Tuesday 24 May 2022

Some Facts and Figures

Probation senior management and HMPPS HQ may be in denial, but a recent social media  outpouring of anger and angst confirms what many of us have long known, namely that the service is in crisis and lacks effective direction and leadership. The HMPPS quarterly workforce statistics were published on 19th May and I was immediately struck by a tweet from Russell Webster:-
Probation sickness rates have gone through the roof (presumably due to work pressure, staff shortages & impact of COVID) 

61,409 working days lost to sickness in year to March 22 compared with 
35,825 in 2021 
39,520 in 2020 & 
36,932 in 2019
1. Total HMPPS staff in post

58,437 FTE staff in post (as at 31 March 2022)

This is an increase of 7,172 FTE (14.0%) staff in post since 31 March 2021 and a minimal change of 255 FTE (0.4%) since 31 December 2021 driven mainly by the transfer of CRC personnel into HMPPS. Of the staff in post, there were 34,180 FTE in Public Sector Prisons (PSP), 16,711 FTE staff in the Probation Service, 5,975 FTE staff in HQ and Area Services, and 1,572 FTE in the YCS.

As at 31 March 2022, there were 58,437 FTE staff in post in HMPPS on a full time equivalent (FTE) basis (Figure 1). This includes 34,180 FTE staff in PSP (making up 58.5% of all HMPPS staff), 16,711 FTE in the Probation Service (28.6% of all HMPPS staff), 5,975 FTE in HMPPS HQ and Area Services (10.2% of all HMPPS staff), and 1,572 FTE in the YCS (2.7% of all HMPPS staff).

Compared to 31 March 2021, the overall staff numbers increased by 7,172 FTE (14.0%): FTE in PSP remained effectively the same, FTE in the Probation Service increased by 6,691 (66.8%), FTE in HQ and Area Services increased by 419 (7.5%), and FTE in the YCS increased by 42 (2.7%). These changes are affected by the organisational changes described above, such as move of over 7,000 staff from Private Sector CRCs into the Probation Service in June 2021.

As at 31 March 2022, there were 28,094 FTE (48.1% of HMPPS staff) operational prison service staff (including YCS staff). This is a slight increase of 213 FTE staff (0.8%) compared to 31 March 2021. Non-operational roles across PSP, YCS, and HMPPS HQ accounted for 12,439 FTE staff (21.3% of HMPPS staff), which is an increase of 300 FTE (2.5%) since 31 March 2021. There were 17,905 FTE staff in the Probation Service (30.6% of all HMPPS staff): an increase of 6,659 (59.2%) FTE since 31 March 2021.

The big increase in Probation Service staff was mainly due to more than 7,000 staff from private sector CRCs coming together with probation staff already in the public sector in the new Probation Service at the end of June 2021. Processing of these staff into the HMPPS organisation is still ongoing. Records are still being updated following this change, resulting in some entries being classified as ‘unknown’ in the accompanying tables. In addition, many staff had not been able to update their voluntary declarations on diversity information by the 30 June, which has led to a drop in recorded declaration rates for many of the indicators, as can be seen in Table 5d, of the accompanying tables.

3. Probation practitioners and senior probation officers

4,338 FTE band 4 probation officers in post (as at 31 March 2022)

This figure is an increase of 799 FTE (22.6%) since 31 March 2021 and a decrease of 152 FTE (3.4%) probation officers compared to 31 December 2021. In addition to the band 4 probation officers, there were 6,103 FTE band 3 probation services officers: an increase of 2,968 FTE (94.6%) since 31 March 2021 and an increase of 364 FTE (6.4%) since 31 December 2021 which would have been driven by the transfer of ex-CRC staff into the public sector in June 2021.

Key grades in the Probation Service include band 3 probation services officers, band 4 probation officers (collectively known as probation practitioners), as well as band 5 senior probation officers. Staff who are training to be a probation officer work as a probation services officer during their training, so a proportion of the probation services officers in post will be working towards the professional probation officer qualification.

As of the June 2019 publication, an experimental statistics annex has been added to this bulletin which presents figures on Probation Officers in post, their required staffing level, in addition to the number of trainee and qualified Probation Officers.

In late June 2021, more than 7,000 staff from private sector CRCs came together with probation staff already in the public sector in the new Probation Service. These staff are being treated as transfers in and will not be counted as new joiners. Processing of these staff into the HMPPS organisation is still ongoing with some yet to be allocated grades or to a PDU.

As at 31 March 2022 there were 6,103 FTE band 3 probation services officers in post, an increase of 2,968 FTE (94.6%) over the past year and an increase of 364 FTE (6.4%) over the quarter; 4,338 FTE band 4 probation officers, representing an increase of 799 FTE (22.6%) over the past year and a decrease of 152 FTE (3.4%) compared to the previous quarter; and 1,249 FTE band 5 senior probation officers, showing an increase of 375 (42.9%) over the previous year and an increase of 30 (2.5%) since the last quarter. These increases have been driven by the introduction of ex-CRC staff back into the public sector in June 2021.

4.2 Resignation Rates

For Probation Service overall, the resignation rate was 6.9% for the year ending 31 March 2022. This represents an increase of 3.7 percentage points compared to the year ending 31 March 2021. Amongst the operational grades within the Probation Service, probation services officers had the highest resignation rate at 9.3%, (an increase of 4.9 percentage points) since the year ending 31 March 2021. Resignation rates for probation officers stood at 5.1% (an increase of 2.4 percentage points) since the year ending 31 March 2021).

5. Sickness absence

HMPPS staff lost an average of 13.8 working days to sickness absence in the 12 months ending 31 March 2022 (including COVID sickness)

This represents an increase of 2.4 Average Working Days Lost (AWDL) compared to the year ending 31 March 2021.

Since June 2021 these sickness absence figures include COVID-19 AWDL sickness numbers, including a revision to all AWDL figures since the start of the pandemic. In addition, please see the annex with experimental statistics on COVID-19 and HMPPS staff, which includes information about staff absent due to COVID on given days.

In the year ending 31 March 2022, HMPPS staff lost an average of 13.8 working days to sickness absence. This is an increase from 11.4 average working days lost for the year ending 31 March 2021, and an increase of 3.5 days compared to the predominantly COVID-19 free year ending 31 March 2020.

YCS staff had the highest sickness absence rate at 18.3 AWDL, followed by PSP (15.1 AWDL), Probation Service (12.6 AWDL), and HQ and Area Services (7.6 AWDL) (Figure 7). Compared to the year ending 31 March 2021, these represent an increase of 3.5 days for YCS, an increase of 2.3 days for PSP, an increase of 4.1 days for Probation Service, and an increase of 1.1 days for HQ and Area Services staff.

Figure 7: Average working days lost to sickness absence, 12 months to 31 March 2016 to 12 months to 31 March 2022 (Source: Table 18)

The most common category of sickness absence in terms of days lost was mental and behavioural disorders, corresponding to 30.2% of absences in the past year. This category was most prevalent for probation officers, where 49.7% of working days lost were attributed to mental and behavioural disorders.

For HMPPS overall the category that accounted for the second largest proportion of working days lost was epidemic/pandemic (22.0%). Together the top two categories accounted for 52.2% of all working days lost.

Monday 23 May 2022

Latest From HMI

On 17th May the House of Commons Justice Committee took oral evidence from four HMI's and this is what Justin Russell had to say about probation:-  

Q79 Chair:
Thank you for that, Mr Cayley. Mr Russell, what about probation? 

Justin Russell: Thank you, Chair. As you know, we inspect both probation and youth justice services. We have done that through the pandemic, and we have seen a very different picture between those two services. 

To start with probation, they have had a very tough year. They have had the twin challenges of implementing the unification structural reform, at the same time as recovering from covid and having to go in and out of the exceptional delivery arrangements that were required by covid lockdown. In spite of some very dedicated staff—like Andy, I pay tribute to the commitment of probation staff—they are still a long way from performing at pre-covid levels. Four out of the six of our recent local probation inspections have been rated inadequate and the quality of the work we are seeing in individual cases is down against all our quality standards. 

Although the proportion of cases being seen face to face by probation officers has significantly increased over the past year, which is positive, we are finding on our inspections that those face-to-face interactions are often little more than a brief check-in, with not enough real work being done around offending behaviour. We are finding that 70% to 80% of accredited programme requirements still have not started. Almost a third of unpaid work orders are not being completed within the first 12 months. 

Underlying all the impacts of covid are some deeper structural issues that we were finding before the pandemic. We see acute shortages of staff at all grades in some areas, in particular the south-east. For example, in Essex north, in a report we published this morning, we were told that the vacancy rate for senior probation officers and more junior probation service officers was 60% at the beginning of this year. In Kent, Surrey and Sussex— 

Q80 Chair: Perhaps we can explore that in a bit more detail: a big issue with staffing and vacancy rates. Anything else on probation? 

Justin Russell: In the Kent, Surrey, Sussex region, the overall vacancy rate for probation officers is a quarter. There are significant numbers of new recruits coming, and they have set some ambitious targets for recruitment, but it can take up to three years to recruit, train and settle in a new probation officer. We have to acknowledge that the number of people leaving the service is also going up, so the attrition rate is high. 

Q81 Chair: Can we move on to the youth justice side? We will come back to probation. 

Justin Russell: Youth justice has again had a challenging year but, interestingly, performance has held up. Two thirds of the YOTs we inspected we rated good or outstanding in the past year, and we have not found any inadequate. Their scores on leadership and management of out-of-court disposals are going up. They have been able to respond much more flexibly. The key issue is that they already had quite small caseloads and the caseloads have got even smaller. That has helped them to keep the standard of service going. 

Q82 Chair: That is very helpful, thanks. Mr Taylor, over to you.


Q123 Rob Butler:
Fine, okay. Mr Russell, you touched on the fact that the probation service was unified in 2021, at the time of the pandemic. You expressed some reservations about how things have gone so far. How well do you think the probation service is operating as a unified model? 

Justin Russell: At the point of unification at the end of June last year, I said unification by itself was not a magic bullet for all the underlying problems we found with the service, and that has certainly proved to be the case since. The staff we are talking to do not feel all the problems have been solved. They say that the service seems to be operating in survival mode. 

There are three crucial things we are still finding as issues. First, in relation to the assessment and management of risk of harm to the public, potentially posed by people on probation, performance is at an unacceptable level. We are finding 60% of the cases we are looking at are unsatisfactory on that key aspect of practice; 40% of domestic abuse checks are not being done where they think they should. There is an issue around risk of harm that has not gone away and, if anything, is getting worse. 

The second issue is around delivery of practical support and interventions to people on probation, where we see courses not started, even by the end of a sentence. Domestic abuse perpetrators with requirements to start a course are still not completing that. At 30% to 40%, commencement is well down on that. The externally commissioned services to provide support around accommodation or education, training or employment activities, are again heavily over-subscribed, so we are starting to see some backlogs around that. 

The third issue, which I have referred to already, is around the acute staff shortages. The great majority of staff we are speaking to are saying that staff levels are simply not sufficient, and they feel their case loads are unmanageable. That problem has definitely not gone away and, if anything, is getting worse. 

Q124 Rob Butler: Have you seen any decrease in staff from the old CRCs, who did not want to join the newly unified service? 

Justin Russell: We can’t make a direct comparison of total staff numbers now with before unification, because we had no idea of CRC staff numbers. What has become evident, as we have seen the unification of the services, is that there were some big gaps in staffing at all grades. I certainly hear anecdotal evidence that some CRC staff are leaving. Published attrition rates have gone up in the last quarter of last year, and are particularly high in the south-east. 

Q125 Rob Butler: When I spoke to CRCs prior to unification, concerns were raised about whether, in the newly unified model, they would have the freedom that they had enjoyed in the CRCs. Examples were about types of flexible working. That was pre-covid times, so that was flexible working that suited where they needed to be for their clients. 

There were also things as simple as having an iPad, or similar tablet device, that they could work on while travelling, rather than have to go back to the office to get on a desktop monitor, as they had had to do previously with the former structure of the probation service. There were also concerns that some CRCs had more up-to-date software systems that gave real-time information about offenders, which were not going to migrate into the new unified model because the national probation service didn’t have one. Have you been able to assess whether there has been any impact of that move to unification? Have some of the advances that were made in CRCs been lost? 

Justin Russell: There are two issues. In terms of the autonomy that service leaders in particular have, because of covid there has been quite rigid control from the centre of what the delivery model should be under these exceptional delivery arrangements. When we have talked to service leaders, they have said that they have found that quite constraining, and that they are looking to acquire more freedoms as things return to normal. 

In terms of the systems that the CRCs developed, I have said to this Committee before that there were some rather good case management systems in London, the Thames valley and the KSS regions that have been lost as those staff have had to migrate on to OASys and then Delius, the public sector systems. Some of the CRC staff are struggling to cope with that, as they didn’t have long to get to know those systems and that learning still needs to be consolidated. 

Q126 Rob Butler: What is the impact of that on the service they can provide and on keeping people safe? One of the aspects that I was particularly worried about in the inspectorate review that we were sent is that there were real concerns about public safety. 

Justin Russell: Certainly, the scores in relation to the quality of assessments being undertaken by probation staff in some areas of Kent, Surrey and Sussex, and in the east of England, were worrying. In an inspection we published this morning on North Essex, we felt that only a quarter of the cases we looked at were satisfactory, in relation to the assessment and management of the risk of harm. That is a big concern for us. Misallocation of cases can result if you get that risk assessment wrong at the beginning of the process. If you don’t do the necessary domestic abuse checks, the public can be at risk. That is still our biggest area of concern in the inspections we are doing. 

Q127 Rob Butler: The number of people who have not completed their unpaid work requirements remains incredibly high. Why do you think that is, given that community restrictions have been lifted? 

Justin Russell: You are right: there are about 14,000 people who have been given an unpaid work order but have still not completed it within 12 months of the order. That is clearly an impact of the pandemic. In the period between March 2020 and the end of last year, there were eight months when it was literally impossible to deliver unpaid work because of lockdown restrictions on the use of minivans or social distancing requirements around placements. They have removed those restrictions since the beginning of April, but there is a huge backlog of work to get through, and that will take quite a bit of time. They have set a target of increasing delivery to 155% of pre-covid levels by September, but that is already pushing back the original trajectory, and they are quite a long way off that level at the moment. 

Q128 Rob Butler: How confident are you that they will reach that target? 

Justin Russell: I think more needs to be done. If you look at what they have got in hand, they are recruiting 500 more unpaid work staff. As I said, they have suspended all the restrictions and a wider range of placements has come on stream. Those new staff don’t really come on stream until June or July, but from that point you would hope to see quite a significant improvement in productivity and performance. The other thing they need to get right is compliance with unpaid work orders. They have seen a big drop-off in the proportion of people actually attending the sessions they are supposed to be doing. Merely by improving that rate of compliance, you would significantly increase the delivery of unpaid work. 

Q129 Rob Butler: On that note, I read, I think only today or yesterday, that in some areas they have invented something that is essentially unpaid working a box. People were sent almost a project that they could complete at home, so they could complete their hours that way. Is that really what the courts intend? 

Justin Russell: I think this was an innovation at the time of total lockdown, when it was literally impossible to run outdoor placements for unpaid work. Rather than not have any unpaid work happening, the alternative was, as you say, to provide projects that people could do at home. I think the focus now has to be on those outdoor placements— agreements with people like the Forestry Commission or the Canal & River Trust—to get people out and about doing visible community payback. 

Q130 Rob Butler: Ultimately, do you think the unified model of probation is going to be an improvement? 

Justin Russell: Yes, I think it was the right thing to do. I think people working in the service thought it was the right thing to do, but it will take at least two or three years to get to a steady state and see performance really improve. You need to fill these great staff vacancies, you need to improve the IT systems that they have, and you need to work on a credible set of programmes as well, so it is certainly some way off before we get to that point. 

Q131 Rob Butler: You touched briefly earlier also on youth offending teams. I think you described two thirds of them as doing well—not least because the case loads are smaller—which is a great tribute to all the people who work in those youth offending teams up and down the country. Are you concerned that case loads might increase with the move away from lockdowns and restrictions, and also with the increase in police numbers? It is certainly a concern that I have had expressed to me locally, in my own constituency, by the police. 

Justin Russell: As crime rates go up, you would expect case loads to increase as well. The interesting thing is the changing balance within case loads. We are seeing fewer and fewer court order cases, and more and more out-of-court diversion work. If police numbers do go up, the likelihood is that it will lead to more out-of-court diversions and community resolution work, which is actually now the majority of the case loads in many of the youth offending services that we are visiting. 

Q132 Rob Butler: Are you content that the funding model for those youth offending services properly reflects that shift in emphasis? 

Justin Russell: I think you have a combination of Youth Justice Board grants to the YOTs plus local funding coming in. They are actually reasonably well resourced at the moment. As you said, we are seeing very small case loads. It is not unusual to see a case manager with only six or seven cases on their books. If you compare that to a probation officer with 40 or 50, there is a huge gap, so I think there is an issue with where those resources are best targeted. They are quite rich in things such as adolescent mental health services, speech and language facilities, and specialist education workers. Could those workers be made available slightly further up the age range? I would like to see YOTs looking at maybe working with 18 or 19-year-olds, for example. That is something that would be worth exploring. 

Rob Butler: You’d be knocking at an open door with me, but I am not the person who makes the decision. I suspect Mr Taylor would like it as well. 

Chair: Many thanks, Mr Butler. Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time. That has been very comprehensive, and we are grateful to you. The session is concluded.

Saturday 21 May 2022

Tone Deaf

"Insensitive and offensive as a result of not noticing the current social context" is a definition of tone deafness and the ending of the two week jamboree that is the HMPPS Insights Festival has clearly irritated some probation staff unable to escape the daily grind of endless and largely pointless data entry that prevented them from taking part.

The robust Facebook exchanges have been sadly illuminating, highlighting as they do the harsh realities of an increasingly ground-down workforce and the unending chirpiness of those having escaped and now engaged in the HMPPS command, control and training infrastructure. 'If you don't like it get out' one contributor retorts unhelpfully, seemingly oblivious to the current staffing crisis as a direct result of experienced staff jumping ship in droves and new recruits packing it in within months.  

But there's tone deafness everywhere in probation and especially amongst some senior management. Apart from many regarding the posting of pictures of your dinner being cringingly naff, what message does it send out to any clients struggling on benefits, or even staff having had to cope with huge cost of living increases on salaries that have been steadily eroded over the last 10 or more years?     

Friday 20 May 2022

A Dose of Reality

Following yesterday's upbeat PR puff piece by the HMPPS spin doctors, for a dose of reality lets take a look at the March reunification-themed Bulletin from the Howard League's Early Career Academic Network:-  

Lol Burke

After a disastrous flirtation with privatisation, the unification of probation services was seen as a welcome development by many. However, unification has been challenging. The reorganisation involving bringing together staff from the National Probation Service and the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies, has been marked by chronic staff shortages and high caseloads. These are of course long-standing issues, and it would be unduly optimistic or perhaps na├»ve to expect that they would be resolved by structural reform alone. As the Chief Inspector of Probation has forewarned, the ‘amalgamation of inherited structures and the implementation of a new operating model will take time … and there will be inherent risks’ (HM Inspectorate of Probation 2022).

A decade of underinvestment in the Probation Service and the broader social and treatment systems in which it operates has left services ‘threadbare and struggling’ (HM Inspectorate of Probation 2022). A recent post-unification survey of probation practitioners by HM Inspectorate of Probation (2021) found that only 12 per cent of those interviewed believed that service delivery had improved since unification. Around half claimed that their caseloads were difficult to manage because of the volume of cases and a similar number felt that insufficient services were available for the people they worked with. A report by Clinks (2022) tracking the voluntary sector’s experience of the probation reform programme concluded that the Ministry of Justice had made limited progress in facilitating partnerships and that its commissioning process was ‘complex, cumbersome and bureaucratic favouring larger, well-resourced organisations and disadvantaged smaller, local and specialist ones’ (Clinks, 2022).

Although six in ten practitioners said that they felt positive about working for the Probation Service (HM Inspectorate of Probation 2021) such positive responses tended to be expressed by recently employed staff. Attempts to provide more balanced caseloads involving cases at a higher and lower risk of serious harm have been thwarted by on-going IT issues as systems attempt to play catch up with significant organisational changes. Plans are in place to recruit and train around 2,500 additional probation officers to address the shortfall in qualified staff. However, given that the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) takes a minimum of 15 months (and that those undertaking the training have reduced caseloads and require increased mentoring and oversight) it is unlikely that services will receive any respite from the current ongoing pressures before 2024 at the earliest. Worryingly, anecdotal evidence suggests that a considerable number of learners are leaving the programme because of the relentless pressures of balancing their workplace and academic commitments.

Ensuring that appropriate resources and sustained investment are available to enable probation to meet its statutory responsibilities and provide meaningful support for those under its supervision is of course vital. But the current problems facing the newly unified Probation Service run much deeper. Several studies undertaken during the implementation of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms (Deering and Feilzer, 2015; Robinson et al., 2016; Tidmarsh 2021) have highlighted the detrimental impact upon the working cultures within probation, creating a ‘two tier’ system that in some cases fractured long-standing professional relationships. These underlying tensions appear to have been carried forward into the unified structure with those practitioners formerly employed by the Community Rehabilitation Companies believing that their skills and experience were underappreciated. 


Reunified probation: An opportunity to finally progress a desistance paradigm of practice?
Sam Ainslie 

Despite the fact that a desistance paradigm of probation practice has long been advocated (McNeill, 2006) and the main principles of such an approach operationalised (McNeill and Weaver, 2010), barriers continue to exist for probation practitioners in practicing in a desistance-focused manner consistently. This is despite the presence of an aligned and enduring value base (Ainslie, 2021). Debates continue in relation to potential ways of reconciling the perceived tensions between traditional (but prevailing) risk-based approaches to correctional rehabilitation with a desistance-informed approach (Maruna and Mann, 2019). In recognition of the argument that a desistance paradigm of practice is dependent on the legal and organisational context (McNeill and Whyte, 2007), consideration needs to be given to the opportunities presented by the reunification of probation services to enable a desistance paradigm of probation practice to flourish, and thereby benefit those people subject to probation intervention and the communities in which they live. 

Drawing on findings from a qualitative study undertaken in one National Probation Service (NPS) division in 2018, this article explores the difficulties shared by NPS practitioners in their attempts to consistently apply a desistance-informed approach to practice. These difficulties are presented as 'practice pains' consisting of solely managing high risk and complex caseloads, target and accountability culture, fragmented approaches to intervention and insufficient training and development. 

Background and methodology 
In an effort to understand the barriers to, and enablers for desistance-focused practice in the NPS an exploratory study using triangulation of three qualitative data collection methods (documentary analysis, observations of practice and practitioner focus groups) was undertaken within one NPS Division in 2018 (see Ainslie, 2021). For the purposes of data collection, desistance-focused practice was conceived as being in accordance with the eight desistance principles outlined by McNeill and Weaver (2010). These principles emerged from an in-depth review of the desistance literature and were likely to be known by practitioners having previously been incorporated into training materials and policy documentation. This paper draws on the perspectives of 14 NPS practitioners (Probation Officers, Probation Service Officers and Trainee Probation Officers) provided across three focus groups, each lasting 90 minutes. Questions were framed using an appreciative approach to generate discussion about what aspects of a desistance-focused approach practitioners were achieving, as well as providing space for the organic presentation of perceived barriers (Robinson et al, 2012). 

Whilst the study was undertaken in one NPS Division, focus groups were undertaken in three different delivery areas purposely selected in recognition of the fact they covered diverse demographic areas with inner city and rural offices. Despite the study taking place within the context of the NPS, inevitably practitioners offered their perspectives on the working arrangements with the CRCs operating in their local area. This paper draws on their views to consider what possible lessons can be learnt from the failed part-privatisation agenda. It focuses in particular on how a desistance paradigm of practice might be progressed in the ‘new’ Probation Service. 

Analysis highlighted a group of specific difficulties practitioners experienced in their attempts to practice in a desistance-focused manner. I present these here as 'practice pains' consisting of solely managing high risk and complex caseloads, target and accountability culture, fragmented approaches to intervention and insufficient training and development. 

‘Relentless’ caseloads 
Reflecting on the realities of working with high caseloads of people assessed as presenting a high risk of serious harm or with complex needs, practitioners’ descriptions of their work aligned with Phillips et al’s (2016) description of working in the post-TR context as ‘relentless’. Practitioners were frustrated at not being able to work with people in the way they considered effective due to workload demands arising from caseloads where everything was perceived as urgent and risky and therefore difficult to prioritise. 

There’s no middle ground with the work anymore. You’ve got the older, more compliant sex offenders who you can have a proper conversation with, and they seem to tell you a lot. But then, you’ve got the other end of the scale with the youngsters who are here for violence and just don’t want to engage. (Della, Probation Officer) 

He's half a caseload on his own; I have two co-workers just to give me some respite from him. (Judy, Probation Officer) 

In view of the high number of practitioner vacancies across the unified Probation Service, it remains to be seen whether caseloads will reduce in volume in the foreseeable future. Perhaps however, unification represents the opportunity to regain some of the ‘middle ground’ referred to by Della, with a more balanced caseload that permits some relief from the relentless nature of purely high-risk work. Alternatively, it could extend this particular practice challenge to all practitioners. This could therefore compromise their ability to work in a desistance-focused way that relies on practitioner ability to install hope, reflect on their practice, build links in the community and provide the practical support necessary to assist people in overcoming barriers to desistance. Emotional labour is inherent to the work of probation practitioners and in the absence of sufficient support from the Probation Service they are at substantial risk of burnout (Phillips et al, 2021). This can take the form of emotional exhaustion perhaps seen here in the comments from Pippa: 

I've got one to this day that when I see him in my diary I just (deep sigh). I’ve also got a few that fantasise about children, that's all they want to think about and they're like 'I'll do this work but I'm not going to change'. That's really hard. I've got three of those and I just find that really... where do you go with that? It's hard. (Pippa, Probation Officer) 

Alternatively, burnout can manifest as desensitisation which arguably compromises a practitioner’s ability to form the positive working relationships that are central to desistance-supportive approaches (McNeill and Weaver, 2010). Reflecting on her training experience, Sonja provides a worrying reflection on practitioner attitudes to service-users in her office: 

In relation to desistance, based on my experience at the moment, the cultures in the office at the moment, how they talk about offenders, I'm shocked by how derogatory they are in my office. I do understand when you do the job day in and day out it gets frustrating but, yeah, it's bad. I heard someone say the other day it would be better off if this person was dead… I know the actions of the people we supervise can be frustrating and I'm sure I've said things that if I heard them back, I'd not say them again, but yeah, I'm finding it bad the way people are talking about offenders, and I think it goes against the desistance agenda. (Sonja, Trainee) 

Unification presents the opportunity for the Probation Service to review (and take urgent action) in respect of the support available to protect practitioners from the emotional demands of their work. Without this, they will continue to be ‘over extended, and exhausted’ (Porporino, 2018) seriously compromising practice and outcomes for the people they supervise. 

Unified approaches to intervention? 
Desistance research highlights the need for people to feel there is a sense of commitment from practitioners (Rex, 1999) and NPS participants bemoaned the fragmented nature of the delivery of interventions and services following TR. They were conscious of the potential for lack of continuity in the working relationship due to processes such as risk escalation and the contracting out of intervention delivery: 

Now people can have three or four offender managers and that's not helpful because sometimes you're going over old ground, they've already been over and then it's 'why do I have to tell you all again?' You've already built that relationship with them haven't you and they get moved on from the CRC due to risk escalation or over to the CRC for them to deliver an intervention. (Bruce, Probation services officer) 

Practitioners were frustrated by the way in which their role had been reduced to that of assessor and enforcer in the NPS context and considered their ability to deliver meaningful interventions to be compromised. They were also mindful of the reality that the quality of the interventions being delivered by their local CRC was less than conducive to supporting desistance processes: 

Basically, we've been told we can do the assessments, the report, in black and white, 'you focus on your computer stuff', we were told 'specialists' are there to do the one-to-one work and that's the message we've been given although we haven't really got the specialists here. CRC haven't got the range of things we probably want. (Anna, Probation Officer) 

In theory, unification could reduce the fragmented nature of delivery of services, if only due to the removal of case allocation and risk escalation processes that resulted in convoluted bureaucratic processes. These processes positioned people as ‘things’ to be managed (Burke and Collett, 2010) as opposed to people needing support in transforming their lives. However, the ability to deliver individualised and meaningful desistance-supportive interventions that promote growth of human capital alongside provision of opportunities to build social capital is likely to remain compromised given the continuation of a model of probation delivery that does little to enable flexible and creative one-to-one work. The unified Probation Service has thus far signalled an intention to roll-out heavily prescribed approaches to the delivery of Rehabilitation Activity Requirements (RAR) and post-sentence supervision periods (HMPPS, 2021) which does little to inspire hope that a desistance paradigm of practice can flourish. Whilst initiatives such as the Structured Intervention digital toolkits are desistance informed (Morris et al, 2021) they remain focused on the development of human capital rather than acknowledging the role of probation (practitioners and the organisation as a whole) in engaging with local communities to reduce stigma and support growth in social capital. 

Target and accountability culture 
NPS practitioners identified target driven performance as a barrier to a desistance approach, particularly in respect of individualising practice approaches. They were frustrated by prescription and bureaucracy, particularly in respect of requirements to complete repeat risk assessments and administrative tasks which they saw as detrimental to the time available they had to work with service users. They were also mindful that binary and deterministic performance targets failed to measure the important aspects of probation practice or recognise the complexity of desistance processes. 

The targets are just so black and white. Did he re-offend or not? Well, yes, he did, but it was far less serious, and he went way longer than he ever has before so let’s give some credit for that shall we. (John, Probation Officer) 

They also spontaneously discussed their fears in terms of being held to account via formal accountability processes such as Serious Further Offence (SFO) reviews or inspection activity. Their comments suggested that such fear impacts on their decision making when working with people, particularly in respect of deciding to reduce restrictive conditions or encourage more involvement in the local community. In this way, the pressure to be risk averse represents a barrier to building trust and reduction in restrictions that is required to support desistance in the long-term. 

I guess what is frustrating is sometimes when they have been open and they disclose, you want to work with that, but my experience so far, and the attitude of those around me that I'm having to take feedback from is quite punitive in how they respond to that. And I feel like this person has opened and disclosed and then we slam some bricks down on that with 'this is what is going to happen now' and it's just like well, they're not going to open-up and disclose again are they when our response is, I think, too onerous at times and I do think it feels just so risk averse. (Leon, Trainee) 

Arguably, both NPS and CRC practitioners will carry the legacy of accountability processes into the unified Probation Service and will face renewed scrutiny from stakeholders in the coming months. Further exploration in respect of the potential for accountability concerns to restrict a desistance paradigm of practice would be beneficial and could make a meaningful contribution to future policy development. 

Training and development 
HMPPS has committed to recruiting 1000 new probation officers by 2023, alongside an agenda for strengthening the training and development opportunities for all practitioners (HMPPS, 2020). It is concerning that the reflections of NPS trainee probation officers raised serious concerns about the quality of their training. They questioned whether the current HMPPS training provision enabled them to approach their one-to-one practice with confidence: 

Everyone's the same, saying 'what do we actually do with them when we're in the room together? You're told, you've got all these workbooks but then I feel like I'm a teacher who is a fraud. It took me ages to figure out what I was actually going to do with each person and how I would approach different things. They just don't train you! (Toni, Trainee) 

This lack of confidence in knowing how to adapt their approach to people compromised the trainees’ ability to work in a way that supported desistance. This lack of confidence extended to the ability to deal with the emotional demands of practice: 

They don't teach you how scary it is either to sit in front of somebody who you don't know, and it's horrible because you've got the conscious or maybe even unconscious bias in your mind that this person in front of me has done all these horrendous things, I was terrified in my first supervision session, I was so scared. (Kayleigh, Trainee) 

I think people I've spoken to who have recently qualified or have been through the process, they all say the same thing, it is pretty much learning by your mistakes which, let’s face it, outside of this room, if you went up to members of the public and said 'did you know that about 20 % of the probation service are brand new and learning by making mistakes' everyone would just look at you like you were mad! We are all learning by our mistakes really which is not ideal. (Leon, Trainee) 

In the absence of sufficient training, trainees turned to colleagues as a means of developing and coping with the demands of the role. Whilst this was perceived favourably by some, others indicated that variations in office cultures and ongoing pressures post-TR impacted on the level of support and advice that was offered to newer staff. This finding aligns with the work of Durnescu (2014) who argued that professional socialisation can be affected by major events such as significant changes in legislation, and that stress can impact on social learning processes. As such, it is worth considering what the Probation Service needs to do to improve the support available to a large number of inexperienced staff to avoid the development of practice approaches that take practitioners further away from a desistance paradigm. 

The unification of probation services, whilst welcomed by many, represents yet another period of upheaval and uncertainty for probation practitioners and the people they supervise. This reflection from Della reminds us of the pain caused by TR: 

Aside from forging the resentment in the probation staff and how people feel their anger, TR was like a mad chef with a chopper and just went through it and everything was scattered. And we also have austerity measures and all these resource issues at the fore. It’s a monumental mess. (Della, Probation Officer)

Unification in and of itself is unlikely to resolve many of the systemic issues that have hindered the development of a desistance paradigm of practice, but it does present the opportunity to try and mitigate some of the pains experienced by practitioners in their efforts to support the people they work with. 

You've got to keep trying. What's it called again 'rolling with resistance', remember that guys from the good old days? (Laughs) We're always rolling and rolling and rolling… (John, Probation Officer) 

The quote here from John is testament to the tenacity of practitioners to keep trying to practice in ways that are aligned to their professional values, despite the barriers they encounter as a result of their working conditions and the organisational processes they need to navigate and endure on a daily basis. Ultimately, assisting people to achieve sustained desistance ‘should be the holy grail for probation’ (McNeill, 2014: 168) and as such, the Probation Service needs to take action to address the apparent practice pains that have been hindering practitioners in their efforts to practice in accordance with a desistance paradigm in recent years.

Friday 13 May 2022

Views On Reunification

Included within the HMI Probation Annual Report published in March was a staff survey of views on the reunification and it was published in full. The following highlights confirm a high degree of dissatisfaction:- 

Key findings and implications 

We received 1,534 responses to our survey, which represents about one in ten (9%) of Probation Service staff. Responses were received from every region, and from all functions within the service. Just over half of the respondents had previously worked in CRCs (51%) and just under half in the NPS (47%); a small minority (2%) had come from elsewhere. While a large sample, capturing views from a broad range of frontline staff, it is not fully representative. 

Headline findings are as follows: 
  • About six in ten (61%) believed that senior leaders communicated their strategies for the new, unified, Probation Service sufficiently well. However, a similar proportion (58%) believed that the changes had not been implemented well. 
  • Over half (55%) of probation staff were dissatisfied with the guidance received about how to manage work at the point of unification. 
  • About six in ten of applicable staff (58%) were ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ receiving case-focused supervision, and just over half (52%) were satisfied that managers paid sufficient attention to staff wellbeing. Six in ten (60%) had sufficient training and development opportunities 
  • About half (51%) found their workload ‘not so manageable’ (30%) or ‘not at all’ (21%) manageable. 
  • Just over half (53%) had sufficient access to services to meet the needs of people on probation, and about two-thirds (68%) had sufficient access to services and agencies to manage risk of harm to others. 
  • Just over half (52%) were satisfied that their current premises and offices supported delivery and engagement, and about six in ten (62%) were satisfied with the ICT services. 
  • Just over half (52%) had not made a final judgement on whether unification had made probation better or worse: 19% said it was ‘too early’, 28% felt there had been ‘no change’, and 5% did not know. 
  • Only six in ten (60%) stated they felt positive about working for the Probation Service (recently employed staff were more likely to be positive). 
  • More than three-quarters (77%) did not think anything had been particularly well managed during the changes, and about seven in ten (71%) thought that there were aspects of the unification changes which should have been done differently. 
When analysing the drivers of the staff responses, we found notable differences by region, with the responses from those working in Wales, where unification has had longer to bed in, tending to be more positive. 

Analysis of respondent comments to open questions revealed these key issues: 
  • there is a cultural divide between former CRC and NPS staff; CRC staff feel that they are perceived by former NPS as less skilled, as “second class” 
  • induction training was a trial for former CRC staff with too much information being delivered, and not enough time allocated to absorb the training 
  • high caseloads and workloads remain a problem for many and have hampered unification 
  • ICT problems have made unification more stressful 
  • many staff are positive about unification and the future, noting the change process was conducted amidst the pandemic and our society’s recovery.
2.2 Analysis of commentary

Our survey had three open text questions: 
  • Is there anything that you think has been done particularly well in managing the changes? Please tell us more 
  • Is there anything you think should have been done differently in managing the changes? Please tell us more 
  • Please add any further comments about your experience of the changes 
The responses across the three questions tended to converge upon general themes. We have thus analysed the commentary in aggregate and drawn out these key themes. We identify region and former organisation for direct quotes. As we assured strict confidentiality, no further identifiers are given. 

Serious divisions exist between former CRC and NPS staff 

The new service faces the challenge of helping to foster a new identity for all staff, and leave behind the divisions of Transforming Rehabilitation. Many former CRC staff told us they have felt disrespected during unification, that their skills and knowledge have been minimised, and they have been condescended to and treated as inferior. These comments from ex-CRC staff sum up the frustration: 

“There is a clear sense that some staff and managers within what was NPS NW believe that anyone from the CRC is not competent.” (Greater Manchester, CRC) 

“CRC staff were treated like new employees with no acknowledgment of existing skills.” (West Midlands, CRC) 

“CRC staff have been treated like second class citizens.....awful!” (London, CRC) 

“Not enough has been done to address the culture of us and them. As a member of CRC staff I am made to feel second rate to NPS staff.” (East Midlands, CRC)

This statement from a former NPS employee indicates the type of attitude that needs to change: 

“CRC managers / staff should not be job-matched into position that were not vacant. CRC SPOs should not be managing NPS staff.” (London NPS) 

This experience related by a former CRC employee reinforces the point: 

“An example of legacy NPS/CRC stigma is one I experienced first-hand. I completed a handover with a legacy NPS colleague who was shocked that I was able to 'act with such professionalism' as normally his dealings with CRC colleagues was below par.” (East Midlands, CRC) 

Some believe they have been treated unfairly in work allocation and access to resources:

“NPS [are] being allowed to 'cherry pick' the most complex cases to give to CRC colleagues.” (North East, CRC)

“Little has been put in place for CRC staff in terms of admin support or liaison with the courts. Legacy CRC still feels like a "bolt on" and lesser cousin of legacy NPS.” (West Midlands, CRC 

Some ex-NPS colleagues feel colocation may help promote unity: 

“In the local area where I work, physically and culturally things are very different, we still work from separate offices and it is very much day-to-day working that nothing has changed and it is still 'CRC and NPS'.” (North East, NPS) 

These negative experiences are leading to a degree of nostalgia for CRCs: 

“Empty promises..."Best of both worlds" is absolutely not the reality. In a way I'd rather we'd been told that we're joining NPS rather than paint a picture of a new collaborative organisation because they haven't been able or willing to deliver this. …. We had a great SMT in the CRC who were genuinely supportive and transparent in their leadership approach...now I have no idea who anyone is. We've gone from having 4 senior leaders to having 40. I feel like a very small fish in a huge pond and somewhere there is a hole in the pond lining.” (North West, CRC) 

“NPS legacy staff believe that I and my colleagues are lacking in the experience they feel they have over us. Not good. Still a division. The office I will be moving to is like a step back in time from what I am used to. NPS legacy and CRC legacy seniors cannot agree on best practice, as NPS legacy seniors want us to "fit in with them, business as they know it", not helpful, I can’t wait until I can leave.” (West Midlands, CRC) 

“CRC staff are viewed as the poor relative, and the ones who have a lot to learn. The reality is both services have valuable skills and experiences that should be explored and shared. CRCs had the capacity to be creative and you weren't restricted in your role in terms of what you could or couldn't do.” (North East, CRC) 

“The CRC had a slimline way of working and it appears that the NPS haven't progressed any new systems in the last seven years since the split. All the information now is parked and referred to as NPS rather than The Probation Service, which is supposed to be a new organisation taking the best bits of the CRC and NPS to bring a new service to PoP and Probation Practitioners. Instead - the feeling is that it is still and will remain the NPS.” (Greater Manchester, CRC) 

“I personally think the way CRC worked was a more efficient way and cared about their employees. Staff were not just a 'number'.” (North East, CRC) 

Some ex-NPS staff have themselves felt left out during the process: 

“There is a heavily CRC to Probation Service emphasis for the change activity, which is understandable. Ex NPS staff have been largely overlooked in the Unification process.” (Greater Manchester, NPS)

“I am a PQiP who was seconded to the CRC when I started my training. The transition for me has been awful as I have been missed out of communications as I did not feel like I belonged to either CRC or NPS. Even though I have always been a NPS employee I have missed out on things due to my secondment. It has massively impacted my training.” (West Midlands, NPS)

The rapid pace of induction training was difficult for ex-CRC staff 

Many ex-CRC staff comments concerned information overload and the demanding pace of training immediately after unification: 

“There has been a lack of support re: new systems and negotiating processes for legacy CRC staff. Understanding is often assumed and accessing information and processes can be very time consuming. Time has not been set aside for legacy CRC staff to complete required training. My workload is currently excessive, and I am working a 10 - 12 hour day and often one day at the weekend as standard. I do not get overtime and cannot take toil due to the pressures of work. This is is neither acceptable or sustainable.” (Greater Manchester, CRC)

“Moving from CRC to NPS is difficult. Being bombarded with information left, right and centre whilst trying to manage caseload is difficult. I have found it stressful. I am very dubious about how 80 hours of online training is gonna help practitioners who haven't worked with MAPPA cases for years. It is very important the legacy CRC staff are supported and are monitored when they start having MAPPA cases again.” (West Midlands, CRC) 

“My experience of the changes has been that high-minded missives are sent out from senior managers saying how wonderful it's all going to be but this aspirational vision then gets totally lost and bears no resemblance at all to the implementation. It has been chaotic and stressful, with no sign of any positives in the near future.” (Kent, Surrey and Sussex, CRC) 

“Legacy CRC staff have received a significant influx of new information, guidance and training, which has been wholly overwhelming.” (South West, CRC) “Too much information sent out in email. It was information overload. Changes should have been sequenced over a longer period.” (East of England, NPS)

High workloads and caseloads have made unification even more difficult 

Unification came at a difficult point in history as we emerge from the pandemic lockdowns. We have previously noted the pre-existing negative impact of high workloads and caseloads on probation work and staff (HMI Probation, 2021). Unification made those existing pressures of workload and caseload more acute, and staff felt this was not appreciated by senior leaders.

“Unification needed to happen. We shouldn't have split in the first place, however, the workload has increased at a very quick pace which has been overwhelming and unmanageable, particularly at a time when there are lots of system changes.” (East Midlands, NPS) 

“Senior Leaders had an unrealistic idea that once caseloads merged, workload would become more manageable, without recognising that unless staff are retained or replaced or indeed recruited, the issue of significantly high caseloads will remain. The staff training programme, particularly the timescales in which this needs to be completed, is unrealistic, given that staff don't have the time to complete their daily tasks, let alone required training.” (East Midlands, NPS) 

“I went from feeling confident and at the top of my game to feeling isolated, stupid, scared and now lacking in confidence. Caseloads are dangerously high, staff going off sick, important work being missed.” (West Midlands, CRC) 

“CRC staff should have been given some workload allowance to enable them to attend all of the Teams events, training events, and to have time to read all of the documents which have been sent via email, etc.” (North East, CRC) 

“Caseload is way too high. Workload and pressure is too high. Impact on mental health causing me to leave probation.” (Wales, NPS) 

Quite a number of staff were concerned that their new laptops and ICT systems were not functioning well, and there was a lack of training and documentation available to staff. Many were again frustrated that there was not enough time allowed to get to grips with the new systems: 

“I don't think we had enough IT support from the organisation and as most of the systems changed we were left stressed with trying to work things out for ourselves.” (North East, CRC) 

“IT systems should be fit for purpose.” (Yorkshire and the Humber, CRC) 

“The new plethora of IT systems could have been staggered rather than arriving all at once.” (East Midlands, CRC) 

However, a few staff were pleased with the new kit: 

“I felt like the IT changes went quite well and we have got a better system now.” (North East, CRC) 

Some staff had more personal and detailed criticisms of their unification experience, such as: 
  • disputes about the regrading exercise 
  • problems with getting paid on time and the right amount 
  • the civil service ‘bureaucracy’ 
  • the new premises being of lower quality than the former CRC premises. 
Some staff expressed a more positive orientation to unification. The following comments reflect the view of those who are taking a longer-term, perhaps more realistic, view of the changes: 

“Superficially, little seems to have changed so far though I acknowledge we are early into the unification process.” (Greater Manchester, NPS) 

“I think it would have been a lot different without Covid-19.” (Yorkshire and the Humber, NPS)

“Things look like they may be starting to embed slowly, but it does feel like we hit reunification before anyone was quite certain how it would all pan out, which has led to some confusion for all involved.” (Kent, Surrey and Sussex, NPS) 

Some were glad to ‘be back’ in a unified probation service, working with new and old colleagues: 

“I think it is really positive that we are unifying, and this is a step in the right direction and is welcomed from staff. There is a general feeling that it will take a long time to recover from the split, particularly with the current staffing issues but this is something that staff want to work towards.” (Greater Manchester, NPS) 

“We have been told many times that legacy CRC colleagues will be anxious about the changes and we should be nice/friendly with them. That has really annoyed me - why would there be any thought that we would not be friendly???” (Greater Manchester, NPS) 

“So much information, opportunities and training, really looking forward to my new career.” (Greater Manchester, Other) 

“Overall, it has been a very smooth transition. So nice to have a decent IT service. NPS people have been very welcoming and I think we've all adapted really well to the changes considering the pandemic in the mix as well.” (East Midlands, CRC) 

“Prior to unification there was a "them" and "us" divide between NPS and CRC staff with NPS staff appearing to occupy the moral high ground. This changed completely after unification and I was pleased with the warm welcome we received in our shared building where former NPS staff went out of their way to implement re-integration of the former CRC staff.” (London, CRC) 

“I think it has gone smoothly for me personally - no issues.” (East of England, CRC) 

“I'm happy about the recent changes. I've been in the service for over 20 years and witnessed what feels like continual change, some of which for no good reason, and sometimes only to revert back to the way it was before! Maybe let the model settle down and just tweak to improve delivery as required, please.” (Wales, NPS)


Probation staff have divided views about the unified service at this, relatively early, point in the life of the new organisation. Around half are as yet undecided whether unification has improved the service on the ground. 

Former CRC staff are more likely to have a negative view, driven by experiences of being made to feel less worthy than their former NPS colleagues. An effort at all levels of management is needed to counteract any condescension and insults being experienced; former CRC staff skills and professionalism need to be valued, and any regressive attitudes need to be suppressed. 

Another source of the dissatisfaction amongst former CRC staff was the rushed and stressful induction process, characterised by information overload, and exacerbated by ICT problems and lack of time for training. 

Wales emerges as an area where frontline staff have more confidence in senior leadership, and more satisfaction with the processes of unification. While it is possible that the longer run-in period has softened memories of merger, there would appear to be positive lessons to be learnt from the Welsh experience in terms of building a more optimistic work culture. 

It was concerning that ethnic minority staff reported less case focused supervision than their white colleagues. This finding needs to be investigated further by senior leaders in the service with an ‘explain or reform’ focus. 

Although it was disappointing to find that only six in ten felt pride in working in probation (but higher for recently employed staff), many probation staff told us they were positive about the future and pleased to be ‘back’ in a unified service. Around half of staff do not have a settled view on unification, and there is the potential for positive engagement if service leaders can build an inclusive workplace. 

Service leaders have a great challenge ahead to foster this all-important inclusive culture based upon shared probation values, mutual respect, manageable workloads and blended caseloads, space for reflective learning, and meaningful line management. These survey findings help to identify the threats and the promising currents of opinion to undertake that task.

Wednesday 11 May 2022

A Dysfunctional Service

It will be pretty obvious to regular readers that the blog has been on autopilot for many months, but just like a pesky weed, keeps popping back into life when you think you've got rid of it. Ok, I've been preoccupied with other stuff in life and was reluctantly coming to accept that the blog had run its course. All the seasoned recusants had been rounded up, they had vented their anger and frustration and were inexorably heading off for enforced fresh pastures or retirement. But no, some are still around and remain vocal, despite civil service attempts to gag them:-  

The Probation Service is now a dysfunctional organisation, with dysfunctional management, run by an out of touch, ignorant and utterly dysfunctional government. As a result, nothing that staff say nor NAPO do will make a shred of difference. With regret, the shop has well and truly sunk. Abandoning said ship is now the only option for those who value themselves and their own mental health and wellbeing. Sad, but true. Side note: who joined up to be tied to a computer for 7.5 hours a day, with only half an hour a day at best to spend helping clients? Not me!

I am weary alongside you and with the majority of my colleagues in the office feeling the same. In fact, battle to find anyone who has anything much that is positive to say among those of us who can't get out of this but live to fight on bloodied, but starting to bow in what I agree is a dysfunctional organisation. The only ones who don't see all this are the PQiPs who don't know any different but some I know are finding it all very disappointing. Despite the negatives, I still find it a pleasure to share knowledge and experience with the PQiPs. I don't teach them how to tick boxes but how to deal with people and situations and all the stuff you can never find in this wretched on line learning we have to engage in these days or by endless Oasys or any other ticky box stuff. I am planning my exit strategy and am counting the days. I never took this job on to be a typist with offenders/clients (or whatever we are supposed to call people these days. I refuse to say PoPs it is ridiculous) who are nothing more than an interruption to the typing. I hold to what I achieved in an earlier time and the difference I made to people's lives. What a privilege it was. So... the life jacket is on...

So true it is dysfunctional and our supposed people focused skills not allowed to be used as time spent on admin constantly. In my view they despise older staff as too expensive too assertive and are used to train up new ones. After many many years service I'm done, it takes its toll on your mental and physical health yet not sorry to see you go or anything. Cold detached attitude and the same as I've heard they have adopted to colleagues with even 30 years service. Treat staff like dirt and pile unachievable workloads on them and yet wonder why we leave.

25 years service and I am appalled! The rush to lower risk to meet “operational requirements“ is disturbing at best and criminal at worst. We are supposed to be there to protect the public and despite the dynamic nature of risk we are now dictated/bullied to reduce risk based on a criteria interpreted by senior managers. What have we become? My notice is in, I am blessed with a wonderful partner who has seen the toll recent years have taken on me and who understands my commitment to clients/service users, and indeed has met several over the years who have approached when shopping or socialising to remark how their lives had changed for the better, but it really is best for me to leave before my behaviour becomes more extreme than anything I have ever experienced from clients/ service users. I never heard of one of them defecating on a managers desk but what a function that would be as my final statement.


Happily, it's not just probation staff that are vocal either:-

I find it interesting that the report focuses on those caught up in the 'revolving door' process. These will be predominantly those that will fall into the '12mth and under' cohort. Until TR this group were not subject to probation supervision after release from custody. They were considered too expensive and resource heavy. Probation absorbed 40,000 new cases at the stroke of a pen when Grayling tried to 'fill the shelves' to make probation look more attractive purchase for the private sector. What actually happened was Grayling just increased the speed that the revolving door turned at.

Adding the 12mth and under to compulsory supervision upon release provided that cohort with nothing, but provided a resource drain on an already overloaded probation service. If being subjected to probation isn't going to achieve anything for an individual, then it's pretty pointless directing them there in the first place. Why use resources without any expectation of a return?

The all inclusive, one shoe fits all model of today's probation service is good for no-one. There's nearly a quarter of a million people subjected to probation supervision. That's just far too many for probation to function in any purposeful way. People on probation today aren't really seen by individual needs, they're just part of the herd that gets perpetually processed.


I have only recently followed this blog, and must say I follow 'Getaflix closely. I sort of wish I had met Jim but maybe I did in colleagues of his ilk. My youth and early life was characterised by trauma and I slid into a downward spiral where the base commodity I had was violence. During my last sentence in 1998 I met my probation officer who pulled no punches, he laid the law down in a very clear way. Back in my cell I despised him and ruminated for hours. This man became one the few men I knew, he spoke truth even when it angered me, he supported me when I fell and he applauded my achievements even when I thought them small. That man stuck by me for 6 years pre and post, I will never ever forget him, my children know of him through my stories. The reason I was drawn to this blog is that a cousin’s son has been caught up in what sounds like a dragnet of "probation” and I feel helpless as I don’t know if the probation officers of old still exist. I really don’t know how to advise him but solemnly wish that my old PO was still around and even steering policy.


Lets hope this observation from Twitter is not the norm:-

"New trainees have settled in now. I have never met such a bunch of entitled and arrogant young women in my career. Ones already been warned for flirting with a case & another for being aggressive with a colleague. The future of #Probation."

The blog will only continue and have a purpose if people read it, but most importantly, contribute to it. The offer to publish guest blog pieces remains open and contact details can be found on the profile page.

Tuesday 10 May 2022

View From the Other Side

Whilst we're continuing to highlight significant dissatisfaction within probation staff, I see the Revolving Doors charity has recently published a report mostly looking at things from the clients point of view. The report is rather neatly summarised by Russell Webster here:-  

What next for probation?

Revolving Doors has just (4 April 2022) published the first report from its Lived Experience Inquiry into Probation. The report is based on the views of 141 people with lived experience of probation and 35 probation practitioners. The report focuses specifically on people in the ”revolving door”, those who commit repeat and often low-level crime that is driven by poverty, trauma, unmet health needs, and its purpose is to:

“support the development of a probation service that is responsive to both the root causes of crime and its consequences, such as mental ill-health and problematic substance use, that drive the revolving door of crisis and crime.”

The report highlights areas of service design and systemic and cultural issues which, the authors (Philip Mullen, Nathan Dick & Andy Williams) argue can make a real difference to the success of the probation service. The report focuses on four key elements of the probation service:

1. The culture of probation
2. Probation’s role at court
3. Probation in the community
4. Prison resettlement

The culture of probation

The Inquiry reports a strong feeling that the traditional probation balance between assessing/managing risk and supporting rehabilitation had shifted to be much more weighted towards risk management, to the neglect of providing or signposting people to the support needed to address root causes (such as homelessness and drug & mental health issues) that drive crisis, crime, and reoffending.

A significant number of people consulted for the Inquiry described probation as a form of policing, and in some cases as an agency that actively spied on them, significantly reducing their willingness to openly discuss their needs and the help they need to better manage these.

There was also widespread frustration at the number of times their probation practitioners changed over the course of their supervision, limiting their ability to build the positive and trusting relationships necessary to feel comfortable in talking openly about their needs, any setbacks, and the kinds of support they needed.

“For me, the probation service is like another arm of the police service, they just check on you, check on your tag… these guys are like the police services, and it’s not about rehabilitation.”

Interspersed with these criticisms were many examples of probation practitioners described as going above and beyond what people under supervision expected of them, for example through sending letters to them whilst they were in prison to build the foundations for a positive relationship, taking the time to listen to their aspirations and ambitions and researching opportunities to help them reach these, and taking the extra care to send letters, make phone calls or attend appointments.

“It helped that my [probation] worker stuck with me, they were not going to give up on me and put structures into place. It also helped that they were real, upfront and honest with me, and that they helped me access the support workers and medication I needed.”

Probation at court

Interestingly, most people were unaware of the role probation played at court and did not see them as present or visible within the court setting. Only a small number of people understood what a PSR entailed and recalled having an in-depth conversation with a probation practitioner to inform a PSR.

Community supervision

The inquiry heard “countless” life-changing descriptions of Probation, of proactive probation practitioners going above and beyond to facilitate people’s access to services to address their needs and support them to reach their aspirations.

“My probation officer, it’s a calling to her, she has too many on her caseload but she goes further and beyond.”

However, there were also many accounts of when probation officers were unable to effectively advocate for their access to vital local services, such as housing, because of insufficient knowledge about these services or how to refer into them, or simply because of a lack of time to take joint steps (e.g., a telephone call together or accompanying them to a meeting) to help address barriers in accessing services.

Several people described their relationships with probation as “tick-box”, with meetings rarely lasting more than 5 to 15 minutes.

You should be getting something out of probation, not just going there as a punishment. You need to be given time [to talk].”

Prison resettlement

Almost all the people consulted for the inquiry had experience of multiple short prison sentences of less than 12 months. Most experienced the same issues when it came to their release from prison; preparation happened too late, communication with their probation practitioner was challenging and happened too late, and there was a lack of support around practical issues including housing, healthcare, and securing an income (either through employment or social security).

“Most offender managers don’t get involved until 28 days before your release. How can you build a relationship in that time? You need someone you can offload to and get all of the s**t out to.”

The report sets out four key principles aimed at improving this situation:

1. Providing consistent relationships throughout custody and on release.
2. Being proactive in communication.
3. More careful planning for the day of release.
Explore the potential of departure lounges.

The views of probation practitioners

Probation practitioners echoed some of the same views as people with experience of being on probation. Many felt a fairer and more equal balance between risk management and supporting rehabilitation needed to be struck. They highlighted lack of resources as a key reason for this, citing high caseloads and a feeling of being excluded from policy development.

"As we have big caseloads, we are not spending as much time with people, bogged down with a load of paperwork. We often have to sacrifice time with someone else to give a person time.”


The report includes 21 recommendations for the development of a probation services more informed by the experiences of people on probation although the authors are careful to credit the Probation Service with an existing commitment to follow this path through its Engaging People on Probation (EPOP) programme.