Saturday, 21 June 2014

Probation Bits and Pieces 2

Just to keep things ticking over, here's a few bits and pieces snatched from the internet. First up, the perfect antidote to all the current TR shite - a return to the 'good old days' of Borstal's. There must be some photogenic erstwhile 'luvvies' out there surely? 
I’m writing from a television company called Wall to Wall ( We are a leading independent production company and best known for our award winning social history programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC One), Long Lost Family (ITV1) and Turn Back Time: The High Street (BBC One).
We’re currently working on a new series for ITV which will take a group of young men (18 – 23 years old) back in time to a 1930s Borstal. We want to explore the founding principles of the Borstal system which was based on ‘physical and purposeful activity’ (challenging the preconceptions around the system emanating from the period when Borstals were closed in the 1980s).
By bringing history to life, the series will ask if today’s young offenders can cope with the tough physical demands of Borstal life - based on education, learning a trade, fitness and discipline - and whether as a result of this experience they will end up walking away with new skills, potential job prospects and a new crime-free life.
We’re currently looking for a passionate, dynamic and inspirational staff to work with the young men during their time in the Borstal. We’re hoping to find people with hands-on experience of working with young people/young adults who are at risk of veering off the rails or who have spent time in custody. People with backgrounds in probation, social work, YOIs, teaching or the charity sector would all be relevant, but we’d be keen to hear from anyone who thinks they might have the right skills and experience.
The roles are varied (mentors, housemasters, teachers, workshop instructors, fitness instructors....even a firm but fair matron!) and have a degree of flexibility so we’d like to hear from anyone with the broad relevant experience and then talk further about the role they might fill in the Borstal.
The time commitment required varies across the different roles but people taking part would need to be available during our filming period of just over three weeks from late August into September.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me on 020 7241 9349 or if you’re interested in finding out more.
Best wishes,
I notice that the Confederation of European Probation has just set up a website dedicated to explaining what probation is all about. It's such a shame that here in the UK our government hasn't a clue. 

Probation Works: what is really known on effective practices in probation

Some fields of research, policy and practice are inherently and inescapably controversial and contested. But even in such fields, and even though our understanding is always developing and can always improve, on certain questions a broad consensus than can be found amongst researchers, policy makers and practitioners.

Usually this information is not accessible to a broader public. On the contrary, only the unusual new discoveries receive much attention. Yet, in the field of rehabilitation, reintegration and probation, it is important that knowledge is made accessible to the general public, politicians, policymakers and also to workers in the field; those workers are often experts in local practices but may not always have access to information and research from further afield. Public discussion, decision-making and also professional development and innovation all should take into account both academic and professional knowledge.

To CEP, presenting this evidence seems even more important in a domain in which emotion, intuition and ‘common sense’ seem to dominate the public debate. Therefore it took the initiative to commission the Research Group Working with Mandated Clients of the Hogeschool Utrecht (HU) University for Applied Sciences to collect and organise state-of-the-art scientific information regarding rehabilitation of offenders that is relevant to the general public, politicians, policymakers and probation professionals.

Questions (click on the links for the answers) 

Why do people offend?

How and why do people stop offending?

What is the impact of the role of probation staff in advising sentencing and in promoting community sanctions and measures?

What is the impact of probation on reducing re-offending and supporting desistance?

What is the impact of probation on satisfying the public’s desire for justice or punishment?

What is the impact of probation on the offender’s social integration (resettlement)?

What is the impact of probation in terms of reparation to victims and communities?

How do people subject to supervision experience it (as punishment, as assistance, as constraint)?

What is the impact of community service?

What are the costs and benefits of probation?

And retired PO Mike Guilfoyle continues to write about his experiences on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website:-

Reading Daniel Briggs' fine ethnographic study of crack cocaine users in South London 'High Society and Low Life in South London' recently put me in mind of working with Derek (not his real name) as his Probation Officer. I picked up a dauntingly voluminous case file on Derek on the departure from the probation office of a work colleague as I had been allocated supervisory responsibility for the balance of his community sentence.

Perusing the case notes evinced an almost stertorous response, as it ran to hundreds of pages (including reports, court appearance sheets and prosecution bundles). I made a point of contacting a particular drug worker whose name cropped up regularly in the file and arranged a three way meeting at the drug agency that Derek engaged well with, just a bus journey from the probation office.

When I was awaiting for Derek to arrive, I experienced a peculiarly relaxed working ethos in the Drop-In centre - a place that opened its doors to many of those problematic drug users on the probation caseload, as well as other users outside the reach of criminal justice.

The drug worker introduced himself and I sensed an immediate professional connection with someone well versed in the demands and challenges of working with this client group. Derek appeared and our first meeting was at best a strained and discomforting one. But I managed to outline how best we could take forward the balance of supervision, fully aware that Derek viewed probation as 'like the police!' and ready to 'catch him out' if he missed any appointments. (the whole article can be found here)

Finally, nothing to do with probation, but I love the whole concept of 'spurious correlations' like this and the divorce rate in Maine, compared to the consumption of margarine:-


  1. "Gooood Morrrrning Jim Brown!!" (In loud Robin Williams voice over tannoy).
    No doubt you'll enjoy this programme too?
    "More or Less", R4.

  2. You just got in Jim or is the TR disaster depriving you of your beauty sleep?

    1. Well spotted - was up for a bloody early train to London!

  3. Love the spurious addition!
    A bit like when the doctors in US went on strike in 1966 the death rate went down!
    I wonder if Probation went on strike and reoffending went up the MOJ may take notice??

    1. I wonder if they will take notice when the big firms take over and the crime rate increases, What excuse will they have then.

  4. Saw a tailor on the tellybox last night - some article in Daily Mirror about why people re-offend? Anyone seen it, or are they saving it for tomorrow?

    1. Yes seen the trailers:its special article on Justice in the Sunday Mirror.Harry Fletcher has promoted it on twitter too so maybe he's played some advisory role?

  5. Five prison officers assaulted in three days at HMP Featherstone. Grayling has undermined all areas of Justice; we are all at RISK now.


  7. Ok it has been a slow burn but let's maintain the momentum suddenly this mess is not being ignored or worse, derided, by the media it really is starting to matter.

  8. Ian Lawrence has just spoken at Anti Austerity demo


    2. Another day, another startling admission of ignorance from Chris Grayling's department.

      It appears the Ministry of Justice does not know which firms it has contracts with and which prisons they are running.

      A parliamentary question from shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan in April asked about the department's contracts with private firms like Capita, G4S and Serco. He wanted to know basic questions – how much each contract was expected to cost over its lifetime, when they were due to end, whether financial penalties had been incurred, whether there was a break clause – that sort of thing.

      As usual, the MoJ said it didn't have the information to hand. "The requested data are not held centrally in their entirety and answering the request will require approaching individual contract managers to gather and validate data," prisons minister Jeremy Wright said.

      Quite why that information would not be held centrally is anyone's guess. One would think that it would be useful for a department facing spending cuts, prison overcrowding and an aggressive privatisation agenda to have this sort of information to hand. But they clearly do not think it important to collect information on their core objectives.

      Once the information had all been put together, Wright wrote to Khan again, this time with what he said was a complete set of details – minus the electronic monitoring contract with G4S and Serco which was subject to ongoing criminal investigation.

      The list is long, pricey and full of financial penalties for "disproportionate costs". In fact, of 45 contracts listed, there are financial penalties for disproportionate costs listed for nearly every single every one.

      It's funny. The probation service managed to get reoffending rates down to 34.2% after a decade of steady year-on-year decline. Grayling called it failure and privatised it. Privatised services – from translation to the running of HMP Oakwood - result in "disproportionate costs" nearly every time. Grayling wants more of them.

      But even this list was incomplete. They missed several big contracts. Khan asked again, helpfully giving them the names of the prisons and youth offender institutes they had missed off their list. These included Altcourse Parc Rye Hill, Bronzefield, Forest Bank, Peterborough, Ashfield, Lowdham Grange and Thameside. Finally the MoJ offered a resentful and minimal reply, including the institutions they had missed the first time.

      Which is it? Cock-up or conspiracy? Are they really so inept that they do not centrally record the private contracts they sign while proclaiming the benefits of privatisation and aggressively pursuing it? That they persist with private contracts despite near-universal evidence of disproportionate costs to the taxpayer? That they miss whole prisons off a list of contracts?

      Or is this part of Grayling's efforts to keep details of what goes on in the MoJ as opaque as possible? There's at least some element of this. After all, the MoJ has taken the unusual step of sometimes responding privately to Khan's parliamentary questions instead of posting the information which has been requested publicly.

      Either way, the picture is one of a department with the curtains drawn and in disarray. Cock up or conspiracy, the MoJ is not fit for purpose.

  9. Maybe they should miss probation off the list and then forget about us, it doesn't seem impossible from the above article. What more evidence is required to see that its all a monumental shambles. It would seem that you have to have a degree in stupid to work for NOMs.

  10. There are numerous FOI requests going in to noms. Here's one example I found:

  11. Having read through numerous FOI requests, the most common moj/noms response to those FOI requests appears to be along the lines of:

    "The information requested is not held by the Ministry of Justice. This
    is because there is no legal or business requirement for us to do so."