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For those of you who follow changes in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) or have studied Crime and Justice, you will be aware that current probation arrangements are based on the notion of contestability, made possible by the Offender Management Act 2007 and fully enacted under the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014. What this meant in practice was the auctioning off of probation work to newly formed Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) in 2015 (Davies et al, 2015). This move was highly controversial and was strongly opposed by practitioners and academics alike who were concerned that such arrangements would undermine the CJS, result in a deskilled probation service, and create a postcode lottery of provision (Raynor et al., 2014; Robinson et al., 2016). The government’s decision to ignore those who may be considered experts in the field has had perilous consequences for those receiving the services as well as the service providers themselves.
Picking up on @manosdaskalou’s theme of justice from his June blog and considering the questions overhanging the future sustainability of the CRC arrangements it is timely to consider these provisions in a little more detail. In recent weeks I have found myself sitting on a number of probation or non-CPS courts where I have witnessed first-hand the inadequacies of the CRC arrangements and potential injustices faced by offenders under their supervision. For instance, I have observed a steady increase in applications from probation, or more specifically CRCs, to have community orders adjusted. While such requests are not in themselves unusual, the type of adjustment or more specifically the reason behind the request, are. For example, I have witnessed an increase in requests for the Building Better Relationships (BBR) programme to be removed because there is insufficient time left on the order to complete it, or that the order itself is increased in length to allow the programme to be completed. Such a request raises several questions, firstly why has an offender who is engaged with the Community Order not been able to complete the BBR within a 12-month, or even 24-month timeframe? Secondly, as such programmes are designed to reduce the risk of future domestic abuse, how is rehabilitation going to be achieved if the programme is removed? Thirdly, is it in the interests of justice or fairness to increase the length of the community order by 3 to 6 month to allow the programme to be complete? These are complex questions and have no easy answer, especially if the reason for failing to complete (or start) the programme is not the offenders fault but rather the CRCs lack of management or organisation. Where an application to increase the order is granted by the court the offender faces an injustice in as much as their sentencing is being increased, not based on the severity of the crime or their failure to comply, but because the provider has failed to manage the order efficiently. Equally, where the removal of the BBR programme is granted it is the offender who suffers because the rehabilitative element is removed, making punishment the sole purpose of the order and thus undermining the very reason for the reform in the first place.
Whilst it may appear that I am blaming the CRCs for these failings, that is not my intent. The problems are with the reform itself, not necessarily the CRCs given the contracts. Many of the CRCs awarded contracts were not fully aware of the extent of the workload or pressure that would come with such provisions, which in turn has had a knock-on effect on resources, funding, training, staff morale and so forth. As many of these problems were also those plaguing probation post-reform, it should come as little surprise that the CRCs were in no better a position than probation, to manage the number of offenders involved, or the financial and resource burden that came with it.
My observations are further supported by the growing number of news reports criticising the arrangements, with headlines like ‘Private probation firms criticised for supervising offenders by phone’ (Travis, 2017a), ‘Private probation firms fail to cut rates of reoffending’ (Savage, 2018), ‘Private probation firms face huge losses despite £342m ‘bailout’’ (Travis, 2018), and ‘Private companies could pull out of probation contracts over costs’ (Travis, 2017b). Such reports come as little surprise if you consider the strength of opposition to the reform in the first place and their justifications for it. Reading such reports leaves me rolling my eyes and saying ‘well, what did you expect if you ignore the advice of experts!’, such an outcome was inevitable.
In response to these concerns, the Justice Committee has launched an inquiry into the Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation Programme to look at CRC contracts, amongst other things. Whatever the outcome, the cost of additional reform to the tax payer is likely to be significant, not to mention the impact this will have on the CJS, the NPS, and offenders. All of this begs the question of what the real intention of the Transforming Rehabilitation reform was, that is who was it designed for? If it’s aim was to reduce reoffending rates by providing support to offenders who previously were not eligible for probation support, then the success of this is highly questionable. While it could be argued that more offenders now received support, the nature and quality of the support is debatable. Alternatively, if the aim was to reduce spending on the CJS, the problems encountered by the CRCs and the need for an MoJ ‘bail out’ suggests that this too has been unsuccessful. In short, all that we can say about this reform is that Chris Grayling (the then Home Secretary), and the Conservative Government more generally have left their mark on the CJS.
 Community Orders typically lasts for 12 months but can run for 24 months. The BBR programme runs over a number of weeks and is often used for cases involving domestic abuse.
Davies, M. (2015) Davies, Croall and Tyrer’s Criminal Justice. Harlow: Pearson.
Raynor, P., Ugwudike, P. and Vanstone, M. (2014) The impact of skills in probation work: A reconviction study. Criminology and Criminal Justice, 14(2), pp.235–249.
Robinson, G., Burke, L., and Millings, M. (2016) Criminal Justice Identities in Transition: The Case of Devolved Probation Services in England and Wales. British Journal of Criminology, 56(1), pp.161-178.
Savage, M. (2018) Private probation firms fail to cut rates of reoffending. Guardian [online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/03/private-firms-fail-cut-rates-reoffending-low-medium-risk-offenders [Accessed 6 July 2018].
Travis, A. (2017a) Private probation firms criticised for supervising offenders by phone. Guardian [online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/dec/14/private-probation-firms-criticised-supervising-offenders-phone [Accessed 6 July 2018].
Travis, A. (2017b) Private companies could pull out of probation contracts over costs. Guardian [online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/21/private-companies-could-pull-out-of-probation-contracts-over-costs [Accessed 6 July 2018].
Travis, A. (2018) Private probation firms face huge losses despite £342m ‘bailout’. Guardian [online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/17/private-probation-companies-face-huge-losses-despite-342m-bailout [Accessed 6 July 2018].
I was watching a You Tube clip from Channel Four news (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUYPGNvsHXk) about the Tommy Robinson contempt of court case. It provided an explanation of the law, the justice system, and why the case is not as claimed, an example of the repression of free speech, but simply, the processes of justice working as they should. It is a clear and dispassionate account explaining that Tommy Robinson has not been ‘disappeared’ but has simply been jailed for contempt of court, to which he pleaded guilty. Tommy Robinson currently presents himself as an independent reporter – well not currently, he is serving his sentence, but you know what I mean. Prior to this he was leader of the English Defence League and a reporter for ‘Rebel Media’, a Canadian far right online political commentary media site, described as a ‘global platform for anti-Muslim ideology’.
He then re-invented himself to his most recent role of independent reporter, which for him became a mission to report on cases of serious sexual assaults committed by Asian men, whether the court had placed reporting restrictions on the case or not. This was seemingly for him, a way to ensure a conviction, to influence juries about defendants and secure justice for victims. The incident which led to his imprisonment occurred when he posted a Facebook live commentary on a case, which had reporting restrictions. He was arrested for breach of the peace, it transpired that his activities also meant he was in contempt of court, which given he was already on a suspended sentence, led to his jail sentence of 13 months. The outrage focused on the fact that Robinson was arrested and jailed within one day, there were claims he had no legal representation and that this was a repression of free speech. The Channel 4 news report points out the facts. Contempt of court has to be dealt with quickly, as it threatens to derail trials, at great cost to the taxpayer and those seeking a fair trial and for justice to be done. As well as pleading guilty, Robinson knew, as a reporter, he should follow the laws on reporting restrictions. The report emphasises the consequences of derailing the trials, and therefore that his intentions to secure justice are misguided.
This case and this report highlights one of the great challenges for our justice system, that the laws and processes in place to support victims, uphold rights of defendants and witnesses and secure justice are frequently misrepresented and misunderstood. The explanations of the law in the report are clear, concise and easy to grasp, but as I said earlier they are dispassionate, and many would argue, so they should be. The problem is, those who present opposition to these facts, claiming fake news, alternative facts, repression of free speech and political correctness gone mad are not dispassionate. They tap into emotions of fear, a sense of injustice, hate and then offer solutions which promise to alleviate these fears and make the world a better place. For those who are afraid, who feel their lives could be better, this will get their attention, more so than someone presenting facts, laws, and objective reviews of events.
A recent conference at De Montfort University, the Emotions and Criminal Justice conference, tackled this theme as to how the CJS needs to acknowledge the emotional impact of crime and justice, beyond the immediate victims and their family, to the wider public who read about cases. Professor Robert Canton in his presentation ‘Mending what has been torn: Reflections on emotions related to punishment and reconciliation’, outlined the need to understand the type of thinking which occurs when we hear about crime, and what people would consider to be an effective response. He stated ‘the separation of emotion and reason is a bad start…lets talk about emotions as well as reason.’ He cited feelings of anger and disgust against those who have wronged us, and it is these very feelings which Tommy Robinson taps into from his roving reporting on serious sexual assault cases. What is also interesting about this case is the emotions of Robinson’s supporters, that they disregard facts, or don’t know them in the first place, and instead go straight to the position of a sense of injustice, an unfair system and repression of free speech. On the one hand, the presentation of the facts in the report can easily be defined as reason, and the cries of injustice and repression from Robinson’s supporters across the globe, as emotion. But to those expressing this, they are perfectly within their rights, they are upholding this precious commodity of free speech, they are reasoned, right and need to be heard. The dispassionate fact checkers are almost spoiling their fun, tackling their misguided emotional response with reason, established laws and pointing out the flaws in their argument. In amongst all this thinking, I realised one other thing. The supporters of Tommy Robinson, via twitter, gained a lot of traction and attention about their ‘plight’, the report I found was something I came across and chose to watch as I follow Channel Four news, and, crucially, I wanted to know more about the facts of the case. So many people would not seek out such facts, and are all too comfortable to ignore the issue, have their prejudices and conspiracies confirmed and hang on to those initial emotional responses as the facts and explanations of the case. Before we all get too despondent, perhaps the signs are there, of recognising these views as part of our society, to grasp the significance of emotions in all of this, and just maybe, to ensure future generations don’t fall into the same traps.
I used to think waking up for lectures was the hardest thing in life. Little did I know that the 9am until 5pm isn’t a joke!
I graduated nearly 3 years ago now. Since then I have been trying to find my ‘calling’ in life. The world showed me it is not always easy finding this calling. If you want something you have to go and get it. Having a degree does not mean you will be successful. I had to start from the bottom and through trial and error; I can say I am starting to get there. Initially I was applying for any and every job possible. My first job was for an IT and Business training company and I was made redundant. That was difficult. Here I was thinking redundancy is for old people. Life had just started teaching its lessons.
After that I realised my passion was Criminology and I was determined in finding a job within this sector. So I started working for my County Court as clerk. I realised that I was definitely not cut out for the public sector. The frustration from the public because the court system is so slow (which I completely understood I would have been annoyed too). Don’t even get me started on the fact that I had to use dial up internet and buy my own teabags and milk! From that moment on I knew I had to get back into the private sector but still have a job in Criminology
I applied for a job as a Financial Crime Analyst for a bank and I was given the job without an interview! I knew I had found my ‘calling’. It is more Compliance based. I have had to start from the bottom. My senior managers appreciate the fact that I have a Criminology degree. But my colleagues make remarks like “Oh, you went to uni and we are still at the same level”. It is a slap in the face. But I am grateful for my degree. It has made me humble and look at people in a different light. When my colleagues are laughing at the crimes people commit such as an 80 year old man being involved in the drug trade or an 18 year old running a brothel. As a Criminologist I can ask questions such as “I wonder if this person is being coerced into this” or “I wonder if they have an drug problem or they did not grow up in a happy home”. I can empathise with these people and see beyond the information that is presented in front of me. I have been told I am too soft. But that is the life of a Criminologist and I would not change it for the world!
Helen is an Associate Lecturer teaching on modules in years 1 and 3.
I joined the University of Northampton as an associate lecturer in 2009, teaching at first on the Offender Management foundation degree and then joining the Criminology team, although I had been a visiting lecturer in Criminology for a number of years prior to that. I am sorry that a prior commitment means that I am unable to join you for the Big Criminology Reunion, although the occasion has inspired me to reflect on the professional journey that starts with graduation.
Last week I received an e-mail from a former student in the 2010 Offender Management cohort. She is just about to qualify as a probation officer and she was asking for advice about giving evidence at Parole Board hearings. It was great to think back, to remember what a vibrant and enthusiastic student she was, and to project forwards; perhaps I’ll see her at an oral hearing soon. She will probably make an excellent probation officer, and the fact that she is asking for advice before she even starts is evidence of that. She will possibly be the first of our offender management students to become an offender manager!
A couple of years ago I was at a Parole Hearing at HMYOI Aylesbury where I was very impressed by the evidence of the trainee psychologist. She had prepared a clear, concise but thorough and analytical report on the prisoner and she gave her oral evidence confidently and thoughtfully. After the end of the hearing, she popped back in to tell me that she had been initially inspired to take up prison psychology after hearing my guest lecture on Manos’ Forensic Psychology module. I saw her again earlier this year and she’s still doing a great job!
For undergraduates, completing a degree, submitting a dissertation, putting the pen down at the end of the last exam and then graduating with friends, seems like the end of a long and arduous process. And of course it is! But as the stories above show, it is also just the beginning. Just the beginning of a professional journey which may or may not involve direct application of the subjects covered on the course. Not all our students become probation officers or prison psychologists or academic criminologists, but they will take something of what they learn out into the world with them. It may be a more critical way of digesting the news, a wider appreciation of the social forces that shape our world, a readiness to reflect and question and see the world from different perspectives. All of that will help them on their journey. I hope that you all have a great time at the reunion and that as you compare each other’s journeys you have fond memories of the degree course that seemed a marathon at the time but was really only the first step!