Wednesday 28 February 2018

Parliament and Probation Omnishambles

Just like bloody buses, nothing for ages, then three turn up. The probation chaos created by Chris Grayling's part-privatisation doesn't often crop up in Parliament, but yesterday it was being discussed not in one, but three locations at the same time. We had Bob Neill and his Justice Committee listening to the PCCs making a power grab for the whole lot; Ellie Reeves MP kicking off a debate on the whole omnishambles in Westminster Hall and finally the Welsh Affairs Committee taking evidence from Frances Crook on how things could be done better. 

Lets start with the power grab by the Police and Crime Commissioners. A fanciful back-of-a-fag-packet idea by Theresa May when home secretary, we're never-the-less seemingly stuck with this charade of so-called political accountability of the Police and as a group they appear hell-bent on expanding their empire in other directions such as the Fire Service and now probation. Their Association is chaired by a Tory, David Lloyd of Hertfordshire:-  
"I am proud to be the first Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire. I believe in cutting crime, keeping taxes low and catching more criminals. I also believe that it is the criminal who should be punished, not the victim. People should be able to go about their lawful business in Hertfordshire, without worrying about becoming victims of crime."
He outlined the power-grab before giving evidence to the Justice Committee thus:-

‘PCCs should wield same power over criminal justice system as they do over police’, MPs to be told

Police and crime commissioners (PCCs) are taking their fight to impose “local oversight” in bringing the criminal justice system to account at a Westminster summit tomorrow. MPs will be told that parts of criminal justice services are “not working” with recent reforms leading to a two-stream probation system that impedes partnership work and innovation.

Association of PCCs’ criminal justice portfolio lead David Lloyd has made it his ambition during his time as organisation chair to bring “swifter high quality justice and improve the experience for all involved”. He is set to give evidence to the UK Parliament’s Justice Committee, calling for PCCs to take over the joint overseeing of Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS) with the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Lloyd is expected to tell the Transforming Rehabilitation session on Tuesday (February 27): “It is my firm belief that PCCs should have the same powers over the criminal justice system that they currently have over their police force – set the plan, the budget, appoint a chief and hold to account.”  The Hertfordshire PCC will add: 

“PCCs have a key role in working with partners to ensure an efficient and effective criminal justice system. That means real oversight and accountability of local criminal justice services, including offender management services. The APCC wants to see funding to be provided to PCCs without ring fence, so that the money can be invested in the part of the system which would have the greatest impact on reducing reoffending in their local area. This may mean, for example, more into Out of Court Disposals in some areas or more in Through the Gate services in others, depending on local need and wider service provision. The PCCs are concerned that across England and Wales the criminal justice agencies are being pulled in different directions. They believe that the “democratic mandate of a PCC means that they can hold the criminal justice system to account for the public and provide transparency at a local level”.
Mr Lloyd’s summary of the “consensus” view of the association claims the current payment by results system for CRCs is not working and is too often driving perverse behaviour. “The use of the local voluntary and community sector has reduced because of the way the payment mechanism for CRCs is structured,” the APCC statement maintains. The reforms have created a two-tier probation system comprising the NPS, responsible for high-risk offenders, and 21 CRCs, responsible for low- and medium-risk offenders.

Mr Lloyd’s report adds: “This has added a further level of complexity onto the probation system, with additional handover points between the NPS and CRCs. The introduction of CRCs – which are nationally commissioned and mostly run by large private firms – has also impeded local partnership work and innovation.”

The most recent Criminal Justice Statistics Quarterly bulletin – covering the period from April 2016 to March 2017) – confirms recent key trends that the lowest number of people since records began in 1970 were dealt with by the courts, but the proportion of people imprisoned for indictable offences rose again and that average length of sentence increased.

Some 1.71 million people were dealt with by the criminal justice system in the last year with the custody rate for indictable offences increasing since March 2011, from 24 per cent to 31 per cent. Average custodial sentence length for these offences has increased from 15.3 months to 19.5 months since March 2007.

Offenders with no previous convictions and cautions are now more likely to go to court and be convicted than to receive a caution – the figure rising from 22 per cent ten years ago to 52 per cent last year.

Since August 2016, HM Inspectorate of Probation has produced 12 Quality & Impact inspections (Durham,York & North Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Kent, North London, Staffordshire & Stoke, Greater Manchester, Gwent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, South Yorkshire and Cumbria) with common themes affecting the NPS including areas struggling to recruit sufficient frontline staff, responsible officers not feeling they had received sufficient training and court work often hampered by poor IT systems and reliability.

In the field of CRCs, the focus on restructuring has often meant that the quality of core service delivery suffered while the work on safeguarding and domestic abuse issues was often seen sub-standard. The HMIP also reported “insufficient good quality supervision and support”.

The APCC recommendations suggest a whole system approach to resettlement is needed through the introduction of common resettlement outcome measures across prisons. Mr Lloyd added: “There is a need to promote closer working between CRCs, prison staff and NPS responsible officers so that there is continuity of resettlement support, effective public protection and oversight throughout the sentence.”

Other representatives at the Justice Committee hearing include Nacro chief executive Jacob Tas; Steve Matthews, national contracts manager of Shelter; Lorraine Preece, chief executive officer, YSS Ltd; Pact CEO Andy Keen-Downs; Beverley Toone, senior employment projects manager of Business in the Community; and Switchback policy and impact manager Sam Boyd.


Meanwhile, this is what Ellie Reeves MP had to say prior to her Westminster Hall debate:-

Ellie Reeves MP: It is time to rethink privatised probation services

Labour MP and Justice Committee member Ellie Reeves writes ahead of her debate today on private probation services.

Today I am leading a Westminster Hall debate on the future of probation services; an issue which highlights many of the problems caused by ill-judged privatisation within our justice system.

The separation of probation services in 2014 and the formation of the public National Probation Service and the outsourced Community Rehabilitation Schemes (CRCs) caused alarm at the time with individuals highlighting the potential for organisational difficulties and negative impacts on rehabilitation work. Three and a half years later, a recent National Audit Office report has shown that CRCs have, on average, met just 8 of the 24 targets set to them by the Ministry of Justice.

When a prisoner is in the transition stage at the end of their sentence, they should be given complete and thorough assistance with accommodation, finance and their long-term employment prospects. The ‘Through the Gate’ strategy aims to support offenders through the various stages of their release. However, CRCs have failed time and time again in improving the prospects of those they were set up to help. A 2017 joint report between HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Prisons report dismissed the work almost entirely stating that even if the “services were removed tomorrow, the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible”.

Staff, who were previously employed by the probation services, have since reported that morale is low with many feeling that the work they are doing is inadequate to the work they were doing prior to the 2014 changes. 25% of respondents to a UNISON survey reported that that they only occasionally had the equipment, resources or systems to do their job properly.

The failings within these organisations may be repeatedly highlighted but these seem to be continually ignored within the Government, who last July set in motion a series of payments, predicted to amount to £342 million, which have been put in place to bailout CRCs because of misjudged planning on their part. Instead of fining poor performing CRCs or ending their contract early, the Government see it fit to pay them millions more, not least at a time when there are other parts of our justice system in dire need of investment such as our aging prisons and the lack of services within them.

Probation is not a box ticking exercise, nor is it a profession that should be solely driven on targets. It should be based on a well-rounded approach centred on the individual and their needs. I firmly believe that this is not possible under the current arrangement of outsourcing probation to those in pursuit of little else other than profit.

The system we have appears to be a combination of failures that continue to let down offenders and waste taxpayers’ money. It is time, once and for all, for these failed schemes are brought back under public control so that we can get to the root causes of reoffending and provide rehabilitation services that are fit for purpose.

Ellie Reeves is the Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge


Transcript of the whole debate can be found here, or TV but this is what the Minister had to say:-

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
It is a great privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McDonagh. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) on securing this debate, which is hugely important, given the risk that criminals can pose to the public, as the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) eloquently put it. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) expressed the very important idea that people can change and improve, and that the public can be protected through that individual journey.

We have always faced fundamental challenges, but the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge is absolutely right that there have been very significant challenges since 2014. However, let me briefly take it back to before 2014. As the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) pointed out, the reality is that it is and has always been extremely difficult to do this kind of work. Before the privatisation of 2014, for nearly 30 or 40 years, probation services worked extremely hard under different Governments to reduce reoffending, and over a 40-year period the reoffending rate barely moved. It hovered around 50% within one year and 70% within nine years. It did not matter whether people were involved with innovative housing, mental health or employment projects. It was stubbornly difficult to reduce reoffending.

Despite all the problems with Through the Gate services that the hon. Member for Bradford East talked about, those services effectively did not exist before 2014. I was at Nottingham prison yesterday. Before 2014, nobody in the prison would have been working on the ​initial five-day assessment and the pre-12-week assessment to ensure that prisoners are properly co-ordinated Through the Gate. The CRC is now embedded in the building. It is also true that, even before 2014, there were sadly a number of issues with people coming out of prison, reoffending and harming the public.

I take very seriously the complaints that have been made. Those are serious observations by Members of Parliament and the chief inspector, who found and raised powerfully significant problems relating to morale—in particular, staff morale—case load, which the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) raised, and the tragedy when things go wrong. The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) described the horrifying situation that happened to her constituent, Conner, when somebody who was supervised under a CRC contract reoffended.

All those things need to be gripped and dealt with. The disagreement between the Government and the Opposition is that, for a number of reasons, I do not believe the question is only whether the service should be provided by the public sector or the private sector. Many of these issues predate the privatisation. There were very significant problems with probation in 2010, 2012 and 2014. It made sense—on this, I defend my predecessors—to try to work out how to deal with some of those stubborn problems, including, first, the absence of any proper Through the Gate services; secondly, the fact that before 2014, 40,000 prolific reoffenders were not supervised at all; and, thirdly, how on earth to deal with the stubborn reoffending rate of 50%. It seemed perfectly justifiable that people would try to think about how we could focus relentlessly on dropping the reoffending rate and on encouraging innovation. Why innovation? Because an enormous number of voluntary-sector organisations and charities around the country have proved that the reoffending rates can be reduced. I was looking at a recent example in Stafford, where a chaplaincy housing project has managed to reduce the reoffending of persistent reoffenders—a very tough group to work with—from 50% to what appears to be about 17%. There are similar examples, such as the Clink restaurant in Brixton Prison. Meeting people at the gate, finding them a job and putting them into the catering industry reduces reoffending dramatically. The idea of the reform was to try to bring some of those new ideas into the system.

Jenny Chapman
The Minister is trying to be helpful in acknowledging our points, but I want to challenge him. He is arguing that trusts were not innovative, but they absolutely were. He talks about the Clink and other examples. There are always pockets of absolutely excellent practice that have amazing successes, but the challenge is mainstreaming that, and getting it out so that it is the norm and not the exception. This reform has made that more difficult. Rather than analysing where we are, I hope the Minister will move on to tell us where he intends to take us next.

Rory Stewart
That is a very good challenge, and I will move on to the question of the voluntary sector and how to take good small examples to a bigger scale.

The challenge is what on earth to do about that. How do we address the problems? The fundamental thing is to get back to the basics, which are exactly what ​hon. Members in the Chamber have discussed. Basics include ensuring that people have a manageable case load, which means not going beyond 50 to 55 cases. They must meet the people in the cases regularly; they must ensure that they not only meet them but put in place a good assessment of the needs of the individual and of public protection; and they must come up with a plan linking that assessment to action. That is before we go on to the other things that we have been discussing, which is how we work with the voluntary sector and wider society. The basics need to happen first.

Around the country we can see that some people are delivering those basics well. Cumbria, for example, which has a CRC, has a good report from the inspectors for doing that. London, as the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge knows well, got a negative report from the inspectors exactly about some of those areas. We will not go into the details and explanations for some of that today. Some are about transition and inheriting a difficult situation, and London has always been difficult for probation services and has more than 30 different boroughs. There are complexities with IT systems and so on. However, we do not want to make excuses. The fundamental question is: can we sort those things out? I believe we can.

I am very confident that we can get to a situation, even in London, which is probably the most difficult area in the country, where we can have manageable case loads, where people can be met regularly, where there is good tracking of offenders—we know where they are and take good enforcement action if they do not turn up to appointments—and where the assessment and the plan are in place. I am very hopeful that, when the next inspection report comes out from the probation inspectorate, we will see those improvements even in London. I expect to be held accountable if those improvements are not recorded in the next report.

Liz Saville Roberts
I am interested in what the Minister is saying. Will he commit to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny of how those organisations operate, whatever their name in future? That is not the case at present.

Rory Stewart
It would be interesting to know what kind of parliamentary scrutiny the hon. Lady means. There are some pretty good examples of scrutiny—the Justice Committee is doing a report on the probation service and we have an incredibly active, energetic and highly critical chief inspector of probation who is doing an enormously good job which is drawn on by everyone around the Chamber—but I am open to more. Debates such as this one are very powerful ways to hold us to account.

The next issue, as we move on from addressing the basics, is to look at some of the questions the hon. Member for Darlington talked about, in particular how we scale up pockets of really good small practice in individual local areas. That seems to be a huge challenge for everything—not just probation but everything we do with the voluntary sector. It is infuriating to find in most of our constituencies good local providers being pushed out either by contractors coming in from elsewhere or by large charities and voluntary sector organisations. ​In my case, in Cumbria, they appear to come up from London with hundreds of proposal writers to take over a local council contract, but lack the local skills and knowledge to deliver.

We need to find ways to encourage CRCs to provide both the money that could go to those voluntary organisations—for example, in housing—and the cultural change, as the hon. Member for Darlington is aware, which is to encourage probation officers to let go of the cases to let specialist providers in mental health or housing take over their clients. That can be done but it must be driven through individual CRC by individual CRC. However, that is just the beginning. The big aim is to move from what happens with the individual in the probation office to what happens in broader society.

The real reason we have faced reoffending rates stubbornly stuck at 50% for nearly 40 years is that, in the end, the behaviour of someone coming out of prison is not controlled simply by what happens in the interaction with the probation officer or, when in prison, the prison officer. That is a very individual psychological engagement. What tends to happen is that the probation officer tries to change the behaviour of the individual in the room. However, that individual exists not only in the room but in a broader society. Unless such individuals can repair their relationships with family, society and the state, we will not get into a cycle in which they offend less or, eventually, do not offend at all.

That involves difficult things, with the individual feeling a sense of hope and agency; and that they can take control of their lives and have a sense of dignified participation, not as a labelled criminal but as a citizen in the fullest sense in society. No one in the Chamber has easy answers to how to achieve those things, but we must focus on ensuring that we get everything right, from the basics of meeting, assessment and planning, right through to the broader engagement with society to make that citizen function. We must recognise that the idea of desistance is not a linear path, but it is a path to reduce reoffending and protect the public.

I will conclude with three remarks. First, I pay tribute to the very hard work of probation officers. They are some of our most dedicated and serious professionals. Yesterday in Nottingham Prison I was lucky enough to see the Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Rutland CRC—people who have worked in probation trusts for nearly 30 years. They are based in the prison, telling very powerful stories about the assistance they provide in housing, and they represent exactly why we should be so proud of the work that probation officers do. They have difficult work which, as hon. Members have pointed out, combines the work of a social worker with that of someone who has to implement a court order and protect the public.

Secondly, I pay tribute to Members of Parliament. Their work in this area is often ignored by the public and, sometimes, too much ignored by Parliament. Such work matters deeply, as the hon. Member for Strangford pointed out, both for the individuals themselves on their journey towards improvement, and for the public.

Finally, I undertake to the House that we must focus. The results that we are getting from the inspectors are simply not good enough. I wish to be judged on driving the CRCs back to the very basics of their task, and on opening up to all the innovations and new ideas shared ​around the Chamber, to ensure that 40 years of stubborn rates of reoffending begin to be addressed, for the sake of individual offenders and the public as a whole.


Finally, here is Frances Crook giving evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee:-

"The failure of probation privatisation in Wales is feeding the crime problem, creating more victims, costing the taxpayer a fortune, and putting people into the prison system"

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Latest From Napo 173

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


There has been significant feedback into Napo HQ and through members of the Probation Negotiating Committee (PNC) who met last week, about the shoddy and disrespectful response to the union’s claims on 2017-18 pay and longer-term probation pay reform. Indeed, I understand that a number of members have written directly to Michael Spurr to tell him in no uncertain terms just how unhappy they are not only with his of excuses, but its underlying sanctimonious tone.

That we are now in a situation where a number of Community Rehabilitation Companies are actually paying (or offering to pay) salaries higher than the NPS, (despite their own well-documented failings), is not something I would have bet on a few months ago, but it’s a strange world of course. Nevertheless, it would be unwise to think that this heralds some type of counter-revolution as many more CRC’s have still not made a pay award for 2017-18 and are prevaricating over their longer-term pay reform agendas.

The farce that we encountered in what passed as pay talks with the NPS hierarchy has been seen by many of those members who have shared their thoughts with us as the ‘thin edge of the wedge’, with many saying that it’s time to get out on the barricades or at least work to rule.

That mood wont have been helped by the statement issued on the NPS Intranet this afternoon together with the ‘Questions and no Answers’ which accompanied it. Talk about digging deeper when one is already in a hole.

This is not just an issue for NPS members

All of this and much more, was the focus for an in depth discussion at the PNC about how Napo and UNISON, (who we are meeting urgently this week) should respond. On Wednesday, the Officers and Officials Group will also be considering that debate, as well as looking at some recommendations that your pay negotiators are currently working on.

I remember making it very clear when I addressed conference last September of my serious doubts that a decent pay rise would arrive unless our members indicated that they were prepared to take industrial action if needs be. The two motions carried at AGM made it clear that the position on 2017-18 Pay and longer-term pay reform had to improve and quickly. It was also resolved that Napo would consult with members with a view to industrial action if necessary. The situation we are in entirely sits with those scenarios

But the expressions of anger that I have been copied into suggest that it’s time for all members, and not just those in the NPS to take a deep breath and realise that wherever you work you face a number of common problems Be it on pay, workloads and health and safety, while you try to shore up a fractured profession and maintain community safety whilst giving lots of goodwill.

Telling us what you are prepared to do

I intend to report in more detail after this week’s deliberations with colleagues, but it seems very clear to me that members are expecting their union to take a stand over the above issues. No problem with that from my end but, as I have said many times before, our members must decide on where we go next and their willingness to make the employer and this government think again. We will be in touch with you about this very soon.

Monday 26 February 2018

NPS Definitely Not the Answer!

There's nothing quite like having your prejudices reinforced is there? The other day I took time out and attended a talk being given by two former probation managers on 'Probation - its history and present state' sort of thing. They both had plenty of years under their respective belts, one having been culled some time ago, was now an academic, the other retired last year as an SPO in NPS with something to do with MAPPA. 

Significantly, I'm sure both hadn't been near a client for over 25 years, and it showed, thus confirming a naughty but widespread view I heard expressed over the course of my career - that if you were crap with clients, you got promoted

The mostly-retired audience were treated to a rather-too-lengthy history lesson before an astonishingly upbeat vision of probation post-TR that simply took my breath away. Perhaps, not surprisingly, we learnt how well NPS was performing and especially with regard to public protection, however the smugness of the presenter was somewhat pricked later by a number of very sharp and focused questions from the wily audience. 

But what I found particularly nauseating was the back-covering management-speak of a typical NPS functionary who clearly had taken to the command and control climate of the Civil Service like the proverbial water fowl. I had to stifle the urge to laugh-out-loud when they were stressing 'how much more publicly accountable things were now'. I felt very uncomfortable indeed by the implied superiority of NPS, when prompted by audience participation, in stark contrast to that of the 'failing' CRCs. Yes, a first class prat I thought! How can you talk about probation and not mention the importance of the officer/client relationship, and instead keep stressing processes and public protection?  But it also got me thinking.

There's a bit of a pattern developing with probation post-TR when considering the vexed question 'what the hell do we do to fix it?' I sense it rather suits the MoJ and NPS to allow the CRCs to take the blame, possibly in preparation for a re-unification, but at the very least to wave NPS as a partial success. In my view this cynical and crass attempt at obfuscation and manipulation needs to be called-out asap, especially if, as I suspect, the recently-retired NPS manager is anything to go by and typical. 

Ok, we know the CRCs are failing - this from Private Eye:- 

But a few months ago, I posed a question to a highly respected and experienced NPS Probation Officer of more than 30 years standing "Is being a Probation Officer compatible with being a Civil Servant?" The answer was an emphatic "No!"  Subsequently, I've asked the same question of other experience officers, all with the same clear response. Not surprisingly, I am of the same opinion and would therefore postulate that in trying to fix probation when considering a plan 'B', merging the service back together under NPS is definitely not the answer.  

Those with long memories and experience will recall what happened to Magistrates' Clerks when they were nationalised by the Civil Service upon formation of HM Courts Service, subsequently to become HMCTS. I soon noticed something very strange indeed. Once very friendly, chatty, professional colleagues turned into cold, distant, aloof and dictatorial functionaries of the state only too-keen to hector, cajole and bully everyone at the behest of MoJ diktats. The title 'civil servant' seemed somehow to have given rise to an air of superiority which very much translated into barely-disguised disdain for the other unfortunate professionals forced to spend much of their working day in the lower courts. 

One of the very unfortunate aspects of the probation 'split' has been the increasing rift between NPS and CRC staff with a regrettable growth in a 'them and us' attitude. It is sad to record but there is a pervasive, unsaid but implied view that if you were any good, you were 'sifted' off to NPS and that by extension the 'shafted' CRC staff were somehow second rate. This very unhealthy situation has been unfortunately compounded by recent HMI reports which often denigrate CRC performance, whilst noting that of NPS is seemingly better. 

Here's the most recent glaringly unhelpful statement by Dame Glenys Stacey, HMIP:-
“people on licence, and subject to recall, were more likely to be supervised by higher-grade staff who are experienced at making the necessary judgements.”
"Actually no because the CRC’s are full of temps and the NPS is propping itself up with trainees and PSO’s."

"Really!!! Not in my experience, it really doesn't work like that unless there is child protection. Those licence cases would sit with any member of staff regardless of experience - recalls have to be endorsed by a line manager and the manager above them. However all of that said, you have to know when to go to a manager to discuss a potential recall and as most of us know, some case managers are being left inexperienced to handle high case loads."

"Both CRCs and NPS are overstretched, dysfunctional and creaking at the seams. The parts do not make up the sum of the whole." 

Since Probation Officers became Civil Servants, they have noticeably retreated behind a wall of secrecy, a situation enforced by a climate of fear and threats. This is not to be confused with probation's long history of professional integrity characterised by not divulging or leaking client-sensitive information to the media, in stark contrast it has to be said to both the Prison Service and police. This is quite different in that it seems nothing of any substance can be said by anyone at any level regarding policy, good practice, innovation and development. 

You only have to glance at the utterly benign utterances of senior NPS managers on twitter to get a flavour of the dead-hand civil service command and control regime that now operates. Does anyone really believe there's going to be any serious innovation coming out of a state-run National Probation Service created by TR and run by prison-orientated Civil Servants? By way of a reminder, just spend a minute or two looking through the glossy 172-page 'Celebration of Achievement' proudly put together by the PCA in 2014:- 
"To celebrate past achievements and to capture a selection of the key moments of the Probation Service’s life, the Probation Chiefs Association, (PCA), has compiled this book with contributions from probation trusts and others. We hope you will find much to be of interest, and, within the limitations of a snapshot of a moment in time, that it will prove to be representative of a lasting legacy of the public sector Probation Service."
I defy anyone not to be impressed by the sheer devotion, professionalism, energy and scale of endeavour achieved under the previously locally-controlled and generally unshackled Boards and Trusts.    

The whole thing has become overrun with bureaucracy as well. It takes anything up to a year to clear the vetting process prior to appointment to a full-time NPS post and even getting 'purchase order' authorisation for employing a temp can easily become thwarted by minor omissions from filling in the on-line template. There's no human interface - the system simply aborts the process and doesn't tell you. 

Secreted away somewhere in the bowels of MoJ/NPS HQ is a team of functionaries who's task is to daily send out command and control instructions to NPS staff, but this group are completely unknown, faceless and cannot be contacted either by phone or email - the perfect way to run things 1984-style. 

To add insult to injury, where a once-proud and honourable profession is concerned, there's the none-too-small matter of practice and 'Performance Improvement Tools' in particular. It might sound like a good idea, for example for each PO to produce at least 3 Parole Reports each year that don't get amended by an SPO, in order to tick a performance box. Apart from the fact that Parole Reports are not always that common, the quality of the SPO-vetted reports are quite often suspect apparently. We know this because some agency-supplied 'old timers' are able to circumvent the process and supply 'old-style' reports, I'm told to universal acclaim! 

The point I'm making is that it's all gone wrong everywhere post-TR and NPS certainly has no place to be looking smugly down its collective nose at CRCs, made up as they still are with mostly former colleagues of only some three years ago. Any plan 'B' cannot be just about putting everything under NPS control, to be run from a bunker in London. Those who still believe in 'Probation' and hold firmly to the ideal know full well that it's always aimed to be about being nimble, flexible, responsive, innovative, practical, embracing, thoughtful, reflective, self-analysing, caring, supportive, questioning, challenging - just not Civil Service territory really is it?  

Sunday 25 February 2018

Pick of the Week 44

Michael Spurr has said no to any pay increase for Probation. Surely it is now time to strike in the NPS and if the CRC employers offer nothing then all out in the CRC also. Strike action needs to be long and sustained to have an impact. Let’s get everyone out and stay out. Let them bring the army in. The prison officers will be there too.

As someone working in a Northern office who went on strike several times in the last few years I would suggest that there is no stomach for a strike and in my office we have a predominantly non union workforce. Should a strike be mooted you'll hear all the same excuses..."I cant afford it"...."CRC is nothing to do with me"..."I'm alright"..."It'll damage my chances of promotion".."I'm a single parent"....with the expectation being that there will always be someone else to do it...."Ill sit back and accept any pay rises that are offered."

Transition into the Civil Service has led to a culture that is bullying in everything but name and it starts from the top. If you dare e-mail an ACE - god help you - they're too busy to deal with the likes of us - they get onto the SPO to demand an explanation. Then of course the SPO being one of the 'Competency based' new lot is so full of their own self importance, they rollback Oasys on the basis of "they don't think it should be like that" and then in the next breath tell you that "it's YOUR assessment" FFS. The only glimmer of mild resistance came in the recent survey of MO that dictatorial agenda created "just in case there's an SFO." Fear now stalks the halls of probation were once there was reason and understanding.

But the managers of yesteryear have now been usurped by the Civil Service lot and their sense of uber importance. I agree with [above], but it just wont happen. Joining up with the POA may be the only way in which we will achieve some changes to the current pay scales and have some real change. Real change in terms of the campaign to reunite the service from the disastrous (but not unseen) impact that TR has. At least the Labour party has made a commitment to re-unify the service.

1. I am a probation officer so I am always right.
2. The person on the other side of the desk must always listen and agree.
3. ‘Breach’ and ‘recall’ are the names of my whips.
4. I always recommend custody and never recommend release (except for cute white/blonde guys and gals that agree with me).

There have always been probation officers like this, old and new, usually lacking intelligence and unsuited to the job. This worsened when we were told we were an enforcement agency and buddied up to the police and prisons. The increase in inexperienced and poorly trained probation officers employed over the past 10 years perpetuated this problem, cultured by a management that embraced being puppets of the prisons, NOMS and the MoJ/Civil Service. These trainees are now the directors, managers, trainers spreading this foul practice, and reinforce their culture by employing their like-minded colleagues in vacant positions of authority, SPO, Director, etc.

"Cameras do not work either and prisons already have cctv. The police were more mindful of their behaviour because they knew they were being cctv monitored." Yes prisons theoretically have CCTV, BUT a lot of the time it doesn't work and everyone, both staff and prisoners know exactly where the "blind spots" are where the CCTV doesn't reach so inevitably stuff happens in the blind spots. Body worn cameras would certainly do away with he said/she said and give an accurate recording of incidents so those truly at fault could be hold to account be those officers or prisoners.

Why is it that we’re always interested in these ex-prisoners providing eye witness accounts and being mentors, volunteers and set up rehabilitation companies, but never do any seem to work in prisons or probation? Many are educated and work experienced, so why isn’t there more probation officers that have been to prison/have criminal records? They would be more understanding and less prone to recommending prisons sentences and recall as if it were sweets. The same with prison officers, would they not be more able to understand and prevent some of the problems caused by the failing prison system? Go a bit further, solicitors, police, magistrates, judges. Instead we have a system where criminal records follow people forever and render them lepers in the workforce. I’ve never heard the HMPPS, POA and NAPO comment on this either!

Was ever always thus - I have a lively 'history'. When I was interviewed in early 1990's for DipSW we had a lively discussion about my disclosure form. The biggest issue for the Home Office representative on the panel (now a 'grand fromage' within HMPPS) was the fact I wasn't wearing a suit & tie to the interview, which was the only basis used to decline my application. That was overruled, I was cleared by Home Office vetting & completed the DipSW.

I found my 'history' became increasingly valuable in informing my work as a PO. Ten years later I was on a panel selecting TPO candidates & one of the more senior members of the panel simply refused to accept candidates with ANY criminal convictions. When I enlightened them about my 'history' they demanded that I was removed from the selection panel (I wasn't) and continued "You shouldn't even be employed by us." That person soon became a leading light in the development of probation policy & implementation of - and cashing in on - CRCs.

But the vengeful fuckers have long memories. They don't let anything go until they have exacted their revenge...Fast Forward to 2013 & I was eventually punished for my sins against The Establishment - sifted into, then discarded by, the CRC. Now its my turn*:

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers."

* rest assured I don't intend to shoot them.

Truth be told, I had a ‘history’ myself in my teenage years. I disclosed in my TPO interview during the question “give an example of something you’d do differently”. Jaws dropped, but they let me through because I had the education and experience. I believe the panel stood by their belief in rehabilitation and change, and gave me a chance. Back then employing a percentage with criminal records was encouraged. I recall a visiting home office minister commenting on it as an action that needed to be increased. Fast forward many years and I’ve proven them right, I’ve been an asset to this job but sadly, I’ve seen both colleagues and offenders oppressed by colleagues, managers and the system for having criminal records. I’ve sat on those very same recruitment panels and the comments have been shocking. I’ve watched it all quietly, with my cards close to my chest.

When I was a teenager my own social worker disclosed being in prison, one of my uni lecturers was once in prison too. They didn’t have to hide their past and were encouraged to draw on it, whereas probation management told me to keep it hidden with the threat it ‘could’ be used against me should I not tow the line. Experience of many walks of life is useful in this job, and I know a few other colleagues that benefit from both theory and practice of being a prisoner, some overtly and some covertly. 

In my book these have always been the best probation officers and social workers, sometimes the best of citizens too. It doesn’t matter though because there’ll always be jobs I’ll never get and countries I’ll never visit because of something that took place many years ago. I made the NPS. I think I’ll be vetted out at some point too, and I’ve already heard of colleagues with past convictions being forced in to lesser roles and locations because of new vetting processes. This is the hidden discrimination within our workforce which nobody cares about, not the unions, not the management, nobody. The pinnacle of justice rehabilitation is to employ those with past convictions in the very fields that provide rehabilitation. Instead our prisoners receive inhumane treatment and are discarded on release, those with criminal records forever trying to catch up with the rest of society but never quite getting there.

There was an excellent award winning ex-offender engagement service in London that sought to employ ex offenders to offer peer support to needy offenders. MTCnovo weren’t interested in it continuing and made the inspirational leader - an officer of 40 odd years service - compulsorily redundant.

These services are not enough, mere gimmicks. If ‘ex-offenders’ can be overtly employed for ‘peer support’ then why are they not being overtly employed as probation, prison, police officers and social workers? Hands up every probation officer that’s encouraged an ‘ex offender’ to become a probation officer? How’s about that for a future blog post title?

I get pretty fed up with the argument of drugs drones and phones. They're not responsible for staff shortages. They're not responsible for budget cuts. They're not responsible for the lack of purposeful activity. They're not responsible for shortages of clothing and food. Chris Grayling is. It's an uncomfortable truth for the authorities, but they can't stop drugs entering prisons, and the drugs of choice getting in are causing significant problems with violence, selfharm assaults and suicides.

If you stick a notice on the end of every prison landing saying that for whatever reason drug testing is to be targeted on psychoactive and class A drugs and as a consequence no one will now be tested for THC until further notice, you will change the whole supply and demand of the prison drug trade. Herbal cannabis will become the drug of choice solely because it attracts no penalty whilst other drugs do. It doesn't solve the drug problem by itself, but I would argue that it would significantly impact on violence and self harm and the day to day good order and discipline a prison depends on to function properly. I know the notion of turning a blind eye to cannabis use would rankle with politicians, but you have to use the tools you've got, and if politicians hadn't created such a mess in the first place it might not be something that would need to be considered.

Correct in every respect. I seem to recall you have previously posted about the impact of MDTs on drug use in prisons, i.e. the shift from cannabis to opiates to New Psychoactive Substances (amusingly the acronym is NPS). The means of testing & the half-life of the known/proscribed drug inform the results. I guess there are no known figures for the half-life of the NPS, e.g. spice.

The drug’s half-life = how long it takes for the liver and kidneys to break down and filter half of the amount of the drug in your bloodstream. As with calculating alcohol units. So if a drug’s half-life is one hour, after one hour you’d have half as much of the drug in your blood as you did when you first took it. After two hours its a quarter, and after three hours, an eighth, etc. Most tests aren't overly sensitive so a drug has probably effectively 'cleared your system' after five half-lives.

THC’s half-life for infrequent users is about 1.3 days. Because THC can dissolve in fat, it will soak into the body’s fat stores and then slowly release over time back into the blood, prolonging its effects. Regular users can expect a half-life of five to 13 days, hence the 28-day rule-of-thumb many quote (five X 5 days, etc). Morphine is 1.5 to 7 hours - even compared to 1.3 days there's no competition! Methadone is 10 to 60 hours, still considerable less than cannabis.

So the fear of MDTs drove people to move from relatively benign cannabis (not true for everyone, I know) to Class A & the totally unknown NPS options. Many moons ago I remember a Cat A prison governor telling a meeting "off-the-record" that he was happy to let the remand wing "smoke itself daft". He said it was the only way he could make the prison a viable, manageable environment. He was furious about the MDT policy and added he was so concerned he would have to consider early retirement - which happened soon afterwards.

The Home Office research paper in March 2005 concluded "The prison service has invested heavily in MDT and the staff have shown high commitment to the proper implementation of this drug control strategy within the prisons. If the key aim has been to reduce all types of illegal drug use within establishments, then it is possible to say that through the reduction in cannabis use it has been a relative success... Overall the MDT programme has had a significant impact on cannabis but little impact on heroin use."

Sadly neither Napo HQ nor Napo members who refused to strike did the profession any favours 2009-2017. Since the SW branch stood firm there seems to have been a more robust stance from Napo but Gen Sec still seems out of his depth. And in the meantime as someone observes above, the T&Cs have been haemorrhaging annual leave, allowances, pay rises, etc. Night shift shelf stacking at a supermarket pays £12ph: Sun - Thurs at 10 hours a night = £600pw, or £2400pm.

I can fully understand why many would call for strike action. But, I find it difficult to see what that would achieve. In the public sector there's no real productivity lost. People prepare for the strike days by doing a bit extra before, and catch up on rest afterwards. In fact because of the loss of pay its a process of paying to demonstrate your discontent to organisations and government that are fully aware of why you're so angry but couldn't give a shite. 

You also risk getting the spin doctors busy and make strike action more damaging than good. A protracted national public service strike may bring better results, but the same risks remain. It's not the amount of people that can be mustered that's important, it's the amount of public support that any action brings that's crucial. 

I think the public sector is very frayed, and the bit that stops it all unravelling is the goodwill shown by those who work in it. For me that's the key. The removal of goodwill would be far more effective then strike action. Not doing overtime. Not covering for those off sick. Not coming in those extra days even if you're offered payment for doing so. Not doing anything other then what you're contracted to do. Apply that across the public sector, it can be as protracted as necessary, and with no one sewing up the frayed edges because it keeps everything else together, the government (to my mind) would be far more concerned and willing to listen than they would be with a couple of days strike action.

Very true. What is lacking is employee ability to see that together we have clout and there is a lack of courage to try it. Many of the managers are turning trigger happy with their threats of disciplinary and capability proceedings. A very significant issue in all this is that everyone has many more duties than can be covered in a day or a week. The "not doing anything other than what you're contracted to do" is becoming a "how long is a piece of string". New duties and activities for employees have been added sometimes on a daily basis, not just bureaucratic ones to accommodate the new pay structures for CRCs, but also duties no longer covered by facilities staff (done away with), admin staff (drastically reduced and moved away from their localities) or managers (the latter of which as mentioned above are now too busy managing to allow for their attending local partnership meetings). 

All these functions have been imposed on probation staff. Thus staff on the ground cannot possibly cover all that is required of them. All manager therefore has to do is tell anyone he wants to get rid of: "I can see you are not meeting all your requirements. You must be too slow/unable to manage your time properly etc". The person under scrutiny is then presented with a set of tasks to improve his/her "performance " and extra work in accounting for how this has been done. The subject of the proceedings has the choice of working all the hours, literally, to get the manager off their back, or alternatively enter an arena where they could potentially lose their job. If that happens to someone in a team, the other team members should then ideally rush to the person's aid pointing out to the manager that they themselves are not doing their job as fully as they "should" either. 

Even if that happened, it would be important that the whole team chose to not do those particular tasks properly which the person under scrutiny has been instructed to improve on. In that way the team can go to the manager and ask him/her to put them all on capability. But this all takes a lot of cooperation, loyalty, courage and staying power. By which time the managers will have worked out that they would split the team and relocate its members.

I'm not sure what union support is there to be had these days anyway. Some managers instruct their 'victims' not to talk to their team about what is happening to them. Some staff under proceedings feel ashamed so bear the burden themselves. I agree that much disruption could fruitfully be caused just by playing these games, but as I say it requires a togetherness and a unity and shared vision which I am less than sure the average probation team would muster. In order to up the team's confidence and sense of the clout they do have as a group by properly sticking together one small topic for change to which no or little risk would be attached could be tested out. However many teams, certainly in the CRCs, are becoming less like teams and more like a collection of individuals with fewer and fewer things in common and little investment in the job, in each other or their work place. Time to scrap the whole thing and start again.

Wages in probation are unlikely to recover. Probation should be regarded, like nursing, social work and child care, as a female profession. It seems there is no shortage of new recruits. The decline in probation continues unabated, talk about strikes are empty threats which merely underscore the sorry state of the powerless workforce – except of the course the SW Napo Branch which lives by its own set of illusory achievements.

What do you know? Nothing I venture. There are some good advisory posters on here and that is the form of rejection of the privatisation. Sadly the Napo leadership do not appear to understand the relationships of saying something and delivering on it. Nor deliver the test of challenge. Perhaps you're a senior manager? A cowardly attack. Are you a leaver and pension grabber with the extra funds?

The south Western branches are in combined disputes. They have agreed nothing and retained the protections under the legitimacy of their policies. It has been well publicised as you draw attention to it and their situation goes on and with the support of NAPO Ian Lawrence and unison. There are many things happening of which you appear to indicate do not possess the capacity to understand the significance.

Criminology and media degree three weeks training on enforcement equates to low pay and lack of professionalism totally at odds with teaching, social work and nursing who have increased standards and get more money than us ... that's the rub.

I do think that there is something in action short of a strike. Using the Workload Management Tool more effectively and refusing additional work over and above what is actually measured will not put you in breach of contract. I doubt colleagues will vote for a strike but a well co-ordinated work to rule and withdrawal of good will, may have an effect. The thing that strikes me about NPS/HMPPS is how top heavy it all is, and inevitably direct action will initially only impact on middle managers. It will need to be sustained but working in a manner that impacts directly on target outcomes will at least make life uncomfortable for more senior managers. 

I do not call them leaders as they clearly fall some way short of that title. The other thing to bear in mind is that a large number of SPOs are as fed up with this shambles and haven’t failed to notice that the only financial beneficiaries from TR have been ACOs upwards. Which follows a similar pattern in other public services. So if a strike is out of the question a form of work place disobedience may have an impact. Do not extend good will, do your hours and go home, do not take work that is not measured, when the IT packs in don’t faff about trying to complete work to hit targets. Do your hours and leave. They can not discipline everybody.

'As new potential recruits to NPS get excited on Facebook as to whether they've passed the online test and can move on to an assessment centre for the PQiP...' I don't think we should overlook the motive of new recruits to arrive well intentioned and keen to make a difference. What is the difference they should make and what does the evidence say about how it can best be achieved?  I say good luck to them, I remember how excited and daunted by the prospect I was.


“There's a wide variety of programmes on offer such as TSP and BBR priced at £2,596 per start. Yes that's right - turn up for the first session and no more and the full fee is payable.” £2596 per start! This is scandalous! The NPS is being fleeced by the CRC’s to keep the CRC’s afloat and probation staff are being bullied into making it happen. Bottom line, “purchasing” is not in my job description!

If there was any credibility in this the rate card, budget would be for purchasing services from a range of providers not just from the CRC. Many of my offenders are on crack and heroin, do we use the rate card to purchase this for them too?

This funnelling of clients into programmes pre-dates the rate card. In the Probation Trusts it was targets rather than rate cards which compelled practitioners to allocate to offending behaviour programmes on the basis of an OASys score – it was an arbitrary score as it would be adjusted lower if programme referrals were considered too low. The process was driven by bureaucratic micro-management, not personal need.

‘Man down the pub’ says push for increased Rate Card/programme referrals to secure revenue for CRC’s to keep CRC’s afloat. MoJ forced by likes of Interserve Justice and MTCnovo have warned of pulling out of financially unsustainable probation contracts. MoJ and NPS Probation directors complicit in “fixing” financial sustainability of CRC payment mechanism and operating models. All NPS PO’s / PSO’s to expect rigidly enforced appraisal objectives to procure x number Rate Card interventions from CRC for x number of offenders.

"There's a wide variety of programmes on offer such as TSP and BBR priced at £2,596 per start. Yes that's right - turn up for the first session and no more and the full fee is payable." If someone on a programme is recalled before its completion would the programme remain 'live' for that person upon their release or would another £2596 need to be paid to restart the intervention? Recall could become very profitable.

Classic Tory 'logic' at work: You can't possibly interfere with the workings of the market, that would be a horribly socialist thing to do - but if the 'market' isn't doing what you want it to do to fit your ideology, the thing to do is to compel people to do things!

A market with one supplier is a monopoly. A market with one supplier whose goods you are forced to buy is called a racket. I do not know what you call a market where the services you are forced to buy were previously owned by the buyer but subsequently given to the seller by another party to sell back to the buyer?

The rate card was a key component of how TR was meant to work. The NPS resisted using it despite a portion of taxpayers money being allocated for this purpose. The argument that they are understaffed and overworked doesn’t wash as they have been depriving offenders of services. The CRCs have been compensated for the fact the NPS have not been doing what they as public servants have been instructed to do. Staff mutuals such as RISE in London that are not ‘shit’ have been decimated by public servants in the NPS short changing them. Money is available for staffing in the NPS it simply needs a decision to allow the NPS to allow staff to be employed from the CRCs at the same salary point they are on now instead of the ludicrous temp situation we have now.

I'm of the opinion that there isn't much else out there than the wrong kind of help. It's because help has become a formula, it's not individually tailored, it's a corporate model, designed to achieve targets and outcomes more then suit the recipient of the help being offered. 

I find it very disturbing that most help extended by any organisation carries the possibility of sanction or punishment if the individual fails to respond to that help. In probation it may mean recall. At the job centre it may mean sanction and benefit loss. If you don't respond to the mental health remedy on offer you're often just signed off and left to get on with it. Failure to respond to the help on offer makes you difficult, unwilling to accept that help even, or just a nuisance. 

Everything's quantitative, designed to reach the minimum standard which has become the target where you can sign off, claim an outcome, and get paid. The quality of the help on offer is sadly missing, but public services have become the Aldi of private enterprise, if you want quality you go to Harrods and pay for it. Even the charity sector are at fault here, they've become businesses and operate under corporate models of delivery, and if that model doesn't suit the people you target, hayho, as long as there's outcomes we still get paid. 

There's many good people in our society that want to help others, but they're hamstrung by corporate sentiment and competition. Don't give the homeless money, give it to us, we can put it to better use, (or at least the 5p that's left from every £ after processing and admin costs). If you're giving the homeless something to eat that you've cooked at home, then remember about allergies - you may find yourself in bother if someone becomes ill. Real help is qualitative, and quantitative corporate models are just looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

That the voluntary sector can offer forms of help and work in ways that statutory services cannot, is axiomatic and it also shows why it's misleading to compare the two services. When things go wrong, it's not the voluntary services that gets it in the neck. The remit of the statutory is broader and deeper as it has to balance needs and risks, it has to manage boundaries and various accountability's. Take transparency as an example: having open adult-adult relationships and sharing data would in some situations be naïve and potentially dangerous.

I don't know where the head of the parole board gets his reoffending figures from when he says 99.5% of those released don't reoffend.

This is the type of method CRC’s use;

Soft targets (small payment):
TTG plan
Programme referral
Programme start
Housing referral
Employment referral
Education/vocation referral

Medium target (medium payment):
CV completed
Basic numeracy and literacy assessed
Housing advice provided
Employment and disclosure advice provided

Hard target (larger payment):
Programme completion
Housing gained
Employment gained
Qualification gained, eg health and safety, or basic numeracy and literacy.

Eg, offender referred for housing, education and employment. Targets met, payment received, even if never turned up. Or referred but found to not require services, payment triggered. Or get home and job himself, payment triggered. Or turns up to referrals triggering further medium payment, and completed triggering further payment. Win win for CRC’s and TTG services.

Reading between the lines you’ll see it’s lucrative to refer every offender to housing and employment services. Whether they need or receive housing and employment does not really matter as the pay target is already triggered.

In reality; The NPS will provide a leaflet with details of benefit entitlement, local night shelters, private landlords and hostels, and refer to local authorities housing. The CRC’s will do the same and get a payment for doing so. It’s what we already do. Lots of advice but nobody extra actually gets housed.

Most people on probation will have gone through numerous PO's both in and out of prison and so will have a pretty good idea about the quality of the average PO. And unfortunately most people's experience of those working in probation these days is far from positive with the best of them being uninspiring and the worst who should probably be locked up themselves. 

People will have been able to draw their own conclusions about the standard of PO's from their interactions with those numerous PO's. Therefore to claim that anyone who has been a "client" of probation is "generalising" about PO's when they comment, is both ridiculous and patronising in the extreme. We comment based on our personal experience and if your personal experience, plus that of numerous others we know also on probation is all basically the same, that's not generalising but being accurate about what we have experienced. You may not like what we have to say, but you certainly have no right to dismiss people's genuine experiences of probation.

Thousands of people work in probation. Hundreds of thousands of people are on probation at any one time. No matter how many "numerous others" you've spoken to, it's still only a tiny percentage of the whole. So to extrapolate this into making claims about "your average PO" or "99% of POs" are gross overstatements - and only based on opinion, not fact.

I'm not dismissing your experience. I (probably, given the odds) don't know you, so I have no reason to do so. I'm merely pointing out that making rude, deliberately inflammatory comments here is unlikely to get you taken seriously. If it helps you feel better, then go ahead, knock yourself out. But don't expect me to not call you out on your trolling of this blog.

As a probation officer, I think I’m well placed to say many probation officers are not very good. Reasons can very from poor character, discriminatory views, not suited to the job, poor training and support, bad line-management, stress, toxic work cultures and practices, and lack of resources. This is no secret, it is not new, and many offenders are right to take this view. One of the signs of a not very good probation officer is one that refuses to acknowledge the experiences and concerns of those under supervision, just as were seeing here.

If that is their view about "your average PO", then that is their view. I'd agree about the “average PO”, the good ones old and new are in the minority. There was a time the “average PO” was very good, but I do not believe this is the case any longer. To the frustrated client, vent your concerns, get it out, but it will not amount to anything accept wasting time that you could spend doing something else, reading a book even.

“Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don't care what they're going to say
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway”

Well I think the 'average CRC PO' is pretty crap and yes it can be for a number of reasons. Too much pressure and a toxic culture seems to be pretty much the deal. I think actually some of the CRC POs (not all of course) wouldn't have the life skills to be able to appreciate what the 1-7 actually mean or the interpersonal skills to deliver them. Some would, but then with zero support structures and zero on offer, how can they back it up anyway? And btw, being judgemental and being a good judge are different things. He/She didn't get ignored did they? So your little playground tantrum had the opposite effect.

There are three universal lies:
1. The bank are processing the payment and it will be with you soon.
2. Of course I'll still love you in the morning.
3. I'm from HR and I'm here to help you.
And therein sits a suggestion, what happens if you replace HR with Probation Officer. Harsh I know but begs a question or two at least. (Contrasted with knowledge that many many pass through your offices relatively unscathed and indeed helped :))

You’ve hit the nail on the head. “I'm a Probation Officer and I'm here to help you”. This statement was once true, but has long been replaced with; “I'm an Offender Manager and I'm here to enforce your compliance and manage your risk”. This statement is true and those that state it with pride (the majority nowadays) are not individuals I’d want to be ‘supervised’ by. Still, many indeed pass through our offices relatively unscathed and helped (contrasted with knowledge that many are not helped, breached, recalled, and are blocked at release stage).

“The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.”

Wryly amused that Probation Staff are, by and large, unified in chanting "this is shit" at the architects of TR, and then unified in their own defence when any of their clients whispers "this is shit". That aside, it is extraordinary how positive and animated the debate is as soon as the topic becomes how to do The Work well, rather than how appalling the current state of Probation is. Seems there is a groundswell of progressive, intelligent, values-based, evidence-based agreement on the part of academics, practitioners, community organisations, clients, oh just about everybody bar the Big Private Sector "providers" and their sponsors. If you chucked out the HMPPS top brass and the CRC owners, and put everyone in a room, they would have this fixed in a nano-second. Probation, CRC and NPS are SO in the wrong hands.

From what I’m reading there’s probation staff here agreeing with the clients “this is shit”. The problem is not the HMPPS top brass, it’s the NPS and CRC Probation directors and managers that dance to its tune without question, and while doing so bully and coerce probation staff to comply.

I'm happy to agree with the clients who whisper "this is shit". My objection is against those who make it a personal attack on all probation staff (ok, 99%, how reasonable of them) based on their own experiences. I also object to the way they loudly protest that their views are being dismissed, when actually if they took a slightly different approach they might actually get somewhere.

No wonder the staff bully the clients. #learnedbehaviour.

Probation was corrupted as soon as it was placed in the grubby hands of politicians, then passed across to the command & control crew at NOMS, now HMPPS. The learned behaviour has been accumulating over the last 20+ years. It's been interesting to see how quickly the sharks sensed the blood of a wounded organisation & rapidly moved in, sadistically toying with it & s l o w l y tearing out its heart. Spurr & co in particular have enjoyed the sport of the last 7 years or so, with green lights on all fronts offered by the mendacious Tories. 

Now the 'sexy' so-called high risk work of the NPS is firmly in their grasp, while the 'tedious' bread-&-butter work has been farmed out. No sense of respect for staff or those subject to court orders, no sense of breadth or depth, just a perverse desire for power & control - & personal advancement. None of the arrogant selfish fuckers would ever consider that being a PO or PSO was a valid lifetime career choice... they'd always be the first to look for the next opportunity to scramble & cut someones throat for their own advantage. So, agreed, : learned behaviour.

Desperately trying to delete enough emails to free up my backlogged account to send Licence requirement recommendations. Get email alerting me to new WMT with pages of process instructions and screen shots. 7 million bytes. F**k it.

I feel exhausted all the time. Weekends are just a respite and mostly I'm asleep. I've given up alcohol, just work my hours and no more. Eat well, exercise when I can haul myself off the sofa. I'm busting a gut doing a job which is just insane form filling. I'm not making a difference. If one more wellbeing sunny email urging me to sort myself out pops up I swear I'll go completely nuts.

Emails are relentless, all wanting something or other with not even 24 hrs notice. Management now have software that can drill down into minutiae and spreadsheets are regularly emailed asking us for answers. In Interserve any 3rd acceptable absences has to be authorised by a manager, we can't do home visits without a form to do prior to the actual visit. My concern is that we're being put under so much pressure it's affecting our health but management say spreadsheets are there to help us keep an eye on our cases. Interserve was ok but the last month it's gone like London by the sounds of it.

Just read the “Five signs you could be suffering from burnout”. I think every probation officer in England and Wales probably meet the criteria. I’m not counting probation managers because they’re paid more and generally part of the problem and rarely have any solutions.

This reflects the state of NPS & CRC probation in my area 100%. High sickness rates, increasing disciplinaries and every PO looking for a way out. Shocking that probation middle managers are willing conduits for their senior masters and bully staff into fixing the unfixable mess at ground level. Probation directors bow to their MoJ masters relentlessly sending down threatening directives alongside ideological sticking plasters from the ivory tower. The public still don’t know what we do. The Probation Institute, the “voice of probation” is dead, the HMIP is now inspecting farms and probation director Sonia Crozier has been on tv apologising for probation instead of standing up for it! The outlook is very bleak indeed. For anyone thinking about a career in probation, think again!

A sad but accurate reflection of probation service provision in England & Wales in 2018. And, like so many Tory projects in these times of austerity, it's costing the taxpayer £billions more than anything ever cost before. The handful of privileged self-styled 'elite' who steer the Tory ship are far wealthier now than they have ever been, and they aren't going to hand over the cash-cow they've created anytime soon. They are well-defended.

Shouldn't the reluctance of CRCs to provide information under the excuse of corporate confidentiality, and the MoJ trying not to provide information when it's requested be of very serious concern with any inquiry into the privatisation of probation?

In our local area CRC staff no longer even bother to make a referral to the local homeless team for people leaving prison with no address to go to, so they end up on the streets rather than in a hostel.


Thank you JSC (I suspect much credit lies with Bob Neill) for recognising, accepting the necessity of & enabling anonymised evidence in the current climate of victimisation & McCarthyism within organisations who seek to hide their own incompetence & greed under the 'commercially sensitive' cloak of invisibility.

Every day I am also witnessing too many of my colleagues suffering but I wouldn’t include managers (NPS & CRC). Senior Probation Officers (aka middle-managers) don’t supervise 70 and 90 cases and in my region they are well known as part of the problem. They sign off a few recalls every week and write a few staff supervision notes. The rest of their time is spent barking by email, bullying staff over targets, grassing staff up to HR and making themselves look good to senior managers, hoping for that next promotion. Senior Managers (aka assistant directors) are no better. They attend meetings for the sake of meeting and plot new ways to use staff to make themselves look good to the director, hoping for that next promotion.

I'm going to give shout for many managers. I know them personally. Even the go-getters and ambitious have struggled. Many loaded up on anti-dep and anxiety meds or downing a couple of energy drinks before hitting the day and then collapsing at night. Not unsurprisingly many have managed their exit or are actively planning to do so. Management has always been challenging, trying to meet often conflicting demands.

Never met any manager like that, but I have met many managers past and current who have acted like they’re on meds or should be. Mostly the type that lock themselves in their offices, and those that get a kick out of micro-managing staff, and too many have been horrible individuals not fit for purpose some still clinging on for their pension. The few good managers I’ve known did not need energy drinks or pill, and they have long been replaced by the new breed managers the NPS nodding dogs and 21 year old CRC go-getters!!!

I’ve a lot of respect for John Bensted, Retired chief probation officer. Pity he didn’t say all that when probation was about to be hung, drawn and quartered in 2014. I’ll still put him above the likes of all current chief officers or directors as they’re now called. Particularly when most are silent or invisible, excepting the one that recently went on TV and blamed probation for John Worboys!

A lot of people didn't get their act together to challenge TR. I was particularly disappointed with Chief Probation Officers as a collective. I think ultimately they were signed up to Public Sector ethos of respecting that parliament had a mandate to act and having stated their plentiful reservations subsequently came to heel. I think our gaze ought to be directed higher than our former chiefs. Speaking out now, well better late than never?

Saturday 24 February 2018

A PO Speaks Up

I see Bob Neill's enquiry into TR is continuing to publish evidence and here we have another brave PO who found the time to tell it how it is. (The submission as published is a bit confusing, may have been uploaded incorrectly, but I've tweeked it). Nothing particularly new, but worth drawing attention to lest anyone is thinking a) things are getting better and b) opposition is waning:-

Written evidence from a Probation Officer (TRH0099)

Statement in relation to the impact of TR on the probation service and the current situation regarding delivery of front line services and the difficulties facing staff in their day to day duties.

A view from a Probation Officer of over twenty five years....“There is no doubt, that across the CJS, the decision to split probation through the TR process has been deeply damaging in terms of ; public protection, reducing offending, victim safety and the quality of service to our cases, the Courts and within probation itself”.

Staff Morale has been shattered by TR. Within the Trust organisation there was a feeling of togetherness, common purpose and working effectively for our customers. The split between organisation was forced upon us with no logic or reason or any efforts to listen to or win over staff. The NPS is a top down “this is the way you do it” bureaucracy with no effort to engage practitioners who know the job and the people we work with. Staff are moved locations against their will and morale in many over stretched and stressed front line team is dire. Many experienced staff have had enough and left. Within the CRC even more exacerbated cuts and changes have been experienced. Delivery to cases and the Courts is poor and staff are upset and hurt that they can no longer do the job they want to do and the standard they previously did.

Operational effectiveness has been destroyed by the TR process and is significantly poorer than was delivered by the Trusts. Most Trusts had a wide range of services & specialism’s (eg drug/ alcohol, accommodation, volunteers/ mentors, links to voluntary agencies, etc) in house. These were split by TR; many have now been lost and many do not operate or function as they did. Just two examples; 1/ [Name of area redacted] Women’s centre’s has no funding and is threatened with closure. 2/ the call centre system operated in the CRC for calls and letters is not working and is not fit for purpose. Front line staff are not able to deliver the generic services to cases and hence effective offender engagement and rehabilitation has been compromised. The level of service provision is much lower than pre TR

Public safety has been compromised by TR as there is not the joined up or direct lines of communication or working together, that previously existed. Courts, CRC/NPS staff front line staff, other agencies and victims are frustrated and annoyed that the split of functions has fundamentally undone the high standard of service previously and proudly delivered by staff.

Relationship with the judiciary has been compromised in two fundamental ways. The CRC fail regularly to provide adequate or required information to the Courts. This has impacted on the confidence of the Courts to make community based sentences. Secondly, HMPPS have driven the use of proper pre sentence reports down to a point where little information is known on the day. This impacts on both NPS & CRC, in terms of suitability of sentences and time spent at the start of Orders undertaking assessments and referrals rather than addressing offending behaviour.

Relationships with Clients has been significantly impacted on by TR mostly in a negative way. The constant changes being made in the NPS has resulted in clients moving supervisor far more often than is reasonable and more importantly it is damaging to building relationships. This is especially poor in terms of service delivery to long term prisoners. In the CRC, excessively large caseloads have an obvious impact. Further open plan offices are unsuitable for many clients and their officers to discuss sensitive issues. As importantly, the amount of documents & assessments required to be produced takes up valuable time & energy that could be directed into assisting and working with cases

ICT, Whilst probation has struggled for many years with poor IT the splitting into two organisations was championed as an opportunity to improve this. CRC staff struggle with the IT they currently operate but the main issue has been within the NPS. The NPS moved to SOP in January 2017 and the system has been unfit for purpose. The basic right of staff to be paid and paid correctly has been breached month after months and a year later is still not fixed. Some staff have suffered extreme financial hardship & even this month we have examples of new staff not being paid.

Though the Gate (TTG) has been a complete and utter failure. The service to prisoners leaving custody has been almost non existence and far inferior to the service provided pre TR by Trusts often working cooperatively and in partnership with local authorities. The volume of high risk offenders leaving custody as no fixed abode is a disgrace and creates enormous pressure on staff as well as putting the public at risk as (high risk) homeless clients have little option but to offend to eat or obtain money to live. This is probably the biggest “lie” of TR.

Overall most staff would see TR as a failure for everyone in the CJS. Staff are committed and proud of what they do and want change to enable them to do the job they joined probation to do. After 3.5 years the tide has not turned for the better and the outlook remains bleak if we remain on the same path.

Friday 23 February 2018

The Dangers of Burnout

When training as a social worker, the danger of 'burnout' was a subject routinely acknowledged and discussed, but strangely hardly ever referred to when I joined the Probation Service. Like many colleagues, I eventually succumbed to 'work-related stress', although my employers seemed loathe to agree that explanation lest they might feel compelled to accept some responsibility. 

It's been a common story, especially in the early days of the blog, and I discussed the issue in 2011. The unrelenting stress of only managing high risk cases in an NPS field office will be making the situation that much more critical. In the CRCs, although supposedly only dealing with low and medium risk, the caseloads are high and we all know it's from this group that most SFO's are likely. As this recent Guardian article makes clear, the phenomenon of burnout is widespread and increasing and at the last count there had been 897 responses logged:-   

How burnout became a sinister and insidious epidemic

Half a million people in the UK suffer from work-related stress, and psychological breakdown can creep up without warning. But what, exactly, is this ‘state of vital exhaustion’, and how can you come back from it?

In a bedroom in North Yorkshire at 2am, Sara Cox lay next to her sleeping husband in the dark, her eyes open and her jaw clenched shut, anxious thoughts whirling. For the previous two years, the stress of her job at an independent local pharmacy had gradually become intolerable. That night, in June 2013, she made a plan. She crept out of the bedroom and sat at the kitchen table with a pen and a piece of paper. She says now: “I just thought: ‘I can’t do this any more, I need a safety net. I’m going to write out my resignation letter, keep it in my handbag, and if I have another really bad day, I’ll just quit.’” She wrote it out by hand and put it in an envelope, signing herself a cheque for freedom that she could not yet give herself permission to cash.

Over breakfast, she told her husband what she had done. “He told me: ‘That day has come. I’m going to drive you to work and you’re handing in your notice today. We will cope,’” she says. “So that’s what I did.”

In September 2017, in the headquarters of a London high-street bank, Adam was celebrating having completed a major project on deadline. But, moments later, he felt a sharp pain in the side of his abdomen that went on to keep him up all night. The next day, he took 30 minutes to walk from the station to the office – usually just a 10-minute journey. A colleague sent him home, and later that week he found himself rolling on the floor, clutching his stomach in agony. The following week, he was back at the office. “Even though, physically, I was better, I couldn’t focus or think straight,” he says. “I would stare at my screen, unable to engage my brain to send a simple email. I couldn’t remember how to solve a simple problem on a spreadsheet, or who to call – all of which would have been instinctive before. I had blurred vision, like a fog hovering over me. That’s when I realised that what I was experiencing was mental burnout.”

Burnout is what connects Cox, 51, with Adam, 32, both of whom contacted the Guardian in answer to a request to hear from readers who have experienced psychological breakdown following stress at work. They were among 80 teachers, accountants, social workers, architects, students, lawyers and more, aged between early 20s and late 60s, and drawn from all over the UK. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 526,000 workers in the UK suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17, and 12.5m working days were lost as a result over that period. The independent watchdog’s researchshows that workers in health care, social care and education are more likely to suffer than those in other industries – a recent review found “a worryingly high rate of burnout” among UK doctors – and women are more likely to suffer than men. Clinical psychologist Rachel Andrew finds that burnout-related symptoms are taking up more and more of her time in the consulting room. “I have certainly seen more of it over the last 15 years that I’ve been practising, and I’ve particularly seen an increase in men,” she says. “I don’t think that’s a negative thing; I’m seeing it earlier on, and seeing more men talking about how they are feeling.”

The most poetic definition of burnout appears in the ICD-10, the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Disease, which characterises it as “a state of vital exhaustion”. Although burnout manifests in our mental health, says Kate Lovett, consultant psychiatrist and dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, “it is not considered to be a mental illness, but rather a form of chronic workplace stress”. It encompasses a spectrum of experiences, says Andrew: “At the extreme end there are people who entirely shut down and end up in hospital having physical investigations; at the other end is someone showing signs of anxiety, low mood and feeling detached from day-to-day life.” In the ICD-11, due for publication this year, the condition is described as “not a single event but a process in which everyday stresses and anxieties gradually undermine one’s mental and physical health”.

That’s what makes it so insidious, says Brian Rock, psychoanalyst, clinical psychologist and director of education and training at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. He describes it as, “a drip, drip, drip. Patients will say: ‘I didn’t know this was happening to me.’ It’s like a mission creep of sorts, where you find yourself working a bit later, taking calls on weekends, being less inclined to play with your children or feeling more isolated and irritable.”

When Adam was promoted in the summer of 2015, he says: “I knew it would be a great opportunity, but I also knew people in similar roles had suffered burnout – you would hear horror stories about the pressure and the hours. My reaction, instead of saying, ‘I need to be careful and have open and honest conversations with my employer,’ was to say, ‘I’m going to do it better than everyone else. I’m going to be the guy to buck the trend.’” And, at first, he thrived. “I loved being the last man standing in the office, when the lights turned off around me because no one had moved on my floor, and even the security guards had gone home.” But, two years later, he could see the damage he had done. “I definitely wasn’t happy,” he says. “It was such a warped mentality.” He started drinking every day, and neglected his marriage. “I was so irritable and grouchy, my wife was afraid to talk to me,” he says. “She really suffered for a long time.”

Before stress overwhelmed her, Cox had thrived on the challenges of working in a community pharmacy: “I liked the responsibility, the learning and the knowledge, and I was so proud to have that career,” she says. But after nursing her mother for her final two years, she had only one week off to arrange the funeral. Around that time, an experienced colleague left and was replaced by well-meaning but inexperienced staff, so Cox felt she was having to help them with their jobs as well as doing her own.

She says: “It wasn’t the hours; it was the nature of the work. Time away didn’t alleviate it. Every Sunday, I had that feeling of dread that the next day I was going to have to juggle everything all over again. I put on weight. I’d wake up exhausted, it felt like every day I was walking through thick mud.” She would grind her teeth until they cracked and she had to pay for expensive night-guards and remedial massages to alleviate the pain in her jaw. “All I was doing was masking the problems caused by the pressure I was feeling at work,” she says.

Andrew understands burnout as a defence against intolerable pressure and stress: “In the people I have met, it can be quite functional – the only way your mind and body have left to keep you safe, of protecting you when there are no other options available. But it’s not a decision that you make; it happens unconsciously.”

So whom should we blame? The experts warn against leaping to conclusions about incompetent and aggressive management, or “snowflake” employees with no resilience. Rock argues that we need to think in a systemic way, and see experiences of burnout as symptoms of an ailing organisation, rather than a sick individual. To this end, the Tavistock also works to support organisations in the corporate sector. Robyn Vesey, organisational consultant for Tavistock Consulting, says the question of blame itself is symptomatic of a burnt-out workplace: “Blame is indicative of the problem in the first place: there can be an atmosphere and a system which is supportive of collaboration, sharing out the stress of the team and creating a sense of shared purpose and healthy interaction – or there can be one that leads to blame and people reaching a point where they can’t carry on.”

Beyond the workplace, we live in an age when society itself seems to be burning out, with austerity, rising poverty and the uncertainty caused by Brexit pushing people to and beyond their limits. “Burnout could be seen as a condition of our times,” Andrew agrees, as cuts to services are making it harder and harder for people to cope: “Alongside cuts to social care, there are cuts to the voluntary sector, projects around domestic violence, for parents, for older people. Stopping a group for carers of people with dementia might seem like a tiny thing, but we have reached a critical point of extremely limited support, and if you’re in that situation, over a period of time, it makes complete sense that your body and mind would shut down. I see strong, capable, independent people who have reached a stage where there is no other option.”

There are certain factors that protect a workplace from burnout, says Vesey – a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, and a management style that finds “a balance between clarity and presence, but also offer people autonomy to allow them to get on with what they need to get on with”. Without these, a business and its employees are more vulnerable. Rock is realistic that businesses need to prioritise performance, but says: “It’s about thinking how you get the best performance out of your people. We should not move the way a charity operates into the financial sector – it would lose its competitive advantage very quickly – but there are things managers can do to support their staff, such as creating an environment where people can talk about what’s happening in the organisation, what’s happening for them.” What Cox suggests a boss should say is: “We recognise you’re having a tough time. What can we do to help you?”

After working her notice, Cox took 10 months off. A counsellor helped her grieve for the loss of her mother and of the career she had worked so hard for. “It helped me see that I hadn’t failed,” she says. At first, she was scared to leave the house, but she forced herself out for a walk each day. She went swimming. She says: “I thought I’d walk into the pool and it would be full of gorgeous people with great bodies, and they would see this frumpy woman plod in. It was mortifying. But as soon as I got in the water, the sun shone through the glass walls and I could feel it warming my skin. It felt so good.” She learned to knit: “It’s so therapeutic; doing something with your hands and counting the stitches with your brain. If anything pops into your mind that’s stressful, it can’t stay there long.” A few months in, she says, “I turned to my husband in the kitchen and he gasped and said: ‘You look 10 years younger.’”

Adam was signed off work for two months with stress-related illness on the understanding that he would have a phased return to work and find a new role within the company. He took short-term medication to help with anxiety and insomnia, and for two months saw a counsellor, who challenged his beliefs about success and failure. He spent time reading, visiting family and cooking for his wife, making time to reconnect.

Now back at work, Adam has been helped by a supportive team, but says: “Being rescued by colleagues was humbling for me and difficult to accept. Looking back on it, I realise I should have been relying on them much earlier and accepted the fact I’m not Superman.” He has thought about how to protect himself in future: next time, he says, he will notice the warning signs. He will rest. He has removed all phone chargers from the bedroom so he cannot check his email in the middle of the night. He now gets his adrenaline from playing regular tennis games rather than working until the early hours. “My wife and I are going to see a movie tonight – I can’t remember the last time we did that,” he says.

But he doesn’t have it all figured out. “I still feel broken – I’ve got a broken mindset,” he says. “I’m aware of what the issue is, but the issue is still there. Everyone’s got a boss, and if the top man is stressed, the people below get stressed. I do know people who have somehow found a level of tranquillity in that environment, who don’t let that get to them – that’s where I aspire to be. It’s a difficult journey, but if I want to make it to 40, I’ve got to do it.”

Cox now works in a small museum, running the shop and admissions desk. “I bounce to work now,” she says. “But there is a sense of loss, and regret. I had to mourn my old job.”

This attitude is crucial for recovery from burnout, says Andrew. “Your body and mind are saying: stop. You need to take a break and have the space to reflect on how you have reached that point, either on your own or with support.” The danger, Rock says, is when people come back fighting. “If you say, ‘I’ve had burnout but I’m going to get on top of this, beat the burnout and get back to work; people may have lost confidence in me, so I’ll work even harder to prove them wrong’ – well, you can tell that’s not necessarily going to end well.”

Rock sounds optimistic when he speaks of recent developments: there is the new network Minds@Work, while Lord Dennis Stevenson and Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, have published Thriving at Work, an independent review of mental health and employers. Both emphasise the responsibility of employers to take care of their employees’ mental wellbeing. “I think that is resulting in a change about how people think about limits and vulnerability,” says Rock.

A senior colleague recently told Adam: “I saw that coming, I’m sorry I didn’t intervene.” Can we all learn from his regret, to support our colleagues, to notice if someone is struggling and to offer support? Rock says the right approach is the same for a psychoanalyst, supervisor, colleague or partner: “Being open.” That is why Cox and Adam have spoken out; they want to be open about their experiences, so they can help others. Cox says: “It’s one of those hidden things in the workplace, that people are suffering with stress and pressure, and they’re ashamed to talk about it because it’s seen as a sign of weakness, and it shouldn’t be.”

This is about all of us. As Andrew says, “People say that one in four people suffer from mental health difficulties. It’s time to move away from that thinking. It’s not ‘us and them’; it’s each of us living a life with peaks and troughs, and anyone suffering from enough pressure could be at risk of developing burnout.”

Five signs you could be suffering from burnout

People in the throes of or heading towards burnout might experience the following symptoms, say psychologists Rachel Andrew and Brian Rock:

  • You feel exhausted, with no energy to do anything. You might experience disturbed sleep, and some flu-like symptoms.
  • You have difficulties concentrating, and feel as if your mind is zoning out, going into a daze for hours on end.
  • You feel irritated and frustrated, often becoming self-critical.
  • Supermarkets and similar places begin to feel overwhelming – the lights are too bright and there is too much noise.
  • You feel detached from things you used to love.