Friday 31 January 2014

Latest From Napo 10

The long silence from Napo has finally been broken. There's been nothing from Ian Lawrence since his last blog on 13th January, but this e-mail was sent today by Chair Tom Rendon to all members:-

Dear All

The MoJ has a relentless PR strategy which exists to pretend everything is on time, on budget, and that all staff resistance is futile.  It’s a load of nonsense but, understandably, it does sometimes get under your skin.  Here’s a few myth busters that will should raise morale:

Slippage to timetable
The MoJ is contorting itself to pretend this is not a delay.  Remember when the staff split would be done and dusted in August 2013, the shares sold in April 2014?  Now it looks like a struggle to get this done by the end of the year.  There is still no credible person out there who believes the government can privatise before the next election.  A civil servant recently said the “extension” in the timetable was in recognition of the fabulous work the Trusts were doing.  I nearly burst out laughing. 

Grievances and Appeals
The MoJ is publicly saying that the unions have agreed to the staff split process.  This is categorically untrue.  It is still the subject of a dispute and such a dogs dinner that post-split, some Trusts have found they have left either the CRC or the NPS without enough staff.  Branch Chairs have been given a questionnaire to fill in about the whole process which will provide us with essential evidence of where things have gone wrong.  If you’re unhappy with how you have been treated, you must register a grievance to protect yourself.  Put in your appeal.  Branches who have been denied the information on which to base an appeal have registered disputes.  We should not be expected to help smooth over such a chaotic and discriminatory process.  Feedback from members is that equality issues are causing a panic- as well they should because there was no proper impact assessment.  My grievance hearing is on the 11th Feb 2014.

The Probation Institute
The MoJ has given £90,000 to help the start-up of the Institute and that is the beginning and end of their involvement.  The money was very welcome but I am increasingly frustrated when they say they are “working closely” on the development of it.  That is not true because the first principle and practice of the Institute is that it is independent.  The Minister understands this but those directly below him wheel out the Institute as a defence against criticisms of privatisation which irritatingly conflates the two.  Subject to ongoing support from our National Executive Committee, Napo has been involved in developing the Institute with Unison, the Probation Association and the Probation Chiefs Association.  It has the involvement of academics with a strong commitment to Probation.  Look out for the next edition of Napo News.  

The CRCs will be hotbeds of creativity and innovation
Seriously?  The splitting of the service is creating a mushrooming bureaucracy that will eat into the budgets of the CRC and NPS.  Medium risk cases often dip in and out of high risk situations and in reality will sit in between the two new organisations.  At the moment you can manage those situations without the case being a fully blown high risk one.  It’s fairly normal practice.  After the split, you will have to fill out a lengthy referral form, get your line manager to countersign it, hand it over to your colleague in the NPS, they review it, get their line manager to sign it and then they might advise you do an RMP within 15 days or offer a new appointment.  This is absurd and we calculate it will take about 3 hours of form filling- more so if the clients, practitioners, administrators and managers are locked in an endless cycle of referral and re-referral.  When challenged, the Minister was visibly spooked by it and the director of one of the prime bidders we spoke to turned grey.

You’re safe in the NPS
The Minister has described the NPS as having the “top offender managers”.  Aside from the shocking crassness of this statement the intent is clear: to divide and rule the staff.  If we let this happen then we let each other down.  The NPS looks like no walk in the park.  The amount of pre-court administrative work is bizarre as the allocation tool to assign cases to NPS or CRC will take 45 mins alone. Professional freedoms don’t really exist in the Civil Service in the way they do in the current Probation Service.  We ask constantly about conflicts of interest but the MoJ simply glazes over.  It is difficult to imagine a practitioner acting on behalf of the Secretary of State.

The MoJ is putting a tremendous amount of effort into pretending that everything is going swimmingly.  It isn’t.  Of course, while we will always do the best for our clients we don’t have to accept what’s happening.  Keep raising issues where they occur and make sure you use formal processes if they apply to you.  We do not accept the staff split and we are continuing to pressure the government to have a proper pilot of the new structure within the public sector.  If that means that they can’t flog it off then so be it.  The politically motivated timetable for privatisation is a disgrace and, for public safety and the decent treatment of staff and clients, it can and should be slowed down.  Check out Ian’s blog on the Napo website and the Campaign Bulletins for more information and how you can contribute to the campaign.

Best wishes and don’t lose hope,


The following has recently been sent to Greater London Napo members from their Chair Pat Waterman:-


Wishing and Hoping 

I was advised earlier in the week that your employers hoped to complete the sifting process by the end of this month. So I am guessing that by now most of you will have been informed as to whether you have been allocated to the NPS or the CRC. 

Here are some things I would like you all to remember: 

  • The staff transfer process was never agreed with the trade unions. It was devised by the MOJ and LPT made the  decision to implement it.
  • The MOJ devised the criteria by which your assignment was determined. LPT only adapted it in certain cases to meet local circumstances e.g. where there were roles that did not fit into the MOJ’s blueprint.
  • Assignments have been done on an “objective” basis. Beware of thinking that they have been done on the basis of an assessment of the work you have done over the course of your career.
  • The MOJ previously  claimed that the NPS would be staffed by “top” offender managers. I wrote and told them how disrespectful this was.
  • Beware of thinking that the NPS is “better” (whatever that means) than the CRC. There are pros and cons to both organisations. An assignment to the NPS is  not a “golden ticket”.
  • CRC’s will stay in public ownership until they are sold. See below for what you can do to try and ensure that never happens. I also advise you to look at the list of potential bidders now that SERCO and G4S are out of the bidding. It does not look to me like there are that many buyers interested in London. That is a good thing.
  • NAPO is against the service being split

So how does it feel to be “sifted and sorted” and got ready FOR SALE
Are your feelings and concerns for the future allayed by the reassurances of your Chief Executive in her latest blog that the organisation now has more time to get everything in order? 

If not, here is what you can do:
  • Register a grievance against your employers for doing this to you.
There is still time. 

I have only just done mine and I attach it for your information and (hopefully) inspiration. 

For those of you who wonder what is the point of registering a grievance here is the answer: 
  • Any potential buyers will be provided with information about grievances to help them decide if they want to submit a bid. By registering a grievance, and showing  that the workers are disgruntled, you could be helping to make us a less attractive proposition to any future buyers. That would be a good thing.
So please keep those grievances coming. We will do all we can to help you with them 

Continue with the industrial action. Work only your contracted hours. 
This will become especially important as you are asked to do additional tasks to test out new ways of working while still being asked to conduct “business as usual”. 

Pat Waterman 
Greater London Branch

Thursday 30 January 2014

Predicting the Future 2

I know we're all depressed and some of us are getting fractious with Napo, management or colleagues. I wish I could bring good news, but instead here's someone we've highlighted before, Jon Harvey, a non-probation professional and their view of what they think the future holds under the TR omnishambles, and it sounds pretty believable to me:-

As I tweeted a couple of days ago: in a world where a joined up justice system remains a pipe dream, to fragment it further into NPS & CRCs is dangerously incompetent

Evidently the government is speeding ahead with these reforms in the hope that all will be done, dusted and 'unpickable' in time for the next election (which I presume the government is expecting to lose?) This speed is unseemly and high risk. The chance of significant cracks opening up in a service that is already straining to make rehabilitation work is, in my view, highly likely. 

But allow me to take a longer term view and imagine that the new arrangements remain for some years to come. These are my predictions of what will happen:
  • There will be slow but inexorable exodus of experienced probation officers from both the Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service. These will be replaced by more junior staff with fewer qualifications. 
  • Rehabilitation rates (as measured by re-convictions for example) will not improve in most areas and, in a few will, worsen. The government of the day will ensure there are one or two flagships who do manage to make improvements (but the level of central support to achieve this will be glossed over).
  • Criminal justice agency partners (the other parts of the National Offender Management Service, the police, local authorities, housing agencies etc) will become very frustrated that where there was one organisation to liaise with there will now be two or even three if you include the contract management structure from regional NOMS. 
  • The CRCs will develop robust (but covert) strategies to get more of their clients reassessed as high risk so that they can shift responsibility over to the NPS. They will do this saying publicly that it is all about ensuring community safety. Privately they will be glad that this will improve their rehab rates (and therefore Payments by Results) and reduce their workload.
  • In contrast the NPS will do all that it can to assess 'objectively' an offender as low to medium risk and make the CRC pick them up as a client. However, this will increase the chances that offenders will be 'breached' and sent back to jail. More offenders will return to jail as a consequence.
  • Some offenders will fall between stools.
  • Staff at an operational level will become even better at 'gaming' the targets & objectives to ensure their backs are covered. 
  • Payment by Results will be replaced as the owners of the CRCs will quickly realise they are not getting any return on their investments. 
  • Overtime, the CRCs will be bought out such that there will only be between two and three owners. These organisations might be hedge funds or some of the existing private sector players in the justice 'market place'. Some of the architects of this new model who currently work in the Ministry of Justice will find their way onto the boards of these companies.
  • The National Probation Service will creak and be broken down again into smaller local units. These too will then be outsourced and sold off. The remaining vestiges of NOMS will struggle to contract manage the new CRCs and the new local NPS mark two units.

Finally, on the theme of predicting what the future might hold, here's what Francis Maude and Serco's CEO think according to this on the BBC news website:-
Private security firm Serco has put together a "thorough plan for corporate renewal" after overcharging for tagging criminals, Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude says.
Serco has already repaid £68.5m to the government for discrepancies, including billing to tag people who were dead. Its plan includes creating ethics committees in each company division. Serco chief executive Ed Casey said the company was taking "significant steps" to rebuild government confidence. Serco and another private security firm, G4S, were stripped of responsibility for tagging criminals in the UK after details of overcharging emerged.
An audit by accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers alleged that overcharging began as early as 2005. The Serious Fraud Office has begun a criminal investigation. And the tagging contracts have been handed to outsourcing company Capita.
Serco said it would place dealing with customers fairly "above any other conflicting drivers for success". Mr Casey said he believed Serco could "now be considered on an equal basis to other suppliers for current bids".
In a statement, Mr Maude praised the firm's efforts, saying: "This plan represents the right direction of travel to meet our expectations as a customer." He said the government would continue to monitor Serco's implementation of its plan and he "hopes this will enable our confidence to continue to build". "This does not affect any consideration by the Serious Fraud Office, which acts independently of government, in relation to the material concerns previously identified," he added.
With an on-going SFO investigation, it just beggars belief!

Predicting the Future

I notice that Russell Webster has today been looking at the MoJ's forecasts for the prison population 2013 - 2019. Basically it could go down a lot; it could go down a bit; or it could go up. Actually it might not do any of these and reminds me of those useless financial health warnings you get when thinking of investing in a Unit Trust. You know the sort of thing, you'll get this much if the stock market goes up a lot; this much if it goes up a bit less and this much if it only goes up a tiny bit, oh and you could lose it all if the stock market goes down:-
Even without these possible changes, the actual future prison population may not match any of the projected scenarios. Changes to criminal justice processes could influence the numbers of offenders being brought to the point of sentence or the way that offenders are managed. Changes to sentencing behaviour may also be different from those modelled. Finally, both sentencing behaviour and criminal justice processes, as well as policy decisions, can respond to a multitude of environmental factors which cannot be anticipated, such as high profile criminal cases, events like the August 2011 public disorder events, and public debate. 
It strikes me as about as much use as a chocolate fire guard, but then I am cynical and as Russell points out, the last projections were spot-on, falling exactly at the mid-point between scenarios 1 of 83,000 and scenario 2 of 84,600 at 83,843.  

So, what do these very smart statisticians think will happen over the next five years? Well, they say it will either go down to 77,300 or down to 81,000 or go up to 86,000 by June 2019.

Of course the period under consideration will see the government's flagship Transforming Rehabilitation omnishambles come into force and which many of us say will have the effect of significantly increasing the prison population. But given the following and no mention of TR, it's unclear whether the figures take it into account at all:-
The projections do not reflect the impact of legislative, policy, operational or procedural change or guidance for which there is no definite timetable for implementation. The projections therefore provide a set of “baseline” scenarios against which the impacts of future changes can be assessed. 
If we and the experts are proved right though and magistrates sentence greater numbers to short periods of custody, confident that statutory supervision will be provided, and a significant number breach the requirements and return to custody, TR will indeed be assured of its place in history as yet another major government policy disaster. 

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Oral Hearings

You never quite know where discussion on this blog will take you and I was genuinely surprised by the comments about the Parole Board and particularly Oral Hearings the other day. They were triggered by an 'exclusive' in the Independent on Sunday about the system being in crisis:- 

England and Wales’s parole system is on the brink of a crisis that will result in reformed prisoners being detained months after they should have been released, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Staff cuts together with a groundbreaking Supreme Court ruling about the way parole hearings are conducted are causing expensive delays. As a result, lawyers are warning, the Parole Board is close to being overwhelmed. The problem has been compounded after video equipment used to conduct parole hearings repeatedly failed.
A ruling in October that prisoners were entitled to face-to-face hearings means the Parole Board must now conduct thousands more oral rather than paper-based hearings, exposing its lack of manpower after cutting staff last year. 
Claire Bassett, the Parole Board’s chief executive, has told MPs the ruling has “huge” implications which she forecasts will lead to the number of oral hearings increasing from about 4,500 a year to 12,000 to 14,000. The oral hearings are considered to be fairer than cheaper paper-based applications for parole – which the board was previously able to insist upon in the vast majority of cases – as the inmate can appeal his or her case in person. 
This comes at a time of cost-cutting in which Parole Board staff numbers have been reduced by nearly one in five. Many of those staff supported 232 Parole Board members who are paid per hearing and include psychiatrists and psychologists. To cope with the sudden surge of oral hearings, many are now taking place by video link from the Parole Board’s Grenadier House headquarters in London to prisons around the country. But reliability issues have dogged the system.
The surprising bit for me were the comments this generated:-

There will even more parole board delays as there will be less PO availability for parole reports and oral hearings following privatisation.


I have stopped bothering to ask to take part in hearings via video link after the last three failed. Two were switched to phone conferences, and the third went ahead without my evidence (to be fair, in that case it was a straightforward decision). Now I just book the transport and claim it back later. Yes it's time consuming, but I think the results are better. But I agree entirely with Anon at 18:54 - let's just sit back and wait for even more delays caused by Grayling's TR, as his false economies in one part of the system cause more expense somewhere else.


I've been attending oral hearings since 2005 and have come to realise that the current system of 'cross examination' is significantly flawed and on some occasions thoroughly unnecessary-far better to have offender managers sitting on the panel and actively involved in the decision making process than be asked to justify why an offender committed an offence x number of years many times in the absence of relevant cogent questions being asked have you found yourself having to respond to an irrelevant series of questions??


And being grilled to death by an over zealous solicitor (in some cases). Got more of this shit to look forward to in the NPS but grateful of having more job security than if I was in CRC.


The behaviour of the Parole Board towards Probation Officers has deteriorated to the point where it is almost professionally abusive. I am a veteran of oral hearings and cannot believe how we are treated. Six hour hearings without a break ( yes honestly). God help you if you oppose release! Yes that is sometimes our role and you can tell immediately what the PB has already decided because they try to break you down rather than actually listen to your evidence. If anyone wants to know what respect there is for probation, just attend an Oral Hearing because in my experience there is NONE.


Over the last 5 years or so my previous high regard for the Parole Board's integrity and decision making has plummeted to contempt. It is supposed to be inquisitorial, but ends up very adversarial and without a balance as the SoS rarely sends a rep.

They seem to give POs a hard time to show they're being fair to the client, there is no enquiry into behaviour if there hasn't actually been a conviction or adjudication, on the contrary, the event is determined not to have happened.

They give disproportionate weight to the evidence of whoever agrees with their preconceptions. Apologies to any OS reading this, but "over the three weeks I've known him he's been polite" is not an assessment of risk.

I know a number of colleagues who have been traumatised by their treatment by the Board and blame themselves for not getting across the real risks posed by some individuals whose releases have been ordered.

I gave evidence of a threat to life made in an interview where an independent witness was present. The Board decided my account could not be trusted and adjourned for a further hearing so that person could be called to corroborate. They did so, but the client's explanation that we both misheard was believed and release ordered.

I don't know if it's political pressure to get prison numbers down or the notion that to prove your independence you must make daft decisions, but the Parole board is pretty messed up.


This is one of the reasons that I chose CRC. I find cervical smears less excruciating than attending oral hearings. After travelling down south (a few hours on train) on numerous occasions for these hearings I have had solicitors grill me over my risk assessments, the same way a CPS Barrister would interrogate someone who is on trial for murder. Whilst the prisoner hardly gets asked about their behaviour. If I had to attend these hearings more often than I currently do, I think I would be reaching for Prozac.


Agree with above,my regret at being selected NPS is that I will still have to deal with the Parole Board. Impartial yes respectful of probation no. I so agree that they try to prove their independence by metaphorically beating up on the probation officer. I have actually been ridiculed for my professional assessment in front of a client I am then expected to work with on licence. They have no understanding that probation officers can not make the prison deliver sentence planning targets. Also, prisons are coping with increasing waiting lists for Sex Offender Treatment Programmes by issuing Non Selection Reports ( in essence removing wait listed prisoners who have already been assessed as needing/suitable for SOTP because prison resources can not deliver it!). It makes a total nonsense of the whole process but it is the Offender Manager who is left to explain this to the Parole Board.. Yes Mr X needs this so he can safely be released but no, he can't have it.


The worst part of my job is dealing with the Parole Board.


Please don't stereotype OSs. Yes a lot of prisons have shifted prison officers into the jobs without retraining hence the 'he keeps his cell tidy, you should release him' type of assessment. Equally a lot of us are still seconded POs or other experienced staff who do carry out a full and thorough risk assessment. Having shared all the negative experiences of the parole board described above (and as I attend oral hearings most weeks, you can imagine this gets quite harrowing! ) OSs and OMs would be better off cooperating rather than forming negative judgements of each other's competence.


Yes its tough, but we have (as Probation staff) yet again been let down and fed to the lions with oral hearings by having no appropriate training. Yes, its tough, but with suitably developed skills we could manage these hearings much more successfully. Most boards are chaired by judges with barristers across the table, so it becomes a game on their terms. We're simply not geared up for such high level adversarial exchanges. We're not trained for it, we're not practised at it - its how many if our clients and their victims must feel in court. I find it exhilarating, but tiring - and made more complex by the lack of support or preparation time.


We obviously all have very different experiences according to the vagaries of our caseloads and the makeup of Parole Board panels, but the theme of these comments is outside my experience and that of a colleague I spoke to recently. I can only ever recall being treated with the utmost courtesy at Oral Hearings with complete respect for ones professionalism. 

It's never occurred to me that the home PO was anything other than the expert on the case and therefore able to speak authoritatively to the Panel. Of course there are times when as an expert witness you have to undergo cross-examination, but I've never felt any particular difficulty simply because I've always felt on top of the case through extensive knowledge.

However, it's correct to say that PO's don't ever seem to have had any specific training in how to deal with Oral Hearings and like much court work, we've just been expected to pick it up as we've gone along. I must confess that I've never undertaken a video hearing and to be perfectly honest I think it's an awful idea and not at all conducive to a fair judicial process or careful examination of dreadful offences in my view. 

What I think has possibly changed for the worst, and in order to make the process so painful for colleagues, is the advent of OASys, and I'm interested to see the subject didn't get a mention, together with the transience of many staff nowadays. My suspicion is that colleagues are being put in invidious situations by having to attend Hearings in the absence of in-depth knowledge of the case or prisoner

I've written about the Parole Board and Oral Hearings on several occasions, most recently last May when I made the following observation regarding OASys and the Panel's attitude towards it:-
Now I can't end this discourse without mention of OASys. Each panel member will be extremely familiar with this assessment method since its introduction and has the benefit of a full print-out in front of them. What struck me was that at the end of each expert's evidence, the file was metaphorically pushed aside and each person asked a series of blunt questions "Now what do you think the risk is of a) absconding b) harm to staff c) reoffending d) harm to the public? " In turn each was asked a supplementary "Do you have any doubts?"  
I put it to you. What exactly is the purpose of OASys? Because I don't know. 
I'm pretty sure there is currently an enquiry into the future of the Parole Board and I must say it strikes me as a bit strange to be moving towards a situation where it will be NPS civil servants who will be in the hot seat and being regularly cross-examined by hostile solicitors and barristers and trying to justify all that OASys crap. I've never quite understood the Secretary of State's Representative either as they never seem to turn up.......   

Monday 27 January 2014

Only Following Orders

Given all the recent discussion concerning 'sifting and sorting' and Napo's advice about lodging a grievance, I thought it might be instructive for some readers if I published part of a letter that indicates how these grievances are being dealt with. I don't think it matters which Trust it relates to as I suspect the script is pretty typical and orchestrated by the MoJ. 


Transforming Rehabilitation Programme: Problem Resolution Procedure

I acknowledge receipt of your grievance under the Trust's Problem Resolution Procedure. This relates to the national transforming rehabilitation programme that the Trust is required to implement. The Trust aims to create a culture where concerns and issues are resolved as close as to the source as possible to create the opportunity for suitable solutions to be explored.

The nature of this grievance, that being the national programme means a local resolution on this matter is not achievable. The trust is required to follow the framework and processes set down by the MoJ. There are some matters where we have local discretion. Such matters will be consulted on during the course of the implementation process. As the Trust is following instruction, the framework and processes as laid down by the MoJ, the Trust's problem resolution procedure does not apply. The Trust will continue to share information from the TR programme with staff as it emerges. We will continue to share your concerns with the programme.

The location is unlikely to change for most staff as a result of the transfer. In your letter before transfer your location will be confirmed.

I note your concerns regarding the date to be used for sifting purposes. HR is working closely with the Management Information Team to ensure factors that would affect this being an accurate picture are taken into account such as: maternity leave, long-term sickness absence and secondments. Line Managers have also been asked to identify those individuals where this date would not be broadly typical of their workload. Further discussions have taken place and Line Managers have been asked to provide a point in time when a more typical caseload calculation can be used, to ensure that no individual is disadvantaged as a result of their atypical caseload. If you require further information please discuss this with your Line Manager.

I would like to assure you that the Trust is working with the MoJ, local trade unions and colleagues to ensure the practicalities of the staff transfer are delivered to ensure the best outcome for Staff, Service Users and the Community. 


The Trust has received a number of similar communications and appreciate that you and your colleagues have concerns about the future for the probation profession and for the work we undertake to protect the public and reduce reoffending. Many of these points have been raised by the Trust through the formal consultation about Transforming Rehabilitation and in subsequent meetings with both the programme team and ministers. However, the Trust itself will no longer be delivering services after 1 April and is not therefore in a position to determine the outcomes of the programme. 

On a more positive note I believe you should take encouragement from the development of the Probation Institute as a focus for maintaining professional standards and staff development . This initiative has been the result of joint work between the Probation Association, Probation Chiefs association and the trade unions with support from the MoJ. 


Finally, line management is there to help support you through this process. Our staff are professional, loyal, hardworking and committed to working with offenders in the community and to supporting colleagues on the front line of service. That work, supported as it is by our values, will be equally important and necessary once the new operating model is implemented. Any further information will be shared with you at the earliest opportunity and I hope this will help address some of the present uncertainties.

Yours sincerely,


Sunday 26 January 2014

The Clients

As more 'sifting and sorting' letters continue to try and divide a whole profession, here's two contributions from yesterday that serve to remind us what it's all about:-

The true legacy of 100+ years of Probation is not found in corporate achievement but in the tens of thousands of stories of men and women with whom we have worked who have tried to change. Most have failed again and again, each relapse contributing to the learning that was required to secure the change. Then, one day, the stars are aligned and the Probation Officer/PSO was there, ready to do what was required to support the individual, to give them the best possible chance to make the changes necessary to stop the destructive cycles of behaviour that had blighted their lives. 

The successes for Probation are not found in corporate reports, annual business plans or performance statistics, they are found in recovering alcoholics, in former addicts, drug free at last after 11 failed attempts, in the tears of a man who has admitted his abusive childhood for the first time and started on a road that will help him to recovery, in the child protected from offences that will never take place because a diligent PO acted decisively. 

These tens or even hundreds of thousands of stories will remain untold because they absolutely should remain untold. They are not the business of PR people and journalists, nor even for politicians to wave around at the Dispatch Box. They are for those involved and those alone. 

But we know. Every CEO/ACO/SPO/PO/PSO and admin worker in every Probation office in the country knows. 

The strength of Probation is not that it always succeeds but that it always tries. Until Politicians realise that, they will never be able to recognise it's value and will never be comfortable with advocating for the abstract. Concrete thinkers need concrete outcomes where there may be none.

I am not at all religious but, to my mind, Probation is and always has been, first and foremost, an act of faith. Everyone knows punitive sentencing is futile in terms of changing behaviour. Someone realised this, 100 years ago, and thought 'let's try something else'. It worked, more often than not because, more often than not, that act of faith is rewarded by effort and investment on the part of the offenders.

We are all sounding rather weary....I agree entirely with Rob Palmer -'tis true we have never sought the limelight, content to go on our way, assisting, befriending, protecting without fuss and without public recognition. As a profession, we have always been rather understated, the complete opposite of most I have met in this line of work. Probation staff - who are larger than life, hugely funny, immensley brilliant show offs, and similarly, hugely enigmatic, brilliant, funny and complex clients...

I know not if I am to be a CRC or NPS, but whatever I am, and wherever they send me, I will take myself, as I always have, with the same commitment and desire to encourage and support people to change. To be frank, if I thought I would have to compromise on that, I'd be looking for another job.

Saturday 25 January 2014

A Celebration of Achievement

The last ever Probation Chief's conference was held recently and quite naturally it had the unmistakable air of a wake. According to twitter accounts, Sue Hall the Chair and out-going CEO of West Yorkshire received a standing ovation and unsurprisingly talked of 'dignity and professionalism'. This is nothing more than I would expect both of her and the Service as a whole, but I suspect it's partly the reason we won the argument but lost the battle with those bastard politicians of all parties. 

It is just so very, very sad that such a proud and distinguished public service has been destroyed in this way and by such mostly small-minded and undistinguished characters who have never really understood what we did and how we did it. 

Of course some of us will fight on and there's still the House of Lords who have always understood what we're about. It will all inevitably end in tears and chaos and I have no doubt we will be able to say 'we told you so'. But that's no consolation really. As many comments to this blog have demonstrated, the unique ethos this vocation nurtured and developed from day one is slowly ebbing away, to be replaced with one of bitter intransigence and cussedness.

It's not attractive and we feel guilty about the possible effect on clients, but it's changing as many excellent highly-skilled colleagues consider their future and increasing numbers up and leave a profession they loved. 

So, the PCA has had the wake and marked the occasion with a fitting book of reflections:-

  Embedded image permalink    

It's quite a story and it's just such a shame we've never been that good about telling it.

Friday 24 January 2014

Some Observations 20

With so much happening on the TR omnishambles front, it's been ages since we've had a general roundup of other random stuff, so here's a few bits and bobs that individually I don't feel able to spin out into a post of their own. It's becoming all too apparent that we're well into pre-electioneering mode now and it was this comment that I thought summed it up nicely:-

The constant flood of crime-related policy announcements is the result of Lynton Crosby, the Tories' election "guru", telling them not to put messages out about anything other than crime, benefits or the economy - the only areas they think they can win. The next 16 months in politics are going to be really ugly.

And sure enough on Saturday this piece appeared in 'Converse' the prisoners newspaper reporting yet another Grayling initiative designed to appeal to voters and make sure the prison numbers are maintained:-

Criminals who go on the run to avoid being sent back behind bars could face an extra two years in prison under new measures announced by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. The new measure is aimed at punishing criminals who have been released from prison but abscond to avoid being recalled for breaching their licence conditions.

Under current laws, once they are caught they can be sent back to prison to serve the remainder of their sentence, but there is no additional penalty for going on the run.
The introduction of a new offence of being unlawfully at large following recall to custody will mean they could face additional punishment when they are recaptured and hauled before the courts.

The Ministry of Justice said around 800 criminals a year could face prosecution under the new offence which will carry a maximum two-year sentence. It is already a criminal offence to escape from jail, to not surrender to custody when on bail and to not return from release on temporary licence, and this change will close a loophole in the law when offenders remain unlawfully at large following recall to custody.

Mr Grayling said: “It is unacceptable that criminals who disregard the law and attempt to evade the authorities are able to do so with impunity. 
I am today sending a clear message to those people that if you try to avoid serving your sentence you will face the consequences when you are caught. I think the hard-working taxpayers of this country would expect nothing less than tough punishment for offenders who try and beat the system. From my first day in this job I have been clear that punishment must mean punishment. We’re on the side of people who work hard and want to get on and my message is simple – if you break the law, you will not get away with it.”

Actually I notice that the prison theme cropped up yesterday with these exchanges concerning ROTL and IEP, the new Incentives and Earned Privileges Scheme introduced by one Chris Grayling:- 

Does anyone have any information on the changes to the HMP IEPS system. I supervise someone who regularly is out on ROTL (release on temporary licence) for the purposes of resettling in the community: he's a lifer. He told me yesterday, that changes to the IEP system at his establishment effectively means that about two thirds of those who currently are Enhanced, no longer met the criteria and are being reassigned as Standard; therefore losing a significant number of privileges. I also heard from a prison officer that in future, applications for rotl for the purposes of maintaining family ties, will not be granted, unless some other good reason is also given. Anyone know what's going on?

It's basically all up in the air. Receptions no longer start at standard but on the basic regime. To advance along the new IEP system inmates have to actively demonstrate more then compliance and good behaviour. To my knowledge there is no national standard or all encompassing directive, which creates a large lack of continuity across the prison estate. You may remember that a major factor identified from the investigations into the Strangeways riots conducted by Lord Woolfe was just that lack of continuity found from prison to prison. It's unfortunate for your client, but you now have to 'earn' ROTL, rather than it being a natural progression.

I feel the new system is flawed and unfair, particularly with regard to lifers. As lifers are expected to complete a number of ROTLs prior to parole hearings, the new system may have a negative impact on the lifer. I would suggest (if I may) that any PO who experiences difficulties getting lifers out on ROTL, to notify the parole board, and complain to lifer management. After all ROTL forms an integral aspect of risk assessment for a lifer, it should not just be seen as an 'earned' privilege.

There's a new PSI governing IEP you can get it off MoJ website. Prisoners have to be actively engaged in rehabilitative process and in employment that is of benefit to others (peer partners, listeners ted) to earn their enhanced these days. Will prevent deniers refusing to do SOTP getting enhanced for example.

I wouldn't worry about the ROTL issue for lifers it will mainly affect cat C prisoners trying it on rather than traditional family ties ROTL for cat Ds or lifers.

As was highlighted, there's a very interesting letter from a prisoner in the January edition of Inside Time:-

Prison reform or destruction - Star Letter of the Month

From Foreign Perspective - HMP Oakwood 

I have been a mandatory lifer since February 1995 and I have witnessed many changes in the prison system. One of the most profound changes I have seen is how the 'us and them' divide between prison staff and prisoners had almost disappeared. Prisoners were engaging in offence related courses and education at a scale unseen in the past.

At last, improvement on your education levels was considered as having reduced your risk. Alas, Ken Clarke and his progressive thinking was not appreciated. On the contrary, he had been accused of having too soft a touch as Secretary of State for Justice.In his place was put 'punitive' Chris Grayling who does not seem to have a clue about the inner workings of the prison system.

Against the advice of all senior and experienced governors and heads, he brought in a new system which brought back the 'us and them' ethos overnight. All the hard work of his predecessors and the complacency of prisoners he damaged by literally punishing good behaviour! What else can you call it when a prisoner behaved exceptionally well over an extended period of time by doing everything expected of him and more, only to be told you have behaved well and done nothing wrong but now we are reviewing you using harsher criteria and we are taking your belongings (which you have worked hard to buy) off you anyway because Chris Grayling says we have to. 

For all of those who were compliant and followed the rules in recent years the 1st of November 2013 will be remembered as the day on which Chris Grayling destroyed 30 years of progress in the British prison system. How sad.

By the way, there was a BBC Radio 4 programme yesterday The Report on the recent disturbance at HMP Oakwood with evidence that it was in fact a riot. It can be listened to on i-player.  

It used to be said that the Church of England was the Tory party at prayer. That's long gone since Margaret Thatcher got irritated when the Faith in the City report highlighted the disparity between the rich and the poor. It's fascinating to see though how the tensions are re-surfacing as we head up to the General Election and as reported in this story just before Christmas about Iain Duncan Smith refusing to meet the Trussell Trust to discuss food banks:- 

Iain Duncan Smith, the embattled work and pensions secretary, is refusing to meet leaders of the rapidly expanding Christian charity that has set up more than 400 food banks across the UK, claiming it is "scaremongering" and has a clear political agenda. The news will fuel a growing row over food poverty, as church leaders and the Labour party accuse ministers of failing to recognise the growing crisis hitting hundreds of thousands of families whose incomes are being squeezed, while food prices soar.

Responding to requests for a meeting from Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust, which has provided food supplies to more than 500,000 people since April, Duncan Smith has dismissed claims that the problems are linked to welfare reforms and attacked the charity for publicity-seeking. In his most recent response on 22 November, Duncan Smith made clear that he had received enough letters from the trust and referred Mould to his previous answers. His deputy, Lord Freud, the minister for welfare reform, also explicitly rejected an invitation for talks on 30 August, telling the trust's chairman that he was "unable to take up your offer of a meeting".
In 2010, the Trussell Trust provided food to around 41,000 people, but in the past eight months the number has increased to more than half a million, a third of whom are children.
Mould first wrote to Duncan Smith in June, saying that many of the problems people were facing could be tracked back to changes in their benefits, and to delays in the payment of them.
Duncan Smith began his reply by criticising the "political messaging of your organisation", which "despite claiming to be nonpartisan" had "repeatedly sought to link the growth in your network to welfare reform". He said his department's record in processing benefit claims had improved and should do so further with the introduction of universal credit.
He rejected any suggestion that the government was to blame. "I strongly refute this claim and would politely ask you to stop scaremongering in this way. I understand that a feature of your business model must require you to continuously achieve publicity, but I'm concerned that you are now seeking to do this by making your political opposition to welfare reform overtly clear."
The standoff will further anger church leaders who were incensed by reports last week that the government had turned down a potential pot of £22m of EU funding for food banks, on the grounds that the UK did not want to be told by Brussels how to spend money for European structural funds.
Unfortunately it looks like we could be getting into that game where each main party tries to demonstrate how tough they are on benefits as well as crime. Here's rising Labour star Rachel Reeves MP in the Daily Telegraph of all places on a bright new idea that'll make life yet more tough for many of our clients:-
Benefits claimants will be forced to sit a test showing they can read, write and do maths in order to claim benefits, Labour will announce, prompting a furious row with the Conservatives over welfare.
People receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance would be forced to sit a basic skills test within six weeks of signing on or face being stripped of their benefits, Labour will say, in a move designed to challenge the Tory’s popular welfare policies. Anyone who does not show basic competency in literacy, numeracy and IT will be sent on training programmes. Labour believes that around 300,000 people could be sent on courses every year. If they refuse, they will be denied welfare.
Rachel Reeves will announce the curbs in her first major policy speech since being promoted to shadow work and pensions secretary. It is an attempt to end criticisms that Labour is “the party of welfare” and counter David Cameron’s promise to make people on benefits “earn or learn” or face losing their handouts. The Labour move to toughen its image on welfare will concern senior Conservative ministers. The Conservatives enjoy significant poll leads over their Labour rivals on the issue and believe it could deliver them victory in next year’s election.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, and Theresa May, the Home Secretary, will on Monday insist that tough Conservative policies on welfare and immigration are getting hundreds of thousands of British people into jobs. In an attempt to overshadow Miss Reeves’ speech, the Conservatives released statistics designed to remind voters about Labour’s past profligacy on welfare. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of British people in a job dropped by 413,000, while the number of foreigners in employment soared by 736,000, according to the statistics released by Mr Duncan Smith’s department.
Finally, here's a report of an on-going case that has a particularly pertinent portend of possible trouble ahead when all those innovative 'best in the business' contractors Chris Grayling is so keen on get involved with probation work:-

A PROBATION officer was "shocked " when told one of the men accused of murdering a Southampton dad started a relationship with the woman mentoring him on release from prison, a court heard. Terry Wilson was appointed as probation officer for Pierre Lewis - one of three men alleged to have shot dead Jahmel Jones - after he was released from prison on licence in 2012.
Giving evidence at Winchester Crown Court, Mr Wilson, a probation officer for the London Probation Trust, said Lewis revealed he was having a relationship with Rachel Kenehan, who acted as his support mentor while he was in Portland prison and upon his release. Lewis, 20, is in the dock along with friends Jemmikai Orlebar-Forbes and Isaac Boateng who are accused of carrying out the murder in a joint enterprise on April 20 last year.
Kenehan, 35, is charged with conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, assisting an offender, and perverting the course of justice. Mr Wilson told the court how he learned of the relationship during an arranged meeting in January last year. He said: "I was shocked and disappointed. She (Kenehan) is a mentor and carrying out an important professional function in terms of supervision. She was viewed as an important part of the support system and that compromised that."
The court heard how Mr Wilson phoned Kenehan that day to discuss the relationship and arranged a meeting to be held between her and her manager in which she told them it had been going on “a while”.

Thursday 23 January 2014

TR Report : Verdict

There's been quite a few responses to the Justice Affairs Committee report on the TR omnishambles and here are some of them. First, a somewhat muted statement from the Probation Chief's Association. But many of the Chief's have their own position to consider don't they?

The Justice Select Committee highlights significant areas of concern with the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, many of which were touched upon by the PCA and PA in evidence submitted during the inquiry.
In summary, the report concludes:
  • There has been a lack of information given by the Ministry of Justice about the risks in implementing the programme, how those risks may be mitigated and contingency plans in the event that a new provider subsequently fails. The report recommends that the Government in its response should provide a full narrative of the programme risks (paragraphs 25-26).
  • Questions whether the Government has carried out a proper assessment over the affordability of the reforms, and recommends that the Government “set out the projected impact of the extension of rehabilitation to short sentenced offenders on the prison population and on associated costs” (paragraphs 27-35)
  • “The absence of piloting of payment by results for delivering reductions in reoffending by those subject to probation services means that some lack confidence that the Government’s reform programme will work better than the existing system” (paragraphs 16-21)
  • The proposed split of functions between the new Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service in case management, service delivery, risk assessment and breach escalations presents “additional risks over and above the current situation” of having one single case manager in a Probation Trust. The Committee concludes that this “will be challenging to remedy through contractual specifications” and that “it is essential  that very good lines of communication and cooperation” are put in place (paragraph 44-46).
  • There are risks to existing local partnership arrangements where Probation Trusts are a lead agency, and recommends that “Ministers put in place appropriate safeguards to ensure that new providers in the private sector appreciate the importance of working with existing local partnerships to reduce reoffending” (paragraphs 47-50)
  • The report expresses “considerable concern” that under the reform proposals Community Rehabilitation Companies “will not be required to have professionally qualified staff,” and recommend that the new providers “should be bound by a contractual requirement to have a minimum proportion of qualified probation staff related to the volume and risk levels of offenders supervised and to provide continuous training.” The Committee welcome the joint venture of the PCA, PA, UNISON and NAPO to create a Probation Institute to support staff to gain suitable accreditations and qualifications (paragraphs 62-65)
This from the Howard League:-

‘This could be your house burgled’: The dangers of privatising probation
Responding to the Justice Committee’s interim report on the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme, published today, Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:
“Today’s report highlights the fact that ministers are rushing proposals through to meet a political timetable, which could put the public in danger. Why is the government in such a hurry to dismantle a probation service that has worked well for more than 100 years?
“With banks, train services and Olympic security, we have already seen the government step in to clear up the mess left by private firms who failed to deliver the goods.
“But the risks with probation privatisation are far higher. This could be your house burgled, your bag stolen, your grandchild assaulted.
“The fact that plans to destroy probation trusts have been delayed for two months should give the government further pause for thought on whether it is worth gambling with public safety in pursuit of an ideological experiment.”
Richard Garside on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies doesn't mince his words in a piece entitled 'The coming probation disaster'
If the government's plans to privatise probation under the 'Transforming Rehabilitation' programme end up being as messy, expensive, counter-productive and damaging as many critics fear, today's report from the House of Commons Justice Committee sheds some light on why.
Across a range of areas - programme design and definition of outcome, programme costings, transition planning and professional buy-in, to name but a few - the Committee's report raises significant concerns and questions, albeit wrapped up in polite parliamentary language.
He goes through the report in some detail highlighting the many concerns, and concludes with that of delivery:-
Successful implementation
The rights and wrongs of the government's proposed structure and payment model aside, what might mitigate against successful implementation of the government's plans?
One concern relates to the ongoing stability of existing arrangements as the new arrangements come into effect. For example, the Committee highlights 'a risk that the focus of these reforms on reducing reoffending by short-sentenced prisoners will destabilise the progress that has been made with other cohorts of offenders'.
Add to this concerns over the diversity of provision under the new arrangements. The Committee expresses itself as 'extremely concerned if the bidding process for prime providers were to be dominated by the very small number of large businesses which currently hold most of the major outsourcing contracts in the criminal justice system'. Given the risk successful bidders might be expected to shoulder and the size of the final contracts, domination by large businesses seems highly likely.
At the other end of the scale, the Committee notes that of around 1,700 voluntary and community organisations currently working within the prisons and probation field, 'fewer than 400 registered an interest in providing services under the programme; if indicative of the final number this would represent a considerable narrowing of the market.'
In relation to the quality of service delivery, the risk that successful bidders will simply be those that offer the cheapest price is high. The Committee also expressed strong concern about the training and qualifications of staff working in the CRCs:
'Community Rehabilitation Companies will be managing considerable risk on a day to day basis, yet will not be required to have professionally qualified staff. This is a matter of considerable concern to us. We welcome the creation of a centre of excellence for probation, and we would hope that new providers will support their staff to gain suitable accreditation and qualifications through this Probation Institute. We nevertheless believe that they should be bound by a contractual requirement to have a minimum proportion of qualified probation staff related to the volume and risk levels of offenders supervised and to provide continuous training.'
The Committee was also struck by the lack of buy-in from among the existing probation leadership. The Committee claims that it 'heard compelling evidence that neither Chief Executives nor Trust Boards feel confident that they are ready for the first stage of transition or that their concerns are being listened to'. The report also notes:
'The fact that a quarter of posts for the leadership of CRCs are unfilled is perhaps testament to the depth of feeling amongst the probation sector about these reforms, given that there are currently 35 Trust Chiefs.'
The parliamentary arithmetic and the powers to change probation structures already resting with ministers do not favour the opponents of probation privatisation. But it also appears increasingly likely that the government's plans will founder on the rocks of implementation.
The Justice Committee's report highlights where most of these rocks are.
Napo says this about the report:-

Napo has welcomed a report that criticises the government over plans to privatise 70% of the probation service. The Justice Committee yesterday published its report that scrutinises the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, highlighting concerns that Napo has previously raised with the government.

The report says: “Witnesses to the inquiry, including those supportive of the changes, had major concerns about the scale, architecture, detail and consequences of the reforms … much of which has not been tested and the pace at which the government is seeking to implement them.”

On Friday, Justice Minister Chris Grayling announced plans to closure the current probation trusts would be postponed until  June. Napo believes this is an admission that the timetable he has set is unrealistic and unachievable due to a lack of infrastructure.

The issue of risks to performance and to public safety were also raised during the inquiry. Sir Alan Beith MP, Chair of the Committee, concluded: “There is a lack of information both about risks they might encounter during implementation and the steps they will take to mitigate those risks. They also do not appear to have devised a contingency plan if the competition fails to yield a viable new provider for a particular area or a new provider subsequently fails.”

Napo supports the Committee’s conclusion that whilst welcoming the plans to work with those receiving  under 12 months ‘any gains made in reducing re-offending must not come at the expense of the supervision of offenders on other sentences, and must not diminish the value of community sentences’.

Napo general secretary Ian Lawrence said: “These plans are ill thought out, are untried and untested and as yet have not been thoroughly costed. We strongly urge the government to scrap these plans or at the very least  to pilot them before rolling them out nationally so that glitches can be addressed and the impact they have on reducing re-offending can be properly evaluated to evidence that they work’” 

The Financial Times:-

Probation outsourcing plan sparks concern

The UK justice secretary’s plans to outsource up to 70 per cent of probation services have prompted “major concerns” about the tight timescale and lack of testing to determine whether the cost-cutting reforms are possible, MPs have warned. 

Chris Grayling hopes that opening the £800m-a-year sector to private companies will lead to a “rehabilitation revolution”, with bidders paid according to the percentage of their offender cohorts that are kept away from crime. But a report by the House of Commons’ justice committee argues that even those who support the government’s plans are dubious about the scale of the reforms and about Mr Grayling’s goal of awarding the new contracts before the 2015 election. As a result of the tight deadlines for implementing the outsourcing programme, the Ministry of Justice has scrapped a series of pilot schemes designed to test the management of offenders on a payment-by-results basis. 

Sir Alan Beith MP, the committee’s chairman, criticised the lack of detail made available about the risks of handing over management of low and medium-level offenders to the private sector. He added that while the committee would have liked to examine the affordability of the reforms, the information provided by the government was “too limited” to do so. “[Ministers] do not appear to have devised clear contingency plans in the event that the competition fails to yield a viable new provider for a particular area, or that a new provider subsequently fails,” Sir Alan said. 

Responding to the report, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, called on the MoJ to abandon the plans. “David Cameron’s reckless privatisation is causing massive uncertainty, demoralising those working in the probation service and resulting in experienced staff leaving,” Mr Khan said. “Public safety is being put at risk on a daily basis thanks to Chris Grayling’s monumental gamble. 

And finally a piece by regular reader of this blog, Mike Guilfoyle writing on the OurKingdom website:-

Gambling with public safety: privatising probation

In England and Wales the probation service works. The Coalition government is privatising it anyway, at speed. A former probation officer assesses an oversight committee's anxious report on government plans.

My final year as a Probation Officer in London was the most stressful of my twenty year career. It was 2010 and the pressure was on to achieve what was, for many in the higher echelons of probation, the holy grail of institutional maturity: Trust status.
The rewards of Trust status would, it was argued, liberate the probation service from central government interference. Devolved local commissioning would unleash new collaborations with partners in local communities, working to reduce reoffending.
Probation practitioners were encouraged to show Stakhanovite enthusiasm, hitting targets for the processing of statutory supervision 'cases'. At daily staff briefings local managers displayed a Commissar-like discipline to ensure that the deadline for Trust status would be met.
So it was with some wry amusement, that I read the anodyne announcement earlier this week from the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, that there's been a delay. The Ministry of Justice, the progenitor of this top-down target-driven politically motivated privatisation, needs an extra two months. And so, the dismantling of a century-old, high performing national probation service would now start from the beginning of June 2014.
Yesterday the House of Commons Justice Committee published their interim report on the Government's Transforming Rehabilitation programme. Their report (Crime Reduction Policies, a co-ordinated approach? — PDF here), calls into question the viability of some of the government's more grandiose and contested claims on the evidence base of its rationale for its probation service 'reforms'.
There was broad agreement among witnesses to the Justice committee inquiry for extending legislative oversight and post-release 'through the gate' supervision to those short-term prisoners whose resettlement needs have thus far been largely overlooked; given the opportunity they might engage well with many of the community-based organisations who responded to the government's consultation.
The Coalition government claims its Transforming Rehabilitation proposals will reduce reoffending, improve supervision and support for those offenders serving prison sentences of under twelve months (controversially current probation services are precluded from bidding for such work), provide for peer mentoring, resettlement prisons nearer the homes of offenders, greater involvement of the private and voluntary sectors, and the potential for more innovative solutions to the persisting problems of crime in communities.
But ........(The whole article can be found here).