Monday, 14 May 2018

General Secretary Election 3

As we've seen, the Napo incumbent candidate for General Secretary began his campaign some time ago, but what of the other contender? This on Wikipedia:-

Michael "Mike" Rolfe (born 1978) was the National Chair of the British POA until May 2017, and lead figure within the trade union which represents Prison Officers, related grades of staff and others working in secure custodial settings. He stepped down from this position on 3 May 2017 having been selected as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party (UK) for the Sittingbourne and Sheppey constituency at the snap general election that took place on Thursday 8 June 2017. However, despite an 11% swing to Labour compared to 2015, Rolfe failed to be elected and finished in second place to the sitting Conservative MP, Gordon Henderson (politician) who was re-elected with a majority of 15,211 votes.

Born 25 January 1978 in Greenwich, South London, son of council worker David Frederick Rolfe (deceased) and retired Secretary Dorothy Jane Mungeam (Rolfe), aged 38 years at the time of taking over as the National Chair of the POA, he was one of the youngest trade union leaders in the United Kingdom.

Rolfe attended Barnes Cray Primary School from 1983-1989, followed by Erith Secondary School in South London from 1989-1994 then attended Bexley College to sit A-Levels. In 1996, Rolfe started his working career, training to become an accountant and progressing quickly as he earned a reputation for hard work, dedication and commitment. However, following his father's premature death aged 57 in 2002, Rolfe quit his job; pursuing more menial employment and became a Prison officer at HM Prison Elmley in 2004.

Rolfe identifies as a socialist, however he was quick to make clear his views are not entirely left wing in an interview with the Morning Star and that he does not share entirely the same political ideology of Democratic Socialists such as Jeremy Corbyn.

Rolfe first found notoriety amongst his colleagues in the Prison Service when he established the popular Facebook page known as 'Know The Danger,' or 'KTD' abbreviated, in May 2013 at a point in which major restructuring took place within the Prison system. These changes have been heavily attributed with the current systematic failures manifesting in the worst reported riots in 25 years during 2016.

Rolfe became a prominent figure during the latter part of 2016 following a string of appearances on BBC News at Ten and various other news outlets forcing the Secretary of State for Justice Elizabeth Truss to concede "serious issues" that would take time to resolve within the Prison estate.


Here we have an in-depth interview for InsideTime the prison newspaper in July 2016:-

Don’t always take it on face value that we are the enemy

Meeting the national chairman of the Prison Officers’ Association was a little daunting, especially as it was the first time such a senior POA official had agreed to speak to Inside Time. In the end Mike Rolfe, a 38 year-old father of two was amenable and quite relaxed in our conversation. I wondered what had drawn him to being a prison officer in the first place. Was it something he considered when he left school? “No”, he says, “I started off wanting to be a mechanic; I was quite good at Maths so I ended up becoming an accountant, before trying a few different roles. I did white van driving round London for a little while, sold cars for a bit after I finished in accountancy and wound up being a prison officer.”

He’s now been a prison officer for thirteen years and I wondered how much he thought the job had changed in that time? “For me, personally, quite a bit. I started off feeling that what I did was quite positive, I was able to help prisoners on an individual basis and felt I was doing something good for society, giving something back. I think now your average prison officer is extremely overworked, extremely stressed, doesn’t feel in control, doesn’t have the relationship with prisoners they used to have, and that makes their role virtually impossible to do.”

How did he get involved with the POA? 

“It probably started in 2008, I was always quite vocal at POA meetings, I hadn’t belonged to a trade union before I came into the Prison Service, being an accountant there didn’t seem to be a trade union for that, and I became quite vocal at meetings about changes and issues that were going on, as a consequence of that colleagues asked me to step up and become involved with the union which I did by becoming a committee member, then later, in 2012, I became the local branch secretary for my establishment, HMP Elmley. Then in 2013, following the ‘Know the Danger’ Facebook campaign, which I started, I was elected as the national official for London and Kent, I performed that for just over 2 years before being elected to National Chairman. The role entails me doing lots of meetings with people, MPs, senior NOMS officials, G4S chiefs etc. Negotiating on behalf of members and basically leading the union to get the best deal.”

Problems in the prison system include thousands of IPPs over tariff and the spread of religious extremism. What are his thoughts on this? 

“I think, as with all people in prison, it seems there are cases where justice has not been handed out or people are getting a raw deal in being well and truly over their sentence; ultimately our role is to rehabilitate people so we don’t want people festering forever and a day.”

And extremism? Is he aware of the contents of the yet to be published Acheson report? In an interview last month with the Sunday Times Ian Acheson, a former Home Office counter terrorism official, said that the “growing problem” of extremism in jails could put “both prisoners and staff at risk of a terrorist attack” if action is not taken.

“I have not seen it in its entirety but obviously I am concerned at some of the areas around radicalisation. I do think it’s something which is culturally changing in Britain. We obviously have more people coming from outside the EU to live and work in England and they bring their own cultures and religions with them and that also manifests inside prisons so I do believe more people are turning to more radicalised religions, and that’s not to say any particular religion, because there’s radicalisation in all sorts of religions, even groups and gangs, and I do think there is a trend by which people think the only way they are going to achieve anything is by acting rashly.”

Does he think there is a role for prison officers in trying to prevent extremism, and if so what can they do? 

“Absolutely, I think there are vulnerable people in all parts of the prison system and there are lots of vulnerable prisoners that are going to suffer pressures to radicalise themselves and I think prison officers have an important role to try to protect those individuals and identify them early but also have sufficient numbers on the floor to be able to manage and control any type of population.” Would that also go for gangs? “It would go for gangs as well. I do believe there is a gang culture especially with the younger prisoners in the YO estate and I do think staff have a valuable job in trying to break that gang culture because that’s what leads to them being inside in the first place and I think we have a duty to try to educate those people away from a life of crime; not necessarily to say it’s wrong to be in a group and be friends with other people but if that activity is all centred around criminality then obviously we have a duty to try to steer them away from that.”

Acheson apparently says in his report that some Imams have been smuggling CDs and extremist material into prisons. Is that a real concern? 

“That’s a really big concern,” he says. “I can only go on the details that I’ve seen and read about and if we do have Imams who are doing that obviously I would expect their employer, NOMS, to step in and act in an appropriate manner.” Should more Muslim prison officers be recruited? “Yes, I think, as the police have undertaken for a number of years, it’s good to have a reflective workforce of the people you are looking after, and like society we now have people from different cultures and backgrounds, different religions, living in those areas and then, of course, the prisons are reflective of the populations in that area so therefore it makes sense that the prison staff are reflective of that area as well.”

Older people, the over fifties, are the fastest rising section of the prisoner population. What kind of problems is this causing staff? 

“Not so much for staff. I think the prisons were never designed for large numbers of people with health conditions, that does present some problems in terms of design and that’s modern prisons as well as older prisons, so there’s no distinguishing between them. I think in terms of staff looking after those individuals there is a need for some more care, we do rely heavily on other prisoners to provide that care because there’s not enough prison officers to do it and that does present some problems in terms of bullying, manipulation and grooming as well; there’s some concerns that prison officers aren’t able to keep a close watch.”

Wouldn’t it be better to have staff trained in specific areas in order to work more effectively with disabled prisoners and older prisoners? 

“I think specialist training is fundamental, there are unique characteristics to different groupings of prisoners and I think, as members of staff, if you have a particular interest in a specific direction then you should be able to pursue that and there are opportunities there, for example working with sex offenders, some people can do that other people can’t do that, some people can work with young offenders, some people can’t; some people like working with lifers, others don’t. So I absolutely agree those opportunities should be there and people should be given options. If you are a new employee sometimes you have to do the job you’re asked to do, so I do think there is a necessity for prison officers who can do a variety of roles and can adapt from one thing to the next and I think prison officers like that, they like variety, They don’t want to be stuck on their usual wing; they’re quite happy to take an escort out or work in visits for the day because it’s a change of scenery, it doesn’t get too monotonous, it makes the job satisfying, fresh and keeps the officers motivated in their role.”

Prison reforms introduced by the former Justice Secretary were quite radical. Giving prison governors more autonomy for example, and putting education “at the heart of the prison.” How supportive is the POA of the reforms? 

“The Union is yet to decide its position, that will be decided upon by members, on how we go forward with reform. Governors have been centralised for a long time and I do think some of them need to take some responsibility for the state of their prisons, I also think they need to be able to make decisions that impact on their local processes and procedures so I think giving them some power is good. I think you have to be sure you are being very careful about what powers you do give them and also that they are up to the job if they are to be given those powers. I think one of the big problems identifiable to me is that if a prison governor is accountable for the outputs – ie the amount of prisoners who don’t reoffend then that would encourage governors to source the type of prisoners they would want to take into their prison rather than just taking what they are allocated from court that day, and that could present a problem not only for prisons but for prisoners and impact on staff as well because if you are a prisoner who has been in lots of times and a governor writes you off – ‘he’s no good, he’s a repeat offender, no point in investing resources into him, I don’t want him in my prison’ – then you’ll find yourself shifted from pillar to post and nobody wanting to take responsibility for you whereas you may want to turn your life around no one will recognise that because your record may state otherwise.”

The closure of prisons over the past couple of years has led to serious overcrowding. How bad is it? 

“We need investment in our prisons. I think with Berwyn opening shortly in North Wales, that was an opportunity not to close any prisons to try to ease the overcrowding. With 2,100 extra spaces coming on. That would have been an opportunity for me to say you have an opportunity to reduce crowding in the area and reduce overcrowding across the estate. I think simply replacing one space with another space isn’t the answer to the overcrowding problems we’ve got. I know overcrowding causes lots of issues not just for prisoners but for staff also. It’s a pretty unpleasant atmosphere when you are working on a unit where prisoners are crammed in, especially during the summer months when they do turn into sweat boxes, it’s unfair, it’s not decent, and it’s not conducive to rehabilitating people.”

What is his view on the privatisation of prisons? 

“For me all prisons should always be in State control. They should be accountable to the people. There should never be a private contractor who can make money out of incarceration because I believe that’s fundamentally wrong and I believe it is right that prisons are owned and controlled by the public purse where they are accountable, where they don’t manipulate figures and where they can try and educate and do the job they were designed to do without focussing on profit and shareholders and lots of other people before they focus on the staff and prisoners in those establishments.”

Many prisoners say they prefer private prisons because they say they get more time out of cell, more TVs and things like that. What would he say to them? 

“I would say to them, if you enjoy prison and you want to keep going to prison and that’s what you enjoy about prison then that’s why you probably like it but if you want to get out of that lifestyle you need to go to somewhere where you are able to work, where you are safe from bullying; that you are given the right type of environment for you to be able to rehabilitate and that can be in a public prison or it can be in a private prison but what you should be doing is trying to rehabilitate yourself and working with the staff in those establishments regardless of whether they are private or public. We want to rehabilitate people. If you have come into prison you should want to rehabilitate yourself and you need that opportunity but they have got to be resourced properly to be able to do that.”

We’ve heard a lot about staff cuts. What are the actual figures involved? 

“I believe staffing went down by about 28% between 2010 and 2015. That’s all the operation staff, so the ones working directly with prisoners. That 28% doesn’t include other areas as well which I think is more like 40%. To lose a third of your staff almost, working with prisoners, has a very detrimental impact not only for outcomes for prisoners but also for staff to perform their job. I think, generally, prison officers don’t think they can do their job like they used to: I think it has damaged relationships between prisoners and staff which has led to increasing violence. I think as much as prisoners don’t like having their cells searched and mobile phones and drugs recovered; I think it’s important for them to be able to rehabilitate themselves in an environment that’s not flooded with drugs and criminality. Yes, it’s very much had a detrimental impact not only on the safety within prisons but also the potential for prisoners to rehabilitate.”

How does the POA perceive prisoner councils? 

“I think it’s good to take prisoner’s views on what they see because everybody’s perception of things needs to be put into the mix to be able to get the right answer and I think it’s important to take the prisoner’s views, I think it’s important to take the prison officer’s views, I think it’s important to look at the prison governor’s view, and look at the views of people who are not in prison because, ultimately, if you get something that works for everyone, or you can explain it to everyone: put your point across that you took everyone’s views into account, that’s very important rather than managing with an iron fist.”

The news regularly features stories about the problem of NPS wreaking havoc across the prison estate. Is the problem exaggerated? 

“It’s been a massive problem in prisons. We’ve got prisoners using NPS a lot of the time, predominantly Spice. It has resulted in a lot of strain on the external organisations; there’s the Ambulance Service as well who are continually having to take prisoners out to hospital, that means prison officers have to travel with those prisoners and that means closures on the regime which is one of the things prisoners complain about a lot – loss of regime, loss of association time – and the reason a lot of that time is being lost is that prison officers have been assaulted by people using NPS, they’re off sick so you haven’t got the prison staff numbers, or they are ferrying prisoners up and down to hospital because they have been using substances and that chews up a very finite amount of resources quickly and leads to an impact on prisoners’ lives which I don’t think they always understand.”

What is his message to the new Prime Minister Theresa May? 

“We would welcome her interest about what is going on inside prisons, we would ask that she listens to the POA and to the operational staff working within prisons because they are the people on the ground with the knowledge, doing it day in and day out and they can bring a lot of value to the debate. I think the government needs to take note of what is going on inside prisons, they need to invest and resource prisons properly and we want to be turning people’s lives around because the long term detrimental cost of not getting prison right is quite expensive for wider society.”

Finally I wondered what he would want to say to prisoners reading this interview. 

“I would say to prisoners that it’s not a very pleasant experience being in prison and if you are given the opportunity to work alongside staff to rehabilitate don’t always take it on face value that we are the enemy, because we’re not, we’re trying to do a job and it’s very difficult, we’re on very limited numbers, and the majority of prison officers I have come across are very professional and do the best job. Don’t offer them violence, try to build relationships that are positive for both you and them and you will get the best out of prison and so will they.”


Here's an opinion piece written for the Guardian in November 2016:- 

Prison officers know how to run jails. Liz Truss needs to listen to us

Just when we need to be heard most, a court has stopped our strike action. For the sake of our ailing prisons, we call on Truss to do better than her predecessors

Prisons, whether we like them or not, are an essential public service that have never been a priority when it comes to government spending. But when there is a long-term squeeze on funding from successive governments who have had no idea about the role prison officers and associated staff perform, there are seriously detrimental effects.

That is why it was absolutely essential this week that prison officers made their concerns known in the most public possible way, by taking protest action to highlight their concerns, laying bare the prison service’s darkest secrets for all to see. The court injunction to end the strike is another sad indictment of the conditions prison officers have to operate within. We have no formal way to pursue our grievances, no way of getting our concerns listened to, and a system that is designed to hide the facts and conceal the truth of the consistent failings in prisons.

It has been a failure of many governments not to invest appropriately in prisons. Attracting, recruiting and retaining the very best talent to work with prisoners in order to turn their lives around should be at the forefront of all considerations. The political merry-go-round of successive justice secretaries looking to make a name for themselves has either quickly made them, or in some instances quickly broken them.

So it is unfortunate that the most recent appointee to the role, Liz Truss, has taken over the helm at a critical stage in the ongoing failure of the prison system, with murder, violence, self-harm, suicide, riots and even escapees a regular occurrence. It is no wonder the public have demanded answers about how such failures have been allowed to happen.

Truss’s predecessors failed to bring about positive reform and predominantly preoccupied themselves with reducing the cost of a broken system, rather than taking the time to stop and listen to the core problems from experienced staff. This has left Truss the unenviable task of mending a system that’s in a state of disarray and deterioration. As she quite rightly says, there are no quick fixes.

A justice minister, however, has a sizeable number of interested parties who will seek to influence direction in the prison estate. For various reasons this can be unhelpful if the messages conflict with one another and do not create a clear picture. That is why it is essential that the running of the prison system is left to the experts in the field: the staff.

Many organisations have strong views on the number of prisoners that are locked up, the care they receive, the education and support needed to turn a prisoner’s life around. But the core role of security, discipline, control and order should never be interfered with by an outsider. Those on the outside may not always agree with how these services are delivered, but for prison officers to achieve them they must be supported in their methods and not demonised.

In recent years, savage budget cuts mean that over 30% of frontline staffing has been removed, and the net effect of this is a loss of control. The Prison Officers’ Association is a responsible trade union, and we have patiently tried to work with the government and our employers to bring about change that not only benefits our members but also improves the lives of prisoners and the general public alike, fostering safer, more viable institutions under increasingly impossible constraints.

Whatever your view of prisons and how prisoners should be treated, recent news stories have shown that none of what you expect to be happening inside is currently achievable. The system will need much more than the promised £100m a year to recruit and retain staff while bringing security, discipline, control and order back to prisons.

Mike Rolfe


  1. .. but he’s a prison officer! He has to prove he’s not a POA reject and is genuinely interested in representing probation.

    1. He's not. He wants power self promotion. Coupled to the incompetant mr berry who never represented probation. Following that direction what is this pair on.

  2. I think mike is worth voting for

  3. Spurr, Gauke & Stewart et al must be pissing themselves at this. Lawrence helped design the coffin & Rolfe will be the final nail to be driven into the lid, finally laying to rest the now-deceased profession of Probation.

    It has been an utterly shameful display of bitter cynicism & bullying from senior civil servants & politicians of all hues as they expedited the slow lingering death of compassion & understanding, replacing it with contempt & profiteering.

    It is easy to sneer & point fingers & make derisory comments about Probation staff being lame & a pushover. No, those doing the pushing were responsible, seizing every opportunity to bully their way to managerial positions in Trusts & NOMS, trampling over the ethos of Probation, grinding it into the dust & pocketing the luvverly dosh for themselves under the guise of "Compassionate Capitalism".

    On the whole Probation staff were driven by an ideology that everyone has the capacity to change & they should have the opportunity to try - even if it is against all odds or reason. That focus & endeavour is tiring, requiring a particular level of effort. It is far too easy for the majority & the personally ambitious to dismiss, ridicule or condemn the Probation ethos & those on the caseload, but that majority forget how easy it can be to end up 'on the books'; let us not forget how significantly the profile of the Probation caseload has changed in recent years as the funding for social services, mental health, general health, housing & social welfare has declined.

    Lawrence didn't understand what Probation was about & as a consequence he screwed it up. Not out of malice, but out of naivety & misplaced ambition.

    I suspect Rolfe has a better grasp of the politics & shit-eating that goes on in HMPPS. Maybe its time to let Probation go - for now? Let grief take its course, stop trying to breathe life into a corpse & look forward to the next renaissance, a new generation of understanding.

    1. Working with a challenging caseload, fighting tooth-&-nail for their rights & opportunities, trying to keep on top of triplicate case records, wiping everyone else's arse whilst being blamed for everyone else's shit...

      Wouldn't it be reasonable to expect your professional association & trade union to have your back whilst you are doing your job?

      Instead, Probation staff have been royally shafted from behind & from above, i.e. unions, managers, senior managers, govt departments, MPs.

      Its been said before & bears repeating - Probation staff have been the victims of controlling & abusive behaviours perpetrated by those who hold the purse stings, who demand unrealistic expectations & who personally benefit at the expense of others' efforts.

      Sound familiar?

  4. That's all we need. The problems facing Probation are, to my mind, a direct consequence of Prison Management being given the reins and driving the whole shebang into a ditch. Handing the Union over to a Prison Officer just strikes me as more of the same. I can't believe that there isn't anyone from Probation who can take this on, especially as there are so many ex-PSOs, POS, SPOs, ACOs and Chief Officers who know what the score is and who are angry enough to be up for a fight.

    1. There are some immensely better able better experienced in terms of the whole experience. yet napo only ever vote for PO status claiming some of the Professional association snobbery. That structure pervades every aspect of the Probation workplace. If it were a union and less of the chosen clique of the latest in vogue chums of the chums then perhaps napo could then be on the journey to be a union not a self interest club.

    2. IL is not a PO. I’m all for hearing from those outside of probation. It’s about have the right ability and relevant experience, with success to boot. I don’t think either of the current candidates meet this criteria. IL is useless and MR is from prisons. Neither have my vote.

  5. That interview by Mike Rolfe did draw a response from one prisoner.


  6. With OMIC more probation staff are going to find themselves working in prisons with the Governor as their line manager. That has to throw up some problems for people who will enevitabley need to seek union support.
    How might that be complicated if the GS of NAPO was once the Chair of the POA?

    1. More of a problem is that a GS with a prisons / POA background will probably be for all dodgy prison practices probation is about to be subject to. Putting an ex-POA chair at the Napo helm couldn’t be better for the MoJ’s plans for probation.

      Is Mike Rolfe a ‘plant’ or double agent for Michael Spurr?

    2. Fair point, and worth remembering that the POA can't call its members to take industrial action.
      With HM Prison and Probation Service now all rolled into one, how long before Probation is outlawed from taking industrial action?
      I have nothing at all against Mike Rolfe as a person, yet I have considerable concerns about him becoming GS of NAPO purely on the basis of his background.

  7. A turn key screw with ambition way over his ability. This candidate is not for Probation but would receive massive remuneration whilst he is learning! We would all like to have an offer like that. What a disaster. His career is incompatible to a probation ethos and community risk work. God help us

    1. Totally agree with you 16:10 even though I laughed at Turn key screw which is getting quite an airing. I think this candidate is a disaster for probation and more importantly NAPO. What is this election about ? Ian Lawrence as stated is the continuity candidate that should not really be up for election at all its his job. This trial is like a sacking left to the pack. If he is not up to task then the officials should hold him to account not force an election on us all and waste napo reserves. I hope the NEC stop this nonsense from the errors of the Co Chairs and another few of them. Mr Rolf offers nothing credible . He is just a national chair plain and simple luck saw him elected as an outcome from a popularity vote nothing to do with skill or qualification. He gets lifted to a national role with nothing hard won like workplace victories or casework skills. What on Earth posses anyone to keep raising his hopes and wasting members time and money on this forgone disaster for all. A low vote will weaken the General secretary a split like this plays to the MOJ laughing and the idiocy that brought all this is the incompetent political forecasting of the irritating vendetta of Mr Berry. Grow up and pull the runner out so we can concentrate on restoring fixing and building our union. Let us elect a team that can and will hold Ian Lawrence to account and educate the NEC to hold the structures to account so we become a clear democratic union uppermost.

  8. I personally would not discount MR because of his background as others seem to want to do. That makes Probation sound like a clique. I used to sell baked beans for a living but I reckon I contributed very well as a Peobation Officer. I would like to hear his vision for a modern Probation Service. Like other contributions I would have liked to have seen more candidates on the ballot paper.

  9. MR is potentially a disruptive candidate and would undoubtedly shake things up. He has energy and enthusiasm with little understanding of what Probation is about. No one has mentioned that IL invited MR to the Napo AGM where both he and IL launched their campaigns. Call me conspiracy bob but this smells of a plot hatched between pals to split the vote against an expected third candidate.