Tuesday 31 October 2017

The Beginning of the End?

Mostly domestic politics seems to move at a snails pace, but every now and then something big kicks off from left field and suddenly it begins to dawn on a very worried-looking prime minister that it could all be over for her very soon. As with the expenses scandal and Jimmy Savile revelations, the 'sex pest' story triggered by the Weinstein saga is moving fast and has the capacity to torpedo the cosy Parliamentary boys club and possibly bring down the government.

In the following Guardian article I was particularly struck by the admission that blackmail is a routine element of our parliamentary democracy:-  

Katie Perrior, formerly May’s head of communications, said such information was often “kept away from the prime minister” but used by whips to enforce party discipline. She told BBC One’s Breakfast: “The information is held by the whips, because they use it to make sure that MPs know that other people within the party know exactly what they’ve been up to, and that behaviour either is not acceptable, or it will be used against them – you will vote in a certain way or we will tell your wife exactly what you’ve been up to.”

Theresa May to crack down as sex harassment allegations grow

Theresa May has insisted that she is determined to take tough action to protect Westminster staff against sexual harassment as MPs in both major parties predicted more sleaze allegations would emerge in the coming days. The prime minister wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, calling on him establish an independent mediation service for staff wanting to raise concerns about MPs’ behaviour and to enforce a grievance procedure which is currently voluntary.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority recommends that a grievance procedure is included in employees’ contracts. However, parliamentary staff work directly for MPs, who are in effect self-employed and do not have to adopt the policy. “It does not have the required teeth as contractually an MP does not have to follow the procedure. I do not believe this situation can be tolerated any longer,” May said in her letter.

A series of claims about the behaviour of senior politicians have emerged in recent days, after the Harvey Weinstein scandal encouraged women in other professions to share their experiences. The former work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb apologised for “sexual chatter” with a 19-year-old who had applied for a job in his office, while the trade minister Mark Garnier admitted asking a former assistant to buy sex toys and calling her “sugar tits”.

Labour MPs believe more allegations will emerge on their own side. The Sheffield Hallam MP Jared O’Mara was suspended from the party last week for a series of misogynistic and homophobic remarks on social media. “We’re not going to be immune from it,” said the Manchester Central MP, Lucy Powell. “It’s the attitudes and the power inequalities, whether it’s Hollywood, the BBC or Westminster.”

May’s call for a mediator follows demands from the Labour MPs John Mann and Sarah Champion for staff to be able to report allegations to an independent authority, particularly when the person harassing them may be their boss. MPs warn that the risks to young staff are intensified by late working hours, the fact that many politicians lead a double life – with one home in London and another in their constituency – and Westminster’s many bars.

The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the culture was even worse 30 years ago when she was first elected. “You would have sort of micro-sexual aggression. So women would get up in the chamber and Tories opposite would do this gesture like they were weighing their breasts,” she said.

“There was harassment, there were jokes which weren’t that funny – it was partly to do with the fact it was a very male environment – 650 MPs, when I went there just 20-odd women. “It was partly to do with idea of all these men away from home, it was partly to do with the fact there were eight bars and the very long hours and the bars were open for as long as we’re sitting, and partly with the notion that what happens in Westminster stays in Westminster. It was worse – it’s a little bit better now – but there’s a long way to go.”

Mann has threatened to name a parliamentary colleague who he said was thrown off a foreign trip for harassing women. The Conservative MP Anna Soubry praised May’s action, but said the proposed new system must go further. “What it must do, of course, is to protect all workers at the Palace of Westminster,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday.

“At the moment it looks like it’s only going to deal with those situations where a member of a team wants to make an allegation against a member of parliament – it must encompass any workers raising a grievance against anyone else.”

Powell told Today that politics was vulnerable to such abuses. Like the film industry, it was “an environment where you have many, many, many people desperate to work in a place” who relied on others for work. “When you have that mix of lots of desperate people in that environment, this sort of power abuse – and that’s what it is, it’s about a power inequality – can thrive,” she said.

Separately, MPs were sharing stories on Sunday about a Conservative MP who allegedly takes pictures of young men in compromising positions and uses them to extract sexual favours. The Sunday Times reported that an unnamed senior cabinet minister had grabbed a woman’s thigh and said: “God I love those tits.” One former Tory minister said: “The whole culture needs to change.”

Downing Street flatly denied reports that the prime minister receives regular updates from the whips about the sexual behaviour of her MPs. Instead, they said she had requested on Friday to see the chief whip, Gavin Williamson, and her chief of staff, Gavin Barwell to ask if more should be done about sexual harassment.

Katie Perrior, formerly May’s head of communications, said such information was often “kept away from the prime minister” but used by whips to enforce party discipline. She told BBC One’s Breakfast: “The information is held by the whips, because they use it to make sure that MPs know that other people within the party know exactly what they’ve been up to, and that behaviour either is not acceptable, or it will be used against them – you will vote in a certain way or we will tell your wife exactly what you’ve been up to.”

In her letter to Bercow, May said parliament should be a safe place for young people to work. “I believe it is important that those who work in the House of Commons are treated properly and fairly, as would be expected in any modern workplace.” She called for other political leaders to work on a cross-party basis to tighten up the rules.

A spokesman for the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said: “There must be robust procedures inside as well as outside parliament for dealing with abuse and harassment. Jeremy is ready to meet the Speaker and the prime minister as soon as possible to strengthen those procedures and parliamentary staff employment conditions.”

However, Labour accused the prime minister of “washing her hands” of the harassment claims against Garnier, after she asked the Cabinet Office to investigate the circumstances in which he had asked his former assistant to buy sex toys. The Cabinet Office oversees the ministerial code, which demands “the highest standards of propriety”. But the events in question took place in 2010, before Garnier was a minister.

The shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, said: “By referring wrongdoing to the Cabinet Office, the prime minister appears to be attempting to narrow any judgment on her minister’s behaviour to whether or not he is in breach of the ministerial code but this is limited in scope. The prime minister – as party leader – ought not to wash her hands of these matters in this way.”

Garnier, the Conservative MP for Wyre Forest in Worcestershire, did not deny the events detailed by his former assistant Caroline Edmondson in the Mail on Sunday. “I’m not going to be dishonest,” Garnier said. He insisted that referring to Edmondson as “sugar tits”, as she says he did, was a reference to the BBC comedy Gavin and Stacey, saying: “It absolutely does not constitute harassment.” Neither did he deny encouraging her to buy two sex toys in Soho, standing outside the shop while she made the purchase.


The rapidly-developing story led to the following contribution yesterday:- 

A wild & random thought - wonder if the culture of financial favouritism & predation is in any way linked to the prevalence of sexual favouritism & predation in so-called "high places"? C4 say they've seen the unredacted list of repeat offenders in Westminster that contains the names of at least 50% UK govt Ministers. Also interesting to see Soubry & Harman on C4 calling for the same broad powers of sanction against ANY power-based abuse.

For many years I have likened the abuse of staff within organisations INCL Probation to either DV or sexual abuse, i.e. that it is motivated & perpetuated by the power differential (NOT by tits and bums and willies) & is 99.9% a male perpetrator against (predominantly. but not exclusively) a female victim. Might this revolt against sexual predators invoke a shift in the power base? Might that lead to the exposure & termination of inappropriate, non-viable government contracts? Could TR really be about to fall?


The extremely popular Guido Fawkes website is running with the story with over a thousand comments and surely it's only a matter of time before the 'spreadsheet' is common knowledge:-

Tory Aides' Spreadsheet Names 36 Sex Pest MPs

Tory aides have compiled a spreadsheet accusing 36 serving Conservative MPs of inappropriate sexual behaviour, Guido can reveal. The dossier includes specific allegations against MPs, including one minister who is “handsy with women at parties”, an MP on the government payroll who had “sexual relations with a researcher”, one backbencher who is “perpetually intoxicated and very inappropriate with women”, and another who allegedly “paid a woman to be quiet”. It was produced by a number of current and former Tory staffers in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Guido has redacted names and identifying details above.

Several of the allegations on the list are already in the public domain, for example Mark Garnier asking his researcher to buy sex toys. The vast majority of the others will come as little surprise to anyone who regularly speaks to staffers in Westminster. Guido had heard all but three of the stories before. Many of the allegations are historic, others are ongoing. The breakdown includes:
  • 2 serving Cabinet ministers accused of inappropriate behaviour towards women
  • 18 serving ministers accused of various forms of inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • 12 MPs who are said to have behaved inappropriately towards female researchers
  • 4 MPs who are alleged to have behaved inappropriately towards male researchers
Senior Tories have spent the last 72 hours denying such concerns were being circulated by researchers, tonight Guido has the proof they are. 36 MPs is 11% of the Tory parliamentary party. This is not just a Tory problem and there are a significant number of Labour and LibDem sex pests as well. Though this spreadsheet is going to send shockwaves through the Tory party and government…

Monday 30 October 2017

Reaction To Panorama

Seen on Facebook:-

We welcome your reaction to tonight's Panorama expose of Probation. Remember this page is public. The private message device can also be used.

As is often the case with Panorama, it only scratches the surface in terms of acknowledging the levels of incompetence and self interest that was involved in the creation of the new structures. I only lost my career. Some people have lost a lot more.

It was a ill conceived reform that was rushed through by Chris Grayling, the then minister, without trialling, designed to save money and serve as Conservative political dogma. The changes have compromised probation and community rehabilitation companies making a previously difficult job almost impossible to supervise offenders adequately. Unfortunately, as a result, innocent people are and will be at risk of becoming collateral damage.

No surprises in the programme which seemed quite fair and accurate.

I think it got the message across about how we’ve all been shafted. No mention of Chris Grayling though. Also I would like to have known more about the NPS case featured as there were clearly indefensible decisions made but how overworked, inexperienced, unsupported was the officer involved?

There was a more detailed account of that dreadfully sad case in the Guardian.

I wasn't surprised by anything in the programme. I doubt it will change anything. I was made redundant last December and to be honest I am glad to be working in the private sector.

The programme was quite measured and got the message across. I do however struggle with the view that private equals bad. I work for a CRC and am the same qualified person I was before the split, trying hard to do a good job under difficult circumstances. Every day I see dedicated staff who work hard to support people, protect the public and reduce reoffending but because we are no longer NPS we are seen as somehow less qualified or less experienced.

Missing the point Xxxxxxxx.

Xxxxxxxx well said, its not the officers who are failing but being failed, along with the offenders and the public.

I don't think the officers are less qualified. They are just being required to perform impossible tasks as to the numbers they work with and still on the whole they deliver and at times deliver miracles.

I don't see it that way at all. When the split of NPS and the CRCs occurred, many fine and effective probation officers found themselves in the newly formed CRCs. A majority of former colleagues are working in CRCs and are labouring under excessive caseload and bureaucracy. A probation officer or probation service officer is only as good as the system they are working in allows them to be. This is true of the NPS and the CRCs.

Totally agree with this and this needs to end as we are all the same skilled colleagues at all levels that we were before this disastrous and shambolic split.

Well said Xxxxxxx.........No one listens to the staff trying to make this work....we didn't have a choice in any of this. I dare say we won't be listened to now either. I work in a very strong team but targets seem to take priority over everything else. I also believe that NPS are struggling as much or more than CRC....

Sadly this only scratches the service.

Breaks my heart to see our once gold star service in tatters.

The Program gave a clear view of the issues faced by staff in both the CRCs and NPS and the devastating impact on the public when probation services breakdown. Sadly the public only becomes aware of what probation does when it fails. Our successes are never acknowledged by the public or probation management. Probation staff in both sectors are currently working harder, with increased case loads, for less with no sign of a pay rise on the horizon for staff. Staff retention has become a major factor for the first time which is just making things worse all round. Chris Grayling should be brought before an appropriate parliamentary commission and made to respond to the parents of the victims identified in last nights programme!

Chris Graylings balls should be on a skewer!

And it's been going on for longer than the four years suggested by Ian Lawrence. AND - maybe if Ian Lawrence and Harry Fletcher and their cronies had defended staff against the attack on probation officers and their terms and conditions 10 years ago, privatisation might never have happened.

Because of the confidentiality around the cases, the successes could never be highlighted; in the same way as the outstanding NHS work that is being done. That enables the government to take pot shots from a great height x.

I have just watched the Panorama programme about Probation and it confirmed all I have heard and feared would happen when the reforms were first introduced. It is morally wrong that private companies, who are commercially driven and responsible to their shareholders for attaining profits, should be attempting to make those profits from the misfortune of others. Not only are they failing to achieve this but they are putting the public at serious risk.

All of us who worked for the Probation Service in the past warned the Government that this would happen and sadly we were right. Grayling would not listen nor would those in senior positions in the Ministry Of Justice. Highly experienced, dedicated professional officers have left the Service disillusioned and disgusted. Many others are struggling on, sick levels have risen, staff are being pushed to breaking point all to achieve a political ideology that has failed. If the idea was to improve standards, protect the public, reduce re-offending and save money then the Conservative Government has failed on every single count.

Thought the government got off light but it was a short programme which was a shame. Would like to see publicised somehow the whole history of the mishandling of the Probation service by successive Ministers since the Probation service became a national service when no one at the Home office attempted to address the different needs of each individual area. They then compounded the problems by using it as a political football, never listening to what those who knew what they were doing were saying what actually needed to be done (if that makes sense). Everytime a new minister or minion changed so did something in Probation, Community Sentences were the most messed about with and yet when they were at their best really successful in the work they were doing with offenders. Nobody minds change when its done for the best reasons, but when its done for political reasons only then you get disaster happening in the future. Those historical deficiencies in proper management have led to the terrible state of affairs of Probation and the rest of the criminal justice system.

The programme was far too short. I got out when Charles Clarke started as Home Secretary... it was untenable at that point. Did I miss it or was there nothing from NAPO? Or has it gone? It's appalling to see, even with that tiny snapshot. And yes, BBC avoid naming Grayling, no surprises there then.

From what we know Napo was instrumental in the programme being aired at least always courting the press to run a story.

This is such a true reflection of what is happening in our profession. Overworked, undermined and no support. I am aware things have to change, but I thought it was supposed to be for the better. It was so sad to see what has happened to the these individuals and to us as an organisation.

All the pit falls illustrated in the programme have been identified by the majority of us and we have been waiting for the Big Bang to take place. Chris Grayling would not listen before the split was rushed thru parliament and I hazard a guess that there will be unfortunately many more serious further offences in the future. The private companies will encourage officers to avoid breach and recalls because it costs money..... on the other hand the National Probation Service is just overlanded with the management of high and very high risk of harm offenders and on top of that have to find the time to deal/cope with the laborious and duplicate paper work. I am glad that I only have a few more months to go before full retirement.

They took a very stable and excellent public sector service that won awards and provided value for money and blew a massive hole in its heart..... the loss of experience and skill all round are the casualties as well as the public, communities and the offenders too! The new arrangements of managing those who receive a 12 months sentence or less in the community is a joke! The prisons need overhauling and should be responsible for rehabilitating offenders in preparation for their release... not wait until they are released! But we all know how under resourced the prisons are and the poor living standards .... oh yes, that too was a dismantled service that moved towards private contracts! Does this government not see a theme emerging and take public protection seriously. At the end of the day, this has to start with them and right now, they are swerving that responsibility with huge consequences. Wouldn't be a surprise if it comes out that Grayling is a shareholder!

I went to the CRC. When I was told by my (incompetent) SPO that my "performance" would be reviewed by what a computer said, not what effective support I could give to an offender, it was time to go. Sad day after 22 years.

I always thought it was Grayling's ill-thought out plan ...make very experienced probation professionals redundant, replace them with inexperienced staff at a cheaper cost ...give all the work back to the NPS ...result, chaos and stress amongst staff and service-users. This government is dabbling with the NHS and teachers in the same way x.

There are other things going on that this programme didn’t even touch on.... sad days.

Sadly, I think this programme just highlighted a few of the massive failings that are going on there. Hard working and committed staff are unfortunately fighting a loosing battle. They have got to do something about it but I fear they will not openly admit their mistake in privatising.

8 missed appointments; enough said!

Sunday 29 October 2017

Pick of the Week 28

"The Facebook entries are hand signals that probation staff are drowning, not waving."

Why would anyone who could get out, do this job now? Zero respect, poor pay which has fell behind teaching, social work, policing, prison officers all will be earning more now. I regularly work with probation.staff and to be frank the new breed have no initiative, are robotic and box tickers ... very sad.

“Hmmm. Here's a thought - what if Probation had a gatekeeping role where they were responsible for making detailed professional assessments of cases coming their way at the point of sentence or release/potential release?"

The Courts & HMPPS could ask professionals trained in undertaking such assessments for their informed opinion, perhaps in a report which offered a view as to an effective way for working with each case in question - a bit like the way in which a specialist psychiatric or psychological report (prepared by a qualified professional) indicates how & when an individual might benefit from intervention. It's not an exact science but it allows for a professional gateway through which the circumstances of cases are thoroughly & individually assessed, where all options for progression are explored & concluding with the suggestion of an agreed, appropriate pathway of intervention. Would such an idea work?“ Well it did from when I started in the late 70s ...

The 'gatekeeping' role for probation is an interesting idea for me. I believe that making someone subject to the probation service is pretty pointless, counter productive, and a waste of money and time, if the needs of that person (even in part) can't be met. I also believe that many on probation books leaving custody should not be subject to probation supervision. Some simply don't require supervision at all, and those with mental health problems would be better suited by support from alternative agencies.

Nor do I believe that 'risk' should be the prime director of whether someone is allocated to CRC or NPS. Need and level of support required should be just as important as risk in assessing where to place a person. I think that if the government want to make everyone leaving custody subject to supervision, then that should be done by an agency solely with the remit of supervision. That agency should not be probation. Those on supervision could be identified as needing probation interventions, and referred appropriately. It may make for a smaller probation service, certainly smaller then whatever supervisory agency would be in place, but it would at least allow probation services to do probation work, and of some benefit to some people. The current model doesn't really do anything in providing support OR supervision, and the only beneficiaries of the service are the privateers making lots of money from it.

I can't help thinking the ball is in our managers' court. It must be their turn to tell those above that all those things that are being demanded can't be done. And that the powers-that-be must decide what they want done. The answer cannot be 'everything '. But then even if the powers-that-be agree that not everything can be done they will choose the useless bits so we still can't do our work properly. Then how about all of us together just working our hours? No, same thing will happen. We will be input data clerks at the cost of a high hourly rate + fall-guy when an important person gets robbed or murdered. I do think we are done now.

In parts it reads like an agony aunt column. At one time support/guidance could be sought within probation offices, as there were experienced officers who could share their knowledge and offer advice. Now it seems the apprentice must go to social media. There is little point in seeking advice on practice issues from managers as they are not hands-on anymore - furthermore, they don't like to leave their fingerprints on any decision that could backfire on them. Yes, corporate probation has been at pains to devolve responsibilities to those on the frontline while taking away those discretionary powers that once enabled staff to exercise professional autonomy. The Facebook entries are hand signals that probation staff are drowning, not waving.

TR was to be wonderful. Bringing together the best of the public sector, private sector, and the third sector to work in perfect harmony and help those poor souls who are released from prison with only £46 in their pocket to try and rebuild their lives. TR would private offenders with accommodation, an all inclusive wrap around support system, advice and guidance at every juncture. People would even have their own mentor to guide them through troubled times. There would be resettlement prisons where you would be moved to prior to release and have your issues and problems met by the new and wonderful Through the Gate Services. 

The truth is none of it happened. TR's only success was to hand shit loads of tax payers money to private companies. TR reduced the level of support extended to those leaving custody, and the fallout between the third sector organisations and the private companies meant that many agencies that would have previously extended their services to people leaving custody won't anymore if you're on a probation supervision order.

I'm looking forward to tonight's Panorama, but it can't highlight many of the problems TR has caused in half an hour. I agree completely with the comments above. It's important to highlight the failures, but it's even more important to show 'why' those failures have happened. I hope that tonight's programme can point in that direction a bit.

So Panorama? Jesus - if only they knew the half of it. It was all bang on the money, but they barely scratched the surface. It's much much worse on a daily basis than portrayed in the programme.

Exactly, it is much, much worse but Working Links lie and cover up. They are dishonest and cannot be trusted to put the public first. Money is their only priority, simple as that. Why are we being left to swim in a stinking cesspit of Working Links bullshit whilst they prance around spending taxpayers money on their sad jigsaw puzzles for PR excercise.

Working Links lie all the time and from complicit actions of many Probation staff. Sad to see Panorama illustrate it's a cash grab game. This is peoples lives. Worse the lies of Working Links saying they will move the systems to include more offender face to face time. Oh no they will not. That is a lie and they have no skilled staff to deliver anything safe. GOV. UK you fund a call centre on billions of pounds what a racket the Aurelius company think they won the lottery every week until the contract ends.

NAPO must support the brave whistleblowers that took part in the Panorama programme. It is never right to bully whistleblowers and try to prevent the truth coming out. Panorama programme was good and explained the situation quite clearly. However it is only the tip of a large and unstable iceberg. Working Links CRC's are at crisis point..put simply..it is going under. Dame Glynis is very honest about the situation but fails to give any sense of urgency..what would it take for her to show some animation and state that MOJ must intervene NOW! Same with Ian Lawrence. Come on..show some fighting spirit. We are in the shit NOW and need more than a stick to keep us afloat in the Working Stinks stench.

If you can manage 75-100 cases remember all their names and details of each client and their issues and which ones you have seen this week and what they have said and what you have to do to help them which referrals to fill which targets to tick which meeting to attend remember which clients have been seen enforce and then record everything above because its all a priority. I wouldn't see anything missed as an individuals negligence more systematic failures which would make me look at the companies. YES IT IS JUST THE COMPANIES.

Panorama this evening was shocking. As a Mother and Grandmother it was chilling to see what might happen to our innocent family members on our street this was so unsettling. How on earth has this service been allowed to be outsourced to outfits like Working Links? This is selling murder and misery to the highest bidder. I feel so sorry for these grieving mothers and their families. Ian Lawrence came over as out of his depth he will have to do a lot of work to hold these private companies to account. Where is the public protection? He should hold his head in shame.

I imagine the figures in Wonky Links CRCs would be equally as bad. Overwhelming caseloads mean we have no hope of following everything up, and the broken operating model means when staff are off sick or on leave, no-one is available to cover for them. The message is clearly getting out that if you miss an appointment, you've got a better than even chance of nothing being done about it.

MoJ, HMPPS, Daily Hate, etc... Look at the root cause, not the symptoms. This whole catastrophic mess was brought about by impatient, incompetent, over-ambitious ideologues, i.e. Justice Secretary Grayling & his political lickspittles including Michael Spurr, Jeremy Wright, Dame Ursula Brennan, Antonia Romeo, Probation Chiefs who collaborated for handsome cash rewards, etc, etc.

The taxpayer & general public have been financially & morally ripped off by the whole TR/privatisation fiasco, and have paid a high price. Any failing or incompetence by staff has been fostered by the inherently abusive organisational approach e.g. overworked, unqualified, exhausted, bullied.


How the hell can we work in a totally flawed system? The few cases that are escalated to NPS it then takes a few weeks to be allocated. So you then end up with a high risk offender not being seen due to bureaucracy. We've probably all got cases that are not managed as well as we'd like just praying they don't commit a serious crime. It's ok as long as you don't miss a target.

This is just an indictment of repeated failures across all organisations with a wide body of evidence to support poor practice and lack of quality information sharing. Private organisations are economical with the truth and more into hitting relevant targets, promoting failure (central hubs being typical examples) providing a distinct lack of specific and meaningful training and genuine understanding of staff needs. Unless you have a shared understanding of required goals, accountability top down (desperately needed) experienced and well trained staff with infrastructures to support....not systems that repeatedly fail...then failure will continue to be the norm. Public protection and confidence in what we do is fast becoming a distant memory, but we'll have the comfort of knowing share profits will continue to rise with any additional MoJ monies being used to support wider organisational failure's. In essence an absolute shambles.....

It's not just about lack of money or TR or the system that causes the problems highlighted in the Panorama programme. It is fundamentally about the attitude of probation staff at all levels to those they supervise. I wrote a guest post a while back about my experience of being on probation and was saddened and disgusted by many of the comments made on the post by extremely judgemental and dismissive probation practitioners who claimed not to recognise my experience of being supervised by probation. 

Yet the Panorama programme brought into sharp relief the unhelpful, judgemental and superior attitude of probation practitioners towards those they supervise. The supervisee they highlighted who was sleeping on friends' couches and got recalled due to failing to attend two appointments he was not notified about is so typical of the nasty attitude of probation practitioners - punishing supervisees for your own failings and flaws. I know a woman who got recalled merely for breaking down in front of her OM when notified of a family death by an OM who decided without any evidence whatsoever that she was going to rush out and commit a crime simply because she was legitimately upset. Neither of these people had committed a further offence; neither was a danger to themselves or others and both were doing their best to turn their lives around without any help whatsoever from their OM's or anyone else in probation. Probation effectively punished them for probation's own failings and for trying to turn their lives around. 

Probation is broken - yes in large part due to Grayling's totally ludicrous "reforms" but there is also something far more fundamentally wrong with those working as probation officers at whatever level. Probation wasn't working before TR and TR has simply exposed the rot in the system. A root and branch rethink of probation is required and one that puts the "client" at the heart of it. You won't change people by imposing ludicrous and ridiculous requirements on people. You need to involve people from the start and work with them not do things to them. If people buy in to things and feel they have a stake in whatever happens they are far more likely to adhere to conditions than if you impose stuff on them.

"You won't change people by imposing ludicrous and ridiculous requirements on people. You need to involve people from the start and work with them not do things to them."

This is where there is a division between 'old' probation ("dinosaurs") & 'new' probation ("realists"). It invokes bitter commentaries as they wrangle about the validity or efficacy of PO/PSO, pre-and post-social work qualified, 'clients' or 'offenders'. The social work training and ethos of the 80's & 90's gave a focus on working WITH or alongside, person-centred, enabling. Boateng's signature "We are an enforcement agency..." was indicative of the 'new' direction. Those who were recruited in the 'new' era are the product of the time, the training, managerialism & the mixed messages from employers, e.g. SEEDS training, enforcement targets, the influence of NOMS' control & command.

I also think that the 'new' era brings restless ambition. Time-was a PO would qualify after three years full-time study with placements, a year's probationary period under supervision with protected caseload; consideration for holding more serious cases or Lifers would follow if the practice teacher felt the time was right; specialist roles (courts, programmes) would be available after two/three years' experience. A Senior PO (now perhaps Team Manager) position required minimum five years' experience.

I know of too many probation staff who are control/command orientated, who seem to relish authority over others, who are motivated by fear of failure, who respond to targets & 'metrics', who can't wait to become senior management & leave 'offenders' behind. The privatisation & current hierarchical structures is manna to them. But I also know many more who are focused on working with their caseloads, who see that task as their professional role and who would happily spend 30 years as a PO. They are struggling, collapsing exhausted, and leaving. These are the 'dinosaurs', the 'weak', the 'soft'... those that TR is crushing the life out of.

There must be almost as many competing notions of what the purpose of probation should be or is held by those working in the service itself, as held by the general public. Public protection is mooted often, a bit like 'Brexit means Brexit', but if you can't deliver the practical support to enable change, then I don't think that mantra holds water. The threat of sanction and imposed restrictions really only shifts responsibility for change from the organisation onto the individual. Many just don't have that ability within themselves, or have the social tools at their disposal to instigate that change. Is that where probation can help perhaps? What is the purpose of probation today? What does it achieve? Would society be any worse off if probation in its present form didn't exist at all?

Last two posters - thanks it's good to see some analysis of the change in the culture from training and the government demands. The way we all shifted to accommodate new requirements. Later on I suspect the 'bash the old brigade' will return to this blog and give us the wisdom of aggressive control directives and breaches as the only way we can and should manage offending. Punishment works whatever form it takes.


Star comment of the week:-

I can appreciate the points you make, but I think it's wrong to characterise old probation as dinosaurs. Old Labour were also dismissed as dinosaurs and I think it was Donald Rumsfield who dismissed Germany and France as old Europe when those countries refused to get involved in the Iraq war. Behind the labels it's always about ideas and values. - and whilst these wax and wane in the battle of ideas, they never become extinct. Who the Realists are depends on whose winning the arguments at any given time.

I happen to think the probation 'modernisers' were never realists – they were pawns of the management consultants who promoted management practices that viewed people as commodities. This went down well with some probation staff, but many rejected this new model. They weren't dinosaurs: they simply weren't for sale. Many have since left probation, but you only have to read this blog on any day, to see that the ideas and values that animated old probation are alive and well – and in vogue across the political spectrum – from rail renationalisation to free access to employment tribunals.

Plenty of negative coverage for Working Links but let us not forget that they are owned in all but name by the German 'turnaround investment company ' Aurelius. Gothham City hedge fund research..run from New York have plenty of negative things to say and accusations of impropriety at Aurelius HQ. Clearly this was massive thorn in their side as their shares plummeted by 30% when Gotham City published their findings. They have since rebounded but no doubt GC will be continuing their research into their dodgy dealings and the latest report to be found states 'Aurelius puts Dutch IT provider on the block'. 

I think we can conclude that Working Links is not being financed by an ethical company and their sole motive is profit. If the buck stops at the top then we need to look all the way up to the lofty heights of Aurelius chief executive financier..oh, but hang on a minute..a bit of scratching of heads here as no one seems to know who he/she is! Seems to be one name in theory and another in practice! Given the quick turnaround of Working Links chief executives they are obviously taking their model of leadership from Aurelius. No doubt if they get their way and MoJ continue to take us to the cleaners, Working Links will consolidate into one operational empire, the whole of Wales and South West and then start looking at neighbouring CRC's who are viewed as weak to take over. 

We then see a situation of creeping privatisation into the slippery arms of a few multinational companies. Well done Conservative Politicians..what brilliant innovation..you have taken us back to 1984 and a fiasco of Orwellian proportions..we even have the 'thought police' ..forcing us to use the term 'our people' and trying to persuade weak willed CRC managers to swear an oath of allegiance to Working Links. Perhaps some of them actually did. Sell your soul and moral compass for the sake of a measly pay cheque and use of a company smart phone. Brilliant!

At least it's good to know that 'public protection is our top priority'. If I had a quid for every time I heard that, I could just about pay enough to Steria to get Delius working properly.

Right. Can we all agree on ONE point? The top priority of these private companies is NOT public protection. It is making profit, simple but not pure. I have felt this very much as a Working Links employee for the last 3 years since they took over. Or rather Aurelius, the real employer, hiding behind is Aurelius. That was not mentioned in Panorama was it! That MoJ allowed Aurelius to buy them up because WL were broke! So in my mind the real culprits are MoJ and the Government who should be there to protect the public. About time MoJ took them back into public ownership. Dame Glenys is too polite to say it but Aurelius are a corrupt and shameful company full of greedy bankers who know nothing about offenders or public protection. This is not working and MoJ must now step in fast.

Saturday 28 October 2017

Omnishambles - Surely Not?

It's been a busy week here at blog HQ and I had nothing prepared for today. But then I'm sure I just heard Michael Gove refer to the difficulty of being interviewed by the likes of John Humpfrys on the flagship BBC Radio 4 Today programme when embroiled in an 'omnishambles' - a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.

It reminded me of this from 2016 which I noticed garnered a staggering 47 comments. In the wake of Wednesday's Panorama, it seems rather appropriate to revisit the Civil Service World interview from October 2015:- 

Paul Wilson interview: the interim probation inspector on reform, outsourcing and resource pressures

The controversial privatisation of probation services is no “omnishambles”, interim chief inspector Paul Wilson tells Sarah Aston. But he does worry that resource pressures could lead to a repeat of the Daniel Sonnex tragedy

Arriving at the Ministry of Justice to meet interim chief inspector of probation Paul Wilson, one thing is on CSW’s mind. With the sixth season of the BBC’s Great British Bake Off still in full flow, CSW wants to know if the chief inspector – who, bar a five-year stint in the private sector, has spent his 40 year career in probation – has ever met Paul, the prison governor who baked his way into the quarter finals of the show?

“Is he the one with the beard?” Wilson asks, before revealing he has never met the culinary governor. His wife watches the show, but he apparently only catches it from time to time. That’s perhaps unsurprising, given the daunting workload Wilson inherited after stepping into the chief inspector role in February – a post he will remain in while the government searches for a permanent replacement for Paul McDowell, who was forced to resign over criticism of his personal relationship with MoJ outsourcing bidder Sodexo-Nacro.

A veteran in his field, Wilson joined the profession at 21 as a probation officer (“After university, I carried on doing a ‘vacation job’ in catering, but then I met the person who was going to become my wife and she was already a qualified teacher so I thought, I really ought to get a ‘proper’ job”) and has led probation services up and down the country, as well as serving as a non-executive director at the National Offender Management Service.

In his current role, Wilson is not only overseeing a shakeup of the inspectorate’s model, but is also responsible for ensuring the comprehensive Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) reforms maintain probation standards. Introduced in April 2015, the reform programme has seen the privatisation of almost 70% of probation services, splitting offender management between privately owned Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS).

It’s a challenging task, given the apparent unpopularity of the reform programme. In April 2014, probation staff around the country went on strike over the changes and penal reform campaigners have continued to express concerns. “It is absolutely true that the reforms were very unpopular, of course they were – it’s a huge amount of disruption,” Wilson says.

This is picked up in the chief inspector’s annual report – published in August – in which Wilson said there are “significant operational and information sharing concerns across the boundaries of the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies”. However, the report went on to conclude that “transitional” problems could be resolved with “time and continuing goodwill”.

“There are still significant numbers of staff who retain that optimism, and hope that, freed from some of the bureaucracy of the public sector, they will be able to exercise more professional judgement and get more job satisfaction,” Wilson explains.

“For all we have reported on real issues around practice, it is true to say that the wheels are not coming off the probation service. It is withstanding this change process very well indeed and performance for the most part is standing up. Omnishambles this is not.”

When he speaks about the reform programme, Wilson’s tone is generally sanguine. Yet he does accept there have been real challenges in delivering it, and concedes that, in some cases, concerns over privatising offender management are valid. These concerns have been supported by his inspections.

Among the biggest changes are the decision to outsource the majority of cases – CRCs are now responsible for all low-medium risk cases, while the NPS handles the high risk cases – and the move to introduce a payment-by-results framework for CRCs. One campaign group told CSW this framework raises questions about the incentives behind managing caseloads, as there is a risk companies might focus on “easy” cases to ensure payment, or fail to escalate those deemed a “high risk” to the NPS for fear of losing money. Is Wilson worried about these scenarios?

“The idea of perverse incentives has been an issue since payments-by-results was mooted in the coalition government,” Wilson acknowledges. “There is a concern about getting the allocation system right. There are major teething issues around that process – that absolutely cannot be denied – but that’s not a failure of policy or probation instruction, it’s an issue around the time and the priority that practitioners actually have in the heat of the courtroom and the 24 to 48 hour turnaround that follows the court’s decision.”

“We simply can’t know the answer to those questions yet. In my annual report I said that I thought it would be two or three years before the system is settled and the data is reliable enough to make judgements about that sort of thing,” he says. “On social media that was characterised, I think, as me saying: “Well, fingers crossed!” he adds wryly. “It’s not that for a minute, it is just it would be wrong to leap to conclusions at this point in time before the system is anything like mature.”

Likewise, when asked if he believes companies will use the need for commercial confidentiality to block inspection work into key areas of service delivery, the probation watchdog says that, while he does not think it will be a problem, it is too soon to tell.

“I think it has been a reality in one or two sets of circumstances in which the inspectorate has been involved, but as we engage with CRCs, I’m for the most part reassured that the new companies see a bigger picture than that, and are prepared to share what they are doing and their data and information, and will do so into the future,” he says.

“I understand the issue, but I think it’s far too soon to be pessimistic about the way CRCs will respond. Overall, we have to hope everyone invests in the probation system, and sees that, actually, all the organisations are still very much connected. I’m still optimistic about the ability of the whole system to work across the board.”

While Wilson remains hopeful about the success of the reforms, one area he is decidedly less assured about is the impact of any further cuts as a result of the austerity agenda. And while all Whitehall departments and arm’s length bodies are facing spending challenges, Wilson has seen first hand the consequences resource pressures can have on the probation service. In 2009, he was appointed chief probation officer in London – a role that no-one wanted – immediately after Daniel Sonnex murdered two French students when on probation.

“Sonnex was a serious offender, and at the time the murders happened, he was supervised by a young, inexperienced probation officer with a ridiculous workload of about 120 cases, line managed by an inexperienced temporary senior probation officer and a remote senior manager. It was absolutely awful, it shouldn’t have happened,” he says.

While the Sonnex incident was a result of poor local management of people and resources, rather than budget cuts, for Wilson there is a lesson to be learnt.

“If I can make a link between the Sonnex case and Transforming Rehabilitation – it’s right that from a neutral position I remain optimistic about what may be achieved under TR, but I do have a worry. We are in times of austerity and this government wants more for less, and the new CRCs have a bottom line in relation to costs and profit. In that context, I am worried about the prospects for staff and the future staffing levels and I fear the Sonnex scenario being recreated with inexperienced staff, possibly less trained and qualified than they were before, with larger caseloads, managed and supervised by more remote managers.

“That is my fear. It is no more than a fear – there is no evidence at the moment that that is definitely going to happen, but that would be my fear and I’ve already started a process of drawing ministers’ and others’ attention to that because, by the time it is either disproved or becomes a reality, I won’t be sitting in this chair.”

Wilson plans to step down in February 2016, by which time he thinks the new permanent chief inspector will be in post. At 65, he is looking forward to his retirement. Although he may not be entering any baking competitions, the chief inspector does intend to make the most of his leisure time.

“I’ve got three children, the oldest lives in the States and he and his partner have just had a baby, so part of the plan is to spend more time in California. That will be hard won’t it?” he laughs.

Yet, while this will be his “last full-time senior management or executive position”, he doesn’t plan on leaving the arena completely. “At the beginning, as a young probation officer, there is no doubt I was driven by the belief that probation could help people, and help offenders, to turn their lives around,” he says. “I still absolutely believe that in my heart.”


...being London’s chief probation officer after the Sonnex case
“The reason I was asked to go and do the job – originally for a few months – was that no-one else wanted it, because it was so tough. My proudest achievement, I think, is that I did enough to make it an attractive job for other very able and talented people after I left. In the space of two years we were able to get trust status, which was the prize at the time.”

...changing the inspection model
“When TR was devised, the deal with the CRCs was that they would be less constrained by old policies and practices. In light of that, the inspection regime had to focus more on outcomes and reoffending rates than it did in the past, where there was more of a concern for quality processes. That’s been an interesting journey for the inspectorate. We have got to the point where we are already piloting our new quality and impact inspection model, and we think we’ve got the right balance: the best of the old, but fit for purpose in relation to the new. There is much less emphasis on ‘have you done this, that and the other to the required standard?’ and more on the question ‘have you made a positive impact on this offender?’ and ‘explain to us how you did it’.”

...what the private sector experience gave him
“There are many people in the public sector who still characterise this new world of outsourcing probation services as ‘public service good, private sector bad’. I mean, that simply has not been my experience of working in the private sector, and working with private sector companies. It is far too simplistic. I think it’s that level of understanding, the ability to explain that good values don’t belong just in one place, that I’ve bought with me, and that has been the most valuable lesson.”

Friday 27 October 2017

Napo Responds To Panorama

Thanks to the reader for sending me the following e-mail to all London Napo Branch members yesterday:-

Dear Members

Those who saw the BBC Panorama programme ‘Out of Jail: Free to Offend Again?’ last night will no doubt be shocked, saddened, disappointed, and even in some cases feel angered by the programmes content.

We all want to work for ethical employers (public or private) that we are proud to work for and who we have confidence in to enable and facilitate the work we know we can do. The last three years have been extremely challenging to say the least with fundamental changes taking place that have left many of those in our profession feeling powerless and a significant number feeling that we are at rock bottom and that they have had enough.

We have yet to meet any member of probation staff who does not want our work to be appreciated and better understood by the wider public in its entirety and valued more for the contribution it makes to our communities as a key public service that makes a significant difference, along with other public services, to the quality of life in the UK. That does mean opening our work more to increased public scrutiny where both our failures are discussed but also those things we can do well such as helping to rehabilitate increasing numbers of people who might otherwise be sent to prison or reoffend and create far more victims than there are now. There are fundamental questions to be addressed both by us and others about what we do and how we do it going forward.

We don’t think anyone watching the programme could fail to be genuinely moved by the truly tragic and heart-breaking images and footage shown and the terrible sequence of events mentioned. As caring human beings and professionals our thoughts go out to all victims and all those impacted upon by what may often be considered avoidable events. We all work hard in our professional lives to prevent these types of tragic events precisely because we know in detail how devastating they can be to all concerned.

The programme featured probation staff who made disclosures anonymously and who tried to share their own authentic experiences of working in probation in 2017 that must have been uncomfortable viewing for some. Those who were at Napo AGM will have recognised London MP Bob Neill who chairs the Justice Select Committee and who is no stranger to probation staff in his home constituency in Bromley and of course the redoubtable Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey as well as former senior probation officer and criminologist Dr Lol Burke and not forgetting our own Ian Lawrence who all made insightful contributions in the very limited time available. 

In the case of all members and probation staff who may now be facing increased public scrutiny because of the failings the programme highlighted we cannot also fail to reflect on our own practice and professional standards and consider what realistically needs to happen to make improvements. Remember that Napo is not just a trade union but also a professional association. Our advice to anyone who has concerns about particular cases and/or the impact of instructions policy or procedures on their ability to carry out their work is to alert their line manager in the first instance and ask for clear management advice and/or support. Make sure that this advice is recorded accurately on nDelius or otherwise recorded. Whistle-blowing policies are clear that organisational processes must be exhausted before making disclosure in the public interest. It is never considered reasonable to threaten employers with public disclosure of potentially damaging information either directly or indirectly on social media etc and members should personally refrain from doing so. If you need advice concerning this please ask Napo.

We realise that what we all signed up for can never be just a job nor can it ever be just about ticking boxes and hitting targets. Part of our concerns stem from the fact that we all know it’s so much more than that and can be so much better given a chance to be more united again. This is perhaps why we feel so strongly when it appears that we are being divided and criticised, fairly or unfairly, or being held responsible for matters that we may feel are either in our control or not. We may for instance feel aggrieved that there are other factors at play that make it far more challenging for us now to do our work as well as we would like to do it and that we now feel even more powerless than previously to do anything to change that situation or even whether anyone is listening to our concerns or even cares.

Hopefully we can all take something positive from this intense and thought provoking 30- minute programme and we hope that those who really do need to listen to the serious issues raised do in fact listen carefully and calmly and more importantly act decisively but wisely to improve matters that transcend ideology or party politics. We hope that they will ask more difficult questions of both themselves on behalf of the public and are courageous and resolute in helping to remove any barriers that there might be to fixing what we all know is now wrong with probation. Whilst they are at it they may also help to fix the rest of the criminal justice system that many now say is not fit for purpose and it would be a great help if they were to address some of the wider structural problems that impact severely on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people and further damage and divide our already divided communities and as such seriously impact on the ability of all those involved in rehabilitation to do their jobs in a unified/joined up and meaningful way that we all know will truly serve to protect the public and help create the safer communities we all want to live in.

Lastly, we would like to draw your attention to a message from National Napo yesterday

‘The much-anticipated Panorama investigation into probation services will air tonight at 7.30pm on BBC1, and we expect it will confirm many of the serious concerns Napo members have expressed since the service was split three years ago.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns about the programme following its broadcast, please email editorial@napo.org.uk
Keep well

David A Raho and Patricia Johnson
Co-Chairs Napo London Branch


Here we have the response from Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence contained in his latest blog post:- 


The social media activity that followed this weeks Panorama expose into the state of the Probation service shows that the issues highlighted in the programme are attracting an increasingly wider and very concerned audience.

Feedback indicates that the BBC team did an effective job of nailing the key issues that Napo and others have been campaigning about. The same issues that we forecast well before the ink was dry on the contracts that were mis-sold to the CRC speculators struck and the unlamented Chris Grayling, who can now add Transforming Rehabilitation to his spectacular list of abject failures.

As always it would have been great to have got more actual air time for Napo given the amount of time that we invested in briefing the team from as far back as May this year, but we have no editorial influence on what finally goes in to the end product. Suffice to say that I was very pleased with the fact that there was significant input from NPS and CRC practitioners who are at the sharp end of operations, which hopefully helped to convince a sceptical public that despite its problems before privatisation, the service is now in a much worse position and importantly, and illustrate exactly who was responsible for the shambles.

A denial of the obvious

I don’t think I need to mince words in describing the response by the MoJ and Working Links to the two Serious Further Offences featured, as quite pathetic. As I said at our AGM, hideous things happen in society. Sadly, they always did, they are now, and they will in the future. But the combination of events ranging from the staff split, incompetent planning, political hubris and subsequent post-TR reductions in staffing suggest that there will be many more.

At this weeks meeting with Probation and Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah, where Napo were represented by Chris Winters and myself, we highlighted the dreadful track record of Working Links in seriously engaging with the probation unions on key issues such as staffing, workloads and their operational model which has seen thousands of hours of Unpaid Work simply not done; face-to-face supervision at farcical levels, caseloads and sickness levels through the roof and two high profile murders which I have been told by an anonymous source, were perpetrated by people who were ‘on the books’ The same Working Links that has seen two senior managers fall on their swords in the midst of chaos, and where the response by the CRC Chief Executive to the second damning HMI Probation report into their operations in Gloucestershire, was that there were too many Women on maternity leave and not enough staff available during the period covered by the report.

The Minister has invited me to write to him personally about this and the long list of other issues that, despite the best efforts of ACAS, remain unresolved. I will also be investigating alleged comments from a Working Links Senior Executive to staff that they don’t believe they have to talk to the unions. In the face of all this you might appreciate why I almost fell off my chair last night when Working Links (who declined to be interviewed by the BBC) stated that it was ‘highly committed to public safety’.

Not that MTC NOVO in the form of The London and London NPS emerged with much glory either, as they received some pretty negative coverage in the programme. You may also want to know that any members facing a backlash for whistle blowing and contributing to the programme will have Napo's full support.

Time for serious action

Underpinning all of this is the stark fact that while some CRC Providers and NPS divisions do better than others, standards of supervision have markedly worsened. This is why I was pleased in many ways that Panorama especially highlighted the independent findings of Dame Glenys Stacey and the HM Probation Inspectorate. It was also very timely that the Justice Select Committee Chair Bob Neill MP spoke up. As an aside, I can tell you that Bob greatly valued the time that he spent at our AGM where he spoke with a number of members following his encouraging speech.

While we obviously welcome the Justice Committees inquiry into TR, it was made very clear at our AGM that the Ministerial inertia on taking action against failing contractors is quite unbelievable as much as it is unacceptable. Billions of pounds of public money has been (and is being) spent shoring up providers who are unfit for purpose. Who will step up and do something other than merely offer more of the same presumably in the hope that it will all be OK In the end?

Minister, its time to find some money for probation staff

As you might expect, the Probation Unions had a bit to say about the money that has been earmarked for the CRC’s over the next four years (£277m) as well as the £22m cash injection that has magically fallen from the money tree this year. It was one of a lengthy list of issues for discussion with the Minister, as was the need for some positive action on Probation pay, namely the conclusion of discussions on 2017 and longer term modernisation.

In fairness to Mr Gyimah he gave about as positive a response as his brief allowed; but it’s clear that he is relying on decisions elsewhere before we might see some new money on the table. We made it clear that we were uncomfortable with the current public focus on Prison pay and reform seemingly at the expense of Probation. This elicited a response which showed appreciation as to why we think this is the case together with a reassurance that it is not.

As these types of meetings go, it was reasonably productive and time well spent, but our members will need more than just warm words.

Mappa reports 2016-17

A plethora of Government reports has emerged in the last 24 hours and while we spend a bit of time analysing them, here is the link to MAPPA reports that are to be found on the GOV.UK Website. See how your area fared.

Ian Lawrence



Graph of Blogger page views

The response to the Panorama programme on Wednesday night has been dramatic, effectively more than doubling readership with well over 8,000 hits in 2 days, figures I've not seen since the early traumatic days of TR. Despite the inevitable long-term loss of readers due to general disillusionment and waves of redundancies, it would appear that this blog site remains a 'go-to' place, especially at times of significance for our profession. 
Graph of Blogger page views

I'd like to thank everyone, particularly contributors, for keeping it a lively and most importantly, relevant place for all interested in our work and of course those still struggling daily with its delivery in the most trying of circumstances. 

Thursday 26 October 2017

'Dogs Bark, But the Caravans Move On'

10 Reasons why the Panorama programme won't change anything

Last nights Panorama programme, (take note Working Links and MTCnovo - it's available for 12 months on i-player), although extremely hard-hitting and authoritative, was always going to be a tall order when trying to cover the whole of the TR omnishambles in just 30 minutes. To those of us whether 'in the know' or just casual observers, the case is clearly proved beyond doubt, but it won't make the slightest difference I'm afraid and here's why:- 

1) You just lie. The justification for 'reforming' the gold standard probation service according to the MoJ was "the right thing to do because 40,000 more offenders are now being supervised". This is an outright lie because they're not, a situation confirmed by inspections and even admitted on the official MoJ website thus:- 
"Offenders sentenced to less than 12 months also serve the second half in the community but are not actively supervised by Probation."
This from a joint inspection and quoted in the Guardian:-
“None of the early hopes for Through the Gate have been realised,” they said. “The gap between aspiration and reality is so great, that we wonder whether there is any prospect that these services will deliver the desired impact on rates of reoffending.”
“The overall picture is bleak,” they conclude. “If Through the Gate services were removed tomorrow, in our view the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible.” 
2) Never admit mistakes. When a minister in the shape of Chris Grayling decides that probation needs 'reforming', forces the policy through and it's subsequently confirmed to be an utter disaster, who has the bottle to admit it? There's simply too much invested in pretending everything is ok. It's fixed, isn't it?

3) Only admit mistakes when there's political advantage. Contrast the situation now with that reported in the Guardian in June 2009:-  
The brutal murder of the two French biochemistry students in June last year followed a catalogue of grave failings by the Probation Service, the police and practically every other part of the criminal justice system. The disclosure that Dano Sonnex was out on a parole licence after serving an eight-year sentence for violence and robbery at the time he committed the murders is a devastating blow to the London Probation Service.
It comes just three years after an official inquiry report into the murder of the Chelsea financier, John Monckton, found that there had been a "collective failure" and numerous blunders by probation and parole staff. The internal Probation Service reviews into the Sonnex case led to the resignation of David Scott, the chief probation officer for London, at the end of February, after allegedly being told by the justice secretary, Jack Straw, that he did not want a repeat of the Haringey social services fiascos.
4) Hide the truth. The government are fully aware that TR has been an unmitigated disaster because they've conducted a 'Probation System Review':-
"Darren Tierney has joined the NOMS Agency Board as the Probation System Review Senior Responsible Owner (SRO). CRC contracts became operational in February 2015 and the Probation System Review has been set up to assess progress against the objectives set out in the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme. The initial phase of the review has been undertaken by a small team led by Andrea Torode working to David Hood. This has found that while overall CRC performance has been steadily improving against the measures in the contract, actual case volumes are different to those which had been anticipated; there is variation in quality of delivery; and progress in some areas (such as Through the Gate support) is less than expected. The next phase of the review involves detailed engagement with CRC Providers to improve current arrangements."
and it's so damning, they simply refuse to publish it, despite the best efforts of Bob Neill, the Chair of the Justice Committee.

5) Everything is now secret. Since the imposition of TR and privatisation of 70% of the probation service, 'commercial sensitivity' and immunity from FOI requests effectively means the contracts can be 'renegotiated' at any time and the failing CRCs given shed-loads more tax-payers cash in secret. None of this is open to scrutiny and therefore informed challenge. This from Huffington Post:-
"An additional £37m was handed to Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) last year in a move branded a “bung” by probation union Napo and “rewarding failure” by Labour."
6) Everyone is in fear. Any employee of either the civil service in NPS or failing private CRCs cannot speak openly for fear of 'conduct likely to bring the service into disrepute', and thus effectively ensuring shit gets swept under the carpet and the public are provided with a polished PR image of everything being just fine and dandy. This from Helga Swidenbank, CEO MTCnovo on getting wind of the Panorama programme:- 
"The programme makers have put a number of allegations to us about London CRC's work which we have responded to. We have been working with them to present a more accurate account of the work that London CRC is doing to improve its probation services in London. I will update you once the programme has aired and respond to any specific allegations that are actually broadcast.

In the meantime, please remember that if you are approached by the media, you must not answer their queries or give them information about any of MTCnovo's organisations, employees or service users without first speaking to the MTCnovo Communications Team."
(It was revealed on the Panorama programme that two members of staff have been suspended.)

7) Try and keep control of HMI. Inspectors have an irritating habit of tending to be independent-minded, uncover what's going on and say it as it is. Despite sound advice and an earlier indication, I understand the MoJ are now refusing to let HMI have a major role in SFO investigations. I wonder why? This from Inspectorate website:-  
"From April 2017, HMI Probation will be responsible for reviewing work with offenders who are under current or recent supervision by providers of probation services, and who have been charged with a specified Serious Further Offence (SFO). Reviews will be published following conviction for an SFO."
8) Ignore Parliamentary scrutiny. The House of Commons Justice Committee are tasked with over-seeing the work of the MoJ and are in the process of inviting evidence for their inquiry into the effects of TR. Despite having both impressive powers and cross-party support in trying to root out the truth, history confirms that anything negative merely gets ignored by government and any responses are just so much warm words and meaningless waffle, like this from David Lidington about prison reform:-

"I also wanted to take this opportunity to reassure you that I am firmly committed to making prisons places of reform and rehabilitation, which support offenders to turn their lives around. I acknowledge that the current prison system has faced significant challenges in recent years. The prison estate is old and costly to maintain or modernise. Across the last five years numbers of operational staff have decreased while we have seen a significant increase in prisoner use of new psychoactive substances. Levels of violence, self-harm and self-inflicted deaths have also risen. A combination of these factors means leaders and their staff focus on immediate priorities and, as a result, many prisons have been unable to offer as effective a regime for prisoners as they would like."
"You will notice in our response to your recommendations that action is being taken to develop the performance management of prisons. Alongside this, extensive engagement with governors and staff is helping to direct our empowerment policies to ensure they are fit for purpose. Furthermore, it is important to me to increase confidence in the prison system and the reforms that are taking place. Publication of data will be essential to that goal and as you will see from our response, we are making plans to publish evaluation results and action plans as the reforms are implemented."

"It is my priority to continue building on the essential reforms that are already underway and to address the significant challenges to safety within our prisons. As set out in the White Paper, the reforms that have been proposed are radical and I am very aware of the need to monitor the progress of these reforms. We are currently developing an update to the 2016 White Paper which will outline what we have achieved since November 2016 and it will also set out our priorities and plans for further reform over the next 12 months. Alongside this 12-month forward look, we will soon be publishing a prison safety strategy and action plan that focuses on further enhancing our approach to making our prisons safe. This will include further detail on the Offender Management in Custody model which is key to our vision to improve safety in prison, and will help us to develop rehabilitative prisons that deliver a supportive environment for offenders."

9) It's all too difficult. The subject of probation is simply too complicated to explain easily to a mostly disinterested public, there's no sexy tv drama and as a consequence, the media either shy away from talking about it, or get things hopelessly wrong, like this from the first paragraph of an Independent article recently and still not corrected because the 'caravan moves on' :-
"Concerns have been raised over a major shake-up of probation after new figures revealed a sharp rise in offenders being sent back to custody for breaching bail."
10) Terrible to say, but nobody seriously famous has been murdered yet. 

Wednesday 25 October 2017

MoJ In Damage Limitation Mode

Even before the BBC Panorama programme airs tonight, there are clear signs that the MoJ is seriously rattled and engaged in a 'damage limitation' exercise. This from the Guardian published earlier this morning:-

Ministry of Justice apologises to mother in child murder case

The Ministry of Justice has apologised to the mother of a five-year-old boy who was murdered after probation services failed to warn her that her partner had a string of convictions for violent offences against women and children. After the death of her British-born son, Liliya Breha was warned she could be deported because she no longer has a family tie to the UK.

Alex Malcolm was beaten to death by Breha’s former partner Marvyn Iheanacho after the boy lost one of his trainers in a park in November 2016. After Iheanacho was found guilty of murder, Breha, 30, was horrified to hear that he had a string of previous convictions for violent offences against women and children. “It took them 15 minutes to read out all his previous offences. My mouth literally dropped open and I felt so sick,” said Breha.

A MoJ spokesman said: “We apologise sincerely to Alex’s mother, Liliya Breha, for the unacceptable failings that have been identified. As a direct result of the initial review, we have suspended two members of staff who were involved in the supervision of Iheanacho. Additionally, we have put in place strict procedures, both within NPS [National Probation Service] London and nationally, to help prevent a tragic case like this from happening again.”

According to the terms of Iheanacho’s licence, he was not supposed to have unsupervised access to children under 16 and probation officers were supposed to monitor any new relationships with women. Two of the officers involved in the case, an offender manager and the head of a local team, have been suspended pending an internal disciplinary investigation.

Iheanacho’s previous offences included beating a former girlfriend with a belt. The 39-year-old broke the jaw of another partner and tried to strangle her 13-year-old son. Until the day he attacked Alex, Breha had no idea her partner was violent.

It was only then that she discovered that the probation service, which was supposed to be monitoring Iheanacho, a high-risk offender with a history of violence dating back to 1994, should have warned her about him but had failed to do so.

Iheanacho sometimes even used Breha’s phone to call his probation officer and Breha had spoken to the officer herself – but she had never been given a warning about how dangerous he was. While Breha knew that Iheanacho had recently come out of prison, she was unaware of the terms of his licence relating to children and new relationships with women.

“If anyone had told me about Marvyn’s violent history I would have run a mile from him and would never have allowed him to be anywhere near my child,” said Breha. As well as trying to cope with the loss of her son and the disclosures about the serious failings of the probation service, Breha has been dealt a further blow after finding out she may no longer be able to remain in the UK.

She is on a path to settlement with the Home Office based on having a British child, but has received legal advice that she may no longer have the right to reside in the UK when she updates her immigration status next June, because she no longer has that child. Breha has lived in the UK for 10 years, first arriving on an exchange programme at 20 while a student at National University of Water Management and Nature Resources Use in Ukraine.

She said: “This country is my home now, the country where my son was born and where he is buried.” When the Home Office was asked what happens to the immigration status of people like Breha if their child dies, a spokeswoman declined to comment. She said: “All visa applications are considered on their individual merits and in line with the immigration rules. We do not routinely comment on individual cases.”

It is understood that an internal investigation into the failings of the probation service has highlighted that not enough was done to tackle Iheanacho’s irregular attendance at probation appointments, that there was a lack of planning for his release from prison in 2016 and that there was a failure to liaise between probation and Breha’s local social services about the domestic violence risk. Probation also failed to enforce the licence conditions that he should not have unsupervised access to children under 16 and that any new relationship with a woman should be monitored.

Breha said she first met Iheanacho when he was in prison. “A neighbour suggested I write to him,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for a relationship but when I met him he was super-shy and super-polite. He seemed really nice and I felt sorry for him. I didn’t know what he had been in prison for, he just told me he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. I thought, ‘well, anyone can make a mistake’.

“When he came out of prison he got a job as a roof installer and was working really hard, he didn’t go out much, he wasn’t involved in drugs and at weekends he would play football or go to the gym. He seemed really normal and he was able to present himself in a charming way although now I know he’s a selfish, manipulative liar.”

BBC1’s Panorama programme highlights this case on Wednesday evening, along with others and investigates wider failings in the probation service. “The probation service failed me and failed my child. Alex didn’t deserve that,” said Breha. She is certain that had she received warnings about Iheanacho’s violent history, her son would still be alive today. “Instead,” she said, “I’ve joined the worst possible club for the rest of my life.”

“Alex was a genuinely perfect child and we had never spent a single day apart. He always played nicely and never gave me any trouble. He was polite and always said thank you. But now everything’s been taken away from me.”

After Iheanacho had beaten Alex severely in the park he brought him home unconscious and told various lies about what had happened to him. Alex was given emergency treatment but died two days later.

“I sat by his hospital bedside singing Ukrainian songs to him. When the doctors said they couldn’t do anything more for him I literally dropped to the floor,” said Breha. “How could Marvyn have done this to a little boy who had no chance to defend himself against this big guy? Each day it gets harder and harder and I miss him more. The worst thing is to wake up every morning knowing that your son is dead.”