Thursday, 19 September 2013

Dirty Tricks at the MoJ?

An interesting story has been brought to my attention concerning the Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust. On Tuesday this week the BBC news website carried an item headed Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust : 'improvements needed' :-

Concerns have been raised about the way offenders are managed in Devon and Cornwall following an inspection of the Probation Trust.

A report found the trust had worked well to protect the public and prevent reoffending but said further improvements needed to be made in assessment and planning.
It also said there was a lack of help for offenders with alcohol problems.
The inspection aims to assess if court sentences are delivered effectively.
It was the third of six inspections in which inspectors focus on the quality of work with violent offenders and whether this protects the public, reduces the likelihood of reoffending and provides a high quality service to courts and victims.
'Insufficient quality'Liz Calderbank, chief inspector of probation, said the Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust - which works with about 4,000 offenders each year - had worked "effectively" with other agencies in delivering offending-related work.
But she added: "There remains a need for further improvements in risk of harm assessments and planning."
Inspectors said they were concerned to find that:
  • The quality of initial sentence plans was not always sufficient - some were not sufficiently informed by the assessments about an individual's likelihood of reoffending or risk of harm
  • Alcohol misuse was usually recognised in the initial assessment, but interventions to address the problem should have been provided in more cases
  • An initial risk of serious harm screening was missing or not completed sufficiently well in a number of cases
  • Too many risk management plans were either not completed or were completed to an insufficient quality
Now the article goes on to highlight some positive aspects to the report, but by the time the average member of the public got to that bit, they could be forgiven for thinking that this was a pretty damning report by the Inspectorate. But the official DCPT website paints a rather different picture:-  
An Inspection of Adult Offending work in Devon and Cornwall, by Her Majesty's' Inspectorate of Probation, cites significant improvements in the work of Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust. The report highlights that public protection and reoffending work has improved significantly, with victim contact work done well and significant management of the risk of harm to victims and the safety of children promoted.
Said Rob Menary, Chief Executive of Devon and  Cornwall Probation Trust:-
"We are on a journey to continually improve quality, and this report reinforces the continuing progress that we are making. Most importantly, we have continued to reduce levels of reoffending, making Devon and Cornwall one of the safest places to live. We are not complacent, there are still a number of things we need to do better, and positive action to tackle inconsistency of practice in certain areas is a focus for our continuing improvement work.
Rob continues:-
This inspection focused on our management of violent offenders. In nearly nine out of ten cases, alcohol was a significant contributory factor and we are pleased that the inspectors commented on our work and the range of services for this group - many delivered in partnership with other community organisations. Our work with Children's Services and Safeguarding Boards to raise awareness of child protection / need issues, was positively commented on, and we were pleased that the confidence of staff to exchange data and work with social care cases was highlighted as a significant improvement. Public protection and reducing reoffending remain our key priorities. I would like to personally thank my staff for the hard work they are doing in these challenging times, and assure the public that we continue to do everything we can, along with others such as the police, to help keep them safe.
Many of these HMI reports are pretty much of a muchness, including this one 'great work has been done - but room for a few improvements', so the question we need to ask is, who was responsible for the briefing and spin that some hapless BBC hack was encouraged to put on this non-story?

Of course we have another recent example of negative spin on a story about probation - last weeks brouhaha about lifers being released without proper assessments. A careful examination of the joint HMI report shows that it was almost entirely about Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) where prison officers acting as 'offender supervisors' were primarily responsible for completing poor OASys assessments, and Prison Governors making the decisions. 

So again we have to ask, who was responsible for the comprehensive briefings to the media that turned it into negative copy for the probation service, rather than the prison service? I sense a dirty tricks campaign at the MoJ. 

Of course it could be said that the whole bloody Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles is a piece of dishonest spin because the justification always given is the high level of reoffending by short-term offenders - the under 12 month custody clients for whom probation has no statutory responsibility or funding for. 

Am I naive, or just paranoid?   


  1. Neither Jim. You are totally right. This Govmts agenda is to pursue their own agenda and the truth about our performance is an inconvenience that gets in the way of their objectives!

    1. The case for paranoia is strengthened by the fact that HMIP published an inspection report for Merseyside on the same day; the headline percentage scores were higher than for Devon & Cornwall (afraid life is too hectic for me to have read the detail of either report) but if there was a peep out of the BBC about this success story, I for one didn't see it.

      And remember, even if you are paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you - and we know full well they are...

  2. Benn Gunn has just spoken up VERY strongly for public probation on BBC Five Live about 8.10 am - describes privateers as 'corporate rapists' based on reports coming out about institutions they are running where women detainees are being sexually abused.

    The bloke speaking FOR privatisation made little impact I did not notice his name or organisation BUT none of the problematic details were considered so Jim seems right in that info is being released with big spin and the spin is being reiterated by news media who by and large have no real understanding of what is involved - for example in BBC 5 Live report Napo repeatedly and ear gratingly was pronounced Naypo.

    I guess it will be on The Listen Again later.

    Also heard Ian Lawrence on LBC97.3 FM London just after 6.30 gave a stout defence.

    I read Jim's criticism of him the other day in his interviews - he is taking a strident position but does not have the relaxed confidence of Harry Fletcher - Ian is NOT a PR professional but in a small organisation like Napo the boss has to be a jack of all trades. Although he strives to represent us well, he(like Harry) cannot speak knowing what it 'feels' like to be cross examined in court on a PSR he has written after contentious interviews with a client - of course he can't but then we cannot always have probation practitioners as employees in Napo - unless we appoint them.

    I noted at Brighton meeting that both Maureen Le Marinel firstly and later Ian Lawrence said a strike was a last resort - not that either is responsible for policy. I think they are probably right a Napo/Unison strike is unlikely to have much impact unless it is an all out strike rather than a one dayer.

    Clearly TR is nonsense and if it works - organisationally - which seems VERY unlikely it will be at the cost of good service to the clientele.

    I think the best hope of stopping it is to resist any collusive actions with employers(easy for me to say as a retired bod) by individual grievances when staff feel they have not been fairly treated - as surely they won't be if the dividing up really starts. But the main way will be to expose the details via parliamentarians and the media and show how stupid they really are - I wrote some of that in a blog last week- that no one has said I got the details wrong (as far as they can be known).

    My hope is it can be stopped before imposition, rather than after when the collapse could be much more damaging.

    I note there was a Guardian report yesterday about tensions at Wormwood Scrubs prison - I still remember back to the chaos of the big riots of the last 30 years, when there was major disruption as prisoners were relocated hurriedly and with varying degrees of chaos disrupting work across the nation.

    No longer is there a spirit of goodwill amongst prisoners towards probation folk because there are far less probation officers working in prisons and able to intervene to smooth out the inevitable frustrations arranging phone calls on the quiet to sort out family problems(for example). A regular request I had when I worked in a London Local was for - toilet paper - I kid you not - in late 1990s there was a hangover from days when 'The Welfare' dealt with ALL problems!

    Now Probation folk are not so influential in early release decisions as most early release on license happens automatically without assessments by 'home' probation officers and additionally the resentment towards outside probation has been increased because it is their decisions that are (usually wrongly) 'blamed' for licence recalls.

    It is little wonder that probation folk are not seen as as useful by prisoners as in decades gone by - it all adds up to a real change the way Probation is viewed by clients especially when you add in fact that for over 20 years there has been no consent needed to be 'on probation' and few still practicing who recall client conversations about that very issue.

    1. I think your point about media skills is a fair one in comparing Ian Lawrence to Harry Fletcher - who chose a fine time to leave. Perhaps because of his time in the job Harry was able to speak authoritively about the probation role, like someone who was actually doing it. Ian doesn't have that touch yet and is reminiscent of a trade union baron when he talks about 'my members'. He has less working knowledge of probation to ad lib.

    2. Harry had to start somewhere and Napo was fortunate he stayed so long, he was always going to leave sometime. I later discovered he had close personal contact with a probation practitioner who became a senior manager. I am sure when he retired he was older than I was when I retired - ten years ago. There were hidden problems at Chivalry Road, that I suspect H tried his best to resolve. His recent communications indicate it is an understandable sore - it must have been horrible working at Napo's HQ for a couple of years, and Ian was a newcomer at that time. Interestingly one Tweeter this morning speaking positively is someone who exposed what was actually going on, who speaks positively about what he got from probation. Maybe I am writing more than I should but I think probably transparency is best - though apart from referring to Harry - who seems to have constantly worked hard for us and apparently is continuing to give great help over the parliamentary stuff (that House of Lords Amendment has his 'fingerprints' on it to my way of seeing things) - I am not naming others

      Andrew Hatton

  3. Andrew - it was RAPt on with Ben Gunn - the loose cannon!

    It is worth noting that as I write this, there has been NO announcement from MoJ/NOMS as expected - omninously it is 'all quiet on the Western Front!'

    1. I had a LOT of good contacts with RAPT in their early days at Downview when I helped get a prisoner transferred to their first Drug rehab programme there.

      I later had close relations with their staff via the drugs prog at the local prison I worked and then the CARAT team but the spirit of Downview did not transfer well and CARAT was a paper exercise with low paid poorly trained staff and drug programme at prison I worked was not truly voluntarily and not in a completely 'drug free' zone - almost impossible in a local prison with around a thousand prisoners at that time, several hundred on remand and unconvicted but wanting some wanting to get drug free or use the prog to soften a sentence. A good scheme was expanded too rapidly and became an industry rather like what I saw of the job creation industry in Liverpool in 1970s.

      Meanwhile with TR we are not even going to start with well functioning pilots and then scale up like with Community Service and Day Training Centres from the 1970s and I think more recently IOM schemes which I suspect have come on the back of better relationships between police and probation via MAPPA which was only just starting when I finished up in 2003.

      from what I discern IOM will struggle after the introduction of extra private agencies who I suspect police will be uneasy about sharing info with - as they were with probation - though way, way back, there was always good relations between individual probation and individual police folk. I can think of several examples of unconventional working together back to mid 1970s - it was much harder when I worked in London in 1990s but it still happened occasionally.

      Andrew Hatton

    2. Further comment re RAPt - Interesting they are signing up to enforced supervision of clients they work with.

      I recall the early days of RAPt when they were not State Funded and worked out of a Portakabin in Downview Prison(they only grew because what they started was successful) ALL their group leaders were addicts in recovery actively attending 12 step programmes themselves and they ONLY worked with clients who volunteered to join their programme PLUS the fact that they operated in a separate part of the prison, made it easier (it is never completely possible) for their programmes to run in a drug free zone, which certainly is very difficult to enforce when they use facilities in a normal prison location.

      Andrew Hatton

  4. It must be a coincidence that today, 19th September, day one of the probation sale, and the start of the MoJ inspired consultation, is also a full moon. The only other explanation is that lunatics are running the show.

    1. What ever negative spin the government levy at probation, it surely can't be as bad as handing over billions of pounds of taxpayers money to companies embroiled in fraud allagations.
      Lets forget the forensic audit. There is a police investigation in progress and the posibillity of criminal charges.
      Where does it all sit if charges are brought and a successful prosacution follows?

  5. News report in the last hour announces that bidding for probation work has officially opened

  6. Harry's replacement speaks - expertly and authoritatively - Tania Bassett my new hero(ine)!

    Listen & Learn 1 hour 12 mins in

    On Twitter @taniabassett

    Andrew Hatton

    1. Well that might be so - but it's no good confusing the interviewer and 99% of listeners - needs to slow down and keep messages simple, IMHO.

  7. We're Off THE Bidding is announced>

  8. The Telegraph:
    'Questor share tip: G4S down graded to sell'

    Appears G4S have some serious financial problems.

  9. Anon 11:08

    Obviously fraud is a consequence of approaching bankruptcy?
    The question is why the government are prepared to give millions to a company in such a dire possition? Good spot!

  10. The government have to let G4S bid and allow them to win contracts. Infact, they have to provide every assisstance they can to keep them afloat. Apart from losing vast amounts of money if G4S rolled over, the political fallout would be massive given the number of government contracts they hold already.
    Didn't someone once say something about putting all your eggs in one basket?

  11. The nonsense continues with today`s press release:-

  12. and so it begins
    a new Chris Grayling sin
    as he poses and grins
    we know its destined for the bins

  13. I seriously query the legality of a sentence in the contract documents that to my reading give judicial discretion to the commercial organisations doing the supervision

    In section “II.2.1 Total quantity or scope” on page 4 it reads:-

    “This will give Providers a very wide discretion to require
    them to undertake rehabilitative activities.”

    Surely the limits to what is ‘required’ must be set by the Sentencing Court and not left to the discretion of the company providing the supervision – particularly as the supervisee at no time is entitled to withhold consent from such rehabilitative activities or supervision itself as was the case with the ‘old’ probation orders – albeit that if consent was withheld the court could impose a custodial or financial penalty as an alternative.

    I see such ‘wide discretion’ as giving scope for very unequal sentences imposed by different companies in different places – it was exactly to overcome the unequal demands that different probation services were imposing on supervisees in the 1980s that led to the introduction of National Standards in the 1991 CJA – this contract term – not Act of parliament seems to completely reverse the principles involved in the national standards, or am I misunderstanding something?

    Andrew Hatton

    1. On what has been a momentous and very sad day for probation, I thought I'd pop this note on to thank all my readers - the hit counter has just gone over a staggering 2,000 for today and it's only barely gone 9pm.

      Your interest will spur me on to burn the midnight oil trying to make sense of this bloody omnishambles.



    2. Message from SaveProbation on Twitter- he has another job to go to - heart still with probation - grateful for words of support here and elsewhere.

      He is also grateful to have a DIPSW - take heed all new entrants to probation - a social work qualification is probably a better qualification for a lifelong career - if you change midway than the DipPS - now Social work has a new qualification but some can get qualified with Frontline if already have the right sort of Degree - I don't know the details but there is much info online.

      Frontline is heavily criticised by Social Work practitioners and academics, read more in BASW web pages, Community Care and THE College of Social Work (which has an online magazine anybody can sign up to - some categories of career in sign up process include Youth Offending and Mentally ill offenders), so some probation folk are well experienced already.

      However, I still believe TR will fail - the only question is when - hopefully before implementation - but I do not think there is reason for despair if a probation job is no longer available - there are alternatives and probation workers experience should be very useful even if on its own it is not a sufficient qualification without some additional training.

      Andrew Hatton

  14. This afternoon it was suggested that individual employees might have grounds to seek legal advice with a view to taking action against an employing trust for commencing a consultation without appropriate info available. Don't you just love it when SMT are the subversive ones!

  15. On the premise that this is a done deal (which might not be true, of course), & albeit in the tradition of "anon", I couldn't resist expressing how it feels to have the hand of history upon the shoulder of probation as it shoves it to the ground & kicks it in the nuts.

    Well done Mr Grayling - the handiwork of your many predecessors (some of whom have since recanted & spoken out in favour of humanitarian intervention for the less fortunate in our society) has finally been brought to its natural conclusion and the last bastion of reasonableness in our society has been breached. Irrespective of the dodginess of the credentials of those bidding, you've finally managed to crush the last gasping breaths of humanity out of criminal justice system.

    You've divided the probation staff of England & Wales into those who will work for a publicly funded service & those who will work for a variety of unknown quantities.

    You've divided a cohesive & experienced staff group into those who will be at the mercy of whoever holds political power & those who will be at the mercy of unknown shareholders.

    You've placed the futures of the vast majority of our most damaged and vulnerable population in the hands of the most ruthless and selfish, i.e. the shareholders of private enterprise.

    You've placed the futures of our most dangerous population in the hands of political pawns, i.e the public 'servants' whose sole desire is to please their masters &/or further their own political careers.

    You've devastated a profession that has been primarily vulnerable because of its innate honesty and honour; a profession that has never been focused upon meeting artificial targets or political ends; that has never been motivated by financial reward; that has never been desperate to be in the limelight. It was, until politicians got their grubby hands on it, a vocational profession wherein those who chose to join & practice did so for "good" rather than for "profit" or "gain".

    Sound too good to be true? Then look at the current salary of someone in post for, say, 15 years, who holds a caseload of maybe 50 cases: Approx. £35,000, i.e. not dissimilar to what it is alleged Mrs Grayling earns as an employee of your good self. Would she feel that's suitable remuneration for assuring public safety - and assuming individual professional responsibility - in respect of the management of a caseload which will inevitably include a number of rapists, paedophiles and other serious violent offenders?

    Does this compare favourably to the alleged starting salaries of those aged 21 years who are leaving 'elite' universities to work for investment banks or other 'prime' organisations - perhaps £50K or above with additional benefits e.g. living allowances, for the progeny of the already priveleged and wealthy?

    ... or to the 'reasonable allowances' claimed by various other public employees in the UK?

    1. A very powerful piece indeed and deserving of being quoted from.



  16. The posh boy, arrogant, detached from reality, corrupt, fundamentalist free marketeer is playing with public safety. Like the rest of his corrupt front bench colleagues he stands to benefit from this crazy and dangerous scheme. He has decided already that the likes of serco will get to rape the service even whilst they are being investigated by the police. One can only assume from this that he and his piggy cabinet colleagues stand to benefit financially from this immoral sell off. We all know that he has taken a substantial 'kick back' or has been promised a plum directorship but we just can't prove it! He is a stinking skumbag of a human being that is for sure.

  17. Grayling is weasal and a snake. He is scared stiff of having a full and democratic parliamentary debate because he knows that there are so many flaws in this crazy scheme. Instead he is determined to push through this 'scorch and burn' policy before the next election - which he knows is lost. The arrogance of the man is simply breath taking. He has gagged probation staff from speaking out against this utter folly and he is using his friends in the complient press to spread disinformation about the service. The BBC (or the official government propaganda organisation) is only too pleased to spout his nonsense. One would think that we live in China and not a supposedly 'democratic' country. But, hey - as long as you are ok Mr Grayling. Pick up your dirty brown envelope full of cash from your vulture best mates in G4S and collect your directorship and knighthood in 2015. Democracy died in this country today.

  18. With G4S and Serco so heavily involved with the work programme, I'm sure many of those they are charged to supervise will find themselves filling many unpaid work placements. Maybe chain gangs will be seen digging ditches soon?
    Food for thought:

    ' The void-Is workfare behind the G4S olympic farce'.

  19. In recent weeks there has been many reports about the dire conditions of our prison estate. The MoJ has decided that despite desperate over crowding they are going to close several prisons next year. This without proposed prisons places being available to absorb the population these closures will displace.
    Prison staff are streatched, their number shrink as the prisoner population grows. Prisons are becoming increasingly violent places. The Guardian reported this week that there had been a 50% increase in the use of restraint and violent incidents at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. A suprise inspection at HMP Bristol found it over-run with coackroaches and prisoners locked in their cells for 23 hours a day. Cut backs means there is less and less activity for prisoners to involve themselves in.
    The pot as they say is bubbling.
    However, just to help things along it's today been announced that a complete smoking ban in prisons is being considered. Wheather a fan of the evil weed or not, you must consider the possible impact and consequences of such a move in the current climate. I may feel different about it if prisoners could engage in time filling activity, but the way things are right now?
    I feel such a move now is nothing more then stupidity.
    But when considered alongside everything else thats happening within the criminal justice system, stupidity I guess is just par for the course.

    1. There are 4 public accounts commity reports published today (20th) urging the government to get tough on its contractors tax accounts, and also tough on the companies that have 'botched' previous government contracts.
      These reports may cause Grayling a headache given his relationship with G4S/Serco.
      If there should be some more negative press about these two companies regarding tax payments or dodgy dealings, then Grayling wont be up shit creak without a paddle, he wont even have a boat.

    2. Indeed and with 5pm 'bang-up' on the way prison unrest is likely to grow. I notice Ben Gunn is now trotted out routinely on all prison matters and was on the BBC Today programme this morning.