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Response to Joe Kuipers’ – blog about The Emperor’s New Clothes and the end of the Probation Trusts

16, September 2013

Thanks, To Joe Kuiper that seems pretty comprehensive and very helpful.

The Danny Kay, sung version of ‘The King’s new clothes’  remembered from my 50’s childhood along with Uncle Mac’s Saturday morning Children’s Favourite’s  radio programme focused on the boy’s reaction to the kings nakedness :-

Whereas in the version we’ve been given here the main point is that very last phrase “behind him a page held his imaginary mantle”  – There are various definitions of that word mantle – the one I take it to be is – a loose sleeveless cloak or shawl

I now can see that in Joe Kuipers’ version he has helpfully emboldened those last two sentences – did you – dear reader notice, or did you, like me miss it first time?

So explicitly – for some, stating the obvious – lets be sure we consider – whether that page with the imaginary mantle represents probation folk?  Are we sure we are NOT trying to act as if nothing much is really happening, in case by pointing out, the situation as we really see it, we immediately risk losing what we now have? Maybe, if we hang on, when the nakedness or incompleteness  of Transforming Rehabilitation is ultimately acknowledged – as surely it must be– we will be blamed by the king for not telling him what we knew all along to be true, with the consequence that ultimately we lose not only what we have now but our reputation for integrity as well?

I expect the potential conflict of interest concerning the inappropriateness, due to the need for the State’s Powers being separated, for staff from a state department as employees of the NPS are due to become, can be avoided by some clear statement in the documentation. Presumably something similar applies to the Crown Prosecution Service, whose employees are I believe civil servants. However, it must be made explicit that professional opinions expressed to courts and the parole board by probation officers and others are independent and protected from any direction(s) from the government (I would suggest perhaps also by managers – thereby respecting the profession(s) of probation officers and others).

My particular concern is how, there is to be any significant continuity of relationships as supervisees pass through the different stages of their ‘probation’ contact.

Ordinarily report writing and supervision for so called non high risk clientele seems likely to be going to involve two supervisory agencies and several practitioners. At times of crises and concern about changing levels of risk of causing harm or reoffending by supervisees, they are likely to be ’swapped’ between practitioners  from different agencies. Presumably supervisees initially assessed as high risk who become a lesser risk will also be ‘swapped’.

Crucial decisions about breach or recall recommendations seem as if they will often be made by people from different agencies. So, some front-line practitioners, having had no direct contact with a supervisee or his family and contacts, will be the person, charged with making the critical recommendations even though another practitioner from a different agency has had face to face responsibility for the supervision.

I cannot fathom how such swapping about will be likely to lead to a reduction in likelihood of reoffending or financial savings. Sophisticated extra administration arrangements will be needed and we know there is already great concern from practitioners about the current IT programmes used, yet now there will be additional requirements to transfer case information to and fro between different agencies’, at presumably increased costs, at least in the introductory stages. We also know that case management problems tend to be more likely to occur, when information is passed (or not passed) between agencies, yet now there will be significantly increased volumes of actual cases needing transfer, in addition to a need for good liaison and information exchanges between the public and commercial agencies involved.

It is irrelevant to write, as Michael Spurr does, “The Probation Budget is being protected, relative to other areas, broadly maintained at around £800m. This is necessary in order to extend services to the under 12 month group.”  Unless a budget for supervising the under 12 month sentenced prisoners is given we have no idea of the savings that are going to be needed, from the overall budget to continue the existing work.

I have read it is The Lord Chancellor’s intention, that under the new arrangements every,  under 12 month sentenced prisoner will have a pre-release meeting with a volunteer mentor,  at a prison near to their home, or the area to which he or she will be discharged. Advance arrangements are to be made, for the provision of accommodation for all prisoners likely to be homeless on release. Then on the day of release the mentor will travel again to the prison – presumably the release time will remain early morning, so very early starts or overnight stays will be required by the volunteer mentors.

To expect such work to be done within the current budget seems optimistic if not completely unrealistic. I note the recent joint inspectors report into Life Sentence prisoners, indicated one of the difficulties leading to insufficient visits by home probation officers was the cost of those visits. Yet we are now talking about visiting every short sentence prisoner and being at the gate when they are released – not only is it impractical, it is fanciful. This is all to be in place, nationally by April 2014 and the contracts to undertake the work have not even been advertised!

Were I a Probation Trust Board member, I think I might be relieved to know my services are to be dispensed with before this even begins!

Much of what I write about are not directly things that are the responsibility of anyone right now, but surely some folk in positions of responsibility can see the impracticality of all this and report accordingly to Mr Spurr.  I cannot imagine anyone who would want to risk their sanity by taking on responsibility to manage such huge change in so short a time, at a time when local administrative units are being merged with neighbouring ones and then split into two parts. I was employed at the time of the merger of the five greater London probation services into one, that was chaotic enough, and the local offices initially remained the same!

I had intended to comment about my understanding that Trusts are set to be dissolved in less than 12 months stipulated by Parliament – but I cannot discern, where parliament made such a stipulation. (I may well be wrong)  I understand that dissolution is at the behest of the secretary of state providing he gives parliament 40 days’ notice, in accordance with ‘the negative resolution procedure’, so perhaps allowing any longer is a courtesy.

Joe’ Kuiper’s suggestion that Probation Trusts remain as employers until a transfer is arranged for relevant staff to move to their CRC, seems eminently logical. Then the remaining staff can be transferred to the NPS, though whether it is feasible for all to be operating before the dissolution of parliament ahead of the expected general election on 7th May 2015, must be doubtful. However, should there be any delay, for any reason, there would be a fall-back position, of continuing under the present governance arrangements, at least until definite arrangements are actually in place, rather than just planned.

Andrew Hatton


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