Friday 22 December 2023


I note Napo's Acting Chair has written to all members and takes the helm at a testing time to put it mildly. It's all well and good to stress the democratic nature of the union, but I suspect what the membership is really in need of is effective and visible leadership. Very regular and meaningful communication and a visible presence. Where is the case being made to be out of HMPPS - not cosying-up to a toxic employer.          

Festive Greetings From Napo

Ben Cockburn Acting National Chair writes:

As ever, 2023 has seen our members make incredible efforts across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to have a real, positive impact on our communities, in particular the individuals and families we work with. What we do is often not well recognised by the wider public, though our efforts as a trade union to change this have seen more progress on this in recent years, but the jobs we do remain some of the most meaningful there are.

Over the last year Napo has been active in representing our members in Cafcass, Probation and Probation Board Northern Ireland, individually and collectively, from a local to a national level. In our meetings with Government ministers, senior civil servants or management at a national or regional level, we have continued to promote the issues and concerns that our members tell us are of the greatest important to them, for example the crushing demands of excessive workloads or the ongoing cost of living crisis. We have seen some important successes, as well as some disappointments despite our best efforts. Going into 2024 we fully recognise the need for further work to secure the best for all our members, and that the work the union does must intensify with the high likelihood of a General Election in the next 12 months.

Stronger together

As with any trade union we are at our best and strongest as a collective. Recent years have seen, in the face of growing inequality in our society and the attacks working people have faced by those who have political power, an increasing recognition of the importance of the trade union movement in combating the worst excesses we have experienced. The recruitment of new members remains a priority for Napo and we continue to work on our efforts in this regard as well as remaining open to any suggestions from members on how we can improve. In addition, we continue to need activists and representatives in many Branches and in the wider operation of Napo at a national level. All of us have something to offer the union, and we are more effective as a union for each of our greater involvement in fighting for our goals, so if you have the capacity to do more we’d welcome whatever you can contribute.

It’s your union

Napo is a trade union and professional association that is led and directed by its membership, not controlled from above as is the case with our employers. A great example of this is in our annual Operational Plan where members, through agreed strategic aims and the results of motions debated at our Annual General Meeting, review the work of Napo over the previous 12 months and set the course of the work of Napo for the coming year. You can find a copy of the current Plan via this link – Napo Operational Plan 2024 – and mailouts to be sent in the months prior to next year’s AGM will update members on how they can submit motions for debate to be a part of next year’s Operational Plan and attend AGM itself, either in person or virtually.

Hope ahead

Finally, it’s becoming more difficult to find descriptions for the past year that aren’t variations on "difficult" or "challenging" that have been used in similar mailouts as these going back a decade or more. That said, there is cause for optimism in the new year that can only be further strengthened by us maintaining a strong and proud collective voice, direction and action. The Napo Officers and HQ team want to wish all members happiness over the festive season, with a peaceful period for those of us working during this time and a restful time for those of us who are not.


Wednesday 20 December 2023

Attention All Staff

Despite the recently published HMPPS propaganda, there is widespread evidence that the probation workplace has become an increasingly toxic environment under their command and control and therefore the two following developments will be of interest to all staff:-

Recruit more probation officers, increase funding and review working conditions

The Government must recruit more probation officers, increase funding for probation services and conduct an urgent review into working conditions for staff. We believe the Probation Service is critically past its maximum capacity to manage dangerous offenders and staff are burned out.

We are concerned that health and safety risks to officers, some holding caseloads close to 200%, are being ignored. With many leaving, or on long term sickness, we believe a rise in serious further offences is inevitable. The Government must act to improve the work-life balance of staff without further detrimental impact to staff health and well-being, and the impact on their families. Probation work needs to be condensed into a more manageable, effective framework to lessen the burden on staff..


Wellbeing is an important part of the Operation Protect Campaign

As we leave 2023 behind, we wanted to acknowledge how aware we are as joint leads for Napo on Health and Safety, of the working environment staff find themselves in at this time.

Our Officers and Officials are receiving many reports of how excessive workloads are impacting on our members and manager member’s health. This, along with staff shortages, lack of resources and 100+ % caseloads are taking their toll. Despite the efforts to recruit new staff (which Napo fully supports), members tell us that morale is at an all-time low. Staff sickness figures as a national average, show little real sign of improvement and departure from the service is still alarmingly high.

What can you do?

No matter what your grade, whether you are a receptionist or a manager, you are all in this together. As a member of Napo, you are able to seek assistance if you are experiencing the following issues
  • Feeling bullied within the workplace
  • Being subjected to racism, cultural prejudices, faith prejudices, ageism, disability discrimination, gender discrimination, sexism, or any other forms of toxic or unacceptable behaviours
  • Being expected to do work that takes you over your contracted hours – (without so much as the offer of overtime payments). By using the contact details below in confidence, you can help us monitor the number of extra hours staff and managers are doing each week in order to try and cope with your workload.
  • Being in receipt of a warning letter on your return from sickness absence or having to issue these against your better judgement .
  • Not being heard when you state that you cannot (or your staff cannot) take on more work, and how management respond to this
  • Feeling overwhelmed and traumatised
  • Having had to seek medical intervention to help you manage work-related stress / depression
  • Anyone who feels they are working within a hostile office environment
  • Current concerns that you may have over potential SFOs and high/unmanageable caseloads.
Our aim is, and always has been, to consider feedback from members as to how we can better support them in a practical manner.

As noted above, we’re aware that members, of all grades, are working in excess of their contracted hours due to excessive workloads. We would advise all members to ensure that this is recorded and that you request that your manager advises you on the priorities of your work, please ensure that this conversation is clearly recorded. We would advise our manager members to also ensure that they inform their manager when they are aware that staff are working excess hours.

Health and safety within the workplace is of the utmost importance so that staff can protect themselves and their well-being. we recognise that public protection becomes less and less possible when staff are struggling in unmanageable circumstances. The purpose of asking people to come forward, and speak to us confidentially, is so that we can try to address the impact that current workloads are having on staff and managers, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

By helping to contribute to the wider picture, we can consider how best we can support people in this difficult time. We are also aware that each area may have its own unique issues, while all areas will have some shared concerns and difficulties. The issue of Workloads should also appear on Regional JCC agendas so that regular dialogue is maintained with management.

To contact Napo you can email or call us on the Central Napo contact details below, or to find out your local Napo branch representatives for your area.

Phone: 020 7223 4887


To join Napo please email the address below:

Sunday 17 December 2023

It's All Going Jolly Well!

Thanks 'Getafix for reminding us to look at the latest update from HMPPS HQ and contrary to popular belief, it's all bloody wonderful:- 

Probation Service Change Bulletin 21

1. Foreword

Welcome to the bi-monthly Probation Service Change Bulletin – keeping you updated on what is happening across the Probation Service. I am Amy Rees, Director General CEO HMPPS.

As we approach the end of 2023, I am delighted to see a real boost in recruitment into probation. There is a lot of great work going on in this area and to see numbers of senior probation officers increase by 13 per cent and also the recruitment of 1,514 trainee probation officers in the 2022/2023 financial year is a really positive way to end the year. We want to keep building on this positive trend and continue to recruit staff and, of course, retain them and their invaluable experience. We are also launching a Probation Alumni Network and you can read more about it below.

It is an exciting time for us as we recently launched our new recruitment campaign, which runs again in the New Year. The campaign’s strapline is ‘An extraordinary job. Done by someone like you.’ You may have heard the ads on radio or perhaps seen them at sports events, on television or online. The Probation TV advert and the Prison TV advert were created with valuable insight from people working for HMPPS, ensuring they reflect the reality of our work. We hope they will encourage people to join the service, helping to make an impact on reducing reoffending and protecting the public.

You can watch both adverts on the HMPPS Youtube channel.

The Probation Exhibition continues its tour across England and Wales and is currently in Wrexham before moving to Cardiff in the New Year. Please do go along to one of the venues if you can and let us know what you think.

We are also reaching the end of our 50th anniversary celebrations for Community Payback and I am delighted to see prisons and probation working so well together to improve the environment at Medway Secure School in Kent. I have enjoyed hearing about the great work being done and thank our staff for their tremendous efforts which make a difference to communities and lives across England and Wales every day.

I’m pleased we have all our Area Executive Directors (AEDs) now in place and you can read on for more information about One HMPPS, Courts and Electronic Monitoring.

Finally, I wish you a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year for 2024!

2. One HMPPS update

Work continues to progress well with the HQ redesign and the area model has now been live since early October. HQ restructuring will commence in early 2024 following consultation with our recognised Trade Unions.

David Hood commenced his new role as Area Executive Director (AED) for the Southeast and East Area in November. He joins the 6 AEDs who formally started their posts in early October, who are:

Helen Judge, Northeast
Sarah Chand, Midlands
Sarah Coccia, London
Alan Scott, Northwest
Chris Jennings, Southwest and South Central
Ian Barrow, Wales
David Hood, Southeast and East

David joins us from the Ardagh group, having previously held commercially focussed roles within the MOJ and recently holding the role as Vice President and Managing director of MTC, which was the parent organisation for the Community Rehabilitation Companies for both London and Thames Valley.

David’s arrival cements another significant step in the development of our area model, which sees Regional Probation Directors (RPDs) and Prison Group Directors (PGDs) (outside long-term high security) come together under the line management of the new Area Executive Directors for England and Wales.

We have launched the OneHMPPS to make sure our Probation and Prison frontline staff have the right support to be able to deliver the very best services.

The new Area Model will bring the probation regions and prison groups together under 6 new geographical areas in England, and Wales. This will provide increased ‘join up’ between prisons and probation by bringing responsibility for both together at the area level, with more devolved authority to the areas to facilitate innovation and faster decision-making, closer to the point of operational delivery. It will also deliver a strengthened operational voice in both central decision-making and national services, and smarter organisation of area and regional resources to strengthen and better support the frontline.

3. New learning and development for Probation Court staff

We are really pleased to have launched a new learning and development package designed specifically for court staff in the South Central region on November 6. The learning and development modules focus on court skills and pre-sentence report practice and have been developed as part of the ‘Pathfinder to Improved Pre-Sentence Advice’ pilot that is being tested in the South Central region.

The Pathfinder pilot, being delivered by the Probation Court Strategy and Change Team, is testing a new delivery model for pre-sentence advice in 16 courts in the South Central region. The focus is on improving the quality and timeliness of pre-sentence advice, both in informing sentencing and providing the right start to the defendant for their journey through the criminal justice system.

This comprehensive learning and development package has been developed as part of this project to ensure probation court staff have the right court craft skills to deliver the high-quality pre-sentence advice required by the judiciary. The learning and development package will be reviewed based on feedback from South Central probation staff to help inform the final design and content prior to wider national rollout.Probation exhibition touring England and Wales

‘Root and Branch – How five shillings, faith and belief inspired the beginning of the Probation Service’ continues its tour of venues across England and Wales.

Following its opening in Cheshire in August the exhibition moved onto Keighley in Yorkshire and Nottingham.

Throughout December you can visit us at our first venue in Wales – Wrexham Catholic Cathedral. We then move to St John the Baptist in Cardiff from January 3 to 14.

The journey of the Service is told through a timeline and includes the initial donation, the links with Primitive Methodism, the hostels set up to help residents and teach them skills such as farming and gardening.

The work of the modern Probation Service, including Approved Premises and the work of Community Payback, currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, also feature.

The exhibition is run in partnership with Englesea Brook Chapel and Museum, in Cheshire.

We’ll share more details and information around forthcoming venues and dates in the exhibition blog.

4. Electronic Monitoring update

The contracts to deliver the Electronic Monitoring service from May 2024 have now been awarded. Serco Ltd has been awarded the Field and Monitoring Service (FMS) contract, and G4S Monitoring Technologies Ltd has been awarded the Monitoring Devices and Systems Service (MDSS) contract.

Through delivery of the MDSS contract, G4S will be responsible for providing, configuring and repairing the equipment, as well as the systems used to interpret data from them.

Through delivery of the FMS contract, Serco will be responsible for installing and removing tags from those required to wear them, as well as monitoring the data generated by them.

The new contracts will last for six years and will allow us to continue delivering our innovative tagging scheme to better protect the public and help divert offenders away from a life of crime, whilst ensuring best value for the taxpayer.

The Ministry of Justice will be working with Serco and G4S over the next year to implement the new contracts, which will be fully operational by the end of 2024.

5. Recruitment Rise and launch of Probation Alumni Network

We’re pleased to report the focus on recruitment and retention is delivering positive results and an upturn in numbers across the Probation Service.

The recent HM Prison and Probation Service workforce quarterly: September 2023 report demonstrates that the approach is working with the workforce growing by over 4,856 across HMPPS since September 2022.

In the past year, 2,138 probation services officers were appointed, some of whom will be training to become qualified probation officers. As of September 2023, we saw an increase of:

174 Senior Probation Officer (13.0%)
304 Probation Officers (6.9%)
267 Probation Services Officers (4.2%)

The Probation Service will also launch a new Alumni Network by January 2024. This initiative follows the successful launch of a similar program in prisons in 2023, which resulted in a significant increase in the number of staff returning to the service.

The Probation Service Alumni Network will foster a community of former employees by keeping them informed of what is happening in the service.

It will also facilitate the building of business and personal connections and provide a vehicle for promoting career opportunities to alumni staff who may be interested in re-joining the service, as well as acting as advocates and promoting available roles to their own networks.

6. Community Payback celebrations

Community Payback teams have been helping to maintain a zoo in Hampshire and planting trees at a secure school in Kent as part of this year’s 50th anniversary celebrations.

Throughout 2023 we’ve toured the regions - beginning in London in January and reaching South Central in November and Kent, Surrey and Sussex this month -looking at our projects and people.

We’ve focused on a variety of work from beach and river cleans to maintaining a tourist railway and historic ship and cooking lunches and looked at how our projects benefit communities and allow people on probation to pay back their communities while learning new skills.

A thousand trees have been planted by people on probation to improve the wellbeing and outlook at a secure school in Kent.

Community Payback teams have planted a variety of species, including large cherry trees, at Medway Secure School near Rochester.

The project was part of the Queen’s Green Canopy initiative (to plant trees as part of Her Late Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee) and also celebrated this year’s 50th anniversary of Community Payback.

Throughout the project – which started in March this year - Probation worked in partnership with the Prison Service.

Teams have been carrying out maintenance work, such as strimming, mowing, mulching, replacing unsuccessful trees and replanting any that required attention.

Teams in Hampshire are working at Marwell Zoo, a not-for-profit organisation set in parkland near Winchester with tigers, rhinos and giraffes among other animals.

Community Payback teams help to maintain the 140-acre site, clearing animal enclosures, repairing fencing and constructing drainage ditches.

The teams work in the meerkat and giraffe enclosures, as well as completing maintenance work on the site where there are tigers, sloths, hippos, white rhinos, snow leopards and lemurs among others.

7. Would you like to nominate a community project?

Would your local community benefit from help with a project such as clearing wasteland, planting trees or removing graffiti?

If so, we’d like to hear from you.

Our Community Payback teams are seeking nominations for projects in your local area. The newly revamped Unpaid Work Nominations Website is now live and we want you to have a say in the work we carry out.

Unpaid Work is carried out under supervision as part of the punishment of offenders, but also enables people on probation to give something back to their community while learning new skills and enhancing their employment opportunities.

We want to increase the number of nominations to give our communities a greater opportunity to improve their local area through Unpaid Work activity.

The work we carry out must benefit the local community, not take paid work away from others, and not make a profit for anyone.

We take on multiple tasks and projects, which include removing graffiti, clearing wasteland, improving and decorating public places and buildings (such as a community centre), repainting communal areas, pathways made accessible, alley clearing, grounds maintenance and gardening, tree-planting, and litter picking.

Projects are assessed following nomination and we will then contact you to let you know if and when we can commence work.

Visit the website to make a nomination or to read more.

Monday 11 December 2023

Relieve Jails = Overload Probation

I notice that the 'i' newspaper has picked up on the impending disaster for a probation service already broken. This from yesterday:-

‘Nobody’s safe’: Plan to relieve jails ‘will overload broken probation service’

Police, relatives of murder victim, and probation union say sentencing changes will place extra pressure on already 'struggling' service

Fears are being raised that a struggling, “broken” probation service will be unable to protect the public under plans to keep some criminals out of prison that will add thousands to its caseload. The Government wants to tackle prison overcrowding by instructing courts to deal with many offenders, who would currently go to prison, in the community instead. But the prospect of the probation service having to deal with a flood of extra cases has alarmed those who have already suffered from its shortcomings and led to warnings from the police and probation officers’ trade union Napo.

“We are not safe, you shouldn’t feel safe,” said Farah Naz the aunt of Zara Aleena who was murdered last year by a violent criminal who had been released from prison just nine days earlier. If this is what the government is doing to probation services, if this is what it’s landing on their shoulders, nobody is safe.”

The 35-year-old law graduate’s killer should have been arrested days before for breaking his licence conditions, and had been wrongly graded as only a “medium” risk of further harm. The killing in June 2022 was one of a series of recent cases where investigations have found dangerous blunders by probation services.

“If probation couldn’t keep up then, they certainly aren’t going to be able to keep up now,” Ms Naz told i. “How many dead bodies do they want?”

There are currently around 500 reports each year of people under probation supervision committing serious violent or sexual offences, including murders and rapes. Justice secretary Alex Chalk announced an early release programme in October to free up jail cells, which has caused concern over its application to violent offenders and domestic abusers.

A new Sentencing Bill, currently being considered by Parliament would further increase the pressure by raising the number of inmates released under a “home detention curfew” and forcing courts to “suspend” most prison sentences of under a year and subject offenders to “community orders” instead.

The Ministry of Justice says the change would add between 1,700 and 6,800 people to the probation caseload and require more monitoring and more rehabilitation programmes. But the Government has no plans to increase the probation service’s capacity to handle the new laws.

Tania Bassett, national official for the probation trade union Napo, said the service was already “broken”. She called the new laws a “recipe for disaster” because of the “phenomenal increase of demand into a workforce that can’t cope with the work it’s got already”.

Latest Government figures show that the probation service currently only has 68 per cent of the 6,780 officers needed for its “required staffing level”. It’s more than 2,129 officers short and saw saw more than 1,200 people quit in the last year.

“There’s been no thought to the capacity of probation to accommodate these changes” Ms Bassett told i. “We’ve been losing people as quickly as we’ve been recruiting them, and it means you’ve got a very inexperienced workforce dealing with a lot of complex cases.”

She said that the litany of errors in previous cases – like the killing of Zara Aleena and the four murders committed in Killamarsh, Sheffield, in 2021 by Damien Bendall, deemed by probation to be a “low risk” to his eventual victims – were not one-offs. Increasing caseloads worsened the quality of risk assessments and the “robust engagement” needed with offenders to properly supervise them, Ms Bassett added. “No one will pay attention until it’s gone horribly wrong,” she said. “It’s almost if no one is dead – nobody’s looking at it.”

Chief Constable Rob Nixon, who leads on criminal justice for the National Police Chiefs’ Council told i that the entire system was already “under strain”, with “too much demand and not enough capacity”. He said he expected police workload to increase as a result of upcoming changes because more released prisoners may commit further offences or break conditions requiring them to be tracked down and jailed.

“Where people are on a suspended sentence or they’re on licence conditions and they’re not complying, naturally policing will have to take a role in that but the bulk of the demand, I suspect, will fall on the probation service,” he said. Mr Nixon warned that offenders “need to be really effectively managed within the community”, and that the task requires probation not just to enforce their sentence but to “deal with any associated issues like housing and drug abuse”.

Another measure in the new Sentencing Bill aims to make rapists and other serious sexual offences serve their full sentences in prison rather than become eligible for release at the two-thirds point. It means some may have a licence period of just a year where they are supervised on probation. Ms Bassett warned that was not long enough to carry out accredited psychological programmes currently used to reduce the risk they pose. “If someone needs to do a community sex offender programme they won’t have time,” she said. “They would have to do everything inside but not all prisons provide it. They are less likely to receive meaningful rehabilitation in the community.”

In its most recent annual report published in September the HM Inspectorate of Probation said that two years after the Government reversed the disastrous part-privatisation of the service it was still “struggling” with chronic staffing shortages and “unmanageable workloads”. 

“My main concern is public protection, which has been a consistently weak area,” said the outgoing Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell. “Probation officers have too many cases and too little time to focus on this key area of their work, putting the public potentially at risk.”

The watchdog also warned of the “ever-growing number of days when staff are absent because of sickness”, more than half of which are the result of mental-health issues linked to workplace stress.

Several MPs raised concerns about the Government’s plan during a debate on the Sentencing Bill on Wednesday, which saw the House of Commons vote the law through for scrutiny in the House of Lords. In response to a question on pressure on the probation service, Mr Chalk did not announce any measures to increase capacity, but said: “I am speaking to them directly about the workload that they face and how they can target it to protect the public most effectively.”

Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary, Shabana Mahmood, said the Government was “failing to keep the probation service properly staffed, and these shortfalls could have dangerous consequences”. "The government’s strategy appears to be to take the pressure off the prison service, only to transfer it to the probation service instead,” she added. “The government has provided no new funding, no new resources and no action plan to deal with the significant additional workload for the probation service. That is not credible, not reasonable and not safe.”

Several Conservatives also called for action, with South Dorset MP Richard Drax saying he was “very concerned” about pressure on probation and Aylesbury MP Rob Butler adding; “It will be necessary to ensure that the probation service is properly resourced to support additional offenders.” Sentencing minister Gareth Bacon admitted demand would increase but said the Government was “committed to ensuring that probation has the resource it needs to meet demand”.

Chief executive of Justice charity Nacro, Campbell Robb, said: “In order to see less crime and fewer victims, ending ineffective short prison sentences is the right thing to do. “But key to the success of ending short sentences is a properly resourced probation service to provide the supervision, monitoring and support needed for people serving their sentence in the community. This is where the government’s focus must now be.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our hard-working probation officers do incredibly important work in protecting the public and helping offenders turn their backs on crime. “That is why alongside our long-term reforms to prisons to keep the public safe – including keeping rapists and the most dangerous criminals locked up for longer – we are also investing £155m extra a year in the Probation Service to bolster the frontline and reduce workloads.”

The Probation Service was approached for comment.

Saturday 9 December 2023

Being a Former Prisoner

I notice that former prisoner and campaigner David Shipley has been interviewed for British Thought Leaders on the subject of our prison system:-

I watched it to the end trying desperately to avoid thinking this is what TV might look like if run either by Conservative Central Office or a religious sect. Anyway, the NTD or New Tang Dynasty Television budget certainly doesn't extend to employment of the most engaging of interviewer, or indeed set design, but many will find the content of the interview will provide much food for thought. Probation starts about 36 minutes in.  


The following article  by David Shipley was published on the CAPX site in June 2023:- 

As a former inmate, I know just how badly our prisons need reform

Before being sentenced to 45 months in prison for fraud, I knew that British prisons were bad. I expected endemic violence, drugs and filth. What I found inside still horrified me. Yes, our prisons are dirty, dangerous and awash with drugs. What’s much worse though is that they make prisoners more likely to reoffend, costing British society over £18bn a year.

This might seem counterintuitive. Surely locking criminals away protects us, and reduces crime? To an extent this is true. However, the reality is that only about 10% of the prison population are ‘lifers’ or IPPers, on indeterminate sentences. Almost all other prisoners will be released one day. The UK imprisons about 85,000 people at a time and about 45,000 of those are released each year. An effective prison system would do everything possible to ensure released prisoners become productive members of society rather than reoffending.

Unfortunately our prison system is far from effective. Over 31% of prisoners are proven to reoffend within a year of their release. As police only solve about 9% of reported crimes the real reoffending rate is likely to be higher.

Almost all prisoners are jailed for breaking society’s rules. An effective prison system should teach inmates to respect rules. Unfortunately our prisons also teach that rules, rather than being respected, should be circumvented whenever it is convenient to do so.

The prison system suffers from having too many rules. While some, like prohibitions on weapons, phones, drugs or alcohol, are sensible and consistently applied, others are seen as trivial or ridiculous by prisoners and staff.

For example, most prisons have a ‘no vaping on the landings’ rule. In my experience this is almost never enforced. At HMP Wandsworth prisoners and officers often vaped while walking about the wings. I once watched a very new officer tell two prisoners to stop vaping, only to be laughed at by those men, and by other officers.

Another rule bans trading between prisoners, with the intent of preventing debts and the violence that can follow. In reality, a huge volume of trade occurs, with prison officers turning a blind eye and sometimes even facilitating it. I often observed officers in Wandsworth transporting ‘canteen’ items from one cell to another as a favour to prisoners.

When the people in charge have such little respect for rules, prisoners learn exactly the wrong lesson; rules shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Further, rules, and their application, vary hugely between prison, meaning that each time an inmate is transferred he has to adapt to a new system. Communications are often lacking. In 2022 the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) found that:
‘The communication of prison rules and procedures by word-of-mouth could be even worse. Staff might get exhausted with prisoners constantly asking the same things. prisoners might pass on incorrect information, genuinely and on purpose’.
A better approach would be a ‘zero-based’ review of prison rules. For example, we probably no longer need the ban on maps which resulted in my copy of Risk being impounded at HMP Wandsworth. Prison governors must ensure that retained rules are communicated and consistently applied by all staff.

Perverse incentives

Prison incentive structures are also flawed. At HMP Wandsworth in the summer of 2020 a prisoner assaulted his elderly cellmate so violently that the man was hospitalised. Officers rewarded the attacker with a single person cell and a desirable, unsupervised job in the gardens. Another man destroyed his cell, ripping pipes and fittings from the wall, and staff found him an Xbox. Those prisoners who made noise and complained would often be allowed more time out of their cells, while those who sat quietly suffered in isolation.

Why does this happen? Being responsible for a wing full of prisoners is a demanding, stressful and challenging job. This is exacerbated by what Alex South describes as ‘benchmarking’, an MoJ policy which drives prisons to use as few staff as possible for every process. Prisons themselves are traumatising environments. Every shout and bang echoes off steel and concrete. Chains jangle. Locks thunk. Hundreds of near-strangers crammed together, watching one another. While I, and every former prisoner I know, carries that trauma, I also believe our prisons harm those who work in them. A former soldier I met at HMP Hollesley Bay said to me that ‘prison is as strange as war, and as hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there’.

The result is that staff often burn out. Alex South says that ‘almost every officer’ develops their ‘own version’ of this trauma. Nightmares and anxiety are common. So our experienced prison officers quit, or become so emotionally deadened that they lose all empathy. Over 40% of prison staff want to leave.

As a result prison wings are staffed with a small number of often inexperienced officers who regularly choose to placate prisoners because it’s easier than demanding rigorous, consistent standards of behaviour. Every day prison shows inmates that antisocial behaviour produces better outcomes. Why would we expect them to behave differently on release?

Prisons must retain high-quality staff, ensure that enough of them are present on wings and that they have the direction, leadership and support to hold the line against antisocial behaviour. Of course this will require more funding.

A further weakness in prison incentives is the Incentives and Earned Privileges (IEP) scheme. In theory this rewards good behaviour and punishes rule breaking. Unfortunately other than the loss of a TV, the downsides to being on ‘Basic’ rather than ‘Standard’ or ‘Enhanced’ are limited, and most prisoners secure Enhanced status within weeks of arriving. At that point unless they are caught doing something particularly egregious, inmates will remain Enhanced until their release.

An effective incentive system would have more layers, and take longer to progress through. It could also be explicitly linked to transfers to lower security and open prisons.

School for scoundrels

Ensuring that our prisons teach inmates to obey rules and behave in a prosocial manner isn’t enough though. We must also ensure prisoners leave prison with the skills necessary to secure legitimate work and support their families.

Prison education is very challenging. A quarter of prisoners are care leavers, over 40% were permanently excluded from school and nearly a third have a learning difficulty or disability, while 57% of prisoners have a reading age below that expected of an 11 year old. I witnessed prisoners unable to read well enough to understand the literacy tests they’d been asked to complete. Ofsted and HM Inspectorate of Prisons conducted a joint inspection into prison literacy education in 2022. They found that ‘few teachers know how to teach prisoners to read, resources are inadequate and there are no meaningful measures of progress’ and ‘contracts for education providers’ do not reward literacy programmes.

Education for prisoners who are literate is not much better. Qualifications are often unaccredited and of no value outside the prison system. In some cases this is a result of the tendering process. John, the owner of a prison education provider, told me that he recently lost a tender because the prison chose an unaccredited provider as they were £10,000 cheaper. This approach means prisoners spend time completing courses which do not provide access to further education upon release and offer little to employers.

One exception to this grim picture can be found in our open prisons. These establishments house around 4,000 prisoners who are considered unlikely to abscond and who aren’t believed to pose a risk to the public. Subject to further tests, prisoners in open conditions are able to take advantage of ‘Release on Temporary Licence’ (ROTL) to study or work at external educational institutions, travelling there each day and returning to the prison in the evening.

ROTLs provide fantastic opportunities. I spent the second half of my sentence at Hollesley Bay, an open prison on the Suffolk coast. Men there attended local colleges and universities, completing robust and meaningful courses. One prisoner I came to know well had left school at 16. With two years left to serve he applied successfully for a degree at a local university. By his release date he’d completed the first two years of a BA, and managed to find a full time job via the university.

The Commons Education Committee accepts Dame Sally Coates’ 2016 recommendation that ‘every prisoner must have a Personal Learning Plan that specifies the educational activity that should be undertaken during their sentence’ but acknowledges that ‘this is not happening consistently’.

Prison work is similarly poor quality. The MoJ says ‘Having a job on release helps to support people leaving prison rebuild their lives, reducing reoffending and preventing future victims of crime‘. But the reality falls far short. Most prison jobs are make-work, pay a maximum of about £25 per week and do little to prepare prisoners for seeking employment on release. At Wandsworth I worked in what must have been the most overstaffed library in London. Ten of us performed a job that one or two would have managed in the community. This is typical of prison jobs. The aim is to have as many inmates as possible ‘working’, whether they’re developing real skills or not. Even so, many prisoners don’t participate at all, preferring to spend day after day in their cells.

Again, open prisons do it very differently. During my time at Hollesley Bay hundreds of men left the prison each morning to work in local factories, distribution centres and retailers. They received fair wages on which they paid tax. For many this was the first time in their lives they’d earned honest money. Each prisoner also paid a substantial deduction towards the Victim Surcharge Fund. Even after these deductions men were able to save money, meaning they’d be able to afford to live upon release. Some sent money home to their families supporting their loved ones for the first time in years. The self-respect, appreciation of honest work and strengthened relationships all helped these prisoners be less likely to reoffend on release.

Making prisons forces for change

How do we fix all these huge problems? We would need to start by expanding the Open prison estate. Far more low-risk prisoners could be housed in open conditions, saving approximately £15,000 per prisoner per year. Once in open conditions the expectation should be that most prisoners spend their days on ROTLs, either working or studying in the community.

Alongside this, a ‘zero-based’ review of prison rules would establish a new, clear set of rules and policies including around antisocial behaviour. These rules would then need to be enforced consistently and robustly.

We should also develop a bespoke, personal plan for each inmate on their arrival in prison. This would identify education and training needs, with the goal being greater employability on release. All courses would need to be accredited and recognised outside prison. Prisoners would be expected to participate enthusiastically in this plan, with progression through a more graduated IEP scheme, and transfer to open conditions dependent on this participation. This would mean an end to prisoners wasting endless days in their cells.

Of course, this greater investment in education would cost. Moving a greater portion of the prison population to open conditions could free up a substantial amount from the existing prisons budget, and to the extent that further spending is required we should remember that reoffending costs over £18bn every year. Reducing that cost, and turning career criminals into productive, working, tax-paying members of society would be of huge benefit to the UK.

Many will say that prisons should be tough, punishing places and that criminals need to pay their debt to society. Perhaps that’s true. But I’m not sure what we achieve in having prisoners waste years on their bunks, or completing unaccredited courses. Having to study or work full-time seems tougher than a diet of daytime TV, and it will change lives for the better.

Our prisons could be powerful places for change. They could ensure that the vast majority of prisoners are released with more respect for rules, a less antisocial attitude, better qualified and more able to find honest work. If we achieve this we will live in a country with less crime, more social cohesion and a healthier economy.

David Shipley is a writer, speaker and former prisoner.

Friday 8 December 2023

Being Probation Admin

Poverty Wages

For the second year in a row, the woeful 3 year Probation Service pay deal is about to be overtaken and eroded by increases in the National Living (FKA Minimum) Wage, which is set to rise to £11.44 per hour from April 2024.This is when the entry Scale Point for Band 2 staff is currently set to increase to a whopping £21,250... except that will in fact be £750.56 less than the legal minimum, with an effective hourly rate of £11.04.

Of course, the Service will have to respond, as they did last year, to shamefully increase Band 2 pay to that legal minimum. But what a disgrace it is, that we are now a service that is consistently paying poverty wages. Tragically, even those staff looking at progressing to Scale Point 2 in April 2024 are facing an effective hourly rate of £11.48 (£22,086 per annum). How are we supposed to recruit our way out of a staff retention crisis when our vital reception and admin staff - the backbone of the service - are offered such a paltry sum?

Meanwhile, the voluntary 'Real Living Wage', to which over 14,000 businesses nationwide are signed up to pay their staff, is set to rise to £12 per hour in April 2024. Then there are also other local Living Wages, such as in Oxford where that is set at £12.49 per hour and has over 100 local employers accredited.

So what incentive is there to join Probation, or to even stay? I imagine there are lots of jobs paying those £12+ rates that don't involve getting yelled at by distressed clients, or where perhaps you'll have colleagues that aren't all stressed and burning out.

And where are the Trade Unions in this? Where are the reassurances that they're on the case and are holding the employer to account? And why not use this as a bit of point scoring? No doubt the reason is that they too, are ashamed at how their 'hard fought' pay deal has turned out...

Please, to all Band 3s and upwards - appreciate and value the Band 2 staff that you have in post. They are doing a hard job in hard times and are not getting the renumeration they deserve. And if they go, it's unlikely there will be a queue of people looking to replace them.

Fingers crossed that the next pay deal negotiators set their sights a tad higher than the bare minimum.

Thursday 7 December 2023

Being A PDU Head

Perspectives on an Inspection

In 2022 the dreaded phone call came from my manager. They told me that a difficult year was about to get a lot worse because HMIP were coming to my PDU. The relief from my colleagues that their PDUs had not been selected was enormous.

The inspection could not have come at a worse time, the workload was increasing and the staff levels decreasing. the enormous amount of work to prepare for the inspection, on top of all the other work was ridiculous. Unfortunately the final case sample was mainly cases held by very inexperienced PSOs, who had been thrown in the deep end to sink or swim. Consequently very few cases in the sample were from experienced (and excellent) practitioners.

We had some alert cases but the whole inspection actually went quite well. As with Ruth Perry there was a session where questions were fired at me by the Inspectors to answer on the spot. That did not go well because many of the questions were about matters outside of the PDU or issues they had only just uncovered that I wasn’t aware of and I felt I was being tripped up and I was really on the back foot. Information got back to the Head of Operations who started to question my responses to the questions - why did you say that? Go back and correct it!

The feedback session at the end went fairly well, and I went away feeling that we would get a good outcome, particularly under the circumstances of rising workloads. Like Ruth Perry I counted down the days to receiving the report, which was delayed. I finally got the draft for corrections and I felt like the bottom fell out of my world. The outcome was terrible. I couldn’t think how I could face the team to tell people that are working so hard that we had been found to be so poor. Would people leave when they saw it, why would people stay?

Personally I felt humiliated, the report included some personal criticism of me, and I couldn’t see how I could have any credibility to carry on with my job and look people in the eye. I wondered if I would get sacked or moved.

I had to hold on to the findings in the report for weeks before I was able to share it with the managers and then have to face the PDU. They were really disappointed and couldn’t understand that you put everything into the job, work huge amounts of overtime, help people get back on track but it’s not enough.

After the initial horror came the work to develop an improvement plan, and the constant sense that I was being punished with extra work because everything was my fault.

I appreciate people reading this might think we get paid to shoulder this sort of thing, but PDU heads are people, and these inspections are traumatic and devastating in the main. We have to put on a show of holding on to the positives and try and move forward, but the tremendous blow after 30+ years in the service nearly broke me, and I know I’m not the only one.


The author wanted to share the perspective of PDU heads on Inspections following the determination of the Inquest into the death of Ruth Perry that the Ofsted inspection contributed to her death.

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Being An AP Manager

In trying to continue the recent theme and finding myself trawling through back numbers, I came across this contribution from last year:- 

I’m an Approved Premises Manager and I ensure that all of my team follow the advise, assist and befriend motto. Of course fundamentally we are a risk management facility but if you are responsive to the needs of the resident the risk management element often supports itself. For example- When a resident lapses, rather than immediately withdraw a bed, I meet with the resident and we collaboratively put a plan of action in place. My team then work with resident to implement the plan, adding extra support in place like going with them to drug/alcohol appointments, CA/AA meetings in the community and putting on additional 121 relapse prevention sessions in the AP.

It still blows my mind however that there are a pool of POs who as soon as they find out a resident is struggling want to recall them straight away without even giving them a chance to get back on track.

Now as I said earlier, of course if situations like this mean that risk is entirely unmanageable then recall needs to happen, but I find in 9/10 of situations it really doesn’t. I’ve noticed we get a far better response from residents if they can see we are trying to help them succeed. It saddens me that for some this approach seems to be diminishing.

Monday 4 December 2023

Being On Licence

Probation - what's the point?

I’ve just completed 27 months of probation supervision following my release from prison, and I don’t really know what to make of it. Of course it was much better than being in prison, but I can’t see any real benefit that arose from my time on licence. In fact it probably made my mental health worse.

From August 2021 until November this year I dutifully travelled to a Probation office most
months, often meeting a COM who I had never seen before and would never meet again. On each visit they’d ask if I had taken drugs, had a problem with drinking, had any relationship problems and whether I’d committed any new crimes. My (truthful) answers were always “no”, but I always wondered under what circumstances someone would say “yes”.

During my time on licence I moved house twice, so I experienced Probation in
Buckinghamshire, South Wales and Gloucestershire. Depending on the area practices differed a lot. As a low risk offender Welsh Probation were mostly happy to speak to me on the phone, while Gloucestershire insisted on a home visit followed by in-person meetings. Staff seemed stretched. At times I’d arrive for an appointment with no idea who I was meeting, and whoever happened to be available would see me. On one occasion in Gloucestershire I realised that no one had booked my next meeting, which was soon to be overdue, and so I had to call the office twice before someone was able to make an appointment for me.

The best COM I had was a smart, capable young woman who supervised me for almost
a year. She was helpful, supportive and even used her personal network to help me secure more paid work. This summer she left the Probation Service to become a Clinical Psychologist. I’m sure she’ll be a success at that too.

However, after every meeting my mood crashed. At home I’d draw the curtains, and sit
quietly, assembling and painting toy soldiers, just as I had in prison. I’d often take days to
recover. If it hadn’t been for my beautiful dog, Marmalade, I’d not have left the house at all.

Why did I react like this to such an innocuous meeting? I’m not alone in having such a
response. I often talk to men I was in prison with. Feelings of stress, fear, tension and
depression are common before and after Probation meetings.

There’s a contradiction inherent in the relationship between a Probation Officer and the
people they supervise. As much as individual Officers may be kind, patient and compassionate, they will always represent a threat to the people they supervise. People on probation, even those who are complying with every rule and requirement, live in fear of recall. We worry that at any moment our freedom will be taken away, we’ll be dragged back to a 10 foot by 6 foot cell surrounded by pain and despair. The Probation Officer, and the Probation Office symbolise the power of the state to imprison us again.

I would encourage Probation staff and managers to be conscious of this power dynamic,
and the potential to further traumatise people who’ve survived our prison system. Where
possible, phone or zoom check-ins are much easier for those on probation to cope with. If there’s no risk requiring attendance in person then perhaps a nationwide standard remote contact would help.

I recognise that regular in-person meetings with the same Probation Officer have a value
as changes in mood and appearance may provide an experienced Officer with warning signs. But really, what are we achieving by having a different officer meet the person on Probation each time, spending five minutes asking standard questions and then waving them on their way? It felt like box-ticking, the kind of administrative activity organisations perform to ensure no one can be blamed if things go wrong.

I still don’t know what to make of it. 27 months, one COM who actually sticks in my
memory. I feel that a good, functioning Probation service would care for its staff, retaining them and ensuring that offenders have a consistent relationship with the officer supervising them. That might actually do some good, reduce reoffending and provide meaningful work for the Probation staff.

David Shipley is a former prisoner who now writes and speaks on prison and justice issues. He is currently researching the probation service for a piece of investigative reporting and would love to speak (anonymously) with current or former Probation Officers.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Lets Look At Napo

It's been some time since I've said much about Napo and that's for a variety of reasons. I didn't attend the AGM and conference and somewhat unusually, I didn't have a lot to say about the motions up for debate because to me the absolutely key issue was a campaign to get probation out of the clutches of HMPPS command and control and the dead hand of the civil service. So where did that feature on the list of motions? Nowhere, apart from Wales where Napo Cymru got their act together as I outlined here. 

Lets remind ourselves of what the 2022 AGM produced for the current years Operational Plan:-

National Executive 

  • Fight for our professional integrity and our professional status by working with other Criminal Justice partners and unions to maintain our professional standards in Courts; fight the changes to the Parole process and fight to reinstate our ability to make recommendations; support staff involved in open parole hearings; continue to fight Offender Management in Custody (OMiC) especially the line management of probation staff by prisons; and campaign to take us out of the Civil Service in order to regain our independent professional status (Resolution 7)

  • Napo will redouble our demands for Probation to be taken out of the civil service, and unshackled from the Prison Service. Napo members will write to their MPs making this position clear. The NEC will draft a suggested briefing note and letter, and Napo will engage in a press and communications exercise, responding to each of the inevitable future “poor” and “needs improvement” inspection report making this position clear (Resolution 9)
Pretty feisty stuff and clear cut. Fast forward to AGM 2023 and had it not been for Napo Cymru putting forward a spirited motion making the case for probation in Wales being fully devolved, the absolutely key issue of divorce from HMPPS wouldn't even have been discussed at all at Nottingham! 

Thank goodness for the the valiant efforts of Napo Cymru and their unstinting campaigning and assiduous political lobbying. I would venture to suggest that Napo England has much to learn from their efforts and should they bear fruit post the general election and a new UK Labour Administration, probation England is going to look pretty stupid as a totally isolated example of how not to do it. Sadly, Napo will look even more irrelevant than many feel it has already become. One can only speculate how the union is regarded by the MoJ and the HMPPS command and controllers! . 

So, this is what the new 2024 Operational Plan has to say:-


Maintaining Napo’s high profile in successfully campaigning, promoting and communicating Napo’s policies and values. Organise the re-instatement of a national, amalgamated public Probation service and keep Cafcass as a public service, both with sufficient resources to guarantee jobs and service delivery. To work with unions, relevant organisations, MPs, Assembly Members, peers, parliamentary groups and others as appropriate in relation to wider public service campaigns.
  • Actively, urgently and persistently campaign for the devolution of Probation in Wales, focussing these efforts on the Westminster Labour Party, demanding that the devolution of Wales Probation is included in the UK Labour manifesto for the next General Election (Resolution 19)
National Executive Committee 
  • Raise awareness of the impact of staff shortages on serious further offences, highlighting this is increasingly through unsafe working practices and negotiate with the employer the circumstances in which Corporate Responsibility will be applied (Resolution 5).
  • Call on the MOJ and government to put immediate measures in place to alleviate dangerously high workloads and address recruitment and retention with a decent pay rise (Resolution 6)
  • Review recommendations in respect of possible industrial action when reports are received from Officers and Officials in respect of the formal One HMPPS dispute; the recent call from the outgoing HM Inspector of Probation for an independent enquiry into the state of Probation; the Lord Chancellor’s announcement of the early Release scheme and the removal of Divisional Sex Offender Units, which is detrimental to the public protection, the wellbeing of case managers and the communities we serve (Resolution 7)
Pretty feeble and mealy-mouthed I would venture to suggest. But the last reference provides a good example of why probation needs to be out of HMPPS completely. Lets look at what the position is regarding Divisional Sex Offender Units and indeed the MoJ/HMPPS track record on this important and key area of probation work. We've had the scrapping of the much maligned Sex Offender accredited programme; removal of funding for Circles UK; intended scrapping of the DSOU's; no sign of much encouragement of initiatives such as the Safer Living Centre in Nottingham, and then I spotted this from a notice of a forthcoming NOTA training event in Leeds:-
"This training is not available to staff of His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service who use their own programmes and toolkits."

Now NOTA are an extremely well respected outfit that have been around a long time in the field of work with sex offenders:- 

NOTA’s Charitable Objectives are to advance education for the benefit of the public, amongst members of the profession or persons working with or providing services for people who have committed sexual abuse or others having a legitimate professional interest in the field, and to promote or assist in promoting research into the skills associated with the professions who work with or provide services for people who have committed sexual abuse and into the efficiency of existing skills and practices, and to disseminate the useful results of such research for the benefit of the public.

Why on earth are probation staff forbidden from attending? In the past we were encouraged to join NOTA and attend events. Methinks it's a perfect example of control freakery from HMPPS, an organisation that is rapidly demonstrating it is unfit for purpose.

Friday 1 December 2023

That Bloke From Napo Again

Since we all learned the sad news of Mike Guilfoyle's passing, all who knew him will have no doubt been reflecting on their encounters with the staunch defender of the probation ethos. In addition to his 20 years as a frontline practitioner, Mike was a prolific author, speaker, raconteur and eulogiser for everything 'probation'. It was inevitable that our paths would cross almost from the very beginnings of this blog, and he remained a staunch supporter and contributor in a variety of ways right to the end. 

I particularly have fond memories of our regular wide-ranging conversations over a beer or several and his vast back catalogue of stories, anecdotes and informed reflections will be much missed, along with his turn of phrase and well-crafted use of the english language. 

Many will no doubt recall the 2014 Napo AGM at Scarborough when, as usual, Mike was proposing a motion and happily he very kindly provided me with a transcript of his somewhat revealing speech, containing as it does a strong hint as to why he ceased practising:-   

"Chair, Conference - Mike Guilfoyle, Professional Associate Member, Greater London Branch.

Colleagues, just before I left Probation in 2010, a Senior Manager described my relationship with the service as akin to a 'marriage that had broken down due to irreconcilable differences'. My retort was that it was more like an 'enforced separation occasioned by unreasonable behavior'. A politically driven and bewilderingly stupid bureaucratic target mania meant that processes trumped people. What now of the totemic achievement of Trust Status, ostensibly set up to liberate probation from the suffocating prison-centric carapace of Noms? An association that has since proved to be, as this union knows all too well, a truly unmitigated disaster for probation. Although in spite of these enforced changes and NOMS bullying culture, probation still performed!

My late mother used to say 'I know that something's amiss in probation when I see one of Michael's letters in the papers'. Indeed former General Secretary Judy McKnight once paid me the accolade of being an 'indefatigable letter writer' intent as I was in rebutting in letters and debate some of the lattice of half-lies and MoJ speak that has so soured the probation landscape. And I take some wry satisfaction from the belief that at the MoJ there is a fusty sub-office entitled 'replies to Mike Guilfoyle'. At one MoJ presentation a civil servant in an audible whisper to a former Justice Minister and with weary familiarity noted after I had asked a pointed question on TR, 'it's that bloke from Napo again'..

Conference, I arrived late for AGM yesterday (missing Ian's Keynote Address) as I was being sworn-in as a newly appointed Magistrate. Greater London colleagues please note that I will be sitting on the SE London bench. Due notice having been shared, but I can promise you that I will continue to unashamedly champion probation at every available opportunity.

At the reception following the swearing-in ceremony, a magistrate colleague asked 'who is speaking up for probation these days?' I hesitated for a moment, 'of course this union with its many parliamentary, academic and high profile supporters'. The now defunct Probation Association in its valedictory report 'A Parting Shot' provides a grim timeline leading up to its own, dare I say it predictable, demise. Aside from a snide reference to Napo, and some self-serving, supine observations noting without a hint of irony the positive engagement of probation trusts in securing thus far an almost unruffled passage for a politically driven TR timetable.

It is important to acknowledge the principled and fearless contributions from a handful of PA members in the fight to save the Probation Service. How could such an untried, untested and uncosted and unevidenced ideological experiment pass with such little vocal dissent? I note the MoJ's Stalinist gagging clause, but what a truly shameful collusive silence in the destruction of the service has shrouded the PA's dismal epitaph. The paper does however provide a tally sheet of pivotal questions which should send out a clear message to politicians to think again before rushing into a hasty CRC share sale. If this is allowed to proceed will those with the power and influence look back and recoil when they fully appreciate the true consequences of TR? Will these reforms reduce reoffending? Has the CRC bidding process enabled funding to be released for those serving under 12 months? Is the Payment by Results mechanism now just a specious loss leader? How much have these reforms 'really' cost? What has been the lasting effect on staff professionalism, engagement, morale and motivation?

Colleagues - you are now at the sharp end of this pernicious TR process. The service and union are at an existential moment. We know that Chris Grayling has nothing but withering contempt for all those who he sees as a hindrance to his dismantling not only of an internationally recognised Probation Service but a decent, accessible and humane Criminal Justice System with a veritable origami of private providers perched to feed off the carcass of an already fragmented service. With a contract culture displacing any semblance of public accountability, just how many Judicial Review's can he afford to lose before he bows out? If ever the designation of defender of justice was so poorly served in one office holder. And as for Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes stating at his party's Conference 'Day in, day out we are holding Ministers feet to the fire on justice issues' - seems TR has yet to flame up!

With the run-in to the 2015 election now months away and the prospect of further targeted draconian public sector cuts in store, whatever the political stripe of the party in power, this union, in spite of its recent travails, remains a bulwark and bastion in defence of a publicly owned and accountable Probation Service.

With the planned share sale now in December it will need to summons together its most resolute fighting strategies to challenge and defeat TR, raise a deafening cacophony of noise to resist the potentially irrevocable sale of CRC's to new (read single contractor dominant) commercial providers, cloaked by confidentiality and seemingly immune to public scrutiny, with profit the only driver, with rehabilitation being downgraded, a significant rise in Electronic Monitoring at the cost of more human interventions, and warehousing and processing becoming the name of the game?

This motion aligns itself with what Napo is already doing, it simply seeks to reaffirm and reinforce the need to critically question, challenge, call to account and record all responses from those politicians supporting the implementation of TR in the forthcoming election that it remains ideologically unworkable dangerous dogma and also serve to remind those now unthinkingly doing the bidding of politicians in the MoJ of the undoubted risks that when you decimate a professional probation service, things start to go wrong and this whole sorry TR mess crashes. The confidence of victims, communities, probation staff and partners, courts and users will take a very long time to repair.

Colleagues, it's that bloke from Napo again this time saying,
Conference, I move..."


The motion was of course about TR and the impending part-privatisation of probation by Chris Grayling. It was particularly blistering in relation to the collusion of probation leaders at the time:-

"This AGM views with considerable interest the valedictory report from the Probation Association (PA) ‘A Parting Shot -The Questions Remain’ published in July 2014. Colleagues will note that although the report offers a critical timeframe of the progress of the Ministry of Justice's Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) programme. The PA, with few honourable exceptions, offered little effective opposition to the unwarranted privatisation and abolition of a public probation service and maintained throughout this period a shameful collusive silence to TR, best captured in this tell tale quotation from page 7 of the NOMS Annual Report 2013/14: “progress could not have been achieved without the positive engagement and support we have received from Probation Trusts."

As was often the case, the motion was seconded by Mike's long term friend and colleague Chris Hignett, whose reflections published yesterday by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies I thought are particularly poignant and rounded:- 

"Travelling back from Cambridge and that year’s McWilliams lecture, Mike Guilfoyle regaled us with another of his great passions: Ladywell Cemetery, its occupants and their histories. So encyclopaedic was his knowledge that, despite the train having to return to Cambridge when two-thirds of the way to King’s Cross and set out again, Mike’s discourse never faltered.

Mike was a great talker and had so much knowledge because he was also a great enquirer and listener, qualities that made him a fine candidate for his chosen profession of probation officer. Of course the probation service of which he was so proud, serving in Middlesex until amalgamation and many years in all, has been severely distorted since.

At least a part of the motivation for his regular contributions to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website was the hope of keeping the original idea of probation as a social work and justice agency alive. Advocacy for his clients and care for their well-being was at the centre of his work, as so many of his vignettes made clear.

But compassion of this kind, built on the injunction to advise, assist and befriend, inevitably led to disagreement with an increasingly unsympathetic management. Fortunately the lay magistracy recognised his humanity and desire to serve, and in more recent years provided a new home for his compassion and energy. His talent for individual support found fresh impetus, working as a mentor for the Longford Trust.

Enthusiasm for keeping abreast of the concerns of Napo and the criminal justice system more generally saw him as a regular speaker at Conference and perhaps, most intriguingly, the poser of apposite questions at any number of meetings, lectures and talks where these topics were to the fore.

As a consequence he had an amazing array of contacts, whom he could and did approach to be speakers at union branch meetings. He loved reading and regularly produced book reviews for the Probation Journal, realising, incidentally, how this enterprise could ensure he received desired texts almost by return of post.

Together with his appreciation of which organisations provided decent refreshments at their annual bashes, these small perks offered some reward for his diligence and the opportunity for this writer to get to the terrace of the House of Commons and meet many impressive people.

Indeed Mike’s generosity as a companion and loyalty to the causes he adopted are what I shall most miss. For others I suspect his love of football, of which in earlier days he was a keen player and always a fierce supporter of Manchester United, will probably be as important, while pride in his family and their extraordinary achievements will trump all of the above.

He was never a conventional preacher but his faith, to which he remained steadfast throughout his illness, enabled him to be amused at his pre-occupation with the Cemetery. His example wonderfully demonstrates that the role of the missionary, police court or otherwise, is capable of constant and enlightening reinvention."

Chris Hignett

Thursday 30 November 2023

On Being a Client

So far this series has covered POs, SPOs, PSOs PQiPs, so in an attempt to keep going, here is a clients view from February 2015. I wonder if anything's changed over the last eight years? 

Guest Blog 22

“Go ahead and judge me, just remember to be perfect for the rest of your life”

At the invitation of Jim, I am writing a guest blog for the site looking at the experience of probation from the client’s point of view and touching on some of the points made in various recent posts about the probation service.

I wish I could say that my experience of probation has been a positive one but it has, unfortunately been anything but. This applies to probation both inside prisons and outside in the community. To date I have had five different offender supervisors and four offender managers in four and a half years. Just one of those individuals, an offender supervisor, was what I would deem even competent at the job and who treated me as a human being and did anything to help. The rest have left a lot to be desired on a professional level. This, to me is a shocking indictment that lays bare a crisis in the probation service that seems not to be touched on at all by anything I’ve read in the media or on blogs and goes far beyond the current reorganisations and the chaos thereby caused. The attitude of a large percentage of probation staff towards clients appears to be, at best, unproductive and, at worst, offensive and potentially a breach of legal rights.

At the end of the day, all of the OM’s and OS’s, bar the one mentioned, have treated me as nothing more than a crime statistic; an attitude everyone who has been in prison gets heartily sick of because it appears to be the default setting of the majority of prison staff, that is when they aren’t treating you as a really really stupid child.

Absolutely none of my OM’s and OS’s have bothered getting to know me as a human being or have attempted to find out what my background is (no PSR was done so there is nothing in my file about my background). I apparently came into being the moment I was imprisoned and everything that went before is completely irrelevant according to these various OM’s and OS’s simply because it is not in the file. If it’s not in the file apparently it doesn’t exist. Quite how I managed to get through life to my late 40’s apparently not existing is perplexing.

On a personal level, I find this attitude highly offensive, not the least of which is that a crime statistic didn’t commit any crime, a human being did. I am the sum of my experiences and if you do not understand where I come from you will not be able to understand what I did or where I am going or what I need to get there.

On a more esoteric level this complete lack of interest in me as a human being is really disturbing. How can anyone possibly help me to lead a law abiding life, help me reduce my risk of committing crime and help me turn my life around if they have not the slightest understanding of me as an individual, as a human being or even any interest in getting to know that human being? All the assessment tools in the world will fail to accurately predict my actual risk or my actual needs if you do not engage with me and ask those very basic questions that for some really bizarre reason simply do not get asked. Ever. These are:

What caused you to offend in the first place?

And what would stop you from reoffending in the future?

I know the answers to those central questions. Absolutely no probation officer does because they simply haven’t bothered to ask these questions. Therefore every single OASys or other assessment that has ever been done of me is a waste of paper because these central and essential questions have not been asked. This is clearly a major failing in the system and appears to be directly due to a total lack of interest in the offender as a person.

“But we have no time to get to know clients” I hear many voices wail. Really? You don’t have the time or the interest in making the time to get to know the client? Just consider that there may well be a lot less breaches of licence and community sentences and a lot less offences committed by people on licence if you did.

If you really did have a genuine interest in getting to know your client and this attitude was built into all interactions with a client this would raise your ability to accurately predict risk and identify needs and problems as assessments would be based on actual fact and accurate information rather than guesswork, assumption and personal bias. You’d also build up a relationship based on trust and mutual respect which could only be beneficial for everyone involved. On a personal level I’m far more likely to be open and honest and forthcoming if I believe that that person has a genuine interest in me and is someone I can trust to act in my best interests and who works with me not against me. I can’t see that this would be any different for anyone else.

I would suspect that any offender if asked would be able to tell you, based on their actual experience of probation, what they understand the role of a probation officer is. We also understand what it SHOULD be and the huge gulf that exists between the two. Theory and practice simply do not meet.

Shouldn’t one of the central tenets of a probation officer’s role be to get to know and understand the client and what their needs actually are (as opposed to what their perceived needs are) so that you are able to tailor any challenges and interventions to the actual, real, tangible needs of the client? If you don’t bother to engage the human being and get to know the human being and only go by what is in a file (which is quite often completely inaccurate with incomplete information and in some cases information that is so wildly wrong as to verge on defamatory) how can anything you do possibly be argued to be of any use, relevance or applicable?

What follows on from this is absolutely no probation officer actually understands what my needs are and makes decisions based on an assessment of what they think my needs are which bears zero relation to what the needs are. They certainly don’t understand my needs better than I do - after all I am the one living my life and not my PO. I live my life every day; they see me once a month for 20 – 30 minutes and an awful lot less than that when I was in custody. I am not stupid (in fact I have more qualifications and a much higher IQ than my current OM). I am perfectly capable of analyzing my behaviour accurately especially after having undergone several years of very productive counselling both in and out of custody. I know myself and my needs far better than my current OM who has never made the slightest effort to get to know me as a human being in the two years she has had my file. She wields enormous power over me and clearly relishes being able to wield such power over people leading to what I can only describe as the most dysfunctional relationship I have ever had with anyone to the extent that I feel physically sick with stress and worry in the 48 hours before each monthly meeting.

Challenging me, which Jim has said is the role of probation (whatever happened to befriend and advise?), is a fruitless exercise because the challenge is being made without the proper knowledge behind it. I have already identified the problems, the needs and yes, the wants, which to be frank are often completely indistinguishable from the needs. I know what needs to be put in place to help me get back on an even keel and lead a law abiding life. My PO doesn't because she has never bothered to get to know me in any way in the past two years. Our “conversations” degenerate into total farce as a result.

In fact, nothing any PO has ever said to me has been in any way helpful, reasonable, viable or useful in terms of either analyzing my behaviour, challenging it or providing help and support as to the way forwards because they have pretty much zero knowledge of me as a human being, of the way I think and how I view the offence. Of course this may be down to PO's who are simply bad at their jobs and who really shouldn't be working in probation just as there are a significant number of prison officers who took the job so that they can legitimately bully people and shouldn't therefore be in the job.

Ironically considering challenge is supposed to be a central feature of the probation relationship, I've noticed that PO's don't like to be challenged by clients over anything even when the client is wholly justified such as when a PO breaches a client’s legal right. Why? It’s a very hypocritical stance to take. If someone is able to challenge me about my failings, I am certain able to and will turn round to judge them for their failings whether that be a failure to do the job properly and in accordance with the law or whether that is an actual breach of my legal rights. If I am expected to take responsibility for my actions so is the PO. It’s hardly unreasonable to expect that a PO does their job in accordance with the law and the provisions laid out in the various PI’s at the very least, leaving aside anything else and I very much doubt anyone would disagree with me on that. Yet simply because someone is a probation officer this apparently gives them leave to never accept responsibility for any of their actions. Being a PO does not mean that you have some magical get out of jail free card that excuses and are absolved of any failure of responsibility. Stones and glass houses and all that.

I agree with Jim that the relationship between client and PO shouldn't be about winning popularity contests but there is a huge difference between winning a popularity contest and actually treating clients as human beings who have a brain and use it. What the probation relationship should be about is building a genuine meaningful relationship where there is trust and respect on both sides. Where the PO has a genuine interest in the client and in helping them with their actual (as opposed to perceived) needs and the client genuinely does their best to comply with their licence and lead a law abiding life you will have a meaningful, productive and beneficial relationship. It’s not rocket science but it does require that both parties in that relationship invest the same level of commitment into making the relationship work and it isn’t left to just one party to do so. Which appears in the minds of the PO’s and also management to be the sole responsibility of the client.

I’ve had some interaction with management due to being forced to file a complaint about my PO. I was very patronisingly informed by a senior manager that it was MY responsibility and mine alone to build a productive relationship with my OM. Excuse me? Any relationship is a two way street and both parties in the relationship need to put in the effort to build a productive working relationship not just one party. We’ve all had at least one relationship in our lives where we did all the giving and the other party did all the taking and know how destructive that relationship was. But apparently management does not consider it part of a PO’s role to make any effort to build a productive relationship with a client because they have made it abundantly clear that my OM has no responsibility at all to make any effort to build a productive working relationship with me. No wonder there is no interest from the OM in doing this.

Unfortunately my experience is far from unusual. During the time I was inside and since release I have talked to hundreds of people who have first hand experience of the probation service. Sadly, very few of them have had positive experiences of probation because of the way probation officers both inside and outside of prison treat their clients. Oh the client may tell you to your face when they leave supervision that you’ve helped them and no doubt some of them will genuinely mean it. But far from all of them.

Most of them are probably telling you what you want to hear. Just as 99% of those going on offender behaviour courses tell the course facilitators what they want to hear. Sorry if this comes as a surprise. I’ve seen so many offenders literally blow sunshine up the ass of the course facilitator and their probation officer simply to be able to progress/get parole/get probation off their back and not mean a single word of what they are saying.

They are simply playing the game because that is what the system is all about at the end of the day. Just like the judicial system is not about finding out the truth of what happened but about which side plays the game the best, progression through prison or probation in the community is not based on understanding why you committed an offence and putting in place concrete and productive steps to ensure you don’t reoffend, it’s about keeping probation happy with your answers by telling them what they want to hear and fulfilling the tick box mentality that appears to exist throughout the sector even if you don’t mean a word of it. This also strikes me as a wholly dishonest way of running anything. Ticking boxes, fulfilling criteria, hearing what you want to hear seems to be more important than building productive working relationships with human beings. Absolute madness.

Prisons do not work in cutting or reducing crime no matter what Michael Howard and Chris Grayling like to think. Probation does not work either. Sorry to burst the bubble. I’m pretty sure that the recent statistical reduction in people reoffending whilst on probation has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the probation service but is more likely to be a direct result of people doing what needs to be done themselves to get their lives straightened out.

Until the whole ethos of probation changes, probation is going to fail as a service. I honestly can’t see how reporting to a kiosk once a month is going to be any less advantageous to either client or service provider than the current system is because the current system is failing clients for the most part. In fact for a lot of people it may well be more productive. I’m aware that politics and political rhetoric and agendas have overtaken probation and changed it from its original goals and ways of working but that does not excuse the change in attitude of either probation management or probation staff towards clients which has apparently occurred over time.

I do not know what the answer is nor whether the changes that are occurring in the system will make it better or worse but I can categorically state that probation will continue to fail clients for as long as the majority of PO’s fail to see or treat clients as human beings.

Probation Client.