Thursday, 22 January 2015

A View From Down Under

The following blog by a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship recipient is re-published with permission:- 

BECOMING MORE VICTORIAN?

English probation needs to get more Victorian. But first there are a couple of things I need to explain:

In the past few years, the probation service in Victoria, Australia has been hit by a deluge of criticism. Several reviews of the parole system highlighted problems.

Then in 2012 a man called Adrian Bayley murdered a woman while he was on parole for many other violent offences. The media went mental and the public were outraged.

At the height of the crisis, the press were filming probation officers as they arrived for work at the Melbourne office where Mr Bayley had been reporting.
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In response, the government ordered a report written by a retired judge called Mr Callinan. The general gist of his findings was that parole is neither necessary nor desirable. The best thing would be to get rid of it entirely, and let prisoners serve time inside, and then be released at the end of their sentences.

One paragraph in Callinan’s report characterised probation officers as mostly well meaning young women who were basically too scared of violent offenders to manage them properly. I am paraphrasing here, but not much. (There is, of course, much more to all this background story, but that’s not for here – that’s for my report later…).

The response to all this is why I am here now in Victoria. There was a fight back which radically changed the probation service – this is still ongoing as the reforms roll out. But for now, England take note: the Victorian fight has enhanced professionalism and raised the standards of their probation service.

I have seen some great things developing here, and there is more to come. For now, here are a few highlights:

- Differentiation: There has been a separation of roles, so that there are many opportunities for promotion and career development. Many probation officers I have met applied for new jobs, and are excited about taking on new responsibilities. An officer can move up the career structure, while retaining a case management role and direct contact with offenders.

- Specialisation (based on choice): Staff have been given a choice about the type of work they would prefer to do within the new system, and could decide to work with high risk parolees, or lower risk offenders on probation orders. There has been a clear and transparent applications process. Staff have not been moved around according to “sifting criteria” (note: that’s a quote, not a term of my choosing).

- Care: regular debriefing sessions are mandatory for all staff working with high risk offenders. They are run by external psychologists who offer support and a listening ear. Since this is mandatory, there is no stigma; it is seen as essential for staff well being. I have also been told by many that they are discouraged from working late, and help is given when workloads become too heavy.

- Training: One afternoon each week is set aside for professional development and/or training. Proper cover is arranged for officers’ work so that they do not feel pressure to catch up. The quality of the training is good. A young officer described how she recently completed a specialised diploma at Melbourne University.

- Cash: Yes, there has been a significant injection of government funding which makes all this possible. But, I sense it is not only a question of dollars.

The cash came after the case was made that working with parolees is important, skilled, professional work, that makes communities safer. Whether a similar case can now be made in England, remains an open question.
Zoe Churchill 

23 comments:

  1. http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2015/01/18/magistrates-warn-chris-grayling-legal-aid-new-survey/

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  2. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jan/22/prison-suicide-rate-82-deaths?CMP=twt_gu

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  3. Brilliant blog Jim, thanks to Zoe.
    I see obvious parallels with our professional predicament and commend Victoria State ( or is it the Government) for bravery in addressing the issues rather than as the British Government has done. I do think that the answer to England, Wales and Northern Ireland probation issues could lie in a similar approach.

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    1. Thats right but first we have to fight those that would sell us of -the battle continues..

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  4. Boris will solve everything.

    http://www.standard.co.uk/news/crime/punishment-for-all-gang-members-if-one-carries-out-a-violent-crime-9994860.html

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    1. A hardline US-style crackdown, under which every gang member will face punishment if one of their ranks commits a violent offence, was announced today by Boris Johnson in a bid to improve public safety.

      Under the “Shield” scheme, known members will be told that each will suffer a civil or criminal sanction if any of their gang carries out an assault, stabbing or other serious crime.

      The penalties will range from recall to prison, gang injunctions banning them from parts of the capital or mixing with their associates, mandatory employment training courses or ejection from social housing.

      The offender who triggers action will be fast-tracked through the criminal justice system for swift sentencing.

      Announcing the scheme, the Mayor said: “It is time we gave these gang members a clear ultimatum — the police know who you are and if anyone in the gang steps out of line then every member will face consequences.

      “There is absolutely no place for violence in our city. Through Shield, we are redoubling our efforts to stamp out gang crime once and for all.”

      Stephen Greenhalgh, the deputy mayor for policing and crime, said: “The police have made huge progress in tackling gangs and youth crime is down, but a minority continue to cause significant harm. Evidence shows that this ‘one rule for all’ approach cuts violence.”

      The tough purge on gang members is modelled on “Group Violence Intervention” methods used in several US cities, including Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles, and will be piloted in three boroughs: Lambeth, Westminster and Haringey, each of which is affected by significant gang violence.

      Any gang member who wants to reform will be offered assistance to help them escape their lifestyle, including the provision of “safe houses”.

      Commander Neil Basu, the head of the Met’s Gangs and Organised Crime Command, said: “We will do everything we can within the criminal and civil law to bring all members of any targeted gang to justice. Gang members in London will know that if they commit crime there are consequences. But we will also provide a meaningful alternative for those who want to turn their lives around and exit a gang.”

      Gangs are responsible for 40 per cent of shootings and 17 per cent of violent crime in London and Scotland Yard data also shows that there are 186 recognised gangs with 3,600 members.

      Under the £200,000 scheme, which will be piloted for 12 months and expanded if successful, police and community leaders will “call in” members to warn them of the new approach.

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    2. How do you identify a gang member. Do they carry membership cards?

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  5. I may be telling you of something you already are aware, but I just found several sites last night referring to the Cons Centre for Social Justice. I just googled 'Probation- dangers - Grayling' out of curiosity and up popped a wealth of sites, including one on 3 Nov '14, by Ed Boyd,highlighting the poor record of the Probation Service and the brilliant ideas of Grayling- very scathing of Probation and not entirely accurate. This had appeared in an earlier item in October, and had originally appeared on Conservative Home.

    It will make your blood boil! I couldn't look at the other 'Social Justice' sites!

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  6. So how can I sign up to work for Probation in Victoria?!

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  7. One sentence above leaps from the page, although it talks about young women, in my experience, it applys to a much broader range of staff. In fact, I doubt that no OM will go through a career without supervising someone who frightens them. I remember a temp receptionist working for a Criminal Justice Drugs Team who left because he was not only scared but observed that the whole team seemed to be nervous wrecks when they dealt with their cases and the dynamic was the opposite way around, ie the offenders swaggered in and the CJDT staff became cowed - not challenging or robust during interactions. Is this something we need to be more honest about?. Are there some cases we should never pretend we can work with?. Tony.

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    1. Im scared of a number of my clients but dont let them know that...thats what being professional is all about isnt it?

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    2. Surely if we are personally scared of being in the company of clients - in advance of a meeting beginning, we are either in the wrong job, or have the security arrangements for that meeting wrong.

      If however, we are scared of the potential harm, a client might do away from our meetings, we are probably in the right job and understand the wider responsibilities of probation work.

      I have been told I am too far away from current practice to have anything useful to say, which I accept to an extent. I recall several client engagements that went wrong and I became scared of a client's behaviour - once to the extent of surreptitiously removing a knife from a man who had shut himself away in a tiny under-stair's room, who allowed me in to negotiate between him and the rest of his family. I still recollect several clients who I believed were capable of causing great harm and that my/our case management might be vital - I found such work stimulating, but was fearful of retaining my professional reputation should something go wrong.

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    3. I have been wary of clients many times but only properly scared twice. Both were first time offenders, domestic violence perpetrators, assessed as medium risk of serious harm. Colleagues intervened on both occasions and both ended up being managed at MAPPA Level 2. I'm a woman in my late 40's. I dread to think what will happen when we are meeting men like this outside the safety of our CRC offices in the wider community.

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    4. I once supervised a very tall well built man who on first time of meeting (parole interview) referred to punching me in the face. It will take too long here to explain the context within the interview; however at the time I just noted it and moved on. When he said the self same thing on his first appointment following release, I paused, pushed my chair back and remarked 'That's the second time you've talked about punching me in the face, so whats this all about?' He replied that in prison it was dog eat dog so it was necessary to show who was boss etc by throwing your weight around. I responded by saying that my husband was 6'4" (note the deliberate implied threat here) and that big blokes didnt frighten me so he was wasting his time. He shrugged and said 'win some lose some' and actually never tried to intimidate me again for the whole of his 3 year licence, even after he was recalled for seriously breaching said licence. I can't see how you can do this job safely if you are scared by the clientele, and it is definitely right to pass on those who do scare you to others. I've never been really scared, although there have been the odd one or two probationers I wouldnt turn my back on. DV perps tend to 'rattle' me the most, but thats because they are attempting to control the supervisory environment and my response to them, and I constantly have to step back and evaluate what is going on that is troubling me and what can I do to shift the power balance back in my favour. It was interesting to read that the PO's in Victoria are being given regular debriefing. One new development in my CRC is that clinical supervision by an outside company is to be provided to those who hold DV cases - this is long overdue IMO and will be much needed now we are DV 'top heavy' in our caseload mix - back in the 'Trust days' in my area clinical supervision wasnt even provided for PO's holding cases of those sentenced to sexual offences.
      Deb

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    5. PS Forgot to say, Andrew, you are not too far away from current practice to have anything useful to say. Ignore the critics - the human race hasnt evolved THAT much in the last 30 years that current responses to life situations, the kind of crimes people commit and how we deal with the fallout is so different to have rendered your contributions irrelevant, because it hasnt.
      Deb

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  8. I think everyone will enjoy reading this article, it's just brilliant!!

    http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2015/01/22/grayling-hoist-by-his-own-petard-in-final-judicial-review-de

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  9. Nick Clegg on the 'Rehabilitation Revolution' on his show today (from 21 mins) http://www.lbc.co.uk/call-clegg-watch-live-on-lbc-tv-65540

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  10. he has no fucking idea. Doesnt mention private companies

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  11. http://probation-institute.org/probation-institute-lays-plans-future-governance-arrangements/

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    1. "The Institute now has over 1000 members, providing critical mass for the new governance arrangements."

      How many are frontline PSOs, POs or SPOs, I wonder? 1,000 is hardly setting the world alight, considering the number who are probably from the corporate or academic worlds...

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  12. The introduction of clinical supervision in Victoria for those working with high risk cases is to be commended and seems sadly lacking in planning by the NPS. Presumably this will change, as it did for prison based SOTP facilitators during the Nineties, after a few high value stress-related payouts.

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  13. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/22/ban-sending-books-prisoners-end-high-court-ruling

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    1. The Ministry of Justice is preparing to allow prisoners to receive books from their loved ones from early next month, following December’s high court ruling that the policy which prevented inmates from being sent books should be changed.

      Months of protests by campaigners against rules that restricted inmates’ access to books preceded the high court ruling on a test case brought on behalf of a prisoner with a doctorate in English literature. “I see no good reason, in the light of the importance of books for prisoners, to restrict beyond what is required by volumetric control … and reasonable measures relating to frequency of parcels and security considerations,” ruled Mr Justice Collins in December.

      A court order, which needs to be implemented by 31 January, asks the Ministry of Justice to amend the “incentives and earned privileges” instructions, introduced in November 2013, which currently state that “the general presumption will be that items for prisoners will not be handed in or sent in by their friends or families unless there are exceptional circumstances”, effectively ruling out books from being sent to those in jail. The high court wants books to be removed from the category of items that can’t be brought or sent into prisons, in recognition of the fact that they are not a privilege.

      This means that prisoners should be able to receive books from 1 February, following months of campaigning by free speech groups and authors. A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman would not confirm that the ministry will implement the ruling without appeal, but the Guardian understands that preparations are already underway for the department to abide by the terms of the court order.

      “The Ministry of Justice is not going to appeal. The restrictions on sending books in will end on 1 February. We would have liked it to be in time for Christmas,” said Samuel Genen, lawyer for Barbara Gordon-Jones, the inmate who brought the test case. “On 31st January they are going to amend the policy. One thing very explicit that we asked for was the idea that books should be a privilege be removed. We said books should never be a privilege.”


      Readers' panel: experiences of books in prison
      Read more
      Supported by some of the UK’s highest-profile writers, from Philip Pullman to Carol Ann Duffy, the protests were sparked almost a year ago by Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, who revealed in March on the website Politics.co.uk that stringent rules from the Ministry of Justice were restricting prisoners’ access to books.

      Justice secretary Chris Grayling insisted last year that there had been no policy changes “specifically about the availability of books in prisons”, and that “there have always been pretty tight rules about the receipt of parcels in prisons”, because “our prison staff fight a constant battle to prevent illicit items, such as drugs, extremist materials, mobile phones, SIM cards and pornography getting into our prisons”.

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