Thursday 30 September 2021

We Need Our Independence

Writing in the Spectator, here we have yet another potent reminder from a former insider of the massive uphill task we in probation have in no longer being an independent service. The uncomfortable truth is that being shackled to a uniformed service is toxic at worst and unhelpful at best. 

The problem with having a happy clappy prison service

The new Justice Secretary Dominic Raab has said in the past that he wants prison to be ‘unpleasant.’ To that extent he should be pleasantly surprised. Our prisons are indeed engines of despair, indolence, violence and incivility. Our Prison and Probation Service, notoriously allergic to transparency and accountability, has been able to camouflage this to some extent during the pandemic. It’s harder for prisoners to be unpleasant when they’re locked down in a space hardly bigger than a disabled toilet for 23 hours a day.

In the meantime, the department Raab has now inherited – with an ever-growing army of HQ bureaucrats – has not been idle. The prison service has been producing reams of specious drivel on intersectionality, unconscious bias and all manner of fashionable happy-clappy while the front line bleeds. The Director General of prisons recently sent to staff a photograph of him taking the knee outside HMP Durham – where at the last inspection nearly a third of prisoners reported being unsafe and a third were hooked on drugs.

During this time, the brute reality of prison life has not been slowed by progressive rhetoric. Inquests on two terrorists revealed a catalogue of blunders and jaw dropping naivete inside our High Security prisons that led to murder and mayhem on our streets. A privately run juvenile prison was deemed so badly run and dangerous it had to be closed. A local prison was described as so violent and unsafe with staff so demoralised that inspectors invoked a little used urgent warning to the Justice Secretary. And the prison service has produced policies that mean biologically male sex offenders who declare they have transitioned have been housed with female prisoners who have endured sexual abuse.

But is there any connection between the prison service’s current fixation on fashionable orthodoxies and what happens on the front line? Mr Raab will need to make up his own mind. He will certainly be briefed by his new officials that a large operational service with over 50,000 staff needs to be up to date with efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace and, to the extent it is possible, with prisoners.

There are lots of good questions for Raab to ask to test whether this operational service is focused on the right priorities . Why is an organisation that asks its staff to call convicted prisoners ‘residents’ content to hold them in places the RSPCA would close down if they housed livestock? How does a ‘rehabilitation culture’ actually work in prisons controlled by illicit drugs cartels where harried and battered staff are reduced to helpless onlookers? Is housing male bodied sex offenders in female prisons on the basis of self-declared ID helping the safety of abused women prisoners and public confidence? Is it right that the head of the prison and probation service should double the job with being the second permanent secretary at the justice department?

The truth is that the prison and probation service abandoned all pretentions of being a law enforcement agency with public protection at its heart years ago. This wouldn’t matter so much if the career-building virtue signalling was accompanied by progress in helping prisoners and stopping more victims in future. But we have the worst recidivism rates in western Europe. Rates of violent assault, suicide and self-harm are off the scale. Frontline uniformed staff are leaving in droves for safer, better paid jobs in the Border Force and Police before their probation is finished.

A change in culture is need — fewer suits and more boots on the landings to drive safety as a total priority. The situation demands radial and drastic action.

There are very good people working at the centre who despair as much as I do about what Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service has become. They speak to me because to speak out publicly would be career ending. Before Mr Raab is mesmerised by the learned helplessness of his new officials he must act to defeat 
a culture that puts more stock in pronouns than clean sheets. The fish rots from the head.

Ian Acheson

Friday 24 September 2021

Napo AGM 2021Motions

The Napo AGM is fast approaching and members have until noon on September 30th to vote on the order in which submitted motions will be discussed. I've particularly noted the following:-

5. SFO – integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality! 

The civil service code sets out standards of commitment to the civil service in its core values: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. These values cannot be brought to the SFO investigation as this is an internal process which too often results in the scapegoating of individual practitioners and a failure to properly consider any organisational failures. Without this being remedied, individual staff members will continue to be traumatised and scapegoated and organisational learning will not take place. 

Napo will campaign for the practitioner to be properly informed and to have full and immediate access to any SFO report in which they are mentioned, alongside access to the complete Action Plan. Napo will also campaign for the SFO process to be independent and external, for instance undertaken by HMIP or Probation Institute. 

Proposer: Napo Cymru

6. Devolve Probation in Wales 

First Minister of Wales, Rt. Hon Mark Drakeford, made the case for Probation in Wales to be a devolved matter in his Bill McWilliams Memorial lecture to the Cambridge Criminology Institute in July this year. Probation should be locally based, freed from the centralised control of Westminster and unshackled from the Prison Service as an agency in its own right, accountable to, but independent from, government. All these factors are included in the proposal outlined by the First Minister. Napo is already committed to these principles in England and in Wales. In Wales there is Welsh Labour policy that Justice as a whole should be devolved. This was the recommendation of the Commission on Justice in Wales published before the pandemic, to which Napo Cymru contributed. Mr Drakeford has been clear that the wholesale devolution of Justice, while an aspiration, would be a long time in the execution. It would therefore be both principled and practical for Probation in Wales to be a devolved matter sooner rather than later. 

Napo will campaign for the devolution of Probation in Wales and will take every opportunity to contribute to discussions and planning in this regard.

Proposer: Napo Cymru

7. Unified probation service, independent and in the public sector 

This AGM welcomes the unification of our Probation Service and sees this as a positive step in the right direction. However, whilst we are pleased we are united and in the public sector, Napo agrees to campaign for the Probation Service to become a local community based organisation free from civil service control, accountable within the structure of local communities and in the public sector. 

Proposer: Thames Valley Branch

8. An independent probation service 

This AGM notes that while substantial success has been achieved around the recreation of a unified service, other aspects of Napo policy have made much less progress. The Service remains enmeshed in the civil and prison services. Nor has there been a concerted effort to debate the propriety of the Service continuing to allow itself to be described as a Criminal Justice Agency that prevents reoffending when the evidential basis for this claim is so slender. Napo resolves therefore to redouble its efforts to campaign for the Service: 

• to be devolved to local regions and Wales; 
• examine critically its crime prevention role; and 
• strengthen its claim to be an agency of social justice as proposed for Wales by Mark         Drakeford, built around a reinstated probation order. 

Proposer: Chris Hignett 
Seconder: Sue McConnel for the Campaigning Network

11. Reverse the Government’s proposed expansion of prison places for women 

This AGM views with alarm recent government plans to spend £150 million on building new prison places for women. This blatantly flies in the face of the recommendations of the Corston Report and other inquiries and reports over the past 20 years, as well as the government’s own ‘female offender strategy’. They have all concluded that prison is rarely a necessary, appropriate or proportionate response for the majority of women clients.

At a time when women’s centres, which support vulnerable women and keep them from entering the criminal justice system, are severely constrained by lack of adequate secure funding and when women’s refuges are having to refuse places to desperate women, to build prisons now is to turn our backs on the very services that keep women out of prison. 

We call on conference to oppose this wasteful and needless expansion, and for such investment to be directed to supporting alternatives in the community. 

We also call upon Campaigning Network to work towards ensuring that the public and sentencers are better informed about the causes of women’s imprisonment, so that proper investment in a national network of women’s centres is seen as the way ahead and not new prison places. 

Proposed: Deb Borgen (London Branch) 
Seconded: Mike Guilfoyle (London Branch)

12. Second Class Citizens 

Many of our members have been left feeling like ‘second class citizens’ as a result of the staff transfer out of CRCs. It seems that for a significant number of members it has not been the smooth ‘lift and shift’ process promised, with many finding themselves facing unexpected challenges such as role alignment problems, last minute news of down-banding and other unwelcome changes impacting on their jobs, careers and future income following the cessation of pay protection. Appeal arrangements appear to have been ineffective and inflexible. 

This AGM requests that Napo conducts a full investigation into the impact upon and detriment suffered by staff transferring jointly, if possible, with other trade unions. Napo should also seek to find out, factual information by survey or other means, such as how many former CRC employees were left dissatisfied with their role alignment, how many appeals were undertaken and not upheld, and how many employees have either registered a formal grievance, and/or have been signed off sick during the weeks and months following transfer. 

This AGM further requests that when this investigation is completed that, media releases are prepared, and that the findings and recommendations are published widely. 

Proposed: Paul Fairbrass (London Branch) 
Seconded: David Raho (London Branch)

16. Staffing Levels 

This AGM notes there are increasing pressures being put on staff which have become untenable making staff retention impossible. In some areas staff numbers are so low it has led to some Probation Delivery Areas being designated as HMPPS ‘Red Sites’ and others hovering close to the Red Site criteria. Although emergency delivery measures and contingency plans have been discussed they have been slow to be put in place leaving staff in understaffed areas overworked, stressed out and feeling overwhelmed and under protected. 

This AGM believes that there need to be clear processes in place that are activated whenever an area becomes a Red Site. These should include measures to protect overworked staff from the Serious Further Offence ‘early look’ and ‘review’ processes, by clearly stating where Corporate Responsibility would apply. 

This AGM urgently requests our National Officers and Officials to take immediate action to protect our staff through any and all means available including industrial action. 

Proposer: London Branch

18. Shared Services Connected Limited (SSCL) – another financial mess… 

This AGM understands that many members have been presented with financial issues, including overpayments, underpayments or indeed non-payment as the case may be. In addition, members have experienced issues with expenses, pensions, changes to their Additional Voluntary Contributions (AVC) and income tax. An already struggling SSCL is seemingly out of their depth and unprepared for the reunification of Probation Services, often leaving the onus on the individual member to attempt to sort out their specific issues with little or no support. 

This AGM believes, given the number of ongoing and growing problems with SSCL, that each Probation region should have its own department set up specifically to deal with these issues to ensure local and early resolution. 

This AGM compels the National Officers and Officials to negotiate with the Probation Service to put in place a Regional Financial structure, which will act as a single point of contact for all staff financial matters. 

Proposer: London Branch

21. Workloads 

This AGM is concerned that Probation Service members from all grades are reporting feeling burned out and unable to cope with the ever increasing and unreasonable demands put upon them. We seem to have a workload measurement tool that is not fit for purpose, with many new tasks and onerous processes not being accounted for. Not only that, the tool neglects many members such as admin, SPOs, AP staff and those facilitating unpaid work or delivering programmes. 

This AGM therefore instructs Napo to insist on openness and transparency from the employer regarding the formula for determining establishment figures. Furthermore, this AGM requests that Napo national Officers and Officials use this information to push for proper measurement and management of workloads for all members. 

If no progress is made by 31st December 2021, this AGM requests that Napo registers a Workloads dispute with our employer. 

Proposer: South Yorkshire Branch

22. Save Our Specialisms 

This AGM is concerned that the end state model of the Structured Interventions Model subsumes Divisional Sexual Offending Units (DSOUs) into a generic Interventions Team with the intention that facilitators will deliver a variety of offending programmes across the board.

Dilution of roles in relation to multitasking across programme delivery could risk burnout: multitasking is known to increase stress and susceptibility to errors. Specialist knowledge increases resilience and enables staff to deliver continuously to a high standard. 

DSOUs have a significant amount of expertise in working with men who have sexually offended and it is our belief that the proposed model will significantly dilute the expertise and support that DSOUs provide to the Probation Delivery Units (PDU), particularly in relation to consultation around risk assessment, risk management and delivery of training/consultancy.

This AGM requests that Napo negotiators make the strongest representations in relation to the importance of maintaining the current structure, roles and pay grades of the DSOUs within the new Interventions model and emphasise the likely risks associated with the potential dilution of the DSOU service currently provided to the PDUs, should the proposed end state model be adopted. 

Proposer: London Branch

26. Core Probation learning must be delivered by experienced Probation staff 

This AGM understands that the National Training Team, now part of MoJ Learning and Development, has adopted a policy of recruiting National Trainers who do not have, as a minimum, probation qualifications or experience. 

National Trainers, now referred to as Learner Coach or Facilitator, deliver core learning to PQiP learners and other new entrants, as well as continuous professional development to experienced practitioners. However, recently recruited trainers include those with no previous experience of working in the Criminal Justice System. This means that core skills in engagement, interviewing, and even risk assessment, are now being delivered by those who have never set foot in a probation office or sat opposite a person on probation. We understand this is not done in error and further recruitment will use the same job descriptions. 

This AGM believes that allowing inexperienced and unqualified staff to teach inexperienced and unqualified colleagues can only erode their learning opportunity and impact on their preparedness for the role. Our new colleagues deserve better; our professional integrity deserves better. This AGM calls for Napo to organise and campaign to ensure that only those who are appropriately qualified, probation trained and experienced are employed as National Trainers. 

Proposer: Western Branch

27. Pre-Sentence Reports (PSRs) 

This AGM welcomes the fact that the Secretary of State for Justice has recognised the need for a greater investment in the quality of Pre-Sentence Reports. The Magistrates Association has also stated that it is vital these documents are of sufficient standing to inform the sentencing process. 

This AGM calls for an end to unachievable targets for the completion of ‘on the day’ reports, where vital information on risk, particularly relating to DV and child protection, are more likely to be missed. Adequate time to properly assess vulnerability, e.g. in relation to trauma and/or mental health needs is also essential. 

Probation court staff require workload weightings which properly reflect the time needed to complete high quality report and risk assessments, i.e. ones that meet the professional standards associated with PSRs before the implementation of ‘speedy summary justice’. These weightings must also take into account the increasing amount of work involved in completing the many other assessments needed, in addition to the PSR, which ensures that the finished article meets the demands of ‘quality assurance’.

This AGM directs the Negotiating Committee and Professional and Training Network to press the relevant directorates to implement these realistic and fair workload weightings. 

Proposer: Steve Bradley 
Seconder: Marion Kockelbergh

Thursday 23 September 2021

Probation as Social Work

Over the years politicians from all three main political parties have wrought havoc on the probation ethos, most notably Michael Howard, Jack Straw, Tony Blair, Nick Clegg and Chris Grayling. As 'probation' indulges itself in yet more unedifying self-congratulation, here we have a notable academic explaining what happened, why it happened and why it's definitely time to do something different.

Probation in England and Wales was regarded as social work for most of the 20th century, but some thirty years ago the government rejected this conception, consequently dismissing social work as the proper education for probation staff. 

In this presentation, part of the @DMUPPHub Prison and Probation Series, Professor Rob Canton argues that it is more than time to revisit that decision and consider the implications for probation’s mission.

Saturday 18 September 2021

Latest From Napo 226

Here we have yesterday's mailout from Napo:-

Dear Xxxxxxx

Reject the Public Sector Pay Freeze - Have you voted in the Indicative Ballot?

Napo members in the Probation Service are being asked to vote in an indicative ballot to reject the insulting pay offer from their employer and send a strong protest against the governments public sector pay freeze.

At this week’s Trade Union Congress, it was made clear by many speakers that the only way to defeat the vindictive pay freeze for key public service workers is likely to be through industrial action. Napo’s ballot is an opportunity for of our Probation members to say that they have had enough of being treated with disrespect by this government, enough of 10 years of austerity and the wanton destruction of our public services and enough of low pay, and the impact on your families living standards.

Why It’s not just about pay

While reunification is obviously welcomed, not a day passes without us receiving reports from your local Napo activists, members of your National Executive Committee and elected officers, about unsustainable workloads, staff shortages and the massive pressures being faced by on our members and manager members. There is a long way to go before these problems are resolved and the longer that the Probation service is starved of serious investment then this situation will simply get worse.

It’s a plain fact that until something is done to improve the pay of probation workers the service will fail to recruit and retain the staff that it desperately needs and fail to achieve the plans to rebuild following the disastrous effects of privatisation.

Given the chaos that our members in Probation are experiencing it ought to be an obvious choice to demonstrate your anger and frustration by way of casting your vote to reject the pay freeze in the indicative ballot. By doing so you can directly help to force the employer back into sensible negotiations, but we need our members to support their union and maintain pressure on your employer by taking part in this ballot.

Vote to reject the pay freeze

If you have not already voted, the link to the current indicative ballot is here.

UNISON members in Probation are also being asked to vote against the pay freeze and support industrial action.

Say no to the pay freeze
Say no to the disgraceful 2021 pay offer
Say no to unsustainable workloads, high stress levels and staff shortages

Please support your negotiators in our attempts to secure a decent pay rise for Probation staff

AGM – a chance to come together – in person or virtually!

Napo’s AGM will this year be a hybrid event. We look forward to welcoming as many members as possible to Newcastle. We have a large venue that will allow for social distancing and we are taking steps to ensure that the format supports us all in keeping safe. For members who cannot attend in person we are offering the chance to participate virtually, you will be able to speak and vote on motions and to listen to speakers and participate in the professional sessions. We know that some may be prevented from travelling or being in groups of people due to COVID vulnerability or for any other reason and it is important that we do what we can to avoid excluding people from AGM.

Members employed by the Probation Service will be allowed one day work time to attend AGM on the basis that it contributes to professional development

Pay, workloads, professional issues and COVID recovery are important to all of our members and we know you need a place to talk about them and to find ways to do something about them. AGM gives you that opportunity – don’t miss it, contact your branch for details of the support they are offering and register today!

Plus, in more news:
Napo Stress Survey
SPO Forum 29 September, 1pm

Best Wishes
Napo HQ

Friday 17 September 2021

A Plea

"In the middle of being extremely irritated by the usual shenanigans that forms the bow-wave of an announced inspection, I hear we have a new boss. Just like the old boss, except probably worse. This written on the back of the irritation, not the new boss. I guess the New Boss may fill your blog for a while but if you find this useful, please go ahead, happy for this to be attributed to Pearly Gates."

An Inspector Calls: “Forget your people, polish your files”.

We have notice of an inspection. Understaffed, underpaid, and overworked, we click open our emails to receive the predictable exhortations: all leave cancelled, spreadsheets of cases in the frame, five-page checklists for file cleansing. Managers booking calls to (ahem) talk through the cases, quality assure our work. Of course there is time and resource to do this: they will facilitate Shut Down Days. Translated this is “Forget your people, polish your files”. An already exhausted and depleted team look defeated and stressed.

Inspections make people nervous. Area leads are nervous their area won’t get the best marks. Divisional leads are nervous their division won’t get the best marks. These two rely on our “performance” for their pay and advancement. Next rung down will have a section who are hungry and ambitious for same. Competition. They have stakes in this game.

Caseworkers: how good or bad your area, divisional or team lead looks on the back of this inspection is pretty much irrelevant. Your pay won’t go up or down. The rest of them are pushing down their anxiety onto you. Unless your work is criminal or seriously incompetent, this is all irrelevant and a distraction. Chill. I hope we can individually and together find a way to push back, failing that, if you get in a room with an inspector, just say it like it is.

PS: Is the inspectorate aware of the stress and idiocy that notice of their inspections creates? Wouldn’t unannounced inspections be a better model?

Pearly Gates

Thursday 16 September 2021

Mr Angry At The Helm

We all know Johnson's cabinet consisted of mostly second rate lightweights and despite several deservedly getting the chop yesterday, some might say the situation hasn't improved much. The reshuffle also confirms how low down the food chain the Justice Department is with yet another change. Arguably a reasonably competent minister thrown under the bus and replaced with a very angry and now demoted Dominic Raab. Here's Rob Allen on our new Justice Minister writing in May 2015:-  

Tough and Unpleasant: New Minister's Views on Prisons

Dominic Raab, new Minister at the MoJ, is best known for his views on human rights, set out forcefully in his 2009 polemic The Assault on Liberty. Repealing the Human Rights Act will be his main task but his views on penal policy are noteworthy none the less.

In his book, Raab observes that prisoners have benefited more than most from new categories of human rights "foisted on Britain contrary to the wishes of parliament". He appears to think that the executive should have the power to veto the release of criminals on the grounds of public safety and seems unimpressed by judgments allowing prisoners to practice paganism in their cells or have access to fertility treatment. But Raab also argues that “the prison regime has called out for reform for years- to better prepare offenders for release into the outside world.”

Optimism about what that might entail evaporates quickly while reading another book Raab co-authored after the 2010 election, along with (among others)now fellow ministers Liz Truss and Priti Patel. After The Coalition: A Conservative Agenda for Britain argues that we need to "reverse the tide of soft justice". According to Raab, some judges have declined to jail criminals on human right grounds and punishment in the justice system is too often a dirty word.

There is an unwelcome belief according to Raab that prisoners should be treated in prison in a way that reflects the normal life of freedom that all citizens generally enjoy. He and his colleagues “are not ashamed to say that prisons should be tough, unpleasant and uncomfortable places”. They want persistent offenders sentenced for prolonged periods, praying in aid Howard League research on the ineffectiveness of short prison terms. Raab would also privatise all prisons.

Five years on Raab might take the view that prisons are now sufficiently unpleasant places. But his controversial views surely make the case for some form of pre-appointment scrutiny for would be ministers. The public have a right to know ministers' views about the areas for which they will have responsibilities, direct or indirect, and whether they are suitable candidates. In Raab’s case, I have my doubts.

Rob Allen


Whilst we're about it, lets just remind ourselves of the character of the guy currently occupying No10. This from Monday's Guardian:-

PM condemned for joke about UK becoming ‘Saudi Arabia of penal policy’

Opposition politicians say Boris Johnson remarks about Priti Patel’s policies are a ‘new low’

A joke by Boris Johnson that the UK could become “the Saudi Arabia of penal policy” under Priti Patel has been condemned as “disgusting” and a “new low” by opposition politicians. The prime minister made the remarks, which can be viewed in video footage obtained and reported by Business Insider, during a speech behind closed doors at a Conservative party fundraiser event on 10 September.

“In the immortal words of Priti Patel or Michael Howard or some other hardline home secretary, addressing the inmates of one of our larger prisons: it’s fantastic to see so many of you here,” Johnson told the 300 attenders at the lunch, which took place at the InterContinental London Park Lane in Mayfair.

He went on to joke about the UK becoming the “Saudi Arabia of penal policy” under Patel as part of comments about work on renewable energy. “I said last year we’re the Saudi Arabia of wind. Probably the Saudi Arabia of penal policy, under our wonderful home secretary,” Johnson said.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most punitive regimes in the world. It is one of the few remaining countries to carry out capital punishment by beheading and has long been accused of grave human rights abuses, including the torture of activists. It can impose the death penalty for homosexuality and many drug offences.

Patel has previously indicated her support for the death penalty as a “deterrent” for serious crime, though she has since denied this and suggested she is not an “active supporter” of the policy.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, called the prime minister’s remarks “disgusting”. She tweeted: “Saudi Arabia beheads its own citizens, tortures activists exercising their democratic rights and kills homosexuals. This is disgusting. As ever with Boris Johnson behind closed doors the mask slips and we see what he really thinks.”

Alistair Carmichael, the Lib Dem spokesperson on home affairs, said the comments marked a “new low” for the prime minister. He added: “Saudi Arabia’s appalling human rights record is nothing to joke about. We have real and serious problems with crime and the rule of law in our country that deserve better than sloppy punchlines behind closed doors.

“UK police officers facing the PM’s pay cuts certainly won’t be laughing. Boris Johnson may admire his pals in the Saudi dictatorship but he cannot escape the fact that his Conservative government is failing miserably to do what actually works to prevent crime.”

In January, Politico reported on Johnson’s making a similar joke on a call with 250 business leaders. Downing Street denied he made the comments and said it was “total bollocks”.

During his speech at the event, the first large Tory party fundraiser event since the pandemic began, Johnson praised the role of the private sector in the pandemic.

“And who invented that vaccine, my friends? Was it produced in the laboratories of the Department of Health and Social Care? Was it Public Health England? Was it the NHS? No! No, it wasn’t. No, it was the private sector, it was big pharma, it was the UK pharmaceuticals industry,” the prime minister said.

Johnson also boasted about having been “the only politician who stood up for [the bankers] in 2008”. “We are, basically, fundamentally, the party of enterprise and wealth creation. And I salute the City of London, incarnated here, and I always stick up for the wonderful bankers,” he said, going on to refer to the role of capital in fulfilling his “levelling up” agenda.

Attenders paid up to £500 for tickets to the three-course lunch, raising “a substantial sum of money” for the Cities of London & Westminster Conservative Association as well as for Conservative campaign headquarters and other groups, according to the event’s brochure.


The prime minister’s puerile remarks on penal policy (PM condemned for joke about UK becoming ‘Saudi Arabia of penal policy’, 14 September) plumb new depths in what passes for debate on the subject in this country. Short of conscription, the decision to imprison represents probably the most extreme manifestation of the state’s authority over individuals. Deciding how we exercise that power deserves better than a second-rate stand-up routine.

Peter Dawson
Director, Prison Reform Trust

Tuesday 14 September 2021

I Believe In You

Thanks to the wonderful Talking Pictures TV channel, last night I finally got to see this landmark film of 1952 which enjoys a bit of a cult status amongst POs of a certain vintage. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but from the outset I got a shiver and was instantly transported back to my early days. 

Even from the 80's, it was all recognisable. My own office with nameplate on the door; reverence and disdain from clients in equal measure; a constant stream of life's flotsam and jetsam; matrimonial one minute, criminal cases the next; the urgent call for a Probation Officer at court over the road and being routinely 'volunteered' due to a life-long habit of wearing a tie. 

It might be tempting for some to mock the quaintness of language, dress, social more's, practice and procedure of the time, but for me all the fundamentals of probation practice are present right from the beginning, as indeed the reasons why the role was so attractive to people with a degree of life experience under their belt. 

The court room scenes in particular sent a shiver down my spine, not least because I was there, in court on my feet, saying those very words! I can still hear the Bench chair now "Your Probation Officer seems to feel you warrant a further chance. I will revoke the current order and make a fresh order for 12 months. You are free to go." It was a great feeling because you felt justice had been done; you had earnt your salary; they had another chance; it was the right decision for them and society.

But lets not get too misty-eyed. Very early on we hear the classic line from the star PO "A Probation Officers life is full of disappointments". A truism of course, because the 'failures' keep coming back and the 'successes' we generally never see again. But we never give up and that's the essential message of this wonderful film. 

It may be portraying life 70 years ago, but the basics are exactly the same. Probation as we would recognise it very rarely features on the big or small screen, so try and watch it simply for its rarity value. It may just serve to confirm you made the right career choice and help you deal with all the current managerial and process-driven crap.   


Sunday 12 September 2021

Probation House Style

Probation under civil service control absolutely loves acronyms and there's a very particular management house style I have the greatest difficulty taking seriously and reconciling with the real world. Take for example the latest Insight blog :-
Delivering Quality Interventions in Probation: The Rehabilitation Activity Requirement (RAR)

Jason Morris and Laura Baverstock work as Senior Policy Managers within the Service Design Team in the Probation Reform Programme (PRP). In this blog, they explain the work that has been underway to uphold key commitments to increasing the availability of quality RAR interventions in Probation; make best use of evidence and evaluation; and, preserve Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) innovation with a collaborative approach to service design.

On 26th June 2021, 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) were renationalised and unified with the National Probation Service (NPS) to form a new Probation Service for England and Wales. Since then, the Probation Reform Programme (PRP) has continued its work to implement probation’s Target Operating Model (TOM). The TOM provides a blueprint of how the new Probation Service will operate. As part of this effort, we’ve been working to equip Probation Practitioners and Regional Interventions Teams with quality interventions that enable the delivery of Rehabilitation Activity Requirements (RARs).

The Rehabilitation Activity Requirement

RARs form part of a Community Order or Suspended Sentence Order to set the amount and type of rehabilitation activity for people on probation. They were introduced in the Offender Rehabilitation Act (2014), as a distinct sentencing option to the ‘programme requirement’ (fulfilled through Accredited Programme completion). Prior to reunification hundreds of identifiable RAR interventions were available across the CRCs alongside many other bespoke interventions. Over recent years, room for improvement has been identified in the delivery of RARs both from the academic community and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP).

The TOM sets out how the Probation Service will deliver RARs. A large amount of RAR activity will be commissioned from partner organisations through “Commissioned Rehabilitative Services”. The main vehicle for Probation Service-delivered RARs will be in the form of Structured Interventions and Probation Practitioner Toolkits (also referred to below simply as "toolkits"). Structured Interventions provide a set of exercises delivered primarily to groups by interventions facilitators in a set sequence. Toolkits are comprised of similar material delivered by the Probation Practitioner on a one-to-one basis as part of supervision.

Our task now is to ensure that the TOM is fully implemented to ensure consistency in the availability and quality of Structured Interventions and toolkits. This will improve confidence amongst stakeholders (including the courts) around how the Probation Service delivers RARs.

Approved Suites: Structured Interventions and Probation Practitioner Toolkits

The national Effective Interventions Panel (EIP) played a key role in the lead up to reunification, by enabling RAR interventions to be appraised against seven core principles set out by the Correctional Services Accreditation Advice Panel (principles that are distinct from those required for Accredited Programmes).

The Seven Principles used within the EIP to assess Structured Interventions and toolkits are as follows:

1. Alignment with an evidence base
2. Credible rationale for how, why and for whom the intervention will work
3. A structure that allows replication
4. A selection process that targets the intervention appropriately
5. To equip people with useful skills and ensure that no one will be disadvantaged or harmed
6. Quality assurance to ensure it is delivered as designed.
7. A commitment to research and evaluation

The EIP is made up of experts from across HMPPS. Panel sessions involve a democratic scoring process, which results in recommendations and conclusions that are fed back to developers.

HMPPS Contract Management and the PRP Service Design Team identified interventions from CRC rate cards to continue as Structured Interventions in the unified Probation Service “post contract”. In addition, the EIP sat eight times between October 2020 and January 2021 to appraise 45 Structured interventions. A total of 37 were ear marked for incorporation into an Approved Suite of Structured Interventions that would come into effect by April 2022.

The EIP also sat 10 times to appraise Probation Practitioner Toolkits between April and May 2021. During these toolkit EIP sessions, a total of 24 sets of materials were appraised and seven toolkits were provisionally approved for inclusion in an 'Approved Suite of Probation Practitioner Toolkits'.

EIP decisions were then ratified through a further governance process which approved development work to finalise the approved suites of toolkits and Structured Interventions. The overarching ambition for Probation Practitioner Toolkits was to create greater alignment across the suite to increase their potential to work as wraparound support for other interventions. In addition, several overlapping EIP-approved Structured Interventions were identified for amalgamation into single offers via workgroups comprised of staff from Regional Interventions Teams. A total of 12 Structured Interventions would account for all Structured Intervention delivery from April 2022 onwards.

The Structured Intervention workgroups offer a key opportunity to refine innovation in a stepwise fashion to Structured Interventions:

- fully adhere to EIP principles

- build on CRC innovation

- involve people on probation as co-creators

- integrate sentence management support through alignment with toolkits

Clinical and strategic oversight for Structured Interventions and toolkits will continue to be provided by the national EIP process. This governance will help establish toolkits as the vehicle for RAR delivery within the role of the Probation Practitioner; a step that aims to help put the supervisory relationship back at the heart of probation work. Furthermore, continued EIP governance will help us to work towards greater content alignment between supervision and in-house interventions (such as Structured Interventions and Accredited Programmes). This has the potential to enable interventions to combine more holistically, making the experience of probation more cohesive for people accessing a range of probation services.

Monday 6 September 2021

How's It All Going?

How come there is little comment on this blog on how the training that is crap e learning and caseloads are going since the merger of CRC NPS not to mention any sickness absence through stress?

I regret I cannot answer but wonder why does not Anon tell us all s/he knows rather than just hint?

I have definitely myself commented more than once on the lack of training available to staff, specifically on one to one work and skills to meaningfully address key issues such as anger/stress management, personal wellbeing and other skills. The "mandatory" e learning in child protection and domestic violence are in particular very basic and belittling. The mantra of probation today appears to be about referring the person on, either to other services, offending behaviour programmes that most have already attended, or watered down commissioned out services. I'm not against individuals working with other agencies...but I have started to question what the point of an individual actually attending probation is anymore. While a load of "exercises" have been chucked into equip, the skills based training to actually deliver meaningful supervision sessions is sorely lacking. The focus on writing parole reports and assessments using paint by numbers QA tools misses the point entirely.

HMPPS/NPS have their foot on the throats of staff - "one wrong move & we'll crush your larynx." Everyone's terrified of getting caught out. Welcome to the New Probation Service. Everyone knows it. Probation Staff Survey 2021 states: "We will only report statistics where we have enough replies to ensure that no individual can be identified." Taking Back Control. Freedom. A World Class System. Or just right-wing totalitarianism? Wouldn't surprise me if JB hasn't had a shot across his bows warning him to "publish positive propaganda or we'll close you down".

You can always make an FOI request. A simple and risk free task for a retired colleague. Just keep bombarding them with FOIs. Stress is the biggest cause of stress across the PS at the moment. They'll blame it on anything other than poor workforce planning and Tory bungling. The people being punished are experienced staff at the frontline. No other profession gets treated this way and certainly not proper civil servants. No one in their right mind would want to join probation whilst it is in its current state.

As a returning PO out after 15 years and in post for 16 weeks what have I found? incredible pressure on main grade staff, cover your arse comments from some managers, a blame culture and the depressing loss of passionate staff who are simply fed up and or over worked. I have huge admiration for my fellow main grade staff, and for some SPO, above that I have no idea, never met them and the blurb that comes out is not relevant. It's the loss of passionate new staff that I find most concerning. They are the future.

If they believe your concern is genuine. There's the rub. Where I am we are starting to see the steely glare of management morphing to the wide eyed panic of rabbits in headlights, as staff leave, recruitment adverts illicit no response, and long term sickness absences seem to be increasing. I'd be interested to know what the long term sickness absences look like across the board: in my office it is a significant proportion of the dwindling staff. Whenever I see this discussed, there is a defensiveness: the figures can't be compared because the CRC stats are not available or comparable or relevant now. Or it's all down to Covid so obviously we can't extrapolate or draw conclusions in this exceptional time. Not for the first time the words WE WARNED YOU spring to mind. It's all a bit of a mess, isn't it?

Yes and the mess is getting bigger as experienced colleagues start taking their early retirement and now leaving as an option to carrying on. 3 months notice and no replacement so the solution of the management team is to add their hours to yours and if you complain it's classed as a business need get on with it. Apparently anyone can do this job and a recruitment drive eventually will fill in the vacancies. Not sure who will train these new people but hey... yet another business need and another job on top of the ever increasing workload.

Staff at 60 will always have planned to go. It's what the NPS actually want. Old ideas values reform ideologies are to be vanquished on the dereliction of people services. It has been said a long while back on this blog there is no need for any professional judgement as we are moving to a penalty organisation. Infiltrated by police, crime is a process for punishment as more attractive to the Tories than reform. Punishment is meted out as a tariff on balance to the crime. Reform is costly and measures are not easily transformed into figures of achievement.

So we have seen and it cannot escape anyone's notice the promotion structure has favoured aggressive thickening attitudes from some nasty characters many at DD level. The CRCs have a part to play in their left over disasters now in power roles. Probation for officers is finished. Probation is not what it was or should be but it will be unrecognisable in a few years and specialist training for certain roles is all we need. The rest of you will be cheap to hire and fire as the PO will finally be sunk by the superior PO managers who have no value stock in their original career base. It is because they think they are special to achieve this financial status and lower so they will do as they are bid.

As a local Napo rep who does her best for members I take exception to all this Napo bashing that makes me wonder whether there are in fact senior management stooges on here having a cheap shot and trying to cause as much anti-union sentiment as possible. Constructive and informed criticism is surely preferable to name calling. The way to change how a union represents people is to join it and use the democratic processes to elect those you want. You are not stuck with leaders. If you resort to name calling or misrepresentation of facts then you are simply contributing to the problem rather than being part of the solution. This blog should be building bridges to the unions and those who want to support probation. Many potential allies of the profession and potential new voices are put off by name calling and lack of reasoned arguments.

JB Things are indeed grim. I have been a probation officer for 17 years and never known so many people going off with stress and no let up of allocations. The so called workload management tool indicates how much in excess of 100%. If we were paid according to the WMT then it would be fiddled to keep us all at 100%. I am 40% over and a PQIP just went off with stress literally ran from the building sobbing on Friday. Surely my salary should be increased by 40%. There is no one left except one other officer who said she is at breaking point. What happens when I am the last one there? 

I heard they are threatening people who are off with stress to come back to work. All the experienced colleagues have left or want to leave. They keep telling us there are more trainees coming but who is supposed to train them? Some left during COVID without actually once seeing a person on probation face to face. This job is now shit and if I get another senior management pep talk I'm liable to puke. I just want to call in sick tomorrow and stay off for 6 months. I advise everyone to go sick and don't put up with this crap any more.

I do not work in the hardest hit LDU OMU whatever the xxxx they call it these days so cannot say, hence the question. I've heard there is huge unrest though. As for outside of this business as usual in shoving people into roles with no proper training or care, staff in tears and unwell with stress because they are left to it without management support or even responses to the problems. Shared services constant xxxx ups and months and years with no reasonable adjustments in place. It beggars belief. Maybe everyone is just too tired and stressed to say or perhaps too under the grip of fear those bxxxxxxs impose.