Thursday 23 May 2024

Unsettled Weather Ahead

All Washed Up

The government may be all washed up, but it will be interesting to see if last night's carefully prepared but abandoned Newsnight programme on sex offenders and specialist programmes will ever see the light of day now. No doubt they will be breathing a sigh of relief at HMPPS HQ, but there will still be a great deal of concern regarding tonight's BBC Panorama programme on risk and Approved Premises:-

Undercover: Can Probation Keep Us Safe?

"Panorama goes undercover in the Probation Service and reveals how easy it is for convicted criminals to go on the run, that drug tests are not being carried out because they are too expensive, and that staff are failing to carry out regular room searches.

The Probation Service is supposed to help keep the public safe and reduce reoffending when criminals are released from prison, but Panorama reveals a system described by staff as broken. The programme hears from families whose loved ones have been murdered by offenders on probation and reveals new figures for serious crimes, including rape and murder, committed by those on probation."

We must earnestly hope that this long-awaited election campaign can deliver some common sense debate on the state of our criminal justice system and the Probation Service in particular. Things cannot go on as they are with a crisis in both our prisons and community provision, however since the election gun has been fired, six weeks of purdah now takes effect and nothing officially is allowed to happen. It just might carry on raining of course, both actually and metaphorically.    


  1. Today's Guardian:-

    In British politics, only certain things matter. Over the past decade, the Conservatives have overseen chaos in the justice system – from the disastrous privatisation of the probation services, to court backlogs of up to six years and the decimation of legal aid – with barely any pushback from the media or voters. Politicians afraid of being seen as “soft on crime” have little motivation to create fair conditions for offenders, even if it means sacrificing victims too.

    Few issues make that case clearer than the state of our prisons. On Thursday, the government’s bid to deal with soaring overcrowding will see some prisoners across 84 jails in England and Wales become eligible for early release – up to 70 days prior to the end of their sentence.

    Rishi Sunak, now facing a gruelling election campaign, has pledged that “no one” would be put on the scheme – which last October began for inmates 18 days away from their release date – “if they were deemed a threat to public safety”.

    But high-risk offenders – including those who are a danger to children – have already been released, while ministers’ failure to notify survivors of domestic abuse means many won’t know their abusers are free. Perpetrators of domestic violence and stalking are likely to be among those released early because they frequently receive short sentences, and most of those eligible for the scheme will be serving 12 months or less. It is not a coincidence that these crimes primarily affect women, who are routinely ignored and deprioritised by the justice system.

    Ministers are right that things cannot go on as they are. The prison population has ballooned by 93% over the past 30 years as a result of tougher sentences and, more recently, court backlogs. The system is now running at 110% capacity – conditions that have already contributed to prisoners dying as well as rising rates of self-harm – and is estimated to increase by a further 30% by 2028. To put that in context, the UK already has the third largest prison population in countries covered by the Council of Europe after Russia and Turkey.

    And yet poorly planned quick fixes such as “get out of jail free” cards are simply tinkering at the edges. Or as Charlie Taylor, the chief inspector of prisons, puts it: “more fundamentally, an urgent conversation is needed about who we send to prison, for how long, and what we want to happen during their time inside”.

    It is telling that, in addition to the early release scheme, ministers plan to tackle overcrowding with measures including creating 20,000 new prison places and inmates “doubling up in cells” where it’s deemed safe to do so. It sums up bleakly where decades of “tough on crime” hysteria has led us: the government would prefer to pen prisoners in like animals rather than ask why so many of its citizens are incarcerated in the first place.

    That might have something to do with who those citizens typically are. Incarceration is disproportionately inflicted on people who grew up in poverty, as well as those with mental health conditions and from an ethnic minority background; the Prison Reform Trust says that the overrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic people jailed in this country is estimated to fill a dozen extra prisons.

    1. Those who wish to reduce prison numbers are often accused of wanting to let dangerous criminals off the hook. But the irony of the “tough on crime” agenda is that it is the epitome of hollow rhetoric: poor and black people are needlessly locked up, while offenders who genuinely pose a threat to the public routinely evade justice. Just ask the 99% of accused rapists who never see the inside of a courtroom.

      What we need is radical reform of the prison system: fewer people behind bars and more resources spent on reducing rather than simply punishing crime. In many cases, there is no societal benefit to imprisoning non-violent offenders. On the contrary, evidence shows that community sentences are more effective at reducing reoffending than short prison sentences, yet their use has halved in the past decade.

    2. I'm guessing Napo won't be calling for any meetings now then. Perhaps Napo can think of looking to a new government and be ready to assist labour with new direction . No no not a chance Napo will remain in it's deep sleep.

  2. There was supposed to be a story on Newsnight also about the ruination of accredited programs but it got bumped due to the GE


    Offenders on probation have faced 800 charges for murder or manslaughter between 2016 and 2022, and more than 1,000 charges for rape or sexual assault.

    There were eight convictions for murder or manslaughter every month, on average, and six for rape or sexual assault between 2015 and 2021.

    1. An undercover investigation inside the Probation Service by the BBC has found serious failings in the supervision of violent and sex offenders.

      Two dangerous convicted criminals ran away from a probation hostel in Kent during the six weeks a Panorama reporter was secretly filming there.

      New figures obtained by the BBC show that offenders on probation in England and Wales have been charged with two killings and three sexual assaults every week on average.

      The Ministry of Justice said: "Protecting the public is our top priority."

      Reoffending rates have fallen from 31% to 24% since 2010, a ministry spokesperson added.

      The reporter worked at Fleming House in Maidstone, a hostel run by the Probation Service which is home to about 30 high-risk offenders including murderers, paedophiles and rapists.

      It is one of about 100 approved premises across England and Wales, which supervise about 2,000 criminals who are considered too dangerous to release straight into the community. These offenders live in the hostels for about three months after coming out of prison.

      Our investigation found:

      A sex offender and a man who stabbed a vulnerable person ran away from the hostel in separate incidents

      The sex offender travelled across the country and was found only 11 miles from the home of a young woman who says he groomed her when she was a teenager

      Widely used monitoring software that should enable the police to check what sex offenders do on their phones does not work on iPhones and some gaming devices

      Offenders repeatedly missed alcohol and drugs tests because staff had forgotten to order plastic breathalyser tubes or because the hostel had run out of money for drugs testing

      One member of staff at Fleming House falsified a resident's sign-in record, which one expert said could provide a false alibi if he were investigated for a crime

      Fleming House has a history of problems: three years ago, a resident was jailed for killing a man who lived nearby and a serial sex offender also living there groomed a 13-year-old girl.

      The sex offender who was able to run away from the hostel during Panorama’s secret filming was Anthony Bullman. He had been convicted of sexually assaulting a young woman in 2020 and has been assessed by the Probation Service as a danger to teenage girls.

      He had previously run away from the same hostel when he was on probation two years earlier. Police suspected then that he had met a 16-year-old girl whom he had befriended online.

      On that occasion, he was eventually arrested for breaking a ban on talking to under-18s and temporarily recalled to prison, but was not charged.

      Like all residents, Bullman had restrictions on what he was allowed to do while on probation. These restrictions are called licence conditions and are set in prison, according to the risk an offender poses to the public.

      If the restrictions are broken, the offender can be sent back to prison.

      As part of his licence conditions, Bullman was required to sign in four times a day at the hostel’s office. He was routinely late or did not bother to sign in, however.

      One evening when Bullman was 20 minutes late, a junior member of staff – known as a residential worker – asked the Panorama reporter to falsify a sign-in so it appeared as though Bullman had arrived on time.

      “Just write him in for seven. I’m not bothered today, I’ve worked too hard already,” he said.

      When the reporter didn’t do it, the staff member falsified the record himself.

    2. Philip Wheatley, the director general of the National Offender Management Service from 2008 to 2010, viewed Panorama’s footage. He said the falsification of records could give a "false alibi" if the offender was subsequently investigated for an offence.

      “It’s crucial that recording is done properly,” he said, adding that sign-in failures by a known absconder needed to be logged and passed back to the probation officer.

      Two weeks later, Bullman ran away from Fleming House.

      The Panorama reporter found torn-up pieces of paper in Bullman’s room with the details of a convicted stalker and a nickname, “Penguin”, which a colleague suggested belonged to a sex offender.

      Bullman was eventually arrested by police after being on the run for two days. He was found just 11 miles from the home of a vulnerable woman who says he “groomed” her when she was 17.

      He was sent back to prison for breaching his licence conditions.

      A Freedom of Information request by Panorama to the Ministry of Justice reveals the risk recently released criminals can pose to the public.

      Offenders on probation have faced 800 charges for murder or manslaughter between 2016 and 2022, and more than 1,000 charges for rape or sexual assault.

      There were eight convictions for murder or manslaughter every month, on average, and six for rape or sexual assault between 2015 and 2021.

      At Fleming House, the Panorama reporter was on duty when another offender - with a conviction for a violent assault - ran away.

      Jordan Battams was sentenced to 12 years in prison for grievous bodily harm after he tortured and slashed the face of an autistic man.

      He was released on licence after eight years but was later recalled to prison after absconding. Almost as soon as he returned to Fleming House during Panorama’s undercover filming, staff said at a team meeting that they suspected he might run away again.

      Battams had only minimal restrictions while on probation: a curfew of 21:30 and an alcohol tag, which should have been used to monitor whether he had been drinking but had not been fitted by the tagging company.

      Six days after he arrived at Fleming House, Battams failed to return in time for his curfew.

      A member of staff was secretly filmed calling him on his phone and saying: "Hello, is that Jordan? You should be back here for half past nine. Just give us a rough idea how long you think you'll be."

      The employee then said to the undercover reporter that "he's under the influence" so he was in trouble, adding that "he's with a group of people, telling me to 'calm down'".

      Staff consulted a senior probation officer who decided that Battams should be sent back to prison. But by that time, he had already been arrested for theft, according to an update from police to Fleming House. A further report said there was also an allegation he had been sexually harassing a teenage girl.

      Battams was not charged with any offences but was sent back to prison for breaching the terms of his licence.

      Julie, the mother of the man Battams attacked in 2011, said it was "unbelievable" that he had been able to abscond. "The system is broken," she said.

      During its investigation, Panorama also learned of a potentially critical failure in the way that the internet use of some sex offenders is monitored while they are on probation.

      Many of them should have special software installed on their phones when they leave prison so the police can monitor their online activity.

      But one police officer who appeared in the secret filming told the BBC's undercover reporter that the software did not work on iPhones.

      He added: "I don't like to say it out loud, so please keep it to yourself. It doesn't work on Apple."

    3. The police officer said the law "needs to be changed" so that registered sex offenders who have committed offences online "have a phone of our choosing with our software on it".

      The software, which the BBC is not naming for security reasons, also does not work on many gaming devices which can browse the web.

      Since 2020, more than half of the UK’s police forces have used the software, including West Yorkshire Police and the Metropolitan Police.

      The software provider said that “due to the access restrictions posed by certain device operating systems such as Apple iPhones and gaming consoles, these are not ordinarily permitted for use” by offenders “under court orders but are the subject of police risk assessment”.

      Kent Police said it “uses a range of methods to monitor registered sex offenders” including "monitoring software, unannounced visits and digital forensic examinations”.

      Panorama repeatedly asked the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice about the software and ensuring adequate offender monitoring. They did not answer Panorama’s questions, saying it was a matter for the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC).

      The NPCC said the police use “detailed risk management plans tailored to each individual”.

      The secret filming also captured serious failures in drug and alcohol testing. Many residents are supposed to be drug tested frequently or breathalysed twice a week, because the offences for which they were jailed were linked to drug or alcohol use.

      But for long periods alcohol breath tests were not possible because the hostel repeatedly ran out of plastic tubes for the machine. One violent criminal, who should have been tested three times a week, went two months without a test.

      Another offender who had been jailed for sexually assaulting a woman while he was drunk, should have been tested every day but went three weeks without being breathalysed.

      During secret filming, the manager of Fleming House said he had been told by "management" it was too expensive to test residents regularly, after the government moved from saliva tests to more accurate, but costly, urine tests.

      Fleming House ran out of money to buy drug test kits for three months. Even the residents were surprised.

      "If I had a joint last week, by the time you piss-tested me, that would be gone," one said.

      Mr Wheatley, the former probation boss, said the service was "desperately short of staff".

      "It's important the government funds services that are meant to protect the public properly and don't leave them floundering with too much workload and not enough staff to do it," he said.

      The Ministry of Justice said: "We're investing £155m a year extra into the Probation Service to deliver tougher supervision, reduce caseloads and recruit thousands more staff to keep communities safer."

      The Panorama reporter saw serious failures but also some staff doing their best to protect the public under heavy workloads. By the end of his time at Fleming House, he said: “If I was doing this just as my job, I don't know if I’d have coped with it.”

      One worker said: “It's broken, the system. If Joe Public knew, they'd be up in arms. But it's so broken.”

    4. This write-up reads that Panorama are pushing the view that Probation should be able to prevent anyone absconding from a hostel. Not helpful in my opinion and setting false and impossible expectations. It’s not a prison with secure walls. I’ve not seen it yet, so that’s based on the write up only.

  4. Police officer on Twitter:-

    "Probation are utterly maxed out and broken with very high staff turn over due to exhausting conditions. In multiple areas in my force, Probation have stated in writing, that they will no longer recall offenders for license breaches without them being charged with a further criminal offence. This includes murderer, rapists and paedophiles. This means if someone is breaching their license conditions i.e. a paedophile loitering in a children's play[ground], the vast majority of the time I have to find a criminal offence and get them charged with it before they can be recalled to prison. The work needed for that compared to a simply emergency recall and the evidence needed is astronomically higher and harder to reach. The pressure and the workload is, without hyperbole, horrific."

  5. I think there's an admisson here that privatisation in the CJS just doesn't work.


    1. The government is to permanently take over the running of a prison in Nottinghamshire months after a damning report.

      In August, an inspection at HMP Lowdham Grange found a number of failings, including high levels of violence and self-harm.

      The government took over the Category B jail on an interim basis in December.

      It has now announced that taking over permanently "is the best way to ensure that improvements continue".

      Earlier this year, a report revealed that more than 120 staff at the prison had resigned, with more than half of these front-line prison officers, leaving the site short-staffed.

      The report also said that "targeted searches" over Christmas had led to about 600 litres of illicitly-brewed alcohol, or "hooch", being seized.

      The prisons minister, Edward Argar, has announced that terms have, in principle, been agreed to enable the prison to be brought under permanent public control.

      Lowdham Grange, which had been run by Sodexo before the government took over, has been privately run since the 1990s.

      Mr Argar said: "Given the very specific issues at HMP Lowdham Grange, we took swift action to step-in and improve conditions and safety by providing extra support.

      "The majority of private prisons perform well, including others Sodexo runs, but it has become clear that taking over permanently is the best way to ensure that improvements continue."

      The transfer from Sodexo to His Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) is due to happen this summer.

      Sodexo was awarded a 10-year contract, with a five-year break clause, from February 2023.

      The government said it had been agreed Sodexo would pay a settlement to cover the cost of the "step-in" action, as well as operating costs up to February 2028 when the five-year break clause could have been triggered by HMPPS.

      It said this meant there would be no increased cost to the taxpayer.

      Staff at the prison will continue to be employed and supported through the transition, the government added.

      Governor Neil Thomas, who took command of the prison last December, will remain in post "to lead the prison and steer the transition process".

      The government said action taken so far to improve standards included a "bolstered HMPPS senior management team" and up to 50 additional, experienced, prison officers and residential managers to help provide consistent and predictable regimes for prisoners.

      It added that a joint HMPPS and Sodexo search, which found "significant" amounts of contraband, had taken place.

      The refurbishment of windows on one wing - with a further seven wings planned - has also taken place to "improve decency and prevent contraband ingress".

      A HMPPS team also arranged illicitly brewed alcohol dogs (IBAD) support, which "resulted in considerable quantities of either fermenting or distilled being removed from the establishment".

      As a result of these measures, the government said rates of violence towards staff had decreased by 50%, and there had been a significant reduction in prisoner-on-prisoner assault rates.

      A spokesperson for Sodexo said: "HMP Lowdham Grange is a prison facing a unique set of challenges. We have worked tirelessly and very closely with HMPPS since February 2023 to seek to improve stability and deliver the significant improvements expected. However, we believe, in these specific circumstances, that this move is in the best interests of all concerned.

      "At this time, we are focused on working alongside the MoJ and HMPPS to ensure a safe, secure and seamless transfer for everyone who lives and works at the prison.

      "We wholeheartedly thank our colleagues at the prison who work exceptionally hard in often difficult circumstances."

  6. It’s on iplayer now to watch

  7. Make sure you update your details on NAPO website and cast your vote in the informal ballot! Don't be complacent. I have voted for action, enough is enough. We are being treated like shit shovelers by Government, HMPPS!

  8. Slightly off topic but the former PO who managed a team of POs to assist Kent NPS 18 months or so ago, who was wrongfully suspended is in the process of taking Kent NPS management to Court for discrimination and gross misconduct unless he is compensated following Kings Counsel advice - apparently he is ‘going for it’ and will expose all of those responsible to the press if he has to - this info has come from another former PO - I am behind him, about time really

  9. The panorama documentary barely scratched the surface of what we deal with everyday and the near misses that happen daily.. I would have been more interested if they did an undercover PSO in post. I did have someone at Fleming House fairly recently did wonder why they weren’t being drug tested and did wonder how stringent they were being with the curfews and sign ins. They also told the person I was supervising that I was “very strict” for not reducing their sign ins for 2 weeks. I feel sorry for staff there who are bound to cop it from senior managers they were just telling the truth - the probation service is fucked. It’s ok though - there’s a staff call on Tuesday (!)

  10. Panorama- people go to an AP before they go into community-an AP is in the community. No mention of it not being probation that fit alcohol tags.

  11. Just watched Panorama, I’m so ashamed of our service. If I continue I feel I’m saying it’s ok to work like this and frankly for senior managers to exploit me. I have no voice and if I had would anyone listen?

  12. well, that was a fun watch wasn't it?

    probation - the unprofessional pack of tosspots who can't be arsed.

    No, its not a reflection of *everyone*.

    But the panorama programme revealed the probation service in its modern post-tr format as an indefensible amateur shitshow.

  13. As someone who's worked in Offender Management and APs, I was impressed by the Panorama program's accuracy in highlighting the Probation Service's challenges. I believe it's essential for the government and senior leadership to take concrete action to address these problems, rather than sweeping them under the carpet and blaming frontline staff. The added pressure of early releases only amplifies the need for real and meaningful change.