Monday, 18 June 2018

NPS to Withdraw Circles Support

In an astonishingy short-sighted decision, NPS have decided to withdraw financial support from Circles UK. This on their website:-  



I have been an admirer and a supporter from the side lines of the success of Circles of Support and Accountability (“Circles”), having been introduced to the concept as the judicial member of the Advisory Panel of Rethinking Crime and Punishment more than a dozen years ago. Before explaining my personal dismay at a funding decision which threatens the lifeblood of this vital initiative, it is timely to explain the concept; and why it is so effective in monitoring those sex offenders who have been released into the community for continued supervision by the Probation Service. 

In short, the name of the organisation accurately describes its function; and why it is so effective. Carefully selected and fully trained groups of 4 – 6 volunteers regularly meet with a released sex offender, prompting them with the active support they are likely to require, particularly after a lengthy period of imprisonment; but making it equally clear that the price of support is that the offender must be accountable to the Circle for their continued behaviour. Circles provide a range of support mechanisms to help these people form appropriate links to their community, access the services which they need, and thus help prevent further victims of sexual abuse. 

The unique strength of Circles has been its ability to harness the enthusiasm and commitment of its highly trained community volunteers; and the skills which they develop enable them effectively to manage the risk of potential harm posed by those who have once been assessed as high risk sex offenders. 

Not only was I a judge sitting in the Crown Court both part-time and full-time for 27 years, but I served my maximum 10 year term as a member of the Parole Board. In both capacities I had considerable experience not only of those whose sexual offending had caused significant harm, but of those who, following many years in custody, had been carefully assessed by professionals as presenting a sufficiently low risk to be properly managed in the community. 

The more than 600 active volunteers who form such Circles are, and for the past 10 years have been, managing former sex offenders who have hitherto been assessed as posing a high risk of harm. While objectively their risk has been sufficiently lowered to justify their release on licence if they had been serving indeterminate sentences, many such offenders are automatically released at the halfway point of a determinate sentence; and such persons are recognised to be among the most stigmatised and marginalised groups of former offenders. Those who are assigned to a Circle are often isolated, shunned by family and associates, who struggle to find accommodation or employment, and hence successfully to integrate back into the community. Circles assist not only with all these practical aspects, but in addition work with the offender permanently to change their former abusive behaviour. 

Circles provision has been fully and independently evaluated; and the evaluations have demonstrated significant benefits both to the recipients of a Circle, as well as to the volunteers and the community in general. Offenders who have taken part have demonstrated a proven reduction in their risk scores; the Circle has helped them to secure suitable accommodation and employment, and to improve their emotional well-being; to form appropriate and meaningful relationships; and to pursue constructive hobbies and activities. 

Local Circles Providers have been supported through a Service Level Agreement with the National Probation Service (NPS) totalling some £256,000 annually. This very modest provision, which enables oversight of the work of some 600 active volunteers, can be contrasted with the substantial value which NPS obtains from Circles. That body is of course statutorily responsible for the management of such persons on licence in the community. 

It is objectively all too clear that, but for the volunteer support which is available through Circles, the hard-pressed Probation Service would struggle to begin to provide the degree of supervision and support which these former offenders continue to require in the community to which they have been released. 

It is against this background that I learned with dismay bordering on incomprehension of the reported decision of NPS to discontinue the funding of Circles. I understand that the immediate consequences of this decision are stark. First, Circles provision in a number of Regions, such as Greater Manchester, where there has always been a waiting list for those seeking the support of a Circle, will have to cease. Most local Circles Providers operate as small charities; and without this regular support their long-term sustainability is under threat. Second, I understand that approximately 100 Circles which were due to start up may now have to be cancelled as a result of this withdrawal of funding. The emotional implications for a cohort of former sex offenders who are ready to start their Circles, and for which they may have prepared for months, and the consequential impact on their future risk, is immeasurable. 

So let us put this financial “saving” into context. It is said that the funding of £256,000 will be injected into “the purchase of accommodation provision”. If that means literally what is stated, it is unlikely to provide more than 5 hostel places per year, since £50,000 is the approximate annual cost of a hostel place. Contrast that with the current and planned provision of at least 170 Circles per year, keeping safe an equal number of former sex offenders in the community. The task of keeping them safe inevitably includes the sourcing and maintaining of secure accommodation. Hence this budget decision makes no sense at all. The exercise of judgment is not the exclusive preserve of the judge (or even the retired judge): it can and should equally be discharged by the Executive Director of Probation, who is the relevant budget-holder. 

John Samuels QC 

A retired Circuit Judge; former Chair of the Criminal Committee of the Council of Circuit Judges; President of Prisoners’ Education Trust; judicial member of the Ministry of Justice Working Group on problem-solving courts; former Chairman of the Criminal Justice Alliance; and Vice President and Patron of a number of other prison welfare charities.


  1. Not sure when the above was written, but the Times published an article on the MoJ cutting funding for CofS on the 22nd of last month. I mention this only because of last weeks article in the Times on CRC contracts.
    It seems the Times have a very reliable ear at the door of the MoJ.

    From 22/5/18

    The Ministry of Justice has cut funding to a charity that deals with sex offenders at high risk of perpetrating further crimes, prompting concerns that the public will be placed in greater danger.

    Circles of Support and Accountability provides assistance and supervision when sex offenders are released from prison on licence. Volunteers help them to find accommodation and a job, and work to help paedophiles to reintegrate into society in an effort to prevent them reoffending.

    The volunteers are trained to recognise risky behaviour and have raised concerns with the probation service on numerous occasions, resulting in some sex offenders being recalled to prison.

    The charity delivers up to 160 “Circles” a year. Each can involve six volunteers dealing with one sex offender assessed as…


  2. We found out last week in our NPS office and couldn’t believe it ! Shocking decision and having witnessed the disgraceful waste of money in Probstion as a result of TR it further demonstrates that it’s run by idiots

  3. Thanks I missed that in The Times but have been a keen supporter of Circles of Support and Accountability since I first appointed to the Quakers in Britain, Meeting for Sufferings - Trustees body, by which time Quakers had introduced the whole Circles concept from Canada and hosted events in the UK jointly with the Home Office - this would have been around about 1999.

    Matters moved on and Quakers took a bold decision for a relatively small organisation to commit a quarter of a million pounds - if I remember correctly to fund one of the two pilot schemes - we needed to make decisions to the project - our pilot was in Thames Valley - as clients having been taken on would need supporting into the long term if the Home Office had not extended funding, as they only committed for three years at a time.

    The other pilot was in Hampshire funded by Hampshire Probation Area, as I think the employing agency was then styled.

    The scheme was a runaway success but much underpublished and the pilot became permamant, a national charity was established and as is the way with British Quakers, once the Circles Charity was established, Quakers withdrew but remain keenly interested (I am not currently active with British Quakers though a member).

    I frequently described Circles as one of the best developments within probation practice since I became involved because for serious sex offenders it really establishes a route for long term accountable support, into community living.

    I have read about the withdrawal of public funds from some schemes but also seen hopes expressed that various branches of NPS would find money from their own budgets.

    I doubt it is an issue with which many, if any parliamentarians will want to be acquainted. I recollect some awful publicity in some of the national print media at one time and presume that if folk realised, that will happen again because fear of sex offenders sells advertising and probably is also electorally advantageous.



    HTV Circles
    "HTV Circles is a charitable company limited by guarantee

    Registered Charity no 1123361, Company no 6490001

    Six Year Report - April 2002 to March 2008


    Editor’s note

    As the report title suggests, we are now entering the seventh year of operations of
    Circles of Support and Accountability. Hampshire and Thames Valley Circles of
    Support and Accountability has just set up our forty seventh Circle, has mentored
    twenty-one men, and has helped a dozen by offering professional counselling. To date we have had no offenders (Core Members) convicted of a further sexual offence. This extraordinary achievement is largely due to the commitment of the group of volunteers and Core Members who offer their time and energy in order to secure safer communities. This report is dedicated to you."

  4. It is said that the funding of £256,000 will be injected into “the purchase of accommodation provision”.

    Debbie White Interserve CEO gets £525,900 bonus for four months work.

    Is it just me or has the country gone obscenely wrong?

    1. No it ain't you, 08:41.

      Its the grotesque, power-greedy money-orientated right-wing scumbags that are driving this bus over a cliff.

      Whilst the foundations have been laid over the last 40 years, the last decade in particular has allowed a financially rich/morally poor minority to openly impose their hateful, spiteful beliefs upon the UK - and beyond.

      All are obscenely financially wealthy beyond reason but not a single one gives a shit about 'ordinary folk'. Their only motivation is their own accumulation of power & money - doing as they please & not caring about anyone else.

      They are crass, abusive, greedy, selfish, criminal - but smart enough to hide it beneath a veneer that is applied by public relations bullshit. Their power & wealth affords them the influence which allows their weasel words to be heard, their duplicity to be sold to the masses:

      "... but in the end all the acts of Parliament, all the new measures, all the new policy initiatives, are just politicians’ words without you and your involvement."

      Would you believe that was Cameron in 2010?

      Or, any ideas where this came from?

      "Politics is about public service. Everything we do - in parliament, in our constituencies - should be motivated by one goal. Improving the lives of our fellow citizens.

      The public are losing faith in politics.

      Politicians are seen as untrustworthy and hypocritical. We talk a different language. We live in a different world. We seem to be scoring points, playing games and seeking personal advantage - while home-owners struggle to make ends meet and schoolchildren see years of hard work undermined by the stroke of a bureaucrat's pen.

      Why has the public become so cynical about politics and politicians?

      If we're being honest I think we know the answer. In recent years a number of politicians have behaved disgracefully and then compounded their offences by trying to evade responsibility. We all know who they are.

      There are many other reasons why voters have learned to disregard what we have to say, however loudly we say it:

      Promising too much and delivering too little.

      Spinning and counter spinning.

      Pursuing our obsessions instead of fighting for the common good.

      Fewer and fewer people are bothering to vote. Why? Because they think that politicians will do exactly what they like."

      May's conference speech as Chair of the Conservative Party, Oct 2002.

      And here is an interesting journalistic piece about political tribalism entitled "Caring Tories care only for themselves"

      And sadly I see the utterly disgraceful behaviour of Davies & Chope filibustering the 'upskirting' debate, or the appointment of Argar to MoJ, as equivalent to the NPS cutting the Circles project. Their own vested interests come before the interests of the population - & certainly before the interests of victims of crime. Here's 61 year old white so-called 'celebrity lawyer' Nick Freeman on the upskirting debate:

      "Whilst this is totally unacceptable conduct, if women assumed some responsibility for their attire, they would not be in jeopardy. Prosecutions will only utilise valuable police and CPS resources that should be prioritised elsewhere. #upskirting"

      She wouldn't have been raped is she hadn't dressed procatively/come on to me/been drunk/I didn't know she was only 9/I didn't search for those images/da da da da da da da da/etc.

      The country (if not the world) HAS gone obscenely wrong.

    2. "if women assumed some responsibility for their attire, they would not be in jeopardy."

      A sentiment that could only come from the sewer that is the mouth of a priveleged, smug white man who is used to getting his own way in any and every respect, every single day.

  5. No doubt the "purchased accommodation' will be handed to the private sector to manage.

    Just look at the former job of the new Tory justice minister. Conflict. Of. Interest.



    The appointment of the new Conservative justice minister, Edward Argar, shows how far corporate influence over government has gone. Argar is the former head of UK and Europe public affairs at outsourcing giant Serco. Among a huge portfolio of running public services for profit, Serco governs five private prisons in the UK. And the corporation is subjectto a criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

    Still, the Conservative government denies that Argar has a conflict of interest in his new ministerial position.

    Under investigation

    The SFO is still investigating Serco over a contract from the Ministry of Justice. In 2013, the outsourcing multinational was apparently charging the taxpayer for electronic offender tags that didn’t even exist.

    Argar worked as the boss of public relations at Serco for three and a half years until August 2014. He became the Conservative MP for Charnwood in 2015.

    Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon questioned whether Argar would now be dealing with Serco contracts.

    “Fatal errors”

    Offshore law firm Appleby regardsSerco as a “high-risk” client with a “history of problems, failures, fatal errors and overcharging”. Despite such warnings and the fraud investigation, Serco is still receivingdiscount government contracts. Serco profits from delivering health, transport, immigration, citizen, defence, and justice services in the UK.

    Outsourcing on this scale enables the government to avoid transparency, because corporations like Serco are not subject to Freedom of Information requests. Companies also siphon off huge profits from essential services, while governments minimise their responsibility when things go wrong.

    Responding to critics, Serco has championed the corporate renewal programme it undertook after 2013:

    The success of this programme is evidenced by the fact that governments in the US, UK and Australia have all awarded and renewed major contracts with Serco to manage highly sensitive public services

    “Psychological torture”

    Serco also runs Yarl’s Wood, the immigration detention centre accusedof a number of abusive practices. Returning from the centre on 14 June, Caroline Lucas said that what she’d seen was “nothing less than psychological torture”.

    The Conservative government prevented shadow home secretary Diane Abbott from visiting Yarl’s Wood for over a year. But after speaking to detainees at the centre in February, Abbott said:

    victims of trafficking and sexual abuse are being held at Yarl’s Wood – contrary to government undertakings

    Democracy takes a hit

    Findings from Survation show that 63% of the public think the government should ban Serco from winning contracts. Just 7% of people believe the government should offer Serco any government contracts.

    Yet the new justice minister was a PR boss at the outsourcing giant. A Ministry of Justice source told theMirror:

    There is no conflict of interest simply because someone has worked for a particular employer earlier in their career…

    The Government benefits by having Ministers with a breadth of previous experience.

    Serco continues to enjoy lucrative government contracts, despite its history. Argar has gone from head of public relations at a corporation that runs huge sections of Britain to the minister for justice. His previous job was to protect the public image of a huge company he is now supposed to regulate. The normalisation of such a revolving door shows how entrenched huge corporations are within our public sphere.

    While companies such as Serco make huge profits, people like the women of Yarl’s Wood fall by the wayside. Essential services should be run for people not profit. End of.

  6. The withdrawal of this funding doesn't surprise me a bit. The new Horizons programme for work with sex offenders is designed to secure completions not to secure change. No-one at the MOJ has the slightest belief in the capacity of any offenders to change and sees any form of therapeutic intervention as a #Lefty conspiracy' by namby, pamby social workers. The evidence of effectiveness is of no concern to them. They are all too busy securing their futures with Sodexo, SERCO, G4S etc.

    Negligence and incompetence are the defining characteristics of the MOJ and Probation (both halves) are now little more than a reflection of that.

  7. Just seen this update on Ian Lawrence's blog on Napo website..I thought the GS candidates couldn't attend Banch meetings unless BOTH candidates were present...someone doesn't appear to have been invited....
    "I am just returning to London having visited Napo members from Approved Premises in Merseyside today along with Napo Vice-Chair Katie Lomas. We covered a range of issues including concerns about the impact of the shift rotas on individuals and how the recently outsourced DWNC outsourcing is working out, against the expectations of the National Project leads in NPS.

    Yet again, and just like the recent visit that Katie and I made to Sheffield to share members concerns about VISOR, I was hugely impressed with our members depth knowledge and total commitment to their important work. It was also clear that the issues from members, that we went there to listen to, included appreciation by them of the pressures that their managers often find themselves in when trying to respond to the demands of the new E3 driven duty rotas, and the impact of this government’s decision to press on regardless with their ridiculous decision to outsource Double Waking Night Cover to Sodexo (and OCS) - who seem to be still struggling to deliver what we were told they would"

  8. In reply to the above, apparently the NEC agreed rules years ago which meant Branches couldnt invite the GS candudates to formal Branch meetings but only "informal" meetings and only then if both candidates were attending and the Branch paid the candidates travel expenses. I learnt this by asking Link national officer what the process was. I assume this is why MR wasnt present at the above meetings in Sheffield and Liverpool. But obviously by the GS attending formal Branch meetings in the period that voting takes place, this could potentially be advantageous (or not depending on how well they come across!) It used to be common to get National Officials to come to Branch AG meetings which have to be held I think before end July so this could assist the GS in post get out and about in the campaigning period