Two recent contributions to the Prisoners Families Voices website caught my eye, and I hope the authors don't mind me quoting one in full, and the first part of a second. By the way PFV, congratulations on passing the one millionth visitor!
When my fella was in prison for 7 years, I found it impossible to communicate with his probation officer. He was passed from pillar to post to a different probation every 6 months or so. All I know was when I rang probation on behalf of my fella, I was passed over to some probation officer who didn't know a thing about him. No offence, because there is none intended personally to anyone who is a probation officer, but how on earth does swapping and changing probation officers contribute to rehabilitation? It doesn't because even though they have a piece of paper with details about the offender in front of them, that does not mean that they actually know that person and their capabilities and strengths to set them on the right path after they are released from prison. I must say that I think probation has gone worse. Personally I really do not see the point of having them and I say this because I have been with my fella to probation and quite honestly it is a waste of travel money to get there, Probation appointments are not productive at all and it is basically a place offenders go to sign on like people sign on at the dole queue. There is little time spent with the offender so what really is the whole point of this service?
To the Editor. I know it has probably said umpteen times, but I would like to voice my opinion on Probation. I am an ex offender and I have turned my life around no thanks to them. I did get on with my probation officer, but that's all I did, exchanging pleasantries, because what choice do you have but to shut up, put up and maintain your liberty. I never missed a probation appointment and always made sure I was on time. I too saw different probation officers time over and they did not have a clue who I was and what I was all about. Nor did they ever ask me what my intentions were concerning employment. Many a time I wanted to ask my assigned probation officer exactly what his job was because all I saw was mountains of paperwork and files. I could see he was snowed under so I kept my opinions to myself. As I said, I didn't hold anything against him, he was doing his job and was a decent bloke when all is said and done.
Regular readers will know that these sentiments have been voiced many times before on the PFV website and all seasoned PO's will know only too well that they have a distinctive ring of truth about them. I've responded in the past and tried to explain what some of the reasons might be, not least because many of us share the same frustrations being voiced. As it happens, the following is a recent contribution from a PO to this blog and gives some insight into what's going on across the other side of the desk:-
"management working hard to ensure staff are being treated as fairly as possible?"
After 27 years service I was put on competence procedures yesterday. 84 clients to supervise and encourage to do their best by the courts their victims their communities and themselves and desist from the harm they do to each of those sections in society. Entrenched alcohol and drug users, domestic violence and safeguarding children cases, mental health and in some cases extreme violence in their history. But warned that if I don't stop doing one to one work and start producing eight layer 3 oasys reports a week and keep up to date with the 84 inputting into the n delius tracking system (cheaper than tagging I suppose) I will be sacked for being incompetent. What's fair about that? Meanwhile those staff that are being encouraged to form mutuals are doing just that without the bother of the moral minority trying to uphold this once great service's values and beliefs, we are far too busy with our workloads and distracted by the competence procedure to see how far on they are in feathering their own nests.
The really sad truth of the matter is that the job has become increasingly impossible under the suffocating requirements of shit computer systems such as OASys and now Delius. I would have added National Standards, but although now relaxed thank goodness, the legacy 'tick box' culture and micro-management remains, together with intolerable caseloads due to colleagues 'jumping ship' before the TR omnishambles hits us. But on top of all this we now seemingly also have some management feeling the need to make an impact, improve their prospects as TR approaches and demonstrate 'effectiveness'.
Two further recent PO contributions on the subject of middle management indicate how
fractious things are getting as the omnishambles rumbles on:-
I agree re dumbing down of SPO's - it reflects the target driven ethic, where ticking the boxes is all that matters. Many PO's are more able than their SPO, its just that they cannot bring themselves to do the mindnumbing corporate thingy + lose client contact. In my experience over 20 + years the best SPO's led by example, working longer and harder than the team and putting the interests of the client, and in turn wider society at the centre of considerations. This did not ignore risk and public protection issues. It was always about the relationship with clients as a base from which to promote change. Sadly these days we are too busy ticking the boxes with far too many "cases" to stand a chance of developing meaningful work. This said I'm sure there are some colleagues who are able to do good work sometimes in spite of the often meaningless target/tick box constraints.
Yes, and some SPO's, willing to climb the greasy pole, but not shrewd, or bright enough to follow Mr Grayling's maniacal mission, for fear they would be found out....are now looking to extend their CV's in other ways - surprisingly some SPO's are asking to do SDR's, not to lighten the load, but as a flat rate report; thereby, improving their future prospects, leeching onto those who know how to write such documents, asking for advice and then, as if by magic being in two places at once - i.e. being paid to write a PSR at HMP local, whilst being paid for being the only available SPO available to an entire office. I've said it before, no brains, no dignity, no integrity and no bottle. For all their detached disdain for the Probation Service, those managers going upward in this new world, are likely to be the really ruthless and ambitious one's, who from experience are the most dangerous.