Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Guest Blog

THE CUSTODY GAMES by Joanna Hughes 

Chapter One, or How it All Began

If you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin. Once upon a time, two groups of people who hadn’t been voted in to power, decided to get together to govern, and to implement policies for which no-one had voted either.  So far so good (unless you are not a neo-liberal psychopath, of course). One problem though was that they didn’t see eye to eye on everything (or anything much), which leads to our story -  the ‘tale of Transforming Rehabilitation’, or ‘The Custody Games’.

So to begin (again). In the early days, as if goosed by the ghost of Lloyd George, and little dissuaded by their total collapse over tuition fees (sorry about that electorate), the Lib Dems tried to assert their fitness for power, and to re-assert their cojones by stating that they wanted under 12 month custodial cases supervised. (Less this be thought self-interested too, one should emphasise that there was no thought at this stage that Chris Huhne might be in need of this support: though who knows, a referral to ETE might have landed him something more lucrative than his current Guardian gig).

Anyhow, back to it, and some more detailed stuff (wake up there). A reliable source of Harry Fletcher’s has told us that Chris Grayling (for ‘twas he) apparently then told the Lib Dems that evidence pointed to only a likely maximum 8% reduction in recidivism in this group and this would mean that the 60% re-offending rate would only be reduced to 52% and that this wasn’t worth attempting. The Lib Dems then, apparently, uncharacteristically stamped their tiny collective foot, with the result that the Tories characteristically stamped their huge jackboot, demanding full privatisation of the Probation Service in exchange. Out of this mix of happenstance, conspiracy and cock-up Jeremy Wright or someone had a light bulb-moment, and the quite brilliant (well, ok, cynical etc. etc) idea of transforming those with ‘only £46 in their pocket’ into the key players in ‘the custody games’. (This is the key bit) Without any real belief in more than an 8% reduction in re-offending, he thus turned them into the excuse for privatisation. It is for conjecture only that any additional bonus of a lifelong place on the board of Sodexo, Carillion, Capita, Amey, Sentinel or Interserve in any way entered his ambitious brain. Have you noticed how all the names of these companies have a lilting feminine sound, while also suggesting independence and fortitude? It is as if they offer tough, empathetic, love, and will be mummy and daddy both. Personally speaking I am totally taken in, and would never mistake them for hard-nosed, parasitic, evasive, profiteering, incompetent, monopolistic… (sorry, better stop there, or I could mention that my husband thinks they sound equally like treatments for thrush or erectile dysfunction).  

Anyhow (again), back to our story again. At this point the  Lib Dems somehow managed to persuade the Tories to drop the full privatisation. One highly developed and nuanced analysis I have heard was along the lines of ‘we can’t have psychopaths wandering around committing violent crimes on our watch’, which either stirred up genuinely empathic feelings in the Conservatives (I like to think so) or conjured up images of Sun headlines, (you would think that, wouldn’t you – have you no faith in people to mend their ways, you probation officers?). Whatever the truth, an amicable deal was struck.

Chapter Two, or How it all begins to fall apart

So, what do we now know about the supervision of the under 12 months?  Following the announcement of ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ there was a meeting in January 2013 of the MOJ and the Chiefs and Chairs. Here Joe Kuipers offered for his trust to make any cost savings the MOJ needed in order to supervise the under 12 months group and said that he was confident other trusts would do the same. He was told that this was ‘not on the table’.

The MOJ (for whom enterprise and innovation means doing what every neo-liberal government has been doing since the glory days of General Pinochet) showed they were not interested either in the existing examples of genuinely innovative projects undertaken within the existing Probation Service, to fill this gap within existing provision at relatively little cost and without the need for a speedy, risky, ideologically driven privatization (as some might say). In my own county, Gloucestershire, a project has been established to work with these offenders on a voluntary basis, funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner and costed at £75,000 per annum. The number of offenders affected is 20 per month. My righteous ire over this led me to wag my tiny finger at Mr Grayling (he is not tiny – think of three traffic bollards on top of each other) when he came to the Gloucester office. I vented; ‘You are selling us off for 20 people a month, 20 people a month’! His dead fish eyes did not liven up, I’m afraid to say, but earlier in the meeting he had stared at me, as if to exercise his implacable right to govern (or to menace and intimidate at least). That said, I am sure his mother loves him… possibly. 

More broadly, there are proven, existing cost-effective successes in the public sector: 
  • Research by Sheffield Hallam University shows the Surrey/Sussex Probation Trust project using offenders with a high risk of re-offending, not volunteers. Over the period 2012/13 the ‘Integrated Offender Management’ scheme reduced re-offending by an average of 52.3%, and demonstrated economic viability. Over a 5-year period, for every £1 invested in IOM, there was a saving (due to the reduction in re-offending) for the tax-payer of £1.59. Over a 10-year period, the saving increased to £1.79 per every £1 spent. 
  • Research by London Councils similarly found that the IOM reduced re-offending by 55% in the London Borough of Islington. Islington IOM saved money - the cost of crime fell from £523,264 to £295,108 mainly resulting from domestic burglary. London Councils has also highlighted the local partnerships, including in the voluntary sector, which have had success in reducing re-offending and are concerned that national procurement will overlook those local relationships. 
  • The West Midlands region ran the ReConnect Programme to engage with those sentenced to under 12 months in an effort to ensure that they were engaged with the services most likely to empower and support them. In 2007 the national re-offending rate was 75%; through engagement with this group of offenders the project was able to reduce the re-offending rates to 19% below the national average within the West Midlands area.
So, Grayling and his crew have air-brushed out of the ‘debate’ the innovative, resourceful, professional, caring, clever successes of the Probation Service, in trying to plug the very gap that they are using as the pretext for their privatizing racket. At this point I can’t help taking a quote from ‘Private Eye’ that is reproduced on the blog:

In so many areas of modern life, the managerial culture hates expertise. People who know something, who are really interested in something, make managers feel inadequate and pointless. So they aim to create organisations that consist entirely of managers, and computer screens” (Piloti)

All true, and in this case the avoidance is not merely of the professionals, but of the facts.

Chapter Three – Brave New World (or To Hell in a Handcart)

So, what does the future look like?
During the passage of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill through the House of Commons, Labour MPs were not adequately briefed as to possibilities for exploring viable (and competent, and trustworthy) alternatives to the private companies. While watching on TV, I peeped over from behind the sofa to watch the following exchange between the principled Elfyn Llwyd (hurrah, hurrah, hurrah) and oleaginous Jeremy Wright (boo boo boo):

Jeremy Wright: I understand that that is what the right hon. Gentleman wants, but can he explain how it would be paid for?
Mr Llwyd: I am sure that it could be paid for by the delivery of some savings here and there in other parts of the budget.

Personally speaking, my conviction has always been that the Tories used the seeming lack of an alternative and the expense of ‘custody plus’ as excuses for doing what their paymasters (their real constituents: the corporations and lobbyists) wished for. After all, if money were ever really the driver, Jeremy Wright would have snapped up Joe Kuipers’ offer and accepted the innovation of an area such as Gloucestershire with its generous PCC. Again, the PCA and Napo paid the Centre for Crime and Social Justice £15,000 to do a cost analysis for the supervision and it has come out nearly as pricey as ‘custody plus’. Richard Garside, who led the research, was unable to release the figures but Harry Fletcher tells me that it worked out at £120,000,000 p.a. for the 40-50,000 sentenced to less than 12 months for a full package of supervision. If this is reduced to basic supervision with say, monthly reporting and I presume signposting this is reduced to £80-90,000,000. So the private companies need to deliver this amount of money for the supervision. However, there was never any costing made by the government to show how this would be achieved.

Back to the ping-pong between Mr Wright and Mr Llwyd:

Mr Llwyd: …..Well, it is first of all incumbent on him, being in government, to come up with figures, not to test figures put forward from the Opposition Benches.
Jeremy Wright: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way; I know he is short of time. The point is that I know how I will pay for it, but he does not. [Hon. Members: “How?] I will pay for it by the competition process.

        So there we have it. He will pay for it by the ‘competition process’. Now, I am a mere ex Probation Officer who understands little about business but I do know that this competition process is in serious disarray and I continued to scratch my head about how they were going to pay for it. That is, until I read Harry Fletcher quoted in ‘Private Eye’ and heard that Chris Grayling is set to announce new electronic tagging this week, plus remembering that even mild-mannered Ken Clarke said there would be a tenfold increase in tagging by 2019, as well as hearing about virtual jails in the community and lastly, finding out about Sentinel being in the running for our whole South West and seeing their specializing in tagging and check-in kiosks as well as their genius idea of actually charging for Probation!

         So, we know that Vera Baird QC, PCC for Newcastle, has now confirmed that this 'won't be happening any time soon'' according to her private contact with Mr Wright. Harry has it spot on in ‘Private Eye’ when he tells us that there are no plans to extend supervision until 2015/16 at the earliest and, of course, tagging is cheaper and simpler than rehabilitation (and if you charge for the privilege, money is presumably no object).

         So, these are the custody games! They are being played out in front of our eyes and there are many victims: the trashed public sector workers, who are experts at what they do, and the poor and vulnerable who will be tagged when ‘released with £46 in their pockets’, improving no end their chances of turning their lives around. But no less victims are the democratic process, and political discourse that is now an exercise in disguising motives that have no democratic basis, implemented in this case by politicians with no mandate, and whose every word hollows out further their legitimacy and authority. And perhaps the final victim is truth, trampled into the ground by the serial offenders whose misinformation shapes this whole situation, politicians whose power is that of a ventriloquist dummy in the last analysis, mouthing the words of the corporate fucks whose hands are up their backs. Where is Katniss Everdeen when we need her? Or a Labour leader? Even Lloyd George? Or anyone except Grayling?


  1. Further reshuffle today - its not over yet. Each day a big name has gone Clarke on Monday, Gove on Tuesday maybe Grayling today??

    1. No I think a cunning David Cameron has decided Chris Grayling can lie a bit longer in the messy bed he's so carefully made for himself.

  2. hope this link works Jim. Grayling judged to have over-stepped his powers with legal aid reform

    1. Chris Grayling was prevented from turning legal aid into "an instrument of discrimination" today, after three judges found his reforms to be unlawful.

      In a devastating judgement which could bring the residency test requirements to a halt, the judges found the lord chancellor had radically overstepped the proper limits of his powers and was trying to create a discriminatory legal system which was incompatible with equality under the law.

      “Using powers that were never his to exercise, the lord chancellor has attempted to refashion the legal aid scheme into an instrument of discrimination so that many of the cases parliament itself identified as most worthy of support could never be taken," John Halford of legal firm Bindmans, which fought the case, said.

      "The court's judgement on that attempt is emphatic: it is simply unacceptable in a country where all are equal in the eyes of the law.

      "Legal aid is, and must remain, the means to safeguard equality in our courts, regardless of people’s origins, nationality or place of residence."

      Grayling's proposed reforms would have banned anyone who had been in the UK for less than a year from receiving legal aid.

      Critics warned the proposals would prevent some of the most vulnerable people in society from legal protection.

      The judges imagined the case of a severely learning disabled adult, who had been "forced to live in a dog kennel outside the house, had been beaten regularly by his brother and mother, and starved over an extensive period of time". Under Grayling's plans, he would have been denied legal aid.

      Individuals who were resident abroad who had been subject to "serious abuses" at the hand of British armed forces would also be denied legal aid.

      The joint human rights committee recently warned the reforms were illegal under international law and called on the lord chancellor to exclude children from its provisions, but he refused to budge. There were also concerns it could strip trafficked women and domestic abuse survivors of legal protection.

      Today's judgement is a much bigger problem for Grayling however, because it found he exceeded his statutory powers when devising it.

      The court found that regulations made under an act of parliament must be consistent with the policy and object of the act.

      But it concluded that the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 was intended to prioritise legal aid to the cases of greatest need, while Grayling's reforms would have had the opposite effect.

      And in an even more devastating passage, the judges found it to be discriminatory.

      While they accepted that the government was entitled to act in a discriminatory manner on policy areas such as welfare, it could not do so when the issue in question was equality before the law, because it is a fundamental cornerstone of Britain's system of government.

      "It is and was beyond question that the introduction of such a test was discriminatory. Indeed, that is its declared purpose," the ruling reads.

      "Within the system provided in schedule 1 of the Legal Aid Act, the United Kingdom is not permitted to discriminate against non-residents on the grounds that to do so might save costs.

      "Certainly it is not possible to justify such discrimination in an area where all are equally subject to the law, resident or not, and equally entitled to its protection, resident or not.

      "In my judgement, a residence test cannot be justified in relation to the enforcement of domestic law or the protection afforded by domestic law, which is applicable to all equally, provided they are within its jurisdiction.

      "In the context of a discriminatory provision relating to legal assistance, invoking public confidence amounts to little more than reliance on public prejudice."

  3. Just reading this in this about Crapita getting a 6 year tagging contract, but..
    " contract thought to include a new group of offenders, those with 12 months or under".
    Surely tagging is tagging, but is there a clue to be found there about TR contracts already being promised?

    1. The huge public services outsourcing company Capita has been confirmed by the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, as the main contractor for the next generation of electronic tagging of offenders.

      The company has been managing the tagging of 100,000 offenders each year on an interim basis since April, when G4S and Serco lost the contracts as a result of overcharging allegations, which led to the two companies repaying nearly £180m.

      Grayling said the new six-year tagging contract would allow the introduction of a new generation GPS satellite-tracking tags for some offenders by the end of this year.

      While Capita will manage the overall contract a Redditch-based company, Steatite, will develop and manufacture the GPS tracking tags. Airbus Defence and Space will provide satellite mapping and Tefonica will supply the network.

      A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the new tags would allow dangerous and repeat offenders to be tracked around the clock and could also be fitted to prisoners who are given temporary release from prison to monitor their compliance and conditions.

      The current tagging contract which has cost more than £700m since 2005 enables about 100,000 offenders to be tagged each year. Tags are currently used to monitor whether offenders released from prison under home detention curfew or under court curfew orders remain at an address. They are also used to monitor bail conditions.

      Grayling said the new technology would give Britain one of the most advanced GPS tagging systems in the world: "This technology will allow us to keep a much closer watch on the most high-risk and persistent offenders who cause so much harm to our communities."

      The MoJ said all four companies "faced strong international competition to win the contracts". G4S and Serco were barred from bidding because of the ongoing police investigation. The MoJ claimed that the new contract would be delivered at a lower cost than the present contract and would deliver savings of £20m per annum in its second and third year of operations.

      The ministry cited a "net present cost" of £228.8m for the six-year contract with Capita. Last August, the company said the contract would be worth £400m to them in revenues over the initial six-year term. The other three companies are to paid a total of £36.8m in net present cost.

      The new contract will be expected to include a new group of offenders – those being released from short sentences under 12 months who are to be supervised on release for the first time under Grayling's probation reforms.

      The ministry spokesman said that the department would have far greater oversight over costs and charging than under the previous G4S/Serco contracts including direct access to the company's systems.

  4. Excellent analysis - I hope there is s further chapter by someone close to the front-line - TR what actually happened - Or perhaps - what happened the sifting, reprogramming and the failure of business as usual as a standpoint to control the speed of the transition.

    Meanwhile - this needs great exposure - I plan to repost it in the Napo Forum, unless someone else does that first or objects fairly soon.

    Thank you Joanna and 'Jim' - I Googled "Katniss What-Not" but did not enquire further once I discerned she is fictional - which is what I would have hoped for this whole TR nightmare - a sort of 'Animal Farm' type cautionary tale of how NOT to make and implement policy of a vital public service, that seriously affects the actual lives of real people.

  5. I think it is an unwritten rule Joanna not to disclose the identity of those writing in Private Eye otherwise they might become personally liable to be sued

    1. Well spotted - Joanna tells me the sub-editor has been shot.

  6. Yes we are part of what Naomi Kline called disaster capitalism. You smash the state/ public sector create chaos and send in the privateers. Its all about making money off the backs of the poor and the workers. It started in Chilli in 1973 with the death of Allende, it was perfected in Russia and Iraq and now its moved into the domestic sphere in the West and at home with probation, education and the Health Service.


  7. Thanks anon at 12.43. I didn't know that and have asked Jim to change it.

  8. All hail Joanna. Really great piece. I and my daughter went to see the recent Hunger Games film, and had a lively discussion about the critical point when satire is overtaken by reality. the strategic and personal dilemma is between chanelling energy at opposing this governments reckless and relentless pursuit of its nihilistic ideology, vs offering an alternative vision. Or, frankly, just getting out of here. I'm a dedicated #hardworking servant of the public: get me out of here.