Wednesday 23 April 2014

A Break in Transmission

Regular readers will be aware that since plans for our destruction were first announced as part of the TR omnishambles, this blog has effectively been in campaigning and crisis mode with very few breaks in transmission. 

Due to some nifty forward planning, careful time management and amazing technology, posting has proved possible from some surprising and unlikely places over the last couple of years, ranging in extremis from a very noisy Wetherspoons in Llandudno, to a rather large and comfortable ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

I suppose if I really put my mind to it, I could try posting from a smartphone in Berlin, but I just know the irritation would get the better of me and the results would not be good. So, it is with some regret that I have to leave the blog on autopilot for a week while I explore the architectural and cultural delights of a city I've wanted to visit for some time. 

I hope the small army of newshounds out there keep scouring all the usual news outlets for stuff of interest, that the comments keep coming in and that you remember to tune in again when I return and try and pick up the threads of the latest twists and turns of this sorry Grayling plan called TR omnishambles. 

Remember - there are no monitors, so you are all trusted to be good and look out for each other, but Joanna Hughes has kindly agreed to try and calm nerves should the need arise. So although it's auf wiedersehen, while I'm away you might be interested in the following ebook just published and consisting of the material from 58 bloggers writing about the cuts in legal aid. It can be downloaded here for free.


A heartrendingly passionate, unique, often amusing yet clinical dissection of a justice system as seen through the eyes of as disparate a group of people as you could imagine. From legal professionals to prisoners behind bars. Media figures, political activists and tech-savvy hackers, to a 12-year-old girl. 

A story of hope and of what happens when a group of people stand up for what they believe in and hold a torch to the darkness a government creates when it prepares to sell the soul of a nation to the highest bidder.

It is media rich, containing many relevant documents, submissions, articles, letters, video and audio recordings, key events, speeches and protests. It provides the only complete - as far as it is possible to be complete - account of theSave UK Justice campaign and the events that led to the formation of the Justice Alliance.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

I Believe in You

Here's something a little different. The perfect antidote to all the shite that's currently going on in probation. The following blog post was written by Sally Lewis, CEO of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust and appeared on the Discovering Desistance blog site. It's reproduced here with her permission.

How did the opportunity of spending time with a person there to assist you become a type of punishment? When did the creation of relationships with other people to provide encouragement and advice become an “Offender Engagement Programme”?
Sewell Stokes was born in 1902 and lived an extraordinarily eventful life as a novelist, screenwriter, biographer, playwright, broadcaster and prison visitor. As a young man Sewell befriended the famous American dancer Isadora Duncan in her penniless years. In common with other active and creative minds that came before him, and were to come afterwards, Sewell decided to enlist as a Probation Officer. Between 1941 and 1945 he worked at Bow Street Magistrates Court and in 1950 he published an autobiographical account of his experiences in ‘Court Circular’ which later formed the basis of the 1952 British film ‘I Believe in You’.
From the legendary Ealing stable, I Believe in You is a heartwarming black & white and a genuine classic for anyone working today with people who offend. This little film beats with a gentle human pulse of what “offender engagement” really is. It portrays  the truth that to have meaning we have to know the whole person and their narrative. The story is rather innocent and sentimental but the message is enduring.
Posters for the film give a rather racy image with the by-line, “what was her crime that no one could say…”. Remember, this was an era when Celia Johnson’s portrayal in Brief Encounter, only 7 years before, often referred to as the perfect love story, was considered very bold.
Henry Phipps (Cecil Parker) ex Colonial Office man of leisure ponders on his future, sherry glass in hand, beside the fireplace of his Mayfair flat. When teenage tearaway in distress, Norma (Joan Collins) seeks refuge in his building, the event provides the inspiration he needs to become a Probation Officer.
Mr. Phipps joins the probation team led by the wise and kindly Mr. Dove. In a steep learning curve and despite his most genuine efforts Mr. Phipps is puzzled, exasperated then disheartened in his attempts to work with the people entrusted to his care by the courts.
He seeks and receives robust advice from his stalwart colleague probation officer, the excellent ”Matty”  Matheson (Celia Johnson). “It’s no good planning for people you have to plan with them” she tells him firmly, “you think you can understand without liking?”.
What this simple little film portrays are the attitudes that underpin meaningful human connection. As Matty reflects “there’s no such thing as a typical probation officer”. The warmth in this depiction of probation’s professional ancestry will, I hope, remind practitioners amongst you of why you were first motivated to work with people who have offended. So much is recognisable 60 years later; not least the frustration of the police sergeant (Sid James) at probation’s inability to organise their supply of fresh milk for the office tea; perhaps it’s in the DNA. This is a film to watch beside the fire on a cold day with a pot of tea and, if you can, have a few colleagues around to share the experience.
Sally Lewis Probation Officer / CEO
Wikipedia says:-

Critical reception

  • The New York Times wrote, "it shines with understanding and, except for a brash climactic moment, it is a warm and adult adventure, which pins deserving medals on unsung heroes without heroics." 
  • Allmovie wrote, "the semi-documentary approach established early in I Believe in You gives way to sentiment as the film winds down." 
  • TV Guide noted, "an engaging drama with surprisingly good performances from (Joan) Collins, (Harry) Fowler, and (Laurence) Harvey." 

I Believe in You is a 1952 film directed by Michael Relph and Basil Dearden. It stars Celia Johnson and Cecil Parker and is based on the book Court Circular by Sewell Stokes. Inspired by the recently successful The Blue Lamp, Relph and Dearden used a (then) semi-documentary approach in telling the story of the lives of parole officers and their charges

Monday 21 April 2014

The Audit Trail

When the chickens come home to roost, the shit hits the fan, the enquiry convenes and the political obituaries are written, I absolutely agree with Joe Kuipers that there must be an unambiguous audit trail so that the blame for the TR omnishambles is pinned firmly where it belongs. That's certainly one of my aims in writing all this stuff and which the British Library has kindly indicated they will archive for posterity.

In the same vein, Joe's latest blog is concerned with putting down certain markers that will assist with the inevitable post mortem into this whole bloody mess:-  
The probation house was (and I use 'was' deliberately) a good stone house; OK, needing ongoing maintenance like any business, but built on solid ethical and principled foundations performing generally very well with limited and diminishing resources. It was a house worth defending, as opposed to those built of straw and sticks. So, what did we do in probation, in our solidly built house? Did we open the door, invite the wolf in, as we now watch the new structures being constructed out of the sticks and straw?
This is not to be a long blog, and as I have said previously, I have little new to add. It is important though that (in the language of audit) we create an audit trail of the whole TR processes, and I hope that my scribblings over the last two years will make some contribution to understanding what has actually happened in addition to those comments by other writers, as the plans potentially unravel. I have always said openly that the TR changes are a mistake, fundamentally flawed by splitting the offender groups by risk, a fallacious premise that probation has been failing and a false prediction that we could not work with the under 12 months group.
My concern is now for our staff in the throws and turbulence of moving and changing roles and functions. To this end we in our Trust are behaving properly and complying with mandatory contract variations (rather than volunteering with the implementation of TR). Whatever NOMS have said about staff going to similar jobs, in my view this is simply not the case. Can it really be argued that working in either the CRC or NPS environments is the same as the current probation environment? But job equivalence in the new structures has had to be the formal position as it created the basis for the whole staff transfer scheme.  I argued from the start that all posts in the new structures should have been filled through normal recruitment means, on the basis of qualifications, skills and competence, but when I proposed that in an early forum with NOMS it was rejected on the basis that it would in effect scupper the TR plans by creating impossible and unattainable recruitment processes within the timescale (the election timescale). Let's see if this forms part of the possible judicial review - the assignment processes and the basis of the staff transfers? 
So, how as it that the wolf got in so easily? To be fair, the doors were not flung open at the outset by probation leaders. The wolf sat outside for a bit (not for long) before intimidating the little pigs inside not to cry out. Those leaders who squealed (or cried foul) at the beginning were quickly silenced, which is when all the 'gagging' questions emerged. Then as the period of general leadership acquiescence took hold the NOMS strategy of making the senior appointments to the NPS and CRCs commenced - the natural thing to do really. Once in new roles in waiting the leadership was captured. But the capture was not entirely easy - a number of initially somewhat unwilling leaders were enticed to make their moves (I cannot go into details, but I do know this to be the case - both the people and the enticements / 'seductions'). Why were so many unwilling? Well, obvious really. They did not believe in TR. Having made the move they are now trying to make the best of it - and that must be right. What was not right though was the ease with which probation was given away, and in this respect my main criticism must be levelled at Trust Boards which I can only describe as generally supine. Even now Trust Board members await news of their £275 per day CRC possible roles when I am aware that many of them just do not believe in the new arrangements. Now I know that people need jobs, have bills to pay and futures to consider, but surely a bit more questioning from probation leadership coupled with stronger backbone and the occasional 'no' in the face of some pretty unreasonable demands would not have gone amiss? 
My last blog raised a number of issues that potential bidders might need to consider before they jump in with both feet and become the new occupiers of straw and stick houses. In sheep's clothing? Noses in scant troughs? And, I do think that some potential bidders have and are having second thoughts - for some larger businesses probation can become a 'loss leaders' as an entry point to the more lucrative prison business, but smaller organisations will not be able to stand a loss, or the delays in getting their share of the PbR? 
Some new information has come my way, which I have to speak of cautiously. In the same way that probation leaders were encouraged to move into the new structures I understand (from a reliable source) that potential providers are being 'encouraged' and 'bolstered' to stay in play. This includes especially potential primes. In addition, there must be a big question about the reliability of staff protections once delivery becomes more fragmented by a variety of employers in a more complex set of supply chains. Whilst national agreements look set to be in place for the short term how will employers create what will be necessary savings in the future without challenging labour costs - workforce costs in a people business are always high? Time will tell, but time also allows those responsible for designing and being party to implementing this mistake to move on (and often upwards) and tell a new story if it goes wrong. Remember, history is written by the victors - and I have to admit I have failed to make a dent in the march of TR 'progress'.
Will this blog make a difference? No. Does it make me feel better? No. Why do it? Some things just have to be done. How do I feel? In general very well. About probation? Mainly sad. But remember there is a plan 'B' - bringing together again the straw and stick houses of the NPS and CRCs into one sensible building. I have written about this previously. 

Cautionary Tales

Jonathan Aitken's ambush and smug appearance on media channels over Easter has served to stimulate quite a lively debate about the use of volunteers and mentors within the criminal justice system. It serves to highlight the whole murky world of politically motivated and funded 'think tanks' that churn out stuff in support of their political chums. But it also serves to confirm how shaky and naive the foundations are of the whole TR omnishambles agenda. 

Of course volunteers have always played an important part in probation work, but they have to be very carefully selected, trained and supported, or things can go seriously wrong. They are most definitely not a cheap or quick fix to solving reoffending and if prospective bidders for our work think that, they will quite quickly realise differently:-   

I am a PO in a high risk team and want to share two examples working with mentors/volunteers.

I was writing a PSR on a man for a violent offence who committed this whilst subject to the at risk period of a previous sentence. The mentor (working in a drugs agency) repeatedly contacted me to provide information of the man's progress and sought to both influence me and to gain insight into my assessment of him. I felt under some pressure from her and a mentor from the much lauded community farm where this man did some work experience. Both were called as character witnesses and his defence counsel indicated I had told lies in my report.

Alerted by the Court team over the lunch recess I drove to the Crown Court and the Judge was made aware the report author was in court. She stated to his counsel "I am not prepared to call the report author a liar" and I was not called. When sentenced to a lengthy custodial sentence the man shouted in open court "F*** Off I never want to see you again, you said this wouldn't happen" to the poor woman. The Judge stated he had pulled the wool over the eyes of everyone except the Probation Officer. I had to comfort her outside the court, she was distraught as they had been in an intimate relationship and she was unaware of much of his offending history. Later, evidence came to light he had been dealing class A drugs in both projects.

The second concerned a volunteer with a church based charity working with asylum seekers who wanted to support a sex offender after he came out on licence. She wanted him to reside in her home because he was a thoroughly decent man. She was a grandmother with her grandchildren visiting her home regularly. He was high ROSH to children and police risk managers and my manager authorised disclosure which she simply refused to believe. She did not have any frame of reference to understand the risk she was inviting into her home. Under his licence he was not allowed to reside with her but her willingness to help him at all costs born out of genuine altruism, really undermined the relationship between PO and client. Eventually we were able to rescue this and he went on to successfully complete his licence having been supported by me to gain suitable independent accommodation and employment. It just is not that simple is it Mr Aitken?

I notice that Pat Waterman, Chair of Greater London Napo Branch, has reminded us of a recent very disturbing case:-

A Cautionary Tale for Mr Grayling

Those of you who have been working in probation for some time will know that a good volunteer can be worth their weight in gold. They can provide the additional help and support that so many of our clients need. But they need to be supervised and are no substitute for professionally trained staff.

Earlier this year, one of my members, Terry Wilson, in giving evidence in the trial of one of his clients accused, with others, of carrying out a murder in a joint enterprise last year said he was shocked to discover that he was in a relationship with his support mentor. The woman, who was also standing trial for Conspiracy to Supply Class A Drugs and Perverting the Course of Justice, had been the client's mentor while he was in Portland prison and on his release.

Perhaps Mr Grayling needs to think again before he sells off a large part of our work to private companies who, in order to make a profit, are bound to try and cut staff costs by using "so-called" mentors.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Press Release

Subject: Jonathan Aitken and the privatisation of the Probation Service

The 'On Probation' blog continues to attract in excess of 3,000 hits daily and is rapidly becoming the platform for disgruntled probation staff to vent their anger at Justice Secretary Chris Grayling's plans to privatise the Probation Service.

May 31st sees all Probation Trusts abolished, to be largely replaced with a rag bag of private companies and inexperienced charitable bodies who will have to increasingly rely on an army of 'old lags' in order to undertake the supervision of offenders in a cost-cutting exercise.

It is interesting to note that disgraced former Tory Minister Jonathan Aitken in a recent report written for the right-wing think tank 'Centre for Social Justice' attempts to argue the case for 'mentoring' or probation on the cheap, but can only offer hope and not action.

Many probation staff are becoming increasingly alarmed at the potential risks involved in this completely untested so-called 'Rehabilitation Revolution', but having been effectively 'gagged' by the Ministry of Justice, can only speak out anonymously. An exception and regular contributor to the blog is Joanna Hughes, an experienced Probation Officer with 17 years service under her belt.

Joanna is so outraged at the destruction of a world class and Gold Award winning public service that she has taken the extreme step of resigning her post from 1st June in protest and is willing to explain publicly her reasons and particularly the risks to the public that will invariably flow from the government's privatisation plans.

Joanna is available for interview and can be contacted here: 07854 668050

Jim Brown can be contacted in relation to 'On Probation Blog' here: 

Immediate release - no embargo


Mentoring - Probation Light

Well what a surprise! At a key moment, up pops Jonathan Aitken, disgraced former Tory cabinet minister and now firm supporter of yet-to-be disgraced Tory cabinet minister Chris Grayling and his plans for a TR omnishambles. He's written a report for right-wing think tank Centre for Social Justice arguing that what we need is an army of mentors to take on all the extra work coming the way of the CRC's.

The foreword is predictably written by Grayling and the content is all the usual repetitive stuff about 'leaving prison with only £46 in their pocket'. According to the introduction:-
"This report has been researched and written in the spirit of idealism without illusions. We know that the mentoring of offenders is challenging. We know it works in an impressive swathe of individual cases, small though the present numbers are. The fact that these cases have never properly been counted, measured or expanded on a wider scale is a fault line in the present criminal justice system. The TR strategy is a courageous attempt to correct such past faults.
Implementing the TR strategy, specifically in the area of mentoring, will have its difficulties. Initially this may be negatively reported, for the world of Criminal Justice commentators is overcrowded with pessimists prophesying doom for every fresh effort to reduce reoffending. Yet TR is a bold and original strategy. Its emphasis on the wide-scale mentoring of offenders creates a new game changer that can massively increase the chances of making the strategy succeed."
Make of it what you will. Here's how it ends:-
Mentoring stands at a crossroads of opportunity. It is paradoxically the most hopeful and the most neglected weapon in the arsenal of rehabilitation. The neglect is history. It is uncomfortable to have to remember that rehabilitation has only recently started to edge up the agenda of criminal justice policy (although it was a high priority in Victorian times), and that mentoring has been an unfunded and almost invisible item within rehabilitation.
Two pessimistic mantras have far too long clouded the landscape of mentoring. The first was‘leave it to the Probation Service’. The second was ‘there’s no such thing as a magic bullet’.The Probation Service has many virtues and many fine officers. But mentoring has not been their priority for at least two decades. Indeed you have to go back half a century to find a time when probation officers routinely empowered volunteers to make regular visits to offenders and their families. In those days ‘mentoring’ was not in the vocabulary of criminal justice, but ‘befriending’ and ‘caring’ were words which had a resonance that meant something human to offenders. Probation volunteers were an important part of that humanity. But, alas they were pushed aside by jobsworths whose bureaucratic expansionism made them determined to suppress the work done with offenders by anyone not on the official payroll.
Despite hostility from ‘the system’, charities and volunteers crept back into the thin front line of rehabilitation. In the final years of 20th century, when probation officers were being dragooned by Whitehall away from befriending and towards box ticking, a door began opening to voluntarism. One politician who understood this was the former Prisons and Probation Minister, Sir Peter Lloyd. He realised that the first stirrings of the moves towards mentoring were coming from offenders. As he put it:
‘Prisoners respond most readily to unpaid volunteers who they can see are giving their time because they really want to help their prisoners individually to find themselves and sort out their lives, not because they are agents of the State to fight recidivism in general.’
After leaving government, Sir Peter Lloyd implemented the philosophy of mentoring summarised in the above quote as chairman of the New Bridge Foundation (NBF) – the UK’s oldest mentoring charity. Founded by the late Lord Longford in 1956, NBF has a long track record of organising voluntary mentors for prisoners. As early as 2001 NBF received funding from the Youth Justice Board to run mentoring projects for young offenders and in 2007 it won a three-year grant from the National Lottery for its London Through the Gate (LTTG) scheme to deliver resettlement services for some 360 short-term prisoners released from HMPs Brixton, Holloway, Wormwood Scrubs, Pentonville and Wandsworth.
Although LTTG was evaluated by ARCS (UK) Limited and judged to have been successful, the statistical outcomes were characteristically confusing, not least because they relied on erratic ‘self-reporting data’ from clients disinclined to report on themselves even when their progress was good. So the system pigeon-holed this and several other examples of impressive mentoring by charities, often deploying the cliché used to justify so much inadequate action on rehabilitation. ‘There’s no such thing as a magic bullet.’
Leaving aside the fact that the imagery of firing bullets is inconsistent with the gentle spirit of mentoring, it is undoubtedly true that there is no single route to rehabilitation. Mentoring in particular is a bespoke and highly personalised process. It needs the consensual engagement of the offender just as much as the thoughtful support, advice, and care of the mentor. We know it works in many individual cases. But will it work when rolled-out nationally in 21 CRC areas?
Never before has there been any political will to encourage mentoring as an operational arm of criminal justice policy. Transforming Rehabilitation changes that historic negativity. From 2015 onwards all CRCs will have to demonstrate a positive willingness to provide mentoring services to their areas. This is an exciting opportunity.
Whether the opportunity flourishes or falters depends on many of the key ingredients described in this report. But the most vital ingredient of all is people.
We take great hope from the fact that so many people – in fact a surplus number of people – are potentially willing to volunteer to be mentors or to become professional mentors. We believe that a sizeable number of people coming out of prison actually want to go straight and will appreciate the help that mentors can give them. We think that the main providers of CRCs will be infinitely more capable and more motivated mangers of mentoring than ‘the system’ has ever been. And we think the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda, led by any positive government, will change the landscape, the culture, and the practice of how our society responds to released prisoners with the objective of changing their lives. 
The present reoffending statistics can hardly get any worse. For instance, 58 per cent of those serving sentences of less than 12 months go on to reoffend within a year of release. If mentoring is allowed to play a meaningful part in the implementation of the TR strategy these depressing reoffending figures might become encouragingly better with great human benefits to the individuals concerned and to society as a whole."

Saturday 19 April 2014

Some Plain Speaking

The time has come to speak a little plainly I think. It can't have escaped many readers notice that a huge debate has been raging here and on Facebook since the Chair of Napo Greater London Branch, decided to make public the existence of a confidential email to all NEC members from the National Chair. They knew perfectly well that it would ignite a storm of unsettling negativity, and some might want to ponder the motives.

I have to say that I'm getting just a tad fed up with this diversion from the main job in hand, namely the campaign to defeat Chris Grayling's TR omnishambles and the destruction of a proud profession and public service. To be very blunt about it, I'm not hugely bothered about the internal politics of Napo or upsetting the sensibilities of various people in positions of authority at the top. All I'm interested in is defeating TR, and by whatever means possible. 

Now it may well come as a surprise to some, but I'm going to be absolutely clear about saying that calls for the immediate resignation of the National Chair are a very big mistake indeed and would probably prove fatal in terms of Napo's recently re-energised fight against TR. 

As I have already commented, many will feel that the National Chair recently made a somewhat surprising and unwise decision in relation to their future, but right now all I want them to do is make the right decisions in relation to fighting this bloody campaign. If they are forced from office at this absolutely key point, the campaign to fight TR will not be advanced one jot and I honestly believe we'd have had it.

We know from painful past experience what effect a vacuum can have at the top of a union and although obtaining a resignation might be felt to be therapeutic for some, it would be Pyrrhic and utterly counter-productive in terms of the job in hand. As it is, come June 1st, Napo will be losing it's National Chair for 50% of the time as Jeremy Wright has made it abundantly clear NPS will not allow 100% facility time, and the National Chair was sifted into NPS.   

Right from starting this blog my aim has been to try and be as truthful and honest with readers as possible. Lots of you have repaid the compliment by telling me stuff either privately or by means of skilfully-crafted comments and as a result I probably know way too much for my own good. But it means I can't always share the information publicly, either because it would breach confidentiality, or would in my view harm the fight against TR. 

I can assure people that things are going on behind the scenes as a result of readers and union members taking direct action and by using this blog as a vehicle and platform in support of union activity and to influence decision making. Yes it's probably wrong, undemocratic, unaccountable, etc etc, but this is a bloody war here, and we want to win, right?    

Many times over the years I've often jokingly said to friends, family and sometimes clients, 'trust me - I'm a probation officer'. Well, dear readers, I'm now saying it in earnest via this blog:-

'trust me - honestly it's far better that Tom stays in post a while longer'. 

Friday 18 April 2014

All Going to Plan 2

Whilst I'm rolling with the changes and making the best out of a bad situation I've noticed in the past week I've drastically changed my working practice. My caseload has increased by 20 so I'm on 60 cases and still have more to come. All I can say is that everything is rushed - I even saw a client in reception today and just got him to sign his next apt, another client who's a pensioner and likes to use supervision as a 'chat' was hastily curtailed after 10 mins - I'm not a social worker and so long as I'm content his risk is stable then I've little interest to hear about his daily routine that has absolutely nothing to do with Probation. 

I find myself being more intolerant of the tweens who moan they cant get work but then find every excuse in the book to avoid engaging with ETE - if they cant be bothered why should I - so long as they're not going to re-offend then all I care about is that I can prove to auditors that I've referred them. I've also started putting loads of them on monthly and any that don't come in then I cold call and hope they answer so that I can re-engage them - the last thing I have time for is recall or breach. I don't like my job anymore, it's too much of a gamble, it's not forcing people to look at their offending behaviour but I'm hoping once I've got my full caseload I can start revisiting some of my reporting decisions and reel some of them back in. 

One thing that concerns me is some of my caseload do a 30 mile roundtrip for supervision which even in the car is not far off a 2 hour round trip - on public transport add another hour and the most common complaint I hear is the distance they have to travel - whilst it saves money having large Centres it forces people to struggle to comply - if you're on Programmes and work then some of mine report not getting home until pushing 10pm again because the Progs department is another 10 miles further up the road!! 

To top it all we have a new management and I just hope and pray they are not to pernickety over accepting absences or offenders re-scheduling appointments because the last thing I need is a manager breathing down my neck - flexibility is the key in this brave new world. Despite everything tho I enjoy change, I'll do what I can to make it work because what else can we do?

It sounds incredibly stressful, rushing around to do things with very time to do it. I feel that experience is now all very common across the service throughout different Trust. We are now in the danger zone where something is likely to happen very soon. I worry for myself and my colleagues. I went to see my manager today regarding a sex offender who turned up to report after being sentenced from Court yesterday. There was no paperwork, no information, no induction packs, nothing recorded in Delius regarding what was said to him, by whom, where he was living and with who. I was instructed to see him and I had to refuse. I’m sorry but I don’t get paid to see people without the proper risk assessment procedures and paperwork completed, as I'm not going to take responsibility in case after he sees me, does something and I get blamed for it. I ‘told’ my manager he needed to see the client. He did not. Instead (to my amazement) another officer volunteered to see the person which left me feeling flat. My manager has referred my refusal up to the ACE level. We will see what happens next. 

At the moment I'm not finding it stressful but I've noticed this afternoon I was really tired and had backache - something I don't suffer from. Considering this is only for me week one of the new working practices I wonder how I will cope in the next few weeks, all I know is I've got to morph into something that's alien to me but on the other hand something that my employers encourage - they only want us to target resources at those who's criminogenic needs dictate so. The problem I've got is learning to stagger cases throughout the month so they don't all come in the same week. I'm very relieved not to be doing anymore reports, I do feel as though a bit of a weight's been lifted and it's one less deadline hanging over my head. The next thing they need to look at is a short format oasys - far too laborious and time consuming in its current state especially for CRC cases - no point doing fabulous war and peace sentence plans if I'm not going to be seeing people and carry any of the objectives out!!

I'm more likely to be killed on the roads of Britain than by a punter at the moment. Been in shadow working since Monday and I've already driven more than 200 miles in the huge rural area I work in. I'm rushing around with a head full of stuff, not knowing where I'm going or who I have to see. Tireder than a tired thing in a tired place. Just completely exhausted and stressed to pieces.

Ah Jim, it’s truly mental. We are beside ourselves with confusion. 6 of us from Weary Town have been sent to Dreary Town. 2 from Dreary Town have been sent to Weary Town. We took all our stuff: files, stationery, phone books, chairs, mouse mats, mugs etc.... Unfortunately all the clients have stayed in the same place so we are going to work in the morning, driving back to our old office, sitting in our old desks but with none of our resources or equipment. I feel like I’m going mad in a parallel universe.

If I were a company considering bidding for a CRC I would consider in great detail the way that NOMS and the MOJ meddle in everything, embrace bureaucratic systems and move the goalposts at every opportunity. They will demand minute detail of all that the CRC do.
Just a warning we already know in the Probation service how it works on a micro level - total unbridled chaos and weak management.

Quote: "The staff list for the CRC is full of so-called back office staff with frontline workers as rare as hen's teeth, whereas the NPS is mainly made up of practitioners. Do bidders know they will inherit a load of IT staff and office managers-that will supervise them a lot of offenders?" 

Bidders should not assume that the staff list they are given by MoJ is accurate. These lists were very hurriedly compiled, barely checked, and I know for sure that the one from my own PT had plenty of mistakes and, crucially, lots of missing detail and context. For example where there are act-ups or secondments the lists bidders see might show who is in the substantive posts instead of the actual ones, but without actually highlighting this difference. So bidders might believe they are getting a particular staff mix, when actually they will get a significantly different staff mix. Let the bidder beware!

My organisation was a potential Tier 2/Tier 3 bidder for CRC work. 

Reading this site persuaded me not to be part of this process. It also gave me the information I required to go to my Board of Directors and say “don’t get involved” and we withdraw from the process. 

Be critical of many things but not of this site.

I'm in exactly the same position. Have refused offers from a number of Primes to support their tenders as 'bid candy' and the information gleaned from this blog has given me much information to justify my decision to the Board. In fact, we intend to close the organisation rather than become involved in TR, with that decision being made both on 'business-case' and moral grounds.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Is Anyone Listening?

I notice that Pat Waterman, Chair of Napo Greater London Branch, emailed this to all her members yesterday:-

Rumours and facts 
Members of this, and other branches, have been asking me in recent weeks if it is true that our National Chair, Tom Rendon, applied for a job as an ACO in the London CRC. 

It is true 

An assessment centre took place at Mitre House for ACO posts in the CRC on the eve of the Special General Meeting in Birmingham at which it was announced that the union would be taking further strike action. 

I am informed that our National Chair has written a letter to all NEC Representatives which seeks to explain his decision to apply for this post. I am also informed that the recipients have been asked not to forward or otherwise distribute this letter but, if they have any concerns or questions, they are advised to either contact the National Chair directly or their link Officer or Official. 

Members who have sought my advice about appealing against their assignment, usually to the CRC with a view to being re-assigned to the NPS, will know that I have told them to be careful what they wish for as there are pros and cons on both sides. 

I am in no doubt that all members of this branch wherever they have been assigned are as skilled and professional as each other and despair at the false dichotomy thrown up by this insidious sifting process. 

Members will also know that the London CRC is full of vacancies and anyone who has been assigned to the NPS and wishes to transfer to the CRC can still do so. 

Any members who are considering asking for re-assignment, or are considering applying for any of the vacancies currently being advertised, are welcome to seek my advice at any time. 

Pat Waterman 
Greater London Branch NAPO

It's incredibly sad that during probation's darkest hour we have to waste time discussing Napo's internal politics at the top, but it seems we don't really have any alternative. As well as venting their anger, frustrations, thoughts and concerns, pretty regularly commentators on this blog say things like this:-

Perhaps NAPO HQ might let us know what the legal advice is regarding the legality of the way in which the split has been done so we can make our own minds up. Given that we seem to be left on our own to deal with these battles it would help to know what the ground looks like in terms of employment law.

so why can’t NAPO or Unison approach Thompsons? It shouldn’t have to be union members that think of these things!?

What do the unions know about this and if they don't know why don't they as we have been asking for help for long enough. Come on unions help us out here!

It is worth looking at. However, one of the benefits we are supposed to get from paying our subs to NAPO is legal representation on employment matters, when in fact local branch officers (myself included) have been left to muddle through as best we can. NAPO advice along the lines of "well it is complicated" does not help.

These comments were left yesterday, but similar turn up most days. Probation is a relatively small community and the blog has evolved into a space for discussion, comment and support during a period of extreme crisis. I'm very proud of the way it has developed and embraced all manner of disparate views, in a generally tolerant and understanding discussion with the shared aim of defeating TR. So what could possibly be wrong with that?

Unfortunately it has come to my attention that Napo at the top are not in fact reading this blog. I know this because I'm led to believe that in the email sent by the National Chair to all members of the NEC, and referred to above, the blog was effectively rubbished.

I have no idea why at this key moment in our future such a view has been taken because I rather naively thought the fight was with TR and we all had a shared aim in that regard. I think the time has come to hear exactly what Napo's view is of this forum and say whether they are reading what colleagues, clients and ordinary members of the public are saying all over the country about probation and TR. 

As I have said many times before, I don't like knocking Napo for no good reason and I want any comment to be constructive, but this is surely all too serious to let a few ruffled ego's at the top get in the way?       

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Latest From Napo 25

This was emailed to all Napo members earlier today:-

Members will be pleased to hear that Napo has authorised our Lawyers to serve a Pre-Action Protocol letter on the Secretary of State. This seeks to lay the final groundwork prior to consideration of the case for a full application for a Judicial Review of his Transforming Rehabilitation disaster. As we have previously explained, Napo sent a pre-protocol letter just after the AGM last year as part of our efforts to explore whether the Secretary of State had the power under the Offender Management Act 2007 to  fragment the probation service. We have previously reported that we have recently taken a second opinion on the OMA 2007 question so that we could be fully satisfied that we had left no stone unturned in our efforts on behalf of members.
Our latest legal advice confirms that we were right to  have embarked on our current strategy which includes the gathering of a compendium of evidence on the methodology that the Secretary of State is using to implement his TR agenda, which we believe falls short in a number of areas.

What does the letter say?
For legal reasons we are advised that we cannot publish the18 page letter at this stage but we are arguing that the serious risk to public safety that will be posed from 1st June 2014 means that no reasonable Secretary of State would proceed with the transfer on that date without first piloting and properly analysing the results of his plans, and that among other things he has not ensured that proper regard has been given to the particular needs of women offenders as well as those who are mentally disordered or who have particular learning difficulties.
The supporting arguments will in themselves be no surprise to members, covering as they do the whole range of activities typically carried out during the process of managing offenders across all tiers of risk. The letter also directly references the evidence given by Government representatives to the recent Public Accounts and Justice Committees and public concerns as expressed by a range of potential witnesses and asks whether the whether the decision maker has addressed the right questions and gathered enough information to reach a rational and informed conclusion on them.  Needless to say we don’t think that Grayling has done either of these things.

What happens next?

The letter to the Secretary of State seeks a substantive reply by 22nd April, and as you would expect, calls upon him to postpone the date of transfer from 1st June until such time as the questions we have posed are properly addressed.

We will be reporting progress to the next meeting of the NEC at the end of April and, as previously indicated, we intend to pursue a JR application subject as always to taking account of the expert legal advice that we receive about the prospects of success, but we will issue further news and copies of the exchanges to members just as soon as we can.
Exposing the real truth about TR

Just a word to let you know that we are picking up considerable interest from the media about the contents of the letter to Amy Rees that we reported on last week. The continuing flow of information that is coming in to the inbox has been extremely useful and has allowed us to attain a better perspective of the chaos that you are working under.

This is being brought to the attention of a wider audience and will not have gone unnoticed by prospective bidders for CRC contracts with reports suggesting that a number of them have declined opportunities to visit offices and have expressed doubts about the efficacy of the TR project. We also hear that as some contractors have been invited to visit probation premises that staff have walked out the other way, and we are sure that members will express appreciation to their Napo comrades in Rotherham who took that step!

We also need you to maintain the pressure by working to your hours and not undertaking sessional work. You can still make a difference!

Tom Rendon                         Ian Lawrence
National Chair                      General Secretary

All Going To Plan

News is coming in from all parts of the country that the TR omnishambles mobilsation plan is, well, all going to plan:- 

TR is a two tier system. We know it can't work, and evidence is already emerging within the first week of operating the systems in out Trust that it's not just about refining the processes given, but that the processes won't work in any way. The PPO issue is a very interesting one, as all PPO staff in our Trust were sifted to CRC.

So, NPS will have all MAPPA, most PPOs, large number of IOMs, High Risk, ALL reports (every single existing one, plus some new ones especially for TR), all Court and enforcement work, risk escalation decisions and takeovers, all prison secondments and all YOS secondments, public interest cases, approved premises. Clearly it isn't going to work. It's madness. CRC are left with interventions (UPW, Programmes and Skills4Work), low and medium risk cases and head office and back office functions. 

In our Trust the operational CRC functions have already been pared to the bone. It's only the 'back office', non frontline services which our Trust has sought to protect. So, although I'm not looking forward to TR and don't think it could work, or will happen as the govt want it to, I will certainly not be mourning the end of my Trust, and to be honest I don't want their head office led enterprise (sorry 'mutual') to win the contract for our CPA - an existing outsourcer would protect the frontline better. And I think that will be the obituary for the Trusts - "should have thought about services, could have done better".

However, unlike others on this blog, I am full of admiration for the SPOs in my office. They are in an invidious situation and doing exceptionally in such difficult circumstances. There is little wrong with the front line, only that we have to work with terrible systems - OASys & NDelius - the systems that made us so inefficient, and remember the creation of these came from the same people who lead our Trusts.

The Chief Constable was off on a right one last week when I informed her of our new 'working practices' and the fact that T4's will now be seen as/when, with her staff (Police) now having to pick up the majority of appointments. Suffice to say that her view of both TR and our Trust is very much jaundiced. Still, she cannot say she was not warned.

I've had a day from hell at the other end of the justice sausage machine. Many, many years a PO, now allocated CRC because apparently that was how it panned out on 11 Nov. This week seems to be the start of some unofficial trial of the split as I get handed case after case sentenced from court based upon a range of reports written by nps-allocated staff. I am sitting here on the commute home heartbroken and shocked at the appalling quality of those reports. Atrocious grammar, spelling mistakes galore, judgemental opinion, assumption and condemnation. Everything I was taught not to do when writing a report. And they are a mix of PO and PSO - this aint no purge on any grade.

Without fail the cases seem to all have received what I would regard as a requirement too many (5 in one case) or Orders far longer than I would have suggested.

I hadn't realised how dire things had become. Why are the courts accepting such poor quality documents? How has it become so bad? Where did all the gatekeepers go?

Senior managers destined for the NPS are making decisions about the CRC-why? The staff list for the CRC is full of so-called back office staff with frontline workers as rare as hen's teeth, whereas the NPS is mainly made up of practitioners. Do bidders know they will inherit a load of IT staff and office managers-that will supervise them a lot of offenders?

As a team manager with 35 years plus in the service I was automatically assigned to the CRC-no one has asked me what I want, the decision has nothing to do with my working record (I have managed every type of Probation team other than an AP) and selecting people for compulsory redundancy has a greater element of fairness to it than selecting people on the basis of what they were doing on a retrospective date. 

I am amazed that the whole premise on what sifting has been based, along with automatic assignment has not been challenged legally. I am looking for another job and if successful my resignation letter will cite TR and the impact of sifting as the reason. We need to get mileage into this, in other walks of life it could be construed as constructive dismissal. If everyone who leaves the service as a result of TR gives this as the reason in their resignation letter you are registering your grievance for the future and making it a public record. Send copies to the Chair of your Board (whether defunct or not) and Grayling.

At the moment I feel exhausted, drained and to he honest destroyed by this job. As a CRC Officer, I'm being allocated more cases than I know what to do with, yet all my time is taken up with my NPS caseload and PSR's. I can barely face going into the office, I feel physically sick every morning, I'm not sleeping and am suffering from excruciating headaches. I don't feel well enough to be in work, but I' m too scared to see my GP. Being nowhere near retirement age VER is not an option. If I see my GP and am signed off will this be held against me by my future private sector employers? If there's a chance of moving into NPS, will a previous GP note go against me? All I can do is haul myself into work every day and pray it gets better.

Won't be long now before someone is killed or seriously hurt as a result of this TR bullshit. The momentum is building. It will most likely, in my humble opinion, be the (ex-) partner, or a probation staff member, or a prison officer. It will be at a time when anger and emotion and fear are funnelled into an explosive response to the wrong question, the wrong facial expression. I was told I'm a fucking cunt today... Duty call, no delius because of a server failure, no managers in the building (TR training event). No more team meetings/briefings means no shared information. TR is the final nail in that coffin. Nothing shared, commercially sensitive, what price humanity?

Got into work at 8.50am. Saw 12 cases today - 5 newly allocated inductions (3 of which I wasn't even aware of until they arrived because newly devised system didn't allow for notification of sentences out of area), 6 existing cases who I had to see to break the TR transfer news to, and 1 duty call. Also had to squeeeeze in a hurried oasys for an emergency transfer, complete a written witness statement regarding a police investigation, deal with an inbox of 75 overnight emails (mainly crap), wrestle with delius to try & input what had happened that day - plus I spent 45 mins of my lunch hour with IT support trying to locate an oasys that it turns out never existed. Got home at 7.45pm, fell asleep within minutes. Just woke up after dreaming about work. Haven't seen or exchanged a single word with partner this evening - I'm just about to tiptoe into the box room so I don't wake them.

TR has fucked up everything, even the simple existing and very basic allocation of cases, because some daft *#%$ has decided they have to redesign everything to meet the TR brand. "Fit for purpose" was one of those bullshit made up phrases of the 90's used to excuse poorly designed, expensive packages. Then we had "it'll do" solution-focused ideas. Now we seem to have "make it work regardless, stupid".

TR is just crass stupidity. Its been an oft- used analogy, the emperor is bollock naked yet everyone is fawning over the platinum threads in the finest golden weave. Meantime the charlatans, the snake oil salesmen and the corrupt are filling their pockets. Those who should have raised the alarm, i.e. The Trusts, have been guilty of dereliction of duty.

Time for bed said Zebedee.

Tuesday 15 April 2014

Trusts - Good Riddance?

With less than two months before Probation Trusts are abolished, one recent commentator speculates on how history might record their demise and whether we should lament their passing:- 

Was away yesterday so only just catching up. Cagney and Lacey !!!! Do they have any idea how offensive this is to staff ????? NO, because they don't care... bet they all laughed uproariously at that one! Utter bloody fools.......

Having reflected on where we are I actually do not see the existing trusts as worth preserving. Looking at my own area I see a management team utterly detached from its staff, with the first rule of management being identify only with only managers as this is now where your loyalty lies.

I have watched patronage flourish as the means of attainment and the promotion of people "like us". This restricts intellectual rigour and allows for little challenge of a Chief Executive in cases where virtually the whole staff body feel poor decisions are being made. It allows a Chief Executive to become despotic, when perhaps that was not the original aim. Staff then dare not speak out.

In my experience any sense of governance by a Trust Board is ill-conceived, look at the example of TR, where was dissent given how obvious the risks where from the very outset? Where was protection of the public or indeed protection of the staff who attain all targets sets for them and still manage to uphold probation values? Where were the clients in this utter capitulation? This is a system not worth saving.

I have seen managers resign from NAPO (not representative of managers needs, as they are no longer POs, really!) I no longer have any respect for managers in my trust at any level although, now all seems lost in terms of their careers, some are starting to speak up but sadly it really is too little too late.

I really believe that there is an argument for probation wholesale to become the NPS to promote more professional management. The sad truth is that those CRCs that may get through as staff mutuals are not what it says on the tin, but rather a continuance of the existing management structures with real risks in terms of the continuance of the business.

There is a strong argument for better governance of probation but the services we offer must remain a unified core for all clients, for the sake of the communities we serve and so that justice is delivered uniformly. NOMS is not the vehicle for this and has never delivered good governance for probation given the dominance of prison staff who understand containment but not rehabilitation where the risks move to the community.

So, when the primes fail to deliver, when SFOs create public dissent, when more and more clients move back to the NPS and stay there due to risk management, the government of the day will have no choice but to unify service delivery and take back into the NPS what should have moved across from the outset. Then, from a unified consistent core, with the confidence of partners in the criminal justice system such as police and courts, appropriate planning can be made.

As it stands, TR WILL FAIL.

Employing Trusts still have a duty of care towards staff, and yet this is going on:-

I have arrived home distraught about my behaviour today. I am a CDO and I can only describe today as fraught. I literally had to run along between courts trying to provide updates, takes results and explain to clients what their sentence entails and book first appointments. A warrant produced a problematic breach with little time to liaise with the OM about what was going on and I fear my lack of time to talk in detail must have sounded awful, but how to explain? The client was waiting in the dock already and the court is clearly losing patience with probation now.

I have always believed that it is the first interaction with court staff that starts the supervision process and relationship between clients. I couldn't answer the questions of one bewildered man and he became increasingly angry until security staff were called. This never would have arisen in the past and although I was able to prevent matters getting further out of hand, I feel very uncomfortable.

When I tried to explain to a colleague how I was feeling, she just shouted at me to get on with it and in effect, stop moaning. I have been in tears and do not want to go back. That's the reality of what we are becoming under the weight of this TR crap.

At the moment I feel exhausted, drained and to he honest destroyed by this job. As a CRC Officer, I'm being allocated more cases than I know what to do with, yet all my time is taken up with my NPS caseload and PSR's. I can barely face going into the office, I feel physically sick every morning, I'm not sleeping and am suffering from excruciating headaches. I don't feel well enough to be in work, but I'm too scared to see my GP. Being nowhere near retirement age VER is not an option. If I see my GP and am signed off will this be held against me by my future private sector employers? If there's a chance of moving into NPS, will a previous GP note go against me? All I can do is haul myself into work every day and pray it gets better.


Cagney and Lacey - where are you?