Last week The Guardian reported that the Home Secretary was considering getting rid of the anger management offending behaviour programmes (OBPs) run by the Prison and Probation Services. It referred to a Probation Circular issued after the HM Inspectorate report into the killing of John Monckton (I think this is that document - it's a pdf file and the relevant section is on page 15). This article has drawn an official response (on the Probation Service intranet so I can't link to it) that seems to suggest that the Guardian has misinterpreted the Circular; I happen to think the response also misinterprets the article, but there y'go. The fundamental point is, anyway, that "there is no intention of ending the current anger management programmes".
The issue is that the prison OBP CALM (Controlling Anger and Learning to Manage it) and its community-based equivalent ART (Agression Replacement Training) are too often being used for offenders whose crimes have been instrumentally violent - that is, where violence has been used purposefully in order to commit that offence, such as robbery. CALM and ART are only appropriate for those who commit expressively violent offences, such as common assault or even criminal damage, where they are unable to control their feelings of rage. Interestingly, I've heard that attendees frequently demonstrate very high levels of moral reasoning - but they offend because they simply cannoy cope with other people's rudeness, for example in 'road rage' incidents.
The programmes are unsuitable for non-expressively violent offenders because they are interventions to give an individual skills to control their behaviour; in an instrumentally violent person this can increase their capacity to manipulate situations to their advantage, and so it actually increases the potential harm they pose.
This isn't a new instruction in the face of the Hanson-White inquiry; the programme manuals and the training has always made an explicit disctinction between instrumental and expressive violence (although not necessarily the reasons for this). However, there is constant pressure from the Home Office and Probation management to increase the number of offenders completing these courses (because they're run in groups, they're relatively cheap ways of being seen to do something; and because there are pre- and post-group questionnaires, there are quantifiable measures of evaluating success or failure, which you simply can't get from an individual probation officer working with an individual offender, even though the practice might be equally as good, if not better). In the face of this pressure, and the targets we have to meet (which are, of course, financially-linked), little wonder that shortcuts are taken.
In the same Circular, there is a note that further research is being undertaken to see how instrumentally-violent offenders can be treated. I hope that this is a recognition of the problems posed by this particularly difficult client group, and that it stimulates an improvement in the provision of tools to staff in order to do their work effectively.
Mind you, this coming week should see the publication of an inquiry into the murder of Naomi Bryant in Winchester, Hampshire. This will probably have a lot to say about the ways in which MAPPA procedures and hostel facilities operated (or didn't), and so we'll have new things to look at for a few weeks. I'm off to find a bunker to lie down in...