Those who saw the BBC Panorama programme ‘Out of Jail: Free to Offend Again?’ last night will no doubt be shocked, saddened, disappointed, and even in some cases feel angered by the programmes content.
We all want to work for ethical employers (public or private) that we are proud to work for and who we have confidence in to enable and facilitate the work we know we can do. The last three years have been extremely challenging to say the least with fundamental changes taking place that have left many of those in our profession feeling powerless and a significant number feeling that we are at rock bottom and that they have had enough.
We have yet to meet any member of probation staff who does not want our work to be appreciated and better understood by the wider public in its entirety and valued more for the contribution it makes to our communities as a key public service that makes a significant difference, along with other public services, to the quality of life in the UK. That does mean opening our work more to increased public scrutiny where both our failures are discussed but also those things we can do well such as helping to rehabilitate increasing numbers of people who might otherwise be sent to prison or reoffend and create far more victims than there are now. There are fundamental questions to be addressed both by us and others about what we do and how we do it going forward.
We don’t think anyone watching the programme could fail to be genuinely moved by the truly tragic and heart-breaking images and footage shown and the terrible sequence of events mentioned. As caring human beings and professionals our thoughts go out to all victims and all those impacted upon by what may often be considered avoidable events. We all work hard in our professional lives to prevent these types of tragic events precisely because we know in detail how devastating they can be to all concerned.
The programme featured probation staff who made disclosures anonymously and who tried to share their own authentic experiences of working in probation in 2017 that must have been uncomfortable viewing for some. Those who were at Napo AGM will have recognised London MP Bob Neill who chairs the Justice Select Committee and who is no stranger to probation staff in his home constituency in Bromley and of course the redoubtable Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey as well as former senior probation officer and criminologist Dr Lol Burke and not forgetting our own Ian Lawrence who all made insightful contributions in the very limited time available.
In the case of all members and probation staff who may now be facing increased public scrutiny because of the failings the programme highlighted we cannot also fail to reflect on our own practice and professional standards and consider what realistically needs to happen to make improvements. Remember that Napo is not just a trade union but also a professional association. Our advice to anyone who has concerns about particular cases and/or the impact of instructions policy or procedures on their ability to carry out their work is to alert their line manager in the first instance and ask for clear management advice and/or support. Make sure that this advice is recorded accurately on nDelius or otherwise recorded. Whistle-blowing policies are clear that organisational processes must be exhausted before making disclosure in the public interest. It is never considered reasonable to threaten employers with public disclosure of potentially damaging information either directly or indirectly on social media etc and members should personally refrain from doing so. If you need advice concerning this please ask Napo.
We realise that what we all signed up for can never be just a job nor can it ever be just about ticking boxes and hitting targets. Part of our concerns stem from the fact that we all know it’s so much more than that and can be so much better given a chance to be more united again. This is perhaps why we feel so strongly when it appears that we are being divided and criticised, fairly or unfairly, or being held responsible for matters that we may feel are either in our control or not. We may for instance feel aggrieved that there are other factors at play that make it far more challenging for us now to do our work as well as we would like to do it and that we now feel even more powerless than previously to do anything to change that situation or even whether anyone is listening to our concerns or even cares.
Hopefully we can all take something positive from this intense and thought provoking 30- minute programme and we hope that those who really do need to listen to the serious issues raised do in fact listen carefully and calmly and more importantly act decisively but wisely to improve matters that transcend ideology or party politics. We hope that they will ask more difficult questions of both themselves on behalf of the public and are courageous and resolute in helping to remove any barriers that there might be to fixing what we all know is now wrong with probation. Whilst they are at it they may also help to fix the rest of the criminal justice system that many now say is not fit for purpose and it would be a great help if they were to address some of the wider structural problems that impact severely on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people and further damage and divide our already divided communities and as such seriously impact on the ability of all those involved in rehabilitation to do their jobs in a unified/joined up and meaningful way that we all know will truly serve to protect the public and help create the safer communities we all want to live in.
Lastly, we would like to draw your attention to a message from National Napo yesterday
‘The much-anticipated Panorama investigation into probation services will air tonight at 7.30pm on BBC1, and we expect it will confirm many of the serious concerns Napo members have expressed since the service was split three years ago.Keep well
If you have any comments, questions or concerns about the programme following its broadcast, please email firstname.lastname@example.org ‘
David A Raho and Patricia Johnson
Co-Chairs Napo London Branch
Here we have the response from Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence contained in his latest blog post:-
PANORAMA EXPOSES POST-TR FAILURES
The social media activity that followed this weeks Panorama expose into the state of the Probation service shows that the issues highlighted in the programme are attracting an increasingly wider and very concerned audience.
Feedback indicates that the BBC team did an effective job of nailing the key issues that Napo and others have been campaigning about. The same issues that we forecast well before the ink was dry on the contracts that were mis-sold to the CRC speculators struck and the unlamented Chris Grayling, who can now add Transforming Rehabilitation to his spectacular list of abject failures.
As always it would have been great to have got more actual air time for Napo given the amount of time that we invested in briefing the team from as far back as May this year, but we have no editorial influence on what finally goes in to the end product. Suffice to say that I was very pleased with the fact that there was significant input from NPS and CRC practitioners who are at the sharp end of operations, which hopefully helped to convince a sceptical public that despite its problems before privatisation, the service is now in a much worse position and importantly, and illustrate exactly who was responsible for the shambles.
A denial of the obvious
I don’t think I need to mince words in describing the response by the MoJ and Working Links to the two Serious Further Offences featured, as quite pathetic. As I said at our AGM, hideous things happen in society. Sadly, they always did, they are now, and they will in the future. But the combination of events ranging from the staff split, incompetent planning, political hubris and subsequent post-TR reductions in staffing suggest that there will be many more.
At this weeks meeting with Probation and Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah, where Napo were represented by Chris Winters and myself, we highlighted the dreadful track record of Working Links in seriously engaging with the probation unions on key issues such as staffing, workloads and their operational model which has seen thousands of hours of Unpaid Work simply not done; face-to-face supervision at farcical levels, caseloads and sickness levels through the roof and two high profile murders which I have been told by an anonymous source, were perpetrated by people who were ‘on the books’ The same Working Links that has seen two senior managers fall on their swords in the midst of chaos, and where the response by the CRC Chief Executive to the second damning HMI Probation report into their operations in Gloucestershire, was that there were too many Women on maternity leave and not enough staff available during the period covered by the report.
The Minister has invited me to write to him personally about this and the long list of other issues that, despite the best efforts of ACAS, remain unresolved. I will also be investigating alleged comments from a Working Links Senior Executive to staff that they don’t believe they have to talk to the unions. In the face of all this you might appreciate why I almost fell off my chair last night when Working Links (who declined to be interviewed by the BBC) stated that it was ‘highly committed to public safety’.
Not that MTC NOVO in the form of The London and London NPS emerged with much glory either, as they received some pretty negative coverage in the programme. You may also want to know that any members facing a backlash for whistle blowing and contributing to the programme will have Napo's full support.
Time for serious action
Underpinning all of this is the stark fact that while some CRC Providers and NPS divisions do better than others, standards of supervision have markedly worsened. This is why I was pleased in many ways that Panorama especially highlighted the independent findings of Dame Glenys Stacey and the HM Probation Inspectorate. It was also very timely that the Justice Select Committee Chair Bob Neill MP spoke up. As an aside, I can tell you that Bob greatly valued the time that he spent at our AGM where he spoke with a number of members following his encouraging speech.
While we obviously welcome the Justice Committees inquiry into TR, it was made very clear at our AGM that the Ministerial inertia on taking action against failing contractors is quite unbelievable as much as it is unacceptable. Billions of pounds of public money has been (and is being) spent shoring up providers who are unfit for purpose. Who will step up and do something other than merely offer more of the same presumably in the hope that it will all be OK In the end?
Minister, its time to find some money for probation staff
As you might expect, the Probation Unions had a bit to say about the money that has been earmarked for the CRC’s over the next four years (£277m) as well as the £22m cash injection that has magically fallen from the money tree this year. It was one of a lengthy list of issues for discussion with the Minister, as was the need for some positive action on Probation pay, namely the conclusion of discussions on 2017 and longer term modernisation.
In fairness to Mr Gyimah he gave about as positive a response as his brief allowed; but it’s clear that he is relying on decisions elsewhere before we might see some new money on the table. We made it clear that we were uncomfortable with the current public focus on Prison pay and reform seemingly at the expense of Probation. This elicited a response which showed appreciation as to why we think this is the case together with a reassurance that it is not.
As these types of meetings go, it was reasonably productive and time well spent, but our members will need more than just warm words.
Mappa reports 2016-17
A plethora of Government reports has emerged in the last 24 hours and while we spend a bit of time analysing them, here is the link to MAPPA reports that are to be found on the GOV.UK Website. See how your area fared.
The response to the Panorama programme on Wednesday night has been dramatic, effectively more than doubling readership with well over 8,000 hits in 2 days, figures I've not seen since the early traumatic days of TR. Despite the inevitable long-term loss of readers due to general disillusionment and waves of redundancies, it would appear that this blog site remains a 'go-to' place, especially at times of significance for our profession.
I'd like to thank everyone, particularly contributors, for keeping it a lively and most importantly, relevant place for all interested in our work and of course those still struggling daily with its delivery in the most trying of circumstances.