Monday, 23 January 2017

IT Fixed?

Whilst we still seem to be treading water, it gives me time to delve back into the archives of posts that never quite made it to publication for various reasons. Way back in October, during a short sojourn in France, I suffered an internet failure and a whole raft of stuff I'd prepared got left sitting on the laptop, like this one about IT. I guess everything's ok now though, right?

We all know IT in probation is crap, Sonia Crozier confirmed that only last week when speaking at Napo's AGM in Cardiff.    

This from Government Computing April 2016:-

NAO warns over ICT and data at heart of probation reforms

The National Audit Office (NAO) has raised concerns over the case management systems at the heart of the "Transforming Rehabilitation" probation reforms. It has also highlighted limitations around data quality and availability and outlined fears over the impact on the technology investment going into community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) amid a general decline in the number of cases going through the justice system.

In its study, which examines whether the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) are managing reforms in a way that will improve the value for money of probation services, the NAO says the performance of CRCs and the National Probation Service (NPS) remains unclear given limitations around data quality and availability.

The NAO report says that data on reoffending will not emerge until late 2017, allowing a year after supervision for offenders to reoffend, and a further six months for offences to be proven in court. In assessing performance by the NPS, the report points out that performance of the seven NPS regions should be monitored monthly through 25 service levels that track offender management from the start of the sentence. NOMS considers that robust data is available for only 18 of these 25 service levels with the NPS performing at or above target levels in seven of these.

However, the report says, NPS managers expressed limited confidence in some of the data due to quality issues caused by laborious and dated case and offender management systems. Although each region has put data quality managers in place, another concern is a reduction in analytical support teams since the separation into CRCs and the NPS.

The report also says that the various ICT systems used in probation casework create severe inefficiencies. New tools used by the NPS for assessing and allocating offenders are "cumbersome" and require "repeated data re-entry", the report says.

Although all CRCs are planned to replace existing ICT systems once they could develop new case management and assessment systems, NOMS suffered delays in developing and implementing the interface required for CRCs to share data on offenders. The interface was due to be delivered in June 2015, but was delayed because of other priorities and increased scope.

Currently, the NAO said, the MoJ was advising that the interface or 'gateway' had been developed and was awaiting joint testing with CRCs' systems. In summary, the NAO said that it had observed "severe inefficiency" arising from the various ICT systems used.

For example:

- Staff attributed several hours per week of lost working time to nDelius, the main probation case management system. Some considered nDelius had been unfit for purpose as a case management tool even before it was laden with additional performance management and contract management functions during the reforms. NPS is making minor changes to the system on an ongoing basis.

-nDelius is not intuitive to use and requires multiple steps for even simple actions. Most staff also complained of losing work they had entered and periods of system unavailability. Staff reported receiving limited training on the system.

- the 'risk of serious recidivism' tool (RSR) used to assess offender risk is unable to pull information from other systems, requiring manual re-entry. Staff complained about the time required to complete the tool and considered that it should not be compulsory for evidently high-risk cases. However, changes in national guidance have removed the requirement to complete the RSR at the pre-sentence stage in all cases. NOMS also found extensive miscalculation and misreporting of results.

- the Offender Assessment System (OASys), for assessing the risks and needs of an offender, requires manual re-entry of information already entered in nDelius and RSR, increasing error rates and diverting staff from productive work; and

- the case allocation system (CAS), which is completed by the NPS on all cases to document allocation decisions, is in part paper-based and also requires staff to re-enter data that are already in other systems. Work to improve its functionality is due to be implemented later in 2016.

The NAO added that to increase efficiency and productivity, most CRCs are installing their own case management systems and ICT infrastructure. The NPS expects to continue with the existing systems for the foreseeable future, it added.

In its report, the NAO also made a point that the contracts signed with the new owners of community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) commit them to achieving economies and efficiencies sufficient to fund the costs of expanded services.

Each transformation programme depends on significant privately financed investment, mainly in the first two years of the seven-year contracts in several areas, including wholesale replacement of inefficient technology developed and used by probation trusts, particularly systems for offender case management and consolidating the separate back-offices run by probation trusts.

However, the NAO said, its fieldwork at four CRCs had identified various effects of uncertainty over future costs and income, including reduced clarity over the timing or level of investment, particularly on ICT and estates transformation.

CRCs now face commercial and contractual pressures to deliver the changes. But the extent and pace of CRCs' transformation plans have become more uncertain because their case volumes are much lower than planned during bidding. Volumes are down between 6% and 36% against the mid-point agreed in the contracts, with one of the reasons for reduced volumes being a general decline in the number of cases going through the justice system, particularly owing to the reduction in crime.

The NAO concluded, "The ministry has successfully restructured the probation landscape, avoiding major disruptions in service during a difficult transition period. But this is only the beginning. If the ministry is to stabilise, and improve, the performance of CRCs and the NPS it needs to continue to address operational problems, such as underlying capacity issues, weaknesses in ICT systems and performance data, and improve working relationships between NPS and CRC staff - some of which are unsurprising given the scale of reforms."

Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier added, "There can be no room for error in the Ministry of Justice's plans to transform rehabilitation. The cost of reoffending to society and the public purse is too great. The scale and pace of reform are all very challenging. We will have to wait and see if the department has created the right incentives for the system to work as a whole to reduce reoffending rates. From the NAO's analysis, I am concerned that some of the persistent weaknesses around IT systems and capacity issues put real reform at risk."


This from Government Computing September 2016:- 

PAC: probation service ICT is “inefficient, unreliable and hard to use”

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has warned of the impact poor ICT systems have had on efforts by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to transform probation services. In 2014, the PAC said it reported on the changes underway to probation services in England and Wales, outlining several risks and challenges. Now, two years on, it has warned that there is still no clear picture of how the new system is performing in important areas of the reforms.

In addition, the “failure to deal with ICT problems” coupled with “serious uncertainty over the impact on providers of lower than expected business volumes” have also undermined the pace of change, the parliamentary watchdog said.

In 2012, the MoJ said it would deliver a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ by reforming probation services. Subsequently in June 2014, it split 35 probation trusts into a public sector National Probation Service (NPS) as well as 21 new community rehabilitation companies (CRCs). The NPS advises courts on sentencing all offenders and manages those individuals presenting higher risks of serious harm or with prior history of domestic violence and sexual offences, while CRCs supervise offenders presenting low- and medium-risk of harm.

The CRCs were in public ownership until February 2015 and then transferred to eight mainly private sector providers working under contract to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS).

However, the ability of the CRCs to transform their businesses is being undermined by delays in resolving commercial negotiations. The new owners of the CRCs were chosen on the basis that they would invest in and transform these businesses, with promised innovations including new “one-stop” service centres and the use of ICT systems to free up probation staff time to interact more effectively with offenders. But the transformation has been slower than expected due to difficulties connecting the CRCs to ICT systems within NOMS coupled with lower volumes of business than originally estimated.

The PAC went further in its criticism of probation service ICT systems, describing them as “inefficient, unreliable and hard to use.” The report maintained that successful probation services depend on effective joint-working across various partners, supported by “well-functioning ICT systems”.

But it said, “Probation ICT systems have long been unfit for purpose, which hinders collaboration and frustrates staff who already work under pressure. We were told that the nDelius case management system used by NOMS had to be stripped back so it could be operated by CRCs and NPS regions nationwide as a single system. As a result, this reduced the usability of nDelius and NPS staff regularly raise ICT issues with senior leaders in NOMS.

“Improving nDelius is a priority for NOMS and is particularly important for the NPS who will continue to use the system for the foreseeable future.”

“Most CRCs are installing their own case management systems and ICT infrastructure to increase efficiency and productivity. For this to happen, CRCs needed the ministry to provide a “strategic partner gateway” to link NOMS and CRC systems. The ministry initially planned to deliver this gateway in the summer of 2015 but this was delayed by other priorities and subsequently by increased scope. Though the gateway is now in place, the delay has impacted some CRCs’ ability to transform their ICT systems at the pace they had planned. As a result, the ministry has had to pay a total of £23.1m to 17 CRCs.

The PAC concluded, “In a service that relies on successful joint working between multiple partners, it is essential that ICT supports, rather than frustrates, effective and efficient collaboration. This is far from the case for probation.

“Systems are still fragile and precarious, not least the ICT infrastructure and NOMS’ nDelius case management system, which puts added pressure on already hard pressed staff. The nDelius case management system had to be stripped back so it could be operated nationwide and improvements to its usability were deferred. There have also been delays in providing CRCs with a gateway into NOMS ICT systems.

“The ministry has paid £23m compensation to CRCs as a result. It is crucial that nDelius, the gateway and wider ICT systems are fully functional as soon as possible otherwise NOMS risk further demoralising essential staff and delaying planned service transformation.”

The PAC recommended that NOMS should “without delay” meet its commitments to improve the usability of nDelius and to implement a fully functional and reliable link between NOMS and CRC systems by the end of 2016.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said: "There is a real danger the Ministry of Justice has bitten off more than it can chew. It set out with some fervour a programme of reforms not just to rehabilitation but also to the courts and prison systems. Ambition is one thing but, as our committee continues to document across government, delivering positive results for taxpayers and society in general is quite another.

“Reintegrating offenders with the community is vitally important yet the quality of arrangements to support this is patchy. There is also a continued failure to provide hard-pressed probation staff with adequate computer systems. None of this paints a picture of probation working effectively towards the goal of reduced reoffending.The ministry must not allow other projects to distract it from the task at hand during what is a critical stage of rehabilitation reform and we urge it to act on the recommendations set out in our report."


Seen on Facebook:-

If MoJ ministers were not briefed truthfully by their senior civil servants at the MoJ and NOMS then that is a very serious matter that should be investigated. If ministers knew and withheld this vital information likely to make TR practically unworkable from parliament then this is scandalous and may well require investigation in the public interest. If bidders were not informed about the extent of known and anticipated ICT problems that were highly likely to severely impact on the successful roll out of their operating models and hamper their ability to meet targets and eventually cream off a surplus then they could presumably sue the MoJ. At the very least the problems should be fixed for them at the governments expense and generous compensation paid to all probation service providers and their employees who have suffered as a consequence. Furthermore, probation providers should not be subjected to financial pressures based on performance as the funding provider effectively nobbled them before they took their first steps. £23m for everyone's trouble and aggravation is frankly a derisory sum.


  1. Err, No, it not fixed. It broken. It never work properly. It never been design, it only been patch up. It like politics: big egos, many lies, little truths, no-one wrong, failure rewarded. Too many toast?

  2. Later this week, the statistics for deaths in prison are to be published. It's thought that they may show that suicides have doubled since 2010, which incendentley happens to be when Chris Grayling took over as Justice Secretary.
    To compound these horrific statistics, the conclusion of an inquiry published today has not only highlighted the usual failings of staffing levels and funding, but fundamentally, questions why some people are in prison in the first place.
    It's pretty clear that Liz Truss will have a busy week ahead, and perhaps the PM too given her recent commitment to mental health.


    1. The criminal justice system "did too little to protect" a vulnerable inmate who electrocuted himself in prison, the Prisons Ombudsman has found. Dean Saunders, 25, died at HMP Chelmsford in Essex in January 2016. He had been arrested the month before, after his father, Mark, was stabbed while trying to stop his son harming himself during a bout of paranoia.

      Mark Saunders has called for the recommendations made by the ombudsman to be seen through. On Friday, an inquest jury found Mr Saunders was "let down" by the prison and mental health services.

      Mark Saunders, Dean's father, said the family had questioned his placement in prison from the outset. "Obviously our concerns were that he needed help and medication, we needed to find out what was going on," said Mr Saunders. "There was no proper medical structure there [in prison] to help him. We were lied to and mislead all the way through. We were devastated."

      The ombudsman said those involved in Dean Saunders' care felt he should have been in a mental health facility rather than prison. "I am also concerned that there appears to have been some confusion at Chelmsford about the process for transferring mentally ill prisoners to hospital, which meant that an opportunity to transfer Mr Saunders in December [of 2015] was missed. "Sadly, the criminal justice system did too little to protect this very vulnerable man."

      Speaking about the report, Mark Saunders said: "I can't walk away from this now without putting all the changes into place."

      Care UK, the healthcare provider at HMP Chelmsford, announced it was to quit its contract at the prison. The company said it had attempted to resolve issues at Chelmsford Prison but the level of resources the prison planned to make available were "insufficient".

  3. On a tangent, I've just spent half an hour watching the incredibly scary Fox News channel (from my sick bed). In that small window of time I've heard how the "liberal media" have systematically lied to discredit Trump, how Theresa May is "so excited" at the prospect of meeting "the President", Newt Gingrich accuse George Soros of funding the rise & education of "left wing fascism & violence" across America, calls for Madonna to be jailed for threatening to blow up the Whitehouse, and a live interview with "intellectual heavyweight, newly-appointed advisor to President Trump & now a Fox Contributor, Nigel Farage."

    I know I'm running a bit of a temperature but....!?!

    1. Seeing as how I'm trapped under a duvet, I just had a random wander through Twitterland to try & enlighten myself about the ways of Trump's modern media of choice. There are some vile, toxic, obnoxious people in the world who seem quite happy to peddle hatred. I thought you weren't allowed to publish most of what I've just had sight of. Just Pure Hatred, e.g. raw bile & vitriol directed at gays, women, muslims, people of color. People are trading the most disgusting insults. I can see why he likes it.

  4. IT. Jeeeeeeeez. We have been boiling frogs. It gets worse and worse by the day. Not fit for purpose, stressful, clunky, and the time I spend cutting and pasting information from one database to another .... while staring at the Grim Wheel of Waiting in between... is a sorry waste of my wages and my headpace. I am told there are off the shelf client databases available that would do this as well (from a practitioner/client viewpoint) some of which are available on open source! Lots of money has gone to lots of people to build this travesty. Of course, its hopelessly compromised by the desire of Management to monitor ones every click

  5. If MOJ repeatedly commission the same so called experts to develop the 'next ICT solution' as developed the last 'failed attempt' what do they expect? I know that many of the original nDelius development team were involved with the NOMIS programme and we all know how that turned out!

  6. MOJ originally planed to implement the Strategic Partner Gateway to provide data integration capability to enable CRC developed case management systems to exchange information with nDelius by March 2015. We are still waiting - its only two years late and little sign of it yet! Will it ever be delivered???

    1. The SPG has been delivered. The system was in a live environment in March 2016 and nDelius was connected to it in July 2016. In September there was a live update too... So I'm not sure where you get your information from, but it's incorrect!

  7. There's a very big elephant in the room. If a case needs to be risk escalated from CRC to NPS, you are saying 'this case is high risk, this person is likely to cause serious harm and this could happen imminently'. NPS needs this to be transferred very quickly and to access systems compatible with theirs that share all the same scoring systems (OVP, OGP, OGRS3, SARA etc) and the IT needs to talk in the same way to HMP OASys. CRC's can try til they're blue in the face to get new systems past MOJ but until they click onto this, nDelius and OASys are here to stay.

    1. Some CRC systems are ready for final testing. It's the MOJ themselves who are technically unable to deliver the SPG and the stumbling block. Interestingly OASYS was never in scope of the SPG and the risk management functionality in CRC developed systems will not populate OASYS.

    2. Nope... Only one Parent Organisation (the owners of the CRCs) have a system that is in final testing with the Authority... and it's certainly not in the final stages of testing. The SPG went live a while ago - last year - so I'm not sure were the source of your information is - but clearly it's incorrect!

    3. Well I think this depends on your definition of 'live'. Im talking about a system that actually works that is capable of transferring the volume of data required of it by multiple CMS. I will believe it when I see it!

  8. Read what is said about the indicative ballot results on NNC and ask, who is treading water?