Sunday, 10 November 2013

A Few Reminders

Ahead of the second reading of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill in the House of Commons tomorrow, I thought it would be a good idea to be reminded of a few things, particularly in relation to the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition government. 

A trawl of the internet has netted the following brilliant Comment is Free piece from the Guardian entitled 'Will Nick Clegg cherish the probation service?' dated 23rd June 2010 and penned by probation officer Violet Towers. 

Written long before the dreaded slogan 'Rehabilitation Revolution' had ever been coined, it begins by reminding us that the Service owes its very existence to a Liberal Government and goes on to set the scene for our present difficulties:-

It's fair to say that the probation service in England and Wales has undergone a few changes since the days when the Church of England Temperance Society's "police court missionaries" offered salvation to persistent drunks. Community-spirited volunteers had been offering their services as guardians for people passing through the courts since about 1841. Probation supervision was given formal footing by the reforming Liberal government of 1906, with the Probation of Offenders Act. It was the officers' duty to "advise, assist and befriend", and though those words are now almost profanities, the principle is still observed by plenty of probation officers today.

The early ethos was an outreach, welfare-oriented one, viewing crime as a problem of disadvantaged individuals and communities in need of support. With government interest came change at an ever-increasing pace, challenging the fundamental principles of the organisation. Many in probation still strongly value its traditional "social work" culture, which seems to jar with the "offender management" language of recent years. The implication of the current discourse is that those we work with are first and foremost sets of risk factors to be monitored, rather than people to support through the process of changing their lives. Good probation work balances these approaches on a case-by-case basis, but press coverage is often unsubtle, framing the criminal justice debate in terms of a need to pick a side. Perpetrators or victims? Callous criminals or decent, law-abiding citizens?

When Labour came to power in 1997, after promising to be "tough on the causes of crime", a nuanced approach to criminal justice might have been expected. Instead, the swaggering rhetoric was of being "tough on crime" – and on criminals. The probation service was at best a source of confusion for the administration, which preferred to steer clear of the topic. It remains the case that when probation does get a mention from those in power, it's mostly in terms of community service, while the supervisory aspect is ignored.

Community service – rebranded Unpaid Work, or Community Payback – has also undergone a public image transformation of its own, promoted as a demanding punishment rather than a restorative project. Louise Casey's Cabinet Office report of 2008, Engaging Communities in Fighting Crime, suggested that fluorescent bibs to identify "offenders" on community service could enhance public confidence in community sentences. Criminologists Shadd Maruna and Anna King pointed out how portraying such sentences as strongly punitive can end up backfiring: if those subject to community penalties need and deserve harsh, "tough" treatment, even humiliation, surely prison is the best place to dole it out?
Reviewing research on public attitudes, Maruna and King argued that the public are better disposed to rehabilitative efforts than shifts in policy designed to appease their supposedly punitive sensibilities would suggest.
I think part of the trouble with probation and the media (aside from the fact that a person doing absolutely nothing of note to the general public is a resounding success for us), is that terms like "supervision", "licence" and "offender management" are thrown around without comment on what they actually mean, leaving them to each viewer's interpretation.

In the furore following the 2006 Panorama special on probation hostels, it appeared that many interpreted "supervision" as meaning constant surveillance. How can there be meaningful debate about probation practice if there's such a dearth of information about it for a general audience? As Andrew Bridges, then chief inspector of the probation service, said in 2008, we need to talk about "mundane truths" rather than "exciting fallacies". I'd suggest that people might even find some of the truths about probation inspiring rather than mundane.

Concluding the article, Violet goes on to prophetically ask what the future might hold for probation under the then newly-elected coalition government, and reminds us what Nick Clegg said on the occasion of the centenary of that piece of Liberal legislation that created the Service back in 1907:-

Where is probation going under the coalition government, then? Changing Lives – An Oral History of Probation, published by Napo to mark the service's centenary in 2007, contained a few kind words from then Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, one Nick Clegg. He began: "Few public services can be as readily overlooked as the probation service." How true. During the second pre-election TV debate I listened to him and David Cameron discuss the need for increased use of community penalties for 20 minutes without using the word "probation" once.
As home affairs spokesman Clegg concluded by telling Napo "... it is crucial that the unglamorous, painstaking, yet hugely important work of the service is cherished, not undermined, by both government and opposition parties." We shall see.
I'm grateful to a reader for reminding us of this Early Day Motion from last year which attracted much cross-party support, including 14 Conservative and 24 Liberal Democrat MP's:-
EDM 622 tabled 23 October 2012: "That this House welcomes the news that the Probation Service in England and Wales won the British Quality Foundation Gold Medal for Excellence in 2011; notes that no Probation Trust is deemed to be failing or in need of improvement; further notes that each Probation Trust in England and Wales is meeting its target on the production of court reports, victim satisfaction and the successful completion of orders or licences; and acknowledges the achievements of the Probation Service in England and Wales for carrying out its work efficiently and effectively."

128 signatures were put to the EDM, including:

14 Conservative MPs - Tony Baldry; Bob Blackman; Crispin Blunt; Peter Bottomley; Graham Brady; Fiona Bruce; William Cash; Robert Halfon; Gordon Henderson; Patrick Mercer; Penny Mordaunt; Mark Reckless; Gary Streeter; Martin Vickers; 

24 LibDem MPs - Annette Brooke; Paul Burstow; Menzies Campbell; Mike Crockart; Tim Farron; Andrew George; Mike Hancock; Martin Horwood; Simon Hughes; Julian Huppert; John Leech; Stephen Lloyd; Greg Mulholland; John Pugh; Dan Rogerson; Bob Russell; Adrian Saunders; Andrew Stunell; Ian Swales; John Thurso; David Ward; Mark Williams; Roger Williams; Stephen Williams
Understandably there is concern within the grassroots of the Liberal Democrats, as demonstrated here with an article written by a retired probation officer and published on the Liberal Voice website earlier this year:-
Why do governments always assume that they will save money by privatising the public sector?  The Probation Service is now in Chris Grayling’s sights with his plan to hive off low risk offenders to charities and private enterprise leaving the rump Probation Service to concentrate on high risk offenders.
High risk offenders are the sex offenders, domestic violence perpetrators and offenders on indeterminate sentences whose risk prior to release from custody is subject to constant review. As a former probation officer this was my bread and butter work – and incredibly stressful it was too.
I understand that under the Coalition plans the probation service will continue with this work whilst the majority low risk offenders will in future be supervised  by charities and private companies such as SERCO or G4S. Forgive me but wasn’t G4S the company that could not even hire enough people to ensure the public’s safety at the Olympics?
They will be paid by results – i.e. they must demonstrate a fall in re-offending.  Low risk means low risk of harm, but these offenders are often prolific, cause endless public nuisance with their drug and alcohol related offending, shop lifting and vandalism. Remember for every low risk offender there is also a victim.  Low risk offenders are frequently difficult, dysfunctional and occasionally violent.  Working with them takes skill, training and experience. Exactly the kind of experience the existing Probation Service has.
Despite that, I do think there is a place for the private sector, but only working alongside the Probation Service and not replacing it. Specialist charities do enormously useful work with drug and alcohol users, or provide hostels and educational and employment support. But when profit comes into running prisons, or rehabilitation programmes, then in my experience standards fall and safety is jeopardised.
There are lots of more useful ways the government could invest in the criminal justice system, such as in hostels and effective job training programmes, with jobs at the end of them, for offenders leaving custody. Offenders don’t come from Mars, they come from our communities and only by working in those communities will we start to fix the problems. This is where charities can make a real difference and this is where they can support the Probation Service by working in partnership. However, charities’ funding is also being squeezed and as the National Association of Care and Resettlement of Offenders noted recently,
Critically, the way these services are commissioned must take account of the financial constraints facing the voluntary sector.
The government will find that worthwhile mentoring and rehabilitation does not come cheap whoever delivers it.
In the end I doubt the government will save any money. The last Labour government wasted £800 million trying to implement a new computer system which eventually was junked before it was commissioned. That is the annual cost of running the Probation Service. The present government will probably hand vast amounts of money to SERCO with no appreciable reduction in reoffending. But by the time the mistake is realised the Probation Service, with its years of service, experience and highly committed staff will be lost for ever.
Now that really is criminal.
Finally, on the subject of former probation officers, I see that some who have gone on to have notable academic careers had a letter published in the Independent yesterday:-
Probation service under threat
As former probation officers we are writing to express our dismay at the dismemberment of the service proposed in the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which will receive its second reading in the Commons on Monday 11 November.
Probation in England and Wales has recently celebrated a centenary of selfless and effective service to the community. To remove up to 250,000 of its cases and auction them off to an untried consortium of commercial interests and voluntary bodies is in our view to take a reckless gamble with public safety and to put at risk the prospects for personal change and reform which lie at the heart of what probation is and does.
Professor Robert Canton, De Montfort University, Leicester
Dr Philip Priestley, Wells
Professor Peter Raynor, Swansea University
Professor Paul Senior, Sheffield Hallam University
Professor David Smith, Lancaster
Professor Maurice Vanstone, Swansea
Professor Anne Worrall, Keele University


  1. How interesting and uplifting - especially today as we approach the 11th hour of the 11th month. As a bit of a Andrew Marr fan, I was also really encouraged by the information given and the position taken by Gen Sir Nick Houghton...I'm usually allergic to Generals but he has given me cause to reflect....and to think "good on yer" - someone who is willing to have and share an independent thought!!!

  2. Paywall, but it appears more bad news today for Serco.
    I hope tomorrows second reading gives time enough to the governments strange idea that taking something away from a successful working model, and giving it to organisations that are broken, corrupt, and constantly failing somehow represents advancement in the criminal justice system.
    Even supporters of TR must agree that selling probation to the likes of (and all articles concerning this issue use that unsavoury phase 'the likes of'), Serco and G4S must raise serious concern. In fact allowing either of the above mentioned companies to bid for TR is a serious enough issue to warrent it's own house of commons debate.

    1. Can we have a link to the Serco story please? Or the gist of it.




    3. If they can't achieve success in areas they porport to be expert in, then what hope do they have with TR contracts that take them into a field that they have no knowledge of at all?

  3. Sometimes I really just can't catch my breath!!

    1. Allarse and no cahonas

    2. Colin Allars, chosen to take up the role of director of the new National Probation Service, is tasked with paving the way for a series of controversial changes to UK prisons and probation services with the aim of reducing the country's stubbornly high reoffending rates.

      Allars is the current director of probation within the National Offender Management Service. He will work alongside Sarah Payne, appointed director of the service in Wales, to get the new system ready to launch in April 2014.

      Allars accepted the position after Mike Maiden, who was initially appointed in August, withdrew due to personal family reasons.

      The new chief inspector of probation, Paul McDowell, was also announced on 8 November. McDowell is currently chief executive of crime reduction charity NACRO and was the governor of HMP Brixton for more than three years.

      These new appointees will prepare the new probation service, which will come into effect from 1 April next year. "It allows us to introduce a range of improvements across the way we manage offenders, and to bring within scope a large number of offenders who at the moment don't receive supervision, such as those who serve less than 12 months in prison," said Allars. The Ministry of Justice eventually aims to introduce statutory rehabilitation and supervision for every offender released from prison.

      The changes aim to tackle the high reoffending rate of short-sentenced prisoners. Allars says the case for reforming prisons services has been clearly set out: "We spend a great deal of money on both prisons and probation services and this allows us to change and improve the delivery of those services and the way that money is used."

      "I don't think the public sector needs be the monopoly service provider - there are others that can provide services very effectively and there's plenty of evidence of that from elsewhere. I think many probation leaders would accept that themselves. We've just got to work through a period of change. There are great opportunities here for staff and the delivery of services going forward and we collectively need to grasp those and make the most of them."

      Allars accepts he has a lot of work to do convincing staff and the public to accept the changes.

      "Creating any large operational service carries with it the challenge of bringing the staff on board, bringing the new arrangement into play and leading the delivery of that new organisation," he said. "Clearly there has been some anxiety caused by the changes, and I have a role to reassure staff and make sure that processes are in place to get to where we want to be.

      "I seek to be inclusive, I'm always honest and straight with people, whether news is good or bad, and I seek to lead an organisation with integrity. I think that's really important in this particular field given the nature of the work that we as the National Probation Service will be doing."

  4. May and Grayling, the dynamic duo, have an increasingly strong message on crime

    By Mark Wallace Last updated: November 10, 2013 at 10:04 amCrimefighters tend to come in pairs. At least, the nice ones do – your lonesome Luthers and Rebuses offer a slightly less glossy mix of rule-breaking and contemplating the meaning of life while lying hungover on a couch surrounded by empty takeaway boxes and whisky bottles.Despite the allure of such mavericks, the dynamic duo model has proved pretty successful over the years: think Morse and Lewis; Holmes and Watson; Batman and Robin.The Government’s own Dark Knight and Boy Wonder, Theresa May and Chris Grayling, are out in force today, upping the pressure onterrorist suspects and reoffenders, respectively.It’s no coincidence.Both have difficult jobs in departments which have claimed many a political career, and they have evidently realised that both their chances of success are higher if they work together. When she won Politician of the Year this week,May remarked:“It used to be a joke that I lock them up and Ken Clarke lets them out, now they say I lock them up and Chris Grayling throws away the key.”As the comment suggests, this is a rather more harmonious working relationship than the previous lineup – it would not be inaccurate to say that May felt Clarke was rather more Inspector Lestrade than Doctor Watson.As it is, the current lineup works well not just because they see the world of law and order in quite a similar way but also because the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary are both ambitious. They enjoy their current roles, and don’t intend to rock the boat in the run-up to the election, but they are thinking ahead, too.That a terrorism suspect is still on the run after escaping wearing a burqa is an embarrassing reminder that there are plenty of reputational risks involved in leading the fight against crime. Despite the occasional stumble, May and Grayling have managed to defy the common wisdom that home affairs is a poisoned chalice (so far).The next step seems clear – having focused on getting the job done, they should now start to explain to the public the results of their work. I’ve noted before that law and order has been downplayed in Conservative communications, and that ought to change. As the election approaches, May and Grayling have an opportunity to win votes on their record of reducing crime.That message will be more than just the traditional lock ‘em up and throw away the key line, as much as the Home Secretary may joke about it.It will be that the Tory stronghold of the Coalition Government is catching criminals – but is also revolutionising their rehabilitation.It is a social catastrophe and a huge waste of taxpayers’ money if our jails simply turn out people who swiftly reoffend. If Grayling’s reforms work to break that cycle, and I expect more evidence will be released over the next 18 months, then the Government will have a major achievement to shout about.

  5. However fruitless a task it may sound, perhaps everyone who reads this could send their MP (especially if they are listed above) an email asking them to do 3 things:

    1. Clink on a link to this blogsite & read a few of the blogs & comments
    2. Read the NAPO briefings
    3. Vote for the amendment to the Bill on Mon 11 November 2013

    To those MPs I would add: As JIm says, politics is an unpredictable beast. Its NOT scaremongering to suggest there are risks to everyone associated with sexual offending, domestic abuse and other violence. Victims of such serious and life-changing criminal acts do not vote in for it - they are often random individuals caught up as collateral damage due to someone else's messed up life. It could be any of the Con or LibDem MPs or their family members; crime isn't fussy about where you live or what job you do.

    Rip apart the heart of the 'quiet' profession that has developed effective ways of working with perpetrators of crime for decades and you'll open the floodgates for a new wave of serious criminal behaviour for generations to come. That's an even less attractive legacy for your kids & grandkids than the financial screw-up they're already going to inherit.

    Look at how many ex-probation officers have become notable academics in the field of sociology &/or criminology - its not a coincidence, its because the profession inherently attracts those who are thoughtful, considerate, prepared to change where change is proven to be appropriate or for the wider good.

    Do not let Grayling & his crew destroy the probation service. If you do not take a stand against this untested, unproven, unsafe madness on Mon 11 November 2013, you will be an accomplice; a collaborator; complicit in Grayling's hubris.

  6. Link for above article.

  7. Annon 12:40

    Very well said indeed.
    The article highlighted above in the Conservative Home would appear also to carry a warning for Grayling.
    1. Your political possition is historically a fragile one and any mistakes can end it.
    2. You have to be seen to be doing something about crime and reoffending.
    3. In 18months time you better be able to demonstrate that you were right and provide evidence to prove it.

    I think even some conservatives are a bit jittery about the lack of evidence to support TR.

  8. I've just sent my email (MP not on the list) via the "theyworkforyou" facility. Hopefully its not too late to be read by the MP. I've also asked them to perhaps "work on" other local MPs of different hues.

    Kesey again: "But I tried, didn't I? Goddamnit, at least I did that."


    1. "Theresa May accepted her Spectator Politician of the Year award with the quip: ‘It used to be a joke that I lock them up and Ken Clarke lets them out, now they say I lock them up and Chris Grayling throws away the key.’ The right wing press, as Ken Clarke is given to calling it, is much enamoured with Grayling and May. ConservativeHome’s Mark Wallace describes them as the ‘dynamic duo’, and writes a long appreciation of their ‘increasingly strong message on crime’.

      There is, of course, as Wallace concedes, more to governing than messages. The Mail on Sunday carries a small item about reoffending rates under the headline ‘scandal of prisoners who strike again’. 5 years have passed since David Cameron and Nick Herbert, who was then Shadow Justice Secretary, promised a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ and yet here we are. The Mail reports:

      ‘In 2011, 356 adult offenders committed serious violent or sexual offences after release from a sentence of less than a year, while a further 2,482 committed serious ‘acquisitive’ crimes such as robbery within 12 months of being released. There were also 37,804 thefts and 15,355 lower-level violent assaults by reoffenders.’

      Those figures are disappointing; and one mustn’t forget that the crimes for which offenders are convicted are a fraction of what they commit. In August 2010, the criminologist Ken Pease published a report for the think-tank Civitas in which he quoted an estimate that there are 130 burglaries per conviction. He estimated that crime costs the taxpayer £10bn a year.

      The underlying issue, here, is the Conservatives’ failure to reform criminals to stop petty lags turn into habitual criminals. The Mail’s piece gives Chris Grayling a pretty easy ride (although, to be fair, he wasn’t Justice Secretary until September 2012). It’s short and sweet, and gives him the last word: ‘We currently have a situation where each year thousands of crimes are being committed by offenders who have already broken the law. It is little surprise when those on short sentences walk out the prison gates with little or no support. Enough is enough.’ I wonder: if Ken Clarke was still Justice Secretary, would the Mail have been so lenient with these dismal figures and the human misery associated with them?

      Grayling is right to identify the lack of support for prisoners on short sentences; he is in agreement with Clarke on that if nothing else. But the question remains as it was in 2010, when Clarke was battling critics from the right, who thought he was soft, and from the left, who thought he was tight-fisted. Are there sufficient resources – from general taxation, the private sector and the tertiary sector – to provide the required remedial support? As Ken Pease, the Prison Reform Trust and others all noted back in 2010, remedial programmes without money are worthless."

  10. Maybe G4S just want to reassure Grayling they're the best for the job...?

    1. It's obvious whats going on. G4S are so confident of winning a TR contract from Grayling they are building a caseload from within the company itself......

    2. Lol - I think in management-speak it's called a 'vertically integrated' business model.