Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Latest From Napo 168

Here we have last Friday's blog post from the Napo General Secretary:-

Err yes…actually the unions got it right (again)

We have been reporting on the farcical engagement we have been having recently with senior NPS leaders on 2017 pay and we were visited at this week’s TU engagement meeting by Martin Beacroft the HMPPS HR lead. Martin came to tell us that our conclusion that all of the 2017 NPS pay remit had not been spent was ‘well on the money’ so to speak.

At the time of writing the unions are about to issue another joint statement to members on pay but suffice to say that the way in which this issue has been handled begs a host of questions about the competency of the NPS and MoJ leadership to be able to properly account for the money that they are entrusted with.

The ensuing discussion covered other pay related issues such as why allowances and London Weighting have not been uplifted and we were of course able to relay members anger about the far from amusing sub-plot that has seen the NPS refused authority to make further Market Forces pay uplifts in the so called ‘Red Sites’ despite huge numbers of unfilled vacancies and some NPS divisions paying out overtime.

I well appreciate that all of this is frustrating for members but it’s not of the unions making; and our persistence in demanding that someone should add up the numbers again means that further representations will be made further up the food chain.

We live in hope.

Meanwhile, Sam says thanks

Had meant to copy you into this ‘thank you‘ letter from Minister Gyimah earlier, but in light of the foregoing and the uncertainty about longer term pay reform, I doubt whether our members will be exactly jumping with joy at the expression of appreciation contained therein.

Sam Gyimah Letter

‘It is painful that only a handful of Government Members have turned up for this important debate. That shows that they do not care about our workers.’

I mentioned last week that there was to be a Westminster Hall debate on public sector pay and the line above has been taken from the transcript of the proceedings which featured a high quality contribution from Helen Jones MP, among others.

It’s worth a read but if you run out of time try this classic observation from Helen which nails the oft quoted lie that public servants are a drain on the economy.

‘When we are told that only the private sector generates value in the economy, we should ask, “Yes, but who looks after your workers when they are sick? Who do you call if you are burgled or are the victim of fraud? Who do you call if a fire starts in your building? Who educated the workers you employ?” The answer is, of course, “the public sector”. There is something else about the public sector that cannot be measured so easily: it has contributed more to human improvement and happiness than it is possible to say. Without our teachers and our classroom assistants, for instance, so many hopes and aspirations would be stifled. Having a national health service has freed many families from the fear of being ill and not being able to pay the doctor. The improvements that NHS staff have made in preventing and tackling disease have vastly increased everyone’s quality of life.

Something else about the public sector is that its workers are often ready to go the extra mile, precisely because they believe in the notion of public service. We see that in teachers and classroom assistants, who put on extra classes in their own time to help children who are struggling or to help the very brightest achieve their potential. We see it in an NHS support worker, who will bring in a card or a small gift for an old person on their birthday because they know they have no one else. We see it in a police community support officer who will go around to reassure a victim of crime or antisocial behaviour, even when they are off duty. Nor should we forget that we saw it in this House when Westminster was under attack from terrorists. The staff of St Thomas’s Hospital ran—they ran—across that bridge, heedless of their own safety, to help others, and a very brave man, Police Constable Keith Palmer, lost his life defending us. After such incidents, a lot of gratitude is expressed to public sector workers, and rightly so, but gratitude does not pay the rent or the mortgage, or put food on the table. It does not buy a new uniform for the kids, or a day out.’

Westminster Hall Debate (hansard)

Overall, how happy did you feel yesterday?

Yes, another of those famous: ‘whoever thought of that’, questions which was among those included in the HMPPS section of the Civil Service People Survey.

At this week’s Trade Union engagement meeting with the NPS we heard how positive the responses had been from staff. That was good to hear and first read of the probation specific data suggests there is some substance to the claims that people enjoy their work and feel trusted to get on with it. Also important was the response that people feel they can rely on their colleagues and that the team ethic appears to be strong. The clever use of neutral scores to average out the negative aspects are nothing new of course, but the overwhelming impression is that the NPS scores well for its good intentions but pretty badly on its capacity to deliver and manage change and make staff feel part of the bigger picture.

If I have seen one of these types of survey I have seen hundreds, and while it’s all good stuff for the consultants revenue streams, our members will probably agree that it won’t be long before it gathers dust on a shelf somewhere as the NPS struggles with bigger priorities such as their ability to pay people correctly, and convincing the Treasury that they can be trusted to manage their finances more efficiently.

As always we stand ready to work collectively to explore the positives but I was not especially enthused by the outcomes. You can drill down into the survey results here and see for yourself.

Ministry of Justice: Civil Service people survey results 2017

Trouble in the Wild West

Signing off for now as I arrive in Weston Super Mare (then Bristol later) to meet with Working Links CRC union members on the second leg of visits to the West Country where on Monday I spoke with UNISON and Napo members in Bodmin.

I am working on a feature article for our upcoming issue of the online journal NQ where I hope to articulate the disgraceful way in which staff are being treated by this employer and the dreadful and dangerous things that are going on in terms of interventions and Unpaid Work services.

It’s clear from feedback that we are fast heading to the next stage of this dispute and I will as always respond to our members wishes here. Watch this space.

Cafcass pay offer - members being consulted

Next week should see the result of the Cafcass members pay ballot, and more news on the latest developments around proposed changes to the Workload measurement tool, on which Napo have been making some strong representations.

Ian Lawrence

Monday, 11 December 2017

Prison Crisis

Despite signs of complacency from the new Minister of Justice, it's quite obvious that there's absolutely no sign of the prison crisis improving any time soon, a situation confirmed by news of just how many times the 'Tornado' squads were used during the year. This from the Guardian:-

Elite prison squad deployed to jails 580 times last year

An elite group of specially trained prison officers had to be deployed to jails in England and Wales 580 times last year, figures show. Members of the national tactical response group (NTRG) were sent to incidents including a riot at HMP Birmingham, as well as hostage situations and “incidents at height”. The number of callouts to prisons has been increasing year-on-year, according to the figures, which were released by the Ministry of Justice after a freedom of information request by the Press Association.

The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) said the data showed the reality of prisons needing national support to maintain security and control after “year-on-year budget cuts”. Labour said the data underlined just how counterproductive Tory cuts to the prison service have been, leading to “an epidemic of violence” in jails. But the MoJ said a majority of the deployments were to non-violent incidents and were often precautionary.

In 2010, the NTRG were called to jails 118 times, while in 2014 there were 223 callouts, with the figure rising to more than 340 in 2015. The 40-member squad had already been deployed 110 times from January to April this year, according to the most recent figures available. Incidents included occasions of “concerted indiscipline”, barricade events and incidents at height, such as when a prisoner climbs on to a cell block’s anti-suicide netting or an internal roof.

During their busiest month in May 2016, the NTRG were sent out 67 times to 39 jails, dealing with inmate disorder, hostage events and incidents at height, among others. In the case of two jails – HMP Lindholme in Doncaster and HMP Nottingham – the specialists had to be called in nearly every month last year. Separately, figures showed so-called Tornado teams – separate to the NTRG – were deployed 19 times last year, compared with 15 occasions in 2015 and seven in 2010.

In the seven months to July this year, Tornado squads had been sent to 10 incidents. Of those, eight happened in the July, involving HMP Humber in Yorkshire, HMP Hewell in Worcestershire, HMP Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, HMP Erlestoke in Wiltshire, and HMP The Mount in Hertfordshire. The figures do not include more recent problems with disorder, including at the high-security HMP Long Lartin jail in Worcestershire where Tornado teams were confronted by dozens of prisoners in October.

Commenting on the figures, the POA said: 
“The POA are not shocked by the numbers of callouts as this demonstrates that prisons are in need of national support to maintain security and control. However, the figures can be distorted due to some callouts requiring nationally trained staff. The reality is that year-on-year budget cuts have reduced staff and as a result prisoners feel more in charge as organised crime continues to increase.”

Labour’s shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, said: 
“These figures underline how counterproductive the Tories’ cuts to the prison service have been. Deployment of these costly riot squads has soared following the government’s decision to axe thousands of prison officers, which has created an epidemic of violence in our prisons. This dangerous situation is likely to go from bad to worse given that a quarter of the prisons that the MoJ itself rates as being of concern have experienced a further cut in prison officer numbers over the past year.”

An MoJ spokesman said: 
“We have specially trained teams that provide support to prisons on a range of incidents – from offenders climbing onto an internal roof to a large-scale disturbance. The majority of callouts are for non-violent incidents when the officers only attend as a precaution or when the situation was already resolved by prison staff.”


Clearly something has to be done about a worsening situation and Bob Neill, Chair of the Justice Select Committee is on the case. This from the Politics Home website:-

Our prison crisis cannot be swept under the carpet

During the course of the last Parliament there was arguably only one issue to escape the growing shadow of Brexit with the urgency and scale to compete, quite rightly, for Westminster’s attention: prisons.

Indeed, Parliament seemed awash with statements, urgent questions and debates concerned with the (very much ongoing) crisis across our prison estate. With this focus noticeably tapering off since the General Election, we run the risk of giving the impression that the situation has improved in recent months. The Justice Committee has been very clear – all evidence points firmly to the contrary.

In fact, as the Chief Inspector of Prisons noted in his annual report in July, the status quo has only deteriorated further. Of the 29 local prisons and training prisons inspected during the year, 21 were judged to be ‘poor’ or ‘not sufficiently good’ in the area of safety. Taken with the soaring levels of self-harm and suicides, the considerable increase in violence (with 6,844 assaults in 2016 on staff alone), and the continued failure to provide offenders with a meaningful education or support the treatment of acute mental health needs, this problem should certainly remain high on the government’s agenda.

That is precisely why the Justice Committee has tabled a debate this Thursday on prison reform and safety. We have conducted a considerable amount of work on this issue since 2015, and our report last year helped secure an immediate increase in funding for those prisons most in need.

The government’s subsequent Prison Safety and Reform White Paper set out a framework for addressing the immediate challenges, announcing a series of ambitious proposals to modernise the prison estate. It also crucially brought forward a number of very welcome legislative measures, including clarifying in law the primary purpose of custodial sentences – rehabilitation – and placing the role of the prisons ombudsman on a statutory basis.

It was disappointing to see these plans dropped from the previous Prisons and Courts Bill following the Queen’s Speech, and while I do not doubt the intentions of my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, I must be frank in saying that the government has kept alarmingly quiet on this matter ever since. We have sought to probe its priorities, including through an evidence session with the Secretary of State at the end of October, and in the absence of any meaningful progress, or even significant discussion, on this issue, will press again for answers during this debate of the whole House.

Our timing is no coincidence. We are shortly expecting an action plan on prison safety and reform, and specific strategies on employment and women are also in the pipeline. A timetable is now needed for these. We must also look again at the powers available to the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman (PPO). As the latter aptly put it when giving evidence to the Committee last year, ‘it can be depressing how little traction we appear to have on occasions.’

It is simply not good enough that one-third of the prisons inspected over the past year have not implemented the recommendations handed down by these bodies, and recurring themes of failure should no longer be tolerated.

Efforts to tackle this problem, and properly monitor the work of the Ministry more broadly, are frustrated by a lack of data. As a case in point, despite its claims to be ‘data-driven’, the government has been unable to provide the Committee with a five-year breakdown of budgets for education, training and family services.

This crisis in our prisons is not going away, and it cannot, and should not, be swept under the carpet. I hope Members will join me and my Committee colleagues in holding the government to account and pushing for action on this most important of subjects.

Bob Neill


Also last week, I notice the Prison Reform Trust published a report by former MoJ insider Julian Le Vay that rather embarrassingly points out how the Department has got its figures wrong:- 

Former prison service finance chief: prison building plans “unaffordable”

Today, on the same day that MPs will debate the government’s prison reform and safety plans, the Prison Reform Trust has published a paper it has commissioned from a former Prison Service Finance Director, Julian Le Vay. The paper analyses the Ministry of Justice’s ambitions for prison building in the light of its current spending review settlement with HM Treasury. It concludes that the Ministry of Justice’s current plans are inadequately funded to the tune of £162m in 2018/19, rising to £463m in 2022/23.

In the spending review and autumn statement 2015, the government committed to build nine new prisons providing 'around' 10,000 new places. Five of these prisons would be built 'in this Parliament' i.e. by May 2020, the other four 'shortly after' that. These prisons were expected to replace existing old prisons which would be sold to provide 'over 3,000' homes.

However, revised prison population projections, published in August 2017, revealed that the population is expected to grow by around 1,600 above current levels by 2022. And the building programme has already slipped, so it is extremely doubtful any new prison can open by May 2020—let alone five. On current population projections, there is no prospect of any impact on overcrowding before 2022—indeed, unless the government abandons plans to close old prisons and instead keeps them all open as well as building new ones, emergency measures to create space are likely to be necessary as early as next year and throughout the period up to 2022.

Furthermore, the paper's projections assume there are no unforeseen events, such as fire, riot or loss of accommodation to other reasons of health and safety. However, those events have been a regular feature of the last three decades, and have become more rather than less frequent in the last three to four years. The analysis suggests there is no prospect of being able safely or decently to take any existing accommodation out of use before 2022.

Looking further ahead, the analysis concludes that, without a concerted effort by government to reduce the size of the prison population, a further prison building programme is likely to be required from 2026, and that no more than half of the capacity created by then will have resulted in the closure of older and unfit prisons

The paper notes that we have been building prisons continuously since 1980, with 31 opened since then—at a capital cost of £3.7bn, and with extra annual running costs of £1.5bn. This is enough to have built maybe 25,000 homes. And to be employing 50,000 more nurses or teachers. Yet new prisons have filled up and been overcrowded as quickly as we have built them. As long ago as 1991 government described an end to overcrowding as essential to running a decent prison service, but the proportion of prisoners sharing cells designed for one has not reduced.

Commenting, Peter Dawson, Director of the Prison Reform Trust, said:

“At a time when prison numbers have fallen in many developed countries, the UK has continued to throw taxpayers’ money at prison building. Yet our prisons remain chronically overcrowded, with disastrous consequences for safety and decency. After trying the same failed policy for nearly four decades, the time has surely come for a change. Reversing sentencing inflation would create the breathing space our system so desperately needs and plug at least this one hole in the public finances.”


It's my understanding that during the summer the MoJ became painfully aware that, such was the state of prison over-crowding, that they were dangerously close to having to resort to emergency measures such as the use of police cells. This situation was only averted by all staff with any experience of front-line probation practice being directed towards a trawl of the country in a desperate search for prisoners deemed suitable for executive release. Somewhat surprisingly, this news doesn't seem to have attracted much attention.    

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Pick of the Week 34

You are right, Working Links are running CRC's in name only but leaving a skeleton staff post cuts to deliver the impossible. Any problem and they ask middle managers to sort it. However there are only a handful left and they are covering 2+ office bases as well as frequently supervising riskier cases because so few PO's left. UPW is a shambles since they got rid of UPW case managers and gave all standalone UPW cases to OM's. This offender was possibly unfit to do UPW from the outset, but the whole assessment process is compromised from beginning to end. Rushed through court by NPS with often just an oral report, rushed through induction and straight onto UPW without full consideration of risks to self or public.It is an almighty fuck up and the sooner someone with with some guts steps in and ends it the better. Working Links? You have got to be joking.

Unfortunately, the state CRCs find themselves in, understaffed, excessive workloads, piss poor working conditions, unable to offer support to clients, stressed and angry, was all so predictable by just looking at the history and working practices of the companies that were awarded TR contracts. Previous behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour? If companies have a repeat 'record' of fraud, stripping assets and staff numbers, mismanagement and poor service delivery in every other contract they've been paid to deliver, then they're just going to do the same with the next contract they're given.

NAPO, UNITED, UNISON, whoever, need a united drive to get these corrupt greedy companies away from feeding from the treasury coffers under the guise of delivering public services. They don't deliver. They feed off the tax payer at greater cost then the publicly owned model. It shouldn't be individual fights. The same problems are rife throughout the public sector, transport, NHS, prisons etc, all face the same issues. Taking back the public sector from privateer pirates requires a united public sector approach, not individual battles.

I must be missing something: 50% of the jobs have gone and yet the praises of the SW are still being sung. At what point do some posters come out of denial and accept that all the hyperbolic talk of a brave fight has achieved zero? With a dose of realism, you can see that the SW is simply the best-looking horse in the glue factory!

As the probation service is not struggling to recruit new staff, the likelihood is that wages will continue their real terms fall and it will remain a female dominated workforce. Probation has no industrial muscle, so it's no surprise that the employers can manage the docile workforce as they wish. The unions ask for talks – they are ignored. They beg Spurr to make their case for a pay increase – he says he's spent all the money on the prison service.

On Working Links, the union leadership looks to members for directions on 'next steps', as though the union was an agony aunt. The unions well know that the only possibility of forcing the intransigent WL to rethink is through a credible threat of strike action. The pragmatic union leadership won't make the arguments for action. They push the onus onto a membership which is fractured, passive, atomised and therefore too weak to make a difference to anything.

Having read many posts on this truly helpful blog, and having been a NAPO member for over 15 years, and having enjoyed and been proud for the most part of being associated with the Probation Service, I have come to the conclusion that as staff, being experienced, dedicated and knowledgeable on what works and equally what doesn’t, we are no longer listened to, considered or valued. We work for a faceless breed of pen pushers, pushing through a tick box, computer driven, target led framework that fails the service users, public and staff alike. And no one in charge cares.

Simply put, unless we all stand together, including every member, and use the financial and legal services of NAPO and Unison combined, to muster a movement of our own, we may as well just roll over and be done because nothing we have done so far has stemmed the tide of destruction of our once respected Probation. My question is this; what if anything can be done, on ground level and also by the unions?

Who are the 'adversaries'? Of course senior managers read the blog. Private companies will also task someone with searching Internet and media for any publicity, positive or negative. They hate this blog because it allows staff and members of the public to post confidentially. It is the only place we can do that. I don't personally believe there is a problem with posting union related info on here and welcome open debate. I feel very much like the person who posted above. I have tried to do what I can to raise issues and flag up failings but ultimately all that is left for me is to find another job and bid farewell to being a PO. 

So that is what I am going to do. Perhaps eventually when the staffing situation reaches crisis point (is it not there already?) something will be done. The unions are only as strong as its' members. If you are a member please be a member in more than name. it is not just there to fight for you, you must also fight for each member and the union as a whole. I would like to see NAPO taking legal action through the courts. The time is right!

There was no evidence in the run-up to TR and in the years since, that anything can be done to improve workplace conditions or achieve fairer pay. Some individuals, through promotions and other opportunities, may achieve job satisfaction and adequate remuneration, but the majority of the frontline workforce will continue to experience increasing demands, less control, while wages lag behind inflation. For the majority, therefore, it will require great imagination to feel valued.

Nothing will change for the better until the balance of workplace power shifts. And it will only shift if it's forced to. This requires solidarity amongst the workers and determined leadership by the unions. Most members of unions are inactive and show no interest in collective action. They can't even be bothered to vote in union elections – only 1 in 5 voted for the current General Secretary and even fewer for the current chairs. Despite all the travails of TR and real terms decline in wages, the wider membership remains in slumber. Maybe they sleep contentedly, are able to adjust to austerity and feel grateful to be in employment – and not in the gig economy. Their passivity is one of the wonders of TR, as the TR impact risk assessment did flag up worries about worker unrest.

There is no workplace counterforce to the writ of the bosses. Nothing is ever up for meaningful negotiation because you cannot negotiate from weakness, no matter how much you cry foul. The probation unions are weak and they know – as do the employers – that there is no mandate, no clamour from the wider workforce for confrontation. On the one hand, probation staff talk about challenging bad behaviour, but not when it's coming from their own employers. Since TR things have steadily worsened on many fronts and there is nothing to indicate that this downward trend will change any time soon. I don't really think we need worry, melodramatically, about others reading this blog. The only union strategy I see is one of trying to survive on a declining membership.

Perhaps first come to terms that the union isn't going to do it for you and that some of your colleagues are part of the problem. If the good POs leave then they will be replaced by other inexperienced people, also part of the problem. Much as you may not agree, how about joining forces (via media) with those that use the 'service'. One way that's quite effective is to 'out' the more /greedy/corrupt CRCs in the press. And just keep outing them. In the end it will be so embarrassing to keep these CRCs in business they will have to withdraw their contracts. Get outing. The people to assist you in that endeavour are the service users.

Worm is turning in my team. Ever since I got there, it's been a low on Union members, with a not unfamiliar "what did they ever do for us" mumble. Definitely a hint of "enough is enough" doing the rounds there, and talk of the need to join up. If any of us have the energy to fish out the form and the bank mandate: I have never seen a group of people so uniformly exhausted and stressed-out with the height of the split and sell-off.

I recently went to a staff forum involving probation officers from different areas. The sentiment in the room wouldn't probably surprise most readers, but may come as news to those working for the MoJ or E3 or those who are so removed from practice. What was expressed broadly followed the following:

a) We WANT to do good work, but the service has lost sight of what "good means" in terms of evidenced based reduction of re-offending/desistance
b) We WANT to do assessments that are meaningful, but OASYS doesn't allow for this - if we need a 10 page PIT tool to explain what needs to go in each section, something is amiss
c) We can and DO want to record information - but not in 10 different places

So if you want HETE data, risk registers, NSI breach and recall stats, ARMS assessments and SARA, then stop making us duplicate the same information in 3 different places, as we have data fatigue. The final comments were - get rid of OASYS, get rid of Delius, get rid of data, get rid of stupid systems like mappa meganexus, SOP, Equip - bring in an assessment system that actually makes sense, bring in evidence to support and underpin the work we are doing.

So what can we do to bring about change? - collectively refuse to complete Delius risk registers, personal information/equality info and HETE data - can we not write a collective letter that we submit to managers essentially stating "we are no longer completing any of this as it means nothing and we are focusing on the core elements of our job instead"?

I'm surprised that more comments have not been generated by the man who asked to be imprisoned in his attempt to be housed; fortunately for him, his plan worked,  for many it does not. Probation services, including the governmental wing in the form of NPS, completely ignore service user's housing needs as an integral element to preventing re-offending. Time and again I've seen service users committing offences which would not have occurred had housing been available or living in inappropriate or dubious circumstances, within a sentence plan which pontificates their avoidance of "anti social peers". 

We pay lip service to "risk management" but are more than happy to accept potentially risky situations when housing is unavailable. We seem more than happy to pay for prison, as in the case for this man, and not housing. I've seen ACO's authorise a few weeks payment in a B&B for the most risky/serious offenders, but would never consider paying an equivalent amount of money for a deposit, thus providing a long term solution. The NPS has no housing strategy. NPS probation officers have the stress piled on them by service users, managers and AP staff to "do something about this person's housing situation", and AP's are more than happy to apply their arbitrary 3 month deadline on the more tricky service users (the ones who don't pay their service charge or who rack up the odd warning letter for coming home 13 minutes late for curfew) in preference of the "easier to manage", even though the former are more in need. The situation is despicable people, please respond I need to know I'm not alone here!

You can gauge the appetite to change things by the level of union membership and the degree of activism. Our case is undermined by whingers who moan instead of getting off their arses. Collusion, infighting, apathy, and a defeatist attitude. Loach is right. Join a union, get active, and refuse to take any crap, especially from the privateers.

Very engaging and I get the point we need to reflect on this state of affairs. It is incredibly upsetting to read about murders in prisons and young people so afraid in custody as to be in a state of being permanently terrified. However did we ‘the people’ allow this to happen?! I would argue it was forced upon us all.

Yes in an ideal world we will all be part of a union and call the shots. Unfortunately, the only successful union these days really lies in transport. Having worked on the railways I have observed that’s because it’s completely ingrained in the culture and when it comes to transport a strike is a very powerful weapon indeed. If someone is unfairly dismissed on the railways they stand together and the whole bloody lot go on strike in support. In public services people stick their head down and think “I hope that doesn’t happen to me”. 

The union culture is not ingrained in public services in the way it once was. Too many have been let down too many times that when the time came no one had any faith that there was sufficient bottle to fight. Unfortunately in Probation, the crucial moment has passed (for now). What happened was and is a disgrace and the failures and should haves have been well documented on this blog.

I am convinced change is on its way and that ‘we the people’ want change, but I think we are all asking and trying to discover as a nation is ‘where does the power lie’? Is it our government, is it corporations, is it the EU? These are the issues that need to be worked out for real change to happen and it will take time, but we will get there. Yes we must use this time to mobilise, keep our powder dry and wait for the next opportunity to make changes to support the most vulnerable in our society.

As a service user, I for one would welcome a strike against the CRCs. It would give us all a break.

So Hood is another one who has moved across from public to private sector. I want to know how much he gets paid. He complains about 'noise' but gives no detail. We don't know if the probation inspectorate are noisy buggers. The unions aren't noisy and don't even get a mention. It's all surreal: an in-house magazine called Connect – which is the very thing they don't want to do. Hood tells staff to tell him what they think – he will then decide whether he's hearing noise or music.

Being chipper and talking upbeat is the usual tool of the confidence trickster, who's real focus is really concentrated on getting as much money from the customer as they can for that dodgy car. When people realise they've been sold a croc, the chipper upbeat salesman will just move on to another pitch, and they'll be replaced by another smiling upbeat and chipper salesman.

If they'd get their heads out of each others arseholes for just one minute they'd realise it's not "external noise" but the sound of reasoned argument. Still, nice to note the nod to this blog; seems like its giving someone a headache. Good job, JB.

It's all good in the hood! It was only March this year that things were so bad (claimed) that MTCnovo was talking about walking out on their contract. It was only last month that bad practice and underhand methods of securing payment were being discussed in the media. All's good in the hood is terminology I'd personally associate with gang culture, crime and gangsters! Perhaps it is appropriate use of language for privateers too?

Just a few points:
1 " collaborative work spaces": is Harrow CRC relocating to Barnet thereby creating the need for Harrow service users to travel for miles to probation appointments part of this deliberate policy?
2: "Putting the service user at the centre of what we do" - see above.
3: what is the definition of the "high calibrate staff" which MTCnovo want to look after and develop? Recent developments in the hood would suggest that these do not include part time workers, older ones, those needing assistive technology and possibly even some who would make distracting noises. Resonate with anyone?
4: "performance shared for all to see". Yes, but profits shared for all to see? No.

Surely they mean carpe omnia – seize everything, They are profit-driven and one of their key objectives is to take money out of their business to reward investors. All their talk about being committed to improvements is predicated on mercenary motives. If they broke even they would be regarded as failures. Hood has to show a profit and to do that he will happily 'sweat the assets', stagnate pay and cut the workforce. But as he visits the offices, he wants all this forgotten. He says don't be shy about talking to him, but perhaps he confuses shyness with loathing. Why would anyone being screwed down in a CRC wish to spend time being hoodwinked. As for noise, the fool should realise it's sonic warfare and he'd better get used to it!

Has Working Links reached 'end state' yet? The term WL's hatched for their post apocalypse vision when everything is renewed and comes to order, the chosen ones rise from the earth etc? Just wondering when the chosen ones are coming back in BGSW CRC/Devon and Cornwall? So far WL have managed to push numerous staff post 40% cuts to hand in their notice and the letters must be arriving thick and fast from what I hear. 

However, no sign of any replacements with these new malleable super-staff they were hoping for. Only a sorry job offer for a peripatetic PSO for Somerset which = some poor sod driving around in their car wrecking their engine and covering whichever office has the biggest crisis at the time. Staff are already being moved around with multiple office bases so perhaps all new staff will have to meet these criteria. Just when you thought WL's couldn't get any more for less, they manage to extract more. No doubt Ian Lawrence will have more to say on this having conducted his 'real picture' tour of the Wild West yesterday. Look forward to reading all about it and no doubt the job applications will be flooding in for that new post.

"Transform Justice will enhance the system through promoting change – by generating research and evidence to show how the system works and how it could be improved..."

Whilst recognising the need for serious research, NOTHING CHANGES & the pontificating continues. Probation staff are drowning (CRC & NPS) yet folk are still lining up to get recognition and/or payment for describing the water. The water is deep, wet, cold & shitty.

'Less is More' was the blindly optimistic (or callously calculating?) management mantra in Trusts as the TR axe split the Probation Service asunder. It was also very popular in Sodexo CRCs when they directed staff towards the Exit Door, as if they thought it would explain their refusal to pay EVR whilst offering the greatly reduced severance package. So, with 45% staff cuts on average, and 54% in Northumbria, those CRCs should be overflowing with 'more'.

It will take more than a change of government to shake out the entrenched attitudes which have driven & embraced the changes of the last few years. It needs a new generation of strong, active compassionate politicians who are not in the thrall of money & power for personal gain; who abhor bullying; and who truly value the society and the world in which they live.

There is an element of such generosity of thinking enshrined in this blog whereby most posters use 'anonymous' or a pseudonym. Amongst the angst & anger there are many very positive observations & ideas for which there is no personal recognition or gain beyond the value of sharing in the hope of contributing to improvement. Using Sodexo & Working Links as a benchmark, I can't see those who have been handed power & £Millions of public money very willing to share, can you?

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Less is More

Last week saw Transform Justice publish a report by Rob Allen into the whole business of out of court disposals:-  


In the old days people would talk of the neighbourhood bobby giving a boy a clip round the ear when they got into trouble. Those days are thankfully over, but have we moved from action which was too informal and unregulated to a world where police no longer have the confidence to make the best use of their powers to use out of court disposals or to take no formal action at all. Sometimes less is more – a quiet word of warning may be all that is needed to prevent a teenager committing another crime. In more serious cases, police should be able to use cautions, warnings and penalties to both mark wrongdoing, and avoid unnecessary court hearings. 

In recent years, the use of these out of court remedies has declined, much more so than have offences prosecuted in court. And this decline has been met with deafening silence, including from the police. It is hard to pin down quite why out of court disposals have declined, but Rob Allen has made some suggestions in this report. 

One of the key reasons for the decline is a mostly “behind closed doors” campaign by judges and magistrates against out of court disposals. They warned of a “cautions culture” in which out of court disposals were being misused by gung-ho, unregulated police. They contrasted these nontransparent deals between police and offender with the open court where justice was both done and seen to be done. Lawyers were also critical of out of court disposals suspecting that, in the absence of legal advice, people too often admitted to offences they may not have committed, and in so doing acquired a criminal record. 

Out of court disposals were left with few champions and the police reacted to the political signals. The confusion surrounding government policy on out of court disposals (which has been in flux for three years) undoubtedly encouraged police to think twice about imposing them, as did a lack of funding for them.

One of most stinging criticisms of out of court disposals is that they do not command public confidence and, by implication, do not satisfy victims. In fact, the public seem no less confident in out of court disposals than in court processes, and victims are often more satisfied. All the evidence points to well targeted out of court disposals being more effective than sentences in reducing reoffending, and they are a good deal cheaper. With local courts closing altogether, and with resources limited, it makes sense for us to champion out of court disposals, and to reverse their decline. 

Penelope Gibbs Director, Transform Justice

Executive Summary

England and Wales has a long-standing tradition of diverting first time and minor offenders from prosecution. While the practice is most fully developed for children who commit crime, a wide range of out of court disposals exists for adults too. A community resolution, simple or conditional caution, drug warning or penalty notice can be administered quickly, cheaply and locally, allowing the police to concentrate on more serious crime. Diversion can work better than prosecution at reducing reoffending, and is generally acceptable to victims as long as they are kept properly informed. 

Some judges, magistrates and lawyers think that offenders may accept a caution in circumstances when they are not guilty of an offence, or do not understand the implications for their criminal record. They are concerned that too many cases are diverted which should properly come to court. Yet many people who do go to court get low level penalties such as fines which could, in effect, be imposed out of court and which do nothing to help tackle any underlying problems an offender may have. So it seems there is scope for greater use of diversion. Recent years have however seen a large decline in the use of diversion. 

More than half of first time offenders now go to court rather than receive a caution, compared to 1 in 5 ten years ago. The decline partly results from a desire to end a “cautions culture” by restricting the availability and use of out of court disposals. Alongside measures to limit diversion for serious and repeat offenders, the government intends to replace the existing range of options with just two - a community resolution and conditional caution.

Three police forces have been piloting the two tier system and, while the evaluation is yet to be published, it seems clear that, if diversion is to fulfil its potential, a number of measures will need to be taken. These include : 

• Encouraging police to use their discretion and professional skills to resolve minor problems and disputes at the lowest level locally without the need to take formal action 
• Making sure that more first time offenders and cases which are likely to be dealt with by an absolute or conditional discharge or small fine are instead dealt with outside court – including many cases currently dealt with under the “single justice procedure”. 
• Extending the approach to diverting children away from the courts to young adults, so that they are given a greater opportunity to grow out of crime. 
• Identifying and promoting the best models for scrutinising diversion arrangements. 
• Funding a suitable range of treatment options (including restorative justice) to be attached to community resolutions and conditional cautions. 
• Developing a justice reinvestment approach which uses the savings which diversion brings to police, prosecutors and courts to fund local programmes designed to further reduce crime and prevent offending.


This on Rob Allen's 'Unlocking Potential' blog site:- 

Why Less is More - The Case for Dealing with Offences Out of Court

With mounting pressure on police and justice budgets across the country, it’s surprising that recent years have seen a large decline in the use of out of court disposals to deal with low level offending. Simple or Conditional Cautions, Penalty Notices, Community Resolutions and Drug Warnings can offer a quicker, simpler and more effective response than a prosecution. But more than half of first time offenders now go to court rather than receive a caution, compared to 1 in 5 ten years ago. A new report published by Transform Justice – Less is more - the case for dealing with offences out of court - says it’s high time to reverse that trend.

It’s true that not everyone’s a fan of diversion. Some judges, magistrates and lawyers think offenders may accept a caution when they are not guilty or do not understand they will get a criminal record. Others complain diversion’s got out of hand with too many serious offences or persistent offenders getting little more than a slap on the wrist instead of being taken to court. Today’s report, however, shows that almost half a million convictions last year resulted in low level penalties such as fines or discharges. Unlike some diversion measures, such sentences do nothing to rehabilitate offenders or compensate victims.

Politicians may think it plays well with the public to promise an end to the “cautions culture”- former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling did so back in 2014. But on grounds of efficiency, effectiveness and economy, as long as there are proper safeguards there’s a strong case for extending not shrinking the availability of options for dealing with crime outside court.

As well as legislating to limit the use of diversion for serious and repeat offenders, Governments since 2010 have developed a policy intention to replace the existing range of out of court disposals with just two - a community resolution or a conditional caution. Three police forces have been piloting this two tier system and, while an evaluation is yet to be published, change will be needed if diversion is to fulfil its potential.

The most important is the need to fund a suitable range of treatment options so that where necessary petty criminals can be helped to solve the underlying problems which so often drive their offending. Pilot programmes such as Operation Turning Point (OTP) in the West Midlands and Checkpoint in Durham have shown that rehabilitation can work at this stage in the criminal justice process. And it’s affordable. OTP achieved a saving of around £1,000 per case, including all of the costs of the intervention programmes. This suggests the potential for diversion arrangements can kick start a justice reinvestment approach which uses the savings diversion brings to police, prosecutors and courts to fund local programmes designed to further reduce crime and prevent offending.

There’s a case too for extending the approach to diverting children away from the courts to young adults, so that they are given a greater opportunity to grow out of crime. South Wales Police have adopted this approach with promising results.

If there’s to be more in the way of diversion, local arrangements will need to enjoy public confidence. Most police forces have established scrutiny panels to keep an eye on the kinds of offenders getting out of court disposals and what they are being required to do in terms of rehabilitation and reparation. Work needs doing to identify the best models for holding police forces to account for their decision-making. The Transform Justice report proposes that panels should ask not only if cases dealt with out of court should have been prosecuted – but also whether court cases leading to nominal penalties would have been better diverted.

Six years ago the Police Inspectorate argued that the expression ‘out-of-court disposals’ perpetuates a sense that they are much less important than a disposal in court – in effect a soft option. Today’s Transform Justice Report concludes by calling on Government ministers and criminal justice stakeholders to communicate the positive advantages of measures out of court and make efforts to show their benefits. Rather than railing against an imaginary cautions culture, ministers should be promoting a culture of cost effectiveness – and that includes a greater not a lesser role for diversion.

Rob Allen

Friday, 8 December 2017

Just a Bit of External 'Noise'

Welcome to Friday's edition of an "unfair, poorly informed, unhelpful and sometimes demoralising distraction.."

Clearly MTCnovo must feel pretty confident of a better HMI report this time round because they're positively 'chipper' in the latest edition of the dreadful house magazine 'Connect'. Here's some of the best bits, starting off with the new 'hipster' MD:-

All's good in the Hood
Introducing David Hood, MTCnovo's new Managing Director

I’m delighted to have been appointed as MTCnovo’s Managing Director and would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and talk to you about the future of our business.

Over the past four years, I worked for the Ministry of Justice, and most recently for the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). At NOMS I was responsible for a number of the Department’s outsourced services, including the Community Rehabilitation Companies and private prisons' contracts.

I enjoyed many aspects of that role, but by far the most enjoyable was the time I spent travelling the country meeting staff in prisons and probation offices – I was constantly impressed and inspired by the dedication of the people I met. And it was those experiences that led me to take this role – to play my part in helping you continue MTCnovo’s mission of improving the lives of the people and communities we work with and support, and reducing reoffending.

Something else that struck me in my previous roles continues to be apparent – there’s a significant amount of external 'noise' about our business, particularly the Community Rehabilitation Companies, but also our Secure Training Centre at Rainsbrook. Some of it reflects very important ongoing issues that we must and will address, but too much of it is an unfair, poorly informed, unhelpful and sometimes demoralising distraction from the vital work we do.

It’s important that we see past this distraction and focus on the stuff that matters – overcoming the real challenges and achieving our mission. Ultimately, this is why we exist as an organisation, and I’m personally committed to this approach.

Looking to the future
I want us to set measurable and challenging goals that guide us through the coming years. Over the last month, the MTCnovo Executive Team has developed the following set of long-term objectives:

• To be the most trusted provider of justice and social care services in the UK.

• To be recognised as a leader in developing and delivering successful interventions and evidence-based outcomes.

• Through our people, partnerships and use of innovative technology, to improve lives and build safer communities by reducing reoffending rates by 15%, by 2030.

These goals are rightly ambitious and will guide us towards material improvements in outcomes for the people and communities we work with. I’m determined that we track our progress towards achieving these goals using a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and that our performance is regularly shared for all of us to see.

How will we get there?
It’s important to recognise that we’re already on the journey to achieving our ambitious goals. During my visits to Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre and a number of our CRCs’ offices, it’s become clear to me that there’s a huge amount of effort being made by our dedicated and capable people to improve our services. And, it’s our people who will ultimately dictate our success.

But how do we best support and develop our capable people in a world of diminishing funding for public services? In that context, I believe we have an obligation to use our resources more efficiently, prioritising activities which support our mission and allow us to deliver high quality services despite the ongoing shortage of public funds – in short, we need to be 'efficient and effective' at what we do. This approach is obviously easier said than done, yet it should be our mantra to guide decisions about how we operate in the future.

Our priorities
The MTCnovo Board has given us six months to develop a long-term plan for the organisation, which will explain our goals and how we intend to deliver against them over the coming years. Our plan will focus heavily on three key areas:

• People: ensuring we have capable people across all areas of the business who have the time and tools to deliver excellent services – this is first and foremost a business about people and we simply can’t be effective if we don’t develop and look after our high calibre staff.

• Partnerships: we must have effective links and working relationships with our local communities, agencies, partners, local councils, the police, and prisons – we can’t do our best work without the support of these local networks.

• Innovative technology and analysis: we need good systems, analytical and research capability to help us target our efforts where they are most likely to benefit our service users.

What do you think?
As I continue to travel around our offices, it’s important that I hear your thoughts about what is working well and how we can improve. I want, and need, to hear your perspective in the context of our Business Plan. So, please don’t be shy, tell me what you think. I hope to have visited all of our locations by April, so there will be a chance for me to speak with most of you.

I’m extremely fortunate that I am surrounded by so many dedicated, professional and hardworking colleagues who strive every day to help offenders lead safer, better and more fulfilling lives. I look forward to meeting you, and thank you for your ongoing commitment.


Omnia: bringing it all together
MTCnovo’s ICT Programme Manager, Michael Snodden, tells us how Omnia will transform the way CRC's work with service user records

Straight from implementing Rainsbrook STC’s ICT infrastructure, Michael Snodden has recently joined the Omnia Team as the lead project manager. Michael is responsible for co-ordinating the final stages of Omnia’s development and for ensuring a smooth roll-out across London and Thames Valley CRCs. He reflects on the project’s progress to date and what’s next on his ‘to do’ list.

"Omnia, which means ‘all’ in Latin, brings together service user risk and needs assessment, action planning, and case management onto one platform for the very first time and will transform how staff create and manage service user records. Not only have we designed a much improved interface into nDelius, we’ve also built a bespoke, strengths-based Risk and Needs Tool to replace OASys.

The Risk and Needs Tool will bring an innovative approach to how we assess and manage service user’s needs. As a result of the size and complexity of this project, and our commitment to ensuring a secure and robust interface into the Ministry of Justice’s systems, a huge amount of work and time has gone into scoping, planning and building Omnia. It’s heartening to know that we’ve made a significant amount of progress and are ahead of the other CRCs.

The other good news is that we’re now at an exciting and crucial stage: a team of frontline employees are putting Omnia through its paces, extensively testing its functionality."

Our challenge
"The challenge is to check that each of these elements – and the processes that underpin them – work effectively in Omnia. It’s important that this testing is thorough, so it will take a number of weeks to complete.

The challenge for me is that I’ve got a lot of work to do to coordinate the various elements of the project plan, not least fixing the inevitable bugs that always crop up during testing (thankfully, we’re making great progress on this). Then, there’s a lot of ongoing work to be done with the Ministry of Justice and the National Probation Service to ensure our processes align with theirs so that the feed from nDelius populates the correct fields in Omnia, and vice versa. We’re also in the process of setting up an all new Service Desk to support Omnia users once it’s launched."

Leading the way
"Despite all that we’ve still got to do, we’ve made great progress and, as I’ve said before, I’m delighted that we’re currently well ahead of the other CRCs in terms of developing a new interface into nDelius. In fact, we’re laying much of the groundwork to ensure smooth data transfer between nDelius and the CRCs’ new systems.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the CRCs for the support and patience they have given, and continue to give, the Omnia Team. The experience, recommendations, hard work and commitment of the CRCs’ frontline staff has been instrumental in shaping Omnia and creating an online tool that will truly transform how we work with service user records."

What to expect
"With our very own bespoke Risk and Needs Tool to replace OASys, and a much improved and intuitive interface into nDelius, Omnia will streamline and improve how we create and manage service user records. Here are just some of the benefits you can expect:

• Just one log-in
• No more duplication of information
• User friendly dashboards
• Simplified and more intuitive processes
• Much improved search functionality
• Great new features, including Google Maps."

A phased roll-out
"We’re now edging close to launching Omnia and this will be done on a phased basis across each CRC once we’re confident that it can be done safely and securely.

I’ll share more detail with you when we’re at that stage, including information on training for frontline staff."


It's full steam ahead for London CRC, says Helga

London CRC has the unique challenge of managing low to medium risk service users in one of the most diverse cities in the world. With a geographical span of over 600 square miles, we have to ensure that our 900 staff are providing a quality service to the 31,000 service users we manage across all of London’s 32 boroughs.

Ambition 2020 Change Plan
The Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation agenda has given companies like us an opportunity to radically alter the way we all work in the criminal justice sector. In order to do so effectively, it became clear to us that we would need to make far reaching changes throughout the organisation.

We needed a comprehensive change programme that would reform and modernise everything from our working practices, to our culture and environment.

In 2016, we developed and launched our Ambition 2020 Change Plan. Driven by a single ambition – to be the best at reducing reoffending – the Plan features 16 work streams, containing over 90 work packages and 900 activities. Each element has been carefully designed to innovate and transform, embedding good practice and operational delivery, and putting our service users at the centre of what we do.

Green shoots of performance improvement
A lot of positive progress has been made since the start of this year: we launched our new Operational Model; opened our Model Office in south east London; introduced our Custody Team, and began our quarterly Working Better Together event for key stakeholders. I am also encouraged by the green shoots of performance improvement, as well as the healthy interest we have seen from our national recruitment drive.

But the progress won’t stop there. We are well into a three to five year improvement programme which is on the right trajectory. Last year we also began a Back to Basics campaign, aimed at addressing inherited legacy issues. The end of this year will see us step into our quality practice agenda – thorough assessments, followed by appropriate interventions, leading to positive outcomes.

2018 and beyond
As we move into 2018, the next stage of the Ambition 2020 Change Plan will see us roll out of our new IT app Omnia, finesse our interventions offer, and look to create more collaborative workspaces.

We will take these next steps with confidence and ensure new changes are firmly and safely embedded in our everyday working life.

I am confident we are on track to achieve our ambitions.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Ken Loach: 'Charity or Justice'

The award-winning film and TV director, Ken Loach, whose work over 50 years from Cathy Come Home to I, Daniel Blake has consistently explored questions of social justice, gave the 16th Longford Lecture on Wednesday November 29, 2017 at Church House Westminster. His lecture, entitled ‘Charity or Justice’, drew a capacity audience, was chaired by the journalist, Jon Snow, and was broadcast simultaneously for the first time on National Prison Radio. The full transcript can be found here, but I've selected the section on prison and probation:-

Youth and Probation Services

Two areas that I know connect to Frank Longford’s concerns and to your work, Jon, and to youth work and probation services. It is work of which I don’t have a huge experience, but it is done in our name, and I think we all have an obligation, because it is done in our name, to know about it, to listen to those who do it, to read about it, because it seems it is falling apart.

So we have got some figures together: 2010 to 2016, £387 million cut from youth services. Youth services perform a vital role. Like a number of these different areas in this chain, they are the ones which, when kids are feeling disconnected, give them hope, maybe return them to education, show them a positive part they can play in the community. They can help them find work, help them develop, play a positive part, prevent many of the problems from arising later on. But they have been cut.

Things like the Education Maintenance Allowance, which isn’t strictly youth work but a key element for kids who are maybe struggling about staying on at school. Education Maintenance Allowance: cut. People, poor, needing to work, needing to bring in an income, should they stay on at school? They would have done before, they won’t now.

I will just quote an MP, I don’t know her, Vicky Foxcroft, an MP from Lewisham. She said this: “Children Social Care – cut. Family Support Services – cut. Sure Start Centres – cut. Child Protection Services – cut. Damaging young people’s life chances, worsening mental health, and increasing the possibility of them getting into trouble and becoming involved in serious youth violence”. That is what that £387 million that has been saved is contributing to - all those problems. And centres like New Horizon pick up the pieces. They pick up the pieces of wanton damage done to young people.

Again the figures: a third of people are at risk of poverty. A third! I couldn’t believe that when I read it. A third of young people at risk of poverty or social exclusion. And over ten per cent are experiencing material deprivation. One in ten. What would those who believed in support from the cradle-to-the-grave have made of that, I wonder?

A youth worker said: “These young people will have nowhere to turn, there will be no one who is qualified or trained to support them. It will lead to more anti -social behaviour, gangs, depression and poor mental health in young people, and increased work for the police forces that have already been cut”.

Of course, this is the absurdity, isn’t it? You cut the work that is being done to keep people going, and of course you pass that burden at a later date when the problems are huge to people where it is going to cost much more, but you have already cut them. Maybe there is a logic there, but I don’t see it.

Youth Jails

Youth jails. Now one thing you would think if you were a parent and your child was involved in bad things that got him or her into trouble with the police and got them into the courts and they got a custodial sentence, one thing you might think, “well, that is bad, I am really distressed but at least they will be safe. At least they will be protected from the things that got them into trouble in the first place”.

How wrong can you be? A support worker at the New Horizon Youth Centre told me a story of a young prisoner that she was seeing. She said the last time she saw him he was terrified. There had been a fight in the prison and the officers had locked themselves away in their office because they couldn’t deal with it. Cuts, eh? Sounds good.

Last week a report by prison inspectors reported in the Guardian - so it must be true – said: “Surging levels of violence at an unsafe G4S-run youth jail and there was no evidence that staff can adequately care and control this volume of young people”. The Chief Inspector of Prisons said – this is the Chief Inspector of Prisons talking about jails for young people, this is our responsibility, okay, this is what our taxes go on so we should know. This is what he said: “Not one single institution is safe for young prisoners, not one”. Who is the Minister in charge of that? Why are they still in post? That is the Chief Inspector of Prisons, that isn’t some bleeding heart liberal. That will be a guy who is tough. Not one single institution is safe for young prisoners. You know about this more than me. What are we going to do?

The Probation Service

The Probation Service. Now here is a surprising story! In 2014 we had a probation service. In 2014 it was split, half was the National Probation Service, and half was the Community Rehabilitation Service. In 2015, big surprise, you know what’s coming: the Community Rehabilitation Service was privatised, that is why it was split. That is what they do, they divide services up, they divide industries up and then they sell them off. That is what they have done with the Community Rehabilitation Service.

Many companies own or provide services for this. Most are owned by one company now. Venture capital companies are involved. Why are venture capital companies involved in probation? Has anyone got a clue why that should be? I cannot imagine.

Well, the person who did it obviously can. So what are people saying? We found some comments by people working in the probation service and in the Community Rehabilitation Service. These are the people on the front line, beginning again with the Inspectorate of Constabulary. This is what it says about probation: “Most service users have not received a service that meets their needs or is likely to stop them reoffending”. That is HM Inspector of Constabulary.

UNISON, the union, did a survey of the people who work there, (and one moral is, join a union. I hope you all are members of a union,) This is what UNISON found amongst the people who work in the Probation Service. This is what one said: “The service is target-driven and form-filling. They have no regard for their staff or the offenders with whom we work”. That’s one.

Another says: “It doesn’t seem to be about the service users, it’s all about hitting targets”. That’s the publicly-owned bit.

The privately run piece, Community Rehabilitation, this is what people who work in it said. One said: 

“Many cases have not been contacted for months. One case today he had not heard from anyone at Probation for 16 months in a 24-month suspended sentence. It’s not good enough”, they say with massive understatement.

Next one: “I have never seen morale so low”.
Next one: “There is an emphasis on cutting costs to make a profit”. 

Well, there’s a surprise. That’s the point of it, pal, that’s the point of it, make a profit. 

Next one: “Total confusion. What is important? Certainly not protecting the public. How can an organisation profit from crime?”

Well, the people who invested obviously can profit from crime. That is why they did it, and that is why the government gave them the chance. Profit from crime, at the expense of the people we need to help.

Last quote: “We no longer deliver anything of meaning, just pass our service users on to partnership agencies who are at best poor and at worst do literally nothing”.

Why do we allow this to happen? Why do we allow it to happen?


Again, there will be people listening who could write this far better than I can. But again, we just try to listen and hear what is happening. From 2010/11 to now, the budget has been reduced by nearly a quarter. Fewer staff looking after more prisoners. Frontline staff has fallen by over a quarter in the last seven years. Well, if you cut the money, of course you cut the staff. An ex-prisoner I spoke to today said he has never known prison as dangerous and chaotic as now.

Everyone tells me mental health is the biggest problem. Thousands are in prison who should be cared for in a mental hospital and if they are dangerous to themselves they should be in a secure mental hospital. And let’s just remember, many of those mental hospitals, the old ones were not good and they had to be changed or closed or something, but just shut down and people turned out for care in the community which, as we know, is now non-existent virtually? So it is a huge problem and the people in prisons are having to deal with it. And drugs, ever more available, appalling drugs that people go off their heads with, and then create massive problems. And one man said to me: “I wouldn’t share a cell now because I would be fearful of the person I would be sharing with”. Not because he didn’t get on with other prisoners, but because the danger was too intense.

2015-16. Last year there were six apparent homicides in prisons, the previous year there were four. That’s a total of ten, and that is more than the previous eight years put together. So this is danger for the people who are listening to us now. That’s really intense. In 2016, there were a record number of suicides in prison in England and Wales, 119: 107 men, 12 women. Violence is at record levels with assaults. Self-harm - over 41,000 in the same period, still rising.

And one statistic just absolutely hit me: for women there are twice as many cases of self-harm than there are women prisoners. So some poor women are cutting themselves and cutting themselves and cutting themselves as we speak. And we allow it to happen. People listening will know this far better than I do, but I think we have to know it because it is done in our name, and we have to break the crime of silence so that none of us can say: “Well, we didn’t know about this, it’s a surprise”. We do know, we do know. We have to demand that those who are responsible are accountable.

And the people who are responsible are not the people carrying it out. It is the people who demand that it should be carried out, the people who make the policy.

Ken Loach

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

News Roundup 15

Some of this is a little old, but there's been a lot going on recently. The position of people with either mental health issues or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system has long bothered me and this Guardian article highlights a new report on the subject:- 

UK justice system failing defendants with mental health issues – charity

Specialist prosecutors should review all decisions to charge suspects with mental health vulnerabilities and the defence of insanity should be amended, a law reform charity has said. Defendants with learning disabilities and mental illness are repeatedly being failed by the criminal justice system in England and Wales, the report by Justice claims.

About a quarter of adults are diagnosed with a mental illness during their lifetime, and the proportion caught up in the criminal justice system is even higher. They need to be more clearly identified and supported, the study argues. If problems are not addressed, the fair trial rights of many defendants may be undermined, Justice says. The report says mental health experts, not police officers, should identify people with mental ill-health or learning disabilities.

Among other recommendations, the report says specialist prosecutors should be appointed for each Crown Prosecution Service area to make charging decisions in such vulnerable cases. Magistrates courts, youth courts and the crown court should have a dedicated mental health judge to deal with management of such cases, Justice proposes. A new capacity-based test of fitness to plead and fitness to stand trial should be placed on a statutory footing, the report adds. The defence of insanity should be amended to a defence of “not criminally responsible by reason of a recognised medical condition”.

Fresh sentencing guidelines on mental health and vulnerability should be developed and a broader range of alternative punishments made available to sentencers to meet the needs of these cases, Justice says. “Too many criminal justice actors, all along its pathways, are unfamiliar with the range of mental health conditions and learning disabilities that can create vulnerability nor what to do about them,” the report notes.

Sir David Latham, chair of the Justice working party, said vulnerability should be “properly identified and, where identified, properly approached so that the person either receives reasonable adjustments to give them the capacity to effectively participate in their defence, or if appropriate, is not prosecuted. Where a person is diverted from prosecution or prison, suitable and effective treatment and support must be available to ensure that the person remains outside of the criminal justice system.”

Andrea Coomber, the director of Justice said: “The criminal justice system is not suitably designed to accommodate people with mental health or learning difficulties. There are still fundamental problems with the criminal justice system’s response to vulnerability and too few people receive reasonable adjustments to enable them to effectively participate in their defence. “We are impressed by the efforts being made to create an integrated criminal justice and mental health sector. We hope that this report will build on that and bring about change for some of the country’s most vulnerable people.”


I'm not at all sure this new 'protocol' announced by David Lidington will make a blind bit of difference in improving the prison situation and just smacks of so much 'hot air'. This from the Guardian:-   

Prison inspectors given powers to alert minister to urgent problems

The justice secretary, David Lidington, has unveiled a series of measures that the government hopes will urgently tackle failing prisons in England and Wales. From Thursday, the chief inspector of prisons has been given new powers to alert the justice secretary directly of any urgent and severe problems he finds during a jail inspection.

This “urgent notification protocol” requires the minister to publish an action plan within 28 days to tackle the concerns raised. A team of specialists will also be assembled to ensure immediate action is taken and implement a longer-term plan to ensure sustained improvement.

The stronger inspection powers had been part of the prisons and courts bill that was dropped after the Conservative government lost its Commons majority in the general election. However, the protocol – which covers both private and public jails – has been agreed without the need for legislation by Lidington, HM Prison and Probation Service, and inspectors.

Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, said the new process should provide an effective and speedy response to the most serious incidents and circumstances. Clarke’s recent reports have documented an alarming deterioration of conditions in English and Welsh prisons, including high levels of violence, increasing drug use and record levels of assaults and self-harm.

Lidington said: “Openness and transparency are powerful instruments of change and I believe we should be accountable so the public can see exactly what we are doing to turn prisons into safe places where offenders can change their lives. A team of specialists will now respond when HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) trigger urgent notification to urgently drive improvements and ensure that prisons are safe, secure and providing a regular regime. To implement these action plans and improve safety, the recruitment of an additional 2,500 prison officers is key and we are already halfway towards reaching that target.”

Clarke said Lidington had accepted that he and his successors would be held accountable for delivering an “urgent, robust and effective response to when HMIP assesses that treatment or conditions in a jail raise such significant concerns that urgent action is required.” Clarke said it was the responsibility of the prison service , and not inspectors, to implement and monitor improvements. “HMIP will take account of a range of factors to decide when, in the judgment of the chief inspector, a prison should next be inspected. If for any reason an HMIP recommendation is not accepted, we would expect the rationale to be explained and published.”

Under the protocol the chief inspector will decide at the conclusion of an inspection whether there are significant concerns that need to be brought to the attention of the secretary of state. Formal notification will be made within seven days and a letter detailing the concerns will be published 24 hours after it has been sent privately. In 1995, a team of inspectors walked out of Holloway prison after finding a filthy, rat-infested environment overrun with cockroaches and where women prisoners were locked in their cells most of the day.


Here we have the latest figures regarding IPP prisoners as a result of a parliamentary question:-

Richard Burgon Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many prisoners serving IPP sentences have served (a) twice, (b) thrice, (c) four times, (d) five times and (e) six times longer or more than their original minimum sentences.

Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The number of prisoners serving IPP sentences as at 30 September 2017 who have served (a) twice, (b) thrice, (c) four times, (d) five times and (e) six times longer or more than their original minimum sentences can be viewed in the table below. We are determined to address the challenge of making sure all IPP prisoners have the support they need to show they are no longer a threat to public safety. We have been working closely with the Parole Board to process these cases as quickly as possible and, earlier this year, we set up a new unit focused on this and improving the efficiency of the parole process. This work is continuing to achieve results, with 576 IPP releases in 2016

Number of Tariff Lengths Served            Number of IPPs

From 2 to less than 3                               657
From 3 to less than 4                               469
From 4 to less than 5                               257
From 5 to less than 6                               157
6 or more                                                  275


A week or so ago the BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme covered an all-too-familiar sad tale of life in Britain for those at rock bottom and for whom prison is preferable to street homelessness. It also highlights the pernicious nature of that other Blair innovation the Anti Social Behaviour Order. 

'I asked to go to jail, rather than stay homeless'

Banned from begging and sleeping in shop doorways in Middlesbrough, Bradley Grimes asked the judge in court to send him to prison rather than leave him homeless. What effect did it have? "All they've done is placed an anti-social behaviour order on me to try and stop me from begging. But I have to in order to survive," Bradley Grimes tells the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme.

He became homeless after leaving the care system aged 17. With autism and, in his own words, the mental age of a "young child", he was unable to find work and frequently turned to begging - asking passers-by for food and money at the side of a busy street. But this led to Middlesbrough Council giving him an anti-social behaviour order, or Asbo. It came with a condition banning him from "loitering" outside business premises.

Bradley says it prevented him from "basically sitting outside a shop" and sleeping in doorways for warmth, and meant he was continually arrested. "CCTV picks you up and they dispatch either the police or street wardens. If police come, you're arrested," explains Bradley, who's now 23. He says he attracted the authorities' attention for sitting rested against a bus stop.

"It got to the stage where they were locking me up once or twice a day, for a period of a few months. I was in [prison] pretty much all weekend, near enough every weekend. I can't even sit on a public bench without being locked up. I have to keep moving."

Frustrated at his situation, he decided to seek help - albeit in an unusual form. When in court, charged with breaching a four-month suspended jail sentence - something he admitted to doing - he asked the judge to send him to prison. He hoped it would pave the way to him being found suitable accommodation.

"That's the last option I had, that I could think of," he explains. The judge was sympathetic, and was reported in October this year as saying that "essentially we are locking up a homeless man for being homeless. I want him housed somewhere so that his welfare can be looked after. It is not good enough for the authorities to turn around and say that it is somebody else's problem. If I were to let you go today the chances are that you would be sitting on a seat or sleeping in a shop doorway and you will be locked up again."

By November, Bradley was released - with supported accommodation made available. He had lived in the same building previously, but says he was told to leave after cannabis was found in his room. Bradley has also had problems with Class A drugs, which he says he used "to take the pain away". 

This time he says he is determined to live clean, and has avoided drugs since his release. Bradley says life can still be tough. In fact, he believes that because of his autism, it was simpler in prison. "You don't have to worry about anything in [jail]. [Whereas on the outside] it's impossible for me to cope on my own, because I'm bad with things like budget and money."

When Bradley left prison in Durham, he had just £17 to his name - most of which he used for the train journey back to Middlesbrough. He has now applied for benefits, which he is waiting to receive, but says his lack of funds over time has had a significant impact on his health. Bradley has a brain tumour - and suffers with epilepsy and a heart murmur - but says he cannot afford to travel to the specialist cancer centre in Newcastle for treatment. He says his story could have been different had he been supported sufficiently by the local authority when he first became homeless. Instead, he claims he was sent from one agency to another.

Middlesbrough Council has not yet responded to request for comment. While walking around town Bradley spots a friend, a homeless man named Tony who says he cannot get any help at all. Tony says he has to steal from drug dealers to have enough money to survive. It is not something Bradley condones, but the desperation behind the act is something he says he understands.

Finally, we can always rely on Private Eye to keep the TR omnishambles saga on the news agenda:-