In addition to this though, every now and then the comments facility throws up real gems in the form of knowledge or experience that starts a productive discussion thread. The trouble is the blog moves on at the alarming pace of the evolving TR omnishambles itself and much of these rich seams gets left behind, only fleetingly noticed.
It happened recently with a thread that discusses where we've been in order to try and put where we appear to be going into some kind of context. Too good I thought just to sit there in the comments section, so here are some of the best bits and a big thank you to anyone who recognises their contribution:-
I have always felt that the takeover of NOMS by the prison service and the consequent marginalisation of the probation service was both inevitable and ultimately damaging to any progress towards a rehabilitative and positive approach to engaging with offenders. However, there are a couple of interesting 'ironies' and anomalies in the history of NOMS.
Firstly, it should be remembered that the first NOMS model had a single national offender manager and she came from the probation service--Christine Knott, previously Chief of Manchester Probation Service if I am not mistaken. There was a regional structure with 9 regional offender managers, of whom 7 were recruited from the probation service.
In those early days there were a number of organograms published by the Home Office as it was then (2003 when NOMS was first created on the back of Patrick Carter's fag packet) and these variously had the Director General of the Prison Service accountable to the NOM, and almost on a parallel with the national Director of Probation. And then came a gradual transformation to the present situation where the prison service ethos completely dominates NOMS. But even during this period the Chief Executive of NOMS for a year or so was Helen Edwards whose background was with NACRO and as a civil servant with the Active Communities Unit.
The original vision for NOMS actually had probation officers (offender managers) determining the sentence planning and indeed in theory the movement of prisoners through the prison system. As if a governor of an overcrowded prison was going to hold on to probation officer's client for an additional few weeks to complete a literacy course. The simplistic naivety of it all is stunning. There was never any chance that the prison service would be subsumed under the NOMS banner and it was always the case that it would survive intact. And this was because custody would always trump community.
The probation service was understandably nervous and defensive while this was going on especially as it was continually being exhorted to 'outsource' a proportion of its work to the voluntary and private sectors, and there was never a strong professional voice in the probation service (NAPO tried to fill the void but it wasn't really in a position to take on the role previously held by ACOP) to articulate a progressive vision for the service.
There were those in the voluntary sector in particular who were keen to line up alongside the probation service and try to develop a comprehensive community based response to local offending and this might have had a chance of developing a countervailing message to the dominant prison service ethos. However, by this point the probation service had long since defined itself as being a 'law enforcement agency' delivering 'punishment in the community' and talking a managerialist language that was opaque and alienating. Not the least of the difficulties was the heightened prominence of 'risk management' and 'protecting the public'.
With this sort of talk there is only going to be one winner in a cultural battle with the prison service which can always claim (albeit falsely and simplistically) that locking people up is the best way to manage risk and protect the public. The shame of this was that there was terrific work going on in some localities which showed the probation service up in its best light as the human face of the justice system best placed to bring together a range of agencies and individuals to assist offenders and their families to change.
A good potted history of the cultural and organisational changes in probation over the past decade. Of course, probation was relabelled a law enforcement agency by ministerial diktat. What has disappointed about probation has been the failure of the senior leadership to defend and promote core values and principles. In fact what happened was that they embraced the new rhetoric.
However, the fundamental problem is that the UK's penal policy remains too punitive – we imprison too many. And over many years the good folks in probation contributed to the rising prison population through draconian, target-led breach policies.
The deprofessionalisation of probation also helped to create a supine workforce. The prisons did not change but probation acquired an authoritarian mantle and seemed to enjoy wearing it. Probation also became intoxicated with risk methodologies and fell for the early promises that it would place probation 'centre stage' – but that soon ended.
Not sure I have much enjoyed today's doom and gloom spin on probation. What I have learnt over these years is that a healthy separation from politics is good for practice. I mean that a political commentary on probation since the 90's is not a reflection of our practice or what we do behind interview room doors. The recent roll out of Seeds found lots of officers new and old retorting what a nice refresher it was but we were all doing it anyway? All is not lost. And whatever happens values live on in people and outlive hashed excuses for social policy designed to win votes and woo tabloids. Policy repeats repeats fails. But the same work often keeps going on. So take heart. Say I anyway!
It is interesting to note that, throughout the 'changes' that took place in Probation, the offenders didn't change one iota. Their criminogenic needs pre-date the invention of the word 'criminogenic' and their response to the services offered remain the same as they did before we coined the term 'responsivity'. They remain troubled by mental ill health, bereavement, memories of childhood abuse, learning difficulties, hidden disabilities, relationship difficulties, alcohol and substance abuse, emotional vulnerability, homelessness and unemployment. Plus ca change.... The powers that be are still looking for the magic pill where there is only the need for patience and understanding. 25 years of this work and I am still impressed at how willing people are to change when help is offered intelligently and not condescendingly. Ditch the IT and get back to working with what matters: the people we work with.
Does anyone remember SWIP in prisons? I don't mean a variation on SWAT: those dressed to kill in quasi-military attire, if I remember correctly it was an initiative about social work in prison, performed by prison officers. Anyway, it was a failure. Then we had Sentence Management – and that was a failure and the latest has been Offender Management – also a failure in prisons. Probation and prisons have always been silos. Prisons, in general, have always had a dog in a manger attitude to outsiders with a rehabilitative attitude. I am not sure how you get a rehabilitative mindset into the mainstream when we have governments that still insist on emphasising the punitive. This thinking, unfortunately trickles down.
Wow - Netnipper - yes - SWIP - Shared Working In Prisons between prison and probation officers - Jepson and Elliot - bit of Eighties nostalgia. You're right about the rest.
Shared working between Prison and Probation Officers
|Journal:||Home Office Research and Planning Unit Research Bulletin Issue:21 Dated:(1986) Pages:30-33|
|Author(s):||N Jepson ; K Elliot|
|Annotation:||This paper describes and evaluates various forms of Great Britain's Social Work in Prison (SWIP) scheme aimed at developing a pattern of shared working between prison and probation officers.|
|Abstract:||Following a history of the SWIP plan launched in 1977, the article describes the methodology used in a 1984 survey of four prisons with different types of SWIP programs. The survey revealed certain factors which appeared to influence survival of SWIP schemes: stable regimes, evidence of the probation department's integration in the prison, and the model of SWIP operative in the prison. Analyses of four SWIP models showed the lowest lapse rate for the one where prison officers were attached to prison probation departments full-time for a continuous period varying from 3 months to over 2 years. Assessment of SWIP effectiveness found an overall impression that it did contribute to a much more effective prison regime. Key factors influencing effectiveness were time being made available for prison officers to practice and develop their skills and the commitment of those directly involved being matched by that of key probation and prison personnel. Other shared work projects are discussed. Three references.|
To be blunt, prisons have never done rehabilitation in any meaningful way. They just maintain the pretence. There are pockets of good practice but, in the main, it is not on anyone's agenda.