Friday, 22 September 2017

Things Are Definitely Warming Up

Those of us who have lived through the nightmare of TR and the resulting probation omnishambles created by Chris Grayling and his Lib Dem cronies have learnt to be surprised at nothing over the last couple of years. None of it has 'bedded in', improved or stabilised - it just gets worse day by day, a state compounded by a prison crisis and a worsening situation that cannot be ignored for much longer, not least because it's becoming increasingly likely that some CRC's are about to fall over. 

I thought this comment left recently rather neatly sums things up:-
"How the fuck did it become okay to take shitloads of public money by saying you can do something, utterly screw up the task, complain its not fair, get given shitloads more public money, then get told if you achieve something close to what you originally said you could do you'll get a 'reward' - like we'll turn a blind eye to what you do in the future... AND probably more money, or a knighthood, or something."
Throwing more money at the problem in the form of just giving the failing CRC's more dosh isn't working and I get the sense that things are going to come to a head one way or the other quite soon. It's to be hoped someone down at MoJ HQ has dusted off the file marked 'contingency planning', written I gather by WYPS in the early days of preparations for the whole TR traincrash. But of course things have moved on since then and there are no easy options and some are just not possible, such as NPS taking over a failed CRC. And where are all those clever civil servants who dreamt this whole mad idea up? Got the awards and moved on of course.

So, if this is the context and something is likely to 'blow' fairly soon, it's interesting to note that media interest is definitely growing and I suspect the MoJ spin doctors will have to start proving their worth over the coming weeks. Here are two articles that have appeared on the internet over the last couple of days with Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary, quoted at length in each. This on the politics.co.uk website:- 

Chris Grayling's probation reforms have been a disaster for the service

"Successful offender reform depends on so many people," an open letter from the justice secretary said earlier this summer. "Among the most vital are probation staff, who seek to improve the lives of those they work with and, by extension, society as a whole. They are key to disrupting the cycle of offending."

They are and they should be. But it's not happening. And no one's talking about it. The lack of any meaningful public scrutiny around the state of our probation service is remarkable given how crucial it is to keeping us safe. Probation officers supervise offenders on their release from prison. They assess risk, hold interventions to change behaviour and help them commit to crime-free lives. The system worked relatively well - or as well as things tend to in Britain's creaky and underfunded justice infrastructure. But then a few years ago Chris Grayling became justice secretary and chaos ensued.

Driven by the government's austerity agenda, he split probation in two: a public sector National Probation Service (NPS) which would supervise high-risk offenders, and 21 privately-run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) to manage those posing low-and-medium-risk. Warnings were voiced by staff and unions at the time about the scale and pace of the reforms, but they were not heeded. Now, in news that will surprise no-one, they have come to fruition.

The NPS is now characterised by dwindling staff numbers struggling with unmanageable caseloads, while its previous 'joined-up' approach of bringing together housing and education authorities with the police, employment and health services has deteriorated. But it is the situation of the CRCs – run by firms including Sodexo, Interserve, MTC Novo and Working Links – which is most concerning.

In the latest report published by the chief inspector of probation, the work of the NPS in Gloucestershire was found to be "reasonably good" but the CRC's work was deemed "so far below par that its owner and government need to work together urgently to improve matters". Other reports have raised similar concerns.

Ian Lawrence, head of the National Association of Probation Workers (Napo), told me that the CRCs’ poor performance is the result of financial difficulties and unsuitable models being used to supervise offenders – something he believes is incentivised by the profit motive involved in the running of the contracts.

The result? Minimal time being spent with offenders – some of whom are being spoken to on the phone every few weeks - staff shortages, unmanageable caseloads, high staff sickness levels and workers being recruited with no probation qualifications. Most worryingly, Lawrence said that a number of "serious further offences" had been committed by offenders, including murders, in the past year which he puts down to ineffective supervision. Feeding into this, many CRCs are now operating at a loss as fewer low- and medium-risk cases have been referred to them than had been projected.

To help keep them afloat, £22m of public money has been given to them to this year, while another £277m will be injected over the next four years – figures that only emerged after Private Eye trawled through the obscure Official Journal of the European Union, which requires publication of such payments by member states. Yet these pots of money have not been mentioned explicitly by ministers anywhere.

In his open letter, the justice secretary said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) had "adjusted the CRCs’ contracts to reflect more accurately the cost of providing critical frontline services" as result of "unforeseen challenges" following the splitting of the service. A similar written statement was made to parliament by the prisons minister but, again, no amounts were given.

"It's outrageous," Lawrence told me during a recent interview. "The whole model on which the privatisation was predicated has failed and the government is in such a state over it, the only option it seems to have at the minute is to plough more taxpayers' cash into it."

The centrepiece of Grayling's reforms, Through the Gate, has also been a disaster.This policy, aimed at reducing reoffending by helping prisoners to resettle into the community, has been dismissed by both the chief inspectors of prisons and probation as being so ineffective that, if it was removed tomorrow, "the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible".

Lawrence added: "Untold millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has gone into that and, save for a few pockets, you would have to say that it’s manifestly failed. Grayling once said 'it's not right that people should walk out of prison from a short-term sentence with £46 in their pocket and nothing else'. Now, it's quite probable that the offender will walk out of prison with £46 and be given a leaflet on who they should contact to try and get employment or accommodation support. It never got off the ground. The MoJ belatedly ramped up the pressure on their CRC contractors about delivery, but it's a disgrace."

Alongside a parliamentary enquiry, the Napo boss is calling for failing CRCs to be stripped of their contract. It's the only way he believes any real public accountability can be restored to the service. "If a CRC has an operational model that had failed to the extent that the government stripped it of its contract, then it changes the whole ball game,” he said.

The work of such a CRC could be returned either to the NPS to run (although this is unlikely given how overstretched it is), or to the offices of elected regional mayors or police and crime commissioners – a prospect London Mayor Sadiq Khan has welcomed for probation services in the capital. Crucially, while some CRCs could still be commissioned to provide the service, they should not decide how they should be run, Lawrence said.

The need for greater scrutiny was acknowledged by the justice secretary in his open letter. Since transparency is key to effective public service reform, probation providers will come under keener scrutiny," he said. "Taxpayers should know how money is spent on their behalf to improve lives."

Indeed. But, what form would this take? Giving more money to the chief inspector of probation to "carry out annual performance reviews and publish individual ratings"? Surely the failings now require action demanding urgent improvement, not more reports confirming a lack of it retrospectively. Within the context of the prisons crisis, a focus on inspection reports rather than a fundamental rethink really seems to be missing the point.

"You've got overcrowded prisons, next to no rehabilitation support in those, and CRCs struggling under huge caseloads to actually put the mechanisms in place that might allow clients to turn their lives around," Lawrence said. People are emerging from prison more broken than they were before, with a surveillance and support structure which is underfunded and shattered by misguided attempts at privatisation. The problem is now so severe that it will take more than a few more reports to fix it.

Hardeep Matharu is a justice and social affairs journalist.


--oo00oo--

This on the Huffington Post website:-

Probation Companies Handed Cash Windfall Despite Explosion In Reoffending
‘The public is paying more for a probation service which is failing to deliver.’

Private firms who have presided over an explosion in violent reoffending have been handed millions of pounds of extra cash by the Government, HuffPost UK can reveal. An additional £37m was handed to Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) last year in a move branded a “bung” by probation union Napo and “rewarding failure” by Labour. The 21 CRCs have been mired in criticism since they took over from publicly-run probation trusts in 2015.

The number of offenders on probation charged with murder, manslaughter, rape and other serious violent or sexual crimes has risen by more than 25% since the service was privatised and prison numbers continue to rise. A joint report of the prisons and probation inspectorates in June also gave a damning verdict on the CRCs’ Through the Gate (TTG) programme. It found 10% of long-term prisoners leave jail homeless and just two out of the 98 prisoners surveyed as part of the report were found accommodation before they were released - 10% of that number were back in jail within 12 weeks.

Prisons minister Sam Gyimah said the payments, additional to the Government contract agreement, were made “for a variety of reasons” and “on a case-by-case basis” in order to “improve services”. It comes after Interserve Justice and MTCnov, two of the private companies running CRCs, threatened to pull out of Government contracts in March, citing unsustainable finances. “Our work is going up, our payment is going down,” Yvonne Thomas, director of justice at Interserve, told the Justice Select Committee.

Dame Glenys Stacey, the Chief Inspector of Probation told the same committee probation was in an “unsettling position” and CRC staff were overwhelmed by workloads because of “half-baked” reforms.

Shadow Justice Secretary Richard Burgon, who has demanded the service be renationalised, said: “Once again the costly failures of the Conservative’s privatisation of our justice system are clear to see. The public is paying more for a probation service which is failing to deliver.

“The Government must get a grip of the crisis in probation that its reckless policies have created, which are leaving the public less safe as reoffending levels rise and prisoners are not given the help such as training and housing on release to rebuild their lives. It needs to stop rewarding failure and guarantee that no more money will go to these private CRCs until they can show they are fit for purpose.”

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of Napo, added: “This money is a bung, as far as we are concerned. It is a signal that no matter how CRCs perform, they will get money thrown at them.”

Justice Secretary David Lidington has admitted the CRCs system has come up against “unforeseen challenges” since it was introduced in 2015 and has pledged “balancing policies” as part of an ongoing MoJ review. Answering a parliamentary question from Burgon, Gyimah said: 

“A total of £37.15m was paid to CRCs above their agreed contracts in 2016/17. These payments were made for a variety of reasons and cannot be broken down by CRC because the information is commercially sensitive. Furthermore, some concessions were agreed with CRCs on a case-by-case basis to enable them to re-invest contractual payment deductions in key areas of the business and improve services. In addition, we have made changes to how CRCs are paid for future years so they can focus on activities that best rehabilitate offenders and keep society safe.”

MoJ figures last month revealed there were 86,413 people behind bars in England and Wales last month (up 1,500 on 2016). Revised projections also said there would be 2,700 more prisoners - a number three-times an at-capacity Belmarsh prison can hold - by next June. The official predictions for the rise in the prison population will also set alarm bells ringing after surging levels of violence, self-harm and drug use within jails. There has also been a 20% increase in prison violence this year, with frequent reports of jails losing control of inmates as the Ministry of Justice grapples with a prison officer recruitment crisis.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Interserve Rewarded For Failure

"....the Community Rehabilitation Companies responsible for their supervision are not generally producing good quality work, not at all. Probation reform has not delivered the benefits that Transforming Rehabilitation promised, so far.

We rarely see the innovations expected to come with freeing up the market, and instead proposed new models, new ways of delivering probation services on the ground and supporting them with better IT systems have largely stalled. The voluntary and charitable sectors are much less engaged then government envisaged. Promised improvements in Through the Gate resettlement – mentors, real help with accommodation, education, training and employment for short sentence prisoners - have mostly not been delivered in any meaningful way. And too often, for those under probation supervision we find too little is done by CRCs. On inspection, we often find nowhere near enough purposeful activity or targeted intervention or even plain, personal contact."
Dame Glenys Stacey HMI
Sept 19th 2017

Frances Crook of the Howard League on twitter:-
"One of the companies slammed by probation inspector gets new lucrative contract from MoJ"
Here we have the Interserve press release issued on Sept 19th  2017:- 

INTERSERVE SIGNS CONTRACT TO PROVIDE EMPLOYMENT SERVICES AT WREXHAM PRISON


Interserve has signed a £12 million contract with the Ministry of Justice to run six employment workshops at HMP Berwyn, a large new prison in Wrexham for five years.

The company will run the sessions at the £212 million Category C men's prison, which opened this year, to replicate a normal working environment where men will be able to improve their skills, employability and qualifications.

Yvonne Thomas, Interserve’s Managing Director of Justice, said:

“I’m excited we can now start working with HMP Berwyn to support rehabilitation and to contribute to the Governor’s vision for the prison. Interserve is committed to reducing re-offending through rehabilitation, which is at the very heart of what these workshops are intended to achieve. The men employed at the workshops will acquire skills to help prepare them for the transition into paid employment after their release. We are focused on making sure the transition from prison to the community for those released is made as smooth as possible through our close working relationship with our partners in Community Rehabilitation Companies and the National Probation Service.”
Interserve will provide employment places for 520 men in the workshops. The men will follow an attendance pattern that will provide a routine similar to working life outside of prison. Work undertaken at the workshops will be varied, and will reflect the type of opportunities those released from prison may have.

The company was named preferred bidder to run the workshops in January and the contract, which can be extended for up to two years, was signed earlier this month.

--oo00oo--

Rob Allen responding to Frances Crook on twitter and reminding us of this:-  
"CRCs are foothold in justice, if we are seen as best provider we'll strengthen chances of winning more business".
Ian Mulholland joins Interserve

04 October 2016

The former director of public sector prisons Ian Mulholland has joined Interserve as the company’s director of justice. Ian began his career as a prison officer 26 years ago before working his way up to the top prisons’ job at the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). Before he left to join the company, Ian had responsibility for 110 public prisons across England and Wales – representing 85 per cent of the prison population – and more than 37,000 staff; together with three immigration removal centres.

Ian said: 
“My role very clearly signifies that Interserve has a serious, long-term commitment to working in the justice sector. The company is dedicated to delivering public services in the justice arena and my job is to focus on our existing performance, especially around Interserve’s already excellent Community Rehabilitation Companies. I will be looking at what is working well, and also focusing on what is working less well in order to drive improvements. Through the Gate is one area of service delivery that plays a relatively small part of our overall business in terms of money, but has a significant reputational impact. I will be striving to ensure that our Through the Gate service is the best it can possibly be.”
Ian said he is looking forward to helping grow the business, and to supporting the Ministry of Justice’s aim of improving outcomes for offenders.

He added: 
“I worked for the public sector for 26 years and I feel in my heart a public servant. Moving from NOMS to Interserve is not a decision I have taken lightly, but I was convinced by the integrity and honesty of the company’s senior management, and about the firm’s very clear sense of values. During the course of my career I have had opportunities to join other organisations, but I always resisted because of my public service ethos. However, I am convinced that my outlook and behaviours do not have to change, because they are perfectly in sympathy with Interserve’s approach. The CRCs are our foothold in justice, if we are seen as the best provider we will strengthen our chances of winning more business. I am tremendously excited about the challenge and to build on the excellent start that Interserve has made in the justice sector.”
This from Financial Times on Sept 14th 2017:- 

Interserve shares dive 50% as it warns on profits

Interserve, the construction and support services company, saw its market value slashed by half on Thursday after it became the latest British outsourcing group to warn on profits amid economic uncertainty and weak government spending. 

The company, which employs 80,000 staff working in areas ranging from probation services to healthcare at home, said trading over the summer was “disappointing” at both its support services and construction divisions, meaning full-year profits would be “significantly below” previous expectations. Shares in Interserve fell as much as 52 per cent in early trading to an all-time low of 73p. Stephen Rawlinson at Applied Value criticised the company for failing to provide more details. “Based on the evidence, investors have no choice but to sell . . . as the business seems to be heading for severe financial difficulties at a rate of knots,” he said. 

The warning comes less than a fortnight after Debbie White, a former executive at rival outsourcer Sodexo, took over from chief executive Adrian Ringrose who announced his departure last November after a third profit warning in six months. Tim Haywood, finance director, has also announced his resignation. Meanwhile, costs related to the company’s troublesome waste contracts have continued to spiral. 

Interserve said in February that the business had plunged to a near-£100m loss last year, as it counted the cost of exiting an expensive venture into the energy-from-waste sector. The company entered the market in 2012 with a contract in Glasgow and has expanded to five other sites including Derby, Rotherham and Peterborough. On Thursday, it said the final costs will probably significantly exceed the £160m currently provided. Interserve said it would provide a further update in due course but stressed that it expected to be able to operate within its banking covenants for the rest of this year. 

Along with other construction groups, such as Mears, Carillion and Mitie, Interserve has been shifting its focus from building to more profitable support services work, which accounts for more than 60 per cent of the business. But support services companies have come under pressure as a result of the increase in the minimum wage, vote to leave the EU stalling decisions on new work, and the government trying to extract more from providers, leaving many with lossmaking contracts. 

Andy Parker was ousted as chief executive of Capita earlier this year; Baroness McGregor-Smith quit as head of Mitie last autumn; and Serco is struggling to recover after the scandal involving its overcharging on electronic tags for prisoners. In August, Interserve said net debt would rise from £388m to £475m-£500m by the end of the year.


Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Probation's Future - More Inspection

Yesterday Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, gave a keynote speech to the Criminal Justice Management Conference at the QEII Centre, London. In her own inimitable way, she perfectly outined what a total mess Chris Grayling made of the former gold standard probation service, without actually saying so, of course:- 

Can Probation Services Deliver What We All Want and Expect? 

Good afternoon. 

I’m here to talk to you about probation services. Well over a quarter of a million people are supervised by youth offending and probation services each year. Many under probation supervision are not receiving the quality of services that they should, and yet we know that good probation services can change their lives and life chances. 

Good youth offending and probation services also make a big difference to society as a whole. If all these services were delivered well, then the prison population would reduce, there would be fewer people sofa surfing or sleeping or begging on the streets, and fewer confused and lonely children and young people. Men, women and children currently afraid of assault could lead happier and safer lives, and yes, there would be less reoffending. These things really do matter – to those under probation supervision, to all of us working in criminal justice, and to society as a whole. 

But probation services are not being delivered consistently to the standard we expect. The National Probation Service, responsible for those assessed as high risk, it is delivering to an acceptable standard overall, although there are inconsistencies in the quality of work across the country, and some anomalies as well. 

The majority of individuals, however, are categorized as medium or low risk, and although there are exceptions, the Community Rehabilitation Companies responsible for their supervision are not generally producing good quality work, not at all. Probation reform has not delivered the benefits that Transforming Rehabilitation promised, so far. 

We rarely see the innovations expected to come with freeing up the market, and instead proposed new models, new ways of delivering probation services on the ground and supporting them with better IT systems have largely stalled. The voluntary and charitable sectors are much less engaged then government envisaged. Promised improvements in Through the Gate resettlement – mentors, real help with accommodation, education, training and employment for short sentence prisoners - have mostly not been delivered in any meaningful way. And too often, for those under probation supervision we find too little is done by CRCs. On inspection, we often find nowhere near enough purposeful activity or targeted intervention or even plain, personal contact. 

Why is this? Staff morale, workloads, training and line management are highly variable and need to improve if probation is to improve. Staff are change weary and more than that, too many are too overburdened with work. Their employing companies are financially stretched, with some unable to balance the books, as unexpected changes in the type of cases coming their way have resulted in lower payments than anticipated. 

The government must face this squarely, knowing that CRC contracts are currently set to run until late 2021. It must consider its options, in order for there to be any prospect of consistently good probation services nationwide. 

Of course, these companies strive to meet performance targets set by contract – just as they should. That is the nature of contracts. Many achieve well against some of those targets, but often enough this is at a cost to the quality of work and the more enduring expectations we all have of probation services. To give one example, CRCs commonly produce timely sentence plans, and so meet contract expectations, but those plans may not be good plans, comprehensive plans, based on a comprehensive assessment. What is more, we find too often that despite sometimes heroic efforts by staff, plans are not followed through into action, into real work that can make a material and positive difference. 

You would think at first sight that changes to the contract specification would do the trick. But the work that probation services can do locally, with local partners, to deal with complex, sometimes longstanding social problems and some of the most troubled and troubling people in society, so as to make a difference to those individuals’ life chances, this is very difficult to exemplify and then ensure, in a set of performance targets or measures. 

This measurement problem is not unique to probation. Other caring professions may be equally difficult to measure, to quantify in this way, and for these type of services, independent inspection has a particular role to play. 

For such services – probation services delivered in the community or perhaps services caring for the elderly in a care home – nothing beats stepping over the threshold, and looking with an experienced, wise eye at what is going on. In that way, independent inspectors can report objectively and faithfully how things are. They can hold up a mirror and reflect the simple, unadorned picture they see. That is what we do. But that alone does not drive improvement where it is needed, necessarily. Yes, we make recommendations and expect them to be followed, but that is not enough. 

For probation services to improve where needed, a number of other things must happen. Firstly, government must – and it has started to do this – it must address the immediate funding issues, and do so carefully and wisely so as not to fall foul of contract law, so as not to create perverse incentives, and instead to secure more professional staff and specialist intervention services where needed. 

Government must also make a plan, have a strategy for how probation services are to be delivered over the next decade. CRC contract end dates are not so far off. 

And meanwhile it must be as clear as possible about what it expects of probation services, and rebalance the oversight model, the way probation services are overseen, so as to focus squarely on those expectations. 

It seems obvious to me that government should expect consistently good quality probation services, so that the public are sufficiently protected, individuals serve their community sentences productively and reoffending is reduced. For me, the problem arises underneath these enduring expectations of probation, as with Transforming Rehabilitation, probation providers were liberated from what were rather processy national standards so as to enable them to innovate. As a consequence, and without good and commonly accepted national standards there is some confusion about what good looks like – what represents good probation services, and what is expected of probation services, actually. It is time to clarify that, and to fill that gap. 

With government’s backing, we at HMI Probation are developing underpinning standards for probation services. They are not processy. Instead they are evidence based and take the best from international standards. We are developing these standards in a consensual way, working with the NPS and CRCs in particular – as they need to accept and adopt these standards with us, in order to make a difference. 

We will inspect against these standards in due course. More than that, we will use them to describe what ‘good’ looks like, to provide some stakes in the ground, ways in which probation providers themselves can see where their services meet expected standards and where they need to improve. So for example, we can be clear what good Unpaid Work looks like, and what outstanding Unpaid Work looks like – and what is plainly inadequate. 

And as we inspect we will rate NPS divisions and CRCs on a four point scale à la Ofsted: Outstanding, Good, Requires Improvement, Inadequate. We will do this because research shows that ratings drive improvement in immature or poorly performing markets. In other words, we think it will drive improvement where it is needed, and recognise and applaud good work when we see it as well. 

To rate probation providers fairly, we must of course publish our standards and be clear how we will apply them, and of course we will do that, starting with a consultation in November. But we must also be sure of our judgements of probation providers and be sure they are fully reflective of a good evidence base in each inspection. 

We will increase our case sample sizes so as to give us an 80% confidence level in case inspection findings, and we will inspect whole CRCs and whole divisions of the NPS. We will routinely inspect not just the long established areas of probation work, but new areas as well: Through the Gate work for example. And because probation services are still volatile, we will inspect each NPS division and CRC annually, from the spring of next year. 

We think that this increased emphasis on independent inspection, and standards will begin to rebalance the way probation providers are overseen. It will make clear what is expected of probation providers, and I have no doubt that most if not all providers will want to attain good independent inspection ratings. 

Incidentally, I know that many of you here across the range of criminal justice and wider public services will have mixed views about inspection, about being inspected. Some find it extremely burdensome, and in some services there is an industry in mock inspection, and preparing for inspection. Of course we expect organisations to be ready for inspection, but we don’t encourage over-prep. 

We can often see, you know, the wet paint. Inspectors have generally been inspected themselves, in their former lives, and know the game. I do urge against any overly enthusiastic approach to preparing for inspection. As HMI Probation will be inspecting annually, it is perhaps best to be proportionate in preparing for it, and then take it as it comes – something I will be stressing with probation leaders. 

As I have said, I think our development of probation standards and more regular inspection are positive developments, capable of driving improvement where it is needed, but without further changes, the water remains muddy. CRCs could feel conflicted, with our inspection standards on the one hand and then contract requirements on the other. And many remain financially stretched. Two additional things need to happen, in my view, to give us all the best prospect of success. 

Firstly, CRCs must be put on a sufficiently stable financial footing. I have no doubt this is not straightforward: existing contracts and contract law must necessarily constrain matters, and there is a trick for government to pull off, if CRCs are to better funded and at the same incentivised to produce quality work. 

And that for me is the second requirement – incentivisation. CRCs could be incentivized to produce quality work, exemplified by higher order HMI Probation ratings. For those achieving higher order ratings, there should be some recognition of that, and reward as well. That may come for example in the way they are then overseen, perhaps by a reduction in the overall oversight burden. Rewards don’t always have to be monetary, as we all know. 

We are talking to government about these things. We are hopeful that government will find ways to incentivise and reward higher order HMI Probation ratings. And meanwhile we continue to inspect and report, while developing and agreeing new standards for probation that should over time mean that more people receive good quality probation services, to benefit them and society as a whole. 

I do hope you find the opportunity to read some of our reports, all available of course on our website. 

Thank you. Thank you very much for listening. 

Dame Glenys Stacey

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Pious Words From Probation Minister

It's becoming quite apparent that the Tories realise they have an 'image' problem and that in order to have any hope of attracting young people and stopping the seemingly inexorable rise of Corbyn, they'd better start looking less nasty and more 'cuddly'. Over the coming months we can expect lots more really reasonable-sounding stuff from their spin doctors, like the recent report on how to reduce the prison population, cynically taking advantage of a hung parliament. 

So it is in this vein that we see the completely ineffectual junior justice secretary with responsibility for probation writing on ConservativeHome about rehabilitation and never mention probation once:- 

The family is the best agency for rehabilitating criminals

Prisons are places of punishment. But they should also be places of reform. And the case for the ‘family’ in reforming offenders is clear-cut.

Stable, healthy families are the wellspring of a strong society because we all thrive when we feel safe, valued and supported. It is through a family’s unconditional love that from the word ‘Go’ we learn the big lessons of life: self-respect, self-belief – and right from wrong.

The reverse is also true. A fractured family leads to a fractured society and broken citizens. Unfortunately, too many of them will find their way to our prisons.

But while it is the state that incarcerates offenders, it is families and communities who accept them back into their midst at the end of their sentence. That means a prisoner’s family is the most effective resettlement agency we have – as the prison inspectorate, the probation service, and Ofsted all agree.

That’s not to say that families where both parents are fully engaged can’t be dysfunctional; nor is it to say that all offenders’ families are virtuous pillars of the community. But where the benefits of healthy family ties are so far-reaching, there is every reason to support them. alongside improving education and work training for offenders and tackling mental health and substance abuse problems.

Offenders are more likely to make progress in prison and afterwards if they receive consistent encouragement and support from family outside. It’s a theme reinforced by an excellent new review by Lord Farmer, who describes as a ‘golden thread’ the link between positive family ties and reducing re-offending.

Making sure this thread does not snap should be a priority for all those who want to see crime come down. Close family plays a big role in the future path an offender takes, and can have the most profound influence over behaviour. A close family gives offenders a sense of purpose and direction.

So it’s all the more vital that a prisoner returning home is neither a stranger, nor a more damaged person than before they went to prison – and that family ties are properly nurtured in the interim.

The time to work on this is from the moment an offender is sentenced to jail. To leave it any longer is to leave it too late. In the first few days and nights in prison sentence, when offenders are more likely to self-harm or, worse, take their own life, support from close family lessens the risk. As prison officers know only too well, family letters, phone calls and visits – or their absence – can make or break a prisoner’s spirit.

As time goes by, we know that a prisoner who remains in close touch with family is likely to have a stronger sense of purpose and direction, and feel more settled. Multiply this improved mood by all the men on a wing and it becomes a safer, more productive place.

There are already many prison schemes that focus on family ties. ‘Storybook Dads and Mums’, for example – a bedtime reading project that lets kids drift off to sleep listening to their absent parent reading out a pre-recorded story. HMP Parc’s ‘Learning Together’ Club encourages dads and children to do homework together, while at HMP Doncaster, a ‘Daddy Newborn’ scheme teaches men to look after their babies.

Away from these projects, I want to tell you about two men I recently met, a father and son. They’d never had a proper parent-child dynamic but were being encouraged to work on building the kind of natural relationship most of us take for granted – pretty much from scratch.

Where was this happening? In HMP Belmarsh, where both men had ended up being confined at once. The first time they were acting like a dad and a son, and it was in prison.

Unfortunately, we should not be surprised that both were behind bars. We know that boys are six times more likely to offend if they have a parent who is in prison or has served time in the past – a terrible legacy that cascades down generations. On any given day, around 200,000 children in England and Wales will have a parent in prison.

That’s why our focus should never be just the offenders, but also on those left behind as the prison van pulls away. While society rightly punishes people who commit serious crimes by removing their freedom, families are most often innocents, ‘collateral damage’. Improving family contact is better for society as a whole, given the proven link between children with a parent in prison becoming criminals themselves.

Lord Farmer’s review points us in the right direction to identify ways to improve these relationships and mitigate known problems, and decide upon the best ways to harness the influence of families to keep offenders out of trouble and out of jail.

Our efforts will be boosted by having more staff on the frontline in prisons: we are investing £100 million to increase the number of prison officers by 2,500. It will help visiting times run more smoothly. In time, the extra numbers will enable us to introduce a new ‘key-worker’ scheme in which named officers are allocated to six offenders to challenge them to reform. One particular focus will be encouraging them to maintain and develop positive family ties.

Prison works. But only if offenders are reformed, so there are fewer victims in future. Most offenders will one day be released, and harnessing the family is the best way to ensure they can function fully as members of society.

Sam Gyimah is Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Prisons, Probation, Rehabilitation and Sentencing and MP for East Surrey.

--oo00oo--

This was Paul Senior's verdict posted on twitter:-
"Lots of well meaning pious words underpins a lack of detailed understanding of realities of post-custodial life and the job of probation."
Meanwhile, it looks as if the Welsh are at last beginning to wake up to the concept of taking control of matters in their part of the world:-

First Minister establishes a Commission on Justice in Wales

A new Commission on Justice in Wales has today been announced by First Minister Carwyn Jones. The Commission, to be chaired by the current Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, will review the justice system and policing in Wales and consider how the system can achieve better outcomes for Wales.

The Commission will deal with the unfinished business from the Silk Commission, which made a number of carefully reasoned, evidence-based recommendations, in respect of justice - covering the courts, probation, prisons and youth justice. It will also address crucial issues relating to the legal jurisdiction and the challenges facing the legal services sector in Wales.

The First Minister said:

“In Wales, we have had a separate legislature for 6 years but, as yet, we do not have our own jurisdiction. By establishing the Commission on Justice in Wales, we are taking an important first step towards developing a distinctive justice system which is truly representative of Welsh needs. The Commission will consider how we can do things differently in Wales and identify options to develop a distinct Welsh justice system, which improves people’s access to justice, reduces crime and promotes rehabilitation. I am delighted that Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd will chair the Commission when he steps down as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in October. Having risen to the heights of the judiciary in Wales and England, Lord Thomas commands universal respect and brings his unprecedented wealth of experience to this important role.”
Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said:
“I am very pleased to take on this challenge when I step down as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales in October. As a small developing jurisdiction, Wales offers unique opportunities to identify new solutions to the complex challenges facing justice and the legal profession. These are crucial to Wales’ future prosperity and I hope the commission will make a valuable contribution to addressing them.” 

Monday, 18 September 2017

Getting A Grip On Pensions

As we are all well-aware, there are many serious on-going problems with every part of probation since it was split in two by Chris Grayling and continues to hemorrhage disgruntled but experienced staff on a daily basis. Here's Napo Assistant General Secretary Dean Rogers writing recently about the thorny issue of pensions in the NPS. At first sight it might appear a bit of a nerdy topic, but this is surely the sort of bread and butter stuff you'd expect a trade union to be getting to grips with:-  

NPS Pension Faultline and the Next Steps for the NPS


Since before the transfer of staff to the NPS and CRCs, I have been raising concerns about the contractual sustainability and HR problems inevitably arising from probation staff becoming civil servants continuing to be members of the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) – and as such, not having any right to be members of the Principle Civil Service Compensation Scheme (PCSPS).

Napo recognise and have never opposed the reasons for the separation – primarily the extraordinary cost of transferring pension liabilities, combined with the practical need to reassure transferees that they would suffer no pension loss upon becoming civil servants.

However, it wasn’t long before these concerns become self-evident. The depth of the problem, in there being a core difference in probation staffs’ terms and conditions from those of all other staff employed directly by NOMS or the MoJ, shouldn’t be under-estimated, especially with the MoJ ever more determined to align rehabilitation practice and delivery more closely across probation and prison settings.

The problem has come to ahead with the discovery by unions, of the widespread failure to collect or pay employee and employer contributions on potentially thousands of NPS staff pay since the new Single Operating Platform, or SOP was turned on in February 2017. The shortfall to the pension will be in the high £100,000’s. We also believe there are auto-enrolment issues in the NPS – staff transferring in from CRCs being wrongly enrolled in the civil service scheme then taken out of the pension system altogether after the error was identified, a criminal act from the Ministry of Justice! The damage to the credibility of the NPS as an employer at a point of huge recruitment difficulty could be impossible to calculate.

Additionally, we’ve had many grievances and personal cases brought by Napo members since the split when seeking to access elements informed by the LGPS – for example, the confusion about partial retirement rights, processes and obligations; application of the 85 Year Rule and discretions; or staff simply seeking to clarify their entitlements prior to retirement and being wrongly directed towards the civil service pension operator, MyServices and advice specifically relevant to the PCSPS.

Further confusion has arisen from the wider application of the PCSPS to non-pension specific related exit and compensation terms. The LGPS is a funded scheme and as such, without looking like Maxwell or Green, the scheme cannot be raided for redundancy or any other purpose beyond paying pensions (although there are LGPS rules which afford members being made redundant over the age of 55 rights to immediately access their pension at protected terms; as well as protected terms afforded under Ill-Health Early Retirement Rules within the scheme which differ in specific aspects from the PCSPS equivalents).However, the PCSPS is and always has been, a unfunded scheme and as such is freer of such restrictions. “Pension speak” is routinely used and applied interchangeably with language about compensation, redundancy etc.

This problem of different language has cropped up consistently and has been amplified by the Shared Service Centre model, (aka SSCL) which is at the heart of all HR advice and support to line managers. The SSCL concept only works where basic assumptions the computer makes are shared and common. When these basic assumptions differ then the systems literally crash, or worse, try to make up an answer that ends up multiplying the problem – a case of “artificial stupidity”. We have seen the SSCL struggle to cope with any differences of process, pay, leave, expenses, etc. However, whilst it is plausible, at least in theory, to try to address these via harmonising NPS staff onto common terms (and even potentially pay rates) that in some way mirror or align with the rest of the MOJ, we can never fully integrate and harmonise because of the pension conflicts. In short, this is a big problem that isn’t going away whilst staff are in separate pension schemes and staff will have to remain in separate schemes until HM Treasury picks up an extraordinary bill for liabilities.

The urgency of recognising this now is even greater as a result of the proposed new civil service compensation arrangements and caps. These will, following the PCS Court victory recently, now presumably need to be re-negotiated.

However, in light of that verdict, the MoJ will also need to decide if NPS staff are:
included in these terms – in which case Napo and Unison must be a party to all the relevant negotiations and we will have to pick through the pension issues in a collective setting or; specifically excluded from all caps and any relevant changes – in which case we will need to decide what aspects of the civil service code will need to be adapted to recognise this difference.

ALTERNATIVE

There is an alternative – namely, breaking the NPS out of the MoJ SSCL systems. If the NPS was to become a Next-Steps Agency with greater autonomy to operate independently of the failing SSCL contract then many of these issues would dissolve. A more independent status for the NPS would also boost morale and potentially boost the profile and status of probation at a critical time professionally, without compromising the accountability of staff as crown servants and/or civil servants.

Indeed, Cafcass already provide a model for this within the MoJ family, having become adopted cousins on transfer from the DfE in 2015. Cafcass staff are bound by the same professional standards and accountabilities as civil servants (indeed even more so given the license to practice that also applies to them as social workers and which is another good idea probation could borrow) but Cafcass staff are members of the LGPS and they have separate pay and grading structures.

Napo recognises that politically this will be a challenging proposition from the MoJ – given they are seeking to place rehabilitation principles at the heart of the HMPPS, and are proposing more NPS employees working alongside prison service colleagues, mentoring and coaching them towards more enlightened practice. However, our argument must be that this aspiration will be hindered not helped by the continuing fault-line at the heart of our members’ terms and conditions arising from the different pensions schemes.

We would argue that greater co-operation and assimilation is best served (and possibly can only be served) by recognising this difference and finding ways of safely bridging it. This can be done by a combination of three things that are supposedly being considered already, namely:

A. Probation pay reform, recognising the gap that has arisen as a result of failed pay progression and providing more equitable and competitive pay rates for probation staff to comparator workers, not just in the MoJ but across police, courts, social work and the private and/or third sectors – something which is currently happening anyway.

B. Introducing a unified national set of professional standards underpinned by a Rehabilitation License to Practice – this is also already under consideration and is in our view essential to ensuring common professional standards and expectations across diverse private and public sector providers. With common standards and personal accountability arising from the introduction of a licensing system then closer working collaboration and co-operation between staff employed by different bodies must become easier – as seen in health and social work.

C. A clear and agreed set of secondment arrangements allowing staff to move between bodies and establishments without upsetting their terms and conditions – this could also be the easiest way of ensuring frequent movement (for example between custodial and community settings) without hitting huge terms and conditions issues and the pension fault-line constantly being problematic.

In effect, A, B and C are already desperately needed. Meeting them against the context of establishing the NPS as a more independent body will be easier and more sustainable, as opposed to trying to meet them whilst seeking to cajole and persuade probation professionals to assimilate into the prison centric HMPPS. Re-constituting the NPS as a Next-Steps Agency, and stabilising the risks associated with the pension fault-line, is much safer and easier than trying to force the pension fault-line into the HMPPS.

Closer working and assimilation of probation staff into the HMPPS around an otherwise broadly similar set of professional standards, pay rates and terms and conditions is much safer with a semi-independent NPS, holding on to its LGPS membership, than trying to force a square and funded pension scheme into a round and unfunded hole.

Dean Rogers
Assistant General Secretary

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Rethink or Reboot?

Here we are in mid September and the political calendar dictates that it's party-political posturing time and we can shortly expect to be both entertained and possibly enlightened as to what our government have up their sleeves for us over the coming months. 

Of particular interest to us on here is what the hell the new Lord Chancellor and Justice Minister intends to do about the crisis in our criminal justice system and especially the prison and probation parts of it. Having said that, of course we are well-versed in knowing that the probation part will invariably be ignored for as long as possible. 

And so it comes to pass that last week the Tory thinktank Centre for Justice Policy published a report into CJS matters entitled What happened to the rehabilitation revolution? It's something we've been examining for some time and it should come as no surprise that this tory-inspired document spends a great deal of time on the prison part of the problem, but pretty much ignores the probation bit as too difficult without naming and shaming Chris Grayling as the undisputed architect of the present crisis. 

However worthy much of the report may be in both highlighting and suggesting ways forward in trying to sort the politically-motivated prison mess out, the tories just can't get their head around the fact that none of the grand plans can work because they fucked up the probation service and this aspect of things must be sorted asap, or the whole pack of cards will have no chance of standing up.

I've not bothered spending any time on the merits or otherwise of the report's suggestions for essentially trying to shrink the prison population because I'm too annoyed by the dismissive treatment of probation, which of course will serve as a strong hint of what's to come at the Tory Party conference in a few days. Chapter one sets the scene:-        

The recent history of disappointing progress

The Rehabilitation Revolution has been championed in one form or another by at least two former Home Secretaries, five past Secretaries of States for Justice and a previous Prime Minister. Yet for all the ministerial support for the basic thesis of offender rehabilitation the reality of this so-called revolution has been a disappointment. 

For more than a decade, informed opinion has broadly agreed that the rehabilitation of offenders needs to be at the heart of an effective criminal justice system. Embedding rehabilitation across the criminal justice system can provide the basis on which the root causes of offending can be tackled, helping to reduce the volume and severity of offending and ultimately improving lives and enabling a reduction in the size of the prison population.

The paradox of this consensus is that successive governments have failed to live up to the bold policy statements which so many have promised in the area of rehabilitative criminal justice reform. 

There has been no shortage of fine words: from the Labour Government’s White Paper A Five Year Strategy for Protecting the Public and Reducing Reoffending introduced in 2006 by Home Secretary Charles Clarke; through a compendium of speeches advocating offender rehabilitation from successive Conservative Justice Secretaries Kenneth Clarke (2010–12); Chris Grayling (2012–15); Michael Gove (2015–16) and Liz Truss (2016–17), to the speech given by David Cameron in February 2016. That was the first speech from a Prime Minister on prison and rehabilitative reform for some 20 years and yet there has been depressingly little in the way of tangible progress. 

Both the national reoffending rate and the size of the prison population have remained stubbornly high. While it is true that in recent years the custodial population has remained stable at just under 86,000, in April 2006 it was 77,000, and given recent increases it now approaches 90,000. This 12 percent rise has been accompanied by year-on-year falls in recorded crime. 

The prison estate itself has been changing – though arguably neither fast enough nor necessarily for the best. Her Majesty’s 136 prisons have now fallen to 117: cutting costs, but at the risk of exacerbating overcrowding. 

The recently opened HMP Berwyn, near Wrexham in North Wales, will offer modern facilities for more than 2,100 prisoners when completed – but the location and larger size of the prison means prisoners will be more distant from their families. For many this will make them inaccessible to their families and prove detrimental to effective rehabilitation, as highlighted in Lord Farmer’s recent and important review. 

In the prisons dangerous episodes have been getting worse. The latest statistics show that in the past year all records were broken in English and Welsh prisons by 40,161 selfharming incidents, 120 suicides, 224 other deaths in custody and 26,022 assaults of which 6,844 were on staff – 650 of them serious. 

So why have successive governments failed so consistently? Why has an apparent consensus stalled? It is worth recalling David Cameron’s speech in 2016 on prison and criminal justice reform, with the major commitments made in that address having mostly already been trailed in the speeches of the then Justice Secretary Michael Gove and some of his predecessors: 

1. Making sure that prisons are places of positivity and reform designed to maximise the chances of people going straight when they come out. 
2. Addressing prisoners’ illiteracy, addiction and mental health problems. 
3. Revolutionising the prison education system. 
4. Measuring the performance of individual prisons. 
5. Giving prison governors new powers to set up therapeutic communities, drug free wings and abstinence-based treatment programmes that prisoners need. 
6. Delivering Problem Solving Courts in England and Wales. 
7. Helping prisoners to find work on release. 
8. Delivering lower re-offending rates. 

Many of these commitments are themselves born out of policy recommendations made by the Centre for Social Justice in such seminal reports as Locked Up Potential (2009), Green Paper on Criminal Justice and Addiction (2010), Meaningful Mentoring (2014) and Drugs in Prison (2015). 

Although some small steps towards this “Rehabilitation Revolution” agenda have been started, there has been little significant progress, and the most recent reports from both Her Majesty’s Inspectorates of Prisons and Probation paint a depressing picture. 

Last year’s changes in senior ministerial appointments, most notably the departures from office of both David Cameron as Prime Minister and Michael Gove as Justice Secretary, may have slowed these developments – as might the weakened minority government of Theresa May following the June 2017 general election. 

The Prime Minister and Justice Secretary – aside from the omission of the Prison and Courts Reform Bill from the most recent Queen’s Speech – have given no indication that offender rehabilitation should be dropped from the agenda of criminal justice reform. David Lidington, appointed by the Prime Minister as the new Justice Secretary in June 2017, published an open letter reiterating a commitment to reform and rehabilitation: 
The work to make our prisons true places of reform and rehabilitation is already under way – and it will continue unabated. 
Indeed the Prime Minister’s own continued references to social reform and tackling burning injustices speak to a desire to see a more equitable criminal justice system which will require the delivery of effective rehabilitation. 

That said, the revolutionary zeal for rehabilitation seems to have been replaced by an understandable, though myopic and almost exclusionary, emphasis on prison safety – understandable given the increases in prison suicide and assaults. 

While the current prison safety challenge may have taken the focus of Ministers and civil servants away from the underlying drive towards fundamental reform, the need for a Rehabilitation Revolution is as pressing today as it ever has been. The revolution is at risk of stalling before it has really begun – and the government must do more than recommit to the consensus that exists and think boldly on making rehabilitation a reality. 

One of the deeper causes of this failure is the widespread erosion of morale across all areas of the criminal justice system. Prison officers, probation officers and those working in the new CRCs have been adversely affected by the pressures that their respective organisations face. 

The morale issue is also being experienced in Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS), and the judiciary. The numbers of lay magistrates have plummeted; court closures are widespread; and recruitment to the lay magistracy has slowed almost to a halt, as their previous workload has been diverted to automatic fixed penalties. Both the full-time judiciary and the lay magistracy feel widely unappreciated by the government and by the community to whom they should be serving. 

So there are deep seated problems felt by both the sentenced and the sentencers. It is therefore timely to ask what has happened to the Rehabilitation Revolution and how might the role of sentencers evolve to aid rehabilitation, improve lives and boost public safety.

--oo00oo--

This extremely limp section is pretty much all the report has to say on the probation end of things. I guess the researchers either got bored or their political masters know it's too hot to handle right now:-

4.9 Only joint working between probation and sentencers will achieve the intended transformation and deliver effective supervision 

The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 split responsibility for supervising those on licence or on probation between the National Probation Service (“NPS”) (high and very high risk offenders) and Community Rehabilitation Companies (“CRCs”) (medium and low risk offenders). The split of responsibility is at best artificial, since the risk of harm is dynamic – it can and does fluctuate over time, depending on the changing circumstances of those under supervision. 

Since the 2014 Act came into force, morale within both NPS and the CRCs has plummeted. As we note in Section 4.5, recalls to custody have risen dramatically over time, with up to 55 percent being solely limited to ‘non-compliance’. 

The merger of the Prison Service and the Probation Service, in substitution for the discredited NOMS, provides the ideal opportunity to introduce the reforms we outline in this paper. 

Since CRCs took over the supervision of medium to low risk offenders in 2014 the results have, in the words of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, been reported as “mixed, significantly lower than that formerly seen in the Probation Trusts, and in some respects poor”. 

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, has grown increasingly critical of the CRC regime. Reporting in December 2016, on the largest of the 21 CRCs in England and Wales, the London Community Rehabilitation Company, which supervises over 28,000 offenders, the Chief Inspector of Probation said: 
Due to the poor performance of [this CRC] … services are now well below what people rightly expect, and the city is more at risk as a result. 
Among the serious faults identified in the report were a 20 percent shortage of staff, a heavy reliance on inexperienced agency recruits, an impossible overload of casework on individual officers (some of whom are overseeing 900 cases) and a failure to prioritise those offenders who posed most risk of harm to the public. 

In remarks to the All Party Parliamentary Penal Affairs Group on 28 February 2017, Dame Glenys Stacey made it clear that similar failings had been found in CRCs all over England and Wales. 

She highlighted the problem of CRCs being notified of offenders being released from prison only the day before they came out of the gate. This means many cases received little or no meaningful support. The most recent joint Prisons and Probation Inspectorate report in June 2017 on the provision of Through the Gate (TTG) services has declared that the work of CRCs “was not making any difference”, with Dame Glenys commenting:
The gap between the government’s aspirations and reality is so great. There is no real prospect that these services as they are will reduce reoffending. Instead there needs to be a renewed focus and effort. 
Financial problems, staff shortage and workload problems, staff inexperience and a widespread absence of mentoring seem to be endemic within the new CRC system – a position echoed in the TTG inspection. 

Reports of HM Inspectorate of Probation, while accepting that the performance of NPS had satisfactorily monitored the most dangerous offenders, pointed to similar shortcomings across the board in relation to the rehabilitative support NPS is required to offer. 

So widespread a failure of the regime of supervision, which NPS and the CRCs were designed to undertake, can only lead to increased reoffending – that means more crime, more victims and more suffering. 

We reiterate in this paper that partnership working, spearheaded by judicial leadership, as exemplified in the PSC approach, between sentencers and all arms of probation will deliver the transformation which the proposed legislation is intended to achieve; and will provide an effective blueprint for helping to enable the rehabilitation of those who are supervised on licence or on community sentences.

Recommendation: Changes to the probation landscape as part of Transforming Rehabilitation have only increased the need for effective supervision and for greater collaboration between sentencers and all arms of probation. The growth of the progressive monitoring of those under probation supervision through the PSC approach which we propose will incrementally bring this about.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Latest From Napo 163

Here's the latest blog post from Napo General Secretary Ian Lawrence:-

TUC lifts the lid higher on the Probation crisis

This week’s TUC in Brighton had a definite feel of renewed hope following the unexpected result of the General Election.

Two key issues were hot topics for debate. One was obviously the need to break the public sector pay cap (click here to read the statement from myself and Yvonne Pattison issued to all Napo members), the other being the impact of the current Brexit ‘negotiations’ for want of a better word, that are going on between the UK government and the EU. I intend to give this latter and very important issue some coverage in the next Napo Quarterly (NQ) and given the seriousness of developments, I would not be surprised to see an emergency motion appear from somewhere into our upcoming AGM.

The pay cap is an insult

On pay, it’s absolutely clear that the important work that Napo has been doing on re-modernising the probation pay system has now been relegated to the ‘Jam tomorrow’ section of the Ministers to-do list.

Instead, came a pathetic and patronising announcement from the self-styled ‘Workers Party’ about the need to do more for public service staff followed by insulting pay offers to different groups of workers with a clear intention to divide and rule.

As can be seen from the Napo statement above, I will shortly be setting out plans to the Officers Group for a series of ballots on pay across all of the 24 Employers where Napo are represented. These will be indicative ballots to reflect the strength of feeling amongst our members about the attitude of their employers to decent pay both now and going forward. The ballots will be specifically tailored to ensure that any formal process down the track will clearly spell out the particular trade dispute that we may have to register with the NPS, PBNI, Cafcass or a CRC.

More details will follow shortly, but if these plans are approved we could do with a big turn out and a big ‘yes’ to the prospect of industrial action should this become necessary.

Congress gives probation campaign a big boost

Amongst the myriad of other important topics that were discussed at Brighton were of course our two motions on the state of the probation service (Motion 68 and Motion 69)

Some members may have live streamed the debates but if not then here is what I said on Motion 69 and here is the Morning Star take on probation the same day

Both Yvonne and I engaged with a lot more delegation members than usual at the various fringes and networking events and received many compliments for the way in which we spelled out the problems in the few minutes that are afforded to all speakers.

The good run of media coverage that we have had in recent weeks has been added to by today’s excellent article by Hardeep Matharu a talented young journalist who has followed the probation crisis since Grayling caused it all in 2014. Lots more next week, have a great weekend.

--oo00oo--

The article referred to above:-

'PRIVATE COMPANIES RUNNING FAILING PROBATION SERVICES MUST BE MADE PUBLICLY ACCOUNTABLE'

Community Rehabilitation Companies supervising released prisoners should be stripped of their contracts, says probation workers' union boss

Public control and accountability must be restored to the failing privatised arm of probation if it is to stop putting the public at risk and reduce reoffending, the head of the service’s union is urging.

Ian Lawrence, general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo), which represents those working in the public and private sectors, said the time has come for the “chaos” engulfing the service to come under proper public scrutiny. Probation services – responsible for supervising offenders released from prison and those given community sentences – were public sector-run until 2014, when the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling introduced reforms to drive innovation and slash costs as part of the Government's austerity agenda.

The service was split into a public sector National Probation Service (NPS) supervising high-risk offenders, and 21 privately-run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) managing low- and medium-risk offenders. Three years on, the warnings voiced by staff and unions at the time about the scale and speed of the changes have, predictably, been borne out.

“The whole infrastructure has been disrupted," Mr Lawrence told me. "Some pockets of good practice exist, but it isn’t like it was and that raises questions about who is going to fix this broken system?” Both the NPS and CRCs are beset with problems. But, while the NPS is struggling with excessive caseloads without the staff to match, it is the situation of the CRCs that is most worrying.

In its latest report into services in Gloucestershire, the Chief Inspector of Probation said the work of the NPS was “reasonably good”, although “efforts to rehabilitate offenders often came to little or nothing”. More troubling: “the CRC’s work was so far below par that its owner and government need to work together urgently to improve matters”. A similar picture has been painted in other reports, including one on services in north London which found the CRC’s work to be “poor… with the public exposed unduly to the risk of harm in some cases” and “little or no likely impact on reducing reoffending”.

Through the Gate, Chris Grayling's flagship policy aimed at reducing reoffending by helping prisoners to resettle into the community – a process that is meant to begin as soon as they step inside a jail – has failed to get off the ground. If it was removed tomorrow, "the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible", the Chief Inspectors of Prisons and Probation said in a report published in June.

So, what is going wrong in the CRCs?

Unmanageable case-loads, probation officers rarely seeing offenders face-to-face, staff shortages, high staff sickness levels, lost contact with offenders and new recruits with no probation qualifications have all become commonplace. It is difficult for cases to be referred between the companies and the NPS is an offender's risk changes, as it often can. And with fewer low- and medium-risk cases referred to them than was projected, many are now operating at a loss. 

“So many staff cuts have taken place,” Mr Lawrence said. “The CRCs said to the MoJ ‘we can deliver that contract for that price with less staff than you’ve got’. But, they haven’t now got the trained, skilled staff in place to deliver the services expected of them."

“When you introduce new operational supervisory models that our members believe are unsafe and flawed, when people aren’t getting seen and some people are being seen every four weeks and some with telephone support, how is that supposed to work?" he added. “The low- and medium-risk cadre is one area where more serious offences tend to emerge from. We have seen a number of serious further offences – murders – in the last year or so, where people who should have been under supervision in these categories haven’t been supervised properly.”

The problems cannot be taken in isolation. Together with wider social issues, such as a lack of housing for ex-prisoners, the failures of probation are feeding into the prisons crisis. “For some people, recidivism is the only route to the next hot meal or dry bed and that’s a pretty sad indictment,” Mr Lawrence said. “When you look at that alongside the crisis in prisons – because there are too many people in prison for offences that arguably you could do something else with in terms of reparation – you’ve got a real pot-boiler.

“Mental health, drug abuse, alcohol problems are typical of the types of issues that people present with. You’re never going to solve all of society’s problems, but it’s a cycle – we have to do something in the prison estate for people in a way that gives them some chance of changing their lives when they emerge.” But, he added: “You could do quite a bit of good work in prisons and it would still fall down on the outside because there aren’t enough people with the skills or capacity in the CRCs to take the next steps. “The whole model on which the privatisation was predicated has failed and the Government is in such a state over it, the only option it seems to have is to plough more taxpayers’ cash in. It’s outrageous.”

The CRCs – run by companies including Sodexo, Interserve, MTC Novo and Working Links – have been given at least £22m of public money this year to help keep them afloat, while another £277m will be paid to them over the next four years. (The figures only came to light after Private Eye raked through the Official Journal of the European Union in which member states are required to publish such payments.) The bail-outs were alluded to in a parliamentary written statement by Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah in July, but no amounts were given.

A MoJ spokesman told me it had “taken steps to improve probation by amending CRC contracts to ensure providers can focus on delivery of core services". The press office did not confirm the £22m figure, but said the payments were still “expected to be below original forecasts”. The £277m was not a “an additional one-off cash payment”, it added, and “we are not paying these companies more than originally expected”. It changes the payment mechanism over the life of the contract to better reflect CRCs’ costs,” the press office said. “If volumes increased significantly, for example, some CRCs could end up being paid less in total than they would have been paid before this contract variation.”

Mr Lawrence believes the work of the failing CRCs has to be restored to public control.
“If it is clear that the CRC contract is failing and has been subject to one, two or more adverse reports from the Inspectorate then I’m in no doubt whatsoever that the minister should strip the contracts." With the NPS unlikely to be able to cope with the influx in its current state, the Napo boss said elected regional mayors and police and crime commissioners could take over the reins. He spoke to London Mayor Sadiq Khan about such a prospect after the inspection report into probation services in north London was published last year. The mayor was receptive. Publicly, he said he would “continue to make the case to the Government that responsibility for probation services in London should be devolved to City Hall”.

While City Hall could provide the probation services itself, taking expert advice on the best model of offender supervision to use, it could also commission a CRC to do so – but not to decide how they should be delivered, Mr Lawrence told me. “They should not run those contracts. You cannot expect people who are making a profit from justice to take a detached view about what is the right system to use [to supervise offenders].”

He believes the CRCs' lack of accountability could also be addressed in this way. “They’re only accountable to their contracting body, the MoJ, which means that there isn’t the level of scrutiny that there ought to be,” he said. “The Government holds the contracts and pumps more money in. Why? Because politically it’s a minefield. There’s not going to be one Government minister who’s going to stand up and say this has failed because, as soon as they take the contract from one, if one of these hands the keys back, it could have a domino effect. “Because the CRCs have concluded – and I speak to some of the owners quite regularly – that there’s no money in it for them. They’re not in this because they have a deep vocational perspective on rehabilitation, they’re in it so they can get their feet in the door for other contracts in government – employment, training etc. You hone it down so only a few contractors have got the expertise, no matter how badly they perform, then they get more money and they get more contracts. The public doesn’t get to see how this is run, where the money comes from, how they can justify giving these people that sort of cash. “And our members’ work is effectively subsidising these private companies.”

The MoJ press office told me that CRCs are accountable to HM Prison and Probation Service (an ‘executive agency’ of the MoJ) and “improvement plans can be triggered” if they fall below contracted performance levels. “CRCs can be required to pay financial penalties if performance targets are not met,” it added. Mr Lawrence said he understands that any penalties incurred by CRCs have been waived by the Government for this financial year. “It’s a system that needs to be pulled into accountability.”

The traditional role of the probation worker was to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ offenders through one-to-one contact and mentoring. Today, much of their time is spent directing offenders on to programmes considered relevant to addressing their behaviour, with form-filling replacing individualised support. “The ‘befriend and assist’ approach is what gave rise to ‘probation officers are just woolly social workers, care-free liberals who don’t get tough on the causes of crime’,” Mr Lawrence said. “But it was a more holistic approach where the majority of a practitioner’s time was spent 80% on actual supervision and 20% on bureaucracy. Now the position is pretty well reversed. It’s become a very much tick-box culture, a risk-oriented process and many officers don’t have enough time with their clients to actually spot the nuances and changes in behaviour.”

So, does probation need to return to its roots?

“We need to look at restorative justice as opposed to the old probation model going back and the punitive model now,” he said. The plight of victims has been overlooked and I would like to see a probation service that provides a greater level of victim support. “When I read accounts from offenders who have been able to turn their lives around, often it is having a degree of interface with the victim’s family or other people who have come from similar circumstances.” 

Mr Lawrence said work to reduce reoffending has to progress beyond a focus on the more punitive elements introduced in the 1990s, when a retributive element was introduced to community sentences. “What can we do to encourage people within the system to interface with communities in a far more positive way? Depending on the offence and risk, there’s got to be some reparation so I don’t knock the idea that people pick up the dog’s turd or clear the parks. That’s part of it, but it can’t be all of it. It’s about making a difference. It has to go beyond the punitive.

“We’ve got to start taking rehabilitation seriously. Otherwise this crisis in our prisons will be in total meltdown in five, ten years and the only solution will be for the Government to build titan prisons like they do in America. Let’s open this up and get a bigger public debate going about what the taxpayer wants from its justice system.”

Hardeep Matharu