Saturday 26 August 2023

Memo To Justin

On the day we hear that senior management at the British Museum are being forced into being accountable and a petition starts to make NHS senior managers accountable, we can but assume it's just a matter of time before senior probation managers become accountable as well, something that can't come soon enough! Meanwhile:-

This makes me so bloody angry! Of course any decent PO knows this and strives to spend as much time as possible building a positive relationship with service users. However in the current service since being forced into civil service we are now completely overwhelmed with beauracracy and endless exhausting assessments, part A,B,C, OASYS and reviews PAROM, AP referrals and housing referrals etc that the key supervision work is now sidelined in my view and squeezed into a tiny portion of the day by which time you you have had no time to prepare or think about completing those one to one programme sessions we are supposed to be doing for RAR days. As well as this you are bombarded with constant requests for targets or harassed to book on training etc.

The demands are impossible and that's why PO's are going off sick because they are basically broken by the impossible demands. It infuriates me that despite this we are never asked how we feel or how the job could be made more tolerable. The answer from faceless HMPPS is always to create even more bureaucracy which makes the situation worse and try to convince us they are doing something to improve situation which we know they are not. 

I feel desperately sorry for those coming into the service now who are lied to about the wonders of the job but will likely drop out very soon after completing training if not before. All the experienced officers will be gone, which seems to be what HMPPS want but what will be left behind will be an exhausted workforce who just do as they are told and tow the line but will ultimately vote with their feet and move on. That's why some service users are telling me they have had multiple changes of officer which is never good in terms of developing trust and working on long term issues.. Another thing, if staff are blowing the whistle about racism or any other discrimination then you bloody well listen, accept and sort it out.

Justin Russell appears to have undertaken a great deal of research in order to discover the obvious! Surely we have known for decades that his research findings, namely that good client centred supervision helps outcomes and reduces reoffending? Why can't Justin Russell instead concentrate on calling out the toxic culture in Probation particularly it's problems with excessive workload, bullying and abuse of staff and it's miserable record of Senior Managers being anything other than "excellent"?

"Ground-breaking new research by HM Inspectorate of Probation, analysing thousands of probation cases, has found that higher-quality probation supervision leads to significantly better sentence completion rates and reduced reoffending."

Turns out that Justin Splinterpants, he of fence-up-the-arse syndrome, is also suffering from a brass neck & an absence of shame. There must be something in the water; a brand only drunk by these highly paid myopic visionaries.

"Ground-breaking new research"

We are currently undertaking secondary analysis of our existing data to further develop this evidence base.

Key topics are as follows:
  • examining the links between probation supervision and positive outcomes
  • the role of engagement for positive outcomes in probation
  • the quality of public protection work
  • the quality of pre-sentence information and advice provided to courts.
Elsewhere on the HMIP site you can "Find out more about how a probation service’s leadership, management and set-up contribute to high performance."

"Inspirational leadership: A quality attributed to leaders who are able to create a culture of motivation and commitment. Inspiring leaders aim to create an environment of trust in which people can be creative and motivated to fulfil their potential. They tend to: have passion; have a sense of purpose; be honest and trustworthy; encourage others to share their vision; inspire others to achieve their potential." (The Investors in People Standard)

"high performance" = 35 inspections averaging less than 20%? Why such low scores?

Ah, here's the answer: the inspectorate expresses concern about "Cynicism amongst staff members can be a barrier to organisational change" Nowt to do with shit leaders who bully, harass & are generally incompetent in a sick organisation no longer fit for purpose.

But remember - none of the qualities we highlight in our research applies to the relationship between strong, excellent leaders & the cynical workshy fools on the frontline. Our research clearly shows that if they simply do what they're told, wondrous things can happen (like bonus targets being met, promotions, awards, etc)

In our area the workload as measured is now below the threshold of overload, allegedly. Quick glance shows that qualified staff and PSOs who have been in post for more than a year are still excruciatingly overloaded, with the balance made up by newly recruited trainees and PSOs, That might offer some hope if the qualified weren't looking for every available escape route, be that other work, retirement or just collapsing into a sick-bed, and the newly recruited were staying. It's no different in the NHS, from what I hear from friends on the front line there. The pay is awful and deteriorating, but if the work was meaningful and rewarding, if there was a sense that things would get better if we stuck at it, I wouldn't feel so broken.


I'll end by reminding people of this sobering fact:-

The reason for well over half (57.4%) of probation staff taking absence for sickness was mental and behavioural disorders. (Quarterly workforce figures)

Oh, and this from the Dorset Inspection:-

"Despite a full complement of middle managers, at the time of our inspection they had a 45 per cent vacancy rate for qualified probation officers."

Friday 25 August 2023

How Did You Do That?

Well, here's some astonishing news from HMI Justin Russell. Apparently, when 'probation' is done well, it works. I think most of us would be astonished to know how on earth that is possible given the current toxic HMPPS work environment, massive caseloads, poor morale and high rates of sickness, but hey ho!

Inspectorate research demonstrates clear link between high-quality supervision and reduced reoffending for people on probation

Ground-breaking new research by HM Inspectorate of Probation, analysing thousands of probation cases, has found that higher-quality probation supervision leads to significantly better sentence completion rates and reduced reoffending.

The Inspectorate’s latest Research and Analysis Bulletins – compiled by the organisation’s own specialist research team – looked at what progress has been made in the past four years and where improvements can be made.

For cases getting high-quality probation supervision, the sentence completion rate was 24 percentage points higher, and the reoffending rate was 14 percentage points lower than for cases where supervision was judged to be inadequate by our inspectors.

The three reports are available on the HM Inspectorate of Probation website. They examined:
  • The role of engagement (between probation officers and people on probation) for positive outcomes in probation
  • The links between probation supervision and positive outcomes – early progress
  • The links between probation supervision and positive outcomes – completion and proven reoffending
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell explains why this research is important: 

“This vital research demonstrates the difference that high-quality probation supervision can make to reoffending rates. By matching our judgements on thousands of individual cases with data held on the Police National Computer, we have been able to show that where probation staff engage well with people on probation and ensure that the factors driving their offending are identified and dealt with, people are more likely to successfully complete their sentence and less likely to commit further crimes.

“Reoffending costs the country approximately £18 billion a year, so this clearly highlights the importance of investing in the Probation Service and ensuring that this work is of the highest possible standard. Less than half of the cases we have inspected over the past 18 months reaching our required standards, so there is still a long way to go to ensure that every case gets the quality of supervision it needs, but the pay-off to doing so would be enormous.”

The three Research and Analysis Bulletins focus on samples of cases analysed by HMI Probation inspectors, where both sufficient and insufficient quality of work had been found. These were then matched to the data held on probation case management systems and the Police National Computer, indicating whether the cases had been successfully concluded and whether there was any evidence of further police cautions or convictions.

HM Inspectorate of Probation Head of Research, Robin Moore: 

“Our inspection programme gathers a wealth of data, and this means we can drill down to the details of what high-quality probation supervision should look like through the eyes of our skilled inspectors.

“There are clear consistencies in terms of what positive work with people on probation looks like: working alongside a person via consistent and meaningful engagement during their supervision; tailored work and interventions that get to the heart of a person’s offending and tackle it; building upon strengths; and helping to remove barriers to engagement and completion. There are challenges, but this research shows there is a clear path to positive outcomes at all stages of probation.”

A summary of the findings from each of these Research and Analysis Bulletins

The links between probation supervision and positive outcomes – completion and proven reoffending (PDF, 495 kB)
  • Where our inspectors judged that the delivery both engaged the person on probation and supported their desistance, the sentence completion rate was 24 percentage points higher, and the reoffending rate was 14 percentage points lower compared to cases where both judgements were negative.
  • For those who had reoffended, we found significant reductions in the frequency of reoffending when probation delivery was of a high-quality nature.
  • Where practitioners had been empowered to deliver their best practice and given the time and space to build relationships, we found notable improvements in sentence completion and the reoffending outcomes.
The role of engagement for positive outcomes in probation (PDF, 470 kB)
  • A ‘one size fits all’ approach is unlikely to be successful and work needs to be tailored to meet individual needs and be personally meaningful.
  • Probation work is complex, and staff are required to utilise a significant number of skills in order to work with individuals.
  • Individuals may face barriers to engagement, such as trauma. Engagement and the development of rapport and trust is a complex process and cannot be rushed.
The links between probation supervision and positive outcomes – early progress (PDF, 462 kB) 
  • Positive progress was much more likely when the delivery was of high quality, encompassing the key probation tasks of (i) engaging the individual, (ii) supporting their desistance, and (iii) keeping other people safe.
  • The findings support a personalised balanced approach, underpinned by secure, consistent and trusting relationships between practitioners and people on probation.
  • Practitioners need to be empowered to deliver their best practice and given the time and space to build secure and trusting relationships.

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Time For Management Accountability?

From yesterday:- 

"Knew an excellent member of staff, caseload of 200%, goes off sick, on return told she would be dismissed if she went absent again. Humanity has disappeared in large chunks of the NPS."

"Numerous people have given me anecdotes of being put on performance improvement measures after long term absence- for things such as having a brain tumour or their child dying. No compassion or understanding that to do so just adds more stress and pressure."
With the growth, scale and nature of 'managerialism' in the news almost daily in a number of public sectors, examples being the Countess of Cheshire Hospital who refused to call the police, British Museum who did not admit significant thefts and Probation Service that simply ignores HMI inspection reports, lets remind ourselves of what Judy McKnight said back in 2006. By the way, that Press Release for Dorset has reappeared with the absolutely classic line 'Despite a full complement of middle managers, at the time of our inspection they had a 45 per cent vacancy rate for qualified probation officers.'

Managerialism in the Probation Service: for good or for bad? 

Judy McKnight looks at the impact of central control on the Probation Service.

Patronised, bullied and betrayed" was how a recent Guardian article articulated the views of a vast range of public servants, including probation staff: "Throughout the public sector, all those on whom targets were imposed have gradually found themselves working in systems that largely reduce them to impotent cogs in machines. Millions who once took great pride in their work no longer have much autonomy in how they do it. That makes them sullen or enraged, because they know how the restrictions on them are distorting the jobs they should be doing" (Russell, 2006). 

I don't intend to come down on one side of the argument 'managerialism - right or wrong?' My own view is that there is a place for legitimate managerial direction from government, with legitimate targets and performance measurement. 

The trick, as always, is to find the right balance so that 'localism' and the scope for local initiatives, both of which are essential to effective probation practice, are not stifled and lost. 

I would draw two conclusions from the history of the Probation Service to date: 

• Firstly, that all forms of centralised controls, targets or structural reforms that are introduced should be based on an evidenced approach to demonstrate their effectiveness. 

• Secondly, no measures will succeed if they ignore the role and concerns of staff in the Service and if they do not have "staff buy-in." 

Central / local tensions over the years 

Probation historians tend to pick the mid-1980s as the period when the Service started increasingly to come under central government control and local autonomy began to be constrained by the new managerialist approach. 

Increased central control has also been accompanied by a changing role for the Service, a change summarised by Julian Buchanan in the Probation Journal Blog in March 2006. He states: 

"The shift that has taken place in the Probation Service over the years is well illustrated in the latest advert for Trainee Probation Officers. 

It shows how the relationship, needs, and rehabilitation of the offender have almost slipped off the agenda. The main captions in large letters across the centre of the page state: 


This is very much about representing the State to the individual and says nothing about representing the individual to the State" (Buchanan, 2006). 

Those tensions within the Service, around both its purpose as well as finding the 'right' central/local balance, are not new. I looked through some back copies of Napo's Probation Journal in preparing for this article and without picking on particularly special periods of probation history, found some revealing insights. 

The December 1980 edition contained an article from three Napo members in Manchester, opposing change which they described "from being primarily of a social work nature to being primarily of a surveillance nature, involving the containment of high risk offenders. Along with this was to be a substantial reduction in officer autonomy, and a move towards management by autocratic direction, rather than by consultation" (Adams et al, 1980). 

The June 1992 edition of the Journal contains a wonderful exchange between the then editor, Nigel Stone, and the departing head of the Home Office Probation Division, Philippa Drew. Stone writes: "The editorial board felt that an authoritative comment on the present climate and mood of the Service would be timely, reflecting on the siege mentality that seems widespread in the Service, the flagging morale at all grades, the emotional distance that seems to yawn between chiefs and their main grade staff (and junior managers), the increased pressure 'to deliver and to demonstrate' which can be extremely wearing yet no doubt affects staff at all levels, the uncertainties posed by cash limits, the tensions generated by the unsocial hours settlement". 

In her reply, Drew refers to Stone's letter as "an example of a curious trait which mars the excellence of the Probation Service; a combination of whinging and doom mongering" (Stone and Drew 1992). 

Doom mongering? 

With our present concern about the direction of NOMS and its implications for fragmenting and privatising probation provision, at a time when it is easy to think we are fighting the 'fight of all fights' to save the soul, future and values of the Probation Service, it is sobering to recognise that previous generations have had their own battles. 

Without indulging in 'doom mongering', what conclusions would I reach? 

My first conclusion relates to the need for an evidence base for all managerialist initiatives. 

The experience of the Service to date in relation to targets, performance measures and structural reform, is that the centre has sometimes acted over-zealously in thinking it has found a formula which must be applied to all. It has then sought to impose that policy, often in a counterproductive way. 

A classic example was the decision to impose unrealistic targets on accredited programmes; targets that led to unsuitable people being placed on programmes; programmes not then having the desired impact on reoffending rates, and to the programmes subsequently falling from favour as a result. 

The decision to dismantle and fragment the Probation Service in order to introduce contestability, despite overwhelming opposition, is another example of the government acting on the basis of ideology, rather than evidence of effectiveness. (See Napo's detailed response to the Home Office Consultation Paper on restructuring the Probation Service, Restructuring Probation - What Works? Napo 2005). 

My second conclusion relates to staff. One of the many problems with the government's current approach to public services and public sector reform is its complete lack of recognition of the need for staff engagement and support for any change programme and the importance of staff feeling supported. The basic concept of 'employee care' is not just about being a good employer for its own sake, but about recognising that public services are dependant on staff for their success and that supporting and caring for staff is critical to securing effective performance. 

Probation staff have suffered from many misguided and mismanaged attempts at managerialism over the years. Poor information technology and unwieldy and unrealistic targets are two obvious examples. NOMS just feels like the last straw. 

I was recently at a NOMS meeting where I received yet another Power Point presentation with diagrams of NOMS and probation structures within it. I have lost track of how many presentations of different models I have sat through since Patrick Carter's report suggesting NOMS was first published in January 2004. 

It is bad enough that civil servants are still scratching their heads trying to work out an organisational model for NOMS that might make sense, but even worse is the callous disregard for probation staff. At this same meeting, a chart popped up outlining the three critical factors for ensuring the success of Offender Management: 

• Partnership and alliances 
• Effective IT 
• Contestability and Commissioning. 

No mention was made of the importance of staff or of plans for workforce planning, training and development. 

As Philip Whitehead and Roger Statham said in their 2005 book, The History of Probation: "We are witnessing an iterative bureaucratic process, based on short-term tactical decision making that satisfies the omnipotent political machine's aspiration to be seen to be in control of crime. It recognises little of the values or human interactions which drive the engagement of individuals, ultimately reflected in commitment and loyalty. Indeed for organisations to function effectively these factors require continuous attention and a culture of employee care is essential if people are to feel included. Organisational identity, clarity of purpose and task need to go hand in hand with good individual support, supervision and appraisal. Recent changes in moving probation from a national Probation Service to a National Offender Management Service structure seem to ignore these essentials." (Whitehead and Statham 2005). 

Looking forward 

The Probation Service faces an uncertain future and managerialism looks set to take a new turn. The plan is to replace management by central targets, with a regional commissioning model. The theory is that Regional Offender Managers, (ROMs), will commission probation services from probation trusts or others, as they so decide. This commissioning model, with ROMs acting as agents of the Home Office and the Home Secretary, would mean potentially tighter, not looser, control from the centre. Time will tell whether this model will ever be fully realised. 

Despite the threats that the Service currently faces, I have faith that its saving grace will continue to be in the staff that it recruits. Regardless of the wording of the advertisements, the Service continues to recruit people with a certain value base, as described by Julian Buchanan in his March 2006 Probation Journal Blog: "The NPS will need probation staff who can engage, understand, work alongside, address social inequalities, and help to equip and enable the offender to engage constructively in society". 

Evidence to date suggests that these are the people who continue to be attracted to the Service as a career. Long may that be the case. 

Judy McKnight is General Secretary of Napo, the trade union for family court and probation staff.

Tuesday 22 August 2023

No Cause For Celebration

 Apparently yesterday was Probation Day

Probation Day celebrates the past, present and future of Probation. We chose the 21st of August, as it coincides with the Royal Assent of the Probation of Offenders Act in 1907, so it is in effect the birthday of the Probation Service!

Unlike last year, it seems HMPPS thought better of getting the cake and bunting out in view of the latest workforce figures neatly summarised by Russell Webster:-

Prison And Probation Staffing Picture Still Bleak

Quarterly workforce figures

I did know it was risky to headline last quarter’s HMPPS workforce quarterly stats as showing “shoots of recovery”. The fact that I should have known better is fully demonstrated by last week’s edition (17 August 2023) of the figures which covers prison and probation staffing numbers to the end of June this year. Full details of the figures are given below but we must remember to set them in the context of continuing restricted regimes in most prisons owing to lack of staff and ongoing poor performance in almost all probation areas.

Prison staffing

There were 22,426 FTE band 3-5 prison officers (which definition covers custodial managers, supervision officers and frontline prison officers) in post on 30 June this year. While, this is an increase of 701 FTE (3.2%) since 30 June 2022 it is only a slight increase of 139 FTE (0.6%) prison officers compared to 31 March 2023 with the pace of new recruitment slowing.

Similarly, there were 5,385 FTE band 2 operational support staff in post on the same date. This figure is an increase of 291 FTE (5.7%) since 30 June 2022 but again only a slight increase of 75 FTE (1.4%) operational support staff since 31 March 2023.

Most worrying is the leaving rate of 13.4% of band 3-5 prison officers, this means that more than one in eight staff leave every year making the challenge of increasing overall staff numbers particularly problematic. It is frontline prison officers in particular who are leaving in droves. The leaving rate for Band 3-4 prison officers (including specialists but not supervisors) was a staggering 14.8% for the year ending June 2023, more than one in seven. The comparable figure for the 2021/22 financial year was 16.1% but in 2020/21 it was “only” 10.1%

The same exodus can be seen among operational support staff where the leaving rate to this June was 17.1% (more than one in six). It was 18.3% for the 2021/22 financial year, again a big jump from 2020/21 when it was a paltry 11.9%.


There were 4,418 FTE band 4 probation officers in post (band 4 is POs, band 3 PSOs) on 30 June. This is a decrease of 124 FTE (2.7%) since 30 June 2022 and no substantial change of FTE probation officers compared to 31 March 2023. In addition to the band 4 probation officers, there were 6,801 FTE band 3 probation services officers.

This is an increase of 990 FTE (17.0%) since 30 June 2022 and a decrease of 149 FTE (2.1%) since 31 March 2023. The decrease is particularly worrying because the main reason the annual increase was so large is that the recruitment campaign to get more probation officers. HMPPS succeeded in recruiting 1,514 trainee probation officers in 2022/23 and these are classified as band 3/PSOs while in training. If a small but substantial percentage of these are leaving before qualifying, it will continue to be difficult to get enough probation officers in post.

The most recent (up to 30 June this year) leaving rates for probation staff are:
  • Senior Probation officers 4.3%
  • Probation Officers 7.4%
  • Probation Service Officers 11.8%
Sickness rates remain a concern with probation staff off sick for an average of 12.1 work days per year with probation officers off sick an average of 15.1 days or three weeks. PSOs are off sick for an average of 12.3 days per year.

The reason for well over half (57.4%) of probation staff taking absence for sickness was mental and behavioural disorders.

Saturday 19 August 2023

Puff Piece

I came across this interview with Amy Rees last week on Civil Service World and was in two minds whether to run it or not. My hesitation probably gives a clue as to my general low mood for a probation service in terminal decline and prison service in utter crisis. You could be forgiven for thinking that though, given this pretty pointless candy floss puff piece* from the boss at HQ:- 

'That's the thing I want to do': Why the prison service has always been a calling for HMPPS boss Amy Rees

Amy Rees’s entire career has been focused on delivering positive change for the people who live and work in UK prisons. As part of its Women in Westminster series, CSW's sister title PoliticsHome sat down with the chief executive of HM Prisons and Probation Service to learn more about her journey from prison wing to Whitehall

I knew early in my teenage years that a job that just paid me money was never going to be enough,” Amy Rees tells PoliticsHome early on in our sit-down conversation. “I instinctively knew I wanted to do something that was right at the heart of society.”

That aspiration, to make a positive and lasting impact on people and places, has been the hallmark of Amy Rees’s career. Now, as chief executive of HM Prison and Probation Service, Rees must feel that she is making the sort of difference that her teenage self aspired to.

It is a role that she relishes. While some senior civil servants are generalists, who regularly move between government functions and departments, Rees’s entire career has been spent working in prisons and probation. She comes across as a woman who sees the service she has dedicated her whole career to as far more than just a job.

Recounting the moment when she first spotted the Prison Service recruitment stand at a university careers fair, Rees recalls with absolute clarity the sudden realisation that this was a sector that she wanted to make a contribution to.

“I am not a particularly religious person, but it's the closest thing I can describe as a calling,” she explains. “I was just like, ‘That is the thing I want to do’. I so strongly thought it was for me. It never even occurred to me that they wouldn't think that I was for them.”

There is not a trace of arrogance in the way that Rees recounts her absolute confidence that she would be accepted onto the competitive Accelerated Graduate Scheme. Instead, what comes across is a steely determination and certainty of purpose that she retains as chief executive.

She partly attributes this to being part of a generation of women who grew up surrounded by strong female role models making an impact in public life. They provided Rees with living proof that there was absolutely no limit on the level of ambition that you could have as a woman when it came to building a career.

“The Conservative Party actually came into power with Margaret Thatcher on the day I was born,” Rees tells us. “Bear in mind there was a female monarch and a female prime minister. When I was four or five years old, I famously asked my mum, ‘Could men lead the country?’”

What is most apparent when Rees speaks, is her pride and passion for the service she heads. These are qualities that are now delivering in Whitehall, but which were forged on the operational frontline.

“I don't think I really had a clue what prison was like,” she explains remembering the very first time she stepped onto a prison wing. “But what I did know was that real life happened there. And people who need help. People who've done bad things, but people who still need help.”

Whilst the need and the fundamentals of the job may have remained the same, during her career Rees has witnessed a culture shift that is shaping a more diverse and inclusive service. It is a far cry from her first day in a prison.

“I rocked up into an office where a man was smoking a pipe,” she tells PoliticsHome. “And he said to me, ‘I don't think women should be in male prisons, we should have kept the height restriction, and I don't agree with the accelerated promotion scheme. Please stay away from me and I'll stay away from you.’”

However, Rees rejects the idea that the qualities of compassion, kindness, and professionalism that lie at the heart of the service are intrinsically modern. For every man with a pipe and a set of outmoded views, in her first prison posting, she found many more dedicated professionals making a real difference to the lives of the men in their care.

“What I found immediately is that there were brilliant people in that prison,” she says. “Absolutely brilliant people who were committed to helping people and being decent to people and had been for years long before it was an organisational ambition.”

That sense, of the ultimate shared humanity that defines those living and working in custodial settings, is a theme that Rees returns to throughout our conversation. It is clear that, for Rees, prison and probation are not defined by the physical infrastructure of prisons and hostels, but by the people who make the system work. She explicitly sees her role as a leader as being to implement changes that support staff on prison wings and in probation offices up and down the country.

This clear sense of personal and organisational mission has partly been formed by the path that Rees has taken from the frontline to the heart of policy. She tells PoliticsHome that the drivers she had on her first day working in a prison remain equally as relevant in her current role.

“Clearly, I do a different set of work now and I spend a lot of time in and around Westminster with senior politicians,” she says. “My day-to-day operating environment has changed, but my career anchor hasn't. My first responsibility is to the staff and the offenders that we look after.”

Rees’s experience in frontline delivery has furnished her with the ability to understand policy at the granular level of implementation. It is a career path that Rees encourages others to take, driven by a conviction that placing operational expertise at the heart of policymaking ultimately leads to better and more effective policy. She explains that one of the barriers to this can be the specific culture and language of different professions.

When asked for an example, Rees tells a story of her first day in the newly formed Ministry of Justice.

“Up to that point, I'd never been near a politician,” she remembers. “And after about three hours I finally plucked up the courage to ask what the ‘box’ was that everyone kept talking about for ministerial submissions. I didn't have a clue what they were talking about.”

It is a small but powerful example. The story illustrates how language can operate as a barrier that may prevent some people from seeking new experiences and learning as they move through a career. It is noticeable that, throughout our conversation, Rees herself never uses the sort of jargon or incomprehensible acronyms that people in all professions can sometimes fall into.

“People often say, ‘I can't make that transition because I don't understand that world,’ but what they usually mean is: I don't understand that particular set of words that people are using.”

Rees plainly cares for the staff in her service and wants to help them progress. However, more than that, her own experience has taught her the way that taking on different roles generates learning that makes people more effective. Ultimately, that delivers what matters most to Rees – making an impact that improves lives and benefits society.

It is a worldview that continues to shape both her own career and the advice that she gives to others.

“The work that you choose might be tough, and you'll spend a long time doing it,” she tells us. “So, you've got to make it count.”

*According to Wiktionary:- puff piece (plural puff pieces) A journalistic form of puffery; an article or story of exaggerating praise that often ignores or downplays opposing viewpoints or evidence to the contrary.

Tuesday 15 August 2023

From The Archives

Every now and then I find myself trawling through the vast 'back catalogue' of comments this blog has accumulated and in the process come across a gem I don't recall, or worse, maybe never read in the halcyon days of unmoderated comments. A good example is this from 17th May 2020 at 22:52. I wonder if the author is still "being bluntly honest and annoying people and getting the job done."


There are still people in the service committed to social work values. Still people committed to supporting people to feel they have value and the ability to change. Still people hanging on in there after 20 plus years because one word at the right time can have an enormous impact on many lives. When I walked into a probation office for the first time oh such a long time ago I was told I'd made a terrible choice, Probation was dying and if I had any sense I'd turn around and leave. I didn't, still haven't, and have no intention of doing so. I still have the values that made my vocation the correct one (for me and hopefully many of my cases) and I share them freely with each and every colleague who cares to listen. And a large number of them do listen. 

As far as I am concerned, the heart of what I do is to really see the person in front of me. No policy or EDM will teach you about that, but quietly going about your day showing compassion and respect can make a world of difference. Am I going to change the world? Maybe....a little.. for a few people. Am I a little oasys of calm in a complex world? Absolutely not - I swear and complain and rage about the same things everyone else does. Have I thought about leaving? Absolutely, but they're not getting rid of me that easily - I'm going to stay and keep being bluntly honest and annoying people and getting the job done. And I'll keep doing it in a way that works for the people I'm working with - at least I still have hope that it does. That one to one relationship hasn't changed in 20 years and it's needed more than ever. And I'm going to share those blasted annoying social values all over the place, and some of them will stick in a few places. And when it gets too overwhelming I'll probably cry and feel de-skilled (a probation speciality) and look at the jobs pages for a couple of weeks, but tomorrow a new case will walk through the door who needs someone to listen to them and I'll do that instead.

I'll admit to being an idealistic young thing when I walked in to my first Probation office. And that was after I'd had to take my last employer to court for their illegal discriminatory behaviours against me. And I'll admit to be being significantly more jaded and cynical than your average person as a direct result of experiencing the metamorphosis of Probation into whatever thing it is. But I also know that these same complaints and moans were being said 20 years ago. There never was a golden age of Probation, it's always been a bit shit at lots of things and people have always tried to shove the next big idea down our necks that's not really that different from the last big idea but with extra paperwork.

And our core is still that time between you and another person who needs you to see them. That's it. Bugger the sodding paperwork though.


Sunday 13 August 2023

The Writing On The Wall

With thanks to very regular contributor 'Getafix, lets go back to the summer of 2000 and the much-lamented journal Community Justice Matters and a sign of what was to come:- 

The Probation Service and Managerialism

Sue Wade looks at the impact of managerialist culture on the Probation Service.

A recent annual 'strategic management' event for senior managers in probation services and their equivalent Home Office officials produced a variety of management styles and areas of concern. A common feature was the dominance of the language of managerialism and attention to the mechanisms of change management and performance management. Sentencing philosophy, the social exclusion / inclusion agenda, community justice developments and practice quality were not much in evidence.

This may be a harsh commentary, particularly as the two day event was justifiably dominated by the huge structural change represented by the centralisation / nationalisation of probation services, due in April 2001. Ministerial attention to, and scepticism about, the ability of probation to enforce its own orders is also a threat which has produced close attention to performance figures and a commitment to manage down the variations between services.

A new direction

These external drivers are matched by an internal world rich in examples of well developed managerialist culture. The combination of a growth in managerial processes and the highly structured evidence-based practice initiative (What Works) may be producing the 'holy grail' for past critics of probation — the end of a social justice orientation and practitioner discretion and the beginning of a North American style of processing offenders. Changing behaviour through building relationships in local communities is replaced with probation law enforcement and rigid assessment / treatment methodologies which are applied across probation and prison regimes and pay little attention to community and diversity. The irony is that this new direction for the UK comes at the same time as a re-emergence in North American / community justice practice and the reduction of interest in tagging and other impersonal offender processing methods of supervision.

Probation and managerialism

Managerialist developments in the probation service are reasonably similar to those in other public services, although the onset was a little later for probation. 1985 saw the first Home Office plan with objectives and priorities but it was the late 1980s before serious attention was given to outcomes and performance reports. 'Management by Objectives' was 'taught' to all probation services by Home Office funded consultants. 'Key Performance Indicators' (KPI's) and 'Supporting Management Information Needs' (SMIN's) were set nationally. These all required extensive reporting mechanisms and were almost entirely quantity output measures. Outcome measurement in the form of reconviction rates is only just available ten years later and is a national measurement. Two measures of stakeholder satisfaction are included but using a very raw overall satisfaction rate derived from out of date samples. No user surveys, public surveys or more qualitative measures have been included in the increasing number of indicators. The use of inspection and audit as levers of control began to increase in the early 1990s with national inspection programmes, the Efficiency and Effectiveness (E+E) growing into the Quality and Effectiveness (Q+E) and now the Performance Inspection Programmes (PIP). All probation services are inspected in a rolling programme and comparative performance tables concentrating on the KPIs and unit costs are published. Most services are now involved in two or three internal inspections and three or four external ones each year in addition to the KPI and SMINs reporting. A scrutiny of the annual plans and annual reports of each probation service shows that most have over 50 objectives or performance indicators which they are measuring. In similar fashion to the national ones, these concentrate on quantity outputs.

The advent of Better Quality Services (BQS) as our equivalent of Best Value, and the new National Directorate is likely to increase the levels and range of required performance information and to demand more and more management time in data interpretation and implementation of consequent action plans - a rather neat example of Cohen's iatrogenic loops (Cohen 1979).

The use of management tools can of course be essential, particularly in providing consistent high quality public services at the most efficient cost. Just as in other public services, the probation service of old was a fairly complacent unresponsive monolithic structure which sometimes delivered an excellent service, but sometimes did not, and often didn't know when either happened. However the change towards a modern public service has required leadership and stewardship as well as managerialism.

Matthew Taylor (Institute of Public Policy Research) in a speech to the probation 'strategic management' event at Cranfield 2000 criticised the current government modernisation programme as lacking a change model. "Modernisation's reliance on managerialism as a change model is not sufficient. It doesn't look at cultural change and individual worker / practitioner ownership of change". Paul Bate in Strategies for Cultural Change says on leadership "to control things is an act of power not leadership for 'things' have no motives. Power wielders may treat people as 'things', leaders may not."

Community justice and correction

The great debate for the probation service should be the relative importance of community justice versus correctional orientation. The tensions between the two approaches are likely to increase particularly with the developments stemming from the Crime and Disorder Act strategies and the imminent announcement of a mechanism to introduce seamless sentences. The former increases probation's connections to local authorities and crime prevention / community safety initiatives. The latter requiring closer links with the prison service, prison sentences possibly becoming the raison d'etre of the probation service.

Managerialism as a method of controlling or directing an organisation does not predetermine the outcome of those two competing orientations. Examples are of course present in organisations on both sides of the philosophical divide. Managerialism's problem is that it can become a pretty efficient way of implementing a direction decided by others, with senior managers participating in the debates about how rather than what and why. A truly strategic discussion does need to cover the range of philosophy, purpose, culture and practice as well as change and performance management.

Sue Wade is Deputy Chief Probation Officer of Hampshire Probation Service.


The bio from the Howard League confirms Sue did not see her future was to be as part of HMPPS:-

Sue Wade has 35 years’ experience in the management of public services, including as a deputy and acting chief probation office, the performance adviser to a Police Authority and then to a Police and Crime Commissioner, work with a Local Criminal Justice Board and with a Youth Justice Service. Her probation career from 1979 to 2004 included specialism in juvenile delinquency, adult prisoners, probation hostels, group work programmes and alcohol and drug services as well as general management. She was a trustee and then Chair of the Howard League for Penal Reform from 1991 to 2016. She has undertaken criminal justice reform consultancy specialising in children and juveniles in the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands, United States and Syria.

She was Chair of Governors of a primary school for fourteen years and has been a volunteer in youth ministry in her local parish for a similar time. She has been a trustee of several local and regional charities; working with children and families who have been affected by domestic abuse and violence, a provider of move on housing for vulnerable adults and a food bank.

She was awarded an Honorary OBE (as a US citizen) in 2013 for services to criminal justice reform and to the community in Winchester.

Wednesday 9 August 2023

Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.

I guess most regular readers have come to appreciate the limitations of this medium, one being occasionally a significant contribution is missed if it's submitted to an earlier post and the caravan has moved on. I spotted this from a few hours ago, but posted on a blog from 2nd August and therefore unlikely to be noticed, and that would be a shame because it raises an important point:-

One shift that is often overlooked has been the rise of managerialism and its impact on public services. This quote sums it up rather well: “The ethos of 'new managerialism' is stripping public services of moral and ethical values and replacing them with the market language of costs, efficiencies, profits and competition. Anything which is not easily quantified becomes undervalued or abandoned.” Kathleen Lynch. 

I would also add that managers, or as they say these days leaders, tend to ensure that they are viewed as vital to an organisations success, or at least not responsible for any failures. This is often represented by larger than inflation pay rises and the rather curious phenomenon of failing ever upwards. Great job if you can pull one. Further, they tend to see themselves as leaders of change. Organisational change tends to be fuelled by leaders that want to be seen as effective. Even though the change itself will bring with it no benefits. We are told that change is vital and progressive, when in fact, the opposite is often the case. 

Witness the Probation Service which appears to have taken this notion and flogged it to death. This mantra has had a peculiar effect on Senior Leaders who embrace change (any change) as a good thing in itself and neglect the impact this constant churn (sorry but I couldn’t resist a popular management phrase. It means staff leave) can have on people, processes, communication, waste, confusion and morale. 

Perhaps we should see these reorganisations for what they are, not what is claimed. It is often embarked upon with little evidence as to why change is required. It’s benefits often fail to outweigh the detrimental impact it can have on local delivery. Staff become weary and confused as systems change. And most importantly the change often makes things worse.

So, you may ask why? Well the short answer is because we have layers of management who need to be seen to be taking action. They need to justify their worth, if you like. The addition of yet another regional layer is a clear example of this process. Yet despite everything nothing improves. Which begs the observation that this is now working perfectly. If the change you have introduced fails then you have a win, because you will then need to recruit more senior leaders to introduce yet further changes, thereby further securing that layer of management and ensuring your worth. 

The Civil Service is a model of this approach. It is top heavy, implements structural changes on a monthly basis (it feels), the changes fail and responsibility is pushed down and the authors of this despair toddle off on a further promotion. Things will not get better as they are not designed like that, they are designed to keep people busy. I appreciate that this comes close to cliche but Beckett sums it up "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." 

Often misunderstood and/or at least overly used by management people. His summation was really about the emptiness and pointlessness of life. So a bit like being a Senior Leader in todays Probation Service.


Tuesday 8 August 2023

Truth Will Out

Isn't life amazing. Nothing much seems to be happening and you begin to lose heart again. Absolutely no enthusiasm to post anything for a fortnight, but no sooner than the Guardian piece on prisons jolts me into action, manna from heaven descends as reported by the BBC:-

Prison and probation staffing dangerously low

Prison and probation staffing in England and Wales is approaching dangerously low levels, the Ministry of Justice has said. The comments were published by mistake on a government website as part of an £8m year-long contract awarded to a London company, PeopleScout, to manage the ministry's recruitment marketing. The wording was spotted by the Labour Party.

The BBC understands the comments were not meant to be made public. The contract blames "government commitments on prison expansion and high staff attrition levels" for the shortages. It warned 15% of prisons are expected to have fewer than 80% of the prison staff that they need. And on the probation service, a third of regions in England and Wales have fewer than 80% of the necessary probation officers.

Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said the whole country would be alarmed at the warning. "Thirteen years of Conservative incompetence have left our probation service in tatters. Violent criminals are left to roam the streets without proper supervision, placing the public at serious risk," he said. "If a third of the country has 'dangerously low levels' of probation officers, we risk seeing even more cases where violent criminals who never should have been released from prison in the first place are left unsupervised to strike again."

Earlier this year, the Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell, said the service had failed at every stage to assess the risk of Damien Bendall, who murdered his partner, her two children and their 11-year-old friend. The failings meant Bendall was deemed suitable to live with his pregnant partner Terri Harris and her two children when he could, instead, have been sent to prison after being sentenced for arson just months before the murders. Relatives of the victims were said to be "shocked" by the failings.

Mr Russell also found failings in the case of Jordan McSweeney, who sexually assaulted and murdered law graduate Zara Aleena nine days after he was released from prison on licence.
McSweeney, a man with a history of violence, was wrongly assessed by staff as a "medium risk." They were said to be under mounting pressure at the time, and one worker faced disciplinary action over the case. Ms Aleena's aunt, Farah Naz, accused the Probation Service of having "blood on its hands" and said her niece "would have been alive today if probation had done their jobs better".

In February, internal figures, seen by the BBC, showed that some probation officers in England and Wales had workloads twice as large as their recommended capacity. A whistleblower warned the risks to the public are "significant".

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We have hired a record 4,000 probation officers since 2021 and we will recruit up to 5,000 more prison officers by the mid-2020s to steer offenders away from crime and keep people safe." The comments have now been removed from the website.


It's probably appropriate to remind ourselves of what HM Chief Inspector of Prisons said about the situation in his blog last week:-

Why the prison population crisis is everyone's concern

As prison population numbers continue to rise, Charlie Taylor considers the implications and warns there will be consequences for all of us.

There is nothing particularly surprising about the growth in the prison population. The prison service itself predicted back in 2018 that the prison population would reach over 86,000 by March 2023. However, the potential consequences are far-reaching. Just last week, we issued a second Urgent Notification for HMP Bristol, citing overcrowding as one of the key reasons. Almost half of prisoners were living in double cells designed for one man, with a significant minority in single cells with no internal sanitation. Despite this, the capacity of the prison had in fact been increased on several occasions since the last inspection.

The fall in crime during the pandemic reduced demand temporarily and, at its lowest, the number of prisoners fell to 77,859 in April 2021. Since then, with levels of offending returning to pre-pandemic levels and courts catching up with their backlogs, the prison population has grown once again. The barristers strike between June and October last year led to more congestion as remanded prisoners – prisoners who have not yet been tried and are therefore unconvicted – could not get to court. Prisons like Belmarsh and Birmingham, that used to hold a mixed population with a substantial proportion of prisoners coming back to their local prison in preparation for their impending release, now almost entirely contain men on remand. The remanded population has risen from around 11,000 in June 2020 to 14,591 in March 2023. Inspectors increasingly find prisoners who have been waiting for their trial for many months and I recently came across a man who had been stuck on remand for more than three years. This means that reception prisons across the country are now busier than ever, with constant pressure to accept new arrivals and ship those who are sentenced off to their next jail.

At times numbers coming in have been so high that Operation Safeguard has been enacted, a protocol that means prisoners are held in police cells because there is no available space in nearby jails. What was meant to be an emergency contingency, has become routine in the North West of England. The police are not equipped to provide for these prisoners, many of whom are detoxing from drugs or alcohol and have mental health difficulties. It also means prison vans, that should be going from the jail to the court, now have to pick up prisoners from police stations and take them to prison, before they can collect those due in court. As I was leaving Birmingham prison, I met a van of prisoners from Manchester being unloaded, because there was no room at Forest Bank. This does not just put pressure on van drivers, of which there is a national shortage, but also means that prisoners are being placed further from home in unfamiliar surroundings with less likelihood of getting visits from family or friends, which for some prisoners is essential to their well-being and in supporting their chances of success on release. When they are taken to court, because the jail they came from might be full by the evening, they may start and finish the day in different prisons. One governor told me that some men will refuse to go to court because they do not want to end up in a different prison – they would rather face the wrath of the judge than the strain of settling into a new jail.

While the most immediate pressure comes from this backlog of remanded prisoners, in the medium and longer term, the most sustained increases will come from a rise in the longer-term population. In March 2023 the government hit its target of recruiting 20,000 more police officers; the assumption is that this will lead to more arrests and ultimately to more prisoners. Average sentence lengths have increased for many offences, despite public perceptions of sentencing often suggesting otherwise. Experienced governors tell me that in the past it was unusual to come across prisoners who were serving four years or more – as of March 2022 they now make up 55% of the population and the average tariff imposed for mandatory life sentences for murder has risen from 12.5 years in 2003 to 20 years in 2020. These prisoners have less incentive to behave and, particularly early in their sentences can be hard to manage.

The new category C prisons, Five Wells and Fosse Way, both in the East Midlands, will, when full, provide 3,395 more places. Millsike in the North East will yield a further 1,440. This, however, will not be enough to meet even the lowest projected growth and the number of prisoners is predicted increasingly to outpace the number of places. Governors will be under pressure to take more prisoners and already we are seeing children who turn 18 continuing to be held in under 18 young offender institutions until their 19th birthday, adding to the existing challenges in these establishments.

When we inspected Dartmoor in September 2020 we praised the fact that all prisoners, most of whom were long-termers, were being held in single cells. On our return in July this year, there were already 46 cells that had been doubled up in an ancient prison that was already unable to provide enough activity places. This jail and those like it are likely to be under pressure to cram in more prisoners in what may well be a vain attempt to accommodate the surge. Some prisons have been able to open up prefabricated cells and here and there refurbished wings will become usable, but these will not be enough to meet demand. Open prisons, for some time underpopulated, have now filled up, but many who end up there are right at the end of their sentences, unlikely to be able to take advantage of the opportunities for day release to go out to work.

In prisons like Bullingdon, Woodhill and Swaleside, the prison service has had to close wings because there were not enough staff to run a regime safely, and many other prisons are under considerable strain either because they have not recruited enough officers, or they cannot hang onto the ones that they have got.

Since I became Chief Inspector in November 2020, the biggest concern that we have repeatedly highlighted in our reports has been the lack of purposeful activity. Despite one or two outliers, most prisons are providing less time out of cell, education, work and training than they were before the pandemic. Evening association – important for prisoners who have spent the day working – has all but disappeared. Our recent Weekends in Prison thematic showed that at weekends things were even worse, with most prisoners spending at least 21 hours a day locked up – putting those with already fragile mental health at greater risk.

We criticise the lack of management ambition in driving forward more productive regimes, but if governors are going to be asked to take on more prisoners with the same amount of staff, then achieving desperately needed improvements in purposeful activity is made harder. More prisoners squeezed into already overcrowded prisons will mean more deprivation, squalor and the risk of further violence. HMPPS’s own safety in custody statistics are showing that prisons are getting less safe, with key metrics like the number of deaths, number of individuals self-harming and assault incidents all on the rise.

I am enormously concerned that prisoners who have spent their sentences locked in their cells or languishing on their wing are going to leave prison without having been given anything like the support that they need to successfully resettle back into the community when they are released. If they are not in the habit of getting up and going to work or college every morning, if they are not working part-time or if they are allocated to whatever activity happens to have spaces rather than the one they need or want to do, then it will come as no surprise if they commit more crime when they come out. This means neighbourhoods that are unsafe, fatherless children and more victims. The population crisis is not just a technocratic headache for ministers and the prison service; there will be consequences for all of us.

Charlie Taylor
HM Chief Inspector of Prisons


I also notice that following a period of dignified silence since retirement from the Howard League, Frances Crook has been moved to say something on the subject:-


Yet another newspaper report of the scandalous state of prisons

During my thirty years working for penal justice I visited around 100 prisons in the UK and many more across every continent. I never found a place that I would be content to reside in, which must be the test for prisons. They are not intended to be places that inflict punishment as that is meant to be the deprivation of liberty, the most severe penalty. Yet once again a news paper has revealed the dire state of prisons in this country.

The Observer journalists did something that I used to do as a matter of course and indeed used to publicise, they reviewed the reports of inspections and found that three quarters of prisons in England were judged to be unsafe. If they had looked at monitoring reports by the watchdogs who go into prisons every day, as opposed to inspectors who visit once every few years, they would have found the same thing.

Dangerously unsafe prisons matter because they fester with violence, drugs and incivility. Prisons are part of our community and what happens inside seeps out into the wider community when people released from months or years in prison commit more crimes and often more violent crimes. It seeps out when staff are dehumanised by the violence and cruelty that see and that they have to inflict through the capricious disciplinary system that imposes solitary confinement and other punishments in response to unrest, resistance and frustration.

Governments for decades have used the dual mantra of increasing punishment inside prisons and increasing the number of prisons as a populist policy. They know this does not work to make prisons safer and by building more prisons they simply augment the problem, they don’t solve it. It’s the cheapest and nastiest expression of political leadership.

Like motorways or hospitals, the problem of over-use and crowding in prisons will not be solved by trying to build our way out of the chaos. Road traffic has to be curtailed and managed, healthcare has to take place in the community as far as possible, and sanctions for crime have to be based in prevention and the community.

It is disappointing that once again Labour and Conservatives are locked in this dead end competition. The public, and particularly victims of crime, deserve better. If government and opposition are not presenting a different vision, it is welcome that the some of the media are trying to create a different narrative.

Frances Crook

Monday 7 August 2023

This Can't Go On Surely?

This from the Guardian on Saturday sadly causes not one jot of concern and simply doesn't register in terms of the national news agenda. It doesn't even seem to register with probation staff any longer, most of whom seem to have become compliant and complicit employees of the dreadful HMPPS, the government department responsible for this veritable shit show. How much longer can probation staff, unions, managers and academics sit by and not demand a divorce for goodness sake?  

Three-quarters of prisons in England and Wales in appalling conditions as overcrowding fears grow

The vast majority of prisons are providing inadequate conditions or unacceptable treatment, according to an Observer investigation that has led to claims of prisoners being “warehoused” in a system in crisis.

An analysis of hundreds of inspections found that three-quarters of prisons in England and Wales are now providing insufficient standards in at least one respect. More than a third were deemed to be insufficiently safe. On Saturday night, several senior figures warned that prisons were in the worst condition they had known.

The chief inspector of prisons, the Tory chair of the justice committee and senior prison staff all warned that the findings had been fuelled by overcrowding. The prison population stands at 86,763, with just 947 empty cells in England and Wales. However, insiders said that the supposedly “spare” cells were often in the wrong places or inappropriate for incoming prisoners. 
The news comes with instances of prison deaths, suicides and serious assaults on inmates and staff increasing. There has also been an alarming rise in the rates of self-harm in women’s prisons – up 51% in the year to June.

Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors Association, called for an urgent early release scheme. She said recent policies designed to hand out tougher sentences, together with crowded prisons, a backlog of remanded prisoners and a smaller, inexperienced workforce meant it was now necessary.

“We are stuffed to the gunwales,” she said. “We are doing little more than warehousing people. The result is that we’re delivering really poor regimes in many of our prisons, with prisoners locked up for 22 hours a day. In a nutshell, it’s dangerous. “This is absolutely the worst I’ve ever seen. They have got to look at an early release scheme of some kind … It is very straightforward. The big thing to sort out the crisis we’ve got is to reduce the population by thousands.”

All prisons are inspected to see if they satisfy basic standards for safety, respect for prisoners, access to purposeful activities and rehabilitation. In each area, they are deemed as being good, reasonably good, insufficiently good or poor. The Observer examined 245 full inspections covering 123 of the prisons in operation. The most recent inspections for each prison stated that 95 were poor or not sufficient in at least one area. Two-thirds were failing to provide adequate purposeful activity.

Experts said it was a sign that prisons had failed to lift Covid measures that saw prisoners locked up for long periods. More than 40% of prisons recorded a worse score compared with their previous inspection.

Just in the last fortnight, inspectors raised the alarm over the conditions in Bristol, now regarded as one of the unsafest prisons in the country. Eight men had killed themselves since the last inspection, while one had been charged with the murder of a cellmate. Emergency cell call bells often went unanswered, and the prison was found to be “violent and riddled with drugs”.

Charlie Taylor, the chief inspector of prisons, told the Observer: “These worrying findings correspond closely with those of our own annual report, published last month, and with the issues that led me to write to the secretary of state issuing an urgent notification for improvement at Bristol prison. The situation in many institutions is concerning and, as population pressures compound this, we need to see resolute support from the centre for every prison and every prison governor. We cannot allow a situation to persist where prisoners are simply warehoused in deteriorating conditions, with the real risk of harm not only to them as individuals but also to the public if their rehabilitation has not been supported during their time in custody.”

Bob Neill, the Tory chief of the justice select committee, said: “It is an extremely serious situation as we are looking at a prison population which could rise above 100,000 in the next four years. “Our own research shows that half of prison officers do not feel safe at work and more than three-quarters of those surveyed reported that morale was not good. It all points to a high-pressure environment, and the government needs to set out what measures it is taking to address this wholly unacceptable situation, both in the short and long term.”

Nick Hardwick, the former chief inspector of prisons who is now professor of criminal justice at Royal Holloway, University of London, said prisons were in “the most dangerous state I can remember”.He added: “The increase is not just because we are sending more people to prison but because we are sending people to prison for much longer – the taps are full on and the outflow is blocked.”

Campaigners called for the return of the end of custody licence scheme, an early release programme introduced by Labour in 2007 to deal with overcrowding. It was abolished in 2010.

“Today’s government must recognise the gravity of the situation and look to a similar initiative if the prison system is to have any chance of recovery,” said Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for penal reform.

The Ministry of Justice said the overall rate of assaults remained 23% lower than prior to the pandemic. The government said it was still committed to creating 20,000 modern prison places.

A spokesperson said: “This government is doing more than ever to deliver safe and secure prisons that rehabilitate offenders, cut crime and protect the public. Assaults are nearly a third lower than in 2019 as a result of these efforts, and our £100m investment in tough security measures – including X-ray body scanners – is stopping the weapons, drugs and phones that fuel violence behind bars. At the same time, we are pressing ahead with the biggest expansion of prison places in over a century, recruiting up to 5,000 more prison officers and creating a prisoner education service so offenders get the support and skills they need to put crime behind them.”

Wednesday 2 August 2023

Bound To Win Votes

You definitely know when an election is looming when the ruling party start rowing back on climate change measures, foreign aid aid and sending more people to prison, even though there's no room. This from the Guardian yesterday:- 

Shoplifters who commit repeat offences to face prison

Government also plans to make greater use of facial recognition technology as part of crime crackdown bill

Shoplifters, burglars and violent criminals who commit repeat offences will be handed mandatory prison sentences under plans being drawn up by ministers. The government plans to force judges to impose jail terms when sentencing repeat offenders for shoplifting, burglary, theft and common assault, using new legislation to be included in the crime and justice bill.

Currently, these offences do not necessarily result in a prison sentence, the way that two convictions for knife crime automatically do. The number of offences required for a prison sentence would vary according to the type of crime, according to the Times.

A government source told the newspaper the trigger for a custodial sentence for repeat shoplifting would likely be between 10 and 20 instances as it is a lower-level offence than knife crime, for example, although planning for the legislation is still in its early stages. Lower thresholds are reportedly being considered for burglary, theft and common assault.

The government is also in favour of police and retailers making greater use of facial recognition technology. On Sunday, the Observer reported that Home Office officials had made plans to lobby the independent privacy regulator in an attempt to roll out facial recognition technology into high street shops and supermarkets to combat shoplifting.

The covert strategy was agreed during a closed-door meeting on 8 March between the policing minister, Chris Philp, senior Home Office officials and the private firm Facewatch, whose facial recognition cameras provoked fierce opposition after being installed in shops.

Philp is also said to be urging police forces to make greater use of the technology and artificial intelligence to match known shoplifters with images on the police national computer.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Shoplifting strikes at the heart of local communities and we expect police forces to take this seriously – deterring this kind of crime but also catching more offenders. We have delivered more police officers in England and Wales than ever before and invested a record of up to £17.6bn in 2023/24 into policing, including for more visible patrols in our neighbourhoods and better security such as CCTV and alarm systems.”


From the Observer on Sunday:-

Home Office secretly backs facial recognition technology to curb shoplifting

Covert government strategy to install electronic surveillance in shops raises issues around bias and data, and contrasts sharply with the EU ban to keep AI out of public spaces

Home Office officials have drawn up secret plans to lobby the independent privacy regulator in an attempt to push the rollout of controversial facial recognition technology into high street shops and supermarkets, internal government minutes seen by the Observer reveal.

The covert strategy was agreed during a closed-door meeting on 8 March between policing minister Chris Philp, senior Home Office officials and the private firm Facewatch, whose facial recognition cameras have provoked fierce opposition after being installed in shops.

In a development that ignores critics who claim the technology breaches human rights and is biased, particularly against darker-skinned people, minutes of the meeting appear to show Home Office officials agreeing to write to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) advocating the merits of facial recognition technology in tackling “retail crime”.

Mark Johnson, advocacy manager of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “The Home Office must urgently answer questions about this meeting, which appears to have led officials to lean on the ICO in order to favour a firm that sells highly invasive facial recognition technology. Government ministers should strive to protect human rights, not cosy up to private companies whose products pose serious threats to civil liberties in the UK.”

The minutes of the previously undisclosed meeting reveal that Philp – appointed policing minister by Rishi Sunak last October – and Simon Gordon, the founder of Facewatch, discussed “retail crime and the benefits of privately owned facial recognition technology”.

Later, as part of an action plan agreed during the meeting, it is noted: “Officials to draft a letter to ICO setting out the effects of retail crime.” In addition, Philp would “consider a speech to bring the benefits of FR [facial recognition] to the fore”.

It remains unclear precisely what contact followed between the Home Office and the privacy regulator regarding Facewatch. However, the minutes do suggest that Philp is aware that any attempt to apply pressure on the independent regulator might be ineffective. “CP [Chris Philp] reiterated that the ICO are independent and he can’t attempt to change their rulings or opinion,” state the minutes, obtained by Big Brother Watch through a freedom of information (FoI) request.

Facial recognition technology has provoked widespread criticism and scrutiny, with the European Union moving to ban the technology in public spaces through its upcoming artificial intelligence act. However the UK’s data protection and information bill proposes to abolish the role of the government-appointed surveillance camera commissioner along with the requirement for a surveillance camera code of practice.

“The UK should seek to emulate the European artificial intelligence act, which would place a ban on the use of facial recognition for surveillance purposes in all public spaces,” added Johnson.

Advocates of biometric surveillance technology installed on retailers’ premises point to the escalating issue of retail crime, with UK shop thefts more than doubling in the past six years, reaching 8m in 2022. Last week the Co-op warned that some communities could become “no-go” areas for shops due to surging levels of retail crime. 

However, the use of Facewatch to tackle the issue is deeply contentious. In April, Sports Direct’s parent company defended its decision to use Facewatch cameras – which check faces against a watch list – in its shops. Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group said the cameras had cut crime, after 50 MPs and peers backed a letter opposing its use of live facial recognition technology.

Gordon, who founded Facewatch in 2010, said: “We provide each individual business with a service that will reduce crime in their stores and make their staff safer. Every store has 10 to 20 people who just constantly steal from that store. And the store knows who they are. They’ve been preventing theft for years – this isn’t a new thing. All this is doing is using new technology to stop it. One of our big retailers using it has a 25% [crime] reduction compared to stores not using Facewatch,” he added.

Facial recognition software has been used by South Wales police and London’s Metropolitan police during events like the Notting Hill Carnival and, more recently, during the coronation. In 2020, appeal court judges ruled that previous trials by South Wales police of the technology were unlawful and unethical, although the force continues to use the technology.

Last month, the Met revealed the results of its review into the technology’s effectiveness and claimed “no statistically significant bias in relation to race and gender, and the chance of a false match is just 1 in 6,000 people who pass the camera”.

Asked about the ministerial support for Facewatch, a Home Office spokesperson said: “Shops are at the heart of our communities, and it is important that businesses are free to trade without fear of crime or disorder. That is why we continue to work closely with retail businesses, security representatives, trade associations and policing to ensure our response to retail crime is as robust as it can be. New technologies like facial recognition can help businesses protect their customers, staff and stock by actively managing shoplifting and crime.”