Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Bring Back Borstal 2

Whilst the academics, ex-borstal boys and other criminal justice experts continue to pour scorn on the ITV re-enactment series, 'Bring Back Borstal', I'm sticking with it. Why? Because, despite it's obvious drawbacks, the issues the experiment seeks to address is worthwhile; the participants feel it's worthwhile; taking controlled risks in any form nowadays is taboo; I enjoyed the similar 'Bad Lads Army' series, and I have a blog to write. 

It's not as if any of the techniques are novel or innovative. It's not rocket science to bring in a reformed villain in the shape of Noel 'Razor' Smith to talk to the lads and the effect is palpable. Especially so when Noel explains that all those years 'kicking-off' in the prison system result in no favours being granted by way of permission to attend his nineteen-year-old son's funeral. This may be shite re-enactment TV to many, but it's obvious the message is not lost on the lads and they are clearly moved and reflective as a result.

Equally some of the lads shine when given responsibility, such as entertaining the vicar and his wife and all can see the reasoning behind the award of one of the three 'merit' badges to the person deemed to have made the biggest change for the better. It may 'only' be a TV programme, but the lad ejected for aggressively picking up the knife all-too-clearly comes to appreciate the possible consequences of such a rash action. The lesson learnt just might save him from a very long prison sentence further down the road. 

Of course it's not a faithful re-enactment of Borstal. For a start it's set in the 1930's, and I suspect most negative commentators will only have experience of Borstal in later years. It's not a documentary and doesn't pretend to be one and yes, we know it all ended because it was an indeterminate sentence and therefore flouted basic tenets of natural justice. 

Unlike Professor Wilson, I wouldn't particularly claim that historic Borstal was 'successful', but having seen two episodes of this series, I would disagree with former Borstal boy Allan Weaver, author of this reprise on the NoOffence website, who doesn't seem to feel it's been worthwhile:-    
I suppose the first issue to raise is the extent to which this television show can claim to be a social experiment on the grounds of what is called ‘ecological validity’. Many of the conditions imposed in this ‘social experiment’ (perhaps for ethical reasons) do not accord with actual Borstal experiences, including (at the very least) the absence of corporal punishment, the demographics of participants, the voluntary and short term nature of the placement and the sinister, ever present threat of violence and fear it gave rise to. It is not, then, possible to infer from this the effects to an actual Borstal - then or now. So perhaps the first thing to note is that this has more in common with ‘Big Brother’ than a social experiment.
Bullying, violence and abuse of various sorts were commonplace in real Borstal and that should never be forgotten, but these are factors at play in any YOI and prison today. It strikes me that the same issues remain, it's just that we're still not very good at finding solutions, especially when taking any risks with clients is verboten nowadays. Despite my unease over Professor Wilson's involvement, I still think it's been an 'experiment' worth undertaking.      


  1. Not sure when its on but this may be of interest to some.


  2. Re your borstal blog jim, which is excellent as usual, yes, I think the ideology (oops, there's that word again!) behind the early borstals made sense - providing a disciplined routine, regular food, education, respect, working as a team, prep for employment, listening to the negative experiences of others who came before them,- but the world has changed and that looks all so quaint, given the issues that young offenders are causing and having caused upon them now. Juvenile Justice (now YOS) worked and is still working with those principles, firm but fair, with crucial support, but at the end of it all, the young people go back out into a harsh, cruel world, with a cynical outlook on life.. And without proper apprenticeships, or supportive families, or the lack of dependant substances, or with the rise of gang warfare and homelessness, and subsequent hopelessness etc, I don't know what the answer is.

    We need to get back to basics and re-write the book, starting with support from birth, but that is unrealistic and undo-able. We can help the few, but the many will be left to provide for themselves, for better or for worse. A bit like the Titanic.

    and think how many young people existed in the 30's, compared to today.

  3. In the mid 70s I found myself at the National Nautical School in Portishead. All residents were juveniles who had been regular offenders.
    You wore navel uniforms, paraded several times a day, marched to church on wednesdays and sundays, and worked a 7 hour day.
    It had all the disipline that borstal had, but not the brutallity. Instead it created a sense of unity and belonging and an acceptance of other peoples differences. Compliance wasn't based on fear, but because you didn't want to let your 'division' down.
    You were given responsibility that you were expected to manage, and there was a structured pathway of achievement that was generic to all.
    It focused on making people better human beings, rather then the borstal model that messed up already messed up kids.
    Maybe Prof. Wilson should examine that schools success (and it was very successful indeed), rather then the brutal and damaging system of borstal.

  4. 1338 - you hit the nail... creating a sense of unity and belonging and an acceptance of differences. We all need to belong, either at home, in a job, clubs, neighbourhood, common interests, church, cultures and fashion styles, music, even in illness -comparing symptoms and providing empathy. But many of us also need to be that little bit different within our chosen culture - to shine, to lead, to have power. And the rise of violent gangs for some, provides that sense of belonging and power, even if based on fear.

    We also need structure too - knowing the limits, knowing the risks, knowing the security, and knowing that you belong- as above.

    Can the Greens offer a Brave New World? I know where my vote is going. All the other main parties have messed up their chances, it's time for a new shining light, based on decency and respect and caring, for individuals, for the community, for the country and for the planet. Let's face it, they cannot do any worse than any of the others.

    1. You may find this short video of interest ML.
      It brings back wonderful memories for me, and it reminds me that the NNS provided me with a vast amount of social skills and abillities that sadly many of todays youth just don't get exposed to.


    2. Second part of video in above link.


    3. thanks for the above links,which I am keen to see, but in my ignorance I can never open anything on http, tinyyurl, storify etc. I am missing so much from this blog. I can only get stuff up on youtube if I give a written clue about the subject.

      what does NNS stand for? For 16 years prior to full time community training, which was before Probation training, I was a youth worker in varied work, standard community centre, hut, school halls, and detached work in 2 separate towns - very demanding but rewarding but bl....cold at times!

      Gimme a clue as to topic!!

    4. If you google 'national nautical school portishead', you'll find a youtube link that you can just click on to get you to the first part of the video.
      You'll find the second part by just looking down the row of related videos.
      I think it important to watch both though.
      Good luck!

    5. thanks ! that was inspirational! I had googled You Tube NNS out of desperation and up came 'NNS Unity' - the launch of a Nigerian offshore patrol vessel, to defend and protect the Nigerian unity. Like us, defending our rights, but from our own politicians!

      During training in the late 1980's, I visited Wellesley Training school in Northumberland. It catered for young offenders and vulnerable children from troubled families, and had originally worn naval uniforms too, . But it had deteriorated and you could get a vulnerable child of 11, who had never offended, but could be stuck there until 18!! And it did happen. It was a sad place. They had excellent training and educational facilities but their level of care towards these damaged boys was somewhat lacking and children frequently ran away. On the day I was there, there was a young boy about 12, lying in a public room across 2 chairs put together, visible from the entrance hall. I asked staff what was the matter and was told he wasn't well. When I asked why was he not in bed, I was told that the children were not allowed in their room during the day as they could damage the rooms and themselves. I felt such pity for this child who couldn't even get comfortable across 2 chairs stuck in the middle of the room, with no covers. And no one went over to him when he was crying,

      It developed a poor reputation, unsurprisingly - a good idea gone wrong, and was closed in the mid 90's.

  5. Due to a work related injury I am in my sick bed so I watched This Morning having seen the Prof and his Borstal programme was going to feature. I was really impressed by the points made by the person who had gone through the experiment ( didn't catch his name sorry) but amused that the Prof looked a bit peeved not to be the centre of the piece. However, to be fair, he made an excellent point about YOIs and young offenders being banged up with their play stations for too long and lack of structure/ constructive use of time. It was thought provoking.
    However what really disappointed me was the lost opportunity to explain how understaffed YOIs really are and the undoubted impact this has on the population in each and the capacity to work with them. Again no mention of Youth Offending Service work.The Prof said at one point that parents of YOs in Feltham should be really fearful, can you imagine hearing that as a parent?

  6. With respect to all parties, what works comes as no surprise to anyone with any significant Probation experience. The problem is the politicization of the agenda and the need to 'look tough' and to manage with woefully inadequate resources. Proper professionals, quality time, decent referral routes into drug treatment and mental health services, bereavement counselling, counselling for adult survivors of child sexual abuse etc. Trying to do it on without proper resources, against a hostile political background and an ideology that builds in creaming and parking; I see no real chance of progress.

  7. If punishment and , or , fear of punishment worked for everyone ,then people would not break the rules . It seems to be forgotten that a lot of people are prepared to chance the punishment, often it may not be any worse than the life they are facing, so simply piling on the punishment achieves nothing, in many cases it just makes it worse. If we humans want to do something and decide it's worth the risk, from a parking /speeding ticket to prison, we will do it. It's only when we decide we don't want to, when we feel valuable and valued . No wonder the NNS worked.

  8. Has anyone seen the questions when applying for probation officer jobs via the noms website. A complete joke! The questions are not reflective of our role...

    1. That's because they are designed for civil servants. Good luck with the website last time I tried to apply when I went back in it said I had no application. I gave up.

  9. Has anyone seen the questions when applying for probation officer jobs via the noms website. A complete joke! The questions are not reflective of our role...

    1. Can you give some examples.

  10. stumbled across this 2002 piece in Society Guardian and thought it merited an airing:

    It is 8.30pm I am still at the office, been here over 12 hours. I decide to find the Guardian and bring it to the loo. Despite the fact that the day is almost over, the Guardian is still lying unread in the reception office, no one has time to read newspapers in today's probation service.

    Skimming through I notice that Public Voices is headlining the views of a recently retired probation officer, Richard Spence, who says: "The probation service is a mess. Flog it off." As I read, I hear the voices of the many staff I've spoken to this week. [For Mr Spence's full text, see his July 25 entry below on the Public Voices site.]

    I am a probation officer and co-chair of the local branch of Napo the trade union and professional association for probation staff. While I certainly don't agree with Richard's prescription for sorting out the probation service - privatise it - the concerns he expresses reflect the thoughts of many current staff.

    Richard is retired and can speak freely. I chose to protect myself by saying I speak as a trade unionist rather than an employee. I'm mindful that two colleagues and Napo members were disciplined for contacting the national organisation Investors in People to talk about how the local probation service is run. At the time, the local area was applying for good-practice recognition from Investors in People.

    I'm 31 years younger than Richard (who is 63) and have been in and around the probation service for 10 years, working as a probation officer for six of them.

    In 1996, the year I completed training, Michael Howard [Conservative home secretary 1993-97] removed the requirement for probation officers to hold a diploma in social work. Until then probation officers had been trained social workers choosing to specialise in work with offenders.

    The decline in the state of the probation service - spoken of by Richard - I trace back to then. Not only did Mr Howard remove the qualification, but his action created a vacuum: there was no alternative training programme put in place until 1998, by which time the service was severely haemorrhaging. Staff uncertain of their future transferred to allied sectors.

    In the same year Teesside probation service started appointing non-probation officers to posts previously held by probation officers. Napo challenged that and secured the "Teesside judgment", which ruled against Napo's claim but did provide guidelines to how non-probation staff should be managed. Services have largely ignored those guidelines, and we've seen the wholesale appointment of non-probation officer staff.

    1. Continued...

      Probation officers are left to supervise the cases of "high risk" offenders and write pre-sentence reports for courts. Other staff deal with medium- and low-risk offenders.

      The culture change in probation work was encapsulated by Paul Boateng when he was Labour's minister for probation in 2000. He stated: "We are a law enforcement agency. It's what we are, it's what we do." That showed the shift away from what had been largely a system of one-to-one rehabilitation and supervision of offenders by people with a social work background whose job was to understand all the factors that influence a person deciding to commit an offence.

      As probation officers have become scarcer the demands on them have become greater, yet the body in overall charge of the service - the national probation directorate - hasn't put in place a system of measuring workloads. Napo's national executive committee has voted for industrial action over this, and has been canvassing branches on what form this should take.

      The executive committee is scheduled to make a decision in September, after hearing any further response from the directorate in the preceding week.

      In the absence of a basic workload measurement - which management says will take another year at least - cases rise and reports rise. So, I suggest, does the staff sickness rate. Meanwhile, offenders meant to be monitored are told to keeping reporting in at probation offices until a supervising officer is available. They show up, sign on a dotted line, and return home - a meaningless exercise.

      Another reason for getting a standard measurement of workloads is that the probation service actually consists of 44 different areas around the country, not one big national service as you might think from its name and the fact that its central body is called the national probation directorate.

      In fact, each area has a different caseload, and each is run by a separate board. So you've got a mix of what's expected of staff from one area to another, and the staff union has to try to deal with 44 different services on what should be nationally agreed terms and conditions. There is national code but each area can put its own interpretation on that. And if there's a dispute staff in each area have to go into a separate dispute with the employer, which preempts national action. All this makes for problematic industrial relations.

      Overall, I think it's fair to say that prisons and prisoners probably form a quarter of the probation service's work - the rest involves supervising people serving their sentences in the community.

      The group courses we run for offenders - programmes in managing anger or thinking in a different way - constitute a great initiative; but due to lack of staff, offenders are on waiting lists for months before they can get on these courses.

      On top of that, the assessments we've been told do before and after people take these courses are just gathering dust. Since April 2001, each person has been given these psychometric tests, on the instructions of the Home Office. Each test can take up to three hours, and they are good tests - but there's no money to interpret the results.

      So there they sit, tests done but never scored or interpreted.

      Unfortunately, as Richard Spence states, I fear we're seeing the service fall in on itself. The appointment of manager upon manager has led to a bureaucratic organisation, which not uniquely spends more time servicing itself rather than the business it is in. The national directorate alone has in excess of 200 staff.

    2. Continued...

      Meanwhile, in the courts, where the business of the probation service is generated, judges and magistrates are receiving letters from probation managers across the country saying that requested pre-sentence reports on people who've been convicted are unavailable due to lack of report writers.

      No surprise the courts are getting frustrated, though I trust they realise probation officers stretched themselves as long as they could to prevent the situation having an impact on court proceedings.

      To try to measure performance by probation service areas, the first league tables have been put out this summer by the national probation directorate [probation circular 39/02 released June 27, 2002 and viewable at www.probation2000.co.uk]. And, also for the first time, probation services have been financially penalised for not meeting targets.

      These targets don't exist in a vacuum, though. A good example is the requirement that we prosecute people who breach the terms of their community sentences by failing to attend appointments or course sessions - that's one of the areas in which our performance is assessed.

      The league-tables circular showed that all but one of the 44 probation areas lost money because they're below the targets in three key areas; prosecuting over breaches is one of these.

      They may be coming in short of the target, but the volume of prosecutions is now so high that special courts have had to be set up within magistrates' courts to deal with all the cases for breach brought by the probation service. So targets like that have knock-on effects elsewhere in the system.

      At the same time, the number of actual breaches is very high - from my experience, I'd say perhaps 80% of offenders are breaching the terms of their community sentences in various ways - being late for appointments or not showing up. Yes, we can prosecute, but most courts aren't going to send people to prison for these breaches, so what they usually do is fine them and return them to probation to continue the work.
      There's another problem with prosecutions in these cases: quite a few people just ignore them.

      When we prosecute, a court summons goes out to the person accused of breaching his or her community sentence terms. If that person doesn't respond to the summons, the court issues a warrant. But police in many areas now won't serve warrants for community sentenceæbreaches; there's so many of them. Many courts have got civilian staff to execute the warrants, but if that staff consists of only one or two people it won't be enough.

      The direct result of the high number of breaches and prosecutions is that in excess of 100,000 warrants are outstanding - that is, they're being ignored by the people they're addressed to. What's more alarming is that if the warrant is outstanding for more than a year, the authorities in some areas simply withdraw it: the offender incurs no punishment and may not bother to finish the community sentence, while the person who has answered summons is punished, has the punishment added to his or her criminal record, as well as presumably carrying on with the community service.

      Paperwork is another problem area at the moment. This involves a national system that's being brought in (called Oasys) which the prison and probation services are meant to use to assess the risk level of an offender: risk to the public, risk of reoffending, risk of self harm.

      It's quite a good tool - but it only exists in paper form. The prison service has decided it won't start using Oasys until there's a computerised version, which is at least a year away. The probation service has started using the new system . . . meaning we've gone from our previous computerised system back to paper! For each offender we deal with, we're currently filling out 25-38 pages.

      I could go on, but then does anyone really care about the collapse of the probation service? After all, it's only dealing with offenders.

    3. Important bit - Credits - Thursday 1 August 2002 18.29 BST
      Gordon Jackson, 32, is a branch official of the probation staff union Napo in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire

      - Gordon Jackson, who is based in Luton, is contributing to Public Voices as co-chair of the Chiltern counties branch of Napo (the trade union and professional association of probation staff) which covers Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire probation areas. He also works as a probation officer in Bedfordshire

      - Footnote: Reflecting the concerns expressed in several contributions to Public Voices, probation staff voted to stage a one-day strike on January 29, 2003, and afterwards to work contractual hours. Their union, Napo, said: "Over the last decade probation workloads have increased by 50%. Currently in excess of 15% of the probation workforce is leaving each year. Napo has been raising the issue of the need for manageable workloads with officials for the last three years. Since that time the Probation Service has taken on numerous new tasks such as youth offender work, drug treatment orders and intensive group work without a commensurate increase in resources."


    4. That is the defining article of this whole blog.

      I just about knew Richard Spence in passing and had several meaningful conversations with Gordon Jackson - who now communicates via Twitter and Facebook and is a very profound thinker - more than I previously realised - as that article indicates.

      I have yet to look back at what Richard wrote - my memory of him is vague.

      Gordon does not mention the influence of the 1991 Criminal Justice Act which changed the whole status of the probation order, which was what effectively allowed Boateng to foolishly define probation as he did, using the royal 'we' from his time as probation minister.

      He did not understand probation as he was earlier a very 'canny' criminal lawyer, in the manner of Rumbold, getting the 'best' result for his client in legal terms - and in order to do that the services of probation were up for grabs/influence by a defence advocate.

      I should add, I never saw Boateng practice in court, so my assumption of him being a user of 'probation' in court in the way I describe may not be completely accurate, though many solicitors and barristers were as I described, to a lesser or greater extent. What Boateng then did, was as a government minister, under Jack Straw, further manipulated the probation profession, in an attempt for it to use probation to do the bidding of so called 'new' Labour. It was he who called Harry Fletcher - a dinosaur - speaking as probation minister at a Napo Conference and AGM - during the phase that new Labour was trying to reshape the relationship between the Labour party and the Trades Unions - it should be remembered that Napo did not become a TUC member until the late 1970s, and never completely achieved the stance of the traditional trades unions, as being singularly to achieve the best for its members (in the manner of a lawyer) but always had a professional dimension, about striving for what was/is best for the client group and wider society.

  11. And here's the Richard Spence article referred to above from July 2002:

    I was an ordinary, main-grade, what I'd call bottom-of-the heap probation officer, and I really enjoyed that: dealing with the punters face to face.

    The ambitious ones went up the ladder and became chiefs, but the trouble with the probation service today is that a lot of the people who got to the top weren't up to the mark.

    They've basically destroyed the probation service. It's fallen apart in the last couple of years - at least in London, which is the bit I know. The financial situation is absolutely disastrous here, they're millions up the Swannee. Top-heavy with middle management, lots of people with important titles, putting nice suits on, going to meetings with coffee and biscuits, setting these ludicrous targets - but because they've cut back so much, not enough infantry to do the frontline work. Which means the service cannot do its most important thing, which is to see clients face to face, and to write assessment reports on them.

    Everything stems from that, because the reports are the basis for sentencing by the courts. And for appeals too. [The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, said this month that the probation service was having trouble producing reports for judges and running community-sentence punishments credible to the public.]

    A probation officer's report gives something about defendant's background, but primarily it's about his or her attitude toward the offence. Why was it that you went shoplifting in Sainsbury's" This is the fourth time you've been caught, is it to do with your family, your personality, are you using illegal substances, are you drinking too much?

    If you run around with a knife threatening to stick it into people, clearly that's what a prison's there for. We all understand that. But if you aren't a danger it may be cheaper to put you on probation or do something else with you, because putting you in prison for six months might cost £500 or £600 a week. You may lose your housing, may have problems with your family, may destroy all sorts of things costing the taxpayer all sorts of money. The probation report helps the court to understand, and then to determine the sentence.

    I know of one probation office, they got 24 requests from courts one day recently for reports on people remanded in custody or on bail for three or four weeks' time awaiting a report from a probation officer. But this office can't do them, they're swamped, they haven't got the staff.

    If I'm the judge, and three weeks later everybody comes back to court, and all there is is a bit of paper from the probation office saying they're sorry they can't prepare the report in time, I'm entitled to say, What the hell is going on? It's already cost us £1,500 to lock this man up for three weeks, and it's going to cost us £1,500 more for the next three. And of course on his side, he is locked up for something he may get a non-custodial sentence for.

    1. Continued...

      Judges are becoming increasingly incensed by this; it's just becoming a scandal.

      The courts hardly ever see a probation officer any more either. Formerly, I'd be called into the witness box to answer some questions, add some flesh to my report on the defendant. Nowadays a PO hasn't got time. So all the court sees is the report, which is written in a much more mechanistic way by a person who is just a form-filler, busy playing safe. Whereas my report painted a picture of the person. And I would know the sentencer and the sentencer would know me.

      I saw in the Guardian that the new chief inspector of probation, Rod Morgan, - the "incisive" new chief inspector - was reported saying the probation service needed to "sell its services more effectively to sentencers", and make sure traditional case work wasn't overshadowed.

      But they're taking probation officers out of courts not putting them in there, and they haven't got the infantry to do the casework. The thing is, once things start to go like this they crumble and crumble and you can't get it back because the ethos goes. Courts are fed up with the probation service; in the service, the morale goes, people are pissed off to the back teeth.

      Beautiful little quote somebody told me the other day relating to all the cuts and the financial restrictions. If a probation office is in trouble because there's nobody to do all the typing or all the probation officers are off sick, you ring up head office and say: "Mission critical!" That enables Great Peter Street [London headquarters] to say: Right, you can spend whatever getting a temporary person in for three days. "Mission critical!" Wonderful. It's like Mission Impossible.

      When I began, the management layer was much less, and the people who were at the top had character, and had personality, and they were robust in their views. If you're robust in your views today you don't get to the top. So if you do get there you're just a cypher. Your views have been ironed out of you. So you become a little Hitler, stutting around terribly self-important.

      But they've lost confidence: the probation service, the Home Office, the prison service have all lost confidence nowadays because we live in a blame culture. Same with judges - safer to lock people up. Judge gives somebody an intelligent sentence, gets castigated in the Sun.

      Prison governors are encouraged by Blunkett & Co to release short-term offenders, tag them for the last couple of months. But if one of them commits an offence, it goes up as a black mark against that governor. If you're an ambitious prison governor you're not going to let people out early, give them home leave; and if you're a governor in a women's prison you're going to chain 'em giving birth. Play safe - people playing safe all down the line.

      We've lost confidence in allowing people to have original ideas as to how to deal with offenders.

      Look at Woolf saying, You nick my mobile telephone you'll go to prison for three years automatically except in special circumstances. And then they have to back-pedal of course.

      They want it all ways: they want original ideas, they want offenders out in the community, but they don't back people when things go wrong. If I'm a newly appointed probation officer and ambitious, I'm going to go absolutely by the rules. But that doesn't help people to get rehabilitated in the community.

      It's very sad because it was a fascinating job 30 years ago.

      When I kicked off in 1970, the overall prison population was 40,000, today's it's over 71,000. For women it was under 1,000, now it's almost 4,000. Costing a fortune!

    2. Continued...

      My particular interest was long-term offenders, lifers, because when people like that come out of prison they're on licence for the rest of their lives - meaning they are seen frequently by a probation officer in the initial years after release, and they're liable to recall to prison at any time if they misbehave; they don't even have to commit a criminal offence.

      I had a number of lifers on my caseload, people who committed murder. Before a man came out I'd visit him regularly every three or four months in the institution. I'd know him, but more important he'd know me.

      Very very difficult for a man to get back into the community who's been in prison 15 or 20 years, had everything provided. A terribly difficult ordeal.

      Not many do it very successfully. They can't make relationships, they don't know where they are. To make it work, you have got to give them consistency: they want to see the same probation officer, somebody who knows their history; quite reasonable, like seeing your doctor instead of a locum. They don't want erratic dealings because they cannot afford it.

      But with the financial restrictions in the last year or two, the probation service can't do much pre-release work. They can't even write basic reports now, so certainly not pay for people to be visited in institutions.

      What they're doing now is probation on the cheap, but it doesn't work because you're not dealing with the individual and his or her problems: relationships, housing, no jobs, poverty, and poverty again, bottom of the heap, and no hope. Oh, some hope: go and wash the dishes at the Savoy. Very charming sort of a job.

      One of the cheaper ways of dealing with clients is trying to get them into groups; formerly you always saw them one to one. There's lots of these group programmes: Reasoning and Rehabilitation, Think First, Drink Impaired Driving, Sex Offenders, Domestic Violence.

      Initially these schemes did go well because they were well staffed, with charismatic people running them. But over the last two or three years they're finding it very hard to get staff for these groups.

      And these groups are also run on very rigid lines from the point of view of timing, people not turning up. They're given a warning, then taken back to court. Then of course the court's hands are tied cause they don't know what to do with them. So they lock them up for a short time.

    3. Nearly there...

      Instead of having it one to one and having it flexible. Say you're a client, my appointment with you is at 10 o'clock this morning. You've got your children off to school, done this and that. But one child's not well. You've tried to get an appointment with the doctor, it's pouring with rain, and the buses don't come.

      You get to me at 20 minutes past 10. I know you've got four children, I know that child's not been well, but you've struggled to get in. Under the present system, though, if you arrive 20 minutes late for community punishment [formerly community service] you can't do that day's work - unless you have a medical certificate, nice middle-class stuff here - and also you get a warning letter. Do it again and you're back to the court, never mind the doctor, the buses.

      These things are set up by people in offices who never deal with the clients. They lose touch with what it's really like to be poor on a Clapton estate, or a Kilburn estate.

      But of course if you're a manager, when you get to a certain stage [up the ladder] you don't have the unpleasantness of having to deal with clients. (We used to call them clients, now they're called offenders, which was Michael Howard's way of dealing with it [as home secretary under Margaret Thatcher]. I would have thought they should be called ex-offenders, but that shows the way that the Home Office has gone, including under Labour.)

      Clients can be violent, abusive because they're frightened and upset. These managers might have known something about all that 25 years ago, but they know sweet nothing about it now. People come out of prison they're erratic, they miss buses.

      What would I suggest the government do with the probation service? Well the mess it is, the only thing is to scrub the whole bleeding lot and flog it off, privatise large chunks. I don't agree with privatisation politically but to some extent the probation service deserves to be privatised: it's not working and the public service ethos is gone.

      You don't need this whole edifice of non-productive people above the people writing the reports. If you pay me £250 to write a report on somebody, I'll see the person in custody, I'll write the report, I'll get it typed up and it'll be fine. And if they put their minds to it community punishment could be privatised too.

      As it is now, it really is collapsing, and the people at the top don't have the ability or the wish to salvage it. They're going to blame anyone else they can think of.

      - Footnote: Reflecting the concerns expressed in several contributions to Public Voices, probation staff voted to stage a one-day strike on January 29, 2003, and afterwards to work contractual hours. Their union, Napo, said: "Over the last decade probation workloads have increased by 50%. Currently in excess of 15% of the probation workforce is leaving each year. Napo has been raising the issue of the need for manageable workloads with officials for the last three years. Since that time the Probation Service has taken on numerous new tasks such as youth offender work, drug treatment orders and intensive group work without a commensurate increase in resources."


    4. Isn't the internet wonderful?! Well done for finding this - I've not seen it before and certainly deserves an airing - I wonder if the people mentioned are still around - it would be fascinating to hear what they think nowadays. I'll put it into a blog sometime soon...

    5. Yes - wonderful - I remember Richard - quiet sandy haired tall, authoritative, reflective smiling. He had a relation involved with the first of the Canary Wharf Towers - which was in our office patch - the one with the blue fluorescent light on top, that flashes.

      Just after I joined that team - February 1991 - we had an outing - to the tower - we went I think to the 35th floor - it had not been kitted out - just bare concrete - like a car park - it was early one evening - just after sunset - we just looked and admired and talked for half an hour or so - Canary Wharf is in the Isle of Dogs, Poplar District, long part of a 'patch' of one of the probation teams, serving the old Thames Magistrate's Court, that moved in 1990 to Bow. They have a fabulous library (or did) upstairs with some of the earliest court records - well worth a visit to understand what probation - in the east end of London originated from.

  12. Time for bed, said Zebedee (Je suis Zebulon)

  13. Searching "probation guardian society 2002" unearths many treasures. Here's another tasty morsel:

    "It was an inauspicious start for a relaunch. Labour ministers, striving to be as macho as their insecure Tory predecessors, rebranded the long-established community services orders (CSOs) as community punishment orders (CPOs), with the aim of giving them a tougher sounding label. To their credit, most benches still refer to them as CSOs.

    The probation order, which was even older, has become a community rehabilitation order. But at least the probation service escaped the pathetic label first proposed: the community punishment and rehabilitation service, quickly relabelled by offenders as Crapo. Even New Labour had to retreat from this absurdity.

    Probation survived but where once there were 54 locally-based and locally-run services, since April 2000 there have been 42 probation areas, coterminous with police authority areas, within a national probation service. It has meant a more powerful voice at the top, a framework for greater consistency but a less autonomous service. The new service is much more centrally controlled than the police, with all the key players - area board members, area chairmen and chairwomen, chief officers - appointed from, and accountable to, the Home Office.

    The worries do not stop there. Last week's report from the new, incisive chief inspector of probation, Rod Morgan, pointed to two further shortfalls. First, the need to sell its services more effectively to sentencers. Research has shown that new schemes, which require offenders to face up to their criminal behaviour, are reducing criminality. But the benches need to be better informed about the schemes.

    Second, there is a danger that the new schemes are overshadowing the traditional case work approach. Both are needed. Case work is needed to help sort out the multiple problems offenders still face - drug abuse, alcohol dependency, illiteracy, innumeracy, debt and lack of accommodation. Morgan could have mentioned a third: the tendency for the government's new crime reduction targets to end up pushing the service into placing inappropriate offenders on to the new schemes. The schemes' proven effectiveness is in danger of being diluted.

    But the good news remains that the forgotten service survived. It is more than a century since its forerunner, a Church of England temperance society, offered offenders a bond to keep them out of prison if they took "the pledge". It has moved through a befriending, advising and assisting era; a social work welfare model; and the current emphasis on a law enforcement agency role ("screws on wheels"). But beneath its many coats, its basic decency shines through. In a society imprisoning ever more people, alternative schemes have never been more needed."

    1. AND even earlier, I think over a 100 probation areas, matching the petty sessions districts or divisions, which pre-date the introduction of Local Governement as we know it with elected representatives for every area in 1889.