Advise, Assist, Befriend - life in the National Probation Service

or, 'Enforcement, Rehabilitation and Public Protection'. You know the drill: any views expressed here do not (necessarily) represent the views of the National Probation Service.

Monday, July 31, 2006


The Science Select Committee has published a report that recommends an overhaul of the way that drugs are classified, based on scientific assessment of the harm that they cause, rather than simply the way it's always been done.

The graph at the bottom of this page shows how muddle-headed the drugs classification system has become, with several of the Class A drugs a long way down the list of most harmful substances, and good old unclassified alcohol right up there at number 5.

Apparently the suggested format was presented to Charles Clarke before he left office; somehow I suspect it's now not even in the same building as Dr John's in-tray...

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Old news?

Following a bit of idle googling, I discovered this article from the Telegraph, published back in March. It bears a surprising, and very strong, resemblance to Alasdair Palmer's 'The Probation Con' from last Friday...


Friday, July 21, 2006

TV dinner

I'm watching '30 minutes' as I type this, and it's more or less what I expected. The disgust that drips from Alasdair Palmer's voice every time he says the words "the Probation Service" or "community supervision" is quite extraordinary. But there's nothing new being raised here: yes, the minimum requirements of Probation supervision are fairly minimal, and there is no way of monitoring offenders 24 hours per day. If there were a lot more probation officers, offenders could be seen more frequently, but that doesn't look likely (particularly with programmes such as this trashing our profession).

I'm hoping that, after the adverts, Mr Palmer might come up with some solutions for his proposal of not releasing prisoners - does he want them to be set free without any kind of monitoring or intervention whatsoever? Because that's what it sounds like. I shan't be posting further after the break, since I'm beginning to feel a need for a stiff drink...

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

A question of balance

A coincidence, of course, that the Home Office's Criminal Justice Review is published on the same day as the crime statistics. And in no way does the title, "Rebalancing the criminal justice in favour of the law-abiding majority" suggest that this review was driven by a tabloid agenda and already knew what its outcome was going to be.

Ah well. There's some interesting stuff in there, and also some things that will never happen or will never work, but look good on glossy paper. But in many ways, it's just old policies dressed up as new reforms - and sometimes not even slightly subtly. All the stuff about introduction of expertise from the private sector (i.e. privatisation or 'contestability') is still there. And, of course, there's our old friend Mr Target (who appears in some places as a "tough target"), as if telling a bunch of harrassed, stress professionals that they need to do a certain number of things in a certain kind of way, was any kind of a substitute for actually letting them do the job properly and effectively in individual cases.

There's a suggestion that probation officers could be given the power to vary the punishment an offender serves without having to go back to court, which is a new one on me. Whilst the idea of giving someone an extra 50 hours of unpaid work because they swore at me was initially enticing, there are huge legal implications, and I doubt anything will come of this. I do quite fancy the idea of "practical 'myth-busting' advice and guidance to those working on the front line" about human rights, though I'd also like to see some 'myth-busting' through (and sometimes against) the media from a couple of ministers, rather than myth-pandering. The Human Rights Act will stay, you'll be glad to hear.

Wonderfully, there is a recognition that "The staff who work in the criminal justice system want to deliver a modern, simple and effective service without being overburdened by bureaucracy and regulation" (the Enforcer is not religious, but a heartfelt "Amen" nearly escaped there), and about a need for "smarter justice", i.e. treating different crimes differently. There's also more talk of making sure probation resources are focused on the more serious offenders, meaning that less serious offenders are fined instead of given community orders, and that courts are expected to ask for fewer pre-sentence reports (two trends that have been rising for many years now, so I'm not holding my breath). But there's a slightly weird-sounding focus on "gripping" offenders, which sounds rather industrial, but is probably just short-hand for "not losing them".

At first reading (and if I'm honest, there's not likely to be a second), it's all a bit of a mish-mash. But what did I expect? Comments, questions to: Tell 'em I sent ya.

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We're all doomed, doomed I tells you!

It's every home affairs correspondent's favourite day of the month - crime statistics day!!! Time to pick out a few figures, recycle last month's article, and let the subs pick a snappy headline...

Street crime surge dents Reid fightback

Street crime and armed mugging are on increase

Rise in muggings embarrasses Reid

Top cop blamed for 22 per cent rise in robberies

Phew, what a scorcher!


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

30 minutes (or thereabouts)

On Friday at 7:35pm, Channel 4's 30 minutes programme (billed as a "series of provocative polemics in which high-profile authors address important current affairs subjects") is entitled "The Probation Con".

In this edition, journalist Alasdair Palmer (I had to google him to discover he's Public Policy Editor at The Sunday Telegraph, which may give an insight into his take on the matter) argues that "the Home Office's policy of releasing criminals into the community under the supervision of the probation service is putting public safety at risk by handing them the opportunity to re-offend". I rather hope it's a bit more sophisticated than that...

Anyway, I bring this to your attention because my sources have informed me that also appearing on the programme will be representatives from the Probation Service, including a main grade probation officer and the Chief Probation Officer of London Probation Area. Presumably to offer an alternative viewpoint, although no poultry are being quantified at this stage.

I think this should be worth watching even if, by starting at 7:35, it's clearly not thirty minutes long at all. And then, of course, at 8:30 on the same channel you have a vision of the future of British penal policy.


Normal service resumed

My broadband connection 'issues' are now resolved, so hopefully normal service will be resumed (i.e. nothing posted for a week, then some links to an article in the Guardian and a bit of a rant about how the Probation Service needs to be better funded).

Friday, July 14, 2006

End of an era

Today sees the final session at Bow Street Magistrates Court in London's Covent Garden. Over the last 125 years the court has seen some of the country's most notorious criminals pass through its (cell) doors, but now - somewhat inevitably, it would seem - it has been sold to a property developer.

The chief magistrate for England and Wales, Timothy Workman, is not happy about the closure of what may well be the world's most famous magistrates court, or the transfer of all its business to Horseferry Road Magistrates Court in Whitehall. However, in true last-day-at-work style, he's planning to take some mementoes with him, including the royal seal and the dock from Court No. 1 - if it's as big as I suspect it might be, he'll have to work pretty hard to sneak it out past security under his jacket...


Thursday, July 13, 2006

HMIP report

HM Inspectorate of Probation has published its annual report for 2005-06.


What a plucker

Sentencing guidelines in the 1850s were fairly strict, according to The Guardian's 'From The Archives' feature today. I'm sure there are plenty of good citizens who'd agree with the idea of hard labour and the lash, even for offences of pie-thievery and flower-plucking.

Mind you, community penalties didn't exist then, and there was no such thing as the Probation Service, which will - subject to government policy - be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2007. The 'Facing Crime' section on the Probation Boards Association website contains a timeline of Probation and a brief section on how our work has changed since the police court missionaries were first trying to rescue drunkards from the streets.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ever-decreasing circles

"Why would anyone want to spend time with high-risk sex offenders and become the object of hatred themselves?" asks Yvonne Roberts in The Guardian today. No, not an interview with a probation officer (or at least not specifically), but an article about Circles of Support and Accountability that work with men convicted of sexual offences in a combination of supporting them and modelling pro-social acts and attitudes, challenging their behaviour and providing an extra level of monitoring to that of the various statutory agencies. Of course, like seems to happen to any decent, locally-developed idea these days, their funding is insecure and liable to disappear within the next 12 months.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006


The Enforcer has recently had some relocation issues and is still not connected to the internet. Therefore he speaks to you from one of Dante's seven circles of hell. Actually, I'm in an internet cafe, but it's possibly the hottest place in the country at this precise moment (I pity anyone who has to sit in my immediate vicinity during the rest of the day). Anyway, apologies to my 14 regular readers (don't you just love Statcounter?), and hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly.

There've been some interesting stories over the past couple of weeks but since they're not topical at the moment I shan't be commenting. Plus I'm a bit frazzled at the moment and not really thinking straight. The wonders of summer!