On 31 Dec 2014, I became redundant after 22 and a half years with probation. On 31 Dec 2013, our office consisted of an ICT manager and 7 staff. 3 of them (including me – Info Systems Officer) got VR. 3 much younger - and I have to say, more marketable in terms of skills – colleagues, have taken those skills elsewhere for better pay in the private sector. Our much - loved Trainer, who I posted about elsewhere in Jim’s blog, retired. The amount of work the new CRC expected her to do, was a joke. Our Manager has been redeployed and no longer has responsibility for ICT. Which is a good job really, as there is no ICT Unit left in what was Leics and Rutland Probation Trust.
This is on another level to ‘purges’ that had gone on in the past.
As an admin manager for the Records office and Courts team, many years ago, I lost a substantial part of my staff to voluntary retirements due to the austerity that seems to rear its head under governments of either colour. The work was never redistributed away from the team. We worked back then with typewriters, folders, record cards, PAC1s and court ledgers. There were none of the clever IT solutions that we have now (I know, it’s called irony). Eventually, people were recruited as temps, then became permanent and the initial losses, in terms of posts, were almost all gradually re-established. At no time was everything completely dismantled like now. Had it been, I can’t imagine the mayhem that would have ensued. It was bad enough, as it was.
At time of writing, I’m led to believe that one temp on a 2 month contract is replacing the last of the ‘class of Dec 13’ in Leics. S/he will be based in Derbyshire. DLNR CRC appear to be using the premises template – where a 60 mile journey to change a lightbulb is considered normal – for IT. Your call is valuable to us, you are in a (bl**dy long) queue.
My dad hated the fact that I work for Probation. He was a Borstal boy the year I was born, 1960. Back in 1980, he failed in an attempt to get Parole (serving time for a Ponzi scheme). Given that he’d never breached the terms of previous parole licences, during other numerous sentences, he demanded a Governor’s letter with an extra page to write to his MP. Apparently, an extra page was something of a rare privilege and they had a bit of a run-in over it. Eventually, it was grudgingly granted, only for him to find he was staring at a blank sheet, having comprehensively outlined his Parole moans on just the one. So, to fill up the extra page, he told of his horrific experiences of Borstal.
The infamously brutal regime he’d experienced at HMP Risley and Willie Whitelaw’s ‘short, sharp, shock’ proposals, held a resonance for him in the most horrible way. He thought no more of it but the MP was impressed. He got my dad to write an open letter to Whitelaw, which took up a page in The Times. Not long after, when he got his Parole, he was invited to appear as the ubiquitous Old Lag, on a programme called ‘This Week’. Not the present incarnation with Andrew Neil. If memory serves, it was on BBC2 on a Friday night. I say that with reasonable certainty as I left a pint at the bar to go home for half an hour to watch it. No video recorder in those days. For some reason, I expect it was because he was working and signing on, they gave him an alias ‘Mr Kennet’ and to emphasise every point ‘Kennet’ made; ‘bullying’, ‘staff brutality’, ‘colleges of crime’, etc, a piledriver smashed into one of the cars in the scrapyard he was filmed working in. It was quite a persuasive bit of imagery. So, if you think it all went a bit soft, you can blame my dad.
I was in the RAF at the time. It wasn’t until 1992 that I joined Leics and Rutland Probation Service. Given all the above and his not too positive view of his past Probation Officers – he wasn’t impressed and quite hurt that I was fraternising with the enemy. In fact, for that and other personal reasons, we lost touch and he died almost 4 years ago with us not having spoken for, well, I can’t remember how long but it was at least 15 years. I suppose I mirrored his behaviour. He was an absent father and I went on to become an absent son. I’ve never understood what a Cat and a Cradle have to do with that…
Notwithstanding my dad’s poor customer experience, I quite like the concept of Probation and other community punishments. I used to pray that the Queen would die and he’d be let out as part of a celebratory amnesty for the coronation of Charles and not have to be away all of the time. Not that I hated the Queen personally, you understand, it’s just that my grandma told me Royalty did that in other countries – amnesty - sometimes. Apologies to Her Majesty and I suppose, to Prince Charles.
I have almost no memory of him being with my mum. They were schoolchildren when I was born and weren’t together much longer. It didn’t seem fair that I only got fleeting times with my old man and he seemed harmless. His victims would say otherwise. He was likeable and a joker and my colleagues will attest to the fact that I take after him as regards being a joker – to the point of being annoying (I can’t help it, it’s in the genes). But from my experience in the modern criminal justice system, I can say with certainty, that he would have been very unlucky to get a custodial sentence for most of his offending under today’s sentencing guidelines. He got borstal – and did the full 2 and a half years – for stealing a pram full of Lead. I’m told you got out after just 6 months if you behaved, so he obviously didn’t. What would stealing a small amount of Lead (I think the pram was mine) attract for a 16 year old now?
Back in 1960, there were only 26000 prisoners in England and Wales. I know that because I’ve got the Guinness Book of Records for that year. I wonder if it was because sentences were harsh and conditions were brutal?. Even though my dad could barely stop himself going back in. Or simply was it that no one had much to steal?
Whether or not, I’ve come to the conclusion that community penalties will only ever work if the alternative is really a deterrent and I know that it isn’t to a lot of offenders. If Jail was of the ‘Norman Stanley Fletcher/Slade prison’ stamp (I know, hang ‘em/flog ‘em brigade, yadda, yadda), would that put a brake on the burgeoning population and stop creative sentence management? (ie, people doing a quarter of their sentence).
The victim should know that the offender has paid a penalty. The offender should know that a community penalty comes with the sword of Damocles. I recommend the book ‘A land fit for criminals’ by ex – SPO, David Steel. Which uses research from here and the US to make a similar point. By his account the very harsh US regime which everyone here points out as ineffective, is actually a correction of a regime that slackened off and will now take a generation to readjust. If I understood it correctly.
My old man was in his early 40s when he had a younger family and finally called it a day being a prat, by the way.
Changing the subject. Acquaint yourself with the Data Protection Act 1998: section 55, para 2, sub-para d:
‘That in particular circumstances the obtaining, disclosing or procuring was justified as being in the public interest’.It’s to do with being a whistleblower, communicating with the press, this blog or whoever. If you have met the criterion above when sharing information, then you only need a reasonably able union rep - if you don’t think you can argue your own case - to get ‘them’ to see sense, should you find yourself on the carpet. That is not to say that you do so lightly. As a keeper of records for most of my career, (I was in charge of a classified registry in the armed forces – when it never once crossed my mind that anything was wrong or unjust, unlike now) it is something you must give thought to. Never be tempted to take money or you really will be in bother as several Police and Prison workers have found to their cost. Although, post-Leveson, it is doubtful journalists would dare to offer any. But still be careful.
I think I sent my first submission to Private Eye (PE) in about 2011. About the early disconcerted rumblings about what became TR, although they didn’t publish it.
There’s a very interesting aside about the PE journalist, Heather Mills, who seems to field most Probation info. I know what you are thinking; ‘it couldn’t be, could it?’. You are right – but someone else, with the same name, once stole her identity and took credit for her work – and it was for a while, so to speak. Search the Daily Mail Website: ‘Why Heather Mills pretended to be me’ for an interesting read.
I’ve been able to get PE interested in various bits and bobs that have involved TR though and I think one – just the one – made a real difference. I sent them a copy of a letter our Board Chair, Jane Wilson, sent to Chris Grayling. It was described as a ‘leaked letter’. Now, I’ve always wanted to be subversive but it was freely distributed internally and not privacy-marked, so hardly a ‘dead-letter drop’ kind of scenario. The PE article (issue 1351) did say that ‘Trust boards’ were voicing their concerns but Jane’s words were the only ones in the article, so either the other boards’ concerns weren’t ‘leaked’ or it was just word of mouth that they were voicing their concerns. Either way, it was out in the open and TR was pushed back from 1 April to 1 June. Er, that’s all – but I’m claiming credit for that small concession (thanks for helping, Jane) and hey!, what did NAPO do?
A footnote to this is, I obviously didn’t want TR and tried to do something about it in my own small way. I wasn’t mad on VR for that matter. Our team was a very pleasant place to work, I had a very understanding boss and I particularly enjoyed dealing with IT helpdesk queries – the tales I could tell!. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always go smoothly. My girlfriend (I don’t have to say ‘partner’ now I’m excused Diversity Training) though, is extremely ill, having spent more time in hospitals and the local hospice, than out in the last 18 months. Time is very precious and VR was an easy decision to make in the circumstances, so I don’t feel so much of a hypocrite right now – and 30 pieces of silver doesn’t stretch that far these days.
I hope you found this interesting, even if you don’t agree with some or all of it.
Keep fighting the good fight.