Last nights Panorama programme, (take note Working Links and MTCnovo - it's available for 12 months on i-player), although extremely hard-hitting and authoritative, was always going to be a tall order when trying to cover the whole of the TR omnishambles in just 30 minutes. To those of us whether 'in the know' or just casual observers, the case is clearly proved beyond doubt, but it won't make the slightest difference I'm afraid and here's why:-
1) You just lie. The justification for 'reforming' the gold standard probation service according to the MoJ was "the right thing to do because 40,000 more offenders are now being supervised". This is an outright lie because they're not, a situation confirmed by inspections and even admitted on the official MoJ website thus:-
"Offenders sentenced to less than 12 months also serve the second half in the community but are not actively supervised by Probation."This from a joint inspection and quoted in the Guardian:-
“None of the early hopes for Through the Gate have been realised,” they said. “The gap between aspiration and reality is so great, that we wonder whether there is any prospect that these services will deliver the desired impact on rates of reoffending.”
“The overall picture is bleak,” they conclude. “If Through the Gate services were removed tomorrow, in our view the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible.”2) Never admit mistakes. When a minister in the shape of Chris Grayling decides that probation needs 'reforming', forces the policy through and it's subsequently confirmed to be an utter disaster, who has the bottle to admit it? There's simply too much invested in pretending everything is ok. It's fixed, isn't it?
3) Only admit mistakes when there's political advantage. Contrast the situation now with that reported in the Guardian in June 2009:-
The brutal murder of the two French biochemistry students in June last year followed a catalogue of grave failings by the Probation Service, the police and practically every other part of the criminal justice system. The disclosure that Dano Sonnex was out on a parole licence after serving an eight-year sentence for violence and robbery at the time he committed the murders is a devastating blow to the London Probation Service.
It comes just three years after an official inquiry report into the murder of the Chelsea financier, John Monckton, found that there had been a "collective failure" and numerous blunders by probation and parole staff. The internal Probation Service reviews into the Sonnex case led to the resignation of David Scott, the chief probation officer for London, at the end of February, after allegedly being told by the justice secretary, Jack Straw, that he did not want a repeat of the Haringey social services fiascos.4) Hide the truth. The government are fully aware that TR has been an unmitigated disaster because they've conducted a 'Probation System Review':-
"Darren Tierney has joined the NOMS Agency Board as the Probation System Review Senior Responsible Owner (SRO). CRC contracts became operational in February 2015 and the Probation System Review has been set up to assess progress against the objectives set out in the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme. The initial phase of the review has been undertaken by a small team led by Andrea Torode working to David Hood. This has found that while overall CRC performance has been steadily improving against the measures in the contract, actual case volumes are different to those which had been anticipated; there is variation in quality of delivery; and progress in some areas (such as Through the Gate support) is less than expected. The next phase of the review involves detailed engagement with CRC Providers to improve current arrangements."and it's so damning, they simply refuse to publish it, despite the best efforts of Bob Neill, the Chair of the Justice Committee.
5) Everything is now secret. Since the imposition of TR and privatisation of 70% of the probation service, 'commercial sensitivity' and immunity from FOI requests effectively means the contracts can be 'renegotiated' at any time and the failing CRCs given shed-loads more tax-payers cash in secret. None of this is open to scrutiny and therefore informed challenge. This from Huffington Post:-
"An additional £37m was handed to Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) last year in a move branded a “bung” by probation union Napo and “rewarding failure” by Labour."6) Everyone is in fear. Any employee of either the civil service in NPS or failing private CRCs cannot speak openly for fear of 'conduct likely to bring the service into disrepute', and thus effectively ensuring shit gets swept under the carpet and the public are provided with a polished PR image of everything being just fine and dandy. This from Helga Swidenbank, CEO MTCnovo on getting wind of the Panorama programme:-
"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.(It was revealed on the Panorama programme that two members of staff have been suspended.)
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."
7) Try and keep control of HMI. Inspectors have an irritating habit of tending to be independent-minded, uncover what's going on and say it as it is. Despite sound advice and an earlier indication, I understand the MoJ are now refusing to let HMI have a major role in SFO investigations. I wonder why? This from Inspectorate website:-
"From April 2017, HMI Probation will be responsible for reviewing work with offenders who are under current or recent supervision by providers of probation services, and who have been charged with a specified Serious Further Offence (SFO). Reviews will be published following conviction for an SFO."8) Ignore Parliamentary scrutiny. The House of Commons Justice Committee are tasked with over-seeing the work of the MoJ and are in the process of inviting evidence for their inquiry into the effects of TR. Despite having both impressive powers and cross-party support in trying to root out the truth, history confirms that anything negative merely gets ignored by government and any responses are just so much warm words and meaningless waffle, like this from David Lidington about prison reform:-
"I also wanted to take this opportunity to reassure you that I am firmly committed to making prisons places of reform and rehabilitation, which support offenders to turn their lives around. I acknowledge that the current prison system has faced significant challenges in recent years. The prison estate is old and costly to maintain or modernise. Across the last five years numbers of operational staff have decreased while we have seen a significant increase in prisoner use of new psychoactive substances. Levels of violence, self-harm and self-inflicted deaths have also risen. A combination of these factors means leaders and their staff focus on immediate priorities and, as a result, many prisons have been unable to offer as effective a regime for prisoners as they would like."
"You will notice in our response to your recommendations that action is being taken to develop the performance management of prisons. Alongside this, extensive engagement with governors and staff is helping to direct our empowerment policies to ensure they are fit for purpose. Furthermore, it is important to me to increase confidence in the prison system and the reforms that are taking place. Publication of data will be essential to that goal and as you will see from our response, we are making plans to publish evaluation results and action plans as the reforms are implemented."
"It is my priority to continue building on the essential reforms that are already underway and to address the significant challenges to safety within our prisons. As set out in the White Paper, the reforms that have been proposed are radical and I am very aware of the need to monitor the progress of these reforms. We are currently developing an update to the 2016 White Paper which will outline what we have achieved since November 2016 and it will also set out our priorities and plans for further reform over the next 12 months. Alongside this 12-month forward look, we will soon be publishing a prison safety strategy and action plan that focuses on further enhancing our approach to making our prisons safe. This will include further detail on the Offender Management in Custody model which is key to our vision to improve safety in prison, and will help us to develop rehabilitative prisons that deliver a supportive environment for offenders."
9) It's all too difficult. The subject of probation is simply too complicated to explain easily to a mostly disinterested public, there's no sexy tv drama and as a consequence, the media either shy away from talking about it, or get things hopelessly wrong, like this from the first paragraph of an Independent article recently and still not corrected because the 'caravan moves on' :-
"Concerns have been raised over a major shake-up of probation after new figures revealed a sharp rise in offenders being sent back to custody for breaching bail."10) Terrible to say, but nobody seriously famous has been murdered yet.