Thursday 31 March 2016

Guest Blog 49

Transforming Public Opinion

Successfully reintegrating offenders into society is the goal for Transforming Rehabilitation, but our society demonizes offenders and wants to punish them some more upon release, our attitude is summed up in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. I know of a person whose last employer will not provide them with a reference, despite years of good service, and the offence being unconnected with employment. This is legal and probably typical.

Can we change our attitude? Fifty years ago I was in secondary school, back then homosexuality was “The love that dare not speak its name”, there were 20,000 men in prison, 1,500 of whom were homosexuals expected to change their sexual orientation in an all male environment. In my school anyway, you were encouraged to write something controversial in your essay and support it with evidence. For my art history essay I wrote Michael Angelo was a homosexual supported by lots of evidence from his work. I was threatened with being in serious trouble if I dared to write something like that again. Then homosexuals were barred from teaching, I asked my parents why? “They might interfere with the boys” I was told, “but heterosexuals might interfere with the girls”, “That's different”, “Why?” There was no answer because there is no answer that's logical.

In fifty years we have almost but not quite changed society's attitude to homosexuality. Until recently anthropological studies that revealed that other species engaged in homosexuality were suppressed. Very recently the book “Tango makes three” the story of a couple of homosexual penguins who successfully reared an adopted egg in a New York zoo was banned from libraries as unsuitable for children to read.

Can we change our society's attitude to criminals, my answer is “Yes”, but it will take time. Meanwhile countries that we would think are less enlightened than us are getting ahead. Singapore has its Yellow Ribbon Project. Started by CARE, Community Action for Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders, the project supports its objective of the successful re-integration into the community by making the public aware of the problems faced by ex-offenders. Ninety percent of the population know of it, sixty percent support it, 1,700 employers have signed up not to discriminate against people with convictions.

Turkey has a different approach an employer with more than 50 employees must have one with a criminal record or pay a fine which goes towards vocational training of offenders. Norway treats discrimination against criminal convictions similarly to discrimination against disability. Whilst here a lady who punched a girl in a party as a teen will always have this disclosed under the enhanced DBS check, eighty percent of employers will automatically bar her. A nineteen year old boy who received an up skirt photograph from his seventeen year old girl friend has a conviction for storing an indecent image of a child (strangely it would have been legal if they were married) he will most likely never get a job requiring an enhanced DBS check. If we want to transform rehabilitation, we must start by transforming the public perception of people with criminal records first, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will follow public opinion.

Rhys Toogood

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Probation and Domestic Violence

Seen on Facebook:-

Any thoughts on MARAC meetings?! We've just been told that we'll no longer have a MARAC SPOC and we'll go to a PO rota for attendance. That's so wrong and yet again no one is listening to practitioners, this decision serves monetary gain and is not about saving lives from domestic abuse. ROTA's vs SPOC's! I've experienced the horror of ROTA's when those before you, can't be bovvered to turn up - now those same people are now SPOs demanding that you all turn up for those same meetings!

It's not a rota. The national guidance says that POs attend for their own case. The rationale behind it being that NPS only manages 5% of all cases in MARAC so the idea is that you send the expert on that case to the meeting and don't have a generic officer covering all cases in MARAC.

Sorry but we are being told it's a PO rota, it's being sold to us as a different PO each month who is dependant on others feedback. I've been through this all before and made it work (those that refused to attend are now managers) Sorry buts that's the current non alignment of services horror show. It's a rota in our area - named PO's each month is a rota.

Point me towards that policy wording and I'll gladly take it further.

I have been attending MARAC as an SPO for about 11 years and still do as a CRC SPO. The NPS SPO attendance post-split started as chaotic although more recently has been stable with the current NPS SPO being spot on. However, I heard at the last meeting about the issue you are describing which seems to have been decided at short notice and announced to the NPS SPO the day before that they are not required to attend and a PO managing the case will do so. In addition, no historic information will be shared, only current cases.

This is dangerous for a number of reasons, not least that new cases may still be at the court stage with no 'responsible' person from a probation perspective. Furthermore, guidance from SafeLives (previously CAADA) has always been that representatives at MARAC should be at a sufficiently high enough level of management to be able to commit on behalf of their agency and ensure actions are taken. Hardly likely if a PO (or PSO) is the representative. 

Finally, SafeLives guidance states the following - Chairing the MARAC : Who should Chair the MARAC? The MARAC steering group should decide on who is most appropriate to chair the MARAC and, ideally, who should act as Deputy Chair. These decisions should be included in the MARAC Operating Protocol. The Chair should fulfil specific duties at MARAC and guidance is available in SafeLives’ aide memoire for Chairs. In most areas the best placed person to fulfil these requirements is the Detective Inspector from the Public Protection Unit, or a Senior Probation Officer. This is because they have an understanding of, and responsibility for, public protection. We would normally recommend that the Chair identifies the deputy, either a ranking officer within the police or perhaps from another agency around the table such as probation or children’s services, where this representative has experience in chairing public protection meetings and also has the authority to hold other agencies to account. 

Should the NPS do what they appear to have decided, they will never have an NPS SPO deputy chair as they don't intend to turn up whilst the CRC representation in my patch remains constant at present although subject to change given we are the private sector and there may be no profit in it other than to maintain our professional reputation as a public protection agency. And of course to get one over on the 'experts' in the NPS.

Areas appear to be inconsistent. We had and have someone who used to attend MARAC, the cases coming up she's knows all about because of this knowledge. I'm CRC and all we've been told is that it will be a PO rota attendance based on gathering Information from all case managers.That's never worked and in this area, is dangerous.

The thing is, everyone is talking about Probation policy etc. What about MARAC protocol?! They have confidentiality protocols that mean that any service, inc Social Services and Probation have ONE named representative and a backup (in case that person is unavailable), so I don't understand why MARAC are even allowing this?!

MARAC can't really stop it as they are non stat and therefore don't have the power that MAPPA do to make demands. I agree that the non sharing of historical information is risky and will be absolutely hammered in a domestic homicide review but apparently it was based on research on the info shared which showed that all we tended to share was previous convictions (which the police provide anyway) and the risks posed on termination. If you are NPS then the document is the new national MARAC framework which is on Equip I believe

I'm MARAC SPOC and did not just share previous convictions! For NPS there is always around 4 current cases to share progress, arrange professional meetings etc then there were the pending Court cases with all the DV info for the report authors, in general it was also about contributing to an overall risk management plan in a multi disciplinary setting, invaluable in my opinion. I find this move an utter embarrassment for the Service, not just for MARAC but for IOM and SVPP/Bronze meetings, I wonder what the other services will think? Also, it has massive implications re: risk. Nothing to do with efficiency as far as I'm concerned and much more to do with freeing space on the WLMT.

I don't doubt that there were people who shared loads more information I'm just saying that is the research behind it apparently. Like you I think the lack of information sharing is crazy I was just sharing information not passing judgement.

I've been a SPOC for about two years. I don't get relief for it so I want out. No one wants to take it over though.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Probation Voices 4

I am very sad to hear of colleagues round the country going through what can only be described as a daily nightmare - I'd have thought things would have settled down by now but if anything it's getting worse - in my area estates are high on the agenda, working environments are totally inappropriate and the bickering and sniping is wearing me down.

Unfortunately the battle to keep admin staff in probation was lost a long time ago along with secretaries and paper files. The battle to keep/have our own little offices/consulting rooms was also lost in favour of open plan. Even open plan offices will soon be closed and admin work outsourced to the lowest cost bidder. The MoJ regard the privatisation of probation as a part completed project and an interim arrangement. The modern deprofessionalised probation officer is to be agile, badly paid, and know their place as lowly corporate worker who does what they are told to do or hand in their phone and laptop and make an appointment at the nearest jobcentre. 

The only reason the NPS exists at all is that outsourcing high risk work may have taken longer to complete and have been less commercially attractive to potential bidders. However, unless the NPS budget can be reduced by 25% then they are for the chop too. AP's would make a nice package for a housing provider. Prison based PO's can be absorbed into the prison. All those holding community cases will simply be transferred to their local CRC. Court and prison PO's will retain the right of audience and do the bulk of reports. Job done, privatisation completed.

Open plan offices are totally inappropriate, we have banks of desks pushed together and we're literally on top of each other - various conversations are going on at once whilst you're trying to concentrate on recalls or breaches, you can't hear yourself think. We have colleagues who talk on the phone like they are talking to Australia and there's a couple who type extremely loudly and are a total distraction - the other day one had metal bangles on so as she was typing the flaming bangles were bang, bang, bang. It's really stressful and I'm at my wits end.

That is true for all open plan or crammed offices.There has been a lot of work done on how stressful they are, hence employers favourite option of agile working instead. Saves getting more working space if you make use of someone else's office or kitchen table.

I recently hot-desked at our Head Office in London and overheard a conversation by senior managers in the tearoom complaining that the new owners were strutting around basically blaming them for being unable to change rapidly enough and tolerating poor performance and complaining that they were not whipping the lazy good for nothing staff into shape. The phrase 'bastards in the grey lanyards' was used frequently. Too many over inflated egos and no one being on board with anything or just fighting their own corner and darned if they care about anyone else. 

They agreed the cohort model was sufficient to convince the MoJ, but completely impractical to implement operationally. They were saying that morale was at an all time low with some teams on the point of mutiny who had just been left to their own devices for fear of more key staff walking. They didn't blame staff for thinking everything was crap because that is what they thought too. They also agreed it was time for any sane person to get out as probation was finished. I was taken aback by how angry they sounded and how reckless they were to be having this kind of conversation in a tearoom where they might easily be overheard - perhaps this is how paranoid we've all become.

People are now quite openly describing the new Head of Probation Helga Swidenback as less than useless, apparently asking managers to put more staff on capability and more staff to be disciplined for insubordination with the real power being wielded from the Mormon Church-dominated MTC in the US. What a sorry state to be in. By the way I had to abandon hot-desking as the IT system kept breaking down and no one could find the IT guy - maybe he had enough and left too.

Napo are doing their best to engage with senior managers but are they talking to the puppet or the hand? From what I've heard they should be heading to the US if they want to talk to those supposedly running things.

Our CRC on 90 - 110 cases. impossible to keep track of everyone. IOM cases, the PSS has had a big impact on me and they're regularly breaching - I've 3 on multiple licences all of which are in breach and for which I can only recommend custody. Out of an original 8 week sentence by the time the 12mth period is up he'll probably have done 9 months in custody as it's warrant after warrant due to being NFA. Every time he gets recalled he gets 28 days and now he's into PSS he gets 2 weeks as persistent DNA and no point asking for fines. Touch wood he's not offended for a few months so once the PSS starts to expire he may stay out of the CJS.

I wonder if anyone is doing any research regarding the operating models of the CRC owners? It seems that as soon as they start trying to implement their MoJ approved plans, then the proverbial hits the fan. The MoJ has after all considerable expertise procuring the right companies to do the job such as the wonderful G4S and Serco. Grayling certainly did transform rehabilitation but not into anything better than was there before and as the weeks go by it is obvious that some of the new owners like MTCnovo are more interested in other projects.

They did beat us because we didn't stick together because people did not believe that they would do this to the hard working drones that couldn't risk losing a day's pay whilst the rest spouted well meaning but ultimately naive statements.......the only way to proceed is to withdraw whatever scrap of goodwill is left, they fought dirty while we were still reading up on the Marquis of Queensbury rule book.....just because we're late understanding exactly how we've been royally shafted doesn't mean to say that we can't do something about it......two Northern areas are struggling financially, will they survive......time will tell.


What's the latest on S Yorks CRC? All quiet on that front, probably still massaging the figures to come through with flying colours. What a bloody mess.

The impact this is having - NPS office with staff off sick due to stress. People are walking because they've reached their limit. The way some long established staff are being treated. It's heart breaking to see. And in the CRC workloads are even higher with no streamlining of processes, I don't know how they're coping, I'm not sure I would.

If the MoJ and Youth Justice Board are finding these companies suitable then we must surely question whether or not their 'rigorous' assessment processes are fit for purpose or is this in fact evidence of corruption? How many former MoJ employees are now advising MTCnovo? How many former NOMs employees do they now employ? Time for someone to start asking the MoJ some difficult questions. Where has Napo's press officer gone? I can't believe that if Harry Fletcher was still working for Napo that he wouldn't be on to this by now.

I could submit a polished bid, doesn't mean it's accurate or true! MoJ too easily bedazzled and bamboozled by clever spin of people who know absolutely nothing about criminal justice or caring for the vulnerable!

Does anybody have any advice for a mental health worker with a psychology background considering a career change to train as a Probation Officer? The career appears to tick all the boxes I am searching for in a job but after reading some of the reactions to recent privatisation, I am starting to wonder whether I want to pursue a career where so many people are so upset? Thank you in advance for any advice you may have..

My advice is don't. Many of us would be happy to find a way into mental health careers right now.

Before 2013 probation would have been an ideal career move for you, but not now. Anyone recommending probation as a career to you now would be doing you a great disservice. You would be entering a service in decline and unfortunately future employers may question your judgement.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Probation Voices 3

Seen on Facebook:-

Sometimes when I really think about what's happened.. I verge between anger despair and disbelief.

Yep! And sad x

I just feel so very very sad, frustrated and a bit lost in it all. I keep thinking it can't get worse. Then it does.

Yeah for me this week has been a bad one. But not as bad as my workmates in Working Links CRC.

Been tearing my hair out all week just to be told that today, as a PSO, my job in West Yorkshire CRC is safe but admin and POs and managers still have to apply for their own jobs by 4th April. Sickening. xx

Flaming hell.

Makes me so damn angry. We went though about 6 months of not knowing if we had jobs or not. Really feel for everyone going through what we went through some months back.

This time yesterday I was in tears trying to get my head around how to write 2000 words to demonstrate why I can do my job after 8 year's service. They've now decided that they need all PSOs due to workloads. A relief for me but still so much unnecessary stress and anxiety. And still feel for people in other roles who still have to do it. I don't understand why, if workloads are so high, that they don't need the same ratios of other staff. x

No offence but PSO's are doing the job they said you had to be a PO to do a few years back....Just at a cheaper rate without as much investment and training. Don't get me wrong, some PSO's are very capable and can do just as good a job, it's just the fact they keep changing the goal posts for cheaper labour. X

That's what it's all about isn't it? Getting people to do more for less money and expecting people to do stuff that previously they were told they couldn't.

Yep it's true. I work with high risk people on my groups. Even though I'm supposed to only work with low to medium risk. I've done my degree and worked with offenders for years but yep it's still work that they have previously said POs should do. x

The goal posts get changed to suit what's happening at the time.

CAs in our CRC are the first to be at risk.

I think it's an absolute disgrace the way staff are being treated. It's an insult.

It really is. I deliver Accredited Programmes and was today told I'd got a high score (in treatment management) in my team for delivering TSP. But at that point I still thought I had to apply for my job. Our admin colleagues are fantastic and we need them. All of them. I feel so bad for them. We're working with society's most risky people but we're just numbers. xx

I know I'd be lost without my CA. Yes we are just numbers. CRC owners just thinking about profit. NPS it still seems to be about reducing costs too.

We have no admin support in our new office. Everything is through our lovely Hub colleagues. One centralised office that deals with all admin for 4 counties.......

Is that even with the IOM?


We lost our dedicated IOM admin about 2 years ago....

CRC in Devon Cornwall and Dorset are going into Admin hubs I've heard.

It's very reliant on automated processes via ndelius. Hmmmmm say no more.

Actually IOM admin has had to go back to main office. As I'm NPS my CA at main office has always had to do my IOM admin

Our admin are going into 2 hubs too. To cover the whole of the North (Liverpool to Hull). And we're meant to be getting a whole new computer system....still no idea what it looks like!

Or if it will work!!

IOM. Don't make me laugh. If l was a CRC being paid by results l would put absolutely nothing into prolific offenders. What is the point they will very likely offend. No first time drink drivers is where its at. They will provide a return on my investment.

Hmmmm... most drink drivers are prolific. ..they just didn't get caught til now!

I recall a business analyst interviewed on the radio when CRCs were first starting up - he said it made no business sense to aim for high quality outcomes and the performance related pay element of these contracts as you'd put a lot of resources in for very limited likelihood of success. The trick is to do the basics with as cheap labour and overheads as possible, collect the basic funding and still make a profit.

And yep makes total sense. Supermarket probation. Stack it high and sell it cheap.

Sadly, so true. Glad I am out.

Hang on in there. (not that I did...)


Funniest thing ever was seeing an NPS admin colleague storm upstairs and rip out a toner from a CRC printer, as the NPS had lost all printing abilities. Somebody actually shouted 'Theft'....this actually got reported!

I imagine that it's all down to frustration with the mess we're all in. We're lucky that we don't have that in our office. That said, we have 5 printers in our small building and we're lucky if even one of them works.....

CRC staff at KPO and WPO can't print at mo though, can they? Due to the IT switchover? X

I didn't know that x

That's what I've heard. X

Oh we can. Most of us are still using lotus notes!!

Can't print from laptops but given that we are reliant on poor wifi or our 'hotspot' (which fails if someone calls you) to log in I tend to give up and use the old system!


Our "wifi" is shit! And yep, have that problem with the hotspot. Really useful if you get a call which usually involves looking something up but connection gets lost due to the call interrupting the signal which then causes laptop to freeze and you can't access anything.

Oh I thought you had the wires there? Not seen these but heard these act as a direct connection? What a load of old..

Yes, we do but the iPhone hotspot thingy is pants if remote working (from CRI, etc). Also, if I am sat wired up but need to move laptop, when you disconnect, it loses the connection so you have to log off in order to change to wireless connection.

You've just got to laugh eh!! you couldn't make this up!!

Good grief what farce.

We ran out of paper the other day....!

You couldn't make it up could you? X

I think Office Depot ran out of paper lol!!

Ours hadn't been ordered! 😯

Oh dear! We did but were told they had none

Sounds familiar?


Our CRC colleagues moved out of our office a couple of weeks ago - D-Day was the Thurs - so Fri night we ALL (even our cleaners came) went out for food & drinks. Safe to say it was a sad - but great night... they won't beat us if we stick together :-)

Thursday 24 March 2016

Latest From Napo 101

Here's the latest blog from the Napo General Secretary. I don't usually comment, but I think most politicians would say they can recognise spin when they see it:-  

News from the NEC

This week’s meeting of your National Executive Committee saw a number of important decisions which means we can all go into the bank holidays with some good news for members.

Our finances

Following some excellent earlier work by the Finance-Sub Committee and the tenacious efforts of our Finance Official Theresa Boorman, the NEC were able to approve Napo's budget profile for 2016. It's no secret that the numbers of staff who have left the probation service in the last 18 months has had an impact on our membership density and income but this is a pattern that has impacted on nearly every trade union in the UK especially given this Governments austerity agenda.

Additionally, we have had to cope from scratch with the huge challenge of the cessation of 'Check Off' (Union subs deducted from pay) which as I have said before, is quite simply a move to spread disaffection amongst members about their trade union at a time when you are all too often facing the direct consequences of a disastrous privatisation exercise, increased pressures at work and government pay freezes.

The good news is that this obvious attempt to weaken us or send Napo into a terminal tailspin is palpably failing. I, as well as other colleagues who are out there engaging with members, have been encouraged with the feedback we have received about how our genuine efforts to try and assist you are appreciated. The NEC also heard that we have recently signed another 150 new members on top of the 400 I reported a few weeks back, and that we are seeing a steady increase in the numbers of Napo members making the still very important switch to Direct Debit (click here You Tube video) and benefit from the cheaper subscriptions that are on offer.

Obviously we are not out of the woods yet and that's why it's vital that existing members and those who are thinking of coming back to us, as well as potential new joiners, are urged to make that switch or join us today. In order to maintain and strengthen our efforts to help our members in the NPS/ CRCs/PBNI and CAFCASS who are facing a multitude of difficulties and in some cases potential redundancies, we need the financial resources to provide the levels of service that you and your elected leaders expect.

Napo to launch a new membership services package

It's some years since Napo launched additional services to members beyond the traditional, and although we were able to add the excellent credit union facility at AGM last year, the current portfolio is looking a little tired and in need of some refreshment.

The NEC wisely approved a fully costed proposal to launch a new and highly attractive package of exclusive benefits for Napo members following an update on the successful negotiations that have been taking place between Napo (in the form of Chris Pearson and myself), and Parliament Hill who are a specialist leading edge supplier of membership benefits to an impressive list of other trade unions and professional associations.

Essentially, this means that members will be able to easily link in from our website into a brand new member services portal that will be built for Napo by our new provider. This will bring a massive choice of offers ranging from top of the market home, travel and personal insurance, substantial discounts on purchases from leading supplier brands and health clubs as well as access to initial financial (and importantly, in what is a first for Napo members), personal pension advice. It will be seen that the analysis of the available discounts shows that members could easily cover the cost of their annual Napo membership.

I am already engaging with our existing providers to invite them to be part of this initiative and they will also have the opportunity to bring new things to the table. Meanwhile, let me make it clear to save the conspiracy theorists a fruitless search, that the NEC agreed that none of this will detract from our key objectives of trying to promote and protect the interests of our members at the work-place.

More news will follow on the expected formal launch once we have it.

Chivalry Road for sale?

After what was understandably a long and detailed debate the NEC approved a recommendation from the Officers Group to take the necessary steps to place our Chivalry Road premises on the market. As you would expect, this was an at times emotive discussion where all of the pros and cons as well as the serious rationale for Napo to seek to realise our asset within an optimum period in a favourable property climate were considered.

The NEC will be invited to send two representatives to join Staff and Officers on a working group who will ensure that all of the relevant information leading up to the final decision to sell the building (which itself will be subject to final NEC approval) is transparent and in the interests of our members.

The NEC also agreed that our imperative should be to reinvest the proceeds from a future sale into a purchase of new premises and that the working group should consider the possibilities for temporary relocation and possible future partners in terms of new premises in the medium to longer term, and where that might be in terms of the most suitable location.

At this juncture it's probably helpful to make it clear that the recommendation to move from our current location is driven by its unsuitability as a HQ base for Napo as a forward looking union, and not because we have to sell or that the idea is some sort of precursor towards merger with another union.

The accountability mechanism that has been established will mean that the project and the Agents that we will be appointing to act for us, will be properly managed and that we will be in a position to release information to the NEC and wider membership on a regular basis.

I hope that the foregoing gives yet another example of how your union has an eye on future devel-opments and is building for growth; a process which can be enhanced by our existing and prospective members sticking with us and helping to make us their union of choice.

More news about the NEC and other important developments that were on the agenda will be issued in due course.

Meanwhile have a great Easter.
Image result for easter emoticon

Who Runs MTCNovo?

From the Vice website:-

US Prison Boss Who Oversaw the Accidental Early Release of 3,200 Inmates Is Now Running Probation Program in the UK

As head of the Department of Corrections in Washington State, Bernie Warner oversaw the accidental early release of 3,200 prisoners. Having left that job, he became the vice president of corrections at US firm Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a US private prison operator that has been hit by numerous riots and scandals. And now, thanks to the government's privatization of probation, Bernie and MTC are bringing their stellar record to the UK.

Last year, the Conservative government handed probation services—which manage ex-prisoners on release from prison, trying to guide them away from crime—to private companies. MTC are running two of the biggest new "Community Rehabilitation Companies" in London and the Thames Valley. All but the most violent ex-prisoners in London are being managed by MTC and their partners, operating under the name MTCNovo. The MTCNovo website doesn't say who is in charge, but company records obtained by VICE show that Bernie Warner is one of the American directors of UK based MTCNovo, and has been since last December.

Soon after Bernie left his job in charge of prisons in Washington State, a scandal erupted. Since 2002, his Department of Corrections had released 3,200 prisoners early, thanks to a computer error. State officials admitted that in 2015 alone there were two killings by ex-prisoners who should have been in prison but had been let go before their time due to the faulty computer program.

Warner told the Seattle Times he didn't know and "was shocked to learn that the department was releasing inmates inaccurately for the past 13 years, and when it was found out in my administration, it was not addressed."

Officials also admitted that Warner's department knew about the early release problem in 2012, but attempts to fix the computer system were delayed 16 times. They also said that Warner's assistant secretary, who reported directly to him, definitely knew about the faulty computer program.

MTC in the US told VICE: "Bernie Warner had no knowledge of any early release of offenders during his tenure and is fully cooperating with the state's investigation." As he was in charge of the department, ignorance of such a major failing raises questions over his leadership. But MTC said Warner had taken Washington State Department of Corrections to "new heights," and he "will be a tremendous asset to MTC and its mission of rehabilitating offenders within our care."

Warner was appointed to run MTC's prisons division after a series of scandals hit the firm. These scandals were unfolding as then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling was giving control of probation in London and the Thames Valley to the private sector.

Grayling announced MTC were one of his choices to run probation in his controversial privatization program in late 2014. The firm formally took over London probation in February 2015. Grayling was replaced as justice secretary by Michael Gove in May 2015. Gove has unpicked some of Grayling's policies, but is sticking with his probation privatization. These seven-year probation contracts are massive. The government will pay MTCnovo $1.4 billion in London and $273 million in the Thames Valley for the work.

Unfortunately, the firm's recent prison record does not inspire confidence. In July 2015, there was a riot at the MTC-run Arizona State Prison-Kingman, which meant 1,200 prisoners had to be shipped out. In September 2015, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced he was severing all links with MTC. The state governor sacked MTC from Arizona's prisons following an investigation into the cause of the riot. According to the official report, the investigation found, "A culture of disorganization, disengagement, and disregard for state policies by MTC," along with a "failure by MTC to conduct critical staff training, and withholding these failures from Department of Corrections monitors."

Also in July 2015, a federal judge ordered improvements for inmates at the MTC-run Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi. This followed a lawsuit launched by campaign group the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in defense of the inmates' constitutional rights. The case was deeply damning of MTC's prison. Judge Carlton Reeves said, "The evidence before the court paints a picture of a facility struggling with disorder, periodic mayhem, and staff ineptitude, which leads to perpetual danger to the inmates and staff." SPLC's case said gangs "ran amok" in the youth jail, while staff "colluded" with them. During the court case, MTC's prison's governor admitted that two staff were being fired for sexual misbehavior, but he was waiting for DNA evidence to see if a third guard sexually assaulted multiple inmates.

In February 2015, there was a riot at the MTC-run Willacy County Correctional Center in Texas. Around two thirds of the 2,800 inmates refused work details and set fire to three of the ten tents in which they were housed. The riot was suppressed after guards used teargas and 300 inmates were removed. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the riot was "most unsurprising" because of poor conditions: Inmates slept in 200 closely placed beds per tent. ACLU's visitor found inmates "getting thrown into isolation cells for complaining about bad food and poor medical care, being denied both urgent and routine medical care, and being cut off from contact with their families." In March, the National Bureau of Prison's canceled MTC's contract at the prison.

Asked about these problems, MTC's US spokesperson told VICE, "Operating prisons is inherently challenging and not without risks. Incidents happened at both public facilities and those operated in partnership with companies like MTC." The firm said it is, "proud of the impact we have had in the lives of offenders over the last three decades—helping them to change their behavior in order to be successful in society after release," adding "This mission continues in the United Kingdom."

MTCNovo's UK spokesperson said, "The Ministry of Justice, of course, carries out a detailed assessment" of firms it's appointed, and the government "is well aware of MTC's record of 30 years in the US," which it described as a "strong reputation for providing quality service."

The government's privatization of probation involves a number of other firms with patchy records on public contracts, and other "Community Rehabilitation Companies" (CRC's) are in difficulty: In South Yorkshire, the probation service run by Sodexo failed a Ministry of Justice audit. The Kent, Surrey, and Sussex CRC also had problems with a Ministry of Justice audit, while the Welsh CRC has been criticized for job cuts.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Back To the Good Old Days

"Really not bothered about the Tories or Napo top table in the grand scheme, here today and gone tomorrow. The future will be guided by ideas for tomorrow which we can influence. Where I have some issue with this blog, much as I admire it, is the idea that harking back to the 'good old days' will not inspire the changes we can find some new consensus around. I am heartily sickened by what has happened to Probation but I am ever more convinced that moaning and groaning (I moan and groan a lot about it) will achieve very little. Have some faith, this blog has got some legs left in it yet."
On the theme of harking back to the mythical 'good old days', here's an interesting quote from a long blog post entitled 'Do We Still Need Prisons?' by Paul Kirby and republished on the 'VolteFace' website and it seems to hark right back to our Victorian foundations:- 

Japanese Hogo-shi

One of the biggest problems about prison is that it takes, mostly, socially excluded people and excludes them even further from society.

Hardly anybody from mainstream society visits or engages with prisoners. There is a lot to learn from the Japanese system of probation (Hogo-shi). Unlike Western countries, 98% of the State’s 49,000 probation officers are volunteers. They have the status of part-time but unpaid civil servants. They supervise and give support to 40,000 offenders on parole and probation. They mostly use their own homes to meet the offenders. They commit to working with the offender’s family, help them find jobs and make social connections. Post-prison Hogo-shi halves re-offending rates. I think this would be a great idea for non-custodial sentences in other countries. But we could take this idea a step further.

Whenever a person is sentenced to prison, part of the sentence could be that they accept the supervision and support of a volunteer probation officer. The prisoner could be required to meet the volunteer probation officer at least once a week and they could enjoy visiting and communication rights similar to a lawyer. The volunteer probation officer could be a formal part of any decision-making about the prisoner (e.g. education, therapy, moving prison, internal sanctions, parole, exit plans, etc).

Critically, part of the sentence would be to fully co-operate with the volunteer probation officer for a defined period after leaving prison (e.g. 12 months) and for the volunteer to play an active role in helping the prisoner get a job, a home, stay clean, sort out any benefits and keep out-of-trouble. Like other probation officers, they would have the right to take offenders back to court if they are breaching their sentences.

This would have the added benefit of opening-up prisons to the community and reconnecting the excluded with many privileged and compassionate individuals. If every prisoner had one volunteer probation officer, we would have some 60,000 new people involved in our criminal justice system.


In case you are wondering, "Paul Kirby lives in Oxfordshire in England. He is a Visiting Professor at the LSE and Non-Executive Director at the Cabinet Office in the UK Government. His career included being a partner at KPMG and Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit."

"VolteFace is a new space that offers fresh perspectives on drugs policies, lifestyle and culture. We are launching as a magazine that will draw in a wide and essential array of voices.

VolteFace will cover the policy and politics of drugs but also science, health, lifestyle, culture and business related matters. We look to provide a space that can help revivify the debate about drugs in both countries and bring new voices and views to the fore from across civil society and popular culture.

Our ambition is to commission lively features, promote intelligent commentary and provide breaking news updates. We want to allow new voices to flourish and fresh perspectives be aired, nurturing new journalistic talent alongside the best current writers. We’ll certainly want to address shibboleths, but we are also in the business of winning hearts and minds. We will be constantly innovative in how we curate our content and engage with our community of readers.

VotleFace is a space where ideas are freely shared and your voice can be heard.

VolteFace was founded by Paul Birch. An entrepreneur by trade and a long time drug policy reform advocate, Paul is interested in alternative methods of activism and policy change."


Paul Birch seems a fascinating character. This from the New Statesman April 2015:-

Paul Birch, Bebo founder: "I’ve been consuming [cannabis] since I was 23"

For somebody who has achieved so much in the past ten years and could comfortably rest on his laurels for the next fifty, Paul Birch is surprisingly restless, almost impatient. Sitting in his big, airy home in North London on a sunny morning, he is fidgety and disquieted as he outlines the manifesto of Cista (an acronym for Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol), the political party he set up in February of this year.

In 2005, along with his brother Michael and Michael’s wife Xochi, Birch founded the social network Bebo, which became wildly successful while Facebook was still limited to students; the website was later sold to AOL for $850 million. A couple of tech ventures and ten years later, Paul Birch decided, only three months before the General Election, to dedicate himself to the founding (and funding) of a political party that would strive to change the “farcical” drug policies in the UK – and so Cista was born, “quite late in the day,” he admits, “but in time”.

“I got interested in the UK drugs policy and understood it’s quite silly, what we’ve got and what we continue to have, based on the information that’s available,” Birch says, citing huge “levels of ignorance” that surround cannabis consumption. According to its manifesto, Cista’s chief proposal is “a new approach to drug reform, starting with cannabis, one that is evidence-based, cross-party, humane and non-partisan.”


This comment came in yesterday:-
Does missing appointments matter? Japanese Hogoshi (volunteer Probation Officers) have observed that the most consistent keepers of appointments are the repeat offenders. European probation officers view the clients attitude as more important than keeping appointments. Is there any evidence that clients breached for technical reasons are more likely to re-offend?
It might be worth noting that the third World Congress on Probation is to be held in Japan.

Monday 21 March 2016

History Being Made

Sometimes you become aware of history being made and for me that was yesterday Sunday 20th March as I watched and listened to Iain Duncan Smith put the knife into George Osborne, not just once, but repeatedly on the BBC 1 Andrew Marr show. 

Whatever you think about the man, his policies or motivation for resigning from the Cabinet, what the famously 'quiet man' of politics had to say was dynamite for the Tory government and the Nasty Party under David Cameron and the particularly loathesome Chancellor of the Exchequer. You just knew what he was saying about the government dividing the nation was true with the poor having to continually shoulder the burden of national debt reduction and that we were indeed not "all in it together". 

To hear a politician speak honestly is so rare nowadays, it's noteworty in itself. We've all come to accept that politicians lie and spin most of the time and the trick is to try and fake sincereity. Tony Blair was brilliant at it and later today David Cameron will have to try and rebut IDS's accusation that the Tories don't give a toss about poor people because they will never vote for them. 

He's going to have to fake compassion and that is going to be quite an uphill task, especially as the Andrew Marr interview was merely the 'hors d'oeuvres' with IDS delivering the main course in the House of Commons to traditional silence and before the Prime Minister can embark on any damage-limitation exercise. 

All the chickens are beginning to come home to roost for this 'nasty' government and it's only to be hoped that HM Government's Loyal Opposition can start getting their house in order so as to capitalise on this spectacular 'own goal' by the Tories. 

IDS was careful to get his retaliation in first and it's worth savouring:-      

"I am incredibly proud of the welfare reforms that the government has delivered over the last five years. Those reforms have helped to generate record rates of employment and in particular a substantial reduction in workless households.

As you know, the advancement of social justice was my driving reason for becoming part of your ministerial team and I continue to be grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to serve. You have appointed good colleagues to my department who I have enjoyed working with. It has been a particular privilege to work with excellent civil servants and the outstanding Lord Freud and other ministers including my present team, throughout all of my time at the Department of Work and Pensions.

I truly believe that we have made changes that will greatly improve the life chances of the most disadvantaged people in this country and increase their opportunities to thrive. A nation's commitment to the least advantaged should include the provision of a generous safety-net but it should also include incentive structures and practical assistance programmes to help them live independently of the state. Together, we've made enormous strides towards building a system of social security that gets the balance right between state help and self help.

Throughout these years, because of the perilous public finances we inherited from the last Labour administration, difficult cuts have been necessary. I have found some of these cuts easier to justify than others but aware of the economic situation and determined to be a team player I have accepted their necessity.

You are aware that I believe the cuts would have been even fairer to younger families and people of working age if we had been willing to reduce some of the benefits given to better-off pensioners but I have attempted to work within the constraints that you and the chancellor set.

I have for some time and rather reluctantly come to believe that the latest changes to benefits to the disabled and the context in which they've been made are a compromise too far. While they are defensible in narrow terms, given the continuing deficit, they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers. They should have instead been part of a wider process to engage others in finding the best way to better focus resources on those most in need.

I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government's vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.

It is therefore with enormous regret that I have decided to resign. You should be very proud of what this government has done on deficit reduction, corporate competitiveness, education reforms and devolution of power. I hope as the government goes forward you can look again, however, at the balance of the cuts you have insisted upon and wonder if enough has been done to ensure "we are all in this together".

Sunday 20 March 2016

Prison Musings

Seen on Facebook:-

A Message from Pat Waterman Chair of NAPO London
I was informed today that London CRC Director of Probation Helga Swidenbank is traveling to the US for an MTC Conference and then going to visit some prisons.
A Firm That Ran A “Horror” Jail In America Is Taking Over A British Youth Prison

A trouble-hit British young offender facility is to be taken over by a US company that ran a prison criticised by a federal judge as a “horror as should be unrealised anywhere in the civilised world”. In September last year, outsourcing giant G4S lost its contract to run Rainsbrook secure training centre for young offenders in Northamptonshire. The centre has a troubled history: In 2004, Gareth Myatt, a 15-year-old boy, was restrained to death by guards at the centre.

In May last year at least six members of staff were dismissed after an official inspection found that young people were subjected to degrading treatment and racist comments. The inspection graded Rainsbrook “inadequate”, and only a few months later the Youth Justice Board announced that a new outsourcer, MTCNovo, would be taking over the site in May 2016.

MTCNovo describes itself on its website as “a new venture between the third, public and private sector, which has been established to provide rehabilitation and offender management services across London and Thames Valley”.

It is a partnership between MTC (Management and Training Corporation), a Utah-based firm that grosses more than $500 million in yearly revenue, and Novo, a consortium that includes charities, the private contractor Amey, and Rise, the mutual that emerged from the scrapping of London Community Rehabilitation Company.

In June last year, BuzzFeed News revealed that MTC had run a prison in Mississippi that was lambasted by a judge for disorder and assaults on inmates by guards.

In an order, Judge Carlton Reeves wrote:
The evidence before the Court paints a picture of a facility struggling with disorder, periodic mayhem, and staff ineptitude which leads to perpetual danger to the inmates and staff. The dangers that inmates face are not simply limited to assaults by other inmates but also from the guards.
The judge ruled in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union, which had asked the court to enforce a legal agreement requiring the state’s department of corrections and MTC to reduce violence, fix broken facilities, and improve staff training at the prison within five years.

This was far from the first controversy regarding MTC’s management of its prisons. In February 2015, thousands of prisoners in a prison in Texas rioted and had to be moved to other institutions over poor medical care among other issues. A month earlier, an inmate died following an assault in an Arizona State prison.

Only a few months before that, Christopher Epps, America’s longest-serving prison commissioner, was embroiled in a corruption scandal that involved him receiving bribes in return for private prison contracts to firms either owned by or linked to a state official named Cecil McCrory. One of these firms was MTC, which denied any knowledge of corruption.

A question has been asked in the House of Lords about the decision to award MTCNovo the contract and whether the company, “including its partners or significant subcontractors, has been found to have breached human rights or equality legislation in the last three years, either in the United Kingdom or abroad”. The justice minister Lord Faulks replied: “There were no findings of a breach in human rights or equality legislation.”

(Article from January 11th on the BuzzFeed website)


David A Raho of Napo London branch drew attention to this article in the Canadian Globe and Mail:- 

Jail sentences reduced for Ontario offenders who endured lockdowns

Ontario judges are knocking time off sentences for offenders who have endured persistent lockdowns in the province’s chronically understaffed detention system, the latest and strongest indictment of provincial jail conditions and a direct challenge to a federal law placing strict limits on sentencing credits.

At least five recent decisions have awarded sentence discounts based on the hundreds of labour-related lockdowns that have plagued Ontario jails over the last two years and left hundreds of prisoners confined to their cells for up to 24 hours a day with little opportunity for fresh air or showers.

The reductions represent a strong indictment of Ontario’s corrections system and a possible death knell for the Truth in Sentencing Act, once a cornerstone of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s tough-on-crime agenda.

“Judges are finding a workaround because the strict application of the Truth in Sentencing Act created a situation that’s just not fair,” said lawyer Ingrid Grant, who has represented the Criminal Lawyers’ Association of Ontario as an intervenor in two Supreme Court of Canada cases challenging parts of the law.

For inmates at Ontario’s two-year-old super jail, the Toronto South Detention Centre, the lockdowns have been unrelenting. Between December, 2014, and November, 2015, staff imposed 162 full or partial labour-related lockdowns, according to government figures provided to The Globe and Mail.

“You have to remember that the vast majority of people there have not been sentenced. They are presumed innocent, and this is the way they are treated,” said criminal lawyer Peter Scully, who has represented scores of clients housed at Toronto South. “I’m astonished there hasn’t been a full-on revolt.”

One offender, Jeffrey Bedward, spent at least 225 days on lockdown over a 520-day stint at Toronto South, according to an affidavit filed at his sentencing last year. During lockdowns, he said, he was limited to 20 minutes a day outside his cell and permitted a shower once every three days. Visits from family and lawyers were cancelled. He had limited access to books, fresh laundry and fresh air.

In a decision released last month, Superior Court Justice Brian O’Marra sentenced Mr. Bedward to 36 months on six firearm-related charges and credited him 1.5 days for every day he spent in pre-sentence custody, the maximum permitted under the Truth in Sentencing Act. But there was more. The judge included an additional discount of three months to account for the “harsh conditions” he faced at Toronto South.

The approach is part of an emerging judicial trend. In a January sentencing decision for a man convicted of aggravated assault, Justice David Cole subtracted three months over and above limits set forth in the act “as an expression of community disapproval of the state’s continuing inability to provide safe and properly administered detention centres.”

Two other judges have issued similar decisions in Ontario. All cite a pair of 2014 Supreme Court decisions – Summers and Nasogaluak – in concluding that sentence reductions exceeding the standard 1.5:1 ratio are permissible where there is proof of “state misconduct.”

A glut of similar decisions is coming down the judicial pipeline, said Mr. Cole said, speaking as a professor of law specializing in sentencing at both the University of Toronto and York University. “Crowns do not seem to be objecting, once the evidence is before the courts,” he said, “and I must say that Ontario correctional officials have to date been pretty candid about conditions in their institutions.”

In a statement, provincial spokesman Brent Ross said every effort is made to maintain daily showers, visits, programming, laundry and book services during lockdowns. He added that the province is working to boost staff at its institutions. Twenty-six new officers will start at Toronto South this week as part of a graduation class of 139. “Transforming our correctional system is a priority for the ministry because we recognize that the status quo cannot continue,” he said.

Enacted in 2010, the Truth in Sentencing Act was a reaction to the perception that lenient judges were doling out excessive sentencing credit to offenders who spent time in pre-sentence custody. Since the 1970s, judges routinely granted double credit, lopping two or more days off a sentence for every day spent in pre-sentence custody. The credits were intended to reflect both the harsher conditions that generally exist in pre-sentence detention centres, as well as “dead time” – detention that doesn’t count toward parole or early release eligibility. As of Feb. 22, 2010, the Truth in Sentencing Act eliminated two-for-one and replaced it with one-for-one credit. It did, however, allow for 1.5 days of credit under exceptional circumstances.

But judges began to routinely grant 1.5 days’ credit for each day served. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that they had the discretion to do so.

Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has instructed Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to undertake a wholesale review of the sentencing legislation passed under the former Conservative government. “At this point, the government could just repeal this [law],” Ms. Grant said. “It’s wheezing and dying.”


All this prompted David to offer some thoughts on Facebook:- 

It wasn't so long ago that Canada was the country of choice for MoJ and NOMS fact finding tours. They bought programmes (some of which were originally inspired by the work of McGuire and Priestley and home grown probation programmes) but neglected to buy into the importance of independent evaluation by criminologists, psychologists, sociologists and other academics studying crime and the effectiveness of probation interventions.

The whole probation experiment in England and Wales was actually built on some pretty old metadata. The trick was to use this to counter the nothing works impasse that existed for some folks. That shouldn't have mattered much because the what works project should have been a dynamic slowly evolving system that should have allowed for change in the light of learning and experience rather than a static collection of cutdown programmes that were never to be messed with that we're subsumed into a bureaucratic quagmire that turned probation officers into data input clerks for management information systems - work they were never properly trained to do.

These systems are not designed to assist those working with offenders but rather designed to ensure that probation workers are assessing and recording in the prescribed way whether or not this is the most efficient or effective way of working. Innovative developments that are the mainstay of managerialist fantasies took probation workers on a journey far away from actual face to face work with offenders (the challenging bit) whose importance to those in power were now just reduced to an existence as data bodies floating within bigger data streams and as digitised offending entities rather than as living human beings who were members of society facing difficulties and structural problems as a result of government policy as much as anything else. This data is now a valuable commodity but there is no acknowledgement of the many thousands of hours that went into its production. Offenders are no longer human beings with the capacity to change but rather automatons processed and sorted into risk categories, labelled according to offence type and criminogenic factors then signed off. And we colluded with this because we were told of we didn't something really bad might happen ie Privatisation.

Meanwhile back in Canada no one found any evidence to indicate privatisation of probation would be a good move so perhaps more recently the MoJ and NMS have been looking a lot further south of the Canadian border for inspiration. Goodness knows what they might find on their travels in the Deep South.

So perhaps they missed a new Canadian innovation that knocks time off for those subjected to poor quality imprisonment. Imagine the countless years knocked off sentences in England and Wales. Just a thought.

David A Raho


The March edition of the Prison Service Journal number 224 has an interesting interview with Martin Narey from page 61. It's well worth reading in full, but I was particularly struck by his thoughts on 'gubernatorial autonomy' and the ideals behind the old Borstal concept:-

PA: You have made reference to talking to the new Secretary of State, and there has been a lot of media interest surrounding prisons lately, and the proposed reforms that will take place such as the increased emphasis on education and earned release, can you suggest what the future holds for prisons following your discussions?

MN: I was at Michael Gove’s first prisons speech on Friday and I thought it was the most encouraging Ministerial speech I have heard on prisons since Jack Straws’ maiden prison speech in 1998. I was thrilled to hear about the reemphasis on education and elated to hear the principle of prisoners earning their release. I must sound like a dinosaur, but as I explained to Michael Gove, my first job in the prison service after initial officer training was working in a borstal in the last year of borstals’ existence. The autonomy given to prison governors under the borstal regime was quite remarkable. If we had a boy or a young man (we took 15- 21 year olds in those days) he could serve a minimum of 6 months or a maximum of 2 years and the point at which he was released was determined entirely by the Governor and entirely on the basis on how the borstal trainee behaved and worked. So — this being a borstal in the North-east, if we had a young man who got himself a City and Guilds in building and made himself employable as a builder on release to Sunderland, he might be released after 26 weeks.

Someone who didn’t, and missed out on the opportunities, could stay in borstal for up to 2 years. What destroyed borstals, what led to their abolition, was, inevitably, overcrowding. Borstals were routinely directed to release all their offenders on or near the 26 week mark to make spaces and the philosophy of the regime was destroyed. But I think there are two things to learn from that history: first that the principle of earned release is a good one, and secondly that we might think once again about gubernatorial autonomy. While spending quite a bit of my time in the Department of Education in the last few years, I’ve watched with some interest as autonomy has been restored to head teachers. I know Michael Gove wants to see whether there’s a similar restoration of autonomy from which prison governors might benefit.

PA: It will be interesting to see how this will come to fruition within the current climate with the numbers we have, and all the outsourcing and partnership working within establishments. As with the borstals, if we were to offer an incentive, to maintain legitimacy we would need to be able to honour that.

MN: I am not suggesting any of this is easy, and I don’t think Michael Gove thinks any of this is easy. He is spending a lot of time visiting places, and I have taken him on one visit to a prison already. He has clearly got an immediately good relationship with Michael Spurr. I told Michael Gove on the day he was appointed that Michael was a fine man and an excellent person to lead the service.

PA: Looking at some of your accolades within the Prison Service including: changing the number one priority in the Prison Service from preventing escapes to preventing deaths; setting up safer custody and reception peer orderlies to help reduce the risk and famously stating: ‘a death is worse than an escape’ and that ‘it was shameful that we were more concerned about an escape rather than a death.’ With that in mind, what are your views of the current statistics surrounding self harm and suicide within prisons?

MN: Well first of all, before accepting any plaudits, I should volunteer that, I think, the peak number of self inflicted deaths in custody happened on my watch, not on Phil Wheatley’s and not on Michael Spurr’s. But it’s right that reducing deaths was a very real priority for me and why I wanted the same concentration on reducing deaths as my predecessor had on reducing escapes. I thought that our concentration on escapes, important as it was, meant that we were not addressing other things. I remember during my first speech as Director General in 1998 I talked about suicide, as I thought we were in danger of, perhaps not being dismissive about it, but accepting that a large number of self inflicted deaths were simply inevitable. 

I understood the reasons for that, the morbidity of the population had become more acute as more and more people with mental disorders were being admitted. I know that the time I was DG a fifth of all males and two-fifths of all females who came into prison had previously tried to take their own lives. Nevertheless, I felt we were in the position where there was a belief that we just could not do anything about those deaths. We could and we did. But again, that was in large part because I got access to new money and in a magnitude of which Michael Spurr could only dream. I went personally to the Treasury and talked to the lead officials in charge of public spending about suicides, I obtained the investment for what became known as the Safer Cells Programme. But, it was a long time before the tide was turned and the numbers of deaths began to drop.

PA: Thank you for all your interesting views. Obviously you have a long list of achievements, and you have been recognised with a Knighthood and now the Perrie Award, how does it feel?

MN: I was enormously touched by the Perrie Award. For ten years I’ve avoided involving myself in prison issues in the same way as I don’t get drawn into issues about Barnardo’s. That may change now, and I suspect I will be doing some part time work advising Michael Gove. 

So against that, ten years after I have left the service, to be told the Perrie Lectures wanted to give me an award, was very touching. The gift I was given is hanging on my study wall, and I love it. 

I never wanted to leave. I did not want to resign. But, at the time, I felt I had come to the end of the road, I had helped to devise a thing called NOMS, but the NOMS I had helped to devise required, three things: It required a cap on the prison population which I have talked about; it required greater competition in delivering both prison and probation services, and it required a transfer of authority from prison staff to probation staff in the managing offenders. Charles Clarke was never committed to those reforms he inherited from David Blunkett, was dismissive of population control and unwilling to take on the trades unions on competition. I knew it was time for me to go. But there has never been a week in the ten years that I have not missed prisons and offenders.

Saturday 19 March 2016

Acceptable or Not Acceptable?

Seen on Facebook:-

Just wondered what to make of this recent scenario. Service user on standard licence, fails 3 appointments over a 1 month period. Marked as unacceptable as they were unacceptable. No recall as I phoned him (as we have to do now) and he answered so 'still in contact'. Email from 'Enforcement Team' stating that as we are not recalling - I need to make one of the absences acceptable. I've raised at SPO level that I am not happy to do this as none of them were justifiable absences - but have been told this HAS to be done, as otherwise the 'enforcement procedure' won't work. I've been told I can put in the contact that it is not actually acceptable - but it needs to be marked as acceptable. (I've no issue with the SPO I believe they are as frustrated as I am). But who actually has the time to read all the contacts to see why an absence is accepted - and if there are future absences the full picture of compliance is skewed - but for my memory! Am I being unreasonable to feel uncomfortable with this? Is this across the board? (I am CRC).

I don't think CRCs are paid if the supervision period isn't completed successfully. Which would explain the reluctance to breach/recall people...... Or am I cynical??

I don't even object to not having the recall (though you may be right). I just can't see why these cant 'lie on file' in case they are needed in future. They always used to ...!

Probably to do with a target somewhere behind the scenes.

I'm recording in delius like a mad woman because when the proverbial hits the fan I want it documented that I was following orders against my better judgement

My feelings are the same as you! I think we have to use the Acceptable Absence - Professional Judgement....? Feels like cooking the books.

Yep that's the one I used. I think

I would be happier if either we had a uniform 3 UA's and you're recalled approach - which is what the enforcement process is seeking - or whoever refused the recall makes them acceptable!! Just not in my name!

The whole enforcement process gives me a headache!! I feel as though I'm constantly checking for breach summons issued and breach listings dates. Just leaving it to someone else doesn't sit comfortably with me.

Sounds like something worth whistleblowing...

Nobody cares

Very true. No one gives a shit.

As far as I can tell, CRC companies are refusing to let Responsible Officers breach people. A breach, of itself, is a minor loss of apparent success but, since the breaches are prosecuted by the NPS side, they run the risk of being revoked and resentenced which is a flat out failure. This loses them a lot of money and that is now the most important factor in every case. This is leading to the clientele realising that compliance no longer matters. This is going to get much worse.

Will stay like this till the SFO. Get told in writing every time, print 'em and keep 'em.

There's been SFOs but they're hush hush!

This is totally unacceptable and if he goes out and commits murder or something as serious and it goes for a review guess who's head is on the block.

Which is WHY you get it in writing. If they have any sense then the SPO will have the direction in writing as well.

I agree have a good paper trail and let your SPO know that you are doing it and WHY.

Jeez...I said at the start (as many did) that TR would result in SFOs. It will happen I have no doubt. In the meantime, cover your arse!

I think it's an ndelius issue that it has to be marked acceptable because if it's not it would trigger other ndelius things. Given the decision I think you'll have no choice but to mark acceptable but I would note your comments/views and note where the decision had come from. I would also make a separate entry marked case decision or case discussion abc nite your views so if audited there is a record or if an SFO it's there. Now I anticipate potential views on this but I would be tempted to do a home visit when you can, more for you and the case management. All you can do is protect yourself as a worker you can't effect the decisions higher up and on there head that is. Good luck your not alone.

If u feel ur right u should stick to ur guns.

I would probably put in the note "this absence has been changed to acceptable to meet new enforcement process requirements although it remains an unacceptable absence". It's your name going on the entry frown emoticon ridiculous!

Thank you all. The SPO's are generally on top of it and record on Delius the decision making around not recalling. For the ones I have had to make acceptable I have literally outlined that I have been 'instructed' to make it acceptable but will get this in writing from now on and copy emails in. I've also had some thoughts around the enforcement policy which I will be looking into if I'm in the same situation again. Thankyou all for your support. x

I'm CRC and no you don't have to make one acceptable if it's not, that's cooking the books. Even before TR you would ring an offender to find out why they didn't attend and if they answered and had a decent excuse you'd make a defensible decision re recall. The absences should stay as they are, but your contact (SPO consultation/management oversight) would explain your reason for not recalling.

On second thoughts!! If someone missed three appointments that you thought were unacceptable but after speaking to him you decided not to recall. Doesn't that mean you accepted his reasons for at least one of those absences and therefore it is no longer unacceptable? Otherwise you would be recalling...

Helpful discussion..... thank you.

I'd point blank refuse.....what the hell is happening here. This sickens me tbh. Absences are either acceptable or not....massaging the figures shouldn't be happening. Senior staff shouldn't be asking us to do this. I think bottom line here is that of a manager wants it on they can put it on.

Think of an SFO......if you're noting you don't accept the reasons for an absence why the bloody hell are they asking you to mark it as acceptable.

Exactly my concerns. It's crazy. I wouldn't mind if it wasn't generally so tough to get a recall!!

No, you're not being unreasonable, just fed up, as are most of us, with being compelled to doctor enforcement records; in other words, lie at the behest of target/cost driven management. Being uncomfortable means that you retain your integrity...

Some very good advice has been given but we still shouldn't be put in this position.

.........why did you ring him?? Seems pretty clean cut to me....3 failed appts = Breach x But there again, what the f*** do I know?

You ring because there is a question on the form that asks what you did to gain compliance

First question asked is - 'have you tried to make contact?' I remember the days when it was their responsibility to attend and not ours to remind them repeatedly. A world away from now!!

Actually l often called to remind. My Dr sends me a text every appt now and that is not their job. Chaotic people need support.

Are you in a union? If so, ask you local rep to raise this issue at JNCC. Get the response minuted - it's then the organisation's formal instruction and this can be referred to when it all goes t**s up!

Thank you. I will do, especially as it doesn't seem to be a more widespread issue.

Question. .. Who makes up the enforcement team?

In our area it is a team of admins. To be fair to them they are just following protocol as you cannot have more than 3 UA's on an event without enforcement action.

Sounds like everyone does things differently. You can make a decision not to enforce an order with multiple absences without falsifying it (crazy to even suggest it)as long as your decision is defensible. If the proverbial hit the fan and you can stand by your decision then so be it. If you are made to record something you are not comfortable with make sure you say that you were instructed and by whom. I'm not sure an instruction from an admin enforcement team would hold much weight of you were answering questions in an SFO interview though. .. just a thought.....

Because in our CRC, enforcement action is an automated process. A 2nd absence (or 3rd licence) triggers an alert on a report that is looked at daily by the enforcement team. If enforcement action isn't taken at that time (due to whatever reason/professional judgement) and the individual fails again (making it 3rd or 4th, etc,) this is not sent through to the report as the system thinks they have already been breached (if this makes sense?!).

Our enforcement team is just following instructions as per the process dictated to them, unfortunately. X

I like the idea of the alert as sometimes it's missed, but these new instructions seem to be taking away your professional judgement...

It has it's positives although waiting for the system to pick up what I am ultimately the 'Responsible Officer' for does not sit comfortably with me, at all.

Now I can see how the term Responsible Officer takes away your role as manager...!! Watering down of the role. ..

I checked the process with an SPO before accepting the absences in the case in question. What I have learnt from this is if I don't want to be in the same boat again - I need to build a stronger case for recall I suppose it's less of a problem with Orders as we can (at the moment) make the call to breach whereas recalls have to be authorised.

It's funny because at our end we have to build a strong case NOT to recall.

You have to laugh or you'd cry!!

True!! Makes sense why we couldn't hold the service together!! x

The end of professionalism.

Friday 18 March 2016

Britain in 2016

"Ashamed to be part of CJS, ashamed to be part of CRC, ashamed to be member of a trade union that is failing its members, ashamed that we are allowing the Tories to destroy democracy and destroy the most vulnerable."
I thought it might be an appropiate moment to give some examples of the developing social and political context that increasingly-beleagured probation staff are being expected to work within under TR:-

Open letter from quadriplegic to Osborne: how is taking £120 a month from me going to get me back to work?

This open letter to George Osborne was posted on Facebook. Please feel free to share:

I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but I am so downright disgusted I feel the need to say something. Please feel free to share this post, in the vain hope that somebody who can make a difference might get to see it.

Dear Mr Osborne,

I am intrigued by your methods and incentives to get disabled people back to work.
I have been a quadriplegic for the last 13 years of my life. Let me give you a brief description of what this entails. I have to employ a team of four carers as there is practically nothing I can do for myself. A few of these things I can’t do include going to the toilet as I need someone to stimulate my bowels digitally, holding and having any kind of sexual relationship with my wife, playing with or indulging in any physical activity with my two sons, getting out of bed or going to bed without the aid of carers, dressing myself, picking up anything as my hands do not work, feeding myself, drinking by myself, scratching any itches on my face which is the only part of my body that I have any sensation.

I am writing this using a speech recognition program as I cannot use a computer keyboard properly. If you have any sense at all you will realise that I am wheelchair-bound and to be quite honest the list of what I can’t do is so endless that there’s not much point in me continuing to expand any further. Suffice to say that all I am really capable of is seeing (through glasses that have to be put on and removed for me) hearing (using hearing aids that have to be inserted and removed for me) swallowing food (which has to be fed to me by someone else) and that’s about it. Can you explain to me and the myriad others that find themselves in my position, sometimes worse, how decreasing my disability benefit by £120 a month is an incentive for me to get back to work. Perhaps you could outline for me what sort of work people in my condition would be capable of?

Yours truly,
Someone speaking on behalf of the severely disabled.


This from the Independent:- 

One in ten local councils are criminalising homeless people with new rules

One in ten local councils are using powers created to prevent anti-social behaviour to criminalise homelessness, new figures show. Freedom of information requests to local authorities by the website found that 36 local authorities were targeting rough sleepers with Public Space Protection Orders. PSPOs are local regulations which can be used by councillors to ban anything with a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”.

In 36 of 78 cases the orders are being used to make activities common amongst homeless people illegal, an analysis by the website shows. There are 375 local authorities in England and Wales. Anyone found in breach of a PSPO has to pay a £100 penalty fine and can face a criminal record and £1,000 if they fail to pay – as a person lacking a home or reliable income might. The power to introduce PSPOs was created by the Coalition Goverment with the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Hackney Borough Council in north London scrapped plans for a similar PSPO after a backlash against the plans. “It is absurd to impose a fine of £1,000 on somebody who is already homeless and struggling,” petitioner Zahira Patel wrote last summer during the row.
“People should not be punished for the 'crime' of not having a roof over their head - there is nothing inherently 'anti social' or criminal about rough sleeping.”

Housing and homelessness charities including Crisis warned that any move to ban rough sleeping would be “counterproductive”. The Local Government Association, which represents councils, has previously defended PSPOs. “PSPOs can be used to address anti-social activities in public spaces which are having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of local people,” a spokesperson for the organisation said last year. 

“Anti-social behaviour offences, such as aggressive begging, public drinking or the sale of legal highs, are far from “bizarre”. For victims and communities affected, they are serious issues and councils are keen to protect them from offenders who can make the lives of those they target a misery. Crime and anti-social behaviour by its very nature varies from place to place and that is why different councils are responding in a variety of ways.”


Also from the Independent:-

Benefit sanctions against people with mental health problems up by 600 per cent

The number of benefit sanctions imposed on people with mental health problems has increased by over 600 per cent over the last four years, Department for Work and Pensions statistics show. A joint analysis of the figures by the Independent and the mental health charity Mind found that 19,259 people with such conditions had their benefits stopped under sanction in 2014-15 compared to just 2,507 in 2011-12 – a 668 per cent rise.

The finding comes weeks after ministers rejected a call to investigate whether such sanctions – which involve stopping a person’s disability benefit income for weeks at a time to enforce compliance – are damaging to mental health. 
The ramping up of the policy goes against the advice of mental health charities, who have previously warned that its aggressive approach worsens mental health problems and makes it harder for people to return to work. 

Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said the dramatic rise was “alarming” and that the Government was refusing to listen to criticism of the sanctions’ impact.

“Stopping somebody’s benefits, or threatening to stop them, is completely the wrong approach to help people with mental health problems find work – it’s actually counterproductive. Pressurising someone to engage in often inappropriate activities under the threat of losing their benefit causes a huge deal of additional anxiety, often making people more unwell and less able to work,” he told theIndependent.

“In continually refusing to listen to calls for a review of the use of sanctions, the Government is not only undermining its ambition to help a million more disabled people into work, but is also failing its duty of care for the health and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people with mental health problems.”

Mr Pollard suggested that the Government take a more positive and personally-tailored approach to employment support for people with mental health issues.

“At the moment, fewer than one in ten people with mental health problems are successfully being supported into work through the Work Programme, the Government’s flagship welfare-to-work scheme, but tailored programmes have much higher success rates,” he said. “Instead of constantly treating people with suspicion, we need a system that makes an effort to understand their skills, ambitions, and the real barriers they face in getting and staying in a job.”

Research by the charity reported in the Independent earlier this year found that 83 per cent of people on the Government’s Work Programme because of their mental health problems believed the scheme had made those problems worse. 76 per cent of the same group also said the scheme, which is enforced by sanctions, had made them actually less able to work than before they were allocated to it.

Earlier this month disabilities minister Priti Patel rejected a call from SNP MP Callum McCraig to launch an official departmental investigation into whether the sanctions were injurious to mental health. She said any analysis would be flawed, telling MPs: “There are many factors affecting an individual’s mental health. To assess the effect of sanctions in isolation of all other factors would be misleading.”

She also claimed that there was “no evidence” to suggest that claimants with mental health problems were being sanctioned more than anyone else.


From Researching Reform website:-

Troubled Families Programme Is A Scam That “Coerces” Families To Engage.

A frontline social worker involved with The Troubled Families Programme has branded the project a scam, which has dishonestly based its success off the back of other agencies’ hard work and coerces families to engage, providing a constant revenue stream that benefits local government.

We are not surprised by this development. Back in 2012 we expressed our concern, along with others, about the criteria being used to ‘detect’ or label Troubled Families. We didn’t, and don’t, care much for the term itself either, but what was so astonishing was that the government was prepared to identify families in distress using what can only be described as irrational criteria. In its initial phase, social work professionals would need to ‘tick off’ at least five of the seven criteria present. In 2016, this checklist appears to have shrunk (the whistleblowing social worker in the piece above tells us that there are now six elements to the check list, and only two elements now need to be identified before you’re officially In Trouble).

The social worker makes several observations about the Programme:

  • There appears to be no qualitative evidence that the Troubled Families programme is actually responsible for ‘turning around’ the families it comes into contact with.
  • Many families are assessed based on information which is between one to four years old. Most have therefore resolved their issues with the help of other organisations or through their own accord.
  • As a result, those involved in the Project’s management are just mapping this progress and not actually contributing to outcomes, at all.
  • Much of the basis for the ‘independent evaluation’ of the Troubled Families programme is done on cases which have been labelled high risk. This means they will be dealt with by a ‘flagship’ Troubled Families team, which has a smaller case load and so able to meet with the family a number of times a week. This practice is therefore financially unsustainable if applied to the programme at large, but it is used as the basis for evaluation of the entire programme.
  • The programme is also being used to fill the hole created by cuts in local government funding. Refusal to engage in the programme is therefore not accepted by Troubled Families process managers, so staff use ‘creative’ tactics to make up the numbers. This has led to the coercion and harassment of families, who are being subjected to a ‘hard sell’.
All of this has created a culture of unethical practices which sees staff dishonestly reclassifying cases so they ‘fit’ into the programme. These are hugely concerning sentiments and ones which we should take seriously. Will an independent body investigate the claims?


Finally this from the BBC website:-

'A quarter of a million' UK students now using sugar daddies, according to app

A leading sugar daddy app says it now has almost a quarter of a million UK students on its books. Seeking Arrangement claims it's seen a 40% growth in the last year in young women joining. The figures are based on email address sign-ups, so some accounts could be people with multiple accounts, while the term students includes part-time workers and trainees. What's not clear either is how many of the users are "active" and go on dates.

Official figures released last month suggested a rise in crimes linked to dating apps and are also leading to an increase in the rates of sexually transmitted infections, according to doctors. Last year a study found that more than a fifth of students had thought about being involved in the sex industry. One in 20 students who took part said they'd worked either in glamour modelling, web-cam modelling, stripping or prostitution.

Seeking Arrangement says it aims to hooks up wealthy men with younger women. It claims the most new sign-ups have come from the University of Portsmouth and the University of Kent. The app makers say they believe the high cost of university fees and accommodation in the UK is making students look at new ways of making cash while studying. There is evidence that suggests fewer students are working while in full-time education.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says its figures suggest 29% of 16 to 24-year-olds were working in 2015. That's a 7% fall from 10 years earlier. In November Newsbeat spoke with 20-year-old Clover Pittilla, from Bournemouth, who uses the site.

"It wasn't for chavy people, there is a certain standard they have to meet," she said. "They are somewhere in life materially where they want to be and they just want to have fun now." When the subject of sex came up she told us people are very open in the sugar daddy dating scene. "Sometimes, sometimes [there is an expectation of sex]. But they are usually quite forward with that. "They usually say it straight away. If that's what they want then that is what they want. "But if that is not what I want, that is not what I am going to do.

"But if they are attractive or whatever and you wouldn't mind, then why not." Despite these figures on the amount of students using sugar daddy apps, some of the comments, at the time, about Newsbeat's interview with Clover still suggested it was similar to prostitution.

Student Clover believes that's unfair. "If you go on the internet, you see what people really think of it. "Some think it is like prostitution but it really isn't. You don't have to do anything you don't want to do." The types of people signing up to sugar dating services do not seem to fall into a certain wealth or social class. Seeking Arrangement claims 56% of university Sugar Babies come from middle and upper-middle class families.