Sunday, 25 January 2015

Bleak Futures Week 4

I am a PSO in a CRC, I hold over 50 cases and last week my workload was at 99%. We had to re tier our cases to new guidelines and my workload is now 60%. Nothing has changed, but I now have loads of capacity!!!


It's all a big fiddle. We don't even have access to our workload management so I could be working 'over' and I'd never know. I don't trust managers to look after my best interests so will never have a clue if I'm being overworked. As for tiering, we've not used that for a long time. I thought workload management was using the amount of requirements per Order as a formula for the workload - ie the greater the amount of requirements, the higher the weighting per case. I know our admin staff are like vultures, always asking if we have any requirements to terminate so we can be passed more stuff and for a completion to be recorded. Hope I'm made redundant or got rid of as soon as.


All custody cases retiered to T1. Statistical manipulation. No incentive to communicate with sentence planning until ready for release.


Just re-tier them once you discover you have been allocated them. Make them a T3 due to the complexity of multi-agency, ie you, the prisons, the old lags who meet them at the gate, housing and DWP. Primes are not the only ones who can manipulate stats!!!


Due to the recent changes in Probation, it seems that anyone can now be called a Probation Officer, whatever they do, whatever they are paid and whoever they work for.


About the transfer of cases! I previously commented on here about a young man transferred into our OMU from another county. We accepted him and his JSA (jobseekers allowance) was also transferred. But, we could not get the work programme in the other area to transfer their responsibility to a local work programme. Two different organisations, two contracts and one not willing to lose him from their number/contract, even though they were no longer offering/delivering the client a service! It's all about the money, money, money (Jesse J)!

I've recently attended a ORA/TTG briefing and am shocked at the level of chaos that surrounds this new legislation. We couldn't even get an exact answer to when this is due to start. Some say February 1st, others say April 1st, others May??? I didn't realise we could pick and choose when legislation comes in? This is going to cause confusion among NPS and CRC staff.

At Court we are (yet again) going to look like total fools as not even management can provide us with details of how this is going to work. We are supposed to be the experts aren't we? I think that's how Grayling referred to us? This confusion will continue to allocation, at the prison, upon release and even at the gate. The turn around for the screening tool is ridiculously quick and unrealistic in my view. What made me laugh is that the resettlement plan isn't even going to be risk led! Ah ok, good luck with that. I'm a probation officer...get me the hell out of here......!!!!

As a CRC PSO my understanding is currently that EVR is not available as job is not being done away with. I, like many others I am sure, would jump at opportunity to take EVR. Instead we are less than 2 weeks away from takeover and terms & conditions will slowly dwindle, and pressure be too great, that more and more will walk. I feel for NPS colleagues too, because a similar fate awaits, particularly if the Tory party get back in. Award winning service shafted by ideology clap trap.

Workload's ridiculous, mistakes are being made due to almost being 'set up to fail' and capability and disciplinary are being used whereas a few years ago things would've been dealt with at line manager level. Many people looking for the escape route now.

Oooops! Handed another case today of a violent offender (CRC) who hasn't been seen since sentence in November 2014 - only came to light as she was assaulted by her partner and he was appearing in Court! Oh joy!

I am an NPS PO and would take EVR like a shot! My job description bears no resemblance to my post split role, isn't that in effect having my old role made redundant??

There won't be another round of EVR. The remainder of the £60 million has indeed gone to CRC's coffers. Don't build your hopes up as the golden goose has flown. Just knuckle down and get used to this shit - or ship out! I know what I will be doing!

With respect to all parties, what works comes as no surprise to anyone with any significant Probation experience. The problem is the politicization of the agenda and the need to 'look tough' and to manage with woefully inadequate resources. Proper professionals, quality time, decent referral routes into drug treatment and mental health services, bereavement counselling, counselling for adult survivors of child sexual abuse etc. Trying to do it without proper resources, against a hostile political background and an ideology that builds in creaming and parking; I see no real chance of progress.

Has anyone seen the questions when applying for probation officer jobs via the NOMS website? A complete joke! The questions are not reflective of our role...

That's because they are designed for civil servants. Good luck with the website. Last time I tried to apply, when I went back in it said I had no application. I gave up.

I have been wary of clients many times but only properly scared twice. Both were first time offenders, domestic violence perpetrators, assessed as medium risk of serious harm. Colleagues intervened on both occasions and both ended up being managed at MAPPA Level 2. I'm a woman in my late 40's. I dread to think what will happen when we are meeting men like this outside the safety of our CRC offices in the wider community.

When I was first trained to use it, I was told that OASys was an attempt to 'standardise' risk assessments as far as possible, trying to 'even out' individual officers subjectivity as a means of making them fairer for all of those they were written about. It also came in at a time when there was great pressure for probation to 'evidence' the thinking behind decisions. This seemed no bad thing in itself. As an experienced officer the completion of it never informed me of anything I didn't know but it did confirm my thinking somewhat. I remain however baffled by the 'weighted' scores. Alcohol use-low weighting...what?... 'relationships' don't seem to figure but 'education and employment'? Now there's a way to boost your risk up (feeding into the drive to get people into work of course and it must be their fault if they don't have a job).
Now; what was meant as a tool to inform the assessor has become the oracle with some people thinking that if they can complete an OASys they can assess risk. Others seeing it as fundamental (often mangers who have never completed one) but when did completing an OASys prevent an SFO as against spending time with the person? What started as a risk assessment 'tool' is now trying to fit too many purposes in my view. For example its become a way of recording all of the historical information that used to be held on files, (in part 'A's 'B's etc for those that can recall them.) that would be lost otherwise.

I agree wholeheartedly that the OASys generated 'template' PSRs were the kiss of death for the great skill of report writing. People overworked (or who knew no better or had no integrity) would just pull everything through and end up with a disjointed document, full of information that shouldn't be there and would omit the stuff (relationships!) that did inform so much. No wonder PSRs are felt to be less use in court. 

As for the 'risk assessment' your left with? How many umpteen offence analysis reviews have you seen that (end of sentence even) start with '..he stands before the court today...'

I can't bring myself to just pull everything through and put my name to it (although someone, another very experienced PO asked me why it mattered as the whole thing was so meaningless now anyway). As a result of my 'thoroughness' an OASys takes me at least the best part of a day, more if it's for a parole review considering the emphasis that seems to be put on it all. When I do one it's thorough. I also complete the SAQ and spend time explaining the crap wording '...go to places that cause me trouble..?' But in truth I hardly do them due to other priorities. My task box overflows and of course they disappear from this if they're left too long so you forget them! Hurrah! I could be all up to date and tickerty boo if I just pulled it all through and if management start leaning heavily, that is what will happen. All of my team (NPS) are in the same position. No one is being very 'timely' these days. Get rid and let us work with our clients again.

'Amnesty' is an odd word to use in this context. Who is NOMS at war with? They will never make OASys fit for purpose. It's labelling and data gathering aspects have always been greater than its contribution to risk prediction. Its pseudo science attracted many gullible followers and it gained some undeserved validity, but in time it will be shown to have been as useful as phrenology. A waste of time and money.

Too true. Who ever thought that the phrase 'Proven risk of Reoffending' actually meant something? Pseudoscience indeed. 

Does anyone know what Probation is actually supposed to do now? a PO (NPS)

Hit targets and don't ask NOMS (or your own private company) awkward questions. Or cost them money. Or be ill. Or have a child. Just strap yourself to your desk, plug in and nutrients will be delivered directly to your stomach via the tube shoved up your arse. If I've missed anything, please feel free to add it :)

I think a lot of people didn't realise quite how far reaching these reforms were going to be. Its scary.

Now it's started, it's like a human form of Japanese knotweed.

On the scale of uneccessariness, ranging from 1 (crucial) to 10 (we can muddle through without) NOMS must be right up there at 11

The fuckwits have taken over the asylum. Independent opinion in the courtroom has finally been abolished. A long time ago my probation tutor explained how the SER (aka PSR, SDR, FDR, OR) offered the only true independent assessment of a defendant's position. She pointed out how the sentencers already had the starting point of "guilty"; the Clerk was only there to offer legal guidance to the sentencers; the prosecution were there to secure a guilty plea/verdict at the highest possible level; the defence were acting on the instructions of the guilty party. Beyond that the press wanted the best angle for a story & the public were Inevitably biased by virtue of being related to either the perpetrator or victim. Who, therefore, could realistically offer the sentencer an unbiased and truly independent assessment? 

Sadly the role of the PSR was systematically undermined by NOMS & a generation of management who hated client contact and hated being in court - the perfect opportunity to build an anti-PSR groundswell of opinion at liaison meetings, in policy documents and in practice. And now they've more or less achieved their objective after 15 years of chipping away. There's patience & determination for you.

Another nail in the coffin of the probation service that I have known and mostly loved for 3 decades plus. What is it about any more? I certainly don't know and pretty much have got to the point that I don't care any more. I'm just going to be a nodding dog type from now on. Do my job to the best of my ability without any hope of things getting better whilst waiting for leave and each weekend. A wholly disillusioned PO.

Yes indeed I understand what you mean when you say you do not care anymore. What I do care passionately about are the people on my caseload and all of my colleagues (I refuse to be divided - us and them CRC/NPS). However in terms of trying to absorb, let alone implement the impossible processes, I have given up and do not care anymore either, because we are on a hiding to hell. I refuse to become a mere functionary, "machine say, me do". I have completely stopped putting in the extra hours, I now go out at lunch and actually walk around talking to people again. I come in each day and do the absolute minimum I can in order to feed the idiot box that sits on my desk, see my people which makes me feel I am doing a "proper" job and basically go home - that's how it is for me and most of my colleagues now. 

In my office there is a widening disconnect between the regime and practice. No one has a grip of the process anymore with so much interference and so many people required (when you can finally track them down) to complete a basic task. Where once you could pick the telephone up, talk to someone who knew what you were talking about and could do the task, now you are either left high and dry or shunted all over the place. it is falling apart after being smashed by Grayling et al.

I try to remain positive but there is a growing feeling of uneasy calm before the tsunami finally hits us. Talking of no one seeming to know what they are doing reminds me. I was in Court this week and when I mentioned ORA to the solicitors they looked at me as if I was crazy. They and the magistrates in our Court were oblivious! Feb 1st! I don't think so somehow.

If this is the direction of travel it won't be long before the report is done away with altogether and falls in to the remit of the defence solicitor.

...and how many just précis the report instead of doing their own homework? A defence barrister in the Crown once asked me when I was on duty ' can I mitigate without a report..?'

The long standing lament of the PO. I've just had a Barrister, earning x times my salary, reading my PSR to the sentencer, who should have read it already, as mitigation!.

The arrogance of these people astounds me, even after 30 years. I have worked in a Crown Court. Barristers and solicitors who know absolutely nothing about the person they are supposed to be defending, shitting themselves in case there isn't going to be a PSR, however formulaic it is. Judges who don't actually know what sentences they are legally allowed to impose, whose arrogance knows no bounds and who never give a milliseconds thought to the person they have just sentenced. A plague on all their houses, bunch of arrogant, ignorant tossers.

Since I joined the Probation Service some 16 years ago as a TPO and then PO, I've seen POs removed from courts, back in, out again ad infinitem. Having been thrown to the corporate wolves in a CRC, I now hear about the latest court target for my poor beleaguered colleagues in the NPS who have been totally overwhelmed by PSRs whilst 'managing' high risk cases et al. It seems that the new 'target' for PSRs of all ilks including SDRs is 100% on the day and they are about to put POs back into courts to achieve this.

Meanwhile, in the CRC, we already have 'Oral Reports' that aren't worth the paper they're printed on, FDRs no longer requiring even the most cursory of OASys assessments and all of the essential detailed assessments displaced to the field to meet court requirements of 'swift and speedy justice', whilst NOMS reintroduces a 10 day 'target' for initial sentence plans.(FFS)

To add to this NOMS/MOJ applied fuckwittery, I attended a briefing 'event' on Friday where our new CRC overlords outlined their 'vision' for the future in my very large CRC including new integrated robust simple IT systems by September (yeah right, who remembers C-NOMIS?) to enable us all to move forward. Very slick, very personable, well intentioned white folks in suits (no really, every single one of them) with no clue.

And to add to the chaos, we have the new Offender Rehabilitation Act, where magistrates no longer have to consider the impact of short custodial sentences meaning no Probation Service input or supervision because every single sentence of more than 1 day will mean 12 months probation. I wonder what the magistrates will do then?

In my NPS area the bosses are moving resources into the court teams to do virtually every report as an Oral. The PSR really is over.... and given the constant erosion of role boundaries, so is the professionalism of our service.

In our area they are increasing the size of the PSR team. Sounds like its going to be postcode lottery justice. Re ORA,  I'm already worrying about all of the released after short sentence but now HOMELESS people with only £46 in their pocket (usually spent by the time they get to our door) who believe we can actually help them to find somewhere to stay. Just watch those re-offending rates rise....(esp when the 'through the gate' people start running for the hills...)

Sadly I do not believe I will ever be able to do 'a better job' again. How are you going to tell what is most likely to reduce the risk of harm without assessment? How do you assess what the risk of harm is in the first place without interviewing someone? Already with dumbed down or rushed 'reports' we have people on orders which they cannot complete due to work or mental health issues, we have people who don't have a grasp of what they have been sentenced to, people who should be on sex offender programmes but are not and some who are that shouldn't be. (all on my current caseload in the new NPS - some of my interventions might well be taking the blasted orders back to court for amendments.) 

Pity the ones who end up in custody to be assessed afterwards. Too late then and moreover the content of a report and the level of risk directly affects what happens to people in prison. I could go on... I've always believed that the process of preparing a report, that period when someone is in crisis, who might never have discussed the offence before, is absolutely crucial to how people respond to whatever they are sentenced to afterwards. 'Do good work in the environment we are in..?' It'll be a repair job then given the size of the rock that Grayling and his cronies have lobbed at us.

I gather that the Reducing Reoffending Partnership intend to introduce a new IT system, volunteers in Court, reshape needs analysis but keep OASys risk assessment, multi agency teams in prisons, mentoring services for through the gate, co-locating services, a strengths based approach, sharing services, possibly rebranding the term probation, assessing the fitness of the estate and a partnership approach.

From Inside Times:

Prisoners now have the equivalent of zero hour’s contracts – Star Letter of the Month

I would like to point out the lengths that some prisons are going to in order to meet Grayling’s demands that all prisoners must work. Everybody knows that the maths just doesn’t add up; there is around one job for every 10 prisoners in the system so there is no chance of full employment in our prison system. What they are doing is creating part-time jobs in order to fiddle the statistics. Here at HMP Littlehey they have been very imaginative with job creation with such illustrious jobs as Games Rep, Wheelchair Rep, Gym Rep, Gym Induction Rep, Gym Wing Orderly and Gym Orderly. All the gym jobs were originally done by one person before being turned into 4 different posts! I also hear that the job of ‘Catalogue Rep’ is very demanding! I have been given the incredibly named job of ‘Energy Champion’. My job consists of turning off half the lights on the spur and making sure the lights are off in the shower when no one is in there. For this I get paid 50p per session, a maximum of £7 per week. So most of us are doing make-work that will have absolutely no value in helping us to get a job in the outside world – this is Grayling’s so-called ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’, is it? What a joke!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Grayling Special

I'm sure I read a comment recently that implied the word going round MoJ HQ is that Chris Grayling is a 'busted flush' and would have been all for throwing the towel in, had it not been for his officials realising they'd got some basic arithmetic wrong where the number of SFO's were concerned. It got me thinking - there's been quite a bit in the media recently about our Justice Minister, starting with that surprising deal with the Saudis:-

View image on Twitter

The Jack of Kent blog has really taken up the issue and mightily irritated the MoJ with these questions:-
So yesterday I asked the press office of the Ministry of Justice questions about its £5.9 million “commercial” proposal to the punishment system Saudi Arabia (see here and here):
1. Can I please have a copy of the MoU signed between the Secretary of State and Saudi
2. Can I please have a copy of the commercial proposal put to the Saudis
3. Can you provide full details to what is to be offered to the Saudis under the commercial proposal
4. Can you provide set out the extent of the civil service resources which are to be used in the proposal
5. When is the proposal expected to be signed?
6. What are the answers to Amnesty’s questions as follows:
Beyond the usual aspirational language, can Chris Grayling demonstrate that Just Solutions international will actually be able to concretely improve detention practices in Saudi Arabia without becoming complicit in abuse?For example, is JSi going to be challenging and seeking to prevent abuses when it comes across malpractice, and indeed what human rights safeguards and training are going to be built into any programme?
7. What is the current budget for JSi [Just Solutions international, the (supposed) commercial vehicle being used by MoJ]?
8. Other than the mid-term report, what mention has there been of JSi in any official publications?
9. What is the headcount for JSi?
10. Who paid for the “.com” website for JSi and why is it not a “” website?
11. Why has the Secretary of State now said he is looking at the Saudi proposal carefully? What does this mean in practice?
12. Please set out the commercial experience/expertise of those engaged in the JSi project? A quick look at open-source sources reveals little or no commercial experience/expertise at all.
13. Please identify all private sector organisations/consultancies involved in the JSi project.
Today I had the response:
“At this point in time we have no further comment to add from what we said at the weekend on this issue: “A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:
“Just Solutions international provides knowledge and expertise of prison and offender management services to international organisations and governments who work with offenders. It has been government policy for many years to work with overseas governments and help them develop their criminal justice systems, utilising that knowledge to bring funds to the public purse. JSi does not work with countries unless it is completely safe to do so and details of any contracts will be made public when agreed.”
This seemed odd, so I followed up asking why the MoJ was refusing to answer each of the individual questions I posed and, in particular, what was the reason why MoJ are not disclosing the MoU referred to hereThe response:
“Sorry, we’re not going to give a running commentary on this.”
I think we can safely say Jack of Kent will be like a dog with a bone on this one and we watch with interest as the MoJ spin doctors try and concoct some slippery answers. 

Just as an aside, with all this emerging stuff about the MoJ suddenly wanting to help improve other jurisdiction's criminal justice systems, it's a shame nobody at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office gave them a call about a very embarrassing difficulty in the Crown Dependency of St Helena, as reported here in the Telegraph:-  
St Helena child abuse: Foreign Office 'was warned British island couldn't cope 12 years ago'
The Foreign Office knew the British territory of St Helena “couldn’t cope” with child abuse as long ago as 2002 but failed to order an independent inquiry for 12 years, a retired senior civil servant has claimed. Ivy Ellick, a former head of public health and social services on the island, said she delivered the warning in a meeting with the British government. At least 20 children were sexually abused on the South Atlantic island, which has a population of only 4,500, during the years between the warning and the inquiry.

Establishment paedophiles, including a social work manager who advised on child protection and a deputy manager of a sheltered accommodation complex, were not brought to justice. Both men were finally sentenced in the past two years. During this period, the Foreign Office repeatedly assured the United Nations that there was “no evidence” of sexual exploitation of children on the island, where seven out of 11 prisoners are child sex offenders. A new prison is being built that could accommodate up to one in 50 of the island’s men. The British government launched the inquiry, headed by Sasha Wass, the QC who prosecuted Rolf Harris, last year after whistleblowers detailed abuse and an alleged cover-up by the island’s government and the Foreign Office. 
Anyway, back to Grayling and that humiliating defeat over the prisoner book ban, as reported in the Guardian:- 
Ban on sending books to prisoners set to end
The Ministry of Justice is preparing to allow prisoners to receive books from their loved ones from early next month, following December’s high court ruling that the policy which prevented inmates from being sent books should be changed. Months of protests by campaigners against rules that restricted inmates’ access to books preceded the high court ruling on a test case brought on behalf of a prisoner with a doctorate in English literature. “I see no good reason, in the light of the importance of books for prisoners, to restrict beyond what is required by volumetric control … and reasonable measures relating to frequency of parcels and security considerations,” ruled Mr Justice Collins in December.
A court order, which needs to be implemented by 31 January, asks the Ministry of Justice to amend the “incentives and earned privileges” instructions, introduced in November 2013, which currently state that “the general presumption will be that items for prisoners will not be handed in or sent in by their friends or families unless there are exceptional circumstances”, effectively ruling out books from being sent to those in jail. The high court wants books to be removed from the category of items that can’t be brought or sent into prisons, in recognition of the fact that they are not a privilege.
This means that prisoners should be able to receive books from 1 February, following months of campaigning by free speech groups and authors. A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman would not confirm that the ministry will implement the ruling without appeal, but the Guardian understands that preparations are already underway for the department to abide by the terms of the court order.
and that astonishing interview with ConservativeHome:-
Chris Grayling is the first Lord Chancellor for 440 years not to be a lawyer, but bridles at the idea that this is in any way a drawback. He considers it, on the contrary, to be an advantage, for “it enables you to take a dispassionate view”, in which you do not “favour the bar or…the solicitors’ firms”.
Only when I transcribed the tape of this interview did I realise quite how astonishing Grayling’s remarks are. For by implying that no lawyer can as Lord Chancellor exercise impartial judgment, at least on any question affecting the legal profession, he appears to insult his many distinguished predecessors. Grayling believes that “people naturally fight for their own interests”. This view may be realistic, but is hard to reconcile with any idea of even-handedness, whether by a Lord Chancellor or by the judiciary.
It is a mark of how bad relations have become between Grayling and senior lawyers, and how annoyed he is by their attacks on his lack of legal expertise, that he has launched such a counter-attack. When the Conservatives were still in Opposition, he made a reputation for himself as an attack dog, and these abilities are here deployed against his critics in the House of Lords.
And of course it's precisely because he lacks legal expertise, he's been regularly made to look such a fool in Parliament. Here's Ian Dunt on the website:-
Grayling hoist by his own petard in final judicial review debate
Some rather enjoyable moments in the Lords yesterday, as peers once again got a chance to debate Chris Grayling's reforms to judicial review. Lord Pannick, who has managed to greatly reduce the threat of these measures, played some clever little games with the lord chancellor, using his own words against him to diminish the force of the changes.
For some time, Grayling has insisted that he is not trying to dismantle judicial review. Instead, these reforms were just to deal with vexatious legal challenges based on "relatively minor procedural defects in a process of consultation". It was nonsense, of course. The reforms would have robbed anyone who was not supremely rich from pursuing a judicial review and they still might. But that was Grayling's line – this was a minor reform to stop charities and pressure groups stopping government policy using tiny technical details.
And then Grayling had to back down a bit. After misleading the Commons himself on judicial discretion in these cases, he introduced an amendment on the so-called 'highly likely' test (explained in detail here). Now the cases could still proceed if the judge decided there was an "exceptional public interest".
As Lord Pannick said, it would have been better if the concession "be drafted in more generous language", but the principle was established: "It will be for the judges to decide how and when that test should apply."
Then Lord Pannick proceeded to show why it is dangerous for ministers to underplay what it is they are trying to do where judicial discretion is concerned. Because Grayling is now on record, in parliament, saying that these reforms are only for minor points of technical law. That suggests 'exceptional public interest' should therefore be interpreted as anything more substantial than that. 
The Left Foot Forward website has some evidence that shows traditional Tory voters are getting very jittery about Grayling:-  
‘Failing Grayling’ could cost the Tories hundreds of thousands of votes
82 per cent of people in the legal sector say they would be more likely to vote Conservative in the general election if Justice secretary Chris Grayling was replaced. The poll was conducted by new social networking site which focuses on the legal services sector. Many of the 350,000 people working in this sector are traditional Tory voters, a fact which is sure to send warning signals to David Cameron.
Grayling was defeated at least seven times in the courtroom last year, over policies aimed at reducing compensation for asbestos victims, cutting legal aid and banning books in prison. Prior to this losing streak, Grayling’s career has been marked by controversies, including a scandal over expenses claims and a botched set of statistics on violent crime. In 2010 he was named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by gay rights charity Stonewall after he was recorded saying that B&B owners should have the right to bar gay couples.
Grayling is the first Lord Chancellor in 440 years who is not a trained lawyer. Mootis Chairman Bill Braithwaite QC said that it was clear that the vast majority of legal sector workers ‘are fed up of Grayling and are prepared to turn their back on the Conservatives if he remains as Justice Secretary’.
But I'll round this off with a belter of a blog by former Tory MP and barrister Jerry Hayes that amply demonstrates the esteem in which Grayling is held, both within the legal profession and normally Tory faithful. Enjoy!
If we were not a few weeks away from an election Chris Grayling would have been ventilated from office. The man is incompetent and a disgrace. I have bored you enough about how he is dismantling our system of justice, destroying the independent bar and plans to close down the family solicitor and replace them with G4s, (under investigation), SERCO (under investigation) and Co-op law ( say it with Flowers). His department has been judicially reviewed so many times and spent so much time in the High Court that it is amazing that they haven’t put in a right to buy. It is not surprising that he wants to limit it.
Just a quick word for the uninitiated. We are governed by statutory instruments which usually go through on the nod, or late on a Thursday night in the Commons when nobody can be arsed to be there. They affect all of our lives as they determine how government departments are able to operate. In other words, within the law. So if your kid has been deprived of a school place, or some dreadful development has suddenly appeared out of nowhere and the government hasn’t obeyed the rules laid down by Parliament you can toddle off to the the High Court and try and persuade a senior judge that you are not being vexatious or frivolous. And it is a rigorous sifting process. We call it the rule of law.
But according to Grayling all this is the wicked work of smelly socked swampy types. Bloody lefties. The rule of law, like freedom is so precious that it has to be rationed. Grayling puts the dick into tat.
So when you have such lefties as former Lord Chief Justices, former Tory Cabinet ministers defeating his Putinesque bill in the Lords as they have ‘a chilling effect on British justice’ and you have Law Lords like Lord Pannick warning that ‘The Lord Chancellor’s remarks on judicial review demeans the office’ it really is time to be deeply concerned.
But there is really something Gothically comic about the Grayling mind set. He set up dear old Lord Faulks (an opponent of the Grayling legal carnage before he took up office) to come up with a killer argument in the debate. That judicial review had to be curtailed as the development of a supermarket had been delayed by six months! My God these bloody lefty fat cat lawyers are really taking the Lidl. Grayling really is off his trolley after all.
Somehow I think that not enough government time will be found to reverse this welcome Lords defeat. But after the election when Cameron returns to Downing Street Grayling is a shit which will have to be flushed. 

Don't Mention the War

It's always risky to stray from one's area of expertise but one consequence of spending a lot of time surfing the internet in order to compile the blog is the temptation to go down other fascinating avenues. This morning's blog is not about probation at all, but if there's any tenuous link that can be claimed it's to do with my increasing exasperation with mainstream media and the economic and political orthodoxy we're continually being fed. 

It's the subject of Greece and their general election being held tomorrow that's temporarily taken my eye off the increasingly depressing probation ball. We're told it's highly likely that a left-wing government will be elected by a people utterly fed up with having to endure the enforced austerity imposed on them by a German-led Troika. It seems they are minded to default on the huge bail-out loans made to them in the wake of the international monetary crisis, thus putting the future of the Eurozone in jeopardy. 

The orthodox view seems to be that the Greeks have brought all this woe upon themselves for being very naughty for a number of years, squandering vast amounts of government money on jobs for the boys and girls, excessive pensions and lax tax collection. I'm sure this is all very true, but it's not the whole truth. What can possibly be behind the fast-growing and ugly hate of Angela Merkel and the German nation? The answer is unfinished business from the Second World War and the thorny issue of reparations.

I must admit I had not appreciated that one consequence of the Berlin wall coming down and German reunification was that claims for war reparation would resurface, including something I was completely unaware of, enforced interest-free loans. Some say this is all in the past and was sorted out. Others say the Greeks have a case. This from the Huffington Post in 2013:-
The claims have been written off by the London Agreement of 1953. 
Article 5, paragraph 2, of the London Agreement of 1953 states:
"Consideration of claims arising out of the second World War by countries which were at war or were occupied by Germany during the war, and by nationals of such countries, against the Reich and agencies of the Reich, including costs of German occupation. ... shall be deferred until the final settlement of the problem of reparation."      
Thus, the obligation of Germany to pay reparations was not written off by the London Agreement of 1953.
No claims can be made so many years after the end of the war.
Greece has demanded payment of the war reparations, awarded by the Paris Conference of 1946, as well as of a forced occupation loan, in 1945, 1946, 1947, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1974, 1987, and 1995. At the London Conference of 1953, Germany sought and succeeded to defer payments. It was successfully argued that the German government should not have to assume the obligation for the entire debt since it represented only West Germany, and settlement of claims was postponed until Germany would be reunited.
Germany was unified in 1990 with an agreement between Germany, the USSR, Great Britain, the USA and France. On July 23, 1990, the German magazine Der Spiegel wrote that with this Agreement, Germany avoided the nightmare of a peace agreement, which would have brought to the fore demands of reparations from all directions. In other words, with this Agreement Germany sought to circumnavigate article 5, paragraph 2 of the London Agreement.
Today's Germans cannot be held responsible for reparations.
The demand of Greece for payment has been made continuously from the end of the war up to date, to the generation responsible for the crimes and to their children. It is the Germans that requested and succeeded, with the London Agreement of 1953, to postpone payment of their obligations, and transfer them to their children and grandchildren. These children and grandchildren benefited greatly from the deferral of payments. Germany's affluence today is greatly due to the fact that Greece and other countries accepted to defer payment of reparations, and to give the opportunity to the Germans that committed the crimes to rebuild and build a better future for their children, while the Greeks had to build on the ruins left behind by the German war machinery after a brutal and completely unprovoked war.
Concerning the matter of the forced loan, here's an article from Forbes in 2012:-
Another legal issue that has surfaced concerns the 476 million reichsmarks lent against its will to Germany by the Greek National Bank during the war. If this were to be considered a form of war damage, then in principle it would be subject to reparation — except that according to the 1990 treaty, Germany would not have to pay it. If the money were, however, to be considered a normal credit, then Greece would be entitled to get the money back.
Without interest, the amount in today’s money would amount to $14 billion. With interest at 3% over 66 years, that would come to at least $95 billion. The problem is this: even partial recognition of such a debt would create a precedent that could bring untold claims in its wake.
But as you can see, even that is problematic. There’s rather a Catch-22 situation there. If they can show that the money was stolen then it doesn’t have to be paid back. If it’s a normal credit then, well, inflation of a zero interest loan has been such that Germany could pay it all back tomorrow without breaking a sweat and without improving the Greek situation more than only the tiniest amount. That’s a tough needle to thread in a legal sense: proving that it was a simple commercial transaction but then arguing that it was under duress which is why no interest was charged.
I'll end this digression with an excellent article from the Guardian in 2013 that makes a case that Germany's debts were effectively settled by the United States and the Marshall Plan, but a moral debt probably remains:-
In one sense Athens is right to point out that Berlin is hypocritical when it accuses indebted eurozone countries of reckless behaviour. Germany was an aggressor in two world wars and failed to pay the debts it incurred. During the second world war it forced countries such as Greece to hand over huge sums in the form of 0% loans that were not repaid.
Greece was ordered to pay $528m by Adolf Hitler. It was not just a huge sum – equivalent to $7.1bn now – it weakened the currency and, according to Apostolos Vetsopoulos, in his 2002 doctoral thesis for University College London, "aggravated inflation in the Greek economy because the Bank of Greece was forced to issue inflationary notes to cover these extraordinary expenses". Avramopoulos has applied compound interest to this sum to reach $54bn.
The trouble with the Greek stance is that by the end of the war Germany was broke and in huge debt. It was not only unable to pay outstanding loans, but also unable to pay the reparations many countries wanted to cover the cost of all the damage wreaked by the Wehrmacht.
France wanted reparations and so did the Benelux countries. So did Britain. They got their money, though not from Germany. Their recompense came from the US, which had come to the conclusion that punishing Germany, Japan and all the Axis nations would trigger a return to fascism. So it stepped in with large sums of cash from 1945 onwards, which in 1947 turned into the Marshall plan. Like most of Europe, Greece was a beneficiary of the Marshall plan. The sums were so large they replaced the money due from Germany and more. In effect, Washington paid Berlin's debt.
Vetsopoulos points out that much of the problem for Greece then, and it is probably true today, is that the money was wasted. First, Greece descended into civil war after 1945 when other countries were busy rebuilding. From 1947, when things settled down, the corruption in public life and schlerotic business sector meant much of the money went unspent, at least not on investment to re-tool a largely agricultural economy.
So the point is that no one extracted any money from the Germans after the war. Almost all its debts were forgiven, first at an international conference in 1953 and then in 1989, when Helmut Kohl said he could not possibly absorb East Germany and pay second world war debts.
And there is another twist. If the Greeks refuse to relinquish their 70-year-old claim, they should also approach the Italian government for unpaid loans. As Germany's Axis partner, Rome was a beneficiary of the same deal, and Benito Mussolini's soldiers helped destroy much of Athens.
In the end, the lesson both sides need to learn is humility, because both are wrong. But that said, Germany should revise its position on eurozone debt. It must recognise the hypocrisy of its current stance and, more importantly, the dire consequences of making it stick. The Americans were wise when it came to German debts, it is time Germany adopted the same stance.
Regular readers might recall that last year I took time out from the blog in order to spend a week exploring Berlin, a great city. Being fascinated by modern history, it raised a number of strong emotions visiting the site of the wall, the Holocaust Memorial, Jewish Museum and Templehoff, but strangely I felt most ill-at-ease by the vast regeneration projects that are in-train, all signs of a vibrant, flourishing economy. 

No sign of austerity here I thought, but instead a very uncomfortable feeling that what Albert Speer had failed to achieve was perhaps taking shape? These are not good thoughts and it's worrying to hear of anti-German feeling evident in Greece. I can't help agreeing with the Guardian article that a bit of humility right now would be a jolly good thing.... 

I promise normal service will resume shortly and I hope readers will forgive this temporary digression, but I can't help feeling there are valuable lessons to be learnt here; that there's very few absolute truths; that it's always sensible to understand the history of something before judging the current situation and above all else, the wisdom of questioning everything.   

Friday, 23 January 2015

PSR's are 'Unnecessary'

I note Lord Leveson has produced his report entitled 'Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings' and yet another nail goes into the coffin of probation with regard to all those "unnecessary" PSR's. 

We've clearly been wasting our time over the years in sweating blood providing what we thought were excellent pieces of work that helped enable sentencers come up with fair disposals; that didn't make matters worse; just might aid rehabilitation; but at the same time offered reasoned advice with regard to appropriate punishments. 

I hate to sound like an old record, but the writing was on the wall as soon as PSR's had to be 'generated' by that bloody button on OASys. It effectively began a steady decline in quality in my opinion, but instead of sentencers complaining (or maybe it's true they never read them), they've just decided they're "unnecessary". This from Leveson:-
152. Contributions from practitioners and figures produced by the TSJ programme have led me to conclude that time and resources are frequently being wasted as a consequence of the practice of adjourning the sentencing hearing so that the Probation Service can prepare a pre-sentence report (‘PSR’) for cases that do not require a PSR or when an oral report would suffice.
153. Sections 156 to 158 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (as amended) set out the procedural requirements for imposing community sentences and discretionary custodial sentences. The relevant provisions as regards obtaining a PSR are broadly couched in mandatory terms that require the Judge to obtain and consider a pre-sentence report in these circumstances, although – put broadly – the Judge has the discretion to dispense with this requirement if he considers this step is “unnecessary”. However, in at least one instance the discretion to dispense with a report is circumscribed: for certain offenders who are under 18 a report must be obtained unless there is an existing report or reports.
154. Although greater use can and should be made of the discretion to dispense with reports, and an increased use of oral (“stand down”) or previous reports, consideration should be given to providing Judges with greater flexibility not to order reports. It is at least arguable that the presumption that a report will be obtained should be removed.
155. I note with approval that the practice has developed that when the suitable sentence is considered to be a community order which includes a single requirement that does not necessitate the involvement of probation (e.g. a curfew order), courts often proceed to sentence without the need for a written or oral report. This practice has been endorsed at paragraph 1.1.7 of the Sentencing Council’s document ‘New Sentences: Criminal Justice Act 2003’.
156. For the changes that I propose in this context to be effective, the courts must be staffed by sufficient probation officers to provide oral/stand down reports, thereby removing the need in a significant number of cases for an adjournment. In the circumstances, there should be a reduction in the number of orders that are made for pre-sentence reports (with legislative change considered) and greater consistency in the presence of probation officers at court to ensure that oral and stand down reports can be provided.

The Final Insult

Anyone who cares to go digging back into the early days of this blog will discover just how often the topic of OASys, the 'world-class' offender assessment system, crops up. Developed by the prison service and foisted upon us, I'm convinced that when historians come to write about the demise of probation in England and Wales, it's OASys that will be highlighted as one of the prime causes. 

This utterly useless and tedious development ensured all probation staff would be effectively chained to their computers for the best part of every day, whilst undertaking the input of data that invariably would be of little or no use to man nor beast. Our productivity dropped like a stone overnight and drove many a good officer to despair. 

I'm clear that it was OASys that 'did' for us and it's no surprise at all that the new owners of the CRC's will ditch it as soon as possible as completely inefficient, ineffective and not at all conducive to making money. And now we have the final insult with the prison service quietly beginning the process of ditching it too. Why? Because it takes too bloody long to fill in; is crap and invariably tells you at the end what you damned well knew before you started. 

It seems incredible I know, but before OASys, PO's were pretty good at weighing up who the risky clients were and for what reasons - we didn't need a shite computer system to tell us what we'd already worked out. Well it looks like the penny has at last dropped down at NOMS HQ that, try as they might to feed the OASys monster, it's just a waste of time and effort, so here's the prison service instructing all staff not to bother too much with the ones that aren't that risky! 

There's to be a 'review' obviously, but who'd like to place any money on OASys still being around in a year or two's time?  


Gordon Davison, Dep Dir, OMPPG

Ian Mulholland, Dep Dir, Public Sector Prisons
Brian Pollett, Dep Dir, Custodial Services Contract Management

Date: 21 January 2015

To: Governing Governors

cc: NPS DDs
Heads of OMUs


Dear Colleagues

You are all aware of the current pressure on resources. This means that prisons are struggling to fulfil their responsibilities with regard to OASys assessments, with a substantial backlog of offenders in the system that lack a current assessment.

It is essential that high priority offenders have full risk assessments in order to inform sentence plans and reduce risk to the public. It is also important that all offenders get at least minimum levels of risk assessment so that the riskiest offenders are identified. In spite of significant efforts made at establishment level, including through staff working overtime to complete outstanding OASys, the backlog continues to grow. In the interests of prioritising the resources we have, we are issuing an interim OASys prioritisation policy for custodial cases. (NB: This does not affect the Basic Custody Screening.)

The interim policy does not represent an amnesty - that is, NOMS is not ‘writing off’ any outstanding assessments. However, the interim policy places offenders into three priority categories for completion of OASys and means that any offender falling into the lowest priority category (Priority C) may be assessed using only a Risk Review within OASys, comprising offence details (in order to calculate OGRS) and risk of serious harm screening (with full RoSH analysis where triggered). This will be sufficient to ‘count’ as an assessment and therefore should help to address the backlog, and enable more of the higher priority cases to be fully assessed (Priorities A and B). Changes have been made within the prisons’ OASys system to enable the Risk Review to be carried out in the ‘Layer 1’ short format (or in ‘Layer 3’ where a previous assessment exists).

We expect this to save a significant amount of time, thereby allowing more assessments to be completed on the right people, and to the right standard.

This prioritisation policy is directed only at prisons, because all OASys that currently fall to NPS to complete (IPPs, start OASys for lifers and high RoSH cases) are considered high priority. It therefore remains critical that NPS colleagues play their part in helping to ensure assessments for which they are responsible are completed in a timely way. Information exchange will also be crucial; wherever OGRS and risk of serious harm are identified at court, this should be made available to the receiving prison as soon as possible.

Good quality assessment of risk and need remains a critical component of effective offender management. As many of you are aware, we are in the process of carrying out an Offender Management (OM) Review. This will include consideration of how we can streamline, improve and better target offender assessment, using the resources which are available to us. As you will see from the way we have had to set out the interim prioritisation policy, the current policy for OASys completion is far from straightforward, which provides further impetus for the OM Review to consider how to streamline this vital area of work.

The Review will report in June 2015 with recommendations for implementation, at which time the interim policy will also be reviewed. The interim policy will be replaced once recommendations from the OM Review are agreed and implemented. Further advice will be issued in due course with regard to the recording of completed and outstanding assessments.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

A View From Down Under

The following blog by a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship recipient is re-published with permission:- 


English probation needs to get more Victorian. But first there are a couple of things I need to explain:

In the past few years, the probation service in Victoria, Australia has been hit by a deluge of criticism. Several reviews of the parole system highlighted problems.

Then in 2012 a man called Adrian Bayley murdered a woman while he was on parole for many other violent offences. The media went mental and the public were outraged.

At the height of the crisis, the press were filming probation officers as they arrived for work at the Melbourne office where Mr Bayley had been reporting.
In response, the government ordered a report written by a retired judge called Mr Callinan. The general gist of his findings was that parole is neither necessary nor desirable. The best thing would be to get rid of it entirely, and let prisoners serve time inside, and then be released at the end of their sentences.

One paragraph in Callinan’s report characterised probation officers as mostly well meaning young women who were basically too scared of violent offenders to manage them properly. I am paraphrasing here, but not much. (There is, of course, much more to all this background story, but that’s not for here – that’s for my report later…).

The response to all this is why I am here now in Victoria. There was a fight back which radically changed the probation service – this is still ongoing as the reforms roll out. But for now, England take note: the Victorian fight has enhanced professionalism and raised the standards of their probation service.

I have seen some great things developing here, and there is more to come. For now, here are a few highlights:

- Differentiation: There has been a separation of roles, so that there are many opportunities for promotion and career development. Many probation officers I have met applied for new jobs, and are excited about taking on new responsibilities. An officer can move up the career structure, while retaining a case management role and direct contact with offenders.

- Specialisation (based on choice): Staff have been given a choice about the type of work they would prefer to do within the new system, and could decide to work with high risk parolees, or lower risk offenders on probation orders. There has been a clear and transparent applications process. Staff have not been moved around according to “sifting criteria” (note: that’s a quote, not a term of my choosing).

- Care: regular debriefing sessions are mandatory for all staff working with high risk offenders. They are run by external psychologists who offer support and a listening ear. Since this is mandatory, there is no stigma; it is seen as essential for staff well being. I have also been told by many that they are discouraged from working late, and help is given when workloads become too heavy.

- Training: One afternoon each week is set aside for professional development and/or training. Proper cover is arranged for officers’ work so that they do not feel pressure to catch up. The quality of the training is good. A young officer described how she recently completed a specialised diploma at Melbourne University.

- Cash: Yes, there has been a significant injection of government funding which makes all this possible. But, I sense it is not only a question of dollars.

The cash came after the case was made that working with parolees is important, skilled, professional work, that makes communities safer. Whether a similar case can now be made in England, remains an open question.
Zoe Churchill