Tuesday 26 July 2016

Parole Board Memo to MoJ

Those of us in probation have known about the IPP problem for a very long time indeed, a situation excacerbated by prison service cutbacks, TR, a backlog in Parole Board hearings and a general culture of 'risk-aversion' that permeates the criminal justice system nowadays.

As far back as 2010 the government admitted that the situation was 'not defensible' and David Blunkett the Home Secretary responsible for introducing the scheme is on record as saying he very much regrets the 'injustices' that have arisen as a result.

Unlike Chris Grayling, his successor Michael Gove also recognised there was a serious problem and was in the process of trying to find a remedy before he was unceremoniously sacked from the MoJ by the new Prime Minister Theresa May.

For this substantial group of prisoners, who have no idea when they might be released and with most way over their tariff date, despair often leads to self-harm as reported here by the BBC:-

'Self-harming rise' among prisoners on indefinite sentences
The rate of self-harm by inmates serving indefinite prison sentences in England and Wales has risen by almost 50% in four years, figures suggest. Last year, there were more than 2,500 acts of self-harm by prisoners serving imprisonment for public protection, or IPP, sentences, at a higher rate than among those serving fixed sentences. The Prison Reform Trust said it showed IPP prisoners were in "despair".

The Ministry of Justice said it was urgently looking at IPP offenders. IPP sentences were scrapped in 2012, but thousands of inmates are still waiting to be released. According to new Ministry of Justice statistics, which were compiled by the Prison Reform Trust, there were 2,537 incidents of self-harm among the population of 4,100 IPP prisoners last year. The figures suggest rates of self-harm among IPP prisoners have gone up significantly every year for the last four years.

'No finish line'
They showed there were 550 incidents of self-harm per 1,000 IPP prisoners last year. That compares with 324 incidents per 1,000 prisoners on determinate sentences and 200 per 1,000 prisoners serving life sentences. Of those still serving IPPs, 3,300 have served more than the minimum sentence they were given, while 400 have served at least five times the minimum sentence they received.


At long last it looks as if with Nick Hardwick's arrival at the helm of the Parole Board and at the behest of Michael Gove, there is at last a plan as to how to deal with the issue. This from the BBC website:- 

Parole Board chief urges indefinite jail release change
Prisoners held indefinitely after serving their minimum term or tariff should not have to prove it is "safe" to release them, new Parole Board chairman Nick Hardwick has said.

Various factors make it "incredibly difficult" for some inmates on Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences to find such proof, he said. He wants new criteria for freeing IPP prisoners in England and Wales. The Ministry of Justice said the suggestion had been "taken on board".

IPP sentences were introduced by Labour in 2005 as a way of stopping the release of dangerous prisoners. But courts were banned from imposing any more IPP sentences in 2012 amid concerns they were being used to hold people for periods which their original offence did not warrant.

In March, 4,133 IPP prisoners continued to be detained, the majority of whom had been convicted of "violence against the person", sexual offences or robbery.

'Festering in prison'
The Parole Board can approve a prisoner's release after the minimum term - the "punishment" part of their sentence - but only if it is satisfied it is not necessary to hold the inmate in the interests of public protection. It means the prisoner has to prove they do not present a risk and can be safely managed in the community. In March, about 80% of IPP prisoners - 3,347 - had already served their minimum term but were still locked up.

In his first interview since taking up his post in March, Prof Hardwick told the BBC that procedural delays, problems accessing offending behaviour courses and finding suitable accommodation made it "incredibly difficult" for some IPP prisoners to prove that it was safe for them to be let out.

"Some of them are stuck, festering, in prison long after the punishment part of the sentence," he said. Ministry of Justice figures show more than 500 IPP prisoners given tariffs of less than two years were still in prison five or more years later. "Once it gets to that point, they stop making progress and they start going backwards," said Prof Hardwick. "So this is, I think, a blot on the justice system and I'm very keen we can do something about it."

Risk test
He said Liz Truss, the new justice secretary, should consider activating Section 128 of the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The clause allows the justice secretary to alter the test which the Parole Board has to apply when releasing prisoners. Both houses of Parliament would have to agree to the change, but fresh legislation would not be required.

"There are legislative options that will enable us to change the risk test so it's more about 'is there proof that they're dangerous rather than proof that they're safe?' and there are some other measures that can be taken... to try to cut into that group," Prof Hardwick said.

The former Chief Inspector of Prisons said there were three categories of IPP inmate who would benefit most: Those on very short tariffs but still in custody; prisoners held beyond the maximum sentence for the offence they had committed; and offenders who were too frail or elderly to pose a danger.

The Parole Board is also trying to cut the backlog of prisoners awaiting decisions on their release, by hiring more parole panel members and dealing with cases more efficiently. Prof Hardwick said it was "crazy" to be paying out compensation to inmates held in custody because their cases were delayed due to a lack of resources.

In 2015-16, there were 463 damages claims lodged, five times the number the previous year, with £554,000 paid out in compensation, compared to £144,000 the year before. "It's not a good use of taxpayers' money," Prof Hardwick said. "It would be much better to put the money into ensuring that the system is working efficiently so that people get dealt with fairly and get out when they're supposed to and when the courts intended."

The Ministry of Justice said: "The chair of the Parole Board has made a number of recommendations to improve the parole system and reduce the backlog of IPP prisoners. "Work is ongoing within the department to address these issues and his recommendations have been taken on board".


As is now routine in the airbrushing of probation out of the picture, no mention of the vital role probation has in all this, both in preparing reports and release plans for Parole Board hearings, and in undertaking supervision under the terms of any Parole Licence. I so wish we had an effective, authoritative champion that could put our case......


  1. I couldn't agree more with your final sentiment! The risk averseness in all oral hearings is astonishing, you'd think there was a financial bonus for finding obscure reasons to keep people inside,

    1. This would of course be the same probation service that enthusiastically wrote lengthy reports that were risk averse and was complicit in the sorry mess of IPPs. Protection of the public was pursued dogmatically without much regard to the risks of indefinite imprisonment. Probation did play a vital role, supported by the so-called risk assessments of the invincible OASys. I have not heard of anyone in the probation hierarchy expressing regrets about IPPs.

    2. You make a very valid point, not least regarding the situation that has existed for some time, namely who speaks authoritatively for probation nowadays?

      I can safely say that this blog at least has discussed the situation regarding IPP on a regular basis and in particular the utter disaster created by OASys and the consequence of PO's becoming increasingly risk-averse.

    3. I recall that there was a criteria of who, based on their offence (either violent or sexual) and offending history, was deemed eligible for EPP or IPP sentencing. PSR writers were required to assess eligibility for EPP / IPP suitability and as with all PSR write a risk assessment. Judges based on all the info at their disposal inc PSR and made a decision on dangerousness of individual and passed a sentencing decision. I am absolutely sure that many commentators including Probation would have raised concerns with government about indeterminate sentences for public protection. Justice Ministers can be rather gung - ho particularly if justice policy sells well with the general public, technicalities about actual justice sometimes brushed to the side. See TR as recent example.

    4. Unfortunately the social work training we were given has been skipped by too many new comers (not their fault but the fault of headline grabbing ministers). Having had an SFO I was advised to recommend custody for all alcoholics, because "you could not trust them". The verbal advice I was given by the SFO investigator (who has the power to recommend dismissal). Shocked me and was ignored largely by myself, but I was an established PO, old school and wasn't going to take that nonsense. I put in a complaint, nothing happened but it makes me wonder what new PO's are taught in terms of values and what they are willing to do because they fear for their employment or simply want to climb the ladder.

    5. Due to the culture of targets and SFO investigations in London Probation Trust under former Chief Heather Munro and are axe woman Sonia Crozier (now NPS Chief for South East) we were conditioned to be risk adverse under the defensible decision making umbrella. The way I was taught in LPT sand the nature of the assessment systems meant you would practically assess a shoplifter as potential rapist or murderer. Absurd I know and such a waste of time and resources.

    6. Judges handed out those despicable IPP sentences,not probation officers, and prisoners and us now living with the unintended consequences!

  2. I had a case in which the previous PO now an SPO (soon to be ACO) wrote a PSR on a sexual assault. He recommended IPP as the dangerousness test had been met. The assessment and risk assessment was inaccurate and subjective. The offender was HIV positive and as such the PO recommended that he was "very high risk" because he could "infect" future victims. I was handed the case and did some research (back then we had time) with Terrence Higgins Trust. The offender was "non detectable" meaning he had no viral load and the chance of passing on the virus was unlikely as long as he complied with his medication. He received an IPP sentence in my view largely on the PO's recommendation that he was a genetic time bomb going off. When I liaised with the former PO as I was due at the parole hearing. He knew nothing about CD4 counts or viral loads. Nor did I at the time, my HIV knowledge was practically none. But I looked into it and learned before I put pen to paper, assessed any risk or made any recommendation. So there you had it. A risk adverse PO (now soon to be ACO) making generalisations whilst making a potentially life long sentence recommendation. What happened to me? Got sifted to the shitty CRC and left.

    1. 11:09 and 11:11 Thanks for sharing - it's all so sad to hear but at least a record can be held here for any future historian or academic interested to know why such a beautiful, simple concept - probation - all went wrong.

    2. I recall when we received our"training" on the new IPP sentence we were instructed not to recommend the sentence just to properly assess the risk it was up to the sentenced to decide if it warranted an IPP that said though we've been left with some very silly decisions

  3. Some probation officers are so far up their own arse. Got a case transferred when the probation officer got a promotion (it is all in the title). The notes read suspected gang member, has gang tattoos. I saw the back of his neck has writing but could not make it out clearly so we had a frank chat. Turns out it was a Marcus Garvey quote. When I liaised with the police regarding gang affiliation, they stated he was on their system as a gang nominal because the former probation officer had stated he suspected he was in a gang. The poor chap kept getting stopped and searched after that. Racism, tattoo stereotyping and ignorance. One conversation with this chap and I discovered he was bright, enthusiastic and had great potential.

    1. Yes 11:14 sadly I can believe it - this job carries so much responsibility messing with people's lives and futures as it does, as well as protecting the public. It was a huge retrograde step removing the social work element to our training.

  4. Understanding what informs good risk assessment and performing risk assessment is a key Probation task. It promotes defensible decisions rather than defensive or risk averse decisions to manage risk and intervene more generally. OASys is an evidence based structured risk assessment tool, as with all tools it reflects who (individuals, organisation, culture etc) uses it. I have become increasingly concerned about quality of risk assessments and ability to manage risk across the system. The need for a unified Probation service will be heard again I am sure.

  5. A stimulating mix of observations. IPPs were a dreadful mistake. The managerialist probation culture made it very difficult, as some of these contributions show, to exercise thoughtful, conscientious and independent judgements. The working model was risk averse, as probation was more concerned with potential reputational damage of something going wrong than with the fate of individuals – and when you reach that point in an organisation that claims to value and respect individuals, then you know something is truly rotten. It was not the probation service that preserved the humane values of probation, but some exceptional workers around the country who resisted, often at costs to themselves, the corporate herd instinct, as they sought to reach independent judgements untainted by the targets and knee-jerk responses to risk.

    I note that in the five values being espoused by Napo, 'independence' is one. Fine in theory, but what does it mean in practice? Probation has never been slow in articulating its values and mission statements, but as behaviour over IPPs shows, they weren't real values that informed real practice – they were self-serving slogans to hide the fact that the ethic of professionalism had been killed on the alters of pragmatism and conformity. As then the probation service was free to covert individuals into statistics and flowchart fodder.

  6. The rise & rise of the risk averse PO was a nightmare scenario made real for probation. My experience was that they tended to be lazy, incompetent &/or frightened - and often jumped into managerial posts at the earliest opportunity, having ingratiated themselves to senior management in a variety of ways... once in a manager's post they imposed their risk averse attitudes on their team.

    I agree to some extent with 09:49 & would suggest the period leading to Trust status & subsequent culture of league tables (2006-2010) contributed to an escalation in the use of IPP sentences, e.g. Trusts not wanting SFOs to blemish their performance statistics. Risk averse managers would be encouraged to increase risk & highlight IPP options to the courts. As described earlier, Oasys made it easy to raise the stakes. Maybe someone has figures that could prove/disprove this theory? There were probably additional cash-linked incentives to have IPP cases, as well as that age old problem of misplaced ego: "my cases are more dangerous than your cases", with idiots bathing in the reflected notoriety of their caseload & boasting about their "high level meetings".

    The most impressive & effective colleagues I've known in 25+ years of probation work simply got on with the job of being a Probation Officer. All have chosen to leave at various points in the last three years, the common threads being (1) the organisation's inability to deliver a meaningful service, (2) bullying by & incompetence of colleagues & managers, (3) not being prepared to tell lies or manipulate statistics.

    1. "The most impressive & effective colleagues I've known in 25+ years of probation work simply got on with the job of being a Probation Officer. All have chosen to leave at various points in the last three years, the common threads being (1) the organisation's inability to deliver a meaningful service, (2) bullying by & incompetence of colleagues & managers, (3) not being prepared to tell lies or manipulate statistics."

      So very true and so very sad.

  7. The problem was the politicisation of Probation. When I entered the field (1990), it was a Cinderella service which was known to have value in providing offenders with much needed support in getting their lives back on track. Since the CJA 1991, when Probation became a sentence in it's own right, it has been used by politicians to bolster up their careers and to help maintain the illusion of toughness on crime and criminals etc. All the soul was gradually ripped out of it and we were left with the hollow shell of risk assessment and risk management. Laudable but fundamentally futile (what risk management potential do you really have when you see someone for 1 hour a month?). We were mismanaged and misdirected by politicians and civil servants. We didn't lose out way; it was taken from us. I am no longer working in this field and am increasingly embarrassed by what I read. Don't blame your colleagues. The rot came from outside.

  8. Interesting discussion. IPP never achieved what it intended and now another shambles. But this is only likely to get parole board off the hook. Will result in release of many prisoners on long licence who will struggle to comply. Over to you then Probation and revolving door of release recall. Nothing like thinking ahead ???

  9. Hi Jim. I'm really struggling with my probation officer at the moment. May I have a contact email to ask a few questions...at the moment I'm leaving probation feeling worse off than when I enter and I just don't know how to deal with my PO. Thanks, Vaish

    1. Contact details are on my profile page.

    2. Probation Officer26 July 2016 at 20:56

      Or state the questions here anonymously if you want a varied response. I'm sure others would like to chip in.

    3. I'm terrified of my PO reading this blog so I will try and generalise as much as I can.

      My crime is white collar. It's not fraud and no money involved. I got custodial of a few weeks. I faced horrible things in prison. At 1st meeting with PO unfortunately I downplayed my crime and since then I'm accused of not accepting responsibility. From the time I was arrested to my court appearance to going to prison and to release I have shown remorse and continue to do so.

      My question is - how do I correct things with my PO. How do I get her to stop accusing me of not being remorseful. How do I show that I accept responsibility for my crime because truthfully I feel shame and guilt. Currently I freeze whenever I face her as she is so terrifying and anything I say she turns it around and accuses me or threatens that she will increase my risk score.

      My silence is being taken as I don't care, in reality I feel sad every day that I committed a crime.

      Any responses will be much appreciated.


    4. Probation Officer27 July 2016 at 00:06

      I suggest explain exactly what you've said here. It quite normal for people to minimise their crimes and mistakes, for various reasons. It's also quite normal for probation officers and probationers to not get the responses they want, especially in the beginning. Be open, let the professional relationship build, as there's much more to talk about other than risk scores and remorse. I can't see that there's really a problem here, but if you still feel the same after a few more sessions then make short written request to the 'Senior Probation Officer' with the problem and request a change of officer.

    5. I too am an ex-offender, currently on licence. I also find myself under scrutiny for evidence of / lack of remorse; my offence is not for white collar, but for serious violence, and as such there is an emphasis on over-pathologising and I often face quasi-diagnostic questioning, so I understand your worries on that score. The problem with analysing remorse is that it's something felt but rarely displayed. I haven't cried or broken down and begged the forgiveness of my PO because, quite simply, I have a professional relationship with my PO based around keeping the public protected from me. Like most people, I tend to disclose any feelings of that kind to those I trust the most, such as close friends and loved ones, and not to people working in a professional capacity who wish to use it for some peculiar data collection to stick in a file somewhere. Having served a substantial prison sentence I came across many cons who used remorse as some kind of currency, making sure they expressed remorse at the right time to the right people in order to benefit from it. This remorse may have been genuine, but when it's displayed to the relevant professionals and no-one else, it cheapens it somewhat in my view. Everybody has done something in life they regret and felt sorrow for the upset they've caused someone, even your PO, but it's only the offender base that are expected to display this sorrow on demand. My advice to you is not to worry about how this remorse should be displayed for and observed by your PO and how your risk assessments are affected by this, if you feel it and it's genuine, keep it to yourself and see it as a good thing - not as something to display and be rewarded for, but as something within which will keep you on the straight and narrow.

      I must say though, a white collar crime with a sentence calculated in weeks shouldn't normally attract this level of attention regarding risk anyway. I might be wrong, but I suspect there's something you're not disclosing. I don't care particularly, but I would also advise you to be honest at all times with your PO, even if you're being honest about the fact that you don't like them. Don't blag or bluff, just be honest, and in due course get copies of your OASYS and go through it with them, challenge the stuff that's inaccurate honestly. In my experience it's better to be upfront about it rather than trying to blag your way through things, or attempting to display things you think they want to see.

      Best of luck with it.

    6. Probation Officer27 July 2016 at 01:17

      If you're in licence after a "substantial sentence" and still discussing remorse then something is not right in your supervision too. I'm sure there are other areas of your life and future to focus on, and thinking the purpose is to protect the public from you is not it either. It's a shame to think some believe they're expected to break down crying in remorse when actually what you share with your probation officer is up to you. Your advice to the person above is spot on and there is no right, wrong or timeframe for expressing remorse. Any sentence for any crime can come with a focus on risks/rehabilitation, but an over-focus on remorse has little benefit. The same can be said for trawling through an OASys risk assessment for errors as this rarely changes the overall scores and nobody looks at this unless you're up for a parole review, so people should try not to give it as much weight as they do. I'll disagree with you on another point in that opening up to a probation officer doesn't cheapen it, not if it's genuine.

      Sadly I think you need the luck more than the first person!

    7. To Probation Officer: Thank you for your reply. What else could I possibly talk about with my PO? Initially we spoke briefly about my time inside and I was open about the violence I witnessed and subsequent flashbacks and nightmares. The week after she concluded I am victimising myself and that I did not spend long enough in prison to be affected. I've been pushed in a corner where I'm so scared to talk openly with her. Also having never been in the system before, I don't know what powers she holds to send me back to Bronzefield if I don't show enough responsibility or remorse for my crime. The remorse bit is the focal point of all our meetings, we just can't seem to get past it. Would I be penalised for requesting another officer? Thanks so much. V

    8. To Anon: Thanks for your reply. It's refreshing to hear that you can talk to your PO openly. I disclosed my feelings to my PO but sadly it's not enough and was taken the wrong way. I wish she would work with me and show me ways to take responsibility for my crime. It was a series of bad decisions regarding data within my employment. I served 4 weeks inside, 4 on tag and now other half on license. I can only hope that in the coming weeks we can move on to more substantial rehabilitation.

      Wish you all the best too. Thanks, V

    9. Now a confession, I am uncomfortable advising you on the basis of little knowledge. Talking to a "Service User" about their "PO" feels like stepping on professional toes so I have to be careful. This will be very generic, but here goes.

      I have always thought that remorse without behaviour change is an empty emotion. Lots of my guys have been so remorseful about the things that they have done but this has made zero difference to their behaviour. In fact often they use the fact that they are remorseful as "proof" that they are not terrible people but "victims of their own addictions/past/whatever". This is very aligned to the other thing they have which is "Enabling Guilt" they feel so bad about what they did that this somehow excuses them when they do it again.

      Now with the above it therefore follows that what I look for is evidence that you understand why you did what you did, are adult about it -accepting responsibility both for the behaviour and the consequences, and are using the knowledge to do things differently in future. It really is that simple.

      If you are both stuck at the barricades of remorse why not ask for a discussion of what remorse is and how you show it. This may be as simple as a different understanding of the word. Once you understand each other and have a common understanding then you may feel less frightened (Frankly I hate the idea that any of my guys would be frightened of me, frightened people do not change), and she may be less scary. In fact if you told her that you are frightened of her she may well be horrified, few of us come into the job to bully people.

      Also you sound like you have been traumatised by the experience of the last few months. Find somebody to talk to about it who you trust and who will listen.

      Pina Colada

    10. 00:20 again here - sorry to keep this tangent going but I should probably take some share of responsibility for my supervision still being in the 'remorse bubble'. Without going in to details, my experience with my OM from PSR onwards was a very poor one, upon release I had zero trust in the Probation Service and my opinion of practitioners was wholly negative. This was shared by many long-term prisoners, it has to be said. My current OM has tried to take a different angle to this, and I appreciate the effort she makes, but I'm very cautious and as such, progress is a lot slower than it perhaps could be. I only check this blog on occasion out of interest and am genuinely surprised, in a pleasant way, by how the attitudes reflected by those who post on here are not in line with my personal experiences with probation staff.

      Regarding OASYS errors, my OASYS had the incorrect index offence (I was guilty of a lesser offence than the one stated), which I found to be quite a big error, which took several years to address, as any arguments I put forward were perceived as minimisation, only when I was at liberty and therefore able to present my legal papers to my OM was this rectified. This is without commenting on the rest of the content. So whilst it's probably true that OASYS errors are of little significance in the long run, some errors are clearly a lot bigger than others!

    11. Not sure why this error on Oasys took so long to correct; when a quick call to the sentencing court by your PO would have confirmed the correct sentence details.

    12. Probation Officer27 July 2016 at 19:56

      V and Anon ex-offender,

      There is so much to discuss other than remorse. Yes we must discuss the what, when, where, why of an individual's offending and how they feel about it past and present. Depending on where they are at will determine what they have to say, which may be a little or a lot. Now Ive no qualms in saying that I have come across probation officers that will bang on about these areas in each and every meeting, and from prison way into the community without coming up for air. Unless there is some type of therapeutic benefit to this it will always become a pointless and mundane exercise, especially if the aim is to keep pressing until the individual says exactly what the PO wants them to say, and probably verbatim. I always remind probation officers, offender supervisors and programme deliverers, that those in prison and on probation should not be expected to say exactly what we want them too, nor should they be penalised when they don't. If everyone said and did the right thing then they wouldn't be in prison or on probation in the first place - go figure!!

      Getting to know somebody on probation means an opportunity to help them improve their life, even if we're just watching as an observer. There will always be times where it's useful to talk about what happened, how they feel about it now, and maybe even how the experience is being used to try to ensure it doesn't happen again. Overall, however, the majority of the contact should be talking about a lot of other things because that individuals life (past, present and future) is and will always be about a whole lot more than what happened on the date of an offence which could have been last week but can sometimes be many years ago - the point is that it's already past tense. I find that the best way of judging things like remorse, responsibility, reflection, etc is by letting it come out naturally, and in many cases it is pointless to try and force it because you won't get a full picture until the end of the probation order/licence and then some.

      When I speak with offenders in prison, at probation, in their homes or on the phone we literally speak about anything of relevance. Usual subjects include what's going on at home, in prison, in education, at work, relationships, budgeting, problems faced, goals achieved, and sometimes simply what's going on in politics, sport, etc. From what I get from people there are truths, lies, manipulation, threats, challenges, tasks, expectations, laughter and more. Usually the conversation rounds back towards whatever is helping that individual stay away from reoffending and improve their quality of life, and I've all sorts of encouraging and motivational diagrams, exercises and quotes that I use. Sometimes sessions are long and sometimes short, and individuals cross all ages, races, mentalities and offences, and thats with some I've willingly sent to prison and others I've kept out or argued for their release.

      This is all I can say and I hope it puts some perspective on my point that probation supervision doesn't have to be all bad. Those subject to it are required to turn up so the least we can do is try to give it a bit of meaning, with a touch of rationality and humanity included.

      On the points of OASys, yes you're right to address factual errors, I'm always myself always happy to correct these.

    13. Pina Colada,

      Thank you for your input especially about what evidence to look for. In my case, my crime happened within my employment and involved data breach. I am no longer in that employment. I didn't dispute my arrest, conviction and always admitted I did it. But all that isn't proof enough for my OM that I accept responsibility and I'm stumped how to demonstrate to her that I won't be breaching data anytime soon or committing any other crime for that matter. I have my own business now and I've gone through what procedures I have in place to ensure a breach never happens.

      I am undergoing talking therapy to deal with my mental state.

      I have told her I am frightened of her. She turned it back and said that in fact I am hassling her by 'simply not understanding her requirements'

      I will keep trying though, to build trust.

      Thanks, V

    14. Probation Officer,

      I wish I had someone like yourself as my OM. I can't even imagine my OM wanting to help me improve my life. On previous occasions when she has asked me about other parts of my life our conversation hasn't gone well, for instance:

      OM: How's work?
      V: Work is great, very busy.
      OM: Good, how's things at home?
      V: Everyone is very supportive.
      OM: What else have you been upto?
      V: Out with friends, work, socialising.
      OM: Your attitude to your crime is almost blasé...have you considered the impact on your victims? You say your family is supportive...it's almost like they agree with your crime. I'm going to have to give you a 'very likely' under reoffending again score'.

      She has then gone on to equate the feeling I felt when I lost my child to how my victims would feel if they found out about data breach. And instantly she transports me to a sad place in my life. And we end the session with me feeling really down and scouring websites like these to find solutions.

      Maybe for next session, I will write down what I feel I need help with from her end and hopefully she responds amicably. Otherwise I will request another OM.

      Thanks for your replies. They have been very helpful.


    15. Probation Officer27 July 2016 at 23:56

      Glad to help and I hope it works out. Also ask for a copy of your sentence plan and self assessment questionnaire which should have been completed at first appointment. Ask to complete a new self assessment questionnaire so you can include new needs to be added to the sentence plan. Ask for it to be explained exactly how probation sessions will be used to meet the objectives of the sentence plan, with scheduling if possible. If this is agreed to and met then you have progress. If refused then this should be included in your reasons for a change of probation officer.

      Good luck!

    16. I've never completed a self assessment questionnaire nor done a sentence plan and I've seen her 5 times now! Is it mandatory for everyone to complete?



    17. Oh Yes. The sentence plan is mandatory. Must be completed within 10 days of your first appointment and you're meant to participate in completing it, then you sign it and receive a copy to take home. In theory, if this and the self assessment questionnaire have been completed and the boxes incorrectly ticked to claim that you signed it, you can request both are redone with your input.

  10. Probation Officer26 July 2016 at 20:53

    Actually the IPP sentence was better than the mandatory life sentence brought in under the Crime Sentences (two strikes) Act 1997 which meant Courts had no discretion. The IPP legislation wasn't the problem it was the way it was applied to cases where it was unnecessary, similar to what's been happening with 'joint enterprise' legislation.

    They can't just release all IPP's as there are some that are not safe, the cases where IPP was properly applied. For the majority and the rest, let em out if they're post tariff as in most cases the required "work" can be completed in the community. This would be very straightforward if the MoJ recognised the importance and use of probation and probation officers in the process.

    I blame the Parole Board for this failing too as if it wasn't so far up its own self-important backside it'd be shouting from the rooftops the role/importance of probation officers in sorting this out.

  11. After spending time in several prisons over a 3 yr sentence I saw IPP's getting shafted left and right by both inside and outside probation. The most notorious example was one senior inside probation officer who would recommend IPP's get moved to open or released upon payment of a suitable sum of money. Didn't have the cash, didn't get progressed or released. These people have way too much power which unfortunately some abuse wholeheartedly to line their own pockets. It was also clear that whether or not an IPP got recommended for release or progression had more to do with how you sucked up to the right people (or paid them) than whether or not you were actually a risk to the public.

    1. "The most notorious example was one senior inside probation officer who would recommend IPP's get moved to open or released upon payment of a suitable sum of money."

      Surely this can't be true? Never heard of such a thing - has anyone else?

    2. Probation Officer26 July 2016 at 21:28

      I don't doubt your story. At the same time I've seen many IPP's released and supported for release by good probation officers. Support to complete the programmes, emphasis on education and vocational courses, and a place at a hostel for release if homeless. If the prison has the resources and probation has a realistic approach then it's quite simple if the Parole Board play ball obviously. We're not all pompous risk adverse egomaniacs in probation!

    3. Well the PO blackmailing IPP inmates is hardly going to advertise that this is what they are doing are they? Furthermore any IPP telling another officer or SPO what was going on is VERY unlikely to be believed and would more than likely be accused of making it all up and punished.

    4. I sincerely hope that the above story isn't true, that it is a myth or at least a misunderstanding. Like all professions, there address good and bad officers.

      Presumably the "one inside senior probation officer", under the current system would be an offender supervisor. They should have been just one voice in decisions regarding release of an IPP prisoner.

      My experience as an Offender Manager, completing parole reports and attending oral hearings, has been that more emphasis had been placed on the views of the Offender Manager (Community PO) and whether they feel that risk can be safely managed in the community.

      The offender should also have a voice, their own and that of any legal representative.

      I can only speak for myself and close colleagues but we regularly discuss the importance of the decisions we make about people's liberty. We know that we are in a privileged and powerful position and address mindful not to abuse that.

    5. Probation Officer27 July 2016 at 21:42

      Are we pretending that corruption doesn't exist in prisons and probation? I've not heard of it either but I can quite easily see how a probation officer in prison could get away with "give me £10,000 and I'll recommend your release". Yes we know they write only the custody report and they are one voice at the parole hearing. But they can quite easily try to manipulate all other report authors to recommended the same, especially if they're approaching the cases with a good of getting released anyway, or the cases where the home probation officer is weak, gullible, inexperienced or just doesn't care either way. If the decision goes against then keep the money and blame it on outside probation! I'm not saying it's true but it is possible and I wouldn't be surprised if there's been similar things happening at PSR stage. I once knew of a community service manager that took groups from sites to work on his home and in his painting and decorating business when he had large projects. We all have heard of prison staff dealing drugs and shagging offenders, and probation staff are not innocent either. We all know the vast majority steer clear of this type of thing but then poor pay and conditions attracts poor staff and breeds bad practices. Simple as!

  12. IPP's are difficult. on the one hand they are manifestly unjust. I have a guy who is 7 years past his tariff but keeps messing up in open conditions. he just revolves back and forwards, all the time complaining about the unjustness of it all and acting out. I have loads of sympathy for him but frankly cannot recommend progress at this point because he never sustains it. He is indeed going backwards and frankly I don't know what to do about it at all. He is in a cleft stick he cannot cope with watching his life tick away but the more he fights it the further back he goes.

    All of this is at root because the risk assessments we are told to undertake to underpin our decisions are not up to the job. Check out this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_swan_theory

    Basically our risk assessments try to predict rare events from normal distribution curves. The people who suffer are the poor sods mis-identified as dangerous, a massive pile of em are sitting on IPP sentences.

    Pina Colada

    1. Wikipedia:-

      The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. The term is based on an ancient saying which presumed black swans did not exist, but the saying was rewritten after black swans were discovered in the wild.

  13. I mean look at this.

    "Identifying a black swan event[edit]
    Based on the author's criteria:

    1) The event is a surprise (to the observer).

    2) The event has a major effect.

    3) After the first recorded instance of the event, it is rationalized by hindsight, as if it could have been expected; that is, the relevant data were available but unaccounted for in risk mitigation programs. The same is true for the personal perception by individuals."

    is that not every SFO report you have ever read in a nutshell. Then you add in the real reason why some murders are more serious than others, if you like the mega swan effect. Why is Hanson and White a black swan, Not because of the fact that two guys killed somebody, that happens quite often. No because the victim was a stockbroker THAT was the MAJOR event. Sonnex what Black Swanned that was not the fact of the murders but the fact that the victims were connected to French Diplomats.

    Our service users also black swan themselves on occasion. Had an opportunistic burglar once, got 7 years cos the stereo he lifted happened to be a top of the range Bang and Olaffson worth 9k (in 1997) He was looking for £50 for heroin.

    Pina Colada