chaos for many local nicks.
This governor mentioned that when NOMS was consulting senior prison managers on the new National Facilities List in 2012, a number of governors warned that the resulting Prison Service Instruction (PSI 30/2013 on Incentives and Earned Privileges) would prove unworkable, particularly since it removed much local discretion from governors over how they actually managed the establishments in their charge. He told me that most of these warnings were simply swept aside because decisions at a political level had already been made. 
NOMS then informed the dissident governors that no further representations to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) would be made. The die was cast and, predictably, many of the problems that experienced prison governors had foreseen have indeed come to pass. 
Of course this, in itself, raises important questions about how much autonomy Governing Governors now really have. It seems that they are largely being reduced to the role of bureaucrats who are charged with carrying out Whitehall’s diktat, even when all the evidence suggests that our prisons are deep in crisis. Just one more in the ever-lengthening list of disasters being caused by the failure of ‘Crisis’ Chris Grayling – and his sidekicks in the MOJ and NOMS – to listen to those people who actually know what they are talking about.
And here's something to ponder on raised by a recent exchange of comments:-

The Probation market has been shrinking for some years now. Lower crime rates and other types of disposals. The CRC bidders will have spotted this though and made allowances in their calculations. I think the less predictable bit is how sentencing and proposals change. If JPs lose confidence in what CRC are offering in terms of rehabilitative options they will move towards more expensive options like UPW or short custodials for complex cases, or choose fines for the low complexity cases. This is where bidders should worry because if the low risk of reoffending clients get fines instead it will really screw up any calculations they mad eon PbR as they will never be allocated many of the easier cases.

In fact the more I reflect on this, the more unpredictable and volatile I think these contracts will be. It's not like the work programme where you can be confident about the number of referrals. Magistrates could throw the contractors all sorts of curve balls, and if the CRC lose their ability to deliver sentences that satisfy them, then will choose other sentences. And so much depends on police and CPS processes. Conditional Cautioning and Neighbourhood Resolution Panels are outside the scope of TR, and anyone commissioning these services is likely to ignore the big players. Just keep thinking of what problems lie ahead for contractors and go for local agencies. Keep thinking and you will build a long and lengthening list of calculations you can't make..

I understand the future powers of the Magistrates - and for that matter the Judges - differently. If - as I understand it the Offender Rehabilitation Bill 2014 is ever actually implemented it will effectively remove from Magistrates and Judges the Power to impose an Unpaid Work Order or other conditions of a Community Order, such as drug treatment conditions - under section 15. I still find this hard to believe and hope I am wrong - but time will tell.

It just occurs to me I am not sure whether the courts or CRCs and perhaps NPS will also be responsible for imposing conditions of psychiatric treatment? It is probably not worth spending any time on this at least not until we learn that the Act is actually to be introduced.

I'm sure I've read somewhere that the OR Act is to be activated pretty soon. Could someone out there tell us what they've heard and pass comment on the above? I think it's all to do with that Post Sentence Assessment that West Yorkshire dreamt up as a money-making wheeze.

I think we missed this as reported by the Law Society Gazette website:- 
Non-lawyer lord chancellor is a ‘benefit’ – Grayling
Chris Grayling told peers today that it is a ‘positive benefit’ that the lord chancellor is a non-lawyer. Grayling, who is the first non-lawyer to be in the post for 440 years, appeared before the House of Lords constitution committee, which is holding an inquiry into the role.

The Epsom MP was grilled for more than an hour on the constitutional role and whether his position as justice secretary caused a conflict in his commitment to the rule of law. Grayling told committee members that it was an advantage for a non-lawyer to be lord chancellor – particularly at a time when legal aid cuts have to be made.

‘I don’t think that the person holding my job suffers from not being a lawyer,’ he said. ‘We don’t need a health secretary who is a doctor. I don’t believe you need to be a practising lawyer and understand the minutiae of the court to protect the values of our justice system.’
He added that a non-lawyer could take a ‘dispassionate’ approach to reforms and that these may not be well received by the legal profession. He also rejected as ‘misplaced’ the idea that a lawyer would have chosen to retain legal aid as it was before the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, pointing to cuts made by his predecessor, Kenneth Clarke QC.
‘Perhaps there’s a belief that a separate lord chancellor would take different decisions on legal aid. That’s simply not the case,’ he added. Grayling, who said it would be a ‘big mistake’ to separate the roles of justice secretary and lord chancellor, revealed he had admonished one fellow minister in his time in office for public criticism of a judge.
He also stated he was ‘not comfortable’ with a senior judiciary dominated by men but insisted it was not right to artificially promote people before they are ready for the role simply because they are women.

Grayling said he was ‘satisfied’ with the legal advice available to him despite three recent defeats in the High Court on judicial reviews. ‘Sometime we are right and sometimes we are wrong – we are only human.’ But he defended his plans for reform of judicial review as ‘necessary, proportionate and dealing with an area that’s not working very well’. He says this is a matter for parliament and it would be a mistake to invite judges to comment.
In response to Grayling’s evidence, Bar Council chair Nicholas Lavender said the lord chancellor should be a ‘champion’ of the justice system as well as guardian of the constitution.‘He is entrusted with lead responsibility in government to maintain the delicate balance between, on the one hand, upholding the rule of law and protecting the independence of the judiciary and, on the other hand, respecting the interests of the executive. ‘Legal expertise is essential to fulfil such a unique role. The lord chancellor should be a very senior lawyer.’
Meanwhile the cuts to legal aid are beginning to have widespread effects amongst criminal lawyers and the service offered to our clients, as reported here in the Guardian:-
Evidence has begun to emerge of the impact of legal aid cuts on criminal law firms, with internal memos from one large business showing that lawyers are being asked to take a 4% pay cut or face losing their jobs. The effect of Ministry of Justice cutbacks and reorganisation of duty contracts covering police stations and magistrates courts could, according to leaders of the profession, lead to two-thirds of criminal solicitors losing their jobs. Poorly paid paralegals are increasingly being hired to carry out criminal defence work, critics of the government’s plans warn, prompting fears of an increase in miscarriages of justice.  
Finally, some sobering analysis of what lies ahead as discussed here in the Guardian Professional section recently:-
Over the next five years, the pain will be concentrated where it has been for the past five: local authorities, the civil service and the police. Budget projections by shire counties, city councils and London boroughs point to large-scale redundancies over the next few years. Civil servants have heard ministers making ominous promises about efficiency savings in public administration, which can only mean cuts in headcount. What justice minister Chris Grayling is doing to probation may be the template for what a reinvigorated Cameron second-term government would do in other service areas – prisons, policing, benefits administration, even parts of HMRC.