Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Back to the Drawing Board

I gather the newly-elected Napo General Secretary is on leave, so we will have to wait a bit longer before we hear what his plans are for re-energising the union. We must hope that in his absence the National Joint Chairs and NEC are going to get their act together and realise that 'more of the same' is simply not an option or there will surely be trouble at the AGM? By the way, how long does it take before the Napo website discards news that ballot papers are being sent out to members? It doesn't look very professional.


Whilst I'm having a moan, here's another one of those annoying 'upbeat' soundbite corporate good news tweets from NPS that illustrate exactly why the Civil Service really has no place in probation at all:-
"10 On The Day Reports done at Sheffield Magistrates Court on Tuesday last week. Speedy justice for victims and support for offenders."

I notice Bob Neill is keeping the pressure up on the MoJ. Here he is writing in Prospect Magazine:- 

The Ministry of Justice must go back to the drawing board on rehabilitation

The Chair of the Justice Committee says the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme is woefully inadequate

Although still not a universally accepted view, there is a growing realisation that failures to invest properly in the criminal justice system create a false economy which chains many offenders, a majority of whom are incredibly vulnerable individuals with a troubled past, to a life of crime and recidivism.

Other than those who commit the most serious of offences, they will all, one day, be released. It therefore makes sense to do everything we can to help ensure each and every one is able to reintegrate into society, find a job, get a home, and push on with forging a second chance for themselves.

That is a cause the public is beginning to get behind, which is what makes the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme, on which the Justice Committee recently concluded a comprehensive, eight month inquiry, so disappointing. It is a missed opportunity, and in many ways, a huge own goal.

This package of major structural reforms, brought in during 2014 and 2015, had some very noble aims. By introducing changes to the probation system, it sought to extend the usual statutory package of rehabilitation to offenders serving custodial sentences of less than 12 months; deliver better value for money for the taxpayer by opening up the market to new rehabilitation providers, playing on the different strengths of the public, voluntary and private sectors; and ultimately, reduce reoffending rates, which have remained stubbornly high for consecutive years. All good so far.

But the way these reforms were planned, implemented and managed long-term, as well as the results they have delivered since, has, by any measure, left a lot to be desired. To start, any due diligence was immediately negated by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) proceeding with the full introduction of the reforms before its two pilots, at HMP Doncaster and HMP Peterborough, had come to an end. What’s worse, analysis published by the National Audit Office has found that the trials were already showing signs that the reforms would not have their desired effect by the time of their conclusion. In other words, the ministry should have proceeded with caution, but didn’t.

In part, the failures that have followed since have been due to an ill thought through strategy from the start. Under the reforms, offenders are split, according to their risk of harm, between the National Probation Service (NPS) and new, private sector Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). While opening up to private providers is sensible in principle, here the effect has only been to complicate delivery, creating a two-tier system that generates real challenges in terms of coordinating rehabilitative work. It also makes no allowance for the fact that levels of risk can change.

This absence of any clear-headed plan continued when we looked at the contracts themselves. From the evidence we received it soon became apparent that the MoJ had shown a worrying reluctance to challenge over-optimistic bids, calling into question its ability to let contracts. That it had to change the fixed-cost assumptions in its contracts with CRCs from 20 per cent to 77 per cent is of real concern, as is its constant renegotiation of them.

Not surprisingly, this has had an impact on performance, which to put it politely, has been disappointing. The resettlement of too many offenders is being supervised remotely over the phone; only half of those currently on probation have contact with the same officer throughout their case, undermining attempts to provide continuity in support; and the work some are required to do under unpaid work orders is all too often meaningless, with no educational benefits. The government’s payment by results mechanism doesn’t offer sufficient incentives to the providers to reduce reoffending, and conversely, the financial penalties included in their contracts have not been applied. Indeed, it remains unclear how the MoJ is tackling underperformance on a day-to-day basis.

Unfortunately, they’re not the only serious knock-on effects to have emerged. Opening up the probation market was one of the key aims of the reforms, and yet the voluntary sector’s involvement has actually reduced. Staff morale is at an all-time low, and sentencer confidence in community alternatives to short custodial sentences has plummeted.

There are some immediate changes the government can make. As it stands, many are forced to get by for weeks on end with just the £46 discharge grant they are given when they leave prison. Allowing offenders to apply for Universal Credit shortly prior to their release will stop this. Moreover, the ludicrous practice whereby local authorities are able to deem an individual who has served a custodial sentence as having made themselves intentionally homeless prevents many from being able to secure a roof over their head. It is small, cumulative problems like this, which, if tweaked, will make a big difference.

Longer-term, the Transforming Rehabilitation programme needs wholesale reform. Indeed, our Committee remains unconvinced that the current framework can ever deliver the sort of effective and viable probation service we need. The MoJ must go back to the drawing board.

Ministers have shown that they’re not afraid to think outside the box when it comes to reducing reoffending, and just earlier this week reaffirmed their commitment to improving outcomes through the launching of their excellent Female Offender Strategy. They must take our findings seriously, acting at pace to rectify the failings we have identified.

When done properly, rehabilitative work can genuinely turn lives around. It is one of the great social causes and deserves our attention.

Bob Neill


  1. Through The Gate is working! Unfortunately it's only prison officers that are on the programme.


    1. The number of prison officers resigning from their jobs has more than doubled in the last two years amid soaring levels of violence and self-harm in UK jails, The Independent can reveal.

      Ministers have been accused of driving a crisis in prisons after an analysis of official figures revealed the number of officers leaving the role surged from 596 in 2015/16 to 1,244 in the 12 months to March 2018 – an increase of 109 per cent.

      One in 16 officers resigned last year, compared with one in 33 officers two years before and just one in 100 in 2009/10.

      It comes after self-harm and violent attacks hit record levels in prisons across England and Wales this year, prompting campaigners to warn of a “system in crisis”. More than 11,600 prisoners harmed themselves in 2017 – a record high – and the number of separate incidents rose by 11 per cent to 44,600.

      Despite a major drive by the government to recruit more officers, which has seen an overall increase of 14 per cent in staffing numbers in the past year, the surge in resignations has prompted concern around the lack of experience in the sector.

      Politicians accused the government of creating a “dangerous cocktail of inexperienced officers and experienced prisoners” by previously cutting overall numbers by 7,000 since 2010.

      An analysis by Labour in April showed that despite the government’s so-called prison officer recruitment drive, the service lost over 6,000 years of prison officer experience in the last year alone. While one in eight prison officers had less than three years’ experience in 2010, it has soared to one in three in 2018.

      Former prison officers blamed the rise in resignations on increasingly dangerous conditions in jails and rising exposure to self-harm coupled with a lack of support from management, which had led many officers into a “downward spiral” of ill mental health.

      Joe Simpson, deputy general secretary for the Prison Officers Association (POA), told The Independent it was “no surprise” more officers were resigning.

      “There is more and more violence and more psychoactive substances. There are murders. It’s an absolute disgrace. Officers are having to cut people down who have decided to take their own lives; they’re having to deal with prisoners who are often extremely violent and extremely strong,” he said.

      “They leave because they get no support from senior management. There’s no assistance for them when they do get mentally ill. Line managers aren’t trained to notice the signs of mental ill health in their staff. Officers end up falling into a downward spiral.”

      Mr Simpson said the increase was also the result of low pay and a poor remuneration package for prison officers, saying they were not considered as “professionals”.

      “The government haven’t kept up with the comparable wage outside because they don’t treat us as professionals. Our members are professional people doing a professional job on behalf of the public, but that’s not recognised by the government,” he said.

      “The remuneration package for our members is nothing short of a disgrace, so people look at it and say this job is just not worth my mental health and leave. Some people leave the job and go into other jobs on less money in order to get out.”

      Shadow justice minister Richard Burgon said Conservative cuts to prison budgets and officer numbers had driven a “crisis” in prisons.

    2. “The government needs to take urgent action to end the exodus of experienced officers which is creating a dangerous cocktail of inexperienced officers and experienced prisoners,” he added.

      “It should start by addressing prison officer pay. The government’s real term pay cut will only make prison officer retention more difficult.”

      A Prisons Service spokesperson told The Independent: “Over the last 18 months we have recruited more than 3,000 additional prison officers to help turn offenders’ lives around.

      “We are giving prison officers tools like body worn cameras to help improve safety, and are working closely with governors to improve staff retention based on the needs of each individual prison.”

  2. On the recent GS election, has anyone had seen the actual figures from the scrutineer's report? I'd especially like to know the turnout.

  3. The General Secretary of Napo maybe in Warsaw on business

    Via Twitter "Thanks to our hosts and our interpreters for putting up with such a motley crew!"


    AND from the internet: -


    Are there any Blog readers there I wonder - maybe we shall find out more

    1. Thanks for link. Delighted to learn our Union expenses are such that we can fund GS AND a Co Chair Yvonne Patterson(qui?)on a trip to Warsaw with this highly informative tweet from Ian
      " #GFTUPoland not a great start to the trip for Napo Co-Chair Yvonne Pattison. One lost suitcase now found by BA and accidentally pepper sprayed in the British Bulldog last night whilst minding her own business. Can only get better: England are playing tonight ��������������"

    2. I suspect they are being funded by #GFTU but am pleased to see the Social workers union is also involved - I had forgotten about them


  4. "There’s time enough between now and the next GS Election for a review, which will hopefully spare future candidates from attempts to move the goalposts at the last minute." Taken from Ians blog which does NOT accord with his earlier comments about "humilty" and not wanting to find any "excuse to apportion blame on others". What proof is there of the other candidate trying to move goalposts? More a case of members trying to hear more from MR themselves but being hamstrung by terms&conditions that favour the incumbrant