Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Celebration

The following is a piece sent to me by someone not in the service, but concerned about their probation acquaintances:- 
Oh Yes
Probation staff on a day to day basis come into contact with the horrors, the grief, the sadness, the hopelessness, the despair, of our society. They do their work without complaint, quietly, professionally, and with high levels of professionalism.
Do probation staff have very high moral values and beliefs? Oh yes. 
Do probation staff possess high levels of professional ethics and principles? Oh yes.
Are probation staff dedicated, trustworthy, conscientious? Oh yes. 
Do they possess a spirit and desire to assist, advise and befriend to facilitate people to rehabilitate? Oh yes. 
Are they effective in their work and is this supported by empirical evidence and research? Oh yes. Do probation staff take their public service seriously? Oh yes. 

Then Mr Grayling, that is why they are so so hurt by the way they are being treated by you and the MOJ. The issuing of letters is an insult; the lack of information to inform choice is an insult; the speed of the TR process is an insult; the not providing research/evidence to support your views is an insult; not understanding and appreciating the outstanding public servants that you and the MOJ have available to you is an insult. 
TR is not an evolution, which by definition takes over many years. This is a fast track destruction of a world renowned service, that works. Political vandalism of the most vicious order. 
Oh yes Mr Grayling, that's why probation staff are upset.  Being pro social and motivational is what every member of probation does in their daily lives. Possessing a sound moral compass to demonstrate to service users that the notions of honesty, trust, respect and integrity are valued by our society, not greed, not envy, not lies, not dishonesty, not selfishness. 
TR undermines all of the pro social and motivational work done by probation staff. To be replaced by a system which promotes profit and corporate interest first, and people's suffering, hardships, problems as a commodity. 

Submitted by Kstar22

This got me thinking. Probation has never been 'just' a job for most people. It's a vocation, or 'calling' even, especially if we go back further in time. Chris Grayling won't know this, or want to understand even, but it goes a long way in explaining the overwhelmingly hostile reaction to TR. 

It got me thinking of all the amazing people I've met over the years through this unique job we do. It's prompted me to ponder that in these depressing times, when we're all trying to comprehend why our government is set on a path to destroy a world class public service full of caring, dedicated and highly professional staff, that maybe it's time to reflect on some of the talent that we have here within the remarkable probation family.  

I've been following PoOfficer on twitter for some time as he tries to give people outside the profession an idea of what it's all about. I have no idea as to his identity, but I hope he will not mind me saying that he is in all probability somewhat younger than the bitter and twisted author of this blog. This is great because such officers are the future, but even he is getting a little concerned and angry at where TR is leading us, as evidenced by his latest blog post:-

It has been some time now since I last blogged and whilst I always saw this blog as a practitioners blog with the focus on Probation work, I can't help but talk about Transforming Rehabilitation and the impact this is having on us all.  

I am getting so many tweets about the upset staff are experiencing upon receiving their letters either directing them to the NPS/CRC or asking them to make a decision.  Never did I imagine a time would come in Probation where we would be asked to do this.  At the time of writing this, I have not received my own letter, but I expect it to be similar to most Probation Officers in that I will be invited to make a decision.  This decision will be more of a guess as we have insufficient information to make any sort of informed decision about the NPS or the CRC's.    

I am taking NAPO's advice and considering a grievance to accompany my response letter, but again this raises concerns for not just me but also a lot in my team and also on twitter. Some really tough decisions are ahead of us.  

What I wanted to focus this blog on is the concerns that I have about Transforming Rehabilitation.  Already the vultures are swooping in and my Trust is inundated with mentors and 'coaches' wanting access to our cases and to work with us.  Whilst I accept that they do have a place in the Criminal Justice System, taking over my job is not one of them. You can imagine the look a mentor got from me when he said "I could easily do your job".

Here is another committed officer who finds the time to write reflective pieces on difficult subjects, whilst at the same time trying to come to terms with the uncertainty being created by TR:- 

Victim blaming is not just about hurt feelings. It helps create more victims.
"Perpetrators of any crime need to overcome barriers in order to do it. External barriers, such as a locked door or a victim’s resistance; and internal barriers, such as their own discomfort with what they are doing, worries about the consequences, and understanding of social stigma. I want to talk about these barriers in sexual offending today, following on from a conversation with my esteemed hostess at @EVB_Now a wee while ago, because this is where I believe cultural attitudes to victims have a profound effect.
I’m a probation officer. It’s a vital part of my job to try to understand why crimes are committed, through examining evidence and through talking to and assessing perpetrators. This assessment helps inform sentencing, parole decisions, and longer-term work to try to reduce the chance of re-offending. I have sat in a great many cheery little windowless rooms in prisons across the country talking to people about their lives and their actions, and trying to get at the thought process that underpins those actions. This piece is based on that experience.
My conversation with our hostess initially concerned the notion of planning in sexual offending. Especially where alcohol is concerned, sexual assaults and rapes are often characterised as impulsive decisions, a sudden rush of lust, a reaction to seeing a short skirt or tight t-shirt. What has continually struck me over the years at work is how often this is just not the case. There is a difference between opportunism and impulsivity: the vast majority of sexual offences I have dealt with have involved if not planning, then seeking the opportunity. Are they stalking darkened alleys with a knife and a balaclava thinking, “I am going to brutally rape someone tonight”? Hardly ever. Are they feeling a particularly strong sense of entitlement that night, a feeling that they deserve to have sex and it wouldn’t be very fair of a woman to refuse? A lot of the time, yes, and it’s not a coincidence that they find themselves loitering outside clubs where they might find drunk women, or visiting a friend they think has been giving them signals and might be up for it, for example. Where perpetrators insist an assault was actually consensual sexual contact, this impression of entitlement often comes over loud and strong."
The full article can be found here. 

But what about officers a bit longer in the tooth, or retired even, with something to say? Mike Guilfoyle retired in 2010 and regularly writes incisive pieces on the worksforfreedom website:-

"I vividly recall my initial meeting with the Criminologist Jock Young, whose untimely death was recently announced. I had applied to undertake the part time MA in Criminology at Middlesex University and when interviewed by Jock, his inimitably relaxed but immensely authoritative manner helped me through the meeting to secure a place on the course. He asked in his insouciant way, if I had been influenced by any book on crime and deviance in looking at my work in probation. With some hesitation, I mentioned Jack Katz's seminal text The Seductions of Crime knowing well that grounded ethnographic accounts of law-breaking had greatly shaped his own criminological outlook. I also took some of the insights from the 'seductions of crime' back to the probation office.

Meeting John (not his real name) at the probation office (then situated in a part of London that had been dubbed by the local press as 'London at its most lawless') was a memorable event. His considerable accumulation of deeds of 'theft by shoplifting', and what at the time I imagined was an almost Dickensian persona, heavy build and bewhiskered and often befuddled by copious alcoholic consumption! This meant that our meeting quickly descended into a confused and rambling exchange and offered only limited scope for my pre-sentence report. The magistrates' court, recognising that John was 'in need of probation support', placed him on supervision, and he dutifully reported later in the week. 'So what can you do for me?' he declared, 'I have been "at it" for 25 years, and know all there is to know about thieving!'.

We worked together over a period of 12 months and often our meetings resembled nothing short of bilious mutterings and half remembered reminiscences of the 'good old days' before the Harrods security systems improved! John made occasional racy references to his time when entrusted by a 'Mr Big' to manage Adult Shops in Soho. I noted in small ways that John was beginning to share parts of his richly textured biography that were most meaningful to him. Maybe here was a way to try to encourage and support a shift in his approach to stealing. Maybe behaving like a fieldworker, I might drop some of what I felt was the more distancing language that probation officers adopted to get to know John better. He steadfastly declined all my efforts to home visit, stating that he had to care for an ailing relative, and did not want me to disturb his domesticity! But I did reach a point in our meetings, when I sensed, some modest changes, arising from a better understanding of his life situation, more meaningful engagement and positive experiences of probation, in his pattern of acquisitive offending. At one of our final supervisory sessions, 'Mr Guilfoyle' (he always insisted on that conventional address), 'I am reaching retiring age, maybe I am not as comfortable about stealing from shops, after all, you know more about me, than I do'.

I did politely decline his offer a yuletide present, advising that he return the item to whence it came!"

Finally, to conclude this little celebration of the talent and expertise that can be found amongst probation professionals, I'd like to give a plug to a relatively new blogger on green and radical economic issues. He's a retired probation officer, Clive Lord, now in his 70's, but at the cutting edge of thinking on social responsibility and the need for economic and political reform. Please go and give his blog a boost. I know how important it was to me when I started to feel there were people out there and interested:-

"In a sane world, everyone will be guaranteed basic needs on condition they do nothing to damage the ecosphere. Assuming the sane are also intelligent, this  will happen. I explore the dynamics of why it doesn’t seem to be happening, and  some ideas on how it might. I suggest that the Citizens’ Basic Income can  be a part of the solution to two apparently unconnected problems. I was always uneasy about the notion of indefinite economic growth, and the 1972 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study Limits to Growth confirmed my concern, hence my involvement with the Green Party from its inception in 1973. Meanwhile, although I have never personally experienced poverty or the means tested benefits trap, my work as a Probation Officer (now retired) brought me forcibly into contact with these realities, and the sheer injustice of accusations that those so trapped were scroungers or benefit cheats." 


  1. good stuff, sir.

    On another tack, perhaps we should privatise the role of mp, and save the public the cost and effort of having the smokescreen of an apparent electoral system? Why not have a collection of fat cats who sit around muttering, do the bidding of their shareholders, introduce random policies using gut instinct, line their own pockets, fill their bellies and furnish their mansions, and just tell the civil service where to go and what to do?

    Wouldn't it just save time and money?

  2. Yup, it would get my vote !

    1. Theres that much sold off to the private sector now there isn't any reason we should have so many MPs anymore anyway. Less and less to govern, but more wages and more holidays? I really do feel we are heading towards civil unrest in the very near future.

    2. Lets hope so

  3. Its so sad to watch the public sector and probation specifically being destroyed. All those good people being treated with such distain


    1. A witness to an alleged case of sexual misconduct at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre is being threatened with deportation, provoking fresh claims of a cover-up.

      Afolashade Lamidi, 40, from Nigeria, alleges she saw a male Serco employee harassing and pushing a female detainee who had lodged a complaint against several guards over allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct.

      Lamidi claims that an inmate called Tanja was physically targeted and intimidated by staff in the Yarl's Wood canteen and also saw the 23-year-old self-harming. Campaigners claim the Home Office is trying to silence another witness to sex abuse allegations at Britain's largest immigration removal centre for women.

      Last month, the Observer revealed the case of Sirah Jeng, who alleges she saw a male Serco employee having sexual contact with Tanja but faced being detained and deported before she could testify to police.

      Anthony Gard, of civil rights group Movement for Justice, said: "We are shocked that the Home Office is harassing and trying to deport yet another witness."

      On Tuesday, immigration minister Mark Harper and David Wood, the Home Office's director general for immigration enforcement, will be asked by members of the home affairs select committee what they are doing to ensure detainees are not abused.

    2. Lamidi claims that after Tanja, not her real name, made her complaint about alleged sexual advances she told police she was targeted by staff. "We were in the canteen. She wanted to fetch water from the drink machine. There were four officers and one of them started to push her. So we started shouting. A couple of days after that they released her," said Lamidi.

      Three Serco staff have been dismissed over Tanja's allegations, but it is not known if this includes those involved in the alleged canteen incident. Lamidi said that after being interviewed last month by Bedfordshire police over Tanja's claims, the Home Office is trying to deport her.

      "I am worried that they want to get rid of me because of this," said Lamidi, who has lived in the UK since 2004 and is engaged to a British citizen of Nigerian origin who was born here.

      Her fiance, Tony Babatunde Adebanjo, from Tottenham, north London, said: "They want to get rid of all the witnesses to the sexual abuse. They are keeping her in Yarl's Wood and because she's a witness they want her out of the country." He said the UK Border Agency had said she could go to Nigeria voluntarily and return on a spouse visa within a few months. The couple were due to marry last Wednesday but officials would not release Lamidi. Lamidi, who has lived in the UK illegally, said: "They say they will give me a spouse visa but they don't put that in writing."

  5. I overheard some political journalist on tv today, explaining that we really 'should pay MP's decent wages, if we want the best people, and we should put them on a par with a GP (who supposedly is on about £90,000) a year. And if we don't????? well they'll just go and fiddle their expenses, as they did the last time they felt undervalued. That's okay, morally bankrupt people, who don't actually save lives, nor understand what I do for a a PO, running the country, dismantling public services, usually pulling in more than one wage and if they are dissatisfied, they are somehow justified and excused their illegal just cannot make it up!

  6. here we go again, the last 3 sleepless hours before another week of joy thanks to noms, moj and grayling.