Monday, 1 July 2013

Omnishambles Update 8

Frances Crook of the Howard League has written an interesting piece for the Our Kingdom Open Democracy website entitled 'Transforming Probation : Or Wrecking a Service that Works? In particular it sheds a bit more light on the anger and subsequent ambush on the government in the House of Lords last week. It's being widely perceived as sneaky and underhand to be trying to introduce probation decimation without proper parliamentary debate, as indeed it is! 

"The ideologically driven nature of the government’s plans to reform the probation service were laid bare in the House of Lords last week as peers accused the government of concealing information and undermining parliamentary scrutiny.
The Ministry of Justice is currently attempting to secure the legislative reforms needed (via the Offender Management Bill) to implement its ambitious ‘Transforming Rehabilitation' agenda which aims simultaneously to expand, improve, privatise and reduce the cost of the probation service, all before the next general election.
It might seem surprising that some of the House of Lords’ most vocal advocates for reform of the criminal justice system are opposing the government’s plans to introduce probation support to those released from short term sentences – a longstanding aim of many penal reformers. But many are concerned about the way the Ministry of Justice is planning to implement the reforms, replacing an experienced, localised and broadly successful public probation service with a large centralised system of corporations paid on the basis of payment by results. They find themselves baffled by the lack of detail available to determine whether or not the plans stand a chance of actually working."
Russell Webster's latest post highlights how Transforming Rehabilitation is quite likely to increase the prison population quite considerably, not just because the soon-to-be-supervised under 12 month prisoners are quite likely to breach their licences, but also because magistrates may well feel no great disinclination to impose short prison sentences, safe in the knowledge that all will be subject to supervision, including mandatory drug testing, upon release. He rather neatly summarises the situation:-
"As we know, one of the reasons that short terms prisoners have such high re-offending rates is that custody does such a lot of damage – houses and jobs are lost, supportive relationships are damaged, sometimes irretrievably.
It’s entirely possible that Transforming Rehabilitation will, paradoxically, result in higher short term custody rates and an increase in reoffending."
So it's certainly not going to save money either. The more you think about this whole daft idea, the more of an omnishambes it seems. Does anyone down there in the Treasury read this?


  1. I think it's Frances Cook Jim, not Crook. But I agree that no money will be saved. The 12mth and under supervision idea is in my opinion likley to cost signifigant amounts. You quite rightly indicate the inclination of magistrates to impose short custodials to ensure some process of support upon release and again I agree that this will swell the prison population signifigantly.
    There can be no doubt that the only people who dont think this is a bad idea reside in Westminster. I also believe that PbR provides a platform for signifigant levels of corruption( I worked within the work programme ) and as a consequence of that experience I feel it essential that the large 'mother' companies who bid should have to announce publicaly what agencies they will outsource to and just who is responsible for those agency approvals in the first place.
    This is all just poundland politics and as such will increase expenditure in other areas.

    1. Jim is right: it's Crook.

  2. I read a variety of blogs everyday but never comment. Today I feel compelled to. I wish not to upset anyone but just simply state my own personal belief.
    The probation service went out the window many years ago when it moved from being a supportive agency helping offenders patch their lives back together, to one of supervision control and an extention of original sentence. I refer to the 2/3rds time served of old.
    If it's soley concerned with supervision, prescribed offender behaviour courses, and focused on recall for non compliance, then any one with an o level can do the job. I dont actually believe this should be the case, but thats my observation.
    I feel strongly that trying to save the probation service is like trying to save the Dodo. It's to late. It doesn't exist anymore, its extinct.
    I think I'd have more support for your cause if the arguement was aimed at a reversion to'ward innitial ideology ( advise assist and befriend) where I feel specific skills and a different mode of professionalism is required.
    I felt compelled to post this comment and sincerly hope readers take it as my opinion only and that there is no intention to cause offence. I understand it's a worrying time for the service ad a whole.

    1. There is no danger of upsetting anyone with forthright and honestly expressed views and opinions - this blog welcomes difficult issues, discussion and debate and your point gets to the nub of the issue nicely. Given our predicament, there is absolutely no point in this turning into just a mutual appreciation society - we need to take such criticisms on the chin.

      Having said that, and without wishing to be rude, I wonder how much you know about the probation service? Even when we were all required to be social work qualified and our mantra was indeed 'advise, assist and befriend', we wielded a stick and had the dual responsibility of protecting the public. It could be characterised as the 'iron fist in a velvet glove' but it's always been there.

      Equally, for all the moaning by 'old timers' like yours truly, essentially the ethical and professional basis remains and even 'social work' is still undertaken either overtly or covertly.

      I must contradict you about the skills required as well. The vast majority of our clients have experienced very damaging backgrounds and typically present with complex social and personal problems. In order to help them and protect the public, officers are required to be skilled, versatile and highly trained.

      Thanks for commenting and as the issues you raise are so important, I may well try and write a specific post based on this topic.



    2. I take some of your points on the chin Jim, and thanks for answering. I accept that probation ' historically' always had an eye and a responsibillity to safeguarding the public, but they also had a focus on the advancement of the offender. It's a complicated issue for me, should any agency be charged with both responsibilities. I'm not sure.
      Managing offenders does just that. Management! Keep them from reoffending during the period of their licence is for me is just not what its about. It's what you avhieve with the individual that has the greater impact on society. Thats probatioans remit. Or should be!
      No offence intended, but again, what does the probation service provide that the public sector can't?
      Qualifications and training aside, thats the question thats got to be answered at every level. What exactly can you provide society with that sirco or g4s can't. As an individual, a member of society, thats really what I want to know.

  3. I agree with you.

  4. There's still a huge amount of advise assist befriend type work that goes on as well as risk management etc. The two areas of work are not mutually exclusive and i disagree that the current model requires less skilled staff. On the contrary, balancing support with control requires more skill and knowledge. Focusing solely on assistance is actually easier.

    1. I don't think modern probation has a distinguished record of risk management if you consider some of the SFO reviews in recent years. The current model recruits staff with fewer skills which is factually bourne out by the rise of the PSO. Also, 'Advise, Assist and Befriend' was not a model that was risk averse. Risk was managed in olden times, usually by a probation officer who was experienced and knew their clients well, as in those days clients were not passed around like parcels. There was continuity and the relationship was long-lasting and central.

    2. I hope I didn't imply less skills were required with the current model. What I ment was that different skills are required. I accept that there is a format to work to that the service is required to adhere to but my point is the probation service is now part of an amalgameted organisation and its real, in its own right existance, does not exist anymore. For me the support element is determined by the paticular nature of the offender manager and not determined by ldeology or direct policy. I therefore advance the notion ( and again its only my opinion), that if the the only intetest ( as what the private sector will be charged with ) is offender management, then someone can do that on the cheap.
      I am actually a supporter of the service, but for me the service needs to stand up for its own, its specific, and its own personal requirement and obligation to society. Unless you can do that....its over I'm affraid.

    3. Control and support belong in different camps for me I'm affraid. It gives mixed messages to those with existing conflicting/ emotional / social/ problems. Applying both you'll never gain trust, always be someone to fear, and have a requirement to appease. You effectively lose control because engagement is about self presevation, and not about trying to advance anything related to the individual.

    4. I worked as a Probation officer from 1975 to 2003. My practice from beginning to end was care AND control - they are a pair - maybe a strange one but understanding that was at the core of the 2 year University pre-entry training I did from 73 to 75 AND I learned that Social Workers = Local Authority and NSCPCC - always have and still do have more direct authority than probation officers, what ever tomfoolery Michael Howard tried to spin in the mid 1990s when as Home Secretary he harmed both professions by ending - at that time Probation Training and when eventually after a massive campaign - largely by those who had already been trained (the only two occasions I went on strike was in support of Probation training - not for personal advantage) Probation training was started again it involved a different qualification than Social Workers undertook with obviously less cross fertilisation.

      The reason Social Workers have more authority is because they initiate action to remove children and some Mentally Ill people (not NSPCC Social Workers as far as Mentally Ill people are concerned) whereas Probation Officers respond to the possibility of people being placed in custody and at most only ever recommend and never decide.

    5. Social workers should be social workers. They have their place in society and have specific training and specific remits. The same applies to the probation. The problem for me is that all the boundries have become blured, and each field think they have authority to cross over lines thats not theirs to cross. It's because no agency have a specific roll anymore, and thats my point really. To be effective and true to your directives in any particular field, you can't belong to an amalgamation of organisations that have alternative focus. To many overlaps and to many contrasts, to many opperational differences and often conflicts of intetest. All serving the common good, all
      focused on a better and safer society but all having an indivdual possition.

      I don't however agree with more or less authority in any specific field. Again this seems to give my point more strength. Saying social workers have more authority because....... Social workers do what social workers should do, just as the police or probation should do what they do. No blured edges and a clear understanding of each others directives and approach.

      I neither agree that care and control belong in the same camp. It's one or the other. If both are required then they should be managed by two different agencies. If they are not then the degree of control and the degree of care applied becomes subjective and differs from worker to worker. That ( and again its my personal opinion), creates conflicts, mistrust, and non effective complience

    6. Well there is clearly a difference of opinion here. Care and control do indeed go together and in fact it's essential that they do - it's the very essence of the probation ethos and it's widely understood by clients. To use an analogy, what is good parenting if it's not about care and control? It simply wouldn't work to have one agency doing the control and a different agency doing the care. Of course it's subjective, but what isn't when the raw material are human beings? In the end what is likely to have an effect on someone is a relationship based on care, concern and mutual respect. In the end that is what probation is about and why we still need it.

  5. Don't worry, with the police being shafted left, right and centre by the government and their friends in the media, there won't be anyone around to arrest criminals. Prisoner numbers will go down and the need for a national probation service will diminish.

    New 'service providers' will take the credit for reducing reoffending (not that their clients don't reoffend, but because there is nobody around to catch them).

    In a few years the new corporate director of Serco Probation Solutions, Mr Chris Grayling, will be there to claim his bonus.

    Meanwhile the boss of G4S Policing Solutions, Mrs May, will be celebrating a massive profits windfall after cutting crime by 95% ( not because crime has reduced but because the G4S automated crime recording switchboard can't be navigated by anyone with less than a degree in computer science).

    All this will negate the need for a criminal justice system at all. On the advice of the think tank, The Policy Exchange, the government will reform the CJS with some much needed modernisation. Accountability will be increased by putting justice in the hands of a local Baron, who will sit in judgement of the peasants (should be grateful they have a job) every second Tuesday of the month. The Baron will also be responsible for raising a militia to defend the realm in times of need!!

    1. Baron Osbourne perhaps?

  6. More humiliation for Grayling. He's now got to 'wind his neck in' with his legal aid proposals. Maybe his skills as a politition would be better suited to minister of parks and recreation.
    It would be interesting to see who would bid for the tarmacing rights to cover the nations green spaces.
    Tut, tut Chris! I could almost feel sorry for you.

  7. Not sure about all the debate above; feels like semantics to me...I am a PO and I have worked through 30 years of change. However, my practice has not changed greatly, often much to the displeasure of my employers. This year, I have recieved two fairly strong messages from my superiors; 'reduce your expectations' and 'stop being so optimistic' They should sack me now, for as long as I am a PO I will continue to do both and inject it into 'care and control' - the latter in a much more subtle and skilled manner, than the former. I currently have at least two 'very dangerous' men whom I supervise in the community - I have never mentioned breach or recall, as I would have to go swill out my mouth, having admitted defeat. However, the special skills people bang on about are borne of a good knowledge base and a passion for the job. A sprinkling of experience and compassion also helps. Both individuals have now been at liberty for longer, than they ever have been hitherto, neither have caused me to lose sleep and there is a sense of mutual respect and total understanding about our therapeutic relationship which remains necessary for them to succeed in the community and for others to remain safe. It is not Probation by numbers, and therefore, their success is only seen in terms of not re-offending, but I'll take that, because I personally know they are happy in their lives and proud of their own achievements..

    1. Probation is about many things, not least knowing when to take risks. There is a real issue about experienced officers having the confidence to go the extra mile and just staying put in one place long enough to really get to know their clients, build a relationship and take those risks. It's so difficult though to continually do battle with the forces of management that as you say just seem to want 'probation by numbers'.

      This job is about real people and helping to heal really difficult and demanding situations - so thanks for reminding us and it's to be hoped that we all do our best to keep the special probation ethos alive in these testing times.

      It behoves all those officers with a few years under their belts to support newer colleagues as they adjust to the return of discretion and judgement, or we really will be in danger of losing our uniqueness and accumulated knowledge base.

  8. And you typify all that is wrong with probation: you are the exception when you just really be the rule. And by this stage most of your colleagues would have breached.

  9. I take the comments above, especially Jims parenting comment, and have to accept a higher degree of control needs to be present in my thinking about probation work.
    I agree it should be a relatlionship based on mutual respect and maybe even mutual obligations contained within that relationship.
    I'm inspired (and quite touched) by the comments above (p.o for 30 years). For me thoses comments do fit with my ideology of a probation service. Sadly though, I also feel that the following comment is true. Its now the exception and not the rule.
    A well deserved pat on the back p.o for 30yrs, its uplifting to know that there's still those that carry a tourch in a place I feel is becoming ever darker.

    1. My honest feeling is that this sort of practice might be more prevalent than you think - but we have to try and make sure it percolates towards newer colleagues trained under a very different and proscribed system. Now discretion and judgement is returning, we must make sure such practice is inculcated as far as possible.