Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Glenys Told Off and Rory's Homework

So, what did we learn from today's final TR Justice Select Committee hearing? Well, all in all, it was a cracker and the transcript will be worth publishing I promise! Dame Glenys got an absolute roasting for moonlighting looking at farms and spectacularly misjudged the mood by quiping that her husband was now doing the cooking. How does an intelligent person in a high-ranking public sector post think they can get away with only turning up to work three days a week without anyone noticing? Only politicians like George Osborne could pull that one.

By 30 minutes in both Chief Inspectors had made it perfectly plain that they thought TR was a pile of crap and never likely to succeed. The former copper couldn't believe that such radical 'reforms' would be introduced without a bit of testing first and revealed that the governor of HMP Lindholme was so fed up with the MoJ-contracted TTG service that he'd purchased his own bespoke resettlement provision direct from the local CRC! He felt it was a 'good use of money'.

By the time the committee got to hear from the minister Rory Stewart they were on fire, but being ex-military, this guy's quite shrewd, smart and clearly doesn't make rash decisions before some thorough reconnaissance first. Although he wistfully acknowledged things wern't going too well at the moment and he had the power to terminate the CRC contracts early, rather ominously he indicated that a further radical re-think was simply likely to be too expensive. One can imagine who has the upper hand in the current secret negotiations with the CRCs. 

Still, Rory is still pretty much an unkown quantity, but one who clearly takes his homework seriously waving as he briefly did a copy of Redemption, Rehabilitation and Risk Management: A History of Probation by George Mair and Lol Burke. Maybe we'd do well to refresh our memories:-   

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Redemption, Rehabilitation and Risk Management provides the most accessible and up-to-date account of the origins and development of the Probation Service in England and Wales.

The book explores and explains the changes that have taken place in the service, the pressures and tensions that have shaped change, and the role played by government, research, NAPO, and key individuals from its origins in the nineteenth century up to the plans for the service outlined by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government.

The probation service is a key agency in dealing with offenders; providing reports for the courts that assist sentencing decisions; supervizing released prisoners in the community and working with the victims of crime. Yet despite dealing with more offenders than the prison service, at lower cost and with reconviction rates that are lower than those associated with prisons, the Probation Service has been ignored, misrepresented, taken for granted and marginalized, and probation staff have been sneered at as 'do-gooders'. The service as a whole is currently under serious threat as a result of budget cuts, organizational restructuring, changes in training, and increasingly punitive policies. This book details how probation has come to such a pass.

By tracing the evolution of the probation service, Redemption, Rehabilitation and Risk Management not only sheds invaluable light on a much misunderstood criminal justice agency, but offers a unique examination of twentieth century criminal justice policy. It will be essential reading for students and academics in criminal justice and criminology.

George Mair has been Professor of Criminal Justice in the School of Law, Liverpool John Moores University since 1995. Previously, he was Principal Research Officer in the Home Office Research and Planning Unit. He is a leading authority on community penalties and has published widely on this topic. He was a member of the Merseyside Probation Board, 2001-2007.

Lol Burke is Senior Lecturer in Criminal Justice, Liverpool John Moores University. He has worked as a Probation Officer and a Senior Probation Officer. He was involved in the delivery of probation training prior to his appointment at LJMU. He is editor of the Probation Journal.


Book Review Redemption, Rehabilitation and Risk Management: A History of Probation George Mair and Lol Burke, Routledge (2011); 216pp, ISBN: 9781843922490 

Those currently working for the probation service in England and Wales are likely to be well accustomed, even numb, to a feeling of foreboding about what the future might hold. For anyone wanting to contextualise the current situation, I can think of no better way than reading George Mair and Lol Burke’s excellent history of probation. The book allows its reader to understand how probation has arrived at the present, equipping them to make grounded contributions to current debates about the future. What these authors do particularly skilfully is provide a detailed linear history of probation’s genesis, whilst also weaving in the themes that have recurred throughout the last century. A sense of crisis, and of an organisation distrusted by government and grappling to define its own core purpose, may seem to be exclusively modern, but reading this history it becomes clear that current struggles have their roots in previous decades. In charting the highs and lows of probation’s history a new vantage point is offered; many of the strengths and challenges of the service can be seen as a product of the friction, sometimes creative, sometimes destructive, between a social work ethos and a criminal justice context.

The authors divide probation’s history in to eight chronological sections, each having their own chapter: Origins, The first decade, Consolidation, A major part of our penal system?, 1950-62: A golden age?, From Morison to Martinson: 1962-74, Alternatives to custody, and finally, The end of the road?. Throughout each section the history is detailed, the writing accessible, and the tone balanced. We learn that probation’s roots lie very much with the notion of a benevolent individual of higher social status ‘saving’ those deemed to be in need of redemption. Exploring ideas of social control, the authors bring this era vividly to life with well-selected extracts from the documents of the time, for example: 
Often without friends of their own, more often with friends only of a degraded type, out of touch with any civilising influence, the probation officer comes to them from a different level of society, giving a helping hand to lift them out of the groove that leads to serious crime. (p32) 
Comparing the language of this Home Office publication with the policy documents of more recent times the progress made is clear, although we might wonder how the language of ‘offender management’ will sound in a century’s time. The ‘probation officer’ cuts an interesting figure throughout the text, and it is fascinating to discover how the role has shifted from its original incarnation as a religious volunteer. In describing the probation officers of previous eras, the authors turn not only to policy documents, but also to first person accounts, and media representations, thus ensuring that complexities and nuances are drawn out. The different ways the practitioner has been conceptualised tell us much about the shifting skill-base of officers, and the prevalent frameworks for understanding offending behaviour. The reflections of the authors on the professionalism (or not) of workers, and the deskilling of more recent times, provide substantial food for thought.

However, this comprehensive history does not focus exclusively on the development of practice, and the lens expands to include the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO), governments and, more widely, the social shifts of the twentieth century. Two world wars, fluctuating crime rates and the rise of a punitive-minded press are all shown to impact on probation – largely through the changes that resulted in what sentencers, governments and the public demanded it deliver. Something that the authors give consistent attention to is the struggle that probation has had in proving its effectiveness. They link this to the fact that probation has often been required to redefine its core activity in accordance with political headwinds. For example, shifting from rehabilitation to fulfilling the demand that it act as a means of reducing an everexpanding prison population, becoming more punitive in the process. Statistics and research are analysed in a sophisticated and insightful way, raising questions, but never dictating a correct interpretation. And the authors cast a keen critical eye, lending their support of probation validity, as they demonstrate that they are attuned to its faults. Theirs is not a polemic, but a balanced appraisal, and as such it is a history that deserves to be listened to, and learnt from.

Where the beginning of the book is engrossing in the rich detail it provides of probation’s past, the latter sections come alive with debate about the present and prospects for the future. Again, the balanced position of the authors serves the book well, as does their engagement with the micro details of frontline work and the implications this has for innovations, such as those around the desistance literature. They focus in particular on the rise of probation service officers and fast delivery reports, as well as the risks that increased competition hold. It must be said that their outlook is bleak, and the text takes on something of the tone of an obituary. Mair and Burke go so far as to suggest that the probation service may have lost its ‘roots, its traditions, its culture, its professionalism’ and, possibly, its future (p192). And with the weight of their knowledge and analysis, one feels hard-pressed to disagree. Although, if we can sustain the level of reflective debate attained in this book and use it to promote what we know probation excels at, it can be hoped that all is not lost.

Eleanor Fellowes
London Probation Trust


  1. As a result of costing up to Michael Gove to inspect pig sty’s, our Glenys is claiming £140,000 for doing a full time role part time. Didn’t offer to hand the money back but instead justifying robbing the taxpayer with inappropriate comments about men and younger women.

    “Yet she added: "My husband is enjoying the prospect of learning how to cook! So there are some hidden benefits for me at least."

    And she said: "Of course I don't have the commitments a younger woman might have at home and so on. “

    Me thinks she’ll be in need of “advise, assist and befriend” and a stiff glass of cherry this evening.

    1. The last thing the probation service needs is a smug dame.

    2. This is our second pantomime Dame; don't forget Calamity Dame Ursula who could say bugger all in 5000 words where none would have been better.

  2. Seen on Twitter:-

    This morning, I have been informed by a probation officers that they are not allowed to recommend suspended sentences, because there are too many offenders on them!

    Anyone else heard this? Sounds like a recipe for more overcrowded prisons...

    1. https://thejusticeofthepeaceblog.blogspot.co.uk/2018/03/further-proof-of-graylings-incompetence.html?m=1

  3. If Rory is in the mood for reading about rehabilitation he may be interested in this from 2012. Its a long read, but if he's serious about rehabilitation it might provide him with some food for thought.



    1. Seems it has been brought to Rory's attention via twitter. Let us hope your recommendation finds a positive response:

      "@RoryStewartUK Seen at #OnProbationBlog : "If Rory is in the mood for reading about rehabilitation he may be interested in this from 2012. Its a long read, but if he's serious about rehabilitation it might provide him with some food for thought." (Link was attached)

  4. I always smile when someone describes probation workers as "do gooders", with the unthinking implication that they would be better off "doing bad" or, even worse, "doing nothing".

  5. Glenys has certainly made a big impression. The way it's being reported from the Times to Sky news she will be lucky to keep her position.

    1. Nah! Glenys is a sacking too far and importantly it would highlight Tory failures on Criminal Justice System. As ever I am Glenys fan but she should stay away from humour and stick to inspections.

  6. NPS not paying minimum wage???



    1. The probation service has been reported for not paying staff the minimum wage, a union official has claimed.

      Dean Rogers, from the trade union for probation officers, said 107 people working for the National Probation Service (NPS) were earning less than minimum wage.

      He told Welsh MPs the NPS was "failing on every level" during evidence to a Westminster committee on Tuesday.

      The Prisons Service said a report had found the NPS was doing a "good job".

      Mr Rogers, who is general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said the service was "the most dysfunctional organisation" he had ever worked with.

      He told an inquiry by the Welsh Affairs Select Committee into aspects of the prison service that the union had reported the NPS over not paying staff the minimum wage.

      Mr Rogers said that probation responsibilities are split in Wales between a Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) called Working Links and the NPS.

      He said the process was "very badly managed contract process" by the Ministry of Justice and "assumptions that the contracts were based on were wrong, and were known to be wrong, but they went ahead anyway."

      He said all of the CRC's were finding it difficult to manage within the contracts because they were badly organised, structured and badly funded, and that was all preventable.

      A Prisons Service spokesman said: "CRCs have reduced the number of people reoffending and the Chief Inspector's most recent annual report found that the NPS is doing a good job overall.

      "Our reforms mean we are now monitoring 40,000 offenders who would previously have been released with no supervision at all."

      "But we have been clear there is more to be done - particularly on getting the basics right, and we are working closely with providers to make sure this happens."