Saturday 31 May 2014

One Million Hits!

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Apparently the powers-that-be feel that probation staff are 'just going to settle down and get on with it.'  If this is what they think and it's what the MoJ are telling potential bidders, then they really don't know us very well and are in for quite a nasty surprise!

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Here's to another million!

(I stole the images off the internet and hope the creator/copyright owners don't mind)  

Omnishambles Update 50

First, a very public exchange of tetchy letters between Pat Waterman and Heather Munro:-

Everything is just fine (so I am told) 

Since the end of last year myself and the branch Vice Chairs (David Masterson and Patricia Johnson) have been meeting on a weekly basis with the Senior Management Team of LPT to share information and discuss the measures they were implementing to ensure the success of Chris Grayling’s TR plans. The meetings have always consisted of the trade unions posing lots of questions for which there were rarely any answers. The fruits (such as they are) of our labours can be found on London-i and in the minutes of these meetings. Suffice to say that there remain many unanswered questions as we begin the last but one day of LPT. 

We were assured that these meetings would continue to the end and duly showed up for the last meeting this Tuesday. The only member of SMT to come was Everton Bryan who is due to leave at the end of the week to take up a post with a charity. 

In place of our Chief Executive was Peter Costello, the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme Lead and CRC Change Manager, who said he was there to respond on her behalf to the letter I had sent on Friday 23rd May (and distributed to members the same day). 

  • He categorically refuted my suggestion that LPT was in any way “behind” and told me that all the targets for change set by the MOJ have been met.
  • He told me recruitment processes were in place to ensure that any problems occasioned by staff shortages would be solved.
  • He told me that the Case Transfer Process would be completed as planned by 5p.m. on Wednesday 28th May.
  • He challenged most of the assertions I had made in my letter and informed me that overall the task of splitting LPT in two had been successfully completed.
  • He also told me that I could expect a written reply to my letter from the Chief Executive but, judging from the content of her last blog posting on London-i, I am not holding my breath.
I told Peter Costello, in no uncertain terms, that nothing he was saying accorded with the reality currently being experienced by my members. I asked for this to be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. 

I also read out the following statement: 

In my opinion the Senior Management Team of London Probation Trust should be ashamed of themselves. In their haste to appease their political masters they have neglected their duties as an employer. 

My letter to our Chief Executive, dated 23rd May 2014, highlighted a number of areas of concern and asked that representations be made to senior NOMS management to halt the split of staff scheduled to take place on 1st June 2014. But the message from Caroline Corby (Chair of the Board of London Probation Trust) issued to all staff today gives no indication that the concerns raised in my letter have even been considered. 

In seeking to meet the deadline imposed by the Ministry of Justice, particularly with regard to the Case Transfer Process, the Senior Management Team have failed to consider the impact that this would have on their staff. I have numerous examples where cases have been recorded as having been transferred when in fact they continue to be supervised by the same officer who is now being required to do additional work. The situation in many offices is chaotic with staff being deemed responsible for clients they have had no contact with and on whom they have incomplete information. 

The instruction to ensure that the case transfer process is completed by 5pm tomorrow takes no account of the reality of the situation faced by the staff. There has, in my opinion, been a dereliction of the duty of care on the part of the Chief Executive and her team in their attempts to achieve the splitting of London Probation Trust by the end of the month. 

The minutes of the penultimate meeting of this group on 20th May 2014  record that there remain a significant number of unanswered questions. I have no expectation that they will all be answered today at this the final meeting of the group. Of particular concern must be the inability of London Probation Trust to share with us its contingency plans following the five day shut down of computer systems tomorrow. 

In my view there has been too much emphasis on wishing retiring and departing members of staff well in their future endeavours and too little concern for the well being of the staff who remain. I am extremely disappointed. 

We shall now be seeking to ensure that appropriate consultative mechanisms are put in place in both the new organisations to enable your branch officers to continue to try and protect the interests of all members to the best of our ability. 

We shall also be continuing to campaign against the government’s plans to privatise the probation service and will  be doing all we can to thwart them. 

The NEC endorsed a plan for mass leafleting on the last working day of the trusts and leaflets should have arrived at all your offices. 

The Branch Officers will be handing out these leaflets outside the MOJ in Petty France at 1 o’clock tomorrow. We hope to gain some media attention by doing so. Feel free to come along and join us. 

LPT may be closing down but GLB NAPO will be continuing to represent its members. 

Pat Waterman 
Branch Chair

Further to my e-mail to all members yesterday entitled: Everything is just fine (so I am told) I received a response to my original letter from our Chief Executive Heather Munro which I reproduce in its entirety below. Members may wish to reflect if this parting missive from her is an accurate reflection of their current reality. 

Dear Pat 

I am in receipt of your letter of 22nd May, copies of which you claim to have copied to all the Members of Parliament within the Greater London area and to the Permanent Secretary. The letter carries little weight as it is written on the basis of factually inaccurate information and is misleading. I believe that by doing so you may have brought the service into disrepute and raised anxiety among your members unnecessarily. 

It is recognised that as with any major change programme, the Transforming Rehabilitation programme carries risks. In carrying out the instructions of the Ministry of Justice, the Trust has done what it can to minimise these for the benefit of staff and the public. As Chief Executive I have taken my responsibilities very seriously and ensured that the Board and staff have been kept informed of progress. Staff have given positive feedback on the openness of the Trust's communications. Indeed we have had weekly meetings with the Trade Unions and shared information with you willingly. 

You are incorrect in your belief that LPT is "significantly behind other trusts". The LPT project team has met all the MoJ timescales and has been rated green in relation to these for each month since the project’s inception. You have raised staffing as an issue and in particular Probation Officer grades in the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). Overall the total number of vacancies is the same as we have experienced in London Probation Trust over the last 12 months and there has been no increase arising from Transforming Rehabilitation. 

Vacancies mainly sit with the CRC because of the rules that were applied to staff sifting, giving the opportunity to express a preference as a key factor. The Trust has continued to fill these vacancies with agency Probation Officers and many of these are now applying for permanent positions in the CRC. 

In order to meet staff preferences for organisation and location, where 
appropriate, movement between CRC and NPS has been allowed. Furthermore, several staff members have taken the opportunity for career advancement and gained promotion as a result of the changes, which has also increased the need for staff movement. These moves will be limited after 31st May 2014. 

The case transfer process has been a challenging part of this programme and the Trust has worked hard to minimise the risks. We have worked closely with the Metropolitan Police and other partners, have liaised with staff of all grades to get the best process possible and have briefed staff about what will be involved. The case transfer process is largely on track. It was not expected that all offenders would have been transferred by the 31st May, as those cases identified as "critical" have a longer time period and it is not expected that these to be transferred until the end of June. 

Concerns about ICT have been raised with the MoJ who have been working closely with all Trusts to manage a very complex change. The Trust is awaiting clarification from MoJ in relation to a number of workarounds in Delius. Most of the concerns you have raised at our weekly meetings have already been logged by the Trust with the MoJ. 

There has been no rise in sickness absence rates and although you indicate the figures are not accurate, the Trust has put in place measures to ensure they are accurate, including a requirement that Assistant Chiefs personally sign off each month the figures for their staff group. I am therefore confident that there has been no increase in the rates. 

The equalities data you refer to is a helpful analysis of what has happened to the staffing profiles as a result of the staff split. On some aspects, either one of the new organisations better reflects the demographics of the communities they will serve. The analysis provides a guide to the new organisations in understanding what issues they may need to focus on and address. 

The MoJ has conducted system readiness tests on all Trusts and London has been visited and documentation provided. There has been no indication from the MoJ that they are concerned about the progress made in London and indeed, we have been praised for the work we have done to minimise risk. 

Clearly you have significant concerns about the aims, purpose and cost of the programme, but as a public sector body it is the Trust’s responsibility to deliver the programme as designed. Where possible, as I have already indicated, the Trust has taken steps to minimise the risks to staff and the public. 

I note the reference to the Risk Register. Your written request was specifically made for 'LPT's Staff Transfer Risk Register' and in response you were advised you that there is no register or document of this description. However, in order to meet your request, information about concerns that had been identified as part of the staff transfer process as at the end of March 2014 were given to you. 

I have been disappointed with the level of engagement from NAPO locally, which I believe could have been achieved despite the NAPO stance on the overall programme. I do not believe you have served your members well and your personal agenda has got in the way of your duty to staff. 

Please confirm with me that you will send a copy of this letter to your members in order that they may be aware of the facts. I am sending a copy to the MoJ for it to be available to any London MPs who may have concerns arising from your own letter. 

Yours sincerely

Heather Munro 
Chief Executive 

The following has recently appeared on the Clinks TR website:- 

Clinks Newsflash | TR legal support update

Transforming Rehabilitation
Legal Support Update

New resource: a checklist for Boards

As part of our ongoing legal support to organisations thinking of subcontracting under TR, Clinks and our partners Russell-Cooke Solicitors have produced a checklist of issues that the management team and Boards of organisations may want to consider before entering into subcontracting arrangements using the Industry Standard Partnering Agreement (ISPA).

Click here to download 'Subcontracting under TR: a checklist for Boards'

An update from the Ministry of Justice

The deadline for Tier 1 bidders to submit bids to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been changed from 16th June to 30th June. The release of the final version of the Industry Standard Partnering Agreement has also been delayed, and it is now estimated that this will be released at the end of May. MoJ has also released an updated list of bidders by Contract Package Area (CPA), and have added in new bidders by area, but have not taken out the ones that we understand have withdrawn from the process.

Click here to see the updated list of Tier 1 bidders by CPA

What next for Tier 2s and 3s?

Given the delay in the release of the final version of the ISPA, and recent indications from Tier 1s, it seems that Tier 1s are unlikely to enter into full agreements with organisations in their potential supply chain before the 30th June bid deadline. This may help take the pressure off organisations to negotiate detailed contracting arrangements with several different suppliers in their area, but it also raises questions about how much the supply chain will be 'locked into' the bids. Tier 1 bidders will be taking different approaches and we will be keen to see how the MoJ will ensure that any commitments to deliver through a diverse locally recognisable supply chain are maintained.

We are keen to hear about the arrangements that you are making with Tier 1s and what is being asked for in terms of agreements. Please let us know, even in general terms, through our TR Helpline. We can also provide advice and support on agreements through the Helpline if required. Confidentiality agreements should not prevent you from seeking legal advice but do let us know if this is an issue.

Contact the TR Helpline, 10am - 2pm, Monday - Friday, on 020 3637 0155

or email

TR Helpline extended until the end of June

Our TR Helpline provides information and advice about the TR subcontracting process. It also acts as a triage service and we can refer organisations to free bespoke legal advice through our regional legal partners. The Helpline will now continue until the 30th June to coincide with the Tier 1 bidding deadline.

Contact the TR Helpline, 10am - 2pm, Monday - Friday, on 020 3637 0155

I think the following left earlier this morning is worthy of re-publishing:-

I dedicate this short piece to the officers of the probation service I used to know and who changed my life forever. And I aim it squarely and unapologetically at the politicos and Whitehall wonks who want to "improve" the Probation Service and get "tough" on crime, but who have tangibly demonstrated their evidenced folly.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present you with the Probation Service of the 70s and 80s.

I joined the Probation Service (The Probation and After Care Service it was then-take note) and was in the job until 1998, when I moved on to a different vocation. I had done a student placement with an area office in '78 and felt compelled to join by the example of many older, astoundingly compassionate but extremely tough officers I met. (Some had fought in WW2, one had been a Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot). There were ex-cops, all sorts of people, from all walks of life. They were the opposite of macho, far too genuinely strong to waste their energies on such insecure posturing. Male and female, there were some formidable characters. 

One ex-submariner PO who was one of the kindest and most competent officers I have ever met had such a tough reputation with the local criminal fraternity that a parolee who missed a single appointment though oversleeping handed himself in to the police that very evening as he was so worried what his PO would do! All true.

We knew what it meant to get under the skin of our clients and help them to face their real fears. I recall a man with an appalling record of violence, glassing, knee-cappings etc crying like a baby in my office when we really got to the truth behind his rage. I know of many many serious serial offenders who we helped to stop offending through this kind of |down, dirty and dangerous" work. Get tough? Get real Mr Grayling.

We all had a proportion of our caseload classed as "VPAC". That's "Voluntary Prison After-Care". We were there for anyone who came out of prison, and did a lot of intensive and utterly knackering work resettling people. No extra resources, it got in the way of other things, but we were of a mindset that I now understand had more in common with the armed forces background of my older colleagues than any Whitehall wonk will ever understand. That 'we just do it' attitude is the same one we saw so poignantly illustrated during the Olympics security debacle, when the British Army, many just back from Afghanistan were detailed to cancel their leave and cover for G4S's risible cock-up. Its called "public service". You do it because it is right, and it needs doing, not because it is profitable, convenient, cheap or glamorous.

So all this vacuous verbiage and "airy persiflage" about the 12 month sentence cohort is so much redundant and historically ignorant claptrap. Truth is, we used to do it. They stopped us doing it. Now they are abolishing us because we aren't doing it. Even though we said we would. Got that? No, me neither...

All this just goes to show that Shakespeare's description of the wannabe wonk is so apt. The words of the villainous Iago in the opening scenes of Othello describe Grayling and his accolytes in a way I could never hope to improve upon:

"Mere prattle without practice
Is all his soldiership..."

Last month, The Guardian reported a quotation from an inmate at HMP Oakwood who said "It's a sh*t-hole staffed by kids who should be stacking shelves". Soon the CRC's I am convinced will increasingly see staff of a similarly inappropriate level of skill and experience filling the ranks. Well, Mr Grayling, who would you rather have dealing with the burglars, robbers and domestic violence perpetrators of our land-someone whose attitude and presence of mind was shaped fighting to the death for the freedoms we see you and your ilk eroding on a daily basis, or the kid from the Tesco trolley team...?

Now I know it's a close call, and call me "Mr Pickie" if you like, but on balance...

Finally, I know one shouldn't tempt fate, but a casual glance at the hit counter tells me that there is every possibility that this blog will record it's one millionth visitor today and possibly even as midnight approaches, the official ending of public probation. History has a habit of throwing up some very interesting coincidences. 

Thanks for reading and contributing everyone - I will be raising my glass tonight and warmly toasting you, one and all!   

Friday 30 May 2014


Karen Steele's photo.

From the new National Probation Service website:-
The government undertook the Transforming Rehabilitation consultation to understand where changes could be made. It found that reoffending rates are too high – which is detrimental to victims and communities and causes unnecessary costs to the taxpayer. To counteract this, we've begun to change how we deliver our services. 
Until 2014, probation services were run by 35 regional trusts. Now, we're maximising impact and efficiency by transforming this structure.
The work previously done by those trusts is being split. 21 private sector Community Rehabilitation Companies will manage low and medium-risk offenders, whilst high-risk cases remain in our care. We're committed to cutting crime through working with offenders and these changes are giving us the means to do so.

Thursday 29 May 2014

Latest From Napo 29

Here's the latest from Napo HQ sent to all members 20 minutes ago:-

Dear all,

A dark day

Tomorrow represents a dark day in the history of the Probation Service. The fragmentation of a public institution that, over the course of 106 years, has helped to turn lives around and safeguarded local communities in a way that your predecessors originally intended and would have been proud of.

I hope that you will feel able to join in the planned Friday lunchtime leafleting demonstrations alongside Unison members to tell the public just what this all means

The cynical destruction of evidence based practice on the high altar of privatisation by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is symptomatic of the values of a Conservative Party that thinks it knows the price of everything but in truth has no idea about the value of anything. It has also been aided and abetted by a Libdem Party that has now lost all sense of direction and moral fibre.

Down but not out

Since the announcement in May 2013 of the so called Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda, your Union has led the way in the fight to defend your jobs and profession. Over the course of the last 12 months Napo members have taken two sets of strike action, worked to contracted hours, interacted with the local communities in which they live and work and have helped us massively in our efforts to engage the wider media and to try and change the minds of politicians and opinion formers within and beyond the Criminal Justice System.

I appreciate that there are Napo members who have questioned whether we should have done more. In an open and transparent organisation like ours that’s understandable and we should rightly be accountable to those whom you elect to undertake that role. It’s always difficult to strike a balance in ensuring that all members feel represented. Over the next few months it’s more important than ever that we present ourselves as the inclusive union that we are, where all members stand together in solidarity. The government rhetoric about the great divide that they have created in probation will not divide us.

No, we were not able to prevent the staff split, but let’s not forget that Grayling wanted this implemented last autumn. No, the industrial action and massive sacrifices made by so many of you has not caused the collapse of TR – and it was never claimed that it would do so; but it has helped to keep this reckless social experiment in the public eye and has helped Napo to negotiate and secure important safeguards to protect your terms and conditions whether you find yourself in the NPS or a CRC. And forget the myth being peddled by some outsiders that Napo cannot represent our members in the CRC’s. We will be there for you now and in the future that I can promise you.

Nevertheless, TR has been (and is) a dreadful and demoralising experience for our members and it is entirely understandable that some of you feel like venting your anger. Napo stands for positive trade union and professional values, and that’s why Napo will continue to defend them.

We will continue to issue guidance to you to try and help whenever we can as evidenced by the Branch Circular we have issued today about working across the NPS/CRC divide.

The way ahead

The ‘train crash’ that you are seeing unfold before you is every bit as bad (and as we can see from the campaign inbox) even worse than Napo predicted. That’s why the National Executive Committee at its last meeting gave its unanimous backing for our robust and updated Campaign plan that comprises five key areas of strategic activity:

Legal (Where the NEC has given its authority to keep the door open for the possibility of a new route for a judicial review. I will let you know more when I can)

Parliamentary (As we increase our contacts with MP’s as a result of the excellent Napo Parliamentary Bulletins that we are issuing weekly).

Media (Where we are seeking to exploit all possibilities in what is a tremendously competitive environment in terms of opportunities to get our message across and issue weekly campaign bulletins to let you know what has been going on)

Industrial (As we consider the next steps and renewed and very real prospect of a combined Napo/Unison/GMB national dispute on which I am currently engaged in talks with our sister unions)

Negotiations (Where we continue to challenge the corrupt share sale process and expose the real Omni shambles of TR to prospective bidders.)

Progress will, as always, be reported to the NEC and the wider membership through regular mail outs and we will be as open as we can about what we have done and what we have tried to do.

Compared to this time last year, Napo is much better equipped to step up our campaign as we approach the next two critical phases ahead of us, namely the period from 1st June to the intended CRC share sale (if or when that happens), and beyond that the run up to next year’s General Election.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that Napo has never had to face such a challenge at any time in our illustrious history; so there is no ‘kite mark’ to measure ourselves against, and no magic formula to simply make this tremendous threat to our future just simply disappear.

Whatever else happens over the next 12 months, we will all need to pull together, to recognise the different skills that all of us will bring to the struggle ahead and continue to work collectively just as we have done in all the years that Napo has existed. We will do so with courage and resolve in the face of a Coalition Government that has totally lost whatever remained of its moral compass, and those who want to buy your jobs and destroy your terms and conditions.

Napo members have proven that they have what it takes, and that’s why this fight will continue.

Best wishes to you all


General Secretary

Crass TR Competition

I thought it was time to try and collect together some of the best examples of crass shite that the whole TR omnishambles has thrown up. You know the sort of stuff, like this uplifting email from an ACO:-
As I will be on annual leave next week when the key milestone of the split into the CRC and NPS is reached, I wanted to take an opportunity before then to say something about this change.
I am indebted to Xxxx Xxxxxx, who came up with this brilliant analogy in a recent meeting we both attended. XXPT will no longer exist and we will all be sharing the experience of working for a different organisation - but not all in the same organisation. The TR programme has brought us to this point, but this is just a milestone in a longer journey. As Xxxx said, it's a bit like moving house. We've had (with the sift, the appeals etc) all the ups and downs of looking for a property, hoping our bid will be accepted and that we do not find ourselves in a complicated chain, we've organised the removal firm, the contracts have been exchanged and on June 1st the big day arrives and we get the keys to the house. We're tempted to think that all the hard work and the emotional ups and downs are now over. The reality of course is that one of the removal vans has got stuck in traffic, we don't know if the sofa fits the new living room, we can't find the fuse box, and we've a load of stuff to unpack and sort and we can't remember where we packed the cutlery.......
OK - some of you may have approached a move of house rather more efficiently than I clearly did.....but I'm sure you get the point. Not everything is sorted, some things are very familiar but look a bit different in a new place and other things are new and unfamiliar. I have no doubt that this applies to both the CRC and the NPS - we don't have the new world all neat and tidy and organised yet and there are things we haven't got answers to and probably questions we still haven't realised we need to ask. Some of us will cope more easily with this than others. The main thing is that we all support each other through this. Don't worry about the things you are unsure about, or about getting things wrong because of this - keep asking - someone will know or we'll find a fix - it's all part of the process. We will get there - and we will work together to make 'there' somewhere we want to be and are proud of.
My 'twin' (that won't make any sense unless you were at our staff conference!), Xxxxx Xxxxxxx, takes up her new role in Xxxxxxxx/Xxxxxxx CRC on Monday, June 2nd. I very much hope her first week is a chance to decompress from the demands of bid writing, and start familiarising herself with the LDU. I am absolutely confident that she will receive a warm welcome from one and all - and lots of offers of help while she seeks out that elusive fuse box!
Best wishes to all
Interestingly our CRC CEO Designate (yes really) said the expectation is, no matter how busy staff are they are expected to keep up to date and read the important information being sent out. "Take it home and read your stuff relaxing with a cup of coffee" yes now we are expected to take instructions about new processes and procedures home so that we can learn err, how to do our jobs....

Of course there's this on the home page of the new NPS website:-

The offender who didn't go back to prison, After the fight he didn't get into, With the friend he never confronted, Because you taught him to take five minutes and cool down.

Set the boundaries. Change the outcome.

The woman who didn't need treatment, For the overdose that was never caused, By the drugs she didn't buy, Because you proposed a curfew.

Set the boundaries. Change the outcome.

I'll publish the best examples in a future blog post.

Press Releases

Union warns of privatisation concerns as Probation Trust closes its doors for the last time

This Friday (30th May) will see doors close at Probation Trust office's across Tyne and Wear and Northumberland for the last time.  From Monday offenders across the region will be managed by two separate organisations, one of which will shortly be privatised.

The Probation Trust, amongst the very best in the country, can be credited with a reduction in reoffending amongst those it has supervised since it achieved Trust status in 2009, but Napo, the Probation Union, warns that such a significant change will put these achievements in jeopardy.

Mike Quinn, spokesperson for Napo in Northumbria said:  "Our members in Northumbria have been proud to work for one of the best performing Probation Trusts in the country.  As well as contributing significantly to safer communities across Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, the Probation Trust has made huge efforts to improve the conditions for its staff, including becoming Investors In People Champions and achieving the Better health and Work Award.  Indeed just this year it was ranked in the top 100 organisations to work for by Stonewall.  We believe it's no coincidence that an organisation who takes the interests of it's staff so seriously has performed so well."

Commenting on the Governments intentions to privatise the newly formed Northumbria Community Rehabilitation Company in the coming months, Mike said "We have called time and time again for the Government to show us the evidence that privatising Probation will show any further improvement in reducing re-offending.  The simple fact is that they can't - this is an ideological move by a Conservative lead Government to Privatise the public services.  It can not be right, in the 21st Century, that people are happy to make money out of crime, and the victims of crime, or that the Government would be happy to gamble with public safety.  We have highlighted our concerns about the unacceptable risks this process poses to public safety.  The Minister should know that he will be held to account when offending rises, and, worse, more victims are created as a result of his ill thought out plans."

Last week it became clear that the Governments widely heralded introduction of supervision to short sentence prisoners would not take place for some time.  "It's time that the deception by the Government was exposed."  Mike said.  "Their rationale for pushing though these changes at breakneck speed has been to tackle the unacceptably high re-offending amongst that those that Probation don't currently supervise.  The Government have been quick to lead the public to believe that all re-offending amongst offenders is down to Probation - which is simply not the case.  We have always agreed with the key part of the proposal to extend supervision to under 12 month prisoners.  To hear that the Government are not now pursuing this as a matter of urgency defies belief.  Napo members across England and Wales have for weeks now been working to breaking point with additional tasks created out of the Governments desire to split the organisation in two, whilst the Minister can just sit there in Whitehall changing his timetable at the drop of a hat.  It seems to us that this is more about forcing through Privatisation before the next General Election than having the interests of the Public at heart."

Just last week the Public Accounts Committee raised it's concerns about the Privatisation of the Probation Service, citing the lack of contingency in the event that Community Rehabilitation Companies fail and the poor track record of contract management within the Ministry of Justice.  Mike Quinn said  "We're really unclear about what the contingency arrangements are if this whole experiment goes wrong.  What it seems will happen is that the Government will use it's "golden share" to take control back into the Public Sector, but how that will work in practical terms is a mystery - and why not just leave it in the public sector in the first place?.  Private companies will of course be able to pass "high risk" cases back to the Public Sector, but its worth remembering that they'll still be paid the full sum for their services for the duration of the offenders time on Probation, which seems to be rewarding the private sector with money the tax payer simply doesn't have - in real terms the tax payer will be paying twice for cases which have, quite rightly been given to the Public Sector to supervise." 

Probation Service is split and put up for Sale 01/06 - Rush to privatise probation is already causing chaos and putting local communities at risk

Today the 35 Probation Trusts in England and Wales, that were established in 2007 as a 
means of ensuring local communities had a stake in justice, will cease exist. 

This is the first stage of Justice Secretary Chris Grayling's plans to privatise 70% of the
Probation Service, whilst placing 30% under tight centralised government control Twenty one newly created holding companies will now be put up for sale. The government has already drawn up a list of preferred bidders that includes companies such as, Carillion Plc, Amey, Capita Plc, that are already known to have delivered poor value on other contracts.

This wholesale dismantling and selling off of probation is being justified on the basis that Probation Trusts were not working with approximately 50,000 ex-prisoners serving sentences of under twelve months. The previous government had intended to ask the probation service to work with this group but decided against doing so on the basis of cost. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling uses every opportunity to suggest that Probation Trusts have somehow been negligent when the reality is they were never asked to perform this work.

The simple truth is that Probation Trusts have done exactly what government and the public have wanted them to do i.e. supervise 200,000 offenders in the community. They have established a good reputation for commissioning services from local agencies to assist them with the complex work of rehabilitation.

The government is quite simply trying to do too much too quickly and has refused to pilot new systems or provide any evidence that what they are planning will work. Experts are warning that it will not and that in fact the Justice Secretary is placing the public at risk by recklessly introducing a completely new way of managing offenders in the community that is untried and untested. 

Pat Waterman, Chair of Greater London Branch NAPO said:

'Even members of the new Senior Management Teams for London, who are charged with 
the responsibility of making this split work, have told me that if they were to design a 
probation service they would not do it like this'. 

NAPO members are concerned that the split in their work has resulted in widespread chaos and confusion as every former Trust tries to make sense of conflicting government
instructions. Work that is routinely carried out to assess and supervise high risk offenders
is being disrupted. Staff are now being told they cannot do tasks that in some cases they
have been performing for the last 40 years. Experienced staff are leaving and agency
staff are being brought into some areas where staffing is now so dangerously low that errors are bound to occur.

 Pat Waterman said: 

‘The Justice Secretary’s plans are putting the public at increased risk. Instead of building
upon the existing publicly accountable Probation Trusts that were working well, and involved local communities in the complex business of successfully managing offenders, he has instead decided to bring in multinational corporations with poor records, who are not publicly accountable or necessarily financially responsible, to bid for our work'.

Pat Waterman also said:

‘Everyone in the Criminal Justice System has held the dedicated and motivated probation workforce in high regard. Despite the increased bureaucratization imposed on us by the Ministry of Justice, my members have sought to maintain high professional standards and to do all that has been required of them. All their achievements, and the safety of the public, is now being put at risk by the Justice Secretary’s plans.’

‘My members are seriously concerned that the changes needed to implement these plans
have been rushed through and not managed well. A new IT system is due to go live this
weekend without being adequately tested. New layers of bureaucracy have been created
meaning that my members will have to spend more time on paperwork and
administration rather than supervising offenders. At present a lot of energy is being
expended replicating tasks across two organisations who already run the risk of the left
hand not knowing what the right is doing. The result is chaos and confusion and all this is
so that Chris Grayling can put probation work up for sale'.

Axing 107 years of the Probation Service for private profit will put public at risk 

For most staff employed in probation, today Friday 30th May is their last working day as an employee of a proud public Probation Service as each of the 35 locally-accountable and award-winning Trusts will cease to exist at midnight on May 31st.     

On 1st June, the government will abandon 107 years of state responsibility for the Probation Service. Existing Probation Trusts will be abolished, with 30% of staff transferring to a new National Probation Service, and the remaining 70% being formed into 21 so-called Community Rehabilitation Companies in readiness for sale to the private sector. Potentially, there could be very grave consequences for public safety by this move. 

As the changes occur, there are widespread reports of administrative chaos and critical staff shortages throughout the country. In some cases, more than 60% of caseloads are being held by untrained staff with less than 3 months experience. Work loads mean that court reports are not being completed, and in many areas trained officers destined for re-employment in the private sector have caseloads approaching 100, with the result that they are being told to see new clients monthly rather than weekly. Even more seriously, sex offender programmes have been abandoned due to lack of qualified staff, while many probation officers are having to supervise sex offenders without the necessary specialist training.

Repeatedly the government has been warned, most recently by the Public Accounts committee, that this is an extremely risky privatization. The government has consistently refused to publish the risk register, though it is a requirement, and clearly in the public interest. Chris Grayling presses on with reforms that are being implemented without expert and professional support, international precedent, or any basis in research, and that are in no-one’s interest, except for the large corporations who will benefit from the revenue involved. Despite this, the government has been repeatedly warned of the extreme risks, and the need for the plans to be piloted first. 

There has also been a significant level of misinformation by the government involving the misleading, if laudable aim of supporting those who leave prison within 12 months (and who are not currently supervised by the service). However, it is now clear that this group will not now be helped in the foreseeable future, as has been claimed. 
In pushing through these reforms the government has intimidated, compromised and gagged officers, with the result that there has been almost no protest from those within the service, though they are solidly against the changes. One exception to this is Joanna Hughes, a probation officer with 17 years experience, who has taken a principled stand against these dangerous and risky proposals. She is resigning in protest today despite being offered a new post in the National Probation Service, because she feels that she cannot speak freely against these proposals while continuing in the new role.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Goodbye Probation Trusts

Regular tweeter PoOfficer has very kindly agreed to my republishing the following blog post:-

Goodbye Probation Trusts

I wanted to write this blog ahead of June 2nd, which will mark my first day working for the new National Probation Service.

I am deeply saddened to be writing this blog and to the end of the Probation Trusts. I currently work for a very high performing trust and although I have not always agreed with the direction the trust has gone and the leaders selected to lead us, I have felt a sense of belonging and I am proud to work for my trust.

I remember my first day working for Probation. 21 years old, straight out of University and thrown into an Approved Premises. I was chucked in at the deep end but it was the best learning experience I could have ever wished for. I am constantly asked on twitter from people who want to work for Probation "where do I start?". I always tell them to try and get into an Approved Premises.

Anyway, aged 21 I never envisaged becoming a Probation Officer, I never really fully understood what they did but from working closely with them in the AP, I soon realised that this is something I wanted to be doing - it felt right.

I was encouraged by my senior at the time to give it a go and apply to become a Trainee Probation Officer. Many applied and I never expected to get through, but to my amazement I did. The two year degree course and learning 'on the job' was the best two years experience I could have ever wished for. I was primarily based in two large offices with placements in Prison, Courts, Unpaid Work units and back in the AP. I was mentored by some truly gifted and well respected Probation Officers who I learnt a lot from - mainly to never forget that 'offenders' are people first.

The two years training course went by so quickly and I was offered a full time Probation Officer contract. I have never looked back since. I have had a few different responsibilities as a PO and enjoyed every one of them (I don't want to go into to much detail as I still want to retain my anonymity). What I have enjoyed most is the camaraderie of staff. I work in a lovely office (management may not agree - we are a difficult bunch to manage!) which is one of the biggest in my trust. We have a very eclectic bunch of staff which I see as a positive. We look out for each other and I know if I am every struggling, one of my colleagues will help me. They are all very talented people and I know that the majority of the work they do with clients is never acknowledged or even spoken about - but it is incredible.

The other main reason I do what I do is because of my clients and for the sake of the local community. I have worked with some of the most dangerous people you could imagine but thankfully they are few and far between. Mostly we work with people who have made poor decisions and who just need some help and support and a gentle push in the right direction. I believe that doing this job makes a difference, not only in the lives of the clients we work with but also victims.

Those of you who follow me closely on twitter will know that I have been very close to leaving Probation. I do not agree with the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda and I don't see any benefit from it. Dividing an awarding winning service who the Ministry of Justice itself rates every Probation Trust as either good or excellent, will only cause chaos and harm. I don't want to say to much on this, there are masses of opinions out there on this topic (I just wish Grayling would listen to them!).

What I do want to say is that we cant forget we still have a job to do, regardless of being allocated to the National Probation Service (NPS) or the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). I'm not suggesting that we roll over and help the Government with the destruction of the service, but we have a responsibility to carry on with the values and ethos of what we hold so dear.

Like every single one of us, I am going to a new organisation; I have been allocated to the NPS. Whilst I was fortunate enough to get my preference, this still fills me with some concern. I don't necessarily wish to become a Civil Servant or be responsible for a caseload of purely high risk clients. What I will do though is make the best of this situation and take everything that is offered to me.

So as this coming week marks the last one working for Probation Trusts, I just wanted to wish you all well. Remember to stick together; the Government have sought to divide us but we don't have to allow that to happen. Regardless of NPS or CRC we are all still colleagues and friends first and I hope that we never forget this.

(Note - by a strange twist of fate, if things continue as they have been doing, this blog will reach another significant landmark with 1 million hits at or roundabout the demise of Probation Trusts and emergence butterfly-like of NPS and CRC's on June 1st) 

Tuesday 27 May 2014

A Last Word

Joe Kuipers, outgoing Chair of Avon and Somerset Probation Trust, has published his swan song and a slightly edited version is reproduced here. Throughout this whole sorry business, he has conspicuously been the only Trust Chair willing to stick his neck out and well above the parapet and for that I think he is assured an honourable mention when the history of this omnishambles is written and the day of reckoning arrives. Read the full version here.

The Dish Ran Away with the Spoon

High diddle diddle,
The Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jump'd over the Moon,
The little dog laugh'd to see such Craft,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon.

This is reportedly the 18th century version of the well known nonsense rhyme, but I thought some of the words might resonate. Has there been 'diddling' and is somebody running away with probation to a questionable destination?

What, no reoffending data?

Yes, proving its worth. That is where I will start. I am proud to be part of ASPT. Some 7 years ago we were, not to put too fine a point on it, bottom of the heap of the then 42 Probation Boards, with a damaged reputation in government. We are now a robust and highly performing commercially astute business, with a different reputation at the centre. No one can argue with our successes, pioneers of IOM and IRIS, winners of more national awards than any other Trust (proportionate to our size). Our success has allowed us to be an 'opinion outlier' - we are known for questioning impositions and we were the only Board to try to resist the transition to Trust status. The writing was on the wall back then. The promised business freedoms and flexibilities were just kites in the sky, but the leadership at that time failed to hold out for the promises to become reality before being seduced into the first stage of where we are now. Enough said.

And, nationally, probation continues to perform. The MoJ published the latest Adult Reoffending Data on 20 May. I won't go into the detail, but probation continues to prove its worth. The measure used has been subject to criticism from probation, but we have been told endlessly that that is the measure, that is, until now. The MoJ publication says:

"Following a consultation, in October 2011 the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) introduced a new measure of Proven Re-offending which provides consistent measures of re-offending at national and local levels. The local adult re-offending measure remains a National Offender Management Service (NOMS) performance indicator for Probation Trusts for the year 2013/14. However, under changes to the probation service, through the introduction of the Transforming Rehabilitation programme in 2014–15, this measure is no longer relevant for future reporting. We have therefore agreed with NOMS that this will be the final bulletin in this series which will be used in their final performance probation trust ratings in July."

So, there we have it. A measure critical to probation performance assessment and ratings, gone. Now, I do not know what the contracts for the CRCs include, nor what the expectations will be for the NPS in relation to reducing reoffending, but it is interesting, isn't it? Makes one think that it is just too hard a measure for those picking up the business? Oh, and case you don't remember, the reoffending indicator was lauded with academic references. As it happens, we in ASPT have argued for several years that probation performance indicators should be more aligned to crime reduction. We will see.

Our last 'proper' Trust Board meeting.

We had out last 'proper' Trust Board meeting this last week. I have been privileged to have been supported by a startling good and thorough group of Board members, and especially Susan Graham (our deputy chair) and Paul Burton, who have both been with me since I started some 7 years ago. In addition, the work of our Board Secretary has been superb (Anne Roberts) as has been the administrative support provided by Elaine Berk. It goes without saying that without Sally and her team and all the staff ASPT would not be in the strong position where we are now. I also want to commend Paul Stopard and his team (the NOMS Community Management Team) with whom we have enjoyed a professional and helpful relationship.

Our last Board meeting was in many ways exactly the same as any other. We did not skimp on business items, and in particular made arrangements for key matters not to get lost in the changes by clear allocation of responsibilities to ensure that improvement issues were progressed. One of the main items we discussed was the audit of risk of harm assessments and the required improvements needed. Professional to the end. We hope that our quality audit work is retained in the future organisations - understanding quality takes time and effort, and it costs. At this stage we are not sure what will be required of the Board over the coming months. No doubt we might hear?

I also joined the last NOMS teleconference on Friday. A lacklustre affair, filled with thanks for all the hard work Trusts had done, self congratulations about how hard all those in NOMS were working, and apologies for the last minute nature of outstanding matters, such as property transfers. It was telling that there was only one question from Trusts, a technical matter on finance. The approach now is to see what happens over the coming 'cut over period' - suck it and see. There will be a 'gold command' type group at the centre, ready and hopefully able to deal with questions as they come in. My question about this is to what extent will the gold command team be equipped to deal with issues that do not come from the internal world of probation, but from courts, police, partners, etc. My advice to those probation staff working in the new system is to escalate all those questions to the centre, just to ensure that there are consistent answers.

A silver lining?

I am not going to spell out what may or may not go wrong over the coming days, weeks and months. It would not be responsible recognising that our staff are about to 'migrate' into either the NPS or CRC, and over the past 2 years I have said enough about the risks and the folly. I have to hope that for their sakes and for the sake of the excellence of our service to our communities (and this applies to all Trusts) all will be well. There is just one silver lining for Trusts - the final days of our responsibility for service delivery coincide with the shut down of n-Delius. We all wonder what will happen when it is switched back on again.

However, there is just a little story to tell - a snippet. A Trust CEO who I know was being chased for a return not sent back to NOMS. On investigation it had been sent to the composite name of two other CEOs (i.e. the first name of one and the second of another, but to the right Trust). When it was then sent to the right CEO it was sent to the wrong Trust.

A bitter taste?

It is fair to say that this whole journey of TR has left more than a bitter taste. This is also the sub-title of a section of the poetry anthology, from which I draw the following as probation moves into a 'twilight' zone (sorry to say I cannot cope with an analogy that probation is moving from the dark into the sunlight):

Sunsets, by Richard Aldington

The white body of the evening
Is torn into scarlet,
Slashed and gouged and seared into crimson,
And hung ironically
With garlands of mist.

And the wind
Blowing over London from Flanders
Has a bitter taste.

But Sally and I have asked ourselves, 'Has the effort of the past 7 years been a waste?' Our firm answer is, 'No, not at all'. The bitter taste comes from knowing that we were still on an improvement journey and that the changes do not strike us as well founded or evidenced, threatening as they do some core elements of our successful approach in ASPT.

Vandalism derives from the Vandal Tribes. Their history is interesting and they do not fully deserve the attribution, essentially one of barbaric destruction. But it is a good word and so appropriately describes what has been perpetrated on probation, especially when Trusts offered to do what the government asked for? Robert Burns in his poem 'To a Mouse' wrote:

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley."
(The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.)

If only these were 'best laid schemes'; and another rodent comes to mind.

A bitter taste is not the same as feeling embittered. I do not have a sense of bitterness, and I urge colleagues not to allow bitterness to infect their behaviour. It is a pernicious emotion with only one outcome - damage to self. I also ask colleagues not to allow feelings of hurt, envy, injustice and understandable anger to interfere with trying to do a good job. In my view the system created will break in any case without 'bad behaviour' as it is founded on a perverse fault line.

So, what will I do? I will keep myself informed, and be available when, and if, the system needs to be stitched back together again. But something tells me that I would be near the bottom of any list of 'desirables' should such reweaving of the tapestry be sought. And, perhaps it is time to say goodbye to probation after 42 years (I did start very young). However, I am involved with NoOffence and may also become part of another Social Enterprise, rooted in helping offenders lead law abiding lives and thereby protecting the public - I am not dead just yet. We will see and with all sincerity, I do wish you all well.

Joe Kuipers, 26 May 2014

Monday 26 May 2014

17 Things We Know About TR

1. The main justification for TR, and why it got Liberal Democrat support, is to deal with short term prisoners being released 'with just £46 in their pocket'. Well, we now know courtesy of Vera Baird QC, PCC for Newcastle, that this 'won't be happening any time soon' according to her private contact with Jeremy Wright MP, Prisons and Probation minister.

2. Potential bidders for TR are driving such a hard bargain with the MoJ that the deadline for Prime Contractors has been extended to June 30th according to the Clinks website.

3. In the timeframe remaining, there's no way all the contracts can be signed, sealed and sorted before the next General Election. 

4. There are persistent rumours that some package areas only have one bidder, two at the most and some no bidder at all.

5. Any idea of 'Payment by Results' has been ditched - another justification for TR put forward to Parliament - it's all 'Fee for Service' now.

6. The Major Projects Authority has exempted TR from having a 'Delivery Confidence Assessment' due to 'commercial interests'. This is very convenient because the word is no one is confident at all.

7. The NPS/CRC staffing split is hopelessly wrong, resulting in huge imbalances in staff and massive caseloads for some colleagues.

8. Some offices are in 'meltdown' due to sickness, resignations and non-viable staff allocations.

9. The MoJ deny there is a serious staffing issue, that there has been a mass exodus from the profession and that caseloads are rocketing. 

10. Nationally there are at least 500 vacancies for Probation Officers according to an FOI request by the Labour Party. 

11. Cases being split between NPS and CRC are 'falling through the cracks' due to lack of background information or indeed any information being shared.

12. The police are refusing to provide background information on Domestic Violence cases being dealt with by CRC colleagues.  

13. PSR's are not being prepared in time or of sufficient quality due to staffing shortages, new bureaucratic procedures and lack of pre-cons and offence details from CPS.

14. The Public Accounts Committee confirm that there are significant risks with TR and yet the MoJ intend pressing on regardless. 

15. TR is not going to save any money. The senior civil servant has admitted that they have no idea how much it's all going to cost, just that it's all got to come out of the MoJ budget somehow.

16. The potential contractors know absolutely nothing about probation at all. This has become obvious from meetings between them and CRC's and confirmed by personal conversations from within the MoJ. 

17. The new Probation Institute has attracted just 70 members.

(Please feel free to add more, amend or suggest references and I'll publish an update)  


Sunday 25 May 2014

Omnishambles Update 49

Irritating in many ways, I nevertheless have to admit that twitter can be useful in providing an insight into what the hell is going on in probation as the TR omnishambles marches on. So, here's some edited snippets gleaned from a well known probation tweeter, all in handy bite-sized chunks, no more than 140 characters long, and I hope they forgive my unauthorised plagiarism. 

Heard probation rumour today: NPS PO will have final say over CRC SPO in any disagreement about risk escalation.

I have a stack of new policies, forms, processes, instructions etc etc that I'm told are crucial to my new role. No time to read them!

Evidence received today that sex offenders WILL be managed in the CRCs which in future will be privatised.

I see risk of serious recidivism score has been increased again. Have to score 7. 2% to be auto allocated to NPS.

Some of the greatest and most inspiring PO's I know are quitting with no job to go to. They've had enough. Ridiculous state of affairs.

Two more emails received from agencies today. Offering me work all over the country as a PO. Email said they are "desperate"

I really don't know if I can continue this twitter given I will become a civil servant soon. Managers indicated social media is a no no.

Three separate emails received today from agencies offering me temp PO jobs. Willing to pay me to live in a hotel mon-fri.

NPS allocated PO told me how she was begged to go into CRC & she has refused. Apparently it's very short staffed. Nobody has begged me! Ha.

My CEO said staff aren't leaving the service. Why do we have so many temps then? We have never had this many! TR getting rid of good staff!

Trainee PO's told they will have to be seconded to CRC for 2 days a week in order to gain relevant experience.

Much older/wiser colleague told me I should have been a PO in the 1980's & would have made a good social worker. I took that as a compliment

Informed client today he will go to CRC. He said he thinks there will be a lot of breaches so the private company can fill their own prisons

One SPO has always done allocation of work in my office. Now two SPO's and two admin do it. 4 members of staff! Nice one Grayling!

I am so behind in my own work. Add the 20 OASys I have to do for "the split" and it's tipping me over the edge! I know I'm not alone.

NPS told not to propose DRR/ATR for Mappa or high risk of harm as IOM is CRC  Another example of how well it's working.

9 emails, 2 phone calls, 7 POs, and 2 SPOs to allocate 1 new probation case.

Client phoned up the office as he is concerned he has not been seen in two months. Officer off sick with stress.

A comment left on here yesterday reflects a situation typical up and down the land:-

I knew this TR crap was going to be very bad. However it's even worse than I could've imagined. Our office in a well known university city is imploding. More than 60% of the caseload is held by new PSO staff with less than 3 months experience. Recalls, prison paperwork, breaches, OASys assessments outstanding. CRC staff drowning in totally unmanageable caseloads. NPS colleagues drowning in PSRs. Senior managers nowhere to be seen. The duplicitous processes are staggering in the extreme, the cost to the public purse outrageous. Amongst all this, clients are looking bewildered, are falling through the gaps and the cannier ones are using the chaos to their own advantage. I can't sleep, I hate going into work. I cannot believe that the best performing public service has come to this. The UK is sleepwalking into the shadow state, the government completely abdicating its responsibilities to its citizens.

Searching around on the internet, I came across this quote from a couple of months ago in the Daily Telegraph by the incoming CEO of Capita, an outsourcing company widely tipped to pick up a considerable amount of probation work. I thought it was illuminating given that I've repeatedly heard that virtually all of the Tier One bidders know virtually nothing about probation. This is what he said:-

He is handing over to Andy Parker, himself a 13-year stalwart of Capita, who said the increase in the bid pipeline was partly down to Capita being shortlisted for seven of the 21 regions under the looming part-privatisation of the probation service. “Probation officers are typically spending less than 25pc of their time on offender-facing tasks, with 75pc of it spent on admin, which they’re not particularly good at,” he said. “We see huge opportunities to free up their time for what they’re better at – front-line duties.”

I'd say the chances of that happening are close to zero.

I've also only just noticed this piece from the Prison Governor's Association on the Politics website:-
Chris Grayling's "Spartan" prison regime is leading to a "tipping point" of instability, the president of the Prison Governors' Association has warned. In a highly embarrassing intervention for the justice secretary, Eoin McLennan-Murray warned that the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme was triggering an increase in assaults and suicides behind bars.
"In order to run a safe, decent prison it is vital to have the co-operation of the majority of prisoners," he said. "This relationship is underpinned by staff having legitimacy in the eyes of prisoners and this is dependent on trust and transparency in decision making. "Some of the recent changes to the IEP system have undermined this trust and threaten the legitimacy of decisions made by staff. "If this is allowed to continue unchecked then a tipping point may be reached whereby prisons are more likely to become unstable than stable. "We are already seeing the early signs of this with rising levels of assaults, reportable incidents and a disturbing rise in self inflicted deaths."
The IEP scheme has been criticised across the political spectrum for the ban it places on all parcels being sent to prisoners. The inclusion of books in the ban sparked a protest campaign by the Howard League for Penal Reform and English PEN. The regime also limits family contact and opportunities for education and learning - all factors which have been shown to reduce people's risk of reoffending.
IEP contains a number of other draconian measures. It makes it much harder for inmates to secure 'enhanced' status in prison, where they are granted certain creature comforts, and much easier for them to drop down a status level. It is thought to have significantly increased the number of people on 'basic' regime, where they are kept alone in a cell for most of the day and denied any personal property.
On the subject of prison, almost daily we are hearing of more supposedly 'dangerous' prisoners absconding from open conditions and there's probably good reason to feel it's IPP prisoners long over their tariff's who are responding to news that Town Visits and ROTL's are going to be curtailed. Feeling that they may have little chance of being released any time soon, some may well have decided to take a chance and just walk out in the hope they can avoid recapture for a time.  

This article in the Economist offers some further thoughts on the subject:-
As a result, absconding—that is, leaving an open prison—or failing to return after a day release have become virtually the only ways to get out illicitly. Yet those who abscond rarely remain free for long. Absconders are mostly low-ranking crooks who happen to be violent. Few have the networks and money that allowed old-time professional criminals such as Ronnie Biggs and Charlie Richardson to evade capture, says Dick Hobbs, a criminologist at the University of Essex. Few are picked up fleeing the country. They are more likely to be found at an old address or lurking at their mothers’ houses.
Absconding, too, is much less common than it was. In 2013 just 204 prisoners absconded, down from 956 in 1996. That improvement is largely the result of better risk assessments of those granted some kind of limited freedom before their release. In 2012 almost half a million licences were granted to let prisoners leave prison temporarily, mostly for activities to prepare them for their final release. In fewer than 500 cases did people fail to return or otherwise breach their licence. After the recent embarrassments, Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, has tightened the rules governing temporary release. 
But some worry that this trend could reverse. The POA, which represents prison officers, says that overcrowding means unsuitable prisoners are being moved to open conditions. Andrew Neilson of the Howard League, a prison-reform charity, points to a lack of properly skilled staff to do risk assessments. Shortages exacerbate this. Between 1997 and 2012 the ratio of officers to inmates fell from one for every 2.4 to one for every 3.3. Officers who lock doors and supervise meals do not make decisions about the release of inmates. But they can provide important information to those who do. Time to get to know prisoners is increasingly scarce. Even the least adept crooks may spot more chances to get out of jail free.
The whole issue of lie-detectors and chemical castration for sex offenders has re-surfaced and if one was cynical one would think it might be connected with the fact we are now in the lead up to a General Election. Getting probation officers to use the equipment is going to pose a considerable professional and ethical dilemma for many and I suspect will serve to hasten the exit of many more skilled staff already utterly pissed off with the whole thing. 

Readers might recall that initially this was work that was going to be farmed out to private contractors such as G4S, until they screwed up that is:-
The Government has abandoned plans to allow the private sector to run lie detector tests for hundreds of serious sex offenders, amid continuing turmoil over outsourcing following scandals involving the country’s two biggest contractors. The programme to test hundreds of sex offenders was due to start this month but has now been delayed for staff to be trained internally, in the latest blow to privatisation plans for monitoring former offenders in the community.
The compulsory tests for about 750 released serious sex offenders in England and Wales are part of a major planned expansion of the use of the polygraph this year despite concerns over its effectiveness.
On the subject of ethics, interestingly the Probation Institute has just closed a consultation exercise on the subject. Here's the first draft:-


1.    We believe in the ability of people who have offended to change for the better and become responsible members of society
Associated principles:
·         Desistance from offending is a process that may take time, requiring a level of patience, tenacity, care and proactive engagement on the part of probation workers

2.    We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of the individual
Associated principles:
·         Interventions must show due regard to the dignity, health, safety and well-being of service users

3.    We are committed to promoting social justice and social inclusion
Associated principles:
·         People who have offended should receive fair, impartial and just treatment throughout all phases of the system and discrimination should be challenged
·         Diversity and difference is viewed with positive regard
·         Service users should have a voice in the planning of services 

4.    We believe in the worth of probation supervision in the community, based on establishing positive  relationships with service users, to promote their rehabilitation.
Associated principles
·         Effective supervision relies on setting an environment in which sensitive issues can be explored whilst maintaining appropriate role boundaries.
·         Meeting the needs of service users will frequently involve working in partnership with other agencies and organisations in the community.

·         The most appropriate use of custodial sentences is for serious or persistent offending. Community sentences are more effective in supporting rehabilitation than short custodial sentences.

5.    We accept to protect the public the rights of service users have to be balanced with the rights and protection of victims and future victims.
Associated principles:
·         The needs of victims take priority over the needs of service users where these are in conflict.
·         Responses to the needs of service users must take account of their assessed level of risk of causing harm to actual victims and future potential victims.

6.    We recognise the importance of training for identified levels of competence and of continuing professional development.
Associated principles:
·         Initial qualifying and continuing training must be of a length and quality appropriate to the level and complexity of the work to be undertaken.
·         Individual workers are accountable for the quality of their work and for maintaining and improving their professional practice, whilst recognising that the employer also has a responsibility to enable this.

7.    We are committed to the development of knowledge, through research, to inform policy and practice in work with offenders.
Associated principles:
·         Methods of working with service users vary according to their different risks and needs and their social contexts.
·         The effectiveness of different interventions should be judged on the basis of evaluation and research that can be widely disseminated and scrutinised.
·         Supporting and contributing to research is essential for the development of good practice.

8.    We are committed to acting with professional integrity
Associated principles:
·         The values and principles of the profession are upheld and all work will be conducted in a reliable, honest and trustworthy manner.
·         Appropriate boundaries must be established in relationships with service users and colleagues.
·         Judgements should be based on balanced and considered reasoning.  Members should maintain awareness of the impact of their own values, prejudices and conflicts of interest on their practice and on other people.
·         Staff should account for and justify their judgements and actions to service users, to employers and to the general public
·         Record keeping must be accurate and professional.

Finally, look what we have to look forward to on TV shortly:-

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