Saturday 29 February 2020

Old Prisons - New Initiatives

What on earth are we going to do about the state of our prisons? When faced with a problem like this, I guess if you are an aspiring civil servant, you come up with an initiative - voilà!

New support plan to improve jails

A new intensive support programme will help challenging jails to improve safety and rehabilitation, Prisons Minister Lucy Frazer announced today (28 February 2020).

The Prison Performance Support Programme (PPSP) replaces Special Measures, and will offer a significant package of tailored support managed from a dedicated operations room. Building on lessons learned from the 10 Prisons Project, a small number of chosen jails will be boosted by measures including additional staff, enhanced standards training and tough airport-style security, in order to bring stability.

Prisons and Probation Minister Lucy Frazer QC MP, said:

"We know that some prisons face deep-rooted issues that cannot be fixed overnight, which is why this programme will be vital to support and improve them. This co-ordinated, intensive support represents a step up in our response to the long-term challenges affecting certain jails. Allied to the £2.75 billion this government is investing to transform the estate, improve security and promote rehabilitation, this is another way in which we will drive up standards."

Six prisons - HMPs Pentonville, Wormwood Scrubs, Bedford, Bristol, Hewell and Feltham A - will initially receive this bespoke support, and have been chosen following a detailed assessment. The jails will benefit from additional funding to improve living and working conditions, and a Standards Coaching Team will develop staff confidence and skills – something that proved successful during the 10 Prisons Project.

PJ Butler, Governor at HMP Bedford, said:

"As the Governor of one our most challenging prisons, I appreciate the support being given to me and my team by the Prison Performance Support Programme. The investment in modern technology and additional resources will greatly help us to restrict the supply of drugs and other illicit items, which cause misery and harm. Our aim at Bedford is to return responsible citizens, not offenders, to their communities and the PPSP will help us to do this."

PPSP will use data to focus on reducing violence and self-harm with the aim of raising standards as quickly as possible. It will be overseen by an operations room team at Prison Service HQ, that will work closely with staff on the ground.

As the programme progresses, there will be continued analysis of other prisons across the estate, and support will be adapted accordingly. Depending on what is determined using the data and operational judgement, prisons will move in and out of PPSP according to greatest need.

The initiative will sit alongside the government’s £2.75 billion commitment to transform the prison estate with:
  • £100 million to bolster prison security, clamping down on the weapons, drugs and mobile phones that fuel violence, self-harm and crime behind bars
  • £2.5 billion to provide 10,000 additional prison places and create modern, efficient jails that rehabilitate offenders, reduce reoffending and keep the public safe
  • £156 million to tackle the most pressing maintenance issues to create safe and decent conditions for offender rehabilitation

Interestingly, four days earlier the Howard League had announced its own initiative:-

Prisons should be places of justice, the Howard League for Penal Reform argues today (Monday 24 February) as it launches a new programme encouraging people to think differently about what happens behind bars.

As the most absolute expression of the criminal justice system, prisons should meet the very highest standards of justice. This is the central message in Justice does not stop at the prison gate, the first briefing to be published as part of the Howard League’s programme on justice and fairness in prisons.

The briefing explores how a fundamental shift in prisons would facilitate a sense of agency and responsibility among prisoners, making prisons safer and improving outcomes for everyone. Being sent to prison is the punishment ordered by a court; what then follows should be about justice and fairness.

The briefing explains why new approaches are needed. Currently, an everyday and structural unfairness is built into prison regimes and compounded by overuse, overcrowding and rising levels of violence. Unfair or unjust treatment generates resentment and anger, feeding a cycle of conflict and harm.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:

“Prisons are the most absolute expression of the criminal justice system. If we must have them, they should meet the very highest standards of justice. A just and fair prison system recognises people as citizens who are going to return to the community. It acts with consistency, impartiality and respect. It is a system where conflict is resolved, and people are given the opportunity to turn their lives around. It recognises that punishment is imposed by the courts, and not by the prisons. The Howard League is exploring and advocating fresh approaches that would benefit everyone. Problems in prisons spill out into communities, so getting this right would have a ripple effect, making us safer and taking the country forward.”

Prisons are draconian in their use of punishment. More than 1,000 years of additional imprisonment were imposed on prisoners in 2018 – more than double the punishment handed down only four years previously. Further analysis of these figures will appear in the programme’s second briefing, to be published later this year.

The Howard League will investigate how moving away from punishment can reduce conflict and violence, improve safety and well-being, and better prepare people for release.

It will look at examples of good practice around procedural justice and restorative approaches in prisons, and how these can contribute to a more just system overall.

The full briefing can be found here.

Friday 28 February 2020

Integrated Offender Management "Lost Its Way"

A Tweet from Sally Lewis announces the unsurprising news and confirmed by the latest Joint Inspection Report:- 
"As the pre “Transforming Rehabilitation” probation national IOM lead this makes for a very depressing read. Depressing but emphatically not unpredicted. MoJ simply dismissed the clear advice from experienced partner professionals. Shameful."  
Government programme targeting prolific offenders has ‘lost its way’

A programme originally set up to tackle persistent offenders has “lost its way” and better leadership is needed to get it back on track, according to inspectors. Integrated Offender Management (IOM) was supposed to bring together police, probation services and other agencies to identify and manage repeat offenders in local communities.

HM Inspectorate of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services have found schemes no longer focus exclusively on these types of offenders and current performance is “disappointing”. Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: 

“Persistent offenders who commit high numbers of burglaries, robberies and drug-related crimes cause havoc and leave people feeling unsafe in their own communities. Originally, IOM provided targeted and intensive support to the most persistent offenders that aimed to tackle factors that contributed to their crimes, such as homelessness and substance misuse. Overall, IOM now has a much lower profile compared to a few years ago and individuals are no longer getting priority access to much-needed services.”

The two inspectorates last studied the programme in 2014. At that time, inspectors found “promising” performance with the right offenders being targeted, some excellent information sharing between agencies and good rehabilitation work.

The Ministry of Justice and Home Office – who share responsibility for the programme – refreshed the approach a year later. All offenders can now be managed in this way, although those who have committed sexual, violent or terrorist crimes are usually supervised under separate arrangements.

For this report, inspectors looked at a sample of cases from seven regions and found almost 40 per cent involved offenders who pose a high or very high risk of harm to others. Domestic abuse was a concern in more than half of the inspected cases.

Inspectors found the decision-making process was unclear at times and case files did not always record why police and probation officers used this approach to manage an offender. Around two-thirds of inspected plans did not spell out what individuals would be required to do as a result of being managed through a scheme. Inspectors found less than half of the offenders in the inspected sample had access to the drug or alcohol misuse services they needed.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said: 

“In most of the areas we visited, Police and Crime Commissioners supported local schemes and some provided additional funding to improve access to services. We found police in some regions were more actively engaged in the delivery of rehabilitation work than probation colleagues. For example, officers were helping individuals to complete benefits statements or taking them to appointments. Most of the police and probation officers we spoke to as part of this inspection did not receive any specific training in managing offenders using this multi-agency approach. Training needs to be prioritised, especially for officers working with domestic abuse perpetrators or who are involved in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults.”

Inspectors found the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation programme had a negative impact on partnership working. In 2015, seven National Probation Service divisions and 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies replaced 35 probation trusts – this created new challenges as each organisation had its own priorities and needed to buy into the approach.

Today’s report calls for greater national leadership to ensure proper oversight of the programme. The two inspectorates have also recommended improvements to data-gathering and evaluation.

Mr Russell said: 

“In Wales, IOM has remained a strategic priority and has strong leadership and governance in place. However, there is a lack of leadership of the programme in England, which has resulted in schemes operating independently of each other. There is no mechanism for reporting information to government departments or for learning and best practice to be disseminated more widely.”

At the time of the inspection, the Home Office’s system to measure the impact of the programme was only in place in 14 out of 43 police forces.

Mr Russell said: “We recommend a senior national police and probation group is established to oversee the whole programme. The Ministry of Justice and Home Office should also refresh their joint national strategy and provide clear leadership and support for the delivery of IOM and sharing of best practice locally.”

In lieu of national data, HM Inspectorate of Probation reviewed 268 cases involving individuals who had been managed through this multi-agency approach. Eight out of ten (81 per cent) said drug misuse contributed to their offending while four out of ten (40 per cent) cited the lack of accommodation as a key factor. Three-quarters (75 per cent) were being supervised by probation officers after leaving prison.

Inspectors found the quality of supervision was better for these individuals. They were 10 percentage points more likely to be adequately supervised, compared to those not involved in the scheme. In 2014, the two inspectorates made a recommendation for a thorough evaluation of the IOM approach. This task is still outstanding nearly six years later.

Mr Russell said: 

“Reoffending costs the economy more than £18bn every year and 42 per cent of serving prisoners are prolific offenders. The government needs a better understanding of this programme’s effectiveness and how it can help individuals to break the cycle of offending. Our data shows that integrated management of offenders by police and probation can make a difference and the passion and commitment of managers and staff we talked to was evident. We saw good examples of police and probation officers going the extra mile to ensure that individuals received relevant support for complex problems. This sort of commitment now needs to be replicated at national level. We think an independent evaluation is needed into the costs and benefits of IOM, and to determine which types of offenders benefit most from this approach.”

Thursday 27 February 2020

UPW to go Global

I notice filming is to start shortly for a tv series featuring Community Payback. This from the Bristol Post:-

Stephen Merchant to shoot new BBC One series in Bristol

One of Bristol's most recognised figures is shooting a major new series in his hometown this year. Stephen Merchant, who was born in Hanham, will likely be spotted around the city on numerous occasions as shooting for The Offenders unfolds. The multi-award winning writer and director also co-stars in the series, which will premiere on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK and on Amazon Prime in the United States, Canada and Australia.

Here's everything you need to know about the forthcoming series.

About the Offenders

The Offenders follows seven strangers from different walks of life forced together to complete a Community Payback sentence in Bristol. At first, they seem like they can be easily pigeonholed but gradually the viewers see behind their exteriors, understand their hidden depths and what made them the people they are today. As the series unfolds viewers are reminded that no-one is all good or all bad, and that everyone has a story.

As their unlikely new friendships intersect with their complicated private lives, The Offenders must unite to protect one of their own from Bristol’s most dangerous criminal gang. The show is part crime thriller, character study, and a "state-of-the-nation commentary" - with humour running throughout.

Stephen, aged 45, said he loves "finding ways to bring unlikely groups of people together," ever since The Office - the hit sitcom he wrote with Ricky Gervais which ran from 2001 until 2003. He said: "The Offenders is a long-standing passion project for me. My parents used to work in the Community Service world and I was always intrigued that the many and varied people they dealt with only had one thing in common: they’d committed a crime. Ever since The Office, I love finding ways to bring unlikely groups of people together and watch the sparks fly. As a writer I always include humour but with The Offenders, I also get to add drama, pathos, crime genre thrills and say something optimistic about the common humanity that unites us all, whatever our background."

The Offenders was commissioned for the BBC by Charlotte Moore, BBC Director of Content; Shane Allen, BBC Controller, Comedy Commissioning; and Kate Daughton, BBC Head of Comedy.


Stephen Merchant looking for Bristol actors to star in his new series The Offenders

The final roles are being cast for a new, six-part comedy series which will be filmed and set in Bristol - and those behind the production are looking for people to fill the parts. The Offenders has been written and will be directed by Hanham actor and comedian Stephen Merchant, and will eventually be broadcast on BBC1.

As the series unfolds, viewers are reminded no-one is all good or all bad, and everyone has a story. As their unlikely new friendships intersect with their complicated private lives, The Offenders must unite to protect one of their own from Bristol’s most dangerous criminal gang. The show is part crime thriller, character study, and a "state-of-the-nation commentary" - with humour running throughout, according to Stephen Merchant.

While the main parts have been cast, there are a number of smaller roles, with an age range of 18 to 55, which are being cast. And earlier this week, one of the casting agents, Amy Hubbard, put out a call for a teenage girl to play the part of Esme, a black or mixed race girl aged 14 to 16.

Stephen Merchant said the series has been a longstanding dream of his to do - his parents worked in the community service world.

'Long-standing passion project'

"The Offenders is a long-standing passion project for me," he said. "My parents used to work in the community service world and I was always intrigued that the many and varied people they dealt with only had one thing in common: they’d committed a crime. Ever since The Office, I love finding ways to bring unlikely groups of people together and watch the sparks fly. As a writer I always include humour but with The Offenders, I also get to add drama, pathos, crime genre thrills and say something optimistic about the common humanity that unites us all, whatever our background."

Anyone interested in the part should email


This from BBC website:-

The Offenders (working title) is a 6 x 1 hour series from multi-award-winning writer and director Stephen Merchant, originally created by Merchant and Elgin James (co-creator of US series Mayans M.C.)

The series is a co-production between BBC One and Amazon Studios. The series was commissioned by BBC Comedy and BBC One, produced by Big Talk (Mum, Cold Feet, Defending The Guilty) with Stephen Merchant’s Four Eyes. Big Talk is part of ITV Studios. Filming will take place in Bristol, UK. The series will premiere on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK and on Amazon Prime Video in the United States, Canada and Australia.

The Offenders follows seven strangers from different walks of life forced together to complete a Community Payback sentence in Bristol. At first, they seem like archetypes we can easily pigeonhole, but gradually we see behind their façades, understand their hidden depths and what made them the people they are today. We are reminded that no one is all good or all bad. Everyone has a story.

As their unlikely new friendships intersect with their complicated private lives, The Offenders must unite to protect one of their own from Bristol’s most dangerous criminal gang. The show is part crime thriller, character study, and a state-of-the-nation commentary - with humour and heart.

The series was commissioned for the BBC by Charlotte Moore, Director of Content; Shane Allen, Controller Comedy Commissioning and Kate Daughton, Head of Comedy.

Stephen Merchant, who also directs and co-stars in the series, says: "The Offenders is a long-standing passion project for me. My parents used to work in the Community Service world and I was always intrigued that the many and varied people they dealt with only had one thing in common: they’d committed a crime.

"Ever since The Office, I've loved finding ways to bring unlikely groups of people together and watch the sparks fly. As a writer I always include humour, but with The Offenders I also get to add drama, pathos, crime genre thrills and say something optimistic about the common humanity that unites us all, whatever our background.

"The Offenders’ mix of light and shade, dark and comic, middle-class angst with inner-city grit, reflects the unlikely partnership of me and Elgin. I grew up in suburbia, whereas Elgin spent his early life building a national street gang until a police investigation landed him in prison. Despite coming from different sides of the tracks, Elgin and I share a love of convincing characters and authentic, engaging, human stories."

Kenton Allen, Big Talk Chief Executive, says: "Having long admired Stephen’s phenomenal work as a writer, director and actor we’re thrilled to be working with him on his first one-hour TV series, and to continue our long relationships with the BBC, who have been incredibly smart and supportive from the moment we mentioned the idea. We’re also equally thrilled to be working with Amazon for the first time on an original production and can’t wait for UK and US audiences to see what I think will be a very distinctive and eye-catching show."

Kate Daughton, Head of BBC Comedy, says: "The BBC One audience is in for an absolute treat with Stephen Merchant’s gripping world, rich with heart, humour and stand out characters. Among the deftly woven plots, high jinks, unlikely friendships and big belly laughs are very human stories about loyalty, truth and family."

Brad Beale, Vice President, Worldwide Content Licensing for Amazon Prime Video, says: "We’re so excited to work with Stephen on a series with his signature razor-sharp wit and distinctive, delightful characters. Stephen is such a gifted actor and creator, and we know our Prime Video customers will love The Offenders."

The Offenders is a Big Talk and Four Eyes production created by Stephen Merchant and Elgin James. Executive Producers are Stephen Merchant for Four Eyes, Luke Alkin Kenton Allen and Matthew Justice for Big Talk, and Kate Daughton is the Commissioning Editor for the BBC.

The Lead Director for the series is Stephen Merchant and the Producer is Nickie Sault (The Virtues, World On Fire). The U.S, Canada, and Australia deal with Amazon was brokered by Phil Sequeira, BBC Studios. Global distribution will be handled by BBC Studios.

Wednesday 26 February 2020

CRCs Show Contempt

As the MoJ continues with its plan to issue new contracts to privateers, thanks go to the reader for recently giving a couple of examples of the contempt being shown for poor inspection reports by some CRCs. 

From HM Probation Inspectorate Northumbria CRC Action Plan

7. The Northumbria CRC should provide sufficient private interview space to allow all structured interventions and sensitive discussions to take place confidentially.

Reply: Northumbria CRC does not agree with this recommendation. Over the contract length, it has undertaken retrospective re-design in all of its service user facing buildings. This has included the creation of private interview space in each office. It is satisfied that the current estate provides sufficient private interview space to allow all structured interventions and sensitive discussions to take place confidentially. This continues to be monitored directly with its staffing group and through service user feedback. As the current contracts will terminate in eighteen-months Northumbria CRC will not make any further modifications to its estate over and above regular building maintenance.

Any activity in relation to the creation of additional private interview space and on-going estates requirements will be undertaken through the established “Estates Transition Sub-group” as part of transition arrangements. Northumbria CRC welcomes on-going observation from its Contract Management Team across the estate to highlight any concerns or issues in line with the existing contract.

Or...Hampshire and Isle of Wight CRC Action Plan

1. [HIOW should} Reconsider the ratio of senior case managers to case managers holding cases in the context of findings around the quality of service.

Reply: Due to operational and affordability reasons the recommendation to reconsider the ratio is not agreed. The ratio of Senior Case Managers to Case Managers (SCM/CM)is based on the operating model and the resulting number of SCMs required to manage SCM cases as defined by iBAT (A case allocation tool) This is sufficient for the number of SCM cases within HIOW.

4. [HIOW should] Use quality management systems to drive the delivery of high-quality work as defined by HM Inspectorate standards.

Reply: This recommendation is Not Agreed as HIOW CRC believes that the Interserve Quality Management Framework (IQMF) already reflects defined HMIP Standards  for the following reasons: 

The IQAM model for Quality Assurance operating in HIOW CRC is designed to enable continuous improvement in practice. The model’s governance framework ensures ongoing review of HMI standards and operates via a change control process to update audit and monitoring requirements as appropriate. The model has MOJ endorsement for use as our QA approach and is supported via agreement through contract management channels. IQAM is also undergoing comparison with MOJ operational assurance activity to ensure consistency. Exercises to review IQAM outcomes with HMIP outcomes have been undertaken and reflect consistency. Activities within IQAM are undertaken to assess against all elements of Domain 1, 2 and 3 of the HMI standards and this is achieved via a mixed model of QA activities including: pre-inspection programmes, audit, interview, observation and policy/guidance reviews. Our reporting processes enable the outcomes of QA activity to be reported thematically and at individual through to CRC/Pan CRC level. IQAM by content and approach is very much focused and aligned to the HMI Standards.

Other examples are available here.

So this is where I don't understand the point of having an Inspectorate paid for by the public purse, only for those who have been inspected (also paid for by the public purse) to (1) deny what the inspectors have found, (2) insist they are *not* in-the wrong &/or (3) refuse to make any changes because the contract terminates in 18 months.

Fuck the 'service users' - fuck the inspectorate - we'll do what we want - we'll pocket what we want - who will stop us? The Perfect Storm feeds itself.


Tuesday 25 February 2020

Third Sector News

I notice Clinks have news about those new probation contracts and the bid by the third sector to get a slice of the action:- 

Probation review update : commissioning of rehabilitative and resettlement services  

Before Christmas, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) began the competition for Probation Delivery Partners who will be responsible for delivering accredited programmes, unpaid work and structured interventions – read more about this in my last blog. They also ran a series of market engagement webinars on the services they plan to commission through the Dynamic Framework – read the slides from those webinars here.

This blog provides an update on what stage those commissioning processes are at.

During the Dynamic Framework market engagement, Clinks provided regular feedback from the sector on the proposals. We welcomed the decision to commission services at Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) area level following our feedback that commissioning services across whole probation areas would likely exclude the involvement of the majority of the sector. We were also very pleased that following discussions with Clinks and the women’s sector regarding proposals for women’s specialist services, all areas of identified need will now be commissioned as a single contract lot for women.

Below is an update from HMPPS on the stage that each competition has now reached:

Probation Delivery Partner

The Selection Questionnaire phase of the Probation Delivery Partner competition is now completed. This is the questionnaire issued by contracting authorities to prospective bidders interested in securing public sector works, supply or services contracts as a way of short-listing interested parties which meet the applicable selection criteria. Bidders have been informed whether or not they have been successful and successful bidders were issued invitations to tender on 6 February and bid responses are due by 20 March.

Dynamic Framework

Following feedback from Market Engagement events with interested suppliers, HMPPS have amended their proposed categories on the Dynamic Framework. They will run competitions for services at Police and Crime Commissioner geographical level in the following groups:

1. Accommodation

2. Education, Training, Employment and Finance, Benefits, Debt

3. Dependency and Recovery (previously named Addictions and Dependencies)

4. Wellbeing Services (which is made up of the following categories; Lifestyle & Associates, Emotional & Personal Wellbeing, Family & Significant Others, Social Inclusion)

5. Women’s Interventions (which meet the needs identified above in one package)

They anticipate launching qualification for the dynamic framework in May. They are taking more time before launch to identify and assess the regional requirements at of National Probation Service Regional Directors for each lot described above.

Ahead of launching the Dynamic Framework and during the qualification for the framework, they will run a series of engagement events across the country, to raise awareness to the widest possible range of potential providers, and answer questions on the qualification process.

In addition they will inform the market of the call-off competition pipeline and continue market engagement to provide more information on the specification for each call-off.

Continuing to influence on behalf of the sector

We remain in regular contact with the probation review team as they develop plans for the Dynamic Framework and have offered support to provide knowledge and intelligence from the voluntary sector to engage with their work to identify and assess regional requirements in each lot. We are also in discussions about how we might support the engagement events when the Dynamic Framework is launched in order to ensure that the voluntary sector is fully able to participate in these.

We continue to highlight that grants are essential to the voluntary sector’s full engagement with any future probation model. We are also providing feedback on where the commissioning processes might be overly burdensome and present an uneven playing field for the sector – for instance with regards to IT assurance requirements.

We also continue to raise significant concerns that specialist services for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people are not being considered as a day one service (the services that will be commissioned directly by HMPPS from day one of implementation of the new model). We understand that this is because in some areas BAME service user numbers will be very low. However, we feel that in order to meet the Lammy Review recommendations, in both their letter and spirit, specific services for BAME people should be commissioned as day one services at least in areas with high BAME caseloads. Otherwise specialist BAME organisations will only find themselves commissioned as sub-contractors in wider supply chains, if at all.

We will continue to provide the sector with updates through Light Lunch, Twitter, blogs and our probation webpage.

Sunday 23 February 2020

A Perfect Storm

So, just as the Telegraph reports on plans by Dominic Cummings to scrap the dysfunctional MoJ - which of course was set up when the Home Office was famously stated to be 'unfit for purpose' - Rob Allen highlights a 'perfect storm' brewing. The question is, who or what government department is going to 'cop' for it? 

Prison Broadly Fails

Not the words of the Howard League or Prison Reform Trust but ex Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan Howe a self-styled “hard-nosed enforcer” who thinks punishment really important. He was speaking in last week’s House of Lords debate on ending automatic halfway release for serious offenders. Despite his widely shared view - in the Lords at least - that there are already far too many prisoners, the Conservative manifesto pledge has been approved by both chambers. And the number of prisoners is likely to get a lot higher over the next ten years.

2,000 new prison places will be needed by 2030 as a result of the Statutory Instrument (SI), approved yesterday in the Commons which will see anyone getting a determinate sentence of seven years or more for a serious sexual or violent offence (carrying a maximum of sentence of life) spending two thirds of their term locked up.

But many more cells will be needed much more quickly if legislation promised for later in the year scraps release at halfway for a wider range of prison sentences. Justice Minister Chris Philp told MP’s the SI is "simply the first step in part of a wider process to make sure that we not only protect the public but respect the rights and concerns of victims”.

Philp had barely got to his feet before one of his colleagues demanded prisoners serve the whole of any sentence imposed. Another wanted even longer than that if they misbehaved inside.

More telling were the powerful contributions made by MPs who expressed the anger and frustration of constituents - and in one case their own family - who affected by serious crimes felt early release meant justice had not been done; not enough punishment, not enough deterrence, not enough protection for victims and the public - not enough time, some said, for rehabilitation.

On the positive side, Philp promised proposals to do more to treat the causes of offending behaviour, particularly drug and alcohol addiction and mental health problems, which are often the cause of high-volume repeat offending. Philp told MPs that “short custodial sentences do not deal effectively with that cohort of offenders”. So David Gauke’s plans to replace them with community orders may still be alive and well in the MoJ. But, while these welcome measures, depending how they are implemented, could reduce the flow of people into prison, they won’t come close to offsetting the impact of larger proportions of longer sentences being served there.

Add in the effects of the 20,000 new police officers - I’ve heard an estimate of a 12-15% growth in prison numbers resulting from better clear up rates - and there’s a perfect storm for HMPPS and the MoJ. A former Chief Justice wondered aloud in the Lords whether even to meet the costs of the initial measures in the SI other parts of the MoJ particularly the courts and legal aid would continue to be denuded to prop up the Prison and Probation Service.

There will at least be a White Paper which will set out the Government’s approach which at best looks like what criminologists used to call bifurcation – more prison at the top end, less at the bottom.

For those of us who want to see less use of prison across the board, there is an urgent need to develop some fresh thinking. Decrying a populist approach and lack of evidence – as Labour and Lib Dem Peers did last week - will not get far.

It is not true – as one MP put it, that there has been “a creeping, pervasive shift away from the victim towards the perpetrator - that the victim is no longer put first, but the perpetrator is.” But penal reform must engage better with the concerns and anxieties of victims - particularly victims of violent and sexual harm - and to develop and promote measures which can address them so much better than incarceration.

The government told Parliament that the White Paper will give an “opportunity to go further and broader” than the measures they were discussing. They are right. If prison broadly fails, we need to legislate for and invest in what broadly succeeds.

Rob Allen

Saturday 22 February 2020

A Couple of Things

I see Private Eye has reported on that MoJ diktat we discussed a few days ago:-



And a reader raises an important issue:-

Unintended Consequences

Dear Jim,

Yesterday, the UK government immigration policy sent a chill through my marrow, yet it is a logical consequence of Brexit and "taking back control of our borders". Now we are waking up to what Brexit will look like in 2021. What I want to discuss is what is one of the unintended consequences of this paradigm policy shift.

The public were horrified when 39 Vietnamese migrants died in a lorry last October. We in the probation service are only too aware of the harm caused by the well-established trade in the trafficking of people from Vietnam into this country. I have written plenty of PSRs on illegal cannabis farms that used trafficked labour and have supervised manager of a nail parlour. But yet many women in this country would not think twice of using these parlours in their local high streets due to their competitive prices, turning a blind eye to the possibility they are being served by a victim of modern slavery. Similarly many cannabis users don't think about the provenance of their BUD joints or don't care. Collectively we continue to feed illegal trafficking.

From 2021, traffickers will be gearing up to expand to meet the upsurge in demand for "low-skilled" labour in the hospitality, wharehouse and social care sector when the new immigration policy kicks in. It will be a bonanza.

So in the above scenario "taking back control of our borders" will have the perverse effect of causing an increase in illegal people trafficking to meet the upturn in demand from businesses, industry and agriculture. No doubt Messers Cummings and his band of merry forecasters are planning measures to minimise this scenario. I just pray that these measures will not turn this country even more of a centrally controlled police state like China where freedom is just a disposable commodity.


Friday 21 February 2020

Lets Look at OASys

Here's a thing. OASys is overblown, difficult to use and time consuming. Nobody would argue with that. But, it's aĺl we've got so finding a way to make it work must be something worth shooting for. The QA process was halted last year almost certainly because the results were shockingly poor. There are a lot of easily explained reasons for that not least of which is the pressure of time. The elephant in the room however, is that many practitioners can't get their heads round it and that is, I believe, shocking. What I'm saying here is that we're not as good at what we do as we think and say we are. 

Studies consistently show that the best risk assessments are made using a structured clinical assessment. The sharp end of OASys is exactly that. Who uses the four step risk assessment process in R10.2? It's not rocket science. Who links R10.4 to the RMP contingency plan? Who writes sentence plan objectives in the first person and makes them the focus of every supervision session? Who adapts the sentence plan format to meet the needs of the person they're working with? OASys is the centre of what we do. It gives offenders a means to focus on why they cause harm and therefore, what they need to change to stop. It gives practitioners a structured means to clarify their thinking based on the evidence. 

Would we rather return to the intuitive back of a fag packet methodology of the past? I don't think many of us would. Use and understand the QA standards and you'll find that an initial assessment is a big task but once done sets the stage for the whole supervision process. It makes keeping a focus on the criminogenic needs more straightforward and protects you if things go south at any stage because you can demonstrate that the evidence either didn't indicate it was likely or where it did you had robust contingencies in place which, when risk became apparent, you acted on. It also means that reviews should normally be relatively straightforward and can be hopefully focussed on success and progress. 

We call ourselves a profession but the professional way to deal with a problem is to think around it and implement solutions. I used to hate OASys and there is still much to improve. We're told changes are on the way including a move to Hazel Kemshall's four pillars risk assessment methodology as used in MAPPA. Let's see if they help. I hope they do. In the meantime though it's beholden on us to use what we've got as well as we can.

I expect some kickback from readers for this view but when doing so please remember that I'm one of you and am only trying to find a way to make us more effective and save ourselves from burnout and the encroachment of other agencies.


OASys is not all we have got if you mean CRC organisations. MTC Novo have developed OMNIA and Risk and Needs an integrated offender assessment system. It is work in progress, clunky to operate and the RMP is not detailed enough for high risk of serious harm cases. But as someone who in the early 2000s was trained by Dr David Forbes, a pioneer of OASys and Ray Cruse a London OASys trainer par excellence I can say OASys is a 20th Century assessment system that is long past sell by date. 

Most CRC staff are dreading going back to being chained to the antediluvian OASys system and are praying that MoJ shows some initiative in going for a 21st century system which is capable of being developed into a useable casework tool, if not OMNIA then a 21st alternative from a different country.

A more fundamental point is you can have a polished OASys ISP and it will not necessarily be a fair and accurate reflection of a service user. Just as having a "robust" MAPPA level 2 plan is not a sinecure that a case is being well managed. They are just pieces of paper at the end of the day. A means of accountability to be sure but I think they miss the heart of risk assessment which is forming an effective working relationship with a service user to get to know the person as well as their risk domains. Maria Ansboro is a firm advocate that this working relationship lies at the heart of the risk assessment as well as being a tool for change. 

To give you an example. Our borough was so far behind in doing Risk and Needs that overtime was offered to reduce the backlog - without interviewing the service user - i.e. using records only. How professional is it to make an assessment of a probation case without interviewing a service user? It happens all the time in our Magistrates' Courts and Crown Courts for FDRs. Would we allow a Doctor to diagnose a patient without interviewing them?

“Who uses the four step risk assessment process in R10.2? It's not rocket science. Who links R10.4 to the RMP contingency plan? Who writes sentence plan objectives in the first person and makes them the focus of every supervision session? Who adapts the sentence plan format to meet the needs of the person they're working with?”
Me. This is quite basic. The problem with OASYS is not that it can be lengthy, as it is the author’s choice to add less or more, but that it cannot be updated without completing an entire new document. More importantly linking the risk summary, risk management plan, SAQ and relevant sections of 2-12 to the sentence plan does help. Some call this “risk management” but in reality we are simply identifying what causes and prevents offending and related circumstances. The problem is that where this relates to a need for education, employment, accommodation, income and forms of support, the probation service 2020 cannot actually offer much beyond a few hit-or-miss referrals and (if you’re lucky) a food back voucher. 

There is also the bias, value judgements and the under and over competence issues blur both the assessment and related decisions. As good as any ISP / OASYS may be, the reality is that circumstances change so quickly that it will only ever be ‘current’ on the day it is written. So whether it's OASYS, ASSET, OMNIA, SARA, RM2000, etc, the practice of basing what is effectively a support service around a risk assessment will always be flawed.

"Here's a thing. OASys is overblown, difficult to use and time consuming. Nobody would argue with that. But, it's aĺl we've got so finding a way to make it work must be something worth shooting for.“
Not so colleague. OAsys represents everything I didn’t train to do and is the risk assessment equivalent of monkeys typing Shakespeare. I want to use my skills and training to work with individuals in order to address the underlying cause of their offending and to enable them to change, not to typify, quantify, categorise and pigeon hole.

OAsys is an unwieldy tool that was imposed from above as opposed to being practitioner lead. It was introduced under the guise of addressing the issue of people who were not doing their jobs properly when writing PSRs. As ever, the majority were made to suffer for the perceived failings of the few, as with attendance management, sickness management and other totalitarian policies.

When it was introduced it was a paper document and nobody took it seriously or thought it would last. Instead it has become dogma carved in stone. As ever, once history has been re-written from the perspective of the ruling class, those who follow on know no different and take it as gospel that this is the word, always has been and always will be.

I was trained to be an assessor, a facilitator, an analyst, an explainer, a problem solver, an expert, an officer of the court, a free thinking well trained professional with thoughts, views and ideas, not a keyboard thumper. You can’t engage with people and address their issues through a computer. Unfortunately, the job has changed over the years and many of our recent recruits believe that the people we work with respond well to diktat, threat and punishment, because they lack the insight and the history of life before OASys.

The history has been posted here before - e.g.

OASys was sold as a single-assessment solution to the multifarious risk assessments that littered various Probation areas but... it was always owned by the prison service. It was piloted as a paper tool by both probation & prison staff, was evaluated by the prison service psychologist Danny Clark (awarded a gong for his efforts) & other HMPS staff:

"1.2 The development of OASys

OASys was developed through three pilot studies running from 1999 to 2001 (Howard, Clark and Garnham, 2006). An electronic version of the tool was then rolled-out across both the prison and probation services, with a new single system being implemented in 2013 through the OASys-R project. The value of the tool has been summarised as follows: “OASys is a central part of evidence-based practice. It is designed to be an integral part of the work which practitioners do in assessing offenders; identifying the risks they pose, deciding how to minimise those risks and how to tackle offending behaviour effectively. OASys is designed to help practitioners make sound and defensible decisions” (Home Office, 2002)."


See also:

Unfortunately many of the links to the research no longer work.

The problem for me was that the OASYS QA (or PIT before that) was rolled out as if it was practitioners who were the problem - clearly if OASYS asks "when is the risk likely to be greatest, consider if risk is immediate or not" people will write answer exactly that - "the risk is likely to be greatest when....the risk is not immediate, he's in custody" or crap like that. The problem is clearly OASYS - if you want an analysis of victim groups, likelihood of serious harm, a meaningful assessment of the nature of harm beyond "physical harm...and emotional harm" then you clearly need to ASK for that.

So rather than this being delivered as the "OASYS improvement tool" it was delivered as a "practitioner" improvement was unfair, got staff annoyed, they refused to engage with it, all got poor or needs more work and we are in the mess we are in now. And then we get Kulvinder Vigurs (head of London) sending a perplexing organisational message essentially saying "Once again in the 2020 staff survey you say we don't manage change well....I really want to understand why this is the case" - seriously??

Not to mention of course that we all KNOW that writing sources of information in six different places, writing assessor and offender comments, writing SO MUCH crap in "current situation" most of which is recorded elsewhere MEANS NOTHING to the end user, both probation officer and those on probation. The OASYS QA simply made what was already a very painful process even worse.

Frankly you are all right - let's face it, we decide who is high/medium/low/very high before we even open the first page; I don't think I've ever got to section nine hundred and thought "oh my god, I've just realised, this person is a danger"; I don't think I've ever gone into writing an OASYS thinking "I need OASYS to tell me if drugs, alcohol and lifestyle are the issues here". Seriously, the organisation frankly needs to get it's head out of OASYS, rethink what the role and purpose of assessment is, create a document which works for all and slap it on a Word for Windows document. And understand that THIS is what leads to staff attrition.


Posted a couple of days ago:-
"In December last year, the Post Office agreed to pay nearly £60 million in compensation to more than 550 of its workers and former workers, after losing a High Court battle. It was a key victory for Sub-postmasters after a 20 year fight for justice. Many hold the Post Office responsible for destroying their lives by falsely accusing them of theft and fraud. Some ended up in prison, others completely bankrupt - and many have been left with their health and reputations in ruins.
File on 4 investigates how the Horizon computer system, brought in to Post Office branches in 2000, could have led to accounting shortfalls at branches - and asks why for years the Post Office denied this was possible, instead pursuing its own Sub-postmasters for the money, which may have never been missing in the first place."
I'm sitting here listening to this programme & having vivid flashbacks to more than one disciplinary hearing where entries on OASys, including a fully completed PSR awaiting countersigning, were missing & the PO in each case was found culpable for failing to undertake their duty, despite their insistence they had entered the data &/or completed the necessary tasks.

Coincidentally I've recently been preparing for a house-move & found printed copies of emails that I'd 'squirrelled away' where IT staff in that Probation Trust admitted they'd been instructed to delete data linked to those cases. They stopped short of identifying the instructing manager. I also kept copies of communications with several layers of Napo about these matters which shows the Napo staff were variously out of their depth, not interested or actively refusing to take the matters forward. The stench is everywhere.

Some excerpts confirming the outcome of a disciplinary hearing linked to similar issues:

"The disciplinary hearing was arranged following an investigation regarding concerns about the overall case management of ... This followed completion of a serious further offence review. The investigation concluded your alleged actions had breached sections of the Standards of Behaviour/Code of Conduct... XX presented the Management Case regarding the non-completion of PSR OASys and subsequent lack of recording of your records... you maintain these were completed but there was no evidence of this recorded on our systems to substantiate this took place... nor is there any record of a DV Assessment Form in that (a) it cannot be located nor (b) is it recorded on our system, despite your claims to the contrary. It is therefore my reasonable belief that this was not completed..."
I experienced a similar attempt to discredit me but because the computer system had been regularly crashing at the time, I kept paper copies of all of my work. The good fortune of that decision became apparent when, after a couple of days away at a training event, I returned to be confronted with the threat of disciplinary action. I produced the paper copies & suddenly there was no investigation into the missing the records - history was revised & it was accepted as being the consequence of a computer failure. Some months later an IT worker who was leaving the Trust rang & told me who had instructed them to delete the records. They weren't prepared to be a witness but said "its only fair you know who it was." And that was when we were 'Trusts'... I can't imagine what it must be like under the dead hand of HMPPS.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

What Ever Happened to Violet Towers?

This blog has been running for a long time and although I try my best, sometimes I miss something important and it can take a jog from a reader to highlight the gaps:- 
Hi Jim, Found this article from the past and thought it was interesting, it's titled, “MPs voice probation service fears” and was dated Wed 27/07 2011.
A quick Google search brings up the following article from The Independent, which I quote in full because I only gave it a fleeting mention at the time:-

MPs voice fears over probation service paperwork

It is "staggering" that probation officers can spend as little as a quarter of their time dealing directly with offenders, MPs said today.

The Commons Justice Committee criticised the "tick-box, bean-counting culture" which has left staff tied up filling in paperwork rather than supervising and helping to rehabilitate criminals. The MPs recommended that probation trusts should be given greater independence and said there was an "urgent need" for scarce resources to be focused on the front line.

Publishing a report into the role of the probation service in England and Wales, the committee called on the Ministry of Justice to commission an external review of the National Offender Management Service (Noms). The MPs questioned whether Noms, which was established in 2004 and effectively merged the prison and probation services, was delivering good value for money, giving probation trusts the support and freedom they need, or co-ordinating the supervision of offenders in jail and the community. They raised particular concerns about "micro-management" by Noms and the volume of form-filling probation staff must do to comply with the agency's targets. 

The report said: "We accept that probation officers have to do a certain amount of work which does not involve dealing directly with offenders. However, it seems to us staggering that up to three quarters of officers' time might be spent on work which does not involve direct engagement with offenders. No-one would suggest that it would be acceptable for teachers (who also have to do preparatory work and maintain paperwork) to spend three quarters of their time not teaching. The value which really effective probation officers can add comes primarily from direct contact with offenders. While we do not want to impose a top-down, one-size-fits-all standard, it is imperative that Noms and individual trusts take steps to increase the proportion of their time that probation staff spend with offenders."

Justice Committee chairman Sir Alan Beith, a Liberal Democrat MP, said: "Probation is an essential part of the criminal justice system and at its best the probation service delivers community sentences which are tough, challenging offenders to change their offending lifestyles. The ability of probation professionals to undertake effective work directly with offenders has been hindered by a tick-box culture imposed by the National Offender Management Service which has focused predominantly on prisons and has micro-managed probation."

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of probation service union Napo, added: "The report confirms that the National Offender Management Service has been a major problem from the start. Napo warned in 2004 that Noms would be a bureaucratic nightmare. It is scandalous that probation staff now spend 75% of their time on form-filling and responding to centrally driven emails."

Mr Fletcher went on: "The last 10 years has witnessed a massive rise in the constant Government monitoring of probation staff to the detriment of face-to-face contact with offenders. This does not enhance public protection but undermines it. This flawed historical trend must be reversed."

Probation and Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt said: "I heartily agree that the probation service needs to be freed up from unnecessary red tape in order to focus on reducing the appalling rates of reoffending. Half of the people we release from our jails are re-convicted within a year of getting out. That's why we're making changes to enable probation officers to use their judgment and discretion more widely. The culture of target-setting and box-ticking is over."

But shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan MP claimed the Government was "taking a big gamble with public safety" by "cutting too far and too fast" in the prison and probation services. He said: "It is irresponsible to shed thousands of front line staff from the probation service at the time they are expected to take on a greater role in working with offenders in communities. Tough community sentences can be used as effective punishment and to reform offenders, but if they are to work, they must be properly resourced and the public must have confidence in their ability to act as a punishment and a deterrent."

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Justice Committee chairman Sir Alan Beith, a Liberal Democrat MP, said the value of a probation officer was "what he can do to turn an offender's life around, to make the offender think differently".

He said: "We had offenders in front of us who talked about how that relationship can work and how it needs to be a strong and assertive one - not just someone being friendly, but someone who's challenging them to think differently."

He added: "It was brought to us in evidence by frustrated probation officers who said that it was still a problem for them. I think it was micro-management, it was box-ticking, it was all the things we've come to associate with a target culture which really do need to be changed." 
Sir Alan said Noms needed "completely restructuring" and there needed to be a move in the direction of "local commissioning of both prison and probation".

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said he was "staggered" by the quarter figure.

He said: "We knew it was a problem and we've been addressing it. It goes back to a failed system of management where you pile targets and micro management and stipulate to people what they should do, which we've been getting rid of. I've already started addressing this. We've reduced the number of targets, we've streamlined the national standards, we've said that we're going to give probation officers back their professional discretion."


I wrote about the Justice Affairs Committee report at the time, particularly highlighting the harm being caused by OASys:-

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Good and Bad News

Wednesday was a good day for probation. From early morning to late evening it was all over the news. Friends outside the Service noticed. Even my mother said she heard something about 'probation officers not seeing people long enough.' For a Service that normally has such a low profile it was good to hear blanket media coverage of the Justice Affairs Commitee report earlier that day. Ok there are 46 recommendations and the figure of only 24% of our time being spent seeing people is old news from a NAPO survey, but at least we had the public's attention for a day and the message about form-filling got through.

I'm all too aware of the danger in repeating myself, but the blame for all this time being spent doing other stuff was not placed firmly at the door of OASys, the Offender Management System that makes grown men and women weep and drives them to drink, or worse. It's not just me that thinks this. Take a look at this article from the Guardian yesterday by a colleague with 10 years experience and their thoughts on it. The Justice Affairs Committee really don't understand what OASys is in reality and the damage it is doing to the Service. The trouble is that words are really insufficient to adequately describe the futility of the whole damned thing. Not only does it take hours and hours to fill in, it really doesn't deliver what it is supposed to: -

"It's remarkable that the justice committee largely confines discussion of eOASys to a single section, bizarrely entitled "the management of risk". eOASys do not provide a statistical calculation of the risk of a person causing serious harm to others, merely a "rubber stamp" of reliability for an officer's own comments, entered repeatedly under pages of headings. Seeing eOASys and risk assessment as synonymous does practitioners a disservice: it's a demoralising sign of how little trust is placed in our judgment and experience, and can rob us of confidence in our own abilities by institutionalising reliance on a limited tool."

But what is particularly interesting looking back some nine years later and reflecting on what probation has become under the dead hand of HMPPS civil service command and control, is that the mojo has all but been completely squeezed out of the endeavour, with staff too frightened, disinterested or unenlightened to speak out. 

The passage I quoted is from an Opinion piece in the Guardian at the time by a PO using the pseudonym Violet Towers and I rather wish I'd quoted it in full:-

Probation officers don't need telling off

I know we spend more time on forms than people – but it's the government that needs to realise the purpose of the service

Probation red tape: Probation officers told to spend more time with offenders and less on paperwork." I could have done without a telling off from BBC News before my breakfast. The media has misunderstood the justice select committee's report as chastising naughty officers who prefer forms to people, missing important points about bureaucratic culture. I've been working in probation for 10 years, and the committee's summary is a pretty accurate picture of the "tick-box culture" that dominates the organisation.

Having said that, I don't think the report fully grasps how much of the 75% figure (the percentage of a probation officer's time not spent dealing with offenders) is taken up with computerised forms. The "electronic Offender Assessment System" – eOASys – was introduced in 2003 and described during my training as the most important task we undertake. In it, officers input information on an individual, ranging from details of their offence(s) to their accommodation, education, mental health, approaches when faced with problems and drug and alcohol use. Ratings are given to show the extent to which they display certain traits or problems. These are aggregated and weighted to produce figures for the statistical likelihood of their reconviction.

eOASys must be carried out before reports are prepared for courts and parole boards, at the start of any supervision, at least every 16 weeks while a case is in the community and at least every year for most prisoners, as well as when supervision ends, and following significant events – such as further arrest. A full eOASys takes five or six hours, and I generally have about five or six to do per 37.5-hour working week. Some reviews are quicker than others, but the time still adds up – particularly considering the slowness and unreliability of the IT. The repetitive nature of the task is very frustrating, as is the format: human beings' lives and minds do not often fit well into discrete categories and neat boxes to rate 0, 1 or 2.

It's remarkable that the justice committee largely confines discussion of eOASys to a single section, bizarrely entitled "the management of risk". eOASys do not provide a statistical calculation of the risk of a person causing serious harm to others, merely a "rubber stamp" of reliability for an officer's own comments, entered repeatedly under pages of headings. Seeing eOASys and risk assessment as synonymous does practitioners a disservice: it's a demoralising sign of how little trust is placed in our judgment and experience, and can rob us of confidence in our own abilities by institutionalising reliance on a limited tool.

This reliance means the forthcoming "relaxation" of national standards is going to be a major change. From drafts I've seen so far, the standards are almost being done away with: for example, pages of detail on how and when sentence planning should take place is replaced by the statement "there must be a sentence plan". Probation staff are used to bosses chucking the baby out with the bathwater (or chucking us three dozen babies and an inch of bathwater, and blaming us when their faces are still mucky five minutes later) but this is quite staggering, and seems to be motivated by producing a privatisation-friendly environment rather than a supportive framework for effective, defensible work.

The justice committee report is, however, strong on the importance of the professional relationship with clients in effective work: this is certainly not a new idea, but it has been sidelined by politicians terrified of sounding "soft on crime". In my area, the notion of "the working relationship" is presently being sold back to us as if it's brand new thinking. Interacting meaningfully is now a radical innovation called "offender engagement".

This comes hot on the heels of an initiative pushing target-hitting like never before: daily meetings at which everyone's performance is questioned, with detailed and sometimes individualised figures circulated to all during the week. For a time in 2010, officers were expected to attend a meeting with an assistant chief officer to explain a single missed target. After all this, someone notices that it's taking up quite a lot of our time to jump through all these hoops. I could scream.

To address the problems of bureaucracy, the government needs to get a coherent idea of what the probation service is for; eOASys and target-ticking have become ends in themselves. As the committee says, leadership and courage will be needed. Kenneth Clarke showed both – as a knit-yer-own-hummus lefty Guardianista, I didn't exactly expect to end up respecting him more than any of his former Labour counterparts – but David Cameron has made it clear that his views are not what he wants from a justice secretary. I expect to be replaced by a robot within the next five years.

Violet Towers has worked in probation for 8 years, the majority of which as a probation officer. She writes using a pseudonym, and posts on Cif as Violetforthemoment


The article generated some lively comments and Violet responded:-

Good morning, thanks for the comments. I haven't got a lot of time cos I'm off to a meeting shortly but will try to answer a couple of points raised.

"You've worked in the probation service for ten years and you still need a government standard to tell you when you should start preparing a sentence plan? Do surgeons need government standards telling them where to cut? For crying out loud, are you really so incapable of managing even your own time without a government standard telling you what to do and when?"

The point of that para, as I hoped to get across with the baby-bathwater thing, was that we are going from National Standards being over-prescriptive micro-management which I personally responded to in a similar fashion to you, to virtually no standard being set at all. We need to have a standard to be held accountable to, and to guard against poor practice (whether it's through laziness, misunderstanding what's required, or new officers struggling to adapt to higher caseloads), and I think most people would agree that for any job really, but a single sentence doesn't seem to be sufficient. The baby's gone out with the bathwater. I really welcome the chance to have more control over managing my time as at the moment I feel I have virtually none. Unfortunately I don't think this is the whole aim of the standards' relaxation: having virtually nothing in place makes it easier for a company taking us over to impose their own over-the-top sets of prescriptive standards. Hope this makes things clearer?

"Experience counts for nothing these days, it seems. Ignoring clinical practitioners' experience and wisdom is de rigeur in the NHS, for example. We now live in a culture of The Suit Knows Best."

Definitely. Managerialism is destroying probation, and my ma in the NHS says things are similar for her. It drives me crazy to have a desk-warmer telling me excitedly about how they've come up with a great new initiative claled 'offender engagement' - pretending they've invented the way I would have been working were it not for all the forms they make me fill in.

"The problem is exacerbated when government culls (largely higher paid senior) staff and either fails to replace them, or replaces them with lower salaried juniors. Said juniors require guidance in the form of managerial instruction or a clearly defined mandate."

Agree about the changes in staff demographics. We lost a lot of senior probation officers (the grade that line manages POs) recently, mainly very experienced people, cos of some SMASHING idea about having POs do part of their jobs (line managing PSO grade colleagues), without the SPO salary of course. This has been backpedalled like crazy but all those members of staff are still gone, so who's going to be boosted up in a hurry to replace them when management accept their folly? Same with office managers - the post was abolished a couple of years ago with SPOs doing the work, again with experienced staff leaving, but now they're being reintroduced.

"The same is happening in social work, teaching and nursing. Doctors are trying to avoid it. Far too much time is spent filling in forms, writing care plans / lesson plans and not enough caring for the patient (client) or teaching. The skills of doing are fading away."

Yes, yes, yes. All the form-filling that was supposed to record what you were doing in the early days has ballooned and become an end in itself. As I said, for probation I think it's because no government in the past 20 years or so has been able to decide what they want us to be.

"All we need to know is offender obiding by the rules of their probation. Tick a few boxes."

I didn't have a lot of space to expand on the last para re the purpose of probation but, though I disagree with your view of what we're for, I agree that confusion over purpose has led to a lot of this trouble. Boateng telling us "we're a law enforcement agency, that's what we are, that's what we do" a few years ago, huge focus on risk management in the forms of filling out forms to cover our arses - then down the line they realise that something isn't working, because they ran away with the first ill-thought-out idea that they came up with. I hope the Committee's report will be helpful in elucidating some of these difficulties.

"But the whole point of reducing silly standards and the absurd time wasting bureaucracy is precisely so that POs can spend more time with offenders, relying instead on POs to be able to manage their day themselves. FFS, running a diary/taking responsibility for managing your own work load isn't exactly hard..."

Agreed! But it is a worry - and one that the select committee addressed - that POs who have been trained to operate in the current culture and to see eOASys as their fundamental task are going to struggle at least initially when the crutch is taken away. This isn't necessarily their fault - the change in emphasis making the forms the job is all a lot of officers have known. So it'll be interesting to see what is done to support people through the change and what people make of what is sadly for some a rather new way of working.

"OTOH, too many are I suspect worried that when the shit hits the fan they won't have 'all standards were met' as an excuse behind which they can hide."

Sadly I agree, though I'm not sure exactly how many this applies to - some people don't know how to work any other way, and some don't want to. There are people working in probation who are lazy and don't care as long as they get paid, just like anywhere else.

Tuesday 18 February 2020

The Trouble With Misfits and Weirdo's

Apart from the fact that sometimes 'misfits and weirdo's' get elected, yesterday's attempt by Dominic Cummings to install another one in No 10 amply demonstrates that even if ever-so bright, they haven't quite grasped the brutal realities of the politics being practiced by our new totalitarian regime, together with the effect of counter-measures by a well pissed-off and excluded media. 

Despite Boris's refusal to denounce the 'old media stuff' of Andrew Sabisky, become the story and you find yourself being very firmly encouraged to walk in front of a bus. In addition to complaining about 'character assasination', apparently he's complaining about out of context 'selective quoting' as well and outlined here in the Guardian:-   

Andrew Sabisky, who resigned as a No 10 adviser on Monday night, had been criticised for a series of controversial opinions he had expressed publicly.

He claimed in 2014 in a blogpost that there was a racial difference in intelligence:

"There are excellent reasons to think the very real racial differences in intelligence are significantly – even mostly – genetic in origin, though the degree is of course a very serious subject of scholarly debate.
That debate busily bustles on, and I’m sure we’ll have more precise answers in another 5 years or so, though whether the politicians will pay any attention is debatable.
It would be nice if they did from the standpoint of immigration control (in the UK, that is)."
He suggested in a 2014 blogpost reply that black Americans are on average less intelligent than white Americans:
"If the mean black American IQ is (best estimate based on a century’s worth of data) around 85, as compared to a mean white American IQ of 100, then if IQ is normally distributed (which it is), you will see a far greater percentage of blacks than whites in the range of IQs 75 or below, at which point we are close to the typical boundary for mild mental retardation. Typically criminals with IQs below 70 cannot be executed in the USA, I believe.
That parsimoniously explains the greater diagnostic rates for blacks when it comes to ‘Intellectual disability’.
Sabisky suggested introducing compulsory contraception under a blogpost by Dominic Cummings in 2014:
"One way to get around the problems of unplanned pregnancies creating a permanent underclass would be to legally enforce universal uptake of long-term contraception at the onset of puberty. Vaccination laws give it a precedent, I would argue."
He proposed allocation of government money based on IQ tests for all 11-year-olds under a blogpost by Dominic Cummings in 2015:
"Why not just give everyone an IQ test at 11 and give secondary schools pupil premium money based on the number of below-average-ability students they get – the correlation between IQ [at] 11 and GCSE score 5 years later is a hefty .8!”
In a review of the book The Welfare Trait by Dr Adam Perkins in 2016 he suggested that benefits claimants could be discouraged from having lots of children:
"A large body of evidence, which Perkins reviews, supports the intuitive idea that habitual welfare claimants tend to be less conscientious and agreeable than the average person.
Such habitual claimants also tend to reproduce at higher rates than the general population, a pattern found across nations and time periods … With praiseworthy boldness, Perkins gets off the fence and recommends concrete policy solutions for the problems that he identifies, arguing that governments should try to adjust the generosity of welfare payments to the point where habitual claimants do not have greater fertility than those customarily employed … The explicit targeting of fertility as a goal of welfare policy, however, goes beyond current government policy.
Perkins perhaps should also have argued for measures to boost the fertility of those with pro-social personalities, such as deregulation of the childcare and housing markets to cut the costs of sustainable family formation.”
On the Good Judgment Project website in 2016 he argued that Turkey joining the EU should be a non-starter over its “troublesome” migrants:
"The EU already has enough of a problem with migration – the entire population of Turkey being granted freedom to move to any European nation is absolutely unthinkable. Giving Turkey EU membership would be a bit like drinking a bottle of bleach in an effort to cure your appendicitis."
In Schools Week 2016 he argued that drugs for narcolepsy could be used to improve brain function, even though there are health risks:
"From a societal perspective the benefits of giving everyone modafinil once a week are probably worth a dead kid once a year.”
Sabisky questioned in a book review in 2014 of Tatu Vanhanen’s Ethnic Conflicts whether a growing Muslim population could be met with violent resistance, using a discredited statistic:
"Will institutionalized power-sharing (as in Northern Ireland) become the norm in the West – not between Catholic and Protestant, but between Muslim and non-Muslim (by around 2050 Britain is forecast to be a majority Islamic nation on current birthrate trends)? How much internal resistance will there be to the adaptation of current institutions? How much of the resistance, and counter-resistance, will be violent?”

Of course the attempt to install advisers like Andrew Sabisky serves to confirm much of what many of us know only too well about the very nasty party that has just won a great election victory. The attacks on the BBC, the brutal sacking of any dissenting voices within the government, the exclusion of unsympathetic media and dark hints about constitutional and judicial 'reform' all point alarmingly to Fascist leanings and all decent-minded people should be alarmed. Actually it raises something that's been bothering me a great deal for some time and I don't think I'm alone.

We're all aware of the monumental changes that have afflicted this profession over the last 10 years or more and particularly the growing cultural and practicing gulf between the new and old attitudes and beliefs. Many of us 'old-timers' feel the essential core beliefs that underpin the probation ethos have been eroded almost to the point of extinction and the lead-up to the recent General Election crystalised that view for many in some very angry exchanges on Facebook when some practitioners began voicing intentions to vote Conservative. 

Many, including myself, found it very hard indeed to reconcile that stated intention with the policies and actions of a political party that had so demonstrably harmed the vast majority of the people we work with. The situation for me was very eloquently put by the following statement and I very much hope the author does not mind my reproducing it anonymously here:- 

"Yes, I fully expect this to be seen as a monumental flounce and I'm aware that I don't need to announce my exit from this super group, but I'm going to do it anyway as what I have to say is more important than ever.

Whilst I respect people have the right to support which ever political party, it is simply unconscionable to support the Tory party at this election, even more so to be vocal about it whilst spewing out right wing media nonsense.

It's highly likely that most of us belong to a union and have, at one time or another, relied upon their help and support or benefited from their efforts in terms of pay/working rights and so to then support a political party that hates unions and the power they give workers, is hypocrisy of the highest order.

This is then exacerbated by the fact that, as front line workers working with some of the most disadvantaged, disenfranchised and marginalised vulnerable adults in the country, we will have seen first hand the devastation brought upon these individuals and communities under the ideological pursuit of a politically driven austerity agenda. All whilst the very richest benefited from the tax cuts and breaks that helped them see their income grow by over 185%.

And that is all without touching on the absolute ruin the Tory party has inflicted on the criminal justice system as a whole.

Over the past decade the Tory party has brought this country to it's knees, public services have been cut to the bone, an extra 130,000 people have died thanks to austerity, the NHS is close to collapse, our police force has been decimated, libraries closed, A&E departments closed, ambulances stations closed, 7000 hospital beds lost, billions cut from the social care budget, our children's education budgets slashed or moved into private and barely accountable 'academies', unprecedented number of food banks and food bank usage, a 400% rise in homelessness in some areas, council budgets destroyed, the list goes on and on. Not to mention the fact that your pay has been held back by them!

If you can sit and honestly read all the havoc and total misery that has been inflicted on this country since 2010 and think 'yeah, I'm voting Tory' then we have very little in common and I'd rather not spend my time listening or reading the right wing media rubbish you regurgitate, without an iota of critical thinking, to justify your position."