Saturday, 20 September 2014

What's in Prospect?

I'm told that Chivalry Road is a hive of activity at the moment and news that the London Solicitors have won their case against Chris Grayling over legal aid might well give some Napo members hope that the activity might involve intense effort on a similar legal challenge. 

Far from it I'm told because, as I've repeatedly stated on this blog, there has never been any serious plan, let alone desire, of pursuing a Judicial Review on any aspect of TR. Now there will always be those that choose not to believe this, preferring instead to swallow the line that it's all being done in secret so as not to prejudice the case. Indeed this theme has already surfaced on this blog:-

The solicitors have taken over a year to get to this point, highlights that it is not an overnight process.

They also tweeted a few weeks ago apologising for the little info that they had disclosed during the process, stating that they could not publicise much without prejudicing the case.

My contempt for those in positions of authority within the union for allowing this myth to perpetuate knows no bounds. I'm going to say this just one more time - there will be no JR of TR - there never was any intention of mounting a legal challenge because the General Secretary has always been against it, for reasons that are not entirely clear, and the only hope of mounting a challenge to this view was lost when Tom Rendon was hounded from office.

I've heard it said many times before that one of the reasons for not mounting a legal challenge - which incidentally the MoJ privately find astonishing - is the desire to hang on to the money in case of a winding up of the union. It could just be incompetence of course, but it's all academic now because any legal challenge is almost certainly out of time. 

So, if there's not a lot of activity going on fighting TR or preparing a legal challenge, what is keeping everyone so busy, preventing meaningful communication with the membership and the General Secretary from writing his blog? I'm told he's busy courting a merger with another union, having been earlier rebuffed by his old union the PCS. I'm led to believe the union in question is Prospect:-
Prospect has over 3,600 members working in a broad range of organisations that are essential to maintaining law and order throughout the UK.
Their input is key across all parts of the judicial system, from departmental policy and criminal investigation through to court proceedings and the penal and probationary systems.

Their expertise spans a variety of specialist roles from forensic scientists to justices' clerks, serious fraud investigators to prison service chaplains and psychological assistants.
The union has members throughout the Ministry of Justice – one of the country's biggest departments – as well as in smaller private companies such as LGC, formerly the Laboratory of the Government Chemist before privatisation and now a provider of investigative, diagnostic and measurement services.
Another key membership area for Prospect within the justice sector is the Metropolitan Police Service where the union represents around 1,000 specialist police staff including fingerprint officers, blood spatter scientists, ballistics specialists, explosive experts, e-forensics specialists (including data retrieval from computers and mobile phones), crime scene examiners and collision investigators, photographers, technicians, health & safety officers, estates managers and surveyors, and custody nurse practitioners.
Now don't get me wrong, trying to arrange a merger with another union might be a very sensible thing to be doing if it looks like the imposition of TR and consequent loss of membership begins to question the viability of the union. But this raises a number of questions in my mind, the first being if this is all being undertaken with the authority and approval of the union's governing Executive? 

The second question is a bit more serious and concerns how this will eventually be 'sold' to the membership? Will it be a case of 'it's the best we can do in the circumstances' which begins to sound rather ominously like the explanation that was offered to the membership over those 'agreed' TR terms. Was that recent rather pointless letter sent out by the General Secretary saying how well things are going designed to prepare the ground, a bit like trying to stop a run on a bank in parlous trouble?

I'm sure that at least some members will be asking themselves if the situation we now find ourselves in is not so much as a result of TR, but rather more as a result of some breathtakingly inept decision-making at the very heart of the union? There's just time to register this weekend for the AGM in Scarborough at the early bird rate of £45.

No doubt there will be others who will say this is all an anti-union plot by a blog with a hidden agenda. All I can do is repeat that I'm only interested in fighting TR and speaking as I find and as I hear. As always it's up to readers to look at the evidence and make up their own mind. 

Friday, 19 September 2014

MoJ Answers 2

Part two of that bullshit from the MoJ.

7. Quality Assurance

Re Probation privatisation. Why would a private company ever prioritise public safety over profit? It is their sole reason for being.

How is it right that companies should profit from rehabilitating offenders?

Private companies do not have a social purpose, their legal priority isn't to put people first it is to make a profit for shareholders. How can the Government guarantee that the level of service currently given to service users doesn't fall, as there will be concerns that corners that will be cut to ensure profit is made and there will be an underinvestment in the provision of services offered.

As a hypothetical question, what happens if a CRC does not meet the targets? Under which criteria will the money not be paid? Will there be an equivalent of OFSTED?

Payment by results is about incentivising reductions in reoffending – that’s something that is in everyone’s interests.

We have a diverse market of bidders seeking to own and run CRCs, including mutuals run by probation staff and voluntary sector organisations, as well as private sector companies. To be successful in the competition, they will have to demonstrate that they have both robust procedures in place to identify, evaluate and manage the risks posed to the public by offenders and also sufficiently skilled and trained staff to undertake this role.

CRC contracts will set out detailed requirements in relation to offender management, including management of the risks posed by an offender, which CRCs must adhere to. Contracts have been designed to ensure that the MoJ contract managers can take robust action to deal with any risks to public safety, including the ability to step in, require action from CRCs and ultimately terminate contracts.

Furthermore there will continue to be an independent Inspectorate of Probation with the same statutory remit as now. The Inspectorate will be expected to inspect the system as a whole, covering both the public sector probation service and the contracted providers.

8. Quality Assurance

If re-offending is going to be payment by results in the CRC what do you envisage being more important to the company that wins the bid? Someone finishing their order well and to the best of their abilities? Or someone finishing their order, regardless of rehabilitation, to secure the payment?

In terms of interventions for offenders will the bidders be commissioned to focus on 'what works' and rehabilitation contributing towards changing people’s cognitive behaviours rather than reducing re-offending in the short term using more punishment led justice e.g. electronic monitoring which is often short lived in terms of reducing re-offending?

My top priority is to reduce reoffending. Our contracts are therefore designed so that to be paid in full CRCs have to focus on ensuring both that offenders complete the requirements of their orders and that they are successfully rehabilitated. CRCs will be contractually required to ensure that the full sentence of the court is delivered. We will measure CRC performance in this respect and can deduct from their overall payment if performance falls below our expectations. Separately, a proportion of the overall payment to CRCs is at risk under Payment by Results, and they will not receive full payment unless they improve reoffending rates for offenders in their cohort.

9. Domestic Violence

Can Ministers explain why Sex Offender Treatment Programmes (NSOG, iSOPT etc) are part of the NPS and Building Better Relationships (BBR) part of the CRC when BBR has much higher risk men on them? By arguing that the NPS will still supervise high risk cases, are we not saying that the NPS is more suited to managing high risk and putting NSOG in NPS following this logic? Thus, having BBR in the CRC means there is an implicit argument that BBR is less important in terms of Risk?

Any offenders who pose a high risk of serious harm to the public will be managed by the NPS.

CRCs will, in general, deliver accredited programmes in the new system, and the Government will continue to set standards for the delivery of accredited programmes. Offenders who have a requirement to attend BBR will be assessed as posing either a medium or a high risk of seriously harmful reoffending and therefore offenders supervised by both the CRC and the NPS will attend the programme. As you know, the programme is designed to be effective with offenders who pose varying levels of risk of serious harm. The exception we have made is Sex Offender Treatment Programmes (SOTPs). As all offenders eligible for SOTPs will be supervised by the NPS, it makes sense that the provision of these programmes stays within the NPS.

10. Reasoning

Do ministers consider their ideological untested 'reforms' to be so important that rushing them through at great risk to the public, risk which probation staff are seeing on a daily basis, is justified?

Our reforms are based on the need to reduce reoffending and not on ideology. As in every part of Government, we are faced with the challenge of trying to do better for less. We could either have imposed further cuts on the structures we had inherited, risking increases in reoffending and leaving short sentence offenders without support after release or, as we are doing, reform the system so that it provides more effective rehabilitation and better value for the taxpayer. We are doing this in a way that is sustainable for the future and are committed to re-investing savings to support supervision for short sentence offenders. We are on track to award and mobilise contracts for offender rehabilitation services across England and Wales by 2015.


Comments have recently been made by Prison's Minister to indicate that the 'top up supervision' for prisoners sentenced to under 24 months is unlikely to go ahead any time soon. Please could you clarify whether this will go ahead as planned when the Offender Rehabilitation Bill becomes an Act and if not, please could you explain the rationale for this u-turn?

We plan to bring into force the provisions in the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 that extends post-release supervision to short-sentenced prisoners when the contracts take effect. At the same time we also plan to bring into force the new rehabilitation activity requirement and other changes the Act makes to community orders and suspended sentence orders.

12. Reasoning/costs

It seems the main argument for the privatisation of over half of the existing probation services is to supervise offenders who are sentenced to under 12 months custody, this is a separate bill. The probation service as was could have incorporated this practice if the government had allowed, therefore there should be no attachment of this particular issue to the privatisation of our staff.

Is it true that the Minister is planning to require public prisons to reduce their costs to the level of the private providers? If so, how does he expect all this 'pre-release rehabilitation' work to be achieved? When costs are sheared to the minimum, prisons will only have the resources to carry out their basic security tasks. If the 'big idea' was to assist prisoners who are currently leaving prison 'with £46 in their pockets', how does this conceivably sit with the plan to cut public prison expenditure by a third?

Why couldn't the probation service have been given the resources to supervise the under 12 months first before rolling out TR? The old saying if it isn't broke don’t fix it springs to mind? If Probation was given the amount of money spent on TR then we could have provided the government with the service it thinks it will get from private companies only with public protection as the key focus, not profit making.

Regarding the under 12 months group how do you see this group being supervised? Will any extra resources be given to engage this difficult group?

Was consideration given to introducing private service providers to the under 12 months service users, rather than trying to integrate it into the new CRC? Especially where no new financial resources are being made available to support this group of service users.

There was quality and excellence already!! Top performing Trusts ripped apart. It wasn't broken so why try and fix it! Probation Trusts were willing to work with the under 12 month offenders, but this was refused. This was the whole basis of TR in the first instance and now this isn't even being rolled out until the end of the year (if that is to be believed!)

There is much good work in the probation service. But re-offending rates remain too high, and our reforms are about bringing the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors to bear to address that problem, and to extend supervision to short sentence prisoners after release – of whom 57.8% reoffend within 12 months. The last government looked at whether we could provide supervision for the under 12 month group using the current system, but decided it could not be done within existing budgets. Every part of the Criminal Justice System is under pressure to deliver better services, at less cost. We could either have imposed further cuts on the structures we had inherited, risking increases in reoffending and leaving short sentence offenders without support after release or, as we are doing, reform the system so that it provides more effective rehabilitation and better value for the taxpayer. We can only do that if we bring in the best of the public, voluntary and private sectors to work with offenders in order to reduce their reoffending rates.

13. Reasoning 

Your plans and decisions are based upon flawed, and quite frankly irrelevant, statistics about 'reoffending'. Firstly, the Probation Service is proven and effective in the work that we do, so why obliterate it purely to make money, and secondly, do you actually understand the roles, responsibilities and work of a Probation Officer?

The purpose of the TR reforms is to extend rehabilitative support to more offenders and drive down reoffending. For adult offenders sentenced to prison for periods of less than 12 months (most of whom are not currently subject to statutory supervision from probation on release), 57.8% reoffend within 12 months. These reforms are certainly not an exercise in making money, rather they are about enabling us to deliver more support to more offenders within the budget we have, at a time of considerable pressure on public finances. I recognise the excellent work that probation staff do, and want to build on that and create even better opportunities for it in the new system. I have spoken to many probation staff over the past couple of years and heard a wide range of views on the reforms. I recognise how important it is that the new system is designed by those who understand the work of practitioners, which is why we have experienced probation staff seconded to work on the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, and we have ensured that the new operating processes were tested extensively with Probation Trusts.

14. Reasoning

If Probation are rated as excellent or as in the case of Northumbria "Outstanding" then why are we not being allowed to undertake the supervision of those with sentences of less than 12 months. Why give it to a French catering company who have no track record of working within criminal justice and their record to date, having seen the issues at HMP Northumberland, are poor to say the least.

How does the cost of TR compare to the cost of leaving rehabilitation in the hands of Probation and making small changes to improve results? The cost of setting this up with separate stationery, computers, payroll etc must be extreme.

We, like every other part of the system, are faced with the challenge of trying to do better for less. We could either have imposed further cuts on the structures we had inherited, risking increases in reoffending and leaving short sentence offenders without support after release or, as we are doing, reform the system so that it provides more effective rehabilitation at a better value to the taxpayer. We can only do that if we bring in the best of the public, voluntary and private sectors to work with offenders in order to reduce their reoffending rates. We currently have a healthy competition in all contract areas and all the bidders have experience in working with offenders or across the Criminal Justice System.

15. Piloting

Why hasn't there been a successful pilot of the privatisation of Probation before it is rolled out nationally?

We are currently piloting a number of different approaches to Payment by Results across Government and have gained valuable learning from these pilots. This gives us confidence that we can design and commission robust contracts that drive the right behaviours and generate value for money.

However, there are key elements of these reforms, such as extending the licence and supervision to offenders released from short custodial sentences and the introduction of resettlement prisons, for which it is not possible to gain evidence from pilots on a local basis. It would not be desirable to introduce a change to the sentencing framework of such a magnitude in one part of the country but not another. Similarly, changes to the prison structure to re-designate some as resettlement prisons need to be carried out at a national level or they could not be carried out at all.

I want us to take this opportunity to implement these important reforms across the system, so that we can extend supervision to short sentence prisoners and start to reduce reoffending rates without delay

MoJ Answers 1

Earlier this year there was a chance for probation staff to put difficult questions direct to ministers via a 'web chat'. Many questions went unanswered and as a result, over the summer, a small army of MoJ mandarins have been toiling over some suitably banal and obtuse answers. This typical MoJ bullshit is available on EPIC, the private probation intranet, but I thought it would be of interest to a wider audience and I intend publishing it in full via a number of blog posts.   
Ministerial Web Chat with Probation Staff on Monday 23 June: Responses to Questions not Answered on the day
1. Case Transfer 

Is the Secretary of State aware of any fundamental risks of continuity in the transfer process concerning offenders who have had a change of officer from CRC to NPS or vice versa? Does he believe that what he has created in spite of his vision of transforming rehabilitation is in actual fact an additional layer of bureaucracy? Should he not be concerned that this artificial barrier between two organisations prevent the fluid management of the risk of serious harm presented by such offenders?

What was the logic of splitting Offender Management? This appears to have created increased levels of bureaucracy and cost.

Why if you are reducing bureaucracy have you added three processes to the PSR writing and several new referral forms between CRC and NPS? It seems to me that bureaucracy is on the increase.

The CRC contracts, and the new operational processes, have been designed to ensure staff in the new organisations do indeed work very closely together to manage offenders safely in the community. I assume that in the first question you are referring to the risk escalation process. We sought to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy in the design of the escalation process, which underwent testing with Probation Trusts. There are many excellent examples of staff working closely across organisational boundaries to manage the risk posed by offenders, including through MAPPA. 

2. Evidence

Your methods are untested, unsupported and unsafe. What are you intent on rushing the changes through? 

What and where is the evidence to suggest that this 'system' will work?

Can I go back to PBR - What evidence is there to suggest PBR works and where can I find this?

Come on! Mr Grayling - this is a mess and its hurting dedicated staff and impeding their ability to work with a highly difficult group of society which needs continuity of provision and support - TR is not going to achieve this! Imposing additional supervision on S/T custodial instead of just giving a CO to begin with merely increases punitive sentencing, custody population and undermines community links! Save cost by less S/T prison and invest in more better resourced community sentences - still 10th of the cost of prison!

Reoffending rates are too high, particularly amongst short sentenced offenders who are not formally managed by probation. In the current financial climate, there is no way we could have extended supervision on licence to those offenders without substantial changes to the way in which probation services are delivered. Given the high cost to victims, and to the wider economy, of this reoffending, it is important that we act quickly. However, I will not take risks with public safety. We are taking a staged approach to implementation which will enable us to ensure the system works. This is why we have first restructured the probation service, allowing the new operating processes to bed down in the public sector. At the end of the competition, new providers will take on CRCs which are already fully functioning, and in which staff will be carrying out the same functions on the day before contract signature and the day after. We have and will continue to learn valuable lessons from piloting and local testing. In particular, the pilot programme at HMP Peterborough continues to provide useful learning. Our pilot at HMP Doncaster has also explored how Payment by Results incentives can drive better reoffending outcomes for offenders leaving custody. 

3. PbR

Is payment by results still one of the driving factors in the new CRC? If yes what would the payment model be?

How will private companies make money out of CRCs for their shareholders?

[In relation to PbR] How can the CRC/NPS be held responsible for an offence 24 months after someone's Licence/Community order ended?

Do you recognise that there has been a history of payment by results leading to companies working to hit the results in a superficial manner, including fraud? For instance, if required for those unemployed to find a job that lasts for nine weeks, thousands were found a job for nine weeks and a day only - thus triggering payment. 

Can it be said that Payment by Results in Probation will prioritise long-term successes with service users for their benefit and not financial benefit to the controlling owner? Instead of working in a similar way to Payment by Results in prison-based education which can incentivise multiple short-term qualifications for financial gain, and not longer term successes which are more beneficial to the service user?

Payment by Results is very much part of our plans. The payment mechanism that we are introducing will reward providers who are ultimately successful in helping offenders turn away from crime. However, we also recognise that many offenders require significant and sustained rehabilitation support. Our payment mechanism therefore also incentivises providers to work with repeat offenders to try to reduce the frequency of their offending, recognising that this is a step on the path towards complete desistance. 
Why is it considered good business to remunerate one sector (CRC) yet not the other (NPS), dependent on results. Surely the aim of both is to reduce reoffending.

Both the NPS and CRCs will be remunerated for the work that they do with offenders, but a proportion of the payment made to CRCs will be at risk and dependent on their performance in reducing reoffending. We want to get the best out of the public, voluntary and private sectors, at the local as well as national level. But our approach recognises that public, private and voluntary sector organisations are not only funded differently but have different drivers for performance. The NPS would not itself be able to take on financial risk, because it is an integral part of NOMS and the MoJ and it is not possible to transfer financial risk within the public sector.

5. Risks

What's your biggest fear about the probation changes?

Will you be taking responsibility for the damage you have done to probation and the prisons once you have moved on from the department?

Do you really think this is going to work? Why did you not ask staff that do this job everyday and know what they are doing? I have been in my job for over 6 years and thoroughly enjoyed it now I don’t know where I stand.

Why change something that was working fine and didn’t need to be changed? Now it’s all falling apart.

My biggest concern is the need to deal with more than half a million crimes that are committed each year by those who have broken the law before. The very highest reoffending rates are among adult prisoners sentenced to custodial sentences of under 12 months. A staggering 57.8% of this group went on to reoffend once released. Many of these prolific offenders, with a host of complex problems, are released on to the streets with £46 in their pockets and little else. Living with the status quo just means accepting more crime and more victims, which we simply are not prepared to do.

We recognise that this has been a time of great change, however former Trusts, as the employers of probation staff until 1 June, worked hard to ensure their workforce was effectively engaged and provided with as much information as necessary. We continue to maintain a robust communication and support strategy for staff across the service. I am pleased that the service is continuing to operate effectively during the transition, and am grateful for the hard work of staff.

6. Deskilling CRCs

How do you feel about the fact that many qualified Probation Officers assigned to CRCs are actively seeking to leave/retrain in other careers due to the blatant de skilling involved in TR Agenda changes? What impact do you think this may have on public safety?

To what extent would you agree that PO grades allocated to CRC have essentially been demoted as no longer hold high risk work, write PSR, parole reports, etc & now do role of a PSO?

I recognise that this has been a challenging time for staff and that it is vitally important that we retain the expertise of probation professionals. I want to see their skills and expertise in play across the public, private and voluntary sectors. There will be a contractual requirement for CRCs to have and maintain a workforce with appropriate levels of training and competence, and those managing offenders will have to meet the Core Skills in Probation Practice, including the ability to understand and respond to the risk of harm posed by offenders. Those bidding to run CRCs will need to demonstrate in their bids how they will deliver this, both in the short and long term.

Why are the Government advertising for trainee PO's where lots of fully trained & experienced POs are now in CRC unable to use their skills.

What is your opinion on the loss of skills, knowledge and expertise from the support functions? NOMS/CRC's could be about to lose the future leaders and innovators who could have made Probation Trusts more efficient if the "old guard" had been removed earlier.

I have had three lifers taken off me and my PSR/Parole report writing responsibilities removed by being transferred to CRC - you have effectively halved the staff doing these roles and de-professionalised me as a Probation Officer (DipSW) and 15 years time served... this is a total debacle!

Is there really a role for a qualified probation officer in the CRC? Since the changes, I am doing the role of a PSO, I can only see this ending one way. i.e. we will be paid less or "let go". Given there was no fair selection process, is this not a breach of employment law?

In my office staff are highly stressed and have been for over a year because of the TR agenda. People are leaving constantly and are not being replaced, as the staff just aren't out there. How can the new structure work without qualified, experienced staff to undertake the work?

Does the freedom and discretion granted to CRC by the TOM extend to not employing probation officer grades?

When does the Minister envisage both organisations being fully staffed on a permanent basis?

CRCs and NPS divisions are currently developing their workforce plans, building on the staff structures inherited from Probation Trusts. Once these are completed, they will be reviewed centrally and will inform the current round of recruitment for trainee probation officers. In the meantime, CRCs and NPS Deputy Directors are continuing to monitor and manage staffing in their areas and all vacancies are being managed as part of business as usual processes.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Grayling Responds!

Today's Guardian gives Chris Grayling the opportunity of responding to issues raised in this morning's blog:- 
Leftist critiques of the prison system bear no relation to reality
Prison is not meant to be comfortable. It’s not meant to be somewhere anyone would ever want to go back to. But the language being used by some pressure groups and commentators to talk about prisons bears little relation to reality.
I visit prisons regularly and get feedback from staff and inmates. I see a system which is adapting to deal with a much lower budget – like almost every other part of the public sector. The approach it is taking to deal with that pressure has been designed by governors and staff themselves – it seeks to find out where things are being done more cost-effectively across the prison estate and then to replicate that.
Despite this, our system is less overcrowded than it has been in a decade. Assault rates are lower than five years ago. We are bringing new employers into prison to provide work, in fields ranging from recycling to electrical-assembly to fashion. The number of hours of work in our prisons is rising steadily. So too are the numbers of prisoners studying for a qualification – and in youth-detention facilities we are doubling the amount of education done each week.
That is happening despite staff shortages in the south-east, where the buoyant labour market has created real recruitment pressure for us in the past six months – this at a time when there’s been a rise in the prison population – triggered in part by the rise in historic sex-abuse cases. We’re now recruiting 1,600 new officers to deal with that pressure.
It is happening despite the fact that we are housing far more violent offenders than we did a decade ago – and that institutions like HMP Isis, criticised for being violent, are dealing with the overspill of gang warfare from city streets.
The biggest failing of the current system, and one that I hear about regularly from prisoners, is the inadequate preparation for release, and the fact that short-sentence prisoners get no support when they leave. This is something we are now reforming, and when our probation changes come into force in a few weeks’ time, this situation will end, with the introduction of proper through-the-gate support for every prisoner.
The recent rise in self-inflicted deaths has been very unwelcome and unhappy. There has been no pattern to it – it has occurred in private prisons and public ones and in prisons where there have been staff reductions and others where there have been none. No one has been able to clearly identify a cause and the circumstances are all very different. Prison staff have put a huge amount of effort into tackling the problem – reducing these deaths is a top priority for us all.
Although there has been no pattern to the suicides we have seen, they underline the need for the next stage in our planned reforms. For the past two decades, since care in the community rightly ended the era of big Victorian asylums, too many of those who would once have ended up in an institution like that are now ending up in our prisons. There they all too often are pushed into a general prison environment, where there is not the expertise to deal with them. This has to be addressed.
There is excellent work already being done. I thought it was ironic that Wormwood Scrubs was lambasted recently for being dirty as a result of prisoners throwing litter, but received no public praise for its excellent work on mental health.
We have also introduced reforms to identify mental-health problems in police stations, so that people can be diverted away from the justice system and into treatment.
But we can and should do much more. So when the Ministry of Justice completes work on the introduction of a proper through-the-gate resettlement and support service, I plan to focus our reform agenda on the mental-health issue.
I want to work with the Department of Health to concentrate expertise in a way that means we can deliver the best possible treatment. I want to see prisoners getting support that is every bit as good as that which they would receive from the NHS in the community. We will explore the best way to deliver this, which could include specialist centres for mental health within our criminal-justice system.
Improved resettlement and mentoring of offenders, more education and work in prisons, and a new focus on mental health in prisons – at a time when we are having to make cutbacks to meet our overall budget targets. The irony is that none of these happened under Labour in the years when money seemed not to be a problem. Those on the left attacking us now would do well to remember that.

Prison News

First off, this from the Independent:-
Chris Grayling under fire over claim Ministry of Justice ‘hid abuse and rape in jails’
Chris Grayling's Ministry of Justice blocked an investigation into the hidden problem of rape and sexual abuse in British prisons, it has emerged. The Howard League for Penal Reform today publishes a report claiming that as many as 1,650 prisoners may have been sexually abused while serving sentences - but says the work of its independent commission into the issue has been hampered by a lack of co-operation from Mr Grayling’s department. Researchers were barred from interviewing serving prisoners about the experiences of coercive sex - meaning they had to rely on testimony from convicts who had completed their sentences.
Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League, said: “Prisons are meant to be safe places where the law is enforced, not places where people are under threat of sexual violence and rape. It is therefore particularly disappointing that the Ministry of Justice refused to allow the Commission to interview prisoners directly.”
Mr Grayling is facing growing questions about the deterioration of prison conditions under his watch. Prison governors have repeatedly warned that some jails becoming “death traps” as they struggle to accommodate an increasing population of more than 85,000 while implementing budget cuts of up to 24 per cent over the past three years. Recent figures showed that violence, suicide and self-harm among prisoners are on the rise.
According to today’s report from the Howard League’s Commission on Sex in Prison, data from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) show that at least one per cent of prisoners report being sexually abused in prison. The Howard League calculates that between 850 to 1,650 prisoners could sexual assaulted while serving sentences, with evidence suggesting that some victims will be assaulted more than once.
Then there's this in the Guardian:- 
Prisoner suicides: the dire cost of Tory tough-guy posturing on crime
Ken Clarke made genuine efforts to reduce prison numbers; professionals said at the time that it was the first time in years they’d had a justice secretary who understood the prison estate and what it needed. Clearly that was a PR disaster for the Conservatives, for whom “understanding” is a dirty word; Chris Grayling, his replacement, seems to take a kind of giddy delight in how little he comprehends of a business before “reforming” it.
As a direct result of his policies and tough-guy posturing, the number of prisoners increases every week. It even went up in August, which is unheard of because courts are on holiday. Suicides have gone up by 64%. Everybody knows what causes suicides in prison. Too many inmates have mental health problems and shouldn’t even be in prison in the first place. Had the sentencing magistrate been better trained, or simply more sensitive, they would have been handed a community sentence and stood a chance of getting the healthcare they needed (though, considering the underfunding of mental health services, not a very strong chance). However, that has long been the case. The recent change to explain this spike is overcrowding and understaffing. Wandsworth prison four years ago was a huge success story of modern jailcraft – it had a flagship education system, award-winning sex offender rehabilitation programmes and responsive, highly trained prison officers. In 2010 it had 427 officers; this June it had 260, to manage 1,634 prisoners. Four men have killed themselves since the beginning of the year. Frances Crook, from the Howard League charity, calculated by the Ministry of Justice’s own data that Grayling had cut staff by a third since he took over. The average local prison now has one officer for every 150 prisoners.
One appalling detail is that all deaths have shot up, even deaths from illness. Heart attacks that needn’t be fatal are, because there aren’t the staffing levels to get people to hospital in time. The NHS has contracts to deliver healthcare to inmates; these are impossible to fulfil, because no staff are available to get the prisoners to the hospital. Another consequence of this is highlighted in the Howard League’s report, out today, Coercive Sex in Prisons. Men who are raped in prison have nowhere to turn. They can’t call specialist services, because their only permitted phone calls are to pre-agreed numbers. Healthcare is probably the only avenue of support, and they are not able to access it. Instead, sexual abuse goes unreported. Victims have to carry on sharing a cell with their rapists. Tolerating the sexual abuse of prisoners is no different to tolerating the abuse of anyone else. It doesn’t do anything to help the rates of self-harm and suicide.
But in the middle of all the TR omnishambles we suddenly hear this as reported in the Guardian. Is it a bit of 'window dressing' in readiness for the party conference season? 
Chris Grayling plans network of mental health centres in prisons
Chris Grayling has ordered justice ministry officials to start work on developing a network of specialist mental health centres within prisons in England and Wales. The justice secretary says he wants to "really get to grips with the challenge of mental health in prisons" soon after next year's general election. "I want every prisoner who needs it to have access to the best possible treatment. I want mental health to be the priority for our system," he said in a speech on Monday to the Centre for Crime and Social Justice in London.
The Prison Reform Trust has said 15% of men and 25% of women in prison report symptoms indicative of psychosis, compared with a rate of 4% among the general public. Nearly two-thirds of prisoners are believed to have a personality disorder, and the suicide rate has been up to 15 times that in the general population.
Grayling said too many people with mental health problems were found in prisons in England and Wales. "Within most prisons you will find people suffering from acute mental health problems, often in isolation units, often needing round the clock supervision." He said there was already some excellent work going on with the NHS to develop better approaches to working with prisoners with personality disorders. "But I think it is time to provide a more specialist focus in dealing with mental health problems in our prison estate. So I have asked my officials to begin work on options to have specialist mental health centres within the prison estate.
"I have also agreed with the secretary of state for health that our two teams will work with NHS England to ensure that any prisoner who needs to can have mental health treatment equivalent to the best they would receive in the community." Grayling said a national system of liaison and diversion services was being built which would mean the mental health condition of an offender could be identified during the court process and a decision taken at that stage on where to detain him.
The justice secretary's pledge to make the mental health of prisoners a priority in the next parliament came as the chief inspectors of prisons and probation published a joint report warning that his rehabilitation reforms could be put at risk by fragmentation of the system. However effective Grayling's prison and probation reforms are, the report says, they will be undermined if offenders cannot access stable accommodation when they leave prison.
Family and friends remain vital to the successful rehabilitation of a prisoner on release, often providing a home, a job or access to education or training. The inspectors found that in a sample of 80 offenders released from prison, more than half returned home or moved in with family and friends, who also mainly arranged employment for the few who had a job to go to. Their sample survey showed that half did not have employment, training or education in place six months after their release and almost half had to move in that time.
The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, said the findings supported the broad thrust of the government's reforms, which would lead to "through the gate" resettlement of prisoners being carried out by community rehabilitation companies. But the inspection report found there was a risk of fragmentation if work with families, providing accommodation and work or training were all provided by different organisations.
Here's a novelty reported in a local paper:-
A new men's resettlement prison may not now open until next year as there are already enough prison places for inmates, according to the Government. Downview prison, next to High Down, in Sutton Lane, Banstead, closed as a women’s prison last October.

In May, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it would re-open as an adult male Category C resettlement prison by October. The MoJ submitted a planning application earlier this year to Reigate and Banstead Council to build a new education centre at Downview so prisoners can "use their time in custody constructively" and "learn new skills and gain qualifications before their release".
But when asked by the Epsom Guardian this week when Downview would be re-opening, a MoJ spokesman said: "We monitor prison population fluctuations and accommodation needs constantly.Currently we do not need to open Downview in October and expect to open it later in the year or early in the new year - contributing to our overall approach to drive down costs. All work at the prison remains on target to be delivered by the end of this year."
When asked to confirm that Downview will not be opening by October because there are not enough prisoners to be housed there, rather than there not being enough prison officers to be redeployed to Downview, the spokesman said: "We do not need to open Downview at this time as we have sufficient places." 
Finally, there's this:- 
I'm seconded out to HMPS, just heard the implementation date for resettlement prisons (and therefore CRC involvement in through the gate processes) has slipped from October 2014 to January 2015. Doubt we'll see any MoJ press releases about this one. We found out via a letter from Population Management Unit to our OCA dept re: prisoner transfers back to their local Contract Package Area.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Sad Fact of Life

All blogs, especially ones that run in unmoderated comment form, continually run the risk that at any time a disgruntled individual will seek to disrupt its operation by posting gratuitously offensive contributions. We've had a good long run without attracting the attention of such a person, but for whatever reason, we've got one now.

I've tried to suggest they put their beef into some form of cogent argument and without resorting to being offensive, but sadly to no avail. I can see absolutely no merit to their complaint and until such time as they decide to spell it out in a reasonable manner, I've decided to institute comment moderation in order to block further offensive contributions from them.  

Some Reflections

It was that sheep-like following that had some attempt to rename probation officers - offender managers - which is a meaningless oxymoron that gives folk a misunderstanding of the nature of the job of probation officer which is to enhance effective self management not imply that supervisees are ever being managed - in the sense that they can reasonably be relied to do what they are instructed.

I think you are right. The language matters. It can reshape the culture and give rise to new expectations as to what can be realised. It's a standard technique often used in politics to reframe reality. Think of the miners and 'the enemy within'. Or think of how the Nazis used language to define enemies. Orwell knew better than many how language distorts. The 'reality' of the offender manager created an us and them divide. Creating a pretence that people are machines that can be operated upon, repaired, made functional.

The probation officer as the technocrat rather than a fellow human being motivated by a basic altruism, whatever its source codes, to help individuals make creative use of their lives and make the best of their circumstances which often started out in disadvantage. By all indices probation clients are disadvantaged. What probation tries to communicate is that crime is not a lasting solution. 

There has to be a better way, but probation has moved away from helping towards classifying and controlling. The whole risk edifice is built on sand. There are no experts when it comes to predicting what an individual will do. Yet something terrible happens and then there is a forensic examination of case notes of the 'offender manager' who must have missed something. The system protects itself though the blame game. 

There are systemic problems: the extent of the institutional abuse of children appals and yet many of those children 'graduated' into crime. But in new reactionary culture of distorted thinking and individual pathology, there is little sympathy for those who were once victims. I used to see probation work as part of the solution, then it became part of the problem with its enforcement mentality. Not so long ago probation was stuffing the prisons with technical breaches of orders and licences. A good probation takes risks rather than being obsessed with the pretentious management of risks.

Excellent piece (in my view, at least). Since the politicisation of probation post CJA'91 we have been subjected to an ever increasing risk averse management, greatly encouraged by Boateng's battle cry of "we are an enforcement agency. It is what we are. It is what we do." (Or something similar). The skill and delicacy of nuanced thinking has been crushed as increasing numbers of 'yes' people have risen quickly & populated management positions; people who are frightened by such thinking because it's beyond them, so the trend is to stamp on what you're frightened of - spiders, beetles, ideas, compassion, creativity, taking risks.

No OASys document has ever prevented an offence. No ISP has, of itself, protected anyone. No risk management plan has ever managed risk. These are only recording tools. When Probation staff stop seeing offenders in order to complete admin tasks, they have cast aside what is acknowledged to be the most important element of intervention; themselves and the relationship they have with the offender. 

It is apparent that, like the Prison Service, NOMS has embraced the idea that it is enough to create the ILLUSION of rehabilitation and the REALITY of effective intervention is not necessary. It is two-dimensional thinking and looks for cause and effect outcomes archived in the current financial year. It is dumb, unsophisticated and corrupt.

Re-offending, interesting area. I did a dissertation as part of MA on key factors in reducing reoffending for clients on probation. I contacted a significant group of ex-offenders two years after they had completed their probation orders and then interviewed about what stopped them offending. Interestingly the top factor and statistically significant was the relationship with their Probation Officer. Of the 90 or so ex-client I interviewed certain probation officers names were repeated as making the difference. 

When I fed this back to the management team of the Probation service I worked for they were not interested, psychology was king and people didn’t matter, the mantra was just follow the manual. I left when I had to assess all PSRs in my teams, press F7 on my computer for acceptable and F9 for unacceptable. 

Most of the great chiefs I have worked for have gone. John Harding former CPO of Hampshire & the Isle of Wight would never have accepted what most of the current tranche of CPO and senior managers accepted. He was a great believer in people and believed in his staff, he would never have had anything to do with this disaster in the making. People help people change not systems not IT not manuals, they can help but they can`t change anyone. Only a person can do that and that’s what the best Probation staff do and have done. 

A few years ago I met a young man who came to his appointments with his face covered with a hood. He seemed surly and uncommunicative. I simply listened to him, now and then queried the very negative views he held of himself, the world around him and the point of his life. Then came a day when he said "Ì like chatting to you." Towards the end he was making plans, and making me laugh with his intelligent humour. We found a rehab in another part of the country and that's the last I saw of him. I do not know whether he made it through that time - his order was transferred and I have heard nothing of him since. I too remember his face and his name, and everything I learned from him.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Messages From the Top

Hello everyone,

Unfortunately my blog will commence with three areas of concern to our CRC this week but it is important that you are all aware of the issues and their implications.

Firstly, we have seen a significant increase in information security incidents recently and these do represent a serious reputational risk to the Company as well as creating understandable anxiety for the individuals whose personal details have gone astray. Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx, our Information Security Officer, is developing new policies, procedures and e-learning courses, but we have a few simple actions that we can all take to minimise the risk of information loss. These include

Using an email attachment sent to a secure email address to transfer personnel information in preference to paper documents and encrypt as appropriate.
Ensure that paper documents are securely packaged.
Send documents to a specific individual / team and double check that the address is clear and correct.
Use Royal Mail / courier delivery service that is appropriate to the sensitivity of the information.
Record how and when the letter /package was sent and keep an audit trail by email return receipts, mail logs and Delius contacts.
If a letter or package does fail to arrive, even after the measures above have been taken, please contact Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx immediately.

Secondly, our sickness rates are high, with August running at an average of 13.5 days per person — the same figure as July. The HR Department are currently analysing the August data and I am grateful to Xxxxx Xxxxxxx and Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx for their work on this. The impact of high sickness rates on our teams is clearly significant with staff who are in work carrying higher workloads. All managers have been asked to focus on our sickness absence by supporting colleagues to return to work where possible and by ensuring that you are all aware of our health and wellbeing initiatives which you will find here. The CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development) data for 2013 indicates an average of 7.6 days lost per full time employee across all employment sectors with 7.2 days in the private sector. Our sickness rate is clearly running very much higher than this and I believe that at share sale our Company needs to be viewed as a strong, well performing, 'Going Concern' with all staff working to the best of their capability and capacity. This will place all staff in the best position for the future and will provide evidence to the preferred provider of the effectiveness and commitment of the Cheshire & Greater Manchester CRC staff.

Thirdly, this year it has been a personal priority of mine to continue to invest significantly in the training of our staff to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge required to successfully undertake the work. Whilst I am very aware of the operational pressures that currently exist it is vital that once people are booked on to training events their attendance is prioritised in all but exceptional circumstances. Unfortunately we are seeing an upward trend in non attendance without notice which I find worrying. Not only is this a waste of money but, more importantly, those members of staff are not receiving the training that they need to better equip them to undertake the often challenging work of our organisation and to enhance their skills for the future. Therefore I would like all staff and managers to continue to prioritise attendance at training events.

On a positive note, programme staff across the CRC have focussed on aligning the suite of Accredited Programmes to ensure consistency of provision for all service users. This has now been successfully achieved and high numbers of programme staff are now trained and delivering Building Better Relationships (BBR) - the replacement domestic abuse programme. Additionally, from October Control of Violence for Angry Impulsive Drinkers (COV AID) will be available in Cheshire. The New Direction Activity Requirement (NDAR) and the Entitlement Specified Activity Requirements will also be rolled out across Cheshire, ensuring greater alignment across the CRC. These developments should not be under estimated and all staff in the CRC programmes team should feel proud of the significant progress achieved. The enhanced range of programmes and SARs better meet the need of our service users and our focus will now be on improving completion rates, enabling the programme targets to be achieved.

You may recall that some time ago I mentioned the development of a CRC practice forum to keep up to date with new research and innovations, share good practice and keep focussed on developing effective service delivery across the Company. I am grateful to Xxxxx Xxxxxx, for agreeing to take this forward — she will work with local change managers and any interested colleagues to get this initiative up and running. If you would like to be involved please do contact Xxxxxx, who will be delighted to hear from you.

Xxxxx Xxxxxx attended the Cheshire LCJB on Thursday, where he participated in discussions regarding domestic abuse, integrated offender management and violence against women and girls with our criminal justice partners. The CRC has been invited to work in all of these areas and both Xxxxx Xxxxx and Xxxxx Xxxxx will now be involved in these working groups on behalf of the CRC.

You may also remember that, when discussing the newly formed Probation Institute, I indicated that the CRC would fund a years subscription for anyone who wished to join. A number of you have done so and the offer remains open, please click here please use the special discount code of CGMCRC06201XXXX. I am aware of some cynicism regarding the Probation Institute, however, and in order for us to be involved in discussions about its future and influence the direction of the Institute, Xxxxx Xxxxx will be attending a round table event next week on our behalf. I will include an update of her attendance in a future blog. In the meantime the Probation Institute are arranging a conference on Personality Disorder and Offending Behaviour in Liverpool on 24 October 2014 click here to which we will send a number of delegates.

Last week I attended the Community Payback team away day in Cheshire and heard about some of the issues facing the team. As we know our CP colleagues spend many hours in direct contact with service users and are a source of considerable knowledge of the people we supervise. We discussed the importance of bringing the two CP teams in Cheshire & Greater Manchester together into a single, aligned unit to assist with staffing cover as well as reflecting the single company that is our CRC. It was good to meet CP colleagues, so my thanks for inviting me to participate in the day. I was asked specifically about two practical issues — how to record employment sustained on Delius here and how to log on to Compass Extra from home here.

Some of you may have seen the article in the Guardian this morning in which it states that the preferred bidders will be announced in December. We have not had any formal notification of this and I will be seeking urgent clarification. I will of course let you know once I have definitive confirmation of this.

Best wishes


Monday, 15 September 2014

Core Values and Ethical Principles

The Probation Institute published this today:- 

1. We believe in the ability of people who have offended to change for the better and become responsible members of society.

1.1 Desistance from offending is a process that may take time, requiring a level of patience, tenacity, care and proactive engagement on the part of probation workers

2. We believe in the inherent worth and dignity of the individual.

2.1 Interventions must show due regard to the dignity, health, safety and well-being of service users

3. We are committed to promoting social justice, social inclusion, equality and diversity.

3.1 People who have offended should receive fair, impartial and just treatment throughout all phases of the system and discrimination should be challenged

3.2 Diversity and difference is viewed with positive regard

3.3 Human rights and equality will be upheld and promoted

3.4 Service users should have a voice in the planning of services

4. We believe in the worth of probation supervision in the community, based on establishing positive relationships with service users, to promote their rehabilitation.

4.1 Effective supervision relies on setting an environment in which sensitive issues can be explored whilst maintaining appropriate role boundaries

4.2 Meeting the needs of service users will frequently involve working in partnership with other agencies and organisations in the community

4.3 The most appropriate use of custodial sentences is for serious or persistent offending. Community sentences are more effective in supporting rehabilitation than short custodial sentences

5. We recognise that full consideration should be given to the rights and needs of victims when planning how a service user’s sentence will be managed.

5.1 Responses to the needs of service users must take account of their assessed level of risk of causing harm to victims and future potential victims

5.2 Restorative justice in its various forms can be a useful intervention with both crime victims who want to understand the harm done to them, and perpetrators who feel the need to apologise and, if possible, to make amends

5.3 Restorative justice interventions must safeguard against the secondary or repeat victimisation of victims

6. We recognise the importance of training for identified levels of competence and of continuing professional development. 

6.1 Initial qualifying and continuing training must be of a length and quality appropriate to the level and complexity of the work to be undertaken

6.2 Individual workers are accountable for the quality of their work and for maintaining and improving their professional practice, whilst recognising that the employer also has a responsibility to enable this

7. We are committed to the development of knowledge, through research, to inform probation policy and practice.

7.1 Methods of working with service users vary according to their different risks and needs and their social contexts

7.2 The effectiveness of different interventions should be judged on the basis of evaluation and research that can be widely disseminated and scrutinised

7.3 Supporting and contributing to research is essential for the development of good practice

8. We are committed to acting with professional integrity.

8.1 The values and principles of the profession are upheld and all work will be conducted in a reliable, honest and trustworthy manner

8.2 Appropriate boundaries must be established in relationships with service users and colleagues

8.3 Judgements should be based on balanced and considered reasoning. Members should maintain awareness of the impact of their own values, prejudices and conflicts of interest on their practice and on other people

8.4 Equality and diversity will be actively promoted

8.5 Staff should account for and justify their judgements and actions to service users, to employers and to the general public

8.6 Record keeping must be accurate and professional

You Are a Deviant. Be proud

We have had a very direct e-mail from on high to say current sickness rates are not to be tolerated because we need to be a fit and lean service if people are going to want to buy us...... is this how we stop people wanting to buy us? Okay, then book me in for two weeks of sick leave please!

Once upon a time in Trusts it was a similar mantra but inverted: then it was, 'we must be lean, we must perform, we must hit targets - as this is the only way of making sure we are not sold off and to protect your jobs'. Now it's similar urgings, but with a view to being marketable. 

Probation managers don't really care whether you are marching left-right or right-left. They just require you to be in step with their thinking - not really their thinking, more whatever the MoJ instructs them to think. They are mercenaries who will do anything, but they do enjoy kissing up and kicking down. Anything that screws up targets, that sabotages and impedes, are the kind of workarounds that probation needs. It does not need good performance. After all, look where that got us!

Here's George Monbiot writing in the Guardian a few weeks ago, but was recently highlighted on twitter by Sally Lewis. Read the whole piece here:-
Sick of this market-driven world? You should be
To be at peace with a troubled world: this is not a reasonable aim. It can be achieved only through a disavowal of what surrounds you. To be at peace with yourself within a troubled world: that, by contrast, is an honourable aspiration. This column is for those who feel at odds with life. It calls on you not to be ashamed. 
I was prompted to write it by a remarkable book, just published in English, by a Belgian professor of psychoanalysis, Paul Verhaeghe. What About Me? The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society is one of those books that, by making connections between apparently distinct phenomena, permits sudden new insights into what is happening to us and why. 
We are social animals, Verhaeghe argues, and our identities are shaped by the norms and values we absorb from other people. Every society defines and shapes its own normality – and its own abnormality – according to dominant narratives, and seeks either to make people comply or to exclude them if they don’t. 
Today the dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism, widely known in Europe as neoliberalism. The story it tells is that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes us, the better off we will be. Public services should be privatised, public spending should be cut, and business should be freed from social control. In countries such as the UK and the US, this story has shaped our norms and values for around 35 years: since Thatcher and Reagan came to power. It is rapidly colonising the rest of the world.
The workplace has been overwhelmed by a mad, Kafkaesque infrastructure of assessments, monitoring, measuring, surveillance and audits, centrally directed and rigidly planned, whose purpose is to reward the winners and punish the losers. It destroys autonomy, enterprise, innovation and loyalty, and breeds frustration, envy and fear. Through a magnificent paradox, it has led to the revival of a grand old Soviet tradition known in Russian as tufta. It means falsification of statistics to meet the diktats of unaccountable power. 
The same forces afflict those who can’t find work. They must now contend, alongside the other humiliations of unemployment, with a whole new level of snooping and monitoring. All this, Verhaeghe points out, is fundamental to the neoliberal model, which everywhere insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification. We find ourselves technically free but powerless. Whether in work or out of work, we must live by the same rules or perish. All the major political parties promote them, so we have no political power either. In the name of autonomy and freedom we have ended up controlled by a grinding, faceless bureaucracy. 
These shifts have been accompanied, Verhaeghe writes, by a spectacular rise in certain psychiatric conditions: self-harm, eating disorders, depression and personality disorders. 
Of the personality disorders, the most common are performance anxiety and social phobia: both of which reflect a fear of other people, who are perceived as both evaluators and competitors – the only roles for society that market fundamentalism admits. Depression and loneliness plague us. 
The infantilising diktats of the workplace destroy our self-respect. Those who end up at the bottom of the pile are assailed by guilt and shame. The self-attribution fallacy cuts both ways: just as we congratulate ourselves for our success, we blame ourselves for our failure, even if we have little to do with it. 
So, if you don’t fit in, if you feel at odds with the world, if your identity is troubled and frayed, if you feel lost and ashamed – it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud.