Tuesday 22 February 2022

Having A PoP

My thanks and sympathy go out to the colleague for taking the time and effort to pen the following and send it in at 1 this morning. It justly deserves a post in its own right:-

A day in the life … I’ve read all the comments and I can’t say I’m surprised. I’ve been in probation a while and it’s the same everywhere. I have a few colleagues that work in fairly decent offices elsewhere but for most it’s an ordeal. It doesn’t matter if were NPS or CRC because it’s bad everywhere. In my office the teams are divided because of the workload and pressure. Managers want to play friends when it’s convenient for them, SPO’s are not trustworthy and Senior managers are avoided.

I’ve long become a robot to the work, everything is on autopilot for this monotonous job I once was proud of. It’s not hard to listen to the complaints of others and it’s the same, soul destroying work because of high caseloads, low pay, limited career options and a bullish management blame culture. If lucky, a probation office will have one decent manager, usually silenced by the other bullies into being totally useless.

Like most, 9am is my arrival at work. I don’t need to be in at 9am but managers like to watch what time we arrive. To prove we’re working they want us to keep a timesheet, write a start time in the register on arrival, update movements on team calendars, log into MS Teams and attend daily meetings. A colleague who sits near is bullied to get in before 9am every day, apparently it’s required by an imaginary policy for to be ready at their desk before business hours start. There’s another colleague a manager visibly exits their office daily to check if they’re at their desk by 9:30am. Only a matter of time before a clock in machine appears by the front door. I’d prefer it as they wouldn’t be able to wriggle out of overtime pay any longer.

Daily around 10am - 11am there’s usually a meeting, briefing or training of some sort. They’re arranged by managers and staff haven’t been consulted on timings. There’s so many meetings I’ve given up trying to keep track. Everything’s titled mandatory and non-attendance is met by barrages of emails from SPO’s, Senior Managers, Business Managers, Diary Managers. Attendance isn’t much better as after introductions, instructions and group reprimands you wonder what the point was, and I’ve recently stopped hearing instructions from those on the same pay band or below. The band 5s object to scrutiny or complaints, and always want the last word so I shut off before it even starts. I’m usually preoccupied dipping in and out for the cases I have reporting from 9:30am onwards. The rest of the time responding to emails, recording case records and completing pieces of work.

11am - 4pm was a steady stream of cases reporting and all the work that goes along with it. At some point I remember to eat lunch and if lucky get to take a walk. Today a colleague and I spent our 15 minute lunch break speculating what idiot decided to call them People on Probation and us Probation Practitioners, because I am sick and tired of hearing the words “PoP’s” and “PP’s”. It was that or discuss our caseloads which are year in year out in the red, diaries full and every day in the office busy. We all work from home when we can but managers are constantly threatening to reduce and remove this. They’re nowhere to be seen themselves, and when in the office they’re tucked away in their offices bombarding us with email instructions, requests and threats to PPs about PiPs and PoPs. We even get follow ups from their managers repeating the same hogwash as if we couldn’t read first time around.

Today I felt dismayed because every time I went into a case record I saw reams of manager instructions that have never been discussed. Sometimes the exact opposite of what was discussed was recorded, or what I’d already said I cannot do. We’re all being set up like this, pressured to do home visits, attend external meetings, training, epf, eqip, drug testing, lifer panels, quality assurance, audits, team events, monitor performance targets, there’s just not enough time in the day. I do not care about performance targets or why a piece of work was completed in 16 days instead of 15.

I put all this aside and about 5pm I managed to fit in a quick home visit on my way home on a case who struggles to go out. I’m not bothering about the others on their stupid list sent out to name and shame us. I saw about 15 cases today, not including the random cases turning up at reception because managers are incompetent at allocating cases or covering staff absence. Tomorrow I’ll have another 15 and again bombarded by managers and reception to see unplanned cases. If these so called managers just kept to ordering office supplies, signing off leave and being there when we need them it’s be a much better place.

I’ve got MAPPA later in the week which is pointless at best, and two Oral Hearings for cases that won’t be released. That’s three days gone out of four remaining days of the week, and I’ve somehow got to fit in a parole report, a recall review report and two full Oasys risk assessments. I will compete them, but they’ll be factual and short so some numpty manager with less probation experience than my lanyard will want to have a chat about “quality”. The response from me is always the same, ‘too much work, too little time and stop penalising us for YOUR failures in staffing and recruitment because nobody will ever be able to do quality work unless caseloads are capped at 25 cases’.

Through the day every colleague I spoke to is sick of probation, bullied by managers and actively seeking a way out. From SPO to Director, these people are responsible for causing misery in the lives of staff, many which have now lost interest in their careers as a result. The pay is bad, the conditions are worse, and everyone seems to be returning from or about to go on long term sick due to stress, mental breakdowns and other work induced health problems. Two temps left last week after less than a month, both said they would not be returning to probation.

It’s now gone 12am and I could switch on the laptop to finish up for today and start preparing for tomorrow’s 9am eta. This is how many colleagues get by, working late into the evening or getting up at the crack of dawn to switch on. I don’t because I refuse to compromise my commitments outside of work, I’d rather raise my pirates flag and face the wrath of the bully beef managers. I’m no rebel, I understand that even a machine has to rest, and if I’m going to worry about anything it’ll be bills, debts and all the other problems life brings.

Sunday 20 February 2022

Management Have The Answers

Hi Jim,

Plenty of food for thought here. I particularly like the one about the NQO becoming an SPO. Like many others, I have had enough and retire in a couple of months. Good luck and best wishes to those remaining.

Director General’s Trade Union Engagement Event (Friday 25thJanuary 2022): Q&A with Amy Rees, Jim Barton, Ian Barrow


Q. What is being done to reduce workloads and stress levels for staff other than using trainees thus overloading them or using resources in another team creating stressors there?

As Amy fully acknowledged in the session, there are currently shortfalls in staffing. However, every effort is being made to increase resource levels as quickly as possible. Our trainee probation officers are the future of the organisation and we will protect them whilst offering the best possible learning opportunities. The Prioritising Probation work being led by Kim Thornden-Edwards is actively looking at ways we can rationalise BAU processes and remove or reduce the number of tasks faced by front-line colleagues in the interim. We will report back on this as soon as we can. We are also looking closely at the way we are implementing essential changes within the organisation and we will seek where possible to regulate the rate at which it is delivered in order to reduce pressure. However, we must remain mindful that public protection is our priority and we know that our front-line staff will continue to work hard to deliver this. We understand and are very grateful for the level of dedication they show under huge pressure.

Q. Has a workload measurement tool been formulated and agreed upon for Victim Liaison Officers? Caseloads are excessive - 250 cases are allocated to a full-time VLO. Covering absences/sickness is also expected as part of duty rota.

It is acknowledged that there aren’t sufficient victim liaison officers in the system. The 22/23 target staffing uplift for VLOs will enable us to start moving towards enhancements and or reinforce the delivery of the existing victim contact scheme. With regards to the workload management tool and the inclusion of VLOS, this remains an area for future development; however, we are unable to give you an indication of the timescale for development due to other priority work.


Q. Do you accept that probation is institutionally racist - and that vetting is an example of how not to reflect the communities we serve?

Whilst we must accept that the results of the recent race survey were not all we could have hoped for, action plans are well underway to address many of the issues raised and we take this very seriously. However, as Amy pointed out, in terms of staffing demographic overall, we are slightly ahead of the 14% national target representation for minority ethnic staff. We do accept that there are regional variations that we are working hard to improve upon. Some work is also still required to achieve this level of representation in senior management posts which currently stands at 11%. We also continue to work towards improving the vetting process with the aim that it should normally take no longer than 20 days. However, we must ask you to accept that the vetting process is prescribed and is not one over which we have sole control.

Q. When can we expect staff that have come across from the CRCs have full access to the I.T. apps in the same way previous NPS staff have?

We are not aware of widespread issues with staff being unable to access apps and there is certainly no reason why this should be the case for staff on the DOM1 system.

We have spoken directly to Darren and offered suggestions for him to get what application and shared drive access he needs. He informs us that someone has already also been in touch with him about Cardinus.

Any other union members experiencing difficulties in this regard please contact the ICT Helpdesk via the Technology Portal in the first instance and they can advise. For applications which are not owned by the service such as Cardinus, please discuss with your local Business Manager who should be able to direct you on how to access.

Q. In 2022 is it acceptable to be adding buildings to the estate which are not accessible? e.g. no lifts.

All PS Probation Offices should be designed with a diverse range of users in mind, some of whom may require increased accessibility in order to act independently, safely and with ease. Under the Equality Act 2010, we must also cater for those with accessibility requirements and ensure that all employees have equal access to facilities, services, and premises. Following the onboarding of legacy CRC sites in 2021, we continue to assess the estate and look at improving accessibility in all of our offices through local Facilities Management and wider project initiatives. We are aware of one property where it was not possible to source a suitable alternative premise or install a lift in the probation building. This is an exceptional circumstance and does not reflect our wider policy.

Over the last 2 years we’ve managed to bring huge investment to the estate with us delivering major refurbishments and new acquisitions which now meet our Design Guide principles and within that meet the accessibility requirements.

Following the Spending Review, we are finalising our strategy a further investment over the next 2 years again including major refurbs and new acquisitions to meet the following criteria:
  • Assists the region in aligning their estate to the Target Operating Model
  • Following the project, the property will be PS Estates Design Guide compliant (meet the accessibility requirements)
  • Following the project, the property will effectively support smarter working
We’ll continue to communicate progress and evolution of the Estate and we are already looking into developing the future estates strategies for your Regions beyond the Probation Reform Programme, improving accessibility and security and support future moves to mixed caseloads.


Q. Positive to hear numbers for recruitment and future forecasting. How do we keep staff in the interim? Staff that will be asked to support these new staff in their development​.

Whilst acknowledging that the resource issue has been both long-standing and frustrating, we cannot overstate how much we value our staff who have stuck with it through that challenge. We are very confident that we are now turning the corner on this issue. As was said in the session, there is an unprecedented investment in growing the workforce. Although it may take some more time and effort to get us to the final outcome, we hope our colleagues whom we know genuinely care about the service will see that there is genuine progress and that the leadership are determined to deliver a fully resourced service to the highest standards.

Q. What is the current retention rate at frontline delivery? Themes are clearly coming through that colleagues are leaving, especially very experienced front line staff, understand Pay is a factor, but so are many other things. ​

For 12 months to 30 September 2021, attrition for the Probation Service is 7.7%, which is an increase of 1.1 percentage points from 6.6% for 12 months to 30 June 2021. This figure is lower than the overall HMPPS leaving rate as of 30 September 2021, which is 10.1%.

Nationally, Probation Officer attrition rates are 6.9% for 12 months to September 2021, which is an increase of 1.1 percentage points from 5.8% for 12 months to June 2021.

In April 2021 we published internally the first Probation Service Recruitment and Retention Strategy (2021/2024) which outlines our commitment in 5 key objectives:
  • Increasing Probation Officer numbers
  • Ensuring workloads are manageable
  • Recruiting a diverse workforce
  • Increasing recruitment in hard to fill sites
  • Attracting and retaining talented people
We are in the process of reviewing this strategy against our year one objectives (2021/2022) and updating as appropriate our year two objectives (2022/2023). To inform this work we are conducting extensive analysis and wide-ranging stakeholder engagement. Our findings and outcomes will be published in the updated Recruitment and Retention Strategy in spring 2022.

We understand the importance of retaining experienced staff in the service. As outlined in the Strategy, our focus has been on addressing recruitment and retention challenges within the Probation Service, in particular within Probation Delivery Units (PDUs) with the highest average Probation Officer vacancy rates. As part of our work, we identified several common drivers of attrition which include, pay and benefits, and lack of career progression. Work is underway to address these:
  • A new standardised approach to exit interviews has been introduced. Alongside analysis of the People Survey 2021 results for Probation, this will help identify current drivers of attrition and further inform our work on retention.
  • We launched three career pathways for staff approaching retirement, to help encourage them to remain in service as we recognise that they come with a wealth of experience.
  • We are engaging with Trade Unions in February on retention proposals for Newly Qualified Probation Officers as part of our work around retention of staff. These proposals aim to retain PQIP’s in qualifying regions, and new recruits to regions for a period of two years.
  • Communicated to staff the availability of key worker housing in some areas (discounted rent or shared equity schemes for key workers including frontline probation staff).
  • A new retention toolkit is being developed and will be used by regions to address local retention issues.
Q. Can I ask how we balance fair and open competition with the need for experience in a role before becoming a manager? I am aware that there have been recent appointments of NQOs into SPO roles, where for example, they cannot hold a MAPPA case in their own name as an NQO, but as an SPO they will be core panel reps for MAPPA. This does not seem to make sense to me!

There is currently no minimum experience requirement before applying to become an SPO, this means that NQOs can apply through fair and open competition to an advertised position post qualification. Recruitment panels are required to vigorously test the suitability of all candidates through the application and interview process before they are appointed to the role. Including a minimum level of experience such as 2 or 3 years could amount to discrimination and a breach of recruitment principles. It may be possible to include an alternative requirement (such as experience of dealing with high risk cases) which if implemented would require a reformulation of the SPO Job Description.


Q. What is the point of pay negotiations if the treasury simply veto's any progress? 

Amy Rees acknowledged the frustration that complex pay deals can cause and the delays in paying out what has been agreed. However, she was clear that Treasury do not "veto" pay progress. Rather it is a case of trying to negotiate with trades union colleagues a deal that is realistic and affordable which both sides can work with. Probation Service leaders are looking at innovative ways to structure pay awards in a way that avoids some of the difficulties, such as multi-year pay deals which mean that there is no need to refer back to the Treasury annually with the potential delays that can cause.


Q. Would it be possible for a training event for SPOs to support with the use of SOP/managing poor performance/attendance management?

As indicated by Ian Barrow during the event, he is happy to look into arranging this. This idea was also favourably regarded by NAPO and Katie Lomas referred to its previous popularity and success.

Q. Are there any plans to increase the levels of support specifically available to young people transitioning over from Youth Offending Teams? Or a programme of work focusing on those between the ages of 18-24? The transition period is a key time for young people, and we face a significant drop in services who are able to assist us and the young people.

We recognise that it is vital to get the transition from youth to adult services right and that working with all Young Adults aged 18-25, gives us a great window of opportunity to reduce the risk of re-offending and harm and help people lead positive, pro-social lives. On 7th February we launch Next Steps – a resource for Youth Justice Services secondees and Probation Practitioners to support the transition process. The next steps are aligned with the principles of good transition and gives practitioners structure to adhere to the Joint National Protocol for transitions, involving partnership agencies and other important people - all key to the Young Adult's successful transition. It is available on EQuiP and can be recorded as a non-statutory intervention. We have also just launched the Probation Service Management of Young Adults policy framework which, once implemented, will support the Probation Service in responding to the distinct needs of this age group.


Q. Sensible conversations with managers about stress and workload are well and good - but what is expected of managers to RESOLVE that problem? there is nowhere else for work to go!​

As was said earlier, we acknowledge the resourcing issues, but would once again offer reassurance that everything possible is being done through initiatives such as Prioritising Probation to see what tasks we can cut down on or even potentially halt altogether as a way of managing the situation whilst we grow and train the workforce. We expect some results from this fairly soon and we will report back as soon as we get this.

Q. What central planning is involved in delivering messages, new policies, etc? It can feel at times there is a lack of appreciation of the practicality of implementing a new policy that impacts operational staff that are already over-worked and that this is not centralised in terms of timing and priorities​.

All the evidence points to the fact that change was required to make the future Probation Service all it can be. The Probation Reform Programme has been working hard to design, develop and deliver the essential reforms which we believe will in due course have a very positive impact on how the service operates. However, we also acknowledge that in the current operating environment, the volume and rate of change are challenging. We are currently looking actively at the “change load” to assess whether some adjustments to how change is introduced might improve things at a front-line operations level at least in the short term.

The Probation portfolio is being developed at pace to better align and sequence change across the business as well as the change activity work in the prioritising probation initiative.


Q. There was a piece of academic research in the most recent probation journal, which looked at remote contact with the SU. The general finding was that outcomes were the same whether the SU was contacted remotely or face to face. For some of us, we have been able to work from home and contact SU's by telephone or CVP Video link. I have done this as a report writer and generally only need one contact to conduct the interview. For me and other colleagues working from home saves over £200.00 a month and saves a two and half hour a day round trip. This improves my quality of life and time with family. It also goes some way to addressing the pay cuts linked to a decade of austerity, The current pay freeze, inflation, higher taxes /cost of living, and effective pay loss over the last ten years. Where possible will those who can and prefer to work from home be allowed to do so.

The last two years have seen exceptional circumstances with people working from home more than they otherwise would. This period has allowed some time to evaluate our working practices. Taking everything into account we now have the smarter working policy which offers elements of both home and office working. This offers a good starting point and staff should review their own work pattern with their line manager to arrive at the best and most effective for each individual.


Q. Would welcome a training approach that seeks to develop existing staff not solely focused upon PQiP learners. Online refresher courses on MyLearning are limited in their effectiveness as don't meet all learning styles.

We have transformed our model for learning and development to enable a comprehensive and modernised learning offer that delivers engaging content at the point of need and is accessible to all staff. The new model is evidence-based and adopts blended and flexible methods of learning and development to suit a range of different learning styles.

Managing People Convicted of Sexual Offences was developed specifically for practitioners with a minimum of two years’ experience. More recent learning products have included Prevent e-learning designed for the Probation staff and a new digital learning package on MAPPA. These are examples of us providing easy access to high-quality, practical learning resources that address existing staff concerns and support day-to-day tasks. Over the coming months, our focus turns to the rollout of the recently commissioned safeguarding and domestic abuse learning for all practitioners, in addition to commencing delivery of SEEDS 2 for Managers.

The new resources made available will support staff throughout their careers, with work underway to help ensure that all learning products form part of an overall curriculum of learning for probation staff. Learning for each role in probation is being mapped out to help to provide a more accessible CPD offer for staff, with the current learning offer being split out into mandatory, required, desirable for each role and identifying gaps in the current offer which will inform the strategic learning priorities for probation going forward. We are in the early stages of developing a CPD framework for the probation service and welcome discussion with the unions as this develops.

Friday 18 February 2022

What The Civil Service Has Done To Probation

Seen on Twitter:-

"From an SPO. This job is exhausting. It's not what I signed up to do. The job has changed so much from when I started 23 years ago. I spend my days reviewing lists upon lists of data - I spend hours every day chasing practitioners to input data into the system. 
Data which adds no value on the face of it - just ties us all to our machines. Processes are changing so fast - processes we have not implemented yet are changing. All these new providers of services chasing for referrals - never seen any positive outcomes. More wasted money.

Practitioners are burnt out. Three this week have been in tears as I pile on more cases for them to supervise. Two have interviews for jobs with the local council. I'm setting deadlines for them to complete their mandatory training when I know they don't have time which really sits heavy with me. CRC didn't invest in staff so NPS have absorbed all the chaos of excessive caseloads. Cases have not been seen in MONTHS, some have no risk assessments, no safeguarding checks being completed. 

It's so dangerous but how can we criticise when these staff have been managing caseloads of over 100. One person I know of had 179 cases. It's not acceptable. PSOs leaving to join the PQiP but such poor coordination of this means no replacement PSOs arrive in time. Probation couldn't organise a tea party. Once you do recruit it's months of waiting for SSCL to do checks and have contracts in place - meaning most candidates have found employment elsewhere. And who leads on the recruitment? Well that gets passed down to SPOs to do on top of their day jobs. I now find myself managing cases too as we just don't have the staff. 

This could have been prevented with some proper leadership and measures put in place so we didn't end up with a staffing crisis. I am tired of the constant national calls from the ivory tower in London thanking us for our hard work. Makes me feel sick.

We are so far removed from the core values of Probation. We're not even seen as a professional organisation. Don't get me started on the pay. 20 years in and I have never seen the top of a pay band. Perhaps it will come next year but then I'll have to wait a year for it to be backdated. I am now medicated because of this job. I'm prescribed meds for anxiety - all work related. I will never forgive this organisation for how it's treated us. As soon as I can, I'm off. And that kills me saying it as I always thought I would retire from Probation."

Tuesday 8 February 2022

A View From Both Sides

Thanks go to the reader for pointing me in the direction of the latest edition of 'Magistrate' which contains an article by former probation officer Mike Guilfoyle.

The early days

A short time after qualifying as a social worker in 1990, I found myself employed as a probation officer with the Middlesex Probation Service. Part of my probationary training involved shadowing one of my more experienced colleagues in a busy North London magistrates’ court. He was called to another court in the course of his duties, and I recall feeling a cold chill at the unerring gaze of the stipendiary magistrate (now district judge) as one of the defendants appeared from custody, looking bedraggled and sounding argumentative, after a night spent in a police cell. He was one of the ‘regulars’ who appeared in the dock, a homeless man with a troubled history of alcohol dependency, who would smash a shop window and await arrest, to secure a warm overnight stay with the local constabulary. The ‘stipe’ impatiently asked if the probation service could ‘do something for this indigent alcoholic’ (words with a vaguely Dickensian overlay) as he needs to be offered ‘help and assistance’ as punishment clearly was not working! He was sentenced to a day in lieu, and I agreed to go into the cells before he left to interview him, with a view to offering such help and assistance as I could muster.

In the event, when I introduced myself as his ‘new probation officer’, anxiously hoping that he might respond to an approach aimed at his vulnerability, persistent offending and evident welfare need, he harrumphed, ‘I do not need any probation officer to tell me what to do’ and returned to the streets adjoining the probation office. He sadly passed away a while later having collapsed in those very same streets while intoxicated.

Around the same time, I was called upon to prepare a pre-sentence report on a female defendant who was remanded in custody and was facing sentence at the crown court. I was encouraged to attend the crown court in person to support my recommendation (as it was known at the time) for a three-year probation order, as my line manager had pointedly noted the welfare needs of the defendant outweighed other sentencing considerations. The crown court judge invited me to speak to my report at the sentencing hearing and politely but firmly questioned me on why he should follow my recommendation in light of the gravity of the offences.

He retired to consider the mitigation outlined in legal representations centred on the defendant’s abusive upbringing (the defendant’s counsel had gasped in disbelief when I handed him the report!) and my oral submission.

Passing sentence he noted ‘these offences are far too serious for a probation order’ (community orders had yet to appear on the judicial landscape) but he noted Mr Guilfoyle’s comments and had reduced the sentence of imprisonment from 10 to seven years! Imagine my later surprise, when a well-thumbed copy of the Justice of the Peace magazine, which was regular lunchtime reading in the probation office, alluded to this case, with the sentencing judge bemoaning my ‘unrealistic sentencing proposal’ and opining as to just how ‘out of touch’ the probation service was becoming (or was that just me?) in its report writing!

Political imperatives and organisational change

I cite these two examples of my own early probation practice simply as a way of briefly outlining how much then changed in subsequent years in the way that the probation service, and in particular its role in the court setting, reflected wider organisational and political imperatives. This included the first of many significant criminal justice acts in 1991 that buffeted the service in an attempt to ‘toughen up’ sentencing options; so that ‘if an offence was serious enough a community penalty may be imposed’, was now stacked with a portfolio of added requirements. The judicial maxim of ‘serious enough’ now entered the lexicon of report writers keen to ensure that the confidence of magistrates and judges, and indeed the wider public, was not jeopardised! Arrangements for sharing good probation practice with the judiciary often meant attending local magistrates’ liaison committee meetings. Although at times I picked up more than the odd jarringly dissonant viewpoint, with one notable meeting abruptly ending when the topic of disparities in custodial sentences between adjoining courts, also known as concordance rates, was gingerly raised!

With the creation of the National Probation Service in 2001, I had already moved to a central London probation office, and now found myself undertaking weekly court duties in two magistrates’ courts (both since closed). Amazingly, for a time, although stand down or oral reports had long continued to feature for those defendants appearing for minor offences but requiring some probation input (mainly assessing suitability for community service – symbolically changed in the 2001 Act to a community punishment order), fast delivery reports/same day reports became more evident in court practice and completing three or four of these reports in a day was far from uncommon. A tetchy district judge (a judicial role introduced in 2000) once mildly reproached me, for a proposal in a handwritten report, which she found difficult to read, but was disposed to go along with, as Mr Guilfoyle usually has a keen eye for ‘those trying to pull the wool over the court’s eyes, and some form of rehabilitation is usually his starting point!’

There followed almost incessant top-down organisational changes, a facet of an ever-changing probation service (the Ministry of Justice subsuming prisons and probation into one governmental department in 2007). A move notably set in train by the home secretary John Reid, who before an audience of inmates at HMP Wormwood Scrubs the previous year had described the probation service as ‘poor or mediocre’. This had prompted me to write to him directly to seek clarification for what I felt were his ill-judged remarks, only to receive a formal signed response from the Secretary of State that ‘I should not believe everything I read in the papers’!

I retired from the probation service in 2010, after 20 years as a main grade probation officer, in many ways relieved to be free of what I felt were some of the more disfiguring aspects of over-centralised political and managerial change. But I kept myself busily informed of how the service was responding to these changes by remaining an active member of the probation union, Napo, and writing articles, including a monthly blog post for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and book reviews on probation practice and policy for the Probation Journal.

Being sworn in as a magistrate

I recall with measured pride leaving the famed court one of the Central Criminal Court (Old Bailey), having been sworn in as a magistrate to sit on the South East London bench. One of the more memorable lines from the judicial oath which I was required to swear was ‘I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will.’ With this worthy injunction firmly in mind, I approached the day of my first sitting as a winger in the adult court with some mild trepidation and anticipation. I sought out the chair who, sensing my slight discomfort put me at my ease, stating, ‘just think how the defendant might be feeling on their first appearance’. I have a fuzzy recollection of feeling ‘elevated’ on the raised bench and made a point of seeking out in my field of vision the probation worker, now on the front line of probation practice.

The informed readership of MAGISTRATE will have many opinions on how judicial confidence in the probation service might be improved. Maybe if the policy of the MA to fully enact section 178 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, to enable sentencers to more effectively review community orders made by the court, is brought into effect this might positively impact on how magistrates better assess the efficacy of community orders. The scars of probation privatisation, with consequential staff shortages, high caseloads and low morale are still experienced as pressing workplace issues for frontline probation staff, and the operational challenges posed to the criminal justice system by Covid-19 remain significant.

Back to the Future!

Recent legislative proposals on the role of the probation service contained in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (2021) do have a Back to the Future look to them! But I believe they offer a model of practice that is at least evidence-based and person-centred and in which the professional relationship with those under probation supervision is seen as the cornerstone of change, together with the timely enforcement of orders, the needs of victims and more effective engagement with local courts. A newly unified National Probation Service might well replicate some of the more unwelcome centralism noted in earlier iterations of probation service reorganisations, when probation should be fundamentally, in my view, a service located in local communities, where its ties and links to other agencies like the courts are strongest.

When I sit on the local bench, I still retain a firm commitment to ‘do right to all manner of people’ and try always to remember that justice should be seen to be done – while at the same time aiming to remember, heedful of my first hapless judicial encounter as a hard-pressed court duty probation officer with a harrumphing court user, that trying to do things better is not a bad place to start from!

Mike Guilfoyle JP

Friday 4 February 2022

Read All About It

As some know and the astute will have gathered, I've been somewhat distracted by personal things of late and hence the blog has received very little attention. Having said that, there doesn't seem to be much going on of great note in the probation world at the moment. That could change at any moment of course and who knows, someone might suddenly decide to send me a guest blog on something. In the meantime, thanks go to the reader for pointing me in the direction of this book published last November and which looks quite promising.     

Probation: Butter Side Up

No-one is above the law, but everyone is at risk of breaking it. Anyone who’s caught faces the prospect of a penalty ranging from free pardon to life imprisonment – and everything in between. But who decides – and on what basis? In Wally Morgan’s account of a probation officer’s first two years after a mid-life career change, the real life stories lift the lid on the justice system and give a clue to why prison seldom works. Probation and community sentences used to be much more effective than incarceration in helping offenders rehabilitate their anti-social life-styles. But then government ruined everything by trying to turn a profit from prisons, probation and so-called “offender management”. Despite sad moments, the pace is generally upbeat and often amusing with positive outcomes. Arranged as intertwined short stories, this readable account will engage general readers and specialists in the fields of criminal justice, psychology and social work alike. In turn informative, tragic, amusing and uplifting it could be regarded as an academic book that reads like a novel. Prisons may keep criminals from your door, but when released they may be wiser in their craft.


Positive but not Polyanna : A gripping tale of growth 29th January 2022 

This is the tale of Wally’s first two years as a probation officer in the London Borough of Hackney. A brilliantly written page turner. We follow Wally’s clients’ riveting, mostly successful, journeys. Many have difficult pasts, often with serous addictions (~80% UK crime is drug or alcohol related). No hopers, one might think. Intervention will be predictably ‘butter side down’. But no! Most of those fortunate enough to have Wally as a probation officer buck the trend and become honourable citizens, ‘butter side UP’. But it was not just Wally. He joined a supportive team with an expert leader who let him innovate with weekly groups: outdoor confidence building activities; indoor chatting, where people learnt from other’s failures and subsequent successes. Wally’s own story is also an inspiring one of change: in his early 40s from successful businessman to probation officer. The network he built up with social workers, prisons housing and employment agencies is a tribute to what can be achieved by co-operation. Now he reflects: ‘the nature of probation has become an unrecognizable profit-making industry … an exercise in box-ticking …eradicating any chance of changing people’s lives for the better’. His hope is ‘that the role of probation officer will return to profession that encompasses flexibility, creativity and humanity’. This is an obvious ‘must read’ for those in the probation and criminal justice system, and for anyone responsible for outsourcing in all areas where objective evidence shows massive failure. Indeed, a must read for any who enjoy a good yarn, especially if they share Wally’s commitment to flexibility, creativity, and humanity.

A fascinating insight into the work of a probation officer 30th January 2022

This a very well written, interesting and readable account of the daily life of a probation officer – the trials and tribulations and successes as well . The “clients” are depicted realistically and sympathetically and it is good to learn of the dedication of a compassionate and hard working probation officer. As well as accounts of hardened criminals the author opens us up to an often heart-breaking world of people who have never had chance in life due to poor or non existent family life, and the consequential alcohol and drug and mental health issues which affect most of the defendants who end up in the criminal justice system. The tone of the book, despite the sad plight of many of the people in the probation system is light and often amusing. Overall a very heart-warming account of the probation service’s attempts to restore self esteem and confidence in otherwise broken lives.


About the author 

After half a lifetime spent as a designer, manufacturer, exporter and retailer, Wally Morgan completely changed direction. Concurrent with running his own retail gift and jewellery business, Wally became a volunteer with the probation service in the mid-1980s. He was struck by the number of probationers and parolees who had difficulty with literacy. After a short period of training, he became a part-time English teacher in an inner London prison, by which time he was hooked. So many of those he met felt they wouldn’t need to offend if they could improve their lives, but they couldn’t do it alone. Who was available to help them?

Wally decided to make a mid-life career change and secured a place on a full-time Home Office training course for probation officers. Once qualified, he discovered that his two years of training didn’t prepare him to do the job – it merely qualified him to start learning!

Probation officers, he discovered, occupy a uniquely privileged place in the lives of those with whom they interact. Neither police nor prosecution, nether defence nor apologists, the probation officer’s role is to enable convicted offenders to recognise the error of their own ways, make changes to their own lives and avoid prosecution by improving their conduct. This is particularly true in inner cities, where the challenges of living in close proximity to others compel people, young and mature, to make hard choices. Too often, people have too few personal or material resources to make the right decisions: the easy options often turn out to be harmful or damaging resulting in their arrest, conviction, sentencing – and humiliation.

Wally Morgan’s first book recounts his initial two years as a probation officer in an impoverished Inner London Borough. The stories related are all true but have been disguised: the characters may now be fully rehabilitated, some with children or grandchildren of their own, and will not want to be identified. He is occasionally recognised in the street or even contacted by former clients for advice or reminiscence – or even to thank him and wish him well.

When he retired from Probation, Wally was invited to teach probation students at University of Hertfordshire. His initial one-year contract was renewed eight times. After he fully retired in 2011, he began his latest career as a writer by joining a Writing Group at the University of the Third Age (U3A) in London, where he was inspired to share his life stories. This book is one of the products of his life reflections.

His second book is well on the way to completion; it demonstrates how much more taxing a probation officer’s life can become than those episodes in the first volume.

Wally Morgan is still retired and lives in London with his wife.