Monday, 30 January 2023

How Did We Get Here?

Given the current fallout from recent SFO's and discussion as to how probation's many problems can be fixed, it's always worth being reminded of how we got here in the first place and I mean before the TR omnishambles. So, I think it's time to dust off this brilliant resume by former Napo general secretary Judy McKnight and first published on here in 2021. It's based on major extracts from a Howard League article, which in turn is based on her 2008 Bill McWilliams Memorial lecture, Speaking Up For Probation. Much of it still has relevance and helps give some context to our current plight:-

What Works in Reducing Reoffending?

When the New Labour government was elected in 1997, Tony Blair sought to make a distinction between the policies of New Labour and those of the previous Conservative government, on the grounds that his policies were based on empiricism, on ‘what works’, as opposed to the ideologically‐based policies of his predecessors.

The Probation Service stood to gain from such an approach. All the evidence showed that the Service was successful; that it had itself learnt the lessons of ‘what works’ and now surely the Michael Howard view that ‘prison works’ would be properly debunked.

As this article will seek to demonstrate, the opposite proved to be the case. It transpired that New Labour did not literally mean ‘what works’, for example in reducing reoffending. They meant ‘what works’ in appeasing the views that emerged from a simplistic interpretation of focus groups, even if those views meant increasing prison numbers further and meant playing down the success and effectiveness of probation, toughening up its image and its language, despite the negative impact such policies would have on reducing reoffending.

This article will also show how the Probation Service has suffered from structural reform which has also been based on dogma rather than empiricism, the dogma that asserts that public service structures should facilitate ‘contestability’, providing the possibility of a market between different providers of services. This article argues that structural reform predicated on the ability to introduce contestability is having a detrimental impact on the effectiveness, and potentially on the future, of the Probation Service.

Why Should Society be Proud of the Probation Service?

The Probation Boards' Association Annual Report for 2004–2005 (Probation Boards' Association 2005) under the heading ‘Saving a treasure for the nation’ simply states:
In Western Europe the Probation Service of England and Wales is held up as a role model. In Eastern Europe countries are replicating it with enthusiasm, benefiting from the expertise of the service. Major contracts have been secured to deliver our probation model in numerous places across the world. 
At any one time, nearly 200,000 people are under the supervision of the Probation Service which provides genuinely cost‐effective solutions for managing offenders, both in the community and in prison. 
Work in the courts and with offenders is delivered by highly qualified and committed people. It all works because it is local, professional and integrated. It has survived because, year after year, like any successful business it has trimmed and changed, developed and evolved. And over the years, it has stayed true to its fundamental principle – that rehabilitation of offenders is good for them and good for society too. (p.1)
The Probation Service is, by all objective measures, succeeding and performing. Successive reports in recent years, including that of the National Audit Office (2008), praise the quality of its work. The National Audit Office was impressed by the fact that 94% of the community orders it sampled were completed, breached or revoked by the court and that:
the Service has successfully achieved its own timeliness enforcement target. (p.21)
The Ministry of Justice statistical bulletins year‐on‐year show a continual improvement in performance, despite the continued and perpetual reorganisation and restructuring of the Service in past years.

Napo, the trade union and professional association for family court and probation staff, published Changing Lives (Napo 2007), to celebrate the centenary of the Probation Service. It contains not only an illustrated history of the Service but also a number of oral histories by retired probation officers. The oral histories time and again refer to the fact that ‘they wanted to make a difference’. The qualities that staff brought, and still bring to their jobs, runs throughout the whole book. These are qualities of which any society should be proud.

The Probation Service is also the custodian of an important value base at the centre of the criminal justice system.

As Winston Churchill said as Home Secretary in 1910:
The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country. 
A calm and dispassionate recognition of the rights of the accused against the state, and even of the convicted criminals against the state, a constant heart‐searching by all charged with the duty of punishment, a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment, tireless efforts toward the discovery of curative and regenerative processes, and an un‐altering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of everyman, these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored‐up strength of a nation and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it. (Hansard, House of Commons, col. 1354, 20 July 1910)
To summarise, the Probation Service is ethically and morally sound. It is not only worthwhile but good at what it sets out to do. So there is a lot to speak up for and a lot of which to be proud.

Ministers' Treatment of the Probation Service

Despite the proud record of the Probation Service, the past decade and a half has been marked by a significant lack of public support for the Service by a succession of Ministers.

The first real knock to the Service came when Michael Howard, as the Conservative Home Secretary, abolished the probation training qualification in 1995. Although the Labour government elected in 1997 restored a professional probation training qualification, the verbal assaults on the Service have increased in past years.

These attacks came to a head in November 2006 when the then Home Secretary, John Reid, made a speech in Wormwood Scrubs Prison which was a full frontal attack on the Probation Service. He said that the Service was ‘not working as well as it should’ and his recipe was to bring in competition and the skills of the voluntary sector (Reid 2006).

Apart from such specific attacks by government on the Service, it has missed Ministerial championing and support when it has been faced with unjustified assaults from the tabloid press. Individual service leaders have regularly claimed that they were unable to speak out because of Civil Service protocols.

In December 2005, the murder of John Monckton by Damien Hanson and Elliott White, both of whom were under probation supervision at the time, led to the vilification of the Service in parts of the national press. It was correct that the Service be held to account in such cases, but explanations which sought to put the case in context were left to Napo, and the Probation Boards' Association.

To probation staff, it seemed that Ministers, who changed the Probation Service's role to include public protection, had then failed to resource the Service adequately and refused to explain or accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

The government's lack of public support for the Service also reflected its unease with probation as a social work entity. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s there was a move towards the Service being more about enforcement and punishment. The incoming Labour administration built on Michael Howard's ambivalence about the Service and changed it finally into being an agent of public protection. Whatever the merits of that decision, it has been seen by most practitioners as ‘setting the Service up to fail’.

The press attacks, coupled with lack of Ministerial support, have undermined the self‐confidence of the Service.

Rod Morgan, the Probation Service's former Chief Inspector and former chair of the Youth Justice Board, said in Napo's (2007) Changing Lives:
For various reasons much of the service's self‐belief and the public understanding it enjoyed was lost in the run in to and immediately following the new millennium. The service was cast adrift in a sea of structural uncertainty, incoherent management speak, ideologically‐driven poor leadership and political vacillation. (p.93)
David Faulkner (2008), senior research associate in the Centre for Criminology at Oxford University, wrote in the March 2008 Probation Journal, though the article had clearly been written in the summer of 2007, that he was hopeful that things were about to change with Gordon Brown taking over as Prime Minister and the new Ministry of Justice. He wrote that he has hope of ‘a more principled and rational approach’. He said the Probation Service should no longer be hampered by ‘a sense of perpetual turmoil and crisis’ (p.71).

He also spoke of the opportunities for probation to be recognised again ‘as a confident and respected profession’ (p.80).

There were times in 2007/08 when it seemed that Ministers would once more speak up for the Service. Jack Straw addressed the Howard League AGM in November 2007, saying: ‘Today we have a Probation Service which is delivering more and delivering it better than I suggest, it has done in its history’ (Straw 2007, p.3).

In the spring of 2008, Secretary of State, David Hanson produced the booklet, Community Sentencing: Reducing Reoffending, Changing Lives (Ministry of Justice 2008a). Its purpose was to promote community sentences to the public.

Barely a week after this booklet was produced, however, it was to be another report which received all the press attention. Louise Casey, a former civil servant and former head of the Government Respect Unit, produced her review of criminal justice: Engaging Communities in Fighting Crime (Cabinet Office 2008). This review stated that the government faced a crisis of confidence in the justice system. It put forward that the public thinks the system is remote, opaque and stacked in favour of the ‘offender’, it does not believe crime is going down, and 55% say it is the most important issue facing Britain.

The Casey Review urged Ministers to make justice more visible, by putting offenders doing community ‘payback’ in uniform, displaying ‘conviction posters’ in neighbourhoods, outsourcing unpaid work from the Probation Service and appointing a commissioner to press the interests of victims across government.

The Review ignored the fact that prison numbers in England and Wales continued to break all records, being higher per head of population than, for example, China, Burma, Sudan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.

Prison numbers in England and Wales stood at 82,682 in May 2008 (NOMS 2008a, p.1), and increased by 30% in the ten years from 1997 to 2007 (Ministry of Justice 2008b, p.82). To quote the Prison Reform Trust's 2008 Bromley Briefing:
When Labour came to power in May 1997 the prison population was 60,131. Previously it took nearly four decades (1958–1995) for the prison population to rise by 25,000. (Prison Reform Trust 2008, p.4)
This increase was not because of rising crime. Figures published by the British Crime Survey (BCS) show that crime rates peaked in 1995 then fell by 42% over the next ten years. From 1997, all crime as measured by the BCS fell by 32% (Home Office 2007a, p.1)

Prison numbers continued to rise because people were being imprisoned for longer. Sentencers were imposing longer sentences and there was an increase in the actual time served in prison, mainly as a result of new laws – mandatory life terms, indeterminate sentences. There has also been more criminal justice legislation since 1997 than in the whole of the previous century. The Labour government created 3,605 new criminal offences between 1997 and 2008 (House of Commons 2008, para. 13).

Criminal justice policies based on talking tough and the language of punishment have been the flavour of the decade. These policies have been pursued in the name of the victim and the law‐abiding citizen. But to what end? According to Louise Casey most people cling stubbornly to the view that crime is rising and blame the government. A minority accepts that it has fallen, but does not give the government credit. New Labour has, it seems, been hoist by its own petard, becoming the victim of its own expectation‐raising and criminal justice system‐bashing rhetoric.

So what was Loiuse Casey's solution? More punishment, more humiliation, more populist measures to appease an apparently angry and anxious public – a vicious and never‐ending cycle.

When people like Lousie Casey speak out, there should be voices of reason and common sense that Ministers can listen to and take advice from; voices of what actually works in reducing reoffending. There should also be voices speaking out publicly to explain where Loiuse Casey was wrong, as well as where she was right. There should have been public voices pointing out that so much of what she was recommending was already in place, including visible unpaid work, and legislation for a victims' commissioner: (legislation passed in 2002, but not, to date, enacted).

Napo spoke out, and Napo's press release read:
Any moves to increase the involvement of the community and magistrates in the oversight and planning of community penalties is to be welcomed. However, putting offenders in uniforms, naming and shaming them on billboards and making community service as demeaning as possible will not reduce crime. The proposals will humiliate offenders rather than rehabilitate them. (Napo 2008)
Apart from Napo there were no other probation voices putting the Casey Review in perspective.

Penal Populism

Following the publication of the Casey Review in June 2008, Ian Loader, Professor of Criminology at Oxford, wrote in The Guardian on 19 June that there has been a:
shift in the meaning of political responsibility. No longer can criminal justice be left to experts who, as they see it, ‘effectively’ and ‘humanely’ manage the crime problem on the public's behalf. Nor is it the task of government to restrain education or lead opinion on criminal justice matters. Not any more. Paternalism has been replaced by a political disposition that holds it to be the task of government to elicit the experiences of customers and act accordingly – to be a translator of consumer will. Hence the predominance of populist measures, the care taken to avoid appearing ‘soft’, and the advent of a penal system in which a right, but unpopular course is pursued with trepidation and by stealth. (Loader 2008
Ian Loader summarised what now appears to be criminal justice based on ‘penal populism’ rather than on ‘what works’.

Penal populism comes at a cost however. It costs approximately £39,000 a year to keep someone in prison (House of Lords 2008) and approximately £2,400 to supervise an individual community order (House of Lords 2007). Probation is more effective in reducing reoffending, with 50.5% of those released reconvicted after two years, compared with 64.7% for prisons (Home Office 2007b, p.11). So why is it that logic does not prevail; why is it not recognised that there could be huge savings from not just investing in probation but by promoting probation? Proper investment in the Probation Service could lead to the achievement of even lower reconviction rates.

Politicians do their opinion polls, and what research shows is that when you ask people their attitudes to crime, if you ask crude simple questions then people are punitive and want punishment. If you ask more nuanced questions, if you talk about individuals and individual crimes, if you actually talk to victims themselves, then what people really want is something that works, something that reduces reoffending.

Unfortunately it seems that in opinion polls politicians are not very nuanced, and Ministers conclude that penal populism is where the votes are. Speaking up for the Probation Service is therefore not seen as a vote winner.

Structural Reform

It seems that Ministers believe that more votes are to be had from attacking the Probation Service than from praising it. Attacking the Service has also enabled it to justify its never‐ending structural reforms, undertaken to enable contestability and competition to be introduced. Continuous structural reform over recent years has also taken its toll, not only on the confidence of the Service but also on its ability to have a spokesperson at a senior level, whose advice Ministers will heed.

The full history of the Probation Service during the years 1907 to 1997 is documented in various books including Whitehead and Statham's (2006), The History of Probation. The history of the Service shows that despite an increased centralisation and introduction of managerialism that came in with the election of the Conservative government in 1979, local probation services continued to have much local power.

In 1997 that changed, and in Martin Wargent's (2002) Bill McWilliams Memorial Lecture, which he delivered in June 2001, on ‘The new governance of probation’, Martin spoke about the implications of the 1997 Prison and Probation Review (Home Office 1998) and I quote:
the process of modernising the probation service and its governance began formally on 16 July 1997. (p.184)
The restructured Probation Service arising from that Review was introduced in 2001 and led to the introduction of the National Probation Directorate (NPD), ensuring a national voice for the Service. The reduction of the 54 Probation Committees to 42 Probation Boards, co‐terminous with the police and other court boundaries, maintained the local structure.

As Martin Wargent noted in that lecture it was: ‘by no means a bad example of review process’ (p.184).

The Review's original proposal, to combine the Prison and Probation Services, received very loud and vocal opposition from nearly all those involved in the criminal justice system, and the government heeded that advice. This Review was an example of proper consultation; Ministers and civil servants listened to the points that were made and introduced a structure that was broadly welcomed by all key players.

Hardly was the ink dry on the establishment of the NPD and the changes of 2001 however, than the report by Patrick Carter (2003) was published in January 2004 proposing the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). The Carter Report proposal was to bring prisons and probation under a common umbrella in order to facilitate a purchaser/provider split. The proposals were based on introducing a structure that enabled the government's new philosophy of contestability to be introduced. Seemingly, the government that came to power in 1997 on the philosophy of ‘what works’ was now to be driven by the dogma of introducing marketisation into public services.

There was no consultation on the substantive proposals in Patrick Carter's Report. The same day that the Carter Report was published, the government's response (Home Office 2004), by David Blunkett, the then Home Secretary, was produced, accepting its recommendations.

Implications of a Weakened Service

The fact that the Probation Service does not have a clear and loud voice at the centre of NOMS has many implications. The lack of a loud and powerful probation voice must inevitably impact on criminal justice policy as it affects the advice that Ministers receive. The lack of a probation voice at the centre also impacts on many aspects of the Service itself, including resources, professional standards and value and diversity and inevitably the very nature of the future of the Service.

Resources

The lack of a probation voice at the centre of NOMS, inevitably questions who speaks for the Service when it comes to the regular negotiations with the Treasury over resource allocation. In recent years the resources allocated to the Service have palpably not kept pace with workloads and the demands placed upon it. While the whole of the public sector is currently facing cuts, it does not explain why Ministers and senior civil servants do not publicly recognise that the extra resources that have gone to the Probation Service since 1997 have been more than matched by extra workloads and the increased complexities of the caseload.

Napo commissioned its own research from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies on the subject of resources. Dr Mark Oldfield and Dr Roger Grimshaw produced the report Probation Resources, Staffing and Workloads 2001–2008 in April 2008 (Oldfield and Grimshaw 2008).

The researchers found that despite the increase in spending on probation in recent years, there had been reductions in service's budgets and many areas had been struggling to cope with balancing growing caseloads, involving more complex working practices, with a decline in resources. The report considered budgets, staffing levels and workloads. It recognised that probation caseloads had increased by almost a quarter since the creation of the National Probation Service in 2001. It accepted that over the same period the number of staff had increased, with a 77% increase in the number of probation service officers and a 70% increase in the number of managerial staff, but also recognised that the number of qualified probation officers had fallen by 4%, and the number of people training to be probation officers had also fallen by 30%.

The report noted:

• the extra complexities of probation work;
• the lengthy assessment tool;
• the various new forms of interventions;
• the nature of working with people who had offended;
• the spiralling costs of NOMS and information technology.

Their summary ends with the quote:
Our overall impression is that a period of stability, reflection and objective analysis would be beneficial for the Probation Service. We are doubtful that this is likely to be the case.

Professional Standards 

The professional standards of the Service are under threat again as a result of the revived threat to the probation training qualification.

The diploma of probation studies has been under review since 2006. It was originally planned that a good, modular based, qualifying training arrangement would be introduced at about the same time that the ‘new’ NOMS Agency came into being in April 2008, Nonetheless, plans for its introduction were aborted at short notice seemingly because there were questions about its cost, its affordability and flexibility.

It is critical that the Probation Service retains a high level of professional training. It is sensible to make it modular and inclusive, to cover all staff, and to ensure the proper provision of training for probation service officers as well as probation officers, but it's got to be a training that is effective, that ensures the highest standards of professionalism, as well as underpinning the ethos and the values of the Service.

A large‐scale campaign based on speaking up for the importance of probation training was fought in the mid‐1990s when Michael Howard abruptly stopped the probation officer training qualification. The campaign involved not only Napo as the trade union and professional association, but also the employers, the chief officers, and the higher education institutes. With the election of the Labour government in 1997, the Service had a professional training qualification, based in higher education, restored.

If the Service was to face another training gap, and potentially another attack on the quality of the training provided, it is not clear whether the current probation employers and probation chief officers would be as robust as their counterparts in the mid‐1990s in standing up and speaking up for the Service.

Values and Diversity

David Calvert Smith (2005) the former head of the Crown Prosecution Service, who led the Commission for Racial Equality (2005) Inquiry into the police in 2005, spoke at a conference in 2005 where he stated that the criminal justice system was explicitly about moral issues and that, as the State imposes its will in judging right and wrong, it is the most important institution in British society in promoting race equality.

In other words, clarity about values and recognising the importance of anti‐racist practice and anti‐discriminatory practice generally, in a service such as the Probation Service, should not be seen as an optional extra. Nevertheless from the publication of Patrick Carter's original report recommending NOMS in 2004, through the various consultation papers that have emerged since, all have been silent on the implications of any proposed structural changes for diversity and anti‐discriminatory practice.

At the time of researching for this memorial lecture, in May 2008, I looked on the NOMS website for ‘values’ and all I found was a reference to ‘best value’. When I asked NOMS officials about NOMS values the week before the lecture, I was told that ‘the current lack of a values statement had been identified at an away‐day the week previously’.

Hindpal Singh Bhui (2006) gave the Bill McWilliams Memorial Lecture in 2005, highlighting the threat of NOMS to anti‐racist practice. Hindpal's argument was that anti‐racism was not perfect in either the Prison Service or the Probation Service, but that:

the conditions for long‐term anti‐racist practice are more established in Probation, and they are in danger of being fatally undermined within the new structure unless there is serious and sustained consideration of the importance of probation culture and ethos to the journey towards race equality. (p.186)He recognised that the Prison Service has the advantage of a tighter management structure providing for the control and command model, which has some benefits in promoting specific practices. He argued however that without the necessary ethos and values on the ground in the Service, the control and command model alone could not maintain anti‐racist practice. The lecture also identified the importance of training for an organisation's ethos and values, and contrasted the inadequacy of the eight‐week training for a prison officer, compared with the two‐year professional training for probation officers.

Conclusion

The Bishop of Worcester spoke at the service to mark the centenary of the Probation Service in Westminster Abbey in June 2007. He spoke of the Probation Service needing qualities of solidarity and mutual support. He went on to say:

If the environment in which you are to work puts persons of compassion in competition with each other for work – and it starts to look that way – then the vision of human flourishing for which the Service stands, involves as never before the disciplines of mutual support and supervision that will enable disappointment when it comes not to debilitate and embitter. And if there is, as it seems, to be no National Probation Service to represent to our society the vision of human flourishing which this Service represents, then it will be for you in your National Association to continue to hold before us all a vision of what it takes for human beings to grow and change. (Worcester 2007) Clearly Napo has, and will continue, to speak up for the Probation Service. Given the continuing current lack of public support from Ministers, it is necessary for all those who care about probation being prepared to stand up and be counted in its defence.

In many ways the annual Bill McWilliams Memorial Lecture is part of that campaign to speak up for Probation. The lecture keeps the ideal of probation that Bill McWilliams embodied alive and it's that flame of commitment to the probation ideal that Napo seeks to promote and it's what's kept the Service going for the last 101 years.

Napo's campaign against NOMS since 2004 has been based on the slogan ‘Keep Probation, Keep it Local and Keep it Public’. It is difficult to envisage the future of a Probation Service if it is dependent on a mixture of private and voluntary sector bodies to speak up for it. To remain ‘a treasure for the nation’, as described by the Probation Boards' Association, the Probation Service must necessarily remain as a coherent public service, based on local boards, with a clear spokesperson for the Service at a senior organisational level.

Ultimately it can be argued that the Probation Service is about people more than structures. It's about people continuing to join the Service, a public service, who are committed to the probation ideal, who use their head, their heart and their passion and their professionalism and their values to make a difference, to reduce reoffending, to change lives.

Ultimately we have to rely on the fact that the people who will continue to join the Probation Service, future generations of probation workers, hopefully future Napo members, will be the people who will have to join forces, to speak up loudly for probation.

Judy McKnight

Sunday, 29 January 2023

In the Wake of the SFO's 2

I've just noticed that Frances Crook had something to say about things in the FT the other day:-

Probation failures have deep roots and horrific consequences

Minimal reorganisation could revive the public service and reduce such tragedies as Zara Aleena’s murder

The murder of Zara Aleena by a man just released from prison was a tragedy waiting to happen. Assessed by the probation service as not posing a high risk to the public, he killed her just days later in a gut-wrenchingly awful case raised by Keir Starmer during the last prime minister’s questions. This was the first time the dire state of the service has been brought up at PMQs for several years. It is about time. 

How did a public service dedicated to public safety get into such a state? As recently as 2013, the inspectorate assessed the service across England and Wales as delivering good or excellent provision. What happened to destroy this was three years with Chris Grayling in charge. During his time as Lord Chancellor and secretary of state for justice he was a man in a hurry. Grayling closed prisons and reduced prison officers but without reducing the population of prisoners, leaving more of them crammed into fewer spaces without adequate staffing. 

This set challenges for probation officers working in prisons and tasked with supporting the reintegration of former prisoners into the community. Some of these individuals have previously committed very serious and violent offences and could be a danger — especially after experiencing years of filthy, violent, drug-ridden prisons. 

For a hundred years, probation has benefited from local connections, autonomy and professionalism. Having someone to look after you, somewhere to live and something to do all day provides the best chance of leading a crime-free life and being able to contribute to the local community. In 2014, at a stroke, all this was destroyed by the government’s short-sighted desire to find something — anything — to privatise. 

Because the court functions could not be given to a private company that might be managing the very sentence it had recommended to the judge, this element of probation had to remain a state function. The rest was divided up and given to various private contractors with disastrous, and predictable, consequences. 

Overall, some 200,000 men and women are supervised by probation at any one time. The majority of those overseen by the service have been sentenced to a community penalty. 

This unpaid work — a success story when linked to local neighbourhood needs — has now became symbolic of the wider failures. Private companies sent men to sit in car parks all day to fulfil their hours. The profit motive took possession of a process once firmly linked to the decisions of the courts; staff struggled to find purpose with what they were supervising. In 2018 and 2019, the then chief inspector of probation, Glenys Stacey, published a series of excoriating reports. 

Eventually, even ministers had to recognise that the service was failing and it was brought back under state control in 2020. Unfortunately, instead of reinstating local links, the functions were squeezed into the civil service. The independence and ability to speak out about local issues has gone. On-the-ground contacts with voluntary organisations and essential services such as housing have gone. The very things that are proven to prevent reoffending are gone. 

We now have a service that the current chief inspector describes as “shockingly bad” in many places. Heavy workloads, high vacancy rates, newly recruited, young and inexperienced staff who lack managers to guide their complex work: all these factors lead to mistakes. Ultimately they endanger the public. This deterioration only makes more pointless deaths like Aleena’s more likely. 

Ministers repeat the familiar mantra that new staff are being recruited, but they are coming in to a service where colleagues have lost faith and direction. It doesn’t have to be like this. Minimal reorganisation could revive a service essential for public safety. We should reinstate the links to local government so that housing, health, police and voluntary organisations can play a part. Yes, strategic direction and inspection must be central but local management is the best chance for reviving the probation service. 

I have one final suggestion. We need an expert body similar to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) to provide evidence-based guidance on what works and to make sure that future ministers cannot announce new punishments or big changes for their own self-aggrandisement. 

There will always be mistakes and there may still be tragedies — human beings can be unpredictable. Sometimes professionals fail and people who are already damaged and violent may go on to do something awful. But we can limit the chances, help offenders to change and save on the costs of reoffending. 

There is a body of research that shows how to help people who have committed crimes to atone for what they have done and turn their lives around. Let’s use it.

Frances Crook
The writer is former chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform

The first of a number of published comments makes an extremely valid observation and points us in the direction of something I was unaware of from 1999 :-

"I seem to recall that the architect of the privatisation of probation services was the former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw who back in 1999 was busy centralising the local probation services into a national organisation (NOMS) converting local probation officers into civil servants. It was reported back on 13 September 1999, in the Independent* that Straw was planning to privatise the service, though it was the Conservatives would later implement this Labour plan." *see article:

Straw plans to privatise probation

JACK STRAW, the Home Secretary, is drawing up plans to privatise the Probation Service if standards of supervising offenders are not improved, insiders have warned.

Senior Probation Service staff believe that the "very existence" of the service is threatened, with Mr Straw ready to contract out its work to private security companies such as Group 4, and to professionals such as psychologists, teachers and healthcare workers.

The alarm was sounded by probation chiefs in Avon, after "grave" warnings from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation that the service there was badly underperforming.

In a letter to staff, the Avon probation chiefs said: "We should be in no doubt that time is running out for the service nationally and if we fail to deliver the Government's agenda then it is clear that the Home Secretary will find alternative means of addressing his crime reduction policy."

The letter, signed by Roger Poynton, the acting Chief Probation Officer, Jean Findlay, the chairwoman of the Avon Probation Committee, and her two vice-chairman, states that Mr Straw may turn to private contractors rather than the modest changes to the service previously discussed. It states: "We ... would predict that his legislation will be of far greater significance, not tinkering with amalgamations, 100 per cent funding and civil servant CPOs [Chief Probation Officers], but more radically creating alternative means of supervising offenders in the community."

The Probation Service is working with the Home Office to become a nationally run service, funded entirely from central government, with chief officers employed as civil servants. But the Avon letter said: "The Home Secretary is already on record regarding his view that a range of alternative professionals (psychologists, teachers, health-care workers) should be involved with offenders and the prospect of contracting-out major sectors of work under the Government's Best Value initiative is a very real possibility."

The warning follows a visit to Avon by inspectors who "castigated" the service for its "appalling record on service delivery". The probation chiefs admitted that "vast sectors of our work are significantly below standard and to an extent that threatens our very existence".

Last night the Home Office said "nothing is ruled in or out" regarding the options for modernising the service.

Harry Fletcher, a spokesman for the National Association of Probation Officers, said the service was an easy target for politicians wanting to be seen to be hard on crime. He described the leaked letter as "an extraordinary attack on the integrity of staff".

--oo00oo--

Clearly the Independent still has probation in its sights. This from today:-

Probation crisis: one person killed every three days by offenders under supervision

More than 600 reviews in six years for alleged murders by known criminals

A person is killed every three days on average by an offender on probation in England and Wales, The Independent can reveal, as the crisis in public protection deepens. The litany of errors leading up to the murder of Zara Aleena by serial offender Jordan McSweeney has shone a spotlight on dangerous gaps in the monitoring of people leaving prison.

McSweeney had been released just nine days before brutally attacking and killing the aspiring lawyer as she walked home in east London, and a review by the probation watchdog warned that the horrific case was “symptomatic of much broader issues”.

Figures published by HM Inspectorate of Probation show that 622 reviews were triggered over alleged murders by reoffenders over the six years to 2020. Some culprits were ultimately acquitted, or convicted of lesser crimes such as manslaughter, while the Ministry of Justice recorded 415 cases of people being found guilty of a “serious further offence of murder” between 2014-15 and 2019-20.

More recent figures have not yet been published, but will include the murder of Aleena and the 2021 Killamarsh killings, which saw violent offender Damien Bendall murder three children and his pregnant partner.

Justin Russell, the chief inspector of probation, told a press conference last week: “It’s a core function of the probation service to protect the public from these risks, and they’re not getting it right at the moment.” He warned that until standards improve, it is “impossible to say that the public is being properly protected”, adding: “It could happen again.” Mr Russell said heavy workloads and high vacancy rates are making it impossible to properly monitor released prisoners, with the unit overseeing Aleena’s killer having had less than two-thirds of the required staff last year.

Many probation workers blame the chaos in staff recruitment and retention on underinvestment by the government, following the botched part-privatisation of the probation service in 2014 and the decision to renationalise it five years later. Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the Napo probation union, said staff “welcomed the return of probation back to state control but didn’t see the investment” needed.

He told The Independent that although work to recruit more staff is under way, many are “packing it in” within just weeks of arrival because of high workloads and the harrowing demands of the job. “The system needs sharpening. To say we’re giving staff training is all well and good, but [not] if they’ve got 75 cases on their books and they barely have time to go to the toilet,” Mr Lawrence added. 

“The government has failed to invest properly in the systems we need to ensure that mistakes like [that which led to Aleena’s murder] don’t happen again ... our members are working hard to protect the public.” He called for improvements in the way prisons provide information to probation workers on people coming up for release, and for police to act faster to arrest people who have broken licence conditions so they can be sent back to jail.

Napo had requested a meeting with justice secretary Dominic Raab, who is currently embroiled in allegations of bullying civil servants, but the task was passed to a junior minister. Mr Lawrence will put his demands to the prisons and probation minister, Damian Hinds, at a meeting on Monday. “The government needs to repair this service to the level it was at before it was part-privatised,” he said. “I’m not saying mistakes didn’t happen, but nothing like the scale of what’s been seen since.”

The Ministry of Justice said it had recruited 2,500 trainee probation officers over the past two years and would bring in another 500 by the end of March. A spokesperson added: “Serious further offences are incredibly rare, and the justice secretary has set out plans to overhaul the parole process and ensure prisoners who still pose a risk are kept behind bars. “We are investing £155m more into probation to deliver more robust supervision, reduce caseloads, and recruit thousands more staff to keep the public safe.”

Saturday, 28 January 2023

In The Wake of the SFO's

Probation is not generally known for having a particularly high profile, but this week it's been in the full media glare and it's made uncomfortable reading, particularly the accusation that there is 'blood on our hands'. This hurts, has made staff angry and I sense stirred a widespread desire to get the wider back story told and out for discussion and debate. Lets start with two responses to the article published by the Guardian:-

Your article (Probation service and ministers have ‘blood on hands’, say Zara Aleena’s family, 24 January) identifies the undeniable case work failures by the National Probation Service (NPS) that led to the appalling murder of Zara Aleena. But what it overlooks is the impact of the privatisation of the probation service. In 2014, it was split in two, with private “community rehabilitation companies” supervising low- to medium-risk cases, and the pre-existing NPS supervising high-risk cases.

As HM Inspectorate of Probation’s independent serious further offence review of Jordan McSweeney spells out, in 2021 McSweeney was the responsibility of the profit-driven London Community Rehabilitation Company. Despite McSweeney’s known risk being present in custody, such as his possession of weapons and threatening behaviour, as well as subsequent information received about the serious risk he posed to women, the company assessed him to be medium-risk.

With inaccurate risk assessment a key feature of the case, the inspectorate concluded that, had McSweeney been correctly assessed, the planning for the release, licence conditions and action taken by the NPS when he failed to turn up for appointments could have been considerably different.

The funding arrangements for the private, profit-oriented companies provided a monetary incentive for employees not to assess cases as high-risk, as this would result in them being passed on to the state-owned NPS, and a loss of income. Consequently, risk was routinely downgraded. If anyone has “blood on their hands”, it is the neoliberal ideologues in this government who, ignoring warnings issued in 2015 and 2016 by the inspectorate that resettlement arrangements were not fit for purpose, pursued this flawed and ultimately doomed experiment to its predictable tragic end.

Sue Hobbs
Co-author, Privatising Criminal Justice


In 2015, my twin brother, Adrian Munday, was murdered in his own home in Devon. Adrian’s killer, Stuart Hodgkin, was under the probation supervision of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall Community Rehabilitation Company, one of the new probation companies set up after Chris Grayling’s catastrophic attempt to privatise the service. Adrian had mental health issues, so was also in receipt of privatised community support.

At the murder trial, it was revealed that Hodgkin had more than 80 previous convictions, over 40 of them for assault, and three current restraining orders. This information should have been easily available to probation officers.

In 2018, Devon county council published the multi-agency safeguarding adults review (SAR) about the circumstances surrounding Adrian’s death. This report found 40 agency failings – but two pivotal mistakes came from failures to assess a “high” level of risk: first at court, when Hodgkin was sentenced to probation, not custody, for a previous crime, and second by the community rehabilitation company, which relied on the first assessment. A correct assessment would have radically changed the fatal outcome.

Following the SAR, we were assured that lessons would be learned and that these would be shared at national level. Nothing has changed. It is surely time to set up a comprehensive national database by which probation officers can access an offender’s full history easily and quickly.

Like Zara’s family, I believe the government has my brother’s blood on its hands. Let no other family have to go through this unnecessary suffering.

Sarah Compton
Glangevlin, County Cavan, Ireland

This went out to all members yesterday from Napo HQ:-

Government is failing Probation Staff

Over the past fortnight the Probation Service in England and Wales has been in the spotlight following the publication of two Serious Further Offence (SFO) reviews by HM Inspector of Probation Justin Russell.

The inspectorate’s findings in relation to the shocking murders which took place in Killamarsh Derbyshire and Ilford East London last year, have been the subject of extensive and highly critical media coverage on mainstream television and radio on two successive Tuesdays.

General Secretary Ian Lawrence, supported by the Napo Press, Media and Campaigns team has been exceptionally busy in trying to respond to numerous media opportunities where Napo has tried to offer its perspective on the contents of the SFO reports and the wider questions that have arisen about public safety, the state of the Probation service and it’s role within the Criminal Justice System.

Striking the right balance

Ian told Napo Magazine: “Given the widespread public revulsion that these serious further offences, and others before them, have caused, it needs to be remembered first and foremost, that innocent lives have been lost and families torn asunder by grief and anger.

“This means that the right balance has to be struck with the media in respecting the understandable feelings of the victim’s families whilst robustly calling out the increasingly desperate circumstances which too many of our members are facing on a daily basis.”

In the media coverage of the two SFO reviews, much has been made about the ‘failings’ of the Probation Service as identified by Probation Inspectors, but the reports also reference a host of underlying circumstances that Napo has been highlighting for many years. These include huge numbers of vacancies in most Probation Regions, the departure of highly experienced staff and the consequential pressure placed on new trainees with increasing numbers telling Napo that they are not likely to stay in the service for long, if at all.

In his engagements with the media, Napo’s General Secretary has been trying to articulate these issues and the impact of them on our members, but has also referenced the disastrous Transforming Rehabilitation reforms implemented by then Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling nearly 10 years ago.

Ian adds: “It’s one thing seeing politicians talk about the need for more training and vigilance by Probation staff, whilst they choose to ignore the egregious damage to the profession that was caused by their government’s part-privatisation of what was once a gold standard public service.”

Changing the polemic

As well as the publicity that has followed the two SFO reviews, last week also saw the release of a separate report by the London Assembly to which Napo gave evidence last year.

This mirrors the findings of Justin Russell’s team about serious operational shortcomings in probation service provision in London and the need for more strategic oversight by senior leaders at Regional and National level.

Napo National Chair Helen Banner is the Link Officer for Napo London Branch and has already started talks with the Branch Executive Committee in advance of an urgent meeting with the London Regional Probation Director.

Feedback from Napo members and independent commentators who have been following Napo’s contact with the media, suggest that the union has been successful in making the case that despite the welcome reunification into public ownership in June 2021, the Government has failed the public and failed Probation staff by its failure to adequately invest in the service and restore it to a position that resembles its former self.

Political pressure mounts

This week has seen further political developments that will only add more pressure on beleaguered Government Ministers.

In Prime Minister’s questions this week, Labour Leader Keir Starmer specifically devoted 3 of his 4 questions to the state of the Probation service and the findings of the London SFO review. Yesterday news also reached Napo of a Justice Select Committee session covering Prisons and Probation next Tuesday, and at the time of writing Napo and the Probation unions have been invited to an urgent meeting on Monday with Damien Hinds MP the Minister for Prisons and Probation.

Ian concludes: “It’s a tragedy in itself that it takes the loss of lives to make this Government sit up and take notice of things that we warned of many years ago. 

“We obviously welcome an opportunity to meet with Ministers but I am very skeptical that we will see much change this side of a general election.” Adding: “I will certainly take the message from our members that it’s time to implement serious solutions rather than offering undeliverable promises.”

Over the last fortnight Napo’s General Secretary has taken part in a number of televised interviews with the BBC, ITV, Channel 5, Sky News and GB news and radio engagements with BBC 4, BBC 5 Live, BBC London and Times Radio as well as interviews with the Independent and Daily Mirror.

Then there was an interesting piece in the Independent which has stimulated much discussion on the 'secret' Facebook group:-

Ex-probation officer says offenders will always fall through the net after Zara Aleena murder

A former probation officer has warned that some offenders will “always fall through the net” and go on to rape, murder or commit other serious crimes after being released. Laura Webb, who was a probation officer for 17 years until 2022, said she and her colleagues went into the job to protect the public but they could not predict the behaviour of every offender. She spoke to i as the Probation Service faces intense scrutiny following the murder of Zara Aleena by a career criminal who had been released from prison just days earlier.

Ms Webb once worked with a young offender who had a referral order – a sentence for young people with no previous convictions who plead guilty to any imprisonable offence – for smoking cannabis who went on to commit murder.

“How would you expect me to understand this guy is likely to go out and stab someone. The two things don’t link. I’d love to have foreseen it. But really and truly, what did I have to go on? Hindsight is a wonderful thing… I didn’t have the information at hand. I don’t go out thinking I’ll just do a bit of a shit job and if someone gets killed, they get killed. No probation officer goes out like that. They go into the job because they want to protect the public but people are always going to fall through the net.”

The Probation Service needs, she said, a major overhaul with a renewed focus on retaining staff with experience. “If they are hell bent on killing someone, they’re just going to wait until their curfew and then go out and do it then… There’s only so many restrictions that you can put on someone who’s not in prison,” she said. “When someone dies, [you] want somebody to blame for it, and I would be the same if I was the family… But it’s bigger than an individual person.”

Probation officers have been accused of having “blood on their hands” after Jordan McSweeney sexually assaulted and fatally attacked Ms Aleena in June 2022, just nine days after he was released from prison on licence.

Justin Russell, the chief inspector of probation, said McSweeney should have been treated as a high-risk offender rather than medium. And chances to get him back behind bars sooner were missed. A review of how probation staff supervised McSweeney, who had a history of violence, has been ordered by the Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab.

Ms Webb said Ms Aleena’s case highlighted the systematic problems existing in the probation service. “We all feel like we’d be hung out to dry… It’s not one probation officer that’s not done their job.” She said some probation officers were missing the experience necessary to handle high-risk criminals, which is down to the way the service was partly privatised and then re-merged.

During the privatisation, the National Probation Service supervised high-risk offenders while Community Rehabilitation Companies dealt with low and medium-risk offenders. Ms Webb left the private sector for the public sector over concerns about how criminals were being designated risk levels: “I was thinking I don’t want a serious case review on my hands. I can’t manage 100 cases on my own… I didn’t want my name to be in the paper for the wrong reasons.”

When the probation service was merged back together, Ms Webb could see officers had been trained to different standards. “You haven’t got the same quality officers, you haven’t got the longevity and it’s just a recipe for disaster.” Ms Webb once saw a female probation officer “thrown under the bus” over a case failing. “It could have happened to any one of us. A case goes wrong and they’ve thrown her to the wolves. But what supervision was she having, how many cases did she have, what was her experience?

“They’re not all her fault. It’s everything around that person. Individually you’re no one, it’s all the experience you’ve got, the training, support, management. So just to throw one person under the bus to say we’ve sorted it, you haven’t sorted it. It’s a national problem. It’s an institutional deficit.”

Still, the difference between a medium and high-risk assessment for any offender is “nuanced” with probation officers likely to disagree among themselves about designations, she explained. “You could get 10 probation officers, and five might say let’s put him in high and another five might put him in medium.”

Ms Webb said probation officers made decisions about offenders based on their past behaviour. “Say for instance, their latest offence wasn’t very violent, you might think to yourself, as a probation officer, [the] risk seems to be levelling off, even going downwards. You’re always looking at patterns. You don’t always judge somebody from the worst thing they’ve done if that was 10 years ago or 20 years ago because you’re looking at the most recent behaviour,” she said, adding that officers also consider someone’s personal and family situation. “If someone’s got no history of rape or sexual assault, or very limited years ago, that wouldn’t be at the forefront of your mind. The thing they always teach you as a probation officer is the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.”

Prisons and Probation Minister Damian Hinds said: 

“This was a despicable crime and I apologise unreservedly to Zara Aleena’s family for the unacceptable failings in this case. We are taking immediate steps to address the serious issues raised by the Jordan McSweeney and Damien Bendall cases. This includes mandatory training to improve risk assessments, implementing new processes to guarantee the swift recall of offenders and we have taken disciplinary action where appropriate. We are also investing £155 million a year into the Probation Service to recruit the thousands more officers who will deliver tougher supervision, protect the public and ensure these sorts of tragedies can never happen again.”

--oo00oo--

Finally, I want to thank all those readers who have responded to my appeal and shown willingness to speak with an experienced journalist in the hope that the circumstances surrounding the recent SFO's can be put into the wider context of probation's politically-induced plight. I'm really happy to report that so far eight current or former colleagues have come forward and interviews have started. 

I must stress that confidentiality is taken very seriously indeed and of course is particularly important for any current member of staff willing to speak out. With public and political interest now aroused, this could prove to be a seminal moment in determining probation's future and has indeed attracted the attention of further journalists. There is a real opportunity here to develop a differing narrative to that promulgated by the HMPPS hierarchy. Contact details on the profile page.

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

A Rant

In the wake of yet another shocking SFO report yesterday and the subsequent media shitstorm, I think the time has come to say a few difficult and uncomfortable things, not least because many of us know there's undoubtedly more of the same to come. Yes of course it was predicted right from the beginning of the TR omnishambles and despicable destruction of a gold standard Probation Service for ideological reasons, but that's politics for you and in my view there is absolutely zero chance of any incoming Labour administration having a bloody clue what to do in order to sort things out. 

Labour is frozen in the headlights, scared witless of anything at all that could possibly be construed as being unjustly portrayed as 'soft on criminals' in the Daily Mail and effectively means they come out with crap headline policies such as 'longer sentences for rapists'. Just like the Tories, but despite all the evidence and research, we are politically locked into building an ever larger prison estate to warehouse increasing numbers of men and for longer periods. If this is going to be the enduring political landscape, there isn't a cat in hell's chance of any meaningful 'rehabilitation' of people and probation will simply disappear within the appallingly dysfunctional and bullying HMPPS.

Probation has 'blood on its hands' it was reported yesterday in the Guardian and as a result there has been an understandable outpouring of anger on the 'secret' Facebook group at things being portrayed in this way when we all know the blame should reside with systemic and structural failures brought about by political decisions. Regular readers will be aware that I used to selectively quote from this 'secret' group in anonymised form, but this met with objection, so it remains hidden and unavailable to public and media view. How very convenient then for the politicians and senior management, but very inconvenient of course for some chance of fair reporting and sensible examination of the real underlying issues. 

We've long said there is a serious probation leadership vacuum; someone or some agency that can effectively and authoritatively speak up both for the profession and its ethos. Events yesterday prove the vacuum still exists. Yes, this corner of the internet continues to serve some small attempt at an information and discussion platform gaining 3,000 'hits' as soon as news broke, well above the daily average, but it's scope and effectiveness is limited and inevitably waning. 

Disillusionment amongst highly experienced staff is growing and they are exiting the Service on an increasingly daily basis, replaced with enthusiastic but inexperienced new recruits only to be thrown in to the frontline far too early in their career and extremely ill-equipped. They don't end up on here, perceived as it often is as the past and preserve of the disillusioned, disaffected and irrelevant. Suitable new candidates are chosen by HMPPS to front ever-more slick advertising campaigns to paint a rosy picture of an exciting and worthwhile career, but astonishingly sit alongside the reality of regular horror stories. Civil service control means silence of course on that matter from senior HMPPS management, but simultaneously staff are thrown under the bus as part of the SFO process. 

I get to the point of this rant. Over the years I have been regularly approached by journalists and I have endeavoured to assist as much as I can, with very mixed results it has to be said. We all know the Civil Service code prohibits staff from talking to the media and there have been precious few examples of brave colleagues being prepared to undertake such an endeavour, even under cover, but what about if you've left the service, possibly recently, have strong views as to the state of play and what needs fixing. Would you be interested in helping the media understand what the real issues are and get an authoritative insight into the public domain? Confidentiality is of course offered and contact details are on the profile page.   


Tuesday, 24 January 2023

HMPPS Not Fit For Purpose

Here we are again with yet another SFO, exactly as predicted as a direct result of imposing part-privatisation of the Probation Service with TR. Reunification under HMPPS command and control is not the answer because that department is simply not fit for purpose. How long is it going to take before either the present government understands this, or more significantly, the Labour Party understands the Probation Service must be reconfigured as a distinct and separate agency. Todays HMI press release:-

Independent Serious Further Offence review of Jordan McSweeney

Background:

On 14 December 2022, Jordan McSweeney was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 38 years, having pleaded guilty to the murder and sexual assault of Ms Zara Aleena. These offences occurred as Ms Aleena walked home, alone, with McSweeney following her, before he subjected her to a sustained physical and sexual assault. Jordan McSweeney was subject to probation supervision when these offences occurred.

In July 2022, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice asked HM Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell to conduct an independent review into this case, as Jordan McSweeney was on probation when he is alleged to have committed these offences. The review was completed in January 2023.

Statement:

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “Jordan McSweeney should have been considered a high risk of serious harm offender. If he had, more urgent action would have been taken to recall him to prison, after he missed his supervision appointments on release from custody. The Probation Service failed to do so, and he was free to commit this most heinous crime on an innocent, young women. Our independent review brings into sharp focus the consequences of these missed opportunities and reveals a Probation Service, in London, under the mounting pressure of heavy workloads and high vacancy rates.

“McSweeney murdered Zara just days after being released from prison. During his sentence, he was considered a violent and threatening man – to other prisoners and to prison staff – and had carried weapons. Known to the criminal justice system, since 2005, McSweeney had been imprisoned many times before, and had displayed violent and racially aggravated behaviour. He also received a restraining order for an offence, against a woman, in 2021.

“All the evidence shows that McSweeney should have been assessed, on release from prison, as high risk of serious harm. Instead, he was incorrectly assessed as being of medium risk because each of the offences, his behaviours in prison, and his criminal history, had been reviewed in isolation. Probation staff involved were also experiencing unmanageable workloads made worse by high staff vacancy rates – something we have increasingly seen in our local inspections of services. Prison and probation services didn’t communicate effectively about McSweeney’s risks, leaving the Probation Service with an incomplete picture of someone who was likely to reoffend.

“Following his release from prison and successive appointments being missed, the Probation Service failed to take prompt action to recall him to custody. Once that decision had been made, there were also delays in signing the necessary paperwork to initiate the recall. Had this been done sooner, opportunities for the police to locate and arrest McSweeney would have been maximised.”

--oo00oo--

Highlights from the full report:-

1. Foreword 

On 14 December 2022, Jordan McSweeney was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum term of 38 years, having pleaded guilty to the murder and sexual assault of Ms Zara Aleena. These offences occurred as Ms Aleena walked home, alone, with Mr McSweeney following her, before he subjected her to a sustained physical and sexual assault. This crime has devastated her family and shocked the local community and beyond. 

Jordan McSweeney was subject to probation supervision when these offences occurred. The Probation Service typically conducts a Serious Further Offence (SFO) review when an individual on probation commits a serious violent or sexual offence. However, in this case, the Secretary of State for Justice asked me, as Chief Inspector of Probation, to conduct an independent SFO review into the Probation Service’s management of Jordan McSweeney.

This report sets out the findings of that independent review. My inspectors found that the assessment of the level of risk posed by Jordan McSweeney was inaccurate given information that was known regarding past offending, behaviour in custody and patterns of behaviour. Subsequently this impacted on the way his case was managed and the level of oversight he was subject to. 

Had the correct assessment of risk of harm been undertaken to identify that Jordan McSweeney posed a high risk of serious harm, actions taken in terms of pre-release planning, plans for accommodation on release and speed of response to non-attendance after release could have been significantly different and potentially more urgent. 

Following his most recent sentence, in April 2022, there were significant delays in McSweeney’s case being correctly allocated to a probation officer in the community. This impacted on the time available to update his risk assessment and plan effectively for his release on 17 June 2022. 

Following his release, and successive probation appointments being missed, the Probation Service failed to take prompt action in respect of recalling him to custody. Once that decision was made there were also delays in signing the paperwork to initiate the recall. Had this been undertaken sooner, opportunities for the police to locate and arrest Jordan McSweeney would have been maximised. 

The practice deficits in this case are set against a backdrop of excessive workloads and challenges in respect of staffing vacancies in the London region. I have commented on this in recent local probation inspections and the recommendations made in this report correspond to many of our findings in these. This is far from the first time we have made recommendations relating to the need to improve the assessment and management of the risks of serious harm to the public posed by some people on probation. The need for us to repeat them yet again raises questions as to whether HMPPS is learning the lessons of past mistakes. It is vital that they do so in the future.

Justin Russell 
HM Chief Inspector of Probation 

2. Background to the review 

On 26 June 2022, Ms Zara Aleena had been out socialising with a friend and was walking home in the early hours of Sunday morning in Ilford, Essex, when she was physically attacked and sexually assaulted. CCTV footage showed a white male, identified to be Jordan McSweeney (JM) following Ms Aleena and attacking her from behind. The victim suffered multiple injuries, including serious injuries to her head. She sadly passed away later in hospital. On 14 December 2022, JM was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 38 years. 

At the time the offence was committed, JM was supervised by the Probation Service – London region, having been released from custody on 17 June 2022. He had previously received a 16-month custodial sentence on 13 April 2022 for five counts of possession of an offensive weapon, three offences of criminal damage and one racially aggravated public order offence. All the index offences were committed whilst in custody serving a previous 32-month sentence for burglary. 

JM’s arrest for murder constituted a Serious Further Offence (SFO). SFOs are specific violent and sexual offences committed by people who are, or were very recently, under probation supervision at the time of the offence. They are committed by a small proportion of the probation caseload (fewer than 0.5 per cent) 1 however, while this percentage is small, for the victims and families involved, the impact and consequences are devastating and cannot be underestimated. 

An SFO review is triggered when a person is charged and appears in court for a qualifying offence alleged to have been committed while they were under probation supervision or within 28 working days of the supervision period terminating. These reviews are normally internal management reports conducted by the Probation Service itself but, occasionally, the Secretary of State for Justice asks HM Inspectorate of Probation to review a particular case, or aspects of a case, as he did in this instance on 01 July 2022. 

To inform this independent review, HM Inspectorate of Probation has reviewed the quality of the work undertaken by the Barking, Dagenham, and Havering (BDH) probation delivery unit (PDU), within the London Probation region (see annexe 1 for terms of reference). Current probation practice guidance, policy documents and relevant strategies have also been considered at a local, regional, and national level. Given JM had been released from custody 10 days prior to the SFO, practice and policy was also explored in HMP Belmarsh, by colleagues from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons.

4. Summary of key findings: 

Our Inspectors have found that, overall, there were significant omissions and practice deficits which impacted on the management of this case, outlined in the summary below. 

Risk of serious harm – inaccurate assessments and underestimation of risk 

JM was managed as a “medium risk of serious harm Integrated Offender Management (IOM) acquisitive individual” however his level of risk should have been escalated to “high” in February 2021, based on the range of information available on his past history of violence as well as acquisitive offending. There was information known about risks present in custody, such as possession of weapons, violent and threatening behaviour. In addition, he had carried weapons in the community, as well as the risks posed to known adults. The risk to the public, staff and other prisoners, should have been assessed as high risk of serious harm. The risk of serious harm to known adults should also have been high based on information related to offences against a known female received in 2021, which later resulted in a restraining order being imposed. 

The risk should have been reviewed by the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) who were responsible for the case at that time. JM’s persistent poor behaviour in custody was seen in isolation and risk management in the community was not given sufficient consideration. The risk of harm posed was not viewed holistically in this case, with the focus being on acquisitive offending, and a thorough assessment of other presenting risk factors was missing. 

The lack of effective information sharing between prisons and probation contributed to an incomplete picture of JM’s risks and potential for violence and disruptive behaviour. The fact he spent a significant proportion of his adult years in custody made it difficult to gather significant information about his circumstances and potential behaviour in the community. This strengthens the need for effective information sharing to ensure all known risk factors, behaviours and intelligence is gathered to produce effective risk management plans to use both whilst in custody and when in the community. 

Had he been correctly assessed as high risk of serious harm – specifically in respect of other prisoners, staff, known adults and the public – the planning for release, licence conditions, reporting instructions, and action taken when he failed to attend on release could have been significantly different and potentially more urgent (for example following his failure to attend initial probation appointments on 17 and 20 June). He may also have been eligible for joint Multi Agency Public Protection (MAPPA) management, and for consideration for an Approved Premises (AP) placement, which would have afforded more monitoring of his risk in the community as well as opportunities for rehabilitation. 

With the correct risk assessment, it is likely that the level of monitoring through the IOM arrangements would have been enhanced, allowing timely responses to non-compliance but more importantly, contributing towards a release plan appropriate to the risk posed. 

A critical omission in the case was the failure to apply sufficient professional curiosity and management oversight to ensure all available information was analysed to assess the risk posed by Jordan McSweeney. This review identifies that a significant amount of information became known regarding his circumstances confirming that he was in a relationship, had a stepchild and deteriorating family dynamics, particularly regarding his mother. While information was recorded, there was little evidence of this being explored in any detail or informing assessments undertaken by agencies. This led to risk factors being assessed in isolation and not building a picture of the overall risk posed.

The inaccurate classification of risk was a key theme in our recent PDU inspections in London. Of the 137 medium risk of serious harm cases that were inspected across six local probation areas, seven per cent were deemed to have had their risk underestimated and should have been rated as high risk of serious harm rather than medium. Whilst this is only a sample, it does demonstrate the urgent need to ensure risk categorisations are accurate.

Case Allocation 

There were issues highlighted with the allocation of JM’s case. Although JM received 16-months in custody, taking into account his time spent on remand, he only had two months left to serve in prison at the point of his sentence and so his case should have been allocated directly to a community practitioner. The processes for allocating cases when a custodial sentence is imposed is confusing and cumbersome, impacting significantly on pre-release planning. Had allocation taken place correctly and earlier, probation staff would have had more opportunity to consider the risks posed by this individual and to amend the risk of serious harm assessment. As outlined above, this would have allowed for the exploration of other release arrangements and restrictive conditions. 

Enforcement decisions and recall process 

JM had a history of non-compliance. However, during his periods on licence, delayed decision-making by probation staff and ineffective management oversight resulted in non-compliance continuing without relevant action being taken. Following his release on 17 June, there were missed opportunities to recall JM following failed appointments and risk factors emerging. Recall should have been initiated following non-attendance on 20 June 2022, but management consultation did not consider recall and efforts made to locate JM were insufficient. 

When the recall was initiated on 22 June, this occurred following an informal discussion and PO1’s manager SPO1 was not fully included in the process. A delay to signing off the recall until 24 June, outside the 24-hour target specified in the related guidance , meant the recall was not timely and ultimately delayed the opportunity for JM to be arrested by police. 

Data indicates that the public protection casework section (PPCS), who process licence revocations in HMPPS, take an average of seven7 hours to issue a licence revocation. National data on recalls also shows that the median time8 between licence revocation and a return to prison custody is three days. Had a recall been initiated following the missed appointment on 20 June, or completed within the specified timescale on 23 June, the time for police to locate and arrest JM would have been maximised. 

Diverse needs 

Throughout the records relating to JM, differing needs are highlighted. At different junctures records stated JM had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Personality Disorder (PD) and had suffered from depression. He was stated to be medicated at various times for ADHD, but little analysis was undertaken of how this affected his day-to-day cognitive functioning and learning styles, and if there were links with offending behaviour.

5. Recommendations 

Between July and October 2022 HM Inspectorate of Probation inspected six PDUs in the London Region. Barking, Dagenham and Havering PDU was one of those inspected, many of the findings from this independent review mirror those from the London PDU inspections9 . They focus on critical concerns such as the quality of work to assess and manage risk of serious harm, the delivery of interventions, information sharing between agencies, quality assurance processes and management oversight, staff training and development, and resourcing and retention of staff. These recommendations are relevant to the practice observed in the case of JM. It is crucial that the service deals with these broader issues to address the practice deficits, and wider systemic issues identified in this independent review.

Notably, some recommendations in this report mirror what has previously been recommended by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of probation, particularly in the independent review of Joseph McCann . It is therefore imperative that these are actioned urgently given they have been highlighted previously as recommendations. 

This independent review makes a further nine recommendations specific to the case of JM.

HMPPS should: 

1. conduct a thorough, senior led review of the processes its staff use to assess the risks of harm that people on probation may pose to others, to ensure that all staff understand and apply the correct criteria for identifying high risk of serious harm cases and that this then informs robust and appropriate risk management plans and regular reviews. This action should be conducted urgently 

2. implement effective arrangements to ensure all risk of harm assessments, including at pre-sentence stage, are quality assured for accuracy until regular and appropriate management oversight arrangements are established, given the national staffing resource shortage and middle management oversight limitations 

3. develop processes to ensure all known information on past behaviour or current risks in prison or the community is available to probation practitioners and is properly analysed when formulating risk assessments pre and post sentence 

4. create robust processes to record and analyse on probation case files when a person on probation is acquitted of offence(s) and where information remains relevant to inform risk of harm assessment and management 

5. while cases are in custody ensure timely and accurate allocation of each case to probation practitioners in the community for supervision before and after release and a mechanism for checking this process 

6. undertake an urgent review of processes for information and intelligence sharing between prisons and the probation service to be completed by June 2023. (A recommendation from the independent review of McCann, this should be given urgent attention given issues are still apparent). 

7. develop processes to ensure that all recall decisions are signed off and submitted by Senior Probation Officers within the 24-hour target period – with compliance against this target monitored in every Probation Delivery Unit on at least a monthly basis 

8. ensure that data on the time from licence revocation by HMPPS Public Protection Casework Section to an individual being received into prison custody is monitored on a regular basis by HMPPS jointly with the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) and that joint probation and police plans are agreed for maximising performance against this metric 

9. ensure the EPF2 tool is used when determining licence conditions and develop a mechanism for effective management oversight of this process to ensure that all appropriate licence conditions, including GPS tagging, are applied after release 

10. develop a London wide initiative on neurodiversity and invest in trauma informed training for staff.

14. ‘Early Look’ and onward actions 

Following JM’s arrest for murder, an ‘early look’ SFO review was completed by the Probation Service – London region in June 2022 in line with HMPPS expected practice. The purpose of an ‘early look’ is to quickly review the practice in the case and promptly identify, to senior leaders within HMPPS, any practice and training deficits that require immediate attention and to begin appropriate actions, and human resource (HR) processes if assessed as being necessary. Inspectors found the quality of the ‘early look’ to be mostly of a sufficient standard. However, on further exploration, some information contained within it, and therefore subsequent actions, were inaccurate. This related specifically to the following: 

The assessment undertaken at Court as part of the allocation process was inaccurate as it pulled through information from historic assessments that required updating. Whilst PO2 was limited by the fact that he did not have the opportunity to meet with JM, the offence analysis did not relate to the index offences and I would have expected this to have been updated.

Having spoken with PO2 and the line manager, and considered the guidance in place, PO2 was required to undertake an “RSR only” OASys which does not require a full review. The process requires an OASys assessment to be generated solely for this calculation, to determine allocation. There is no expectation of court officers to undertake a review of risk. We found that although the correct process was followed here, the process led to inaccurate information being contained within assessments but in line with guidance, should have been updated by the receiving COM or POM. 

The ‘early look’ also indicated that the inclusion of a licence condition to engage with Catch 22 was not appropriate as their remit was to support people to build emotional resilience. We disagreed with this, as it was clear this would be of benefit to JM. However, we did agree other conditions were omitted which would have been beneficial to risk management, such as the imposition of a curfew/GPS tagging. 

When considering the recall prior to the SFO, the ‘early look’ states SPO1 was included in the discussion on 22 June, however on further investigation we know this did not occur, with them only being informed by PO1 a recall was being completed. Actions relating to management oversight and recall processes which were highlighted in the ‘early look’ have already been progressed. 

Following this, HR investigations procedures were initiated in respect of two staff members. These have now concluded, with no further action taken in either case. 

In respect of other areas which have been highlighted as significant in this review, we discussed work that is underway to address some of the deficits. We were told there are significant changes being made to IOM case management in London, in particular work is underway to improve liaison between prisons and IOM colleagues. With regards to neurodiversity, the Head of Operations for north east London boroughs (HOOP) told us there are aims to embed a trauma-informed approach to practice, and projects are already set up in some areas of London focussing on specific needs particularly in respect of young adults.

Although not eligible for OMiC management, the effectiveness of this process is under review by HM Inspectorate of probation with a number of recommendations to review the process which aim for improvements across the OMiC spectrum .

15. Conclusion 

Inspectors found that overall, there were significant omissions and practice deficits which impacted on the management of this case. 

JM was managed as a “medium risk of serious harm IOM acquisitive individual,” however, his level of risk should have been escalated to high risk of serious harm in February 2021, based on the range of information available had it have been sufficiently analysed and considered.

The risks present when he was recalled, in February 2021, were not sufficiently considered for a potential escalation to high risk of serious harm and management by the then National Probation Service. When a restraining order (RO) was imposed in 2021, the PDU were not sufficiently aware which was another missed opportunity to reassess the risk posed. Furthermore, JM’s persistent poor behaviour in custody was seen in isolation and not given sufficient consideration in terms of his risk management in the community. 

Issues were found with sharing of information between prison and probation and assessments were completed in isolation. This led to agencies managing the individual without thorough consideration of the impact on the risks posed, and how they should be managed, both in a custodial and community setting. 

A lack of professional curiosity coupled with a failure to consider information known about JM holistically, led to inaccurate and insufficient risk assessments. There was a significant amount of information known about JM which should have been analysed and explored more fully.

The delay in JM’s case being allocated to a probation officer meant his case was not formally allocated for two months following sentencing. Positively, PO1 continued to work with JM and did undertake some pre-release planning. However, given the delay in allocation, a pre-release assessment was not completed prior to release. This was a missed opportunity to review all the available information and inform pre-release planning and the risk of serious harm assessment. Tools such as the EPF tool which was developed by the probation service to determine relevant licence conditions was not utilised and therefore not all relevant conditions were included. 

On release, the PDU missed opportunities to recall following failed appointments and evidence of risk factors emerging, such as significant use of alcohol. A recall should have been initiated following the missed appointment on 20 June 2022. However, relevant senior leader consultations did not take place, and insufficient efforts were made to locate JM. When the recall was initiated, this was because of an informal discussion and PO1’s line manager was not included formally in the process. A delay to signing off the recall, 24 hours later than the specified timescale, meant the recall was not timely and ultimately delayed the opportunity for JM to be arrested by police. 

The findings from this review mirror findings from the recent HM Inspectorate of probation inspections of London PDUs, including Barking, Dagenham and Havering (BDH) PDU where the overall quality of work delivered to manage people on probation was insufficient and we rated the PDU as ‘Requires improvement’.