Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Probation - I Wonder How Things Are Going?

Only a few days to go before the next big probation shakeup. Now everything is going to be tightly controlled by the civil service, I wonder how things are going? In particular, I wonder how recruitment is going? This from Facebook yesterday:-

Probation Jobs

People from all backgrounds end up in prison, so we need a diverse range of probation officers that reflect society and can engage with ex-offenders on many different levels. To celebrate Pride month, we asked Lisa, a probation officer in London and regional lead for HMPPS Pride in Probation and Prison (PiPP) network, to share her experiences:

“I’ve wanted to help the public and prevent crime since I was 16 years old. I studied criminology at university and then started off as a probation service officer before becoming a PQiP learner. I was a bit worried about being ‘out’ at work, but I was placed in such a welcoming office, that I put myself forward as the LGBTQ+ lead. I am a probation officer, and I am an LGBTQ+ advocate for HMPPS. I am a busy bee, but I would not change it for the world. I’m doing two wonderful things.” 

Train to become a probation officer – and bring your whole self to work.


Can you just apply to be a probation services officer? Is their currently an intake? I didn't get into the PQiP in April.

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxx, applications for the next round of recruitment are expected to open up again in late Summer. Please keep an eye on our Facebook page for any updates. Thanks.

It’s funny that because when you go to the interviews, the candidates are predominantly white and seem to be perplexed that ethnics are in the same interview queue. Applied once and it was the worst experience of my life. If I was made to feel that way can you imagine how many other ethnic people your employment process does not favour? Food for thought. If you mean it and you want people from all backgrounds to apply then TRULY accept people from all backgrounds.

Exactly. I was declined few weeks back also as a black British citizen.

Anyone ethnic that I know has applied has never got the job. Honestly I was looked at as if I was something out of space. Absolutely abysmal.

If there were a few more people that people could relate to, maybe there would be a better chance of rehabilitation. But I don’t think they have thought that far, sadly.

A few more people of colour*

In my office we have a diverse culture of PSO’ s and PQiPs which works well. Please don’t give up trying as it is quite a hard route and probably depends on what calibre of applicants apply on that day. There are many diverse offices around the London areas. Think it depends where you go.

I have applied every intake for this for the past 3 years and I always fail the psychometric test and it annoys me as we get no feedback whatsoever on how our applications are or how we haven't done well on the test Annoying when you have all the degrees and experience necessary!

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxxx, In line with HMPPS recruitment policy, feedback is provided only to candidates who reach the Assessment Centre (or Virtual Assessment Event) stage. We are unable to provide feedback to candidates who are unsuccessful at the online test stage. The majority of your scoring will have been made up from the competency questions, so you should focus on those on future applications. We do not have practice tests we are able to share. However there are practice tests available online for psychometric testing, which are free of charge to use. Thanks.

Okay thank you. Is there any guidance at all on what should be in the competency questions as I worked very hard on them and have tried every time for 3 years now and never get any further.

Drop me a message, I should be able to help.

I always fail on 1 aspect too, as if studying 3 years in Uni wasn't hard enough.

I’m the same. I applied, did the psychometric test and didn’t get through selection after but no feedback whatsoever. It would really benefit to see what areas actually need improvement if that’s the case.

Absolutely well when I failed twice they told me which part I failed at but then when I used the same information for the application on attempt 3 I didn't even get to the next stage, absolutely ridiculous. MI5 would have an easier selection process lol. I've given up now.

It’s so annoying isn’t it! I actually phoned them to contact them about it and the man I spoke to was lovely and said my application was great but I’m failing the test. So I have no idea what I am meant to do.

Exactly, to me a degree and in house training etc should be enough after an interview, but there we go.

I know! I have a bachelors and masters degree and work with offenders in my full time role at the moment.

Absolutely unbelievable, well who knows maybe something even better will come along for you.

Sorry to jump in on this message but I also failed and would like to find out if it was the test or my application. Who did you phone to find out which one please. It's the second time applying for me.

I put in a complaint about having no feedback, and I heard nothing in return. Not very nice when you've shown an interest, its almost like you've been dropped like a hot potato.

That’s exactly how I felt. I took me so long to put together my application. The application form isn’t easy and takes a lot of time and effort, then the have to sit the test too. How are you supposed to know where you need improvement if they don’t tell you. It beyond baffles me.

Same. I'm a PSO as well and can't even get through to assessment centre.

How can it be a fail on psychometric test, it's a strange recruitment process. The balloon money test made me laugh. Don't burst a balloon you'll be classed as impulsive for clicking too many times. Then having to0 many attempts at the code breaker makes you obsessive, not driven to succeed. My weaknesses are what give me my strength, ability and drive. Personally feel I know myself well enough to know the results of the test didn't much reflect my personality.

Completely agree! Be nice to get some good feedback on it but it’s just a shame when you want something so bad and do what you can to prepare and it doesn’t even get looked at.

Also that face one, where you have to make a judgement on what how the person was feeling, angry etc. What if someone has a resting angry face (does this mean they are angry) or someone who likes to smile a lot while they are actually angry or upset) thought that one was a bit silly to be fair.

I hear you on this. x

I got sifted for the assessment day, got asked to upload proof of ID etc, attempted to but the applicant portal got stuck on a date it didn't like and wouldn't let me proceed further. I emailed and phoned the recruitment team and vetting team to ask for help.

I guess nobody knows how to fix the glitch in the portal, so my emails have just been ignored. Quite disappointing.

Was wondering if those waiting on the merit list are likely to hear anything regarding a possible November placement?

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxx, If you were successful last year and are on the merit list, then you will be contacted and will not need to reapply. All candidates who remain unallocated are carried forward to the next intake where they are usually offered a placement. Unfortunately we are unable to disclose merit list position, as this frequently changes for example, as candidates are successfully placed, or perhaps withdraw.

Can I ask when the next intake is please? Unfortunately I did not get further then the psychometric test this time round.

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxx, there will be future opportunities to apply for the PQiP role in the next few months so not to worry if you couldn’t apply for the April intake. Please register your interest to be kept up to date when applications re-open.

I got through to the psychometric test , then didn't get through. Does this mean I cannot apply again ? How do we request feedback?

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxxx, In line with HMPPS recruitment policy, feedback is provided only to candidates who reach the Assessment Centre (or Virtual Assessment Event) stage. We are unable to provide feedback to candidates who are unsuccessful at the online test stage. The majority of your scoring will have been made up from the competency questions, so you should focus on those on future applications. Thank you for the interest shown.

Hi I'm year 2 of my criminology course should I wait to apply when I've completed the course? Thank you.

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxxx, candidates need to provide evidence of their level 5 qualification at the assessment centre (or virtual alternative). If your graduation certificate is not yet available, then a transcript from the university evidencing completion of your degree/level 5 would suffice. However, at the time of completing your application form you must be confident that you have obtained a level 5 qualification. Thanks.

How do you know what you failed on I just got a email saying unsuccessful.

Probation Jobs Hello Xxxxxx, In line with HMPPS recruitment policy, feedback is provided only to candidates who reach the Assessment Centre (or Virtual Assessment Event) stage. We are unable to provide feedback to candidates who are unsuccessful at the online test stage. The majority of your scoring will have been made up from the competency questions, so you should focus on those on future applications. Thank you for the interest shown.

When is the next recruiting please? Xx

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxxx, applications for the next round of recruitment are expected to open up again in late Summer. Please keep an eye on our Facebook page for any updates.

Thank you so much! I will keep an eye on it. 

Too old now as 55 and training takes 18 months so won't get looked at.

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxxx, as per our equality and diversity policy, we would encourage everyone to apply if you have the required qualifications and experience, although for HMPPS operational roles, including Probation Officer you must be aged 18 by the start date. 

The probation service employ a diverse workforce, age is often an asset.

This story is so close to home for me. Just finished my criminology and Psychology degree and waiting patiently for the next intake.

Got through to interview stage last year and got cancelled and rescheduled repeatedly due to lockdowns, now would have to go through the whole process again. CBA.

How do I apply?

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxx, applications for the next round of recruitment are expected to open up again in late Summer. Please keep an eye on our Facebook page for any updates.

I would like to train? Are the training posts been advertised again.

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxxx, applications for the next round of recruitment are expected to open up again in late Summer. Please keep an eye on our Facebook page for any updates.

I have over 20 years experience of working with high risk offenders, but I don't have a level 5 qualification so I am unable to apply.

I would didn't get through the PQiP this time look at PSO and there's nothing near me!

Currently recruiting for PSO roles.

Are the training posts being advertised again?

Probation Jobs Hi Xxxxxx, applications for the next round of recruitment are expected to open up again in late Summer. Please keep an eye on our Facebook page for any updates.

--oo00oo--

A reminder of this press release from HM Probation Inspectorate dated 16th March 2021:-

Probation service must ‘reset and raise’ standard of work with ethnic minority service users and staff urgently

Probation services must show greater consideration and confidence in their work with black, Asian and minority ethnic service users and staff, according to a new report.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation found the probation service’s focus on racial equality has declined since Transforming Rehabilitation reforms were introduced in 2014.

Inspectors also found the service has no specific strategy for delivering activity to ethnic minority service users.

More than 222,000 people are supervised by probation services across England and Wales. Around a fifth of people on probation are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “This has been a challenging year for probation staff and I pay tribute to the way they have pulled together to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. But the service faces other major challenges too – not least, ensuring that every service user, whatever their background, gets proper support and supervision.

“In this inspection, we found very little evidence of probation officers speaking to service users about their race, ethnicity or experiences of discrimination. Some officers – by their own admission – avoided talking about these issues altogether.

“Data about race, ethnicity and religion was missing in almost one in 10 inspected cases. Sometimes staff met with individuals who had experienced discrimination or trauma, but no issues were recorded on their file.

“These are disappointing findings. We have concerns about every stage of probation supervision from the quality of pre-sentencing reports – we found 40 per cent were insufficient in considering diversity factors – to the way that ethnic minority service users were involved in their assessment and sentence plans.

“Probation officers need to find out as much as possible about individuals to support their rehabilitation. How can you help someone if you don’t know what their life is like?”

Some individuals cited it was difficult to engage with probation because of previous negative experiences with the police, prison staff or with white people in other positions of authority.

Some service users reported their probation officers were kind and well-meaning but did not understand their heritage, culture or religion.

Links with local community organisations are poor and culturally-appropriate services are rarely commissioned. There are also few programmes to address racially-motivated offending.

The report also explored the experiences of ethnic minority probation staff. Key findings include:
  • inspectors heard distressing stories of inappropriate behaviour towards ethnic minority staff including instances of stereotyping, racist and sexualised language, and false allegations
  • ethnic minority staff were not always consulted or supported to work with individuals who had committed race-related offences
  • many surveyed staff did not feel it was safe to raise issues of racial discrimination at work and lacked faith that complaints would be handled appropriately. Inspectors heard serious complaints had been repeatedly downplayed, ignored or dismissed
  • of the 30 staff from our survey who had raised an issue of racial discrimination, only two felt the process and outcomes had been handled fairly
  • some ethnic minority staff felt recruitment and promotion practices were not open and fair.
The Inspectorate’s report includes 15 recommendations for HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and the National Probation Service (NPS).

Mr Russell said: “In a little over 100 days, probation services will be unified in England and Wales. This is an important opportunity to reset and raise the standard of work with ethnic minority service users and staff.

“At a national level, we want to see a strategy that sets out how the unified service will work with ethnic minority service users. Data should be gathered and published to identify and address trends, for example if particular ethnic groups are breached or recalled to prison at a disproportionate rate.

“Training gaps across all grades need to be addressed. Training senior leaders and managers will lead to improved understanding and behaviour change. Training probation officers will ensure they understand the impact of racism and discrimination on service users’ lives and on their own practice.

“There is also an urgent job to do to rebuild trust with ethnic minority staff. It was painful to hear stories of discrimination and this was made worse by the fact that staff did not feel heard or believed and were considered ‘trouble-makers’.

“There is a critical need to review the complaints and grievance process and train managers to deal with discrimination confidentially and sensitively.”

In an unusual move, Mr Russell announced his intention to reinspect this work again in two years. He concluded: “HMPPS and the probation service are now paying attention to this issue but need to keep up the momentum. This work needs to be taken forward at pace, and real and rapid progress to further race equality in probation.”

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Latest From Napo 224

Since the demise of the General Secretary's blog, communication from Napo has become noticeably sparse, but this went out on Thursday 10th June:-

Dear Xxxxxxxx

Members will have received an all staff email from the NPS in respect of the new banding of some of the Interventions roles transferring into the NPS, these include but not exclusively Unpaid Work Manager, programmes Treatment Manager and the Programmes Manager.

Napo are aware that this has (as we knew it would) caused a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty amongst those affected. We contend that the job descriptions used for the evaluations were written by a team in central HMPPS that could not have possessed the knowledge and understanding of these roles to fully encapsulate them in a job description. This has, at least in part, been a significant factor in the outcome which has led to a number of roles being evaluated at a level below expected.

Appeals to be submitted by NPS

As the NPS communication stated, this outcome has been appealed by the NPS themselves. The Trade Unions feel that had we been consulted on the whole process from the beginning these situations wouldn’t have developed in this way. Needless to say, this failure to follow process and policy has been directly challenged and the Trade Unions and the NPS are now working jointly to rectify this.

Staff working in DSOU’S

The current communications do not include a reference to staff working within the DSOUs with individuals who commit sexual offences. The reason for this is that the proposals for this group of staff are far more wide reaching. As you would expect, the trade unions have challenged these situations and have successfully agreed a consultation process before some of the proposals come into effect, and a lengthy consultation paper has been presented to the employer from Napo. This will give us an opportunity to feed into the new model, make representations on behalf of members and ensure that high quality and effective practice are the drivers for any reform.

Pay protection pending appeals

The email that staff have received outlines the temporary work around while we wait for the job evaluation appeal process to run its due course. The NPS have stated that they are hopeful that the appeal outcome will be reached by August. In the meantime, they have also committed to adhere to the job evaluation process, as to ignore it regardless of the outcome would set an unwelcome precedent. As such, staff affected will now transfer and be assimilated to their new band but will have pay protection guaranteed for three years until the appeal and consultations are completed.

Napo will continue to press the employer on resolving this issue as soon as possible and highlight the significant impact this is having on members during what is already a very difficult time for many of you. More news will follow as soon as it becomes available, but meanwhile If you have any urgent queries, then please contact your Branch in the first instance who can feed your concerns through your Link Officers and Officials into Napo HQ and assist us with our approach to the Job Evaluation Appeals and subsequent negotiations.

Best Wishes

Ian Lawrence
General Secretary

--oo00oo--

These are some extracts from 28th May and a long mailout just before Bank Holiday with all the hallmarks of 'we must get something out before the weekend'. I couldn't be bothered to share it then but might as well use as padding today:-

Napo standing up for members across a broad front

As we enter the final few weeks before Probation reunification on 26th June, it’s a good opportunity to reflect again on the incredible efforts of our members in the NPS, CRCs, Cafcass and Probation Northern Ireland during the National pandemic.

Our members have been maintaining vitally important public services in the face of appalling mismanagement of the Covid Crisis by this Government. This has again been laid bare during evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee this week. Napo fully supports the need for an independent public enquiry and will be making our voice heard at every opportunity.

Probation Reunification

The run in to reunification has seen twice weekly meetings taking place between the unions and the Reform team. These have covered a wide range of issues including role matching, pay protection, job evaluation and matters that have been escalated up from the nearly all completed measures discussions that have been taking place in the CRCs and where Napo members interests have been ably taken forward by your Branch representatives working in partnership with our National Officials. Further information about these exchanges and outcomes can be routed through your Branch who will liaise with the appropriate Napo National Official.

Health and Safety

Despite the relatively successful implementation of the national Covid vaccination strategy, there is no room for complacency when it comes to the delivery of services across all employers where Napo is represented. This is why we are engaging in twice weekly meetings with senior NPS leaders to discuss the NPS recovery strategy in addition to our regular contact with the Director General. Similar engagement is also taking place with Cafcass and PBNI.

Whilst there has been a lifting of the pause on some activities, all of the joint recovery work with employers is set against a background of continuing to monitor local case rates and the national road map announcements from Government.

We have been informed in recovery meetings with the NPS that Regional Directors have been reminded to take account of case numbers in their local area adjusting the type of activities to any increase in case numbers or the emergence of any Covid variant of concern.

This consideration should also be reflected in all associated risk assessments. Therefore, should members have concerns about any activity they are being requested to undertake, they are encouraged to approach their Napo Branch for advice who will be able to escalate.

Update on NPS pay discussions including pay progression position

Following the submission of the joint unions multi-year pay claim for 2021-23 we expect to enter into formal negotiations next month. As members know the situation on pay is not looking good because of the punitive pay freeze that has been imposed by Government. This is obviously opposed by the probation unions and we have made it clear that it is simply untenable for our members who have worked so hard during the pandemic to be treated this way. We have also said that Probation reunification could never have happened without the massive efforts of NPS and CRC members and this must be recognised.

Members have understandably been asking questions about when contractual pay progression (due from April 1st) is to be paid out by the NPS. Given the experiences of last year we have obviously been pressing the case at every opportunity for this to be implemented. The position is complicated by the insistence of the HM Treasury that they must give authority for this to happen as is the case for similar payments that may be due to staff in other government departments. There is a delicate balancing act for us between early payment of contractual progression and closing the door to any applications that may be made for other pay related matters.

More news on these and other pay issues that Napo is pursuing will follow as soon as it becomes available.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Best of the Week 3

“So instead, we stay in our self-imposed madness, keeping the curtains locked down tight, patrolling the light switch, and dismissing anyone who speaks the truth.”

Sounds like a normal day working at the probation office. This is exactly what civil service ‘parrotism’ has done to us.

******
The senior executives of UK plc like to maintain a significant level of control over the proles. One sure fire method is ensuring that crime, substance use, inequality & unrest remain issues of concern, thereby reserving the leverage of political power & the illusion of addressing the public concern.

Our incumbent CEO, the erstwhile durty shagger, career fantasist & serial liar Johnson, is very happy making empty promises while emptying the public purse & fomenting the necessary divisions that suit his selfish agenda. And while his tenure is supported by equally self-serving fuckwits, wannabes & lickspittle acolytes, UK plc will continue spiralling into the abyss, dragging all but a privileged few down with it.

At least this blog, the comments & the commentary might remain in a digital form, waiting for a future historian to trip up over it & discover there WERE dissenting voices, some people did disagree, it was NOT the time of harmony & shared wealth as portrayed in the 2025 best-seller & multi-prize winning book that underpins the New History curriculum: "Boris's Book of Brilliant Britain - How I Built Jerusalem on England's Green & Pleasant Land".

******

"out with the old, in with the new" - but should we be careful what we wish for? The NOMS/HMPPS legacy was always going to be the dissolution of the formerly independent Probation Service & absolute assimilation of its duties into the civil service penal estate.

Aided & abetted by a carefully selected, focused & ambitious senior management team, a trade union missing-in-action & the invited interim 'muscle' courtesy of the privateer CRCs, a once proud, professional independent Probation Service has had every last gasp of breath squeezed out it. Wrapped in the HMPPS flag, the broken body of the Probation Service is lifeless; just days away from being lowered out of sight, out of mind; forever.

The NOMS/HMPPS legacy was overseen by, in date order:

Martin Narey (2004 to 2005)
Helen Edwards (2005 to 2008)
Phil Wheatley as Director-General (2008 to 2010)
Michael Spurr (2010 to 2019)
Jo Farrar (2019 to present)

If you have the chance, pocket your £40,000+ & clear off before (1) you make yourself even more unwell &/or (2) they change their minds & give your EVR to someone else (again). NPS is a disaster-in-progress. Bale out while you can.

******
Beautifully put, I have been advising younger Officers (I am about to retire) to leave Probation which is entirely and utterly compromised. I say this with much sadness as this was not always the case. Anyone able to either retrain or have a career elsewhere as a valued Professional should consider doing so in my view. I do also take the long view that maybe in 5 or 10 or 15 years time things may change for the better... I just can't afford to wait for that (maybe) positive future for Probation.

******
"She was released the following year but recalled a few months later after criticising her probation accommodation and support workers in a tweet." This fragment of the story tells you all you need to know about post-TR probation & the priorities that motivate NPS.

******
"She was released the following year but recalled a few months later after criticising her probation accommodation and support workers in a tweet." Yes that leapt out of the page at me. I am not sure how much longer I can keep drawing the pay check. I was so proud of and inspired by the Probation Service I joined last century. I am counting down to retirement and hanging on in for the wages and pension but I find myself embarrassed to say that I am a Probation Officer these days. Ashamed. It's not good for mental health. I have flagged this up before, but it is traumatic: it has been identified as "moral injury" which is at the root of the burnout I and other old moaners are experiencing. My best bud colleague is about to retire early in a couple of months time, for this exact reason, as are other older experienced colleagues, who have managed their financial planning better than me. I am coming to the conclusion I will have to get out early, and subsist on ships biscuit, rather than peg out in harness. I can't find answers to two questions: 1. What to do about the damage to our institution and profession 2. How to do any of the precious work I want to do, which no longer seems to be what my paymaster requires.

******
I'm sure there was much more to it than simply posting a critical tweet. She would hardly be the first recalled service user to downplay the reasons for her recall.

******
Coming to this late as I've only just seen this thread. But yes, I too was struck by the readiness of posters here to accept - without question - the account given by this woman and her legal reps. Not saying there might not be a kernel of truth but seems unlikely to be anything like the full story. Perhaps this is at least part of the reason why the profession is so often under scrutiny.

******
Everything has an angle; everyone can be criticised for taking 'a view'. Perspective & context is everything. Who will know the truth of that recall? Probably no-one. The basis for any recall, in my experience, is down to whether the 'decision-maker' wants the recall to happen.

I've had recall requests refused, only to see more serious events unfold & the subsequent investigation find that my original request went 'missing' - "there's no evidence of such a request"; and had other recalls imposed upon cases in circumstances where I was trying not to recall for, in my view, sound professional reasons. "Over-ruled".

So, I can understand how/why someone might be left with the impression that a simple text/tweet was the basis for their recall; or, in fact, that that was enough to inspire a wounded decision-maker into making that call.

"Perhaps this is at least part of the reason why the profession is so often under scrutiny."

Profession? It's long gone. Scrutiny? What scrutiny?

MoJ/HMPPS/NPS have gotten away with murder, both metaphorically & literally; they have thrown £billions of public money at their chums. The only scrutiny seems to be when frontline staff are crucified for management's failure to manage.

******
The inquest into the Fishmongers’ Hall attack, as well as finding that the killings of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were unlawful, has revealed that this was a wholly preventable tragedy. The attacker, Usman Khan, wasn’t so much cleverly exploiting loopholes of the system as taking advantage of one that was wide open. A deadly mix of catastrophic naivety and a woeful lack of co-ordination between the police, MI5, prisons and probation services contributed to the awful events of November 2019.

Here was one of the most dangerous offenders in the entire prison system. Yet after release he was put under the supervision of police and probation officers who lacked the training and experience to deal with someone who was deeply ideologically motivated and deceitful.

******
"But treating offender management as a service in its own right, a service delivered by a probation system which is invested in, nurtured and valued, will undoubtedly reduce the risks and help save lives."

Danny Shaw will no doubt be aware that no-one listened to that argument in 2000; or in 2007; or in 2010; or in 2012/13/14/15...But at least he's trying to get the word out.

Two glaring issues raised by Danny's piece:

1. "From 31 March 2014 Probation Trusts will cease to operate and be replaced by a National Probation Service dealing solely with the highest risk offenders" (Probation Journal, 2013); but Grayling's favoured child, the 'new' NPS, seems to be the service that has failed most spectacularly.

2. Resources.

"the system for rehabilitating all offenders, for managing them in the community, for protecting the public has been severely stretched to the point where, in some areas of England and Wales, it is all but broken... “There will be inherent risks,” the chief inspector warned, citing “acute” staff shortages in some places... the reforms are not a “magic bullet” and must be backed by extra resources, particularly so that vacancies can be filled and staff receive the training they need."

Lol Burke, Probation Journal, 2013: "...the skills of appropriately trained practitioners in supervising offenders and delivering interventions can contribute to reducing reoffending and improving other outcomes. This is supported by international evidence (Raynor et al., 2013) that more skilled probation staff produce better results from the supervision process."

The Govt response in 2013/4? Sign contracts with private companies which had substantial job losses built in - primarily targeting the 'expensive' longer serving, more experienced staff - to improve CRC profitability.

The Govt response in 2020/21? Once again use public money to cut jobs by budgeting for an Enhanced Voluntary Redundancy scheme, i.e. lose the experienced & knowledgeable whilst replacing them with newly indoctrinated on-message recruits.

But look where reinventing the NPS got them... understaffed, under-resourced, over-stretched, tied up in redtape, burdened by bureaucracy, with shit or non-existent IT & aspiring bullies in managerial posts. Why would anyone listen now?

******
Probation has become a police force pure and simple. It's really no longer an agency of "rehabilitation" in the context of what I consider 'rehabilitation' to mean. For many offenders, particularly those leaving custody, being subjected to probation is just part of the sentence that needs to be navigated through, a time bound period to jump through the hoops, keep your problems to yourself, keep your head down and just get to the end.

I think today's probation officer, in the eyes of the offender, is seen as just another authoritarian figure no different then the landing officers waved goodbye to on discharge. All part of the same system. Probation no longer represents new beginnings, it's become the arse end of the penal system. Really it's become a process where whatever side of the desk you're sitting, both parties just want the probation period to reach its end date without any problems. Time served! No SFO and no recall. Success! Not sure if that makes for better people though.

******
The reality is that real rehabilitation does not gain votes or profit. Private Prisons and Probation don’t go out and find income sources, they make profit by cutting cost or people returning.

Liz Truss is known as an ex-environment secretary and current trade secretary, few remember that she was ever a justice secretary. Michael Gove is remembered as a Education Secretary, stabbing BJ in the back and as a pro leave campaigner, few remember that he was ever a justice secretary. Even failing Chris Grayling is remembered as the transport secretary clown, few remember that he was ever a justice secretary. The brief of Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary does not have any impact on them, few remember that they were ever justice secretaries.

I know loads of nice good people who are very caring in life but who turn when you discuss Rehabilitation. The feeling is that “layabout criminal scum” are allowed to do what they want to society and are rewarded with a bedroom with bed, TV & Xbox’s and 3 meals a day at worst. They feel that the way to reduce crime is, minimum sentences only with no end date. Lock them in a cold dark dungeon type cells, with no heating, bed or blankets. Leave them there for years. Maybe if they beg to be allowed the utmost privilege of working towards their rehabilitation they may eventually earn society’s ultimate mercy of being released, but only once they have proved beyond doubt to a sceptical panel that they are fit for release. Then let them be on probation for life scared that a officers whim could recall them back to prison where the journey starts all over again. These opinions are from a wide range of demographics that I know, including teachers and nurses.

If Liz Truss, Robert Buckland or anyone else was to suggest “rehabilitation” methods to the public they would be horrified. The “rehabilitation” approach could easily be used against people in power. The days of tackle the causes of crime are long gone. Members of the public truly believe that harsher prison and probation methods will yield lower crime, they want to believe it and are determined to believe it no matter what. Those in power, profit and professional management know that the only way to lower offending is through unpopular and somewhat costly methods that serve no benefit to them personally.

Many people in this forum argue, understandably, for more second careerers, more life experience, more lived it experience PO/PSO’s. The forum wants more people who will want to make a difference for the next 20 years as a main grade officers rather than trying to raise the ranks or to develop new career opportunities. The sad truth is that the longer term committed will want to usher in a rehabilitation approach and ask difficult pro rehabilitation questions while challenging anti rehabilitation approach. The ambitious, short termers will happily fill out the data in an office because they hope it won’t be their problem in 5, 10 years and it's good for their CV. There is some benefit in data collection and data managing. Those that are in a dominant position look adequate and not negative, and so it removes a negative impact from their portfolio.

Is it therefore better all round and overall that we have a probation service that is data collecting, management controlling with some good rehabilitation work rather than no rehabilitation at all or worse still no probation service.

Probation is no longer a long term passion and career where we undergo the challenges to protect the public and change people’s lives. It is a run in the life career ladder which demands that in order for us to increase our income, and through that move forward with our private lives, we must constantly find new ways of making ourselves more attractive to the market of better pay.

To all those reading this, is it not that short term is good, you must now move on to new pathways so you assimilate to the new ways of doing things and do not try to hold back the tide of progress. (No, don’t you dare say the powers that be progress only).

******
"Is it therefore better all round and overall that we have a probation service that is data collecting, management controlling with some good rehabilitation work rather than no rehabilitation at all or worse still no probation service."

No, it isn't. I always tried to work on the principle of 'do a job right or not at all'. We've already seen the evidence (evidence the MoJ tried to hide) that well-meaning amateurs tinkering with behaviour-change programmes doesn't work, e.g. SOTP & other OBPs. We know that people engage with skilled professionals, and equally that they 'play the game' with those they know are ticking boxes.

No probation service would, in my view, be better than the bastard hybrid system we're having to manipulate in order to survive. It's like watching a Gallagher brother eat soup with a fork.

The saddest part is that the incompetent selfish numbskulls in charge don't really know what they want the service to be - they just want to please their political masters & reap the plaudits every time HMIP dubs them "excellent leaders". That they are not. They are accomplished bullies. They excel in acquiring adoring acolytes who they reward handsomely to shore up their egos, justify their misplaced ambition & applaud their non sequiturs.

If any meaningful form of Probation Service is to exist again it needs a team of leaders who are prepared to fight for freedom from political interference, who have a knowledge of & commitment to professional standards, and who can demonstrate a collective understanding & clear argument for an independent professional Probation Service. The work of the Probation Service is too important to be driven by political whimsy, by electioneering chancers or casual racists.

As for Circles - my experience of working with them has been nothing short of superb. The recruitment & training of volunteers to work with the case I nominated was excellence in motion; the supervision those volunteers received from the area co-ordinator was second-to-none; and the work they did with the case was far beyond anything I could have hoped for. The removal of funding was a complete travesty, and the subsequent damage it did to the person at the centre of that circle was irreparable.

*******
There's a 'culture' that's developed over the last twenty years or so around 'risk' & 'dangerousness' that I feel has proved to be deeply unhealthy in so many ways. The change seems to have been the high state of kudos attached to being 'chosen' to manage a high risk/high profile case, the excitement of secrecy where case notes are 'need-to-know', the privilege of restricted access, the mystery meetings with 'special branch' or similar.

In my experience all that has led to is a toxic combination of the monetisation of 'risk management' and the weaponization of privilege, of being a chum, of being 'allowed to play'. Time was when experienced staff, managers & main grade alike, supervised a series of very high risk cases with no drama, no fanfare, no wetting of underpants. There was no 'sexiness' or sense of excitement; it was the job.

I noticed a general trend (not applicable to all, of course) that as the experience & age levels of management reduced, the trend towards overt expressions of excitement, of intrigue, of thrill-seeking, increase around the management of the more serious cases.

It was as if the case work, the professional day-job, had been transformed into a series of exciting tv thrillers for a handful of subscribers (aka chums). Not a very edifying image for the probation profession, not very respectful of the victims & their families, not very helpful to the case being managed.

A brief example - Some years back I was managing someone who I saw as a very serious threat to the public. It was transferred in as a medium risk case but, after some brief reading back through the bundle of paper files that followed, it became apparent that concern for the obvious risk was missing. I escalated the risk & meetings were held. About a month later, at one particularly large gathering with many faces I had never seen before, I was asked how & why I was concerned. I waved some old papers at people & explained my thinking... after some frowning & glances being exchanged around the table the case was taken off me & reallocated to the team manager's 'number one officer' (a far less experienced but wholly on-message member of the team) there & then. I was told I had to be 'de-briefed' & whisked away to another room. The case became invisible & I've no idea what happened to this day.

Within a few months of that meeting the manager's 'number one officer' became a senior manager. Echoes, perhaps, of the chumocracy we now endure as a nation where a privileged few - privileged by dint of birth, schooling & financial advantage - enjoy even greater privilege as they 'cash in' on their chumminess, leaving everyone else to pick up the tab.

Hands up those who have an ennobled family sending a butler to your house to deliver paid-for takeaway food? Clue: Boris Johnson's fast food is delivered & paid for by Lady Bamford, wife of Lord Bamford, provider of the private jet registered tax free in the Isle of Man to whisk the PM around the UK free of charge - also the same Bamford family (JCB) who supply the Israelis with vehicles to flatten & clear Palestinian houses, to build illegal Israeli Settlements & [accidentally?] run over Palestinian protesters.

******
It seems everybody's silent, bar the odd one or two, e.g. "counsel for the coroner, Saskia, & Jack’s family @njbarmstrong"; no-one else gives a flying fuck, no-one else feels they owe anyone anything. Probation & local police were excluded from MI5 intel; and MI5 were (if its at all possible to accept) seem to have been excluded from probation & local policing intel.

Hancock & Johnson & Gove & Jenrick & Patel & the rest of the cabinet were complicit in the unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of UK citizens. Despite the outrage & the outcry & the evidence, you'd be forgiven for thinking no-one gives a flying fuck.

"A butler secretly brought around £27,000 of luxury organic food into Downing Street for the prime minister, it has been claimed. The food was said to be ‘smuggled’ in unmarked bags which included pre-prepared meals and wine after being delivered on a Boris Bike. The fancy food was first delivered in May last year, and the drop-offs continues until February." Hands up those who have spent £27,000 on 'fast-food' deliveries in the past ten months.

People are dying. People are struggling to survive on benefits. People have been refused furlough or business grants. But the Fat Fuck that is squatting in No.10 with his bit on the side thinks that £27K of fast food paid for by someone else is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle.

And, generally speaking, no-one gives a flying fuck. What a nation. What a world. For me, the shame is painful beyond comprehension, and it's nothing to do with me! For others it seems it's all perfectly normal & they have no issue whatsoever with the lies, the deceit, the theft, the bullying, etc.

Think on... if you're ten years in & more, why not just take the EVR. En Masse. Leave the immoral fuckers to their own devices. They've publicised their massive recruitment campaign. They're all very pleased with themselves. Leave; and leave them to it. Spend the £EVR on developing a new career - something that isn't tainted by or involved with the lying scumbags, something that you WANT to do, that you've ALWAYS wanted to do.

It will only get worse.

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Probation and Drug Policy

Continuing my lonely mission of highlighting the incompatibility of probation being part of HMPPS and civil service control, here's a timely piece on the politics.co.uk website reminding us of the utter folly of our drug policy:-   

50 years in, the war on drugs is an unmitigated disaster


There’s arguably no piece of legislation in the modern era which has been more ineffective, needlessly cruel or morally insane than the Misuse of Drugs Act. Last week saw its 50th anniversary. And over the course of that half century it has maimed and mutilated countless lives, thrown hundreds of thousands of people pointlessly in prison, and accomplished the square root of absolutely nothing at all.

The facts speak for themselves. Dame Carol Black’s review of drugs for the Home Office last year found that 3 million people took drugs in England and Wales in 2019. Drug use has shot up since 1971, when the Act was passed. Less than 10,000 people took heroin back then, whereas over 250,000 do now. Cannabis use has gone from under half a million to over 2.5 million today. Around one per cent of adults had tried drugs in the 60s, compared to around a third now. It’s fair to say that the legislation has not worked for that which it was intended to achieve.

The illicit drugs market is worth an estimated £9.4 billion a year, most of which is directed towards sustaining criminal gangs. In recent years, the ‘county lines’ system has begun to supply drugs from an urban hub towards rural or coastal towns, displacing local dealers. One of its marked features is the exploitation of children, typically aged around 15-17, who are deployed as ‘runners’ transporting drugs and money.

On any given day, a third of the prison population is there for drug related crime – around 40% for convictions on the basis of specific drug offences and 60% for crimes related to drug addiction, like theft. In prison, they continue to use drugs. Random drug test data suggests 12,500 inmates – about 15% of the total population – are using drugs on any given day. Most users entered prison with a drug problem, but eight per cent of female inmates and 13% of males developed their problem with drugs while they were incarcerated.

These figures do not include the people who are given a caution for drug possession, many of them teenagers. We rarely talk about this, because it doesn’t involve a prison sentence, and therefore seems fairly small-fry. But cautions involve an admission of guilt and therefore constitute a criminal record. They freeze countless thousands of young people out of many of the professions and kneecap their career before it has even begun.

Under any possible analysis, the war on drugs has been an unmitigated failure. More people take drugs, more people die of them, more people end up in prison, and more money is funnelled into criminal gangs. For half a century we have tried to accomplish something which cannot be done. We have legislated for what is inconceivable. And, in reality, we have fuelled the worst possible side-effects of drug use: broken lives, dead bodies and rich criminals.

If the world made any sense, the political class would accept that the legislation has failed. It would acknowledge that people are clearly going to take drugs regardless of whether they are banned or not. It would prioritise their protection rather than their criminalisation. It would read the data, recognise the endless wave of needless suffering it reflects, and do something to change it.

But the world does not make any sense and therefore the political class has done something else, which is actually quite startlingly insane. It has drawn the curtains, turned off the lights, and pretended that reality does not exist. It has closed itself off from expert opinion and the basic facts of narcotics use so that it can justify continuing with a demonstrably failed policy.

In many ways, drug policy was an early forerunner of post-truth politics. Anyone who tried to point out what was really happening was ignored, or, if they refused to keep ignoring reality, punished. In 2009, David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, a statutory body which reports to the government on drug harms, contributed to a paper assessing the damage of various narcotics. His analysis of nine “parameters of harm” suggested alcohol was the fifth most harmful drug – after heroin, cocaine barbiturates and methadone, but ahead of LSD, ecstasy or cannabis. The response of the then-home secretary, Alan Johnson, was to dismiss him.

This is the standard operating model which successive governments have used. For decades now, parliamentary select committees have called on the government to investigate drug law reform, only to be ignored by whoever was in No.10. And that approach remains in place today. Dame Carol Black’s review of drugs was explicitly barred by the government from considering “changes to the existing legislative framework”.

It makes no difference who is in power. The policy is the same under Labour or Conservatives. There isn’t even any distinction within the parties. For all their differences, and the ferocious infighting that goes with them, you could fit a thin blue Rizla paper between the drug policy of Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer. The closest we ever got to sense was Tony Blair downgrading cannabis to Class C – a decision that was soon reversed.

It doesn’t even matter what politicians’ views were on drug reform before they took office. In 2002, David Cameron was part of the home affairs committee when it recommended a discussion on “the possibility of legalisation and regulation”. Ten years later, when he was prime minister, he ruled out a suggestion from the very same home affairs committee that there should be a royal commission on drugs. No matter who sits in No.10, the view never changes. People who saw sense magically became impervious to it when in power. And then, like former home secretary Jacqui Smith, rediscover their sense after they have left it.

The curtains stay down, the lights stay off, the war on drugs continues, and all evidence discounting it is rejected.

If we were going to be honest about drugs, we would admit the following six things.

First: you cannot stop people using drugs. People have used drugs for millenia. As far as we can tell, they have done it since the dawn of man. Wherever you find a human activity that cannot be stopped, you are best off trying to regulate it, so that you can minimise harm, instead of trying to outlaw it, which will merely drive it underground.

Second: we should not try to ban drugs, even if we did have a chance of succeeding at it. It is up to people to decide what they want to put in their body. Many drugs are harmful. Even relatively harmless drugs like cannabis can suck the dynamism and ambition out of people. Other drugs, like methamphetamines, are much more dangerous. But in every case, it is people’s right to choose to do it.

Some people find that opinion shocking. And yet they at the same time believe alcohol should be legal. This simply makes no sense. Alcohol can make people violent, damage the body, and be addictive. We respond by helping those who struggle with it, while respecting the decision of those who choose to consume it. The same applies to other drugs and there is no morally consistent position to claim otherwise.

Third: our moral duty as a society is to help people who decide to take drugs. That involves providing addiction services for those who cannot stop, advice for people experimenting, and regulating the market so that drug dealers are prevented from mixing dangerous ingredients in with the active ones.

Fourth: the war on drugs has created a ceaseless grind of broken lives, in which tens of thousands of people are funnelled into prisons for a non-violent crime, where they are brutalised all over again by an under-funded system, and then become more likely to take drugs and commit crime in order to buy them. Even the caution system, which devastates young people’s professional prospects, constitutes a cruel and needlessly vindictive response to a perfectly normal youthful curiosity.

Fifth: the war on drugs ignores the rich while punishing the poor. Look at the government. Around the Cabinet table, prime minister Boris Johnson and minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove have admitted taking cocaine, while foreign secretary Dominic Rabb has admitted taking cannabis. Why are they any different from the people currently languishing in prison? Why should they be allowed to treat drugs as youthful high-jinks, when others have their lives ruined by the police response? The answer is because of their class. Overwhelmingly, people from more elevated social backgrounds avoid the brutality of the system, while those from poorer backgrounds do not. As Barack Obama said: “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do.”

Sixth: the war on drugs is racist. It was from the beginning and it still is today. Black people are stopped and searched for drugs at almost nine times the rate of whites. They are convicted of cannabis possession at 11.8 times the rate, despite having lower rates of self-reported use. As a UN group of human rights experts said in 2019: “The war on drugs has operated more effectively as a system of racial control than as a mechanism for combating the use and trafficking of narcotics.”

The cruel irony is that the world around us is realising the insanity of the war of drugs, even as Britain stays trapped in its curtains-down, self-imposed blindness. In the US, state after state has experimented with drug reform. The pressure is now building at the federal level, with the House of Representatives voting to pass a bill to decriminalise cannabis late last year. In Europe, several countries are pursuing liberalisation to various degrees, including Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway, the Czech Republic and Germany.

Britain stands increasingly alone, pursuing a deranged fantasy agenda which drives users into danger and money into gangs. The war on drugs cannot be won and it should not be won, even if it could be.

We can’t put up with another 50 years of this deranged masquerade. The price in human lives is too steep. But where is the political leader with the bravery, the insight and the backbone to say so? At the moment they are nowhere to be seen. So instead, we stay in our self-imposed madness, keeping the curtains locked down tight, patrolling the light switch, and dismissing anyone who speaks the truth.

Ian Dunt is editor-at-large for Politics.co.uk. His new book, How To Be A Liberal, is out now.

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Another HMPPS Backwards Step

Probation should not be part of HMPPS and here's another reason why. Just caught up with this from Insidetime:- 

Double podding!

Game changing’ proposals condemned by prison reform groups as ‘panic measures’ and ‘terrible step backwards’

Portable single cells being used to provide extra accommodation during the pandemic may be “doubled up” with bunk beds to cope with surging prisoner numbers.

Since the first wave of Covid-19 struck last year, the Ministry of Justice has installed more than 1,000 temporary units – known as “pods” – in the grounds of English and Welsh jails to reduce cell-sharing. So far there has been only one occupant per pod. Each has a single bed, toilet and shower, and they have generally proved popular. However, it has now emerged that the Prison Service is prepared to make prisoners share pods, if necessary, to meet population pressures.

A spokesperson told Inside Time that around half of the 1,070 units currently in use at 31 jails “can be converted into doubles with the use of a bunk for two occupants”. The spokesman added that “double occupancy is viewed as being a contingency only” and would require the governor’s approval.

The plan drew immediate criticism from prison reform charities. Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, called it a “panic measure” and said: “They are completely inappropriate to put two people in. That’s ridiculous.”

Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “Time and again, new single cells, designed and built for one person, are doubled up. Decent accommodation is made indecent. It would be a terrible step backwards if that now happened with cells bought explicitly to eliminate the need to share.”

The scheme came to light when GFSL, the Government-owned maintenance contractor, announced last month that it had installed 80 pods at HMP Ford – which it described as 40 singles and 40 doubles, claiming they would soon be occupied by 120 men. The MoJ later clarified that all 80 would start off in single-occupancy use, but confirmed that 40 could hold two men in the future. It was unable to say how much size difference there is between pods that are considered suitable for doubling-up and those that are seen as too small.

The pods installed so far, known as Temporary Accommodation Units, were announced as single-occupancy cells to reduce virus transmission and were obtained “off the shelf” from portable building suppliers – the majority from hire firm Bunkabin.

Looking beyond the pandemic, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has announced plans for a further 1,000 portable units to increase prison capacity. These will be known as Rapid Deployment Cells and will be custom-designed for the Prison Service to a higher security standard.

The MoJ spokesperson said it had not yet been decided if the Rapid Deployment Cells would be singles or doubles. If they are doubles, then by next year there could be 2,000 portable cells in total, holding up to 3,500 prisoners.

Prisoner numbers are expected to surge over the next few years as courts recover from the coronavirus pandemic, extra police officers make more arrests, and the effects of longer sentences start to be felt. MoJ forecasts last year show the prison population increasing by around 20,000 over the next five years. The Government is spending £4 billion building 18,000 extra places, but with sites not yet confirmed for several of the new jails there are doubts over whether their construction will be completed in time.

Antonia Romeo, Permanent Secretary at the MoJ, told a Parliamentary committee the Rapid Deployment Cells would be a “game changer” in ensuring there were enough places.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Guilty by Association

A much-respected old colleague rang me last night for a chat and I took the opportunity of asking them a question I've put to others of late:- "Is being a probation officer compatible with being a civil servant?"  The answer was a categoric "No!"  So why are we and where's the vigorous campaign to regain our identity and independence? Whilst ever probation remains part of HMPPS and subject to civil service command and control, bureaucracy, secrecy and unaccountability, we are disgracefully part of a system responsible for what Eric Allison recently recounts here in the Guardian:- 

Two deaths in English prisons make me wonder how civilised we are in 2021

Without doubt, the conditions in jails in England and Wales are currently – and by some distance – the worst I’ve ever known them: both in four decades as a career criminal after first entering custody in 1957; and latterly, for 17 years, writing about the prison system that held me for about 16 years, on and off.

I base that statement on clear evidence. The past 14 months have been by far my busiest since joining this paper as prisons correspondent; inundated by calls, messages, letters about how Covid has had an impact on an already grossly underfunded, chaotic and dangerous system.

Then, earlier this month, I received shocking accounts of two deaths in custody from the charity Inquest, which were heard in evidence before two juries at two coroner’s courts. They have seared themselves indelibly in my mind and made me reassess my belief that I can no longer be shocked by anything coming out of our wretched penal estate.

On 21 May a jury at West London coroner’s court delivered their narrative verdict on the death of Winston Augustine and heard evidence about the last three days of his life. They heard that, on 28 August 2018, he was moved to the segregation unit at HMP Wormwood Scrubs in west London. On 30 August, at 16.47 he was found to have killed himself in his cell. Pathological evidence indicated he had been dead for four to five hours.

Dead for that length of time, in daylight, in a prison cell on a small unit? What was going on?

The jury were told Augustine’s cell door had not been opened since he arrived on the unit and that he had received no food in the time he had been there. Pathological evidence showed his body was in a state of ketoacidosis, indicative of starvation. He was also starved of his medication: a daily slow-release dose of the strong painkiller tramadol, prescribed to relieve his chronic pain, caused by kidney stones. The day before he died a nurse and a doctor were, separately, refused permission to see him. The nurse pushed a single dose of tramadol under his cell door. It’s not known if he took it, but the jury heard he would have been in “severe pain” when he died. The jury found the failure to fulfil his need for food and medication contributed to his death.

What did the officers in that unit say about this man’s treatment? That he was “non-compliant” and therefore too dangerous for them to unlock his door. Segregation units are generally well staffed and sometimes hold people who tend not to comply with rules.

The other prison death inquest concluded on 21 May. The jury at Milton Keynes coroner’s court had deliberated on the death of Mark Culverhouse, who killed himself in another segregation unit, this time at HMP Woodhill on 23 April 2019.

Culverhouse, 29, had a minor criminal record but major mental health issues. The jury heard that, six days before his death, he had climbed some scaffolding and threatened to jump off the third-storey frame. Skilled negotiators talked him down before he was arrested for offences related to the incident.

He was taken into custody by police in Northampton and deemed fit to be detained, despite one of his negotiators wanting him to be assessed under the Mental Health Act. The next day, Culverhouse was taken to court, but before appearing had to be taken to hospital after repeatedly head-butting a wall in the cell area.

While he was in hospital – and repeatedly saying he would kill himself if he went back to prison – the probation service decided to recall him to prison in relation to a previous short sentence for driving while disqualified.

That recall was unlawful because he had served his full time on that sentence, but, astonishingly, the jury heard the probation service did not, then, calculate sentences before recalling prisoners.

On arrival at Woodhill, CCTV footage captured him telling staff he had tried to kill himself and asking to go to hospital. On 19 April, he was moved to the segregation unit, where he repeatedly hit his head hard and said he wanted to die. He was taken to the prison hospital and spent a few days under constant observation.

Four days later, he was taken back to segregation in restraints following a row with another prisoner. Again Culverhouse hit his head hard and expressed his wish to die. Later that day, he was found dead.

In Woodhill, he was subject to self-harm observation, so should have been monitored closely. The day he died, two observation notes simply recorded him lying under a sheet. He was in that position, dead, when finally, staff entered his cell to physically check on him. Administrative staff had been told that he might be due for immediate release, but this information was not passed on to him.

It is said that our prime minister is a great admirer of Winston Churchill, who reportedly said: “The treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country.” Staying with history: the senior coroner at the inquest into Culverhouse’s death said he was “outraged” at the circumstances and said his detention was unlawful and “contrary to the Magna Carta of 1215”.

In this, my second career, I have come across many organisations connected to the criminal justice system. Some, in my view, do a better job than others. The charity Inquest would be at the top of that group. Please visit their website and read what these two men meant to their families. And remember: two men, not numbers, died in prison. One where starvation played a part, the other held unlawfully, according to laws established 800 years ago.

A measure of our civilisation, in 2021?

Eric Allison is the Guardian’s prisons correspondent

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

A Service In Its Own Right

In the wake of the Usman Khan inquest verdict, silence from HMPPS high command and probation about to be totally subsumed by bureaucracy, here's former BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw making the case for something novel:-
"But treating offender management as a service in its own right, a service delivered by a probation system which is invested in, nurtured and valued, will undoubtedly reduce the risks and help save lives."
Risking it all

It all felt sadly, appallingly familiar.

When the inquest jury concluded that failings by the police, probation and MI5 had contributed to the deaths of Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt at Fishmongers’ Hall in London it reminded me of three other cases where those entrusted with protecting the public simply hadn’t done what they should have done. The failings in each case were similar to those which led to the killings of the two University of Cambridge graduates in November 2019 - but none involved a convicted terrorist. It serves as a reminder that we should not see what Usman Khan did at Fishmongers’ Hall as an isolated event, unique to terrorism.

In 2016, there was the case of Leroy Campbell, a violent sex offender who raped and murdered 37-year-old Lisa Skidmore, attempted to kill her elderly mother and set fire to Lisa’s flat in Wolverhampton. At the time, Campbell was under probation supervision, having been released from prison four months earlier. An official review said the “most striking” of a string of failings was a decision by probation staff “not to respond actively enough to a clear indication that risk may be increasing notably”.

The following year, 28-year-old Quyen Nguyen was found burned to death in her car, near Sunderland. She’d been held captive, tortured and raped. The two men responsible for her murder, Stephen Unwin and William McFall, were both convicted killers who’d been on life licence after being let out of prison. At the inquest into Quyen’s death, the Coroner pointed to a series of mistakes in the way Unwin and McFall had been monitored saying they’d been “emboldened in all of their unlawful activities by what they must have perceived as the failures on the part of the authorities to expose their deceit”.

And in 2019, the year of the Fishmongers’ Hall attacks, a convicted burglar, Joseph McCann, carried out a terrifying campaign of sexual violence against eleven women and children two months after he’d been released from prison. An independent report set out a number of shocking failings including the loss of crucial information as probation officers struggled to deal with their caseloads. Staff missed eight opportunities to activate the recall process and send McCann back to jail, before he launched the attacks.

The circumstances of each of these cases are different, of course, but the themes, when examined in detail, are the same: a readiness to accept the word of manipulative, dangerous offenders allied to a lack of curiosity about what they were up to; a failure by agencies and staff to share vital information; and poor case management linked to pressures of workload and inexperience. The themes will doubtless ring a bell or two for those who’ve followed the Fishmongers’ Hall inquest.

However, the focus of the Government’s response to that avoidable tragedy has been to frame it almost completely in the context of terrorism. So there’ll be tougher sentences in terror cases, with more terrorism prisoners assessed for release by the Parole Board; polygraph tests for terrorism offenders on licence will be introduced; and more probation staff and psychologists will be trained in counter-terrorism. These are welcome developments but they don’t get to the heart of the problem: the system for rehabilitating all offenders, for managing them in the community, for protecting the public has been severely stretched to the point where, in some areas of England and Wales, it is all but broken.

Although a number of agencies play a part in monitoring offenders, the responsibility primarily falls on the probation system whose deficiencies have been highlighted in a succession of worrying reports. In his annual review, in December 2020, Justin Russell, the chief inspector of probation, set out his concerns. “For more than 15 years, probation funding has been on a downward trend,” he said. “Government spending per person under supervision is down 40% in real terms since 2003/2004.” Russell said the area which suffered from the “weakest performance” and which “most concerned” him was work managing the risk of harm, in other words, protecting people. “Time and again, we are finding that some of the fundamental tasks of effective risk management have been missed,” he wrote.

So what is the remedy? Ministers are pinning their hopes on a new model of offender supervision to be implemented on June 26. It is a massive and complex change that involves staff from 54 separate organisations, including 7,500 in the private and voluntary sectors, coming together under the auspices of the state-run National Probation Service. That the preparations for the overhaul are taking place during a pandemic has made it all the more challenging. Indeed, in his latest report, Russell revealed that it could take “at least four years” for the new structure to be fully in place. “There will be inherent risks,” the chief inspector warned, citing “acute” staff shortages in some places, potential “gaps” in rehabilitation support and concerns that progress in helping prisoners resettle in communities will be set back.

The consensus is that the new, unified probation system will be more effective than the existing two-tier set up, under which low and medium risk offenders are dealt with by privately-owned community rehabilitation companies and those posing the highest threat supervised by the state. However, as Russell has noted, the reforms are not a “magic bullet” and must be backed by extra resources, particularly so that vacancies can be filled and staff receive the training they need.

For probation officers, change is nothing new. The Government promised a “rehabilitation revolution” in 2010, repeating the pledge in 2012 when its ill-conceived plans to partially privatise the system were announced. The “revolution” never materialised and in many respects rehabilitation provision and offender management have deteriorated over the past decade, increasing the risks to the public.

We will never know whether a properly funded and less battered probation service would have stopped Campbell, Unwin, McFall, McCann or even Khan. And we shouldn’t pretend that the risks posed by offenders can be eliminated through better information sharing, more sophisticated training and rigorous case management. But treating offender management as a service in its own right, a service delivered by a probation system which is invested in, nurtured and valued, will undoubtedly reduce the risks and help save lives.

Danny Shaw

Monday, 31 May 2021

A Good Thing

I'm going to stick my neck out here and state that some things in life fall clearly into a category that most informed people would be content to label 'a good thing'. Probation used to be one of them, but sadly no longer as it approaches full command and control of HMPPS next month. On the other hand 'Circles' clearly does and I notice they've just published a final report. Readers will recall that HMPPS disgracefully pulled the funding of this imaginative and innovative way of working in 2018. (Charts and diagrams omitted here).      

Celebrating the Completing the Circle Project: widening access to Circles for people convicted of sexual offences 

Circles UK recently hosted an on-line seminar to celebrate the successes of the ‘Completing the Circle’ project and the lessons arising from it. The ‘Completing the Circle’ project was an ambitious four-year programme which sought to end the ‘postcode lottery’ of access to the community safety and rehabilitative benefits of Circles. 

What are Circles (‘Circles of Support and Accountability’)? 

Circles UK’s vision is of ‘no more victims’. Its mission is to enhance public safety by working with individuals who have sexually abused others, and are at risk of doing so again, to self-manage inappropriate thoughts and behaviours, reintegrate safely into society, and lead responsible lives. 

The Circles model (also known as Circles of Support and Accountability) is a complementary approach which harnesses the strengths and resources of local people to augment the statutory risk management of sexual harm causers in the community. In the Circles model the abuser becomes the ‘Core Member’ of an ‘inner Circle’ made up of 4-6 professionally trained and supervised Volunteers. The Circle seeks to prevent further sexual abuse by reducing stigma and social isolation; factors known to be strongly associated with sexual recidivism. The Circle focuses on a person’s ‘positives’ and ‘strengths’ and seeks to support him/her to access safe social outlets and opportunities, avoid dangerous and enabling situations and behaviours and manage day to day challenges. In so doing the Circle serves to reduce the risk of reoffending associated with alienation and the attendant risk of harm to existing and potential victims. 

Circles UK was established in 2008 to set up and oversee organisations to deliver Circles in England and Wales. Organisations which run Circles must become members of Circles UK and operate within the requirements of a Code of Practice. These Circles ‘Providers’, as they are known, are also subject to biennial audits by Circles UK to ensure that quality and safety standards are maintained. There are currently nine Circles Providers working across England and Wales. 

Since 2008 over 900 Circles have run successfully with a known reoffending rate of less than 7%. 

What was the Completing the Circle Project? 

In 2015, the National Lottery Community Fund awarded over £2million to a consortium of Circle Providers, led by Circles UK. This consortium was given just 4 years to set up and run 188 new Circles in parts of England and Wales where they had not existed before. As the intention of the project was to ensure that communities in every part of the country would have access to Circles, the project was called ‘Completing the Circle, or ‘CtC’ for short. Circles delivery was expanded to five previously un-served parts of the country - Merseyside, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, and London.

What were the main successes?
  • All 188 Circles were established and completed in the parts of the country where no such service has been available before.
  • 778 Volunteers were recruited, trained, and closely supervised to provide the 188 new Circles.
  • In addition to many hours of mandatory core training, 291 Volunteers received additional supplemental training.
  • 103 Volunteers were supported to achieve National Open College Network accredited certification.
  • These Volunteers gave 35,976 hours of their time to help reduce sexual harm within their communities and roughly the same amount of time travelling to and from Circle meetings and activities.
  • The goal of helping sexual harm causers (Core Members in a Circle) to safely reintegrate into their communities was achieved. An independent evaluation showed that dynamic risk factors reduced and ‘protective’ factors across a range of variables, including employment, purposeful activities and hobbies, stable emotional relationships, and emotional wellbeing, improved.
Areas in England and Wales where Circles were successfully established due to the Completing the Circle project:

Lancashire 13 Circles
Notts/Derby 24 Circles
Merseyside 25 Circles
Lincolnshire 13 Circles
Northants 19 Circles
London 94 Circles

Volunteer hours 35,976

How were these results achieved – a case study 

To illustrate some of the issues that had to be overcome to make the project such a success, the London roll out will be used as a case study. London was the largest of the geographical areas involved in the project. There are more registered sex offenders (RSOs) living in the capital city than in any other area of England and Wales, with recent Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures reporting 6,581 Registered Sex Offenders being managed under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). Even though the benefits of adding Circles to the existing range of public protection measures in London were self-evident from the start and the project was welcomed by statutory and other-sector partners, establishing 94 new Circles from scratch without pre-existing infrastructures, partnership relationships or a volunteer recruitment strategy in place presented significant challenges. 

What were the main challenges and how were they overcome?

Establishing effective multi-agency collaboration and information sharing protocols across the entire London area was a complex task requiring the Circle Provider in London to engage with multiple agencies and service providers within each of the London boroughs. It was achieved through the creation of a multi-agency steering group which developed and agreed protocols and agreed a Memorandum of Understanding. This took time to negotiate but was eventually signed off by all the key partners.

Once the project was operational, attention turned to promotion and referrals. Partnership agencies wanted delivery to be rolled out ‘clockwise’ beginning in the south west boroughs, so Circle Coordinators attended regional Senior Management Board and Cluster Management Meetings and delivered presentations at individual Offender Management Units throughout this area. Referral enquiries were slow to materialise, however, and to keep the project on target the roll out strategy had to be re-negotiated, with the outcome that agreement was secured to allow referrals to come in city-wide.

Understandably, some of the Volunteers who had already been recruited and trained to work in the south west of London chose not to continue at this point. In response, a pan-London recruitment initiative was developed, urgently targeting universities, volunteer bureaus, retirement, and religious/belief groups etc. across all boroughs to find citizens willing and able to volunteer in the areas where referrals existed.

This solution, though productive, threw up a new set of demands. Matching Service Users, Volunteers and restricted staff resources across a larger area was exacting. Multiple Volunteer training events had to be organised and the travel and time demands upon both Volunteers and Coordinators grew. Staff workloads, which had originally been calculated based on a restricted geographical patch, also increased. Indeed, the decision to promote the project and recruit Volunteers from across the entire London area, though constructive, stretched the staff group significantly. Hard work and tenacity on their part carried things through. In addition, where funding allowed, extra staff were recruited.

As the project moved on it became evident that a high proportion of referrals were for individuals resettled in London from other areas of the country. Many of these people were unfamiliar with local services. Often, they struggled to meet expensive travel costs as well. Similar issues emerged for some of the London based students who chose to volunteer. Higher than anticipated levels of staff turnover among the referring agencies also occurred, which was found to impact on communication and pace. To address these issues a lot of additional time was given over to supporting and enabling participation and engagement. It was also spent nurturing and maintaining relationships with partnership colleagues.

A concerted recruitment drive and tenacious programme of awareness raising took place alongside these efforts. Circle Coordinators visited individual Probation offices, attended MOSOVO meetings and spoke at partnership meetings. They ran stalls at Volunteer recruitment fairs, gave presentations at universities and set up a scheme to encourage established Volunteers to recruit their friends. As a result of these efforts, by early 2018 target ‘catch up’ had largely been achieved and the project was on course to complete in full and on time.

Then, in March 2018, her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) announced that all probation funding for Circles would end in September 2018. This decision was unexpected. In the preceding 15 months Circles UK had engaged in detailed discussions with HMPPS officials to introduce a nationally commissioned contract, a process which built upon a longstanding relationship between the Circles network and the Ministry of Justice/Probation Service. Even though funding for the London Circles came from the National Lottery Fund (and required no direct funding from probation or other statutory agencies), confusion and uncertainty resulted among Probation senior managers and staff. The result was that many referrals were withdrawn or suspended on the mistaken premise that all Circles delivery had ceased with immediate effect. Crisis discussions were entered at the highest level with the Ministry of Justice and senior probation officials. As a result, referrals for Circles in London were reinstated and the project was able to continue. Significant delays had, however, been caused.

Despite the challenges faced, by October 2019 the goal of establishing 94 Circles in London had been achieved. Multi Agency relationships have remained robust ever since. The pay-off delivered by the project in London is such that the National Probation Service has since provided ongoing funding. Financial support has also been given by the City Bridge Trust. That the people of London still benefit from the improvements in public protection afforded by Circles is testament to the creative ‘can-do’ attitude of Circle Volunteers and staff. Their example is repeated across the country.

Results by Borough

Circles were provided in 30 of the 32 boroughs – an outstanding achievement for a small staff team, particularly given the challenges and setbacks they encountered.

Conclusion 

This article/blog has outlined the successes, challenges and learning of the operational delivery of the Completing the Circle project. It does not include the results of an independent evaluation of the project. This can be found in a separate article/blog which can be accessed here. 

Circles UK would like to express its sincere appreciation to the National Lottery for funding the project, the Sexual Offences, Crime and Misconduct Research Unit (SOCMRU), Nottingham Trent University and the Circles Providers who participated as delivery partners. These were: 

• Circles South East https://circlessoutheast.org.uk/ 
• The Safer Living Foundation https://www.saferlivingfoundation.org/ 
• Change, Grow, Live https://www.changegrowlive.org/ 
• re;shape (no longer operational) 
• CROPT (no longer operational)