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To a political Journalist curious about Probation.

1, November 2013

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!

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