National Officer Ben Cockburn provides an update for members on the recent decision of the Secretary of State for Justice to prohibit Probation staff from making any recommendations to the Parole Board on progression or release, either in written reports or as witnesses at Oral Hearings.
These are fundamental changes to our ability to exercise professional judgement, and express our evidenced opinions, in making these recommendations to the Parole Board. The Secretary of State for Justice snuck these through Parliament without any advance consultation or debate on the 30th of June, for full introduction just three weeks later.
This is a ministerial decision, with full responsibility for the current chaotic situation – which we believe will unfortunately only deteriorate further in the coming days, weeks and months – resting entirely with the Secretary of State for Justice, including the cowardly and haphazard manner in which these changes have been introduced.
The decision to launch this assault on the professional integrity and independence of Probation staff undermines – perhaps fatally – the stated plans of HMPPS to pursue a “professionalisation agenda” for the Probation Service, given at a stroke it removes our ability to offer valuable expert opinion to the Parole Board, which we currently do in writing and verbally on thousands of occasions each year.
It remains to be seen how senior leaders and managers in the organisations involved can possibly recover any credibility on this issue when the actions of the Secretary of State appear in such direct opposition to their stated aims.
This is a wholly unwelcome, dangerous and momentous shift in a crucial area of Probation practice, one which brings with it a huge range of harms such as the increased risk to previous victims as well as others in our communities, significant staff demoralisation (leading to an exacerbation of the employer’s current problems in recruiting and retaining Probation staff), the destruction of public confidence in this part of the criminal justice system and increased Government spending.
We would also note a growing backlash from others regarding these plans – including other trade unions, opposition political parties, relevant charities, members of the Parole Board and those in the legal profession – and will be looking to communicate and coordinate with those who can support us going forward.
The communications and guidance we have seen so far from the employer to Probation staff are full of various contradictions, gaps and flaws, possibly evidence that many in the HMPPS who should have been working to plan such a fundamental change received little or no warning from the Secretary of State and those close to them.
Our very real fear is that, if introduced as planned, the parole system in England and Wales will be plunged further into chaos. It is further evidence that members of this Government have no interest in learning any lessons from the experience of ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’, where they also failed to listen to those with a wealth of knowledge and experience urging a different direction in that regard with all too disastrous consequences.
Napo is absolutely opposed to these changes and have made, and will continue to make, our member’s outrage at this situation clear to those involved in our contacts with HMPPS senior management and at a ministerial level. Given the significant concerns we have outlined we are asking that these plans – such as they are currently constituted – are halted pending a meaningful period of consultation and engagement with the trade unions, as well as other relevant stakeholders.