Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Sad Fact of Life

All blogs, especially ones that run in unmoderated comment form, continually run the risk that at any time a disgruntled individual will seek to disrupt its operation by posting gratuitously offensive contributions. We've had a good long run without attracting the attention of such a person, but for whatever reason, we've got one now.

I've tried to suggest they put their beef into some form of cogent argument and without resorting to being offensive, but sadly to no avail. I can see absolutely no merit to their complaint and until such time as they decide to spell it out in a reasonable manner, I've decided to institute comment moderation in order to block further offensive contributions from them.  

Some Reflections

It was that sheep-like following that had some attempt to rename probation officers - offender managers - which is a meaningless oxymoron that gives folk a misunderstanding of the nature of the job of probation officer which is to enhance effective self management not imply that supervisees are ever being managed - in the sense that they can reasonably be relied to do what they are instructed.

I think you are right. The language matters. It can reshape the culture and give rise to new expectations as to what can be realised. It's a standard technique often used in politics to reframe reality. Think of the miners and 'the enemy within'. Or think of how the Nazis used language to define enemies. Orwell knew better than many how language distorts. The 'reality' of the offender manager created an us and them divide. Creating a pretence that people are machines that can be operated upon, repaired, made functional.

The probation officer as the technocrat rather than a fellow human being motivated by a basic altruism, whatever its source codes, to help individuals make creative use of their lives and make the best of their circumstances which often started out in disadvantage. By all indices probation clients are disadvantaged. What probation tries to communicate is that crime is not a lasting solution. 

There has to be a better way, but probation has moved away from helping towards classifying and controlling. The whole risk edifice is built on sand. There are no experts when it comes to predicting what an individual will do. Yet something terrible happens and then there is a forensic examination of case notes of the 'offender manager' who must have missed something. The system protects itself though the blame game. 

There are systemic problems: the extent of the institutional abuse of children appals and yet many of those children 'graduated' into crime. But in new reactionary culture of distorted thinking and individual pathology, there is little sympathy for those who were once victims. I used to see probation work as part of the solution, then it became part of the problem with its enforcement mentality. Not so long ago probation was stuffing the prisons with technical breaches of orders and licences. A good probation takes risks rather than being obsessed with the pretentious management of risks.

Excellent piece (in my view, at least). Since the politicisation of probation post CJA'91 we have been subjected to an ever increasing risk averse management, greatly encouraged by Boateng's battle cry of "we are an enforcement agency. It is what we are. It is what we do." (Or something similar). The skill and delicacy of nuanced thinking has been crushed as increasing numbers of 'yes' people have risen quickly & populated management positions; people who are frightened by such thinking because it's beyond them, so the trend is to stamp on what you're frightened of - spiders, beetles, ideas, compassion, creativity, taking risks.

No OASys document has ever prevented an offence. No ISP has, of itself, protected anyone. No risk management plan has ever managed risk. These are only recording tools. When Probation staff stop seeing offenders in order to complete admin tasks, they have cast aside what is acknowledged to be the most important element of intervention; themselves and the relationship they have with the offender. 

It is apparent that, like the Prison Service, NOMS has embraced the idea that it is enough to create the ILLUSION of rehabilitation and the REALITY of effective intervention is not necessary. It is two-dimensional thinking and looks for cause and effect outcomes archived in the current financial year. It is dumb, unsophisticated and corrupt.

Re-offending, interesting area. I did a dissertation as part of MA on key factors in reducing reoffending for clients on probation. I contacted a significant group of ex-offenders two years after they had completed their probation orders and then interviewed about what stopped them offending. Interestingly the top factor and statistically significant was the relationship with their Probation Officer. Of the 90 or so ex-client I interviewed certain probation officers names were repeated as making the difference. 

When I fed this back to the management team of the Probation service I worked for they were not interested, psychology was king and people didn’t matter, the mantra was just follow the manual. I left when I had to assess all PSRs in my teams, press F7 on my computer for acceptable and F9 for unacceptable. 

Most of the great chiefs I have worked for have gone. John Harding former CPO of Hampshire & the Isle of Wight would never have accepted what most of the current tranche of CPO and senior managers accepted. He was a great believer in people and believed in his staff, he would never have had anything to do with this disaster in the making. People help people change not systems not IT not manuals, they can help but they can`t change anyone. Only a person can do that and that’s what the best Probation staff do and have done. 

A few years ago I met a young man who came to his appointments with his face covered with a hood. He seemed surly and uncommunicative. I simply listened to him, now and then queried the very negative views he held of himself, the world around him and the point of his life. Then came a day when he said "Ì like chatting to you." Towards the end he was making plans, and making me laugh with his intelligent humour. We found a rehab in another part of the country and that's the last I saw of him. I do not know whether he made it through that time - his order was transferred and I have heard nothing of him since. I too remember his face and his name, and everything I learned from him.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Messages From the Top

Hello everyone,

Unfortunately my blog will commence with three areas of concern to our CRC this week but it is important that you are all aware of the issues and their implications.

Firstly, we have seen a significant increase in information security incidents recently and these do represent a serious reputational risk to the Company as well as creating understandable anxiety for the individuals whose personal details have gone astray. Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx, our Information Security Officer, is developing new policies, procedures and e-learning courses, but we have a few simple actions that we can all take to minimise the risk of information loss. These include

Using an email attachment sent to a secure email address to transfer personnel information in preference to paper documents and encrypt as appropriate.
Ensure that paper documents are securely packaged.
Send documents to a specific individual / team and double check that the address is clear and correct.
Use Royal Mail / courier delivery service that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the information.
Record how and when the letter /package was sent and keep an audit trail by email return receipts, mail logs and Delius contacts.
If a letter or package does fail to arrive, even after the measures above have been taken, please contact Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx immediately.

Secondly, our sickness rates are high, with August running at an average of 13.5 days per person — the same figure as July. The HR Department are currently analysing the August data and I am grateful to Xxxxx Xxxxxxx and Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx for their work on this. The impact of high sickness rates on our teams is clearly significant with staff who are in work carrying higher workloads. All managers have been asked to focus on our sickness absence by supporting colleagues to return to work where possible and by ensuring that you are all aware of our health and wellbeing initiatives which you will find here. The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development) data for 2013 indicates an average of 7.6 days lost per full time employee across all employment sectors with 7.2 days in the private sector. Our sickness rate is clearly running very much higher than this and I believe that at share sale our Company needs to be viewed as a strong, well performing, 'Going Concern' with all staff working to the best of their capability and capacity. This will place all staff in the best position for the future and will provide evidence to the preferred provider of the effectiveness and commitment of the Cheshire & Greater Manchester CRC staff.

Thirdly, this year it has been a personal priority of mine to continue to invest significantly in the training of our staff to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge required to successfully undertake the work. Whilst I am very aware of the operational pressures that currently exist it is vital that once people are booked on to training events their attendance is prioritised in all but exceptional circumstances. Unfortunately we are seeing an upward trend in non attendance without notice which I find worrying. Not only is this a waste of money but, more importantly, those members of staff are not receiving the training that they need to better equip them to undertake the often challenging work of our organisation and to enhance their skills for the future. Therefore I would like all staff and managers to continue to prioritise attendance at training events.

On a positive note, programme staff across the CRC have focussed on aligning the suite of Accredited Programmes to ensure consistency of provision for all service users. This has now been successfully achieved and high numbers of programme staff are now trained and delivering Building Better Relationships (BBR) - the replacement domestic abuse programme. Additionally, from October Control of Violence for Angry Impulsive Drinkers (COV AID) will be available in Cheshire. The New Direction Activity Requirement (NDAR) and the Entitlement Specified Activity Requirements will also be rolled out across Cheshire, ensuring greater alignment across the CRC. These developments should not be under estimated and all staff in the CRC programmes team should feel proud of the significant progress achieved. The enhanced range of programmes and SARs better meet the need of our service users and our focus will now be on improving completion rates, enabling the programme targets to be achieved.

You may recall that some time ago I mentioned the development of a CRC practice forum to keep up to date with new research and innovations, share good practice and keep focussed on developing effective service delivery across the Company. I am grateful to Xxxxx Xxxxxx, for agreeing to take this forward — she will work with local change managers and any interested colleagues to get this initiative up and running. If you would like to be involved please do contact Xxxxxx, who will be delighted to hear from you.

Xxxxx Xxxxxx attended the Cheshire LCJB on Thursday, where he participated in discussions regarding domestic abuse, integrated offender management and violence against women and girls with our criminal justice partners. The CRC has been invited to work in all of these areas and both Xxxxx Xxxxx and Xxxxx Xxxxx will now be involved in these working groups on behalf of the CRC.

You may also remember that, when discussing the newly formed Probation Institute, I indicated that the CRC would fund a years subscription for anyone who wished to join. A number of you have done so and the offer remains open, please click here please use the special discount code of CGMCRC06201XXXX. I am aware of some cynicism regarding the Probation Institute, however, and in order for us to be involved in discussions about its future and influence the direction of the Institute, Xxxxx Xxxxx will be attending a round table event next week on our behalf. I will include an update of her attendance in a future blog. In the meantime the Probation Institute are arranging a conference on Personality Disorder and Offending Behaviour in Liverpool on 24 October 2014 click here to which we will send a number of delegates.

Last week I attended the Community Payback team away day in Cheshire and heard about some of the issues facing the team. As we know our CP colleagues spend many hours in direct contact with service users and are a source of considerable knowledge of the people we supervise. We discussed the importance of bringing the two CP teams in Cheshire & Greater Manchester together into a single, aligned unit to assist with staffing cover as well as reflecting the single company that is our CRC. It was good to meet CP colleagues, so my thanks for inviting me to participate in the day. I was asked specifically about two practical issues — how to record employment sustained on Delius here and how to log on to Compass Extra from home here.

Some of you may have seen the article in the Guardian this morning in which it states that the preferred bidders will be announced in December. We have not had any formal notification of this and I will be seeking urgent clarification. I will of course let you know once I have definitive confirmation of this.

Best wishes


Monday, 15 September 2014

Core Values and Ethical Principles

The Probation Institute published this today:- 

1. We believe in the ability of people who have offended to change for the better and become responsible members of society.

1.1 Desistance from offending is a process that may take time, requiring a level of patience, tenacity, care and proactive engagement on the part of probation workers

2. We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of the individual.

2.1 Interventions must show due regard to the dignity, health, safety and well-being of service users

3. We are committed to promoting social justice, social inclusion, equality and diversity.

3.1 People who have offended should receive fair, impartial and just treatment throughout all phases of the system and discrimination should be challenged

3.2 Diversity and difference is viewed with positive regard

3.3 Human rights and equality will be upheld and promoted

3.4 Service users should have a voice in the planning of services

4. We believe in the worth of probation supervision in the community, based on establishing positive relationships with service users, to promote their rehabilitation.

4.1 Effective supervision relies on setting an environment in which sensitive issues can be explored whilst maintaining appropriate role boundaries

4.2 Meeting the needs of service users will frequently involve working in partnership with other agencies and organisations in the community

4.3 The most appropriate use of custodial sentences is for serious or persistent offending. Community sentences are more effective in supporting rehabilitation than short custodial sentences

5. We recognise that full consideration should be given to the rights and needs of victims when planning how a service user’s sentence will be managed.

5.1 Responses to the needs of service users must take account of their assessed level of risk of causing harm to victims and future potential victims

5.2 Restorative justice in its various forms can be a useful intervention with both crime victims who want to understand the harm done to them, and perpetrators who feel the need to apologise and, if possible, to make amends

5.3 Restorative justice interventions must safeguard against the secondary or repeat victimisation of victims

6. We recognise the importance of training for identified levels of competence and of continuing professional development. 

6.1 Initial qualifying and continuing training must be of a length and quality appropriate to the level and complexity of the work to be undertaken

6.2 Individual workers are accountable for the quality of their work and for maintaining and improving their professional practice, whilst recognising that the employer also has a responsibility to enable this

7. We are committed to the development of knowledge, through research, to inform probation policy and practice.

7.1 Methods of working with service users vary according to their different risks and needs and their social contexts

7.2 The effectiveness of different interventions should be judged on the basis of evaluation and research that can be widely disseminated and scrutinised

7.3 Supporting and contributing to research is essential for the development of good practice

8. We are committed to acting with professional integrity.

8.1 The values and principles of the profession are upheld and all work will be conducted in a reliable, honest and trustworthy manner

8.2 Appropriate boundaries must be established in relationships with service users and colleagues

8.3 Judgements should be based on balanced and considered reasoning. Members should maintain awareness of the impact of their own values, prejudices and conflicts of interest on their practice and on other people

8.4 Equality and diversity will be actively promoted

8.5 Staff should account for and justify their judgements and actions to service users, to employers and to the general public

8.6 Record keeping must be accurate and professional

You Are a Deviant. Be proud

We have had a very direct e-mail from on high to say current sickness rates are not to be tolerated because we need to be a fit and lean service if people are going to want to buy us...... is this how we stop people wanting to buy us? Okay, then book me in for two weeks of sick leave please!

Once upon a time in Trusts it was a similar mantra but inverted: then it was, 'we must be lean, we must perform, we must hit targets - as this is the only way of making sure we are not sold off and to protect your jobs'. Now it's similar urgings, but with a view to being marketable. 

Probation managers don't really care whether you are marching left-right or right-left. They just require you to be in step with their thinking - not really their thinking, more whatever the MoJ instructs them to think. They are mercenaries who will do anything, but they do enjoy kissing up and kicking down. Anything that screws up targets, that sabotages and impedes, are the kind of workarounds that probation needs. It does not need good performance. After all, look where that got us!

Here's George Monbiot writing in the Guardian a few weeks ago, but was recently highlighted on twitter by Sally Lewis. Read the whole piece here:-
Sick of this market-driven world? You should be
To be at peace with a troubled world: this is not a reasonable aim. It can be achieved only through a disavowal of what surrounds you. To be at peace with yourself within a troubled world: that, by contrast, is an honourable aspiration. This column is for those who feel at odds with life. It calls on you not to be ashamed. 
I was prompted to write it by a remarkable book, just published in English, by a Belgian professor of psychoanalysis, Paul Verhaeghe. What About Me? The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society is one of those books that, by making connections between apparently distinct phenomena, permits sudden new insights into what is happening to us and why. 
We are social animals, Verhaeghe argues, and our identities are shaped by the norms and values we absorb from other people. Every society defines and shapes its own normality – and its own abnormality – according to dominant narratives, and seeks either to make people comply or to exclude them if they don’t. 
Today the dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism, widely known in Europe as neoliberalism. The story it tells is that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes us, the better off we will be. Public services should be privatised, public spending should be cut, and business should be freed from social control. In countries such as the UK and the US, this story has shaped our norms and values for around 35 years: since Thatcher and Reagan came to power. It is rapidly colonising the rest of the world.
The workplace has been overwhelmed by a mad, Kafkaesque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers. It destroys autonomy, enterprise, innovation and loyalty, and breeds frustration, envy and fear. Through a magnificent paradox, it has led to the revival of a grand old Soviet tradition known in Russian as tufta. It means falsification of statistics to meet the diktats of unaccountable power. 
The same forces afflict those who can’t find work. They must now contend, alongside the other humiliations of unemployment, with a whole new level of snooping and monitoring. All this, Verhaeghe points out, is fundamental to the neoliberal model, which everywhere insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification. We find ourselves technically free but powerless. Whether in work or out of work, we must live by the same rules or perish. All the major political parties promote them, so we have no political power either. In the name of autonomy and freedom we have ended up controlled by a grinding, faceless bureaucracy. 
These shifts have been accompanied, Verhaeghe writes, by a spectacular rise in certain psychiatric conditions: self-harm, eating disorders, depression and personality disorders. 
Of the personality disorders, the most common are performance anxiety and social phobia: both of which reflect a fear of other people, who are perceived as both evaluators and competitors – the only roles for society that market fundamentalism admits. Depression and loneliness plague us. 
The infantilising diktats of the workplace destroy our self-respect. Those who end up at the bottom of the pile are assailed by guilt and shame. The self-attribution fallacy cuts both ways: just as we congratulate ourselves for our success, we blame ourselves for our failure, even if we have little to do with it. 
So, if you don’t fit in, if you feel at odds with the world, if your identity is troubled and frayed, if you feel lost and ashamed – it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

TR Week Fifteen

Manchester is no longer functioning at any level. Middle managers look like rabbits in the head lights. Staff morale lower than zero. However the heart warming CEO blog is a great source of comfort and reassurance at this time.


Think the feeling of tumbleweed recently might be down to the lack of staff over the Summer. Our county is huge (just under 2,000 square miles). Four of us in the CRC covering the entire area over the Bank Holiday week. The SPO did office duty for us and we took turns to cover the front office because we only had one admin. Unintended consequence of the split, everyone having pre-booked leave at the same time.


1: This blog is well read by CEO's and middle managers in Manchester and it can only be a matter of time before censorship is applied.
2: Most middle managers are trying to make things work despite their misgivings - not one. middle manager in Manchester that I have met supports TR - therefore how can they implement the changes with any authority?
3: There is not one CEO (that I am aware of) who has openly come out against the changes. Apologies to you honourable lady or gent if this is the case - please keep trying..after all you have a 3 year protected pay deal (I think) whilst the rest of us are cannon fodder.
4: How many staff are actively involved in the setting up of their mutual CRC in Manchester?
5: Manchester is relying on agency staff to lurch from crisis to crisis which is not of their making.
6: Manchester's Connect forum however refers to this crisis as 'teething problems'.
7: The Justice Minister fears making any changes as he fears looking weak and politically inept.
8: The Justice minister is weak and inept.
9: Those who failed to object to the changes now eagerly grab the chance to write FDRs for £150 a time and in doing so try and prop up a system that is toppling slowly over
10: So as you can see we are well and truly shafted.
11: However, the dates for signing the contracts keep getting pushed further back.
12: I heard that a reunification strategy was being discussed between the opposition parties last week in case things didn't go according to plan with the sell off.
13: So with all things considered and despite what we are being told via the electronic blogs (Northumbria Crack takes the prize for best title) there is still much to fight for....


Personally I cannot wait for the contracts to be signed. Things will soon go FUBAR for all those involved it will put paid to any future similar schemes. Plus I want to see Sodexo try to make a silk purse out of the sows ear that our trust has descended into!!!


Northumbria Crack is a real magazine made of paper. It's a complete work of fiction, nothing in it is reflective of what is really happening. We think they have named it after the drug they were smoking when they wrote it.


There is a generation of Probation staff out there that earn their living unpicking the flawed thinking of deviant others. They DO NOT fall for spin. I advise management to stop trying to bullshit us. It belittles them and it belittles us.


Manchester - sickening joke! In other areas there are options for CRC PO's to complete PSR's for overtime. Not Manchester - on no! CRC PO's HAVE to do them under the threat of disciplinary action. CRC PO's have been "instructed" to attend RSR and CAS training next week. So, my only supposition is that there is no clear end in sight for Manchester. So, we're doing 2 PSR's per week, holding up to 20 NPS cases on top of a 70 person CRC caseload. Hilarious! 

I am particularly enjoying the fact that a number of offenders have been transferred around officers so much that they are being terminated with just one contact (induction) and no requirements completed throughout a WHOLE order. Manchester was an unfunny messy joke pre-split. Now, it has officially collapsed. Mind you, if you are to read the chiefs blogs from CRC and NPS they might tell you about the fancy lunches they have been to this week, or tell you we're getting through the teething problems very well! I love our managers, they are so motivating and in-touch.

Merseyside CRC were asked if we wanted a regular bulletin and my office decided it would be a waste of time as it'd be full of propaganda and we wouldn't have time to read it.


Derby's, Notts and Leics CRC have just issued a questionnaire of how the staff feel, including how management are doing and TR. Hmm not sure what they are letting themselves in for because probably come back as everything is fine.


Teesside NPS could not give a flying. For them it's just another JFDI day.


JFDI: Just F*cking do it. A favourite saying of our ex chief and now embraced by most SPO's when you raise a concern.


We had to do a weird 'push button' questionnaire at the launch of our CRC. We were asked hugely loaded questions like 'how important is it to you to feel valued as an employee?' This has been translated into 90+% of staff agreeing with the cultural aspirations of the new company. Statistics lie.


Re: survey mentioned above. It asks if we think that management is 'strong and visible'. Given the question posed a few weeks ago asking what happened to our leaders as TR was bulldozed through, I can only surmise that they have had a collective irony bypass or perhaps they are being tongue in cheek?


I'm getting a feeling that this whole shebang i.e TR is going down the pan. Wonder if we had Ladbrokes on it what would be the odds that contracts are not in place before the next Election?


Too many robots will make it trundle on, reality is 98% of staff don't care who they work for. Could be arms dealers for all they care or understand ... Get out whilst you can before even the automones recognise its bad. I did and can do the work we all aspire too.


I think that does 64 per cent of staff a disservice(insert meaningless percentage here). In our area NPS staff are not far from breaking point and the CRC staff are starting to get worried as a lot of them are quiet. (I know the workload varies between areas and sometimes offices as to which part are overworked i.e CRC or NPS).

I think that a lot of people are just trying to get through this and hoping the following day/week/year will get better. I also think that when or hopefully if the CRC's transfer to the big players, we are going to see a massive cull. They will want to pay SPO's, PO wages, PO's, PSO wages and on and on. It is potentially going to be horrible for all involved.


How on earth can CRC be quiet? - it doesn't make sense as the majority of cases through our courts are low/medium. Everyone in our CRC office has a case load of 60/70 and that's a lot to keep track of. NPS are quiet as most of theirs are sitting in prison doing long stretches - oh and they're over-staffed.


NPS employing 100's of agency temps to assist with 'breach'. Is this the breaching of under 12 month sentencers who will (we presume) be tagged?? Nice work if you can get it, eh? I am still quietly enraged at this wide scale dishonesty and the resulting chaos and confusion. Probation is hanging by a thread.


Northumbria CRC has been overtaken by the work load measurement activity. They have gone about it in the most convoluted way possible and it’s taking hours and hours of staff time. It’s really highlighting how much time we spend doing ridiculously mindless bureaucratic tasks that make no difference to anything. Not sure anything will actually change as a result.

My clients are also increasingly feeling the impact of welfare changes. I find the men the most distressing to deal with. North East men are a proud bunch and it’s soul destroying to see them in tears because they are in such despair with benefits sanctions, rent arrears, lack of crisis loans, bedroom tax, being found fit to work etc, etc. There’s a real sense of desperation creeping in and I hate this bastard, cruel government more each day.

Admin just found three cases sentenced at the beginning of the year & have never been allocated an officer. Whoops


Seeing how my local CRC are asking staff to 'fudge' OASys scores is making me so glad I'm not a part of the CRC

Just been offered an agency job in Manchester. Pay negotiable, will fund travel & hotel + £250 bonus. Where is all the money coming from?!?

Practice is being changed to suit the TR agenda and the court reports are the beginning of this. I have tried the risk escalation process, it is a bloody nightmare to use and took me half a day and two calls to IT, then the NPS officer had a nightmare too. Previously I would have just talked to my manager updated the risk and continued to manage the case myself reacting to the change in risk. It really makes me so sad to lose a case I've worked with for ages and where I was the one to recognise the changes, only for someone in NPS to take it over not knowing anything about it. Plus, don't get me started about the DV reports coming out from courts, really they are just not good enough.

First I would like to say in my area we have also seen a decline in the quality of reports prepared for court. This is because court PSO's are writing majority of them. These have been staff who have been in court for years who have never even held case loads let alone written reports. I'm sorry but their inexperience shines through and the amount of poor assessments and inappropriate proposals is embarrassing quite frankly. The problem with the split is you don't necessarily have the right person for the job.

Our FDR template does not even have a section for Relationships. Some court officers will type it in manually but others not. I have now begun complaining each time I get a sub-standard report from court and I believe that these complaints are being carried forward.

With regards to being split into the CRC, I am a PSO and am struggling with mental health cases that would previously have gone to a PO - I feel as though I'm in over my head and can't do the job anymore - good luck to those PSOs who feel able to take DV/CP/MH cases on but I'm not and have no wish to do so - in effect I'm being put out of a job. Finally, I've had no training on any of the above either and it's a case of ask a colleague if and when you come upon a query.

The split does not have the right people for the right job. I have noticed in Manchester in our office 3 newly qualified officers are in NPS, they should be on protected caseloads, they are refusing to take lifers, sex offenders, holding a small case load, had only written about 10 PSR's and perhaps 1 Parole report during their training. Then you have highly experienced officers that have 25 years plus service that have been shafted into CRC. IT'S ALL WRONG and giving the NPS a right headache which higher managers are refusing to see. And no one from CRC are rushing to apply for the NPS posts and rightly so for the way we have been treated. They have had to re-advertise. THE TRAIN CRASH HAS ALREADY HAPPENED IN MANCHESTER, WE ARE JUST PICKING UP THE SCRAPS.

Since I have been shafted into the CRC, I have never worked so hard due to having a 90% caseload of DV cases. It is impossible to do all the work with each case that I am supposed to do due to the shear volume of cases. Prior to the split we probably had about 10 DV cases each. Also should child protection cases not be managed by NPS? When I trained 30 years ago our first and most priority was child protection. Running around like a headless chicken is going to cause a lot of mistakes and last minute fire fighting and maybe cost to human lives. THE RISK TO THE PUBLIC IS MORE APPARENT NOW THEN IT HAS EVER BEEN.

Omg that takes the biscuit. We are now using Facebook to find documents to do our job.........priceless

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Guest Blog 7

The Domestic Violence Question

I went to my (new) GP today and he asked me the domestic violence question. I could have hugged him. GP's are often the first agency that victims of domestic violence have contact with, and by most accounts, the awareness and ability to respond to domestic violence risk indicators on the part of health professionals is at best variable.

Last week I discussed my high concerns about domestic violence cases within the TR project with my MP. He came up with the stock response that where risk is indicated as increasing, cases will be referred to NPS. There will, potentially, be no one equipped to spot the indication. In an effort to demonstrate the need for properly trained and supported professionals to be in place in the CRC, I told him this:

Imagine a woman meets up with another woman on the high street.
One shows the other the delicious shoes and handbag she has just purchased and then says “Don't tell my husband! He'd go nuts! You know how it is, hahaha.”
The “DV question” in this instance is “I don’t know, actually, how is it?” Because I have had DV awareness drummed into me for over a decade now, and have worked in this field for a good while, that response is second nature. And that is why I know that a sizeable proportion of my women friends and acquaintances are victims and survivors of domestic abuse. And why - when she tells me “what it's like” I know how to advise her in a way which is supportive, but also keeps her safer.
Two things with regard to this really bother me about Grayling's TR project. One is an act of destruction, and one is a squandered opportunity, and both will add to the sum of human suffering and inter-generational misery, (plus significant cost to the public purse) attributable to DV.

Splintering Probation into NPS (High risk) and CRCs (Low to medium) is an act of destruction, and coupled with the longstanding downgrading of the majority of DV cases to “medium” or “low” risk, puts victims including children, at increased risk of harm. Beverley Gilbert gives a well argued account of this in “Public Protection? The Implications of Grayling's 'Transforming Rehabilitation' Agenda on the Safety of Women and Children” British Journal of Community Justice Vol 11 (2-3) 123-134.

I have previously described this fault line in risk assessment as “an act of institutional sexism on a par with the institutional racism identified in the Macpherson report.” The ability - or even intention - of the profit-oriented cost-shy new providers of probation services to train and support staff in effective risk assessment in domestic violence cases, and to engage in the often complex multi-agency risk management work must be in serious doubt.

Even in this transitional stage staff bringing with them the legacy of knowledge and expertise into the CRCs will be impeded by new additional referral processes and technical (IT) barriers to accessing information. Without compulsion on new providers to support and properly train their staff, the situation is perilous.

With the entire probation establishment tying itself in knots trying to make the unworkable work, that is, desperately trying to maintain what it was delivering satisfactorily (in fact “excellently” according to independent assessment) before Grayling waded in, there is now a tragic missed opportunity.

What I have discussed above is the issue of male to female domestic violence. The need to push forward on theory and practice to address abuse within LGBT relationships, and abuse perpetrated by females on men in heterosexual relationships, is overdue. This is a difficult and challenging conversation, in my experience, speaking as one whose comfort zone is squarely within the feminist/Duluth tradition, but it is also fascinating and urgently needed. Probation, with its distinguished but now rapidly eroding tradition of academic and practice interface, should have been at the front of and driving this development.

So: an act of destruction, leading on to a missed opportunity. The issue of Domestic Violence (and the implications for victims including children) within “Transforming Rehabilitation” is justification enough for an immediate pause in the headlong race to push through the share sale.

There isn't a Council or a political party that doesn't put Domestic Violence high on its list of priorities. Mouthing that it IS a priority does not wash unless this is backed up by some actions and some stern demands on Mr Grayling.

Leaders, Decision Makers, Civil Servants need to say very clearly and very loudly that TR is NOT SAFE. They should say specifically that TR fails against diversity and equality benchmarks with reference to victims of domestic abuse. They should say specifically that TR fails against benchmarks with reference to any and every government “priority” with regard to domestic abuse. They should say that in this respect alone TR will put vulnerable people at risk of harm, and this government at risk of disgrace and embarrassment, and should therefore at the very least be reviewed, and reviewed urgently.

Su McConnel

Friday, 12 September 2014

Omnishambles Update 70

Many thanks to the reader for sending me the following exchanges copied from 'Compass' the in-house magazine for Cheshire and Greater Manchester CRC:-   

CGM in the media
This was a very recent article in the Warrington Guardian. What are your thoughts on the article? It has high-lighted some concerns around peoples opinions on PSO's and the amount of agency staff in all LDU's. Are senior management happy with the number of agency staff we currently have in all LDU's?
The article published last week:

THE community in Warrington is being put at risk as criminals are being managed by unqualified staff, according to a Probation Service union boss. Kevin McIntyre, Cheshire secretary for probation staff union Napo, claims government changes to the service have resulted in some offenders being badly supervised, including those who could be likely to re-offend. He said the problems have stemmed from splitting the Probation Service into two sections.

The National Probation Service deals with high risk cases, but lower risk cases, like domestic violence, are handled by the Community Rehabilitation Company. “The CRC’s main task is to supervise low to medium risk cases, the majority of these being domestic violence cases which experience shows regularly re-offend,” said Mr McIntyre. “Many such cases are being supervised by inexperienced, unqualified staff. “Staff morale in the Probation Service is at an all time low since the reorganisation. “Despite statements to the contrary by the Ministry of Justice, the system is in chaos and staff are struggling to cope with the practicalities of making the new arrangements work while at the same time dealing with a time consuming and cumbersome case allocation process, disproportionately high workloads and inadequate IT systems. “All these factors are putting staff under extreme stress as well as jeopardising service delivery and putting the public at risk of harm.”

Napo also criticised the amount of agency staff in use at the CRC. Reports that can decide how a criminal is managed after leaving prison are being completed by staff with ‘little knowledge’ of cases, it said. Napo also claimed more public money is being spent than on the old probation service.

Justice Minister Andrew Selous said: "Each year more than half a million crimes are committed by those who have broken the law before and 50,000 of the most prolific offenders are released totally unsupervised and free to go back to their criminal ways. "Our reforms will finally address this unacceptable issue. "All offenders under supervision, including those convicted of domestic violence, continue to be managed by trained and experienced probation staff."

Warrington North MP Helen Jones said she will meet with Napo to discuss concerns in Warrington.  
Chris Noah 2nd September 2014 13:17

Thank you for your question. I am aware of the article and was disappointed by the comments made in it. I would like to give you a full response to the points you made and will do so on the follow up forum which will be put up on Compass later today.

Chris Noah 
2nd September 2014 15:23

As promised, here’s the fuller answer for you with regard to the question you asked in the Live Webchat.

I am aware of the Warrington Guardian article and was very disappointed by the comments made about colleagues who are doing an excellent job and working hard to manage cases effectively. Approximately 25-30% of our workload involves domestic abuse and we have included consideration of this in our training plan and service design.

All our PSOs have received domestic abuse training and will have additional briefing and support when supervising such cases. Whilst some of our staff are inexperienced, we are providing the necessary training and support, and, actually, the majority of our staff are well trained, skilled and experienced. I would like to introduce more stability into the workforce and we are looking at the number of temporary staff we have. I am keen that we do not increase the risk to permanent staff though (as per Louise’s question about redundancy), so this is a careful balance.

As you know from the blog, I am well aware of the IT issues, unfortunately many are out of our control and I do appreciate the pressure that slow ‘clunky’ IT places on staff.

In relation to the Warrington Guardian article, we will be inviting them to hear about our work and promoting some of the many ‘good news’ stories of effective work with offenders at the Warrington Office. We will also be seeking to meet with Helen Jones MP to discuss the work of CGM CRC and some of the real issues (such as IT) to be addressed.

We have already engaged with the Warrington Guardian recently in that they ran with a story we gave them about the success of the Support4Change project and its award from the Howard League for Penal Reform. This is just one example of the good news stories we shall continue to feed through to Cheshire media, including, of course, the Warrington Guardian, to highlight the great work of our staff.

2nd September 2014 12:52

CGM CRC in a year
The Moderator

The following question has been submitted by email for the live webchat - Where do you see the company this time next year?

Chris Noah 
2nd September 2014 12:53

I would expect to see us working hard to achieve our mission, vision and values and achieving strong results. Our vision to deliver world class offender rehabilitation across Cheshire and Greater Manchester should be at the heart of everything we do. I would expect our performance which is already good, even in the current climate of change, to strengthen, particularly with the work we are doing to align programmes and operations across Cheshire and Greater Manchester to create a more efficient, effective and streamlined model for working with offenders. Our service redesign plans, too, are designed also to strengthen and improve our performance across the LDUs.

End State Realisation
2nd September 2014 13:07

In your last blog you made reference to the above and that the CRC and the NPS will be operating independently as of the 1st of November. I question whether such is an aspirational rather than a realistic target, especially given the problems that still remain with ICT and that as yet the NPS have not filled operational vacancies. Indeed in your blog you made reference to the CRC undertaking breach work (an NPS responsibility) as an interim measure. This further example just seems to affirm further that the `bailing' out of the NPS will continue, due to the whole TR programme being ill conceived and hastily implemented. Your views please?

Chris Noah 
2nd September 2014 13:12 

Thanks for your question.

I agree that it will be a significant task for the NPS to put in the place the arrangements they need to be a self reliant organisation. We will continue to support our colleagues within the NPS during this transition to ensure that the whole system works as well as it can and that public protection is maintained. We are setting up a project to manage end of state realisation and I will keep everyone up-to date via the blog.

There have been some fascinating exchanges over on the Probation Graduate Diploma Facebook pages as young enthusiastic applicants discuss the delays in finding out if they've got a place or not:-
Thank you all for your patience. As an update, the results of the campaign to recruit PQF learners will be sent out this week and all applicants will receive an individual e-mail giving them their result. 300 places will be offered to start on October 20th 2014 and in addition to this, some additional places will be offered for a January 2015 start. Applicants who receive an offer will be asked to complete security vetting applications immediately to ensure that they can start on time.
I know I'm old and grumpy, but there's something really sad about the naivety of this bunch of prospective new recruits. They clearly have no idea as to the scale and scope of the omnishambles to which they aspire. There's been some attempt to enlighten them:-

Prior to TR I would have wished you all the best, welcomed you with open arms and mentored you. Post TR, you are walking into the worst profession in the public sector with the lowest levels of morale ever and resentment among CRC toward you new trainees who are effectively leapfrogging experienced, highly professional and well regarded Probation Officers who have been totally shafted by this Government. There is no job security, there is no job satisfaction, there is very little opportunity to make a difference and there is no joy or pride in this profession. Go in if you want but do it with your eyes wide open and be prepared for enormous amounts of stress and a highly stressed workforce with no time or energy to help you.

I think that the NPS need to review their recruitment process quite frankly. I have worked for probation for many years, I have been allocated to NPS and didn't hit the criteria to get through to the Interviews. I actually did the job of a PSO. The whole point of the split in the first place was for the government to save money. Quite obviously it would save even more money to invest in the staff that you have already got who have got the experience of working for probation and what it entails. Taking on University graduates is all fine and well, everybody deserves the chance to get into the world of work but to take on over the already experienced staff that have worked immensely hard for the service over the years, is quite frankly ridiculous and does not 'make best use of public money'!!! Very disappointed..."

It is sad to hear people initially happy at having passed the process but then dismayed at the lack of subsequent information. Unfortunately, working for Probation this is something they will need to get used to - look at the poor woman who'd over 20yrs service and been diagnosed with terminal cancer and is still waiting since 2nd June for her ill-health retirement money. 

Many of the applicants appear to be young and just happy to get on the career ladder but do they really realise just what a tall task they have in front of them? In 12 months time they will be solely responsible for a caseload comprising of high-risk offenders? Just one thing to bear in mind. There is no guarantee of a probation officer post at the end of this training, posts available will be subject to how many staff have left and so if there are 5 posts but 9 people have passed the training then 4 people will be disappointed. 

In addition I know in my area you also, having passed or not, have to go through an interview process - you don't just pass the course and then get a job!! If this where to happen it could be possible that you would be offered a PSO role the starting salary of which is approx £21k, considerably lower than a PO starting salary.

Finally, the geographical area of some of the areas is vast - somebody tweeted this week that there area is 2000 Sqm. If you don't drive I would strongly advise you start taking lessons as in my area home visits are strongly encouraged and public transport is dire.

I would say that as existing staff we do not have a gripe with 'outsiders'. The issue is that we have many experienced, colleagues who as they don't have degree are now excluded from applying for PO training and many other of our PO colleagues who were sifted into CRC and can no longer do a lot of the job that they trained for. It's not so much these new applicants we resent, it's the MoJ for doing all this.

I try to keep up, but I was completely unaware of this:-

Coming Soon: The privatised sick note service that will email you back to work
In two months time the traditional doctor’s note excusing you from work will start to cease being valid if you are still sick after four weeks. Just before Parliament went into the summer recess welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, announced that a US multinational company,Maximus, which also operates in Canada and Saudi Arabia will take over running the new Health and Work Service for England and Wales.
My report in this week’s Tribune reveals that up to one million people will be affected by the change which appears to be aimed to save the government money. Maximus runs call centres, occupational health programmes, child support and job seekers programmes abroad and in the United Kingdom. The programme is to be rolled out from November to next May aims to save up to £165 million a year by getting people back to work faster as part of Lord Freud’s welfare reforms.
The Scottish government has declined to contract out the work to the private firm and will keep the assessment programme as part of the public service. More worryingly it appears that the private company which will make the decision will not see anyone – and create a Return to Work programme via a call centre telephone interview and a decision by email. The package is supposed to be agreed between the sick person and the private company and sent to both the individual and their employer. Failure to co-operate with the service will mean the individual will lose their sick pay.
Lord Freud is quoted in a DWP press release emphasising how the scheme will improve economic productivity and get people back to work faster. He says:”Providing support where it’s needed most will help to reduce the length of time employees take off sick which, in turn, will cut sick pay costs, improve economic output and reduce the chances of people falling out of work and having to claim benefits.“
After the cruel and nasty system that forced disabled people to find work or lose benefits run by the French company, ATOS, I have a suspicion that this new system could push the sick back to work before they are ready. While ATOS did this by personal interviews and tests, Maximus look like putting the sick back to work without examining them to see they are fit and well. No doubt the government will see it as another way to tackle the workshy. But even employers’ advisers are sceptical about this. This new development needs watching.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Latest From Napo 39

First this from Napo Greater London Branch:- 
We are pleased to have been invited to participate in this consultation exercise and chose to do so believing that it would be in the best interests of those members who are now working for the CRC and who will, in due course, possibly be working for another provider.To facilitate the consultation exercise the following questions were posed:
  • What does the CRC need to deliver to reduce reoffending?
  • What skills are needed to achieve this?
  • How should the CRC organise the skills it already has?
  • How could the CRC apply its existing skills most effectively?
  • How should we work with partners and stakeholders? 
Given that we are fundamentally opposed to the “splitting” of the service into two separate organisations, with one of them (the CRC) destined to be sold off to a private provider, it was difficult to answer these questions.
However here are our responses: 
CRC needs skilled probation-qualified staff and “good” management and supervision processes to reduce re-offending.
CRC needs to continue to demonstrate that front line CRC staff are able to use their risk assessment skills along with their reflective practice to contain and manage risk in the community. This includes a capacity to make professional assessments and use professional judgement.
CRC should continue to demonstrate how work with partnership agencies adds value to the work and assists in rehabilitation and resettlement, Access to community resources are a vital resource for practitioners to refer people to but, the initial skill of undertaking a risk assessment, compiling an accurate sentence plan and undertaking offending behaviour work are critical. By offending behaviour work and skills we mean challenging where appropriate, being able to build a trusting and honest relationship, motivational interviewing, pro-social modelling, CBT, solution focused therapy, building service users’ human capital.
CRC should continue to ensure that practitioners remain doing work which focuses on the quality of the interventions and that performance measures do not just measure process.
CRC staff should continue to show how current interventions work to reduce risk, rehabilitate offenders and even make amends via CS and RJ.   
CRC staff should continue to maintain a probation value set so that they can intervene to maximise engagement and compliance. They should continue to show that their interventions are constructive and measurable. They should continue to articulate and communicate to others the decisions that they make and demonstrate that they are defensible. When they have to recall or carry out risk escalation they need to be able to make balanced and evidenced based assessment. 
CRC staff should have access to high quality continuous ongoing professional development as they exercise power and make professional decisions.  
CRC staff should continue to have access to training to keep abreast with interventions and they should have the capacity to develop new interventions.  
CRC needs to have evaluation and research processes to evidence effective intervention. 
CRC should continue to work with partnerships to promote community resources and to promote reintegration and rehabilitation. 
CRC should continue to work with all Statutory Sector and Voluntary Sector organisations within the Criminal Justice to promote a joined up risk assessment so that we can most effectively reduce risk of reoffending protect the public and where possible make amends to those harmed. 
We believe that the CRC should seek to uphold the original ethos of the Probation Service in so far as it respects and values the personal relationships that need to be developed during the course of supervision to effect significant behavioural changes. To achieve this the CRC needs to be adequately staffed and resourced. We also believe that it is important to develop local partnerships and involvement with local communities. 
However, because of the cloud of commercial confidentiality that surrounds bidding and procurement processes, we have no way of knowing if such considerations will be taken into account when contracts are awarded. Any private contractor will need to satisfy its shareholders and we fear that commercial considerations will take precedence. 
We are also concerned that private contractors will want to introduce increasingly mechanistic and technological methods of surveillance and supervision to reduce costs. Such methods, particularly used in isolation, would be the antithesis of the values to which we believe the CRC should be subscribing. 
Pat Waterman Branch Chair On behalf of the Branch Executive of Greater London Branch NAPO
There's an old saying, 'get your retaliation in first'. I think it neatly applies to the three page letter all Napo members have recently been receiving from General Secretary Ian Lawrence. Somewhat cunningly, the text is not available on the Napo website, which makes life quite a bit more difficult in an age of 'cut and paste'. I could prove my credentials as someone having absolutely no social life and transcribe it all, but instead I'll just restrict myself to the bits where I think the General Secretary appears a tad defensive prior to the AGM next month.
What's Napo doing about TR?
Just as I predicted when I addressed last year's AGM in Llanadudno, the struggle against the privatisation of the Probation Service has been an unprecedented challenge for Napo. Despite this, we have maintained a major campaign against TR which has included two sets of industrial action, a political strategy that will have included two major lobbies of Parliament and the submission of vital evidence to the Public Accounts and Justice Committees. 
One of the most frustrating aspects for all of us at Chivalry Road is that all too often it's clear that not all of our members access the various communication strands that are available to them. For example Napo recently picked up two prestigious awards from the Trades Union Congress which suggests that the standard and content of our written publications stand comparison with those of our sister unions who have much more in the way of resources than we could ever dream of.
The work that your officers and staff put into mediums such as: Napo news, the Napo website, Branch circulars and our weekly Campaign Bulletins are designed to tell you what we are doing and when; so may I take this opportunity again to please urge you all to read the material that we issue which is easily accessible from the Napo website.
Napo and the media
Despite the seemingly endless daily stories of conflict and suffering from across the globe, Napo has managed to secure substantial publicity over the summer.
This is in addition to the fact that our coverage on TV and Radio over these last 12 months again stands comparison with any other union and this comes on top of the hundreds of probation stories (and many that have been relevant to FCS members) that have appeared in the regional media during this time. My appreciation goes out to Napo activists and our members who have helped to generate interest in the fact that TR constitutes a serious risk to public safety.
Napo negotiating for you
Despite the pressures of the the TR campaign, your elected officers and workplace representatives continue to work extremely hard on your behalf and their efforts have helped us to secure the staff transfer agreement and the resurrection of the National Negotiating Council.
Of course we acknowledge the devastating impact of the imposed staff split between the NPS and 21 CRCs but we did all we could (save for long term industrial action which your representatives have made clear is just not an option) to delay the division and negotiate the best protections that we could for our members under difficult circumstances.
Being accountable
I have worked for a number of trade unions and in terms of accountability to our members, Napo stands head and shoulders above the others. We are, and always will be a member led union, where you have the option of direct involvement in the decision making process through your local branch (or section in the case of our FCS members). 
This means that at any time you can attend a members meeting and hear directly from your employed officials and/or your elected officers about what we are doing in terms of campaigning, negotiating and managing the union and how we spend your subscriptions. 
We have an Annual Conference (AGM) that is without doubt the most interesting and diverse event of its kind within the trade union movement, where it is open to any Napo member to attend and help determine the policies and strategies that you want us to follow up in negotiations with our political and professional contacts.
My commitment and track record of accountability to members means that I will always try to attend a members meeting, provided that you try and give me enough notice! I have no problem explaining my part in our wider efforts on behalf of those who employ me.
I would like to get out to as many branches and workplaces as reasonably possible over the next year so please ask your Branch reps to contact Annoesjka Valent if you would like me to visit.         
Our campaign against the shambolic and unsafe TR agenda continues with as much vigour and determination as before. Just how hard Napo has worked has been acknowledged by many prominent people and below I have attached a message to Napo members from TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady.
Yours sincerely,