Thursday 30 January 2020

A Look at Parole

I notice that due to recent media discussion of parole and the attention of politicians, the Parole Board have started some public engagement and explanation of the process in order to allay fears. The following guest blog by Chief Executive Martin Jones was published yesterday by Russell Webster:-  

Explaining the benefits of parole

Public confidence

One of the key challenges a public institution faces is ensuring it maintains public confidence.

To maintain the confidence of a body like the Parole Board, it is crucial that the public understand the central role that the Parole Board plays in the protection of the public, which is always our over-riding priority.

Reading the media and social media, I sometimes think there is a risk of fundamental misunderstanding of the role that the Parole Board plays in the criminal justice system.

Whilst most people focus on those we release; there is little understanding of the flip-side of our decisions. I am certain that our decisions prevent dangerous prisoners being released and we do not shirk from keeping people in custody, if necessary, for the rest of their lives if we consider they remain a risk to the public. I am regularly made aware of people who have been reviewed by the Board on multiple occasions, sometimes being held in custody for decades beyond the minimum period set for punishment. Without a court-like body reviewing the continuing detention of those individuals, after the period for punishment has expired, the detention of those individuals would not be lawful under the European Convention on Human Rights or domestic law.

So, what are the facts?
  • Last year around 65,000 people were released from prison. Just 3,000 of those releases followed consideration by the Parole Board 
  • Well over 75% of the prisoners we review each year are assessed by the Board as being too dangerous to release. Our decisions can result in decades of additional time in prison after the period for punishment has passed.
  • Over 40% of the c9,000 currently serving an indeterminate sentence remain prison because the Parole Board continues to assess them as being too dangerous to release.      
To me these figures suggest that the Parole Board undertake the serious decisions we take with some caution.

I do however believe in reform and the possibility of redemption. The bravery of a number of former prisoners tackling the London Bridge attacker in November exemplifies this. People can commit serious offences and reform over time. What is my evidence for this? Well our success rate demonstrates that only a tiny proportion of people – consistently at, or less than 1% – are charged with a serious further offence after a Parole Board release, and fewer than that are convicted. That rate compares favourably with international parole systems in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US.

Through sentencing in individual cases, and the legal framework, it is a matter for judges and Parliament to decide how long people must serve in prison before release is possible. But the overwhelming majority of people are likely to be released at some point. There are currently just 66 people (0.08% of all of those in prison) whose whole life sentence means release will never be considered. Every other person in prison has a chance of release at some point; and the majority will be released automatically. But however long an offender spends in custody, I am certain that our criminal justice system would be far weaker without a detailed and independent risk assessment of the most serious offenders by the Parole Board before their release.

A victim’s perspective

Whilst our primary role is to look at the risk posed by prisoners; I am glad that our system has become more focused on, and sensitive to, the needs of victims. Victims can now make statements at a parole hearing, request a summary of a decision (around 2,500 have now been issued) and ask the Justice Secretary to seek a reconsideration of a parole decision.

The victims I have met display astonishing bravery and fortitude. I am acutely aware of the impact the parole process can have on them. The system needs to understand that reality.

Even though a criminal offence may have taken place many years previously, I find that victim impact statements are visceral. They read as if the offence was committed yesterday. The statements I have read illustrate the continued trauma of serious offending on lives. To make it even more difficult, few victims properly understand the sentences imposed, and are therefore ill-prepared for the Board to contemplate release. Few victims understand that the parole process is about the assessment of future risk, not punishment. The system needs to do better.

That is why I am committed to working with other agencies to ensure that the process supports and prepares victims. I am concerned that some vulnerable people are not aware of, and therefore unable to properly access, their rights, because they have not signed up to the Victim Contact Scheme in the past. I strongly support the move to a position where victims can “opt-out” of the victim contact scheme, rather than being asked to “opt-in” shortly after the trauma of a criminal trial. More also needs to be done to ensure that victims can access professional victim support when they are engaged in the parole process. I suspect that for many victims the parole process is more difficult than the trial itself.

Root and Branch Review of Parole

Recent cases underline the seriousness and gravity of the challenges facing the criminal justice system in managing complex and potentially dangerous people. We cannot be complacent. I support the case for a “root and branch” review of the parole system and do not think we should fear further scrutiny. Whilst we have no crystal ball, I think the Parole Board has proven itself to be effective at keeping the public safe. But there is surely more that can be done to ensure we have a safe, fair and effective system; sensitive to the needs of victims; whilst commanding the confidence of the public?

Martin Jones
Chief Executive of the Parole Board


Parole Board Oral Hearings are quasi-judicial processes held within a prison and have always been stressful for so-called 'home' probation officers because their assessments are openly scrutinised and challenged either by Board members or the legal representatives acting on behalf of the prisoner. There is a growing perception that due to recent adverse publicity the Parole Board is becoming increasingly sensitive and defensive, resulting in the process causing greater stress for professionals involved. 

Of course this is the scenario when knowledge of the prisoner and circumstances surrounding the case are absolutely crucial and serves to underline the vital importance of the officer/client relationship in ensuring quality assessments and effective probation work. It should therefore not be surprising that TR and the resulting disruption and loss of experienced staff has had its effect on the parole process too. The following are recent exchanges seen on a public Facebook site:- 
Just wanted to share a positive post. Recently, as many of us have probably all have, I have had really negative experiences with parole hearings recently. Will not go into details, but the last one was truly awful and massively affected my confidence to the point where I made a complaint. Today, I had my first one of this year and was dreading it. Case refused to attend (recalled IPP allocated to me post recall). He refused to leave his cell to attend and wanted it deferred. The Board decided to go and speak to him on his wing and we all had to go along. A first for me! So off we all went to to go on the wing and we stood outside the cell. We all had a chat and he still refused. So off we went back to the board room to discuss how to try and move forward. Truly was a positive experience and no PO was harmed in the process. No disrespect happened whatsoever! Why does this not happen more often?

Funny how parole hearings are becoming challenging and difficult. I had one that was awful and I complained to the board but it fell on deaf ears! I wonder if this is punishment for the JW incident. 

I made a complaint as well last year, it’s been acknowledged, but I also think it’s equally important to email positive experiences as well.

This is so nice and I had a similar experience with a case last year. It was nice to see the effort that went in but sadly after 17 years I had the most awful hearing two weeks ago that has taken my confidence and I’m bordering on making a complaint. I have also made the decision to potentially leave the service I have devoted so many years to as a result. Why are we made to feel like we are on trial at these hearings? I’m normally a confident and ballsy PO but this hearing almost had me in tears but through anger at the boards presentation.

Please, please, please make that complaint. I did it last year, it’s been noted and waiting for a response still.

I will give it some thought just not sure I want to add it to my stress levels but they were really out of hand (well one was) and other professionals also commented about it. What made it worse was the case noted my vulnerability! Never in 17 years have I been made to feel like that.

I was the exactly the same, but when I gave my assessment when asked and that was totally disregarded, I had an issue with it. It hasn’t added the my stress level. I logged a complaint and waiting to hear.

PB's are tough. We are challenged and can often feel uncomfortable. It's an extremely accountable environment. However I would argue that when someone refuses then it is a solicitor responsibility. Going to a cell seems very irresponsible. The individual could have been volatile particularly if release was not being supported. Could have also have felt quite intimidating, provoking an adverse response. Privacy would also have been compromised. I'm all for going the extra mile.... But.....

It was all Checked out before hand. Cat C and he refused legal rep as well. The prison did a fab job to protect us.

I think it was a good move, showed the willingness to try and reach out to the prisoner. I'm sure all appropriate security would have been in place, who knows he might reflect on the fact you bothered. X

I am massively in favour of going outside the box. Today was a real eye opener. What I don’t like is how oral hearings have been recently and making POs feel demoralised and massively disrespected.

I am not a complainer by nature. I have been in the service for nearly 21 years. I was so massively affected by a parole hearing last year that I was either going to quit the job or let it go. I decided in the end I wasn’t having any of it and I issued a complaint. I am not there to be professionally abused any more. They are supposed to be a professional body.

As a prison SPO we get every spectrum of hearing as we have a fair few every month. I have myself observed inappropriate panel behaviour/comments and seen how it impacts so deeply on my PO. But on the flip I've had countless emails specifically recognising the high levels of preparation and knowledge shown by my staff, so its certainly a mixed bag. Saying all that, my first ever parole hearing (11yrs or so back) was the worst I ever personally experienced and I've done many. So it's not really a new thing sadly. As long as POs know their case and can justify their decision and recommendations then you need to just stand your ground, as tough as it may get. Confidence goes a long way and I agree that complaints should be made where you feel lines have been crossed.

The public just have no idea what we do, although I’m retired now. Where is the push from the unions to get information out about our role. If this is not something the union wants to get involved in, then we need a public relations body. Pleases don’t tell me that there is such a body within probation because if there is they are not doing their job.

I was expecting a full on battle today and it didn’t happen. What a wonderful relief that was. For that I am eternally grateful. What I don’t like is the disrespect and countless other issues that we have to face as a probation officer. Today was a breath of fresh air and I actually felt respected.

Because Parole Boards don't trust or believe us sadly.

Literally depends on the Panel I think Some Chair's are better than others at maintaining control. Luckily I've not been hauled over any coals yet - our Panels are generally very professional & supportive but can be intense & challenging. An arse of a solicitor tried it on once - but safe to say he won't make that mistake again!

None if us should be subjected to bullying, attempts at intimidation or harassment during a Hearing - we're not on bloody trial...

I'd ask for a break - have the case in question moved to a side room & go back in with your SPO & the solicitor - to challenge the Panel.

There are faults in the process that tries to undermine and rubbish professional 'home' PO's assessments and clinical judgement. Sad that it is necessary for individual PO's to have to complain. Surely the SPO manager and the probation employer should also be fighting for their staff to be treated fairly & with professional respect. When I was a serving PO I found such hearings an isolating experience with mostly line manager SPO's who did not really want to hear of negative experiences.

Keep up the good work Team Probation you are doing a fantastic job

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Another Wearisome Battle

We've discussed many times before on here how making crime and punishment a political football might win votes, but it inevitably stores up a shed-load of problems further down the line. A new government means the circular argument must repeat itself and here's the Prison Reform Trust firing the first round in yet another wearisome battle:- 

Punitive prison policies risk repeating past mistakes

Planned government changes to sentencing will add to pressures on our overcrowded and overstretched prisons, without reducing crime or improving public confidence, a new Prison Reform Trust report warns.

The latest edition of the Bromley Briefing Prison Factfile reveals that, contrary to the impression given in much recent political debate and media coverage, England and Wales have become much tougher in their approach to punishing serious crime over the past few decades, on a scale which exceeds comparable countries or historical precedent.

Writing in the report in a specially commissioned section on life sentences, Professor Ben Crewe and Dr Susie Hulley, from the University of Cambridge, and Dr Serena Wright, from Royal Holloway, University of London, reveal a dramatic increase in the number of people serving sentences that were until recently considered wholly exceptional in their severity.

Between 2000 and 2003, fewer than 100 people a year were given life sentences where the minimum guaranteed period in custody, known as the “tariff” exceeded 15 years. But in the years that followed, this number increased significantly, rising to 249 adults in 2008.

By September 2019, 1,872 life sentence prisoners had tariffs (the guaranteed minimum time inside for punishment) of over 20 years. 880 people had a tariff of more than 25 years, and 291 had a tariff of more than 30 years, excluding 63 people who were serving the state’s most extreme punishment, a whole life tariff—and so very unlikely ever to be released.

The authors’ analysis suggests that the most likely and significant cause of the recent growth in the use of long sentences has been changes in sentencing legislation, particularly the 2003 Criminal Justice Act and subsequent amendments, which bought into effect a significant increase in the minimum sentence for a range of forms of murder.

They find no clear evidence that the recent rise in tariff lengths is linked to changes in the nature or severity of offending itself.

They conclude that the growing numbers of people serving long sentences means that our prisons are likely to remain overcrowded for the foreseeable future, regardless of any changes in sentencing practice for less serious offending or improvements in reconviction rates.

The Bromley Briefings have established themselves as an essential reference publication for anyone concerned about the prison systems in the UK.

The facts and figures compiled for the latest report reveal that our prisons continue to face unprecedented challenges, with conditions which undermine our justice system, and whose consequences blight our communities rather than helping them to thrive.

England and Wales already has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in western Europe, with 140 people held in prison for every 100,000 of our population. We also keep people in prison for far longer than many other countries, with more people serving life sentences here than Germany, Russia, Italy, Poland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia combined.

Pressures on prisons set to worsen as government seeks to introduce punitive reforms in its proposed sentencing bill. A government commitment to 10,000 additional prison places is unlikely to meet rising demand given the government’s failure in the past to deliver on prison building promises. A similar 2015 promise to close decrepit and overcrowded Victorian and pre-Victorian jails and replace them with up to 10,000 new prison places have resulted in just 206 additional places being built to date, whilst the commitment to close older prisons has now been abandoned.

Commenting, Peter Dawson, director of the Prison Reform Trust said:

“Following almost a decade of deterioration, the government is right to want to restore confidence in our justice system, but so far it is looking in the wrong places. Longer sentences haven’t improved public confidence or safety before, and they won’t now. But they have helped produce a prison system that fails to deliver either safety or rehabilitation. Good soundbites don’t always make good policy - a coherent plan for reform is long overdue.”


This from the Guardian:-

Longer sentences will not cut crime, say prison experts

Boris Johnson’s hardline approach to justice will not cut crime and will only pile pressure on overstretched prisons, expert campaigners have said, as research reveals life sentences have already risen sharply.

The Prison Reform Trust issued the stark warning just days after the government unveiled proposals to lock up some serious violent and sexual offenders for longer by scrapping automatic release halfway through a jail sentence. Offenders serving standard determinate sentences of seven years or more, where the maximum sentence is life, will be released at the two-thirds point, rather than halfway, under the changes unveiled last week.

Introducing a new report, the Prison Reform Trust director, Peter Dawson, said the government was looking in the wrong places to restore confidence in the justice system.

He said: “Longer sentences haven’t improved public confidence or safety before, and they won’t now. But they have helped produce a prison system that fails to deliver either safety or rehabilitation. Good soundbites don’t always make good policy – a coherent plan for reform is long overdue.”

Researchers suggest England and Wales are already tougher on punishing serious crime than other countries. Prof Ben Crewe and Dr Susie Hulley, from the University of Cambridge, and Dr Serena Wright, from Royal Holloway, University of London, found a dramatic increase in the number of people serving life sentences.

According to the findings, fewer than 100 people a year were handed a life sentence with a minimum term of 15 years in England and Wales between 2000 and 2003. By 2008, this had risen to 249 adults and as of September 2019, 1,872 life sentence prisoners had tariffs of more than 20 years.

Last year, there were also 880 serving a minimum of 25 years and 291 with a tariff of more than 30, excluding those serving the whole-life tariff who are unlikely to ever be released.

The findings of the report indicate there was no clear evidence that the latest rise in lengths of tariffs is linked to changes in the nature or severity of offending. The research claims growing numbers of people serving long sentences will mean prisons are likely to remain overcrowded for the foreseeable future.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Under this government, serious violent and sexual offenders will spend more time where they belong – behind bars. We are spending £2.75bn on transforming and modernising the estate, including creating 10,000 additional prison places.”

Monday 27 January 2020

Latest From Napo 198

From Friday's edition of Napo magazine online:-

Probation Announcements

If January is anything to go by 2020 is going to be a significant year for Probation. Following on from a rocky couple of years which saw the collapse of one of the CRCs and the announcement that the CRC contracts would be ended early and that Offender Management would be integrated into the NPS ahead of new contracts being let we have started the year with a damning HMIP report linking staff shortages and dire premises with a lack of quality in Probation practise and lowering morale. Added to these significant issues a series of high profile and very tragic cases have illustrated in a very real and distressing way the ultimate consequences of failings in the system. It was therefore inevitable that we would see some response from the new Government setting out a response to all of these issues.

I must start with the positives. We naturally welcome the steps taken to integrate Offender Management in Wales into HMPPS and although there are understandable issues relating to the rushed nature of the transfer this is a real indicator that the new Government intends to follow through on the commitment made last year to do the same in England which is an important step towards Napo’s stated aim of full reintegration of Probation Services (including interventions and unpaid work which HMPPS currently intend to re-let contracts for against all of our representations and campaigning).

Next we have two announcements made this week on justice policy. First the suggestion from the Home Secretary that those convicted for terror related offences will face tougher sentences and closer supervision including polygraph testing. Alongside this is the promise of additional Probation staff trained to manage terror related cases. Members will have a mixture of views and feelings about polygraph testing, one the one hand recognising it as simply another tool to gather intelligence in managing a case but on the other hand a punitive measure based on theories that some view to be flawed that damages rather than assists the working relationship between Probation staff and their clients. Most will welcome additional staff and training for those working with clients convicted for terror related offending and this is to be welcomed but there is a serious question to ask about the resource required. There is a staffing crisis across Probation and the HMIP report cites over 600 vacancies in NPS for Probation Officers. Members report little access to genuine opportunities for continuing professional development that offers more than the standard mandatory learning. These genuine development opportunities take time and resource which are in desperately short supply at the moment.

In addition we must always question the context of the changes in direction we are asked to adopt. People who commit terror related offences often feel marginalised and excluded and with the recent revelation that many organisations are now considered to be extremist (such as Greenpeace, Unite Against Facism and others) many trade union members will be wondering where the line really is. In order to properly assess and monitor risk and to work in a positive way you need to develop a useful working relationship with your client. Being seen as perpetuating a system which further ostracises and marginalises your client can have the opposite effect to the one you are working for.

Introducing polygraph testing may seem “tough” or “positive action” but in reality the solution to the problem is far more complex. What we all know is needed is greater investment in staffing and staff development with a focus on creating space for quality practice rather than headline grabbing gimmicks.

Next we have the announcement of a change to the automatic release of those serving a determinate sentence of seven years or more for an offence where the sentencing range includes life. In practise this means the most serious violent and sexual offences.

This will only apply to a relatively small number of cases. It “will change the release point for those serving standard determinate sentences of 7 years or more where the maximum sentence is life to the two-thirds point.” And importantly “In 2018, there were over 4,000 Standard Determinate Sentences imposed for sexual /violent offences which carry a maximum penalty of life. There were around 250 Extended Determinate Sentences, and 400 life sentences for such offences.”

The concern is that we may see up-tariffing of sentences for violent and sexual offences on the basis that the sentencer wants to be seen to do the right thing for the victim by giving the sentence that will fit into this category. So instead of maybe 70 to 80 months they will make sure they give 84 months or more to hit this rule change.

Can prisons cope with the additional demand for space? There are serious overcrowding issues already but more longer sentences and those prisoners staying in prison longer will have a huge impact. Apart from the physical space there simply aren’t the prison staff to manage this safely. There’s also the intention expressed in the sentence “The Government will change the release point to two-thirds for certain serious offenders which will allow for a greater period of rehabilitation in prison as they prepare to resettle into the community.” Prison is a place to prepare for rehabilitation and in a small number of cases genuine rehabilitation is achieved but cuts to budgets and staffing mean little proper rehabilitative activity for most prisoners. Rehabilitation is about more than just getting some basic qualifications and preparing for employment, complex underlying issues such as mental health, substance misuse and ingrained attitudes and beliefs need to be addressed as well. Overcrowded prisons without enough staff where people are locked up in a cell for most of the day with little intervention and lack of access to family and other supportive networks destroy any motivation to change.

Then we get to Probation who have to manage the sentence while in prison and make the plans for release. Our staffing crisis and the move to OMiC has caused serious pressure in terms of managing the case in custody so this would only make it worse, putting more pressure on staff working in prison to conjure up rehabilitative activity where it just doesn’t exist. Then the ominous promise “Instead they will be made to spend two-thirds of their sentence in prison, before being subject to strict licence conditions upon release.” This suggests more pressure to impose restrictive licence conditions on release which we all know means more work for Probation who monitor and manage those conditions. HMIP have already evidenced that Probation staff don’t have the time to properly supervise clients due to excessive workloads caused by staff shortages.

These initiatives, added to others recently announced such as 20,000 extra Police Officers and 10,000 extra prison spaces suggest a focus on justice that is leaning towards the punitive and can only increase workloads for Probation staff. Napo will be raising the issues in our engagement with NPS and HMPPS senior leaders and the Minister, to ensure that our voice is heard.

Katie Lomas
Napo Chair

Sunday 26 January 2020

Pick of the Week 57

How long has Jim's blog been going.
How many times have we been saying the same thing over and over again.
How often are we overlooked.
How many times have staff been told to 'shut up or leave'.
How many Senior Managers threaten you with warnings when you just cannot do anymore than fighting the pressures of work.
How many times do we have to endure it.
How many times will we have to tell you. Nothing changes.
To all staff out there, there is a life after Probation, please take a risk and stop being bullied, you all deserve better than this.

The debate around PQiPs is that the majority are neither BAME nor male. An even smaller proportion are BAME males. The MAJORITY of PQiPs both starting and completing the course to qualification are "young white female psychology grads”.

Some divisions the diversity of PQiPs naturally is different to the brush you are tarring all PQiPs with. Also they are clearly trying to address this issue around requiring a degree, just google Probation Officer Apprenticeships and the framework for it is out there and published. It is coming. My assumption is it will start when the renewed HEI contracts start.

Not being recognised in the coverage is the importance of professional experience and development.The call to recruit more new staff is welcome, but we should not lose sight of the tragic loss of experienced staff through the TR debacle.

For which Napo should also be held to account with their disastrously eager agreement to arrangements for TR1 which incorporated pre-planned job losses. In respect of TR2, Napo recently said - "That a nationally negotiated Staff Transfer and Protections Agreement, together with the appropriate transfer orders, will be put to all union members in a consultative ballot in the Autumn." Did this happen? What was the result?

Nothing posted today surprises. Much of what is being said has been written on this blog over & over & over again, i.e. HMPPS are crap, the depth & breadth of experience & knowledge was thrown out by the arseholes who implemented TR, working conditions vary from disgraceful to dangerous, etc etc:

* 615 probation officer vacancies across the NPS - a 10% vacancy rate
* Since probation reforms were introduced in 2014, not one of the NPS divisions has been fully staffed
* HMPPS has overall responsibility for NPS recruitment across England and Wales
* Sixty per cent of NPS staff have workloads that exceed their expected capacity
* Centralised [HMPPS] functions are not performing as they should
* HM inspectors also warned NPS was struggling to reverse a gender imbalance where 70 percent of officers were women.

Some of the problems are just a failure to accept basic maths. Increasing the number of clients at the same time as reducing the number of staff will obviously increase workloads and stretch resources. There are far to many people being subjected to probation supervision at present, and Bills currently going through Parliament are likely to increase that number further.

TR saw 40,000 under 12mth offenders being brought under the probation umbrella. The rhetoric for doing so was good, but the reality was that they were really only to swell the stock to make the sales pitch for TR more attractive to the bidders. A brutal truth is that probation is no use to most of that cohort, nor are they any good to probation. Is public safety and protection in a better place since they've been taken into the fold? Are they any better off now?

There's too many people on probation, and for too long, and it creates no value to anyone. There's an interesting report on HMP Liverpool out today also. I highlight it not to bring prisons into the conversation, but it's good evidence to demonstrate that if you want to do things right, then you have to provide facilities and opportunity for those caught up in the CJS, and facilities, time, space and acceptable workloads for those working within the CJS to be able to do the work their trained for.

Napo calling for urgent review but do not say who they expect to be able to manage such a task. What would be the point anyway, it is recognised TR1 is now failed. Hypocritically calling for wider amalgamation while endorsing the privatised companies illustrates the duplicity and failing of the NAPO position. They do not genuinely appear to have any clear strategy. Unfortunately the usual missed opportunity to embrace the report and exploit the dire failing of the NPS have been missed again by messrs Lawrence and co. 

This boring re hash of the past events is poor work for a professional association as they claim and an awfully childish 'we told you' positioning. This does nothing for the debate, offers no hope to readers of some enlightened contribution. While the scandal unfolds of the testimony in Wales, where was the NAPO leadership when a campaign was critical to wage against workloads? Provide support for staff and make challenges to illustrate the rejection of those risks the whole deluded management were taking. What exactly were NAPO doing when their energies should have been visibly leading on multi level actions? Down the pub or on a junket somewhere most likely.

Extract from Connor Marshall inquest today. Not much support from those at the top for the individual in the hot seat.....
Terry Reddington was the deputy head of the delivery unit for Wales and said some staff had fallen behind. "It was a particular issue for some people in the Caerphilly office, but not all people," he said. "Some staff could cope. Staff had different experiences." However, he said the backlog created by the transition had been cleared. He told assistant coroner Nadim Bashir there was enough staff for the number of cases.

Asked by Emma Zeb, representing Wales CRC, if it was a chaotic time, he replied: "In terms of chaotic, it was a time of change. "You had people who had been working together in the probation service for 20 years and then they were starting to work for a new agency. "I think that led to people being at different places at different times."

Diana Binding, former assistant chief executive of CRC denied it was chaotic there, but said she met with Braddon's probation officer Kathryn Oakley who was behind with her work. "I wouldn't take the view that Kathryn Oakley was very new to the role, she had been working in the probation service for well over a year," she told the inquest. "It is a demanding job. Her situation was no different to any other staff member, but they were managing their workload." The inquest continues.

The extracts from the inquest makes me feel physically sick, my heart absolutely goes out to Kathryn, I really hope her colleagues speak up in support and say just how impossible case management has become - the fact that the strategic management level state that being in service "well over a year" suddenly makes you an expert and fully skilled/trained CM is shocking but no surprise that's their attitude.

I was an experienced PSO of 20+ years but it still didn't stop me within the CRC I worked in, having to endure their unworkable models etc, feeling at times, in fact on a regular basis, overwhelmed with work, staying all hours to try and meet impossible targets that had been set along with trying to effectively risk manage difficult, troubled people - all the colleagues in my office felt the same as did (and I'm sure still do as staffing levels appear to have gone worse  officer's across all areas within Greater Manchester.

I'm so glad I resigned when I did before it really made me ill. I feel for those of you that remain but would say stick up and speak up for each other as it makes it harder for management to create divisions between staff and to throw people under the bus as happens far too often and for management to deny TR has been an absolute disaster not just "a change" as described by management at the inquest.

Can any Napo member answer this: Did Napo put a nationally negotiated Staff Transfer and Protections Agreement, together with the appropriate transfer orders, to all union members in a consultative ballot in Autumn 2019?

Perhaps the Trades Union Certification Officer should be consulted about how Napo seem to have - both actively and passively - enabled TR1, facilitated hundreds of job losses, failed to support members at critical times & are now embarking on a duplicate campaign in respect of TR2 in what appears to be a bid to completely embed & entomb the Probation profession within the civil service regime that is HMPPS.

"Over the past year, inspectors have found a multitude of problems with NPS offices. These include: broken locks, faulty CCTV, vermin infestations, and poor plumbing and heating. Some facilities are in such a state of disrepair that they cannot be used." MoJ have delayed TR2: it was always going to be too little too late, now it's even later. It's not full reunification, and it's in the civil service/MoJ which is clearly inept and not fit for purpose. Is it possible that transferring CRC staff to the shithole that is NPS in the HMPPS was likely to see the loss of the few experienced probation staff still standing?

I'm an NPS SPO. Reality is worse than this report. Caseloads unmanageable. SPOs supervising too many staff so can't do any meaningful work, no coaching, no improving of quality. We just respond to crisis management.

I agree, reality is much worse. As a PO in the NPS who is over 100% on WMT majority of the time, what is going to happen in the short term to address high caseloads? I’m certainly not coping with my workload and know others aren’t either. How long are we expected to carry on like this. Surely there must me some sort of contingency plan in place? What am I missing? Does the service not have a duty to look after its staff? I can’t carry on much longer in this job.

My NPS area are just about to be inspected. The amount of "prep" work going on is shameful. If we get anything less than outstanding there should be some serious questions raised!

I agree. I'm meeting with the HMIP inspector in next two weeks and can't wait to tell them the truth about what it's really like in NPS right now. Senior managers, I'm sure, will only want to present the glossy version!

So much evidence, so many testimonies, a tragedy of errors; it should surely be a piece of piss for unions representing staff to address these issues? Staff are clearly at breaking point but too scared to stand up & say so, hence they are effectively enabling the shitshow to continue. If Probation staff blew the whistle it would all collapse, wouldn't it? That's not to blame staff. Whistle-blowing isn't an easy thing to do. I know from experience. But does make things change. And it seem that there are plenty of staff in shit situations.

If only there was an organisation THAT represented staff.... Napo seem unwilling to bring it all to a head, reacting too late with pisspoor press releases, or hoping for this, or waiting for that, or acknowledging this, or accepting that... Even HMI Probation seem too scared to tell-it-as-it-is, keen to keep the lid on, just allowing enough steam to escape every now & then to prevent an almighty explosion. Can't they quit the equivocal bullshit?
It's broken. It ain't working. It's dangerous. It's making people ill. It's putting people at risk. People are being killed, or killing themselves, or killing others. BECAUSE. PROBATION. IS. FUCKED.

There's a whole bag of reasons why recruitment is so difficult. One of them must be fear of finding yourself in the position of Kathryn Oakley in the Connor Marshall inquest. Just over a year in and buried under a caseload far too big, the shits hit the fan, and she's been hung out to dry with all the failures of the private CRC owners being hung around her neck.

The verdict of the inquest is set to be given tomorrow, and although Ms Oakley will inevitably shoulder much blame, I have a feeling that the CRC owners will be vilified far more then they are expecting. There have been several such inquests in the last couple of years in Wales that the CRC owners have sought to apportion blame everywhere and anywhere other then themselves. There's all the inspectorate reports since TR that outline serious failings, staff shortages and high caseloads. 

Leanne Wood leader of Plaid Cymru (herself from notable a probation career), has constantly brought the failings of the Welsh CRC to the attention of Parliament, and called for an end to TR, and the coroner himself Nadim Bashir, often to be found as a prosecutor to the Armed Forces can smell a rat a mile away. 

At the end of the article flagged there's some key facts about the inquest, and some of them disgust me. It's almost like the CRC owners feel entitled to get away with no blame at all, whilst throwing others under the bus should be accepted as good business practice, and doing your bit to absolve the owners is a good career prospect. I hope tomorrows verdict is severe and harsh hitting on them and the MoJ too for that matter.

And in that timeline of the evidence being provided to the inquest come some stunning lines:

- When asked if there was an increase in caseloads, she said: “I don’t think there was an increase but a change in workload. They now had a caseload where 85%of those cases were in the community or community orders.”

- “You can hold more medium risk cases than higher risk cases because of the intensity involved in those cases.”

- “There was a degree of change and different managers but there was no difficulty in recruiting managers.”

- "staff would have a workload of what we would expect, 40 for a probation officer and 60 for a probation service officer.”

Are CRC staff finding resistance from NPS staff regarding the reunification of offender management? No-one wanted the split but there now seems to be a lot of hostility, perhaps those in the NPS have come to believe they are elite.

The job of a Probation Officer has become that of an administrator. You will find more men in UPW because you get out of the office into our communities - the one the Probation Service is supposed to serve.

A tad rose-tinted. Let’s not pretend ‘probation’ didn’t have issues as Trusts, Areas, the Aftercare Service and whatever came before. Clearly you’ve been practising for over 30 years (in the same job!?), well done (not!). Rather than adding to the dead-weight of agency PO’s currently milking and propping up CRC’s, perhaps it’s time to hang up your sandals and retire.

One thing that always puzzles me about probation is why former offenders aren't recruited more to work in the field. They have first hand knowledge of the system and how it works which so many of those with big shiny degrees don't have. And after their licence has expired or after so long with no further convictions there shouldn't be any issues in passing checks. Plus they will be able to develop better relationships with those under their supervision because they will be more trusted and will more likely know when they are being fed a load of bullshit or that there are worrying signs that could lead to major issues.

I've a slew of convictions from my teens, including time in custody. Nearly 20 years as a PO now. I'm not a "better" PO than my colleagues but I can genuinely empathise with the people I work with and understand how Adverse Childhood Experiences lead to the commission of crime.

I’m what you’d label a ‘former offender’. Just under 2 years in the DC/Borstal estate as a youth. Both as a remand and convicted prisoner on separate occasions. A brutal ‘watch your back’ , ‘dog eat dog’, ‘prey on the weak’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ type situation. I did okay mostly, but absolutely no rehabilitation and I was categorised “too smart” for education programmes. After discharge as a very volatile and guarded young person, all I had achieved was to become an expert on the wings at snooker and table tennis. It was a very bizarre feeling after time away, back to the old life, with new criminally entrepreneurial ideas and even less job prospects.

Prison wasn’t all bad as it did instill a lifelong resilience and toughness. Although I aimed to ‘go straight’ it wasn’t long until I had been stabbed, shot at and was on the verge of further downfall. At that young teen-age I believed this was everyone else’s fault, but karma went my way and I ended up in university and gained a ‘shiny degree’ while swallowing my pride earning a living in really basic jobs. A few of my lecturers were former probation officers, and a few more gritty jobs later, I took the inspiration I gained from my professors and trained as a probation officer. It wasn’t easy, I was turned down at first application, and the criminal record has always had to be explained and a closely guarded secret.

I’m ever grateful to my first probation interviewers I disclosed to in interview who deviated from the script to acknowledge me as a person and the probation employers that gave me. Sadly probation has no facility to harness what me and people like me offer. The academics write about social responsibility but this doesn’t exist and despite our aims and values, probation is no longer about helping and rewarding change.

Similar experience, i.e. recruited by an inspirational PO as part of an experimental project, progressed into a variety of associated paid roles, then later accepted for sponsored Probation training - with previous convictions. It was not easy persuading 'suits with attitude' & I had to lodge a formal complaint about one of the interviewers from 'the centre' which resulted in the panel striking out his prejudicial comments & offering me a place. But my card was marked from that day forwards and it was made clear by a subsequent employer that no meteoric rise was ever going to available to me. The old chums network has a long memory & an even longer scope of influence. It isn't just HMPPS that hold grudges.

Particularly over the later years of my PO career I came across similarly narrow-minded, jaundiced prejudice from several senior managers. They were generally incompetent but 'in favour' & have since scurried up the sleazy pole like hungry ferrets, embracing the 'new world' of NPS/CRCs, always seeming to pop-up wherever there's the stench of cash. Some have received handsome pay-offs, some are still milking the merry-go-round. I am retired from Probation after 25 years & nothing will tempt me back.

 Sorry to hear that too. This is why many with past convictions keep schtum. Once upon a time an ACO gave me the ‘advice’ “your probation colleagues are not ready to hear your story”. She had a past conviction too and was “disappointed” that academics and justice organisations were falling over themselves to contract lifers they’d spoon-fed to complete PHD’s and wheel out ‘reformed offenders’ that’d tell gory tales of crime and punishment, but probation and legal professions refused to promote those that had self-reformed, become qualified professionals and then reformed countless others.

Resonates with me too. I left the service due to ill health, disability but was a PO for 16 years. When the split happened I had a harrowing time with vetting procedures. Turned down, appealed, turned down. Relates to offences that took place 20 years ago. I too had been open about my background when I was recruited as a trainee. I hated the way the service was changing, the watering down of qualifications and the lack of diversity in recruitment. It definitely contributed to my declining ill health. Saying that I haven't looked back but am saddened when I hear of old colleague's who remain in the service and are currently facing similar experiences and treatment.

Sad to hear this. It’s criminal that probation are allowed to penalise employees in this way. Firstly, vetting is a police method that should not apply to probation. Secondly, they should not be able to force employees out of roles for historic matters that have already been disclosed many years ago. ... and then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Why are more EX-SU’s not recruited to probation? This answer can be broken down into two parts, Police systems/vetting and political/society requirements. Probation will soon be contributing to a Police computer system and this requires near police officer vetting. Things like your past offences, your last 6-10-year finances, checks on your mother, father, step family, your brother, sister, partner, ex-partner. They also ask if you know anyone with a criminal offence, for example friend or sister’s boyfriend etc. If the police are not convinced that you are at their standards then they will simply reject you, which will mean you can’t work in the community. I believe that as a result probation are now or soon will be rejecting new recruits on these grounds.

On the job itself I’m not sure the ex SU’s you imply would cope with how probation is now, I shall explain. Contemporary society’s attitude in relation to crime are more draconian now than at any time since the 1950’’s or early 60’s, society is becoming more hang ’em high and flog‘em publicly brigade. Probation is now more politically managed. The ex-SU’s that you speak of would be PO’s and PSO’s with no say over the running of the service or it’s ideology. A SU has an issue, the PO writes 48 pages on risk posed and reduction using control, 2 pages on support. Housing for SU’s in the South East/London nearly none, Drug Services cut to minimum support, ETE: here’s some course names. PO’s/PSO’s spend 70% of their time at a disk documenting. Probation say that PO’s/PSO’s are experts in “Risk” assessing and management. A SU commits a Serious Offence, questions: What checks did you do? What programmes did you put him on regardless? what warnings did you give or why didn’t you look at recall? That’s what flog ‘em Joe Public wants, that’s what politicians want and so that’s what Probation must do as that’s its funding stream, its promotions and how people keep their jobs.

Does it work? Well that depends on how “you” measure it, it must work for some influential people or it wouldn’t continue like this and it’s not going back to the philosophy of the 1980’s this generation.

We do employ ‘ex-offenders’, but this must be diminishing with increasing restrictions and vetting upon probation professionals. In the UK there are many speakers, academics and professors lauded for their expertise and insight due to ‘lived experiences’, David Honeywell, Jason Warr and Erwin James to name a few. We never hear about probation officers with similar backgrounds even though they are reforming offenders rather than merely talking about it. In fact, we are subliminally influenced not to mention they exist and what they bring to probation and the CJS.

Square peg in a round hole. Others like myself appear to write a fair bit on here. Back in the 1990's I was given the opportunity to become a PSO within my local Trust. I was proud of what I had achieved, however, within my dark past was a criminal history. Of course it didn't take long for it to be known, and I knew lots of Probation staff were waiting for me to fail and then gloat and say 'we told you so'. Well I didn't.

I had to work 10x harder than most and refused to be sidelined because of my past, but honestly, I never did fit in. Even when I qualified as a PO there were the doubters who contested how this 'misfit' could become 'one of them'. What I can say though, is that I had 20 plus years of a job I loved, the clients were my joy and the staff were my friends. Once I stopped caring about what staff thought of me and my unusual practise, I was in my element with the clients. I was able to see a blagger in seconds and knew how to develop professional relationships, based on trust. 

Sadly I left, partly to do with the crumbling of a service that served me so well, but also due to a calling I couldn't refuse. So the moral of the story is, employ more square pegs like myself, because the benefits outweigh some obnoxious staff and policies preventing staff with the know how to come into a service that needs them.

Well done you got past the selfish snobbery of every incompetent and secret snide fascist attitudes of the PO structure. All of them without much fail hold elitist self determine entitlement that pervades into every corner. Discriminatory behaviour is their hidden love of only what we can approve gets on. They hate the idea of bright intelligent streetwise practitioner doing the job they just can't from the gloss of text book life. Study is no substitute for real life experiences the blond ambitions of the dizzy 20 something female brigade won't last as they get stalked or harassed and leave in droves. All said it is not an employee based organisation that respects nor reflects its communities unless your middle class well spoken to a large degree and well in on that career path that say you are a person like them not like you and your better off without their endorsement. PO snob Tossers.

Meanwhile the poor underpaid probation officers and admin doing all the work and the offenders in need of a home and a job, who really don’t give a toss, NPS header paper can now state 5-star EFQM, would be lucky to get free tea and biscuits from probation!

Oh, I don't know, how about some actual CPD maybe? Perhaps the type that lends us some kind of externally recognisable professional credibility, which is funded,comes with workload relief and is accessible to all. Instead we get Insights; tokenistic, self congratulatory BS, entwined around prison service propaganda. Despite living and and working in a large city there were no events accessible to me providing a meaningful 'opportunity' that I couldn't have arranged myself, the vast majority of what was arranged would have demanded at least one day out of the office, hours of lost time travelling and with no work load relief. No thanks.

And in Bitesize for lazy dimwits like me:

* In July 2019, over 60 per cent of probation officers were working in excess of 100 per cent on the workload measurement tool.

* Nearly 30 per cent of probation officers have a workload of more than 120 per cent.

* The NPS workload measurement tool does not sufficiently capture the complexity of the NPS caseload, many of whom present a high risk of harm to others

* The number of staff in post has fallen short of the target since 2015; at the same time, the NPS caseload has increased.

* In June 2019, figures showed that the NPS had 3,319 probation officers in post versus a requirement of 3,934 – a gap of 615 probation officer vacancies.

* the reported shortage of CRC probation officers has recently changed from 40+ to 500.

* 615 + 500 = 1115 vacancies across probation provision

* How many unallocated cases is that? 30,000?

* No wonder that, in HMIP's view, "many probation officers have unacceptably high workloads."

But in a parallel universe far, far removed from reality the BQF said: "Innovation and creativity was seen across the business in [NPS] service delivery and business processes and leaders are committed to ensuring an increasingly inclusive and engaged culture of excellence for all stakeholders."

Breaking News - THE EMPEROR IS BOLLOCK-NAKED; & HE HAS BEEN FOR AT LEAST A DECADE NOW. Is anyone ever going to put a stop to the pocket-stuffing liars & cheats moving from one job to another, awarding themselves gongs & bonuses & fake trophies while stealing public funds? Is anyone going to stand up to these bullies, who treat hard-working, committed professional staff like shit? I tried, got hung out to dry & kicked overboard. But I was a lonely voice when everyone was whacking themselves off over the "exciting new opportunity" that was TR, the promised land of innovation & reward. Now there's unequivocal published evidence to prove what a shower of shit it is.

It’s ironic that an organisation based on rehabilitation and reform also penalises and sacks its own staff for being rehabilitated and reformed.

Once more for luck - THE EMPEROR IS BOLLOCK-NAKED I stood up, I spoke out, I went from £2500 a month as a PO to £500 a month as a barista. Its hard. I've had to make some big sacrifices. But I'm free. My heart is lighter. My conscience is clear. Free from bullying, from colluding with liars & cheats, from saying "everything is okay." Free from stringing-along a caseload of people trying to find somewhere to live, wanting to attend a training programme, needing to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist or a counsellor or a mental health practitioner or a social worker. Free from pretending I was making anyone safer.

Justin Russell is starting to speak out - TR & the new world of probation is shit. Peter Clarke is speaking out - Prisons have been shit for ages, whether for adults or children. And when a 'top leader' was recently asked about diversity in recruitment, this was the reply: "I haven’t got the figures to hand but we have got a way to go. We’ve been working on it for as long as I’ve being involved with trainees in 2005. Any thoughts and ideas gratefully received..."

Its your future. Your career. Make A Stand for an independent, professional Probation Service - before its too late. You're already halfway to falling into Priti Patel's lap. She's made her intentions clear today...

Re: Training in prisons. In my experience it does not exist. You are dumped there not inducted or trained although the job and rules are different and just expected to guess at the job. Each prison operates differently also. As for diversity forget it, not considered by the prisons for staff certainly and even for offenders which surprises me as they usually put their needs at a higher priority.

Saturday 25 January 2020

Remembering Harry Fletcher 2

In addition to probation, there were many other fascinating sides to the well-connected Harry Fletcher, something poignantly illustrated I understand by the range of those attending and speaking at yesterday's funeral. This from the Jewish Chronicle tells us a bit more about one of those sides:-  

Remembering Harry Fletcher, the Socialist who tried to steer Labour away from hate

Martin Bright reflects on the campaigner and old-fashioned trade unionist who died earlier this month aged 72

I first came across Harry Fletcher nearly 20 years ago when I took over as Home Affairs Editor of the Observer. Harry, who died on January 8 aged 72, was an extraordinary mixture of dynamic PR man, impassioned campaigner and old-fashioned trade unionist.

His nominal job at the time was Assistant General Secretary of Napo, the probation officers’ union. But he was always much more than that. He knew his way around the Home Affairs world better than any journalist or politician and constructed elaborate campaigns around the issues he cared about: tagging, anti-social behaviour orders or the privatisation of his beloved probation service.

He was a thorn in the side of ministers and those who ran the country’s major penal institutions throughout his career. But it is a sign of the respect in which he was held that among the first people to pay tribute to him following his untimely death were two of his greatest adversaries: Ed Owen, former special adviser to Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw, and Martin Narey the former head of the Prison Service.

In recent years he committed himself to the cause of victims of domestic violence and stalking in his work with the Victims Rights Campaign. Harry’s lasting legacy will be changes to the law on coercive control and stalking, which he pushed for alongside colleagues at his final employer, Plaid Cyrmu.

Harry was a socialist who found himself working for the Welsh Nationalists because he could no longer stomach the antisemitism he had watched slowly poison the Labour Party. He had always worked closely with John McDonnell on campaigns and was happy to work on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership bid. There is no doubt Harry’s involvement in the early days of Corbyn’s leadership gave it a credibility it lacked elsewhere. Indeed, if he had been placed in overall charge of communications it is possible to argue that Labour would be in a very different place today.

From the moment Corbyn was elected in September 2015, Harry urged the Labour leader to rebuild trust with the Jewish community. He knew his record as a backbencher would prove a problem, but with his characteristic optimism Harry believed he could help heal wounds. Driven by an increasing awareness of his own roots (his paternal grandfather was Jewish), he built a network of relationships with key figures in the community.

We talked often during this period and I watched as Harry became increasingly frustrated with Corbyn’s refusal to deal with the issue. His suggestions, including plans to engage with the Jewish media and the community with a series of interviews and set-piece speeches, fell on deaf ears. 
He had long urged Corbyn and McDonnell to setup an inquiry into antisemitism in the party, but when Shami Chakrabarti’s report failed to address the issue and instead resulted in a life peerage for the lawyer, he was horrified.

The Labour Party should be ashamed of making an enemy of the man who spent his life fighting injustice and the last three years of his life campaigning to expose antisemitism. In Harry Fletcher, the Jewish community has lost a proud champion and comrade.


Here are the tributes from Twitter referred to, plus a couple of others:- 

Martin Narey "God, he could be a pain. But he was a formidable opponent and was always, always, willing to have a pint once the argument was over. Very sad news."

Ed Owen "That’s sad news. Yes he was quite a figure. He knew how to use the media to get policy issues on the agenda. I won’t repeat some of the expletives used when I was in the Home Office when one of his leaks appeared in the Guardian or the Times. But I say that as a tribute."

Jane Furniss "Harry used to ring each of his network & 'say X tells me Y is going to happen. Have you heard anything about it?' Then he'd ring Z & say ' Jane confirms ... what do you know' & repeat.. complete pain in the neck... in a good way. RIP Harry"

Martin Bright "He was one of the best. A better hack than most journalists and a better campaigner than most politicians."


Finally, this article by Harry in the Sunday Times of 23rd April 2017 fills in some gaps but will make uncomfortable reading for some:-

Life inside the chaotic and ‘anti‑semitic’ Team Corbyn

At the first event of Labour’s election campaign last week, even Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies said he’d had a pretty good day. He was fluent. He was unscripted. He was saying things that need to be said about politics, and he believed them. He reminded me what it felt like at the start of his incredible rise, the summer before last, when his leadership campaign team consisted of four people — Jeremy, his son Seb, John McDonnell and me.

As one of his advisers, I was with Jeremy from the very start, and I stayed part of his inner team until the middle of last year. I still think that if he fights like he did in 2015, if he can recapture the excitement that brought hundreds of thousands of people into Labour, this election just might not be a foregone conclusion.

But for now, Jeremy’s 2015 win remains the high point of his leadership. And for me, the 10 months that followed that victory, working for John and Jeremy at the heart of the leader’s operation, were months of growing concern. Concern that they can’t cope with the demands of running a top-level office; concern that they don’t learn from their mistakes; and concern, above all, about their relationship with the Jewish community.

The chaos started early on. The day after the leadership election, I got a call from The Sun. It was running a story the next morning that Jeremy wanted to abolish the British Army. It was a stretching of something he’d said in the past. The Sun tried all his staff, and nobody was picking up. It turned out that his press officer had a contract that expired at midnight, nobody had thought to renew it, and she was on a train back to Liverpool. So 3m readers got told that Jeremy wanted to abolish the army because there was no one to answer the phones. And that never really changed. MPs found it impossible to get meetings.

Jeremy and his team wanted to support every good cause going, and not let anybody down, but he ended up with 100 hours a week of commitments, and not enough time to go round. The amount of work coming in totally exceeded the capacity of the staff. They were — they still are — almost terrified of having power. The team just comes across as frightened to make decisions.

The atmosphere was very, very fraught, and tense, and unhappy. People were working ridiculous hours. There was a glaring need for proper line management, and it just wasn’t happening. There was no diary, no schedule, few or no regular team meetings. Nobody knew what their job was. We discovered in passing one day that there were tens of thousands of unopened emails to Jeremy that no one had ever read.

People would suggest campaigning ideas, ideas that could have had traction and repaired some of the damage. I wanted to do something on a lifelong commitment to service veterans. But they just never went anywhere, never saw the light of day. Jeremy would promise people, let’s meet and discuss this, and it never happened. They found it extremely difficult to cope.

What angered me most was their inability to understand why they’re perceived as anti-semitic. Jeremy believes he is completely non-discriminatory. He would never be hostile to someone in the street. But he is, if you like, anti-semitic along the institutionalised lines of the Metropolitan police in the 1990s, when they messed up the Stephen Lawrence investigation.

I identified it as a problem from the very early days. I sat down with Jeremy right at the beginning and I said we needed to go through everything, because if you start to do well, three or four newspapers are going to go for you. And I said the main thing they’ll use is Hamas and Hezbollah, and the things you’ve done with them.

I told him we had to be totally honest on it, that he had to have answers to everything, and he had to say again and again that he supported the Jewish community and would never discriminate in any way. And he just couldn’t see it at all.

I’d liaise regularly with Jewish Labour groups. They wanted to work with Jeremy. I’d suggest to him about how he might build bridges with the Jewish community, and none of it ever happened. It was very, very frustrating, and it just got worse. Every attempt to improve relationships did well for a day or two, and then something or somebody would sabotage it. Every time, what was required was a swift response, but it just never happened.

The very first thing I tried was to negotiate with The Jewish Chronicle for an interview. Jeremy got very uneasy about it and said he couldn’t do it. So I went back and it was happy to give him an op-ed, which he would have complete control over. It promised not to change a word. There would be a complete partnership. Nothing happened.

What angered me most was their inability to understand why they’re perceived as anti-semitic Jeremy and the team just didn’t understand the collective impact of incident after incident after incident. He dealt with every episode as if it were isolated. I think he just saw those offended as complainers. But the Jewish community was, quite understandably, seeing it as a theme, seeing Jeremy digging himself deeper all the time.

Some people said the reason he was criticised was for his views on Israel, not towards Jews as a whole. But it wasn’t. It was about discrimination. Jeremy did have an antipathy towards Israel. But the criticism he received was because of a pattern of behaviour that was perceived by the Jewish community as anti-semitic.

I was one of the people who recommended that Shami Chakrabarti do her report into anti-semitism in the party. I got credit for that from Jewish organisations — and then total dismay when she joined the Labour Party a few weeks later, and utter dismay when she became a peer. It clearly had an impact on the fact that her conclusions were seen by many as a whitewash, but Jeremy and his team just couldn’t see it. He wasn’t prepared for personal attacks, and he got very angry.

Labour is split at the moment between those who want to run a robust campaign and those who want to leave Jeremy to it. I am in the first camp. He is the leader of the Labour Party, and I want Labour to do well. The country needs competitive politics. Both the organisational failings and the exasperation of the Jewish community are resolvable — if the will is there.

For all Jeremy’s failings, I was reminded again last week that he is at his best and his most inspiring in campaign mode — and that Theresa May clearly isn’t comfortable with anything spontaneous, uncontrolled or challenging. If Labour can recapture the spirit of that first leadership bid, and argue for a Brexit that benefits the finances of ordinary working people, this could still be a contest.

Harry Fletcher was a media and strategy adviser to Jeremy Corbyn from 2015-16

Thursday 23 January 2020

Remembering Harry Fletcher

Alan Travis writing in the Guardian:-

Harry Fletcher obituary

Former assistant general secretary of the probation officers’ union Napo who was pivotal in changing the laws on stalking and on coercive control

Harry Fletcher

Harry Fletcher, who has died aged 72 of a heart attack, was a doughty fighter for victims’ rights, a public voice for probation, and a successful campaigner who played a leading role in changing the laws on stalking and domestic abuse.

For almost three decades he was the assistant general secretary of a small union, the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo), but from that obscure office he became a familiar figure on British news bulletins and around Westminster.

For generations of politicians and journalists Harry was a fount of knowledge about what was going on behind the scenes in the criminal justice system. He was also the source of a sustained series of leaks and disclosures that caused serious trouble for both Labour and Conservative ministers, and was often used as an unofficial back door to the Home Office and Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

As the Guardian’s home affairs editor from 1992 to 2018, I ran news stories based on some of Harry’s leaks, most notably in 2013 about the MoJ’s internal “risk register” for the part-privatisation of the probation service, which the then justice secretary, Chris Grayling, had refused to publish. It warned that there was a “more than 80% risk” that privatisation would lead to “an unacceptable drop in operational performance” and would probably trigger “delivery failures and reputational damage” – a warning that has unfortunately been more than vindicated.

As a qualified social worker, Harry’s focus on domestic violence followed years of hearing probation officers voice concern that it was being under-reported, and that victims were being intimidated into silence by their partners. The key to the success of many of his campaigns was his use of the personal experiences of such victims, often compiled in anonymised dossiers.

It was a similar log of personal experiences that helped to secure official recognition in 2009 of the problem of army veterans ending up in prison after leaving the forces. Harry organised an unofficial count, through Napo branches, of the number of ex-army personnel in jail, and the figures obliged the Ministry of Defence and the MoJ not only to recognise the problem but to provide greater support for those leaving the forces. It is now standard practice to keep an official count along the lines he established.

Harry was born in Burnage, Manchester, the son of Jeffrey Fletcher, a departmental manager at Dunlop, and his wife, Jemima (nee Campbell), a personnel officer at Littlewoods. He went to Layburn secondary modern school and then Manchester grammar school before taking a degree at the University of East Anglia and qualifying as a social worker at Bristol University in 1974.

After a period as a social worker in Waltham Forest, east London, he joined the National Council for One Parent Families in 1977, learning his campaigning skills there before joining Napo in 1984. He served the union for 29 years until 2013, when he left to work as a political consultant on stalking, domestic abuse and digital abuse, becoming an adviser to Plaid Cymru on such matters in 2016.

Over the years, Harry built up a wide network of contacts in parliament and the media, feeding them detailed research that documented the impact of criminal justice policy on individuals. His sustained supply of leaks was fuelled by a nose for a story that was as strong as any journalist’s, and he had a fierce commitment to protecting his sources.

He was also exceptionally good in the public arena. In many high profile and notorious criminal cases, including those highlighting failings by the police, courts and prison and probation services, he was able to explain to the public in straightforward language exactly what had gone wrong and why, long before any bland official inquiry report had been produced.

His expertise was much in demand, including, in recent years, by the scriptwriters of the Public Enemies television series about probation officers. On one occasion he took the scriptwriting team to visit a hostel and a probation office after they had been refused access by the MoJ. As recently as December 2019 he was interviewed by major broadcasters and newspapers to provide background on the London Bridge terrorist attack.

He is survived by his partner, Kate Gilbert, his sons, George and William, and a grandson, Orly.

Harry Jeffrey Fletcher, criminal justice campaigner, born 27 January 1947; died 8 January 2020


The Directors of the Probation Institute are greatly saddened to learn of the death of Harry Fletcher on 8th January. Harry had been in regular contact with us about TR and Probation Reforms – most recently just before Christmas.

Many of us have worked with Harry over many years and would like to pay tribute to his immense energy and commitment to a fairer justice system, working at several different levels. For us above all Harry was Assistant General Secretary of Napo from 1984 to 2013. This long period of work for Napo saw massive changes in Probation, advances in practice and values, support for victims, increasing workloads and pressures, restructuring, all of which Harry promoted and defended. Organising large rallies at Westminster Hall, Parliamentary Questions and lobbying, particularly in the successful campaign to influence the incoming Labour Government in 1997. Harry was strongly opposed to Transforming Rehabilitation. He was pleased to see the integration plans in 2019 but understood the real reservations and in an advisory role was seeking to influence the Secretary of State over continuing issues with the new model.

Harry was always available and interested in what you had to say – he was diligent in turning over stones, finding out the detail, and in speaking out openly and clearly about his findings. You could always spot when Harry was behind an investigation. It’s hard to think of anyone who can quickly replicate his knowledge of justice combined with investigation and reporting skills – but it’s very important that principled journalists try hard to follow in his footsteps.

We would like to pass our deepest sympathies to Kate, William and George in your loss and extend our very warm appreciation of a colleague and friend.

Helen Schofield
Probation Institute January 2020.


Friend and colleague Mike Guifoyle shares some memories:-

My first real professional contact with Harry was at the York AGM 1998 when I made my maiden speech moving the National Campaigning Committee (NNC) motion on renationalising private prisons. Although Harry drafted the text with his usual rhetorical flair, I tweaked it and after the motion was unanimously carried, he winked suggesting that the additions seemed to work. It later merited a headline on the BBC ceefax page! Indeed Judy McNight (GS) cornered me at the evening social to congratulate both of us for making the headlines! 

Thereafter with subsequent AGM's and NCC meetings Harry would be the indomitable presence and guiding influence in shaping Napo's approach to campaigning and with his hard won and ever present media savvy public profile was the go-to official fronting for the union. His able tenacity in doing so merited a commendable tag line in certain Napo circles as 'Harry the Dog' (no relation to a certain Cold Blow Lane terrace legend!) given Harry's fond attachment to Arsenal FC.

I did however succeed (he was perhaps at times a touch too possessive of sharing his much cherished parliamentary and media sources!) in making it onto a Channel 4 news item with Harry on the perennial topic of resources, public safety and front line morale. To his lasting credit he did arrange for NCC members to attend a media training day and I was often a call away from some of the bigger media stories to beset the probation service over this period. 

In particular I recall the frantic behind the scenes information gathering that was needed to respond to harshly critical governmental and media pressures in light of the tragic Hanson and White SFO furore in London that resulted in the eventual resignation of the CPO David Scott. From memory Harry offered DS some fraternal advice on getting through this embroglio in the men's urinal!

He had a fund of well garnered anecdotes on the foibles and failings of political and departmental officials, amusingly batting off on one occasion Jack Straw's off-handed and trademark ill-tempered media observations on 'Napo's dinosaur union officials' with a knowing smile.

He had more moles it appeared in the corridors of power than George Smiley! And his fearlessly obdurate manner did send a proverbial shiver down the spine of many a jaded Home Office/Justice Department mandarin (particularly when Private Eye ran the story). I admired his challenging mien, his dogged and prickly commitment, hard work and easy fluency when in front of the camera. 

I recall Harry deftly coaxing Lord David Ramsbotham at one criminal justice event on his pending HoL speech on the 'future of the Probation Service' and edging into a heated conversation with the former disgraced MP and Penal Reformer Jonathan Aitken at another such event, shortly after his release from open prison, who Harry was effortlessly enlisting for Napo's campaign on resisting the incipient privatisation of the probation service. 

His parliamentary briefings and well rehearsed PQ's were unfailingly comprehensive and direct to the point at issue. Oftentimes he would break off during committee meetings chirping with hand on phone, 'I need to speak to Neil (Gerrard) MP and John (McDonnell) MP whose enduring commitment to probation as a public service was instrumental in holding the union's line during the embattled legislative campaign prior to the introduction of Noms in 2004. 

On another occasion when sharing a bibulous Balti evening with the formidably combative former POA General Secretary Brian Caton, he averred 'Harry is the lifeblood of probation and one of the best and most trusted trade union defenders of keeping probation a public service I have yet met'. 

Harry told a story from the New Labour years that I recall with relish, speaking to a die hard old socialist MP who admired Napo's well briefed arguments at the time of the OMA 2007. It captures well the continuing malign potency of a market driven privatising ideology over the need for an evidence-informed public policy agenda evinced in Harry's well researched briefing papers. The MP gruffly stated 'Harry you have all the arguments, you have all the evidence, you have all the friends you need in the party, but you are ****** because they refuse to listen and that's why you need to continue campaigning!

A doughty campaigner, a relentless newshound, a wry and incisive observer on the shifting dynamics of parliamentary and political shenanigans over many years, an evanescent presence at Napo AGM's (another breaking news story meant he was often called out of the room) and a committed and loyal Napo member and official who courted the media at a time when employers and probation chiefs were being politically eviscerated, in a way that encouraged dialogue and debate to continue, who held himself accountable to the membership and never knowingly baulked at telling those in power that Napo mattered and was still a force to be reckoned with. 

He will be sorely missed and will I believe retain a significant and abiding presence in Napo's collective memory and be fondly remembered as an integral part in what for many who knew him best represented what a determinedly and proud public sector union could achieve against the odds as well as promoting and celebrating a much admired professional association, tattered it maybe from the demands of keeping the probation flame alive, but on whose behalf in his campaigning he gave his best endeavours over many memorable years. RIP Harry.