Sunday, 13 November 2016

Compare and Contrast

Thanks to the reader for pointing me in the direction of the following MoJ promotional video, published quietly at the same time as the prison White Paper:-

Recent blog contributions:-

It makes me incredibly angry that the political establishment choose to go their own way for political gain rather than listen to people who may actually be able to offer real solutions. They do this to supposedly please the electorate..including all the pathetic mantras like 'tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime' or the ' Just say no' campaign. They should be listening more to practitioners such as probation, drugs workers and prisoners or ex prisoners for the solution. Also looking at the plethora of research around drugs, both here and abroad. 

My view is that prohibition does not work and will only fuel the dealers. This is certainly the case in prisons where it creates a network of dealers both inside and outside. Spice certainly seems to be one of the most harmful drugs I have witnessed in a long time. You would not see such extremes of behaviour, heart attacks, self harm with cannabis, although long term use can contribute to paranoia and psychotic symptoms in vulnerable groups but more as a gradual deterioration, whereas spice can lead to sudden psychosis. The poor man who slashed away repeatedly at his penis being a case in point. I believe that was in Bristol prison and the ex prisoner interviewed on the C4 doc. knew about that. 

Prisons and outside community are not separate, they are linked. The desperate situation of some men spending more time in prison than out is very disturbing. One of the men shown looked skeletal and it reminded me of the Victorian times when the desperately poor had no choice but to go to the workhouse and if they were classed as 'non deserving poor' would be treated inhumanely and worked to death. Prisoners such as some of the men shown have become the modern day equivalent of the 'non deserving'. 

Yet look beyond whatever their crime is and you will see the failure of society. The man from Lawrence Weston in Bristol pointing at his former care home. We all know how over-represented people who have been in the care system are. Also the shocking number of people with mental health problems who are behind bars, autistic spectrum and ADHD and dyslexia also massively over-represented. We have handed over the care and rehabilitation of of vulnerable groups (offenders are also far more likely to be victims of crime) to private, for profit companies. How wrong is that! 

I am a PO, getting a bit long in the tooth. I still want to help and make that effort but I know the company I work for are only interested in being target-driven. No one monitors the work I do with service users. All I get is my SPO asking why I occasionally miss an OASys deadline! It is soul destroying but I carry on regardless, although the situation is getting increasingly desperate for service users facing benefit cuts or going from job to job or sofa surfing. My job is made that bit harder by constant change at work, crap IT, lack of admin, poor office and reporting conditions, staff sickness, HR shrinkage, staff leaving due to cuts.

Like that idea of devolving prison and maybe more CJ services from Whitehall to stop them being political footballs, and I believe this is how sensible changes to change systems in other parts of the world are made. Obviously there still has to be accountability. But if CJ services end up working well or even just better than now it will bless everyone+whatever government is in. As someone posted this week, the political and civil service amateurs need to be replaced by those in the operational know, by organisations such as Howard League and by user groups+investment funds to make a realistic start.

Interesting comments about solutions to the prison crisis. I'll respond to a few points for anyone interested in reading. I think people ignore that prison numbers have steadily increased since 1950/60 and conditions have slowly deteriorated or maybe returned to the sorry state they were in Victorian times.

Staffing: Recruiting 2500 prison officers is a fantasy. Because of the poor pay and conditions staff cannot be recruited or retained. In fact the majority of staff that can be recruited or retained will probably be of the poorest quality. Let's face it, apart from the older prison officers hanging on for retirement and who deserve utmost respect, only the desperately unemployed would go for a job in a prison.

The Army: Sending in the Army is always an option but God help prisoners if soldiers are used as prison officers. It probably won't be any worse than the current management but it certainly won't be better. I remember a time when a lot of prison officers were ex-military and many were ruthless bastards. Yes they'd probably run a tight ship but is a military regime really the answer? Even if it were possible the Army has suffered cuts too so with an impending war in Syria I doubt they'd have the manpower.

Early release: I recall the last early release scheme to reduce prison overcrowding. Not going to happen with this Tory "prison works" government. Even if it was an option it would not work simply because this government decimated the probation service and let really crap private companies manage CRC's. They would be unable to manage huge numbers of short term prisoners because of the Offender Management Act's minimum 1 year supervision for all, and the crimes that would follow would end Liz Truss' career.

Drugs: Spice can now be tested for but as its synthetic this means it will be easy to design a new form to evade tests. We'd all like prisoners to use a less harmful drug if they are going to get high but no Tory government is going to implement a policy that could be seen to encourage use of one drug over another. If they really want to stop drug use in prison then somebody should get a bunch of ex-drug users/dealers (serving prisoners) for a chat as they will have the answer.

The solution: we have a culture of locking people up and branding them as criminals for life. This is very odd when other countries with lower reoffending rates place much less emphasis on imprisonment and delete criminal records to give people a chance. There isn't a UK solution using the current culture of justice and punishment. Because prisons are the main form of justice and punishment it is easy to 'lock people up, throw away the key and forget about them'. 

The answer is in alternatives to custody, use of community sentences, investing in a single probation service as the 'fourth arm of the CJS' to serve as both punishment and rehabilitation, and this requires suitably trained probation officers and a return to an ethos of 'advise, assist and befriend', not all this PbR and civil service code nonsense. There also needs to be a wider culture shift that requires state run community services to provide a minimum level of immediate support for offenders to stop offending such as access to benefits, housing and employment, which should be right through from point of arrest to end of sentence. This would save prisons for the most dangerous and the entrenched repeat offenders only, and with checks and balances in place to ensure the Courts are towing the line.

We could of course decrease our prison population by renting a Dutch Jail as Norway an Belgium already do. For prisoners due for deportation at the end of sentence this is ideal. The attraction for them well Skype for one, International calls for 1p a minute not £1 which our prisons charge.

It has been scientifically proven that chemicals affects the brain. The effect of Vitamin D deficiency sunlight causing depression has been known for many many years, More recently the lack of Omega 3's as in the prison diet has been shown to increase violence and aggression by about 40%. NOMS knows of these studies, but illogically disbelieves them. The science is fine nothing to dispute, so why not give prisoners a healthy diet, not just sufficient carbohydrates to sustain life.

Two cheap instant fixes for the problem. I agree with cannabis. A Dutch policeman told me its far easier to deal with stoned people than drunks.


On the subject of the MoJ spin machine, current probation staff might find the upbeat Facebook promotional videos aimed at attracting new recruits to the probation service somewhat surprising:-
"What's the culture and atmosphere like at NPS? Some of our Probation Officer colleagues share their thoughts."
Equally, those condidering a new career would do well to compare and contrast the following:-  

I could do so much more to genuinely assist prison leavers if I had a lower caseload. Some social workers have limits of 20 or as low as 10 and that is per child not sibling group! Government and private companies think we can field all this work out but what they get is limited lip service. As the 'key worker' I need time and that is something in short supply. I often end up doing family work which is vital but not really accounted for. Things like going that extra mile, calling the boss of an 18 yr old to smooth things over when he thought he had lost his job for swearing! It seemed to help and he is still working but I am pulling my hair out because I just don't have enough time to do all the supportive stuff with a caseload of 50 and all the targets to reach. 

The more support I give, the more the service users want to come in and see me to report problems. All stuff they should be sharing eg. One man on autistic spectrum close to hitting his partner, again worked on a strategy but he was back again soon after and I was too busy to see him, just called him later. Tried volunteer mentors but this doesn't free me up. Service users need more input to make a real difference plus joined up services. I am sinking! Would be so much easier for me if I didn't give a shit but I do!

This is how we've always worked - 'going the extra mile'. Sadly what TR has created is a service of nothing. The worse thing is that the private companies running CRC's are creaming revenue off this nothing and the MoJ/NPS are dumbing-down probation work. Probation support is now more about what we can't do which makes me wonder what we can do. I remember just a few years back when services were partnerships or in-house, and probation helped people. Now it's abysmal due to directors and managers stripping back services and tripling our workloads.

Offender - "Can you help me I'm homeless".
PO - "We're not a housing service, try the housing department".

Offender - "If you can help me get a job I can rent a room"
PO - "We don't have an employment officer, try the job-centre"

Offender - "I can't get there, I have no money"
PO - "Have you made a benefits claim?"

Offender - "I'm awaiting payment, I haven't eaten for days"
PO - "Try the food bank"

Offender - "Can I have a food bank voucher?"
PO - "We haven't any"

Offender - "How about a tenner for the bus and some food?"
PO - "We can't give out money"

Offender - "Why not, you made me come here"
PO - "You might spend it on drugs"

Offender - "But I am on drugs, that's why I'm here"
PO - "We don't have a drugs officer, try the drugs service".

Offender - "But I can't get there, it's a long way".
PO - "We can only give you fares to probation appointments"

Offender - "Can I have fares for coming here today then?"
PO - "Your last address is within 3 miles, our 'fares policy' says you're not eligible"

Offender - "But I'm homeless, I just told you so".
PO - "We're not a housing service, try housing".

Offender - "I don't know where it is?"
PO - "Try google"

Offender - "Could you come with me?"
PO - No, I'm busy, I have 50 other case"

Offender - "How about a lift, I'll wait until you're free"
PO - "Our 'car policy' says we're not allowed to take offenders in our cars"

Offender - "I won't be an offender if you help me!"
PO - "If you breach your licence I'll recall you".

Offender - "That's not what I meant!"
PO - "Time's up, I've somebody else to see now!"

Offender - "Can I use the phone?"
PO - "No"

Offender - "Have you got a cigarette?"
PO "No"

Offender - "My old probation officer used to help me, can I have her instead".
PO - "She's retired"

Offender - "Probation is useless, what's the point of me coming here every week?"
PO - "Risk management and public protection".

Offender - "Huh?"
PO - "See you next week!"

And that's about it Probation Officer! In its current form I struggle to see anything useful offenders can get help with from probation services. Even those POs that will go the extra mile have their hands tied. May as well sign on at the local police station instead of going to probation appointments. That's all it is really. Turn up, tick the box, and go back to where ever you came from. NEXT PLEASE! 

Accommodation help where I'm from consists of a group sitting in a room having your 'housing rights' explained to you. That's the help with accommodation requirements dealt with, box ticked, invoice the MoJ for payment. It's the same for everything, process and payment. There is a big issue just around the corner for a lot offenders, that some may or may not be aware of regarding benefit payments. Most offenders I know have a post office account (often opened with assistance from the job centre), but shortly benefits will only be paid into a proper bank account only, none will be paid into a post office account. So it's my guess that this will cause a significant problem for many, particularly those just being released who may have a post office account, but may struggle to open a bank account. Guess that's just going to be another headache for probation services?

You are nailed on with problems we face and a good post - if it doesn't fit in the box, we can't help. That's what TR has created. Unfortunately, we don't deal with objects that fit into boxes, we deal with complex people who have needs. Maybe the politicians need to give us back autonomy and let us do our jobs. At the moment, I am a glorified referral agent with no time to carry out any meaningful one to one work to facilitate genuine positive change in people who want to change. With the state of Prisons and Probation at the moment, politicians have blood on their hands. Never mind though, the general election and getting votes counts for more then actually helping those who need it. What a shameful country we live in now.

It's disgusting what consecutive governments (particularly this Tory one) have done to probation. The prison crisis is a direct result of Tory meddling. Where as I was once a very resourceful probation officer, I should now update my CV to state;

1. Professional box ticker
2. Extensive experience of sign-posting
3. Proven track record of saying "No" to clients.

We can do so much more, but this is what the current probation leadership wants (NPS and CRC), because it's what their Tory and privateer masters require.

As a Probation Officer, I work best on one to one basis. After all, having been in the job many years that's what I joined. I do tell people or 'service users' as the people I work with are labelled now, about personal aspects of my life - its called trust. As a PO, I have to delve into the personal lives of so called 'service users' (again not my choice of language but more imposed upon me by the powers that be!) so only fair to divulge aspects of my own life. It encourages engagement and trust is a two way thing on a one to one basis. 

Going back to my earlier point, I joined this job to genuinely help people - it's rewarding and I can give examples of the label that I will attach 'ex-offenders' who contact me at work to let me know what they are up to now. Now, that's not allowed. Its not in the box that this shite government have created. Instead, I am a referral machine. Referring 'service users' to the private sector or "third Sector" to tick a box and cover my arse and pass on blame to some poor soul who 9 times out of 10 has no life experience (no disrespect intended}. 

Nothing will be achieved as a result but apparently all is dandy according to the bollocks this government spins. Hate this job now and not what I signed up for. So many genuine and really good probation officers with an aim to really help people have seen this shite and left. A big thank you for the shite created goes out to the buffoon that is Grayling - you knob. No, too nice - YOU F****** ABSOLUTE BELLEND WHO NEEDS TO BE HELD TO ACCOUNT. But also Gove and also to Truss who seems happy to sit back and ignore the shite that is going on in the hope it magically disappears. Wake up - we're in a mess due to austerity and the fantasy world all politicians seem to live in where everyone fits nicely into a box. Apparently, people (or that blasted service user label) don't have complex or individual needs.


  1. Samuel Butler wrote a book calked 'Erewhon' describing a culture of imprisonment of the sick and mentally ill for the 'crime'of not being well. That was published in 1872. What has changed?

  2. Dr Gordon Cameron is a pseudonym. Memoirs of Her Majesty's prison Doctor by Dr Cameron. There is an article by him in the Guardian / website. Lots of relevant articles and comments from readers.

  3. Recruit more probation officers?
    Recruit more prison officers?
    Build more prisons?
    How is that a solution to anything? All it says to me is that the government are failing badly in all areas of the CJS.
    Why not recruit progressive thinking?
    Why not recruit understanding of the situation?
    And why not recruit solutions instead of rebranding the same old problems?
    It's all gone wrong, why spend money on more of the same?


    1. More prison officers in prisons and more probation officers in the community is exactly what's needed. These are professions that need to be done properly. Train them well and pay them well.

    2. Experienced trainers? Where are they?

  4. Probation Officer13 November 2016 at 13:45

    The video above is pure fantasy, there's not a prison in the country operating in this way. There always will be a place for prisons, but rather than building new prisons invest in properly staffing and running the ones we already have. The problems of drugs, violence and suicide can be resolved with proper staffing.

    It they want these rose-tinted regimes then changes need to be made. More emphasis on community sentences with custody reserved for the worst offenders. Prisons have the capacity to rehabilitate or just manage those in custody. Probation has the capacity, resources and skills to rehabilitate or just manage those preparing for release and serving sentences in the community.

    The savings reinvested back into prisons, probation and the secondary services required to facilitate rehabilitation and reintegration, e.g. housing, employment, health services, addictions services, etc. The over-policing, criminal records for life and increasing DBS checks need to go too, that's if ex-offenders are to have a real chance.

    The probation service has always been a purposeful CJS agency. It's not that more probation officers are needed, just better trained and qualified ones. The sad thing is that Probation used to be useful, respected even, before Probation Trusts and TR, and is what prisons were heading towards.

    Two quotes I leave you with from the former prisons inspector Lord Ramsbotham. That is before the Tory plot to whitewash Probation out of existence and replace it with a useless network of private rehabilitation companies, mentors and volunteers.

    "At the heart of ‪Probation‬ is the relationship between ‪Offenders‬ and the person supervising them" - Lord Ramsbotham

    "I'm concerned and disturbed about the whole way ‪Probation‬ is being handled" - Lord Ramsbotham

  5. I watched the above video carefully to try and work out the underlying message. It wasn't very clear what that message was. Leaving aside the prisoners, I didn't find any of the staff statements particularly enlightening and sometimes they didn't actually make sense.Not sure what the MoJ hope to achieve by producing this - who is the intended audience?