Monday, 14 March 2016

A Warning About Tagging

Some very sobering thoughts from Prof Mike Nellis on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website regarding the future for probation if we don't have a sensible discussion now about tagging:-

Michael Gove and the future of electronic monitoring

The hubristically named 'New World' electronic montoring (EM) strategy, devised by the Conservative-led Coalition Government back in 2012, was a commercial, technological and penal fiasco and there is nothing to be regretted about its passing. If, that is, it has passed. We cannot yet be certain of this.

Informed by Policy Exchange and led by Chris Grayling, it had in mind to have 75,000 people per day on GPS tracking, and to dispense with radio frequency EM curfews. Nonetheless, what the plan revealed, once the secrecy surrounding it was stripped away, was a distinctively market-driven vision of large-scale high-tech crime control, a Silicon Valley-style ‘disruptive innovation’.

It was intended to transform the community supervision of offenders in England and Wales, even more so than the privatisation of the probation service, to which it had been, from the outset, a complementary, and possibly more important element in the Transforming Rehabilitation programme.

It had all been due to start in mid-2015. Nothing happened. The fact that it failed, in Grayling’s iteration at least, serves to confirm the idea that abstract, reified visions of neoliberal practice can not be implemented without viable institutional structures and networks which are capable of carrying them.

The complicated, overcentralised, four lot business model on which the vision was premised was never fit for purpose, as both Policy Exchange and Reform – think tanks deeply sympathetic to government – had already pointed out. The delayed, expensive search for a new bespoke tag, which combined GPS and radio frequency capabilities, was misconceived, when serviceable devices and software were already available on the market.

Market-friendly ministers

The new Justice Minister, Michael Gove, is no less market-friendly in outlook than his predecessor, and is indeed close to Policy Exchange. He was its founding chair back in 2002.

He has already had to clear up a number of Grayling’s policy disasters, and may well have more talent for finessing an EM implementation process. Like Grayling, he is a committed marketiser, an ambitious disrupter of public sector provision, and a confirmed Brexiteer unlikely to be receptive to cautious European models of EM use. He may also be more open to very punitive American models.

Crucially in this context, just like Grayling, he is hostile to attempting strategic reductions in the size of the prison population. Whatever GPS tracking programmes are for, they won’t be to help with that. Contrary to the techno-utopian hopes of some early US champions of EM – and Tom Stacey in England – it is probation services that are likely to be undermined by its expansion, not imprisonment.

Marshaling an evidence-base, as is now promised, consulting more with relevant interests and establishing GPS pilots are all sensible in themselves. They may also be means by which the Ministry of Justice can regain lost legitimacy in this area of policy-making.

Nonetheless, any sign of continuing commitment to an all-GPS system, or the bulk monitoring of 75,000 offenders per day will be evidence that commercial-technological factors, rather than penal factors, are still driving the vision and implementation strategy. This must be contested.

The challenge for penal reformers

But by whom? The temporary implementation hiatus in EM policy – and the hindsight about the scale of disruption that Grayling had been planning – creates a space in which England’s hitherto aloof penal reform bodies can and must reconsider their strategic position on EM in England and Wales. They need to be more than simply reactive to an approach they would rather wish away.

Such groups need to engage in constructive resistance, on the understanding that EM is now such an ordinary and integral element in a digitally connected world – a form of ‘coerced connectedness’ – that it is neither going away nor growing less important.

It is actually astonishing that debate on EM has been dominated by right wing voices like Policy Exchange and Reform. Their reports do contain, amidst some utter wrongheadedness, a number of sensible practical recommendations. But they have colonized the ground that the Howard League, the Prison Reform Trust and the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies might otherwise have occupied.

Historically, and from experience, penal reformers know, more than most, that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. For want of an informed understanding of the pervasive digital technoculture in which EM is indelibly rooted, they have come close to letting this happen.

Penal reformers need to enter the EM debate with – to use a somewhat pass√© term – a ‘hacker ethic’ in mind. With a sense that EM technologies are not solely owned by government, that they can be appropriated and deployed to better, more creative ends than those who control the dominant narratives about them have thus far been prepared to concede.

The future of electronic monitoring

Timely European Union-funded research by Professor Anthea Hucklesby and colleagues has highlighted the more creative and varied ways in which EM has been used in Europe, especially when it is integrated within probation services, as (unlike England and Wales) it mostly has been.

It is precisely because the various modalities of EM can – among other things – add a flexible element of control to community supervision that it is capable of enabling viable alternatives to custody, perhaps even supporting community justice. The fact that Gove has already decided not to exploit this strategic aspect of it is a massive own goal on his part, and an open one for penal reformers if they could just become more open-minded about the creative, niche ways in which EM could be used.

The challenge for penal reform bodies is pressing, because as Hucklesby and colleagues have discerned, in relation to Europe as a whole, a new wave of enthusiasm for EM seems imminent. Indeed it may already be underway. On past evidence, England and Wales will wish to be at the fore.

Hucklesby herself has quite aptly likened this upcoming wave to the opening of Pandora’s Box, but a more socio-technical account can be given of what is stirring below the surface, outside the penal field. Over the past two years the Bank of America, the Bank of England, the McKinstry Consultancy, the World Economic Forum and sundry economic and technological commentators have been forecasting a vast expansion of automation and robotics in global businesses. These will have far-reaching consequences for many middle class occupations.

Unlike the past, where mostly blue collar work was affected, it will be legal and welfare professions, particularly those whose working practices and processes have become so standardized that they can readily be accommodated by smart machines, that will be affected.

Let’s speculate that probation might be one of them. Many aspects of EM systems are already automated, driven by algorithms. While there is no inexorably mechanistic relationship between ‘the rise of the robots’ and EM as such, it will give further symbolic and practical momentum to ‘non-human’ approaches to increasing efficiency in and control over a range of business and administrative processes.

Coupled with that, many EM manufacturers are nested in and overlap with the same digital ecosystems and research and investment networks, and the same corporate futurist visions from which automation and robotics are arising. They will be emboldened by the same trends, which efficiency-seeking governments will facilitate and align with in greater or lesser degree.

It is tempting, in retrospect, to see Chris Grayling’s efforts at simultaneously upgrading EM and downgrading probation from 2012 onwards as a local, English precursor of these broader global developments.

They won’t play out in the same way in all countries. In respect of EM there will be greater or lesser degrees of modulation and resistance from established penal interests. But probation services and penal reform bodies need to become much more adept at shaping how monitoring technologies are used, rather than simply opposing the prevailing versions of them.

It is, in my view, impossible to resist EM in its entirety. It is also not impossible to sometimes use it wisely. But it may well be possible to resist the excess of it that Grayling’s disruptive ‘New World’ represented.

Grayling was initially confident that his would be the world’s first mass upgrade from radio frequency to GPS. Such were the delays (largely of his own making) that New Zealand got in first in 2014, proving if nothing else that his ambition was not wholly idiosyncratic.

In England, penal reform bodies need to abandon their lingering belief that EM is still a discrete and peripheral intervention that can be wished away or tamed by evidence, and recognize that it does – for better or worse – have the capacity to destabilize existing penal arrangements.

Mike Nellis is Emeritus Professor of Criminal and Community Justice at the University of Strathclyde and editor of the Journal of Offender Monitoring.



    Catch 22 who I think is in with sodexo

    1. Chris Wright: This isn’t austerity. It’s a correction. The sooner we embrace that, the sooner we can redesign better public services.

      There’s no doubt that stark budget cuts came as a shock to many in 2010. But it’s not 2010 now and, six years down the line, the same arguments are still on loop. This narrative has become boring and counterproductive, while the energy and resource spent on anti-austerity campaigns could and should be channelled into building something far better.

      This starts with recognising that current public services are not quite fit for purpose, and that cuts afford us an opportunity – to fundamentally challenge the orthodoxies surrounding justice, education, health, employment and social care; and to rebuild those services that focus on bureaucracy rather than people. Over the 30 or so years since I started out in social work, I’ve become conscious of how decent delivery is stymied by the increasingly transactional nature of service delivery.

      Central Government turning off the cash tap gives us a reason to reimagine a new vision of public services; and instead of ‘business as usual’, to focus on what really works – to become, in the words of Steve Hilton, ‘more human’. Our evidence from working with over 30,000 disadvantaged people every year proves that it isn’t form-filling that will change lives. It is building real relationships, supporting real families, sitting and talking face to face. Catch22’s innovation funded work Project Crewe, supported by the Department for Education, sees us supporting families in Crewe by reimagining and simplifying the current model of social worker case loads. Rather than building a team around an individual, we build a team around the worker. The vulnerable family builds one strong relationship with one person, and that person is supported by experts. A trusting relationship with one expert worker is proving far more effective than a parade of changing experts turning up every week. It’s simple, it’s human, and it works.

      Effective devolution will play an important part in this brave new world. While social problems come from the breakdown of communities, so too will social answers come from empowered and self-sustaining communities. Tight budgets also mean that we must be better at creatively sharing best practice. We are very excited, for instance, about the potential for the Academy methodology to be used within youth justice. We have long advocated that local prisons be “governed” by a governor supported by an entire local community, creating a sense of ownership and responsibility for what happens to those who end up incarcerated. These ideas seem fresh and modern, but we need only to look back to history to see how communities naturally took responsibility for dealing with social challenges.

    2. This sense of ownership stands true for businesses. The money and the resource needed to deliver great public services still exists, but we need to look in a different direction to access it. Businesses complaining about high taxes should cut the need for them by actively investing in improving public services. We must unlock financial and social capital – partnering with private sector companies in a meaningful way to access funds and expertise, or by working closely with a community to unlock volunteering potential. The green shoots of this are showing; we’re working with Interserve to launch the Public Services Lab in Liverpool, a new social business that will enable community organisations, charities and social enterprises to deliver public service contracts at scale. By co-funding with public, private and grant money, we will triple the impact of our work and unlock potential for an entire city’s voluntary sector.

      Austerity is the driver we need to bring about this change. If we accept that austerity is not a temporary state – not a phase that will blow over but rather the ‘new economics’ – then our challenge is not how we can do more with less, but how we can do things differently and more creatively to respond to the emerging challenges of a changing landscape.

      Chris Wright is Chief Executive of Catch22.

    3. Chris Wight who receives 130k annually is not interested in the hardship side of austerity. He argues that austerity is opportunity. Presumably if he set an example and took a pay cut and invested the surplus in Catch -22 he would have more opportunities for himself and his Victorian values. By his logic having less inspires innovation. Like so many ideologues he is happy to socially experiment on others, but not himself.

    4. "There’s no doubt that stark budget cuts came as a shock to many in 2010. But it’s not 2010 now and, six years down the line, the same arguments are still on loop. This narrative has become boring and counterproductive". Exactly, Chris. George Osbourne keeps getting it wrong & repeating the same old Geldofian mantra: "Give us your f***ng money now."

      By having more (£130k salary is "more" in my view) it is evident from his written piece that Chris Wright is uninspired. Why austerity? Why not recover 50p in every £100, or 0.5p in every £1, from income tax?

      According to one eminent commentator on the NHS 3p in every £1 would bale out the NHS & ensure world class free-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare, 24/7/365. So go on George, put standard rate income tax up to 23% & high rate up to 48%. Instead of handing the UK's coffers on a plate to your wealthy chums, try being a responsible human being and use that public money to provide for those who hand over their taxes. I'd rather be paying 25% income tax & still have a public sector PO job as opposed to being one of those culled by global parasitic practices. I'm fine with where I am now, but I'd prefer to still be practising in my chosen career.

      Would Chris Wright offer to pay more tax? As Nipper says I suspect not as he & his ennobled friends & family & Steve Hilton & the Eton Squad are far happier enjoying their 'more' for themselves.

    5. "So go on George, put standard rate income tax up to 23% & high rate up to 48%. Instead of handing the UK's coffers on a plate to your wealthy chums, try being a responsible human being and use that public money to provide for those who hand over their taxes."

      Heaven forfend - that would mean the Tories breaking an election pledge...

  2. Professor Nellis has proven himself to be very prescient over the years. This is a clear challenge to both the government and what might be described as liberal criminal justice informers who as he rightly infers have yet to find their way regarding electronic monitoring.

  3. MoJ Ministerial Statement today:-

    Yesterday the press reported allegations that former employees of the Ministry of Justice have behaved improperly and that knowledge they may have acquired while working for the Department has been used to gain a competitive advantage.

    We take all allegations of impropriety extremely seriously. We have launched an immediate investigation to ascertain the facts, which the Cabinet Office’s Proprietary and Ethics team will support.

    The rules around former civil servants taking up employment in the private sector are made very clear when they leave. Under no circumstance should they exploit privileged access to government contracts or sensitive information which could be used to influence the outcome of commercial competitions.

    Let me also add, that over the last 6 months, we have improved our commercial capability, more than doubling the senior commercial experts monitoring work with the private sector. But we know there is still more to do.

    I will update the House once our investigation has been completed.

    1. Civil Service World:-

      The Ministry of Justice has begun an investigation into claims that a number of its former commercial staff have emphasised their links to government while seeking private sector work.

      The Mail on Sunday reported at the weekend that several senior MoJ officials who had been part of the now-disbanded Just Solutions International team – set up to sell British criminal justice advice to governments around the world, including Saudi Arabia – are now working for a private consultancy called TDPi.

      The consultancy's website promises "a fresh approach to solution development in international justice and correctional services", and its team includes director Tony Challinor, who stepped down as head of commercial development for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) in December.

    2. To paraphrase an earlier post, "heaven forfend - that would mean civil servants breaking a code of ethics..."

  4. Trying to unpick the machinations of the government private sector/corporate interface is not an easy task.
    I have been keeping an eye on the development of this story and other threads relating to Electronic Monitoring for a little while now. It is no secret that I think that EM is a node that is of crucial significance and the ideas regarding reclaiming ground using the means that Mike Nellis describes so eloquently are spot on in my view and us probation folk would be incredibly unwise not to heed them. There are some very interesting aspects regarding todays telling harm minimisation statement by Andrew Selous in relation to Just Solutions International that we remember was the ambitious brainchild of the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling - very much in line with his personal neoliberal ideology.

    Michael Gove closed JSI down in September 2015. Whether civil service rules regarding ethics have been broken regarding inappropriate commercial activity we don’t know for sure. The Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer asked Gove to launch an investigation hence the subsequent involvement of the NAO who look at financial aspects of government contracts. I suspect that someone in a position of power and influence sensing the whiff of something rotten in the MoJ probably advised that Gove be brought in as a trouble-shooter to try to undo the worst of Graylings incompetent blunderings and mistakes before things got completely out of hand and to restore some semblance of governance professional conduct that appeared to be sadly lacking. A lot of disgruntled people have left the MoJ in recent times and also some people who were armed with some very commercially sensitive information of great value to private sector interests. I am surprised however that Gove decided to inform MPs at the time that JSI was closed because ‘of the need to focus departmental resources on domestic priorities’. That isnt even half the story. What became of those resources who were privy to so much? However, it now looks as if it wasn't just an apparent concern with Saudi prisons but potentially a lot more besides. Gove must be a very worried man at the moment and spending a lot of time with high powered lawyers taking advice. The way the MoJ crisis will be carefully handled will no doubt become of increasing interest.

    It may well be the case that the investigation of JSI will reveal a seething putrid mess in the most Grayling contaminated regions at the heart of the MoJ. The same MoJ that was involved in an unprecedented number of secret contract negotiations in relation to probation during TR some of which involved multinational corporations that are arguably now wreaking havoc in our criminal justice system. We remember Grayling wanted to open up probation to the market to encourage innovation. We will also remember that Graylings Permament Secretary Ursula Brennan also responded to criticisms by the Public Accounts by saying the MoJ were bringing in expertise to the MoJ because of the complexities involved and the high turnover of staff being poached by private companies. Can we speculate that this might have been for their usefulness to bidders for their inside knowledge? Both Grayling and Brennan -though not lawyers- have already recieved unprecedented honours and Jeremy Wright who was a lawyer made Attorney General despite Graylings legal 'reforms' now having been abandoned as unworkable nonsense. We can only wonder what honours the private sector might eventually bestow upon them for all their work including TR.

    I think that the public deserves to know what has been done in their name and there therefore needs to be an urgent independent investigation into what now appears to be an increasingly dark heart at the MoJ and a thorough examination of all contracts and activities that took place during Chris Graylings time as Justice Secretary.

  5. Probation Officer14 March 2016 at 22:31

    Thanks to Mike Nellis for challenging those that want to profit from justice at the expense of 'what works'. GPs monitoring is nothing more than a way for Tories and their rich friends to make money.

    Shame on Napo and the Probation Institute for keeping ever silent and helping the government's 'kill off probation' agenda. The PI's latest 'position paper' really outlines its position on probation. This rambling article about prison reform and alternatives does not include the word 'probation', not even once! More evidence that the PI is a TR Trojan horse.

  6. Research paper on EM introduced at Probation Centenary Conference by Prof Nellis. Comparative study with one of the Scandinavian countries. Who funds research? Whose best interests are served. Radical proposals even back then about extending EM in the UK.

  7. MoJ senior civil servants under investigation. This is on par with the HMIP chief inspector being married to Sodexo.

    "The Mail on Sunday said that Challinor was one of several senior MoJ officials who had recently left Whitehall to take up jobs with TDPi. In the months before they left their Whitehall jobs, TDPi’s UK branch had helped secure contracts that would be worth more than £600m by 2020 for a US company, MTCnovo, to run probation services in London and the Thames Valley as well as Rainsbrook secure training centre in Northamptonshire."

    1. If these allegations prove to be true then the TR bid process would have been utterly unfair with some bidders being informed exactly what to say or do to win government contracts worth millions. Presumably those organisations that lost out will be able to seek compensation from the government as the bidding process would have been corrupt.

    2. It's all coming out