Monday, 5 February 2018

Guest Blog 69

Needless Complications of a Dysfunctional System

I've been uncertain about how much to say here, or even if I should be doing this post at all. Being released on licence is a rather precarious position to be in after all and making too many waves can be a very risky thing. Being of “good behaviour” is a particularly vague phrase that to even the most mentally stable of licencees will have cause for some consistent concern, particularly when they've already had many experiences of professionals making decisions to above all else, cover their own backs.

I'd like to say at this point that I do fear the tone of this post may ruffle some feathers and it is certainly a worry that any waves could bounce back on me in a rather unpleasant way. However after years of blowing in the wind about my experiences in this all to dysfunctional of systems, I feel the only good that may come from my experience is by speaking out, only this time it's on the relatively open forum that is the internet.

Considering the current climate regarding SOTP in particular, added to this the clearly evident lack of independence between police and prosecution services, I feel I should share perspectives on what I found to be an extremely and unnecessarily difficult period of my life, one that left me struggling to find the will to continue living. Now I understand that it may sound a bit rich for an “offender” to complain about feeling harmed, but to adapt a cliche, two wrongs don't make a reformed character.

Towards the end of my participation in SOTP (something I'd initially thought was what I'd needed much of my adult life), I reached a point where I felt the only good that could come of my life is through taking my life, partly because I was so tired of struggling to demonstrate my genuine desire not to be the person I've sometimes been and the feeling that no matter how hard I tried, I would always be represented as even more of a monster than I know I've been, but also in the hope that ending my life might result in some kind of contribution to highlighting the vast inadequacies of a system that seems to knowingly, or otherwise, reinforce an identity and culture of offending. One that seems designed to perpetuate and seeks to justify Victorian attitudes towards “offenders” as being inherently untrustworthy and dare I say it, evil.

Added to this a perfect storm of continued cuts to services all around, we have a situation where the odds are stacked against anyone going into the penal system who might hope to make a positive difference, professionals and "offender's" alike. It's little wonder that so many give in to cynicism and easy judgement, tick-box practices. The desire to cover one's own back is a very powerful part of human nature, particularly in these precarious times of deliberate reduction in resources and highly politically charged events, however it's important to bare in mind that such ill conceived judgements can lead to a vicious cycle of demoralisation all around.

I've rarely been seen as someone who fits any particular mould, an aspect of myself I've been trying to deal with my whole life, but it seems to be that this aspect of me has far too easily led to a lot of misunderstandings, particular with professionals who perhaps lack the expertise or even inclination to realise that things are rarely as black and white as they first appear. And no doubt there's plenty of pressure behind the scenes to build an image of an individual that reflects the judgements of a judicial and policing systems that even themselves have been stretched to breaking point over the years.

The culmination of all this is what I can only describe as a cycle of character assassination. On occasions where I found professionals in the system who seemed to actually believe in me, it hasn't taken much for things to go on behind the scenes that destroys that trust and respect. My anxious reaction to being judged this way certainly doesn't help. It's not hard to notice when a person's attitude deteriorates between meetings from one of cordial respect and interest in recognising positive qualities, to one of fear of making the wrong judgement in case a future harm might occur. It's certainly understandable but is it helpful?

As I've been told by my current (6th), probation officer, none of this is an exact science. Then perhaps some more science is what we need? From my own understanding so far from researching methods used in places like Canada and Norway, there is a great deal more science in place and far less ideological baggage built into the system, and most importantly, far more successful outcomes. And of course, as the recipient of penal “services”, I'm bound to favour systems which emphasise positive qualities, respect for human rights and dignity, and trust that a person genuinely wants to change. But I like to think I have the capability to at least some extent, be objective on these things. I dare say that given a genuine chance, there are many other “offenders” who themselves want little more than to be able to see a future where they pose a minimal risk of harm to anyone.

I'd finally like to say that after finding this blog, I've been able to, at least to some extent, see things more clearly from the perspective of those in the field of rehabilitation. I'd like to thank the owner of this blog publicly for giving me the opportunity to express myself in this way. I've been one of the lucky ones. I have a family who believe in me and have done everything to help me get my life back on track, despite efforts by some in the system to undermine that.

Sadly there will be many others being crushed by the double whammy of Dickensian attitudes and Orwellian practices. My heart goes out to them regardless of what they've done in the past. It should be a matter of principle that no human being should suffer such things in a so called advanced society, regardless of their past mistakes. I'm well aware there's no such thing as a utopia, but for once, maybe we might get some hope for something better for everyone one day.


  1. Just prepare yourself for some harsh comments from those professionals who read this blog. I got them in bucket loads when I did a guest post last year. What got me most about it was the sheer refusal to recognise that my experiences og their "services" might be 100% genuine and the points I made therefore legitimate.

    I had 5 probation officers on the outside so the revolving door of them isn't exactly unusual. What probation fails to realise by doing this is that it is so counterproductive to building up any kind of working relationship/trust etc which will definitely have a knock on effect. Then there's the worrying quality of those probation hires. Like prison officers far too many of them should not be in the job because they are only there because they want to exercise power over people.

    Being on licence is, in many ways,infinitely more difficult than being in prison. This is because you live in constant fear of being recalled even if you haven't actually done anything to warrant recall. I clearly remember my last PO threatening to recall me for allegedly breaching a licence condition that she'd actually written but had completely misinterpreted what it actually said. In other words I hadn't actually breached the condition, she was the one who tried to make it say something it didn't. One formal complaint to the head of the CRC later and she didn't try that one again. The best our relationship got was a sort of armed truce. I thoroughly object to people holding me to account who then trample all over my legal rights and fail to do their job properly because that's just hypocritical. There are Probation Instructions, Data Protection etc all of which are useful tools to hold PO's to account so use them if they fail to provide the service they are legally obligated to.

    It's also very lonely on licence because you have no idea who may turn on you or who probation may find unsuitable company for you to be hanging out with so you just tend to avoid people. Unfortunately by the time you're off licence you've pretty much forgotten how to have a social life and the habits under which you live life while on licence stick for quite some time thereafter. And you will still feel your heart jump every time you hear a police siren even if you've done zero to warrant getting arrested. It's not fun.

    You can be the most perfect human on the planet and some dipshit PO will still try to find a reason to recall you. I'm a firm believer in that there should be no recall unless you commit another crime and get charged. Any other recall seems to be covering the PO's back on the offchance you may or may not do something. Madness.

    You also can't expect any help at all from probation. The lot in my area are beyond useless. They don't even refer people coming out of prison to the local homeless team any more. Everything is just a tick box exercise done over the phone these days. You have to seek out your own help from your local area. There are some charities and groups set up by ex offenders that can help point you to the right places in your area and provide support so seek them out.

    I wish you well whilst on licence and don't give up. It's tough and lonely but you can get through it.

    1. Perhaps you wouldn't have got such "harsh comments" if you didn't go around making comments like "dipshit PO"?

      Just a thought.

    2. and maybe just maybe they were a "dipshit PO". Ever thought that it might be a 100% accurate description? or are all PO's holier than thou and walk on water or some other such nonsense? Just a thought.

    3. "dipshit PO" does sound a bit harsh so how about ''not all those that have made a mistake are thick, some, maybe many are going to be more intelligent than you, more articulate (like this chap) more qualified, higher IQ, have a degree, have a better degree, have a higher degree, have two or 3 degrees, maybe a PhD, so be more formally qualified and more intelligent than you will be or ever be with your crappy diploma or worthless social work degree'' or perhaps "dipshit PO" is could be accurate after all for this fella. No all POs are bad of course but I have yet to be impressed frankly. You need a certain higher level of social interpersonality skills.

  2. Good stuff that commands consideration & respect & my thanks go to the Guest, the poster at 08:18 & JB for giving the blogspace. Important views that must be heeded are aired today.

    In my last role I requested the recall of numerous cases. On some occasions, after I initially felt it was appropriate due to a set of specific circumstances, the preparation of evidence for management & NOMS' staff made me reconsider & withdraw the request. On those occasions the laborious procedures & paperwork were, dare I say it, "useful".

    But I never found recall requests an 'easy' process in any respect. I had to justify removing someone's liberty, returning them to a prison environment, unravelling a working relationship, undermining stability...

    I'd like to think that all of my recall requests that resulted in a return to prison were appropriate, proportionate & necessary; even in the knowledge that three of the numerous people I requested recall for (over several years' in that role) never made it to re-release.

  3. Thanks for your interesting blog and insight into your experience. Unfortunately the problems in our society run deep and offenders are an easy group to blame for all our ills. As a PO I really struggle with the sometimes overwhelming barriers especially for those convicted of sex offences to be allowed to put the past behind and move on.

  4. Articulating these sympathies is one thing and the self statements feeling sorry for themselves. True there are some very odd PO staff who get things disastrously wrong and there are many different types of qualified entrance to the work. The CRCs are a waste of time and cannot be called probation and the multi officer experience is not uncommon. However ask your selves what of the victims of your awful crime. Selfish personal gratifications aired no sympathy when whatever you were convicted for came to book. No repeal for the victims no consideration of their needs and although these blogs trigger debate you don't have a voice before the victims of your type of behaviour. You paid no regard and yet what do really expect.

    1. I lost count in the amount of assumptions made in your comment. You know nothing of what I feel about my past behaviors yet you seem to think yourself suitably qualified to cast aspersions about it. I rest my case!

    2. your comment masks an extra judicial punishment mentality, punishment happened and now you extend!! not 'exactly' what 'probation' or 'rehabilitation' is about eh. Thus the crux of the 08:18 comment where his comment and his guest blog lay bare the need to deliver real rehabilitation and dare i say it shhh 'support' rather than a CRC/prob system that essentially sees itself as judge dredd the almighty moral crusader (or just some drips seeking to spew thier own internalised anger issues hiding behind a job)

  5. Just want to thank all the commenters for their responses. Particularly those with words of encouragement. I do hope the blog doesn't come across as being overly focused on the Probation Service. It was intended as more of a critique of the system as a whole. I do believe the majority of failings in the current system are those taking place in the prisons prior to release, and the probation service is having to try and pick up the pieces from that. Anyway I've probably said enough. Best keep my head down now for the rest of my licence.

    1. Annon @ 13:08

      Im just sorry that you've had your guest blog hijacked by a 'dipshit' with a personal agenda and the inability to look at things objectively.
      Pleased you took the time to air your thoughts.

    2. blog wasnt hijacked 13:18, thats just your own prejudice against free speech and your own lack of professionalism. If you cant take criticism you will never grow, as in your case. defensive much


    Clearly whatever probation practitioners are doing isn't working. Is it any wonder those on probation and those who have been are so pissed off with probation? A lot of the issue are down to probation officers' attitudes towards those they supervise

  7. I am glad we get such posts.

    A true probation professional would be wary of condeming others at any time in any circumstance.

  8. Writing a guest blog is courageous. Your thoughts and feelings are presented and you open yourself to critique which is an anxiety provoking place to be for many, including myself. I think there are a range of different perspectives which would challenge some aspects of what you have written. However, your perspective is valuable and it highlights many important issues . I applaud your effort. Don't let the boo boys and girls get you down but be open minded to comment. For me it highlights the importance of quality Probation (and Prison) services and thoughtful, well trained professionals who can engage successfully with people such as yourself and others. These are after all complex and emotive matters.

    1. A touch to much support for an offender in SOTP when no one has any clue on the detail of the offence. Sexual Violence Media material or the usual far worse stories. Need some balance here all this liberal heart pouring without a clue on dangerousness level. Exactly the sort of thing that opens the profession up to critics.

    2. The offence in this context is immaterial - a person is always more than one or many offences and needs to be heard before he can be understood and maybe assisted, whilst procedures are implemented with the intention of enhancing public safety and security.

    3. Don't be ridiculous old ideology. You need to understand the nature of the offending to determine the risk posed and likelihood of reoffending. None of this is known and yet the platform to support is in isolation of the antecedents = dangerous.

    4. Is risk ever fully known? Surely the definition of risk means there's going to be a lot of variability in predictions.

  9. Unbelievabley, after Virgin Trains walking away from one franchise at significant cost to the taxpayer, Chris Grayling has just announced he's handed them another one without even putting it out to tender.

    1. Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union said: "Rumours are rife that Chris Grayling is setting up a major "market sensitive" announcement on the West Coast Mainline and that that announcement may mean a further cash-laden extension for Virgin and Sir Richard Branson without any competition or consideration of the public sector option.

      "RMT awaits the announcement and after the fiasco of Chris Grayling and the Tory Party chairmanship just a few weeks ago we know that anything is possible with this shambles of a Government.

      "However, if the well-informed speculation is correct it will expose yet again the cronyism and chicanery of the privatised rail franchising process and will ram yet another nail into the coffin of this whole rotten business.

      "If the East Coast bail out is to be followed by a West Coast bung the British people will be rightly up in arms and it will reinforce the cold, hard fact that it's no longer a question of if our railways will be returned to public hands, it's a matter of when."

      Lord Adonis, who stepped down last year as chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission tweeted: "Awaiting parliamentary statement about next Grayling rail bailouts at 5.45 - deliberately after the markets have closed. Prepare for another big row about Branson, Souter et al."

    2. How does Grayling get away with it?

  10. Unpaid work in Thames Valley causing some issues.

    1. A RESIDENT has raised concerns over tree maintenance being outsourced to probation teams.

      John Gealy, 43, of Little Chapels Way, Slough, who has previously worked with tree surgeons, said that he had witnessed the offenders attempting to prune oak trees in the meadows next to his address whilst under the supervision of a member of the Slough Borough Council parks team.

      Mr Gealy said: “They are not qualified to be doing this type of work. There’s a high risk of damage or disease, they don’t know what they are doing. I would expect the council to employ real tree surgeons to care for trees on their land, but they are bringing in youth offenders to do it for free.

      “These trees were planted over 20 years ago to minimise the impact of urban sprawl, and were starting to take shape. There’s only a few oak trees in the area, and the few we have, they seem to be destroying. It doesn’t seem right. They didn’t even need pruning, really - it was just work for the sake of work.”

      Mr Gealy said this was not the only incident that had raised his concerns: “This is not an isolated incident, they have done this a number of times. They came to Deerwood Park to prune trees, during nesting season. They are causing all sorts of damage to the wildlife there.”

      A spokeswoman for the council said: “We have community payback workers who carry out supervised work in Slough weekly. In Little Chapels Way they have been cutting into thick vegetation to remove litter. This job is currently half finished and will be completed in the next fortnight.

    2. I bet they are charging the Council too. If so I wonder where the money goes?

    3. On the face of it the above article might seem much ado about not very much, although real and irepreple damage may have been caused, begging the question "what's the next project?"
      But I remember reading that Working Links were charging local councils 'expenses' for work being carried out by their unpaid work teams.
      Personally, I think that's very wrong and more then a little dodgy.
      But if I was being cynical and thinking of cash strapped councils such as Northampton (who happen to be audited by KPMG by the way), then I'd probably be thinking that unpaid work could prove to be quite a lucrative opportunity for privateers.
      How much in expenses would you be willing to pay to save having to fork out for expensive professionals?
      Perhaps 'expenses' could save you money on street cleaning or bin collections?
      Perhaps I am a cynic, but from little acorns...


    4. Good point Getafix, how about £80 a day to cover costs, most CP work 7 days don't they? £80 x 7days x say 50 weeks = 28k.Little acorns big oak trees.

  11. Returning to today's guest blog, it seems that there has been, and probably continues to be, widespread damage as a consequence of SOTP. It could be construed that today's Guest felt SOTP contributed to their feelings of despair:

    "Towards the end of my participation in SOTP... I reached a point where I felt the only good that could come of my life is through taking my life..."

    I don't know if that's what was meant, or if it was merely a coincidence of timescales?

    However, while Probation has achieved many positives over the years in addressing offending behaviours, it has also - in my view - strayed well beyond the boundaries of its professional abilities when devising & delivering pseudo-therapeutic work. Once again I would lay these charges at the door of interfering career politicians and the ambitious hierarchy in NOMS, who were determined to quantify probation work in order to 'prove' this or that - OASys, SARA, RM2000, SOTP...

    The SOTP delivered here has proven to be, at best, ineffectual and at worst, to exacerbate sexual offending. But the interventions of Lucy Faithfull, NSPCC and other specialist agencies have proved more effective. Rather than try to photocopy those interventions, why not leave it to the experts? Similarly with Personality Disorder issues; specialist agencies identifying, diagnosing & treating? Yes. Half-baked probation programmes delivered by people who have had one day's tutor-training from someone who's had one day's train-the trainer training? No.

    Such self-important amateur fiddling & experimentation is disrespectful, dangerous and has most likely contributed to making matters worse for everyone.

  12. Can I thanks the Guest Blogger for this piece. As someone who has recently left the NPS I recognised alot of what he has written.

    Beinga Probation officer is a curiously split role. On teh one hand (most) Probation Officers come into the job wanting to help the clients towards happier and better lives. On the other hand we have the power to recall them based often on judgement calls which are often no more than very cautious but defensible positions for the MoJ and senior manager masters.

    To get it right takes wisdom, good judgement and a great deal of ethical practice, as well as an attitude that will occasionally stick two fingers up to the people who employ us.

    I think people on licence have an understandable but maybe irrational fear of recall. Anyone serving a sentence in a local prison will see dozens returned on recall and fear the worst for their own releases. But as someone who has worked with those recall cases in a local prison, it was surprising how few were spuriously recalled. But if you are on a wing with them they will tell everyone there that they were recalled for no legitimate reason. "I was only ten minutes late for my curfew" is often, when you get the reports, actually something like "after assaulting a local student and jumping from his bedroom window I had to limp to the hostel and so was ten minutes late for curfew. I don't know why I was bleeding from my head, and just because I refused a drug test I don't why the staff thought I was being verbally aggressive and threatening. I'd only had ten pints and three lines."

    I must say, I liked virtually all the people I supervised, even those who were the most challenging.

  13. Interesting comments from a judge on sentencing guidelines.

    1. A judge has attacked sentencing guidelines which send offenders to prison for "a few months" as he says he is unable to properly punish a paedophile.

      Judge David Ticehurst said his hands were tied by sentencing guidelines during a case against Graham Gleed who had admitted downloading thousands of images of children aged between three and 15.

      Judge Ticehurst was unable to send Gleed, of Bridgwater in Somerset, to jail for long enough for him to complete a sex offenders treatment programme because of guidelines set out by the National Sentencing Council.

      "If it weren't for people like you, those little girls would not have suffered at the hands of people like you. The National Sentencing Council guidelines are simply too lenient,” said Judge Ticehurst.

      "I think that offenders like you should receive long prison sentences, but there is no point in locking you up for a few months if you won't receive treatment."

      Gleed, 50, admitted making 54 indecent photographs of children in the most serious Category A.

      He also admitted two more similar offences involving 54 indecent photographs in Category B, and 3,767 in Category C.

      Gleed was sentenced to a three year community order and told to complete a 95 day sex offender programme.

      He was also ordered to carry out 45 days of rehabilitation activities, 120 hours of unpaid work and made him the subject of a 10 year sexual harm prevention order and five years on the sex offender registry, plus £500 costs.

      Talking to the defendant Judge Ticehurst said: “You told the probation officer that you thought 'some of them looked like they were enjoying it'.”

      The judge described one of the images that Gleed had downloaded, showing a three-year-old girl being tied up and abused.

      “I want you to tell everyone in this this court how much you enjoyed looking at this image,” he said.

      “Everyone in this court is disgusted by you, and your behaviour," the judge added before telling the defendant to “get out”.

  14. Well done for writing the guest blog, a valuable insight into how you feel about this stuff.
    Unfortunately those that defend our UK CRCs don't seem to be able to have the ability to allow the other (the user) to see beyond the confines of their own rather limited views and capabilities.
    Sure other countries are way ahead in terms of humanity and Norway surely has to be the best. sending people to hell holes is not in any way going to induce any kind of rehabilitation.
    well done again