Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Conversation Starters

On the day that a discussion kicks-off within the portals of the Welsh Assembly seeking to find a way to fix the obviously broken Probation Service, I was particularly struck by these contributions from yesterday:-  

I joined the service after it was no longer social work based but before NOMS. We had a value base that was changing, but still recognisable as social work, albeit with some political influence pushing the enforcement side of things (which could be ignored providing you were prepared to stand up for yourself and your decisions). 

I have no idea what our current value base is. Whatever we are meant to be doing is couched in pretty civil service language that means nothing to me, generally sent in 15 email attachments I can't open and don't have time to read because I'm writing my third type of assessment this week on the same case. 

As far as I can tell my job description is to be all things to all people and to never ever say anything bad about anything. The so called independent parole board appears to have different definitions of risk depending on how full the prisons are and we are either enforcing too much or too little on different days of the week. 

I've always loved my career choice, despite the fact that it's always been a political football - there always been a clear reason and all round benefit in doing what we do. This is nothing short of a farce. We employ hundreds of people doing things like quality audits and development tools. They have no fucking clue about people, about what's possible, about the fact that WE are the ONLY resource we have and we are finite no matter how many resilience and mindfulness briefings they make us attend. 

CRCs are failing but so is NPS and all we get from management is how amazing they are for forcing us to hit meaningless performance targets week after week. The thing is, that to me Probation has looked different within the context of each individual case. Yes there's an organisational overarching objective, but that's achieved in a different way for each person we work with. 

One size fits all doesn't work for cases or for staff and the much feted creativity that TR was meant to promote has been strangled by a real lack of understanding of what the front line role is meant to be. It's broken. I don't think it can be fixed. But it's also breaking the people who encounter the whole sorry mess, which in my book is unforgivable.

How do you solve a problem like probation? I'm not too sure if that's the right question really. The direction of travel must ultimately depend on the destination you want to arrive at. It's my opinion that probation has changed so much and so often over the last couple of decades that those who work in the service have very different ideas of what the destination should be. 

Social work based? Supervisory and enforcement ethic? Public protection agency? Law enforcement or a post custody monitoring body? I think they're all legitimate arguments of what the service should exist to provide, and for many people their idea of what the service should be will be partly shaped by what the service was like when they joined. 

I think it's worth remembering that someone who joined the service around the time NOMS was created have a fair few years in now and maybe considered by some to be long in the tooth. But there's still people who predate NOMS and they gave a different perception of what the service should be. It's a conundrum that's complicated by wider changes in the criminal justice system and political interference. 

The probation service means too many different things to too many different people, so before someone tries to fix it they need to be clear in their minds what they want the end result to look like. My own personal opinion is that it should be social work orientated and not so focused on law enforcement. But that's just my opinion.

Engaging with someone around their harmful behaviour is both complex and necessarily unique to that person. Adding in the mandated aspect of Probation work adds further complexity. The only way that I can make sense of, that stands a chance of working, is by establishing a professional rapport and relationship, engaging the individual motivationally, and then, based on thorough and ongoing assessment, collaborative work toward agreed goals. That means a one-to-one relationship with time to be meaningful. Beyond that the relationship needs supporting by others within the organisation and out. A collective focus. I don't care if you call it social, community, therapeutic or probation work. If it does not have those ingredients as a minimum, it is unlikely to deliver substantially.

Set probation and prison services apart from politics and let the purpose be (re)habilitation and inclusion into society. That way all those people we need with us can be contributing rather than thrown on the scrap heap which is what is happening now. Stop wasting people. Children in schools should be given a diverse spectrum of opportunities rather than everything being focussed on academia. All types of intelligence should be embraced and developed.


  1. "The only way that I can make sense of, that stands a chance of working, is by establishing a professional rapport and relationship, engaging the individual motivationally, and then, based on thorough and ongoing assessment, collaborative work toward agreed goals. That means a one-to-one relationship with time to be meaningful."

    The trouble is the current model sees the practitioner/service user relationship as completely irrelevant to the process. Most supervisees have numerous outside probation officers throughout their sentence and licence which makes it virtually impossible to establish trust and rapport and a good working relationship that just might enable the service user to turn their life around.

    Add in the fact that you learn very quickly as a supervisee (under the current regime) to never ever ever tell your PO the truth about anything because that will simply get you recalled because of perceived risk even when there isn't actually any actual raising of risk.

    And even if you do need help with something, you're never going to get it so there's no point in even asking so your situation can get a lot worse because there's zero help and support.

    If Sweden can get things right (see Erwin James' latest piece in the Guardian about the Swedish system) and other countries can do a much better job than the UK can at less cost overall even if there may be greater cost up front, one has to wonder why UK politicians are so resistant to doing the right thing that will benefit society much more in both short and long term than the current disastrous mess.

    1. Because its about the career of the politician, not for the good of society. Demonising those who commit offences is easy pickings for the ambitious MP; planning a long-term strategy that is efficacious & beneficial to society as a whole, e.g. Bevan's NHS, requires a visionary, not the kwikfix of a self-serving psychopath.

  2. Sky news channel is reporting on the probation service today, focusing on the privatised arm.


    1. Probation Service whistleblowers are warning that public safety is at severe risk, because they no longer have the resources to properly supervise offenders in the community.

      Re-offending rates for some of the most serious crimes, including murder, rape and other violent offences have risen by 26% since the Government reorganised the probation system in 2014.

      Probation officers have told Sky News they see a direct correlation between the rise in serious re-offending and their inability to effectively monitor offenders.

      Under the reorganisation, the publically run National Probation Service (NPS) now deals with the most high-risk offenders, while the supervision of low and medium-risk offenders has been farmed out to 21 privately run Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), who secured contracts worth almost £4bn over seven years. But many of the CRCs have struggled to manage their caseloads with the resources available.

      One whistleblower, a probation officer with one of the CRCs, said staff numbers had been cut in half, but her caseload was as big as it ever had been.

      "We now have less time with our cases and rehabilitation has gone out of the window," they said. "We're being forced to telephone offenders because we haven't the time to meet them face-to-face. How then can you read body language to tell if they're reoffending, whether they're back on drugs or involved in domestic abuse."

      The officer said she believes the public are being put increasingly at risk. "Our communities are not as safe as they used to be because we're not able to monitor offenders effectively anymore."

      Conner Marshall, 18, from Barry in South Wales, was murdered by an offender who was under the supervision of a local probation company. David Braddon, a 26-year-old man from Caerphilly, murdered Conner while he was being monitored under a community sentence after being convicted for drugs offences and assaulting a police officer. He had missed eight probation appointments.

      A report by the National Offender Management Service found there were times staff could have "monitored his community order more robustly".

      Conner's mother Nadine said: "It was just horrific to learn he (Braddon) was known and the whole case was a shambolic state. We've tried to get answers, from the authorities, but they've been continually obstructive."

      Conner Marshall's death is an extreme example, but the probation officers Sky News has spoken to are firm in their belief that many others are at risk without significant reinvestment in the service.

      Another whistleblower, who works for the NPS, said even the publicly funded national service had become increasingly dysfunctional, largely due to budget cuts. He said:

      "Since the break up of probation, the workloads for the private companies and the National Probation Service have risen exponentially. We've got a shortage of staff, we're not training enough new staff and that makes it very difficult for us to both protect the public and protect our staff. Some staff members are increasingly going off with stress related illnesses, and others are quitting altogether."

    2. Working links?

  3. Crispin Blunt has just been interviewed on Sky news and said...
    He's spoken to some CRCs in preparation of the interview and been assured that caseloads are pretty much the same as they were prior to the split with probation staff managing caseloads of between 30 and 50.
    He dosent recognise reports of probation officers having to manage caseloads of up to 200.

    Someones not telling the truth.

    1. 120 for a working links not uncommon. 70 for a WL.not uncommon. So some flaming hot pants!

  4. 1127 - I am a long retired PO but stay in touch through ex colleagues and this blog, and am well aware of the chaos and case loads beyond coping. Please contact Sky News, and Crispin, and tell them the truth and advise them to read the truth in this blog. And the Guardian and Independent etc. More people will listen to the news than read this blog. (sorry Jim, I am referring to the general public who know very little of Probation and know nothing about this blog, and believe in 'fake news' on tv.)

    Good on you 11 27 for highlighting this blatant lie.

  5. as a pso my case load is currently 84 which is unworkable

    1. Area ? NPS PSO Or CRC

    2. Blunts claims of caseloads of 30 to 50 dosent even concur with the inspectorates findings.

    3. To be fair to Crispy Runt, he spoke to the CRCs themselves and it is not surprising that they tried to polish that particular turd. They have been trying to do so since day one.

    4. HM Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey highlighted large caseloads in a report on services in Staffordshire and Stoke.

      The inspection is the latest to examine arrangements following a controversial shake-up of the regime for managing offenders in the community rolled out in 2014.

      Under the overhaul, probation services in England and Wales were divided into a new National Probation Service (NPS) and 21 privately owned Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). The report found some officers were responsible for up to 80 cases.

      Dame Glenys said: "High individual caseloads are becoming commonplace in CRCs. Of course CRCs must manage within anticipated resource, but the public is at greater risk when officers are spread too thinly and if quality assurance is not robust."

  6. Probation mentioned in passing at PMQ’s today.

  7. Victim issues - here's hoping someone at MoJ, Parole Board & office of Victims Commissioner reads this blog.

    1. It is simply not appropriate to use probation staff - those who supervise caseloads, cover court duties or work within offices where perpetrators attend for supervision - to act as Victim Liaison Officers.

    2. The VLO role should be independent under the gaze of the Victims Commissioner & located within local Police & Crime Commissioners' offices. This would release probation staff to undertake probation duties, and removes them from the risk of conflict of interest, intentional or unintentional bias, or accidental disclosure.

    3. The Parole Board should be enabled to commission truly independent professional assessments, e.g. medical reports, psychological assessments. And independent should mean wholly independent, not someone in the employ of the HMPPS or associated with a particular Chambers or law firm.

    4. The definition of an eligible 'victim' needs to be clarified.

    1. In a similar vein, i.e. justice on a hiding to nothing as a result of rank stupidity by the NOMS' self-designated 'elite':

      Who can remember those days of yore when Probation Areas retained experienced criminal lawyers to prepare & prosecute breaches? This was in the dark ages?

      Then someone decided that was shit and had the bright idea of getting untrained probation staff to prepare & present their own breaches... and as if by magic the number of contested breaches was manifold, as the number of breaches determined 'not proved' escalated from 'very few' to 'quite a lot'.

      Also, remember those pre-historic days when there were Probation Officers based in prisons and they prepared the Parole Reports, and even compiled the full Prison Dossier for submission to the Parole Board?

      Oh, and then someone thought that was shit as well, and had another bright idea: removing the prison-based POs and introducing warm & fluffy Oral Hearings where externally-based probation staff (qualified and unqualified) - often unable to have any previous contact other than via a pisspoor videolink - were pitted against battle-hardened defence barristers & expert witnesses in an adversarial setting with (more often than not) a Judge chairing the Oral Hearing. Q: So who is more likely to be able to impress a Judge and win a legal argument in an Oral Hearing? NB: it often didn't help that the Prison Officer at the Oral Hearing simply wanted Prisoner 1234 to be released as they were causing hell on the wing.

      I don't know, those bloomin' dinosaurs and their old fashioned ways. Pah!!

    2. Please get your facts right before you give advice. To be clear, Victim liaison officers DO NOT see offenders, they have a separate database which is exclusive to VLO staff, they sit in field team offices to give advice and information to Offender Managers, there are no paper files and victim details are protected. VLOs need to access offender information and prison systems so absolutely need to remain in the National Probation Service employ.

  8. Lord Janner's daughter on Radio 4 this morning talking about "alleged victims" of abuse. Bit of a minefield.