Responding to a blog comment here: –
“think it’s incorrect to say the probation service was ever a constitutional part of the judiciary, nor is the CPS. Modern probation and its management by the Home Office stems from legislation in the 1930s. Probation has always been under parliamentary, never judicial control. Only the judiciary is independent but it cannot overrule parliament by striking down legislation, unlike, for example, the US Supreme Court. In the UK parliament is sovereign.
When I was employed by Merseyside Probation Service in 1975 – I was interviewed for a job within Liverpool City PSD by the Deputy Chief Probation Officer who had formerly been the Chief Pbn Officer of Liverpool Probation Service before amalgamation on 1st April 1974.
In fact the different PSD’s in Merseyside continued to run more or less independently. In Liverpool where there were about 100 officers – each team was allocated two members of the Probation Committee who each made their own arrangements to monitor the teams work. Effectively it meant a visit once a quarter from one or other who saw the SPO and usually had 30 minutes or so with us all once or twice throughout the year.
It was particularly used to discuss early discharges – so after such an agreement when it was put before the Court, it went through as a formality – without any discussion.
I realise managerialism began from the 1930s and the independence may have been rather a technicality because the Home Office controlled the finances but the staff appointments were certainly done under powers delegated from Magistrates. CPO’s had to also be approved by the Home Secretary.
It was a typical British accommodation – but it seemed to mostly work as far as I can tell – probation grew in stature and professionalism at least until the 1980s and was for practical purposes as far as case management was concerned entirely independent of the Executive Branch of Government apart from determining release or recall of parolees, life licencees, Borstal, Detention Centre & Young Prisoner licencees.
In hindsight it was professionally independent of Government until Leon Brittan stepped in, in 1984 – on 1st May, when the Home Office issued a “statement on national objectives and priorities for the probation service”
In recent weeks I have realised the whole basis of probation work has changed as far as the UK constitution is concerned and I have seen no one else write about it – not even Steve Collett in his letter to the Guardian – I think yesterday – that traced the history of some of the changes.
Probably the crucial legislation was in 1991 – I cannot in my haste recall the Act – but it also set up ACRs etc.
When I was new to be probation in 1973 – in England and Wales – Except in Inner London where the Home Secretary was in control & I am not sure how that came about, Probation was fully managed by the magistrates Coutrs Committee and nationally there was some sort of joint committee on which the Home Office was represented and had great influence because the Governement even then paid most of the costs.
BUT the point is Probation came under the jurisdiction of the courts – constitutionally and so was separated like the other courts from the control of the Government.
The other branches of the State being the Sovereign and the Executive, with the whole lot under the ultimate control of Parliament in accordance with Parliament’s powers to legislate and levy taxes.
Now Probation, at least in England and Wales is FULLY part of the Executive and no longer an arm of the Judiciary –
Does it matter – I think it does – please dear reader show me where this has been written about?
Birmingham Social Services Department is again hitting the news headlines and vacancies are a major part of the problems. Last month the BBC reported “106 out of 494 fulltime, frontline permanent posts” were vacant just in Birmingham.
Experienced and already qualified probation officers would make ideal recruits with some introductory specialist training and supervision provided to augment their existing skills.
From 1974 until about 1997 the only national qualification required to practice as a local authority social worker or a probation officer in England and Wales was exactly the same. There were obvious differences in the new entrant support, whether one opted for social work or probation. I qualified (CQSW and Diploma in Social Work from the University of Liverpool) in 1975 and then worked almost continually as a probation officer until 2003 apart from nearly a year as a local authority social worker in 1988/9 when I had a specialist job as a locum senior social worker for a London local authority at the juvenile court in their borough where I dealt with criminal and child care cases.
Whilst training I attended specialist probation practice lectures whilst prospective social workers had similar. I did a social work training placement where I wrote my first ever, of what turned out to be many hundreds of reports for criminal courts, but my last placement was in a probation office. Most training otherwise took place in the company of prospective social workers. I also used child care knowledge and training whilst a probation officer as I undertook a significant amount of work for the family courts concerning arrangements for children, when parents could not agree following divorce and also adoption.
For reasons political, home secretary Michael Howard aborted the training scheme for probation officers and despite detailed campaigning – of which I was part – Jack Straw as home secretary introduced a new qualification for trainee probation officers who no longer were trained alongside social workers.
However, to this day, probation services recruit people with social work qualifications, but who do not hold the DipPS (Diploma in Probation Studies), whereas the DipPS does not qualify a person to work as a local authority social worker even in a specialist job with young or mentally disordered offenders.
As media people should be aware, there is much consternation amongst probation officers who are on the point of being ‘outsourced’ and having their job tasks become further deskilled as it becomes even less generic than it still remains (far, far less already than when I first qualified in 1975). They do not like it, or the prospect of working for such as Serco, G4S, or A4E who all intend to bid for the outsourced work.
Yet currently, apart from those qualified before about 1997 they cannot immediately take their qualification and experience and apply to work as a local authority social worker in a Social Services Department. Such folk are, almost, already suitable to take up the one hundred current social work vacancies today reported in Birmingham or also the vacancies elsewhere in England or Wales, but are not so permitted, even though social workers leaving Birmingham Council are qualified to start the next day as a probation officer!
There is additionally the issue of HCPC registration (formerly GSCC) – I objected to not being registered, via my then probation service employer, but did not campaign sufficiently at the time (probation officers are busy enough already) or register independently – but this is not perhaps a matter for this message.
Sadly there are very few in the mainstream media who take a serious interest in the details of probation and social work employment. Maybe that is partly why the current situation is unsatisfactory to professionals and the public because there are few journalists with the necessary knowledge to properly investigate and question politicians and professionals. However, everyone has an opinion about a European referendum in the next parliament (even though one parliament cannot commit the next to such action) – maybe speculative opinion dominated journalism is of more interest to folk than who we let deal with murderers, rapists and child abusers as well as those abused children?
retired probation officer and social worker (1975-2003)
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I have commented on some Tweet responses to this and some tangentially related issues in a Napo Forum – you may be interested to see and comment there or below – I would like a bit of response – even if it is the dismissive rubbishing type! Other wise how am I to know if I am wasting my time sharing such thoughts – thanks for reading!
Your editorial on the 4th November,
reminds me of the confidently expressed, but wrong speech in the House of Commons debate on 30th October about reorganisation of the probation service(s) by Sir Edward Garnier – not only is it wrong but it is dangerous because so many people believe the likes of Sir Edward Garnier QC MP and editorials in the Daily Telegraph!
Since about the late 1980s Government instructions to probation service(s) on what they should do – coupled with financial controls on doing much else has meant that a routine service has not been offered by (home*) probation workers to most prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months in prison. It is this group who have the highest reoffending rate – whereas due to conscientious work, often with other agencies such as police and local organisations of all sorts, that reoffending has fallen by about 10% across England and Wales over the last ten years, for those people that the government currently statutorily requires the probation service(s) to supervise.
By dismantling this 107 year incrementally grown structure at a stroke – every probation worker is due to have a different employer (Unknown at present) by 1st April 2014) – that the proverbial apple-cart maybe upset, and rather than end up with something cheaper and more effective we will effectively end up with ‘the apples all over the road’ and have to pay people extra to pick them up – so take longer – meanwhile the apples will themselves be damaged and a less good product. Except that we are dealing with people and not apples and the consequences of more damaged people within society is rather worse than the consequences of a damaged cart of apples!
*There are still a few prison based probation officers – whose duties tend for them to have little responsibility for prisoners who will be released who will not be subject to statutory supervision. However on occasions it is possible that such prisoners are given what might be termed ‘welfare’ type assistance by one of those few probation workers seconded to a prison but still employed by a local ‘Probation Trust’. In addition to prisoners who are sentenced to less than 12 months and so not liable to statutory supervision by home probation service workers, are fine defaulters and others committed to custody for not paying certain court ordered financial penalties, including court costs, compensation to victims and council tax. There are also immigration detainees and prisoners in contempt of courts who do not receive statutory probation supervision on release.
This is what I have posted on John Pienaar’s Facebook page – my reaction after hearing him on BBC 5 live after the BBC 1 Question Time TV debate on 31st October 2013 and then a podcast of his recent interview with The Lord Chancellor – Chris Grayling on 27th October.
Well done for interviewing Grayling but as a probation person I am desperate to hear him properly challenged on his probation reforms by someone who really understands the practicalities of probation – such as a current practitioner – there are MANY in Napo.
The debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday 30th Oct 2013 was particularly disappointing because – due to the way crime is used electorally – few members of parliament have a clue about what probation workers actually do, how they do it and how the probation services are currently organised in England and Wales – there have been many changes in structure and other legislation directly affecting their work, particularly over the last 20 years.
I was particularly shocked to hear Sir Edward Garnier who whilst acknowledging the efforts of probation workers (nowadays – many less are trained officers – part of the problem) – seemed not to understand that unless people in the employment of the state (probation is much over managed centrally) are resourced to do a piece of work it will not be done. That is the current situation with supervision of prisoners released from sentences of less than 12 months.
Traditionally probation – although poorly resourced – offered a service to them – up to late 80s v early 90s – with low take up. There are now some successful shared Intensive Offender Management schemes with police And other agencies (I am a retired practitioner and not aware of legislative details) but generally this group have almost no contact with probation after sentence. Privatizing a service and expecting volunteers to do it does not guarantee success though any attention is better than none.
I compare Sir Edward Garnier with a former Labour Prison Minister also an experienced and senior lawyer the late Lord Williams of Mostyn who was for a short time prisons and probation Minister – I remember him in about 98 – saying despite all his legal experience he had been surprised to actually realise how good probation work is and at that time he was urging ALL judges to visit probation offices whenever possible (he had personal understanding of the extent of their ignorance!) – sadly Blair needed him for higher things and yet again there was far too quick a turnover in the minister with direct responsibility for probation. I actually lost count during the Blair years – Brown was a bit better. I also wonder if Crispin Blunt was sacked for being too realistic about probation – under his watch the Cameronites seemed to be seeking evolution rather than revolution – which Cameron may not have seen as electorally advantageous.
Jeremy Wright and Lord McNally’s comments are just crass they seem determined not to learn the realities – I am particularly surprised at McNally – He came to Crosby in 1981 – where I was part of the team who supported “Shirl the Pearl” in her stunning success which was too short lived!
The nub of this is that people are so ill informed about the reality – including difficulty and complexity of probation work – which is dependent on human relationships and social work skills (despite them wanting to deny that bit – in the same way as social work is part of dealing with young and mentally ill offenders – a specialism within probation AND local authority and special hospital social work) – it is simply not realised the dangers we in England and Wales face by rapid reorganisation of probation service(s) [currently 35 despite constant reference to THE pbn service] -real dangers which may not be correctable – once organisations that have developed incrementally over more than a century are effectively dismantled.
There is much more that can be said – but I doubt if many – or any have read this far!
I have already attempted to post it here but it may not get past their moderator!
A National Probation Service was first established in 2001 – how will ignorance of probation history make you a ‘safe pair of hands’?
You haven’t dealt with the well reported point that apparently risk of harm levels change in about 25% of supervision cases – how will swapping agencies and supervisors at a critical time reduce the risk of reoffending?
You’ve also ignore the flaws in the Offender Rehabilitation Bill which as currently proposed – amendments having been rejected by Government means that people sentenced to 7 days imprisonment as a new add on to a sentence will be compulsorily supervised for a whole 12 months, like those sentenced to 11 months 29 days. This will be virtually unmanageable and will result in many, many recalls to custody (as the ACR [automatic conditional release] experience has already taught since 1992) – the decisions about recommendation for recall will apparently be taken not by Serco’s agents but by staff from the established National Probation Service – who will have had no direct contact with those not complying with their licences.
Like other PR folk who think it is just a case of how the organisations are structured – you have no real idea of the practicalities – if you do you will publish these comments and give them a cogent response.
I could go on – but there seems no point.
You are welcome to attempt to post a response and if I can work out how and it is not offensive – I will add it below – thanks for reading.