Saturday, 23 May 2015

Food for Thought

Two items I've noticed that are worthy of note, first this from the Lawyer:-

Criminal barristers are threatening to go on strike again, in protest against the goverment’s cuts to legal aid.

Members of the Criminal Bar Association voted overwhelmingly in favour of direct action with 1,328 out of 1,385 - or 96 per cent - in favour of action and only 57 voting against in a CBA survey. The CBA, which has a membership of about 4,000, says this is “a very high turnout” for such a survey.

One of the key issues that barristers are concerned about is the proposed implementation of the Duty Provider Scheme (DPS), also known as the ‘two-tier contract’ scheme. They believe that proposed cuts and changes could result in work that has traditionally been done by barristers being done by solicitors instead.

The CBA’s leadership believe the changes “will destroy the quality of legal representation within the Criminal Justice System. The most able and committed young lawyers will have no future, and the independent bar will collapse.”

CBA chairman Tony Cross QC, said: “The response for such a survey was unprecedented and 96 per cent of those who responded have urged the CBA to take action to press the Government to think again.

“The proposed changes have no sensible economic foundation and will lead to irreversible damage to the Criminal Justice System. The proposed scheme will reduce competition, stifle innovation and paralyse the market as it becomes closed to new entrants.Spending on legal aid has already dropped by one third since 2009/10, meeting government targets several years ahead of schedule. No other sector of Government spending has borne such brutal cuts. There is simply no room or need for more.”

“We remain committed to constructive dialogue with the Government to ensure that our country has a Criminal Justice System that is fit for the 21st Century. 
No barrister wishes to withhold his or her labour. It is a measure of the extreme nature of our concern that so many of our members are contemplating such action.”

And Rob Allen sounds a word of caution in his latest blog about the Magistrates Association cosying up to private companies in the form of CRC's:-

Private Troubles and Public Issues

It is concern about how things might appear rather than risks of corruption that have alarmed a number of current and former JP’s about the burgeoning financial relationship between the Magistrates Association (MA) and a number of private sector Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC's).

The MA is a charity operating under Royal Charter which represents the vast majority of the 22,000 JP’s in England and Wales. As part of its income generation strategy, the MA has set up an Education and Research Network to be made up of organisations “working within and around the justice system”. According to the latest issue of The Magistrate Magazine, “we already have five founding affiliate organisations on board”. According to one of the members of the Board who oversees the network, these are all CRC’s who have contributed £10,000 to join. In return they will enjoy the fruits of the research which is commissioned, with any money left over helping to fill a £50,000 gap in the MA’s budget.

What’s the problem some might ask? Surely this is simply an entrepreneurial effort to add to the body of knowledge about the workings of the criminal justice system while strengthening one of its key stakeholders. What happens in court and the decision-making of magistrates are relatively under researched areas where new information could be of considerable public benefit.

The problem is not about the work that the Network might produce, although there must be doubt about whether it can both research high quality studies and return much of a profit to the MA. It is rather that the investment by private companies gives an appearance that improper influence might be being sought. CRC's are controversial bodies, the outcome of a highly contested process of privatisation. Labour's election manifesto referred to the reckless privatisation of probation, meaning dangerous offenders are more likely to be monitored by companies with no track record of success, putting public safety at risk.

The most recent inspection report about the Transforming Rehabilitation changes that created the CRC's found signs of developing tensions with the National Probation Service "as managers considered what they were actually contracted to do and entitled to receive, rather than what they had traditionally done". In this unsettled context, the CRC's will be looking for all the friends they can find.

The Guide to Judicial Conduct advises judges to take care in considering whether, and if so to what extent, their name and title should be associated with an appeal for funds, even for a charitable organisation. “It could amount to an inappropriate use of judicial prestige in support of the organisation and may also be seen as creating a sense of obligation to donors”. This is something that Lady Justice Hallett who sits on the Network Board will no doubt have considered. The Guidance does make clear that “there will be occasions, for example in the case of charities supporting the work of the Courts, where the objection would not apply”. But the vexed nature of the CRC’s, and the concern which their owners will understandably have to enhance their reputation should argue for caution on the part of the judiciary.

From the Magistrates side, the MA’s activities include the provision of information and advice to magistrates, developing guidance to improve the delivery of justice in the courts and responding to proposals which affect the delivery of justice. They cannot be put in a position where the content of that guidance, information and advice could be seen to be influenced by commercial considerations.

It is interesting that the Senior Presiding Judge has issued guidance about liaison between providers of probation services and sentencers, emphasising that it is the National Probation Service (NPS) who have that responsibility and not the CRC’s. It is not clear whether channelling communication through the remaining public sector part of the probation service is a matter of administrative convenience or of ethical propriety. It is perhaps worth the Magistrates Association considering both dimensions as they move forward with their new initiative.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Question Time

Missive received from Working Links chief about how pleased he is with the general election result. Meanwhile CRC leaders seem embarrassed their foot soldiers aren't dropping everything to complete a ridiculous staff survey.

Increasingly desperate emails being received from senior managers about completing the WL survey, saying it "only" takes 30 minutes, and apparently we can minimise the length of time it takes by only answering questions about our "core tasks"... so do you want it filled out properly or not? Sounds like someone's bonus is at risk...

I've heard that Deloitte is doing a business review of WL and the survey is part of that. They are looking to merge some job roles.

That survey is a massive waste of time and there's something very sinister about it.

The Staff survey it to assess all job roles, see where there are overlaps and act accordingly.

Union advice is not to complete survey.

The advice from Napo might be not to co-operate with this survey, and the cynical might be tempted to say they're hoping for a low response to the following:-   

BR 46/2015 TB/KF

To: Branch Chairs, Vice Chairs, Secretaries & Convenors, Family Court SEC Officers and Officials

18th May 2015

Dear Colleague


Napo has recently secured a venue for our 2016 AGM in Cardiff at the St David’s Hall. In line with our on going objective to reduce costs, and to run as a efficiently as possible, the AGM planning group has been discussing the future format of our AGM, which is currently the single most expensive event we run. As a democratic union that is member led it is vital that members have a say in how our AGM is organised and how members’ subscriptions are spent.

We currently run a two day conference over three days which adds significant costs to the venue booking fees. As such the AGM planning group has drawn up three options (see below) for members to discuss with a view to finding a more efficient, cheaper but still member led AGM for 2016.

Please circulate these to your Branch/Section members and ask them for feedback. It is a short turn around time for responses as we need to secure the exact dates for 2016 AGM and confirm the booking with them as soon as possible.

Please see the options below:

1. Stay the same – AGM starts currently on Thursday afternoon and runs until Saturday lunch time.

2. Two day conference – Starting on Thursday morning and ending on Friday afternoon.

3. Two day conference – starting Friday morning and ending Saturday afternoon (which reduces the time members need to take off work).

Please send responses to the consultation by MONDAY 1 JUNE.

Regular readers will be aware that I've not mentioned Napo of late, but many may feel the above has worrying hallmarks of some attempt to 'bounce' a decision without adequate discussion or consideration. To me it yet again demonstrates just how dysfunctional things are at the top. There appears to be no visible leadership and the vacuum created has allowed this sort of initiative to appear, seemingly out of nowhere, based on virtually no analysis or adequate explanation and with a completely unreasonable time frame attached. 

The 'top table' at Napo just don't seem to 'get it' and I predict some serious unrest within the ranks unless communication improves significantly and there is some sign that the General Secretary is being held to account. There is a rumour that the staff salaries budget has been raided in order to fund a recent bonus for staff, despite a wage increase being turned down last year. I assume the NEC has been fully involved in all key decisions, or is it time for them to be a tad more assertive?        

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Bleak Futures Week 20

Maybe not a psychopath but possibly a Thatcherite moron carefully chosen because he's callus enough to finish the job. This is the same Michael Gove that wanted to dismantle the NHS and issue personal health accounts instead. He then moved on to bullying and intimidating the teaching profession. The end result was receiving a public vote of no confidence by the entire teaching profession. It's worth noting that while this was happening our probation leaders were cosying up to Chris Grayling just like they'll cosy up to Gove. The only plus is that he's not bff's with the PM.

Prepare for the swarm of introductory and congratulatory emails about this Tory appointment when you open Lotus Notes on Monday morning. I'd like to optimistic or believe that nothing can be worse than Grayling, but alas I'm struggling with that. With a Justice Minister and Lord Chancellor at the helm with no education or experience of the CJS I doubt the next 5 years will be positive for any of us. Anybody taking bets on long will it be until probation officers issue a vote of no confidence in Gove?

Give Goves a chance before giving him a hammering before he has even started his role. For people who are supposed to be non judgemental a lot of judgements are being made on here. If you're unhappy then find a new job. Whether you're CRC or NPS, it is what it is and nothing can change things, so whatever your grade or role, get on with the job you are paid to do!!

Do you mean JFDI?

Sorry but have to applaud the JFDI response because that is the message we get daily - it does not matter that on a daily basis it's falling apart, teams are being depleted in one way or another JFDI. Going to quote that at SFO hearing.

All we want to do is "get on with the job we are paid to do" but therein lies the problem. The processes seem to change by the week, the tools we are using are woefully not fit for purposes (specifically IT and constant workarounds that change then change again).So perhaps what we really need is for leadership to be shown by those paid to do so. This is NOT a practitioner problem - we are working amazingly well to deliver the work we do. It is a serious senior management failing.

Most who comment on here have a sense of social conscience. Whether it's Gove, Grayling or any other 'officer' of our neolibreral right wing government is almost irrelevant. The issue is ideology plain and simple. It's not the person charged with the 'enforcement' of that ideology that rankles people most, it's the ideolgy itself that most people find abhorrent.

These next five years of ideological doctrine will no doubt spell out the Tory parties 'final solution' for public services. Gove, Grayling who cares, they're just figureheads in different offices, delivering an ideological paradigm that 80% of the population don't actually agree with or want.

How do we assess risk of reoffending, risk of harm? On previous behaviour. Look at Gove's recent history and we have an idea of what's coming. Ask a teacher.

We look at past performance. Gove has been Education Secretary in the previous Con-Dem gov and in my role as a School Governor I know exactly what is he is capable of. There is much to worry about with his appointment, he is equally unsuitable as his predecessor. There is little I would look forward to in his appointment.

I too am very concerned about Gove but any Tory they'd give us would be a disaster. We know what's coming, a long hard 5 years. We thought the last five had been tough!!

I want to talk about the probation training, slightly off topic I know. I fear that our professional qualification is being watered down too much for the sake of getting some newly qualified PO's through the door. Within two months we had one trainee writing a report for Crown Court. How did that happen? I was so shocked. Even worse she wasn't even observed conducting the interview with the offender. How can this be a professional service? Really? Same with NPS PSO's, they can't hold any cases so they are thrown into Court with little training. It's just awful. I care about my profession deeply and feel it's being torn apart. Long term it will do us no favours!

Well good luck with your debate and discussion with Mr Gove. My view is you'll find him in place to finish the job off that his predecessor started. His "management" of education should already show you that he is not one to listen to reasoned debate from the masses or even those in the know. His hands may be tied, but I see no evidence in the man that he will fight to reverse the damage already done.

Part of me is wishing I went into the CRC as I feel that I am now at greater risk of being made redundant once the cuts start. Of equal concern is how our TPO's must be feeling knowing that they are doing nearly 2 years training and most likely not guaranteed a job at the end. I know Gove left Education following the Teachers passing a vote of no confidence, can we do this with this Tory Government??

I thought we did put a vote of no confidence in Grayling, he responded with a 'big gone peasants!' I have nothing against these trainee's, many are talented and committed to doing the job but I'm concerned that they are all under 25 and female. I saw one on twitter complaining about having to clean her room. If that's all that worries her in her life, how can she relate to the cases she's supervising. I know lots of PO's who entered the service years ago as new graduates but to recruit so many on block isn't healthy for the service. I imagine they will be kept and we will be made redundant for standing up for the true values of probation.

TPO's are cut price staff to fill in the gaps, then there is no prospects of a job after training.

Charlie Falconer is good news. He is knows about Probation and was a great support for the brief months after he took over from John Reid when the MOJ was created. He was the one who said " it's time that the sun came out for Probation" Today we need a miracle rather than the sun!

I have re-read the posts and comments across the last week, a week in which we have all been stuck with a long 5 years of a Conservative government, where I fear we will regret that they are no longer Condems. And what is everyone on about? NPS vs CRC; young vs old; social work vs crim justice training; client vs probation officer? If we carry on in-fighting and whinging like this (oh, I forgot, PO vs manager) we will just disappear in a puff of Delius outage. Do something, stop effing banging on about what someone else hasn't done. Join something, get out, speak out, work with your clients, do what you can, please just stop fighting each other.

I work in an office with a young female manager who seeks to rule by isolating the majority of her team and surrounding herself with yes men. This seems to pass for 'management' these days. So this in-fighting as you say whilst being divisive is actually encouraged in some quarters. Better to have a few quislings than be at odds with an entire team....

When are NOMS going to look at the link between long term stress and particular managers? Say for example someone gains a temporary appointment and suddenly staff stress related sickness increases then that person is then appointed as a manager and staff stress sickness increases, would it not be prudent for SOMEONE to make the correlation?

Use grievance procedures I hear you cry. But what if that person is such a bully that no-one dare? What if that new manager is merely doing the bidding of a senior manager and so has no sanctions to his/her behaviour since they would be the person to hear the grievance. Yup, no point at all. I think whistleblowing to the HSE can't be far away in terms of staff stress levels and the management of this.

Repeatedly I have suggested that grievances are monitored and managers questioned and penalised over excessive rates. How else do you detect discrimination for example? Instead the managers are promoted.

I have been in a situation where the entire team bar one was bullied by a new SPO. I was the only one who pursued a grievance. We were labelled as trouble makers and the manager had arse covered by senior management all the way. I eventually escaped to another office. You can have all the bullshit policies in the world, snr management don't want to know. That which didn't kill me made me stronger. I can laugh about it now but it's a nightmare when it happens. A tip for statements. Keep it factual and evidence based. Keep notes on a daily basis. Keep opinions to yourself and adopt a neutral tone. Good luck.

I believe that people are venting on here as it's better than doing it in an open office. I have had to stand up for myself in an open office on two separate occasions, not nice. However, back off and do your job and leave me to do mine has worked. I don't want to say this but the sooner everyone knows where they stand the better.

The thing is that the horrors of a newly-elected Tory majority government and our troubles as a newly-privatised, disintegrating public service are inextricably linked. We should all stand together because worse is on its way for the public services, welfare benefits and further attacks on Trade Unions. Those of you who aren't in Napo or left Napo should really consider joining again. This is where we could make ourselves stronger and more able to face the onslaught of the Tories scorched earth policy towards the state and its vital functions.

Trade unionism in the UK is under threat. The irony is that trade unionism started in the UK because of the ways in which people were treated by employers. The threats to the movement come from all areas of society but the biggest threat is undoubtedly ambivalence. I understand that 28% of the UK workforce are union members. The issue is that only about a quarter of these are willing to stand up and be counted. The idea is to stand together. Without that collective consciousness, we will be unable to fight the powers that wish to use us at their whim and discard us without concern. Trust in your leaders and your employers will bring you nothing but disappointment.

Why are Kent, Surrey and Sussex recruiting to the extent that they are???

Because we are totally understaffed on the coal face and won't be able to fulfil the contract? More highly paid managers always useful/needed??

We, in Cumbria and Lancs, having previously been told by Sodexo they want rid of 30% of us, are just waiting to see when/if/how this will happen. No chance of any recruitment for us.

A member of CRC staff (PO) walked out sick today after having had a panic attack at their desk. The amount of work is just overwhelming and looming/missed deadlines contributed to the attack. This was in full view of an open-plan office.

Same happened in NPS NE same area two very capable POs. Both off for months with work place stress...made ill by work...disgraceful.

Dedication is one thing, dedication to the point of collapse is another. Pleease look after yourselves.

In our middle size office there is something interesting happening. CRC staff are spending even less time with clients/offenders and spending all their time on ridiculous OASys targets. Meanwhile, in the NPS there is a sense of calm and thoughtfulness - reflective practice perhaps. People are talking about practice all the time, and a move away from group based interventions to more individualised pathways of work. Bloody hell - despite the CRC owners talking about client centred approaches and desistance all the time, it is actually taking hold in the NPS.

I've never considered OASys as an effective tool to assess or predict an offenders risk. In fact I'd go as far as saying it's actually pretty rubbish in terms of assessing risk. The only real value in OASys (IMHO), is to provide the supervising officer with a document that provides evidence that they've followed due process and protocol in their duties whilst supervising an offender.

To that effect it offers some form of protection to the supervising officer when something goes wrong or have to account for their actions when a client commits an SFO. Once the detail contained in the document becomes diluted, any value it may have had as a method of risk assessment is gone, and as a document to evidence due process and practice it no longer provides the officer any protection at all. In fact it becomes a document that can be used against the supervising officer in the event of an SFO.

The less detail that goes in, the greater the risk to the supervising PO. I think it's time to get rid of OASys altogether now as it provides no value to client, PO, or public protection, and the unions need to keep copies of any instructions given to dumb down the detail in the assessment.

The Purple People Eaters model of OASys reinforces my view that the new CRC providers are seeking only to maintain the illusion of risk management. As long as it LOOKS like they are doing it, the Quality Assurance structures will be satisfied.

If combined with a thorough PSR, and genuinely reviewed following significant change of circumstance, the above guidance might actually make OASys useful. The trouble is, it's a long time since I saw a thorough PSR - at least in the sense of one that had all relevant current and historical information in it. This isn't meant as a criticism of PSR writers, by the way - it's the fault of the report factory system that we've ended up with.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the systems involved, isn't it a worrying development that things are reverting to the bad old days of quantity over quality? All those lessons we were to learn from SFO's etc, all worthless. The general public are not stupid and will ask that very same question, just as they have in respect of all the serious case reviews for children killed under our noses from Marie Colwell to Baby Peter! Shame on this frightful, heartless and witless government!

Just to put the record straight, I am DipPs qualified and Maria Colwell and Victoria Climbie featured heavily in my training and since training have done specific training about outcomes from Lord Laming's reports 1 and 2 (Victoria Climbie and Peter Connelly). Can we stop the social work rules debate starting up again please. Sometimes we work within the training provided.

"sometimes we work within the training provided..." - The current level of training provided does not provide the kind of training required to work with complex needs and issues which many offenders have.

Sounds like Purple Futures are starting to lay their stall out as all of our Area's CRC staff have now been put on standby and told that the current buildings are unsustainable due to cost and plans are afoot to move us out. This is being hindered due to the Gateway problem with the IT system. Sounds like there is a workaround that they are currently testing and then we'll be gone. The big question is where to? Does anyone know about the buildings - will CRC have to give landlords notice or do MOJ own them?

CRC offices in Newton Aycliffe (County Durham) and Bishop Auckland apparently closing and staff moving to Darlington. There is talk up there about their CPA having one or two hubs then staff doing home visits to clients who do not live near the hubs. Appears the ball has started rolling.

If our office closed the other CRC offices are so far away that the OMs from the closed staff would constantly be doing home visits as no offenders could get to the new office. It would literally mean a day trip out. Unless we did home visits and rang a hub and the duty officer updated delius from our phone-in.

ARCC is the Durham Tees Valley CRC and sounds to be the best by far - think it is the only staff mutual? I think they are closing all offices and will have two hubs, staff working from home using tablets. Staff seem pleased from what I've heard. Also a colleague there said the best of the managers went to ARCC.

I work for ARCC as a OM. There are some teething troubles which are most likely due to TR and the working model but things are fairly positive but very busy. I think if something serious goes wrong then most, if not all OM's could claim to have high workloads. Probably the only thing that is spoiling what could be a prosperous venture.

"... some teething troubles most likely due to TR." Thank you for one of the most amusing & innocent understatements of 2015. Good luck. x.

Day trips to reporting centres, that will conflict with the requirement to be available and looking for work 5 days a week

Same for most CRC's GATE IT is a massive hold up. RAR groups not in place in some areas.

With ORA cases, how are people enforcing induction & info gathering appointments for sentence planning? Those appointments don't fall under the RAR as far as I'm aware or do they and essentially count as 2 days?

Wales Working Links CRC offices were measured up last week. The guy even measured the ladies loo. Thought maybe we were having new carpets until then.

I've heard that some offices in the DTV area CRC are on their knees due to a large percentage of staff being directed to prisons for TTG.

Yep, we lost 4 OM's and 2 admin in our office. We are pretty much fire-fighting now. I agree 100% with what my colleague wrote about staffing levels. If my manager addressed this then ARCC has potential. If not then.. We are now starting to get a lot of post ORA custody cases and this is only going to go one way...

The stripped back OASys should be a godsend to you lot then.

It is. As long as they have NEVER had one or more of the following concerns:
Child Protection
Witness Intimidation
Lots of D&D
Sex offences
Childhood abuse
Adult abuse
Victim of DV

The list goes on. Looking at my caseload and it's safe to say that I can do a big fat raspberry to the thought of completing a T1 OASys. So yes, it's a veritable boon.

Friday, 15 May 2015

OASys Special

Purple Futures have issued new guidance for OASys:

1) All standalone UPW to have basic layer within 10 days.

2) All ISPs to be completed within 10 days on the info to hand.

3) When ROSH & RoR are both low then no need to fill in text boxes - just score sections 3-13.

4) If criminogenic ROSH fill in appropriate text box.

5) If after 10 days info from FCIU etc still missing the ISP must be locked and a review must be done within 8 weeks.

6) OMs to make assessments concise, no need to write numerous paragraphs.

7) Section 2 needs completing fully.

8) A risk of harm screening is to be done in all cases.

9) All ISPs must demonstrate client involvement ie include ENAM/SAQ items in the sentence plan.

10) All sentence requirements to be included in the plan.

11) Always put delius entry that OASsys has been completed - this can be done prior to OASys countersignature as we are being marked on timeliness and not quality!!

Definition of ROSH: many offences of assault where an injury's been caused which isn't life threatening or traumatic and where recovery will not be difficult or impossible are not viewed as 'serious' therefore no ROSH needs completing because although the offender poses a risk it is not a serious risk. We're to avoid using 'risk of harm' and focus upon risk of SERIOUS harm.

Despite the rights and wrongs of the above it is going to save me some serious time.

Yes until your interviewed for an SFO and you will be asked "serious" questions about your assessment and your ability to risk assess.

I don't think so as the assessment is based on the information to hand ie even if it's an assault, so long as no harm done then we're clear. We are no longer expected to have crystal balls and that will always be my defence. Very interesting the timeliness is prioritised over quality. Oh my word!

SFO's will not be about crystal balls. It will be about information that is already available but the worker 'failed in their duty to investigate further'.

But we're being encouraged not to enter text in boxes and only to score. Therefore keep Delius brief and they will have to prove we were aware of information and didn't investigate. Don't forget if it's not written down it didn't happen.

I agree with your comments, although I would have to question what kind of culture are we being made to develop and what is our responsibility in that? Yes you have to look after yourself, but we also have a responsibility to challenge the oppressive nature of our working environment in which we are required to practice. We can't let our professional integrity become undermined.

Important to raise the issues of good and safe practice at every team meeting and at every supervision meeting. Self refer to occupational health and leave a paper trail of evidence of concerns. Have it recorded and have it documented, so when something does happen you can say..."see, I told you so, but I was ignored in favour of profits for shareholders".

Sounds dreadful. How can they demand that?! They don't know anything about OASys and ROSH.

Thank goodness, some sense at last. Hopefully this will provoke a long overdue review of exactly what is risk of serious harm, and what is meant by high, medium and low is actually meant to be about.

It wouldn't hurt to get people to actually read OASys before filling it in either, ie; it says insert language if other than English and what is consistently in the box? Provide the exact detail of the offence it says and what is in the box?, not the exact detail, the why and how.

Risk of Serious Harm, insert detail of the most recent offence/behaviour that raises the risk of serious harm and what is in the box? The current offence is not indicative of serious harm or the pulled through detail of the current shop theft. Over the page in previous behaviour is the sentence along the lines of convicted of, lets say, Indecent Assault, no detail available.(detail there in full in the assessments completed when that was current), but hey who has time/cares enough or even thinks of reading the previous sentences assessments?

Oh and score the sections according to the analysis in the guidance, rather than 0-2 as least to worst. (It's guaranteed that there is at least one person happily completing assessments, hitting the targets, doing it without even speaking to the person concerned, oblivious to the impact of what they write on the person concerned,(bet they would love to be told in supervision that they have a number of 'deficits') and is totally oblivious to the existence of help and scoring guidance. Oh and don't forget that if it's written down it certainly doesn't mean it DID happen.

OASys at birth was a somewhat agricultural tool which was originally a useful concept, i.e. Bring all assessments together in one place. OASys now? Try to imagine a transatlantic aircraft intended to carry 500 passengers with all modern luxuries, but built upon the original Wright Brothers' flying machine. It's utter bollox, well intentioned but nevertheless bollox. And worse still, NOMS got their grubby mitts on it & decided to build in a spy network. Result - uberbollox.

Good points raised above, but it's difficult to make those points because of the complexity of the bolloxing stoopid tool and the lack of clarity of definitions. How many different systems now refer to "risk" as high, medium or low? How many different forms of "risk" are there - serious harm? Serious sexual harm? Serious psychological harm? Red, amber or green? Reoffending - same type of offence? Any offence?

For me, the tool should be an ever-expanding chronologically aligned single record. No locking off, guillotines or multifarious versions where data is abandoned or deleted - simply one continuous rolling assessment with key milestones/markers, e.g. new offence, start of order, new offence, hospital admission, transfer to prison, release, etc. Then, at any point, assessors can review without having to close & open multiple documents hoping to find if/where/when certain data was entered/deleted.

Recent example - new case, name was familiar, looked at last OASys, nothing to link with what seemed familiar. Out of curiosity I looked back at random assessments as far as records went and found one with mental health report attached. All reference to that had been deleted on the subsequent OASsys and thus any "pull thru" after that contained none of that vital information. I have now resurrected that historical information because it informs the why & how of risk to female staff. Last known officer told me "it all makes sense now. We couldn't work out why he kept on about being a risk to women when his offences were shoptheft."

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Time For Another Break

Regular readers will recall that I went off to Berlin for a week last year and you all had to be trusted not to be too beastly to each other. Well, as this comment ably demonstrates, you can't please all the people, all of the time:-

Bored now.
Your horse didn't win the race.

Not the most erudite of contributions admittedly, but as it happens perfectly timed because I'm off again for at least 10 days. I will have internet access throughout, but feel somewhat under a self-denying ordinance to try and knock on the head the temptation to keep dipping in. Obviously, if something dramatic happens that might relieve the boredom felt by our disgrunted reader, rest assured I'll be on the case.

Before I sign off, I have another appeal for information as follows:-

In relation to the blog entitled 'Assessment Special' last November and concerning SARN, if any readers have direct involvement in helping develop treatment plans based on the SARN, and are not prevented from openly discussing your experiences, please contact Kush on

So, look after each other, keep the info coming in and think about the offer of writing a guest blog.

Election Reflections 3

Before we inevitably move on from analysis of the election last week, the more I learn and try to understand what happened, the more convinced I become that we must look afresh at our 'first past the post' electoral system. In this vein, I hope legendary London blogger diamond geezer does not mind me reproducing his take on things from a post dated 11th May:-

My most-shared tweet of the last week, by some distance, is this one.

It's an eye-catching statistic, but how could it be true? Well, I'm obliged to Ian for compiling a list of the 20 most marginal seats in the country, from which we need to consider the closest seven that are Tory-held.

Gower maj 27
Derby North maj 41
Croydon Central maj 165
Vale of Clwyd maj 237
Bury North maj 378
Morley & Outwood maj 422
Plymouth Sutton & Devonport maj 523

Had these majorities swung to Labour instead then the Conservatives would have had only 324 seats out of 650, which is technically a minority. And for that to happen, what's needed is for half of those forming the majority to switch from Conservative to Labour. For example, the majority of 27 in Gower would have been wiped out if just 14 people who voted blue had voted red instead. Not voting one way brings the majority down to 13, and then voting the other way creates a Labour majority of 1.

Gower 14 switchers
Derby North 21 switchers
Croydon Central 83 switchers
Vale of Clwyd 119 switchers
Bury North 190 switchers
Morley & Outwood 212 switchers
Plymouth Sutton & Devonport 262 switchers

Adding these seven figures gives a total of 901. OK, so that's one out from my rounded figure, but you get the idea. 901 voters choosing to back Miliband rather than Cameron would have cut Tory support sufficiently to create a minority Conservative government. And yes, that's only technically, because Sinn Féin never turn up at Westminster so the winning post is effectively 323, and yes, even with 320-ish MPs the Conservatives could have ruled from a position of effective control.

But the fact remains that there are fewer than 1000 people out there on whose choice the outcome of this election hinged. If you changed your mind in Gower, Croydon Central or Bury North, one of those people could be you. Thank goodness nobody knew who you were before the polls opened, otherwise you'd never have been left alone. Electoral reform, anyone? Or does this random selection of a handful of VIP citizens actually work rather well?

I thought this comment on the diamond geezer post worth bearing in mind as well:-

 .... and who can forget the 2000 US presidential election, won by Bush Jr on a margin of five electoral college votes after a recount to determine how Florida should cast its block vote of 25. The winning margin in Florida was 537, or less than 0.01% of the total votes cast in that state. That's 269 Floridians who decided the outcome.

The infamous "hanging chads" and other uncertainties gave the margin of error as anything up to 700 more votes for Al Gore.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

A Modern Tale

Here's a tale of modern-day Britain and with a brand new Tory government intent on returning to 'One Nation' politics, the triteness of David Cameron's words couldn't be better illustrated in my view. From the Daily Mirror:-

'How are they expected to live?' Judge slams theft charge for desperate dad who stole out-of-date food from Tesco

Paul Barker, 39, and Kerry Barker, 29, were spotted on CCTV sifting through groceries at the back of a store which were destined for the bin. The couple are down on their luck and say they have virtually no money to look after themselves or their kids. But they found themselves arrested and taken to court after police were called to the shop in Sunderland in January.

Mr Barker told officers the pair were hungry and they knew there would be unwanted food available. But they were both charged with theft and Paul admitted the offence at Sunderland Magistrates Court. Kerry is yet to enter a plea and will appear before magistrates later this month.

District Judge Roger Elsey handed Mr Barker a conditional discharge and refused to impose any financial penalty. He asked the court: "How are they expected to live? It seems to me the appropriate punishment for taking food which is of no value is an absolute discharge. "I clearly can't make any financial order."

Prosecutor, Jeanette Smith, said the pair were seen in the rear compound of the Hetton Road Tesco Express store, Sunderland, removing a pallet of food. She explained that although the items were to be thrown out, they were in a secure compound, adding that Tesco's policy is not to give away discarded food.

Angus Westgarth, defending, said that when the offence occurred the couple had not been given benefits and had no way to fund food. He said: "At the time, they hadn't had benefits or any money since December. It just seems that the state has failed them. They were told they would not get any benefits for a year from December. He is having to duck and dive to feed himself. 

"Without a crystal ball I can see that this will continue to happen. He is trying to survive however he can. I think they call this way of living 'freeganism'. They take waste food and consume it. They are managing to live as, I think, Social Services are paying some money for housing. Their children are living with grandparents because of the situation."

It's interesting that the solicitor quoted 'freeganism' which, according to our old friend Wikipedia, is a political movement spawned in West Coast America, whereas I suspect the British variety is rather more about a desperate act borne of being bloody hungry:-

Freeganism is the practice of reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded. Freegans and freeganism are often seen as part of a wider anti-consumerist ideology, and freegans often employ a range of alternative living strategies based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources.

The word "freegan" is a coinage derived from "free" and "vegan". Freeganism started in the mid-1990s, out of the antiglobalization and environmentalist movements. The movement also has elements of Diggers, an anarchist street theater group based in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the 1960s, that gave away rescued food.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Election Reflections 2

Before we move on to other things, here's three bits of information I've gleaned from Twitter that proves conclusively to me that we must change our electoral system. If Labour has any sense, they'd do well to nail their colours to this mast and take a leaf out of 38 Degrees book, amongst others. 

This shows how many votes you needed to get a seat in Parliament last Thursday:-  

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The election result was decided by just these constituencies where there was a change in party:-  

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Finally, according to the Electoral Reform Society, this would be how the seats would stack up under a Proportional Representation system:-

CON 244 LAB 201 UKIP 83 LD 52 SNP 31 Greens 25 DUP 3 PC 3 SF 3 UUP 2 SDLP 2 Alliance 1

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Bleak Futures Week 19

We had our updated briefing last week. Basically it was admitted it's a complete mess. No estates sourced yet, but CRC are moving end September. No idea where people will be working whether that be the hub or out in the community. No idea who will deliver services etc. We are now into the first week of May and still NO ONE knows the plan.....

The facts are, though, that the Prison Service has moved a lot of prisoners to be in resettlement prisons. Almost all of the designated resettlement prisons have 85%+ prisoners from the home CRC and most CRCs have very small numbers of prisoners with 12 weeks or less to serve who are not in resettlement prisons.

Hmmm this may be the case in the male estate but in the female estate I doubt it very much as women are often held far from home due to the fact there are few female prisons and in some areas none at all so it is highly unlikely that the women will be sent to resettlement prisons in their home areas because there is unlikely to be one. Now if successive governments had actually implemented the recommendations of the Corston report this would have been solved a long time ago.

I'm a dinosaur and an old git and from what I see it is this exclusive group of officers who are holding things together by just carrying on with things the way they work not the way lickspittle new managers have been told to do things. This is the group that can see through the bullshit and who won't be bullied. From what I see there are quite a lot of 'Sodexo positives' out there who hope that by pushing their masters line they will be spared the coming cull and offered a place at the top table. Eyes open please....they're just using you to do the dirty on your staff before they come for you. Being an old git means that you have seen this before. Who was it that said if you fail to learn from history you're destined to repeat it? Still not too late to tell it like it is.....

Bloody nightmare week, horrendous IT problems, 6 days no email, had to get admin to do my safeguarding referrals as practitioner colleagues too stressed trying to recover work for court deadlines. Colleague also had the dreaded call case allocation not done (it was) ok then it's blank (it wasn't)...just bizarre. Then told by IT that the upgrade was done last weekend with no-one realising it was not compatible with parts of system (citrix and lotus notes) Just who are these people designing these systems? Or more to the point, just who is commissioning such not fit for purpose crap?

In some ways from the outside looking in point of view, this is absolutely hilarious. In one way because it was so predictable.

I just wonder how long it will be before some enterprising lag decides to sue the MoJ and the relevant CRC for failing to provide the TTG services promised from May 1, 2015 if they are released with only the £46 and no support. After all, if it is contracted that that is when TTG was due to start and people don't get the promised support, then breach of contract ensues.

Can you name one prison where there should have been a TTG service in place on Friday but there was not? I know that Purple Futures, Sodexo and Working Links all reported the service in place in all of their prisons on 1 May. So in which ones has it not happened?

They'll all be claiming payments for TTG services from first of May- whether its operational or not. If they don't claim payment for TTG services from that date, then they risk being accused of contractual failures.

Although one would like to assume that MoJ contract managers, and prison governors, would notice if a service didn't really exist.

They lie. End of. As long as the facade is maintained the charade will continue. MoJ contract managers collude because TR failure is their failure. The only way forward is for the bidders to wake up to the enormity of the task and the MASSIVE potential for reputational damage.

We used to refer to Skills4work and generally clients would report back that they had been offered courses, or voluntary work! However, once on their books they would keep an eye on case and if the client, through their own ingenuity, found work, S4W would call us and ask if client could produce a payslip or other evidence of work, so they could take credit for placing the client in work! I always refused, as it's lying, fraudulently claiming credit for another's endeavour! Shameful!

No, they pretend they have provided the service to get paid that way they focus on the easy hits to get paid with minimal effort. Just like Shelter used to claim their payment for finding accommodation for prisoners by providing one nights B and B (often in v questionable accommodation) and then they were homeless on night 2 but it didn't matter 'cos they could claim the payment.

After almost 25 years I'm serving (as it now seems like a sentence) the last month as a probation officer. I still remember the pride I felt when I got my first job but now feel only sadness when I think of leaving. I don't have another job to go to but simply can't face any more. What really pisses me off are those in management (many I remember coming in as new TPOs) who pretend nothing is wrong or they are teething problems. At first I believed them (I knew them to be honourable people or so I thought) but what is happening now & is planned for the future by our CRC bosses is just wrong on all fronts!

This is ironic but since the privatisation I've never had so many re-offend on my caseload. I've had a CO offend and get 6mths custody, I've just done my first recall in 12 months and I've 3 re-offended. Absolutely nothing I could've done about any of it.

PbR pilots.....disappointing results. Not sure why anyone who works with our client group finds this a surprise. We told them time and time again yet Mr Grayling, Messrs Spur, Allars et Al all knew better. Please keep your fingers crossed that Mr Grayling is out of a job on Friday..

Glad I'm not running the Sodexo CRC Contracts! I'd be very concerned and worried if I was in that particular hot-seat at this moment. It doesn't even look as if they did good thorough due diligence. Oh, yes, nearly forgot, they've also pissed off most, if not all, of their CRC workforce.

Interesting development. As Sodexo's CRCs get rid of 70% of their Band 5 SPOs, Seetec's Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC is recruiting SPOs at Band 6.

My friend spends far too much time in pubs in London and he has big ears and he let slip that he's heard that Sodexo is looking to do 'deals' with the likes of those winning bidders who won conurbations and not huge great green grassed shires where their operating model falls apart. He says that they never wanted shire counties and now see them as a bloody great albatross round their corporate necks.

Man in the pub says that all the 'that there London talk' is about how they can ditch the big some underhand deals being done whilst the rest of the country watches the election and stand by for announcements about 'wonderful new innovative partnerships'. You thought they'd been quiet. Not a bit of it....a heady dose of realism has hurt them hard with lots of talk about duplicitous government....surely not..

Did you see the other day that unpaid work bods are being taxied to projects because of the van situation? I can't be exactly certain but I'm quite confident it would've involved a 40mile round trip. Not cheap but better than sending them home and getting the potential bad publicity.

I voted but really didn't know who to vote for, I hope the party that gets in will have an effect where I don't have to watch a grown man crying in probation as he hadn't eaten anything for a week, had a disability and had been sanctioned because he couldn't go to an interview due to his mobility scooter having a flat and not having the money to repair it in time. It really upset me today and all we could offer was a food voucher... makes me so sad.

I was a PO from 2007 - 2015. I didn't leave 'because' of TR but I found a job elsewhere and was feeling tired of how my PO life had become. I feel saddened by the TR mess. So I feel a special happiness this morning that Simon Hughes especially lost his seat and that the LD party in general have been trashed.

I work in the Court team as a PSO. Over the past two - three months I've seen both a rise in people appearing for Shop Theft (with mitigation being Benefits Sanctions) and the Court mainly sentencing to Conditional Discharges. I think many of the Bench in my area are aware of some of the issue which are now occurring under the Tories and I was wondering if this has been replicated across the country? I fear that with the planned welfare cuts we are going to see a lot more of these cases.

We had someone in last week on shop theft, he was very miffed that he wasn't put in prison, he was very vocal about why he had done it. Some steal to feed a habit, others are stealing to feed themselves, mostly due to being sanctioned.

I work in Manchester Mags Court. The number of people who are appearing before the bench for shoplifting must have doubled compared with previous years. People are committing offences simply because of being sanctioned and have no other means so are going out offending.

Mr Gove called on Britons to say:

We have a new Justice Secretary and whilst not quite going as far as the Howard League in congratulating Michael Gove on his new appointment, this blog wishes him the best of luck in sorting out the comprehensive mess left behind by his psychopathic predecessor. This from the Guardian:-

Michael Gove is to be returned to a major government department as justice secretary in the wake of the Conservative general election victory.

In a second round of senior appointments since the election, the prime minister is reshuffling Gove, who has been his chief whip in charge of party discipline since July last year, to the Ministry of Justice, taking charge of prisons, sentencing and criminal justice.

Gove was removed as education secretary last year to head the whips’ office, reportedly at the behest of the party’s general election strategist Lynton Crosby, who feared that the former journalist’s “toxic image” could be a vote loser. At the time Gove’s wife, the journalist Sarah Vine, made her feelings clear about the cabinet minister’s move out of the limelight by tweeting a link to a Daily Mailarticle that the newspaper headlined “A shabby day’s work which Cameron will live to regret”.

Downing Street sources have always insisted that the move was made merely to bring a key operator into the centre of the election campaign at a crucial time.

Gove’s return to a government department appears to confirm the prime minister’s trust in him, although it will inevitably dismay many outside of the Conservative party who were enraged by his trenchant views and combative style during his time at the Department for Education.

Gove is seen as a genuine radical unafraid of ruffling feathers by many within the Conservative fold, some of whom will be disappointed that he is not returning to the education department.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Of Young Pups and Grumpy Old Has-Beens

I think there's a gulf between those who have grown up (professionally speaking) in recent times, and those who have longer memories & experiences. Neither is right or wrong, but times and practice are significantly different. My DipSW Learning/training experience bears no relation to the current TPO experience. 

My time as an assessor didn't have any resonance with my practice teacher's efforts to knock me into shape. It shouldn't be a case of going against grain, it is just different for so many reasons. Grumpy old gits sometimes find it hard to be eclipsed by young pups, whilst fresh blood can be feisty and enthusiastic and blind to the privileges that experience brings.


If there's another "dinosaur/old git" comment in our shared building today I won't be needing my redundancy, but I will need a PSR after I've given one of the smug NPS newly qualified POs a good slap. NPS manager isn't interested in addressing it. CRC manager says it's not his staff member so he can't do anything about it. Looks like it'll have to be 2 falls and a submission a la Mick McManus, or a thick ear a la Frank Bruno. I haven't a fucking clue what happened to professional standards in the probation service. Where did they go?

I am a new NPS Trainee and looking at this thread and the negative comments about trainees is quite offensive to be honest. I am not a 'young pup' and since I have started it has been assumed that I am fresh out of uni and have zero life experience possibly because I look younger. I have been very respectful to colleagues about the changes etc., but consistently met with rude comments.

There is an us and them attitude prevalent and I find it quite vile coming from an organisation of people trained not to be judgemental. If this is what we are supposed to aspire to, then of course we are going to come across as smug. We have already tolerated a huge amount of disorganisation in our recruitment. Managers are reluctant to fulfil their basic obligations and we are grilled publicly when we take the initiative. I think it would be useful if people on here are mindful of the fact that we are all human.

Come on, Sodexo. Hurry up & get Chris in a headlock, sort out how you're going to honour the redundancy agreements enshrined in the CRC contracts, get the slicing & dicing over & done with, get shot of them owld moaning minnies & let the dog see the rabbit. The quicker you act the quicker the CRC can thrive. You've now got the government you need to help you make this profitable. You've got the opportunity to heave the nay-sayers overboard at relatively modest cost.

The longer you let them hang around the greater risk they might cost you more. Make the incision, clean the wound; physician heal thyself. It's time for a new paradigm in managing social dysfunction. Plenty of us want to work in CRCs. Let those that don't go; let them join the NPS or social services or Tesco. I want to be surrounded by enthusiasm & energy & like-minded colleagues, not miserable sods who whinge about "the good old days"; "it was never like that in my day"; "we wouldn't do that". So come on! Lets make those changes and get this CRC show moving!!!

You are clearly a company man (or woman). I am thrilled for you. The problem is that there are huge holes in the operating models. We are duty bound to draw attention to them. To wait until they reveal themselves is negligent.

No 'operating model' has ever been without flaws. Radical non-intervention, nothing works, what works, prison works, we are an enforcement agency, we are the world, Eithne's merry dance, dances with wolves, noms, nimbys, desistance, dyspepsia, etc etc.

Targets for Change is maybe the only piece of practice that has proved its worth across the 20th & 21st centuries. That was castigated when launched, but it has proved effective & durable.

So, duty bound, let Sodexo & the CRCs worry about the holes in their models. Either work with the changes or retire to your allotment. Neither you nor any of the whiney "it's not right" brigade have made any significant lasting difference to the wider population of those who commit offences. You may have been compassionate, empathic, enabling & supportive, but not a lot has changed in reality.

So let the CRCs try to hit their targets. The battle is lost, the CRCs are in situ. If they reduce reoffending by any amount, hurray. If they don't, then you can shout "yah boo sucks" from your greenhouse. I personally believe not a lot will change, just that the measuring stick will be re-calibrated to suit a new scale. No, I'm not a corporate bunny. It's simply hard enough dealing with clients who are low and defensive and intractable every day, I don't want to have to deal with miserable, reluctant colleagues as well.

The problem with the argument above is the assumption that any of the magic bullets listed was ever anything more than one more tool. Targets for Change has remained because it is not one tool but a wide selection of tools. That is not the point. The issue is the removal of the other thing that has stood the test of time: the offender/practitioner relationship. The call centre approach will render all other interventions meaningless.

I will be going when the time is right. Not because I do not believe in the value of Probation but because I do not believe that the proposed models are anything more than a pretence. I am too young for an allotment but I will be looking for something that has some integrity. It will not be a Sodexo CRC, of that I am sure.

One is never too young for allotment. And you are right in what you say that kiosks or telesales are not helpful. I'm just weary of grumpy old has-beens making my working day more difficult than it needs to be.

I work positively & enthusiastically & without prejudice with all of my caseload; and I understand the CRC is politically (and probably practically) toxic, but I haven't the energy, time or patience to work 100% with my caseload and then be subjected to the incessant whining & moaning & time-wasting of colleagues who, because I'm stressed to fuck & non-stop busy, are not helping me by loading me up with their stress.

I used the phrase "Grumpy old has-beens" because most (not all) are in the twilight of their professional careers, are evidently distressed by the decimation of probation, but are still yowling on day after day some 2 years down the line. I don't disagree with their complaint; I don't dislike them; I just wish they'd shut the fuck up, behave like professionals they tell everyone they are, & do some office duty!!

No wonder people around you are complaining, it probably relates in large part to having to work next to the likes of you, ignorant, naive and evidently of the self (deluded ) opinion that you are simply the best. How dare you. Many of those people you patronise and don't dislike, how very generous of you, would likely have been those that invented half of what you do and think you know.

I'm taken a bit aback by some of today's reactions. I've read through this thread & I see it differently in that I see someone saying that the damage is done, accepting CRCs are here, saying they want to work but find the office environment stressful. And yet not one response has recognised that. Everyone seems hellbent on hurling abuse. We don't know the poster's gender, age or qualification/s - yet a number of replies are very specific in their abuse. Perhaps they know the poster?

I'm a 50+ year old male PO. I didn't feel attacked by the post. I felt sad that someone finds their workplace and colleagues contribute so significantly to their feelings of stress, and thought how poor the local management must be. And I also had to pause and think how often I grumble to new colleagues about TR and reminisce about the golden olden days. Perhaps the post is complaining about me?