Sunday, 3 September 2017

Life In Disneyland

Here's that Guardian piece from yesterday that perfectly describes the probation world post TR and one side of the great divide imposed on us by Grayling. This situation cannot continue for much longer and it's only a matter of time before events in the form of a CRC failure will force the government to act. In the meantime, in a rapidly diminishing profession, we remain leaderless with the Probation Institute falling silent and Napo currently ill-equipped and unable to field an authoritative and effective voice. 

My job's been called Mickey Mouse probation. I'm now inclined to agree

Working for one of the 21 privatised probation firms, I’ve seen cuts, stress, sickness and a rise in violent incidents. Time to end this experiment

I’ve worked in probation for a long time. It has never been perfect, but before then-justice secretary Chris Grayling got his hands on it, it was said to be a high-performing public service. Now, though, it is difficult to believe what a complete mess it is in.

I work in a community rehabilitation company (CRC), one of 21 private sector firms working with so-called medium- and low-risk clients. Many people are on my caseload because of domestic violence, and there are often concerns about the impact on their children. Most have alcohol, drug or mental health issues. It’s always been a worrying job.

But the CRC I work for is now owned by a company that doesn’t understand my work. These private companies are still miles off the pace in trying to deliver an impossibly complex contract, supervising hundreds of thousands of offenders. After experiences that have included shedding a third of staff, setting up partnerships from scratch, sourcing new buildings, many of which are hard to access, and installing open booths for us to work in, we have been left working in what one client memorably nicknamed “Mickey Mouse probation”.

That particular client refused to use the open booths because of his offence and history. Instead we met outside or in group rooms, when available. I personally feel very uncomfortable when I have to use a booth to meet clients. It means most of our face-to-face work is overheard, overseen and open to disruption. Not surprisingly there has been an increase in incidents, which now seem to occur on a daily basis.

The problems don’t stop there. The interface with the National Probation Service is fractured: cases swap between the two systems as they go back to court, with mistakes rife, and palpable friction between the organisations. Essentially we feel we are misleading the courts and the public every day about what we can deliver. It is frightening.

The result has been a huge surge in work-based stress absence. This may concern those at the top but little has been done to address the issue. A significant number of staff are taking their turn on the conveyor belt of long-term sickness absence. When that happens their work is simply shared out and received by moans and groans. It’s more work that simply cannot be delivered. While managers and directors gripe among themselves about how poorly things are being run by the company that owns us, nothing is done.

Promises of new ways of working, and new IT systems, haven’t materialised, leaving us tied to the existing, inefficient technology to hit our funding-linked targets. Frequent inspections and auditing – akin to something out of Big Brother – confirm that the best we can hope to be is sufficient. Any poor record keeping is met with commands by email to rectify things immediately.

There are good ideas and innovation around, but it is not enough. Staff are demoralised like never before. In my view health and safety and risk management come a distant second to profit margins. Eventually, this huge-scale experiment will fail, because it is not sustainable. Taxpayers are being ripped off, serious further offending is on the up and the crisis in the justice and prison sectors rolls on. Time to think again.

This series aims to give a voice to the staff behind the public services that are hit by mounting cuts and rising demand, and so often denigrated by the press, politicians and public. If you would like to write an article for the series, contact


  1. I think we should all e mail kirstie brewer to say the article is spot on.

    1. I have just e mailed her to suggest she looks at this blog.

  2. serious further offences have increased to the point now that specialist teams of NPS Senior Probation Officers, 5 in each team in each area have been established to deal with the seriousness and volume of further offences. Hope Kirsty Brewer can give exposure to this. MOJ know there is a serious public risk issue and have put these teams in. The SPOs look for blame when an investigation of further offences start.

  3. This thing we do, day in, day out is people focused, we deal with the disperte and the desperate and we try to untangle their lives. We want them to change, and the vast majority want the same. We build relationships and hope to gain their trust. This takes time and effort on both sides. This is fundermental to success or failure. Trust between both is the foundation that allows us to challenge behaviour and hold them to account. Sometimes we progress, sometimes we go backwards. Failure is always ever present but you don't give up. .... sadly the officer/client relationship within the CRCs is
    So diluted to become meaningless and irrelevant. Everything we do is looked through the prisim of the service level spreadsheet. The contract managers are king... they have their foot on the throat of cowering senior managers who dance to their tune. In the past, a good chief probation officer would have kicked them out of the building and sent them packing and told the MoJ to behave themselves.. we work in an environment of high sickness levels, high caseloads, irrelevant operating models and a fear of what madness is waiting around the corner. Relationships and trust is everything in our world ... that is evaporating each day this lunacy continues.

  4. Dismaland not disneyland.

  5. NPS in my big northern city centre office is in chaos. Recent ACO seems to have lost control. Can't keep hold of staff, even the experienced ones, and a reliance on agency staff is failing. Recent recruitment efforts hailed as our saviour resulted in no-one applying. Sickness sky high, lots of cases unallocated, and targets for service user engagement and compliance are rock bottom with no understanding of how to improve it. Dismal indeed.

    1. Same in our big Northern Office. However, agency staff are few and far between to say the least. A couple of PSO troopers who are not allowed to work with most of the cases we have as PO's. Same again. Three campaign recruitment drives which only produced 2 POs. We need at least 7. Workloads ridiculous.

  6. 18.57. That is really worrying. We tend to focus on failings of CRC but we need to remember that the split has affected both sided of what was once a joined up service.I am with CRC and 15 years of experience. Have supervised low, medium and high risk cases rhat time, lifers and sex offenders etc. I have always said that the higher risk and/or complex, emotionally charged cases need to be shared amongst experienced PO's. The split has prevented this and NPS PO's have no reprieve from the daily emotional grind. Have had some very difficult periods coping emotionally, particularly when my children were young. I manage better now but CRC PO cases are mainly DV and that is also hard going. It just isn't healthy to have these extreme caseloads whether NPS or CRC. Now I also see PSO's being given increasingly complex cases that a few years ago would only go to a PO.The shelf life of a PO is going to be very short at this rate and I doubt there will be sufficient trainees coming through to plug the gap. I feel like a dying breed, seemingly in demand and could walk into any PO job in most areas of the U.K, yet the CRC I work for appear to take us for granted and offer little in return for our continued efforts to try and keep the service from deteriorating further. I still believe we should be put back together but the damage has been done now I suppose. Saying that, where I work, I believe it could still work if the will was ever there.

  7. As a long retired PO I read JB's blog with horror.
    But Grayling was given a brief, and delivered handsomely.
    Grayling's brief was to deliver the Probation Service into private hands, but to do that he had to discredit the excellent service (inspectors' opinions, not mine), hence the crass changes without pilots.
    I read in the Financial Times that more taxpayers' money is spent on the railways than before privatization. Not a lot of people know that. At least the system still works.
    But has there been any comparison of the money spent on the service pre-Grayling with the private profits being made now?