Tuesday 30 August 2022

The Case Is Made

At last we have a clear position statement from the Probation Institute stating what many of us have been saying for some time. But now is the time for the whole profession and all those organisations and individuals who share concerns for its future to unite and make your views known. Time is short. You must act now! 

The Future of the Probation Service 

This paper responds to the recent government announcements – August 2022- regarding the integration of the Probation Service and the Prison Service in England and Wales at leadership and senior management level. Whilst we recognise that this merger is described as intended to strengthen the front line of delivery and increase regional innovation, in the Probation Institute we genuinely believe that this integration will be very damaging for the Probation Service as a profession seeking to achieve management of risk and rehabilitation in the community. Indeed, we believe that it will quickly lead to the disappearance of a distinct Probation Service. It is particularly regrettable that these decisions have been taken so quickly after the re-unification of the Probation Service following the disastrously flawed semi privatisation (Transforming Rehabilitation); and seems a further example of the absolute failure of the current government to understand or value the Probation Service. Indeed the Unification of Probation has been slow to date and is very far from complete. 

We note that the proposed changes respond to the savings required within the Civil Service but we do not regard this approach as appropriate to deliver savings that will continue to achieve effective rehabilitation in the community. We also note that the proposed changes are happening quickly with the first integration of leadership roles to take place by 1st September 2022. 

The Trustees, Fellows and Academic Advisers of the Probation Institute have many years of experience of working in Probation – as senior leaders, trade union leaders, inspectors, and academics. We all continue to care passionately about Probation – as a concept and as a professional service. 

We set out below key areas in which the two services are distinct, and, in our view, they have remained significantly incompatible for at least the last 50 years. 


Probation is a profession – all probation officers must achieve the professional qualification at Higher Education Level 6. This has been a requirement for 50 years. 

The Prison Service does not require an equivalent professional qualification and in our view there is no current activity which suggests any movement towards professionalising the Prison Service which would reflect the level of qualification and competences set for the Probation Service. The Probation Service in fact undertakes more joint work with the police and indeed shares the community-based response to and responsibility for the management of risk, requiring a professional approach.


We understand the recent statements regarding the “shared mission of protecting the public, delivering safe prison regimes and reducing the risk that people will reoffend”. Not only is this statement very prison focussed, we find it narrow, limiting and failing to value the purpose of rehabilitation. 
  • The purpose of Probation must be the fine balance of managing risk and rehabilitation in the community – including continuous assessment, engagement, relationship building and enforcement in highly complex environments. Key to the purpose is the essential understanding of the causes of offending at a societal, group and individual level. In this sense probation is much more closely aligned to social work. 
  • The purpose of the Prison Service, rightly, is delivering safe prisons – with a primary emphasis on security, safety, fair and positive management of people in custody. 
Both services share the overarching and compelling requirement to promote equality and diversity and to make significant improvements towards race equality but the context in which this needs to occur must be culturally sensitive. 


Over 50 years in our experience the two cultures are distinctly different. 

The Probation Service is primarily concerned with the psychological and social environments in which service users and practitioners live and work. The pathways to rehabilitation include housing, finance, substance misuse and health services, employment and education, family support and The Service also provides a service to the courts and is actively involved pre-trial, along with other agencies. The Prison Service has historically shown little interest in the wider societal influences apart from pre-release work on employment and education, which has reduced in recent years. This difference underpins very different attitudes and behaviours across the two services creating very different cultures. Again, there is more of a shared approach between probation, the police and other community-based services. 

Size and Funding 

The total head count of HMPPS is approximately 54,000. The headcount distribution at the end of June 2021 was:
  • Prison service – approx. 34,000 
  • Probation service – approx. 16,500 
Taking also into account the massive cost of the prison estate the size and funding of the Prison Service hugely overwhelms the size of the Probation Service; the Prison Service inevitably dominates in respect of size and funding. 

We have seen clear examples that Probation has been losing visibility since HMPPS was created despite the current separate management structures. This has been particularly clear in the court setting and apparent since Probation was drawn fully into the Civil Service.

In our view the Civil Service is a wholly inappropriate location for the Probation Service. Indicators of this inappropriateness include: 
  • Ministerial control taking precedence over professional advice (recent decisions concerning recommendations in Parole Reports) 
  • Severe constraints on Probation Practitioners from sharing professional concerns in public arena, including publishing 
  • Lack of external scrutiny (only the MOJ funded HMIPP Inspectorates currently scrutinise the work of the Probation Service. 

Probation leaders are typically, and importantly, drawn from the practitioner grades. It is difficult to see how a Prison Officer could effectively lead a Probation Service unless they had significant previous experience in other posts in the community. 

Prison Service leaders and managers operate a clear command control structure. Probation officers need to exercise their professional judgement and fundamentally could not maximise their effectiveness in a command control environment. 


There is a significant difference in training. Probation Officer training is a two-year higher education at programme based in four universities. The input from higher education includes the essential deep understanding of sociology, law, behaviour, psychology. Probation officers achieve a Level 6 qualification – a degree. 

Prison officer training is very short - 6 weeks – and focusses essentially on the tasks required for the safe management of people and security. Prison officers attain a Level 4 vocational qualification. 

For the above reasons the Probation Institute urges the government to reverse the decision to integrate the leadership and management of the two services. The organisational location of the Probation Service should be reviewed through genuine consultation as quickly as possible. Our preferred arrangement would be for a Non-Departmental Public Body with strong local representation. 

Probation Institute 
August 2022

Carry On Advising, Assisting and Befriending

For those unaware, probation once more finds itself under attack and threatened with losing its distinct identity by being totally consumed by the prison service - the so-called 'One HMPPS' plan. This is yet more madness being introduced at rapid speed and during an extended period of 'zombie' government caused by the defenestration of Boris Johnson. Parliament is in summer recess and then it's the party conference season. 

Things are so serious there are signs that both Napo and the Probation Institute are about to act, but in the mean time some practitioners appear keen to rally around a strong defence of our core beliefs and that mark us out from our colleagues in HM Prison Service. In essence these beliefs can best be summed up by the phrase first coined in the 1907 Probation of Offenders Act that probation officers were to 'advise, assist and befriend'

Over recent years a great deal of effort has been expended in trying to persuade practitioners that this was an out-dated concept and had no place in a service now focused on 'protecting the public'. We won't rehearse the background and journey here because it's one pretty well known to readers, but rather confirm that the concept was never expunged and has continued to be practised either overtly or covertly depending on local management circumstances. It hasn't been easy for recusant staff and sadly many time-served officers have either been bullied-out or just gave up disillusioned and exhausted.

Essentially the official line is that 'advise, assist and befriend' has no place at all in the modern probation service either in protecting the public or in rehabilitating offenders. Many of us have always known that wasn't true - it isn't true and at the weekend on Twitter confirmed by Prof Rob Canton who reminded us of his assertion from 2007:- 

"The history of probation has... been characterised as a journey from 'advise, assist and befriend' to 'enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection'. But there is now a weight of evidence and argument to show that the way to get the best from people is to treat them well - with fairness, respect, encouragement and personal interest. This is not only ethically valuable, but also conduces to probation's objectives. In each of its phases, probation has sooner or later made this discovery. Perhaps the best way to enforce, rehabilitate and protect the public is by advising, assisting and befriending."

This is so important to have academic validation. It was true then and it's still true now. With apologies to Hovis, 'it's as good as it's always been'. Probation MUST retain its distinct ethos and identity. 


It's time to revisit Guest Blog 86 from 2015:-

Guest Blog 26

Advise, Assist and Befriend.

I've seen a lot of changes in probation over the years. When I started working in probation most of my colleagues tended to have 20+ year service records, while managers had been in post for like forever. The success of qualification as a Probation Officer was a real achievement, particularly when working alongside such long serving staff, some with previous careers in professions including mining, finance, teaching and the military. In those days you had to be qualified for at least two years to supervise a dangerous offender or lifer, you wouldn't be allocated a Parole Report unless you had already proved your worth in both report writing and through-care, and you needed an arms length of quality service to become a manager and a lifetime of service to become a senior manager or Chief Officer. Nowadays the new recruits can be allocated a caseload of high risk offenders on the first day and management is an escape route for those that have the least understanding of probation work. Pay increases were on an annual basis and I'm sure pay bands used to be a lot higher too.

There were always unique characters in probation offices, such as the good-natured colleague that supervised all the lifers and was always visiting prisons, the colleague that was an expert on mental health and seemed in need of the service too, the rebellious Union colleagues that management revered, you know the ones that were eventually seconded off to the local prison (the elephants graveyard for burnt out probation officers), the colleague that would bring in token presents for the most isolated clients at Xmas and allegedly on occasion would invite the most needy to dinner at Xmas and Easter (to which management turned a blind eye), the colleagues that awoke the office with Reggae tunes first thing every morning (if you were in early enough to hear), the colleague that seemed to have mastered the art of avoiding all unnecessary meetings in place of fag and coffee breaks, the colleague that was always trying to bend and reinterpret legislation and sentencing guidelines (sometimes summoned to appear before Crown Court Judges to explain their proposals), the colleague that wrote Pre Sentence Reports so lengthy that the rest of us went into hiding at gate keeping time, and the colleague whose Pre Sentence Reports were so short they could fit on two sides of A4. What united us all was the value of being probation officers and the desire to help our clients to change and improve their lives

I think I joined up when Probation had just about clawed back its status as a worthwhile profession after Michael Howard had tried to kill it off, but since qualification it's been downhill all the way. Unfortunately much of our good work seems to have been eroded and this has escalated under recent governments and the introduction of TR. Pay freezes and 1% pay rises are now an expectation, sickness and stress levels have risen even for the most experienced staff, probation management (particularly those recently retired CEO's) sold us down the river and told us to say "thank you", and we've lost a disproportionate amount of experienced staff to CRC's to be replaced by probation (PQF) trainees fresh out of university, some of which don't really seem to know what probation work actually is, or don't really care. Sad but true.

I joined probation a few years after leaving university too. I had the experience of youth work and being employed with various non-statutory rehabilitation agencies, and before that manual labour was my thing and long before that I was a delinquent and subsequently a prisoner, that's the experience I brought. On the last point (now that I have your attention), probation believed in me and in turn I've believed in every client I've supervised. I've once known a client return to probation as an employee, and I've counted amongst my probation officer friends over the years a few former football hooligans, two reformed prostitutes, numerous recovered drug addicts and alcoholics (some in relapse if the Xmas party is anything to go by) and a few convicted of the more minor indiscretions.

So I'm not at risk of being accused of glorifying offending or bringing probation into disrepute. I add that over the years my undesirable bunch of probation officer friends has also included a range of identities and top notch exemplary characters from the lowest classes to the borderline upper class, and even two 'new money' lottery winners still actually coming to work. I've also been lucky enough to work with some of the best probation managers, and thankfully my current manager is 'old skool' and and falls into this category.

What binds us together in probation is the contribution we make to society in supporting probation clients. We hold a basic set of values believing every person can change, given adequate support, motivation and opportunity, and this can shine through for many no matter whether they qualified with DipSW or DipPS. Ever since the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 provided the statutory foundation for the probation service we've been 'advising, assisting and befriending' those under our supervision. A few weeks ago when prepping for a parole hearing I came across documentation from what was then the Probation and Aftercare Service and I thought to myself, "even though it's hard to see amidst the MoJ limescale and gloss, we still are that service".

Despite all the changes, the IT failures, the TR omnishambles and the combined impact of the ideas of Michael Howard, Chris Grayling and all the other probation-haters, we will always be probation officers doing probation work. I won't pretend that probation officers are not overworked or are sometimes too preoccupied with assessing risk, MAPPA and "protecting the public". And we know when we attend hearings with barristers and psychologists that we're evidently not lettered enough to earn anything more than £27 per hour in providing our opinions. However, for whom the Courts think fit to be placed under our supervision every colleague I know takes their duty seriously in helping probation clients to improve their quality of life, which is what probation work has been about for over 100 years.

The reason for this now rambling post was to respond to the comments on this blog from probation clients, the ones that have unfortunately had a negative experience of probation. I occasionally comment here as 'Probation Officer' and I used to Tweet as 'SaveProbation', so this is an addition to my previous two-pence worth. A while back I fell out with my probation bosses over too many outspoken views and so moved on to pastures new, but I returned a while later because of my love for probation work, albeit less active in the campaign against TR (which has now been lost). The disclosure about my own background and that of some of my colleagues is to highlight that probation officers come from all walks of life as do the clients we work with.

I cringe at the implementation of too many conduct policies, vetting procedures and the now forced adherence to the Civil Service Code, which I think has become partly responsible for some of the rigid probation practices that undermine 'best practice'. This is unfortunate as our gift is that we're real people with real experiences and we use this in our work. Saying that, we do need forms of appropriate regulation and this is not an excuse for the discontent towards probation supervision, but if recruitment does not allow for variation and diversity then we may as well buy a bunch of robot probation officers like they have in the USA (probably coming to a CRC near you soon). Sometimes we don't have the time to bend over backwards for clients, we can't provide flats in Mayfair or jobs with the Bank of England, and yes sometimes we do have to refuse a release from prison or return clients to custody. We can't please all of the people all of the time.

I understand the frustrations of both supervising and of being supervised, and I have in the past come across probation officers that wrongly believed that probation clients should not be anxious or angry about having to come to probation and should even welcome their supervision. I've witnessed probation clients wrongly breached for arriving 10 minutes late and even learned of clients recalled to prison for trying to 'chat up' their probation officer or expressing a few profanities during supervision. I remember when 'supervision' wrongly began to take a back seat to CBT programmes and the activities on offer from outside organisations became increasingly more important, and when Community Service worryingly became a way to generate an income and create photo opportunities for local politicians and Police and Crime Commissioners.

What I'm saying is that we all know that there has been problems in probation for some time, made worse by TR, but I've also seen all of the good work. Some say they took away probation's social work roots and others say they turned probation into an enforcement agency, but they did not. Every probation office I enter has the same old mix of varied staff all trying to work towards the greater good. The age and experience of new entrants to probation officer training seems to be ever decreasing with the latest recruits fresh out of university, but I still don't think the ethos of probation work can ever be removed because by the time the 'nodding dogs' have escaped to management roles the rest would have already begun evolving into "poxy social work types" (as I was recently referred to).

The government is constantly banging on about reoffending rates but what's usually omitted is the fantastic news that the majority of people on probation do not reoffend. I know my own work has aided these figures and this is a summary just from today for those wanting an insight into probation work. After dropping the kids off at school I arrived at work, fighting the traffic to arrive at my usual time. I checked my emails and picked up a file and on to visit a local'ish prison. The visit was to discuss release plans for a man soon to be released after serving a very long sentence. He has no home to go to and no family to support him, but I've got him a place in a probation hostel and he's happy with that. We finished with a bit of a chat about Morgan Freeman's parole speech in the Shawshank Redemption, one of his favourite movies.

Two hours later I was back at my desk going through emails ranging from concerns about a young offender to gripes about what may be lurking in the office fridge. I tend to pick up the phone to respond to emails it's faster and I don't need to evidence everything I do with an email. As I was on my way to join colleagues for a team lunch I bumped into a client on his way in to see me unplanned. He wanted to use the phone to call the Benefits Agency so I put my coat back inside and sat with him while he made the call. He's not very articulate (and "where's my effing money" never works) so I explained the situation to the person on the other end of the line to get the ball rolling. 40 minutes later and after listening to his reflection on his recent melt down over Xmas, job done and I managed to grab a sandwich to eat at my desk.

Over the next few hours there was the usual steady stream of emails, telephone calls and clients in my direction. At the same time I was working on a Pre-Sentence Report due in Court in a few days time. The person in question is suitable for a community sentence and that's what I'm recommending. I try to keep people out of prison wherever possible, and I try to emphasise rehabilitation over punishment. My to-do list also includes a Parole Report, a recall review report, a few risk assessments and supervision plans, and I'm usually running a bit behind in updating the contact logs with details of every phone call and email and every visit from a probation client.

It had already turned dark outside and was nearing the end of the day. The last client through the door is young and headstrong so I always try to spend a bit more time with him. He's really started to do well since being released from prison and we have a chat about his future plans to keep him focused. He failed his driving test in the past week so we talked about that too and I gave him a few tips for his retest. In return he let me hear his lyrics in his latest Youtube video, which thankfully only lasted a few minutes.

The last part of my day is usually spent updating the contact logs, and then finishing outstanding prices of work. I managed to complete a recall review report ready to be countersigned and sent to the recall unit. The client in question has outstanding offences so I'm recommending that he's not released from prison just yet. His solicitor had been constantly phoning me about this decision and doesn't seem to understand legal processes so I'm no longer taking their calls until my report had been submitted.

Just as I was having a chat with colleagues and about to switch off the computer an email came through with confirmation that a prisoner due to be released will not be detained by the immigration section. I rang his parents with the good news and my working day ended on a positive note. It was a long day but a good day, as are most days in probation. There were no crisis situations, I wasn't called a "cunt", nobody turned up homeless, and there wasn't a fire drill so it was all good.

Its probably a good point to get back to the point of the article, which is to remind probation clients that we are here to help and we are darn good at it. I'm not interested in claiming to protect the public, provide a service to victims or to enforce 'proper' punishments. My job as a Probation Officer, not an Offender Manager which is an awful term, is to advise, assist, befriend, help, support, motivate and rehabilitate. Anybody can be an 'Offender Manager' (whatever that is) and in my book impersonating a Probation Officer should become a criminal offence.

The Government meddling and the introduction of TR will not change my ethos and nor will the business plans of the new owners of private probation companies. As the news of the cost cutting strategies of the new private probation companies begin to emerge it is quickly becoming apparent that they may have bitten off more than they can chew. The Offender Rehabilitation Act is built on too much controversy, TTG to be delivered by privateers and charities is already a looming failure, and only an idiot would introduce a Post Sentence Supervision strategy that is abbreviated and referred to as PSS.

Probation work cannot be properly costed because if it were we'd be getting a lot more than £27 per hour. Nor can our work be time restricted or dictated by government whims, that's if rehabilitation is to remain an achievable outcome. When probation services are in tatters, when a new Justice Secretary is in post and when all those probation Chief Officers and management types that aided and abetting the sale of probation are forced to lower their heads in shame, we will continue to say "We told you so" and we'll carry on with advising, assisting and befriending.

Probation Officer
(10-20 years to retire!)

Sunday 28 August 2022

It Makes Sense

"The history of probation has... been characterised as a journey from 'advise, assist and befriend' to 'enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection'. But there is now a weight of evidence and argument to show that the way to get the best from people is to treat them well - with fairness, respect, encouragement and personal interest. This is not only ethically valuable, but also conduces to probation's objectives. In each of its phases, probation has sooner or later made this discovery. Perhaps the best way to enforce, rehabilitate and protect the public is by advising, assisting and befriending."

The above quote was offered by Prof Rob Canton, somewhat embarrassingly as author, during some Twitter exchanges yesterday. He went on to say he wrote the words in 2007 in the Introduction to the Dictionary of Probation and Offender Management, edited by R. Canton and D. Hancock (Willan Publications) and wondered 'if they made sense to probation folk?' 

Of course they do indeed make sense, especially to regular readers and contributors to this blog because 'advise, assist and befriend' goes to the very core of the probation ethos and why many of us have stuck with it and refused to be party to its abandonment over the years. 

The sadness is that this core belief has had to be practised 'under the radar' and in a clandestine manner with many of its adherents of experience and service actively encouraged to believe it was they that were misguided, old-fashioned and out of step with contemporary theory and practice. Before it is too late, could this be the moment to correct this disgraceful and disrespectful treatment of both long-serving staff and deserving clientele? (Many of us refuse to use PoPs).

It feels enormously refreshing and encouraging to have one's beliefs validated and these words from 2007 need to be repeated and reinforced in 2022 because probation now faces the existential threat of disappearing as a distinct service, professional identity and autonomy. The Probation Institute appears about to mount a campaign, the Napo AGM is not far off and I would suggest that now is the time for all those that care come to the aid of our profession and core belief, in which case there could surely be no better rallying cry than 

'Advise, Assist and Befriend'.         


Saturday 27 August 2022

Holding Politicians to Account

Whilst we are aware of on-going court challenges to the Raab-inspired and outrageous parole changes, thank goodness for the Prison Reform Trust and its sterling work in holding him to account through Freedom of Information Requests. Chapter and verse published yesterday on their website:-

Parole Board: Dominic Raab making an “already difficult job close to impossible”

Documents released to the Prison Reform Trust following a Freedom of Information request have uncovered fundamental disagreements between the Parole Board and the justice secretary Dominic Raab about the changes he has made — and intends to make — to the parole system.

We asked for copies of communications between the Parole Board’s Chair and Chief Executive and the Ministry of Justice that related to the “root and branch” review of parole that the government published earlier this year. All of those documents are available at the foot of this article. What they show is a deep divide between the board and Raab, and a cavalier approach by the justice secretary, pressing ahead regardless and at one stage causing the board to complain that the way he was acting was making its members’ “already difficult job close to impossible”.

Key points from the exchanges reveal:
  • The board categorically disagrees with Raab’s analysis of whether a change to release test is required, and worried that it may impede the Board’s ability to assess risk properly. The board rejects the idea that there is a problem to solve – highlighting the very low “failure rate” and pointing out that it almost invariably follows recommendations of professionals employed by the Secretary of State in high profile cases
  • The board asserts that the requirement to have police officers on panels and the change in criteria for open conditions both increase risk to public in different ways
  • The board makes principled and legal objections to the Secretary of State being “judge in his own cause” by taking on release decisions in high profile cases
  • The board states that there is inadequate provision in place to support victims observing hearings
  • The board objects to a total lack of consultation over the “single view” proposals, which was making its members’ “already difficult job close to impossible”
  • The board estimates an increased requirement of 800 prison places annually through proposals in root and branch review leading to reduced release rate.
  • The former justice secretary Robert Buckland favoured independent tribunal status for the board.
The first thing that becomes clear from the documents is that the changes to parole — designed to make it much harder for people to get to open prisons, and to give the justice secretary a veto over the release of individual prisoners — are the personal obsession of Dominic Raab. We learn from an email dated 30 April 2021 that his predecessor, Robert Buckland, favoured tribunal status for the Parole Board. That would have confirmed the court-like status of the board, and therefore its independence from political interference. But Buckland’s departure in the autumn of 2021 led to a re-write of the root and branch review and a complete reversal in the direction of travel.

Faced with that change in political direction, the board sought to reassure Raab that his concerns about release decisions in high profile cases were misplaced. In a letter of 8 February 2022, the board explained that it almost invariably followed the advice of the department’s professional specialists in such cases. It urged the secretary of state to appoint counsel more frequently, but pointed out that a panel taking decisions that were “swayed by sentiment” rather than focused on future risk would leave the board “wide open to a rationality challenge”. It suggested that if he was still concerned that a panel might ignore all the professional advice it received, there could be an avenue of appeal for the secretary of state to the Court of Appeal.

The board’s advice fell on deaf ears, and the root and branch review was published on 31 March 2022 with a description of a “problem” that the board simply didn’t recognise, and a set of “solutions” that it felt were both wrong in principle and likely to increase the risk to the public. There is a key letter from the board to Raab dated 10 May, responding to the review’s conclusions. It welcomes many aspects of the review. But not all. In particular:
  • Having sought legal opinion, the board specifically refutes Raab’s assertion that the board has become less concerned about public protection in response to caselaw on the release test. The letter states “It is simply not correct to state that the board has treated its task as a balancing exercise considering the competing interests of the prisoner and the protection of the public. With respect our legal reading is that the test has not seen a drift away from its original meaning. It remains in the terms set out in your foreword and requires no refinement”.
  • The board expresses concern that setting new statutory criteria for release may “impede the ability of panels to take into account all aspects of risk”.
  • While more than open to the prospect of more people with a police background becoming board members, the letter describes how any requirement that a panel should have include from a particular background in a particular case may actually increase risk to the public and could be unlawful.
  • The board makes clear its view that Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights requires decisions on release to lie with a court or court-like body, and it goes on to explain the basic problem in domestic law of anyone being “judge in their own cause”. In other words, the secretary of state cannot be both a party to the panel’s proceedings and then act as the decision maker as well.
  • The board states in terms that the proposals to change the criteria under which people can be recommended for a move to open conditions will have the result that “some of the most complex individuals will be released directly from closed conditions into the community, with less certainty on how they might behave and that could increase risk to the public”.
  • Unlike the ministry, the board makes an estimate of the likely consequence of the changes on the need for prison places. It suggests 800 additional places a year may be required — equivalent to a new medium-sized prison.
The board also raises a number of practical implementation questions. They all go unanswered and Dominic Raab implements the changes to criteria for open conditions in June. But he doesn’t stop there. He also introduces secondary legislation (which requires no parliamentary debate) to institute the preparation of a “single view” from the secretary of state in some cases. In the same rule change, he forbids report writers and witnesses commissioned by him from making recommendations to the parole panel. None of this was in the root and branch review, and as has become only too obvious, it’s a change that has practical implications that no-one has thought through. It prompts this agonised email of 16 June from the Parole Board to the ministry:
“…it is extremely difficult and disappointing that the Parole Board is the last to hear about important decisions which strike at the very heart of the difficult decisions we are asked to make. It makes our members already difficult job close to impossible…” Email from Parole Board to Ministry of Justice, 16 June
The final email in this depressing sequence (dated 14 July 2022) shows just how desperate the justice secretary has been to make his announcements, regardless of whether they are ready to be implemented. The board points out that inadequate arrangements are being made to support victims who choose to observe parole hearings as a consequence of one of the root and branch review’s recommendations. A desperate haste, driven by political considerations, has trumped even the interests of victims.

Thursday 25 August 2022

Call To Arms!

Forget all that Probation Day nonsense - the MoJ are determined to completely erase probation as a distinct entity and the civil servant in charge is clearly on a mission to ensure elevation to Cabinet Secretary when Liz Truss is proclaimed new leader in a couple of weeks. Time is short but despite probation being in a state of crisis, things are being accelerated, in fact just as the same civil servant rushed-in the failed TR project. 

Thanks go to the reader for alerting me to this from the Probation Institute:- 

Sent: Tuesday, August 23, 2022 12:33:47 PM

One-HMPPS Programme

Dear all,

We hope this find finds you well and enjoying the Summer.

You may have been reading reports of possible changes to the structures of HMPPS. These proposals are becoming more apparent, and we now understand that it is clearly intended to integrate the management and leadership of the probation and prison services. It is intended that this restructure should give greater autonomy to regional management of HMPPS; also to achieve the anticipated efficiency savings in the civil service.

We attach a note circulated to all staff last week. It is rather bland. A couple of days later this was followed by a note from Antonio Romeo Permanent Secretary MOJ including the text below. It seems that events are moving quickly.
I have now agreed with the Deputy Prime Minister to move to a new top-level structure in the agency with a Director General Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Director General Operations.

The CEO post will be a full-time Accounting Officer for the agency, no longer combined with Second Permanent Secretary responsibilities. The two new Director General (DG) posts will replace the existing DG Prisons and DG Probation, Wales & Youth posts. These changes will support the move to a regional model which the new CEO and DG Ops will oversee.

Jo will continue to oversee HMPPS alongside her wider Second Permanent Secretary responsibilities overseeing CICA, LAA, OPG and the service delivery transformation portfolios including digital and programme delivery.

We will fill the two DG roles via an internal HMPPS process, with the changes taking effect from 1st September. These changes will help strengthen HMPPS’s work towards our shared mission of protecting the public, delivering safe prison regimes and reducing the risk that people will reoffend.
We anticipate that you will be as concerned as we are, particularly regarding the proposed date for leadership changes.

Napo is firmly opposed. With the benefit of experience, it is difficult to see this as other than the loss of professional identity and autonomy for the probation service with all that this will entail.

As the current political environment is rather fluid, we believe that it is worth mounting a campaign to change this decision. It may be that Dominic Raab will not remain in his role but time is short.

We are drafting a short public statement which we will share in the next few days. We are meeting with Napo and others to plan.

You might think it appropriate to write to your MP, or the Minister of State for Prisons and Probation Stuart Andrew, or Dominic Raab - or all three! Any information about the model in Wales would be helpful - the recent Review Letter from HMIP includes a mix of strengths and significant areas for improvement.

We will arrange a Fellows meeting very soon.

With best wishes,

Helen and Mary Anne

Helen Schofield
Acting Chief Executive
Probation Institute


One HMPPS Programme

Everyone working in probation, prisons, youth custody, headquarters, and regional services is working to deliver the same mission: public protection, including safe prison regimes, and reducing the risk that people will reoffend. That is at the heart of what we mean by “One HMPPS”. The One HMPPS programme has been launched by the HMPPS Leadership Team to consider how closer regional working and a greater focus on the frontline can help us better deliver that mission.

The programme aims to refocus the agency on our core operational business, making sure that the whole organisation is structured to ensure the frontline has the right support and supporting improved outcomes. A key aim of the programme is to protect investment in operational delivery and avoid structural change in how we run prisons, deliver probation services and run the youth custody service, but our work will also need to identify cashable efficiency savings in a way that will still enable us to deliver effective operational services that help change lives.

This is a long-term programme of change, which is currently in the design stage. No decisions have been made yet, but our design will be shaped by the following principles:
  • A focus on the front-line services that we deliver, improving services and outcomes for all offender groups, including women and young people
  • Deeper collaboration across the agency both within HQ and closer to the point of delivery, particularly between prisons and probation, in the development and implementation of the One HMPPS vision;
  • Strengthening HMPPS’s regional impact through devolved decision making and by building, and delivering through, stronger relationships with our partners
  • Identifying and designing out duplication in the system, and identifying how the agency can operate in a more efficient way and
  • Using evidence and data in how change is designed and the decisions we make.
Practically, this is likely to look like a more regional way of working across England, building upon lessons learned from the HMPPS Wales model, with greater autonomy afforded to the regions to allow them to innovate, and to build upon local networks to best meet the needs of their local cohorts. The Programme shares the commitment to grow and better support our frontline operational teams and the assumption is that the best way to better support the frontline is to empower Prison Groups and Probation Regions. This is likely to require changes in HQ to make sure it is easy to navigate and provides the best support to the frontline. The voice of HQ staff in how to do this will be essential.

The One HMPPS Programme also allows respond positively and appropriately to cost reduction asks, arising both from our 2021 Spending Review settlement, and more recently from Civil Service 2025. It is important we do this in the right way, by understanding how HMPPS can operate to deliver better outcomes in a manner that ensure the agency is both more effective and more efficient.

At this stage there is no confirmed timeline for implementation, but we anticipate that you will start to see changes in how we operate by 2025, the end of the current Spending Review period.

We know that many of you have gone through a lot of change over the past few years, and it may be unsettling to hear plans of further changes to the way we operate. The programme is committed to meaningfully engaging and working with all parts of HMPPS and our recognised Trade Unions to understand business needs and develop and refine our future design and implementation plans, and whilst we are currently at the beginning of the change journey, as more concrete proposals are developed the programme is committed to formal consultation with our recognised trade unions throughout.

After engagement with HMPPS recognised trade unions we will begin to reach out in Autumn 2022 to let you know how you can help shape this work. We encourage you to feed in your views to make sure that the proposed changes are designed in a way that best delivers for you and the wider agency.


One HMPPS Programme, Q&A

We understand that colleagues will have many questions regarding the commencement of the One HMPPS Programme, we will continue to ensure engagement with all staff throughout and that this document is updated accordingly.

Why are these changes being made now?

The agency has committed to this programme of change in recognition of the need to make sustainable changes to ensure that the agency is operating at its best, protecting the public and reducing reoffending.

Since unification of the Probation services, for the first time all services are operating entirely under the HMPPS umbrella. This presents us with a timely opportunity to reconsider how we operate as an organisation to deliver the best possible outcomes in the most efficient and effective way.

The programme is committed to ongoing engagement with staff from across the business to ensure that views are fed in and responded to appropriately throughout the process. Whilst we are currently at the beginning of the change journey, as more concrete proposals are developed the programme is committed to formal consultation with our recognised trade unions prior to implementation.

The Programme is also working through the scope of the Civil Service 2025 announcement and assessing how we can meet the efficiency ask of CS2025 whilst protecting and supporting the front line and avoiding detrimental impact on the essential services delivered by the agency. We do not expect structural changes to have an impact below PGD/RPD level; and will work closely with operational leaders to minimise disruption to the front line.

Why more change now particularly as probation has gone through significant changes over the last year?

The agency has committed to this programme of change in recognition of the need to make sustainable changes to ensure that the agency is operating at its best, protecting the public and reducing reoffending. We are also committed to realising efficiencies as part of our Spending Review settlement and in response to Civil Service 2025.

The programme is committed to ongoing engagement with staff from across the business to ensure that views are fed in and responded to appropriately throughout the process. Whilst we are currently at the beginning of the change journey, as more concrete proposals are developed the programme is committed to formal consultation prior to implementation.

We do not expect structural changes to have an impact below PGD/RPD level; and will work closely with operational leaders to minimise disruption to the front line.

How will this change result in efficiencies?

Moving to a more regional model will enable us to review the purpose, function and structure of HQ, streamlining how we work and reducing duplication to make sure the centre best supports the frontline. We are at the beginning of this process, however, and are committed to engaging properly with staff in order to inform design as plans develop further.

Many of us have experienced restructures before, why will this be any different/successful?

Since unification of the Probation service we are in an unprecedented position whereby all services are operating entirely under the HMPPS umbrella. This has offered us the opportunity to think about how best we should structure the agency to operate most effectively going forward. We are committed to learning from past organisational changes and restructures to ensure that the changes we make are sustainable and meet the future needs of the organisation. We are also committed to meaningful engagement with our staff and formal consultation with our recognised Trade Unions ahead of implementation.

How are we learning from DOM/ROM model/previous organisational change?

The programme is committed to ensuring that lessons from past restructures and models, including from other government departments and agencies, are incorporated throughout the planning of the changes being proposed.

What benefits have we seen from the implementation of this model in Wales?

We have seen significant benefits from the implementation of a more regional way of
working in HMPPS Wales, including better joint planning with partner organisations;
efficiencies from shared use of resources; and a more cohesive approach to end-to-end
offender journey planning and joint commissioning.

We are committed to taking the key learning from how HMPPS operates in Wales and
exploring how a similar approach could be adopted in England, recognising the differences between these two areas.

What will this mean for how we work with the functional model?

The Programme team are currently working closely with leads from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to explore and understand functional requirements within the regions and how we can best work in collaboration with MoJ functions to meet these needs going forward.

What will the relationship be between regions and HQ in future?

We anticipate that HMPPS will move to a more regionally focused operating model which would allow the front-line more opportunity to innovate and be better able to respond to the specific needs of the offender cohort at a regional level. In response to this new way of operating we need to ensure that HMPPS HQ has a renewed focus on our core operational business and can best meet the needs of the newly empowered regional front-line. We are at the beginning of this process, however, and we are committed to engaging meaningfully with staff in order to inform design as plans develop.

Will it be a one size fits all? Areas of the country differ.

We are keen to ensure that in adopting a regionally focussed model, front-line services can be tailored to best meet local and regional needs. No decisions have been taken about what this will look like at this stage, and we are committed to engaging meaningfully with staff to inform design as plans develop

Are you increasing/decreasing the number of regions?

No decisions have been made about what a regional structure would look like. The programme is committed to engaging across the business to ensure the new regional
structure supports and enhances how we deliver our services.

How much autonomy and flexibility will regions have? How will we ensure consistency in delivery across England and Wales?

We are still exploring options for what more empowered regions would look like. The programme will ensure that there are appropriate governance and accountability measures that will enable consistency in the outcomes that will be achieved at a regional level whilst encouraging and enabling innovation.

What will this mean for specialist estates like LTHSE, women, YCS?

We recognise and appreciate that some functions may have to remain under national management, and will engage fully with colleagues across these areas to understand how best they will derive benefit from the advantages that greater alignment will offer and operate alongside our future regional structures.

How will we involve everyone from Directors to frontline staff?

The Programme will undertake engagement activity with all grades of staff across the agency to help design, develop and deliver the new operating model for HMPPS.

How will we take external partners with us?

We want the changes that are being spoken about to build upon and enhance existing relationships with our external partners and will offer greater opportunity for collaboration and partnership working.

How will this help us to manage our population across regional borders?

We recognise and appreciate that some functions may have to remain under national management in order to best support the operational front line. We will work with the Population Management Team to understand how the new structure could best support population management in the future.

How will you ensure that the changes do not impact front-line delivery?

We do not expect structural changes to have an impact below PGD/RPD level; and will engage closely with operational leaders to minimise disruption to the front line. We anticipate that many of the changes that are implemented will have a positive impact on front-line delivery, including an increased ability to tailor services to the needs of local cohorts.

The programme is committed to ongoing engagement with staff from across the business to ensure that views are fed in and responded to appropriately throughout the design and implementation process.

Prisons and probation do have differences – how do we work with that?

We recognise the differences between Prisons and Probation. The services that we deliver as an organisation are jointly responsible for delivering the outcomes of public protection and reducing reoffending; and we can best deliver on these outcomes if we are working in a more aligned way. We want to engage across the business to identify opportunities for working in a more strategically aligned way, and use these to inform design going forward.

What will be the impact on staff members across the agency?

The Programme is guided by the need to be frontline focused, ensuring that HMPPS HQ’s purpose, functions and structure are clear and, where necessary, streamlined so that it provides the best support and appropriate challenge to operational delivery, and regions have better access to its services.

The programme is committed to ongoing engagement with staff from across the business throughout the programme’s lifecycle to ensure that views are fed in and responded to meaningfully. Whilst we are currently at the beginning of the change journey, as more concrete proposals are developed the programme is committed to formal consultation prior to implementation.

When will these changes start to be implemented?

Whilst our implementation timeline is yet to be determined, we anticipate this will be a phased approach during the last year of the current Spending Review period, by 2025.

Has this programme emerged in response to Civil Service 2025?

The One HMPPS Programme was commissioned by the HMPPS Leadership Team (HLT) before the announcement of CS2025. The ambition of HLT to deliver the tenets of the One HMPPS programme – a regionally focused model with a renewed emphasis on the operational line, supporting more local partnership working, and with a smaller, more efficient HQ – still stand whether or not we are responding to Civil Service 2025.

Will there be job losses? Will there be a voluntary redundancy option?

We will explore a variety of options as part of our design work. Any options that would result in staff reductions would only be implemented after engagement, consultation and - where appropriate - negotiation with our recognised Trade Unions, and we are committed to ensuring that changes are managed fairly and appropriately.

Will pay/terms and conditions be impacted by these changes?

At this stage, we do not have any plans to change terms and conditions. Any option that would result in changes to T&Cs would be subject to engagement, consultation and - where appropriate - negotiation with our recognised Trade Unions.

Our Roots

It's always wise in my view to have regard to the past when considering the future, so it's probably worth taking a closer look at the Inside Time piece from 2014 and referred to recently:-  

A short history of the Probation Service

With the passing of the Probation of Offenders Act in 1907 by the reforming Liberal government of the time those who had merely been volunteers, otherwise known as ‘Court Missionaries’, were given official status and thus became the first Probation Officers. On 8 May 1907, the Liberal Home Office Minister Herbert Samuel moving the short second reading debate in the House of Commons told MPs that the measure was needed so that offenders whom the courts did not think fit to imprison on account of their age, character or antecedents might be placed on probation under the supervision of these officers whose duty would be to, ‘advise’, ‘assist’ and ‘befriend’ them.

This last phrase about ‘advise’, ‘assist’ and ‘befriend’, which to many in the current climate of the Probation Service is viewed as a profanity, continued to ring down the decades until it was dispensed with in favour of ‘public protection’, ‘enforcement’ and ‘rehabilitation’ in the late 1990s when probation officers willingly signed up to the forces of conservatism.

The probation service has its origins in the late nineteenth century when Hertfordshire printer and philanthropist Frederic Rainer, a volunteer with the Church of England Temperance Society (CETS) wrote to the society of his concern about the lack of help for those who came before the courts. He sent a donation of five shillings towards a fund for practical rescue work in the police courts. The CETS responded by appointing two "missionaries" to Southwark Court with the initial aim of "reclaiming drunkards". This formed the basis of the London Police Courts Mission (LPCM), whose missionaries worked with magistrates to develop a system of releasing offenders on the condition that they kept in touch with the missionary and accepted guidance.

By 1886 the Probation of First Time Offenders Act allowed for courts around the country to follow the London example of appointing missionaries, but very few did so. The emphasis at that time was on religious mission and temperance.

The big change came in 1907 when the Probation of Offenders Act gave the missionaries official status as "officers of the court", later known as probation officers. The Act allowed courts to suspend punishment and discharge offenders if they enter into a recognisance of between one and three years, one condition of which was supervision by a person named in the ‘probation order’.

The 1907 Act also provided for the statutory foundation of the probation service and made it possible for Magistrates’ Courts to appoint probation officers who were paid by the local authority.

The 1909 Departmental Committee of the Home Office stated that the success and efficiency of the new probation system primarily depended upon the person and character of the probation officer. Paragraph 28 makes it clear that; ‘It is a system in which rules are comparatively unimportant, and that personality is everything. The probation officer must be a picked man or woman, endowed not only with intelligence and zeal, but, in a high degree, with sympathy, tact and firmness. On his or her individuality the success or failure of the system depends. Probation is what the officer makes it’.

By 1918 and with juvenile crime increasing during and after the First World War, the Home Office decided that probation work should not be left to philanthropic bodies and local magistrates and that state direction was needed.

However, it wasn’t until 1938 that the Home Office actually assumed control of the Probation Service and introduced a wide range of modernising reforms.

From thereon, the Probation Service underwent many changes until finally in 2000 The Criminal Justice and Court Services Act renamed the probation service as the National Probation Service for England and Wales, replacing 54 probation committees with 42 local probation boards and establishing 100% Home Office funding for the probation service. It also created the post of director general of probation services within the Home Office and made chief officers statutory office holders and members of local probation boards.

For most of the twentieth century, probation officers underwent the same professional education as social workers, but this was set aside in the mid-1990s when the Government decided that social work was an inappropriate way to understand the work of the service; the emphasis of the profession, reflected in the training curriculum, changed towards enforcement, rehabilitation and public protection. This was further cemented in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which defined the purposes of sentencing as: the punishment of offenders; crime reduction; the reform and rehabilitation of offenders; the protection of the public; and the making of reparation by offenders to persons affected by their crimes. Nevertheless, staff continued to emphasise the original values of probation, especially a belief in the possibility of personal change, scepticism about the value of prison as the way to reduce crime, respect for diversity and the importance of professional relationships in enabling change.

Charles Hanson

Wednesday 24 August 2022

The Challenge

I'm not sure why, but we are enjoying a bit of a revival on here and I notice we're heading for eight million 'hits' in a couple of months. Despite all the Probation Day bullshit PR, endless 'awards' for staff, increasingly desperate social media advertising of vacant posts and reminders that PQiP applications are still open, it's patently obvious to all that the Service is in crisis. HMI Inspection Reports confirm this and the normally docile and compliant workforce are at last  growing restless at being shafted over pay and conditions. It might be a 'caring' service, but it's certainly not a caring employer under civil service command and control. 

With project reunification soon to be completed by year end and the 'next stage' ominously due to begin, we are at a crossroads and have a challenge before us. This was all very neatly summed up yesterday by the following contribution:-   

There has been some traffic on here over the last week. Probation has lost its way, (TR and beyond) and there is a lot of "business" management going on, and a lot of angst about the core values. If Probation doesn't define itself, then it will be defined by quite the wrong people, and increasingly, by newer entrants looking to the wrong people for a steer. There's a tacit acceptance here and elsewhere that Probation is a caring service, as well as a public protection one (that was always the balance to be struck) but that is not how it is seen by those in power, however they phrase their intentions. So what to do? What avenues do we have to wrest the power to define "us" from those who basically neither like or value "us"?

A lot of influential people read this blog and I don't just mean the mandarins down at Petty France. Lets keep the conversation going, not least because many of us still believe the distinctive probation ethos represents a worthwhile and noble endeavour and one worth saving and nurturing. It's why the blog was started and why it still enjoys a degree of relevance and support I'm pleased to say. Thanks to everyone for being part of it since 2010. 

Tuesday 23 August 2022

So, How Did It Go?

With the dreadful 'Probation Day' thankfully out of the way for the second year, it's probably as well if we have a look at the recent assessment of 'Project Reunification' by the rather grandly-titled Institute for Government. We're only at stage one remember and there's almost certainly a whole lot more pain and angst coming down the line for a beleaguered service that many would say is rapidly becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Of course it was a world-leading Gold Standard service only a few years ago and before the politicians got involved.      

Reunification of probation services

Introduction In 2019, the government announced it was bringing the management of medium- and low-risk offenders in England and Wales back in house. The decision followed extensive criticism of the decision to outsource these services in 2015 and is the fourth major restructuring of probation services in 20 years, two of which have taken place in the last eight years alone. This case study looks at the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) preparations for the reunification of services and their transition back into the department, highlighting successes, challenges and areas of focus for the longer-term improvement of probation services.


Leadership and engagement 

With real problems associated with TR, having the right programme leadership for reunification was an important decision. Whether by design or not, the two most senior leaders responsible for the programme – SRO Jim Barton and director general Amy Rees – were both involved in TR. Learning from its failures no doubt coloured their approach – particularly with respect to engaging providers, as we discuss further below – and helped avoid a repeat of many of the same mistakes. In addition, their understanding of probation systems, processes and culture played a notable part in helping the programme navigate a complex landscape. 

A consistent theme during our research interviews was MoJ’s commitment to open dialogue and engagement. This included visits to providers, forums with staff and regular communications, all with the aim of making the changes as smooth as possible for staff and providers alike. With more than 7,000 staff across 54 affected organisations, the programme could not have been delivered effectively without a relentless focus on business change and an approach that was inclusive, bringing together the diverse stakeholders. The programme benefited from the fact that, unlike TR – which was almost universally unpopular from the off, being literally and figuratively divisive – unification was a change that many across the probation sector wanted to see. They were therefore more responsive to MoJ’s efforts to communicate and engage. Notwithstanding this, and some mixed feedback from HMIP’s survey, it is clear that MoJ set out with a genuine intention to put engagement at the centre of its programme. Its choice paid dividends. 

CRC innovations 

A key concern of providers when reunification was announced was that the innovations developed by CRCs would be lost. These concerns were valid, given the relatively limited autonomy in the civil service. And, to some extent, they turned out to be well founded – but not in the ways expected. 

The decision to jettison innovations such as case management systems was as much attributable to the tight timetable as to the restrictions of the civil service. The programme SRO acknowledged that these could have been integrated had there been more time, though this could have been a lengthy process. As it was, the need for speed meant taking a more rudimentary approach, and the path of least resistance was followed. Further, some of the innovations that were kept were largely serendipitous. For example, contact centres in Norfolk were retained partly because the contracts were too complicated to unpick in the time available. 

Overall, despite the clear commitment of MoJ to a ‘merger’, it was probably inevitable that the cultures and working practices would lean towards the NPS rather than the CRCs, as the Probation Service, like the NPS, would be in the civil service. 

Commissioning of services 

The central commercial decision for MoJ was its commissioning mechanism. It put effort into ensuring there was strong, early engagement to generate an active market of potential providers. However, despite representations to the contrary from providers, its Dynamic Framework was complex and made it difficult for smaller providers to qualify. As a result, some gave up trying to qualify, while others had to divert front-line resources to the tender processes, impacting front-line services. The approach was partly attributable to the need for speed. Faced with a challenging timetable, MoJ opted for a procurement approach that was in keeping with previous, large commercial arrangements that better suited large national providers, rather than developing a new approach that would have better supported smaller and local providers. MoJ also opted not to use grants, a key demand of the voluntary sector, for essentially the same reasons. 

Both these decisions were incorrect. More focus from the start on whether the Dynamic Framework was proportionate and fit for use by all participants would have saved time on communications and engagement as the process developed, and would have delivered a more diverse, engaged market of providers for Day 1 services. 

Richard Oldfield’s report on the Dynamic Framework, coupled with feedback, has resulted in MoJ now developing criteria and guidance on the use of grants, in partnership with Clinks. MoJ also told us that, despite challenges with the Dynamic Framework, 74% of contracts on Day 1 went to voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations. This has since grown further, and the Dynamic Framework is subject to ongoing review and refinement. 

Workforce management 

MoJ’s core message to staff was that the change was a merger, not a takeover. With TR still casting a shadow over reunification, this was the right approach. But MoJ’s desire to ‘live and breathe’ this motto, while admirable, led to difficulties. 

An early decision was to carry out a job evaluation and grading support (JEGS) exercise: a process by which each new post’s grade in the Probation Service was assessed independently. While this undoubtedly reinforced the message that the Probation Service was, essentially, a new organisation being built from scratch, it did lead to unpredictable outcomes, with some CRC staff matched into roles at grades lower than expected. This, in turn, would leave some staff on lower pay after the three-year pay protection agreed for them in the National Agreement with Probation Trade Unions came to an end. Similarly, the emphasis on a new corporate identity led to some staff having inflated expectations that unification would make an instant and tangible difference to their work, when the reality was that these changes were simply a first step. While MoJ was generally excellent at communicating throughout the process, it could have better managed expectations about the immediate impact the transition would have on working conditions and service performance. 

A recurring theme in our research into the reunification of probation was the high volumes of cases CRC staff had to deal with post-unification. CRC staff arrived having to hold on to their existing cases until a new IT system could be developed to accept them. This lack of new, integrated IT capability on Day 1, rendered impossible by the aggressive timetable, was sub-optimal. It led to unnecessary pressure on some staff and this, in turn, likely coloured the perspectives of those who already felt ‘second class’. Staff shortfalls contributed to the caseload pressures, too. CRCs were required to freeze recruitment for up to three months prior to unification to minimise the overhead of onboarding and then transitioning further staff. While understandable, this led to critical gaps in the workforce. 

The future 

The probation reform programme will be formally wound up at the end of 2022. But the longer-term programme of work to improve the performance of probation services has only just begun. The structural changes of 2021 are the platform on which deeper and difficult changes will be built. That will be a lengthy journey. 

Transition highlighted several themes that will play an important part in that journey. For MoJ’s long-term ambitions for probation to be successful, the following areas should be focussed on. 

Operational performance 

A central criticism of TR was the poor performance of CRCs. Although performance improved over time in some CRCs, TR could not completely shake the perception of poor service delivery. 

Current probation performance is ‘not great’ with four ‘Inadequate’ and two ‘Requires Improvement’ Inspectorate reports. To some extent, this is to be expected, given wider public service performance27 (post-Covid-19, in particular28), existing challenges in probation and the post-transition bumps. But the success of unification will ultimately be judged by the performance of the new Probation Service. Without swift action that leads to better services, the reform programme risks being added to the long list of unsuccessful historical restructures. 


By June 2022, 1,518 new probation officers had been recruited, but staffing numbers still remain below target: as of May 2022, there were 1,106 vacancies across the Probation Service.29 The government aims to recruit a further 1,500 officers in 2022/23. If it meets this target, it will be fully staffed. But this does not allow for staff attrition or increased demand on probation services. Sustained investment is needed in the years to come. The government previously announced an additional £155m for probation services, which, while helpful, may not be sufficient given the competition from other public sector employers, such as the police and Border Force, as well as the pressure from staffing groups to increase pay in line with high levels of inflation.  

The government’s recent announcement of an arbitrary reduction of the Civil Service by 91,000 will also make it more difficult – though not impossible – to secure the necessary agreements to recruit the necessary numbers beyond 2022/23, particularly after having already absorbed over 7,000 CRC staff. 

Cultural integration 

MoJ’s tagline for the unification of probation was that it was a ‘merger, not a takeover’. But mergers require cultural and contractual cohesion. MoJ is still in the process of trying to harmonise the terms and conditions for some 700 staff who worked for parent companies or subcontractors. This will be an important step towards proper workforce integration, without which true transformation and effective delivery of probation services will be difficult to realise.

Monday 22 August 2022

Failure of the State

To be perfectly honest this blog has been running for so long there doesn't seem to be much we haven't discussed at inordinate length, but every now and then a contribution strikes a chord and sometimes I notice a bit of a theme. Guest Blog 86 the other day is a good case in point that for me gets to the absolute nub of things and why this job has always been so special (my emphasis):- 

"The Probation Service I belonged to believed that our clients are citizens and individuals entrusted to our care. We advised assisted and befriended. We understood that the state fails some of its citizens and our role was to get onside and help the hapless navigate the clumsy state arrangements for them, sort themselves out a bit, keep them out of trouble.

We were removed from, but funded by the State: I was always inspired by that: that the State was generous enough to know that it had failed some of its citizens, and to fund an institution that would be critical as well as helpful."

This theme was touched upon in Professor Raynor's paper from yesterday which noted probation's development as part of the post war Welfare State, 'conditional suspension of punishment' and care of the individual:-

"The evidence-base of practice remained primarily psychological, and there was less time to address social circumstances and social needs or to link people into the other services from which they could benefit."

and strongly echoed by this contribution:-

"The one thing I have learned in my many years in The Service is that criminology is in many ways a huge con to deflect from the impact of social deprivation and trauma. We will never be able to deter people from crime if we continue to separate it from the impact of social deprivation and and unless we develop a holistic medical model. When you meet with a lifer and dig deep, tracking back as far as their birth you will often see a picture of severe deprivation in infancy, trauma, the care system, moving into borstal and such like. Drug and alcohol problems often associated with disadvantage and trauma, lack of positive parenting and little concept of healthy relationships or the tools needed to survive life. The festering roots of their almost inevitable crime are laid bare. We will always be limited in terms of what we can do until as a society we fully commit to ending social deprivation and focus less on capitalism as the so called solution. As soon as you get out of the office and drive through one of the numerous sink hole estates in most cities and towns the truth of this will slap you in the face. So many of my service users are very ill. Physically ill and mentally ill. We call it personality disorder but the real disorder is societal disorder that breeds poverty and trauma and permanently impacts on the life chances of children growing up in these communities through the generations. It's uncomfortable but we need to face this and at the very least acknowledge the unfairness of it all."

 I notice I wrote of my thoughts on the matter almost exactly ten years ago here:- 

The Scheme of Things

"I suspect I've always had a slightly different view of probation and how it fits into the scheme of things. Quite early on I came to view my job as someone paid by the state to try and apply sticking plaster to the consequences of failed social policies of one kind or another. I've always felt this view has more relevance than the one often heard from the political right that people just 'choose' crime. In effect they say it's just all effectively a 'lifestyle' choice. Nonsense in my view, and as a consequence I'm always alert to any evidence that might come along that could support my own particular viewpoint. It just so happens that in the last couple of days, just like buses, three have come along.

First off here's news of a Parliamentary Committee confirming just how bad Residential Care can be for young people. All my anecdotal evidence collected over many years confirmed this ages ago, which is why I was so surprised to hear Martin Narey, the former Chief Executive of Barnado's, say a couple of years ago that more kids should be taken into the care of the Local Authority. I suspect all probation officers can recite many instances of where someone's life really started getting much worse as a result of being in a Children's Home. For far too long it's been a Cinderella service, typically poorly paid, under-resourced and sadly the preserve of the most in-experienced staff.

Then there's another report into the failure by the NHS to provide proper treatment for patients with mental health problems. Again, boy don't we know that as probation officers! I wish I had a pound for every Pre-Sentence Report I've written over the years, identifying significant mental health issues that are connected with offending behaviour, require urgent medical attention, but knowing full-well that it will not be forthcoming. Sadly the Medical Profession has never felt itself bound by Court Orders which make treatment conditional. To be honest I've always felt that Forensic Services have been a Cinderella branch of the NHS not fully understood by commissioning managers. Maybe they feel it should be funded by the Justice Ministry as being somehow for the 'undeserving'. I particularly note with disgust that £400 million ear-marked for the 'talking therapies' has been otherwise appropriated in the absence of compulsion. So much for local accountability.

Finally there is the news that nearly 7 million people in this country 'are just one bill away from disaster'. Yet again all probation officers will know just how precarious many of our clients financial situations are. Many exist from week to week by means of complicated informal borrowing arrangements involving friends and family. Having absolutely no access to any savings, as a consequence disaster is a common occurrence. This situation has not been helped since a decision was taken some years back to stop probation officers having access to the wonderfully named 'Befriending Fund.' Typically this money could be dispensed pretty much at will by officers, and up to £10 without management authorisation. These mostly small sums often provided food and shelter in emergencies and I'm sure helped to avert all manner of bigger problems for society. But, as with so much discretion, it was swept away in the name of probation becoming a punishment service and we are where we now are.

I firmly believe that all these recent examples show how offending and the work of the probation service fit into the wider context of society and quite often in my view demonstrate failings in social policy. It is completely unjust to blame us for not bringing down re-offending rates when many of the causes of criminal behaviour are not being addressed and we are not being given access to the tools necessary to do our job."

I strongly suspect I've touched on the theme many times over the years, but interestingly in those days it generated just one comment from TheUrbaneGorilla:-
"Sticking plasters at Hiroshima" as I think someone once said. Here's one SPO who has regularly put his hand in his pocket in the absence of the Befriending Fund. Of course, if I was an MP, I could probably claim it back. But I'm not."

I'm pretty sure another reader used this expression recently, but I can't seem to find it now, nor indeed the origin of it. Hopefully this situation might be rectified shortly.

So, is it any wonder why we're in the mess we are and tensions continue to run high? I remember being shocked reading many of the contributions to the secret Facebook group a couple of years ago with significant numbers stating an intention to vote Tory - a party wedded to making life even more difficult for our client group. How is it possible practitioners are unable to join the dots up? But of course probation are all civil servants now and part of the very state that continues to fail people. 

Saturday 20 August 2022

Evidence versus Politics

Thanks go to regular reader and contributor 'Getafix for rooting out the following wonderfully expansive but concise paper by Peter Raynor and published in the US by the National Institute of Medicine, August 2020. As the dreadful 'Probation Day' nonsense drags on, here's the perfect Saturday reflective piece that hopefully will be read and inwardly digested by those in positions of authority. For references go to here.   

Evidence versus politics in British probation

• Twenty years ago, the Probation Service in England and Wales was widely regarded as world-leading.
• Since then it has been weakened by a series of politically driven and poorly evidenced changes.
• A badly flawed and ideologically driven privatisation programme implemented in 2015 has done serious damage.
• The recent decision to end this failed programme is an opportunity to redesign better.
At the beginning of this century the Probation Service of England and Wales (these two countries have separate Governments but form a single jurisdiction for criminal justice purposes) was regarded as one of the strongest and most advanced in the world. Twenty years later it finds itself under-resourced, understaffed, organisationally fragmented and partly demoralised, with little idea how it will look or how it will be run a couple of years from now. This is largely due to a series of decisions taken by politicians which were (believe it or not) intended to improve the Service, but which were not adequately informed by evidence or by an understanding of practical realities. The story of how this happened is an object-lesson in how not to do criminal justice reform and is summarised here in the hope that it may act as a warning to other jurisdictions.

To understand what went wrong, and what might be done about it, we need to look a bit further back, and my starting point is the development of the Welfare State in Britain after the second World War. Probation services in Britain were well established by then, and like other welfare services, they had good prospects for further development. Max Grünhut, a German lawyer and criminologist who escaped from the Nazi regime and established the teaching of criminology at Oxford, wrote ‘Probation is the great contribution of Britain and the USA to the treatment of offenders. Its strength is due to a combination of two things, conditional suspension of punishment, and personal care and supervision by a court welfare officer. With the growing use of probation, social case work has been introduced into the administration of criminal justice … ’ (Grünhut, 1952, p. 168). A few years later Leon Radzinowicz, another refugee from Nazi domination of Europe who founded the Cambridge Institute of Criminology, wrote ‘If I were asked what was the most significant contribution made by this country [i.e. England] to the new penological theory and practice which struck root in the twentieth century … my answer would be probation’ (Radzinowicz, 1958). In addition to such expert endorsements, probation services were well respected and an integral part of both the developing social work profession and the criminal justice system. They were run by County-level committees which consisted mainly of magistrates, giving the main users of probation a stake in its success and a good understanding of how it worked. Chief Probation Officers played a significant role in social work's professional organisations, and expansion and development continued fairly smoothly until the 1970s. Even the proliferation of negative or discouraging research findings about the capacity of different sentences to reduce offending (for example, Martinson, 1974) did not significantly undermine probation in Britain, as it developed a new and useful mission as the provider of alternatives to custodial sentences. Governments were keen to encourage this for financial reasons. In this way the Service largely avoided the cuts in public services which were imposed by a Conservative government during the 1980s.

1. Populist punitiveness versus ‘What Works’

The tide began to turn in 1993. A Conservative Minister, hoping to achieve popularity through a display of toughness, declared to his party's annual conference that ‘prison works’, signalling an end to ‘alternatives to custody’. The Probation Service, under considerable political attack, needed a new way to present its role, and in due course its leaders (particularly the Chief Inspector of Probation, Graham Smith) launched the ‘What Works’ initiative to develop the Service's effectiveness in reducing reoffending (Underdown, 1998). By this time the ‘nothing works’ consensus of the 1970s was being replaced by new research which showed that some ways of working could have a positive impact on offenders' behaviour. Probation leaders and researchers were strongly influenced particularly by Canadian studies of effective rehabilitation (for example Andrews et al., 1990) and by British psychologists who disseminated similar ideas (such as McGuire, 1995). Money from a new Government of a different political colour enabled the establishment of ‘Pathfinder’ projects to develop and evaluate new methods, with a particular (though not exclusive) emphasis on cognitive-behavioural group programmes, and for a while at the end of the last century and the beginning of this, England and Wales were seen as global leaders in a very ambitious and comprehensive ‘What Works’ exercise. Gerhard Ploeg, a leading figure in Scandinavian probation, told the Confederation of European Probation that ‘The Probation service in England and Wales has always been in the vanguard in these developments, and many other European countries are watching it like a hawk, ready to accept that which seems to be working and to criticise that which isn't’ (Ploeg, 2003, p. 8).

Unfortunately the results of the ‘Pathfinders’ were not as good as probation's leaders hoped (Raynor, 2004). Over-rapid and top-down centralised implementation did not give probation staff time to understand and adapt: many of the new methods eventually became established, but this took at least twice as long as the three-year period allowed for the Pathfinders to prove themselves. In addition, political changes were reinforcing central Government control over probation, so that probation policy became more politicized and local influence and control, particularly by the Courts, was diminished. A new Criminal Justice Act in 1991 had redefined probation as a punishment in its own right (no longer Grünhut's ‘conditional suspension of punishment’) and in 2001 the Service became the National Probation Service, run from London. This also meant it was very visible to London-based politicians, and vulnerable to politicians of both major parties who wanted to be seen as ‘tough on crime’. In 2004 the Probation Service was merged with the larger and wealthier Prison Service to form the National Offender Management Service, which in theory might have led to better integration of offender management across the criminal justice system but in practice meant that the central administration of probation was dominated by officials who understood the needs and practices of prisons better than they understood probation.

2. Evidence versus delusion

Practice in the meantime had become dominated by risk assessment and risk management, with some officers having to spend more time on their computers than with the people they were supervising, and with a new official focus on enforcement as a priority. The evidence-base of practice remained primarily psychological, and there was less time to address social circumstances and social needs or to link people into the other services from which they could benefit. Probation officer training had been disconnected from social work training. However, the biggest changes were yet to come, as a new Conservative-led Government looked for opportunities to reduce social spending and to marketize public services by moving them into the private for-profit sector. A new Government Minister, Justice Secretary Christopher Grayling, was a particular enthusiast for privatisation and saw this as a way forward for probation. There was, in fact, no evidence to suggest that this was a good way to run community corrections in Britain, or that this might be profitable for the private companies jostling for a slice of the criminal justice pie. The Minister was encouraged to pilot the proposed arrangements but stated that there was no need to do so. This egregious example of evidence refusal was motivated by blind faith in markets and a right-wing Conservative tradition of scepticism about State-funded public services, and in 2014 seventy per cent of the Probation Service's work was handed to private companies, some with little criminal justice experience (Raynor, 2020).

After implementation in 2015, it quite quickly became clear that the private companies (known as Community Rehabilitation Companies) were in difficulty, and a series of inspections by the independent Inspectorate of Probation consistently showed them to be performing considerably worse than that part of the Service which had remained public. The companies had exaggerated what they could offer, and only a high degree of magical thinking by politicians could explain their confidence that the new arrangements would work. Before long the companies were trying to maintain profitability by making about a third of their staff redundant, leading to over-large caseloads handled by often inexperienced people. In short, although some innovations were interesting, overall the private companies damaged the services they claimed to be able to improve, leaving them in ‘a worse position than they were in before the Ministry embarked on its reforms’ (Public Accounts Committee, 2019 summary). Eventually, after four years of bad results, politicians had to recognise their mistake. The decision has now been taken, by a new Justice Secretary, to terminate the contracts of the private companies and to re-unify probation as a public service. This is already happening in Wales, and England is following.

It is, of course, encouraging to see a bad policy decision reversed by considering the evidence; this does not always happen. However, the new Probation Service faces a considerable task of reconstruction and recovery, and discussions are still continuing about exactly how it should be organised and managed. Many commentators favour a greater degree of local involvement in governance with the restoration of some judicial input, not just central control by civil servants in London. In addition, practitioners and their managers need to be able to focus on the development and use of evidence-based skills, informed by what we already know about how to promote rehabilitation and desistance from offending. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that Government spending on public services is necessary and unavoidable, and there is less political clamour to shrink the State and hand over services to private enterprise. However, the post-Covid world will be short of money, and criminal justice will have to compete with other strongly justified demands for public expenditure. Perhaps the most important lesson learned from the rise and fall of British probation is that there is no magic bullet to bring about a step-change in the effectiveness of probation services: development needs to be gradual and incremental, and informed at every step by evidence and evaluation rather than ideology.

Peter Raynor
Professor Criminology, Criminology, Sociology and Social Policy
Swansea University



Professor Raynor worked as a probation officer until 1975, and much of his research has concerned the evidence base for effective probation practice. He has carried out research on victims of crime, drug and alcohol services, young offenders, social work education, unemployed young people, intensive probation, and the relationship between rehabilitation and justice and a range of other criminal justice topics.

A series of Home Office funded studies since the early 1990s has included work on the quality and effectiveness of pre-sentence reports; a pilot of a cognitive-behavioural programme for offenders; the confirmation of probation officers in appointment; risk and need assessment in correctional services; the resettlement of medium-term and short-sentence prisoners, and the needs and experiences of Black, Asian and other minority ethnic probationers. He has also worked on the development of prisoner resettlement services for the Romanian Ministry of Justice.