Sunday 30 October 2022

An Object Lesson

Mindful of discourse on here once more becoming somewhat ill-tempered and ill-considered, I found myself in conversation with a long-standing colleague yesterday and was pointed in the direction of an interesting article published in issue 17 of Probation Quarterly from 2020. It made me think and reflect and I hope it might for others as well:-  

Probation in Objects

Andrew Fowler and Tom Brown introduce the thinking behind their new research.

Objects can tell a story. While sometimes practical, they can be evocative and laden with emotions, entertaining or representing deeper meaning to the owner. They can be metaphorical, - ‘spinning plates’ at one time to represent multitasking, for example. An object can also be a gift. Of course, objects can be all these things at once. One of us became aware of the significance of objects in relation to professional identity and occupational culture while working in prison as a newly qualified probation officer. A prisoner remarked on the notebook I carried around: ‘You must be from probation, you all carry notebooks.’ This notebook was for recording information and represented the mantra from my probation training, ‘if it’s not written down it didn’t happen.’ To me it represented safety, an object to hold in an unpredictable environment, accountability, capturing a voice, social justice, accuracy, trustworthiness, the desire to do a good job and, in time, a historical account of people I had worked with in prison. I started to reflect on what objects revealed about probation culture or identity and the history of probation. 

These ideas are not new. We think of Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects, Sherry Turkles’s Evocative Objects and, perhaps most relevant to this discussion, Mark Doel’s Social Work in 42 Objects. Whilst MacGregor’s descriptive work searches for objects to tell a history of the world, Sherry Turkle’s (2008:5) Evocative Objects seeks to provoke thoughts about identity and describes objects as ‘companions to our emotional lives.’ Doel’s research draws on Turkle and MacGregor’s work considering identity in the profession of social work. Doel suggested that a collection of objects can say something about the identity and history of the profession to counter public ignorance about social work (

There are already excellent histories of probation which tell us about the origins and development of approaches to practice. But might it also be possible to represent the history of probation in a way that has not been attempted before?

What can objects tell us about probation workers’ personal histories and their time in probation? What can the accumulated objects tell us about the identity of probation work? What would an exhibition of probation objects, selected by people working in probation reveal? 

Probation Context 

The probation service has historically been described as the ‘Cinderella service’ (Robinson 2016), never invited to the ball to represent itself at policy level and suffering from invisibility in the penal field. It has experienced a tumult of change following the controversial ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ reforms since 2013. Facing further re-structuring following the government’s 2019 white paper ‘Strengthening Probation, Building Confidence’, probation workers are going to experience yet another period of change. The government plan to amend the reforms and the supervision of all people on probation will be renationalised. Research following the reforms by the National Audit Office (2016) pronounced that morale was low across the National Probation Service and Community Rehabilitation Companies. This echoed findings from Kirton and Guilliame (2015: 25) that staff felt there was a ‘lack of inclusion, staff feeling unvalued, uncertainty, lack of consultation and low morale.’ A focus on objects could capture the diversity of staff and roles contribute to giving probation workers a different kind of creative voice. 

Probation culture and objects 

When considering whether an abstract concept like ‘probation work’ can be represented by concrete objects, arguably a single object will not do justice to the diversity of staff and roles in the profession, whereas a collection of objects might elucidate a rich and more inclusive picture. Probation work is a contested issue and even the title of the people undertaking the work is contested, with some preferring ‘Probation Officer’ over ‘Offender Manager’.

The Confederation of European Probation states that probation: 
…relates to the implementation in the community of sanctions and measures, defined by law and imposed on an offender. It includes a range of activities and interventions, which involve supervision, guidance and assistance aiming at the social inclusion of an offender, as well as at contributing to community safety (CEP 2019). 
It is even less simple to describe probation culture: what the work means to staff. And perhaps it is even harder to identify visual symbols connected to the work. Mawby and Worrall (2013) identify cultural characteristics in probation under five headings: motivation, artefacts, job satisfaction, meaning and (re) presentation. Following their interviews with over 60 probation officers they note that in relation to artefacts as cultural characteristics there is a lack of ‘visual cultural symbols’ (2013: 141). They lament that the prison, courts and police have clear visual symbols while probation has nothing comparable to the police helmet, uniform or gadgetry, the prison officer’s keys or the court’s architecture or wigs. 

Probation and visual methodologies 

Research considering identity in probation practice has mainly involved semi-structured qualitative interviews (see Robinson and Svensson 2014). In cultural criminology, there is a growing use and recognition of visual methods in research. The Routledge Handbook of Visual Criminology (Brown and Carrabine 2017), for example, is an anthology of the use of imagery in criminology. There are two chapters that address the visual in probation, the first by Worrall, Carr and Robinson, the second by Fitzgibbon, Graebsch and McNeill. The former involved photovoice and probation officers taking photographs of their working environment. This was to elicit discussion to open a window on the environment where probation supervision took place. The latter involves photo-elicitation. This project was interested in how people experience supervision and asked participants to photograph their experiences which were then discussed with the researchers. In probation research, Healy and Fitzgibbon (2018) present some of the benefits of a visual approach, in Supervisible. Their research into experiences of probation supervision using photo-elicitation allow researchers to step into another person’s lived reality. Using photography allows the researcher to elicit new information not captured previously using verbal methods. The use of photographs can also be seen as truly collaborative with the research population by empowering experts in the field and co-researchers to represent what probation means to them (see Fitzgibbon and Stengel’s research with women, 2018). 


The curated objects in Doel’s Social Work in 42 Objects represent metaphor, personal, practical, historical and the socio-political. Many objects cut across categories. For example, the theme ‘tools of the trade’ included a picture of juggling balls, which represented the metaphor of keeping many balls in the air, but also an aid to managing stress. 

The theme of ‘social work on the move’ included a car. This was a car the participant had owned since training, where they had reflected, laughed, cried and used as an office. The theme of ‘documenting social work’ included the Magna Carta, a cartoon image, the mental health act, guidance and the cartoon strip of ‘Clare in the Community.’ 

Similarly, we have started research to tell a story about probation practice from the photographs of objects. We will act as curators, classifying and grouping the submitted objects with the accompanying descriptions from practitioners.

We will build on and borrow from Mark Doel’s research: 
If this were a physical exhibition of artefacts, various rooms would house collections of objects illustrating different themes; in this spirit I set about arranging the objects into smaller collections (Doel 2017:7).
Following Doel’s approach we will arrange the objects in smaller collections along themes that emerge and will post the results on a blog site. Doel’s work reveals a rich, textured, colourful culture in social work through the objects submitted. He argues that this is to ‘give expression to what social work thinks it is and ‘stand up for social work’ (2017:9). We are planning to do something similar for probation work. 

Andrew Fowler and Tom Brown
Sheffield Hallam University


Probation in Objects website:-


‘Probation in Objects’ is our research in which participants provide a visual representation (object) of how they feel about their experiences of the Probation Service. Through this collective effort, we want to capture the significance of ‘Probation’ in the United Kingdom and internationally from those who have lived it. These are exceptional times, with the reformation of probation in England and Wales and the global impact of the pandemic. This reminds us of the importance of recording shared experiences for past, current and future generations.

This project builds on the excellent work by Mark Doel, who inspired our research with his book Social Work in 40 Objects. Please visit Mark’s site for inspiration: Social Work in 40 Objects

You can read about our project in issue 17, 2020 of the Probation Quarterly, by the Probation Institute: Probation in Objects in the Probation Quarterly

Friday 28 October 2022

The Inspector Writes

HM Chief Inspector of Probation writes a blog and this is what he has to say, published today:-

London Probation’s staffing crisis – but better news on YOTs

Our first inspection results for London Probation Service continued the worrying trend of the past year, with each of the three PDU reports we published on 18 October rated as ‘Inadequate’ and inadequate ratings for all of our case quality standards. We were particularly concerned about Hammersmith, Fulham, Kensington, Chelsea and Fulham PDU, where we declared an ‘organisational alert’ in view of the hundreds of cases we found that did not have a named probation officer or PSO and were therefore not being properly supervised. Worryingly, this included 58 unallocated MAPPA cases, some of whom had committed very serious offences. Whilst these have now been matched with practitioners, the other huge challenges facing London Probation won’t be so easy to fix. Top of these, is what amounts to a staffing crisis. 

There are vacancies across virtually every role and function in London, with an overall vacancy rate of 43 per cent in HFKCW PDU at the time of our inspection, which is unsustainable. The most recent published probation workforce statistics show a total headcount for London in June 2022 that was 237 lower than in June 2021, in spite of heroic efforts to bring in more PQiPs and PSOs. And this is being compounded by rising sickness rates in the capital – now up to an average of 17 working days lost per annum – piling yet more pressure on those practitioners who are in post. Worryingly, at a national level, it is staff with five to nine years’ service, exactly the sort of experienced officers the service needs to hold onto, who have been most likely to leave.

In marked contrast, our youth offending service ratings have held up very well during the pandemic with our scores for London YOTs inspected after March 2020 matching, or even exceeding, those before the pandemic, with continuing strong scores for staffing, partnerships and services. At the same time as we were inspecting Hammersmith and Fulham Probation, for example, we were also inspecting Hammersmith and Fulham Youth Offending Service, which we rated ‘Outstanding’. Staff there told us caseloads were manageable; they felt valued and well trained; vacancy levels were low; robust quality checks and management oversight were in place and 85 per cent or more of the court cases we assessed passed our quality threshold.

Smaller caseloads are, of course, a significant factor in explaining this difference and significantly higher pay for YOT case managers than probation staff is helping recruitment (including of disaffected probation officers). But I wonder if the YOT model of locally autonomous services, often fully integrated into the local authority, with a wide range of embedded specialist staff (mental health, speech and language, ETE, drugs workers) is also a significant factor in the improved quality of supervision and support they offer and the resilience they have shown through the pandemic.

That’s not to say that everything is perfect in the world of youth offending services. An important analysis by our HMI research team was published last month of almost 2000 cases across 43 different YOTs looking at the identification of safety concerns relating to children (PDF, 564 kB). Whilst in general, YOTs score higher on risk assessment and management than probation, there are still gaps, particularly for community resolution cases. In a relatively large minority of cases, for example, the safety classifications deemed appropriate by our inspectors differed from that recorded by the case manager (we usually judged that the classification should have been higher). This can have damaging consequences, as the child may lose opportunities for support by the YOT and other partners, and potential victims can be left without protection. Given that nearly half of the court cases supervised by YOTs involve violence against the person and that 27 per cent involve children assessed as presenting a high or very high risk of harm to others, it’s very important to get this right.

Justin Russell

Thursday 27 October 2022

Matters of Concern

Todays post reminds me of the story concerning the old lady who died and upon her house being cleared out of a lifetimes stuff there was a small box labelled 'string - too short to keep'. Along the way I keep noticing things or people bring to my attention stuff that, of themselves, don't really make a blog post, but are never-the-less worthy of note. I'll start with this image off Twitter this morning:-   

Somewhat ironic isn't it? All that time and effort put in by HMPPS command and control to find a suitable alternative to the long-held and neutral term 'client' via 'case' and 'offender' or 'probationer' and 'licensee' and eventually 'service user', only to come up with the cack-handed 'person on probation' or PoP. But here we have the MoJ casting all that aside and just going for straight labelling - 'burglars, robbers and thieves'. Maybe 'rapists, arsonists and murderers' next? Probation needs to be rid of the MoJ and HMPPS. 


Like all good bureaucracies, the MoJ and HMPPS love alphabet soup and acronyms and there's a couple here I recently spotted and have no idea what they mean:- 

New supervision structure for probation staff can only be described at best as overkill at worst as institutional bullying. Staff now have 6 types of supervision:-

1) Performance where 5 objectives are identified for the year and appraised every quarter - this aligns with the old appraisal system.

2) Competency Framework - to progress to next increment.

3) Reflective Practice - not really reflective! 4 x 1-1 sessions with manager and 2x observation - 1-1 are to enable manager to use touchstone to check work is up to standard.

4) SAQUA - case selected by offender manager 1-1 session with manager then appearing before a panel of managers and couple of peers to feed back and be questioned on case. 

5) RCAT 4 times a year case picked at random and quality assured using HMIP format.

6) Monthly supervision as current practice.

Firstly the SAQUA doesn’t acknowledge diversity issues. It also puts one person in front of a panel of up to 6 or 7 people which many would find intimidating and, in some cases, bullied.
There is no proper reflective supervision in any of the above, it is lip service only.

Some staff have suggested the RCAT format is so general and open to interpretation, some staff may be open to bullying, especially if they do not get on with their manager. Have other areas brought this in and has Napo been told of this system? It is operated via one note and each supervision type has a tab to open it. Line managers then have to record against each supervision type!


Of course the issue is a serious one and recently highlighted in a speech by HMI Justin Russell:- 
"We've got increasing concerns around the quality of management oversight too, with SPOs being so overloaded they don’t have the space to do the type of reflective supervision which is so important if probation practitioners, particularly newly qualified officers, are to improve their practice." 
It all smacks of this I saw recently:- 
"Probation has become an evil empire of surveillance, coercion and exploitation of both practitioners and service users." 


On that note I'll end with this from a reader:-

Hi Jim,

Well, where to start except to say we have moved a giant step towards an enforcement service. I'll keep it brief but, essentially, we now have a database called 'Open'. On one hand it can be useful as it's your caseload in 'real' time, not sure if it's nationwide or not but it tells you how many enforcement and unallocated appointments you have and what ISPs and breaches are due. However, management are using it for their benefit in order to haul us over the coals. 

Basically 3 x AAs and you get an email off your SPO to meet with them and justify the absences and if breach action has been instigated and if not why not, they then put a MO contact on Delius. This has all come about because the MoJ or whoever oversees HMPPS are not happy about all the UPW not being completed.

Anyway, I was asked about other AAs I'd given but they weren't for UPW but general office visits or the CRS ones. So, now not only is it UPW but all probation appointments.

A lad of mine picked up on warrant for a minor breach of FTA that normally I'd have given an AA for but because of the instructions to breach I regrettably did. Court rang with the result and said he was given a £500 fine - and it's just pissed me off so much. We have to work with these men, he isn't a dangerous man he's medium risk and only has RARs, I'm now in the situation of do I give AAs and face a meeting with the SPO or breach and get lads lumbered with huge fines/hours of UPW etc.

In other news, got my payslip today and I'm about £40 per month better off - a band 4 colleague reckons they only less than that - who the hell voted for this deal - we suspect we've been stitched up!

A Reader

Wednesday 26 October 2022

MoJ Tagging Scandal 2

By most accounts the new prime minister made a good start, but sadly Rishi Sunak's honeymoon period proved short-lived with some very unwise appointments. As Russell Webster put it on Twitter:-

"In a move calculated to bring joy to all barristers, prison & probation staff, Dominic Raab is returning to his previous post as Justice Secretary"

But at least we've been spared Cruella Braverman who's back at the Home Office. Not for long though as her unique combination of arrogance, inability and sheer nastiness will surely see that appointment unravel again very quickly. Talking of arrogance, what a relief to see Rees-Mogg the Member of Parliament for the 19th century returning to the back benches and hopefully well-earned obscurity. With the grass-roots of the nasty party well and truly pissed-off, it'll be interesting to see how long it takes for some serious internal plotting to emerge. 


Back to tagging, I see that Civil Service World has picked up on the scandal:-

‘Over-ambitious’ HMPPS electronic tagging plan ‘threw away’ £100m

MPs “unconvinced” of MoJ's ability to oversee overhaul of electronic tagging after “long history of poor performance"

HM Prison and Probation Service has been slammed for wasting £100m in a “high risk and over-ambitious” attempt to deliver a new case management system for electronic tagging.

The Ministry of Justice agency spent £98.2m on the Gemini system, only to scrap it before it was finished after years of delays saw it outpaced by advancements in technology. The Ministry of Justice said at the time that none of the expenditure would result in any future benefit.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee said they were “deeply concerned about the scale of these losses”. They are “unconvinced” that the MoJ can overhaul the situation, given the “long history of poor performance in this area”, the committee's report analysing HMPPS’s attempts to transform electronic monitoring added.

PAC Meg Hillier warned that the current “outdated” system is “at constant risk of failure” which could put the public at risk. She called for a “serious explanation and a serious plan” from the MoJ for how they are going to “stop haemorrhaging” money.

The report also criticised the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS for failing to rigorously evaluate whether tagging reduces reoffending. It said the government was pushing ahead with a £1.2bn programme to expand tagging to another 10,000 people in the next three years despite this knowledge gap. HMPPS has now strengthened its analytical capacity, and has committed to evaluating its expansion programme, PAC added.

Gemini was part of HMPPS’s Electronic Monitoring Programme, which sought to overhaul the electronic tagging system used to monitor curfews and conditions of court or prison orders. The new system would have enabled police and probation officers to access real-time data. Currently, they have to submit manual requests for location data, limiting the value of using GPS tracking.

The software was meant to be ready in 2015 but was massively delayed because of its complexity and the need to integrate different suppliers’ work. While the committee said the decision to scrap the system in 2021 was the right decision at the time, saving £30m, it criticised the failures that led to this being the best option.

HMPPS’s “pursuit of a bespoke technical solution introduced complexity and inflexibility, and limited innovation”, while the agency also did not intervene early enough to resolve integration issues, PAC said. The committee also slammed the MoJ’s “weak governance” and “light-touch approach to scrutiny” despite the repeated delays.

HMPPS and the MoJ have now reformed their approaches to overseeing major projects and programmes, including introducing new thresholds for when risks and issues should be escalated for review, PAC said.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Innovative GPS and sobriety tags are helping us to crack down on crime, from alcohol-fuelled violence to burglary. Our decision to stop work on certain tagging systems saved taxpayers over £30m and we are now investing in doubling the number of offenders tagged by 2025 to better protect the public.”


I notice that the Work With Offenders website provides some facts and useful analysis:- 

The rise and rise of tagging

The number of individuals being actively monitored with a location monitoring device (GPS) has more than doubled

We know that this government is keen on imprisonment, it is after all investing £4 billion to create 20,000 new prison places and the prison population is expected to increase by almost a quarter over the next three years.

The governments tough stance on crime is not restricted to incarceration though. It is also keen on making an increasing number of offenders subject to electronic tagging as today’s Electronic Monitoring Statistics make clear.

Here are the headlines:

The number of individuals being actively monitored increased by 12%

At 30 September 2022, the total number of individuals actively monitored was 14,996, an increase from 13,371 on the same date last year.

Electronic monitoring device court bail orders remains the largest cohort of individuals actively monitored by an electronic monitoring device

The number of individuals actively monitored under a court bail order was 5,979 as at 30 September 2022 or 40% of all individuals actively monitored. This is a 9% increase from 5,471 last year.

The number of individuals being actively monitored with a location monitoring device (GPS) has more than doubled

Between 30 September 2021 and 30 September 2022 the number of individuals actively monitored with a location monitoring device (GPS) increased very substantially by 143% (from 2,161 to 5,243). This increase is the result of the continued roll-out of electronic monitoring to new offender cohorts, particularly immigration bail.

The number of individuals being actively monitored with an alcohol monitoring device has more than doubled

As at 30 September 2022, 1,503 individuals were actively monitored with an alcohol monitoring device, a 153% increase from 593 last year. This reflects both the continued national roll-out of alcohol monitoring from March 2021 and the introduction of alcohol monitoring for prison leavers.


As we have seen, this increase in the use of tagging was driven by extensions to the use of location (GPS) monitoring tags for new offender cohorts, particularly for immigration bail, as well as the continued roll-out of alcohol monitoring tags. However, the increases somewhat masks the fact that over the same period the number of individuals actively monitored as a condition of a community sentence has basically halved (down by 48%). This decrease began from April this year and is likely to be associated with mandating domestic abuse and safeguarding checks in all cases where electronic monitoring is proposed. It may well be that the chronically under-staffed probation service (an inspection report of five Probation Delivery Units in London published this week revealed that hundreds of offenders were not even allocated a probation officer) has just not had the time to do these checks, meaning that GPS tags cannot legally be imposed.

The increase in the numbers of people on tags as a court bail condition is attributable to two main factors. Firstly, the use of electronic monitoring for those on court bail increased sharply in early 2020 in response to the covid pandemic’s impact on the courts. Secondly, tags are now used for people on bail for immigration matters. The Immigration Act 2016 introduced a duty on the Home Office Secretary of State to impose an electronic monitoring condition on Foreign National Offenders and other non-UK citizens subject to deportation proceedings. Following this, in August 2021, HMPPS began using GPS monitoring for these individuals who have been released from Prisons or Immigration Detention under ‘Immigration Bail’ on behalf of the Home Office. From 31 August 2022 this was extended to Scotland and is planned to extend to Northern Ireland later this year which is likely to see numbers increase further.

Another part of the increase is due to the introduction of alcohol monitoring tags. Alcohol monitoring was introduced in October 2020 and went live throughout England and Wales on 31 March 2021 to support the new community sentencing option, the Alcohol Abstinence and Monitoring Requirement (AAMR). An AAMR may only be used when sentencing for alcohol-related criminal behaviour and it imposes a total ban on drinking alcohol for up to 120 days. Compliance with the ban is monitored electronically using an alcohol tag which continuously monitors for the presence of alcohol in offenders’ sweat. Although there are now 1,503 people subject to alcohol tags, it appears that take-up is reasonably slow, given the fact that low-level alcohol-related crimes are so common.

One inevitable consequence of the increase in the use of electronic tagging is that a proportion of people who are tagged will fail to comply with their tagging requirements and end up in custody, swelling our prison numbers even further.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Changes at the Top

With concerns regarding who the new Justice Secretary will be - please not Braverman - spending cuts on the way and yet more unwelcome changes with 'One HMPPS', I notice the Chief Probation Officer is jumping ship for new opportunities:-  

A Message to Probation Staff from Sonia Flynn, Chief Probation Officer

I wanted to write to you all personally to share some news. After over 35 years of working in probation operations, initially as a Probation Officer then in lots of different of leadership roles before becoming Chief Probation Officer in 2016, and following lots of thought and reflection, I have decided it is the right time for me for a change of direction and to have a bit more time to spend with my family and do the things I enjoy in my personal life.

From 1 February 2023, I am delighted to let you know I will be taking up a new part time role within the Probation Workforce Programme leading on an area of work which I am very passionate about – learning and development and setting up the new professional register for probation practitioners. You will know from hearing me speak at events how strongly committed I am to ensuring you all have the very best training and development opportunities to enable you to do your important jobs every day and that your work is given the external recognition it deserves through professional registration. I am therefore really pleased to have the opportunity to lead on this vital agenda in my new role and to also continue to support Probation and HMPPS in every way I can.

This does of course mean that my time as Chief Probation Officer will be coming to an end, a role which I have absolutely loved and been proud to hold over the last six years but it feels the right time for me to be doing this now and handing over the reins to someone new, who I am sure will continue to lead the Probation Service from strength to strength. The last six years have been challenging for us all on occasions as we have gone through huge reforms, dealt with staffing challenges and of course had to respond to a global pandemic. What has though remained absolutely steadfast throughout that time is the dedication, compassion and professionalism each and every one of you has shown each day and I have been incredibly honoured and privileged to have led such a brilliant staff group.

The advertisement for my replacement will be coming out in the next few days and I want to reassure you that this role will continue to represent and promote the professional identity of probation and will require the post holder to have the recognised probation officer qualification. I will of course work with the successful candidate to ensure a smooth transition. We will keep you updated on the outcome of the process.

In the meantime, a huge thank you to you all for your continued hard work – you are truly an exceptional staff group and I am so pleased that I will continue to play a role for you.

Sonia Flynn CBE
Chief Probation Officer

Monday 24 October 2022

A Close Shave

Well, we can't let this pass can we? I thought political journalist Ian Dunt put it rather succinctly on Twitter:-
"That Johnson comeback in full: flew back from a luxury holiday, posed like a twat, begged his rivals, lied about his support, let down his allies and fell on his arse."

That Boris Johnson statement in full:-

"In the last few days I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who suggested that I should once again contest the Conservative Party leadership, both among the public and among friends and colleagues in Parliament.

I have been attracted because I led our party into a massive election victory less than three years ago - and I believe I am therefore uniquely placed to avert a general election now.

A general election would be a further disastrous distraction just when the Government must focus on the economic pressures faced by families across the country.

I believe I am well placed to deliver a Conservative victory in 2024 - and tonight I can confirm that I have cleared the very high hurdle of 102 nominations, including a proposer and a seconder, and I could put my nomination in tomorrow.

There is a very good chance that I would be successful in the election with Conservative Party members - and that I could indeed be back in Downing Street on Friday.

But in the course of the last days I have sadly come to the conclusion that this would simply not be the right thing to do. You can't govern effectively unless you have a united party in parliament.

And though I have reached out to both Rishi (Sunak) and Penny (Mordaunt) - because I hoped that we could come together in the national interest - we have sadly not been able to work out a way of doing this.

Therefore I am afraid the best thing is that I do not allow my nomination to go forward and commit my support to whoever succeeds.

I believe I have much to offer but I am afraid that this is simply not the right time."

Boris Johnson

Most probation officers are very familiar with clients who, for whatever reason, shall we say display disordered thinking of one sort or another. There will be some who are clearly suffering a mental illness of some kind; some who have unattractive personality traits and some who clearly have personality disorders. Then we have Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. I notice that psychologist and academic Steve Taylor has discussed both in the recent past, the former US President here and the former British Prime Minister on The Conversation here:-  

The darkness of Boris Johnson: a psychologist on the prime minister’s unpalatable personality traits

In all the chaos that characterises the administration of Boris Johnson, it’s sometimes difficult to understand why the prime minister behaves the way he does. Why does he never really apologise or admit mistakes?

Most recently, Johnson continues to insist that he did not know he was breaking any rules by having parties during pandemic lockdowns. It’s just the latest example of behaviour that, I would argue, can only be understood in terms of psychological factors.

First, let me be clear: I am not attempting to diagnose the prime minister with a personality disorder. Like many psychologists nowadays, I believe it’s too simplistic to think in terms of specific conditions like narcissistic personality disorder or sociopathy. I prefer to use the concept of a “dark triad” of three personality traits that belong together – psychopathy, narcissism and machiavellianism. This makes sense because these traits almost always overlap and are difficult to distinguish from one another. The traits exist on a continuum and are more pronounced in some people than others.

Another, more wide-ranging model is called the “dark factor”. This suggests that the essence of “bad character” is a desire to ruthlessly put your own interests before other people’s, and to pursue them even when they cause harm to others. Besides psychopathy, narcissism and machiavellianism, the dark factor model includes traits of spitefulness, moral disengagement (behaving immorally without feeling bad), entitlement (believing you deserve more and are better than others), and egoism.

The actions of a ‘dark’ personality

There are many aspects of Johnson’s behaviour that make sense in terms of these models. “Dark” personalities are marked by psychopathic traits of a lack of empathy, conscience and guilt, and a failure to take responsibility. They can’t accept that they are ever at fault, so they instinctively blame other people – or other external factors – for negative events. We’ve seen Johnson deflect blame for the Downing Street parties ever since allegations about them first emerged. Now he refuses to take responsibility by offering his resignation.

We also know that Johnson has a tendency to break rules and ignore normal codes of behaviour (a signal of moral disengagement). Even before partygate, he unlawfully prorogued parliament to further his own agenda and refused to sack the home secretary even when she was found to have broken the ministerial code.

An essential feature of “dark” personalities is that they are disconnected. They are trapped inside themselves in narcissistic isolation and find it difficult to take other people’s perspectives. As a result, they lack a clear sense of how their actions will be perceived, or of what type of behaviour is acceptable.

This could help explain some of Johnson’s miscalculations. Take, for example, his attempt to change parliamentary rules rather than sanctioning former MP Owen Paterson for breaking lobbying rules. Johnson assumed this would be acceptable and failed to anticipate the subsequent furore. He obviously also believed that it was acceptable to smear Keir Starmer with conspiracy theories in parliament. This type of response is typical of the spitefulness of dark personalities when they feel under threat.

Machiavellianism, the third part of the dark triad, means the ruthless pursuit of power for its own sake, with the willingness to abandon integrity and morality along the way. Johnson has shown a consistent trait of prioritising his own personal interests over other factors. Why else would he make such reckless promises on the campaign trail, such as his £350 million per week for the NHS after Brexit?

A good case could clearly be made for the trait of entitlement (believing you deserve more and are better than others) in Johnson’s case, too. A consistent complaint against the prime minister is that he behaves as if rules don’t apply to him. During strict lockdown, he apparently believed it was acceptable to sidestep restrictions. He also believed that he was entitled to solicit donations from Tory donors for renovations to his Downing Street flat.

What is ‘truth’?

Johnson is often accused of dishonesty. However, it may not be so much that he intentionally lies, but that he doesn’t have a fixed notion of truth.

Since dark triad personalities are self-absorbed, they are disconnected from objective criteria of behaviour and have a strong tendency towards self-deception. They select information which supports their positive image of themselves and ignore negative information. They believe whatever suits their view of reality.

When he claims not to have broken lockdown rules or not to have misled parliament, Johnson may simply be selecting information to support his preferred version of reality. It’s likely that he has convinced himself that the events he attended really were work events, and that his attendance of them was purely inadvertent. This also relates to Johnson’s apparent inability to apologise, which would mean admitting to an imperfect image of himself.

Dark personalities are also unable to tolerate criticism, which brings a tendency to try to avoid dissenting voices. Whereas sensible prime ministers select ministers on the basis of ability, Johnson has packed senior government roles with loyalists, which has led to a lack of expertise and creativity.

Inevitable decay

Unfortunately, it’s common for dark triad personalities to become leaders. Motivated by a deep unconscious sense of lack, they have a strong desire for power and dominance. And their ruthlessness and ability to manipulate means they attain positions of power quite easily.

When a “dark” leader attains power, conscientious, moral people rapidly fall away. A government operating under these conditions soon becomes what the Polish psychologist Andrzej Lobaczewski called a “pathocracy” – an administration made up of ruthless individuals devoid of integrity and morality. This happened with Donald Trump’s presidency, as the “adults in the room” gradually headed for the exit, leaving no one but staffers defined by their personal allegiance to Trump. A similar decay in standards has occurred in the UK.

In an ideal society, there would be measures to restrict such people’s access to power, and we would be more likely to have the kind of leaders that we deserve.

Steve Taylor
Senior Lecturer in Psychology, Leeds Beckett University

Sunday 23 October 2022

Trouble in Court

As court staff prepare for strike action over the troubled Common Platform IT system, we learn through a survey of magistrates conducted by their lobby group the Magistrates Association that they are not happy either. It seems they don't like things being 'done to them' rather than being part of the process! Sounds a bit familiar doesn't it? But that's the MoJ civil service way! 

It's worth reminding newer colleagues that there was a time when magistrates effectively ran the Probation Service and files had to be presented for inspection and perusal by members of the local bench on a regular basis. Ok that was before my time, but my career began when I was interviewed and appointed to the Petty Sessional District by the local bench in 1986 and very regular consultation meetings continued to be held with magistrates until of course the politicians got involved. But that's another story.    

It shouldn't cost to volunteer : Findings from a survey of magistrates


Magistrates are volunteers, guided by the principle of service to their local communities. This has been an underpinning feature of the magistracy for its entire 660-year history. 

The system relies solely on the commitment of those volunteers to make it work. No magistrate should, in theory, be out-of-pocket for volunteering. Magistrates can claim for expenses from His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS), to compensate them for financial costs incurred. 

The magistracy has undergone much change in recent years. Half of magistrates’ courts have closed since 2010, and the number of magistrates has halved too. Increased centralisation of administration has reduced the sense of localness, with magistrates having to travel longer distances, and the sense that the much-prized principle of local justice has been weakened. Poorly executed introductions of IT procedures and other processes have also served to significantly damage morale. Many members tell us that this has changed their bond with the role, and how valued they feel as volunteers. Against this backdrop it is perhaps no wonder that an expenses regime that leaves volunteer magistrates having to dip into their own pockets to make up the difference has added to the stress and discontent that magistrates feel. 

The Magistrates’ Association wanted to better understand the extent and nature of the costs associated with sitting as a magistrate. This report presents the results of a landmark survey of 1,362 sitting magistrate members and sets out 20 recommendations that we believe will make a real difference for magistrates.

Executive summary 

Our survey of sitting magistrates painted a deeply concerning picture of an expenses regime that does not reflect the true costs incurred, and of a workload that is not properly recognised.

Respondents told us that they faced financial loss through fulfilling their duties as magistrates. It is a cornerstone of our judicial system that magistrates are not paid, but it is fundamentally unfair that those who volunteer for public service should find themselves out-of-pocket. It is also wrong that people on low incomes face exclusion from serving as magistrates because of the financial cost. 

Our survey highlighted the inflexibility of the current expenses regime. The system does not recognise various types of activities undertaken for magisterial duties—such as remote sittings from home or preparation time before cases. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, sittings from home—while at first a temporary measure—have expanded and become a permanent element of the duties for many magistrates. Yet, the current expenses policy ignores this. The costs of essential computer equipment, as well as other extra costs incurred through sittings from home, should be covered by the expenses system. We recommend a digital hardship fund to assist magistrates on limited means to purchase and maintain the equipment required for at-home sittings. We also recommend a small flat-rate allowance for at-home sittings to cover other related costs. 

The survey found that magistrates spend considerable time on duties as part of their magistracy work over and above court sittings. These additional roles, such bench chairs and training or advisory committee members, are vital to the effective running of the magistracy. However, the time that magistrates put into them is not recognised nor claimable on a par with court sittings through the expenses system. We recommend that this changes as soon as possible, not least to bolster the morale and goodwill of magistrates. We also recommend that there should be greater transparency about the actual time commitment required during the recruitment process for new magistrates. 

The justice system relies heavily on the goodwill of volunteers. More than 90 per cent of criminal cases are dealt with by volunteer magistrates; without their work, the justice system would seize up. This was highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic when magistrates kept courts running through virtually the whole period, and quickly tackled the pandemic-related backlogs as soon as it was possible, including with nightingale courts and weekend sittings.

Yet, our survey showed that magistrates feel neither the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) nor His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) understand their needs and motivations as volunteers. Instead, they feel that consultation on changes is usually inadequate, meaning that when change is introduced it is often poorly handled and makes their roles harder. Respondents said that change is too often done to them rather than with them. So, we recommend that the MOJ and HMCTS change their whole approach to working with the large volunteer force of the magistracy. We call for a Magistrates’ Volunteering Compact, drawn up between government departments and agencies and magistrates’ representatives, based on greater respect and understanding of the role of magistrates as volunteers in the context of participatory democracy. The compact should set out clear commitments and expectations including meaningful consultation on major changes, expected time commitments, and a statement that magistrates should not find themselves out-of-pocket. 

This report highlights how external events can have a substantial impact on magistrates. The rise in fuel prices, for example, has come on top of a reduction in the mileage allowance for many magistrates that came into effect last year and hit many hard. One of our core recommendations is for the MOJ to establish a standing working group to explore key issues relating to the costs of volunteering, which would include a regular evaluation of the expenses system to make sure that it always stays relevant. 

Finally, our report makes the case for how all this impacts on the ability to attract and sustain a diverse magistracy. Our survey showed that the inequities of the current expenses system have a disproportionate impact on younger magistrates, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, Black, Asian and minority ethnic magistrates, and those who are self-employed. This presents a significant barrier to recruiting magistrates from these groups—negatively impacting the diversity of the magistracy. 

The magistracy has been described as a jewel in the nation’s democratic crown. It is one of our oldest institutions—involving thousands of ordinary people from all walks of life, giving service to their communities, for no financial reward, in the cause of justice. It has proved its resilience repeatedly, most recently in the way it kept justice going during the Covid-19 pandemic. But, at the same time, it is fragile. It is powered by goodwill, and that goodwill needs to be nurtured, not taken for granted. Our report sets out 20 recommendations for how that can be done. 


This research aimed to evidence the costs involved in being a magistrate, based on a major survey conducted in March 2022 of 1,362 sitting magistrates. Our survey found that magistrates, in large numbers, reported having to make up the difference between the amounts recoverable through the expenses regime and actual costs. Magistrates are consistently out-of-pocket. 

The arbitrary amounts recovered do not reflect actual losses. This is currently a feature, not a bug, of the expenses regime, and causes widespread discontent. This leads us to conclude that the expenses regime is not fit for purpose. Our central recommendation is that the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) establishes a standing working group to consider a magistrates’ expenses that meets regularly to monitor and act on this issue to ensure it is not deprioritised. This working group would discuss updates in policy and legislation with representatives from the Magistrates’ Association and other key stakeholders and would ensure the expenses regime was as reactive as possible to external changes that affect its coverage. 

We also recommend a three-year postimplementation review of the 2019 changes to magistrates’ expenses is conducted. Our survey found that the mileage decrease from this review had an overwhelmingly negative effect that left magistrates measurably out-of-pocket and significantly dented their morale. On this topic alone, the Magistrates’ Association received over 300 emails, many of which represented benches and wider groups. 

Further, we found that the expenses regime is characterised by a level of inflexibility that created administrative burdens that could at times be insurmountable for our members, who then chose not to claim at all. While recognising the need to properly handle public money by checking claims carefully, we question whether the sheer weight of evidence required to support a claim for financial loss is always necessary. We found similar hurdles affecting claimants for childcare. Our recommendations offer simple ways to lessen the administrable burdens for ordinary magistrates. 

Separately, our survey found that magistrates’ workload was not fully recognised. Significant amounts of time spent in roles essential to the magistracy, such as sitting on an advisory committee or being a bench chair, remain completely unrecognised. Furthermore, family magistrates spend a substantial amount of time reading large bundles in preparation for a court sitting; this also is not properly recognised. 

The impact of unrecognised costs is most palpably felt, however, in the context of remote hearings. These hearings, whose use exploded at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, continue not to attract any form of ability to claim back expenses. This is despite our survey’s evidence of significant expenses, most notably in the purchase of own devices and in the use of own utilities. Available support to magistrates, such as for IT, was also found to be wanting. Our report questions why a digital hardship allowance cannot be administered for those unable to afford the cost of their own devices, why greater IT support cannot be provided for those with own devices, and why the existing subsistence regime cannot be extended to cover other costs of sitting as home? 

New legislation, which extends the use of remote sittings and places them on a permanent footing, means that remote sittings—currently mostly unrecognised by the regime—will be the norm for many magistrates. Our survey showed that time and money were particularly important considerations for young and Black, Asian and minority ethnic magistrates, reflecting a nuanced and disproportionate impact on those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. The context of rising costs of living and fuel prices provides an opportune moment for His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the MOJ to take a fresh look, once again, at the coverage of the entire expenses regime. This, coupled with an ongoing recruitment campaign that will bring the largest and most diverse influx of new magistrates the magistracy has ever seen, means they need, now more than ever, to be more agile in responding to these factors. 

The starkest findings came from those costs that were the hardest to measure but had the most significant impact: the costs to magistrates’ morale. Magistrate volunteers, like all volunteers, want to feel that they’re giving something back to their organisations and want to feel supported and consulted on changes. However, respondents to our survey often felt that changes to the expenses regime were made unilaterally, with minimal consultation with them directly. 

There is now an urgent need to reassess the relationship that senior leaders in the justice system have with volunteer magistrates, and to reaffirm their commitment to them through a volunteer compact. This should expressly affirm a commitment both to the magistracy and to the volunteers whose dedication and hard work is unparalleled. 

Our evidence is clear. Our recommendations provide simple ways to implement changes that will benefit all magistrates. The Magistrates’ Association is ready to support policymakers to ensure that there are no costs to volunteer as a magistrate, and that the expenses regime that supports them to undertake this essential role becomes an effective and dynamic ongoing process. 

It is difficult to understate the importance of working with a large volunteer force to ensure that morale, expectations and responsibilities are met. To ignore the issues raised in this report is a high-risk strategy that could undermine the magistracy. By contrast, we believe that our recommendations will help to restore the goodwill and morale on which the magistracy depends.


Based on our survey’s findings, the Magistrates’ Association recommends: 

1. The existing three tiers of subsistence should be replaced with two: absences of 2-8 and 8-12 hours. This would ensure that magistrates whose full day sittings are shortened at late notice— and due to circumstances out of their control—are also able to claim. It would, in addition, be simpler to administer. 

2. The subsistence rates should be index-linked to account for inflation. 

3. Hotels booked through the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) travel agent should be covered in all cases. The cost of an evening meal, not exceeding a reasonable and index-linked upper limit, should also be claimable. 

4. A detailed post-implementation review of the expenses schedule should take place as soon as possible to address the impact of these internal and external pressures. 

5. The MOJ should set up a standing working group on magistrates’ expenses. This should be structured to: 
1. receive regular input from magistrates and relevant organisations 
2. track updates in employment law that may necessitate change in guidance or policy regularly review the rates of expenses to ensure magistrates are not out-of-pocket. 
6. His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) should fast-track any planned improvements to the financial loss allowance claims process, review the adequacy of all magistrates’ claims processes, and store the annual declaration forms electronically so that it does not have to be re-completed every year.

7. The courts minister should take steps to remove the annual declaration requirement from the secondary legislation without delay. 

8. The MOJ must look specifically at the barriers faced by magistrates with childcare responsibilities. Claims processes, and their potential to create difficulty for certain groups of magistrates, must be a key priority for the proposed working group on expenses. 

9. HMCTS should institute a flat rate allowance—slightly lower than the current subsistence allowance—for magistrates who conduct at-home sittings. 

10. HMCTS should establish a digital hardship fund to assist magistrates on limited means to purchase or upgrade the equipment required for at-home sittings where they do not have such equipment already. This could be administered by bench chairs. 

11. HMCTS should write to all bench chairs to clarify the standards of court dress expected under the current regime.  

12. Subject to the eligibility requirements being met, and when significant pre-reading is required, this time should be treated as a sitting. Any financial loss should be eligible to be claimed under the expenses regime. 

13. The proposed standing working group needs to think creatively about how best to recognise the extra time contribution of magistrates who undertake additional judicial roles. 

14. To build magistrates’ confidence in using their own devices, regular short-burst training sessions on the use of different IT systems should be delivered. 

15. This type of regular short-burst training should also apply to IT security and handling sensitive data, and magistrates should be asked to specifically confirm that they understand security responsibilities in order to protect themselves. 

16. To safeguard morale and recognise the hard work of magistrates, HMCTS and MOJ should work with magistrates’ representatives to establish a Magistrates’ Volunteering Compact. This would be an overarching document, based on greater respect and understanding of the role of magistrates as volunteers in the context of participatory democracy. 

17. The compact should set out reasonable expectations of magistrates—such as the real required time commitment, and expectations in the use of their own devices—as well as what magistrates can expect from HMCTS and the MOJ. This should include a commitment to meaningful consultation and involvement of magistrates in decision-making that affects them, and a commitment to ensure that the expenses regime stays relevant and up to date, so that magistrates are not out-of-pocket. 

18. The standing working group on magistrates’ expenses that we propose in recommendation five should include a specific consultative element to ensure magistrates’ voices are heard. 

19. The MOJ should ensure that the true time commitment required to be a magistrate is made clear. This transparency would be fairer to applicants and would increase the sense of recognition for magistrates’ contributions. 

20. We recognise that the Applicant Tracking System has been recently initiated to collect diversity data of new recruits. In 12 months, when there is enough data, it should be analysed on an intersectional basis.

Saturday 22 October 2022

MoJ Tagging Scandal

The suspicion has long been held that the MoJ basically feels that tagging everyone would be a really easy and cheap way of reducing crime and 'supervising' offenders. The trouble is it's not cheap; the technology isn't that good and nobody knows if it's actually effective. Of course the MoJ has quite a track record on poor contract writing and wasting public money through IT failures, but are very effective in lining the pockets of huge private sector corporations. The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies are on the tagging case though:-

Whiff of scandal over electronic monitoring

The Centre for Crime and Justice today called for the use of electronic monitoring (so-called “tagging”) as part of a criminal justice sanction to be based on proper evidence and guided by clear principles.

The call came in response to today’s report by the Public Accounts Committee, which paints an alarming picture of government failure and waste.

According to the Public Accounts Committee, nearly £100 million of public funds have been wasted on the failure to deliver a new case management system. Remedial work on the current creaking system will incur extra costs. The Ministry of Justice, the Committee notes, still does not know what works, or whether tagging reduces reoffending. Yet it plans to press ahead with a £1.2 billion programme, expanding tagging to an additional 10,000 people over the next three years.

Dr Roger Grimshaw, Research Director at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:
"Today’s report by the Public Accounts Committee paints an alarming picture of government failures in managing electronic monitoring.

At a time when there is so much for them to grapple with, it would be tempting for criminal justice practitioners and observers to assume that the failings exist in some faraway management bubble, with few implications for people under supervision, or their families.

In reality, the expansion of EM being planned is due to create a new world of electronic supervision, supplementary to the prison system, unguided by firm evidence about any positive role in rehabilitation.

The whiff of scandal over EM should be a wake-up call for a much more informed and wide-ranging discussion, developing a platform for reform which delimits a place for EM in a modest, humane and purposeful system.”
'Transforming electronic monitoring services': for what purpose?

Today’s report by the Public Accounts Committee paints an alarming picture of government failures in managing electronic monitoring (EM) services in criminal justice.

Its detailed analysis and criticisms are extensive: nearly £100 million of public funds have been wasted on the failure to deliver a new case management system. Remedial work on the current creaking system will incur extra costs. The implications of ‘real-time’ monitoring data access for police remain to be explored.

A striking finding is the weakness of the evidence base for the planned expansion of EM.
"The Ministry and HMPPS still do not know what works and for who, and whether tagging reduces reoffending… Despite the lack of evaluation, government is pressing ahead with its £1.2 billion programme to expand tagging to another 10,000 people in the next three years."
As the Committee notes, these concerns are not new: the New Generation electronic monitoring programme was beset by a similar level of ineptitude. In our evidence to the Public Accounts Committee inquiry, the only written evidence the Committee published, we highlighted the systemic failings in the EM programme. We also called for the appointment of a regulator with an ethical and practical mission of ensuring that only appropriate services are provided, in the public interest.


From the Public Accounts Committee website:-

“Avoidable” mistakes in tagging programme “wasted £98 million of taxpayers’ money”

In a report the Public Accounts Committee says a “high-risk and over-complicated delivery model, poor oversight of suppliers, overambitious timetable and light-touch scrutiny from the Ministry of Justice” all contributed to the failure of a new case management system for electronic monitoring of offenders which has “cost taxpayers dear”.

The Committee says “avoidable mistakes” wasted £98 million of taxpayers’ money and left the tagging service “reliant on legacy systems that needed urgent remedial action, costing a further £9.8 million”.

Even after this, the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS still “do not know what works and for who, and whether tagging reduces reoffending”. Despite the lack of knowledge and evaluation, government is pressing ahead with a £1.2 billion programme to expand tagging to another 10,000 people in the next three years.

Given the “long history of poor performance in this area” the Committee is “unconvinced” that the MoJ is equipped to handle emerging problems and will continue to monitor the “serious risks” that remain for the expansion of tagging and the need to procure new contracts by early 2024.

Chair's comments

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:

“The prison and probation service is reliant on outdated technology that is swallowing taxpayers’ money just to stand still. The existing system is at constant risk of failure – and let us be clear that in the case of tagging, “failure” can mean direct and preventable risk to the public – and attempts to transform it have failed.

The incredible scale of waste and loss in the Government’s Covid response should in no way inure us to this: that’s another hundred million pounds of taxpayers’ money for essential public services just thrown away, wasted, lost. We expect a serious explanation, and a serious plan, from the MoJ and Government more widely how they are going to stop this haemorrhaging of taxpayers’ money that they are presiding over. We need assurances up front over the further £1.2 billion they have already committed to the tagging programme – what will be achieved, by when, and, crucially, what will be recovered for the public if goals aren’t met.”


HM Prison & Probation Service’s (HMPPS) transformation programme for electronic monitoring (‘tagging’) has failed to transform the service as intended. HMPPS launched the programme to improve efficiency and increase the usefulness of tagging for police and probation services, but after significant setbacks and delays the failure has cost taxpayers dear. Its high-risk and over-complicated delivery model, poor oversight of suppliers, overambitious timetable and light-touch scrutiny from the Ministry of Justice all contributed to its failure to introduce a new case management system, which underpinned the intended benefits and transformation. These avoidable mistakes wasted £98 million of taxpayers’ money and left the tagging service reliant on legacy systems that needed urgent remedial action, costing a further £9.8 million.

It is unacceptable that, despite our previous recommendations, the Ministry and HMPPS still do not have sufficient data to understand the outcomes of tagging and that police forces and the Probation Service continue to lack timely access to the high-quality data they need to monitor offenders and keep the public safe. The Ministry and HMPPS still do not know what works and for who, and whether tagging reduces reoffending. HMPPS has committed to improving access to data and evaluating its new tagging expansion projects, but appears unambitious about the level of insight that it expects to achieve.

Despite the lack of evaluation, government is pressing ahead with its £1.2 billion programme to expand tagging to another 10,000 people in the next three years. It has harnessed innovative technology to deliver new projects—such as in its alcohol monitoring scheme and acquisitive crime pilot—where early progress has yielded some encouraging results. However, although HMPPS has identified lessons from the failure of its transformation programme, there remain serious risks associated with its expansion of tagging and the need to procure new contracts by early 2024. Given the long history of poor performance in this area, we remain unconvinced that it is sufficiently well-equipped to handle emerging problems and will continue to monitor developments for the foreseeable future.

Friday 21 October 2022

It's a Great Shame!

A couple of days ago my attention was drawn to an article about the plight of the Probation Service and published by Morning Star Online:-

The Probation Service must not be subsumed

Probation is a unique profession that requires different working practices to prisons or the Civil Service — to give our clients the best support, we must be given our independence, write Katie Lomas and Ben Cockburn.

Probation was accidentally nationalised and moved into the Civil Service as a consequence of the government’s failed Transforming Rehabilitation reforms in 2014. The National Probation Service that was created at that time was markedly different to the service that had existed before, with the former probation trusts abolished despite all of them having performance assessed as “good” or “outstanding” and many having externally assessed excellence marks.

The cancelling of the CRC contracts in 2021 moved the final elements of probation work into the Civil Service and now all of the probation system exists in the Civil Service, either directly provided or in small contracts for specialist support services. This has been a disaster for the profession.

The move away from trusts that valued and supported the professionalism of their staff to the top-down command and control ethos of the Civil Service has stifled professionalism so much that there is now a move to “professionalise” probation staff. The insult that this term brings to professionals who have struggled to deliver a service in the face of cuts to budgets and staffing and a disastrous and dangerous split in the system cannot be underestimated.

It is unlikely that the decision makers in the Ministry of Justice will ever hear the true voice of the profession however, as they are far removed from probation, a tiny part of the huge machine that delivers justice across England and Wales. Now we are told that, in response to the announcement made by the outgoing prime minister about Civil Service job cuts, the Probation Service will be subsumed into HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) and no longer exist with a separate framework to support it.

Early versions of the communications about this move promised that decisions would be based on evidence and data. It is not clear if these will make it into the final cut after Napo pointed out that this is the latest in a string of harmful decisions made on the basis of political whim rather than any evidence or data.

The probation system is markedly different to the prison system. That does not mean that either one is better or worse, they are simply different. The prison system works on strict rules, security and hierarchy. These are necessary for safety of staff and those in prison. 

The probation system works on transparency and constantly questioning everything — including instructions and rules. Probation training encourages the professional to question the system in which they, and their client, exist and to seek to understand and explore issues relating to power and control in their working relationships. This inevitably effects the way that those professionals respond to their own working relationships in their own supervision and management arrangements. Probation professionals should be expected to ask for evidence and data, to scrutinise the motivation for instructions and policy changes and above all to have an active voice in their own management.

For many years Napo has been warning that the move into HMPPS was a risk to the profession, and the “one HMPPS” programme is likely to realise our fears. Probation as a profession will be under threat due to the needs of our larger and more costly partner — the prisons. Senior leaders will continue to struggle to make the voice of probation heard and, in order to survive, will adopt more of a command-and-control approach, discouraging questioning and becoming more remote.

The phrase “that’s not how Civil Service/HMPPS/prisons do it” will continue to be the stock response when those who retain probation values and approaches try to be heard. It is important to note that in all the work done since 2014 to rebuild probation in the Civil Service you never hear anyone say “that’s how probation do it.”

This is a great shame; there is much that our colleagues in the wider HMPPS and Civil Service could learn from the former probation trusts, those outstanding performers with externally verified excellence standards. If the Civil Service headcount needs to be reduced then Napo have the perfect solution which is “oven ready.”

It is: move the Probation Service out of the Civil Service into a non-departmental government body. Keep probation in the public sector but freed from prison and removed from the Civil Service. Give probation professionals the freedom to practice, give senior leaders the freedom to truly lead. Make the Probation Service locally accountable, enabling partnership working while retaining their unique culture and values.

Katie Lomas is former national chair of Napo and Ben Cockburn is national vice chair.


When my attention was drawn to this article a couple of days ago via Twitter, I remarked I didn't know what to make of it. I queried the statement that 'probation was accidentally nationalised' and 'it is a great shame' that the probation way is not valued within HMPPS. 

Given the history and trauma the Service has been through, to be perfectly honest I found these phrases astonishing. There is now the almost certain likelihood of a change of government within two years and what we surely need is a robust campaign for probation's independent future, not soft soap and flannel. We also need to get the history right. What Grayling did was very definitely a deliberate political act of vandalism. It was not 'accidental'. I'm not alone in this view:-   
"Jim, this is not the right place for this Napo nonsense, but it does need to be aired. Feel free to reposition it where you think fit. What on earth are Napo up to? Reads as though they're apologists for the whole debacle and those who enabled and continue to enforce it. None of what happened to probation was accidental. Napo spent months celebrating the "win" of "re-nationalisation". With a very few exceptions, none of the senior leaders are capable of leading, have been actively complicit with HMPPS and the political direction of travel and HMI Probation have verified this with Nil Points all round - despite Justin's kind words in a desperate bid to spare his chums' blushes. This article is revisionist and misleading." 

The article is clearly gaining some attention. This from Twitter:-

"The most perfect description of Probation that I have ever read, as described by those from
@Napo_News" :-
"The probation system works on transparency and constantly questioning everything — including instructions and rules. Probation training encourages the professional to question the system in which they, and their client, exist and to seek to understand and explore issues relating to power and control in their working relationships."

Thursday 20 October 2022

Shocking Effect of Parole Changes

I notice that the Prison Reform Trust are continuing the fight over the disgraceful parole changes brought in by Dominic Raab and have discovered the shocking results already:-

Parole reforms see fewer people getting chance to prepare for release

Nearly three months after we asked for them, the Ministry of Justice has still not released any statistics about the impact of the changes Dominic Raab ordered on parole — in particular the change in criteria for people to get to open conditions. But the Parole Board promptly answered a letter we sent them asking for any numbers they could provide.

What those numbers show is shocking.

Until the change to Parole Board directions on 6 June, 94% of recommendations by the board that someone should progress to an open prison were accepted by the ministry. Since 6 June, 87% of such recommendations have been rejected.
We have gone from a system where the vast majority of decisions were effectively taken by a panel of three independent experts considering a full parole dossier and hearing evidence in person, to a system where an anonymous official in an office in Whitehall simply says no in nearly nine out of 10 cases.
It’s shocking but not unexpected. This is what Dominic Raab wanted to achieve, setting tests for progression to open which he could interpret any way he liked. But it’s profoundly unfair and, crucially, works against the goal of public protection which he claims to have been the motivation for the changes. If more people come to be released directly from closed conditions, with less opportunity to acclimatise to life outside prison, and with less opportunity to get used to a high level of trust being placed in them, it will make it harder for people to succeed on release. Far from reducing risk, this approach increases it.

The Parole Board’s letter also included statistics about the number of positive release decisions. These decisions continue to be made by the board, not ministers — at least for now. It’s not clear why, but the number of release decisions has fallen this year. That may just be about the throughput of cases overall. But it’s likely that the exclusion of people from open prisons will lead to fewer release decisions in due course. We calculate that the drop in release decisions described by the Parole Board already represents a requirement for 1,000 additional prison cells — over and above the ministry’s current projections.

We’ve written to the new justice secretary highlighting the figures and asking him to meet us to discuss how he could adjust his predecessor’s approach.

Later today (18 October), in the House of Lords, Baroness Prashar — a former Chair of the Parole Board will lead a debate asking new ministers to think again about the changes Dominic Raab introduced. These numbers show that the need to do so is urgent — the progression of hundreds of people is being needlessly interrupted. It’s a self-defeating and unfair policy.

Peter Dawson


10 October 2022

Dear Peter 

Thank you for your letter of 26 August seeking data on the impact on the new criteria for moves to open conditions on Parole Board decision-making and whether those recommendations are accepted by the Secretary of State. 


By way of context, it might be helpful to clarify that in all cases apart from pre-tariff cases referred to the Parole Board; it is asked to consider whether the statutory test for release is met namely “whether a prisoner’s continued detention remains necessary for the protection of the public”. This is a judicial decision and, subject only to the right of parties seek reconsideration, is final. In the majority of indeterminate cases, the Board will also be asked for advice on whether, if the test for release is not met, the prisoner is suitable for a move to open conditions. These recommendations are not binding on the Secretary of State, and the final decision rests with him. The Board must also take account of directions from the Secretary of State when deciding whether a prisoner is suitable for a move to open conditions.

There are some categories of prisoner such as terrorist offenders who will not ordinarily be considered for a move to open conditions. Traditionally the Parole Board has found that a period of testing in open conditions can provide vital evidence to inform the decision on whether a prisoners risk to the public can be managed upon release, because it better prepares a prisoner for release and provides the opportunity for temporary release in the community to seek employment etc. There is strong published evidence from the Ministry of Justice that release on temporary licence prior to release reduces the chances of a prisoner reoffending and the risk to the public. Testing in open conditions prior to release, can also signal areas of risk that have not been identified in closed conditions.

In the Root and Branch Review of the Parole System the Government signalled: 

“Current policy in relation to the Parole Board’s role to recommend that a prisoner moves to open conditions, states that the Parole Board’s recommendation should be accepted unless there are exceptional reasons to reject it. These are currently considered by officials acting on behalf of the Secretary of State. 

The government has decided that this approach will be changed to provide for direct ministerial oversight in cases where the prisoner is serving a sentence for murder, other homicide, rape or serious sexual offence against a child/child cruelty. A new threshold will be applied, such that the prisoner must not only be assessed as low risk of abscond, but that a specified and clear purpose for a time in open conditions must be articulated, including an explanation of why that purpose cannot be met in a closed prison. Equally, we will also consider the extent to which placing the prisoner in an open prison would undermine public confidence in the system of open prisons.” 

This change of approach was brought forward in new directions to the Parole Board which now provide that: 

“Before recommending a transfer to open, the Parole Board must consider: 

i. all information before it, including any written or oral evidence obtained by the Board;

ii. the extent to which the ISP has made sufficient progress during the sentence in addressing and reducing risk to a level consistent with protecting the public from harm, in circumstances where the ISP in open conditions may be in the community, unsupervised, under licensed temporary release; 

iii. whether the following criteria are met: 

- the prisoner is assessed as low risk of abscond; and 
- a period in open conditions is considered essential to inform future decisions about release and to prepare for possible release on licence into the community. 

The Parole Board must only recommend a move to open conditions where it is satisfied that the two criteria as described at (iii) are met.” 


The Parole Board publishes data on the number of recommendations it makes for open conditions in its annual report and accounts we also monitor outcomes through our Management Information systems.

• In 2021-22 the Board made 568 recommendations for open conditions (an average of 47 recommendations a month). The Parole Board also directed the release of 4,139 prisoners over the same period.

• In the first four months of 2022-23 the Board made 139 recommendations for open conditions (an average of 35 recommendations a month). 
The Parole Board also directed the release of 1,209 prisoners over the same period. 

The Parole Board also monitors Management Information data on whether the Secretary of State accepts the Parole Board recommendations. According to that data: 

• In 2021-22 94% of Parole Board recommendations were accepted (515 of 549 recommendations processed in the period). 

The data for 2022-23 is not yet complete as we are only part way through the year and a number of applications await the Secretary of State’s decision. However, the data we have seen to date is as follows: 

• In the period April to August 2022 13% of Parole Board recommendations were accepted (11 of 83 recommendations processed in the period).

I hope that is helpful. 

Yours sincerely 

Martin Jones CBE 
Chief Executive 
The Parole Board for England and Wales