Saturday, 24 February 2018

A PO Speaks Up

I see Bob Neill's enquiry into TR is continuing to publish evidence and here we have another brave PO who found the time to tell it how it is. (The submission as published is a bit confusing, may have been uploaded incorrectly, but I've tweeked it). Nothing particularly new, but worth drawing attention to lest anyone is thinking a) things are getting better and b) opposition is waning:-

Written evidence from a Probation Officer (TRH0099)

Statement in relation to the impact of TR on the probation service and the current situation regarding delivery of front line services and the difficulties facing staff in their day to day duties.

A view from a Probation Officer of over twenty five years....“There is no doubt, that across the CJS, the decision to split probation through the TR process has been deeply damaging in terms of ; public protection, reducing offending, victim safety and the quality of service to our cases, the Courts and within probation itself”.

Staff Morale has been shattered by TR. Within the Trust organisation there was a feeling of togetherness, common purpose and working effectively for our customers. The split between organisation was forced upon us with no logic or reason or any efforts to listen to or win over staff. The NPS is a top down “this is the way you do it” bureaucracy with no effort to engage practitioners who know the job and the people we work with. Staff are moved locations against their will and morale in many over stretched and stressed front line team is dire. Many experienced staff have had enough and left. Within the CRC even more exacerbated cuts and changes have been experienced. Delivery to cases and the Courts is poor and staff are upset and hurt that they can no longer do the job they want to do and the standard they previously did.

Operational effectiveness has been destroyed by the TR process and is significantly poorer than was delivered by the Trusts. Most Trusts had a wide range of services & specialism’s (eg drug/ alcohol, accommodation, volunteers/ mentors, links to voluntary agencies, etc) in house. These were split by TR; many have now been lost and many do not operate or function as they did. Just two examples; 1/ [Name of area redacted] Women’s centre’s has no funding and is threatened with closure. 2/ the call centre system operated in the CRC for calls and letters is not working and is not fit for purpose. Front line staff are not able to deliver the generic services to cases and hence effective offender engagement and rehabilitation has been compromised. The level of service provision is much lower than pre TR

Public safety has been compromised by TR as there is not the joined up or direct lines of communication or working together, that previously existed. Courts, CRC/NPS staff front line staff, other agencies and victims are frustrated and annoyed that the split of functions has fundamentally undone the high standard of service previously and proudly delivered by staff.

Relationship with the judiciary has been compromised in two fundamental ways. The CRC fail regularly to provide adequate or required information to the Courts. This has impacted on the confidence of the Courts to make community based sentences. Secondly, HMPPS have driven the use of proper pre sentence reports down to a point where little information is known on the day. This impacts on both NPS & CRC, in terms of suitability of sentences and time spent at the start of Orders undertaking assessments and referrals rather than addressing offending behaviour.

Relationships with Clients has been significantly impacted on by TR mostly in a negative way. The constant changes being made in the NPS has resulted in clients moving supervisor far more often than is reasonable and more importantly it is damaging to building relationships. This is especially poor in terms of service delivery to long term prisoners. In the CRC, excessively large caseloads have an obvious impact. Further open plan offices are unsuitable for many clients and their officers to discuss sensitive issues. As importantly, the amount of documents & assessments required to be produced takes up valuable time & energy that could be directed into assisting and working with cases

ICT, Whilst probation has struggled for many years with poor IT the splitting into two organisations was championed as an opportunity to improve this. CRC staff struggle with the IT they currently operate but the main issue has been within the NPS. The NPS moved to SOP in January 2017 and the system has been unfit for purpose. The basic right of staff to be paid and paid correctly has been breached month after months and a year later is still not fixed. Some staff have suffered extreme financial hardship & even this month we have examples of new staff not being paid.

Though the Gate (TTG) has been a complete and utter failure. The service to prisoners leaving custody has been almost non existence and far inferior to the service provided pre TR by Trusts often working cooperatively and in partnership with local authorities. The volume of high risk offenders leaving custody as no fixed abode is a disgrace and creates enormous pressure on staff as well as putting the public at risk as (high risk) homeless clients have little option but to offend to eat or obtain money to live. This is probably the biggest “lie” of TR.

Overall most staff would see TR as a failure for everyone in the CJS. Staff are committed and proud of what they do and want change to enable them to do the job they joined probation to do. After 3.5 years the tide has not turned for the better and the outlook remains bleak if we remain on the same path.


  1. Probation Officer24 February 2018 at 10:02

    This reflects the state of NPS & CRC probation in my area 100%. High sickness rates, increasing disciplinaries and every PO looking for a way out. Shocking that probation middle managers are willing conduits for their senior masters and bully staff into fixing the unfixable mess at ground level. Probation directors bow to their MoJ masters relentlessly sending down threatening directives alongside ideological sticking plasters from the ivory tower. The public still don’t know what we do. The Probation Institute, the “voice of probation” is dead, the HMIP is now inspecting farms and probation director Sonia Crozier has been on tv apologising for probation instead of standing up for it!

    The outlook is very bleak indeed. For anyone thinking about a career in probation, think again!

    1. A sad but accurate reflection of probation service provision in England & Wales in 2018. And, like so many Tory projects in these times of austerity, its costing the taxpayer £billions more than anything ever cost before. The handful of priveleged self-styled 'elite' who steer the Tory ship are far wealthier now than they have ever been, and they aren't going to hand over the cash-cow they've created anytime soon. They are well-defended.

    2. Why let the Liberal Democrats off Anon at 10:49?

      - TR would not have happened without their active encouragement - remember it was an LD Minister who introduced the ridiculous Offender Rehabilitation Bill 2014 to Parliament.

      And lets not forget the previous Labour administration (I am[since 2016] a Labour party member).

      With Blunkett as Home Secretary they assured parliament that the 2007 Offender Management Act would not be used to privatise probation (certainly not in the way it was done) yet that was the legislation that enabled the LibDem & Conservative government to split probation employer organisations (the Trusts) and privatise most of it and centralise the rest.

    3. Yep, Andrew, you're right to include those as contributory factors, but the Tories made it happen by lying to Parliament. Here's Jeremy Wright in HoC on Jan 2014 when all final efforts to prevent TR & amend the OR Bill 2014 were voted down:

      "I make no apologies for the urgency of these reforms: as long as we wait, there will be further cases of reoffending and further victims created. Some 600,000 offences are committed every year by those who are reoffending. That is the problem that everyone here has identified correctly and everyone says they want to do something about. The difference between the Government and Opposition Members is that we know how we are going to do it and they do not have the faintest idea. They do not know how they would pay for it, either. We know that the last Government set out to achieve this, but could not afford to do it within existing budgets. That option is out. We know how we will pay for this; they do not."

  2. Shouldn't the reluctance of CRCs to provide information under the excuse of corporate confidentiality, and the MoJ trying not to provide information when it's requested be of very serious concern with any inquiry into the privatisation of probation?


    1. Almost 500 prisoners went on to commit further crimes while out on licence from HMP Hull, shocking figures have revealed. The justice system made a total of 1,047 recalls to the Category B facility in just nine months, between July 1, 2016 and March 31, 2017, indicating many of the prisoners were recalled more than once.

      The details were belatedly given to the Mail after the Information Commission intervened to force the Ministry of Justice to respond to our request, which was originally made last August.

      Most criminals sentenced to jail are released after serving half of their time and are then required to spend the rest of that period "on licence", meaning although they are technically free they are subject to strict conditions. They must keep in touch with the Probation Service, fulfil any rehabilitation activities they are asked to do and can be returned to custody for a breach at any time. This applies automatically if they are charged with another offence before the end of their sentence.

      Further charges were the most common reason a convict was returned to prison - this accounted for almost a third of all cases. A further 313 were pulled back into custody because of "non-compliance". Other reasons included failing to keep in touch with the probation service, failing to reside at the correct address and for matters relating to drugs and alcohol.

      Almost a third of the 494 who breached their licence were originally serving time for theft. Fourteen had originally committed sexual offences, while 80 were for violence against another person and 41 had initially done time for robbery.

      A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "The vast majority of offenders abide by their release conditions and very few commit serious further offences on licence. But we take any incidents that do occur extremely seriously, and each one is investigated fully to identify any lessons that could be learned."

    2. A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: "The vast majority of offenders abide by their release conditions and very few commit serious further offences on licence. But we take any incidents that do occur extremely seriously, and each one is investigated fully to identify any lessons that could be learned."

      Proven Reoffending Statistics Quarterly Bulletin Jan'16 to Mar'16
      (published Jan 2018 -

      "Adults released from custody or court orders had a proven reoffending rate of 37.4%... "

      I guess 62.6% is a 'majority'.

      According to a written Parliamentary answer by Sam Gyimah [answered on 12 July 2017] in 2012-13 – before privatisation – 409 serious further offence reviews were triggered. The number of SFO reviews carried out [after privatisation] by the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS) between 1 April 2016 and 31 March 2017 had increased to 517.

      Again, I suppose 517 is 'very few' SFOs... but an increase of around 25%. What, I wonder, has been learned? And by whom?

      CAUTION - spin doctors, wormtongues, snake oil salesmen & fucking barefaced liars at work.

    3. Jeremy Wright, Wormtongue-in-Chief to Grayling, 14 Jan 2014:

      "Let me deal with the Peterborough pilot and what it does. It is worth making the point that the interim figures from the pilot—we have been told often this afternoon that there is no evidence for the changes we are making, so let me offer some up—show an 8% fall in reconvictions among offenders released from Peterborough between September 2010 and June 2012 as compared with the preceding period. Similarly in the Doncaster pilot, the sixth-month reoffending rate fell 5.7 percentage points compared with the preceding period. That clearly demonstrates that with targeted support and help aimed at the right people at the right time, we can divert more offenders from a return to crime."

    4. ... and to make a link with comments on the previous 'burnout' blog...

      ... These liars & blaggers & blinkered ideologues are the role models for today's management; they set the tone, they define the terms of engagement. Its therefore no wonder that many (not all) CRC & NPS managers are emulating these vile, bullying traits in order to curry favour, to meet targets & exchange integrity for personal reward.

      Follow-My-Leader: a children's game in which one child is followed by a line of other children, who have to copy everything the first child does.

  3. In our local area CRC staff no longer even bother to make a referral to the local homeless team for people leaving prison with no address to go to so they end up on the streets rather than in a hostel

  4. Interesting piece and also interesting that it confirms the recent posts by service users about the awful service they receive from probation

  5. Thank you anon PO who submitted the evidence.
    Thank you Jim for airing it.
    Thank you JSC (I suspect much credit lies with Bob Neill) for recognising, accepting the necessity of & enabling anonymised evidence in the current climate of victimisation & McCarthyism within organisations who seek to hide their own incompetence & greed under the 'commercially sensitive' cloak of invisibility.

  6. From near 2 years ago, an extracted version of guest blog, and pertinent to recent topics on Probation Matters blog.

    ‘The Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) revolution that fractured the Probation Services has played a significant part in my … (resignation from CRC).’

    ‘The volume of work I am expected to complete and the fear of falling behind or missing a target has driven more frenzied work such that I can tell my work and life balance is plainly out of kilter and my well – being as a result adversely affected.’

    ‘The thought of being desk bound in front of a computer trying to manage in excess of 70 cases (a nod here to my Probation Service Officer (PSO) colleagues some of whom have over 90 cases) is not only unappealing but a cause of considerable angst for me.’

    ‘I am witnessing too many of my colleagues including managers being made to suffer with the burden that is placed upon them and often in a way from which they are struggling to recover …’

    ‘What of the people we are primarily tasked to work with? Indeed, what of them, with such high case numbers for individual workers and a very limited scope to get to know those cases in a meaningful way, what of them?’

    Keep up the good work JB.

    1. Every day I am also witnessing too many of my colleagues suffering but I wouldn’t include managers (NPS & CRC). Senior Probation Officers (aka middle-managers) don’t supervise 70 and 90 cases and in my region they are well known as part of the problem. They sign off a few recalls every week and write a few staff supervision notes. The rest of their time is spent barking by email, bullying staff over targets, grassing staff up to HR and making themselves look good to senior managers, hoping for that next promotion. Senior Managers (aka assistant directors) are no better. They attend meetings for the sake of meeting and plot new ways to use staff to make themselves look good to the director, hoping for that next promotion.

    2. I'm going to give shout for many managers. I know them personally. Even the go getters and ambitious have struggled. Many loaded up on anti - dep and anxiety meds or downing a couple of energy drinks before hitting the day and then collapsing at night. Not unsurprisingly many have managed their exit or are actively planning to do so. Management has always been challenging, trying to meet often conflicting demands.

    3. Never met any manager like that, but I have met many managers past and current who have acted like they’re on meds or should be. Mostly the type that lock themselves in their offices, and those that get a kick out of micro-managing staff, and too many have been horrible individuals not fit for purpose some still clinging on for their pension. The few good managers I’ve known did not need energy drinks or pill, and they have long been replaced by the new breed managers the NPS nodding dogs and 21 year old CRC go-getters!!!

    4. Bottom line ... we PO’s and PSO’s do the work not the managers !

    5. Can't agree that's the case in my NPS office whilst out SPOs can do very little to stand up to the dictating senior management they are very supportive and do their best to protect us against the bullying instructions of HR! My manager hasn't forgotten what it's like on the frontline

  7. Retired Chief Probation Officer speaks out calling for return to 'Gold Standard' Probation services and greater use of community sentences.

    1. I’ve a lot of respect for John Bensted, Retired chief probation officer. Pity he didn’t say all that when probation was about to be hung, drawn and quartered in 2014. I’ll still put him above the likes of all current chief officers or directors as they’re now call. Particularly when most are silent or invisible, excepting the one that recently went on TV and blamed probation for John Worboys!

    2. A lot of people didn't get their act together to challenge TR. I was particularly disappointed with Chief Probation Officers as a collective. I think ultimately they were signed up to Public Sector ethos of respecting that parliament had a mandate to act and having stated their plentiful reservations subsequently came to heel. I think our gaze ought to be directed higher than our former chiefs. Speaking out now, well better late than never?

    3. Mr Benstead buys into the myth that Rory Stewart is a magically positive creature:

      "The privatisation and subsequent failings of some aspects of the probation service have undermined its potential to be part of the solution. I hope that the prisons minister, Rory Stewart, with his positive attitude will stay long enough in post to repair the foundations of the probation service and rebuild its pre-privatisation, gold standard reputation."

      In doing so he also accepts Stewart's deliberate, pointed snub to the 'Gold Standard' service, i.e. redacting 'Probation' from his job title. Not such a positive attitude after all...

    4. Your report on the crisis in our prison system (“Are Britain’s prisons facing a meltdown?”, Focus) rightly poses the question: what is prison for? However, we have been asking the same question for the past 25 years and we need some tried and tested answers.

      Simple rhetoric such as “prison works” have only contributed to the doubling of the prison population. In 1989, the then home secretary, Douglas Hurd, said that “prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse”. Judging by the increase in violence, drug use and suicides, imprisonment continues to make bad people even worse and less likely to be rehabilitated.

      Hurd also oversaw one of the few decreases in the prison population by bolstering the work of the probation service and increasing the use of community sentences, which must be part of the answer to the current crisis.

      The privatisation and subsequent failings of some aspects of the probation service have undermined its potential to be part of the solution. I hope that the prisons minister, Rory Stewart, with his positive attitude will stay long enough in post to repair the foundations of the probation service and rebuild its pre-privatisation, gold standard reputation.

      Perhaps devolving some of the commissioning of local probation services to the police and crime commissioners could provide local solutions to local problems of reoffending and rehabilitation.

      John Bensted
      Retired chief probation officer of Gloucestershire Probation Trust

      Nobody could have read the article without very considerable concern. However, as a former prison governor and subsequently a consultant criminologist and author, it did not in the least surprise me.

      This crisis has been deepening since the mid-1990s to the extent of becoming “business as usual”. Five successive governments (three Conservative and two Labour) and 15 home secretaries or, since 2007, justice secretaries, have presided over a criminal justice process that has sleepwalked into a state of chaos and shameful mismanagement. It is therefore unfair to lay the blame entirely at the door of the prisons.

      The root causes of the malaise are simply stated: ill-considered penal policy-making resulting in an uncontrolled escalation in the daily prison population and a persistent overcrowding of prisons to the extent of making them virtually unmanageable in a safe and disciplined manner. In 2017, some 80 of the 118 prisons were “crowded” or worse.

      The time has now come to redo the maths, revise the political rhetoric of prisons and enable them to deliver their essential social purpose. We might profitably start with a rebuttal of the infamous claim in 1993 by the then home secretary, Michael Howard, one of the original architects of the penal crisis, that “prison works”.

      Let us be clear: prisons fail. They do so because too many minor offenders are sent there and overload their capacity to deliver their service to the state and the public. Prisons are, in their present state, unsafe and unstable for prisoners and prison staff. Even worse, they are more than 60% ineffective in reducing reoffending within a year of release, at prohibitive cost to the taxpayer. The time has come to reverse this deplorable situation in the national interest. Politicians, not HM Prison Service, carry the responsibility for making this happen.

      David J Cornwell
      Conderton, Gloucestershire