Saturday, 21 February 2015

MoJ Away Day 4

In order to tide us over the embarrassing lack of a blog post for today, I notice there's just enough juice left from that recent MoJ love-in for one more helping. In order to make sure we avoid blank pages appearing, can I put in another reminder about our guest blog facility? They're always popular and it's a brilliant way to get stuff off your chest anonymously. 

4th February 2015 London - Atrium Event for MoJ Staff

Q: Good morning, I work in the Reducing Reoffending Policy Unit, we know that 70% of offenders who do not have their accommodation needs met go on to reoffend, which is obviously an incredibly high number. We also know that social housing is a problem among local authorities …

Chris Grayling: Yeah.

Q: … I'd like to know, from the Secretary of State how he sees transforming rehabilitation as addressing this cos clearly it cannot magic up housing that doesn't exist.

Chris Grayling: Well the first thing I would do if I was running one of the CLCs is to establish a housing operation. You're right about limitations on social housing, and of course private landlords will typically not rent to somebody who’s just coming out of prison, but a private landlord would do a deal, you know, a five year deal, a seven year deal with a corporate entity to rent that property on condition they get it back in the same condition that they'd let it out in the first place.

And I would be building up a block of relationships with private landlords, and my team are developing some of my own accommodation that would be a provision for people coming out of prison to get them stabilised and sorted out, erm, funded obviously by the housing benefit they receive, I've been saying all along in the contracting of that TL, that’s what I would do.

There are some housing associations already involved in doing that who could play a part in that, but that’s the first thing I would do. They’ve got the freedom to do that.

You know, I say as a CRC now outside the public sector you can do a seven year deal with a landlord, we as a department would never be allowed to do that with the Treasury, we’d have to go through all kinds of paraphernalia, and so that's one of the freedoms I hope they’ll have.

Ursula Brennan: Andrew Selous just wanted to add …

Andrew Selous: Can I just add very briefly on that, one of the issues I picked up from, questioning I was subjected to at the Justice Select Committee was the very ability of different local authorities in this area, as you all know very well we operate in – on a principle of equivalents as far as offenders are concerned, and I've asked for a little bit more transparency so we could at least see which local authorities are playing fair in terms of their allocation policy as far as ex-offenders are concerned.

And I think if we can get that information out in the public domain in the transparent way we’ve been talking about earlier, that will help drive the change that you've quite properly spoken about.

Ursula Brennan: One more question then, yes, the gentleman in the blue there.

Q: Hi, around Christmas I read of a story of a man who had been released on probation and as part of his probation he, had a curfew, I think it was something like, between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. he had to stay at home. He got a job but that job started at 6.15 a.m. and as a result the probation service which I think it was a priv… private, probation service said, ‘You've – you've, breached your probation terms of your probation, you go back to prison’.Now, you could argue that they’ve – were working technically by the book, but as, I can imagine you'd want, want people – prefer people in work than to be in prison, as, you know, becoming productive members of society and so I feel that there's an element that – that they had been failed by the system in some way and is kind of an arbitrary – there's an arbitrariness about it, and I was wondering if you could – were aware – deliver some more (unclear) spirit of justice rather than kind of the arbitrary bureaucracy that some people, get imposed on I think.

Chris Grayling: Right, a couple of points, if it was around Christmas the private providers only took over on Monday so it wouldn’t have been them. What I'd also caution is don’t always believe everything you read in the papers. And those of you in parts of the department will quite regularly I suspect get, newspaper stories that you think, are not strictly accurate.

The most recent one was the Sunday Express, big front page that said we were giving keys to the cell to Ian Huntley and Rose West, which was not entirely true. What they had was the ability to lock the door when they were sitting on the loo so nobody walked in, but of course prison guards could override that at any time if they needed to do so.

So it wasn't quite what the story said. So I – I – I would offer a word of caution about that. The truth is that both courts and probation staff have got flexibilities if they need them. And the new system is particularly flexible er, in – in working with people. You're absolutely right, if that was happening, if that story was true, I would not in any way condone it.

I can't say that across the whole probation system nothing dumb is ever done cos I suspect it is, but generally speaking I think most courts and most probation people apply common sense.

Andrew Selous: Yeah, I'm pleased you mentioned that, a couple of years ago I had a constituency case which was quite similar to the one you've described, I mean I think we have to look to see what – what the order of the court was, but of course your basic premise is absolutely right, that work is a good thing both to prevent people getting in to trouble in the first place and very much to help them stop reoffending, so we would all obviously want to support erm, orders which allowed people to do their jobs at the time at which their jobs start and finish.

Ursula Brennan: I think we've, we've run out of time really here. I just wanted to say a few things in – in wrapping up. You've heard from the Ministerial Team a whole series of instances which they’ve identified where they're really pleased with the hard work................ (that's enough - Ed)


  1. Jim - there's a statistical theme emerging here. Maybe we should get Statisticians to advise why 70% keeps on popping up everywhere:

    70% inspector
    70% salary payments
    70% of offenders who do not have their accommodation needs met go on to reoffend

    In fact, on that subject: "70% of offenders who do not have their accommodation needs met go on to reoffend, which is obviously an incredibly high number." An utterly nonsensical statement. 70% of 10 is not an incredibly high number; nor is 70% of 100. Language is important. Its how we communicate. Get it wrong & communication breaks down.

    Maybe 70% of what we say is ...???

    1. EVIDENCE!!!

      We all know that communication is 70% nonverbal

      Almost 70% of primary and secondary schools in the UK now use tablet computers, according to research.

      More than 70% of fresh chickens being sold in the UK are contaminated with the Campylobacter bug,

      More than 70% of the prison population has two or more mental health disorders. (Social Exclusion Unit, 2004)

      4 Nov 2010 ... Reconviction rates are above 70% in 14 prisons in England and Wales

      70% of all statistics are made up on the spot

      When to Delegate? Try the 70 Percent Rule - If you don't learn to embrace the art of delegation, you won't be able to build your business. The 70 percent rule gives you guidance on how to do it well.

      The Lindt Excellence 70% chocolate bars are full-bodied dark chocolate bars, masterfully balanced with bittersweet undertones.

    2. Blimey you're right! The answer to everything is 70% not 42!

      "The principle upon which the 70% rule is based is that development must begin by considering your weakest link. Do not seek maximum performance, as that quest may both damage the weak link and cause the whole system to contract and tense up. Commonly, when people try to give 100%, they inadvertently go to 110% or 120% of their body's maximum capacity, which results in injury, sometimes slight and sometimes severe. For example, many athletes will overtrain to win, resulting in permanent damage to their bodies. The 70% rule applies to all aspects of Taoist practice, including working with chi and your breathing. This rule allows you to make your body and mind work in a more relaxed, efficient, and healthy manner for the rest of your life."

  2. Nice of the Secretary of State to point out that the guy sent back to prison for taking a job outside of his HDC hours was recalled by HM Prison Service, not by probation.

    Oh, wait - all he wants to do is defend the private companies, and yet again demonstrate his complete ignorance of probation.

  3. notice that Grayling did not offer his expenses flat as err TTG accommodation...did he sell it and whatever happened to the profit from it? We should really not let that one go....

  4. I'm sure Sodoxo, Interserve or Purple futures would happily agree to enter a contract with a private sector landlord, where they agree to pay the weekly rent on a property, knowing they'd then be responsible for collecting that rent from the client! Or maybe not!

  5. Today's post just goes to show how little Selous and Grayling know about prisons, probation and offenders. I hardly think getting local authorities to be "more transparent" about social housing is going to solve a single accommodation problem. Our local street prevention homeless team who we refer clients being released from custody if they don't have anywhere to live is useless at helping source accommodation in the private sector. If you are lucky enough to get into the town's only homeless hostel you spend at least a month there in conditions worse that you would be living in in jail and surrounded by more drugs and crime than you see in jail. Then if you are lucky enough to be thought worthy enough by the mini Hitler who "helps" people move on into their own rented accommodation you will end up in some damp, flea infested pit and told to suck it up and be grateful for it. If you turn a place down even if it is completely unsuitable (say for example its on the third floor of a block with no lift and you have mobility problems so you can't climb stairs) you are immediately blacklisted and not offered another property. Unless apparently you are willing to pay a "fee" to this individual who will then immediately find you somewhere halfway decent. Unless Grayling and Selous are prepared to tackle stuff like this the accommodation issue simply won't go away.

    1. Universal Credit and the bedroom tax has vastly reduced the number of landlords that are willing to let to those on benefits. The number willing to let is further reduced if you're leaving custody or on licence. If you also have addiction or mental health issues (and many of the 12month and under cohort will have those issues), the number is practically zero.
      The only housing that will be available will be that in such poor condition that the landlord can't let it to anybody else, or in an area where no-one wants to live, typically areas where theres high levels of unemployment and anti social behaviour.
      These are not the right variables to help keep someone from reoffending or providing a stable social foundation. Infact in my opinion, its a receipe for the creation of ghettos, where the socially deprived, unable and criminally orintated are all lumped together and left to get on with it.
      It will promote crime rather then reduce it.



    1. Its a shame that no one in any CRC seems to have read this report let alone acted on it because its conclusions are spot on

  7. I just read a twitter conversation that CRCs in the NorthWest have been instructed to complete ISPs within 10 days. This just shows that PF does not have a clue. There have been instructions that we are not allowed to use Professional Judgement for late sentence plans and i'm just at a loss as to how this is meant to work? Somebody has suggested that a 'plan' is all that's needed and PF will be introducing an Oasys replacement in due course but for now we are stuck with it. This job is getting more and more like knitting with soup every day.

    1. midlands CRC has the same thing 10 days for ISPS

    2. And BGSW . It's a target linked to the CRCs getting paid so I would think that a few missed targets and capability meetings will be the order of the day, no matter what your workload is like.

    3. Just make sure that you put in the comments at the end of Oasys that plan completed after only x amounts of meetings, to hit targets, and may not be reflective of RISK!

      Make sure that the RISK part goes in. It might not be much, but at least if the sh*t hits the fan you can always highlight that your assessment aimed at hitting a target rather than anything else.

    4. Oh well, that's me up the shoot then. I havent done a supervision plan (nor barely any Oasys) since the split last year owing to my unreasonably high caseload which (despite my continued raising of the matter at all managerial levels since June 1st) is still not resolved. Now the work is cash linked I suspect something will have to change - either Working Links sort out the woeful staffing situation or (more likely I suspect) I'll be shown the door, for failing to get with the zeitgeist. Sigh................

    5. Help ! I have just returned to LDU work and been told all ISPs target is 15 days, I'm NPS so high ROSH cases. How can target in NPS be 15 but in CRC 10 days? Is this correct does anyone know please????

    6. maybe cos CRC are low/med. I know I've completed ISPs on having only seen people once. But ISPs are only that, 'initial' on the information to hand, but the problem is if the ISPs are sparce it means spending more time a few weeks down the line doing a review to make it more fitting and who has time to be doing reviews on top of ISPs and Terminations - I know I haven't.

    7. This is something that NAPO should be grabbing by the scruff of the neck.

    8. I cannot confirm NSP ISP target dates but can confirm CRC is 10 days - in fact in our CRC we are being told they have to be completed, signed and locked by OM by day 8 - note 10 days from initial interview so if the client does not attend arranged appointment - clock does not start thicking until they do. It can still be tough if you have a number of ISPs and Terminations coming together, which is often the case.

    9. clock does not start ticking - not thicking.

    10. the thing that really throws my workload off kilter is the custody releases - allocating SPO has no idea when she's giving me 3 new cases that I've also someone being released so in-effect I have 4 ISPs to do plus terminations - as my caseloads so big its not unusual to need to be doing a termination every couple of weeks.

    11. ISP target is 10 days from first appointment. If service user fails first appointment clock does not start ticking. I keep a note of a sentence plan drawn up on paper and record it in delius. It's not my fault if CRCs have not found a way of recording this target. Remember, the target is for a Sentence Plan, not an OASys ISP. I'm covered! :-)

    12. Solution will be universal SIPs, bland generalisations of one kind or another. Superficial defaults to meet targets. That is prison service culture. Pretend, pretend, pretend.

    13. NPS in Wales all ISP s to be completed within 5 working days of commencement of order or release. If we are lucky we have met them once to go through the 20 page useless induction pack which simply repeats itself over and over again without gaining any useful information. It's even been suggested we should start doing custody ISP s within 5 days of sentence - good luck booking that next day prison visit!

    14. PF? SIPs? BGSW?

      help me out folks...

    15. PF - Purple Futures, ISP - Initial Supervision Plan, BGSW - Bristol Gloucestershire Somerset and Wiltshire CRC - Community Rehabilitation Company

  8. Off topic, but talking about the company needing to get paid. I think this is disgusting abuse of process.

    1. Thousands of people on low incomes are being sent letters by an American outsourcing company accusing them of cheating on their tax credits and warning them that they may have their benefits stopped.

      Concentrix, part of a multi-billion pound US business services company, has been accused of going on a vast “fishing expedition” as part of a controversial contract with HM Revenue and Customs to outsource its fraud and error detection.

      Staff working at Concentrix have told The Independent that they are under pressure to open between 40 and 50 new tax-credit investigations every day and often don’t have time to check whether the allegations they are making stack up.

      Meanwhile, worried claimants have been taking to internet message forums to ask for advice for dealing with the false allegations being made against them.

      Many said they believed the letters to be hoaxes as they asked for personal financial information such as bank and mortgage statements to be sent to the company within 30 days. Those who ignore the letters risk having their tax credits halted. In the last quarter, the Citizens Advice Bureau said it helped 20 per cent more people with tax credit problems than in the same period in 2013.

      However, it said it did not know the cause of the rise. One concerned charity worker contacted The Independent after seeing a client who was confused and frightened by the letter. The worker was worried that many people will ignore or not understand such letters and consequently have their tax credit cut.

      “A lot of people might have got these letters and ignored them because they think they look like a scam,” said the charity worker, who asked to remain anonymous. “It means in the next month or so people will have their tax credits stopped and that’s when the problems will really start.”

      The letter accused the recipient of living with a partner and said if that wasn’t the case she had to provide proof. “That seems outrageous,” the charity worker added. “They’re picking on vulnerable single people and making wild accusations. The onus should be on HMRC to provide proof, not claimants to be forced to prove otherwise.”

      Carmen, a single mother who lives with her three children in Grimsby, recently received a letter from Concentrix telling her it had evidence that she was living with a woman “partner” who was registered at that address.

      The letter told Carmen, who is heterosexual, to send documents in her name to prove that she was living alone.

      “I live in social housing and lots of tenants have lived here before me,” she said. “No one has ever questioned my entitlement to child tax credit.”

      Staff at Concentrix’s office in Belfast, where the contract is based, have told The Independent that they haven’t been given enough training to differentiate between genuine claims for tax credits and fraudulent ones.

    2. They also say they are being encouraged to hit a target of making 20 decisions a day, or about three an hour, on whether to stop, amend or leave a tax claim unchanged.

      Staff say they often don’t have enough time to review all the relevant data before making a decision. They also allege they have not been given enough training to make effective decisions.

      One worker on Concentrix’s tax-credit contract, who asked not to be named, said that in his own estimate about six in 10 investigations into people suspected of not declaring that they’re living with a partner are opened in error.

      Workers will check people’s tax-credit claims by comparing information from claimants on childcare costs, working hours and pay against other sources of information including credit-reference agency databases and from government – for example, PAYE and benefit payments. Different teams investigate tax credits, answer calls from claimants and make a decision on whether to stop the credit.

      “It’s quite analytical work and needs attention to detail,” the worker said. “Just one mistake in a calculation of someone’s salary or childcare costs can mean you stop someone’s payment.”

    3. Those who receive such letters so take them to their MPs surgery...

    4. Not enough time to do tasks, driven to meet targets, not enough training and not enough time to assess the information to make a correct decision.

      Sounds pretty familiar to me.

    5. How long before your admin presses a button that emails or texts your entire caseload and an algorithm sifts their replies, either automatically responds, or flags up their response as needful of your personal attention. Meantime, one of your caseload is an IT wiz, who develops an app 'the how to avoid your OM bot'. Wouldn't surprise me if Grayling hasn't already got shares.

  9. TR and the Refuseniks

    There was a comment on the Guest Blog 25 suggesting that the blog commentariat was too negative in criticising the presentation methods at a venue. How it would have been more helpful if constructive suggestions on improving the presentation had been made.

    I thought, well, would the feedback on the event have been less negative if there had been 3D wall-to-wall Powerpoints with surround sound; if instead of no biscuits, there had been caviare and champagne at break time; if all the presenters has been RADA trained and so on. Now, all this would have put lipstick on the pig, but no one would have been fooled that it was still a pig.

    There may be those who believe that presentation and propaganda are all that matters – that the medium is the message. That as long as the sales technique is slick you can sell anything, including bad ideas. But I don't think this is true. The problem that the TR advocates face in the workforce is that TR is an idea that many fundamentally reject – they reject the idea of contracting out the delivery of probation services to the private sector, they believe that it is immoral to make a profit in this way. No matter how well they perform in their job they will never be satisfied with the notion that that performance is making a profit for shareholders, they believe it's in the public good for probation services to be delivered by the public sector. They hate Bleak Futures and despise Missing Links.

    Now this may frustrate managers, who want everyone to embrace the corporate message and speak positively about it. Managers have to be on-message with TR, as they would not last long if they were known to be criticising policy, This even includes middle managers who have to be seen to be mouthing support of TR. But practitioners don't have to mouth support, that's not their job. Their job is, as we well know: JFDI. And most will have to JFDI because they need to pay mortgages.
    They will miss out on some job satisfaction, because fundamentally they are doing a job in a way that clashes with their sense of right and wrong. They will not feel positive about working in a split service and they know that they have been forced into a situation that was ideologically imposed and in defiance of all the sound evidence on how best to deliver probation services.

    So even the most perfectly managed event will fail if one objective is to get the workforce enthused with, and enthusiastic about, TR. It will fail because TR is not just seen as bad in an operational sense, but is morally rejected by many in the workforce. And no surprise that TR feedback is critical. To embrace it would require not just selling your body to the corporation, but your soul as well – and that ain't going to happen.

    1. oooo I love this post THANK YOU Netnipper !

    2. Summed up perfectly. Agree, thank you, Netnipper.

    3. Thank you, Netnipper and I can assure you that I will be doing everything in my power ( as a run-of-the-mill grunt) to make sure that the whole corrupt edifice comes tumbling down and brings all the of the Tory loving bastards who have sold us down the river over the past years down with it. God I hate them all! Where's the Angry Brigade when you need them?

  10. Off topic but theres been some discussion on the blog recently about getting clearence to work in prisons and the time it takes to 'vet' applications.
    I guess it takes so long because the MoJ can't make a mistake on who they allow through the gate, can they?

  11. Comment from last night asked what did people only getting paid some of their salary in February want from NPS. I have a simple answer for you: An apology. I would like an apology. I don't think it's not too much to ask for.

  12. Keep Probation Public, not Private
    5 mins ·
    We have received a whisper that the Independent on Sunday may run a story tomorrow based on the press release earlier in the week...we wait to see..

    Hopefully this is the start of the public being aware of the chaos and the Tory/Lib Dems being shamed for what they have caused.

    1. Britain’s probation service is in chaos after a series of crippling computer failures over the past three weeks, with thousands of offenders’ case files lost, frozen or wiped.

      In preparation for widely condemned moves to hand over 70 per cent of the service to the private sector later this year, the IT system was upgraded on 2 June. But probation officers across the country have told The Independent on Sunday that the updated systems are full of glitches and have even shut down, leaving the service under “crisis management”.

      Offenders have been turned away from community service, evidence has not been available for court hearings, and new offences have not been added to case files.

      The Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, warned last night that public safety had been “put in danger” by the crisis, while Unison said it warned the Government last month that “the potential for this mass restructuring of probation ICT [information and communication technology] systems … to go badly wrong is very high”.

      The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, reorganised the service in April from 35 probation trusts into 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) that mainly supervise those on community sentences or just released from prison. Private-sector contractors and mutual companies formed by probation staff are currently bidding to run the CRCs, with the winners expected to be confirmed by the end of the year.

      The Government is also establishing a national probation service (NPS) for high-risk offenders, which will stay in state hands.

      However, this division is hindering officers’ efforts to work together on cases that cross both services, an issue further complicated by the changed IT system that does not allow officers to see each others’ files. A revamp of a system known as nDelius also left some CRCs without access to files for a week. A second system, Oasys, has also been hit by glitches.

      Dave Adams, the Warwickshire branch chairman of Napo, the probation officers’ union, said officers could not record the hours of community service offenders had done, creating a “huge backlog” of work.

      He added that around 30 offenders on community service had to be turned away in Warwickshire alone that first week. Officers did not have their case files, so could not be certain that offenders were not, for example, guilty of sex crimes that would rule them out of working on school projects.

      Other offenders who should have seen a probation officer within days of being in court have had those meetings delayed because court orders could not be electronically documented. “Colleagues are putting in entries to case files, then find them disappearing,” said Mr Adams.

      Napo’s West Mercia branch chairwoman, Joanne Perkins, added that officers, asked in court for information on areas like how much unpaid work an offender had completed, could not provide the information as they could not access the files.

      “‘Firefighting’ and ‘crisis management’ are the sort of terms being bandied about,” she said.

      Yvonne Pattison, a Napo vice-chairwoman and a probation officer in the north-east, said the system has been dubbed “nDelirious”, with cases “just disappearing” from computer screens and others closing down half-completed as the Save button was not working. This has created major delays: serious cases involving parole reports can take up to two days to write.

      Ms Pattison said at one point that the system would not allow updates to breaches of, and amendments to, offenders’ probation conditions. She added that new glitches were coming up “all the time”.

    2. am confused Jim. - this article was printed in June '14. Has there been further news? I couldn't find anything.

    3. ML - well spotted! Old news - sorry guys - just assumed it was the expected Independent article....

    4. sadly, I don't recall the horrifying info in that article having much impact on the general public. Does ANYONE care, outside Probation??