Yet another omnishambles update, out of sync I'm afraid because I was posting half asleep the other morning.
Attending the Napo Lobby of Parliament made yesterday a very long day indeed, but always worth it just for the opportunity to soak up the wonderful atmosphere in Central Lobby, continuously spot famous politicians and gaze at the sheer Gothic splendour of the place. I very nearly bumped into Chris Grayling crossing Victoria Road and had I been more quick-witted, I'd have tried to nab him for a few minutes, but it wasn't to be.
What did I take away from this bit of ritualistic, democratic theatre? It was all neatly summed up by Sarah Champion, Labour Member of Parliament for embattled Rotherham who said the trouble was 'you can't fight ideology with reason'. That is just so true because we've clearly won all the arguments, and yet the government is still proceeding with this dangerous and destructive plan. The other very telling message came from my Liberal Democrat representative who privately confirmed that his colleagues now realise 'they got it wrong with probation'. All very comforting to know, but where does it bloody get us?
Yesterday saw a veritable blizzard of press releases and I'll attempt to summarise as best I can. The day started with news of a terrible inspection report on HMP Wormwood Scrubs that pretty much confirmed the anecdotal stuff coming in that prisons generally are becoming increasingly unsafe places due to staff cutbacks, thus making any meaningful attempt at rehabilitation all but impossible. This from Napo Greater London Branch:-
When the coalition government came to power in 2010 the promised what they called a ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’ but has the government and Chris Grayling kept their promises? You be the judge!!
Today Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons published a damning report regarding conditions in HMP Wormwood Scrubs. Inspectors found Wormwood Scrubs to be a filthy, overcrowded and run-down(dilapidated) with serious problems regarding violence and few rehabilitative activities available to prisoners who are routinely locked up for 22 hours a day or more with nothing to do due to a lack of rehabilitation activities available in the prison.
Probation staff in prison face an uphill struggle to try to ensure that some rehabilitation work takes place however Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is in denial that there are any problems at all. The MoJ are making cuts to services that are increasingly making positive rehabilitative work in prisons more and more difficult and in many cases impossible.
Indeed far from causing a ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’ Chris Grayling and the MoJ have abolished award winning local Probation Trusts, split the probation service into one highly controlled centralised National Probation Service and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies that will be sold off later in the year. In the process the Justice Secretary has alienated those he really needs to keep highly motivated and created chaos throughout the criminal justice system as IT systems crash and cut backs and other privatisations mean that the system often grinds to a standstill.
A poll by unions Napo and Unison, which between them represent 12,000 workers in the probation service, found 80% have thought about leaving, while 55% are actively looking for alternative employment.
The survey revealed an overwhelming level of dissatisfaction with the government and MoJ, with 98% of respondents saying they had no confidence in Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.
The prison system is therefore not the only part of the criminal justice system that is on the brink of meltdown as the Justice Secretary’s plans to privatise the probation service that resulted in a split in the service since the 1st June have caused chaos and unnecessary bureaucracy making what should be an end to end and joined up process far more complicated and prone to break down.
When all the changes and so called reforms the Justice Secretary and the MoJ have made and are making are taken together they add up to a poorly resourced and increasingly risky and unreliable system that will place the public at increased risk.The survey made mention of confirms the anecdotal material regularly posted on this blog and paints a truly shocking picture of staff disillusionment and despair currently within the profession. This from a joint press release by Napo and Unison:-
A survey of more than 1,000 probation workers has delivered a damning verdict on the government's decision to break up the probation service and sell-off half to profit making private companies.
99% of respondents revealed they do not support the government's probation reforms, while 93% do not believe that the changes will provide value for the money for the taxpayer. 98% said they have no confidence in Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling.
Napo and UNISON - the unions representing more than 12,000 probation workers -have today sent the results of the survey to the Justice Select Committee.
The unions are calling on the government to urgently halt its plans to privatise the service amid rising concerns that the plans could put public safety at risk and are having a detrimental impact on its staff and service users. 91% of those surveyed said they don’t believe that service provision will improve for users under the government's Transforming Rehabilitation agenda.
The survey also painted a picture of a stressed and demoralised workforce, with almost 80% admitting they have considered leaving their job in the past 12 months, while 55% are actively looking for a new job.
74% of respondents say that workload and pressure has increased since they transferred to the NPS or a CRC*, with 86% indicating that stress levels have increased since the transfer. 82% said that staff morale has decreased following the transfer, with 46% of members identifying themselves as "extremely stressed."
84% would not recommend their own occupation as a career to others, showing that there is now a real crisis amongst probation professionals. The Probation Service is one of the most successful and efficient public services. It plays a vital role in rehabilitating offenders, protecting victims and keeping communities safe.
“This survey is a damning indictment of how bad things have become in the justice system on David Cameron’s watch. “Professional, expert and long-serving staff have no confidence whatsoever in the Government’s reckless plans to privatise probation and no confidence whatsoever in Chris Grayling. “With morale so low, with many dedicated and experienced staff on sick leave or leaving because of this Government’s reckless plans, public safety is being put at risk. David Cameron needs to step in now and get a grip of this mess quickly before things gets any worse.”It's good to see Northumbria Napo branch keeping up the pressure with this news about the Sodexo-run HMP Nothumberland:-
Concerns raised as stanley knife goes missing from HMP Northumberland
More safety concerns have been raised at a problem-plagued jail after a knife apparently went missing. A Stanley knife has been unaccounted for for two weeks and could have been taken by a prisoner at HMP Northumberland near Acklington, according to the probation workers’ union NAPO.But Sodexo, the private firm who runs the jail, said all safety procedures were followed.
The disappearance comes during a week when Government officials from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) are visiting the jail to assess conditions.
NAPO said it believes the knife went missing two weeks ago but a ‘lock down’ and search of the prison was not ordered. Mike Quinn, vice chairman of the Northumbria branch, said: “The report of a knife potentially in the hands of a prisoner is deeply concerning. If true, it just confirms the dire state of the prison and has major safety implications for staff, visitors and prisoners.”
In December, private firm Sodexo took over the running of the prison, which has seen the number of staff decline 39% since 2010. Last week, probation and prison staff raised concerns about safety in the jail as NAPO described it as a “tinderbox”. Mr Quinn also said the cutting of officers has led to a “violent culture”. He claimed that some prisoners were wearing ‘civilian’ clothing, making it difficult to differentiate them from visitors.
Mr Quinn said: “It concerns us as a trade union that prison officers continue to be exposed to such risks day in day out. It can be no coincidence that recently problems have followed a widespread loss of staff at HMP Northumberland.” A spokesman from HMIP said inspectors were currently at the prison carrying out a two-week visit.
Meanwhile, probation staff gathered in London on Wednesday to protest against the privatisation of the probation service. Members of NAPO took the opportunity to speak to MP Sir Alain Beith, who also chairs the Justice Committee in the House of Commons. Sir Alan, Lib Dem MP for Berwick, said: “I have raised with ministers on several occasions my concerns that the staffing levels at HMP Northumberland may not be adequate to maintain a safe prison and achieve effective resettlement, and I will continue to raise these concerns.”Finally, as the saying goes, there's no show without punch and Chris Grayling just couldn't resist authorising this guff from his the MoJ spin doctors yesterday. A work of pure fiction:-
More than 80 bids to win regional rehabilitation contracts and lead the new era in a fight against reoffending are currently being evaluated by the government.
There is strong competition in all regions with an average of 4 bidders for each area. More than half of the bidders include a charity, mutual or social enterprise. Mutuals have an opportunity to play a major role in the reforms, with eight potential staff organisations competing for a share of the contracts.
Charities experienced in tackling a range of issues affecting offenders, small and large British businesses and experienced multinationals have partnered together to bid for the work that will help turn offenders’ lives around. All bidders have experience working in the criminal justice system or with offenders.
The competition winners will lead the 21 new Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) that have been tasked with tackling stubbornly high reoffending rates in England and Wales. They will provide an unprecedented level of support to prisoners released from short sentences that currently get no statutory supervision and return to crime at an alarming rate on release.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:
"This competition represents a real opportunity for us to introduce new ways of rehabilitating offenders, where charities with proven track records in housing ex-prisoners could be working in hand in hand with drug treatment providers and companies with expertise in getting offenders into work or training.
It’s really encouraging to see such a range of organisations coming together to bid for this work because only by taking a truly fresh approach will we be able to make a real dent in reoffending.
The status quo just isn’t working, as more than half of those who leave prison after short sentences are going back to crime within months.
The competition is on track and we expect to award contracts by the end of 2014. A limit has been put in place that will prevent any organisation from winning more than 25% of the total value of the competition, to ensure a diverse range of providers that will encourage quality and innovation.
In addition almost 1,000 organisations, including 700 listed as VCSE (voluntary, community or social enterprise) have put themselves forward to work with the chosen providers to develop new ways of reducing reoffending and protecting the public."You can't help appreciating that those PR boys and girls down at MoJ/Noms HQ have quite a wicked sense of humour to pen this bollocks and Chris Grayling is just too thick to notice or care even.