Thursday 28 August 2014

Playing Tag, or: the outsourcing of justice begins, in Broken Barnet

Victorian values: the tagging of offenders

Mrs Angry, like all good citizen journalists, retains a large folder of unfinished posts; posts unfinished for a number of reasons - indolence, indifference, lack of evidence, leads that lead nowhere, unpublishable tales(boy, you should see some of those) - and quite a few half investigated stories, left on a shelf  to ripen in the half light and temperate atmosphere of her blogging storecupboard.

Here, then, is one of those stories, lifted off the shelf, all shiny and red, ready to be baked into a pie, for your delectation, dear reader: a curious tale, a complex fusion of crime and punishment, charity and enterprise, public sector, and - ah - private sector. 

Yes: this is still Broken Barnet, and we have not yet explored all there is to explore, within the boundaries of our brave new world of Tory ideology, and social engineering, and the encouragement of the wholescale privatisation of public services ...

Let's talk about crime and punishment. This is an issue which Barnet Tories know preoccupies the thoughts of concerns of many of their own voters, whose perception, accurate or not, is that they are increasingly beseiged by high levels of criminal behaviour, and anti-social behaviour.

In fact in Barnet, we are fortunate enough to have relatively low levels of crime, and this happy circumstance is one of the nicer things about our borough. But nice things don't win elections, and politicians like to be seen as being tough on crime, even if it doesn't exist. And even if the tough attitude they adopt is not exactly the most effective way of doing things.

Earlier this year,  Mrs Angry's attention was brought to the publication of a rather unusual document published on the council website, a decision under delegated powers approved by a senior Barnet officer Pam Wharfe, who was, for one brief shining moment in her interesting career, Director of Plaice, but has had her chips, and been redesignated as 'Strategic Director for Growth and Environment'.

Ms Wharfe, you may recall, was formerly Brian Coleman's helpmeet, in the olden days, when he still had a political career, and was Cabinet Member in charge of Environment. (Just here in Broken Barnet, that is, not in charge of the environment, thankfully, or by now we would be living in a nuclear wasteland, marked only by the blasted frames of dead trees and a deserted landscape of rusting cars).

This document, published in February, related to a proposal given the blessing of our councillors on a safer communities committee last autumn, to instigate a pilot scheme in Barnet in which known offenders - volunteers - would be asked to allow themselves to be electronically tagged.

Not a bad idea, you might think, the tagging of criminals. Hmm. Well, read on.



Provision of a pilot project to voluntarily tag offenders using ICYou Ankle Tag devices, charging units, software and technical support by CareWhere Ltd 

Officer taking decision Pam Wharfe, Strategic Director Growth and Environment 

Date of decision 24 th February 2014 


Authorisation to procure and Acceptance of an offer from CareWhere Ltd as a single source supplier for the provision of a two year pilot project providing reward ankle tagging, charging devices, software, and technical support products. 

So: this is an electronic tagging scheme, a voluntary scheme, to be offered to some offenders, and only used if they want to take part. But rather than put a contract out to tender, we are awarding it to a single supplier.

As the person who alerted Mrs Angry to this document suggested, he half expected to see the project was being run by MetPro, but in fact it is being promoted by a charitable body called The Hadley Trust.  

According to the claims accompanying the delegated decision:

Reducing re-offending achieves a reduction in crime, fewer victims, and a reduction in the costs related to bringing offenders to justice . The top 200 repeat offenders in Barnet account for 2.9% of the total individuals arrested (1196 arrests in the last two years)

Mrs Angry of course is not the world's greatest statistician (second best, possibly) but it seems to her that if the top 200 repeat offenders constitute only 2.9 % of arrests, that might suggest a disastrous failure in policing, if the argument is that somehow the guilty parties are getting away with it so easily. Perhaps the answer lies in the level of police officers, and the method of policing, rather than the lack of electronic monitoring?

And - what exactly is the point of tagging people voluntarily?

Tagging schemes - especially compulsory ones - may well be useful in the case of monitoring sex offenders, or where the individual has committed other serious crimes that present a risk to the safety of others, but for crime on a less serious level, where is the evidence that any scheme can reduce the number of offences, let alone a voluntary scheme?

Clearly any so called 'career criminal' or repeat offender is unlikely to want to take part in any such project: if this is an entirely voluntary pilot scheme, even more unlikely.

And there are other considerations. Who is going to monitor this scheme? The document suggests the police will be doing so. 

Do our police have the time, staffing and resources to do this? That would seem highly doubtful. Especially in what would seem to be a scheme that offers poor return for the investment of such resources.

Without proof of any real cost effectiveness in terms of the expense of this scheme, where is the benefit? Why is it being promoted, and why here, in Barnet? 

Tagging pilot scheme (non voluntary) in Tasmania

Mrs Angry asked some of her police contacts about the scheme. At the time of the proposal, only one officer had heard vaguely about it, and their comments suggested they had no idea why it was being introduced, or how it would operate. Of course, as we shall see, senior officers on a national basis appear to be rather keen on promoting the idea of a rolled out programme of electronic monitoring.

So: how will it operate, this pilot scheme here in Broken Barnet?  

Erm, well, not very well, by the sounds of it. Back to the report:

Human Rights implications – The individuals wearing a tag will be tracked through the software supporting the tags. This could be seen to amount to a significant intrusion into the private lives of those wearing a tag. 

While it is proportionate to check whether those with a propensity to offend were at the scene of a crime and then to locate them if they were it probably is not proportionate routinely to investigate everywhere they have been. 

Measures will be put in place and set out in an agreement between the Council and the Metropolitan Police to ensure that: 

• The offenders’ movement would not be tracked as a matter of course but would only be compared in instances of crime.

The police, it seems, will only look at what the offenders wearing the tags have been up to if a crime has taken place that they think might have been by one of their volunteers. Bit pointless unless we are dealing with a load of incredibly stupid criminals who want to be caught, in other words.

There may seem to be no human rights implications at this stage of the proposal, simply because the intended participants, if they find any, will be doing so voluntarily. 

Voluntary participation, in Mrs Angry's view, does not necessarily demonstrate that the individual  is engaging on the basis of properly informed consent. And in the future there is a real risk, if these pilot schemes are adopted on a more formal and widespread basis, that the line between voluntary and compulsory involvement will blur, and slowly disappear. What are the implications for human rights, then? 

So what is the Hadley Trust, and why are they asking Barnet to run this pilot project? And yes, they are asking, because Mrs Angry checked with Tory Cabinet member David Longstaff. 

The initiative does not come from the council. 

The Hadley Trust is a charitable body, registered at a local address in Hadley Green. 

Its objectives are primarily, we are told, to create opportunities for people who are disadvantaged. 

Perhaps taking part in a voluntary tagging project is an opportunity for the disadvantaged, or perhaps it is not. 

Who knows? 

To be fair, it may be that an individual wanting to turn his or her back on a lifestyle of offending, may feel that the monitoring of their location is in some way helpful to such an ambition. But there does not appear to be anything like an adequate level of data to support such a supposition, and the interpretation of the data which is available is less than convincing. And are there not better ways of supporting those who want to get their lives back on track, such as ... a professional probation service, such as we are about to see disappear?

Such pilot schemes, on the other hand, do provide an opportunity for those whose interests are served by the adoption of such schemes by government, local or central, as we shall see later.

As the Barnet delegated powers report explains, this organisation was founded by IT entrepreneur Philip Hulme, who is, we are told, 

... interested in the part technology can play in improving criminal justice procedures. Over the next three years he would like to fund in different locations, three pilots where tags are offered to a cohort of 50 offenders in each location to test the theory that they help with rehabilitation and desistance. 

Mr Hulme is of course the co-founder of Computacenter, one of the leading IT companies in the UK,  a man of some considerable worth: and also clearly with a strong interest in social issues - particularly the challenges of the criminal justice system.

As we see from this data released for the purposes of 'transparency' by the Cabinet Office, in July Francis Maude met Philip Hulme in an 'introductory meeting', and in his capacity as the representative of the Hadley Trust. Clearly his charitable work and support for influential thinktanks like Policy Exchange is well established, and he is the sort of person you might expect government to consult when forming policy, and engaging in a process of consultation.

Computacenter, incidentally, as we see here, was awarded a £350 million contract with the Foreign Office, in December last year, and indeed, as this article in Computer Weekly tells us, since 2012 has been part of the government's public sector network (PSN), a central hub from which would be clients from the public sector can go to for their communications needs, the idea being that a common framework can provide savings and efficiencies, and make the process of procurement simpler.

As we learn from the CIO article:

Georgina O’Toole, director at analyst house TechMarketView, expects that Computacenter will want to take advantage of the opportunity to use the framework to reach out to other departments in Whitehall.

“Computacenter will be keen to expand this deal, particularly as it transpires the company recently made the decision not to bid for the Ministry of Justice’s revised end-user computing tower,” said O’Toole.

“We expect to see more of Computacenter in central government going forwards, as it takes advantage of the opportunities forthcoming due to the desire to move away from the large infrastructure services players.”

She added: “But as the Ministry of Justice decision shows, the company continues to carefully qualify every potential deal.”

In order to test this theory in Barnet, the Trust is insisting we use a particular supplier of tags: Carewhere Ltd. No tenders allowed.
There is of course no suggestion whatsoever that Computacenter has plans to engage in any commercial provision of electronic monitoring, and clearly the interest in pilot schemes of this nature by the Hadley Trust charity is entirely separate, driven by political and ideological motivation. Computacenter will not be touting for any national tagging contract in the future, but you can bet one of the big outsourcing companies will be.

There are questions that must be asked, however, about why such schemes are being launched, with such limited benefit to stakeholders, not to mention the wider community - and what exactly is the role of a charitable body in the piloting of such projects, at a time when a huge expansion of this type of monitoring is being suggested? It is reasonable to ask if there a risk of at least the perception of a conflict of interest in the activities of the charity, in this context.

CareWhere Ltd is a very small company, with a registered address in Berkhamsted, and rather oddly, this business appears to deal only with the tracking of vulnerable people: elderly people with Alzheimers, or those with special needs. 

There is no mention on their site of offender tagging. Very mysterious. Why would you use a company with no experience of this highly specialized activity to run a scheme involving criminals? Why not use one of the established providers of such services? And why insist on the use of this tiny company, as the dealbreaking basis of your generous offer to the council?

Mrs Angry's outsourced national network of spies is widespread, and all seeing, of course, and she sent one of her many operatives to inspect this company's registered offices. (This operative has now been sacked, for failing, as requested, to look through the letter box, and take notes, sending instead a not very good photo of the address, with a random old man walking by, taken from a safe distance, but this gives you an idea of what a low key and discreet venture this is - and with no company details on the building ...)

The tagging of offenders, of course, is a lucrative market, and as we shall see, one that is likely to flourish in the future.

As a publication by the UKJPR - UK Justice Policy Review (supported by the Hadley Trust) - tells us:

G4S and Serco, the two companies accused of overcharging on electronic monitoring contracts, were paid nearly £600 million by the National Offender Management Service (Noms) for prison and probation-related work between May 2010 and October 2012: some 40 per cent of the £1.5 billion spent by Noms during this period. The figure, taken from page 25 of UKJPR 3, illustrates very clearly the way in which these two companies dominate the marketplace. 

The companies who overcharged were of course replaced by a new interim contractor. Can you remember who that was? And who got a nice share of the subsequent handout of contracts?

Yes, Capita. All roads lead, in Broken Barnet, anyway, to Capita, don't they?

But of course Capita is not the only outsourcing provider interested in what is clearly a whole new market of opportunity, as our Coalition government's insatiable drive for more and more humiliating forms of punishment of offenders seeks headline grabbing ways of correcting the aberrant behaviour of the feckless poor, and at the same time, as it is doing with the NHS and every other fundamental part of our public services, provide a wealth of profit for private enterprise.

Mrs Angry asked Councillor Longstaff if the tagging scheme was a commercial pilot. He did not respond to that point. He probably did not know. And of course the Hadley Trust is a charitable concern, so would not engage in any pilot scheme that had any financialmotivation.

We are left with the likeliness that its appeal to Barnet is that it fits perfectly their unwritten agenda, the real agenda that underpins every last shabby policy decision they now make, in order to accommodate their half baked world view

Fast forward to the end of summer, then, and harvest time in the world of bloggery: sitting on Mrs Angry's shelf is her own half baked pie, a post on the tagging pilot scheme - and oh, what do we have here? 

Arrested in Finchley, after escaping his non virtual tagging: Highwayman Jack Shepherd:

Look: a fascinating  post on last Friday by Howard League's Chief Executive, Frances Crook and Professor Mike Nellis:

Comment: Secret plans to GPS tag 75,000 people show privatisation is out of control

We understand the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been planning to put 75,000 men and women on GPS tracking under new outsourcing contracts. It is currently unclear who these people will be, why they would be tagged and how much it will cost.

This is an ideological use of justice money. Planning to place them on GPS tracking represents a sea change in the way we supervise people in the community.  It's a crazy, unworkable plan, but even to come up with it suggests something transformational is going on in criminal justice - especially as it coincides with the untested and risky privatisation of the probation service.

The plan needs far more open discussion than it has had and the MoJ should have been much more honest about the projected numbers, the time scale and the people who will be targeted. The GPS tracking scheme will start in 2015, yet the plan has, in effect, been secret.

How was the figure of 75,000 arrived at? Does it include prisoners released on temporary licence? It seems to - but how many? Release on temporary licence mostly works well as it is. Only a few prisoners might warrant GPS. Is there any serious penal basis for it? Or is the figure market-driven - a minimum or optimum number necessary to persuade potential contractors to submit a tender?
There are a limited number of useful  ways in which GPS tracking could be used - none of which get anywhere near a figure of 75,000. France, the Netherlands and Germany all use GPS tracking on some high risk sexual and violent offenders, but mostly we are talking low hundreds - and often less than a 100.

Some police forces have experimented with the use of GPS tracking on a voluntary basis with "persistent and priority offenders" but the numbers are very small and the tracking is part of a holistic package that includes housing and intensive personal support.

These projects are working with people who want to desist from crime and the tracking is a positive way that they can prove their commitment to it. Their tracks show whether or not they are at crime scenes. These voluntary schemes aimed at helping people out of a life of crime are the opposite of the government's new plan to place tens of thousands of people under surveillance in order to boost the profits of the private security companies.
The numbers being proposed are baffling and it looks like the MoJ itself is, yet again, in a muddle. Last week, the MoJ confirmed the figure of 75,000 people on GPS, then it backtracked and showered a senior financial journalist investigating the story with other figures to explain its 'plan'. The MoJ appears to be confused and it is impossible to get a coherent explanation. Probably it has gone into overdrive to kill the story.

The MoJ is being very secretive about GPS and doesn't want to let anyone know what its plans are. Those plans may well be a mess rather than a conspiracy. Seventy-five-thousand per day was never a plausible or realistic goal, even though that is what they asked would-be contractors to aspire to in 2012. It's possible the ministry has realised that now.

But whichever explanation turns out to be true, the secrecy surrounding the transformation of the justice system is unacceptable.

Update 22/08/2014: Justice minister Andrew Selous said: "These new contracts will allow us to introduce some of the most advanced electronic monitoring technology in the world and we expect them to deliver average annual savings of £20 million. Satellite tagging will allow us to keep a much closer watch on the most high-risk and persistent offenders who cause so much harm in our communities, creating a safer society with fewer victims."

The MoJ said the 75,000 figure related to the possible number of new users per year and was an upper estimate.

An ideological use of justice money: a 'secret plan' that 'coincides with the untested and risky privatisation of the probation service, and a reference to 'the role of a rightwing
think tank, Policy Exchange, in promoting the view that the GPS-based tracking of
offenders’ movements is an intrinsically superior form of ‘electronic monitoring’ that
should fully replace the discredited but still prevailing radio frequency EM ...'

Ah yes: here we are, then. The political motivation, a tenet of faith - the Tories' holy war on the principle of public service, owned by the nation, for the nation, to be replaced by the inflexible rule of market values, and death to the infidel who dares ask why.

Why, though? Is there really any evidence to support a large scale adoption of tagging, or electronic monitoring? Are these pilot schemes being used to soften up the approach to an even more intrusive surveillance of offenders: or even potential offenders?

In his paper for the European Journal of Probation, Professor Nellis seems to think no, the evidence is not there, and yes, there is a hidden strategy behind these pilot schemes, and questions why senior police officers are keen to back what he refers to as the 'relentlessly neoliberal agenda' of the Coalition government, 'driven far more by financial imperatives and technological preferences than anything that makes proper penal sense'.

The reference to Policy Exchange is also interesting: the Hadley Trust has in the past given financial support to them, as we see, for example, in a publication from 2009, 'Lasting Change or Passing Fad - Problem Solving Justice in England and Wales', in which the Trust's funding is acknowledged, and also the participation of Philip Hulme, and - oh, a certain Chris Huhne, who has of course since then enjoyed a rather more personal experience of the justice system than he might have wished, as an offender, and, goodness me, even undergone the humiliation of being tagged on release from prison.

The proposal to attempt a pilot scheme for voluntary tagging in Barnet was brought to a meeting of the authority's Safer Communities Partnership Board on 25th October last year. 

How very peculiar.  Item 7, according to the minutes of the meeting, concerned a matter described as the Interserve Pilot Proposal  PDF 108 KB

Oh: but we read next -Mrs Angry's comments in red:

Members were asked to note that the item was not the Interserve Pilot but the GPS tagging scheme provided by the Hadley Trust.

How odd. Why then was the Interserve Pilot Report, compiled for Lambeth Council by one Chris Miller, and directly referring to the Hadley Trust, supplied to Barnet councillors for this meeting, in relation to this proposal? 

The report does not say so, but presumably this is by the same Chris Miller who was formerly the Assistant Chief Constable in Hertfordshire, and has written in the
Spectator about what he sees as the failure of the Ministry of Justice to keep up with  developments in tagging, and oh, for Policy Exchange, in a foreword excitingly headed 'The Future of Corrections'

Interesting man, Mr Miller: a cop with a degree in classics from Trinity College Cambridge? Shades of Inspector Morse - although hard to imagine dear old Morse being enthusiastic about electronic monitoring, isn't it?This report, in fact, is a cracker, and rather more revealing than the precis contained in Ms Wharfe's report. Take a look. The arguments deployed for using volunteers to take part in these schemes are - well, bizarre. Mr Miller suggests they will welcome the opportunity, saying it is 'akin to voluntary stomach stapling for a compulsive eater', or 'a mum and dad on the leg'. 

It is unclear, in fact, as to the extent of the monitoring and - hello, here is Professor Nellis being roped in: Evaluation The Centre for Justice Innovation and Professor Mike Nellis (of Strathclyde University and an expert on electronic monitoring in criminal justice) are keen to assist with the evaluation of these pilots. We have yet to agree the terms with them on this. Really? Back to the minutes of the Barnet meeting that approved the pilot scheme: 
 Detective Chief Inspector Gary Randall, Metropolitan Police, introduced the report on a pilot scheme trialling the use of tagging selected offenders with GPS trackers, on a voluntary basis.

The Hadley Trust had put together the pilot proposal and had been commissioned by Bromley, Hillingdon, Lambeth and Barnet to conduct the initial trials. The cost of the scheme to Barnet was to be reimbursed by the Hadley Trust.

Commissioned by Barnet to conduct the initial trials? Mrs Angry understands that in fact the Trust approached Barnet Council.

The Board heard how the scheme was being run in conjunction with the Choices & Consequence programme in Hertfordshire; a key aim of which was to reduce reoffending. Through individual assessment, intensive probation and deferred sentencing, selected offenders who volunteer for the programme would be supported through rehabilitation. 12 offenders had signed up to the scheme in Hertfordshire, which has been running for over three years and contributed to a year on year reduction in burglary rates. 

The Choices and Consequence programme in Hertfordshire used the 'buddi' technology referred to in Professor Nellis' paper - see above. Oh, and erm: 12 offenders? In three years?

Why has Barnet been selected as a guinea pig for the tagging pilot scheme, you may be wondering? 

Oh, come on: we are the perfect hosts, for such an event. 

 Here in our borough we have a pack of lazy Tory councillors, fully primed and ready to approve any old scheme which mentions the trigger words of crime and punishment, efficiencies, and a proposal which requires no effort by them to organise. 

But most of all, a proposal which fits their real agenda, an agenda of social engineering, social cleansing - the humiliation of the undeserving poor, the 'significant intrusion' of political control of the feckless underclass, the criminal classes, the residents of Broken Barnet for whom rights, and questions of liberty, and justice have little weight. 

They like the thought of shackled penitents, and are easily persuaded that this sort of ruthless labelling and Orwellian surveillance of those in search of forgiveness for their sins is a victory in the war against crime - and a cost cutting exercise to boot. 

Most of all, they like the thought of the outsourcing of justice, the privatision of probation: the delegation of responsibility and the creation of yet another market, in a place where there should be none. The destruction, in short of another public service, and the triumph, yet again, of greed over duty of care. 

This is where we live now: in Capitaville, a model for local government: a pilot scheme, promoted by local Tories, in order to test the possibility of significant intrusion into the concept of democracy, and local governance.

It's like Mum and Dad, on the leg, or a virtual stapling of your stomach. 

If successful, it will be adopted by the Coalition government, and rolled out on a national basis. 

If it is unsuccessful, it will be adopted by the Coalition government, and rolled out in a national basis. 

Signs are, in fact, that has already happened. 

From Easycouncil, to Broken Barnet, to Capitaville and beyond. 

Are you enjoying the journey?


Anonymous said...

Well Done Mrs A . Correct on Every Account ,this is a very ill conceived & thought out scheme . Except it ticks Every Box in the Great Asset strip of public service !! Or the carpet bagging going on ! I think that the social Engineering that has been taking place has far more to do with crime figures ! Low Wage , High Living costs , Housing costs that are out of all proportion to the minimum wage culture , spare Room tax , Top up , money Being taken away from the poorest & Given to these Big Corporations !! Hey Do you Really think the closing of all Our Local police stations is conductive with Lowering crime !!

Mrs Angry said...

I don't, Anon: I also think there is an interesting story to be found in what happens to those police stations, when they are sold ...

I recently had to report something to the police. If I had wanted to do so at a station, I would have had to get two or three buses to Colindale. Instead they now send two police officers to come out and see you, which must be a waste of their time and resources.

As for tagging, it appeals to the Tory need to impose humiliation and at least symbolic control over the feckless poor, and also offers the illusion of creating a less expensive form of probation and management of crime. And makes opportunities for the big outsourcing companies, in the future.