Thursday 31 December 2020

Here's To a Better Year

It will not have gone entirely unnoticed that there has been 'radio silence' of late and I guess the reason is probably connected with feelings of fatigue, confusion and general malaise brought on by the very strange times we've all been trying to grapple with over the last 10 months. 

For the most part, this publishing venture continues to give purpose, satisfaction and some pleasure, but I'm not at all sure where it's going, who's coming with me and if it will still have much of a purpose in 2021. 

Despite the demise of TR and our part in that saga, it's quite obvious to me that probation's essential distinctiveness and modus operandi cannot survive the dead hand of civil service control and to be honest I don't see even a half-hearted campaign to make a compelling case for a return to independence. As has been the situation almost from inception, this small corner of the internet remains a relatively safe haven for the idealistic, disillusioned but ever-diminishing band of recusants who steadfastly refuse to confirm that the NPS emperor is fully clothed, but is it still viable and useful?

There's going to be much angst during the CRC wind-up and NPS transition. We all know the centralised HR and payroll will barely cope and there will be tears shed over yet another sifting and shafting exercise. Many colleagues will be searching for support and guidance over the transition period, however I'm not at all confident that this can be achieved within a civil service mindset and especially one so focused on secrecy. Having at least one Union that still seems to have trouble coming to terms with effective communication in a digital age doesn't help either. 

In all this doom and gloom is there any cause for hope? The answer is yes and it comes from Wales. There is the very real opportunity of that part of the United Kingdom being able to wrest control of the probation function from the MoJ, HMPPS and NPS and re-cast the service into something akin to that still remaining in places such as Northern Ireland, Scotland the Channel Islands, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Crown Dependencies such as St Helena. You see it was only England that couldn't understand what probation was all about and allow Grayling, the Tories and Liberal Democrats to smash it. I have high hopes of Wales being able to lead the way back in 2021.  

In my view, if Wales cannot deliver an alternative, independent vision for probation, it's game over for the profession being able to do something useful for society. Probation Officers cannot be civil servants - period! Why is this not understood? Oh hang on - it's because most people never understood what the job was about anyway and why I thought a blog might help. 


I want to end this by putting on record my pride and admiration for living in a country with a National Health Service, the ethos that lies behind its formation and continuation and one of the very few institutions that has close to universal support from its citizens. Get vaccinated in 2021, continue to behave responsibly and help protect the NHS for our mutual benefit. 

Happy New Year!     



Wednesday 23 December 2020

Probation on the Phone

Covid -19 has dramatically changed the probation supervision landscape and here we have the results of some early research from the University of Cambridge Institute of Criminology and KSS CRC:-

Remote supervision: Getting the balance right

1.0 Executive Summary 

1.1 Background 

The sudden onset of Covid-19 has engendered significant policy and practice implications when it comes to delivering probation and allied criminal justice services, with new ’roadmaps’ and emergency delivery models being drawn-up in haste (HMPPS 2020; PBNI, 2020a). Though there have been some early reflections (from academics, commentators and third sector agencies), and even a national review of Exceptional Delivery Model arrangements in probation services, (HMIP 2020), the field has, as yet, been largely unexplored. The current study, therefore, has been conducted to look very directly at this matter, drawing on the remote operational delivery practices amongst case management staff working in three Community Rehabilitation Company divisions, run by Seetec. 

1.2 The current research 

This report sets out the findings of a research project examining probation supervision practice in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It explores case managers’ views of the benefits and limitations of different methods of remote communication, and the suitability for their continued usage in the post-pandemic future. The research sought to answer two key questions: 

1. What practice methods, skills and technologies are currently being used by case managers? 

2. What current practice measures do case managers experience as valuable, with the potential to be retained and developed in the future? 

1.3 Methodology 

The research comprised a mixed methods design, involving an online-survey with 79 case management staff, and 12 semi-structured interviews with survey participants interested in further participation. Interviews were conducted by telephone and video-conference between August and September 2020. Survey data was collected from July to September 2020. The qualitative data was analysed thematically. The quantitative data was explored using Excel. 

1.4 Findings 

Description of practice 

The pandemic has had a profound effect on practice, and has required probation staff to make a rapid shift to remote forms of supervision. When it comes to methods used, most common was the telephone call. Telephone calls enabled a wide range of supervision tasks to take place, with practitioners deeming them more suitable for routine reporting and unscheduled welfare checks, and least suitable for induction appointments. Text messages and emails were also common (the former, for quick and direct communication, the latter for passing on key health/employment documents) but had their problems in the form of data security breaches and the risk that information might be read by someone other than the intended recipient. Video-calls were the least common method, and were used principally for meetings with other professionals. 

The suitability of remote (telephone) supervision 

Though telephone supervision formed the larger part of remote supervision, its suitability was debated. It offered considerable flexibility to service users (e.g. for those with childcare responsibilities, work commitments, or physical health problems), but was not always felt to be inclusive (e.g. for those who had English as a second language, or who had hearing difficulties). When working with service users with drug and alcohol problems, who were homeless, or who were experiencing mental health issues, practitioners saw challenges as they were unable to do visual checks for safety and wellbeing. It caused problems when it came to assessing risk and, significantly, telephone supervision almost always felt unsuitable for cases involving child protection and domestic violence. 

Importantly, telephone supervision denied the engagement of other vital senses. Sight was significant; supervisors who could not see service users worried about missing vital information, but viewed video-calling as potentially a poor substitute for face-to-face work, due to there still being a virtual wall. But practitioners also valued their sense of smell as a means of gathering crucial information about the well-being of service users and talked about the importance of tone of voice in difficult telephone calls. 

Finally, though the flexibility of remote (telephone) supervision increased compliance, its less formal nature was said to risk complacency. Coming into the office signalled active compliance in a way that simply answering the phone did not. 

The professional relationship 

Remote supervision also posed a challenge to building and sustaining professional relationships with service users. Indeed, familiar processes of listening, being friendly, and being clear about the purposes, expectations and options of supervision brought emotional labour, an intrinsic aspect of probation work, into sharper focus. Some practitioners, not used to using a phone for work, found themselves accessible to service users in unfamiliar ways. Experiences of telephone supervision also overlapped with experiences of working from home. This added to the complexity of setting appropriate boundaries for professional relationships – it was not always possible to separate work time from home time. 

Inter-agency work 

Finally, though already common to frontline practice, the pandemic increased the use of video/telephone conferencing for inter-agency work. Some staff were positive about this, citing time saved by not attending in person, however others saw the challenges of supporting someone, especially a vulnerable someone, in a difficult virtual meeting.

1.5 Take home points 

1. Supervision cannot rely on telephone contact alone – Deprived of the opportunity to see, hear (and sometimes smell) properly, supervisors were not getting the full picture of service users and reciprocally, service users were not getting a full picture of them. Telephone supervision constrained practitioners’ ability to gather the information needed to make accurate risk assessments, and was not always sufficiently formal given the statutory nature of probation supervision. Remote supervision was also a difficult experience for vulnerable service users and those with complex needs. 

2. However, there is a place for telephone supervision – telephone supervision can work well in cases where staff and service user know each other well, where the service user’s circumstances are stable and where risk is assessed as low. It also benefits in terms of the expense and inconvenience of travelling to probation offices. In some cases, telephone supervision enables conversations and reflections that are more comfortable, genuine and purposeful than those that take place in the office. 

3. The importance of professional discretion – practitioners would like to continue with elements of remote supervision and would welcome an increase in professional discretion in this area. New guidance is needed to take account of these changes in working practices and professional boundaries, for example around use of work equipment, sharing of email addresses, security of data and recording of decisions about modes of contact. Increasing the scope for the use of professional discretion in this way also brings new support and training needs for staff. 

4. Thinking about video calls – The study supports the continued use of video calls for inter-agency meetings. Though staff had no experience of video supervision, many saw the value of it through offering the prospect of seeing (as well as hearing) service users and their immediate surroundings. A trial of video calling would enable practitioners to explore the benefits and limitations of this technology, assess its usefulness and contribute to developing the necessary protocols and practice guidance. 

5. Developing the use of internet resources for supervision – The study also points to the possibility of broadening structured supervision by drawing on online resources. Ability to use these resources was sometimes hampered by lack of smartphones (for practitioners), Wi-Fi issues in offices, security settings on work devices, and access issues for service users, but there was significant interest. Staff asked for more information about appropriate good-quality online resources, expressing enthusiasm for a resource library that could be used as part of individual supervision. 

6. Flexible working with greater use of remote supervision – ‘Working at home’ and ‘remote supervision’ are two different things which, in the context of the pandemic, overlap. Some of the objections to telephone supervision seemed really to be objections to working at home, for example the sense of intrusion into the practitioner’s home, with staff calling for remote working from the office. After the pandemic, it was hoped that the benefits of working from home might be maintained (including travelling less, staying late in the office less frequently, and managing their family responsibilities more easily), alongside the flexibility, when in the office, to have the option to use remote means of communication.


5.3 Getting the full picture 

Not being able to see people is a strong disadvantage of telephone calls. Practitioners (in the survey and in interview) were clear about the difficulties of having to work without being able to see the other person. They explained that communication was about spoken words, but also about body language; managing without body language meant that communication was harder and important messages were often missed. When practitioners work face-to-face they pick up on visual clues and on discrepancies between what someone is saying and how they are looking.
‘They are not in front of you so you can't gauge their body language… you can pick up a lot with their body language, in front of you, to gauge whether what they are saying is quite true or not - and on the phone that is quite difficult. It's easy for them to say on the phone, “oh yeah everything’s good, everything's fine, nothing is happening” whereas face-to-face you might pick up some other things that you're not too sure if that's actually the case’ (Nicola) 
‘conversation isn't just about what's being said, it's about how it's being said, your body language, are you being threatening, are you being open, you use gestures a lot to get your point across, so having a visual contact is preferable’ (Paul) 
Not being able to see people increased practitioners’ worry about missing information that was necessary for risk assessment and risk management. It was not possible to see if someone’s physical health or personal care had deteriorated. Speaking specifically of service users with substance use issues, Gemma said: 
‘You need to be able to see them often to verify what they are telling you, whether they’re using or not - because over the telephone you can’t see if there has been a dramatic weight loss or if their personal care standards have significantly dropped... being able to see them definitely helps with your assessment of how they are doing, how's their welfare, have they neglected themselves, have they relapsed, are they drinking more, are they under the influence? They could say “Oh I sound like this because I'm tired” but it could actually be because they have taken something.’
Over the telephone, it was not possible to be sure that someone was where they claimed to be, or to know whether other people (friends, family members or children) were listening into the call. It was harder for practitioners to take a curious and investigative approach if solely reliant on telephone contact. 

Few study participants had experience of using video calls as part of supervision. Many took the view that video calls offered potential benefits over voice calls; it would be possible to see whether someone looked well, it would be easier to understand where they were and if they were alone. However, video calling was still seen as a poor substitute for face-to-face work, and not just because the quality of video calls can be poor. 
‘Seeing someone through a screen rather than seeing them in person, there's still kind of a wall up against you because they could be putting on a whole different persona just because they know you could see them at that time..’ (Paul) 
Sight was not the only sense identified as important for probation work. Practitioners explained that using the telephone required very careful listening, which was demanding and tiring. Poor connections and background noise meant that people could be hard to hear. Practitioners also valued their sense of smell as a means of gathering important information about the well-being of service users and as a warning sign of increased problems with alcohol and drug use. 
‘You might be able to tell over the phone if they are under the influence, slurring their words and things like that, but some people are really good at hiding it. If they actually come into the office I can see, I can smell, so things like that really help.’ (Rebecca) ‘
'on the telephone they can present as sober, you can't smell their breath, you can't see their eyes’ (Andrew) 
Sara talked about having a ‘probation radar’ which enabled her to identify when someone was contemplating change or falling into trouble. Communicating remotely deprived her of the ability to read body language and to ‘sniff out’ shifts in motivation. Her probation radar did not work as well over the phone. 

5.4 The professional relationship 

Remote supervision posed a challenge to the process of building and sustaining a professional relationship. Few of the study participants would choose to start a period of supervision with telephone contact. Face-to-face sessions were the best way of getting to know someone, enabling both practitioners and service users to be able to put a face to a name. 
‘What I found difficult is the new cases that you got, you've only ever spoken to them over the phone, you can’t put a face to the name, you can’t picture that person. I just think for getting to know someone, and building rapport those face to face meetings are quite crucial at the beginning’ (Deborah)
One survey respondent explained the value of meeting service users like this: 
‘Professionally I feel that clients deserve face to face contact. It humanises our service to them and affords officers an insight into clients’ lives and struggle by way of reading body language.’ 
Practitioners spoke of the strategies that they used to build rapport and develop a working relationship over the telephone. They stressed that they used familiar processes: listening to people, being friendly and approachable, and being clear about the purposes, expectations and options of supervision. Remote working brought emotional labour, an intrinsic aspect of probation work, into sharper focus. Experienced practitioners (including Nicola and Claire) reflected on the way that they had adapted their communication approach to suit remote supervision. 
Obviously it's not the same as meeting them day one... but I think I have been able to build more or less the same rapport because... it's all about how you talk to somebody’ (Nicola)
‘I've only just realised how much of it [the job] I do by looking pleasant, and you know I'm quite smiley, I'm quite friendly - and if people don't hear that on the phone, I think possibly I sound a bit sharper on the phone, as it were, I talk quite fast... which probably makes a difference to people... I have had to work on talking more consciously slowly. I think possibly the way I come across if people haven't spoken to me before is just less approachable, maybe, on the phone, because I think I'm doing a lot of work with my body language’ (Claire) 
Practitioners were considerably more positive about the use of the telephone to communicate with service users with whom they had an established professional relationship. Few practitioners thought that the telephone had no place in probation supervision. Many had examples of telephone calls in which service users were more relaxed and open. Linda reflected on the possibility that both supervisor and supervisee could benefit from being away from the office environment. 
‘I don't know whether that's because they don’t need to cover up any body language on the phone, or maintain eye-contact. I don't know if they open up a bit more. I seem to have found out loads more about my service users than when they were in the office.’ 
One survey respondent wrote: 
‘I have found telephone discussions to be more open and engaging with some service users than face to face - one has said that he so hates just coming into the office (everything it represents for him), that he is in a state of agitation before seeing me, and so the first period of supervision is spent supporting him to relax (and this service user has been on licence for some years now); we do not have to go through this on the phone and the difference in engagement is remarkable.’ 
The use of telephone supervision also shed new light on the issue of boundaries in professional relationships. Practitioners who had not previously had a work mobile phone found themselves accessible to service users in unfamiliar ways; they had to make decisions about how many times to ring non-communicative service users and also how to respond to service users who phoned often and outside of agreed appointment times. Some practitioners found it easier than others to turn off the work mobile phone outside of office hours. 

Gemma described herself as strict with boundaries: 
‘because I haven't given out my number to service users I haven’t had these issues, but others who have given out their work number have had instances where SUs are constantly calling them or ringing them at inappropriate times.’ 
Lena observed that negotiating boundaries was part of her role; the use of email and mobile phones led to new ways in which people could over-step supervision boundaries, but, in some cases, she did judge it appropriate to share her email address with a service user. 

Practitioners varied in the extent to which they welcomed the changes in interpersonal dynamics that came with an increased use of telephone supervision. One of the most positive comments came from this survey respondent: 
‘Service users have the benefit of feeling like they are in a two-way relationship with their Programme Facilitators because they can easily contact them (with a message) on the phone, rather than simply being required to turn up to meetings with a group. This must encourage the impression that they are equal and responsible agents in their own rehabilitation, so improving their engagement and receptiveness’ 
For the majority of the research participants, their experience of telephone supervision overlapped with a period of working from home. Wider issues arising from home working are outside the scope of this study but, for practitioners, working at home added to the complexity of setting appropriate boundaries for professional relationships; it was not always possible to separate work time from home time and practitioners felt that, on occasions, telephone calls (particularly about difficult or intimate topics) risked being overheard by household members in their home as well as that of the service user. The use of video calls, if the supervisor was working from home, was identified as particularly inappropriate. 
‘I would really have to think about that because I am in my home, it's my background, it's too much of an invasion for me… too much information’ (Linda)

5.5 Working with involuntary clients 

Probation practitioners work with individuals who are subject to statutory supervision; service users are involuntary clients. This context brings a set of obligations and requirements with implications for the use of telephone and internet-based approaches to practice.

A number of practitioners identified that telephone supervision usually involved the supervisor making the call, whereas face-to-face supervision required the service user to attend an office appointment. This shift of responsibility was seen as increasing compliance; more appointments were kept and fewer warnings issued. Service users were more likely to answer the telephone than to report to the office. 

Nicola’s experience was that there was less need for enforcement action as:
 ‘they just pick up their phone….At the end of the day, they've answered you and you've contacted them.’
‘Compliance has actually been quite a lot better during the pandemic as people don't tend to avoid a phone call in the same way they avoid coming to the office’ (Emily) 
Other interviewees painted a more complex picture of the impact of telephone reporting on the formal nature of the supervision process. Sara voiced the concern that the informal nature of telephone reporting was ‘over-familiar’ and risked service users becoming ‘complacent’

Andrew made a similar point: he judged that coming to the office signalled supervisee compliance in a way that answering the phone did not. He was uncertain about the authenticity of telephone supervision. 
‘I hate it... I don't like it at all…you feel like you could be being lied to… without face to face contact, there's no way to know if what you are being told is the truth. You kind of get the feeling when you are talking to some people they are just spinning you a bit of a yarn really... almost laughing at you.’ 
One consequence of statutory supervision is the need for evidence of the pattern of appointments offered, instructions given, appointments attended, appointments missed and explanations received. Practitioners in this study valued the way that, when they used the computer system to send a text message, they received confirmation that the message had been delivered to the service user’s device. This confirmation could then be used as evidence in enforcement proceedings. Records of text messages sent replaced the paper appointment slips provided in face-toface sessions. 

Rebecca explained that, as she needed to be able to give an accurate account of contact and attempted contact from service users, she found it hard to turn off her work mobile outside of office hours. If the phone was turned off she did not have the detail of missed calls. If the phone was turned on she was aware of it ringing, sometimes repeatedly and during the night, leaving her anxious that she might be ignoring an emergency. 

Alongside the requirement to maintain contact with service users, practitioners were also aiming to deliver the interventions and programmes identified in supervision plans. As Table 3 shows, fewer than half of the survey respondents viewed telephone calls as always or often suitable for the task of structured supervision. 

One problem faced by supervisors was that implementing supervision plans during the pandemic was made harder because other agencies were having to deliver services in a reduced manner. Table 5 shows that access to drug, alcohol, mental health and money advice provision was constrained by the pandemic. The picture for accommodation services was more mixed, reflecting the considerable effort to reduce homelessness and rough sleeping during the crisis.

A further problem was the extent to which the service user was able or willing to concentrate on the session material. It was hard to recreate the focus that existed in face-to-face sessions and some service users chose to take the telephone call from a public place. Practitioners had examples of cases where service users gave only very short responses to questions, said that they were unable to hear, and simply ended the call. 
‘Early on [at the start of her career] I discovered that having a smiley face and just being able to look non-threatening and engaged in person I think probably goes a long way to counteract the fact that most of the time you are asking quite pertinent questions to people who don't want to tell you. And so when you are asking quite bold questions over the phone my experience has been people are more able to say something like, “well why do I have to tell you that?” “Sorry, what is this all about?” or even on various occasions to cut me off and pretend that they lost signal.’ (Claire) 
That said, practitioners also worked with service users who were less distracted and more able to participate than they had previously been in the probation office. For example, someone in full-time work as a van driver was now able to schedule lunchtime telephone appointments with his supervisor and speak from the privacy of his cab. Prior to the pandemic he had found it hard to attend appointments at the end of his working day, arriving in the office tired and stressed from the rush-hour traffic. 

Practitioners found it challenging to lead sessions without the visual aids and workbooks that they used in the office. However people had found a variety of ways of broadening the range of programme materials that they used in remote supervision sessions. Linda explained that she was sending information packs in the post and then, in some cases, having productive discussions over the telephone. She gave the example of victim awareness work with a service user: 
‘you could hear he was thinking over the phone... that was quite constructive’.

Tuesday 22 December 2020

Latest From Napo 221

Today's Napo mailout:-

2020 - a year to forget, but Napo members excel in the face of the Pandemic

This year has presented our members with some of the most difficult personal challenges they are likely to face in their careers. Many of you will know of colleagues who have been victims of this dreadful Covid virus and some of you will have worked alongside those who have lost their lives in the most tragic of circumstances. We are sure that the thoughts of Napo members everywhere go out to the loved ones of those who are no longer with us.


Our members across the National Probation Service, the CRC estate, Probation Northern Ireland and Cafcass have gone above and beyond the call of duty in order to maintain vital front line delivery to clients and service users and in many cases have unflinchingly done their job in situations where there is no other option than to conduct face to face interviews.

Let us also not forget the impact on our members who have been undertaking emotionally demanding work without the normal interface with immediate colleagues at their normal workplace, and sometimes in conditions at home which are far from ideal. Our appreciation is extended to those close to you for the support they have offered in such situations.

Napo Representatives

Throughout the last 10 months Napo’s team of volunteer local representatives have worked tremendously hard on behalf of all staff to work with all of the above employers to ensure that as high a standard of safety can be put in place by way of health and safety risk assessments for the workplace as well as those such as courts, police stations, approved premises and prisons, maintaining pressure on your behalf to make social distancing an imperative and not an option. The work of your local representatives in making all this happen (and especially those who have signed up to become new Health and Safety specialists and take part in our Health and Safety training) deserves a particular mention.

National Napo

Your elected Officers and Napo Officials have been regularly engaging with senior managers and politicians to ensure that those who make the decisions, or can influence others, have been left in no doubt whatsoever that the employer has a duty of care for their employees. Typically, this has seen your negotiators hold weekly meetings with senior leaders and those whom they have directed to establish Exceptional Delivery Models, or implement the latest health and safety instructions. As you would expect this has included discussion following the latest Tiering announcement (see latest news roundup below)

Whist there have inevitably been disagreements along the way, it’s fair to say that this work has been largely achieved in partnership with employers, who are themselves under pressure to deliver services in the face of sometimes unrealistic expectations from those in Government.

The future

The successive policy failures from the start of this pandemic have contributed to what is now widely considered to be a loss of control of the Pandemic by our Government. Neither has the crisis been helped by a sizeable minority of the population who have either ignored or are seemingly still oblivious to the threats of this deadly virus. That the UK has the worst infection and mortality rates in Europe is simply shameful.

Once again, Napo members have put themselves selflessly at the forefront of public service and have adopted a collective approach to the pressures they have been facing and can look back with immense pride on their contribution since the announcement of the pandemic.

Fortunately, hope looms with the launch of the mass vaccination process which presents the most obvious route out of the darkness. Nobody can be sure what the new normal will look like in four to six months, but its times like the ones we are going through now which inescapably prove the value of trade unions at a time of crisis.

This weekend’s announcement of new Tier 4 arrangements has all but destroyed the plans of millions of people to spend at least part of the next few days among families and friends. So wherever you are, we hope that you will be able to have a restful and safe holiday and that we can all soon look forward to better times ahead.

Contacting Napo over the festive holiday

If you should need urgent assistance over the festive holiday, and the issue cannot wait until the new year, please email with your contact details and the nature of your enquiry.

Ian Lawrence Katie Lomas
General Secretary National Chair

Monday 21 December 2020

Tagging the Future

Recent publication of an HMI research paper on tagging reminds me that the subject featured heavily in the White Paper published in September, but there are concerns as outlined by this published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies:-

Electronic monitoring curfews: Back with a vengeance

Seasoned observers of Ministry of Justice White Papers since 2010 could be forgiven for thinking that the latest one has been written by a singularly dim and unsophisticated algorithm.

Despite its title, A Smarter Approach to Sentencing, both the gist and detail of its proposals are predictable and formulaic. Like all its recent predecessors it claims the immediate and self-evident cause for public concern about crime and criminal justice is a) insufficient punishment, and b) inattention to victim’s needs and rights.

That this is exactly what the last one said, and the one before that, goes unmentioned, as if punitiveness had not been steadily intensifying since 2010, and that only this new one will finally make a generational difference.

Empty superlatives like that abound. Introducing the White Paper, Justice Minister Robert Buckland stated that once and for all Electronic Monitoring (EM) would now be 'fully capitalised' on, although what that means in practice proves somewhat unexpected and remains vague.

Lockdown everything

Aptly enough for a White Paper written during the pandemic lockdown, it sees lockdowns as the answer to everything, systematically increasing the length of both custodial and community sentences and reducing early release for both young and adult offenders.

Significant increases in custodial populations are expected, and collateral damage indifferently acknowledged, 'Serving longer periods in custody may mean family breakdown is more likely, affecting prisoner mental health and subsequent reoffending risk'.

Pointedly, the term 'proportionality' figures nowhere in the White Paper’s 115 pages. No justification, beyond getting tough and giving the public what politicians claim they want, is offered for this and no evidence at all for the upcoming changes to EM. To understand what’s new - and what’s old – in respect of EM in 2020 we need to glance back.

Chris Grayling's 'New World'

In 2012, the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling launched an initially covert plan, dubbed 'New World', to revolutionise the faltering use of EM in Britain by shifting away from radio frequency (RF) based curfews towards 'mass monitoring', using global positioning system (GPS) based tracking technologies.

As the National Audit Office (NAO) was later to show, the project was a shambles, but the silver bullet of GPS technology, so much more versatile than existing RF, with potential to monitor movement in real-time, and to enforce exclusion zones, retained its allure even after his departure. Eight well-run pilot schemes preceded a national roll-out of GPS in 2018, with the modest expectation that more versatile forms of EM would, as sentencers gained confidence in them, find their place alongside the still extant RF EM-curfews.

The new White Paper departs significantly from this expectation, and restores the primacy of curfews, albeit more onerous and widely used than before, especially in youth justice. GPS remains the technology of choice, but gone is any interest in more versatile forms of monitoring. All it will be used to enforce is home confinement, for longer, more deliberately punitive periods, a spurious form of incapacitation that notionally effects public protection.

This is largely how GPS EM is used in the USA – its tracking capability serving primarily to deter absconding from a designated place of confinement and to monitor movement during authorised absences. This is the one penal advantage GPS has over RF for monitoring curfews.

Why the resurgent enthusiasm for curfews?

Why has this reversion to curfews occurred? One suspects that sentencers in England and Wales, who never mustered any great enthusiasm for the experimental GPS tracking schemes, struck a bargain with an already receptive populist government to stick with curfews, in return for which they would use curfews much more.

When Buckland spoke of 'fully capitalising' on EM he clearly did not mean making the most of GPS, but making it as ubiquitous in community supervision as Grayling had wanted in “New World” remains on the the MoJ agenda. Certainly MoJ payment to the Electronic Monitoring Service will rise from £1.3m to £2.4m, 'for increasing the caseload who will be monitored'.

In respect of community orders and suspended sentences, the White Paper proposes increasing the maximum period of a curfew requirement from one to two years, and raising the current maximum of daily hours raised from 16 to 20 in some instances.

Sentencers will be enabled, within a fixed limit of 112 weekly curfew hours, to set flexible schedules for offenders, with, say, 20 hours indoors on leisure days and fewer or none on work days. Probation officers may be required to advise on this, taking account of victim’s views on what an offender’s monitoring schedule should be.

The revival of the Supervision and Surveillance Order

The White Paper further proposes a new standalone House Detention Order will be piloted, 'for offenders who have not responded to existing community sentences….based on a lengthy and restrictive curfew, which would be accompanied by other measures to address rehabilitation and prevent further offending as needed'.

This derives from an idea recently canvassed by the Centre for Social Justice but essentially reinvents the intensive Supervision and Surveillance Order. In the White Paper’s accompanying Impact Statement, the House Detention Order is mysteriously expected to improve the efficiency of the newly reformed National Probation Service.

Even the relatively new sobriety tagging schemes are deemed in need of re-alignment with the ethos of the White Paper. Legislation has already enabled their national roll-out, but even before they bed in, the MoJ is considering, '...making it possible to impose this for longer'.

This is cynically presented as having ' support longer rehabilitation goals', as if rehabilitation could not occur within the existing 120 day time-span, and continue afterwards. In addition, sobriety tagging is deemed incomplete without an accompanying curfew, so that will be rectified 'using a single tag'.

A faulty calculus of compliance

Zero thought is given in the White Paper to the vital questions of compliance, legitimacy and proportionality. Altering the duration of a community sentence alters the calculus of compliance; what is bearable punishment for a year may not be for twice that.

For lengthened EM curfews, in particular, the calculus crucially alters for the other members of an offender’s household – either the burden increases for them too, or they become more likely to refuse the offender’s residence with them, or both.

For these moral and practical reasons – and in honest opposition to the MoJ’s vindictive intent – all these new proposals on EM should be resisted. What we have now in EM is far from perfect but it would be better left as it is if these terrible reforms are all that the MoJ can come up with.

Mike Nellis is Emeritus Professor of Criminal and Community Justice in the Law School, University of Strathclyde

Sunday 20 December 2020

Guest Blog 80

What a relief!

It was screamingly clear at work for at least a two weeks that the pandemic was on the increase. We are running short of staff, colleagues are ill. The feeling of relief, a weight off my shoulders, is a weird thing given the dire news, and curtailed plans to meet up with people for Christmas, but at long fucking last the government(s) has acknowledged that this is fucking serious. Until the government says, this is fucking serious, no manager in probation is going to say it, so phew.

The older of us are more freaked about this virus than the younger ones, and also less inclined to toe the line that the one priority that should drive our every thought is to hit targets and deliver business as usual. I am due in the office right up to Xmas Eve, with an appointment with a guy I am really concerned about (and with good reason), and Xmas is his dodgy time, so worth it, but when I have done that, I will walk. Fuck overdue boxes to be ticked!

My various communications feeds are bleating away about the “heartbreak” of Christmas plans broken, and the suffering of businesses. I am sympathetic to both, but speaking from the frontline, it is a relief to get this gripped. I guess it is also a relief for those on the health frontline, albeit that their exhaustion and anxiety must be pretty much off the scale regardless.

Saturday 19 December 2020


I suspect 'that's it' on the probation front for a week or two, so maybe there's an opportunity for some further distraction? Of course distraction has long been a very useful tool to be deployed in nefarious activity of all kinds. Just as we can all begin to see light at the end of the Covid tunnel, many US federal agencies are only now waking up to the nightmare realisation that their computer networks were thoroughly infiltrated and compromised by Russian cyber attack in March this year. Whilst the world was united and looking one way, Russia saw an opportunity to sneak in via a back door unnoticed. 

At this point I feel the need to admit I haven't a clue as to how computers or the internet work, but ever since the millennium bug crisis, have known enough to realise we are sleep-walking into a nightmare of epic proportions that no batshit crazy conspiracy theory can do justice to. Honestly, what are we thinking by connecting everything? 

I'd like to think I'm a fairly level-headed sort of guy that can sort fact from fiction and take some pride in being able to spot real fake news from the pretend Trump stuff; sort the true lies from governments, their cover-ups, bullshit and such from the real truth, but I'm struggling to comprehend our collective and seeming inability to grasp the incredible danger that's inherent in constructing an ever-more interconnected world. We have absolutely no idea how it could malfunction as a result of unforeseen circumstances, let alone as a result of nefarious activity and yet we are happily installing 24/7 internet-connected microphones, door bells and cameras in our homes, not by compulsion or government expense, but enthusiastically at our own! 

There is a danger in this becoming a bit nerdy at this point, but for those that might be interested, and by way of illustrating the dangers of inter-connection, I'll mention electric supply grids and the difficulty of keeping them in constant balance with the inherent danger of cascading failure for a variety of reasons. Making any grid larger with ever-more intercontinental interconnects may bring greater efficiency and economy, but risks increase dramatically. Somewhat ironically, one of the biggest risks to an electric grid is a drop in demand and it could be catastrophic if that drop was sudden. 

I discovered this by accident when researching the smart meter omnishambles. These devices are of course all interconnected, regularly go 'dumb' but should any large number of them switch off in unison for any reason, the grid would suffer catastrophic failure. Interestingly, they have been designed with the ability to disconnect remotely and the government is actively reviewing how to use that ability in an emergency. But what if that ability were to be activated as a sophisticated 'hack' by a foreign state or terrorist group?

Anyway, that's probably enough for now and I will resist the temptation of straying into the fascinating world of 'rotational inertia' problems now faced by the grid, but a root around the Drax power station website proves highly enlightening regarding an unforeseen consequence of alternative power generation. It also provides a fascinating insight as to how to start a power station when the lights have gone out. 

This from the Guardian:-               

US scrambling to understand fallout of suspected Russia hack

At least six government departments breached in likely Russian intelligence operation thought to have begun in March

The US government is still in the dark over how deeply Russian hackers penetrated its networks during the worst ever cyber attack on federal agencies, members of Congress warned on Friday.

At least six government departments were breached in a likely Russian intelligence operation thought to have begun in March. Although there is no evidence that classified networks were compromised, it is not known what the hackers may have stolen or how long it will take to purge them.

Members of Congress said the government is still scrambling to understand the fallout as details emerge. “This hack was so big in scope that even our cybersecurity experts don’t have a real sense yet in the terms of the breadth of the intrusion itself,” commented Stephen Lynch, head of the House of Representatives’ oversight and reform committee, after attending a classified briefing.

Congressman Jamie Raskin, another member of the committee, added: “There’s a lot more that we don’t know than what we do know. I’m hopeful the government will learn exactly how this was perpetrated on us and what is the full scope of the damage.”

US officials say they only recently became aware of the attacks on both the government and some Fortune 500 companies in which cyber spies roamed undetected for as long as nine months. The energy department and national nuclear security administration, which manages the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile, was among the agencies breached.

Hackers injected malicious code into the software of SolarWinds, a company that provides network services, and appeared to use other tools to gain access. America’s cybersecurity agency warned of a “grave risk” to the nation’s infrastructure.

Tech giant Microsoft, which has helped respond to the breach, said it has identified more than 40 government agencies, think tanks, non-governmental organisations and IT companies infiltrated by the hackers. Four in five were in the US – nearly half of them tech companies – with victims also in Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Spain, the UK, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Microsoft said in a blogpost: “This is not espionage as usual, even in the digital age. Instead, it represents an act of recklessness that created a serious technological vulnerability for the United States and the world.”

But Donald Trump, long reluctant to criticise his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, has been conspicuously silent, focused instead on overturning an election that he lost. The US president is under growing pressure to speak out about what some described as an epic national security crisis.

The Republican senator Mitt Romney, a former presidential candidate, told SiriusXM radio: “What I find most astonishing is that a cyber hack of this nature is really the modern equivalent of almost Russian bombers reportedly flying undetected over the entire country.”

Describing the country’s cyber defences as extraordinarily vulnerable and weak, Romney added: “In this setting, not to have the White House aggressively speaking out and protesting and taking punitive action is really, really quite extraordinary.”

Trump’s absence on the issue implies that it will be left to his successor, Joe Biden, to retaliate through sanctions, criminal charges or other means. In a statement on Thursday, the president-elect said his administration “will make dealing with this breach a top priority from the moment we take office”.

The damage, however, could take years to remedy. Thomas Bossert, Trump’s former homeland security adviser, wrote this week in a New York Times column: “While the Russians did not have the time to gain complete control over every network they hacked, they most certainly did gain it over hundreds of them. It will take years to know for certain which networks the Russians control and which ones they just occupy.

“The logical conclusion is that we must act as if the Russian government has control of all the networks it has penetrated. But it is unclear what the Russians intend to do next. The access the Russians now enjoy could be used for far more than simply spying.”

Wednesday 16 December 2020

A Peg To Hang On

Nothing since Friday? We can't let the comment thread just get longer and longer, so I'm very grateful for the following heart-felt musings and hope it might serve as a peg to hang some further thoughts on:- 

"I am so bored of cutting and pasting onto forms. In my kitchen.

The requirement to keep regurgitating the same information onto different forms is absolute insanity. There is no time to gather any new information, so we reconfigure previous information to fit the target. Meaningless and wearying drudgework.

Referrals: is it beyond the capability (yes) of our organisation to sort out an IT system which would enable a Probation Officer to generate a referral to another agency by pressing a button “create referral”?

MAPPA: Is it beyond the capability (yes) of our organisation to sort out an IT system which would enable a Probation Officer to hit a button to generate a MAPPA referral?

Covid. Staff in my area going down like flies: we are running out of staff. Which of course means those of us remaining have more and more contacts. Of course, some of this is down to track and trace, so people are rightly self isolating and then in the main returning, but some colleagues are very ill. It does feel incredibly fragile. As do I.

We are at the beck and call of a cruel and dysfunctional department, and dancing to the ever more neurotic tune of managers anxiety. If you have a great manager, then it is softened, but they are in increasingly short supply, as the prize of advancement goes to the neurotic micromanager and bully.

What we do is often quite basic and human and direct. Oh for the power to delete the endless parade of new initiatives and just use the millions invested to hand a bacon sarnie, some lodgings, and some optimism to our clients."

Friday 11 December 2020

All Fair in Love, War and Politics

Friday is here once again and there really doesn't seem much to say on the probation front and having absolutely no appetite to dwell on Brexit, that just leaves either Covid or Trump. 

As regular readers are aware, I've become a big fan of CNN and somewhat surprisingly, also taken to Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain. I'm continuing to follow US politics for some distraction, but oh dear, I find the two have fallen out and the issue involves matters of principle, integrity and honesty, all matters many might feel are in short supply where politics and the Fourth Estate are concerned. 

So, as the Republicans and Trump initiate a seemingly absurd last-ditch attempt to steal the election and invite the Supreme Court to disallow millions of votes, as this take on things from Piers writing for the Daily Mail in his column sinks in, I'm hugely disappointed to yet again be reminded that indeed all is fair in love, war and politics:-

This Hunter Biden cover-up stinks

Imagine for a moment that Donald Trump had won the US election last month? I don't mean won it in the increasingly absurd way HE thinks he won it – i.e. that Joe Biden's entirely legitimate victory was invalid because uncorroborated 'mass voter fraud' made it a 'rigged' and 'stolen' election. Only a bonkers conspiracy theorist actually thinks that, someone like the President himself whose pathetic elongated temper tantrum is turning into the most unedifying episode of The Biggest Loser ever aired.

No, I mean imagine if Trump had actually won fair and square and was now preparing to be inaugurated for his second term of office? Then imagine that his victory was quite narrow, like Biden's, and came down to a few thousand votes in the swing states? And then imagine that just before the election, a major US newspaper had published an explosive story about his son Donald Trump Jr. based around the contents of his personal laptop that revealed extensive dodgy dealings with people from foreign countries, some very unfriendly to the United States, and which even suggested his father may have been involved in some of those dealings?

Now imagine that in this eventuality, and with none of the key elements of the story denied by the Trumps, 90% of America's mainstream media deliberately refused to cover the story, and social media giants like Twitter and Facebook actively suppressed it altogether? Finally, imagine waking up today to hear that rather than Hunter Biden being formally investigated by federal authorities from the Justice Department over his financial affairs, as is the case, it was Donald Trump Jr.

And that the investigation has been ongoing since 2018 but was 'paused' in case it affected the election. And that it has looked at allegations of potential criminal violations of tax and money laundering laws. And that it is now in front of a Delaware Grand Jury with a view to indictment. By now, some of you might be screaming that the election was 'rigged' and 'stolen' from Joe Biden, right? And of course, that is exactly what Donald Trump will be screaming all day long today, as he does every day, only this time with some actual evidence to support his otherwise hysterical claims.

I mean, who knows how damaging it might have been if this federal investigation into Hunter Biden's finances had been revealed before the election, and the mainstream media had given it the full Hillary Clinton email treatment that many believe cost her the 2016 election? I said at the time that the media's abject failure to properly report the New York Post's scoop about Hunter was a shameful dereliction of journalistic duty driven by the inherent liberal bias of much of the US media – and I said it as a liberal myself.

Predictably, and equally shamefully, the media responded by then trying to censor me too: I was dropped from an appearance on Brian Stelter's CNN media show after going on Fox News and lambasting news organisations like my former CNN employers for refusing to follow up the Post's Biden exposé. They were happy to buy into Joe Biden's line that it was all a hoax driven by nefarious Russians to discredit him.

Now the same CNN is reporting that the federal investigation is 'examining multiple financial issues, including whether Hunter Biden and associates violated tax and money laundering laws in business dealings in foreign countries, principally China.' CNN also reports that the investigation had been 'largely dormant in recent months' due to Justice Department rules that prohibit taking legal actions in cases that could affect an election. That tells me there's enough meat on the bone of the investigation to warrant genuine concern in the Biden camp.

If I were appearing on Stelter's show this Sunday, I might ask him if he is still comfortable that CNN refused to pursue the Post's story before the election? And what would they have done if it had been about Donald Trump Jr instead? At the time of the Post story breaking, I also made the point that the Democrats, mainstream media and social media firms could conspire to try to avoid it all they liked, but that wouldn't make it go away and it would come back to haunt Joe Biden if he won the election. Well, here we are.

Piers Morgan

Monday 7 December 2020

Coping in Difficult Times

Now, here's the thing. Would you buy a lottery ticket if you knew there was no chance of winning? Would you order a home delivery pizza if you knew it ain't going to arrive? Would you vote on Jan 5th in Georgia if you knew the election was rigged? Thought not. Maybe we can all take comfort in the Law of Unintended Consequences and hope the Trump supporters either stay home or spoil their ballots. It really would be sweet justice if all the lies and delusional shite that continues to emanate from the current President succeeded in robbing the GOP of Senate control. 

I don't know about others, but US politics is proving therapeutic for me and serving as a very valuable distraction from domestic political woes at the moment and in this regard I'm still very much enjoying CNN and their wonderfully refreshing approach to news coverage. I'm learning stuff daily, especially putting things into context, along with reporting truthfully and ruthlessly calling out lies, deceit and bullshit. It's really quite a shock at first, but then becomes so very reassuring.

It was great to watch the first in-depth interview with Joe Biden and the Vice President Elect and I suspect many will share the obvious delight of the interviewer that they are just ordinary good people and politics will return to normal very soon. I was also fascinated by the author of a new biography on Jimmy Carter, the unassuming peanut farmer and generally 'good guy', who nevertheless felt it necessary to indulge in 'dog whistles' in order to gain support from 'conservatives' during his election campaign. Apparently they cried 'foul' when in office he immediately embraced supportive black policies. Maybe in politics 'ends' always justify 'means'?          

Domestically, Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain is still doing a great job, but he really ought to note that CNN anchors never interrupt and are unerringly polite and even appropriately deferential. Having said that, it was great to see him publicly humiliate and harangue yet another minister this morning. James Cleverly got his just desserts for trying to rewrite history and tell us that the 'oven-ready' Brexit deal wasn't about trade at all. If it was CNN I'm sure they'd say something along the lines of 'the Tories are taking the piss'. Or words to that effect.  

I might as well carry on with the TV theme seeing as it's helping me enormously in trying to stay on an even keel during these troubled times. I find BBC Repair Shop absolutely perfect viewing, especially if accompanied with a nice cup of tea and I don't even drink much of the stuff. I defy anyone to find fault with this brilliant caring and skill-based format and I can't wait to get down to Sussex and explore the Weald and Downland Living Museum. I guess it's like Beamish, but without the coal and steam.

Mention must be made of the entire Talking Pictures channel for dishing up daily gems from yesteryear, handily delivered to my magic Virgin Tivo box on a very regular basis. Endless episodes of Callan might look and feel incredibly naff nowadays, but that's precisely it's analogue charm and interest in a slick digital hi-res age. The same can be said of Public Eye and its deeply troubled private investigator star who, like Callan, is wonderfully enigmatic and rootless.   

I'll save the best to the end. By far my absolute go-to programme during this horrid Covid year and guaranteed to put a smile on my face and a warm sense of everything will be right again soon is Bangers and Cash on the Yesterday channel. Filmed in the magical North Yorkshire town of Thornton-le-Dale, who'd have thought it's the veritable centre of the British classic car universe? I take my hat off to the producers for spotting this TV gold lurking in such a beautiful but sleepy part of the world. Of course it's not just the brilliant cars going through the regular auctions that make this programme, it's the wonderful characters, especially Sarah, and I've a sneaking feeling the narrator has a soft spot for her as well...    



Saturday 5 December 2020

NPS Pay Offer

Here we have the latest mailout from Napo HQ, together with details from the website:-

NPS Pay Offer 2020/2021 – MEMBERS BALLOT

Following several months of protracted negotiations between the Probation Unions and the employer, a final pay offer covering NPS staff for 2020/2021 has been received. This has been considered by Napo’s Probation Negotiating Committee who, whilst believing it to be the best achievable offer by negotiation, have decided to ask our members to decide whether this an acceptable offer or should be rejected.

The enclosed ballot pack provides you with a comprehensive analysis of the offer, together with a ‘Pros’ and ‘Cons’ summary and further information to assist your decision. There is also an easy to use link to an electronic ballot which is open from Noon today and closes at Noon on the 18th December.

Further enquiries about the offer should be referred to your Napo Branch who will liaise as necessary with Napo Link Officers and Napo HQ

Please vote

This is an important ballot and we urge all of our members who are employed by the NPS to take the opportunity to vote.


Members asked to vote on 2020/2021 Pay Offer from NPS

Following protracted negotiations between the Probation unions and NPS over several months, the employer provided the unions with a final pay offer for 2020/2021 on 26 November. Napo members are now invited to read this briefing on the offer and then to vote to accept or reject the offer.


The opening pay offer from the NPS for 2020 was made on 14 October and contained the following elements. The offer can be read in full here.

1. Incremental pay progression with effect from 1 April 2020 for all staff who were not yet at the top of their pay band on 31 March 2020. This was paid on account in October salaries, because it was a contractual entitlement, but it still forms part of the overall pay offer. Eligible staff have already progressed to the next highest pay point in their pay band and should have received back pay from 1 April including any back pay in respect of overtime or unsocial hours’ allowances.

2. A non-consolidated, pensionable, payment worth 2% of basic salary for all staff on top of their pay band on 31 March 2020. This compensates for the fact that these staff are not entitled to any incremental pay progression. This payment is a one-off and will not be added to salaries for future years. The monetary value of this payment varies by pay band and the details can be found in the tables supplied by the NPS which are enclosed.

3. In pay band 1, the minimum pay point will be abolished with effect from 1 April 2020 and the remaining single pay point will be increased in value from £17,764 to £18,174 which is an increase of 2.3% in real terms. This means that from 1 April 2020 all staff in pay band 1 will be paid on this single basic salary rate. This change is necessary to keep this pay band above minimum wage.

4. A review of all roles in pay band 1 with the intention of redesigning all roles at that level to align with Pay Band 2. This review will start immediately. NPS is committed to this review, particularly with respect to the agreed objective of phasing out Pay Band 1 from use no later than 1 April 2021. Concurrently, NPS will refrain from hiring any new staff into Pay Band 1 while this review is under way, nor will NPS seek to assimilate any CRC staff who transfer into the NPS in June 2021 into this pay band.

5. The lowest pay point in each pay band is deleted with effect from 1 April 2020. This means that new starters will benefit from a higher starting salary in each pay band and will take less time to reach the top of their pay band than was previously the case. It also means that some of the overlaps between pay bands, which the NPS and unions are committed to reduce, are reduced by one pay point. This impacts particularly on the overlaps between pay bands 4 and 5 and 5 and 6 and all the overlaps between pay bands A, B, C & D.

6. The two lowest pay points in pay bands A & B are deleted with effect from 1 April 2020. This enhances the reduction in the respective pay band overlaps.


Napo’s Probation Negotiating Committee (PNC) considered the above opening pay offer from the employer last month. The Committee noted that the offer gave no real terms increase in the value of any pay point, with the exception of the 2.3% increase to the top of pay band 1. The PNC agreed that the offer was insufficient for Napo to recommend to members and we went back to the NPS, along with our sister unions UNISON and GMB/SCOOP, to seek improvements.


As a result of the unions efforts to secure additional cash for members, the NPS has now offered an additional special payment to the majority, but not all, of NPS staff in recognition of their efforts in delivering the service during the Covid pandemic while also working towards Probation Reform - see details here. The special payment is not part of the pay award but is a one-off, non-consolidated bonus payment. It will be awarded to eligible staff who were in post on 30th September 2020 and the amount will vary by occupational group. It will be pensionable, pro rata to hours worked and its implementation will be staggered over the months of January to March 2021.

Here is a table which sets out which groups of staff will benefit from the special payment, the numbers in each occupational group, the total gross payment offered before deductions and the proposed month of payment:

Annex A – Proposed Staff cohorts and special payment amounts, (NPS Headcount as at 30 September 2020)

Headcount   Proposed Payment(£)   Proposed Payment Month

Band 1 185 £350 January
Band 2 Case Administrator 1315 £350 January
AP Residential Worker Band 2 618 £350 January
Band 3 VLOs 181 £250 February
Band 3 PSO* 3034 £250 February
Band 4 Probation Officer 3934 £225 March
Band 5 Senior Probation Officer 879 £200 March

Sum 10146

*Inclusive of PQiPs.


Where staff were undertaking one of the roles in the table on 30th September 2020, but who do not receive the bonus, line managers and Regional HRBPs will assist with eligibility in the first instance.

The NPS says that it has added this special payment to the offer for the following reasons:
  • ‘We are looking to make the payment to these staff on the basis of the display of significant levels of resilience and professionalism, going above and beyond their normal duties, during this prolonged period of exceptional delivery. Staff have also professionally navigated transformation reforms ahead of unification in June 2021.’
  • ‘We believe these staff have contributed to the successful implementation of the offender management exceptional delivery model, whilst maintaining service standards in an ever-changing environment and under additional pressures. They have also needed to adapt to significant changes in the way they deliver their public protection roles and duties, delivering services innovatively whilst maintaining the standards they are held to by the Department and the community.’

The fact that the special payment is being withheld from some staff is extremely disappointing and will undoubtedly damage morale for those excluded groups. Napo obviously called on the NPS to award the special payment across the board to all staff, but because of Treasury restrictions they were not able to agree. The NPS has not been willing, or able, to confirm which occupational groups are specifically excluded from the special payment which makes it very difficult for Napo to communicate the offer properly to members. This is obviously very regrettable.

There is no doubt that the groups of staff excluded from the special payments scheme have displayed the same ‘…levels of resilience and professionalism, going above and beyond their normal duties, during this prolonged period of exceptional delivery…’, as the staff who will receive the special payment. Their exclusion is therefore unfair.

Napo will continue to campaign for those staff who have been excluded from the special payment to receive appropriate recognition. We will be asking our reps and branches to compile a list of all the excluded jobs with this in mind, and we will be calling on Regional Probation Directors to consider utilising the reward and recognition budget within their areas. If you are in one of the excluded groups, please contact your Napo Branch to help us draw up this list.


Taking as read that staff are contractually entitled to pay progression, and setting this aside, here is a summary of the pros and cons of the pay offer:


1. A 2% non-consolidated payment for staff at the top of their pay band

2. A 2.3% increase in the value of the single pay point in pay band 1

3. The deletion of the bottom pay point in each pay band and the bottom two pay points in pay bands A & B

4. The agreement to review pay band 1 jobs with the agreed objective to redesign these roles to fit pay band 2 by no later than 1 April 2021

5. A special payment scheme for the majority of NPS staff to recognise their contribution to service delivery during Covid


1. Nil increase in the value of NPS pay points, with the exception of the single pay point in pay band 1. As such, there is no cost of living rise in the pay offer. Probation staff have only received one cost of living rise in the last 10 years.

2. A special payment scheme which excludes a significant minority of NPS staff who have been as much a part of service delivery during Covid as those who are due to receive the special payment.


While Napo believe that this offer remains unsatisfactory, it is the best achievable by negotiation and the Probation Negotiating Committee have exceptionally decided not to make a specific recommendation to members.

We have improved the final offer over and above the opening offer and secured additional money. We will continue to campaign for those staff who have been excluded from the special payment scheme to receive appropriate recognition.

Having read this bulletin and the accompanying information, Napo members are invited to vote to accept or reject the pay offer. Given that this is, in Napo’s view, the best offer available by negotiation, a vote to reject the offer will need to be considered by the PNC in terms of the scope of and willingness of our members to undertake serious and sustained industrial action, up to and including strike action, in order to seek to improve it. Any industrial action could only take place following a further lawful industrial action ballot of relevant members.

Enclosed with this bulletin is:
  • An electronic ballot paper which you are invited to complete below. The closing date for voting is 12 noon on Friday 18 December 2020.
  • the monetary amount of non-consolidated payments for staff on the top of their pay band, by each pay band
  • the new pay band minimum pay points following the deletion of the lowest pay points in each band
  • the changes to pay band 1
  • the new pay bands showing all pay points
If you have any questions on the offer, please contact your Napo Branch in the first instance who will liaise with Napo Link Officers and HQ as appropriate.

Members anger over Pay Freeze

Many Napo members have been in touch with us to register their disgust at the Governments cynical decision to implement a public sector pay freeze next year. Given the Government’s shambolic management of the Pandemic and the well-publicised squandering of tax payers money in the procurement process for PPE, and companies who have financed the Tory party, this announcement could not have come at a worse time for public sector workers everywhere. The PNC nevertheless recommended that our members longer term interests would be better served by Napo working with the TUC and all public sector unions in building a campaign of resistance and solidarity against this punitive and unfair policy.

The General Secretary will be attending upcoming meetings of the TUC Public Sector Liaison Group and the TUC General Council and will be reporting back on the developing campaign. It is possible that this will include the likelihood of widespread industrial action and our members being asked to consider their readiness to support this strategy if necessary.

Please vote

Despite the disappointment that members will feel about this pay offer, we are urging you to take the opportunity to cast your vote in this important ballot.

Ian Lawrence 
General Secretary 
Katie Lomas National Chair

Please consider the offer and pay bulletin and ensure that you place your vote by Noon on Friday 18th December 2020.


26 November 2020

Dear Ian, Ben and George 


Following our letter of 16 October, we write to you to provide details of a special payment we intend to provide to designated staff (Annex A) as at 30 September 2020. 

We are looking to make the payment to these staff on the basis of the display of significant levels of resilience and professionalism, going above and beyond their normal duties, during this prolonged period of exceptional delivery. Staff have also professionally navigated transformation reforms ahead of unification in June 2021. 

We believe these staff have contributed to the successful implementation of the offender management exceptional delivery model, whilst maintaining service standards in an ever-changing environment and under additional pressures. They have also needed to adapt to significant changes in the way they deliver their public protection roles and duties, delivering services innovatively whilst maintaining the standards they are held to by the Department and the community. 

Successful onboarding of Wales CRC staff has already occurred, and additional preparations are well underway for onboarding the remainder of the external cohorts across England and Wales. Staff have engaged in preparatory work to ensure that smooth transitions take place, in an already challenging environment, with a commitment to ensuring service standards are maintained and that no service users are left behind, and the public are protected. 

We want to acknowledge that it is unprecedented to provide bonus payments to so many staff, but we really do believe this reflects the exceptional circumstances and response by those staff, to a once in a generation set of challenges. We recognise that all staff have been impacted in some way by the extraordinary events of the past 10 months, and in preparation for unification. Therefore, we have tried to recognise individual contribution broadly but appropriately through the provision of these payments. 

These proposed payments will be on a pro-rata basis, and we propose to pay them in a staggered approach, as noted in Annex A. 

Furthermore, there are various wellbeing options we wish to extend to all staff in addition to the above. 

Special / Annual Leave 

Our Special Leave policy allows discretion for managers to agree to time off that is appropriate to individual circumstances. We have already relaxed our rules for COVID19 reasons and will continue offer line manager flexibilities as necessary. 

MoJ encourages employees and their managers to apply good practice when applying for and granting annual leave. It is important that we continue to encourage staff to take annual leave where they can to allow for rest away from work and to maintain their resilience and wellbeing. The Working Time (Coronavirus) Regs 2020 provide some flexibility to carry over leave for the next two years where employees have not been able to take all their annual leave within their annual leave year as a result of COVID19. 

We are reviewing our policy on allowing the buying and selling of leave to expand to 5 days (subject to consultation) and are considering expanding this incentive to HMPPS staff more broadly post COVID. 

Where an employee is impacted by the coronavirus, but not sick, managers should be flexible and consider use of paid special leave where other options including working from home, working from a different workplace, working different attendance patterns or redeploying to a suitable different role cannot reasonably be achieved. 

Each case should be treated sensitively and on its own merits and employees may need to take more than one period of paid special leave – or a continuous period where this is necessary. The usual limits on special leave do not apply and managers can use their discretion to agree what is appropriate. 

New Employee Benefits 

Moving away from the Employee Benefits strategy adopted by other government departments, MOJ have taken a dual supplier approach, delivering greater value and flexibility to all NPS employees. 

Whilst Edenred will continue to deliver all existing employee discounts, Salary Sacrifice Schemes and provide vouchers for Reward and Recognition, a new supplier, Xexec, is being introduced to bring Enhanced Employee Rewards. 

Xexec will be delivering several creative and innovative ways to promote wellbeing, reward and bring value to NPS employees, these include: 
  • Free perks to all NPS employees in the form of either; a monthly beverage at a high street coffee shop or a quarterly digital download in the form of movie, e-book or audio book 
  • Cash back schemes that can be used on top other retailer discounts available through Xexec A Reward and Recognition catalogue, where NPS employees can be rewarded in more creative ways beyond ‘traditional’ vouchers. The catalogue will include; boxes of chocolates, flowers, hampers and a range experience day (spa days, afternoon tea for two, driving experience, paint balling!) 
  • Opportunities to expand the service to include online fitness and exercise classes 
  • Easier access to Xexec services through a dedicated mobile App 
In addition to the introduction of the new service delivered by Xexec, we have implemented a significant improvement to the Cycle to Work scheme. Increasing the limit from £1000 to £2500. This will provide greater access to cycles of a higher value, bringing e-bikes, tricycles and high-end cycles into scope, and encouraging and enabling greater engagement with the scheme across all NPS employees. 

Yours sincerely

Amy Rees Director General of Probation and Wales
Ian Barrow Executive Director Probation Workforce Programme

Friday 4 December 2020

End of an Era

Yesterday saw publication of the HMI Annual Report thus marking the burial of TR:-  

Chief Inspector’s overview

This has been a year of extraordinary and unexpected challenges for the probation service; of major shifts in strategic long-term direction, but also of familiar and recurring issues as well – around resources, staffing and working environments. 

It is the end of an era, as Transforming Rehabilitation makes way for a return to public sector control, and we reflect on how the past five years have shaped, developed and challenged the probation service. 

Many have welcomed the upcoming changes, but we acknowledge that for some – such as senior leaders within Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) – there is disappointment. CRCs have worked with severely hampered budgets to bring innovative and experimental operating models. This annual report recognises this positive work, as well as providing an honest take on how performance has laboured under the weight of resource constraints. 

This year we have widened the scope of what we offer the probation service; not just to identify areas for improvement in individual services, but also to highlight and disseminate effective practice too, for the benefit of all service providers. Our thematic inspections of accommodation for people under probation supervision, and the quality of Serious Further Offences (SFO) reviews are evidence of how bringing together the expertise of our inspectors across England and Wales, with our research, can provide a ‘big picture’ perspective on key areas of probation. 

A vital – although unexpected – thematic inspection this year looked at the impact of Covid-19. As detailed in this report, probation providers are to be applauded for the compassion and professionalism they have shown in changing their working methods quickly and effectively, almost overnight, in response to the pandemic. This is true for all levels of the probation system, although not without its challenges. 

Once again, public protection and the effective management of risk of harm have been at the forefront of our work. They were certainly the focus of our response to the Lord Chancellor’s request that we conduct a detailed review of the case of Joseph McCann, who committed a series of appalling sexual and violent offences while under probation supervision. Our two-part review does not just point out flaws and failures, but also provides learning with the aim of influencing the service for the better. The fact that the management of risk remains one of the weakest areas of performance for both the National Probation Service (NPS) and CRCs is a major concern, and one which we explore in this report. 


For more than 15 years, probation funding has been on a downward trend; government spending per person under supervision is down 40 per cent in real terms since 2003/2004 (to just £3,550 in 2018/2019) – and flaws in the recent CRC contracts mean that this is likely to be worse for medium/low-risk offenders. By March 2018, CRCs were forecasting losses of nearly £300 million on their contracts, compared with expected profits of £269 million – a gap of over £560 million. The wider effects on the entire system are clear to see; major cuts in probation officer (PO) numbers and stalled investment in information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure and in buildings maintenance. 

We know that probation services are part of an ecosystem which is also suffering from declining investment, and, more recently, from the impact of Covid-19. They rely on many other services to provide support to the people they work with, such as community mental health services, drug abuse treatment services, and mentoring and employment support charities. 

Perhaps the biggest concern for service users has been in regard to the provision of accommodation – more than 11,000 prisoners are released into homelessness each year. The loss of ring-fenced supported housing for people on probation; changes to benefit rules; and other barriers have created a housing crisis for many supervised by the service. This must be a priority for government action going forward. 

There are some welcome early signs that things may be improving – albeit from a low baseline; an additional £150 million has been invested by the government in probation in 2020/2021. We know that an extra £22 million per year for CRCs has made a real difference to Through the Gate services for released prisoners – we rate rated eight out of ten as ‘Outstanding’ on the quality of this work. Also, extra government money, released for emergency accommodation during the initial Covid-19 lockdown period was widely welcomed by the probation staff we interviewed. 

Transforming Rehabilitation 

We are now in the sixth and final year of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, given the decision by the government – in May 2019 – to end these contracts early. 

It has been a bumpy road for this operating model, and the consequences of its flaws – such as the strain caused by flawed payment mechanisms – have been apparent throughout our inspections, as my predecessor recounted in her first annual report in 2017: 

‘…we see clearly that there is a two-tier and fragmented service’ 

‘…many [CRCs] have reduced staff numbers more than once… in some we find staff with exceptional workloads working long hours and still unable to deliver to the professional standards they know are right’. 

‘… overall, not enough is being done, or done to an acceptable standard, in about half of all CRC cases we have inspected’. 

The problems did not stop there. Our early inspections also found serious setbacks in the implementation of new ICT systems. A joint thematic inspection of Through the Gate arrangements with HM Inspectorate of Prisons found: ‘…only a handful of individuals had received any real help with housing, jobs or an addiction’, and that CRCs were making ‘little material difference to the prospects of individuals upon release’. There were examples of good practice in some CRC areas, but when inspected against our new standards and ratings, 19 out of 21 were rated as ‘Requires improvement’ (2018/2019). 

In her final annual report as Chief Inspector, in March 2019, my predecessor said: 

‘…it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to reduce the probation service to a set of contractual requirements’; ‘… significant flaws in the system have become increasingly apparent’; and ‘it will be virtually impossible to deal with these issues if most probation supervision continues to be provided by different organisations, under contract’. 

The government had reached a similar conclusion, announcing the early termination of the existing CRC contracts in 2018. In May 2019, it declared that it would be bringing the offender management function of the CRCs (representing most of the expenditure) back into the public sector by the end of 2020, and committed to this reform happening first in Wales from the end of 2019. Since then, additional investment in CRCs has produced improvements. 

Since September 2019, we have been able to complete nine inspections leading to an overall rating. All of these services were rated as ‘Requires improvement’ in 2018/2019 – three are now rated as ‘Good’. Supervision of unpaid work was also found to be generally satisfactory, with eight now rated as ‘Good’. 

For some services, however, things have not looked so rosy. In five areas, we have continued to find budgets being squeezed, staff under pressure and unacceptably high caseloads, and this has inevitably resulted in poorer-quality supervision. Five CRCs were rated as ‘Inadequate’ for the quality of their day-to-day offender management, against all our standards. 

The onset of Covid-19 brought abrupt change – with some services, such as unpaid work, halted altogether and the suspension of the usual CRC targets and penalties. In the face of mounting uncertainty about the future, the government announced in June 2020 that it was abandoning its plans to continue to outsource the provision of unpaid work and accredited programmes and other interventions to ‘probation delivery partners’, and said that these functions would also come back into the public sector from June 2021. 

I reaffirm my view that this type of structural reform is not a magic bullet for improving performance by itself. It must be backed by real extra resources. The future of the probation service depends on it being funded properly. The quality of probation supervision will not improve merely by shifting large volumes of cases from CRCs back into the NPS next year. Vacancies for POs must be filled, and staff properly trained for their new responsibilities. The positive innovations that CRCs have brought cannot be lost and the transition period must be expertly managed. 


Although much of the focus has been on CRC performance in recent years, the public sector NPS has also faced substantial challenges. While, in overall terms, we rated five of the seven NPS regions as ‘Good’ in our first round of inspections against our new standards, every region had at least two quality standards on which they were rated as ‘Requires improvement’. We applied this rating to all seven in relation to our standards for staffing, and to six out of seven for the quality of information services and facilities. 

Although probation services officer (PSO) numbers in the NPS have increased substantially since 2014, PO numbers remain an issue, with over 650 vacancies in September 2019 and particular issues with vacancy rates in London, the South East and East of England. 

The government’s commitment to increase the number of trainee POs is welcome and there are signs that it is starting to pay dividends – with the number of POs rising by almost six per cent in the year to June 2020 and the gap in vacancies closing to 483. Our reinspection of the NPS North West region in January and February 2020 showed that this is starting to make a real difference on the ground. We found that 153 new PO trainees had been recruited, and a full staffing complement after a long period below strength – although it was concerning to see that 32 per cent of officers had workloads in excess of 110 per cent of their expected levels. 

Poor-quality office accommodation and approved premises have also been a real issue in the NPS, with many probation staff operating from buildings that are in disrepair, and approved premises bed spaces being lost through delays to basic repairs. In 2019, only 43 per cent of facilities management jobs were completed within the 10-day target. For example, on our return visit to the North West division, we found 700 outstanding work orders. 

Protecting the public 

It should be concerning and disappointing to all that the weakest performance area we have seen in our inspections is the quality of work to manage risk of harm. 

CRCs have invested substantially in retraining staff on the basics of risk management, but we simply have not seen this translated into better care of the cases we have inspected more recently. 

On every aspect of supervision in relation to risk of serious harm (apart from initial assessment), we have continued to find that, on average, fewer than half the cases we assess in CRCs are satisfactory in relation to planning, delivery or review of actions to manage risk of harm. 

Time and again, we are finding that some of the fundamental tasks of effective risk management have been missed, such as the checks that every responsible officer is supposed to run with their local police domestic abuse team at the point of initial assessment. We have found that, on average, these checks are not being done in over a third of cases. Our joint inspection with HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services of Integrated Offender Management – published in February 2020 – found that these promising arrangements had been downgraded to a shadow of their past shared priority. 

I do not need to spell out the potentially disastrous consequences if risk of harm is not managed properly, but the impact on victims and their families can be irreversible. It should not be the case that the only time the public hear about the probation service is when something goes wrong. 

A lack of professional curiosity, incorrect classification of risk, poor information-sharing with the prisons and police, over-optimistic assessments of progress and premature relaxation of controls are things that we find again and again in the cases we look at in our local inspections. Our review of the Joseph McCann case found all these issues combined, to become a catalogue of errors – not least eight missed opportunities to revoke his indeterminate sentence for public protection licence between 2017 and 2019. 

Much of our focus this year has been on the important lessons that can be learned when things go wrong in such cases. As such, I welcome the decision by the Lord Chancellor to give HM Inspectorate of Probation a role in the independent quality assurance of Serious Further Offence reviews from April 2021. We have also published an effective practice guide on undertaking these reviews, based on lessons from a national inspection of practice at the end of 2019. This is all part of our broader, renewed commitment to disseminating advice on what ‘good’ looks like. 


While it is not true to say that the probation service as a whole is, or was, ‘in crisis’, it has undoubtedly been severely tested by the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms and the profound impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic earlier this year, to which it responded with admirable agility and commitment. 

Of the services we have been able to inspect over the past year, it has been encouraging to see signs of overall improvement in some, and the very real progress that has been made with enhanced Through the Gate services. 

For others, however, things are more difficult. Committed leaders are doing their best to engage staff and improve delivery, but they are often fighting a losing battle as resources diminish. There is a real risk to delivery over the coming six months, as attention is diverted by the demands of transition to the new structures in June next year. 

The new, unified national offender management model is not a cure-all. Adequate resourcing is crucial, and we cannot lose the innovation that Transforming Rehabilitation has unleashed in some areas. CRC leaders have enjoyed the freedoms to try new things; to move into decent office accommodation for the first time or to work out of community hubs; and to develop better case management software. There is no doubt that service users have benefited from the real commitment shown by many CRCs to listen to their views, and even give them a role as mentors, and ultimately as paid staff – an outcome any service can be proud of. 

The road to recovery for probation services will be a long and winding one to traverse, with huge challenges ahead still to negotiate. But with the right resources and leadership, it can be managed successfully, and we will be providing an independent and unbiased view of that progress every step of the way.

Justin Russell
HM Chief Inspector of Probation


There's a lot in this Report such as the following, which I highlight given recent exchanges on here concerning role boundaries:- 

Role boundaries, the ratio of POs to PSOs and the impact on quality 

Newly recruited PSOs The approach to grading and allocation of work for PSOs varies and can be complex. In ARCC, MTC and Sodexo CRCs, we found a recognition of the importance of ensuring that novice PSOs complete core training and gain sufficient experience, before they are allocated complex casework. 

Reduced income across all the Interserve (Purple Futures) services prompted a decision to curb expenditure through a major organisational restructure at the beginning of 2019. This new operating model, however, works on the presumption of an experienced and skilled workforce. In Hampshire and Isle of Wight CRC, the restructure failed to take sufficient account of a predictable shortage of skilled staff or the time required to recruit, train and consolidate the training of new PSO grade case managers and develop the skills of existing case managers to manage complex work, including cases involving domestic abuse. We found that the number of skilled PO grade staff had fallen by 38 per cent since our last inspection. While the number of lower-grade case managers (PSO equivalent) had risen substantially, 45 per cent were new to the service at the time of our inspection. 

The quality of PSO and PO casework 

Given the right training and support, and when allocated the right number and risk level of cases, PSOs can do a good job of supervising low- and some medium-risk offenders. As the Hampshire and Isle of Wight CRC example shows, however, when inexperienced PSOs with large caseloads are substituted for more qualified and experienced POs, and asked to take on complex cases beyond their competence, the result can be a worrying reduction in the quality of supervision. 

Our aggregated results from CRC and NPS inspections show a substantial gap between our ratings of the quality of PO and of PSO case supervision – something that should be a priority for attention as the service transitions to its new unified model in 2021.