But the sin is far worse than that because, as the following story from Manchester admirably demonstrates, everywhere innovation is being driven out of a once gold standard service:-
'It's ripped my heart out': Ex cons' despair as Manchester probation group has Government funding pulled
A group of ex-offenders are fearing for their futures as they stand to lose their beloved Manchester community probation group. The HOPE (Hope Outside Prison Environments) Project, which supports ex-offenders in the community, has been funded by the Government for the past six months, having previously been funded by the NHS. But the decision has now been made to end the project’s financial support, which currently has capacity for 20-30 clients, and it will finish at the end of April. One HOPE client told MM:
“I feel like my heart’s been ripped out. My life has been turned around by this project. Here you’re being treated like a human being. It has a real impact on your mental health.”Clients stand to lose a tight-knit support network alongside activities like cooking classes and boxing which provide them with support, builds self-esteem and a routine unlike anything else on offer in Manchester. Another explained he feared his mental health would suffer without HOPE support.
“There’s nothing else like this with good role models and like-minded people,” he said. “The support they give is above and beyond help I’ve ever had before. Without it I would be isolated.”
A weekly reading group currently takes place each Thursday for those who want to give shared reading a try. Due to the cuts, HOPE’s partnership with The Reader, who run the group, will also end this month. Session leader and Reader in Residence for Greater Manchester West NHS, Kate Hughes-Jenkins, told MM:
“Losing this group is really hard. You get to know them well and develop relationships. It’s frustrating to know there currently isn’t anything we can offer instead.”The reading group is just one part of HOPE’s holistic approach, which HOPE Project Manager Sue Casey believes is seldom used elsewhere in the probation service. They also welcome back ex-clients who still struggle post-probation. Ms Casey, told MM:
“The Project gives people hope, belief. I’ve put my heart and soul into this project. Without Hope it’s almost like I have no hope. The project is a life saver. Offending is instant gratification. We provide positive alternatives, like the boxing. With the reading, they hear a voice telling them a story, something many of them never had as children. It’s like putting back that part that is missing. Probation is risk management, and we take risks with people by having them in the community. We see them as a person, rather than a label. But for this government, management seems more important than rehabilitation.”Ms Casey, who will return to an office role for the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) when the project ends, teamed up with one HOPE client to work out the costs involved if he were to ever end up reoffending. It was around £157,000 for one year.
“They aren’t thinking of the long term higher costs,” she said.
Labour politician and life peer Lord Bradley, who has been a champion of the HOPE, attended the reading group’s penultimate session on Thursday to hear concerns to take to the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). “Invariably the alternative to this group is back through the system, and then there are the expenses involved in that,” he said.
At this point, the group do not know what, if anything, will be done to keep some activities running when the project finishes.
By a strange coincidence, I was recently looking around on the internet for something unconnected to probation and I came across the following obituary in the Guardian. I think it not only rather neatly illustrates our proud history of innovating, but also the nature and calibre of leadership in times past:-
Michael Varah, who has died aged 62, was the former chief probation officer of Surrey and a Great Britain international 800 metres record holder. He was the eldest of triplet brothers born to Chad and Susan Varah. His father was rector of St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London, where he started the Samaritans in 1953; his mother, apart from raising five children, was the world president of the Mothers' Union in the 1970s.
By the age of 18, Michael was a national schoolboy 800m champion; he later ran for Great Britain in the World Student Games in Tokyo, and the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica, plus several international meetings. He went on to captain Loughborough College athletics team, and in 1966, at Crystal Palace, broke an unusual world record by 2.4 seconds in the 4 x 800m relay.
After graduation, he joined Rugby school as the director of physical education. In his own time, he began to work as a volunteer education tutor at Onley Borstal, then decided to train as a probation officer and joined the Warwickshire service in 1973.
The qualities that marked him out as an outstanding athlete shone in his probation career: determination, energy, leadership and the courage to break new ground. Early in his career, he created the Rugby Mayday Trust for homeless ex-offenders, which now runs several hundred housing units for the vulnerable homeless.
He extended his repertoire of experience by working as an assistant chief probation officer in inner-city Birmingham in 1985, when the city was scarred by industrial collapse and racial tension. Michael was impressed by the scale of unemployment, particularly among poorly educated offenders.
After he became the chief officer in Surrey in 1988 he devoted much of his time to setting up the Surrey Springboard Trust, providing training, vocational skills and jobs for unemployed offenders. He played a key role in raising over £4m for this.
In an unorthodox move, Michael sent 32 offenders on community service to work for a fortnight in a poorly maintained children's hospital in Romania, doing essential repairs under professional supervision. None reoffended; two years later, nine of them returned to do more electrical and plumbing work under their own steam.
Michael retired in 2004, having raised the reputation of the Surrey service to the highest levels. He was appointed a deputy lieutenant and was to have been the high sheriff of Surrey in 2008-09. He was a national trustee for Victim Support and the Samaritans and a part-time panel member of employment tribunals in Surrey.
Michael had an extraordinary capacity for friendships - people knew they were special in his eyes - and a scurrilous wit that made him the centre of any room that he was in.
He was disappointed by the government's gradual demolition of the probation service. Not long before he died he noted: "It is a pity successive governments cannot get their act together - they all need to be put on probation and find that change takes time."