Monday, 23 October 2017

The 'Go-To' Place for Advice

Increasingly Facebook is becoming the place where probation staff are not just venting their frustrations, but also where professional issues are being discussed due to the increasing bureaucratisation and chaos prevalent everywhere in the workplace:-

Is anyone on here working in prison? How many of you feel forgotten, demoralised and disenfranchised? Anyone else think cOMiC is shambles, a waste of time and staffing? I'm working from a local cat B, ready to shelve my job at the drop of a hat. Half the OM's I contact don't even bother to reply. We are managed in person XXXXX by an SPO who also manages a XXXXXX prison. The list goes on. We can't write Oasys if the case is high risk and owned by the OM who half the time too busy to do so. Prison sucks.

It’s not that we don’t bother to reply it’s more like we are firefighting community cases.

I guessed as much. We have folk here for over a year, no sentence plan, going nowhere.

Yes I’m sure mine aren’t up to date. Many of us have been managing high workloads for over a year and although may have gone down a bit, we are having to deal with the accumulative affect of struggling for so long. Two days a week (I have a four day week) I’m at the PPO team - I love it there but recently they’ve become so much more chaotic that more time is spent on them.

Definitely fire-fighting. I hate not having the time to write/visit/sentence plan. I do always respond to colleagues within the prison though. Hope you & yours are keeping well.

You’ve managed to capture the reasons for OMiC in one post.

From the opposite perspective I have recently been tasked with trying to get over 100 cases of people in prison up to date with OASYS and sentence planning and have been shocked by the lack of response from staff in prison so I think there are issues both in and out of prison. I worked in a CAT B local for over 5 years and then got stuck following TR and eventually had to apply as an external candidate for a job with the service where I had worked for 15 years.

I work in am open prison it is extremely busy and our caseloads are high. Yes there are frustrations as anywhere I imagine but I am fortunate to work in a really good CPO team and a good wider OMU team. The support of my colleagues makes my job not just bearable but enjoyable too.

I always respond to my custody counterparts. Without you, arranging interviews and SPRs is impossible. A good relationship between OM and OS is vital. I don't agree with E3. I think a home probation officer is vital but a community OM can't do the job without a good OS. I value you.

What is OMiC?

Prisons:Written question - 3726

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, which prisons operate a personal officer programme.

Prison service orders do not require Governors to operate a personal officer programme and there is no central register of which establishments do operate one.

The review of Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) introduces a new role of key worker who will have a case load of approximately six prisoners, whom they will guide support and coach to help reduce the negative impact of imprisonment. Key work is similar but not the same as a personal officer scheme. Where personal officer schemes do currently exist they will be replaced by key workers.

The OMiC model is currently being rolled out in 10 pathfinder prisons and will be rolled out across the remaining closed prison estate by the end of March 2019.

Now I'm confused. I thought offender management in custody was about POs going into prison to manage their custody cases from the inside rather than the outside. But if that were the case I can't imagine it will be caseloads of around six! I think I must be mixing some things up. Can anyone help unravel my scramble?

Is anyone going to the 'Design' Check' for OMiC events that are running in November......??

Community is worse !!! Stay put.

I was posted January 2015. I will be near retirement before the powers that be get their act together.

I agree, community is worse, OM's seem to get it in the neck for everything, I spent my whole Saturday yesterday on the work laptop to meet never ending targets despite being off sick this week with a bad chest infection!!

OMG .. that is not good.

I'm having the exact opposite experience. Went into prison January & loving it - yes it has it's problems but had I not transferred - I'd have walked! The community is a shambles & my heart bleeds when I think of the turmoil our service is in... OMiC is kinda on the back burner - Northern Region has 70 vacancies for PO's - if they haven't enough for community - they ain't gonna be transferred into prison... Our uniformed OS's are almost permanently detailed onto the wings as a result of staff shortages so we try to help where we can. In general, at this time, PO's are having to hold all the Lifers & IPP's along with 4yrs+ recalls for Parole - it's mad but I think it's more manageable than community cases...


Anyone else in the NPS experiencing a big drive on making sure any missing data on Ndelius is completed? And back dating housing and ETE on every trigger point; (whatever that means)

Yes the back dating stuff has had to be done and updating all info in ndelius.

Yeah we got told by Friday. Well I'm only at work tomorrow and in meeting in morning. Been spending a lot of time trying to find accommodation for a vulnerable young man - a PPO currently in an AP. Aka my job.

Do your CA's not complete HETE data within your Teams??

Usually but it's the backdating. I'm talking of.

We have to do our own HETE stuff. At loads of different points. My induction checklist is 2 A4 sides long with things to do/remember.

I've spent hours on this vulnerable PPO trying to source, beg re accommodation. To me that's the vital part of what we do. We have had a list of all things to be done and POs are all over .. so I don't know where we are supposed to have time to do it all.

Not just NPS.... CRCs have had to do this too. On top of all else and no CAs to do it....! x

It's barmy.

What other missing data are you having to do?

I think that's it. TBH I am so busy I've not read emails in depth. We've also ARMs to do, e learning, research and print out evidence for appraisal, etc

Snap to all that apart from ARMs x

Sometimes I think I may have made the right decision to change career! I don’t miss the admin, but do miss the face to face work.

It's just feels like we are data entry people.

In CRC the same. Fancy them paying through the nose for a data entry person.

Yeah the Secretary of State has requested the statistics, hence the 3 line whip.

Has he now!! Just shows they don't have a clue.

HETE is massive in CRC and we have to do it ourselves at regular points and the dates have to be accurate or it's a missed target.

It's Barmy - what is more important that or seeing and doing stuff to support the people we work with.

Yes but offenders don't have to provide evidence so it's useless!!

I’m a CA and we’ve had to do all the backdating in Xxxxxxxxx with the OMs assisting as and when changes occur. Evidence is something that’s on the radar soon.

It's just crazy.

It’s taken us a long time but luckily we have a temp at the moment and he’s been on the case. We wouldn’t have been able to get it done alongside day to day stuff if we didn’t have him spending so much time doing it.

It’s one thing backdating information if it’s accurate, was gathered on time, and you’ve just not had time to enter it - though that rather defeats the object of the target and covers up the fact that these targets cannot all be met given how much work PO’s are doing. It’s quite another being pushed to invent data to make targets look like they are being met and to massage performance figures.

Exactly. And what's more important data stats or working with the people we supervise and spending time supporting them.

HETE data all done by Officers in Xxxxxxxxx. We had a visit from a chap from HMPPS a couple of months ago and I voiced my doubts over the usefulness of the data, quite forcefully and at great length. He told me HMPPS/ NOMS were as aware as I was that the data was statistically unsound and had suggested the folly be dropped but had been told to continue.

They think that's more important than preventing re-offending and actually helping people...what a mess we're in!

Such a shame that paperwork is more important than people these days.

It sounds like a combination of a difficult Sudoko and putting the right bins out on the right day. Brain numbing.

Micro management. Classic case where higher managers come back from their holidays refreshed. It'll wear off a bit towards Christmas.

Dreaded Hete!!! CRC too!!

Awful isn't it. And how is that going to reduce harm and offending?


A practice issue - any offender on an order (inc SSO) without any RAR requirements so no supervision - should they be seen or contacted on regular basis and/or if they refuse contact is this enforceable?

In orders under the new legislation supervision is implied to manage the order and can be enforced, see the guidance on the legislation for evidence.

If it's a stand alone SSO then no. If the SSO or CO has another req and is under the NPS, then they have an 'overseeing officer' and the guideline here in the Xxxxx is see them at the beginning to try and ascertain if there are any issues which need looking at. If not, then only if they breach.

We use RAR days for additional appts with other agencies, supervision is the community order and they are seen for the length of that.

I think if stand alone SSO then no but if there are other requirements then the order is supervised and this is enforceable, the frequency of reporting is based on risk, if high risk it's weekly (at least) until risk reduces, is medium risk still based on 16 weekly appointments and then monthly? Then low for monthly/every 6 months? This is based on NPS experience. I'm off on maternity so not sure if this is still relevant?

I think it's clear that each area and cluster has its own views!

I had a man on a C/O with UPW and a programme. He completed the UPW and then the programme days were deleted at court as he couldn't attend due to work pattern but I've been advised I still need to see him until the end of the order under the 'implied supervision'.

Where does this leave us legally - if the offender refuses contact do we breach and would the courts accept the breach?

I believe breach would be enforceable due to the wording of the law around court orders.

If you can prove he needs to be seen, has criminogenic needs which he's refusing to acknowledge etc etc then yes.

Do people agree these RAR days are rubbish!!

None of it makes sense. It was rushed through by Grayling and its obvious in its failings. PSS is ridiculous and again, areas and clusters use it completely differently.

Is there a source where we can check this - not internet as we don't have access!

I was lost at RAR! So pleased I'm retired too, although it took me a long time to adjust from the constant treadmill of Probation. So what is RAR????

Stand alone SSO you can not. If it CO with UPW only the CO expires once UPW hours are complete

Stand alone UPW or stand alone curfew - no supervision otherwise we see the participant - RAR days we use for offence focused work/workshops.

"How times have changed. Using Facebook to check enforcement. So pleased I've retired."

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Pick of the Week 27

"Everyone knows that having an independent mind in the probation service is tantamount to being an insurgent."

I have always enjoyed going to work and took pride in doing the best job I could but now I loathe it and dread going in every day. This is all down to TR and the complete feeling of hopelessness about the situation. NPS PO.

Drugs have always been a huge part of penal society, considered prevalent and endemic enough for the government to introduce mandatory drug testing in prisons in the mid 90s, at some considerable cost. There wasn't any particular issues with violence, unrest or deaths associated with drugs in prisons at that point. Instead of using mandatory drug testing as a means of collecting information that would develop strategies and inform policy, it was used totally to impose punitive sanctions.

Herbal cannabis being easy to detect was swapped for heroin, easier to mask, and exited the system far quicker. Heroin became more targeted, and subutex (an opioid blocker) became the drug of choice, crushed and snorted the same effect as heroin was achieved and totally undetectable by drug testing. Tests were developed to identify subutex, and the choice of drug moved to legal highs such as spice as tests didn't exist to identify it.

As long as drugs exist in society, they will also exist in prisons. It's NOT the drugs that's killing people in our prisons or causing the levels of unrest and violence that we see today. It's naive understanding and the bad policies that comes from that understanding that's the real killer in UK prisons.

I have just watched 90 min of discussion on net, 'parliamentlive-tv' of the Select Committee - subject - Justice Committee, work of Parole Board, with a lot of time spent discussing IPP, and backlog of pre-release parole Board meetings. Solution - taking 100 more members on Parole Board, and prisons struggling with high cases, and Probation working on having their reports ready in time. (no suggestion of more NPS staff)!

Not much more mention of probation, mainly prison, although external PO's always played a crucial role in the parole report, with info that the prisons were unlikely to have. I recall that in the 'good old days', prison and probation worked together to assess risk, prison PO's relying on external information to help assess level of risk in the outside world, info from families, setting up accommodation (hostels, home), employment options, and licence conditions. Internal PO's would assist external PO's with info of progress and plans for release. This would have been ongoing throughout the sentence, not just pre-release.

How far has it moved since then? How much time is made available to NPS staff to visit their cases throughout the sentence and produce timely reports? Or, like PSR's, have detailed quality parole reports become a thing of the past?

Maybe as in the 'good old days' there's a role to be played by reconstruction of something akin to the LRC (local review committee) where a paper parole is considered prior to an oral hearing? Those who have not been granted release by paper application, could still retain the right to an oral hearing before the parole board.

A Tory Govt (& yep, that includes Blue Labour) will NEVER admit they are wrong, in the wrong or heading in the wrong direction - even when driving into oncomng traffic on a motorway. Grayling, Wright, Cameron & Osbourne fucked us over - with the willing helping hands of the civil servants now languishing in luxury as reward for their complicity.

The financial cost of the centralist NOMS/TR debacle over the last 20 years has been a scandal in its own right, let alone the social impact of pisspoor justice policies which have seen prison populations expand to new record highs, reoffending rates increase & the numbers of deaths in custody accelerate.

The killing-off of the Probation Service was a premeditated act of social engineering, an Agatha Christie-esque murder expedited initially by stealth (remove social work value, Howard; introduce enforcement, Boateng), accelerated by the imposition of Trusts, the '07 Act then Grayling brazenly finishes the job by bludgeoning the now weak & feeble Probation Service to death with a blunt instrument.

And No-one will ever be held accountable for this crime.

Service users are getting such a raw deal. I am ashamed sometimes. We try to do our best in my shrinking team but we can't manage their needs and expectations. They are turned away now when they come in with a crisis or just needing support because some days there are hardly any staff and they have caseload to see and being bullied by targets. That isn't right. We always had time for people before TR. That could be a suicidal service user or maybe they fear they are going to re-offend but they get turned away by staff who are close to breaking point and have no more to give..burned out! Shameful. 

I am ashamed to be part of it now and taking action to get out. I won't end up as a robot, ticking boxes and being emotionally distant. No wonder crime is rising. Service users need a proper relationship and support to make any real positive many desperate people now facing tax credits nightmare and homelessness. Coming out of prison further brutalised. Makes me want to cry some days..what an uncaring society we have become.

What's achieved by highlighting a lack of references to probation in a submission that is rich in ideas and full of good sense? On IPPs, the probation service gave them a red carpet, foamed about being centre-stage in risk assessments and was infatuated with flawed accredited programmes – which have been shown to not work. Probation supporters should really get off their high horse and be a bit more humble about their part in the IPP fiasco.

The same applies to recalls: probation too trigger-happy. Of course, individual probation officers sought to mitigate the risk averse reflexes of corporate probation, but these efforts were isolated in an otherwise robotic work environment. Everyone knows that having an independent mind in the probation service is tantamount to being an insurgent. Probation may at one time have been a force for good and rooted in humanitarian values, but times have changed for the worse.

I don't think we disagree. Fair points well made, especially about needing to be "a bit more humble about their part in the IPP fiasco. The same applies to recalls: probation too trigger-happy." I agree that was more the role of risk-averse management eager to kiss NOMS's arse as opposed to the choice of skilled practitioners trying to work meaningfully with complex cases. Numerous examples in my experience alone of being DIRECTED to "discuss but not propose" IPP in PSRs.

I don't think I had attacked the article at all... I had simply highlighted the significant shift in terminology, the changes imposed such that the term 'probation' - and thus the concept - is eradicated. The lack of use of the term 'probation' in the article is merely symptomatic of the efficacy of the Tory's disenfranchisement of Probation, in principle & in practice.

I would also agree that "having an independent mind" used to be a pre-requisite; having relevant life experience, including previous convictions, used to be embraced. Now the Tory social engineering project is simply excluding diversity of knowledge, diversity of experience & diversity of thinking.

I apologise for misconstruing your intentions. I think I tend to recoil when I perceive defences of probation - which obviously is not what you were about. I suppose, for me, there are two probation's - Old and New. Like the Labour Party probation was stuffed with modernisers and it's their legacy that I reject and thus I have no instinctive sympathy for the today's probation: I don't trust it anymore to do the right things.

In 2005 I attended a briefing from NOMS and they clearly stated that IPPs were designed to get the most dangerous and difficult people on long licences IN THE COMMUNITY...breach would be dealt with by short period on recall and then back out again..unfortunately no-one told the parole board this....IPPs stuck in the system as a direct result of parole boards ignoring what many officers were proposing because they knew better...probation management were instructed to do this just as they were instructed to sell us down the river...I think that the chickens have bought their tickets and are queueing at the station as we speak.

The objective was an indeterminate lock up for the 'dangerous', I don't think the primary focus was on community supervision. As the lawyer writes, there is an 'institutional approach' to IPP releases that are dependent on completion of accredited programmes, as these provide the pseudo-science to defensible decision-making. Terrible that risk assessments became so dependent on flawed programmes. Personal change gets reduced to going through the motions of programmes. For IPPs prisons became re-education camps.

Probation officer became a non profession when C.Q.S.W social work qualification was replaced by the diploma in probation studies. It is no longer a recognised profession in England/ Wales. Scotland and N.Ireland sensibly kept the social work qualification and have been spared the travesty of TR. That and the belief that PSO's could do the same job as qualified social workers was the slippery slope. The PO training is now a on the job training from staff who are already stressed to hell and then have to study for bogus qualification in own time. PO numbers are set to plummet along with morale. It is a complete shambles.

Top end of the food chain are now quite motivated to reduce the number and frequency of recalls, as well as move out IPP cases into the community. Trouble is, both government and probation leaders have focused obsessively on risk management and not rehabilitation. Splitting off the "high risk" NPS from the rest and simultaneously chucking it into the civil service has led to a craven risk-averse culture. We really should have - probably will have at this rate - a "Risk of Causing a Frisson of Unease at Management Level" box to tick.

I noticed the Chief Inspector commenting somewhere recently that the NPS needs to pay more attention to rehabilitation. It is just about feasible that this may yet gather some momentum, but popular opinion aka the Daily Mail isn't ever going lend much support, it needs courage and conviction in the identity and role of Probation at the top to give this any traction.

Backawhile during a consultancy/assessment exercise leading up to those "Excellent" ratings we enjoyed, the consultant in his summing up said that the greatest risk the Service had was that it did not have a clearly articulated Mission and Values: so it's mission, by default, was to jump through whatever hoops it was given. With a clearly stated identity, he argued, "Probation" could then CHOOSE what it did, by selecting only those hoops which correlated with its identity and purpose, and this would actually be a strength, not a risky strategy. I thought it was a great analysis. Sadly unheeded.

Hmmm. Here's a thought - what if Probation had a gatekeeping role where they were responsible for making detailed professional assessments of cases coming their way at the point of sentence or release/potential release?

The Courts & HMPPS could ask professionals trained in undertaking such assessments for their informed opinion, perhaps in a report which offered a view as to an effective way for working with each case in question - a bit like the way in which a specialist psychiatric or psychological report (prepared by a qualified professional) indicates how & when an individual might benefit from intervention.

Its not an exact science but it allows for a professional gateway through which the circumstances of cases are thoroughly & individually assessed, where all options for progression are explored & concluding with the suggestion of an agreed, appropriate pathway of intervention.

Would such an idea work?

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Parole - A Lawyers View

Here we have a fascinating view of the work of the Parole Board from a solicitor's standpoint and probation barely gets a mention:-

The Work of the Parole Board - A paper produced for public information and shared with the Justice Select Committee

1. Background

1.1 I am a Solicitor-Advocate, admitted as a Solicitor in 1996 and granted Higher Courts Civil Advocacy rights in 2010. I have extensive practical experience of the parole system and the work of the Parole Board. I have represented prisoners before the Parole Board for almost twenty years.

1.2 Between April 2014 and December 2015 I was commissioned by the Parole Board of England and Wales to work on governance and stakeholder projects.

1.3 I am the Managing Director of SL5 Legal which works in partnership with Tuckers Solicitors. SL5 is a ‘chambers-style’ practice of advocates who specialise in prison law and parole advocacy. We provide training to lawyers and other professionals working in similar fields.

2. Submission

We have highlighted five broad areas:

2.1 Imprisonment for Public Protection

2.1.1 I wrote an article for The Guardian newspaper in July 2016 entitled 'Liz Truss should be brave and release prisoners on indefinite sentences'. It was intended as a call to action to the new Justice Secretary in light of advice which had been offered by the Chairman of the Parole Board.

2.1.2 She wrote to the Justice Select Committee in August 2016:

“You will however be aware already of the work being undertaken to increase opportunities for prisoners serving IPP sentences to reduce their identified risks and progress through their sentences towards release. This includes enhanced case management for IPP cases where it has been identified that they are struggling to progress and a Progression Regime for IPPs and others who are ineligible for open conditions. This specialist regime is designed to re-introduce the responsibilities, tasks and routines associated with daily life in the community and to allow the prisoner to pursue activities and relationships which support rehabilitation. I can confirm this work, the details of which have been provided by my predecessor in earlier correspondence, will continue. You have asked also for information on the number of places on offending behaviour programmes that have been available to IPPs for the last 5 years. I have provided this information below. Accredited programmes however are not a mandatory requirement for IPP prisoners. There are many ways in which prisoners may reduce their risks, e.g. through accessing the Progression Regime as outlined above, education, vocational work, one to one work with psychologists etc. Completion of a programme does not automatically mean that risk has been reduced."

2.1.3 The Ministry of Justice has continued to refer to a new unit which is assisting IPP prisoners to make progress. We would encourage the Committee to scrutinise a little more closely the claims which have been made about enhanced case management. We have not detected any material change in the quality of case management of IPP cases. There has been an increase in the release rate of IPP prisoners but we believe this to attributable to:

a. a willingness by some Parole Board Members to be bolder in their decision-making
b. the tenacity of a dwindling group of experienced advocates who assist their clients to build viable release plans or commission independent expert evidence

2.1.4 We have not detected any increase in the resources made available to better manage cases in the community. The reference made by the previous Justice Secretary to many ways in which prisoners may reduce their risks does not accord with the institutional approach to IPP (and other life sentence) cases within HMPPS. It is still rare for witnesses at parole hearings to refer to evidence other than accredited ‘offending behaviour’ courses’ to show a reduction in the risk posed by prisoners. This is particularly the case for prisoners convicted of sexual offences.

2.1.5 Offending behaviour programmes have been treated as a linchpin for IPP and other life-sentence prisoners for many years. Many prisoners have been kept in custody for several years because they have been told that a particular programme is an essential prerequisite for their progression. Recently published research into the Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) – which has been the dominant approach to sexual offending for two decades - has entirely discredited this intervention. There is a great deal of confusion and uncertainty about how HMPPS will manage prisoners convicted of sexual offences now. There are a significant number of IPP prisoners who are affected by this.

2.1.6 We believe that the current approach to IPP prisoners is inadequate and that there is no substitute for decisive action by the Secretary of State. There has been a familiar pattern of Home Secretaries and Justice Secretaries speaking out about the unjust nature of the sentence but only after they have left their post.

2.1.7 When the IPP sentence was abolished the Secretary of State was given the power to change the release test for IPP prisoners. There are a number of options for him to do this. The Chairman of the Parole Board has set this out. The Secretary of State could begin planning immediately to release the remaining IPP prisoners, beginning with those who have already served more than the maximum determinate sentence they could have received. He could convert the cost of keeping IPP prisoners in custody into ‘enhanced case management in the community’. In practical terms this would mean equipping the Probation Service, local authorities and NHS with the means to provide the kind of support and supervision that some IPP prisoners will need to enable them to cope and resettle in the community.

2.1.8 The average annual cost of a prison place in England and Wales is £36,259. The cost of keeping 3,200 IPP prisoners in custody for another two years is more than £230 million. That sum could pay for a lot of much-needed community resources and would create 3,200 less prisoners in the creaking prison system.

2.2 Recalls

2.2.1 The recent National Audit Office (NAO) report contains the following, astonishing statistic:

The number of recall prisoners in the prison population has continued to increase, from just 150 in 1995 to 6,600 in June 2016.

2.2.2 Recalling a released prisoner to custody is dealt with as an administrative action in England and Wales. We have seen very little evidence of decisions to recall being scrutinised by the Secretary of State’s representatives. Recalls are sometimes made on spurious grounds, on the basis of factual inaccuracies or insufficient consideration being given to alternatives. Decisions to recall are frequently made by officers who do not have a personal relationship with the person supervised, for example when the supervising officer is on leave, and taken without adequate investigation.

2.2.3 They take a long time to unravel. Many prisoners wait several months for their cases to be reviewed by the Parole Board. This may result in their re-release but they will usually have served a significant period of time back in custody.

2.2.4 A stark case study from one of our own cases:

We acted for a client who had been released on licence. The licence he was given when he was released from prison stated that he needed to report to an Approved Premises by 00:00 on the same day. He took that to mean that he had to be there by midnight. It transpired later that an error had been made on his licence. His Probation Office wanted him to report by 15:00. This had not been communicated to him.

He arrived at the Approved Premises at 23:00 (an hour before he was required according to his licence). He was arrested shortly afterwards as a request had been made for his recall. He was returned to prison. His supervising officer stated in a report prepared a few days later that there had been no information to suggest that his risk of serious harm had increased in the few hours he had been on licence.

It took ten months before his case was finally reviewed by the Parole Board. His behaviour in custody had deteriorated, largely due to his anger and frustration at having been unfairly recalled. The Parole Board did not direct his re-release.

2.2.5 The NAO report confirms that in 2015-16, 13% of completed recall oral hearings were of IPP cases. Reviews by the Parole Board of recalls of IPP and other life-sentenced prisoners take several months to conclude as they almost always require an oral hearing. In our experience many of these cases end up in re-release. The scrutiny of recall decisions comes at the end of the process.

2.2.6 We believe that the Secretary of State should have to apply to the Parole Board if they have grounds to seek to remove a person’s liberty. The Parole Board should act as a court, providing due process for decisions concerning liberty. This would entail more care being taken over decisions to recall and allow scrutiny at a much earlier stage. This is not a radical proposal. A procedure like this is already followed in Scotland and in other European jurisdictions. It should incorporate a statutory requirement for alternatives other than a recall to custody to be considered. This has the potential to achieve a significant reduction in the prison population without putting public protection at risk.

2.3 Deferrals and Case Management by the Parole Board

2.3.1 We welcome the efforts by the Parole Board to reduce its case backlog and the steps that have been taken to increase the number of cases it is able to list. One of the areas which has not been addressed sufficiently is the prevalence of cases which are deferred or adjourned.

2.3.2 The NAO report notes (paragraph 1.19) that thirty-four per cent of oral hearings were deferred once listed in the year to September 2016 and more than half of these were deferred or adjourned on the day.

2.3.3 The most common reason for deferrals is identified (at paragraph 1.20) as related to reports (such as psychiatric or psychological reports) not being available, or further information being required before a case could be heard. This accounted for 50% of all deferrals (both paper and oral) before the hearing and for 69% of deferrals on the day.

2.3.4 We do not believe that all deferrals or adjournments are problematic. There are occasions in which requests for deferrals are made by prisoners or on their behalf. However, we believe that the number of cases which need to be deferred or adjourned could be reduced significantly by:

a. more effective case management by the Parole Board
b. an extension of the powers available to the Parole Board
c. a reduction in the reliance upon unnecessary psychological reports

2.3.5 The most common reason for on-the-day deferrals is, in our experience, a failure by the Parole Board to ensure that cases are prepared adequately in advance. We would like to see far more extensive use of directions hearings. These can usually be conducted by telephone or videolink. They enable issues which might cause a case to be ineffective to be aired and resolved at an earlier stage. Most courts have case management hearings or procedures which concentrate the minds of the parties to ensure that cases are ready to be heard.

2.3.6 Panel members need to find effective ways to communicate about cases in advance of the day of the hearing. Far too often we are informed that the first opportunity members of a panel have had to exchange views about a case is the day of the hearing. Many cases are deferred on the day because a panel has belatedly decided that a psychological report is required. Deferrals or adjournments for a psychological report will usually add four to six months to a hearing. It should usually be possible to identify at the Member Case Assessment (MCA) stage that a case needs specialist psychological input. We believe that some members call for psychological reports when they lack confidence about making decisions. Good psychologists are a comparatively scarce resource and should be reserved for cases that really need them.

2.3.7 Some cases end up in deferral or adjournment because a witness has failed to comply with a direction made by the Parole Board. We would like to see far more robustness from the Parole Board in these situations.

2.3.8 The Board is hampered by a lack of powers to manage its work and to enforce its directions. There are potential solutions to this which require political will. The Board was provided with judicial support to tackle this by the Court of Appeal in a 2015 case of Vowles but this has not been followed up. The court made the following comments about case management by the Board:

The determination by the Parole Board is a judicial process. It is self-evident that the obligation to make a speedy determination under Article 5(4) cannot be realised without active case management by the Parole Board. The Parole Board has therefore adopted a process called "intensive case management". However the procedure so adopted, on the evidence before us, does not comply with its obligations, as active case management does not begin at the point of time at which the case is referred to the Parole Board, but only when the dossier of evidence is provided to the Parole Board by NOMS. In cases such as the present where there has been a determination by the FTT, the obligation of the Parole Board is to undertake active case management from the moment of referral, in the same way as it is the duty of a court actively to manage its cases from the time cases are commenced before a court. That is a duty that rests on the Parole Board; it is not dependent on an offender making the running on case management.

There is another aspect in which the Parole Board is further disabled from complying with its obligations to make a speedy determination, as it has no specific statutory powers to enforce its case management directions. It is difficult to see how it can properly and actively manage cases without such a power. A party can of course apply for a witness summons to the High Court or County Court under CivPR 34.4, but that is of very limited relevance in enforcing compliance with directions, such as the service of reports. It is plainly essential that the Parole Board be given such a power. In the interim, as a significant number of the directions of the Board require action by the MoJ or NOMS, there is no reason, pending the introduction of such a power, why the MoJ and its agency NOMS cannot give an undertaking to the Parole Board to comply with its directions and appropriate administrative or disciplinary action taken by the MoJ and NOMS against employees who do not comply with the directions of the Parole Board.

2.3.9 The Parole Board could be given powers which are consistent with its role as a court. Consideration could be given to incorporating the Parole Board within HMCTS, arming it with the powers which are inherent in other courts and tribunals and reducing the role of the Public Protection Casework Section. This could achieve economies of scale, avoid the duplication of work between different agencies and also ensure that the ongoing court reform and modernisation programme embraces the parole process. 

2.4 A Wider Role In Sentence Planning for the Parole Board

2.4.1 The terms of referral by the Secretary of State to the Parole Board still routinely direct the Parole Board to avoid commenting upon any aspect of sentence planning for prisoners. This is in our view a missed opportunity. The parole process involves the examination by an independent, expert, court-like body into the ongoing detention of prisoners. There is no logical reason why this should not incorporate sentence planning advice in appropriate cases. Sentence planning plays is inextricably linked to progression towards release. Poor, inappropriate or rigid sentence planning keeps prisoners in custody longer than they might otherwise be.

2.4.2 Other jurisdictions (eg the French legal system) retain an oversight role for the judiciary in the ongoing management of sentences. A wider sentence management role would enable the Parole Board to exercise a more robust role in ensuring that prisoners do not get lost for years in the system and to challenge decisions about their sentence management in an appropriate forum.

2.4.3 We would welcome the opportunity to explore this in greater depth.

2.5 Vulnerable, Disabled and Unrepresented Prisoners

2.5.1 For understandable reasons, it is not easy for prisoners who have committed serious offences to persuade the Parole Board to release them. It often requires years of treatment, developing insight into the reasons for their behaviour then planning and building release plans which manage their risk. This is easier for prisoners who have a reasonable level of education, access to programmes they can understand and the ability to provide instructions to lawyers acting for them. Prisoners with learning disabilities or significant communication difficulties have far more obstacles. It is not easy to negotiate with staff and local authorities when you do not understand who they are or what their roles are. It is not easy to explain a ‘risk management plan’ when you do not have the faintest idea what that is.

2.5.2 Prisoners who are on the autistic spectrum, even those without a learning disability, are likely to find the parole process difficult to navigate. They may have a particular way of understanding the world and interacting with it. This may contribute to patterns of behaviour which can be very problematic in a prison environment and create serious barriers to progress.

2.5.3 In 2013 the government implemented cuts to legal aid for prisoners. Prisoners can no longer have legal aid for help with sentence planning. They can only get legal aid for parole hearings which might lead to their release. We are aware of a number of hearings which Parole Board members have deferred – often more than once - because they did not feel the prisoner could get a fair hearing without any representation.

2.5.4 The Parole Board does not have power to order that a prisoner should have legal aid for representation. All they can do is to flag their concerns and hope that something is done. In April 2017 the Court of Appeal found that some of the legal aid cuts, including those which related to representation at Parole Board hearings, were unlawful. The Secretary of State has still not restored legal aid in these areas and many prisoners remain unrepresented at parole hearings. These hearings routinely fail to meet minimum standards of procedural fairness.

2.5.5 In those cases where legal aid and representation is available, prisoners with communication difficulties still encounter very serious disadvantages. Professionals who work with prisoners need to have some knowledge about learning disability and autism so they can recognise it. There are individual pockets of good practice within the system. This means that fair treatment is a matter of luck.

2.5.6 There is a raft of legislation (including the Care Act, Autism Act, Equality Act and Mental Capacity Act) and accompanying guidance which create rights for individuals and duties on public bodies. There is a comprehensive Prison Service Instruction on Adult Social Care which sets out clearly how prisons and local authorities should work together to help prisoners with care and support needs. This legal framework needs to be understood. It is of real value only if it is complied with or there is an effective means to secure compliance.

2.5.7 The Equality Act requires public bodies to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to avoid discrimination against disabled people. The Parole Board need to make adjustments to enable prisoners who have learning or communication difficulties to participate in their own hearings. This must include changing way the hearing is conducted, particularly the way questions are asked. This requires patience,skill and the willingness to change and adapt practice.

2.5.8 The ‘reasonable adjustment’ duty could in certain circumstances extend to requiring that the prisoner is provided with someone to support them leading up to or even at their parole hearing. The Care Act requires local authorities to provide care and support services for prisoners with eligible needs. When a local authority is made aware that a prisoner may have care and support needs they have a duty to assess them. Independent advocacy support must be provided by the local authority if it is needed for assessments.

2.5.9 There is an absence of a co-ordinated strategy within the Ministry of Justice and the Parole Board. It is not enough to hope for a trickle-down of good practice. Failure to act creates not only unfairness but is costly too. Prisoners with these kind of problems are incarcerated longer than they need to be. Their cases are endlessly deferred or litigated until someone finally seizes the mantle. What is needed is a strategy which joins the dots and drives change rather than one which relies on luck and good intentions.

2.5.10 Physically disabled prisoners are also routinely disadvantaged and discriminated against. Several prisons have parole hearing rooms which are on the second floor and are inaccessible. Very little prior thought is given to adapting hearings and facilities to enable those with visual or hearing impairments to participate properly in the process.

Andrew Sperling
SL5 Legal

Friday, 20 October 2017

A Possible Plan B?

A glance at Facebook provides some interesting news regarding a possible future direction for probation. The following dated 17th October on the TheyWorkForYou website:-

Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, whether he plans to devolve the operation of any probation functions in England and Wales to (a) local authorities or (b) police commissioners.
Sam Gyimah The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice
We are committed to improving the delivery of local criminal justice services, and are working with a range of stakeholders, including Police and Crime Commissioners, Local Authorities and other government departments, to do this.
We have agreed justice devolution deals with London and combined authorities in Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City region and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. We have a Memorandum of Understandingin place with Greater Manchester Combined Authority to support collaborative working, and are in discussion with other regions, including London, about further opportunities.

This in response from David A Raho:-

In a week where the sky turned orange and the government turned on itself over BREXIT it did not surprise me at all when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Sam Gyimah confirmed in response to a question by the impressively titled Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) in Parliament inquiring about whether the MoJ have made justice devolution deals. Well it turns out they have with London and combined authorities in Greater Manchester, the Liverpool City region and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Kind of odd if the government are committed to continuing with the current model???

This is of course no surprise to those of us who have been following justice devolution and watching it take form around the UK and slowly move from a thought experiment to serious consideration up the mainstream justice agenda as a practical alternative and possible solution to the state of things that the MoJ can only seem to throw more money at rather than grip firmly by the horns wrestle to the dirt and, as we sometimes say in Essex, 'sort it out big time'.

Justice devolution in a nutshell means that the responsibilities that currently reside with government centrally in respect of justice including probation are devolved to another authority closer to the people they serve. It is an idea that appears to enjoy a surprising amount of support across the political spectrum and also with a large range of organisations including both the NPS and CRCs who see the potential for greater stability and guaranteed resourcing without the bulk of the responsibility they currently hold. Thank goodness Grayling could never understand it as a concept otherwise he would no doubt have set out to destroy it.

Some pundits have seen this as one very possible means by which the government can reunite probation providers both private and public sector under one umbrella by stealth ie without losing too much political face or most importantly having to pay huge sums of money. Under a devolved structure CRCs can continue to be paid until their contracts expire and then whatever remains can be assimilated - they will of course take the cash. If plans also included an agreement regarding the proposed licence to practice this could effectively mean that all those practitioners currently providing probation services might eventually be simply brought back together to be part of the same organisation and employees would then technically be able to work in any part of the unified organisation or presumably by any other department in the local authority. This would probably have the added bonus of attracting our former colleagues back to probation again many of whom are now working in local authorities or enjoying early retirement.

It is worth remembering that the current policing plan in London (that has statutory status) indicates that it is the firm intention of the Mayors Office for Policing and Crimes (MOPAC) to take over the CRC contract in London when it comes to an end in 2021. As far as I am aware no one has queried this. The bigger ambition however is to have oversight of all justice services in London therefore it makes sense that any other probation services operating within the community in London - including those currently operated by the NPS - will come back together with their former CRC colleagues under the MOPAC umbrella this seems to be a foregone conclusion. 

Current plans do not include prisons in the capital but with policing probation and youth justice under MOPAC's control and the court system digitised (and therefore portable and transferable) it would be a relatively small step to bring prisons and courts in the capital under Mayoral control to create a potentially cheaper, integrated, and more efficient justice system. The governments headache regarding justice would ease almost instantly. The Mayors office after all has resources and fairly extensive powers in order to maintain law and order in the capital and has barely flexed its muscles in this regard with a weakened Tory government devoid of ideas or solutions across the river though it has been building up a fairly large probation contingent in County Hall to prepare the way to put its plans into action and is already technically itself a provider of probation services through its involvement in the tagging of offenders in the capital.

There is now a rapid decrease in mentioning the now 'assumed to have failed' CRC experiment (they are privy to the evaluation reports) from ministers and justice policy makers (even the Chair of the Justice Committee talks of Gove's reforming achievements in correcting Graylings gaffs rather than anything of worth the latter actually achieved) when talking knowledgeably about the direction of future justice solutions. To me at least this indicates that these organisations will probably not be included in the landscape of future probation service provision - whatever form that may eventually take - and receive little further consideration until they can be done away with.

Reading the tea-leaves my guess is that the future will probably be increasingly devolved and overseen by local authorities rather than central government MoJ HMPPS NPS and CRCs. Probation will return to being something that is performed/delivered locally with closer integration of services into the communities they serve hopefully with a politically independent institute type organisation looking after professional accreditation and a small central organisation that agrees national standards with input from research, unions, government and others hopefully future policy will be based on sound research findings, learning from other jurisdictions, expert advice, and properly reviewed evidence. The days of big centralised organisations and multinational corporation run companies and the artificially created justice market will hopefully fade into oblivion and the annals of irrelevance with only the occasional bad dream to remind probation folk of that sorry episode in their otherwise proud history of delivering rehabilitation in the community.

Now that might just be a transformation in rehabilitation that we might actually get excited about and feel is worth our support.

David A Raho


Continuing the theme of celestial bodies aligning, the government can no longer lay claim to crime falling. This from the Guardian yesterday:-

Police data shows crime rising at increasing rate in England and Wales

The rise in crime is accelerating, with the latest figures showing a 13% increase in all police-recorded offences across England and Wales, and even greater rises for violent offences including knife crime, sexual offences and violence against the person.

The crime figures show an underlying 8% rise in the murder rate, an increase of 46 victims, with 629 homicides recorded in the 12 months to June, excluding the 35 people killed in the London and Manchester terrorist attacks, and the 96 Hillsborough deaths in 1989, which were included in the headline figures. The acceleration from a 5% rise in the 12 months to June 2015, to 7% the following year, and 13% in the 12 months to June this year, together with even larger increases in violent crime, will sound alarm bells in Downing Street.

The quarterly crime figures also highlight for the first time 711 deaths or serious injuries caused by illegal driving, a 6% rise on the previous year. But it is the accelerating increases in the volume of violent crime reported to police that will most alarm the public and politicians.

The ONS said the underlying rise in the homicide rate followed a general upward trend in recent years and contrasted with the downward trend over the previous decade. The headline figure of 664 homicides for the 12 months to June shows a fall of 2% on the previous year’s total of 679.

The increasingly violent nature of England and Wales is underlined by double-digit increases in types of violent crime that, although low in volume, cause significant harm and alarm. They include a 27% rise in gun crime to 6,696 offences, a 26% increase in knife crime to 36,998 offences, robberies up 25% to 64,499, sexual offences up 19% to 129,700, and stalking and harassment up 36% to 243,086 reported incidents.

The overall category of violence against the person, which includes homicide, death or serious injury caused by illegal driving, violence with injury, violence without injury, and stalking and harassment, rose 19% to 1,229,260 reported incidents. There were also double-digit increases in domestic violence and public order offences. Some categories of police-recorded crime fell in the past year, including drug offences, down 9% to 132,935, and non-domestic burglary.

The largest increases in violent crime were reported by South Yorkshire police, up 49% to 31,838 offences, Durham constabulary (up 48% to 16,532 offences), Greater Manchester police (up 46% to 76,404 offences) and Northumbria police (up 39% to 35,458 offences).

But it will cause increasing political alarm that large-volume offences such as burglary and car crime, which had been falling over the previous two decades, are rising. Domestic burglary is up 21% to 235,335, while thefts are up 11% to 1.9m.

The Home Office data shows there were more than 8,000 allegations of rape reported to police that were not officially recorded as rapes. There were 52,406 allegations initially classified as rapes in the 12 months to March, of which 41,159 were subsequently officially recorded, leaving 8,624 cases that were not pursued. Of the remaining 2,623, 1,746 were “cancelled” due to additional “verifiable information” that indicated a rape did not take place, the crime had already been recorded or it had been recorded in error, while 877 allegations were transferred to other forces to consider.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Why All The Recalls?

Yesterday the Justice Committee conducted a hearing on the work of the Parole Board and it appears they were told some surprising things. This from the BBC website:-

Half of indefinite term prisoners being recalled to jail

More than half of prisoners freed after serving controversial indeterminate sentences for public protection are being sent back to jail for breaching licence conditions, MPs have been told. Giving the figures in Parliament, Nick Hardwick, chairman of the Parole Board for England and Wales, said the matter had now become a "critical" issue. In the last year, 760 IPP inmates were recalled - up 22% from the year before. Monitoring of those released had been "lacking", the prisons minister said.

What are IPP sentences?

Introduced by Labour in 2005, they were designed to ensure that dangerous offenders remained locked up until it was safe for them to be let out. Under the system, prisoners were given a minimum term - or tariff - which they would have to serve before the Parole Board then decided whether to free them on licence. However, hundreds of inmates found themselves locked up for years beyond the end of their tariff after finding it hard to access rehabilitation courses in custody in order to demonstrate they no longer posed a risk.

Courts were banned from imposing IPPs in 2012. However, 3,300 IPP prisoners remain in custody, 51% of whom are more than five years over the end of their tariff. The Parole Board and the Ministry of Justice have taken measures to ensure IPP offenders can access courses more easily and are better prepared for their parole hearings.

What is the problem now?

Currently, 75% of those whose cases are heard are let out or transferred to an "open" prison - which is usually a step to the road to release. But speaking at the House of Commons Justice Committee, Mr Hardwick said: "The most significant issue with the IPP problem now is that more than 50% are being recalled, not necessarily because they've committed another offence, but because they've broken their licence conditions - and that's a real problem.

"So, we're letting them out, but they're getting recalled often for relatively minor breaches of licence," he said. Mr Hardwick said IPP offenders were being sent back to prison for turning up drunk at their bail hostel - even though that presented no risk to anyone. When they return to prison, the Parole Board has to again assess each case to decide if they are safe to be freed. Mr Hardwick said 60% of recalled offenders were let out for a second time. 

Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah defended the system of recall. However, he warned that by 2020 the number of IPP prisoners sent back to jail was likely to be more than the 1,500 still waiting to be released for the first time. Dealing with the problem was out of the Parole Board's hands, he argued. "The Parole Board can do its part of the job... but that depends on there being the facilities in the community to manage them properly when they're out there and it depends on probation having a consistent view of risk with us - and there's a mismatch out there."

What does the government say?

Sam Gyimah, the prisons and probation minister, defended the recall system, saying it struck the "right balance" and prisoners would be sent back if the nature of the licence breach directly related to the risk they posed and their original offending. "These people are incredibly risky," he said. The minister said in future more IPP prisoners would be electronically tagged on release to ensure they comply with the terms of their licence and there would be other "innovations" to improve their management in the community. "I put my hand up - that was lacking initially," he said.

Asked whether the government would consider new legislation to re-sentence IPP prisoners or take other legal steps to speed up the process of their release, Mr Gyimah said "all options are under review". However, he gave a clear indication that it was unlikely to happen, adding: "The system is working."

The committee also heard that the Parole Board expects to pay prisoners a million pounds in compensation this financial year for delays in hearings and decisions. In 2016-17, 578 prisoners received a total of £938,000, which was almost double the figure the previous year.


Readers had better prepare themselves because the lull is definitely over and we are very much entering stormy waters and about to be deluged with more information and bad news stories than you can shake a stick at. Some might recall my saying recently that there is definitely a feeling at blog HQ of the heavenly bodies at last coming into alignment and, right on cue, here we have a special Transforming Rehabilitation online edition of the Probation Journal. Packed full of interesting and rigorously-researched articles (sadly no pictures, to the disappointment of one questioner at the AGM) there is undoubtedly much here for us to pick over in the coming days:-

Virtual Special Issue: Transforming Rehabilitation

Transforming Rehabilitation involved a fundamental restructuring of probation services in England and Wales. The most radical element of these reforms was the fragmentation of probation services into a publicly run National Probation Service (NPS) and a number of privately operated Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). The division of labour between the two organisations is broadly predicated on risk, with the NPS supervising ‘high risk’ offenders and the CRCs ‘medium to low risk’ offenders (an approximately 20/80 split). The logic of employing a risk-based rationale for allocating cases has been criticised, not least because it assumes a static conception of risk, when risk is dynamic - people change, so do their circumstances. Perhaps more fundamentally, critics have also been opposed to the privatisation of a public service involved in the administration of justice. While part of the rationale put forward for privatisation was ‘transformation’, and the potential for innovation, this cannot be uncoupled from the profit motive crucial to private enterprise.

The criticisms of TR have been both practical and ideological, but three years on, what is the evidence of the impact of the reforms? Reports from HM Inspectorate of Probation, the National Audit Office and the Justice Committee have laid bare some serious concerns regarding organisational infrastructures; information sharing across the NPS and CRCs, contact with people under supervision and the provision of resettlement services to prisoners. The impact of TR has come increasingly into the spotlight, as media coverage this week demonstrates. The Probation Journal has covered the reforms prior to the enactment of the legislation and as the changes were rolled out. This virtual special issue contains a number of key contributions to this debate, including analysis of the impacts of restructuring and the pressures experienced on the ground by practitioners; insights from research and the implications for enforcement and compliance with community sentences. The insights presented in these articles should inform policy debates about the future direction of Transforming Rehabilitation.


I notice that Russell Webster has chosen to highlight the article entitled “It’s relentless”: the impact of working primarily with high-risk offenders by Jake Phillips, Chalen Westaby & Andrew Fowler of Sheffield Hallam University. The article looks at both the positive and negative aspects in only having a high-risk caseload and of course helps set the context for the high level of recalls referred to above. This from Russell's blog post:- 
To some extent you do because it’s kind of relentless if you know what I mean. Every sort of person you’re looking at is, has got fairly serious potential to do something serious to somebody. So there’s, I suppose, maybe more, I don’t know if worry is the right word, but, you know, obviously there’s concern. It plays on your mind and you need to make sure you’ve done what you can do.
Another finding was that a consequence of having to manage more high-risk offenders has led to POs conceding that they compared high-risk offenders with each other, to determine who will be prioritised:
And we now find that where you used to have say 5 high risk offenders you’ve now got 15... . . . because when we were as a Trust those 5 got the vast majority of your time and, you know, you were more careful about what you did and how you did it. But whereas now you’ve 15 and you can’t do it [and] you sort of grade the high risk; it’s grades within that. And so some of people who are high risk and you would know were previously getting more of your time are not getting it anymore because they can’t, we haven’t got the time.
The researchers note that probation officers don’t have an appropriate framework to allocate resources when all cases are nominally high risk with both interviewees and researchers comparing the role of a probation officer in the NPS with that of child protection social workers — operating under constant stress.


The researchers reported that:

participants presented serious concerns about the impact of the changes on their work with an acute sense of anxiety about the intensification and volume of cases who pose a high risk of harm. The high risk of serious harm and the imminence of that harm being committed by offenders on the caseload in combination with the volume of cases is clearly putting a strain on the wellbeing of NPS POs.
They concluded that the situation is untenable in the long term and should be a priority area for the organisation in terms of supporting its staff.
A workforce that suffers from high levels of stress, and that is not supported sufficiently, is unlikely to be able to deliver the high-quality work that is required of them. This is especially important when one considers the high-risk nature of the offenders with whom our participants are working.

I thought these comments were interesting:-

High risk as adjudged by the Oasys? You have to be very careful. It’s a tool carrying inherent bias. So the headline could easily read: the impact of working with black people.

There is undoubtedly an impact, and I am by no means contesting any of the findings of the Sheffield Hallam research. Nor am I contesting the idea that we should be sympathetic and annoyed at the conditions Probation Officers have to work in. But two things are important which are in danger of being seen as glossed over: one is language and the other is reflection on Probation’s punitive aspects.

Situating the idea of risk as residing solely in the person being supervised omits to discuss the widespread failures in social care, and in society more broadly. And there is friction which inheres between the individual desire for autonomy and the paternalism of supervision. This is amplified where paternalism slips into punctiliousness (4300% rise in recalls in 20 years). Friction like this no doubt takes its toll too.

I worked for the Probation Services for over 25 years. During this time I have witnessed it become entangled in bureaucracy and a relentless growth of regulation. At the very heart of the Probation Services’ work is its commitment and diligence towards changing and improving the life chances of those most affected by crime and those responsible for harming members of the public (including you and me). The Probation Services’ were once recognised as a ‘Moral Force’ that brings to bear an expert understanding on the causes for crime, whilst delivering credible social-economic and personal changes to the lives of countless families. 

The TR ideology and business model for correctional services in Britain has not truly assimilated the core values and beliefs of the Probation Services work. People matter irrespective of the position in society or legal status during the course of their life. The public are you and I plus all those affected by crime and even those who are responsible for harming others. These inalienable truths have got lost during the recent modernisation of the Probation Services. A government select committee inquiry into the TR programme will establish why and how the Probation services finds itself where it is today. In short - it has moved far away from its original purpose and has less autonomy to effect change at grass roots.


Finally, these are some comments on the article seen on Facebook:-

This all fits with how I'm feeling at the moment. From actually enjoying my job and feeling I was helping people in some way I now HATE every minute of it. It's de-humanising and nasty and every day I get more and more deskilled and demoralised...

The concentration of high risk work is draining, but it's the weird sandwich we have with political and MoJ will to avoid recall where possible, promote early release etc, which by and large fits the PO agenda working on with the individual clients, and then in the middle the most risk-averse, terrified, micromanaging probation management STRESSSSSSS plus silo's of activity eg MAPPA, ARMS, etc, all endlessly setting up not quite duplicate processes. MAPPA manager asked me the other day "how often" I visited the helpful sexy all singing all dancing MAPPA website? FFS. It takes about a working day to submit a referral.

“Relentless” has become the most overused word in my office. Although I know I have ‘positive outcomes’ from my caseload, it’s hard to consistently evidence this (in the unusable/not fit for purpose sentence plan) when we are constantly flipping between risk management, activating your contingency plan, firefighting, trying to safely get them out/keep them out of custody! That’s before I even get started on the targetted stuff...

Only 15 high risk offenders?

Yeah I thought that too!

News From Nottingham 5

I promise this is the last word from the AGM and conference, but I thought it important to take a look at some of the motions that were up for debate because of course they pretty accurately reflect the mood and urgent concerns within the profession. I say debate, but in fact this is a misnomer because virtually all were passed unanimously, such is the degree of uniform disquiet and anger. 

The list is not comprehensive but rather a reflection of what I took particular notice of and feel has an urgent bearing in conveying what's going wrong in all corners of probation work. The uncontentious nature of this year's crop of motions meant that somewhat unusually conference got around to everything, although in an unfortunate and bizarre twist the very first to be considered, motion 1 A vote of no confidence in those responsible for NPS and E3 fell because those proposing it were clearly taken by surprise and were not present in the hall. It was a most unfortunate and inauspicious start to say the least:-  

A vote of no confidence is required to prevent further destruction of probation services. Poor management decisions, staff being stressed to breaking point, woefully inadequate IT and AT, high caseloads with unfair Workload Measurement Tool scoring, ineffective local and senior management support and senior managers and decision/policy makers seemingly ignoring the rights, welfare and view point of staff. These factors prevent the effective execution of probation duties, leaving staff demoralised, with little time to spend with service users, leading to ineffective rehabilitation and failings in the need to protect the public and prevent reoffending.

The full schedule of motions can be found here. 

Composite A – Motions 10 + 11: Computer Says ??????? / HR privatisation 

This AGM believes that the privatisation of HR posts in the NPS and absorption into "Shared Services" have led the NPS into a quagmire of chaos. AGM expresses its concern over the failure of Shared Services Connected Limited (SSCL) to consistently provide accurate HR and payroll support for staff employed by the NPS. SSCL has never been fit for purpose. Since the transfer of staff to the NPS, there have been numerous issues arising from call handlers’ inability to apply the correct legacy policy to queries. The Single Operating Platform introduced in February has exacerbated these issues, to the point where staff aren’t being paid correctly and in some cases aren’t being paid at all. Queries and complaints go unresolved and it has recently emerged that employer pension contributions aren’t being collected correctly. The long term implications for our hard working members could be severe. 

Conference therefore resolves to support the Probation Negotiating Committee – and the Officials through TU Engagement – to hold HMPPS to account for these failures, to ensure that mistakes are rectified at the earliest possible juncture, and for staff to suffer no detriment – financial or otherwise. SSCL is not fit for purpose and this conference therefore, supports a call for the creation of a separate HR system for NPS staff which reflects our needs. Napo will campaign to bring HR back into the NPS at the earliest opportunity.

Composite B – Motions 13 + 14 + 15: PSRs 

This AGM has seen the lowering of standards regarding the quality and accuracy of Pre Sentence Reports since the push to on the day delivery. This AGM expresses its serious concern about the rapid way in which PSRs have been affected by the ‘Simple speedy justice’ agenda and E3 operating model. Arrangements under a “Simple Speedy Justice” initiative have resulted in requirements being agreed with “stakeholders” to produce reports in one hour. 

Such a timescale is unrealistic and unsafe It shows little understanding of the assessment processes for informed judgement and compromises professionalism. To complete an interview, undertake necessary checks, include information from other agencies such as the police and social care, use “diagnostic tools” appropriately and compose an assessment in a rushed environment in the space of an hour, generates considerable and unnecessary pressure that contributes to heightened stress levels and is unconducive to diligent practice necessary for justice. Limited information in a PSR increases the likelihood of unduly lenient or harsh sentences or lack of a relevant accredited programme, particularly with domestic abuse perpetrators. This AGM believes report writers are being de-skilled and placed in untenable situations when they have to produce reports without access to salient information. 

The template is unfit for purpose due to it being poorly designed and unwieldy and not compatible with assistive technology. The character restriction also compromises the author’s ability to fully report on relevant issues. We believe this devalues our professional reputation and places our staff and the public at risk. 

This AGM calls for our National Officers and Officials to:
  • campaign vigorously for on the day reports to be reviewed and a return to quality and accuracy; 
  • gather information from sentencers about the value of the reports currently provided; 
  • gather information from members in the CRC and NPS about cases where there are concerns that short reports have contributed to inappropriate sentences/risk assessments; 
  • challenge guidance contained within the E3 operating model and PI 4/2016 that is not detailed enough in stipulating when full reports should be written and increases the number of oral reports/SFRs; 
  • argue to re-introduce compulsory but meaningful gatekeeping to mitigate against bias in respect of protected characteristics; 
  • raise these concerns urgently with the Ministry of Justice with a view to more sensible and realistic proposals being agreed centrally. 
Proposer: South Yorkshire Branch Seconder: Napo Cymru

6. Outside Contractors 

Since privatisation, Probation and Family Court Services are seeing more ‘outsourcing’ of HR services. The Shared Services in NPS are not fit for purpose. Occupational Health is also not delivering services in accordance with organisational policies and timescales. 

This AGM understands many members bringing grievances are being stymied by organisational senior managers not having any control over ‘so called’ external agencies.

This AGM believes this is unacceptable and more needs to be done to ensure accountability. 

This AGM calls on Napo to bring a test case to show the HMPPS and MoJ we have teeth and they are accountable to our members for the failings of their sub-contractors. 

Proposer: London Branch

7. Woefully Unsatisfactory Attendance Management 

In January 2017 the NPS imposed a new Absence Management policy. Immediate concerns included reduced trigger points, less protection for those with disabilities and removal of exemptions for underlying medical conditions and long term sickness. The policy includes little useful guidance and pressure is being put on managers to issue warnings against their professional judgement. 

The process is vulnerable to potential bias and discrimination. Decisions appear to be made in consultation with HR Business Partners prior to the ‘Unacceptable Attendance’ meeting and therefore before a member has had a chance to answer the charge and be represented. These decisions are not open to scrutiny and issues of accountability are blurred. We are concerned that the most vulnerable in our membership are being given proportionately more warnings. 

This AGM calls on Napo Officials to: 
  • request data from the MOJ about the protected characteristics of staff hitting the trigger and warnings issued to highlight any potential bias and discrimination issues; 
  • continue to voice the concerns of members about the process to bring about a properly negotiated, fair and consistent policy; 
  • if necessary to go into dispute with the employers over issues of bias and discrimination against members. 
Proposer: South Yorkshire Branch

9. Stop the discrimination against disabled staff by Interserve Justice 

March 2017 saw Interserve Justice impose a new Absence Management policy having ignored legitimate concerns raised by the trade unions. The Policy removes protections against discrimination for disabled people and those with other protected characteristics whilst also removing exemptions for long term sickness. The disability provision of the Equality Act 2010 defines disability as an impairment which has a long term and substantial adverse effect on ability to carry out normal day to day activities. Even if the adverse effect ceases, the impairment should be treated as continuing if it is likely to recur. By definition, Interserve Justice’s decision to review long term sickness on a rolling four year basis, targets and discriminates against disabled staff. In addition, the lack of guidance, particularly around discretion, means that in some cases managers are struggling to adopt a consistent and anti-discriminatory approach. This AGM also notes anecdotal evidence of an increase in advisory notices for disabled staff. 

This AGM instructs Napo Officials to work with relevant branches to register a dispute around the implementation of this policy with a view to securing key changes to re-instate the protections for disabled people and those with other protected characteristics within the policy and procedure. 

Proposer: West Yorkshire Branch

16. Abolish TTG and PSS 

Through The Gate provision and the Post Supervision Sentence on licences are the biggest failures in sentencing policy history. This is demonstrated by re-offending rates for short sentences now having increased above the 50% mark. For these schemes to continue would require properly funded programmes to be set up in every discharging prison throughout the country. Realistically,this is unlikely to happen. Therefore, we instruct Napo to campaign for these sentences to be scrapped and for a Napo taskforce to be set up to advocate for a provision fit for purpose that can be presented to the MoJ as a fully funded alternative. This AGM instructs National Officials to lobby forthe sentences to be removed and replaced with a scheme endorsed by Napo. 

Proposer: Campaigning Committee

20. Outside work 

The PI 38/2014 concerning Outside Activities includes political campaigning and trade union activities. We have recently seen members subjected to disciplinary action under this PI which demonstrates enforcement is draconian. Many members are not aware of the existence of this PI or the existence of the Service’s declaration form. 

We call on Napo to run an awareness raising campaign on how members can stay safe whilst undertaking union and other work. 

Proposer: London Branch

21. IT failures increasing workload pressures 

This AGM notes the reports from members working for probation employers, including Interserve Justice and the NPS, of significant workload pressures exacerbated by persistent IT failures. These pressures are disproportionately felt by members who need assistive technology solutions to be able to work. At a time when there are staff shortages, workloads are high and pressures on members are unabating, the continuing failure of employers to provide the basic tools to do the job is unacceptable. 

While the introduction of a new IT system was welcomed by members in Interserve Justice, as is news of a proposed new system for NPS staff, unless they work consistently, no relief from significant pressures are felt. This AGM also notes that previous large scale IT projects have delivered chaos and misery in the short and medium term before any benefits were realised. 

This AGM instructs Napo Officials to survey members to determine the extent of the problem with each employer. 

Where significant workload issues are highlighted by the survey the Officials should work with branches to seek workload relief for members. If this is not forthcoming, a dispute should be raised to ensure that the health, safety and well-being of members is protected. 

Proposer: West Yorkshire Branch

24. Sodexo CRCs – Multiple Failings 

This AGM welcomes the HMIP reports that continue to confirm the fact that Sodexo’s booths are not fit for probation work. We also welcome confirmation that large scale telephone reporting is also roundly condemned. 

AGM congratulates those branches that remain in dispute over Sodexo booths and over unacceptably high workloads. We also note with grave concern the high levels of work based stress and related sickness absence, which far exceed the national average for most employers. 

AGM demands that Sodexo CRCs fulfil their legal duty of care and the legal duty to protect data. AGM supports the actions being taken by Napo branches and Napo HQ to protect members and publicise the abject failings of the Sodexo CRCs.