Sunday, 14 February 2016

Probation Masterclass

There's something particularly insulting about people trying to write or talk authoritatively about your line of work when they clearly have only limited knowledge. It's especially galling when you've got some time in, a bit of experience under your belt and they are either telling you you're doing it all wrong or they can do it better and cheaper. Like this in fact on the right-wing Reform website from last December. I was particularly irked by this bit:- 
"While TR represents a radical overhaul of probation structures and systems, older practices and cultural norms remain entrenched. In its 2014 review of TR, the Justice Inspectorate highlighted a continuing need to eradicate older ways of working and streamline processes across probation services."
Transforming Rehabilitation: evolution not revolution 9 December 2015

In 2012 in a bid to tackle high reoffending rates, then Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, promised a “rehabilitation revolution”. His landmark Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme vowed to drive innovation in probation service provision through the involvement of private and third sector experts.

The programme also extended supervision to short sentence offenders: at 58 per cent, the reoffending rate of prisoners serving less than a year was almost double that of those serving longer sentences.

However, as with many major change programmes, the devil is in the implementation. More than 12 months following its inception, the roll out of TR remains slow and new models of provision patchy. For those working in the sector the programme vision still carries much promise, but worryingly, exactly what the model should look like in practice remains unknown.

There are five key challenges that the National Offender Management Service should address to ensure the full potential of TR is realised:

1) Cultural change
While TR represents a radical overhaul of probation structures and systems, older practices and cultural norms remain entrenched. In its 2014 review of TR, the Justice Inspectorate highlighted a continuing need to eradicate older ways of working and streamline processes across probation services. They also argued that supporting staff through the period of transition is key to success.

2) Data Sharing
TR was supposed to deliver an integrated service. Instead, incompatible IT systems and an inability to effectively share data about service users has hampered this. For many offenders, this means joined up support is provided only up until release rather than ‘through the gate’ into the community as intended. Probation providers are still sometimes unable to access information about courses begun or treatment received by offenders whilst in custody.

3) Fragmentation
Whilst the increased competition brought by new market entrants is positive, splitting probation provision between the Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) providers and National Probation Service (NPS) has proved problematic. The interface between the two new organisations in each area varies both in levels of communication and the quality of working relationships. Achieving consistent ways of working between CRCs and NPS is essential for TR’s success.

4) Duplication
The introduction of multiple new service providers has brought a danger of increased duplication. Employment in particular is an area where multiple service providers overlap – for example the Work Programme, Skills Funding Agency, National Careers, CRC representatives and third sector organisations all offer support.

Positively, within some individual prisons or CRCs practical solutions are emerging. Informal agreements between contractors, probation officers and third sector workers have in places led to more coordinated working. There remains, however, a lack of clarity at a strategic level about the roles and responsibilities of these different services. In some areas, confusion and fear of duplication has also led to gaps in provision, with no single organisation taking responsibility.

5) Transparency
As a consequence of some of the fragmentation of rehabilitation services there is a lack of transparency for offenders. For service users this is problematic as it leads to an inability to clearly and easily understand where to access help and from whom. In the community this lack of clarity is particularly worrying as the initial days following an offender’s release are a vital period in which they need support.

While it is important to acknowledge that it is still early days and that transformation on this scale cannot happen overnight, it seems clear that TR has not yet delivered the revolution it promised. The prize for getting TR right is sizeable. To ensure his predecessor’s vision is realised Michael Gove must make tackling these issues a priority.

Elizabeth Crowhurst, Researcher, Reform


Talking of people who have a limited grasp on what probation is about, I stumbled across this masterclass Youtube video from last June by Yvonne Thomas no less, the MD of Justice at Interserve. To be honest it took my breath away and one can only be astounded at how the fate of such an important element of our criminal justice system has been put in such hands and been treated in the way it has. Her warm words regarding the large number of highly-skilled staff employed by Interserve's 5 CRC's will perhaps be of more than passing interest to those people about to be made redundant:-

Published on Jun 19, 2015
Yvonne Thomas, Interserve’s Managing Director for Justice, discusses the work of Purple Futures, an Interserve-led partnership of private sector, charities and social enterprise, which provides probation services on behalf of the Ministry of Justice across five areas of the UK.

At this point I'd like to republish the letter from a former probation CEO to the Guardian last week, not just as a reminder as to the 'actualite', but so that I can dedicate it to the sceptical gentleman who wrote to me last week stating:-
"Almost no one I know believes probation is in crisis and a constructive paper will raise the issue more than protest."
Polly Toynbee is right (If Cameron really cared he would cut prison numbers, 9 February) that the probation service is in ruins. Once a viable alternative to prison, probation has been systematically destroyed by successive governments over the last 20 years. For the first 15 of those years, governments attempted to rebrand the probation service as the tough new community agency, there to protect the public. This was done by removing the requirement in a probation order to “advise, assist and befriend” offenders, abandoning the requirement that probation officers hold a social work qualification and removing the service from local accountability.

This was bad enough, but the last five years have seen far worse. In what can only be seen as an ideological drive, government has split the probation service in two: 70% managed by private companies under 21 contracts; 30% centrally controlled by the Ministry of Justice. As well as incomprehensible reorganisation, budget cuts and job losses have drained the lifeblood from the service. There are staff left who continue to attempt to provide a decent service to courts, offenders and communities, in spite of overwhelming odds against them. But many are leaving, disillusioned and exhausted by what has been done.

The probation service in England and Wales was once a world leader. Now it lies in ruins. To achieve the reduction in the prison population that Toynbee rightly advocates, there will need to be a viable community-based organisation, in which courts, victims, offenders and the public can have confidence. Sadly, there is no such organisation at the present time.

Mike Worthington
Former Chief Probation Officer, Northumbria Probation Service


Finally, I'll round off with the joint article in yesterday's Telegraph by Michael Gove and Chris Grayling. Clearly the Tories have become a little uncomfortable with Gove so publicly humiliating his predecessor Chris Grayling by reversing all his key policies, bar one of course, that of TR. We were probably naive, but some of us rather hoped that Gove would quickly appreciate the folly TR has been and move swiflty to a plan B, but sadly it would seem not. The plan appears to be, despite all the evidence to the contrary, to keep repeating what a roaring success TR is for long enough so that we all believe it. A bit like the "£46 in your pocket" and the "7 day a week NHS" in fact.  

So, the airbrushing of probation continues and here we have Michael Gove shamefully pretending the emperor is fully clothed and everything is just fine with TR:-

Michael Gove and Chris Grayling: We’re getting smart on crime, not going soft

In an article for the Telegraph, the Justice Secretary and his predecessor Chris Grayling, who is expected to campaign for Britain to leave the EU, join forces to promote the Government's work on prison reform.

As the Prime Minister set out in his speech last Monday, the rehabilitation of offenders has been a top priority for all of us in Government. The case for reform has been and remains stark – nearly half of those who leave prison go on to commit another crime within a year. And behind every offence is a huge human cost. Crime destroys homes, violates innocence and can ruin lives.

Justice must be done, and we have both, as successive justice secretaries, worked to make sure people receive the appropriate punishment for such actions. But there is no contradiction between being tough on crime and smart on rehabilitation.

An effective criminal justice system must address the causes of crime. We know that prisoners come – disproportionately – from harsh and violent backgrounds. More than two fifths of prisoners observed domestic violence as a child, nearly a quarter were taken into care as children and 47 per cent have no school qualifications. Growing up in an environment where love is absent, violence is accepted and education is an afterthought is poor preparation for a stable, successful life.

Of course, many people grow up in difficult circumstances and go on to lead successful lives. They deserve special admiration. But for those who have made mistakes, we should offer a chance to put things right. We have to rise to that challenge if we are to rescue offenders from lives of crime and, even more importantly, stop them creating more victims when eventually they are released.

Criminals in custody must be kept occupied with useful activity, whether studying towards educational qualifications or doing worthwhile work. But without support on release, these gains can go to waste.

One of the biggest failings that we inherited was how we handled the roughly 45,000 offenders who leave prison each year after serving a sentence of less than 12 months. In the past they were released with £46 in their pockets, and left to walk the streets with little or no support. The majority reoffended within weeks. It was indefensible.

This time last year we changed that with the Transforming Rehabilitation programme. We radically reformed the probation service so when offenders leave prison they are given the best possible support to return to society and start to rebuild their lives; making a contribution rather than going back to criminality.

The service now provides support to those offenders who were falling through the gaps, and has driven greater innovation and efficiency from the private and voluntary sectors. For the first time, almost all offenders now receive targeted support on release, getting the help they need to turn away from crime.

Major transitions in public services are always challenging, but performance figures published in January show month-on-month improvements at the newly formed Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) and within the National Probation Service. Innovation has been at the heart of these reforms, which combine the best of the public, private, voluntary and charitable sectors.

As a result, there are pioneering projects taking place across the country to support offenders into employment and out of crime. From the Good Loaf bakery in Northampton – which offers cookery courses, work experience and community payback for women who have become entangled in the criminal justice system – to the 12-week programme commissioned in the South West, designed to help offenders before their release.

It’s about doing what works. Take the case of the prisoner who has spent most of his adult life in and out of prison, and was given support tailored to his needs before he left custody.

The case manager worked closely with him during his time in prison to understand his personal situation and created a plan to build his self-esteem and teach him to become independent. The CRC helped with housing support and referred him to a national housing foundation who placed him in accommodation. While at this placement, he undertook a range of life skills programmes. He has now moved into his own flat and is doing voluntary work at a local club, fulfilling one of his personal ambitions.

The Ministry of Justice will do everything it can to support the professionals who are delivering these reforms. Probation staff have delivered a vital transformation of rehabilitation, and we are hugely grateful for their dedication, commitment and professionalism. But there is more to do – our reforms must now continue in our prisons. Unless offenders are kept safe and secure, in decent surroundings, free from violence, disorder and drugs, then we cannot begin to prepare them for a better, more moral, life on the outside.

This country’s persistent past failure to reduce re-offending was shameful. That is why we are reforming prisons and probation – so they can fulfil their true purpose of keeping people safe by making people better.


  1. Last week: supervision session with a client with accommodation issues linked to his ROR and ROH. In the building is a housing worker with nothing to do, so guess what? Yup: not allowed for her to work with him as one side has to charge the other and no budget.
    ...So she sits and twiddles her thumbs while I go and do my best with my client? No, being the entrenched, culturally obsolete old farts that we are, we just did the work anyway.

  2. 8 24 is spot on with SPOs making rules up on the hoof as to who we can and can't speak to because of the cost implications, despite what Gove and Grayling say all is definitely not well in the probation garden

  3. I saw this on Facebook:-

    So someone did not read a contract properly before they signed it! So CRCS are now stuck with Eoasys on every case whilst the Workload Management Tool has been manipulated to ensure capacity is reduced. An hour allocated for all custody cases, that hour includes travel time!

  4. Hello. I just wanted to say that my offender manager really helped me to change my life for the better. I am drug and crime free. I have put in much work and it has been difficult at times. But that probation officer made some savvy decisions that affected me in a very positive way....Thanks :)

    1. Excellent news - thanks for sharing that and best wishes for the future.

    2. 10:25 - Thank you for your post. Probation rarely hears of its successes because, by the very nature of that success, we don't get to see the individual again so it is gratifying when someone gets in touch to say how well they are doing. I am glad things are better for you and that you, with the support and guidance of your PO or PSO, have been able to make the choices and changes you needed and wanted to. I wish you well for the future.

    3. Good man for posting on the right place as this blog will have you thinking that nothing works post TR.

    4. 15:21 why are you assuming this person was supervised post-TR?

  5. Jim, let's not be part of rewriting history or considering the past through rose-tinted glasses. Just a reminder of a comment made to a team of Probation Officers who were really under stress by the Chief Probation Officer of Northumbria Probation Service - "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen, there are plenty of other people willing to take your place."
    The beginning of JFDI methinks.

    1. I think the blog is writing history. It's broadly open-access allowing many versions of history to be contributed.

      JFDI as espoused by some particularly moronic Chief Officers has been around for some time - it doesn't mean we all have to subscribe to it, especially as they probably benefitted handsomely from a payoff and lucrative opportunities in the privatised world of probation.

      With respect - if you don't like the content or tone of this blog, you know what choices you have which includes contributing something constructive to the debate.

    2. re 11 34- er, could that person's first name begin with P-? a ruthless, heartless person if ever there was one, who once sent a long letter to management, referring to a 'hit list' of probation staff for them to be 'sorted out'. The letter unintentionally found its way to the plebs, and NAPO played hell, but got the sharp edge of the mighty tongue in response. (I still have a copy of both letters)

    3. Ml please elaborate. Who is P. What CRC. What did the letters say? What's the point of this blog if people are too scared to expose shameless behaviour

    4. to 1525... the comment on 1134 referred to the Chief Probation Officer of Northumbria Probation Service, which eliminated the CRCs for starters. I understand that those titles are now obsolete, they are now Executive Officers and indeed were before TR, as those who headed up Probation for several years prior to that, had never been Probation Officers. And am I right in saying that Northumbria comes under National Probation Service now? This person has been retired for a few years, so it is futile to name them, the damage has been done, but I am sure there will be a few ex Nbria officers reading this blog who will know who I mean.

      I will say, that this person was about as opposite to Mike Worthington, who had retired a few years earlier and appears on this latest Blog, as it is possible to be! But then so had the Service changed significantly too.

      The letter was referring to the risk of missing targets and therefore costing the Service and was basically wanting 'these people' bollocked, and the chief was talking of naming and shaming them if they didn't improve their work, whatever their circs. Real sensitivity -not. Once it became a Trust, it was downhill all the way, particularly with IT systems breaking down, and staff shortages, and constant variations of the old PSR, and recording systems, but we never dreamed (or nightmared) that the future would be as bad as TR!
      I feel for you all.

  6. I think in both NPS and CRC the view is get on with it as there is no alternative.

    Thinking in the last 12 months, our NPS offender management has had 4 POs leave (for new jobs and retirement) and at least 4 officers go on maternity leave. There also have been many different grades off with sickness and stress.

  7. The so-called 'older practices and cultural norms [that] remain entrenched' in the old probation service and are seen as a 'cultural challenge' to the success of TR, tells us more about the political prejudices of the author, Elizabeth Crowhurst, who chose to cite this as the first of the five challenges she writes about on the Reform website. I could not find any conclusion/opinion in the 2014 HMIP report that substantiates her claims.

    She is right about the other four challenges but nothing revelatory here as these have been part of the critique of TR since its inception.

    In choosing to give salience to cultural factors, she blames the victims of the 'revolution'. The old probation service was a world leader and high performing. It now works less effectively than it did. It is sheer perversity to break-up something that was working well. It's the height of chutzpah - similar to the boy who murders both his parents and then asks the judge to be merciful because he is an orphan.

  8. Er so TR is supposed to help? the only thing my OIm did for me since leaving prison in January 2014 was refer me to the local homeless hostel on release. Anything else you discuss with her either before or after TR is met with "sorry can't help, there's no money/we don't do that/it's not in my remit". If I was someone who would be likely to reoffend the "help and support" I've received since release would not have in any, way, shape or form prevented me from reoffended/turned my life around etc. The ONLY person preventing me from reoffending is well me. Probation has and never will play any part in that.

    1. As a PO I have some sympathy with your post because that's exactly what our position is no resources I still try very hard to help my clients progress and sometimes all I can offer is encouragement and motivation And that has worked

    2. "sorry can't help, there's no money/we don't do that/it's not in my remit"

      I find it disappointing but not surprising to hear such statements. Of course even in the days of 'advise, assist and befriend' there was no recourse to a magcic wand, but we could always give time and to be honest, I'm struggling to think of a request I refused on the basis of 'it's not in my remit'. But then those were the days of discretion, professional judgement and access to relatively small sums of money from the 'Befriending Fund'.

    3. what kind of things where you asking for help with? Just interested because I sometimes feel I don't particularly 'help' some of mine but if you've a roof over your head and are signing on & looking for work then there's little else we can do, unless of course you have substance misuse issues then obviously i'll refer on.

    4. Anonymous 15:41, accessing grants often requires referral from OM (filling in a form). Grants not for frivolous things but necessities but refuses to do this. Sorting out work/voluntary work just meets with refusal to co-operate with employers etc. Anything you say to her gets misinterpreted and misrepresented in records as Data Subject Access Requests clearly shows. Result is that even if I desperately needed help I would not go to her.

    5. Things weren't much different before TR. Still the same pointless and costly routine to make your PO feel like they were making a positive impact on your life and some great difference to the nation.

      If TR has done anything it's to underline the fact that Probation as was, was largely not required by Offenders but was more a vanity project for the
      self-important persons who were employed there.

      E3 looks particularly encouraging and focused on tackling unnecessary, costly and potentially dangerous interference in the lives of Offenders.

    6. E3 rollout is being postponed is it not? Anyone got more info on this?

    7. Anon 1549 it sounds like you just got a bad un jobsworth and we all know a few of them !

  9. Trouble is clients still think " help and support" involves money- I don't have a cheque book, nor do I have access to accommodation, so my time, experience and local knowledge is all I have! Thankfully this has been good enough for those who really want to make changes to their lives and situations!

    1. aye...and fitting out their new accommodation with all the white goods and furniture

  10. For many on my caseload accommodation is THE biggest problem, made worse by the government only paying £45 rent in most (but not all) cases. Maybe if the Government tried some multi-agency work, with their own departments, then many problems would disappear.

    I'll give you one example:
    Client of mine damages leg playing football. Significant operations and his lef is in a 'cage' to help healing. He has a 6 month sick note. He went for a assessment to check if he was fit for work and they stated he could work do some form of work and signed him off the sick (I'm helping him appeal this). In the interim he was told to claim JSA. We 'phoned the DWP who told him that due to him having a 6 month sick note, he's not eligible for JSA!

    And so, the merry go round of phone calls started! We have an appointment with his MP next week to highlight the situation. Appeals have been submitted but until they are resolved he has no income.

    The Government; shitting on people since 2010!!!!

    1. Shamefully this is an all too familiar tale

  11. £ is actually in fine abundance, it's the dearth of compassion, people incapable of real friendship and real talking. The quality of relationship between Offender and Officer is integral to anything that can be done in a Probation Service.

    I encountered alot of not very nice people who worked at Probation and it had and continues to have a detrimental effect on my Mental and Physical health.

  12. I see the leaving prison with £46 mantra continues as being not conducive to rehabilitation. Well clients in the North West are still leaving prison with £46 & homeless. They do of course have a 10 minute interview with the 'housing officer' in prison before they are released. They complete a nice tick box checklist & they are provided with the address of the local council homeless department to present themselves to. When they attend they do get offered a lovely furnished apartment like. (The last bit is fantasy. Much like TR).

  13. 'The CRC helped with housing support and referred him to a national housing foundation who placed him in accommodation. While at this placement, he undertook a range of life skills programmes. He has now moved into his own flat and is doing voluntary work at a local club, fulfilling one of his personal ambitions.'
    Nothing new here. This kind of support has been going on for years. The only change is that it is now available to all released prisoners, unless you are NPS in which case it has to be paid for.

    1. That Anon at 23:33. was available to all released prisoners (maybe not the actual certainty of accommodation) from before the 1970s until at least the early 1990s when consequent on centralisation and national Standards, certain activities became priorities and with all the extra prisoners and no matching increase in resources around the time Automatic Conditional Release began, there was just not the physical time available to give much attention to what were called casual callers.

      Check out the last edition of Jarvis - the red one - before Paul Senior & AN Other did one sponsored by some part of the Home Office, The duties of a probation officer were over eighty and are quite stunning in variety.

  14. Interserve have lost their cleaning and catering contracts in all leicester hospitals. They are so crap in their primary tasks. God help colleagues in CRCS managed by these geniuses.