Tuesday 31 December 2019

Happy New Year 2020!

As a new year is about to start, it's naturally time to reflect on the old one. Memory might fade and be unreliable, but in addition to the diaries we have a blog to remind us of the journey we've all been on. Begun from a strong sense of frustration and annoyance at the beginning of the decade, so remarkably it ends in the same vein:-  

Saturday, 4 September 2010

In the Beginning

All blogs have to start somewhere - and this is it. I'm fed up with work - a job I absolutely loved has gone horribly wrong and is about to get a whole lot worse. I moan endlessly to colleagues - and clients - they listen politely and think 'poor sod, he'll be retired soon'. Nobody understands what the hell probation is all about - there's never been a decent tv drama series and this void of universal ignorance is ruthlessly taken advantage of by successive governments in order to wreak havoc upon us. We've been nationalised, rationalised, marginalised, bureaucratised and will shortly be privatised. I feel helpless as this madness goes on around me and then suddenly all becomes clear - start blogging!

Sadly, due to 'improvements' to the platform I use for blogging, it no longer seems possible to reproduce graphically the level of interest, but suffice it to say we are in steady decline from a peak of a million 'hits' a year to almost exactly half that figure. Still not an inconsequential figure, but as any endeavour would be wise to note, the writing is on the wall so to speak. Despite this and for what ever reason, at least a thousand people continue to tune in daily even if nothing much is happening, but if 'probation' gets into the news for any reason, that easily quadruples and in so doing proves the 'brand' still has mileage in it.

Although it clearly remains a mystery to many, I still love the essential concept and ethos that lies behind the term 'probation' and despite many good people continuing to jump ship and there being a new nasty government in control, I sense in 2020 there will still be a job to do for all those who still care about our profession and its laudable aims. As always, thanks dear reader for taking the trouble and using this platform to inform, educate, debate and share. 

To all friends and colleagues, I will raise a glass tonight and wish you all a very Happy New Year!            

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Happy Christmas 2019

Feeling fed up and tired of waiting in for Amazon to deliver Christmas? Bored and suffering sensory overload watching digital perfection on your high definition flat screen? I thought so. 

Then why not grab a sherry, light a Hamlet and be transported back in time. Settle down and marvel at what was on offer in the 1980's via analogue low resolution VHS, complete with drop-outs, creases, shaky and sometimes very unstable images. Enjoy! 

Happy Christmas!

Monday 23 December 2019

There Could Be Trouble Ahead

As always, the Daily Mail proves to be the perfect place to run a flag up the pole and make sure enough people are keen to salute it. Here's Rob Allen's take on word of Priti Patel's plans for a return to the Home Office:-  

Back Home? Why Sentencing, Prison and Probation Should Stay in the Ministry of Justice

The Johnson government is reportedly considering a shift in responsibility for sentencing, prisons and probation from the Ministry of Justice to the Home Office. I’m not altogether surprised; before the 2016 referendum, I heard Michael Gove tell an Oxford seminar he’d like to disband the MoJ (of which he was then Secretary of State), because it was a European type of institution unsuited to British traditions.

There may be a superficial attraction in combining responsibilities for crime and punishment - not only to those who favour a more punitive approach to offending but by those who hope that any Home Office plans for a crackdown would be tempered by the need for the Department to pay for its penal consequences.

But while the MoJ’s governance of criminal justice over the last 12 years may have earned it few friends, progressive reform is much less likely to emerge from our Interior Ministry – famously described by Whitehall-watcher Peter Hennessey as the graveyard of liberal thinking since the days of Lord Sidmouth.

For one thing, according to a book she co-authored in 2011, Priti Patel the current Home Secretary believes that we need to “reverse the tide of soft justice”, ensure that persistent offenders are imprisoned for long periods of time and make prisons “tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable places”. After the Coalition- a Conservative Agenda for Britain written with four other current government ministers argues that “the primary purpose of our justice system is to protect our society, not to act as a welfare service for convicted criminals”. Current proposals to increase the severity of sentences may not go far enough to satisfy their desire for harder penalties.

Not all Home Secretaries are so firmly in the Michael Howard Prison Works tradition of course, but responsibility for security and the reduction of crime will often produce penal policy which is at best risk averse and at worst unnecessarily harsh. The Ministry of Justice, whose centre of gravity includes human rights and the rule of law ought to tend to a more balanced approach to the use and practice of imprisonment. Home Secretary Theresa May's joke to Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke., “I lock ‘em up, you let em out” says something about the departments as well as their ministers.

Consolidating crime and punishment in the Home Office would raise questions about the Parole Board - increasingly a judicial body that would not sit well in Marsham Street; about Youth Justice which many think belongs in the Education department; and about the role of Police and Crime Commissioners.

Ms Patel and her colleagues argue that the role of PCCs should be extended so they are responsible for commissioning custodial and non-custodial sentences for those who are convicted. There could be some benefits to such a devolved approach if it creates a dynamic to encourage the development of better alternatives to prison and measures to reduce re-offending. But the government’s belief that public confidence in criminal justice will be restored by longer prison terms make these Justice Reinvestment outcomes unlikely in the current climate.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the new democracies of Eastern Europe who wanted to join the Council of Europe had to meet certain conditions including abolishing the death penalty and moving their prison systems to the Ministry of Justice. The latter was to encourage the "civilianisation" of highly militaristic and security focused approaches to detention. The MoJ is now responsible for prisons in all 47 countries of the Council of Europe, except Spain.

In their book, Ms Patel and her colleagues have deplored the fact that an increasing human rights agenda and increasing interference from Europe discourage prison sentences, decrying the Council of Europe’s belief that prisoners should be treated in a way that reflects the normal life of freedom that all citizens generally enjoy.

Moving prisons to the Home Office could mean much more than an administrative change. It could be a fast and slippery slope to people going to prison not as a punishment but for a punishment.

Rob Allen

Saturday 21 December 2019

The Game of Life on Licence

Yesterday the funerals were held for the two murdered victims of the London Bridge tragedy of 29th November involving people attending a Learning Together event at Fishmongers' Hall. 

As more details emerge, an article in the most recent edition of the London Review of Books serves to not only put the terrible event into some context, but also shed some very uncomfortable light regarding the current state of the probation service under the dead hand of Civil Service control. I'm increasingly coming to the view that it's no longer fit for purpose and selected the following passages which I believe graphically illustrate how the whole probation ethos is being steadily destroyed under pernicious NPS control and as a direct consequence of TR:- 

Life on Licence   

John​ is one of more than 250,000 people in Britain living under the supervision of the probation service. He got out of prison in April 2018, when his sentence still had some years to run. I met him while I was reporting on the shortcomings of the law on joint enterprise. In 2005 he had been convicted for murder after a man died as a result of injuries received during a burglary John was involved in – injuries John did not inflict. Following a 2016 Supreme Court decision finding flaws in the law, John appealed and his conviction was overturned: he was sentenced to 18 years for manslaughter instead. Since he had already served more than half that time, he was released on licence.

John’s probation officer found him a room in a shared house in Openshaw, in Manchester. The landlord claimed housing benefit on John’s behalf, and sent a man round each week to collect a portion of his Jobseekers’ Allowance in cash. The company managing the property claimed to be providing ‘supported’ accommodation, but there was no evidence of any support when I visited. Its website gives no information about the services provided and the ‘About Us’ section consists of just a few stock photos and the letter ‘x’, as a placeholder. It’s a private company registered as a non-profit with the Regulator of Social Housing, but the house John was living in belongs to the father of the two men described as company directors at Companies House.

John had almost no money, and had to walk three and a half miles to his probation appointments, and a mile and a half to sign on, unless he could get cash for the bus from one of his sons. ‘It’s fucking burning my head out,’ he told me. ‘I can’t even get a haircut.’ One of the conditions of his tenancy was that he wasn’t allowed to work because this would mess up his housing benefit. When he got a job as a building labourer the landlord gave him a week’s notice. ‘Maybe next time I speak to you I’ll be in Strangeways,’ John texted me.

His probation officer wasn’t much help, and the room he eventually found in a hostel in Cheetham Hill came from a charity for ex-prisoners. For a while he was happier: the facilities were better and he felt validated by having work. He attended the graduation ceremony for the Open University degree he had taken in prison, an experience that wasn’t wholly positive: ‘It just seemed like I shouldn’t be there,’ he told me in a WhatsApp voice note, ‘that I was like the black sheep in a swell of good, law-abiding people ... I felt I didn’t deserve to be there.’

He hoped to move to Cambridge, where researchers he had met through a prison education programme called Learning Together had promised to help him find a job. He had come across Learning Together at HMP Grendon in Buckinghamshire, where he also received therapy for the first time after a lifetime of anxiety and negative feelings about himself, exacerbated by years of addiction and grief over the death of his mother in 1988, when he was 17. The prospect of a job in Cambridge was vague – part-time gardening work at the university and perhaps a role in prison education – but he now fixed on it as representing a more hopeful future.

But his probation officer didn’t seem interested in helping him find accommodation in Cambridge, and he had no prospect of finding a room in the private sector without a substantial deposit, so he stayed in Manchester. At least once he let his frustration show by swearing at the probation officer, and she abruptly ended their conversation. When he missed an appointment because he was at work, she sent him an official warning and threatened to refuse to allow him to attend events organised by Learning Together. He felt bullied. ‘Why even mention the best things in my life? She scares the life out of me ... sometimes I think she’s trying to fuck my thing up for Cambridge.’

For reasons that are unclear, in October 2018 his probation officer told him he had to take a drug test. This had never been a condition of his licence, and his lawyers advised him to refuse. John followed the advice, and 1 November he was sent back to prison – this time to HMP Manchester, as Strangeways is officially known.

Some sense of John’s experience is captured in Probationary: The Game of Life on Licence, a board game commissioned by the Liverpool gallery FACT from the artist Hwa Young Jung. Together with academics from Liverpool John Moores University and probation officers, she held a series of workshops with men on probation in Merseyside. They played chess and the original Game of Life board game, while Hwa Young talked to them and tried to get a sense of their life on probation. Some men drifted out of the group and one of them found Hwa Young’s curiosity too painful. ‘The way I work is with a lot of questions,’ she told me. ‘Is life fair? Why is it not fair? What is the purpose of prison?’

The game, for four players, begins with their release from prison. One character is released to his own home, two to a hostel, one to homelessness. ‘We had a lot of discussion about how much to factor in luck and skills in the gameplay,’ Hwa Young said. ‘We decided it’s mostly luck.’ Players roll dice, and pick up various cards and tokens under the headings ‘Emotional’, ‘Skills’ and ‘Relationships’. An ‘Emotional’ card might tell you that you feel upset because trains passing by your hostel keep you awake – you lose Emotion tokens as a result. Squares that help a player move forward, like ‘Get Forklift Licence’ are green; grey squares, like ‘Break Curfew – Warning Letter’ or ‘Lose Job’, will send you back. The four characters have to ‘check in’ regularly with the fifth player, ‘The Eye’, representing the experience of supervision, who can recall the four players to prison.

The probation system has suffered badly from the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms of 2014. Supervision of low and medium-risk offenders was taken out of the direct control of the public sector and contracted out to ‘community rehabilitation companies’, private bodies run by businesses such as Sodexo and Interserve. Post-sentence supervision was extended to all prisoners serving sentences of less than a year, adding around forty thousand people to the rolls but with no increase in funding.

Nobody involved in probation is happy with the situation as it stands. Staff are overworked and often asked to do tasks for which they aren’t properly trained. In the north-west, for instance, the latest report by the Inspectorate of Probation found a 20 per cent shortfall in the number of probation officers. Morale is at an ‘all-time low’, the House of Commons Justice Committee found last year. Some of the 2014 reforms will be reversed from 2021 under the terms of a new plan released over the summer: community rehabilitation companies will be scrapped and responsibility returned to the National Probation Service, which will supervise all offenders, regardless of the severity of their crime or whether they have served a custodial sentence. This has been hailed in the Guardian and elsewhere as the ‘re-nationalisation’ of probation, but the reforms do not represent a return to the status quo ante. Each NPS region will have an ‘Innovation Partner’ from the private or voluntary sector, to which they will be obliged to contract a wide range of services. These include Community Payback (under which offenders do things like clean graffiti and pick up litter), but also accredited programmes like Building Better Relationships, aimed at male perpetrators of domestic violence. ‘The marketised model that was a driving rationale for Transforming Rehabilitation is not to be dispensed with,’ an editorial in September’s Probation Journal argues, ‘but rather reformulated.’

Meanwhile the profession is being hollowed out. In the year to 31 March 2018 an 8.4 per cent increase in the number of frontline staff disguised a 5.3 per cent fall in the number of probation officers, while probation services officers, a lower paid and less highly trained job, increased by 37.9 per cent. Last year the House of Commons Justice Committee recommended that the government develop a ‘probation workforce strategy’ to protect staff retention and morale, and set down expectations for training and maximum workloads. The proposal was rejected.

Learning Together held its first workshops at Grendon in 2014, under the direction of Ruth Armstrong and Amy Ludlow, from Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology. John had been sceptical at first. ‘The lads were always talking about it, “Oh they’re just studying us like lab rats,” but as the weeks went by ... Ruth and Amy, you just have to meet them and see them in action.’ Each week there was a lecture on a topic like sentencing guidelines, or long-term imprisonment. Working in small groups with a facilitator, students and prisoners presented ideas related to the subject. One week, John’s group had to come up with ideas for improving the criminal justice system. John proposed pairing up officers on the beat with ex-offenders. ‘A lot of people don’t like talking to the police, the kids and that. If I’m there, from the estate, they’d maybe trust me a bit more. That way the police can get their information, and I can keep my eye on the police that they’re not bullying the kids. That makes it a bit more legitimate.’ The response from the academics – encouraging, thoughtful, respectful – was gratifying. He had already spent a fair bit of time studying, in fact he was the prison’s Open University orderly, helping other prisoners navigate their way through their studies, but Learning Together meant more to him because it gave him the opportunity to work with others and to be validated with and by them. ‘I’ve always struggled with self-esteem. I tried arguing with it, but I couldn’t hide from the support and the care that was there.’ At the end of the course students from Learning Together gave him a legal dictionary, and after he left Grendon one of the staff members visited him in HMP Preston during his appeal.

All this led John to join other former prisoners at a celebration of the programme’s fifth anniversary at Fishmongers’ Hall on 29 November. Ruth and Amy were there. So were Saskia Jones, a volunteer John knew, and the course co-ordinator Jack Merritt, who had come to his Open University graduation ceremony: the two people killed when Usman Khan launched his senseless knife attack.

Harry Stopes

More details regarding the board game 'Probationary' can be found here.

Friday 20 December 2019

TGI Friday

Not a lot of enthusiasm to write much I'm afraid and it is the last Friday before Christmas, so just a couple of pics and maybe something more at the weekend.


The classic way to kick a problem into the long grass, or a genuine attempt at trying to sort out the bloody mess created by the Tories over the last 9 years:-


Wednesday 18 December 2019

Are They Telling the Truth

Just one of the many occupational hazards routinely faced by Probation Officers is trying to decide when someone is lying. Anyone with some years experience will be well aware of the wry observation often made by Prison Officers regarding having to deal with 'whole wings of innocent men.' There will be some of course, but the trick is trying to decide which ones are lying.

There could be no better example of the high stakes involved in getting it right and making the right call in terms of risk than that of the Worboys case. It takes considerable skill and experience to decide where the line can be drawn in assessing the level of risk regarding release and make the right judgement call between being too cautious and risk averse on the one hand and too confident and optimistic on the other. A key factor in making this decision is always 'are they telling me the truth'. This on the BBC website:-    

Black cab rapist John Worboys given two life sentences

Black cab rapist John Worboys has been handed two life sentences with a minimum term of six years for attacking four more women. The 62-year-old, who is now known as John Radford, was jailed in 2009 for assaults on 12 women in London. The four victims came forward after a public outcry caused by a Parole Board ruling that he was safe to be freed. Sentencing Worboys, Mrs Justice McGowan said she did not know when "if ever you will cease to be a risk".

In 2009, Worboys was locked up indefinitely for the public's protection with a minimum term of eight years after being found guilty of 19 sex offences against 12 women between 2006 and 2008. In January 2018, the Parole Board said Worboys would be freed after serving 10 years but victims challenged the decision. That decision was later overturned by the High Court, leading to a review of the decision where the Parole Board decided Worboys must remain in jail.

Among the reasons given for refusing Worboys parole were his "sense of sexual entitlement" and a need to control women. Prosecutor Duncan Penny QC told the Old Bailey that psychiatrist Philip Joseph found Worboys had been "fantasising" about attacking women since 1986. A probation report in August this year found "he is potentially just as dangerous now as the point of the first sentence".

After the four women came forward, Worboys, of Enfield, admitted two charges of administering a drug with intent to commit rape or indecent assault. He also pleaded guilty to two further charges of administering a substance with intent to commit a sexual offence.

Mr Penny said the first victim was targeted in 2000 or early 2001 after a night out at a wine bar in Dover Street in Soho. The second victim, a university student living in north London, was picked up after a night out with friends at a club on New Oxford Street in 2003. Worboys' third victim was picked up after a night out on King's Road in 2007 where he told her he had won £40,000 at a casino and offered her champagne.

The court heard Worboys told the fourth victim he had won the lottery and offered her and her friend miniature bottles of champagne. Mr Penny said: "She woke up in bed the following morning. The bedclothes had not moved and her hands were crossed over her chest, which was unusual. "She was sufficiently unnerved to check herself. There were no visible signs she had been touched."

Mr Penny told the court: "The consistent themes throughout, together with the content of what took place, seems to be the profound effect not knowing what happened has had in each of these women throughout their lives, as a result of having been unfortunate enough to get into the defendant's black cab."


If an offender tells lies, does that increase their risk to the public? That's the key issue at the heart of this case. John Worboys lied to psychologists before his parole hearing in 2017, giving a carefully-crafted account that tallied only with the crimes he'd been convicted of.

He was assessed as safe to be released from prison. But, when more victims came forward Worboys changed his story. Despite this Dr Jackie Craissati, an experienced clinical forensic psychologist, told the court she believes Worboys poses a low risk of sexual reoffending. She says she doesn't expect offenders to give "truthful and full" accounts of their behaviour when assessing how dangerous they are.

The judge clearly did not agree, and many others may baulk at the idea that someone who can't be trusted to tell the truth about their crimes can nevertheless be trusted in the community. 
Police believe Worboys may have carried out more than 100 rapes and sexual assaults on women in London.

Becki Houlston, who has waived her right to anonymity, said Worboys drugged her in Bournemouth. "He was pretty pre-meditated from the get-go, and I was a woman on my own," she told the BBC. "He is highly manipulative and relentless. It becomes easier to just accept a drink to shut him up."

In Ms Houlston's case, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there was not enough evidence to prosecute. Reacting to the sentencing, the CPS's Tina Dempster said: "John Worboys is a dangerous predator who still poses a clear threat to women."

Danny Shaw, BBC home affairs correspondent

Tuesday 17 December 2019

It Looks Terminal for Auntie

Before we get back onto the probation agenda proper, I think we need to talk about poor old Auntie. Not to put too finer point on it, the BBC is now facing an existential threat to its very existence, by a right-wing government gloating at it's recent victory. Let that sink in for a moment. The organisation that was caught out trying to massage the image of a dreadful, lying, bully of a prime minister, leading a party that many thought benefited from its media bias, is now set on a path of destruction by the said beneficiaries of that bias.

Put another way, the organisation that it is said felt obliged to 'massage' the PM's poor image on Remembrance Sunday, on a TV debate and at other awkward moments because it might foster public distrust in the democratic process if we were allowed to see what a fucking arse we had as a PM, is now going to face demise with the connivance of the unelected career psychopath, Dominic Cummings.

Of course there is the not small matter of the shouting match with Andrew Marr who dared to demand the PM answer his questions, rather than those chosen by him, and Andrew Neil who so brilliantly called out the nasty, lying and scared PM for refusing to be interviewed at all. Boris got away with it all and now for all his 'one nation' bollocks, wants his revenge. 

Many will say we've been here before and the BBC has survived many previous attacks because, along with the NHS, it is a much-loved institution. The trouble this time is that the number and nature of attacks are considerable and it's difficult to see a way out of squaring the circle regarding the vital matter of how the bloody hell we pay for it? 

Old people watch it, but young people don't. The government disgracefully saddled the BBC with paying for the over 75's, despite it being a political decision to exempt this group from payment, but have now washed their hands of any responsibility. The cost of the World Service, regarded as vitally important by HM Government, has now been off-loaded from the Foreign Office to licence-payers.  

In a rapidly-changing environment of online content providers and subscription services with less people finding BBC content of interest, it's now becoming increasingly untenable to hold the line regarding compulsory licence-paying, especially when combined with criminal sanctions for non-payment. The BBC really is between a rock and a very hard place with discussions regarding the licence fee due by 2022 and Charter renewal in 2027. With Nicky Morgan agreeing to ennoblement and remaining at the DCMS, her stated view of being 'open-minded' regarding the licence fee looks ominous.

Then there's radio. We learn that No10 has lost confidence in the 'Today' programme because Dominc Cummings thinks it's 'too metropolitan'. As the absolute key national daily agenda-setting political programme, felt to be so important it's absence from the airwaves is used by the Royal Navy as an indicator for possible nuclear armageddon, if this is going to succumb to partisan political pressure, the whole notion of public service broadcasting must surely be in danger?  

We have all witnessed the rapid demise of local newspapers due to the effect of free on-line content, and the consequent abandoning of scrutinising local democracy and court proceedings. Somewhat ironically and with little fanfare, I wonder how widely it's known that the BBC is now lumbered with financing 'local democracy reporters' in order to try and redress the situation? This sort of 'fudge' is only possible of course because of the special way the BBC has been historically funded, by an hypothecated tax.   

Of course in days past and an ideal world where common sense rather than political advantage held sway, such matters as important as the future of Public Service Broadcasting and the BBC would be decided only after lengthy deliberation by an independent Royal Commission. But we now live in the nasty world of Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings and pretty much everything many of us sensibly hold dear is now under threat, the very Union of nations, NHS, Supreme Court, Royal Prerogative, House of Lords, Judicial Review and BBC. 

To me it's beginning to make me think long and hard about what makes a Nation, its very nature and identity and if it's one I can continue to feel proud of. The BBC is the National flag-carrying broadcaster and where we would still turn in order to share great moments of national grief and celebration, despite the growth of time-shifted and paid-for subscription content. Doesn't it really deserve a bit more thought as to its future than allowing a nasty, vindictive government to trample all over it in pursuance of revenge and political advantage?  

Sunday 15 December 2019

What Happens Next?

I know it's early days, but I think I've just watched the next leader of the Labour Party on the Andrew Marr show. We all know the election campaign has started with John Macdonnell highlighting the capability of Rebecca Long-Bailey and 'Richard Burgon for Labour Leader' already appearing as a Twitter account. Now we know the 'acolyte-approved nodding dog' has little chance of success because, although he represents a northern seat, he has the misfortune of being the wrong gender.

Despite the politically correct position being that it's 'policies that matter, not personalities', most of us, including those voters from the working class north, know that's bollocks. The word coming strongly out of Labour circles is that the next Labour leader must be both female and from the north, before presumably attention turns to where they lie on the political spectrum and this is clearly where Lisa Nandy up there in Wigan is going to have a mighty battle on her hands.

Interestingly, right from the start of her interview 'down the line' from Salford, the highly contentious issue of 'metropolitanism' came to the fore. Of course it's not a Tory 'trope', but rather the reality highlighted by the BBC offer of an interview being conditional on her travelling down to London. She refused and called it out. She put the issue centre-stage of her initial pitch for leadership by suggesting that Labour headquarters should move out of London. No doubt that will mark her out for some unpleasantness, along with not being a Corbyn supporter of course. 

So, we have a very interesting political situation developing here because like it or not, the focus is going to move very much north of Watford, well beyond the Tory 'shires' and Labour 'metropolitan' North London. HS2 will be coming north and Crossrail 2 is dead. The BBC is already big in Salford and Channel Four is moving to Leeds. Lots of infrastructure is going to get built in places very unfamiliar to the 'metropolitan' elite because clearly Boris Johnson now feels obliged to deliver on all those rash promises in the vain hope of hanging on to the former Labour heartlands. 

Lisa Nandy clearly gets all this and can see that with the right Leader, the right policies and all this Tory investment, the whole UK economy can be re-balanced with previously neglected areas beginning to feel reconnected and a Labour Party being able to take advantage. We all know deep down a leopard doesn't change its spots and other Tory Party policies will still hurt disadvantaged and marginalised people. Boris could find the next General Election quite a bit more of a challenge. 

Saturday 14 December 2019

What a Surprise

Not even the Tories were expecting that and it might take some time to fully understand exactly what happened and why. In my view it wasn't just Brexit. More people voted for party's either anti Brexit or wanting a second Referendum. Just as with the famous Thatcher landslide, more people voted against her than for her. It's the Electoral system that delivers anti-democratic results.

It was clear to many right from the start that Jeremy Corbyn was never going to be electable and no amount of attractive policies would make him palatable, but it was decided to ignore this harsh reality despite it being powerfully voiced on doorsteps nationwide and especially in Labour heartlands.

As much as Corbyn was unelectable, Johnson the lying bully, devoid of any feeling other than self-interest, didn't deserve to win either and especially following a campaign full of manipulation, tricks, falsehoods, bluster and bollocks. That he did says much about our corrupt and partisan media, both print and TV. It also says much about our shit electoral system of first-past-the-post. Despite a trouncing, the Liberal Democrat vote actually went up by 1.3 million.

During the somewhat subdued post mortem BBC Question Time last night from Wandsworth, I was struck by two things. Firstly the admission by one of the panel that the dilemma of having to choose between two dreadful options had given rise to thoughts of spoiling her ballot paper. Secondly, Fiona Bruce's faux surprise that the BBC campaign coverage should be considered other than fair and even-handed! Anecdotally, I've heard that there was a significant increase in spoilt ballots.

Without doubt, it was an appalling election characterised by endless lies and deceit, orchestrated by our odious prime minister who will now try and convince us of his honest credentials and sincerity, especially towards hundreds of thousands of working class former Labour supporters. They've only lent their support of course, but if Labour doesn't sort itself out and accept some unpalatable truths such as the role of Momentum, it's days are numbered.  

Insight and self-awareness are both wonderful attributes and in an extraordinary twist on our perverse form of democracy that first-past-the-post gives us, the conspicuous absence of both traits in Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn has delivered a famous victory for one and ignominious defeat for the other. Now we really are stuck with the dreadful reality of politics having thrown up two clearly unsuitable leaders when many of us would dearly love to have got rid of both. For goodness sake, lets try and make sure Labour at least try and pick a Leader who is electable next time. 


This from the Guardian is merely an early salvo in what will undoubtedly be a long and painful process of analysis as the Labour Party indulges in its quest for a new Leader capable of winning:-

This is a repudiation of Corbynism. Labour needs to ditch the politics of the sect

We can skip the first stage of grief. A result like this leaves no room for denial. Let’s move instead to the next stage: anger. We can feel a deep and bitter fury at what five more years of Boris Johnson will mean – at what his government, armed with such a mandate, will do. It will allow him to pursue a hard Brexit, to cosy up to Donald Trump and to trample on our democratic norms and judicial restraints. It will risk the union. It will allow him to ignore the poorest and most vulnerable, the children going to school hungry, to abandon the people whose lives and communities have been made thin by a lost decade of austerity and shrunken services – a decade that will now stretch, like a prison sentence, to 15 years.

We can be angry at the Tories for winning this election, but we must feel an equal rage for the people who let them do it. I am speaking of those who led the main party of opposition down a blind alley that ended in Labour’s worst election performance since the 1930s – a performance that broke new records for failure. Look upon the scale of that calamity: to lose seats to a government in power for nine lean years, a government seeking a fourth term that is almost never granted, a cruel government so divided it purged two former chancellors and some of its best-known MPs, led by a documented liar and fraud. A half-functioning opposition party would have wiped the floor with this Tory party. Instead, Labour was crushed by it.

The leadership’s defenders wasted no time in blaming it all on Brexit. To be sure, Brexit has convulsed our politics and made Labour’s electoral coalition perilously hard to hold together. But pause before declaring that this was the Brexit election: in fact, the NHS overtook Brexit as voters’ top concern. The trouble was, voters trusted Johnson on the NHS more than they trusted Jeremy Corbyn. You read that right.

Which brings us to a core point that those culpable for this disaster would rather you didn’t contemplate. Like anyone who travelled the country and listened to voters, candidates and canvassers, I heard with my own ears the Labour voters who said they couldn’t back the party this time, not because of Brexit but because of Corbyn. Indeed, Brexit was often cited not for its own sake – little of this campaign was spent debating customs zones and trade agreements – but rather for its confirmation of their view that Corbyn was irredeemably “weak”.

This problem did not wait until the election to reveal itself. The polling data was clear and voluminous on this point long before the election. Corbyn is the most unpopular opposition leader since records began. And though we may not like it, we know that voters’ assessment of the party leaders plays a huge part in their decision.

Labour knew it and Corbyn knew it. Those appalling numbers were not state secrets. His admirers always describe him as a selfless, almost saintly man, devoid of ego. So why didn’t he take one look at his own ratings and say, “I am clearly a drag on this party’s prospects. Those who need a Labour government have a better chance of getting one if I step aside.” Not a chance.

Corbyn’s own vanity was too great for him even to consider such an act of self-sacrifice. Instead he was encouraged by his own devoted legions of supporters, for whom the idea of a change of leader was heresy. In their mind, it was better to lose under Corbyn than to have a shot at winning with someone – anyone – else.

Perhaps it was too much to ask that he make way for a candidate less sure to repel the electorate. But he made this a presidential campaign, his face everywhere, other Labour heavyweights banished from the airwaves. In their place were factionally approved nodding dogs such as Richard Burgon. Never mind that they were bound to be useless, what mattered was that they were loyal to the ruling clique.

Of course, this relates not just to Corbyn but Corbynism. For the last four years, Labour has been in thrall to the notion that it’s better to have a manifesto you can feel proud of, a programme that calls itself radical, than to devise one that might have a chance of winning. Some even argued that, “win or lose”, Corbyn achieved much simply by offering a genuinely socialist plan – in contrast with Labour’s 1997 offer, which was so boringly modest and incremental.

Well, guess what. Labour’s “radical” manifesto of 2019 achieved precisely nothing. Not one proposal in it will be implemented, not one pound in it will be spent. It is worthless. And if judged not by the academic standard of “expanding the discourse”, but by the hard, practical measure of improving actual people’s actual lives, those hate figures of Corbynism – Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – achieved more in four hours than Corbyn achieved in four years. Why? Because they did what it took to win power.

That’s what a political party is for. It’s not a hobby; it’s not a pressure group that exists to open the Overton window a little wider; it’s not an association for making friends or hosting stimulating conversations and seminars; it’s not “a 30-year project”. Its purpose is to win and exercise power in the here and now. It is either a plausible vehicle for government or it is nothing.

That was beyond the reach of the faction ruling Labour. Not for them the electoral basics of reassurance and credibility. They came up with a manifesto more stuffed with giveaways than Santa’s grotto, and about as believable. The voter who quite liked the extra sugar in their tea represented by, say, free tuition fees, gagged when the sweetener of discounted rail fares, Waspi compensation, free broadband and a promised £6,700 a year to every family were all spooned into the cup.

Labour’s ruling elite forgot that parties of the left are held to a higher standard than those committed to the status quo: to change people’s lives and spend their money, first you must win their trust. That obligation is even spelled out in Labour’s constitution, which insists that “Labour seeks the trust of the people to govern.” Instead, the leadership clique dragged around their 1970s baggage and arcane ideological obsessions – the antisemitism arose not by accident, but as the inevitable outgrowth of a strain of left conspiracist thinking – that marked them out as cranks, unfit to run the country.

To warn of this danger and sound the alarm was to be instantly howled down as a Blairite, a centrist, a red Tory. On social media, a group of outriders policed the conversation, unleashing a pile-on of mockery and denunciation on anyone guilty of pointing out that the emperor seemed to be unnervingly lacking in clothes. (Then they affected surprise when those they’d told to “fuck off and join the Tories” didn’t come running to help.)

The tragedy of this is measured in the idealistic young volunteers who signed up for a new and necessary movement in 2015, but whose faith was abused by a clique of hard-left sectarian dinosaurs – and, most important, it is measured in the millions who needed a social democratic government and now won’t get one.

The question now is, how long will it take to draw the obvious conclusion? You might have thought that the experience of the 1980s – four defeats in a row, followed by a march towards electability – had been education enough. We’d seen this movie before but, it seems, we needed to see it all over again.

We’ll have a clue whether it’ll take a fifth – or sixth – defeat for the penny to drop when Labour selects a new leader. Will it look for someone who ticks all the ideological boxes, who’s as sound and “radical” as Corbyn, or will it look for someone who can win?

Underneath that is a larger question: are you in politics to control the Labour party, or to win power? If the honest answer is the former, then get out of the way. Go back to your student unions and your pub meetings and give Labour back to those who seek the power of government – and are fit to wield it.

Thursday 12 December 2019

A Fork in the Road

Whatever happens today, history is being made. Make sure you are part of it! 

The social media world has been rocked today by the publication of an amazing new general election video that will be very familiar to fans of Ken Loach’s powerful new film “Sorry we missed you” and the award-winning “I, Daniel Blake”.

“A fork in the Road” features cast members of the two movies and draws on the same themes of the bleakness and hardship of life for millions under the Tories – and then reminds us of the choice we face on Thursday.

A choice – a ‘fork in the road’ – between more of the same misery and exploitation under the Tories, or change and decency under a Labour government. Although it wasn’t made by Loach, it carries the same impact and heart.

Loach kindly recorded an introduction to the video, in which he calls on everyone who wants change to make sure that the video is seen by as many people as possible in the final 48 hours before polls close on Thursday night.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

It's Nearly All Over

Just a day to go and as our odious prime minister promises to get tough on criminals, thank goodness we can have a break from watching the nasty individual taking the piss out of us by constantly lying and manipulating, all with the active or unwitting connivance of a mostly sycophantic mainstream media of course. I simply don't understand how such an obviously uncaring, bullying and serial philanderer can be felt in any way fit to represent us. In all honesty my earnest hope is that justice will prevail and a combination of late-awareness, foul weather, tactical-voting and common sense will deliver another hung Parliament and lets see how he deals with that. I love Jonathan Pike and especially his knack of cutting through the bullshit:-

I found this handy checklist on the internet as a reminder of what a Tory government has given us over 2010-2019, in case anyone missed it:-.

1,000 Sure Start centres closed.
780 libraries closed.
700 football pitches closed.
Food bank use up 2,400%.
Homelessness up 1,000%.
Rough sleeping up 1,200%
Bedroom tax caused mass evictions.
Evictions are running at record highs.
35% of UK kids living in poverty.
Student fees up 300%.
Student debt has risen 150%.
Eradication of EMA (education maintenance allowance).
National Debt has risen from £850 billion to £2.25 trillion.
Emergency Brexit stimulus from BoE in June 2016 of £175b.
Brexit related fall in national revenue £500 billion.
GDP - Gross Domestic Product fallen to -0.1%.
GB £ fallen by circa 15% versus Euro and US $.
Manufacturing in recession.
Construction in recession.
Services close to recession.
25-30% cuts to all govt departments.
25-30% cuts to all Local Authorities, mainly centred on Labour councils.
Half of councils facing effective bankruptcy.
185,000 extra deaths attached to the political ideology of austerity.
25,000 less police.
20,000 less prison officers.
10,000 less border officials.
10,000 less firefighters.
10,000 less medical professionals.
25,000 less bed spaces for mental illness.
OECD calculate 3 million hidden unemployed, rate is really 13%.
Creation of 1.3m jobs, mainly temporary, self employed, gig economy Zero Hour Contracts.
Only 30k full time work positions created.
Close on 50% of workers are self employed, ZHC, or part time precariat.
80% of the 5.3 million self employed live below the poverty line.
35% of self employed only earn £100 a month.
25% cuts for our disabled community.
80% cuts to Mobility allowance.
Closing Remploy.
40% of working households have practically no savings.
70% of households have less than 10k savings.
60% of households can only survive 2 months without a wage.
Household debt reaches new peak, despite emergency base rates.
Increase of 50% in hate crimes.
Increase of knife crime by 150% to 22,000 per year.
Increase in teenage suicide by 70%.
Suicide up 12% in the year 2018.
Self harm among young women up 70%.
Life expectancy down 3 years.
NHS satisfaction level at lowest recorded rate.
200k social homes lost since 2010.
Zero starter homes built, despite Tory flagship programme.
Council house building down 90%.
200,000 social homes lost since 2010.
One million families on council home waiting list.
100,000 increase on the council home waiting list since 2010.
36,000 teachers have left teaching.


Finally, a flavour of a full article in Byline Times about young Jake and why we are all going to have to wiseup about the future of our politics and democracy in the modern age:-

An Anatomy of an Election Disinformation Campaign

The Local Journalist

First, some facts, as they are in precious short supply. Around noon on Sunday 8 December, Daniel Sheridan of the Yorkshire Evening Post published a story about Jack Williment-Barr, a four-year-old boy who was rushed to Leeds General Infirmary with suspected pneumonia. His mother Sarah had contacted the newspaper with a picture of her son lying on a pile of coats and claimed he had been left in the clinical treatment room for four hours.

Like any responsible journalist, Daniel Sheridan double-checked the story with the hospital and its chief medical officer, Dr Yvette Oade, who explained how busy the hospital was and apologised to the family. “We are extremely sorry that there were only chairs available in the treatment room, and no bed,” she said. “This falls below our usual high standards and for this we would like to sincerely apologise to Jack and his family.”

So far, a telling example of the vital importance of local journalism – a profession that continues to be gutted as newsrooms are cut or amalgamated, and Google and Facebook siphon off the billions of revenues that keep local accountability alive.

The TV Journalist

The next day, Joe Pike, a young journalist who had just joined Sky News as a political correspondent, was in Grimsby, following the Conservative Party leader as he posed for photos holding a large cod (not for the first time) in the fishing town which has often become an emblem of ‘taking back control’ of our waters by leaving the European Union.

Unlike the BBC interviewer Andrew Neil, Joe Pike has no reputation for skewering politicians, so Boris Johnson and his advisors probably thought they didn’t need to avoid this particular interview in the bowels of the fish warehouses. They miscalculated. Pike whipped out his phone with the photo of Jack Williment-Barr lying on the floor, and persistently questioned the Prime Minister about it.

In a psychologically revealing panic, Johnson tried to bluster that everything would improve once we “got Brexit done”. But Pike persisted. Johnson tried to steamroller him, but his darting eyes and demeanour showed that he didn’t want to answer the question and, in an effort to avoid it, the Prime Minister took the reporter’s phone and hid it in his pocket. This prompted one of the most remarkable comments of the campaign so far from Pike who remarked, calmly:

“You’ve refused to see the photo. You’ve taken my phone and put it in your pocket, Prime Minister.”
Child psychiatrists would have a field day on this. The failure to realise that hiding your face does not make you invisible, or that stealing a reporter’s phone does not make the report go away, suggests that – under pressure – the leader of the Conservative Party has the social cognitive abilities of a four-year-old.

Apart from Johnson’s kleptomanic evasion, the film of this strange encounter had the additional problem of focusing on the NHS at a key point in the last few days of the General Election campaign. Conservative campaigners know that the NHS is not their strong point, so the Health and Social Care Minister, Matt Hancock, was dispatched to Leeds General Infirmary to firefight.

The Mainstream Media Campaign

As Hancock rushed to Leeds, a host of media figures sympathetic to Johnson rushed into action. Guido Fawkes (which registered the site Boris2020 seven years ago) was first off the mark, with a fake story that 100 Labour activists were being paid to go to Leeds to protest. This was followed up by his former colleague at the Sun, Tom Newton Dunn, who described a “flash mob descending”.

Soon, the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, was describing to her 1.1 million followers how “Labour activists scrambled to go and protest” and then “it turned nasty” when “one of them punched Hancock’s adviser”. The information had no attribution, or “I’ve heard” or “sources say”.

Not to be left out, Robert Peston, the political editor of the second largest broadcaster, ITV, identified the person punched to his 1 million followers, and named the special adviser to Matt Hancock, adding that the police had been called. The only problem with this breaking story – which quickly and conveniently replaced the story of Johnson pocketing the reporter’s phone in all the major news feeds – was that it was completely bogus.

There were about four noisy demonstrators outside Leeds General Infirmary as Hancock departed in his ministerial car, not 100. No punch was ever landed. Hancock’s SpAd walked into a cyclist’s hand as he pointed to the ministerial car rushing away. It took several hours of persistent correction from other Twitter users before both Peston and Kuenssberg corrected the damaging allegation of assault. But their apologies revealed even more…

Peston explained that he had been told the story by two Tory party sources. According to good journalistic practice, that would be the minimum to run an allegation of assault – but only if the sources were independent. They clearly weren’t. What would have been a rookie mistake for a young journalist was a catastrophic failure of judgement by the political editors of both major broadcasters, made even more so because it came in the crucial last few days of a landmark General Election.

I’m not of the the view that either Peston or Kuenssberg are consciously partisan, and I certainly don’t buy the allegation that they have been ‘bought’. But they have been played, and to rescue their reputations – and most importantly our trust in the two most important sources of news in the country – there should be a full inquiry.

For the real culprits here are the sources who lied to them both, consistently. They have no protection for deceiving the public and both Peston and Kuenssberg have a public duty to tell us who they are. Nothing short of that can begin to repair the damage caused.

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Probation and Workload

With all that's going on it's easy to forget that TR2 has already started in Wales and the latest newsletter from Napo Cymru indicates that the process is not going to be painless. There's more than a suspicion that the issue of workload is going to be 'fudged' in some way with help from 'a new tiering system' because we all know a quart does not fit into a pint pot. 

This of course is an extremely serious issue because it drives the increase in work-related stress, sickness absence, staff retention, recruitment, morale, service delivery and ultimately mistakes and errors that can have very serious consequences. The MoJ is fully aware of an increasing staffing crisis and both they and the political masters must be forced to reconsider the whole bankrupt ethos behind plans for TR2. 

Given very recent events, probation finds itself once more at the centre of unwelcome publicity and scrutiny with unscrupulous and mostly ignorant politicians wanting to gain political advantage, so now is surely the time for everyone who has regard for our ethos and survival to get involved in our defence before it's too late. In this regard it's pleasing to note news of an important piece of research commissioned by HMI into probation work levels and to be carried out urgently as reported yesterday by Russell Webster. I have republished the call for evidence below the following highlights from the latest Napo Cymru newsletter:- 


TR2: the “Reunification Model”

It is not “reunifying probation”. It is not “Strengthening Probation”. After relentless pressure from Napo, our sister Unions, the Justice Select Committee, and others, the Ministry of Justice was compelled to take action in the face of the abject disaster that is “Transforming Rehabilitation”. The reunification of Offender Management in the NPS, in Wales, with England to follow, is a welcome step in the right direction. But an insufficient step, a small repair to a serious damage. Napo Cymru will not allow the airbrushing out of this calamitous error, and will fight on until the whole of Probation is unified, in the public sector, and a professional, local and responsive service.

The staff in Unpaid Work and Programmes spend more time with our clients than anyone else. There has been a misleading distinction drawn between “Offender Management” and “Rehabilitation”. The work of OM (including risk management) and rehabilitation is accomplished collaboratively between case managers and staff in unpaid work and programmes. Separating these achieves nothing other than to hamper the work and line a few pockets. It is a nonsense. A complete reunification of probation in the public sector would be more easily accomplished, it would be understood by all, enhance risk management and increase the confidence of staff, courts, our clientele, and victims
Napo continues to make the case for the full reunification of Probation in the Public Sector. In advance of the transfer of Offender Management staff from the CRC to NPS in Wales last week, General Secretary Ian Lawrence and Napo Cymru Vice Chair Su McConnel made this case on BBC Wales news bulletins on Friday 29th November.

Deja-vu: We are in familiar territory: experts, unions, practitioners, academics, all warn that the marketisation of probation work, this time unpaid work and interventions, is a hopelessly flawed strategy. The MoJ is so far persisting in pursuing TR2, but the fight is not over yet. There has been wide criticism of the launch of the tendering process during the “purdah” imposed during the General Election.


Transition roll-out

Your Napo officers have met regularly with managers in the lead-up to the transfer of OM staff. Staff new in to NPS are getting to grips with the different processes, policies and IT. 

Workload Management Tool 1

Note to all NPS staff: those who have time/workload adjustments, for example for Union duties (facility time) or as a “reasonable adjustment”: It appears that the WMT tool automatically cancels any agreed adjustment to capacity on the anniversary of it being agreed. We have raised this issue with employers, and now alert you to this. Check that your adjustment is in place, and if it has been deleted, alert your manager and seek the support of a Napo rep if necessary.

Workload Management Tool 2

WMT will not be reliable in the first month or so of operations following the transfer of CRC staff to NPS. This is because the new tiering model is not yet introduced, plus inevitable glitches as cases are reassigned. For this early period, WMTs may give misleadingly high scores. Right now, it is worth finding the WMT on your computer if you are not familiar with it, but not relying on it now to give an accurate indication of workload. Napo remains concerned that workloads will be high, and cynical that the new tiering system may be an attempt to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, and will press for detail of the tiering system, and consult with members about their experiences.

Stress and workloads

In the meantime, the best measure of whether your workload is excessive for this period is probably yourself. No member of staff should be expected to work at above their capacity, especially at a time of significant upheaval. We would remind you of three things to do if you are concerned that you are experiencing work-related stress:

1. Complete a “Forseeabilty notice” and give this to your manager. You can find this on Napo website here https://www.napo.org.uk/stress-work along with good advice and guidance. While you don’t have to, it would be helpful to send a copy to a Napo rep to help us monitor the situation amongst membership. 

2. Record any stress incidents on the H&S incident register. It has been acknowledged that this is under-reported 

3. Contact a Napo rep if you need advice and support

CRC staff: Napo is being misquoted

CRC staff, please be aware that Napo Cymru have not been invited to talks and negotiations with managers regarding the new operating models. We have seen and heard reported to us, statements to the effect “Unions have agreed” if one member of any Union was present at a meeting. This is a misrepresentation. Agreements must be made with each individual branch of all Unions, or at national level with those Unions. When you are told “the unions have agreed this”, unless you have been informed by your union, this may not be the case. Check with your reps.


What should probation caseloads be?

The question of identifying optimum caseloads and workloads for probation staff has, of course, always been a thorny one as governments have consistently sought to reconcile the competing aims of maximum effectiveness and value for public money. There has been additional focus on this issue since the split of the English and Welsh probation service under the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme. In addition to the high workloads repeatedly identified by HMI Probation, particularly, but far from exclusively, among the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), the changes occasioned by TR have led to a number of contentious discussion points amongst the probation community including such issues as:

  • What is the long-term impact for National Probation Service (NPS) staff of managing a caseload solely comprising those who have committed offences causing high levels of harm to the public?
  • What is an appropriate caseload for responsible officers in CRCs who are operating to very different models and expectations, depending on the approach of their owner?
  • Should caseloads be lower for NPS staff supervising high-risk offenders or are the demands of supervising more low/medium risk offenders within CRCs actually greater in terms of time and resources owing to the fact that a greater proportion may have more complex needs and/or are more likely to be perpetrators of domestic abuse with the associated public protection requirements and expectations?
With the re-design of probation and the return of all offender management responsibilities to the National Probation Service – plus the creation of 12 new Probation Delivery Partners who will be delivering Unpaid Work and accredited programmes in the new probation regions – the topic of the size of probation caseloads is very much under discussion again. So I am very glad to report not only that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation has commissioned a rapid evidence assessment (REA) into probation caseloads but that Chris Fox’s team from the Policy Evaluation and Research Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University and myself will be undertaking the REA. We will, of course, be interrogating all the normal academic databases and specialist probation journals for the best research evidence. However, we already know that there is relatively little formal research on probation caseloads. Therefore, the main purpose of this blog post is to ask readers whether any of you know of any unpublished studies or research on probation caseloads and/or workloads, including links to related factors. 

We are particularly interested in evaluations which look at the impact of changing caseload figures, whether that be on reconviction rates, sentence completions, staff sickness and/or wellbeing levels or any other indicator. If you are aware of any of this “grey” literature, Chris, myself and the rest of the team would be very grateful if you let us know. Please get in touch via this email link: I’d like to share information for the probation caseloads research
As befits a Rapid Evidence Assessment, this piece of work has a rapid turnaround and we expect to complete it in early 2020 with the expectation that HMI Probation will publish the findings later next year.

Russell Webster

Monday 9 December 2019

The Probation Reality 2

Following on from Friday's extensive media coverage of the McCann case, many staff in NPS will be returning to work today with an understandable sense of dread and foreboding. Morale is at an all-time low and it is to be hoped that at the highest level it will be accepted that along with TR and drastic cuts, putting probation under the control of the prison service  as civil servants has been a disaster. 

The profession is crying out for effective leadership with the courage to speak up and call out what we all know to be wrong with the current HMPPS. For probation to be in any way effective it MUST regain its independence!

Not surprisingly, Friday's revelations has caused widespread discussion and comment amongst staff on various public platforms, including Facebook open groups, and I think the following edited exchanges help explain the background and tensions staff are facing on a daily basis:- 

Of four probation staff in the South East and Eastern division who were directly involved in McCann's supervision, one was demoted, according to PA sources. An earlier investigation resulted in one member of staff involved with McCann being dismissed and an agency worker's contract being terminated for "poor performance", although it was not understood to be directly related to the case.

I assume this is from the SFO report? And we can assume the “demotion” was a manager. And that’s a selection of serious consequences. But if (just) four POs looked at this case & no-one clocked that an IPP case should be recalled, something is seriously off. What about prison staff? Court staff? ANYONE?

I was just thinking the same thing. Usual practice of scapegoat the Probation service

I mean, clearly there are huge failings here. But the amount & volume is more than the responsibility of just one person or organisation here.

How does an entire system stay quiet to allow an IPP to be released automatically?

The entire system is so woefully underfunded, disconnected & looked at with such disdain & scorn by government and public. It’s shocking.

There’s more here than Probation that needs looking at.

There is now a policy of alternatives to recall. It's very difficult in the North West to get anyone recalled including IPP.

 "Joseph McCann was released from prison after an error by the probation service, sources have said". Since when did we start releasing prisoners?

We didn't recall him on his IPP so when he got a further determinate sentence he was released.

Except at any point people from all over could’ve called out that lack-of-recall error. Instead of blindly writing out a licence.

How did the prison miss it, the court missed it and only probation staff take full responsibility? 

It's amazing to think this was missed by court staff, managing PO, OS in prison. How bad must things have been at that office at the time?

Hung out to dry again. How come nobody realised he was on licence when he was sentenced to the new offence? And did he have a previous history of sex offences? There are so many unknowns yet again but we are the only professionals ever to be held to account. If we're that important, treat us as such and give us the resources and the wages we need!

How did the court miss it when Sentencing him?

In my experience the Court relies on information from the Probation Court Officer - an important role which has changed so much!

They didn't the judge even mentioned recall in his comments.

Typical. The PO gets made the scapegoat.

The article says he wasn't recalled against the IPP but instead given 3 years custody and automatically released.

Yes. The point is that he wasn’t recalled. That’s the problem.

Yes, if he was recalled he would have had to be released again by the Parole Board, not automatically released halfway through the new sentence.

I'm a PO and that was a big mistake to miss that recall. It's automatic that if someone commits another serious offence they are recalled immediately. It certainly is in our office, regardless of the new sentence. Especially when it's an IPP sentence. I hate any of my offenders offending on licence. I take it personally if they commit any offence on licence. I have high standards for the people I supervise. I know they can change and expect it of them. I believe in their change and have a lot time for them to help them but if they don't want to change then they go back to prison. I take my public protection responsibilities seriously as do the majority of my colleagues. We have huge successes all the time but someone changing their lives is not news worthy. We only focus on the few that go wrong and the problem with this job is when it goes wrong it goes wrong big time with huge consequences. But we create change everyday in people.

I love this and totally agree with the concept of taking it personally. That’s exactly how I feel. This is an excellent post. Focusing on process and the values underpinning a valuable profession. I would have thought that MAPPA would have been involved at release by Parole Board and at the point of offending when on the IPP licence. The court team also have a responsibility. Finally the SPO. Ongoing supervision and reviewing of cases?

Feels like a big systems error and there should be an enquiry.

That's how our work should be. We need to care. Really care for our offenders and the communities we serve. The offender will know as soon as they meet you if you care or not. If you don't care then why should they.

I work as a police offender manager and I’m constantly battling with probation officers to get offenders recalled because they are reoffending and their risk is increasing. The latest one was recalled only after being charged with 5 burglaries. 5 more unnecessary victims of crime after his ‘divert from custody’. It’s a joke!

Recalling without a new charge isn't that straight forward. NOMS will often overide the decision to recall. Rather than blame OM's in different bits of the service we should try to gain a better understanding of the limitations of each others roles and responsibilities.

Part of his licence says be of good behaviour among a number of others such as drug testing, driving a stolen car, no insurance, no licence etc. positive drug tests. Oh but his index offence isn’t burglary they said. Yep the car was stolen from a burglary?! No recall, divert from custody. Like I said it’s a joke.

To be fair, there are often times the PO holding the case WILL want to recall but will be blocked by people higher up the chain.

I agree but we have monthly meetings and we spell it out to them SPO’s that this particular person is going down hill and will reoffend guaranteed hundred percent. They could recall purely on the fact they haven’t kept appointments. But no, we need a charge sheet so basically they are saying reoffend then recall. Prevention is better than cure surely not?Sorry but it’s broken it’s become a joke.

Please don't blame the front line Probation staff - blame the system and the upper decision makers. I worked in IOM for a number of years and would have recalled more than I did if allowed but I was prevented from doing so due to policy and governmental directives.

I certainly understand your frustration. I think after recent events the pendulum is going to swing firmly back into the enforcement sphere and we will likely see recalls increase.

It's not an SPO that signs off a recall it's an ACO and even with 3 people in Probation agreeing, NOMS can reject it. Which is why l said rather than playing the blame game we should try to get better today of the limitations of our roles. I've recalled a HROSH client for behaviour and had the Police ask me why? This Police against Probation just creates division not unity.

I don’t blame front line staff generally but I have come across, let’s be honest here, lazy and indifferent officers who are treading water. Other probation officers have pointed this out to SPO’s who have took no action. I’ve witnessed one playing candy crush during a consultation!

The thing is the prisons are at bursting point and not fit for purpose.

Again, in the interests of fairness there are also some Police OM’s who don’t quite make the grade, are slow at providing intel, don’t attend shared meetings as promised and so forth - and I say that as someone who is a big supporter of the Police. I agree completely with Xxxxx above. We are all on the same side! We are all facing the same challenges and difficulties and one of the ways to change this is a fundamental shift in the way we work together.

Every point you raise is valid but just goes to illustrate that this problem is bigger than either of our respective agencies.

I have never said we are perfect, far from it, but if an offender commits an offence whilst on licence it’s not the police’s fault. We did our job in securing a conviction in the first place for the original offence job done. It’s down to the probation and prison service to protect the public from that offender till end of licence. It really is as simple as that.

Usually I would guess the police would want every one to be returned to prison for suspected behaviours, but clearly we know our justice system does not allow for suspicion-based convictions. I'm guessing this would also be for return to custody, and that would have it's own criteria to be met?

It's unprofessional for you to criticise your partner agency in open forum.

I’ll criticise in open or closed forums. I often do and it’s about time people got from behind their computers, got a grip of offenders who openly laugh at and play the ‘system’ and do what their job description says and protect the public,instead of pandering to faceless bureaucrats.

It’s rarely the case with IPPs though.

I’ve seen IPPs get recalled for intentionally being late for their curfew. No change in risk. But all they know is prison & probation were so tight in IPP issues. So for an IPP to *not* be recalled, especially on a similar offence, is what’s so drastically wrong.

People not being recalled on standard licences is another matter. Especially given the state of prisons. However I can see why a multi burglary offender not being recalled would be worrying/frustrating. Equally as a police officer, you’re not at the point of conviction.

And no, prevention isn’t better than the cure in this case. We know prison doesn’t work.

There would be a lot less victims of crime had a number of offenders been recalled to prison to serve their sentence instead of being let out half way through to be supposedly managed in the community. A community full of drugs fellow offenders and broken families just ripe for them to re offend.

Yes let’s just lock them all away & throw away the key.

Not at all, create proper prisons with great facilities and learning possibilities I’ve worked with offenders whom the last thing they need is a custodial sentence. However I’ve also worked with a number of offenders who regardless of what you do to them (you could give them an all-inclusive holiday in the Maldives for six months) they will still continue to re offend as their social environment is broken. I’ve worked with these people for over 30 years now.

So if people don’t have a “proper” social environment we throw away the key? For every offender who chooses to burgle someone’s house or rob an innocent person going about their business or who decides it’s ok to drive a car with no licence insurance and on drugs (all whilst on licence) there are so many people who don’t? And strangely enough they also live in this very same social environment.

Perhaps you need to also remember it is the perpetrator who holds ultimate responsibility for their actions. Placing blame on professionals trying to do an extremely difficult job, in impossible circumstances, is unhelpful and unfair.

If it was that simple we wouldn't be having this discussion and when you say 'well the Police have done our bit by securing the conviction' again it creates division and is actually not true. The CPS secure the conviction the Police investigate and provide the evidence. We all are responsible for a different element of crime prevention. When l was an IOM PO l often had Police colleagues complain about the lack of recalls. One day my colleague and l worked with our Police colleagues to support them understand the process and evidence threshold we have to meet to get a recall agreed when we recall for behaviour. No surprise they stopped complaining once they had a better understanding of the complexity of a recall. The other issue that the Police often aren't aware of is if we recall purely on behaviour or they are on Police Bail awaiting charge, that client can lodge a case in High Court for a Judicial Review to challenge us, the individual PO. Not CRC not NPS us the individual. I've had that threat twice and it's not a walk in the park to have your professionalism pulled apart in court because you've made a decision based on information from a partner agency who incidentally often isn't called to give evidence during the Judicial Review or if they are they hide behind their agency. Greater understanding is needed all around.

I’m sorry but SPO’s and probation officers who have an offenders risk of re offending clearly pointed out to them evidence based who fail to act should be held to account especially by victims of crime who sadly get overlooked.

Why should it be PO and SPO's when I've told you it's an ACO who has to authorise a recall not a PO and SPO and again this comment shows how little you actually know about Probation Practice. Thanks to the Parole Board going against Probation and Prison recommendations not to release the Black Cab rapist, in the event of an SFO an ACO will share the findings of an SFO Review with the victim. And victims are not overlooked. There's a whole section on the Recall Report that focuses just on the victims. Maybe you should offer to actually work alongside a PO who is considering a recall, like the Police Officers l worked with did to increase your understanding.

I've often had Police wanting recall on information that isn't going to lead to a charge, without considering the implications of this legally. If there is enough evidence to recall because they have done it then there should be enough evidence to charge for the new offence.

I’m sorry but a licence says you should be of good behaviour and if you're not then you are in breach of it and should receive a warning then another then one more then recall. What part of testing positive for class A drugs driving around in a stolen car without a licence no insurance constitutes good behaviour? It clearly doesn’t. You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t do it and neither would a most people I know. So how the hell can someone half way through a prison term get away with it and not be recalled? It’s madness.

There is dodgy practices and people on all professions. Don't judge us all by some bad practice. If you're on licence and you offend then there should be a sanction of some some sort. If your offence is a risk to public, then there should be a recall. If this doesn't happen then I'd speak to the SPO, or Head of Service or Divisional Director. But we may be taking action such as increase in frequency of reporting, warnings, direction to agencies etc. A recall is important but often only a temporary measure. We look at the longer term change that is needed and a 14 or 28 day recall may not have any impact and make them more angry have more hatred to agencies and ultimately more risky. Probation Officers walk a very delicate line, we have to get alongside people to help them change but also manage their risks and protect the public. All these issues are very complex and we all do very difficult jobs so we must work together rather than point the finger. I have a story where I can point the finger. Someone committed a further offence, no one told me, not the police, not the court. Mistakes happen on all sides.

Thankfully for me it was an IOM Police Officer who got her Police colleagues to understand what was happening to me and no surprise the 17 open robbery investigations were dropped one by one and he was released from the recall. I made it clear if l had been called I'd have told the High Court who exactly in the CID had provided the information about the alleged Robberies and let that person be scrutinised in open Court.

I have attended many oral hearings and I think the Parole Board are rigorous in their assessment of risk of harm to the public. There needs to be a body independent of probation. We all have different agendas and beliefs. The police want to lock them up and keep them locked up, probation's job is to manage that risk and also to rehabilitate, we believe people can change. But I also know we need an independent arbiter for the public to assess risk that they pose. I think the Parole Board actually do a great job and play a vital role. We need checks and balances in the criminal justice system.

I was involved in a case where the offender constantly breached his licence but his PSO refused to recall to prison. Two weeks later the offender bludgeoned someone to death.
I'm sorry to hear this. We do have to justify our recall. There is also government guidance pressure they we have considered alternatives to recall, ie warnings, increase in reporting, direction to agencies such as drug /alcohol. So although we may not recall we have to consider other options. It may look like we are not doing anything but we are. Obviously your example was very sad and it must feel frustrating for you. But I know we take public protection very seriously. I take guidance from the police very seriously in my decisions. I'm shocked that others may not.

I am very aware of the guidelines. The offender constantly breached his licence and was a dangerous person. When I constantly reported it I got told I was stupid and couldn't assess risk.

That was shit. I remember how we were told not to recall.

That's the thing though, we could of recalled him.

That's dangerous practice. We should all be respecting each other and listening to concerns from the police. I'd raise it with their SPO and if not satisfied the Head of Service and if still not satisfied the divisional director. There is no excuse for that.

Just read the article and noticed it was a CRC that was managing the case you mentioned. I work for the NPS. The public owned part of the service. The Tories privatised 70% of the service when they created the CRC companies to fit their ideology. Each company is different. I worked for a CRC for four years and they were quite arrogant when they came in not humbly wanting to learn from us but quite brash and looking at Probation and all we did previously as wrong. They cut staff and the service to the bone. They created tiers of people that you know would not know what they did. All monitoring what you did and analysing data. They de-professionalised the service completely. They believed that we were all lazy and didn't understand what we did. It was like working for Top Shop, there was us on the shop floor and those at head office, a huge divide. They brought in dangerous structural changes that failed and within a year it was all changed back to the public sector model following a disastrous inspection. Many SFOs, more created victims from a failed policy. I left because if felt like I was working for a sales company rather than a public service. Complete focus on targets. I never heard managing risk mentioned. It was all about the targets they needed to meet not to lose money. When I started back in the NPS it was breath of fresh air focusing on risk and managing it.