Saturday 17 March 2012

New Crime Launched

Yes it's true. At a time of supposed falling crime rates and in what can only be described as a stroke of genius, those boffins at the Home Office have come up with a cunning plan to create more work for the police, G4S, CPS, HMCTS, HMP and the Probation Service to boot! As reported here by the BBC, trials are due to start in England and Wales next month:-

"Offenders who commit crimes fuelled by alcohol are to be monitored and breath-tested to ensure they stop drinking, under government plans.
Police will have powers to impose "sobriety orders" on drinkers cautioned for minor offences, such as criminal damage or public disorder.
They will be regularly breath-tested, with those known for weekend binges tested at those times."

What a fantastic idea, especially when the police don't have much to do. All those pesky pissed-up Friday and Saturday night revellers having to queue up at the station to be breath-tested on a Friday and Saturday night when things are quiet down at the nick. It cunningly creates a whole new raft of offences - like failing to turn up for testing - and thus in one master stroke generates lots more offenders and hence work for all of us in the Criminal Justice System. I simply don't know why we didn't think of this before - you just tell someone to stop drinking and lock 'em up if they don't!

It's brilliant and just the sort of thing I'd expect from those young, thrusting up-and-coming Civil Servants and policy advisers down at the Home Office. It's bound to lead to promotion and the fast track to the top. You know, like Louise Casey.

Friday 9 March 2012

An Apology

As children I suspect most of us are taught to tell the truth. I can well remember getting a good hiding when a pathetic attempt to plant blame on someone else failed and I was reminded of the virtue of honesty. But as we grow older the issue begins to get a little blurred when the mixed messages start. When asked if we like auntie's new outfit, we're suddenly told that telling the truth about its awfulness is not acceptable. 

As we get older, hopefully we begin to learn the concept of 'good' and 'bad' lies and the general nuances of life that make things so difficult for those people who suffer from a learning disability for instance. Most of us would agree that at some point in our life we will be faced with a 'cost benefit analysis' dilemma when we have to balance the chances of getting caught against some possible reward or advantage. In other words, a moral dilemma.

One of the most challenging aspects of being a Probation Officer is highlighted in this post by Tony on Prisoners Families Voices. He frankly admits to having reached the age of 39, never having had a job. He's been in and out of prison most of his adult life and bemoans how little help his Probation Officer had been following his release in 2011. I suspect he hoped that his PO could help him find a job, and that would be a realistic and normal expectation in my view. But the issue is always what to put on the bloody CV? Just how can you cover 20-odd years constructively and in the absense of any work record?

Tony quite quickly identified the inherent problem in following the no doubt sound advice from his PO to tell the truth and hope that a sympathetic employer will still call him for interview. I've given this advice myself many times with a heavy heart, both of us knowing deep down that, especially in a worsening economic climate, the chances of it bearing fruit are close to zero.

No wonder then that many clients like Tony decide to ignore advice from probation and instead concoct fairytale CV's. There're not alone in doing that though are they? The middle classes have always indulged in a bit of 'creative accounting' where employment histories are concerned, so is it really that terrible? Of course there is always the risk of being found out, but there is also an inherent and huge incentive on the part of the client to become a model hard-working employee and establish a work record. We call that rehabilitation of course.

There are potential problems, such as in relation to Schedule 1 offenders where there is a clear duty to inform employers if there is likely to be any contact with children or vulnerable adults. But this is a pretty unlikely scenario nowadays with the advent of CRB checks. I really hope it works out well for Tony in his minimum wage job and that he's able to progress to greater and better things. I'm just so sorry we weren't much help.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

I See Trouble Ahead

I think everyone would agree that finding a newly-released prisoner a job as soon as possible would be A Good Thing. Surely it must therefore be very good news that all prisoners will be required to join the governments Work Programme as a condition of being paid Job Seekers Allowance on release? Well, I'm not so sure and sadly I predict all kinds of trouble ahead. As is so typical of governments nowadays, they seem to feel they know best and I bet the idea wasn't discussed with bodies such as Probation, who just might have a constructive view on the subject.

Long experience tells me that prisoners being released often have a whole host of immediate and pressing problems to deal with such as where the hell to live or how to sort out their script for methadone. In addition they are bound to want to make urgent contact with family, children and partners as these relationships are quite likely to have suffered significantly during any period in prison. They will have urgent need to see their probation officer and may well have quite onerous licence conditions to adhere to. These are just some of the possible pressures laid upon newly-released prisoners and that give rise to the often-heard refrain 'my heads up my arse' or 'my head's in bits.'

So on top of all this we are now going to add an immediate requirement to provide evidence that serious efforts are being made to find a job. Failure to turn up for interviews with the Work Programme provider, or satisfy the adviser that you are compiling your CV, or applying for jobs will mean a sanction of some or all of a claimant's benefit. The pressure is going to be enormous because of course the Programme provider, such as A4E, will be paid by results. A price is effectively on each released prisoners head and can amount to as much as £5,600 if someone stays in a job for two years. 

All I will say is that the advisers involved would be well advised to bone up on their people skills because they're going to need to tread very carefully and sensitively with some potentially very stressed and angry people. Failure to exercise some compassion and understanding at an often very difficult stage in a person's life is quite likely to be counter-productive and rebound in a great deal more prison recalls, or worse in my view. It could be yet another example of the unintended consequences of a bit of social policy that hasn't been fully thought through. 

Sunday 4 March 2012

Perks of the Job

I must admit that over the years I've always had a degree of naive astonishment in relation to the amount of sensitive information appearing in the media and exactly how it might have found it's way there. According to Inspector Gadget it's quite straightforward. He says that ever since the days of the Illustrated London News and the notorious 'Jack the Ripper' case, police officers have simply sold information to the press. He goes on to have the cheek to imply that in effect such actions are merely providing a public service and it's us who are to blame as the newspaper-buying-public. 

His views appear to find support with several former very senior Metropolitan Police officers and whom have recently been giving evidence to the Leveson Enquiry. Former DAC Peter Clarke seemed to excuse the whole thing by saying 'Invasions of privacy are odious, distressing and illegal, but to put it bluntly, they don't kill you, terrorists do." That's all right then!

Of course Probation Officers have always know that as public servants such behaviour is not only illegal but unprofessional, unethical, unwise and appalling to boot. So how come the police seem to believe otherwise and it takes a woman, DAC Sue Akers to say something rather different? Her testimony to the Leveson Enquiry is indeed astonishing to most public servants and members of the public generally, but I honestly think that amongst many police officers there's a feeling of 'What's all the fuss about? It's just a perk of the job and anyway the public love all this salacious gossip.'

The real tragedy of course is that such a belief appears to have broadened into a widespread culture and attitude that is nothing short of corruption involving as it does allegations of the sale of secret information, the frustration of investigations, criminal collusion as well as plain old cronyism.

As I seem to say on a regular basis, we've been here before. I can't be the only person to recall that former Commissioner of the Met Sir Robert Mark got so fed up with the corruption amongst London's CID in the 1970's that he forced them all into uniform for a period. He's famously quoted as saying "A good police force is one that catches more crooks than it employs." In those days I think the perk of the job was taking backhanders from pornographers in Soho. It's obviously got a bit more sophisticated since then.  

Thursday 1 March 2012

Law of Unintended Consequences

At various times in my career I've considered the option of working in a prison, but always rejected it. When I started, some probation areas had a policy of compelling PO's to undertake a stint in prison as there was always a fear that if you didn't rotate staff regularly, there was a danger of staff losing their, shall we say 'distinctiveness'. Some older readers might even recall that in the dim distant past some vociferous elements within NAPO even tried to get all probation staff removed on the grounds that working inside prison was inconsistent with our values. 

My main reason for not working in a prison is that basically someone, other than my employer, could lock me out at the drop of a hat and I would have virtually no means of redressing that action. In an absolutely astonishing move, this is precisely what has happened to all the probation staff at three prisons in South Yorkshire. The governor in charge of HMP Moorlands, Lindholme and Hatfield has taken the action because he discovered that South Yorkshire Probation Trust has got into bed with private prison contractor G4S. Now of course that's the company currently engaged in trying to win the bid to run these three prisons and hence wrest them away from the public sector.

The problem is that South Yorkshire thought this was a smart move because it meant they would get a seat on the Board of G4S and actually be sharing the driving seat running these three prisons, rather than just being a sub-contractor to G4S, if they won the contract. The governor is furious and apparently his boss at NOMS has refused to overturn the decision. To say it's a mess would be an understatement. As of right now 2,000 inmates in three prisons have no probation service looking after their interests and helping them prepare for release. All this beggars belief when you realise that the prison and probation service are supposed to have unified management and oversight in the form of NOMS. Just another unintended consequence of the barmy privatisation agenda.