Monday 23 December 2013

Been There : Done That

I'm sure I've said many times before that it's the contributions from readers that makes this blog. There's simply no way I've got enough time or energy to do all the research, scan all the news feeds and think up the ideas. Fortunately we seem to have recruited quite a few news hounds who appear happy to supply endless leads and links. 

In addition to this though, every now and then the comments facility throws up real gems in the form of knowledge or experience that starts a productive discussion thread. The trouble is the blog moves on at the alarming pace of the evolving TR omnishambles itself and much of these rich seams gets left behind, only fleetingly noticed.

It happened recently with a thread that discusses where we've been in order to try and put where we appear to be going into some kind of context. Too good I thought just to sit there in the comments section, so here are some of the best bits and a big thank you to anyone who recognises their contribution:-

I have always felt that the takeover of NOMS by the prison service and the consequent marginalisation of the probation service was both inevitable and ultimately damaging to any progress towards a rehabilitative and positive approach to engaging with offenders. However, there are a couple of interesting 'ironies' and anomalies in the history of NOMS.

Firstly, it should be remembered that the first NOMS model had a single national offender manager and she came from the probation service--Christine Knott, previously Chief of Manchester Probation Service if I am not mistaken. There was a regional structure with 9 regional offender managers, of whom 7 were recruited from the probation service.

In those early days there were a number of organograms published by the Home Office as it was then (2003 when NOMS was first created on the back of Patrick Carter's fag packet) and these variously had the Director General of the Prison Service accountable to the NOM, and almost on a parallel with the national Director of Probation. And then came a gradual transformation to the present situation where the prison service ethos completely dominates NOMS. But even during this period the Chief Executive of NOMS for a year or so was Helen Edwards whose background was with NACRO and as a civil servant with the Active Communities Unit.

The original vision for NOMS actually had probation officers (offender managers) determining the sentence planning and indeed in theory the movement of prisoners through the prison system. As if a governor of an overcrowded prison was going to hold on to probation officer's client for an additional few weeks to complete a literacy course. The simplistic naivety of it all is stunning. There was never any chance that the prison service would be subsumed under the NOMS banner and it was always the case that it would survive intact. And this was because custody would always trump community.

The probation service was understandably nervous and defensive while this was going on especially as it was continually being exhorted to 'outsource' a proportion of its work to the voluntary and private sectors, and there was never a strong professional voice in the probation service (NAPO tried to fill the void but it wasn't really in a position to take on the role previously held by ACOP) to articulate a progressive vision for the service.

There were those in the voluntary sector in particular who were keen to line up alongside the probation service and try to develop a comprehensive community based response to local offending and this might have had a chance of developing a countervailing message to the dominant prison service ethos. However, by this point the probation service had long since defined itself as being a 'law enforcement agency' delivering 'punishment in the community' and talking a managerialist language that was opaque and alienating. Not the least of the difficulties was the heightened prominence of 'risk management' and 'protecting the public'.

With this sort of talk there is only going to be one winner in a cultural battle with the prison service which can always claim (albeit falsely and simplistically) that locking people up is the best way to manage risk and protect the public. The shame of this was that there was terrific work going on in some localities which showed the probation service up in its best light as the human face of the justice system best placed to bring together a range of agencies and individuals to assist offenders and their families to change.

A good potted history of the cultural and organisational changes in probation over the past decade. Of course, probation was relabelled a law enforcement agency by ministerial diktat. What has disappointed about probation has been the failure of the senior leadership to defend and promote core values and principles. In fact what happened was that they embraced the new rhetoric.

However, the fundamental problem is that the UK's penal policy remains too punitive – we imprison too many. And over many years the good folks in probation contributed to the rising prison population through draconian, target-led breach policies.

The deprofessionalisation of probation also helped to create a supine workforce. The prisons did not change but probation acquired an authoritarian mantle and seemed to enjoy wearing it. Probation also became intoxicated with risk methodologies and fell for the early promises that it would place probation 'centre stage' – but that soon ended.

Not sure I have much enjoyed today's doom and gloom spin on probation. What I have learnt over these years is that a healthy separation from politics is good for practice. I mean that a political commentary on probation since the 90's is not a reflection of our practice or what we do behind interview room doors. The recent roll out of Seeds found lots of officers new and old retorting what a nice refresher it was but we were all doing it anyway? All is not lost. And whatever happens values live on in people and outlive hashed excuses for social policy designed to win votes and woo tabloids. Policy repeats repeats fails. But the same work often keeps going on. So take heart. Say I anyway!

It is interesting to note that, throughout the 'changes' that took place in Probation, the offenders didn't change one iota. Their criminogenic needs pre-date the invention of the word 'criminogenic' and their response to the services offered remain the same as they did before we coined the term 'responsivity'. They remain troubled by mental ill health, bereavement, memories of childhood abuse, learning difficulties, hidden disabilities, relationship difficulties, alcohol and substance abuse, emotional vulnerability, homelessness and unemployment. Plus ca change.... The powers that be are still looking for the magic pill where there is only the need for patience and understanding. 25 years of this work and I am still impressed at how willing people are to change when help is offered intelligently and not condescendingly. Ditch the IT and get back to working with what matters: the people we work with.

Does anyone remember SWIP in prisons? I don't mean a variation on SWAT: those dressed to kill in quasi-military attire, if I remember correctly it was an initiative about social work in prison, performed by prison officers. Anyway, it was a failure. Then we had Sentence Management – and that was a failure and the latest has been Offender Management – also a failure in prisons. Probation and prisons have always been silos. Prisons, in general, have always had a dog in a manger attitude to outsiders with a rehabilitative attitude. I am not sure how you get a rehabilitative mindset into the mainstream when we have governments that still insist on emphasising the punitive. This thinking, unfortunately trickles down.

Wow - Netnipper - yes - SWIP - Shared Working In Prisons between prison and probation officers - Jepson and Elliot - bit of Eighties nostalgia. You're right about the rest.

Shared working between Prison and Probation Officers

Journal:Home Office Research and Planning Unit Research Bulletin  Issue:21  Dated:(1986)  Pages:30-33
Author(s):N Jepson ; K Elliot
Date Published:1986
Page Count:4
Country:United Kingdom
Annotation:This paper describes and evaluates various forms of Great Britain's Social Work in Prison (SWIP) scheme aimed at developing a pattern of shared working between prison and probation officers.
Abstract:Following a history of the SWIP plan launched in 1977, the article describes the methodology used in a 1984 survey of four prisons with different types of SWIP programs. The survey revealed certain factors which appeared to influence survival of SWIP schemes: stable regimes, evidence of the probation department's integration in the prison, and the model of SWIP operative in the prison. Analyses of four SWIP models showed the lowest lapse rate for the one where prison officers were attached to prison probation departments full-time for a continuous period varying from 3 months to over 2 years. Assessment of SWIP effectiveness found an overall impression that it did contribute to a much more effective prison regime. Key factors influencing effectiveness were time being made available for prison officers to practice and develop their skills and the commitment of those directly involved being matched by that of key probation and prison personnel. Other shared work projects are discussed. Three references.
To be blunt, prisons have never done rehabilitation in any meaningful way. They just maintain the pretence. There are pockets of good practice but, in the main, it is not on anyone's agenda.


  1. Completely agree with pretty much everything said what do we do now? Whilst our client group don't change very much, yes their needs are the same, there are far less public services available out there to meet their needs and one certainly can't survive on a positive relationship with your PO/PSO alone....see the link on Twitter to Howard League research on homelessness and reoffending referenced this morning. Neither to I share the optimism that the ethos will survive if this ghastly split happens...I don't see much of a genuine rehabilitative ethos in many of the posts from private companies who are good at saying the right thing at bid time but have no underpinning value to inform practice. And a Probation Institute will, for all good intentions, become an ivory ( why was it always ivory? ) tower for a few people with time to spare and lack relevance to the rank and file. We need to channel our energy before we get sifted, how do we retain the values of a service that evolved over a century of work with people who committed crime?

    1. We don't stop resisting Transforming Rehabilitation NOW and if it is implemented then as well.

      We need to keep a commitment to Napo, however dissatisfied some may be with it, is the longest lasting continual organisation with probation at its heart - despite flaws and setbacks. Some might argue the Rainer Foundation (now Catch 22) is older as is The Howard League, but Napo relates specifically to probation as it developed from the lower courts throughout the UK, including its branch out into domestic court work. Napo will diminish as many do not see it as an organisation that has custody of the spirit of probation, rather as a trades union and latterly member of the TUC.

      I regret that the need for me previously to maintain 'business as usual' led to me giving up on the campaign to resist the changes to the spirit of probation that came with the 1991 Criminal Justice Act - not just the ending of consent to probation - and the dangerous dropping of the client word - but also (though I did not realise it at the time) the introduction of unassessed release on licence (ACR) that for the first time (SSSO's apart [very small part of workload]) meant supervisees had not specifically consented to supervision(whether or not they - or we - realised the significance of that)

      I also gave up on the campaign to keep pre entry qualification alongside social work after its reintroduction into probation in 1998 and never properly got involved in the role boundaries issue. From what I discern, some of the most important work of the probation service(s) is now being done by people who may have begun their probation career without specific formal training, that the on the job training they get - valuable as it is - is done without opportunity for placements in other social work organisations - and the academic part separate from those preparing for work in local authorities or voluntary or other specialist organisations. I suspect many of those direct entry folk are now doing work, similar to what many did pre 1998 but without the pay or status of their predecessor POs - I and others who did not campaign against that effectively colluded in the centralizing Labour Governments from 1997, effectively de-professionalizing much of probation work, to the detriment of the terms and conditions AND PAY of those actually doing the job now.

      We need to remember that the call for professional training largely came from the ranks of pre 1970s probation officers via Napo and that the social services departments of the 1970s, developing from the Seebohm report of 1968, was built on the experiences of probation, particularly with juveniles alongside child care, mental welfare, hospital almoners and first tier local authority (not parish/community councils) welfare departments, yet somehow, despite probation being statutorily part of YOTS (I am not sure if that actually prevails today) - statutory social work now seems to go on as an almost separate entity from probation (and is now being threatened with privatisation)

      What is happening to probation in England and Wales is part of a downgrading of welfare provision in the UK, at a time we are struggling with an ageing population in which about 25% of those over 80 will become demented, and the nation lacks or is not prepared to allocate sufficient public resources for all in such need at a level that meets the need.

      We who have done frontline probation work, know that TR as currently planned WILL FAIL, if it is implemented, we need to find a way of preventing the spirit and history of probation being forgotten as a consequence, blogs such as this and organisations like Napo and perhaps the Howard League can be part of that.... continues

    2. continued...

      For now we must not assume that TR can ever be implemented successfully by further dividing up probation work.

      I say further, because of the split from much youth offending work already, remember work with 'approved school' residents were once within the duties of probation officers, and family court welfare have already long gone, but are part of our professional heritage which informs professional training and probation work now.

      Harry Fletcher seems to believe the Offender Rehabilitation bill can be mitigated - remember Napo's work led to the late amendment into that dreaded 1991 CJA that introduced race monitoring into criminal justice for the first time - before Stephen Lawrence was murdered - Napo members, staff and consultants can still intervene with MPs and peers to ameliorate some of the worst aspects of the ORB - let’s not give up now!

      Andrew Hatton

  2. Of concern to me is that Grayling appears to be giving complete autonomy to anyone involved in TR. It's almost a case of 'you've bought them you work out how to deal with them.
    Services are bound to become almost like independent states in their own right. We do it like this in Kent, but we do it like this on Merseyside. Maybe we'll see prohibition for offenders in Humberside, compulsory boot camps in the Midlands, and maybe even exclusion orders to keep offenders from places like the Cotswolds or Surry. Who knows whats in store.

  3. I cant remember clearly the first time I met the Probation cohort at Birmingham university; I thought they are a damned cleaver lot. And I was correct the people I trained with in the early 90s were some of the brightest and most principled people I have met.

    I know many of them like me continued working with people the way we were trained: respect understanding and support were at the heart of practise regardless of government dictates.

  4. has anyone seen the new process of breach/risk increase for CRC/NPS. So much wrong and potential for stuff to go wrong

  5. Have you seen it then? Bound to cut corners

  6. I agree completely. The comments made on the blog is perhaps one of the best insightful comments I have come across after along time.


  7. Warning this post contains swear words

    I think IOM should stay within the NPS. Does Failing Grayling really think that the Police will be prepared to share intelligence with the likes of Capita? Has Failing Grayling even consulted the police re this wonderful "evolution".

    The whole idea of TR is fucked. If an offender works with an OM in NPS and he/or she does well and gets his or her risk reduced, he or she will then get sent to a CRC company. Its like saying to service user "well done for how well you have done, and as a reward I'm fucking you off to another company and you will have to build a relationship with another professional". It goes against the research which suggests that a service user's relationship with OM is a vital factor in desistence. Buy hey Failing Grayling is pushing through TR without even having done a pilot, silly me for even thinking about evidence based practice in this mess that he is creating!

  8. Throughout my career there has been many good folks of probation I have worked with over the years, who mainly came into the service holding a core value base with a sound understanding, knowledge and experience from a grass root level. Some have left this wonderful service because of being burnt out wrestling with the politics of probation. I have learnt so much from these people over the years who have dedicated their life in the work of probation. I recall a time when one of these people said to me the best gift you can give someone when they have no hope is compassion and care with gentle control. That’s what is going to make a difference not simply referring to a partnership agency (clients are resourceful if they want something they know exactly where to go and how to get it) and fobbing them off even though you mean right – from clients perspective, that’s what it feels like.
    My resistance to TR is personal and professional. The two things are unequivocally tied together. You can’t have one without the other, that’s why I do what I do not because it’s a job but because I believe in people’s potential and capacity to change. To be a better person to their families, their community and society. And from my brief involvement into their lives, that they too can give something back to society as a gift to others… and in this strange way the cycle of goodness and care continues. I speak confidently about this because I have seen evidence of this time and time again, coming to the office and letting me know how they are getting on.
    My fear, is under TR this relationship and dedication will come to an end. The years of knowledge and experience gone into probation will come to a terrible end. Instead we will have human robots functioning as probation officers not a single care in the world. No appreciation of power or relationship. No understanding of communities. No concept of client reality. No idea of class. Only risk and profit. It will be sad that the many gifts clients have received from their contact with probation will in time disappear forever. I hope we can all stand together and resist the slaughter on probation by Grayling.