Saturday 31 January 2015

Joe Kuipers Special

To mark this special milestone in the probation story, Joe Kuipers has produced a 'final' blog post, complete with some interesting confessions! As with others in the series, it's reproduced here in slightly edited form:- 

100 Years of Solitude and Back to the Future

This will be my last dig at what has come to pass. Today sees the end of the probation service as a united and relatively coherent and consistent business and I am 'moving on'. No retrospective criticisms to come, no 'I told you so's', no pleasure or cheering when and if things go wrong; I have said my piece, grounded in evidence where possible, fought to divert those in power from a mad adventure and overall have lost. There remains enough information out there to highlight ongoing concerns.

Looking back to go forward?

I started as a probation officer back in 1972, and as a new graduate recruit to a seemingly old fashioned service was bemused at the total lack of consistency between what POs did and how we worked. SERs, as they were then, were a delightful mixture of descriptions, often running to 4 or 5 pages, including what might now be considered an estate agent snapshot of where the offender lived. Part As, Bs and Cs were variably completed, but on the whole the Part B (the assessment bit) was usually there if somewhat idiosyncratic. We all had at least half a secretary to do dictation or listen to the new invention of audio tapes, and very large caseloads, with my 90 odd ranging in age from 12 to 83. And we did Guardian at Litem work. My first SER was a bus journey to meet, at home, a serious GBH offender for the Crown Court. I still remember his name, and he never turned up at court in the 2 years I worked for the Birmingham Probation and After-Care Service. Oh, and we worked Saturdays, just half the day. TB screening was regular for me, linked as I was to the local crypt, as was a careful louse check.

But what we lacked in consistency of process was more than made up for by a collective and strong sense of 'mission' and belief in what we were hoping to achieve. The aspirations we had for 'our' offenders match those of today. That said, with a scientific and psychology background I could never really reconcile the great probation intentions with the lack of rigour, consistency of work and approach, variable theoretical operational bases, and absolute failure to 'measure' what we did.

Short cut to a bit later. As an ACPO in the then South East London Probation Service, which re-employed me through interview on 3 occasions after leaving each time to look after my increasing family, I introduced what became the local 'underground' map, 4 sides of colourful A4 as an A3 folded form, which detailed the key criminogenic features of the offender and 'riskiness', both at the point of sentence and at the end of their order or licence. This coincided with the introduction of computers at work (we piloted CRAMS, more fool us) and with some statistical background we were able to show whether we were being at all effective. Oh, this was 30 years ago.

Now for some quick confessions. When with HMI Probation, amongst many other things, I co-wrote the first and subsequent iterations of the National Standards. I initiated and led on the then approach to Internal Monitoring and Inspections (IMI), which included probation areas assessing each others PSRs, to achieve better consistency and focus. I undertook the Partnership Inspection which led to the requirement that a proportion of probation expenditure should go to other providers, believing as I did that probation could not do it all. My presentation on this to the NAPO conference did not go too well. I led on the Inspection into offender assessment, using the model of the PSR work, and the weaknesses and lack of consistency shown in offender and sentence planning and review led to OASys. And, yes, I coined the name. The prison service view of OASys at that time (as expressed by Michael Spurr, a governor on the OASys planning group); 'no thanks'.

But, I do not apologise for these and other developments as at the heart of 'doing good' there must be some consistency of approach (not least to address discrimination), mechanisms to be accountable to the tax payer and local communities, and some effort to demonstrate effect and impact. The great shame has been the absolute failure of IT and information systems to help staff with tools like OASys, and how they have been fiddled with.

So, why the title 'back to the future'? Well, my major theme is the future, and my greatest fear is that we are heading back to when and where I started, made even more complex by there now being the NPS and a number of CRCs. And, the CRCs will combine to create even bigger organisations with ever more anonymity, less support staff and less supervision for those on the front line. My evidence? For example, just have a look at the National Standards issued this week, a whole 3 days before ORA takes effect. Reading them will take less than 10 minutes. Perhaps I am wrong, but is there anything measurable in the new standards? In this respect I hope that those with contract management responsibilities will get the resource support to dig into service delivery. The headline target of 'reducing reoffending' is necessary, but there are a number of proxy measures and indicators that must be assessed too - progress is more linear, more up and down, than binary? NOMS and HMI Probation could do worse that be reminded of the IMI programme to create some consistency and transparency? Without attention to the quality dimension of probation work new risks will emerge, not least explaining SFOs to the public?

So, whither probation?

I can but hope it will be whither, rather than whether. There is the great saying, we are where we are (and not where we should be), and knowing that there is now no putting the clock back, well, not in my lifetime anyway, my efforts will go into assisting, where possible, to make the system of offender rehabilitation, community safety and public protection work as well as it might. In this respect I will work with NoOffence! and others, where possible, to encourage productive and constructive solutions to those few obstacles and problems that might just arise over the coming period. In deed, NoOffence! are planning a major conference later this year to enable lessons to be learned as TR moves forward. That will be at a time when there should be enough knowledge and experience across the probation sectors and those in the CJ environment (courts, PCCs, police, parole board, health, local authorities, etc) to use problem solving approaches and showcase successful initiatives.

Is this a change of heart on my part? Yes and no. 'No' insofar that I remain convinced that the new probation structures are a grave mistake by introducing major fragmentation and weaknesses in accountability; 'yes' in that we are now in a different place and I still have (well, I hope I have) many friends and colleagues working in probation, and, dare I say, in NOMS and the MoJ. It is especially those who remain working in probation who need support and solutions, so that is where effort needs to be placed.

So, what are the key issues for the future of community probation? There is currently a necessary focus on the 'priorities' with a hope to identify the critical 3, as encouraged by Russel Webster. However, there are more, and I am not sure you can have more than one priority, so I will call them 'issues for the future'. The consequential risks of not attending to these issues are pretty obvious, and I suspect that my issues list is not complete. Readers of my last blog will note that some of these issues were flagged up before.

  • the space and skills for all relevant staff to develop meaningful relationships with offenders to effect change. It is quite clear that the nature of the relationship between probation staff, other providers and the offender is at the heart of achieving change and reducing risks. The combination of WHAT is done with offenders and WHO does this is the key to success; WHO is a powerful ingredient, not surprising as it is the nature of the relationship within which 'care and control' are exercised that forms the springboard to effective practice;
  • ensuring and enabling consistent effective offender assessments which set out achievable 'rehabilitation and risk reduction plans' that are regularly reviewed. Yes, OK, a hobby horse, but stop riding this horse at your peril;
  • tailored offender services. One size fits all is not the way to go, so I quite like the first starts to this by differentiating the offender cohort. However, the new risk is then to treat all those in that differentiated group to be the same, for example women offenders, or those with mental health or addiction difficulties; 
  • effective rehabilitation work in prisons, currently generally lacking, as a platform for community supervision. My good friend Jonathan Robinson has, quite rightly, much to say about this;
  • providing good quality supervision to practitioners. There is evidence that practitioner support has suffered as managerial spans have increased. A supported workforce is a better workforce; 
  • consistent training for probation staff (NPS and CRCs), those working in the third sector and relevant others, and to use training to bring staff from a variety of setting together. This could be a bedrock of sharing good practice; 
  • achieving a balance between technical supervision (e.g. EM) and personal intervention;
  • retaining and increasing the confidence of the courts by ensuring effective communication between the NPS and the courts. In this respect the quality of information provided to the courts must meet the expectations of the courts. There is a current debate about the need or value of PSRs and the prospect of their erosion. Speed is all well and good, but remember the PSR has a value as the primary offender assessment for probation providers (perhaps ever more critical with TTG), prisons and the Parole Board, so a narrow view presents new risks;
  • retaining and increasing the confidence of the Parole Board by ensuring that those taking decisions about the release of prisoners feel they have excellent information to hand;
  • ensuring effective communication between and within the various NPS 'regions' and the number of CRCs and within and between the various CRCs;
  • ensuring effective communication between third sector providers in the delivery chain and the NPS and CRCs;
  • making sure that smaller third sector providers do not have disproportionate risk delegated to them and that they are enabled to survive payment delays in the light of PbR;
  • achieving a balance between the 'golden metwand of discretion' and consistency of practice, ensuring that what gets measured is also consistent across the business;
  • ensuring a focus on service delivery quality, both internally by the relevant probation organisations and externally by HMI Probation and NOMS;
  • business transparency by both the NPS and CRCs. I have argued previously that private sector businesses delivering public services should be subject to the same requirements and demands as if they were public sector bodies, including especially equality and freedom of information responsibilities;
  • retaining community support for offender work placements, both for UPW and real jobs, in the light of some charities withdrawing from this arena;
  • IT that works and that enables providers to 'talk' to each other;
  • political intelligence which is at least a bit evidence based.
End note.

This is blog 41. Shame I shall not be here in another 100 years - for part of that time I shall have my own years of solitude. This is the last blog in this series. No doubt I may start a new series, especially if colleagues supply me with solutions to operational and strategic obstacles. In this series I have tried to be accurate (I have yet to be told that I have misled anyone), informative, and challenging. I have never intended to offend anyone, and apologise if unintentionally I have.

Should readers wish to let me know of success stories in making the new systems work do get in touch via my email,

Wishing friends and colleagues strength and well-being; bon chance mes amis.

joe kuipers, 31 January 2015, a significant date in the probation calendar.

ORA Special

The Offender Rehabilitation Act comes into force tomorrow and the predominantly clueless 'caterers and cleaners' officially take over the running of most of the former world class Probation Service. 

Disgracefully, it would seem 'probation' as a household name is already being 'airbrushed' out of existence. Within the Act and guidance notes, the term is being studiously avoided with talk instead of 'responsible officer' and the like. Perhaps even more significantly there was absolutely no mention of probation in yesterday's Guardian article by Zoe Williams on the excellent work being undertaken at HMP New Hall. It's not as if she doesn't know her stuff either, seeing as she's a trustee of the Butler Trust:-

"Everybody knows that prisons are not as simple as sending people away and having them slip back seamlessly into society afterwards as if nothing has happened. Women’s prisons are particularly complicated, and this week the justice minister, Simon Hughes, acknowledged the problem when he announced the rollout of a scheme to keep women from ending up behind bars. The female prison population has shot up since 1995, more than doubling by 2010; there are now around 3,800 women inmates. Yet, in that group, Hughes said, “There are so many women who ought not to be in prison. About half ought not to be there at all.”

But they are, and many who serve one sentence will go on to serve another. As everyone agrees, the prevention of reoffending is the key aim of the penal system. From that starting point, everything else will flow: all successful rehabilitation, all prevention of crime and all avoidance of creating more victims will come from the prison estate dealing imaginatively with what happens after inmates are discharged. The big untold story in all of this is how much is down to individuals: prison officers, psychologists and people from the third sector working inside and outside the prison walls. These people are often working way beyond their job descriptions, not to targets or directives, not to improve a measured outcome, but because that’s how they are."

It's widely accepted that there's been hardly any preparation for this brave new world and the most commonly heard refrain is 'we haven't got a clue'. Before I selectively quote from a 53 page NPS ORA briefing document, here's some reader reflections:-  

"The sentencers will be required to impose a Rehabilitation Activity Requirement based on a number of days. The CRC will, post-sentence, decide what activity is to be undertaken. The contentious part for me is that the CRC can, if it deems it appropriate, 'complete' an RAR WITHOUT USING ALL OF THE DAYS. So the sentence is, in fact, determined by the CRC OM, not by the Court. Also, a 'day' is any single event and could be 10 minutes or three hours. It's all up to the CRC. The only checks and balances are the contract management process and we know about the MOJ's record on that. The potential for abuse and tokenism is massive. I fear for the credibility of community sentences, I really do."

"35 hours a week 'job search' (which is compulsory anyway if on JSA), will become part of the rehabilitation activity. All the privateers have to do is register the client with their employment team. Job done!"

"We had a 1.30 hour briefing on RAR and Through the Gate on Tues am. It sounds as though its going to be chaotic. We got a communication from NAPO chair today saying that one of the successful bidders for CRC had thought we were already working with the Through The Gate lot and was shocked to realise that we weren't - their bid had not taken into account ADDITIONAL work."

Overview of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 and Through the Gate

The Offender Rehabilitation Bill received Royal Assent on 13 March 2014. Two sections of the resulting Offender Rehabilitation Act (ORA) came into force on 1 June 2014 (creation of the new enforcement officer role for breaches of court orders, and a requirement that contracts for probation services set out provision for female offenders). The remaining sections of the ORA will come into force on 1 February 2015. The ORA makes changes to three main areas of the sentencing framework:

1) The expansion of licence to offenders released from short custodial sentences of less than 12 months.
2) Creation of a new Post-Sentence Supervision (PSS) period that follows licence for offenders released from custodial sentences of less than 2 years.
3) Changes to Community Order and Suspended Sentence Order requirements, particularly the introduction of the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR).
Most of the new provisions of the ORA (with the key exception of changes to the drug testing requirement) will only apply to offenders who have committed an offence on or after 1 February 2015. Eligible caseloads will therefore take some time to build up.

The ORA will have several operational implications for the NPS with process changes and developments in practice required to embed the new provisions. The operational impact on court staff, report writers, staff involved in supervising offenders sentenced to community penalties and custodial sentences including the enforcement of these sentences, has been outlined in this Guidance.

Through the Gate (TTG) is the resettlement service that CRCs will provide for all those received into custody. TTG services will commence fully on 1 May but in some establishments services may be mobilised earlier. TTG begins with the Basic Custody Screening Tool (BCST):

BCST Part 1 is a needs assessment and will be completed by prison staff within 72 hours of reception. Questions in the BCST link to the 7 resettlement pathways, which are:

Education, employment and training
Drugs and alcohol
Finance, debt and benefit
Children and Families
Attitudes, thinking and behaviour

BCST Part 2 is the resettlement plan and will be completed by CRC staff for all prisoners (including NPS) within 5 days of receiving BCST Part 1. The CRC will then know what resettlement needs a prisoner has, and decide how best to meet that need. There are a suite of resettlement services that the CRC will be contractually obliged to deliver to all offenders, and will be paid for this on a fee for service basis. These are:
Accommodation & employment brokerage
Finance and debt advice
Support for sex workers
Support for victims of domestic violence 
The CRC must also provide pre-release activity no sooner than 12 weeks before release. In addition to this, the CRC will provide additional rehabilitative services that they believe will reduce reoffending, and so gain payment on a Payment by Results (PbR) basis. These services will be available to the NPS on an ‘elective’ basis where it is an appropriate and cost effective response to tackling specific offender needs.

Pre Sentence Report Writers

The approach to report writing continues to be informed by the existing framework of assessment involving reference to Sentencing Guidelines, offence seriousness, risk of conviction/reoffending, EOASys Risk of Serious Harm (RoSH) screening and full analysis when required, together with RSR, OGRS, SARA and other specialist assessment tools, offender's criminogenic need and responsivity issues.

The ORA makes no direct change to this existing framework for report writing. The report writer will continue to inform the Court of their comprehensive assessment and make a proposal as to what particular risk factors and offending related needs may require addressing but not specifically ‘how’ this should be done. There are however a number of changes, either made by the ORA or the wider Transforming Rehabilitation programme, that report writers will need to take into account.

The first is the fact that the rehabilitative services offered by CRCs – either to offenders they are supervising or, in some cases, to NPS-retained offenders – are likely to change in the coming months as new providers put in place what was in their bids. Clearly, assessments and recommendations to the Court regarding public protection and rehabilitation can be better informed by an awareness of what interventions are available to offenders both in custody and the community. The range and availability of local interventions on offer will be regularly communicated by local CRCs to NPS report writers and sentencers. The nature of this communication will vary depending upon the CRC.

The second is the creation of the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR) by the ORA, which replaces the existing Supervision and Specified Activity Requirements for offences committed on or after 1 February 2015. Under the RAR, the Court does not specify the activity or activities the offender must participate in. Instead, this is left to the discretion of the Responsible Officer (RO). The RAR therefore allows the RO the freedom to make their own professional judgement about the most appropriate means to address the risk factors outlined in the PSR and as such make decisions about the form that supervision will take. However, where a Court is considering imposing a RAR, report writers will still need to give the Court an indication of the type of services CRCs are likely to offer in that case. Report writers should assume these services are unchanged on 1 February unless the CRC has communicated a change to the interventions they offer.

Report writers may also need to consider likely allocation decisions as this may have an impact upon their completion of EOASys, the content of their report and their Court proposal, for example if it is a case deemed to be of high public interest.

Finally, in light of the new ORA requirement for offenders serving community orders or suspended sentence orders to seek permission before changing place of residence, it is of increased importance that Court staff and report authors gather sufficient information regarding the suitability of the offender's address. Relevant information should be recorded. There is no specific expectation at the point of sentence that NPS court officers will need to confirm suitability of address for the purpose of the PSS resident requirement where offenders are released direct from court.


For offences committed before 1 February 2015 the options available for report proposals are as outlined in the relevant legislation, in particular CJA 2003 and LASPO 2012.

For offences committed on or after 1 February 2015 Supervision Requirements and all Specified Activity Requirements (SARs) will no longer be available. The ORA introduces the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR). Other requirements DRR, ATR, Mental Heath Treatment, UPW, Curfew/Electronic Monitoring, ACO, Exclusion, Residence, Prohibited Foreign Travel, Prohibited Activity Requirement) are still available and should be proposed where appropriate as before.

A RAR allows for the Responsible Officer (RO) to instruct the offender to attend activities, appointments, or both. The Court sets the maximum number of days of activities that the RAR can involve. The number of days stated is the maximum that the offender can be required to undertake but the allocated RO can decide to use fewer days at their discretion. By contrast, there is no limit set by the court on appointments, which can carry on for the duration of the RAR (which last for the length of the overall order).

It is for the court to first decide whether a Community Order (CO) or Suspended Sentence Order (SSO) with a RAR is an appropriate sentencing disposal and then to set the length of the sentence and the maximum number of activity days. Please note that the RAR does not allow for a minimum number of days only a maximum. The allocated RO is then responsible for deciding the content of the activity days, how they will be delivered, how frequently the offender attends and to whom. In some instances the content of the RAR activity may be decided pre sentence where there are bespoke interventions in place. So the Court may be aware of the proposed content, however the Court cannot set what specific rehabilitation activities should be delivered under the RAR.

Where a DRR, ATR, Mental Heath Treatment Requirement or an Accredited Programme is being proposed good practice suggests a RAR should also be proposed if there are additional needs. However, the requirements recommended should be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence. ROs can instruct offenders to report as needed under the auspices of the CO/SSO if there is no RAR in place, by virtue of sections 198 and 2220 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (which require the RO to make any arrangements necessary for the requirements of the order, and which place a duty on the offender to keep in touch with the RO in accordance with any instructions given).

ROs can utilise the RAR activity days to require offenders to attend Accredited Programmes. However, if at the pre sentence report stage it is assessed that a particular Accredited Programme (known to be on offer) would be a suitable intervention, it would be regarded as good practice for the report writer to inform the Court. This therefore enables the Court to impose a named Accredited Programme requirement as part of the CO or SSO. 

Community Supervision

Rehabilitation Activity Requirement

Section 15 of the ORA introduces the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR) for COs and SSOs. The RAR replaces the Supervision Requirement and all Specified Activity Requirements (SARs) in cases where the offence was committed on or after the 1 February 2015. However, the Supervision Requirement and the SAR remain for legacy cases where the offence was committed before this date.

The RAR is designed to provide maximum flexibility for probation providers to deliver rehabilitation activities during the sentence that address criminogenic needs and achieve a reduction in the likelihood of re-offending. The RO has discretion as to how use the RAR and as such decides what interventions are suitable for the offender to undertake. Activities which were formally covered by SARs can be included into the activities undertaken within a RAR.

Activity Days

A RAR can involve the RO instructing the offender to participate in activities, up to a maximum number set by the Court when sentencing. The RO can decide to use fewer days at their discretion. The Court specifies the end date of the CO and the end of the supervision period of the SSO. This is the date at which the RO stops being able to require the offender to attend activities (even if the maximum number of days has not been reached). The RAR therefore differs to unpaid work, where if the hours set by the court have not been completed within 12 months, the order automatically extends until they have been completed. The RO has the ability to complete the activity element of the RAR at any point before the end of the order.

An activity day is not defined in legislation, but it does not mean 24 hours of activity. Therefore, if an offender attends to an activity at 11.00am for 1 hour and then again at 2.00pm on the same day for 30 minutes then it counts as one day. If the offender attends on one day for an activity of 1 hour and then next day for an activity lasting 45 minutes then this counts as two activity days. The number of maximum days of activity set by the court cannot be exceeded.

Appointments and Activities

The RAR can be used for both the delivery of 1-2-1 supervision appointments and activities as required. In contrast to Specified Activity Requirements there are no set number of appointments that can be made by the Court. The RO can instruct the offender to attend appointments either with the RO or with someone else nominated by the RO. The RO still has the length of the CO or SSO supervision period to continue to supervise the offender by way of appointments if they so wish. This means that an offender can complete their activity days and still be required to keep appointments with their officer. It is therefore important that officers ensure that the content of the activities, the reporting requirements for these activities and supervision appointments are clearly recorded in the plan and understood by the offender.

The range of activities that may be included in the RAR is broad and the flexibility afforded by the requirement allows for innovative interventions to be delivered however they must be focused on rehabilitation. They can fulfil other purposes in addition to this – for example reparation or restorative justice. Whilst a RAR can include the delivery of an accredited offending behaviour programme. If the information regarding suitability is available at the pre-sentence stage it would be regarded good practice to provide this to sentencers. This will give the opportunity for the Court to specifically include a particular Accredited Programme as part of the CO / SSO.

A RAR should not be used to deliver any other requirements available under a CO / SSO – for example, drug treatment or unpaid work. This is because these requirements have particular safeguards associated with them that the RAR does not provide for. For example, the treatment requirements available under a CO / SSO require the offender’s consent, and the unpaid work requirement has safeguards with regards to the offender’s suitability.

The range and availability of local interventions on offer will be regularly communicated by local CRCs to NPS staff and sentencers. The nature of this communication will vary depending upon the CRC.

Friday 30 January 2015

Grayling on the Ropes

Thank goodness for Channel 4 news! Last night's special highlighting the on-going crisis in our prisons was absolutely brilliant and it was pure magic to see the hapless Michael Spurr get a damned-good mauling having been thrown to the lions by Chris Grayling:- 

Prisoners on Instagram reveal security crisis behind bars

Highlighting a lack of security, UK prisoners are brazenly uploading pictures of drugs, cash and even a dangerous weapon on their illegal social media accounts, a Channel 4 News investigation finds. Channel 4 News has uncovered a cache of pictures and videos posted to password protected social media sites by prisoners. The images obtained reveal contraband, violence, a weapon, piles of cash and alleged drug dealing.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice revealed that serious assaults in prisons in England and Wales had reached a 10-year high. In the year to September 2014 there were 1,958 assaults including 431 against staff. In 2013 the number of mobile phones retrieved by prison staff was 7,451 - despite the fact that prisoners found with smart phones can have up to two years added to their sentence.

According figures from the Ministry of Justice, the number of drug seizures in prisons has significantly increased. In the year to the end of March 2011, there were 3,700 drug seizures - this had risen to nearly 4,500 in 2013-14. So why isn't more being done to tackle the problem? Union leaders blame the cuts.

Peter McFarlin, chairman of the prison officers association (POA), told Channel 4 News that security operations in UK prisons have become "impossible" due to lack of staff: "It's extremely disheartening for professional prison staff, but they need resources to be able to combat that sort of activity. Since 2010, 7,500 frontline operational prison staff have left the service, 3,500 in one calendar year to 2014 - that means that targeted searching is not taking place, basic searching is not taking place, intelligence-led operations are going to be impossible to perform within the prison as they were in the past."

While unions complain of a shortage of staff, Channel 4 News also heard that the wrong sort of staff were part of the problem. A recently released former prisoner who blogs about criminal justice under the alias Alex Cavendish, identified prison officers and staff as the main way that contraband was getting in: 

"prisons are awash with drugs both legal (legal highs) and illegal. The main way that they come into prisons is through staff. The amount that prisoners or visitors can smuggle in is minute compared to the amount that is available on the prison wing. Corrupt staff play a role in this, whether uniformed staff or civilian staff such as people in education or maintenance.”

Channel 4 News also accessed still images and video of prisoners with cash: a breach of rules that ban prisoners from retaining physical currency.

Former prisoner-turned-blogger Alex Cavendish told Channel 4 News he had witnessed vulnerable officers being targeted to supply contraband by prisoners who blackmailed them using personal data they had uncovered via the internet. When pressed on why he had never reported anything, he said prisoners who do are in a "vulnerable position".

In 2006 a leaked prison service report estimated up to 1,000 corrupt staff may be involved in smuggling. According to 2011 Ministry of Justice figures given to Channel 4 News, in the three preceeding years 92 prison staff had been dismissed, 78 convicted, and 167 staff who work for other agencies within the prison service had been excluded from such work.

Lock knife seen in a prison cell

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and even the MoJ spin-doctors will find it hard putting up a smokescreen in response to all the prisoner Instagram pics Channel 4 managed to unearth. No wonder Grayling decided not to show up. 

The situation in prisons is getting dire and Chris Grayling's position is rapidly becoming untenable as all his chickens come home to roost. To put the tin hat on things, Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick could barely contain his glee and obviously delighted in rubbing salt into his bosses wounds by stating he intended to 'carry on telling it as it is whilst-ever he's still in post'. Of course we know that won't be for much longer, Grayling having already given him his marching orders for being rather too thorough an HMI.

As if this wasn't bad enough, there were times in the past when a story like this would lead to a Minister doing the honourable thing and resign:-

Data from death inquiries lost by Ministry of Justice

Discs containing information from three of the UK's most sensitive inquiries have gone missing after being put in the post. The material relates to inquiries into the role of the police in the deaths of three men, Mark Duggan, Azelle Rodney and Robert Hamill.

Officials realised the discs were missing three weeks ago and one member of staff has since been suspended. The government said it took the loss "extremely seriously".

Two of the investigations in question relate to fatal police shootings of crime suspects in London - an inquest into the death of Mark Duggan in 2011 and an inquiry into the death of Azelle Rodney in 2005.

The third is an inquest into the 1997 murder of Robert Hamill by loyalists in Portadown, Northern Ireland, which campaigners claim involved the collusion of police officers. In each inquiry there were witnesses, including police officers, who were given anonymity because of possible threats to their safety. Officials have not confirmed whether any of the missing documents included personal information relating to these witnesses.

Thursday 29 January 2015

What Happened to Goodwill?

Here's a good example of the new wonderful command and control world of NPS. I seem to remember all this kind of stuff got dealt with satisfactorily before under the general aegis of 'goodwill', not diktat:-  


1 All NPS employees have a contractual obligation to attend for duty at their place of work at the appointed time for the full period of contracted hours. However, it is recognised that staff may at times experience severe difficulties getting to and from work as a result of adverse weather conditions or disruption to travel services. In these circumstances, staff are expected to make all reasonable attempts to attend work, even if this means they arrive late.

2 Managers are required to ensure that robust plans are in place to ensure that essential services are maintained in the event of any disruption that means staff are unable to get into work.

3 Where staff are unable to attend their normal work location, they should attend at the nearest office to their home address. If staff are unable to get into work, they must inform their Line Manager, or in their absence another Manager, if they are delayed or unable to attend for duty. Failure to inform your Line Manager may count as unauthorised absence. Staff may choose to attend at a location nearer to their home or can apply to take time off as Annual Leave.

4 Where severe weather continues, or major travel disruption develop during the working day, then, subject to essential services being maintained, Managers should allow staff to go home early. Where necessary, arrangements may be made for essential staff to be accommodated near work at the organisation’s expense. NOMS / NPS will reimburse extra expenditure which staff have reasonable incurred because of travel disruption.

5 In circumstances where extreme weather conditions prevent staff from attending work because their normal care responsibilities break down, eg, schools or care centres unexpectedly close, in these circumstances, staff must make reasonable efforts to make alternative arrangements. Where this is not possible and the staff member cannot attend work, they may be eligible for special leave.

Trouble in Court

I suspect it's not just in London that TR has created chaos in courts, with yet more to come as the Offender Rehabilitation Act comes into force. Because the issues are likely to be common throughout England and Wales, practitioners and general readers might be interested in the latest communication from Greater London Napo chair Pat Waterman and in particular the section dealing with courts:-

Following a brief discussion at the monthly meeting with Senior Management on 13th January 2015 we were invited to prepare a paper outlining our concerns. In the week preceding this meeting it was brought to our attention that an individual was being asked to write directly to a judge to explain why her report had not been submitted the requisite two days in advance of the hearing date. We took the view that this was not an appropriate request and that the issue should be dealt with through the normal management channels.

Senior Management intervened and the particular issue was resolved. But it subsequently came to our attention that the possibility and/or threat of a report author being personally summonsed to court to explain themselves was prevalent in a number of Crown Courts in the London area.

Whereas we understand the need for reports to be submitted in a timely manner, and the responsibilities of an individual officer, we are of the view that such threats are unhelpful and an unnecessary cause of stress. Poor performance can be dealt with through the normal management processes but the courts need to be made aware of the pressures our members are working under. The late submission may be as a consequence of staff shortages, inadequate facilities for interviewing or administrative error. These need to be taken into account before an individual is summonsed to account for themselves in a public arena.

We subsequently discovered that there is a wide variety in practice across the courts in London and became quite concerned about this especially as we started to discover that courts were being ranked and staff being told to improve without seemingly any regard to resource issues.

To prepare this paper an email was sent to all members asking the following questions:
• Are the resources at your court sufficient for the tasks you are now being asked to do? If not then please elaborate. Take into consideration facilities such as interview space as well as staffing.
• Are there clear role boundaries between PO tasks, PSO tasks and Administrator tasks? Describe what is required of each grade of staff at your court as we have reason to think that there are disparities in practice across London Courts. In your opinion to what extent do you think that the practices being adopted are being done for reasons of expediency?
• What Training/briefing has been provided, or have you participated in, to deliver the new provision of the Rehabilitation Activity Requirements (RAR) under the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 which will provide for supervision of those serving sentences of less than 12 months. This is due to come into effect on 1st February.
Here are some of the responses:

Receptionist was removed last year so admin team now have to cover that duty, as well as own work. 

Reception shared with SOTU so court staff covers their reception tasks as well by virtue of the co-location.

One of our three Case Administrators is on long term sick leave so admin staff, including the borough senior CA, have been coming in on Saturdays to try to deal with the backlog of work.

One of our four PSO’s is on long term sick leave. An agreement was made with the local SPO that as a result of staff shortages oral reports could not be done

BASS referrals are simply not being done due to staff sickness.

In a busy court team in central London there are 2.5 PO vacancies of a complement of 4.5.

Lack of interview space at court due to increased demand for fast-delivery on the day reports prepared at court.

Lack of access to CPS papers is a real problem and continues to be so. Electronic working has meant CPS are more likely to access the info they need to give facts to the court in hearings, but they then cannot pass this on to us like they could paper copies. It must be requested using the formal procedure which can take some time.

Since RSR and CAS were brought in we have gone down from a 3 FDR maximum per day to 2 maximum per day.

Access to Delius and OASys records can still be an issue post-split. We are often asked to check people's compliance on current or recent orders, and need access to full Delius and OASys records to make sure we give an accurate picture.

As a PO I cover our dedicated domestic violence court, and at times cannot access PSRs prepared for the hearing - once an assessment and report is completed and locked by an NPS PO in OASys, it sometimes reverts to the control of the CRC. This then means NPS court staff cannot access the assessment and print off the report. A request for access takes time to process

Trying to get information from either the CRC or the CPS adds to the stress of court work especially when report writers are now working to tighter deadlines and under more pressure.

Our resources are utterly inadequate. Delius is constantly changing for the worse particularly in relation to CAT/RSR tasks.

Additional CAT/RSR tasks take a minimum of twenty five minutes and usually much longer. No workload account has been taken of this.

I am concerned about what weightings will be given to my work given the extra tasks and the problems we are experiencing.

The demands now being placed onto all the administrative staff are overwhelming.

Agency admin staff can often be absent which in turn piles more pressure on everyone.

Administrators in an OMU team are being asked to assist with overspill of work from the Court team. This in turn puts pressure on the OM teams

The Court office, where the administrators are based, is busy with people knocking on the office door for appointment queries etc which makes it difficult to concentrate

PSR requests that are now filtered through to the admin staff in the OMU, and then onto the designated PO to write, are being processed in the court without the correct information. This causes further work for those in OM teams. 

Greater clarity is required as to suitability for Oral report and what an Oral report actually is.

PSOs in court are expected to offer information/advice on the spot that leads to sentencing and then try to log this on DELIUS as an Oral report - now sometimes needing RSR and CAS too. Again this is an issue when short-staffed and one main reason why Oral Report completions may have fallen.

Role boundaries seem to be going all over the place. With regards to reports there is some confusion over what are PO/PSO/CA roles particularly in relation to the ever proliferating paperwork involved in report preparation. Practice varies between courts.

We are having a local one-hour briefing on ORA. There are two on offer in the week leading up to the 1st February. Those who cannot attend will be given a two page handout.

A one page handout has been provided about RAR

Our court team had a "briefing" given by the SPO. Staff were given a 96 page booklet to read, with no working time set aside to do so, but even in a glance at the briefing a number of errors were noted.

SPO stated that "there has been no guidance from the centre" and court lead ACOs and SPOs have been organising meetings on their own initiative to try to come up with processes and guidance for staff.

The briefing generated more questions than answers.

RAR is very unclear as to how it will work in practice. The main concern is the staffing implications and this is another area of uncertainty. The briefing and manual made no mention of RSR/CAS, but it appears that any one with a sentence of over 1 day needs to be allocated to CRC or NPS and potentially with reporting instructions.

We were told there will be "train the trainer" training sometime in February, and SPOCs in each borough will then train staff. SPOCs have not yet been identified. This training is obviously after the proposed start date for “Through the Gate”.

Lawyers, Court Clerks and Benches also appear to be in the dark about imminent changes and may be looking to the probation staff in court for answers which we are not equipped to give. Some seemed to think that the changes were not in fact coming into play on 1st Feb, and none have been briefed.

Serco staff working in the cells were not aware of the changes and possible impact on them at all - this is concerning as they will be pivotal in distributing licences to those released on the same day, and we will need more access to prisoners in the custody suite post-sentence to do RSR/CAS assessments or give reporting instructions, potentially late in the day.

It is unlikely that custody staff will be willing to wait in order for us to interview in the afternoon. 

There is also an issue re interviewing space where it is also used by solicitors/drug teams/mental health teams.

There is regularly a queue for interview space.


The responses speak for themselves and confirm what we suspected.

The splitting of the Probation Service into two separate organisations put pressure on our members in courts who were tasked with assessing risk and ensuring that cases were allocated correctly. Inadequate resources were provided for these additional tasks and this has resulted in additional work for our members. In some cases the stress involved has had an adverse effect on members’ health. Many courts report staff shortages and lack of resources to do the tasks that they are being asked.

We ask that management recognise this and, while seeking solutions to ameliorate the problem of lack of resources, pay due regard to the pressures that our members are working under. Threats are unhelpful in this situation as may be seeking to compare one court with another.

There is a need for clarity with regard to role boundaries. Too often it seems as if tasks are being completed on the basis of which staff are available rather than which staff are appropriate. Such practices cannot be allowed to continue.

As members at court are being asked to do more tasks, concerns were also raised about the facilities available to enable them to do so. It would appear that not all courts have enough space to enable members to conduct interviews safely and appropriately.

Preparation for the changes due to be implemented on 1st February have been woefully inadequate. Our members are greatly concerned and worried about being placed in invidious positions in open court. Such matters need to be addressed as a matter of urgency by Senior Management.

We are aware that some of the problems are not of the making of the Senior Management Team of the NPS in London. Nevertheless, local management must take responsibility for local implementation and for the welfare of staff.

We would be willing to meet with local management to discuss how, within the national strictures and instructions, court work practices can be developed to ensure the welfare and well being of our members.

Pat Waterman
Branch Chair
Greater London Branch NAPO

Finally, I've also become aware of this request from the Guardian through Napo HQ:-  
28th January 2015 
Dear Colleague 
Guardian feature on Probation staff morale – Urgent request for members to take part 
We have been contacted by a journalist, Tamsin Rutter, who works for the Guardian Public Leaders Network - - and who is planning a feature about TR and the impact it is having on probation staff. 
She would like to talk to Napo members about the impact on staff such as morale, workloads and other personal testimonies and is happy for this to be on an anonymous basis and in confidence. 
If you or any members of your branch would be willing to talk to Tamsin could you let me know by Wednesday 4 February and I will either pass the contact details on to her or give the member her details so they can contact her direct (whichever is preferred). It would be useful to know if the member is in a CRC or the NPS and which area they are from, just so we can make sure she is speaking to a mixture of people. 
Email me on or contact Kath Falcon – tel. 020 7362 9981.

Best wishes,
Tania Bassett

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Sociopath in Charge?

I saw the following comment on twitter the other day and it certainly makes you think:-
Extremely, extremely worrying... It is the deepest irony that a sociopath has ended up in charge of our prisons.

With only days before privateers fully take over the majority of the probation service and the Offender Rehabilitation Act comes into force, chaos continues to reign in every part of Chris Graylings empire. I note Napo have recently written to Dame Ursula Brennan at the MoJ in the following terms:- 
Last Friday, we had a meeting of the Probation Consultative Forum (NOMS/NPS and the unions). This is a regular meeting chaired by Colin Allars at which we raised the issue of the implementation of the two new significant sentencing elements, namely a new Community Order requirement known as the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement which replaces the existing Supervision Requirement. It is very different and in essence is aimed at freeing up the way the new (outsourced) CRC's provide supervision. 
The other new sentencing element is that which effectively introduces post-custody supervision for those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody. Both of these provisions are scheduled to come into force on the 1st February. As at last week a Commencement Order has yet to be laid and we were told that you in your role as Permanent Under-Secretary will decide, in effect, whether the Department are ready to go with this regime sometime between now and 1st February. 
It appears to us that these provisions are not ready to run but that the MOJ are under pressure to meet this deadline because the Department have always insisted that the plan was on track; indeed the Departments own evidence to the High Court to this effect said this in support of the rebuttal of Napo’s JR application.  Given the above we are obliged to make the following observations:
• Despite being told by Colin Allars at the PCF that training for magistrates and judges was 'under way' we are deeply sceptical of this being so. One of our members at the meeting on Friday pm, who is also a magistrate, certainly had not received any training.
• We were assured that the IT (case management systems etc.) were ready to record these new ‘orders of the court’. Again we cannot prove that this is not so, but again we are deeply sceptical. 
• These new ‘orders of the court’ also require some actual paperwork (forms) to be available in courts. Has this been implemented?  
• It is evident from preliminary discussions with some of the new CRC owners that they do not have a clue about how these new provisions will operate. 
• What we are certain about is that Probation staff (both NPS & CRCs) are not ready to operate these new provisions, nor are the (NPS) ready to propose them in reports to the Court; this latter point is very important since this could all happen in courts around the country on February 2nd – offences having been committed the day before – the first day when the new provisions would be applicable to offences committed.  
• At last Friday's PCF we were told the training guidance was still ‘being finalised’. We are aware that training is planned but there is no way that all staff around the country will be trained before February 2nd. What we believe will happen, from the 2nd onwards, and increasingly as that week progresses, is that perplexed sentencers and court clerks (presupposing they have had any training in the RAR) will look to Probation for advice over these provisions and Probation staff may well be unable to offer assistance. As you might have expected, we registered our concern that implementation on February 1st of these provisions would be highly risky and likely to cause chaos. This was duly noted but we now wait to see what will happen next. we raised this issue in general terms at yesterday's meeting of the TRCF but were assured that everything was in hand.
The HMI report on Sodexo-run HMP Northumberland proved as damning as expected and Frances Crook of the Howard League had this to say:-
Northumberland prison: A ‘national resource’ that is failing miserably 
“Northumberland prison is supposed to be a ‘national resource’ to help turn around the lives of indeterminate-sentenced prisoners and those serving time for sex offences. But this report shows it is failing miserably. This is a prison where prisoners get drugs and alcohol easily but find support and preparation for release harder to come by. The number of assaults is high and rising, and inspectors found some prisoners had sought sanctuary in the segregation unit because they felt unsafe. We have become used to reading critical reports on overcrowded public-sector prisons which have seen deep cuts to staff and resources. Northumberland is neither publicly run nor overcrowded. What is Sodexo’s excuse? It is extremely worrying that Sodexo runs the prison with so many problems and has also been handed the contract to run community sentences from next month. This is another example of the shambles created by the privatisation of prisons.”
Chronic staff shortages in the Prison Service, largely brought about by Chris Grayling, suddenly leads to the closure of well-performing HMP Blantyre House and the Prison Governors Association are furious:-
The Prison Governors' Association (PGA) is surprised to learn this morning that NOMS are to temporarily close HMP Blantyre House in Kent. The PGA has not been consulted on this decision and it leaves us with some major concerns as to the under-usage of the capacity within the open estate. We are led to believe that this decision has been borne out of the inability to recruit enough prison officers into some of the prisons in the South of England, and in particular the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, which has been widely reported by most media outlets.NOMS have previously stated there would be no further prison closures in this Parliament and therefore the PGA will seek assurances that this is just a temporary measure and there are no further planned temporary or permanent prison closures.
Meanwhile the Justice Secretary continues to desperately try and shift any responsibility for creating dangerous chaos within the prison estate. He recently gave a speech blaming the increase in violence and suicides on drugs of all kinds, as outlined here in the Guardian:-
Legal highs and prescription drugs face ban in English and Welsh prisons
The justice secretary will be able to ban any legal drug inside prisons, including prescription drugs and “legal highs”, under a crackdown to start this week. Chris Grayling linked the rising use of “legal highs” behind bars to more cases of assault and self-harm in jails in England and Wales. In a speech at the Centre for Social Justice thinktank on Monday, he said: “We will take a zero-tolerance approach to stamping out their use.”
The move came as Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone asked MPs on Monday to back the banning of two new psychoactive substances used as legal highs. They are the drug 4,4’-DMAR, known as Serotoni – which has been linked to 37 deaths in the UK, mostly in Northern Ireland – and MT-45, a synthetic opioid not currently available in Britain but linked to deaths in Europe and the US. 
The Ministry of Justice is to send guidance to prison governors on Tuesday, requiring them to extend their mandatory drug testing to uncontrolled substances. Those who fail the drug tests can face a range of penalties, including prosecution, up to 42 days added on to their sentence, segregation in their cells for up to 21 days, strictly no contact with visitors – known as “closed visits” – and forfeiting their weekly prison earnings for up to 12 weeks.
I'll end this roundup of bits and pieces with two worrying stories that should concern us all, first a press release by NCIA making it plain that as charities take over yet more public services, they are being effectively muzzled:-      
Charities told to keep quiet or lose government contracts
New research reveals that charities and other voluntary groups are often absent from campaigns to tackle the root causes of poverty. A report released today shows that voluntary groups, especially those under contract to government, face threats to remain silent about their experiences and many are fearful to speak out in case they lose their funding or face other sanctions.

The findings show a climate of fear and threats to free speech. They follow on the tails of a Charity Commission investigation into Oxfam after the charity warned of the “relentless rise of food poverty” in the UK. The Commission's investigation was instigated after a complaint against Oxfam by Tory MP, Conor Burns. It adds to fears raised by the ex-Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, who said this week that charities and campaign groups have been "frightened" into curtailing their public work by the new Lobbying Act.
The report, Voluntary Services and Campaigning in Austerity UK: Saying Less and Doing More, is written by Dr Mike Aiken, a specialist in the voluntary sector and is published by the National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA), a network of people working in the voluntary sector. The NCIA report states that “voluntary services are confronted by implicit, or explicit, pressures to ‘say less and do more’; they face gagging clauses in contracts which threaten to stop them advocating and campaigning; the provisions in the so-called Lobbying Act, passed in January 2014, create an atmosphere in which it is difficult to speak out”. The research highlights the attempts to muzzle charities and shows who is refusing to stay silent:
  • A voluntary organisation engaged in welfare services faced “subtle and menacing” bullying on more than one occasion from significant political figures to “do” and not “say”’
  • Voluntary groups under contract can be obliged to keep information or observations secret even when insights from their day-to-day work might help improve the service or conditions for local communities and individuals facing poverty and destitution.
  • Charities which undertake significant government contracting work devote few funds to campaigning. In the case of Shelter this appeared to be less than 10% of its income.
  • Despite attempts to silence voluntary groups, some still speak out (eg Trussell Trust), refuse to take government money (eg. World Development Movement) and join with campaigners to right wrongs (eg. Keep Volunteering Voluntary, a campaign against workfare). One such charity speaks plainly: “it is a democratic country...we are saying what we see…we have evidence…it’s is about being courageous and speaking out…. so you can put things right” 
The report suggests that the situation for charities is getting worse just at the point when it needs to get better - in order to give a voice to those most affected by austerity. It notes that the injunction to silence the knowledgeable voluntary organisation from talking about its experiences would be quite at home in any totalitarian regime that seeks to crush independent or divergent voices. The report concludes that funding can, and does, act as a brake on the ability to campaign and asks: if the campaigning role is stifled who will provide the evidence to those in positions of power to effect changes; and who will support disadvantaged communities to have their own voice? It predicts that if this trend continues voluntary organisations look set to be ‘saying less’ in austerity UK.
Finally, I had no idea the benefit sanctions saga is becoming quite serious, as discussed here on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website:-
Benefit sanctions: Britain's secret penal system

Few people know that the number of financial penalties (‘sanctions’) imposed on benefit claimants by the Department of Work and Pensions now exceeds the number of fines imposed by the courts. In Great Britain in 2013, there were 1,046,398 sanctions on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, 32,128 on Employment and Support Allowance claimants, and approximately 44,000 on lone parent recipients of Income Support. By contrast, Magistrates’ and Sheriff courts imposed a total of only 849,000 fines.
Sanctioned benefit claimants are treated much worse than those fined in the courts. The scale of penalties is more severe (£286.80 - £11,185.20 compared to £200 - £10,000). Most sanctions are applied to poor people and involve total loss of benefit income. Although there is a system of discretionary ‘hardship payments’, claimants are often reduced to hunger and destitution by the ban on application for the first two weeks and by lack of information about the payments and the complexity of the application process. The hardship payment system itself is designed to clean people out of resources; all savings or other sources of assistance must be used up before help is given.
Decisions on guilt are made in secret by officials who have no independent responsibility to act lawfully; since the Social Security Act 1998 they have been mere agents of the Secretary of State. These officials are currently subject to constant management pressure to maximise penalties, and as in any secret system there is a lot of error, misconduct, dishonesty and abuse. The claimant is not present when the decision on guilt is made and is not legally represented. While offenders processed in the court system cannot be punished before a hearing, and if fined are given time to pay, the claimant’s punishment is applied immediately. Unlike a magistrate or sheriff, the official deciding the case does not vary the penalty in the light of its likely impact on them or their family. If the claimant gets a hearing (and even before the new system of ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ only 3 per cent of sanctioned claimants were doing so), then it is months later, when the damage has been done. ‘Mandatory reconsideration’, introduced in October 2013, denies access to an independent Tribunal until the claimant has been rung up at home twice and forced to discuss their case with a DWP official in the absence of any adviser – a system which is open to abuse and has caused a collapse in cases going to Tribunal.
‘Sanctions’ are almost entirely a development of the last 25 years. The British political class has come to believe that benefit claimants must be punished to make them look for work in ways the state thinks are a good idea. Yet the evidence to justify this does not exist. A handful of academic papers, mostly from overseas regimes with milder sanctions, suggest that sanctions may produce small positive effects on employment. But other research shows that their main effect is to drive people off benefits but not into work, and that where they do raise employment, they push people into low quality, unsustainable jobs. This research, and a torrent of evidence from Britain’s voluntary sector, also shows a wide range of adverse effects. Sanctions undermine physical and mental health, cause hardship for family and friends, damage relationships, create homelessness and drive people to Food Banks and payday lenders, and to crime. They also often make it harder to look for work. Taking these negatives into account, they cannot be justified.
Benefit sanctions are an amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system, but lacks its safeguards. It is time for everyone concerned for the rights of the citizen to demand their abolition.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Guest Blog 19

OK, I've gotten around to it. I am a former Client, the same former Client who has, in the past, forced Jim to adopt moderation to his comments due to admittedly occasional offensive remarks, so I expect most of you to be reading this with a certain predisposition towards me. I do seem to have developed a certain hatred towards the Probation Service and several individual Probation persons in particular, so here it is, maybe a little rambling and repetitive in places and without recourse to offensive and abusive language...

I was convicted of Exposure charges towards adult Women, I fully accept that what I did was wrong, offensive and abusive, the potential full effect of my actions I'm never likely to know, but they disliked my offending so much as to involve the Police and there is a possibility that I could have caused a great deal of psychological abuse towards those whom I offended. For this I am very apologetic and if I could do anything feasible to help them I would do so. Even if I do say so myself, I was well aware at the time of the offence to the reasons as to why I was offending. There was no intervention that ever needed to attempt to explain any of that to me. I was not given a Custodial sentence but was given a period of time of supervision and ordered to attend a Sex Offender Treatment Programme.

Anything to do with Sex Offending is of course likely to stir up negative emotions in many, Sexual activity is, to the vast majority, considered private and precious, only to be to be engaged within the most intimate of relationships with significant others. Any attempt to explain why these offences occur are likely to attract the comments of those claiming them to be "Sex Offender apologists", I am not going to apologise for anybody's offending except my own and neither do I have any reputation or career to protect, I am here to express my opinions on what I have experienced. This is my attempt to exorcise some of the grief I feel towards those who personally see fit to implement and enforce these Programmes and explain how participating in an SOTP has left me with continued feelings of offence and abuse, been a major contribution to my development of a personality disorder and to try to explain why and where I believe, from my side of the argument, with little other than my own observations to back my own opinions up, that you are implementing an intervention with a high likelihood of causing not only what it attempts to prevent: reoffending, but also more subtle abuses with potential lasting damaging effects on those who have attended these Programmes.

I am not going to attempt to minimise anyone's Sexual Offending, but there are quite clearly different categories of offences and if any public survey was conducted I strongly feel that we could all come to a similar conclusion about which we would each consider to be of a general higher severity than others. I shall directly contradict the reason that was given to me by a Group Manager for putting all offences together in the same group programme: Offenders have the same reasons for committing their Offences. Incorrect. Everybody has a different etiology and everybody should be "treated" differently in an individualised setting. The levels and types of punishment are different for each offence, therefore it follows that the levels and types of "treatment" should also be different for each individual offence. 

When challenged on this or in fact anything to do with the standard of treatment the party line would appear to be "lack of resources" what does that mean I wonder? Not enough pens and pencils? Or not enough strong persons in your service who can clearly see state sanctioned malpractice taking place and are more than happy to uphold senior directions and never challenge their Bosses? The Facilitators and Group Managers clearly do not care for the mental well being of the Client. The Facilitators and Managers are clearly not the correct persons to be providing any sort of assistance to the Client, yet whatever I say does not make the slightest difference, they shall continue to do anything they are told to do, provided they are paid for it.

I can manage to prevent myself from re-offending, don't try to suggest to me that I can prevent someone else from doing so, as much as it is a fine idea, I do not have that ability, I am not a Councillor, Therapist, Psychologist or Psychiatrist. In particular, interests in Children for sexual purposes is apparently a disposition that people are born with, why was I being asked to challenge their beliefs? I have no training whatsoever in dealing with such persons or views. I have no want to speak, or associate, or be challenged about my Offending by them either. I do not wish to invite them into my life. Why do Probation personnel believe that this is a valid and workable way to approach working with Sex Offenders? Do they believe that what they are doing is in some way a fantastic intervention? Do Facilitators and Group Managers have an equanimous mindset on their approach to this work they are making a living out of? Do they not take their work seriously? If you are involved in SOTP and I know some of you are, then please detail your reasons in the comments below...

The idea being that the Facilitators only facilitate the conversation, they introduce a topic and set the conversation going with an intention of getting these Clients to confront each other about their own understandings on the matters, so you have the manipulative persons questioning the more impressionable persons and the Facilitators assessing you by means your of response and body language. Unfortunately if innocently playing Devil's advocate this is likely to be interpreted as your own personal view on the matter. The whole idea of putting Sex Offenders, some of whom have been through custody, displaying highly manipulative traits and are responsible for some of the most higher-end Sexual Offences into the same room as young, impressionable Men who are responsible for some of the more lower-end Sexual Offences is entirely wrong for the exact reasons those who uphold and implement it, have conviction in believing it to be the correct thing to do.

I vividly recall listening to one offender explaining how he, as a Teacher, molested young Boys, I did not have any training or preparation for listening to such a story, I am not interested in any detailed explanations as to why he did what he did, of course at the end we are supposed and invited to challenge on as to why he did such a thing. I was not in any way comfortable being there listening to that, being asked to challenge that. I can only guess as to what the young Man who had previously been abused by a Teacher had to think of it. It is quite a disgusting thing to make a career out of, how do Facilitators of these groups right what they do with themselves? A great deal of positive delusion must take place in the thought processes of such people, they must be unconcerned as to the damaging effects that they enforce, either they do not care, they do not see the potential for harm or they are convinced that they are doing it for the greater good and I suppose they are, the Facilitators and Managers of such groups are the main beneficiary's as they receive a wage for their attendance.

I am at a loss as to why thousands of pounds are spent putting Offenders through this intervention, it does not make any sense in either an economic stand point or as real beneficial treatment for the individuals concerned. I can only see it as a huge waste of time and money.

Nobody is assessed as to whether they are suitable for the SOTP, the pre work that is undertaken does not address any existing mental health issues, levels of deviousness or amount of potential learning that may be achieved by completing the course.

I would like to believe that those Facilitators were genuinely interested in promoting effective change, however the content of the sessions and my perception of the attitude of most of them led me to think differently... Perhaps they hold unresolved, deep seated resentment, perhaps they had been treated badly in previous relationships, or even abused themselves. Putting themselves into this position acts as a form of revenge or soothing for them, they are covert Sexists. Or perhaps naive attempts to help Offenders? There are undoubtedly those in society who feel that they are to be a Hero and that their own personal intervention can inspire positive change in peoples lives for the better, they shall of course receive the highest prizes for being the person responsible for any perceived positive outcomes...

The voyeuristic nature of Facilitators, under a shroud of caring, confidence tricksters, experience junkies... barbed sentences with multiple interpretations easily explained away in the event of a complaint as incorrect or paranoiac on the part of the Offender, double talk is rife amongst Facilitators. Continuous blaming of "Lack of resources" I would suggest that perhaps to those delivering such things that the lack of resource is a little closer to home than they are ever likely to comprehend.

Amateur attempts to break you down to build you up, challenge perceived cognitive distortions and if none are readily apparent, invent some to challenge...

There is little doubt that some Probation personnel may know who is writing this. I'm unconcerned, maybe they are too. I am just another one of the many faces that they have had through their doors and, if anything, this should be considered a part of my supervision, it should be a positive that I am choosing to use Jim's outlet to express my feeling and concern, especially seeing as, there is no real outlet to do so through official Probation channels.

As for the future well I am now talking to real people with real holistic natures who can respond to what I say without a guarded stance or barbed bitchiness or being interrupted by Joe Sex Offender.

Perhaps this blog will help a few more of you see the light and leave the Service, I'm sure many of you are decent enough people, it's a great shame that you are not allowed to demonstrate it in your day to day working. I could no doubt do the job of Probation Officer, attain the required qualifications and be equanimous towards my own better judgement and delude myself with the brand of wishy-washy corporate Zen that would appear to go hand in hand with institutionalised abuse... You can bring yourself to do anything if you do not care less... I quite simply wouldn't though.

I myself caused an amount of harm to some Women who survived my abusing, I deserved to be punished for doing that. There are ways and means of punishing and rehabilitating people, unfortunately SOTP is in no way the correct method to go about doing it, it in itself is undoubtedly at least in part responsible for numerous SFO's.

If you don't know what you are supposed to be doing anymore then I'd suggest you are maybe a little slow on the uptake, everyone, and I mean everyone who leaves an SOTP session and goes outside onto the street are united in one thing and one thing only: what a crock the entire thing is.

Best wishes, Anonymous Client 1...