Wednesday 31 January 2018

Prison and Suicide

One of the consequences with a blog that's in its ninth year and tries to focus on one fairly narrow subject area is that pretty much everything's already been said. With increasing frequency I find that when considering the next topic to fill the daily post, a brief search throws up extensive evidence of us having been there before, and often several times. Take suicide for instance and particularly those that increasingly are occuring in prison.

This line of thought was triggered by Andy Green and his recent Guest Blog piece describing the Safer Lives project, working with men awaiting sentence mostly for internet pornography offences and as a group, their noticeable propensity for depression and suicide. It got me pondering on my own practice experiences, historical involvement with the Samaritans and the struggle during the 1980's to get the prison authorities to accept their involvement. 

I've always had a lot of time for this organisation and was an active volunteer for many years early on in my probation career. Indeed the setting-up of the hugely successful Listener scheme in 1991 was largely due to the sustained efforts of another Probation Officer, Kathy Biggar who was National Vice Chair at the time. Here is Erwin Jones of the Guardian writing in 2006:-

A Samaritans scheme for prisoners has helped save numerous lives over the last 14 years, writes Erwin James

The other week I attended the annual Perrie Lectures at Prison Service Headquarters, Newbold Revel, near Rugby. I'd been invited to present a talk about my experiences with prison staff. This theme of this year's lectures, named after humanitarian prison governor Bill Perrie, was Prison Staff: Turnkeys or Role Models. Very timely I thought.

Each year an annual Perrie Award is presented to an individual who has performed "work of note" in our prison system. This year the award went to Kathy Biggar, former vice chair of the Samaritans and now Suicide Prevention Officer at the Department of High Security Prisons, in recognition of her heroic efforts and success in establishing the Listener scheme into prisons of all security categories throughout the country.

To my great honour, at the end of my talk I was asked to present the award to Ms Biggar, and I have to say that the moment was one of the most special in my post-prison life. The Listener scheme, whereby Samaritan trained prisoners provide a patient and compassionate ear for fellow prisoners in distress, is one of the most innovative inventions ever introduced to the UK prison system. It began in Swansea prison in 1992, following the death of a 15-year-old boy called Philip Knight who hanged himself in his cell.

The governor of Swansea at the time was Jim Heyes. Mr Heyes, a man of foresight who had been deeply affected by the death of the youngster, welcomed the Samaritans into his prison and worked closely with Ms Biggar to establish the Listeners as an integral part of his prison regime. Between them they created "a living organism", as one governor described the scheme that has spread through the prison estate like a healing liniment on a festering wound. Mr Heyes' support for the scheme was perhaps the first step in official acknowledgement that prison life is difficult, and that for some, it is insufferable.


I started off by saying we've often been here before and in September 2016 I wrote:-  

Prison Suicides
The Samaritans is a highly-respected charity and in my experience hardly ever puts its head above the parapet and gets involved in politics of any kind. The fact that they have gone public regarding the suicide rate in prisons shows just how bad things have become. This from their press release:- 

Action is needed to tackle rise in prison suicides, says Samaritans
Samaritans is calling on the Government to recruit and retain more prison staff in the face of sharp rises in the rates of self-harm and suicide in jails. In the past year to June 2016, the self-inflicted death rate in prisons has risen by 20 per cent, self-harm is up by 27 per cent and numbers of prison staff have fallen by 25 per cent over the last six years.


Here's Frances Crook of the Howard League on the general topic of prison reform writing for the WriteYou website:-

We need penal reform before it's too late
When the newly appointed Secretary of State for Justice and Lord (note, not Lady) Chancellor appeared before the Justice Select Committee last week she indicated that legislation on penal reform would come, but just not yet.

Michael Gove spent a year consulting on his plans for reform. David Cameron made a seminal speech setting out new principles focused on redemption and compassion. This was all very wonderful and it did help to change the public, and media, discourse. But, over that year, prisons deteriorated and community supervision that had been privatised by Chris Grayling slowly decomposed.

Things are so bad in prisons that someone takes their own life every four days. There is a record number of unexplained deaths, probably caused by a toxic cocktail of drugs. People are locked up in cells the size of a public toilet, and have to defecate in front of their cell mate, with little or no ventilation in the cell. They spend most of the day in this cell, lying on a filthy bunk in dirty clothes.


By February 2017 in a blog post entitled 'Death of PSR Linked to Prison Suicides'  I highlighted the concerns of the medical profession:-

Rise in seriously mentally ill prisoners linked to record suicide rate, fears GP
Increased numbers of seriously ill people being jailed rather than sent to hospital could be contributing to soaring suicide rates, a senior GP working in the prison medical service has warned. GPC lead on prison medical services Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said he believed the numbers of people who are already significantly mentally ill being sent to prison was on the rise and was putting additional pressure on the system.

The HMP Exeter GP told GPonline that prison doctors were having to care for more patients with serious mental health problems because it had become more difficult to access specialist psychiatric support services. Dr Sanford-Wood’s comments came as the Ministry of Justice last week revealed there had been a 32% increase in suicides in prisons in England and Wales, with a record 119 people taking their own lives last year. Rates of self harm and violence against prisoners and staff also increased.


I was particularly struck by two of the comments that resulted:-

Difficult not to think of 'alternative facts'. Here we have doctors worried about the mentally-ill being denied pre-court assessments and yet the sentencing council asserts that 'ideally' reports should be done on the day of sentencing.

The old ideal was to sentence on the merits of the individual case, which included the characteristics and motivation of the defendant. This ideal was not time specific and so time was allowed to investigate the circumstances of the defendant, especially where there were initial assessments of, or histories of mental health issues. Not anymore. The drive to reduce court budgets means those without resources, will be processed without regard to individual need. People are decanted into the prisons and placed at increased risk of poor healthcare, self-harm and suicide. And these practices are endorsed by the sentencing council, just as they were endorsed by the probation service – pre-TR as well – when management championed expedited reports that were forever getting shorter and faster, while quality never got a look in.

Absolutely right  Increasingly when I think of all the things that are going wrong and when I see no managers putting up a fight or any objection, when I see them doing the opposite, going along with the nonsense, promoting it, selling it , entering into the narrative , making it the new norm, then I know that me, myself, I am the last Tuzla thin protective layer between the crushing inhumanity of an increasingly evil system and the service user. I find ways of not going along with what is being demanded, I speak against the narrative in word and in deed, pushing it as far as I can, being open about it to try and encourage my colleagues. We have to or we are no better than the system we work in. Nazi Germany would never have gotten as far as it did without the willing compliance of its bureaucrats and the minions of its bureaucracy, us. We have a responsibility. Do not be afraid. Say it as it is at work now.

We all know what the issues are and the cost both personal and to society. There's a mountain of evidence and reports from extremely well-respected professional groups, organisations and academics, but nothing seems to happen and the prison suicide rate is still increasing. This Guardian article is from May last year, but could have been written last week:-

Government response to UK's soaring prison suicide rate has been pitiful
Record levels of self-harm and suicide in our jails reveal a collapse in mental health support for vulnerable prisoners. Last year there were 40,161 recorded instances of prisoners harming themselves, almost 8,000 more than 2015. That is almost 800 a week. Suicides reached 119, the highest since records began in 1978. That means a prisoner kills themselves every three days. Labour’s Luciana Berger has described it as “the death penalty by the back door”.

As well as coroners’ inquests and the findings of prison inspectors there have been at least 10 major reports investigating deaths in custody since 1991, including six in the last six years. Since 2010, according to Full Fact, the number of frontline prison officers has been cut from 19,900 to 14,700 full-time equivalents, as the prison population continues to climb.

This week, parliament’s joint committee on human rights – with members drawn from both the Lords and Commons – rushed out a report on mental health and death in prisons before parliament was dissolved. They have been trying to understand why the deaths have continued despite the endless investigations and government promises to do something. It identifies a series of mutually reinforcing failures behind the mounting toll.

Unforgivably, training for prison officers has been scaled back, leaving many ill equipped to identify and address mental health problems. There are huge variations in mental health support between prisons, with some unable to provide vital services. People who are acutely mentally unwell are given short prison sentences instead of community alternatives where they can be cared for more effectively. Fear among mentally ill prisoners of their prospects on release, such as the chances of getting a job, somewhere to live and continued support, actually increases the risk of self-harm and suicide towards the end of a sentence. Meanwhile, psychoactive substances such as spice blight prisoner mental health.

The government response is pitiful. It has promised to recruit 2,500 prison officers, far too few for the task and no substitute for the thousands of experienced officers who have been lost. A review of suicides in custody by Lord Harris found that relationships between prisoners and staff were key to managing suicide risk, with experienced officers using “jailcraft” to identify and manage vulnerable prisoners. The action promised on drones flying in drugs and phones is a glorified publicity stunt that will have a negligible impact.

Research by the Howard League for Penal Reform reveals that suicides are not an unfortunate deviation, but the inevitable outcome of a system that is responding to ever-growing prisoner numbers and too few staff by pursuing a punitive regime that creates precisely the conditions in which poor mental health, self-harm and suicide flourish.

The government has allowed prisons to become dirty, frightening and dangerous. Since 1990 the number of prisoners has almost doubled to around 85,000. Prisoners are routinely locked up virtually the entire day. There is excessive use of solitary confinement and other punishments. Prisons even fail to look after prisoners on the day they arrive, with shortcomings ranging from not telling staff about arrivals to locking someone up for their first night in the segregation block because there happened to be a spare bed.

The revised Incentives and Earned Privileges (pdf) scheme introduced by the Ministry of Justice in 2013 tends to put prisoners with a history of mental health problems on the lowest level of privileges, making it even more difficult for them to cope. The Howard League says this regime undermines precisely the factors that can reduce the risk of suicide, such as involvement in activities, contact with family and spending time with other people.

Prison mental health services are not just having to meet the needs of vulnerable and ill people; they are having to cope with mental illness created and exacerbated by appalling conditions which amount to an abuse of prisoners’ human rights.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

Financial Engineering

Ever since the Carillion story broke, I've been meaning to have a look back at another high profile company collapse, that of care home provider Southern Cross in 2011. It cropped up on the blog:- 

It's All in the Timing

The timing was exquisite. Just as prime minister David Cameron was on his feet and extolling the virtues of privatising further swathes of public services, the nation was absorbing the news that the largest private provider of care homes in the UK was packing up. Southern Cross serves as an absolutely perfect example of what can happen if public services end up being treated as businesses or 'investment' opportunities.

I absolutely loved it when a spokesperson for the private care home sector had the audacity to say on the radio that "the problem was that fees paid by Local Authorities for looking after the elderly had not gone up." Err no, the problem is that 751 care homes that used to be owned by Southern Cross were sold off to asset strippers who pocketed the £1billion pounds and saddled the management with rent bills instead! According to him, the public sector should be paying the inflated rents due to property speculators.

We all know that publication of the Public Services White Paper has been delayed for months due to spirited opposition from Lib Dems inside the coalition government. It's a really confusing mix of trying to encourage 'localism', which many feel is no bad thing, with doctrinaire insistence on breaking up public services such as probation. This, despite Cameron saying that public services "are the backbone of the nation."

Well I think the public are going to take some persuading that the Southern Cross debacle is anything other than a stark warning of further disasters to come and that would be inherent in this sort of public service 'reform' plan. Pictures of the elderly and frail being moved out of their care homes as they inevitably close over the next few weeks will quite rightly further embarrass the government and should serve to nicely highlight the differences between public and private service.


Sorry, Jim, but that's an overreaction and scaremongering. Patients are highly unlikely to actually be turfed out of their beds. Nor is the 'problem' as simplistic as you would like it to be. I'm sure the "asset strippers" have their part to play, but if the business model relies upon increasing numbers of clients at increasing fees (basic costs of employing staff and other supplies are certainly going up), and these aren't happening, then you can't dismiss these - they are, too, part of the problem.


It's interesting to note that our old friend Blackstone played a significant role in the demise of Southern Cross as well as Carillion. This from the Guardian in 2011:- 

The rise and fall of Southern Cross

Southern Cross, the troubled care home operator, stands on the brink of collapse this week just fifteen years after it was created. The company was set up in 1996 by a businessman named John Moreton, who had made his first fortune in his twenties during the North Sea gas boom. Moreton developed his new venture during the last major shake-up in the care industry, around the turn of the millennium, when government funding cutbacks and tougher care standards forced many homes to close or be sold off cheaply.

New operators such as Southern Cross Healthcare benefited, and the company had become a significant operator by 2002, with 140 sites. At that point, venture capital firm WestLB stepped in and bought Southern Cross for £80m as part of a management buyout. At that time, the City was confident that the care home sector needed to consolidate.

Two years later, US private equity firm Blackstone swooped, paying £162m for the company, which by that stage had 162 care homes. Blackstone made its ambitions clear from the start, pledging to turn Southern Cross into "the leading company in the elderly care market". Blackstone went on to buy NHP, one of Southern Cross's largest landlords, in a £1.1bn deal which also increased Southern Cross's size by another 192 leased homes. Further acquisitions followed, turning Southern Cross into the largest operator in the sector. NHP was sold off in March 2006, followed by a flotation of Southern Cross itself on the London stock market that summer.

Southern Cross performed well during its early days as a quoted company, nearly doubling its share price during the first year. That proved good news for Blackstone, which sold its final stake in the company in March 2007. It also continued to expand as demand for care home places kept rising, due to increased lifespans and falling capacity across the sector. Then, in the summer of 2008, the tale turned desperately sour when Southern Cross's expansion strategy was derailed by the financial crisis.

The company had been buying properties then selling them on again, while keeping a long-term lease. In the heady days before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Southern Cross suddenly found itself unable to meet a £43m loan repayment deadline, because it could not find buyers for its property assets. In another blow, it warned the City that disappointing occupancy levels meant its earnings would not meet expectations.

The double whammy of profit warning and financing crisis sent its share price crashing from over £3 to just 130p in a single day. Chief executive Bill Colvin quit later that year, after Southern Cross began selling assets at a loss in an effort to repay its debts. Colvin was one of three senior directors who had received £36.6m after selling shares in Southern Cross in early 2008, when they were trading at 550p.

Southern Cross managed to renegotiate a new deal with its banks, and tried to ride out the storm. Then in May 2010, the crisis intensified again when Southern Cross revealed that local governments were sending fewer people into its homes, and pushing for lower fees.

In August, Southern Cross posted a profits warning, blaming the austerity cutbacks for a steady decline in occupation rates. These falling revenues rapidly left Southern Cross struggling to pay the leases on its properties. Hopes of a rescue takeover faded this year, prompting chief executive Jamie Buchan to warn that its rent bill was simply unsustainable. Many of its rents run for 25 years, and are subject to yearly upwards-only rent reviews.


Of course there is another large care home operator in trouble as a result of 'financial engineering'. This from the Guardian last December:-

A shocking way to fund UK care homes

Why is Four Seasons Health Care, the country’s largest care homes operator, in financial difficulty? Why is the regulator, the Care Quality Commission, having to prod and cajole creditors to agree a standstill on debt repayments to prevent the business falling into administration? Why is this crisis happening only six years after the failure of Southern Cross, which at the time was the biggest company in the industry?

One could point to forces that are well-known. Fees are under pressure because local authorities’ social care budgets have been squeezed; overheads have been forced up by increases in the national minimum wage; and, at the margin, Brexit complicates staffing requirements.

Those factors are real but let’s not lose sight of the ingredient at the centre of the Four Seasons affair. It’s debt – too much of it. Terra Firma, Guy Hands’ private equity firm, over-paid for the business in 2012 and loaded up with leverage. At heart, this is an old-fashioned tale of financial engineering gone wrong. Southern Cross came from the same unlovely stable – in that case, the financial error was addiction to fancy sale-and-leaseback property deals.


Four Seasons has arrived at a point where it is struggling to meet a £26m debt interest payment due on Friday. H/2 Capital Partners, the US hedge fund that has bought up majority positions in both classes of debt, holds the aces. It will probably clean up at the expense of Terra Firma since, with a gentler debt structure, Four Seasons is a good business. H/2 should still do the decent thing and get the financial restructuring underway as soon as possible. There is no need for an administration that could cause problems for the regulator and local authorities. Get on with it.

The rest of us, though, can only look at the current standoff and shake our heads. The UK is awash with long-term pension fund money that would happily build and own care homes for modest real returns. Instead, we have a high-stakes financial game in which players aim for fatter rewards. The result, in this case, is that control of the biggest care homes operator in the land will probably pass from a private equity outfit that made a rotten bet on financial leverage to an opportunistic US hedge fund that hunts for junk bonds to buy at a discount. It’s a shocking way to fund provision of care homes for the elderly.


All of which brings us back to Carillion, the theme of 'financial engineering' and on-going revelations. In addition to a vast hole being revealed in the pension fund, it's good to see attention at last moving to the role of accountants and exactly what they do for their large fees. 

This from the FT draws some other startling historical comparisons that pre-date the financial crisis of 2008 and in the process, admirably demonstrates our seeming inability to learn by earlier mistakes:-   

The ‘true and fair’ questions that dog Carillion

In the early 1990s, two American economists, George Akerlof and Paul Romer, wrote an academic paper with the eye-catching title: “Looting”. 
Its subject was the Savings & Loan crisis of the 1980s, which ended up costing the US taxpayer some $132bn in a string of bailouts. What intrigued the authors was the way some S&L owners ran their failing real estate lenders into the ground, wholly focused on value extraction and without a thought for the losses that they would leave behind. 

They displayed a “total disregard for even the most basic principles of lending”, failing to verify the most basic information about their borrowers or, in some cases, not even bothering even to ask for it. Why, the economists asked, had they behaved in so cavalier a way? One reason, they concluded, was the existence of a government backstop. The state stood behind deposits that the S&Ls had taken. 

But that was not the only thing encouraging the owners to loot their own operations. There was another big factor: poorly framed regulation. Easy-to-arbitrage rules and sloppy accounting standards kept S&Ls nominally afloat when in reality they were not viable. That created the circumstances in which owners could plunder dividends out of capital, as they either prayed for a miracle, or prepared to cast the depleted creditors into the taxpayers’ lap. 

Echoes of this unsavoury situation can be found in the case of Carillion, the British outsourcing and construction group that has just collapsed owing more than £2bn to its banks. Once again, the government bobs up on the periphery, in this case chucking out state-funded contracts like confetti that appeared to underwrite the group’s viability. Carillion’s board may not have looted, but it does seem to have practised what one might call “reckless abstraction”. It sucked out cash to placate stock market investors even as executives wrote the mountain of under-priced contracts that ultimately buried the business, triggering a £1.2bn writedown in the second half of last year.

In the five years to 2016, the directors recommended paying £357m of dividends to shareholders, despite generating just £159m of cash from operations. Over the same period, the bonuses for the two top executives climbed from nothing to more than £1m a year in 2016. 

Carillion is hardly the first listed business to base today’s juicy payouts on (inaccurate) estimates of tomorrow’s outcomes. One of the more notable features of pre-2008 banks was their enthusiasm for using mark-to-market accounting to write up unrealised profits on assets, thus conjuring large and imaginary surpluses out of complex securities. The swag was then packaged up and paid out largely in the form of debt-funded bankers’ bonuses. As for the later losses; well, of course, the taxpayer paid. 

Clearly, it is unhealthy for the state to backstop private corporations — although in Carillion’s case, the government’s involvement fell short of a fully-fledged bailout. But no less worrying are the signals sent by modern accounting standards, which continue to give great leeway to recognise unrealised gains. 

Under company law, it is a cardinal principle that limited companies should only make distributions out of distributable reserves, not capital, to protect investors’ cash. Yet in a world where anticipated revenues count towards today’s profits, it is hard to know precisely where that crucial line lies. The investor’s main defence is the auditor being required to call out imprudently recognised sums. 

In Carillion’s case, it is reasonable to ask whether this happened. We do not know yet how KPMG came to rubber stamp accounts supporting the payment of a £79m dividend last year, leaving distributable reserves of just £93m on the group’s balance sheet. What we do know is that Carillion wrote off £1.2bn just a few months later; a move that not only obliterated its reserves many times over, but also all of its profits over the previous eight years. 

If the rules permit excessive latitude, that raises questions not only about standards, but also about the auditor’s watchdog, the Financial Reporting Council. Other past scandals exhibit similar features, including the overstatement of supplier rebates by supermarket owner Tesco, and the implosion at Quindell, an insurance software group. 

Accounts are supposed to show a “true and fair” view of a company’s affairs. If they do not, it is pretty concerning. The S&L crisis highlights the peril of allowing directors to write their own figures. Faulty standards run the risk of meaning accounts cannot be relied upon. As a group of investors, activists and academics put it this week in a letter to the FT: that poses “devastating consequences for all stakeholders who depend on businesses remaining going concerns”.

Monday 29 January 2018

Guest Blog 68

Probation reborn? The rise of Liaison and Diversion

I have been putting off a guest blog for some time. I didn’t want to write a pessimistic piece about the demise of a once useful service. After all, the morale of many ex-colleagues has to be considered as they continue to toil in Probation offices. I left the NPS voluntarily in August and it has taken me a long time to reflect and find an optimistic tune about Probation.

I left the NPS to focus on a social enterprise I set up with two colleagues in the Summer of 2014, at a time when I realised that maintaining any control of my career meant finding a route out of the Service. Although I had previously been working in the West Yorkshire Probation Trust under excellent leadership I had, since qualification in 2001, realised that the government were never going to give Boards, Trusts and now NPS and CRCs the true independence to find innovative local solutions to our “stubbornly high re-offending rates”, or indeed just help the very vulnerable individuals who make up Probation caseloads. 

My belief had always been that staff mutuals were the way to go - maybe not for whole areas like West Yorkshire, but at least for those parts of it that we then called ‘interventions’ such as programme delivery, specified activities, community service and maybe even APs. I found considerable support for this idea amongst West Yorkshire leadership, although perhaps my inexperience did not make me the right person to take this forward. And as it turned out my suggestions were not well timed either as Chris Grayling very quickly moved to remove all control from Probation professionals, whether they were in leadership or operational roles. Many fine leaders and professionals have been cast aside, and valuable good will squandered.

Our fledgling social enterprise, Safer Lives, started slowly as we built up the necessary contacts to make it succeed and also had to balance it against our commitments to the day job in Probation. We support men arrested for sexual offences during the period of their investigations. We had noticed that men coming onto Probation caseloads for offences involving the accessing of indecent images of children were spending up to 12 months under investigation and that by the time they made it through court they were often sullen empty people. 

Once we had secured permission from West Yorkshire Police and started working with these clients we realised that they were not just men with terrible online behaviours, but they were also highly suicidal. Operation Notarise (started in 2014) arrested approximately 750 people, and at least 24 have taken their lives, with more inquests still not finalised in coroner courts. That is at least one in thirty being lost to suicide! So our work focuses on suicide prevention and changing long-term behaviours. We are starting to grow, into all of Yorkshire and Humberside, as well as Greater Manchester and Merseyside, and have supported around 200 men so far.

What is interesting about this work is how receptive the clients are. They are desperate for help and to change their ways. This may be indicative of the profile of this group and their state of absolute desperation, but the work seems to very effective in its aims. Men come through our processes and support with a new found ability to speak to us and to their loved ones about their needs and emotions. Hopefully this, alongside the more structured parts of our interventions, will help protect them from the destructive behaviours they were previously involved in.

Recently we have been working more collaboratively with Liaison and Diversion Teams. Most in the Probation field will remember liaison and diversion projects being small initiatives set up some years ago. Each project was different but they all offered support and advice in magistrates courts with the intention of offering people in crises and with vulnerabilities, including mental illness, routes into treatment in the hope that short prison sentences could be avoided. As I recall, in my city this small initiative was staffed by a CPN from the local prison’s Mental Health In Reach Team and someone who worked out of the DIP office. 

More recently though, through joint funding from NHS England and the MoJ, national pathfinder pilots were set up to provide the possibility of a more comprehensive service based in police stations to work with a wide range of vulnerabilities in people entering into their custody suites. This coincided with the NHS rolling out improvements in police custody healthcare provision.

One of these Liaison and Diversion Pathfinders was set up in Wakefield because they already had an established and respected scheme that centred on trying to support young people who were coming into contact with the police, and trying to prevent them from entering into youth custody. My understanding is that all the pilots were contracted out, and for those of us with recent probation experience, this is where our hearts might sink. But in Wakefield the contract was given to the local authority whose YOS workers were already established in the earlier scheme. In other pilots local NHS trusts were given the contracts. How sensible.

These pilots have been successful, and now L&D services are being rolled out nationally. Only this week we attended a meeting with service managers in the North West - all experienced CPNs working for a local mental health NHS Trust. They seemed to naturally understand the work and the vulnerabilities and needs of the client base. It was no surprise that they all reported very good relationships with staff in a local Probation office where they are co-located. Their professionalism and insight was clear from the very start of the meeting.

My brother who is also a community CPN and has always praised Probation staff as ‘having their heads screwed on’ in a world that is led by headless chickens. He is perhaps a bit of a maverick, just like the excellent Probation Officers I experienced during my training in Halifax Probation Office. During that training I recall many useful conversations with a CPN who would visit weekly to hold consultations with staff and meet with mutual clients. What a great relationship between the NHS and Probation it was! I am sure there were similar examples in many probation offices of the time.

I really hope that those external relationships can be re-established with the NHS through Liaison and Diversion teams, or by other means. Our experiences of L&D services in West Yorkshire, and now in the North West, suggest to me that the spirit of Probation is not dead at all, but is being ignited in L&D teams up and down the land. A significant number of the Wakefield team is made up of people with deep Probation experience, and their job is not dissimilar to how I saw mine in the earlier years of my Probation career - not spending endless hours trying to rescue clients personally, or in enforcing national standards until my eyes bled, or in tedious back covering exercises sold as assessment - but in providing kindness and a bridge into other specialist services who were finding it hard to engage or even find these clients. ‘Hard to reach’ is how these services described these clients, but Probation was often the pathway to them. This is what L&D services are doing - they are made up of experienced staff who facilitate clients into more specialist community provision - drug services, mental health, housing, debts and advice services. The difference is that they are doing it pre-conviction and getting to clients when they are most needy and often most receptive.

In my final years in Probation I was experiencing a growing relationship with co-located NHS staff, but not with the CPNs whose ethic and attitude I had valued dearly. It had moved on to NHS psychologists who I personally and individually liked but whose benefit I was doubtful of. The introduction of psychologists into NPS Probation practice through Personality Disorder pathways seems to me to be hopelessly misplaced. Of course, they are there to advise about the working relationships and approaches to be used with the most difficult and intransigent ‘offenders’, most of whom are blocking the prison system on IPP sentences. But it seems to me that their ‘formulations’ merely amounted to telling me to build stronger relationships with my caseload - something I felt I was already good at but was being frustrated by increasing difficulties getting to prison visits other than through video-conferencing screens. 

For an experienced Probation Officer this consultancy felt like teaching grandma to suck eggs. This PD consultancy is a very expensive resource, especially when the only actual input into client facing work is in the MBT or Discovery Projects where clients don’t seem to turn up. Maybe Probation staff should be giving the psychologists consultancy on how to engage clients? But, isn’t all this rather counterproductive? Surely, this NHS money could be better spent building links between L&D services, CPNs, prison healthcare teams and Probation?

I would wish to encourage Probation staff and their political masters to be open to greater co-working and integration of justice and health services, even if this means the contracting out of some Probation practice. Had CRC contracts been given to staff mutuals with a NHS and local authority presence (as in Teesside) I wonder how much opposition there would have been?

My vision for a future Probation service is very much like the office I walked into as a trainee in Halifax those years ago. Probation officers with a dedicated but individual spirit who managed their own practice with adequate supervision, and ably managed by competent leaders who were open to CPNs, experienced debt counsellors, offender housing projects and the voluntary sector coming into the office to work alongside staff. Probation needs to be flexible and responsive to local and client needs while remaining accountable to its communities. So why not hand contracts back to newly formed Trusts, or to staff mutuals, and why not instill greater co-working with health services and the true voluntary sector by invigorating mental health, drug and alcohol treatment requirements that are properly funded through joint health, justice and local authority pathways?

It is not a huge exercise in visionary thinking to imagine how integrated services with a public service ethos could be the way forward. If the work were ring-fenced to bodies with public accountability I wouldn’t mind it being contracted out at all. It isn’t too far from the Probation Trust model, but with some of the MoJ puppet strings detached.

Finally, let me say that despite always being proud to call myself a Probation Officer, I never quite felt that it was organised properly, and Probation was too protective of its own work to accept true collaborative working with other agencies and sectors. And it has now taken me leaving the Service to feel that I am doing the job I had applied to train for in 1999.

Andy Green

Sunday 28 January 2018

Pick of the Week 40

Has anyone picked up on HDC changes? Those who qualify are pushed out of custody unless exceptional circumstances. Compliance no longer a factor.

Yes. Madness. Home visits to proposed address no longer a must. Assessment of suitability can be completed by, you guessed it, a phone call. Trained and qualified PO / PSO’s are no longer to make a proposal. Just provide information. More evidence of being de-skilled. It’s all just bonkers!

Yes - we get the request 3 months before and have a ten day target to return form! Then there is the increasing difficulty to get a breach agreed, the increasing difficulty to get a recall Agreed with the targets for alternative to recall, lovingly recorded by a NSI. It’s obviously designed to alleviate the full to bursting prisons.

Very well known experiment [Milgram], and a lot to be learned from it. But in the words associated with Jo Cox, prisoners and prison staff have more in common now then divide them. The Tories have created such a divided society, many prison staff come from the same place as those they're locking up. Rented accommodation, no opportunity to buy, same housing estates, financial difficulties and worries. When there's no ladder to climb, everyone finds themselves in a similar place. The Tories have really f****d things up.

You are absolutely 'on the money',  and have made the point well. My post was a clumsy attempt to say: (1) HMPPS are putting prison & probation management in the role of the original Milgram guards, i.e. that probation chiefs sold their staff down the river, or that prison governors are playing Russian roulette with their staffing complement, and: (2) that HMGovt via HMPPS are expecting prison & probation staff to treat those they are responsible for with increasing levels of contempt. Thankfully this idea isn't taking off, as we see from Bionic's posts & other contributors, plus the independent will of HMI's to highlight & publicly shame HMPPS. Equally 'Hats Off' to Bob Neill for calling "Foul!" & challenging the piss-poor management by Spurr & co.

Just thought I'd write this for balance because it irks me to hear revisionists unfairly blaming honourable hardworking trade unionists, who are if anything realistic and forward looking, for things they did not do and were not responsible.Blaming Raho and Rogers for the collapse of the National Negotiating Committee and with it collective bargaining is ludicrous. It was a dead duck that has been mythologised by extreme left wingers after its demise as some kind of golden goose that Raho and Rogers jointly conspired to strangle into non existence. It died because it was not fit for purpose and no one wanted to be part of it least of all the NPS and most of the CRCs.

Completely agree with your comment Jim. We need to hear more from those like Rogers and Raho who are undoubtedly influential and willing to engage in a more nuanced debate that might include offering different visions of probation that some other powerful voices wish to silence or do away with completely.

I can tell you that their views do carry some weight where it counts. Napo has lost some respect in recent years as a professional association under a somewhat anti-intellectual leadership however both Raho and Rogers have regained some of this respect in forums where a more nuanced understanding is required and Napo are now gradually being taken more seriously in the debate about the future of probation. This recent progress can easily be stopped.

Any amount of showboating and tub thumping never achieves respect or traction with those in power who are charged with running things and making decisions even if this is more entertaining and satisfying for those concerned. Both Raho and Rogers are in my experience politically moderate but also savvy trade unionists who actually have skills that are needed to deal intelligently with those in power.

The membership of Napo is not left wing and could hardly claim to be militant. Those calling for more radical or extreme leadership are not in touch with the majority of Napo members or how things get done in the real world which is far less exciting and mundane. Both are certainly not crude reductionists by nature (leave that to the angry tub thumpers and fans of RT and Socialist Worker)but I do see them writing in a more appealingly human and less politicised way and not using complex terms and jargon for a closed group on Facebook (3000+ members) in order to have an inclusive discussion with those interested in probation and probation issues. I presume this is why you reproduced some of their discussion on the blog Jim?

Unfortunately if they were to step away then this would be a loss to the probation profession that needs more not less intelligent voices and has been slow to recruit new champions.

Inevitably there are always a few who think that they could do what others do better (with no training or experience) like unfit hecklers at a sporting event criticising much fitter sports people but in reality find that it is a harder to do the do than being an unrestrained armchair performance critic. That said if you think you can do better or make a difference then I'm sure your branch could find something suited to your talents.

By the way Raho is an elected branch chair and my sources tell me that he may well not seek reelection to a second term but will probably continue to work in connection with probation in some capacity. He has done his bit and no doubt has other projects. Rogers is a career trade union official and Napo is actually pretty lucky to have him as an employee.

I left probation before the split and have frozen local gov pension. I returned just after split to CRC and paid into their private pension arrangements. I wish I had opted out now! What is the point when they are likely to hand the contract back at some point or be liquidated. I am unlikely to get anything back. I went back to work partly because I felt I needed to top up my existing pension so I have enough to retire on. We are all being let down by the current system and I feel really angry. No way could I carry on with CRC until I retire anyway. They don't value older staff and the contribution they make and all their knowledge and experience. They value staff who tow the line and are faster with their IT and less interested in their service users. Maybe I should just cut my losses and stop paying into their pension?

I find the idea of private companies such as G4S, Serco or Interserve being sanctioned by the state to enforce debt collection and even arrest very sinister indeed. Not least because there are various private companies that can now impose fines through fixed penalties for parking offences, littering etc. It's Orwellian and another demonstration of Tory party oppression. It'll cost money not save it, but it doesn't matter as long as the private sector are doing alright from it. How much has the MoJ saved the taxpayer through its outsourcing projects, digitalisation and court closures?

To be honest, that all sounds reasonable, I wouldn't have had my chance if at the time the net was not cast wide. I always enjoyed the diversity and more often than not passion for working with people that I met amongst my former colleagues.

It's not the diversity that causes me concern, its just symptomatic of the headlong rush everybody seems to be in, "never mind the quality, feel the width!" (Originated from unscrupulous London backstreet tailors palming you off with cheap material instead of the good stuff for your suit.) A 3 year degree course (4 years if studied to a masters) was first compressed to a 2 year diploma & is now reduced to 15 months' PQiP. Where's the space to learn? When will the students have time to reflect, to discuss, to explore? And where have they hidden the news that you'll have a caseload of 60, plus court duties & a VLO caseload to boot?

Everyone remembers the great outsourcing scandals. The Olympics. Tagging. Transporting prisoners. Emergency service phone services. All big news stories that somehow get lost in other news stories a week later and dragged up again when the next outsourcing scandal breaks. But there's other important issues that don't really resurface that should be considered within the Carillion debate. Athos for example walked away from its disability assessment contract about 2 years ago at a cost of over £100m.

There was the outsourced education, training and apprenticeship company, that went belly up without warning about 18mths ago costing £10s of millions, (I can't remember their name, but was noted on this blog.) It's important too to also consider the governments argument that Carillion went bust not because of its public sector contracts, but it's private sector ones. That begs the question of how much money from public sector contracts is being used to subsidise private contracts? Will Interserves portion of the governments £342m go on making probation services better, or be used to subsidise private loss making contracts?

The big accountancy firms like PwC and KPMG have rightly come under the spotlight since Carillion collapsed. But they are also the companies the government use, and pay millions to each year in consultancy fees. The incestuous nature of the relationship between these companies need to be broken up.

It's almost amusing to hear ministers like Grayling when they're asked about why Carillion were given multi billion pound contracts after continued profit warnings. It was a joint bid they say, it was given on the understanding that the other two companies would step in and absorb Carillions obligations if Carillion went bust. Isn't that also an admission that they knew Carillion was on the brink?

So too the finger pointing at KPMG by the government for giving Carillion the thumbs up. But isn't that what Grayling did by giving them Hs2 contracts? With such large contracts it gave Carillion the opportunity to extend its credit notes to its sub contractors and even run up bigger bills. The Carillion collapse is huge, and likely to headline for much longer then other outsourcing scandals, which is a good thing.

Not many of the general public paid much attention to Carillion, many probably had never heard of them. Yet there's other giant companies with large government contracts that are creeping very close to the same page as Carillion who are even less well known. The Labour Party need to grab the Carillion fallout and shake the bones out of it, expose its seedy relationships with government and other outsource companies, it's conflicts of interests, and remind the public that the new buzz word being used by local councils is insourcing.

"Scandal-hit Concentrix adjusted or terminated around 108,000 cases of claimants' tax credits - nearly a third of which were overturned at appeal." The taxpayer foots the bill for 108,000 'outcomes' and then the taxpayer picks up the bill for 90% of those decisions going to appeals, with nearly 40% of them being successful appeals? Is austerity only necessary because of botched outsourcing?

Black Rock were responsible for managing Carillions pension fund, yet astoundingly made millions betting against their demise. Does George Osborne have questions to answer? As an adviser to BlackRock, the former Chancellor may have questions to answer after it emerged it is among group of investors to have made millions from Carillion’s demise. If he has shares in BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager, then he is set to personally benefit from last week’s liquidation, which has put thousands of jobs at risk. Mr Osborne has sought to distance himself from the troubled construction giant.

The newspaper he edits last week ran a leader column criticising the Government for awarding Carillion £1.3billion in contracts after it issued its first profit warning in July last year. The editorial read: “Why has the state found itself so dependent on a few very large outsourcing firms? “The failure to use a variety of smaller, mid-size companies undermines innovation and leaves services hostage when things go wrong.” But when he signed off a Carillion contract as Chancellor in 2014, Mr Osborne declared: “It’s great to see successful companies like Carillion winning contracts around the world.”

George gets paid £650,000 a year for one day's work a week. It not hard to see how the Oxfam report published today puts 82% of the world's wealth in the hands of 1% of the population, or that half the worlds wealth is held by just 42 people.

Michael Spurr and RH full of s.... The MPs understand very little of the TR system, of its contracts and of the nonsensical answers they are given to their questions. When one of the questioners is closing in on MS his reply is that her demand for a precise answer is unreasonable without preparation. The whole thing is very yes ministeresque, farcical, and sadly probably fairly inconsequential. Nice to have it all recorded, but parading the failures is not the same as addressing them. They will be allowed to continue. Something stronger than the PAC is needed to bring this farce to an end.

We hope. We think. We would like. We anticipate. We didn't expect. And..RH said there was another round of negotiations to come. They did not want to pay more than they had to but they did want to ensure the services continue. The PAC asked when this would be? RH said the key date would be when the PbR reoffending statistics come out later in January. That will cost! People might be forgiven for thinking that the drugs drones and mobile phones issue in the prisons is really MoJ racketeering to raise funds to pay the ever increasing costs of the CRCs!! Putting more money in will only improve the shareholder dividend not the services. Renationalisation is the only way to improve the services and reduce costs.

Could it be true that Grayling & the Right are intentionally erasing Probation from the face of UK politics? I have noticed that Rory Stewart uses either Minister of State or Prisons Minister, not Prisons & Probation Minister. Its neither petty nor pedantic - language is important. Still, I guess young Rory knows more than enough about the subtleties of expediting regime change after his stint in Afghanistan.

I agree the lexicon matters and it would be easy, if you were following the language, to wonder why Probation is a yesterday term of reference. In part it is because the subject rarely reaches the higher strata of general newsworthiness despite its obvious calamity. There may be other reasons too.

The Tories just continue to lie and lie and absolve themselves of any responsibility at all about the monumental mess they’ve made of Probation. They just can’t admit they got it so very wrong. Oh wait we run programmes for that — oh hang on not enough staff to run said programmes!

It is an alarming trend that politicians all over the world have apparently realised that lying to get out of a question no longer even requires the skill of avoidance, distraction and sleight of hand. A perfectly placed lie will suffice. More disturbing is that fact that the lie no longer needs to be credible. Any old nonsense will do.

"The Ministry over-estimated the number of people who would be subject to tagging. The number of offenders who are subject to tagging orders has been falling and is now well below expectations, which could suggest that confidence in electronic monitoring has been undermined." Luckily the MoJ has come up with a wheeze to deal with the under-use problem - remove all professional assessment from HDC decisions and shove as many prisoners out on tag as possible, suitability be damned! So what if it leads to more offending, breaches and recalls? Can't have the contractors' volumes hit!

Get something wrong in work and there is usually some accountability. For the governing classes there are, however, different norms – from John Prescott getting a peerage for his sexual dalliance with his secretary, to wasting millions of taxpayers' money – money which could have been spent on useful things. While we constantly hear about vital support services being cutback or closed, we also constantly read about government departments' profligate spending on ill-thought-out projects. And departmental leaders later sit in front of select committees and harp on about their prudence, value for money and departmental expertise. It's no wonder the populace become disillusioned with leaders who have the look of self-serving elites, who prosper no matter how often they do stupid things that harm the public interest.

This government rants on about the need to increase productivity while it fritters away money. The message that gets through is that our rulers have feet of clay – they are out for themselves and their friends in business. Their governance has more in common with the mafia than democratic accountability.

I don't want to come across as misty-eyed about the new prison minister, but I thought Rory Stewart intends to be hands-on and ensure that where HMIP recommendations are made, they are implemented and identified individuals in the bureaucracy are held to account. It's early days but he doesn't spout the usual defensive bullshit.

The Ministry of justice clearly doesn't have a clue. It's failed across the board to deliver anything that could be described as remotely success and wasted eye-watering amounts of public finance. Should it not just be disbanded? Put everything back under the remit of the Home Office?

"They've never understood us and were always nervous and irritated by our proudly independent voice and notorious historic resistance to all attempts at imposing command and control." I'm not sure that the Tories don't understand probation. I think it may be more that they view it almost as an extention of the welfare state. Extending support and assistance to the undeserving who don't pay for that support and assistance must stink of socialism and is offensive to their capitalist neolibral ideology. I have no doubt they'd wipe probation out completely if they could, and replace it with G4S truncheon wielding security guards, and charge those under their watch for the privilege. Because neanderthal neolibral ideology knows that the only way to solve social problems and enforce conformity is to not spare the rod.

Carillion have left our prisons in a terrible state. It's reported that the need of essential repairs doubled under their watch. However Interserve are also in considerable trouble. They have many projects experiencing severe delays, all of which incur financial penalties.
In a statement last week the Government said Interserve are not the next Carillion but today their shares have fallen another 10% and a warning of hard times to come. They might not be Carillion, but neither are they secure my any means.

Has anyone else noticed that not a single part of the prisons crisis, NOT ONE THING, is the responsibility of Michael Spurr, CEO HMPPS? Reminds me of my dear, dead mother's account of her driving experiences after finally passing her test on her 19th attempt: "You know, its funny, but I've seen loads of accidents and yet I've never been involved in one." (I was a passenger just the once. Never again!)

"the obvious disappearance of a Minister for Probation"..Oh God, first they stick their fingers in their ears, now they have just walked away. Bastards.

They haven't walked away - Spurr is dancing merrily on Probation's grave. If Spurr has to leave his job tomorrow, he can rest easy in the knowledge that he has single-handedly killed off the pinko arse-wipers, the soft liberal do-gooders & the middle-class spoon-feeders. All that's left is for Gauke to delete the second 'P' in the departmental moniker & its a wrap! Well done, Michael. I hope you're feeling smug & self-satisfied in your mean, bitter, negative little fascist fantasy-world. And please don't worry about me. I can sleep at night. I don't have to spend hours in the shower trying to scrub the bloodstains off my conscience, because I tried to make a POSITIVE difference. At least I did that.

It has to be said that our so called leaders have made it easy for them thus far. Not a word, not a peep from those who are supposed to be at the helm. Chief police officers and chief fire officers have recently been in the news demanding greater resources, our CEO parasites are nowhere to be seen or heard! Speak, say something....say anything, prove you are not simply a hologram!

I expect the challenge for Rory Stewart is of the Sisyphean variety. He may well turn out to be another glib politician, but there was something refreshing about a prison minister who readily accepted some operational accountability. His JSC appearance was specific to the conditions at Liverpool prison and back to basics was specific to physical conditions in prisons. All he was saying is that there is no excuse for tolerating squalor and infestation - having a clean environment without broken windows are basic requirements for decent regimes – you don't have to be an advocate of the broken window theory or feng sui to know it makes good sense. Extrapolating from 'back to basics' or criticising his use of military analogies should not be used to detract from the simple point he was making: there is no excuse for turning a blind eye to squalor and allowing it to become the norm.

Saturday 27 January 2018

Failing CRCs Rewarded Despite PbR

Some readers will have noticed the other day that the MoJ published Community Performance Quarterly MI, update to September 2017. To be perfectly honest, I have no idea what they show, so I'm extremely grateful for the following headline explanation from the Civil Service World website:-

Figures show MoJ rehabilitation providers miss payment-by-results targets

Fewer than 10% of Community Rehabilitation Companies qualify for offender-reduction rewards. Just two of the 21 offender-rehabilitation services delivering the Ministry of Justice's new payment-by-results model have met their targets for the system's first year, new figures have revealed. Data published by the MoJ shows that of the full cohort of Community Rehabilitation Companies aiming to drive down reoffending rates among low and medium-risk offenders, only Merseyside CRC and Northumbria CRC managed to deliver numbers that entitled them to payments under the system.

The MoJ’s payment-by-results methodology requires CRCs to reduce not only the “binary” proportion of offenders being managed in the community who reoffend within a specified period after sentence, but also the “frequency rate”, which measures the number of crimes committed by those who go on to reoffend. In both cases reoffending is measured against baseline of figures from 2011.

Statistics published yesterday represent the final reoffending rates for 2015-16. They show that while 18 CRC areas managed to deliver a “binary” reduction, only Merseyside and Northumbria also managed to cut frequency rates for offenders who went on to commit more crime. In 2011, Northumbria had the highest adjusted reoffending rate of any of the 21 CRCs – with 55.17% of convicted offenders going on to reoffend. It also had the highest frequency rate – an average of 5.15 offences for each individual who went on to reoffend, also the highest rate of any CRC.

Last month, a National Audit Office report highlighted the extent to which the MoJ had retooled its CRC contracts, making a further £342m available to them over the years to 2022 in order to offset projected losses. Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier said the NAO report, which detailed higher-than-expected costs set against a reduction in the number of referrals being offered to CRCs, was evidence of the extent to which the MoJ had “set these services up to fail”.

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said the latest figures were an indication that the government had sought to introduce payment-by-results models as a way to save money, rather than to drive improved outcomes. He added that a reduction in face-to-face meetings with monitored offenders was one consequence of the pressure services were under, and was one factor reflected in the reoffending-frequency statistics. “The payment-by-results rhetoric was a useful banner,” he said. “But what this was really about was taking money out of the system.”

Neilson said that what was happening with CRCs was “very far away” from the kind of reoffending work done at HMP Peterborough with a groundbreaking Social Impact Bond that launched in 2010 under then-justice secretary Ken Clarke. “These reforms were forced through at break-neck pace by a secretary of state hell-bent with getting them across the finish line by the 2015 General Election,” he said, referring to Clarke’s successor, Chris Grayling. “Successive secretaries of state have been with left with this mess.”

Neilson added that although the latest figures indicated that just two CRCs would be receiving payment-by-results awards, last year’s financial retooling of the system had effectively awarded all of the bodies their success payments.

An MoJ spokeswoman said the department's probation reforms meant 40,000 offenders were being monitored who would previously have been released with no supervision. "Overall, Community Rehabilitation Companies have reduced the number of people re-offending, but they need to do more to ensure we have a service that keeps the public safe and helps offenders turn their back on crime,” she said. "Probation officers are doing an incredibly professional job and we will continue to work closely with CRCs to improve performance."


A reminder from last December, also from the Civil Service World website:-

The Ministry of Justice has been criticised for “massively underestimating” the costs incurred by the new providers of probation services for low- to medium-risk offenders at the time it tendered contracts in 2014. The department revised its contracts with Community Rehabilitation Companies in August this year after the providers projected losses of £443m between 2016 and 2022 due to higher-than-expected costs and a reduction in the number of offenders being referred to them.

In a report published today, the National Audit Office said projected maximum fees by the ministry to CRCs had now increased by £342m over the life of the contracts. This includes payments of £42m in 2016-17 and £22m in 2017-18 that were made in excess of the fees paid under the terms of the original contracts. MPs on the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee said the government had “set these services up to fail” and that hundreds of millions of pounds were now being directed at CRCs without evidence that they will succeed in reducing reoffending.


The first performance payments to CRCs informed by reoffending data are due in January 2018. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “As we said in July, probation services are falling short of our vision for a high-quality system that reforms offenders and commands the confidence of courts. That is why we have changed CRC contracts to address the challenges CRCs are facing as a result of their financial situation, due to the reduction in the volumes of offenders referred to them. We are clear that CRCs must deliver a higher standard of probation services, which strictly enforces sentences, reduces reoffending and protects the public."

Friday 26 January 2018

Latest From Napo 172

Here we have the latest blog post from Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary:- 

Probation Pay - what’s happening?
Its hardly surprising that we have had a number of enquiries asking about the progress in our attempts to close off what has passed as “negotiations” on 2017/18 pay and where we are in making progress on a new pay structure. We hope to issue something more substantive over the next week but broadly this is the position we have reached.

After a series of talks just before and after the Christmas break, the Probation Unions now await confirmation of whether any additional money is to be found to offer members at their pay max who were not in receipt of the incremental progression (paid out last year) any kind of an award.

The way that senior HMPPS management have handled the 2017/18 pay talks has ranged between insult and farce to say the least, with the unions firstly being told that all of the available 1% for the NPS pay bill had been spent. This we were told was due to the overall MoJ pay bill being exceeded which included the cash for prison staff pay and the funding for the Market Forces Supplements payable across the NPS ‘Red Sites’. It did not help matters that the last set of MoJ accounts were qualified leading us to conclude not unreasonably, that trust and confidence between senior HMPPS leaders and the Treasury is at an all-time low.

We obviously challenged what we were first told and, as you might expect, this resulted in some pretty full and frank exchanges. Farce turned to incredulity when we subsequently learned that the initial position that Spurr and Beacroft had tried to explain was in fact now spectacularly incorrect and that not all of the 1% probation pay bill had been spent after all. I could go on at length, but suffice to say we now await more news as to whether their latest representation to the Treasury on 2017/18 pay will be considered.

Obviously we want to see this happen but any further offer is likely to be small. We are pressing for news daily and will keep members informed as soon as we have news and move to consultation with you as quickly as possible

Longer term pay reform
It is evident from the above that the Treasury seem to have serious “trust” issues with the NPS / HMPPS leadership in light of their miscalculations over 2017/18 pay. The current position is that Michael Spurr has stated publicly in communications to NPS Managers that probation pay reform is a priority and that, if necessary, NPS will fund this urgently out of current budgets, as opposed to asking the Treasury for more money.

This is helpful except that: a) The Treasury still need to give Spurr permission to spend even their own money and need to be convinced it will be enough to solve the problem; and b) the Treasury know that the CRCs will then be back to ask for more money so it will still cost the Treasury.

Our representations suggest that a breakthrough in terms of an offer on pay reform can reasonably be expected, but a negotiating process will then need to take place before Napo and the other unions can make a recommendation to members.

Any breakthrough will put a new slant on the ongoing pay negotiations that are underway in a number of CRCs as well and the CRC owners would do well to keep their eyes on the ball here as we will not be prepared to tolerate a two-tier pay scenario for those members who, through no fault of their own, may be faced being shoved into a pay wasteland. Even more reason to stick with Napo and encourage non-members to join us.

Again, I will ensure that news is issued when it becomes available, and trust me, the frustration felt by Napo members across the NPS and CRCs is very much shared at this end.

Our turn for the hot seat - JSC Hearing 10:45 Tuesday
It has been a frenetic couple of days as we have been trying to bottom out how the unions can get key evidence to the Justice Committee which will directly reflect the experiences of practitioners at the “front face” who are trying to cope with the post-TR difficulties in the NPS and CRCs.

We thought we had found a way to secure a totally closed session which would have given a few of our members an opportunity to simply tell it like it is without fear of their employers clammy hand on their shoulder afterwards. While I am grateful for the Committees best endeavours to assist here, even they cannot extend Parliamentary privilege so I am not prepared to put our members at risk of being identified.

So we now have a public session on Tuesday and you can get it live by going to the Parliament TV. As I write, a number of our members have been contacted and are supplying me with personal anonymised testimonies on a range of activities that I will seek to report on verbally at Tuesday’s session and, if (as is likely) that 45 minutes flies by, I will ensure is copied to all Committee members. Look out for a special report after the JSC Proceedings along with some related media coverage that I am also working on right now.

Solidarity is a great thing
It’s been a privilege to be out on the road again this week meeting Napo NPS and CRC members in Exeter and Cardiff. The feature of these meetings is that we can have adult two way conversations about members’ aspirations and problems and what we are trying to do to assist. I am always pleased to attend Branch and Office meetings diary commitments notwithstanding, as I have no difficulty accounting for my work on your behalf and giving fact not fiction in response to questions. Have a great weekend.

No Prison Reform Without Probation Reform

"I don't want to come across as misty-eyed about the new prison minister, but I thought Rory Stewart intends to be hands-on and ensure that where HMIP recommendations are made, they are implemented and identified individuals in the bureaucracy are held to account. It's early days but he doesn't spout the usual defensive bullshit."
"the obvious disappearance of a Minister for Probation"..Oh God, first they stick their fingers in their ears, now they have just walked away. Bastards."
"They haven't walked away - Spurr is dancing merrily on Probation's grave. If Spurr has to leave his job tomorrow, he can rest easy in the knowledge that he has single-handedly killed off the pinko arse-wipers, the soft liberal do-gooders & the middle-class spoon-feeders. All that's left is for Gauke to delete the second 'P' in the departmental moniker & its a wrap!" 
Rather than just being dismayed, I think I'm getting increasingly angry. I'm angry that Michael Spurr is still at his post despite chaos reigning in pretty much every part of his empire. I'm angry that we don't have a Minister for Probation any more, despite there being a Prison AND Probation Service and I'm angry that nobody seems to be saying anything about it. It's a disgrace and I invite readers to draw conclusions regarding individuals and organisations who should be saying something.

Increasingly, the agenda seems to be just about what's happening in prison and what needs to be done about it, but we all know probation must be a part of trying to sort out the mess that Grayling created.  It's to be hoped Rory Stewart appreciates this sooner rather than later. This in the Guardian:-

Prisons minister Rory Stewart: we need clean jails, not abstract policy

Rory Stewart, the new prisons minister, has vowed to “get back to basics” to ensure clean, safe jails after a damning official report on rat-infested HMP Liverpool said conditions were the “worst ever they could recall”.

Stewart, who has been in the job for two weeks, told the commons justice select committee on Tuesday that previous ministers had not felt it was their job to get involved in operational details, but “I disagree”. The former foreign office minister told MPs: “My instinct is we need to get back to basics. We need to absolutely insist that we are going to run clean, decent prisons. There have been too many very abstract conversations in the past two years about grand bits of prison policy.

“We are turning up and saying, ‘Why is this a filthy prison?’ and asking, ‘Why has it not been cleaned?’, and people want to talk about grand issues of sentencing policy or reoffending policy. Making prisoners feel they are in a safe environment without broken windows is really important.” He said that on a visit to Liverpool prison on Monday he saw that almost every window was broken on one wing. “There’s too much saying, ‘We’re going to deal with this by setting a new key performance indicator’ and ‘We’re going to deduct some money if you don’t reach your KPI’, rather than spending time on the ground and saying, ‘This is disgusting. Sort it out.’

“If I’m not able in the next 12 months to achieve some improvements in making these prisons basically clean with more fixed broken windows and fewer drugs, I’m not doing my job.” He was speaking during an unusual session of the committee. It focused solely on the inspection report on Liverpool prison, published last week, which revealed a filthy jail with rats, cockroaches, broken windows and piles of rubbish.

The head of the prison and probation service, Michael Spurr, admitted to MPs it was a “personal failing of mine” for not recognising the extent of the deterioration at Liverpool – despite the situation being pointed out in inspection reports in 2013 and 2015. Spurr said the escape of a man serving a 30-year sentence had focused attention on security at Liverpool, and that unanticipated population pressures and budget cuts last summer had seen governors simply “in coping mode” in jails across England and Wales.

“We took our eye off the ball very badly in terms of decency at Liverpool through that period. It coincides with a period where we’ve had to reduce costs substantially – a 24% reduction in our budget. It coincides with significant changes across the way we deliver services both in prisons and in probation with Transforming Rehabilitation,” he said, referring to the government’s programme for how offenders are managed in England and Wales from February 2015.

Spurr said that in Liverpool’s case, 50 cells deemed unfit had been brought back into use to cope with an unexpected surge in numbers last summer, shortly before the latest inspection: “That shouldn’t have happened. It happened in a context of … significant pressure on the service.” He revealed that the governor of Liverpool prison was moved two days after the inspection report and was now working on counter-terrorism in the prison system, reporting directly to him.

After the session, a criminal justice consultant, Rob Allen, said that two years after David Cameron had set out “a grandiose vision of a ‘modern, more effective, truly 21st century prison system’, the new prisons minister has told MPs he wants one without rats, cockroaches and garbage”.


Rob Allen has this to say to the new minister:- 

Hercules or Sisyphus? The Task Facing New Prisons Minister Rory Stewart

There’s been reassurance from the Prisons Minister at the House of Commons Justice Committee. In struggling prisons, the most significant facilities management issues are checked up on in Whitehall every week. Although “heavily operational, it’s “all important to delivering a decent regime, and we are getting to that level of detail to make sure this works”.

This isn’t the back to basics approach announced on Wednesday by new minister Rory Stewart but the evidence given by his predecessor Sam Gyimah back in November 2016. Given that the squalid living conditions endured by many prisoners at HMP Liverpool - the subject of the latest hearing - somehow escaped Mr Gyimah’s detailed attentions, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether Mr Stewart will do any better. Reformers are born optimists so let’s hope so. Good for him for taking responsibility for sorting out the prison crisis and offering to be judged on the results.

More and more Inspection reports have revealed the scale of the challenge in creating the “modern, more effective, truly twenty-first century prison system” promised by David Cameron. The reality is that it will take a year to repair or replace the cell windows at Liverpool - and that’s if the Prison’s Action Plan is actually followed, unlike the one produced after a 2015 inspection.

Stewart is right to say that the recommendations made by inspectors should drive reform agendas in establishments. He could have added that Independent Monitoring Boards' and Ombudsman's findings deserve greater attention as well - the former in particular as they produce much more frequent reports. And he’s thinking about whether the Inspectorate itself should be bolstered so it can follow up on itself on the problems it identifies. But is he right about how to achieve change in prisons?

The local failures at Liverpool appear to cast doubt on the idea of giving Governors more and more autonomy but Stewart is fully signed up to the idea. At least twice he used military analogies in describing the prison service. Governors, like Colonels should be left to run their own show under the watchful gaze of Brigadiers who intervene when things go wrong. It’s not an altogether comfortable comparison. Prison staff are not soldiers fighting an enemy. There are plenty of other institutions - schools, colleges, hospitals, which can provide better models for much of what the prison service should be doing. There is always a risk that security, control and justice get out of kilter in a prison. The Committee heard that bosses were so concerned about security following an escape at Liverpool, they ignored mounting piles of rubbish, vermin infestations and degrading cell conditions.

Stewart was dismissive too of grand concerns about sentencing and other abstract policy questions which he thinks have distracted attention from the day to day problems in prisons. Here he is wrong. As the Council of Europe 's anti torture watchdog has reported following their 2016 visit to the UK, the implementation of the prison reform programme will be unattainable without concrete steps to significantly reduce the current prison population. The Government’s response, published this week? They do not propose to set arbitrary targets for reducing the prison population, but to achieve it via a combination of early intervention upstream and on reducing reoffending after release for those who are sentenced to immediate custody.

Disappointing though that may be, even these modest strategies require a genuine policy commitment from housing, healthcare, education, business and local government. Stewart‘s job is to negotiate that as well as fixing broken windows. Unless he and colleagues find some way to cut prison numbers his task will not be that of Hercules but of Sisyphus.

Rob Allen