Saturday, 10 December 2016

What You Told The Guardian

Here it is:-

'The job used to have integrity': readers on Britain's probation services

An official review into the failing performance of the government’s privatisation of the probation service, has been called for by justice secretary Liz Truss. The probation service was split in 2014 into 21 private community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) and a public National Probation Service (NPS), replacing the former 35 probation trusts.

Truss told MPs on Tuesday that the review into the performance of the privatised probation companies would be finished by April and would include measures to improve the service. The announcement came after highly critical reports by the chief inspector of probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, found companies struggled to deliver the supervision of 250,000 offenders a year.

We asked people working in probation services in the UK for their views and experiences. From low morale among staff to excessive case loads, and unsuitable risk assessments, here’s what some of them said.

Working for the publicly owned NPS: ‘Staff have no faith in leadership’

The probation trusts we used to have were rooted in localism and worked closely with partner organisations such as the police, social care and the health service. But all those relationships have been put under strain by the arrogant attitude emanating from Whitehall. Staff still believe in the job they do but have no faith in leadership.

The recent staff survey information indicated that just 3% thought that the NPS had made improvements - I think that says it all. As we’re such a small organisation we won’t get the headlines that problems in the prison service get but if things go wrong with us, the consequences for the public could be even greater.

Neil, East Midlands

‘I suffered burnout and am now on unpaid leave’

Nobody is receiving the service they should and it has become too difficult to do a good job. People are leaving and sickness levels due to stress and depression are high - it is not uncommon for people to cry at their desks.

I have been qualified as an officer for 11 years and have a range of experience, from prison work to managing a team of probation officers. However, I had a period of sick leave due to depression and am now on unpaid leave. Direct line managers and colleagues were generally supportive but despite that I have suffered burnout. I am now travelling around Europe in a motorhome with my children!

Alison, Scotland

Public protection within the NPS: ‘Staff are inexperienced, inadequately trained and very poorly paid’

We’re supposed to offer a service where high risk offenders (while on licence) are directed to reside in places where they can be monitored before being released into the community, but it’s staffed with people who are inexperienced, inadequately trained and very poorly paid. How does that facilitate public protection?

It’s been awful from the word go but I wanted to stick it out and learn something new. I’d never worked in probation before. However after almost ten years I handed in my resignation on Monday. I’ve learnt a great deal. I’ve really enjoyed the work and helping people change their lives is great. Human behaviour is very interesting and although the public might not understand probation and what it does (which is probation’s fault) all of these offenders have been victims at one time too. Society is very ill. A philosopher once said: ‘Society gets the criminals it deserves,’ and that it does.

Simone, Guildford

Working for London CRC which is privately owned by MTCnovo: ‘Excessive case loads are putting public protection at risk’

I have been a probation officer for 11 years and supervise male offenders predominately for domestic violence offences. Before privatisation I worked in a team of 11 and had a case load of between 40-50 offenders. Now I am in a team of 7 and have a caseload of 70.

I am supposed to assess their risk and compile a community sentence plan (this is where we look at the needs of the offender and work to improve their situation whilst reducing their risk. For example someone who becomes violent when drunk will need alcohol intervention as well as help addressing the reasoning behind violence such as power and control, or anger management). In the current political climate many offenders have mental health issues and there is no longer any provision for this issue as London CRC have disbanded the mental health cohort. We also find many of our clients have housing issues and benefit sanctions.

Before privatisation we used to see offenders weekly for a minimum of 16 weeks and each session would last at least a minimum of an hour. In doing so we would build a positive rapport and a thorough analysis of the offender, their needs and their risk. Now we have too many offenders and not enough time. I see my offenders on average for 20 minutes once a month. There is no minimum requirement and our managers encourage us constantly to see them less and sign post them more which is a false fallacy as community services are scarce and stretched.

Public protection is at risk here with excessive case loads but no one is monitoring this and managers do not care. We are robustly managed to hit targets but are totally missing the point. I want to resign. My job has become a tick box exercise. The people I see are damaged and often dangerous, with violent backgrounds or mental health issues and need support.

David, London

Custody within a CRC: ‘There have been a number of totally inaccurate and inappropriate risk assessments’

I’m a custody probation officer and my job is effectively the ‘motto’ of probation: protect the public, rehabilitate the offender, and enforce the law. Public protection means assessing the risks (of harm and re-offender) of any particular prisoner. Rehabilitate the offender (ideally) means ensuring they receive the most appropriate work to address their offending. Enforce the law means ensuring an offender (whether on a community order or on a prison licence) abided to his or her conditions.

Prison officers are few and far between, so we have to find one who has time, energy and the inclination, to unlock a prisoner so we can do some work. In the past, a prisoner making a request would have it dealt with appropriately. These days, I could receive umpteen emails, phone calls or being collared while out and about the prison, to tell me a prisoner needed to speak to me.

With regards to CRCs - half the time we don’t have up-to-date contact information, so cannot phone or email an outside officer for whatever reason. There have been a number of totally inaccurate and inappropriate risk assessments. One I saw involved a man who had committed GBH three times in a drunken pub fight. The CRC assessed him as a low risk of harm because he did not know any of the victims before pushing a beer glass in their faces.

Lots of people who do front-line work are having long periods of sick leave. If these stressed people stay in their jobs, they’re not going to be as effective as they should be, or once were. The whole system is collapsing and we’re just letting it happen.

Nemo, Worcestershire

Enforcement within a CRC: ‘I have given up trying to defend the indefensible’

We have lost experienced enforcement officers who would rather take redundancy than work in a job they are now ashamed of. I prosecute breaches - when anyone bothers to take any action - and am constantly having to try and explain to the courts why offenders have not been seen for months. I have given up trying to defend the indefensible. If victims of crime knew that even the paltry sentences handed down are not even carried out, how do you think they would feel? The government tells us crime is going down (which is nonsense), people just do not even bother to report it.

Taylor, Devon

Working in a senior attendance centre for a CRC: ‘I was transferred in 2014 and am yet to have any job specific training’

I have been in my current role for 12 years but directly under government bodies, and was transferred to a CRC in August 2014. My role is predominantly working face to face with low to medium risk service users and ensuring they report regularly to the centre. Myself and other colleagues have yet to have any job specific training other then a few hours being shown a few key things on their database. I have received no training in relation to health and safety. I have very little contact with supervising officers to find out how their service users are complying with their orders, and there are so many probation officers with unsafe case levels to manage.

As for the companies interest or obligation for my welfare, it is practically nonexistent. I have had one appraisal six months after I transferred, and three different line managers! I have now been told that redundancy for me is very likely, as they are attempting to make what was once a thriving sentencing option into a skeleton service.

Sadie, Exeter

Victim services within a CRC: ‘Victims are lost in the system and the reason why offenders are on probation is forgotten’

If you are a victim of crime you would like to believe that the offender will be held to account and required to complete the sentence set out at court. This is not the case - because we work in a target driven culture. The emphasis is to get the offender through the order so it can be viewed as a successful completion - and to achieve this probation officers are expected to do whatever they can. So in reality there are no national standards, you cannot breach anyone and you can’t recall anyone - offenders rule the service.

Previously an offender could have two missed appointments before they would be in breach and taken back to court now offenders get through their orders hardly setting foot in an office. Telephone calls are now classed as appointments, and any requirements such as programmes are overlooked, if they don’t want to do it then on the whole they don’t have to. We are expected to do anything and overlook everything in order to get a successful completion. The word public protection used to be the core of probation but now it’s not even considered.

The job used to have integrity, but now we are at the mercy of people who don’t actually care about victims or potential victims. Instead they are lost in the system and the very reason why offenders are on probation is forgotten.

Emmy, West Yorkshire

Working in resettlement in a CRC: ‘Before privatisation I would have been supervised by managers’

I am a probation practitioner which involves risk assessment, and going out to prison wings to interview prisoners for accommodation, benefits, finances, relationships, health and wellbeing, and behaviour. We then action the issues they have, always bearing in mind the risk posed to the public. As you can imagine some prisoners have a multitude of issues. We then have to try and find the allocated officer in the community, which is difficult now as splitting the service has made this a very tiring and arduous task.

Before the split I would have had the support of managers including supervision. Now it is nonexistent and we are expected to run innumerable caseloads. We have to offer the above support services knowing they are not working. We have been de-skilled as officers due to not having support with what we are supposed to be delivering in custody, such as interventions. We are not coping with the changes that the government have imposed and hand-in-hand with the current state of the prison, police and our service, I am fearful of the future. I am afraid for the public given that prisoners are leaving without appropriate services in place, with one of the worst hit areas being mental health. I am very aware of people leaving custody with no support because there is none.

DP, Birmingham

Support from the courts: ‘Clients are released with nothing and appear back in court for food theft’

I work in a Midlands court team. I write sentencing reports, cover criminal sentencing courts and provide information to the courts about any current cases. I interview individuals and then provide a proposal for sentence. I am supposed to look at risk levels and ways to reduce reoffending, ways to rehabilitate and ways to keep known persons and the public safe. This is nigh on impossible when we don’t even know what privately run companies are actually providing. Our team has had seven different managers over the last two years. Staff moral is at an all time low.

We basically lie when proposing sentences in our reports. We tell judges and magistrates that particular lines of work will be done when in reality, clients are never seen and go weeks without appointments. Drug and alcohol services are nigh on useless and it takes weeks to set up any type of prescription for them. Clients are released with literally nothing and nowhere to go and then appear back in court for shop theft of food - what a surprise.

Tamzin, Nottingham

Friday, 9 December 2016

Latest From Napo 128

TO: All Napo NPS members (by mail out)
CC: Napo CRC members (for information)
Branch Chairs, Vice-Chairs, Secretaries and Convenors
National Executive Committee
Family Court SEC (for information)
Napo Officers and Staff

Dear Member,

E3 Job Evaluation Appeal Results – Enforcement Officer

Napo Officers and Officials share the disappointment that members will have about the outcome of the Job Evaluation Appeal panel for the Enforcement Officer role (Band 3)

The process

In order to avoid any confusion it may help to be explicit about the process used for the appeals. As is the case for all the job evaluation outcomes, the new job roles are part of the changes being brought in by E3 and anyone currently being paid at a higher band will be covered by the protections agreed in the E3 implementation Agreement which we secured before the process began.

This was not the familiar individual process of job evaluation appeal as we are in a national process of organisational change. The Unions prepared collective appeals to be re-evaluated. For Napo, Katie Lomas (National Vice-Chair) worked with specialist practitioner Napo members to prepare appeals. We then met with the Employers to go through a process of discussion for each of the roles and had an opportunity to amend our appeal documents based on the discussions.

It is useful at this point to note that this is not an individual process where the employee's account of what their role is or will be in the future is automatically accepted. This is an employer owned process and under the scheme rules it is for the employer to dictate which duties and responsibilities they want to include in a new job description. This means that if they want a job to have a lower grade, they can remove duties and responsibilities from the role. We of course sought to challenge this during the appeal process where we and the practitioners that attended the discussions with us, worked very hard to ensure that we challenged each area where duties and responsibilities were, in the opinion of our members, missing; however it is the employers’ prerogative to remove these.

This work was done in conjunction with practicing members and took into account the wealth of information and the considerable amount of time that members had contributed in their work alongside Katie.

Where do we go from here?

Napo will work with all of our members involved to ensure that no one is expected to carry out any duties and responsibilities that have now been removed from the job description in order to achieve the new E3 specific grading. We will liaise with members impacted by the new grading to ensure that the E3 agreement is adhered to and that where applicable, members currently graded above the appeal outcomes are offered support to seek alternative roles at the appropriate grade during the three years of pay protection.

We will also work with members to ensure that we continue to raise the issues you have highlighted around new operating models and concerns about service delivery and the public safety considerations. We will of course need ongoing input from members to do this effectively, feeding back to branches, officers and officials.

Napo will work with all members involved to review the situation after 6 months of working to the new E3 job descriptions so that if, in practice, there are elements of the role that were not included in the job evaluation appeal we will apply for a re-evaluation as per the NNC policy.

We fully appreciate that this news will not be well received by our members. Be assured that Napo has done all it can to try and secure a different outcome and we have received personal testimony from members who worked with us closely during this exercise to confirm this position.

Napo will continue to challenge the operational rationale for the E3 programme and feedback through Napo branches, about its impact on members is encouraged.

Yours sincerely

National Co-Chairs    
KATIE LOMAS  National Vice-Chair      
IAN LAWRENCE General Secretary                    

Thursday, 8 December 2016

An Afternoon Matinee

I'm really glad I took time out to see this - simply a 'must see' film.

A Day in Court

Here's a glimpse of what things are like in court nowadays, basically unsatisfactory for everyone involved. This from the Guardian:-

'The system works on goodwill': how cuts are affecting magistrates

Business gets off to a brisk start as the three magistrates take their seats on the bench in court three of Luton magistrates court.

Within an hour a 50-year-old local businessman, found slumped at the wheel of his stationary company vehicle in a layby, has been dispatched with £1,036 to pay in fine and costs and a six-month driving ban. An out-of-work drink-driver, arrested at 2am for driving with no lights, leaves with £235 to pay in fine and costs, and a 12-month disqualification. He can cut that to nine months by paying to attend a drink-drive referral scheme, at a cost of up to £250.

This is typical fare for the 17,000 justices of the peace in England and Wales, and both cases are dealt with swiftly by the bench, equipped with iPads and sentencing guidelines and aided by a qualified legal clerk, or legal adviser.

To the casual observer, there is no outward sign of an overburdened, creaking system, ground down by budget cuts and court closures, which, according to the Magistrates Association, is leading to disaffected magistrates resigning in “considerable’’ numbers.

During a day spent at Luton, however, the frustrations of court users emerge. For a start, this magistrates court now covers the whole of Bedfordshire, the old Bedford magistrates court having been mothballed. “Any defendant from Bedford or surrounding villages now needs to travel to Luton, which is a 20-mile journey, and relatively difficult to manage, especially if you are on benefits,” says Stephen Halloran, director at the law firm Lawtons.

Vinod Jumnoodoo, director at another local firm, JSP Law Ltd, suspects this has contributed to a rising number of “no-shows” – of which there were four in court three when the Guardian visited on Thursday. “A train leaving Bedford at 9.05am will get to Luton at 9.19am. That train ticket will cost £15.70. Imagine stumping up for that if you’re on benefits?” says Jumnoodoo. Add to that the costs in court time of arresting and processing the absconder.

It is not a local problem. Forty-seven magistrates courts closed their doors between March and September under government proposals to reduce the £500m annual cost of the courts estate, and a further 45 are due to shut by September 2017, meaning one-fifth of all courts in England and Wales will have disappeared in 19 months.

Whether high travel costs are a factor or not, there is a brief lull for the magistrates in court three one hour into their day. The usher is juggling her list to funnel through those pleading guilty in timely fashion, but someone is late, and others are waiting to see a duty solicitor.

Jo Cestaro and Dawn McKnight, from Lawton, are on the duty solicitors’ rota this day, as is James Bailey-Woodward from JSP Law. Legal aid cuts have meant more unrepresented defendants, which has meant more people seeing duty solicitors at the court on their first appearances.

Cestaro finds herself defending a 23-year-old man, who has pleaded guilty to driving while disqualified and without insurance. It is not his first such offence and he has racked up £5,000 in outstanding fines. He is unemployed, and it is a huge burden.

One sitting magistrate, unconnected to Luton, has told the Guardian how demoralising it is to see defendants accruing fine on top of fine, with no hope of paying. More should be done, he believes, to encourage people facing driving offences to deal with it out of court. “In court fines are larger than if a person just filled in the paperwork. It is usually the poor who don’t have insurance, and the less well educated who don’t understand how to fill in the forms.”

Cestaro’s disqualified driver seems a case in point. He has diagnosed depression, a terminally ill sister, family problems, a mountain of debt and no job. The magistrates call for a pre-sentencing probation report. “Do be frank and candid; it can only help you,” the chairman of the bench says as the defendant departs with a probation services officer for interview.

Thirty minutes later, the probation report is read aloud. Magistrates decide on an eight-week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and 15 “RAR” – rehabilitation activity requirement – days. He is banned from driving for 25 months, and while there is no additional fine, he still must pay £200 – £85 prosecution costs and £115 victim surcharge, which can only be consolidated with his current fines.

Once cases could be adjourned for three weeks for a pre-sentencing written probation report. Today, they can be completed almost instantly. It appears highly efficient. But there are fears that quality may suffer. “It is a very, very brief interview. The reports are becoming a tick-box pro forma, and are more scant than they used to be without a shadow of doubt,” says Jumnoodoo. Crown court cases take precedence, and magistrates quite often find probation reports not being prepared on time, says one JP, who does not sit at Luton.

Cuts mean the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is also stretched, say lawyers, leading to papers not being available either to defence solicitors or magistrates on time. Often there is only a case summary, drawn up by police, which when actual statements arrive, after delay, “bears no resemblance to reality”, says Jumnoodoo.

Prosecutors are travelling further and being parachuted into courts they weren’t expecting to deal with, he adds: “Downtrodden prosecutors now are not too shy to simply state to the court: ‘I can’t deal with that file, I haven’t read it.’”

There is a sense that continuing cuts can lead to a dislocation nationwide between such courts and the communities they serve, with defendants, prosecutors and magistrates all travelling further, to courts rarely covered by their local newspapers.

Back in court three, business goes on without too many apparent problems. Warrants for the arrests for the “no-shows” are issued. A 29-year-old unemployed man, accused of biting a police officer in the thigh while under arrest for brandishing his belt as a weapon outside McDonald’s and refusing a blood specimen test, receives an 18-week sentence suspended for 12 months, a driving ban and fines and compensation totalling £570. The 18-year-old he got into an altercation with, and who also brandished his belt, receives a 12-month community order, 150 hours’ community service, and £170 in costs. Both get a 7pm-7am curfew.

But Bailey-Woodward from JSP Law, who is representing a woman accused of shoplifting, is forced to wait several hours for her papers to arrive, only to discover she is not, as assumed, pleading guilty, but entering a not guilty plea. A trial date is set for February.

The aim, drummed into magistrates during their training, is not to clog the system. They are trained to adjourn only “in extraordinary circumstances”, says one Luton magistrate who has spent 26 years on the bench, and who does not wish to be named. “Some days you work solidly. Others, you wonder why you bothered to come. The number of times something or someone is missing, or people have sent the papers over too late, or not at all.” But he has great sympathy with the CPS staff, “who are under a lot of pressure”.

One way courts can relieve that pressure is by “undercharging”, it is claimed. “Instead of GBH, you will get charged with an ABH. Instead of ABH you will get charged with an assault. Just to encourage people to plead to a lesser offence,” says Halloran.

Overall, the number of people being processed and charged has “drastically dropped”, and volumes are down significantly, he adds, “and it cannot all be down to the work of the youth offending team. The reality is that the police/CPS, unless they have overwhelming evidence, won’t charge an offence or they will try to divert it, just to save money.”

The system is “creaking” he says, and relies on the goodwill of those involved to keep the show on the road.

Goodwill is there. It’s there in the form of the 33-year-old mother of two young children, now in her last days of training to become a magistrate at Luton. Juggling being a magistrate with her job and motherhood is not going to be easy. “The system is not set up for people who are younger and have these other commitments,” she says. However, she is determined.

And despite his 26 years on the bench, the longstanding Luton JP remains committed. As an ex-headmaster, he laments the reduction in the number of youth courts at Luton, from two a week to just half a day a week. Here he felt he could make a real difference. Now the less serious youth offences never reach court, and the really serious cases are sent up to crown courts, which have greater sentencing powers, he says.

But, he adds: “I’m still doing it. It is still worth doing. It is still working, but it is creaking”.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Woof Woof!

Justice Secretary Liz Truss suggests barking dogs could stop drones flying drugs into prisons

Justice Secretary Liz Truss left MPs baffled after claiming that barking dogs could be used to stop drones flying drugs into prisons.The gaffe-prone Cabinet minister raised eyebrows with her unlikely solution to the growing problem of the small radio controlled aircraft delivering banned items to prisoners.

One Labour MP, during justice questions in the Commons, shouted out: "It's the minister who is barking.” And Ms Truss’s deputy, prisons minister Sam Gyimah, could be seen smirking on the Government bench behind his boss. 

(Pic nicked from Twitter - Rest from Independent.)

This from the Guardian:-

Liz Truss calls for rapid completion of probation privatisation review

The justice secretary, Liz Truss, has ordered the rapid completion of an official review into the failing performance of the government’s privatisation of the probation service.

Truss told MPs that the review into the privatised probation companies’ performance introduced by her predecessor Chris Grayling would be completed by April and would include a major overhaul as well as measures to improve the service.

The announcement comes after highly critical reports by the chief inspector of probation, Dame Glenys Stacey, that found companies were struggling to deliver the supervision of 250,000 offenders a year.

Tory MP Bob Neill, who chairs the justice select committee, has said probation service “risks heading for a car crash” and the 21 community rehabilitation companies have reported they are making a loss on almost all their seven-year contracts worth £3.7bn.

Truss told the House of Commons on Tuesday: “Our probation officers do a vital job in turning offenders’ lives around. The prisons and probation minister is conducting a comprehensive review of the probation system focused on improving the quality of our probation services.

“As with our plans for prisons we want a simpler, clearer system with specific outcome measures such as getting offenders off drugs, improving educational standards and getting offenders into apprenticeships and work.

“We also want to see closer working with the prison service. We will set out our more detailed plans after our review is completed in April.”

A joint review by the chief inspectors of probation and prisons into the performance of the part-privatisation of the probation service in June identified multiple failings in “through the gate” services, including the release from prison of one in three offenders without anywhere to live and no one in a sample of 86 offenders being given help in training, education or employment.

The probation service was split in 2014 into 21 community rehabilitation companies, supervising medium- to low-risk offenders, and a public National Probation Service (NPS), supervising high-risk offenders.

The “transforming rehabilitation” revolution, as it was dubbed, was introduced by Grayling when he was justice secretary. It included a pledge to provide supervision for the first first time for 50,000 short-term prisoners on their release without any significant extra funding.

Stacey said last month that while the caseloads for the NPS were climbing, the companies’ caseloads were much lower than anticipated and they were supervising between 6% and 36% fewer offenders with a consequential loss of income. Many companies were considering whether they could continue to afford their current staffing levels. Very little innovative work was going on.

The justice secretary also confirmed she was considering a new specific offence of prison corruption after the disclosure of Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures that showed a sharp increase in the number of staff working for prison contractors excluded for alleged smuggling.

The figures, released after a freedom of information request this year, showed the number of prison officers convicted, cautioned or dismissed for corruption over the last five years had remained relatively stable at 40 to 50 a year.

But at the same time the number of other staff, mainly contractors, excluded from jail in connection with corruption allegations, such as smuggling drugs or other contraband, had risen from 40 in 2010 to 110 in 2015.

A joint Metropolitan police and prison service investigation in 2006 suggested as many as 1,000 prison officers at that time were involved in corruption that ranged from accepting cash bribes to drug smuggling. At the same time, a corruption investigation into Pentonville prison in London led to the suspension of 14 staff.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “The vast majority of our prison staff are hard-working and honest, but we remain vigilant to the threat posed by corruption. We take swift action against the small minority who involve themselves in corruption, and those who put fellow members of prison staff in harm’s way will face the full force of the law.

“We have set out a range of measures in the recent prison safety and reform white paper to bolster our response to tackling this issue. These include closer working with the police, investing £3m in a new intelligence unit and developing a new corruption strategy in the new year. We are also considering options for the creation of a prison-specific offence of corruption.”

Need For Welsh Solutions

Former probation officer and Leader of Plaid Cymru Leanne Wood makes the case for running things differently in Wales. This from the Huffington Post:-

Prison Suicides: Emerging Crisis Shows Need For Welsh Solutions

While we are buying presents and planning family Christmas holidays, for most of us, our minds couldn’t be further away from those who are suffering or who find themselves in troubled situations. That includes all of those people who will be spending these holidays behind bars.

What happens in our prisons impacts on us all. People in prison, no matter what crime they have committed, are human beings. The vast majority of today’s prisoners will at some point be released and will return to our communities. It is in everyone’s interests that they are able to integrate back into society after release so that they don’t get stuck in a revolving door of re-offending. But that is only relevant to those who survive their sentences.

Thanks to the Howard League for Penal Reform, a hidden crisis is now being brought to light in our prisons. A record high level of suicide should shock us all. It should force politicians into action. The Welsh prison system is bundled up with England as part of a single criminal justice system.

For ‘England and Wales’, prison suicides are at an all-time high in 2016, with 102 prisoners taking their own lives during the year so far. The Wales-only figure is also shockingly high. There were 6 suicides in Wales during 2016, compared to 2 last year. There have been 3 suicides at Parc prison, 1 at Cardiff, and 2 at Swansea.

The work of the Howard League, Inquest and other organisations paints a picture of overwhelmed staff in a climate of continued cutbacks from the Westminster government. I’ve personally been contacted by prisoners and prison officers who describe a prison system that is in crisis.

The crisis is affecting both women and men prisoners. And with a large new super-prison set to open near Wrexham, this is a critical issue for us here Wales, that can no longer be ignored. HMP Berwyn will be a £200m+ Category C facility serving the north of Wales and parts of north-west England.

There has been a long-running campaign to secure a prison for the north of Wales to service people from the surrounding communities. I’ve supported that as a solution to the current situation whereby people are imprisoned too far away from their families and little consideration is given to those whose first language is Welsh. What is coming to Wrexham is not that solution. I am not convinced that a prison of that size will be able to meet the needs of the surrounding communities in the way we need it to. This new prison raises the need for greater examination and scrutiny of what goes on prisons and of wider criminal justice policy in Wales.

Prisons in Wales are run from the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison Office in London. That is not the case in Scotland. The Conservative party at both UK and Wales level has worked to ensure that criminal justice is kept out of the hands of Welsh democracy. However, many of the costs associated with this new prison will be devolved. Healthcare, housing support, education and other public services will be provided to the new prison by the Welsh Government through our devolved NHS, housing associations and local authorities. 

None of this is set to change with the Wales bill currently going through the UK parliament and so it will inevitably have to be looked at again. In the light of these latest suicide figures, Plaid Cymru contends that that debate should start immediately. Our “at-risk prisoners” can ill afford to wait for the difference that could be made from having Welsh prisons under Wales’s control.

I used to work as a Probation Officer. Drawing on my experience in that role, I authored a paper back in 2007 entitled “Make Our Communities Safer”. For me, creating safer communities should be one of the chief aims of criminal justice policy. It shouldn’t just be about punishment. It should also be about making sure our citizens are less likely to be the victims of crime. There could and should be much more focus on the prevention of offending and re-offending. What happens in the courts, in prisons or in youth justice system, affects what happens on our streets.

In last May’s Welsh elections, Plaid Cymru contested the Police and Crime Commissioner seats for the first time, winning two out of the four available positions in Wales.

Police and Crime Commissioners don’t control operational matters, but can raise important issues. Arfon Jones, North Wales PCC has opened up a debate about dealing with the harm caused to communities from open outdoor class A drug use and discarded needles through the provision of “safe rooms”. Both he and our PCC for Dyfed Powys, Dafydd Llewelyn support the devolution of criminal justice, tackling domestic abuse and other hate crimes like racism, and they want to have a clear aim to reduce re-offending.

Plaid Cymru elected Police Commissioners provide a glimpse of what kind of forward-thinking policies we would see in Wales if we had more of a say over our own criminal justice policy.

Paul Silk, chair of the Silk Commission into the Welsh constitution said he wanted to see “a Welsh government diverge from the rather vindictive criminal justice policies that have seen prisoner numbers increase in England and Wales from under 40,000 in 1985 to almost 90,000 at the latest count”. Plaid Cymru agrees. We are convinced we could do a better job of taking decisions over Welsh criminal justice matters than Westminster can.

My vision for this country includes a prison system where people are not pushed to kill themselves, where fewer people become victims of crime, and where all people with mental health problems get the treatment they need. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for, do you?

Leanne Wood

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Minister Ignored Warnings

It's probably time we returned to the vexed issue of prisons and an interesting contribution that appeared in the Guardian a week or two back concerning the riot at HMP Bedford and the role of Independent Monitoring Boards. This from the former chair of the National Association:-

We warned that the prisoners could riot. But the minister didn’t listen

I serve on the independent monitoring board at Bedford jail where prisoners rioted this month. For the past eight years I have visited the prison about once a week. Every prison in England and Wales has an IMB of ordinary citizens, appointed by the justice secretary in much the same way as are magistrates. Their voluntary job is to monitor whether prisons do what they say on the tin – provide a safe and secure environment within which to help prisoners lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after they are released. Members visit their prison unaccompanied and unannounced, and have unfettered access to it.

In August, the IMB was so concerned for the safety of prisoners and staff that it took the unprecedented step of writing to the prisons minister, Sam Gyimah, asking for his urgent help.

HMP Bedford is a small, busy jail that holds about 500 prisoners, both remanded from the courts in neighbouring towns and others whose sentence plans are still being worked out prior to their dispersal elsewhere. It is located in the town centre, with excellent communications for staff and prisoners’ families, a location that allows, in principle, for extensive partnerships and engagements with local communities. But the antiquated buildings and facilities are desperately in need of renovation to make them fit-for-purpose (typically two grown men living, sleeping, eating and relieving themselves in cells built ungenerously in 1850 for one man, now with an unscreened WC and basin in place of two tin buckets).

The IMB’s last two annual reports – to the end of June 2015 and June 2016 – warned that the jail was in need of infrastructural investment, overcrowded by as much as 50%, and perilously under-staffed.

Within prisons drugs, violence and merciless bullying are endemic. The mix is toxic and threatening, a damaging punishment over and above the deprivation of liberty, autonomy and contact with your roots. Surely no judge intended such suffering when passing sentence?

Some lessons were learned a decade before I started visiting prisons: individuals need to be treated with decency, both because they are individual human beings and because rehabilitative efforts were shown to be futile in the absence of respect. Prisons can furthermore only be run economically by consent – an implicit pact between prisoners and staff, which depends upon the prisoners perceiving the prison management’s use of authority as having legitimacy. Decency thus has a crucial central place, in lock-step with rehabilitation, in securing cost-effectiveness.

The decency agenda has raised standards, but it requires continual attention which it has been often impossible to sustain in recent years as ”‘austerity” has swept through the prison estate. A series of savings-driven restructuring programmes have lowered salaries, changed terms of employment, drastically reduced staffing levels and deskilled officers. Capital and maintenance budgets have been slashed. Governors’ autonomy has been progressively eroded, not least by a long series of expensive and quite possibly ill-judged outsourcing contracts. The impacts have been devastating, and form the backdrop to the riots at HMP Bedford.

For prisons to deliver rehabilitation, on top of secure containment, there needs to be: a decent, structured, calm and uncrowded environment; sufficient numbers of committed staff who have the skill to go way beyond the (already very difficult) running of a safe jail, by working individually with every prisoner; ample opportunities for prisoners to use their time constructively (remedial and more ambitious education, training, work); and consistently superlative leadership and dedication to purpose throughout the system. By August this year, the cost-cutting programmes of the last few years had bitten hard into HMP Bedford. Many experienced staff members had left the service for better-respected and remunerated employment, necessitating the deployment of inexperienced officers. Recruitment and retention difficulties, (uncompetitive salaries set against the difficulty of the job) and long-term sickness were so serious that it was no longer possible to deliver the full range of required out-of-cell activities (opportunites to socialise with other prisoners, shower, make telephone calls, exercise, education, work etc) safely.

Opportunities for prisoners to be involved in any constructive employment were already drastically reduced and were fast vanishing. Instead, prisoners locked in their cells – often for up to 23 hours a day. These unplanned and unannounced “bang-ups” unsettled the prisoners as well as reinforcing their boredom. Staff shortages and rotations had become so severe that officers had insufficient time even to get to know the prisoners in their charge, let alone attend to their needs. The use of drugs had spiralled, and with that trade, the bullying of the weak and vulnerable. The incidence of self-harm and of violent assaults, both prisoner-on-prisoner and prisoner-on-staff, was rising alarmingly.

There was increasing rumour of prisoner unrest. The IMB was hearing accounts from officers that they were becoming afraid to work on the prison’s largest wing. The IMB letter to the minister warned that staff shortages were “beyond crisis point” and of the “alarming rise in prisoners attempting to hang themselves”. In the 10 weeks between the posting of the letter and the minister’s response, two prisoners were found hanged.

Gyimah’s reply, dated 27 October, however, was written very much in the register adopted for the minister’s acknowledgement of the IMB’s annual report. It gave airy explanations of how the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) agency, the National Offender Management Service (Noms), and the senior prison officers were coping with the IMB’s concerns, while conveying nothing more urgent in intention than a pat on the head. In effect, he was saying: “This is a prison! If you can’t stand the heat, keep out of the kitchen. Sorry to hear that it has made you anxious.” Less than two weeks later, on Sunday 6 November, the prison erupted in a widely reported riot involving more than 200 men from two wings. The incident of “concerted indiscipline” stopped short of catastrophe because: the officers on duty read the seriousness of the situation in time to withdraw, by degrees, and deprive the rioters both of hostages and keys; because of the sang-froid of the governor, as she took charge of the incident in the “command suite”; and because the prisoners were intent more on making a protest than on blood. This last may be a surprise to many, but I believe it to have been the case. Two residential wings and the central office and observation area were comprehensively trashed, nonetheless.

Surveying the devastation a couple of days later, an IMB colleague and I were approached by two experienced officers, who were plainly deeply affected by the riot. They wanted us to see the graffiti – versions of “If you treat us like animals, we will eventually behave like animals”, which implied that, at that moment, the prisoners and officers saw the prison in the same light. These officers were acutely aware that the extreme working environment they had experienced for months was paralleled by the stress they had imposed on the desperate prisoners. Behind their emotion lay the cataclysmic loss of trust. When this collapses, then all that you have worked to achieve seems to have failed. The officers were devastated.

The prisoners involved in the riot have been sent, in small batches, to prisons across the country. When they return, as many surely will (they are essentially local men) after the wings have been refurbished and the staffing problems have been resolved, I expect to hear similar deeply felt stories of betrayed trust from them, because there is never only one side to a story.

The inner turmoil experienced by the staff members on duty at the time of the riot has been debilitating. They had to take the awful decision to withdraw, abandoning the prison and vulnerable prisoners. The senior management team are racked with guilt that things came to this pass under their command.

Many rioters will only have participated for fear of violent reprisals if they abstained, creating fear at the time and complicated long-term consequences for them in the future. Even the instigators merit understanding – of their circumstances, if not of their actions. They may have been more hot-headed than others, but the prisoners had collectively been driven to desperation by the poverty and randomness of the regime. Nonetheless, prisoners and staff connived, in a sense, to bring the insurrection under control before any mortal damage was done. It is interesting that they left the library untouched.

It would be easy to attribute blame for the riot to the local actors, but that would represent a profound injustice and a failure to understand the horrors and complexities of prison. The staff at all levels at HMP Bedford have awed me by their consistent courage, loyalty, resilience, ready sense of decency and professionalism in the face of increasingly overwhelming odds. This was evidenced over months of difficulty and in spades on the day of the riot when prisoners, having stoically endured a seemingly endlessly deteriorating and irregular regime, lost faith in the prison management’s use of authority as having legitimacy, abandoned the implicit pact, and “kicked off”. They had cried for help, as had the IMB, the officers, and the governor to her superiors – but no one at the top of the tree heard their pleas. Who, then, was blameworthy?

I arrive at the following conclusions. The cost-cutting demanded of Noms, and, by extension, of individual prisons, has taken on the dimensions of an extreme human experiment, which in the social sciences these days would be blocked on ethical grounds. . There was no attempt to introduce these reforms gradually at a national level, or on a pilot basis, and then learn from the experience. There was no “evidence base” for these reforms. and no attempt to collect any. They were thus driven purely by ideology and finance. In general, the prison system seems reluctant to set up mechanisms whereby it can learn from its mistakes. The trial has failed also because the premise upon which it was based is misconceived. Prisons are being asked to achieve the unachievable.

Successive ministers have cut costs in the face of insistent warnings from many quarters, including the prison officers’ and the prison governors’ associations, the chief inspector of prisons, the IMBs and the many prison reform lobbying organisations. The only response has been about readjusting budgets over an extended period. Even though the new justice secretary, Liz Truss, has acknowledged (in her recent white paper) that cost-cutting has driven prisons to an extreme where they are not even able to operate safely, no proportionate or urgent action has been taken by the politicians and top civil servants in the MoJ who are responsible for the crisis in prisons. This is a devastating failure of accountability. They must acknowledge responsibility for the damage done.

The recent prison riots are testimony to a slow-burn build-up of misery and conflict that has blighted the lives of the prison’s many communities. I would particularly highlight the intolerable burdens that have been placed on officers and managers, as this is seldom sufficiently recognised. At last, it is being acknowledged that prisons cannot be reformed without high-quality, motivated staff – and this is not simply about having the money to pay them a decent salary (although that is a necessary precondition).

Staff members have to be assured that their contribution is valued and that they will be trained and supported to do a difficult job in a meaningful way, especially when they are in the early stages of their career. Most prison officers do not go into the service to bang people up, but to help people change. Making the job so mechanical that it loses its meaning has led to a situation where it is as difficult to retain staff as it is to recruit them.

Criminal justice is a political playground, leading to endless changes in emphasis and policy. Prison budgets have not been ringfenced during “austerity”. In consequence, we have massively overcrowded and under-staffed older prisons, some of which are truly shocking, and that is unworthy of a nation that instinctively tends to assume it is a moral model for the rest of the world. Across the country, our prisons have failed to deliver against their social contract to “reform” offenders – so systematically that it is unclear that prisons (especially large ones) can ever deliver this while the political climate remains as it is.

A new vision is needed with an emphasis on integrating and accessing the insight contained within the system. One such vision comprises three principal departures from current thinking. First, sentencing guidance would change radically to substitute community penalties for imprisonment for the vast majority of offences. for which research has shown that incarceration does not generally reduce reoffending. Second, there would be a properly resourced community sentence and probation service centre (CSPSC) in every major town to provide offenders with support, advice, help with housing and employment, remedial education and vocational training, alongside traditional probation service functions. Third, integrated into these centres would be small and local prisons so that all but the few prisoners who need high security jails more security and with intensive support to live safely, remain close to their roots. These new integrated centres would work most effectively if they formed a thriving and well-connected part of local life.

And what of the future for HMP Bedford? Its accessibility is such a huge asset that it merits the necessary investment, as long as the prison population is reduced to a level that allows it to offer personal attention, in a safe and calm environment overseen by an adequate number of experienced staff. Only then can a rehabilitative ethos have a chance to be effective.

It could even take part in the pilot roll-out of my proposed CSPSCs.

Christopher Padfield is a member of IMB at HMP Bedford and former chair of the national Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards. The views expressed here are his own. To join the IMB for a prison near you go to

Monday, 5 December 2016

CRC Dispute Latest 15

2nd December 2016


Union representatives meet in Bristol today to review the latest position in respect of the dispute between Napo, UNISON, GMB and Aurelius/Working Links.

The position so far

Since the interim directive from the NNC Joint Secretaries that the parties should invite the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service (ACAS) to facilitate ongoing dialogue, there have been a series of meetings in London and Bristol, one of which has included a claimed representative from Aurelius, the German based company who are the owners of Working Links.

The nature of the discussions held under the auspices of ACAS are necessarily confidential and this has prevented us from issuing detailed updates as quickly as we would like. The position that we have reached is that at the time of writing the trade unions are awaiting a substantive response to correspondence which has been sent to the employers side via ACAS. Our expectation is that we would receive a reply to a comprehensive letter that we issued on the 13th November and a number of key issues that we have raised immediately following the last joint exchanges which took place at the ACAS offices in Bristol.

The unions have informed the ACAS Conciliators that we are prepared to continue to meet to take part in an urgent review of the operational model, but that we have reached a critical stage in the proceedings and need to see signs that the employers side are taking our concerns seriously.

While we consider what may be left of value at the ACAS table we wanted to take this opportunity to say how hard your team of local reps have worked to further your interests during the unions campaign to save jobs, secure information for the purposes of collective bargaining and call the proposed operational model that Aurelius/Working Links are seeking to impose across their three CRC's to account.

The next steps

Irrespective of developments through ACAS (whose efforts are very much appreciated by the unions), we have told the NNC Joint Secretaries that we want the parties to be called in to report back on the current situation, and that we feel that a representative from NOMS Contract and Commercial Directorate should also be available given what we have discovered over the period of the dispute.

We are also seeking a legal view about some of the options open to us in the event that dialogue through ACAS fails to produce a breakthrough.

The unions also believe that we need to meet with our members as soon as we practicably can to hear what you have to say, and plans are being made to set up consultative meetings, so please look out for further details.

What you can do

There are a number of things that employees working in the 3 Aurelius/Working Links CRC's can do. Firstly if you are not a member of a trade union, then please join one! A legally recognised trade union is the only means by which your employment rights can be protected within the collective agreements that are enshrined as part of your terms and conditions.

Secondly, you can provide your union reps with feedback about the impact of the operational model on you as an individual, or as a team. All information which should be sent from your private address or e mail and will be treated in confidence.

You can also ensure that your line manager is aware of any difficulties or health issues that you may be facing as a result of excessive caseloads or a working environment that you believe is unsafe. Please keep a record of such exchanges.

Depending on developments either side of this weekend, it is likely that we will know fairly soon if the ACAS talks are to continue, and the unions will be issuing more news just as soon as we can.

Meanwhile our appreciation to all our members for your continuing support at this difficult time.

General Secretary Napo
GLYN JONES Regional Organiser UNISON

Sunday, 4 December 2016

News From Probation Institute 5

Mention has been made previously of Bob Neill MP and the Justice Committee having recently held a private session on probation privatisation. Held under 'Chatham House Rules', strictly-speaking we're not supposed to know who attended or what was said, but both Ian Lawrence from Napo and Prof Paul Senior from the Probation Institute have publicly mentioned being present. 

As we all know, the PI has come under considerable criticism from contributors to this blog for failing to speak openly and plainly about the realities of TR, so it's particularly interesting to have insight into what might have been said in private from publication of a one page briefing document from the day:- 
Presented by Professor Paul Senior Emeritus Professor of Probation Studies, Chair, Probation Institute 21 Oct 2016


Predicted and predictable 

Speed - to seek to implement an entire system at one go with an unseemly rush and no trials or piloting was always high risk and unnecessary. 

Resourcing - to implement a new element of provision - compulsory post-prison supervision - previously absent for short sentence prisoners - with no additional resources always fraught with risk 

De-professionalization - the need to save money would trump the need for quality services. Tasks previously done by highly trained staff would be dumbed down to cheaper, less trained staff. 


Pattern of concerns emerging from official reports (The Audit Office, HMI Probation, HMI Prisons, Clinks, Public Accounts Committee), extensive media coverage and emergent research 

Bifurcation - the fracturing of delivery has caused additional problems for providing joined up justice. IT systems not talking, separation of office spaces, demarcation of roles, confusion for other agencies 

Accountability - increasing complexity and overlapping roles in this plurality of delivery modes makes coordination and joined up practices more difficult and accountability less certain 

Public Safety - with practice under such pressure and diffusion of responsibilities there are heightened risks regarding the management of Serious Offence Reviews and the consequences for staff of high caseloads of those supervising entirely high risk cases and agencies struggling to meet demands 

Management of risk - the splitting of risk levels between agencies seen as a pragmatic rather than a practice-driven benefit. all staff need to be aware of the dynamics of risk as it changes over time and circumstances 

Distorted decision making - evidence emerging that decision to breach on such as community payback or non-attendance at supervision driven by Payment by Results concerns not the demands of the case Severe financial pressures driving the business - changes in resource allocation due to changes in number distributions leading to staff uncertainty, redundancies and planning blight 

Hemorrhaging of staff - stress, redundancy and disillusionment leading to experienced staff exited both NPS and CRCs leaving the agencies with inexperienced and often new staff not equipped to deliver a complex business 


Future directions 

Maintain professional services via regulation - staff increasingly uncertain of role and struggling to meet the demands of the new systems. their professional status is undermined by the problems identified above by organizational changes and uncertainties. 

Case for a Regulatory Body - founded on the need for consistent, coherent and agreed standards and qualifications to which all practitioners and managers, in all agencies, can adhere; to be a profession. This case is underpinned by the need for appropriate staff to manage risk; treat individuals with respect and dignity; and develop staff to improve practice outcomes. 

More funding across the criminal justice system - The whole system has been subject to cutbacks which impact both on individual services e.g. prisons, policing and probation and therefore on shared systems of intervention e.g. Through the Gate provision, Integrated Offender Management, joint MAPPA arrangements


Dear Members

November has been a busy and productive month at the Probation Institute

1. The Probation-Sentencer Liaison Network (PSLN), a joint initiative with the Magistrates Association, launched at Middlesex University and Manchester Magistrates Court addressed by Dame Glenys Stacey. The two launch events demonstrated the urgency of improving communication between all probation services and sentencers. Key issues and discussion points from the two events will be posted on the PSLN Pages on the PI website which is open for Registrations at

Our thanks to Dame Glenys for her informative and very accessible presentation and to our hosts for the two launches. Some important areas of good practice were shared, also thinking about justice devolution and problem solving courts, including the Women's Court in Manchester.

2. The PI was represented at a Round Table Seminar on Community Sentences as part of the Lammy Review of Racial Discrimination in the Criminal Justice System and we now look forward to a one to one meeting.

3. We were also represented at the Electronic Monitoring Action Group (EMAG) and will keep a close watching brief on the GPS Monitoring Pilots launched by MOJ this month as we propose Probation Institute Policy on Electronic Monitoring.

4. The application to develop a Trailblazer Apprenticeship for the role of Rehabilitation Practitioner, submitted to DfE by the Probation Institute on behalf of CRCs led by Seetec, and voluntary organisations, has been accepted. The employer development group will get back to work on this important project before Christmas, working with key representative groups.

5. De Montfort University have kindly agreed to host the Probation Trainees Conference 2017 which will take place on Wednesday 5th April for all trainees.

6. The Probation Institute Research Committee met on 24th November and with the Griffins Research Society we have proposed joint actions to implement three areas of research into aspects of probation practice with women, previously posted on this site and available at

The Research Committee will now also take forward actions towards becoming a Centre of Excellence within our proposals, gathering increasing support, for a Regulatory Body for Probation, Rehabilitation and Resettlement.

7. The Westminster Legal Policy Forum on the Future of Probation on 22nd November proved an interesting discussion. We heard from HMIP, the Audit Commission, the NPS Director of Probation, NOMS Operational Assurance, a CRC, Napo, voluntary sector agencies, and a software solutions company on data sharing infrastructure. The quote "meeting the target but missing the point" (the point being effectiveness and quality) seemed to resonate throughout the debate, recognising that the implementation of TR, at the very least, was insufficiently understood and planned, and that action to address increasing gaps in quality and actual provision is critical. Sonia Crozier spoke of the importance of bridging NPS and CRCs and of her commitment to prioritising quality in NPS. It was clear from this event that more open, robust discussions are needed about the future of probation, the sustainability of the present arrangements and the role of probation in relieving the prisons crisis. Some bold local initiatives within CRCs and the voluntary sector also need to be encouraged, made more visible and shared.

8. The Sir Graham Smith Awards applications close on 31st December, and would be a great way to learn more about local initiatives, apply here

9. And finally we are commencing a review of the Probation Institute Code of Ethics and we will soon be inviting comments on this important topic.

We hope you enjoy the lead up to the holidays and please let us know - is this information helpful to you?

Kind regards

Helen Schofield
Acting Chief Executive
Probation Institute

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Crunch Time

Since this blog went into campaign mode in response to Chris Grayling's utterly flawed TR plans, the initial contacts from TV script writers and authors dried up, only to be replaced by those from journalists. The following is the latest:- 

"I make investigative films for TV, all my research is completely confidential and for background initially at this stage so I can get an insight into what is really going on. I'm trying to find out more about allegations of gaming PbR.

Here are some questions:-

1. The Inspector of Probation in a report in May this year referred to CRC officers being encouraged by management to not recommend that offenders be resentenced or licences revoked if they breached their probation terms. Have you also heard these type of allegations? If so can you tell me about them? Do you know anyone who would discuss them with me, off the record?

2. I have also been told anecdotally that some CRC's are cherry picking cases, not dealing with ones that involve more complex interventions as it is not worth the 3% contract bonus for reducing reoffending. Have you heard that this is the case, if so can you tell me more details?

3. Do you think that Transforming Rehabilitation is having an impact on SFO's?

I would really appreciate your help with these issues and any suggestions of people I could speak to off the record. From my viewpoint I find it much easier to speak to people directly because I can react to their answers with further questions and particularly in a complex area like probation I can check that I am understanding the issues properly. I will completely guarantee their confidentiality.

I have a company who is interested in making a film on this area, although of course that is no guarantee that it will happen, but I would be really grateful if you would come back to me as soon as possible."


Having been supplied with an impressive list of credits, I have every reason to believe that this journalist could make a damned good programme, but obviously requires material

For all those who love this profession and have high regard for what we attempt to do, I would venture to suggest that the time has come for colleagues to have a long think about what they know is happening and the responsibility we all share to act in the interests of the public good. It's a very hard call because probation staff have a long and proud history of maintaining confidentiality - a shared professional ethos of giving the highest priority to this aspect of our work and in the best interests of our clients, no matter who they are or what they've done. Sadly we know the same cannot be said of some police officers or prison officers. 

Of course the government were fully aware of our ability to keep our mouths shut when they cynically introduced TR, knowing full well that there would be the greatest reticence on the part of anyone to speak out, a situation strengthened with gagging clauses in contracts agreed with departing senior managers. In terms of further down the ranks, fear and threats have generally been successful in stifling public criticism and comment, this blog being a notable exception of course because it's all anonymous. But that makes it very easy to officially ignore and all the major players, Napo, Noms, CRC's, NPS, HMI, PI, MP's do just that on a regular basis.

For a long time the media were ignoring us too, but there are signs they are beginning to show an interest with journalists wanting to understand both the complexities and nuances of the work we do, its importance to society, that it's an essential part of any prison and sentencing reforms and that it's being systematically destroyed.  There's been the recent BBC File on Four radio documentary, the current Guardian request for information and now this serious approach by a TV documentary film maker. 

The recent dismissive response from Bob Neill MP to suggestions for an inquiry into the probation crisis, together with reluctance from the PI to cause offence by examining TR in any detail and Napo HQ's ineffectiveness, all lead me to believe that in the continued absence of a high-profile and authoritative probation champion, our only chance of saving anything lies with the media and what in effect is 'whistleblowing'.

Lets have a discussion about it. My contact details are on the profile page, write anonymously if you wish, but share information privately first and lets see if we have the evidence to take to this journalist. I'm convinced there is a public duty to do so.