Friday, 18 August 2017

Phil Wheatley's View

With so much to cover over the last few weeks, a number of blog posts and issues got left behind, but are probably still of interest and worth covering. One is a missive from former prison director and NOMS chief Phil Wheatley and can be found on the prison dialogue website:- 

Letter from the UK Summer 2017 

The UK Government has plenty to worry about in its current fragile state after the election. The Brexit negotiations have finally begun and the issues they generate will have to be managed alongside the repercussions of the recent terrorist incidents and the fire at Grenfell House. The scale of these challenges create an obvious risk that the Government may lose focus on dealing with failing and dangerous prisons and weaknesses in community justice. It will be important that the new Justice Secretary David Lidington ensures that this does not happen. Any optimism that he will do so has to be tempered by the recognition that he is the fifth Justice Secretary in the last seven years. 

To date each new Secretary of State for Justice has initiated a radical reset of the Department’s approach to prison and probation policy. This has required the expenditure of much management time and effort both to restructure and to develop fresh policies. Since 2010 none of these major initiatives has lasted for long enough to deliver the hoped for benefits. All this nugatory work has taken place during the period of austerity in Government spending, which required real terms savings in the prisons and probation budget of 21% between the financial year 2009/10 and 2015/16. The prison population throughout this same period has remained broadly unchanged and the supervision of all short term prisoners on their release has added to the work of Probation. 

That prisons are in crisis is undeniable. The Ministry of Justice publishes two regular statistical publications. The Safety in Prison statistics provide evidence of the unprecedented extent of the reduction of safety in prison and the National Offender Management Service workforce data indicates the equally unprecedented scale of reductions. There has been a loss of many experienced workers, a dramatic escalation in the resignation rate and a persistent failure to staff prisons to the level required to maintain safety and decency. All informed observers including HMCIP and the Justice Committee of the House of Commons have linked the reductions to the increased levels of suicide, murder and assault in prison. The Government belatedly recognised the link when at the end of 2016 it announced an extra £104 million for the recruitment of 2,500 additional prison staff. This partially reversed the 7000 reduction in prison staff that had been made between 2010 and 2016. 

It is also becoming clear that there is a crisis in the delivery of community supervision and sentences. Recent reports from the Probation Inspectorate indicate that there are serious failures in the quality and reliability of these services and that this is having an adverse effect on public safety. 

In 2015 the Government reorganised local Probation Services to create regional Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) undertaking all the medium and low risk work with offenders, and a National Probation Service providing reports to court and undertaking all work with high risk offenders. This reorganisation appears to have precipitated the deterioration in the quality of work. It was accompanied by the introduction of statutory compulsory supervision for short term prisoners (prisoners sentenced to under twelve months). The additional workload was to be resourced through efficiencies achieved by the creation of a single National Probation Service and competitive tendering for the CRC contracts. The Thematic Inspection of Through the Gate Resettlement Service for Prisoners Serving 12 Months or Under conducted jointly by the Probation and Prison Inspectorates was published this June and sets out starkly how little is actually being achieved with this group of offenders. The Chief Inspectors’ damning judgement is “if these services were removed tomorrow the impact on the resettlement of prisoners would be negligible”. 

The decision by the Ministry of Justice immediately before the election to provide substantial additional funding to the CRC Companies suggests that the Government believes that inadequate resourcing of this reorganisation may have been a major contributor to the weaknesses in performance identified by the Inspectorates. 

The most recent data on Safety in Prisons (Safety in Custody Statistics Bulletin published in April 2017) provides detailed statistics covering the twelve month period up to December 2016. Analysis shows that the rate of self inflicted deaths has more than doubled since 2013, self harm has reached a record level of 40,161, up 7,848 on the previous twelve month period, and assaults in the same period had reached a record high of 26,022 (of which 6,844 were on staff), up 5,504 on the previous year. This is a 26% rise on the previous year with the risk of serious assault on staff having tripled since 2012. This said, there are a few more encouraging straws in the wind that suggest the escalation in these figures has reached its peak. Data for the last quarter shows a slight decline in both staff assaults and prisoner assaults compared to the previous quarter. 

The most recent statistics on prison staffing (National Offender Management Service Workforce Statistics bulletin 18th May 2017) cover the period up to the 31st of March. They show that in spite of a determined effort to recruit new prison officers, the overall number increased by just 75 over the previous twelve months. On average prisons were 4.8% short of front line prison officers. The shortfall is measured against benchmark levels that were designed to provide each prison with a level of staff sufficient to deliver safety, decency and security – although many Governors feel that these prison benchmarks were set too low. Even so, in nearly three quarters of prisons the benchmark level has not been met. Nearly a quarter of prisons are more than 10% short of staff. Prisons in London and the South East where the local economy is buoyant are finding it a particularly difficult to recruit and retain prison officers at current rates of pay, which have been substantially reduced in real terms since 2010 with pay growth being restrained by Government policy. 

The leaving rate for prison officers, which in 2015/16 was already at an all time high, has risen further to 9.4%. Experienced people have been replaced by newly recruited staff on cheaper terms and conditions. This may have reduced costs but it means that an unprecedentedly high proportion of prison officers (24%) are inexperienced and in their first two years of service. There is also a 12% shortfall in support staff who are likewise proving difficult to recruit at existing pay rates. This matters because the shortage cannot be entirely addressed by overtime working and often has to be covered from the depleted numbers of prison officers. There is some good news in that much effort is now going into recruitment and the number of newly joined officers (1132) in the first quarter of 2017 was the highest ever. 

Against this backdrop, the most hard pressed prisons are hitting a downward spiral. Insufficient staff, too high a proportion of inexperienced staff and a tripling in the serious assaults on staff mean that those on duty are increasingly reluctant to confront and deal with misbehavior by prisoners. When inmates are seen to get away with being aggressive and disruptive it makes life difficult not only for staff but also for those prisoners who want to keep safe and make positive use of their time inside. As a consequence good staff have increasingly looked for alternative employment opportunities elsewhere that are safer, and prisoners feel more distressed and frightened, increasing the risk of suicide and self harm. 

It is not clear how Ministers and Senior Managers of HM Prison and Probation Service can reconcile their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 with either the rise in assaults on staff and prisoners with all the consequent physical and emotional injuries, or the increased death toll from suicide, both of which are the result of prolonged failure to achieve safe staffing levels. Prosecution of individual managers must be a real possibility if the Health and Safety at Work Executive decide to investigate some of these cases. 

The problems created by weaknesses in the performance of Probation and CRCs are real, though less immediately visible than those in prison. Offenders are not being supervised as originally envisaged, with most effort going into mechanistic achievement of bureaucratic targets rather than providing effective support and interventions that are more likely to reduce the risk of reoffending. There is a real risk that this overstretched system will fail to spot the signs that an offender presents such a big risk to public safety that urgent and effective action is required. Any high profile failure of this nature would rightly be a public scandal and probably explains why Ministers have decided to put additional money into the CRCs. It is too early to judge whether enough has been invested to mitigate the obvious risks that have resulted from the chaos unleashed by the reorganisation. 

The latest data on the Criminal Justice system (Criminal Justice Statistics quarterly 18/5/17) highlights that crime and criminal prosecutions have been falling and are now at the lowest level ever (time period 1970- 2016). However there has not been a consequent reduction in the prison population because the proportion of serious offenders receiving custodial sentences has increased by a quarter since 2010 and the average sentence length has also increased by a similar amount since 2007. These increases are a result of statutory changes to the sentencing framework and a tightening up of sentencing guidelines by the Sentencing Council. While reversing them may seem a logical response in order to reduce the size of the prison population to a level the Government can afford, it would be politically very difficult to deliver. However continuing to run a dangerous prison system is equally politically unsustainable. 

This is the toxic mix of problems the new Secretary of State David Lidington has inherited. He will have to manage these problems against a further planned reduction in the MOJ budget. It should be obvious that there is little if any scope for further savings in either prison or probation. If budget reductions are required they can only be achieved safely if the workload is reduced. Previous Secretaries of State have kicked the ball down the road behind a smokescreen of disruptive reorganizations: we can only hope that David Lidington is made of sterner stuff. 

If it becomes clear that he is allowing experienced senior prison and probation managers to get on with the difficult job of managing this pressurised system without second guessing them this will provide grounds for optimism. It would mark a change to the approach taken by the last two Ministers of Justice who have appeared reluctant to accept the advice coming from this quarter, choosing instead either to think they already knew all the right answers or to rely heavily on advice from senior civil servants with no operational experience. David Lidington must ensure he sets an affordable and realistic strategy to undo the damage described above if he is to make prisons safe and decent, properly protect the public and reduce reoffending. 

There will be no quick fixes. It will take persistent hard work to sort out the mess that reckless cost cutting and a proliferation of ill thought through political initiatives have created. 

Phil Wheatley 21/6/17

Thursday, 17 August 2017

More on Prison Reform

With seemingly everyone accepting there is a crisis in our prison system that requires urgent attention, there is a recurring use of the term 'rehabilitation'. Sadly there is no similar acceptance of a crisis in the 'reformed' probation service which has always had 'rehabilitation' as a core aim. Therefore, worthy though it might be, I fail to see how a new report and initiative from the RSA can possibly get anywhere unless the disaster of TR is fully acknowledged and dealt with. This on the RSA website:-

PRISON REFORM: JAM TOMORROW? 


"It must come sometimes to 'jam today'," Alice objected.

When it comes to reforming the prisons of England and Wales, it can feel as if we have walked through the looking glass and what we found there are false starts. Like Alice who encounters the White Queen of Wonderland explaining the rule about jam: it is always on offer but for yesterday and tomorrow, not today.

When our very own Majesty’s speech in May 2016 led on prison reform there seemed reasons to be hopeful. Paul Tye, a member of the RSA’s Future Prison Project Advisory Group and a former prisoner wrote in its wake:

“Having served at Her Majesty’s pleasure on more than one occasion in the past, watching the Queen put prison reform at the centre of her speech, and listening to prison officers and prisoners talking about the dangers they face and the need for change, bizarrely gave me hope that we are recognising the depth of change needed… We are at the tipping point.”
Over a year later and it can feel as if we are still teetering on that axis but that the balance is not yet tipping in the right direction. David Lidington is the third person to hold the post of Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice since the RSA began the Future Prison Project in early 2016. Like his immediate predecessors, Michael Gove and Liz Truss, he acknowledges that there are deep-seated challenges that successive governments have failed to tackle.

Just a month in to office, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons’ latest annual report would have come across the new Secretary of State’s desk. It concludes that prison reform would not succeed unless the violence and prevalence of drugs in jail are addressed and prisoners are unlocked for more of the working day. Earlier this month, the President of the Prison Governors’ Association expressed her grave concern about the state of the service. Meanwhile, despite Michael Gove and Liz Truss having secured funding for an additional 2,500 frontline staff, the prison service is struggling to recruit and train frontline staff fast enough to compensate for those officers leaving.

The final report of the RSA’s Future Prison Project outlined the potential for wholesale prison reform, addressing some of the wider failures of the justice system. It recommended increasing governor autonomy, local commissioning and greater devolution, supported by a leaner, clearer, central accountability framework and a new duty to reduce risk through rehabilitation. Our proposals informed what was the emerging government’s prison safety and reform agenda, and the November 2016 White Paper and we welcomed the 2016 Prisons and Courts Bill as potentially an historical shift in thinking about the purpose of prisons and how they are run. However, legislative reform was for another year: the Bill fell prior to the general election and was scrapped soon after. 

Rehabilitation tomorrow?

So, is it time to admit defeat and acknowledge that deeper prison reform focused around rehabilitation is for ‘tomorrow’? That today, what we all need to do is to ‘simply’ focus on the need for bread and butter: increasing stability, safety and resources?

This fails to recognise that the UK’s prison system, even when better resourced, has never distinguished itself in providing the right environments, opportunities and support in custody and in the community for rehabilitation to occur. That does not mean there are not fantastic governors, officers and prisoners working together with sensitivity and some success. There are plenty. But the risk is that if we abandon belief in deeper reform, seeing this as a distraction rather than something that has to happen alongside getting the basics right, we risk embedding the fatalism that many in the service already feel.

And as Matthew Taylor, the RSA’s Chief Executive has argued, when any institution becomes dominated by a culture of fatalism, blame and opposition can become the norm and culture becomes very hard to shift. Counter-intuitively, progress seems to rely on reaching for a higher purpose. The RSA has argued for some time, that putting a commitment to rehabilitation – alongside the right level of resources and reducing the overall prison population – at the core of our prison system is the best way to tackle risk, reduce reoffending and protect communities.

Articulating and delivering this ambition without any new statutory instrument to drive change through the system, while also tackling those acute challenges identified by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons and others, will be extremely difficult. Many people are fed up, scared, tired and have lost faith in change. But the new Secretary of State is right in stressing the need for continuing with the prison reform agenda, while also tackling some of the problems facing the probation service. The speed of travel and the depth of progress will depend on the extent to which service leaders, staff, prisoners and the partners they work with are enabled to realise the potential of reform and are empowered to practically respond.

And this is where the New Futures Network (NFN) could play an important role both in driving reform and bringing new players and resources into play. As part of our engagement with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and prison service in 2016, the RSA recommended the creation of a new body to support prison leaders to respond to reform, with an emphasis on education and employment, and on local leadership. Ministers asked for the design stage of such a body to be independent of Whitehall, to encourage broad and deep engagement, genuine innovation, and positive challenge to the status quo. We have now published our conclusions.

We conclude that the MoJ, initially at least, should sponsor the New Futures Network but that it have a degree of independence delivered by a non-political Chair with authority and expertise in either criminal justice or business leadership, and from outside Whitehall. This proposal has been discussed with officials at the MoJ, has been welcomed by Ministers as part of the government’s wider safety and reform strategy and will be considered alongside the MoJ’s employment strategy due to be published later this year.

In developing our proposal the RSA engaged with over 100 people working within prisons and probation and beyond, from the private, public and charity sector. Despite the challenges above, the government can take some credit for enabling an environment for many existing new organisations linking prisons, probation and employers to emerge (for example Tempus Novo, The Exceptionals, Offploy, Prosper 4 and Code 4000). Throughout we had conversations with governors, prisoners, officers, employers, charities, businesses and social enterprises. While all bought different perspectives, what was striking was the consensus around key issues: the need for central government and the prison service hierarchy to lead better and enable and trust its governors more; an appetite for commissioning that allows for greater local freedoms to develop sustainable partnerships and impact measures while drawing on the experience of others; and the desire for prison leaders to be able to spend more time looking outwards to communities and downwards to staff and prisoners when it came to ideas, innovation and delivery of rehabilitative approaches.

Yes, there was also some cynicism about the musical chairs of Ministerial change. Yes, there are deep questions about staff capacity but there was also an overwhelming consensus that reform needs to be driven locally, by governors and their communities, and that we need to act now to strengthen the culture and operational capacity for prisons to be able to become places for rehabilitation and progress.

Download the New Futures Network proposal submitted to the MoJ (PDF, 671KB)

The New Futures Network (NFN) team comprised Rachel O’Brien, who leads the RSA’s prisons work, Pamela Dow, former MoJ Director of Strategy, and RSA researcher Jack Robson. We are grateful to the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Tudor Trust, and the RSA for funding this work.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Deluded Dominic Raab

We are all familiar with the huge success of government IT projects, especially those related to the Ministry of Justice and their legendary contract drafting skills, well here's the utterly deluded junior justice minister Dominic Raab sketching out a bright future for all in the Daily Telegraph recently:- 
 
The Conservatives are bringing a tech revolution to public services


You may not instantly associate cloistered Inns of Court, judicial robes or the dock of a trial with the white heat of technological innovation. But this Government is using technology to pioneer reform to bring our courts into the 21st century – and deliver wider improvements in public services across the board.

The Conservatives will always be careful custodians of the public finances – and will never give in to Labour’s reckless demands for more spending that would push up taxes, or inflate debt for the next generation. But we’re restless social reformers too.

Our justice reforms are based on three principles. We want to protect the most vulnerable, and deliver better services for every citizen who comes into contact with the court system. We need a step-change in the use of technology to achieve this. And, by modernising the way court services are provided, we can also deliver far better value for taxpayers’ money. The first principle of any Conservative reform is to protect the most vulnerable.

The extension of video links for virtual hearings can shield vulnerable witnesses from the fear and anguish of coming face to face with a violent assailant – while ensuring justice is properly done. That way more victims will have the confidence to come forward, and more dangerous offenders will be brought to justice.

In family cases, we want to ban family members with a record of violence or sexual abuse from cross-examining vulnerable partners or children – and allow the judge to direct a publicly-funded legal representative to ask the appropriate questions. Our courtrooms must be a sanctuary from bullying and intimidation.

More broadly, we want to improve the average citizen’s experience of the justice system through more flexible procedures, streamlined case-management and digital technology. That will cut paperwork, reducing the number of physical hearings that need to be heard in court, and allow more disputes to be settled online. This will free up our judges to focus on the most complex cases, and reduce the disruption and costs that attending court inflicts on businesses and working families leading busy lives.

These reforms hinge on better use of technology – which is already underway. From video links to digital case systems, we’re reducing the stacks of paperwork tied up with pink string, and minimising the scope for losing documents. Online services are being expanded, while further pilots will make sure we learn the right lessons as we bed in reform.

Some lawyers are concerned about what all this means for their working practises. As in other walks of life, technology is the friend of remote working, and can help those grappling with the challenge of balancing bread-winning and childcare. We’re determined to make the system more user-friendly for everyone.

We need reform, if we are going to make the justice system more sensitive and effective, but it will also deliver more bang for the taxpayers’ buck. Take low-value money claims. They will be able to be resolved entirely online. It may sound like a small step but it will allow tens of thousands of more minor disputes to be settled this way, giving citizens quicker and cleaner justice.

Some people may find this prospect daunting, so we’ll make a range of support available – including web-chat advice, telephone assistance and face-to-face support. As we transition, paper-based channels will remain available for those who need them. Overall, we will invest £1.1 billion in courts reform, which once delivered will save us £250 million every year.

Court reform comes just at the right time. It will be a terrific advert for post-Brexit Britain. We have the best justice system in the world, and we’re a global leader in dispute settlement. And, since we’ve got the best judges in the world – who are helping drive these reforms – it’s only right that we strengthen their opportunities for career progression and development, for example, by offering fixed-term leadership positions, and more flexible deployment across jurisdictions.

Beyond the court room, the smart deployment of technology is driving reform across our public services. Digital technology is helping improve the management of rail traffic, so trains run more frequently, safely and comfortably. We’re digitising the tax system, so it’s easier for firms and individuals to file their tax return. We’re modernising the process for applying for a passport, so 90 per cent of applications can be done online by 2020. And that’s just the start.

We won’t make reckless promises, like Jeremy Corbyn’s vow to write off all student debt that Labour never intended to honour. We don’t hark back to some 1970s socialist utopia, which was a nightmare for anyone that lived through it, or give into Labour’s luddite opposition to reform. We’re looking to the future. From court rooms to train carriages, this Conservative Government will harness the power of technology to drive innovation, and deliver better public services to improve the quality of life for people right across the country.

Dominic Raab is the MP for Esher & Walton, and justice minister

--oo00oo--
"These reforms hinge on better use of technology – which is already underway. From video links to digital case systems, we’re reducing the stacks of paperwork tied up with pink string, and minimising the scope for losing documents. Online services are being expanded, while further pilots will make sure we learn the right lessons as we bed in reform."
The legal profession needs to wake up to what's really going on here. Let me repeat what I said a few days ago, there are secret MoJ plans to close every court in England and Wales and move everything online. Just to be clear, that means every Magistrates Court and every Crown Court - only the Old Bailey and Supreme Court would remain, largely for show trials and historic, ceremonial reasons.

All the tinkering around with video-conferencing, digitising the paperwork, extending court hours, eroding the role of magistrates, closing a few courts each year - these are all merely appetisers for the main course and a huge army of civil servants are beavering away on delivering the world's first complete justice system online! What could possibly go wrong?  

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Lidington in the News

I see that the new Justice Secretary has used yesterday's London Evening Standard to disabuse us of the view he's on his holiday's. Here is the article:- 

Prison reform must also factor in a new focus on rehabilitation

On a visit to HMP Pentonville in Islington last month, I was given a mug made in the print workshop by offenders. It’s in my office now, and when I look at the date — 1842 — that forms part of Pentonville’s logo, my respect for its governor and frontline staff grows. Imagine trying to keep control of, and rehabilitate, some of society’s most troubled and troubling offenders in a packed Victorian-era jail with Dr Crippen buried in its grounds.

The print workshop is evidence of the positive work happening there each and every day, giving offenders skills for life on the outside, on the right side of the law. The staff I met were professional and energetic, engaged in promoting rehabilitation and setting offenders on the road to reform. The admirable women who run the sewing shop, to single out just two of them, have no fewer than 40 years’ service between them.

But staff face huge challenges in Pentonville and across the prison estate. There is too much violence and self-harm. There are growing concerns about increasing numbers of criminal gangs in London and other cities moving from the streets to prisons, continuing their violent feuds. The use of illegal drugs and mobile phones, and their trade inside jail, leads to violence, addiction, debts, threats and misery. Nigel Newcomen, the prison ombudsman, has referred to the spread of new psychoactive drugs as a “game-changer”.

In this environment, too few prisoners get the training and education that will set them on the path to a more positive future. So my first priority is to improve safety and security, and then press ahead with prison reform. I’ve heard governors, staff and union representatives say the need to stabilise prisons is paramount. It’s a view shared by our well-regarded Chief Inspector of Prisons, Peter Clarke, in his meticulous reports.

Because I believe we should be accountable to the public for prison performance, and because it will help improve security and safety, I have decided to make our response to these reports more robust. It seems clear to me that when considered recommendations are made by the inspectorate they should be followed up. This is particularly true when the same issues crop up in different prisons: it should help governors — and policy-makers — understand the causes and find solutions.

For this reason I am setting up a new unit, ultimately accountable to ministers, that is responsible for making sure we respond and react to reports. We must do so in a timely fashion: we will also agree to respond within 28 days if the Chief Inspector flags up a significant concern he believes needs urgent attention. If we decide, with governors, that we should not accept a particular recommendation, or need more time to act, we will explain why this is the case or agree a new deadline where it is appropriate.

The changes we all want to see will not happen overnight, because in more volatile prisons the problems run deep. But more officers on the frontline will help. We are hiring 2,500 prison officers over the next 18 months — and the number of new recruits is currently at its highest level for seven years.

This means more support for colleagues, more eyes looking out for illegal drugs and mobiles, and more ears listening out for trouble brewing. And more support for prisoners, with our new key-worker scheme that will train each officer to work more closely with six offenders, building stronger relationships to bring about positive change.

Staff are getting more technical help: extra CCTV in jails, and more body-worn cameras for prison officers. Some 300 dogs have been trained specifically to detect psychoactive drugs. To combat the use of illegal phones, each prison now has hand-held mobile detectors, and we are working with mobile phone companies on new technology that makes handsets largely useless.

The people who use drones to deliver the contraband are being pursued through the courts: Tomas Natalevicius was sentenced to nearly eight years after being found guilty of conspiring to supply Class A drugs to prisons in the South-East. One of his targets? Pentonville. All these measures will help bring greater stability in the short term. But we must look to the longer term.

I want to see prison numbers come down. We need better custody that cuts reoffending and crime. And we need to ensure judges, magistrates and the public have full confidence in the other penalties available. The purpose of prisons is two-fold. First, justice, for victims and the wider public, by holding in prison offenders whose crime is so serious that no other penalty will do, or who would pose a danger to the public if released.

Second, rehabilitation, not because prisoners are entitled to an easy time of it but because society is entitled to expect them to make a fresh start when they get out. Prisons are out of public sight, and most often out of mind. But the vast majority of prisoners will at some point leave jail and rejoin our communities, which is why what happens inside matters to us all. And it’s why, when offenders are sent to jail, they should be held in conditions that help them turn their lives around.

The debate about prisons is now opening up to a wider audience, not least through the Evening Standard’s probing coverage of late. The facts on reoffending are stark: at the moment, around half of the offenders we send to jail will break the law again once they’re out, inflicting more pain on victims and ending up back behind bars. We must do better by offenders who are sent to prison to make them less likely to return. This will not happen overnight — but I will not shy away from the challenge.


David Lidington

--oo00oo--

On the same day, the Parole Board decided to ramp up the heat regarding the disgraceful situation that IPP prisoners find themselves in. The story was all over the media yesterday. This from the Guardian:-

Justice secretary told to 'get a grip' on prisoners with no release date

Parole Board chair warns over ‘unacceptably high’ level of suicide among prisoners serving indeterminate sentences

The chair of the Parole Board has expressed his frustration at the government’s failure to “get a grip” on the issue of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences under the discredited imprisonment for public protection (IPP) programme. There are 3,300 people in England and Wales on IPPs in jail with no release date, Nick Hardwick told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. The scheme was abolished in 2012.

He said hundreds of prisoners were serving time several years over the minimum tariffs set for them, and many were prone to self-harm as a result. “The levels of suicide, assault, and self-harm is unacceptably high. It’s the fault of political and policy decisions that should have been put right two years ago,” Hardwick, a former chief inspector of prisons, said.

He described IPPs as a blot on the system when he was appointed to the Parole Board post more than a year ago. Now he is urging the justice secretary, David Lidington, to introduce urgent changes of the type agreed by the former justice secretary Michael Gove before he was replaced by Liz Truss.

Hardwick said: “We need to get a grip on this problem. Michael Gove agreed to a whole series of changes and then was sacked before he had the chance to do it, when he was justice minister.”

Relatives of one prisoner on an IPP said he was suicidal after being “left to rot”. In 2006, James Ward, from Nottinghamshire, was given an IPP for arson with a minimum tariff of 10 months. Eleven years later he is still in prison with no release date after his parole hearings were repeatedly delayed. His sister April told the BBC he was self-harming and dangerously thin.

Hardwick said Ward’s case illustrated the plight of many. “The description the Ward family gave of that young man is happening to hundreds and hundreds,” he said. “The prison system is simply unable to care for a prisoner with that level of need at the moment.” He said delays in releasing prisoners on IPPs could be reduced if the onus switched to the state to prove they were a danger to the public if they were released. 

Hardwick said: “Some of those delays are down to the Parole Board, but we are making good progress in putting those right. But the other main reason for the delay is that it is so difficult for somebody in that young man’s position to meet the legal test of demonstrating that they are not going to commit a serious offence in future. For people with a tariff or punishment part of their sentence of less than two years, the onus should be on the state to prove they are likely to commit a further offence, rather than for them to prove they are not. We can do something about the IPP problem without compromising the safety of the public.”

He also pointed out that scarce staff resourcing was being tied up in monitoring prisoners like Ward. Every prison officer you’ve got on constant watch looking at a prisoner in this situation is not somebody walking the wings, doing the rehabilitative work with other prisoners,” Hardwick said. “If we allow resources to be drained away to this extent, then it threatens the security of us all.”

The Ministry of Justice says it is working closely with the Parole Board to process the cases as quickly as possible. A spokeswoman said: “We are determined to address the challenge of making sure all IPP prisoners have the support they need to show they are no longer a threat to public safety ... Earlier this year, we set up a new unit focused on this and improving the efficiency of the parole process. This work is continuing to achieve results, with 576 IPP releases in 2016; the highest number of annual releases since the sentence became available in 2005.”

Privatisation Not Working

Those of us who have been living with the ongoing nightmare of probation privatisation will be extremely interested in the breaking news regarding another Tory privatisation, that of Learndirect. In addition to information now hidden in the interests of 'commercial sensitivity', I'm pretty sure MTCnovo complained about the quality of their inspection as well. Note too how a lot of money seems to have disappeared, just as with the CRCs. This in the Guardian:-   

Learndirect branded inadequate in Ofsted report it tried to suppress

The UK’s largest provider of adult training and apprenticeships has been branded inadequate in a damning inspection by the education watchdog Ofsted, which it then went to court to try to suppress. Learndirect, which has almost 73,000 trainees on its apprenticeships and training programmes, went to the high court to try to quash the report in which it is said to have been awarded the lowest possible grades.

However, its application for a judicial review to overturn the report was refused in a judgment on Friday and Ofsted confirmed the as-yet unpublished report would be released on Thursday. According to reports in the trade newspaper FE Week, which was in court, Learndirect – the UK’s largest vocational training provider – was awarded grade fours for its apprenticeships and outcomes for learners.

Among the criticisms was that “management of apprentices is ineffective”, while about a third of learners on apprenticeships “do not receive their entitlement to off-the-job learning” and fail to develop “the skills they require to progress to the next step in their career”, the paper reports. Details of the case emerged when the court lifted reporting restrictions on Monday after refusing Learndirect permission to appeal.

Responding to the court judgment, Learndirect said it had challenged Ofsted’s inspection because it did not believe the process was a true reflection of the company’s training quality and performance. “The business presented compelling evidence as part of the appeal to support this view,” a spokesperson said. “In particular, we felt that the sample size of 0.6% used by Ofsted to arrive at its conclusions is not sufficient to judge the quality of Learndirect’s training. We are therefore extremely disappointed with the verdict.”

Ofsted defended its inspection. A spokesperson said: “Seventeen inspectors took part in this inspection over four days when they spoke to learners and apprentices. Inspectors interviewed employers, apprentices and learners in person and over the phone, reviewed portfolios of work, and looked at progress reviews when they gathered evidence. As well as visiting apprentices in their workplace, inspectors also reviewed a wide range of evidence to ensure that both the judgments and inspection grades were secure.”

Court documents passed to the Guardian by FE Week, which worked on a joint investigation with the Financial Times, show Learndirect was concerned about the potentially damaging effect of the inspection report on its business, which is largely dependent on government funding.

Earlier this year it was reported that Learndirect, which has 1,645 employees, was consulting on redundancy plans that could affect up to one in 10 of its staff. Learndirect’s spokesperson said on Monday that the company’s underlying business remained stable and it would continue to focus on its learners.

He added: “The business’s recent financial performance has been significantly impacted by external factors, in particular successive central government funding cuts which have reduced our revenues by £100m over the last three years. Significant cuts have affected all providers in the sector. We have responded to these difficult market conditions by changing our operating model and diversifying our income, and we have remained competitive throughout this period.”

Accounts filed with Companies House show that the finances of Learndirect and its associated companies – ultimately owned by Lloyds Banking Group – have deteriorated in recent years. Learndirect’s profit after tax dwindled from £10m in 2012 to just £1.6m in the year to July 2015, the most recent period for which figures are available, despite revenues surging from £134m to £171m.

At the same time, Learndirect’s parent companies, Pimco (Holdings) and Pimco 2909 paid out tens of millions of pounds in management fees, dividends and interest payments. Pimco 2909’s outgoings in 2012 include the £500,000 sponsorship of the Marussia Formula One motor-racing team, chaired by Darryl Eales, who was a Pimco 2909 board member and former chief executive of LDC. LDC is the private equity arm of Lloyds and is the ultimate owner of Pimco (Holdings) and Pimco 2909.

Learndirect was launched by the government as a charity and taken private by LDC in 2011. At that point it had no borrowings but the group of companies is now heavily laden with debt. The group had nearly £96m of debts due for repayment after one year, including £44m to Lloyds Development Capital. That compares to £85m of assets, of which £71m is marked as “goodwill” – essentially notional value rather than tangible assets.

--oo00oo--

Talking of MTCnovo, thanks to the reader for letting us know about this from last week:-

Dear colleagues

The MTCnovo Board would personally like to inform you that Rich Gansheimer will be finishing his secondment with MTCnovo at the end of this month and will be returning to Management and Training Corporation’s (MTC) Corrections division in America.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Rich for his outstanding leadership, unwavering commitment and enormous contribution in transforming the business. Rich’s professionalism, expertise and first-hand knowledge of the justice markets have helped establish MTCnovo as a valued partner of the Ministry of Justice. We are sad to see Rich leaving us and wish him all the best as he returns back to MTC in the USA.

Rich said: "It has been an enormous privilege to lead this wonderful business. Working with MTCnovo has been one of the most defining and rewarding projects of my career, and I’d like to thank all our staff for their dedication, hard work and support. I wish you well and look forward to seeing MTCnovo’s continued success."

New Managing Director

We are pleased to announce that David Hood will be appointed as the Managing Director of MTCnovo in mid-October 2017. David will join us from management consultants Veracity, prior to this he worked at the National Offender Management Service (NOMS). He brings with him a wealth of experience, knowledge and expertise which will help guide MTCnovo onto its next chapter. Ahead of taking up his role, David will be taking time to get to know the team.

David said of his appointment: "I am delighted to be joining MTCnovo, the opportunity to take forward the excellent and important work Rich and the team are doing is a real privilege. Clearly, the world we work in continues to present substantial challenges, but I’m confident that we have a great base from which to confront those challenges. I look forward to meeting you all and understanding more about the great work you do."

Rich will continue to oversee operations until he leaves on August 31, and all reporting lines will remain the same.

For the interim period ahead of David taking up the role, the MTCnovo Executive Team will report into Helga Swidenbank, Director of London CRC, and she will report to the Board.

MTCnovo Board of Directors


--oo00oo--

"He brings with him a wealth of experience, knowledge and expertise which will help guide MTCnovo onto its next chapter." I wonder where he got that from?

This from the MoJ website:-

Director, Contracted Services
David Hood



Biography

David has extensive commercial experience, and joins NOMS from a senior role in the Ministry of Justice’s Commercial and Contract Management Directorate. In this role David has responsibility for the commercial management of private prison contracts, CRC contracts and PECS contracts among others.

Director, Contracted Services


Responsible for operational delivery managed through contracts with other providers such as:

  • contracted prisons
  • community rehabilitation companies
  • prisoner escort and custody services
--oo00oo--

This from the archive, Monday, 28 November 2016:-

TR - The Next Phase

Senior Civil Servants never seem to stick around for long as they climb the greasy pole; they're never around when everything starts to fall apart. Here's another rising star to watch:-

Darren Tierney appointed Probation System Review SRO

Darren Tierney has joined the NOMS Agency Board as the Probation System Review Senior Responsible Owner (SRO).

CRC contracts became operational in February 2015 and the Probation System Review has been set up to assess progress against the objectives set out in the Transforming Rehabilitation Programme. The initial phase of the review has been undertaken by a small team led by Andrea Torode working to David Hood.

This has found that while overall CRC performance has been steadily improving against the measures in the contract, actual case volumes are different to those which had been anticipated; there is variation in quality of delivery; and progress in some areas (such as Through the Gate support) is less than expected.

The next phase of the review involves detailed engagement with CRC Providers to improve current arrangements.

Michael Spurr said: “Ministers have made this a key priority for the Department and to take the work forward we are strengthening arrangements by appointing a dedicated SRO at Director level. I’m really pleased that Darren Tierney has agreed to take the role. He brings excellent programme management and policy experience to the Agency which will significantly enhance Board capability.

Andrea and her team will work to Darren who will take overall responsibility for the review receiving dedicated support from Commercial and Finance colleagues across the Department. David Hood will concentrate on managing day to day service delivery across both the CRCs and other NOMS Contracts.”

Darren Tierney said: “I am delighted to be joining NOMS as SRO for the Probation System Review. The services provided by CRCs are vitally important and Ministers and the NOMS Board are rightly focussed on ensuring those services are being delivered effectively. It is great to be joining the team here, and I look forward to building on the great work done to date by Andrea Torode and David Hood and their teams.”

Monday, 14 August 2017

Peterborough Was a Success!

Here we have Frances Crook of the Howard League writing about the experimental Peterborough project and the news sneaked out recently by the MoJ that it had been a success after all. So what a shame we got the TR omnishambles instead!   

Peterborough prison and social impact bonds

The final evaluation of the Peterborough prison Payment by Results (PbR) pilot was published last week. This was a scheme to provide support for people released from Peterborough prison after serving short sentences aimed at reducing reoffending. Services were provided by charitable organisations in the main, were tailored to individuals needs and, most crucially, people volunteered to go on the programme. Some 60,000 are sentenced to short prison terms each year and until recently they did not qualify for any support on release as the probation service had only dealt with those serving longer sentences, despite repeatedly asking for resources to extend their services to these individuals.

This pilot was originally supposed to run for three years, but was ended after two after the Transforming Rehabilitation programme was rolled out which deconstructed probation into the national and privatised services. Originally Chris Grayling talked about the pilot as evidence for the need for TR, although at that time no results for Peterborough were available and the TR model was very different to the Peterborough one. TR was promoted as delivering support to men and women sentenced for short prison terms and the contacts awarded to private companies.

The evaluation into the first two years of the Peterborough pilot found that it was a success and that reoffending amongst those who took part was around nine per cent lower than a control group. The minimum threshold for a payment by results payment was 7.5 per cent, so the investors would have received a return on their money.

The pilot teaches us several things:
  • Well-funded, tailored services that focus on individual need and engage positively with people can reduce or even halt offending.
  • People who volunteer to receive help are more likely to succeed in desisting.
  • Social impact bonds are neither a ridiculous nor ground-breaking idea. This project did not elicit huge support from the City or pension funds as was intended and may indeed have been counter-productive as these investors are not just looking for a return but on certainty and Chris Grayling’s abandonment of the project would have destabilised the social impact bond experience.
  • Whether a social impact bond for helping former prisoners is cheaper than just financing such services properly through public finance (taxation) isn’t clear.
The majority of funding for this project came from a small group of charitable trusts and the Big Lottery, who often fund this sort of pilot without the lure of PbR. There’s nothing in the results which suggest that had the charities that provided the services been paid through a grant from these trusts, the outcomes would have been any different.

Chris Grayling cancelled something that was working and replaced it with something that could never work.


Frances Crook

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This on the Civil Society website:-

Peterborough social impact bond investors repaid in full 
Investors in the Peterborough social impact bond will be repaid in full with a 3 per cent per annum return, according to an announcement today. Social Finance, the organisation which created the Peterborough social impact bond – the first in the world – said the SIB had succeeded in reducing reoffending by 9 per cent, against a Ministry of Justice target of 7.5 per cent.

A social impact bond is a type of payment-by-results contract where a charity or other social purpose organisation agrees to deliver a given outcome. Unlike a standard PbR contract, the funding to deliver the project comes from third party investors. If the project hits agreed targets, the investors and charity make money. If it fails, the investors are the ones who lose out.

The SIB model has been widely adopted, with 89 examples in 19 countries worth over £300m. It has been praised because it provides social bodies with freedom to innovate, allows the development of long-term solutions and early intervention, and transfers risk away from charities and public commissioners. But it remains controversial because it is seen as complex, bureaucratic and expensive. SIBs have also struggled to create sufficiently accurate measures to assess whether social issues are being addressed, and are sometimes seen as commodifying social problems.

The Peterborough SIB was intended to invest £5m in reducing reoffending in three tranches of 1,000 prisoners who were leaving Peterborough Prison after serving sentences of less than 12 months. It was intended to operate over seven years.

However the SIB was abandoned after the second tranche, because of the launch of a new government programme, Transforming Rehabilitation, which involved PbR contracts to reduce reoffending among all short-term prisoners, and removed the ability to judge the SIB against a control group. Transforming Rehabilitation, which was based partly on the success of the SIB, has since been heavily criticised for failing to follow its principles, and reverting to the use of large private providers.

David Hutchison, chief executive of Social Finance, said: 

“The Peterborough Social Impact Bond captured people’s imagination with the simple premise that it is possible to invest in interventions to tackle difficult social issues. The results today reflect the hard work, commitment and tenacity of all those involved, working with this group of offenders to help them rebuild their lives. I am immensely grateful to all our partners for their commitment over the past seven years. We have learned that impact investment can drive real change and harness communities and action to rethink how we resolve the challenges our societies face.”
The SIB was delivered by the One Service, a partnership administered by Social Finance. Organisations involved in the delivery included:

St Giles Trust
Ormiston Families
Sova
MIND
TTG Training
YMCA
John Laing Training

Investors in the SIB include:


Barrow Cadbury Trust
The CowPat Trust
Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
Friends Provident Foundation
Golden Bottle Trust
The Henry Smith Charity
The Hintze Family Charitable Foundation
J Paul Getty Jr Charitable Trust
Johansson Family Foundation
K L Felicitas Foundation
LankellyChase Foundation
Monument Trust
Panahpur
Paul Hamlyn Foundation
R&S Cohen Foundation
Rockefeller Foundation and the Tudor Trust


--oo00oo--

Readers interested in the topic of TTG (Through the Gate) and short term prisoners generally - the famous 'leave prison with only £46 in their pocket' group so often quoted by Chris Grayling as the main reason for TR - will no doubt be interested in this statement contained on the official MoJ 'Open Justice' website:-
"Offenders sentenced to less than 12 months also serve the second half in the community but are not actively supervised by Probation."
as a consquence, many of us are asking 'so what the hell was TR all about then?'  

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Latest From Napo 158

Here we have a slightly edited version of the latest blog post from the Napo General Secretary. (I've included a shot of the Private Eye article).

More big money being thrown at the CRC's?

Hard on the heels of last week’s revelations that at least £22 Million has found its way into struggling CRC’s to see them through this financial year (and still we await news of Sodexo’s hand out), comes an eye watering report that £277 million will be found to provide further funding for them over the next 4 years.

The intrepid Private Eye publication seems to be on the case in a big way for this one; and their story today that the European Journals record the pay-out that was never actually specifically announced to Parliament, will cause considerable anger to all of our members, but especially those in CRC’s who in some cases (Working Links take note) have yet to receive the 1% contractual pay increment as paid out by the NPS. Yet they are shoring up their employers activities with increased caseloads, hours and hours of often non-redeemable TOIL within operating models that have been deemed as sub-standard by any number of HMIP reports.



I have yet to see a denial from the MoJ about its contents and we are fielding media enquiries by saying that on the balance of probabilities it won’t surprise us to learn of its authenticity. If so, it won’t have been the first or last time that Ministers have slipped controversial news under the Parliamentary radar.

As you might expect we, in concert with UNISON and GMB, have already raised questions about just what the Probation System Review has recommended and which money tree has been shaken this week, with letters fired off to the Secretary of State (see extracts below), the Chair of the National Audit Office and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

Once the Justice Select Committee members have been confirmed on the resumption of Parliament next month we will be knocking on their door as well.

Rt Hon David Lidington MP
Secretary of State for Justice
Ministry of Justice

7 August 2017

Dear David
Probation System Review

Before the last election, the probation unions were invited to a meeting with Justin Russell, Director General for Offender Reform & Commissioning Group, on 3 May to discuss a Green Paper on improving the effectiveness of community sentences and delivery of probation services which Liz Truss was proposing to publish later that month.

We understood at the time that the proposed Green Paper would tie in with publication of the outcome of the Probation System Review, which had been delayed on a number of occasions previously.

The General Election intervened, but it appears from your MOJ intranet statement published on 19 July, and Sam Gyimah’s written ministerial statement of the same date, that it is no longer the Government’s intention to publish a Green Paper, nor the outcome of the Probation System Review. We have to put on record our extreme disappointment if this is indeed the outcome you intend.

In your intranet statement you state that the Transforming Rehabilitation Reforms have ‘...encountered unforeseen challenges.’ On behalf of our members, who, alongside ourselves, very clearly foresaw and warned against these challenges when your predecessor Chris Grayling was pushing through his reforms in the teeth of almost unanimous opposition, we have to say that the government was well aware at the time of just how controversial and risky the reforms were. The reforms were forced on the probation service against the advice of just about everyone.

You state later in your intranet statement that ‘...transparency is key to effective public service reform...’ We could not agree more. We assume that your commitment to transparency will see the following published without further delay:
  • The full findings and recommendations of your Probation System Review
  • The measures you have taken to ‘adjust’ the CRC contracts ‘...to reflect more accurately the cost of providing critical frontline services...’
  • The full details of the additional money which you have apparently made available to the CRCs in light of the Probation System Review
We welcome the additional funding for the Probation Inspectorate. However, we ask you to accept the possibility that, if the Inspectorate’s reports into the functioning of the CRC contracts continue in the vein of the last 12 months very critical reports, you must seriously consider whether your predecessor’s reforms can ever recover the credibility which they have lost with most stakeholders in the world of police and justice, or whether the time has come to take the failing contracts back into public ownership and control. The reforms were ideological in their conception and we hope that ideology will not hold you back from making sensible decisions in the public interest…..
Yours etc

FM and WNS in Approved Premises

The Probation unions have again raised our serious concerns about the decision to contract out the night security provision and monitoring work in Approved Premises.

We also included this passage in our letter to the SoSfJ this week:

‘It is ironic that at the same time as you have had to publically accept the failures of the Transforming Rehabilitation Reforms your department is continuing with the dangerous and ill-thought out privatisation of night waking supervision in the Probation Approved Premises. The unions have opposed this risky outsourcing since it was first proposed. No business case has ever been presented to justify the privatisation, and we suspect that none exists. As you are well aware, approved premises look after some of the most dangerous service users supervised by the NPS. Night working at approved premises is just not the type of work which anyone who understands risk and public protection would think suitable for handing over to contractors who will employ poorly trained staff on the national minimum wage. We urge you to do the right thing for residents and staff at approved premises and for the safety of our communities by cancelling this dangerous privatisation now.'

The tragic events at Burdett Lodge Approved Premises in Derbyshire last weekend (the second murder of an AP resident in the last 12 months), has exacerbated our fears about the safety aspects of this project. As I have said in a letter to Michael Spurr this week, this worrying incident (even while the full facts are obviously being established) comes in addition to our principled objection that the outsourcing of work with high risk clients was not even considered to be a sensible proposition within the overall framework of Transforming Rehabilitation.

I went on to say that this is another project that does not appear to have been the subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and that the unions will be raising our concerns directly with Ministers and the Chair of the Justice Select Committee.

Even at this late stage the unions are seeking a moratorium on the award of the contract but don’t all hold your breath will you?

Hardeep Mathura wants to hear from you

As I said last week, the prison and rehabilitation agenda and the role of the probation service are receiving some welcome conventional coverage as well as that from an increasing number of social media outlets. I was therefore delighted to hear from Hardeep Mathura again, who did some work with us during our TR campaign, and is now especially interested to get Napo’s take on the situation three years on.

We will do all we can from the centre obviously, but Hardeep wants to hear from our members and their personal testimonies of life at the front face whether you work in the NPS or a CRC. Hardeep guarantees anonymity for anyone who wants to contact her and you can do so by using the link in to her latest article below in ‘Byline’ to arrange this.

https://t.co/sGhaX7JCfo

Attendance at Napo’s 2017 AGM and Annual Conference

Some good news to report for a change as Sonia Crozier has written to me to confirm that once again Napo members working in the NPS will be able to request a day’s professional development time to cover part of their attendance at the AGM (13th & 14th October).

This has been agreed with HMPPS on the basis that Napo is a professional association as well as a trade union, and both Sonia Crozier and Jim Barton in his new role as lead for Contracts and Commercial will be in Nottingham as well.

The usual caveats apply of course but we would advise members wishing to make use of development time to attend the AGM to make an early application through their line manager for logged development time plus any TOIL/Annual Leave that you might need to take as well.

You will of course also need to make sure that you properly record any professional development time granted on development logs, but you will not be able to claim any travel or subsistence expenses from the employer. You should contact your branch to find out about support with travel/accommodation etc. at AGM.

NPS Directors and the Director of HMPPS in Wales have been made aware of the above arrangements, but in case of difficulty please direct queries via your branch Chair to Kath Falcon. You can register to attend AGM online or download a paper registration form by CLICKING HERE

I have gratefully acknowledged Sonia’s decision and will be writing to all the Chief Executives of the Probation Board NI, Cafcass and the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies to ask them to also afford the same facility to their staff.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Guest Blog 66

Life on Licence

Some months ago I finished the licence portion of my sentence after a three year prison term. The licence started in 2014 so it spanned the changes between the old system and the new supposedly shinier, all singing, all dancing privatised probation service brought in by Chris Grayling in his term as SSJ. This post is about my experiences of probation over that time.

Purple Futures aka Interserve took over from the former probation trust in my area in February 2015. This was lauded as “a really good thing”, or so I was told by my OM, because allegedly Interserve had been incredibly sensible and had hired former probation staff to run the new CRC. So, in contrast to what was happening in other areas under other providers who hadn’t been as foresighted, this was going to be THE model on how to run a privatised probation service. Imagine a drum roll at this point, followed by a marching band playing hail the conquering heroes.

I was highly sceptical of these claims given Interserve’s chequered history of running anything, anywhere, as a quick Google search makes abundantly clear. But the OM had the fervour of the recently converted religious acolyte and could only spout endlessly about how absolutely marvellously things were going to work out under the new corporate overlords. Maybe I’m just cynical, but detail on exactly how they were going to do this wonderful thing seemed to be conspicuously absent. Apparently one was just supposed to believe in fairies and unicorns etc.

Privatisation of public services in the UK, despite being lauded as the panacea to all ills for politicians from Thatcher onwards, has pretty much been a uniform failure as the privatisation of rail services to utility companies to private prisons etc. has made abundantly clear. So it was highly unlikely the privatisation of probation was going to be a rousing success. And let’s face it; Chris Grayling’s track record ain’t exactly stellar. But to be fair, all of those I knew in prison released around the same time I was decided to give probation the benefit of the doubt and approach things with an open mind and to judge what happened next on our personal experiences.

I’d pretty much served a year of the licence under the old system before it became the new all singing all dancing one. Additionally I had also had contact with the pre TR system whilst still in custody. In other words, I had a pretty good basis of comparison upon which to judge both the old and new systems.

To be blunt: probation pre TR, in my opinion, was pretty dysfunctional and this mainly seemed to be due to both quality of staff and the attitude of staff and management towards clients. By the time of release I was on OM number 4. Numbers 1 and 2 did little more than send out the obligatory yearly letter and failed to answer any letters I sent to them (apparently far too busy to answer correspondence from prisoners even before staffing numbers were decimated by TR according to a response to a complaint I filed about their rudeness in not answering my letters). This astounded me as professional courtesy should at the very least dictate you send a response to all correspondence received. But apparently the old probation system didn’t believe in such things.

Number three seemed to delight in needlessly causing complications for some unknown reason and her decisions ended up being struck down in a judicial review for having breached my legal rights as well as breaking a number of legal obligations under several Probation Instructions. She vanished shortly thereafter on maternity leave and as far as I’m aware never resurfaced. So not exactly the most productive working relationship.

Number four showed up some time after this and this is the one I was stuck with until the end of the licence. I’ve never quite been able to come up with an appropriate label for Number 4 who veered between jobsworth, ragingly incompetent, completely disinterested and spiteful. But I’ve always been struck throughout every single interaction I had with her, how completely unsuited to the job she was. Every interaction we had was about her and not me and on the odd occasion when things were about me it was always about her, if you get what I mean. She had absolutely no interest in any developments happening in the world or the criminal justice system that may have an impact on her job or me; she refused to look at any documents such as court papers I had that would have corrected the many many instances of incorrect information in my probation records and her decision making seemed to be lacking in both rigour and care. She got really pissed off if I complained about her to management no matter how justified the complaint might have been (interestingly every one was found in my favour). My philosophy was, if you’re going to hold me to account for my failings then it is not unreasonable for me to do the same to you, especially when those failings can impact hugely on me. The whole do unto others thing. But apparently people get really upset when you treat them as they treat you.

There were a number of specific areas that came up as particularly unsatisfactory during the term of the licence. These were:

Accommodation

Despite being offered suitable (and free) accommodation by a friend which would have allowed me a secure roof over my head whilst I got my life back on track after release and the other probation trust agreeing in writing to accept me if the OM put in a request, my OM refused point blank to even entertain the idea. So I got released back to an area I had no connection to but was merely where I got arrested with nowhere to live and no support network. She did, grudgingly refer me to the local homeless hostel where I spent a truly awful four months living in a worse environment than prison (more drug addicts openly using, more crime etc) with the only advantages being better food and the fact you could come and go as you pleased. I also ended up with less money than I’d had in prison as the hostel took over half of my weekly benefit amount.

It’s not just me who has had these issues regarding accommodation on release. I regularly talk to a homeless guy in our town centre who spent time in jail and ended up on the streets on release despite being offered accommodation with his family in another area of the country (his OM also refused to let him move away from the area he was arrested in). His view of probation is about as positive as mine. He has had even less help or support from his OM than I have, which is saying something. Despite there being a number of emergency beds in the homeless shelters in town available every night the OM didn’t even bestir herself to refer him to any of them or even to the local homeless team when he got out and without a referral you can’t get in to them and you can’t self refer. She has done absolutely nothing for him since his release seemingly quite happy that he is living on the street, regularly beaten up by drunks on the weekend, begging for money for food and with his mental and physical health visibly deteriorating week by week

Grants

Many grants available to people in desperate need of money, such as ex prisoners, can often only be accessed through a third party such as probation or a social worker. Some of the easiest to get funding for, for ex prisoners, is only through probation submitting an application on behalf of the ex prisoner.

Probation, prior to TR, was reluctant to do even the simplest of grants for even the most basic necessities. Post TR, there was an absolute refusal to even consider this despite it being clearly explained, with supporting documents, how important it was for probation to help because it may often have been the only source of funds available to meet basic needs.

Charities and grant funding trusts would be more than likely unaware that probation were now refusing to help needy applicants apply for funds so would have been very unlikely to change the application terms so another referrer could be sought and utilised such as the CAB (not every ex prisoner has or is eligible for a social worker for example). This refusal by probation was deliberately and knowingly cutting vulnerable people off from accessing funds that could help them get their lives back on track. I’d also add that these grant applications were simple and straightforward so would have taken little time to complete.

Jobs

The major thing that really struck me about how dysfunctional probation was, was in relation to working or volunteering after release from prison. Study after study has shown that getting a job after prison is one of the main things that helps reduce the possibility of reoffending. So you’d think that probation would be only too supportive of someone wanting to get a job and having the skills and experience to do so and who was a very low risk offender unlikely to reoffend. But the reality is weirdly quite different.

I wanted to get a decent job that would allow me to use my skills and experience and give me a liveable income or at least do some volunteering until I could secure a reasonable job after a being unemployed for three years languishing at Her Majesty’s pleasure. There was nothing in my licence that would have prevented me from working or even volunteering but oddly, obstacle after obstacle was put in my way. At one point I was threatened with recall for even enquiring about volunteering placements.

In fact the only thing she would let me apply for was Timpsons’ training programme for ex cons (and this only after I filed a complaint about her refusal to let me work or volunteer). But as I have never had the slightest desire to do shoe repairs, would be unlikely to be considered for any such role being vastly over qualified (i.e. Timpsons would consider I wouldn’t stay so it would be a waste of time and money training me) and had a medical condition that affected my manual dexterity so wouldn’t have been able to actually do the job, this was a non starter.

I wasn’t allowed to go down the self employed route either. Apparently this was a sure fire way for me to start prolifically reoffending despite a total lack of evidence to support this assertion (my offence had nothing to do with my previous employment for example).

I wasn’t even allowed to do any voluntary work which would have polished up my skill set and given me a good reference for when I was allowed to work again. From what I was able to dig out of an alternate and fifth OM who subbed for number 4 when she was away on holiday or off sick, it boiled down to the fact that the OM simply couldn’t be bothered to do the necessary paperwork for volunteer or paid employment and routinely refused permission for anyone she was supervising to do either.

Mind you, talking to other people who I was inside with who were on licence at the same time as me or who still are, this is very common amongst OM’s as only one of us has actually been permitted to work during their licence period. Everyone else was, let’s say, “strongly discouraged” from doing so. Give that we’re all in different areas under different CRC’s or different bits of the NPS it’s clearly an issue across the board and not just limited to one OM in one CRC. It seems that consigning those released from prison to a life on benefits whilst on licence is much preferred by a substantial number of probation practitioners in all areas simply because it’s less work for the OM. The fact that it’s potentially very detrimental to the ex prisoner and counter to the stated goals of rehabilitation and probation seems completely irrelevant.

So basically I was stuck on benefits for the entire licence which was just so much fun though at least the DWP couldn’t sanction me because it was probation preventing me from working and not anything I was or was not doing. Now I’m off licence, I’ve been out of the work place for so long, I’m verging on unemployable. Trying to get more up to date qualifications has proven to be a non starter as you simply can’t get funding if you already have a degree qualification and having been on benefits for over three years and losing absolutely everything I owned whilst inside, I cannot self fund. I’ve started doing some volunteer work in a local charity shop just to get myself out of the house as much as possible and back into the real world. All of this could have been so easily avoided and makes me wonder why probation is allowed to get away with doing things like this.

Reporting/Supervision

One thing that did noticeably change was that reporting went from face to face meetings to phone calls immediately after February 2015. I’d gone from weekly meetings to fortnightly meetings after three months to monthly meetings after 6 months. But the moment things got handed over to the privateers the monthly face to face went to monthly phone calls with face to face meetings scheduled only once in a blue moon. This is true for all of those on licence I know no matter what our risk level. I’m not sure how you can properly supervise anyone over the phone especially in this day and age of mobile phones because the supervisee could literally be anywhere doing anything but as long as they answer the phone at the scheduled time that’s apparently fine.

Every single reporting session was a complete waste of time. I learned very quickly, as did just about everyone else I knew on licence, that it was simply not a good idea to talk about anything personal, good or bad with your OM because it only led to trouble. You got in and out as quickly as possible, said as little as possible and never discussed anything personal. One of the few people I know who didn’t stick to this rule got recalled for bursting into tears in front of their OM after getting some bad news about a death in the family and was promptly recalled as apparently crying means you’re emotionally unstable and immediately going to run out and commit a crime (she wasn’t, she just had a perfectly normal reaction to some bad news).

Supervision suggests an active involvement with the offender and working with them to help them understand what caused them to commit the crime in the first place and what would stop them reoffending in the future and providing the help necessary to facilitate that. What you get in practice these days is a tick box exercise of a monthly phone call lasting no more than five minutes and zero help. In most cases, not even a leaflet.

The legal stuff

One thing that has always struck me about both prison and probation is the sheer disregard for the law most prison and probation staff have. Trampling over inmates’ or those on licence’s legal rights happens on a regular basis and with seeming endorsement by management who consistently fail to either provide proper training to prevent it or police those breaking the law in their organisations. This always strikes me as completely hypocritical. Surely both prison and probation staff have a moral and ethical, if not legal, obligation to set a good example for those they supervise to help those convicted of crime lead a law abiding life? It really doesn’t inspire anyone trying to go straight to constantly see people regularly and with seeming impunity break the law. The law, it would seem, to a casual observer of such things, only applies to those society have deemed to be on the receiving end of it.

I was lucky enough to have sufficient education, intelligence and strength of character (which no doubt some would label “bloody mindedness”) to be able to inform myself of my legal rights and to tackle a dysfunctional system that ran roughshod over those rights on a regular basis. I was also not what one would deem vulnerable having no mental health issues, no drug or alcohol issues and had not been exploited by anyone and forced to commit crime. If I had been vulnerable, as so many are who end up in prison, I would have received no help or support from a system that is supposed to provide such things and would probably have ended up back inside as no doubt many who I knew inside did simply because they failed to get the help and support they needed to turn their lives around. Probation, in my experience, never really seemed to care about those it supervised and now simply doesn’t give a toss about anything other than ticking all the boxes to collect all the money.

Another thing that changed noticeably between pre and post TR was the whole data protection thing which, as anyone who has read Inside Time on a regular basis will know, is a major issue for prisoners due to their records being riddled with inaccuracies which cause huge problems with progression and release. Pre TR you got a copy of your records for free under a data subject access request and it was pretty straightforward to get inaccuracies amended. After TR you had to cough up a tenner despite the fact they are basically the same records written by the same people. Which if you’re on benefits is a lot of money and would put most people off asking for them no matter how badly they were needed. Another clear sign that the CRC’s are not providing a service for the benefit of anyone.

My OASys reports were consistently done late and, for the most part inaccurately completed (wrong offence, wrong date of birth, incorrect name spellings to name just a few issues). It turned out these issues weren’t just limited to the OASys but were also throughout every record held by the Trust/CRC. This is despite the fact that the Data Protection Act 1998 is very clear that anyone putting any personal data about you into their organisation’s records has a legal obligation to ensure that what they are entering is factually accurate. With any data received from third parties there is also a legal obligation to verify it for accuracy before it is entered into your records. You also have to record the source of the third party data. Professional opinions are allowed to be included in your data BUT they must be clearly shown to be just that and cannot be presented as fact.

Unfortunately my OM was blithely unaware of her legal obligations re the DPA until I tackled her about why she was stating so many factually inaccurate things in my records and passing off her professional opinion of me as fact. Not only was she unaware of her legal obligations, it also turned out she simply didn’t care. She even stated on a significant number of occasions that it “was not her job” when the law states it is. This is a massive failing in training staff by management especially where companies and organisations can end up with some pretty hefty fines for data protection failings. It is not enough to appoint a Data Controller in head office and assume your legal obligations are done and dusted; you have to thoroughly train staff in their legal obligations as well in this area. I can only assume it’s because management assumes all offenders are stupid and/or uneducated with no interest in or understanding of their legal rights so they can get away with it.

My OM seemed to also be blithely unaware of my licence conditions despite the fact she’d actually written them. She’d stuck me with some special licence conditions which were ludicrous and completely unnecessary as the standard conditions would have easily covered things and I was about the lowest risk offender going (according to all analyses). But even though she had actually drafted these conditions, she seemed to be completely unaware of what they actually said and on several occasions she alleged I’d breached the terms of my licence when I hadn’t simply because she had misinterpreted what she herself had actually written. It took a formal complaint to the Chief Executive to resolve the matter which seemed a ridiculous way to have to resolve things.

So what have I learned from my time on licence? I cannot in all conscience say that I learned anything from being in prison or on licence except that the entire system is completely dysfunctional and not fit for purpose. There is absolutely no benefit whatsoever for most people of being supervised by probation as it currently stands. In fact, for most people, probation seems to be a horrendous waste of time and money that could be better invested in things that might actually work to help reduce reoffending.

It’s also clear that an awful lot of people employed in the service are, like a lot of prison officers, simply not suited to the job. I have no idea if my OM is typical or not of the average probation officer in the current system – she may well be to some degree from what I have gathered from talking to others on licence. But it seems from the experience of all these people that the average OM leaves a lot to be desired. This cannot all be down to a flawed system that has decimated any help there was back in the good old days but must have something to do with those working in probation at all levels. You do hear the odd encouraging story of a decent OM but sadly they seem to be in the minority. The best things I’ve heard from people about their OM was that they kept out of the way whilst people got on with their lives and they didn’t impose stupid shit on their supervisees. In other words, they were better than most simply by being pretty much absent from the equation.

I struggle to see how things can be fixed without throwing the entire current system out and installing a completely new one based on a system that actually does what it says on the tin like the Nordic or Dutch systems. Though there is unfortunately zero appetite from government for such things as has become increasingly clear over the past decade or so. It might help if the SSJ was someone who had courage, convictions and actually had a clue but no Tory seems to possess such qualities.

There also needs to be root and branch wholesale look at the entire criminal justice system in the UK. If other countries can get it right, or at least do a lot better than the UK is, why are those in charge in this country so reluctant to introduce practice that actually works? It needs to start in the police station after someone has been arrested and proceed through the entire court system, into prison or probation.

I suspect that practitioners who still have pride in their profession will strongly disagree with what I have said but this is my experience of life on licence and not so very different to experiences of others on licence during the same time period.


Anon