Monday, 23 April 2018

Too Many Suspended Sentences

This news in the Guardian is an idication of just how determined the government is to make TR work, rather than admit it's all been a terrible mistake:-   

Stop handing out so many suspended sentences, courts told

Community orders more legally appropriate, Sentencing Council for England and Wales says

Judges, magistrates, court clerks and probation officers have all been instructed to stop handing down so many suspended prison sentences and switch instead to giving offenders community orders. A leaked circular sent earlier this month by the chair of the Sentencing Council, Lord Justice Treacy, to courts across England and Wales warned that a punitive culture had developed – imposing suspended sentences “as a more severe form of community order” when not legally appropriate.

Probation officers have been told to no longer recommend suspended sentences in pre-sentence reports. The two-page letter highlights a stark trend that has emerged over the past decade of suspended sentence use rising sharply while the number of community orders has almost halved. Suspended sentences are given to convicted offenders on the understanding that if they reoffend or fail to observe their conditions they are liable to be sent to prison.

Treacy’s circular has been sent at a time when prisons remain overcrowded. In it he wrote that in 2005, courts handed out almost 203,000 community orders; by 2010 that had fallen to 188,000 and in 2015 it was fewer than 108,000. By contrast, the number of suspended sentence orders has risen substantially. They stood at 4,000 in 2005, reached 46,000 in 2010 and were more than 52,000 in 2015.

The circular explained: “Evidence suggested that part of the reason for this could be the development of a culture to impose suspended sentences as a more severe form of community order in cases where the custody threshold may not have been crossed.

“In such cases, if the suspended sentence order (SSO) is then breached, there are two possible outcomes – neither of which is satisfactory. Either the courts must activate the custodial sentence and the offender then serve time in custody even when it may never have been intended that they do so for the original offence. Or the court could choose not to enforce the suspended sentence, thereby diminishing the deterrent power of such orders.”

Treacy added: “A suspended sentence is a custodial sentence and not a more severe form of community order. They can only be imposed where the court has determined first that the custody threshold has been crossed and second that custody is unavoidable ... At that point the court may then undertake a weighted assessment of the various factors which may lead the court to consider that it is possible to suspend the sentence.”

In order to give effect to his warning, Treacy agreed with the director of the National Probation Service that probation officers would refrain from recommending SSOs in pre-sentence reports. Treacy noted: “This in no way impacts upon judicial discretion to suspend custodial sentences: it merely seeks to reinforce good sentencing practice.”

Penelope Gibbs, the director of Transform Justice, who has seen the circular, fears it could lead to judges giving more prison sentences if they are discouraged from using suspended sentences. She said: “I completely understand the desire of the Sentencing Council to increase community orders. But banning the probation service from recommending suspended sentence orders is not the right strategy. If a suspended sentence is not recommended, judges may use a prison sentence instead, and we know that short prison sentences are ineffective”

There has been growing concern that community orders are falling out of fashion. Two years ago the former lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, called for the creation of “really tough, and I do mean tough, community penalties”.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Pick of the Week 50

Interesting to read how many criminal justice/probation practitioners disagree with each other about the parole process ref-Worboys. Is that indicative of a broken system or a widespread lack of understanding/knowledge?

*****
That's a good point to make, as you'd expect those working in the system to have a shared understanding of procedures, protocols and responsibilities. The constant chopping and changing of processes doesn't help, nor the loss of experienced hands. It can look like the chaos of Keystone Cops – full of well-meaning energy, but full of cross purposes.

*****
In the meantime various 'Think Tanks' are positioning something that is being branded as Justice Devolution and under its banner there is the chance of another Probation revolution ranging from complete privatisation of Probation services to various hybrids under various local umbrellas. And, I am not hearing any Probation lead on these matters. Again, I ask who is speaking for Probation, who are our leaders and what are they saying? Come on people, wake up, others are deciding your destiny.

*****
It’s the right move. There must be evidence to support prosecutions and all involved must remember its ‘innocent until proven guilty’ not the other way around. “Speaking as a cop, opposed to a citizen, I’m interested in crime. If it’s a long time ago, or it’s very trivial, or I’m not likely to get a criminal justice outcome, I’m not going to spend a lot of resources on it. And what might be a misunderstanding between two people, clumsy behaviour between somebody who fancies somebody else, is not a matter for the police.”

*****
Unless it results in spousal assaults and/or sexual assault under a banner of misunderstandings. This woman is dangerous in her trivialisations and has obviously never been a victim. No wonder London crime rates are out of control when the governor tells her officers to dismiss sexualised behaviours. DV used to be termed 'a civil matter' until the law got wise. Shame on u Cressida.

*****
I agree with evidence based prosecution and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, but the timing of this policy is astounding. It was not taking the allegations of some of the victims (perhaps a presumption of misunderstanding or clumsy behaviour???) that has been the real root of the controversy surrounding the Warboys case. Perhaps it's an attempt of some sort to distance the Met from its failings with Worboys, but it's not the first controversial comments she's made in her short time in charge. Unfortunately, the devolution of justice issues to London will give her a far freer hand to impose her own ideology on the people of the capital. I think we'll be hearing from Cressida (and about her) on a pretty regular basis.

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Think what she says is eminently sensible and to attack her is hysterical. All she is saying is that she is only interested in behaviour that passes a criminal threshold, that actually breaches a law that's on the statue book. She rightly says treat all complainants with respect, listen to their complaint, investigate, gather evidence and then see if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute. An allegation only becomes a fact if it's corroborated by evidence. What would you prefer? Trial based on allegations, or trial by evidence? Some Valentine cards may be unwelcome, but more likely the result of a misunderstanding than stalking or harassment.

*****
It's amazing how the demand for transparency with regard to the Parole Board is such an urgent priority, whilst all the failures of privatised probation services can be hidden away under the guise of corporate confidentiality. Transparency should be essential to all public services.

*****
Too much process and too many involved. The Worboys and the many other judicial challenges of Parole Board decision show that the Parole Board is not fit for making release decisions. Excepting whole life sentences, there should be fixed release dates for every prisoner. Recall periods should be in proportion to the sentence with a fixed release date, eg automatic release after a third of the remaining sentence period. Simple as.

*****
We have to accept that the Worboys decision was erroneous, but the Board generally do a good job. Some tinkering maybe around transparency and around allowing Boards to be chaired by lay people only under certain circumstances. That said, judges can make erratic chairs also. I know one who appears to sleep through most of proceedings. As much as I despise what has happened to legal aid, I fear that too much was used in paying so called 'independent psychologists' in this case.

*****
Fundamentally, the Parole Board must be doing a good job in evaluating risk if there is only a 1% chance of a parolee committing a further serious offence. The Worboy's case was more about the history of police failures to investigate at the outset and for Worboys to be charged by the CPS to adequately reflect the extent of his offending. Probation was also criticised over victim contact, but in fact all those who wanted to be kept informed were kept informed and those who did not wish victim contact had their wishes respected. The only mud thrown at probation related to some poorly drafted letters.

But as with other notorious cases – Harry Roberts with a parole tariff of 30 years spent 48 years in prison, released aged 78 – the reality is that the public would be quite content to see Worboys die in prison. It's not about future risks, it's about an enduring retribution. That's the irrationality at the heart of this case and no amount of tinkering with the Parole Board will prevent similar moral outrages in the future.

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The reconviction rates for serious offenders is low so Parole Board releases on the whole will always look like they’re “doing a good job”. There’s been many successful challenges of Parole Board decisions to not release. Worboys is the first challenge of a decision to release I think. It shows in too many instances Parole Board members are not suitably qualified to make release decisions. You really tell the difference when former judges, probation officers or psychologists are on the panel instead of the local butcher, baker or candlestick maker. An audit of paroled prisoners over the past 5 years would show there have been many, many dodgy Parole Board decisions, inc with illogical rationale and lack of information. This highly subjective process can be disbanded if every prisoner has a fixed released date. Not every country has a Parole Board.

*****
If you abolished indeterminate sentences, it would be compensated for by increasing the length of determinate sentences and we end up, like the US, imposing sentences of hundreds of years. Do you know of any country that does not make use of indeterminate sentences? How do they deal with heinous crimes?

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The IPP sentence was a move towards a ‘risk-based penal strategy’, with proportionality taking a back seat to public protection and future risk prediction. It is partly based on the US ‘3 strikes’ policy and it's heavy use of life sentences for a wide range of offences. So to the commenter above, we’re already following our friends across the pond. If the Parole Board system worked we wouldn’t have thousands of IPP’s languishing in prison many years over tariff. Indeterminate type sentences, quite legal under European law, could have fixed release dates and I question whether sentencing judges are happy knowing 15 years later flawed risk assessments will undermine the tariffs they set. 


There is not much point in parole and early release process when we have a prison system that can’t prepare people for release, a Parole Board that hasn’t the expertise and capacity to release, except serial rapists apparently, and a probation system that isn’t resourced to assist once released. We once abolished the death penalty, we ended the pre-90’s ‘one chance’ at parole, we did away with IPP sentences, and whole life sentences are now under scrutiny. There is an argument for an end to early parole and sentences without fixed release dates.

*****
Not every prisoner, probationer and hostel resident has psychological problems or personality disorders. The push to ‘screen’ all for PD without their knowledge is very concerning. So is the drive for PIPE prison wings and hostels which force individuals into psychological interventions to be released or be granted a hostel bed. How much is being spent on this PIPE rubbish? The only ones seeming to benefit are the psychologists!

*****
I absolutely agree re the psychologists benefiting. PD services seem to have created a whole new self-interested and self-absorbed industry. If you ask any MoJ/ NHS psychologist to assess someone for PD or anything else it seems they make it their purpose to find something to 'treat', despite their being very little treatment that service users will actually engage with.

*****
“PD” has become an industry unto itself. “PD” probation officers are running around generating importance for themselves. “PIPE” has become the buzzword for AP’s, which amounts to PSO’s having a group chat about once a week and an inexperienced psychologist telling them what they already know. 


Every offender on my caseload has been “screened in” (not be me) for “personality disorder”. None are aware they have been categorised for “PD” and are being discussed and assessed for psychological interventions (I’m not sure what is actually on offer). Most just need a job and a decent place to live! I get it, psychologist have to eat, but there’s probably more “PD” amongst the Probation managers!

*****
I agree with these sentiments. Probation has moved away from the social to the psychological, and people on our caseloads have been pathologised.

*****
10% of all Approved Premises and 50% of the female AP estate is provided by the Voluntary Sector a great team. Up until 45 years ago all Probation Hostels & Homes were provided and run by voluntary sector providers, some very small and local. It was not until legislation in the early 1970s that Probation Committees were first allowed to directly run Probation and Bail Hostels. Alongside the expansion of new Probation & Bail Hostels run by Probation Committees over the next 30 years, many previously voluntarily managed Probation Hostels were 'taken over' by the Probation Service and their assets absorbed in to the Crown Estate.

*****
This is good news but the demise of supported housing “hostels” and move-on accommodation is just as risky for Probation and the public. Two high risk of harm services have disappeared in my county with a loss of 24 bed spaces. Decent supported housing providers are being edged out of the market by profiteering companies, CRC writ large....

*****
Addiction defines a persons identity. It dictates what you do, and it's what you do that lays the fabrics and blocks that shape identity. The labels that are attached to an addict may compound things, but it's the addiction itself that creates the identity. Physical dependency is painful and traumatic, but short-lived, and the first necessary step to beating addiction. Staying clean is the complicated bit. A whole new identity is needed, a re-creation of the self. 


A three year programme as described above goes a very long way in addressing that need for a changed identity, it should be applauded, but there's also a concern for me. An addict can go to prison for three years, create a new identity for themselves, often a healthy one in the gym, stay off drugs the whole three years, but when that new-found identity is removed upon release, the familiar structures, the people gone that see you as your new identity defines you, many return to their old familiar self's and begin to use again. 


Spending three years in a community described above, helping to build that community, getting a sense of purpose and self worth, and doing so with a shared commonality with the others on the programme must certainly create that new identity. But it's only temporary and there must be a huge sense of loss when the time comes to move on. Those are dangers that I hope the programme can mitigate along the way, and I hope all that are lucky enough to be part of it really find it a life changing experience.

*****
Similar thoughts and I see value in the scheme as you do. For the majority though services need I think to focus on those issues in the local community which requires continuity of investment in community resources.

*****
No one saying anything about a connection between rising violent crime in London and the decimation of probation service as well as criminal breeding grounds that prisons have become? Cuts to public sector including the massive cuts to youth service and policing over past 10 years or so, social services and YOT's mean far less preventative work and opportunities to divert young people from crime. Social media and addiction of millions of young people to violent gaming is also playing a part. In addition reduction in time parents can spend with their children because they are having to work flat out to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Not rocket science really!

*****
Now then, MoJ, look what happens when you remove a vast swathe of experienced skilled professionals from the Probation & Prison Services... you have to pay some numpty £millions to "create" an algorithm that assesses risk. Remember OASys? That was a fuck up too. Will you ever learn? No! I can't wait to read MoJ's PR about lowest prisoner numbers since the beginning of time, etc etc etc, with Young Rory singing the praises.

*****
It's my view that the third sector and the private sector are just two heads of the same dog. They structure their corporate arrangements very similar, and reward those at the top with obscene amounts of money and associated benefits. The third sector get government funding, EU funding, Lottery funding, have reduced business rates and tax and VAT breaks. They also benefit greatly from a huge amount of unpaid labour carried out by volunteers. Yet they're still prepared to involve themselves in anything that can bring in a few quid despite what reputational damage it attracts. The work programme being just one. 
The private sector get millions from government contracts, local councils, PCCs. They're allowed to limit their liabilities despite the vast amounts of money that they pay to shareholders, and can hide pretty much anything they want through a corporate confidentiality clause. 

It doesn't seem to matter that every inspection and report produced shows damning failures and poor practice, it's always a cry for more money. More, more, more! It's high time the government gave both sectors a good hard kick up the arse, and remind them that when they're using public funds they need to be honest brokers, and deliver the services that are being paid for in the way they need to be provided. TR is in its fourth year, the conversation should be about how to improve services and working conditions, and not about how the spoils should be shared out.

*****
Police cuts are of course going to have an impact on crime. But the rise of violent crime in London shouldn't be seen just as a criminal justice issue. It's the amalgamation and the coming together of years of shite social policies, and our neoliberal right wing Conservative government should harbour much of the blame. Much of the explanations been given relate to gangs and drugs. But if you have a drug policy that leaves drugs in the domain of criminal fraternities, then the relationship between gangs and drugs will always exist. But it's education and housing policy too. Leaving school with few or no qualifications from a class size of 40 and over pupils and living somewhere like Broadwater farm or Tower Hamlets is likely to leave the option of benefits or a zero hour contract at KFC.


Housing is a national issue, but a huge problem in London. But to raise funds many local councils are selling off social housing to the private sector. That's resulting in high concentrations of the poorest and socially deprived people being pushed into certain areas. Some call it social cleansing, but it certainly creates ghettos and large areas where social deprivation is the common defining factor. It's not drugs and gangs, just as its not drugs, drones and mobile phones that's caused the prison crisis. It's failed social and political policy. It's austerity and the decisions that are being taken to combat vicious cuts, and the government need to accept resolution will only come from being more socially oriented because the free market isn't going to fix it, the free market approach is part of the problem.

*****
T'ain't rocket science, is it? Poor social policy, closure of youth services, schools further and further away from home, bedroom tax breaks up communities, social care services decimated, family centres closing etc etc etc. Whaddaya know, an increase in anti-social behaviour and crime. What are the causes? Too much UK money going into the hands of a small number of individuals instead of into public services. And if I hear 'legal highs' blamed for anything else, I am going to scream.

*****
I used to work in Approved Premises before taking early retirement. Over the years (1998 - 2016) I attended many different training courses including OASys. It was on this course that I pointed out that at Approved Premises we occasionally accepted individuals on bail who had no previous convictions and were pleading 'not guilty' to their alleged offence. Despite this they were still subjected to an assessment process which labelled them as an 'offender'. The course tutor was unable to give a satisfactory answer. I always thought that Probation staff should be non judgement.

*****
I'm sure prison officers on the landings, already struggling with understaffing, violence, drugs, and concerned for their safety, will really appreciate trips back and forward to the office to input data in real time. Where does all this data end up?

*****
There isn't a lack of information, there's a lack of rehabilitation. Reform must be music in the ears of IT consultants. It's the old mantra of doing the same things all over again and expecting a different result. Bring in Cambridge Analytica - they know a thing or two about influencing people.

*****
A realistic quantity of quality time in contact with clientele is absolute bottom line for rehabilitation. Then by all means angst about definitions and achievement of "quality". Then fart-arse about with technology if you must. Sigh.

*****
I find it pretty amazing that Amber Rudd identifies drugs as being one of the main drivers for the creation of gangs and rising violent crime, and yet say nothing on how she intends to tackle that driver. Drugs are here, and they're not going to go away. Drugs create all kinds of problems and simply taking an ideological view that says "drugs are harmful so we won't tolerate them", is frankly to my mind idiotic and irresponsible. 


There will always be an illegal trade in drugs as there is with their legalised counterparts tobacco and alcohol, but the war on drugs is a war that doesn't need to be fought. Take them out of the hands of criminals, take the huge revenues they generate and the potential business opportunities available and do good things for society. Be pragmatic about drugs, accept they're a problem that's not going away and manage that problem in the best way possible.

*****
This is increasingly tiresome. Reams and reams of paper to tell us that what we all said would happen has happened and that the train crash we all predicted has taken place. Another enquiry taking months to tell us what we already know.

The problem with Probation is that the Prison management that took it over disrespected it, devalued it and mismanaged it. Carter put the wrong people in charge and they screwed it up completely. Nothing more to say. The solution is to extricate Probation from the grip of the Prison Service and allow it to operate independently. That will at least give us a chance. Whilst the Prison Service management continue to see command and control as a means of managing the Probation arm of the HMPPS and whilst those same people think that the private sector have anything to offer Probation, the whole ethos of the model will remain compromised and beyond repair. This was said BEFORE this shit storm started and they all know it.

*****
It's just a process of marking time until the contracts can be re-tendered. Halfway through now, keep talking about it and the seven years will soon pass. Maybe what should be being considered is the cost of probation contracts next time around. It's bound to be double if not more then the original arrangements or there won't be many willing to take them on.

*****
"An important aspect of self-legitimacy is the extent to which practitioners feel that they are enabled and supported by their organisation and that they internalise the values represented by their organisation (Bradford and Quinton 2014). In our view, the current situation means that the self-legitimacy of many practitioners is, at the very least, in some doubt. This in turn may lower morale and foster discontent with the quality services provided to those under supervision".


A few days ago, under pressure, I cancelled an appointment to visit a vulnerable, traumatised woman in prison, in order to get ahead of the "performance" priorities. I didn't seek authority for this decision, and when I mentioned it to my manager, it was nodded through. After an afternoon battering a keyboard, and hitting every performance target I had, I came home feeling... like a bit of me had died. Lord knows how my client feels, I don't, seeing as I wasn't there.

*****
This blog post more than most struck a chord with me. I did not start in the Probation profession to make my fortune, I had a zeal to make a tangible difference in all quarters that we were tasked with. I valued being a part of a cohesive profession that reached beyond itself and sought to connect with all who had similar ambitions. I was interested in creating a relationship with the people I worked with and engaging with the evidence of what worked. I valued the experience of those before me and learning from them. I valued professional supervision and on-going professional development. My skills after a decade and more of working with people is way beyond what I could have imagined when I started. When we talk about culture, it is hard to reconcile my ideas with making a profit and dividend payments to shareholders. Culture and values matter to me and those who we serve I believe.

*****
As a client of the probation service, this article has given me a very valuable insight into the difficulties faced by those who want to actually help people better their lives. It must be soul destroying to be under the influence of such regressive policies. Hats off to anyone who sticks at it. Surely the tide will have to turn soon.

*****
Attachment, responsibility, purpose, are the cornerstones for a reasonably stable life. For some, those things can't be achieved with other people. There can be many reasons why that might be so. Todays blog reminds of a book I once read many years ago (80s I think), called life after life. I've had a quick search this morning but can't find it, though there seems to be quite a few with the same title. It was really a collection of observational studies on half a dozen people that had served life sentences and how they coped (or didn't) upon release. One of the people in the book was a woman, who on release quickly found her life in chaos. She was recalled many times and the time spent on recall surpassed the time served on her original sentence. 


After serving 7years on her last recall, someone, perhaps her probation officer, suggested she might like to keep a pet, and she found herself with a dog. From that moment on her life changed, no more chaos, no more offending, and no more recalls. A sense of contentment or even happiness perhaps? Whatever it was, the animal had the most amazing and positive impact on the woman's life.

*****
If vetting is being linked to the issuing of laptops, then it would be legitimate to question if it's the integrity of the IT systems and software that's driving the need for vetting and not the user.

*****

I cannot think why. If it is, then as usual the staff are punished and made to jump through hoops for probation’s failures. Vetting or not, there will always be one person that leaves their laptop on the train! And Vetting doesn’t make IT more secure, not so long ago I recall reading about a number of police prosecuted for sharing PNC details. They were vetted! Imagine what your probation Vetting coordinators sitting in your offices will be doing with all your confidential information about you and your family?

*****
Personal view only, and it relates to purpose and identity, both of which I feel probation has struggled with in recent years. If probation is an organisation that provides assistance and support to help offenders steer their lives back onto the right track and help them maintain a stable existence (as probation once did) then vetting is not going to be an issue beyond the normal CRB check. However, once probation positions itself, and more and more sells itself, as an agency of public protection, then it becomes an 'agent of the state' and can have no real objection to being subjected to the same criteria that the state impose on other public protection agencies such as police. 


If you see probation as a service that assists offenders, helps with rehabilitation and are of course "constantly mindful" of public protection, I think you have reason to complain about the level of vetting. If however you view probation as a service of public protection that also provides some assistance where possible to the offenders you manage, then I think you have to accept the level of vetting other public protection agencies are subjected to.

*****
Canada is in the process of legalising illicit drugs, and the Republic of Ireland, a country where possession of a condom makes you a sinner, is considering legalisation of cannabis and allowing Dutch style coffee shops. Andrew Boff the very right wing Conservative member of the London Assembly has caused a huge row by calling for the legalisation of drugs in response to Amber Rudds violent crime strategy. Does the legalisation and regulation of drugs make a society more tolerant? No it doesn't. It makes it more responsible. How, in probation for example, can you help someone with a drug problem if disclosure of use is also the admission of an offence? 


Drugs are a blot on society, but only because they're management, supply, constitution and regulation are left in the control of criminal gangs. The USA's prohibition era is a perfect example of what happens when you ban supply but demand remains. There will always be a demand for drugs, and a big demand, so there will always be someone prepared to supply them. It's the basic economic model of supply and demand that our conservative government are so proud to boast about. Accept the problem and take ownership of it, otherwise it will just get worse. It's not being tolerant about drug use, it's being responsible about the impact drugs have on society.

*****
Not a vote winner the liberal government in Canada were deemed a few years ago to have no chance however standing on a platform including legalising cannabis soon changed that. For the record it is due to come into force in July and the person who has been in charge of implementation is the ex chief police officer of Toronto.

****
I don't see why an organised pilot and investigation into the pros and cons of drug legalisation could not be conducted in the UK. Select three areas defined as socially deprived, that already have a drug problem and high unemployment, allow local government in those areas to produce and sell cannabis in an organised way for 18 months, and then assess what impact it has had socially and economically on that area. I think the economic benefits would be considerable to areas like Blackpool, Grimsby or Sunderland, and the information gathered on drug related crime and unemployment would help inform national drug policy. If no benefits are realised, then just pull the plug.

*****
Any legalisation of drugs would have to remain under strict State control. Privatising or outsourcing any aspect of drug legalisation to corporations such as Sodexo, Interserve, G4s etc, would just be the same as handing back control to the criminals.

*****
I'm very disappointed with the response today's blog has attracted. Every probation officer in the country must have a case load of people that have drug issues. But no one has anything to say. It's very different if the blog is about pay and conditions, privatisation, or being let down by the unions. Everyone's shouting then. You're in it for the money, or you're in it for the cause. It's the safe place, or make a difference. Everyone makes there own mind up.

*****
There’s two comments above, perhaps from probation officers, and mine makes 3. I think it’s only nowadays PO’s are straight-laced-stick-up-the-backside types. Many of the older generation were the weed smoking type so I’m sure many have a view on this issue. In terms of the article at hand, I have mixed feelings. On one hand I support drug legalisation, taxation, etc. On the other, I do not believe it is necessarily the best way to resolve the drug problem. Legal or illegal, drugs are here to stay, but if we can’t have a proper debate about making alcohol illegal then how can we debate making drugs legal. 


I think the way forward is in pilot cities for cannabis legalisation in franchise “coffee shops” and a plant or two permitted for home growing. Other drugs may be available on prescription, such as cannabis oil, heroin, etc, but I don’t think we’ll be reverting back to opium dens any time soon. What I don’t support is this myth that legalising drugs will reduce violent crime because there are many other factors involved. This is political bullshit and not a basis for legalising drugs. Amber Rudd is talking out her backside, as is this silly Adam Smith Institute. For the record in some areas you’re more likely to be mugged buying a bottle of wine from your local offy where all the pissheads congregate than from your dealer who discreetly delivers to your house after hitting him up on Snapchat. Nobody is “going down dark alleyways”!!

*****
An appalling chapter in the history of the British Criminal Justice System and in UK politics. Disgraceful not only because it happened but because it took so many ignorant people to undermine the existing professional organisation. They were warned again and again but wanted their nose in the trough without any comprehension of what was at stake. Carter, Wheatley, Spurr and the King Rat himself, Failing Grayling - all complicit in the debacle and compromised by the obvious inadequacies of Prison Service management. Right wing thinking revealed again for what it is; concrete thinking, prejudicial and, fundamentally, stupid.

*****
In the light of the many reports, whether official, anecdotal or whistleblower, let us be totally & brutally clear what the TR project has led to. It's not - and was never - about the provision of an effective service; its not about the rehabilitation of those sent to work with probation staff by the Courts, either directly or via prison; and its not about having a skilled professional workforce. It is THIS: "All CRC owners inspected were concerned about the financial instability and viability of their own contracts with the MoJ." Accountancy, NOT accountability.

*****
After surviving 3 years of MTCnovo I thought I was unshockable. Yesterday was the first day I have felt ashamed to be working as a probation officer. All offender managers have been instructed to inform their people managers (SPOs in MTCnovo parlance) how many service users report after 7pm and how often. Then we heard rumours of the bombshell - evening accredited groupwork programmes will not be offered by London CRC in the coming weeks/months.

For any service user sentenced to an accredited Programme Requirement who is in employment, the expectation will be that the offender manager will make an immediate application to the Court for amendment of the Requirement as unworkable. If true, and my sources are reliable, this is truly a cynical cost-cutting exercise. Cynical because if they have any sense they must know that there will be "blow-back" from the Magistracy/Judiciary. They may be forced to back pedal, but in the interim they will save themselves a few more shekels to earn their annual bonuses.

Offender Managers in London CRC from the 1st May will no longer have face to face contact with our administrators when they move to a central admin hub in Bromley. We were not consulted about this move, it was yet another diktat. The fact that the powers-that-be are looking at how many service users report after 7pm strongly suggest they will close some offices at 7pm but maybe have regional offices for reporting after 7pm?

I thought the point of TR and the involvement of the private sector was to be "consumer" oriented, providing an improved flexible service compared with the dead hand of the inflexible public sector. Instead I am seeing the dismantling of a once proud service before my eyes like a slow motion car crash. God help us all.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Probation Behind Bars

In the alphabet soup world of probation, OMiC is on the lips of many NPS staff as they contemplate having to serve a term behind bars under yet another new initiative. I notice Napo have published their considered thoughts on the matter:-

Offender Management in Custody – Napo view 


Napo has been in consultation with the OMIC project team for several months. This is a consultation, where the employer shares their plans and the Trade Unions have an opportunity to make comments. There is no way for any Trade Union to agree or disagree the plans, we can only comment and make suggestions. We are aware that some Divisional management teams have been presenting matters as “agreed with the Trade Unions” but this is not the case. 

Here we set out what we know and the concerns that we have about the model and the impact of implementation. So far we have been in consultation primarily with the design team given much of the implementation has been delegated to Divisional Implementation Boards (DIBS) which are comprised of both prison and NPS members. All of the information we know so far relates to public sector prisons. We are aware that discussions are ongoing with contracted out prisons but we have not received the detail on this as yet. 

What we know so far 

The DIBS were sent “Data Packs” comprising of approximately 100 pages of documents including projected figures for OMIC staffing (both probation and prison band 4 - formerly Offender Supervisors) based on a projected figure for each of the closed male prisons at a point in 2019. We know that the data shared with divisions and with prisons may be flawed, this has been admitted by the centre following questions by TUs and the divisions. It seems that differences in calculations of resourcing, along with differences in how divisions allocate current resources may have skewed things unhelpfully. What we do know is that the likely additional resource going into most prisons will be minimal (0.5 to three additional staff) but most of the High Security and Cat B establishments may require more (up to eight additional staff). The divisions (via the DIBS) have until the end of March to make an impact assessment to ensure that they can still deliver community work when they move staff to fill the vacancies in prisons. Despite the influx of new POs via the PQiP there are still likely to be shortages in some areas over the next couple of years, especially as the additional SPO resource for prisons is likely to come from the current PO group of staff. 

We have been told that WMT measures will not be used for custody work and that the project group have devised a resourcing model. This has been done with no consultation about the impact of the change to ways of working and there is no explanation as to how the resourcing figures have been devised, although an explanation has been requested. It is important to note that NPS staff working in custody will not the doing the same role as is currently done with a custody case from the community, it will be a combination of that role and the current Offender Supervisor role. A huge amount of work by the employers, trade union members and other staff went into the WMT timings that we currently have in place for the community. These may not be perfect, but they are based on an agreement and are the best we’ve got. It is very disappointing that the OMiC model is not using a similar approach to workload management for staff who will be working in custody. 

Many LDUs are currently struggling to fill PO vacancies and this has an impact on workloads. OMiC is being presented in some areas as a potential part of the solution to this issue as the figures (which are flawed) appear to suggest that fewer staff will be needed than anticipated, speeding up the process of getting to the fully resourced stage. Implementation is due to start in April 2018 and complete by September 2019 and the Divisional Implementation Boards will be responsible for ensuring that community delivery is not affected by the transition. 

There will be an SPO in each prison, staffed on the basis of 1 SPO to between 10 and 14 members of staff which is higher than the community equivalent. 

The OM team in the prison will be made up of NPS POs, prison Band 4 staff (either operational i.e. uniformed or non-operational) known as Prison Offender Managers (POMs). In addition there will be prison case administrators. The SPO will be responsible for managing all the Prison Offender Managers. This means that the SPO will be managing a team made up of people who have a different employer and different terms and conditions and different organisational culture. The SPO will be the Head of Offender Management Delivery and will be line managed by the Prison Governor (Deputy) and therefore the OM team will sit within the prison structure. The NPS will however remain the budget / resource owner and mention has been made of a link to the NPS divisions for professional development. The existing prison Head of Offender Management will become the Head of Offender Management Services. 

NPS staff will be expected to remain in a custodial role for 3-5 years and those already working in custody will not be expected to spend more than a further 3-5 years in this setting. Divisions are expected to ask all staff if they would like to work in custody or not and seek volunteers to fill any vacancies. The prison supplement (£675 pa) will be paid and excess fares/mileage will apply to directed moves as per the permanent transfer policy. Newly qualified POs can be placed in a prison role but only if there is sufficient support and experience within the team for them. 

Napo Concerns

Aside from concerns about the feasibility of the model (it promotes inconsistency of Offender manager and will make it more difficult to create a positive working relationship with the client which is the foundation of desistance according to research) there are many other concerns that members have around the implementation of OMiC. These concerns need to be raised both nationally and at divisional meetings with the divisional implementation boards. 

Workloads 

As mentioned above, it is not clear what measurements HMPPS are using to determine resourcing and therefore workloads. The SBC and WMT measures are based on doing one part of the OM role from the community. The rest of the role was done in custody by the OS (employed either by NPS or HMPS). Using these figures would give both too low a figure for resourcing and for WMT purposes resulting in an immediate workload crisis for Probation staff working in custody who would be unable to fulfil expectations to do two people’s jobs in the time given for only one. It is not clear what the resourcing figures are based on. As indications of staffing numbers are being released this concern is becoming acute as members working in prisons where there will be only a minor increase in staffing wonder how they will absorb a huge amount of additional work and members working in the community become more resistant to moving into custody fearing even worse workload pressures than in the community. 

We have already had some NPS staff working in custody telling local Napo reps that they are expected to hold CRC cases because the prison staff who should be taking on this work are needed for operational work on the wings to keep the prison running. This has always been a concern and is magnified by the fact that the OM team will sit within the prison structure, signalling that they are a resource to be used for operational priorities. 

For SPOs going to work in prisons the prospect of managing up to 14 people in a team with more than one employer and different terms and conditions, along with responsibility for delivering such a significant change to ways of working is daunting and we have serious concerns about the manageability of workloads for SPOs as well as concerns about the line management arrangements. It is already challenging for SPOs to manage a community team of 10 staff with the same employer and we have made representations that this ratio is wrong. 

Process of moving staff into custody roles 

Prisons are not evenly distributed around the country. There will be some members who do not live within an hour’s travel of a prison. When this was raised locally some DIB leads responded that all offices were within an hour of a prison, but this does not take into account that staff do not live in the office! There are some office locations which often struggle with staffing as they “feed” more than one prison with location meaning that they are the only “feeder” office. This poses another problem, if staff are moving out of some office locations to fill prison spaces but not others will there need to be a re-distribution of remaining staff to fill vacancies? The employer needs to bear in mind that since 2014 there have been more than usual office and staffing moves due to the segregation of CRC and NPS in many areas followed by re-distribution of staff due to E3. The process has been broadly painful for staff, with confusion over policy and process and a lack of common sense or pragmatic approach, never mind compassion. 

The process for moving staff is not given much attention in guidance, managers are simply told that 60 mins travel time is appropriate (90 mins in London) and to take account of reasonable adjustments. However, we have had some incidents of members facing extreme financial pressures as a result of being moved (exacerbated by the lack of fairness in the pay system) and members having to reduce their working hours (adding to the workload crisis) simply to accommodate additional travel. We would like to see additional guidance which includes the need to take all personal circumstances into account and to enter into genuine consultation on any directed moves. 

Flexible working and accessibility 

There are examples of members being told that, as they are moving to a prison role, their compressed hours or other flexible working arrangements (that allow them to balance work and caring or other responsibilities) cannot be honoured. This appears to be a problem in some establishments more than others, which reflects each individual prisons “culture” rather than a consistent HMPPS approach given there are also positive examples. There have also been examples of members being moved out of a prison role due to mobility issues (many prisons are impossible to move around without significant amounts of walking including stairs), there are examples of members being told they will have to leave medication they need regular access to in their car as it is not appropriate to have it in the prison meaning they have to leave the prison and re-enter via search etc each time they need to take it. All of these issues would need to be considered when deciding who should move to a prison role. A member may not require any adjustments in their current workplace but that does not mean the prison environment would be accessible to them. We have some members who do not drive, either by choice or not and it not an occupational requirement for Probation Officers to drive. Many prisons are not reasonably accessible by public transport given their physical location and this also needs to be taken into account. 

Location and Geography 

Most prison roles are currently filled by staff working in a local LDU cluster, especially when direction is needed. This is reinforced by the idea that, even though we are all working for the same employer, there is an imaginary wall between budgets for divisions and LDU clusters. It should be noted however that quirks of boundaries and transport and road networks can make a neighbouring LDU cluster area (even one in a neighbouring division) easier to access. Members would like to see volunteers for moves into prison being sought from all areas (including neighbouring divisions) before direction is considered, and for directed moves to include consideration of staff in other areas where travel could be within 60 minutes as well as the local LDU cluster. 

Safety in prisons 

There are some well publicised concerns about safety in prisons which are clearly of concern to our members. In all of the discussions about OMiC this is not mentioned in sufficient detail leading members to the belief that it is not being considered by the employer. Comment is made about the presence of alarm bells and radios but not a sophisticated understanding of the complexity of the individual we work with. In addition to the general considerations there are some members from BAME backgrounds who currently are not placed in certain offices due to concerns about their physical and emotional wellbeing. The employer must be able to demonstrate that they can meet their duty of care to staff when placing them in a custodial environment. This duty of care extends to emotional wellbeing and protection from abuse and discrimination as well as physical wellbeing. 

The transfer of cases between Prison Offender Managers and the community 

The data pack and the documentation contained in it has a series of PowerPoint diagrams (which are posted somewhere on the HMPPS intranet but not easily accessible) which identifies which type of case goes to HMPS, NPS and CRC and the point at which they transfer back to a community based colleague and in a number of cases back again. It is a complex set of scenarios, which has the potential to cause confusion especially if the underpinning IT or other systems are not in place. 

Contracted out prisons 

Less is understood at this point about the model for contracted out prisons, and the interface between the NPS and prison in the model may be different for these establishments. We are aware that some members working in contracted out prisons have been given differing versions of the process that will apply to them, we are seeking clarification on this. 

Job Descriptions and Job Evaluation 

We have been told that no changes to job descriptions will be needed as a result of OMiC and that therefore no job evaluation will be required. We will work with members closely to monitor this and, once there is more information available about the roles, there may be evidence to support a request for new or amended job descriptions. Where there are new job descriptions or significant amendments to job descriptions there would of course be a job evaluation process.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Digital Bollocks

Can anyone explain what this is all about?



Here's last year's advert:-

Delivery Manager for HMPPS Digital

An exciting opportunity for talented, tenacious individuals looking to join our team and take lead in creating world-class services in the Prison and Probation environment. You will ensure the secure delivery of high-quality, user-centred products that positively impact the lives of offenders, prison staff and society as a whole.


We're building a team of around seventy experts in Web Development, Design and User Research in Sheffield. This is a brilliant opportunity to be part of a growing team from its nascent stage and to play an active and continued role in the strategic development of the team and studio approaches. - Product team of product owner, interaction designer, developers - Agile coach for the studio - Head of Delivery in Sheffield - Community of delivery managers (currently you plus one other - growing to 8 in Sheffield), MOJ delivery management community (based in London), cross-government agile delivery community


What the specialist will work on 

Enable team members to create/run outstanding digital services using appropriate agile principles/methodologies, learning & iterating approaches frequently, to ensure the team deliver in the most effective and efficient way possible Remove impediments/blockers for the team Work with the product manager and other team members to define the roadmap for your service and translate this into actionable user stories and sprint-by-sprint plans Lead the collaborative, dynamic planning process for each sprint, helping team members prioritise work against the capacity and capability of the team Participate in the agile delivery manager community, sharing/re-applying skills/knowledge and bringing in best practice

Buyers will use the essential and nice-to-have skills and experience to help them evaluate suppliers’ technical competence.


Essential skills and experience 
  • Proven experience in delivering high quality digital projects and products
  • Proven experience using a range of agile tools and techniques
  • Proven experience balancing multiple priorities and dealing with ambiguity
  • Proven ability to challenge and remove any unnecessary barriers to service delivery
  • Experience in matrix-managing multi-disciplinary teams
  • Highly articulate and credible at a senior level, consistently delivering accurate reporting as to the current state of play with regard to the delivery of your service
  • Experience creating an excellent, delivery-focused, fun team environment where all team members from a range of disciplines thrive
Nice-to-have skills and experience 
  • Strong negotiation skills and the ability to influence external partners, stakeholders and customers to secure mutually beneficial outcomes
  • Excellent understanding of the digital landscape (inside and outside of government) and the opportunities for service improvement and innovation offered by digital technology
  • A high degree of market awareness, with demonstrable experience of innovative approaches to procuring services and of managing relationships with suppliers
--oo00oo--

The person has been in post for a year, so I wonder what's been delivered? Maybe this from last May on the Register website might shed some light on this kind of thing:-

Can you spout digital bollocks? London is hiring a Chief Digital Officer
Interest-free bicycle bundled with £100k+ salary

The Mayor of London is hiring a chief digital officer for the capital, advertised at a cool £107,000. The job advert on the Greater London Assembly website says:

As London's CDO, working in the Mayor's Office, you will convene GLA officials, the Smart London Board, local authorities and the technology sectors to encourage collaboration and adoption of common standards around data and service transformation, to drive the development of smart city technology, and to build London's reputation as the city that the world looks to for leadership in urban innovation.
It continues: "You will be a powerful advocate for technology and have the communication and diplomatic skills to convene and influence a wide range of external stakeholders."

We read all this guff and frankly we're none the wiser about what this role would actually contribute to... well, anything. Perhaps unwisely, we tried searching for a definition of "chief digital officer". This led us to CIO.co.uk, who burbled: "Chief Digital Officers are considered both the new stars of the C-suite as well as faddish or transitory roles which will eventually go away – a view even held by a number of CDOs themselves." Even the people currently in these roles realise that they're doing non-jobs.

Sorry Isn't Enough

Theresa May at TuesdayĆ¢€™s meeting with Caribbean leaders at Downing Street

As regular readers will appreciate, now and then this blog goes 'off piste', and so it is that I feel compelled to say something regarding yet another astonishing week in British politics that saw the Prime Minister forced to publicly eat humble pie and apologise not once, but twice. Apologies don't come easily to politicians and it doesn't happen that often. We are still waiting to hear one in relation to the TR fiasco, but that is nothing compared to this.     

When you've been around for awhile, heard about and seen some astonishing things, I guess you don't expect to be utterly blown away by something any more, but words can't really convey how angry and ashamed the Windrush saga makes me feel. I simply could not believe what I was hearing, people from the Caribbean who had answered the call to settle and work in this country after the Second World War, had paid taxes, held passports, paid National Insurance, started drawing pensions, were now some sixty years later being told by the Home Office that they had no right of residence and if they could not supply four pieces of documentary evidence for each of the last 40 years or so, they would be deported.      

As the story began to go nuclear at the start of the week and the Commonwealth Heads of Government began arriving in London, we heard the astonishing discourtesy of No 10 saying that the Prime Minister's diary simply 'did not allow time' for a meeting with twelve of them to discuss the issue. Within a day the diary was magically cleared and the first apology came from Theresa May's lips. By Wednesday the second was made in the House of Commons and by Thursday promises to make amends had been made and a special Home Office unit was already at work in order to 'fix' things.

It was of course one Theresa May who, when in charge at the Home Office, infamously instigated the climate of hostility towards illegal immigration, introducing those dreadful advertising vans that drove around threatening action and stirring up fear and alarm. We now learn that it was under her watch that the carefully-stored disembarkation cards had been destroyed - the very documents that could help determine the legal status of the so-called Windrush generation. This news generated what must be the lamest of official reasoning I've ever heard. Apparently we are meant to believe that the destruction of these records was due to concerns over 'data protection'. Someone is clearly taking the piss.

Throughout this whole sorry, shameful, on-going saga, what has really left an impression with me has been the quiet dignity of those who have been affected and interviewed by the media. I've found their stories of official, abusive and repressive treatment by the state truly shocking and heart-rending and made particularly poignant just as the Commonwealth Heads of Government are assembled in London. History may never record how angry and dispiriting it must all be to our Head of State.

It's note-worthy how gracious those Commonwealth leaders interviewed have been in accepting the Prime Minister's apology. When invited to suggest that the action of the Home Office could be viewed as racist, one said no, it appeared to be a 'cock-up'. Well I think it was yet more evidence of an insidious, uncaring, nasty government that appears quite comfortable to put the sick and disabled through Work Capability Assessments, see the homeless die on our city streets, force the poor to pay Bedroom Taxes, remove Legal Aid from many defendants and engineer a regime in our prisons that is returning many to the Victorian age. For me this has been a week when I feel ashamed by what my country is becoming.     

      

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Homelessness and Denial

As all probation staff know, provision of safe, affordable accommodation is an essential element of trying to stay offence-free and effective resettlement or rehabilitation following release from prison. It's been some time since we covered issues connected to homelessness, and the situation is alarming. This from the Guardian:-

Deaths of UK homeless people more than double in five years
The number of homeless people recorded dying on streets or in temporary accommodation has more than doubled over the last five years in the UK, the Guardian can reveal. With people found dead in supermarket car parks, church graveyards and crowded hostels, the number of deaths has risen year on year, from 31 in 2013 to 70 in 2017. At least 230 people have died over that period.

The figures compiled by the Guardian, which include an average of more than one death a week in 2017, are likely to be a substantial underestimate, as no part of the UK government records homeless death statistics at a national level, and local authorities are not required to count rough sleeper deaths.

According to the Guardian’s figures, the average age of a rough sleeper at death was 43, nearly half the UK life expectancy. Around 90% of those who died in the last five years were men, when the gender was provided. Experts have put the rise down to a rapidly increasing homeless population, rising rents, welfare cuts and lack of social housing, and have called for the government to take urgent action to address the root causes of poverty.

The sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow brought by Siberian air early in 2018 signalled a continuation of a deadly 2017, with at least 23 homeless deaths on the streets and in temporary accommodation reported by local media so far this year. In February the death of Marcos Amaral Gourgel drew widespread media attention after he died in freezing weather at Westminster underground station next to the Houses of Parliament.

“These figures are a devastating reminder that rough sleeping is beyond dangerous – it’s deadly, and it’s claiming more and more lives each year,” said Matthew Downie, of the homeless charity Crisis. He added: “Those sleeping on our streets are exposed to everything from sub-zero temperatures to violence and abuse, and fatal illnesses. They are 17 times more likely to be a victim of violence, twice as likely to die from infections, and nine times more likely to commit suicide. What’s worse, we know these figures are likely to be an underestimate.”

The investigation, which provides the most comprehensive record of homeless deaths in the UK to date, has prompted leading homeless charities to call for more robust statistics on mortality rates, and an extension of the review system used by local government and emergency services to investigate the deaths of vulnerable adults. Currently, homeless deaths are only investigated if there is concern that state agencies could have done more to prevent a death.

The Guardian asked all local authorities in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England how many verified rough sleepers have died in the council’s territory in the last five calendar years, asking for details on age, gender, location and access to homelessness services for each death through a freedom of information act request.

A verified rough sleeper is a homeless person who has been seen rough sleeping by an outreach worker, as described by the homelessness charity St Mungo’s. The request also asked councils to include deaths of verified rough sleepers in temporary accommodation, local authority run and commissioned B&Bs and support housing.

Several councils with large homeless populations where deaths have been reported in local media, including Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, Belfast, Leeds and Southend, either did not respond to the Guardian’s FOI request by the required deadline, or do not record the information.

The Guardian excluded 63 deaths reported by local authorities from the total statistics because they either did not meet the FOI definition, even though they might reasonably meet the public’s understanding of a homeless death, or because the information was not provided by local authorities in an interpretable format.

Greater London is the only part of the UK which records detailed information on its street population through the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain), run by St Mungo’s . According to the figures, rough sleeping deaths peaked at 23 in 2014, and reached 21 in 2016, but fell to 16 last year.

Rough sleeping in England has increased for the seventh consecutive year, official figures have show, with at least 4,751 people sleeping rough every night, although the actual figure is widely believed to be much higher. Petra Salva, the director of rough sleeper services at St Mungo’s, called on the government to mandate safeguarding adult board reviews into every suspected rough sleeper death to establish more robust statistics. “Investigating deaths will help identify issues around care and where more help is needed to move people off the street and out of danger,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Homelessness Reduction Act came into force, which imposes new legal duties on English councils to prevent and relieve homelessness. While the new laws have been welcomed by campaigners, charities have said the act fails to address the root causes of poverty.

Polly Neate, the CEO of Shelter, said it would be dangerous for the government to see the law change as “job done”, and described the data as a “stain on our national conscience.”

After the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government were sent the figures by the Guardian, a government spokesperson said: “Every death of someone sleeping rough on our streets is one too many. We are taking bold action and have committed to halving rough sleeping by 2022 and eliminating it altogether by 2027. We are investing £1.2bn to tackle all forms of homelessness and earlier this week the Homelessness Reduction Act, the most ambitious legislation in this area in decades, came into force.”

The data was also sent to the Office for National Statistics, who confirmed they do not hold figures on rough sleeper deaths due to the way deaths are reported.


--oo00oo--

There's a new piece of legislation, but cynicism is rife. This again from the Guardian:-


Homelessness: another fine mess for councils created by government
Instead of rethinking welfare cuts or building more homes, ministers have refused to face the human cost of their policies. The Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into force this month, is at the same time a necessary and utterly ludicrous piece of legislation.

It is necessary because homelessness is spiralling out of control. As research from Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published on 11 April reveals, there has been a 169% rise in rough sleeping, a 48% rise in the number of homelessness cases dealt with by local councils and a staggering 250% rise in people living in bed and breakfast accommodation since 2010. These rises mean England has more than 78,000 households living in temporary accommodation and more than 9,000 people living on the streets – and these figures are widely accepted to be a severe underestimate.

The new act places a legal duty on councils to help people at risk of homelessness find accommodation. They have been given £72m over three years to help deliver this – an amount that is almost certainly not enough but is a start.

It all sounds admirable. In reality, though, this is an exercise in policymaking so irrational it would be funny if it were not literally a matter of life and death. Not for the first time local government is being required to clear up a social and moral mess that is entirely the result of terrible policy decisions by central government.

Heather Wheeler, the homelessness minister, may disingenuously claim not to know what has caused the rise in homelessness but the Commons public accounts committee, the National Audit Office(NAO) and those who work with homeless people are of one voice: cuts to housing-related welfare payments and council support services are the drivers. They also agree that the impact of these cuts has been made worse by an overheated housing market in which private rental costs have skyrocketed in recent years.

In any logical policymaking world, a government might look at this evidence of the causes behind a growing national crisis and take action. Maybe rethink welfare reforms. Possibly bring some sanity back to the housing market by letting councils borrow more to build affordable homes for rent. Or even do something to reverse the 29% cuts to local government spending since 2010 now that the prime minister has admitted there is more money for vital public services.

And in a truly logical policymaking world, the former chancellor George Osborne would have listened to the Chartered Institute of Housing and numerous housing charities when they told him many years ago that cutting housing-related welfare payments and council support services would lead to greater homelessness. If he had, he might have foreseen that his money-saving plans would increase council spending on temporary accommodation by £330m.

As the NAO stated in 2012, the government has failed to take enough notice of the likely impact of its cuts on housing. And despite that early warning, the NAO concluded in September, this see-no-evil attitude continues today. In short, expect irrational policymaking – and the suffering of homeless people – to continue.

Adam Lent is director of the New Local Government Network


--oo00oo--

This final article from the Guardian seems to indicate the minister is in denial:- 

Homelessness minister: I don’t know why rough sleeper numbers are up
Heather Wheeler says she does not believe welfare reform and council cuts are factors

The UK’s new homelessness minister has told the Guardian she does not know why the number of rough sleepers has increased so significantly in recent years. Heather Wheeler said she did not accept the suggestion that welfare reforms and council cuts had contributed to the rise.

On a visit to a housing project in Glasgow, Wheeler said she remained “totally confident” she would not have to act on her pledge to resign should she fail to meet the Conservative manifesto commitment of halving rough sleeping by 2022, and eradicating it by 2027. “We’re going to move heaven and earth to get that done,” she promised.

In a recent interview, the Guardian spoke to Jon Sparkes, chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, who sits on Wheeler’s new rough sleeping advisory group for England. He expressed his frustration at the Westminster government’s failure to recognise the influence of welfare reforms – such as the housing benefit freeze, the household benefit cap and the universal credit rollout – on homelessness.

Wheeler was asked on Thursday about the reasons for the rise in rough sleeping, which has increased in England for seven consecutive years; official figures show 4,751 people slept outside overnight in 2017. The MP for South Derbyshire said: “In truth, I don’t know. That’s one of the interesting things for me to find out over the last eight weeks that I’ve been doing the job. We’ve looked at the different cohorts, and in London the number of veterans who are rough sleepers is down to about 2%.”

Commending the “amazing job” done by armed forces charities, she went on to describe a second “classic” reason for rough sleeping: coming out of prison with no support. “It’s very difficult. We also have a real problem in London with people coming over [mainly from Europe] for jobs, sofa surfing with friends, and then the job changes and they have a problem.”

Wheeler was visiting Turning Point Scotland’s Housing First project, part of an internationally successful model that places the most entrenched rough sleepers in permanent housing before they deal with addiction, mental illness or other challenges. It works on the assumption that people make the most progress when in a stable home, rather than a hostel or shared temporary accommodation.

In November, the Conservative government pledged £28m for similar pilots in the West Midlands, Manchester and Liverpool. A government-funded study in Liverpool concluded that Housing First could save £4m compared with current homelessness services in the area. Describing the appeal of Housing First, Wheeler asked: “What does ‘good’ look like? Having 80% of tenancies renewed. Drug rehab, booze rehab, mental health issues ... they can get sorted so much better when the wraparound care is there.”

Scotland, which had almost eliminated homelessness after pioneering legislation was passed by Holyrood in 2003, has recently experienced a similar increase, with an estimated 5,000 rough sleepers across the year.

The homelessness and rough sleeping action group, commissioned by the Scottish government and chaired by Sparkes, set out its first recommendations in November, which were immediately implemented. They included giving credit cards to frontline workers who need to make emergency purchases for rough sleepers, and rapid rehousing in settled accommodation rather than leaving people for months or years in temporary placements.

Wheeler said she was “mulling over” the action group’s recommendations and their applicability south of the border: “I want to come up here and learn about what goes on.”

Asked whether she perceived a difference in attitude to homelessness between Holyrood and Westminster, Wheeler said: “Actually, no. I think that maybe England is a tad more cautious in that we are very keen that we have proper pilots and we assess it. And I regret to say that the problem with the supply of affordable housing in England is much, much, much larger than Scotland. I find it fascinating that there is no private-sector rental used at all to place people up here – it’s all local authority and housing association, because you have supply.”

Asked whether she had heard from Glasgow service users that welfare cuts were leading to greater domestic insecurity, and if she felt at odds with other government departments in her mission, she said: “I didn’t hear that, which is refreshing. This is about supply. If you don’t sort out supply of affordable housing, there’s another million people living in our lovely country, we need to have greater supply of affordable housing. We are spending £9bn on affordable housing [by March 2021] because we recognise that’s what we have to do.”

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Latest From Napo 175

Here we have the latest blog post from Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence:- 

PROBATION UNIONS ORGANISE DAY OF PROTEST OVER PAY

Following my earlier reports on pay over the last few weeks Napo, UNISON (and we hope the GMB) are organising a Day of Protest for members in the NPS and CRCs to show their anger and dismay at the way that probation workers have been treated over the 2017/18 Pay farce and the delays in negotiations over longer term pay reform from 2018 onwards.

As has been made clear, the unions showed great patience during 2017 in the hope that our claims would be treated with respect. Attempts have been made to negotiate with the NPS and CRCs, but with the exception of a few CRCs, members have received little more than the increment which they were contractually entitled to, and members at the top of their pay band received absolutely nothing last year.

Probation staff have been treated far worse over pay than most other public sector workers, with only a 1% pay rise since 2009. That is why the unions are organising a Day of Protest on Friday 18 May for members to show their employer, the Ministry of Justice, and the government, just how strongly you feel about the disrespectful manner in which our claims have been considered. The state of probation pay, across the NPS and the CRCs, is a disgrace,

NATIONAL PROBATION SERVICE

On 16 February 2018, Michael Spurr confirmed that NPS staff would get nothing for their 2017 pay award, other than the contractual increment which staff received back in April last year. The 25% of NPS staff at the top of their pay band have received nothing, and there will be no increase in any allowances.

This was basically because HMPPS top-sliced your pay rise for 2017 to give a 1.7% pay increase for prison staff; £340 million to the CRCs in the big bail out last July and to pay £3,000 market forces payments to all new staff in the South East Division (but not to existing staff in the South East). Therefore, the NPS has spent the money that should have funded a pay rise on other projects.

COMMUNITY REHABILITATION COMPANIES

Only one CRC owner has made a pay offer for 2017, which the unions have been able to recommend. Others have made very low pay awards to staff, but some have done the same as NPS and given only contractual increments to their staff for 2017. The CRCs will no doubt plead poverty, but they got a £340 million bail out last July and, in the majority of CRCs, very little of this cash has trickled down to staff.

It’s time to protest on Friday 18 May

Given the above scenario your National Executive Committee have agreed a range of activities designed to show the NPS, HMPPS and the CRCs that treating probation workers in this way is wrong. That is why we are encouraging all members to take part in a day of protest over pay on 18 May. This will not constitute industrial action and you are not being asked to refuse to undertake your normal duties.

The unions will be producing materials to support the day, including leaflets and placards. We would like members to stage protests in public areas near to your workplaces, contact local MPs to come and meet you, and tell your stories to the local media. More information will be available shortly, but please put 18 May in your diary now.

NPS told pay NMW now

Here is what the unions have told HMPPS following some astonishing prevarication over implementation of new National Minimum Wage rates in the NPS

“As you are aware, the National Minimum Wage increased on 1 April 2018 to £7.83 an hour. This means that pay points 10, 11, 12 and 13 in pay band 1 of the NPS pay and grading scheme must be deleted with effect from 1 April and all staff on these pay points moved immediately to pay point 14, which has an hourly rate of £7.87.

There was some suggestion at yesterday’s TU Engagement Forum that this adjustment could wait until we have concluded our long awaited NPS pay reform, but the unions are not in agreement to the for obvious reason that this would be illegal.

We therefore expect NPS to make the necessary salary adjustment for our members in the April pay run. Any delay risks the NPS being reported for being in breach of the new minimum wage rate. We look forward to confirmation that pay points 10, 11, 12, and 13 will be deleted with effect from this month.”


You could not make it up.

New ICT system shelved by Sodexo CRC’s

The exchanges that I copied you into following the Public Accounts Committee report into the TR contracts show how much difficulty is still being encountered by private providers as they seek to link in to the MoJ portals to allow for better information exchange and case management processes with the NPS.

The track record so far is quite lamentable with only a very few CRC providers actually managing to achieve against the objective and the PAC are asking some pretty awkward questions as a result of this revelation. Over the last week or so Sodexo have announced that they are not progressing with the integration of their new OMS ICT system blaming the technicalities of the MoJ “gateway” as the reason. The company claims that it has heavily invested in this programme and that their operating model was based around the MoJ ICT requirements. Sodexo also claim that the stand alone functionality will lead to benefits for staff but that ball has a high level of spin from what I am picking up from members.

Meanwhile we are making our own enquiries at to what’s going on elsewhere and whether other CRC owners have abandoned, or are considering abandoning their gateway access plans. It was only a few weeks ago that Sodexo gave a commitment that the whole system would be operative in July. I expect that there are some interesting conversations going on right now between CERTAIN contractors and the MoJ.


The great AP Waking Night ‘cover up’

It’s not often I will publish a letter to the Minister whist awaiting a reply. But given what has been going on (or more pertinently what has not) in relation to the AP outsourcing debacle you can read the following joint letter with UNISON with the same sense of disbelief as we have been encountering as this shambolic project gets worse by the day:

Rt Hon David Gauke MP
Lord Chancellor & Secretary of State for Justice
12 April 2018

Dear David

Privatisation of NPS Approved Premises Night Waking Cover


Thank you for your letter of 23 February regarding the above. For the reasons set out below, we are not reassured by your reply. In particular you emphasized in your reply that all private contractor staff will be vetted in accordance with the contract, including a disclosure and barring service check and SIA licence. We learned this week, to our disbelief, that HMPPS is seriously considering the removal of the SIA requirement from the contract, because it has proved too onerous for the contractors!

All the evidence over the last month since the contracts went live on 1 March this year, is that all the concerns set out in our letter to you of 13 February have sadly been borne out by events. We need to bring these events to your attention so that you can consider whether there are grounds to suspend the contracts and bring the night waking cover back in house. The decision to advertise these contracts was a mistake which can be laid at the door of your predecessors, but it was your decision alone to proceed with them despite the clear warnings of the dangers of doing so. Here is what is actually happening:

South Contract: OCS
  • The unions understand that OCS has already been penalised with ‘service failures’ for being unable to provide the necessary cover in its contract area in the south.
  • It has been reported to the unions by South East Divisional management, at the last Divisional JCC, that since 1 March OCS has actually provided no cover at all, save for that delivered by the 9 ex-NPS staff who TUPE transferred to the company on 1 October.
  • In the Basildon and Guildford APs, NPS has had to provide all the night waking cover since the contract went live with its own sessional workers.
  • We are aware that NPS has instructed AP staff to OCS and log a work order to say that the company has failed to supply a night worker; that way NPS can claim the money back. This is a waste of valuable staff time and a detraction from their core work.
  • NPS confirmed that across the OCS South contract, since 1 March, the company has only delivered 66% of their contracted cover. We suspect that much of this cover was provided with agency staff, rather than the permanent staff stipulated in the contract.
  • The company has failed to supply the cover required under the contract notwithstanding the 60 day exemption from vetting standards given (inappropriately in our view) to the company to help it recruit staff of sufficient calibre to pass the necessary security standards. We would not find it acceptable for HMPPS to lower the vetting and security industry authority registration for OCS staff, if this is something you were tempted to do in order to make life easier for OCS. They signed a contract which requires SIA accreditation and in the absence of any vetting standards being in place at present, this accreditation is the only provision standing in the way of completely unsuitable individuals being placed in APs by the company. We are also disturbed to learn that one of the reasons you may be considering removing the SIA licence requirements is to allow NPS staff to apply to become sessional staff for OCS. If there is any truth to this it is an utter and total travesty.
  • OCS has allegedly told NPS that it is struggling to recruit staff in relation to the high risk nature of the work in APs. At one AP, an OCS employee turned up, but left very quickly when the nature of the resident group was explained. Perhaps the low pay the company is offering for a 48 hour working week is a factor here; we did point this out to you prior to the contracts going live.
  • Our members have been left in very dangerous situations when OCS members of staff failed to turn up and our members were forced to work additional hours at the end of a 12 hour shift. This is unacceptable and must stop now.
  • The shifts which OCS have been unable to cover have apparently been covered by a mixture of NPS sessional and agency staff. We ask that you confirm this to us in writing and in particular the proportion of shifts which HMPPS is having to pay to cover. In some cases, when the OCS member of staff has not turned up, the NPS has had to employ a sessional worker at additional cost to cover the shift; so HMPPS is presumably paying twice for the same cover.
  • OCS staff have no access to HMPPS systems, so are unable to undertake any of the risk assessment work that is essential to the operation of an AP.
North Contract: Sodexo

The same problems with private contract staff not turning up for shifts as required are being experienced on the Sodexo contract. Here is some testimony from some UNISON representatives in different APs in the North East Division:

‘I can give some basic feedback relating to staff not turning up for arranged shifts and NPS staff being left in the building long after their shifts have finished until alternative cover is arranged. Unfortunately this happens regularly at (Name of AP) and recently there was a period whereby it became the norm for staff to wonder if someone was arriving at 8pm to take them off, and often no one would come. When staff have rung the company they have said someone is on their way and on a few occasions when AP staff contacted the individual who was due on shift themselves, the person was waiting at home for someone to pick him up and bring him to work (arranged by the private company themselves) and he was still waiting for said lift after 8.30pm thereby meaning the NPS RW had to stay on the premises for 2 hours after their shift ended by the time someone arrived to take them off.

Only last Friday we received a call from the private company at 5pm saying that they could not provide a member of staff that night and my understanding is that the on call manager had to come into work and complete the shift themselves due to no other provision being provided.’


‘The contractors seem to have a casual attitude to punctuality. By and large they have no training and some of them are agency workers who are in the process of earning cash to fund other things like education etc. Quite a few of them work on other projects on their down time, and are breaking every working time directive there is. Because of the failings of our privatised DWNC, if colleagues are off sick, we do not know if they are going to be relieved by the contractors, or not at all. Last weekend we had the on call manager here for a night shift because Sodexo did not show.’
  • There appears to be confusion in the North Contract as to what Sodexo residential assistants can and can’t do on the contract. In the North West Division, the Sodexo staff are doing most AP duties and have log in access to HMPPS intranet systems, whereas in North East Division, management has produced a detailed schedule setting out what the private residential assistants can and can’t do. How can this disparity exist in relation to the contract which Sodexo signed?
  • The unions have placed on record a notice of serious and imminent danger to persons at work/in residence at the NPS undertakings that comprise approved premises in the North West Division as a result of:
  • a Two agency workers working together at any one time at an approved premises
  • b An agency worker working with a private residential assistant at any one time in an approved premises
  • In order for the NPS to comply with the Approved Premises Manual HMPPS must ensure that: ‘Under all arrangements, at least one member of staff on duty during daytime hours must be a keyworker or Offender Supervisor, and at least one in the evening and at weekends must be employed by the Probation Trust or Independent Management Committee and will be responsible for liaising with the duty manager in dealing with any immediate risks. Staff for night duty must not be drawn solely from private security firms.’
  • This means that HMPPS is in breach of the AP Handbook if you continue to allow the staffing arrangements set out at a. and b. above, and also in breach of the Health and Safety Management Regulations.
  • NPS North West Division has tried to excuse the unauthorised use of two agency workers together on the same shift at an AP on the pretext that NPS has serious staff shortages in Approved Premises. This is no surprise, as NPS down-graded the AP residential worker role as a cost cutting measure! Rather than using expensive agency staff, the unions are calling for the residential worker job description to be re-evaluated.
  • Here is a description of the reported experience of one Sodexo employee in the North West Division: (Name) was sent to the AP by Sodexo to do a night shadow shift last night. He informed NPS staff that he received a telephone call at 3pm yesterday, he was doing a day shift somewhere else, and he was instructed to be at the AP for 8pm to do a night shadow shift at (Name of AP) and if he didn’t do it the job would be given to someone else. Therefore, despite being up at work all day, he came and was up all night as well.
(Name) told NPS staff that, last night was his shadow shift, then he takes up permanent post and will do a further 4 night shifts starting tonight and he is now the new night security employee. He was informed that the job he applied for entails watching cameras and patrolling a building.

(Name) has now gone home to go to bed and will return for a further shift tonight and the next 3 nights after. NPS staff member said that somebody a male, who he suspects is quite high up at Sodexo rang up the AP in the middle of the night to see how things were going with (Name). NPS employee said he passed the phone to (Name) and he had a conversation with the caller. (Name) later informed us this morning that he didn't even know he was working for Sodexo until he received the phone call, as there was a different name on his time sheet, so he thought he was working for the company named on the time sheet.


Not surprisingly all of the above incidents have left our AP members feeling extremely vulnerable and angry at the failure of NPS to exercise its duty of care towards them, their residents and the communities which the APs serve. Our members are professionals who take their duties extremely seriously, and simply cannot understand why you have entered into a contract which has exposed them and their residents to danger and stress.

We will continue to monitor these contracts to ensure that you are complying with your legal duties as the employer and to expose on-going contract failures. We will also continue to campaign for these contracts to be returned as quickly as possible to the public sector.

When we expressed our concerns over this privatisation to the previous probation minister, Sam Gyimah, we were told that we were being ideological in our opposition. In reality it is your Department which has pursued an ideological commitment to privatise double waking night cover in approved premises against all the advice and entreaties from the staff who work in hostels. It is these staff, our members, who are picking up the pieces of your failed and failing initiative at the sharp end, and they are very angry.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Lawrence
Ben Priestley

We have also written in similar terms to Sonia Crozier following her assurances as prefaced below about the DWNC contract.

‘As you know, the contract is now up and running. The providers have been providing consistent cover across the AP estate. We will continue to work with you during the implementation period and will seek to address any further concerns you may have.’

No I am not convinced either

Wednesdays Vigil for Justice

All that can get across to the MoJ HQ on Wednesday are welcome. Here are the details again: Meet outside the MoJ 102 Petty France Street Westminster 6:30 for 7:00. More news including some encouraging contact with members and the local Police and Crime Commissioners in the West Midlands in the next Blog post.