Sunday, 10 October 2021

Probation Reflections

Paul Senior took an active interest in the blog from early on and, as far as I'm aware, was the first academic to reference its existence in print. He was a towering influence in the probation world and although a long read, his message remains relevant today and just might help practitioners, both old and new, better understand our current plight.   


Editorial Comment 

On the 28th April 2016, on the eve of his departure from his Chair at Sheffield Hallam University, Paul Senior gave the final lecture in the Community Justice Portal series. A recording of this lecture has recently emerged, and we are proud to offer here an edited transcript of that lecture. The lecture was penned in the early days of Transforming Rehabilitation: Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) came into existence in June 2014 and probation as a whole was still in the throes of change. In this lecture Paul was looking to the future of probation, and given probation is changing once again with the recent demise of CRCs and the reunification of the National Probation Service, it is interesting to reflect on his thoughts at that time. 


Reflecting upon 41 years in probation as practitioner, researcher and trainer, this lecture discusses what Paul had learnt about the institution of probation. Despite the massive changes which had occurred during that time, probation was resilient, adaptable and innovative. The paper draws substantially on work of Paul and nine probation colleagues at a weekend retreat. There they considered their combined and diverse histories in probation to learn from the past and present a view of what was important in probation and how it might look in four years’ time (2020). Their work resulted in a special issue of this journal (BJCJ, 2016) containing a range of articles written by the contributors to this event. Paul’s lecture sets the context by highlighting ten significant points in his career and his reflections on that career before presenting insights, fears and hopes arising from those and the weekend retreat. 

A Probation Career 

I want to start with a few personal reflections about my 41 years around the probation world. I want people to know what I'm drawing upon. I've recently written a biographical account of my career for a book (Senior 2016a), probably one of the most difficult chapters I've ever tried to write. It took me back to my intellectual legacy which I picked up at York University way back in the beginning of the 70s. It reminded me of the people that I followed, if only in spirit: people like Paulo Freire, A S Neill, Ivan Illich, Karl Marx, and Antonio Gramsci, who I was particularly fond of. I had no idea I was going to be a probation officer, I was going to be a teacher, and yet the person I took most inspiration from was someone who wrote all of his work in a prison cell, in Italy, in the 1930s, under Mussolini’s regime. I want to start with a quote which I think sums up how I approach things. 
I hate the indifferent. I believe that living means taking sides. Those who really live cannot help being a citizen, and a partisan. Indifference and apathy are parasitism, perversion, not life. That is why I hate the indifferent. (Gramsci, 1917) 
I will highlight just ten things that I think have been significant in my career as a way of rooting what I'm going to say. 

1. Being a probation officer 

I was a probation officer for only six years. I loved every minute of it. I found skills in myself, that I never realised I had. I worked with some of the most difficult and damaged people, and yet found it inspiring at times, and I loved the work that I did. 

2. Joint Appointment 

I came to Sheffield in 1982/3. I had a joint appointment, which I loved, between Sheffield Polytechnic as it was then and South Yorkshire Probation Service. Being a trainer of probation students, as well as a trainer of probation staff was enormously valuable. All the time you're sharing your ideas, you're thinking, you're being challenged. Everything about reflexivity comes out in that world. I think I honed a lot of my ideas with my students as we worked through things and made progress. 

3. National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) 

I sat on NAPO’s (National Association of Probation Officers) Probation Practice Committee for eight years, for five of which I was chair. I was very privileged at that time, because NAPO still sat at the Home Office table. I took part in lots of debates with the Home Office about good practice and ways forward. We were there when the first national standards were written in 1995. If you look at those, they're an educational document, a way of working to get people to think about their practice. Sadly, later versions where we weren't involved became more prescriptive. That was a great time, building policies, working with probation people from all over the country, and working at ideas and ways of operating. Probation is an immensely small world. If you go anywhere in the country, you meet like-minded people who are struggling with the same issues, and I did so much of that in NAPO. 

4. Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) Probation 

NAPO asked me to become the CCETSW Council Member, which I did between the years of 1986 and 1989. That's when I really learned about the educational world, regulatory frameworks and so on: that’s what CCETSW did then for social work. That's held me in good stead as I came to write the Diploma in Probation Studies, but also in my new role with the Probation Institute. 

5. Jarvis Probation Service Manual 

In 1992 we published the Jarvis Probation Service Manual. Alan Sanders and myself strove at this for many, many months. We produced three editions: the second one in 1994, and the third one in 1997. We had every intention of it becoming an online source for probation staff, but the National Probation Service (Mark One) had other agendas, and we never were able to carry that through. I learned a lot about the law, some of it very obscure. We expected the Home Office to be able to tell us the detail of the law but were disappointed. Alan was called to the Home Office to a session on supervision relationships of the British Army of the Rhine. He sat down thinking great, we can write this in Jarvis and will know what we're talking about. However, the civil servants said to him tell us what the rules are for supervising people in the British Army on the Rhine - they hadn't a clue. We had to do a lot of stuff from scratch, but we learned a lot, and that's always held me in good stead. 

6. Professor of Probation Studies 

In 1996, I became Professor of Probation Studies, the first Professor of Probation Studies. I’m very proud of that. I was worried though, as we got towards the millennium, because as New Labour decided that rebranding was their thing there was a threat to change the Probation Service to the Community Rehabilitation and Punishment Service - Professor of CRaPS would not have had the same ring to it. 

7. Diploma in Probation Studies 

From 1997 through 2002, we delivered the DiPS (Diploma in Probation Studies) from conception to delivery and continued with probation training. 

8. Hallam Centre for Community Justice 

In 2002 I created, with others, the Hallam Centre for Community Justice, the Community Justice Portal and the British Journal of Community Justice. The portal was opened by Hilary Benn MP, then Minister of Prisons and Probation, and Sir Martin Narey gave the first Portal Lecture in 2002 (Narey, 2003). One of the features of Portal Lecturers is that usually they changed job almost immediately after or slightly before giving the lecture. The only one to survive, actually, is John Collins from last year who amazingly is still in his job. But I wanted to stick with tradition, so tomorrow I resign from Sheffield Hallam University. 

9. Bill McWilliams lecture 

In 2013, I delivered what for me was a very important lecture about the future of the Probation Service (Senior 2016b). I had hustled Mike Nellis for a couple of years to be able Senior 8 to do this, and in the end I told him that my prognosis was not very good and if he wanted to invite me he had better get on with it, and it worked. It was right in the centre of that very exciting and problematic time, when probation was being torn asunder by the transforming rehabilitation movement from government. We tried very hard to continue to support the notion of a public sector probation service, and ultimately we failed, but we gave it our best shot. We worked as hard as we could, but whether we failed or not I shall come back to. 

10. Probation Institute 

And finally, in 2015, September, I became Chair of the Probation Institute which I shall carry on after I finish at Sheffield Hallam, and I will talk more about the challenges of that later.

Reflecting on History 
“Over the past decade, the insecurity of the probation service has intensified as a result of the pressures of economic recession and the authoritarian populist penal policies.” (Senior, 1989)
That was written in 1989 when the service was in an uneasy transition between a secure past and an uncertain future. It could have been written yesterday, it could have been written five years ago. If there's anything that's constant about the probation service, it's that it's under attack. It's always been a struggle to maintain a focus or direction which is wanted by probation people. It's very interesting that way back then we were saying the same sort of thing. 

I want to tell you briefly about how this paper came into being and in particular, how this, my final edition of the journal, came into being. 

In 1976, as a student who had discovered anti-psychiatry, I persuaded all my fellow students to go away for the weekend to enjoy the intellectual stimulation of R D Laing and David Cooper, and all the other people who were emerging at the time. We hadn't studied that on the course: we'd only heard about it when the minstrel from Sheffield Polytechnic, Roy Bailey, had come over to play his guitar and talk to us about these new ideas. All the students said great, let's go away. We didn't prepare any agendas. We just went away. I read all the books, all the articles, brought them all with me. We got to this place that I knew about from my youth work days, it's completely remote. I looked around and found a nice communal space where we could sit and talk about the works of anti-psychiatry. I said let's start at 3pm, yes everybody said. At ten to three it was eerily quiet. I went out into the garden. No one else was there. They'd all gone down to the pub. (This was social work students). They stayed in the pub till midnight. I stayed seething in the hostel. The next day they got up, they made communal breakfast, they went for walks, they chatted amiably. No one talked about anti-psychiatry. We spent three days there. Not one word was uttered about anti-psychiatry. Everyone pronounced it a wonderful weekend, and we all went back to our course. I was a little upset. I never went to the pub - I stayed stubbornly in this place all on my own. 

I was so angry and upset by this that it wasn't until January of this year that I tried to do the same thing, some forty years later. This time, we went to a slightly better place. I told my colleagues it was shabby chic, when in fact really just shabby. But it is a wonderful old place with big settees and big rooms with high ceilings. Nine colleagues came with me. The purpose of this gathering was to explore whether and what probation as an institution might look like in 2020. Most of what I'm talking about here is drawn from that experience. Maybe because they were older, maybe I was better at martialling the troops, but people worked, and all of them appear in various ways in the journal special issue, together with three others Wendy Fitzgibbon, Mike Nellis and John Deering who were unable to make the event but have contributed to the journal. 

We sat down with no agenda, no inputs, and explored the world of probation together. After all these years in probation, I still found it an extremely elevating and wonderful event. We were able to explore afresh some of the ideas, some of the worries, some of the doubts, and some of the difficulties. Within three or four hours, we were beginning to work in small groups, we were beginning to produce the articles that would find their way into this journal. It took only two months to produce this. Every promise was kept by everybody. The quality of the articles is excellent. I shall allude to some later. One thing that I shall always treasure is the fact that people came together who had never worked together before. We produced articles that simply would not have been produced before: one in particular on emotional literacy and emotional labour, the product of three people who had never worked together (Knight et al, 2016). It was a tremendous occasion. The result of those few days away is this volume (BJCJ 2016) It's amazing that we managed to produce it with of all of us working together to peer review it and get it out. 

We are I think, what Ann Worral would have called ‘probation lifers’, a term she produced in her book with Rob Mawby “Doing Probation Work” (Mawby & Worrall, 2013), which is one of the best reads in the last 10 to 15 years. They said probation was often regarded as being a vocation, a lifelong commitment, one main career. I do feel that describes me and many of the people who came to this event: we are probation lifers. There’s something irresistibly attractive about probation, even in its worst moments. It's a life sentence. I'm very indebted to Phil Proctor who drew for me a wonderful diagram which shows that if you were to cut me in half, you would see probation going all the way through the middle, like a stick of rock. I think that applied to the people at this event. 

Something we learnt was the importance of a historical perspective. One of my favourite books is by Kate Atkinson, “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”. It's an interesting study about how you use and work with and understand the past. This quote, I think, expresses an important element 
“The past is a cupboard full of light. And all you have to do is find the key that opens the door.” (Atkinson, 1995) 
To me, history is not about nostalgia. I don't look to the past thirty years in order to wallow in the golden era of the past. I've written negatively about probation, and often enough to gainsay that belief. But I do look to the history to help us in thinking through the present. History is about seeking out the continuities from the past, even as the specific organisational frameworks change, finding those continuities, working with them, modernising them, bringing them up to date, rather than just simply skipping. To me, there's an historical amnesia around, which serves only those who wish to destroy and remove the past. People will sometimes take it as axiomatic that we must draw a line: that was old school probation, now we're in new school probation and it's not going to look like that. We might even just change the name and actually do the same thing, so we go from community service orders to community punishment orders, unpaid work, and community payback. But when you talk to a client and ask, what are you doing? They say, ‘I'm on community service’. There is a needless rush to have historical amnesia, particularly by government. They reinvent the wheel that we know a lot about, they rebrand unnecessarily. They create new models of delivery, without the insights from the past and therefore make the same mistakes again. They rewrite what probation is about. 

I think also history enables us to understand our Achilles heels. Those parts of probation practice which may have caused problems, and with hindsight and correction should enable new practices to emerge. I've come across the phrase, ‘this is the Achilles heel of probation’ very often. We can draw on knowledge and experience and evidence from the past in helping us look forward. We shouldn't just draw a line, we need to work with those histories. 

Insights, Fears and Hopes 

I want to move into 2020: will we still have a recognisable probation institution and profession? I'm going to offer some insights, talk a little bit about some of the extreme fears we have, and then some hopes for the future. 


When I got up this morning and saw the National Audit Office report being published (NAO 2016) I thought I’d better include it, though I've not had a chance to read it in full. It says the Ministry has successfully restructured the probation landscape - really? - and avoided major disruptions in service - really? It also says the National Probation Service (NPS) is not yet operating as a truly national sustainable service and the Ministry needs to address operational issues, many of which are long standing, such as weaknesses in ICT systems. The Ministry also needs to have a deeper understanding of the risks associated with reduced business for Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs). Achieving value for money will require the resolution of these fundamental issues. 

You'd expect an audit report to have this kind of balance. They have produced an infographic which contains some interesting things. It talks about the new arrangements, it talks about reorganising prisons to give more offenders support into the community but there's been very little happening on that score. And it says long standing operational challenges still exist. The first of its long-standing operational challenges is low morale in NPS and CRC staff. My memory is that there was high morale in the Probation Trusts prior to the changes. It's not a long-standing issue. Probation was proud of itself, performing well. Nobody thought that the changes were necessary inside the probation service. There are always problems in any organisation. There were better organisations but many worse. They had high performance, excellence and so on. It's not a long-standing issue: it's an issue that's come up since the changes. The legacy of severely inefficient ICT is a long standing one, made infinitely worse by the dislocation and the bifurcation of services, which means the NPS go down one route for ICT and the CRCs go down multiple other routes. Staff load and workload pressures are high in the NPS, and much lower in the CRC. The BBC reported there are over seventy cases per individual in the NPS, which comes out of this report. The NPS is supposed to be taking high risk people. When I was a probation officer, we had even bigger caseloads, not because we were superhuman probation officers, but because fifty were voluntary after-care cases that we saw once in a blue moon. Seventy high-risk cases is ridiculously large. One thing I want to highlight is that performance remains unclear. Worryingly the change took place in 2014 but the infograph says data on the impact of the new arrangements on reoffending rates are not available until late 2017. We're going to have to wait three years before we know anything about how they're performing, which is, to me, a very long period of time. 

My second insight relates to what the world is saying about what's happening. I picked out a few headlines. The Lyme Regis and Bridport News says the Union warns of probation service job losses in Dorset, and the Plymouth Herald reports concern over claims that the part-privatised probation service will cut staff in Plymouth. The Guardian reported that G4S were fined 100 times since 2010 for breaching prison contracts. The Northern Echo reports probation workers meeting offenders in community centres and Salvation Army halls due to cuts. This is an interesting one for me as I was a product of a probation service that had community-based practice. I spent most of my day in the pit villages that I worked in, I had reporting centres, and I went up to the pit and talked to the employment officers to see if I could get my lads work, and so on. I never spent any afternoons in my office, I always spent it out in the villages with no mobile phone, and no way of anybody knowing if I was okay until I went into work the following morning. You'd say great, the return of community-based practice, but they're doing this not because this is a positive choice but because there are no offices for them: they are forced into home working, or agile working as it's being called. The Guardian has said that privatised probation staff are stressed, de-skilled and facing job cuts. The Bristol Post fears severe cuts could see hundreds of probation officers replaced with call centres. In Cambridge the private probation service is branded reckless amid crime increase fears. Finally, Lord Ramsbotham, who's been a great defender of probation, said simply Grayling completed the destruction of the probation service. Just these few accounts show how difficult it is. 

Another continual theme you see coming out is the notion that no longer will you have a person to see: you might have a call centre, you might have something to report into, a kiosk. You might just put your finger in a machine to say you've been there and that personalised individualised relationship building will cease. Sodexo is ruining probation centres officers claim, saying there is no privacy. This is about office accommodation and the installation in not just in Sodexo, but in other CRCs, of the hub arrangement for interviews, which owes its design to McDonald's, rather than to good social work practice. It's been quite roundly attacked because openness with the officer is vital if meaningful work is to be done to address attitudes and behaviour. Will somebody who is vulnerable, and may be difficult, talk when just over in the next cubicle they can hear somebody having the same conversation. 

Yesterday, we published a blog on the Probation Institute site of a reluctantly retired member who had come to us to resign from membership because he was resigning from the probation service. He'd worked in the probation service for about 16 years. He said you wonder if the whole world has gone crazy. The What Works research has largely flown out to the window and been replaced by something else, this something else is little more than an eloquently worded fag packet design, or possibly the back of a used envelope variety. This is a probation officer trying to do his job, finding it too much, and after 16 years just leaving it behind. Without redundancy, without payment, he's just gone. He's not untypical. 

So, what do we find? How can we sum this up? What are the threats here? I think there are huge consequences of bifurcation, the splitting into NPS and all the different CRCs and dislocation of staff. The splitting of the NPS and the CRCs often set them against each other. They're not working together, office space is no longer shared. Distancing is going on. Swish office design which is not fit for purpose: I certainly do not believe that open plan alone can work in an office where you need private space to build relationships and work with people. You have to deliver both the open space that enables people to work together and innovate but also the private space to enable work to go on. Swish practice models may also not be fit for purpose. The Interserve Model (see e.g., Marsh, 2018) was published this week with lots of fine words and diagrams and arrows but I'm not sure there's anything substantially different there to what you might have designed before. 

What we're seeing, even if these reforms are correct, are defeated staff, loss of jobs, deep loss of morale, and a tragic waste of talent. Whatever else is happening, that is certainly happening, and we have to worry about that. We're also seeing the threat of de-professionalisation. We've spent a long time building up the profession of probation to see it being undermined not only by job cuts, but the downgrading of jobs to people less qualified. The allocation of more and more work to Probation Service Officers (PSOs) who don't get adequate training, don't get adequate support, but also to tasks that were once seen as the preserve of probation officers. NPSs E3 Blueprint (NPS, undated) proposes most stand down reports will be prepared by PSOs. We're also seeing administrators undertaking reporting centre functions with low-risk cases. We’re moving away from the kind of people that we'd expect to do these tasks. 

There's a lack of coherence in delivery. IT systems not speaking to others. We don't know what's going on. That's part of the problem because of the commercial situation. The communication between NPS and CRCs is poor and getting worse. This is playing out as was predicted way back in 2013. This isn't a surprise, but it is a problem. McDermott (2016) said the shortage of skilled staff would be a barrier to delivering the new and innovative services that the CRCs promised. So even where ideas are good, even where ideas are well worked out using the best of research, skilled staff leaving are going to make it increasingly difficult to deliver those until staff are trained again. 

However, as typical of probation, good practice continues despite this picture. I would not want to paint a picture of complete terror everywhere in the country. I've seen examples of good practice. We see it through the Graham Smith Awards where people are researching good practice. People, despite the world they're living in, are working hard to produce as good a practice in the circumstances as they can. The evidence base regarding probation practice has never been so strong. The difference between when I started as a probation officer in 1977, in South Yorkshire, was that we didn't really know what we were doing. We were earnest, we were bright, we were interested, we worked 10 or 15 hours a day. We did that so we could sit down with our colleagues and find out what was good and bad practice. We had very little to draw on other than psychodynamic casework, which was being criticised. It took a long time to develop the evidence base. When I began to read about the desistance theories, they seemed to me to give me answers to some of the things we were grappling with all those years ago. Very simple things: the building of relationships, trying to be positive in the way in which we work with our service users. Not difficult things, but things that research now tells us work. This was strong in 2012: this is not new. Given what I've said about change and continuity, history can continue to light up the route. 

Probation has a long history of resilience, adaptation, and innovation. The notion that innovation is only the preserve of one sector to me is laughable. Innovation can occur in any sector. There's good work comes out of public sector, the voluntary sector, and from time to time the private sector as well. Don't dismiss past work as being somehow non innovative. Let's look more towards Europe and the rest of the world, not always the USA. This is a continual mistake that we make as the USA has a different model of probation. We could go down some of the extremes of probation of USA if we're not careful, but we have much more positive models to draw upon in Europe. Consider, for instance, the recent work by Fergus McNeil and a huge group of academics across Europe. Offender Supervision in Europe, the COST project (McNeill and Beyens, 2016), has produced lots of extremely innovative ideas about supervision. It is wonderfully ironic that the NOMS driven work in Eastern Europe with fledgling probation organisations inculcates a rather more positive public sector vision of probation that we do in this country. At the time we're dismantling that in this country our ex-probation staff are going to Romania or Georgia or Russia or Bulgaria and helping them produce a positive modern probation service: the ultimate irony. 

I've said for many years that policy implementation is by definition paradoxical. We cannot expect policy to go in a single line: it will sometimes go well, sometimes badly, and it will conflict. If we start with that assumption we’ll not be disappointed if things don't quite go in the right direction. I also believe the straw in the wind is the introduction of the Probation Institute, dedicated to the support and development of a probation profession. 

The Essence of Probation 

I want to offer you an insight from the article that all retreat contributors put their name to, which myself and Dave Ward actually scripted (Senior et al, 2016). We asked ourselves the question on the first morning, is there something about probation that you can drill down and get the essence of, what's the essence of what probation is about. Whatever society you've got, whatever configuration you've got, if you said we want a society which has social justice attached to it, that looks after people who commit offences against the law, what would you do, what would you create, what would be that essence? And we found some of those things.

Probation exists in four huge worlds, the correctional world, the social welfare world, the treatment world, and the community. They are all big systems, they all have their own ways of operating. Probation stands related to all four of those worlds, stands independently of those worlds but it has a relationship at its boundaries with each of those four worlds. This we represented by putting probation in the middle, not to imply that probation is the centre of the universe, but as a heuristic device. We also reckoned that it must have boundary issues in each of the four systems. Over the years, those boundary issues have been played out in different ways. At times we have become more correctional and law enforcement oriented; at times we've adopted a more social welfare model, at times we’ve been more community-based (restorative justice), and at times we’ve been more treatment-oriented, and sometimes all four at once. Our argument is that if you go with one of those systems too far then you threaten the essence of probation. Let me illustrate this. The correctional world of policing, prisons, courts and legal professions, the one we most often associate with ourselves, that's the dominant system. They're better resourced, they're more nuanced to the political philosophy on criminal justice, and we know that legal enforcement has been a big issue over the last twenty years. Indeed, we'll remember Paul Boateng saying, “We are a law enforcement agency, that's what we are, that's what we do.” 

The move towards national standards and towards higher breach and enforcement was part and parcel of that commitment to enforcement. My argument would be that at some point, if we push too far along that way, we actually lose the essence of probation: the essence of probation becomes so dimmed that we're something different. Mike Teague (2016) speculates that what's happening in America, where probationers now have to pay for their supervision at such extraordinary rates, could end up being the situation in the UK, that people on probation will have to pay for supervision. Another model, in the article by Mike Nellis (2016), is the growth of techno-corrections and the increasing use of electronic monitoring, which again would take us to a very different supervision scenario. We could paint lots of different ones in all four systems, but my point is to say that this is a way of viewing whether this is a probation service or probation institution that we want to support or whether it isn't. If you don't maintain a balance between the core elements and these boundaries you lose what probation is about. In this article (Senior et al, 2016) we say when probation works the lives of service users change for the better, the creation of future victims is prevented, and the whole community benefits. It has become an essential component of our civic society, and the key cornerstone of our community justice system. 

What did we decide was in the essence of probation? I have to say we didn't agree fully on this. We debated this for a long time, having different nuances on it, but we think it represents the kinds of essence that we want to support. 

1. We started with a reframing of ‘advise, assist and befriend’, though the term is now a historical legacy. We came up with “support and enable through relational coproduction”. Not as easy off the tongue as advise, assist and befriend, but it expresses the core tasks that we do: supporting, enabling, and working much more in partnership with service users. The work that Beth Weaver has done in recent years is very important to that (see for example Weaver 2011). That was number one.  

2. We have to be bounded by values and ethics, including diversity and human rights: without that it's not probation. We adopted in the article the values that the Probation Institute has codified, but there are other versions of that as well. 

3. Reflective practice is at the core of the work that we do with individuals. Without having reflective practitioners, we would not get behind the front stories that offenders give us, and it would be far more difficult to work effectively. A recent Graham Smith award person, David Coley (2016) argues that reflective practice remains the cornerstone of good practice. 

4. We should maintain a clear occupational culture, which is an article by four members of the team (Burke et al, 2016) who talk about culture, and discuss the various elements of it. We need to go back to being more community based but in a way which is positive and enabling in local communities. We're not doing it because we've got nowhere to see our clients because that forces on us unsafe and unhealthy relationships, we should do it as a positive commitment. We have an established body of knowledge that we should use for good effect. 

5. Next, having emotionally literate practitioners, people who can work with the emotions of the situation they find themselves in. The article by Charlotte Knight, Jake Phillips and Tim Chapman (2016), who had never worked together, reflects the hours they spent debating its centrality and importance. 

6. Finally, and we did argue about this a little bit, probation is distinguished from social work by its symbiotic relationship with the court. That's where it gets its work from and that's where it should go back to. I do think it's a tragedy that the CRCs don't have that direct relationship, because they are supervising service users on behalf of courts. 

Those constitute our essence, we can debate and discuss them, but we think those are the bottom lines for deciding if probation can operate. 


I want now to talk about six fears of the future. 

1. We end up not with a probation service, but with a community surveillance service, driven by techno-corrections, cheap impersonal reporting systems, delivered by functionaries. That is a real risk. We’re going there, some of the things that we hold dear about that essence just simply won't be there. I'm exaggerating in order to illustrate that it is a real possibility. 

2. Fear number two, is that the NPS will be privatised. We're actually on a stepping stone here. My prediction is that to rationalise public commitments further, it will be privatised, and possibly NOMS might go as well. 

3. On the research side, we may find that probation researchers leave probation to pursue other themes. I talked to someone who's been working in probation and desistance for some years the other day, and he said he's no longer working in that field, he's moved on to something completely different in the crime field. He may want to have done that anyway, but there comes a point that if researchers can't work inside the organisation and help it understand what's happening, they will move into other careers, and then we start to lose that knowledge and evidence base. 

4. De-professionalisation continues and we're not left with anything we can call a professional worker. The politics of ignorance and despair undermines the Probation Institute and it goes out of business. I'm very worried about that because I can't seem to get beyond people's knee jerk reaction to what they thought the Probation Institute was about two years ago. 

5. Tragedies will occur. We are facing the possibility that given the dislocation, the bifurcation, the problems of sufficiency of staff, that a tragedy will occur sooner rather than later. And that will expose problems in a way that none of us would want. 

6. Probation has numerous Achilles’ heels. Around 2000 it was enforcement performance. We sorted that out, but actually it made no difference. Another one is about public protection, that we couldn't do public protection well enough; we weren't tough enough, we weren't policing enough. The implementation of evidence-based practice is an Achilles’ heel: the failure of What Works to work in 2002. Everyone was optimistic about it: the evidence base was, and is, good in part, but it was taken away from practitioners, it was imposed in a way which was unhelpful and it didn't achieve its goals. The late Barbara Hudson (2002) talked about the Achilles’ heel of partnerships. I think probation has always been a bit difficult in partnership, it's always preferred purchaser-provider relationship to real partnerships, until IOM (Integrated Offender Management) came along, and people realised there was something that could be partnership that is different to purchaser-provider. We struggle with after care, often seen as the Achilles heel of the service. Dave Ward in one of the articles (Burke et al, 2016) talks about insularity as the Achilles heel of the probation service: probation needs to get out of its bubble. We've heard that criticism so many times. Pragmatism is the Achilles heel of probation, something I said a few years ago, when talking about the willingness of the NPS in 2002 to say to David Blunkett , we will do whatever you want us to do, you tell us what to do Mr Blunkett and we'll do it. And finally, liminality is the Achilles’ heel of probation. Jake Phillips (Senior, et al 2016) talks about that, the notion that probation is never in control of its own life, it's always others. All these things are worth a study in their own right, because if you could get to resolve some of these, maybe you could be more secure as a probation institution.


Finally, I want to finish with three hopes. 

1. Hold on to the politics of paradox within criminal justice. 

I go back to Stan Cohen (1985) who said this about policies,
 “consequences, so different from intentions, policies carried out for reasons, opposite to their stated ideologies, the same ideologies supporting different  policies, the same policy supported for quite different ideological reasons.”
That statement to me is as fresh today as it was in 1985 when he wrote it. Neoliberal outcomes are not inevitable. We sometimes work on an assumption that we have to have a neoliberal society. I think we need to challenge that. I think we need to continue to look for alternative ways of operating, we need to resist its ideological hegemony, expose the inconsistencies in its work. New Public Management brought a style of targets, outcomes and standards, which were criticised. It was changed almost completely by the offender engagement programme just for a few years, as we opened out, and we said, let's not define in advance, what our practice is with our clients, let's ask them and develop a professional relationship. Where’s it gone now I'm not so sure, but certainly, that shows you can change things.

It seems to me that the job insecurity that we've been talking about earlier on, disturbs the relational context of worker-service user interaction: you cannot develop good relationships with people if you're only there for six months, if you're only there occasionally and then you moved into something else. One of the strengths of probation was that people stayed there for a long time, and they worked with people for a long time. Austerity is a policy and a dogma, not an inevitable response, there are choices, and if we don't make those choices soon we're going to see more problems as a result of that approach. 

We have to get ourselves ready for the fact that CRCs may fail and be repossessed by the state. We're not quite sure what they would do if they fail. It could be that another CRC or another owner will take them over, could be that they come within the flock of the NPS temporarily. But we know from what we see through SERCO and G4S that when private sector companies get into difficulties, they withdraw. They don't stay around as we would have done in the public sector even when everything was hitting the fan. They withdraw, they leave the sector behind. I think if they push, push the reduction of numbers further and further, there's going to be a CRC that says I can't make a profit here, I can't survive, I'm on my way. When it does, we need to know what to put in its place. So hold on to some of the paradoxes that are there. 

2. Hold on to the institution of probation. 

Can more be done than just salvaging the legacy and talking about the past that's gone? Can the institution of probation rise above the ashes of the recent past? I think we can and should maintain and support the occupational culture of pre-TR arrangements, keep the organisational memory which is so important. The voice of probation has been changing to something that Mawby and Worrall (2013) talk about, a more female voice, and, compared to the rest of criminal justice, a more black minority ethnic voice. Micro practices will change with the greater dominance of those populations. We need to continue that commitment to equality and diversity. 

The role of the physical environment may assist or hinder practice so if there are to be changes to the physical environment let's actually make them work. Community based offices I would welcome. We can dust out the NAPO papers written in around 1979 about community-based practice. Let's go back to the future because it's a positive way of working, not because we haven't got an office to go to. 

Let's maintain a set of bottom-line values and ethics and sign up to the code of ethics. Understand our Achilles heels, the paradoxes of policy and strive to maintain what we've described as the essence of probation.

It's interesting, that language is still resistant. That brand of probation still flourishes, tenaciously, holding on to the imagination. When we interview offenders on projects they talked to us about being on probation, and there hasn't been a probation order for about seven years. They don't understand it when they're asked are you from a CRC? No, I'm from probation. The language of probation has a lot of resonance to it and I think our service users get that as well as anybody. 

We have to recognise and build on the interprofessional nature of practice. One of the things we discovered when we researched Integrated Offender Management over a number of years was that it helped probation work out what it did in comparison to what the police did, in comparison to what the voluntary sector did. Working in partnership didn't mean that probation was no longer needed it said there's a distinctive space here, which is a probation space. I don't think we've ever invested enough in that. We've not seen partnerships as about exploring that, we've seen partnerships as a threat, we've seen partnerships are something that loses our very essence. 

3. Hold on to the Probation Institute 

I want to find a way out of the unproductive and self defeating arguments about its origins. I wasn't there when it came into being and I'm looking forward. However it came into being and it is where it is now. There is nothing else that can do that job. We need to use our voice for the profession of probation, and that's what I intend to do as chair of the Probation Institute. We've already started it. We're beginning to produce position papers, blogs, social media conferences: we're engaging the membership. We’re developing professional networks; we’re developing a centre of excellence with support in the profession. We need to recreate a sense that there is homogeneity of probation practice around a set of agreed values and ethics, not different organisations with different versions. We need to ensure consistency of qualification structures around a registration process. Ensure the profession has protected titles, which go beyond organisational boundaries, allowing people to move from CRCs to NPS or whatever the organisational arrangements. We need to support investment and continuing professional development at all levels. And we need to work in partnership, which is what we have been developing recently. At the end of the day the Probation Institute I think is about building a community of practice that maintains a probation identity. Anne Worrall (2016) said in a piece about the Probation Institute these following remarks:
 “standing back and seeing how it goes will result in the Probation Institute failing. The danger is that too many people will only realise that it might have been worth getting involved when it is too late to do so. So the challenge is to work with us positively. By all means criticise, by all means argue with us, but make a voice”.

I conclude with this quote, also taken from another article: 
“probation work might be unglamorous. But as Mawby and Worrall note, it is necessary work and someone has to do it”. (Burke et al, 2016) 
It is important therefore that those who do it in the future do so with the compassion and humanity that has been the hallmark of probation staff, both past and present. I hope I have persuaded you that the death knell of probation I anticipated in 2013 hasn't happened. We're still here, we’ve still got enough to hold on to and to fight for in the future. Over the last 41 years, I've sought to defend probation, to move with the times and the changes that have been instituted. I've tried to persuade people of that. I want to finish with a quote also from Antonio Gramsci from his prison notebooks, because this is what I think I've tried to do. And I hope I've tried to do some of it with you tonight. 
“The mode of being of a new organic intellectual can no longer consist in eloquence, but in active participation in practical life as constructor organiser, permanent persuader, and not just a simple orator.” (Gramsci, 1971) 
I hope that I’ve persuaded you to keep going a little longer.

Paul Senior : founder of the British Journal of Community Justice, Sheffield Hallam University


  1. Seen on Twitter:-

    "Just short of 20 years in & I see myself as a probation lifer-it’s in me. My frustration is the focus on all that isn’t Probation at its core, pedalled nonsense from ‘business, strategy and change’ who seem incredibly influential but without the core understanding of the SERVICE."

  2. Seen on Twitter:-

    "Treat the tick box nonsense with the contempt they deserve, just record the tick and crack on doing a brilliant job with your clients!"

  3. Thank you for posting this Jim. Professor Paul Senior was a big influence on me over many years. I feel privileged to have have both known him professionally, shared in a joint project with him at the Probation Institute and knew him well enough in the last few years of his life to call him a personal friend. He was a lifer probation officer at heart and was deeply interested in all things probation including technology. He was such a great loss to probation. He once told me that shaping the Probation Institute into a place where all those interested in probation whatever their backgrounds could come together to set the standards and develop the profession then that would be a very worthwhile retirement project. I must admit at the time I thought it would be a fitting legacy. I still think that it could be. No doubt there are some who are determined not to allow that to happen.

    1. "He once told me that shaping the Probation Institute into a place where all those interested in probation whatever their backgrounds could come together to set the standards and develop the profession then that would be a very worthwhile retirement project... No doubt there are some who are determined not to allow that to happen."

      I agree, and would suggest most of those refusniks can be found *inside* the PI; those chameleon-like shapeshifters who have never rocked any boats, who have enjoyed personal gain as a consequence of TR (unlike most of the true frontline professionals), & who have never had, nor ever will have, the qualities, courage or gravitas of Prof Senior.

    2. No surprise there David Rayo. Saw your name amongst the Probation Institute Board directors and Fellows. Too many Probation Chief Officers involved. They assisted probations demise. They are leading the problem in the present. I doubt they will positively influence the future.

      If the PI is to work, hand it to the practitioners.

      Geoff Dobson OBE
      Former Chief Probation Officer

      Nick Hall
      Regional Chief Executive (North) Cumbria & Lancashire, Northumbria and South Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Companies

      Gillian Hirst
      Probation practitioner, senior manager and former Deputy Chief Executive

      Mary Anne McFarlane
      Board director. Criminal Justice consultant, voluntary worker & former Chief Officer of Probation

      Roz Morrison
      Board Director and former Assistant Chief Probation Officer

      Karen Page
      Director Karen Page Associates Ltd and former Chief Probation Officer

      Nick Smart
      Probation Institute Fellow Former Chief Executive for the London Community Rehabilitation Company

      Roger Statham
      Consultant and writer on probation & former Chief Officer Teesside Probation

      David Walton
      Board director. Former Chief Officer and pioneer of Integrated Offender Management

    3. I think Mr raho believes he is well intentioned but to my reliable information he misplaced union function suggesting any credibility to the worst people who supported and decimated experienced exceptional probation officers and on one remarkable attack from the likes of Mary Anne mc farlane. It is a recorded and reported fact that she conspired with senior management to dismiss in service by a compulsory redundancy just one singled out 30 plus years career member of staff . He happened to be the senior trade union Napo official with office in both national titles and local leader of extensive years. I understand the news reported the likes of this vindictive and stupid woman said to the employment tribunal that she would have told the unions to fuck off. The tribunal ruled comfortably against the probation service and the victimisation claim for Mr D. Rogan of Napo succeeded. There is no credibility for people like that in the pi no way representing anyone's interest in professional probation rebuilding. Raho should think harder on how he conducts his links across the field.

    4. Is the message being received yet?

      Probably not.

      Does the PI care?

      Probably not.

      So come on, David Raho - honour your hero, your mentor, your greatest influence - make it happen in his absence, get those PI fellows to relinquish the power & hand it to "those interested in probation whatever their backgrounds".

      But there's the rub - relinquishing power is not easy, not comfortable, and in most cases not agreeable.

    5. 17:47 I have never made any secret of my involvement with the PI. I've been involved in a project, written stuff and attended meetings. Rather than making assumptions about the motivation of people who may wish to continue to have an involvement with probation through the PI it is probably better to look at what the PI is and what it does. You say 'If the PI is to work, hand it to the practitioners.'. Anyone with an interest in probation can join and get involved in the PI. Anyone can apply to be a Fellow of the Probation Institute if they want to. I would urge people to join and get involved.

      15:09 That is what Professor Paul Senior wanted. He had a choice whether to involve himself in the PI or not and went for it.

      As we know he was a former PO and cared about probation. He knew exactly what he was doing and why. I heard him mention the creation of an institute in the late 1990s.

      Readers of this Blog may recall a post on 28/05/18. Paul was quoted regarding his recollection of how the PI came into existence

      'The PI came into existence rather hurriedly, supported by a steering group of professional associations and unions, at an inauspicious time for it to be an easy ride. From the outset it sought to shape its identity and its independence through its members, its representative groups and committees and ultimately through its national Board. Though arguments have remained strong for such a body (nothing had been put in place since I had attempted to do so in 1997) it had to fight critiques from across the spectrum from ministers, unions and disgruntled and disillusioned probation staff. At a time of job insecurity and cutbacks it did not secure sufficient membership to grow the organisation quickly but recognition that it filled a gap ensured the PI was invited to the table on many professional discussions. I joined the Board in March 2015 and was made Chair in September of that year.' PS in PQ 2018

      and previous to this in a blog post from 2013 where he is quoted :-

      'Many people have been surprised at the announcement yesterday by the MoJ of a Probation Institute, I'm certainly deeply suspicious of its timing, coming as it does when automatic assignment and Expression of Interest letters are arriving in the Christmas mail. Yes it's been talked about for some time and undoubtedly falls into the category of being a jolly good idea, but, as one reader put it :-

      "I suspect the Probation Institute is being instituted merely as an attempt to legitimise the omnishambles."

      Whilst Professor Paul Senior does not agree, he concedes that the MoJ timing is mischievous:-

      "No that's not correct. It has been under discussion for some while amongst many groups with interests in this work. it is still in early stages of thinking and not driven by MoJ. It offers a small light in an otherwise dark future.

      The timing is political spin to create just such a confused response.

      Its a long overdue development which might, just might offer future protection to professional standards, train, education and therefore of benefit to staff. If it was MoJ led I would not be seeing it in this way." PS

      The joint statement by PA, PCA, Napo and Unison says:-

      "The Institute will provide professional leadership and a framework for unifying the probation workforce as a whole. A key aim is to raise the status of probation and the Institute will contribute to the setting of practice standards and support the professional development of its members, including through a voluntary professional register.

      It will be an independent, not-for profit organisation, with wide membership open to all staff who work in probation, commissioners, employers and partner organisations of probation." '

      Those were the hopes 'a small light' and that is why I originally joined. It is my belief that probation still needs an institute for the reasons set out in the joint statement.

    6. "The Institute will provide professional leadership and a framework for unifying the probation workforce as a whole..."

      And seven years later?

      Seems the PI is struggling to manage its own affairs:

      PROBATION INSTITUTE LTD - Company number 08873806
      Private company limited by guarantee without share capital - Incorporated on 3 February 2014

      27 Oct 2020 - First Gazette: notice for compulsory strike-off
      3 Nov 2020 - compulsory strike-off discontinued

      25 May 2021 - First Gazette: notice of compulsory strike-off
      17 June 2021 - compulsory strike-off discontinued

      Confirmation statement overdue - Next statement date 3 February 2021, due by 17 March 2021

      Anyone know what the £45,000 grant to John Moores Uni in 2020 was for?

    7. Nobody wants to read all that.

      “ The joint statement by PA, PCA, Napo and Unison says”

      Exactly the point and why the Probation Institute was flawed from the start. While the PI remains a vessel for the PCA Probation Chiefs Association, I’m out !

      I’m not a PI basher, I have no care for it either way. Didn’t challenge TR, too many Probation Chiefs Officers involved, and it’s for practitioners across the rehabilitation environment progress not just probation officers.

  4. Such was the calibre of Prof Paul Senior. The only academic to really speak against TR. He dedicated an entire journal to the matter. One of probations biggest champions.

    “Reading through these contributions and also adding the passion and sheer exasperation which emerges from the Letters to Grayling it is tempting, if not impossible, not to conclude that the TR changes are simply wrong-headed and do not appreciate the complex web of reciprocity that probation functions within. It is often stated in debates that probation is little understood and there is little doubt in a sound-bite world probation is not a sound-bite organisation. But what these papers suggest is that this is as it should be. Probation deals with complex, difficult and intangible problems in a quietly authoritative, caring and committed way. Moreover even in the language of government it works. Probation on the Justice Ministry's own figures reduces re-offending and moreover offers service users real opportunities to reintegrate into society. Rather than throw this away in the rush to appeal to an ideological dogma hardly demonstrably successful in any other field of welfare reform surely now is the time to stop and think again. These contributions suggest that is self-evidently the case. We invite the government and the Ministers to take note.”

    Paul Senior

  5. Hmmm, so from what I read on this blog space there's a contributor with the moniker 'Getafix who makes significant & thoughtful observations, is not (as far as I know) a probation practitioner & would likely qualify as one of Prof Senior's "all those interested in probation whatever their backgrounds".

    So PI/David Raho/whoever, involve this person in setting the standards & developing the profession from their perspective.

    Similarly there are many invaluable contributions on this blog from innumerable anonymous posters which, unless recognised or acknowledged by the PI, simply disappear into oblivion (although I'd like to think the British Library continues to archive this blog so we, the contributors who do not pocket the govt shilling, can say "TOLD YOU SO!" year after year after year).

    1. There are a lot of able contributers here Getafix takes a gentle line. I respect that although I prefer the passionate exchanges .

  6. UK media now seem to be starting to print stories about the reality of brexit, of covid, of the energy crisis, of the Tory shitshow in general... but way too late for many whose lives & livelihoods have been destroyed.