Friday, 19 July 2013

Omnishambles - What We Know

I thought it might be useful to try and pull together the precious little we know about the plans for Transforming Rehabilitation and the carve-up of probation. I'm grateful to a number of people who have supplied bits of information, and that says something in itself about this bloody omnishambles fiasco doesn't it? Information has to be gleaned subversively by means of word-of-mouth, tweets, clandestine e-mails and just plain guesswork.  

Is this any way to run what is supposed to be a sophisticated western democracy with 'plans' sketched out on the back of a fag packet? Much of this information comes from a fairly recent TR Programme Reorganisation conference for probation managers and could well be out of date now. Remember, they really are making it up as they go along down there at the MoJ. 

Warning - some of the following may not make sense, and any clarification is welcome.  

The Basics - Public Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies  

The Public Probation Service will be split into 7 regions, with local 'cluster' LDUs within (but not necessarily keeping the geographical spread of existing offices).
The PPS case load will reduce to 30,000 (an 85% reduction) 
Staff split will be 30% PPS/ 70% CRC's 
3/4% - the extent of referrals from CRC to PPS (many feel this is wholly underestimated) 
2 hours - the time allowed for the PPS to respond to a CRC referral 
7 years - the length of contracts offered to the CRC's 

The work that will be retained by the PPS 

Victim Liason 
Approved Premises (Hostels) 
All court assessment (PSR's, FDR's CDO's) 
All offender management work with 'High Risk' cases (but this is very much a moving target) 
MAPPA cases

Any other case outside of the other criteria where there are exceptional circumstances and there is a clear and public interest in retaining the case (for this read danger of bad publicity and reputational damage)

Any case referred back to the PPS by the Community Rehabilitation Company (when it starts going wrong) 
Prosecution of all breaches. Where the case is managed by a CRC, that company will prepare the breach paperwork, but this will need to be signed off by a member of the PPS. The PPS will present the breach at Court. (Boy is that a recipe for trouble)

Recall matters.Where the CRC have responsibility they will prepare the recall paperwork, but this will require signing off by a PPS ACE. There is no clear answer as to who will then prepare the Annex H and deal with any subsequent Oral Hearing - it was stated that the Annex H would be the responsibility of the CRC, but later made clear that only a representative of the PPS will advise the Parole Board on release decisions. (A recipe for confusion and disaster. See here for a useful explanation of the Annex H and recall) 

The role of the CRC's 

Offender management of all cases that do not fall within the remit of the PPS. However, there is no mandate to use any recognised or common risk assessment tool - only that they have "robust risk management procedures" in place i.e. they will not have to use OASys or similar assessment system (lucky bastards) 
The CRC are not required to train their staff in any proscribed way or standard similar to that of the PPS, but only in a manner which ensures "robust risk management" (shocking and a recipe for disaster) 

The Assessment of High Risk 

Forget everything you thought you knew about risk classification and definition. There is to be a new risk of harm assessment tool which determines the risk of further serious offending. This will predominantly be an actuarial assessment tool with some limited clinical oversight. It was not specified what this means and the extent of any discretion, but the general impression was that this would be very slight.   

The new risk of harm tool is still in development, but we are told that this will raise the bar so that fewer cases will fall to be assessed as posing a High Risk of Serious Harm and will be used at court. 

OASys will remain for the PPS and there was no mention of any change in the risk definitions in that regard. Therefore it is probable that a case may be assessed as HR on OASys, such as repetitive DV where children were present, but only charged with lower end violent offences, but be transferred to a CRC. 

However, other cases that are MAPPA but assessed as medium risk, will stay with the PPS. Therefore it does not appear to be as we had thought regarding the distinction between risk levels and service allocation. In cases of concern, the PPS representative at initial assessment stage can set a review for 3 months in order to reassess, but it was not ascertained whether at that point the case could be taken back under the management of the PPS, regardless of the outcome of the new risk of harm assessment tool.

If there is an override at this stage, it would appear that certain types of cases that cause concern would have to be put out to the CRC during the early stages of the Order, and brought back in at the three month stage. It will be the responsibility of the CRC to manage the risk in the interim 3 month period if the CRC do not refer back sooner. 

There was no clarity as to what will happen with RM 2000 in regard to sexual offenders, although it would appear almost certain that they would fall under the PPS as being MAPPA cases in any event.

Transfer between PPS and CRC's 

It would appear that this is the source of the greatest difficulty for those in charge of the re-organisation. They are in the process of devising a referral process from CRC to PPS in the light of escalating risk. The PPS will have 2 hours to decide if advice only is to be offered regarding management of the case, or if the case should be taken under the management of the PPS where the risk is considered to have risen to High. It was not clarified if this was on the OASys definition or with regard to the new risk assessment tool to be devised and used at initial allocation. 

There are various options being considered regarding the delivery of the advice and initial assessment system, ranging from a regional call centre to a local unit somewhat akin to the SSD Intake and Assessment model, or perhaps a mixture of the two with some potential co-location. What is certain is that once a case is in the PPS, there is no mechanism to transfer to the CRC, either once a case originally allocated to the PPS has reduced in risk, or after a referral from the CRC has 'settled down' again.

The interface is clearly a matter of contention, a matter raised by many delegates apparently. It was felt that there is potential for getting bogged down in referrals and differences of opinion regarding risk, particularly as we will not be using a common assessment tool or be subject to similar training. It is also the case that a referral is unlikely to be supported by any OASys assessment that informed initial decisions. It was stated that the onus would be on the CRC to provide all relevant information, and the referral form is designed to do this.

It remains unclear as to what will happen in cases where an offender is charged with serious offences that would trigger SFO procedures and serious case review matters. It is likely that the case will be referred to the PPS as a result, and probable, but not definite, that any ensuing SFO will involve a representative of the PPS rather than the CRC. (Highly likely in my view!)  

As if to underline the chaotic lack of information, there was an interesting exchange in the House of Lords yesterday in response to a question as to why the government were not proceeding with the second part of the Triennial Review of Probation Trusts. Yes, I'd never heard of it either, but the upshot is that the process has been abandoned by the simple expediency of abolishing the Trusts. 

Anyway, the subsequent exchanges are well worth reading, firstly for the sheer robustness of Lord Ramsbotham:- 

"Last week, on the same day that it was announced that G4S and Serco had performed tremendously badly in relation to the tagging contracts, which had been poorly overseen by the Ministry of Justice, I attended a conference at which probation service staff told me how little they knew about the plans being made for them. What this House is deeply concerned about is that a major change to the protection of the public and the community is being proposed at vast speed without us knowing the details. When will we be told exactly what these details are if, indeed, they have been worked out?"

but secondly and by way of contrast, the weasel responses from the Minister Lord Ahmad:-

"As regards the probation trusts, the noble Lord comes to this matter with great expertise and is fully aware that the Government are proposing not to abolish the disparate probation trusts up and down the country but to create a new national probation trust and open up the market to the private and voluntary sectors to enable experts to come together to address the issue of probation, which, I am sure all noble Lords agree, costs too much and has been inefficient for far too long."

and then to add insult to injury, yet again a Minister seeks to deliberately confuse matters by using the under 12 month custody cases, which are not probation's responsibility, as a reason why change is necessary:- 

"Why are we doing it? The MoJ currently spends £3 billion on prisons, of which £800 million is on probation. The reoffending figures show that 57.6% of prisoners sentenced to 12 months or less go on to reoffend on release. That, frankly, is not good enough. We need to address the issues. Of course, we learn from history but we plan for the future."



  1. "Warning - some of the following may not make sense, and any clarification is welcome."

    None of it makes any sense! But then we already knew that... (and not a reflection on your efforts to bring it all together in one place, Jim!)

    The process for referrals to the PPS, whether for breach or escalating risk, is deeply troubling. There's a basic question of how the hell are you supposed to make a judgement within two hours on a case you've never worked with - obviously there are occasions when a colleague is on leave etc. when rapid decisions are taken, but that's within the same organisation and the rare exception. But also this model gives a clear incentive for the CRC to breach their troublesome cases immediately, if there really is no way to return them back. You've heard of 'creaming' and 'parking' - I think we need to invent new terminology for what will become common practice in the Grayling world of probation. May I humbly suggest 'shedding'?

  2. My appreciation of this blog is growing! As a seconded PO info is even more limited as Im not even privy to office gossip, however accurate it may be.

    Apparently the criteria for selection of staff to remain in PPC or move to CRC will be decided by Aug? Any info on this anyone please?

  3. Thank you for your efforts here to make the incoherent coherent – herding cats comes to mind. Your blog – you do a fine job - shines a light and puts to shame salaried organisations that behave like apathetic bystanders. The proposed changes are confusing in theory and will be confounding in practice. I cannot see a harmonious working relationship developing between these two silos that won't even be using a standarised assessment system. There could be trouble ahead...

  4. Perhaps all probation staff should be writing to their MP to point out the Government, and Lord Ahamds misunderstanding! Oh and sorry seconded colleague in jail - yes, they are already looking at how to divvy up staff and in West Yorks, we should all know by October, those staying with PPS and those going..........but we don't know where we are going or for whom we will work! It's a croak of shite!

  5. What could possibly go wrong :)

    1. Yes guys - if it wasn't so serious it would be bordering on the comical. If your aim is to cause as much disruption, confusion and possibility of disaster as possible, I think you'd be hard put to improve on this! Indeed a crock, or croak even, of shite.

  6. Hi Jim

    Just wanted to say thank you for your blogs this week. You are an inspiration. Keep up the excellent work.

  7. Thanks for you blogs Jim, I am a recent discoverer of you and think you are great. I didn't know if there was any chance of a bit of advertising for the save Probation 38 Degrees campaign Just an effort to try and raise the profile of our fight to an audience outside of our sphere. Thanks

    1. I've tried plugging the 38 degree avenue several times, but sadly it just didn't take off. Probation has always suffered from a low public profile and understanding, which is sad because other campaigns have been hugely successful. That doesn't mean we give up on it though, so thanks for mentioning it again.



  8. Jim you have the capacity to become a single definitive voice of PROBATION, a voice of power greater than NAPO, or that of any other government subsidised union.

    1. It's kind of people to be recognising my small efforts here, both to help explain what probation is all about and to draw attention to the government's plans for its privatisation, but I'm just ONE grumpy and now very angry person. I can't take the place of unions or the likes of the PCA, but I can have a go at influencing them and stirring up the troops and the debate.

      The aim of this blog has had to shift from explaining to unashamed campaigning to try and save a profession and service I feel passionate about. I can't do it on my own though and that's why I'm so pleased to see readers steadily growing, and contributions increasing.

      It's true that for various reasons we haven't been brilliantly served by a strong and focused leadership and the government feels they can take advantage of our professionalism and we will just 'roll over'.

      What did Margaret Thatcher once say? No! No! No!