Sunday, 23 December 2012

Small Print

I stole this from the internet last year. It made me laugh then and still does (I used to be married to a lawyer). I sincerely hope the copyright holder does not mind me sharing it around once more. As ever, thanks for reading and contributing to this blog - it's nothing without you and I really appreciate it.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Please note.
From us (“the wishors”) to you (“hereinafter called the wishee”):

Please accept without obligation, explicit or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, politically correct, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion or secular practice of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions.

Please also accept, under aforesaid waiver of obligation on your part, our best wishes for a financially successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of this calendar year of the Common Era, but with due respect for the calendars of all cultures or sects, and for the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform or dietary preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting you acknowledge that:

This greeting is subject to further clarification or withdrawal at the wishor’s discretion.

This greeting is freely transferable provided that no alteration shall be made to the original greeting and that the proprietary rights of the wishor are acknowledged.

This greeting implies no warranty on the part of the wishors to fulfill these wishes, nor any ability of the wishors to do so, merely a beneficent hope on the part of the wishors that they in fact occur.

This greeting may not be enforceable in certain jurisdictions and/or the restrictions herein may not be binding upon certain wishees in certain jurisdictions and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wishors.

This greeting is warranted to perform as reasonably may be expected within the usual application of good tidings, for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first.

The wishor warrants this greeting only for the limited replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wishor.

Any references in this greeting to “the Lord”, “Father Christmas”, “Our Saviour”, or any other festive figures, whether actual or fictitious, dead or alive, shall not imply any endorsement by or from them.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Who'd Have Thought It?

It's always good to have your prejudices reinforced or beliefs confirmed, but it never ceases to draw a wry smile through gritted teeth when academics come up with what just seems to be the bloody obvious. Apparently, according to issue 16 of the NOMS Offender Engagement Research Bulletin, clients respond better to good probation officers than crap ones. Yes I know that might take a bit of thinking about, but in a survey of seven male probationers (no expense spared on this piece of research), all of whom had a long history of offending and a large range of offences:-

"The results suggested that certain characteristics (acceptance, respect, support, empathy and belief) were associated with supervisors 'who worked' and produced a positive climate for change. Conversely, an absence of these characteristics (rejection, a lack of respect, no support, a lack of empathy and a lack of belief) were linked to those supervisors 'who didn't work'."  

It goes on:-

"In respect of challenging offender behaviour, the probationers argued that they valued an effective supervisor who was 'straight, direct and honest', a skill that was called ' pro-social push'. The probationers suggested that in order for pro-social push to be possible, a positive climate for change is essential. If the building blocks of acceptance, respect, support, empathy and belief are absent, the probationers stated, challenges by a supervisor were largely ignored and perceived as an 'abuse of power' as well as promoting a 'them and us' culture."  

So there we have it in a nutshell folks. The secret after all lies in having a good probation officer. It seems from this evidence that crap officers not only don't work too well, their piss poor practice can be positively dangerous too. Look what one probationer had to say:-

"I finished my meetings with her and went straight to the pub, got drunk and went home to argue." 

Another commented:- "I left the session and was so angry I went to the pub, got drunk and went out offending."   

I know I shouldn't mock Sarah Lewis of Portsmouth University because she's only doing her job, but this kind of stuff really does make officers of a certain age just a tad irritable. So, on the basis of the bombshell contained here, I think I'll just sign off and reflect on my own practice.    

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Politician Talks Sense - Shock!

As we all know, and I've commented on before, politicians rarely talk sense about drugs. In the wake of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee publishing their first report last week on UK drug policy, I think I heard Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg say something sensible. He said the war on drugs had been lost and it was time to review strategy - a view that I entirely support. 

"If you were waging any other war where you have 2,000 fatalities a year, your enemies are making billions in profit, constantly throwing new weapons at you and targeting more young people, you'd have to say you are losing and it's time to do something different. I'm anti-drugs - it's for that reason I'm pro-reform."

He went on to fully endorse the Home Affairs Committee call for an urgent Royal Commission on drug policy, only to be quickly shot down by Prime Minister David Cameron. Typically he says that current policies are working and that we don't need a Royal Commission. 

Sadly there is a long-established tradition in this country of politicians sounding relatively sensible on drug policy in opposition, only to go all tough-sounding when in government and pretend the situation is improving. 

The fact is the whole situation is far from rosy. Yes heroin use is falling, especially amongst young people, but we have no idea why. More people than ever, especially in prison, are being 'parked' on methadone for years just as a way of trying to keep prisoners off illegal substances. There is absolutely no way of stopping drugs getting into prison, not least due to the huge sums of money to be made by corrupt prison officers.  

Just to put the tin hat on the whole sorry state of affairs, I'm repeatedly told by clients that weaning off methadone is much harder than heroin and in fact deaths from methadone overdose in the community now far exceed those for heroin use. So, in effect, more people are dying of the cure than the disease.

I find him a hugely irritating politician, but in this instance Nick, you are indeed talking sense. It's just such a shame that I doubt you have a long term political future. The awful thought occurs to me that the two just might be linked. Such is our democracy here in the UK. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Food and Shelter

Not surprisingly the approach of Christmas gets many of us contemplating the plight of people less fortunate than ourselves. Food and shelter are two of the most basic of needs and it should be of concern to us all that the continuing economic situation is leading to an increase in people's difficulty in obtaining both.

In a nation brought up under the auspices of a welfare system introduced after the Second World War and designed to banish the 5 evils famously outlined by Beveridge in his 1942 report, I think it takes some getting used to. After all we all know that the welfare bill has grown exponentially and certain newspapers continually tell us that there are apparently many millions of people living quite well on state benefits. 

The coalition government endlessly state that the system has become unaffordable at present levels of entitlement and 'reforms' have begun. As a result the police are already reporting changes in shoplifting patterns. For years the main driver for shop theft has been the need for people to fund illicit drug dependency with high value items typically being stolen in order to sell for cash. Now however there is increasing evidence of essential food items being stolen such as baby milk.

I well remember a similar situation during the miners strike in 1984 when theft of coal became significant in order for many striking families to keep warm. People placed under extreme pressure will feel obliged to commit acquisitive crime in order to provide either for themselves or their families. Not all of course, but each person's situation will be different and as during the miners strike, thankfully communities will often rally round and try and provide food and shelter. It's no accident that food banks have sprung up all over the country in recent time and use of them has seen a dramatic rise.

The recent BBC 1 Panorama programme on the increase of homelessness served to reinforce the anecdotal evidence from food banks that quite ordinary people are increasingly coming under extreme economic stress. Working families on low wages are finding it hard to feed, heat and clothe everyone, parents are often missing meals and feel ashamed at having to turn to charity in the form of food handouts. But this is becoming the grim reality for many people on low incomes caught up in the economic downturn and having to cope with that meagre income reducing, as costs continue to rise inexorably.

As the Panorama programme highlighted in graphic detail, eviction and homelessness can befall any of us as a result of a series of tragic, unfortunate or unforeseen events. Ok poor judgement and unwise decisions can play a part too, but increasingly homelessness is going to affect more 'ordinary' people as businesses go bust, mortgages are foreclosed and illness or tragic accidents strike. It's usually the combination of factors that serve to compound a person's situation such as negative equity, relationship breakdown, ill-health or just very bad luck.

If we are not careful we may see a rise in very old-fashioned and insidious notions of a distinction being drawn between the deserving and undeserving. Of course probation has always been involved with the 'have-nots' in society and traditionally have always tried to do their level best to try and redress matters, make amends or ameliorate in some way. 

Our ability to act has been seriously curtailed of course with the demise of befriending funds and other practical help that used to be dispensed such as clothing and food. But I'm beginning to hear stories of spontaneous officer-initiated charitable distribution schemes of food in some offices. It seems like our social work ethos may just be about to be re-invented by newer colleagues feeling somewhat uneasy about how things have been going in recent times.        

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

And the Problem Is?

I guess it's happened to all of us who use public transport - the tantalising snippet of conversation that drifts your way during a lull in background noise. It happens in other places too. It happened to me yesterday - just a sentence from an overheard radio newscast 'police shot the man dead, believing him to be on his way to rob drug dealers.' Hang on a minute I thought, the words still sinking in - robbing drug dealers - and the problem is? 'Drug dealer gets robbed' - I call that a result!

I had to look the case up and I must admit it had passed me by. Azelle Rodney, a young black guy, had been fatally shot by a Metropolitan Police firearms officer in 2005 whilst allegedly in a car with others on his way to rob Colombian drug dealers. It is said no warnings were given, eight shots were fired at close range when the car was forced to stop, and a police officer was heard to shout "sweet as!"    

The case is interesting and highly disturbing for all sorts of reasons, not least that legal history is being made as instead of an Inquest, an inquiry is being held in front of a specially security cleared judge at the High Court. Whilst I can appreciate that most concerns centre around the legal justification for what amounts to an execution, I'm really keen to be reassured that our law enforcement agencies were putting just as much effort into catching Colombian drug barons as they were into catching the people that were supposedly robbing them?

According to the Daily Mail report, Ashley Underwood QC, counsel for the inquiry explained:-

" early April 2005 her Majesty's Customs and Excise, as it was known then, received intelligence about an armed gang that robbed drug dealers. Its 'modus operandi' would be to set up a meeting to view class A drugs and then steal them at gunpoint."

For some reason I just can't get out of my head the notion, almost certainly erroneous surely, of said drug barons putting in an official complaint about being repeatedly robbed. Were the drug barons going to give evidence at a possible trial - and get immunity in return? Am I missing something here - or aren't the police supposed to be rounding up drug barons? If the police caught the bloody drug barons there wouldn't have been anyone to rob would there?      

Monday, 17 December 2012

The End Really is Nigh!

Assuming the apocalypse doesn't occur on Friday this week, it seems that HM Government will be announcing the demise of the Probation Service as we know it before Christmas. Sufficient rumours are swirling around for NAPO to take the unusual decision of writing to all members along the following lines:- 

"Probation Review

You may have been informed that the Government will make an announcement on the future of the Probation Service this week.

The details are not yet known but are likely to involve plans to privatise up to 70% of our work.  The only work to remain in the public sector will be advice to the Courts and Parole Board and the management of high risk cases.

Please be assured that Napo is opposing these plans unequivocally and we are not alone.  The Probation Association and the Probation Chiefs Association are voicing their concerns as well as Napo’s allies in the Houses of Parliament.  

Sadly we have already had a taste of what’s to come.  When Serco won the Community Payback competition in London, they offered warm words to the staff and senior management team.  Minutes after the contract was signed, they made a third of the staff redundant.

The privatisation of justice will be a disaster: unaccountable, expensive and run in the interests of shareholders, not for the public.  Take a look across the Atlantic and shudder.  The big security companies have shafted the taxpayer out of millions in the tagging contract and are salivating at the prospect of more.

The shrinking pot of money for criminal justice will all be spent on overseeing contracts and complex procurement processes.  The G4S fiasco at the Olympics and the West Coast mainline debacle tell you all you need to know about the Government’s competence.

Probation is a fantastically effective and efficient public service, as proved by our British Quality Foundation Award.  Here’s what you need to do immediately to save it:

           1. Write to your MP with your concerns about the privatisation of Probation and ask them to raise the issue in Parliament. 

            2. Recruit a colleague into Napo - strength in numbers really works and provides the resources for       Napo to oppose the privatisation threat.

Meanwhile, at Napo HQ, we are working hard to get as much publicity behind our campaign as possible.  We will always work constructively with Government but we are certainly not prepared to see Probation go down the pan on the back of a lazy and ideological whim.  

Best wishes," 

The timing, if correct, must be seen as nothing but utterly cynical being so close to Christmas. With the Nation gently winding down for a well-deserved break and celebration, there is absolutely no hope of doing anything constructive by way of lobbying or organising any form of opposition until early January. All I can do is draw it to your attention readers.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Pensioners Behind Bars

There's plenty of evidence to confirm that one of the largest growing groups within our prison system is that of the over 65's. Last night's ITV Tonight documentary 'Pensioners Behind bars' had a stab at raising some of the issues, but typically managed to miss the main point completely.

Yes we were treated to some images from prisons such as HMP Norwich which is one of several that have specially adapted wings for the elderly and disabled, but we didn't see that wing. We heard the governor talking about how the prison system has had to cope with an ageing prison population, and for those listening carefully you would have heard him give a small clue to one of the real and disgraceful issues that this programme missed entirely. In passing he referred to having to cater for the particular special needs of this group, including dementia.  

Hang on a minute, why would there be prisoners in prison suffering from dementia? Surely they should be in a care home or something? The fact is that HMP Norwich and other specialist units elsewhere house a significant number of elderly and infirm prisoners on indeterminate sentences with nowhere for them to go. I'm sure the Parole Board would dearly love to release most of this group to more appropriate supervised care provision, but in my experience they really are deemed the 'undeserving' and every facility either finds endless reasons why they are not suitable or not funded to take them. The funny thing is that if you become mentally ill in prison you can be transferred to a secure mental health facility. There is no similar provision if you are just old and demented.

Make no mistake, this group pose a very sad picture indeed as they shuffle around, either limbless or confined permanently to wheelchairs in an often confused state of mind. Maybe the prison service did not allow access for fear of stirring up a public outcry? Maybe the tv producers just didn't know or didn't want to know? Instead they highlighted cases of bright intelligent pensioners who all made poor judgement calls that put them well the wrong side of the law, and they all ended up in jail as a result. 

To be honest I think they all deserved jail, but I would remind readers that in years gone by I think I would have been supervising virtually all of them on what we used to call 'straight' probation orders, ie with no particular extra requirements. In effect the probation service has ruled itself out of taking this group on, because that's what successive governments have ordered us to do. Remember that probation used to be a period of time that allowed a person to demonstrate that they could stop offending and lead a law-abiding life with some appropriate assistance from a probation officer. What a brilliant idea! But it got turned into a punishment per se, and that's basically why we are where we are now with an ever increasing prison population.

A straight probation order would work perfectly well in virtually all the cases I saw highlighted in this tv documentary, with the state getting it's pound of flesh punishment-wise by means of Proceeds of Crime measures.   

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Reflection - Again

Regular readers may have noticed that posting has been erratic of late. I could say I've been busy doing my bit for the economy and buying loads of Christmas shit - but in truth I guess I've succumbed once more to waves of negativity to do with the job. I suspect it might be seasonal - a bit of Seasonal Affect Disorder or just the approach of another year end and time to reflect? I have always been prone to reflection, not a bad trait I feel in this line of work. In fact regular reader Mike Guilfoyle has just written quite a powerful reflective piece here concerning an incident during his career.

Rooting aimlessly around the internet, I came across the transcript of a recent provocative lecture by Professor Pat Carlen to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies on the subject of rehabilitation. This is of course a topic close to the present government's heart and indeed prime minister David Cameron gave us the benefit of his views only fairly recently. The flyer for the lecture stated:-  

"In this lecture Pat Carlen invites you to consider the proposition that rehabilitation (in theory or practice) is not the good thing we have been taught to believe it is – and that it never has been. Secondly, she invites you to re-imagine the possible relationships between criminal justice and social justice; and then suggests that working towards a reparative justice informed by a sociological jurisprudence of equality-before-the law might help counteract some of  the blatant inequalities inherent in criminal justice in grossly unequal societies."

In the preface, Prof Carlen sets the scene:-

"I want to invite you to consider the proposition that rehabilitation is not the good thing 
we have been taught to believe it is – and that it never has been. Secondly, I want to 
invite you to imagine new relationships between criminal justice and social justice. 
Because Prime Minister Cameron was wrong when, in a speech last month, he put 
renewed emphasis upon punishment and rehabilitation in the community. He was 
wrong for several reasons, but he was fundamentally wrong  because the poor, the 
young, the disabled and the indigent elderly and many others are already being 
severely punished in communities deprived of the most basic access to housing, jobs, 
and general welfare. In such a situation it seems obvious to me that all questions of 
crime and punishment have to be linked to, and most probably subsumed by, 
questions of social justice and inequality.  It is with that agenda in mind that I shall 
argue, this evening, that, instead of repeatedly punishing the poor and then kidding 
ourselves that we can combine punishment with rehabilitation, we should work
towards a reparative justice informed by a re-invigorated principle of equality-before the law."

It makes absolutely fascinating reading and I was particularly interested to see that it was mentioned on the NAPO discussion forum. I hope contributor Duende will not mind me quoting this passage which to be honest has helped to remind me why it's still worth persevering in this remarkable task before us:-

It is times like this makes us all re-assess our situation and I am beginning to share your bleak assessment, JP, of what is left in probation worth saving. However, there are people who subvert the system and although the space is small, if I was an offender I would like to see someone that understood the meaning of respect, had professional values and some nuanced understanding of my social circumstances. I think there is still good work to be done but the system is as dodgy and unjust as it has always been. Perhaps probation has always worked in this space to some extent.

Reading that suddenly took me back to vague recollections of a paper I'd spontaneously produced for my team many years previously and during a similar period of angst. I wondered if, per chance, the archives could render up a copy? Well, here is the introductory section from 'What am I doing and where am I going' dated 15/02/1990.

The Wider Context

As a Probation Officer of only five years experience my perception is that the job has changed dramatically as indeed has the social and political climate generally. I have found that in order to function happily I have to divide my thoughts between being positive with individual clients and their situations and being almost completely negative when thoughts stray to the wider context. 

The Probation Service has always been, to a certain extent, involved with applying sticking plaster to situations caused by the effects of social policy, but it is surely hard to comprehend just how malicious and punitive successive Tory governments have been over the last ten years with this regard. As a nation, we sell council housing, but don't build any. We force 16 year olds to stay at home, but when they are thrown out or leave for good reason we pay them no benefit. We allow young people to live in cardboard boxes in their hundreds. We expect them to join YTS but pay no benefit if they don't etc, etc.

It is with such a government that Probation Service management seem to think they can arrange a 'fudge' in order to escape the worst excesses that no doubt are in store for us? At a time when the service should be putting most of its effort into diverting people from custody, we find ourselves having to redress these inadequacies of social policy by, for instance, becoming a provider of accommodation. Other agencies have this statutory role, not us. At various stages we have filled other gaps in social policy provision by supplying furniture, literacy skills, transport, food etc, etc. Taken to its logical conclusion we could be providing employment in depressed areas to fill the gap in regional employment policy, or provide a mini bus service to areas of employment opportunities, thus plugging a deficiency in public transport.

This trend has not gone unnoticed by government of course and it is no surprise that the service is almost certainly to become either a fully fledged government department or a QUANGO-style national agency. Bits of it may be 'privatised'. Local accountability and initiative go out and in come National Standards. This is not just about things like recording, it is about stopping our attempts to alleviate the worst excesses of social policy and removing the social work basis to our work. There are strong suggestions of removing training from CQSW courses and substituting 'criminal justice' courses instead. The emphasis will undoubtedly be on 'punishment in the community'.  

Re-visiting this piece reminds me just how much we have lost by moving away from the broad-based degree and CQSW courses, to the distance learning criminal justice degree and in-house NVQ training of late.  

Sunday, 2 December 2012

A Lottery

Ben Gunn raises an interesting case over on his blogsite, namely that of Kevan Thakrar. Leaving aside Thakrar's claim to having been wrongly convicted of several underworld murders and thus serving several life terms with a tariff of 35 years, his case is extremely significant because he was acquitted last year of attempting to murder two prison officers at HMP Frankland. 

Thakrar never denied attacking the officers concerned in a 'pre-emtive strike' with a broken sauce bottle, sufficient to inflict severe wounds, but he did claim that he acted in self defence. His explanation centred around his claim to have suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a direct result of alleged racist attacks by prison officers on previous occasions. After hearing from numerous other prisoners who supported these allegations, together with expert medical opinion, the jury unanimously found Thakrar not guilty on all counts.

Not surprisingly this case has caused considerable concern within HM Prison Service, the National Offender Management Service and the Prison Officers Association. But one would hope that as a result of such an unprecedented acquittal there has been some serious soul-searching within the Prison Service as to the disturbing allegations made and obviously believed by the court. It's not enough in my view to throw hands in the air and complain about the judicial system having delivered a 'perverse' verdict. Surely it's time to bring in some outsiders to have a damned good look around? Is the current HMI system up to the job?  

I have to say it goes some way in confirming my own decision made some years ago not to work as a probation officer within the prison setting. To be honest I've always had a degree of unease about accommodations that I might have been expected to make just in terms of being able to establish and maintain good professional relationships. There are clearly huge cultural differences within the two organisations and I would say a degree of mutual distrust has always been evident. For many years NAPO campaigned for no PO's to be in prison at all and whilst I've never subscribed to this view, I can well understand management's current extreme reluctance for secondments to exceed 3 years, lest officers become subsumed by the prison culture. 

There's one other aspect of this case that I find worrying, and that is the role of 'expert' opinion. It would seem that the Crown Prosecution Service decided to commission a specialist report by a psychologist as to the defendant's state of mind at the time the alleged offences took place, but when it didn't support their case, they simply ignored it. This is routine in my experience of our adversarial legal system, but hardly conducive as a method of seeking justice in my view as it often pits experts chosen specifically to support a particular view against each other. 

Surely it would be preferable if all such specialist reports were commissioned independently by the court? In Thakrar's case, most unusually, the defence team used the psychologists opinion instead, and the CPS were put in the unenviable position of having to try and demolish expert opinion they had themselves originally commissioned.     

Friday, 30 November 2012

Hope Springs Eternal

On Tuesday this week the government announced the figures for their flagship work programme designed to reward contractors if they find jobs for the long-term unemployed. You may recall that this topic was discussed at some length a couple of weeks ago when former A4E boss Emma Harrison continually told Channel 4 news that the figures they had "were wrong." 

Well of course it turns out that they were spot on with no contractor achieving the government's minimum of 5.5% of those referred obtaining employment. In fact the average achieved of 3.5% is actually less than if people hadn't been referred to the programme at all. So much for the huge success of Payment by Results then, particularly as it's being hailed as the government's answer to tackling high reconviction rates within the criminal justice sector. 

So far the scheme has cost £485 million with little obvious benefit. Contractors such as Ingeus achieved only a 3.3% success rate and A4E only 2.8%. Funnily enough Emma Harrison has appeared loathe to comment on these official figures. 

Although a huge embarrassment for government, and you can bet these figures were the subject of many recounts, why on earth should it come as any great surprise? Here we are still in the middle of a worldwide recession, with high levels of unemployment, and these work programme providers are expected to somehow magic jobs out of thin air for some of the most challenging clients imaginable.

It is of course 'mission impossible' at the best of times and certainly requires a great deal of coaching, support, perseverance and dogged determination on the part of staff in order to achieve a change of mindset in many cases. Huge numbers of those referred have been 'languishing' as Ian Duncan Smith put it, on Disability or ESA for years and have now failed the dodgy eligibility tests administered by Atos. Significant numbers would be regarded as unemployable by many without some intensive and expensive interventions which are simply not regarded as economically worthwhile by contractors paid on the present results only basis. 

The most obvious point to make in all this is that in most cases work programme contractors are not doing anything more than that formerly undertaken by Job Centre Plus staff, but at considerable additional cost to the public purse. There will surely come a time when the penny finally drops that the 'work' could be brought back in-house in view of the very poor outcomes, and save all the money being paid over to the likes of A4E. Now there's an idea..... 


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Do You Believe in Fairies?

So the right wing of the Tory Party have not been disappointed. Today Justice Minister Chris Grayling announced the demise of the publicly-run probation service as we know it. In addition to finally enacting a long-forgotten clause in the 2003 Criminal Justice Act that will provide post release support to prisoners serving 12 months or less, so-called 'custody plus', he has also decreed that supervision of 'low risk' probation clients will be put out to tender. 

Despite there still being no hard evidence that Payment by Results actually works, the whole plan to provide former offender mentors ('old lags?') at the prison gate is predicated on the touching belief that third sector organisations and charities can work their magic and thus be remunerated on a results basis. And the figures are staggering. About 50,000 prisoners are released each year having served less than 12 months. That's one hell of an army of mentors to train and newly released prisoners to motivate! Beds to find, jobs to secure and crises to sort before they get paid. No temptation to fiddle of course.  

Mr Grayling says that released prisoners will be required to attend drug projects and supervision sessions, which in itself will be an interesting concept for many offenders who hitherto have been used to just 'doing their time' untroubled by well-meaning probation staff. As a concept I have to say it has all the classic hallmarks of a half-baked policy designed specifically for political consumption. You know, like that Tony Blair idea of 'marching' miscreants to the cash point in order to pay an on the spot fine, or even the Tory 'short sharp shock' experiment so loved by young thugs.

Despite the probation service having achieved all targets set for it, we are nevertheless told that the motivation is to save money, the implication being that the private sector will be much more effective and cheaper than the public sector. Call me an old cynic, but as a humble public servant I find I have to put all this into some sort of context, especially as we've just blown £100 million on an utterly pointless election with the lowest ever turnout rate.

We discover that three vast American corporations operating in this country pay virtually no corporation tax here at all. A trader at UBS gets 7 years imprisonment for losing the bank £1.4 billion because he was greedy and wanted to keep his bonus and status. His employers had no idea what he was up to. Hewlett Packard pays $10 billion for a British company and now complains they were 'hoodwinked' as it was only worth $8.5 billion. Whatever happened to the old adage 'buyer beware?' Maybe KPMG who did due diligence can answer that one. 

Even Rangers win their tax appeal against HMRC and the Prime Minister touchingly feels that forcing all the energy companies to only have four tariffs will mean cheaper gas and electricity for all of us.

Do you believe in fairies?  

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Real Story

I sometimes despair of our news media in this country. How long is it going to take for them to cotton on to the real story about the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners? It's not the empty Gwent ballot box or the pathetic turnout or even the rejection of party political candidates, it's the massive increase in spoilt papers.

We've had a long history of spoiling ballot papers as a defiant act of civil disobedience in this country. When the news media finally get around to realising what actually happened on Thursday and tot up the totals for all police areas, I'm confident it will be a very significant number indeed. 

Make no mistake, by and large this wasn't people confused about a new election and the possibility of recording a second preference, it was very angry people determined to register their disdain for the whole charade and making that clear by comments left across the ballot paper. I know because I sat for 15 hours in a draughty school hall running a polling station and some voters seemed to be taking a great deal of time over what they were writing on their papers.

As Returning Officers have found out at the count, thousands of disgruntled voters throughout the land have left some very angry comments directed at the government. In Devon and Cornwall, the last area to declare, a total of 6,339 papers were 'spoilt' representing 3% of the total and more than were cast for one of the independent candidates in the election. If that is representative of the rest of the country, in my view it is the real story of what happened on Thursday and government would do well to take notice.

I feel I want to put on record that Thursday was a huge missed opportunity. Readers will be aware that I advocated spoiling papers a couple of weeks ago, but the idea was sadly rejected by Inspector Gadget who advocated not voting instead. Unfortunately this action merely supports the view that people were apathetic about the process, when in fact many were angry and wanted to register that anger. The spoilt totals could have been much, much higher. 

By the way, I have absolutely no confidence that the very expensive and toothless Electoral Commission will have anything remotely useful to say on the subject.   

Friday, 9 November 2012


I notice that disgraced Olympic security contractor G4S has been roundly punished by the government and have not only lost the contract to run HMP Wolds, but in addition have not made it onto the shortlist for contracts to run a further four prisons.

Interestingly, the Ministry of Justice has decided to keep three other prisons in the public sector, having previously included them in the tendering process. Accordingly HMP Coldingley, Durham and Onley will not now be up for grabs, but Sodexo, Serco and MTC/Amey are still in the race for the four remaining prisons namely HMP Northumberland, Moorland, Hatfield and Lindholme. 

As the government's largest security contractor and representing 10% of G4S income, there is no doubt that this decision has sent shock waves through the company and is clear evidence that 'reputational' damage has been caused. Their share price was hit significantly and apparently the company is urgently seeking feedback as to why their bids failed. The Chief Executive Nick Buckles must surely be considering his position.

Losing control of HMP Wolds is extremely significant because it was Britains first private prison 20 years ago. Added to the recent woes associated with train franchising, it's at last becoming clear that there are major problems with so-called outsourcing and privatisation of public services generally. Interestingly it seems that shares of other companies in the sector such as Interserve and Serco fell with investors hearing of the news. Oh, and the CBI is very critical apparently, so this really is beginning to look like a watershed moment in terms of a government rethink.   

Friday, 2 November 2012

OASys Won't Help

Which ever probation officer has been given the very unenviable task of writing the PSR on Ezekiel McCarthy would be well advised to forget using OASys in my humble opinion, for I'm absolutely sure it will be of no assistance at all.

Despite this, I note that the Press Association reports from the Old Bailey state that His Honour Judge Peter Beaumont, the Recorder of London, wants the man's 'dangerousness' assessing as part of an 'all options' PSR by December 4th.

By all accounts it's a tragically sad case involving 84 year-old Mr McCarthy mistaking his nephew for a burglar and as a consequence stabbing him in the liver. The nephew died three days later and the Court accepted a plea of guilty to Manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Medical reports stated that at the time Mr McCarthy had 'suffered an acute episode of delirium or confusion brought about by medical conditions linked to his age.'

So, what on earth might society feel was an appropriate way of dealing with possibly the oldest defendant ever to appear at the Central Criminal Court? How on earth might OASys, a computer programme, assist in helping determine the level of dangerousness he might pose? 

At this point I think it's worth noting that at NAPO's recent AGM in Torquay, a motion advocating a campaign for the reintroduction of the straight Probation Order was defeated, broadly on the grounds that the public would find such an argument for what was essentially a welfare-type order difficult to understand. I think it would be fair to say that the government would not be likely to be sympathetic either at the present time! 

Since famously becoming a 'law enforcement' agency some time ago, the mantra in probation has been 'resources follow risk.' I've never accepted this and in fact I'm on record as saying I think it's bollocks. A wise society would do well to acknowledge that some people's offending behaviour just doesn't fit neatly into any OASys ordained box. Sometimes there are just over-whelming welfare issues and if probation doesn't tackle them, which other agency will? 

In the past and in such cases when courts felt stumped as what to do, there was always the option of the all-embracing generic Probation Order of up to 3 years. However, such has been the move away from this kind of mindset that apparently in West Yorkshire staff are currently forbidden from suggesting the modern equivalent Community Order with Supervision only. My hunch is that the Recorder of London will deal with the case appropriately having regard to welfare issues.    

Thursday, 1 November 2012


Reading the latest edition of 'Inside Time' I was particularly struck by a piece concerning prisoners in denial at HMP Wakefield and written by Paul Sullivan. The article refers to the recent HMI report by Chief Inspector Nick Hardwick and his observation that:- 

‘The most significant concern we identified at our last inspection in 2009 remained. Almost half the men at Wakefield were in denial about their offence – to some degree refusing to take responsibility for their offending. There were no programmes available at Wakefield to tackle the behaviour and attitudes of men in denial and, as a consequence, little effective work was done with them.’

Actually I'm not sure there are any programmes specifically designed for prisoners in denial within the prison system, but no doubt I will be corrected if I'm wrong. Anyway, Paul Sullivan  suggests that it is beyond the legitimate remit of the Inspectorate to be 'publicly trying to discredit' prisoners who are in denial and that by raising the issue it 'impugns their integrity.' 

I have to say this is a somewhat brave stance to take talking as it is about a Category A maximum security prison containing 750 men, most of whom have been convicted of the most serious sexual crimes it is possible to imagine. Most will be serving life sentences and therefore at such time as their tariff has been reached, judgements will have to be made by the Parole Board as to whether it is safe for release to be considered. 

Particularly in relation to sexual offending, in my experience denial and minimisation are quite normal. In order to try and effect sentence progression, and in the end to be able to afford the public a degree of protection if release is granted, it is the legitimate business of probation and the prison authorities to challenge denial intelligently, but carefully. Of course history shows that there may be some innocent men wrongly convicted, but the vast majority simply do not want to confront their offending for what ever reason. The article goes on:-

"With the removal of the need for evidence in trials for alleged sexual offences (1994 Criminal Justice Act), the payment of massive compensation to accusers (even if there is no conviction or even trial), the burgeoning of police trawling and allegations of historic abuse, for which there is no defence or alibi after many decades, and the recent concerns of helpful evidence going ‘missing’ and failure to disclose evidence that would help the defence, the window for innocent men being convicted and locked up is open wide and, despite mountainous hurdles placed in the way of any men trying to have a conviction overturned many hundreds do succeed each year, - although NOMS will not admit to having a figure many support groups keep track."

Just as we are all still coming to terms with the sheer scale of Jimmy Savile's sexual offending and historic prosecutions of others may begin, although perhaps not intended, this article appears to verge on being both naive and apologistic towards sex offenders. HMI Nick Hardwick is spot on in drawing attention to this extremely challenging group within the prison system who cannot be allowed to simply deny their offending, 'do their time' and hope to be released to possibly offend again.  

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

A Circular Argument

I can't help noticing that since gaining release, Ben Gunn is stirring up quite a lively debate about imprisonment over on his blogsite, whilst trying to deal with the inevitable trolls at the same time. This was always going to be a tricky exercise for any of us trying to put a slightly more nuanced angle on the age-old argument 'does prison work?'  I know, because I've tackled the issue once or twice myself, as here in December 2010 and entitled 'So, Does Prison Work?  

Actually in his recent piece Ben has brought up a specific topic I've been meaning to cover more thoroughly since briefly mentioning it here on 'Protecting the Public'. It's an organisation called Circles of Support and Accountability. As he says, the concept has it's roots in Canada as a faith-led community response to sex offenders who were serving long prison terms, but amazingly being released back into the community without support or supervision.

Sex offenders in particular are often highly isolated individuals lacking both social skills and legitimate community contacts. The idea is that each offender is offered the chance to have a small group of carefully selected volunteers, usually about six, and they form a 'circle' around that person through their time in prison and on into release back into the community.

As the name indicates, they not only offer support but accountability as well. In other words it's an additional level of supervision that is encouraged to continue long after any statutory involvement by probation or police ends. Unfortunately, as their website makes clear, the continuing Jimmy Saville revelations is leading to some public misunderstanding as to the charity's focus on preventing further offending, as well as support for former perpetrators.

It will be obvious that Circles is not a 'magic bullet' solution as it can only ever be considered an option where an offender fully admits culpability and is willing to entertain changes in their attitude and behaviour towards offending. I don't want to unduly depress readers, but in my experience this sadly renders Circles inappropriate in many cases as levels of denial amongst sex offenders as a group is significant. Equally in my view it cannot replace imprisonment as a punishment, but can play a major part in effective rehabilitation where an offender accepts their offending and is willing to cooperate.

Having said that, Circles is proving beyond doubt that this restorative justice concept is a good one for the right offender and reconviction rates are remarkably low for those who have been part of the pilot projects so far. Without doubt it is an idea that will develop, possibly into other areas of offending and it is being enthusiastically supported by all relevant criminal justice agencies.

This shouldn't really surprise us as the underlying ethos is completely in accord with the humanitarian and religious principles that gave rise to the probation service in the first place. Here in the UK it's particularly noteworthy that Circles enjoys the very active support of the Society of Friends - or Quakers to you and me.          

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

What a Wonderful World

A letter in The Guardian recently caught my eye. It was from a group of academics at Swansea University quoting their research that demonstrated a convincing link between the skill of a probation officer and the reconviction rates of those being supervised. 

Absolute music to my ears, but even I'm not sure how typical Jersey offenders are, or indeed their small but dedicated team of officers. In an ideal world, if you were setting out to prove such an interesting hypothesis, wouldn't you choose a slightly larger and dare I say challenging Service to look at?  

However I did enjoy a good root around the website for Jersey Probation and After Care Service - when did you last hear the term aftercare? - and it was pure nostalgia! They are still called probation officers not offender managers, have 'clients' not 'offenders' and are still appointed as Officers of the Court. Many are social work trained and the whole Service is a blissfully OASys-free zone.

Social Enquiry Reports - yes remember them - are still written in the time-honoured way that no doubt tells a coherent story and that allows the character of both the author and subject to shine through. Oh I'm going all misty-eyed just at the thought of what life was like before OASys ruined everything. To be honest I am so envious of these officers who do not have to waste so much valuable time filling in all that computer crap. No wonder they have time to work their magic!

Please also note that Community Service is still just that and there's not an orange tabbard in sight as those sentenced labour on socially useful and imaginative projects. There is a Restorative Justice system with a 100% satisfaction rate and Youth Justice is still part of the Service. Even prisoners are allocated an officer at six months, not the usual 12 months back here on the UK mainland. 

It all seems so surreal - a Chief for a Service that in total might fill a smallish room and is allowed to jet off round the world to places like Norway and Australia in order to spread the word of probation, Jersey-style. What a wonderful world we live in!     

Monday, 29 October 2012

Nice Work if You Can Get It

The Work Programme is a government flagship policy and can't really be allowed to fail. After all it was only last week that new Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was citing the fantastic success of the payment by results scheme as reason for rolling it out as fast as possible across the whole criminal justice sector. 

Unfortunately for him and the government though, Channel 4 News have got wind of the fact that it isn't working. It would appear that A4E have come no where near their minimum target of a 5.5% success rate in getting people into work on the programme. In fact it seems that, despite being paid handsomely with taxpayers money, they actually did worse than if people were just left to their own devices in order to find their own job. 

In what can only be described as a disastrous interview on Channel 4 News last Wednesday, former managing director Emma Harrison could only repeat endlessly that 'the figures are wrong' without being able to quote any correct ones. 

She was clearly unprepared for the interview and I can only assume that the current management team must have been collectively hiding behind the sofa, hoping it was all a bad dream. In what was a public relations nightmare, as majority shareholder, it turns out that she has rewarded herself a further £250,000 dividend payment since stepping down.  

Now there is a very well-known saying that 'bad figures always take longer to add up' so I think it can be safely assumed that much midnight oil is being burnt at DWP HQ in order to put as much positive spin as possible on some very crap numbers due for release shortly.           

Friday, 26 October 2012

Time to Register a Spoilt Vote

My piece the other day entitled 'A Dogs's Breakfast' about the impending farcical election for Police and Crime Commissioners seems to have struck a chord, well certainly with my mates in the pub. As we all know, major issues of the day are widely discussed in such institutions, where still available, and my suggestion to spoil ballot papers on November 15th was enthusiastically received.

If my circle of friends and acquaintances can be deemed as in any way typical of other people nationwide, despite the arrival of the government leaflet, there remains widespread ignorance as to what PCC's are all about and whether spending up to £100,000 on each one was a good idea or not. There is particular anger that absolutely no information about the candidates will be forthcoming and it can only be found online or as a result of telephone enquiry.

Well it emerges that the same young policy wonks that thought up the whole barmy idea at the Tory Party think tank Reform have some more brilliant ideas as to how the remit of Police and Crime Commissioners can be extended into other areas of public life. According to their latest report, they are suggesting that PCC's are given authority over commissioning probation, fire and ambulance services. They see this as a brilliant opportunity to extend the privatisation of all these services. 

There is only one way in which we, the Electorate, can register our disdain for this whole sad miserable piece of political gimmickry and that is by taking the unprecedented step of spoiling our ballot papers en masse. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Legacy

Barely a year following his death, Jimmy Savile's fall from grace has been swift and spectacular. The massive headstone has gone to landfill, the commemorative plaques and road signs have been removed, the statue will not now be commissioned and his charities are being wound up.

The truth is finally out that the idiosyncratic national treasure, a charismatic but immensely irritating loner, was probably one of the most prolific child sex abuser's of all time. It turns out that he fooled us all, but at the same time we are now beginning to appreciate that all the worrying signs were there and remarkably he did little to hide them. 

Certainly over the years Jimmy has been the subject of much discussion and speculation amongst colleagues, usually in the pub. It just didn't seem to add up. An adult male, much of who's professional time was focused on children, but who's private life remained a mystery. I don't recall there ever being any evidence of close adult sexual relationships either male or female. Despite our concerns, lengthy discussions always resulted in the acknowledgement that seemingly nothing untoward had ever surfaced. Equally, there'd been none of the usual celebrity 'kiss and tell' revelations. 

We now know that Jimmy Savile was typical of many child sex offenders in his ability to target vulnerable children and groom them, confident in the belief that he could cover his tracks because they would be too scared to speak up, or be believed. It's now becoming all too tragically clear that, as with many sex offenders, a great deal of time and effort was expended on long-term planning in order to position himself with trusted access to children and vulnerable young adults. 

Disturbingly, it now puts into perspective the true motivation for the unorthodox charitable involvement both at Broadmoor Special Hospital and Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injuries Unit. In addition I must say I was completely unaware of his earlier involvement with an Approved School for girls. The fact that there is emerging evidence of sexual assaults on both boys as well as girls, together with members of his close family, means that he ranks amongst the most dangerous of predatory sex offenders. 

Classically it would seem that part of the reason that he remained unexposed was his use of threats and rewards. Newspapers and nosey journalists were threatened either with legal action or the fact that his considerable charity work would be jeopardised. Family members were silenced through the implied threat of largesse drying up in the form of gifts including houses. All these traits of manipulation, scheming, obfuscation, minimising and denial are extremely familiar to those of us who work with sex offenders. They are without doubt a very challenging type of offender for us and emotionally draining.            

It's going to take some time for the full extent of Savile's offending to be established, but the true and unexpected legacy is that the whole subject in now up for discussion and victims at last feel empowered to come forward with their stories, confident that they will be listened to. I don't just mean victims of Jimmy's unwanted attentions either. As reported by the BBC today, all charities working in this field are seeing an unprecedented increase in people making contact.

For far too long there's been a cynical view in some quarters that a number of people were coming forward to make historical claims of sexual abuse, particularly in children's homes, out of a motivation for compensation. This completely fails to understand the trauma involved in deciding to talk about past abuse. The huge step in facing up to the unwarranted feelings of shame and being able to cope with the pain that inevitably forms part of the process. In my experience it is a process never entered into lightly or vexatiously.

Any probation officer can vouch for the long-term harm and emotional damage that can be caused by abuse. Sadly it's a common aspect of many of our clients backgrounds and for some victims they never get over it and self-harming, retreat into drugs or alcohol dependency become normal. Suicide is not uncommon.  

The whole sad and unfolding Jimmy Savile story serves to confirm much of what we in probation know all too well. Sexual abuse is far more widespread than society is so far willing to accept. It features in all sectors of society and at all levels. Of necessity it is hidden and not a subject for polite conversation. There are victims everywhere and we must be prepared to listen to people if they feel the time is right to talk about their experiences. There are going to be lots more historic cases coming before the courts and some famous names. This is the somewhat surprising, but true Jimmy Savile legacy.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

A Dog's Breakfast

For those not familiar with the expression, I'm grateful to the Urban Dictionary for the following explanation:-

"dog's breakfast," which has been British slang for "a complete mess" since at least the 1930s. While no one took the time to write down the exact origin of the phrase, the allusion involved seems to be to a failed culinary effort, perhaps a burned or botched omelet, fit only for consumption by the mouth of last resort, Fido. As a vivid figure of speech meaning something so fouled up as to be utterly useless, "dog's breakfast" can cover anything from a play plagued by collapsing scenery to a space mission ruined by a mathematical error. 

Just as we're all coming to terms with the inevitable approach of the 'festive' season, voting cards are beginning to drop through our letter boxes. Surely there must be some mistake - an election in November? - we never have elections in November - it's far too cold, dark and damp for that, and besides we had elections in May as usual. So what the hell is this all about?

Well, it seems that some young policy wonks in a think tank thought it would be a jolly good idea to make the police more 'accountable' by replacing Police Authorities with directly-elected Crime and Police Commissioners. For some completely unaccountable reason, the Tory Party thought it was a jolly good idea too and so on November 15th we will be electing PCC's who, amongst other things, will have the power to hire and fire Chief Constables. 

Included in a rag bag of other powers, they will be able to draw up a 'policing plan' and be given responsibility for victim services. There are dark mutterings that their powers might be extended to involve other probation functions as well. About the only positive aspect of this whole ridiculous idea in my view is that some candidates might stand on a platform of refusing any notion of large scale privatising of police or probation functions. This is contrary to government policy of course.  

Basically the whole idea has all the hallmarks of a 'back of a fag packet' half-baked political wheeze and my guess is that with only three weeks to go, most of the population remain in blissful ignorance as to who or what they are being asked to vote for in November. The tv adverts that have started appearing won't help either. Scenes of young people committing mindless acts of vandalism just serve to remind us that it's the job of the police to deal with that sort of thing and how exactly will paying £100,000 per annum for an extra bureaucrat help?

21 million leaflets will be dropping through our letter boxes this week as well, hopefully making clear what the whole sad sorry idea is all about, but don't expect any details about the candidates because there won't be any. The government has decided that it's a 'do-it-yourself' task. If you want to know which sad failed politician or wannabe control freak has stumped up £5,000 to stand, you have to look it up for yourself on the internet.   

So, at vast expense in running a special election in November when the turnout will be derisory, voters will be asked to express two preferences for people they've never heard of, to do a job that they don't understand. It makes an absolute mockery of the democratic process. For the first time ever, I'm hearing responsible mature citizens say that they intend to spoil their ballot paper as an act of civil disobedience and in order to register their disdain for this whole miserable political gimmick.

To be honest I think this is a more honourable option than that proposed by Sir Ian Blair the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner who has publicly suggested boycotting the election. No doubt he still feels very sore about being forced into resigning by Boris Johnson the Mayor of London who famously stated that he couldn't work with him. The trouble with boycotting is that it inevitably becomes confused with apathy.     

I'm angry not apathetic about this and for the first time ever I think I'm going to join the small but growing army of 'spoilers'.  It won't have any effect of course, but it just might make us all feel better. At least when the time comes to scrap the whole barmy concept and it becomes another small footnote in the history of failed political ideas, we can say we had no part in it from the beginning, but that we had at least registered our views in some positive way. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Shit Happens

Continuing my theme of what the possible consequences might be for the probation service if large chunks of it were privatised, my attention has been drawn to another piece of investigative journalism by the BBC.

As a result of a Freedom of Information request to the Care Quality Commission by the Inside Out team, it transpires that 217 companies supplying care staff in peoples homes have failed to carry out any CRB checks on staff. They also failed to check if any of these employees had been disqualified by relevant professional bodies and therefore were not deemed as 'suitably qualified' as required by the relevant legislation. 

The CQC also found examples of employees that had criminal convictions, but were working unsupervised and without having been risk-assessed. Apparently Care Minister Mr Lamb described the findings as "deeply disturbing" and said that care providers "obviously" needed to be held to account by the Care Quality Commission. But he stressed individual failings did not mean "the whole system has failed." He went on "Inevitably, in all walks of life, sometimes things go wrong."  

Now I absolutely love that last bit! Things do indeed go wrong sometimes and in our line of work people can get seriously injured or killed as a result. I do hope the responsible minister can think of something rather more nuanced to say than 'shit happens' when private contractors are supervising high risk probation cases and it goes horribly wrong. Believe me, the resulting media storm is simply unremitting and unforgiving, so it's to be hoped that any private contractors are well prepared for the inevitable negative publicity.  

On a slightly different tack, I was bemused to see Emma Harrison of A4E giving an in-depth interview at the weekend in the Sunday Times. It would seem that she feels to have been unfairly treated by politicians and the media and is still smarting from the experience of being forced to resign. She just doesn't seem to understand that the public are not going to take kindly to her living the high life courtesy of huge government contracts, trousering dividends of £8.5million in one year, and all as allegations of fraud filter to the surface by her staff. But then shit happens, doesn't it? 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Looney Tunes

Having recently returned from a few days abroad, I've only just caught up with what the new 'tough' Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told the party faithful in Birmingham last week. It seems that politicians just can't resist the temptation of talking 'tough on crime' when things are not going well for them. 

Ken Clarke's 'rehabilitation revolution' is no more. All community sentences will have a 'punitive' element and there's to be a new hard line "two strikes and you're out" automatic life sentence for rapists and other violent criminals who commit a second serious offence. Somewhat bizarrely, the Home Secretary Theresa May announced a return to a Medieval approach to sentencing whereby the victims of anti social behaviour can select the punishment to be meted out in cases that don't go to court:-

"They will be given a list of options," said May. "They might want something restorative or punitive. They might want it to be carried out nearby or as far away as possible. But what matters is that the punishment will be chosen by the victim."

Possibly not the stocks, birching or flogging, but I guess it's early days yet for this novel so-called 'community remedy' criminal justice initiative. Apparently it's going to be organised by that other barmy development, the Police and Crime Commissioner. It's all a terrible accident waiting to happen and my guess is that the whole sad fiasco will end up being nothing but a small footnote in history, common sense having by then happily returned.  

Damien Green, the new policing minister, neatly summed up the new policy approach with a quip in very poor taste:-

"Theresa used to say she locked 'em up and Ken let them out. Now Theresa locks 'em up, and Chris throws away the key."

I'm sure such sentiments will be well received by the likes of the Daily Mail and Inspector Gadget, but it's scary stuff, so scary in fact that a group of mostly academics have at last broken cover and responded in a letter to The Guardian yesterday:-  

"Grayling correctly listed the factors contributing to offending behaviour. An over-focus on punishment, however, creates an unintended consequence - people tend to continue offending. Real results are obtained from rehabilitation and reintegration. In contrast, a disproportionate emphasis on custodial sentences is both expensive and ineffective, with political rhetoric along such lines doing little to protect the public, while alienating further those in most need of better integration into society, and making the rehabilitation of offenders more difficult."

Announcing themselves as the newly formed Independent Probation Alliance, and noting that probation wasn't mentioned once in Grayling's speech, all the signatories are well respected voices within the criminal justice field who will no doubt become a little more vocal as the fight for the future of probation and common sense gathers pace.