Friday, 1 November 2013

It's All So Unfair!

'It's all so unfair' is the sentiment increasingly being expressed in relation to this whole omnishambles, and Napo South West and the Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust can feel justifiably happy with themselves for finally getting that message across on BBC1's Question Time last night.

At last the subject of probation privatisation got an airing on this premier current affairs programme, but save for a spirited defence of our work by Paris Lees, the contributions from other panellists was somewhat lack-lustre to say the least. It can be viewed here on i-player, 40 minutes in.

The extraordinary thing is, the longer this omnishambles rolls on, the weaker the proponents case for it seems to become, as ably demonstrated by the Tory and Liberal Democrat politicians both last night and during the Commons debate the other day. Many comments on this blog have highlighted muddled-thinking and policy seemingly being made up 'on the hoof' by government ministers as they go along. For something so important, this is certainly very worrying indeed and there are signs of the unease spreading, as this comment indicates:-

Jim and friends - after several tel calls today it seems that a number of Trust Chairs and/or Board members are unhappy with the situation that we are left with but are afraid to fly solo for fear of Grayling & co are picking them off - the consensus seems to be they'd feel happier & safer as a flock of Trusts; a murmuration, perhaps, given the season.

Indeed, many wished that the vote had been closer (Lib Dems, take note) or even that the opposition motion had been upheld. They feel this would have allowed for a rollback from the need for industrial action - and would have preferred that outcome. The potential damage within Trusts is something they fear will ultimately damage service delivery.

The overwhelming view amongst this unscientific poll was that there is a sound case for delaying matters for at least a year whilst relevant & appropriate pilots are undertaken & evaluated; but that the Secretary of State's undue haste is unhelpful at best, and downright dangerous at worst.

Even the Financial Times has concerns:-

Buoyed by the global trend towards outsourcing, G4S has grown into an organisation of 620,000 people. Some of its past failings – including the fiasco of its failure to provide the security guards it had promised for the London 2012 Olympics – may reflect the difficulty of managing a company on this scale. But there is also a broader problem with the industry’s business model. Tenders are often won by companies that over-promise on quality and bid low on price. When performance disappoints, there is little redress. It is difficult to know what is going on in a closed facility such as a prison, and revoking contracts can be costly even when the company is clearly to blame. Politicians are often reluctant to suffer the embarrassment of tearing up their own agreements.
An infusion of commercial rigour can bring down costs and improve the quality of public services. But outsourcing can go too far. Politicians’ responsibility to taxpayers is matched by a moral obligation to ensure that prisoners come to no harm. 
The patchy record of private providers should weigh on politicians as they consider whether to outsource the UK’s probation service. If it opts to hand over the keys, the government should make sure it remains firmly in control."

I notice that the Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan had an article published in the New Statesman and he highlights the issue of risk that the Ministers seem to be struggling with:-

Most worryingly, private companies with no track record of work in this area - some currently under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office for irregularities with other Ministry of Justice contracts – will be in sole charge of 80% of offenders. Amazingly, the government claims these are only 'low' and 'medium' risk offenders. Yet these are people who have committed crimes such as domestic violence, robbery, violence against the person and sexual offences.
Responsibility for 'high risk' offenders will remain in the public sector, the government clearly not entrusting G4S or Serco with that role. More importantly, separating offenders by 'risk level' creates a wholly artificial divide as, in reality, offenders' risk levels fluctuate in a quarter of cases, meaning responsibility for them would end up chopping and changing between private and public sectors.
This worries experts, as an offender whose risk level escalates is a danger to themselves and the public. This isn't a time for red tape and bureaucracy – the system must respond quickly if public safety is to be protected. Like many experts, I fear the cumbersome model proposed by the government isn’t sufficiently nimble to deal with these dangerous situations. And the Ministry of Justice’s own civil servants agree, which may be the reason Chris Grayling refuses to publish the advice he has received about what could go wrong.
On this absolutely key issue of risk, this comment from a reader raises an interesting point when considering the vexed issue of the 'sifting' criteria when deciding if staff go one way or another:-
Which, in effect says: lets look at who managed the most high risk and MAPPA cases on a particular day (say 30th September this year). Now lets give them some points. High Risk, Mappa = lots of points, Medium Risk = not so many points, Low risk = no points (oh to make it fair = very few points). Now we'll add up all the points and if you score lots of points we'll have you in the NPS if you score not many points we'll abandon you to the CRC.
That is what the shifting criteria means.

But - if you are half decent at your work you'll have put the controls in place to make sure the high risker is provided with the opportunity not to be an imminent danger to your community and can therefore be managed as a medium risk offender (sorry, client). Therefore, if you are half decent at your job, you'll score fewer points than colleagues who are more risk averse.

I wonder if they realise that when they divide the caseload on 31st March next year loads of medium risk offenders (who are actually high risk offenders that were being managed by a public service who had good in mind rather than profit) are actually high risk clients who will morph into high risk offenders and start to cause damage (from which recovery is unlikely).

Finally, here's a thought for those companies and outfits currently refining their bids for probation work. When it all goes wrong, as indeed it will, you will have to consider how you manage the inevitable damage to your reputation. Russell Webster has handily flagged-up a 'Webinar' on 15th November that might offer some help from experts in the field:-

The Ministry of Justice’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme offers unprecedented opportunities for new providers to play a role in the vital work of rehabilitating offenders – but it also presents major reputational risks. Successful bidders will be providing a front-line public service for the first time, in a sector where mistakes can have very serious consequences. All bidders will come under a high degree of scrutiny from an early stage of the competition, from the media, politicians, trades unions and campaign groups.
Effectively managing the reputational risks associated with the competition – and the subsequent delivery of probation contracts –  requires specialist expertise in both communication and the criminal justice system.


  1. So there literally are people out there looking to make money from the TR failure? Incredible.

    P.S. Well done to SW Branch members on Question Time!

  2. Not being 'inside' the process - such as as an employee who is a consultee - I am not fully aware of how some matters are processing. I have a also been away from practice for ten years.

    However, it seems from my perspective that the opposition coupled with shortcomings in the implementation strategy maybe working.

    I read yesterday that a consultation date slipped again to - I think November the 4th - I would welcome more info about precisley what is at stake in this consultation.

    Secondly, no minister or supporter has explained publicly how very practical aspects will be resolved such as Jim has highlighted here.

    I am also genuinely surprised by the level of ignorance of those who genuinely believe that outsourcing now, really is the best thing. I have in mind folk such as Edward Garnier MP (he has a few other titles as an experienced criminal court judge)

    "ike the right hon. Gentleman, I have form. He has experience as—I believe—a Home Office and Northern Ireland criminal justice Minister, while I come to the debate armed, if that is the right expression, with some experience as a Crown court recorder. I sat as a recorder from 1998 until 2010, when I was appointed a Law Officer. Between 2005 and 2009, when I became shadow Attorney-General, I was the shadow justice Minister dealing with prisons and probation. I like to think that, as a consequence of both those functions, I learnt quite a bit about the way in which we run our probation and rehabilitation system.

    I would be dishonest if I did not accept that a number of my constituents who work for the probation service in Leicestershire are deeply concerned about what my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are proposing, but I happen to disagree with them because of what I learnt during my time as a recorder and as a shadow justice Minister. Having visited 65 of the 142 or 143 prisons and other custodial units in the country, and having also visited any number of probation offices and staff throughout England and Wales, I concluded that what we were doing extremely badly was looking after—and I mean looking after—repeat offenders. We were quite good at dealing with long-term offenders who had been given five, six, seven or eight years or life sentences, but we were hopeless at dealing with those who had been given sentences of under a year. Now, at last, my right hon. Friend is pushing forward—admittedly, not with everyone’s

    30 Oct 2013 : Column 1005

    approval—a policy that will enable us to look after those people, and looking after them will mean that we look after the victims as well.

    When I sat as a recorder, most of those whom I saw were drug-addicted, mentally ill people in the dock, and people who could not understand why they had become victims and, in many cases, repeat victims It was the pathetic story of a carousel of failure, and by the time I had become shadow Attorney-General and, eventually, Solicitor-General, I felt evangelical about it. I am not suggesting that the Lord Chancellor is anything like a saint—he and I have had our differences over all sorts of things—but at last he and I are on the same page, both of us wanting to do something practical about repeat offending.

    At Pentonville prison in London, most of the probation work is entirely defensive. Those who go into the prison will probably be there for less than six months, and many are there for a matter of days or weeks. Most of them cannot read, most are on drugs, most do not have a GP, and most do not have a fixed address. The main thing that the Prison Service and the probation service can do in that place is keep them alive. After a few days or weeks, they are spat out on to the street—and what do they do in order to feed their drug habit? They commit burglaries, they commit robberies, and they become street drug dealers. .....Continued

    1. Continuing ....
      We cannot continue to permit that. While it is difficult for my constituents who are members of the National Association of Probation Officers and work extremely hard, and very well, in Leicestershire, to accept the structural changes that are required to achieve the improvements that are needed, and while I have great personal sympathy for them, I regret to say that we must do something and do it quickly, because otherwise the situation will simply progress. What people who have been given short and medium-term prison sentences need on release is a job, somewhere to stay, and a strong relationship. Ideally that strong relationship should be with a partner, but it could also be with someone who can supervise and assist them. They need to be caught, not at the gate but before the gate—before they leave prison.

      My good friend Jonathan Aitken said the most terrifying and difficult thing for him when he was in prison was worrying about what was going to happen to him when he left, and he was well-off, highly educated and had all the advantages of his class and education. Just imagine what that must be like for a poor drug addict with mental illness. They have a great big cliff to face as they leave prison. Unless we have supervisors, whether in the charitable sector or the probation service, there to catch them and take them to a better life, we will just reinforce failure.

      I commend my right hon. Friend, and I urge him and his fellow Ministers to press on with this. Some unedifying remarks will be directed at us by the Opposition, but I say, “Just be strong.” We have got people to save here and it takes courage: get on with it.
      5.25 pm

      Mr Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier). His compassion for those who need our help does him credit. I have to say I draw different conclusions, however, and that is

      30 Oct 2013 : Column 1006

      the argument between us. I am very pleased that the Labour party has chosen the probation service as the topic for this Opposition day debate. May I also congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your election to the post, and say how pleased I am to see you in your place?"

      the dopes who support the Gov like the fool on QT last night - trust people like Garnier - if we are to win by logic we need to get to the logic of folk like Garnier.

      Andrew Hatton

    2. I omitted the link to Hansard in that last message, sorry - it is hear: -

      Andrew Hatton

  3. Progress of Offender Rehabilitation Bill cam up in House of Commons Yesterday: -

    "Angela Eagle (Wallasey, Labour)

    I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I also welcome him back to his place. I hope he has fully recuperated.

    The Offender Rehabilitation Bill has finally reappeared after I raised its mysterious absence three times and after yesterday’s Opposition-day debate. Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government accept or intend to remove the Lords amendment to clause 1 that would require them to seek the approval of both Houses before they continue to push ahead with their reckless plans to privatise the probation service?"

    REPLY: -

    "Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire, Conservative) ........

    ...... The shadow Leader of the House asked a number of times about the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which will come before the House for Second Reading. In fact, I think three Bills came from the Lords at much the same time, and the Offender Rehabilitation Bill will be the first to be debated in this House. We will consider what we need to do but, as was made clear in the other place, our intention is to press ahead with a reform that will enable a large number of offenders with a sentence of less than 12 months to secure rehabilitation for the first time, and bring down the scandalous level of reoffending among those who have been prisoners. It is important to get on with that, which is what we are doing."

    Andrew Hatton

    1. Again I missed the Internet Link: -

      Sorry - I do try to make obvious when I am expressing opinion and what I hope is fact.

      Andrew Hatton

  4. Yesterdays Civil society reports on the success of PbR

    Peterborough interim figures show drop in reconvictions1

    Finance | Tania Mason31 Oct 2013 |More Sharing ServicesShareInterim figures for rates of reoffending among short-sentenced male prisoners released from Peterborough Prison since the social impact bond was launched there suggest that reconviction rates have fallen despite a rise nationally.The figures, published by the Ministry of Justice today, track the frequency of reconvictions over one year of the first 16 months of the first cohort of released prisoners.According to Social Finance, architect of the social impact bond, the figures show that there has been a 12 per cent decline in the frequency of conviction events per 100 prisoners since 2008 in Peterborough, compared with an increase of 11 per cent nationally.The results also suggest that the scheme’s intervention has successfully reversed a trend whereby since at least September 2005, rates of reoffending by short-sentenced prisoners released from HMP Peterborough tended to exceed the national average.Social Finance said in a statement: “We cannot infer from the figures whether the pilot has been a success or whether an outcome payment will be triggered because the measurements used are distinct from those which will be used for the Peterborough social impact bond.” The Peterborough cohort will be compared by an independent assessor with a statistically compiled control group, it said.However, it added that the progress of the scheme so far supported the case for the government’s probation reforms by highlighting how interventions among a group that previously received no statutory support could have a positive impact.Frances Crook, CEO of the Howard League for Penal Reform, tweeted in response to the figures: "Reduced reoffending at Peterborough PbR cost lots of new money. Where is new money for Govt roll out of programme"

    1. All they can say of the scheme is that it provides support for interventions with a group of ex-prisoners who weren't previously subject to interventions. There wasn't a matched group who were given supervision by Probation, so there can't possibly be any evidence to suggest that the Peterborough approach is better.

  5. If sentences under 12mths are to have at least 12mths supervision, will the 12mth supervision have to be given as a sentence by the courts?
    It strikes me that if its not imposed by the courts then many legal challanges may be brought against the government.
    If someone sentenced to two months imprisonment say, been recalled and served the complete two months but still has 5or 6 mths supervision, what penelty could be imposed for non compliance to supervision?

    1. A conversation that I was having this very morning with my colleagues. One has a legal background and his view (and his view only) was that they would have to change the sentencing framework!

      Of course, once G4S et al get in, on the premise that they are going to work with the less than 12 months, I have a feeling that the whole 12 months supervision/Licence thing will be quietly dropped by Ministers.

      Nothing to see here..move along now.

      I might be wrong...but I doubt it!! Just something else to think about. Do you honestly think that G4S (or indeed anyone), one the same budget, can manage all of the offenders who are subject to less than 12 month sentences? Meeting them at the gates, getting them job, homes, benefits. All of this, from the same budget? I very much doubt it.

      If it seems to good to be true....

    2. Apologies for typos; old eyes and Iphones do not mix well :)

    3. No apology needed - the whole business of just getting a mentor at the gate having already visited prisoner once in preparation & then escorting him occasionally her to accommodation sourced before release is obviously nonsense and something I have been trying to highlight since January - but have failed!

      Andrew Hatton

    4. My understanding is that the Offender Rehabilitation Bill provides for the extension of supervision to the under-12 months group, but that the Government believe they don't need it to restructure Probation as they're using the 2007 Act. If the Lords amendment is not overturned, we will have two conflicting pieces of legislation and perhaps need the Supreme Court to pick a side.

  6. The consensus of opinion is that it cannot be applied restrspectively. When/if it comes into force, it will only be for people sentenced after that date. Might make things interesting in the Courts when the Mags/Crown suddenly find they have a load of guilty pleas prior to that date.

    Still, at least they'll be kept in local* prisons.

    *by local I mean still in the UK.
    *when I say the UK I mean any prison that is STILL open
    *when i say open I mean have capacity

    Still, ramming them all in cell like veal calves... Ryanair might even start bidding!

  7. Great video interview -12 minutes of Pat Waterman - Chair of Greater London Napo by The artist taxi driver - they both have Peckham in common!

    Andrew Hatton

    1. Really good video. For me it feels like the government are about demonising workers and the unemployed, and are basically robbing from the less well off in society for the benefit of those who have more. Like Pat said this government would privatise the shirt off your back!

  8. We are part of a wider nastier picture, my son goes to my local equivalent of Remploy and as part of cutting the council budget by 2/3 in the next 5 years he is being asked to work for nowt. He gets a low wage as it is working for local companies who make a profit from his labour.

    Teachers Probation and fire fighters all on strike for defensive reasons over the next week or so. The middle class, us, are at war with government and big business, we are under attack form our " Betters". The neo-liberal mask is off and if Serco or any of the big boys win that will not be the end of it. They will always be able to make savings by cutting wages and conditions little further or replacing us by a smart phone with a person at the end of it. Serco runs education in Walsall and they are after big chunks of the the Health Service. There is a club in the UK, government and big business, and we aint in it. We need to take a wider perspective because they do!!

  9. I work in a high risk team and in the main, my co workers now believe they are "safe" or NPS as it is also called, I do not, as I suspect there will be redundancies once Grayling's will is done and he has fooled everyone that sufficient staff were transferred to manage the 'high riskers'.
    My partner works in a field team and has been asked to make an application for a CRC (£1 a share, what the hell does that mean ?) with absolutely no information about who the backers of the bid are. It has been confirmed that a high net worth individual is supporting the proposed CRC ( why would they do that if there's no money in it?) but we are not allowed to know who.It has been suggested that the local authority ( financially strapped and making redundancies) is involved too. If my partner does not apply to be part of the CRC and is not eligible for the NPS because of existing case load profile, he runs the very real risk of making himself jobless when the Trusts disappear. Just how MUTUAL is it if the backers know all about the staff but the staff do not even know who is forming the bid?
    That is the reality of this dreadful Omnishambles unfolding before our eyes. It is more that a leap of faith, it is truly is a leap into the dark. The very people who have so abandoned their loyal staff by dancing as quickly as they could to Grayling's tune ie our senior management team, now expect us to blindly follow their commands again. SHAME ON THEM.

  10. Sorry to be negative here but this week has left me feeling completely anxious and disaffected at the coming strike. It looks like about 90% of staff at our office (NAPO and non-NAPO) will be coming in as usual, with staff already stepping in to cover programme groups in the absence of striking colleagues. I'm ashamed to say this but I am actively starting to query whether I can bring myself to strike with such a total lack of unity amongst the profession.

  11. I agree about the strike. I am a NAPO member and am really annoyed at the split over two working days and having to picket (pointless) two days running when most colleagues do not support the strike. THE ONLY DISRUPTION IS TO ME and I am really stressed by TR but feel the strike has not enthused me, rather just disillusioned me. Sorry for the moan am just really fed up at no progress with the fight against TR.

  12. Oh well lets all just give up and let them walk all over us then !!- get a grip don't feel disillusioned- feel angry - Whatever others do or don't do - look to your own conscience ,can you really stand by and watch this happen without what is by anyone's standards a minimum level of protest ? Take heart from those branches where there is widespread support for the action and there are many - If you want progress with the fight for TR the answers simple -YOU have to fight for it .

    1. All very well, but on a human level it's still pretty sickening giving up a days pay while the bulk of your colleagues (many of whom frankly don't appear to give a s**t about TR) just sit there mopping up your work and talking about how much money they have saved by NOT being in NAPO. If fighting TR is just a minority interest amongst the profession, what the hell is the point? Really tired and fed up with the whole debacle, TR and some colleagues to be honest.

    2. Don't strike. It will achieve the grand sum of nothing and the impact will be felt by you and yours. Secondly, come out of NAPO. They have been worse than useless and, IMO, colluded with the whole TR shambles.
      Many will ask me to justify that, to which I say; evil prevails..etc.

      NAPO have done nothing and been fairly invisible throughout this whole shambles. Once I find out whether I' NOS or CRC, aside from looking for a new job the very next thing I am doing is cancelling my subs!

    3. I really feel the anxiety in the responses so far about whether to strike or not. There is real polarisation here , by all parties and to a great extent that is to be expected -
      The EMPLOYERS(MoJ) want to change our collective terms and conditions and de skill the work that we do ,
      The EMPLOYEES want to protect their roles by not rocking the boat, not losing money and with a general feeling of anxiety about the future and whether anything will change.....
      MoJ have been crass, bullying and incompetent, NAPO has been equally unreliable and the Trust CEO have rightly or wrongly focussed on BUSINESS AS USUAL.
      None of our previously reliable (!) sources of comfort and support have provided US with sufficient confidence to make a clear decision in any way and so we are all in an almighty pickle.

      I believe that if I am in the union of probation and court staff , then I have a DUTY to support the call for strike action, there is fellowship in this group whereby staff are able to share experience and support each other in good times and bad and now when it is CRITICAL, so we should stand together.
      We all know that we are been royally shafted from all angles and that the SoS is taking a personal interest in this because he has self interest and self promotion in mind.
      Our voice has not been heard , we have been stifled by our Trust s , by the MoJ and by the Press - all we can now do is stand up and say to them all we have a voice and it will be heard...
      If you think the £100 or so that you lose on Tue/Wed is a lot , what about the £1000's we stand to lose in lower terms and conditions, with frozen pay, loss of increments, longer hours ,reduced pensions,job security and job satisfaction - and most importantly of all the service that we provide to the public.
      Look around and see the other sectors that are taking strike action...not for pay or bonus but to protect the PROFESSIONAL integrity of public service - Teachers,Fire,Royal Mail etc etc
      In my personal and professional life , I would rather give someone enough for a meal rather than let them go hungry - none of us will go hungry but I would say to anyone still unsure that for the loss of a days money is small change compared to the alternative.
      I have changed my career previously and you might think that getting a new job may be straight forward , but think about the time you need to serve to get the same holiday, sickness,pension and training opportunities as you have NOW.It takes many years.
      Good Luck to everybody taking Industrial Action next week and whatever you do , do it with a clear conscience.

  13. More Tagging Problems: -

    ‘Extraordinary and disturbing’: the G4S tagging malfunction

    Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is being asked to launch an inquiry into the malfunction of a modified curfew tagging system operated by G4S.trans Extraordinary and disturbing: the G4S tagging malfunction

    The move follows decisions by the Crown Prosecution Service to abandon four cases of suspected tampering. Experts said there’s a fundamental design fault in the GPS tracking tag.


    Andrew Hatton