Saturday 31 October 2015

Need to Get a Grip on Tagging

For some time there's been a widespread belief that the MoJ see the answer to the growing prison over-crowding problem is to massively expand the use of electronic tagging, made possible by the next generation of GPS-based equipment. Unfortunately, due to the woefully inept contract design skills at NOMS, it's all gone horribly wrong. The current situation is explained in some detail here on the Probation Institute website:-   

Electronic monitoring: calling all CRCs

By Prof Mike Nellis, Emiterus Professor of Law at the University of Strathclyde. New futures for the Probation Service and electronic monitoring (EM) were envisaged in the Ministry of Justice’s 2012 consultation paper, Punishment and Reform – downgrading the former, upgrading the latter – as part of the wider Transforming Rehabilitation agenda.

While the transformation of the Service – the creation of 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies and the reconfiguration of a state-based National Probation Service – has proceeded apace, the anticipated large-scale expansion of EM, due to begin in late 2014, appears to have foundered, and a start-date postponed to mid-2016.

This is not bad news, because much is wrong with the Ministry’s approach. The means by which the CRC’s nationwide were to access the array of modern EM technologies – radio frequency (for curfews), GPS (for tracking), and emulate the London pilots of transdermal alcohol monitoring, and kiosk monitoring (for office reporting) – have never been clear, and no models of good practice have been offered.

Both the design and procurement of the Ministry’s third EM contract has been severely criticised for its lack of responsiveness to local criminal justice agencies’ needs by free market think tanks Policy Exchange and Reform, who are otherwise in the same political ballpark as the government.

There is an urgent need for more open debate on the place of EM in offender management in which probation voices are better heard, and these are interesting times in which to undertake that. In February 2014, the Council of Europe (2014), belatedly recognising that EM was an established and evolving feature of many European penal systems, issued a Recommendation delineating a human rights perspective on EM.

Although not addressed solely to probation services – prison services and police forces
also manage EM projects – it is a useful point of reference for probation interests.

The CEP (the European Probation organisation) continues to promote a more integrated model of EM, accepting its utility but aiming always to subordinate its use to probation understandings of ethical and effective practice. Its commitment is sustained by the example on many European countries who manage EM from within modernised public sector probation services, some for almost two decades.

Professor Anthea Hucklesby’s EU-funded, five country (Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, England and Wales) research project on “creativity and effectiveness in EM” will provide much needed insights into the diverse operational realities of EM, and explore its versatility as a penal measure.

Many positive lessons can be learned about EM from abroad, but Scotland and England and Wales themselves make an interesting point of comparison. Scotland has operated an essentially English model of service delivery since 2002, using a single private contractor to deliver a largely stand-alone, curfew model of RF EM, first as a community sentence, later as a form of early release from prison. Its criminal justice social work service, like the Anglo-Welsh Probation Service, mostly stayed aloof from this dubious commercial intrusion into criminal justice, although relationships were never as antagonistic as they became down south.

In 2013 the Scottish Government initiated a public consultation to canvass opinion from all relevant constituencies on the possible future use of GPS technologies with sex offenders, domestic violence perpetrators (and victims) and prolific offenders, as well as the use of transdermal alcohol monitoring, which the police had long wanted to pilot.

Some constituencies were supportive, many were sceptical, but there was a general openness to further exploration. The Scottish Government set up a multi-agency EM Working Party in November 2014, which has brought the right mix of agencies and experts to the table; chances are that future practice will diverge significantly from that emerging in England.

Scottish openness certainly contrasts remarkably with the secrecy surrounding
the Ministry of Justice’s approach in England and Wales (notwithstanding their ongoing
cooperation with Huckleby’s research). The last New Labour government had already planned to move away from a two contractor model (G4S and Serco), and to introduce some GPS tracking alongside the existing RF schemes.

Under the Coalition government the third contract became an unwieldy, multi-contractor arrangement focussed on delivering an all-GPS system, using an as yet to be developed new tag with both GPS and RF capabilities. Public consultation about this, least of all with Probation Trusts as they transitioned into CRCs, but even since, has been zero.

Policy Exchange was a major influence on the Ministry’s ambitious vision, portraying GPS as a vital and timely upgrade from notionally obsolete RF forms of EM, and suggesting 75,000 people per day as a feasible upstream monitoring target. They had however wisely discouraged the Ministry from maintaining the centralised procurement strategy that had prevailed hitherto, favouring commissioning by local agencies, particularly police and probation.

They modelled this on an increasing number of existing Integrated Offender Management schemes which were making creative use of GPS tracking with persistent and prolific offenders, which had grown from the ground up since 2010 outwith the auspices of the Ministry.

The Ministry ignored this advice, bullishly defending the new third contract more in terms of its technological innovativeness and alleged value for money than its demonstrable penal utility. As late as February 2015 the Ministry was rightly criticised by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee for still lacking an evidence-base for its anticipated shift towards mass GPS tracking.

Worldwide, there is now an adequate enough evidence-base for EM, documenting many forms of good and bad practice, and suggestive of yet more. The literature cannot be summarised in five minutes, because the different technologies have different effects in different contexts, related to the support services they are (or are not) embedded in.

It is significant that the Campbell Collaboration, which collates evaluations from around the world and publicises meta-analyses of the effectiveness of particular penal interventions, has yet to produce one on EM (despite two attempts) – and not only because there are still too few studies using the random controlled trial method that the Collaboration favours.

But even methodologically sound evaluations are only as good as the practical penal purposes to which particular forms of EM are put, and if those purposes have been ill-thought out, misconceived, pitched too modestly, or pitched too boldly, evaluations will not reveal all that might be possible, and may prematurely discredit, or overrate, EM’s utility.

Not all EM research has been undertaken with probation interests (or values) in mind, sometimes by academics or think tanks for whom the institutional survival or evolution of the Probation Service is a secondary or marginal matter.

Unless one thinks that anything which serves to reduce offending is (or should be) acceptable to probation, it would be unwise for probation simply to “follow the evidence” on EM, for it is possible in an era of austerity that some uses of it will be deemed cost-effective as a crime-suppressant regardless of their fit with probation values or ethics.

The Scottish Government commissioned a literature review of EM’s effectiveness specifically to aid their thinking about the future of criminal justice social work, not as an end in itself. Gill McIvor and Hannah Graham’s (2015) fine report, grounded in the evidence-based axioms of existing good practice in work with offenders, should become the touchstone of all future British debate on EM. It rightly concludes that EM, properly used, can reduce re-offending and potentially create the kind of community sanctions which effect reductions in the use of custody (if the political will is there to do so).

Most of the available global evidence relates to various uses of RF EM, which penally liberal Scandinavian countries have used particularly well, but there is sufficient American evidence of GPS’s value with sex offenders and in domestic violence contexts to warrant further experimentation in other countries. A cautious review of evidence on alcohol monitoring suggests the same.

Messages from offender perspective research on EM are already familiar: EM-house arrest (especially onerous, full-day versions of it) entails socio-psychological “pains” distinct from those of imprisonment, affects fellow householders in significant ways, and whilst being far from the lenient and undemanding sentence that is sometimes portrayed in the media is usually preferred over imprisonment.

Outside the home the stigma of a visible, wearable ankle bracelet may be intimidating to offenders, and exacerbate difficulties in finding or maintaining employment. Less is certain about the subjective experience of GPS “mobility monitoring”, but some evidence suggests that offenders find it less intrusive than the home confinement entailed by “presence monitoring”, complicating earlier policy assumptions that GPS-based regimes were manifestly higher tariff than RF-based regimes.

Times are changing, perhaps too much. As forms of penal technique, the various EM technologies undoubtedly have the potential to improve some aspects of offender supervision, but not to transform it unless, for purely ideological reasons, government actually wants commercial tech organisations to deliberately marginalise and undermine probation interests.

The old Probation Service made a fatal mistake in not seeking to own EM and operate it themselves: it may not have saved it but it would have shown that the service was alert to the creative affordances of the digital world, and prepared to shoulder responsibility for shaping the way they play out. Paradoxically, the CRCs are currently no more able to integrate EM into offender management than in the days when probation and EM were split between the public and private sectors. In their commitment to all-GPS/no separate RF systems, Policy Exchange and Reform, and the Ministry of Justice itself, go way beyond what the available empirical evidence warrants, but the think tanks, at least, are right to highlight the anomaly of a centralized procurement system which so signally fails to deliver what local criminal justice agencies need from it. The CRCs should demand that this changes soon.


Concern is growing that tagging loads more people is just going to make matters worse. Interestingly, probation don't get a mention in this on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website:-

Can Gove fix criminal justice?

Tuesday, 20 October, 2015

A letter from the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies is published today in The Independent. It calls for a 'whole-society approach' to preventing and reducing harm, rather than prison building and an expansion of electronic monitoring;

David Cameron and Michael Gove are right to call for a transformation in our approach to criminal justice. However, the solutions they offer address the problem from the wrong direction and may lead to an expansion of tagging and prison numbers, all driven in partnership with the private sector.

A whole-society approach should be the starting point. Social and economic conditions are key to preventing and reducing harm. Numerous studies demonstrate that more equal societies with lower levels of poverty and larger welfare states are healthier places and tend to have smaller prison populations.

For too long we have been over reliant on police, courts and prisons as the key mechanism for responding to harm. Victims need a comprehensive and universal social insurance scheme to shield them from the impact of violence and property crime. This would include well-resourced refuges, health and mental health services - all supplemented with direct financial and practical support. At a local and individual level we need to build skills and community solidarity to step in where possible, rather than use the police as the first port of call.

People need to be held accountable through well managed processes that protect both victim and perpetrator. High level police enforcement may be required – but only as a last resort.

The serious starting point for progressive policy lies not in the question, how can we fix criminal justice, but rather how can we transform society.

Rebecca Roberts, Senior Associate, Centre for Crime and Justice Studies

Friday 30 October 2015

Serious Further Offences

This on the BBC website:-

Serious crime by offenders monitored in the community increases

The number of serious crimes committed by violent and sex offenders being monitored after leaving prison has risen more than 28%, figures show. Some 222 offenders under supervision in the community were charged with crimes including murders, manslaughters or sexual offences in 2014/15.

More than 68,000 sexual and violent offenders are under such arrangements. The Ministry of Justice said such reoffending remained rare - but the probation union blamed privatisation.

The figures released by the ministry relate to offenders managed under a system called Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, or Mappa. It requires probation services, the police and other agencies to supervise sexual and violent offenders. The precise level of monitoring depends on the each offender's circumstances and the potential risk they are judged to pose. 

'Massive jump'

Those deemed the highest risk must undergo regular and active assessment of their behaviour. Officials have the power to send someone back to jail. The figures show the number of serious further offences rose from 174 a year earlier.

Tania Bassett, national officer for the probation union NAPO, said: "We are starting to see the Mappa process falling apart in some areas, partly due to the privatisation of probation, which means the exchange in information between agencies is not quick enough. "This is a massive jump which deserves close analysis of the figures."


At the weekend BBC 5 Live broadcast a programme that looked at the subject of how Mappa cases are currently being managed. This from the website:-

Violent offenders: Fears over management after release

Is the system in place to manage dangerous offenders when they are released from prison keeping people safe? Hetty Lewis's son, David Alun Lewis, was murdered in March 2014. "It was horrendous," she explains. "The liaison officers came on the Thursday night to tell us that he had been killed the previous evening. There were over 80 injuries to his head and his body and the man dumped him in the River Taff. It was a terrible, terrible, brutal death."

In the living room of her home in Ystrad Mynach in south Wales, she sits holding her husband Glyn's hand as they describe the impact of their son's murder. "I can't explain it. It's too emotional. Sometimes it feels as if it's a nightmare."

David was 45 when he was killed. Hetty remembers him as "very reserved, deep-thinking and very thoughtful". A worker in the nuclear industry, he spent much of his life battling alcoholism and depression and would sometimes stay in hostels. He was described in court as "vulnerable".

"He was a very, very intelligent young man," his mother told the BBC, "but he suffered a lot from anxiety and depression and consequently I think he took to drink. He left us a few days before he was murdered because the doctors stopped the medication and he was desperate. The only other thing was drink and he went down to stay at one of the hostels in Cardiff."

It was while he was staying in a homeless centre in the city that he met the man who was to kill him. Gareth Wyn Jones, then aged 28, had recently been released from prison. He was jailed for six years in 2011 following an attack on his former girlfriend, and had a history of drug and mental health problems.

Because of his conviction, Jones fell under the care of Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements, known as Mappas. The Mappa system is designed to assess and manage the risk posed by the most serious sexual and violent offenders, and reduce the chances of them re-offending. It requires the police, probation, prisons and other agencies to work together to assess the level of risk, share information and put a joint plan in place.

Jones told professionals that he was anxious about being let out, fearing he would relapse into drug abuse if placed into a homeless hostel. It was agreed that he needed permanent accommodation in order to access mental health treatment. But no accommodation was found and he was placed in a homeless centre in Cardiff without access to mental health support. Within five days of being released, he murdered David Lewis. A serious case review into the circumstances of the killing has been undertaken.

Latest available government figures show a rise in reoffending by criminals managed under the Mappa system. In 2013-14, 174 registered sex offenders and violent criminals under probation supervision were charged with a serious further offence - a 17% increase on the previous year, and the highest level in four years.

Figures show that this type of reoffending increased each year between 2010-11 - when 134 Mappa-eligible offenders, supervised by probation trusts, were charged - and 2012-13, when the figure was 149.

Five live Investigates heard concerns from anonymous probation staff that Mappa cases are not being given the scrutiny they need. One told the programme: "We spend 10 to 15 minutes discussing each case at Mappa when it used to be an hour per case."  Another told the programme that "trainees are now holding Mappa cases and don't have the experience to manage these". 


But there are also worries that some dangerous individuals are failing to be picked up by the system in the first place. Seventeen-year-old Georgia Williams was murdered in 2013 by Jamie Reynolds. Several years earlier he had attempted a similar attack on another young woman and had previously been assessed as "a significant risk to others".

While various agencies had been working with Reynolds since 2008, he was not under Mappa procedures. But a recently published serious case review suggests that he should have been. The report stated: "It is possible that Mappa management could have helped ensure a co-ordinated, multi-agency approach which may have led to a clearer understanding of risk issues and how they may have been managed."

Georgia's mother, Lynnette Williams, told the BBC: "If they had, then Reynolds would have been on the radar of these people. All sorts of agencies would then have been involved properly and perhaps he wouldn't be in the position he's in, as well as Georgia."

Earlier this week, HM Inspectorate of Probation published a wider review of the multi-agency arrangements. It found improvements in its processes, such as a lead agency taking charge of each case, agencies being held to account, and minutes of Mappa meetings improving. Chief inspector of probation Paul Wilson said: "Recommendations from the last inspection had been substantially implemented and overall the quality of work was improved."

However, the report noted continuing areas of concern. It found that risk management plans "were still not good enough". It also said that probation staff do not have enough computer terminals to access a central database holding information about offenders who pose a serious risk of harm.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the chief inspector of probation's report recognised that in the majority of cases offenders were being managed appropriately, but added that the ministry was already working to implement the report's recommendations. "Mappa manage some of the highest risk offenders in the community, and less than 1% go on to be charged with a serious further offence," the spokesman added.

Of the decision not to refer Jamie Reynolds to Mappa, the Ministry of Justice said: "This was a tragic case and we will address its findings in our review of the Mappa national guidance."

5 live Investigates was broadcast on Sunday 25 October. Listen online or download the programme podcast.

Thursday 29 October 2015

Blogging Problems

Apart from yesterday's blog post leading to another outbreak of moronic commenting, it highlighted a problem that has been mentioned on and off over the last couple of years concerning the difficulty in leaving comments as many people switch from accessing the internet via PC's and move to mobile access:-   

An aside, Jim, but an important one for your blog activity monitoring. I was a very regular contributor a couple of years ago but, somewhere in the dim and distant, NOMS/MoJ got Steria to block the blog and so I was unable to post in work so would only be able to do it at home. This I did for some time because I was regularly on my PC checking emails, shopping etc so a quick read and a quick response was always possible.

About a year ago, however, I got a Windows/iphone and now I can access my email on the go, shop for the couple of items a month I buy on-line (books mostly) and read the blog 'on the go'. Initially, I was able to continue to contribute regularly although typing on a touchscreen was never as easy as using a keyboard so my posts got shorter and shorter. A few months ago, the anti-robot screening software you started using, after working for some time, randomly began to refuse to accept my choices of pizzas, street signs or bicycles and posting on my phone became almost impossible. I kept typing long posts on the touchscreen but then lost them as the security software kicked me out etc. I got frustrated and posted less and less. So now I only post when I am at a PC which is increasingly rare as I am relying on mobile technology. I guess I should have brought this to your attention earlier as it may have allowed us to address the issue but now I am no longer a Probation employee and have less and less to say that hasn't already been raised (i.e. TR is stupid and dangerous etc etc). I pop in a couple of times a week just to catch up but that's about it.

My point is, the fall off of visitor numbers may be partly the 'developing picture', partly the reducing workforce, partly the upgrades (!!) in technology and other potential factors etc etc.

I also struggle with the comment verification on my phone and can usually only post from home. It tends to mean my comments are more thoughtful and less reactive - not always though!

Me too. I think this is a bigger than imagined, as more people go online via mobiles!

I have absolutely no excuse for not posting, except that I'm so often speechless at what I learn from the blog! Really glad Jim's hanging in there. I do appreciate your point about the deterrent effect of a touchscreen. Sorry I'm not techie enough to comment on iphone security, but as an Android phone and Windows laptop user I've only ever had a problem with disappearing text when I've tried to post adverse reviews about hotels or faulty goods. Funny that... So now I copy all text before posting and then repeat if refused. Never been refused twice. Works a treat. Funny that ...


As an almost complete computer novice, I have absolutely no idea what the problems are, let alone how to go about fixing them, so I did what I usually do and had a look around the internet. It would seem this has been an issue since 2013 and remains a problem in search of a solution:-

My wife is just getting to grips with her new iPad mini. We bought the mini so she could carry it around in her handbag or backpack for blogging. She is a beauty blogger and is always replying to comments, blogging, tweeting and generally interacting with her peers. After setting up the ipad mini with all her apps we hit a snag. As soon as she tried to leave a comment on blogger blogs she was unable to, due to some seriously bad CSS/JavaScript. A login box pops up on screen but the on load function is knackered. Poor show blogger.

The problem is that the box loads but iOS doesn’t recognise it as a text entry box so you can’t actually enter any credentials. I tried a few workarounds in both chrome and safari for iOS and the same problem kept occurring. No matter what we tried it was impossible to enter text into the box.

I then grabbed my own iPad and fired up opera. As a web developer I have as many browsers as possible installed on all devices in order to test my own code, something blogger seem to have failed miserably in doing. Sure enough opera rendered the login box correctly and allowed us to enters login credentials and leave a comment on blogger blogs. This kind of workaround is good for those involved in the blogger community as it will allow you to leave comments on your favourite blogs via iOS.

I cannot believe blogger are still having these issues. The majority of traffic I get to my self hosted wordpress blog is mobile browser users so it would be foolish for me to alienate the majority of my readership. It would be such a simple fix for them to implement, simply have the login box as static content below the comment box on mobile style sheets. Would take me 2 mins to implement and would make commenting accessible to millions of iOS users. I wonder if this affects android users also. Would love to hear.

So if you like to comment on blogger blogs head over to the App Store & download opera. It’s actually a good browser, an old favourite amongst my geeky friends.

Finally folks. If you are serious about blogging it may be time to go down the self hosted route. Your blog can never be deleted, you can have good backups and you never lose all your hard work. There is no service level agreement on these free things and it can be taken down at any time meaning you lose everything. Take back control.

Thanks so much for posting this. I’ve been coming up against this problem for over a year now. I’m one of the more tech-savvy beauty bloggers and I run my own self-hosted WordPress blog. The vast majority of the other beauty bloggers are using Blogspot/Blogger and with the default comment app. When I try to explain why I can’t comment on their blogs from my iPad/iPhone they just go, “Huh? Oh I couldn’t possibly fix that!” and promptly forget about it. I’d tried some alternative browsers (iCab, Mercury) but those didn’t work either, so I presumed it was a problem across the board. Off to download Opera I go!

My wife doesn’t use blogger. Never has. We have always used self hosted wordpress. However many of the blogs she reads are hosted on blogger. It’s simple for people to use and generally those seeking out simplicity don’t give a second thought to browser/device compatibility. If she tried to comment on their blogs we run into issues. The underlying CSS used on blogger is awful. It causes so many issues with iOS but blogger aren’t the only ones. PayPal and chrome don’t work well together on any platform.

This is driving me completely INSANE…I did download opera on my iphone but it seems to be really slow when I try to post a comment and it’s still not showing up anyway. I just started a blog in January and everyone keeps telling me they can’t comment on any of my posts! Before I ask them to download Opera I wanted to make sure it was going to work and it looks like I’m still having the same issue…I hate blogger!

The blogger platform doesn’t seem very good. If you can I would switch to WordPress. A much better platform after trying out both.

On my blogspot the problem isn’t solved by using Opera. On iPad I can’t type in the comment field when using “Name/URL” login. Another workaround: write your comment in a text editor, copy and paste it into comment field on blogger. Then publish.

And nearly three years later, this still is not fixed by Google. Which is why I moved my blog to WordPress in the first place, because Google broke Blogger and appears to have no desire to fix it. Google appears to want to kill Blogger, or at least they’ve utterly abandoned it, there hasn’t been any substantive changes to it in half a decade now.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Blog to Continue

Graph of Blogger page views

As we approach another significant milestone - the blog will hit 3 million well before Christmas if the present hit-rate of 90,000 a month is maintained - I thought it was worth reflecting a bit on what was happening and where I think things are going.

The graph rather nicely confirms what I already know anecdotally that readership has been in steady decline since project TR began and the blog went into campaigning mode as part of the attempt to fight it. As the predicted slow train crash continues its agonising progression, many excellent, highly experienced staff, continue to jump ship having become utterly demoralised by the whole omnishambles so ably concocted by Chris Grayling and his weasel Liberal Democrat colleagues.

It's quite understandable that with morale so low and depression widespread, the blog has lost much of its former lively atmosphere and content. I'm sure many former probation staff find it too much of a painful reminder to look at the blog, let alone have the energy to contribute any more. Even those that are left, mostly in NPS, are effectively 'gagged' from any open comment on social media by virtue of the command and control nature of their civil service status and remain fearful of possible identification even through anonymous contributions. 

Despite this some brave souls are prepared to speak up and the following contribution highlights the dilemma many are facing:-   

"Our divisional director dropped in unexpectedly the other week and held an informal Q and A. She was open to any input and was inevitably asked about prison visits and attendance at oral hearings. She trotted out all the usual stuff about phone and video links being acceptable alternatives. It seemed apparent though that she, like me, didn't really believe it. What she clearly does believe is that having to live in the real world is our new reality. Like many of us I have thought about getting out and if a good enough opportunity became apparent it would be hard to say no. But I, and many like me stay. We stay to try to help new PO's understand and embrace values that put people first, values that protect the public and values that will be needed when we achieve some sort of normality, whenever that might be. We are in a shitstorm not of our making and it is one that looks likely to carry on for some time. It's up to those of us who are in it to make the best of a bad lot. Not to moan about how awful it is or to hark back to some halcyon days that never really existed. Suck it up people and do what you can to help make our communities safer."

Just as many good contributors have faded away, for whatever reason of late we seem to have attracted some particularly moronic comments which add nothing to discussion and debate but rather are designed to wind me up. They are routinely deleted if they come to my attention and if certain people feel that counts as 'censorship', so be it. It all reminds me of a particularly famous landlord of a very well-known Soho pub who gained the title of Britain's rudest landlord. In one famous incident he was reputed to have barred a drinker 'for being boring' and I feel similarly in relation to some recent particularly crass one-liners. 

In addition to the recent moronic comments, it's also been a bit of a surprise to discover how many Tories read this blog, feel that the election of Jeremy Corbyn is not the most exciting thing in politics for ages, believe the free market economy is working just fine and that TR is proving to be a runaway success. If you believe in conspiracies, it could all be the product of dark political forces, or it could be relatively new staff who don't know or care about our probation ethos. It could be some seriously deluded people, or just some plain-old mischief-making. I don't know, but I do know readership is steadily declining.

I think the following unpublished comment quite neatly sums up a particular view:-
Dear Jim, 
The blog no longer serves any meaningful purpose. It informed during the TR "omnishambles" but no longer. It's just become a platform for Probation staff venting their woes and frustration, and if your morale is rock-bottom or if you've had a shit day, it's hardly uplifting. Probation, as was, is dead. Time to move on. Hankering for the past is futile, embrace the present or seek other avenues. Life's too short. I've ended up in a CRC against my will and, although procedures are far from perfect, new ways of working are making a difference. Anyway, I expect buckets of venom for my comments. Onwards, ever onwards.
At various times of late I've pondered long and hard on whether the blog continues to serve any meaningful purpose or not and uppermost in my thoughts is the fact that in certain quarters its demise would be very welcome indeed. I have no doubt that down at Chivalry Road, Napo would be only too delighted to see the back of it, especially the General Secretary. So would the MoJ and NOMS. The privateers wouldn't mourn it's loss either. Interestingly, all monitor its content closely and they wouldn't do that if it was felt to be inconsequential, would they?

To say the least, we have an interesting situation developing in relation to the privateers that now own 70% of the probation service in this country. The so-called 'cooks and cleaners' who know nothing about what we do, such as Sodexo and Interserve, were warned about a number of things during the bidding process, such as the scope for reputational damage.

These global companies have their fingers in all kinds of pies, all over the place and are very much concerned about their public image, not least because they have shareholders and worried investors can affect share prices. Despite all the warm words, these companies exist primarily to make money and in our case, make money out of supervising offenders more cheaply than the previous gold-standard public service they replaced.

Even though the blog has recently been attracting some surprisingly flattering comments regarding how well project TR is progressing, most of us are sensible enough to know that the omnishambles is in fact getting worse by the day as the 'cooks and cleaners' begin to realise they were sold a pup by the MoJ and that there's very little likelihood of making any money, any time soon. 

Sodexo, the 'cooks', seem happy to be blazing a trail and take all the flack with their deliberate policy of flouting agreements regarding redundancy payments and now have dangerous plans for putting all staff and clients in open plan offices in total disregard for safety and confidentiality.  

In contrast the 'cleaners', Interserve or Purple Futures as they are branded, although having decided to take a rather more softly, softly approach, nevertheless their PR machine is hard at work in the background and interestingly decided to respond on the blog to negative publicity that surfaced recently over their shabby treatment of 14 government cleaners in London:- 

"FYI I am responding from Interserve. As stated previously, we will only comment to correct errors. The assertion that people who ask for better wages are subjected to a disciplinary action is incorrect. No disciplinary action has been taken against these employees and none will be. The matter you refer to was investigated, with each employee interviewed, and has now concluded. Interserve is committed to paying its employees a fair wage and our personnel will benefit from the new National Living Wage when it comes into effect next year.

It’s important to us that everyone has a voice. Currently we are seeking our people’s views on proposals for organisation design and welcome all comments and questions via the channels made available to all our CRC staff."

This drew a number of responses:- 

I don't understand Interserve's statement denying any disciplinary action. To me, the format of Interserve's letter alone was a 'disciplinary' action. They sent 14 people a very scary threatening letter, attaching a copy of the employees' letter to Philip Hammond, just so the cleaners would know what bad deed they had done, while informing them that they were under investigation for bringing Interserve into disrepute, and then told them that their action could lead to suspension or punishment. That is pretty strong stuff and sounded like a nasty threat of disciplinary action to me. Then, surprise surprise, what a coincidence that 3 cleaners did then lose their jobs..! Let's assume it was a coincidence then, was there any need to react so viciously towards 14 people who were politely making a valid point? I think Interserve have done a brilliant job in bringing themselves into disrepute, in that letter alone!

Assuming that (the comment) is truly an Interserve body, "Hello!" 
Note that the careful wording of the post makes it clear that no disciplinary action has been or will be taken in THOSE cases. It does not say that anyone else breaking rank won't face action viz - "The matter you refer to was investigated, with each employee interviewed, and has now concluded." So, if nothing else, everyone was interviewed & exposed to the stresses described. Be smart. Be careful. Stay safe.

As a matter of information, Interserve do not pay any sick pay. Employees only receive statutory sick pay. Low paid employees being taken advantage of.

Why were cleaners made redundant - Purple Futures aka Interserve have been at pains to tell probation staff (as recently as 2 weeks ago in my area) that there should be no redundancies and I'm guessing backroom staff will be offered other jobs, albeit probably not on the same salaries. Why then, if Interserve can find jobs to avoid probation redundancy, could they not redeploy a handful of cleaners? 


Regular readers will be aware that the likes of Napo, NOMS, the MoJ and privateers normally have a policy of never acknowledging the blog directly, only obliquely if at all, but the privateers are very sensitive to negative publicity because they have investors and shareholders to worry about. Every word on this blog is monitored closely by all the major players involved in the present and on-going TR omnishambles and it will be interesting to see if the likes of Interserve are tempted to respond again in future. And there is going to be a future because the blog will carry on ticking over on less readership and less in the way of comment. 

I will only publish if I think there's something worth saying or highlighting, but most importantly, it will remain as a platform ready to publish details of the next crisis, scandal, cock-up or shenanigans that develops and as the Grayling legacy continues to fall apart. It's important for the historical record as much as anything.  

Tuesday 27 October 2015

TR Latest News 9

First off, this blog recently raised the issue of the number of SFO's since the TR omnishambles starting rolling under Chris Grayling. This was examined recently by the BBC 5 Live investigates programme and can be listened to on the i-player here.   

"Is the system put in place to manage dangerous offenders when they're released from prison keeping people safe? 5 live Investigates asks why more murderers and rapists are committing further offences when freed from jail." 


There's more bad news for the MoJ and Chris Grayling's legacy revealed here in the Guardian:-

MoJ commercial arm to be examined amid transparency concerns

The public spending watchdog has said that it will be carrying out a preliminary examination of the Ministry of Justice’s commercial arm, which has been criticised for selling British prison expertise to regimes with poor human rights records, including Saudi Arabia and China.

Michael Gove, the justice secretary, last month ordered the closure of Just Solutions International (JSI), telling MPs it was because “of the need to focus departmental resources on domestic priorities”. However, it emerged on Monday that staff at the National Audit Office are to look into JSI following correspondence requesting them to do so. The NAO is to report back by the end of next month ahead of what may evolve into a full-blown investigation.

Lord Falconer, the shadow justice secretary, wrote to the NAO to seek an investigation into the operations of JSI, stating that there had been a lack of transparency on the part of the government in relation to the commercial body’s structures and funding. David Allen Green, a lawyer and writer, also had contacted the NAO.

The watchdog’s focus will be on whether the taxpayer was getting value for money as a result of the JSI’s commercial activities. JSI was set up by the previous justice secretary, Chris Grayling, as the trading arm of the national offender management service (Noms) to sell its expertise in prisons and probation – including in offender management, payment by results, tagging and privatisation – around the world.

JSI has worked with several countries with poor human rights records in their criminal justice systems, including China, Pakistan and Libya. There was particular criticism of a £5.9m contract with Saudi Arabia, where public beheadings, torture and amputations are carried out within its justice system.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was among those who put pressure on the Ministry of Justice to drop its bid for a Saudi prison contract, using his first address as leader to his party conference last month to cite the case of pro-democracy protester, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, who has been sentenced to crucifixion.


Although not strictly part of the TR mess, the issues are much the same with the government wanting to push privatisation in the child care sector, but here's Community Care confirming that there's absolutely no appetite for it and for very sound reasons:- 

Councils not outsourcing child protection despite legal change

Councils are not taking advantage of ‘freedoms’ to delegate child protection services to third parties under powers introduced by the government last year, a Community Care investigation has found. The same number of councils have been forced to delegate their child protection services by government as have opted to do so voluntarily.

Only three – Doncaster, Kingston and Richmond – had made use of a controversial change in law that allows councils to delegate statutory duties for child protection services to a third party. A fourth, Slough, has had its children’s services taken over by a children’s trust since the date of our freedom of information request, which was responded to by 127 councils.

In all four cases, children’s services are run by an independent children’s trust or community interest company wholly owned by the councils. Kingston and Richmond jointly set up Achieving for Children to run their children’s services, while Doncaster and Slough were forced to set up children’s trusts by the government following successive inadequate ratings by Ofsted. More than 20 local authorities had delegated other functions, such as children’s centres and children’s homes, to third parties.

Privatisation fears

Community Care asked councils whether they had delegated children’s services functions to third party providers since May 2014, when the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 was amended to allow the majority of children’s services to be delegated to not-for-profit third parties.

Initially, the government proposed that local authorities would be able to delegate aspects of their children’s services to any provider, including private ones. However, following a consultation and widespread criticism from the sector, it changed the wording so that local authorities could only delegate to not-for-profit third parties.

The privatisation debate has continued since, with sector leaders accusing government of insulting social workers’ intelligence about privatisation, and academics warning that private companies can still set up not-for-profit subsidiaries to get around the rule.

Lack of appetite

In a Community Care article last year, chief social worker for children and families, Isabelle Trowler, described the powers as “an invitation from government to take greater control”, and said they would “give social workers and their leaders around the country new freedoms and opportunities to design the services we joined the profession to provide”.

The government’s consultation response, where it made the U-turn to only allow services to be delegated to not-for-profit providers, said the move would enable a “a broader range of delivery and reporting structures, enabling greater structural innovation and the harnessing of external expertise in pursuit of improved social work practice and better outcomes for children”.

However, despite the mooted advantages of the new regulations, and recent comments from prime minister David Cameron about the importance that “state monopolies should be broken and new providers with great ideas should be welcomed in” in relation to how the government operates, Community Care has found little appetite from local authorities to engage with these new powers.

The Department for Education (DfE) was asked whether it was surprised that there has been such a lack of appetite for the new rules – which the government faced a lot of criticism to enact – and why it thinks local authorities are not trying to use different models and providers more regularly.

A spokesperson said: “Last year’s legislative change ensures councils have the power to decide how to deliver children’s social care services to best meet the needs of children and families in their area.”

When asked whether having local authorities taken over by children’s trusts is now the DfE’s preferred improvement option, the spokesperson said: “We will not hesitate to intervene robustly in any failure to deliver children’s services effectively – and will do so using the tools which best meet the individual circumstances in the local authorities concerned.”

Gateway to privatisation

Kingston University professor Ray Jones, a prominent critic of the amended act, said the findings did not alleviate his concerns that delegating child protection services would prove a gateway to privatisation. “It’s all part of a process,” he said. “We know [delegating has] already happened in Doncaster and Slough, Richmond and Kingston and we know Northamptonshire is planning it.

“With further cuts ahead, inspection judgements will be pointing out councils can’t provide adequate services and that opens the floodgates for government to require local authorities to delegate services.”

Jones said the findings showed local authorities were reluctant to delegate child protection services, but added that authorities are increasingly recognising they cannot afford to provide services in-house. He fears that once services have been taken out of local authorities, despite being still owned by them, it would be easier for private companies to bid for the services when the local authority-owned company or trust’s contract ran out.

He added councils were going to be “coerced and corralled” into delegating their child protection functions. “Mr Cameron has made it clear the future for these services is not in local government,” Jones said.

Untried and untested

In those local authorities which had delegated functions other than child protection, these included children’s centres, children’s homes and return interviews for children who had gone missing.

The promotion of disabled children’s rights, independent visitor schemes for looked-after children, young carer assessments and leaving care services were also delegated by local authorities across the country. The providers were often national charities, such as Barnardo’s, the National Youth Advocacy Service and Action for Children.

British Association of Social Workers’ professional officer, Nushra Mansuri, said she wasn’t surprised local authorities hadn’t taken up the new powers provided in the act. “These things are untried and untested,” she said. “How do we know it is the panacea government says it is?”


She added the findings showed most councils were committed to delivering children’s services within their local authority. “The jury still has to be out on this. It’s a risk for local authorities and it took Slough longer than projected. “Meanwhile, we’ve got examples of failing local authorities that have turned it around in-house, so we know it can be done.”

But, she said, every local authority was aware its fate depended on its next Ofsted inspection. “I think the next authority to crash and burn is going to come under a lot of pressure to think about delegating services,” she said.

While there are statutory minimums on staff numbers and time spent with children, Mansuri said, the worry was that if delegated services eventually came into the hands of a private provider, profit margins would encourage a de-skilling of the workforce.

There is a danger providers would hire in cheaper, less qualified staff, and relegate social work to a care management role, she said. Threats to social workers’ terms and conditions could be another way of keeping costs down when employment contracts came up for renewal, BASW fear.

Monday 26 October 2015

Penal Reforms 4

Danny Shaw, the BBC's Home affairs correspondent, today outlining the growing crisis in our prisons and how Michael Gove is hoping the answer lies in tagging thousands of people. This has been mooted for a long time, but readers will recall that the MoJ/NOMS made a complete horlicks of the new tagging contracts (they usually do balls up contracts) and the technology doesn't work as a result. 

Gove eyes changes to prison governors' role

Prison governors are not a bunch of complainers.

In many ways, they, together with prison officers, are the unsung heroes of the criminal justice system, responsible for looking after some of the most dangerous and damaged people in society. But there is growing evidence the strain of having to fulfil their role with less money, fewer staff and more volatile offenders is beginning to tell.

A survey conducted on behalf of the Prison Governors Association, which has more than 1,000 members across the UK, suggests two-fifths will look for another job if conditions stay as they are. The study, conducted by Steve French, senior industrial relations lecturer at Keele University, was completed by 40% of PGA members, a high response rate, he says, for such a survey.

Of those who responded:
57.2% work, on average, between 38 and 48 hours a week
41.3% work more than 48 hours
82% have seen their workload increase over the past year
61% have suffered stress-related ill health

Cause for alarm

Mr French says: "The survey paints a depressing picture of increasing working hours and workload across the PGA membership, with few opportunities for PGA members to benefit from their increased productivity and an absence of effective mechanisms for members to be able to regulate their workload."

The findings would be worrying for any employer. For the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for prisons in England and Wales through its executive agency, the National Offender Management Service (Noms), they ought to cause alarm.

Not just because security, safety and rehabilitation might be compromised if prison governors are burned out, but because governors are at the heart of Justice Secretary Michael Gove's plans for prisons.

Michael Gove on prison plans

"One of the biggest brakes on progress in our prisons is the lack of operational autonomy and genuine independence enjoyed by governors," Mr Gove says. "Whether in state or private prisons, there are very tight, centrally set criteria on how every aspect of prison life should be managed."

The justice secretary says if governors have greater freedom, particularly over prison education, they could be "much more imaginative, and demanding in what they expect of both teachers and prisoners". He cites the "success" of foundation hospitals and academy schools, which are also freer of central control.

"Giving governors more autonomy overall would enable us to establish, and capture, good practice in a variety of areas and spread it more easily," Mr Gove says.

No cherry-picking allowed

The plans, though, are far from fully formed. As far as prison education is concerned, it will mean untangling a maze of complex relationships. For example, learning and skills for over-18s in custody in England is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, co-commissioned between Noms and the Skills Funding Agency, and delivered by education providers via the Offenders' Learning and Skills Service.

The impact of the changes would be closely monitored to see if there was an improvement in the qualifications and skills acquired by prisoners by the time they leave, with incentives on offer for inmates - "earned release" - and for those in charge of them. As Mr Gove put it, "governors could be held more accountable for outcomes and the best could be rewarded for their success".

But any scheme of rewarding prison management will have to take account of the unique position jails are in - they have to accept who they are given: unlike a supermarket, restaurant or bar, the "customers" are generally people who do not want to be there.

It was a point highlighted by Noms chief executive Michael Spurr when he addressed the PGA conference this month - governors would not be able to cherry-pick the best prisoners to maximise results. There would remain a system of "mutual support" between jails, he said, where resources, expertise and staffing were sometimes shared, and prisons would have to operate within a nationally agreed framework. "We cannot afford to break the system down and end up with just complete competition," said Mr Spurr.

Detecting legal highs

Introducing a change as fundamental as governor autonomy would be tricky at the best of times. But these are not the best of times. Mr Spurr said the past five years had been "incredibly difficult", with:

the Noms and prison budget cut by 24%
savings in "real" terms of £890m
a reduction in prison officers and staff of 11,000

With the cuts has come an unexpected surge in sex offenders being jailed - 700 in the past 12 months - and a rise in serious assaults on staff and inmates, much of it fuelled by the availability of new psychoactive substances, known as legal highs, or as Andrew Selous, the Prisons Minister, labels them "lethal highs".

I have written about the problem of unrest in jails before - but Mr Spurr believes the prison service has now "turned a corner" following:

a recent recruitment drive
new laws to ban people throwing objects, including drugs, over prison walls
the prospect of improved tests to detect legal highs

Mr Spurr, who started out as a prison officer, gave a strong indication there would be no further reductions in prison staffing levels or resources for day-to-day running of jails, with little difference now in the cost of comparable private and public sector prisons.

But that does not mean the justice secretary will have the luxury of smoothing the path of prison governance plans with fresh investment. His department is "unprotected" from the austerity drive, and substantial savings will have to be made. Some of that will come from selling off older, inefficient prisons - but the pace of that change depends on stabilising or reducing the prison population.

'Get smart'

In his party conference speech in October, Prime Minister David Cameron dropped a hint as to how that might be done. "We have got to get away from the sterile lock-'em-up or let-'em-out debate, and get smart about this," he said, emphasising the importance of education and training to turn people's lives around - with more offenders possibly serving sentences in the community.

The Ministry of Justice is understood to be reviewing the use of tags, which are worn around the ankle. They can alert the authorities if someone is not at home when they should be. The latest satellite tracking technology, which is being tested, can monitor a person's precise whereabouts.

It is thought the most likely options for any extension of the existing tagging scheme, known as Home Detention Curfew, might involve defendants awaiting trial, more than 8,000 of whom are in jail, and offenders recalled to jail for breaching the terms of their release, of which there are about 6,000.

No plans have been confirmed - the last thing ministers want is a sudden exodus of offenders from the prison gates. But the party that prided itself on being tough on law and order is thinking about alternatives to imprisonment. That is quite something. And for prison governors, whose job involves managing prisoners in overcrowded conditions, that might be rather good news.

Saturday 24 October 2015

A New Kid on the Block

Bolts and Bars

It's come to my notice that there's a new kid on the block. A brand new venture that's sprung up concerning itself with everything to do with imprisonment or denial of liberty in its widest sense. 

Some readers might recall the amazing, but sadly short-lived success of Prisoners Families Voices, a website that provided a platform for highlighting issues associated with our prisons and which in particular made for some very uncomfortable reading amongst probation staff. From what I can gauge, this new venture seeks to do something similar, but rather more extensively with the benefit of some very clever software that can garner information, facilitate discussion and ultimately inform campaigning on a wide range of penal matters. 

If successful, one can imagine it will ruffle feathers in a number of quarters and it will be fascinating to watch what happens. The site does require membership and payment of a small fee will prove a barrier for many, but further down the line I guess this could change with advertising or sponsorship if the idea proves to have legs. I hope they don't mind my republishing their first blog which explains what they are about:-         

Blog 1 - OK we are starting our 'blog' today Friday 16th October 2015. Bear with us as we are new to this :)

We launched our company/website at the law society on the 18th of August as many of you might know, and those of you that don't please visit our website on To say that events have been smooth sailing would be a massive understatement, however we will persevere and we will achieve our targets and eventually our long term aim. We will stand the test of time.

We are not just about prisons or prisoners we are about everyone who is detained and by virtue of their detention is restricted in their access to the law, to justice and sometimes to the systems and processes which are supposed to assist them or their families. PEOPLE, HUMAN BEINGS who are in such places as IRC's (Immigration Removal Centres = Prison), STC's (Secure Training Centres = Prison for children), YOI's (Young Offender Institutions = Prison for young adults), HMP's (Men and Women/sometime pregnant = Prison), NHS Secure Units (hospitals = prison), and Mental Health Facilities. Many are not convicted criminals, they are patients, or refugees, or asylum seekers, however whoever they are they ALL deserve access to Justice and access to the law!

There are many forms of prison as we believe prison is not just a physical environment it is also a frame of mind, depending on your take on it.

"Who are we" is something many people have asked us since in their view we 'appeared' on the scene. Well to answer that question, we are simply a bunch of people who are in the main educated in life's hard knocks causing us to become motivated to raise awareness of the issues as we see them and affect change through the pro-social model of debate and comment co joined with a forthright direct approach to finding solutions and bringing those models to the attention of those with the ability to affect real change.

Usually someone who has been in prison answering that question in this context (blogging for a reform group) might say "we are mostly ex-offenders", but I won't. The reason is because whilst most of us are that is not WHO we are...for most of us could not be defined as career criminals or people whose lives involved the revolving door life of contact with the police, crime and prison, but it is true some of us are convicted killers, or convicted of conspiracy to murder, one of us was a fraudster (I say was as we dismissed him - and yes for gross incompetence, negligence and fraudulent behaviour). Despite that we still believe in equality, diversity, redemption, atonement, the fundamental good in everyone, no-one is born bad, everyone deserves a second chance etc etc...

What they may not know is some of us have no criminal history. We pay our taxes, and we have not just appeared on the scene. In fact we have been on the 'scene' for over 40 years. We have a wide knowledge base and vast experience of the issues we are attempting to address, we have taken a topical company from start up to spectacular success according to one government agency, until another ex government employee stole all the money (another story for another time) and we will do it all again. Many have tried and are trying to thwart us, they are the inefficient in the systems, the incompetent, those whose practice is questionable on a good day, those who have created a 'kingdom' for themselves and don't want their world disturbed as they have power and influence by virtue of the fact they have the ear of the power brokers...but therein lies the rub, and hopefully people like Cameron and Gove are as bright as they appear and will see through that. There are Charities and Organisations that have been 'working' in hand with the state for so many years, decades in fact, and yet NOTHING has changed. People die in our institutions, people are abused in our institutions, staff are untrained, they are under educated in subjects such as MH awareness, psychology etc, but also in concepts such as Redemption, Atonement, Forgiveness etc, complaints statistics are up, deaths are up, sick days off are up, JR spend is up, legal aid is a subject worth it's own focus - so many issues and we do have some of the solutions at Bolts and Bars but 'they' are holding us back from reaching those we need to speak with.

So we created the website for YOU to have your say directly. To comment as every institution has a message board for you to post comments. There are live discussion rooms where you can raise issues, complain anonymously for your friend, spouse partner without him/her facing a backlash in the institution, we will ensure it gets to the attention of the man at the top. GO direct to your MP from the site, so much access via our site... take a look , what have you got to lose. NOTHING you can only bring positive change...try it and see...Go To Our Website

Friday 23 October 2015

Latest From Napo 84

This is a shortened version of the latest blog post from Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary:-


Twitter aficionado’s (@ilawrenceL) and Napo web page visitors will hopefully have seen what I said on Tuesday at the conference organised by the excellent ‘NO Offence’ organisation where the star guests included Paul Wilson HM Inspector of Probation.

Paul offered a very interesting insight into his post TR findings and surprise, surprise, they mirrored what you are telling us every day about this unmitigated disaster. I have massive respect for Paul and the work that his team undertakes as they try to bring a rational perspective to what they encounter. But unless I wrote this down incorrectly, the suggestion that he offered to the effect that it (TR) isn’t broken yet, and that a judgement could only be made about the effectiveness of Graylings grandiose social experiment after the next two to three years was frankly, just too much to accept.

You know and I know, that we just don’t have that luxury; and unless things turn around sharpish on ICT, workloads, staff shortages, poor communications between the CRC’s and NPS and the not unimportant matter of actual delivery of the contracts by the CRC owners - especially given the seemingly perpetual ‘advantage’ (rugby analogy) that they are still enjoying, then there will be no way back.

I am delighted that a special debate on TR has been secured in the Commons for next Wednesday at 9:30 (check it out on Parliament TV LIVE) and we are being inundated with requests from MP’s for information and potential questions to be asked of Ministers. As always are happy to oblige, and having read the latest letter from Andrew Selous to the Justice Select Committee about how well TR is bedding in under the circumstances etc. and how the formula for PbR is sound despite less than glowing results from the HMP pilots it ought to be lively.

AGM gives green light to Subs reduction and re-engagement strategy

We are working on a comprehensive mail out to members next week giving more details of what was decided at Eastbourne. Meanwhile, I want to thank everyone who made the effort to get there, along with massive appreciation for your input into the conference and the fringe events. Despite the difficulty in achieving the required quoracy for all of the sessions we got the recommendation to reduce Napo subs through; and this week we have been working on the re-engagement project that I talked about in my address as we seek to encourage all our members to make that switch to Direct Debit and where we intend to meet with you at your workplaces in a way that Napo has never done before.

​​​Napo National Reps

Whilst at Eastbourne we bade farewell to two of our long serving stalwart National Representaives Dave Rogan and Peter Robinson. They desreved the plaudits that were showered upon them. Here is what Jeremy Cameron has subsequently sent me about the role of our National Reps andthe value of being in Napo and I am very happy to reproduce it in full. as further evidec robinson

People join a trade union for a number of reasons. Some are activists, most are not. Some go to branch meetings, most do not. Some read every sentence of union communication, most do not.

Some people even read the disciplinary, capability and health procedures; but they are one in a hundred. Most people read procedures only when they suddenly become affected by them. Then, when they find themselves in trouble, members quite rightly call on the trade union they have been paying their subs to. Everyone who joins the union does so as an insurance policy. It is sometimes said that "I can't afford to join the union". Actually you can't afford not to. When in trouble, you need representation.

Most representations in NAPO are done locally. They are done efficiently and sympathetically by local NAPO post holders and there is no need for national involvement. However, the threshold is whether or not a member is faced with termination of employment: disciplinary, capability or health. If their job is at risk, they must have national representation.

National reps have one insuperable advantage over local reps: they are not local. They are not employed by the people on the other side of the table. "Oh, I didn't know you could say that," is a frequent comment by a member or a local rep. Sometimes things get nasty; sometimes the rep has to give the presenting officer or a witness a hard time. When that person is your manager, your colleague or your friend, it can be impossible to do. You need someone from outside.

It is also inarguable that the outsider is taken more seriously. The national rep may say exactly the same as the local rep but it will have more effect. NAPO has a fearsome reputation in many areas; so have the reps. Where they are unknown, things will very soon change.

Finally, NAPO national reps have the time which local reps don't. They have the experience and they have the skills. Details of the case will be examined mercilessly; so will the management side.

National reps deal almost entirely with people who are in danger of losing their livelihood. Stress levels are enormous. Everyone is in crisis. Reps have to deal with this as well as with the technicalities of the case. In general, they deal with crises sympathetically, empathetically and professionally. They also handle the hearings with skill, experience and expertise. It is almost unheard of for any member to complain about a national rep; very common is a letter of fulsome thanks.

Through national representation you give yourself the best possible chance of survival.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Latest From Napo 83

Here's the latest email to all members of Napo London Branch from Chair Pat Waterman:-

So how was it for you in Eastbourne?

This year’s Annual General Meeting was held in Eastbourne from 15th to 17th October.

National AGM is many things. It’s a chance to meet former colleagues and old friends from around the country. It’s a chance to make new friends. It’s a chance to listen to a variety of different speakers. It’s a chance to engage in lively debate about professional issues. It is also an opportunity to find out what your National Officers and Officials have been doing during the past year on your behalf and to make policy for the coming year.

As always London Branch was present at this year’s AGM in strength. We sent a total of 75 members to Eastbourne. I am always very proud when London Branch walks in to a national NAPO meeting because, not only are we there in force, but it seems to me that the diversity within the room changes markedly. I was particularly pleased to see that this year, in addition to our stalwart retired members, we had a number of new younger new members.

I do hope that those members, for whom this was their first time, had as much fun as the photographs that I have seen suggest but maybe someone should tell them that it is not compulsory to take a dip in the sea on the last morning.

It is no easy task organising for AGM. I am, as always, indebted to Beverley Cole, the Branch Administrator, for making sure that everyone was satisfactorily accommodated and well fed at the Curry evening that followed our Branch meeting.

London Branch had a fully quorate Branch Meeting on Friday evening and the minutes of the last Branch Meeting were adopted following a debate over a matter arising from them. I was pleased that we were able to endorse the nominations of Paulette Ranger and Joanna Yusef to the posts of Black Staff Liason Representative and SW Regional Organiser (CRC) respectively.

The AGM this year had difficulty achieving quoracy i.e. the number of members it needs to be present before it can make decisions. The meeting was only ruled to be quorate for the afternoon of the second day.

The Annual Report is the vehicle through which the AGM is able to hold the National Officers and Officials to account for its actions and work over the past year. The Branch Officers Group met before the start of the AGM to go through the Annual Report and submit a number of questions that we thought would be of interest to members. It is open to any member to do the same. The questions we asked concerned issues of diversity, health and safety and the use of technologies.

It is also open to any member to mount a challenge to any section of the report and for the meeting to vote as to whether or not that section should be referred back to the National Executive Committee (NEC) which acts on behalf of the union in between AGM’s.

In our pre-AGM meeting the Branch Officers sought to ensure that all the motions submitted in the name of London Branch were being appropriately proposed and seconded. In the quorate session of the AGM our motion entitled “Unreasonable Adjustments” was passed.

Members in London should not be overly concerned that the other motions submitted in the name of this branch were not debated by a fully quorate AGM. Anticipating that quoracy might be a problem this year we sought advice from our National Office before going to Eastbourne. We were advised that motions on the order paper not debated at the AGM need to then go through a branch meeting and will then be passed to the NEC as a branch motion for debate.

All the motions from London Branch, except the one entitled “Unreasonable Adjustments” will be on the Agenda for the next Branch Meeting on Friday 20th November.

Some particular concerns have been expressed concerning the fact that the motion from this branch entitled “Drug Testing” was not debated at AGM in any form.

As soon as this branch was made aware that this part of the Offender Rehabilitation Act was to be operationalised we were in touch with both the NPS and CRC asking what their plans were and how these would impact upon the Health & Safety of staff. Both NPS (London Division) and CRC have engaged in consultation. Although it is true to say that there were initially significant differences in the risk assessments in respect of both organisations, as a result of the considerable amount of work done by David Raho, Branch H&S Convenor, important safeguards and protections have been agreed for all staff in London.

The purpose in bringing the motion was to task National H&S Committee with coming up with a model risk assessment and guidance for all branches and to ask the National Officer Group to include the drug testing task in their national negotiations when discussing job re-evaluation to recognise operational changes on the frontline as a result of legislation.

I have been made aware of a number of personally abusive and indeed anti-Semitic comments being made about me on social media forums following the AGM. Can I remind members of the motion passed at last year’s November Branch Meeting about the use of Social Media and ask that if anyone has any comments or concerns about my leadership or conduct in office that they make their views known to me directly or to other members of the Branch Executive.

Pat Waterman: Branch Chair

Monday 19 October 2015

Eastbourne Reflections 2

I suspect most readers will not be surprised to find I have more to say about Eastbourne. I note that early semi-official reports on Facebook are highlighting the renewed enthusiasm that appeared evident as members headed for home on Saturday lunchtime. I'm not going to pick an argument with that, especially as it's often those left right at the end that are the most keen and loyal. 

Pondering on the understandable calls for unity, it got me thinking about trust and in particular the heartfelt point made from the floor and directed I think at Sonia Crozier from someone working at HMP Isis. Walking across the prison yard they heard the loud refrain 'fuck probation!' In this new surreal world, post split, shafting and TR, what thought is being given to our safety?

Those of us, and particularly colleagues who've been around a long time, will be especially aware that historically our safety has been pretty much guaranteed because clients knew what we were about and trusted us. Even when being recalled, breached or doing something they didn't like or disagreed with, they generally accepted we were upfront with them and had a job to do, but at the end of the day would carry on supporting them, would be on their side in terms of any poor treatment, respected them and would be truthful in all our dealings. 

I've always believed this to be the case throughout my career. When once told by the partner of a long-term client that they had 'gone berserk with an axe', without hesitation I did a home visit, being careful not to inform management of course, but such was the confidence with which I did my job in the unwavering understanding that clients understood completely what I was about. Of course it could have all gone wrong, my judgement could have been misplaced, maybe we couldn't do it today, but just look at how shit the whole system is becoming around our ears. If we lose the trust of clients, our safety is surely at risk?

Continuing the theme of trust, Napo members must clearly have trust in those elected to national office, that they are effectively holding to account the General Secretary and 'my' officials as he likes to call them. I put it this way because conspicuously the membership had no great desire or interest in trying to seriously hold anyone to account during the AGM, barring the previously discussed issue raised by London Branch. Seemingly, the way proceedings are structured, it's pretty easy for any difficult questions to be effectively batted away by the top table, with no attempts at any follow-up. We must hope that the NEC might yet get better organised and exercise some direction of the General Secretary, rather than the other way round, but on past form, I doubt it. 

I thought it particularly instructive how the General Secretary dealt with the somewhat thorny issue of the failed Judicial Review. Listening to him at Eastbourne, one could be forgiven for forgetting that at Scarborough last year he had to be boxed into a corner and effectively forced into agreeing to take any legal action at all by a member-led revolt. The fact that by then it was too late and taken almost certainly on the wrong basis should serve to highlight the grave error in not having gone to law earlier, an accusation never effectively put or investigated, but along with so much, merely swept under the Napo carpet. 

No wonder the General Secretary never looked particularly rattled at Eastbourne and to be frank, is probably not that bothered if any AGM is quorate or not. The elephants have got to be tackled one day, or the herd will just trample everyone. I'll end this with the following contribution from yesterday:-

The squabbling & poor outcomes of the AGM are painful to read when numerous seasoned probation staff across all roles have paid the price of privatisation, either by walking or being cornered & squeezed out by the threats & immoral, unpalatable practices of the CRCs. Was there any recognition of such a loss at AGM? I'm one such ex-member of staff. No-one from Napo has contacted me since I left so presumably the CRC are still paying my subs for me? Whilst there are many global issues which merit attention, isn't the existence & welfare of a membership the primary focus of Napo? 

"to choose neutrality is to side with the oppressor" reflects a valid observation & sentiment... one I believe can be attributed to Napo when 'shafting' took place & contracts were being negotiated.

So, Mr Lawrence, please note that my lack of confidence in you as GS has never been influenced by your BME status, nor do I know of anyone who has cited such as a reason to be angry with your performance as GS. I, and others, think you & Unison got it badly wrong. But as the primary probation union leader involved in those negotiations YOU must carry the can for choosing neutrality at a critical point & thus you are complicit in selling members & other probation staff down the river without EVR.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Eastbourne Reflections

Quoracy was always going to be an issue this year, and so it proved. A perfect storm has been brewing over the last twelve months with so many experienced officers deciding they've had enough; Sodexo begining the cull within CRCs; NPS staff feeling exposed and vulnerable; growing disillusionment with Napo leadership; low morale generally and finally withdrawal of facility time for attendance. Put like this, a case could be made for saying it was remarkable just how many members decided to turn up.

From what was said during the tetchy closing session on Saturday morning, it would appear that certain mightily disgruntled and influential people are going to try and question whether the AGM was ever quorate on the Friday afternoon. I'm pretty sure I heard an unphased Chris Pearson say from the Chair that any challenge should have been made at the time, but sadly I think this is just likely to inflame the obviously difficult relationship between London Branch and the top table.

I think it's clear that the redoubtable Pat Waterman, Chair of London Branch, arrived at Eastbourne an angry person and harbouring unresolved feelings arising from her unsuccessful application to become a National Rep. That whole business is a somewhat difficult can of worms in itself, the suspicion being that certain hidden agendas were being played out, but in the absence of transparency and openness, members are often left to try and make sense of things as best they can through rumour and social media. Coupled to this of course is the ever-present matter of the individual egos of those involved.

It should be obvious to everyone that holds the union dear that it's in none of our interests to be in a state of inquoracy, or indeed to muddy the water further by attempting to pursue a challenge after the event. To put it bluntly, it suited Pat Waterman to hear that quoracy had been achieved on Friday afternoon when she mounted her challenge to a particular section of the Annual Report. A ballot was held and the challenge was endorsed, thus reversing a decision of the NEC to affiliate to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

It's my understanding that the issue has been discussed twice at previous AGMs resulting in defeats for affiliation each time. However, it appears that the NEC is able to make such decisions in between AGMs if properly approached and supported, leaving subsequent endorsement to be achieved if the Annual Report is adopted at the AGM. There's clearly a couple of lessons to be learnt here, not least the necessity to read the Annual Report carefully before being tempted to just vote it through nem con. 

It would appear that those who were keen to ensure that Napo remained affiliated to the Palestinian cause were anxious that it be debated fully at the AGM, hence the relevant motions, and indeed so was Pat Waterman, but circumstances ultimately conspired to ensure this aim was thwarted when a ballot recount was announced the following day. So, not only has the matter not been debated fully, but Napo remains affiliated to the PSC and the Annual Report unadopted until the next AGM in 2016.     

Of course, to say the least, it was embarrassing to hear that the rushed count had gone awry and in fact the challenge to part of the Annual Report had been heavily defeated, but these things can and do happen. But to be honest it's still unedifying to see the Chair of what is the largest Napo branch so publicly take her bat home, leading some of her members out of the hall, having also been defeated in her attempt to stop discussion of any motions during inquoracy. 

Despite being inquorate by the order of 60, the over-whelming view of the meeting was to continue with business by discussing motions, even if they would only be indicative and at best referred back to the next NEC. I have to say I find it disappointing and some-what mean-spirited not to have respected this view, but I suspect it's just another example of a long-running and sour power struggle between the largest Napo branch and the top table. 

To say all this is unfortunate would be a considerable understatement and leaves me with an over-whelming urge to bang heads together, but in all probability this feud will continue to cause unnecessary deflection from rather more important matters such as trying to save what's left of our profession. All that stuff about the need for unity from the two POA speakers went clearly unheeded.

The cynics would say that only Napo could fail to see the supreme irony of getting to discuss a motion entitled 'The Future of Napo' at 12.50pm on the final day and only then because London Branch had gone home early leaving nobody to propose their motion. Actually the cynical would have a field day in noting that the proposer of the final motion admitted not having prepared a speech at all and it subsequently proved to be the only motion not to be passed 'nem con' for referral to the NEC! 

Still, at least the meeting decided to authorise the NEC to challenge Sodexo's barmy idea of moving all their CRC staff and clients into shared open-plan offices with just waist-high partitions intended to provide adequate privacy. It's yet another indication of how little these 'cooks' understand our business and the risks involved. 

Finally, it was good to hear a very supportive Lord Falconer confirming what we all know regarding our shabby treatment at the hands of the Tory government, together with the constant changes we've had to endure over the last 30 or so years. He will prove to be a good friend and a powerful, authoritative voice in our defence and not surprisingly gained a well-deserved standing ovation.