Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Media Interest Growing

It's been an extraordinary few days for the blog, typically with viewing figures more than doubling to 3,500 a day. Yesterday traffic peaked at 4,000 hits and I can only assume this has been due to probation and prison featuring heavily in the media generally of late and most recently as a result of the thematic HMI report into Enforcement and Recall. 

Graph of Blogger page views

In particular, Saturday's nicely-timed and heart-felt piece in the Guardian from a disgruntled Probation Officer seems to have triggered quite a lot of active discussion on all social media platforms. It's interesting that although the long-term trend for the blog is one of steady decline since the heady days of resistance to TR, the blog very much remains a 'go-to' place every time something 'kicks-off'.

Graph of Blogger page views
To be honest I find the whole media and especialy social media landscape fascinating nowadays. Some might recall I was a late adopter of Twitter and in the early days positively derided the platform as pointless. But how wrong I was in failing to appreciate it's potential to develop into a powerful tool for garnering information quickly in whatever niche field one cares to select. 

Basically, I couldn't run this blog without it now and of course its two-way function of accepting and disseminating information acts as a highly efficient feed-back loop and method of updating a steadily growing virtual community of like-minded or just interested individuals. All of which makes it highly amusing to witness how those very senior NPS managers who 'use' Twitter say absolutely nothing of note or relevance, bar listing endless meetings to chair or attend. A very modern iteration of 'fiddling whilst Rome is burning' it seems to me. 

Whilst touching on the subject of Twitter, I'm once again finding it extremely irritating that a technical glitch is preventing my posting links and the malfunction has so far eluded my very limited IT skills in being able to identify, let alone fix. It's all magic as far as I'm concerned and I must hope that as before, some seemingly random pressing of keys might restore the situation. Turning everything off and on again hasn't fixed the problem sadly.  

So, here's that Guardian 'letter to the public' together with a selection of online comments and Facebook offerings that resulted:-

The probation service is in meltdown: how will Worboys be supervised?

I’ve been a probation officer for more than a decade but it’s now almost impossible to do my job properly. If black-cab rapist John Worboys is released, he will be required to report to probation staff every week. The case for probation services that are well-resourced and properly run couldn’t be clearer.

I’m a probation officer working in the National Probation Service (NPS) and I’m very concerned that high-risk offenders like Worboys are not being properly supervised or supported in their rehabilitation. I cannot comment on the Worboys release decision, the Parole Board makes those every day and is very experienced and thorough. But I can comment on the inadequate supervision he is likely to get.

I’ve been in this job for more than a decade. Probation officers used to be able to take the time to understand the individual and be responsive to their needs. But in 2014, the probation service split in two, and the work has been draining and mentally exhausting ever since. Now, the NPS only works with the most dangerous offenders – those deemed high risk – the rest are supervised by private community rehabilitation companies (CRCs).

Today the job is about fire-fighting, to get assessments done and targets hit. We just have to hope that nothing goes wrong. If my workload is anything to go by, Worboys’ supervision will be minimal. He will be on licence for at least 10 years – which in theory means that, if he puts a foot wrong, he’ll go straight back to prison – but how much rehabilitation will he get in that time?

Of my 45 cases, roughly half of them are in the community and the majority of those should be seen weekly. I say “should” because I don’t manage to do that, and neither do my colleagues. Due to workloads we’ve been told to prioritise the most risky clients. For example, if I have a high-risk domestic violence offender that has to complete specific one-to-one offence-focused work, I have to do that because it has been ordered by the court. But it feels rushed, I don’t really have the time, and for every minute I spend with them, I know I have to cut it from someone else’s supervision time. Home visits have taken a back seat as there simply isn’t the time.

Before the probation service split, pre-sentence reports were a vital first assessment of a client in terms of their risk of harm, how motivated they were and how much they understood their offending. Now we give a verbal report on the day of sentence after a half-hour interview. Having the time to do a full report – with longer interviews and more than one if necessary – is very rare. We also don’t have the time to get valuable information from other agencies the offender has had contact with, such as the police or children’s services.

I interview prisoners by video link, they attend court by video link, I attend parole hearings by video link. It won’t be long before you can take a case from arrest to end of sentence and they never have any real contact with a person. That’s how people slip through the cracks.

Many of my colleagues are looking for work elsewhere. Things aren’t sustainable as they are, with staff shortages, heavy caseloads and an ICT system that is not fit for purpose. Imagine having all that work to do, reports to write, assessments to complete, and then the system goes down and you lose all of it. The justice system has lost its way. It is in meltdown: from police cuts, to prison violence and now the probation service in chaos.

This series aims to give a voice to the staff behind the public services that are hit by mounting cuts and rising demand, and so often denigrated by the press, politicians and public. 


A selection of on-line comments:-

As a result of my own job (criminal defence solicitor), having worked in the same courts for the last 20 years, I have grown up/old alongside many Probation officers in certain inner London Magistrates Courts and further afield in the Crown Courts. These people were committed and hard-working. They often made connections with offenders that definitely put them on a straighter path, which, of course, is the best thing for us all.

In the desperate efforts to cut the costs of everything carried out by a state-employed public servant (singularly looking the other way from its true value), as noted in the article, the old 'front-line' Probation officers employed by the state have been severed off to deal with the problematic offenders, leaving the box-ticking private enterprise employees to deal with the day to day.

I only 'know' things anecdotally, but have no doubt that the privatisation of working with offenders in this way has gone in a similar direction to the same process for forensic science, enforcement of punishment and the transport to and from court of detained participants in court cases.

I was in court 2 or 3 months ago, waiting for my client's case to be heard, so I witnessed first hand one of the old hands mentioned above having to ask the bench to mark 'completed' a series of unpaid work orders. None of these had been completed; they had been discovered as a batch of cases within which the induction letter had been returned (I think because of an issue with the address, but cannot be sure). However the term of the community order, the umbrella under which the unpaid work is meant to be done, had expired - for clarity, a person might be ordered to do 80 hours unpaid work within 12 months etc.

The 12 months (or so) had expired, without any of the work being done. But the private company needed them marked as 'completed' before they could claim the fee for having monitored them. It was set out, in the hearing, as a very technical request, simply based on the expiry of the time limit. The court refused it. Nothing was further said about the unpunished offenders.

Spot on. One man, Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary, reduced probation to this. English and Welsh probation was one of the best public services in world - it sold its expertise across the globe as other jurisdictions were keen to learn how it should be done.

Then we have this half-cocked “privatisation” - the private operators have had one bailout and are about to get another, how is that a free market? - which divided the service between high risk and low/medium. As if these categories are fixed in the chaotic lives of offenders. Read the inspection reports for details of the disaster Grayling wrought.

Now two the staff organisations - overworked and bureaucratically mangled - try to do their best but it’s not a doable job. A total balls up. The victims of crimes that could have been avoided pay the price for ideology.

It's ridiculous to expect even experienced probation officers to be able effectively to handle more than about 30 high-risk ex-offenders in a week. Perhaps those that are progressing suitably might only need face-to-face supervision once every fortnight or month, but even then, having 45 cases is simply unmanageable.

And this is the non-outsourced probation service which deals with those ex-offenders who are considered to have the highest risk of re-offending. How the CRCs are coping with low-risk clients is anyone's guess (though we know that even there, many are subject to only telephone contact). Once again, this government prioritises saving money over the hard work of trying to turn people's lives around. Shame on them.

Surely for the Parole Board to decide upon a release it first requires a detailed release plan from the relevant probation officer?No release plan can be prepared unless that probation officer believes it to be feasible which implies appropriate levels of supervision will be available in any particular case. It is this aspect that the Select Committee should have focused upon rather than waste its time speaking to an administrator who takes no part in the judicial process.

Let us be frank. The Government doesn't give a shit, and that is why we are where we are, no other explanation. Attacks on public services have been vicious (arguably malicious) to the point we are seeing collapse. And people aren't that stupid.. they can see it with their own eyes. I do sincerely believe though that neo-liberal ideology has genuinely run its course, not only that, but with a bankrupt ideology in hand, and no way of reinvention, the Tory party are on the decline - and they know it. Can you imagine their next election campaign? Strong and stable? Magic money Tree? Deep and meaningful relationship? All turned out to be total and utter bollocks. No, its just a matter of waiting unfortunately.

As a person who understands and appreciates the difficult job of Probation Officers, I really have sympathy for you. Unless we can become a society that uses whole life sentences for all life prisoners, we need a well resourced Probation Service to minimise risk. Not only for ‘high risk of harm’ offenders but also for the medium and low risk people too. It’s well known that crime escalated so those at the lower end may often commit serious crimes later. The only real way to reduce this is investing in them through effective rehabilitation.

The current system is one of using PSOs to offer ‘sign in’ so that CRCs can just tick boxes ordered by Courts. Very little real rehabilitation exists. Recividism is natural to those inclined into criminal activity unless effectively challenged. Unfortunately that happens very infrequently and not at all effectively.

Well done for highlighting this. With all the focus on the courts and prison service for the chaos caused by vicious and unprecedented cuts, the other part of the equation - the Probation Service has received scant attention - and yet it is just as vital in protecting the public as the other elements... perhaps even more so. But the depressing thing is that those responsible in Government have got such thick cloth ears that no amount of outrage and expose in the press will be heard let alone acted on. We've seen in health care, social care, policing, teaching and more and yet nothing has happened. Don't expect the probation service to be any different.

The essence to grasp is this - If you spend £10 on a public service and get an effective result, this is money well spent. If you spend only £5 on the same public service but get no effective result, this is not £5 saved, but £5 entirely wasted. Worse than this is the fact that privatisation often costs more, and is putting public money into private pockets, which should be going into the service we pay our taxes for. The mean-minded, penny-pinching attitude of the Tories is costing us all more, and giving us nothing. When are people going to stop allowing themselves to be conned by the Tory claim that Privatisation is more "efficient"? Yes; more efficient at wasting our tax money.



Whoever wrote this is speaking the truth. The service is in a terrible state through a stupid government. Every day you worry that you have managed to do all you had to. Sitting at home on an evening and the local news comes on. You pray that any incident is not who you supervise or if it is, you pray that your notes are up to date as quite frequently you are juggling to do these after been out of office or dealing with crisis.

I think this is quite an unfair comment. I agree many staff will feel like this but not everyone and I have no doubt that the quality of the work undertaken by the majority of NPS staff regardless of role  is still there as that is what drives us. Idefinitely have seen this in all the teams I have worked in since the split. Yes, I agree the government depends on this and I do truly believe we are why the service still functions at all, but we do and on the whole we are doing it well - recent inspections support this. 

I worry that the above headline feeds into the public panic over Worboys and it also does not support the officer/s who manage him who are no doubt feeling a lot of pressure and anxiety regarding the scrutiny of the cases management. The use of this headline by a colleague does not suggest to me the solidarity and support that they need right now from those who know first hand how they are feeling.  Well, No doubt you are reading this, so to the officer who manages Worboys, “you’ve got this” x.

I agree wholeheartedly with the comment. It is acurate and right that the public understand, even if it is just people who read The Guardian. Much like Brexit, I'm for leaving this awlful 'service' ASAP. I do not doubt the committment of others who remain, good luck to you.

My regret is that the only way to generate any sort of coverage or attention is to talk about risk of harm. I think we lose a little bit of our soul every time: at the heart of the skilful job we do, is the balancing of risk, enforcement, control, with rehabilitation, relationship-building, nurturing, even. Hard to make a case for a constructive humane approach to anything, in the current climate.


  1. "the blog very much remains a 'go-to' place every time something 'kicks-off'."

    But also let us not forget its an invaluable, independent record of discussion, opinion & anecdotal evidence that wouldn't otherwise be available if the blog (1) didn't exist & (2) didn't allow the use of 'anonymous' posts.

    As always, great job JB.

  2. As I said on an earlier post, the comments are the best. Due to the government pillage of Probation the country are justified to think the worst. I don’t think probation managers/directors do much to change this view, but then their heads are wedged up Theresa May’s backside. The media is outing them, and good.

    Thinking about the Worboys situation, which we can thank for outing the present mess too, the parole board is full of incompetents. If you attend enough hearings you’ll find what a mixed bag the PB is. The decision to release was fuelled by the governments pressure to release IPP prisoners. If you’ve been around long enough you’ll know the PB bows to political pressure, but love to lord it over probation who probably opposed Worboys released.

    Bringing it back home, the probation service has been in chaos since 2014 since the government privatised it. Wait for Interserve to fold and they’ll have to start paining the true picture of this mess. Most of my colleagues are long gone. Most probation offices these days are propped up by a handful of work-shy temps and a few bushy-tailed trainees. ‘Man down the pub’ saying last night most probation offices nowadays propped up by temps, trainees, PSO’s with few weeks training and handful of old PO workers waiting to retire. Temps there for the money (can’t blame them) hit targets to ensure time sheets are paid. Newly qualified PO’s and trainees mostly teenage girls with life experience of getting wasted at uni and work ethic of make up, nails and whining about parents. Many PSO’s (and male PO’s included) fall into this group have less education, work experience and common sense than the first lot. Surprised at amount of offenders seen bringing in presents for young naive probation staff dressed for clubbing in work hours, and Court attire now become a little black dress. Young male trainees / PSO’s no better and just as arrogant, but few and far between. Old PO’s spend life gossiping in tea room and when put out to pasture return as temps. Staff sickness rates high, bullying managers ever present or worn out locked in their offices, and directors sending “what a great service we are” emails whenever taking a break from head up backside of Ministry of Justice. Probation now redundant and hides behind meaningless “risk management”, MAPPA, OASys, SARA, RM2000, SOTP, TSP, ARMS, NPS, CRC, HMIP. No real substance left in probation and not surprised offenders feel threatened by recall because probation no longer designed to build relationships, support, advise, assist, befriend. It’s a tick box exercise where offenders expected to nod and agree, and probation staff only there because they want to exercise power over people pat themselves on the back.

    1. As a newly qualified male PO via the PQIP route (having previous work experience as a PSO and in prisons) I would disagree strongly, as well as being concerned at the questionable and borderline chauvinistic comments regarding make up and getting wasted!

      I accept that the influx of newer inexperienced PSOs is a worry, however would attribute this inexperience not to a lack of work ethic, but rather a lack of appropriate training that was afforded to previous ‘generations’.

      I also feel that the older generation have a valuable role to play (when tearing themselves away from the tea room) in ‘mentoring’ newer members of staff; if you have issues with their work ethic and knowledge, help shape it in a positive manner!

  3. Is the very senior NPS managers' lack of relevant comments on twitter uncharacteristic? As civil servants who have signed something promising to keep stum I would be under the impression that any work related comment in public on social media would not be allowed. In any case, allowed or not, has anyone lately met a senior NPS manager capable on or of record of making any comments relevant to the many current criminal justice crisis covered in the media?

  4. Speaking of Twitter, have a look at the tweets by the freshwood group, @freshwoodgroup, regarding the enforcement of the licence of its founder.

  5. I think Worboys, the parole board, Venables, pictures of Liverpool prison with rats and cock roach and reports of rising crime rates all touch an emotive chord with the general public. But they're never long lived.
    However the collapse of Carillion has done something else. It's focused the public on the whole privatisation debacle.
    The privatisation of public services, sold on the premise of efficiency and savings, was by many accepted as just part of the governments austerity programme, a necessary process to drive down the deficit. (When was the last time you heard a Tory mention the deficit?).
    But Carillion has shown the world that really austerity dosent apply to the privateers, and the attention of the public have been drawn like never before to the privatisation of public services.
    People are waking up to the fact that the privatisation of public services aren't making efficiency savings- they're costing more, and the services being provided are continually declining.
    A point well made in the F.T yesterday pointed out that central government cuts to public services have now become so severe that its impossible to run them any cheaper. The reason for privatising public services must therefore be for other reasons and not about savings.
    The public can make their own minds up about what reasons they might be, but they can't be fooled any more about it being for efficiency savings and the best value for the public purse.
    People are becoming painfully aware what the consequences and impacts of privatisation are having on their lives, and their attention has been caught and focused.
    They've been sold a pup, and one that's not very well. And the more the government try to hide it, the more focus it will bring, and the more lies it will uncover.



    1. True but the media and HM Parliament are slow learners - I thought they had "got it" over the Olympics debacle in 2012 when one of the privateers used (so called) gig employees for some vital task and were found to have left them ill equipped & camping out readying themselves for work, having been brought from hundreds of miles away and that was before the army had to be bought in to save the nation's dignity.

      Then what about claiming tagging fees on non existent or dead curfewed prisoners - how did the Serious Fraud Office investigation work out & are the companies concerned still barred from public contracts?

      Do not get optimistic unless we get a Corbyn like led Governement into its second Parliament and they really do seem to take CJS seriously.

      I fear Labour (of which I am a recent 1st time member) are back sliding, not coming out with a plan beyond rubbishing what the current Government is doing (as easy as falling of a log).

      A day or so ago, I saw them on the bandwagon with a fear of crime post about police cuts - that smacks of New Labour of old.

    2. In an almost comical infliction of self harm yet to come, I watched several Tory MPs yesterday when talking about the Oxfam scandal demanding more transparency on exactly how public funds are being spent. Taxpayers have the right to know just how every £1 of their money is being spent by government.
      No doubt its really a ruse to cut foreign aid, and an opportunity to place sex scandals on someone else's patch and away from Westminster.
      But come on... The taxpayer has the right to know how the government spend every £1 of their money?
      What about corporate confidentiality when public services are being fleeced by private companies?

  6. The expenses scandal was not so very long ago. When it suits them - MP’s demand that tax payers know how their money is spent. On other occasions it’s not so important depending on the issue it seems....

    In terms of privatisation in sectors that do not lend themselves to being run in a capitalist market a lot of tax payers money goes on competition lawyers during bidding processes and compensation payments to rich organisations like Virgin when they throw a tantrum about not managing to secure a contract! Not sure how the rest of the population feels but I for one don’t want my taxes spent in this way! I would much rather it go out to charities to go and support people. Despite this recent scandal that may or may not have been hushed up.

    There. Rant over.

  7. Interesting to read how pro - privatisation defend the status quo or more privatisation. They point to the past and belligerent and powerful unions frustrating progress, the dead hand of the state and inefficiency. The argument does not wash with Probation people. Union membership was part of a professional association and union services for its members on the whole. The Unions stated their case in respect of TR, protested minimally by work to rule and a couple of half day withdrawal of labour. Beyond that they worked to protect members terms and conditions. Probation culture itself had a history of innovation, adaptability and supportive of progressive changes. It must be clear by now that Probation in its former guise was non too shabby in its own efficient running and more than capable of managing further efficiencies given time and some investment. A whole system agenda of bringing core services together around common goals, possibly co located and / or development of joint working protocols would have been one way of delivering results. No different to calls now for social and healthcare to do the same. It is difficult not to view privatisation of Probation as myopic and ideologically driven with the present consequence of the fragmented parts all crying fowl of their own misfortune. The call from many now to come together against a recognition that the parts of the former whole are now becoming shattered. Leadership from on high is urgently required.

  8. Leadership from on high will have to be sourced externally.
    Our supposed leaders should be ashamed of themselves. They have sat on the fence for so long they will need surgery to remove the splinters

    1. Our excuses-for-"leaders" turn up wearing several coats in winter - cuprinol, creosote, ronseal, fencerite.

  9. http://www.partnershipsbulletin.com/news/view/135541