Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Probation No Longer a Career

Every now and then a particularly erudite contribution arrives that seems to sum things up rather neatly:-

"I am old and grumpy but far from stuck in my ways. My comments and criticisms of the current ‘leadership,’ are from an analytical perspective, evidence based and with the benefit of 30 years experience. In my opinion, probation is no longer a career, but merely a stepping stone to something else.

We are seeing all the problems that the prison service had some years ago. No real problem with recruitment because it all looks good on paper, but severe problems with retention and, worse in my opinion, people putting themselves forward for management roles without the skills, ability or experience required and who have no hesitation in telling others how to do a job they were not capable of doing themselves.

We have a silent leadership with nothing to say on any national stage, but having sold all of your principles, beliefs and ethics are they surprised that the workers do not support them. 

There has been little comment on here about the outcome of the staff survey which once again this year, and despite claims that things would improve, demonstrate that there is a significant gap between what they claim and what we experience."



As this is published, I notice a major discussion has broken out over on Facebook regarding the extremely vexed question of ViSOR vetting for staff in NPS. It seems that this compulsory process is now centralised and disclosure must now include passwords for social media accounts. As has been suggested, although refusal to comply will not lead to dismissal, but rather banishment to the likes of court, many staff are now openly questioning the very future of probation as it becomes increasingly the admin arm of the police. This will cause Napo some embarrassment as they launch their 'reunification' campaign:-

Napo Reunify Probation Campaign Launched

Napo’s campaign to reunite the Probation Service starts now. The campaign is to be launched on the back of recent media coverage of the dangers of a split probation service evidenced by the shocking rise in SFOs since TR.

Napo will be urging Ministers to halt the current remarketisation exercise, following the MoJ ‘Strengthening Probation’ consultation. and crucially to bring the whole of the service back together under one agency - as is now proposed in Wales.

The first stage of the campaign will be to get parliamentarians on-board. The arguments we will be making will focus on 8 reasons for a unified probation service:

  • We have a two-tier workforce for pay, conditions and professional standards.
  • Marketisation has failed for clients, staff, public and CRCs themselves as none have made a profit.
  • Public safety is compromised with a massive increase in SFOs and community safety completely undermined by a divided organisation.
  • No local accountability or meaningful involvement with stakeholders by the NPS or the CRCs.
  • NPS is paralysed by bureaucracy, inefficient and centralisation of processes. A one size fits all approach does not work.
  • Staff burn out in the NPS from working solely with high risk and complex cases are having a detrimental impact on staff wellbeing.
  • No end to end offender management which is proven to be the most effective for desistance.
  • The need for profit has driven out the third sector organisations vital for local support.
Napo will be producing briefings for parliamentarians and the media on each of the 8 reasons over the coming 8 weeks.

We also hope to secure a date for a drop-in event in parliament, where MPs will be invited to meet with Napo Officials, Officers and Members at the event and to hear directly about the dangers of the split service and the need for this to end.

Napo has also produced postcards outlining the campaign and these are going out to branches now. We will be asking you to send a card to your constituency MP asking them to support the campaign.


So, how exactly is reunification of Probation under the dead hand of civil service control going to improve things? Even the Napo campaign admits that with NPS you get:-
  • No local accountability or meaningful involvement with stakeholders by the NPS or the CRCs.
  • NPS is paralysed by bureaucracy, inefficient and centralisation of processes. A one size fits all approach does not work.
Wales is different and is a devolved Administration. This simplistic campaign for reunification under NPS control in England has not been thought through and is not the answer to preserving the probation ethos. To put it bluntly, it will be the kiss of death for a once-proudly independent profession, destined to die a slow and lingering death at the hands of bureaucrats.    


  1. No questioning of the napo reunification campaign.The first major push from the Union has seen some action from the Press and parliamentary officer get on with galvanising what is left of the branches into some consolidated action. Many of us in divisions support this effort and applaud NAPO at last looking to deliver something that has a real potential. Getting all staff back into one employer base and rid of expensive valueless wasters the CRCs parasites management will help produce the cash needed to redirect the staff into the one direction and fix the recruitment fiasco created by that twat grayling and the ilk.

    Bring the workforces together from any union point of view is the start of the road back to single collective bargaining and reinstatement of genuine national terms and not the rot that the NPS has adopted whilst the rest has been abandoned by corrupted money thieving bottomless pits called the CRC.

  2. "ViSOR vetting for staff in NPS. It seems that this compulsory process is now centralised and disclosure must now include passwords for social media accounts. As has been suggested, although refusal to comply will not lead to dismissal, but rather banishment to the likes of court"

    This neatly encapsulates all that is grotesque & wrong about HMPPS, Civil Service, Government. There's no meritocratic basis of professional skills, knowledge & ability, just Control & Command by the chumocracy: "If you don't do as we say, if you don't fit into our criteria, we'll PUNISH you & make you do what we want you to do." They no doubt have a waiting list of compliant & eager staff.

    Years ago Prison-based probation was seen as a 'punishment', with Courts being the proving-ground for future stars. Then courts fell out of favour & Programmes was the new cherry on the cake... etc, etc.

    Its important to remember that NPS senior managers have taken to the HMPPS like ducks to water. Previous management styles have been abandoned in favour of Spurr's JFDI (just fucking do it) regime. Recent anecdotal accounts include senior NPS managers shouting at, belittling & embarrassing at staff in public arenas.

    I remember being present at an early CRC meeting when the CEO used very specific & carefully chosen offensive comments to silence a staff member who had asked what the CEO regarded as "a bloody awkward question". The acolytes all guffawed & chortled... the rest of the room stayed uncomfortably silent. That (highly qualified & experienced) staff member stood up, nodded with a wry smile to colleagues, left the room & never came back. Not that day, not ever. *** If you're reading this, you know who you are & we still think you're a star!***

    So my view would be that any reconfiguration or re-unification of Probation MUST exclude such abusive practice. But sadly those practices are now deeply embedded within those who will be regarded & feted as 'senior leaders' for whatever probation model follows. And NAPO are not strong enough to effect such a major change.

    I don't see the new broom, Dr Farrar, straying too far away from Spurr's approach.

    By way of illustrating our diverse media & how one might be viewing progress over Brexit, here are some headlines from 20/9/18, nicely juxtaposed:

    * Daily Mail, 20/9/19: "Prisons boss Michael Spurr is SACKED amid chaos in England's jails after guards protest at 'unprecedented violence' and ministers admit they are flooded with drugs"

    * FT, 20/9/18: "Prison Service chief resigns after criticism over jail conditions"

    * Independent, 20/9/18: "Prison and probation chief to be replaced amid epidemic of violence and self-harm in jails"

  3. Probation is now just a job, not a career. That's sad, but nontheless a harsh fact.
    Reunification and renationalisation however will not by themselves fix probation, they only provide a foundation to build upon.
    Probation has been steered for years along a path it was never designed to take. It's whole identity has been polluted, and as alluded to above, its become an extention of the police force.
    It records problems now rather then try to solve them.
    It's a service that's become a jack of all trades and master of non.
    Reunification and renationalisation is only a step in the right direction, perhaps the easiest steps, but it's only by defining its own individual purpose and reclaiming its own specific identity that probation will begin to fix itself.
    Thats the hard bit.


  4. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/birmingham-prison-government-takeover-g4s-jail-ministry-justice-moj-a8775076.html

  5. I am truly shocked by the staff requirement to disclose social media passwords. So much so I can hardly believe it to be true. Can someone provide some more detail please?

    1. Those questions aren't in the forms I've been told to complete

  6. I find it difficult to believe too. I certainly won't be providing mine. Invasion of privacy. One step too far

    1. Then you'd best prepare yourself for being directed to a non-Visor role or being 'managed out'. This is serious shit - Napo hasn't the first idea or it wouldn't have allowed this situation to develop. Reminiscent of TR - either absolute & utter naivety on Napo's part, or collusion with MoJ.

      I often wonder what Spurr's hold is over Lawrence; NOMS/HMPPS have had everything their way with little or no challenge beyond a few meaningless gestures, some cringeworthy media appearances & a lot of campaign postcards. Meanwhile members have lost allowances, leave, salary progression, pay increases, professional status within the criminal justice system and, for those he sacrificed in agreeing to TR, careers.

    2. This article from last week may be of some interest regarding vetting.



    3. Thousands of police officers and civilian staff have never undergone stricter criminal record and background checks, despite the fact that they were introduced in 2006, the BBC has found.

      Data from 16 forces in England and Wales showed 5,966 officers and staff had not had the retrospective checks, which include credit and DNA records.

      The police watchdog said the level of vetting was "concerning".

      The National Police Chiefs' Council said it will work "hard" to cut levels.

      Under the new guidelines, all new police officers and staff undergo rigorous vetting checks, while serving members should also be retrospectively checked every 10 years.

      Checks include credit, DNA and fingerprint analysis using the police database, as well as investigations into an applicant's partner, family and friends.

      Previously, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said it was seeing too many cases of corruption and of officers abusing their positions of authority - sometimes for sexual gain.

      However, BBC 5 Live Investigates found that there were thousands of officers and staff who had not undergone the stricter checks.

      Freedom of Information replies from 36 of 43 police forces in England and Wales revealed that 16 of them had not performed retrospective background checks on those people.

      West Midlands Police had the largest number of officers and staff who had not been checked or vetted within the last 10 years, with 3,283.

      Hertfordshire Constabulary had 831 and Cambridgeshire Constabulary had 637.

      West Midlands Police said it had "backlogs in our routine reviews of vetting" but it was confident only "a minority" were not covered by other government or security checks.

      Concerns about police vetting procedures were raised recently after the conviction of Cheshire Police Officer Ian Naude in December for the rape of a 13-year-old girl.


      Supt Pete Windle, of Dorset Police's Professional Standards Department, said: "Over the past five years, eight officers and staff have either been dismissed or resigned while under investigation for such allegations.

      "Every member of Dorset Police has been vetted to the relevant national standards. We currently have a small number of officers and staff who are due for their 10-year vetting renewal and the force is in the process of ensuring these are completed."

      Data from a Freedom of Information request to the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC), also showed that the number of police officers reported for abusing their power "for sexual gain" has more than doubled over a four-year period - from 84 in 2014-15 to 170 in 2017-18.

      The National Police Chiefs' Council said more cases like this were being reported because of the work they had done in highlighting the issue.

      In a statement, it said: "There is a gap and we will work really hard to sort that out.

      "We are confident the number of officers and staff who have not been retrospectively vetted before 2006 will fall in the coming months."

      HMICFRS said the low levels of vetting uncovered by the BBC could affect public confidence in the police.

      "We're currently inspecting forces to check that they've cleared their vetting backlogs," it said.

  7. https://www.ft.com/content/fc193e58-2e0d-11e9-ba00-0251022932c8

    1. Probation reform is key to cutting jail numbers

      The overhaul of Britain’s parole system unveiled recently by justice secretary David Gauke came in response to public alarm over last year’s decision — since reversed — to grant early release to John Worboys, known as the “black cab rapist”. The measures will give more rights to victims to contest the release of violent criminals. But a focus on parole risks obscuring the need to address a broader weakness in the criminal justice system: the dire state of the probation service.

      With the prison population more than doubling over 30 years to about 82,000, prisons such as Liverpool and Bedford are on the brink of “catastrophe”, according to penal reformers. Rory Stewart, the prisons minister, last summer gave himself 12 months to reduce levels of violence and danger within the prisons, or he would resign. The overcrowding is due in part to large numbers serving short jail sentences, many of whom would be better sentenced to community service, overseen by the probation system. Unfortunately, many magistrates are awarding custodial sentences because of lack of confidence in probation services.

      The government is caught between two imperatives. Cutting prisoner numbers is about saving money, while releasing offenders back into the community requires a well run and resourced probation service. A scathing official report on probation services warned last year that overstretched private probation companies were failing to monitor offenders properly.

      Much blame must lie with Conservative party reforms of the probation service, including the extensive 2014 privatisation programme introduced by Chris Grayling, then justice secretary. Mr Grayling was warned at the time that the reforms were too rushed, and too rooted in a fervour for privatisation.

      Outsourcing probation involved awarding contracts to so-called community rehabilitation companies to supervise low and medium-risk offenders. A market-based approach saw companies paid by results, based for example on whether offenders committed new crimes. The results have generally proved poor, at best. Market mechanisms can be efficient and useful in some areas but struggle to handle complex social problems.

      People who need probation services often lead fragmented lives. Helping them become more functional requires patience and experience that is found more in the public sector than in private sector operators used to dealing with a disciplined workforce. Failures by offenders to show up for community service they have been assigned result in many being sent to jail, further swelling the prison population.

      Outsourcing companies, meanwhile, complain they have received fewer offenders than needed to make sufficient profit. Probation service officials, for their part, allege that cost cutting by outsourcing companies has led in some cases to insufficient materials being provided to people involved in community service. High-risk offenders are still dealt with by officers of the National Probation Service grappling with time pressures and deficient IT.

      The government’s decision last summer to terminate current private-sector contracts from 2020 was a clear admission of the need for a comprehensive rethink. In Wales, probation services will be run entirely by the public sector. In England, the justice ministry envisages the probation service operating alongside private-sector companies awarded new contracts after a reshaping of administrative areas. But with 200,000 people a year handed a community sentence, there is no guarantee the revamped system will work any better than the old.

    2. it wont. the rot is still there. wonder if g4s and serco will be allowed to bid as interserve are on the verge of collapse. working links being parmed off to seetec and ingeus being sold to an australian company