Monday, 8 February 2016

Turks vs Dinosaurs

We've been here many times before with some lively discourse between the old and new guard in probation, so on the day we're led to believe the Tories are finally going to tear up all that old mantra about prison 'working', I think these contributions from yesterday rather neatly encapsulate some key issues as far as we are concerned:-   

So instead of moaning, what about offering some solutions? Pisses me off. Everyone moaning and not taking responsibility for anything.

Take responsibility for what exactly? There have been countless solutions offered from pre to post TR. Nobody wanted/wants to listen because Probation is a commodity that has been sold. It's a sign of a professional and committed workforce when staff begin highlighting the glaring problems. There are many that continue to stand up for what probation should be. Unfortunately the buyers, CEO's, directors and justice ministers are only interested in how best to strip the carcass. Probation staff are increasingly unnecessary expenses and where they cannot be paid to leave, they'll be made to leave.

I think I am with you, although can sympathise with the 'stripped carcass' brigade - but mainly because I think they are sadly entrenched in their own set-in-stone old ways, and unable to see past the end of their own dependency of the 'old' rather ineffectively managed, and sometimes lackadaisical approach which had been allowed to proliferate over the past decade or so. 

Good, but ambitious Probation Officers (with that original 'social work' ethic) were promoted up into management positions, and from there on it ... all went pear shaped. Good and effective respected management is a skill in itself - which seems to have been completely missed, and by default very damaging, in my view, to the overall culture and workforce of Probation. But the world moves on; changes WERE necessary in Probation! (I personally wouldn't have done it like THIS), but some of the new TR initiatives are undoubtedly, the way to go, even - dare I say it - the Kiosks.

It's sad that more people aren't prepared to, can't, or won't, adapt their attitude, and embrace some of the new working model ideas going forward, rather than just moaning and being negative all the time. Essentially it is the same people/workers (POs and PSOs) who are still 'Probation'- if they haven't already jumped ship or taken the money and run; or sadly been made redundant - when what they really WANTED was to remain and take part in the new probation of the future (and I wonder how many of them there are!)? After all new probation, it is about the future of the service users, and their rehabilitation, not a bunch of old dinosaurs who are afraid of change. 

The fact is that a pre-TR probation service was hitting all its targets and reoffending was steadily decreasing. There is no "new probation" and the unanimous feeling towards what's now a shadow of its former self has nothing to do with "old dinosaurs afraid of change". Probation officers have dealt with and adapted to ongoing change over the past 25 years and those past and present, and old and new do not support TR. Kiosks, Cohorts, Skype, PbR, Catering companies, deprofessionalisation, removing degree training, ending local partnerships, closing probation offices, more for less, I'd say nobody supports any of this apart from the reckless idiots at the MoJ, NPS HQ and Sodexo Links CRC.

Your knowledge of probation history is extremely poor. Until probation was viewed as a business, the majority of CPOs, DCPOs and ACPOs had started as POs. So to state that things began to go wrong because former POs became managers is an historically incorrect analysis.

Goodness. Where to start..? I’m probably one of the ‘old dinosaurs’ you refer to but I didn’t get to be an old dinosaur in probation by being afraid of change. From as far back as I can remember the job has been constantly changing. New CJ acts with new sentences to adapt to, new interventions, programmes, latest research etc. The sort of things that made you THINK about what you were doing and how to do it better. However a common theme from all the research has pretty much concluded that the quality of the relationship between the supervisor and supervisee has contributed to the best outcomes, especially when set against working with good partnerships, good communications etc, all with a broadly similar aim. (Which has been support and rehabilitation – and therefore the route to a reduction in re-offending - rather than profit as a main priority.)

I’m interested to know which part of TR you see as being ‘..about the future of the service users, and their rehabilitation..’ and whether, given your apparent support for kiosks (for example) what you see as the basic components of such rehabilitation? Indeed what value is placed on ‘rehabilitation’ where this (as I think it must ) is also a drain on those lovely profits? Effective rehabilitation will never be cheap and in my view we shouldn’t be trying to do it on the cheap. It's an insult to service users, victims and the public.

There seems to be many people (do they see themselves as the ‘Young Turks’ as opposed to the Dinosaurs?) commenting who apparently think that assessing and managing risk is just about completing an OASys form in so many days and whose views about what constitutes ‘rehabilitation’ seem pretty superficial to me. It's been my experience that the best and innovative probation officers will always be those that have used their brains and questioned and challenged, not tugged the forelock and counted the beans.

Perhaps it's hoped that when the ‘dinosaurs’ die out those who are left will never have experienced anything better and believe that kiosks are the norm..(‘ hurrah..more time to prioritise those ‘targets’) but how can anyone work well with our client group and not question the wisdom of what this government has done?

Yes a lot of original staff with sound values remain, but between the stuff of TR , the ‘austerity’ agenda - which hits the poor the hardest and in many cases service users hardest of all (eg. try coming out of prison still with just £46 in your pocket and a several week wait for benefits albeit with an appt with the homeless section set up by TTG) then it seems to me we have had most of the tools we needed to do a good job taken away from us. We can struggle through and make the best of a bad job, but, sorry, I will never believe the service will ever be as good as it was again.

'Young Turk' back here - and first, let me address this point (about senior management), which confirms exactly my point. They were great PO's but not necessarily managers. It was way back then, when the service was managed by probation officers who were not management trained and weren't particularly good at managing a large public service organisation (at CEO and director levels), that the 'rot' (overly harsh word, but illustrates my point), set in. 

I agree, and am aware that there have been many 'political' changes over the decades, the varying of sentencing and approaches. Some came and went, and others rightly, in my opinion, stayed. However those were procedural changes - and certainly required probation officers and PSO's to 'step up to the plate' - which on the whole they did well. But such changes are not the same as 'cultural' changes, which led to the immediately pre-TR situation that had been reached in Probation. 

I strongly believe that probation should have remained a public service. And, should not have been split. But to be in denial that it needed - let's say, recalibrating, I feel amounts to looking the other way. It may have been 'meeting it's targets' - but offending was not reducing overall, and there was an increasing culture of control, punishment, monitoring, and breaching, rather than to my mind, the preferable holistic effective rehabilitation work I hope most probation workers would agree would be the better alternative (where safe)? So, the idea of the ORA I feel, was a sound improvement, meaning that Probation staff had the real and actual say in what, which and even how rehabilitation activities could be carried out - rather than magistrates. 

No one working in probation, in their right mind, is going to think that a positive and constructive relationship with a service user isn't 'king' in this 'business'. But, surely the objective for all people coming through the doors of probation is to help them to help themselves, and ultimately leave (probation) at the end of their sentence, living a better more fulfilling life, without further offending behaviour.

And, coming back to my attitude towards kiosk technology, I cannot see that, towards the end of the process, it isn't both positive and practical for service users, AND probation staff, if they are able to move to remote (kiosk) contact. Especially as many people are now very used to living life through a mobile phone, and dealing with remote communications. The kiosk, at the right time, leaves the probation 'professionals' to concentrate their time and skills on the new people coming through the doors, and leaves the service users with a way of complying, and accessing help and contact should they need it, in the latter stages of an order. I personally think that makes a lot of sense.

And finally, just to pick up on the point about diminishing qualifications for probation workers - I don't know details what the new plans are there? Are people saying they think newly qualified Probation Officers are (going to be) in some way sub-standard? I hear that the PSO role is being required to train to a higher level than previously. But at the end of the day, whilst the training is of course KEY and vital to ensuring a professional probation workforce, I still believe THE most important element are the people themselves, who decide they wish to work with fellow human beings who have offended. Their motivations, skills and talents - complemented of course by the necessary training - to work with people in a planned, and effective way, which hopefully reduces and ultimately halts offending behaviour for good.



    1. David Cameron will reveal plans for wholesale changes to the prison system including giving more power to prison governors and ranking the 121 jails in England and Wales in league tables.

      In a speech in London on Monday he will lay out a strategy to give governors “full autonomy” over how they run their prisons and spend their budgets, with six jails set to get “reform prison” status by the end of 2016 and half of all prisons set to acquire those freedoms by 2020.

      The prime minister will admit the failure of the current system is “scandalous” and say that prisoners should be viewed as “potential assets to be harnessed”.

      In a sign of how government thinking has been influenced by education policy, new prison performance data will be published enabling jails to be compared in league tables on measures such as reoffending. There will also be a drive to improve the quality of education in prisons, with David Laws, the former Lib Dem schools minister, taking an unpaid role chairing a new social enterprise working on recruiting top graduates into prison education.

      The plans will be included in a prisons bill introduced in the next session of parliament, and the government is promising to protect the £130m prison education budget in cash terms.

      Explaining the need for reform in what No 10 is describing as the first speech from a prime minister focusing solely on prisons since John Major in the 1990s, Cameron will say: “The failure of our system today is scandalous.”

      “Forty-six per cent of all prisoners will reoffend within a year of release; 60% of short-sentenced prisoners will reoffend within the same period. And current levels of prison violence, drug taking and self-harm should shame us all.

      “In a typical week, there will be almost 600 incidents of self-harm; at least one suicide; and 350 assaults, including 90 on staff. This failure really matters.”

      He will argue that reoffending costs the country up to £13bn a year. But Cameron will also make a moral case for a renewed focus on cutting reoffending through education and rehabilitation, saying that for too long governments have adopted an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to prisons.

      “When I say we will tackle our deepest social problems and extend life chances, I want there to be no no-go areas. And that includes the 121 prisons in our country, where our social problems are most acute and people’s life chances are most absent,” he will say.

      Cameron will insist that some offenders need to be locked up, that victims of crime should be the government’s first priority, and that “not everyone shows remorse and not everyone seeks redemption”.

      He will say: “But I also strongly believe that we must offer chances to change; that for those trying hard to turn themselves around, we should offer hope; that in a compassionate country, we should help those who’ve made mistakes to find their way back on to the right path.

      “In short: we need a prison system that doesn’t see prisoners as simply liabilities to be managed, but instead as potential assets to be harnessed.”

    2. Proclaiming that prison reform should be a “a great progressive cause in British politics”, Cameron will commit the government to publishing what No 10 describes as “proper data and meaningful metrics” that will enable the performance of different jails to be compared. These could include reoffending rates and employment outcomes for prisoners after their release, as well as information about progress made in literacy and other skills.

      Cameron will also commit the government to implementing in full the recommendations of a review of prison education soon being published by Dame Sally Coates, the former headteacher who now runs a chain of academies. She is expected to call for governors to have more control over prison education budgets, instead of prison education services being run through regional programmes.

      Coates will also work alongside Laws and Teach First, the programme that recruits high-achieving graduates into teaching, on a new initiative intended to ensure that prison education also attracts first-class recruits.

      Cameron’s speech is the latest in a series of initiatives in recent weeks addressing life chances. In his party conference speech last autumn he said he wanted his second term in office to be marked by progress on social reform, and No 10 is making a series of announcements now because it thinks domestic politics will soon be entirely dominated by the EU referendum.

      The speech will be warmly welcomed by Michael Gove, the reform-minded justice secretary who has spoken passionately about the need to improve prison education, although this will not necessarily have any effect on Gove’s decision whether or not to back Cameron’s campaign to keep Britain in the EU. Gove – a Eurosceptic by instinct – is said to be agonising over what to do, whereas most other cabinet ministers are now aligned with the in or out camps.

    3. "...Cameron will also make a moral case for a renewed focus on cutting reoffending through education and rehabilitation, saying that for too long governments have adopted an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to prisons."

      As always, never a word, moral or otherwise, to make the case for the work of probation - whether in prisons or the community. Here was a clear opportunity to offer true joined-up thinking and a meaningful agenda - a transformation of rehabilitation - across the justice system.

      But no. Its actually just another bundle of sticks which the Government can use to variously measure or beat to death their new victims.

    4. Tune in to a Murdoch news channel, Iggle Piggle is about to make his Tags-R-Us speech from HMYOI Onley, sponsored by Halfords. And maybe he'll take the chance to provde some justification for his UK immigration camp comments.

  2. Probation has been downgraded. I hear this loud and clear from the long term experienced to the newly qualified and soon to qualify. This is made worse because both the NPS and Sodexo Links CRC ignore proven ways of working successfully and plan to remove the necessity for degree based qualifying training. In the new world any untrained idiot will use the title 'probation officer (or offender manager) and nobody agrees with what this entails. The bottom line is that being a probation officer has become a badly trained, badly paid career with no rewards and abysmal prospects. The crap we're about to hear from the PM about prisons and tagging will not change a damn thing.

  3. The degree standard is not being removed from PO training.

    1. Yes it is. Probation officer qualification will not be part of a university degree.

    2. Nor was it when I did my DipPs. The degree was a part of the qualification and that continues under the new arrangement.

  4. Sodexo is ruining probation centres, officers claim - 'There is no privacy'

    "Openness with the officer is vital if meaningful work is to be done to address attitudes and behaviour"

    Article in The independent today

    1. The French outsourcing giant Sodexo has been attacked for turning probation centres into “McDonald’s” as part of its contract to reform the system.

      Probation officers are dismayed that Sodexo has introduced open-plan interview rooms as part of the part-privatisation of the service. In 2014 the group was awarded six areas, known as “Community Rehabilitation Companies”, in which it has introduced booths for interviewing offenders in open-plan offices.

      Officers have taken to social media to criticise the offices, saying that the format means delicate conversations can be overheard by other offenders and even reception staff. One said on Facebook that this was “unprofessional”.

      A second added: “It’s like McDonald’s. There is no privacy at all!! And we are not allowed any private interview rooms. Some of our best work is done one-to-one and recorded. These booths do not allow recording either. Sad times in probation.”

      A senior probation source told The Independent: “This is an issue on a number of levels. One, there is no privacy for clients expected to engage openly with their officer and discuss, in many cases, very personal details about their offence, life history and behaviour. Openness with the officer is vital if meaningful work is to be done to address attitudes and behaviour, and we believe that this model of working will completely inhibit this and make supervision a waste of time. Two, it poses a risk to clients if they are overheard or seen by someone with whichwhom they may have a history, either as a perpetrator of a crime or in fact a victim. Three, it poses a risk to staff, who could be caught up in the middle of any altercations between clients.”

      The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) decided to part-privatise the service – which now hands all but the most dangerous offenders to the private sector – in an effort to reduce costs and make the service more efficient. Sodexo and Interserve, the construction group, won the most contracts.

      A spokeswoman for the Napo probation union said: “We are deeply concerned about Sodexo using open- plan booths for interviewing clients. It provides no privacy for clients expected to be open and honest about their offending and their personal lives. It goes against everything we know works in probation, and providing a safe space for people to engage in rehabilitation is vital for good working relationships with officers. We are asking Sodexo to urgently review these arrangements and will be asking the secretary of state to intervene in this risky operating model.”

      The criticism comes after the damaging revelation last year that Sodexo had failed an MoJ audit of its work at the South YorkshireCRC Community Rehabilitation Company, including concerns over “serious gaps in obtaining domestic-abuse and safeguarding information at the start and throughout the sentence”. Sodexo could be stripped of this contract if it fails a second MoJ review this month.

      A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said: “We are introducing a new way of working, following research and assessment of how other organisations have undergone similar transformations. We aim to create an environment where service users can engage better. The safety of our staff, partners and service users remains our key priority. We will monitor these new ways of working very closely and will make adjustments if required. We are confident we can deliver these services safely and effectively.”

    2. "A Sodexo Justice Services spokesman said: “We are introducing a new way of working, following research and assessment of how other organisations have undergone similar transformations..."

      Pardon me for being dumb but I thought Sodexo won the bid to run six CRC areas because the MoJ looked at their proposals and agreed it. I hadn't realised they simply copied someone else's answers. WL, Purple, SelfServe, etc - cover your answers!!

      It all makes sense now - Sodexo is the fat, smug school bully who gets others to do their homework, who cheats in exams, who copies others' work and who steals everyone else's dinner money.

  5. "UNISON has submitted our response to the NPS E3 consultation."

  6. NAPO Press Release – Embargo: immediate release 08.02.16

    Prime Minister’s statement on Prison Reform

    Napo the trade union for Probation and Family Court workers agrees with the Prime Minister that there are too many people in the UK's overcrowded and unsafe prison estate and that rehabilitation and reintegration must be the primary objective.

    For this policy to be successful Napo believes that urgent action is also needed to repair the serious damage that has been done to the Probation Service following the Transforming Rehabilitation programme and that staff need to be able to properly assist with supervision and rehabilitative programmes.

    Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence said: ' Whilst welcoming some aspects of the Prime Minister’s statement, our members need the resources and support from Government to be able to cope with the numbers of Prisoners who are released back into the community and the taxpayer needs to be confident that there will not be a commensurate increase in risk to the public. We therefore call on the Government to urgently review the operational state of the probation service and review the huge numbers of job cuts that are being planned by many of the private contractors who are now running local probation services.'


  7. Just about recovering from the giant wave of nausea brought about by Cameron's hammy drivel. Didn't fail to notice that whilst supervision in the community was briefly mentioned it was not attributed to probation; but probation did get mentioned in the same breathy line as police, tagging & "monitoring of offenders in the community".

    As predicted on this site, probation as a concept & a profession has been "disappeared", greedily swallowed up by global pirhanas & the PCCs.

    Wonder what staff at NOMS are thinking now their Control & Command structure has been so publicly holed below the waterline?

  8. A Labour government will re-nationalise the probation service. Worry not.


    1. There isn't anything left to nationalise, papa, unless you can nationalise memories. C'est finis.

  9. Any attempts to improve prisoners lot is to be welcomed but shame there is no mention of what happens on release .i feel very sorry for those I've worked with who come out with enthusiasm and motivation to turn their lives around but unfortunately the hurdles are enormous no money no accommodation no employers willing to take on ex offenders ! My hard earned knowledge and skills as a PO come into good use at this crucial time but it seems that nobody gives a damn as long as the oasys is done.

  10. I would describe my self as an inbetweener neither dinosaur or Turk but I have a good idea what works and the wherewithall to try another angle when something doesn't work We are not canning beans we are working with individuals who have individual traits and issues TR is the death of innovation as far as I'm concerned