Wednesday 31 March 2021

News Roundup March 2021

As we know, there's absolutely nothing to see at the MoJ, but here's what the Justice Select Committee had to say by way of Conclusions and Recommendations regarding the Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre affair:-


1. The litany of inaction and what one inspector called “utter incompetence” at Rainsbrook year after year provides a cautionary tale of how badly an arms-length relationship between the Ministry of Justice as a client and MTC as the company hired to deliver on contract can fail to deliver basic standards of care to vulnerable children. (Paragraph 2)

2. We recognise that all prisons and other custodial institutions face additional pressures during the current covid-19 pandemic, but we do not consider those to be justification or excuse for the continued poor conditions at Rainsbrook and the repeated absence of effective action to remedy them by staff employed by MTC at Rainsbrook and senior staff at the Ministry of Justice and Youth Custody Service. (Paragraph 9)

Inspectorate findings

3. Staffing at Rainsbrook was affected by covid-19, but so was the number of children at the centre, down to around half of capacity. The staff-to-child ratio was broadly unaffected and additional financial resource was provided to MTC by the Ministry of Justice. We cannot fathom why children were left in their cells for 23.5 hours a day after that practice had been identified and criticised and had supposedly ceased. Even more, we cannot understand why that fact went unnoticed and unaddressed by managers and monitors whose offices were two minutes’ walk from the children’s cells. It seems extraordinary that MTC managers and YCS monitors did not leave their offices to find out for themselves the condition in which the children in their care were kept. (Paragraph 22)

4. We are glad that new management is in place at MTC, particularly a new director on site and a new head of education, and that the YCS has taken steps to improve its on-site presence. We note the promises Mr Mulholland made to improve matters, but the experience of the inspectorates over the past 12 months has been that promises are worth less than the paper they are written on and we expect to see evidence of real change at Rainsbrook. We are concerned by Mr Mulholland’s statement that he plans to accept only recommendations “we think are fair or grounded” and recommend that he make a clear, public commitment to implementing the change the inspectorates, as independent external bodies, tell Rainsbrook to make unless there are clear, evidenced and transparently recorded reasons for doing otherwise in any specific case. (Paragraph 30)

5. High staff turnover experienced at Rainsbrook, has, without a doubt, contributed to the significant failings at the centre. Youth custodial institutions are vastly different to the adult estate, and require staff who have an understanding and experience of the environment they will be working in. While there is nothing wrong with staff moving across to the youth estate from the adult estate, it is not appropriate for these staff to operate as though they are in the adult estate. We recommend that the management at MTC set out clearly what they are doing to address the existing issue of staff retention, including what incentives and support they offer to staff. MTC should also set out what training is given to staff to ensure that staff are adequately skilled and equipped to work in the youth custodial estate. If consideration has not been given to this, MTC should set out what plans it has in place to ensure that staff are adequately trained and supported to work well in a youth custodial environment. (Paragraph 35)

6. The children held in secure institutions have committed often very serious crimes but also include some of the most vulnerable members of society. Those in detention at Rainsbrook were considered too vulnerable to be placed in Young Offender Institutions. The evidence we have heard is shocking; it is unacceptable to lock children in their cells twenty three-and-a-half hours a day, with limited meaningful social contact, a practice tantamount, as the three inspectorates rightly say, to placing them in solitary confinement. Whatever crimes they have committed, children—vulnerable children—deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and it is clear that this has not been so at Rainsbrook. (Paragraph 37)

7. It is a startling indictment of senior managers at MTC that the overwhelming majority of recommendations made by the joint inspectorates in February 2020 were not actioned. Those managers and the company appear largely to have ignored those recommendations until the Urgent Notification was invoked. A picture has been painted of a bureaucratic response built on managing the requirements of a contract, producing pieces of paper, and providing assurances that all was well when nothing was being done to make it so—even to the extent that the Secretary of State put his name in good faith to a letter saying that improvement was happening when it was not. An action plan without any action is pointless. MTC Managing Director Mr Mulholland told us he plans to accept only recommendations he thinks fair, a response that gives little confidence that the new management installed since Urgent Notification is demonstrating the necessary grip or understanding. (Paragraph 38)

8. We are not confident in MTC’s ability to deliver the action required by recommendations repeatedly made over a period of years by the three inspectorates. We recommend that MTC and the Youth Custody Service report to us by June 2021, setting out in detail what progress has been made against the action plan now developed. MTC should also set out what impact changes made have had on children at the centre. If no substantial improvement is then apparent, the Ministry should consider taking Rainsbrook back in house. (Paragraph 39)

9. It is clear that further work needs to be done on the way in which the prison service more generally responds to recommendations. It is important for all organisations that they are able to learn from external sources of assurance. Inspectorates have told us, in this and in other inquiries, that they repeatedly make the same recommendations over a sustained period without effective action resulting. This brings into question how seriously the prison service takes the recommendations made. The Ministry of Justice should set out in detail, what work they are doing to ensure that recommendations made by Inspectorates are taken seriously and acted upon quickly and effectively. (Paragraph 40)

Oversight of Rainsbrook STC

10. We welcome the implementation of a new assurance process. More is required than that, however, given what we have heard about action plans being written but not acted on. Those charged with overseeing previous assurances processes failed in the basic task of checking for themselves what was going on and we need greater confidence that a new process will improve upon the existing one. We recommend that MTC set out what their new assurance process is and how it differs from the one previously in existence. In particular, what practical steps will MTC take to ensure that its senior managers at the centre know, for themselves, whether improvements reported to them are real and long-lasting? We also recommend that the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Custody Service set out clearly what they will do to assess the provider’s new assurance processes to ensure that they are operating effectively, and to confirm, for themselves, that what they are being told is true. (Paragraph 51)

11. The Ministry of Justice, Youth Custody Service, HMPPS and MTC failed in their management and oversight of Rainsbrook STC, and the evidence suggests that, in varying degrees, that failure was not limited to one body. We are deeply concerned that processes in place to oversee Rainsbrook failed to fully safeguard children in the care of the establishment. We welcome work being done to address failings, but the issues identified here in poor leadership and oversight are not new and a greater sense of urgency is required. We welcome the independent review being carried out to understand what went wrong, directed by HMPPS, and recommend that HMPPS share its findings with the Committee and set out clearly what changes will be made to national oversight to ensure that HMPPS, YCS and MoJ have sufficient grip and oversight on all institutions, both contracted and public. (Paragraph 58)

12. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice review monitoring processes in place across the youth secure estate to ensure that robust central monitoring is in place. The Ministry should also set out how they intend to learn lessons from the failings at Rainsbrook, and ensure that the same mistakes are not made in the delivery of secure schools. (Paragraph 59)

13. Embedding YCS staff within the institutions whose performance they are monitoring is clearly good practice in principle but is not sufficient on its own. The Minister should consider having additional monitors travelling around sites, or a further form of independent monitoring. We recommend that the Ministry consider how it can manage the risk of its staff either failing to see what is happening or failing to challenge it. Whichever of those things happened at Rainsbrook, neither is acceptable. (Paragraph 60)

14. We are concerned that Ministry of Justice awarded MTC the maximum possible contract extension. Based on the evidence heard on 9 March, coupled with the inspectorates’ findings, it is clear that MTC have failed to fulfil a number of contractual obligations. The company clearly did not fulfil the requirement to “deliver a service that places Young People at its heart and considers their needs, wants and wishes at all stages of their stay at the STC”. While the difficulties of re-letting a contract and potentially changing a Secure Training Centre provider during the covid-19 pandemic may be considerable, there can be little justification for retaining the services of a badly under-performing contractor, and even less for giving them two more years of that contract. Notwithstanding the complications of letting a contract during a pandemic period, no one’s needs, and in particular the needs of some of our society’s most vulnerable children, should be placed second to administrative considerations. (Paragraph 68)

15. We seek a clear explanation of why the Ministry of Justice chose to extend MTC’s contract by two years when the contractor’s ability to deliver was already in question, and we ask what ministerial involvement there was in making that decision and, in particular, in signing it off. (Paragraph 69)

16. Consistently sub-standard performance of a contract does not merit renewal in any circumstances. We recommend that the Secretary of State urgently reviews whether his Ministry plans to renew any other contract or any contractor whose performance is similarly consistently poor. (Paragraph 70)

17. We are glad to hear the Secretary of State, Rt Hon. Robert Buckland QC MP, say “I absolutely take and hold accountability overall, which I am prepared to accept, and I do so in front of the Committee”. No-one likes, in his own phrase, being “played for a fool” and we appreciate his commitment to ensure that there are serious consequences in store should any attempt be made to mislead him or his Ministry again about what is being done at Rainsbrook. (Paragraph 72)


This from the BBC news website:-

A scheme to fit electronic tags on offenders to see if they are breaching court-ordered drinking bans is being rolled out across England.

The "sobriety tags" monitor a wearer's sweat levels every 30 minutes, and alert probation services if alcohol is detected. Offenders breaching their abstinence order can then be returned to court to face further sanctions. The scheme has been in operation across Wales since October. The government said more than 100 people have been tagged there since then, with offenders staying sober on over 95% of days monitored.

The rollout across England was meant to begin in late 2020, but has been delayed. Under the scheme, courts will be able to hand out "alcohol abstinence orders" to offenders who commit crimes fuelled by alcohol. These can require the offender to abstain from alcohol for up to four months and wear the electronic tag to monitor compliance.

Policing and Crime Minister Kit Malthouse said the tags were a "powerful new tool" to combat alcohol-fuelled violence and help steer offenders away from "bad habits". The tags can only be used with offenders over the age of 18, who are not dependent on alcohol or have certain medical conditions. The government says the tags can distinguish the difference between drinks and other types of alcohol - such as in hand sanitiser or perfume. The scheme has already been trialled in Humberside, Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire and London.


Hi Jim

Apologies for the random cheek of this request, but I wonder if you or any of your readers might be able to assist or put me in touch with someone else.

I was formerly employed by the Probation Service in Norwich (Norfolk and Suffolk Probation Trust) between 2005 and 2013. I was subject to a TUPE transfer in 2013 to a local charity and was TUPE’d once more in 2018 to another charity.

I am now in the position of either being redeployed as part of a restructure or being made redundant. My employer states I am still subject to my probation terms and conditions but has admitted they do not have a copy of the staff handbook or any relevant policies and have said I will not get any excess mileage if I remain and will get statutory redundancy pay if I leave.

I have tried speaking to the Norwich probation office but was told they no longer have an HR department on site. I contacted the Welsh service centre who explained they took over the HR function in 2017 so they cannot help either.

Unison aren’t willing to help as I’m not currently a member and although NAPO were kind enough to send some information it all relates to 2014 when the CRCs were created as prior to this apparently it was all by local agreement and they don’t hold records for NSPT.

I am really at a loss as to where to turn and am being pressed to make a decision over whether I wish to stay or be made redundant. Would you mind putting a shout out to see if any of your readers can help.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.


Finally, I'm told that Monday's Nottingham Evening Post included reporting of the Inquest into the death of Janet Scott and calls for another PO head to roll. Many might feel this is another scapegoating exercise. Sonia Flynn is quoted as saying “standards falling well below what was expected, etc.“ The same words used in the Campbell Case.

Monday 29 March 2021

Nothing To See Here

The transcripts of that Justice Select Committee hearing last week have been published and as you can see there's absolutely nothing to frighten the horses here - everything is just fine and dandy as far as probation is concerned:-

Q5 Chair:
How are the changes to the operational model that you were talking about linked to it? 

Antonia Romeo: I mentioned that partly because you referred to the first change in that step, which is the appointment of Jo Farrar as second permanent secretary. This was partly about the focus on delivery in the Department. You mentioned, Chair, that I have returned to the Department after six years away. It is interesting seeing the changes in the focus, particularly at the top level. I want to make sure that we have the bandwidth to deliver what we need to deliver. 

One of the things that it made sense to do was to align and bring closer together our delivery on four of our agencies, namely, the Legal Aid Authority, CICA and OPG, as well as Jo maintaining her role as CEO of HMPPS. We are also looking through an operating model review at the work on both the relationship between HQ and our agencies, but also whether we have the bandwidth and how we are organised in the centre itself. We are doing a lot on commercial, projects, digital transformation and reform. There is a huge amount of policy work that we do. There is a lot of crucial risk management and commercial capability. I want to check that we have those organised in the right way. That is something that I am working on closely with Jo and the executive committee. 

Q6 Chair: Perhaps you can help me, and Dr Farrar can come in as well, by telling me what Dr Farrar is doing now as second permanent secretary that she was not doing before? What is different? What is the additional role, and how does that impact upon her role as chief exec of HMCTS? 

Antonia Romeo: I will let Jo answer that. Jo, do you want to comment? 

Jo Farrar: Of course. Immediately, I have taken over responsibility for the Legal Aid Agency, for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme and for the Office of the Public Guardian. That is an addition to my workload. As the permanent secretary said, we are looking at the operating model, which will help us to clarify exactly what I will do going forward as second permanent secretary, what our whole executive team will be doing and how we will manage our senior people across the organisation. 

I keep the responsibility for CEO of HMPPS. I am delighted to do that. I believe we are taking the organisation forward and will want to be absolutely committed to continuing to do that. I also have a strong team in HMPPS, including two directors general, who are equally able to run large parts of the service and are doing so. As we move out of the Covid19 situation, which I have been heavily involved in, and as we bring probation together, there will be scope to do things a little differently but still have the complete focus that we have had previously. 

Q7 Chair: You have a major prison-building programme coming along. You have, as you say, a reunited system with probation. So you have two major pieces of work going on. How are you going to have the time to devote yourself effectively to heading that up and, at the same time, taking on these additional demands? 

Jo Farrar: We do have some major programmes. As the permanent secretary said, we are looking at governance of those programmes across the organisation. I very much see things such as our prison build programme across MOJ efforts. I believe it enhances my role to be the second permanent secretary and to be able to look across the piece at things such as prison buildings. We also have a number of other major programmes. I am confident that the SROs we have in place are able to deliver those programmes, but I am going to be making sure that we have capacity in the right places to continue to deliver at pace some of the changes that we need to do.

Q8 Chair: In any event, you will be spending less time on prisons and probation. 

Jo Farrar: I hope to be spending less time on Covid-19, which has taken up a huge amount of my time during the past year, which I believe will give me some additional capacity. As I say, we have a really strong team in HMPPS and across the MOJ. Part of the operating model review will be to make sure that we have the right senior capacity to be able to take forward all of these programmes. We are looking at quite a short timescale for completing that, probably over the next six weeks. After that, we will be able to let you have a bit more detail. 

Q9 Chair: One of our concerns as a Committee in the past has been whether or not HMPPS has an adequate sense of purpose and direction from the centre. It seemed to me that your appointment as chief executive was intended to give that. This seems to me, on the face of it, a dilution potentially of that, or a risk of such dilution. How is that to be achieved? 

Jo Farrar: I see it as an enhancement because it gives me a bigger role across the Ministry of Justice. It brings HMPPS right into the heart of the Ministry of Justice, and it makes sure it has the attention it deserves. Before I came, if you remember, there was one DG leading HMPPS. That has been significantly enhanced. We now have a chief executive plus two directors general. Having that extra capacity has allowed me to set a really strong direction as chief executive. As I said, I have a good senior leadership team, including two directors general, who are very able to take forward prisons and probation. Together, we will make sure that the direction is as focused as it has always been. 

Antonia Romeo: Could I add something on that, Chair? 

Chair: By all means, Ms Romeo. 

Antonia Romeo: Obviously, it is not unusual for an organisation of this size, which is one of the largest Departments in Whitehall, to have a second permanent secretary. You are right to identify that what is less usual is to have that person also be the chief executive of one of our biggest agencies, but that is part of the design. What we are looking to do is to ensure join-up. We recognise that neither within the Department nor, indeed, across the whole of the criminal justice system, for example, can we stand alone. 

I am keen to ensure that we are working across the Department. Jo already mentioned the prison build programme. This is the estates team and it is HMPPS. Part of the purpose of this is to have somebody above the excellent chief executives of the three other agencies, also the second permanent secretary, because it builds in that join-up. 

I want to let the Committee know that I have asked the other two directors general in HMPPS to join the executive committee, which was not previously the case. That brings an additional join-up. When the executive committee meet, as we do weekly—in fact, we met this morning—and Kevin, as chief executive of HMPPS is also present, we ensure that every important decision taken at the top of the organisation is made by those leading our biggest agencies as well as those leading HQ. That is part of what I know the Lord Chancellor wants the vision for the Department to be and I want to ensure that we are delivering for him a joined-up, seamless provision of services focused on a world-class justice system. 

Q10 Chair: I understand that. Prisons and probation are, perhaps, the biggest chunk of the Department’s spend and the biggest focus of attention. The Office of Public Guardian and the Legal Aid Agency are both very important, but not, from Dr Farrar’s point of view, the most obvious fit to align with prisons, are they? It is a bit counterintuitive to deal with something that is pretty much at the other end of the Department’s range of activities. Is there a reason for that? 

Antonia Romeo: It is partly that Jo has done a fantastic job as chief executive of HMPPS. These are very well-led organisations already. They were sitting alongside our functional CFO group, as we call it. James is here today as our interim CFO. It is partly about ensuring that that group has the freedom and bandwidth to focus on the support it is going to need to give the rest of the organisation for the significant transformation in change, be it digital, commercial and finance that we are overseeing as a Department. It was partly about that. Jo, obviously, has a great deal of expertise in delivery. These are smaller agencies but not agencies without risk, as you well know. Therefore, I thought it would be a good and sensible approach to bring them together. You are right that they are not necessarily exactly adjacent in the system that we run, but to me that is part of the benefit because it ensures even more join-up. 

Q11 Chair: Okay. In terms of the specifics, you think the new approach will aid delivery, so it is central to it. What are the specific gains you think you can get to deliver from this? What is the bandwidth? 

Antonia Romeo: Jo might want to comment on what she sees so far, bearing in mind that she is only on working day five.


Q66 Dr Mullan: We have focused a lot today on finances and the risks around finance and projections. I would like to talk a little bit about your approach and thinking around risk in terms of delivery, particularly beginning with the probation programme. It is a key and important area of reform going forward. What are the top risks from your perspective on the delivery of the next stage of probation reform? 

Antonia Romeo: Jo will also want to come in on this. There have been a number of lessons learnt from previous reforms on probation. There is the unification that will happen in June. One of the biggest risks with a programme like this is moving the whole thing at once, which is why we have been specifically de-risking on things like piloting first of all in Wales, which we have been doing for a year. We are ensuring that we are rolling out in advance as much as we can—and Jo will have some specifics on this—for example, things like putting out the laptops in certain places first. You do not do a big bang transformation where you go from a number of organisations into one. You sequence and in particular you test. That will be a very important part of de-risking the programme. 

Overall, the key thing about the programme is that it is not just a one-off event. It is really part of a three-year workforce strategy that is looking to increase capacity. Jo is seeking to recruit 1,500 more frontline staff next year and in subsequent years, and also to increase capability through qualifications and access to training. There is a long-term plan as well as the single moment, which, as I say, we are de-risking as a single moment in terms of creating the new programme. 

The final thing to say on risk is that some of this is about bringing back together. It is essentially a significant de-risk of what was considered and judged by Ministers to have been quite a risky position to have got into. In particular, what we are seeking to do, as you know, is to ensure that we learn some of the spirit of what drove previous reforms. Bringing innovation in and using the voluntary sector more effectively is something that is very much in front of mind in terms of this programme. Jo will want to add.

Jo Farrar: Thank you, Permanent Secretary. I will add a few things as a way of reassurance. The unification will absolutely happen in June. It is on track to deliver. It will deliver. Some reassurance we have had around that is that our plans have been tested by the IPA, the Independent Projects Authority, who have confirmed that they are viable plans. We have had an inspection by HMI Probation, which has confirmed that we are on track for delivery. Some of the things we might have wanted to do in advance such as ensure all training for people so that we can move more quickly to mixed case loads cannot happen because of Covid. Some of the training we will slow down. It will take us a bit longer to get to the position we had wanted to. However, all of the things that the Permanent Secretary mentioned that we can do in advance we have been doing; IT, buildings, making sure that our workforce plans are rigorous and in place have all happened in advance. I am very confident in our ability to deliver in June.

Q67 Dr Mullan: You have mentioned a couple of external approaches to monitoring your progress. Internally, what are your key methods of keeping it on track in these next few months? 

Jo Farrar: We have a strong governance programme that goes up right to the Permanent Secretary. We have some independent challenge on that. The Permanent Secretary mentioned earlier one of our nonexecutive directors. We also invited other people externally to challenge our programme. We also have individual programme management of some of the aspects, such as the workforce programme, to make sure that every part of the probation programme is on track to deliver. It is one thing that I monitor regularly as the chief executive. 

Q68 Dr Mullan: I am conscious of time so I will ask you to be really specific in the answer to this question. As to the trends on vacancies, retention and recruitment, rather than explaining what they are, could you limit yourself to saying where the problems might be looking at those trends? Is there anything that you are concerned about? 

Jo Farrar: There is nothing I am concerned about. Our retention at the moment is reasonably good. People are looking forward to coming together as a unified probation service. We have plans in place to recruit the 1,500 extra probation officers and we have a really good workforce programme. I have no real concerns about that. 

Q69 Dr Mullan: Moving on from probation.......... 

Sunday 28 March 2021

Takes Two To Tango

I saw this posted recently on the probation Facebook group page:-
"When I read this I feel even more concerned about the stultifying effect that being civil servants has upon the probation profession."

It was referring to the latest Academic Insight paper published by HM Probation Inspectorate entitled Needs Assessment : Risk, Desistance and Engagement. These papers have been published at regular intervals since the first in February 2019. To be honest, I'm not at all sure we've ever spent much time discussing them, but I suspect we should. As a taster, I was struck by this from the first:-

Fundamentally, as with the science of losing weight, the science of crime reduction is simply too difficult and frankly too weak for partisans on either side to declare a monopoly on useful evidence. Neither the ‘what works’ movement nor ‘desistance’ research is anywhere close to revealing the secret formula guaranteed to reduce crime (or lose weight), and never will. Human behaviour is simply too complex to be predictable in ways similar to the laws of physics or chemistry, and we should be thankful for that.

Anyway, these are snippets from the most recent:-


HM Inspectorate of Probation is committed to reviewing, developing and promoting the evidence base for high-quality probation and youth offending services. Academic Insights are aimed at all those with an interest in the evidence base. We commission leading academics to present their views on specific topics, assisting with informed debate and aiding understanding of what helps and what hinders probation and youth offending services. 

This report was kindly produced by Kevin Wong and Rachel Horan, recognising the importance of effective and robust assessment for planning and service delivery. The focus of the paper is upon the potential for improvements to assessment processes. The possibilities from integrating Risk-Needs-Responsivity and desistance principles are highlighted, while stressing that it is essential for such integration to provide additionality and avoid dilution (which should be subject to testing). Attention is then given to the role that assessment can play in facilitating effective engagement. Crucially, the assessment process itself can serve a purpose that goes beyond identifying the support an individual may require and what risks need to be considered. It offers opportunities for co-production, the demonstration of care, and the starting point for building a relationship. Within our inspections of probation services, we will continue to examine whether assessment focuses sufficiently on all the key areas of engagement, desistance and keeping other people safe.

Dr Robin Moore 
Head of Research


The Probation Inspectorate’s standard for the assessment of people with convictions is disarmingly simple. Posed through three ‘does what it says on the tin’ questions, they are: 
i. Does assessment focus sufficiently on engaging the service user? 
ii. Does assessment focus sufficiently on the factors linked to offending and desistance? 
iii. Does assessment focus sufficiently on keeping other people safe? 
(HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2019) 
These dimensions of assessment resonate with policy makers, researchers and practitioners in the United Kingdom (UK) and Europe. There is a general consensus that a responsive criminal justice process must start with an effective and robust assessment that guides intervention planning and rehabilitation for people with convictions (see among others, Canton, 2015; Moore, 2015; Council of Europe, 2010; McNeill and Weaver, 2010). 

This is particularly pertinent in England and Wales as the latest shake-up in probation fast approaches. The post-Transforming Rehabilitation delivery model will see the ‘unification’ of Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) staff with those from the National Probation Service (NPS) in June 2021 (HMPPS, 2021). In this bolstered national civil service, the Offender Assessment System (OASys), based on Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) principles (Bonta and Andrews, 2017), will be the default system for assessment. Of course, OASys was used by probation trusts prior to Transforming Rehabilitation and by the NPS and most CRCs so perhaps this is no great change. 

However, it is worth thinking about the assessment of people with convictions more broadly, as the ‘unified’ probation service won’t be alone in making assessments. As observed by Senior et al. (2016), probation services in their broadest sense span four major systems of social organisation which, in general terms, operate as follows: 
  • probation staff as corrections workers 
  • voluntary sector staff principally as welfare workers addressing criminogenic and non-criminogenic needs 
  • public sector health and voluntary sector staff as treatment workers delivering drug and alcohol treatment (adapted from Harkin and Fitzgibbon, 2017) 
  • the broader interaction between people with convictions and their communities, mediated in many instances via the voluntary sector.
The non-probation organisations will have their own assessment processes based on standardised and non-standardised tools. Is there an opportunity, in this latest shake-up for probation services, to make improvements to assessment processes across the piece? This paper aims to answer this question by focusing on two related issues: 
1. Is it possible to integrate the RNR model of rehabilitation (Bonta and Andrews, 2017) with desistance principles? 
2. What role can assessment play in facilitating the effective engagement of people with convictions? 
The paper concludes by considering how this learning can be applied by policy makers and practitioners.



How should the learning about the integration of RNR, good lives and desistance principles along with enabling effective engagement be taken forward through the Probation Reform Programme? 

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) have invested considerable intellectual effort and resources into developing and refining OASys; for confirmation, see Moore’s (2015) compendium of OASys research and analysis. Clearly OASys is not going to be abandoned in favour of another tool. Nor, arguably should the MoJ/HMPPS go down that route. Instead, there are a number of questions worthy of consideration: 
  • Can the strengths-based approaches trialled in the EOC tool, incorporated into AssetPlus and other tools be incorporated into OASys itself without diluting its efficacy? 
  • Could such an addition enhance its sentence planning function?
  • Is there something to be gleaned from other innovations around assessment, sentence planning and case management trialled by CRCs during Transforming Rehabilitation? 
Also, what about the efficacy of the assessment tools used by non-probation agencies? It is neither proportionate nor logistically practical to expect these agencies to use tools that mirror the complexity of OASys. However, having a better understanding of the evidence base around RNR, good lives and desistance, and how this translates into assessment should help these agencies improve what they do and inform their choice of which validated tool they should use. 

As to engagement, no agency or individual is going to imagine that they do engagement badly. However, are there ways in which it could be improved? Rigorously and honestly reviewing their processes against the frameworks presented in this paper would be a good starting point. Feedback loops, rather than linear lines, are critical. 

It matters how each agency undertakes assessment and engagement. The assessment process, which occurs at the start or soon after an individual’s involvement with an agency, serves a purpose that goes beyond just finding out what support an individual may require and what risks need to be considered. In the ‘it takes two to tango’ process of engagement, it offers an opportunity for co-production, the demonstration of care, and the starting point for building a relationship. 

It is also worth considering that the supervisee is not ‘tangoing’ in isolation. They may well have more than one ‘partner’ at any one time. In addition to the probation supervisor, they may be engaging with a caseworker at a drugs agency and/or a mental health support worker. Additionally, they may well have a long history of past encounters with the same and other agencies. The research suggests that these experiences are likely to influence the individual’s desistance journey; the trick therefore is making each encounter count.

Saturday 27 March 2021

Antidote to a Scary World 2

"When was the last time you actually ‘published’ or even tweeted about anything remotely positive ‘Jim’? Happy to contribute but you need to drop the shit cloud image first."

The Secret Life of components. A series of eight guides for designers and makers

Introducing the wonderful world of Tim Hunkin. For those not aware of this amazing man who, in the best traditions of shed engineering, has taken things to a whole new level. This on the Hackaday website:-


If you were an engineering student around the end of the 1980s or the start of the 1990s, your destiny most likely lay in writing 8051 firmware for process controllers or becoming a small cog in a graduate training scheme at a large manufacturer. It was set out for you as a limited set of horizons by the university careers office, ready for you to discover as only a partial truth after graduation.

But the chances are that if you were a British engineering student around that time you didn’t fancy any of that stuff. Instead you harboured a secret dream to be Tim Hunkin’s apprentice. Of course, if you aren’t a Brit, and maybe you are from a different generation, you’ll have responded quizzically to that name. Tim Hunkin? Who?

Tim Hunkin is a British engineer, animator, artist and cartoonist who has produced a long series of very recognisable mechanical devices for public display, including clocks, arcade machines, public spectacles, exhibits and collecting boxes for museums, and much more. He came to my attention as an impressionable young engineer with his late 1980s to early 1990s British TV series The Secret Life Of Machines, in which he took everyday household and office machines and appliances and explained and deconstructed them in an accessible manner for the public.

The show was a radical departure for TV programming with a technical subject, it did not gloss over any of a given device’s internal workings. There was nothing that was deemed to be beyond the comprehension of the masses, instead complex mechanisms or engineering concepts were explained through a combination of stripped down machines, working models, animations, period advertisements, and Hunkin’s knowledgable yet accessible commentary.

He was aided in this by his assistant Rex Garrod, whose job we all coveted, and sometimes by a group of people to explain a machine by a human process. His demonstration of a sewing machine with four people performing the operations to lockstitch together a pair of expanded polystyrene sheets with rope serves as just one example.

The Secret Life Of Machines ran for three series, between 1988 and 1993. In a way it came at the perfect moment for such a show, in that much of the domestic appliances that are now computerised were then still mostly mechanical, so there was much more scope for a Hunkin-style deconstruction. We’ve included an episode at the bottom of this piece, but if you can’t find the rest with a YouTube search he’s put links on his website.

You will find his work today in public as the many automata and other mechanical spectacles that he has created over the years, many of which are on public display at museums, shops, and other locations. He has a YouTube channel on which you can see many of them in action, or if you’re up for a spot of tourism you can seek them out. They are mostly in the UK, but not all of them.

The best places to see Hunkin machines in one place though are his two arcades, Novelty Automation in Holborn, London, and The Under The Pier Show in Southwold, Suffolk. These are a Hunkin take on a traditional coin-operated amusement arcade, with a selection of automata and mechanical games that often have an air of biting social commentary about them. You buy a pot of tokens from the attendant, and are left to explore the machines for yourself.

It was a pilgrimage a group of us made to the London arcade that provided the impetus for this article. Among others there are such delights as “Pet Or Meat“, in which a wheel-of-fortune decides the fate of a cute and fluffy lamb, “The Small Hadron Collider“, in which scientists can battle a modified Pachinko machine for a Nobel Prize – watch for the ball-return mechanism on this one, the “My-Nuke” nuclear reactor which you must load with fuel, “Instant Weight Loss” which calculates and delivers a low-calorie diet, and “Microbreak“, a complete package sunshine holiday from the comfort of an armchair.

If you hadn’t heard of Tim Hunkin until you read this article, I’d suggest that you rectify that by seeking out his website, and by looking on YouTube for The Secret Life Of Machines. Only a small part of his repertoire could ever be squashed into a single Hackaday page. If you should find yourself with time to explore his work in real life, make the trip to one of the arcades or the many locations at which his other creations have been installed. And yes, should an advert ever appear for the job of being his apprentice, there might still be at least one 40-something engineer sorely tempted to leave her post at Hackaday.

Friday 26 March 2021

Attention All Staff

Dear Probation staff in England,

(Wales is a slightly different issue, as is Northern Ireland; and Scotland is different again)

In the last week or so your most senior management team, namely the Chief Exec and the Permanent Secretary, have spent a considerable amount of time telling your paymasters (Parliament) that:
  • they are closely monitoring your caseloads
  • they know your workloads might be demanding but you're all doing just fine
  • local probation leaders report caseloads are high but manageable
  • you are all very motivated and excited about the 'reunification', and
  • no-one should expect the 'reunification' to bring immediate relief because that won't happen.
I find it extraordinary that no-one is taking the opportunity to use this blog as a means to vent their fury about the imaginary picture being painted; that no probation employee is offended by that fictional portrayal of their working life.

I also find it beyond disappointing that your trade unions are not hitting the media with their outrage.

The stunning silence from staff and unions alike is tacit agreement to a gross injustice being played out through the untrue words, the unfair actions and the unrealistic, abusive policies of probation providers (CRC and NPS), HMPPS and - the greatest irony of all - the Ministry of Justice.

I have spent my life and probation career fighting for justice in all forms: justice for staff (as a union rep), justice for clients (as a probation officer), and justice for all (as a human being).

I am, frankly, horrified at the passive acceptance of the abuse being perpetrated upon a once proud profession.

Thursday 25 March 2021

MoJ Beseiged

Anyone watching Antonia Romero, the new Permanent Secretary, performing in front of the Justice Select Committee on Tuesday could be forgiven for thinking everything is pretty much hunky dory at the MoJ. Unfortunately for her, this published yesterday from the Public Accounts Committee, paints a rather different picture:- 

“Besieged” prisons, probation & courts can’t provide justice for “victims, offenders, taxpayers or society”

In its report published today the Public Accounts Committee says the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) "faces significant risks across the full range of its services, without a clear sense of prioritisation" and huge backlogs that have built up are causing "unacceptably long waiting times for people to access justice".

MoJ does not have a clear sense of priorities as it attempts to manage significant change in every part of the system - court reform, building new prisons and introducing, again, a new model for delivering probation services – currently all at critical stages, alongside an expected increase in demand as government implements its plans for 20,000 new police officers and sentencing reforms start taking effect.

A major programme of building new prisons is underway but threatened by an "eye-watering maintenance backlog of around £1 billion" which "poses a real threat to achieving a safe and secure prison estate".

The significant funding uplift for MoJ in the 2020 Spending Review, which included £4 billion for new prison places and £119 million to support the justice system’s recovery from the pandemic, is welcome but comes against a backdrop of deep funding cuts over many years.

Restrictive regimes in prisons during the pandemic have significantly impacted the wellbeing and life chances of prisoners, making it critical that the MoJ and HMPPS accelerate their work to improve the mental health of prisoners.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

"Victims and witnesses waiting in limbo because of the long waits for a day in Court mean justice is too often being delayed to the point of being denied. The prison estate is creaking and the new prison building programme is still years off completion. The promised extra 20,000 police will create more work for courts and prisons and put more pressure on an already severely overstretched system.

A prison system operating with a dangerous maintenance backlog continues to swallow billions of taxpayers money but fails to deliver the key benefit society expects from that investment. The probation system is still reeling from 2014's massive and catastrophic experiment in reform and its juddering reversal.

Our justice system is besieged on all sides and it is not clear the MoJ has a firm grip on this challenge even with a desperately needed funding boost. This isn’t justice for victims, offenders, taxpayers or society."


The justice system is under unprecedented pressure. The Ministry of Justice (the Ministry) is facing significant risks across courts and tribunals, prisons and probation services as it attempts to recover from the pandemic and make progress with ambitious change programmes. The court reform programme is in its final phases but still not in the clear; a major programme of building new prisons is underway but threatened by an eye-watering maintenance backlog of around £1 billion; and HM Prisons and Probation Service (HMPPS) an executive agency of the Ministry, is in the process of reunifying the probation service. These are daunting challenges, made more difficult by the need to plan for and manage the expected surge in demand across the criminal justice system from the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers.

The response to the pandemic has exacerbated existing pressures on the justice system. The backlog in the court system means unacceptably long waiting times for people to access justice. We remain unconvinced that the Ministry and HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) have robust plans in place to manage the challenges in the court system, and for reducing the huge backlogs that have built up.

We are also concerned that restrictive regimes in prisons during the pandemic have worsened prisoner wellbeing and mental health, and social distancing has made the effective provision of rehabilitation and probation services much more challenging. While we are encouraged by HMPPS’s plans for managing the risks in the prison system and probation services, the maintenance backlog poses a real threat to achieving a safe and secure prison estate.

After sustained pressure on its finances, the Ministry received a welcome uplift in the 2020 Spending Review, including £4 billion for new prison places and £119 million to support recovery from the pandemic. Even so, its long-term funding position remains uncertain and hampers its ability to make credible plans to address the risks it faces.

Conclusions and recommendations

1. We are concerned that the Ministry faces significant risks across the full range of its services, without a clear sense of prioritisation. The pandemic has exacerbated the pressure on the justice system and the systemic issues that we have pointed to in the past. Aside from its work to support the justice system to recover from the pandemic, the Ministry has a complex portfolio of 15 projects listed in the Government’s Major Projects Portfolio. Many of these projects are at critical stages, including court reform, building new prisons and introducing a new model for delivering probation services. The Ministry was unable to tell us how it planned to prioritise its efforts as it manages significant change in every part of the system alongside an expected increase in demand as government implements its plans for 20,000 new police officers and sentencing reforms start taking effect. The Ministry and its agencies welcome the significant uplift in the 2020 Spending Review, which included £4 billion for new prison places and £119 million to support the justice system’s recovery from the pandemic, but recognise that this is against a backdrop of deep funding cuts over many years.

Recommendation: In the absence of clear sense of its priorities, the Ministry should set out what contingencies it has if it encounters difficulties delivering its change programmes across courts, prisons and probation services.

2. The pandemic has significantly impacted the wellbeing and life chances of prisoners, making it critical that the Ministry and HMPPS accelerate their work to improve the mental health of prisoners. The need for restrictive regimes to maintain social distancing in prisons during the pandemic has exacerbated the existing mental health challenges that prisoners face. In 2019–20, the incidents of self-harm in prisons remained high, particularly in the female prisoner population. We welcome HMPPS’ work to specifically address the issues facing female prisoners, including maintaining family contact and one-to-one counselling support. It is vital that HMPPS continues to learn lessons from how it manages the impact of the pandemic on prisoner wellbeing and that it sustains this work in the long term. We are encouraged by HMPPS’s commitment to improve its work with others, including the Samaritans and CLINKS.

Recommendation: In its Treasury Minute response to this report, the Ministry and HMPPS should set out what progress they have made with the initiatives they put in place to support prisoner mental health since the beginning of the pandemic and the impact this has had on those in prison.

3. We have limited confidence in the Ministry’s plans for reducing the backlog in the court system, particularly in criminal courts. The backlog in criminal courts was growing before the pandemic, and many organisations have warned that it could take years to clear the backlog. But the Ministry and HMCT could not tell us what level of outstanding caseload is, in their view, acceptable. It is therefore not clear to us what the Ministry is aiming for in its plans to reduce the backlog. What is abundantly clear is the impact that delaying access to justice has on victims and witnesses, who in some cases find themselves waiting years to access justice. There is a risk that the Ministry is overly relying on the potential of technology to manage the increased demand in the court system, without yet having a clear understanding of how the rapid expansion of remote justice impacts on court users or justice outcomes.

Recommendation: The Ministry should write to the Committee within one month to set out its plan, including clear projections and timeframes, to reduce the backlog in the court system, particularly in criminal courts where the backlog is most acute.

4. Despite previous warnings, the Ministry and HMCTS do not yet have a firm grip on the data they need to understand how effective the court reform programme is or its impact on users. Despite past delays, the Ministry says that the court reform programme was on track to deliver to its revised timescale. The pandemic accelerated plans to introduce more video hearings, and it says that delays to other areas of the reform programme are within planned contingencies. The Ministry recognises that collecting the right data consistently is key to understanding whether its reforms are working and how they are impacting users in the justice system. It has plans to publish the data it has collected on the impact of remote hearings, but we are disappointed that it does not yet have a better handle on what data it needs to assess the success of the court reform programme. This is particularly worrying given our past recommendations and those published in the 2019 Digital Justice Report the Ministry itself commissioned. The Ministry accepted all the recommendations, but it appears not to have made any tangible progress.

Recommendation: In its Treasury Minute response, the Ministry should explain how it is managing the impact of the pandemic on the court reform programme, including its plans to respond to the recommendations set out in the 2019 Digital Justice report.

5. We remain concerned that the maintenance backlog poses a real threat to achieving a safe and secure prison estate able to accommodate future prison populations. The latest spending review settlement included a welcome boost of £4 billion in capital spending to support building new prisons, but only £315 million set aside for maintaining the prison estate. With a maintenance backlog valued in November 2019 at nearly £1 billion, this is significantly below what is required to maintain decent, safe prison places. The Ministry’s one-year settlement for revenue funding does not support the long-term planning that is required, and that we have repeatedly called for, to support the effective management of the prison estate. As we have seen in other sectors, there is a risk that without enough money to address resource pressures, the newly announced capital funding could end up being redirected to plug holes in the budget. The Ministry and HMPPS are confident that enough prison places are planned to meet anticipated demand, but there remains significant uncertainty in the justice system. For example, how new police officers are deployed could have significant implications for the demand for prison places.

Recommendation: As part of setting out a long-term strategy for managing the prison estate, the Ministry should explain how it will:
  • work with others in the system, including the Home Office to refine its understanding of demand for prison places; and
  • reduce the maintenance backlog in the existing prison estate
6. Despite the efforts of staff during the pandemic, there are clear signs of strain on people working across courts and tribunals, prisons and probation services. We remain concerned about the unprecedented pressures facing frontline staff at this time. HMPPS says that probation officer caseloads are high but manageable, and that it is seeking to address high and unbalanced caseloads for probation officers as part of the unification of probation services in June 2021. HMPPS also says that managing prison staff absences during the pandemic has been a big challenge, though at the time of our evidence session, 10% of prison staff were absent, and more staff are returning to work. We welcome the news that HMPPS has pressed on with recruiting new prison officers, particularly given the expected increase in the number of prisoners as government recruits 20,000 new police officers.

Recommendation: The Ministry, HMCTS and HMPPS should identify and agree with relevant professional bodies specific actions to support staff working across the system to manage the strain of pandemic recovery efforts, and how it will monitor and support staff through to the end of the pandemic.

Tuesday 23 March 2021

Questions For HMPPS

I notice HMPPS are due in front of the Justice Select Committee this afternoon:-

The Justice Committee takes evidence on 23 March 2021 from the Ministry of Justice, the HM Courts & Tribunals Service and the HM Prison & Probation Service.

Likely areas of questioning
  • What will be the impact on the work of the Ministry of Justice of the thousands of extra police officers and the thousands of extra prison places which the government is planning for the next few years?
  • How has the Covid-19 pandemic slowed the work of courtrooms and complicated the running of prisons? At the same time, has the pandemic also, perhaps, presented opportunities for tackling long-standing problems in novel ways?
These are just some of the questions the Justice Committee will be seeking illumination on when it takes one of its regular looks at the work of the Ministry of Justice, including its financial accounts.

The session will welcome a panel of senior officials from Ministry of Justice on Tuesday 23 March 2021 at 1430 HRS. The proceedings will be broadcast on

The Ministry of Justice spends over £10bn a year. About 50% of this goes on the prison and probation services. Around 20% goes on the courts system, while a further roughly 20% is spent on legal aid.

The annual report and accounts of the Ministry of Justice are usually published each year before the Parliamentary summer recess. This is usually followed by a Justice Committee session with the permanent secretary to discuss them. 


Antonia Romeo, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice 
James McEwen, Interim Chief Financial Officer, Ministry of Justice 
Kevin Sadler, Chief Executive, HM Courts & Tribunals Service 
Jo Farrar, Chief Executive Officer, HM Prison & Probation Service 


Perhaps this session might be an appropriate moment at which to ask about another piece of inconvenient research HMPPS is trying to ignore and raised here by the Daily Mail at the weekend:-

Violent inmates are MORE likely to reoffend after going through ‘rehabilitation’ programmes, reveals shock study kept secret by ministers for three years

Britain's most dangerous prisoners are more likely to reoffend when they leave jail if they are put on a high-profile rehabilitation programme, the Daily Mail can reveal. A bombshell study reveals that offenders who went through the programme posed a greater risk than those who had not – and they went on to commit more crimes after their sentences ended. Yet the Ministry of Justice, which commissioned the study, has still not published the report – nearly three years after it was finished. And despite the findings, ministers have continued to use the programme with thousands of inmates.

Offenders put on the Offender Personality Disorder (OPD) Pathway include killers and rapists. The official criteria for admission says entrants must have been convicted of a serious violent or sexual offence, and ‘assessed as presenting a high likelihood of violent offence repetition and high or very high risk of serious harm to others’. They will also have been diagnosed with ‘a severe form or personality disorder’ linked to their offending, such as psychopathy.

The OPD pathway budget in 2016, the last year for which figures are available, was £64 million. That year, there were 16,000 inmates undertaking it. Violent crime by previously convicted offenders has been rising steadily. Repeat offenders still on probation murdered 155 people in England and Wales in 2019 – almost a quarter of the 623 total, and more than double the figure of 74 in 2015. 

The ministry spent almost £1 million on the OPD study, which was completed in 2018. It was led by Paul Moran, professor of psychiatry at Bristol University. According to ministry documents, the study’s ‘overarching objective’ was ‘to assess effectiveness of the Pathway on reducing reoffending and improving psychological health’. The ministry initially promised to release the report in early 2019, and then, last summer, by October. 

Ministry sources say a firm publication date is still months away, claiming the report has to undergo ‘standard publication processes’. Only then can its ‘key findings be interpreted’. But friends of Professor Moran said the report was approved and ‘signed off’ months ago.

Penal experts and senior MPs from both main parties last night described the failure to publish the report while continuing to use the programme as a ‘scandal’ that was putting the public at risk. John Podmore, a former prison governor, said of the OPD and other psychology programmes: ‘They are a financial scandal, and a scandal in terms of their failure to protect the public.’ Shadow justice secretary David Lammy added: ‘The Government’s approach to rehabilitation is failing miserably. This report may shed light on why. The Government must immediately publish the study in full, without any spin.’

The failure to publish the OPD report echoes the scandal over the Sex Offender Treatment Programme, taken by tens of thousands of rapists and paedophiles. In 2017, it was revealed that a ministry study found those treated were 25 per cent more likely to commit further sex crimes. The findings emerged in 2012, but were kept secret for five years, while the programme continued to be used.

Professor Moran and his team followed 28,000 prisoners for six years, comparing those treated under the OPD pathway with those who were not. The programme has several elements, including prison ‘therapeutic communities’, where prisoners spend hours every week talking about their crimes and problems, and classroom-based cognitive-behavioural psychological courses. Its supporters say it takes a ‘holistic approach’, with a ‘focus on relationship building’ and dealing with previous trauma.

Early last year, Professor Moran gave a series of closed presentations to officials and mental health experts. His audiences were told they could not record them or photograph his slides. He refused to comment when approached, but the Mail has pieced together his findings from several sources who were present.

The future risk posed by offenders is assessed by psychologists and probation officers using the Offender Assessment System (OASyS). Professor Moran revealed that when he compared the OASyS risk scores of his treatment and control groups before they were released, ‘the difference between the treatment and control groups is statistically significant – in favour of the control group’. In other words, the risk of future reoffending among those who got OPD treatment was assessed as higher.

A whistleblower with access to the data confirmed that the report shows those who went through the programme committed more ‘proven offences’ after release. Professor Moran did not offer an explanation as to why offenders on the programme did worse.

A separate study of a prison psychological course known as Resolve, given to medium and high-risk violent inmates, has shown that it makes no impact on whether they commit further violent crimes after release. The OPD and Resolve schemes are two of more than 30 psychological programmes used in prisons. Most have never been evaluated to discover whether they reduce offending or make criminals worse. They are merely ‘accredited’ – rubber-stamped by a panel appointed by the ministry. The panel’s membership, the criteria it uses, and its minutes are all secret.

High-profile repeat offenders include Leroy Campbell, who raped and murdered nurse Lisa Skidmore in 2016, four months after being released from a life sentence. His record included multiple rape convictions. His murder trial heard that he spent time in a psychologically informed prison environment, an integral part of the OPD Pathway.

Graham Towl, professor of psychology at Durham University, who spent eight years as head of psychology for both the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice, told the Mail that prison psychology programmes had become an ‘industry’. He added: ‘It seems to have acquired cult-like characteristics, whereby any evidence or questioning of its efficacy is viewed as an act of disloyalty – hence the culture of secrecy.’

John Podmore, now a professor of applied social sciences at the University of Durham, said: ‘The whole system needs auditing. The public needs to see whether these programmes are making offenders worse, and that their money is being spent effectively.’

Tory MP Bob Neill, chairman of the Commons justice committee, said he was ‘deeply concerned’ by the failure to publish Professor Moran’s report. He added: ‘Just as over the sex offender study, they appear not to have been transparent about a scheme that deals with very serious offenders.’

Penelope Gibbs, of penal reform charity Transform Justice, added: ‘The whole way that the Government designs, signs off and implements rehabilitation programmes is shrouded in mystery, but it is crystal clear that we don’t know whether most of them work. It’s not obvious why their impact has not been assessed, nor why the finished OPD evaluation has not seen the light of day. But the credibility of the justice system relies on greater transparency.’

A government spokesman said: ‘The report’s initial findings are expected to be inconclusive and it would be wrong to draw any conclusions at this stage. We will respond once the study has been published – but would not hesitate to pull funding immediately if [the programme] was found to be unfit for purpose.’

Monday 22 March 2021

Probation Officer Well Being

The Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University recently hosted a webinar on the subject of wellbeing. Guest speakers Dr Jake Phillips and panel, Dr Chalen Westaby, Andrew Fowler and Sam Ainslie. Hosted by Professor Loraine Gelsthorpe

Probation officer well being: emotional labour and burnout amongst probation practitioners in England 

This is what the recent HMI Probation report had to say on the matter:- 

Impact of high caseloads 

The impact on staff wellbeing 

The REA commissioned as part of this project (covered in more detail in section 2.3.3), indicated that high caseloads can negatively affect staff wellbeing. A recent Canadian survey of 541 parole officers (Union of Safety and Justice Employees, 2019) found that the vast majority of custodial and community officers (86 per cent and 87 per cent respectively) believed that their workload was affecting their psychological or physical health. In a study involving an anonymous online survey of 277 Iowan community corrections staff, Rhineberger-Dunn and Mack (2019) found that role overload – defined as stress which occurs when individuals perceive there is too much to do, not enough time to do it, and that the amount of work is more important than the quality of work – was the only variable to predict job stress among a number of factors considered (including dangerousness and threat of harm, role ambiguity and role conflict).

However, there are some conflicting research findings. Garner et al. (2007) undertook a postal survey with 151 drug treatment counsellors from all eight state-run correctional-based treatment programmes in a south-western US state. The authors found that counsellor caseload size was not itself significantly associated with staff burnout; rather, other resource issues such as overall staffing levels, training, and access to ICT were the strongest predictors. 

In our interviews with responsible officers, conducted as part of our 2018/2019 probation inspections, we found many staff spoke about the stress which high workloads had caused them. They informed inspectors that they were having difficulty coping. Phrases used included being “at breaking point”, “burnt out”, or being in a state of “panic”. It was also having an impact on life outside of work: 
“I am just constantly working and thinking about work when I am not in work.” (PSO, CRC) 
“It’s very stressful. I am waking up in the night worrying.” (PSO, CRC) 
A number of staff highlighted that they were now receiving counselling for work-related stress, while others said they had considered leaving the profession. Even when they took steps to report the stress, staff often felt unsupported: 
“I’ve put in stress forms and they’ve been ignored. I have given up putting them in now.” (PO, CRC) 
“I got really stressed at one point and emailed my manager saying I can’t manage and was having panic attacks before I came into the building. But I was advised they couldn’t reduce the caseload.” (PSO, CRC) 
For a number of staff, high workloads had led to either themselves or colleagues having to take a period of sickness: 
“We have people off sick, I mean long-term sick, because of the stress.” (PSO, CRC) 
“I had the highest workload in the CRC, but nothing was done about it despite me asking for help. This culminated in me being signed off sick for two months.” (PSO, CRC) 
When staff were absent due to sickness, this then put an additional strain on those who were still at work. Consequently, due to loyalty to colleagues, some did not feel able to take sick leave, even though they were struggling to cope: 
“I would have been off work with stress, but I can’t put such a burden on my friends and colleagues.” (PSO, CRC) 
“The office has an ethic of not going sick as we are aware that a colleague will then have to pick up the work.” (PSO, CRC) 
Those SPOs interviewed as part of our inspection of NPS central functions echoed the concerns about unmanageable workloads and the impact this was having on their health: 
“I really enjoy my job and believe in what I do but the workload is relentless, especially in offender management, and the impact that the workload has on staff is not acceptable. SPOs have an impossible job and would never be able to meet the demands of the service if they were not prepared to work in their own time due to their commitment to what we do and the staff we manage. The NPS to a large extent runs on the goodwill of operational staff who go above and beyond the hours they are paid for.” (SPO, NPS) 
“The role has become unmanageable, it is a hostile environment, some days I feel the stress of the job will cause a premature death for me. Numerous staff shortages; a job that was done by two people is now done by one.” (SPO, NPS) 
One theme which emerged very strongly from the interviews was that staff were extremely grateful for the advice and support which they received from colleagues. This included: 
• completing each other’s assessments and appointments when required 
• attending meetings on their behalf 
• being mindful of any colleagues who appeared to be struggling, offering whatever assistance possible. 
Some staff also indicated that they would have left their job if it was not for the fact that they felt so appreciative of the team in which they worked. But, as noted above, this loyalty could sometimes be to the detriment of prioritising their own health and wellbeing.

Sunday 21 March 2021

Guest Blog 82

Joining up the dots & the future of real probation work; a personal view

As I approach the twilight of my career in probation, I feel a growing frustration that many of the mirco issues that plague our work block out fundamental and macro concerns that underpin Probation as we know it. I am relieved to be seeing an end and not starting out in probation now. I used to be proud to call myself a probation officer and say I worked in probation, but not sure I can do either now. So for what it's worth, here’s my take on recent times for probation, starting with a very concerning aspect of modern probation practice.

Joining up the dots is a useful way to look at SFO reviews and their findings. Rarely is there a clear story until after the event. Hindsight and all that! If you read his chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw you can see that many headline tragic events (such as 9/11, aircraft disasters, bombings etc) can to some degree be predicted as you work BACK through the story, intel and timelines. But of course, in real time, what happens was not inevitable or maybe even the likely outcome.

The same is clearly true of many SFO’s. Working back, as the dots are joined up, combined with creeping determinism, the sense that grows on us in retrospect is that what has happened was actually very likely to happen that way (Risk Perception and Communication Fischoff 2015) and means conclusions are likely to be about apportioning blame because something was missed or not done. This is rarely the situation. No one sets out or wants to get anything wrong. The impact of blaming staff who are likely to feel tremendous guilt for what has occurred is cruel and nasty. That was not, until recently, in probation’s DNA.

Of course this is due to the journey that “probation“ has been driven over the past 20 years and especially since TR. So if an employer that claims it takes wellbeing seriously and does have a duty of care to its employee’s but is happy to throw front line staff under a bus if blame needs to be seen to be “passed down”, it's not one I want to work for.

It has caused me anger and frustration that decisions as well as blame travel one way, down the food chain and are laid thickly on over-burdened, dedicated staff; those “doing their very best“. Having now read Alison Moss’s book, I was not surprised about what occurred and am aware of other SFO outcomes that have followed a similar roadmap. It is not good enough and SFO’s must be investigated independently if staff confidence is to rebuilt to any degree. Many probation staff no longer trust or respect the highly paid leaders of probation and its toxic culture. Talking the talk is cheap; walking the walk is what you are expected to deliver but have failed.

From a more generic perspective I feel that front line staff are less and less “professionals” and able to make decisions or express their views or assessments (the ndelius professional judgement tag is not what it used to be!!). The ethos of the NPS at least is not a probation valued ethos. I bet current practitioners have cases on recall that are inappropriate and frankly an infringement of those people’s human rights. Disgracefully, service users rights are often secondary to a risk adverse/ineffectual organisation governed from elsewhere/up there.

In fact my position is that we are no longer what most people knew as a Probation Service. The organisation we work for is a wounded animal that services politicians, the media, civil servants and its leaders. Prison works, public protection, victims and risk management are its goals. Front line staff and service users are mere pawns in this chess game. That is not what probation in its glorious 100 year plus history is about. Proper Probation is about putting the service user centre and first. Unless probation work is taken out of the HMPPS and put back into a local multi agency/multi working setting, then it has no future; not as probation.

Some people are dangerous and should be in prison. Some sex offender/DA/violent cases may need to come under a public protection organisation when in the community which puts victims, the public etc first. BUT many of our cases can and should be supported to make new lives for themselves under an assist, advise and refer probation service, run locally, in conjunction with other resettlement agencies (drug, alcohol, accommodation, lifestyle,  employment etc). 
Neither can our work be detached from the injustices of society and upbringing as well as the wider political/economic and social inequalities that are neatly side-lined or ignored in the wider context of the CJS.

Until there is a fundamental rethink and restructure of what probation should be about and could deliver, then we will just carry on as being offender managers and offender supervisors. Probation colleagues from the past would be horrified about the labels we now use for service users and ourselves. Unfortunately, being a probation officer now is vastly removed from the role and job that decades of dedicated workers developed and evolved. That tradition put the client first with the aim to offer hope and a positive change to their lives. 

There is a role for Probation in the future, but unless it finds its home soon then sadly the writing is on the wall for this once valued and valuable profession. Those who believe that Probation now is a better way then that’s ok too and good luck in the future if there is one. But please think of a new name like the offender management service and leave the name of probation to be a symbol of a decent, ethical and caring profession.


Saturday 20 March 2021

Caseloads and Workload

Regular readers will be fully aware that one of the disastrous effects of TR was on the level and nature of caseloads, especially for POs and SPOs moved into the NPS. Alison Moss's recent damning book has laid out in stark detail some of the resulting tragic consequences, rather cogently summed up in this recent Amazon review:-  

Required reading for Probation Staff at all levels

A hair-raising account of abuse by management at the highest level at the behest of politicians in fear of the media. The ‘manage from the top down’ mentality enables and encourages scapegoating of the unfortunate overloaded employee on the ground rather than addressing systemic failures brought about by the disastrous TR (Transformation of Rehabilitation) experiment dreamed up by Chris Grayling, despite warnings and protests from the organisation. This left Probation officers in the National Probation Service supervising the most dangerous individuals with no respite.

The SFO had already been investigated at the time and action was taken at local level. When the politics hit the fan 19 months after the murder, it was decreed that “heads may roll”; clearly understood as an instruction. How can it be reasonable to one-sidedly “investigate” a case like this without interviewing the people being investigated. The whole sorry tale reeks of political machination.

The book highlights the plight of dedicated professionals when things go wrong. It is clear that probation officers and managers work under extreme pressure to the best of their ability, holding on to the values of why they joined the service. They should be aware they could easily be the next to be scapegoated and thrown under the bus to protect the organisation and politicians; who have little understanding of the day-to-day challenges or the reality of working in an under-resourced and overstretched system.

Alison eloquently makes the reader aware that such tragedies are not isolated instances and will continue to occur in the future, despite best practice. The truth is that some men are just too dangerous to ever be released, despite their ‘human rights’.


It will be of considerable interest that HM Inspectorate have just published their findings on the matter:-

Caseloads, workloads and staffing levels in probation services

Within our standards framework for inspecting probation services, our organisational-level standard on staffing (standard 1.2) emphasises the need for: (i) sufficient staff levels to meet workload and caseload demand; and (ii) the active management of practitioners by managers who themselves have a manageable workload. 

This bulletin examines the extent to which probation services have been meeting these expectations, as well as exploring the consequences and the prospects moving forward.

The findings in this report are based on the following five sources of evidence: 

(i) Relevant official Ministry of Justice (MoJ) statistics. 
(ii) Data collected from our probation inspections conducted between June 2018 and June 2019, including aggregated data from over 3,000 case inspections, and qualitative analysis of about 2,000 interviews with frontline probation staff.
(iii) A reanalysis of qualitative data obtained from a survey of senior probation officers conducted for our 2019 inspection of National Probation Service (NPS) central functions.
(iv) A commissioned Rapid Evidence Assessment (REA) of the UK and international evidence about caseloads and workloads in probation services and other related policy spheres.
(v) Interviews with senior officials and leaders on their experiences of workload and caseload management in probation services. 

Key findings and implications
Our key finding is that when probation practitioners hold a caseload of fifty or more, they are less likely to deliver high-quality work meeting the aims of rehabilitation and public protection. A precise target number for caseload cannot be set as there are too many inter-connected variables in relation to case complexity, the available administrative support, and the interventions and services that can be accessed. 5 However, there was a consensus among staff and senior managers that between 50 and 60 cases is the maximum number that can be managed well. 

• Less than half (46 per cent) of probation practitioners believed they had a manageable workload, while just over half (54 per cent) considered that team workloads were actively managed. Probation officers were less positive about their workload than probation services officers, and those working in Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) were less positive than their NPS counterparts. 

• Senior managers in both the CRCs and the NPS agreed that workloads were unbalanced and resulted in stress and anxiety for many staff. Probation practitioners told us that high workloads were exacting a high personal toll upon them in the form of stress, sleeplessness, and fear of making serious mistakes through overwork. 

• Moving forward, in addition to the plans to recruit more staff, there are other promising developments for reducing workload pressures for the probation frontline: 
  • The creation of administrative service hubs, which, if implemented well, can relieve practitioners of many support functions and thus free up time for one-to-one work. 
  • Improved ICT and management information, facilitating faster access to case information, improving partnership working, and avoiding duplication of administrative efforts. 
  • Improved access to accredited programmes and structured interventions, preventing the need for probation frontline workers to make up for gaps in provision with time-consuming and sometimes less effective one-to-one work. 
  • Improved access to wider services, particularly through co-location and the creation of community hubs which put individual service users at the centre of service provision. 
  • Employing support workers with lived experience, helping to engage service users. 
  • Evaluating the potential value of remote supervision and new digital interventions.
This bulletin aims to contribute to understanding how well caseloads and workloads in probation have been managed in recent years, and how they could be managed in the new probation delivery model. 

Concerns over rising caseload and workload levels 
We expressed concern about workloads and staffing levels in our 2020 submission to the Comprehensive Spending Review (HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2020a), stating: ‘probation staff are struggling to manage high numbers of offenders – 86 per cent of staff in CRCs and 33 per cent in NPS divisions are responsible for more than 40 cases. In our opinion, it is difficult for even experienced practitioners to deal with 60, 70, 80 or more cases properly. Financial pressures have also led to some CRC providers replacing qualified probation officers with less experienced staff who are still training towards a qualification.’ The human price of high workloads was also emphasised by our Chief inspector in a recent speech as he noted that “the impact of this on some of the staff we spoke to was clear. Some were in tears as we spoke to them. Others spoke of being burnt out and of having to work evenings and weekends to keep their head above water” (Russell, 2020). 

Causes of rising caseloads and workloads 
Transforming Rehabilitation has been a key driver in relation to changes in caseloads in recent years. In June 2014, 35 public sector probation trusts in England and Wales were replaced by: (i) a new public sector NPS with responsibility for supervising those who present a high or very high risk of serious harm or who are managed under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA); and (ii) 21 private sector led CRCs with responsibility for supervising most other service users presenting a low or medium risk of serious harm. As such, staff were no longer supervising ‘mixed’ caseloads in terms of risk levels. 

Transforming Rehabilitation also introduced (through the Offender Rehabilitation Act (ORA) 2014) a new duty on probation services to supervise prisoners released from short prison sentences of less than 12 months. Post-sentence supervision came into effect for those whose offence was committed after 01 February 2015 and who would be over the age of 18 at the point of release. This considerably increased the number of post-release service users managed by probation in the community, climbing from just under 40,000 on 31 March 2015, to 68,863 on 31 March 2020, a rise of 74 per cent. Prior to Transforming Rehabilitation, the caseload for the probation trusts had been falling year on year since 2000. 

Another driver of caseload change has been the introduction of the suspended sentence order (SSO) in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 introducing SSOs without requirements) – these orders have proved popular at the expense of community orders (COs). Those currently supervised under COs have declined by 31 per cent since 2008, whereas SSOs have remained relatively stable (minus two per cent). 

The result of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms combined with offending and sentencing trends have left probation services with a caseload of service users who have more complex needs, more entrenched offending attitudes, behaviours and lifestyles, and often higher levels of risk than before the ORA was implemented. 

What is an acceptable caseload size? 
In providing context for their REA on probation caseloads, Fox et al. (2020) noted that the question of identifying optimum caseloads and workloads for probation staff has always been complex, as governments have consistently sought to reconcile the competing aims of maximum effectiveness and value for public money. Across Europe, different jurisdictions have very different models of probation. The most recent Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics (Council of Europe, 2019) found that the ratio of probationers per individual staff member varied from 4.7 in Norway to 240 in Greece with an average (median) ratio of 33 cases. 

Within the UK, there is no legislation or guidance specifying the ideal or maximum caseload size to be held by a probation worker, and there is no definitive research to establish the optimum workload in terms of mix and numbers for effective work with those subject to probation supervision. However, Rule 29 within the European Probation Rules (Council of Europe, 2010a) states as follows: ‘Probation staff shall be sufficiently numerous to carry out their work effectively. Individual staff members shall have a caseload which allows them to supervise, guide and assist offenders effectively and humanely and, where appropriate, to work with their families and, where applicable, victims. Where demand is excessive, it is the responsibility of management to seek solutions and to instruct staff about which tasks are to take priority.’ Further elaboration is provided in the accompanying commentary: 

‘An adequate staff complement is essential to the agency’s effectiveness and efficiency. If staff workloads are too large, then the probation agency will not be able to work as it should. Workloads should be assessed in a holistic way with an assessment made of the demands of individual cases and not simply on the number of cases or offenders under supervision. An overall shortage of resources constrains an organisation’s potential and excessive workloads will prevent individual members of staff from achieving their best practice. This Rule appreciates that agencies may not have as many resources as would be ideal. If the workload of an individual staff member becomes excessive, then the importance of setting priorities becomes even more pressing. The Rule states that management has a responsibility to devise strategies to manage demand and to assign a reasonable and equitable workload to members of staff. Where this cannot be achieved because of pressure on resources, managers should be actively involved in advising staff about which tasks must take priority over others.’ Council of Europe, 2010 

In England and Wales, Webster et al. (2020, unpublished) noted that the changes occasioned by Transforming Rehabilitation have led to a number of contentious discussion points among the probation community including the following: 
  • What is the long-term impact for NPS staff of managing a caseload solely comprising those who have committed offences causing high levels of harm to the public? (Phillips et al., 2016)
  • What is an appropriate caseload for responsible officers in CRCs who are operating to very different models and expectations, depending on the approach of their owner?
  • Should caseloads be lower for NPS staff supervising those presenting a high risk of serious harm or are the demands of supervising more low/medium risk service users within CRCs actually greater, recognising that a greater proportion may have a high likelihood of reoffending, multiple needs and chaotic lifestyles?
Some of these issues will be superseded by forthcoming reforms to the probation sector, whereby all offender management will move to the NPS in June 2021. However, these issues are still of relevance to the findings in this bulletin.



Analysis of the qualitative data from the staff interviews revealed how individual staff felt about the manageability of their workloads. There were some staff members who described their workloads as manageable, and indeed there was one officer (but only one) who had asked management for additional cases. Yet even when staff said their workloads were manageable, they often then added that it was still “not ideal”, or only manageable “to a degree.” They were also aware of other colleagues whose caseloads were not manageable. 

Nevertheless, the overwhelming message from staff was that they saw their caseload levels as too high to be manageable, with one describing caseloads as “an ongoing nightmare.” In some CRCs, staff reported that they had over 100 cases to manage, whereas the ideal was seen by staff to be somewhere around 45 cases: 
“60 cases for a PO is too many. I would be completing quality work if this was approximately 15 less.” (PO, CRC) 

“I think a caseload that is manageable would be 45 to 50 but I am above that.” (PSO, CRC) 

“I would prefer to have 40 cases where I can do more meaningful work.” (PSO, CRC) 
CRC senior leaders we interviewed agreed with that benchmark for case numbers, one remarking, “40 to 50 cases [has been] seen as reasonable since time immemorial.” Another CRC leader argued that more than 45 cases was too many life stories to try to absorb. Linked to the high-risk nature of NPS cases, caseloads were generally lower, but still many staff reported being over capacity: 
“My caseload has traditionally been over 60 and it is not manageable. I have forced the issue with my manager to have it reduced so I can try and deliver a quality service. All except two of my cases are high risk.” (PO, NPS) 
Within the CRCs, PSOs could play an important role in easing workloads. However, due to the differing nature of the cases, it was often not appropriate for cases to be allocated to PSOs within the NPS: 
“The team has a high proportion of trainees and PSOs and so there are limits as to the number and type of cases that the staff can hold” (PO, NPS)  
“Across the team we have PSOs with capacity to do more but they can’t hold the high-risk cases we need managing.” (PO, NPS) 
Those who were working part-time said they felt additional strain, and that allowances were not always made for their reduced hours: 
“I went part-time, but my caseload did not change.” (PSO, CRC)  
“I work part-time, but I hold what I would consider to be a full-time workload.” (PO, CRC) 
Even though many staff did say that their workloads were now lower than they had been in the past, they were still seen to be far too high. 
“Workload is not manageable although it has been significantly worse in recent months.” (PSO, CRC)  
“I used to have 67 cases, so 57 seems more manageable in comparison. But this in itself is not manageable.” (PSO, CRC)


Where staff considered their workloads to be manageable, they often said this was due to caseloads being actively managed: 
“Managers are very good at reallocations and take good care not to overload those who may not have the mental or physical capacity to have their caseloads increased.” (PSO, CRC) 
For others, even though they believed that their work was being managed, this had not led to a smooth-running system: 
“It would be unfair to say we are not actively managed but there is a lot of firefighting.” (PO, CRC) 
In some areas, staff were able to have their cases reallocated to new staff or PSOs but this was not the norm. In many areas, while managers were sympathetic, there was little that could be done regarding reallocation. Often there did not appear to be a ceiling to the number of cases which staff could hold, and as all cases had to be allocated to someone, staff did not feel in a position to refuse work, even when they were already over capacity: 
“Our manager understands, but the cases can’t go anywhere else as no one else is not up to capacity.” (PO, CRC) “Everyone is struggling with workloads but there is no one else to redeploy the cases to.” (PO, CRC)
In these instances, the main advice which managers could give was around how best to prioritise workloads. There were also concerns from many staff that if they did have work taken off them, it would simply be reallocated to a colleague who was similarly overworked: 
“I was struggling with stress and my manager eventually took 10 cases off me but she gave them to a colleague who sat next to me. I then had to watch her struggling. It really affected our relationship.” (PSO, CRC) 
“There are difficulties in managing the cases we have, then when we are covering for others – which is quite often – it causes more difficulties.” (PSO, NPS) 
The NPS use the online Workload Measurement Tool (WMT) to monitor staff capacity. Much of the data is uploaded each evening from the nDelius case management system but line managers need to undertake some data entry (adding reductions or changing contracted work hours as appropriate) and to monitor accuracy. The WMT takes account of: 
  • attributable time (time spent managing service users) 
  • non-attributable time (travel, ICT problems, supervision, comfort breaks – 16 per cent is assumed) 
  • non-effective time (holidays, sickness, training – 20 percent is assumed). 
The current measure of excessive workload is where an officer has a WMT capacity of over 110 per cent over a consecutive four-week period. 

Some CRCs have commissioned bespoke workload measurement systems, or use resource management tools or other manual calculation methods based upon routine management information. 

When speaking to probation staff, many indicated that their levels on the WMT or equivalent systems were constantly over 100 per cent. Consequently, they deemed the tools largely ineffective for managing workloads, and seeing the high numbers could be a cause of raised anxiety: 
“The last time I looked at the WMT I had the highest workload so I have stopped looking at it.” (PSO, CRC) 
“Staff often do not know how many cases they have as they find it distressing. I purposely do not look at the WMT because it is always over 100 per cent and causes me stress.” (PO, NPS) 
Managers complained that they often felt that they did not have the time to complete the WMT. It was also noted that this rarely offered a full picture, with the time required for more complex cases or other tasks not being accurately reflected. This was seen by one PO as especially true in the NPS, although there will be other aspects of complexity in managing CRC cases: 
”NPS have complex cases which generate parole reports, referrals, ARMS assessments, recall reviews etc. These processes are massive and it is difficult to keep up with the pace. The WMT does not adequately account for all the work that is required.” (PO, NPS)
Those senior NPS managers we interviewed were concerned at the focus given by some staff to the WMT capacity metric, with one senior leader recognising that it did not fully reflect the manageability of an individual’s workload, going on to explain: 
“[WMT] is not a tool for telling you whether an offender manager has got too many cases. It is to tell you whether compared to their colleagues they’ve got too many cases. It is to balance a caseload, not to say whether too much is too much. If one offender manager has a score of 130 and another has a score of 70, that does not tell you that the person with 130 has too much workload – they may be able to manage that – but it does tell you that the workload is unbalanced.” (NPS senior official) 
There is clearly a need to better communicate the purpose of the WMT to frontline NPS staff and create a common understanding of what the capacity metric does and does not demonstrate. It currently appears to be causing considerable stress and anxiety to those for whom being anywhere over 100 per cent logically feels like the workload is too high (although, of course, this may well be the case). A senior NPS HQ official did concede that a WMT capacity metric over 120 per cent was, on average, too high but it was important to remember that the number could not describe the full complexity of probation work situations. 

One of the hopes for the new unified probation service from summer 2021 is that the revised WMT will be able to demonstrate more clearly when ‘probation is full’ in a similar fashion to the measures that indicate when prisons are overcrowded.
While there is no ‘magic number’ for the ideal caseload in probation services, our analysis demonstrates how the quality of probation delivery can fall when practitioners hold caseloads above 50. This is in line with the, albeit limited, academic evidence that reducing probation caseloads is associated with improved compliance and reductions in reoffending. Notably, there was a consensus among staff and senior managers that between 50 and 60 cases is the maximum number that can be managed well. The toll that higher caseloads was having upon staff in terms of stress, anxiety and sickness was very evident. 

Transforming Rehabilitation was experienced as painful by many probation staff, whether they worked in the NPS or in a CRC. Probation leaders will need to work hard to rebuild trust and heal the rifts that have developed within the profession. Senior leaders we spoke to agreed that there should no further ‘big bang’ for probation, with caseloads slowly blended after appropriate training and bedding-in periods. CRC staff will need refresher training, or to be inducted, into working with sexual offenders, MAPPA cases, and foreign nationals. NPS staff will need to (re)learn the challenging work of managing low and medium risk of serious harm cases, where post-sentence discovery often reveals chaotic lifestyles, multiple needs and deeper problems such as domestic abuse and child safeguarding concerns. 

The Probation Reform Programme is an opportunity for joint learning and the sharing of experience that could help overcome divisions and build the new probation culture so urgently needed. In addition to the plans to recruit more staff, there is much to learn and retain from the CRCs who have developed innovations such as support hubs, co-location with statutory and voluntary partners, and service user involvement. These initiatives, when implemented well, have improved service delivery and relieved some of the workload burden on the frontline. CRCs have led the way in working with or developing community hubs to bring probation into neighbourhoods and ease access to essential services (HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2020e). Some CRCs have co-located with other agencies to reduce costs, while improving information flows, referrals and joint work. 

The Workload Measurement Tool (WMT) is being taken forward in the unified probation service. The tool is being used to model staffing requirements and likely caseload scenarios, including the impact of an additional 20,000 police officers to be recruited over the next three years. The WMT will need revising to meet the post-pandemic world of work; there is the potential for more remote supervision, more home visits, and more working from home. The time values at the heart of the WMT will require reworking in consultation with frontline staff and middle managers. Staff also need a clear explanation from probation leaders as to the function of the WMT. Leaders must stress that it is not necessarily a reliable indicator of workload at the individual level, but a management tool for rebalancing team workload and caseload. At a strategic level, it could be invaluable in making the case for resources, particularly if it could indicate more clearly when probation services are operating at a maximum capacity (in a similar way to how HMPPS monitors prison capacity). 

The innovations we have seen in the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent probation EDMs will need to be carefully evaluated in terms of the impact on workloads. For example, although travel times have been radically reduced by remote supervision (telephone or videoconferencing), the amount of contact has in some instances increased. Moreover, we currently have no strong evidence that remote supervision is an effective means to 31 supervise and help rehabilitate probation service users, and protect the public (HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2019a). The Target Operating Model for the new unified service proposes a blended approach to contact (HMPPS, 2021), and we have thus recommended in a recent thematic review that HMPPS should ‘urgently conduct a large-scale, robust outcome evaluation of the effectiveness of remote (telephone-based) supervision for different types of service user’ (HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2021). 

Probation staff and managers have demonstrated impressive levels of dedication and resilience to keep services running and keep protecting society during the Covid-19 pandemic. Moving forward, the frontline and their leaders are clearly determined to successfully unify and reinvent probation for new times. But, as we emphasised in our 2019/2020 Annual Report, success will also depend upon: 
  • a reasonable financial settlement enabling the recruitment and training of sufficient qualified staff 
  • providing the right amount of administrative support 
  • ensuring the availability of a broad range of interventions and community services for probation service users.