Emotional labour: feeling the way forward for probation

In the heart of the old county of Westmoreland ten probation colleagues from all parts of Britain were arriving at a remote hotel location in what had all the elements of a Agatha Christie Murder Mystery Weekend. The death knell has been sounding for probation for some years now and this group were gathering to imagine what probation might look like in 2020, if indeed it had a future! Appropriately we gathered in the library though Col Mustard was notable by his absence. 

The setting could not have been more fitting. Once the home of the Gandy Family, this fine, Georgian Mansion became a Country House Hotel in 1947. There is a wealth of history here and the Heaves Mansion still retains the elegant character, which befits a true Country House. It is still owned and run by the same family after nearly 60 years. Heaves has always been noted for a friendly welcome and a sense of peace and quiet. Set in ten acres of formal gardens, woodland and parkland, the hotel has magnificent views of the Pennines, the Kent Estuary and the Lakeland Hills. The thin covering of snow on arrival somehow contributed to the atmosphere.


This group, collectively shared well over 200 years engagement in probation matters, whether as practitioners, managers, trainers, consultants, researchers and academics. But this was not a conventional conference. Though it was to take place over two days and had an over arching theme, Imagining Probation in 2020: hopes, fears and insights, there were no speakers, no set workshops, no formal agenda. The outcome was, at the start, unclear, untested and possibly unreachable. Though individuals brought their own expertise and slant on this unique and sometimes precious world of probation there was no consensus of thought. In fact those invited represented very different aspects and theoretical preoccupations which were designed to create a real and critical debate. This was not intended to be just a talking shop amongst fellow travellers though more of that later.

This was only the second time I had attempted this kind of event. The last time, circa 1975, was when I was training as a social worker. Attending a fairly conventional, even old fashioned, course in Hull with a predilection for psycho dynamic casework and the readings of Florence Hollis and the like we had heard on the periphery (a minstrel (early social media!) in the form of Roy Bailey playing his guitar) about the anti psychiatry movement led by RD Laing and David Cooper. Not on the curriculum, I suggested to my fellow students we should go away to a remote location and debate these new ideas. I knew of a outward bound place in the North York Moors remote and isolated which seemed perfect. Everyone readily agreed. I prepared various papers, read all the works available of the key thinkers and we set off. On arrival I sought a communal place to work and suggested we start at 3 pm. A football game had started outside and then as 3 pm neared everyone disappeared, I discovered later, to the pub at the bottom of the lane. I sat and sulked, thought about a dirty protest in keeping with my caricatured understanding of Laing’s philosophy until they all returned around midnight. The following day people slept in, went for a walk, cooked communally but steadfastly refused to engage. As we left everyone was refreshed and relaxed and pronounced what a great weekend it had been. I quietly fumed about the lost opportunity.
Chastened by this experience I have organised many conferences since but always with speakers and workshops in them. I yearned for those parts of such conferences where free discussion took place and the agenda could arise more naturally and reflectively. In my experience that space for reflection and contemplation has got less and less over the years, though the conference experience has not necessarily improved. 

There was a real danger that this discussion could descend into a depressed and fatalistic conversation about the havoc unfolding under the bifurcation of probation and the growing role of the private sector in shaping delivery. But stimulated by a discussion on what might constitute the essence of probation, what ever the organisational arrangements, we were able to get into a debate not circumscribed by current practices. We interrogated the fundamental nature of probation arguing that there are functions which any civilised justice system would need fulfilled. Out of this fundamental discussion we began to create areas of mutual interest and work in small groups to shape particular ideas. What I found wonderful was how people who had worked in similar areas but had not met each other before began to revisit their own interpretation informed by mutual engagement. We were helped by five of the group having recently completed PhDs so detailed and well researched evidence was brought to bear.

Day One ended with everyone going down the lane to a pub, but this time at my instigation, which treated us to some wonderful beers, a wonderful meal, the Lancashire Hotpot being particularly outstanding, and a perfect way to recharge batteries. With our average age exceeding fifty (at least!) an early night beckoned after eight hours formal discussion had ended with some relaxed social discussion and a feeling of a great first day.

At the outset I had indicated that the theme was the title of my valedictory lecture to take place on Thursday 28th April at Sheffield Hallam University when I will retire. (Book your free place now, follow this link:  (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hccj-conference-seminar-series-13th-annual-portal-lecture-tickets-19512552570 ) Accompanying that lecture will be the papers, thoughts, polemics, manifestos, photos etc created during these two days, and to be reproduced in Vol 14.1 of the British Journal of Community Justice, my last issue as editor. This issue will be launched at the lecture. So day two began to shape the contributions. Alliances were formed, commitments were made and ideas were scripted. Two months only to reproduce our thoughts. But I am convinced this will be a journal well worth reading. Watch this space.

I could not have been happier with the way the event had unfolded. Spending quality time with people who shared their knowledge and understanding so freely was one of the most enervating occasions I have ever experienced. Others reflected on two days well spent and the opportunity for time out, in wonderful surroundings, with challenging colleagues and now friends was key to our successful engagement. We discovered I think, that we can imagine probation in 2020, that the cycle of social change will adapt and change the organisational arrangements and that using research and evidence remains key to finding ways forward. 

I thank my fellow participants for being willing to suspend their imagination and focus on possible futures. It was a truly great process, in a fabulous environment with stimulating and erudite colleagues. I hope the end product will excite its readers as much as the journey excited me. Thank you! 

Give the Probation Institute a chance!

I can’t help thinking that picking a fight with the Probation Institute at the moment is an unhelpful diversion. TR continues to creak and there are a host of targets to undermine and defeat these unwarranted changes, not least the efforts in the Lords this coming week. To my mind the Institute is not one of them. In many respects it is the absence of such a body over the past 14 years which has undermined the profession and now makes staff so vulnerable in the new arrangements. Its uncertain birth at this time is unfortunate and the support from the MoJ is double edged. But it is seeking to fill a gap which, though not realised at the time, is one unintended consequence of the move away from social work training in 1996-8.

The Diploma in Probation Studies which arose out of the ashes of social work training was a potential signalling of a new licence to practice. At that time though the Probation Rules relating to qualifying awards were removed and there was no formal indication of what constituted a probation officer. I prepared a paper as part of the work I was undertaking to shape the new curriculum and award. It suggested the need for a body to undertake the registration and develop the qualification framework which would provide that licence. I was told by the Home Office group I was reporting to, to remove that paper from my work. It was regretted by some including Mike Worthington, the Chief Probation Officer of Northumbria who fought unsuccessfully for a replacement statement in the probation rules. This was not acted upon.

The probation profession under New Labour initially appeared to have weathered the storm and the DIPPS was confidently seen as the de facto professional qualification. Work was initiated by the Community Justice National Training Organisation to develop the qualifications framework to include a new certificate level which would have provided an intermediate award for PSOs and other related staff. The complex history of why this did not work is beyond this blog but includes the reluctance of the Home Office to wrest control of what it perceived as appropriate training for unqualified staff and inadvertently this exacerbated the distance between the gold standard of the probation officer award from the increasingly important training needs of other staff, numerically growing in number and strategically changing the roles and boundaries between different grades of staff for ever. An independent body with the support of all the relevant professional organisations and higher education providers would have provided the necessary distance and authority to install a framework which would have been inclusive, graduated to engage different training needs, support the development of an evidence base independent of government interference, a qualification framework and most crucially a voice to represent and grow the probation profession. It did not happen and as a result these crucial building blocks have been piecemeal, uncoordinated, subject to the whim of politicians and unable to play its part in opposing the current privatisation process. Belatedly the Probation Institute offers the best chance to achieve this goal.

It was half anticipated that the line in the TR proposals about an Institute would not be sustained and that there would be moves to quietly drop the proposal. No fan of regulation, the current government are intent on opening up professions across the welfare system which continues a process of de-professionalisation which dates back to Thatcher. In a deregulated system individual workers are vulnerable to the whim of new employers intent on cost cutting and with a less nuanced understanding of the complexities of the probation role. In concert with the role of unions, an Institute can provide a complementary and independent bolt hole against the excesses of deregulation and privatisation. It faces though a whole host of challenges including sustaining engagement, achieving comprehensive coverage, agreeing core values and maintaining its independence.

Whether the Institute is a flawed vehicle or not to meet these challenges the jury is out and, more pertinently, it is the only kid on the block. It has the support of all the professional associations and unions, PCA, PA, Napo and Unison and this is vital. Universities are also engaged in its development as are Skills for Justice, the relevant sector skills council, and these are all vital constituencies. All potential employers need too to find a place as part of the organisation’s development. Crucially the relationship between the Institute and NOMS and the MoJ has to be managed. Probation workers in the NPS must remain part of a single professional framework to enable movement of individuals between agencies, a likely consequence of deregulation. Whilst clear lines of accountability need to be retained so that the institute can operate independently that does not mean the alternative is no relationship at all with the official system. Engagement with all workers, all agencies and all relevant providers is an important goal of the Institute as it establishes an inclusive agenda. This is not yet there, it is being created under pressure and with the lines of engagement complicated, but that must not undermine the attempt to do so.

The Institute needs to meet the needs of a diverse range of people. It has been suggested that it must represent the needs of the workers wherever they sit. It should certainly ensure all workers, from the full array of professional services, should find a home in the Institute. The growing integration of service delivery demands skill sets of increasing complexity drawn from traditional sources like probation workers but also skills from housing, employment, drug and alcohol services, mentoring, restorative justice and many more and a single framework reachable by different but complementary routes will allow workers to develop a more varied career trajectory. Ultimately this will enable workers to move professions and link better to social work for instance. This is one consequence of this not being out in place in 1998 breaking of links between probation and social work. Another element of comprehensive cover is to make sure researchers are encouraged to be part of the sharing of learning. One of the strengths of the past few years has been the way evidence has guided practice. Now we know that evidence has not guided TR (see special issue of the British Journal of Community Justice – http://www.cjp.org.uk/bjcj/volume-11-issue-2-3/ ) and it will be important to ensure researchers are re-engaged so that professional practice continues to be informed by the results of an increasingly rich evidence base.

Though there has been many discussions about values over the last twenty years there remains no agreed set of core values to guide professional practice. It has to be a core activity for the institute so that any subsequent qualification framework is built on a shared understanding of what must be at the core, the essence of the profession. A statement of core values is being developed and it will be an important contribution as a baseline marker for what is acceptable practice.

The fourth challenge is the one which has sparked this blog. If the institute is to work it must remain independent but inclusive of all relevant organisations and individuals. This is a delicate balancing act and the one thing that would undermine this goal is a splitting of focus, is setting groups against each other, risking the disintegration of the enterprise before it has had chance to breathe. The pace of development has been forced by the unwelcome speed of the TR proposals and yet a lead on professional standards is necessary to guide the future of practice if indeed, the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of TR happens by the end of 2014. If TR happens and if (when) it is a disaster then a reference point for professional practice which stands outside the TR arena, which can shape the agenda for high quality practice will be needed to knit together the disparate and fragmenting environment which is becoming today’s reality. It may not work and it won’t work if good will is withdraw whilst it begins to find its feet, its alliances and its shape. As I said at the start of this piece this is a diversion from the fight against TR and bringing the Institute to a halt will not impact on TR in the slightest but might just have an impact on the future of the institution which we know as probation and which many are seeking to preserve. If TR fails the presence of the Institute will belatedly provide the kind of organisation that should have been put in place in 1998 and help to protect the future against a recurrence of this fragmenting and destructive government agenda.

Bitter sweet reflections on a return to Llandudno

One of the highlights of my 17 year career in probation was attending the annual Napo AGM. So a return to Llandudno this week brought back so many memories having last been there for an AGM in 1979. What was unchanged was the enthusiasm, commitment and integrity of probation staff. I talked to many people whilst there and all expressed, in unison, their anger, their frustration and their sheer distress at the events surrounding these unprecedented and unjustified changes to the world of probation. The quality of debate and argument was as high as I can remember and it included stirring speeches from Tom Rendon, the Napo chair, Ian Lawrence, the general secretary, supportive MPs Elfin Llwyd and Leanne Wood and many many more.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak to conference and humbled by the positive response my remarks received. Though asked to speak on ‘what works’ I used the opportunity to repeat many of the remarks I had made at the previous week’s World Congress on Probation. At the Congress I had been disquieted by the lack of space given to the situation in England and Wales. When I raised these issues in my session they were received with interest and incomprehension. Visitors from over 50 probation services around the world were without exception appalled by what was happening here in England and Wales. Many consider the probation service in this country to be the model to draw upon to develop their own emergent services. They cannot understand that the state would want to lease its commitment to justice to an array of untried and untested arrangements. At the same time colleagues from England and Wales were relieved and grateful that the issues were no longer the elephant in the room. An opportunity was lost nevertheless to garner international support against these changes.

At the Napo conference I followed a similar theme. Whilst we have spent the last 15 to 20 years spraying the words ‘evidence based policy and practice’ on anything that moves and indeed showing through many pieces of excellent research that we have more answers to the questions posed around rehabilitation now than when we did when I was a young probation officer in 1979, it is intolerable that what is accepted and utilised is subject to policy priorities often facing the opposite direction to the evidence presented. Indeed I have often argued that what we are seeing is policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy. It is unsurprising that Chris Grayling is constantly being criticised for his selective attention to the evidence. He is a serial offender here ignoring evidence whether we are referring to the work programme, legal aid or probation. Repeated in so many conversations I had with concerned probation staff was the simple truth that the ideological driven, neo-liberal marketisation of rehabilitation services is the only consistent feature of the current government’s probation reform programme as it is of so much of its welfare agenda. There is no other sustained commitment to any other agenda despite the rhetoric. The commitment to innovation, and to reducing reoffending is part of the DNA of probation staff and therefore why not utilise that expertise not denigrate and destroy it?

The Head of NOMS made a spirited if doomed attempt to support his political masters but was deeply unconvincing in argument. I want to highlight just three issues concerning the future – a growing sense of unease about the construction and direction of the new National Probation Service (NPS), the folly and dangers of an over hasty implementation and the continued need and worth of fighting on to resist an increasingly untenable change.

It is instructive and worrying to note that in the last few weeks the role of the National Probation Service in this future world has been used as a prop to argue that the continuation of Probation and the worth of probation is thus guaranteed. Firstly it seems to have been conveniently forgotten that the last attempt to impose a National Probation Service in 2001 was an abysmal failure. Even Michael Spurr seemed to acknowledge that the success of the probation trusts in the last five or six years shows that a locally accountable, partnership driven service is more likely to reduce reoffending than a remote and bureaucratically driven national service. The recent replacement of a senior probation figure as the new director of NPS, whatever the reason, is symptomatic of the drive to create a command and control structure driven by NOMS where Probation staff become civil servants and subject to the suffocating and unquestioning delivery requirements imposed upon them. The NPS will, I am afraid, be an uncomfortable home to work in. If you look at any of the process maps provided recently on twitter by Joe Kuipers you will see just how complex structures have become. They assume a rational and linear process of engagement which does not fit with the chaotic and difficult world in which our service users inhabit and which a fragmented and competitive environment will further engender. There is talk of national standards returning to drive the NPS. I discussed in June ( Bill McWilliams lecture http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O26l_ZT0qyc) the difficulty of maintaining the essence of probation. It strikes me it is now abundantly clear that that essence will not rest with the NPS. Indeed when you look at the MoJ’s own evidence-based publication, coincidently (or maybe not so coincidentally) published on the same day as the announcement of the competition, you will see a firm statement of what they consider to be the organisational framework within which successful rehabilitation services can be delivered. They include four key elements:

The role of skilled, trained practitioners
Well sequenced, holistic approaches
Delivery of services and interventions in a joined up, integrated manner
Delivery of high-quality services

Put simply, these elements describe a probation trust and is a ringing endorsement of the work that trusts have done over the past few years. Somewhat ironic therefore that the world of probation with its locally accountable 35 Trusts, is being dissected in such a complex and fragmentary way that the possibilities of achieving any of these above evidence-based qualities has been severely compromised.

I want for just a few seconds to suspend my disbelief about these changes and pretend that the innovative and groundbreaking potential so often reiterated by ministers makes these changes both necessary and welcome. This is difficult but bear with me! Many commentators have already pointed out that the implementation of complex, untried systems without piloting, without staging and without sufficient time to embed is risky, dangerous and simply foolhardy. How can responsible public servants put services at risk even when its own risk register points to the potential calamity. This is not only a potential systems calamity. It rides roughshod over the lives of 18,000 probation workers and treats with surprising disdain the rights of victims and communities for public safety. It is surely never right that a political agenda based around a future election timetable should be the only criteria for continuing this mad rush to change. Surely there is now more than enough evidence to call a halt, even if you believe in its blueprint, and to allow this process, if it is to occur to be done in a way which would not put the public at risk and builds on current good practice, probation trusts are not the enemy here!

I saw a steely determination in Llandudno that probation staff, reluctant always to take militant action, but people who care deeply for the service users they work with, will not simply roll over and let such changes happen. Apart from seeking to avoid the unnecessary personal tragedies that will inevitably unfold, with job losses, job redirection and reductions to codes and conditions of service, probation staff will fight for something that they believe it. This is a vocational service not driven by monetary reward or competitive advantage. Michael Sandel, a political philosopher, has pointed out that the neoliberal marketisation of services raises crucial questions about the moral limits of markets. Surely the mark of any civilised society is that it would not treat its miscreant members as simply commodities to be sold to the lowest bidder. I urge everyone to join the growing ‘cacophony of noise’ against these changes. There is time to draw breath, to re-consider the folly and dangers of this process and to construct an evidence informed basis for change.

The call for papers. for thought pieces and letters to Grayling made by the British Journal of Community Justice has produced a fantastic response so far (http://t.co/0YJntO7CWL ) This will go to press and be in the public domain by mid December. We are still looking for more Letters to Grayling. I would encourage you to send your thoughts to the journal and we would be happy to publish letters anonymously, where people might be rightly concerned about their job security. I will send a copy of the journal to the Minister and will look to the social media to spread the thinking that will be presented in this issue. It is only a small contribution to the drip drip of noise which needs to be created. But make no mistake that noise is getting louder and I for one won’t rest until we find a way to cause this wrongheaded and evidence-bereft policy to pause and then to be abandoned.

Thank you Napo for welcoming me back so warmly.

Beware ‘probation reform’ messages ‘softly’ delivered

It pays to read the small print. A new kid on the twitter world has a self styled description of the Centre for Probation Reform. @ProbationReform describes itself as ‘ The Centre for Probation Reform campaigns for effective #probation services, offender management & increased use of community sentences. Awaiting Govt response.’ Innocent enough and whilst I was surprised I had not come across this Centre before was keen to find out more about it. Sadly their blog contains no Home Page locating this Centre or who is part of this august body. For now I have to content myself with an analysis of what they are saying. At the time of writing they have blogged three times. It did not take long to get the drift of their basic position. Their first sentence is:

With the response to the Governments consultation soon upon us it is apparent we need to begin to embrace the coming changes.

This is the dismissive undertone of the blog. Let’s just get on with the changes, they are a done deal and we just need to make the most of it. A sadly revisionist and defeatist position even before the government paper is out and sets this ‘organisation’ out as one that accepts the reality of probation privatisation. The next paragraph goes on to dismiss the concerns being expressed about public safety and the difficulties of handling the dynamics of risk in a fragmented arrangement. This is summarily dismissed with an analogy with Integrated Offender Management. If different agencies in IOM can manage risk it should not matter if it is the public and private sector working together, its just another organisational arrangement. This completely misunderstands the nature of IOM, built as it is on cooperative, co-located public and voluntary sector agencies, pooling budgets and staff to work together for change. This is well evidenced and researched. A fragmented set of agencies, competitively set against each other, with incentives being primarily about money not the public good, will find, inevitably, cooperation will be compromised and hedged by agency priority to meet their outcomes. There is no probation delivery in the world which is driven by contractors not organisations whose sole motivation is for profit. Working and cooperating with the private sector is fundamentally different to the arrangements being projected, we already do that. These changes fundamentally shift the balance.

We are told this should be embraced as there are already a plethora of agencies working in the community. Of course this is factually correct but on commissions from local commissioning processes which everyone would have embraced. Local commissioning is however different to the model proposed and despite the oft repeated cautionary remarks about whether sub contractors would actually retain a local focus, not seen to work in the Work Programme, this potential critique is again summarily dismissed. This will all be resolved because:

Rather than resisting this likelihood, focus should instead be on the creation of a type of Charted Institute for Probation which would ensure professional standards and competency, a benchmark for probation services whether public or private.

Again in principle one could support this aspiration, if it becomes a reality and if the standard required of all agencies are rigorously enforced. But I will return to this in another blog as they have a separate blog on this topic. The next topic to be treated with the same ‘analytical’ attention is payment by results. It starts promisingly enough:

I think we all fully agree in principle that support for vulnerable people should not be delivered on a profit making basis, particularly as this could lead to major abuses putting the vulnerable further at risk

Maybe we might then expect a demolition of the perils of PbR such as parking, creaming etc and the abject failure of the Work Programme to demonstrate success in its programmes. The managerialism of Blair is then evoked as part of a positive argument for PbR viz:

I can honestly say I have never heard of a probation manager, public or private, using strategies such as ‘creaming and parking’ to meet targets, and so there is no evidence to suggest it would happen in the delivery of privatised probation services.

Of course you have to be listening to hear such stories but such stories can be seen throughout the targeting era. It makes sense from an economic perspective. If this is how you earn money or avoid penalties then as an organisation you would be foolish not to ‘game the system’ to get the best outcome. Many probation practitioners knew that the chasing of meaningless targets took them away from their core task but it was about avoiding penalty. If I got paid for the number of lectures I gave rather than the quality of the lecture content I would be talking eight hours a day just delivering lecture after lecture. That is the deceptively simple economics of PbR.

The true colour of this blogger’s arguments comes out having set up this weak argument. It sounds matter of fact that the following proposition would be accepted.

At frontline level I’m sure many a Probation Officer would not be adverse to writing reports at a higher rate of pay, or receiving bonuses for getting a number of offenders through orders without reoffending, or for being financially compensated for implementing new ideas that transforms our work or improves success rates.

Actually if there is anything that distinguishes public probation from its private counterparts is that whilst not averse to a decent living wage the incentive to achieve good practice is driven through a public service ethos of reducing reoffending not the fiscal calculation of monetary reward. Suddenly it becomes clear that this commentator does not quite understand what probation has been about for the last 105 years. Further clarity on the thinking of this blogger is provided by a remark which is presented as uncontroversial.

It is a foregone conclusion that the Governments proposals will go though as planned and the major shift will be for the management levels of Probation Trusts rather than the probation staff

The job uncertainty created for probation staff by these changes are simplistically dismissed by the argument that as the job will be the same whether paid for by a public, private or voluntary provider staff will simply adjust. This of course is cruelly simplistic for thousands of probation staff facing an uncertain and potentially ‘poorer’ future. The ‘tupeeing’ procedures are currently being modified which may not protect staff fully by 2015 and the threat of redundancy or worsening conditions are clearly possible if not likely. The position of probation staff in London is still unclear but the rumours suggest all is not well for staff who have been ‘tupeed’ across to Serco. It also relates back to the blogger’s dismissal of public service as a motivator for joining probation. Many staff have foregone a more competitive wage in other industries for the security that probation afforded and the vocation it provided.

The challenge presented by this blog is to embrace change not resist change. I guess the history of change in the past thirty years of probation has not been on the reading or horizon of this blogger. But nevertheless undaunted the blogger chides staff:

We must be clear that probation cannot lead change if it is not willing or ready to embrace change, which actually made easy for us as the changes in question are not a matter of choice. We could even argue that change is necessary and we are on the brink of a unique opportunity to shape probation services as leaders in offender management, complete with a new vision which we must all align too.

So in the best tradition of delivering unpalatable change we must embrace it, its our moral duty so to do, why should we want to resist?. This is a reform to make us leaders in offender management! Well I can still remember the words of the new director of the National Probation Service to the then Home Secretary David Blunkett, in the World Conference on Probation (sic) in 2002 ‘Minister we are here to do whatever you want us to do. We will do whatever you want us to do.’ Leaders? We were followers then and have only in the past few years, with the exception of the voice of Harry Fletcher, asserted the good inherent in probation. Nowhere in Europe, as attested in a recent european-wide conference of academics, is such an arrangement for offender management being contemplated let alone enacted.

The use of the pronoun ‘we’ is interesting in this blog. Who is the ‘we’ the blogger is calling out to. Its not the probation practitioner I know. Its not the probation researcher who understands the evidence base for good probation practice. Its not the representative organisations, Napo, PCA and PA who have questioned the central tenets of this change. So who is the ‘we’? Given the corporate silencing of the probation voice in recent weeks is this another, more sinister turn, in providing an almost palatable ‘probation speak’ to soften the package of changes to be announced this week. If the Centre for Probation Reform can be less coy about its credentials and show its, no doubt, in depth and evidence-led understanding of the probation world I will have to accept that my own 38 years of study is lacking in credibility. Then again maybe the game is up for this softer tactical ploy. I will be back to deconstruct its two further blogs if people still need convincing.

(Peer) Mentoring: has its time arrived?

Mentoring of course is not a new idea even if this nomenclature has been coined more recently. I go back to 1975 when I first started as a probation volunteer and befriended young clients on behalf of the probation officer. The role of ‘advice, assist and befriend’ is at the heart of the traditions of the probation service and until relatively recently probation volunteers were a significant part of the supervision armoury. In the late 70s I initiated a programme funded through the Manpower Services Commission called ‘Octopus’. This meant we employed two ex-offenders as assistant supervisors in a voluntary day/drop-in centre. It was a challenging experiment not only for the individuals concerned but the probation officers too who, though used to finding clients employment elsewhere, were somewhat disconcerted to find that that employment was in their own agency. Indeed to some officers attending a case conference for their client when the supervisors were present was often a bridge too far.

So you could say I am institutionally committed to both the use of mentors and peer mentors to support those in trouble with the criminal justice system. Since the 1970s we have seen the development of new career projects, befriending schemes, volunteering, peer support, buddy programmes, peer advisors, prison visitors, listening schemes, carers, resettlement and recovery champions and more recently peer mentors. I became involved in a peer research and peer support programme run through Sova but involving a range of statutory and non-statutory agencies. This took place from 2002 to 2007 and was funded through ESF Equal initiative funding and was called ‘Women into Work’. We learnt a lot about both peer research and peer support for women offenders. In the projects we evaluated we saw great potential for the use of peer support though we also recognised that there were potential difficulties and hurdles to overcome. A toolkit was prepared to support the further development of schemes. (http://www.shu.ac.uk/research/hccj/publications_wiwr01.html) We were fortunate to examine buddy schemes in other parts of Europe particularly in Sweden. There, former drug addicts became buddies to serious drug offenders in prison before release and in the community afterwards. The fact that these ex-offenders could gain entry into the prison to begin this work was due to its royal endorsement from the King And Queen of Sweden.

Mentoring and peer mentoring has grown apace in the last 10 years with organisations such as Sova, Catch-22, St Giles Trust, Nacro and many others pioneering projects particularly around the resettlement agenda. Probation trusts have sponsored and developed peer support programmes either in concert with voluntary agencies or on their own initiative. The penal lobby has been enhanced by the presence of such reformed offender groups as Unlock and User Voice who have promoted peer mentoring within their campaigning. It is hardly surprising therefore that the Justice Minister has shown his interest and support in developing peer mentoring. However he certainly has not done this in the most sensitive or considered way. Referring to ‘old lags’ meeting released prisoners at the gate is hardly the best way to promote it.

Certainly projects mentioned above have shown they can offer emotional, literacy, housing, drug, and employment support and also offer advice and signposting to other services. Mentoring has enabled engagement of hard to reach groups and certainly makes a distinctive contribution to case management. It is evident in projects that they are a key resource particularly in the first 48 hours following release and aiding continuity of care as demonstrated in Integrated Offender Management (IOM) schemes.

There is an interesting debate within the mentoring field as to whether it is only peer mentors that should be promoted rather than the broader use of volunteers. Peer mentors offer genuine empathy, enhance rapport and bonding with mentees, develop positive role models, increase the potential to succeed with personal and emotional issues, enhance the credibility of the service and adopt a non-judgemental approach. However there is a role for the traditional volunteer who offers help and support whether motivated through a mixture of do- gooding, religious motivation, career enhancement or some version of philanthropy motivated by the big society or similar slogan. But it is a different resource and cannot provide the unique connection which a peer can bring.

The evidence of effectiveness remains however somewhat patchy. It is the least developed of criminal justice interventions despite pockets of good practice both in theoretical understanding and in research. Strengths identified through research include engagement, positive role model, capacity to develop prosocial communities. But research also suggests potential weaknesses including the small pool of volunteers available, high turnover, issues of competence, maintaining boundaries, and providing the support needs of the peer mentors themselves. (Fletcher and Batty, 2012. http://www.shu.ac.uk/research/cresr/sites/shu.ac.uk/files/offender-peer-interventions.pdf) It can be argued from the evidence base so far that being a service user may be a necessary condition for mentoring but not sufficient. Mentors need training, an orientation towards help, funding streams, payment mechanisms and management support.

The Justice Minister intends that all offenders released from prison, particularly non-statutory offenders, will receive a peer mentor. There is little doubt that the evidence would suggest that they will enhance the service to be offered. However caution needs to be expressed before we can achieve the ministers’ vision. It is clear that whilst there are some capable peer mentors in the system, many reformed offenders will not be suitable to undertake the role and further to that the numbers available within the system mean that simply to deal with short sentence prisoners you are looking at providing services to over 45,000 released prisoners. There seems to be huge doubt that sufficiently trained mentors could be found.

There is no doubt that leaning on big society rhetoric the intention would be for peer mentors to be volunteers. This is not only unrealistic but also deeply unfair. Reformed offenders are struggling to survive and build networks and resettle in their local communities and to expect the altruism implied by volunteering may not be at the top of their agenda. Research also is sceptical that peer mentoring can offer a complete service as sufficient supervisory support. Professionals providing much-needed brokerage into welfare systems, accredited programmes, work schemes etc must be complimentary to the role that a mentor can play. By definition a mentor is not a supervisor and therefore it would be inappropriate to give them a statutory role in terms of compliance and public protection. Inevitably the turnover will be high as the difficulties in sustaining a change of identity puts huge pressure on peer mentors as they adjust to their new role and status in society. There remains too a residual resistance from professional staff to work with mentors and this has sometimes been evident in research projects that I have been involved in. Also even if the mentors were volunteers they will need and deserve high levels of management support to survive as they pursue this new and challenging career option.

I am totally in favour of the use of both mentors and peer mentors in the criminal justice system. I think they have a valuable role to play which compliments and enhances the case management undertaken by the public services. There is a real danger however that in a rush to make such assistance available across the whole of the criminal justice system within a short period of time it will lose the careful and incremental way in which peer mentoring systems have been nurtured so far. I think we must be very careful not to make the system untenable before it has had a reasonable chance to succeed. Whilst Grayling has hit upon a germ of an idea in executing that thought he is in real danger of damaging its very prospect of success.

An emotional response to Grayling’s consultation

Having spent 37 years in and around the probation service I have become used to dark predictions about its future. But when respected commentators such as Rob Allen tweets simply ‘RIP Probation’ and Tim Newburn talks about the ‘death knell for probation’ and a whole host of communications in the social media replicate that sense of despair that these new MOJ consultation proposals on probation have generated, despite my personal commitment to optimism, I do feel somewhat downhearted about the future for probation. Therefore I thought I would write this blog not as a carefully worded academic response to the consultation I have six weeks to produce that, though the track record of the current government actually listening to evidenced-informed practice is woefully poor anyway. But rather I want to focus on my gut level feelings as I strongly identify with those who spend their lives supporting, defending, promoting, working in and with probation and occasionally berating the probation service in all its successes and failures. Is time being called on the careers of so many dedicated and exceptionally skilled probation staff?

Probation has been described today as the cinderella of the criminal justice system. It has always had, either an achilles heel, or a genuine difficulty in describing itself effectively to the public. When I started as a probation officer circa 1977 I would be approached on the streets of my patch to be asked all sorts of questions about crime and disorder. Instinctively the public knew what probation was about then – individuals dedicated to sorting out as best it could, societies misfits and strugglers. It felt as if, though not easy to articulate, the public just knew what the probation service stood for in ways which was less clear for social workers, community workers or educational welfare officers for instance. We have lost that community awareness and support in the subsequent thirty years.

As the century drew to a close probation had been battered constantly by government for twenty years from Thatcher to Major to Howard and certain sections of the media had been complicit in presenting negative perceptions of its work. By the millennium probation was struggling to hold its position as a respected agency despite still providing a highly trained, high quality set of staff and services, vocationally committed to its mission. As a result of such attacks, slowly at first, and, following the demise of ACOP, just the lone voice of Napo, but it has become perceptively more vociferous in the last few years. Probation services through the PCA particularly, began to communicate its mission better, presenting statistical evidence of its effectiveness and shouting out loud that it was meeting every target that was thrown at it by government, whether based on useful practices or not and achieving awards and recognition for the quality of its work.

This appears to have counted for nothing in the ideologically driven moves contained in this consultation document. This paper is designed to denude the probation service of the supervision responsibility of large numbers of offenders in the community, possibly as much as 70% of its current 250,000 caseload. Yesterday and today looking at many tweets and blogs there is a genuine anger and complete amazement that government is just not listening to the evident successes of the probation service.

This government response seems to me to be exactly in keeping with the worst excesses of what I would describe as policy based evidence rather than evidence-based policy. Make your mind up first about what policy ideas you want to promote and search around for evidence to support it or simply make statements like ‘prison works’ or ‘charities and the private sector can innovate’ and simply abuse your position of power to pursue ideological goals. Within a day of this announcement there are proposals for new Titan prisons thus confirming that despite prisons being actually responsible for the high failure rate of short term imprisonment we should find more ways to lock them up and whilst we do we should blame the probation service for the high recidivism rates of such ex-prisoners despite there being no statutory or voluntary duty for probation to support such people and no resources to carry out remedial work, nevertheless attempted so successfully in multi-agency Integrated Offender Mangement (IOM) projects.

We now know a lot more than we did when I started working in the mid 1970s when my first lectures by Professor Keith Bottomley were shaped around the mantra the ‘death of rehabilitation is here’ albeit misrepresenting the research by Mathieson and Brady. Policy and practice in a range of areas have enabled practitioners, supported by applied research, to identify what works in resettlement and what combinations we can effectively put together in measures, programmes, interventions, pathways and case management structures both to protect the public, to reduce risk and to provide support for offenders to desist from offending. It is somewhat ironic therefore that in this hardly veiled blame game and criticism of probation focusing on short term prisoners released in the community that probation is to be removed from a task it currently does not do anyway.

In the cash-strapped nature of public sector provision there is no money for probation to deliver services to this group. This was recognised by New Labour when it abandoned its plans for custody plus, a measure very similar to what is now been proposed. The crucial difference being then to now is that the proposal is focused on handing over the control and direction of this initiative to the private sector as the prime provider of such services. I could describe the impact of integrated offender management (IOM) and point to research evidence and practice which has shown that the multi agency teams of probation, police, drugs agencies, the voluntary sector working in tandem with prisons, both public and private, has begun to tackle this problematic population. But evidence seems not figure at all in shaping the future. I would say too that I am not in principle against private sector participation in all this. If resources can be garnered from venture capital to enable the trained professionals to work with them and other providers to produce good outcomes then a mixed economy of provision may well work. The key agency that can deliver the quality management of this is probation. If the private sector lead it will only be by cajoling job-threatened probation staff into their agencies and ‘tupeeing’ across probation staff to deliver, under no doubt reduced conditions of service, the same services under pressure of financial penalty for ‘failure’.

Probation is a professionally committed, value driven, well-trained, well organised service with staff who are vocationally committed and willing to work with some of the most difficult and vulnerable people in our communities. It is institutionally committed to community care and since the Morison Report of 1962 is the only agency with continuity of care with responsibilities for the through and after-care of prisoners. The loss of the voluntary after care role in 1984 did not mean that the needs of that group coming out of prison disappeared. A makeshift set of agencies has offered intermittent, occasionally innovative and quality support, but without a framework of coordination and effective management of risk which probation is trained to provide. Pilots can be successful because their status is precisely that of a pilot with dedicated staff, resources and targeted populations. This is why the voluntary sector can be innovative not an inherent quality of those services as sometimes implied. The VCS is suffering a mission drift as it increasingly enters the world of statutory supervision and support. In doing so and seeking to provide comprehensive services it will suffer what probation has always suffered since it moved from being a voluntary organisation itself. When you have statutory responsibility you cannot cherry pick clients or park those who do not meet your requirements for interventions. You have a generic commitment to service all those under statutory orders. Listening to Grayling in parliament yesterday I got the distinct impression that not only will the private sector get their cake but will get to eat it as well. If risk categories change then probation will be responsible. If breach occurs, probation will take them back to court. Meanwhile PBR will reap rewards on those not causing problems to the prime contractors, probation will pick up the high risks. Probation cannot win in this situation. It is a depressing time.

Social Media and Criminal Justice Policy Exchange #smcjp

The wonderful diverse world of social media

When one of the most venerable and long-standing penal reform groups in the UK, the Howard League, joined a Facebook campaign in 2009 and its chief executive is frequently active on Twitter expressing the views of its organisation then you sense that something is changing. However you define and engage with it, social media is beginning to have a distinctive place and impact on the already crowded arena of criminal justice policy-making. Pressure groups no longer rely on a discrete word in the ears of the Lord in the parliamentary lobby or private club to get their message across.  Instead, the most open and widely used social networking site was chosen as the preferred target for that 2009 campaign ‘charities must not run prisons’.


I mentioned this one evening to an academic colleague, Julian Buchanan, formerly working in the UK and now at the Institute of Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand  when Skyping with him. We are both active users of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and discussion lists amongst an increasing plethora of other social media. For decades we have both been concerned with how, as researchers and academics in the field of criminal justice policy, we can shift punitive populist practice to make it more evidence-informed. Julian is focused more on drugs policy and myself on reducing re-offending and reintegration/re-entry. Maybe social media offers new possibilities? Two hours later we had not come to any firm conclusions but this was an area in which there were research questions worth exploring further and we began to formulate an hypothesis about the role of social media and criminal justice policy formation.


We could both cite recent experiences where a policy issue had been highlighted on Twitter and had resulted in an active and wide-ranging debate. We also noted the debate involved a range of people distinguished by their twitter name only but otherwise their professional status and standing were irrelevant to the debate. Their comments seemed to be received, assessed, dissected and challenged in equal measure according to the merits of what was said rather than their acquired status elsewhere. We reflected that Twitter seemed to offer a more open, equitable and transparent environment for exchanging ideas and its immediacy and accessibility seem to translate into people’s wider practices and what they might do to follow this through. Wherever in the world people sat when contributing also seemed irrelevant. The challenging question was being posed – was social media having a distinct and meaningful influence on crime policy change and implementation in the real world?


I had become engaged in what I would now term ‘first generation’ social media some 10 years ago when I launched an information exchange website, the Community Justice Portal  (www.cjp.org.uk ). This was launched by the then New Labour Minister for prisons and probation in the UK, Hilary Benn, MP, in 2002. We wanted to create a virtual space where practitioners, policy makers, researchers, academics, service users and other stakeholders across the criminal justice arena could both receive information, share knowledge, debate solutions and as a result have an impact upon crime policy development. Dashing our overblown hopes and expectations the portal was slow to develop. We discovered that although academics had computers on their desks and routinely used email and other developing forms of electronic communication, the field of criminal justice lagged far behind. If you worked in the police, probation service, in the prison service, in the voluntary and independent sector, let alone if you were a service user, it was very difficult during the working day to access the Internet and thus the portal. Also significant, even when people could access the Internet via use of personal computers, participation in discussions and debate was somewhat parsimonious and insubstantial. Elsewhere discussion lists such as listserv and jiscmail were developing some ‘communities of practice’ but receipt of the daily digests via emails on your computer gave only a limited chance to ‘members only’ to engage in debate. Chatrooms too were in their infancy offering synchronous engagement but more social than intellectual in content. The Internet was still learning how to use its potential reach and power to engage people in debate. One particularly difficult and salutary experience was the Portal’s attempt to engage with conference organisers to run post-conference e-learning debates on the portal. Despite the fact that this offered the opportunity for people to continue discussion and debate begun, often fleetingly, at conferences and for others to join in that debate to take forward the knowledge and learning gained, organisers were reluctant to engage in this enterprise. Early attempts at e-conferences and e-consultation suffered a similar fate. Like the precursors to E-Bay and Facebook the Community Justice Portal had arrived too early in the evolution of the technology as well as the mindset of individuals to change the discourse of policy debate. Compare now, for instance, the massive impact that the new campaigning organisation, No Offence! has had launching more recently and utilising the growing phenomenon of the social media.


So, as the second generation followed on quickly, new technologies, notably the developing capability of the phone and tablets, began to link the various avenues of social media to create a more dynamic and instant interface. The interactive and growing diversity of the technological architecture was still in its infancy but when we look now for instance at a set of twitter feeds we see links to events, newspaper articles, reports, journal articles, blogs, you-tube feeds and podcasts and the latest, somewhat controversial development of live tweeting from conferences, plus the spontaneous debate which follows the posting of such messages. Clearly, debate begun in one forum can be continued, enhanced and developed across a whole range of different social media suiting the seemingly just-in-time learning style of modern practitioners, policy makers, managers, researchers, service users, commentators and academics. Knowledge is being managed, dissected and debated in a whole new set of e-environments which we postulate may revolutionise how criminal justice policy is formulated, managed and implemented.


Academics are often challenged as to how far their research is effectively disseminated and what impact it has in the real world of criminal justice policy and practice. Impact factors are often measured in traditional terms by reference to expensive high status journal articles accessible to only a minority. Whether this mode of communication really impacts on real world practice is increasingly being questioned and open access publishing is another challenge to the elitism that accompanies dominant perspectives on academic policy impact. Even reports, professional journals and conference presentations are not readily accessible to the grassroots worker or indeed the service user, both of whom, can feel effectively marginalised and excluded.


We have already noted in our own observations, a growing number of academics are beginning to tweet their findings to challenge and inform crime policy through the eclectic and multifaceted world of social media. We believe that social media has the potential to democratise debate and to create communities of practice, configured on a global scale, where policy change may be examined in a more immediate, wide-ranging and egalitarian discourse grounded in the reality of everyday practice. Social media is much more immediate than the researcher or policymaker could ever envisage when writing up their work or developing their policy blueprints in the confines of their own offices or when seeking recognition via a high impact journal or expensive and exclusive conference.


As researchers and reflective practitioners we do not know whether social media does actually have significant influence upon crime policy and thinking or whether we are just positioned in a world where the immediacy and fun of social media kids us into equating this as influence. It is worth examining so we have formulated the following hypothesis:



Social media offers criminal justice stakeholders an open, equitable and transparent way to extend avenues of communication globally potentially increasing accessibility and impact. It has enabled novel and distinctive pathways for criminal justice policy exchange, evolution and implementation through the construction of an extensive e-architecture enabling new forms of dissemination, communication, policy networks, policy developments and debate. This has the potential to democratise and widen access to influence crime policy.



If the hypothesis has any purchase on a new reality and dimension of criminal justice policy making and is not just a frivolous diversion from the narrower more traditional forms of policy formulation, then it potentially offers those interested in criminal justice change, an exciting and novel way to influence the future. At the same time it will also challenge those who steadfastly refuse to engage in social media to consider whether their research, policy suggestions and/or practices are failing to reach the right audiences and thus failing to impact upon future policy development. However, this is more of a set of questions at this stage and we need to know how others view this potential revolution in communication technologies.


Accordingly, to examine these issues more systematically with others who have criminal justice connections/interests across the globe we have prepared a short questionnaire that we would invite you to participate in (and do circulate to others).  It is a short survey that will take no more than 15 minutes and will provide a picture of social media usage, its  perceived benefits, pitfalls and issues and potential for influencing crime policy formation. We would invite you not only to participate but encourage you to send a link either to the blog or to the survey or any of the links below to any colleagues/students or commentators who are engaged in the field of criminal justice. We would be happy for those to participate who are not frequent users of social media as well as those for whom it has become something of a daily addiction as it is for ourselves. We intend to leave the survey open until the end of November to give it time to permeate as wide a group of people as possible wherever in the world (literally) criminal justice policy and debate is being discussed. The findings will be disseminated widely through social media once they are available early next year.


Survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/smcjp


Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/426622047405667/


You tube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5D35pSqyfY


Twitter feed #smcjp


This blog has been produced by Paul Senior, p.g.senior@shu.ac.uk  and twitter account @yorkhull  and Julian Buchanan Julian.buchanan@vuw.ac.nz and twitter account @julianbuchanan

PCCS and the criminal record debacle

I have reflected overnight on the ridiculous situation that Bob Ashford has faced in seeking to become a police and crime commissioner. Bob Ashford is an exceptionally qualified person to take on this role, given the numerous duties he has undertaken within the criminal justice and in particular the youth justice system. His honesty and integrity is well displayed by the way he has continued to acknowledge his minor misdemeanour as a juvenile in spite of the fact that there appears to be no official record of this offence. But his dilemma highlights the fundamental flaws in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act which is long overdue for reform. Failure to grasp the political nettle around this procedure in part reflects continued ambivalence concerning a real commitment to the reformation of offenders per se. This act has been in force since 1974 but despite repeated lobbying by penal reform groups there have been so few changes to it since that date and none which support a system where an offender’s attempts at rehabilitation are rewarded and recognised. The system is so cautiously expressed that as we can now see with Bob Ashford it fails to achieve its basic rationale to rehabilitate offenders.

Why the criteria for becoming a police and crime commissioner are higher than that imposed by government to become prime minister is beyond reason! Certainly we would want to ensure that those charged with the oversight of policing and crime prevention policies in any locality is an upstanding member of the community and this would surely not be in dispute. What is in dispute though is how do you define such a good citizen? Is it reasonable to disbar a citizen who, once as a juvenile, committed a minor misdemeanour and who, in his subsequent entire adult life of 46 years has demonstrated such an exceptional commitment to good citizenship and public service that the whole process is diminished by his absence from the ballot box. Enabling (ex) offenders to reform is in fact the essence of rehabilitative strategies which the current government are reportedly in support of through its ‘rehabilitation revolution’.

In fact the absurdity underlining this decision merely illustrates somewhat starkly the problems facing any young person seeking to put behind their juvenile indiscretions. Our criminal justice system allegedly encourages and promotes the rehabilitation of offenders. Agencies such as probation, Youth Offending Teams, and the Voluntary and Community Sector are charged with working with young and adult offenders in order to move them away from further criminal activity. Those working in that system know that this is a difficult undertaking and there are many obstacles in the way of achieving this successfully. The continued presence of a criminal record often makes it difficult for (ex) offenders to successfully find and keep employment and, even more difficult, gain acceptance and reintegration back into their local communities.

The Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) will be charged with finding ways of reducing reoffending by the commissioning of services in order to reduce the incidence of reoffending in their areas. We need to ensure that candidates for public election have the experience and the knowledge about how difficult it is to achieve this in the criminal justice system and Bob Ashford was uniquely qualified in this respect. Are we really to disbar someone with those qualities when more obvious ‘political’ nominees for PCCs do not have the experience or the knowledge to understand how to affect positive change in such a system.

There is a danger that the positive features and potential of these new posts will not be achieved given the current disarray which surrounds the process of this election. The public will turn away from participating in the elections and we will be left with people unsuited to the role even if they have a completely clean criminal record. This is a real opportunity to enable informed and local decision-making within communities where they should feel confident that their policing and crime policies reflect their concerns and their issues. Urgent action needs taking both to look again at the restrictive and counter-productive provisions concerning juvenile convictions and use this experience to mount much bigger campaigns to look afresh at the outdated and unhelpful Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

A predictable week for law and order

The much-trailed climb-down on policy changes to criminal justice hit the press this week and I expect the Minister of Justice, Ken Clarke to be reconsidering his position given the change of tone and direction  signalled in his response to his own, potentially exciting Green Paper. The ‘rehabilitation revolution’ which reformers hung onto as a slim rallying call for positive  change in the running of an essentially destructive criminal justice system does not even get a mention in the response paper. The revolution appears over,  the cycle broken and the same relentless variant of penal populism reasserted  in the measures proposed. What a missed opportunity and one which was long  overdue in coming at all. For the first time since Thatcher politicised crime policy was some  informed thinking taking place which put the often too nuanced ideas about  offender rehabilitation into the policy frame.

As campaigners for positive change pick over the remnants  looking for crumbs of comfort and ways forward a quick glance reveals the  populist undertones clearly and stridently recycled. Maybe Clarke was only  toying with change and now chastened by the Tory law and order hawks has
reverted to type and produced the kind of language which flies in the face of  evidence and sends policy off in the opposite direction to the evidence about  rehabilitative strategies I would have envisaged being drawn on for this now short-lived  revolution.

Of course political rhetoric demands that the changes are labelled  as evidence-based and in the introduction this is firmly asserted: ‘We must learn from past mistakes. We will  change our whole approach to rehabilitation so that we reward and pay only for  what works in delivering reduced levels of crime. Prisons will be judged on how  effectively they stop their prisoners offending again’  Here lies the over arching contradiction. The  evidence-based approach of the past governments are now dismissed as ‘mistakes’  and yet the assumption is that practices will only be funded if it works,
presumably based on that same evidence which is simultaneously being castigated  and dismissed as a mistake. Tautologies like this abound in policy statements.  All policy makers are desperate to bring evidence to their assertions but new  governments face the irony that the evidence complied is from the immediate past and was also used by previous government policy makers.

If of course you regard policy development as essentially political  and speaking to the mythical populist publics which are also quoted as justifying  the revision of policies in the tabloid papers then it would be less  hypocritical to recognise that the primary motivation for policy development is
not based on  evidence at all, new or  old, but more by the need for Cameron and his Tory cronies to regain the high  ground as the defender of that long, if dishonourable Tory tradition of law and
order.  It should not surprise us even if  it disappoints those of us who have been quietly accumulating useable evidence  to produce a system which is more rehabilitative, less exclusionary and in a  paradox missed by the tabloids actually of equal benefit to offender and victim  alike.  Penal populists prefer to see  these two groups as oppositional and this then leads to responses which demand  more punishment for offenders spuriously regarding this as beneficial for  victims.

When we look at the details of the changes proposed we see  many assertions (not quoting evidence) upon which the changes are predicated.  The following examples illustrate this:

‘Offenders will have  no choice but to confront the consequences of their crimes’.

This first example is related to increased work regimes in  prisons. This it is asserted here will mean that offenders will have to  confront the consequences of their offending. Offering proper work opportunities  linked to continuation on release would certainly help resettlement but does  not of itself confront offenders with their offending nor does current research  around desistance support the contention that accredited programmes alone  designed to confront offending are a complete package for change. It is the  combination of motivating offenders to change, developing social networks  (capital) and programme-based skills development (human capital) which produces
positive changes. A lack of comprehension of practice is illustrated in this next example.

‘Non-custodial  sentences need to be tough and demanding. For too long, they have fallen short
of what is required. Over 10% of community orders contain only a ‘supervision’  requirement (in other words, meetings with a probation officer).’

The lack of understanding of what might go on in that ‘meeting’  is a consequence of charging this intervention as deficient because it is not representing the tough  image they wish to convey. At the same time as the government has loosened the  bureaucratic stranglehold of National Standards, a shameful legacy of a labour  administration who decreased the ability of the probation service to do the job  it is trained to do, we now see the same old uninformed criticism of probation  re-emerging in these suggested changes.

Probation supervision works because it  motivates rather than dictates, because it connects an offender up to the  social networks and social capital they need to reintegrate into society,  because they refer to the right offending behaviour programmes at the right  time to increase the offenders skills (human capital), because they use mentors  and peer mentors to support their work, and because this is brought together as  a holistic whole to deliver a coherent and coordinated package of offender management focused on rehabilitation.  In fact this ‘meeting’ so denigrated by Clarke is at the heart of a whole series  of measures designed to do the job he criticises probation for not doing and  that is reducing re-offending.

With prison populations set to rise given the range of new  sentences which will lengthen prison time and thus inevitably grow the prison population  who, yet again, is to be the fall guy for this policy u-turn and financial shortfall no other than the  usual suspect – the probation trusts. If Cameron thinks this can all be replaced by  the voluntary and private sectors with the rhetoric of Big Society it misunderstands some of the best advances in multi-agency work in recent years of which probation is an important partner – PPOs, IAC and IOM to name just three.

‘We will pioneer a world first – a system where we only pay for results’

But maybe the situation is not so bad and we should not be worrying about all the other u-turns because all crime problems will be solved through payment-by-results. The golden bullet which will produce innovation, creativity, civil society engagement, and results. The pull towards PbR schemes appears to be twofold – chances  to innovate and access to funding. It is argued that outcome-based commissioning, Social Impact Bonds and PbR schemes, predicated as they are on successful outcomes and thus a corresponding easing of scrutiny of input processes, will give the voluntary sector chance to demonstrate its traditional strengths of innovation and creativity. The providers, freed of the bureaucratic yoke of  managerialism, will be able to galvanize local communities into engaging in reintegrative strategies for reducing crime. However, the financial risk accompanying these experimentations will be borne by the private (and may be the public) sector as in the Social Impact Bond example of HMP Peterborough. Other exampleswe can draw on from employment PbR schemes doubt the chance to innovate is even on the agenda. It is equally plausible to postulate that just because the funding formula has changed does not mean a) the outcomes will be any more successful than previously (though getting rid of over bureaucratic targets will certainly help) or b) that investors, will not be so nervous about their investment that they will jump ship quickly if it is perceived as not working or will want to impose tight schedules on their providers to judge on-going performance.

There are still many questions too about the measurements to be used for PbR. Output driven criteria have dominated other models of PbR in health and welfare to work which are easier to measure, though carry other risks of merely ticking the boxes. Outcome measures in the complex arena of re-offending is less easily agreed and prescribed. Existing measures for reducing re-offending are either difficult to set up because of inadequacies in the data available for
assessment, absent because of the cost or viability of robust research methodologies such as randomized control trials or are extrapolated on economic assumptions which have plausible metrics but which are often unable to extrapolate particular effects to single interventions. The government seems also to favour a binary measurement for re-offending over frequency or various
measures of ‘distance-travelled’.  Even if this is trackable and capable of application to individual interventions there are still issues of ‘creaming or cherry-picking’, ‘parking’ and the counter-intuitive findings of much of the recent work on desistance.

All this to take place in the midst of a further cut to core services. It is hard to envisage the rehabilitation revolution at all and another few years of the wasteful over use of custody and exhortations to reductionist policies without  the means or political endorsement which had been so welcome in Clarke’s early announcements.

This is a sad week for penal reform.

Let’s keep juries british!!

In another example of the press picking up  a non-story to create another needless and self-destructive slur about criminal justice policy and by implication Kenneth Clarke and in the even more disgraceful commentaries from our ‘informed’ public we can see how difficult genuine reform on criminal jutsice will ever be. The article in question ‘Can’t read or write English? You could still serve on a jury under new rules designed to help’ (http://bit.ly/iaj0YL accessed on 26.4.2011) purports to be alarmed at the apparent disregard of the need to be able to  read and write english whilst retaining the right to serve on the jury. In its manufactured alarm we are told that this could mean that juries are composed of people who cannot understand english ( of course not necessarilly the same as being able to read and write it) and who thus cannot administer justice as we supposedly know it. This is a somewhat alarming non-sequitor about the changes which are actually more modestly being proposed. Put simply they are about individuals ensuring that they understand their duty to be considered for jury service by making the information available to them in more languages. Surely a reasonable and uncontroversial action in a mutlicultural society. But the article goes on to cite the following:

‘Criminologists and MPs said yesterday that they were worried about  inclusion of those with poor English on juries’

This actually turns out as we read the article to be just one MP and a member of the Think tank Civitas who presumably is the criminologist that they are referring to. The article explains the HM Courts and Tribunal Service’s position on this but chooses by its tone and its inlcusion of key quotes to ignore the basic message it is seeking to convey – that in any multicultural society we have to ensure the means by which its members can communicate effectively.  That must be a basic duty. The article though through its coomentray from our informed MP and academic that we should be under no illusion that in England everyone must read, write and speak  english excellently as the MP explains:

Douglas Carswell, Tory MP for Clacton, said: ‘The jury system is founded on the idea that we are all tried by our peers. If your peers cannot speak English,  or read or write it properly, how can you have confidence you will get  justice?’

He added: ‘Ministers in successive governments have stated that they are  going to curb the effects of multiculturalism, but the bureaucrats keep on putting forms and documents into dozens of languages.’

That this is not challenged is a disgrace that it is seemingly endorsed is surely an outrage. So our MP thinks we should ‘curb’ multiculturalism as if it is some slur to have such an aspiration. I have visited many diverse countries where bilingualism is the norm – Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Wales, Sweden to name just a few. No one thinks twice about key symbols being displayed in more than one language and no fingers are pointed at those whose first language is not the local language. Indeed where countries choose to use english as the language of education it is rarely the first language but students nevertheless are encouraged to communicate.

We seem to have a belief held solely in England that somehow it is almost a criminal offence not to be fluent in the only langauge that seems to matter – English. Indeed any lack of fluency is taken as a sign that you are not truly english! One comment published on the Mail Online website adopted this position without any seeming irony: ‘Instead of sending out letters in different languages, send the letter in the  language of the country-English. Then, in as many languages as a bureaucrat can think of, add the instruction “this is an official document. You are required to  reply to it. Failure to do so will result in a fine. It is your responsibility  to have this document translated.” Cheaper, and encourages people who live here  to learn the language which is good for them and everyone around them.

Clearly there is no suggestion that juries should contain individuals who cannot for any reason understand the proceedings. Yet this simple feature is barely touched upon. HM Courts and Tribunal Service makes it clear that the ability to understand court hearings is paramount and there are numerous ways that the court can disqualify a juror if they are not able to serve appropriately. There is no suggestion either that this is directed at immigrants which slipped into the article title.  Indeed I can imagine someone with dyslexia being asked to be relieved from a complex fraud case if they were unable to be helped with the reading of complex documents. We have simply not grown up in this country and still do not understand the true import of multiculturalism. This article demonstrates that somehow anyone living in the UK who does not have full command of the english language, no matter what the reason,  is somehow a second class citizen and by implication cannot understand the complexities of the law because they are deficient in the reading and writing of english. Would that not disqualify an awful lot of poorly educated english people too? Should we have an english examination for jurors to sit before they can take up their place.

The comments on the web site are sadly very illuminating – ‘ This must confirm Ken Clarke’s insanity and unsuitability to be Minister of Justice’ (for a policy that has been in place 2 years!!  ‘Next we will be allowing convicts to serve on a jury. Simply unbelievable.’ -(actually why not given rehabilitation, maybe ex-offenders might understand the system better than some of these readers). I could give more examples. It’s interesting to note that after each comment there is a button to REPORT ABUSE and I am tempted to class all such remarks in a similar way.

This is just another reminder that in trying to have a considered debate about criminal justice policy we are faced with the populist press who shape a version of an issue in such a way as to provoke this sort of response. How can we hope to find a way of producing the sort of multicultural criminal justice system we have a duty to promote, which is informed by reasonable thinking, rather than  listening to such hysterical and ill-informed comments from the spin the article had really intended  by the way it was constructed. The criminologist,  Dr David Green, of the Civitas think-tank, said: ‘If you can’t even read the letter summoning you for jury service, you are not fit to be a juror.’ I am not sure that criminologists I know and I know rather a lot of them would come to this delightfully simple yet deeply misguided conclusion. What we know about our society is that there are many people whose voice is excluded from debates through a huge range of factors including accessibility, financial means, literacy (for first language english people), second language speakers,poverty, health, exclusion etc etc and that there may be a whole host of reasons why we might want to exclude certain jurors. Doing so simply because the individual cannot read and write english per se is simply a piece of indirect and direct discrimination. And when I last looked that was against the law though perhaps my reading of it is distorted by my belief in human rights and responsibilities.

*** Please note that the comments quoted were taken from the article on the website as indicated above and accessed on 26.4.2011.