Thursday, 9 November 2017

'We Are Here Because We Care'

Westminster Legal Policy Forum Keynote Seminar: Probation services in England and Wales - the future of the Transforming Rehabilitation framework and priorities for Through the Gate resettlement Tuesday, 7th November 2017 

Chair’s opening remarks 
Rt Hon the Lord Laming 

Evaluating the Transforming Rehabilitation programme 
Lawrence Burke, Reader in Criminal Justice, Liverpool John Moores University and Editor, Probation Journal (2007- 2016) Questions and comments from the floor 

Emerging priorities for policy - next steps following the probation system review
Jim Barton, Executive Director, Community Interventions, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service Questions and comments from the floor 

Delivering value for money in probation 
Oliver Lodge, Director, Ministry of Justice Value for Money Audit, National Audit Office 

Operational challenges for the probation framework - latest thinking on funding, performance and CRC contracts 
How warranted are current concerns over lower than expected numbers of offenders under supervision by community rehabilitation companies, and what are the implications of this shortfall for the viability of CRC contracts? How successful has the Transforming Rehabilitation framework been so far at incentivising innovation in the approaches that are taken to reducing re-offending; for example, to what extent does the current application of payment by results (PbR) encourage providers to develop new approaches to supervision? Following reports of low morale and staff shortages in CRCs, what can be done to further develop the probation sector’s workforce? After the National Audit Office raised concerns that inadequate IT infrastructure was having a negative impact on information-sharing between relevant agencies, how can communication and case-management be improved, and what are the implications for operational efficiency? As the Clinks, NCVO and Third Sector Research Centre’s ‘TrackTR’ project continues to indicate a lack of engagement between probation providers and third-sector organisations, how might CRC contracts be revised to incentivise greater communication and collaboration in this area? 

Ian Lawrence, General Secretary, Napo 
Nathan Dick, Head of Policy and Communications, Clinks 
Yvonne Thomas, Managing Director, Justice, Interserve 
Sheena Jowett, Deputy Chairman, Magistrates’ Association 
Senior representative, technology 

Questions and comments with Oliver Lodge, Director, Ministry of Justice Value for Money Audit, National Audit Office 

Chair’s closing remarks Rt Hon the Lord Laming  

Chair’s opening remarks Lord German, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Rehabilitation, Probation and Prison Reform 

‘Can probation services deliver what we all want and expect?’ 
Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation 

Questions and comments 
The future of Through the Gate resettlement - next steps for housing, healthcare and new partnerships 
Stakeholder perspectives on Government’s Through the Gate resettlement programme, and emerging priorities for improving its performance. Following a series of critical reports from the Criminal Justice Inspectorates, how can probation services increase the education, training and employment (ETE) opportunities available to ex-offenders? With concerns that third-sector involvement is less than that promised by CRCs during the bidding process, what can probation services do to facilitate greater engagement with providers of these services? What progress has been made so far in improving the employment opportunities available to ex-offenders, and how can programmes such as ‘Ban the Box’ be expanded to ensure offenders have the broadest possible range of opportunities available? How can the information available to ex-offenders and probation staff be improved so that the housing needs are met prior to release and referrals meet the specific requirements of the individual? How can Government facilitate the development of better communication and referral pathways between CRCs and relevant health agencies, where studies have revealed inadequate mental health provision for offenders in the community? 

Joanne Drew, Director of Housing, Nacro 
Dr Coral Sirdifield, Research Fellow, School of Health and Social Care, University of Lincoln Peter Dawson, Director, Prison Reform Trust 
Bronwen Elphick, Chief Executive, Durham Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company Michaela Booth, Blogger, Michaela Movement and Prison Leaver Mentor 

Questions and comments
Chair’s and Westminster Legal Policy Forum closing remarks 
Lord German, Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Rehabilitation, Probation and Prison Reform 
Marc Gammon, Associate Editor, Westminster Legal Policy Forum


The Westminster Legal Policy Forum held a half-day Conference on Probation Services in England and Wales - the future of the TR framework, in Central London earlier in the week. A packed agenda and medley of speakers assembled to proffer their insights into the present 'cadaverous' state of Probation - they were ably facilitated by two ennobled supporters of Probation, Lords Laming and German. 

Opening the conference was Lol Burke (former Probation Journal editor) who offered many telling criminological observations by sharing his critical research findings on the impact of the 'rushed' implementation of TR - 'a messy divorce' in which a politically driven organisational split had left 'profound and damaging' organisational silos with low staff morale, spiralling caseloads, poorly communicated cost fluctuations, byzantine overlapping targets, lack of local control, token nods to diversity and endless contractual and commissioning contortions evinced in the recent CRC 'bail out' - which has prompted the Justice Select Committee to open up a further parliamentary enquiry into the Probation Service.

Jim Barton (HMIP) provided an upbeat if corporate presentation which aimed to flag up some of the 'harder to find' positive aspects of TR - citing amongst other offerings the supervisory oversight for all released prisoners (more later). His unconvincing explanation for the MoJ pump priming of CRC's of £277m, although clothed in mandarin speak, did acknowledge the role of bodies such as the NAO/JSC to subject the Inspectorate/MoJ to legitimate scrutiny and external accountability. The recent binary reconviction findings which appeared to show CRC's having some measurable % impact needed to be seen against the 'harder to explain' increased frequency in offending from many of those under supervision. He appeared to fudge on whether the Minister for Probation had already released the findings of the much delayed internal review of the Probation Service (Ministerial Statement - Hansard) in answer to one questioner.

The NAO speaker was a much more lucid expositor - his strictures on the context in which organisations like the Probation Service in its current iteration had a 'low appetite for failure' and concise comments on the financing, performance and governance of Probation seemed very pertinent.

Ian Lawrence (Napo General Secretary) presented his well crafted robust TR counterblast that rightly drew attention to the deleterious impact on staff from the TR split - 'the paywall' between NPS/CRC, 'unsafe working models', the need for a 'licence to practice' - whilst setting TR into a wider political context - decrying prison overcrowding and bringing into focus a range of practice issues (DV) that would otherwise have been omitted from the conference - balancing the need to work constructively with the plethora of CRC's whilst slamming the well documented deficiencies in those CRC's who regularly feature in On Probation Blog. When might the Secretary of State invoke the 'golden share' option in light of such continuing failures to bring the probation service back into public ownership? What role for PCC's? etc.

Dame Glenys Stacey (Chief Inspector of Probation) who does confound the unwary in her understated but persuasive presentations, the London Cohort model for instance was dubbed 'conceptually flawed' and she cited lousy legacy IT systems, was unsparing on worrisome aspects on the current health of the split Probation Service. 'What difference does inspection make'? providing her six 'top tips' for ministers to consider as they develop probation services for the future, (which featured in recent Jim's blog post) - she announced a new HMIP Inspection Standards launch (8/11) and provided some sensible (that is they worked before TR!) if stale nostrums for long suffering practitioners - although reestablishing a unified Probation Service was not mooted as number seven!

The  Magistrates Association speaker bemoaned the current lack of information on the contents of supervision packages which is especially important in 'cusp of custody' cases - she opined on the lack of access and contact with CRC's who now have no presence in court settings and some of the deficits in opting too uncritically for 'speedy justice' solutions. The absence of judicial scrutiny, oversight and input into community sentences (the subject of a motion at this years MA AGM) was duly noted - but no mention was made to how this enhanced judicial engagement might be better developed - but speakers were constrained in their timings. Might sentencers have some role in recall decisions asked one notable questioner?

A clutch of speakers from the VCS offered some valuable insights into the resources (or lack thereof!) available to service users and released prisoners - one tangible practice reference was the provision now available under the Homelessness Reduction Act? But due to the paucity of publicly available accommodation is clearly a challenge - this dovetailed neatly into expressed concerns at the restrictive approach to granting ROTL - as most released prisoners are from closed prisons - current poor information and data sharing, adopting shared targets between prisons & CRC's for resettlement needs etc. 

A challenge neatly articulated from the Prison Reform Trust speaker (former prison governor) to abolish the mandatory supervision of under 12 mths (rocketing recalls & motivational deficits) in favour of voluntary engagement. But would this government show a boldness of approach to community sentences that is evident in Scotland? - 24% reduction in such sentences in England & Wales but increases in Scotland when presumption against custody for under 12 mths promoted?

The two speakers representing CRC's - Durham Tees Valley - a veritable romp of a presentation through the many positives, that showered this 'outlier' service with glossy overheads on staff engagement, consultation, high value on professional discretion and training and proper service user empowerment that all appeared to suggest a model employer! - the slides/speeches will be available in due course for a reality check (these are merely broad brush observations) - Interserve - again some grudging acknowledgement that TR's 'teething problems' were to be expected but a resolute defence of the performance improvements wrought via TR with an all too familiar amnesia (fake news!) on the erstwhile award winning Probation Service (even with some of its managerial shortcomings). That procrustean word 'incentivising' staff seem to drip out effortlessly!

A fitting concluding contribution came from criminology student and ex-prisoner Michaela Booth (who earned a standing ovation at the recent Napo AGM) who recounted with trademark verve her prison journey and her faltering throughcare relationship with the Probation Service! - although she balanced this by citing some of the petty prison restrictions that can so readily hamper the road to resettlement. 

There were interestingly no passing references of the Probation Institute or indeed contributions from front-line practitioners during Q&A to bring into focus some of the heartfelt occupational concerns that pepper Jim's Blog. For a critical engagement and informed understanding of some of the complex issues that beset the present debate on the future direction of a split Probation Service, the conference offered a useful barometer. For those in the field who face the daily demands of a post-TR world, such murmurings may seem remote and unimportant, but as his Noble Lord noted, we are here because we care for and value the Probation Service!

Mike Guilfoyle


  1. CRCs were delivered unto this world in June 2014; transfer of Ownership took place on 1 Feb 2015. Its been nowt but shite eversince for most practitioners.
    But notice how the same names keep turning up in fancy venues, usually Central London, churning out the same arguments for & against TR? Its an industry in itself.
    But nowts happening, other than the CRCs are still fleecing everyone while whining like babbies and NPS are busy tying themselves in knots with their new roll of shiny red tape.
    Its pointless, expensive bollocks, just self-important fuckwits showing off their latest presentation & assertiveness training to each other. And what is achieved by this? NOWT!!

    Seeing as they're ALL paid handsomely out of PUBLIC FUNDS, don't they have proper jobs to go to? Cos they never seem to be at their desk! Unlike most of the poor fuckers on the frontline who are mercilessly chained to their terminals by target-driven, soul-destroying, mind-numbing, mythical metrics.

    1. "We Are Here Because Its An Overnight In London On Expenses, With A Nice Luncheon & An Unmissable Opportunity To Network"


    2. From a US consultancy website. Sound familiar?

      "What makes a good client? A firm that's established, has deep pockets, and will be around for a long time, right?

      Right. So it's hard to argue—regardless of your personal politics—that the [federal government] isn't one of the biggest (and best) potential clients for your business. For many, the [federal] government isn't just a source for political debate or theoretical discourse—it's a significant source of income."

  2. The only " incentivising " Interserve are giving staff is to look harder in obtaining alternative employment - they're completely arogant and competently incompetent - staff are dropping like flies and those of us that are left are hanging on by a thread !!

    1. Sounds like working links. Caseloads hitting 100 mark for some. Staff leaving in droves. Chaos.

    2. I hear there is another wave of redundancies coming for Manchester CRC, for IT and HR staff. They were sent an email on Wednesday evening 6.00pm asked to give their decision by next Wednesday, only 6 weeks pay offered, bastards.

    3. Sorry that was supposed to read 6 months pay.