Monday, 16 February 2015

'Getafix' Special

Regular readers will be aware that the blog has attracted a small but dedicated group who post comments with a 'monica' rather than the routine 'anon' identity. Clearly most are practitioners, but increasingly we've been hearing what things feel like from the other side of the desk and 'Getafix' features regularly. I hope he or she doesn't mind me republishing some of their more recent contributions here:-

I've had engagement with the probation service at various but frequent periods since the mid seventies, and am totally opposed to privatisation. Having said that, I have seen many changes occur within the service over nearly 40 years, that I personally feel are to the detriment of the service, and to the core values that made people want to join the service in the first place.

I remember when there was an office in almost every area of every city, and because you were known to that office you could knock and ask for help and someone would see you and do their best. Most offices had forged their own links with other local services, and could always call in a 'favour'. Now most offices are centralised in one big block, and I think local communities are poorer for it.

Another big change is the need for staff to 'cover their own ass'. I can understand that, but that need also has consequence for the client. I don't think that's probation's fault, but a consequence of the introduction of all prisoners being subject to supervision at the halfway mark. Personally, where probation used to be my first port of call in a crisis, it's now not even on my list anymore. That's not a criticism of probation either, it's NOMS and government intervention that's brought it to where it is today.

I'm pretty anti-establishment, decades of drug addiction low level offending, and I've had life saving help from the probation service, but also some shite money wasting and useless interventions that have been foisted on me for no other reason than they were available at the time, or someone needed bums on seats.

Still, I try to remain objective, and rather than look at individual experiences, look at the service as a whole. It ain't half changed since my first probation order in the 70s. For me it is a service that has been destroyed by politics. Although there's always been a need to help clients comply with court orders, the service itself was not one primarily focused on 'law enforcement'. But in my view that's what it's become today. Indeed, I think the free hand given to CRCs to develop their own methods and approach to dealing with clients should be seen as a recognition by NOMS of the things that are now missing from the service. However, I doubt if they'll accept that they're missing because they're responsible for bleeding them out of the service in the first place.

I cannot blame the service itself for its demise, nor can I blame the staff that work in it. The job is after all the job that you joined. If you joined in the days of advise, assist and befriend, then obviously your experience, training and even your perception of the job is much different than someone who joined with focus on OASys risk and public protection. It's a service that's been pulling itself apart for years. It's sad but it wasn't its own choice. Bring back the old days and holistic approaches. Probation today is prescription based, and the same pill doesn't work for everyone.

Probation services for many years now has focused very little on the needs of its service users. It has become a vehicle to justify poor government policy and rhetoric. The reality is that the experience of most 'service users' today is one not too detached from being on 'bail'. It would be no real difference for a probationer to report to the duty sergeant on the desk of the local police station once a week. It saddens me to say that, because with a long history of addiction based offending, I have, in the past had much support and assistance from the service.

I also feel that many who are under the 'supervision' (that word is part of what's wrong with the service at the moment), of probation don't really get the most as they can from the relationship as many feel having problems may equal some form of sanction or warning that 'could' move you closer to recall. This comment is not a criticism of staff involved in the service today, rather an observation of how far away from its roots the service has gone. It's the government that's changed it. Not probation staff.

As an offender, but not a current client, at least not in the last 9 months, and a regular reader and contributor to this blog, I have to say that my experiences over the years with probation, (and they've been extensive), have not brought me to a place where I feel as much anger or loathing towards the service as today's guest blogger.

I agree with him/her that the services extended (and the way their presented to) the client has diminished and reduced over many years now. I also agree that the direction of the service has changed, leaning more towards an extension of custody, rather then support and client needs based ethos. But that's NOMS, run from a prison formulated understanding of the CJS, with staff recruited from the prison service. Staff that have been recruited from prison managerial positions and not from the 'coal face' where really you get the practical as well as the theory.

There's no doubt that the whole of the CJS is broken, courts, prison, probation, CPS. You name it, its knackered. The reason it's broken is because politicians find it an easy target to raise emotion in an attempt to gain votes. Unrealistic promises to victims, longer sentences, less cautions etc etc, all create an unrealistic and somewhat Utopian expectation of what the CJS can deliver for them. But as these policies are politically driven by people with no experience of the CJS, they frequently go wrong, or have unforeseen consequences or impact on other areas of the CJS.

Who takes the rap? Front line staff, whether probation officer, police officer or prison officer, anyone but the politicians. It becomes not about resolution of a problem, but the attribution of blame for allowing that problem to occur. Blame game. And Blame doesn't make a positive impact on the CJS. It strangles it, prevents it from development. IMO, the only way to have a functional and effective CJS is to remove the politics, and allow those at the coal face, trained and qualified, to get on with it. I think focusing anger or bitterness at the service as it now presents itself is missing the mark by quite a margin. It's a bit like blaming the monkey for the organ grinders mistakes to coin an old phase.

I'm a little confused today, but very 'thought provoked'. The guest blog made very good sense to me, it seemed open and honest, with good insight and good perspective. The point that hits me strongest is that all sexual offences are lumped together under the sex offender umbrella label, and attend groups all together.

My offending is drug related, but the person who sells me the drugs are also a drug related offender. Yet I would be very unhappy to attend group sessions that included drug dealers. I hate them. They use my weakness to provide themselves with posh cars, nice holidays and designer clothes as well as fat bank accounts. The reasons the dealer/user commit offences in my view are polarised, and putting them in a group situation to challenge their offending behaviour would be a bit like bringing your washing machine with your car to get fixed.

I think when situations like that occur, any significant sustained change brought to an individual, may also incur significant damage to others. I would argue, that regardless of the ability of the facilitator to deliver the programme well or badly, the variables (those attending the group), do not belong together, and the objective of the course is somewhat flawed from the beginning.

I have to agree with everyone so far today. I found the guest bloggers previous comments quite hostile and bitter, with an unnecessary tone that did little to contribute to the discussion. I do agree however that the probation service is a fragmented one with its personal identity long lost. However, I can't blame the people who staff the service for that. It's piss poor political policy, and a detachment of blame for those policies that's ruined the service.

Once upon a time, a probation officer was a community asset, now (because politics has pushed it that way), they're an agent of the state, bound to processes that in my view do not belong with the probation service. I think there are two types of staff in the service now. Those that joined with a social work based approach, and those that joined more recently under the offender management umbrella. I don't actually think both models integrate well, it almost recreates the age old argument of punishment or rehabilitation within the service itself.

As for the attitudes of staff? Well I've had some nasty ones in recent years, but also some damn good ones and pretty nice people to boot! I think its important to be objective when engaging with the service. There's good and bad everywhere, whether it's at the checkout at the supermarket, police force, teachers and so on. But I do think its important to step away from individual experience and look at the whole picture in an attempt to understand why things are like they are.

Will the new system improve things? Personally I think no. CRCs will still have to explain themselves when a SFO occurs, so will have to evidence their "robust" management plans, which I think will always have an impact on staff/client relationships, and of course there's also money to think about now too. That consideration will also come before the clients needs.

For my own concerns, I think TR could have a serious impact on my life. Heading towards 60 now with decades of addiction related offending behind me, I feel my chances of a custodial sentence next time I'm lifted have increased greatly. Only so I can get the support I need on release that I haven't had up to now. That's not suitable for me. Nearly 40 years an addict and just as many years of interventions. TR wont help me, but may make my life a lot more difficult. But stay objective, look at the whole picture, and don't get soured by individual experience, whether you're staff or client.

Throughcare and resettlement support? I agree wholeheartedly that that is what should be on offer. Unfortunately, I doubt if TR is going to bring that. TR will only bring 'offender management' and sanction for those that fail to comply. Many will fail because they 'can't' comply. Graylings thinking is seriously flawed because he believes merely making a group of problematic offenders subject to supervision with the threat of a further spell in custody will act as a deterrent and thus reduce reoffending. It's a fact however, that every offender that commits a further offence is also very aware that it might result in a further spell in custody?

Throughcare and support are expensive concepts by themselves, without the political complication that austerity brings. Wouldn't do the Tory image much good to be accused of providing better aftercare for ex-cons than for sick and disabled people who've never broken the law, or to be providing community based support that isn't accessible to all. But TR has never been about providing what's needed, nor I believe even an attempt to reduce reoffending. Indeed, the base principle of capitalism is about accumulating commodities and growing your market - why would private enterprise be interested in reducing reoffending if their profits are won by the more offenders they have on their books?

TR is simply an excuse to shrink the state, and to absolve or detach the state from being responsible for reoffending rates. Throughcare and support is a wonderful concept, but it's not what TR is going to bring I'm afraid.

Not a current client, but will be in the future thanks to the 12 month supervision requirement for those of use attracting very short sentences, TR may have a very serious an negative impact on my life. 

My addiction became manageable when I decided I was always going to be addicted. I can now treat it as an illness that needs to be medicated in much the same way as taking insulin. I still use. I will always use. My history is pretty well known to all the intervention programmes, probation and magistrates as well as the prison staff at my local prison. In terms of managing my addiction, I've come a long way. I don't use nearly as much as I did a few years ago, and I can get through mostly with the help of the green slime methadone. Everyone I've ever engaged with recognises the progress I've made, and they accept too that I'll always be an addict and always a user.

What will TR bring for me? Engagement with agencies that will attempt to 'cure' me? Acupuncture? Meditation? Dolphin cds? Gym sessions? And maybe an introduction to the rest of the cities heroin addicts that I've been able to come away from in the last few years? I really don't know. But it is a very concerning time for me. 

I understand the 'I'm only here for profit' companies, and how the cheapest methods of engagement and intervention will be applied. And of course non compliance will be met with consequences. Consequences will never beat my addiction, whether it's 14 days in custody, or the birch, but they can have a very serious impact on the way I manage that addiction, and indeed how I manage (my far from perfect) life. I need some understanding and old fashioned support at times, a realisation that I'm probably never going to be in a better place then I am now, (even still using), interventions and sanctions frighten me, for some it may be appropriate, but I fear it's all going to become a production line, where there will be more losers then winners.

As an aside, I'd like to say thanks for giving the client a 'shout', and for what it's worth, I do believe that most who comment on here really do have the clients interests at heart.



  1. Thanks JB & Getafix... A selection of much needed observations from a different perspective. However hard I try to 'imagine', and whatever my past life experiences, I still can't do better than listen to current views from another viewpoint as a means of offsetting my own blindspots.

  2. I'm glad that Jim decided to post this today. it's really important to hear from the other side of the fence on a regular basis to remind us of why we do what we do and the individuals and human beings with whom we work. I emphasize the phrase work with rather than supervise because I believe its important that we do work with human beings and not treat clients as statistics but it seems all to frequently there is little working with clients and all too much of a tick box mentality or even worse a judgemental and punishment ethos pervading the profession which is counter productive for everyone.

  3. I have long winded at the ideas of supervision and offender management. How can you supervise someone you see once a month for 5 minutes? Or manage them? It's a bit like calling these 15 minutes visits to the elderly and disabled 'care'. Can we be sued under trades description legislation?

  4. "From the other side of the fence" - ???

    Is that 'vanilla' probation?

  5. I have always been impressed by Getafix bringing all his musing together reinforces my position and he know what he's talking about.




      2010 salary list showed paul wilson, cpo london, on £240k+

      His non-exec noms profile describes him thus:

      "Paul Wilson - Paul joined the Probation Service in 1972, working in Teeside, Kent and West Yorkshire where he became Chief Officer in 1999, receiving a CBE for services to the National Probation Service in 2005. After a spell as Offender Manager in NOMS Yorkshire and Humberside, Paul resumed his probation career as interim Chief Officer in Sussex (2007/8) and London (2009/10). Currently Consultant Partner with the Equality Works Group, he is an active runner, cyclist, fly fisher and gardener."

      So as a fisherman he'll know all about grayling then?

      The grayling (Thymallus thymallus) is a species of freshwater fish in the salmon family (family Salmonidae) of order Salmoniformes.

      Sounds like a company man to me - decorated by NPS, non-exec director of NOMS, hand-picked for interim CPO roles on good money. Sorry Paul, can't feel much excitement or interest in this appointment, just dis-appointment.

    2. Thanks Getafix for your thoughtful, honest contributions. I'd be interested to hear your view on legalising/ regulating drugs if you ever get the time.

  7. I've been in the service over 30 years but take away the drugs and offending and the views expressed by Getafix could have come from my mouth.

    I read an article once about a Doctor who advocated prescribing drugs (heroin)for those that needed them. They were no longer allowed to practice in this way and our (now privatised) local drug agency is focussing increasingly on reduction. One of my 60yrs + clients, a long-term user (although rarely illegally these days,) is very worried at his dose being reduced -his demons are too deep-seated for him to contemplate a completely drug free life. Luckily he has a great GP who agrees.

    This job has made me hate drugs. So many articulate, intelligent, thoughtful people with lives wasted because of them. Seems to me though that people don't set out to become addicted to anything so wouldn't choose addiction as a lifestyle-its an unwelcome by product. The real damage is done by the economic pressures drug addiction causes for those without a mega income. To prescribe drugs to those who needed them would reduce this tenfold but even some of my colleagues look askance at me when I say this.

    I don’t agree that social work trained vs those who joined later are necessarily so different. There have always been those who took a more punitive view but I do think the role of a PO has been ‘sold’ differently in latter years and maybe this has attracted more of those who don’t question the issues so much.

    I have always felt that Probation has never proclaimed or publicly been lauded for the things it was best at. Always the rhetoric has been to 'sex up' the 'tough' side. This has been true throughout my career except that the 'toughening' language has increased proportionately to appease successive governments. 'Breach them', 'recall' them, 'demanding' programmes,' 'national standards' 'robust' approaches to protect the public. I've been guilty myself when writing reports to persuade courts to seek non custodial sentences for someone. '..this will restrict his liberty x times per week..' etc. Underneath I really believe that valuing someone, providing a bit of a shoulder sometimes, showing a interest, being a bit of a champion, the odd befriending fund payment at a well timed juncture, sometimes plain old ‘damage limitation’ is just as effective a way of helping and preventing victims.

    1. Anon 20:21 - Well said. Well said.....

  8. It's quite an amazing feeling for someone who hasn't much of a voice in society to log on and find you're todays headline! It's a great feeling to feel that something you say wheather it's agreed with or not receives some attention and consideration.
    I feel my whole life has belonged to the CJS, and feel apart from having a wealth of knowledge about its development over the last few decades, and a keen interest in its further development, some of it for obvious personal reasons, I get little oppertunity to express my views and opinions. I feel ok doing that on here, and I do try to stay objective with my comments.
    So many thanks. It gave me a 'wow' moment, abd made me feel good.


    1. Glad you liked the special 'Getafix' - keep up the good work and feel free to chip in anytime.

    2. Getafix.... you are compulsive reading! I really enjoy your comments and thanks Jim for putting them together like this.

    3. koool banana, "g-a-f"

      thank YOU.

  9. Thank you Get a fix. You are the thinking mans addict. I honestly mean that in a non pejorative way. A CJDT colleague and I were discussing the social blind spot whereby Tara Huntley and Palmers, or whatever her name is, can have her nose fall apart and be blotto on live TV and everyone either sympathises or says 'she's a character!'. In my 1960 Guiness book of records, there were less than 800 registered drug addicts, who were dealt with, within the law, ie prescribed drugs and kept out of the CJS. I don't know whether, now the lids off, it would be politically possible to go that way ever again. My colleague and I agreed that, if I, for instance, held down my job but with prescribed help, people would accept that. I believe it's the HSL drinking, never employed, never contributing, percieved to be parasitical drug users, that render a reactionary policy reversal unpalatable. It's the same old story, they had something that worked, scrapped it, and everyone is already stigmatised before they get CJDT. Tony.