Monday, 5 August 2013

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

A common thread sometimes emerges from comments on this blog and just recently a couple of colleagues have alluded to the fact that it might be clients who in the end sound the death knell for the utterly ill-thought-out Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles:- 

I think, at the end of the day, it will be our service users who scupper this ideological nonsense, as in the main they are clever, street wise, take no prisoners and unless, positively stroked (in an appropriately therapeutic way) will rise up and bring the whole crock of shite to its knees; a part of me, can't wait. 

I certainly got the impression at a recent meeting involving a potential new provider (long story, don't ask.....) that they sincerely believe that probationers will be grateful for the new 'all singing, all dancing' services they intend to provide. They clearly have no inkling of the tsunami of resentment heading their way from those prisoners who currently knock out their u12month custody in 1/2 the time, then away, but who will now be subject to a year's supervision! Good luck with that one folks, a tall order even for the most experienced staff.

It's a very good point indeed, and one I made a few months back. There will be considerable trouble in enforcing clients compliance for something that they will say is grossly unfair. They've 'done the crime: done the time' and will basically refuse to cooperate with a new proscriptive regime which they will see no need for and they're likely to 'kick off' bigstyle.

Up till now, voluntary and third sector organisations have been working largely with a willing and cooperative client group. This will not be the case under TR and there will be a huge amount or resentment, and as we all know, some quite ugly scenarios are likely to result. Breach action will become routine and enormously burdensome and bureaucratic, prisons will silt up, but most worrying of all, the perfect conditions will have been created for escalated client reoffending. As always it's the clients that end up paying the price. Of course it would be entirely different if support for the under 12 month people was voluntary, but Chris Grayling thinks he knows best.  

An interesting insight into the arrogance of the man was provided recently by Russell Webster highlighting this quote from the Institute for Government report on how government is failing to manage outsourcing contracts properly:-

"Chris Grayling came to the department....with a very specific idea about what he wanted to achieve : the Work Programme would be based on a 'payment by results', prime provider and 'black box' model. These key decisions were nonnegoatiable. Grayling not only took a highly hands-on approach in the design of the programme, but set the demanding timescales of less than a year for implementation....Grayling convened a tight coalition of senior officials from across the department, sometimes meeting as often as two or three times a week."  

As we now know, this is a very risky strategy, not least because it can seriously go awry if key people leave, and the pace of implementation inevitably leads to poor decision-making, cock-ups and as the IfG notes, risk management processes being sidelined. In fact exactly the situation that Chris Grayling is now replicating at the MoJ with the TR omnishambles. 

Wherever you look there's utter dismay about these plans. You'd think that a specialist criminal justice employment agency would be enthusiastic, but Criminal Justice Skills, part of the RedSnapper Group is utterly scathing:- 

Following an obscure publication from the Ministry of Justice, the "prior information notice" has revealed some unexpected details concerning Grayling's radical reform agenda. 

Previous estimates no longer seem valid as the recently published figures highlight the unexpected scale and pace of the planned privatisation of the probation service. The formal bidding of "payment by results" schemes are now set to start in August 2013.

Furthermore, the divide between the private/voluntary sector and the public probation service has also widened. Estimates formerly stated how 70% of the rehabilitation services would be privately/voluntarily run leaving 30% to the public, however following the addition of further caseloads to cover 50,000 extra short-sentenced prisoners, this balance has now shifted.

The MoJ has stated that this figure has risen to 88%, thus leaving a mere 12% of high risk offenders in the hands of the public probation service. The rump of the public protection service will be left managing 31,000 offenders deemed "high risk" - typically those offenders involved in sex or violent cases. The 236,000 low and medium-risk offenders will be in the hands of the private and voluntary sector, such as private security firms and charities.

Effectively, responsibilities for the likes of assessing the risk posed by each offender, providing courts and parole board with pre-sentence reports and making final decision on whether the offender must return to prison will be under the public probation service control.

Nonetheless, an overwhelming proportion of probation work will be transferred to the private/voluntary providers, hence why Grayling has previously prophesied the likelihood of a large majority of probation staff switching to the new providers.

One way for the 35 soon-to-be-dissolved public probation trusts to stay active is by converting into "mutuals" and then bidding for contracts in partnership with private companies and voluntary organisations. There is however no guarantee of bidding success.

It's estimated the new rehabilitation and supervision contracts will go for the likes of £5bn to £20bn over the next 10 years.Disregarding Ken Clarke's two pilot tests in Peterborough and Doncaster, Grayling has decided to turbocharge the scale and pace of his ‘revolution'. 

Ignoring the valid assertions that this reform is not tried and tested Grayling wants the radical probation service privatisation in place by the next general election - this is only two years' away.

What could possibly go wrong guys?


  1. Excellent points - to a large extent this has already happened as a consequence of the 'automatic' conditional release recalls as I learnt way back between 1997 and 2002 when I was seconded to a prison.

    Part of the problem is the nominal shortening of time served in gaol with 50% remission, which is not understood by public, but is well understood by sentencers and no doubt a major factor in the increase in length of court announced sentences.

    We need to go back to 2/3rds remission, no automatic parole, a two tier parole system, full assessments for longer sentenced prisoners and shorter localised assessments for the rest, with the minimum time to be served on parole, probably 6 months, as it was before ACR was introduced.

    As for the remainder something more than VAC but not as is proposed, a full 12 months supervision for every one sentenced to under 12 months, with an automated virtual automatic recall system which as Jim says will 'silt' up the gaols,

    Statutory supervision, with possible recall via a Court decision does seem reasonable, for the unserved 1/3 portion of the prison sentence, for those who do not get parole.

    Maybe such a system would also work for the under 12 months cases - say with a minimum of three months supervision, I think that is how the old YP and DC licences worked, with a minimum period whatever the sentence.

    Have you seem the Guardian's discussion about outsourcing today, initially with the writer who was trying to flog a book, but who nonetheless made some good points which I have tried to direct to a few folk via Twitter as well as commenting myself?

  2. I also believe that our service users have a signifigant part to play in the TR agenda. I fully believe that the client is a variable that Grayling, very foolishly, has forgot to calculate. It may be that he feels that with the sale of the service, the state is also absolving itself of responsibillity of any fallout that may occur post privatisation. After all any legal challange is then likely to read, "Smith v Serco" or "Smith v G4S", and not "Smith v the State".
    Unfortunately, the impact of the service user on the TR agenda will I feel, happen post privatisation.
    However,there will be many and diverse legal challanges with regard to supervision by the private sector brought by the offender. Those that may be successful may bring signifigant changes to the contracts existing between the primes and state. The primes will almost certainly incur unforseen costs and complications, and seek to amend their contracts. Such problems were a big concern with the work programme. Whitehall however, no longer responsible, will not be moved on the matter.
    With regard to the diversity of probable legal challanges there are many that you can only guess at for the moment. Some may oddly enough result from other interests the primes may hold.
    For example, many huge organisations are currently expanding into the housing market. Certainly G4S and Serco are. There has been reports that the quality and maintenance of their property rentals are at best piss poor.
    The situation must occur at some point where the offender supervising agency is also the offenders landlord. That is problematic.
    "I only got breached because I didn't pay my rent".
    "I was breached for threatening legal action over repairs you failed to do".
    "You can't evict me, and then recall me because I had nowhere to live".
    You can no doubt list a million other unforseen complaints. However, the role of the client I feel will be played out post privatisation.
    Sorry if my thinkings a bit abstract here.

    1. I think the thinking of Anonymous on 5 August 2013 at 12:05 is exactly right and this is the sort of stuff that needs to get through to Cameron and the politician's who have not begun to consider the reputational damage they risk incurring.

      If they do consider it properly, they may call a halt rather than await the implosion.

      This also applies to the Labour Party in who my opinion need to do more than oppose outsourcing but, as Frances Crook of the Howard League has said "The important thing is for any incoming Govt to commit to abandon contracts & reinstate probation"

  3. As Justice Secretary, Grayling should be aware that the success of these changes depends entirely on the full participation of those (‘clients’) affected.

    However, just as prisons can (and do) *only* run smoothly with the consent and cooperation of those locked up in them, these game-changing proposals will not work unless people are willing to, first agree to, then play and abide by the (new) rules.

    I don’t think he is (aware), and I don’t think they will.

    1. Darby,

      You're right - I don't think it's even occurred to Grayling that in order to run smoothly, the consent of clients is required. He and the new outfits have a big surprise in store.



  4. The Jimmy Mubenga inquest and verdict of unlawful killing is another blot on the reputation of G4S. The coroner made various criticisms of the staff and the working culture. The staff were apparently on zero hours contracts and could actually earn incentivised pay by keeping the detainee quiet on the plane. ("carpet karaoke" where detainees' heads are forced downwards to prevent them upsetting the passengers or causing the captain to abort the removal)

    That's what most disturbs about what may happen in probation. For all its faults I think probation does strive to be inclusive and non-discriminatory, humane. This culture could be the real long-term casualty of TR.

    1. I think the companies and agencies charged with the outsourcing of services may also have a major role to play yet.
      Besides the risks of reputational damage there is also government pressure to constantly cut costs and delivery prices.
      I don't think we are a long way off from these companies not wanting to touch government contracts with a barge pole. Too many are getting 'burned'.
      Any probation staff thinking of a future in the private sector should consider that.

    2. netnipper,

      I'm sure there will be perverse incentives at play and without doubt ugly stories will emerge. As you say, it will be the death knell of the humane element in all this.



  5. Probation Trusts have omitted discussing TR with offenders, and have surely not encouraged staff to discussed TR with offenders. I'm aware in a number of Trust's staff were advised against asking offenders to sign the 'Save Probation' e-petition. I have seen a 'UserVoice' response to TR, which probably had input from a controlled Trust 'consultation' with offenders.

    The problem is that the "public is at risk" argument does not wash with many offenders and can be offensive to some, BUT I expect there will be many more that believe and have experienced that Probation does rehabilitate and help them to change. This other side of the argument is what I discuss with offenders and I do believe it needs to be promoted more. Whether it's 'advise, assist befriend' or
    'help, punish, change, control', first and foremost we provide a service of support to offenders, and we need to let them know that come 2015 this service will be lost to them and their families.

    We are clearly back into the "what are Napo and probation unions doing?" territory, as they should be demanding all members/staff discuss TR with all offenders and invite them to sign our e-petition - that's over 100,000 voices and signatures in no time.

    1. Agree. And why would anyone NOT want to discuss with the offender an issue that is likely to have such a major impact on their lives?
      I'm not sure if I would extend an invitation, but cleary discussing such wide scale changes should be an obligation, and not something to be hidden, and certainly there is nothing wrong in pointing out the existance of a petition. Isn't it in the end giving people the oppertunity of using decision making skills, and offering the abillity of taking positive proactive action in matters that impact on their lives.

  6. A quick glance through recent editions of Inside Times merely reinforces probation's low profile in the thinking of offenders: there doesn't seem to be much concern there at the prospect of TR. Unless there's any requirement for sentence planning & record keeping with the low/medium cases - and I've not seen any yet - then recall/breach/SFO reviews seem pretty impossible. So less for offenders to worry about than with the current arrangements.

  7. I've put a few thoughts on the Napo discussion forum; hopefully drums up a bit of debate.

    Probation Privatisation: What do offenders think about it?