Sunday, 28 February 2016

Pick of the Week 2

Time to resurrect this feature I think. Some contributions that particularly caught my eye over the last week:-

It was obvious to all with the possible exception of every greedy CRC company, Chris Grayling and every spineless CEO who failed to utter a word against TR, that in Year one the only way that savings could be made was to cull staff.....tick......now going into Year two they are realising that the promised profits are just projections not worth the paper they were printed on therefore go back to the tried and trusted getting rid of staff with the excuse of restructuring......tick......now the next year will be even more interesting as there will hardly be any staff to cull so what do they do next?


......well this is when they return to the MoJ to blame them for selling them a pup and ask for more money...but the cupboard is bare so they'll look to join forces with other agencies under the guise of yep you guessed it restructuring to provide 'better services to clients'......sub text meaning we've no idea what to do next....the promised freedom to innovate disappears into the distance as the desperate hunt for profit continues.......I have it on good authority that two possibly three CRCs are looking to hand back the keys with each waiting for the other to be the first..it's a game of business brinkmanship with neither wanting to be the first failure.......there's a lot of loose tongues at the MoJ at the moment and rumours of a strategic rethink on the cards as the realisation dawns that making money out of offenders/clients/criminals is a lot harder than they thought...

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When allocating a case you fill in two long and dull forms. One is the CAS (CASELOAD ALLOCATION SYSTEM) which uses information from the RSR (Risk of Serious Recidivism)form. The CAS asks a load of largely pointless questions but at the end is a table with a list of five or so questions, any one of which if answered yes is an auto-NPS allocation. They go something like has this person

1 Committed a S15 offence (serious violence or just about any sex offence)
2 Are they a Foreign National being held by immigration
3 Are they on a deferred sentence
4 Does the RSR tool result in a score of 6.8 or above
5 Something else which I thankfully have forgotten for now. It may actually have to do with professional judgement.

Now the kicker is that if you DO NOT hit one of the above you could have a signed letter from Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Yahweh and Shiva the destroyer stating that this guy is going to kill somebody (and after all they would know, being omnipotent and all that) and YOU ARE GOING TO THE CRC.

*******
The risk mantra is being chanted over & over again, but no-one seems to be asking "what does that mean?". I read "he's high risk", "she's medium risk", "they're low risk", "High risk at point of offence are now low risk", "Med risk are always high risk..."

I'm not wanting to be rude but it really doesn't mean anything. Risk is not a generic box into which people are crammed (no pun intended). This is why I would agree that risk IS a smokescreen, in the same way that the weekend patient mortality figures were a smokescreen for Jeremy *unt, and in 45 minutes we were to be obliterated by WMD. They're the manipulations & sleight of hand of professional politicos to achieve ideological ends, not real-world events.

How many different elements of risk category do probation staff work with? Oasys, PPO, RM2K, ARMS, SARA, MARAC, MAPPA...

Sure, filling in the forms means the information is collated, but what then? Risk-averse managers start pissing their pants because of resource implications, they dump their anxiety on their staff (or try to get shot of the case to another agency), and the whole shithouse goes up. No-one gets a good deal - not the client, not the practitioner, and not the public. The only benefit seems to be that the manager is praised for "flagging up a risk issue"...

...Meanwhile some poor PSO in a CRC has a caseload of volatiles who are in and out of court, getting high every day on anything they can get their hands on, exacerbating any mental health or behavioural traits, knocking their various partners about and inundating the local children's services with numerous safeguarding cases. SFOs are primarily populated with offences involving mental health, domestic abuse, child protection.

And guess what? Mental health services have been axed to the bone, domestic abuse is rife and social services are in crisis. Now probation has been decimated and the 70% of "low & medium risk" cases sold off to private enterprise who are focused on profit, shedding experienced and "expensive" staff, replacing POs with PSOs, and generally cooking up a disaster which will explode very soon.

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And here's one for the mix. How about the wonderful introduction of ORA? Hurry up now and do his OASys start custody. He'll be out in a week and you can do his OASys start licence. The week after when his licence finishes you can do your OASys review to end licence and start post sentence supervision. Don't worry though, if he doesn't comply with that you can do another OASys review along with your breach file so you can get him back in court for his inevitable £50 fine with order to continue. We've really sorted this no supervision for under 12 months haven't we? Hey ho though. We can buy some more services from CRC to get them back on board and make them offence free. (from Facebook - but I particularly liked it)

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So historically it could be argued that probation WAS a vocation, which became a job, and is now all but extinct:

1870s: Frederick Rainer makes a five shilling donation to the Church of England Temperance Society to help break the cycle of offence after offence and sentence after sentence. The Society appoints a 'missionary' to Southwark court and the London Police Court Mission is born.

1880s: The mission opens homes and shelters - but the Probation of First Offenders Act 1887 contains no element of offender supervision.

1900s: 1907 & The Probation Service is formally established. Between 1910 and 1930 the prison population halves, probation has played a major part.

1920s: The 1925 Criminal Justice Act establishes probation committees and the appointment of probation officers becomes a requirement of the courts.

1940s: The 1948 Criminal Justice Act introduces prison after-care and provides for funding of Probation Homes and Hostels.

1950s: The Central Council of Probation - the forerunner of the Probation Association - is formed to speak with one voice for all employee probation committees. Home Secretary Rab Butler attends and says: "I think that your service is perhaps the most devoted in the country."

The CJ Act '91 had a disastrous impact; suddenly the work of the probation service was something that politicians could and did tinker with in order to make a name for themselves. And here we are.


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This blog does attract some fools making mischief and some comments can be clownish. But some of the most foolish, clownish and disingenuous comments are to be found in the various missives issued by the NPS and CRCs, whether its their silly acronyms or the deceitful way they rebrand every cheapskate reform as an exciting innovation. We read their stuff and line by line you know they are lying through their teeth. They claim to be inclusive and to value their workforce whilst savagely cutting headcounts. They claim to be morally motivated to help service users to lead better lives, but their core motivator is making money and handsomely rewarding their misanthropic elites who lie so effortlessly and strive to keep the workforce in a state of job insecurity. And if at some point in the future their profits or reputation should slide, they will walk away and flog their contracts just as G4S are now doing with the youth jails.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The New Probation World

As the mostly clueless new CRC owners continue the cull of experienced probation staff across the land, including Interserve:- 
In Merseyside, only grade safe are case managers and I think, for now, senior case managers (pso/po respectively). All admin including admin managers & Unpaid Work staff are having to do a 2000 word application for their post & the closing date is this Monday 29th Feb. Interserve have promised that those unsuccessful will get re-deployed. Little notice for this - 2 weeks at most.
they've come up with a cunning wheeze - pay a university to endorse their shiny new innovative approach to rehabilitation:-


New partnership to tackle offender rehabilitation 
25 February 2016

Interserve and Manchester Metropolitan University are proud to announce a new partnership which will develop innovative approaches to offender rehabilitation.

The Policy Evaluation and Research Unit (PERU) at Manchester Metropolitan will work with Interserve over the next three years to:

  • Evaluate a range of its offender rehabilitation interventions; 
  • Review existing research evidence from the UK and around the world to identify promising new approaches; 
  • Support the development of innovative approaches to offender rehabilitation by helping Interserve to translate research and theory into practice; and 
  • Work with staff across Interserve to ensure that evidence is translated into practice. In addition, Interserve will be jointly funding a PhD titled ‘An investigation into the theory and practice of personalised approaches to offender rehabilitation’.
Since 2015 the Interserve-led partnership, Purple Futures has been responsible for managing probation and rehabilitation services in five Community Rehabilitation Companies including Cheshire & Greater Manchester. Purple Futures is one of the leading providers of probation services in England and Wales and is responsible for managing 35,000 offenders a year.

Both PERU and Interserve are committed to developing innovative approaches to offender rehabilitation that are underpinned by robust research evidence. Staff from PERU supported Interserve when it was developing its distinct approach to offender rehabilitation that draws on desistance theory and the concept of personalisation of public services.

Professor Chris Fox, Director of PERU said:

I have been working with Interserve for a number of years as they have developed their justice offer. I share a desire to develop more personalised approaches to working with offenders. I have been impressed by their commitment to evidence-informed practice and innovative service design. I am delighted that PERU and Interserve will be working in partnership.

Yvonne Thomas, Director for Justice at Interserve said:

Interserve’s long-standing relationship with Manchester Metropolitan University continues as we work together on evaluating what works and will ensure that we stay at the forefront of new approaches to rehabilitation. We are committed to reducing re-offending and understanding what works is critical to supporting offenders to change their lives.


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Meanwhile a brave colleague talks to the press about what life is like at a Working Links CRC in the West Country. This from the Bristol Post:-

Fears severe cuts could see hundreds of probation officers 'replaced with call centre'

The numbers of probation officers working in and around Bristol could be slashed by more than 40 per cent, with many offenders being asked to "dial in" to a call centre rather than reporting for face-to-face meetings with probation officers in the future. This is the alarming vision painted by a serving probation officer who has spoken to the Post about his fears for the future landscape of offender rehabilitation in the region.

Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire Community Rehabilitation Company (BGSW CRC) was formed in 2014 as part of the Government's reform of probation services. The three probation trusts previously at work in the area were brought together to be run by private firm Working Links. It is responsible for the management of offenders who have been sentenced to serve their order in the community – covering a range of restorative justice, "community payback", statutory supervision orders and resettlement work.

The probation officer who spoke anonymously to the Post said morale among staff is "shockingly low" as the company is currently consulting on 42 per cent cuts in staffing numbers. This would mean the loss of around 250 members of staff in and around Bristol – both probation officers and administrators.

"It's absolutely shocking," he said. "I have worked in probation for a number of years, and I have never known morale so low. It's hard to imagine how they would continue to provide the current service with the head count cut by 42 per cent. The case loads each probation officer is currently juggling is already massive – and it can now be spread out across quite a wide geographical area. The service is already severely stretched and that has to be having an effect on the rehabilitation work we are trying to do. The proposed cuts which will slash the work force by almost half is unimaginable."

But the probation officer said the most shocking element of the consultation so far is the suggestion that some offenders will simply be trusted to "dial-in" rather than having regular meetings with probation officers. "Any probation officer will tell you this is an extraordinary idea – it would be turning probation work into little more than a call centre. Quite how they think it is going to work successfully is beyond me."

Mike Cracknell, Unison South West regional organiser, said:
"A lot of staff are shell-shocked. These people are clearly very committed to their public service and to the betterment of society that rehabilitation provides. But unsurprisingly morale is now very low. So much so, I wouldn't be surprised if any offer for voluntary severance is over-subscribed. This is coming about now because the funding streams from the Government to these companies has been greatly reduced. The reality is that Working Links is a private company with shareholders to satisfy, and it is now much more difficult for them to make a profit out of providing the service than when they took over in 2014. Indeed, you have to wonder whether it was ever an appropriate part of the public sector to be privatised. David Cameron talked just a couple of weeks ago about the importance of rehabilitation and not relying on prison sentences – you have to think that what is actually happening in probation goes right against the spirit of that message."

A survey conducted by Unison ahead of the Government's Transforming Rehabilitation programme, which brought the service under the management of the private company in 2014, found that 99 per cent of probation service workers were against the reforms. At the end of September 2015, the total national caseload for probation officers stood at 234,229, up 7 per cent on the number one year earlier. The national average caseload being juggled by each officer is around 25 offenders at any one time (according to HM Inspectorate of Probation's Workload Audit Report in 2014) – though some officers find themselves dealing with considerably more than the average figure.

In his online blog, Ian Lawrence, general secretary of NAPO, another trades union for probation service workers, described a recent meeting with Working Links over the issue as "the most shambolic meeting I have ever attended with a private sector contractor anywhere in my career".

He said: 

"At times it resembled a French farce with so many people coming in and out of doors desperately trying to fill the huge information gap that the employer had caused. It's reasonable for me to relay the question that members within their three CRCs are positing through their local representatives which is: why are Working Links treating us like idiots? 

Whilst we ought to be spending valuable time coming to terms with the rationale and detail behind the operating model on which they say they have predicated their staggering 42 per cent intended job cuts, we have one important problem, in that they seem to still be working out what that actually is. Add to this the heady mix of mass confusion that is being caused by ad-hoc and ill-timed releases of information to certain managers who themselves are then placed in an invidious position and you have a classic example of how not to undertake consultation and negotiation. It's not too late for Working Links to bring some much needed order here, and as always we stand ready to engage."
A spokesman for Working Links said: 

"We are committed to reducing reoffending and protecting the communities in which we work. Qualified probation officers will continue to play a vital role in our transformation and our focus is currently on aligning support services across the organisation to enable them to spend more time with our service users. Since taking on the CRCs, we have been open and transparent about the need to provide value for money services. We are consulting with the unions and our people on our proposed new way of working across the organisation. This includes consulting on proposals on changes to our estates strategy, including areas where we could co-locate services, creating a more cost effective information technology solution, and improving our processes to deliver efficiencies."
In response to the Post's questions about whether offenders could find themselves dialling in to their probation officers in the future, the spokesman said: 

"As part of our proposed changes we are considering a variety of ways to keep in touch with service users, depending on their circumstances. This is a phased and complex change programme that we anticipate will be finalised in early 2017. Wherever possible, we will aim to avoid compulsory redundancies. Our front line delivery will not be negatively impacted by our proposed changes. At all times we will ensure we deliver a safe service."
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I notice that Gill Hirst FPInst at the Probation Institute has been pondering the whole issue of naming..... 

So… we were thinking in the Fellows’ meeting about how best to capture that you don’t need to be providing ‘probation services’ for the Institute to have something to offer you as a member and wondering whether the name might be putting off people who don’t have ‘probation’ in their job title or who aren’t commissioned providers of ‘probation services’. The plan is that anyone with an interest or involvement in the work being done with people on probation would find a form of membership and involvement that was relevant and useful for them so the Institute can meet its goal of, through the membership, better serving the public by improving services to those people, their victims and those potentially at risk from them in the future.

Here’s my idea: let’s call anyone who is responsible overall for the package of help and controls for someone on probation their ‘probation officer’ irrespective of who employs them and what training they have been given. There is no legal definition of the qualification you need to be an ‘officer of probation’ any more but law does outline what they can and must do…and ‘probation officer’ will look more sensible at the end of a letter or email while making sense to the person who wants to know who, out all the people they are seeing, is actually their probation officer and the one ultimately responsible for the decisions being made while they are on probation.

Then, how about we call very expert and experienced probation officers, who might coach or supervise others, ‘senior probation officers’ as long as they still undertake work with people on probation. This will leave a title: ‘probation managers’ for those who manage people and activities but are not practitioners.

Following this, we could call just about everyone else working with people on probation on a paid basis ‘probation workers’ – this could include for example: programme tutors, community payback supervisors, case administrators, resettlement officers, health coaches, peer mentors. Those supporting people on probation for no pay could be called ‘probation volunteers’ – an advantage of these two titles being to remove the apparent distinction between colleagues who have been on probation themselves (‘peers’) and those who have not, more accurately reflecting that ‘ex offenders’ are represented in all job roles, not just the least well paid ones.


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Finally, an animated discussion has been taking place over on Facebook regarding Through the Gate (TTG) services and fees being charged for services. I find it interesting for a number of reasons, firstly that use of social media is growing, not least since Napo made such a hash of their dedicated members forum, now deleted completely, and the fact that the 'charging' aspect of TR seems to have come as news to quite a few colleagues. TR is, and always has been, about the money.  The debate was kicked off by this:-
"I am a PO working for a CRC. In the midst of the usual chaos yesterday, and when i was considering that things couldn't get much worse, I was saddened to receive an email from a prison CRC PSO explaining that they were willing to work with one of my prisoners to address (what I would suggest are) core resettlement needs ie housing referrals, drugs and alcohol etc. The letter then asked me to sign the consent form confirming that the prisoner required these services, and stated that I would then be sent a bill!!! (It did not include any figures) Should prisons not be providing these core services to ALL prisoners, irrespective of which area they come from?? Needless to say, I have sought further clarification from the PSO regarding this, and I am also awaiting an answer from management regarding which prisoners will be eligible to spend the money on...?? Having worked for some 12 years in a probation service where Officers have always gone 'above and beyond' to support clients in any way we can, I am deeply saddened to have been hit with the reality of a privatised service, concerned not with the welfare of our service users, or the impact of reoffending on the public, but for whether or not someone, somewhere, will be paying up." 
I think the prison was referring to a rate card and Through The Gate process.

I am intrigued, when we are going to be judged on our 'performance', who exactly will be judged to have made the difference? Was it one persons assessment and referral, the provider, the Supervising Officers support..... or the client, who sometimes is just ready to get on with it. Some clients for example have always found work and we have to record 'work found' and 'work sustained', when that has never been an issue. Not necessarily my credit to take. Are we going to be fighting to take the credit. as, well as arguing over who pays up for the service.

ETE services in our area seek out licence releases, attend the office on day of release to ask the prisoner if they have work lined up... They then claim it as a 'successful completion' even if that is the extent of their involvement... I have had one case tell me they have received more than a dozen letters demanding evidence of secured employment to record on ETE systems, despite having had a job lined up with his dad the Monday after his Friday release!.

So we will be fighting to prove things, when actually not everything is so easily provable as this, over and above actually doing work with people. At least have you GOT a job, might be a yes or no answer!!

Prisons are no longer funded to provide resettlement services. These are now provided by the CRC Through the Gate service 12-16 weeks prior to release date and my understanding is that these are already 'paid for' in the contract. I believe CRCs are contractually obliged to provide signposting services for employment, accommodation, substance misuse, domestic violence and sex working to prisoners. Offender Managers need to consent to the service and are advised that anything over and above this is 'charged' to the area requesting any additional services. I would be grateful if one of my TTG CRC colleagues could confirm this?

I am a PSO in West Yorkshire. I was part of through the gate (ha ha ha) team. The resettlement 'service' is now run by different PRIVATE organisations. They require payment for anything that is outside of their CRC district. This includes NPS clients in the same district. If you say no and do not send the form back no work would be completed prior to release. You'd have to organise all yourself and ask charities to do the work.

Is bloody awful at the minute. I left my prison job and went into programmes. Best move back to trying to do what I believe in and not bother about targets and profiting from crime!

From what I understand on TTG - NPS would always have pay if this service is used. CRC would only pay if they use the service of another area... so if your area doesn't have a prison or your case is in custody in another county/CRC - then you'll have to pay!!! Good solid business sense eh!

Wondering why the OP referred to everyone (including themselves) by grade rather than referring to a colleague working in the prison it distracted me from the TTG issue (which is arranged differently, but is a CRC contractual responsibility, from CPA to CPA - so really difficult to make any informed response without knowing the CPA).

Sorry I understood the post more than the comment above. Does it matter which CPA? The involvement of case holders in direct budget issues is wrong. Other factors beyond risk and need will influence decision making. We are losing integrity where we do what is right for offenders and victims because it's right.

No programmes allowed due to cost. No resettlement support due to cost. And Pss... It's hard to believe we'll help anyone anymore.

Yes it does matter what CPA, as you can see from post below, the resettlement team is providing resettlement services in her CPA, and as I know which CPA that is, I know programmes are also being provided. My comment was in respect of the fact that the issues will differ from CPA to CPA and someone's experience in Thames Valley will be different from someone's experience in Bristol or Manchester - so there isn't one response that fits all. Hope that helps with your understanding.

Coming from someone working with these resettlement teams in a prison....So far we have been working with everyone and managed to dodge the 'rate card' service for NPS offenders! Higher up managers just seem to be ignoring it at the moment but it will be coming in at some point...which will then also mean that all this time NPS colleagues and offenders will be used to receiving the service, and then could have it taken away from them down the line if payment isn't agreed! Staff are struggling to understand the situation and who's providing what service as it is, it's only going to cause more confusion in the future! I feel quite thankful that I am going on maternity leave in a couple of weeks to be honest as I do worry about what is coming..

I too have worked in a CRC TTG team for a while on secondment from my normal PSO role and in this role we saw everybody within prison whether NPS or CRC and no matter what area they had come from. I worked with women from all over the country "trying" to organise their resettlement with little knowledge of what was on offer in that area.

If one West Yorkshire prison are supplying a resettlement service to people up and down the country I can see why that individual areas CRC or NPS would need to pay for the service given as the CRC where the prison is based can't be just expected to cover the staff costs to provide this TTG service for all CRC's. From my knowledge the resettlement services that used to exist in prison were pretty sparse and a service user being released to a housing assessment appointment was previously being logged as a successful outcome of gaining accommodation?! Whereas the TTG service that the CRC now provide is worlds apart and a really great service! Totally agree, it shouldn't be about money but more about need for this service within prison but I can't say I didn't see this coming. I'm surprised they are only just starting to bill for the service.

The problem is that TTG is only in resettlement prisons and not all prisons are classed as resettlement prisons. As a result services are being brought in to plug gaps, but ultimately these have to be paid for. There simply aren't enough to spaces in resettlement prisons

This new system was put together with the main aim of reducing reoffending, esp for those leaving custodial establishments. To meet the needs of the revolving door short term custody cases! Was that not the propaganda it was all sold on?! It was not to save money! It was not privatisation! It was not selling out to large corporate bodies! It was to meet the offending needs of the under 12mthsers! Whilst enhancing the service to the rest by reducing red tape and paper work and allowing professionalism and autonomy! Because traditional "probation" failed offenders and did not reduce offending! Sadly the figures did not show that. I and clients did not agree with that & highly dedicated and motivated staff who believed in their "calling" didn't think that either! But it's been smashed & cannot be put back together again. The reputation the UK held as being leaders in our field in this area irreparably damaged. But for me what is sadder is the lives that have been damaged or will be damaged by this. Progress!!!!! Ha

Did not realise the TTG had financial implications also! Bloody shocking! Idea of TTG was to assist in alleviating some pressure from field teams so they can meet demands of higher caseloads, sounds like there will be lots of denying the service (awful!) in terms of financial costs and as a result at risk of being a redundant service if not used enough. Can appreciate that these teams are very new and have a huge task to fulfil but when they send you a half completed form and ask you to do the risk assessment and send it off I think is a bit of a god damn cheek, may as well just have done it myself in the first place!

Welcome to the new probation 'service'! We knew we had been sold out and it is just coming to fruition. Trying to make money from offenders is frankly wrong. We, as CRC staff, have a moral judgement call to make but I for one feel trapped by the lack of opportunity elsewhere. No likey.

Yep. It's all about the rate card now. Well.... they call it "rate card".... it's basically a price list. Absolute lunacy.

I've been a probation officer for 25 years and I have to tell you that whilst services years ago were problematic, we still had time to work with offenders. We now spend 75% of our time bashing away on computers with some kind of assessment or plan with little time to work with the client group. On the back of that I find that when the split came almost everything the public probation service owned was given to the privatised CRC. Now we have to pay them for everything we need. To make matters worse, the total budget given from Government has been cut and we are left to fight amongst ourselves to see who can get the biggest slice of the cake. Watch this space to see how much of it will go to shareholders in the near future. Private equates to profit not service.

And here's one for the mix. How about the wonderful introduction of ORA? Hurry up now and do his OASys start custody. He'll be out in a week and you can do his OASys start licence. The week after when his licence finishes you can do your OASys review to end licence and start post sentence supervision. Don't worry though, if he doesn't comply with that you can do another OASys review along with your breach file so you can get him back in court for his inevitable £50 fine with order to continue. We've really sorted this no supervision for under 12 months haven't we? Hey ho though. We can buy some more services from CRC to get them back on board and make them offence free.

Come on, you are missing the point. A charity, volunteer or catering company are going to sort everything out, show us experienced dedicated probation professionals how to rehabilitate offenders. Yeah, right.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Praise For a Probation Officer

In an "astounding" maiden speech, Baron Bird of Notting Hill spoke of the work of The Big Issue in preventing poverty in Britain

The Big Issue founder John Bird electrified the House Of Lords today with a maiden speech that spoke of his decades of fight to beat poverty, indicated that he wants to bring lessons learned to bear during his time as a peer, and also left some members a little confused. In a colourful and fierce 13 minutes, which, said Lord Patel, “will go down in the records of maiden speeches as astounding and eccentric,” Bird raised laughs by thanking his probation officer, raised eyebrows when he said “bugger” and focused on the achievements of The Big Issue.

Tagging Back to Square One

So the the MoJ have finally admitted that they've made a complete mess of trying to procure the next generation of electronic tags, so-often hailed as the answer to the prison over-crowding problem. And it looks like G4S will get their foot in the door again. This from Alan Travis in the Guardian:-  

Plan for 'bespoke' GPS tag for offenders abandoned by MoJ

Much-delayed hi-tech tracking device for use in England and Wales will be replaced with off-the-shelf alternative.

Justice ministers have given up a three-year attempt to introduce a “bespoke” GPS tracking tag for offenders, after the prime minister, David Cameron, promised to make the technology a central part of a radical overhaul of British prisons. The Ministry of Justice is to terminate its £23m contract with Steatite, a small British firm which was to develop the hi-tech tag, and will instead invite bids for companies to supply off-the-shelf proven devices already on the market. Steatite’s share price fell 32% after the announcement on Thursday morning.

The MoJ’s decision paves the way for G4S to submit an offer; the private security company is no longer barred from bidding for British government criminal justice contracts. G4S has contracts to provide satellite tracking of offenders in Scotland and France. It was blocked from bidding for the original MoJ contract in England and Wales when it had to repay nearly £180m over allegations of overcharging on its previous contract to tag 100,000 offenders a year.

Cameron, in his recent speech endorsing justice secretary Michael Gove’s prison overhaul programme, announced that “major new pilots will begin on satellite tracking later this year, and we will have this technology rolled out right across the country before the end of the parliament”. The prime minister said the ability to track an offender’s movements opened up “radical new sentencing options”, including evening or weekend jail sentences.

The Steatite contract was awarded by the previous justice secretary, Chris Grayling, in July 2014 after a lengthy delay caused by the overcharging scandal. The tags were initially due to be implemented nationally by the end of 2014. On Thursday, the justice minister told MPs that the decision to abandon the “bespoke” solution had been taken after a internal review to see how to get the programme back on track.

“Developing bespoke tags has been challenging and it is now clear that it will be more appropriate to pursue our goals using off-the-shelf technology which is already available,” Dominic Raab said. “That is why the Ministry of Justice will be terminating our contract to develop a bespoke tagging product with Steatite Limited and will shortly begin a new procurement process for proven tags already on the market.”

He said the pilot studies this year would be designed to test how GPS was used and how it affected the behaviour of offenders. He promised an independent evaluation before deciding on the technology’s future use. The first MoJ pilots of GPS tags took place in 2004-06. Gove has also approved an expansion of a trial of the use of alcohol abstinence monitoring, or “sobriety tags”. The scheme is to be extended from south London to the rest of the capital.

Jo Stevens, Labour’s prisons and probation spokeswoman, said it beggared belief that the MoJ had had to abandon yet another procurement process. “From the overcharging scandal to G4S and Serco still being paid to deliver tagging equipment after they had been barred from running the contract, this whole saga has been a shambles from start to finish,” she said. “The Tories must now come clean on how much this latest episode of financial mismanagement has cost the taxpayer.”

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In a bit of 'news management' and in order to put a positive spin on things, the MoJ came up with this announcement on the same day:-
‘Sobriety tags’ rolled out across London

The Ministry of Justice and Mayor of London announce crackdown against alcohol related crime.
  • Successful scheme monitors criminals’ alcohol intake
  • Pilot results out today show 92 per cent compliance rate
  • Alcohol related crime costs the taxpayer up to £13 billion per year
  • Justice Secretary and Mayor of London committed to stop reoffending
An innovative pilot to keep criminals sober will be extended throughout London, after results out today (25 February) showed it was successful in 92% of cases. Thanks to new funds from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the Mayor of London, courts in the capital will be able to put an ankle bracelet on offenders whose crimes were influenced by alcohol.

The tags perform around-the-clock monitoring of alcohol in an offender’s perspiration. If they drink again, breaching their alcohol abstinence order, they can be returned to court for further sanctions. MOJ is contributing £400,000 towards the cost of extending the scheme past its initial four pilot boroughs to the whole of the capital from April 2016. The initiative will be run by the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), which is contributing £450,000 to the extension.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove said:

I am absolutely committed to reducing reoffending – so we can cut crime and better protect the public. By giving courts this new power and making the latest technology available, we are helping offenders understand the detrimental impact drinking alcohol can have on their behaviour. This innovative approach has delivered impressive results so far and we will be building on them with this this wider London roll out.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said:
Alcohol-fuelled crimes put a huge strain on frontline services, costing the taxpayer billions of pounds each year. From assault, to drink-driving, to theft and criminal damage, this innovative technology is driving down reoffending and proving rehabilitation does not have to mean prison. After such a success in South London, it’s time to roll out these tags to the rest of the capital and rid our streets of these crimes, by helping even more offenders stay off the booze and get back on the right track.
MOPAC has overseen an 18-month pilot of the sobriety tags across four London boroughs.

Today’s report finds the tags enjoy a 92% compliance rate. In the first 12 months of the pilot, 113 alcohol abstinence requirement orders were made and offenders were required to remain sober for up to 120 days. This compares favourably with the compliance rate for other community based orders.


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Continuing the official policy of airbrushing Probation out of existence, there's no hint of the Service being involved at all. David Raho, Napo's Tagging expert, has this to say on Facebook:-

Transdermal Alcohol Monitoring Tags to be rolled out across London

Whilst the successful piloting of the first use of Transdermal Alcohol Monitoring Tags as part of an Alcohol Abstinence Monitoring Requirement (AAMR) is to be welcomed with a further extension of the pilot to include the whole of London what is not welcomed is the complete failure of both the MoJ and MOPAC to credit even to a small degree the work of other agencies involved that undoubtedly contributed substantially to the pilots success. This amounts to what is being interpreted as a politically calculated snub designed to boost the Mayor and MoJ at the expense of other important players in criminal justice system in London. Big individual personalities don't establish effective projects to tackle deep seated problems but rather teams of motivated individuals from different agencies working together in a coordinated way. It was a team effort particularly in relation to addressing ethical concerns.

For instance the technology was provided by Alcohol Monitoring Systems and monitoring infrastructure by Electronic Monitoring Services, assessment was done by members of the National Probation Service and cases were held by London Community Rehabilitation Company. We should not forget some of the groundwork was done by London Probation Trust who agreed to second a member of staff to the project because to be honest that expertise in offender management was needed and MOPAC did not have it. The pilot also crucially involved the probation officers union Napo who were praised by the Local Implementation Group for their support of staff. There was also substantial training work done with Her Majesties Court Services.

So all those people involved can take quite a lot of credit for their professionalism and hard work too that both the MoJ and Mayor does not appear to believe they deserve.

David A Raho
Napo London Branch Research and Information Officer


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Postscript:- 

Centre for Crime and Justice Studies Press Release:-

Satellite tagging plans throwing good money after bad

Friday, 26 February, 2016

The Centre's director, Richard Garside, said today that the Ministry of Justice should halt plans to commission off-the-shelve satellite tagging technology. His comments follow yesterday's announcement that the Ministry was shelving its controversial programme to develop a bespoke satellite tagging programme.

There remains no reliable evidence, Mr Garside pointed out, that routine satellite tagging delivers any real benefit in relation to public safety or a reduction in reconvictions. The routine use of such an intrusive technology also raised ethical and human rights concerns. Before taking any further steps to commission off-the-shelf technology, he added, the Ministry of Justice should seek an independent and rigorous assessment of the efficacy and value of the routine use of satellite tagging.

Last year the Centre revealed that the Ministry of Justice was still paying controversial security firms G4S and Serco millions of pounds a month for electronic tagging, long after both companies were supposedly banned from delivering such work. G4S has a contract to deliver satellite tagging in Scotland, placing the company in pole position to pick up a much more lucrative contract in England and Wales.

Richard Garside said:

'The government has already squandered over £20 million on a failed satellite tagging programme. I'm concerned that it is now intent on throwing more good money after bad by commissioning an off-the-shelf system. There is no clear evidence that satellite tagging convicted people in the community has any meaningful impact on public safety or the reduction of reconvictions. Subjecting citizens to costly, unnecessary and intrusive surveillance also raises numerous ethical and human rights concerns. Before commissioning such an intrusive and costly technology, the government should undertake a rigorous assessment of its costs, benefits and dangers.'

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Risk Is a Smokescreen

From Devon to Carlisle and Newcastle to Southampton the same story is rolling in, this was an untested ill conceived and poorly managed idea that can never generate the profit that was promised...even when the culling stops......the many Chiefs briefings we attended when we were assured that POs will have a role......all lies......the creativity and shackle removing innovation.....lies......the end of red tape......lies and it's now worse than ever....so yes it is bad all over the country so it's time for the MoJ to accept some responsibility for this situation...oh but they did that didn't they.....they won an award......you couldn't make it up........

******
TR is even worse than many of us imagined. Many of us did not have a choice about where we went. The numbers were wrong leaving one side or another short of staff. So then rather than giving jobs in NPS to staff that were forced into CRC's they took on new staff. Recently told I have to write a parole report but must have someone from NPS at parole hearing, after years of managing high risk cases.

******
All this bleating about "High Risk Cases". Probation Officer work included high risk but was not central to what we did. Risk assessment and understanding may have been (that is another debate) but not HIGH risk. As a PO in NPS my caseload divides into two categories, people who have done something horrid and have done or are doing long sentences. They are largely safe as they know their freedom hangs by a thread. And people who are truly dangerous and we all know about it.

As a PO in my Trust I had a caseload of people some of whom were like those mentioned above but the mass were assessed as Medium risk. they included all those DV cases and chaotic drug using robbers/burglars. Any one of which could go off the deep end at any point. I would argue that the bulk of my caseload were more worrying 2 years ago because they were less predictable.

CRC caseloads are potentially MORE dangerous than the stuff I now deal with day to day. My problem with my current caseload is that I am stressed not by what they might do but by what they have done. Constantly being given rapists and wife killers has/is undermining my faith in humanity and (as a man) in men.

Point is that by banging on about how you could do High risk work you are undermining the point you are trying to make, CRC demands EQUALLY high standards of staff because you have to be alert to what your caseloads might do. A CRC caseload, person for person is statistically more likely to produce an SFO than an NPS caseload. There are no supports for the staff in spotting this and when (and it is a when) it happens, you will be on your own.

******
A very clear and concise analysis of reality in probation, past and present. Several years ago I used to work solely with sex offenders. This group, however, were not the ones killing or being killed by others. I've known a fair few probation clients who have sadly met their demise at the hands of other people; the perpetrators on the whole being those that would most likely be assessed as "medium risk."

******
As I and others have said here on a number of occasions, the focus on risk is a smokescreen that was fabricated & introduced to divide & rule (e.g. the shafting process of 11 Nov 2013), a Trojan Horse for managerialism, a pseudo-science with which to command & control staff. The manufactured misdirections of Low, Medium & High or Green, Amber & Red, etc., are evident, as shown above, and therein lies the real concern. It is incontrovertible that CRC caseloads are more volatile & more likely to generate a SFO, but the MoJ model states that the CRCs "only" have "low & medium risk cases", and that the "highest risk cases" are managed by the NPS. The implications are clear (NPS good, CRC bad); the deception (of bidders, of staff, of the public) is hidden by the emotive smokescreens of low, medium & high.

They've used labelling theory to bamboozle & corral practitioners, and in the process have encouraged those practitioners to take their eyes off the prize, i.e. the uniqueness of the individual. Long gone are the days of discussing cases; it's now commercially sensitive, this group, that, processing, programmes, sequencing, metrics, blah blah blah.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

TR Is Crap Says Research

Today sees the launch of an important piece of research by Professor Gill Kirton:-

Employment Relations and Working Conditions in Probation after Transforming Rehabilitation With a special focus on gender and union effects

The launch was trailed earlier in this Guardian article:- 
Privatised probation staff: stressed, deskilled and facing job cuts
In February 2015, 8,600 professional, highly-skilled public sector jobs were privatised. But despite strike action and fierce lobbying, the privatisation of more than half of the probation service in England and Wales has gone largely unnoticed. According to Gill Kirton, professor of employment relations at Queen Mary University of London, privatisation on this scale has slipped through under the radar because it’s not glamorous and most of the public have little contact with probation services. “It’s not like the junior doctors,” she says. “These people are not commonly seen as heroes. It doesn’t have that feeling of working for the public good in quite the same way.”
Under the government’s transforming rehabilitation agenda, supervision of low- to medium-risk offenders was outsourced last year to 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs), run by private companies with payment-by-results contracts. Cases involving high-risk offenders remain within the National Probation Service (NPS), which is now part of the civil service. Kirton’s report on working conditions in both sides of the service, published on 23 February, reveals a fractured workforce feeling the strain of increased workload, less autonomy, job insecurity and narrowing opportunities for training and progression. 
The paper is well worth reading in full, but in essence the findings will come as no great surprise to regular readers of this blog. Here are some highlights:- 

Earlier studies of privatisation and outsourcing in other industries/occupations have shown that there are both adverse worker and union effects that flow from marketisation /commercialisation. In respect of effects on work/careers/working conditions, these can end up being particularly deleterious for women workers and for feminised occupations (such as probation). When it comes to union effects, previous privatisation/outsourcing programmes have revealed the potential for negative impact on a union’s ability to represent members effectively, bargain on behalf of members, and recruit and retain members in the newly created multi-employer context. The concern about negative union effects, is likely amplified in the case of a small independent union (such as Napo) where there are bound to be concerns about its future viability.

In the case of probation, where the main union doubles up as a professional association, Napo not only fears that the probation split and privatisation/outsourcing will have adverse impact on staff terms, conditions and welfare, and on training and career prospects, but also on the service provided to ‘clients’(offenders) and on the risk to the public. Much of the academic debate so far about Transforming Rehabilitation comes from criminal justice scholars and typically focuses on the impact on purposes and values of probation, on delivery of probation services and on clients (e.g. Deering and Feilzer 2015). While this debate is obviously extremely important, it is equally important to consider the effects on employees and unions in order to keep them firmly at the centre of the post-TR picture as key probation stakeholders. Therefore, in contrast to the debate so far, this report is concerned with the impact of Transforming Rehabilitation on employment relations in probation, on the main probation union (Napo) and on probation practitioners’ working conditions/careers. In addition, we take a gender and equality lens to our research and analysis confronting the fact that as an occupation, probation, like some other public services, has comprised a predominantly female workforce for more than 20 years.


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Interview sample 

In order to get a picture of national union activity, we carried out interviews with four national officers (lay elected) and four national officials (paid appointed). The main aim though was to hear from Napo branches about their experiences and those of the members they represent. We set out with the aim of interviewing at least one officer from each of the 21 Napo branches, but practical constraints meant that in the end, we managed to conduct 29 interviews across 17 branches (see Table 4.1). This sample gave us a cross section including female and male Napo branch officers (63/37% split), CRC and NPS (52/48% split) workers, and different grades of probation practitioner represented by Napo. We assured all research participants of anonymity and therefore we do not name individuals or their branches in the findings sections.

Branch case studies 

The regions selected for the branch case studies were: Greater London (CRC owners MTCNovo); Kent, Surrey, Sussex (CRC owners Seetec); Northumbria (CRC owners Sodexo); West Yorkshire (CRC owners Purple Futures). Combined, these branches provided geographical spread across the country, different CRC owners, and different offending/client profiles. In three cases, we attended branch meetings (where we had the chance to listen to members articulate their concerns about the post-TR enviroment) and in one, we held two roundtable discussions that specifically addressed the current challenges and concerns post-TR. Those in attendance at these branch events were a mix of NPS and CRC employees. 

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Findings: Employment relations and working conditions after Transforming Rehabilitation

Introduction


To begin with, it is worth stating that we found an almost total lack of support for TR and the probation split. Just one or two Napo officers (branch and national) were of the view that in principle opening up a space for more providers (especially third sector) to be involved in delivery of probation services might create more innovation. However, we found an unequivocal lack of support for private sector company involvement. The split was often described using highly emotive metaphors – ‘a train crash’, ‘a messy divorce’ – that conveyed the strength of feeling in opposition to TR. Similarly, referring to the aftermath of TR people frequently talked about ‘grieving’, ‘mourning’ and feeling ‘loss’.

The findings section of this report considers employment relations and working conditions after TR with a special focus on gender and union effects. While our discussions with Napo (national and branch) officers, activists and members could not help but touch on the impact of TR on clients, this was not the focus of our research and this topic is therefore not considered in any depth in this report (see Deering and Feilzer 2015 on this aspect of TR).

Prior to TR employment relations operated, and basic terms and conditions were set, within a national agreement with Napo. However, a variety of formal and informal arrangements not covered by the national agreement, many negotiated by Napo branches, existed in the 35 Probation Trusts and across different probation workplaces. Following restructuring and outsourcing, one significant question, as yet unanswered, is how/if the locally based formal/informal arrangements that staff might have benefited from (e.g. flexible work) have transferred to the new structures of the NPS and CRCs. We also consider whether new, possibly detrimental, formal/informal practices have emerged.

The motivation to reduce labour costs (the greatest overhead) will obviously be particularly strong in the CRCs as a means of creating the profit margin sought by the private owners. Previous restructuring, privatisation and outsourcing programmes suggest that savings might be achieved by not replacing leavers and increasing workloads, cutting training opportunities, using PSOs to do some aspects of PO work, and of course redundancies cannot by any means be ruled out (note Sodexo’s May 2015 announcement of an impending redundancy round). Our findings provide compelling evidence that all of these apply in outsourced probation. Equally, in the current environment government austerity measures are bound to impact eventually on the NPS, now part of the Civil Service.

Fundamentally, TR has disrupted a well-functioning public service and apart from the immediate fall-out for staff working conditions, there are medium-long term employment relations ramifications suggested by experiences so far among probation staff and national and branch union officers.

Experiences of the probation service split

Before we start talking about what have been overwhelmingly negative staff and union experiences of TR so far, it is worth reiterating the point made earlier in the introduction to this report that longer-serving probation practitioners are familiar with organisational and occupational restructuring, but this has become more significant over the last decade or so (see Deering and Feilzer 2015). Many of the people we spoke to talked about the historic resilience of probation staff in the face of regular change – in other words, these are not people who habitually complain about the slightest change to working practices, but rather they are people who get on with the task of doing their best for their clients. Further, many probation workers do not oppose change per se and some supported the principle of introducing greater scope for innovation in probation work if it is for the benefit of clients. However, we did not speak to any national and branch union officers who believed that this was the aim or outcome of TR and the survey gave no indication that the wider staff population generally believes this to be the case.

Aside from the widespread in principle opposition to the split of probation services, negative employee experiences with TR began with the processes for deciding who would go where. Some branch officers even felt that pressure on staff (e.g. to work with tighter deadlines and fewer resources) started building soon after TR was announced as the employers (the Probation Trusts), themselves under pressure from the MoJ, wanted probation to look like it was meeting its performance targets in order to attract ‘high calibre’ bidders.

In the course of our research, we talked quite extensively to Napo national and branch officers and activists about experiences of the implementation of the split and in addition, the survey asked questions about this. Despite the fact that staff could express a preference for either the NPS or the CRCs, a common view was that people did not have sufficient information about what would become the two distinct parts of probation on which to make a considered choice.

The allocation methodology used – based on an assessment, against guidelines issued by the MoJ, of work undertaken on a single day in November 2013 – caused much consternation, dissatisfaction and bewilderment among probation staff. Many practitioners felt that what was widely seen to have been an extremely simplistic methodology, did not properly acknowledge their probation experience, qualifications and skill sets. Although Napo branch officers acknowledged that managers found the guidelines complex, they did feel that the guidelines were in the main applied fairly and transparently – ‘it was what it was’ was a phrase often used. Generally, it was with the guidelines, and with the fact that there was a prior government-set agenda to outsource 70% of probation workers, that Napo national officials, most Napo national and branch officers and members took issue.

There were though one or two reports of random allocation in order to meet the target numbers and even one instance of literally pulling names out of a hat! We also received reports from some individuals who felt they had been allocated to the CRC as a punishment for having taken a grievance against the Trust or having stood up to senior managers in the recent past. Some people reported blatant errors in individual cases and there was one region where newly qualified POs were automatically assigned to the CRC which branch union officers considered grossly unfair. This all caused a lot of uncertainty and stress for the individuals involved even if errors were rectified, transfers made or appeals upheld.

According to the survey, those placed in the NPS were more likely to agree with their allocation (87%) compared with those placed in the CRCs (52%). There were no significant differences here across grade or gender. The general preference for the NPS reflects most probation workers’ desire to remain in the public sector and a quite common perception that allocation to the CRCs symbolised professional failure. Some people did however express a preference for the CRC, usually because they thought there would be more opportunities for innovation. One survey respondent explained that she was told that the CRC would offer more scope to work in the local community and with clients’ families, which was something she valued. She said that she had been na├»ve to believe this and that such opportunities had not materialised; instead, she spent most of her day in front of a computer.

Despite high-level dissatisfaction with allocation to the CRCs, of survey respondents, only 15% appealed. This likely reflects a degree of fatalism, but it is largely a function of the fact that challenges to decisions were only accepted if there had been an error in applying the criteria. The criteria were very narrow and therefore very difficult to challenge, as some branch officers explained.

I know one probation officer that volunteered to go and work for the CRC and I know one that was transferred who was happy. Other probation officers … have spoken to me … because they were unhappy… they all appealed the decision for them to be transferred to the CRC and they all lost their appeals because there was only a three- stage appeal and you had to meet certain criteria and they didn’t … And there were people that were off on maternity leave at the time that the shift was done and they were transferred because they didn’t happen to be in a team at that time. So if you were in a team that time managing high risk offenders or sex offenders then you would have got transferred as probation officer because that’s the cases that went. But if you were off sick or maternity leave and there were two women that were on maternity leave at the time, they both got transferred into the CRC. And before they went on maternity leave they was dealing with high risk cases. (Branch officer)

Oh, you could express preference. Basically the way it happened is, some decisions were made for you in the sense that some people were put in one or the other and then people who were left were given the opportunity to choose, but the people who were given the opportunity to choose were a very small number compared to the overall … So if you worked in a hostel you were in the NPS, if you worked in support services you were in the CRC, if you worked in a prison you were in the NPS but if you worked in programmes you were in the CRC … some things you were just automatically put into one or the other without any negotiation. But that was the decision taken by central government, by the ministry and by NOMS. (Branch officer)
Reinforcing this, some survey respondents commented that in their Trust the Chief Probation Officer made it perfectly clear that appeals would not be ‘allowed’ and others saw the appeal process as too stressful to pursue. Branch officers’ view of the relatively small number of appeals was that many people chose to leave probation altogether rather than go through the appeal process.

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Working conditions and employee experiences in probation post-TR

The evidence from this research indicating that working conditions and employee experiences in probation post-TR and the split of the service have deteriorated is compelling for both parts – the NPS and the CRCs. The section considers the evidence from our research in three parts: workplace culture; working conditions; probation careers. Where we found significant differences across the dimensions of gender, race/ethnicity, age, grade, public/private, we highlight these. When it comes to gender, it is important to underline the fact that probation is more than 70% women and therefore the experiences described below are predominantly women’s experiences of public sector restructuring/outsourcing.

Workplace culture

When it comes to workplace culture, the recurrent themes were lack of inclusion, staff feeling unvalued, uncertainty, lack of consultation and low morale – these were all sources of stress and anxiety affecting both the NPS and CRCs, women and men, and all age groups. These themes arose in interviews, roundtable discussions, WiN workshops and are confirmed by the survey (see Table 5.2).

At the time of the fieldwork (January – June 2015), most probation workplaces still housed both NPS and CRC workers, although typically workplaces had been physically divided by use of different floors or parts of floors for NPS and CRC staff. Many branch officers talked about how divisive the split had been for staff groups who had previously worked together in an integrated fashion, but who now experienced tension, resentment and other negative emotions across the divide. A substantial number of survey respondents echoed this view (see Table 5.2). The following quote from one branch officer is a typical example of people’s experiences: 

Some people were sort of like oh, I’ve got NPS because I’m a good probation officer … everyone was highly emotive at that time, emotions were high. And so I think that affected things, so people thought “they think they’re better than us” … So you had this office where people worked with clients, I mean, it wasn’t perfect but then when the split came, it was literally like someone took an axe to the office and smashed it in half. And I don’t think it’s got better since then.
Everyday signs of the split included separate stationery cupboards, separate fridges, all the way down to separate tea bags. While research participants laughed about these trivial symbols of the split, they also identified serious consequences of the separation of functions/tasks for service delivery and by extension for their own professional ethics. The consequences included: CRC staff not being able to access offender records they had written after an offender transferred to the NPS; no lines of communication between CRC and NPS staff about individual cases; clients being kept waiting for unreasonable amounts of time because there was no available NPS/CRC worker to deal with them; longstanding complex cases being reallocated a PO several times as a succession of people transferred from the CRC to the NPS. One quote from a branch officer interview expresses the sentiments of many research participants: 
People felt sort of processed and undervalued and there’s this split so colleagues that you worked with very closely are suddenly in this other organisation and there are tales that if you go up on the fourth floor where the NPS are, they’re supposed to turn their screens off if you go up to talk to them. You know, we’ve always shared information.
This new division of work, and the isolation of people it brings, is seen as very detrimental to the capacity professionals have to face their daily work challenges:
I don’t think this is a job you could do if you did kind of isolate yourself from your colleagues because you have to be able to cope with the things that you hear and you read and there’s stuff that you have to talk about … I can’t tell you how difficult it is doing some of the things we have to do in our job. And being able to get support from your colleagues in doing that and even just the feeling of they know what I’m going through because they have to do it too, that helps. And so we work in an open plan office, some of our offices are smaller, but shared between a couple of people and you form close bonds with people that you sit close to because they’re the ones that overhear you when you have difficult phone conversations and you put the phone down and they’ll be the ones putting the kettle on and, ‘do you need to talk about it?’. Or they’re the ones that at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon where suddenly you have to complete a recall who rally round and keep you going. (National officer)
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There can surely be no doubt that the national situation in the CRCs has a lot to do with the Sodexo announcement in May 2015 of impending large-scale redundancies in the CRCs it owns and with Purple Futures also apparently indicating that redundancies might be in the offing. Combined, Sodexo and Purple Futures own 11 of the 21 CRCs and the sense of insecurity staff feel is bound to reverberate even among the CRCs with different owners. In fact, among the eight CRC owners, the survey indicates that the workplace culture of Sodexo owned CRCs is particularly problematic. In three branches with Sodexo owned CRCs, workers experienced particularly high levels of uncertainty (85%), and in four particularly high levels of low morale were reported (76%). On Sodexo, two participants’ comments mirror those of other people we spoke to in Sodexo owned CRCs:

I feel that Sodexo have lied to me, have tried to cheat myself and colleagues out of redundancy packages and have created total uncertainty in many areas of my working and private life. I have increased stress and anxiety since the TR and Probation split. (Survey respondent)

I retrained to come into this. And I’m not in it for the money, I came into it because I wanted to do the job and I believed in the job. I’ve never felt in twenty-odd years that I didn’t want to come into work, but it’s pretty soul destroying at the moment. And I think everywhere you go people are very flat. We just had the whole redundancy scenario explained to us and again you know, it’s affected everybody’s morale. (Branch roundtable participant)
Participants in the WiN workshop also felt that different CRC owners had different cultures – ranging from purely profit driven to mission driven – and that the full implications of this for probation staff would unfold over time. Participants thought, for example, that profit driven owners would attempt to drive down labour costs by various means in order to extract more profit, while mission driven owners would seek to enlist volunteers to deliver some probation services within budget. Practitioners now working in CRCs who were specialised in delivering programmes and working with the community before the split mentioned the effects that the restructuring had already had on the delivery of programmes with some activities designed to support clients disappearing or being diluted. Both models – the profit driven and mission driven – would result in an adverse climate for the probation workforce and the future of training and development and long-term careers would surely be put in jeopardy.

Against this discussion of the CRCs, it is important to stress, however, that our research in general and the survey results in particular hardly suggest a positive workplace culture in the NPS either, with widespread perceptions of uncertainty, feeling unvalued, lack of consultation, lack of inclusion and low morale in both parts of probation. In addition, on the NPS side, many branch officers and survey respondents felt frustrated by the more bureaucratic culture of the Civil Service compared to their experience of Probation Trusts. One branch officer, an SPO managing approved premises, spoke about the operational difficulties he was now facing especially when an unforeseen event or crisis occurred. Getting authorisation to make necessary expenditure had become more complex especially outside of normal office hours. He described a situation where unexpectedly he had to move 18 high-risk offenders released from prison on licence, which required spending on accommodation, food and transport. His story and the manner of its telling was one of palpable frustration.

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As with workplace culture, on some of the working conditions of greatest concern – stress, workloads, closures and relocation – branches with Sodexo owned CRCs consistently appear to fare among the worst. The highest stress levels were reported in four branches with Sodexo owned CRCs (56%); there was a higher than average inability to cope with workload in two branches with Sodexo owned CRCs (48%); there was higher than average fear of workplace closures and relocation in four branches with Sodexo owned CRCs (74%).

When it comes to targets and deadlines, at least one CRC that we are aware of is considering ‘naming and shaming’ individuals who do not meet targets (for example, completion of OAsys reports). Completing OAsys reports is widely seen as laborious and onerous and target deadlines too short. One issue that cropped up is that deadlines are unadjusted for part-timers, so they experience particular pressure with completing this task on time – while admittedly this has been the case for some time part-timers are apparently feeling the pressure far more keenly in the current stressful and insecure environment. For many full-timers the unrealistic deadlines result in long hours working – and attendant accumulation of TOIL already discussed. Added to this, nearly half of survey respondents reported that there is no cover for staff absences (sickness, annual leave, TOIL etc) and work simply accumulates or is redistributed to already overloaded staff. For many, work overload was resulting in poor health, but there was also fear (apparently unprecedented in probation) of taking sick leave in case sickness records are used against individuals in a future redundancy situation in the CRCs. There were also some reports of managers advising individuals to use annual leave instead of sick leave to avoid getting a warning. The following survey respondents described their experiences:
I am frightened to take sick time off from work, even though it is stress related. Really have to work hard so can take TOIL off. Targets and workload are too high. I co-work cases that really should belong to POs. There isn’t any time most times to say hi to other colleagues, always rushing around.

I rarely take time off on sick but I have recently taken two weeks off with stress and anxieties. Due to my work, it has been affecting my already high blood pressure, which I am treated for and I constantly suffer from heart palpitations and chest pains. I am concerned about my physical health on the back of this, as well as my mental health. I have come back after two weeks off sick because I was concerned for my colleagues who already in a very small team, and the fact they were having to cover my cases in my absence, I did not return because I felt better.
Targets have become a highly contentious issue in some CRCs and in some NPS workplaces. One branch officer explained that in his office (which contains both CRC and NPS staff) every offender manager is on the first stage of the disciplinary process (action plan) for failing to meet targets caused by severe understaffing. He believed that staff would be unlikely to meet the action plan requirements because they are still getting additional cases.

For many practitioners, work overloaded was not simply about the volume of cases – which is typically the greater problem on the CRC side. NPS practitioners are also overloaded in terms of the intensity and complexity of high-risk cases as one roundtable participant explains: 
I mean literally my workload has virtually doubled as a result of TR. But not only doubled, it’s jumped in intensity because you don’t have those minor offences, you don’t have the six month orders, the twelve month orders. The large majority of my cases at the moment won’t terminate until 2018, 2019. I’ve got offenders that I will be supervising until 2027. Now they’re telling me your caseloads are going to get better and only literally over the last two weeks have I seen any kind of respite. But no one seems to be able to tell me what’s going to happen to all the cases that are going to need to be allocated between now and 2027 because my caseload isn’t going anywhere. There isn’t the natural tail-off anymore because we’re getting such beefy sentences because we’re dealing with the higher risk.
Many Napo branch officers put the widespread stress in the NPS down to the change in the nature of POs’ workloads, who formerly would typically have had a mix of high and medium risk clients providing some balance to their working week. They are now dealing with only highly complex high-risk cases often involving some harrowing crimes and these clients require a lot of individual attention and multiple strategies, which can prove physically and emotionally exhausting for offender managers.

Apart from stress, other health and safety concerns also emerged in interviews, roundtables and workshops. There are concerns about safety, especially for female staff, when meeting clients outside of the workplace; when supervising domestic violence cases with only the most basic training; when running programmes with larger numbers of male participants than previously; about planned removal of screens from offices and installation of hot drinks machines in reception areas. Branch officers reported that health and safety seem to have slipped off the employers’ agenda and there is no risk assessments conducted. One female branch officer’s experience illustrates the potential health and safety consequences of not sharing information across the NPS/CRC divide as well as those that might flow from an artificial hierarchy of offender risk:

I ran a [domestic violence] group on one occasion where the men were disclosing some of their offences and I was really aware being a tutor in that room that I did not know the background of all these men who I was tutoring. So I didn’t know their risk because I didn’t have access to their information. And there was one guy on there and he turned round and he said, “I was in prison, I’m out now, I was done for stabbing my partner”. And you just sit there as a tutor and you think this is information I shouldn’t be having to be grappling around for, or not having access to. This should be information that I should have access to because potentially there is a risk to me …
Practitioners fear new risks for themselves, but also less efficiency in dealing with offenders. The implementation of new IT systems by the private companies that do not combine with the NPS system was raised repeatedly as a major communication problem, but it also constrains communication with other agencies and the police. In the NPS, many participants underline the complete organisational chaos in which they operate and emphasise the fact that if the service is still functioning, it is thanks to professionals’ good will and dedication.

In addition to the general concerns about working conditions expressed across gender and grade, disability-specific issues also cropped up. Some staff with disabilities experienced problems in the NPS with retaining the ‘reasonable adjustments’ provided by the Trusts:

Since the split, virtually every person who has a disability, and asked for reasonable adjustments, has seen either their admin support has been removed without anything replacing it or their workload relief has been cut without anything replacing it. Their assisted technology, if it isn’t working well managers have been encouraged to say well don’t use it. But they’re not making other adjustments instead and we’re having a devil of a time in [the region] at the moment because we have quite a strong minded equalities lead for the NPS side who is absolutely determined that you shouldn’t be given workload relief as a matter of course if you’re an assisted technology user. You should be able to be up to speed as soon as you’ve had the training and it doesn’t work like that because assisted technology packages are rubbish, they don’t work. (WiN workshop participant)
I am disabled and my reasonable adjustments have not been provided/honoured post-split. I have been informed or 'threatened' that intermittent disability leave can result in dismissal by HR - despite only having one day off - evidence of a 'bullying culture' and a lack of respect for disability issues within the NPS. This has been echoed by other Napo colleagues. (Survey respondent)

One of the things that they announced a few months ago is that all our staff with assisted technology, and some of them have got 30% workload reductions and they said well, that’s got to go. That you’ve got the assisted technology and you work at 100% or as close to 100% of your colleagues. Well, I mean, all our staff with assisted technology in NPS have all put grievances in. They’re up in the air and they’re all majorly worried that they’re suddenly going to be taking competency measures out against them. (Branch officer)
As stated previously, working conditions in probation have never been entirely consistent across Trusts, but Napo branch officers did not regard such inconsistencies as existed as a major problem; it was more likely that some branches had been able to negotiate with the local employers to improve on national conditions for the benefit of members. In the current environment, the concern is that deleterious inconsistencies in working conditions are emerging, especially across the CRCs.

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Deprofessionalisation and deskilling were words frequently used by Napo national and branch officers and activists to describe the assault that TR has perpetrated on probation practitioners’ everyday practice as well as professional identity. The branch officers below are all speaking about this from a CRC perspective and the fact that CRC staff cannot supervise high-risk offenders nor do court-related work: 
The big thing for the people left behind [in the CRCs] is the deskilling. One of my colleagues had been a probation officer forever, she’s not allowed to go to a normal hearing anymore without having someone from the NPS accompanying her and when they rang up they said it could be anybody, it didn’t really matter, it just had to be somebody from the NPS to tag along. (Branch officer) 
One example, one of our people went to a parole board hearing and the parole board judge said, “I need somebody from the NPS”. And it’s like, well, I’m a probation officer, yeah, you’re not … Almost like you’re not a proper one, I need a proper one from the NPS and that is the sort of sense that people are getting. That sort of thing is getting out there, it is like the NPS is the professional part of probation. The CRC isn’t …. because NPS have kept all the high risk and dangerous offenders, they kept all the report writing so they do all the court work, all the parole work. So it is all that stuff that probation officers are trained to do and they’re pretty good at it most of them. But the ones who are in the CRC are no longer allowed to do those key core tasks that was always the job of a probation officer. And I think that’s where the sense of deskilling, deprofessionalisation …. you’ve got examples where somebody has just qualified and they’re in the NPS and they’ve been a probation officer for like, a few weeks. But they are allowed to make a decision that somebody who’s been a probation officer for fifteen years is no longer allowed to make purely because of where they ended up. (Branch officer)
The deskilling and the deprofessionalisation for me were almost immediate. You need to hand your lifers over and I was really angry about that because one in particular I’d had for I think about eleven years. He’s in a special hospital and the only outside contact this man has is with his probation officer and he had a relationship with his previous probation officer that was quite productive and he passed him on to me and then I spent quite a long time working on having a productive relationship with this man who’s got some fairly significant illnesses and then just to have that removed. Oh, he’s got to go to somebody else now because you know, you’re no longer … And nobody actually said you’re no longer qualified but that’s how it feels. (Branch officer)
CRC practitioners find it demeaning and an insult to their professional knowledge and expertise that they can no longer perform certain tasks or supervise high-risk offenders. It also makes them conscious that certain career choices are no longer available to them (e.g. to transition to high-risk cases). There has also been a negative impact on professional identity experienced by NPS staff:
The whole thing about professional identity I feel has gone and you can’t measure that, can you. You can’t quantify what that means to you as a practitioner, what you see going on around you. But it just feels like a series of tasks, every day you have a to-do list and a set of targets to meet. You are making decisions and somewhere in the middle, you might exercise your professional judgement. It doesn’t actually feel that way because all the time it’s about a process rather than about looking at anything, having the capacity to reflect on what you’re doing and look at the bigger picture and understand what’s going on and have time to talk to anybody about what it is you’re trying to do at any point in time. (Branch officer)
While people recognised that many of the professional challenges with which they are now grappling existed prior to TR (e.g. unrealistic targets, poor IT infrastructure, changes to training and development, poor practice tools, etc), the almost universal view is that TR has only served to exacerbate the problems. CRC practitioners, but also some in the NPS, underline the fact the new owners do not understand probation work and are making unreasonable proposals to restructure the organisation of work that practitioners predict will fail. Overall, TR seems to have had a negative impact on professional identity and it also seems to have removed from many the sense of pride they took in being part of probation: 
We’re proud workers, you know. When I qualified to become a probation officer, it was like wow, and all my family and friends were like really pleased. And you take pride in your work and when you see people change for the better, you know, someone that gets a job that finds it difficult …. that outweighs all the crappy days and now that’s all gone because the cuts that the government are implementing, have implemented, and the rest that are going to come, means that there isn’t much you can do …. (Branch officer)
The above branch officer went on to lament how a lot of POs were now taking a tougher stance with offenders (and for example instigating formal breaches more frequently) because the scope had shrunk for using professional judgement without risking reprimand or formal disciplinary proceedings starting.

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Another issue that cropped up regularly in discussions was the creeping blurring of the boundaries between PO and PSO roles, which had started prior to TR, but which had escalated such that it had become a major concern especially in the CRCs. The fear is (and all the signs suggest) that the CRCs will employ as few POs as possible whose main role will end up being to supervise/oversee/sign off the work of PSOs. As the branch officer below observes, this could be a money saving exercise for the CRC owners:

You’ve got probation officers in the CRC managing the same cases as probation service officers so in reality why would you pay them £7,000 a year more, why would you do it? So I think at some point there’s going to be that deprofessionalisation where they just get rid of the qualified people because they don’t need them. The model requires that you might keep one or two around to like oversee but really and truly I think there’s going to be a move to deprofessionalise the CRC. I don’t think long term they’ll have the qualification there because why … The qualification is really expensive and if you don’t need to put people on it why would you? Also in reality you probably put them on a qualification, eventually they’ll leave to go to the NPS anyway because if they’re qualified to work with high risk offenders why would they not work with high risk offenders?
They’re talking about removing the PO/PSO boundaries. Up to now there have been quite clear divisions that certain parts of the work are done by POs and for that they got paid a PO grade. And certain other tasks were done by PSOs who hadn’t been through the training and weren’t paid as much. I think there’s been pressure over the past few years for the PSOs to do more of the work that was previously done by the POs and that’s something that as a union we’ve been against because we think that people should be trained to do the job they’re doing, paid for the job they’re doing. And I think at the briefing [by the CRC owners] they said, we’re going to remove these boundaries. So the concern is OK, so if you’re going to get a PSO to do that work are they going to be paid the same rate? People worked hard to get their qualification, they want it, and it’s part of your identity.
Whereas previously, the blurring of role boundaries was part of the professional group dynamics, allowing learning processes and flexibility, many Napo officers fear that the CRC owners will use it as an argument to re-band and rebrand PSO grades:
… there is a total blurring of boundaries, but that’s been constant ever since I’ve been in probation… blurring the boundaries all the time because they [case administrators] are doing more of the stuff that a PSO might have previously done… They’ve piloted it here of having administrators in court taking all the court results and someone just gets sentenced to 100 hours of unpaid work, they don’t need a probation worker to do that, you can just have an administrator, just see them outside the court room… that’s happening already and I think that will happen more and more. Because if you’re a private company you want to get the best deal you can. (Branch officer)
Post-TR and the probation split, probation careers appear overall to offer less satisfaction and fulfilment and fewer opportunities to make a difference – and this is what attracted many practitioners in the first place. Overall, the deskilling and downgrading of jobs, the end of career progression and the conversion to market forces (in the CRCs) symbolises the deterioration of a professional space that had attracted many women who found probation offered non-discriminatory working conditions and career prospects.

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Apart from the few activists who are known to have left Napo because they disagreed with the union strategy and felt betrayed by the outcomes of the Judicial Review, branch officers report that their members have not left Napo in large numbers. They also report that losses are mainly due to members retiring or leaving probation in the wake of TR.

But I think realistically, if you look beyond that active layer which is quite a thin layer of people really, key activists within branches may be only, you know, a few dozen people really. But wider membership I found are far more realistic about what our prospects were … and what the long term prospects are, the fact that we have to keep defending their terms and conditions. We haven’t had this huge haemorrhaging of membership that some were anticipating. We’ve had people leave but I think that is, it’s been in the dozens, not the hundreds. And you know, we need to analyse the data but it seems that most of those people who have left are because they are retiring or they are moving on because they don’t like what is happening. We haven’t had a sort of a backlash against the union in that sense. So there is a bit of a wait and see attitude amongst the membership as to whether we’re going to stem the tide and continue to have an influence within both the NPS and the CRCs. (National Officer)
We have lost members through mainly through just natural wastage of people retiring. People have left, people are so fed up that I’ve had people who’ve said to me I’ve had enough, I’ve got no other job to go onto but I can’t stand it anymore, I’m leaving and they’ve left. People have resigned. All sorts going … And it’s a really unhappy place. (Branch officer)