Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Guest Blog 5

Strategy by Joanna Hughes

I am envious, as well as delighted, at the collapse of the intended privatisations involving the Land Registry, Child Protection and the student loan book. After all, the reasons against privatisation were the same or no less compelling in our case – a bogus rationale geared towards a multinational cartel that bred strike action, widespread professional and academic opposition, and the likelihood (now fact in our case) of small bidders pulling out – proof were it needed of the absence of a genuine ‘market’… 

Yet the Probation Service is still now split, in readiness for the ‘share sale’, for all of the widespread chaos evidenced by this blog. As if further proof were needed about the corporate ventriloquists behind Chris Grayling, the Justice Minister has recently announced that the much-feted under12 month group will now be electronically tagged.

So, what next, or put it another way: what can we do to make things change? Harry Fletcher has often said that there are three elements to defeating TR: legal action, industrial action and parliamentary action. I am not on the inside of either NAPO or parliament, but one has to speak as one finds, and I am just voicing what I know. As a proportion of us (a large one, I hope) are off to Westminster today, let’s look at where I think we are in terms of each.

Parliament:

On 22 August Harry Fletcher wrote about the possibility of reversing TR:

‘In the absence of a coordinated campaign within parliament and the press involving unions, managers and the Institute and with sound public support it seems unlikely. Most Parliamentarians seem unaware of events. There are excellent exceptions like Sadiq Khan and Lord Ramsbotham. Others like the Lib Dems, know the score but will not intervene. There are 3 months left to stop the rot. Officials and senior civil servants must be aware that the timescale is not deliverable and the next Government will be left to pick up the pieces and say so to politicians.’
Harry has also told me that today's lobby will only be worth it if there are hundreds of MPs there, so I hope you have all called on your representatives to turn up. I also hope that, unlike last time, NAPO have invited MPs of all parties as, to my mind, so much of our activity has been preaching to the converted.

From my own experience, I also have a certain amount of information on parliament. I have sent a so-called parliamentary briefing taken from quotes from this blog, to John McDonnell via Harry, for an adjournment debate in October. I have sent in PMQs via my MP for MOJ oral questions this month and I have persuaded my MP to ask Ursula Brennan for a meeting asap. 
We have received no reply as yet. 

If I mention these things it is purely to highlight what I (very) regretfully have come to consider as a failure of NAPO really to take the fight in evident ways to Parliament. At the least there is a failure of communication: we are at a critical juncture, but which of us knows what is going on in Parliament, and what NAPO is doing there? 

I cannot help but ask such questions, for instance, when I find that a reliable parliamentary source tells that there have been no PMQs since Harry left and that the quality of the parliamentary briefings is wholly inadequate. Like many I suspect, I feel very regretful at bashing my union, but after months, with so much at stake, I feel we have not been well-served. We are at a point where the Union has to provide leadership and resistance to TR, not modes of negotiation that are indistinguishable from compliance.

Legal action:

Many feel both that the Judicial Review (assessing the risks of TR before it goes forward) is vital to the fight, and that NAPO needs to show they are not dragging their feet on this. Ian Lawrence has dampened expectations by quoting to me the cost as in the region of £250,000. According to two sources of legal advice that I have sought (including an expert on Judicial Review) there is a real case to be made (with new information and new angles too given developments in recent months), and the estimated cost would be much lower. Further, it is common to make a ‘Protective Costs Order’ when the sides are unequal (which they are when one is the govt.) which would limit the costs to £50,000 – 75,000. I have no idea why NAPO are quoting such a high sum but I will ask Ian at the rally and hope you will too!

Harry Fletcher tweeted:

‘Probation selloff - Just how 'legal' is the contractual process? The MOJ must be put under pressure to make public its own lawyers advice!’
He also said in his blog that an MOJ official told him “aspects of the contacting process and of tagging would not hold up to legal scrutiny.” Anyone with any legal knowledge or thoughts about the bidding process please contact me or catch me later today.

Contributors to the blog have commented on the 'constructive dismissal’ element of being forced into the CRC and wondered if this could be pursued? All I have heard about this is that NAPO made a deal that means this is not viable, but again we need information about this, and the rationale. Anyone know anything about this?

Industrial action:

Everyone tells me that it will be very difficult to engage the NPS now they are in the Civil Service. I find it difficult to disagree with Simon Garden commenting on the blog:

“If the union leadership had been serious about industrial action - if they had built for a strike, organised, agitated, engaged and involved people, then things could have been very different.”
My own view is that real leadership in this situation on the part of the Union has been crucially lacking and that we have missed important opportunities, but also I feel that all is not lost, were the Union genuinely to address the needs and wishes of the members, and the exigencies of the situation.

In conclusion, we are not doing brilliantly on the three elements needed to defeat TR, but the bidding process is in disarray. Surely though, we should use the Union to focus robustly on that, and on the risks, and illegalities of the MOJ?

As has been mentioned in previous blog posts, this is an avenue worth pursuing, so any information on bidders would be helpful. Crucially, TR still has to pass Ursula Brennan and, while she is the person who still tries to praise the privatization of court interpreters, she has her reputation to think of and won’t proceed if we continue to show how risky it all is, and how far she is personally associated with the changes.

Finally, IF I get a meeting with her, I will need all the help I can get from readers and contributors to this blog in order to present our case.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Omnishambles Update 67

First off, Jonathan Gray of the Open Knowledge Foundation writing in the Guardian makes it plain that probation is heading into a knowledge black hole:- 
Secret government contracts stop citizens knowing if outsourcing works
The past few months have seen a significant backlash against government outsourcing and the privatisation of public services. A series of high profile controversies around outsourcing giants such as Atos, G4S and Serco have shaken the public’s faith in politicians’ claims that privatisation gives citizens a better deal.
While its advocates continue to argue that outsourcing leads to increased competition, greater efficiency, reduced costs and better public services, citizens are currently deprived of the evidence that they’d need to be able to evaluate whether or not this is true for particular contracts.
Unfortunately it is very difficult to know what actually happens with a public contract unless you are the contractor or the budget holder as the paper trail of documents surrounding most outsourced projects are shrouded in secrecy. While we may know basic details about the total budget and who the contractor is, the public cannot usually access more detailed data about bidding, cost and performance – information that is needed in order to tell whether or not it was money well spent or a job was done well.
Freedom of information rules that apply to public sector bodies do not apply to private providers of public services – leaving citizens in the dark. That’s why we are calling on governments around the world to give citizens the information they need to hold contractors to account. The Stop Secret Contracts initiative asks governments to open up information around public contracts so that citizens can see how public money is spent and what it buys for them.
We think that public bodies and private contractors should be mandated to disclose essential information about public contracts, including the full texts of contracts, bid documents and information about contract formation and performance evaluation. At the moment we’re supporting local campaigns around Berlin’s new airport (so far three years overdue and six times more expensive than planned) and a major new infrastructure programme in Brazil.
Contrary to decades of political support for privatisation, an increasing number of researchers and campaigners are arguing that outsourcing does not give citizens the better deal that its proponents said it would. The recent crisis of confidence in government outsourcing has fuelled widespread calls for renationalisation and a revival of public ownership of essential public services and infrastructure – including health, utilities and transport systems. Recent polls suggest that moves to renationalise are supported by the majority of the British public and Labour are debating whether to renationalise the railways ahead of the 2015 general election.
Meanwhile, public sector bodies continue to heavily depend on bringing in private contractors to deliver public services. If recent reports are anything to go by there is little sign to suggest that the general trend towards government outsourcing (which has doubled under the current government) is slowing down.
Increasing transparency around public contracts would enable greater accountability around how public services are being delivered to citizens. And not just in relation to big contracts and services in headlines and political speeches, but across the whole gamut of government funded goods and services for citizens.
The current government has been keen to increase transparency around the spending and performance of cash-strapped public services, urging citizens to “join the hunt for government savings”. But they have been much slower to take measures to extend transparency to private companies in receipt of public money.
Opening up more information about government contracts is an essential step towards a broader, evidence-based public debate about the future of Britain’s public services. Until these asymmetries in information are addressed, all the public have to go on are politicians’ promises.
As TR marches on, even HM Inspectorate of Probation has noticed that the Service is descending into a fog where accurate information is getting ever more difficult to obtain:-
In March 2014 the Secretary of State asked HMI Probation to investigate whether, as a consequence of the proposed Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) changes, the workload of staff in Probation Trusts had increased during the period leading to the TR go live date of 01 June 2014. This has been achieved by conducting a desk-top inspection of the caseloads being managed by Probation Trusts in February 2014, in comparison with those held twelve months ago in April 2013, and an examination of Human Resources data held by Trusts and the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) relating to posts and vacancies.
Information requests were made to the National Offender Management Service Performance and Analysis Group (NOMS PAG). Whilst staff were helpful they were also under considerable pressure to deliver significant change and it was sometimes not clear who owned or was responsible for which information. It was also clear that the quality of the data supplied by Probation Trusts to NOMS PAG was variable, limiting the reliability of centrally collated data.

Certainly there is a need to focus on developing the quality of human resources data to support future work. For example, the data concerning the number of staff in post and average caseloads was not particularly refined. It could not be broken down by different types of operational post. Furthermore we were unable to clarify vacancy levels in Trusts. That reality significantly limited our ability to draw conclusions related to workload. Specifically we were unable to deduce from the information supplied how many of the staff vacancies were Senior Practitioners (SP’s), Probation Officers (PO’s) or Probation Service Officers (PSO’s) rather than support functions, like administration staff or managers.
As we have indicated in this report, it is important to note that in the absence of sufficient relevant data it has not been possible to evaluate the impact of vacancies and temporary staff on caseloads, or to examine whether Trust’s as a result were disproportionately experiencing changes in individual caseload numbers. But when taken as a whole increases in workloads were minor and were not statistically significant.
To all this we can add the politicians usual desire to bend statistics in order to support some argument or other. In trying to support the idea that the prison system was not in crisis, Chris Grayling recently suggested that the increase in population had been unexpected and as a result of a sudden influx of convicted historic sex offenders. 

However, this notion was forensically demolished by the BBC Radio 4 'More or Less' programme last week. Their analysis clearly pointed the finger at a steady rise in sentence length, coupled with a dramatic fall in prisoner releases as being the main drivers of the current spike in prisoner numbers. Contrary to what Chris Grayling would have us believe, the present crisis is entirely predictable and the direct result of his policies. Catch the relevant clip on i-player here. 

Of course the situation is likely to get a whole lot worse if the government finally go ahead and decide to increase the sentencing powers of magistrates, as reported recently in the Times:-
The prime minister has promised to double the sentencing powers of magistrates from 6 to 12 months by the end of this parliament. It would mean more than 10,000 extra cases being tried by magistrates rather than the crown court, and would save up to £40 million a year. It comes as new figures show the numbers of magistrates in post at their lowest for years — 20,000 in England and Wales — because of falling workloads.
Rather than saving £40 million, it's widely believed that allowing the lower court to impose 12 months custodial sentences rather than the present six month maximum will result in a further significant increase in the prison population, thus just shifting costs to another part of the Justice budget. Tweeting on the subject, Francis Crook of the Howard League is clear on the matter:-
The last thing the government should do is allow magistrates to send people to prison for up to a year, would fill prisons.
Finally, lets mention Serco again. Here's their CEO talking to thisismoney in the Daily Mail:- 
'I’ll mend hurt Serco,' vows boss Rupert Soames 
Serco boss Rupert Soames vowed to rehabilitate the ‘traumatised’ outsourcing firm after raiding former employer Aggreko for a finance chief. The group slumped to a pre-tax loss of £7.3million in the first half, compared to a profit of £106 million last year.

Soames said he hoped bringing in Angus Cockburn, who served alongside him at the temporary power company, would turn the firm’s fortunes around. He and Cockburn, who replaces Serco veteran Andrew Jenner, were an ‘odd couple’, said Soames. But he promised they could boost Serco by steering clear of contracts that don’t offer good returns. ‘Serco’s like me, good at running other people’s affairs and then you get home and find that the papers for the cattle vaccinations are unsigned,’ said Soames, who is Winston Churchill’s grandson.

‘We’ve got quite a lot of contracts that lose money. If we stop doing that, it’ll be pretty helpful,’ he added. Serco’s profitability has been hammered by setbacks including lower contract volumes for Australia’s immigration service.
"steering clear of contracts that don’t offer good returns." Sounds like probation and very good advice to me. 

Monday, 1 September 2014

More From the Ministry

2 July 2014

Dear Colleague,

Could you kindly clarify and respond to the following queries related to the TR programme and implications for the future of the Probation Service.

Yours Sincerely,
Mike Guilfoyle

By how much have the reforms reduced re-offending? The Justice Secretary has indicated that no great change from current patterns should be expected, though the current and steadily declining rate of re-offending by those under probation supervision since 2000 has been held up as a failure of the current probation arrangements.

Has the CRC bidding process proved successful in funding the provision of services, across all of England and Wales, to those with sentences of less than 12 months leaving prison? This extension of service is the great prize of the reforms. How effective are those services in reducing re-offending?

How significant is Payment by Results in the new arrangements, or are the contracts really block payments with a bit of a reward added on? The use of PbR was, of course, always the reason given for not allowing Trusts to bid for contracts.

In addition to the declared costs, how much have the reforms really cost across the piece to implement? Staff time in the TR team and NOMS, conferences and meetings, staff time in the Trusts, secondments from Trusts to the Programme, interim appointments, the use of consultants, IT changes, communications, signage.

What are the additional costs of managing and monitoring contracts (in the light of recent contract failures eg on electronic monitoring)? Could the cost of the reforms have been realised and used to fund an equivalent provision of services to the under 12 months’ cohort, without having the disruption and risk to services and performance caused by the TR reforms? Trusts certainly believed so – and some were already delivering the services, in partnership with PCCs and others, before Transforming Rehabilitation was published.

Are the CRCs any more liberated than Trusts could have been and wanted to be? Has the NPS been able to sustain managing the exclusively high risk caseload? Was the management of offenders jeopardised by the changes at any point? What has happened on performance overall? What has been the effect on staff professionalism, morale and motivation in the longer term?

Was it necessary to go through everything that the system has gone through over the past year to achieve what has in fact been achieved? What would a retrospective cost benefit analysis show?

28th August 2014
 

Dear Mr Guilfoyle, 
TRANSFORMING REHABILITATION

Thank you for your email of 2 July to which I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Department. As the competition process is still underway and other elements of our reforms have not yet been implemented it is not possible to answer many of the queries that you raised at this current time.

In relation to your question about the costs of reforms I can confirm that the total Programme resource expenditure is part of business as usual costs for the Department and sits within the overall budget for the Ministry of Justice. As such there is no additional resource expenditure, other than external support and consultancy costs which have been required where the specialist skills are not available in-house.  Our proposals will be affordable within the context of the MoJ commitment to deliver annual savings of over £2 billion by the end of 2014/15. 

You asked about whether the competition process had been successful and how the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) had performed in relation to delivering services for those sentenced to less than 12 months. In terms of the competition I would like to reassure you that we have a robust and diverse market. The list of bidders who passed the first stage of the competition to win the regional rehabilitation contracts included a mix of private and voluntary sector partnerships – from charities experienced in tackling a range of issues affecting offenders, to small and large businesses and experienced multinationals. All of these bidders have experience in working with offenders or across the wider Criminal Justice System.

Along with the lead providers who have passed the competition’s first-stage, a further 1,000 organisations have expressed an interest in playing a role as part of the wider supply chain – with more than 700 voluntary sector organisations among that number. Mutuals formed by probation staff also have the opportunity to play a major role in the reforms, with a good number of the shortlisted bidders coming from this cadre. Bids were received at the end of June and we have healthy competition in each of the Contract Package Areas.

As I mentioned in my letter to you of 9 July we plan to commence the relevant provisions of the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014, such as extending provision of supervision to those given short sentences, at the point when ownership of the new CRCs transfers to successful bidders. We will do this in line with the Government’s commitment to roll out these important reforms by 2015.

In relation to the issue of how we pay new providers for services, I can reassure you that the Payment by Results (PbR) framework remains an important part of our reforms. The structure that we will put in place will make sure that providers have strong incentives to reduce reoffending, and will only pay in full for what works. This is a new approach, but not a radical step. We will have all the normal contractual arrangements that you would expect, including a clear set of service outputs which must be delivered and a performance mechanism which will ensure providers deliver these to the required quality. However, PbR will incentivise them to go further and develop innovative ways of reducing reoffending. Under PbR, CRCs will be paid for managing the cases allocated to them, and a proportion of their payment will be at risk and dependent on their performance in reducing reoffending.

We recognise the need to ensure high standards are maintained once the competition stage is complete and the new providers are in place. The Secretary of State will continue to issue national standards for the management of offenders, and the Government will place contractual requirements on CRCs in relation to the management of offenders, to ensure that the risk of harm posed by all offenders is effectively managed. Providers bidding to run CRCs will need to demonstrate in their bids how they would deliver high quality rehabilitative support to offenders, and they will be held to account to deliver these services in their contracts.  Bidders will also need to demonstrate how they will maintain a workforce with appropriate levels of competence and training to deliver these services.  

Additionally, where requirements have been placed on the CRCs under contract in relation to delivery of services, these will be monitored through NOMS contract management; this will include penalties for services not delivered to time or to quality. The payment mechanism design comprises two parts: a Fee for Service element, primarily for mandated activities that deliver the sentence of the court and licence conditions; and as I mentioned above a PbR element for reductions in reoffending. Providers can lose money on both of these if they fail to deliver.

Furthermore, the new system will ensure that professional standards continue to be maintained, with probation staff working in both the National Probation Service (NPS) and CRCs, and opportunities for placements and interchange between them. The NPS and CRCs will both be required to have suitably qualified and competent staff. The NPS will continue to use the Probation Qualification Framework (PQF) and CRCs will be free to do the same should they choose to.

We want our providers to have as much flexibility as possible in their approach to rehabilitating offenders. By putting our trust in front line professionals who work with offenders and giving them discretion to do what works to tackle individual offenders’ specific needs we will achieve the biggest impact on reoffending rates. However, providers will need to ensure that orders of the court are met and that licence conditions are enforced. They will have contractual obligations to work in partnership with the public sector probation service in managing the risk of serious harm. A diverse market of rehabilitation providers will bring innovation in rehabilitative services, and help deliver a real reduction in reoffending rates.

Finally, we recognise that staff morale is a very important issue, and as the employers of probation staff until 1 June, Trusts worked hard to ensure their workforce was effectively engaged and provided them with as much information as necessary during the transition to the new structures. We continue to maintain a robust communication and support strategy for staff across the service.

Yours sincerely,  

David Barnes
Rehabilitation Programme

Sunday, 31 August 2014

TR Week Thirteen

Last week I attempted to apply for an NPS post. When I logged onto website it said I had no application, despite receiving an email that I had not completed my application. No-one could help me in probation and I gave up phoning the 0845 number. I've now missed the deadline. Staff in CRC are on their knees and then expected to complete a full application process to do a job they already did prior to June 1st. Surely up to share sale we should be able to move to the NPS, that was the impression we were given prior to the sift. NPS staff did not apply. Anyway, I left the service emotionally weeks ago. Not in terms of working with service users. Shame on those making money out of our misery by temping and sessional work. They are the ones not interested in the people we work with only their own greed.

*******
My mate down the pub told me that there is a CRC office in London where all the staff are on three month contracts; no stress and no commitment and they are off a soon as the kitchen starts to warm up. I'm ready to walk, only a few years to go why should I take all this shite? Like most people I joined the service to help individuals and their communities, now that the market and the profit motive is our raison d'etre, I'd be a bloody mug to stay.

*******
Perhaps its time that we the grassroots took a stand...literally - the next time we have a meeting with one of the many quisling CEOs at a given time we stand and quiety depart - a silent but dignified response to a loud and undignified slaughter of a much loved service.

*******
My Director told me that the NPS were hiring 100 motivated Probation Officers!! Great I thought, that should bring the total up to 101 :)

*******
How on earth have you managed to retain one motivated staff member??? Even my friend on maternity leave is dreading coming back....there are already 3 PSR's waiting for Tuesday...I kid you not. She does not even know how to work Delius!!!! I have a feeling that baby #2 will not be long away!!!!!

*******
How on earth can a realistic assessment of how the split is going - so far - be made, when NONE of the work involved in supervising 'less than 12 months custody' offenders' licences has even started? This is going to add a massive amount of work, and is one major flaw - along with the low morale, and growing chance of disengagement of so many essential staff. It feels dangerously precarious to me.

*******
Role Based Access Controls (RBAC) can be resolved by local ICT managers. Really? Take it from me, it isn't that simple. Especially as ICT themselves log in to nDelius and find that their own RBAC settings change on an almost daily basis for no apparent reason. What the letter is, is an optimist's deluded aspirations, not a description of events as they are unfolding.

By the way, if you give the letter to 2 colleagues to print, you will find that the NPS colleague will wait up to 20 minutes longer for their copy than the CRC colleague - another bit of ICT that doesn't work but it's ok, because the predicted delay was considered 'an acceptable business risk' by the implementation team. Go and make yourself a cup of tea, your honour, this PSR may take some time..

*******
"Furthermore, the data reconciliation work carried out after the migration confirmed that cases had been successfully moved across and that none had been lost." The cases may have been migrated across, but do you care to comment on the number of cases currently 'unallocated' due to the poor IT system?

*******
The IT is truly awful mainly because they want it to do too much. Keep It Simple Stupid used to be the key. Make it be as complicated as you possibly can seems to be the future.

*******
'It is possible that some staff believe that records have disappeared simply because they no longer have access to them'. Yes Chris, because we're that stupid.

*******
I can, at present, access both systems and can confirm that data has been lost. The other garbage about testing the processes pre share sale...huh...we are saying that the systems do not work, for example the risk escalation model, RSR etc..yet I hear no word that anything is to be changed, dare I say improved..this period is just for all of us to get used to the new piss-poor systems. Insulting.

*******
Just heard that there are fifty five thousand documents that delius has been unable to download/upload nationwide. Systems are working, everything going smoothly, I think not. MP's should make evidence based comments rather than trying to fool everyone with their LIES.

*******
I work in a busy local prison where all of the effects of benchmarking are felt on a daily basis. Constant stream of new prisoners with the multitude of problems we have to deal with all the time. Mental health issues, drug and alcohol detoxes, anger, violence, distress, self harm, etc etc etc. and all to be dealt with by fewer staff, in increasingly poor conditions.

It feels like it is only time before something will give but apparently there is no crisis! New staff will be on a much reduced salary scale and turnover will be high, the experience of long serving staff will be gone and the consistency of approach will disappear. This is what happens when a public service has to compete with the private sector. Sound familiar?

*******
As an ex po from years ago, I look back to working with many prison officer colleagues who were models of professionalism and good practice in dealing with both welfare and security. It grieves me considerably to see how the government have failed to appreciate that you cannot replace the skillset that so many of these officers had with a gizzajob temporary casual wonk from a security firm who's previous job experience has not extended to anything beyond something like shelf stacking or flipping burgers. It seems to be their belief that just anyone can be a prison officer. They can't. Peanut, monkey, recruitment, etc.

*******
I work in Durham Tees Valley and we have just been advised in the CRC that ALL offenders will be switched to fortnightly appointments, although TC's are allowed each week if you still think there are risk issues! Spot the bloody obvious contradiction!

Also, and in addition, NPS staff have been told that from next month there will be no managers present for late night appointments. In the past there has always been a rota of managers who remain in the building until the last offender has been seen. NPS staff have been told that they must get a colleague to stay back with them as it's too unsafe for them to be in the building alone! *double face/palm*


********
I forwarded two emails to home email yesterday....both have failed to arrive! I'm not sure if there is some way that IT can block this feature? That said, it's not as if they have nothing else to do as looking after the Probation's computers appears to be less of a priority than stopping leaks from occurring!

*********
It's a nightmare - I've just spent 30 mins trying to identify and locate a prisoner's PPCS (Public Protection Case Officer in Parole Board) however, all documents have old 020 numbers and email addresses, cannot access Oli - where the information used to be, FFS!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Probation - A New Future?

So, what to do, Probation, a new future? -  by Joe Kuipers

PROBATION
the justice ligament


This is to be a forward-looking blog. Will it make a difference? That is up to others, especially our politicians. This is not a short read, but if you are serious about the future of probation then a short read is not what you should expect at this critical time. And the 'ligament' reference becomes clear later on.

Here I set out a possible future for a probation service that serves victims, communities, courts, the parole board and offenders in a coherent, effective and affordable way. It will not pretend to have all the answers but it does paint a workable solution to ensure future effective services - not one with which all will agree but one that should serve as a discussion starter. The TR cacophony of sound or fanfare (depending on your point of view) will cease at some point and when that music stops, where will we be? Oh, and TR as proposed by the government can work - everything can work - a field hospital in Gaza can work but not as well as it ought and it is not one I would wish to be brought to. It is undoubtedly true that TR as envisaged will increase risks to the public and will fail to deliver the proposed benefits and savings. TR is an untried, untested, uncosted, unevidenced ideological experiment at a time when serious questions are being asked about the degree to which public services should be outsourced and about the competence of the MoJ in a contracting environment.

The future of probation is now fully a political matter, or rather one that lies in the hands of politicians and their senior advisers. I can only hope that enough politicians read this and that it helps to shape their thinking. Probation commentary has all but stopped from those within the profession, certainly from its current leaders so, other than intelligent discourse about the future from those now on the outside, politicians face the prospect of wearying spin and unrealistic reassurances from the MoJ. I can't blame officials for this - it is their job to do the will of their political masters. But a while ago I was asked (by a senior official) how I might construct a solution should the speeding TR train hit the buffers.

My central message to politicians is crystal clear and this blog sets out why: think very very carefully about the hasty share sale of the Community Rehabilitation Companies to new owners and do what you can to enable a full consideration of the implications of this final part of the TR process which will make any row-back almost impossible. If this is allowed to proceed (a timetable driven purely by the next general election) those with power and influence will only be able to look back with regret and wonder how they failed to appreciate the consequences of TR. The time to stop and think is now whilst both the NPS and CRCs are still in the public domain.

Let me be clear about my position at the outset. The proposals here are not a question of turning back the clock or of saving jobs. I start from the position that the cards are up in the air coupled with something I have said from the outset in previous blogs - this is about ensuring effective and safe probation services delivered to our communities in partnership between the public, private and community sectors, each with real and distinct parts to play.


What do we want probation to achieve?

Simple and pretty obvious really, and not controversial?
  • fewer victims;
  • less crime;
  • less reoffending;
  • fewer serious further offences by those being supervised (improved public protection);
  • ex offenders as better citizens better equipped to make their contributions to their communities;
  • demonstrable value-for-money outcomes.
What should be some basic underpinning business requirements and principles?

Again, not complicated, but possibly more controversial and building up from the service delivery end:
  1. a holistic, coherent and consistent system of offender management (that is the assessment, sentence planning, risk review, court and parole board advice, etc) that enables the offender, service and partners to be clear as to who is responsible and accountable for what;
  2. differentiated, efficient and effective offender interventions that take account of the needs and profiles of different offender groups (e.g. women) and ages, paying proper regard to equalities and applying the principles and practices of restorative justice, desistance theory and 'what works';
  3. service delivery organised around the existing Local Delivery Unit structures;
  4. a cohesive, intelligent and well-trained workforce with staff equipped to understand and influence (change) human behaviour in a complex social environment and able to communicate effectively;
  5. sufficient middle managers to support and guide service delivery staff, and similarly for corporate and support services;
  6. a cost-effective and lean senior management structure, and corporate services working to this senior management structure;
  7. IT that works;
  8. simple governance arrangements to separate service delivery responsibilities from policy making to avoid any conflicts of interest or undue influence in the delivery systems and that enable financial and business transparency fully open to public scrutiny;
  9. understanding that the probation service is a community based operation with the key strategic and operational community partners being the courts, the parole board, the police, local authorities other community providers and that there needs to be an 'offender management relationship' with the prisons;
  10. adherence to the 7 principles of public life. 
Probation was already demonstrating its effectiveness before TR, but no doubt can do better. This coupled with meeting the underpinning business requirements and principles should lead to:
  • the confidence of those paying for probation services; and
  • the confidence of victims, our communities, probation partners, the courts and parole board.
And now for the detail, and I guess, the devil.

To do this I propose to follow the format of the 10 business requirements and principles above.

1. A holistic, coherent and consistent system of offender management (that is the assessment, sentence planning, risk review, court and parole board advice, etc) that enables the offender, service and partners to be clear as to who is responsible and accountable for what.

I have argued, as have many others, that the fundamental flaw with TR is what I have called the disaggregation of offender management (and as a consequence the splitting of the staff into two groups), now located in two distinct organisations, each with differing responsibilities and functions. Offenders are routed through the NPS, either to remain with the NPS if they are 'risky enough' or to be allocated to the CRC if they are 'not risky enough'. Transfers between the two are based on risk changes, or the need for further assessments (i.e back from the CRC to the NPS for court reports, recalls to prisons, etc). In short TR has at a stroke created a fractured, incoherent and inconsistent system of offender management and introduced complex and unclear lines of responsibility and accountability. It is what I have called the 'fault line' in the TR proposals.

At the moment at least both organisations remain within the public domain, but the picture will change - potentially irrevocably - once the CRCs are 'sold' to the new commercial owners. This will mean new and even more complicated arrangements between the 7 NPS 'divisions' and the 21 commercially owned CRCs. The communication, responsibility and accountability permutations are going to be unavoidably difficult both to untangle and understand and will come to head when 'things go wrong' as they are bound to. They went wrong from time to time in the more coherent previous arrangements, and there will be further serious offences by supervised offenders. Communication, accountability and responsibility confusions are the last things needed when dealing with such serious matters.

So, what to do?
  • bring the offender management function back under 'one roof' and retain it fully within the public sector to avoid the real dangers that further fragmentation are certain to create;
  • do not proceed with the CRC share sale.
2. Differentiated, efficient and effective offender interventions that take account of the needs and profiles of different offender groups (e.g. women) and ages, paying proper regard to equalities and applying the principles and practices of restorative justice, desistance theory and 'what works'.

In a previous life, when with HMI Probation, I advocated strongly the need for the delivery of probation interventions to take place within partnership arrangements. My observation, even then, that probation did not have a divine right, regardless, to deliver all probation services given at a NAPO conference was not well received, and I was not asked back. For too long probation thought it could do it all and despite establishing 'contracting out targets' probation failed to respond adequately. This failure was in part the driver for the Offender Management Act that enabled services to be contracted out by the Secretary of State. At the time of the legislation it was anticipated that such contracting out would be for two main purposes: to enable proper competition for intervention services (i.e. the delivery of programmes, and specific services for specific offender groups, properly differentiated); and, as a mechanism to deal with a 'failing probation trust'.

I have never been protectionist, but neither have I sat aside as the unevidenced destruction of an increasingly successful probation service was taking place. As I have already said, and as I said to staff in our probation trust, it was not my job to save jobs but rather to enable the delivery of safe and effective services.

Looking at equalities, I am not fully versed in the implications of the equality responsibilities of commercial enterprises and the application of equalities legislation. However, it is my understanding that public and private sector equality duties are not the same, with there being a lesser duty on the private sector. Do we really want this?

Electronic monitoring (EM). How do I see the future? Regrettably I foresee a significant rise in EM at the cost of more human and productive interventions. EM is very useful, but generally as part of a programme of community supervision, rather than as a replacement for it.

Part of the differentiated services would include services to those sentenced to less than 12 months imprisonment, the part of TR all agreed on (but for the mechanism). There really is no need to place all those prisoners onto statutory supervision as about 50% do not reoffend. Why waste resources on those who do not need them? And a differentiated approach would include peer mentoring, within a properly supervised and accountable system of offender management. One of the greatest casualties of TR has been the effective dismantling of integrated offender management schemes (IOM) delivered in partnership with the police and others.

So, what to do?
  • probation interventions should be included in a programme of market testing to enable those best able to deliver such services (on macro and micro levels) at the best price to do so. Fair competition must include the opportunity for the public sector to participate (as happens in HM prison Service);
  • the delivery of differentiated services that endorse and reflect the spirit of equality duties must remain a priority;
  • consider carefully the use of EM remembering that the profiles of most offenders include either thinking or behaviour deficits that cannot be fixed by EM;
  • roll out IOM more fully and target support and supervision for those sentenced to less than 12 months on those who present the greatest risks of harm and committing further crimes. 
And, what about Unpaid Work? What is it? Well, in my view it is a combination of offender management (with the order being held and managed by the public sector), visible punishment in the community with, where possible, reparative intervention. There are many aspects of Unpaid Work that could be competed when looking at its component logistic and intervention parts, understanding that there is a core element of offender management.

3. Service delivery organised around the existing Local Delivery Unit structures.

This is about the only sensible and intelligent proposal to come out of an expensive consultancy probation review some years ago that preceded the creation of probation trusts. That review was the result of an earlier 'review' by Patrick Carter, if you like, the originator of the current tangled web.

It makes perfect sense for service delivery to continue to be based on the LDU structures, bringing it, as it does, within police and local authority boundaries. In the future this is the organisational building block for contesting localised services, recognising that some must be competed and commissioned at a much larger scale.

So, what to do?
  • nothing, leave it as it is, but understand that the management structure that sits above the LDU can incorporate a number of LDUs. It remains critical that LDUs with the core function of a coherent and consistent offender management function must have quality senior leadership.
4. Cohesive, intelligent and well-trained workforce with staff equipped to understand and influence (change) human behaviour in a complex social environment and able to communicate effectively.

It is the function of probation staff supervising offenders to try to challenge and change the behaviour and thinking of offenders, to improve their life skills, and always with a focus on the victims and public protection. Probation is the controlled implementation of a supportive punishment; whilst it is a punishment it is not the role of probation staff to be punitive.

Managing offenders in the community and assessing their risks and needs are skilled tasks calling for careful judgement and understanding the offender as a whole person when reaching what could be major decisions. The fragmentation of offender management as already discussed does not assist this. Neither will a variably trained and qualified workforce. It may have gone unnoticed but the training requirements for staff eventually working in commercially owned CRCs are undefined. I have previously expressed concerns about this as the erosion of a consistent theoretical approach to changing offender behaviour presents our communities with serious risks.

So, what to do?
  • retaining offender managers within one overall organisation mitigates the risk of divergent practice but it must be supported by suitable training for all offender managers with a recognised portable qualification;
  • without being elitist, there must be sufficient entry requirements that ensure offender managers and other staff working in probation have the intellectual, emotional and communication capacities for the work which is demanding.
5. Sufficient middle managers to support and guide service delivery staff, and similarly for corporate and support services.

Quite simply, too much is expected of middle managers, made worse by the misinformed review referred to above. Those closest to the quality of the work, be that direct offender supervision or corporate services, are those doing it and their immediate line managers. What I know to be the case is that immediate line managers have been expected to have too great a span of control. They need space to 'enable and ensure' that what their staff are doing makes good sense. What I see to be the case is that somehow the 'enabling' function has slipped off the radar (generally) and that simple 'ensuring' is the order of the day. This resonates, it seems, with the shocking revelations coming out of Rotherham - managers preoccupied with systems (and self) rather than thoughtful reflection with practitioners about practice, be that offender or support focused.

So, what to do?
  • a proper review of the middle manager role and function to ensure a sufficiency of managerial oversight of and support for practitioner staff allowing for proper staff supervision and appraisal.
6. A cost-effective and lean senior management structure with corporate services working to this structure.

I have already alluded to the LDU basis for service delivery and a lean structure above that. Some years ago I proposed the amalgamation of probation services into a regional structure (at a time when geographic regions were recognised as sensible), thereby realising cashable HQ premises, corporate services and senior management savings. It goes without saying that this proposal was not welcomed, especially by the then probation boards and senior managers. Also, at that time, I predicted that if probation boards did not rise up to this challenge then it would be financial pressures in the future that would drive them to this position in any case. It was a classic case of being right at the wrong time, and probably in the wrong way - meaning that it was as good as being wrong.

That said, part of that problem has been addressed by TR, and the structural changes made can now be developed and used to advantage. As I understand it we now have 7 NPS divisions (Wales, London + 5) and 21 CRCs, the NPS divisions with a deputy director (to the NPS national director and his team) and 21 CRC CEOs. This still makes for a total of 28 senior managers for a fairly small business. Now, I am fairly confident that our ex CEO for ASPT could have managed (very effectively) all the LDUs in the South West, as an example. Such a structure could be further enhanced by the Offender Management CEOs (perhaps a total of no more than 9) being supported by a deputy, and each OM division having its corporate services structure. In addition such an approach would immediately reduce the number of HQ premises.

So, what to do?
  • use the TR structural changes as a staging post to a more radical reduction in senior management posts with a primary focus on about 9 offender management 'divisions'.
  • realise the cashable savings from HQ and such staff reductions;
  • align corporate services with this structure.
7. IT that works.

Where to start? Probation has been saddled with inadequate (putting it kindly) and morale sapping IT since I recall the introduction of CRAMS back in the 90's. All I read about (well, mainly) is the endless failure of N-Delius and its repeated 'fixes' and 'work-arounds'. You know you are in trouble when an IT system needs endless 'work-arounds'. The whole system is set to get more complex with the transfer of ownership of the CRCs to commercial enterprises, who will not be bound by N-Delius. On one level this is a good thing as it is such a poor system, but on another we then face the prospect of a plethora of different systems (after a long struggle to get one system for probation) which will inevitably fail to talk to each other. Do not be taken in by reassurances from the MoJ about this - just check the track record. A fragmented IT system can only be even worse.

So, what to do?
  • Just get some people in who actually understand probation and data security issues to design a national probation IT system. Do not allow a fragmented IT system.
8. Simple governance arrangements to separate service delivery responsibilities from policy making to avoid any conflicts of interest or undue influence in the delivery systems and that enable financial and business transparency fully open to public scrutiny.

This is not the time to return to what was. As suggested above, moving to 9 offender management / probation divisions will require 9 governance arrangements. It is wholly inappropriate for the government policy arm to have such a service delivery responsibility (and this applies to HM Prison service also - look how freedom of speech has been restricted and how hidden the current issues in prisons are). There must be some clear blue water between those who have policy responsibilities and the delivery executive. The NDPB structure makes sense in that it enables a degree of independence (regrettably not exercised by most probation trust boards in the implementation of TR). It is both improper and dangerous for policy and executive powers to be in the same hands as political interference is a serious risk (the right argument used by the judiciary). Let's face it, TR is the perfect example of the dangers of implementing unquestionably dangerous political dogma. At a front line level it is questionable whether civil servants (the NPS), bound to do the bidding of politicians, should be giving sentencing advice to the courts. The concept and potentially the practice of 'sufficient independence' is compromised in such an arrangement.

There has been debate about the degree of transparency commercial enterprises should be subject to when delivering public services. Again it is a matter of regret that parliament has decided that the freedom of information act should not apply to the business sector (as I understand it), thereby restricting transparency. All in the name of commercial confidentiality. Is this what we really want - a probation service part of which (the NPS) is effectively gagged and subject to serious risk of political interference and the other (the CRCs) hidden behind the cloak of commercial confidentiality?

So, what to do?
  • a degree of independence must be included in the governance arrangements for probation delivery. Whilst not a fan of 'boards' the proposed offender management / probation divisions need the support of an NDPB structure;
  • the transfer of the CRCs to the commercial sector will inevitably lead to significantly reduced business transparency; another reason to reject this part of the TR process.
9. Understanding that the probation service is a community based operation with the key strategic and operational community partners being the courts, the parole board, the police, local authorities other community providers and that there needs to be an 'offender management relationship' with the prisons.

The 'close association' between probation and prisons has been an unmitigated disaster for probation. This is exactly as predicted by Sir Graham Smith when he was alive, one of the most thoughtful probation leaders we were lucky to have. When NOMS was first established prison leaders refused to 'play ball' as NOMS was led by probation leadership, quickly outmanoeuvred. It was only once prison leaders bullied their way into leading NOMS that they started to at least pay lip service to its establishment. Let's face it, it has been nothing other than a prison take over of probation and, whilst some of the leadership has tried to understand probation all the evidence demonstrates that these attempts have failed. What we now see is the transformation of part of probation (NPS) into a prison service clone, and I don't really think the current political and policy leadership cares too much as to the future of the CRCs.

A relationship between prisons and probation is needed to enable a degree of continuity of service and supervision of released prisoners. But, this does not mean probation and prisons needing to be joined at the hip. As an aside I would not have probation staff located in prisons, but that is another story. Probation is very clearly a community based business, and its primary delivery partners are the police, health and local authorities.

So, what to do?
  • probation needs its own policy leadership, and own minister who would not be hijacked by prison service demands and priorities;
  • the 9 probation divisional directors would be accountable, through their boards, via the probation policy leadership to their minister;
  • a question remains as to the proper departmental location of probation - I could argue it should be in the Home Office as its primary objectives are public protection and reducing crime and reoffending and its close association with the work of the police;
  • the metrics for probation should include crime reduction.
10. Adherence to the 7 principles of public life.

Our probation trust was proud to reference these standards. I repeat them here as they are worthy of a reminder:

Selflessness: Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.
Integrity: Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
Objectivity: In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Accountability: Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Openness: Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands it.
Honesty: Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Leadership: Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

********************************************************
Probation is very much like the poorly understood ligament in the body. It joins muscle and bone, has a bad blood supply, is difficult to see with x-rays or ultra-sound and, if ruptured, takes years to repair, about 7 to be exact. A final total rupture can still be avoided.

So, will this make a difference? That is now up to others. And, remember, the truth cannot offend. Oh, and a justice secretary who lives up to the title could be good?

Joe Kuipers, 29 August 2014

Friday, 29 August 2014

Omnishambles Update 65

As I sit in front of a blank screen desperately trying to think of some way to fill it, I can't help noticing that an eerie stillness has descended, and I'm not the only one:- 

Crikey. NAPO conference upcoming, the fight for Probation in a dark hour, and you can see the tumbleweed blowing through this blog, NAPO's homepages too. Jeez. What to do? I am still up for doing whatever it is.

Anyway, in such circumstances we can always resort to kicking Serco, as here in the Independent:- 
Overcharging by outsourcing giant Serco costs NHS millions
Outsourcing giant Serco is embroiled in a fresh misuse of public funds scandal after a company it set up overcharged NHS hospitals millions of pounds, The Independent can reveal.
Internal documents leaked to Corporate Watch indicate Britain’s biggest pathology services provider, which was established by Serco in partnership with Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals, overcharged the NHS for diagnostic tests.
The venture - first called GSTS and now trading under the name Viapath - has also been dogged by allegations of cost-cutting and clinical failings. Internal documents show increasing concern amongst senior consultants who claimed that staff cuts and a lack of investment since privatisation left some laboratories close to disaster. In internal emails clinicians said the company had an “inherent inability… to understand that you cannot cut corners and put cost saving above quality.” The trust and Viapath say the problems have now been resolved. But this only happened after the intervention of senior medical staff and changes to the structure of the joint venture that reduced Serco’s role.
A 2013 internal audit by the trust into three of the 15 laboratories run by Viapath found its invoicing and billing systems were “unreliable” and contained “material inaccuracies”, amounting to an overcharge of £283,561 over a sample three month period. The auditors found invoices included double-counting of tests charged to the hospitals, with both samples and patients included in bills, and that the Trust had been “indirectly providing a free pathology service” to other NHS bodies by being billed for outside work done. They estimated this could represent approximately £1 million in 2012 alone.
The full scale of the over-charging is not known because a full audit has never been conducted.
It's sobering to be reminded that the crime figures appear to be largely a work of fiction, as discussed here in the Daily Mail:-

Why crime is really UP 50%: Upbeat official figures ignore slew of offences, from card fraud to murder
Millions of card fraud cases are left out of official figures, making a ‘mockery’ of Government figures that crime is falling, it was claimed yesterday.

Damning research shows up to 3.8million bank and credit card frauds are left out of the Crime Survey for England and Wales, distorting the true scale of offending. If they were included, the number of annual offences would rise by 50 per cent, from the record low of 7.3million to 11million a year. It means seven people are defrauded every minute.
For the annual survey, the Office for National Statistics conducts face-to-face interviews with 40,000 people to glean their experiences of crime. But as well as many frauds, it excludes murder and manslaughter because the victim is dead, figures about rape and other sex offences which are calculated differently due to their sensitive nature, and crimes such as drug possession that are considered victimless.
The ONS was criticised last night after it revealed the 3.8million frauds were not in its survey. Card frauds alone were said to be worth £450million last year. It was accused of failing to follow new trends as criminals turn to online fraud and other cyber crimes – such as credit card fraud, bogus online auctions and online dating scams – that often carry softer punishments.
But ONS statisticians said it was difficult to be confident about the scale of plastic card fraud because victims often do not report it, or it is counted twice or more by different bodies such as banks and insurers. The estimate of the scale of card and banking fraud, which would make it the second biggest area of crime after theft, was slipped out last month.
Professor Marion FitzGerald, a criminologist at the University of Kent, said: ‘Ministers were readily persuaded that the Crime Survey represented a gold standard for measuring crime when it started to show a continuous fall from the time Labour took office in 1997. Yet here we have an admission from its own results that crime is 50 per cent higher than the figure it claims.’
I don't know about anyone else, but the shocking news emerging from Rotherham concerning sexual exploitation of children makes me want to hear what Probation has to say about it. Even though many hundreds of referrals must have been made by probation officers to SSD over the time frame involved, and the Probation Service is a statutory agency involved with every Safeguarding Children Board, I've not heard a peep from anyone. As an agency, does Probation come out of all this squeeky clean? This from the Guardian:-
Blatant failures of political and police leadership contributed to the sexual exploitation of 1,400 children in Rotherham over a 16-year period, according to an uncompromising report published in the aftermath of allegations of gang rape and trafficking in the South Yorkshire town.
Written by Prof Alexis Jay, a former chief inspector of social work, the investigation concluded that the council knew as far back as 2005 of sexual exploitation being committed on a wide scale by mostly Asian men, yet failed to act.
This is the fourth report clearly identifying the problem of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham. The first, commissioned by the Home Office back in 2002, contained "severe criticisms" of the police and local council for their indifference to what was happening under their noses. But instead of tackling the issue, senior police and council officers claimed the data in the report had been "fabricated or exaggerated", and subjected the report's author to "personal hostility," leading to "suspicions of collusion and cover up", said Jay.
Council and other officials sometimes thought youth workers were exaggerating the exploitation problem. Sometimes they were afraid of being accused of racism if they talked openly about the perpetrators in the town mostly being Pakistani taxi drivers. 
Roger Stone, Rotherham's Labour council leader since 2003, said that he had stepped down with immediate effect following the publication of the Jay inquiry. "I believe it is only right that I, as leader, take responsibility on behalf of the council for the historic failings that are described so clearly in the report and it is my intention to do so," he said.
Jahangir Akhtar, the former deputy leader of the council, is accused in the report of naivety and potentially "ignoring a politically inconvenient truth" by insisting there was not a deep-rooted problem of Pakistani-heritage perpetrators targeting young white girls. Police told the inquiry that some influential Pakistani councillors in Rotherham acted as barriers to communication on grooming issues.
On a number of occasions, victims of sexual abuse were criminalised – arrested for being drunk – while their abusers continued to act with impunity. Vital evidence was ignored, Jay said, with police apparently trying to manipulate their figures for child sexual exploitation by removing from their monitoring process girls who were pregnant or had given birth, plus all looked after children in care.
Jay concluded that from 1997-2013, Rotherham's most vulnerable girls, some as young as 11, were raped by large numbers of men. Others were trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated, with some children doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight if they told anyone what had happened.
No case involving Rotherham men came to court until November 2010 when five "sexual predators" were convicted of grooming three girls, two aged 13 and one 15, all under children's social care supervision, before using them for sex. In the past 12 months, 15 people have been prosecuted or charged with child sexual exploitation offences in Rotherham.
Meanwhile this story amply demonstrates the dangers of speaking up and daring to contradict Chris Grayling's assertion that there is no crisis in the prison system:-

Prison officer facing action for speaking out about Lewes Prison
A serving prison officer is being investigated by her bosses for speaking out about conditions inside Lewes Prison. Kim Lennon, 47, from Lewes, revealed problems with overcrowding and staff shortages to The Argus earlier this month. Four days later she received a letter from the prison governor Nigel Foote telling her he had ordered an investigation due to allegations she had “failed to meet the required standards of behaviour expected of staff”. He has asked investigators to look into allegations Ms Lennon “has potentially discredited the Prison Service by disclosing official information”.
Ms Lennon, currently signed off work sick due to stress, said she does not regret speaking out. She said: “I have told the truth. If I get fired for that I think that would be unjust. “The staff are behind me but a lot have not been brave enough to speak out. “I am a good officer and I am sick to death of the way prisoners and staff have been treated.
Ms Lennon, who has worked at Lewes for ten years, told The Argus staff were demoralised, overworked, up to 20 were off sick and drugs use was “rife” inside the male-only prison. “I will defend my job because I love my job, but at the moment I am taking it one day at a time.” She spoke to The Argus on the same day that chief inspector of prisons Nick Hardwick revealed a rapid rise in prisoner suicide rates were due to overcrowding and staff shortages. A Prison Service spokesman said: “It would be inappropriate to comment during an ongoing disciplinary process."
Finally, we know there is effectively an MoJ news clampdown on anything going on in prison at the moment, so we have to resort to reports such as this from interested parties:-
I followed an ambulance into work today. During 1st movement to work a prisoner was stabbed in the head. The talk is that the police are treating it as Attempted Murder. Too early to say what actually happened because the prison is reluctant to share any information with staff. There are so few staff actually able to supervise movement this will always be a potential flash point. A Parole Board Panel was in today so they too know that there was an incident. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Napo Special

I notice that Napo have just published the Notice of Motions for the AGM in Scarborough and apart from the unsurprising number that relate to the TR omnishambles, there's absolutely nothing that will frighten the horses. Nothing that seeks to deal with Napo's internal dysfunctional management and leadership, and nothing about there being no Judicial Review. The General Secretary must be very pleased with himself indeed, but of course there's plenty of time for amendments up until 25th September.

This motion caught my eye, but I'm mystified by 'Probation Service - A Future that Works'. Is it a book, a report, a campaign or an aspiration?
Since probation was split on 1 June 2014 the service has been in utter chaos. Napo knows things will get worse as long as the service remains split, even if we are successful in fighting off proposed privatisation ahead of the General Election. It is therefore important that, whilst continuing to oppose privatisation and pointing out what is wrong with the current structures, we now present strong arguments for a better alternative model.

Napo believes that there is an alternative model: “Probation Service – A future that works” and resolves to take the following actions:
• to actively promote “Probation Service – A future that works”. This includes to politicians, the media, the public, other unions and stakeholders (including potential bidders), up to, including and beyond the General Election in May 2015;
• continue to highlight the crisis that has arisen from the split and Grayling’s pursuit of the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation Agenda’, including risks to the safety of staff, the public and taxpayers’ resources; 
• continue to work with TUC ‘Speak up for Justice’ to raise awareness of the meltdown of the justice system and to promote a workable, affordable alternative; 
• continue to oppose the threatened sale of CRC contracts, whilst continuing to call for an independent review and evidence based change (incorporating analysis of pilots) as outlined in the TUC report ‘Justice For Sale – the privatisation of offender management services’.
Proposer: Chris Pearson
Seconder: Megan Elliott
The Lobby of Parliament is less than a week away and I see we have Mike Rayfield to thank via Facebook for the running order:-
Room 14 John McDonnell Chair Sadiq Khan 2.10 Katie Lomas 2.20 David Chantler 2.25 Sarah Champion 2.30 Mike Rayfield 2.35 Ian Lawrence 2.40 Contributions from the floor From 2.50
Room 11 Elfyn Llwyd Chair Jenny Chapman 2.10 Tracey Worth 2.20 Joe Kuipers 2.25 Ian Lavery 2.30 Jamie Overland 2.35 Tania Bassett 2.40 Contributions from the floor From 2.50

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Prison in Crisis 4

Contrary to what Chris Grayling might say about there being no crisis in the prison system, here's Rob Allen on his Unlocking Potential blog with a round-up from numerous Independent Monitoring Boards, pretty much all saying there most certainly is:-
Chris Grayling Must Accept Whats Happening in Prisons 
One imagines the election can’t come quickly enough for Chris Grayling. Whatever the outcome, he’ll be freed from responsibility for a prison system that is rapidly deteriorating in front, if not of his eyes, then those of almost all who work in and visit jails.

While he may not think so, as a society we are indeed lucky that the Prison Inspectorate (HMIP) and local monitoring boards (IMB’s) can catalogue for us the impact of the cuts which he and his predecessor have imposed on the service; and to signal the dangers they pose to security, control and justice in prisons. As Zola put it, "if you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way".
Much has been made of the stinging criticisms in Nick Hardwick’s recent reports. But the annual reports of IMB’s - the local people who visit prisons week in week out are to some extent more telling. IMB’s sometimes have a reputation of being too close to the prison management and too much part of the local establishment – I met an IMB chair last year who had first been appointed by Roy Jenkins. But the reports they send to the Justice department each year are born of familiarity with the day to day life of the prison which HMIP cannot easily capture.
What is striking about recent reports is the concern about the impact of the benchmarking process which has been used to determine adequate staffing numbers.
Take two very different prisons both given reasonably positive reports last year by HMIP and both rated a 3 - meeting the majority of their targets- in the latest NOMS performance table. At Liverpool, a large local jail, the IMB reported that members, when performing their duties on the wings, “have noted with considerable concern, the low ratio between Prison Officers and prisoners. If staffing levels were reduced further, the Board feels that the capability of prison staff to contain any incident that may take place would seriously compromise staff.” At Erlestoke, a small Training prison “the Board continues to be concerned about the staff to offender ratios, particularly on the residential wings. There are times during the day when only one officer is on duty, responsible for over approximately 50 offenders. The Board considers this to be unsafe for the officer and for offenders”.
At Nottingham, the IMB reported that the reduced staffing levels which came into effect in September 2013 as a result of the nationally imposed benchmarking operation, have severely stretched the prison’s resources, resulting in frequent cancellation of education, library, work, exercise sessions and gym sessions together with the virtual collapse of an effective Personal Officer scheme. At Norwich, officials from the Department of Work and Pensions do not consider the reduced staffing levels provide enough safety for them to visit prisoners in the activities block. At Portland, the IMB questioned whether the prison could continue to function humanely and efficiently at even the most basic level, if there are further financial cuts.
Other Boards describe some of the impacts of those cuts and of overcrowding, whether it is prisoners forced to urinate on the floor of vans outside Norwich prison, cells measuring less than 6.5 square metres being used for two prisoners at Lewes or lack of sufficient prisoner clothing at Lincoln. Some of this treatment, including the growing incidence of abuse of prisoners by cell mates and other prisoners - could easily be found inhuman and degrading were it brought before the European Court of Human Rights .
While he is likely to be dismissive of any such findings, it is difficult to see how Grayling can simply continue to ignore the findings of the Boards or the Inspectors. Both the HMIP and IMB’s form part of an internationally authorised body aimed at preventing ill treatment in places of detention in the UK - the so called National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). Under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, the UK government has agreed (at article 22) to examine the recommendations of the NPM“ and enter into a dialogue with it on possible implementation measures.”
Such a dialogue is therefore not simply an urgent practical necessity but a legal requirement. Grayling will surely wish to comply with the Ministerial Code which places (at 1.2) an overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations.
This article in the Independent last week addresses the basis Grayling uses for denying there is any crisis:- 
Mr Grayling’s disputed claims focus on three main areas:
Violence
Mr Grayling carefully selected his statistics to claim – correctly – that the number of prisoner fights and assaults was lower compared with five years ago and two years ago. But not compared with the other three most recent years that he chose to ignore. Attacks have increased in the last year, and the most serious of them were higher in 2013-14 than in any of the last five. The number of assaults on staff is also at its highest since 2007. Other figures point to simmering violence within the prison estate. The prison service’s riot squad was called out more than 200 times last year, a near 60 per cent rise compared with the previous 12 months.
Prison numbers
The minister claimed that the two per cent increase in prison numbers was to a “significant extent” down to the jailing of more sex offenders. There has been a rise of sex offenders of 652 to 11,150 in the year to March 31 but his department’s own figures show a greater cause for the rise is the number of prisoners who are waiting longer to go on trial or to be sentenced after conviction.

Courts have been unable to cope with the extra demands. That has led to an 11 per cent increase in remand prisoners, equating to more than 1,200 prisoners – nearly double that of sex offenders. And while the Government has trumpeted falling crime, stiffer sentences have kept the prison population rising.
Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The rise in convictions of people for historical sex offences is a relatively small driver behind the increase in the prison population. More significant are the facts that remand is being overused and ‘tough-on-crime’ political rhetoric is influencing sentencers’ behaviour.”
Staff shortages
The Howard League has calculated that prison officer numbers have dropped by 30 per cent between 2010 and 2013 during austerity cuts. It said that staffing cuts had led to a dangerous situation with inmates being locked up for longer in their cells, and library visits being cancelled. Mr Grayling said, “We are meeting those challenges; we are recruiting more staff”. 
Especially at the MoJ, incompetence can play its part, and here's a story on the BBC website:-
The Ministry of Justice has been fined £180,000 for "serious failings" in the handling of confidential data.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said the penalty was related to the loss of a hard drive containing the details of almost 3,000 prisoners at Erlestoke prison in Wiltshire. The disk was not encrypted. The records, lost in 2013, included material on organised crime, prisoners' health and drug misuse, and information about inmates' victims and visitors.
After a similar incident in 2011, in which the details of 16,000 prisoners was lost on a disk that was not protected, the Ministry of Justice issued the Prison Service with new back-up hard drives that could be encrypted. However, the government body failed to explain to employees that the encryption option had to be switched on manually. As a result, the data lost was unprotected, and could be accessed by the finder of the hard drive. The ICO head of enforcement, Stephen Eckersley, said: 
"The fact that a government department with security oversight for prisons can supply equipment to 75 prisons throughout England and Wales without properly understanding, let alone telling them, how to use it, beggars belief. The result was that highly sensitive information about prisoners and vulnerable members of the public, including victims, was insecurely handled for over a year." He added: "We hope this penalty sends a clear message that organisations must not only have the right equipment available to keep people's information secure, but must understand how to use it."
A standard, predictable response from the MoJ spin doctors:- 
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "We take data protection issues very seriously and have made significant and robust improvements to our data security measures. "These hard drives have now been replaced with a secure centralised system." She added: "Incidents like this are extremely rare and there is no evidence to suggest that any personal data got into the public domain."
All ok now then, it would seem.