Thursday, 3 December 2015

Probation Institute Responds

Being responsive

This is my second blog in a series reflecting on my new role as chair of the Probation Institute. I have now been in this role for around three busy months at a time when the PI is beginning to deliver and promote its agenda to support the needs of the probation profession in all its plurality. Recently on the excellent blog ‘on probation’ a series of, at times, challenging points made by probation staff about the PI were aired. This blog will also seek to respond to some of the points made there.

Starting a new organisation with minimal financial backing in a time of austerity and massive disruption to the profession it is seeking to serve was never going to be easy. Though the concept of the Institute had been around for many years, it had failed to gain sufficient traction to get off the ground. But even as the worst excesses of transforming rehabilitation were being rolled out, the importance of such an organisation became apparent to many and the steering group composed of representatives of PA, NAPO, PCA and Unison brought the PI into existence. A stubborn and important action as no one else was doing this! It has taken time, no doubt too much time according to the blog posts, to build the agenda. It has been bedevilled by a number of understandable but in my view surmountable concerns. The blog posts identified three recurring problems – links to the MoJ and CRCs, demands on membership and not fulfilling a campaigning role.

By its very nature the PI must work in partnership with all the constituent groups, though no Board member pretends this is easy or without conflict. We remain committed to keeping our doors open to the MoJ, NOMS, NPS, CRCs and the voluntary sector. After all, these are significant employers and policy makers for probation staff and any institute has to understand that context so it can offer services to all its constituent groups. But our concept of partnership goes much wider than this and we are establishing meaningful relationships with a wide variety of organisations, including service user organisations, to ensure our work is understood, our purposes explored and out of this networks can grow. We are in no one’s pocket other than our members. I stated this in my first blog and do not intend to dwell on this further. There are no corporate memberships as questioned in one post just working partnerships. But instead of creating false battlegrounds we need to turn the discussion around about how we can more effectively do the job we set out to do.

We are accused of being silent and it is true that the PI has been busy establishing the key elements of its business and during this time communication may not have been as good as it could be. But that is not the same as doing nothing. As individuals we would comment on TR and readers will know my own contributions. But the PI’s prime agenda is the profession of probation and by definition we must have a forward looking agenda and engage with what is happening now. We are now in a much more robust position in our key areas – registration, professional frameworks, networks and as a centre for excellence. One critical blog post suggested:

‘I agree probation needs a professional body, a format for registering qualifications and professional development, a credible place for identifying and accessing research and training, and a probation focused authority to speak on behalf of probation practice. Sadly the PI in its current form is not it, and has tried to be too broad and therefore too vague.’

I cannot agree. Our journey on all these issues has made notable progress. We have pioneered a registry, against almost universal opposition, because we believe it offers an essential marker for the profession. It has not been easy to maintain this commitment and as yet it is right to point out we have not achieved a ‘proper register of licensed practitioners’. But that is the longer term goal and the infrastructure created is ready for this task. The more members take up their place in the registry, the more it becomes the default place for licensing. The challenge here is not the registry itself but the need for members to respond to its existence. We have the infrastructure, you have the bodies.

In two weeks time we launch our Professional Development Framework. The result of intensive work by a small working group backed by a larger reference group. This is a major piece of work which offers a one-stop-shop to professional and career development in a world where a plurality of providers makes career patterns uncertain and difficult to chart. 

The Framework is intended to be:
Inclusive: enabling all workers in the probation, rehabilitation and community justice field to map their career progression
Integrative: bringing together all related frameworks such as the NOMS Community Justice Learning for probation officers into the framework, or restorative justice standards for instance;
Adaptive: have the flexibility to adapt its core standards to partners training and developmental needs for all groups working in this field;
Aspirational: promoting a renewed focus on post qualifying development, an area neglected in recent years. We want to create a professional identity which sees lifelong learning as a right.
This Framework is ambitious but deliberately so as we seek to create an environment where professional growth and development cannot be ignored but is at the heart of good practice in every probation and community justice agency.

The PI has sought to engage all its members, employers and many wider groups associated with the world of probation and community justice in networks of practice and development. David Raho with many others significant in this field has spearheaded work in the difficult area of electronic monitoring and a final report is due shortly. Over the forthcoming months and years this will become a thriving part of the PI as more networks emerge and we deliver policy documents on a wide variety of practice areas. We want this to be done with members and genuinely reflect our joint aspirations for high quality practice.

Such outcome reports will enable the PI to speak with authority on practice matters. It is not up to the administration within the PI to determine that policy but to create the environment in which networks can flourish and outcomes are as considered as the work of the EM network will prove. New networks on ‘Women and Justice’ and on ‘Restorative Justice’ are just emerging. Please get involved in this vital work.

Our fourth area, some of which will spring from the professional networks discussed above is the crucial area of creating a centre of excellence. One blog post said the PI ‘enjoys more traction with academics than practitioners’. I reject this as a false dichotomy. If the PI is to do its job its membership must come from all sections of the probation and community justice world. That includes the many friends that probation has in academia who have supported probation, as I have, in its struggles and campaigns, whilst producing research which demonstrates how practice can and does work. But we must go wider than that and recognise that the profession has management amongst its numbers. There has been a criticism of those who have applied and become Fellows, yet they collectively represent from practice, management and research the great traditions of probation to which we must surely aspire. My challenge to practitioners is why not apply for fellowship and join that journey for excellence. We have a committee set up to pursue this agenda and we are talking to everyone who will listen, explaining that we can provide that repository of knowledge. The speed of this depends on engagement and ultimately on funds.

We have no secret access to funding. We ask for your support as members because we need your support as individuals to grow this agenda. If we had the resources to offer reduced memberships we would do so. But there is a challenge here to those who stand on the sidelines and criticise our drive to recruit new members. I believe strongly in my own professional development and I will pay for it to achieve personal growth and change. We have kept membership fees at a level well below that of comparable organisations. We are better with you in and being active. Click on the website now and join.

Most of the work of the PI is done by people volunteering to get involved. I have pursued professional excellence and aspirations throughout my career through Napo, through writing, through the social work council, through supporting training and development and through research. My name was mentioned in the blogs a few times with one comment saying this: ‘I respect the likes of Paul Senior and Sue Hall but they’re not doing enough if they want it to work’. I have offered to come to areas and talk about the Institute and some have taken up that offer but the offer remains on the table. This is not paid work for either of us. We are pushing as hard as we can; if you respect our contributions, please take some of the load and get involved. We do not have the monopoly on what is the right way forward but we will continue to try and not get locked into self-defeating arguments. No one knows more than I do the crushing way in which these reforms have affected probation staff and I have spoken and written on these issues many times. The Institute wants a secure profession across all agencies undertaking probation work, wherever that work is taking place. Don’t we all? Please join us in this endeavour.

Paul Senior

Editor's note - the blog post can be found here and is published on the Probation Institute website.

39 comments:

  1. I would not normally post a request for a measured, calm and considerate discussion because I feel the blog has a good track record in that regard, but of late regular readers will be aware that things have become fractious on occasion. Please think extra carefully before posting comments and lets have a good debate.

    Thanks.

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  2. Thanks Andrew - comments on different topic deleted for now - will return to another time.

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  3. Thanks are due to Paul Senior - I felt this was a genuine attempt to engage constructively with the criticisms raised (and how refreshing to have Jim's blog referenced by name and its importance acknowledged - compare that to the vague comments about "social media" by the Napo GS). I found much of it persuasive and my attitude towards the PI has softened somewhat in the last half hour or so. However, the piece is silent on what, for me, is the major failing of the PI: how can an organisation that aspires to be a centre of excellence remain silent about the abuses of the Sodexo approach? I take Paul's point that he and others may have commented on an individual basis, but why come together as a group if the collective voice is not used?

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  4. It's fairly well recognised that 70%of our time is spent on 'administrative' task, yet for 3 days out of 5 I'm working from a hub, with no access to IT equipment. I spend the other two days making telephone calls and normally an Oasys each week (either a new case or update) as well as seeing those who could not make the hub (including chasing them down to avoid breaches). Can the Pi please explain how I can deliver the same level of service when the time (and resources) I have to do my job are being impacted on by an inability, due to management and NOMS IMO, to provide us with the tools or indeed structured time to do it? I hate to sound as if I'm moaning but this is impacting on pretty much everyone in my area; basically we're just keeping our heads above water while at the same time having metaphorical weights placed on said head.

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  5. I'm sure Paul Senior is a decent chap and his intentions are well meant but he's lost the plot (in my humble view) with regarding to his association with the probation institute. When we needed an academic voice to save probation they were silent. Now that they want some money they are vocal. what a funny world we live in.

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    1. I m not sure you're right about silence of the academic voice. Paul Senior was as I recall particularly vocal in his criticism. He is consistent also.

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    2. But not as Chair of the PI.

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    3. Paul was certainly very vocal on Twitter before he became chair of the PI and I have to say I welcomed his appointment. I am not convinced that the PI are in anyone's pocket but, nevertheless, do believe that they are trying to shut the door after the horse has bolted. I agree completey that, in order to be credible, they need to engage with the MOJ, CRCs etc but, for Probation in terms of it's value and established concepts of good practice etc, these parties are part of the problem and not the solution. Whatever else it does, it makes the idea of PI membership deeply unappealing to those who these parties have compromised. Like a Labour voter joining a right wing think tank so they can 'have a voice', it feels incongruent.

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    4. Probation Officer4 December 2015 at 20:36

      I totally agree. Even if it had engaged with and supported probation first and the others (MoJ, privateers and 'Sodexo managers') after this would have been better. By instead equalling probation, probation officers and recognised probation practice with the rest it feels as if we've been brushed aside. Really big mistake by the PI as this is deeply unappealing and it now digs it's hole further by not doing enough to be appealing to the qualified professionals (NPS and CRC). I don't see why anyone would want to join this organisation which mostly fails to recognise and benefit the professionals.

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  6. Very impressive that the Probation Institute have responded, particularly acknowledging this Blog. It's a great start.

    However, I'm not sure there is a clear understanding from the PI or what the concerns with membership are.

    The Chartered Insurance Institute seems to base membership levels purely on qualification levels: If you have a diploma your membership level is Diploma...

    Institution of Mechanical Engineers has a very clear route to membership again focusing on qualifications with Fellows holding a senior role.

    The trouble with the PI is that it does not recognise the qualifications held by PSOs and the qualifications held by POs. We have worked hard for these and they should be recognised in a professional institute.

    It's not about wanting to be a Fellow, it's about wanting the qualifications and experience we have to be recognised.

    Why would a manager with an MBA get to be 'advanced level D' whilst a qualified probation officer gets to be lower down the register at 'professional level C'.

    For me, a manager with no probation qualifications should be able to join PI as an 'ordinary' member with no probation qualifications. If they wish to study for probation qualifications then they can follow the professional route. The way it is now makes it seem as though PI recognises managerialism above probation qualifications and that just doesn't sit well. No other professional institute behaves in this way.

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  7. sorry to say I couldn't bring my self to read this blog! I am too upset about the demise of probation profession ! It doesn't exist anymore perhaps the author might like to come and spend a few days at the coal face in our TR world . How professional is an organisation that thinks it's ok to interview clients in a booth in an open plan office about the most private np matters and then wonder why they refuse to co operate ! But we know who hold the power so they will probably getted breached for non compliance! RIP probation I'm a PO get me out of here!!

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  8. Mr Senior, do you consider it ethical for private sector providers to make profit from delivering court mandated sentences? Do you think it is ethical or acceptable that those individuals mandated to probation sentences are not able to object to which provider delivers, or profits from, their sentence?

    Mr Senior, I do not believe these arrangements are ethical. The silence of the PI on items such as these, which can only be interpreted as endorsement, is one reason why I cannot be a member.

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  9. Probation Officer3 December 2015 at 23:23

    I think Prof Senior misses the point in telling us that we shouldn't have concerns and should sign up to the PI, but fails to give us any reason to do so. I can't say I'm impressed by much of the content of the response as it doesn't really answer any of my concerns. I do respect and appreciate the effort and recognition that concerns were raised here.

    One of my main points is that it remains a concern for me that the PI may have a 'professional registration' facility but it does not clearly categorise/separate/appreciate the status of the qualified probation officer. While the PI is ignoring our role it's also avoiding speaking for probation practice, i.e. to preserve and improve it. If the PI can focus and comment on areas such as electronic monitoring and its impact on practice then it can do the same about TR, E3 and all the other so-called initiatives that are currently diluting and downgrading probation practice.

    For me a professional institute includes being about speaking on and influencing policy and practice, which the PI is not doing while it has so far shied away from speaking on what are effectively threats to probation and practice. Instead it is busy building relationships with private and voluntary companies, and equalling them with probation officers and the probation service. This it why it allows non-probation trained managers to claim professional membership above that of professionally trained staff, something that benefits the private companies and CRC's, and their management teams in particular. I think Anon 21:51 explained this correctly and the PI are very silly not to take note.

    I can't help but feeling that joining the PI as a probation officer would only serve to legitimise the post-TR people, policies and practices that are rapidly diluting probation. These are just a few of my points, and a few points amongst many that have been raised by all.

    I honestly believe the Probation Institute does not represent probation and probation officers. £60 is far too much to spend on nothing so I doubt I'll be signing up.

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  10. The whole basis of TR and now E3 is geared to downgrading the professional status of probation work. Any institute for probation would only be worthwhile if it influences and shapes probation related policy and practice for the better. The PI is not doing this and it doesn't seem to be planning any attempt. Simply putting it, if the PI is not helping to prevent probation and its professional status from disappearing, then it is instead (inadvertently) helping the private companies to replicate and rip off probation. The impact of TR is widely known but in case Prof Senior hasn't been briefed on E3 I'll give him this taster.

    Pre sentence reports will become very short reports mainly written by probation service officers (unqualified). This is already being implemented as Pre Sentence Reports (in London) are now only being completed on offenders assessed as dangerous or high risk of serious harm.

    Probation officers (qualified) will be directed to prisons en-masse to complete custody based work.

    Probation service officers will be recruited en-masse to supervise medium and high risk offenders in the community.

    'End to end' offender management will disappear. Cases in custody will only be transferred to community based probation officers in the months leading up to release.

    A new tiering system will enable probation workloads to increase to levels that would currently be considered unmanageable and 'over-capacity'.

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  11. The PI must be desperate as they have arranged to visit individual crc offices. I don't know whether that includes nps. Our crc will pay for staff to join the PI but I don't know anyone who has. How can the crc's manage risk when we will be unable to access previous history. We are already losing credibility with other agencies.

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  12. As a DipSW qualified CRC employee, I am registered as a Social Worker on my nation's Care Council Register. There are sanctions and de-registration if I fail to adhere to the Code of Ethics. Does the same apply to PI members who fail to abide by the PI's Code of Ethics? Regularly witness and experience the effects of breaches of 'integrity'.

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    1. Probation Officer4 December 2015 at 20:44

      The answer is no. Even worse is that the PI recognises non-qualified persons on its register as equal and above qualified persons. It also flirts with organisations (including the Ministry of Justice) that are actively introducing policies that are downgrading probation practice and methods.

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  13. For all its entertainment, Paul's invitation to treat cannot work to dispel the concerns held by hard working colleagues across the land that to be truly independent of the MOJ and to set standards for the profession, and enhance its reputation, the institute it needs to liken itself to a regulatory body very much of the sort set for lawyers, doctors, and nurses. Don't buy it folks, this is a Zombie organisation that cannot enhance practice as it has little or no control over the standards of qualification, and professional conduct, from which to drive through other changes set for the services. The legal services Board, for example works in collaboration with the Solicitors regulatory authority to work in corroboration to set the practice throughout the jurisdiction to promote an independent, strong, diverse and effective profession. We've all had zombie experiences, either when receiving their products and services or embedded in one at work. The absence of leadership in many parts of the NPS service, and poor infrastructure is unlikely to unlock the door to innovation, and excellence. The Institute is destined, I suspect to walk aimlessly through the derelict aftermath, picking up scraps of funding from various sources and regurgitating information that cannot keep up the fast changing political and operational environment. Be warned. However, well intentioned this Institute may be, stay well clear of this dead Zombie architecture and don't end paying any money unless that it can demonstrate it can radically alter its own constitution.

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  14. I have been reading a lot of the Blogs published on this site and the one thing that has struck me about them all is that everyone is happy to poke prod, criticise and say what needs to be done, but are not willing to step up and do anything , I also take it that none of you have even had the courage to speak to the PI on a one to one basis .

    If you all put as much effort into getting on with the job and maintain your professional integrity without lowering yourself to this old man moaning , maybe those with the ability to listen would.

    TR has happened, that is the fact of the matter, as far as the government is concerned it works. it wont go back to what it was no matter how much you all moan and grown. This happened to the Prisons during privatisation. It seems to me that the PI are trying to bring the sector together to ensure it remains professional.

    We are not that special, so wake up and smell the coffee.

    We should rally together, keep our integrity and professional status. if that means we join the PI then fine, but if you don't want to that's fine too, just don't keep wringing about the fact no one is helping to maintain the Profession.

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    1. If the Government 'bellieves it works' before it has been tested, piloted, evaluated and in place for more than 10 months, then it is just as legitimate to 'believe' in Santa. TR 'works' because the Minstry of Truth continues to tell us that 'it works'. It measures what it knows will 'evidence' the fact. It's Orwell in practice. Everyone knows it and many even say so but we have entered a truthspeak era in politics. The truth is no longer reliable.

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    2. To 10:44 of I thought the PI would help maintain our profession I would join. But in it's current guise it runs the risk of destroying it further.

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    3. Anon 10:44. I have spoken to the PI and it amounted to nothing. I have expressed views here, as we all have, but by Prof Seniors response this has amounted to nothing too. I fear the comments of Anon 10:21 are all too true and that the PI is destined to be nothing more than an organisation scrapping around for any bit of funding here and there, and by its own doing. The fact is that it does not have to be this way had it taken on board advice to slow down a little, to slightly shift direction and to model itself on being a professional institute for the professionals first and foremost. Probation officers and the probation service are the brand and should have been considered the nucleus and main focus, and the other players would have jumped on board anyway. The problem is that it was flawed at inception as it was implemented by probation Chiefs (PA and PCA), most which had already showed their disregard for probation, probation officers and proper probation practice.

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  15. I agree it is a zombie organisation with no teeth.

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    1. The PI has teeth, it's just choosing not to use them. What other organisation could potentially stand up for good practice in probation work and challenge the appalling cuts being announced? Some people will always dismiss the word of trade unions as being self-interested, but the PI is in a unique position of being able to make a stand, if it chose to. It's just choosing not to, thereby showing where its loyalties really lie.

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  16. I was grateful when Paul Senior spoke up for probation when this whole mess started and during the split BUT he misses the very basic point that the gold standard for probation work is the Probation Officer Qualification, in its various guises over time. To be a Probation Officer is the fundamental probation role. That this is not recognised by the PI is the single reason most of us will never join.To get something so basic so wrong needs rectifying before the PI holds any authority over practitioners. In my previous profession I hold qualifications that would enable me to be a Fellow but the only one that holds meaning and relevance is my Dip PS which ranks me below this. It is simply bizarre and shows disrespect for our profession.

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    1. It is very bizarre!

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  17. Article in i paper today. Speculating that Gove reviewing TR given the mess it is in. This is following on from his decision to abolish court costs which resulted in many magistrates resigning. Descrbes crisis in Probation. Could it be ? Journalists have their sources. No smoke without fire ?

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    1. I suspect it might be a case of picking up on a Napo press release from yesterday:-

      Napo is delighted to hear that the Lord Chancellor Michael Gove has decided to abolish the Criminal Court Charge. This draconian charge introduced by the previous Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling was having a disproportionate impact on offenders and gave no discretion to sentencers.

      Alongside other justice organisations Napo has campaigned for the charge to be scrapped from day one. Evidence suggested that defendants were pleading guilty to offences they had not committed in order to avoid the compulsory charge. There was also mounting evidence to suggest that imposing the charge on homeless or very low income offenders for minor offences such as shop theft was resulting in disproportionate sentences and leaving the defendants in debt that they could not be realistically expected to pay.

      Ian Lawrence General Secretary said “This is a great victory for all those who campaigned against it, and we hope now that Michael Gove will go on to review other failing reforms imposed by Chris Grayling such as the privatization of the Probation service”.

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    2. Voices
      .
      FROM the Independent

      Headline

      "Tax on justice: Victory in our campaign to repeal the atrocious criminal courts charge

      Now Michael Gove should tackle the contracting out of much of the probation service to private firms "

      http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/tax-on-justice-victory-in-our-campaign-to-repeal-the-atrocious-criminal-courts-charge-a6759576.html

      It was an editorial - 22 hours later the online article had not attracted one comment - almost no one cares

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    3. Thanks Andrew - this will be the subject of tomorrow's blog.

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  18. FROM TWITTER: -

    " Conservative Reject ‏@Ibanez7 · 13m13 minutes ago
    M'cr CRC gets the Chiefs 'Blog' weekly, Yesterday it spoke of .... Job losses early 2016 #2fingers2Interserve

    https://twitter.com/Ibanez7/status/672906297415745537 "

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  19. The worst thing about all this is that the PI is reading this and isn't doing anything about it. Thinking more about this I'm actually annoyed that the PI has basically messed up an opportunity to introduce a professional association for probation / probation officers. Instead of listening to the professionals the PI falsely claims to represent, Paul Senior is representing wrong and strong to say the least. It's a bit of a cheek to quote our words, ignore our concerns and then still ask us to join up!!

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  20. Mr Senior, Napo are reporting that Working Links will follow Sodexho and cut 40% of staff. How can the PI stay silent about such devastating cuts whilst still claiming to be defending the professionalism of probation? Probation practitioners are being consigned to the scrap heap and vocations left in tatters.

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    1. And, Mr Senior, with this in mind will John Wiseman remain a fellow of the PI?

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    2. And Tessa Webb, former CEO of BeNCH CRC (aka Sodexo)?

      And will the PI keep hobnobbing with the CEO of MTCNovo (potential future fellow!)?

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  21. I joined and then resigned from the PI. I considered myself to be an innovative Probation Officer with trustworthy values, and I had started a private consultancy that had nothing to do with TR (other than being spawned out of frustration with it). I trusted (and still trust) Paul and Sue and so I justified my membership of it. But it felt uncomfortable and I made my excuses to leave. The most uncomfortable part would now be knowing that someone with no qualification in Probation can be higher up the PI 'hierarchy' (By the way, why does there need to be a hierarchy? I know Sue likes them, but surely you just need to differentiate between members who are qualified and unqualified, and if someone who is not qualified merits an award for outstanding contribution they can be given that accolade)

    I have considered rejoining but it isn't going to happen until this latter issue is addressed. I have instead joined NOTA and found better merit in doing this. I will think about other such organisations that are more specialised, and haven't burdened and compromised themselves with political baggage.

    If anyone wants to start an independent institute from the bottom up, then express it here and I will speak to Jim privately about doing a guest blog. After all, it's Christmas drinks on Tuesday!

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    1. I've been thinking the same. There's scope for a much more representative and responsive institute for probation.

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  22. False advertising from website of the Probation Institute;


    "Your professional voice will have greater reach. The Institute is also taking a role in explaining the work of probation to the media, parliamentarians and the public, promoting a better understanding of the work in the sector, and, based on evidence, influencing the development of criminal justice, and relevant social, health, training and employment policies."


    This is a lie because the Probation Institute has failed to make statements about the negative and detrimental impact on probation by TR, E3, cuts, redundancies, etc. Paul Senior speaks of a "forward looking agenda" but this is impossible if there is to be nothing of probation left! Either the Probation Institute makes some drastic changes or it gets used to being a probation institute without any probation officers!

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