Friday 26 February 2021

Who Is To Blame?

Regular readers will be aware that the subject of SFO's have been to the fore this week as a result of the Janet Scott Inquest. We need to return to the subject as I notice a book has just been published by Alison Moss the SPO involved in the Leroy Campbell case. We covered this in a blog post 'SFO's - Who Is To Blame?' in 2019 based on an article written by Hardeep Matharu. I think it's worth reminding ourselves of the resulting exchanges that blog post generated:-

MO's were clearly designed as a way of blaming the officer while at the same time exonerating the my time (20 years plus) I have seen the culture change from one of trying to identify systemic failures to one where because you didn't follows the action points to the letter following an MO the onus is well and truly on you and for areas that don't yet have MO's (Management Oversights) resist them with everything thing you have. Ladies and gentlemen we are truly in a blame culture...Anon.

Please read my comment below. You might need to rethink your views about Management Oversights and SPOs avoiding blame... Alison Moss

As the SPO who was sacked over the Campbell case, (not the one referred to as involved in the article) I have a great deal to say about the way the SFO was handled by the NPS and, of course, the topic of scapegoating. Also I have answers to some anomalies, for example why the inspectorate found it odd’ that no one was disciplined at the time (my own disciplinary action started 19 months after the SFO actually). But I am not able to explain the full story and the manner in which the NPS handled this until all proceedings are concluded. Alison Moss.

All the best in your battle Alison, Grayling, should be in the dock for this, not you. Anon.

Thank you for your comment. I really appreciate your support. I have had very little support over the past 5 months since I got the boot, after 27 years in the job, having worked with hundreds of colleagues. But four or five colleagues have been SO fantastic that it makes up for the silence from all the others. Alison Moss

Just noticed your responses Alison - must have been extremely traumatic for you. I find it's an extremely difficult area for the blog precisely because I'm only too well aware these cases involve real people; real colleagues, but at the same time I feel it's important that the story about what really happened and where responsibility should fall is told. I can always be contacted in confidence via the email address on the profile page if you feel it might be helpful. Take care, Jim Brown.

Thanks Jim, I know what you mean about real people and real lives. Lisa Skidmore lost her life, I only lost my job and that puts it alll back into perspective. I will tell the full story on the blog and also in the wider public arena in time but it will take months before the inquest and tribunals are concluded. Just focussing on trying to rebuild my life at the moment, it is not easy. Alison Moss.

Hi Ali, As an ex Napo member I know (Just a little) of your case....your comments, above, reminded me of you ........and all the other hard working professionals within the Probation Service and CRCs who are dedicated and work tirelessly to manage risk. I can only imagine how difficult it has been and must still be for you. I wish you well .......and for what it's worth you have my support and thanks. Anon.

Much appreciated thank you. Alison Moss.


From Amazon:-

In July 2016, serial rapist Leroy Campbell was released from prison, having spent seventeen years behind bars for yet another horrific sexual offence. Just four months later, he brutally raped and murdered a stranger, Lisa Skidmore, in her own home. He subjected her to a horrendous two-hour ordeal. Weeks earlier, he had warned probation staff he felt like committing another rape. Could anyone have prevented him?

Numerous professionals were involved in “rehabilitating” Campbell and all believed he was safe to roam our streets. How did he manage to fool them all?

This is an important book: a compelling insight into this case which examines sentencing guidelines. It also gives case studies of other dangerous criminals who were under probation supervision, only to rape or murder again.

The author, Alison Moss, was the Senior Probation Officer in Campbell’s case. She describes what happened two years after the murder when the Skidmore family called upon the government, including the then Prime Minister Theresa May, to ask why Campbell was free to target Lisa. 

Only then was it decided that someone needed to be held to account for Lisa’s murder. Eventually, the blame was placed firmly on the shoulders of one individual.

Thursday 25 February 2021

Latest From Probation HQ

Here we have edited highlights from episode 9 of the Probation Changes Bulletin published yesterday:-

1. Introduction from Amy Rees, Director General of Probation and Wales

Welcome to the latest bulletin, reporting on key updates and progress across our three probation programmes – reform, workforce and recovery. A key milestone for the Reform Programme is the recent publication of our Target Operating Model for the future probation services in England and Wales. This document sets out our plans for how probation will be structured and how services will be delivered from June 2021, when we come together with our CRC colleagues as a new probation service. You will read more on this from Jim Barton below. Ian Barrow also provides updates on our progress with our recovery and workforce programmes.

Clearly, we continue to be focused on our response to coronavirus, but the plans we put in place some months ago remain robust and offer the agility for each region to adapt to changing circumstances. I want to reiterate my enormous thanks to people across the probation service for their continued resilience, adaptability and sheer hard work as they respond to the challenges we face. It is down to this incredible commitment that we continue to deliver our core critical services.

2. Update from Jim Barton, SRO, Probation Reform Programme

Work continues at pace on our planned probation reforms and we remain on track for the safe and stable transition to the Unified Model by June 2021. As we look to this date, we have just published our Target Operating Model for the future of probation services, which sets out how the probation services will be run from 26 June 2021. You can find the full document here along with an executive summary.

This replaces the draft version published in March and provides further detail on key aspects of the new model, including further detail on announcements made in June 2020 around bringing defined interventions into the new probation service.

Updated National Standards, which come into effect in June, have also been published to enable us to outline how we will support the new operating model. National Standards set out expectations for staff about what work activity needs to be completed to support effective delivery.

We are investing an additional £155m a year to establish a strengthened unified probation service that keeps the public safe, supports victims of crime and gives the right rehabilitative support to address the often-complex causes of offending. This will support a Criminal Justice System that commands public confidence.

Our operating model will unify probation services, bringing into one place Sentence Management as well as the delivery of Unpaid Work, Accredited Programmes and Structured Interventions, taking the best of current CRC and NPS practice. In this way, we will simplify delivery, making it easier for those we work with and giving us greater control of staff and resources to be able to deliver reform.

In Sentence Management our focus will be on strengthening the Probation Practitioner’s relationship with those they supervise. We will help Probation Practitioners use the right key skills, activities and behaviours to achieve the most effective outcomes and enable those under our supervision to make positive changes to their lives. This will include more consistent management and delivery of sentence plans, better assessment and management of risk and more balanced caseloads and an improved case allocation process to support this.

For Unpaid Work, Accredited Programmes and Structured Interventions we want to drive up completion rates and deliver better outcomes. The model therefore puts an increased emphasis on making placements and programmes available locally, making improvements to the assessment and induction process, more regular reviews of active cases and ongoing professional development for staff delivering interventions.

Importantly, our operating model allows us to continue to utilise specialist service providers across our regions to deliver the most appropriate support to those under our supervision. The Dynamic Framework is our mechanism to source Commissioned Rehabilitative Services from expert organisations at a local and regional level. These will provide tailored support and address areas of need associated with reoffending or which provide the stabilisation that many of those under our supervision need.

To support these changes, we have implemented new regional probation leadership structures, reorganising probation services around 12 regions in England and Wales, each overseen by a Regional Probation Director and supported by their senior leadership teams. This will enable more local accountability, partnership working and delivery of services that more closely meet individuals’ diverse needs.

In recognition that our probation staff are critical to the delivery of the new model, we are investing in the skills, capabilities and ways of working they need to do their jobs to the highest standard. The model reflects the importance of modernising our estate and technology so that staff and those under our supervision have access to physical spaces that create positive working environments and we have more efficient digital systems that better capture information to enable more effective decision-making.

Despite the challenges of Covid-19 we have maintained a robust probation system thanks to the dedication and hard work of our staff and we are on track to start to deliver these much-needed reforms from 26 June 2021. I remain determined to ensure that the transition to the future system is implemented smoothly and with minimal disruption for staff or services.

We will continue to keep you informed of changes as they happen. As ever your input and feedback are invaluable.

3.1 PQiP learners

We are committed to recruiting 1,000 trainee Probation Officers in 2020/21, with 443 already started in July 2020 and further intakes planned for 2021. We are increasing our recruitment of new trainee probation officers to 1,500 in the new financial year of 2021/22.

We have also recruited 50 existing Probation Service Officers across four regions who will have the opportunity to follow an accelerated course to qualify as Probation Officers. This is an exciting opportunity for career progression for junior staff in the NPS.

In April we’ll be starting our next PQiP recruitment campaign with the aim of hiring 1,500 new probation officers during 2021/2022. I’d like to encourage anyone who is interested in applying or finding out more to visit our website.

4. Update from Ian Barrow, SRO, Recovery Programme

We continue to live and work under national restrictions across England and Wales and operate under the exceptional delivery model arrangements that we put in place last year for probation work. As Amy mentions, all our regions are using the range of supervision approaches we have available to decide how services can be delivered based on local circumstances.

Some aspects of our work remain temporarily paused and we are consulting with regions and CRCs on how and when we can safely re-introduce these. We have continued to deliver unpaid work on a restricted basis and one to one accredited programmes where possible. Our Approved Premises remain open and testing for staff and residents is being delivered.

Following a successful trial with staff testing in some of our offices, we are now preparing to roll out testing across a further 40 offices, before expanding across all our viable probation offices soon after. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to setting up and implementing testing across our offices and Approved Premises.

Wednesday 24 February 2021

Can Probation Ever Break Free?

As far as I can tell, most informed probation commentators past and present agree that probation should never have been part of HMPPS and it must regain its identity, local roots and ethos as soon as possible. It's not happening though, so what's going on?. 

Publication of the March edition of the Probation Institute Journal appears silent on the matter, but I note some encouraging messages such as this from a piece on Bill McWilliams as an introduction to the memorial lecture in July by Mark Drakeford Public Policy and Probation : Is there a Welsh Way?   

Bill wondered “what works?” well before that phrase became totemic in the Probation Service. His primary concern, though, was with defining and defending the moral heart of probation supervision, and with the knowledge, responsibility and craft of individual officers themselves, which he famously did not want dictated by “policy” or “managerial” requirements. He nowhere explained the personal roots of this preoccupation with effectiveness, but his familiarity with medicine as both a morally authoritative and evidence-based profession, autonomous even when embedded within the state, may well have underpinned his mission to achieve similar status for the Probation Service.

The Probation Service that Bill wished to see never materialised. Conceptions of best and progressive practice changed, dimensions of analysis added that Bill had not considered. Our memorial lecturers have borne witness to that. But the tension between what probation could be at its best and what government tries to force it to be, remains, and many lecturers have engaged directly with the politics of probation in our distinctively dark times, rarely without some hint of optimism. What survives of Bill in the lectures now, whoever the steering group asks to do them, is the same fused spirit of commitment and loyalty to probation ideals on the one hand, and intellectually informed critique on the other. What probation officers need to know to practice well, how they should be trained, supported and organised, what goals are feasible and desirable (and what are not) and where political support for it lies – all these still bear thinking about, perhaps now more than ever. Bill McWilliams was good at thinking. He would have found as much to argue with as to agree with in the things that have been said in his name over the (almost) past quarter century, but I am certain he would wholeheartedly support the enterprise.


In a tribute to another much-respected probation insider and CPO David Faulkner, his article Probation in Post-Liberal England from 2018 is republished and includes this:-

An effective and influential probation service is especially important in a situation of this kind. Probation works in those places where people’s lives are most precarious and their future most uncertain, and where the effects of social, economic and criminal justice policy come together. The country needs the service to do much more than punish offenders and coerce them into socially acceptable behaviour. Probation staff should encourage offenders to find opportunities and take advantage of them, to find a direction and purpose in their lives and to have some hope for the future. The service should establish or re-establish a place for itself in the communities which it serves, with a presence, an identity, a sense of belonging and an authority to make itself heard and felt in those communities. 

Staff should concern themselves not only with the offenders assigned to them but also with offenders’ families and the environment in which they have to make their lives; they should show that they are responsive to those who are affected by or concerned about crime or trouble in their communities or neighbourhoods, and that they have something to contribute. They should work closely with the courts, other services (and not only those which are thought of as part of the criminal justice system), local government and civil society. They should be out and about and not spend too much time in offices or looking at computer screens.

Probation should not be thought of as being somehow apart from and nothing to do with ‘ourselves’, or with ordinary people going about their lives. The arrangements for probation’s management and accountability should reflect and facilitate that wider role, and should enable work to be arranged to suit local conditions as well as comply with national standards and objectives. 

The parameters for the service’s reform should therefore include: 

• Separation from the Prison Service; 
• A local structure based on a suitable number of geographical areas; 
• Accountability to probation authorities that are representative of local communities and stakeholders; 
• Strong and independent professional leadership; 
• The private sector’s role, if any, should be confined to specific, limited tasks commissioned by the new probation authorities.


In Lord Ramsbotham's thorough Report People are not Things to the Labour Party in 2019, he was also absolutely clear on the direction of travel:-


From all this I deduce that: 

a. There is no reason why probation should not be returned to public ownership, but that return will require a great deal of preliminary work, which must not be rushed, but the role and purpose of probation must be defined. 
(1) Many respondents believe that the traditional ethos still runs deep, and there are likely to be sufficient numbers of good people to provide an organisational infrastructure. 
b. To judge from the JCS, NAO, PAC and HMCIOP reports, currently probation is in a parlous state, there having been no strategic direction since the introduction of TR, from the MoJ, NOMS or HMPPS. 

c. Probation should be considered in the context of a review of the CJS, and not in isolation, and any review must include all the partners who are essential to the delivery of probation services. 

d. Anyone tasked with reviewing the delivery of probation services must take account of the conclusions and recommendations, mentioned in this report, of the JCS, the NAO, the PAC and HMCIOP. 

e. HMPPS should be abolished, and the Probation Service regarded as separate from, and different to, the Prison Service, under its own Director General. 

f. The provision of probation services should be regarded as a local rather than a national responsibility. 

g. Probation should be organised to conform with existing local government, police and justice boundaries, rather than DWP ones. 

h. If organised regionally smaller commissioning areas should be considered. i. Both the private and the voluntary sectors should be included in local provision, but neither should be involved in the governance of probation.


In 2019, seven influential organisations concerned with probation and its future joined forces and published the following:- 

Probation Alliance Initial Position Statement on Principles for a Future Model for Probation

The following have been agreed as initial principles which should inform urgent discussions about a future model for the structure of probation services in England and Wales. 

1. Current Position 

• Management of, and decision making in relation to the current position is creating serious risks to the public, to the confidence of sentencers, to the morale of the profession and to service users. These risks were set out in our original and follow-up letters to the Secretary of State. They have been clearly highlighted by the NAO report. 

• We will continue to press for a pause in the process and the transfer of Community Rehabilitation Companies to the original 21 companies wholly owned by the Secretary of State set up in public ownership in 2014 to facilitate this. 

• We have additional significant concerns about the speedy roll-out of the Offender Management In Custody programme. This is transforming the Probation landscape, creating new “facts on the ground” which may cut off options that could emerge from the current review which affords opportunities for new thinking. 

2. Principles for Future Models 

• The recreation of an independent professional leadership for Probation, for example, the reestablishment of Chief Probation Officer roles. 

• The reunification of Probation 

• A publically owned service with directly employed staff 

• Governance of Probation should ensure both national and active local engagement. 

• Dedicated funding must remain the responsibility of central government and where devolved must be ring-fenced 

• A future model must integrate provision of case management and the delivery of core interventions, like unpaid work and accredited programmes, under public ownership whilst encouraging the provision of rehabilitative service from other providers, particularly the voluntary sector. 

• A future model should ensure that generic services that are fundamental to rehabilitation – health, housing, education, social care - are co-ordinated across central and local government. 

• Evidence of best practice should inform future structures. This should involve looking at jurisdictions beyond England and Wales, including Scotland, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the USA. The case for looking more widely is strengthened when the future model of Probation is considered in the light of the Secretary of State’s ambition to abolish the use of short sentences. 

• A future model must ensure that use of technology both as a tool for assisting community supervision and as a recording/case management system must be fully aligned with probation values and best practice and should support rather than supersede or impede face to face engagement. 

• A future model must ensure that Probation practitioners and leaders are appropriately trained. Professional development, qualifications and ethical standards should be overseen by an independent body.

3. Possible Models 

• We agree that we should continue discussion on further aspects of a future model. 

• There is broad agreement that in any future model, publicly owned and run Probation services should be part of a local joint commissioning structures. 

• The role of Police and Crime Commissioners and particularly Metropolitan Mayors should be recognised but there must be the same operational independence for chief probation officers as there is currently for chief constables and a clear separation between Police and those involved in the delivery of sentences. 

• Future models should address the interface with Youth Justice particularly around transition to adulthood. 

Probation Institute 
Howard League for Penal Reform 
Centre for Crime and Justice Studies 
Centre for Justice Innovation 
BASW Criminal Justice England


Although the Probation Alliance seems no more, as far as I'm aware the Napo position remains clear regarding separation from HMPPS. This from a briefing document dated 2nd May 2019:-

4. Total reunification - public. Clearly, this is the major objective of our campaign and one we will continue to fight for. The Wales model (if it were to be the preferred option for Government) would give us a real head start, but we can still hold some hope on the possibility of the Minister accepting that a total rethink is the best option. However, any reunification would still require us to push for the NPS to have local accountability and budgets as well as our claim that Probation should be removed from the civil service and given back its former independence.


I'm pretty sure AGM resolutions have endorsed the policy of seeking a split from HMPPS and civil service control, but I don't hear much in the way of campaigning. Have we all given up?  

Sunday 21 February 2021

Context Is Everything

Watching and hearing the news from an inquest on Friday night, there won't be a probation officer who didn't feel a shudder and reflect 'there but the grace of God.' The following is from an ITN report which includes a shockingly short video clip from Sonia Flynn, NPS Chief Probation Officer which I find of concern, but I notice a different clip was aired by Ch4 news on Friday.   

Missed chances to save Janet Scott, the former NHS worker murdered by her jealous ex-partner

A Nottingham coroner said "missed opportunities" by the probation service had "significantly contributed" to the murder of a mum-of-six. The inquest into Mrs Scott's death found the probation officer managing Mellors failed to spot vital signs that he was a danger, and had he acted sooner Mrs Scott might be alive today.

During the inquest, Mellors probation officer said one of the reasons he failed to act despite Mellors increasingly erratic behaviour was his excessive workload. He told the Coroner staffing levels were so low that he had too many cases to deal with and he'd reported this to his bosses but received no support from them.  (my underlining)  
What has the MOJ said?

The Ministry of Justice has apologised for what it calls the ‘unacceptable failings’ that allowed a convicted murderer to be free to kill for a second time. Reports from the probation service show they made several errors that allowed Mellors to kill - including not acting on warnings from Janet Scott and her family. 

Then there is this from the Nottingham Post:-

Speaking after the hearing, Chief Probation Officer Sonia Flynn CBE said: 
“This was a truly horrific crime and the decision-making was well below what I expect of an experienced probation officer, for which I sincerely apologise to Janet Scott’s family. Since that dreadful day in 2018, we have introduced specialist training on coercive control and stalking and recruited an extra 1,300 staff into the National Probation Service to help better protect the public.”


The tragic case of Janet Scott was first mentioned here in 2018 in a post headed 'TR Leads to Rise in SFO's', the subject having been explored in depth a month earlier in a post entitled 'The True Cost of TR.' These were my opening thoughts back then:-

Serious Further Offences are something all Probation Officers live in fear of and particularly the subsequent investigation. From the beginning of TR it was always said that one likely outcome would be an increase in SFO's and I have reason to believe there's been a deliberate policy of trying to hide the true extent by various means. It should be of particular concern that the suggested oversight of the process by HM Probation Inspectorate is not now to take place.

I'm firmly of the opinion that this dreadful case must be considered in the context of what was going on within the National Probation Service at the time and as a direct consequence of the TR omnishambles. This from Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary in 2018:-  

“The increase in SFO’s is a major public health and public safety issue that the MoJ needs to start taking seriously,” he said. “Our members are overworked, under-resourced and many, especially in the NPS are facing burnout. There is currently a consultation on the future of probation and the minister now needs to start listening to the experts instead of the privateers and stop being wedded to the marketisation of probation. We urgently need a publicly owned reunified service to effectively protect the public and have local and public accountability. People are literally dying as a result of this failed social experiment. Napo will continue to campaign until we achieve this.”

The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, said: 

“All too often probation appears stretched to breaking point and struggling to fulfil its fundamental role of keeping the public safe. The Conservatives’ irresponsible decision to break up and privatise much of probation has put huge pressures on the system. The government urgently needs to explain how it plans to tackle this extremely worrying rise in serious offences committed by offenders.”

These contributions were made at the time:-  

I retired from NPS two years ago. This would have been around the time of this SFO. Conditions were intolerable then. It was impossible to adequately supervise a high number of high risk cases to a good standard. Being very aware of the risks posed by these offenders, I found myself regularly working until 10pm in order to keep up to date with reports, records and assessments. I am not surprised by these regrettable events. The root of the problem is the governments reorganisation into CRC and NPS. It was never going to work. After happily working as a PO for 30 years, I came to the point where I was experiencing panic attacks trying to cope with the work to a good standard. I just had to get out. Worst decision ever was TR. Simply increased risk in order to save money. Gov were warned from day one that this would not work. I doubt that they will accept any of the blame whatsoever.

The known practice of probation SFO investigators and investigations is to find fault with the practice of probation officers. They will find fault and poor practice even when it does not exist, and they’ll blame every failing on probation officers even when probation officers are not at fault. I have seen many SFO investigations and reports, but never one that did not identify blame or bad practice of a supervising probation officer.

I have literally done the work of three Probation Officers today. Short-staffed. Absolutely knackered, now abusing alcohol (ie myself). It was shit work, cutting and pasting and ticking boxes, with this case thrumming away at the back of my mind. My email inbox is jammed with forwarded on invitations to training events, invitations to staff awards nominations, invitations to career enhancing this and that. This is absolute insanity. And more of this tomorrow. Heart goes out [to the] family, also to the probation officer.


In discussing the case of Leroy Campbell in 2018 I made this observation:-  

The following are my selected extracts that should give a flavour of the case, issues involved and in particular how TR played a significant part in the tragedy. In particular I must stress how unwise it is to expect Probation Officers to be able to handle a caseload made up of only high risk cases - it will inevitably lead to disaster for all involved.

This was just one of the many negative consequences of TR and the Report says:-

The changes brought in by the restructuring of probation services meant that the NPS became entirely focused on MAPPA cases and those presenting a high risk of harm to others. This is a significant change for those staff and managers who had previously held a more varied caseload. Prioritisation now meant identifying the highest risk cases within a caseload where few present a low risk. One could speculate that the benchmark for cases that receive the most attention moved upwards.


Whilst thinking of all those involved in this tragic case and hoping there is adequate support for everyone, there is one final observation I will make. It concerns a statement made at the time by the NPS covering Nottingham regarding the appointment of extra staff and reported by BBC regional news:-  

"16 more probation officers had been taken on at the Nottinghamshire Probation Service in the wake of Mrs Scott's death."

This was patently incorrect as the staff were either PSO's or admin staff and the misleading statement was either the result of sloppy journalism, a deliberate NPS attempt at misleading the public or a combination of both. I remember that statement being made and the widespread outrage it caused within the service at the time:- 

The Ministry of Justice has apologised for "unacceptable failings" that saw a convicted murderer kill again.

Janet Scott, from Nottingham, was killed in January by Simon Mellors, who was released from prison on licence after murdering his former partner. A review said the probation service failed to act on Mrs Scott's fears about Mellors before her death. The ministry said more workers had been taken on since the killing, but unions said staff remained stretched.

Mellors was released from prison in 2014 after murdering his previous partner Pearl Black in 1999. He was in a relationship with Mrs Scott, 51, in 2017 and stabbed her before driving his car into her, killing her instantly. Mellors killed himself in prison after being charged with her murder and the attempted murder of a traffic officer who tried to help her.

The report said Mrs Scott had told Mellors' probation officer he was "loitering" near her work and had approached her twice on her way into work, once at 04:30 GMT, which should have prompted a review. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said it accepted the report's recommendations and 16 more probation officers had been taken on at the Nottinghamshire Probation Service in the wake of Mrs Scott's death.

A spokesman said: "There are now enough staff to ensure the service is staffed properly and can carry out its work following failings that were indicated by the review." He declined to comment on whether excessive workload was a factor in the case but added the probation officer in charge of Mellors remained on the team. "The member of staff involved in Janet Scott's case had a disciplinary hearing but the threshold for dismissal was not met," he said.

In a statement, the MoJ said: "This was a truly awful crime and our thoughts remain with the victim, their family and friends. We apologise sincerely for the unacceptable failings that have been identified."

Ian Lawrence, the general secretary for NAPO - the trade union that represents probation staff - said the number of serious further offences occurring among offenders had increased by 20% since 2016. He blamed the situation on excessive caseloads and the fragmentation of the service. While he had not seen the review into Mellors' case, which the MoJ is not publishing externally, he said he was "not surprised".

"All of the evidence highlights failings in terms of excessive workloads for staff," he said.

Friday 19 February 2021

A Debate Anyone?

It seems to be increasingly difficult to have a serious debate about probation at the moment and I'm not at all sure why that is? I remain ever-hopeful though and this from a day or so ago seems to be as good a discussion starter as any:-  

To borrow from the new business vernacular: there's a single source of 'truth' which defines where we go next. But when you hold the power that 'single source' is whatever you choose it to be. The revisionistas in power are working hard to rewrite everything for future generations. For the Probation Service that has meant being rubbished, dismantled, dismissed & re-invented.

I think anyone trawling through this blog from start to present day will find regular references to the politicians' perennial folly, i.e. reinventing the wheel. Some things can be reimagined, many things can be improved - but the disingenuous, dishonest, despicable act of destroying the whole & replacing with less while proclaiming there's more has surely had its day?

So how stupid are we? Even more stupid than they imagine we are, it seems. But the clever manipulation has been the forty year fishing expedition. Forty years of dangling bait, of fattening up the appetite, of developing dependency upon the tasty morsels. And now? Now they are reeling in, and many cannot unhook themselves from that dependency - mortgages, credit card debt, expensive cars, regular holidays in exotic places, overseas property or generally excessive lifestyle choices.

For far too many others the dependency is more fundamental - food, warmth, shelter, healthcare, childcare. How many probation staff could leave next week? Probably a handful. So there are a vast majority who are reliant on the job. And consequently a vast majority who dare not utter a word of criticism. Add in the civil service code of silence... and they achieve pure, unadulterated command & control.


But then there's this:-
Just found a pay slip from March 2010 which was about when l hit PO max. My current income is £170 more than then. This is why we cannot retain staff.


There are differing views on how things are going. This a recent response on Twitter:- 
From my view point I have greater confidence in senior leadership nationally. There is more energy being spent in creating the right culture and ethos. Putting some of that responsibility and power in the hands of front line staff to shape what it looks like. Also a desire to take the best from both organisations to shape the new one. For me (personally) feels more positive that previous changes and I have optimism for this being a great organisation once more.


But there remains widespread concern regarding the direction of travel:-

As I retired Probation were not addressing social need and were just becoming enforcement officers, I did not agree. If Probation is to be successful again it needs to address social need of offenders as well as ensuring the order is managed appropriately. What its ethos was originally to care about the people on orders/licence/in custody.
I'm a former PO now a criminal justice Social Worker in Scotland. Having worked in both systems, there is no doubt in my mind which approach is better, more coherent and effective. My SW training improved and made sense of my practice in ways I never thought possible. The CJSW system in Scotland is far from perfect but, IMO, works 100% better. We understand and manage risk very well but within a more coherent framework of professional knowledge and compassionate values. When they took the SW out of probation they very seriously undermined it. The abandonment of SW training in England was purely ideological and an obvious attempt to toughen probation up and gut it of its core values. Genuine probation work is social work, in my humble opinion. Always has been. 
Agree. I'm a social work trained PO but my greatest hope would to be to come out from beneath the 'dead hand' of the Civil Service. My only caveat is that nothing greater can be achieved until we have adequate resources in terms of trained probation officers, newly trained alongside experienced officers; with more than the bare minimum in each team so there is some resilience at times of staff leaving, maternity leave, sick leave etc, otherwise we are constantly in crisis / reactive mode, involving endless reallocation of cases. The problem is not that we do not know the best ways of supporting change, whilst also protecting the public, but it takes time and consistency and until we have more resources, I question the degree of change possible. Of course in order to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders, we need access to ancillary services: Mental Health, accommodation, drug and alcohol services, supportive education and training services, Social Services, etc, etc
Probation should follow the ethos of youth offending teams with multi-agency approach where welfare concerns are balanced with risk - having left probation for YOT I feel like I am back doing the probation role I originally trained for.
I think a holistic approach is probably needed. Yes we have to manage risk, but surely one of the best ways to do that is to improve the protective factors like accommodation, employment, health, emotional wellbeing, relationships etc. Building a relationship of trust is also important, rather than saying no straight off the bat to a lot of things, we should investigate more and try to build their faith that they won't reoffend.


I'll end with the following private observation via email:- 
I have to admit that it puts me off reading the blogs to see a string of one-dimensional rants from “Anonymous” (how many of them are there?) which sometimes seems little better than trolling. It’s very sad because I’m sure there’s also a much wider and more rational and engaging audience out there.

Wednesday 17 February 2021

Square Pegs and Round Holes

Seen on Facebook and I suspect an issue that will become increasingly relevant as June rapidly approaches:- 

This cartoon perhaps captures the feeling of some CRC staff contemplating a transition to the NPS with understandable trepidation and also what some NPS staff might want to say in solidarity with CRC colleagues but feel they are not able to do so because of restrictions imposed upon them. Some may even feel their time to speak freely about such matters in their own name is on a countdown before CRC staff join colleagues who are apparently often forced to use anonymous proxies to express how they actually feel.

Probation staff are public servants not civil servants at heart and should not be employed by ministers as civil servants. The service should instead be devolved and probation staff re-categorised as public servants providing public services (much like NHS staff) and operating with a degree of independence from and at arm's length from government.

This devolved service might, for instance, be achieved by establishing properly funded and revitalised regional probation trusts with their own budgets/ability to commission services to meet local needs and a greater degree of autonomy and professional respect and discretion to innovate. 
No one would seriously argue that the probation service should simply return to 35 probation trusts as before as that system could have benefited from some tweaking.

We have all learned much since 2014 so a new system, not too different from the regional structure, with radically less centralised command and control, could potentially work well particularly if there was a strong commitment to a more collegiate and devolved approach to governance. 
A central body like the General Medical Council's relationship with NHS Trusts determining professional standards in consultation with regional organisations might perhaps be preferable.


Then there was this from yesterday:-

What is probation for? "99% of frontline staff are intelligent, committed and are here to help make peoples' lives a bit more bearable." I like that. I think that makes sense. And the 'people' whose lives they are helping to make more bearable include the victims of crime, the perpetrators of crime & society in general. I would suggest it be noted that 99% of those who manage probation service provision are dedicated to making the lives of their frontline staff unbearable to the point of being untenable.
  1. The political imperative is fundamentally flawed
  2. The senior civil servants are innately privileged
  3. The broader civil service structure is unsuited to recognise, let alone challenge, those fundamental flaws
  4. The management structure of NPS has been drawn into the civil service model & is now beyond redemption
  5. The CRCs are being swallowed whole by the same flawed organisation that cannot escape political imperative
  6. SpAds are dangerous policy wonks who have the ear of their political masters, not least because they were 'chosen' by their politician handler.
  7. The cash-rich merry-go-round of the privileged few will always exclude the frontline workers from everything - policy, financial reward, job security
This blog has guested, featured & highlighted any amount of intellectual discussion, policy papers, theoretical pontification, culturally-assured musings, ethical assertions, professional argument, rage, anger, distress, - all very much evidence-based.

And where is probation now? Lying helpless, choking on its own principles, nailed into a civil service coffin, scratching at the blue shroud lining the solid timber case & about to be buried alive in a paupers' pit.

There will, of course, always be those who will try to hold on to the past, who will try to deliver a humane service. But they are few & far between, and as time passes they will become fewer in number & less welcome as the new model gathers momentum.

It was only six years ago I sat in a formal meeting where the CRC Chief Executive - someone who cleared off with a considerable pay-off at the earliest opportunity - was asked a challenging question about retaining 'probation values' in the new CRC.

The CEO verbally abused that long-serving, highly qualified, skilful & experienced colleague in front of the whole meeting. What happened? Everyone kept quiet. No-one (including me, to my eternal shame) uttered a single syllable of challenge - except for the recipient of the abuse, who was given extra lashings until they left the meeting. Not a single rebuke for the big brave CEO.

Now only one other person in our area team remembers that ex-colleague. And they'll be retiring in a months' time. When you hold the power, and you crush all sources of challenge, it doesn't take long to wipe the slate clean & offer a new account of history that celebrates the chosen path.

Tuesday 16 February 2021

What Is Probation For?

The other day Russell Webster published a guest blog by former Chief HMI Andrew Bridges introducing the concept of Modern Probation Theory. I'm not aware it generated any public responses, which is a shame, especially given increasing evidence of probation staff becoming frustrated and disillusioned with HMPPS bureaucracy, and it's getting worse. There's a growing feeling that doing the 'work' must be 'under the radar' and in spite of the bureaucracy:-   

I know 99% of frontline staff are intelligent, committed and are here to make peoples lives a bit more bearable. So sad it is with the millstone of mindless bureaucracy around our necks.

Since the announcement of the reunification of CRC and NPS it's evident that NPS senior leadership team are now getting high on their own supply. What other reason could there be for ratcheting up of the bureaucratic BS?

Staff feel, quite rightly, that what we want to do (advise, assist befriend eg) has to be done off grid, and is surplus to what is required of us. I cannot convey the oppressive level of scrutiny (via data monitoring) of our work. It is getting bigger and bigger all the time. It's argued that this is a Covid thing, while we are all working in exceptional circumstances, to new model, not in the office. But it will not go away is my guess.

Promising nods to the importance of the relationship between practitioner (ok with that) and individual (ok with that). Warm words, but then the Civil Service spawned document went straight on to its holy grail of Consistency. Whatever they come up with is going to be prescriptive, reduced to something they can count, and over-scrutinise in practice. 

Lord knows we have banged on for long enough about Probation ethos and values. So interesting to see “culture” in the mix in this document. I see the ambition is to create a “new culture for the new probation service. So we have a “national culture implementation plan (...) developed with Senior Leaders, to get staff support on the cultural ambitions going forward.” That is not culture, it's indoctrination.

I am proud to be a Probation Officer. I am not an Offender Manager, or a Responsible Officer or a bloody Probation Practitioner. The HMPPS want to degrade our status as much as they can and I personally won’t have it. I am a Probation Officer, that’s what I am and that's what I do.


The following is taken from the guest blog together with the full MPT document:- 

Managing probation

How should Probation work be managed? – this is a subject that is rarely explored as a topic in its own right. I and my colleagues discussed the issue in general within our recent jointly-authored report Private v “Private”? about the Wales and south-west CRCs. But I’ve now also published an Introduction to Modern Probation Theory, to explain how I think Probation management should be done. Why have I done this?

As we know, the whole TR programme of 2014-21 was an ideologically motivated exercise. Although it is possible (just) to find some incidental benefits from TR, the overall cost of it in terms of quality as well as wasted time and money has been colossal, being the most egregious of the repeated national reorganisations of Probation in recent years.

And now, HMPPS is consulting on the question of “What kind of Probation Service do we want?” This means that there is every prospect that lots of people’s ideas will be added all together and announced as being the answer. However, the result will most likely be a highly aspirational and yet cumbersome and top-heavy concoction, while lacking commensurate resourcing and coherence.

A properly coherent approach is needed instead – i.e. a strategy – being one that starts from the perspective of the practitioners who do the work, and which specifies what practitioners are expected to achieve within the resources available. Modern Probation Theory is an attempt to describe such a coherent approach – not everyone will like every aspect of what it says, but it is feasible overall. The core points are shown here below; the full Introduction to MPT, and also the Private v “Private”? report, can be found on my website, together with my Memoir:

What is Modern Probation Theory (MPT)? 

MPT isn’t about telling Probation practitioners how they should do their work with individuals who have offended, since a valuable canon of material already exists for that purpose, including plenty of research and effective practice guidance that will continue to evolve on how to help people to desist from offending. 

Instead: - 

MPT explains how Probation case supervision needs to be managed, which is mainly from the ‘bottom-up’. It’s a specific version of practitioner-centred management. 

MPT is a ‘grounded theory’: It has not been contrived from an abstract ‘thought experiment’ – instead it has emerged as a theory by drawing on practical experiences of managing Probation that worked successfully in embryo form in the past, and which could be implemented now as a strategically coherent approach.

 “All models are wrong; some are useful” George EP Box

Key points: 
  • MPT is entirely consistent with – indeed it positively advocates – the idea of ‘Quality Probation practice’ that most practitioners would recognise, i.e. aiding the ‘desistance journey’ needing to be made by of each of the people they supervise by doing the Right Thing with the Right Individual in the Right Way at the Right Time.
  • MPT has components which each start from the viewpoint (i.e. the ‘viewing position’) of the practitioner. 
  • MPT’s four key components are Define (The Three Purposes), Desire, Design and Deploy, each of which, together with the fifth – Resourcing transparency - are explored in the more detailed description that follows further below. 
  • MPT’s core component Defines what Probation work is specifically expected to achieve in terms of The Three Purposes; the other components flow logically from that. 
  • MPT treats practitioners as responsible members of staff who want to do a good job (Desire), who are always open to continued learning, and who are also always prepared to give account – and be accountable – for doing a good job. 
  • MPT would in that spirit require practitioners to make qualitative judgements about certain key elements of their own work with each case ‘in real time’ – i.e. as they go along - assessing whether each element has been done sufficiently well. They would be using the same criteria as the ones any managers or inspectors would be using if such people should subsequently look at the practitioner’s work.
  • MPT would make this possible by a Design of a single Current Sentence Record (CSR) to replace OASys and nDelius. The ‘lean’ Design of the CSR would radically reduce the amount of ‘required text’, would minimise entering data twice, and more importantly include only the minimum number of mandatory fields – those needed for focusing on The Three Purposes. 
  • MPT accordingly assumes the need to Deploy such a CSR, alongside the other essential tools and facilities, both IT and environmental, to enable practitioners to do the work needed. 
  • MPT recognises the reality that the resourcing of Probation will always be finite, and will sometimes be squeezed. Its Resourcing transparency approach would make it manageable – though still difficult - for both practitioners and managers. 
  • MPT integrates its components into a unified approach for managing Probation overall, so that the work each practitioner does with each case aggregates into a clearly identifiable benefit that Probation brings to the whole community. It is unified from bottom to top in the same way that the lettering goes all the way through a stick of old-fashioned seaside rock.
  • MPT also has caveats. It is particularly important that its features should not be misread, misunderstood, or worst of all misused, since that would defeat its potential benefits. This applies especially to the subjects of performance measures (PMs) and performance management, where awareness of Goodhart’s Law is essential. 
  • MPT is about managing Probation, and not about who should own it. In principle, the MPT approach could be applied by any future ‘owner’ – although, in reality, locating Probation in direct public service management seems to be the most natural fit. 
  • MPT recognises that qualitative judgements are by necessity involved in any assessment of what Probation work is achieving – so MPT incorporates them explicitly and transparently, which is a wiser approach than employing metrics that appear factually objective, but which almost always include hidden qualitative assumptions.
  • MPT relies for its effectiveness on two-way presumptions of trust. Practitioners and managers need to be able to start their interactions with a presumption of trust that they are both honestly working towards the same ends, notably the Three Purposes. 
  • MPT’s overall approach can be summarised in this way: While practitioners will not have discretion about What they are expected to achieve, they will nevertheless have a large degree of discretion as to How they go about achieving it, and they will be able to self-assess in real time how their work with each case is progressing. This discretion will be informed by the ever-evolving messages and lessons emerging from research and other evidence-informed practice about desistance from offending, and about interventions that help that process.

The point of MPT is to counter the problem where for many years now Probation practitioners have been subject to a bewildering series of messages about what their work is supposed to be achieving: frequent reporting, tighter enforcement, tougher control of ‘high risk’ cases, including recently (worst of all) “successful completions”, plus the many other minimum contract specifications that were needed to prevent their employer (if a CRC) from being financially penalised. These messages have repeatedly varied over time, and with a complete lack of coherence. 

Overall, it has not been at all consistently clear what Probation work is supposed to be achieving. There has been major restructuring of Probation organisations on several occasions in the 21st century already, each with the aim of somehow ‘improving’ the Service, but still with no real clarity about what Probation supervision is consequently intended to achieve as a result. And now the 2020s decade is starting with the decision for yet another restructuring already made, leaving the planners for the new National Service again consulting on the questions, “What is Probation for?” and “What sort of Probation Service do we want?” The answers to these questions are certainly not straightforward, but any outside observer could be forgiven for gaining the impression that in recent years the various answers offered have been either too simplistic and ineffective, or alternatively unnecessarily complicated, and piecemeal. It’s been a case of plenty of changes in structure, but no coherent strategy. 

In contrast, MPT aligns itself with the fairly conventional view in business and other circles that the correct approach should be to decide Strategy first, and then decide on Structure afterwards. And the first step in devising any strategy for a personal service organisation like Probation must be to start with the people who provide that personal service, and being consistently clear about what they are being asked to do. That’s not straightforward of course.

Probation work is indeed complex work for its practitioners and managers, and MPT recognises that. Every person who offends and is sentenced is an individual human being, and the art of each Probation practitioner is to be able to engage with that individual, whatever the offence and whatever that person’s circumstances, and then do the Right Thing in the Right Way at the Right Time with that individual, to aid that person’s desistance journey. That work is indeed often complicated, but instead of ‘wallowing in the complicatedness’ of that work, MPT aims to chart a way through this complex work so that it becomes possible for everyone – practitioners, managers, Court, Government and the wider public (in principle) – to gain a shared understanding of ‘what Probation is for’. 


The final caveat: The need to avoid doing performance management badly 

It has been emphasised throughout this paper that the benefits of MPT would be undone if the day-to-day management of performance, and of staff, is done badly. 

MPT does not seek to prescribe in detail how to manage Probation case supervision well. But certain broad principles can be identified, all centred on the theme of what has elsewhere been called ‘positive supervision’

On the specific subject of managing Performance Measures (PMs), these principles can be employed constructively and usefully at ‘whole organisation’ level, but it is strongly recommended that at team and individual level such aggregated results should NOT be used as a mistaken way of ‘ranking’ local teams or individuals. The ‘performance’ is by the organisation as a whole, covering the full range of cases in different circumstances, high RoH, low RoH, prolific, first-time and longtime, and all the other different characteristics of different cases. It should be obvious that to introduce – explicitly or implicitly – any idea of competition between teams or individuals based on rankings that may hinge on small percentage points is going to affect other aspects of how work with cases is going to be managed. Just as schools can improve their exam rate success by only entering the students they know will pass, Probation units can avoid taking on the more difficult cases if they want to, and can certainly refuse to accept a difficult homeless prisoner on licence to their area. 

Doing performance management badly has been a feature of many organisations as well as Probation, and has been described quite fully by Jerry Z Muller in his The Tyranny of Metrics (Princeton University Press). However, he also describes how it can be done well, and indeed sometimes is – these quotations come from his final chapter:

 “Measurement is not an alternative to judgment: measurement demands judgment”

 “Measurement becomes much less reliable the more its object is human activity, since the objects— people—are self-conscious, and are capable of reacting to the process of being measured. And if rewards and punishments are involved, they are more likely to react in a way that skews the measurement’s validity. By contrast, the more they agree with the goals of those rewards, the more likely they are to react in a way that enhances the measurement’s validity.”

 “…ask yourself, is what you are measuring a proxy for what you really want to know? If the information is not very useful or not a good proxy for what you’re really aiming at, you’re probably better off not measuring it.” 

“Measured performance, when useful, is more effective in identifying outliers, especially poor performers or true misconduct. It is likely to be less useful in distinguishing between those in the middle or near the top of the ladder of performance. Plus, the more you measure, the greater the likelihood that the marginal costs of measuring will exceed the benefits.” 

“Every moment you or your colleagues or employees are devoting to the production of metrics is time not devoted to the activities being measured. If you’re a data analyst, of course, producing metrics is your primary activity. For everyone else, it’s a distraction. So, even if the performance measurements are worth having, their worth may be less than the costs of obtaining them.” 

“A system of measured performance will work to the extent that the people being measured believe in its worth…. Metrics works best when those measured buy into its purposes and validity.” 

“Even the best measures are subject to corruption or goal diversion.”

The last comment above confirms that even MPT’s PMs should be exercised with care, even though their benefits should outweigh their costs if implemented properly. Goodhart’s Law is a reminder that the usefulness of any metric is jeopardised by the nature of the management attention given to working to achieve it: 
“Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes”: Goodhart, C. A. E., ‘Problems of Monetary Management: The UK Experience’ (1984) in Monetary Theory and Practice (London: Macmillan, 1987), 91–121 
Constant pressure down the organisation to focus attention on metrics that frontline staff perceive as being at best doubtful can be described as ‘megaphone management.’ This style is best avoided in other aspects of managing Probation cases supervision too, as it is very alienating to practitioners who consider themselves self-motivating and responsible. As with any issue of human communication, the question of whether an action constitutes ‘megaphone’ behaviour is 50% the manager’s intention or belief, and 50% the practitioner’s perception – so it is not straightforward for managers to identify the most constructive and therefore effective management behaviours. 

MPT does not seek to prescribe in detail how to manage constructively, but it does rely on skilful constructive ‘enabling’ management – positive supervision - which is the product of accumulated well-chosen formal and informal actions and behaviours by managers. People looking to develop these could usefully look at anything written by Henry Mintzberg since 1984: e.g. Mintzberg, H. Bedtime Stories for Managers. Oakland: Berrett-Koehler, 2019.

Andrew Bridges
Independent Advisor, and proponent of Modern Probation Theory

Sunday 14 February 2021

Guilty But Let Off

Having been glued to the TV for days watching the impeachment trial saga play out, in the end I couldn't bring myself to fully listen to the utterly odious and contemptible Mitch McConnell attempt to explain for the benefit of history his lame and disgraceful reasons for not convicting Trump. In my book he gets absolutely no credit whatsoever for condemning Trump's actions in the strongest terms, whilst gutlessly refusing to do his duty in the earnest hope that others will via criminal or civil means.

Even ignoring the blatant self-interest of this most unattractive of politicians, the sheer hypocrisy of the man is breath taking for having made his decision on the baseless 'unconstitutionality' argument, a situation entirely of his own making by refusing to allow the case to begin whilst Trump was still in office. It's almost certain that he alone could have ensured a conviction by doing the right thing and thus bring enough Republican votes with him, but he's got his place in history along with his 42 colleagues and it's not going to be favourable.

The prosecution case was both thorough and convincing in stark contrast to the rambling theatricals of the Trump defence. By common agreement they were completely 'outlawyered' but of course it didn't really matter what they said as acquittal was fairly-well ensured with so many GOP senators remaining fearful of Trump and losing their comfy jobs. Hats off though to the magnificent seven who now have to cope with ferocious attacks from an emboldened former president and his army of vindicated thugs.

One of the saddest parts of this whole sorry saga will be the precedent now fully established of election mistrust and that being used by Republican states as justification for further voter suppression. Under the guise of improving election security, some 200 legislative measures are already being introduced that will have the effect of making it as hard as possible for the black vote to be cast. The GOP know they can't win in any other way and 'states rights' gives them licence to effectively be as racially discriminatory as they like. What a horrid, horrid state of affairs when one dreadful sociopathic man can be allowed to wreak such damage on a great democracy. 

So, as we prepare to go to the polls in May, armed for the first time with our own means of putting crosses on bits of paper, rather than the special short stubby pencils that allow the crosses to be rubbed out by election officials or MI5 and thus facilitate vote rigging, be thankful we don't have a federalised system and 435 ways of running elections in the UK. This from the Vox website:-    

State GOPs have already introduced dozens of bills restricting voting access in 2021

In 2020, voters turned out at the highest level in 100 years, thanks in part to expanded vote-by-mail. In response, state-level Republicans are introducing an unprecedented amount of legislation to restrict voting rights, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice.

State legislators in 28 states have filed 106 bills restricting the franchise thus far in 2021 — and the overwhelming majority have come from Republicans. Compare that to last year at this time: Then, only 35 such bills had been filed in six states.

“We are seeing a backlash,” says Eliza Sweren-Becker, the report’s lead author. “Rather than going out and trying to persuade voters, we’re seeing legislators trying to shrink the electorate in order to ensure job security for themselves.”

The proposed legislation largely falls into two categories: bills that either increase the difficulties individual Americans would face absentee voting or that give officials greater leeway to shrink the voter pool. Some are attempts to roll back voting rights expansions necessitated by the pandemic; others are retreads of policies Republicans have pushed before, like expanded voter identification laws.

The passage of these laws will, essentially, depend on whether Republicans control both the statehouse and the governorship in the states in which they’ve been introduced — a reality in 18 of the 28 states. And while Sweren-Becker says their constitutionality would hinge on the way each bill is written and implemented, a lot of them have a decent chance at sticking around.

The news isn’t all bad: A whopping 406 bills have been introduced in 35 states that would expand access to voting, including permanently codifying the absentee voter policies that allowed voters in some states to cast their ballots early and remotely. Some states will consider both expansive and restrictive voting rights bills; which path the state follows will likely hinge on which party controls the legislature.

At the national level, Democrats in Congress are pushing a number of voting rights bills. Last year, the House passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would provide for federal oversight in states with a recent history of racial discrimination in voting laws. On Thursday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) reintroduced his annual Vote From Home bill with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), which would mandate universal absentee voting — or the ability to vote by mail without an excuse — for federal elections and disallow states from imposing “additional conditions or requirements on the eligibility of the individual,” save for the postmark deadline.

“Last year we saw a widespread expansion of vote-at-home access as a safe and secure way to participate during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Blumenauer said in a release. “We should continue to make voting easier, not harder.”

At each level of government, the fight over the future of how America’s democracy operates is in full effect — and states are moving quickly.

Saturday 13 February 2021

Single Source of Truth

I have a feeling there's some mileage in taking a very close look at the latest Target Operating Model and have a long think about where the civil service culture is taking us:-  

"Our internal system (EQuiP) will be updated to hold the single source of truth for all national operational and organisational processes, so that staff are clear about what is expected of them."
Wales CORRE Hub 

The Centralised Operational, Resettlement, Referral and Evaluation (CORRE) Hub is a key element of the Wales unified model and provides an interface between Probation Practitioners and the complex interventions landscape. The CORRE Hub will assist Probation Practitioners through identifying suitable interventions, completing referrals, monitoring service user progress and keeping the sentence on track. Taking these time-consuming functions away from Probation Practitioners will allow them to better focus on their supervisory responsibilities and delivering change work to support the provision of interventions, leading to better outcomes. We are testing the effectiveness of this hub approach in Wales to inform whether it might be a useful model to adopt in other regions. 

The primary functions of the Probation Practitioner will not be impacted by the work of the CORRE Hub. Probation Practitioners will still have overall responsibility for the key Sentence Management activities with the CORRE Hub assisting in the identification of providers, sequencing of interventions and ensuring that services are brokered on time. 

The CORRE Hub model in Wales broadly covers two layers: operational and strategic. The operational layer encompasses the interface between the Probation Practitioner and the CORRE Hub, including the process of referrals and scheduling that will occur once a court disposal has been made or in the planning phase for a release from custody. The strategic function refers to the role that the CORRE Hub will play in supporting intervention providers with demand management and assisting HMPPS Wales with its regional approach to commissioning services. 

The CORRE Hub will interface with a much broader set of interventions/provision than those covered by probation services and the Dynamic Framework, but digital solutions developed to manage interventions will be incorporated within the CORRE Hub’s remit. The CORRE Hub will though mean a differing approach to interventions processes in Wales including those for Unpaid Work, Accredited Programmes, Structured Interventions, Commissioned Rehabilitative Services and wider commissioning activity.


In Wales, I guess elsewhere, there is to be a centralised team that writes the sentence plans. Staffed by PSOs. So OM will do the OASys at start of order/pre release but only up to the risk section. Then it gets handed over to a person at the centre who will “build” (FFS) the supervision plan. 

The number of initiatives and empires being built is insane. Lack of staff on the ground actually doing the work, and ballooning vanity/centralised/silo’d industry of projects and structures, none of which appear to mesh with each other. So the centralised sentence plan team,,, the CORRE (more fucking acronyms) will employ a senior manager, a middle manager, PSO’s admin etc etc.. 

It never ceases to amaze how many people who have never spent more than a handful of hours as a practitioner are allowed to spend months making-up this shit, getting paid eye-watering sums of public money...

Agree it's ridiculous people detached from the actual job get paid more with limited to no knowledge of the detail of the role to write practice and policy about it.

I think the words “Professional Judgement” trigger a cold sweat in our managers.

They just don't have any trust in us to do anything. I absolutely hate this organisation.

It's quite interesting and on first attempt, looks like a genuine attempt to rebuild a broken Probation Service, broken by TR. But from the wrong place, ie the Civil Service. I am thinking of a run through to delete jargon, managementese and MOJ bollocks, which might take the word count down by 20%.

Thursday 11 February 2021

Assess, Protect and Change

There's nothing more eagerly awaited by front line probation staff struggling on a daily basis with the endless bureaucratic and data-entry requirements of the job than publication of 220 pages about the new Target Operating Model and new National Standards. There are new acronyms, new titles and a new strap line 'Assess, Protect and Change'. Officers become 'Probation Practitioner' and clients 'supervised individual'. Here's a taster:-   


This chapter provides the context for our target operating model, outlining what we hope to achieve through our reforms and the additional investment being made. It also sets out some key considerations that have informed our proposals, including alignment with the HMPPS Business Strategy, how we can create a more equitable, diverse and inclusive system, and how our proposals link to wider changes and improvements to the criminal justice system.

About this document 

This document supersedes the document ‘A Draft Target Operating Model for the Future of Probation Services in England and Wales,’ published in March 2020. It sets out the further design detail and key design changes that have developed since then. 

It is aimed at staff and stakeholders involved in probation delivery and is intended to establish a common understanding of our aspirations for the future of probation services in England and Wales. 

Its focus is, therefore, on how we anticipate the key features of the model working once we have implemented the reforms. We recognise that it will take time to get there, not least given the challenges presented by COVID-19 and the subsequent recovery work needed to get probation services onto a stable footing. The position as of June 2021 – when Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) contracts end – will, therefore, look quite different, as our focus will be on the smooth transition of services. We provide an overview in Chapter 2 of what services will be in place as of June 2021 (‘Day 1’) and key milestones post Day 1 to get us to our target operating model.

In accordance with the HMPPS Business Strategy principle of an open, learning culture, we will need flexibility to update this target operating model to be able to apply lessons learned from how it is working in practice. The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted that events or wider changes outside our direct control may impact on how our probation system operates. We therefore expect that there will be further iterations of this target operating model following the transition to the new model. 

We have used language intended to resonate with stakeholders and best reflect the intentions behind the new model and the benefits that we are seeking to achieve. In describing the new probation system, this document will, therefore, and as far as possible, use: 
  • ‘Probation Practitioner’ to denote the formerly-used terms ‘Offender Manager’/‘Responsible Officer’ and ‘Officer.’ 
  • ‘Sentence Management’ to denote the formerly-used term ‘Offender Management.’ 
Learning from the more progressive approach CRCs have taken, we will also move away from the term ‘offender’ in those contexts where it is an unhelpful label, instead referring in this document to supervised individuals or individuals. 

Exceptions to this approach will be either to denote a specific Criminal Justice Context (such as Responsible Officer when referring to key legislation requirements) or when referring to parallel programme features, such as Offender Management in Custody. A comprehensive glossary is at Annex B.

The purpose of probation

As set out in law, probation services have multiple aims that relate to protecting against further offences (protecting the public, empowering those that commit crimes to want to make positive changes and reducing the likelihood of reoffending) and addressing the harm caused by the original offence (highlighting the effects of crime on victims and facilitating appropriate punishment). 

These aims are not mutually exclusive and there is overlap across them. For example, by challenging and empowering people to embrace the opportunity to make lasting changes to their lives, Probation Practitioners will, in turn, advance the key aim of protecting the public by reducing reoffending. Indeed, a renewed focus on change work forms part of the Government’s broader approach to the Criminal Justice System, particularly through the ambition (set out in the White Paper ‘A Smarter Approach to Sentencing’) to make greater use of robust and effective community sentences as a credible alternative to custodial sentences. Through increasing the use of appropriate community sentencing options, we will be better equipped to address the complex needs of supervised individuals and to target the underlying causes of offending behaviour, thereby breaking the cycle of offending and keeping the public safer.

Our reform of probation services offers a valuable opportunity to not only stabilise the probation landscape, reinforce its ethics and ensure that core services are properly delivered, but also to innovate and improve the way these services are delivered such that we can better achieve probation’s key aims. In defining the future operating model, we have, therefore, considered the foundations of a strong probation service to be able to achieve this and have distilled it into a simpler description of ‘Assess, Protect and Change’. 

Probation’s statutory aims revolve around three distinct groups with differing perspectives (those that commit crime, victims and the public). We have, therefore, outlined in Figure 1 (below) what Assess, Protect, Change means in the context of both probation services themselves and those that they are intended to serve. 

In Chapter 3, we further consider the implications of Assess, Protect, Change on the role of the Probation Practitioner in the context of delivering advice to court, Sentence Management and resettlement support.