Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Sociopath in Charge?

I saw the following comment on twitter the other day and it certainly makes you think:-
Extremely, extremely worrying... It is the deepest irony that a sociopath has ended up in charge of our prisons.

With only days before privateers fully take over the majority of the probation service and the Offender Rehabilitation Act comes into force, chaos continues to reign in every part of Chris Graylings empire. I note Napo have recently written to Dame Ursula Brennan at the MoJ in the following terms:- 
Last Friday, we had a meeting of the Probation Consultative Forum (NOMS/NPS and the unions). This is a regular meeting chaired by Colin Allars at which we raised the issue of the implementation of the two new significant sentencing elements, namely a new Community Order requirement known as the Rehabilitation Activity Requirement which replaces the existing Supervision Requirement. It is very different and in essence is aimed at freeing up the way the new (outsourced) CRC's provide supervision. 
The other new sentencing element is that which effectively introduces post-custody supervision for those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody. Both of these provisions are scheduled to come into force on the 1st February. As at last week a Commencement Order has yet to be laid and we were told that you in your role as Permanent Under-Secretary will decide, in effect, whether the Department are ready to go with this regime sometime between now and 1st February. 
It appears to us that these provisions are not ready to run but that the MOJ are under pressure to meet this deadline because the Department have always insisted that the plan was on track; indeed the Departments own evidence to the High Court to this effect said this in support of the rebuttal of Napo’s JR application.  Given the above we are obliged to make the following observations:
• Despite being told by Colin Allars at the PCF that training for magistrates and judges was 'under way' we are deeply sceptical of this being so. One of our members at the meeting on Friday pm, who is also a magistrate, certainly had not received any training.
• We were assured that the IT (case management systems etc.) were ready to record these new ‘orders of the court’. Again we cannot prove that this is not so, but again we are deeply sceptical. 
• These new ‘orders of the court’ also require some actual paperwork (forms) to be available in courts. Has this been implemented?  
• It is evident from preliminary discussions with some of the new CRC owners that they do not have a clue about how these new provisions will operate. 
• What we are certain about is that Probation staff (both NPS & CRCs) are not ready to operate these new provisions, nor are the (NPS) ready to propose them in reports to the Court; this latter point is very important since this could all happen in courts around the country on February 2nd – offences having been committed the day before – the first day when the new provisions would be applicable to offences committed.  
• At last Friday's PCF we were told the training guidance was still ‘being finalised’. We are aware that training is planned but there is no way that all staff around the country will be trained before February 2nd. What we believe will happen, from the 2nd onwards, and increasingly as that week progresses, is that perplexed sentencers and court clerks (presupposing they have had any training in the RAR) will look to Probation for advice over these provisions and Probation staff may well be unable to offer assistance. As you might have expected, we registered our concern that implementation on February 1st of these provisions would be highly risky and likely to cause chaos. This was duly noted but we now wait to see what will happen next. we raised this issue in general terms at yesterday's meeting of the TRCF but were assured that everything was in hand.
The HMI report on Sodexo-run HMP Northumberland proved as damning as expected and Frances Crook of the Howard League had this to say:-
Northumberland prison: A ‘national resource’ that is failing miserably 
“Northumberland prison is supposed to be a ‘national resource’ to help turn around the lives of indeterminate-sentenced prisoners and those serving time for sex offences. But this report shows it is failing miserably. This is a prison where prisoners get drugs and alcohol easily but find support and preparation for release harder to come by. The number of assaults is high and rising, and inspectors found some prisoners had sought sanctuary in the segregation unit because they felt unsafe. We have become used to reading critical reports on overcrowded public-sector prisons which have seen deep cuts to staff and resources. Northumberland is neither publicly run nor overcrowded. What is Sodexo’s excuse? It is extremely worrying that Sodexo runs the prison with so many problems and has also been handed the contract to run community sentences from next month. This is another example of the shambles created by the privatisation of prisons.”
Chronic staff shortages in the Prison Service, largely brought about by Chris Grayling, suddenly leads to the closure of well-performing HMP Blantyre House and the Prison Governors Association are furious:-
The Prison Governors' Association (PGA) is surprised to learn this morning that NOMS are to temporarily close HMP Blantyre House in Kent. The PGA has not been consulted on this decision and it leaves us with some major concerns as to the under-usage of the capacity within the open estate. We are led to believe that this decision has been borne out of the inability to recruit enough prison officers into some of the prisons in the South of England, and in particular the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, which has been widely reported by most media outlets.NOMS have previously stated there would be no further prison closures in this Parliament and therefore the PGA will seek assurances that this is just a temporary measure and there are no further planned temporary or permanent prison closures.
Meanwhile the Justice Secretary continues to desperately try and shift any responsibility for creating dangerous chaos within the prison estate. He recently gave a speech blaming the increase in violence and suicides on drugs of all kinds, as outlined here in the Guardian:-
Legal highs and prescription drugs face ban in English and Welsh prisons
The justice secretary will be able to ban any legal drug inside prisons, including prescription drugs and “legal highs”, under a crackdown to start this week. Chris Grayling linked the rising use of “legal highs” behind bars to more cases of assault and self-harm in jails in England and Wales. In a speech at the Centre for Social Justice thinktank on Monday, he said: “We will take a zero-tolerance approach to stamping out their use.”
The move came as Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone asked MPs on Monday to back the banning of two new psychoactive substances used as legal highs. They are the drug 4,4’-DMAR, known as Serotoni – which has been linked to 37 deaths in the UK, mostly in Northern Ireland – and MT-45, a synthetic opioid not currently available in Britain but linked to deaths in Europe and the US. 
The Ministry of Justice is to send guidance to prison governors on Tuesday, requiring them to extend their mandatory drug testing to uncontrolled substances. Those who fail the drug tests can face a range of penalties, including prosecution, up to 42 days added on to their sentence, segregation in their cells for up to 21 days, strictly no contact with visitors – known as “closed visits” – and forfeiting their weekly prison earnings for up to 12 weeks.
I'll end this roundup of bits and pieces with two worrying stories that should concern us all, first a press release by NCIA making it plain that as charities take over yet more public services, they are being effectively muzzled:-      
Charities told to keep quiet or lose government contracts
New research reveals that charities and other voluntary groups are often absent from campaigns to tackle the root causes of poverty. A report released today shows that voluntary groups, especially those under contract to government, face threats to remain silent about their experiences and many are fearful to speak out in case they lose their funding or face other sanctions.

The findings show a climate of fear and threats to free speech. They follow on the tails of a Charity Commission investigation into Oxfam after the charity warned of the “relentless rise of food poverty” in the UK. The Commission's investigation was instigated after a complaint against Oxfam by Tory MP, Conor Burns. It adds to fears raised by the ex-Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, who said this week that charities and campaign groups have been "frightened" into curtailing their public work by the new Lobbying Act.
The report, Voluntary Services and Campaigning in Austerity UK: Saying Less and Doing More, is written by Dr Mike Aiken, a specialist in the voluntary sector and is published by the National Coalition for Independent Action (NCIA), a network of people working in the voluntary sector. The NCIA report states that “voluntary services are confronted by implicit, or explicit, pressures to ‘say less and do more’; they face gagging clauses in contracts which threaten to stop them advocating and campaigning; the provisions in the so-called Lobbying Act, passed in January 2014, create an atmosphere in which it is difficult to speak out”. The research highlights the attempts to muzzle charities and shows who is refusing to stay silent:
  • A voluntary organisation engaged in welfare services faced “subtle and menacing” bullying on more than one occasion from significant political figures to “do” and not “say”’
  • Voluntary groups under contract can be obliged to keep information or observations secret even when insights from their day-to-day work might help improve the service or conditions for local communities and individuals facing poverty and destitution.
  • Charities which undertake significant government contracting work devote few funds to campaigning. In the case of Shelter this appeared to be less than 10% of its income.
  • Despite attempts to silence voluntary groups, some still speak out (eg Trussell Trust), refuse to take government money (eg. World Development Movement) and join with campaigners to right wrongs (eg. Keep Volunteering Voluntary, a campaign against workfare). One such charity speaks plainly: “it is a democratic country...we are saying what we see…we have evidence…it’s is about being courageous and speaking out…. so you can put things right” 
The report suggests that the situation for charities is getting worse just at the point when it needs to get better - in order to give a voice to those most affected by austerity. It notes that the injunction to silence the knowledgeable voluntary organisation from talking about its experiences would be quite at home in any totalitarian regime that seeks to crush independent or divergent voices. The report concludes that funding can, and does, act as a brake on the ability to campaign and asks: if the campaigning role is stifled who will provide the evidence to those in positions of power to effect changes; and who will support disadvantaged communities to have their own voice? It predicts that if this trend continues voluntary organisations look set to be ‘saying less’ in austerity UK.
Finally, I had no idea the benefit sanctions saga is becoming quite serious, as discussed here on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website:-
Benefit sanctions: Britain's secret penal system

Few people know that the number of financial penalties (‘sanctions’) imposed on benefit claimants by the Department of Work and Pensions now exceeds the number of fines imposed by the courts. In Great Britain in 2013, there were 1,046,398 sanctions on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, 32,128 on Employment and Support Allowance claimants, and approximately 44,000 on lone parent recipients of Income Support. By contrast, Magistrates’ and Sheriff courts imposed a total of only 849,000 fines.
Sanctioned benefit claimants are treated much worse than those fined in the courts. The scale of penalties is more severe (£286.80 - £11,185.20 compared to £200 - £10,000). Most sanctions are applied to poor people and involve total loss of benefit income. Although there is a system of discretionary ‘hardship payments’, claimants are often reduced to hunger and destitution by the ban on application for the first two weeks and by lack of information about the payments and the complexity of the application process. The hardship payment system itself is designed to clean people out of resources; all savings or other sources of assistance must be used up before help is given.
Decisions on guilt are made in secret by officials who have no independent responsibility to act lawfully; since the Social Security Act 1998 they have been mere agents of the Secretary of State. These officials are currently subject to constant management pressure to maximise penalties, and as in any secret system there is a lot of error, misconduct, dishonesty and abuse. The claimant is not present when the decision on guilt is made and is not legally represented. While offenders processed in the court system cannot be punished before a hearing, and if fined are given time to pay, the claimant’s punishment is applied immediately. Unlike a magistrate or sheriff, the official deciding the case does not vary the penalty in the light of its likely impact on them or their family. If the claimant gets a hearing (and even before the new system of ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ only 3 per cent of sanctioned claimants were doing so), then it is months later, when the damage has been done. ‘Mandatory reconsideration’, introduced in October 2013, denies access to an independent Tribunal until the claimant has been rung up at home twice and forced to discuss their case with a DWP official in the absence of any adviser – a system which is open to abuse and has caused a collapse in cases going to Tribunal.
‘Sanctions’ are almost entirely a development of the last 25 years. The British political class has come to believe that benefit claimants must be punished to make them look for work in ways the state thinks are a good idea. Yet the evidence to justify this does not exist. A handful of academic papers, mostly from overseas regimes with milder sanctions, suggest that sanctions may produce small positive effects on employment. But other research shows that their main effect is to drive people off benefits but not into work, and that where they do raise employment, they push people into low quality, unsustainable jobs. This research, and a torrent of evidence from Britain’s voluntary sector, also shows a wide range of adverse effects. Sanctions undermine physical and mental health, cause hardship for family and friends, damage relationships, create homelessness and drive people to Food Banks and payday lenders, and to crime. They also often make it harder to look for work. Taking these negatives into account, they cannot be justified.
Benefit sanctions are an amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system, but lacks its safeguards. It is time for everyone concerned for the rights of the citizen to demand their abolition.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Guest Blog 19

OK, I've gotten around to it. I am a former Client, the same former Client who has, in the past, forced Jim to adopt moderation to his comments due to admittedly occasional offensive remarks, so I expect most of you to be reading this with a certain predisposition towards me. I do seem to have developed a certain hatred towards the Probation Service and several individual Probation persons in particular, so here it is, maybe a little rambling and repetitive in places and without recourse to offensive and abusive language...

I was convicted of Exposure charges towards adult Women, I fully accept that what I did was wrong, offensive and abusive, the potential full effect of my actions I'm never likely to know, but they disliked my offending so much as to involve the Police and there is a possibility that I could have caused a great deal of psychological abuse towards those whom I offended. For this I am very apologetic and if I could do anything feasible to help them I would do so. Even if I do say so myself, I was well aware at the time of the offence to the reasons as to why I was offending. There was no intervention that ever needed to attempt to explain any of that to me. I was not given a Custodial sentence but was given a period of time of supervision and ordered to attend a Sex Offender Treatment Programme.

Anything to do with Sex Offending is of course likely to stir up negative emotions in many, Sexual activity is, to the vast majority, considered private and precious, only to be to be engaged within the most intimate of relationships with significant others. Any attempt to explain why these offences occur are likely to attract the comments of those claiming them to be "Sex Offender apologists", I am not going to apologise for anybody's offending except my own and neither do I have any reputation or career to protect, I am here to express my opinions on what I have experienced. This is my attempt to exorcise some of the grief I feel towards those who personally see fit to implement and enforce these Programmes and explain how participating in an SOTP has left me with continued feelings of offence and abuse, been a major contribution to my development of a personality disorder and to try to explain why and where I believe, from my side of the argument, with little other than my own observations to back my own opinions up, that you are implementing an intervention with a high likelihood of causing not only what it attempts to prevent: reoffending, but also more subtle abuses with potential lasting damaging effects on those who have attended these Programmes.

I am not going to attempt to minimise anyone's Sexual Offending, but there are quite clearly different categories of offences and if any public survey was conducted I strongly feel that we could all come to a similar conclusion about which we would each consider to be of a general higher severity than others. I shall directly contradict the reason that was given to me by a Group Manager for putting all offences together in the same group programme: Offenders have the same reasons for committing their Offences. Incorrect. Everybody has a different etiology and everybody should be "treated" differently in an individualised setting. The levels and types of punishment are different for each offence, therefore it follows that the levels and types of "treatment" should also be different for each individual offence. 

When challenged on this or in fact anything to do with the standard of treatment the party line would appear to be "lack of resources" what does that mean I wonder? Not enough pens and pencils? Or not enough strong persons in your service who can clearly see state sanctioned malpractice taking place and are more than happy to uphold senior directions and never challenge their Bosses? The Facilitators and Group Managers clearly do not care for the mental well being of the Client. The Facilitators and Managers are clearly not the correct persons to be providing any sort of assistance to the Client, yet whatever I say does not make the slightest difference, they shall continue to do anything they are told to do, provided they are paid for it.

I can manage to prevent myself from re-offending, don't try to suggest to me that I can prevent someone else from doing so, as much as it is a fine idea, I do not have that ability, I am not a Councillor, Therapist, Psychologist or Psychiatrist. In particular, interests in Children for sexual purposes is apparently a disposition that people are born with, why was I being asked to challenge their beliefs? I have no training whatsoever in dealing with such persons or views. I have no want to speak, or associate, or be challenged about my Offending by them either. I do not wish to invite them into my life. Why do Probation personnel believe that this is a valid and workable way to approach working with Sex Offenders? Do they believe that what they are doing is in some way a fantastic intervention? Do Facilitators and Group Managers have an equanimous mindset on their approach to this work they are making a living out of? Do they not take their work seriously? If you are involved in SOTP and I know some of you are, then please detail your reasons in the comments below...

The idea being that the Facilitators only facilitate the conversation, they introduce a topic and set the conversation going with an intention of getting these Clients to confront each other about their own understandings on the matters, so you have the manipulative persons questioning the more impressionable persons and the Facilitators assessing you by means your of response and body language. Unfortunately if innocently playing Devil's advocate this is likely to be interpreted as your own personal view on the matter. The whole idea of putting Sex Offenders, some of whom have been through custody, displaying highly manipulative traits and are responsible for some of the most higher-end Sexual Offences into the same room as young, impressionable Men who are responsible for some of the more lower-end Sexual Offences is entirely wrong for the exact reasons those who uphold and implement it, have conviction in believing it to be the correct thing to do.

I vividly recall listening to one offender explaining how he, as a Teacher, molested young Boys, I did not have any training or preparation for listening to such a story, I am not interested in any detailed explanations as to why he did what he did, of course at the end we are supposed and invited to challenge on as to why he did such a thing. I was not in any way comfortable being there listening to that, being asked to challenge that. I can only guess as to what the young Man who had previously been abused by a Teacher had to think of it. It is quite a disgusting thing to make a career out of, how do Facilitators of these groups right what they do with themselves? A great deal of positive delusion must take place in the thought processes of such people, they must be unconcerned as to the damaging effects that they enforce, either they do not care, they do not see the potential for harm or they are convinced that they are doing it for the greater good and I suppose they are, the Facilitators and Managers of such groups are the main beneficiary's as they receive a wage for their attendance.

I am at a loss as to why thousands of pounds are spent putting Offenders through this intervention, it does not make any sense in either an economic stand point or as real beneficial treatment for the individuals concerned. I can only see it as a huge waste of time and money.

Nobody is assessed as to whether they are suitable for the SOTP, the pre work that is undertaken does not address any existing mental health issues, levels of deviousness or amount of potential learning that may be achieved by completing the course.

I would like to believe that those Facilitators were genuinely interested in promoting effective change, however the content of the sessions and my perception of the attitude of most of them led me to think differently... Perhaps they hold unresolved, deep seated resentment, perhaps they had been treated badly in previous relationships, or even abused themselves. Putting themselves into this position acts as a form of revenge or soothing for them, they are covert Sexists. Or perhaps naive attempts to help Offenders? There are undoubtedly those in society who feel that they are to be a Hero and that their own personal intervention can inspire positive change in peoples lives for the better, they shall of course receive the highest prizes for being the person responsible for any perceived positive outcomes...

The voyeuristic nature of Facilitators, under a shroud of caring, confidence tricksters, experience junkies... barbed sentences with multiple interpretations easily explained away in the event of a complaint as incorrect or paranoiac on the part of the Offender, double talk is rife amongst Facilitators. Continuous blaming of "Lack of resources" I would suggest that perhaps to those delivering such things that the lack of resource is a little closer to home than they are ever likely to comprehend.

Amateur attempts to break you down to build you up, challenge perceived cognitive distortions and if none are readily apparent, invent some to challenge...

There is little doubt that some Probation personnel may know who is writing this. I'm unconcerned, maybe they are too. I am just another one of the many faces that they have had through their doors and, if anything, this should be considered a part of my supervision, it should be a positive that I am choosing to use Jim's outlet to express my feeling and concern, especially seeing as, there is no real outlet to do so through official Probation channels.

As for the future well I am now talking to real people with real holistic natures who can respond to what I say without a guarded stance or barbed bitchiness or being interrupted by Joe Sex Offender.

Perhaps this blog will help a few more of you see the light and leave the Service, I'm sure many of you are decent enough people, it's a great shame that you are not allowed to demonstrate it in your day to day working. I could no doubt do the job of Probation Officer, attain the required qualifications and be equanimous towards my own better judgement and delude myself with the brand of wishy-washy corporate Zen that would appear to go hand in hand with institutionalised abuse... You can bring yourself to do anything if you do not care less... I quite simply wouldn't though.

I myself caused an amount of harm to some Women who survived my abusing, I deserved to be punished for doing that. There are ways and means of punishing and rehabilitating people, unfortunately SOTP is in no way the correct method to go about doing it, it in itself is undoubtedly at least in part responsible for numerous SFO's.

If you don't know what you are supposed to be doing anymore then I'd suggest you are maybe a little slow on the uptake, everyone, and I mean everyone who leaves an SOTP session and goes outside onto the street are united in one thing and one thing only: what a crock the entire thing is.

Best wishes, Anonymous Client 1...

Monday, 26 January 2015

Voices From the Past 1

With only a week to go before the privateers are let rip, I'm very grateful to the keen newshound that managed to dredge up the following fascinating piece from the Guardian over a decade ago.    
'The probation service is a mess. Flog it off' 
Richard Spence, 63 - who began in the City then switched to be a probation officer for 30 years in London and Norfolk before retiring last year - says the organisation has collapsed. Society Guardian, Thursday 25 July 2002.
I was an ordinary, main-grade, what I'd call bottom-of-the heap probation officer, and I really enjoyed that: dealing with the punters face to face.

The ambitious ones went up the ladder and became chiefs, but the trouble with the probation service today is that a lot of the people who got to the top weren't up to the mark.

They've basically destroyed the probation service. It's fallen apart in the last couple of years - at least in London, which is the bit I know. The financial situation is absolutely disastrous here, they're millions up the Swannee. Top-heavy with middle management, lots of people with important titles, putting nice suits on, going to meetings with coffee and biscuits, setting these ludicrous targets - but because they've cut back so much, not enough infantry to do the frontline work. Which means the service cannot do its most important thing, which is to see clients face to face, and to write assessment reports on them.

Everything stems from that, because the reports are the basis for sentencing by the courts. And for appeals too. [The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, said this month that the probation service was having trouble producing reports for judges and running community-sentence punishments credible to the public.]

A probation officer's report gives something about defendant's background, but primarily it's about his or her attitude toward the offence. Why was it that you went shoplifting in Sainsbury's" This is the fourth time you've been caught, is it to do with your family, your personality, are you using illegal substances, are you drinking too much?

If you run around with a knife threatening to stick it into people, clearly that's what a prison's there for. We all understand that. But if you aren't a danger it may be cheaper to put you on probation or do something else with you, because putting you in prison for six months might cost £500 or £600 a week. You may lose your housing, may have problems with your family, may destroy all sorts of things costing the taxpayer all sorts of money. The probation report helps the court to understand, and then to determine the sentence.

I know of one probation office, they got 24 requests from courts one day recently for reports on people remanded in custody or on bail for three or four weeks' time awaiting a report from a probation officer. But this office can't do them, they're swamped, they haven't got the staff.

If I'm the judge, and three weeks later everybody comes back to court, and all there is is a bit of paper from the probation office saying they're sorry they can't prepare the report in time, I'm entitled to say, What the hell is going on? It's already cost us £1,500 to lock this man up for three weeks, and it's going to cost us £1,500 more for the next three. And of course on his side, he is locked up for something he may get a non-custodial sentence for.

Judges are becoming increasingly incensed by this; it's just becoming a scandal.

The courts hardly ever see a probation officer any more either. Formerly, I'd be called into the witness box to answer some questions, add some flesh to my report on the defendant. Nowadays a PO hasn't got time. So all the court sees is the report, which is written in a much more mechanistic way by a person who is just a form-filler, busy playing safe. Whereas my report painted a picture of the person. And I would know the sentencer and the sentencer would know me.

I saw in the Guardian that the new chief inspector of probation, Rod Morgan, - the "incisive" new chief inspector - was reported saying the probation service needed to "sell its services more effectively to sentencers", and make sure traditional case work wasn't overshadowed.

But they're taking probation officers out of courts not putting them in there, and they haven't got the infantry to do the casework. The thing is, once things start to go like this they crumble and crumble and you can't get it back because the ethos goes. Courts are fed up with the probation service; in the service, the morale goes, people are pissed off to the back teeth.

Beautiful little quote somebody told me the other day relating to all the cuts and the financial restrictions. If a probation office is in trouble because there's nobody to do all the typing or all the probation officers are off sick, you ring up head office and say: "Mission critical!" That enables Great Peter Street [London headquarters] to say: Right, you can spend whatever getting a temporary person in for three days. "Mission critical!" Wonderful. It's like Mission Impossible.

When I began, the management layer was much less, and the people who were at the top had character, and had personality, and they were robust in their views. If you're robust in your views today you don't get to the top. So if you do get there you're just a cypher. Your views have been ironed out of you. So you become a little Hitler, stutting around terribly self-important.

But they've lost confidence: the probation service, the Home Office, the prison service have all lost confidence nowadays because we live in a blame culture. Same with judges - safer to lock people up. Judge gives somebody an intelligent sentence, gets castigated in the Sun.

Prison governors are encouraged by Blunkett & Co to release short-term offenders, tag them for the last couple of months. But if one of them commits an offence, it goes up as a black mark against that governor. If you're an ambitious prison governor you're not going to let people out early, give them home leave; and if you're a governor in a women's prison you're going to chain 'em giving birth. Play safe - people playing safe all down the line.

We've lost confidence in allowing people to have original ideas as to how to deal with offenders.

Look at Woolf saying, You nick my mobile telephone you'll go to prison for three years automatically except in special circumstances. And then they have to back-pedal of course.

They want it all ways: they want original ideas, they want offenders out in the community, but they don't back people when things go wrong. If I'm a newly appointed probation officer and ambitious, I'm going to go absolutely by the rules. But that doesn't help people to get rehabilitated in the community.

It's very sad because it was a fascinating job 30 years ago.

When I kicked off in 1970, the overall prison population was 40,000, today's it's over 71,000. For women it was under 1,000, now it's almost 4,000. Costing a fortune!

My particular interest was long-term offenders, lifers, because when people like that come out of prison they're on licence for the rest of their lives - meaning they are seen frequently by a probation officer in the initial years after release, and they're liable to recall to prison at any time if they misbehave; they don't even have to commit a criminal offence.

I had a number of lifers on my caseload, people who committed murder. Before a man came out I'd visit him regularly every three or four months in the institution. I'd know him, but more important he'd know me.

Very very difficult for a man to get back into the community who's been in prison 15 or 20 years, had everything provided. A terribly difficult ordeal.

Not many do it very successfully. They can't make relationships, they don't know where they are. To make it work, you have got to give them consistency: they want to see the same probation officer, somebody who knows their history; quite reasonable, like seeing your doctor instead of a locum. They don't want erratic dealings because they cannot afford it.

But with the financial restrictions in the last year or two, the probation service can't do much pre-release work. They can't even write basic reports now, so certainly not pay for people to be visited in institutions.

What they're doing now is probation on the cheap, but it doesn't work because you're not dealing with the individual and his or her problems: relationships, housing, no jobs, poverty, and poverty again, bottom of the heap, and no hope. Oh, some hope: go and wash the dishes at the Savoy. Very charming sort of a job.

One of the cheaper ways of dealing with clients is trying to get them into groups; formerly you always saw them one to one. There's lots of these group programmes: Reasoning and Rehabilitation, Think First, Drink Impaired Driving, Sex Offenders, Domestic Violence.

Initially these schemes did go well because they were well staffed, with charismatic people running them. But over the last two or three years they're finding it very hard to get staff for these groups.

And these groups are also run on very rigid lines from the point of view of timing, people not turning up. They're given a warning, then taken back to court. Then of course the court's hands are tied cause they don't know what to do with them. So they lock them up for a short time.

Instead of having it one to one and having it flexible. Say you're a client, my appointment with you is at 10 o'clock this morning. You've got your children off to school, done this and that. But one child's not well. You've tried to get an appointment with the doctor, it's pouring with rain, and the buses don't come.

You get to me at 20 minutes past 10. I know you've got four children, I know that child's not been well, but you've struggled to get in. Under the present system, though, if you arrive 20 minutes late for community punishment [formerly community service] you can't do that day's work - unless you have a medical certificate, nice middle-class stuff here - and also you get a warning letter. Do it again and you're back to the court, never mind the doctor, the buses.

These things are set up by people in offices who never deal with the clients. They lose touch with what it's really like to be poor on a Clapton estate, or a Kilburn estate.

But of course if you're a manager, when you get to a certain stage [up the ladder] you don't have the unpleasantness of having to deal with clients. (We used to call them clients, now they're called offenders, which was Michael Howard's way of dealing with it [as home secretary under Margaret Thatcher]. I would have thought they should be called ex-offenders, but that shows the way that the Home Office has gone, including under Labour.)

Clients can be violent, abusive because they're frightened and upset. These managers might have known something about all that 25 years ago, but they know sweet nothing about it now. People come out of prison they're erratic, they miss buses.

What would I suggest the government do with the probation service? Well the mess it is, the only thing is to scrub the whole bleeding lot and flog it off, privatise large chunks. I don't agree with privatisation politically but to some extent the probation service deserves to be privatised: it's not working and the public service ethos is gone.

You don't need this whole edifice of non-productive people above the people writing the reports. If you pay me £250 to write a report on somebody, I'll see the person in custody, I'll write the report, I'll get it typed up and it'll be fine. And if they put their minds to it community punishment could be privatised too.

As it is now, it really is collapsing, and the people at the top don't have the ability or the wish to salvage it. They're going to blame anyone else they can think of.

Society Guardian, Thursday 25th July 2002.

- Footnote: Reflecting the concerns expressed in several contributions to Public Voices, probation staff voted to stage a one-day strike on January 29, 2003, and afterwards to work contractual hours. Their union, Napo, said: "Over the last decade probation workloads have increased by 50%. Currently in excess of 15% of the probation workforce is leaving each year. Napo has been raising the issue of the need for manageable workloads with officials for the last three years. Since that time the Probation Service has taken on numerous new tasks such as youth offender work, drug treatment orders and intensive group work without a commensurate increase in resources."

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Bleak Futures Week 4

I am a PSO in a CRC, I hold over 50 cases and last week my workload was at 99%. We had to re tier our cases to new guidelines and my workload is now 60%. Nothing has changed, but I now have loads of capacity!!!


It's all a big fiddle. We don't even have access to our workload management so I could be working 'over' and I'd never know. I don't trust managers to look after my best interests so will never have a clue if I'm being overworked. As for tiering, we've not used that for a long time. I thought workload management was using the amount of requirements per Order as a formula for the workload - ie the greater the amount of requirements, the higher the weighting per case. I know our admin staff are like vultures, always asking if we have any requirements to terminate so we can be passed more stuff and for a completion to be recorded. Hope I'm made redundant or got rid of as soon as.


All custody cases retiered to T1. Statistical manipulation. No incentive to communicate with sentence planning until ready for release.


Just re-tier them once you discover you have been allocated them. Make them a T3 due to the complexity of multi-agency, ie you, the prisons, the old lags who meet them at the gate, housing and DWP. Primes are not the only ones who can manipulate stats!!!


Due to the recent changes in Probation, it seems that anyone can now be called a Probation Officer, whatever they do, whatever they are paid and whoever they work for.


About the transfer of cases! I previously commented on here about a young man transferred into our OMU from another county. We accepted him and his JSA (jobseekers allowance) was also transferred. But, we could not get the work programme in the other area to transfer their responsibility to a local work programme. Two different organisations, two contracts and one not willing to lose him from their number/contract, even though they were no longer offering/delivering the client a service! It's all about the money, money, money (Jesse J)!

I've recently attended a ORA/TTG briefing and am shocked at the level of chaos that surrounds this new legislation. We couldn't even get an exact answer to when this is due to start. Some say February 1st, others say April 1st, others May??? I didn't realise we could pick and choose when legislation comes in? This is going to cause confusion among NPS and CRC staff.

At Court we are (yet again) going to look like total fools as not even management can provide us with details of how this is going to work. We are supposed to be the experts aren't we? I think that's how Grayling referred to us? This confusion will continue to allocation, at the prison, upon release and even at the gate. The turn around for the screening tool is ridiculously quick and unrealistic in my view. What made me laugh is that the resettlement plan isn't even going to be risk led! Ah ok, good luck with that. I'm a probation officer...get me the hell out of here......!!!!

As a CRC PSO my understanding is currently that EVR is not available as job is not being done away with. I, like many others I am sure, would jump at opportunity to take EVR. Instead we are less than 2 weeks away from takeover and terms & conditions will slowly dwindle, and pressure be too great, that more and more will walk. I feel for NPS colleagues too, because a similar fate awaits, particularly if the Tory party get back in. Award winning service shafted by ideology clap trap.

Workload's ridiculous, mistakes are being made due to almost being 'set up to fail' and capability and disciplinary are being used whereas a few years ago things would've been dealt with at line manager level. Many people looking for the escape route now.

Oooops! Handed another case today of a violent offender (CRC) who hasn't been seen since sentence in November 2014 - only came to light as she was assaulted by her partner and he was appearing in Court! Oh joy!

I am an NPS PO and would take EVR like a shot! My job description bears no resemblance to my post split role, isn't that in effect having my old role made redundant??

There won't be another round of EVR. The remainder of the £60 million has indeed gone to CRC's coffers. Don't build your hopes up as the golden goose has flown. Just knuckle down and get used to this shit - or ship out! I know what I will be doing!

With respect to all parties, what works comes as no surprise to anyone with any significant Probation experience. The problem is the politicization of the agenda and the need to 'look tough' and to manage with woefully inadequate resources. Proper professionals, quality time, decent referral routes into drug treatment and mental health services, bereavement counselling, counselling for adult survivors of child sexual abuse etc. Trying to do it without proper resources, against a hostile political background and an ideology that builds in creaming and parking; I see no real chance of progress.

Has anyone seen the questions when applying for probation officer jobs via the NOMS website? A complete joke! The questions are not reflective of our role...

That's because they are designed for civil servants. Good luck with the website. Last time I tried to apply, when I went back in it said I had no application. I gave up.

I have been wary of clients many times but only properly scared twice. Both were first time offenders, domestic violence perpetrators, assessed as medium risk of serious harm. Colleagues intervened on both occasions and both ended up being managed at MAPPA Level 2. I'm a woman in my late 40's. I dread to think what will happen when we are meeting men like this outside the safety of our CRC offices in the wider community.

When I was first trained to use it, I was told that OASys was an attempt to 'standardise' risk assessments as far as possible, trying to 'even out' individual officers subjectivity as a means of making them fairer for all of those they were written about. It also came in at a time when there was great pressure for probation to 'evidence' the thinking behind decisions. This seemed no bad thing in itself. As an experienced officer the completion of it never informed me of anything I didn't know but it did confirm my thinking somewhat. I remain however baffled by the 'weighted' scores. Alcohol use-low weighting...what?... 'relationships' don't seem to figure but 'education and employment'? Now there's a way to boost your risk up (feeding into the drive to get people into work of course and it must be their fault if they don't have a job).
Now; what was meant as a tool to inform the assessor has become the oracle with some people thinking that if they can complete an OASys they can assess risk. Others seeing it as fundamental (often mangers who have never completed one) but when did completing an OASys prevent an SFO as against spending time with the person? What started as a risk assessment 'tool' is now trying to fit too many purposes in my view. For example its become a way of recording all of the historical information that used to be held on files, (in part 'A's 'B's etc for those that can recall them.) that would be lost otherwise.

I agree wholeheartedly that the OASys generated 'template' PSRs were the kiss of death for the great skill of report writing. People overworked (or who knew no better or had no integrity) would just pull everything through and end up with a disjointed document, full of information that shouldn't be there and would omit the stuff (relationships!) that did inform so much. No wonder PSRs are felt to be less use in court. 

As for the 'risk assessment' your left with? How many umpteen offence analysis reviews have you seen that (end of sentence even) start with '..he stands before the court today...'

I can't bring myself to just pull everything through and put my name to it (although someone, another very experienced PO asked me why it mattered as the whole thing was so meaningless now anyway). As a result of my 'thoroughness' an OASys takes me at least the best part of a day, more if it's for a parole review considering the emphasis that seems to be put on it all. When I do one it's thorough. I also complete the SAQ and spend time explaining the crap wording '...go to places that cause me trouble..?' But in truth I hardly do them due to other priorities. My task box overflows and of course they disappear from this if they're left too long so you forget them! Hurrah! I could be all up to date and tickerty boo if I just pulled it all through and if management start leaning heavily, that is what will happen. All of my team (NPS) are in the same position. No one is being very 'timely' these days. Get rid and let us work with our clients again.

'Amnesty' is an odd word to use in this context. Who is NOMS at war with? They will never make OASys fit for purpose. It's labelling and data gathering aspects have always been greater than its contribution to risk prediction. Its pseudo science attracted many gullible followers and it gained some undeserved validity, but in time it will be shown to have been as useful as phrenology. A waste of time and money.

Too true. Who ever thought that the phrase 'Proven risk of Reoffending' actually meant something? Pseudoscience indeed. 

Does anyone know what Probation is actually supposed to do now? a PO (NPS)

Hit targets and don't ask NOMS (or your own private company) awkward questions. Or cost them money. Or be ill. Or have a child. Just strap yourself to your desk, plug in and nutrients will be delivered directly to your stomach via the tube shoved up your arse. If I've missed anything, please feel free to add it :)

I think a lot of people didn't realise quite how far reaching these reforms were going to be. Its scary.

Now it's started, it's like a human form of Japanese knotweed.

On the scale of uneccessariness, ranging from 1 (crucial) to 10 (we can muddle through without) NOMS must be right up there at 11

The fuckwits have taken over the asylum. Independent opinion in the courtroom has finally been abolished. A long time ago my probation tutor explained how the SER (aka PSR, SDR, FDR, OR) offered the only true independent assessment of a defendant's position. She pointed out how the sentencers already had the starting point of "guilty"; the Clerk was only there to offer legal guidance to the sentencers; the prosecution were there to secure a guilty plea/verdict at the highest possible level; the defence were acting on the instructions of the guilty party. Beyond that the press wanted the best angle for a story & the public were Inevitably biased by virtue of being related to either the perpetrator or victim. Who, therefore, could realistically offer the sentencer an unbiased and truly independent assessment? 

Sadly the role of the PSR was systematically undermined by NOMS & a generation of management who hated client contact and hated being in court - the perfect opportunity to build an anti-PSR groundswell of opinion at liaison meetings, in policy documents and in practice. And now they've more or less achieved their objective after 15 years of chipping away. There's patience & determination for you.

Another nail in the coffin of the probation service that I have known and mostly loved for 3 decades plus. What is it about any more? I certainly don't know and pretty much have got to the point that I don't care any more. I'm just going to be a nodding dog type from now on. Do my job to the best of my ability without any hope of things getting better whilst waiting for leave and each weekend. A wholly disillusioned PO.

Yes indeed I understand what you mean when you say you do not care anymore. What I do care passionately about are the people on my caseload and all of my colleagues (I refuse to be divided - us and them CRC/NPS). However in terms of trying to absorb, let alone implement the impossible processes, I have given up and do not care anymore either, because we are on a hiding to hell. I refuse to become a mere functionary, "machine say, me do". I have completely stopped putting in the extra hours, I now go out at lunch and actually walk around talking to people again. I come in each day and do the absolute minimum I can in order to feed the idiot box that sits on my desk, see my people which makes me feel I am doing a "proper" job and basically go home - that's how it is for me and most of my colleagues now. 

In my office there is a widening disconnect between the regime and practice. No one has a grip of the process anymore with so much interference and so many people required (when you can finally track them down) to complete a basic task. Where once you could pick the telephone up, talk to someone who knew what you were talking about and could do the task, now you are either left high and dry or shunted all over the place. it is falling apart after being smashed by Grayling et al.

I try to remain positive but there is a growing feeling of uneasy calm before the tsunami finally hits us. Talking of no one seeming to know what they are doing reminds me. I was in Court this week and when I mentioned ORA to the solicitors they looked at me as if I was crazy. They and the magistrates in our Court were oblivious! Feb 1st! I don't think so somehow.

If this is the direction of travel it won't be long before the report is done away with altogether and falls in to the remit of the defence solicitor.

...and how many just précis the report instead of doing their own homework? A defence barrister in the Crown once asked me when I was on duty ' can I mitigate without a report..?'

The long standing lament of the PO. I've just had a Barrister, earning x times my salary, reading my PSR to the sentencer, who should have read it already, as mitigation!.

The arrogance of these people astounds me, even after 30 years. I have worked in a Crown Court. Barristers and solicitors who know absolutely nothing about the person they are supposed to be defending, shitting themselves in case there isn't going to be a PSR, however formulaic it is. Judges who don't actually know what sentences they are legally allowed to impose, whose arrogance knows no bounds and who never give a milliseconds thought to the person they have just sentenced. A plague on all their houses, bunch of arrogant, ignorant tossers.

Since I joined the Probation Service some 16 years ago as a TPO and then PO, I've seen POs removed from courts, back in, out again ad infinitem. Having been thrown to the corporate wolves in a CRC, I now hear about the latest court target for my poor beleaguered colleagues in the NPS who have been totally overwhelmed by PSRs whilst 'managing' high risk cases et al. It seems that the new 'target' for PSRs of all ilks including SDRs is 100% on the day and they are about to put POs back into courts to achieve this.

Meanwhile, in the CRC, we already have 'Oral Reports' that aren't worth the paper they're printed on, FDRs no longer requiring even the most cursory of OASys assessments and all of the essential detailed assessments displaced to the field to meet court requirements of 'swift and speedy justice', whilst NOMS reintroduces a 10 day 'target' for initial sentence plans.(FFS)

To add to this NOMS/MOJ applied fuckwittery, I attended a briefing 'event' on Friday where our new CRC overlords outlined their 'vision' for the future in my very large CRC including new integrated robust simple IT systems by September (yeah right, who remembers C-NOMIS?) to enable us all to move forward. Very slick, very personable, well intentioned white folks in suits (no really, every single one of them) with no clue.

And to add to the chaos, we have the new Offender Rehabilitation Act, where magistrates no longer have to consider the impact of short custodial sentences meaning no Probation Service input or supervision because every single sentence of more than 1 day will mean 12 months probation. I wonder what the magistrates will do then?

In my NPS area the bosses are moving resources into the court teams to do virtually every report as an Oral. The PSR really is over.... and given the constant erosion of role boundaries, so is the professionalism of our service.

In our area they are increasing the size of the PSR team. Sounds like its going to be postcode lottery justice. Re ORA,  I'm already worrying about all of the released after short sentence but now HOMELESS people with only £46 in their pocket (usually spent by the time they get to our door) who believe we can actually help them to find somewhere to stay. Just watch those re-offending rates rise....(esp when the 'through the gate' people start running for the hills...)

Sadly I do not believe I will ever be able to do 'a better job' again. How are you going to tell what is most likely to reduce the risk of harm without assessment? How do you assess what the risk of harm is in the first place without interviewing someone? Already with dumbed down or rushed 'reports' we have people on orders which they cannot complete due to work or mental health issues, we have people who don't have a grasp of what they have been sentenced to, people who should be on sex offender programmes but are not and some who are that shouldn't be. (all on my current caseload in the new NPS - some of my interventions might well be taking the blasted orders back to court for amendments.) 

Pity the ones who end up in custody to be assessed afterwards. Too late then and moreover the content of a report and the level of risk directly affects what happens to people in prison. I could go on... I've always believed that the process of preparing a report, that period when someone is in crisis, who might never have discussed the offence before, is absolutely crucial to how people respond to whatever they are sentenced to afterwards. 'Do good work in the environment we are in..?' It'll be a repair job then given the size of the rock that Grayling and his cronies have lobbed at us.

I gather that the Reducing Reoffending Partnership intend to introduce a new IT system, volunteers in Court, reshape needs analysis but keep OASys risk assessment, multi agency teams in prisons, mentoring services for through the gate, co-locating services, a strengths based approach, sharing services, possibly rebranding the term probation, assessing the fitness of the estate and a partnership approach.

From Inside Times:

Prisoners now have the equivalent of zero hour’s contracts – Star Letter of the Month

I would like to point out the lengths that some prisons are going to in order to meet Grayling’s demands that all prisoners must work. Everybody knows that the maths just doesn’t add up; there is around one job for every 10 prisoners in the system so there is no chance of full employment in our prison system. What they are doing is creating part-time jobs in order to fiddle the statistics. Here at HMP Littlehey they have been very imaginative with job creation with such illustrious jobs as Games Rep, Wheelchair Rep, Gym Rep, Gym Induction Rep, Gym Wing Orderly and Gym Orderly. All the gym jobs were originally done by one person before being turned into 4 different posts! I also hear that the job of ‘Catalogue Rep’ is very demanding! I have been given the incredibly named job of ‘Energy Champion’. My job consists of turning off half the lights on the spur and making sure the lights are off in the shower when no one is in there. For this I get paid 50p per session, a maximum of £7 per week. So most of us are doing make-work that will have absolutely no value in helping us to get a job in the outside world – this is Grayling’s so-called ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’, is it? What a joke!