Thursday, 19 October 2017

Why All The Recalls?

Yesterday the Justice Committee conducted a hearing on the work of the Parole Board and it appears they were told some surprising things. This from the BBC website:-

Half of indefinite term prisoners being recalled to jail

More than half of prisoners freed after serving controversial indeterminate sentences for public protection are being sent back to jail for breaching licence conditions, MPs have been told. Giving the figures in Parliament, Nick Hardwick, chairman of the Parole Board for England and Wales, said the matter had now become a "critical" issue. In the last year, 760 IPP inmates were recalled - up 22% from the year before. Monitoring of those released had been "lacking", the prisons minister said.

What are IPP sentences?

Introduced by Labour in 2005, they were designed to ensure that dangerous offenders remained locked up until it was safe for them to be let out. Under the system, prisoners were given a minimum term - or tariff - which they would have to serve before the Parole Board then decided whether to free them on licence. However, hundreds of inmates found themselves locked up for years beyond the end of their tariff after finding it hard to access rehabilitation courses in custody in order to demonstrate they no longer posed a risk.

Courts were banned from imposing IPPs in 2012. However, 3,300 IPP prisoners remain in custody, 51% of whom are more than five years over the end of their tariff. The Parole Board and the Ministry of Justice have taken measures to ensure IPP offenders can access courses more easily and are better prepared for their parole hearings.

What is the problem now?

Currently, 75% of those whose cases are heard are let out or transferred to an "open" prison - which is usually a step to the road to release. But speaking at the House of Commons Justice Committee, Mr Hardwick said: "The most significant issue with the IPP problem now is that more than 50% are being recalled, not necessarily because they've committed another offence, but because they've broken their licence conditions - and that's a real problem.

"So, we're letting them out, but they're getting recalled often for relatively minor breaches of licence," he said. Mr Hardwick said IPP offenders were being sent back to prison for turning up drunk at their bail hostel - even though that presented no risk to anyone. When they return to prison, the Parole Board has to again assess each case to decide if they are safe to be freed. Mr Hardwick said 60% of recalled offenders were let out for a second time. 

Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah defended the system of recall. However, he warned that by 2020 the number of IPP prisoners sent back to jail was likely to be more than the 1,500 still waiting to be released for the first time. Dealing with the problem was out of the Parole Board's hands, he argued. "The Parole Board can do its part of the job... but that depends on there being the facilities in the community to manage them properly when they're out there and it depends on probation having a consistent view of risk with us - and there's a mismatch out there."

What does the government say?

Sam Gyimah, the prisons and probation minister, defended the recall system, saying it struck the "right balance" and prisoners would be sent back if the nature of the licence breach directly related to the risk they posed and their original offending. "These people are incredibly risky," he said. The minister said in future more IPP prisoners would be electronically tagged on release to ensure they comply with the terms of their licence and there would be other "innovations" to improve their management in the community. "I put my hand up - that was lacking initially," he said.

Asked whether the government would consider new legislation to re-sentence IPP prisoners or take other legal steps to speed up the process of their release, Mr Gyimah said "all options are under review". However, he gave a clear indication that it was unlikely to happen, adding: "The system is working."

The committee also heard that the Parole Board expects to pay prisoners a million pounds in compensation this financial year for delays in hearings and decisions. In 2016-17, 578 prisoners received a total of £938,000, which was almost double the figure the previous year.

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Readers had better prepare themselves because the lull is definitely over and we are very much entering stormy waters and about to be deluged with more information and bad news stories than you can shake a stick at. Some might recall my saying recently that there is definitely a feeling at blog HQ of the heavenly bodies at last coming into alignment and, right on cue, here we have a special Transforming Rehabilitation online edition of the Probation Journal. Packed full of interesting and rigorously-researched articles (sadly no pictures, to the disappointment of one questioner at the AGM) there is undoubtedly much here for us to pick over in the coming days:-

Virtual Special Issue: Transforming Rehabilitation

Transforming Rehabilitation involved a fundamental restructuring of probation services in England and Wales. The most radical element of these reforms was the fragmentation of probation services into a publicly run National Probation Service (NPS) and a number of privately operated Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). The division of labour between the two organisations is broadly predicated on risk, with the NPS supervising ‘high risk’ offenders and the CRCs ‘medium to low risk’ offenders (an approximately 20/80 split). The logic of employing a risk-based rationale for allocating cases has been criticised, not least because it assumes a static conception of risk, when risk is dynamic - people change, so do their circumstances. Perhaps more fundamentally, critics have also been opposed to the privatisation of a public service involved in the administration of justice. While part of the rationale put forward for privatisation was ‘transformation’, and the potential for innovation, this cannot be uncoupled from the profit motive crucial to private enterprise.

The criticisms of TR have been both practical and ideological, but three years on, what is the evidence of the impact of the reforms? Reports from HM Inspectorate of Probation, the National Audit Office and the Justice Committee have laid bare some serious concerns regarding organisational infrastructures; information sharing across the NPS and CRCs, contact with people under supervision and the provision of resettlement services to prisoners. The impact of TR has come increasingly into the spotlight, as media coverage this week demonstrates. The Probation Journal has covered the reforms prior to the enactment of the legislation and as the changes were rolled out. This virtual special issue contains a number of key contributions to this debate, including analysis of the impacts of restructuring and the pressures experienced on the ground by practitioners; insights from research and the implications for enforcement and compliance with community sentences. The insights presented in these articles should inform policy debates about the future direction of Transforming Rehabilitation.


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I notice that Russell Webster has chosen to highlight the article entitled “It’s relentless”: the impact of working primarily with high-risk offenders by Jake Phillips, Chalen Westaby & Andrew Fowler of Sheffield Hallam University. The article looks at both the positive and negative aspects in only having a high-risk caseload and of course helps set the context for the high level of recalls referred to above. This from Russell's blog post:- 
To some extent you do because it’s kind of relentless if you know what I mean. Every sort of person you’re looking at is, has got fairly serious potential to do something serious to somebody. So there’s, I suppose, maybe more, I don’t know if worry is the right word, but, you know, obviously there’s concern. It plays on your mind and you need to make sure you’ve done what you can do.
Another finding was that a consequence of having to manage more high-risk offenders has led to POs conceding that they compared high-risk offenders with each other, to determine who will be prioritised:
And we now find that where you used to have say 5 high risk offenders you’ve now got 15... . . . because when we were as a Trust those 5 got the vast majority of your time and, you know, you were more careful about what you did and how you did it. But whereas now you’ve 15 and you can’t do it [and] you sort of grade the high risk; it’s grades within that. And so some of people who are high risk and you would know were previously getting more of your time are not getting it anymore because they can’t, we haven’t got the time.
The researchers note that probation officers don’t have an appropriate framework to allocate resources when all cases are nominally high risk with both interviewees and researchers comparing the role of a probation officer in the NPS with that of child protection social workers — operating under constant stress.

Conclusions 


The researchers reported that:

participants presented serious concerns about the impact of the changes on their work with an acute sense of anxiety about the intensification and volume of cases who pose a high risk of harm. The high risk of serious harm and the imminence of that harm being committed by offenders on the caseload in combination with the volume of cases is clearly putting a strain on the wellbeing of NPS POs.
They concluded that the situation is untenable in the long term and should be a priority area for the organisation in terms of supporting its staff.
A workforce that suffers from high levels of stress, and that is not supported sufficiently, is unlikely to be able to deliver the high-quality work that is required of them. This is especially important when one considers the high-risk nature of the offenders with whom our participants are working.
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I thought these comments were interesting:-

High risk as adjudged by the Oasys? You have to be very careful. It’s a tool carrying inherent bias. So the headline could easily read: the impact of working with black people.

There is undoubtedly an impact, and I am by no means contesting any of the findings of the Sheffield Hallam research. Nor am I contesting the idea that we should be sympathetic and annoyed at the conditions Probation Officers have to work in. But two things are important which are in danger of being seen as glossed over: one is language and the other is reflection on Probation’s punitive aspects.

Situating the idea of risk as residing solely in the person being supervised omits to discuss the widespread failures in social care, and in society more broadly. And there is friction which inheres between the individual desire for autonomy and the paternalism of supervision. This is amplified where paternalism slips into punctiliousness (4300% rise in recalls in 20 years). Friction like this no doubt takes its toll too.

******
I worked for the Probation Services for over 25 years. During this time I have witnessed it become entangled in bureaucracy and a relentless growth of regulation. At the very heart of the Probation Services’ work is its commitment and diligence towards changing and improving the life chances of those most affected by crime and those responsible for harming members of the public (including you and me). The Probation Services’ were once recognised as a ‘Moral Force’ that brings to bear an expert understanding on the causes for crime, whilst delivering credible social-economic and personal changes to the lives of countless families. 

The TR ideology and business model for correctional services in Britain has not truly assimilated the core values and beliefs of the Probation Services work. People matter irrespective of the position in society or legal status during the course of their life. The public are you and I plus all those affected by crime and even those who are responsible for harming others. These inalienable truths have got lost during the recent modernisation of the Probation Services. A government select committee inquiry into the TR programme will establish why and how the Probation services finds itself where it is today. In short - it has moved far away from its original purpose and has less autonomy to effect change at grass roots.

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Finally, these are some comments on the article seen on Facebook:-

This all fits with how I'm feeling at the moment. From actually enjoying my job and feeling I was helping people in some way I now HATE every minute of it. It's de-humanising and nasty and every day I get more and more deskilled and demoralised...

The concentration of high risk work is draining, but it's the weird sandwich we have with political and MoJ will to avoid recall where possible, promote early release etc, which by and large fits the PO agenda working on with the individual clients, and then in the middle the most risk-averse, terrified, micromanaging probation management STRESSSSSSS plus silo's of activity eg MAPPA, ARMS, etc, all endlessly setting up not quite duplicate processes. MAPPA manager asked me the other day "how often" I visited the helpful sexy all singing all dancing MAPPA website? FFS. It takes about a working day to submit a referral.

“Relentless” has become the most overused word in my office. Although I know I have ‘positive outcomes’ from my caseload, it’s hard to consistently evidence this (in the unusable/not fit for purpose sentence plan) when we are constantly flipping between risk management, activating your contingency plan, firefighting, trying to safely get them out/keep them out of custody! That’s before I even get started on the targetted stuff...

Only 15 high risk offenders?

Yeah I thought that too!

News From Nottingham 5

I promise this is the last word from the AGM and conference, but I thought it important to take a look at some of the motions that were up for debate because of course they pretty accurately reflect the mood and urgent concerns within the profession. I say debate, but in fact this is a misnomer because virtually all were passed unanimously, such is the degree of uniform disquiet and anger. 

The list is not comprehensive but rather a reflection of what I took particular notice of and feel has an urgent bearing in conveying what's going wrong in all corners of probation work. The uncontentious nature of this year's crop of motions meant that somewhat unusually conference got around to everything, although in an unfortunate and bizarre twist the very first to be considered, motion 1 A vote of no confidence in those responsible for NPS and E3 fell because those proposing it were clearly taken by surprise and were not present in the hall. It was a most unfortunate and inauspicious start to say the least:-  

A vote of no confidence is required to prevent further destruction of probation services. Poor management decisions, staff being stressed to breaking point, woefully inadequate IT and AT, high caseloads with unfair Workload Measurement Tool scoring, ineffective local and senior management support and senior managers and decision/policy makers seemingly ignoring the rights, welfare and view point of staff. These factors prevent the effective execution of probation duties, leaving staff demoralised, with little time to spend with service users, leading to ineffective rehabilitation and failings in the need to protect the public and prevent reoffending.

The full schedule of motions can be found here. 

Composite A – Motions 10 + 11: Computer Says ??????? / HR privatisation 

This AGM believes that the privatisation of HR posts in the NPS and absorption into "Shared Services" have led the NPS into a quagmire of chaos. AGM expresses its concern over the failure of Shared Services Connected Limited (SSCL) to consistently provide accurate HR and payroll support for staff employed by the NPS. SSCL has never been fit for purpose. Since the transfer of staff to the NPS, there have been numerous issues arising from call handlers’ inability to apply the correct legacy policy to queries. The Single Operating Platform introduced in February has exacerbated these issues, to the point where staff aren’t being paid correctly and in some cases aren’t being paid at all. Queries and complaints go unresolved and it has recently emerged that employer pension contributions aren’t being collected correctly. The long term implications for our hard working members could be severe. 

Conference therefore resolves to support the Probation Negotiating Committee – and the Officials through TU Engagement – to hold HMPPS to account for these failures, to ensure that mistakes are rectified at the earliest possible juncture, and for staff to suffer no detriment – financial or otherwise. SSCL is not fit for purpose and this conference therefore, supports a call for the creation of a separate HR system for NPS staff which reflects our needs. Napo will campaign to bring HR back into the NPS at the earliest opportunity.

Composite B – Motions 13 + 14 + 15: PSRs 

This AGM has seen the lowering of standards regarding the quality and accuracy of Pre Sentence Reports since the push to on the day delivery. This AGM expresses its serious concern about the rapid way in which PSRs have been affected by the ‘Simple speedy justice’ agenda and E3 operating model. Arrangements under a “Simple Speedy Justice” initiative have resulted in requirements being agreed with “stakeholders” to produce reports in one hour. 

Such a timescale is unrealistic and unsafe It shows little understanding of the assessment processes for informed judgement and compromises professionalism. To complete an interview, undertake necessary checks, include information from other agencies such as the police and social care, use “diagnostic tools” appropriately and compose an assessment in a rushed environment in the space of an hour, generates considerable and unnecessary pressure that contributes to heightened stress levels and is unconducive to diligent practice necessary for justice. Limited information in a PSR increases the likelihood of unduly lenient or harsh sentences or lack of a relevant accredited programme, particularly with domestic abuse perpetrators. This AGM believes report writers are being de-skilled and placed in untenable situations when they have to produce reports without access to salient information. 

The template is unfit for purpose due to it being poorly designed and unwieldy and not compatible with assistive technology. The character restriction also compromises the author’s ability to fully report on relevant issues. We believe this devalues our professional reputation and places our staff and the public at risk. 

This AGM calls for our National Officers and Officials to:
  • campaign vigorously for on the day reports to be reviewed and a return to quality and accuracy; 
  • gather information from sentencers about the value of the reports currently provided; 
  • gather information from members in the CRC and NPS about cases where there are concerns that short reports have contributed to inappropriate sentences/risk assessments; 
  • challenge guidance contained within the E3 operating model and PI 4/2016 that is not detailed enough in stipulating when full reports should be written and increases the number of oral reports/SFRs; 
  • argue to re-introduce compulsory but meaningful gatekeeping to mitigate against bias in respect of protected characteristics; 
  • raise these concerns urgently with the Ministry of Justice with a view to more sensible and realistic proposals being agreed centrally. 
Proposer: South Yorkshire Branch Seconder: Napo Cymru

6. Outside Contractors 

Since privatisation, Probation and Family Court Services are seeing more ‘outsourcing’ of HR services. The Shared Services in NPS are not fit for purpose. Occupational Health is also not delivering services in accordance with organisational policies and timescales. 

This AGM understands many members bringing grievances are being stymied by organisational senior managers not having any control over ‘so called’ external agencies.

This AGM believes this is unacceptable and more needs to be done to ensure accountability. 

This AGM calls on Napo to bring a test case to show the HMPPS and MoJ we have teeth and they are accountable to our members for the failings of their sub-contractors. 

Proposer: London Branch

7. Woefully Unsatisfactory Attendance Management 

In January 2017 the NPS imposed a new Absence Management policy. Immediate concerns included reduced trigger points, less protection for those with disabilities and removal of exemptions for underlying medical conditions and long term sickness. The policy includes little useful guidance and pressure is being put on managers to issue warnings against their professional judgement. 

The process is vulnerable to potential bias and discrimination. Decisions appear to be made in consultation with HR Business Partners prior to the ‘Unacceptable Attendance’ meeting and therefore before a member has had a chance to answer the charge and be represented. These decisions are not open to scrutiny and issues of accountability are blurred. We are concerned that the most vulnerable in our membership are being given proportionately more warnings. 

This AGM calls on Napo Officials to: 
  • request data from the MOJ about the protected characteristics of staff hitting the trigger and warnings issued to highlight any potential bias and discrimination issues; 
  • continue to voice the concerns of members about the process to bring about a properly negotiated, fair and consistent policy; 
  • if necessary to go into dispute with the employers over issues of bias and discrimination against members. 
Proposer: South Yorkshire Branch

9. Stop the discrimination against disabled staff by Interserve Justice 

March 2017 saw Interserve Justice impose a new Absence Management policy having ignored legitimate concerns raised by the trade unions. The Policy removes protections against discrimination for disabled people and those with other protected characteristics whilst also removing exemptions for long term sickness. The disability provision of the Equality Act 2010 defines disability as an impairment which has a long term and substantial adverse effect on ability to carry out normal day to day activities. Even if the adverse effect ceases, the impairment should be treated as continuing if it is likely to recur. By definition, Interserve Justice’s decision to review long term sickness on a rolling four year basis, targets and discriminates against disabled staff. In addition, the lack of guidance, particularly around discretion, means that in some cases managers are struggling to adopt a consistent and anti-discriminatory approach. This AGM also notes anecdotal evidence of an increase in advisory notices for disabled staff. 

This AGM instructs Napo Officials to work with relevant branches to register a dispute around the implementation of this policy with a view to securing key changes to re-instate the protections for disabled people and those with other protected characteristics within the policy and procedure. 

Proposer: West Yorkshire Branch

16. Abolish TTG and PSS 

Through The Gate provision and the Post Supervision Sentence on licences are the biggest failures in sentencing policy history. This is demonstrated by re-offending rates for short sentences now having increased above the 50% mark. For these schemes to continue would require properly funded programmes to be set up in every discharging prison throughout the country. Realistically,this is unlikely to happen. Therefore, we instruct Napo to campaign for these sentences to be scrapped and for a Napo taskforce to be set up to advocate for a provision fit for purpose that can be presented to the MoJ as a fully funded alternative. This AGM instructs National Officials to lobby forthe sentences to be removed and replaced with a scheme endorsed by Napo. 

Proposer: Campaigning Committee

20. Outside work 

The PI 38/2014 concerning Outside Activities includes political campaigning and trade union activities. We have recently seen members subjected to disciplinary action under this PI which demonstrates enforcement is draconian. Many members are not aware of the existence of this PI or the existence of the Service’s declaration form. 

We call on Napo to run an awareness raising campaign on how members can stay safe whilst undertaking union and other work. 

Proposer: London Branch

21. IT failures increasing workload pressures 

This AGM notes the reports from members working for probation employers, including Interserve Justice and the NPS, of significant workload pressures exacerbated by persistent IT failures. These pressures are disproportionately felt by members who need assistive technology solutions to be able to work. At a time when there are staff shortages, workloads are high and pressures on members are unabating, the continuing failure of employers to provide the basic tools to do the job is unacceptable. 

While the introduction of a new IT system was welcomed by members in Interserve Justice, as is news of a proposed new system for NPS staff, unless they work consistently, no relief from significant pressures are felt. This AGM also notes that previous large scale IT projects have delivered chaos and misery in the short and medium term before any benefits were realised. 

This AGM instructs Napo Officials to survey members to determine the extent of the problem with each employer. 

Where significant workload issues are highlighted by the survey the Officials should work with branches to seek workload relief for members. If this is not forthcoming, a dispute should be raised to ensure that the health, safety and well-being of members is protected. 

Proposer: West Yorkshire Branch

24. Sodexo CRCs – Multiple Failings 

This AGM welcomes the HMIP reports that continue to confirm the fact that Sodexo’s booths are not fit for probation work. We also welcome confirmation that large scale telephone reporting is also roundly condemned. 

AGM congratulates those branches that remain in dispute over Sodexo booths and over unacceptably high workloads. We also note with grave concern the high levels of work based stress and related sickness absence, which far exceed the national average for most employers. 

AGM demands that Sodexo CRCs fulfil their legal duty of care and the legal duty to protect data. AGM supports the actions being taken by Napo branches and Napo HQ to protect members and publicise the abject failings of the Sodexo CRCs.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Remembrance

There is a long-established tradition at the start of the Napo conference and AGM of standing in silent remembrance of lost colleagues. We were in Nottingham this year and I found the connection troublingly poignant:- 

Recent deaths at HMP Nottingham 'symptomatic of wider prison crisis'

Five newly arrived prisoners have died over a four-week period at Nottingham prison, where serious concerns have been raised about staffing levels in reception areas. Ten prisoners have died in two years, compared with four deaths in the previous 10 years. Campaigners say the deaths are symptomatic of a prison system in crisis. Four of the five inmates who died in September and October are believed to have taken their own lives. The death of the fifth prisoner is believed to be drug related.

Nottingham is a category B local prison, with a capacity of 1,060. It takes prisoners from courts in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. In its annual report, published in July, the independent monitoring board (IMB) at Nottingham expressed concerns about the 30% increase in prisoners arriving at the prison. The board said it had been told the number of staff for the reception area would be raised because of the increase in new arrivals, but the resources were not allocated.

The report said staff were rushed, which created an increased risk to prisoners in the reception, first night and induction areas. Four of the five latest deaths occurred in the first night centre and induction wing. The IMB said it remained “concerned about the pressures on reception and the inherent risks to prisoners when vulnerable upon first entry to prison”.

Last year prison inspectors also raised concerns about new prisoners at Nottingham. In particular, they said first-night substance misuse work needed urgent attention. Inspectors also raised concerns about the lack of stability at the east Midland prison, noting there had been five governors in four years. Seven prisoners have died at Nottingham so far this year. There were three deaths in 2016.

Deborah Coles, director of the charity Inquest, said the sudden and significant increase in deaths at Nottingham were deeply concerning and symptomatic of a prison system in crisis. She said prison inspection and monitoring bodies had raised concerns about the regimes and conditions at the prison and that these issues had been left to reach crisis point, with tragic consequences.

“The fact these deaths occurred within days of arrival at the prison when prisoners are known to be most vulnerable, raise concerns about the processes for identifying and managing risk,” she said. “The only way to halt the increasing and morally indefensible tide of prison deaths and violence is to dramatically reduce the prison population, invest in community alternatives and transform the nature and culture of prisons, so they become places of last resort, where rehabilitation is more than a rhetorical fantasy.”

A prison service spokesperson said transforming prisons into places of safety was its top priority and it was tackling the challenges head-on.

“HMP Nottingham is working closely with health colleagues to increase the support available to vulnerable prisoners and is increasing staffing levels which will boost safety and stability at the prison – an extra 40 prison officers have recently been recruited. The prison has put a number of measures in place to tackle the threat of drugs, and across the estate, we are also taking unprecedented action to stop the supply of drugs, including training over 300 specialist drug dogs and making it a criminal offence to possess psychoactive substances.”

Eric Allison

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

News From Nottingham 4

I've not quite finished with reflections from the weekend, but needed a bit of time to try and make sense of it all before the memory fades and the notes become even more difficult to decipher.

Mention must be made of the fact that we might have seen the last address from the current General Secretary as the post is up for election early next year. Despite the now routine attempts at rousing and posturing, I thought it was a particularly lack-lustre performance with absolutely nothing new to say about our professional predicament. Am I alone in thinking we could have done without the diversion of a commentary on world affairs and politics and rather more on matters closer to home and directly affecting members and clients alike? 

Regular glances along the top table for any hint of reaction confirmed what I can best describe as 'uniform inscrutability'. It must be obvious to all that a new face is required and despite confirmation that the current office holder is willing to serve again, I sincerely hope he can be encouraged to 'read the runes' and an extra miners lamp can be purchased as soon as possible. 

The union might well "not been in a good place" when he took over, but it's sure as hell not in a good place now having lost many hundreds of members through redundancies, early retirement and general disillusionment, leading to the inevitable staggering annual deficit of quarter of a million pounds. It must be fairly clear that only a fresh face, combined with a sensible recovery strategy and effective organisational structure can have any hope of reversing the trend and avoid merger or collapse.

The closest conference came to an examination of these issues was when the time came to debate Motion 2 Napo - the future:-

Napo has existed for over a hundred years and is now the only Trade Union and Professional Association representing the industrial and professional interests of Probation and Family Court staff. In the last few years Napo has faced significant threats, from Transforming Rehabilitation devastating the Probation profession in England and Wales, to the cynical cancellation of check off in the NPS. In addition, the nature of the workforces we represent is changing and the proportion of retired members is increasing. We need to be as relevant, engaging and supportive to new entrants to Probation and Family Courts as we are to existing members. 

This AGM notes: 
  • the reports from the Officers, Officials and the NEC of efforts being made to change the way that Napo operates to better respond to the new world of work that exists across all employers; 
  • endorses the commitment made by the Officers and NEC to work to maintain Napo as an independent Trade Union and Professional Association for Probation and Family Courts;
  • instructs Officers, Officials and NEC to prioritise work which contributes to this commitment and to take account of this in their decision making throughout the year. 
Proposer: Katie Lomas Seconder: Yvonne Pattison  

In my assessment this motion succeeded in flushing out one of the most serious problems Napo has yet to deal with effectively; that of poor communication and ineffective management structures. Contributions from the floor confirmed that many members do not feel involved or engaged with internal decision-making and policy development and are blissfully ignorant regarding the NEC, what it does, how it operates and what decisions it makes. It would seem simple enough to publish the minutes on the Napo website, with suitable redactions for confidential matters.   

None of this should be surprising of course because the NEC has been known to be completely dysfunctional for years with most of its meetings still either inquorate or cancelled. All this became embarrassingly clear at last years AGM and despite promises of reforms, the situation obviously hasn't improved much. This can't go on and must be addressed or the oft-quoted mantra of being a 'member-led' union will sound increasingly hollow and do nothing in assisting the aim of reversing membership losses.

In considering the motion, it was clear that members were uneasy about giving 'carte-blanche' support to something that seemed 'wooly' and was not backed-up by appropriate policy papers. There appeared to be widespread lack of knowledge regarding the 'Pride in Napo' initiative, what its status was, but most concerning of all, discussion drew an astonishing admission from the top table of an assumption that "people know what's going on"

Matters were not assisted in my view by the thorny issue of NEC quoracy having been tabled and voted on the day before:-

CA1. Amending the Quorum of the NEC 

The purpose of this Constitutional Amendment is to amend the Quorum of the NEC. In Clause 16 (g) National Executive Committee: Delete “2/3 rds of” and replace with “15” So the new clause reads as follows: 16 (g) A quorum of the NEC shall consist of 15 voting members. 

Proposer: National Executive Committee

During the course of very limited discussion, the key question of 'what's the current rule regarding quoracy?' met with a hesitant top table response of "two thirds or 17" and that had to be amended the following day to "20 but it's complicated depending on if officials are included or not". 

It all leads to the impression of muddle and confusion, a situation compounded by another NEC motion tabled the day before:-

CA2. Diversity and NEC 

The purpose of this Constitutional Amendment is to better reflect diversity within Napo on the NEC. 

In Clause 16(b) delete ‘two black members’ and replace with ‘three Napo diversity representatives, self-declaring as Black, disabled or LGBT+ ’. 

In Clause 16(c) delete and replace with ‘The Association will elect bi-annually by secret ballot three Napo diversity representatives. The diversity representatives’ seats will be reserved in the following categories. One seat for a Black representative, one seat for a disabled representative and one seat for LGBT+ representative. Each seat shall be filled by a member self-declaring from that relevant category. None may hold the post for more than four years in succession. Candidates for election as a diversity representative to the NEC shall be nominated in writing by branches with the consent of the nominee. Nominations shall be delivered to the General Secretary in accordance with the timetable for NEC elections set out in the Napo Calendar.’ 

In section 16(e) delete ‘black representatives’ and replace with ‘diversity representatives’. 

Proposer: National Executive Committee   

Again the motion was carried after very limited discussion, but resulted in further embarrassing admissions the following day that misleading answers had been given to questions regarding the effect of the changes on the position of women. As a result the decision was reversed, adding further to the unfortunate impression of systemic dysfunctionality. 

I've said it before - several years ago, admittedly - but it's worth repeating I think that the union really would benefit from investing in some expert outside advice concerning its internal organisational and management structures. It's also the point at which to note that I only heard one mention of a very large elephant being present in the room in the shape of staffing costs. Any organisation suffering a catastrophic loss in income for any reason would be expected to look at the payroll as part of cost-cutting exercises. Of course this is only possible if there are effective internal management structures in place, something I suspect many would question.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Guest Blog 67

Whitewashing the Probation Service

For the past few years we’ve all been struggling with the changes to the Probation Service. While we’ve been preoccupied there’s been quite a few questionable policies and procedures implemented under the radar in both the NPS and the CRC’s. The strategy that is most insulting to me is the increasing policisation and prisonisation of the Probation Service. I may have just made these words up, so by ‘policisation’ and ‘prisonisation’ I mean the turning of Probation Officers into police and prison officers, or more accurately, turning us into the lackeys of the police and prison services.

I could start with MAPPA and the subservient position probation can at times have at these meetings in comparison to the police and other professionals, particularly at Level 3 meetings. But I have to admit to quite liking MAPPA meetings because probation still has a say and we all know the meetings would be pointless without us. I don’t know why IOM and the police have adopted our ‘Offender Manager’ title. I don’t really mind because I’ve never referred to myself as an ‘Offender Manager’, which is quite a silly title since our ethos is historically grounded in rehabilitation, anti-labelling and generally being quite nice to people on probation to stop them being ‘offenders’. 


We’re under constant pressure to return people to the Court, recall to prison and oppose release based on ‘risk’, but we all know we’re not really an enforcement or risk management agency either. We seem to have put aside encouraging individuals to be honest, and instead we’re using polygraph tests and drug tests to trick and force individuals to disclose information. I even saw an article on the NPS intranet recently introducing the drive to encourage probation staff to monitor each other and ‘snitch’ on 'corrupt' probation colleagues (I’ve since stopped taking home stationery!)

All these things above we’re getting used to, it’s every day stuff, but there are two things that are really beginning to irk me most. The first is ARMS assessments which we’re forced to complete on all on probation offenders convicted of sexual offences. Now I’m a jobsworth so I was amongst the first in my office to complete the mandatory ARMS (Active Risk Assessment) training and have completed one for every relevant individual on my caseload. 

I haven’t done any “required” joint home visits with the police, I can’t bring myself to voluntarily sit in a police car, marked or unmarked, nor am I willing to be part of a police interrogation because I’m a Probation Officer not a police officer. While ARMS may benefit the police ‘public protection units’ who are the only ones that actually read it, it is a pointless exercise for probation staff. I’ve completed my appraisal-linked ARMS quota and I can safely say that ARMS is of no use to us, particularly as I’ve already completed on each relevant individual an induction, OASys risk assessment, home visits and multiple supervision sessions, and more.

The second thing that irks me is Vetting. I understand the need for CRB checks, DBS checks and all that sort of stuff, but this process has taken such an intrusive form with the implementation of Vetting to police standards. For those that haven’t had the privilege yet, according to the long since implemented PI 03/2014, while we were preoccupied, this means;

“Once staff transition to the NPS, they will be subject to the same vetting checks and requirements as other HQ personnel. Where NPS staff apply to move to other NOMS HQ and prison locations they will be subject to a full security vetting check. If NPS staff move to another role within NPS, vetting will only be required if they are subject to a higher level of vetting for the post. This will be a minimum level of Enhanced Check 2, but may be higher dependant on the level of risk and type of work undertaken.”
Now you may be thinking “well I’m not changing role at the moment so I can file this PI in the trash with all the other important NPS instructions”. Well you can’t because our probation directors and unions have allowed Vetting to be forced upon us. Firstly, Vetting now replaces CRB/DBS checks now we’re part of the (un)civil service. Secondly, all ‘offender management’ staff are required to use the police Visor database as a “reasonable management instruction”, and that’s whether to want or need to use it or not. For this privilege we all must be vetted first, and the Vetting itself is a “reasonable management instruction” too.
“ViSOR users are now subject to additional Vetting requirements by the police who as data owners require NOMS staff to undergo Non Police Personnel Vetting (NPPV) at level 2 or 3 depending on access rights.” PI 03/2014.
So there we have it, even though we don’t need Visor and it is not necessary for all probation staff to have access to what is actually a piss-poor database. The probable truth is that we’re being vetted simply because police officers and prison officers are vetted, and the Ministry of Justice probably see it as a way of further sidelining probation and speeding up our extinction. If any of you, like me, have been through this process already you’ll know how intrusive, stressful and worrying it actually is, and that you can fail it. 

The minimum level of Enhanced Check 2 that will being forced upon us includes PNC and local police intelligence checks, checks on other non-conviction databases and Special Branch for applicant, spouse/partner and co-residents (including parents and siblings); military and Professional Standards checks on the applicant if required; Credit Reference checks on the applicant, including history of credit card refusal, debts and CCJ’s. I’ve seen a circular stating this may adversely affect a small number of staff but I think this could affect a significant number of probation staff, some with past criminal records, some with family members or spouses with criminal records, and some with bad credit histories past and present.

So what do the unions say? Not much, well this is Ian Lawrence’s (Napo General Secretary) position on Vetting;

“Unless the reason for failure of vetting is such that a disciplinary case is warranted then no member of staff will lose their employment as a result of vetting failure. Anyone failing the vetting process would be redeployed or have a restricted caseload or other adjustments to allow them to continue to work”.
I’m going to end by saying that the Probation Service used to represent rehabilitation and change. Our wealth was largely in the diversity of our staff group which included people from all walks of life, ranging from rich-gits and Tory-boys sitting next to ex-soldiers, ex-miners and those from beyond the fringes of regular society, including the poor, the underclass, recovered addicts, reformed gang members, and the like. This all now ends because once again our probation bosses have bowed to the will of the Ministry of Justice, this time putting police procedures and prison logic over probation staff and practice. I wonder if Vetting is why the ex-offender mentors and volunteers have disappeared from the NPS?

On a side but related note, the recent David Lammy Review told us that certain groups are more likely to be ‘over-policed’, stopped and searched, prosecuted and therefore have criminal records. He concluded as part of his solution that the inequality should be addressed and even that criminal records should be sealed to help former offenders combat discrimination and find work. 

I watched our Prime Minister vow to end the racism and discrimination that certain groups face in every walk of life, including the CJS and workplace. I am sure the Ministry of Justice will be tasked to get its house in order because of the bias and discrimination in the justice system. While the MoJ and the UK in general is trying to achieve what it couldn’t dating from the MacPherson (Stephen Lawrence) Report and before, the NPS will be simultaneously dismissing probation officers for their circumstances and mistakes of yesteryear.

Sadly, I know many probation staff of all backgrounds that have past criminal histories, criminal family members and financial problems, mainly due to bad life choices, and in some cases stemming from the earlier forms of the discrimination and disadvantage described in the Lammy Review. I couldn’t think of anyone better placed to support those on probation facing similar experiences, and to help balance our unfair justice system, but now that’s only if they are able to get past Vetting. With the Lammy Review in mind, if those adversely affected by Vetting are disproportionately originating from working-class family backgrounds, ethnic minorities or marginalised communities then this could end up being seen as a ‘whitewashing’ of the Probation Service.

Thanks for reading.

Probation Officer
Too many years to retire

Sunday, 15 October 2017

News From Nottingham 3

My guess is that there will be widespread relief amongst the Napo top table that things went so well at Nottingham this year. I won't pretend to have been a regular AGM attender over my career, but I'm willing to bet this just might have been a first for the union when all the business was concluded by close of play on Saturday. 

This was no mean achievement given the cheaper, shorter format and achieved largely by consistent quoracy and a marked absence of contentious motions. I heard mention of 260 or thereabouts as the high point of attendance, comfortably above the new 150 threshold and it won't go unnoticed that having most attenders ensconced in a hotel onsite gave much less scope for members going AWOL, which has been a bit of a tradition built up over many years. 

If Richard Burgon was the star performer on day one, then fellow MP Bob Neill provided much of the inspiration for day two, and I'm not just saying that because he somewhat surprisingly referenced the blog not just once but twice, probably to the chagrin of the General Secretary sat closeby.

Having announced his Justice Committee inquiry into the whole TR omnishambles only the day before, the timing of his contribution was impeccable, as was his obvious enthusiasm to get stuck into uncovering the unvarnished truth about a matter which he firmly acknowledged "we got it badly wrong". This is no mean statement coming as it does from a Conservative MP and clearly someone who enjoys a high degree of cross-party support having been elected unopposed for a second term as Chair of the Justice Committee.

In an engaging and forthright presentation, Bob made a number of things very clear indeed, including stressing the importance of whistleblowers to an effective democracy. In hearing about the impending BBC Panorama programme and the possibility of some contributors having had their cover 'blown', he made it absolutely clear that any person giving evidence to his inquiry would benefit from Parliamentary protection, enforced if necessary by the Speaker. Time is short though with evidence required by November 17th and not withstanding such high-powered assurances, it would seem prudent that anyone tempted to submit evidence had the protection of a trade union.

On this very point and in the context of the now-delayed Panorama programme, it was sobering that the only Emergency Motion put before conference concerned providing protection to whistle-blowing members:-
"It has come to the attention of London Branch during the last 2 weeks that a Panorama programme will be shown in the next 10 days that is looking at Probation post privatisation. Several people interviewed in the programme have been contacted by legal representatives amid allegations of bringing the NPS and CRC into disrepute. This AGM calls on the Officers and Officials' Group to take action to protect those Napo members involved, including contacting and working with the MoJ." 
I suspect like many members, I came away from Nottingham somewhat buoyed-up with the notion that at long last all the chickens regarding the TR omnishambles appeared to be airborne and about to arrive home to roost very soon. Bob Neill joked about the MoJ having appeared to have been 'spooked' by the announcement of his inquiry and as a desperate response set up the 'Whole System Improvement Programme' mentioned yesterday. Things are definitely happening folks and the celestial bodies appear to be aligning at last.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

News From Nottingham 2

This already feels like a very different Napo AGM. For a start we're not near the sea but instead a very green university campus at least a bus or tram ride away from the usual urban delights and watering holes thirsty regular attenders have come to expect. It will be interesting to see what the feedback is.

Happily, following last year's decision to amend the quoracy rules to a mere 150, there was no tedious and anxious wait before business could start and despite some fears, the hall looked comfortably-filled from the start. This is also a 'short-format' 2 day affair, borne of economic necessity and despite the prospect of a free glass or wine at the General Secretary's party, not everyone managed to stay the course until 7pm. 

Without doubt the most sobering session of the day was from the treasurer and the facts are truly staggering. The union haemorrhaged 800 members in 2016 thanks to a combination of factors including the end of 'check-off' and redundancies, but also in my view the effect of widespread disillusionment with what many felt was a ham-fisted response to TR, something the top table still finds difficult to acknowledge. 

Despite some attempts to reduce expenditure, the dramatic reduction in subscription income netted an annual deficit of an eye-watering £227,000, a situation that is clearly unsustainable and I can well understand why the current financial officer is keen to hand the baton over. Fortunately the sale of Chivalry Road brought in £2.1 million, but it's painfully obvious that the union only has a limited amount of time to find a solution to its economic situation, or it's history. And if the money is not used to purchase property within 3 years, HMRC rules will lead to a Capital Gains Tax bill of £300,000.  

As always, some interesting speakers helped the day along and a vast amount of pretty uncontentious motions were passed 'nem con'. Fred Ponsonby, a labour peer and magistrate is clearly a 'good friend' of probation in the Upper House and shared some fascinating insights into the knotty problems faced by the MoJ with its determination to rollout online justice. 

He cited the example of a person pleading guilty online to use of a TV without a licence and having a fine imposed. How exactly was the need for justice to be delivered publicly to be satisfied, but avoid the disproportionate effect of the result remaining online potentially forever? Possibly a special computer would be located in a distant courtroom but only having the results publicly accessible for a few hours before they disappear into the ether?

One of the stars of the day was undoubtedly a passionate contribution by a young woman and former prisoner regarding her painful journey through the criminal justice system. It was highly critical of probation and as such made compelling, if uneasy listening. I found the testimony raised many questions in my mind, subsequently confirmed by several conversations with seasoned practitioners, which I have to say reassures me that despite everything, the ethos and particular skills necessary for 'probation' are still very much alive.  

And on that note, the Director of Probation at the NPS Sonia Crozier, as a former PO, in my view still manages to give some confidence that the spirit and ethos of 'probation' has a presence in the upper echelons of the MoJ. However, in answer to a spirited challenge from the floor as to the continual erosion of 'professional judgement', her response to being "willing to listen" did sound a tad feeble, but at least she's still there and we can only hope the tide will turn some day soon. 

Which brings us on to the day being suitably rounded-off on an upbeat speech from the labour Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon. He said all the right things and as a consequence got some regular raptuous applause. But it's to be hoped that he really does have both a plan and the commitment of his colleagues to bringing probation back together under public control because I'm increasingly of the view that Labour could be in power sooner rather than later. I can see the Tories giving up with stalled Brexit negotiations and in effect deciding a period in opposition would allow time to regroup, refocus and let a Labour government get the flack from things going wrong Europe-wise and economy-wise.          

Friday, 13 October 2017

Something's In The Air 2

I said I thought something was in the air and lo, while many of us are enjoying the delights of the East Midlands Convention Centre, I gather the following was issued earlier today:-  

Whole System Improvement Programme launches

A new programme of work has been launched to look at improving how probation services in the community can work together more seamlessly.

In the past few years there have been huge changes in probation. Since Transforming Rehabilitation, the primary focus of the newly created organisations has been on getting their own systems and processes working internally, embedding new operating models and responding to the various challenges they have faced. Now that the way we all work individually has become clearer, it’s time to look at how we all work together.

All providers of probation services are dependent on each other to succeed and the performance of the whole system requires the interfaces between providers to be efficient and effective. Sometimes those interfaces are highlighted as a hindrance rather than a help.

The Whole System Improvement (WSI) programme will focus on identifying incremental steps to improve the delivery of probation services. It will be a collaborative activity, coordinated by HMPPS but with all provider organisations playing an equal part in making change happen.

The Whole System Improvement Board have identified 4 initial workstream priority areas:

  • rate card
  • workforce strategy
  • Strategic System Improvement (Reducing Bureaucracy)
  • Transforming Rehabilitation interface processes
In each of these areas, the programme will find out what works, find quick wins and plan long term solutions to help everything work more smoothly and with the Probation Technology Strategy Group, now part of the Community Interventions Directorate, we will be able to jointly drive ICT improvements as part of the programme.

Jim Barton, Executive Director of Community Interventions, said:
 “I am determined that we will continually and proactively improve system interfaces, build and share best practice and where necessary, develop new solutions. This is an exciting opportunity to take forward a positive agenda for change and improvement and it is important that everyone involved in delivering services in the community in HMPPS is engaged and is empowered to deliver this vision.”
There will be regular updates on progress throughout the programme and we are keen for as many people as possible to be involved. The Community Interventions WSI Project Team will shortly be recruiting team members. If you require any further information please contact CommunityWSI@justice.gsi.gov.uk

Jim Barton, Executive Director of Community Interventions

--oo00oo--

In other news, we learn that the proposed Panorama programme scheduled for transmission on Monday has been 'postponed'. I suspect this can only mean the lawyers are crawling all over it and I sincerely hope that the delay may only be short-lived. 

Something's In The Air

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that I often have periods when I think I'm wasting my time with this blog. "It's all been said; the end is nigh; nobody is listening; nothing can be done; etc etc.," but then suddenly the heavenly bodies seem to align as if by some mysterious force and you get the distinct feeling something's definitely in the air. Here's the BBC's Danny Shaw writing a few hours ago:-  

Ex-prisoners lack support, says probation head

Too many prisoners leaving jail are merely being "signposted" towards rehabilitation services, the head of the Probation Service has admitted.

Michael Spurr said a new system of offender supervision in England and Wales "wasn't working" as it should. Low and medium risk offenders are monitored by staff from 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs). Managers involved say the system doesn't provide firms with enough incentives to tackle re-offending.

Mr Spurr addressed the issue at the annual conference of the Prison Governors Association near Derby, where one governor told him that 200 prisoners had been freed from the jail he runs with "next to nil" resettlement provision. Mr Spurr responded: "CRCs are not working as we would have wanted them to work," adding that for many there was only a "basic resettlement service" available for offenders. "Basic signposting is what's going on in a lot of places," he admitted.

The system was introduced by Chris Grayling, when he was justice secretary, to reduce re-offending rates among the 270,000 people who are released from prison each year or serving community sentences. For the first time, inmates let out after serving terms of less than 12 months were also subject to monitoring.

A new state body, the National Probation Service (NPS), was set up to supervise offenders assessed as posing a high risk of harm, with CRCs responsible for the rest, from 2015. Although the NPS is considered to be performing satisfactorily, there are huge difficulties at the CRCs. In a highly critical speech last month, Dame Glenys Stacey, the Chief Inspector of Probation, said: "Although there are exceptions, the community rehabilitation companies... are not generally producing good quality work, not at all."

Dame Glenys said new ways of managing offenders had "largely stalled", there'd been little "meaningful" improvement in helping prisoners resettle on release and less involvement by charities and voluntary groups than expected. "We often find nowhere near enough purposeful activity or targeted intervention or even plain, personal contact," she concluded.

There appear to be three underlying causes. First, the speed of the reforms. Mr Grayling wanted the plans to be embedded by the time of the 2015 general election to make it near-impossible for Labour to scrap them, should they be elected. That meant replacing 35 probation trusts with a part-privatised system within two years - without any pilot scheme.

Jacob Tas, chief executive of Nacro, a crime reduction charity which has a "strategic partnership" with the private firm Sodexo in six CRC areas, said that was a mistake, given the upheaval that had resulted. "If you engage with this size of change, from my experience it's a good idea to test it out first and see and then learn and then make it better."

The second reason concerns the CRCs' contracts. They're required to hit 24 performance targets relating, for example, to the timely completion of reports, but only 10% of their predicted payments depend on cutting re-offending. 


"We're hitting our target but maybe missing the point," said Chris Wright, chief executive of Catch 22, a charity which is sub-contracted by three CRCs to work with offenders. He said ministers had put an "industry of bureaucracy" in place to keep companies under control. "In a classic government way, they think the best way of holding people to account is by building a bureaucracy which ultimately takes you away from doing the things that really matter," said Mr Wright.

It was a concern Mike Trace had when the charity he's in charge of, the Forward Trust, was bidding for CRC contracts. "What became clear through the process is the innovation and the creativity to reduce re-offending was less important than the legal and financial risks or benefits," said Mr Trace. His organisation, then known as the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (Rapt), withdrew from competing for contracts. "I've got to say we were quite relieved not to be awarded any because they look to me to be misdirected and wrongly shaped," he said.

Thirdly, the way the payment mechanism for the CRCs was designed has left them with higher costs and lower income than they expected, leaving resources thinly stretched. As a result, the government has adjusted the contracts, paying the CRCs extra money, which the Ministry of Justice said would amount to an additional £277m over seven years. Over a decade, the maximum potential value of the contracts is put at £6.5bn.

Michael Spurr said taxpayers would still end up paying less for probation than they did before the Grayling reforms, but after his acknowledgment of how "basic" the service is in many areas, some may question whether it's providing value for their money.


--oo00oo--

This from the Independent:-

Criminals could be banned from drinking after they are released from prison

'At a time when prisons are full to bursting, expanding the channels back into custody even further seems frankly barmy,' says reform campaigner

Former prisoners could be barred from drinking alcohol after their release from custody under new measures aimed at reducing reoffending rates. The proposals would give probation officers across the country, the power to enforce tailored restrictions on criminals when they are released. They would be allowed to ban prisoners from drinking alcohol, gambling or accessing online content. Breaching the rules could result in their recall to jail.

“We are committed to improving the supervision of those on probation and challenging offenders to reform and lead law abiding lives on release," said Probation Minister Sam Gyimah. He said that the measures would help ensure more "intensive rehabilitation" took place in the community, adding they would help to "protect the public and tackle the issues that lead offenders to commit crime."

But prison reform campaigners condemned the move as "frankly barmy". Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon said the government's privatisation of the probation service had created a "crisis" in the sector and it was already failing to fulfil its existing duties.

"These measures will not address the root cause of this failure," he said. "In recent weeks the government has been forced to admit that it has handed tens of millions more to these failing private probation companies.This is further rewarding failure at a time when violent reoffending rates are up and as offenders struggle to get access to the basic services, such as housing and employment, needed to help them leave behind a life of crime." He added that under a Labour government "no option will remain off the table" in restoring the probation service, including renationalising the sector.

The numbers of prisoners surged over the summer to a record 86,000, with projections that numbers could reach 88,000 by March 2022. Prisons across the UK have experienced increased volatility in recent months, prompting growing calls for the Government to reduce the number of prisoners. The Prison Governors' Association said a riot at high-security Long Lartin prison earlier this week should set "ringing alarm bells at the most senior level". Inmates reportedly attacked officers with pool balls during the incident.

Responding to the new measures, Andrew Neilson, Director of Campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “At a time when prisons are full to bursting and the numbers of people being recalled behind bars are already rising fast, expanding the channels back into custody even further seems frankly barmy, The Ministry of Justice has clearly failed to think this one through."

He added that the criminal justice system was not the best place to treat alcohol and gambling addiction, and "misguided efforts" such as an alcohol ban would only set more people up to fail. “Our prediction is that recalls will soar and reoffending will not fall [after the powers are granted to probation officers]. Instead, a criminal justice system that is eating itself will just get bigger and the crisis in prisons and probation will only worsen," he said.

News From Nottingham

On the very eve of the Napo AGM in Nottingham and ahead of an expected appearance by the chair of the House of Commons Justice Committee, I see that somewhat late in the day they are holding an inquiry into the TR omnishambles. It's probably too late, but I suppose better late than never:-
  
Transforming Rehabilitation inquiry launched
The Justice Committee launches an inquiry into the Government's Transforming Rehabilitation Programme. The inquiry will focus on how current Government measures are effectively addressing the challenges facing the probation services and what more needs to be done in the short-term to improve the probation system.

Terms of reference
The Committee welcomes written evidence on the following topics:

Government measures
1. To what extent do the steps taken by the Government address the issues facing probation services?

(a) What contractual, financial and administrative changes did the Government introduce for CRCs in July 2017 as a result of their internal review of Transforming Rehabilitation? What has been the effect of these changes on the delivery of probation services?

(b) Are strengthening inspection standards and creating joint performance measures (between probation services and prisons) the best ways of improving performance?

(c) What should be the Government’s priorities to improve work between departments on the delivery of services needed for effective rehabilitation?

2. What impact have the reforms had on: i) sentencing behaviour, ii) recalls to prison, and iii) serious further offences?

3. How effective have Government measures been in addressing issues arising from the division of responsibility between the NPS and CRCs in the delivery of probation services?

4. What else should the Government do to address the issues facing probation services?

Short-term changes
5. How can the Through-the-Gate provision be improved so that prisoners get the right help before their release from prison and afterwards?

6. What can be done to increase voluntary sector involvement in the delivery of probation services?


The future of probation services
7. When should there be a review of the future of the Transforming Rehabilitation model and the long-term plan for delivering probation services?


Submitting written evidence
The deadline for written submissions to be made is Friday 17 November 2017. Written submissions should be made via the web portal. Submissions need not address every aspect of the terms of reference and should be no longer than 3,000 words. The Committee values diversity and seeks to ensure this where possible. We encourage members of underrepresented groups to submit written evidence.

Background
In 2014, the Ministry of Justice divided the probation system—responsible for supervising, rehabilitating and (where necessary) resettling offenders, after or instead of a custodial sentence—into two parts:

  • the National Probation Service (NPS)—handle high risk offenders (the NPS is a public body); and
  • Community Rehabilitation Centres (CRCs)—of which there are 21 across England and Wales—handle low and medium risk offenders and services are delivered by private or third sector organisations (eight private organisations run the 21 CRCs).
The Government also introduced a provision in the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 which required that rehabilitation activity be provided to short-sentenced offenders (i.e. those receiving a custodial sentences of 12 months or less).

In 2015, Through-the-Gate was introduced and CRCs were given responsibility to support offenders in the 12 weeks before their release from prison and in the period after their release. Collectively these reforms are known as ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’.

--oo00oo--

I notice almost the first item in the local news is a graphic reminder of the prison crisis:-  

Four deaths in the last four weeks at HMP Nottingham

Four people have died while in custody in HMP Nottingham in as many weeks. It comes after the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) said the prison has a problem with drugs and violence. A spokesman for the prison service said every death was a tragedy, and that investigations are now under way to ascertain the details. 

They did not disclose any details about inmates who have died, and further details surrounding the death of the most recently deceased inmate have not been released. However, the Post reported last month that Shane Stroughton, 29, died in custody on Wednesday, September 13.

HMP is a male category B prison, which takes prisoners from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire courts, and has a capacity of 1,060 prisoners. A Prison Service spokesman said: “Every death in custody is a tragedy and we are redoubling our efforts to make prisons safe.

“We are putting more funding into prison safety and have launched a suicide and self-harm reduction project to address the increase in self-inflicted deaths and self-harm in our prisons. HMP Nottingham has also put in place a number of measures to increase staffing levels, which have improved over the year. As with all deaths in custody, independent investigations by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman are ongoing, and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

In July, the IMB report said the prison's violence problem had been made worse by a staff shortage. The report, which covered 12 months up to February, said five men had died, two as a result of self-harm. Drugs are also an issue and a source of bullying, debt, and health problems, investigators found.


--oo00oo--

Finally, there are signs that MTCNovo are getting rattled as to what Monday's BBC Panorama programme will reveal:-

Message from Helga Swidenbank - Interim Director MTCnovo

BBC Panorama has approached us about a programme they are planning to air on Monday 16th October on work of probation providers. The programme will look at the impact Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) has had on probation services across the UK and will reference both London CRC and London National Probation Service, as well other providers. 

The programme makers have put a number of allegations to us about London CRC's work which we have responded to. We have been working with them to present a more accurate account of the work that London CRC is doing to improve its probation services in London.

I will update you once the programme has aired and respond to any specific allegations that are actually broadcast. 

In the meantime, please remember that if you are approached by the media, you must not answer their queries or give them information about any of MTCnovo's organisations, employees or service users without first speaking to the MTCnovo Communications Team. Simply take their details and call the Communications Team on 0207 708 8101.

Thank you for your hard work and continued commitment to helping us reach our collective goal of reducing reoffending and improving lives.