Thursday, 18 August 2016

Probation Needs a Voice

“The rehabilitation revolution that we were promised has not materialised."

The above quote is from a press release issued by the Howard League on Tuesday this week following the latest HMI report on HMP Chelmsford:-
“The rehabilitation revolution that we were promised has not materialised. As prisons struggle, probation reforms have resulted in more people being recalled to custody – feeding the problem even more."
The press release reads:-

Chelmsford prison: Dangerous and failing

The Howard League for Penal Reform has responded to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Chelmsford prison, published today (Tuesday 16 August). Inspectors visited the prison in April and found that levels of violence had risen sharply, drugs were easy to get and the rate of suicide and self-injury was far higher than at comparable prisons.

Four prisoners had taken their own lives since the last inspection, which was conducted in 2014. One in five prisoners said that they felt unsafe. Much of the increase in bullying, assaults and fights was thought to be linked to drugs and debt. Half of all prisoners said that it was easy to obtain illegal drugs.

Work to resettle prisoners on release had seen the greatest deterioration. About 100 men are released from Chelmsford each month, but management of the process was weak and staff shortages were having an impact.

Inside the prison, many men struggled to get the basics, such as clean clothes, bedding and cleaning materials. Healthcare was inadequate, for which inspectors said that staff shortages, weak partnerships and poor clinical governance were to blame. Learning and skills provision was rated by Ofsted as requiring improvement. Unemployed prisoners could spend as many as 23 hours a day locked inside their cells.

Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: 

“This is the latest in a long series of inspection reports that reveal how the prison system is failing as it contends with the disastrous consequences of chronic overcrowding and deep cuts to budgets. Men are dying in Chelmsford prison. It is a jail where men can get illegal drugs but cannot get clean clothes or adequate healthcare. Violence and bullying are rife.

The rehabilitation revolution that we were promised has not materialised. As prisons struggle, probation reforms have resulted in more people being recalled to custody – feeding the problem even more. Cramming more and more men into these dangerous institutions is like throwing them into a fast-flowing river, to be swept away into deeper currents of crime.”


Note in particular this bit:-
"Work to resettle prisoners on release had seen the greatest deterioration. About 100 men are released from Chelmsford each month, but management of the process was weak and staff shortages were having an impact."
We know TTG is failing. We know it was never going to work and was just political rhetoric; a handy sound-bite; window dressing for TR and report after report from the Prison Inspectorate confirms this. As a consequence, there is nothing surprising in this press release because the Prison Inspectorate is pretty much confirming the same sorry picture in each report. 

We all know the situation is extremely bad and that prison 'reform' is urgently required. David Cameron and Michael Gove both very publicly said so and despite them being swept from office, there's still quite a head of steam building amongst criminal justice commentators with high expectations of something happening and soon. 

But it strikes me that it's only the Howard League that continually draws attention to the utter failings of the so-called 'rehabilitation revolution' that has so successfully smashed the probation service. Despite all the mounting evidence catalogued daily on this blog, you will look in vain for similar press releases or statements from the likes of Napo or the Probation Institute. According to the website, the last Napo press release was 26th May. Why, even the Daily Mail managed to earn praise yesterday from Frances Crook for their blistering piece:- 

Growing numbers of ex-cons being hauled back to prison: More than 6,500 current inmates were recalled after being released on probation

Prison is a ‘revolving door’ for too many offenders and is failing to stop their life of crime, according to a new analysis. The numbers of convicts being returned to custody after being released has soared over the past two decades, a campaign group has claimed.

Figures show that in June 1995 only around 150 inmates were recalled offenders. As of June this year, the number was 6,600 – meaning it has risen nearly 50-fold.

Campaigners claim this has put additional pressure on prisons that are already struggling to cope with chronic overcrowding, alarming safety problems and deep budget cuts. Offenders who are freed to carry on serving their sentence under supervision in the community can be recalled if they fail to comply with the conditions of their licence.

In the period between January and March this year, 5,185 offenders were recalled for breaching the conditions of their licence - an increase of 22 per compared with the same period last year. Under the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014, licence supervision was expanded so anyone sentenced to more than a day in jail receives at least 12 months' supervision on release.

Failing to report to a probation officer can amount to a breach, while criminals can also be returned to prison if there is any deterioration in behaviour which leads officials to conclude there is an increased risk of committing further offences.

In a submission to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Howard League for Penal Reform argued that the possibility of recall to prison as a consequence of a breach of licence should be removed.

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League, said: 

"Why are we sending men and women back to prison when they have not committed new crimes? Far from transforming rehabilitation, privatising the probation service and making more people subject to licence conditions has sped up the revolving door, returning people to prison and putting more pressure on a system that fails everyone. Removing the possibility of recall to custody would be a more sensible way to help people who are struggling to comply with their licence conditions."

The Howard League also described prisons as overcrowded and warned there has been a decline in safety behind bars since 2012.

But the Ministry of Justice pointed out that in the 1990s only offenders serving more than four years could be recalled by the Secretary of State. That was reduced to 12 months in 1999, and there is now no limit. There is also a greater range of licence conditions imposed than in 1995.

An MoJ spokesman said: 'These figures are not comparable. There have been significant changes to the way we manage offenders which mean comparing them is misleading. Public protection is our priority and offenders on licence must comply with a strict set of conditions. If these conditions are breached they face going back to prison. Safety in prisons is fundamental to the proper functioning of our justice system and a vital part of our reform plans.'

The Daily Mail article was based on yet another Howard League press release issued 
yesterday, 17th August, on the subject of recalls and includes this:-
“Far from transforming rehabilitation, privatising the probation service and making more people subject to licence conditions has sped up the revolving door, returning people to prison and putting more pressure on a system that fails everyone."

The question has to be asked. Why is it that the probation profession, despite considerable resources, seems completely unable to either field a public champion or even mount something approaching a spirited media response to the very obvious and mounting evidence of failings by the so-called 'rehabilitation revolution'? 


Postscript - is this the new voice of probation?


  1. From Gov's own document "History of Prison Population 1993 - 2012":

    "The recall population has grown rapidly since 1993, increasing by over 55 times
    – The recall population increased by 5,300 between 1993 and 2012
    – Growth in the recall population began in 1999, reflecting the change to the law in 1998 which extended executive recall to medium-term sentences (12 months to less than 4 years)
    – Between 2002/03 and 2007/08 the recall rate from parole more than doubled from 13% to 27%
    – Between 2003 and 2008 the average length of time spent in prison on recall increased. However, following the introduction of Fixed Term Recalls in 2008 (under which some offenders are recalled for a fixed 28 day period) average time on recall has fallen and the recall population stabilised."

  2. Also raises questions of why so many probation officers are imposing so many licence conditions that make it virtually impossible to live any kind of normal life so going back to prison is easier and why so many PO's are recalling people not for committing new crimes but for petty minor infractions which considering the chaotic lifestyles of most ex prisoners is hardly playing fair. You should only be recalled if actually charged with committing another crime and anyone who recalls for anything less should be disciplined

    1. Anon 8:08
      You're talking about waiting for there to be a next victim. Not an option.

    2. Recall to prison is for when there is an increase in risk to the public. This does not necessarily include when a new offence is committed; for example theft from shop. The offence will receive its own penalty through the courts, so recalling imposes a 'double penalty' so to speak. However this is a point lost on many newer staff, who appear to have been directed differently.

    3. I agree with 08.08, probation have contributed to prison overcrowding through increased breach rates which were encouraged by the probation 'get tough' target culture.

      08.27 plays the fear card, in talking about the next victim, as if probation was some sequel to the film Minority Report. But 08.27 needs to be a bit more discriminating: a victim of what – violence, shoplifting? And on too many occasions breach action followed missed appointments, which were more about the disorganised lives than increasing risk. It is also about the authoritarian nature of some probation staff.

  3. Whether it's prison or probation, unemployed, sick and disabled and even housing, this government has wrapped up all it's social problems, labelled them as commodities, and sold them to the private sector.
    It's a sickening disgrace that they should be very ashamed of. Viewing the most vulnerable, disadvantaged and incapable in society as a source of revenue is really indescribable.
    But the privateer leeches that have attached themselves to and feed off the arteries of the public sector still gorge themselves and grow far.
    Even yesterday G4S was back in the news because it's police workers were caught making fake 999 calls to boost performance and hit targets. Isn't this a recurring theme that we're so familiar with now it hardly raises an eyebrow anymore?
    Today's post is a good shout. And a fair one too. Why is only the Howard League that keep knocking doors?
    But I think it's not only penal reform that requires much more voices. It's the whole issue of putting vulnerable people (those with very offer no voice at all) in the hands of a very dirty and unsanitary private sector.


    1. Two police control room staff have been sacked following an investigation into claims hundreds of 999 calls were made at quiet times to massage performance figures.

      The workers, employed by G4S Public Services and working for Lincolnshire Police, were among five suspended as part of an inquiry into "test calls" made to ensure faster call answering times were recorded. A further two G4S employees resigned while under investigation, the firm added.

      Emergency call handlers for the force are required to answer 92 percent of calls within 10 seconds, or G4S Public Services is fined. It was claimed that hundreds of illegitimate calls were made in October, November and December 2015. Figures show 724 were carried out across those three months.

      The five employees were suspended in May and the company said two staff resigned before disciplinary hearings, which took place at the end of July. Two members of staff were dismissed and a fifth returned to work after being cleared of any wrongdoing.

    2. I thought making bogus 999 calls was a criminal offence?

    3. "I thought making bogus 999 calls was a criminal offence?"

      A very good point.

    4. The wrongdoing by the staff is apparent, but what was their motivation to fiddle the figures? It's all too easy to hang staff out to dry. Why did they do it?

      There is no criminal offence because they were 'test calls', not 'bogus calls' though this can seem a distinction without a difference. This from the Guardian clarifies:

      'Data for the control room seen by the Guardian showed that between January and September last year the number of 999 calls made to test the equipment were running at an average of between 30 and 40 a month and as few as eight in September. In October the number jumped to 139, then 236 in November and peaked at 349 in December. '

    5. "The wrongdoing by the staff is apparent, but what was their motivation to fiddle the figures? It's all too easy to hang staff out to dry. Why did they do it?"

      I fully agree. Staff should not become the fallguy's for the corporation. However, employing tactics that create false statistics for the purpose of obtaining financial reward, may be viewed by some (certainly by myself) as an act of fraud.
      I think such cases as this should be prosecuted in much the same way as cases of corporate manslaughter are prosecuted.
      Whether it's Working Links, G4S,Serco or all the others that have been caught with there fingers in the pot, massaging figures to attract maximum outcomes(and soon it could be probation companies), they all need to be held to account in a far more robust manner where the consequences are far more damaging to the companies involved then the slap on the wrist they get now before they sign their next contract.
      But I agree, it's not the staff at the coal face that should have to take the rap.
      It's organised crime really in every sense.


    6. Don't forget this, BBC website 31st March 2015:-

      Six employees at a back-to-work recruitment company have been jailed for a fraud that saw them falsely claim almost £300,000. They worked for Action 4 Employment (A4e) which helped people gain training to get into work.

      They made up files, forged signatures and falsely claimed they had helped people find jobs, enabling them to hit targets and gain government bonuses. Four more employees received suspended sentences. Following a 13-week trial at Reading Crown Court, four people were found guilty of taking part in the fraud in January. Six others previously admitted their part, and a further three were acquitted.

      Prosecutor Sarah Wood said between them they created 167 false claims which cost the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), which contracted A4e to carry out the work, £288,595. Some falsified files using the names of family members, while others offered bribes in the form of vouchers to get people to fill out false forms, the court heard.

    7. I wish there was evidence of organised fraud, a series of email, perhaps, from on high instructing staff to manipulate the figures. But such emails are unlikely to exist. However much I would like to see a high-level conspiracy by G4S to defraud the taxpayer, all we get are a few staff breaching codes of conduct. I don't believe they stood to gain financially by way of performance bonuses. The fiddling was brought to light by a whistleblower.

      It all points to something in target and performance cultures. Individuals knowing that poor performance gets noted in appraisals and capability assessments which in turn affect job security and promotion opportunities.

      Similar practices have flourished in other areas and even when probation was wholly in the public sector performance was manipulated to enhance standings in league tables. One minor example was counting short format sentencing reports as full reports as that had a bearing on central government funding. It was simply rationalised as working the system because everyone else was up to similar creative accounting.

      It's only the courage of whistleblowers and, hopefully, the ensuing publicity that inhibits such trickery. Those G4S staff would have known they were doing wrong, but never assumed that in saving G4S from financial penalties, they were putting their own jobs on the line. Always worth remembering if you are ever asked, or encouraged, to falsify something, that you will carry the can.

  4. Thankful that Jim Barton didn't get promoted and that Sonia Crozier got Director - at least she has been a Probation Officer and lets hope she has retained empathy and reasonableness. Sonia mentions enhanced support for victims in her statement, which is a popular line these days but will she consider the VLOs who deliver this vital service, and sort out the grade and pay issues. E3 under Jim Barton has destroyed management /staff relations. There is an opportunity for Sonia to change this negative culture for all staff in NPS but will she be courageous and deal with the bully Barton et al?

    1. In 2012 Jim Barton was Head of Commercial Projects, Staffordshire and West Midlands Probation Trust.

      This from the SWMT minutes of 15th January 2013:-

      Not surprisingly, NOMS has cut short Jim Barton’s secondment to the Trust and he left us at the end of the calendar year. His experience and knowledge will clearly be very valuable within the reform programme. This prompts us to review the role and resourcing of the current commercial unit which was set up in a different context than we now expect. Clearly it
      is sensible to conduct this review against the expectations of the Review and resourcing change management looms large in the priority list of
      issues that we will need to ensure we are equipped to handle. As the Board is aware there are concerns around our approach to the management of change arising from the staff survey and from the EFQM
      assessment that is covered in the Director of Executive Services’ report. The Board will be advised once the review has completed.

      Mike Maiden CEO

  5. Probation does need a voice. But it won't come from any NOMS appointee nor from the cowed, flawed union Napo. What about the "independent" Probation Institute? I suspect that's also in 'silent running' mode. HMI Probation are also economical with their words.

  6. Next Weds, 8pm, radio4 - "what point prison"

    Stephen Sackur chairs a debate in Nottingham about the role of prison in the 21st century, hearing from decision-makers, experts and an invited audience of people with direct experience of prison and criminal justice. Sackur asks which - if any - of the alternatives to prison used in other parts of the world should be considered in the UK. From house arrest and boot camps to naming and shaming and diversion, how effective would they be here?

    1. Its being held at the museum of justice (used to be the old mags courts in Nottingham), invited guests only. Wonder who, if anyone, will be asked to be "the voice of probation"?

  7. Change the subject slightly, has anyone ever had a situation where someone up in court for a burglary has been told he is not entitled to legal aid because it would not be in the interest of justice?

  8. Probation Officer18 August 2016 at 14:40

    This is very good news. Sonia Crozier replacing Collin Allars as Director of Probation couldn't be a better outcome. This is what we need, probation officers heading the probation service.

    On a related point, why has the director of NPS Wales been replaced by a prisoner governor?

    1. Probation Officer18 August 2016 at 14:44

      ... And from what I know of Sonia Crozier she can stand up to NOMS!

    2. "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." Now she's within the 'circle of trust' Ms Crozier is unlikely to be standing up to the NOMS bullies & has already explicitly stated she'll be completing the E3 task started by Allars & expecting NPS + CRC to play ball.

    3. Simon Boddis, former prisons commissioning officer, now listed as Director of Probation in Wales on


    1. Justice Department says it will end use of private prisons

      The Justice Department plans to end its use of private prisons after officials concluded the facilities are both less safe and less effective at providing correctional services than those run by the government.

      Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision on Thursday in a memo that instructs officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal, Yates wrote, is “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

      “They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates wrote.

      In an interview, Yates said there are 13 privately run privately run facilities in the Bureau of Prisons system, and they will not close overnight. Yates said the Justice Department would not terminate existing contracts but instead review those that come up for renewal. She said all the contracts would come up for renewal over the next five years.

      The Justice Department’s inspector general last week released a critical report concluding that privately operated facilities incurred more safety and security incidents than those run by the federal Bureau of Prisons. The private facilities, for example, had higher rates of assaults — both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff — and had eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average, according to the report.

      Disturbances in the facilities, the report said, led in recent years to “extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a Correctional Officer.” The report listed several examples of mayhem at private facilities, including a May 2012 riot at the Adams County Correctional Center in Mississippi in which 20 people were injured and a correctional officer killed. That incident, according to the report, involved 250 inmates who were upset about low-quality food and medical care.

      “The fact of the matter is that private prisons don’t compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons facilities in terms of safety or security or services, and now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that,” Yates said.

      The problems at private facilities were hardly a secret, and Yates said Justice Department and Bureau of Prisons officials had been talking for months about discontinuing their use. Mother Jones recently published a 35,000-word exposé detailing a reporter’s undercover work as a private prison guard in Louisiana — a piece that found serious deficiencies. The Nation magazine wrote earlier this year about deaths under questionable circumstances in privately operated facilities.

    2. If privatised services like the railways can't provide a decent service for it's customers, and that would be people who pay for the service's, then what service can those expect in the criminal justice system expect as non paying customers?
      Privatisation in some areas is just simply wrong. Very very wrong.


  10. It will be interesting to see whether MTC who own the Lonfon CRC conclude that if they can't get into prison ownership in the UK they may as well pack up and go home to the US and leave the pesky London CRC to its own devices as the unprofitable job it is turning out to be.

    1. Looks the like the US Department of Justice are unimpressed too

  11. I think your'e right 20:42. Sure there are rumblings at MTC headquarters this morning! The US may have saved us years of further misery of privatisation!