Saturday, 10 August 2013

Not Probation As I know It!

Groucho Marx once famously said 'I wouldn't want to join any club that would have me as a member'. Joe Kuipers has decided to share the contents of an MoJ 'open briefing' from 17th July and I can categorically say I don't think I'd want to be a member of this club. It doesn't look or sound like probation as I know it. What do others think?  

 Role of the New Public Sector Probation Service

The core functions of the new public sector probation service are to:

·        Case manage and supervise those offenders who are:
-   assessed at the outset as requiring management under MAPPA arrangements;
-   not managed under MAPPA but nevertheless assessed at the outset as posing a high risk of serious harm to the public;
-   assessed at the outset as requiring management under MAPPA or posing a high risk of serious harm, but in which cases risk subsequently is assessed as decreasing.
-   (in exceptional circumstances) not managed under MAPPA and do not pose a high risk of serious harm to the public, but in whose cases there is an exceptional public interest in management being retained in the public sector (eg. SOCA, very high profile cases about which there is considerable public concern); or
-   transferred back to the public sector due to risk escalation (see below).
  • Carry out an initial case allocation assessment of all cases and provide advice to court on sentencing in all cases.  It will also continue to advise the parole board on release decisions.
  • Decide on action in relation to all potential breaches (based on breach information packs prepared by contracted providers as necessary), and will advise the courts or Secretary of State on sanctions or recall to custody.
  • Respond to requests for advice, within clearly defined parameters, from contracted providers on potential escalation of risk, and will be the ultimate decision-maker on action to be taken as a result of risk escalation (including future case management responsibilities with respect to management of risk of harm to the public).
  • Undertake the statutory victim liaison role for all cases to which it applies (offenders sentenced to over 12 months for a violent or sexual offence).  The public probation service will also, at least initially, retain responsibility for those Approved Premises it currently manages.

Given this new, much more specialised function for the public sector, the service is being designed to be a genuinely new organisation, which will deliver the necessary tight focus on the exercise of public interest decisions and issues of public protection. It is also imperative that the new service is structured in a way which enables these functions to be effectively delivered in an efficient manner, delivering the savings required of it both to help meet MoJ’s SR commitments.

Design principles

The following form the key design principles which the design of the new public sector probation service will aim to achieve. The rationale for each of these is set out in more detail below.

Principle 1: The new public sector probation service will be structured to allow for best alignment with existing local delivery and partnership structures
This means that:
·        The basic building block of the public sector structure will be the Local Delivery Unit, based on Local Authority boundaries.
·        The structure will align LDUs within Police force and PCC boundaries.

Principle 2: The new public sector probation service will be structured in a way that allows for best alignment with contracted provider delivery arrangements
This means that:
·        The structure will need to flex to provide direct operational linkage with de facto provider boundaries.

Principle 3: The new public sector probation service will be structured in a way that enables the efficient delivery of services based on a zero base budget:
This means that:
·        Rehabilitative interventions to high risk of harm offenders will be commissioned through the public sector.
·        Spans of control will be reviewed and reconfigured to provide the best fit between operational effectiveness and efficiency.

Principle 4: There will be clear levels of accountability and responsibility throughout the organisation, with appropriate management resource focused at each level.
This means that:
·        There will be four delivery levels: front line operations, LDU cluster management, the Division, and a national Directorate.
·        Spans of control at each of these levels will be designed to provide the best fit between effectiveness and efficiency.

Detailed design: Operational structure

The first key design principle guiding the operational structure of the public sector probation service is the need to work closely with existing local partners, and align to these existing structures wherever possible.

At a strategic level, meeting the needs of communities is important in the proper targeting of activity and in order to support public confidence in the system. Local Authorities and the Police and Crime Commissioners have elected authority to represent communities and the public sector structure should reflect this by ensuring that all elected level bodies have named senior probation staff with which they do business. Additionally, the role of the probation services in making public interest decisions is linked closely to the responsibilities of the courts and the Parole Board, and the delivery of supervision of high risk of harm offenders is linked closely to the work of the Police. The public sector structure needs to reflect these interdependencies by aligning with court and police boundaries wherever possible.

In outline, this means the there will be approximately 150 local units within the structure (to allow appropriate alignment with local authority areas, and ‘map up’ to larger local partnership arrangements). At that level public sector staff will service all courts with advice on sentencing based on an assessment of risk of harm and risk of reoffending. The units will undertake case management and supervision of those offenders falling within the public sector caseload, resource the reassessment of cases referred to them by the contracted providers, and ensure that public sector local adult and child safeguarding responsibilities are discharged.

The second key principle guiding the operational design is the need to deliver an efficient service which has appropriate spans of management responsibility. The new and much reduced size of the public sector caseload will mean that, in many cases, the 150 local units are too small to warrant a dedicated senior manager. More senior staff will be deployed across LDUs in “clusters.” However, each Local Authority will have a named senior manager allocated as the contact point. At senior level, the structure will align with the 42 Police Force boundaries and each Chief Constable and Police and Crime Commissioner will have a named senior manager as their point of contact. At this level the public sector will ensure that MAPPA responsibilities are discharged and MAPPA panels are properly managed.

It looks and sounds like a crock of shite to me - but am I just fed up with it all?! 


  1. Designed by a bunch of plums with no idea about probation.

    No you are right.

  2. For well qualified, highly skilled staff working with a range of risk levels and needs - this model does NOT look attractive!
    Call centre principles will be used to "Respond to requests for advice, within clearly defined parameters" and so I pity any staff who have that duty!

    Imagine the scenario where contractors with no wish to lose their precious money making client provide minimal information to the duty retained officer - pushed and stretched as they undoubtedly will be - they will have to tease out all the issues over the phone and make a clear decision in a short time.... And when things do not turn out as planned , who will take the responsibility (blame) Yes, you guess right the retained officer!
    Supervision sessions will be spent reviewing telephone manner,decision making skills and time management(too long talking)!
    In the past there has always been a "clear line of sight" from client to responsible minister - these proposals will make that path incredibly difficult to follow.

    1. I would not be willing to undertake any full assessment on any client without speaking with a client's family and visiting their home or at least attempting so to do and neither would I be prepared to determine whether a re-categorisation or recall should be recommended unless such enquiries had been made by a qualified and/or sufficiently experienced probation officer or social worker.

      We deal with issues of life and liberty here.

    2. Similar thoughts on the so-called 'clear parameters'. This places the responsibility for risk in the public sector for every person under supervison, every single one. I note that those who do not present a risk but may arouse 'exceptional public interest' will be managed by public probation. These will include the future Jeffery Archers and other celebrities. I think the reason for this is a back-handed compliment to the public sector and what's left of it professional ethic. You could not trust the private sector and its zero-contracted staff with such information – it would go to the highest bidder.

    3. It's not a compliment. It's a clear demonstration of the lack of faith that the government have with regard to the private sector.
      As you say, they're not trusted with the important bits.

  3. What a waste of public funds and time. what an act of social vandalism to damage the service in this way. The blinkered focus on MAPPA misses the fundamental point of how quickly risk can escalate within the low to medium group. In this brave new world, when mud is inevitably thrown at the 'public probation service' for those who commit SFOs under 'supervision' hopefully responsible media will dig for the truth but of cores by then it will be too late.

  4. I'm confused - the LDU's will supervise and manage all the HR cases or those with whom the private sector, cannot be trusted....and are to work with existing local partners'. Now then, I currently have a caseload bursting at the seams with HR cases, a large number in the community and to be honest, with the exception of some very good housing support services, I cannot name any other, non probation service worker involved in any of them; why? because these clients don't generally have alcohol/drug, money or homelessness problems and when they have, most 'other' services won't touch them with a barge pole. Oh and this deference to Mappa rather over estimates their usefulness, as many PO's will recognise that cosy relationship between risk averse chairs and even more risk averse police officers. Unfortunately, I have had my fair share of SFO's and have been criticised for not standing my ground with a few cases, as Mappa did not consider them to have been HR and in need of Mappa management.................when it was my professional opinion, that they did. Then there is the other extreme, someone commits a heinous offence in 1960 and mappa are too frigthened to support a progressive move to a Cat D jail, and why, because if they escaped and reoffended, Inspector Bob says, "how could I sleep at night"? Whether colleagues can sleep at night never has and never should be a risk assessment factor.

    1. I think Mappa's value gets too elevated at times - it is characterised by instinctual risk averse behaviour rather than calm and dispassionate assessments. Mappa is offence-led, so it's more of an exercise in risk classification than risk management. And I think the classification system dulls professional senses and leads to complacency. I think it creates a tendency to see too much risky behaviour in the high risk groups and too little in the low and medium groups, which is where, as we know, the bulk of the SFO's come from.

  5. The government, private sector and charities paint a simplistic view of the work probation do. However, the more questions are asked the more you think ... wait a second what about this risk or this problem, how in the hell will that work. Its all well and good being fluffy about reducing re-offending however as people who work in probation know, things escualate quickly and get pretty scary fast. How will these organisations have the capacity to cope when the S*** hits the fan?

    1. This comment hits the nail on the head - in all the talk of relentlessly focussing on cutting re-offending, there has been no mention of what the work actually involves. Grayling seems to believe that cuddly mentoring and support is enough, and no doubt those bidding believe they can do that in large groups or by providing 'advice lines' for clients to call. I get the impression that someone at NOMS has looked at the tiering guidance and thought, "right, 'punish', 'help' and 'change' - that all sounds pretty easy, just need to have some specialists doing the 'control' bit." No idea that you often need to do all four with everyone!

      I suspect the public sector service will rapidly get filled up with DV and child protection cases when the CRCs can't cope, and designate them as 'high risk'

  6. I endorse everything above. Just one question-what exactly does principle 3 ..."enable the efficient delivery of services based on a zero based budget".....mean?

    1. I think it means a lot more work for a lot less pay all done in super shite condition!
      I hope I'm wrong.

  7. It means you get zero money to work with, so government expects a services to be run on magic beans. on zero hours.

  8. This has been coming ever since the '91 CJAct - taking control of the Probation Service was always back door for politicians who wanted to tinker with the judicial system. They were especially irritated by what they felt were the liberal leanings of the judiciary. So why not get inside the system then scare the living hell out of everyone with the notion of risk and public protection? How many acts and reforms around the CJ system have taken place post-1991? How many of those reforms have been predicated on RISK and other scary shit? Concurrent to this was the meteoric rise of career politicians and their willing activists, the evangelical well-heeled (and well connected) zealots with a blinkered and unshakeable belief that whatever they do is right; that there will always have to be some kind of collateral damage but hey, that's how it has to be - as long as its not me or my chums, but I'll sacrifice one or two of them if necessary. "THEY'RE HERE".

  9. Well said, Anonymous at 00.16 on 11th August, now what?

    The question is to us all, complaining and predicting gloom is pointless - we need a plan and folk committed to action, and a leadership group.

  10. All together now..........."they don't know what their doing"!!

  11. To tolkny and friends from anon @ 00:16: it saddens me to say I don't know what's next. I haven't the ego to pretend I can change anything, nor the resources or the energy. During many many years of probation & related work I was sent to stand outside the headmaster's room (hands on head) on several occasions by high-flying, ill-mannered dedicated followers of fashion - those whose "values" could be measured with a barometer, whose loyalties were aligned to altitude as they ascended to NOMSland. That will now probably include a non-executive all-expenses-paid seat on the board of Newco.

    This blog is proving a valuable source of discussion - its been encouraging to read the varied observations and the responses.

    1. I really do sense this is the end of the road for 'probation' as we know it. It won't stop me trying to prevent the omnishambles progression, but I do get the unmistakable sense that collectively we're cataloging the end of a great profession. I guess that in itself is a worthwhile exercise and might help colleagues sort out their own individual responses.

    2. "There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is Neil will be taking over both branches and some of you will lose your jobs…

      On a more positive note the good news is I’ve been promoted - so every cloud… you’re still thinking about the bad news aren’t you?"

      David Brent eat your heart out :)

  12. A recent article in the news section of 'Civil', a charity sector newspaper outlines a recent think-tanks observations. It concludes that the model of PbR proposed by Grayling can only work if reoffending increases, otherewise it's impossible to achieve targets.
    If probation goes, and the new model is found wanting (and it will very quickly) what then?
    Instead of the government just saying "of course it will work", shouldn't they have an obligation to outline what safety nets are in place if all doesn't go to plan?
    It's a completly untested process, and as such nothing more then experimental.
    It's public safety Mr. Grayling, and it's time you answered the 'what if' question.
    Perhaps thats a question that hasn't been pushed hard enough to date.

  13. I am sure the 'what if' questions haven't been 'pushed' hard enough OR expressed loudly enough for many not already 'in the know' to realise just how much the safety of the public ESPECIALLY some prospective victims of crime is being risked for political ideology, commercial profits and expediency.

  14. I think a lot of the problem is that those 'in the know' form too small a group, and for me public awareness on the TR agenda is a big issue.
    Although theres been plenty of coverage in the media, I feel it's been presented in a fashion that focuses on those in the know and those with specific interests within the criminal justice system. Media focus in my opinion has not sought to embrace 'average joe' into the debate.
    However, I feel 'average joe' who gets about daily life with no connection or real interested in the CJ system will be effectet by TR, and more effort could be made to embrace him into the debate.
    The bin men are on strike, it's a serious public issue because rubbish piles up. The public are intetested in the issue.
    Royal mail are on strike, its a serious public issue because no-one gets their mail. The public get interested in the issue.
    Council tax increases, it's a public issue because 'joe average' has to pay more out of his hard earned wage. The public get interested in the issue.
    The TR agenda? Another sly way for the government to line their own pockets, but it wont impact on me. No great public interest in the issue. Or at least of far less interest to 'joe average' then his bins, mail and council tax.
    For me the public need to be made aware of the inpact TR may have on the average person, and unfortunately, the media with it's politicial bias, and selective approach to inform those in the know, will only push the message to 'joe average' when it feels ok to sensationalise aspects.
    Thats way I feel the what if question needs to be hammered right now. Those of us in the know are very aware of the consequences of what if, but 'joe average' needs to be sitting there discussing the what if question over his pint in the evening.

  15. But what exactly WILL be the impact on Joe Average 'cos I'm struggling to think of any, really. By and large Joe doesn't concern himself with cjs matters unless s/he finds him/herself being processed thru the system, and then it matters. Community penalties involving unpaid work/community service (whatever you call it) have always been portrayed in the press as a soft option, so apart from a clamouring for more/longer prison terms when it all goes belly up, as a solution to everything, I think Joe will remain untouched. Joe is hardly going to advocate a return to the current (or even an earlier) system if he doesn't grasp what that is, and how it came to be. The net result could be an even stronger drift towards a more punitive system, in the inevitable backlash.
    So I'm with Tolkny on this one (10th Aug 10:13)-this is about far more than just process and who does what, and whether we are being robbed of our jobs-it is fundamentally about issues of justice and liberty and abiding by first principles.It's a moral issue and all those currently participating in the dismantling of the Probation Service, from local to national level should be hanging their heads in shame.

  16. I think the impact on average Joe will be apparent when the privateers shortcomings re SFO's go public. When private companies fiddle the books (charging for deceased clients etc. ) at cost to the taxpayer. How privateers will not cope with the complex issues that many offenders present... re-offending will increase. Average Joe will not necessarily feel the impacts directly but he/she will feel a lot less secure at night. It will reinforce the current general feeling that privatisation of energy, trains,education, NHS etc is not such a good idea. It'll just need someone to put it all back right. Even if it means breaking 10 year contracts.

  17. Speaking as 'joe average', I quite often read about how the new proposed changes to probation will result in increased risk to the public. If that indeed is likely to be the case then these changes can have some impact on me, and as a result want to be best informed about them and put my pennies worth in.
    On the other hand if the real issue is about job losses and ideological arguements of justice and liberty, then as 'average joe' the arguement doesn't concern me at all. But if the latter is the case, why is the increased risk to the public so often mentioned?
    I happen to believe (and I say it only for debate), these changes create a variety of issues for different people, and as such streatch across a broad section of society.
    I am pro save probation, but I honestly believe the battle can't and won't be won by any singular or exclusive group. Thats why I feel if public protection is one of the issues of the arguements then that public need to be made aware of what those risks are, and maybe their opinions and response may aid probations cause.

    1. Your comment gets to the nub of things I think. Risk to the public is not the main issue, nor is it job losses or worse terms and conditions. So is it ideology? I think it is - it's about what is right.

      Introducing any element of monetary transaction where vulnerable and damaged individuals are concerned is basically morally wrong in my eyes. We need a public service that is properly trained and resourced to try and tackle some of the most intractable problems in our society.

      Probation works wonders and it could do so much more if the politicians get off our backs and let us get on with trying to repair all the negative effects of their numerous but failed social policies.

    2. Fully agree Jim. My point I think is that as a public service dealing with some of the most intractable problems in society, society needs to be made more aware of your current plight. If a great service for the benifit of society is under threat, then society needs to be aware of the consequences of loosing that service, and should be given the oppertunity to rally to that cause if they feel a desire to do so.
      But they can't if they're not made fully aware.

    3. Thanks - we'll try and do our very best to inform people and get the government to stop this omnishambles before it's too late.