Saturday, 19 September 2015

A Future for Probation?


From the moment Michael Gove stepped into the MoJ he must have realised what a crock of shite Chris Grayling had left for him. Yes we know teachers have good reason to loathe him, but he's not a bully like his predecessor, he strongly believes in the need for research to influence policy and he's cerebral, polite and I believe is capable of being reasoned with. 

We know he's already reversed several of Chris Grayling's bad ideas such as the proposed massive Youth Prison, indicated a willingness to give Prison Governor's more autonomy and announced an urgent review of Probation Officer training. This latter decision, right at the point his department was set to award a contract for training, must have seriously pissed off his senior Civil Servants and given their track record, that's no bad thing in my book. Some say he doesn't trust his top team and again, given the catalogue of departmental disasters, who'd blame him? 

It's obvious that things are going to be very different at the MoJ under Michael Gove and there's evidence that he's casting around for ideas and even reading up on penal policy matters and taking a wider perspective than Chris Grayling ever could. This has got to be good news and I find it noticeable that the new minister is 'keeping his powder dry' before leaping in with any major policy decisions. But he will be aware that things are going seriously wrong in virtually every part of his balliwick, CPS, Courts, Prison, Tagging, Interpreters, Legal Aid and finally, the surreal split world world of TR.

On top of this he has to make significant savings in his department and therefore it strikes me now would be a very good time for some serious discussion about how we currently do things and how they can be done better, more efficiently and with improved outcomes. So, where is this going to come from?


I have to say it always irritates me that some readers don't seem to understand where I'm coming from regarding Napo. A strong union and professional association is absolutely vital to the future of probation in my view, it's just such a shame that members have been so badly served by their leadership in recent years. It's not just about personalities, it's internal structural deficiencies that have long been known about, certainly from Judy McKnight's days, but have never been addressed, let alone acknowledged. In happier times, all these internal problems didn't really matter, but when TR came along they proved disastrous and may yet prove fatal to the future viability of the union. 

In my view, if there isn't some serious soul-searching at the Eastbourne AGM next month, Napo really is finished. We know membership is falling and with people being weary, angry and confused, my hunch is that registrations are down significantly. But people must understand that this is probably the most important AGM in years because the very future of the union hinges on it and it must therefore be quorate.  

For probation to have a future it must have a strong and vibrant union that helps set the agenda and therfore with some trepidation, can I urge members to consider a trip to the seaside next month? Please.

Probation Institute    

This always seems to get me into trouble when mentioned, but in the context of trying to save something from the ashes of TR and the immeasurable damage caused to our profession, I think we really do have to support it. Yes, I know all the arguments about it's birth, the unfortunate timing, the suspicions about Graylings motives, it being a trojan horse etc etc., but lets try and be rational here and consider a number of things. 

The probation ideal, its philosophy, the essence of it has to reside somewhere in a confused, surreal, split and generally hostile political world post-TR. Whatever the circumstances or motives for its birth, what is clear is that the MoJ mandarins were against it from day one and have ensured that the NPS has nothing to do with it. This in itself speaks volumes to me and gets my immeadiate attention. Why are they so anti a professional body? For a control-freak outfit, could it possibly be precisely because of it's independant nature? 

I suspect those at the top at the MoJ would rather have preferred an outfit that was under contract and hence control, rather than something independently run by the likes of probation-lifers such as Paul Senior and Sue Hall. Let me put it like this. If it would suit the MoJ control freaks to see the Insitute fail, may I suggest it could well be in the professions best interest to ensure that it doesn't?    

The Bigger Picture

Some readers may feel it's not significant, but I happen to think that the current changes in domestic politics brought about by the Labour Party electing Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson are cause for hope not just generally, but specifically for us in probation. For the first time in a long time, we now have people at the helm of the Labour Party who not only understand what probation is about, but also have a track record in supporting us. 

Bringing Charlie Faulkner back into frontline dialogue on Criminal Justice matters can only be good for ensuring we have a thoroughly competent and more intelligent debate on issues affecting probation. Just cast your mind back to the incompetent Liberal Democrat spokespersons on such matters during the time when they shafted us during the Coalition days. They are now history thank goodness and we now have a real opportunity of being able to influence a sensible debate on criminal justice matters and that can challenge the growing commercialisation agenda so loved by our right-wing Tory government.

On this last point, it's been brought to my attention that concerns are growing in America about what can happen when business interests get involved in penal affairs. This from USA Today:-  

Bernie Sanders seeks to ban private prisons

Sen. Bernie Sanders said he hopes to end the “private, for-profit prison racket” with the introduction Thursday of bills to ban private prisons, reinstate the federal parole system and eliminate quotas for the number of immigrants held in detention.

The Vermont independent, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, introduced the “Justice is not for Sale Act” with Democratic Reps. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Bobby Rush of Illinois. It would bar the federal government from contracting with private incarceration companies starting two years after passage.

“The profit motivation of private companies running prisons works at cross purposes with the goals of criminal justice,” Sanders said. “Criminal justice and public safety are without a doubt the responsibility of the citizens of our country, not private corporations. They should be carried out by those who answer to voters, not those who answer to investors.”

Taxpayers pay $80 billion a year bill to incarcerate 2.3 million people, according to the lawmakers. Of the nearly 1.6 million people in federal and state prisons in 2013, 8.4 percent were in private facilities. Ellison said the private-prison industry spends millions each year lobbying for harsher sentencing laws and immigration policies that serve its bottom line. “Incarceration should be about rehabilitation and public safety, not profit,” he said.

The legislation would reinstate the federal parole system, abolished in 1984, and increase oversight of companies that provide banking and telephone services for inmates. It also would end the requirement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintain 34,000 detention beds. Sanders said the bill represents only a piece of the major criminal justice reforms he believes are needed, but he’s convinced the issue can find bipartisan support.

“Making sure that corporations are not profiteering from the incarceration of fellow Americans is an important step forward.”

The Blog

Not surprisingly, with the profession going through the trauma of TR and many good experienced colleagues feeling forced to jump ship before being pushed, the blog is changing. The comment thread in particular is becoming ever-more fractious and now lacking some of its former erudition and insight. Nevertheless, my trip to the Leicester conference confirmed that it's been worthwhile and probably will continue to be a useful focal point for news, support and information especially in times of crisis, for some time to come. 

Even with readership now down to averaging 3,000 a day, it looks set to pass the 3 million mark by Christmas and despite the odd sniping, I still get enjoyment from putting it together. But the old adage about it only being as good as the contributions still holds true. If people still care about this wonderful thing called probation and want it to survive, I think we're capable of finding ways of demonstrating one of our legendary traits, that of resilience. 


  1. Whats the latest on Severance and redundancies in Sodexo. News on Purple Futures ?

    1. As far as I know, former - none, done and dusted. Latter - all quiet.

    2. My understanding is that the Bench administrators will have their employment terminated new years eve! The ones who've gone for the severance that is! I imagine the same applies for some back office staff. Perhaps someone from BeNCH can establish. Not sure where they are with their estates strategy though. My understanding is that even the so called Admin hub has not been determined. There may be trouble ahead.

    3. Sodexo severances start 31/10. Staff involved are currently seeking legal advice and have to have their signed agreements in by 25/9. Then the collpase of the CRCs starts as staff leave and the new 'make it up as they go along' operating model kicks in. Staff denied severance also leaving in significant numbers in some offices. CRC offices are still being sought in most areas and moving dates have been mentioned (but are unlikely to be met). Look forward to hot desking and pitiful interviewing facilities (think voting booths in election polling stations). Staff will be denied the right to display personal items at their desks and will be allocated storage room/lockers. Talk of sharing toilets with offenders, poor parking facilities for more staff than there are desks etc etc. It's going to suck!!

    4. The new operating model in the N W seems to be based on having a hub staffed with PSOs who would rather focus on the breaching and HDC enquiries whilst others work remotely for three days per week attending the hub where there will be insufficient desk space for everyone.........the other two days spent in the field meeting and greeting with offenders and recording remotely....admin will be in the divisional hub and processing forms and seeing as how we struggle to get information from one room to another now not sure how this is going to work in practice though staff will try their best to do so interview rooms likely to consist of partition spaces......not sure about office security which most practitioners will tell you is paramount whereas the SMT tell you that it's a work in process.....the recording booths are ready to go but I'm told that if they go down repairing them could be quite prohibitive given the complexities of their most offices have problems getting a photo copier that should be interesting but the question of expenses seems to be rearing its ugly head....are we allowed to claim for a coffee and cake purchased for an offender in a manager says yes whilst the other quotes policy now if at this late stage we can't get the basics together....lots of strategic talk but little day to day nuts and bolt thinking......rant over.......but still worried

  2. Jim, can you explain your comment "what is clear is that the MoJ mandarins were against it from day one and have ensured that the NPS has nothing to do with it" a little further? I'm in a CRC and so am unaware of any negativity from the MoJ.

    1. A number of sources, observation and impression.

  3. From Facebook: -

    " Howard League for Penal Reform

    4 hrs ·

    This article has appeared on the Sun website. Copied in full here, as it is behind a paywall:

    THOUSANDS of criminals could be spared jail to save millions from the Ministry of Justice budget, senior Tories warn. "

    1. That link does not work properly for me although it is correct - you might alternatively try: -

      AND scroll for the article.

    2. THOUSANDS of criminals could be spared jail to save millions from the Ministry of Justice budget, senior Tories warn.

      Justice Secretary Michael Gove is under pressure to cut the size of the prison population, sources claim. Experts say Treasury savings demands could see more crooks handed community service, early release or having shorter sentences axed.

      Campaigners urged Chancellor George Osborne to slash the jail population by at least a quarter, 22,000 lags, claiming it would make “massive” savings. One Minister said: “I’m sure Michael is coming under pressure from inside the Department to cut prisoner numbers. “They already get out at the halfway point, we shouldn’t be letting them out any earlier.”

      Tory backbencher Philip Davies said there were rumours that Gove was discussing the plans with the Chancellor. But he branded the idea “idiotic” and said they would be unacceptable to crime victims.

      Prison numbers have soared to 88,000 and there are growing concerns about the pressure on space in jails. The Sun yesterday revealed unions may also launch the first prison officer strike in eight years over low staffing.

      The Howard League for Penal Reform think tank wrote to Mr Osborne insisting “massive” cost savings could be realised if the “prison population is reduced and prisons are closed”.

      A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We do not comment on speculation surrounding the spending review.”

  4. Thanks Andrew - we knew it was happening hence the reduced wav worries that all CRCS are facing but it is good to see it being picked up on - what will the public think when people committing nasty crimes are let off with a slap on the wrist to save money?

  5. Earlier today I bumped into a former Admin colleague who left after deciding that she was going to walk away with her dignity and not be just pushed from pillar to post ( as close to her words as I can recall). She knew that her finances would be tight but told me she had not regretted it for one minute but most of all SHE LOOKED GREAT, honestly she looked years younger. She told me that she felt better than she had for years, was sleeping better and enjoying life and that she had not realised how much her work had dragged her down. Just thought I'd share that there is life after probation.....
    A PO

    1. Then get a new job PO. If your not happy then do something else. We live in a democracy and your not forced to work in any one job!

    2. And you (20:09) are not forced to be rude and unhelpful, but clearly you are being.

    3. Anon 20:09 you are so management mouth....the point I think that was trying to be made was to encourage those in a very deep despair of redundancy.....oops I mean voluntary severance of course, is that it may turn out for the best in the end! Come to think of it you may not be management you could just be HR!!!

  6. From PI ethical guidelines issued 18 Sept:

    "Value 1: We believe in the ability of people who have offended to change for the better and become responsible members of society."

    "People who have offended..." - who?" Do they mean "people who have been convicted of committing offences"?

    What is involved in 'changing for the better'? According to whose benchmark?

    "... become responsible members of society." Not everyone subject to supervision by probation service providers is necessarily irresponsible at the point of referral/sentence.

    Pedantic? Yes. Valid pedantry? Well, given the claim the PI have over professional standards & academic supremacy in the field, I would say it IS valid pedantry. It is this self-righteous arrogance & shiny sales spiel that fuels a dislike of & resistance to probation intervention.

    Probation never used to be like this. It used to be humble, self-effacing, genuine, engaging, effective.

  7. The comment thread in particular is becoming ever-more fractious and now lacking some of its former erudition and insight.

    The above statement is utterly deluded. When the hell were the good times, I don't remember.

    1. There are loads of good times. We're having a ball in our CRC. We've embraced the changes and never looked back :)

    2. I'm sure you are. Some forms of delusions can be quite enjoyable, while they last.

    3. anon 20:12 pure propaganda. my mate's in the crc and it's nothing short of a circus - I wont go into details but safe to say no building, not enough staff, caseloads through the roof - temps being poached from other offices - yes let the good times roll - may send jim a private email as you couldn't make it up.

    4. No-one claimed "good times". The comment at 19:19 observes a shift in approach by the 'professional' body from its raw (& perhaps more amateurish?) Napo days to the newly born pseudo-slick PI, which seems to be desperate to polish the TuRd.

      'Good times' can be had in any environment & are increasingly essential at times of stress & distress. Working every day with angry, damaged or abusive individuals is stressful. Immersing ourselves in & recognising others' distress is distressing. 'Good times' are an attempt at easing that burden. There were good times & there are good times & I hope good times will continue.

      The PI should neither condone nor collude with having the professional status & autonomy diluted, re-branded or removed by global pickpockets. My worry is that the PI is falling foul of the modern disease 'style-over-substance'; one symptom being when snappy soundbites take the place of clarity, another the noticeable aroma of TuRds.

    5. Labour Frontbench


      Rt Hon Lord (Charlie) Falconer QC
      Andy Slaughter MP
      Jenny Chapman MP
      Wayne David MP [Joint with Scotland, Cab Office]
      Lord (Willy) Bach
      Lord (Jeremy) Beecham

  8. I actually think Michael Gove seems like a sensible gut who is committed to driving up standards and letting research inform policy, rather than being purely ideologically driven. Yes, he fell out with the teachers but in my view a lot of teachers are incredibly lazy and resist any attempts to reduce their excessive number of holidays.

  9. A lot of teachers are lazy!!!! Isn't that the broad brush approach we actively discourage? What is happening to our profession?

    1. I know. I'm really beginning to despair....