Thursday 30 December 2021

Happy New Year 2022

End of year message from Amy Rees

Reflecting back on 2021, I am sure many of you would agree it has felt somewhat like a rollercoaster of a year hurtling by at pace with numerous twists and turns. But though there have been challenges and difficult times, there have also been many positives during 2021 and throughout it all, you have continued to be the most professional dedicated and conscientious group of staff I could wish for and I am very grateful and proud of you all.

COVID has of course unfortunately been a backdrop throughout the year and we have had to continue to respond to this professionally and personally. I know some of you will have been directly impacted by the virus and tragically lost loved ones this year. We have also sadly lost probation and prison colleagues as well as people on probation and in prisons. My thoughts continue to be with all of you who have been affected. COVID does regrettably continue to dominate the headlines as the year draws to an end and I know for some of you, this will present ongoing worry regarding your own well-being or that of others so I encourage you to please reach out and speak to your line manager or a colleague if you do have any concerns about the way you feel or they may feel. You can also find out more about sources of support here.

Though we have faced ebbs and flows with the pandemic throughout 2021, you have continued to be responsive as we have made changes, adapting how you work and supporting each other and people on probation. This has enabled us to make significant progress with our recovery work and ensure we continued to deliver and increase where possible our important probation services to protect communities and vulnerable people and I thank you for all your contributions to achieving this.

Given the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic during 2021, it was an even bigger achievement and testament to all of you and your hard work which enabled us to unify the probation system on time in June and create our new Probation Service. I was absolutely delighted to welcome you all to the new organisation at our MS Teams live event on June 28 along with our then Probation Minister Alex Chalk and our Second Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive Jo Farrar to reflect on all the work that had taken place to make this happen across the regions and the Reform programme. I was also really pleased that the Reform programme was recently shortlisted from hundreds of nominations as one of the three finalists for Civil Service Programme of the year – again a fantastic reflection of the scale of the achievement.

Though in some ways, unification felt like the end of the journey, it was of course just the beginning and we still have much to do to implement our Target Operating Model, recruit more staff and create the world class probation system we want which delivers the very best outcomes for victims and communities. But we are starting from a strong position with all of you I know we will achieve this.

I really enjoyed having the opportunity to join the celebrations of your work and the rich history of the Probation Service during our inaugural Probation Day celebrations in August. I hope you were able to take part in some way and reflect on just how much of a role probation has played in the lives of so many people over the years. I was also delighted that so many senior people including our then Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland, our Permanent Secretary Antonia Romeo and our Chief Inspector Justin Russell as well as a whole host of external partners, stakeholders and leading academics were so willing to join in events during the week and celebrate your achievements – this is testament to the high regard in which you are held by so many because of the challenging but profound work you do.

We also welcomed a series of government funding announcements for our future Probation work during 2021. These included significant investments in Reducing Reoffending to improve access to accommodation, employment support and substance misuse treatment as well as increase Approved Premises bed spaces and enhance Approved Premises provision; £93m to increase and improve the delivery of Unpaid Work and £75m a year by 2024-25 to expand the use of GPS-enabled and alcohol abstinence-monitoring electronic tagging. On top of these, we also now have a permanent increase in our core funding of £155m per year to improve public protection and support rehabilitation. This combined investment will make a significant difference to how we work in future and the services we are able to offer which will help us build our new Probation Service, strengthen and enhance our work across the community and in custody and ultimately, make a big difference to people’s lives which I know is one of the biggest reasons you all joined the organisation.

So as 2021 draws to a close, I encourage you all to take a moment to reflect on our achievements and be as proud of yourselves as I am of you. But I also know there is much more still to do and I am clear eyed about that, reducing workloads, tackling racism and securing a multi-year pay deal being top of my agenda. But my optimism for 2022 is genuine, and I believe well placed as we now have a really solid platform on which to build. Whatever your role and wherever you work within the Probation Service or in HQ, you will have made a difference to people’s lives and each and every one you have played an invaluable role in creating our new organisation. I know it continues to be challenging at times and we still are in the midst of the pandemic, but we will get through this period together. We have lots to look forward to in 2022 and with all of you together now as one big team, our new unified Probation Service can continue to grow from strength to strength and make a difference for the better to the lives of many more people.

Thank you all and may I take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy 2022. Stay safe over the bank holiday weekend and take care.

Director General Probation, Wales and Youth


I'd like to wish all my readers, contributors and supporters a Happy New Year and hope it turns out to be much better than the one we've just come through. Take care everyone!

Jim Brown  

Saturday 18 December 2021

Calling All Aspiring Probation Leaders!

The MoJ have a cunning new plan to cement their control over the Probation Service and change its culture from the top, rather than the traditional but tedious route from the bottom. 9 months as a PO then 10 months as an SPO. What's the problem? Can't be that difficult a job can it? Read and weep.

"Welcome to Justice Leaders, the innovative new scheme looking to shape the future of HMPPS. Please take some time to read about this exciting opportunity and watch some of our very own staff speak about their experiences within HMPPS and why it is such a rewarding organisation to be a part of. If you have the passion and motivation to be part of the first ever cohort of leaders with the ability to work fluidly across any operational area of HMPPS then take a look at our realistic job preview and consider applying for this pioneering fast-track scheme." Minister Victoria Atkins MP

Read the Justice Leaders Prospectus including articles from our senior leadership team.

Join our unique new leadership scheme

Justice Leaders is an opportunity like no other. This pioneering, fully immersive, four-year graduate leadership scheme, will prepare you to make a positive, lasting impact on countless lives.

Mixing cutting-edge learning and intense real frontline experience, it’s a highly innovative and challenging scheme. We are looking for people with a degree level qualification and real-world experience, who are passionate about making a difference to the lives of others and are excited about embarking on a new career as part of the first ever cohort of Justice Leaders.

You will gain in-depth training and vital exposure within Prison, Probation and Youth Custody. We will work together to develop your leadership skills, equipping you to inspire, mentor, coach, and influence others. You will study for a bespoke Masters qualification and graduate from the scheme as a senior operational leader in our organisation.

We are giving you the unique opportunity to use your skills to transform the justice system and shape an entirely new era in our service.

The path to leadership

Justice Leaders is an exciting, brand new fast-track scheme that spans the whole of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS). It is the first of its kind to develop future leaders in operational offender facing roles, with the ability to work across Prison, Probation, and the Youth Custody Service.

HMPPS carries out sentences given by the courts, helping people lead law-abiding and useful lives, both while they are in prison and after they are released. We support people in our care on their road to rehabilitation through education and employment.

Over four years, you will experience a diverse variety of exciting placements across Prison, Probation and Youth Custody while completing a bespoke Masters qualification. These placements will provide a foundation for your future leadership roles. You will help to improve the experiences of people moving through the system, bringing about positive change through your inspirational attitude, engagement, and commitment to making a difference to the lives of those in your care.

Placements & Scheme Structure

Years 1 and 2

The first three months of the scheme are spent experiencing the journey of somebody moving through the criminal justice system. You will spend time with the Police, Courts, Prison and Probation.

During this time, you will also complete your seven-week Prison Officer Entry Level Training. This is the operational training required to become a Prison Officer and includes a combination of practical and theoretical learning on everything from personal protection to identifying people at risk of self-harm.

You will then go on to spend three months working in a prison as a Prison Officer. In this role you will develop your understanding of the prison system, building confidence and working directly with prisoners. Expect to encounter people from all walks of life and perform a wide range of roles as a key worker – from keeping the prison safe and secure to helping vulnerable people through a difficult time in their lives.

The next stage of the scheme will involve 17 months of varied work across Prison and Probation. During this time, you focus on completing the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) element of the Masters and learning how we support people as they complete or serve their sentences in the community.

Years 3 and 4

At the end of two years, you will sit a Career Development Panel. This will be an opportunity to discuss your progress and to choose whether to specialise in Prison, Probation or Youth Custody.

At this point the pathways diverge and offer different kinds of experience and training over the following two years. However, all participants pursue the same Masters qualification.

Masters Qualification

The HMPPS Justice Leadership Masters is a bespoke new qualification created specifically for the Justice Leaders scheme to develop the first cohort of future leaders with the skills and experience to work across HMPPS. You will study a range of topics such as safeguarding in childcare, risk management, rehabilitation, protecting the public, critical thinking, understanding crime and criminal behaviour and leadership.

Youth Custody

Prison Officers who work in the Youth Custody Service are called Youth Justice Workers. Working with Children is a specialism and so requires specialist knowledge. The new Masters takes several of the most salient modules from the existing qualification that Youth Justice Workers must complete.

Support while on the scheme

We understand the pressures of undertaking such an intensive period of development. We will ensure you are well supported in both your operational work and your academic learning.

You will be offered several career development panels during the scheme. This is designed to be a supportive process, which gives you an opportunity to discuss your ambitions, progress and how you can make the most difference in your career.

To ensure you get the most out of Justice Leaders you will be expected to be proactive, taking ownership and responsibility of your personal development. There will be mentoring and coaching available from colleagues and managers, and you will also have the support and guidance of your line manager and the central Justice Leaders team.



National/Outer London/Inner London 

£27,121 £21,693 basic salary + additional allowances for additional and unsocial hours
£30,488 £24,689 basic salary + additional allowances for additional and unsocial hours
£32,244 £26,111 basic salary + additional allowances for additional and unsocial hours


£37,276 £30,453 basic salary + additional allowances for additional and unsocial hours
£40,536 £33,116 basic salary + additional allowances for additional and unsocial hours
£42,236 £35,234 basic salary + additional allowances for additional and unsocial hours

Probation Career Pathway switch at year 3 + 4 months as below: £37,276 – £37,174 (basic salary + marked time balance of £102) Additional London Allowance (where applicable) of £3,889 = total pay £41,165


£37,276 £30,453 basic salary + additional allowances for additional and unsocial hours £40,536 £33,116 basic salary + additional allowances for additional and unsocial hours £42,236 £35,234 basic salary + additional allowances for additional and unsocial hours

Probation Career Pathway £37,276 – £37,174 (basic salary + marked time balance of £102) Additional London Allowance (where applicable) of £3,889 = total pay £41,165


Candidates will be required to apply for their chosen role through fair and open competition. Where successful, those who are pursuing the prisons career pathway will have their pay calculated as a promotion from Band 3 under whichever prisons pay on promotion policy is in place at the time. If this results in lower pay than in year 4 of the scheme, the necessary upward adjustment will be made to ensure no detriment. Because there are no recognised grade equivalencies between prisons and probation, those pursuing the probation career pathway will be placed at the pay range minimum for the role successfully applied for. If this results in lower pay than in year 4 of the scheme, the necessary upward adjustment will be made to ensure no detriment. Staff then becoming subject to either the prisons or probation pay awards (depending on chosen career pathway) annually.

Thursday 16 December 2021

The IPP Disgrace

Probation Officers have long known about the disgraceful IPP situation and the subject has been discussed on several occasions, such as here in 2016. Like so many other criminal justice issues, the matter rumbles on with little sign of a solution in sight, despite many in Parliament trying their best. However a campaigning group, UNGRIPP,  is cautiously optimistic according to these Tweets and following a recent House of Lords debate:-

We are deeply disappointed that the proposed amendments to the IPP sentence did not pass, but we think there are important reasons to still hope for change. This thread contains a factual summary of the debate, what it means in plain English, and what may happen next.

Who’s who? the amendments were tabled by Lord Blunkett, Lord Brown & Lord Moylan. Lord Blunkett introduced the IPP sentence, but now advocates for change. Lord Wolfson is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, who represents the Government in the House of Lords.

We thank Lords Blunkett, Brown & Moylan for their continued support for change. All spoke about the injustice of the sentence, the incomprehensibility of its continued existence, its pain to families, & the moderate but nevertheless hope-restoring nature of their proposals.

Lord Blunkett thanked family campaigners & parliamentarians, & expressed the hope of agreement for ‘a modest way forward’. He commented on the ‘dispiriting’ evidence at yesterday’s inquiry session, underscoring why today’s opportunity was so important.

Lord Blunkett referenced the great number of psychologists & psychiatrists who have written to peers stating that, in their view, IPP is making it less likely that people will be able to change, and get out of this terrible, unsustainable revolving door.

Lord Blunkett expressed trust in Lord Wolfson’s commitment to finding a way forward, but indicated that the Government would not be willing to let the amendments pass when the Bill returns to the Commons.

Lord Blunkett emphasised the impact of collective action: “What has happened with the campaign, and with the pressure, and with the interest of people in this issue has transformed the climate and the landscape for going forward.”

Lord Blunkett called for a new guidance & procedures that took what is happening seriously, instead of “mouthing platitudes about an action plan”. Rather than a “trimming of the sail”, such changes would be “a lifeboat for individuals who deserve justice.”

We also thank Lord Judge, Lord Garnier, Viscount Hailsham, Lord Beith, Baroness Jones & Baroness Burt for their supporting remarks. Nobody spoke against the amendments. They had cross-party support.

Lord Wolfson gave the Government’s response. He stated that he wanted on record that he had read all the emails sent to him by families of people affected by IPP sentences, even if he did not reply to them personally.

Lord Wolfson stated that the Government recognises more work needs to be done, & that it intends to bring another amendment forward at the third reading of the Bill, to automate referral to the Parole Board after 10 years in the community.

Lord Wolfson stated that the IPP action plan was successfully reducing risk & rehabilitating people serving the IPP sentence. He referenced the inquiry & said the Government is looking forward to hearing its recommendations, but believed they were already doing effective work.

Amendment 79: an independent Commission to consider replacing IPP with other options. The Government believes that legislating to resentence people serving an IPP would cause an unacceptable level of risk to public safety.

The Government does not believe a Commission is necessary, given that officials already consult widely on measures needed to reduce the IPP prison population.

Amendment 80: reversing the release test. The Government does not believe this would have a material impact on release. It believes that altering the burden of proof would be unlikely to matter, as these decisions are made on the basis of a risk assessment.

Amendment 81: At the moment people can apply to have their licence lifted (i.e. their sentence removed) 10 years from first release from prison. This amendment sought to make that referral automatic, & reduce the time to five years (known as the “qualifying period”).

The Government will bring forward an amendment for automating referral to the Parole Board after 10 years in the community, for termination of an IPP licence.

The Government will not accept a reduction in the qualifying period from ten years to five, but they will return to this issue after the report & recommendations from the Justice Select Committee IPP inquiry.

Lord Wolfson stated that in order to provide reassurance to the House and particularly to the families of IPP prisoners campaigning for change, the Government is willing to look at guidance for the Probation Service, to minimise licence breaches & promote the rehabilitation.

The Government believes it is the role of the Parole Board to assess risk, but they are mindful of “the injustice of the revolving door”, and therefore to take the representations made seriously.

Based on the assurances made by the Government, the peers withdrew the amendments. Lord Blunkett said he withdrew on the basis of “not wanting a victory that would end in defeat and even greater hopelessness for those we are seeking to help.”

What this means is that the proposed changes to the IPP sentence will not go through to the next stage of the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill.

The amendments could have been put to a vote, but they were withdrawn instead. The reason is that if they were voted in, they would still need to be approved when the Bill returns to the House of Commons. The Government indicated that this was unlikely to happen.

Lord Blunkett explained that, in light of the Government’s lack of support, a different route to change is now needed, one which stands a greater long-term chance of success.

What could that route be? We are still digesting the information, but we think there are some clues, and signs of hope. Here’s what they are.

First, the Government will table an amendment at the next stage to automate referral to the Parole Board 10 years after release. This is an extremely small concession, but it is the first time the Government has conceded to any legislative change since the sentence was abolished.

Second, the Government has made a public commitment to return to the idea of reducing the qualifying period from ten years to five years, when the inquiry reports. The inquiry may also make other recommendations, of greater substance than the amendments just defeated.

Third, the Government has – publicly – acknowledged that the sentence is unjust. Although it continues to talk about public protection, acknowledging injustice is a significant shift in its response.

Fourth, families were an integral part of today’s dialogue, including from the Government. The plight of families has become increasingly impossible for those in power to ignore.

Fifth, Lord Blunkett indicated that psychologists have written to peers to say that the IPP sentence doesn’t help people. They join Parole Board officials & judges in speaking out. We are approaching a place where everybody involved in the sentence condemns it.

We do not think that the Government goes far enough in relieving the desperate circumstances of people affected by the IPP sentence who need swift action, not vague assurances. We know there are no words to describe how people will be feeling.

We do not know what will happen next, but we think that the five signs we referred to genuinely offer some hope, and reason to carry on. We will carry on campaigning together, in the hope that the small change today will lead to bigger changes in future.

We would like to sincerely thank people serving the sentence, and their families, who put their trust in us. We will always act on your behalf, and we could not do it without your collective input, courage, dignity and determination.

We’re also grateful to the many criminal justice staff, parliamentarians, organisations and members of the public who support our efforts. Your actions send a message that the IPP sentence is condemned on all sides.

There has never been a more important time for everybody with a stake in the justice system to unite in sending a collective message that the IPP sentence needs to change. The sentence sows division between ‘dangerous’ and ‘public’. We are ALL the public, and we do not want this.


Our submission to the parliamentary inquiry on the IPP sentence: End indeterminacy. Restore justice.

On the 9th anniversary of the IPP sentence’s abolition, we have published our submission to the Justice Select Committee IPP inquiry. This is made on behalf of people affected by the IPP sentence who contacted us. This post summarises the evidence they gave, and you can read our full submission here: UNGRIPP's full submission to the Justice Select Committee.

31 people submitted evidence to us – a mix of people serving the sentence and their families. Many more spoke to us informally. We ask everyone to take the time to read their words, their views, their painful & traumatic experiences, and what they would like to change.

Many people were too scared to submit evidence in case it had repercussions for their sentence, or they felt there was no point. This in itself is a damning indictment of the IPP sentence: it controls through fear and it undermines faith in the justice system.

3,125 people live under the IPP sentence in the community. 1,722 people have never been released from prison. 96% are post-tariff. A further 1,322 are re-imprisoned indefinitely on recall, often without further convictions. 276 people are in secure hospitals.

235 people serving the IPP sentence have died in prison. 70 of those took their own lives. An unknown number have died in the community, including through suicide.

On this day, we commemorate the people who have died while serving the IPP sentence. And we uplift the voices of people still living and affected by the sentence every day, including families.

In their evidence submitted to us, people used deathlike metaphors with tragic frequency. ‘Buried alive’, ‘served a death warrant’, ‘death is the only escape’, ‘grieving for someone still alive’. For this reason, we argue that the IPP has come to resemble a living-death sentence.

People were clear that the worst thing about the sentence is indeterminacy. Its devastating effect is the elephant in the room. The behaviour of people serving an IPP sentence is explained away by everything except the sentence they are serving. This needs to change.

People told us three things about indeterminacy. It is unjust, it is harmful, and it is not rehabilitative. The sentence has failed to deliver the balance of punishment, rehabilitation, and public protection that it was intended for.

People told us that the IPP sentence departed from common-sense notions of justice & punishment. People unfamiliar with it struggle to comprehend that it exists. Nobody disagreed that they (or their loved one) deserved a prison sentence. They wanted to seek justice, not evade it.

By breaking the social contract of punishment, the IPP sentence has produced a generation with no faith in the justice system. People serving the IPP sentence, their families and their children, live in a state of deep fear, mistrust and disenfranchisement.

People told us that the IPP sentence had harmed them emotionally, mentally, physically, financially & socially. People serving the sentence consistently describe a psychologically harmful triad of alienation, perpetual anxiety and hopelessness. Their families experience the same.

The harm caused by the IPP sentence does not end at the prison gate. It continues under the perpetual threat of recall. Under such circumstances, the deathlike metaphors used to describe the IPP sentence are unsurprising.

People told us that the IPP sentence made rehabilitation harder. They were frightened to be honest about problems, experienced extra strain on resettlement and family relationships, and it encouraged coping mechanisms (self-harm, drug use) that excluded them from receiving help.

The IPP sentence does not assist rehabilitation, it undermines it. Fear, mistrust, extra trouble securing resources, strained relationships, a push towards self-harm and increased exclusion all distort the effect of any rehabilitative help on offer.

The person who spoke to us who would be depicted as the most ‘successful’ by the sentence’s logics (released the soonest after his tariff expiry and the only one never to be recalled) described himself as “a broken man”. This is not success, but survival at great cost.

A public protection-based sentence without fair punishment or rehabilitation is nothing more than warehousing & surveillance. Moreover, families of people serving the IPP sentence are members of the public. The sentence has not protected them, but harmed them.

People were clear about their favoured solution to the IPP sentence: end indeterminacy. Any solution that falls short of this will not address the problems of the sentence. It is the single most damaging source of injustice, harm, and failed rehabilitation.

When presented with several solutions, people strongly favoured resentencing. We comment on which variants may address the problems people described. We urge the Committee to consider such an exercise, to restore a balance of punishment, rehabilitation & public protection.

People were also clear that post-release support needs to be fit for purpose. People serving the IPP sentence cannot simply be abandoned. They and their families need, and deserve, substantial help in overcoming the damaging impact of the sentence on their lives.

UNGRIPP was, at times, overwhelmed by the suffering reported to us. We would like to thank everyone who submitted evidence for their courage & dignity in telling their stories. This is our effort to raise their voices in a united message. End indeterminacy: restore justice.

In the coming weeks, both the Justice Select Committee, and peers debating the IPP-related amendments to the PCS Bill need to know what people think. Please use our evidence. Quote it, tweet it, tag people who need to know. Especially let your MPs know about it.

We especially need help from professionals & members of the public. We need to show that the sentence lacks legitimacy across agencies, communities, & anyone with a stake in the justice system. Whatever your relationship to IPP is, please unite with us to change it.

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Hey People - Results Are In!

Dear all

Thank you to the 40,000 of you who shared your views in the 2021 People Survey. These survey results are crucial to help us understand how we can continue to make the MoJ an outstanding place to work.

We have now received the results, and I can report that MoJ’s overall engagement score is 60%, one percentage point (ppt) lower than in 2020.

The last two years have been particularly challenging, but despite this, I’m pleased that overall engagement remains higher than in 2019.

There are many stand-out scores from individual areas. Overall engagement went up in HMCTS (by 3ppts), MoJ Policy Group (by 1ppt), CICA (by 1ppt) and OPG (by 1ppt).

Over the next few weeks, ExCo will be looking closely at the department-wide insights the survey results provide, and I’ll be reading all the 39,000 free-text comments you submitted. In the meantime, here are some of my early impressions.

I’m pleased that there has been a 2ppt increase in those of you who feel there are opportunities to develop your career in your organisation. I want MoJ to provide opportunities for career progression for all our staff. This is a positive improvement, and we will continue to push to be a top Civil Service organisation in this area.

89% of you say you have the skills to do your jobs effectively, which is above the Civil Service average. This reflects the focus and commitment I see right across the department every day and at every grade to deliver high quality, and professional work.

Pay and benefits scores for staff who were part of the MoJ Pay Offer have increased by 12ppt. One of my top priorities in the past year was to tackle the long-standing issues around pay and reward, so I am delighted the pay offer has made a difference to those staff. We have a separate approach for HMPPS pay – and looking at what we can do on this is a priority for Jo and I for this year.

Of course, there are still several areas on which we need to focus. We have seen a reduction in some areas of engagement for HMPPS, we know this has been an extremely challenging year for those on the frontline and I’m grateful for how you’ve responded to the unprecedented pressures of the pandemic. I really want MoJ Group to be a great place to work for all our staff and agencies, so we will be working to identify how we can share best practice across all areas.

On bullying, harassment and discrimination, it’s good to see a 1ppt drop in those reporting being discriminated against – however any score is still too high. We have to redouble our efforts so nobody is in any doubt that we have zero tolerance of discrimination, bullying or harassment at the MoJ, and throughout our agencies.

Please do take time to discuss your scores in your teams and decide what more we can all do to create an innovative and collaborative workplace of which we can all be proud. This is also a chance for you to share ideas and actions with other teams. You all operate in very different roles and by collectively considering our results we can decide jointly how to build a great place to work for all of our people.

Thank you for your extraordinary efforts this year, and for the time you have clearly taken to support one another in this challenging period.

You have achieved a huge amount, delivering our Ministers’ priorities, continually responding to the demands of COVID, and working to protect the public, reduce reoffending and provide swift access to justice. This is a major source of pride for me, and I hope it is for you too.

All the best



Prioritising Probation

Introduction from Kim Thornden-Edwards

I’m Kim, Deputy Director for the Probation Workforce Programme, and I joined the Probation Service from Interserve in June as part of unification. With over 25 years operational experience delivering probation services across the country, I know how tough things are out there at the moment. We have heard the messages you have been giving us, and are committed to doing something about it.

Taking action now

We know many of the issues around workload are caused by staff shortages, complex processes, the constant demands of change, alongside the backdrop of Covid. Whilst we must protect our core business, we need to prioritise the essential activities, and stop or pause others.

So today [9th December 2021] I’m really pleased to tell you about Prioritising Probation, a new action-focussed initiative to identify and bring together what can be done over the next three months to ease the pressures on the front line and enable you to focus on the important work you do with people on probation to protect the public.

Prioritising Probation is our response to what you have told us. We will review how we are currently working and identify if there are practical and quick ways to:
  • Speed up recruitment and increase the number of staff
  • Give your region more flexibility to pause or stop non-essential activity
  • Simplify or stop some processes
  • Lessen the amount of changes or spread them out more during 2022
  • Reduce or better manage requests from HQ to regions
Get involved

We are still working on the detail, but we want to be brave and bold. I’ll be talking to senior leaders about these ideas on Monday and in addition I am keen to hear from you. So, please tell us what you feel is most important using this short form, so that we can ensure that we focus on the right things. You can also share your views using the dedicated mailbox.

Stay informed

We will keep updating you on progress in a range of ways including a new Prioritising Probation page on the Probation Hub, Probation News, and through other channels. We want you to hold us to account on this, so please keep checking here for updates.

Thank you


Sunday 5 December 2021

Don't Tell Tory Voters!

Oh look, the government are about to launch a new drug policy, accepting it's a health condition not a criminal justice problem, but really hope voters, especially Tory ones, don't notice. This from the BBC:-

Government to overhaul drug policy to focus on getting users healthcare

The government will announce a new drugs strategy on Monday overhauling the drug recovery and treatment system, the BBC has learned. The announcement is expected to pledge £700m over three years to tackle problem drug use. Measures will include a large focus on diversion, a tactic designed to remove drug users from the criminal justice system and get them into healthcare. Ministers are also set to announce investment to tackle drug gangs.

The overhaul has been drawn together by at least six government departments, the BBC understands. It will form part of a wider week of law and order announcements for the government, which a source involved in the drug strategy said had frustrated some of those who worked on it - who wanted to make clear these measures would lead to fewer crime-focused drug policies. The government has been asked to comment.

The diversion strategy is expected to be twofold - short prison sentences for drug use will be largely replaced with court orders putting users into recovery programmes and there will be less emphasis on prosecuting people caught with substances. 

In Scotland, prosecutors can refer people accused of drugs offences for "diversion" and their Lord Advocate said people caught with Class A drugs could be given a police warning instead of facing prosecution - a move the Conservatives had previously said amounted to "de facto decriminalisation."

'Chronic health condition'

In his party conference speech, Boris Johnson accused Labour of "decriminalising" hard drugs after the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Scotland's decision was "probably the right thing to do" but was an "independent decision." 

It is understood there will also be more emphasis in the strategy on helping drug users leaving prison to find work and safe housing. The Times newspaper has reported drug treatment courses could be offered to those whose offending was fuelled by drugs, giving people the option of changing their behaviour or facing tougher punishments. 

One source heavily involved in forming the review told the BBC "ministers have now accepted this [problem drug use] is a chronic health condition". However, they added that because of concerns over how that would be viewed by the public and Conservative voters, it was unlikely the government would want it to be the focus of the announcement. The Home Office have been asked to comment.

As well as an overhauling of drug treatment plans, ministers are expected to outline more investment to tackle county lines drug gangs - urban drug dealers who sell to customers in more rural areas via dedicated phone lines.

The strategy has been drawn up as a response to the Dame Carol Black review of drugs, which reported in the summer and made 32 recommendations. The BBC understands the government has accepted at least 31 of these. The Times also reported the government was seeking to amend its Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to give judges extra powers to order drug testing of anyone serving a community sentence. It said drug testing could be required on arrest for all crimes, and the government could outline plans to use drug dealers' phones to identify and support addicts - and warn people they were not anonymous when buying drugs.

The BBC has been told there will be no announcements on heroin-assisted treatment or drug consumption rooms. Politicians in Scotland have been pushing for the latter to be introduced but a source involved in forming the drugs strategy said Number 10 and the Home Office were "very against" them and a move in that direction may have needed a change to the Misuse of Drugs Act. Both departments have been asked to comment. 

Those drawing up the drug strategy were instructed to find ways of introducing new policies without having to make major change to legislation. It's also understood there will likely be no specific funding in this strategy for prisons to replace methadone with "abstinence-based rehab", a plan reported by The Telegraph newspaper earlier this week. However, Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, is expected to publish a separate strategy on problem drug use in prisons in a government White Paper.

A government source told the BBC this would allow governors in prison to be more empowered to take action against drug use. The Times reported it could also involve further "airport-style" security in prisons for visitors and staff to prevent drug smuggling.

Saturday 4 December 2021

A Sobering Tale

Something very interesting happened a few weeks ago. By quirk of historical events, I'm a shareholder of a fairly large regional housing association and I was invited to a briefing event chaired by the CEO and newly-appointed Board Chair. It's a rare occurrence and I was intrigued as, being a pessimist by nature, it usually signals change or trouble of some sort.

I was wrong however and instead was heartened to hear how management had dealt with staff forced to work from home during the pandemic, whilst many had to cope with home schooling, other familial responsibilities, personal worries and concerns. In essence the policy was to be as flexible and accommodating as possible, allow each staff member to work as little or as much as they felt able to cope with and pay full salaries rather than sick pay to the few who were unable to work for any reason. 

In addition to feeling incredibly heartened by such an enlightened managerial response to the unprecedented situation the pandemic brought, I couldn't help but compare and contrast it to the many, many tales of woe that continually crop up both on this blog and the Facebook group regarding HR and management policies in the probation service and especially since becoming civil service controlled. 

The Facebook group in particular is regularly treated to dreadful personal testimonies that are quite frankly shocking, such as long service retirements going unacknowledged by the team manager FFS! What does this say about the current culture of a once gold standard public service? How can staff be expected to deal reasonably and compassionately with clients of the service when they are being treated so abysmally by their own management, incidentally often cited as 'excellent' in HMI reports?  

Well, another funny thing has happened with a reader highlighting a recent Employment Tribunal case successfully brought for unfair dismissal. Although all such case decisions become lengthy public records, I don't usually refer to them let alone quote from them because it feels to be an intrusion on matters that are deeply personal and painful to those involved, but to be honest how else are we to try and highlight what's going on and better still effect change?

I find Case Number 2402025/2019 held in Manchester to be symptomatic of much I've read and heard over recent years and suggest that time spent absorbing the full document with a cup of tea or stronger libation would be well rewarded. Like all Employment Tribunals, it's complicated and a degree of selective speed-reading has to be undertaken in order to draw out the key elements, the clues and nuances, procedural failures, feelings such as 'losing patience' and 'wanting rid of', a deeply flawed Appeals process, unwillingness to allow reasonable adjustments etc etc.

As I've alluded, there are several strands to the case, starting with matters of capability, but ending with disability. Having worked successfully for many years as a PO and SPO, a situation was reached whereby the claimant was dismissed from a partnership SPO post and denied the possibility of being regraded to either a PO or PSO post by virtue of unsuitability or provision of reasonable adjustments. I've chosen to highlight this aspect because I find it both astonishing and disability issues regularly crop up in relation to the civil service ethos now pervading the new probation service:-   

The Disability discrimination claims. (i) Disability. 

42. The first issue is whether the claimant was at the material time a person with a disability. The respondent does not dispute that he has and had had for some time, some degree of mental impairment, in the form of his dyslexia and dyspraxia, and that these conditions are long-term, but has submitted that the effects upon his day to day activities are insufficient to meet the (admittedly low) test of being substantial, in the sense, as long established, of being more than trivial. Emphasis is rightly placed upon the fact that work is not in itself a day to day activity, and the Tribunal should not confuse activities that a person has to carry out at work with what are normal day to day activities for all persons. That is, of course, correct, but much of a person’s work does involve day to activities which are not specific to the type of work being carried out. Mobility, memory, concentration and the processing of information are all day to day activities which are part of any person’s working life. 

43. The respondent’s submissions have focussed on the minimal degree to which the claimant has been impacted by his conditions in his work and his day to day life. The respondent has sought to argue that, taken in the round, the effects are pretty minimal, and do not satisfy the test of being substantial. The claimant’s submissions point out how many of the activities referred to in the OH report that the claimant has difficulty with work, such as reading, writing, memory, numeracy, organising and planning, and spatial awareness, are indeed all day to day activities, notwithstanding that they are activities that persons engage in whilst working. 

44. The Tribunal does not agree with the respondent. Careful reading of the very comprehensive reports produced on the claimant’s conditions make it clear that the effects are more than trivial. There are a number of examples, but to select a few, the claimant’s difficulties with short-term memory, to take in information when reading, and to concentrate when there is background noise, are all matters that the Tribunal considers are more than trivial. His difficulties in distinguishing between left and right, to read a map, and be aware of the points of the compass are again matters which the Tribunal considers are more than merely trivial. His difficulties with mental arithmetic and remembering telephone numbers are similarly more than trivial. Whilst none of these matters in themselves may appear to be particularly significant, the Tribunal looks upon the overall effect that they must have cumulatively upon the claimant’s abilities to carry out day-to-day activities. Taken in the round therefore, on the basis of reports on the claimant’s own evidence, the Tribunal is therefore quite satisfied that the claimant’s impairments amounted to a disability within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.      


According to Antonia Romeo on Twitter "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" at HMPPS HQ. "Still much to do between now & Christmas - but the tree is up @MoJGovUK HQ!" 

Friday 3 December 2021

CJS and Mental Health

Last month a major report was published on mental health issues people had whilst moving through the criminal justice system. No agency came out of this well as the press release outlines:-

Criminal justice system failing people with mental health issues – with not enough progress over the past 12 years
  • Thousands of people with a mental illness are coming into the criminal justice system each year but their needs are being missed at every stage.
  • “Broken” system for sharing information between agencies, with confusion over data protection rules and incomplete/inaccurate records.
  • Shortage of services and long delays to access them – made worse by the pandemic.
  • Unacceptable delays in psychiatric reports for court and in transferring extremely unwell prisoners into secure mental health hospital beds for treatment.
A major inspection has found poor support for people with mental health issues as they progress through the criminal justice system in England and Wales.

Inspectors labelled the findings “disappointing” and said too little progress had been made since the last review in 2009.

The inspection was conducted by:

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services
HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate
HM Inspectorate of Prisons
HM Inspectorate of Probation
Care Quality Commission
Healthcare Inspectorate Wales.

Inspectors looked at more than 300 cases from six regions, interviewed 550 professionals, and heard from 67 people with mental health issues who had been through the criminal justice system.

Speaking on behalf of all six inspectorates, Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “The criminal justice system is failing people with a mental illness. At every stage, their needs are being missed and they face unacceptable delays in getting support. Not enough progress has been made since our last joint inspection 12 years ago to put right these critical shortfalls.

“Police forces, prosecutors, prisons and probation services all assess individuals in different ways, which leads to gaps and inconsistencies. Even when mental health needs are identified, the information is not always recorded fully or used to make effective decisions.

“There are significant problems in the exchange of information in every agency and at every stage of an individual’s journey in the criminal justice system. This part of the system is broken and needs to be fixed urgently.”

The lack of a common definition of mental ill health means nobody has an accurate picture of the numbers of people with mental health issues in the criminal justice system, or the collective needs or risks posed by these individuals.

Inspectors found a myriad of systems are used to screen and assess people as they are arrested, charged, sentenced and supervised. Incomplete or poor records mean individuals might not receive appropriate treatment, charging decisions are affected, and there are delays to court proceedings.

There is widespread confusion over confidentiality and data protection rules – leaving agencies unable to access pertinent information and leading to poorer mental health outcomes.

Inspectors interviewed police officers who said they were unclear when they could share information about an individual’s mental health with the Crown Prosecution Service. This was despite the Data Protection Act (2018) including an exemption for sharing data for justice purposes. This gap means prosecutors, defence lawyers, judges and magistrates can make decisions without crucial details.

Poor information-sharing hampers work in prisons and probation services too. As a result, prisoners transferring in and out of prison do not get seamless support with their mental health needs. Probation practitioners reported their work was often hindered because community mental health services would not allow them to access information about the individuals they supervised – despite the fact these requests are lawful.

The inspection found delays are common at every stage of the criminal justice system. Courts face long waits for psychiatric reports, which are used to make sentencing decisions.

The shortage of good-quality mental health provision leads to “unacceptable delays” for individuals accessing services.

Inspectors found extremely unwell prisoners were often left in prison instead of being transferred urgently to mental health hospitals. Delays were often caused by a lack of medium and high-security beds; the mental health of these prisoners often further deteriorated as they waited.

Inspectors have called for urgent steps to be taken to address the situation, to meet the 28 day targets from first assessment to transfer now laid down in NHS guidelines.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic people are both overrepresented at every stage of the criminal justice system and at comparatively higher risk of mental illness. Inspectors found a lack of specialist services for these individuals.

Inspectors concluded that not enough has changed in the 12 years since the last joint inspection. However, they did note improvements in some areas.

Inspectors welcomed the roll-out of mental health liaison and diversion services in police stations and courts, and recent initiatives to increase the number of Mental Health Treatment Requirements given by the courts. There has also been a significant fall in the use of police custody as a “place of safety” for people in mental health crisis.

Inspectors found police officers had a good understanding that minor crime – particularly crime caused by mental health issues – could be dealt with using a health care approach.

Mr Russell concluded: “Criminal justice agencies need to make major improvements to the way they work with people with mental health issues.

“If someone is charged, they need to understand and be able to participate in the criminal justice process. An individual may need additional support to understand the questions put to them during an investigation or may lack the mental capacity to plead or stand trial.

“The criminal justice process itself can have a severe and negative impact on someone’s mental health, especially if they are already unwell. Justice agencies should act in ways that do not make matters worse, for example they should help to reduce the risks of suicide and self-harm, which we know to be high in criminal justice populations.

“The Inspectorates have made 22 recommendations following our joint inspection. We urge police forces, the Crown Prosecution Service, prisons and the Probation Service to work with the government and NHS to improve delivery for people with mental health issues in the criminal justice system.”

Quotes from people with mental health issues who have been through the criminal justice system (all names have been changed to protect identities)

On arrest:
  • Filip said he was left alone for three days in police custody. He spoke to a mental health nurse briefly about having suicidal thoughts. He said: “(Arrest) was the lowest point in my life. (It was) unbearable, shocking… full of worry and fear… I did not understand what was going on in my mind.”
  • Marcus found the experience of being arrested: “exhausting, confusing and frightening.”
  • Sammy said: “It’s only reflecting back I realised how bad it was… It traumatised me for a long time, how I was handled (in the police station) and treated… I was disassociated, detached and suffering psychosis and anxiety. They (police) didn’t notice… they interviewed me anyway. For months after, I’ve had panic attacks and nightmares.”
On courts:
  • George said: “Courts are eerie places, everything feels unnatural and on edge and that doesn’t help with anyone’s mental health, even if you consider yourself to have good mental health.”
  • Luke said: “I was on remand for eight months, and going back and forth from court four or five times a month and always ending up with a new pad-mate (cellmate). It was a real struggle, as I didn’t know who I was going to get. It’s the last thing I need after having my life dragged out through court.”
In prison:
  • Wilson described informing his block manager that he has Asperger’s syndrome. Wilson said: “They just gave me anti-depressants to shut me up and fob me off.” He wrote to the mental health team and was told he did not quality for help, despite being on medication for anxiety and depression for eight or nine years. Wilson said: “I asked to see a counsellor, which took five months to process – only to have an appointment where they didn’t show up… I sat in my cell full of anticipation and anxiousness.”
  • Lilly commented that when a prison officer stopped and talked to them, it demonstrated that someone cared. She said: “Just having a trained officer to chat to for five minutes, to ask how you are doing and to talk to, really does make a big difference. It doesn’t have to be someone from the mental health team even.”
  • Steven said: “The constant noise in prison forces tension on you, in an already hostile existence.” He described an incident where he had a mental health crisis: “My cell bell had been going off for over four hours… all I wanted to do was talk to somebody, a listener [this person resides in prison and has been trained by the Samaritans to offer a listening ear]… it was the lowest point of my prison mental health… (I) felt like I have been denied air to breathe.”
On probation:
  • Several interviewees reported that they felt the Probation Service was “on their side”. Filip said: “She (probation practitioner) has taken into consideration my view and has given me the feeling that I have a voice… (this) impacted massively on my mental health”.
  • Brian said: “Probation knew my struggles with drink and have played a key part in helping me stay sober and finding a healthier way to deal with my mental health.”
  • However, others felt talking about their background with a probation practitioner could cause trauma. Cooper said: “There is no point bringing up shit from when I was a kid… this causes mental health problems.”
  • Jakob said: “I have been moved from probation officer to probation officer and I sit there wondering if the (criminal justice) system has given up on me. I have no belief in the system or believe there is genuine care there for me and my mental health.”

From the report:-

Probation practitioners are not mental health experts, but they do need transferrable skills that they can use to help individuals turn their lives around. We found that there were significant gaps in the knowledge and understanding of mental health work among probation practitioners and managers. In our survey, 70 per cent (38/54) of practitioners interviewed reported that they did not have access to effective mental health learning.

From our case reviews, we concluded that management oversight was either absent or ineffective in 64 per cent (34/59) of the inspected cases.

We found that senior leaders in the NPS were familiar with the overarching national strategy and priorities. In our opinion, however, this knowledge and intent was not actively driving local policy.

We found that just under half of the cases reviewed did not contain a comprehensive analysis of mental health needs. Practitioners need to be better equipped to talk to individuals about their mental health problems and understand their specific needs.

The cases reviewed showed that intervention plans needed significant improvement.

Individuals were not always given the opportunity to contribute and their diversity needs were often overlooked... We were not satisfied that enough time had been spent with individuals to help them to fully understand the requirements of their licences or community orders.

Inspectors from HM Inspectorate of Probation reviewed 60 pre-sentence reports prepared by NPS court staff in the inspected areas; 48 reports were on men and 12 were on women. The vast majority (83 per cent, 50/60) of the reports reviewed were short format reports completed without a full OASys assessment. The mental health conditions identified were assessed as having a considerable impact on day-to-day functioning in just over half of the reports reviewed. Almost a quarter of reports were prepared on the same day as the plea or
finding of guilt.

Overall, the quality of reports was insufficient.


This was a recent blog contribution in response:-

For me this is an issue of poor investment in professional development and learning which probation has sorely devalued. In London prior to the pandemic we were subjected to "risk is everyone's business" sessions followed by even more sessions on risk assessment...then of course they invested in time and effort in OASYS QA which focused solely upon "what did you put in each box," prescribed guidance...then the focus has been on "outsourcing", getting your head around this new CRS referral process to outsource mental health work via "personal wellbeing services".

The mantra right now always seems to be about "referring people out"...we've been reduced to referral agents. The recent HMIP inspection on drugs pretty much mirrors the one on mental health. We don't know enough about these issues, how to asses them, or how to directly address them, because the organisational structure hasn't empowered us to address these problems..."refer substance abusers and those with mental health problems to another agency" is basically the bedrock of risk management plans. 

Do they equip and encourage us to deliver meaningful work to tackle these issues directly when confronted with them? Nope! Meanwhile the person is caught between attending a plethora of disparate agencies who each deal with their one issue badly, forced to attend under threat of recall. I'm frankly disgusted by how the service has denigrated the role of probation officer and those responsible in "the centre" don't see how responsible they have been for such poor HMIP inspections. We, the staff, shouldn't feel the burden of criticism here.

And another:-

70% staff lacking appropriate training
60+% cases without management oversight
~50% cases had no analysis of mental health needs

And these were cases prepared for & presented to the inspectors?!

Every time there's an inspection the lack of quality, competence & effectiveness never ceases to astound, yet nothing changes. It's as if operating at somewhere between 30%-50% efficiency/quality/competence is regarded as a triumph for which so-called 'leaders' are rewarded for their 'achievements'. Its shocking. And all paid for by the taxpayer.

Sunday 28 November 2021

I Was There - Were You?

Hidden away in the dark recesses of the internet and only recently come to light thanks to a Facebook group, here we have a bit of Napo nostalgia from the heady campaigning days prior to privatisation. It was Napo at the London TUC demonstration 'A Future that Works' 20th October 2012. I was there - were you? 

Friday 26 November 2021

Latest From Napo 229

Email to members this afternoon:-

  • Unions reject final 2021/2022 pay offer
  • Members to be asked to endorse a Trade Dispute and retain option of future industrial action over pay.
  • Unions to plan protest action as part of the pay campaign.
  • Demand made to Employer to implement Incremental Progression and AP Residential Worker back pay in December salaries.
Since the results of the earlier indicative ballots against the Government pay freeze and the derisory Probation pay offer for 2021/2022, eight meetings have taken place between unions and the employer in an attempt to secure improvements.

As expected, these discussions have been especially difficult and probably would not have taken place at all were it not for the resolve shown by members across the three Probation unions which brought the employer back to the table.

At a meeting of the National Executive Committee this week, (also attended by members of the Napo Probation Negotiating Committee), serious anger was expressed that the government have ignored the claims of our members yet again. They have refused to release new money to your employer and are using the vindictive and politically motivated public sector pay freeze as an excuse. This itself has been put in place to mask their disastrous handling of the Covid pandemic.

While the government has announced that the pay freeze will end with effect from next April it does not help our members whatsoever, as the pay remit for Probation in 2021/2022 only allows for a derisory increase in pay of £250 for those any staff on a pay point under £24k.

Next steps

As you would expect, your negotiators have made it clear to the employer that the final pay offer, which we will circulate to members along with ballot material next week, represents an unacceptable position.

After a full and frank debate on the outcome of the pay talks, the NEC overwhelmingly agreed that balloting for industrial action at this stage would not be in our member’s best interests. Instead, they decided that we should be asking members to reject the offer and endorse our intention to join with our sister unions in lodging a formal Trade Dispute. This means that industrial action would remain an option subject to progress in future negotiations.

This will be part of an ongoing campaign to secure a Multi-Year-Pay deal for the Probation Service with effect from 1st April 2022. Among other things this will need to deliver: revalorisation of pay points, an end to pay band overlaps and the creation of a new salary structure that addresses the huge pay gap between our members and the salaries of workers in comparable public-facing professions outside of the Probation Service.

We have been told by the Probation Minister, the Director General and senior management, that this is a top priority, and that they are committed to delivering such a deal. Members will be expecting them to deliver on this promise once the pay freeze has been lifted.

Future Protest Action

Meanwhile we are also planning a campaign of joint protest action to support this campaign and further details about how members can take part in this will follow in due course.

Unions demand the delivery of contractual entitlements

Over the last few weeks we have regularly demanded payment of three outstanding contractual issues, namely incremental pay progression to those who are eligible to receive it, the AP Residential Worker back pay and the agreement from the 2020 Pay award that would see staff at Pay Band 1 assimilated into Pay Band 2.

The employer has committed to write to us early next week, and it is our expectation that there will be some positive news in respect of the above which is a direct result of union pressure.

Please look out for more news on pay over the next week and any consultative meetings for members which may be organised early next month.

Ian Lawrence 
General Secretary 
Katie Lomas National Chair 

Saturday 20 November 2021

Guest Blog 84


Well, for a multitude of reasons it has taken some time to reflect on the circumstances and nature of my own departure from the National Probation Service after many faithful years of service.

Departing my main grade PO role earlier this year (I opted for early retirement) I then commenced a new, part time job a few days later. However, I feel the need to confirm that I qualified as a Probation Officer and completed my degree after attending face to face lectures. I also benefited from lively but healthy debates and guidance from established, long serving Probation officers (like Paul Senior) who documented and accurately forecast the dismantling of a Gold Star Service.

During my years of service I have worked across several regions, a handful of offices and a few Approved Premises. I have successfully delivered groups that included ETS, Think First, SOTP and IDAP. I have ‘acted up’ (SPO) and was always without hesitation willing to cover colleagues and the service at inter-agency meetings, gaps created by staff sickness and a Service inability to provided adequate report writers. A regular at L3 MAPPA I have over many years held and managed some very interesting cases! I was always considered to be a very safe pair of hands.

I spent some time developing an IOM team and actively worked within a proactive team before that. Back in the day, writing a detailed and meaningful Standard Delivery Report ‘on a weekly basis’ was a core skill, as was the ability to navigate the murky world of IPP sentences and the ever-changing face of Parole reports. I have had cases audited in numerous inspections and the feedback received was always complimentary and to the best of my knowledge rarely critical. But then, we were always given time to sanitise and prepare cases in advance of any inspection.

Over the years, I had the misfortune of becoming involved in 3 SFO’s, the first concluded that the ‘Offender Manager’ had done everything in their power to manage risk and they could not fault my work or that of the Service. My second interrogation was not as forgiving and I was criticized for not completing an OASys on time and the RMP was not in the correct format. The reviewing Officer made a point of telling me (prior to a 3 hour interview) that he would find something and bless him, he did! Regrettably he never explained how the RMP format or timeliness would have prevented further offending? 

My third SFO occurred about 6 months before I left the service. At the time, I calmly advised it was not an SFO because the ‘allegations’ made were so thin the matter would never meet a charging threshold and as a consequence it could never get to Court. As predicted the SFO was abandoned approximately 2 weeks before my departure and I never got the opportunity to say ‘Told You So’. However, the Service left the sword of Damocles hanging above me for almost 6 months, that decision in itself contributed to my departure.

So what was the point of this brief narrative? Well, having taken time to reflect and recharge my batteries, I am happy to confirm that upon my departure from the National Probation Service, I am satisfied that I had experience in abundance, I was a bloody good officer, I was truly a safe pair of hands that never turned work away or took ‘sick leave’ because things got difficult. I met deadline after deadline, I maintained the quality of my work despite the best efforts of the faceless bureaucrats and bean counters whose only aim was to deskill and privatise the role. The Service allowed me to 'burn out', they allowed me to believe I was failing and not meeting the 'new' exacting standards' being pumped out.

I realized the angst, sadness and fatigue I experienced at the very end of my Probation Journey was not of my making. I can now say I am proud of what I achieved. The Service is now desperately trying to train new officers and yet they have never considered why they have lost so much experience. The Service should hang its head in shame for driving the dedicated few out of the role. Was that deliberate or was it simple mismanagement I cannot decide. However, I can say that the accelerated promotion of newly qualified and less experienced officers through the ranks will inevitably create problems further down the line. I have not seen any evidence to suggest retention of staff was ever a real goal? Experienced Officers at the top of their pay grade can become quite expensive to maintain and newly qualified Officers are much cheaper?

Am I missed? Well, the Service didn’t come crashing down after my departure; however the good-will shown to the Probation Service (by me) continued and was arguably ‘expected’. I had to brief officers regarding impending Oral Hearings, the content of Parole Reports and even some case handovers almost 6 weeks after leaving the Service. All done in my own time, however, I was glad to offer my views because in every case we were discussing a third party, an individual who often remained in custody, my integrity demanded that all available information be shared.

So was I missed at all? Some service users expressed anxiety and concern at my departure. Some colleagues also expressed their concerns at the loss of experience within the Office; I suspect my line manager struggled to allocate those extra difficult cases for a day or two. However, life goes on, the Service has inevitably found other willing work horses and in reality my time was an insignificance to such a great Public Service.

I still have to ask how the service will manage staff that experience direct threats, intimidation, knives being pulled in interview? How do you react to an individual that calmly produces bits of his own body that he has hacked off? Is the new generation of Officer willing or indeed able to work late and sit with an offender whilst finding accommodation? I have many, many times.

It’s ironic that on my very last day with Probation, I called at one of the satellite offices to say goodbye to colleagues and whilst there I spotted an Offender I had recalled a couple of weeks earlier. He was unlawfully at large and clearly sleeping rough. I approached him, took him for a cuppa and bought him a sandwich; I then asked if it was ok to get the police to collect him? He agreed it was probably for the best and I sat with him until he was taken in to custody. ‘Old School’. I didn't claim the money for the sandwich, tea or my overtime!

So what now? Well I am several months in to my new role, I do remain within the judicial system and my risk assessment skills are still being used, but for different purposes. I have rediscovered my love for work, learning ‘new rules’ and ‘new standards’ within a new organisation has been a challenge but one that I welcome because it is allowing me to grow again. My partner and children all remark about the change in my demeanour and general well-being. I have time for others now and I am no longer consumed by my occupation. I am sleeping better because I am not worried about deadlines or the behaviour of 58 Offenders who clearly remain my responsibility 24/7!

Do I miss the work? Absolutely, being able to work with and motivate individuals toward change has been a privilege over the years. I have achieved success and many offenders I have worked with over many years have gone on to live very productive lives, I know because many of them stay in touch. It’s a shame the service never studied individual attrition rates (Newly Qualified PO’s v Experience PO’s) that is where you will find ‘Effective Practice’. The ability to exercise common sense without the fear of SFO’s or failing targets would yield undeniable results, but the Service does not want to measure that. I stand by my results, breach and recall clearly has its place, but it should be used wisely.

"A one-size fits all approach to outcome measurement – based principally on the proven rate of reoffending (while strategically and symbolically important) – is unlikely to be sufficiently fine-grained and nuanced to reflect the complex reality of probation provision." (Kevin Wong, Associate Director, Criminal Justice at the Policy Evaluation Unit, PERU, Manchester Metropolitan University). Any Probation Officer worth his or her salt could have confirmed this.

To be an effective Probation Officer (in the past) relied on the presence of ‘people skills’, you had to have an ability to be non-judgemental, firm but fair management in crisis with an ability to challenge ‘confidently’. Sadly these are not traits I see being taught. Sadly OASys and meaningless targets appear to be the order of the day!

Will I ever return…..? Yes because I genuinely believe Old School will come back in to fashion one day.


Wednesday 17 November 2021

All's Well in Soma Land

Comment left this morning:-

Anyone on the national probation propaganda call yesterday would get the impression that everything is going well. We should all be grateful that we have such a dedicated and well motivated management team working tirelessly on our behalf. 

After the warm fuzzy soma land call it was back to the cold hard reality of an unmanageably large caseload, few staff and no pay rise despite rising costs. Remember work harder and longer for less because to them you are expendable and less than a number on a spreadsheet. Expect to be told you should be grateful for the opportunity to train new staff in addition to your work. Be grateful to do additional work politicians might dream up and the management agree to without question lining their pockets whilst we do the dirty work and get humiliated or fired if there is an SFO. Remember HR is not your friend. Your managers are not your friend. Only you colleagues are your friends. 

So the next time they have a propaganda call don’t fill the chat with sycophantic crap but rather ask questions such as ‘Will you be willing to take a 15% pay cut to help the lowest paid staff pay their heating bills this winter?’ ‘Would you be willing to donate your performance bonus to the Edridge Fund to help those probation staff losing their homes?’ Actions not words will show how much they care. I’m pretty sure not one of them cares a jot about any of us as they are absolutely fine in soma land where the sun always shines.


Watch out for the Civil Service Awards on Friday - A team in the Probation Reform Programme is a finalist.

Sunday 14 November 2021

A Gem Of An Idea

May I recommend “The Outlaws” on BBC 1, all available on iPlayer.

I matured professionally and personally In Community Service (what a positive concept) in Bristol in the 1980’s. I spent a lot of energy inviting a well-known but reluctant playwright to visit “my” projects. He taught me about the structures of sitcoms. For instance, the need to have a Trap, unlikely characters confined to a particular space. It seemed to me then that a Community Service project was a perfect trap, and a thing worth celebrating.

While I was dragging him fruitlessly around my workplace, admin Elaine Merchant was busy typing away on our state-of-the-art golf ball typewriter in the Fishponds (Bristol suburbs) Probation Office, while her husband Ron supervised clients on placements. Their boy has done not so badly and has a show on the telly which I highly recommend. It’s a slow burn and the blend of really funny (whitewashing an actual Banksy from the wall of a community building) with suspense and grit is unsettling. The Guardian review is here, and I won’t compete, but here are a few comments.

If you are looking for a fly on the wall observation about unpaid work, this isn't it.

It however gets the spirit of Community Service as I first encountered it. A joyful embracing of the weird and disparate people we were and worked with. An understanding that the State is not going to solve individual problems, mainly of its creating, only good connections and care can go anywhere near that.

Having said that, most of our clients were impoverished young men, badly dressed for the weather, rightly cross about the indignity of their situation with us. Aggressive and vulnerable in equal measure in their denim jackets in the freezing wind in a Bristol winter, more vulnerable than threatening. Back then, we would have formed a line with them against any suggestion that they wore hi viz jackets with a label on the back.

The head of Probation Administration (these were powerful people in those days) used to complain that the CS staff were indistinguishable from our clients. I always rather liked that. We identified so much more with them than him. We were alive to the reality that our clients had been failed by the system, had failed the system, and needed us - albeit agents of the system - to try and reconcile this.

Pearly Gates

Friday 12 November 2021

Latest From Napo 228

Two mailouts to members today:-

JTU27-2021 12 November 2021


Since the earlier publication of the indicative ballot results rejecting the Government Pay Freeze and derisory 2021-2022 Probation Pay Offer, strenuous efforts have been made to reopen talks on pay with the employer.

The delay has been caused by the need to await the outcomes from the Comprehensive Spending Review which were published last week. Since the round of Union conferences last month there has also been engagement with the new Probation Minister Kit Malthouse and the Director General Amy Rees. Here it has been made clear that our respective members demand their employer resume engagement on the pay claim and the prospects for a multi-year pay settlement.

Latest Position

The fact that talks are now underway again is because of the solidarity shown by members across the three unions in delivering a powerful message - that you have simply had enough of seeing no progress on pay at the same time as workloads being at unsustainable levels.

Three meetings have taken place this week and at Wednesday’s Probation Service Joint Negotiating Committee, the unions recorded a strong statement expressing our serious disappointment at the lack of delivery against a whole series of agreements; some of which extend as far back as the 2018 pay settlement. These include:
  • The continuing delay to paying contractual incremental pay progression
  • The failure to honour the agreement reached on the AP Residential Worker regrading and back pay.
  • The lack of progress in concluding the talks on deleting Pay Band 1 and the assimilation arrangements.
  • The promise of a Managerial Review which has yet to materialise.
  • The Probation Service Pay Manual, which was agreed in 2018, and which is desperately needed to sort out the many pay problems members face
  • The continuing difficulties that have been encountered in the Job Evaluation Scheme and the long delay in reviewing certain jobs several years after the E3 restructuring exercise
The nature of pay negotiations means that it is simply not possible to issue daily reports as to progress, but unions are on standby to call their respective Negotiating Committees together at the earliest opportunity.

Trade Dispute and Industrial Action still a real possibility

Despite the welcome resumption of dialogue on pay, these have been difficult discussions against the backdrop of the government’s pay freeze policy that is extremely hostile to the public service. We are therefore under no illusions about how challenging it will be to elicit an improved pay offer, if at all.

This means that all unions are continuing with their contingency planning for an industrial action campaign, but as our members would expect, we are at the same time doing all that we can to exhaust all opportunities to make progress.

More news on the pay negotiations will follow as soon as it becomes available.

Napo National Officers and Officials Updates

Following AGM and the formal change of officers for Napo we have reviewed the roles and responsibilities we hold. Find out who does what and how to contact them here

ViSOR update

Napo have been working on ViSOR related issues for some years now. Our main concerns are the workload implications of using an additional system for recording information and the consequences of using the Police Vetting required to access the system. At our AGM in October I reflected on the impact of the use of this level of Police Vetting on diversity in our workforce and noted that despite the fact that HMPPS now want to ensure they recruit staff with lived experience of the CJS, in Probation staff with that invaluable experience risk being sidelined and new recruits screened out at vetting stage.

Our relentless campaign on this is beginning to have an impact. At a meeting earlier this week we had our first breakthrough. Some significant changes are being made to the processes surrounding vetting and there is a real focus on avoiding inadvertent discrimination. There is undoubtedly more work to be done but in the six years since ViSOR use was announced as part of E3 we have secured significant concessions. The following is a summary of the progress made since 2015:
  • Staff in employment who fail ViSOR vetting for a reason not connected to a disciplinary issue were given support to appeal and originally offered redeployment if it meant they could no longer carry out their role
  • Work done at national level to ensure that issues of inconsistency and unusual outcomes were challenged
  • Diversity monitoring is carried out on vetting failure rates to explore disproportionate impact on any groups with protected characteristics
It was clear however that the use of ViSOR wasn’t going to be abandoned so our campaign continued. The transfer of another 7,000 staff from CRCs was another opportunity to look again at ViSOR use and the vetting issues associated with it and just this week we attended a meeting to be told that our continuing solution-focussed approach to this has had a positive impact:
  • There is now a national contract for vetting with a single Police Force to ensure consistency. This is part of the National Contractors Vetting Service (NCVI) and it allows for the use of a single form and a uniform approach to vetting.
  • The NCVI arrangement also allows for work to be done with the vetting team to ensure they understand the purpose of vetting for Probation staff and that employment of those with lived experience of the CJS is encouraged
  • There is now a better opportunity to appeal or challenge results and to take any learning from difficult experiences to apply to future vetting practices, the appeal deadlines have been extended to allow staff to seek support with this
  • There are more staff working on vetting to avoid delays
  • Applications are done wholly online and this avoids the privacy issues caused by forms being submitted on behalf of staff by administrators
  • Now 9 out of 10 people whose vetting shows a hit on PNC or credit check go on to pass vetting
The Home Office want to build a replacement for the ViSOR system and HMPPS are partners in this project. They hope to remove the need for double entry of data by ensuring the system can share information to and from nDelius in a technological way

Crucially HMPPS have finally accepted our argument that staff who fail vetting for ViSOR will be able to remain in case management but hold only those cases which do not require ViSOR use. This is a significant shift to a simple and common sense approach that we have put forward since day one. It is far less stigmatising and career limiting than the previous approach of moving staff to work in programmes or courts and while it isn’t a commitment to ditch ViSOR (or to ditch Police Vetting for ViSOR use which are Napo’s preferred options) it is a step in the right direction.

We will be continuing to work with the HMPPS team on ViSOR related issues. We will be reviewing the form now used for the national vetting service and working together to find a way for those staff who might be concerned about their vetting to give fuller information at the time of application, to ensure that even fewer people fail and have to appeal. The failure rate is currently 1.9%, this may change going forward as the vetting is done at the recruitment stage but we will monitor this closely.

Job Evaluations (JE)

There are three sets of job evaluations outstanding at the moment, and all are running into difficulties caused by lack of resources in the JES team along with the failure to do preparation and follow up work with sufficient detail. We have now aired the deep concern we have with the JE process at the Probation JNC and it remains a high priority.

E3 Post Implementation JE reviews

There are a small number of reviews for jobs where the Unions either appealed the outcome or felt that items had not been fully explored during the original E3 JE process back in 2015-16. We have an agreement in place that these reviews would be done 6 months after the implementation of the job descriptions, for most roles this was between 2015 and 2017. In 2018 the Unions formally requested the reviews be undertaken and worked with the employer to agree a priority list for this (see below). Since then we have repeatedly been given timetables for the work which have not been met. We still await the start of this important work.

Priority order list for E3 Post Implementation Review Work

Group 1: Receptionist (separately dealt with as part of 202 pay deal), AP Residential Worker (done but now in dispute re application)
Group 2: VLO, Enforcement Officer, Business Manager
Group 3: AP Manager, SPO, MAPPA Co-ordinator

Unification and New Target Operating Model JE work

This is where the resource issues for JES really show, there have been a number of issues relating to the implementation of the JE scheme and you will recall that earlier in the process we announced the work was on pause while we conducted a review. This resulted in a number of recommendations aimed at ensuring that the best quality information went to the panel for scoring and that the process appropriately engages post-holders. Sadly, all of this work has not produced the required results and we had to step in once again to put a stop to panels for some roles where the paperwork was not up to the required standard. It is far more important to get the right outcome at the panel stage – especially at appeal – than to get the panel done quickly. This will cause misery and frustration for members who are still waiting for their JE results but we must avoid the situation being suffered by colleagues who were affected by E3, where the promised 6 month post-implementation reviews of their grading are up to six years late and their pay protection ran out some time ago. More steps have been put in place to ensure the process is strengthened and we continue to work with members and HMPPS on this.

Other JE work in progress

There are other pieces of JE work in progress, including new roles created in the Probation Service outside of the unification work. These are also being affected by the issues of resource in the JES team and while we expected that the best practice recommendations from the review we recently undertook are rolled out in all JE work, that turned out to not be the case. We now await an updated schedule as to where this work will fit into the wider JES programme. Yet again it has fallen to the unions to work across different departments in HMPPS to ensure best practice is shared and to try to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Have you got a horror story about Probation Estates?

It is a little late for Halloween but we have been hearing some horror stories about Probation Estates issues. We need your help.

OMiC and the transfer of Line Management of SPOs to the Prison Governor 

We have significant concerns about this move, which has not happened yet. We are currently consulting on the detail of the guidance that will be issued on it, in an attempt to ensure that member’s rights are protected as far as possible. Once we have the final version of the guidance we will be issuing further advice to members around this. We are working closely with Unison reps to highlight our shared concerns about the tensions between the different approaches of prisons and probation, the differing terms and conditions, different approaches to staff management and supervision, the importance of retaining probation culture and probation professional development and the real risks to both SPOs and POs working in prisons if formal HR processes are conducted by people outside of our employer.

AGM follow up Q&A session with Jim Barton

Thanks to the 80+ members who joined the Q&A session with Jim Barton that we held last Friday. It was really successful, with 28 questions asked in total in just one hour. In response to requests from members who attended, and from Jim himself, we will now be working on a programme of similar events across 2022 with HMPPS Senior Leaders joining Napo members “in conversation”. We will advertise these as soon as we have dates. Once we do please let your colleagues know – and encourage them to join Napo so that they can attend future events!

Best Wishes
Napo HQ