Friday, 25 November 2016

Guest Blog 63

Having attended a Westminster Legal Policy Forum half day Conference held in London this week apocalyptically entitled 'The future for probation in England & Wales' I thought that I would share with readers some brief selective impressions from the event (the agenda, presentations and speaker biographies are available on the WLPF website). 

It was gratifying on arrival to be greeted by the inimitable Professor Mike Nellis, who chaired the first part of the morning. His measured reflections on the pressing need to take meaningful stock of the whole TR enterprise, particularly in light of recent critical Probation Inspectorate, NAO, JSC reports (covered admirably by this blog) set the tone (if not always the content) of subsequent speakers. 

The NAO speaker crisply covered familiar terrain, contained in its recent Probation Landscape report, noting how the politically driven TR reform programme remained, using pat phrases that reappeared in other contributions, 'fragile, mixed and troubling' - with isolated pockets of innovative practice. 

In his presentation, the Thames Valley CRC Probation Director somewhat self-consciously decried 'CRC bashers', acknowledging the relentless pace of change, whilst remaining committed to the foundational 'turning lives around' approach which has been the hallmark of over a century of probation.

Dame Glenys Stacey (HMCIP) whose forensic Inspectorial lens appears to have confounded some of those who might have had reservations about her appointment, offered forthright insights on TR - she castigated the variable quality of ICT systems and made a point of identifying impending areas for the Inspectorates attention, the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR's) being one area of supervisory concern - which followed on from my question on the current lack of accountability & transparency from CRC providers in offering information to sentencers on this 'innovative' option which if unaddressed threatened to undermine judicial confidence. 

She referenced 'cassandra like' the forthcoming Probation Service Review (and the little noticed Probation Contractor report due before Xmas?) Such TR based reviews/reports seem to come out with unnerving regularity - add to this the OM custody review cited by another speaker, Sonia Crozier (NPS Director) worryingly high recall rates (an alarming 10% of women in HMP Bronzefield!) spiced with some upbeat news on recruitment figures - to offset planned redundancies? Drafting PO's into the custodial setting so that those prisoners eligible might be assisted to become 'parole ready'. 

It maybe of some modest reassurance to readers to note that a whole system 'love in' event with leaders from the NPS/CRCs is convening in January 2017 (location unspecified!) planned no doubt to offset some of these 'unforseen' chinese organisational walls which have arisen on many of the vexed TR issues that pepper Jim's blog.

Napo's Ian Lawrence pointedly asked the question 'have we been sold a pup' given the faltering TR contractual mess and he used his talk to focus on safeguarding staff against 'dangerous operating models', calling for urgent remedial action on failing CRC contractors, whilst mooting the need to proactively fight to retain a high quality training framework with a licence to practice, and to his credit responded well to one or two former service user voices in the audience (the inspirational User Voice founder Mark Johnson who was due to speak had to withdraw at the last minute) whose negative experiences of probation were all too evident. 

This point was somewhat tendentiously made in the short video clip that appended Paul Hindson (Blog passim) rather insipid presentation in which another service users negative experiences of probation was the opening clip (without wanting to diminish the client experience it was how it was stagemanaged) to an holistic multi-agency supervision environment that looked remarkably like a reheated IOM!

A batch of helpfully informational talks on amongst other topics 'Cloud-based' ICT/Sobriety Tags/Substance Misuse issues, the latter accentuated by the hurriedly announced Prison's Bill, followed as the second half of the morning pegged around TTG was chaired by the irrepressible Lord Ramsbotham - although the Nemesis of Noms opted not on this occasion to call for its scrapping. 

The perennial theme of 'hit the target - miss the point' surfaced throughout many of the talks (strikingly illustrated in the unbending 90% accommodation target for released short term prisoners - set against Austerity hit Local Authorities diminishing housing stock). The final presentation was from Martin Copsey - Head of Operational Assurance at Noms - although steeped in probation his deadpan denouement on delivering another qualitative framework to the troubled probation landscape was dotted with that 'organogram fetishism' much beloved of Noms - importing into his talk yet another acronym 'KLOES' (at which point I went into automatic mode) - Had I not already posed a question in the first half of the day I would have asked him in the plenary, do you agree with a recent commentator who described Noms as an unloved, unlovely bureaucratic monster, dangerously out of touch with its operational heartland!!

As always on such occasions social networking buffers some of the healthy scepticism that wells up when listening to yet more methodological heavy anodyne offerings - but meeting a representative from a charity in the coffee break undertaking sterling work with Veterans in the CJS was a most welcome tonic. 

With TR (like Brexit) at this historic moment a stubborn reality for practitioners, even if some of the private providers are tottering close to contractual demise, Mike Nellis captured the moment well - (an invitation to throw darts at a certain CG had he been present brought a subversive chuckle to proceedings!) when opining in his introduction on keeping the enduringly resonant probation ethos which was still very much in the balance and in jeopardy, alive (offering with his refreshingly wide eyed international perspectives the best of probation practice) and his rejoinder that with TR outcome still far from certain, the relational underpinning to probation practice is still something worth fighting for!! 

Mike Guilfoyle


  1. Ah, the silent but deadpan Copsey, a behind-the-curtain career civil servant fixed in aspic rather than steeped in probation. I remember the sharp dressed bully from Lincolnshire many, many moons ago. He never liked social work training, was very pro-control & punishment; he will have fitted into the Noms' organism like a missing jigsaw piece. What, pray tell, does Head of Operational Assurance do (other than pocket a £120k salary)?

  2. Just saw this posted earlier eksewhere. Thought it was pertinent, hope original poster doesnt mind?

    "Much bluster by uk politicians about the risks & calamity of uk businesses being bought up by overseas bidders & the impact upon uk jobs, viz-sale of SkyScanners for £1bn.

    Not a fucking peep when uk government sold off £800M of uk publicly owned assets (i.e. probation) & even paid overseas buyers to make uk employees refundant.

    We're All in it Together!!"

  3. Dame Glenys Stacey (HMCIP) ....... made a point of identifying impending areas for the Inspectorates attention, the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR's) being one area of supervisory concern - which followed on from my question on the current lack of accountability & transparency from CRC providers in offering information to sentencers on this 'innovative' option which if unaddressed threatened to undermine judicial confidence.

    Certainly in the Magistrates' Court confidence in this disposal is very much undermined already. Sentencers have no idea 1) what is actually involved 2) how much real activity takes place 3) how the amounts proposed by Probation in court reports (eg 15 days, 20 days) are arrived at and 4) no means of relating amount of RAR to level of sentence.

    Since privatisation of probation any contact between sentencers and probation has pretty much vanished; reporting of breach levels appear almost non-existent and indeed there is a strong perception that the number of breaches brought to court have substantially reduced.

  4. Greater flexibility in reporting frequency means fewer breaches. I avoid breaching like the plague. I would rather put half an hour into getting someone to attend probation than spend two hours on a breach which then gets rejected. Another thing that puts me off breaching: I don't get that two hours undisturbed, ever. And if I do take that time it will be at the expense of another vital task, which in this plate spinning CRC world in which I now work will result in further delays and frustrations, plates crashing to the floor. When I bend to retrieve one plate, others immediately come off their spinning poles and crash. What a circus.

  5. Hit the target, miss the point. The whole ongoing welfare meltdown is having a huge impact on public safety. My service user told me yesterday that he had been called to a meeting with a number of other benefit claimants and informed that from January his housing benefit will be cut by just under £500 per month. For him there are precious few alternatives to the street. He will of course look into what these might be, if they exist. But one of them would be to move in with his DVD victim ( index offence) .and occupy her spare bedroom.Well at least that will sort out her bedroom tax issues.

    1. I can't tell if this is serious or not but either way you're spot on.

  6. The RARs: a mystery indeed. The current London CRC wisdom is that the wording says: "up to x amount of days". That means we can do as many or as few as the need and risk of the service user demands. There is some assumption that the ideal would be to " send" the service user somewhere for their RAR. I have only ever been able to do this in three cases, and the service user accessed services which he had already set up in advance of his order: one was a psychological appointments, one was the AA meeting where attendance can be confirmed through a "chitty" system, and one was the local drug. Enter who are happy to liaise with us re people's attendance and are not perturbed by such a word as "criminal record". If none such options are open those "RARs" become supervision sessions work the probation worker. Why that would now be such a terrrible dirty word or undesirable situation I don't know. People who come for their supervision RAR with me get a chance to consider their situation with one other, me. I pay close attention to what they say, I reflect back, I assist with focussing their train of thoughts, I don't judge. Most have not had a chance to do this with anyone since they saw me last. They tell me they are clearer about what they need to do when they leave me. When they return they feed backto me how things have gone. It is personal and bespoke. Because I can no longer see people every week or fortnightly because I have so many and there is so much bureaucracy to attend to when I do see the service user I spend a good hour usually. I don't think we should be made to discount such bespoke RAR sessions as useless, they are useful and constructive. It is just that we need other things for the service users as well, like affordable housing, employment and social inclusion.

    1. I've had it confirmed that there is very time factored into the proposed WL model of practice for bespoke 1:2:1 sessions. The assumption is that all clients will be farmed out to other agencies more or less - whilst the practitioners sit in front of their computers furiously logging everything in order to hit cash linked targets. Problem is, the proposed 'suite' of 16 RAR activities (homogenous across all WL owned co.panties, is currently nowhere in sight.

    2. Sorry, should read 'very little time', and Companies (NOT co panties!!!!!!)

  7. Thanks for such a predictably helpful résumé from Mike Guilfoyle. It is reassuring to know some good work is being done with RARs - which appeared to me extremely problematical when they appeared in the ORB - but the Lib Dems and Conservatives in Government would entertain no serious amendments, & few in parliament seemed to understand them.

    It is a tragedy that special conditions in probation orders have morphed into RARs. Those previously extra conditions, which were initially added with great care, once brought such wonderful facilities like the old Liverpool and Camberwell DTC's that really kept folk from prison and played vital parts in enabling some damaged folk to overcome their vulnerability to commit crime.

    I wonder if the Labour Party Justice team had any representatives at this conference - I have had some minimal contacts with them but am pessimistic that they do not realise how crucial probation can be towards prison and criminal justice reform.


    2. People released from Scottish prisons will no longer be referred to as "offenders", under Scottish government plans.
      The new National Strategy for Criminal Justice said they should be referred to as a "person with convictions" or "person with an offending history".
      The government said the change underlined the "power of language" to affect behaviour.
      Critics said it risked suggesting that ministers did not take crime seriously.
      In the government's national strategy, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said ministers were "adopting a preventative approach, not only to reduce crime and the number of future victims of crime, but to help to create a more just, equitable, and inclusive society where people's life chances were improved."
      'Shift attitudes'
      The document goes on to state that: "after people have been released from custody or completed community sentences, it is vital that we support them to reintegrate into society.
      "We must be aware of the power of language to facilitate or inhibit this process."
      It added: "Defining people as 'offenders' for the rest of their lives, will not help to change their behaviours, or shift attitudes within wider society.
      "We encourage partners to use the term: person with convictions or person with an offending history, while also taking care to use language that is sensitive to victims of crime. "

      Pete White, the chief executive of Positive Prison, Positive Futures, said the stigma associated with the 'offender' label was significant.
      He told Radio Scotland's Stephen Jardine programme: "The justice system is set up so that people are punished for breaking the law and once the punishment is complete, do they have to carry that label with them forever?
      "Thirty-eight percent of the adult male population in Scotland has got at least one conviction and 9% of women.
      "If we're going to do something, even just one small thing, to reduce offending in Scotland, then if we can help people to realise that they can move forward and are not always going to be stuck in the past, then that's a thing that we can all do."
      'Neutral word'
      However, former probation officer Mike Nellis, who is now emeritus professor of criminal and community justice at the University of Strathclyde, said the move risked back-firing on the government.
      He said: "This is a well-intentioned move to expunge the word offender from the vocabulary of reintegration, but it could back-fire terribly on the government because there are lots of people out there in society and in the tabloid press who use much worse words like, 'villain', 'thug' or 'crook'.
      "The word offender is a descriptive neutral word that does not imply bad character. It means that a person has offend against the law. It is a useful word.
      "It opens the way for people to mock the government and suggest that they are not taking crime seriously."
      "To speak of an offender does not preclude them being thought of as a person. What the government seems to be saying is that by using the word 'offender', it precludes them from being people of potential. This is not the case and the important point that must be made."
      The strategy has been published after reconviction rates for offenders in Scotland fell to their lowest level for 17 years in May this year.

    3. 'Person with an offending history' V 'Offender'not much difference but the former will fill oasys boxes. Bit of a mouthful too!

    4. Trouble with the word offender is, is that it suggests an enduring state. I never did understand why the probation service, with its social work roots, was so willing to label people. I have always been heartened by
      A criminal justice book I read whilst training in 2000. The author never once used th e word offender; instead he used the correct term to describe a person's status in time - whether as defendant, prisoner, probationer etc etc. I adopted this model and have never used the word 'offenders' in any written document, delius log or verbal exchange. So well done to Scotland for attempting to drop the term. They may have come up with a clunky alternative for starters but I am sure the discussion will develop sensibly, and at least it is heading in the right direction.

    5. I'd agree, 23:02; and I'd also take issue with the surprisigly value-laden comments offered by the Prof Nellis, e.g. "Much worse words like villain, thug or crook".

      The term 'offender' is NOT a neutral word - it has become imbued with very negative and, as 23:02 says, enduring implications. Language is how we define everything and everyone and it is variously lazy, prejudicial &/or offensive to use words or terminology without considering the wider context, political imperative or current meaning/understanding. "It is a useful word" - the words black, gay, bitch, mental, paedophile, dog, blood, are all "useful" words... but equally can be painful, deeply offensive - even the tools of committing an offence - etc, etc depending upon how they are used. The word "offender" has acquired very negative connotations in the context of recent politics & the nomenclature of privatisation.

      Labelling Theory remains a powerful & valid argument against careless or perjorative use of language.

    6. To Mike Nellis-the term offender is a ball and chain that people find hard to shift! I'm shocked that you consider it neutral. Perhaps we should substitute Chris Grayling for smug, arrogant lying bastard? That's also neutral? Not!

  8. I can confirm that the number of breaches (throughout London) have dropped by 60 percent. The large majority of breaches relate to orders where the service user has not been seen for some months.Enforcement is now an agency whose primary function is to re-establish contact! (EO London).

    1. To EO London: in my experience enforcement has always been about re- establishing contact with the service user. It is a shame that so many of the breaches are so delayed though. That is to do with workloads being tremendously high in the CRC.

    2. The experience in London has been that the majority of CRC breaches are rejected for the smallest of reasons. Many are simply not resubmitted and no one on either side seems to care.

  9. Mike centre front stage pontificating as usual, come the time to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty and no where to be seen. Where is the new blood?

    1. Maybe Jim Brown used Guilfoyle's contribution because it was better than the one you offered him Anon at 19:57.

    2. A cheap shot 19:57. Mike continues to contribute what he can to probation. He attends Napo branch meetings where his contributions are always interesting, he writes for CCJS and is a regular book reviewer and contributor to Probation Journal. He attends many events and meetings and is knowledgeable. He has been doing some valuable work recently explaining to fellow magistrates about the problems caused by TR

  10. Here's a bit of blatant advertising
    for your RAR' utilise your local Attendance Centre!