Monday, 19 December 2016

Guardian Readers Put Record Straight

Following the recent Guardian editorial suggesting that probation was 'failing' when Chris Grayling imposed the TR omnishambles, I note a number of readers have responded:-

The disastrous decisions behind troubles in prisons and probation

There is a contradiction in the argument that more prison officers will mean less trouble inside (Editorial, 19 December). The history of modern prison disturbances in England and Wales – from Parkhurst in 1969 through to Strangeways in 1990 – indicates that they occur for complex reasons. These prisons, and the others where disturbances have taken place in the last four decades, had their full complement of staff. Other disturbances occurred in prisons that were neither overcrowded nor privatised, and well-resourced financially. It is therefore crucial to get to the root of why prisoners revolt when they know, in Liz Truss’s cliched phrase, they “will face the full force of the law”. Prisoners knowing they faced the same consequences have not been deterred from revolting during this time. The point made by Frantz Fanon, cited by Black Lives Matter, can be applied to the prisons here: “We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe”. Responding to what happened at Birmingham as a law and order issue, seeking retribution and dismissing critics as being pro-crime and anti-victim, will undoubtedly fail and have potentially catastrophic consequences for everyone inside.
Professor Joe Sim
School of Humanities and Social Science, Liverpool John Moores University

• Prisons are shameful places, often violent, dangerous and squalid. So of course they are a problem. But the real problem is not prisons but imprisonment, one endpoint in the criminal justice system. Prisons have no control over their own business. They simply have to do what they can with what the courts send them, and the courts send them what sentencing policy requires. Brave new thinking is needed. What is imprisonment supposed to achieve? If we know, are there better ways of achieving it? If sentences are needed, how long should they be? Liz Truss’s only response so far has been to recruit more prison officers, but doing that (even if she can) will address none of the confusions around imprisonment.
Michael Sheldon

• Our prisons are full and the prospect of recruiting enough staff to properly look after prisoners is months, if not years, away. So we need to reduce the numbers in prison in England and Wales. Scotland has already succeeded in reducing numbers, but it needs political will. One issue to address is ever-longer prison sentences – in England and Wales we have fewer people going to prison, but their prison sentences are longer than 10 years ago for the same crimes. Yet there is no evidence that these longer sentences are either more effective or a deterrent. The reasons for sentence inflation are complex, but sentencing guidelines, the decline of sentence appeals and punitive rhetoric may all be to blame. The government could take action on all these without endangering public safety in any way.
Penelope Gibbs Director, Transform Justice

• The Guardian was strangely muted at the time Chris Grayling was pushing through the privatisation of the probation service, as if you too were convinced it was failing and indifferent to its fate as a respected and necessary public body. It is good to see you acknowledge that this was a foreseeable catastrophe (Editorial, 16 November).

The service was not failing, and many of the problems it had were the consequence of sustained government mismanagement and misguided target-setting, rather than internal incompetence. There is a clear evidence base for doing probation well, and there were, back in 2014, a cohort of managers and officers perfectly capable of delivering this, although many have now left their broken and demoralised profession.

The community rehabilitation companies that took over the probation trusts have been short-changed, literally, by Grayling, who brazenly overestimated the numbers they would get to supervise in order to attract their business. “Payment by results” is a fiasco, and the companies cannot afford to keep their third-sector partners on board. They are not coming clean about all that is going wrong, some may break their contracts, and the Ministry of Justice is doing its level best to silence critics.

Could the Guardian now throw the weight of its investigative resources into exposing this catastrophe in full? Public safety has been jeopardised by it, but beyond the specifics of that, exposure would reveal – all cost-efficiency rhetoric apart – how cynical the motives and wasteful the methods of privatisation actually are.
Mike Nellis
Emeritus professor of criminal and community justice, University of Strathclyde

• Your otherwise excellent editorial outlining the disastrous consequences for offender rehabilitation of Chris Grayling’s political decision-making for ideological purposes falls into the trap of suggesting that probation was widely considered to be failing in 2012. This is not true, as the Ministry of Justice’s own 2013 report highlighted that the performance of the then 35 probation trusts was either good or excellent against the national target framework. Indeed, many trusts had also received national and international recognition for their business excellence. The truth is that from the creation of a National Probation Service in 2001, which retained its strong local accountability through local boards and then trusts, Labour and then the coalition administration were concerned with central control and the move to privatisation. As early as 2003, the Carter report recommended the segmentation of service delivery so that privatisation and central control of what remained could be facilitated. It is Labour’s 2007 Offender Management Act that has provided the basis for the folly of the Tories’ Transforming Rehabilitation.

Every single home secretary and justice secretary since 2001 has taken the opportunity to attack probation, whether it was John Reid describing it as not fit for purpose or Ken Clarke suggesting that the 2011 riots were the consequences of failed offender rehabilitation. The real issue is not one of supposed failure but why a public service with a proud 107-year history, respected and emulated across Europe and beyond, has been regularly attacked. I can only conclude that decency, compassion and humanity towards those who commit crimes and the belief that with sustained assistance people can turn their lives round is now too old-fashioned and stands in the way of profits for global businesses.
Steve Collett
Chief probation officer, Cheshire area 2001-10

• While I agreed with the majority of your editorial, it was, like the Grayling agenda which it criticised, based upon a false premise. It stated that “in 2012 the probation service was widely considered to be failing. Few questioned the need for reform”. This is completely incorrect on both points: firstly the majority of probation trusts in England and Wales had been performing extremely well, indeed had achieved standards of excellence at that time, and secondly there were large numbers of people and organisations, the majority experts in the field, questioning the need for the so-called Transforming Rehabilitation agenda, which Grayling bulldozed through without any evidence base.

Community sentences managed by probation services had achieved a lower conviction rate than custodial sentences. It was the short-term prison sentences which resulted in the highest reconviction rate, and at the time of Grayling’s intervention probation services had no remit, except in the 18-21 age group, to manage these on release. Grayling spoke of a “revolving door” of custody and destroyed probation for not reducing reoffending in a group that they were not tasked to work with. Probation services were carved up by Grayling and a large section sold off to private companies. He and his team also had no understanding of the dynamic nature of risk, and those assessed as low and medium risk of causing harm are placed with the private companies, and high risk with the civil service section of probation. Statistics show that the majority of serious further offences come from the low- to medium-risk groups, and serious case reviews have counselled against increasing the number of agencies involved with risky individuals and the communication problems caused. Several private companies have disposed of professionally trained staff, seeing them as too expensive.

Having worked as a probation officer from 1981 to 2014, I have been heartbroken to see the shambles that the world of probation has now become. Most of my contemporaries have now also left their jobs as workloads have increasingly become untenable. Younger colleagues have either left to work in new fields or are currently struggling on in very difficult circumstances. Workloads across the board have now become unmanageable. This is both due to high numbers and the nature of the caseloads, coupled with convoluted systems of communication between public and private sector.

Grayling has destroyed a high-performing service and a profession. The revolving door he spoke of between short-term prison sentences and reoffending just got faster.
Jan Clare
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

1 comment:

  1. i will just leave this here....