Monday, June 29, 2009

An expert assessment

'Risk Assessment' - a wonderful activity being carried out these days in all sorts of areas and for all manner of purposes. The general practice seems to be that experts in whatever field (and, let's face it, some of them belong in fields) gather together the facts on a particular subject, consider, and then produce an assessment before which the rest of us plebs fall on our knees to worship at the shrine of their wisdom and perspicacity.

Mind, they have to be sure they get their facts right or their finished assessment is about as much good as a chocolate fireguard.

Prison is no exception. But, while they have the general idea, they have decided to cut corners drastically so don't bother with using experts. They use trainee experts instead, who are supposed to be scrutinised by experts as they carry out their alchemy, but of course never are. Nor are there any checks to ensure that the facts are right to begin with - and one small error at the start of any assessment can have catastrophic consequences at the end. However, undaunted by this, they go ahead merrily on their assessments, ticking boxes like lunatics and telling the public what a wonderful job of rehabilitating prisoners they are doing.

This approach might help explain why they seem to be getting it wrong all the time! Not only are the reoffending levels rising, but for those who have completed such courses identified as necessary by the risk assessments, they are higher than for those who haven't.

Recently, I had a conversation with a youngish fellow who told me that he had done all of the courses and, because of that, he expected to be moved to a Category 'C' prison very soon. Once there, he would quickly get himself released, and he had his future all planned out: he would buy a bit of 'gear' (drugs) from some friends of a fellow he had met in jail, and within six months would be a millionaire.

I asked him if he had told the authorities of this plan during his assessments.

"No man! I ain't no fool! I tell them me is going to get a job and settle down with my baby mudder!"

What can I add to that?

So now we come to my own assessment. For years and years they were insisting that I needed to take part in a basic education course. I have three degrees, but it took about four years to get the assessors to actually check with education about that.

Okay, they decided to stop asking me to learn how to read and write.

Then, "We require you to take an Enhanced Thinking Skills course."

I produced certificates and essays, tracts and various writings which caused them to admit, after a few more years, that I did not require an E.T.S. course.

"We need to teach you about Victim Awareness!"

"Done it."


"Done it."

"Patterns of Offending!"

"Done it."

"Attitudes to Crime!"

"Done it."

"Excuses, Risks, etcetera etcetera."

"Done em."

"Controlling Anger and Learning to Manage it!"

Right, let us consider the last twenty-three years of simply banging my head against a brick wall with none of them listening to a word I say and yet, I have not become angry or lost the plot. Everyone says I am a calm fellow who is a calming influence on the more volatile.

I could go on, but I think my general drift is clear, or at least should be to those with more than one working brain cell. It is not apparently clear to the experts who are running the prison service. They deal with real things, like tick-boxes. Well, you know where you are with a tick in a box - you can see it, it's there, it is evidence!

Evidence of what? Evidence that there is a tick in a box, that's all. It says nothing at all about the prisoner. What can give a proper picture of a prisoner is to speak to those who know him, those who deal with him on a daily basis and who observe his behaviour. THAT'S where the real evidence comes from. However, those people are ignored and, instead, faceless individuals sit in their ivory towers, checking to see what boxes have been given a tick and, of course, making assessments.

Just think, if I could create a crystal ball, I would be invited to join them in their ivory towers and then I too could rip the arse out of the public by telling them that I could predict the future - and get a huge salary for doing so. No, wait a minute, if I could predict the future I would buy a lottery ticket! I wonder how many of the experts and assessors buy lottery tickets - and, more to the point, how many of them have actually won anything...

Oh yes, and apparently I am incapable of abstract thought. That's nice to know.

The Voice In The Wilderness

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