July 12, 2010: NOMS has failed, says Napo
The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) has failed to deliver its prime objective of a merged, effective, prison and probation service, according to Probation union, Napo.
In a briefing for parliamentarians published today, Napo argues that the existence of NOMS undermines the ability of the Probation Service to achieve its fundamental aims of preventing reoffending and offender supervision.
Senior managers of NOMS now create policy and strategy in relation to the Probation Service. Their background and bias is exclusively in the Prison Service and they have little experience of working with offenders in the community. They are not therefore well placed to know how to introduce efficiencies and prioritise spending in the community without compromising public protection.
NOMS was first created in 2004. At that time Napo predicted that the new organisation would lead to a huge rise in bureaucracy, the disappearance of Probation as an entity and the sharp deterioration in the quality of supervision and court report writing. Sadly this has proved to be correct.
Napo believes that the NOMS’ structures must be dismantled in order to allow the Probation Service to become effective again. Probation would be far better able to achieve its objectives if a separate organisational arm was created with its own Directorate and with a clear relationship with probation trusts.
Such an arrangement could save anywhere between £200 million and £300 million by reducing bureaucracy, avoiding duplication and ending the numerous requests for data and information from the centre.
Napo argues that it is extraordinary that confidential government papers show that the amount of time probation staff spend in direct contact with offenders, either in person or on the phone, is a mere 24%. The rest of the time is spent in front of computers, form filling or in meetings.
Staff in both the Prison and Probation Services perform difficult and demanding roles but these responsibilities whilst complementary are very different.
At the moment the Prison Service and the Probation Service are wedded together in what Napo views as a coerced union created on the erroneous basis that the two organisations perform the same task. The project was sold to Probation as a merger; in fact it has become a hostile takeover.
The relationship between the two organisations is distorted to fit a mould preconceived by one of the partners (Prisons) which lacks knowledge and appreciation of the other (Probation). As a result the relationship is dysfunctional and it tends merely to be fortuitous if Probation is enabled through imposed policy to deliver its statutory duties.
Napo has brought to the attention of officials and ministers in the last administration the continuing problems caused by the absence of a significant probation presence at the centre. The situation has not been addressed and continues to worsen.
In March 2010 NOMS created the Reducing Reoffending Policy Group. The group is headed by former Prison Service personnel who, as far as Napo is aware, have no experience of working with offenders in the community.
In May 2010 NOMS created the Probation Steering Group. The aim of this group was supposed to be to address the imbalance between Prisons and Probation. Napo argues that it is ironic that it has taken two years for this group to be formed. However there was no consultation with the relevant trade unions and no union presence on the group. Napo therefore views this as a tokenistic initiative with no trade union input.
Whenever a position in NOMS becomes vacant management turns to the Ministry of Justice ‘surplus list’ to fill it. The ‘surplus list’ is made up of staff from prisons and regional offices, whose posts are being dispensed with. Probation staff are described as ‘external’ and are not eligible to apply for any vacancies. The Probation presence therefore diminishes even further.
Out of 4,000 staff nominally working in NOMS and the regions less than 100 have a Probation background.
Harry Fletcher, Assistant General Secretary of Napo, said:
‘The relationship between prisons and prisoners and prison management and its staff is based on command, control and instruction. In contrast the relationship between the Probation Service and offenders and probation management and its staff is based on negotiation and problem resolution. The two approaches are totally distinct and impossible to reconcile. NOMS set-up therefore was flawed from the beginning’.
‘The last two years in the merged organisation has been disastrous for Probation and its role and presence has been further eroded as each week has passed. The case for the creation of a separate operational arm for both Prisons and Probation each with its own Director is now overwhelming. Such a change would have two beneficial results - it would cost less and it would improve outcomes in terms of less reoffending and fewer victims’.