Sunday, 10 January 2016

Airbrushing of Probation Continues

According to Mark Leftly writing today in The Independent, it looks as if Michael Gove rather fancies importing the idea of Texas-style 'problem solving courts'. The fact that it's nothing new and that probation have been involved in such initiatives for years is neither here nor there. The important thing is that it's a brand new 'idea' from that well-known home of liberal penal policy Texas and astonishingly probation doesn't get a mention at all. The airbrushing of probation out of existence continues:-    

Michael Gove eyes up implementing Texas-style courts that monitor drug users rather than jailing them

Lord Chancellor Michael Gove has set up a team to investigate how to establish United States-style courts that would monitor drug offenders rather than send them to jail, in the hope it could reduce prisoner numbers.

English and Welsh prisons are virtually full, and nearly half of adult prisoners reoffend within 12 months. Now Mr Gove has asked a working group of Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials, senior judiciary, and think tank experts to look at “problem solving courts”.

Rather than simply sentence people over low-level drug, alcohol or domestic-abuse related crimes, they would be sent on rehabilitation programmes, and have their progress overseen by judges who would interview them in court for regular updates.

Mr Gove visited Texas last year to examine how a Republican programme has cut prison numbers by sending criminals on intensive courses to deal with drug abuse, alcohol addiction, and mental-health problems rather than sending them to jail.

Although Texas is not known for a progressive attitude to crime – the state retains the death penalty – its “Star” courts monitor offenders who can be treated, and will only send them to prison if they do not attend scheduled meetings or hit targets set by judges.

The working group convened by Mr Gove meets for the first time this month and is understood to be supported by both David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne. There will be between 10 and 15 members, and it involves Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

Mr Gove is keen to gain the support of Lord Thomas so that he can get the plans past a judiciary who are concerned that such a sweeping change could be unworkable.

But many experts back him, including the Centre for Justice Innovation, which called for the establishment of these courts across England and Wales, in a report published before Christmas. Steve Brine, a Conservative MP who has pushed for these courts since his own visit to Texas in 2013, has written that it was “incredible to sit and watch lives literally being turned around” in courts in which offenders looked up to judges “in an almost parent-like way” as they praised their progress.

Mr Brine said last night: “I’ve seen problem-solving courts at work in Houston, and their recidivism figures are as impressive as they are indisputable. It has to be right that we explore how the concept can be scaled up here as we finally get away from the tired ‘lock them up or let them out’ mentality. These courts are inherently a Conservative approach because on one hand they help turn lives around, and because a smaller prison estate is at the end of the day a smaller state.”

A senior Tory source added: “This is a very Conservative proposition. Prison represents market failure and creates a bigger state. We, as Conservatives, want a smaller state – the Prime Minister, Michael Gove and George [Osborne] get that.”

MoJ figures show that prisons were 97 per cent full in December, with Wormwood Scrubs in west London, Oakwood in Staffordshire, and Dartmoor in Devon among those that were at capacity. In March 2014, there were only 265 free spaces out of 85,800 in the English and Welsh prison estate, and 14 privately run jails were asked to cram more inmates into their cells.

A prisons expert who has spoken to the Government about problem-solving courts said there was “a head of steam” behind the idea, and that the working group would start work “in the next few weeks”. The expert added: “There’s a process of ‘how do we implement this?’.”

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at The Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We welcome any exploration of the problem-solving concept. One of the aspects that problem-solving courts cover is a sense of checking progress and monitoring how people are doing.”

However, Mr Neilson said the working group will have to determine how to avoid putting additional strain on community services that have been badly hit by austerity cuts.

He argued: “These courts are certainly one aspect of how you could reform the system and reduce prison numbers, though I don’t think it would do that on its own. I certainly think that the big question is these courts would have to link into services somehow, and of course there have been cuts to local government services.”

Mr Neilson added that there is a problem with the system in the US because it had limited welfare. This meant that committing a crime that would be resolved in these courts could be appealing because it would be seen as a “route to welfare”. This would be less of a risk in the UK where there is a more accessible welfare system.

David Hanson, a Labour member of the House of Commons’ justice select committee, said it was “a good thing” that Mr Gove was investigating the option. He added: “For shorter sentences there’s an argument for an alternative to prison sentences.”

Mr Gove told the Magistrates’ Association last month: “I recently visited the US to look at the innovative ways in which the judiciary were taking an active role in overseeing the rehabilitation of the offenders they had sentenced.

“I was impressed by the potential of these problem-solving courts to contribute to crime reduction and personal redemption. I know all of you care a great deal about the rehabilitation of the people who appear in front of you in court and want to play a bigger part in that process.

“The Lord Chief Justice and I have discussed how we can learn from the experience of problem-solving courts in other jurisdictions, and we are both keen to look at what more we can do in this area.”

A source close to Mr Gove added: “One of the principle aims is to make sure we effectively tackle the root causes of re-offending.”

A senior prison reform campaigner said: “This will help reduce numbers, but it can only work with more direct sentencing reforms. The real driver of prison numbers is that the length of sentences has grown for people who commit more serious crimes. This is a political problem – ministers have to make it easier [for prisoners] to earn their release.”

There are concerns that the system could prove prohibitively expensive. There have been limited pilots of problem-solving courts in the past, notably in Liverpool, where it failed partly because of cost.


  1. There is no new thinking here, no paradigm shift. 'Problem-solving courts' is a rebadging exercise. After all, we know that anything 'Texas-style' must be tough. The Howard League have reviewed the concept and practices in a recent working paper: 'Are problem-solving courts the way forward for justice?'

    1. Abstract
      Problem-solving courts are not a new innovation, but their use and implementation appears to be growing across a number of jurisdictions, including the UK. This development suggests there is belief in the ‘therapeutic jurisprudence’ approach that underpins this style of criminal court adjudication; moreover their growth fits within the discourse which points out traditional criminal justice mechanisms too often leave the offender out as an uninvolved actor in the process (Nolan, 2001; Berman and Fox, 2009; Braithwaite, 1989). Processes that draw people in more closely, making them accountable for their actions, and playing an active role in their rehabilitation are more likely to achieve success at reducing reoffending and assisting people to live altered and reformed lives (Hoyle, 2012). This working paper provides some background detail
      on problem-solving courts and the central guiding principle of therapeutic jurisprudence, and argues court structures that assist people to construct positive self-identities and reintegrate into purposeful lives, and which empower people to play a role in their rehabilitation demonstrate a criminal justice model that has well-being at its core, and
      puts a human face to the delivery of justice.

  2. Shouldn't someone tell nice Mr Gove about DRR reviews errr done before the Court...until nasty Mr Grayling stopped it....reinventing the wheel again...

  3. 9.08-exactly what I was thinking.

  4. Sounds exactly like a DRR to me, formerly a DTTO. Yes probation has been providing these interventions to drug users for years. This was much better under to DTTO when probation was better resourced, the Orders were lengthier and court reviews were always attended. IOM built on this model and this has been a success for probation too. Surprisingly none of this is mentioned in the article. That David Hanson MP is a weasel as he was a Justice Minister so his comments should have included all of the above.

    Where's NAPO and the Probation Institute in all this, the "probation voice"? I assume their phones just ring and ring when the journalists call for a comment!

  5. Again, I would expect the Probation Institute to take a lead on setting the record straight on this, probation has been engaging in exactly THIS for YEARS until we were stopped, as pointed out DTTOs then DRRs. I always loved it when Judges gave positive feedback to service users (or more accurately endorsed the Probation Officers positive report when progress was made).
    Some ignorant Civil Servant will be getting plaudits for bringing in a system the CJS and Probation had been doing for years until they were made to stop. It really would be funny if our professionalism had not been so decimated.

  6. If these courts are introduced, there will be more work for CRC staff in respect of the provision of reports. Additionally, more work for NPS court staff. I assume this work does not currently form any part of the contracted work "bought into" by the companies running CRCs and neither will it be addressed by E3.

  7. 'A source close to Mr Gove added: “One of the principle aims is to make sure we effectively tackle the root causes of re-offending.'

    The Tories need to spell out what they consider to be the root causes and whether these are actually being aggravated by other Tory polices in the fields of welfare, housing, etc... And if they seriously want to reduce the prison population they have to transfer money from the prison's budget to improve social provision and stop shrinking the probation, youth and other services that help to facilitate rehabilitation and community reintergration.

    As a magistrate who was involved in the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre observed:

    'So very often we talk about the underlying cause of offender behaviour as being substance abuse; but that is not the underlying cause.’ That often comes back to issues to do with ‘welfare benefits, housing, living conditions employment etc.'

    1. The pioneering North Liverpool Community Justice Centre is to be closed despite efforts by Merseyside’s police and crime commissioner and the Mayor of Liverpool to save it.

      Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Justice, Shailesh Vara MP, announced yesterday that, following a consultation, the Lord Chancellor had decided to pull the plug on the court. The North Liverpool Community Justice Centre (NLCJC) opened in September 2005, bringing together a magistrates’, youth and Crown court with the full suite of criminal justice agencies and problem-solving services, such as drug and alcohol services, under the roof of a reconditioned former secondary school on Boundary Lane in Kirkdale. The idea was for a one-stop-shop for tackling offending in the local area.

      Police commissioner Jane Kennedy said: ‘I am disappointed to learn that the Government has confirmed it will be closing the Centre. I raised my concerns on two separate occasions, including in partnership with Mayor Anderson, highlighting our fears about the impact that the closure may have on the community.’

      In her original letter to Helen Grant MP, the Commissioner branded proposals to close the court ‘an act of unnecessary vandalism’.

      ‘I have seen the impact that dedicated teams and staff, drawn from criminal justice partner agencies, can have on the offending behaviour of some of the most troublesome and prolific offenders.’

      In a joint letter, the Mayor of Liverpool and Kennedy urged Vara to reconsider. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice told the Liverpool Echo that, following a public consultation, the secretary of state for justice had decided to shut the court down. ‘The centre’s workload has fallen to the point that it has become difficult to justify keeping a building open that is both expensive to run and has a low volume of work as a single courtroom centre,’ the MoJ said. ‘We are committed to ensuring we continue to provide court and tribunal users with effective access to justice while seeking ways to do so at a lower cost and alongside our efforts to improve the efficiency of the justice system as a whole.’

    2. 'as a magistrate involved in the Liverpool Community Justice Centre' there were no magistrates it was presided by a district judge namely David Fletcher and 3 other local District Judges sat in his absence and upon his leaving. The CJC was in a separate building that housed one stop agencies ie CAB, housing & vs but bit by bit the agencies withdrew their staff, the CJC only covered a small postcode area L4 & L5 and when fixed penalty notices and cautions increased it sounded the death knell for the CJC and the building closed. It is now in Sefton Magistrates Court but i'm not entirely sure what the remit for cases is now because the postcodes it presided over ie L4 & L5 are in Liverpool and the court is now in another juristriction Sefton.


    " Community Care ‏@CommunityCare 56s56 seconds ago

    Social worker vacancies rise amid concerns over AMHP and BIA shortage "

    1. If they let DipPS trained probation officers apply there'd no longer be a shortage.

    2. Similarly if they waived the requirement for CQSW qualified POs to be registered as a social worker on application.

  9. Probation Officer10 January 2016 at 13:23

    Michael Gove is well aware of probation's history and if not I'm sure the Lord Chief Justice is knowledgeable enough to set him straight. Who is going to be part of this panel?, surely not any of our TR-friendly former probation Chief Officers that seem to keep popping up?

    It was always understood that re-offending is prevented by working in partnership to improve literacy, job skills, employment opportunities, family support and access to housing, etc, and tackling addictions, health problems and mental health are key parts of the process. This was what the probation service did before some idiot came up with silly terms like "public protection", "risk management" and "desistance" to label and change what probation officers do.

    Sadly this has feathered the careers of countless politicians, academics and probation secondees to the Home Office, but has achieved nothing for the probation service which is no longer mentioned by the government in the same sentence as "rehabilitation" and "reducing re-offending". It's probably easier to ignore us; out of sight, out of mind and all that.

    'Tough on the causes of crime'?! Didn't Blair say that too?!

    1. Perhaps we ought to compile a list of ex-Noms, Probation Trust & MoJ bods who have shamelessly benefitted from the TR agenda by reappearing in the private sector CRCs in well remunerated posts. Paul Hindson is one such fellow, Janine McDowell another. If nothing else it will usefully drag their self-interest into the light & might help expose how nepotism & croneyism pays at the expense of delivering a professional public service.

  10. Wonder how much all that research is going to cost!!
    We've had community courts and domestic a us courts in our city for a while.
    I remember a good few years ago we had a judge from New York who spoke at our Trust's conference, advocating this

  11. Jeremy Hunt accuses some junior doctors, in going ahead with the strike, of political point scoring because they hate the Tories. Of course, the Tories never engage in point scoring. Tell that to the miners and opponents of the Trade Union Bill. The Tories always looking for the enemy within. And he has the nerve to raise the name of Nye Bevan in the same sentence as 'fuhrer'. Let's hope the doctors win this one. It may even inspire a probation fightback!

    1. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has accused “some elements” of the British Medical Association (BMA) of using the dispute over junior doctors for political point scoring before Tuesday’s strike.

      As hospitals around the UK brace themselves for having to cancel thousands of planned operations and outpatient clinics, Hunt urged doctors to reconsider before “rushing to the barricades” as hospitals are struggling to cope.

      In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, the health secretary attacked what he said were hardline elements within the BMA – the doctors’ trade union.

      “There is a tradition inside the BMA of taking very extreme positions against the health secretary of the day,” he said. “Nye Bevan, the founder of the NHS, was described as the medical führer by the BMA only three years after the second world war. So to a certain extent you take some of the brickbats with a pinch of salt. That’s part of the cut and thrust of the political world.

      “But patients must always come before politics. Whatever the political heat of the moment, whatever the anger in the end, patients have to come first.

      “Of course it’s a concern if some elements within the BMA are seeing this as a political opportunity to bash a Tory government that they hate. I am sure the vast majority of doctors are not in that place.

      “I think it’s really important that the BMA leadership rein in any elements who are looking at this strike in that way because that would be the worst possible thing for the NHS.”

      About 45,000 junior doctors in England have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action and will provide only emergency cover on Tuesday. The BMA has blamed the walkouts on “the government’s continued failure to address junior doctors’ concerns about the need for robust contractual safeguards on safe working, and proper recognition for those working unsocial hours”.

      The action comes at a time when the health service is already struggling to cope with patient demand across England, Wales and Scotland, leaving some facilities with more patients than beds.

      Hunt said the government is now going through the “exhaustive process” of contacting every A&E department in the country to establish whether they will have enough staff to stay open on Tuesday.

      “I know that many hospitals will ask consultants and other staff to step in for that day,” said Hunt. “But we also have to be honest that hospitals are stretched at the moment, There are some hospitals that have large numbers of vacancies.”

      Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer for England, told the Sunday Times she had sympathy with the junior doctors but wanted them to call off the strike. “Industrial action will lead to patients suffering, and no doctor wants to see that happen,” she said.

      Talks between the Department of Health and the BMA broke down last week after a hour when doctors walked out, claimed Hunt, who has been accused of megaphone diplomacy. The BMA said Hunt had not offered junior doctors meaningful, substantial concessions during three weeks of negotiations, which began in early December and resumed last Monday after the Christmas break.

      Dr Mark Porter, chair of the BMA council, said last week the government was still not taking junior doctors’ concerns seriously and had repeatedly dragged its feet throughout, initially rejecting an offer of talks and failing to make significant movement during negotiations.

      He said junior doctors had been left with no option and that the government’s proposals would be bad for patient care as well as junior doctors in the long term.

      The areas of disagreement include: plans by Hunt to scrap the system of automatic annual pay rises for junior doctors; how to stop hospitals forcing them to work dangerously long hours; and the demarcation of the periods of the week for which they receive only basic pay for working as opposed to overtime.


    1. The shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, has called for G4S to be stripped of its contract to run children’s prisons after seven members of staff were suspended following abuse claims at a youth offenders institution. Burnham has also called for a wide-ranging review of all the company’s contracts within the criminal justice system to be led by the home secretary and justice secretary.

      An investigation by BBC’s Panorama, to be aired on Monday evening, features footage taken by an undercover reporter working as a guard at Medway secure training centre (STC), Kent, which holds children aged between 12 and 18. The Panorama reporter witnessed scenes of children being assaulted by guards and using restraint techniques unnecessarily. In one instance, a child tells staff who are squeezing his windpipe that he cannot breathe.

      “What shocks me is that we’ve heard these things time and again, and every time we’ve had bland assurance from G4S it won’t happen again and yet it just carries on the same,” Burnham told the Guardian.

      On Friday, G4S announced that seven members of staff at Medway had been suspended following the allegations made by Panorama.

      Burnham told the Guardian: “This is first and foremost a matter for Kent police, although it is incumbent on the home secretary to ensure that they have all support and resources they need to cary out. Given that this looks like institutional failure on behalf of G4s, it needs to be a far reaching investigation that doesn’t just concentrate on the individuals concerned but also looks at what was done by those in managerial positions.

      “But more broadly it raises very serious questions for the government to answer. If these allegations prove to be true, then an immediate arrangement must be made for G4S to be stripped of this contract ... Given that this company in particular has been drinking in the last-chance saloon when it comes to government contracts, this feels like a failure too far..”

      Paul Cook, the managing director for G4S children’s services, said: “We are treating the allegations with the utmost gravity and have taken immediate action to suspend a number of staff members who are alleged to have conducted themselves in a manner which is not in line with our standards.

      “We take any allegations of unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour extremely seriously and are giving our full support and cooperation to the local authority designated officer for safeguarding children and the police as the investigation moves forward.”

      The YJB said no more children would be sent to Medway while the investigation was ongoing.

  13. Everything's being airbrushed. This exchange in Apr 2014 at the PAC seems to have disappeared from the archives. I'm still searching for the transcript but in the meantime I found this reference in the depths of the web:

    "Quote of the month: Payment by results (PbyR) is often held up by central and local government as the solution to performance management. I love this interchange between MP Margaret Hodge and a civil servant; it could have come from “Yes Minister”.
    Margaret Hodge Chair, Public Accounts Committee: “Is there any international evidence on this payment by results stuff?”
    Antonia Romeo Senior Civil Servant: “Very little actually”."

  14. After much searching, found it! Thought the following exchange between Meg Hillier & Michael Spurr from the same PAC in 2014 would be worth revisiting:

    "Q89 Meg Hillier: That brings me on to who will be working for the community rehabilitation company and how they will be deployed. The Report talks about the previous redundancies and the cost of that. I am very worried about the quality of staff that might well be employed. We have trained probation officers who are being lost and the companies do not have to necessarily employ people to the same training level. That might be a saving for the MOJ, but Antonia, you talked about it being a quality contract not a price contract. Convince me that that is the case because we are already hearing from probation officers on the ground that they are leaving. The Report talks about the redundancy packages, so there is some money spent on them going but there is no guarantee about the quality of the people taking over the role. Making that judgment about where to refer to is one of the most crucial parts of ensuring the system works.

    Michael Spurr: Do you mind if I answer that?

    Meg Hillier: No, go ahead.

    Michael Spurr: The first thing to say is that there will be and we have negotiated with trade unions and others a voluntary redundancy package for use where we have identified surplus staff and it would be available post-June when we have moved to the new arrangements of setting up the CRCs and the NPS, but I anticipate that that will be used primarily for corporate service and support staff; operational staff numbers, I think we will need largely to retain, because the aim is to expand the case load.

    Q90 Meg Hillier: Sorry, that is qualified probation officers?

    Michael Spurr: Yes. With operational staff, I have qualified probation officers and probation service officers. I absolutely agree with you about the importance of retaining quality staff to be able to do this work."

    Call the fire brigade because your pants are well & truly on fire, Mr Spurr - then & now. Evidence? Sodexo's antics of not honouring the VR & shedding more than 30% of qualified PO staff, Noms' backpedalling & not holding the CRCs to account over VR, and the current broader CRC plans to offload possibly 40% of staff.

    1. Perhaps you should send this to Ian Lawrence.x

    2. And to Jo Stevens MP, the new Shadow Prisons and Probation Minister he's been tweeting about! If they manage to find the Napo press officer all three could perhaps put their heads together and do a bit of actual work. The ongoing probation omnishambles needs more coverage than the Independent and Socialist Worker.

    3. Ignore that point about Jo Stevens, a quick Google shows she's already active in defending the public sector. This is from something she said in 2014 and she was right about being concerned";

      "Probation privatisation is unnecessary and risky. Probation professionals and independent analysts are all warning that this compromises public protection. Not even the usual suspects, G4S or Serco are bidding for probation contracts showing what a flawed policy this is. NAPO and people in Cardiff Central are right to be extremely concerned.”