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Radicalisation Prisoners and the Internet

The rise of the internet and radical forums has led to a huge rise in the number of young Muslims and converts accessing forums and material on line. Ten years ago the commonest means of obtaining radicals leaflets or videos was from small bookshops sometimes attached to mosques. Many people avoided such centres believing them to be under surveillance. The development of online forums makes it very easy to access material in the privacy of the viewer’s own room.
Most who view and become radicalized will also have been in social contact with an individual or group who hold radical ideas. The trigger is the real world, on line follows. Often the young person is vulnerable and may have been groomed both on and off line. It is thought that 100's of young people have developed their radical processing in this way.

At the same time the number of Muslim prisoners has grown by122% since 2002.In 2006 there were 7,000 Muslim inmates by the end of 2014 it had grown to 12,225. This is a massive increase.

Six years ago Harry Fletcher then of Napo the probation union looked at radicalisation in Britain’s prisons. Then the overall prison population was 84,000 of these 8,000 said their religion was Muslim. Staff estimated that about one in ten had been targeted by extremists, most listened to radical ideas but it was not known how many converted. Since then however a small number of people convicted under the terrorism laws had served a custodial sentence. The rise in the number of Muslim prisoners since that time is 53%

A number of factors are in play. First the number of Muslims in the UK increased from 3% to nearly 5% over the period. Secondly 30% of Muslim prisoners were Foreign Nationals. Thirdly more prisoners reported being Muslim or converts and fourthly more young Muslim Prisoners came from poorer backgrounds.

Harry Fletcher Director of the Digital-Trust and former Probation official said today
'The evolving digital world makes it easier for young people to access radical forums and material. Vulnerable teenagers are a target for activists. It has been estimated that 10% of young prisoners have been targeted by extremists. It is thought that 100's of young people are clicking on to radical sites every day. It is very difficult to police. On line or digital crime accounts for half of all reports to the Police. Dealing with the spread of forums and access must be a priority for however wins the election.’

He added ‘The rise in the number of Muslim prisoners is a reflection of economic status and more conversions and inmates registering their faith. The numbers are a major challenge for the prison service and its resources’

Prison sources are indicating that more inmates on reception are stating that their religion is Muslim.

They are also reporting that more prisoners are converting during the course of the sentence. This is either because of radicalisation or safety issues. Staff believe that more prisoners now have radical beliefs but are not likely to follow this with criminal actions. Probation feedback on Syria is that young people who are targeted because of vulnerability are attracted to living in an Islamic state above taking part in criminal actions

Tag Snags

The enquiry into Serco and G4S and their tagging contracts will be completed very soon. The private companies believe that their previous actions and activities may well have fell within the conditions of the contract. They were contracted to tag someone if instructed to do so by a court and to remove it when the court stated that the tag period ended. The orders normally lasted for 90 or 120 days and the companies received a fixed fee for each order. If an offender died was jailed or ran away during the duration of an order the company was paid unless the court cancelled the order. They would seem therefore if this is the case to be a problem with the conditions of the contract. A number of officials appear to have either left or changed posts.

When the new contracts were let last year no one company had sole responsibility of all aspects of the work. One supplied the kit, another the software, a third the phones and another did the fitting and monitoring. Enforcement however was taken away and given to the state run National Probation Service (NPS). Hitherto anyone absent for 2 hours or more. Found tampering with the tag or removing it was automatically breached and sent back to court. Now however the process is determined by the NPS.

Around 28,000 orders were in place at any one time during 2013/14 with 25 to 30% breaching that is 7,000 to 8,000 per year. Up to a third receive short custodial sentences. Under the old rules all went back to court but under the current procedures about half seem to reach court the rest get warnings. It is expected that tagging will sharply increase now that Probation has been privatised perhaps to as many as 80,000 at any one time by 2020. However the new rules on enforcement will result in less pressures on prison numbers as fewer defaulters will end up inside. If the private sector were still the enforcers then some 20,000 would be back in court by 2020 with one third looking at custody, under the new regime those figures will be halved.

Probation staff with 120 cases have little time to process breaches, less in court mean fewer go to prison and costs are therefore kept down.

Prediction Probation

Predictions made at least 15 months ago about the likely impact of the privatisation of the Probation service in England and Wales is becoming a reality. In February 2015 the supervision of low and medium risk offenders, around 100,000 individuals were sold off in lots to the private sector. This included work with domestic violence perpetrators.

In the press and media Harry Fletcher now Director of the Digital-Trust forecast the end of positive interventions for offenders and there replacement by a huge increase in electronic tagging, staff reductions and the introduction of reporting centres and check in biometric machines instead of 1 to1 supervision. More court reports are now done on the day including Domestic Violence perpetrators. Caseloads for many in the sector are 100 and rising making individual supervision near impossible in any event

Many new providers have already said that they will be shedding staff from September 2015, maybe by as much as 25 to 30%.The main tagging companies are preparing for a significant expansion of the market and report centres where offenders will sign in are very much on the agenda. Some providers have already gone back to the Ministry for extra cash to pay for enhanced redundancies which they say were not in the contract price. Others are requesting what is oddly called true-up cash from the MOJ as they have ended up with more staff than they had bid for. Another has hired Deloitte to deliver an efficiency savings report. In an another area a provider is advertising for staff to supervise prisoners given 12 months custody or less on release. The salary band is £18,000 to £21,000. Current staff are on a grade £22,500 to £28,000.

The state retains responsibility for supervising high risk offenders but the number of new court orders deemed high risk and therefore suitable for the National Probation Service is often less than 15% of the total.

Although in the short term the NPS did take on a 100 or so extra staff to deal with writing court reports, the impact of further cuts of up to20%  across the public sector post-election and fewer cases seem inevitably to lead to less supervisors. Using the agreed workload measure many NPS probation Officers are working at 130 to160% of capacity. So would need to work up from 10 to 20 hours extra per week to complete their work. Staff across the divide are under pressure to take case back to court to be revoked for good progress but have no spare time to do the paperwork.

A service that won Excellence awards just 3 years ago is now demoralised and in deep trouble. But more tags and reporting machines mean that the new owners can both cut costs and keep the Government happy and make competitive profit margins for shareholders.

Last Few Weeks

Contracts for the new providers of Probation will be signed off by mid December. On the ground 4 months since TR began the reports are grim indeed. IT systems are still poor, communication is weak, information is not available for reports to the Courts and staff morale is rock bottom.

The only way of halting the mess apart from a Coalition change of policy is either a Judicial Review or the Permanent Secretary exercising her Business Readiness Test, both of which are unlikely.

It is too late to challenge the concept of Privatisation that should have happened within 3 months of the decision. It may be possible to question the contractual process but again there is no challenge yet.

Different lawyers of course may well give different opinions. Some at the Justice Ministry are surprised at the lack of opposition.

As far as officials are concerned, they were criticised by the Public Accounts Committee earlier this year and may be called once more to give evidence but they are unlikely to order a halt to the process and much more prone to advise Ministers on how to minimise the chaos on the ground.

Last year Union members were told at their Annual General Meeting that an upbeat campaign would be waged in Parliament and the Press and that legal avenues would be explored.

The year has flown. Parliament has been low key on the issue over the last few months and some Parliamentarians to their shame do not know what is going on.

The next Union AGM is soon, the members have 10 weeks left to save the service. A daunting task. For the future the tag will be the main intervention for the Private Sector and the Public National Probation Service will be told to reduce its costs and size.

For service users like domestic violence abusers and their victims that future looks very bleak.

Probation What might the future hold?

It is now 3 months since the public Probation Trusts were abolished and replaced by 21 soon to be privatised Community Rehabilitation Companies and one National Probation Service. The process of change to put it mildly has been chaotic and extremely unpopular with staff. The IT has not worked, there are to many staff in the NPS ,to few in the CRCs, caseloads are erratic, some staff have 150 cases, others a handful , most Domestic Violence abusers are in the private sector, programme tutors in the NPS and much more.

Trends however are emerging which point to how the new set up may look like in a year or so. In one division in the North about 200 new cases were allocated in June and July, 150 went to the CRC. So, reflecting the MOJs original guess that the divide of cases would be 70/30%.In another area staff predict that the CRC caseload will soon be not far short of the Trusts caseload 6 months ago. Indeed if the supervision of those given 12 months or less ever happens the caseload will be similar. It does appear that fewer cases are being deemed high risk than was predicted last year.

Lawyers are saying that there are delays in the production of Court reports and that the content is thinner than pre June. The private bidders and some at the MOJ are now saying that there will be a big rise in the number of offenders who will be tagged. Currently the daily population on the tag is about 26,000, by 2020 it could be as high as 100,00.

What seems to be happening is: * the case split will be nearer to the original 70/30 estimate *tagging will be a major intervention *programmes and other intervention will be cut back *breaches will rise putting further pressure on jails *there will be fewer high risk cases so the NPS will shrink *costs will fall at expense of profit * training in the CRCs will be minimal * incidents and Public Protection issues will rise

Can the crash be stopped? In the absence of a coordinated campaign within parliament and the press involving unions, managers and the Institute and with sound public support it seems unlikely. Most Parliamentarians seem unaware of events. There are excellent exceptions like Shadiq Khan and Lord Rambotham. Others like the LibDems, know the score but will not intervene. There are 3 months left to stop the rot. Officials and senior civil servants must be aware that the timescale is not deliverable and the next Government will be left to pick up the pieces and say so to politicians. But will they? And can they be made to do so? Those are the key questions.

Just a few months left

The process of selling off the Probation service in England and Wales remains a shambles. Hundreds of posts highlighting the chaos have been logged on the On Probation Blog. That blog should be essential viewing for all MPs and for many it already is.

Staff report being taxed twice over because The Inland Revenue think they have two jobs on for the old Trust and two at the NPS or CRC. Nothing on the IT side seems to work, scores of DV cases are unallocated and a 2 tier workforce is emerging that is class A in the NPS and class B in the CRCs.

There is and has been for months an urgent need for Parliamentary action but little has happened during the last period. Questions both written and oral and points of order should have been asked more or less every day but Ministers are getting an easy ride.

One MOJ official expressed surprise to me last week at the lack of a real fuss about the sell off, another said that aspects of the contacting process and of tagging would not hold up to legal scrutiny.

There is to be a lobby in September of MPs by Probation staff, there will need a huge turn out if it is to have any impact.Simple, short, emotive and factual information is needed by all MPs of all parties to maximise any remaining hope of stopping the share sale.

Final Stages

Probation Trusts were abolished on the 1st of June and replaced by the National Probation Service (NPS) and 12 Community Rehabilitation Companies, shadow organisations prior to the sell off nearer Christmas. At first several Probation Trusts joined with 3rd sector ventures to form Mutuals and enter the bidding process. However most have now evaporated because of a lack of initial capital and fears of financial and reputational risk. Left in the ring now and likely winners are Capita, Geo and other large multi nationals.

Parliament and the Courts remain the best ways of halting the process but Chris Grayling is determined to sign off the contracts come what may even if that means that the private operations do not commence until spring 2015. There is little Parliamentary activity at present and it is getting later and later for court challenges. Meanwhile plans to introduce supervision for prisoners serving less than 12 months seem unlikely to be introduced before 2015/16 and could go the way of custody plus. Yet the savings that would be made from the sell off was the justification for the privatisation process in the first place! Those savings are not there.

The expansion of tagging is still on the agenda and a real threat. The firms who have won the new 9 year tagging contract worth £3 billion believe that the numbers being tagged on any given day will rise from 25,000 now to 100,000 by 2020. This means that the majority of CRC offenders will be supervised by GPS devices and not probation staff. A series of Parliamentary questions drafted by Harry Fletcher in conjunction with Mike Nellis have gone down this week. opinion on the probation Institute is divided. The Institute is part funded by the MOJ, some see it as an apology for the selloff others as an upholder of Professional Standards. Whichever it is unlikely to play a significant part in any last ditch stand to save the Public Probation Service It remains essential for all information about the chaos even if it is anonymous gets to MPs and the media before it is too late to locate reverse gear.

End of an Era

The Probation split has happened. From the 1st June 2014 the public probation service which was 107 years old was abolished and split up. For the next 6 months or so there will be 1 Public National Probation Service and 21 regional Community Rehabilitation Companies prior to their sell off.

Last year the MOJ said that 30% of Probation would stay Public, the high risk work and the rest would be privatised. However the actual split is nearer 45/55%. So if the MOJ got the very first calculation wrong then the rest will be full of errors too.

The problems are rife : IT, Staff, Risk assessment, allocation both cases and people. programmes and more.

The actual share sale when Grayling transfers his shares to the private sector will probably occur in the late autumn, the share price will be a nominal pound. Operational changes to the new providers is likely to be in the spring of 2015.

Staff morale is rock bottom, the campaign strategy is confused and sickness is at a high.

The only way forward is to try and force top officials to convince Ministers that they can not proceed on public safety grounds. This could happen any time before share sale.

Staff must continue to highlight the flaws, continue to post them on blogs and websites including this one.

There is press and Parliamentary interest, what they need though is the hard facts and information. Staff must provide it if the crash is too be avoided.

Final Stages for Probation

The Campaign to save probation from Part Privatisation is entering its final stages in both Parliament and the Courts. It is still evident that the new structure has not been properly tested. Serious problems have already emerged and more will follow.

The staff allocation is uneven, there is programme imbalance, there are IT glitches, sickness is high, staff are leaving and much more. Staff in the National Probation Service (NPS) will carry 30 plus high risk cases, their Senior may have to manage 20 officers with a combined caseload of over 600.

Their counterparts in the Community Rehabilitation Companies will have 60 to 100 medium and low risk cases each. Supervision will be become tick box and expect a huge rise in GPS tagging to follow.

Since March over 30 Parliamentarians have written different letters about their TR concerns to Minister Grayling, many more will be sent soon, over 60 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion calling for pilots before roll out and 100's of questions have been tabled in both Houses of Parliament.

The next few months are critical bulletins highlighting the flaws must be issued every week, digests of the problems sent in every fortnight. Points of order must be raised on the floor of each House, the questions must continue and emergency debates should be tabled.

In addition a new EDM calling for proper testing and a pause must go down after the Queens Speech opening the new Parliament on June 4th. Whatever MPs, Lords. PCCs and the media think about the ethics of Privatisation can be put aside, this model is flawed. It is dangerous and will compromise Public Protection.

Confusion and Risk

The numerous problems that arise out of the attempts by Government to part privatise the Probation Service in England and Wales continue to gather pace. The number of consortia cleared to bid by the MOJ to bid for the work was 30, they were mainly made up of primes and subs ie smaller companies or 3rd sector organisations who would sub contract aspects of the work. In January there were up to 50 primes and subs now there appear to be under 30.

Finanical and reputational risk seem to be the main reasons for the drop outs. The risk for Government now is lack of a real competition. In most trust areas there appear to be significant job vacancies and because of the absence of trained staff currently without work slim likelihood of them being filled. The allocation of staff to either shadow state or private sector organisations is also deeply problematic.

Most trained staff will find themselves on the state side including programme tutors but the programmes themselves are in the private companies. The new assessments to be carried out in respect of offenders appearing at court will take longer than existing procedures. As a consequence about 1/3rd less reports will be compiled each week leading to significant delay.

The reforms do not have have the support of many Police Commissioners or local authorities. Few people outside of the senior members of MOJ believe that the new infrastructure will be ready in time for the letting of contracts.

There is no Plan B in the event of operational failure in the State Service should sickness and stress levels rise as a consequence of only dealing with high risk offenders.

Llittle if any guidance has thus far been given to key partners such as Magistrates, the police,social services, Housing and Mental Heath bodies.

The process is a mess and seems unlikely to hit its targets. A pause in proceedings is therefore essential . That can be achieved through a combination of legal and Parliamentary pressure. Legal challenges on equalities, contracts, reasonableness, budgets and timescales should be followed. Parliamentarians need weekly, short to the point bulletins about the worst aspects of the process. They must be constantly asking questions.

Finally it is hugely important to remember that it is the Minister who started this process and nobody else and that the Head of the MOJ civil service has a duty to halt the reforms if they put the public at risk or cannot keep within budget.

Pace of Sell Off

The All Party Justice Committee became the latest group on March 25th to express concern at the pace of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda.

MPs demanded clarification of the exact date of the take over of the new providers of supervision. Was it Autumn 2014 or spring 2015?

They also asked whether or not the unions had signed off a post sale package and by implication the sale itself. The unions remain as ever 100% opposed to the sale.

Problems continue to emerge most days with the timetable. The faster the pace the more likely the chance of errors. Over the last few days staff have learnt

  • MAPPA eligible's were not included in the caseload calculation ( and there are about 10,000 in that group)
  • Glitches occurred in staff accessing the Risk of Serious Recidivism tool
  • The main IT system is not suitable for AT users
  • Report writing will take longer
  • There are insufficient staff to maintain the flow of courts to the courts anyway.

The full implications for TR of Buddi pulling out of the 3300 million tagging contract for hardware are becoming apparent:

a) the timetable for the huge increase in tagging is behind what was hoped

b) it is another example of a contract being let in an over hasty way

c) bidders may start to think that what they believe they are after and what they will get are rather different.

The Coalition had hoped to have the new traditional tag plus GPS tracking in place by mid 2015 with an increase from the current numbers tagged on a given day rising fro 26,000 now to at least 75,000 by 2020.

Over 20 parliamentary Questions drafted on behalf of Napo by Harry Fletcher on court chaos and tagging have been tabled via Justice Union MPs. At least 15 members of Parliament have written to the MOJ about different aspects of TRs progress. Many more will follow.

he Future The strategy for slowing and defeating TR remains unchanged. It is a combination of Parliamentary action, legal challenges and industrial action.

Legal opinion is needed and sought over a number of issues ; the validity of using the Offender Management Act 2007 to avoid legislation, risk registers, the timetable and risk to the public, consultation with staff over transfer and allocation and the test of recklessness.

In Parliament questions both written and oral will continue, debates will be requested, points of order will be raised, EDMs will be placed and lobbying must continue. During the next 6 months all Probation staff should be sending to a central point details of their observations and experiences. They must then be published both in Parliament and the media.

Campaign Continues

The campaign to stop the privatisation of the Probation Service continues. Ministers have indicated that they want to sign off contracts by the end of October this year. The next 6 months are therefore critical. It is a sad fact of political and media life that they only focus on an issue when it is upon them. That focus is now!

On March 11th the OR Bill returned to the Lords for consideration of Commons amendments. Lord Ramsbotham retabled his amendment demanding a debate and vote in both Houses as the Commons had deleted one he passed in June. Both he and Lord Beecham for Labour challenged the Coalitions view that the Offender Management Act 2007 gave them the power to privatise.Lord Ramsbotham called the Governments actions 'a willfull misinterpretation of the Act'. In the event the vote went against probation by 263 to 243.In June the vote was won by 215 to 189. The Conservatives whipped well.

The next day,March 12th the Public Accounts Committee questioned MOJ officials on the TR agenda. They,the officials did not inspire. It emerged during the session : They did not know in how many cases risk changedThought that contracts would be signed in DecemberDid not know what % of the contracts would be subject to Payment By ResultsThat all contracts would be let at onceThat if taking the next step involved risk it would not be takenMeanwhile Early Day Motion 936 has attracted 58 supporters. The motion calls for a pilot before national roll out.

Many opportunities will occur over the coming months to highlight the flaws,contradictions and disasters arising from TR.It is essential that they are given to the Press,Parliament and the public. Many believe that the Coalition are acting without authority in using the 2007 Act. This must be explored fully and if the case is there challenged in the Courts.

Bill Returns and PAC investigates

The week commencing 10th March will be a critical one for the future of the Probation Service in England and Wales. First the Offender Rehabilitation Bill returns to the Lords. The reason is for Peers to debate Commons amendments. This means that Lord Ramsbotham will re-table his Amendment that was passed last June. It states that no re-organisation of Probation can occur before there is a debate and vote in both Houses of Parliament. It is being laid because he and many other Peers believe that there must be proper Scrutiny before Probation is sold off. He will have support from the Labour team and scores of cross benchers.

Should Lord Ramsbotham win, the amendment goes back to the Commons,will be voted down and Ping Pong will commence. That process is resolved when the PM invokes the Parliament Act giving the Commons authority but the said PM becomes responsible for the Probation project.

On Wednesday the 12th March the powerful Public Accounts Committee Chaired by Margaret Hodge will look into the Financial implications of the sell off plans. The Committee is not allowed to questions officials on the policy itself,but can investigate process,costs,risk and feasibility. Amongst those called will be Permanent Secretary Ursula Brennan and head of NOMS Micheal Spur.

At least a dozen MPs and Lords have written to Minister Grayling asking how the programme will work in the timetable proscribed. Others have highlighted training issues, risk registers, Recall procedures, staff allocation, case distribution and much more. Once the answers come in so will the links.

On March 11th the OR Bill returns to the House of Lords

On March 11th the OR Bill returns to the House of Lords for consideration of Commons amendments. This means that Lord Ramsbottam can and will retable his amendment to the Bill stating that Probation cannot be reorganised without a debate and vote in each House. The next day, March 12th will see the Public Accounts Committee begin its investigation into the cost of the TR agenda. On the same day Napo is organising a green card lobby of Liberal Democrat MPs.

Much is emerging that highlights the high financial risks that the bidders will be taking should they decide to continue to tender for Probation work. They include:

*the period between submission and selection of bid is too short *sections of the draft contracts are blank * there is no strategy for Assistive Technology *there is an absence of a industry standard for the bidding process * there is no possibility of using the contacts as a loss leader

There are many other financial problems which will come to light during the next 4 or 5 months which will be revealed in parliament and the Press. Over 150 Parliamentary questions on unanswered aspects of the TR process have been drafted or tabled. Meetings will take place with key Lords and Committee members over the next few days. There is a belief amongst Labour MPs that the Coalition cannot use the Offender Management Act 2007 to justify its actions.

Public Accounts Committee discuss privatising probation service

The Coalitions plans to part privatise the Probation Service in England and Wales will be the subject of scrutiny by the powerful Public Accounts Committee on March 12th.

The Committee is Chaired by Margaret Hodge and has 13 other members from the 3 main parties. On Napo's behalf Harry Fletcher has submitted over 70 unanswered or partly answered questions about the plans to MPs and Lords.

In addition a 4 page briefing has been written on the financial flaws and pitfalls in the plans for the Press. Many MPs and Lords have been seen since Christmas and given information about the risks to the public about the plans and warned about the disaster looming.

Another 35 Parliamentary Questions have been drafted bringing the total since mid November to 140. No date has yet been set for the opportunity for the Lords to debate Commons amendments,early March is mooted, but whenever the Bill returns Lord Ramsbotham will re table his clause which says that there must be a debate in both Houses and a vote before re-organisation of probation can go ahead.

Early Day Motion 936

An Early Day Motion (EDM) calling for the Government to PILOT their Probation Privatisation plans before any National roll out has just been tabled in the House of Commons by Elfyn Llwyd with good Labour and Liberal Support. By February 7th it had 39 signatures : Labour 28 Liberal 6 Plaid 3 and one each from Green and SDLP. An explanation of the advantages of using EDMs as part of a Campaign can be found under Latest news in the Domestic Violence section of this site. Emails from Napo the Probation Union and from the Justice Unions Group will be sent during February to muster further support