Friday, 24 February 2017

RARs - A History Lesson

I was particularly struck by the following paragraph from the HMI thematic report into RARs:- 

"In Huddersfield the CRC had inherited a practice from the former Probation Trust where a unique arrangement with the local courts anticipated a similar arrangement to the RAR, where accredited programmes were ordered using a generic programme requirement and the Trust determined which programme would be delivered following a post-sentence assessment. There was now no clear plan or policy about whether accredited programmes were delivered under a RAR or accredited programme requirement. As a result, the CRC had been delivering accredited programmes using RARs, but their intention was to make sure as many as possible were delivered through accredited programme requirements in order to maximise income."

The mention of practice in Huddersfield jogged my memory and sent me rushing to the archives and to a document kindly sent to me by a reader some time ago. When the History of the Great TR Omnishambles comes to be written, lets never forget the part played by one Mark Siddall of West Yorkshire Probation Service who had a 'good idea'. 

No doubt in anticipated furtherance of his own career as anything else, and under the enthusiastic leadership of Sue Hall, he pushed what he thought was a brilliant wheeze and RARs were born, with the aspiration of WYPS earning a bob or two by franchising the idea out to other service's.

Here he is in rather self-congratulatory mode, spelling it out to staff and sentencers, and in the process, rather neatly laying one of the key foundation stones for probation's demise under TR. Of course, it was an absolute gift to the politicians who beat a path to Yorkshire, and the MoJ, who pounced on it immediately, and the rest is history, as they say:-  

All Change: an innovative approach to sentencing

1 January 2012 marks a significant date for criminal justice in West Yorkshire. It represents the start of an innovative approach to sentencing and the delivery of sentences that is unique to the area. Following agreement from senior Judges and with the Courts Service, the new approach will deliver reduced reoffending, more successful completions of court sentences, more same-day reports, fewer adjournments and fewer breaches. The benefits are compelling.

How will it work?  

Where courts are considering a Community Order as the most appropriate sentence (and where standalone unpaid work or curfew is not under consideration), sentencers will impose a Community Order with an Activity Requirement at one of three levels of intensity. The level of intensity will be set by the court, and will no doubt relate to the level of offence seriousness and punishment required.

This generic Activity Requirement replaces the current framework of 12 individual requirements that can be included as part of a Community Order. It is entirely aligned with research evidence that confirms that the closer the fit between the delivery of a sentence and an individual's specific circumstances, the better the outcome. Ingredients in the new Activity Requirement will include all the existing options West Yorkshire Probation currently delivers as accredited programmes and specified activities, plus new activities as they are developed in response to changing needs.

Post sentence, Probation staff will conduct a detailed assessment of offending-related factors and will determine the most effective means of addressing these, up to the maximum intensity level specified by the court, and will select the particular activities that most closely fit that individual's offending behaviour. In essence, it is no different from Probation Orders imposed for most of the last hundred years, where the court determined the length of the order and the Probation Officer decided how best to supervise the offender.

Referring to the table, where a court imposes an Activity Requirement of medium intensity, for example, the Probation practitioner will conduct a thorough individual assessment to determine how best to fill the 30 days of activity, according to the specific issues that need to be addressed by the particular offender.

The Activity Requirement, which will be imposed under section 201 (1) (a) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, ensures a flexible response to changes in circumstances. For example, where it becomes evident some days or weeks after sentence that a domestic abuse intervention is more appropriate than one to address anger management, Probation staff can make the necessary arrangements swiftly without the need to return to court. The new framework provides a much better vehicle to respond to the complex and fast-changing nature of some offenders' circumstances.

The main issue for a court that is considering imposing a community order will be to determine which of the three intensity levels is most appropriate, therefore the majority of reports can be provided on the same day and adjournments for reports will be substantially reduced. 

Courts will still be able to impose separate Drug Rehabilitation Requirements or Alcohol Treatment Requirements if they think that these are appropriate. There will also be separate arrangements for Intensive Community Order cases and reports for such cases will continue to be in the Standard Delivery Report format. 

We are working closely with the Courts Service to prepare briefing materials for sentencers. The new framework will be simpler than previous arrangements and will remove those factors that can distort the pre-sentence assessment process e.g. defendants concealing significant information pre-sentence, or, at the other extreme, defendants making unrealistic commitments that they are unable or unwilling to to meet once the sentence has been decided.

People respond differently to change, and these changes may evoke varied responses. But in today's climate, remaining exactly as we are is not a viable option. So, where West Yorkshire Probation can make improvements, we will. It is important to keep our eyes on our ultimate ambition: reduced reoffending, fewer victims, more completed sentences, more same-day reports, fewer adjournments and fewer breaches. In short, greater effectiveness and greater efficiency. 

Mark Siddall, Director of Operations    


I've written about this before and it was discussed at some length:- 

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Post Sentence Assessment - Trojan Horse?

Yet again this blog throws up a fascinating discussion, this time on the West Yorkshire initiative called 'Post Sentence Assessment'. I first heard about this in 2012 and started to write about it, but it ended up languishing in a long-forgotten corner of the laptop, until today that is. This is what I was going to say about it back then:-

I was recently alerted to some discussion on the NAPO forum pages concerning an interesting sentencing initiative 'Post Sentence Assessment' up there in West Yorkshire. I'm told that the recent NAPO conference in York was treated to a workshop by their Director of Operations Mark Siddall who made a fleeting appearance at the tail end and thus was sadly unable to take a more active part in proceedings.

It seems that during a somewhat pedestrian powerpoint presentation he was nevertheless able to offer some fascinating insights into how he took on both the senior judges of Leeds and Bradford in a 'he who dares wins' encounter over dinner. Referring to 'eye watering' exchanges with the judges, he apparently quoted 'chapter and verse' when they suggested that what was being proposed might not be legal. If true, a particularly risky strategy at the best of times I would have thought. He reported that both the Ministry of Justice and NOMS had concerns also, but the scheme has been running since January and of course if it delivers as promised, shall we say it does nicely accord with government policy, whether it's strictly legal or not.

Well of course things have moved on considerably and clearly West Yorkshire felt they'd struck gold because I'm told they tried to sell their brilliant idea to other bemused Trusts, but with no success. By the way, even though Mark Siddall seems to be very happy taking all the credit for the wheeze, I'm also told that it wasn't his brainwave at all, but rather that of Sarah Jarvis who left for pastures new over the Pennines shortly afterwards.

Interestingly, another source tells me that when Jeremy Wright paid a visit to West Yorkshire he latched onto PSA straight away and could immediately see how it could be a key part of the TR omnishambles. So, well done West Yorks!

Anyway, I'm not going to say much more on a subject I know little about and will let the comment thread from yesterday take up the story:-

I'd just like to make a mention of what someone put as a comment on yesterday's blog. It is regarding West Yorkshire's Post Sentence Assessment. What I understand there is that instead of having a year's Supervision Requirement, say, they are proposing something like a 20 day Specified Activity Requirement and expecting offenders to attend 20 times within the 12 months of the Community Order.

The problem I have heard, loud and clear, is that most of these Orders are ended without the Days actually being completed. Indeed many Orders have very few 'Days' completed because people don't get on programmes or groups and aren't seen when they are on waiting lists, or just aren't suitable for working in groups, or don't turn up. An FOI request would be interesting to help clarify the evidence, but I hear that senior managers have as much as admitted this and blamed front line staff.

The problem for any privateers if working this way would be if they then tried to close the case on NDelius at the 12 month mark and took payment, they would be open to claims of fraud in the same way that Serco are now on tagging contracts. In fact, I think the way that PSA is structured makes this almost inevitable. If West Yorkshire's way becomes a cornerstone of TR through the creation of Rehabilitation Activity Requirements the future is perilous for private companies. Much better for them to have Supervision and Programme Requirements.

In my mind, any such contracted PSA system in private hands would lead to high levels of media scrutiny, reputational damage and possible criminal investigation. Let's face it, we can't currently end 200 hours of UPW when only 130 had been completed. To claim the 200 hours would be fraud, so the future of contracts looks very troubled indeed if government and companies go down this route.

But if WY aren't completing Orders, shouldn't we know how much or how many are being completed? This would give a baseline of what existing staff can provide and give contractors an idea of how much performance they would need to add to meet their contracts? Am I missing something here? Sounds like an FOI request to me.

You need to read up on the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement in the Offender Rehabilitation Bill. In effect this signals the end of court imposed specified activities, giving all the discretion to the CRC provider to determine the programme of supervision.

A successful completion will be getting to the end of the order, not completing the actual number of days which are simply set as a maximum. This does not affect unpaid work or treatment requirements. This is supposed to free up the new providers to do what works for rehabilitation.

The WY PSA model, was I think, an early attempt to shape CRC work. Community Orders for whatever period may have 15 activity days, 30, 50 or 60. Nothing in between. It is true that Supervision as a Requirement, is not actively sought in the majority of cases, generally reserved for Sexual Offenders and DV cases; who continue to get fairly long periods on a Community Order, coupled with interventions such as NSOG (60) or Building Better Relationships (50) both High Activity Requirements, or Safer Relationships (30).

The low/med risk cases complete their activity days, based on Post Sentence Assessment and may include; 8 x OB groupwork sessions (Action for Change) 2 x Victim Awareness Module, 6 x ETE sessions, 10 x sessions with a drug/alcohol support group/intervention, or Hate Crime Module, Drink Driving Group etc etc. I'm sure you get the idea. Once the sessions/activity days are complete you can terminate the case - it is done, as there is no supervision activity to continue for the full 12 months. SSSO, Curfews, AC's and UPW can stand alone.

There are however serious administration issues associated with the PSA which WY are trying to get sorted. The original idea was to reduce the number of 1-1 supervision orders, that is for sure. However, to monitor the system, you need to record, contacts etc under the right line in NDelius and this is easier said than done. You need a procedure, that everyone buys into and fully understands; and it assumes other partner organisations etc will give you information re: attendance etc.

A major problem of PSA, from my perspective is that there are not enough activities running in order to get clients through their court orders, quickly, whilst motivation remains high and if there is no supervision, you lose people. Long, very long waiting lists for Sex Offender Treatment, for instance means that more of what would be group work or interventions work, is having to be done by OM's and in my view being put onto 'pathways' to treatment, which are driven by numbers, as opposed to the appropriateness of the clients passage into treatment. For example, rather than do a core programme, OM's do the initial 4 sessions and the men, as they are men, are fast tracked into Better Lives, or Relapse Prevention, whatever you want to call it.

It is/was a brave attempt to focus attention, provide a wide variety of interventions and to retain the respect of the judiciary, but just because they have done away with National Standards in favour of professional judgement and desistence, the staff resources to run programmes, groups etc are just not there.

WYT are getting tough on staff, printing off charts to demonstrate failings in recording etc which may reflect badly on PSA, but in reality, the performance charts are artificial, as the monitoring system makes no allowances for things we cannot actually achieve, with the best will in the world and so all it does is demoralise staff.

Now if you fling all this into the mix of Crams to delius, new templates for everything, r-OASys, all of which are still throwing up all kinds of glitches, and TR on top....I am surprised WY staff have battled on, or maybe we are just ahead of the game, and things can hardly get any worse.

You put in a lot of detail in there, and I kind of followed it (some of it), and thanks for trying to explain it. But doesn't all the evidence suggest that it is one to one work and relationships that makes the difference? Not groups, activities and blunt interventions? That is my experience and I think it's the message of desistance research. Sounds like you are trying to get square pegs in round holes...that surely is a very expensive route to failure. Maybe a Freedom of Information request might prove or disprove that?.

Sounds reminiscent of a work fare type scenario whereby a schedule of tasks was presented to the claimant by the PbR agency to facilitate eligibility for benefits. The catch? It was never achievable. Not meeting the criteria led to sanction, whereas anyone claiming to have completed all the tasks was sanctioned (& in some cases referred for prosecution) for fraud. The financial benefit to the agency was its success in detecting fraudulent claims, a prized criteria worth more than being successful with the client.

The wiles of the cash hungry are beyond our wildest imaginations. And even holier-than-thou MPs like Blunkett take the shilling.

Maybe we pay a retainer to our most innovative clients in return for ideas as to how to maximise profit in the shark infested world of dodgy business?

I started the thread re WYPT and 'PSA'. I am guessing that anon at 20:57 is currently employed by the same Trust . .too much inside information to be an outsider. My aim was not to educate re 'Activity Requirements' . . you'll all get that soon enough! but more to highlight the extent to which senior management has colluded with MOJ in the whole process of TR.

Vast resources, both staff and finance, have been pumped into making sure PSA is up and running. Alongside this similar resources have been used to make a 'Mutual' bid for the CRC. 'PSA' had been in the planning for months before roll out and needed the authority from Judges in the WY area. Similarly specialist 'low risk' teams were created and PSO's were recruited on temporary contracts specifically to manage low risk service - users.

I sat in a briefing with Mark Siddall (ops director) as far back as Jan 2012 when he was actively promoting PSA/Activity Req's as the future . . .we would be experts in delivery....we should be careful as to whom we shared our knowledge . . .we would be needed to deliver the model to other areas . . .and yes . . .we would be able to sell our expertise.

I'm now getting to my point! How did he know all this so long ago? Given that this whole thing was his baby, recognition at Buck Palace etc; why, just when he could bathe in all its glory, does he decide to take early retirement? Why did Sue Hall accept a senior position with CRC only to pull out days later ?

Something doesn't add up. People know more than they are telling. Please will at least one CEO or the like, spill the beans. It will inevitably "come out in the wash" but timing could be crucial.

Just to finish . . .all this gratis TR preparation work in W.Yorks was done with the full knowledge of both NAPO and Unison. I was sat next to my Union rep in the very briefing I refer to above!

I read about WYPT with interest but can't help feeling you should be looking to Durham and Teesside Trust for the forerunner for the CRC model. All offenders complete the 10 session (but could take up to 16 with reviews) Citizenship Programme with the OM either PO or PSO grade dependent on ROH. They then pass onto a CSS officer (not Tier 4, MAPPA, CP or DV cases) who is a PSO grade and can hold 100 cases, there are examples of this. Supervision can then include using bulk reporting centres staffed by volunteers (yes truly).

I bet the MOJ have watched this model with interest. I hear practitioners were very concerned about the Citizenship Programme but it was imposed with a very tight fist by the exec team. No-one gets to know their offenders they are simply processed and then move on. When their Chief Exec also became Cumbria's Chief he tried to impose this model on them but as he was less influential there - not having appointed the exec team himself - it did not happen. This model has been running in Durham for three years so there is a lot of data on it available.


  1. It is depressing & heartbreaking when those you work alongside & trust turn out to be those who have undermined everything - moreso when, after creating havoc, they disappear, pockets bulging. It turns all of history on its head & starts generating retrospective anxiety - for example, when you spoke with them at length about your fears for the service, or that meeting you had about court work, or the email you sent them about your workload capacity. They gave nothing away & more often than not agreed with you, but in fact they were constructing the wooden horse in the knowledge it would crush you but they didn't actually care about that because it suited their own agenda.

    Today provides another example of self-serving, short-term capitalist pragmatism, i.e. the Copeland by-election, where the nuclear cash-cow has triumphed, returning a Tory victory and thus the local hospital services will be closed. Decades of Labour votes left meaningless, the Labour focus on the catastrophe of hospital closures ignored for the sake of more nuclear money.

    Q: if the nuclear industry is such a runaway economic success, why is Copeland still one of the poorest boroughs in the UK?

    Q: if RAR is such a great idea, why is it failing so completely to meet any criteria?

    Perhaps someone could wind open the curtain so the Great Wizard can advise?

  2. Is there any evidence that the Siddall nostrum improved outcomes? He claimed the benefits would be compelling. Did rates of reoffending plummet?

  3. CRC's receive more money for us to deliver accredited programmes than RAR's. Therefore the focus is delivering accredited programmes and RAR's are rarely delivered.

    1. The CRCs do not actually receive any money for the delivery of RAR's. The MOJ omitted RAR from the CRC payment mechanism. Probably explains a lot!

  4. The issue of doing what works and what is possible is now additionally conflated with what makes a profit. Will the market deliver?

    1. It depends what you mean by 'deliver'. If you mean reduced reoffending then, no, it won't.

  5. When a London banker is killed with a single punch it's all over the national news, yet when Tanis Bhandari was knifed to death in Plymouth it's local news.

  6. Section 15 of the Offender Rehabilitation Act was always illogical and set to confuse everyone as it has subsequently done. There is no substitute for establishing what is needed pre-sentence and proposing it to courts in properly prepared reports (ah, the good old days). Not having a separate supervision requirement is a great mistake. Perhaps someone should call for a review of this provision and call for it to be repealed - maybe there is an opportunity with the current Bill on the stocks. Work for Napo and the Labour Party/John McDonnell?

    1. Mike - thanks for commenting and not being anonymous. Can we encourage you to consider penning the odd guest blog on a topic of your choosing?

    2. I have a topic for Mike " how do very little for the membership? For a very long time, and stay friends with all the senior management?" Discuss pros and cons and taking an invitation to the Probation institute to join the old senior management chummies. Mike McCllelend never raised a any dust when lazing on a Napo salary for years.

    3. Jim, I will consider it though clearly one needs a thick skin to make any comment whatsoever. Generally I'm not a huge fan of either blogs (though I do follow yours)or Twitter (where I cannot help following Trump if only for entertainment - and then only via the News). Anonymised postings are understandable where people worry about their positions at work but hiding behind anonymity for the sake of personal abuse is, to my mind, less acceptable.
      As you will know, I am now retired and retain my interest in Probation because I still believe in the concept and in what is left of the Service. The vast majority of those working in the sector are both dedicated to their work and to supporting both victims and offenders alike in their journeys towards the shedding of negative labels. They are fierce defenders of the concept of justice and i salute them.
      When TR hit the starting blocks I thought that we were entering a long dark tunnel which would likely last 10 years and I'm afraid I still believe that, two or three years in - depending on where you start from. In that tunnel, the concept of Probation will need all the help it can get in order to survive - and it will survive. Those working in the sector also need all the help and support that can be offered, which is why I remain active in the Institute and why both it, and the Probation unions are so important.
      I will consider your invitation, though I wouldn't even know how to post a guest blog.

    4. Despite the needling and anonymous comment above, thanks for responding Mike. As someone who has been close to the events of recent years, I'm sure many readers would be extremely interested in hearing your take on things.

      Anyone with anything serious to say on the state of our profession is warmly invited to pen a guest blog and send it to me via the contact details on the profile page. It can either be attributable or anonymous. I'm happy to discuss any ideas, again via the email address on the profile page.

    5. There may well be some merit in the suggested title and not jump to any conclusions. I would like to hear what MR McClelland can tel us over his time at nbapo in the post TR fiasco. What did he do to stop it any of it? Why was anything not done by them as a group. What in his opinion whether that be biased or not could Napo have done anything else than follow the government line and let all the staff go without any skirmish. I do not care for any future musings of yet another spent official still hankering for some national recognition or credible sources to pedal a tarnished view. Just tell us what we need to know then enjoy your retirement while the plight of probation faces its approaching finale.

    6. Thanks Jim. At least i know how to do it now. I will think on.

    7. Like the next 10 years having contributed to helping TR in.

    8. OH Not sure that is wholly fair but I am aware he was not the most able officer to come out and take the plight of members. It is true in my knowledge and experience he preferred to work alongside the management than shake a banner on the members front line .

  7. re 143- Tanis Bhandiri murder. Please check my comment on 17 Jan on this blog (Blog is- 'Welfare to Work Cuts' on Sunday 15 Jan). His mother Andrea Sharpe has a petition- ('David Hood-Time For the Truth' on asking NOMS to permit the hand over of details of the SFO committed by one of the defendants, Donald Pemberton, who was already on licence. The CRC, Working Links I think, is refusing to divulge any information on the report, and the handing in of the petition is now imminent. They have over the required 5000 signatures, 5886 at the last count, but she has appealed again on for more signatures, to strengthen her cause.

    Please please, sign asap. As probation and ex-probation staff, we need to be supporting this argument.

    1. Actually ML, I think that, as probation and ex-probation staff, we need to be thinking "there but for the grace of god go I", and remembering that this could have happened to any one of us. The news reports on this case have made pretty clear that the staff member concerned took action as soon as she knew of the concerns, and within the legal parameters available, given that DP was on a notice of supervision. The substantial failings related to the police and prison systems in the granting of bail. From what I've seen in the news reports, it doesn't seem as though there is a massive cover-up, but more likely some poorly-phrased sections that people are seizing upon as evidence of a conspiracy.

      I can't help but feel that you and others are pressing this point because it's a CRC involved. Would you be doing the same if it was an NPS case? Or if this had happened pre-split in a Trust? It's all well and good to campaign against CRCs but let's remember that posts like this are likely to have a massive impact on the staff involved. Please let's not hound people out of the profession; there are few enough of us around as it is right now.

    2. 1652 - I am certainly not pressing the point because it's a CRC involved. I am retired (just before TR was established) and not involved in the daily stresses, other than hearing what my colleagues, friends and this blog tell me, and I would have done the same with NPS and pre TR. I am not criticising the officer, she was inexperienced and overloaded and should not have been made to suffer the anxiety which she must have been caused. I criticise management at all levels, and the CRC who smugly stresses that they don't have to reveal any information under the FOI Act as they are a private organisation. What are they covering up? They are self-satisfied and should not have put that PO in that predicament. What are they frightened of - the truth??

      I am angry and offended by your suggestion that I was one of 'others' who thought it was a conspiracy and are trying to hound this PO out of a job. I would like to think that the evidence would have proven that the PO was NOT responsible, but was trying to do her best with a disorganised uninformed mess of a situation. And this should be made known to the public. How many times have we said that with TR,SFOs would rise, or be kept quiet, and that the chaos of TR would inevitably cause more victims, and ultimately death. And I feel for the PO who has unfairly become a victim herself, and I hope the release of the report provides justice for her. I hope you understand.

      After all, Tanis's mother, and those who signed the petition are only asking for the truth.

    3. Signed and shared on Facebook this morning ml

    4. thank you 959. I don't have any other social media, I'm a dinosaur!

  8. Post Sentence Assessment in West Yorkshire was not Mark Siddall's brainchild. It was an idea put forward by practitioners, but hijacked by Mr S. So, after changing the model and implementing it very poorly he basked in the glory of national innovation awards and made no secret that he thought all other Trusts would pay WY for the idea. However, even as he accepted the awards it was failing terribly, and it wasn't difficult to see why. The rational is that all offenders would go into group supervision to cut costs, but painted as a desistance approach (clearly by managers who had never read anything about desistance). Service users don't like groups (as we know) and didn't turn up leaving staff to chase and breach and run after their tales.

    1. Yes I gather Mark just latched on to what he thought was a good idea - it's been suggested that the true architect was Sarah Jarvis, very much a rising star at the time.

    2. A number of contributors have enquired about PSA effectiveness. I made some investigations of the two year re offending outcomes at the time, monitored by WY research staff and was advised that the details were supressed by MS due to the rather concerning situation (in his view) that PSA made no difference at all to effective supervision of service users!

  9. Sarah Jarvis now ACO for Burnley NPS !!

  10. In the original posting there is acknowledgement of the Citizenship programme as a competitor to PSA in Durham and Tees - I heard that one of the big fallouts between Durham and Tees and Nortumbria was over the "ownership" of the Citizenship franchise would seem that " success has many fathers"

  11. What a surprise, self-centred management staff at Yorkshire... 'look at how brilliant I am doing mummy, I've ticked every single box!'